Review: “Soviet Nationalities Policy and Bourgeois Historians: The Formation of the Soviet Multinational State (1917-1922) in Contemporary American Historiography” – L. Zenushkina

When I first started reading L. Zenushkina’s “Soviet Nationalities Policy and Bourgeois Historians: The Formation of the Soviet Multinational State (1917-1922) in Contemporary American Historiography,” I must admit I didn’t have very high expectations. True, Soviet nationalities policy is an area I specialize in, but since I have already read multiple books published in the USSR about this subject, such as “The October Revolution and the East: The Transition of the Soviet Central Asian Republics to Socialism” by Yu. M. Ivanov, “How Socialism Came to Central Asia” by A. Roslyakov, and “How the National Question was Solved in Soviet Central Asia: A Reply to Falsifiers” by R. Tuzmuhamedov, I expected more of the same. This was all the more so since both Tuzmuhamedov’s book and Zenushkina’s book were written with the intention of refuting the ahistorical claims of Western bourgeois scholars. I was simply not convinced this book would offer much that was new. However, it soon became readily obvious to me that my initial assumptions were wide off the mark – and that this was going to be one helluva read!

With laser-like precision and scientific detail, Zenushkina mercilessly exposes the lies, contradictions, and fabrications made by American bourgeois historians and Sovietologists about the USSR’s formation and nationalities policy like nothing I have ever read before. Zenushkina methodically dissects the works of numerous American bourgeois scholars, and follows the lies, contradictions, and falsifications through their various bibliographies back to their original sources, sometimes Russian. Consequently, Zenushkina’s book isn’t a generalized rebuttal like Tuzmuhamedov’s book, which isn’t really directed any at specific scholar or scholars but at Western historiography more generally, but rather a direct and merciless attack at specific American scholars. Zenushkina knows his/her targets and pursues them like a lion chasing a gazelle. Among the many works subjected to an intense ideological and historical thrashing are:

  1. “The Ukrainian Revolution 1917-1920: A Study in Nationalism” by J. Reshetar
  2.  “The Ukraine: A Submerged Nation” by H. Chamberlin
  3. “The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923” by R. Pipes
  4. “The Bolsheviks in the Ukraine: The Second Campaign, 1918-1919” by A. Adams
  5. “Soviet Politics and the Ukraine, 1917-1957” by R. S. Sullivant
  6. “Lenin on the Question of Nationality” by A. D. Low
  7. “Bolshevism in Turkestan, 1917-1927” by A. G. Park
  8. “Russian Central Asia, 1867-1917: A Study in Colonial Rule” by R. Pierce
  9. “Pan-Turkism and Islam in Russia” and various articles by S. Zenkovsky
  10. “Russia in Central Asia” by M. Rywkin
  11. “Moscow and the Ukraine, 1918-1953” by B. Dmytryshyn
  12. “Leninism” by A. G. Meyer
  13. “Soviet Russian Nationalism” by F. C. Barghoorn
  14. “The Soviet Design for a World State” by E. R. Goodman
  15. “The Ukraine: A History” by W. E. D. Allen
  16. “Central Asia: A Century of Russian Rule” ed. E. Allworth
  17. “Beyond the Urals: Economic Developments in Soviet Asia” by Violet Connolly
  18. “Social Change in Soviet Russia” by A. Inkeles
  19. “Russia and Nationalism in Central Asia: The Case of Tajikistan” bu T. Rakowska-Harmstone
  20. “Ethnic Minorities in the Soviet Union” ed. E. Goldhagen
  21. “Soviet Nationalities Policy in Practice” ed. Robert Conquest

Since this will be a long review I will divide it into two parts: Part 1 deals with Chapter 1, and Part 2 will deal with chapters 2 and 3.

Part 1: Chapter 1

Chapter 1, “The National Liberation Character of the October Revolution,” is more than 80 pages long, and is the most informative and exciting of all the chapters to read. Zenushkina attacks the ahistorical accusations of Soviet ‘colonialism’ and other lies regarding the character of Soviet nationalities policy common in American historiography. Due to its prominent place in American and other Western bourgeois historiography as evidence of Soviet ‘colonialism’, Soviet nationalities policy in Turkestan is the main focus in this chapter, “since this borderland territory of the former Russian empire, was the largest and also typical of the ‘internal colonies’ of pre-revolutionary Russia” (pp. 23-24).

Part 1 of this chapter chapter begins with Zenushkina examining “one of the most widely put forward propositions in contemporary American bourgeois historical writing” — the “export” of the October Revolution to Turkestan (p. 25). This proposition “is based on the assertion that the revolution in Turkestan lacked indigenous roots and that the preconditions for its were absent” (p. 25).

In refuting the theoretical element of this proposition, i.e., that the preconditions for socialism were absent, Zenushkina gives an impressive thrashing to A. G. Park’s “Bolshevism in Turkestan” early on in the chapter. According to Park, citing unnamed Marxists, socialist revolution was impossible in Turkestan, a view consistent with the Menshevik Sukhanov and the pseudo-Marxists of the Second International. In response, Zenushkina cites several articles by Lenin in which he describes the revolutionary conditions within Turkestan.

The second element of this proposition, i.e., that the revolution lacked indigenous roots, is subjected to even sharper criticism. Zenushkina criticizes how in “striking contradiction with the real state of affairs the picture drawn by American researchers is one of a movement of the local population in Turkestan directed against the Russian ‘newcomers’. To present the problem in this way is initially to presuppose that the entire native local population had common interests and that it was, consequently, socially homogeneous” (p. 27). Zenushkina sharpy criticizes Park for concealing class antagonisms between Russian workers and the Russian bourgeoisie, and indigenous workers and peasants and the indigenous landlords and bourgeoisie in Turkestan, by lumping together whole swathes of the population as either “European” or “indigenous” to support this distorted picture of the conditions within Turkestan. But, as Zenushkina reveals with multiple economic and social statistics, class antagonisms were very real in Turkestan, refuting the image drawn by Western scholars of a homogeneous indigenous population united in their opposition to Russians and to socialism. Moreover, the indigenous population of Turkestan, writes Zenushkina, contrary to S. Zenkovsky’s claim that “the revolution caught the local population completely unprepared for any political action of significance” and Park’s claim that the revolution was a revolution of exclusively Russian workers in Turkestan, very much supported the revolution and was prepared to defend it (pp. 29-30). According to Zenushkina: “Reports of refusals to pay rent on public lands, of land seizure and ‘arbitrariness’ on the part of peasants in the distribution of water began to be received from the Ferghana and Samarkand provinces with increasing frequency, especially from the summer of 1917. In the Turkmenian villages a movement among the poor peasants gathered strength as they took back land and water seized from them under tsarism, refused to pay rent and came out in favour of the expulsion of the tsarist administration and the officials of the Provisional Government. Clashes between peasants of Northern Tajikistan and punitive detachments sent by the Provisional Government to crush the ‘agrarian disorders’ became more frequent” (p. 30). Not only peasants but indigenous workers, too, came out against their exploiters. “The employees of all cotton enterprises in the region,” Zenushkina writes, “92 per cent of whom belonged to local nationalities, came out on strike, and in the spring and summer the workers of Bukhara’s cotton-ginning plants, Andizhan’s butter factories and the employees of small laundries and dyeing enterprises, the latter for the most part belonging to indigenous nationalities, struck against their employers. This movement was following a course in no way opposed to but, on the contrary, exactly the same as that taken by the struggle of the Russian working class: against exploitation, the power of the Provisional Government and the inheritance left by tsarism” (pp. 30-31).

Part 2 of this chapter examines the character of the October Revolution after it succeeded in Turkestan. “American bourgeois historians also attempt,” writes Zenushkina, “to base their accusations that the October Revolution was ‘colonialist’ in character on the assertion that the Soviet government was supposedly contemptuous of the vital needs of Turkestan’s indigenous population” (p. 35).

According to Zenushkina, Park and other Western bourgeois scholars describe at length the famine conditions existing in Turkestan in the years 1917-1920, but deliberately obfuscate the reasons for those conditions and ignore completely Soviet efforts to alleviate them. Park, for example, citing T. Ryskulov’s book, describes the high mortality in Turkestan from the famine and Civil War; “however, although even T. Ryskulov’s book, to which he [Park] refers in this context, adduces documents detailing the enormous efforts devoted by the [revolutionary] government of Turkestan to saving the starving. Park remains silent on this score” (p. 43). “It must be borne in mind,” Zenushkina forcefully writes, “that at the time of the armed uprising in October 1917 it was not merely the borderlands but the whole of Russia that found itself in a calamitous situation, created by the irresponsible rule of the autocracy and compounded by the imperialist war and the policies of the bourgeois Provisional Government. By the autumn of 1917 Russia stood on the brink of economic and military collapse. V. I. Lenin, writing in September 1917, stated universally known facts: ‘Unavoidable catastrophe is threatening Russia. The railways are incredibly disorganized and disorganization is progressing. The railways will come to a standstill. The delivery of raw materials and coal to the factories will cease. The delivery of grain will cease. The capitalists are deliberately and unremittingly sabotaging…production, hoping that the unparalleled catastrophe will mean the collapse of the republic and democracy, and of the Soviets and proletarian and peasant associations generally, thus facilitating the return to monarchy and the restoration of the unlimited power of the bourgeoisie and the landowners. The danger of a great catastrophe and of famine is imminent. All the newspapers have written about this time and again…Everybody says this. Everybody admits it. Everybody has decided it is so. Yet nothing is being done. Six months of revolution [February bourgeois-democratic revolution] have elapsed. The catastrophe is even closer. Unemployment has assumed a mass scale…What better evidence is needed to show that after six months of revolution (which some call a great revolution but which so far it would perhaps be fairer to call a rotten revolution), in a democratic republic…absolutely nothing of any importance has actually been done to avert catastrophe, to avert famine?…Yet the slightest attention and thought will suffice to satisfy anyone that the ways of combating the catastrophe and famine are available, that the measures required to combat them are quite clear, simple, perfectly feasible, and fully within reach of the people’s forces, and that these measures are not being adopted only because, exclusively because their realisation would affect the fabulous profits of a handful of landowners and capitalists’” (pp. 39-40).

After the success of the October Revolution, far from throwing “the whole area into a new turmoil,” as M. Rywkin writes (p. 43), “Soviet Russia, in utter ruin as a result of the imperialist war, devastated, suffering from famine and fighting on the unnumerable fronts of the Civil War nevertheless shared its last resources with starving Turkestan,” Zenushkina writes. “From November 1917 to February 1918, 886 railway carriages of grain were delivered to Samarkand, Ferghana, Trans-Caspian and Syr Darya regions from the central areas of Russia at the cost of enormous effort, although Turkestan had been cut off from Russia as a result of the mutiny led by the Cossack ataman Dutov. At the end of January 1918 Turkestan received 300,000 rubles from Moscow to help in the struggle against famine. In May 1918 more than 16,000 tons of wheat and 8,000 tons of corn were went to Turkestan, while later part of the food designated for the central provinces of Russia was given to Turkestan on Lenin’s instructions. This amounted to 100 railway cars of wheat and 15 railway cars of barley. In 1918 the People’s Commissariat for Food allocated 20 million rubles for the purchase of grain for Turkestan” (p. 42). Canteens were also established throughout Turkestan to provide free meals to the starving. “In Tashkent alone 47,000 people were given free meals, while canteens were also opened in Alimkent, Pskent, Katta, Kurgan, Bukhara and other towns” (p. 47).

Zenushkina then proceeds to examine the so-called ‘colonialist’ character of the October Revolution in Turkestan. “American writers,” Zenushkina writes, “including Pipes, Rywkin, Park and others, seek to accuse the Soviet government of carrying out a colonialist policy from its inception, thus misinterpreting the very core of Soviet government’s policy in Turkestan, which consisted in defending the interests of working people, irrespective of their nationality. The revolution, Park writes, appeared to the indigenous peasants ‘to have brought into power nothing more than a new regime of European exploiters’” (p. 49). Zenushkina cites pages of statistics demonstrating the Soviet government’s commitment to end the colonial backwardness of Turkestan, including industrialization, increasing the food supply, mass literacy campaigns, land redistribution and the distribution of seeds, tools, and equipment to peasants, the building of hundreds of schools, libraries, and even a People’s University, etc. To claim that the Soviet government’s policies in Turkestan were ‘colonialist’ demonstrates “that American scholars show no desire to provide their readers with factual information concerning the efforts made by the Soviet government to put the economy of Turkestan on a working basis” (pp. 50-51). Moreover, it was the tsarist regime and the Provisional Government that implemented colonialist policies towards Turkestan, not the Soviet government. As a deputy to the Fourth Duma in 1915, it was Kerensky that said: “Turkestan and the steppe regions of Kirghizia are not the Tula or Tambov provinces. They can be viewed in the same way as the British or French view their colonies” (p. 42).

Part 3 of this chapter examines the political rights of the indigenous population in relation to the new Soviet government. American scholars, Zenushkina, “attribute to the Bolsheviks a fundamental unwillingness to share power with the Moslems and a desire to leave them without civil rights, while the indigenous population is depicted as refusing to accept the revolution and maintaining a hostile attitude towards the Bolsheviks as new ‘colonisers’” (p. 53).

According to Zenushkina, citing numerous historical works examining the minutes of various Party and council meetings in Turkestan, the Soviet government encouraged “participation on an equal footing by representatives of the different nationalities in formulating and passing political decisions vitally important to them at all levels of state administration” (p. 53). But putting “this principle into practice and involving representatives of the indigenous nationalities in the administration of the country met with a number of difficulties, among which the bitter class struggle, the region’s cultural backwardness and the extreme shortage of trained personnel from the indigenous population all had a role to play. The Communists, too, working in a Turkestan cut off by the battle fronts of the Civil War from the political centre of the Russian republic, were sometimes handicapped by political inexperience” (p. 53). Several pages are devoted to examining how the Soviet government of Turkestan and its representatives, although committing several sometimes serious mistakes, nonetheless tirelessly worked to include representatives from the indigenous population in all levels of administration. Zenushkina spares no criticism of the mistakes made by communists in Turkestan that alienated the indigenous population. A particularly egregious violation of Soviet nationalities policy was a resolution passed at the 3rd Congress of Soviets of Turkestan which declared that the “inclusion of Moslems in organs of the supreme regional revolutionary government at the present time is unacceptable…” (p. 54). This resolution, Zenushkina writes, was intended to exclude from power counterrevolutionaries but was “couched in unjustly broad terms; it groundlessly underrated the revolutionary potentialities of the masses and hence was mistaken and contrary to the principles of Soviet nationalities policy. Its authors ignored the Moslem working people’s organizations functioning at the time…” (pp. 54-55). Bourgeois scholars such as Park, Zenkovsky, and Allworth have exploited this resolution as ‘proof’ of the Soviet government’s contemptuous and hostile attitude towards the indigenous population, while saying nothing of the successes achieved in encouraging mass participation in all levels of administration. For example, P. Antropov, who studied the work of the first and second congresses of the Communist Party of Turkestan, writes: “We do not possess data on the numbers of Party members belonging to the indigenous population within the Party organizations in the majority of cases. But reports by the local representatives speak eloquently enough of the sympathy among working people belonging to the local population with which the Bolshevik propaganda campaign, with its correct approach to the problem, was meeting. Sympathy towards the Bolshevik Party was clearly growing and unions of Moslem working people and analogous organizations (Ittifak and others) were becoming a factor supporting Soviet power in the midst of the local exploited population” (pp. 55-56). As Zenushkina writes, “American historians are well aware of these facts, which refute their conclusion that workers belonging to indigenous nationalities were hostile or indifferent in their attitude towards the new government: in particular, P. Antropov’s works are listed in the bibliographies of books by A. Park and S. Zenkovsky. Unfortunately, this has had no effect on their conclusions” (p. 56). Similarly, “American historians cite the erroneous resolution passed by the 3rd Congress of Soviets of Turkestan but fail to mention other, quite unimpeachable resolutions passed by the same congress on the necessity for involving representatives of local nationalities in the work of local Soviets and other local organs and on organization of Soviets of Moslem working people at the grassroots level” (p. 57).

The history of Turkestan’s autonomy is another weapon in the arsenal of bourgeois historians used to slander the Soviet Union. Despite its complex history, American historians argue that since Turkestan’s autonomy wasn’t officially proclaimed until several months after the October Revolution, in April 2018, this proves the Bolsheviks fundamentally opposed the autonomy of Turkestan. This alleged opposition to Turkestan’s autonomy is what supposedly forced the politically aware section of the indigenous population to claim their right to self-determination and establish the now academically infamous “Kokand Autonomy”. Indeed, according to Pipes’ book, it was the failure of the Soviets to defeat the basmachi movement, “seen by Pipes as a ‘popular resistance movement’, that forced the central government to grant Turkestan autonomy” (pp. 71-72). This ignores the fact that regional autonomy figured prominently in the Communist Party’s programme even before the October Revolution. “Bolsheviks, both Russian and non-Russian, were in the forefront of activity directed towards establishing Soviet autonomy in Turkestan,” writes Zenushkina (p. 74). Moreover, “The Constitution of the Turkestan ASSR was the first to be adopted by an autonomous republic” and it was “natural that it should have been born out of discussion,” but bourgeois historians argue that the delay in Moscow’s ratification of the Turkestan constitution is evidence of Moscow’s unwillingness to recognize Turkestan’s autonomy (pp. 74-75). According to Zenushkina, the delay in Moscow’s ratification of the Turkestan constitution was due to how Turkestan was ringed by four battlefronts in 1918. “But Park closes his eyes to this and characterises the lack of official ratification for the Turkestan Constitution by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee as ‘a refusal to grant the Turkestan republic a formal charter of autonomy in the RSFSR’” (p. 76). Zenushkina criticizes this interpretation as “quite arbitrary and runs contrary to the known facts” (p. 75). In April 1918, an emissary from the Council of People’s Commissars “proposed at a secession of the Tashkent Soviet that a regional congress of Soviets to resolve the question of the region’s Soviet autonomy should be convened” (p. 76). That same month “a telegram signed by Lenin and Stalin was read at the 5th Congress of Soviets of Turkestan” which “assured the delegates that the Council of People’s Commissars would support Turkestan’s autonomy on Soviet principles” (pp. 76-77).

What about the nature of this autonomy? Without offering any evidence, the above mentioned American bourgeois historians as a rule argue that Turkestan’s autonomy was artificial and existed only on paper. Zenushkina quotes Pipes writing that “it was not until two years later that the natives were given the right to participate in the government,” ignoring the fact that at the 5th Congress which proclaimed Turkestan’s autonomy four representatives of Turkestan’s indigenous population were elected as People’s Commissars (p. 78). Also ignored by these American bourgeois historians is the fact that Turkestan was granted greater autonomy than most other Soviet autonomous republics. The Constitution of the Turkestan ASSR, Zenushkina writes, “contained a list of rights possessed by the Turkestan Republic as an autonomous part of the Russian Federation. The list makes it clear that the rights of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic were considerably more extensive than those possessed at that time by other autonomous republics of the RSFSR. In particular, Article 7, Section 3 of the 1918 Constitution of the Turkestan ASSR established the right to alter principles underlying military affairs, which had been adopted by the federal authorities, in conformity with local conditions, to enter into direct relations through federal representatives with adjoining countries on matters concerned with the local economy, neighbourly contacts and the police, to float loans and conclude financial agreements within the borders of the Russian Federation. Commissions on foreign affairs, military matters, communications and financial affairs accordingly functioned in the Turkestan Republic” (p. 79).

Part 4 of this chapter examines the class struggle in Turkestan. Zenushkina returns to the “export” of revolution touched upon in Part 1. American bourgeois historians argue that there were two revolutions in Turkestan: “one carried out by the indigenous population, motivated by purely national aims and standing in opposition to another, supposedly imported, ‘Russian’ revolution, [which] gives especially clear expression to the desire of bourgeois scholars to substitute conflict between different nationalities for an objectively evolving class conflict” (p. 80). According to Park, “Russian workingmen and soldiers…engineered the revolution in Tashkent without support from the native population,” a perspective shared by Zenkovsky. While it is true that Russian railway workers and soldiers “were the first to answer the call to revolution,” writes Zenushkina, it is “abundantly clear that without the support of the local population this handful of revolutionary-minded Russians could not have maintained Soviet power in the face of the united forces of Russian and indigenous counter-revolution” (p. 81). Contrary to the arguments made by these American historians, the indigenous population did participate in the revolution. “An Uzbek detachment of between 200 and 250 men took part in the armed uprising in Tashkent from the very outset,” for example (p. 81). Indigenous people throughout Turkestan supported the revolution. “The ranks of the Red Guard, formed to defend the revolution, included members of the indigenous population: for example, a Red Guard detachment of 500 men was formed from Uzbek workers in Tashkent in January 1918. Turkmen Red Guard detachments were organized in Ashkhabad, Tejen, Merv, Bairam-Ali and elsewhere” (p. 82).

The class self-determination of the indigenous population of Turkestan, Zenushkina writes, is evident in the failure of the ill-fated “Kokand Autonomy”. Leaders of the reactionary “Kokand Autonomy” included members of the Muslim clergy, cotton merchants associated with British and German capital, the Tashkent millionaire Arif Khoja Aziz Khojaev, among others, and were supported by the Russian bourgeoisie and General Dutov. “Kokand Autonomy” leaders openly proclaimed in December 1917 that their aim was “preservation of land, property and religion,” exposing the bourgeois exploitative character of this “autonomy” (p. 83). The indigenous population correctly recognized the exploitative character of the “Kokand Autonomy,” as a leader of the “Kokand Government” admitted in February 1918: “We have turned to the people with appeals on the necessity of uniting all levels of the Moslem population, but without success” (p. 84). Moreover, if the indigenous working and peasant population were opposed to the revolution and the Russian “newcomers,” how do these American historians explain the collapse of the “Kokand Autonomy”? Both Park and Pipes attribute the defeat of the “Kokand Autonomy” to the lack of soldiers and arms in comparison to the Tashkent Soviet; but this is in contradiction with the testimony of “Kokand Autonomy” members. “The provisional government of Turkestan’s autonomy [‘Kokand Autonomy’]”, testified M. Chanyshev, a sworn enemy of Soviet power and member of the “Kokand Autonomy”, “possessed no standing among the people and was without influence…Consequently, even if armed forces had been dispatched to it, it could not have established order. There is no hostility between Russians and Moslems” (pp. 86-87).  

As evidence of mass indigenous resistance to Soviet power, American historians cite the basmachi movement, referring to it as “a popular resistance movement” (Pipes), a “patriotic” movement (Rywkin), or as one of a number of “national independence movements” (Riasanovsky). However, the “assertions made by American historians regarding the essential nature and motives of the basmachi are in conflict with the facts,” writes Zenushkina (p. 88). Park, for example, ignores what French historian Joseph Castagne, whom Park cites, writes about the links between the basmachi movement and “Kokand Autonomy”, the British consul Etherton, the whiteguard general Djunkovsky, and others, “from which the conclusion follows that all these parties were concerned in the agreement concluded by Djunkovsky with the British” (p. 89). This agreement reads in part: “The British government is under an obligation to offer assistance in the struggle against the Bolsheviks in the form of arms, money, technical resources and, in the end of necessity, men. After the overthrow of the Soviet government in Turkestan an autonomous republic will be formed under the exclusive influence of Britain” (p. 89). “Thus,” Zenushkina concludes, “the basmachi movement served as a tool of the British imperialists in the struggle against the Soviet republic,” revealing the anti-national, class character of the basmachi movement (p. 91).

Part 2: Chapters 2 and 3

Chapters 2 and 3 don’t offer nearly as much new critical material as does Chapter 1; indeed, I found these last two chapters somewhat repetitive in their criticisms and information.

The Ukraine is the focus of much of these two chapters. Zenushkina disproves American bourgeois distortions of the nature of Soviet nationalities policy, especially as it applied to the Ukraine. Pipes and other bourgeois scholars, Zenushkina writes, ignore the “decisive role of the Ukrainian people in establishing Soviet power in the Ukraine,” and instead claim, as Pipes does, that Soviet power in the Ukraine was “founded on sheer military force without the active support or even the sympathy of the Ukrainian people” (p. 154). Zenushkina rejects this description of Soviet power in the Ukraine. According to a Red Guard from Petrograd, “Everywhere we were given the warmest of welcomes. The working people of the Ukraine in general understand that their bourgeois Rada is deceiving them and wants to force Ukrainians to fight against Great Russians…[but] Ukrainian soldiers did not want to fight against us: they either joined us in whole regiments or remained neutral” (p. 154). This reflected the orders of the Revolutionary Military Council of the RSFSR: “The Ukraine is the land of the Ukrainian workers and working peasantry. They alone have the right to rule in the Ukraine, to govern it and build a new life in it…You should bear firmly in mind that your task is not the subjugation but the liberation of the Ukraine” (p. 155). Neither was the liberation of the Ukraine achieved exclusively by Russian soldiers; “many millions” of Ukrainian workers and peasants fought against counter-revolution. A declaration published by the peasants in Gorodishche village in Cherkasy district read: “We shall arm ourselves with scythes, pole-axes and pitchforks and wipe the Central Rada and its hangers-on from the face of the earth. We are fully prepared to stand up for the Soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies to the last drop of blood” (p. 156).

Zenushkina sharply criticizes the claims made by American bourgeois scholars that self-determination was a “paper right” with no practical significance. In the case of the Ukraine, this is “proved by the fact that it was in 1917 – not at the end of 1919, as Adams states, and not as the beginning of the Civil War, as H. S. Dinertsein asserts – that the Russian Soviet government recognised the Ukrainian state and proclaimed the latter independent, immediately following the declaration of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic by the 1st All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets” (pp. 186-87). This was true of all the borderland republics. “In fact,” Zenushkina writes, “the central Soviet government re-affirmed its principle that each nation has the right to self-determination whenever one of the ‘peripheral areas’ was on the point of liberating itself from enemies of Soviet power: that is, at a time when it would seem reasonable to suppose that the Soviet government had least reason to encourage the given ‘peripheral area’ to secede,” thus invalidating criticism that the Soviet declaration of the right of nations to self-determination was a “tactical” concession (pp. 187-88). The central Soviet government adopted resolutions recognizing the complete independence of Belorussia on February 2-3, 1918; of Latvia and Lithuania on December 22, 1918; and it was the Soviet government that “was the first Russian government to recognise Finland’s independence” (p. 125). Lenin himself published a letter after Deniken’s defeat stating that “the independence of the Ukraine has been recognised both by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of the RSFSR (Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic) and by the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)” (p. 188).

Zenushkina also sharply criticizes the claim made by American bourgeois scholars that Soviet nationalities policy is “colonial”. According to Zenushkina, even bourgeois scholars are forced to admit the immeasurable advancement of the USSR’s previously backward borderlands, such as David MacKenzie, who wrote: “great changes occurred in Tashkent under Soviet rule. The industrial revolution…transformed it into the greatest industrial centre in the Middle East” (p. 285). Charles Wilber, an American economist, similarly was forced to recognize socialism’s achievements in Central Asia: living standards “are on a much higher level than in those neighbouring Asian countries” and the time has come to compare the living standards of Soviet Central Asia with the level existing in Western Europe (p. 286).

Most of the rest of the book still offers an excellent analysis of the USSR’s establishment and its nationalities policy but is mostly arguing what has already been argued using different words. For example, Zenushkina argues that the Soviet federation was voluntary by citing Lenin’s categorical denunciations of coerced federalism and the numerous congresses, resolutions, and discussions that occurred within the independent republics on joining a federation; but I feel like this point was better made in Zenushkina’s analysis of Moscow’s recognition of the independence of the Soviet republics.

Overall this was an OUTSTANDING book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in the Soviet Union!

One thought on “Review: “Soviet Nationalities Policy and Bourgeois Historians: The Formation of the Soviet Multinational State (1917-1922) in Contemporary American Historiography” – L. Zenushkina

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