An Analysis of Soviet Economic Policy in the Periphery: Tajikistan in Context

Below is a copied and pasted version of a paper I published on Academia.edu (here) in which I examine the economic relationship between Tajikistan and the Soviet Union.

The economic relations between the Russian Soviet federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) (the centre) and the Soviet Union’s peripheral republics has frequently been described as ‘colonial’.

Nowhere is this colonial narrative more common than when discussing Tajikistan. The least industrially developed of the Soviet Union’s fifteen republics, there is no shortage of literature describing Tajikistan as a Soviet colony. According to Jesse Driscoll, “Tajikistan was never more than a frontier cotton colony.”[1] Similarly, Robert Strayer describes how the “imposition of a single-crop, cotton-growing economy on large parts of Central Asia during the Stalin years had created a highly dependent, almost colonial relationship with the more developed regions of the Soviet Union.”[2]

The theory of Tajikistan’s de facto status as a Soviet colony is attractive to scholars of Central Asia due to the civil war that engulfed Tajikistan between 1992-97. For decades scholars have debated the various factors that contributed to the outbreak of violence: regionalism, Islamic militancy and the spillover of the war in Afghanistan (one of the most famous mujahideen warlords, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was a Tajik), the overthrow of the Soviet Union, etc.[3] Yet, as Idil Tunçer-Kılavuz notes, none of these factors, collectively or individually, explain why Tajikistan experienced civil war, since all these factors also existed in Uzbekistan, including the existence of a powerful Uzbek warlord in Afghanistan, Abdul Rashid Dostum, with cross-border connections.[4] “Uzbekistan resembles Tajikistan in many ways,” writes Tunçer-Kılavuz:

Unlike the other Central Asian countries, the territories of today’s Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have long been home to sedentary societies. The literature on Central Asia describes their societies as having been influenced by Islam to a greater extent than the other Central Asian countries. They have similar social cleavage structures in terms of salience of regional identities and the prevalence of Islamic sentiment. Both their economics are based on agriculture. They share the legacy of the same Soviet past, having lived under the same Soviet institutions and policies, and then separated from the collapsed state. Economic factors stated as the causes of civil war in Tajikistan were valid for Uzbekistan as well. Both countries suffered from poverty, and the end of subsidies from the Soviet Union. They had similar social structures, with largely rural societies. A large degree of intermingling between their populations has taken place.[5]

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