Modernization or Bust, Right?

The goal for the Soviet Union was to modernize and move to from a pre-indurstial state through modernization to socialism. Was this goal achieved, did the Soviet Union modernize? Martin argues even though the Soviet Union was reaching for beyond modernization, that due to extreme Soviet statism it arrived at a different location; neo-traditionalism.

Ernest Gellner’s theory of nationality states that in reality nations are the inevitable by product of the social organization of industrial society. The industrialization of any society leads to the massive uprooting and movement of peasants to an industrial environment, where the previously commonly shared village¬†culture no longer exists. In order for the new industrial society to function, the creation of a new common culture is required. To ensure the emergence of a new written and codified common culture the state creates a universal education system. Thus creating a combined culture and national identity. These events must occur to lead to the development of a nation-state. However, there are two ways to interpret these nationalizing steps: the sociological view of nations as modern constructs or the popular view of nations as primordial.

The sociological interpretation of nationality is that the development of the modern national culture and identity is born out of the destruction of the old primordial folk culture. The primordial interpretation of nationality is that the changes are perceived as an awakening of the essence of ancient village-based folk culture. The Soviet Union’s nationality policies reflected the sociological interpretation of nationality and sought to separate national identity from high culture. Socialism would be the basis of high culture and be the unifying identity of the whole state. National identity would be used as a way to avoid a defensive nationalist movement and to do that all forms of national identity would be promoted. But, in the state’s attempt to avoid a defensive nationalist movement against itself, it actively intervened to manage identity categorization. The state’s centralized power and control over social and economic affairs enabled it to systematically ethnically label everyone.¬†This constant practice of labeling and separating individuals based on national identity¬†inadvertently turned nationality into a primordial hereditary status. Soviet industrialization successfully destroyed pre-industrial folk culture but the nationality policies failed to lead to a common Soviet national identity. The consequence of the Soviet Union’s failure to follow Gellner’s model and couple high culture with national identity led to the belief in primordial nationality. This result was the opposite of what the Soviet Union wanted.

The Soviet Union’s extreme statism allowed for the implementation of their nationality policies to inadvertently get morphed into a primordial view of nationality. The Soviet Union did not follow the path of Gellner’s theory towards modernization because the presence of extreme statism inhibited it. Instead it fell into a alternative form of modernization, one that was a mix of tradition and modern. The neo-traditional society of the Soviet Union had market driven modernization along with a variety of practices that resemble traditional pre-modern societies.


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