The Soviet Union and Failed Modernization

In its efforts to achieve modernization, the Soviet Union again faced the problem of failed execution. What Stalin and Lenin imagined for their new nation did not occur in reality. In his chapter, “Modernization or Neo-traditionalism? Ascribed Nationality and Soviet Primordialism,” Terry Martin discusses the Soviet government’s methods for creating nationalism within the Soviet Union among the various nationalities included in the newly formed Soviet Union. Using quotations from Stalin’s 1913 pamphlet and a 1938 article from the Bolshevik journal, Martin argues that the Party’s shift in its understanding of nationalism as a by-production of modernization to its emphasis on nationalism’s connection with primordial roots.[1] Through a comparison with the ideas of a modern theorist on nationalism, Ernest Gellner, and an analysis of the government’s practices, Martin draws conclusions regarding the outcome of the Soviet attempts at modernization through establishing multiple forms of nationalism throughout the country.

It must be noted that the Soviet government sought to emphasize and support nationalism in order to transcend nationalism. By allowing various ethnic groups within the Soviet Union to create national schools and maintain their national languages, the government believed they could indoctrinate the diverse groups into one nation as Soviet citizens.[2] However, similar to its collectivization process, the Soviet government’s intended implementation and outcome for modernization did not occur in reality. Martin concludes that the main reason for this stems from the government’s practice of determining that ethnicity was inherited and thus connected to a person’s nationality. Therefore, national identity must be primordial.

Throughout the chapter, Martin declares that the actual execution of using nationalism as a path towards modernization fails in the Soviet Union. Instead, the Soviet Union achieved neo-traditionalism, an alternative form of modernization. Neo-traditionalism possess the characteristics of pre-modern societies but consists of all the processes associated with modernization including industrialization, urbanization, secularization, and universal literacy and education.[3] Due to its failure of implementing its desired system of nationalism, the Soviet government did not fully obtain the form of modernization they were seeking. Instead they achieved a modified form, neo-traditionalism.

[1] Terry Martin, “Modernization or Neo-traditionalism? Ascribed Nationality and Soviet Primordialism.” In Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices edited by David L. Hoffman and Yanni Kotsonis. London: Macmillan Press, 2000: 162.

[2] Ibid., 167.

[3] Ibid., 175.

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