National Identity and Language.

The Soviet Union during its lifetime was made up of a multitude of peoples and cultures. Not only did it consist of Russians but Ukrainians, Georgians, the numerous peoples of the Caucus, the Kazakhs, Chechens and peoples of the Eastern Steppes among others. Among these people were innumerable minorities with differing languages and cultures. A real challenge for the Soviet Union of the 1920s was how to reach these diverse peoples with the message of the revolution. Furthermore, how was the Soviet government supposed to classify the numerous minorities that made up its work force. The consensus it seemed was to look to language to be the classifier of the people.

To the Soviet bureaucracy, the idea of nationality and cultural identity was a very important part of the uniformity of the communism idea. These identities were encouraged to foster in order to break out from under the thumb of Russian chauvinism. Ethnic peoples were encouraged see themselves as as the nationality of their birth instead of being members of the Russian empire.[1] a distinction to make is that these peoples were encouraged to become Soviet States, not whole separate nationality’s.[2] It was the hope of the Soviet government that this ability to develop a different and unique culture, as well as the encouragement to function in the native language would help propel the backwards parts of the Union onto the level of the government operating out of Russia. To reach the population of the minority’s, there would be “national languages” “national cultures” and “national cadres”[3] What this would create, was a feeling of uniformity and national identity as all peoples, no matter the class or ethnicity, would be given similar or the same perspective on communist scholarship.

Especially important was the teaching of said scholarship and ideas in the language of the native peoples. The theory was that if they (the workers) were instructed in words they could understand the highest efficiency would be brought out of them. Unfortunatly this would have side effects that would result in minority’s being forced to learn languages or to be intergrated in cultures based on there ethnicity. These languages would be standardized as official languages. “All languages identified during the 1920s…would become official.”[4] Soon language newspapers and propaganda would help foster a soviet identity that would help spread the communist message around the Union.

[1] Yuri, Slezkine “The Soviet Union as a Communal Apartment,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 423.

[2] Yuri, Slezkine “The Soviet Union as a Communal Apartment,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 423

[3] Yuri, Slezkine “The Soviet Union as a Communal Apartment,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 422

[4] Yuri, Slezkine “The Soviet Union as a Communal Apartment,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 430


The slow grind of collectivization under a tractors tire.

Famine is a dire problem to every state of the world, no matter its size or power. All nations must take pause when they are confronted with the starvation of their people. Soviet Russia in the early 1930s was no different. Josef Stalin saw the problem of producing enough food to feed the massive country as one that the state could solve through collectivization and industrialization of farms. Like the revolutionaries before him Stalin found the way forward would be grounded in scientific knowledge and statistics.

Stalin took issue with the amount of grain that was being collected under the control of peasant farms. Currently the amount of grain being collected was only half as much as previous times.[1] This coupled with the growth of the population and number of workers working in the city’s industrial departments, caused  massive food shortages. Stalin found the fault in the system to be the large farm owning class called the “kulaks.” To Stalin this was unacceptable. These kulaks were simply the first step back into landlord farming.[2] He turned to the scientist thinking of past revolutionaries as the solution. He would move the peasants to state run socialized collective farms where “equipped with machinery, armed with scientific knowledge and capable of producing a maximum of grain for the market” they would be able create enough grain to feed the population.”[3] Stalin’s focus on heavy industry and industrialization is emphasized on the importance of the tractor in his new agricultural system.

The tractor would become another tool that the collectivization of peasants would be given to increase production on there farms. The plans for the spread of tractors were massive, with a goal that a net of tractors would encompass an area of fields over one million hectares.[4] Tractors are a much more effective means of plowing and doing field work than livestock and Stalin’s insistence that such heavy machinery must be used to its full potential would soften some of the blow the food supply would take from the forced collectivization. However, his distain for the kulaks and refusal to believe that bad supplies of grain would drive him to stop supporting many of the farms that produced vital food. His focus on industrialization brought industry to the agricultural department, but still did not find enough improvement to feed all his people. By the end of the famine over 5 million of the population had starved to death.[5]

[1] I. V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishers, 1934), pp. 248-249, 251-59.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. Meisel and E. S. Kozera, eds., Materials for the Study of the Soviet System (Ann Arbor: G. Wahr Pub. Co., 1953), pp. 183-185.

[5] I. V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishers, 1934), pp. 248-249, 251-59.

Propaganda by Rail

A Soviet propaganda train.

A Soviet propaganda train. [6]

While the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution were made up highly educated revolutionaries who trained body and mind to overcome the constraints of the the capitalist bourgeois, most of the population (around ninety percent) was of the peasant class. Most of the peasants in Tsarist Russia were illiterate, uneducated, and knew little of the world outside the villages that dotted the countryside. These villages were scattered over the 6 million square miles of Russia making contact with all of them a challenge. For the Bolsheviks, an organization that placed great value on the power of the grassroots peasants, this was unacceptable. They needed the peasants to be aware of the changes taking place over the revolutions in the early 20th century, as well as a work force who would be educated in the doctrine of the new communist government. When the population of a country is educated, the value of its human capital increases. This makes the work force more efficient and worth more to the state. With the bureaucracy of the Bolsheviks beginning to follow the philosophy of scientism, the view towards the peasant population changed from indifference, to a need to directly control and educate in order to get the highest production possible out of its workers.[1] The population needed to be in agreement with the actions of the state as well to make the machine of communism run smoothly. Obedience to the state was necessary, and by using propaganda to educate the unlearned peasants they could be made loyal to the Soviet cause. The Bolshevik’s needed a way to reach these people and spread the word of the revolution to the masses. But struggling with the sheer size of the newly formed Soviet Russia was a herculean task.


In the early twentieth century the most effective means of traveling the country was by rail systems. Because of the rails already set in place throughout Russia the logical way to reach the people was to use the trains. The first of the trains to reach the isolated peasantry was know as “Lenin’s train.”[2] This train was made up of 15 cars and “decorated with paintings in bright colors, with forceful and unmistakably revolutionary inscriptions.”[3] It is important to note, that the officials onboard the train were members of branches of the “people’s Commissariat.”[4] These men would distribute masses of pamphlets and readings free of charge to the people, as well as answer questions and advise on issues concerning the population. This was a powerful tool for the Soviet government to use, as the population will feel heard, and important to the government. This in turn will promote less resistance to newer ideas and obedience. The feeling of solidarity between the government and the workers was to be fostered in this way.

The success of such trains in spreading soviet propaganda prompted the creation of three further trains, with different routs that would bring the word of the “Revolution” to the “most hidden nooks of Soviet Russia.”[5] These propaganda trains would be responsible for returning the wishes of the people to the government and create an environment where capitalist imperialism would be unable to return to the minds of the population.



[1] Hoffmann, “European Modernity and Soviet Socialism” in Hoffmann and Kotsonis, eds., Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices (NY: St. Martin’s, 2000), 245-260.

[2] Iakov Okunev, A New Way for Culture Propaganda. 1919

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Agit-train October Revolution / Vertov-Collection, Austrian Film Museum