The USSR as a Communal Apartment

Author Yuri Slezkine poses an interesting view of the USSR in the late 1920’s and early 30’s in his chapter “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism” in the book Stalinism: New Directions. The chapter details the “Great Transformation” of 1928-1932, during which ethnic diversity was highlighted and celebrated; it then explains the “Great Retreat” during the 1930’s, when nationalism as a whole was discouraged except those select nationalities that reinforced socialist ideas and contributed to the overall success of the USSR.

The promotion of ethnic distinctions seemed strange to me at first, considering the Communist goal of eliminating classes and the inequalities that came with them. I assumed that defining and strengthening different ethnic identities would only lead to more inequality and struggle. It seems that at first, ethnic particularism was a way to accept the inevitable differences that arise between people but in a manner that avoids classes. Towards the end of the chapter, however, the author alludes to the fact that certain nationalities were seen as more worthy, therefore superior to others. It may not be along class lines, but the people of the Soviet Union were still divided. This promotion of nationalism most likely created more problems for the Soviet government in the long-term as nationalism grew stronger and threatened the Soviet’s unity and control. These struggles would also plague the Russian government after the fall of the Berlin Wall.