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


Contradiction Within Soviet Identity: The Soviet Union’s Struggle With Nationality

Because the Soviet government focused on indigenization (Korenizatsiya) in the 1920’s yet rejected the attempts at independence of socialist republics such as Ukraine, it was unable to create a concrete “Soviet identity” that separated “high culture” from “national identity.” ((Terry Martin, “Modernism or Neo-traditionalism? Ascribed Nationality and Soviet Primordialism,” in Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices, ed. David L. Hoffmann and Yanni Kotsonis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 2000), 167.))

Contradiction regarding the Soviet Union’s handling of nationalities began with the Law of the Finnish Sejm and the First Declaration of the Rada. In the former, Finland declared its independence after the fall of the Tsarist Regime. (( The Bolshevik government accepted this first declaration of independence, but it rejected the Declaration of the Rada. (( In “On the Question of the Nationalities or of Autonomization,” Lenin argues for the retention of “the union of socialist republics as regards the diplomatic apparatus” in order to strengthen the Union. However, Lenin and the Soviet government granted Finland’s independence. However, he also warned against the spread of the “Great-Russian chauvinism” to minority populations because this would have created a division between nationalities. (( This division would have undermined the unity of the Russian people as proletariats. On one hand, Lenin called for the retention of socialist republics and denounced Great-Russian chauvinism, yet on the other the Bolshevik government rejected the Declaration of the Rada and accepted Finland’s independence. These contradictions marked the Soviet government’s early struggle deciding whether to create a “Soviet identity” through class identification, national identification, or both.

The Bolsheviks recognition the importance of the support of the many nationalities present in Russia and Korenizatsiya in the 1920’s further exemplifies this contradiction. In order to control the Tsarist military forces, the Bolshevik members of the Petrograd Soviet went to speak with the “Caucasian” members of the military in their native tongue. Previously, ethnic Russian officers and generals controlled the majority of the military force and gave orders in Russian. The Soviets’ decision to communicate with each nationality in its native tongue demonstrated the conscious demarcation of these nationalities. Further, Korenizatsiya, or indigenization, was the government’s support regarding the preservation of minority cultures through education and local practice. Members of these minority communities were encouraged to spread and utilize their native tongue and culture. However, in places like Ukraine, calls for independence were rejected. Under Stalin, this expectation of a separation between “high culture” and “national identity” continued through the implementation of practices such as passportization.

The Soviet government expected its people to accept this flawless distinction between Soviet “high culture” and “national identity” in their identities as the USSR began to industrialize. It expected a peaceful coexistence between the “modern and traditional elements,” also called neo-traditionalism. ((Terry Martin, “Modernism or Neo-traditionalism? Ascribed Nationality and Soviet Primordialism,” in Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices, ed. David L. Hoffmann and Yanni Kotsonis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 2000), 163.)) However, by the time Stalin introduced his first Five-Year Plan, the Soviet government had encouraged the distinction between nationalities for too long. As it attempted to create this “Soviet high culture,” it continued to contradict itself and confuse the definition of the identity of its people.

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.



AUTHOR: Giuseppe Mazzini was an Italian politician and journalist and played a vital role in the eventual unification of Italy. In 1831, he traveled to Marseille and started a up a secret society, Young Italy, which promoted Italy’s unification. Mazzini pursued his thoughts regarding unification by creating similar groups to Young Italy, such as Young Germany, Young Poland and Young Switzerland.   After Italy was successfully unified, he became a strong advocate of the European unification (( .

CONTEXT: This was published in 1852; two years after Mazzini had been hiding from the Swiss police. Leading up to 1852, Mazzini had been traveling around Europe promoting European unification as well as Italian unification. Revolutions had been prominent all around Europe, such as the French Revolution of 1848 and the October Revolution in Vienna in 1848 (( .

LANGUAGE: Mazzini wrote with a very confident tone, adamant about what was best for Italy. He states what must be done gives specific instructions to the readers regarding Italy’s nationality and unification. His tone is also very prominent when discussing the lack of nationality Europe’s counties have, and how he believes the nations should go about fixing this.

AUDIENCE: Mazzini is directing this piece towards everyone in Europe, specifically those who live in nations undergoing turmoil. He wished to persuade the people to unify their nations for the betterment of Europe as a whole.

INTENT: Mazzini’s intent in writing this was to evoke the people of Europe to make more of an effort to unify their nations. He was trying to show them how big of an issue it was that these nations and Europe itself was not unified.

MESSAGE: Mazzini’s message was to inform the people they would receive much more benefits by living in a unified nation and continent.

WHY? This was written in response to many of the revolutions Mazzini had noticed occur around Europe. He realized that multiple nations were struggling with unification and nationalism, and he encouraged them to find a way to become one.

Russia as a Multi-Ethnic Empire

In the latter half of the nineteenth century,  Russia experienced a massive shift in population in a number of ways.  From ethnicity, to occupation, Russia became more modern than it had ever been before.

Kaeppler talk about the expansiveness of Russia’s ethnicity.  The vast array of backgrounds was established by the 1897 Russian Empire census, the only official one they had ever taken at that time.  In the census, it was revealed that the Russian ethnicity/ nationality made up only 44.3% of the entire Empire.  The other 55.7% was a large mixture of ethnicities;  This was shocking when the Tsar and government declared that two thirds of the empire was of Russian nationality.  The sheer number of nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and languages mentioned in Kappeler’s article is a testament to how diverse the Russian Empire was.

In addition to the ethnic diversity of Russia, there was also an increase in agricultural diversity.  With the freeing of serfs in 1861, Russia was undergoing a large amount of economic change.  Specific regions were beginning to focus on more commercial crops and crops that were more specific the the region they were being grown in.  For example, the Poles focused on cultivating Tobacco, while Middle Asia grew vineyards and rice.  This was only possible as trading was much more expansive and farming was more versatile.

Was this diversity a positive or negative aspect of the Russian Empire?


Social Engineering and Bonds in the USSR and Nazi Germany

In Beyond Totalitarianism, edited by Sheila Fitzpatrick and Michael Geyer, two chapters discuss the framework and implementation of social engineering, and then the creation and destruction of bonds in both the USSR and Nazi Germany. Specifically, in chapter six, “Frameworks for Social Engineering,” authors Christopher R. Browning and Lewis H Siegelbaum focused on the trajectories of dictated social identities within both political systems. No attempt was made to homogenize the two systems; rather, differences regarding the criterion ascribed, the methodology of implementation, as well as what portion of each population was affected were all noted. Continuing on in chapter seven, “Energizing the Everyday,” authors Sheila Fitzpatrick and Alf Lüdtke discussed various practices and relationships within both Nazi Germany and the USSR, and how these were demonstrative that bonds were created or transformed, connecting people in a myriad of ways. Several types of bonds and relationships were discussed in order to challenge the Arendtian notion that new and new types of bonds could not be generated in “totalitarian” societies.

In Yuri Slezkine’s article “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism,” the author demonstrated the rationale behind the Party’s emphasis on nationality and the creation of national identities for the smaller minorities and nations under its control. Slezkine argued that with the eradication of class after the Russian Revolution, the resulting development of national cultures and subsequent administration system served as a way to organize society without the use of class, making nationality essential in a Soviet citizen’s identity. Browning and Siegelbaum address this topic in chapter six, but take it one step further. They argue that while the state certainly used nationality as a way to define and categorize the general population, Soviet citizens could exercises considerable latitude (or artifice) in constructing desirable social identities. ((Christopher R. Browning and Lewis H. Siegelbaum, “Frameworks for Social Engineering,” in Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, ed. Michael Geyer and Shelia Fitzpatrick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 235.)) I found it surprising that regulations regarding nationality were not as resolute as Slezkine’s article depicted. In reality, the policing of social identities was far from simple. Browning and Siegelbaum noted how for example, parents of nationally or socially mixed offspring would choose to emphasize the identity of the parent that would be more advantageous ((Ibid, 235.)) or children could publicly “disown” their parents in favor of a Soviet self. 

Reading this article in dialogue with Slezkine’s article, I realize that I should not be so surprised by the flexibility and subterfuge executed by the Soviet citizenry. In a practical sense, though Slezkine described the extensive work of ethnographers in categorizing and modernizing each nationality, there were simply too many nationalities to differentiate that regulation proved futile. I wonder how much Soviet officials knew of the subterfuge going on, and if they did know, did they ignore it? Why would they?

Count Cavour and Nationality

In “The Program of Count Cavour” from 1846, around the beginnings of the Italian Unification, Count Cavour expresses that “no people can attain a high degree of intelligence and morality unless its feeling of nationality is strongly developed. This noteworthy fact is an inevitable consequence of the laws that rule human nature”. As a powerful figure in the unification of Italy, Cavour makes purposefully strong statements such as these to fuel a sense of determination and obligation in the peoples of Italy. In order to prompt in his people a feeling of duty, Cavour subtly suggests that those who have not cultivated a sense of nationality will not achieve intelligence or morality. He insinuates that a sense of nationality and belonging has always been present in human nature, and that awareness of this sense of nationality has always been the key to reaching “a high degree of intelligence and morality”, or in other words, enlightenment. In this manner, Cavour cleverly encourages nationalism in Italians. In a way, he makes those lacking in nationalistic values out to be ignorant and unconscionable. Cavour chooses to tie morality to nationalism because one who is patriotic has a sense of loyalty to a greater population, rather than just himself. Therefore when someone thinks only of himself, and not of his country too, he has a lower standard of morality.

I definitely understand Cavour’s sentiments in relating intelligence and morality to nationalism, but it definitely is not true in many situations. Nations which employ immoral practices should not feel entitled to feelings of nationalism from its people, particularly if there are laws or policies that do not protect the welfare of its people. Sometimes the most intelligent and moral people are those who speak out against a nation, questioning certain practices and systems in place. A sense of nationalism can also be a detrimental thing for a nation’s people. Governments can convince and/or force its people to perform immoral, inhumane acts in the interests of the country. Nationalism may be the best thing for an individual country, but may hurt its people and affect other countries in a negative manner. Is Cavour right in saying that nationalism is tied to high levels of intelligence and morality? Is this relevant in any nations today? Was it only relevant at the time for Italy?

Mobility in Class & Current News with Adoption

Today, History 254 discussed the mobility of classes and ascription of identity. What does ascribing entail in this context? In this context, it is the government ascribing an identity of nationality to citizens in hopes of creating a more united society. Although this plan backfired, the tactic is important in relation to today’s discussion. When the government assigned identity, they also created a reformed class structure in some ways. A question discussed today was, is there mobility between classes? The concluding answer was yes, there was, and the peasantry class had the most mobility. The peasants were encouraged to get an education for the working force. The government was trying to wipe out the existing middle class and fill that gap with the rising peasantry.

On an unrelated subject, I have a bit of current news. As I was scrolling through the Moscow Times, I came across a headline predicting Russian adoptions to double. This subject peaked my interest when Russia banned U.S. adoptions of Russian children on January 1, 2013. Russia claimed that there had been too many recent cases of abuse of Russian adoptees in the U.S., commencing the ban of U.S. adoptions. I think this ban was largely political considering that children abuse occurs in many other areas to a much more extreme degree. Due to the face that the U.S. accounted for over 60,000 of Russian adoptees over the past two years, numbers of children kept in orphanages was expected to rise. However, this article says that the Russians have begun adopting these orphans. Within the first six months after the U.S. ban, the number of children in these orphanages dropped from 118,000 to 110,000. This rapid increase in domestic adoptions is excepted to sustain. The government predicts that 15,000 Russian children will be adopted by the end of 2013.

An Unnatural Return to Roots

Governing policies in the Soviet Union consistently blended new ideas with standing tradition. As such, the conflict between the role of the modern ‘nation’ and the primordial ethnicities  is very similar to other conflicts: the role of the government and the church, emphasis on peasantry and the quest to modernize, and Western culture and Soviet traditions.

While the idea of a ‘nation’ was a modern construct, the Soviets hoped to supersede that with the identity of class. From the piece by Fitzpatrick, the origin of the ‘nation’ was developed from the villages uniting under feudal systems and then, eventually, identifying as a singular nation. The role of the clergy was the uniting fashion for these early villages and feudal city-states where religion was a large facet of identity,  but some of this was lost in becoming a nation, when nationality became the strongest identification. In the Soviet Union, both class and nationality were prioritized as identifying factors. But, like many of the Soviet programs, this was a top-down forcing of a process that should have been natural, if it was to happen at all.


As Nationalism and Class-ism was standardized, they became stratified and eliminated mobility. This had a special impact given that in the USSR class and nationality came with certain privileges, along with obligations and restrictions. Stratifying the population to such an extent actually damaged the ability for demographics to identify with each other, getting in the way of the Soviet dream of a unified class-consciousness. By trying to influence class and ethnic development toward a homogeneous culture, the Soviets created a number of dissatisfied and unique nations.  This collection of independent mentalities would slowly fracture the Soviet Union.

Narod and Narodnost: A Transformation of Russia

The piece for class on Monday is on the subject of modernity, nationality, and ethnicity. The etymology of words such as narod and narodnost are used as a basis for discussion throughout the piece. The piece explores the transformation of Russian society and nationalism throughout centuries through the use of narod and narodnost to illustrate this societal transformation.

The piece begins by an explanation of the word narod in different contexts. The piece states that narod was a term to denote ethnicity. The piece insinuates that the term is much deeper than just ethnicity-it also refers to culture. The piece then talks about narod is different aspects of culture such as political and cultural. The piece explores how narod evolves into the term of narodnost. Narodnost is illustrated through examples of literary figures in Russia and philosophers. The effects of Narod and narodnost are explained through cultural and political movements in Russia, leading to a new definition of nationalism.