Reviews

This important volume gathers transcriptions of archival documents concerning the national policy of the Bolshevik Party towards nationalities within the young USSR.  This review focuses on documents linked with Central Asia and to a lesser extent with the Caucasus—besides which the book also contains numerous documents concerning the Ukrainian, Belorussian and Jewish peoples.  For their selection, the authors have chosed to shed light on lesser-known documents involving the lower levels of power in the national Republics, regions or districts, as well as OGPU or Central Committee documents in order to provide at the same time a vision of the implementation of policy from above and from below.  They have also tried to implement a transversal approach in order to analyse the relations not only between the centre and the periphery, but also between diverse government and different agencies within the periphery.  The book is based on the resources of the RGASPI (Russian State Archive of Social and Political History), its documents coming for the most part from the collections 17 (Central Committee), 5 (Lenin’s secretariat), 81 (Kaganovich), 558 (Stalin), 324 (Zinov’ev), etc. for a total of 262 archival documents published.  One of the interests of this publication comes from the fact that its authors do not concentrate exclusively on strictly political material—even if the latter is devoted a large room in the volume (through borders’ delimitation, inner security matters, rebellions and resistance movements, state-building, raionirovanie)—but show also interested in the most varied aspects, including the cultural ones, of national policy.  This choice has permitted the presence of OGPU reports on the basmachi movement in the Fergana Valley, on nationalist feelings identified as “Uzbekism” or “pan-Turkism”), and of CP materials on the ‘enlightenment policy’ among minorities, on anti-religious propaganda (with allusions to Islamic religious teaching and pilgrimage matters), and on the swift to the Latin alphabet for Turkic languages.

All theses ground-level reports reveal a common lack of enthusiasm form national groups for participating in the political construction of the Soviet system.  They generally stress the difficulty to apply the central policy in the periphery.  Disorder such as the uprisings in Azerbaijan, the overall anti-Soviet movements or feelings are approached with a wealth of details.  Conversely, some documents of the early 1920s reveal the symbolic power of attraction of the new regime (cf. letters from the Chechen Diaspora in Constantinople asking for permission to return to their fatherland), or a willingness to participate in the debates on the national question (cf. letters addressed by a student to Stalin himself with arguments on some theoretical aspects of the nationalities question, with an answer by Stalin to this first correspondence).  These nuances reveal the subtlety of the selection and the strong (though undisputable) accent put by the authors on the dramatic consequences of the nationalities policy on national groups.  This set of documents casts light on the complexity of the implementation of the nationalities policy on the ground, with considerable variations between varied regions and groups.  Even if one can regret the lack of a thematic classification, the documents being displayed according to the date of their issue (with no index of personal or place names nor ethnic denominations), this rich volume offers an essential tool to every one interested in Soviet history of the 1920s and 1930s.

Cloé Drieu, French Institute of Central Asian Studies, Tashkent-Paris
CER: I-1.1.C-19