The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union,1923-1939

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The Soviet Union was the first of Europe's multiethnic states to confront the rising tide of nationalism by systematically promoting the national consciousness of its ethnic minorities and establishing for them many of the institutional forms characteristic of the modern nation-state. In the 1920s, the Bolshevik government, seeking to defuse nationalist sentiment, created tens of thousands of national territories. It trained new national leaders, established national languages, and financed the production of national-language cultural products.This was a massive and fascinating historical experiment in governing a multiethnic state. Terry Martin provides a comprehensive survey and interpretation, based on newly available archival sources, of the Soviet management of the nationalities question. He traces the conflicts and tensions created by the geographic definition of national territories, the establishment of dozens of official national languages, and the world's first mass "affirmative action" programs. Martin examines the contradictions inherent in the Soviet nationality policy, which sought simultaneously to foster the growth of national consciousness among its minority populations while dictating the exact content of their cultures; to sponsor national liberation movements in neighboring countries, while eliminating all foreign influence on the Soviet Union's many diaspora nationalities. Martin explores the political logic of Stalin's policies as he responded to a perceived threat to Soviet unity in the 1930s by re-establishing the Russians as the state's leading nationality and deporting numerous "enemy nations."
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Editorial Reviews

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"In the popular imagination, the Soviet Union was always synonymous with Russia, but in the U.S.S.R.'s early days Soviet leaders had a very different idea in mind: they wanted to establish a true multinational, multiethnic empire. . . . Yet, as Martin shows in this fascinating history, simply giving an order was not enough, even in the Stalin years, and the complex relationship between socialism and nationalism in places like Ukraine often frustrated Soviet intentions."—The New Yorker, June 10, 2002

"Martin significantly advances our understanding of the early, formative years of Soviet nationality policy, providing a subtle and lucid reconstruction of its unique conceptual underpinnings and its stormy evolution. . . . Martin's work is more than an important contribution to the field of Soviet history; it is a critical piece in comprehending contemporary Ukrainian and Russian nationality."—Foreign Affairs, May/June 2002

"The real virtue of Martin's book—and all of the best new Soviet scholarship—is not in the theoretical model it propounds, but in the power of its details, gleaned from previously unknown documents. . . . Martin is able, for the first time, to explain what it was that the Soviet Union's leaders actually intended their nationality policy to achieve. . . . Reading Martin's work, . . . one is struck, above all, by how much stranger the Soviet Union is beginning to seem, in retrospect, than we thought it was at the time, and how much more perverse. . . . Reading this history also gives us in the West an insight, however narrow, into the turmoil experienced in the non-Russian lands of the former Soviet Union during the last decade. Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Georgia: these are now 'free' and independent states. Yet how real is this freedom? Might it not be another illusion, foisted upon them by a still powerful, and still much wealthier, Russian republic."—The New York Review of Books, February 12, 2004

"Martin's book is fascinating and enlightening. . . . After reading Martin's book, one is left with the impression that Stalin's weight in the nationalities debate as a significant factor in his victory."—Michael F. Gretz, New School University, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 9:1, Spring 2003

"Terry Martin's Affirmative Action Empire is an exceptional and unique book, indispensable for any student of ethnic politics in the Soviet Union and its successor states, notably the Russian Federation. It is unique both in its comprehensive, in-depth treatment of the evolution of the Soviet nationalities policy from its inception until the end of the 1930s and in its reliance on Soviet archival sources that have become accessible only recently. . . . A major contribution to the history of the Soviet Union and to the study of ethnicity."—Teresa Rakowska-Harmstone, Harvard University, Journal of Ukrainian Studies 26:1-2, Summer/Winter 2001

"Terry Martin looks at the nationalities policy of the early Soviet period and offers an insightful, detailed analysis of a problem that Soviet leaders grappled with throughout the twentieth century. As he points out, it was a problem that eventually helped to usher in the end of the USSR."—Amanda Wood Aucoin, New Zealand Slavonic Journal

"Martin has produced the most detailed study of the origin of the Soviet regime's contradictory policies toward its minorities. The Affirmative Action Empire is one of the most important books on Soviet nationalities policies ever published. It will be an instant classic in its field."—Mark R. Beissinger, University of Wisconsin–Madison

"In this important new book, Terry Martin analyzes the emergence of the Soviet multinational state in the 1920 s and Stalin's move to promote the concept of the 'Friendship of the Peoples' in the 1930s. With exhaustive research in theRussian archives, Martin has captured the USSR'S paradoxical policy of fostering the development of its constituent nations, while seeking to bring them under Moscow's strict control."—Norman M.Neimark, Robert and Florence McDonnell Porfessor of East European Studies, Department of History, Stanford University

New Yorker
In the popular imagination, the Soviet Union was always synonymous with Russia, but in the U.S.S.R.'s early days Soviet leaders had a very different idea in mind: they wanted to establish a true multinational, multi-ethnic empire. To that end, they attacked Russian nationalism as a vestige of Tsarism, and instituted a set of policies that looked very much like affirmative action, enforcing the use of local languages and fostering the development of ethnic leaders, even at the cost of discriminating against Russians. Yet, as Martin shows in this fascinating history, simply giving an order was not enough, even in the Stalin years, and the complex relationship between socialism and nationalism in places like Ukraine often frustrated Soviet intentions. More important, ethnicity, once fostered, was frequently a counterweight to, rather than a bulwark of, Communist ideology; although Stalin remained rhetorically committed to the multi-state idea, he ended up terrorizing those ethnic leaders he saw as threats.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Maps
Footnote Abbreviations
A Note on Style
1 The Soviet Affirmative Action Empire 1
Pt. 1 Implementing the Affirmative Action Empire 29
2 Borders and Ethnic Conflict 31
3 Linguistic Ukrainization, 1923-1932 75
4 Affirmative Action in the Soviet East, 1923-1932 125
5 The Latinization Campaign and the Symbolic Politics of National Identity 182
Pt. 2 The Political Crisis of the Affirmative Action Empire 209
6 The Politics of National Communism, 1923-1930 211
7 The National Interpretation of the 1933 Famine 273
Pt. 3 Revising the Affirmative Action Empire 309
8 Ethnic Cleansing and Enemy Nations 311
9 The Revised Soviet Nationalities Policy, 1933-1939 344
10 The Reemergence of the Russians 394
11 The Friendship of the Peoples 432
Glossary 462
Bibliography 465
Index 483
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  • Posted September 27, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    The definitive study of Soviet nationalities policy in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Terry Martin, Associate Professor of History at Harvard University, has written the definitive book on Soviet nationalities policy in the 1920s and 1930s. He writes, "the Soviet Union became the first multiethnic state in world history to define itself as an anti-imperial state." He points out, "The Soviet Union was the first country in world history to establish Affirmative Action programs for national minorities, and no country has yet approached the vast scale of Soviet Affirmative Action." As he observes, "The Bolsheviks attempted to fuse the nationalists' demand for national territory, culture, language, and elites with the socialists' demand for an economically and politically unitary state. In this sense, we might call the Bolsheviks internationalist nationalists or, better yet, Affirmative Action nationalists." Martin notes, "Russia's new revolutionary government was the first of the old European multiethnic states to confront the rising tide of nationalism and respond by systematically promoting the national consciousness of its ethnic minorities and establishing for them many of the characteristic institutional forms of the nation-state. . New national elites were trained and promoted to leadership positions in the government, schools, and industrial enterprises of these newly formed territories. In each territory, the national language was declared the official language of government. In dozens of cases, this necessitated the creation of a written language where one did not yet exist. The Soviet state financed the mass production of books, journals, newspapers, movies, operas, museums, folk music ensembles, and other cultural output in the non-Russian languages. Nothing comparable to it had been attempted before, and, with the possible exception of India, no multiethnic state has subsequently matched the scope of Soviet Affirmative Action." He writes, "the Soviet state created not just a dozen large national republics, but tens of thousands of national territories scattered across the entire expanse of the Soviet Union." But this, unfortunately, turned out to be a mistake. "Drawing any national border creates ethnic conflict. The Soviet Union literally drew tens of thousands of national borders. As a result, every village, indeed every individual, had to declare an ethnic allegiance and fight to remain a national majority rather than a minority. It is difficult to conceive of any measure more likely to increase ethnic mobilization and ethnic conflict." In passing, Martin concludes, "The famine was not an intentional act of genocide specifically targeting the Ukrainian nation." The Soviet government punished chauvinist words and deeds, but, "The Affirmative Action Empire required a constant practice of ethnic labelling and so inadvertently indoctrinated its population in the belief that ethnicity was an inherent, fundamental, and crucially important characteristic of all individuals." Stalin wrote, "The leaders of the revolutionary workers of all countries study eagerly the enormously instructive history of the Russian working class, knowing that in addition to reactionary Russia, there existed a revolutionary Russia ... All of this instills in the hearts of the Russian workers (and cannot not instill) a feeling of revolutionary national pride." So Russia was not just its reactionary ruling class, but was also its revolutionary working class. Stalin's definition of nation applies to all nations.

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