Friday, September 15, 2017

Stalin’s Nationalities Policy Saved the USSR Rather than Destroyed It, Kolerov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – Those Russians who view Stalin as a hero and model often are constrained in their enthusiasm not by his massive repressions but by his nationalities policy, his creation of the non-Russian union republics that many in Russia today believe were responsible for the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

            Now, however, Russian nationalist commentator Modest Kolerov has provided a defense of Stalin’s actions in this sector, arguing that the Soviet dictator’s construction of non-Russian republics played a key role in both defending the USSR against aggression and promoting its expansion as well (

            To the extent that Kolerov’s arguments gain currency in Russia – and they appear likely to not only because of his past influence but because they are congruent with Vladimir Putin’s revanchist goals – they may very well open the floodgates for a Stalinist surge far greater than any that has been seen even over the last several years.

            Kolerov argues that historians focus so much on the demise of empires at the end of World War I that they often ignore the efforts at Anschluss by smaller powers, such as that of Bessarabia by Romania, the war of Poland “against the Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian ethnographic borderlands of Russia,” and the war of Finland in Eastern Karelia.

            In addition to these specific campaigns, he says, “the threat of projects like ‘Greater Poland,’ ‘Greater Finland’ and ‘Greater Romania’ were significant in and of themselves,” representing a continuing threat to Russia and helping to define Moscow’s policies from the 1920s through the 1940s.

            Moreover, Kolerov says, it is critically important to remember that “the former borders of the Russian Empire and the new borders of the RSFSR/USSR were hardly viewed by Soviet power as something long-term.”  Instead, Moscow looked to expansion in the so-called “limitrophe” states and even into Germany in the early 1920s.

            The limitrophe states had come into existence on the basis of the principle of the right of nations to self-determination that the Western powers and the Soviets proclaimed but did not apply to themselves, Kolerov argues. In response, Stalin, who had opposed self-determination up to separation early on, established the USSR as “the first step to the project of a World Socialist Soviet Republic” as the 1924 USSR Constitution put it.

            That document, he continues, was “’the archetype’ of the potential confederation that the USSR preserved for the 69 years of its existence” despite the harsh centralized rule that it was forced to adopt because of foreign challenges. And that can be seen at the level of legal documents from the 1920s to 1991.

            That explains why “the USSR did not have in its name any geographic terms” and why its leaders expected that it would expand over time.  Thus, the national republics weren’t simply a concession to nationalist attitudes as some think but rather the basis for resisting foreign threats and for eventual expansion of the country to include them in a socialist commonwealth.

            Indeed, Kolerov says, “the Soviet nation states were not simply an instrument of ‘the nationalism of the non-Russian peoples’ and the expansion of the USSR against neighboring nation states … or mini-empires … but a response to the aggressive policy of these neighbors” against the USSR. It was in short “an anti-Anschluss” by Stalin.

            And seen from this perspective, Stalin not only defended the borders of the USSR but laid the foundation for their expansion. And his success with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact  in 1939 “fully corresponded to the preparatory work of the 1920s and 1930s and did not reperesent any ex prompto action or experiment.”

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