Monday, December 23, 2019

For Lenin, ‘Main Enemy wasn’t Ukrainian but Rather Russian Nationalism,’ Aleksey Miller Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 21 – Vladimir Putin, in his continuing attacks on Lenin, gets things exactly backwards, Aleksey Miler says. For the Bolshevik leader, “the main enemy” was not Ukrainian or any other non-Russian nationalism but rather Russian nationalism as embodied in the White Movement.

In Lenin’s view, that movement could destroy Bolshevism then while non-Russian nationalisms could not. And that explains his policies however much some like Putin project back on them an entirely different understanding.

            In a Delovaya stolitsa interview devoted to the complexities of the rise of Ukrainian national identity a century ago, the professor of Budapest’s Central European University offers an important corrective to the views Putin and many others on Lenin and nationalism (

            Miller points out that the Austro-Hungarian and German empires against which the Russian Empire was fighting promoted Ukrainian and other nationalisms in the Russian Empire convinced that that would weaken the latter. But when the Russian Empire collapsed, the Provisional Government promoted non-Russian nationalism even more, Miller says.

            In 1917, understanding that it was losing influence in the military, the Provisional Government “sought levers to strengthen its control in the forces. And it decided to nationalize army units.  There was a significant episode when Kornilov asked Skoropadsky to Ukrainianize his corps.” The latter refused but the die was cast.

            Most parties in Soviet Russia including the majority of Bolsheviks believedthat “nationalism was a hostile force.” After all, the Bolsheviks as Marxists were about classes not nations. But Lenin disagreed. He argued that the Bolsheviks must embrace the non-Russian nationalists in order to weaken what he saw as “the main enemy” – Russian nationalism.

            “Ukrainian historians often explain this by suggesting that the Ukrainian national movement was so strong that he had to make concessions to it,” Miller says. But “this is not precisely the case.” The Bolsheviks around Lenin were committed to defeating nationalism by using nationalist rhetoric. They also believed their united party could block any nationalist threat.

            The main opponent of Lenin’s position was Stalin, the Bolsheviks’ specialist on the nationality question. He called for the creation of ethnic autonomies but not republics “with the formal right of exit” because he said, over time, “young party members will be inclined ot take the norms of the Constitution seriously.”

            “Therefore,” Stalin said, “after five to ten years, if we establish formally sovereign republics, we will have a problem maintaining the unity of the party.”  The 1930s show how Stalin solved this problem, by periodic and massive purges to ensure that unity, the historian continues.

            “It is also necessary to remember,” Miller points out, “that when the Bolsheviks took these decisions in 1922, they still hoped for a world revolution. And one of het motives for the creation of the USSRR was that then it would be possible to take in other union republics,” including Polish and German.

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