Monday, January 20, 2020

No One Proclaimed a Russian Republic in 1917 and No One is Likely to Now, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Because the future of Russia is so often discussed in terms of its past, it is critically important to get the past right and nowhere is that more important than in the case of nationality issues where many Russians from the Kremlin on down have an image of what happened in 1917 that is totally at variance with the facts, Vadim Sidorov says.

            Many Russians, including Vladimir Putin, believe that the Bolsheviks created “in place of ‘a single and indivisible Russia’ various ‘national Bantustans,” ignoring the reality that “not one of these revolutionary national-political formations declared their unilateral separation from Russia” until Lenin dissolved the Constituent Assembly, the regionalist writer says.

            Instead all of these non-Russian projects viewed the Russian revolution as a “liberating” event and awaited the decisions of that Assembly.  But when the Bolsheviks showed they had no interest in the liberation of the peoples whatever they proclaimed, the non-Russians one by one sought independence (

            “Only after the Bolshevik seizure of power in the metropolitan centers of the empire did they move. Among them were Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Mountaineers Republic, Georgia, Armenia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine and Estonia. And others sought autonomy of various degrees, including various Cossack republics, the Bashkirs, and Idel-Ural.

            What this shows is that the Bolsheviks did not create these “’national Bantustans’” but had to deal with a reality created by their nations. And it shows something else even more significant as well: one nation was conspicuously absent in its calls for autonomy or independence from the central authorities – the ethnic Russians. 

            “In many respects,” Sidorov says, “they at this movement found themselves in the very same position was the core people of another empire that fell apart under the pressure of the first world war, the Ottomans.” But the Russian reaction to this situation was entirely different than the Turks because of the very different nature of Russian national identity.

            And what is striking, the regionalist expert continues, is that “not one of the Russian sides in contract with one another even attempted to proclaim a Russian Republic.” They did not do for the reasons that the Bolsheviks did not: the Russian patriots in various places were not internationalists.

            Rather none of the anti-Bolshevik White forces or regionalist movements “thought in the categories of a nation which would create its own nation state.” Instead, they thought exclusively in terms of “the Russian State” as “the Russian Empire.” They wanted to hold it together rather than create a state based on the Russian nation.

            The contrast with Turkey is striking. There, “a revolutionary concept with an absolutely new meaning for society appeared from an empty place arose.”  Before the 20th century, the Ottoman state was not Turkey, but the falling off of parts of it as a result of foreign conquests and the risings of minorities led its new leaders to make a Turkish nation state their goal.

            Given that Russia was “officially a Russian state” and Russian self-consciousness was spread through a significant part of its population, albeit without a clear attachment to ethnicity, it should have been easier for someone in Russia to do what Ataturk did in Anatolia. But things
“turned out completely the opposite.”

            “Turkish identity and self-consciousness were relatively new for Turkey” and that gave them an advantage because it allowed these things to be given “new content” that could be defined in such a way as to form the basis of “a new state.”  And that process was assisted by the losses of population and territory as a result of the war.

            But in contrast, “Russia until the very last moment” remained effectively in its earlier borders. Until 1917 even Finland remained under the tsar. And as a result, Sidorov says, “the bearers of ‘Russian self-consciousness’ considered the borders of the empire as immutable and unchanging.”

            Today, in thinking about that period, Russian patriots “confuse two things: “the Russian Empire officially was a Russian state, but at the same time, ‘the Russians’ officially were defined not as a nation like the Turkish nation but as an ambiguous community.” For that reason, “the Russian Empire was not de jure a Russian nation state.”

            But was it one de facto, as many now think?  In fact, it was not, despite Russification of many non-Russian groups and casual references that also led to confusion about nations, states, and empires. Many counted as Russians did not view themselves as such, including the Cossacks, the Ukrainians, and the Belarusians.

            In that situation, the leaders of the anti-Bolshevik cause sought to maintain the borders of the Russian state rather than create a new Russian nation state.  And to this day, most Russians view things in the same way because “Russian political self-consciousness now just like a century ago has two poles.”

            At one of them, there is the dominant view that equates Russians with all of Russia ‘united and indivisible,’” and the other thinks of Russian identities as multiple and regional especially in times of crisis.  It remains an open question as to whether during a new period of collapse, Russians will display “an all-Russian consciousness” or only regional ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment