Staunton, April 26 – Neither the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution nor the 150th of the birth of Vladimir Lenin, its chief architect, attracted much attention in Moscow because for Vladimir Putin, Lenin and the Bolsheviks laid a mine under the Russian state that ultimately led to the disintegration of the country in 1991.
One consequence of that neglect of the Leninist heritage, however, is that Moscow is now underrating the role of non-Russian and especially Muslim Bolsheviks not only in ensuring the triumph of Bolshevik rule over Russia but in spreading Moscow’s influence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the colonial world.
Given that Putin wants to build on that influence, Kazan orientalist Azat Akhunov suggests, Russian leaders today should be more attentive both to the fact that the East played a key role in Lenin’s strategy and that Muslim national communists were among its chief executors (business-gazeta.ru/article/466348).
After it became obvious that the Bolshevik revolution wasn’t going to spread into Europe, Lenin began to focus on Asia, viewing it as a place to which Moscow could “export” its revolution and undercut the West which relied on colonies. It was thus no accident that the first countries to sign agreements with Soviet Russia were Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Mongolia.
“In the East,” Akhunov continues, “the ideas of Tatar revolutionary Mirsaid Sultan-Galiyev who was shot in 1940 were unbelievably popular. To this day, he is considered the founder of the Islamic-socialist ideology which combines in itself elements of Marxism and Islam.”
And even long after his death, Sultan-Galiyev continued to influence leaders in the Middle East to look toward Moscow rather than the West. Akhmed ben Bella, the leader of the Algerian revolution, and Gamal Abdel Nasser, each had a photograph of this Muslim national communist in their offices.
Sultan-Galiyev was “an intellectual of the highest caliber” and Stalin “saw him as a competitor because they were both involved with nationality policy. The Tatar leader was first arrested in 1923 while Lenin was still alive and accused of being a bourgeois nationalist and opponent of Leninist nationality policy.
As he had before that date, Sultan-Galiyev continued to argue that Moscow should focus on the East rather than so exclusively on the West because the passion for justice especially among Muslim peoples could easily be a partner for the Bolsheviks in imposing the imperialist world order.
Those ideas, both that the Muslim east was ripe for revolution and that it could be a partner rather than a subordinate player, were anathema to many Bolsheviks who thought that the revolution must spread to Europe and that Moscow must be the leader in this process rather than anyone’s partner.
Consequently, Stalin harassed, then arrested and tortured and finally had Sultan-Galiyev shot. But Stalin’s successors should not forget his role in turning the East away from the West, the Kazan orientalist suggests. His article likely an indication that scholars in Kazan will now devote more attention to a figure who played a transforming role a century ago.
(For a discussion of Muslim National Communism and Sultan-Galiyev’s central role in it, see Alexandre Bennigsen and S. Enders Wimbush, Muslim National Communism: A Revolutionary Strategy for the Colonial World (Chicago, 1980).)