Thursday, July 23, 2020

Open Federalism Widely Backed in Russia in 1917, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 21 – Because most anti-Bolshevik leaders opposed federalism and Lenin and Stalin offered only one that they soon gutted, most Russians and non-Russians have forgotten that in 1917, there was widespread support for genuine federalism in Russia and that this support continued among Russians who supported neither the Reds nor the Whites.

            In an important comment for the Region.Expert portal, regionalist writer Vadim Sidorov reminds that a majority of Russians who took part in the only truly free elections Russia ever had, those to the Constituent Assembly, backed parties who favored federalist programs for reorganizing Russia (

            And that these parties, in the brief time that body existed before being suppressed by Bolshevik forces, voted for the creation of a federal system that regions of various nationalities could choose to join or to leave, a point of view that despite the Kremlin’s best efforts did not die on that day.

            Instead, federalism as an idea and a program was promoted by the Russian Political Committee in Warsaw which rejected the nationality programs of both the Reds and the Whites and called instead for a Russia consisting of various units, some ethnic, some not, that could choose to form a new federation or alternatively leave.

            In 1921, the RPC, which was led by Boris Savinkov, published an entire collection of articles devoted to the nationality question. Its various authors accepted the independence of all the countries that had succeeded in exiting the empire and the aspirations of non-Russians like the Ukrainians and Belarusians, ethnic Russian regions like Siberia, and Cossacks to do likewise.

            The group expressed the hope that in a post-Bolshevik situation, some or perhaps all of these groups could come back together on a voluntary basis in a federation or confederation; but it insisted that each of them had the complete right to leave if it felt that was in the best interests of its people as democratically expressed.

            Three things make this oft-forgotten history important now, Sidorov says. First, it shows that Vladimir Putin’s effort to suggest that federalism is entirely artificial under Russian conditions and could never be anything else. In fact, in 1917, when people had a choice, that is what they most selected.

            Second, it shows that patriotic Russians and Savinkov and his colleagues were committed to the existence of Russia did back federalism because they believed it was the best way to promote democracy as well as to hold the country together but only if it was genuine and only if exit always remained an option for all.

            And third, the RPC in sharp contrast to many others backed the right of self-determination to ethnic Russians and others like Siberians and Cossacks often lumped under them as a precondition to the creation of genuine federalism. That was and remains a key element of the regionalist agenda, Sidorov says. 

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