Monday, August 31, 2020

Sultan Galiyev Now Having His Day in Sun as Defender of Russian Federalism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – As a result of the ground-breaking work by Alexandre Bennigsen and S. Enders Wimbush 40 years ago, many in Russia and around the world know about one aspect of the legacy of Mirsaid Sultan-Galiyev, his commitment to the idea that Bolshevism and Islam have many things in common and could combine in Muslim national communism.

            Bennigsen and Wimbush documented the ways in which Sultan-Galiyev’s ideas on this point were developed and spread throughout the Muslim borderlands of Soviet Russia and the Middle East in Muslim National Communism in the Soviet Union: A Revolutionary Strategy for the Colonial World (University of Chicago Press, 1980).

            But Sultan Galiyev was a protean figure who offered more than that, even if his ideas about Muslim national communism were what Stalin was most horrified by and why the Soviet dictator hounded him for two decades and finally had him killed in the GULAG.  And those other ideas, long ignored, are now making a comeback.

            Two weeks ago, the author of these lines discussed the new research a Kazakh scholar has done in Kazan about Sultan-Galiyev’s central role as a defender of federalism and his warning that the USSR would fail if it adopted Stalin’s pseudo-federalism Stalin instead of the real thing (

            Today, on the eve of the centenary of the formation of the Tatar ASSR, the predecessor of the Republic of Tatarstan, Bulat Sultanbekov, one of the most senior scholars in that republic, extends this  discussion and most importantly discusses some of the work that has already been done on Sultan-Galiyev’s federalist ideas (

            In the course of his interview, Sultanbekov recounts the clash between Sultan-Galiyev and Stalin over federalism, providing many new details not only about the Bolshevik leaders but about his own role in helping to recover the ideological richness of Sultan-Galiyev’s thought. In the course of this, he offers a list of publications for researchers to draw on now.

            Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his interview is his discussion of Sultan-Galiyev’s prophecies about the future of Eurasia made in the mid-1920s. In his 2015 book, Red Prophet. Rebirth (in Russian, Kazan), Sultanbekov recounts that his subject made four remarkably prescient predictions:

·         “The inevitable disintegration of the USSR in the absence of real federalism” leading to a country with borders which “almost correspond to those which arose after the coup in 1991.”

·         “Migration tsunamis that would change the national face of Europe” and lead to “the rule of the colonies over the metropolitan centers.”

·         The amazing rise of China and its transformation from a war-torn country into a world power.

·         A warning that the world would be threatened by environmental disaster.

It is not surprising then that this brilliant activist and thinker is being rediscovered and helping to shape a new generation of leaders among the non-Russian peoples of the Russian Federation and more generally.  Sultan-Galiyev was a Muslim national communist although not what Stalin meant when he denounced him for that.

He was much more than that and consequently even more of a threat to the Soviet dictator and those who rejected federalism then and now.  

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