Wednesday, September 16, 2020

‘Proletarian Internationalism’ Didn’t Exist in the Soviet Union and Its Absence Killed the USSR, Pyatov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – Many Russians accept Vladimir Putin’s argument that Lenin’s support for the non-Russian republics led directly to the demise of the USSR. But at the same time, a large share of them believe to this day that until the end, the population of that former country was informed by “proletarian internationalism.”

            But commentator German Pyatov says “there was no internationalism in the USSR.” Instead, there was “Russophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia,” always at the everyday level and often at the level of government policy. And it was such attitudes that made the survival of the USSR impossible (

            To make his case which extends Putin’s critique of Lenin and adds criticism of Stalin and Brezhnev as well, the Moscow writer focuses on two issues: the policy of “korenizatsiya” (“rooting”) under which the Soviets in the first decades promoted non-Russians at the expense of Russians and Stalin’s and later Brezhnev’s anti-Semitic policies.

            In discussing korenizatsiya, a policy he suggests few know about, he discussed the way in which the Soviets between 1920 and 1932 promoted the Ukrainian language and culture in Ukraine and in the RSFSR wherever Ukrainians lived, weakening the Russian language and Russian culture in the course of doing so.

            The Soviet government did this, Pyatov argues, to suppress the ethnic Russian people, who for the communist dictatorship represented “the greatest danger” and to try to buy off the non-Russians lest they challenge centralist rule. Moscow achieved its first goal but hardly its second. Instead, he says, it sowed the seeds of separatism as a result.

            Not only did the non-Russian republics become more non-Russian and less Russian-speaking but Moscow extended this policy to the Red Army by creating national units using their own languages that “the Bolsheviks considered effective for the suppression of uprisings by ethnic Russian peasants.”

            Moscow turned away from this policy under Stalin, but he launched another mistaken nationality policy based on anti-Semitism, a policy that Brezhnev continued, albeit in less radical ways.

            Pyatov says that he can testify on the basis of his own experience that the de-Russificaiton of education led to disasters. He studied at the Tashkent State Medical Institute in 1983. At that time, 320 of the 400 students in the first class were graduates of rural schools where they did not learn Russian.

            As a result, they took their entrance examinations in Uzbek and did not understand the lectures they were required to attend.

            On the basis of this, he concludes, “the USSR fell apart because there was no internationalism in it. The very system of national republics established by the communists worked not toward internationalism but toward nationalism and contained within it the unavoidable threat of collapse.”

            Pyatov’s article is worrisome because it is far more radically anti-non-Russian than most commentaries on the existing system in the Russian Federation, but it is intriguing because, in contrast to Putin’s words, it suggests that the absence of internationalism was part and parcel of the Soviet system not only under Lenin but under Stalin and even Brezhnev as well. 


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