Staunton, July 10 – Damir Iskhakov, a prominent Tatar historian now running for the Duma on the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice, says that he considers himself a social democrat of the West European kind but shares many of the views first promoted by Mirsaid Sultan-Galiyev, the Muslim national communist of the 1920’s.
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.
Now, especially in Tatarstan, those familiar with his legacy are stressing another part of it, Sultan-Galiyev’s defense of federalism and his frequent warnings that the USSR would fail if it adopted Stalin’s pseudo-federalism Stalin instead of the real thing (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/sultan-galiyev-now-having-his-day-in.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/sultan-galiyev-warned-ussr-would.html).
Iskhakov is very much one of these, and his invocation of Sultan-Galiyev highlights the ideological ferment now taking place among the intellectuals of Tatarstan, a ferment that has already yielded a variety of new ideas, including one that may transform that republic and indeed the Russian Federation as a whole (business-gazeta.ru/article/515394).
The Tatar historian argues that “it is time for the Tatars to become a political nation,” that is, to define themselves not so much ethnically but rather as citizens of the Republic of Tatarstan and thus present a united front in dealing with Moscow rather than allowing as now Moscow to play ethnic Russians off against ethnic Tatars to keep Kazan weak.
It is unlikely that Iskhakov will be elected and even more unlikely that his ideas will be accepted on transforming the population of Tatarstan into a political nation. Many ethnic Tatars will oppose that just as much as Moscow and the ethnic Russians. But the idea has its roots in Sultan-Galiyev’s understanding of federalism.
Consequently, this reference to him and his ideas is likely to spark more discussions not only in Tatarstan but in other republics now within the borders of the Russian Federation and thus open the way for the formation of a common front between predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and Krays and non-Russian federal subjects in dealing with Moscow.
To the extent that happens, Sultan-Galiyev may again be presenting “a revolutionary strategy” for both peoples, albeit one very different than most people have associated with him up to now.