The Sorcerer as Apprentice: Stalin as Commissar of Nationalities, 1917-1924

The Sorcerer as Apprentice: Stalin as Commissar of Nationalities, 1917-1924

The Sorcerer as Apprentice: Stalin as Commissar of Nationalities, 1917-1924

The Sorcerer as Apprentice: Stalin as Commissar of Nationalities, 1917-1924

Synopsis

The current struggles over nationality policy in Russia and in neighboring states are rooted in the history of the Narkomnats and in policies that Stalin established as Commissar. This history, based in large part on primary research, describes the Commissariat of Nationalities from 1917 to 1924, Stalin's role as its chief, and the policies that were the origins of the current ethnic dilemmas throughout the now collapsed Soviet Empire. This rich history is intended for scholars, students, and policymakers in European history and Slavic studies, and for general readers interested in the background of political and social conflicts in the former Soviet republics today.

Excerpt

The Soviet Commissariat of Nationalities (Narkomnats), a state agency expressly devoted to nationality affairs, was an unprecedented innovation in Russian history. The Bolsheviks found it necessary because both the Tsarist and Provisional Governments refused to come to terms with national minorities' participation in government. Among Tsarist statesmen, only Stolypin had ever outlined a nationality agency, but that draft remained among his unpublished papers. His plan emphasized the constitutional and complete equality of rights for people of all creeds and cultures as the framework for integrating Russia's peoples. This goal was to be the organization's priority. Stolypin also grasped that neighboring states with minorities in Russia posed a threat to Russia, and he understood that entrenched Russian and bureaucratic hostility to decentralization and equality radicalized the national minorities and added to that threat. But his ideas remained on paper.

The struggles over nationality policy that took place during the revolutions of 1917 in many ways revolved around the issue of minorities' political participation. The Provisional Government fecklessly began by dismantling local administration structures across Russia and allowing local regions, including those of mixed ethnic makeup, to start local self-government. In more purely ethnic issues the government felt its duty ended with proclaiming civil equality for all, thereby "magically" dissolving all obstacles to interethnic comity. The government did not realize that Russia's peoples saw liberty or civil equality as their right, not the regime's gift, and their seeming ingratitude irked the ministers. The Provisional Government remained wedded to the belief that it could do nothing more institutionally or constitutionally until an elected Constituent Assembly decided Russia's destiny.

Only one student of the period believes that this government actually foreshadowed Narkomnats by establishing a Judicial Commission . . .

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