Lenin on the Question of Nationality

By Alfred D. Low | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Russian Socialism and the Nationality Problem Under Tsarism

When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in October, 1917, they inherited a multinational state beset by numerous problems of which the problem of nationality was not the least important one. The census of the year 1897 had disclosed that non-Great-Russians constituted the majority of the population of the Tsarist Empire, about 56% of its inhabitants. During the First World War they supplied as many as 45% of Russia's soldiers.

The Great Russian people, living in the interior of the Empire, formed its historic core. In the course of centuries the Russian state had pushed its frontiers forward until it embraced and dominated millions of non-Russian nationalities which populated the peripheral regions of the Empire. In the twentieth century an increasing number of them demanded autonomy, but did not wish separation from the polyglot state. Strategically located outposts of Great Russian settlers, especially in the towns and cities of the outlying regions, constituted a centripetal and integrating influence in the Empire. Some of the "alien" peoples, like the Poles, the Finns, the Germans, the Armenians, and the Georgians, were the bearers of a high civilization, of rich cultural and national traditions, and were also economically advanced, while others, like the Mongolians, many of the Caucasian peoples, and numerous smaller ethnic units, especially in Asia, were culturally inferior to the Great Russians and economically backward.

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