Cultural Diversity and the Interwar Conjuncture: Soviet Nationality Policy in Its Comparative Context

Cover Page

Cite item

Full text / tables, figures


Soviet nationality policy was one of several political responses to cultural diversity in the interwar period. The author situates that policy in its comparative context, contrasting the Soviet Union to its eastern European neighbors and to British and French rule in Africa. Contrary to the nationalizing policies of the new states of eastern Europe, which sought national unity at the expense of ethnic minorities, Soviet nationality policy was initially based on practices of diff erentiation. Contrary to the colonial policies of Britain and France, which were based on ethnic and racial diff erentiation, Soviet policy sought to integrate all peoples into one state. In the mid-to-late 1930s, however, Soviet policy took a nationalizing turn similar to its neighbors in eastern Europe, without completely abandoning policies of ethnic diff erentiation. We should thus understand the Soviet approach as a unique hybrid of contradictory practices of nationalization and diff erentiation.

About the authors

Peter A. Blitstein

Lawrence University

Author for correspondence.

PhD in History, AssociateProfessor of History at the Department of History

711 E Boldt Way, Appleton, WI 54911 USA


  1. Augustinos, G. The National Idea in Eastern Europe: The Politics of Ethnic and Civic Community. Lexington: D.C. Heath, 1996.
  2. Barkey, K., and Hagen, M. von. After Empire: Multiethnic Societies and Nation-Building. The Soviet Union and the Russian, Ottoman, and Habsburg Empires. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.
  3. Banac, I. The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics. Ithaca: Cornel University Press, 1984.
  4. Berend, I.T. Decades of Crisis: Central and Eastern Europe before World War II. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  5. Benton, L.A. Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  6. Blank, S. The Sorcerer as Apprentice: Stalin as Commissar of Nationalities, 1917–1924. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994.
  7. Blitstein, P.A. Stalin’s Nations: Soviet Nationality Policy between Planning and Primordialism, 1936 –1953. PhD duss. University of California, Berkeley, 1999.
  8. Blitstein, P.A. “Nation-Building or Russifi cation? Obligatory Russian Instruction in the Soviet NonRussian School, 1938–1953.” In R.G. Suny, T. Martin. A State of Nations: Empire and NationMaking in the Age of Lenin and Stalin, 253–274. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  9. Brubaker, R. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  10. Burroughs, P. “Imperial Institutions and the Government of Empire.” In A. Porter. The Oxford History of the British Empire. The Nineteenth Century, 180–210. New York: OUP Oxford, 1999.
  11. Cameron, D. The Principles of Native Administration and Their Application. Lagos: Government Printer, 1934.
  12. Cameron, D. “Native Administration in Tanganyika and Nigeria.” Journal of the Royal African Society 36, no. 145 (1937): 3–29.
  13. Chafer, T. “Teaching Africans to Be French? France’s ‘Civilizing Mission’ and the Establishment of a Public Education System in French West Africa, 1903–1930.” Africa 56, no. 2 (2001): 190–209.
  14. Chafer, T. The End of Empire in French West Africa: France’s Successful Decolonization? Oxford: Berg, 2002.
  15. Carrere d’Encausse, H. The Great Challenge: Nationalities and the Bolshevik State, 1917–1930. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1992.
  16. Connor, W. “Nation-Building or Nation-Destroying?” World Politics, no. 24 (1972): 319–355.
  17. Conklin, A.L. A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895–1930. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  18. Cooper, F. Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  19. Cooper, F. Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Cell, J.W. “Colonial Rule.” In J.M. Brown, W.R. Louis. The Oxford History of the British Empire. The Twentieth Century, 304–319. New York: OUP Oxford, 1999.
  20. Crowder, M. “Indirect Rule-French and British Style.” In R.O. Collins. Historical Problems of Imperial Africa, 212–243. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publ., 1994.
  21. Crowder, M. West Africa under Colonial Rule. Evanston: Hutchinson, 1968.
  22. Dawisha, K., Parrott B. The End of Empire? The Transformation of the USSR in Comparative Perspective. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1997.
  23. Dimier, V. “For a Republic ‘Diverse and Indivisible’? France’s Experience from the Colonial Past.” Contemporary European History 13, no. 1 (2004): 53–55.
  24. Deak, I. “How to Construct a Productive, Disciplined, Monoethnic Society: The Dilemma of East Central European Governments, 1914–1956.” In A. Weiner. Landscaping the Human Garden: 20th Century Population Management in a Comparative Framework, 205–218. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.
  25. Fink, C. Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878–1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2004.
  26. Flint, J. “Planned Decolonization and Its Failure in British Africa.” African Aff airs 83, no. 328 (1983): 389–411.
  27. Finney, P.B. “An Evil for All Concerned’: Great Britain and Minority Protection after 1919.” Journal of Contemporary History 30, no. 3 (1995): 533–551.
  28. Gellner, E. “The Political Thought of Bronislaw Malinowski.” Current Anthropology 28, no. 4 (1987): 557–559.
  29. Genova. J.E. “Confl icted Missionaries: Power and Identity in French West Africa during the 1930s.” The Historian 66, no. 1 (2004): 45–66.
  30. Giff ord, P., and Weiskel, T.C. “African Education in a Colonial Context: French and British Styles.” In P. Giff ord, W.R. Louis. France and Britain in Africa: Imperial Rivalry and Colonial Rule, 663–711. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971.
  31. Hargreaves, J.D. Decolonization in Africa. London: Longman Publ., 1988.
  32. Hagen, W.W. “Before the ‘Final Solution’: Toward a Comparative Analysis of Political Anti-Semitism in Interwar Germany and Poland.” Journal of Modern History 68, no. 2 (1996): 351–381.
  33. Hailey, L. An African Survey. London: Oxford University Press, 1938.
  34. Holquis, P. “Information Is the Alpha and Omega of Our Work’: Bolshevik Surveillance in Its PanEuropean Context.” Journal of Modern History 69, no. 3 (1997): 415–450.
  35. Hoff mann, D.L. “Mothers in the Motherland: Stalinist Pronatalism in Its Pan-European Context.” Journal of Social History 34, no. 1 (2000): 35–54.
  36. Hirsch, F. Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of Soviet Union. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005.
  37. Hirsch, F. “Toward an Empire of Nations: Border-Making and the Formation of Soviet National Identities.” Russian Review 59, no. 2 (2000): 202–225.
  38. Iliff e, J. A Modern History of Tanganyika. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
  39. Ken, O.N., and Rupasov, A.I. Politbyuro TSK VKP(b) i otnosheniya SSSR s zapannymi sosednimi gosudarstvami (konets 1920–1930kh gg.). St. Petersburg: Yevropeyskiy dom Publ., 2000 (in Russian).
  40. Kolarz, W. Russia and Her Colonies. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1953.
  41. Korzec, P. “The Minority Problem of Poland, 1919–1939.” In S. Vilfan. Ethnic Groups and Language Rights, 120–135. New York: Dartmouth Publishing Co, 1993.
  42. Kotkin, S. “Modern Times: The Soviet Union and the Interwar Conjuncture.” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 2, no. 1 (2002): 110–160.
  43. Kelly, G.P. “The Presentation of Indigenous Society in the Schools of French West Africa and Indochina, 1918–1938.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26, no. 3 (1984): 523–542.
  44. Kirk-Greene, A.H. “Introduction.” In A.H. M. Kirk-Greene. The Principles of Native Administration in Nigeria: Selected Documents, 1900–1947, 1–43. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.
  45. Kuklick, H. The Savage Within: The Social History of British Anthropology, 1885–1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  46. Lampe, J.R. Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  47. Louis, W.R. “Historians I Have Known.” Perspectives 39, no. 5 (2001): 15–47.
  48. Low, D.A., and Pratt, R.C. Buganda and British Overrule, 1900–1955. London: Oxford University Press, 1960.
  49. Lieven, D. Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
  50. Livezeanu, I. Cultural Politics in Greater Romania: Regionalism, Nation Building and Ethnic Struggle, 1918–1930. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995.
  51. Liber, G.O. Soviet Nationality Policy, Urban Growth, and Identity Change in the Ukrainian SSR, 1923–1934. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  52. Liulevicius, V.G. War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  53. Levene, M. “Nationalism and Its Alternatives in the International Arena: The Jewish Question at Paris, 1919.” Journal of Contemporary History 28 (1993): 511–531.
  54. Link, A.S. The Deliberations of the Council of Four (March 24–June 28, 1919): Notes of the Offi cial Interpreter, Paul Mantoux. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.
  55. Lugard, L. “Education and Race Relations.” Journal of the Royal African 32, no. 126 (1933): 1–11.
  56. Lugard, L. The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa. Hamden: Cass, 1965.
  57. Lugard, L. “Lugard’s Political Memoranda (1918).” In A.H. M. Kirk-Greene. The Principles of Native Administration in Nigeria: Selected Documents, 1900–1947, 68–149. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.
  58. Macartney, C.A. National States and National Minorities. London: Oxford University Press, 1934.
  59. Macartney, C.A. Hungary and Her Successors: The Treaty of Trianon and Its Consequences, 1919–1937. London: Oxford University Press, 1937.
  60. Mair, L.P. The Protection of Minorities: The Working and Scope of the Minorities Treaties under the League of Nations. London: Oxford University Press, 1928.
  61. Mair, L.P. “Colonial Administration as Science.” Journal of the Royal African Society 32, no. 129 (1933): 350–370.
  62. Mair, L. “Anthropology and Colonial Policy.” African Aff airs 74, no. 295 (1975): 191–195.
  63. Malcolm, N. Kosovo: A Short History. New York: Macmillan, 1998.
  64. Mamdani, M. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
  65. Mainmdani, M. “Historicizing Power and Responses to Power: Indirect Rule and Its Reform.” Social Research 66, no. 3 (1999): 859–886.
  66. Martin, P.M. “Contesting Clothes in Colonial Brazzaville.” Journal of African History 35 (1994): 401–426.
  67. Martin, T. The Affi rmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.
  68. Martin, T. “The Soviet Union as Empire: Salvaging a Dubious Analytical Category.” Ab Imperio, no. 2 (2002): 143–186.
  69. Mendelsohn, E. Jews of East Central Europe between the World Wars. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.
  70. Michaels, P. Curative Powers: Medicine and Empire in Stalin’s Central Asia. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2003.
  71. Mitter, W. “German Schools in Czechoslovakia, 1918–1938.” In J. Tomiak. Schooling, Educational Policy Ethnic Identity, 211–232. New York: New York University Press, 1991.
  72. Miller, D.E. “Colonizing the Hungarian and German Border Areas during the Czechoslovak Land Reform, 1918–1938.” Austrian History Yearbook 34 (2003): 303–317.
  73. Northrop, D. Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004.
  74. Okhotin, N., and Roginskiy, A.V. “Iz istorii «nemetskoy operatsii» NKVD 1937–1938 gg.” In I.L. Shcherbakova. Nakazannyy narod, 35–74. Moscow: Zven’ya, 1999 (in Russian).
  75. Pablo, de Azcirate. League of Nations and National Minorities: An Experiment. Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1945.
  76. Perham, M. Native Administration in Nigeria. London: Oxford University Press Publ., 1937.
  77. Perham, M. Lugard: The Years of Authority, 1898–1945. London: Collins, 1960.
  78. Perham, M. “Foreword.” In A.H. M. Kirk-Greene. The Principles of Native Administration in Nigeria: Selected Documents, 1900–1947, 3–45. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.
  79. Perham, M. “Some Problems of Indirect Rule in Africa.” Journal of the Royal African Society 34, no. 135 (1934): 1–23.
  80. Petrov, N.V., and Roginskiy, A.V. “Pol’skaya operatsiya NKVD 1937–1938 gg.” In A.Ye. Gur’yanov. Repressii protiv polyakov i pol’skikh grazhdan, 30–45. Moscow: Zven’ya Publ., 1997 (in Russian). Polonsky, A. Politics in Independent Poland, 1921–1939: The Crisis of Constitutional Government. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.
  81. Phillips, A. The Enigma of Colonialism: British Policy in West Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.
  82. Pipes, R. The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and nationalism, 1917–1923. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.
  83. Raitz von Frentz, Ch. Lesson Forgotten: Minority Protection under the League of Nations. The Case of the German Minority in Poland, 1920–1934. New York: Verlag Münster, 1999.
  84. Raymond, F. Betts, Assimilation and Association in French Colonial Theory, 1890–1914. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.
  85. Roshwald, A. Ethnic Nationalism and the Fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, 1914–1923. London: Routledge, 2001.
  86. Rossos, A. “The British Foreign Offi ce and Macedonian National Identity, 1918–1941.” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 369–394.
  87. Rudolph, R.L., and Good, D.F. Nationalism and Empire: The Habsburg Empire and the Soviet Union. New York: Richard L. Rudolph and David F. Good, 1992.
  88. Rothschild, J. East Central Europe between the Two World Wars. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1874.
  89. Sayer, D. The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.
  90. Skocpol, T. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
  91. Smith, A., and Bull, M. Margery Perham and British Rule in Africa. Totowa: Psychology Press, 1991. Smith, J. The Bolsheviks and the National Question, 1917–1923. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
  92. Slezkine, Y. “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism.” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (1994): 414–452.
  93. Slezkine, Y. “N.Ia. Marr and the National Origins of Soviet Ethnogenetics.” Slavic Review 55, no. 4 (1996): 826–861.
  94. Slezkine, Y. “Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Socialism.” Russian Review 59, no. 2 (2000): 227–234.
  95. Spear, T. “Neo-Traditionalism and the Limits of Invention in British Colonial Africa.” Journal of African History 44, no. 1 (2003): 150–170.
  96. Stalin, I.V. “Natsional’nyy vopros i Leninizm.” In Sochineniya 11, 333–355. Moscow: Gosudarstvennoye izdatel’stvo politicheskoy literatury Publ., 1949 (in Russian).
  97. Stalin, I.V. Sochineniya. Moscow: Gosudarstvennoye izdatel’stvo politicheskoy literatury Publ., 1949 (in Russian).
  98. Suny, R.G. The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.
  99. Tomiak, J. “Education of the Non-Dominant Ethnic Groups in the Polish Republic, 1918–1939.” In J. Tomiak. Schooling, Educational Policy Ethnic Identity, 185–209. New York: New York University Press, 1991.
  100. Vail, L. The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
  101. Volkogonov, D. Triumf i tragediya: politicheskiy portret I.V. Stalina. Moscow: Novosti Publ., 1989 (in Russian).
  102. Wilder, G. “Colonial Ethnology and Political Rationality in French West Africa.” History and Anthropology 14, no. 3 (2003): 219–252.
  103. Young, C. The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Copyright (c) 2020 Blitstein P.A.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies