The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939

In This Review

The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939

By Terry Martin
Cornell University Press, 2001
496 pp. $55.00

Martin significantly advances our understanding of the early, formative years of Soviet nationality policy, providing a subtle and lucid reconstruction of its unique conceptual underpinnings and its stormy evolution. Contrary to earlier Bolshevik mantras, Lenin and his partner in nationality policy, Stalin, committed the regime by 1923 to developing non-Russian languages, elites, territorial units, and cultural forms -- all at the expense of Russian nationhood and culture. Hence the Soviet Union became, in Martin's odd phrase, the first multiethnic "affirmative-action empire." But Lenin and Stalin yielded to non-Russian nationalism to undermine it from within rather than fanning it by attacking it frontally. Then, in the period of the Great Terror (1933-38), the experiment ended. Russian nationality and culture were revived, and "bourgeois nationalism" replaced "great-Russian chauvinism" in opprobrium. Martin's work is more than an important contribution to the field of Soviet history; it is a critical piece in comprehending contemporary Ukrainian and Russian nationality.

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