The Soviet Perspective in “Veiled Empire”

Throughout chapters 4&5 of Doug Northop’s Veiled Empire: , narrativization was used as a propaganda tool to spread misinformation about the hujum by the Soviet Union. The hujum was intended to dissolve gender inequality; specifically to empower Uzbek Muslim women and share with them the same respect and liberties their male counterparts had. However, there was a pattern of reports being written to communicate mass involvement of Uzbek Muslims at public events, Uzbek female participation of public unveilings, and a general “ upbeat tone” (Northop 167) of the crowd during these events. The language, cultural, and religious barriers set  between the Soviet power and Uzbekistan inflicted a struggle for the Soviet government to affectively end the oppression of Uzbek Muslim women. To me, the Soviet’s actions of trying to impose their “enlightened” ways of thinking sound way to similar to their attempts of correcting the “enthic backwardness” other ethnic groups within Russia were ‘plagued’ with. The idea of unveiling women as a step towards socialism seemed like a disguise for a movement towards Soviet assimilation. Questions I conjured during reading this piece are:

  1. How do gender roles in the Uzbek culture influence classism? Do you think the hujum erupted a social divide within the Uzbek culture or just exploited a divide that was already there?
  2. Do you think the lack of Soviet protection for women during these “liberation” movements contributed to the failure of the hujum?
  3. Mentioned at the bottom of page 166, the Jadids were “…marginalized, discredited, and written out the story” of the Soviet / “party activist” written perspective of the hujum. Why do you think that is when before the Jadid and Soviet government shared similar ideologies?
  4. What roles do colonialism and nationalism play in the relationship of the Soviet government and the Uzbek?

“A Maker of Nations or A Breaker of Nations?”

In the Forge of Kazakh Proletariat, the struggles the Soviet faced in attempting to assimilate the Kazakh people was a reflection on the national identity issues the government faced when dealing with the multitude of enthic groups within the empire. The main goal of the Soviet Empire was to  “….end national oppression and ethnic “backwardness” through economic development and political mobilization”. (Payne 224) Industrialization was number one on the list for Soviets to get the economy on its feet as it fit into the “Big Picture”. The Kazakhs faced ethnic discrimination and were forced to leave their nomadic, agricultural-based lifestyles and adapt to the Soviet- coerced industrial work life. The Soviet government wanted to create an industrial-booming society that was not divided by social/economic class, genders, and was free of ethnic discrimination. However, what was achieved was a complete breakdown of the Kazakh society; as it did not align with the wants and needs of the Soviet government. After reading this chapter, some questions that came to mind was:

  1. Why was the idea of social advancement for ethnic groups such a threat for the Soviet government?
  2. “Ethnic Backwardness” was a common trope that was used by the Soviet government as an excuse to single out an ethnic group that didn’t share the same cultural characteristics as the majority in the Soviet Empire. By the Soviet government not embracing these different ethnic groups and instead deeming them as “backwards” and trying to assimilate them, doesn’t that serve as a form of ethnic discrimination? 
  3. Nativization was the main policy the Soviet government tried to implement in order “to build ethnically based nations within the context of a politically and economically unitary state.” (Payne 224) Do you think this was an effective way of working towards constructing a unified nation or another forced concept by the Soviet government to dismantle and correct “ethnic backwardness”?

The Struggle for a National Identity

In Terry Martins’, An Affirmative Action Empire: The Soviet Union as the Highest Form of Imperialism, he discusses the struggles between leaders Lenin, Stalin, Piatakov, and Bukharin on their ideologies on Internationalism and Nationalism. Lenin and Stalin, being described as “nation builders”, were pro-nationalism. Piatakov and Bukharin disagreed and believed Russia needed to have a stronger social identity and were both pro-internationalism. The Soviet Union at the time being a multi-ethnic nation, lacked a national identity.

The slogan, ” The Right to Nations to Self Determination” was a controversial phrase that would cause tension between both sides. On page 68, Martin discusses the opposition of nationalism from both Piatakov and Bukharin. He states:

“Once the proletariat had seized power, Piatakov maintained, national self-determination became irrelevant: “it’s just a diplomatic game, or worse than a game if we take it seriously… Class, rather than nationality, they both argued, was the only politically relevant
social identity in the post revolutionary era.” (Martin 68)

I do not think this is necessarily true. Generally speaking, the only worth a proletariat has to the society he or she lives in is the value of he or she’s labor; which isn’t worth much as compared to other groups in said society. The main goals of the proletariat is to remove the bourgeoisie, erase the division of social classes, and gain power in society. I don’t believe national self-determination becomes irrelevant. I think it becomes necessary because without the will to want to become more, then what’s the point of making the effort to do so? Granted, the bourgeoisie banked on the proletariat being oppressed. However, it’s almost contradictory for Piatakov and Bukharin to support internationalism when Russia did not even have a national identity. This leads me to question if the argument of whether nationalism was based on finding commonalities between both the proletariat and bourgeoisie and putting them on the same playing field? Was nationalism strongly opposed due to it’s categorical nature? Meaning, did the idea of placing two social/economical groups under the same category of nationalism threaten the idea of internationalism?