5 Prison of Peoples

The collapse of the tsarist system, like that of its successor, was intimately connected with the growth of nationalist movements in the non-Russian parts of the Empire. In neither the tsarist case nor in the Soviet were these movements the direct cause of the collapse. Rather they developed in reaction to it, at first putting forward moderate proposals for autonomy and then, only when Russia's impotence became clear, pushing on to the demand for complete independence. But, in both cases, the old regime was weakened by the growth of nationalist aspirations during the decades of gradual decline which led to its final downfall. From the post-Soviet perspective, all this may seem obvious. Nationalism today is such a potent force that we are inclined to believe that it is, and always has been, part of human nature. But, as the late Ernest Gellner warned us, 'having a nation is not an inherent attribute of humanity'. The development of a mass national consciousness did not occur in most of Eastern Europe until the final decades of the nineteenth century. It was contingent on many other factors associated with the rise of a modern civil society: the transition from an agrarian society and polity to an urban and industrial one; the shift from a folk to a national culture through the development of schooling, mass literacy and communication; and an increase in the mobility of the population which not only made it more aware of its own ethnic differences and disadvantages, compared with other groups in the broader world, but also resulted in its literate sons and grandsons joining the leadership of the embryonic nation. In short, the failure of the tsarist system to cope with the growth of nationalism was yet another reflection of its failure to cope with the challenges of the modern world.45

So new were these national movements that, even after the Polish uprisings of the nineteenth century, they took the tsarist regime largely by surprise when they appeared as a political force during the 1905 Revolution. Neither of the two mainstream Russian schools of thought could handle the conceptual problems thrown up by the rise of nationalism. Both the conservatives and the liberals were entrapped by the fact that Russia had become an Empire before it had become a nation: for it obliged them as patriots to identify with Russia's imperial claims. For right-wing supporters of autocracy the non-Russian lands were simply the possessions of the Tsar. The Russian Empire was indivisible, just as the Tsar's power was divine. Even Brusilov, who in 1917 would throw in his lot with the Republic, could not give up the idea of the Russian Empire, and it was this that made him join the Reds, whose regime was destined to preserve it. Since, moreover, in the Rightists' view Orthodoxy was the basis of the Russian nation, the Ukrainians and the Belorussians were not separate peoples but 'Little' and 'White' Russians; yet by the same token, the Poles, the Muslims and the Jews could never be assimilated into the Russian nation, or given equal rights to the Russian people, but had to be kept within the Empire in a sort of permanent apartheid. Hence the supporters of autocracy had no conceptual means of dealing with the problems of nationalism: for even to recognize the validity of the claims of the non-Russians would be to undermine the racial basis of their own ruling ideology. And yet the liberals were equally unable to meet the challenges of nationalism. They subordinated the question of national rights to the struggle for civil and religious freedoms, in the belief that once these had been achieved the problem of nationalism would somehow disappear. Some liberals were prepared to talk of a Russian federation in which the non-Russians would be granted some rights of self-rule and cultural freedoms, but none of them was ready to concede that the aspirations of the non-Russian peoples might legitimately be extended to the demand for an independent state. Even Prince Lvov could not understand the Ukrainian claims to nationhood: in his view the Ukrainians were Little Russian peasants who had different customs and a different dialect from the Great Russians of the north.

Only the socialist parties in Russia embraced the ideas of national autonomy and independence, although even they tended to subordinate the national question to the broader democratic struggle within Russia. It is hardly surprising, then, that the national movements for liberation should have formed such a central part of the revolutionary movement as a whole. Indeed this was the pretext for their persecution by the Right: simply to be a Pole or, even worse, a Jew was to be a revolutionary in their eyes. This socialistic aspect of the nationalist movements is worth underlining. For the late twentieth-century reader might be tempted to assume, on the basis of the collapse of Communism and the rise of nationalism in Eastern Europe, that they must have been opposed to socialist goals. What is striking about the nationalist movements within the Russian Empire is that their most successful political variants were nearly always socialist in form: Joseph Pilsudski's Polish Socialist Party led the national movement in Poland; the Socialist Party became the national party of the Finns; the Baltic movements were led by socialists; the Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionaries were the leading Ukrainian national party; the Mensheviks led the Georgian national movement; and the Dashnak socialists the Armenian one. This was in part because the main ethnic conflict also tended to run along social lines: Estonian and Latvian peasants against German landlords and merchants; Ukrainian peasants against Polish or Russian landlords and officials; Azeri workers, or Georgian peasants, against the Armenian bourgeoisie; Kazakh and Kirghiz pastoralists against Russian farmers; and so on. Parties which appealed exclusively to nationalism effectively deprived themselves of mass support; whereas those which successfully combined the national with the social struggle had an almost unstoppable democratic force. In this sense it is worth repeating, given the understandably bad press which nationalism has received in the twentieth century, that for the subject peoples of the Tsarist Empire, as indeed of the Soviet Empire, nationalism was a means of human liberation from oppression and foreign domination. Lenin himself acknowledged this when, paraphrasing the Marquis de Custine, he called Imperial Russia a 'prison of peoples'.46

* * * Most of the national movements in the Tsarist Empire began with the growth of a literary cultural nationalism in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Romantic writers, students and artists, alienated by the life of the cities, travelled to the countryside for refreshment and inspiration. They idealized the simple rustic lifestyle of their peasant countrymen and added folk themes to their works in an effort to create a 'national style'. This appropriation of the native culture — of folksongs and folklore, local customs and dialects, peasant crafts and costumes — was more than a passing fashion for the pastoral. It was part of a broader project by a newly conscious urban middle class: the creation of a set of ethnic symbols as the basis of their own national ethos and identity. This was their 'imagined community'. The urban intelligentsia did not so much observe peasant life as reinvent and mythologize it in their own image. The folk culture of the countryside, which they believed was the ancient origin of their nation, was in fact often little more than the product of their own fertile imagination. It was increasingly the urban middle classes, rather than the peasants, who dressed up in folk costumes when they went to church, and who filled their homes with furniture and tableware in the 'peasant style'. It was they who flocked to the ethnographic and folk museums which were opened in cities throughout Eastern Europe around the turn of the century.* But if instead of these museums they had gone into the villages themselves, to observe this folk culture, so to speak, in its native habitat, they would have found it was disappearing fast. The old handicrafts were dying out under competition from cheaper industry. The peasants were increasingly wearing the same manufactured clothes as the urban workers, buying the same food in tins and jars, the same factory furniture, household utensils and linen. It was only the urban middle classes who could afford to buy the old handicrafts.47

The essentially bourgeois character of this kind of nationalism was clearly visible in Finland. The Grand Duchy of Finland enjoyed more self-rule and autonomy than any other part of the Tsarist Empire because on its capture from Sweden in 1808—9 the Russians confirmed the same rights and privileges that had been granted to the Finns by the more liberal Swedes. These cultural freedoms enabled the growth of a small but nationally conscious native intelligentsia, which took its inspiration from the publication of such Finnish folk-epics as the Kalevala, and which, from the 1860s, became increasingly unified through the national campaign for the Finnish language to be put on an equal footing with the historically dominant Swedish.48

In the Baltic provinces there was a similar cultural movement based around the campaign for native language rights in schools and universities, literary publications and official life. It was directed less against the Russians than the Germans (in Estonia and Latvia) or the Poles (in Lithuania), who had dominated these regions before their conquest by the Russians in the eighteenth century. Here the native languages had survived only in the remote rural areas (the native elites had been assimilated into the dominant linguistic culture). They were really no more than peasant dialects, closely related but locally varied, not unlike the Gaelic of the Irish and the Scots. During the nineteenth century linguists and ethnographers collected together and standardized these dialects in the form of a written language with a settled grammar and orthography. Ironically, even if the peasants could have read this 'national language', most of them would have found it hard to understand, since it was usually either based on just one of the dominant dialects or was an artificial construction, a sort of peasant Esperanto, made up from all the different dialects. Nevertheless, this creation of a literary native language, and the publication of a national literature and history written in its prose, helped to start the process of nation-building and made it possible, in future decades, to educate the peasantry in this emergent national culture. In Estonia the cultural landmarks of this national renaissance were the publication of the epic poem Kalevipoeg by Kreutzwald in 1857, and the foundation, in the same year, of an Estonian-language newspaper, Postimees, aimed at peasant readers. In Latvia there was also a native-language newspaper, Balss (The Voice), from 1878, which, like the Latvian Association, was committed to the idea of uniting the peoples of the two provinces of Livonia and Kurland — which then comprised the territory of Latvia — to form a single Latvian nation. Finally, in Lithuania, which for so long had been dominated by the Poles, a national written language was also developed during the latter half of the nineteenth century (just to spite the Poles it was based on the Czech alphabet) and a native literature began to appear.49

* Warsaw established the first Ethnographic Museum in 1888. It was followed by Sarajevo in 1888, Helsinki in 1893, Prague and Lvov in 1895, Belgrade in 1901, St Petersburg in 1902, and Krakov in 1905.


As on the Baltic, so in post-partition Poland, the nation was an idea and not yet a place. Poland existed only in the imagination and in the memory of the historic Polish kingdom which had existed before its defeat and subjugation to the great powers of Eastern Europe towards the end of the eighteenth century. Its spirit was expressed in the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, in the patriotic hymns of the Catholic Church, and — or so at least the patriots claimed (for he was half-French) — in the music of Chopin. This cultural nationalism was a comfort for the Poles, and a substitute for politics. Very few people were engaged in public life, even fewer in open dissent against Russia. Censorship and the constant danger of arrest forced the literate population to withdraw into the world of poetry (as in Russia, literature in Poland served as a metaphor for politics). The 1830 Polish uprising, even the great 1863 uprising, were the work of a relatively small nationalist minority, mostly students, officers, priests and the more liberal noble landowners. Neither won much support from the peasantry, who had little concept of themselves as Poles and who, in any case, were much more interested in gaining their own land and freedom from the nobles than in fighting for a cause led by noblemen and intellectuals.50

This first and primarily cultural expression of aspiring nationhood was nowhere more in evidence than in the Ukraine, no doubt in part due to the fact that of all the Empire's subject nationalities the Ukrainians were the closest culturally to the Russians. The Russians called the Ukraine 'Little Russia', and made it illegal to print the word 'Ukraine'. Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, was the tenth-century founding place of Russian Christianity. The cultural differences between Russia and the Ukraine — mainly in language, land rights and customs — had really only developed between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the western Ukraine fell under Polish-Lithuanian domination.


Thus the Ukrainian nationalists had their work cut out to make a case for these distinctions as the basis of a separate national culture.

They took inspiration from the Ukrainian national movement in neighbouring Galicia. As part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Galicia had been granted relatively liberal rights of self-government. This had allowed the Ukrainians, or 'Ruthenians' (dog-Latin for 'Russians') as they were known by the Austrians, to promote their own Ukrainian language in primary schools and public life, to publish native-language newspapers and books, and to advance the study of Ukrainian history and folk culture. Galicia became a sort of 'Ukrainian Piedmont' for the rest of the national movement in tsarist Ukraine: a forcing-house of national consciousness and an oasis of freedom for nationalist intellectuals. Lviv, its capital, also known as Lemberg (by the Germans) and as Lvov (by the Russians), was a thriving centre of Ukrainian culture. Although subjects of the Tsar, both the composer Lysenko and the historian Hrushevsky had found their nation in Galicia. The nationalist intellectuals who pioneered the Ukrainian literary language in the middle decades of the nineteenth century all borrowed terms from the Galician dialect, which they considered the most advanced, although later, as they tried to reach the peasantry with newspapers and books, they were forced to base it on the Poltavan folk idiom, which, as the dialect of the central Ukraine, was the most commonly understood. The seminal texts of this national literary renaissance were published by the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius prior to its dissolution by the tsarist authorites in 1847. The romantic poetry of Taras Shevchenko, which played the same role as Mickiewicz's poetry in Poland in shaping the intelligentsia's national consciousness, was the most important of these. Ukrainian-language publications continued to appear, despite the legal restrictions on them. Many were published by the Kiev section of the Russian Geographical Society, whose increasingly nationalist members devoted themselves to the study of Ukrainian folk culture, language and history.51

In the non-European sectors of the Empire this cultural stage of the national movements was much slower to take off. The Armenian intelligentsia had welcomed the extension of tsarist rule to the eastern half of their country after the Russian defeat of Persia in 1827. They now had a Christian ruler to protect them from the Turks, and, or so they hoped, to free the larger half of the Armenian people who remained subjects of the Ottoman Empire. The defence of Armenian culture remained centred on the Gregorian Church and its schools, which, at least until the Russification campaign of the 1880s, aligned the Armenians with the Russians as fellow Christians against the Turks. In neighbouring Georgia, by contrast, language rather than religion was the key to the evolution of national identity. The Georgian Church, unlike the Armenian, had been merged with the Russian Orthodox; while the Georgian social system, the historic product of a specific type of feudalism, had been, albeit imperfectly, assimilated into the Russian system of estates during the half-century following Georgia's annexation in 1801. The Georgian nobles, ruined by the Emancipation of their serfs in the 1860s, dominated the intelligentsia. Theirs was a nostalgic nationalism: the romantic poetry of Chavchavadze and Baratashvili lamented the lost greatness of the Georgian kingdoms in the Middle Ages. Finally, in Azerbaijan, conquered by Russia in the 1800s, the emergence of a national consciousness was complicated by the domination of Islam, which tended towards supranational forms and blocked the growth of a secular culture and a written language for the masses. To begin with, ironically, it was the Russians who encouraged the Azeris' secular culture to develop, promoting the plays of Akhundzada, the 'Tatar Moliere', and commissioning histories of the Azeri folk culture and language, as a way of weakening the influence of the Muslim powers to the south.52

Here, more than anywhere, the incipient nationalist intelligentsia found its ability to influence the peasant masses hampered by the general backwardness of society. This was a problem throughout the Tsarist Empire. Isolated in their remote settlements, without schools or communications with the broader world, the vast majority of the peasants had no concept of their nationality. Theirs was a local culture dominated by tradition and the spoken word. It was confined to a small and narrow world: the village and its fields, the parish church, the landowner's manor and the local market. Beyond that was a foreign country. In Estonia, for example, the peasants simply called themselves maarahvas, meaning 'country people', while they understood the term saks (from Saxon — i.e. German) to mean simply a landlord or a master; it was only in the late nineteenth century, when the Tallinn intellectuals spread their influence into the villages, that these terms took on a new ethnic meaning. Much the same was true in Poland. 'I did not know that I was a Pole till I began to read books and papers,' recalled one peasant in the 1920s. The people of his region, not far from Warsaw on the Vistula, called themselves Mazurians rather than Poles.53

In Belorussia and the northern Ukraine there was so much ethnic and religious intermingling — in an area the size of Cambridgeshire there might be a mixture of Belorussian, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Jewish and Lithuanian settlements — that it was difficult for anything more than a localized form of ethnic identity to take root in the popular consciousness. One British diplomat — though no doubt a great imperialist and therefore somewhat contemptuous of the claims of small peasant nations like the Ukraine — concluded that this was still the case as late as 1918:

Were one to ask the average peasant in the Ukraine his nationality he would answer that he is Greek Orthodox; if pressed to say whether he is a Great Russian, a Pole, or an Ukrainian, he would probably reply that he is a peasant; and if one insisted on knowing what language he spoke, he would say that he talked 'the local tongue'. One might perhaps get him to call himself by a proper national name and say that he is 'russki', but this declaration would hardly yet prejudge the question of an Ukrainian relationship; he simply does not think of nationality in the terms familiar to the intelligentsia. Again, if one tried to find out to what state he desires to belong — whether he wants to be ruled by an Ail-Russian or a separate Ukrainian government — one would find that in his opinion all governments alike are a nuisance, and it would be best if the 'Christian peasant folk' were left to themselves.

Such localized forms of identity were even more marked in the Muslim regions of the Caucasus (among the Chechens, Daghestanis and Azeris) as well as in much of Central Asia where tribal fiefdoms remained dominant, despite the superimposition of tsarist administrative structures.54

Clearly, then, the process of exposing the peasantry to this emergent national culture, centred in the cities, and of getting them to think in national terms, depended upon the general opening up of their narrow village culture to the outside world. This was a pan-European phenomenon during the latter half of the nineteenth century, as Eugen Weber has shown in his splendid book Peasants into Frenchmen. It was contingent on the extension of state education in the countryside, on the growth of rural institutions, such as clubs and societies, markets and co-operatives, peasant unions and mass-based parties, which were integrated at the national level, and on the penetration of roads and railways, postal services and telegraphs, newspapers and journals, into the remote rural areas.

In Poland, for example, the development of a national consciousness among the mass of the peasantry followed the spread of rural schooling and rural institutions such as the co-operatives, and the increased movement of the peasants into towns. In Georgia the rise of popular nationalism was linked to similar processes. The Georgian peasants were becoming increasingly integrated into the market economy, selling cereals, fruit, wine and tobacco to Armenian traders, while Tiflis itself, once a predominantly Armenian city, developed a Georgian working class from the poorer and immigrant peasants. As in Tiflis, so in Baku, the domination of Armenian merchants and industrialists served as a focus for the growing national and class consciousness of the immigrant Azeri peasants who flooded into the oil-industrial suburbs of Baku during the last decades of the century. In the Tatar regions of the Volga the origins of pan-Turkic nationalism were to be found in the Jadidist movement, which advocated the secular education of the native masses in opposition to the old elite schooling provided by the Muslim religious leaders. By 1900 the Volga Jadidists controlled over a thousand primary schools. Meanwhile, in the Kazan Teachers' School and at Kazan University, there were the makings of a native and increasingly rebellious Tatar intelligentsia, although Kazan itself was mainly Russian.55

In the western Ukraine (Galicia) the development of the peasants' national consciousness went hand in hand with the formation of a network of rural institutions such as reading clubs, credit unions, co-operative stores, choirs, insurance agencies, volunteer fire departments and gymnastic societies, which were linked with the national movement. The Ukrainian-language newspaper Baktivshchyna ('Fatherland') was the nationalists' main route into the village: it attracted a mass peasant readership through its close attention to local affairs which it mixed with a subtle propaganda for the national cause. The readers of Baktivshchyna, like the members of the reading clubs and the other primary institutions of the national movement, were mainly the new and 'conscious type' of peasants — young and literate, thrifty and sober, and, above all, self-improving — who emerged from the parish schools around the turn of the century. They formed the village cohort of the national movement, together with the local priests, cantors and teachers, who slowly took over local government from the local mayors and their (mainly Jewish) henchmen in the villages, most of whom had been appointed by the Polish landowners. In this sense the national movement was thoroughly democratic: it brought politics to the village.56

The most remarkable thing about the Ukrainian national movement, both under Austrian and tsarist rule, was that it remained based on the peasants. Most nationalist movements are centred on the towns. In the Constituent Assembly elections of November 1917 — the first democratic elections in the country's history — 71 per cent of the Ukrainian peasants voted for the nationalists. In the end, of course, when it came to the naked power struggles of 1917—21, this would be the national movement's fundamental weakness: the history of almost every country shows that the peasants are too weak politically to sustain a revolutionary regime without the support of the towns. But in the earlier period, when the main concern of the national movement was to build up a popular base, this distinctive peasant character was a source of strength. Ninety per cent of the Ukrainian people lived in rural areas. The towns of the Ukraine were dominated by the Russians, the Jews and the Poles; and even those few Ukrainians who lived there, mostly professionals and administrators, easily became Russified. Thus to be a Ukrainian meant in effect to be a peasant (i.e. doubly disadvantaged). Indeed this was symbolized by the fact that the original Ukrainian word for 'citizen' (hromaijanyn), which in all other European languages is derived from the word for a city, was based on the word for the village assembly (hromada). The Ukrainian national movement developed as a peasant movement against the influence of the 'foreign' towns. Nationalist agitators blamed all the evils which the peasants associated with towns — the oppression of the state, the wealth and privilege of the nobility, the greed and swindling of usurers and merchants — on the Russians, Poles and Jews who lived there. They contrasted the pure and simple lifestyle of the Ukrainian village with the corruption of this alien urban world; and as the influence of the latter grew, with the penetration of capitalism, of factory-made goods and city fashions, into the Ukrainian countryside, so they were able to present this as a threat to the 'national way of life'. More and more traditional crafts would be pushed aside, they said, by manufactured goods. The 'honest' Ukrainian shopkeeper would be superseded by the 'cheating' Jewish one. The co-operative movement, which became the backbone of the Ukrainian nationalist organization in the countryside, was developed with the aim — and the rhetoric — of protecting the simple peasants from exploitation by the Jewish traders and money-men.57

But it would be unfair to suggest that the nationalists' appeal to the peasantry was based solely on xenophobia and hatred of the towns. The peasant land struggle, for example, was intertwined with the nationalist movement in the Ukraine, where three-quarters of the landowners were either Russians or Poles. It is no coincidence that the peasant revolution on the land erupted first, in 1902, in those regions around Poltava province where the Ukrainian nationalist movement was also most advanced. The national movement strengthened and politicized the peasant-landlord conflict. It linked the struggle of an individual village to the national liberation movement of the whole of the Ukrainian people against a foreign class of landowners and officials. How did the nationalists make this link? Let's take two examples of their rhetoric. One concerns the peasants' conflict with the landowners over the forests and pasture lands. During the Emancipation in the Ukraine the landowners had enclosed the woods and pastures as their private property, thus depriving the peasants of their traditional rights of access to these lands, granted under serfdom, for timber and grazing. By helping the peasants in their long and bitter struggles for the restoration of these rights, the nationalists were able to involve them in their own broader political movement. Indeed it is telling that much of the romantic, nationalist folk culture of this period played on the theme of the forests and the pastures as a primal symbol of the native soil: nothing would have stirred up more the passions and emotions of the peasantry. A second example concerns the causes of rural poverty. Nationalist agitators explained their poverty to the peasants in the broader context of the semi-colonial exploitation of the Ukraine. They told them that more than half its agricultural surplus was exported to Russia or abroad; and that the Ukrainian peasant was poor because of the high taxes on Russian goods, such as kerosene, vodka and matches, which forced him to sell most of his foodstuffs in order to provide for his basic household needs. The peasant would be better off in an independent Ukraine. Through their exposure to such arguments, the Ukrainian peasants increasingly interpreted their own economic struggles in a broader national context — and as a result they gained both strength and unity. One recent scholar has found, for example, that the peasants would co-ordinate their voting patterns throughout a whole district in order to secure the defeat of the more powerful Polish-Jewish or Russian candidates in local government elections.58

The nationalist struggle for language rights was also a liberation movement for the peasants. Unless the peasants could understand the language of the government and the courts, they had no direct access to political or civil rights. Unless they could learn to read in their own tongue, they had no hope of social betterment. And unless they could understand their priests, they had reason to fear for their souls. The public use of their native language was not just a matter of necessity, however. It became an issue of personal pride and dignity for the Ukrainian peasant, and this gave the nationalists a profound base of emotional support. As Trotsky himself later acknowledged, looking back on the events of 1917: 'This political awakening of the peasantry could not have taken place otherwise . . . than through their own native language — with all the consequences ensuing in regard to schools, courts, self-administration. To oppose this would have been to try to drive the peasants back into non-existence.'59

* * * The rise of these nationalist movements need not have spelled the end of the Russian Empire. Not even the most advanced of them had developed as a mass-based political movement before the reign of the last Tsar. Most of them were still mainly limited to cultural goals, which were not necessarily incompatible with the continuation of imperial rule. There was no historical law stating that this cultural nationalism had to evolve into fully fledged national independence movements against Russia. Indeed it was clear that many of the nationalist leaders saw that their country's interests would best be served by preserving the union with Russia, albeit with looser ties and more autonomy. But tsarist ideology would not tolerate such autonomy — its ruling motto of Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality' meant subordinating the non-Russian peoples to Russia's cultural domination. More than anything else, it was this policy of Russification, pursued increasingly by the last two tsars, that politicized the nationalist movements and turned them into enemies of Russia. By 1905 nationalist parties had emerged as a major revolutionary force in most of the non-Russian borderlands. By its failure to come to terms with nationalism, the tsarist regime had created another instrument of its own destruction. The same was true of its clumsy handling of the liberal movement before 1905: by repressing this moderate opposition it helped to create a revolutionary one. Sir John Maynard, who as an Englishman writing in the twilight of the British Empire was in a good position to appreciate the dangers of colonial nationalism, went so far as to say that half the causes of the Russian Revolution resided in the policies of the last two tsars towards their non-Russian subjects.60

There was nothing new in the policy of Russification. It had always been a central aim of the tsarist imperial philosophy to assimilate the non-Russian peoples into the Russian cultural and political system, to turn them into 'true Christians, loyal subjects, and good Russians', although different tsars laid different emphases on the three principles of the policy. There was an ethnic hierarchy — parallel to the social one — within the tsarist ruling system that ranked the different nationalities in accordance with their loyalty to the Tsar and gave each a different set of legal rights and privileges. At the top were the Russians and the Baltic Germans, who between them occupied the dominant positions in the court and the civil and military services. Below them were the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Georgians, the Armenians, and so on. The Empire's five million Jews, at the bottom of its ethnic hierarchy, were subject to a comprehensive range of legal disabilities and discriminations which by the end of the nineteenth century embraced some 1,400 different statutes and regulations as well as thousands of lesser rules, provisions and judicial interpretations. They — alone of all the ethnic groups — were forbidden to own land, to enter the Civil Service, or to serve as officers in the army; there were strict quotas on Jewish admissions into higher schools and universities; and, apart from a few exceptions, the Jews were forced by law to live within the fifteen provinces of the western Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania and Poland which made up the Pale of Settlement. This was a tsarist version of the Hindu caste system, with the Jews in the role of the Untouchables.61

As the regime's fears about nationalism grew, however, during the later nineteenth century, so its policies of Russification were gradually intensified. One cause for anxiety was that the Russians were losing their demographic domination as a result of the Empire's territorial expansion into Asia, especially, with its high birth-rates and overpopulation. The census of 1897 showed that the Russians accounted for only 44 per cent of the Empire's population and that, even more alarmingly, they were one of the slowest-growing ethnic groups.62 The Slavophile nationalists, who were responsible for shaping the Russification campaigns of the last two tsars, argued that in this age of growing nationalism and imperial competition the Russian Empire would eventually break up unless something was done to preserve the cultural domination of the Russians. In short, they argued that Russian nationalism should be mobilized as a political force and consolidated at the heart of the tsarist ruling system as a counterweight to the centrifugal forces of the non-Russian nationalities.

Along with the persecution of their religion, the banning of the non-Russians' native language from schools, literature, streets signs, courts, and public offices, was the most conspicuous and the most oppressive of the Russification policies pursued after 1881. The language ban was particularly clumsy. One of its effects was to block the path for the growing native-language intelligentsia to make its way up through the education system and bureaucracy, so that it was drawn increasingly into the nationalist and revolutionary opposition. Trying to stamp out the native language was not just an insulting and demoralizing policy as far as the non-Russians were concerned; it was ridiculous as well. Polish students at Warsaw University, for example, had to suffer the absurd indignity of studying their own native literature in Russian translation. High-school students could be expelled for speaking in Polish in their dormitories, as the Bolshevik leader and founder of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, discovered. Even Anton Denikin, the future leader of the Whites, who as a Russian in a Warsaw district high school during the mid-1880s was obliged to monitor the conversations of his Polish classmates, thought that the policy was 'unrealistically harsh' and always wrote down 'nothing to report'. But if forbidding high-school students to speak in Polish was merely harsh (at least they had learned to speak in Russian), to do the same to railway porters (most of whom had never learned Russian, which as 'public officials' they were ordered to speak) was to enter into the cruelly surreal. This was not the only act of bureaucratic madness. In 1907 the medical committee in Kiev Province refused to allow cholera epidemic notices to be published in Ukrainian with the result that many of the peasants, who could not read Russian, died from drinking infected water.63

Of all the non-Russian nationalities, the Jews suffered the most from this Great Russian chauvinist backlash during the last years of tsarism. The Jews were widely, if mistakenly, blamed for the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. They were the victims of hundreds of pogroms throughout the Ukraine in that year. Contrary to the old and well-established myth, none of these pogroms — and there were to be many more (e.g. in Kishinev in 1903 and throughout the Empire in 1905—6) — was ever instigated by the government. True, the authorities were slow to restore order and few pogromists were ever brought to trial. But this was not part of a conspiracy, just a reflection of the authorities' ineffectiveness and their general hostility to Jews. During the 1880s, at a time when both the German and the Austrian Empires were beginning to dismantle their legal restrictions on the Jews, the tsarist regime was continuing to add to its own cumbersome structure of institutionalized anti-Semitism. The last two tsars were vocal anti-Semites — both associated the Jews with the threats of urban modernity, capitalism and socialism — and it became fashionable in official circles to repeat their racial prejudices. Nicholas II, in particular, was increasingly inclined to see the anti-Jewish pogroms of his reign as an act of patriotism and loyalty by the 'good and simple Russian folk'. Indeed, at the time of the Beiliss Affair in 1911—13, when a Jew was dragged through the Kiev courts on trumped-up charges of ritual murder, Nicholas was clearly looking to use the widespread anti-Semitism within the population at large, drummed up by extremist nationalist groups such as his own beloved Union of the Russian People, as a banner to rally the masses against the opponents of his faltering regime (see pages 241—6).64

Hardly surprising, then, that such a large and prominent part in the revolutionary movement should have been played by the Jews.* Even Witte, speaking in the wake of the Kishinev pogrom in 1903, was forced to admit that if the Jews 'comprise about 50 per cent of the membership in the revolutionary parties' then this was 'the fault of our government. The Jews are too oppressed.' The Jewish Bund was Russia's first mass-based Marxist party. Established in 1897, it had 35,000 members by 1905. It declared the Jews to be a 'nation' and demanded full national autonomy for them, with Yiddish as the official language, within a Russian federation. Such demands were rejected by the Russian Marxists (including Iulii Martov and Leon Trotsky, who were themselves Jews), who put class interests above nationalist ones and who, in any case, were deeply hostile to the Jewish nationalism of the Bundists (Georgii Plekhanov accused them of being Zionists who were afraid of sea-sickness). The result was that the two Marxist movements went their separate ways. There was also a large Zionist movement, which the tsarist regime had allowed to grow after the early 1880s because it advocated Jewish emigration in reponse to the pogroms; although it too was banned in 1903 on the grounds that inside Russia it served as a vehicle for Jewish nationalism.65

It was not just the Jews who were turning to nationalism in response to the growing discrimination against them at the turn of the century. Throughout the Empire the effect of the Russification campaign was to drive the non-Russians into the new anti-tsarist parties. Virtually the whole of the Finnish population rallied to the Young Finns, the Social Democrats and the Party of Active Resistance, against the imposition of Russian rule and military conscription, in contravention of Finland's rights of self-rule, after 1899. In the Baltic provinces the native population turned to the Social Democrats to defend their national rights against the tsarist state. In Poland they turned to the Polish Socialist Party, which argued that the Polish problem could only be solved by the combination of a social and a national revolution. In the Ukraine it was the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party, established in 1902, which made the early running in the national and social revolution, playing a key role in the peasant uprisings of 1902, although it was quickly overshadowed by the Ukrainian National Party and the Ukrainian Social Democrats. In Georgia the Social Democrats led the national revolution, which was both anti-Russian and socialist, in 1904-6. Even the Armenians, who had always been the most loyal to their Russian masters, rallied to the Dashnaks after 1903 in opposition to the Russification of their local schools. In short, the whole of the Tsarist Empire was ripe for collapse on the eve of the 1905 Revolution. Its peoples wanted to escape.

* Although, of course, it must never be forgotten that while many revolutionaries were Jews, relatively few Jews were revolutionaries. It was a myth of the anti-Semites that all the Jews were Bolsheviks. In fact, as far as one can tell from the elections to the Constituent Assembly in 1917, most of the Jewish population favoured the Zionist and democratic socialist parties. As the Chief Rabbi of Moscow once remarked, not without his usual Jewish humour: 'The Trotskys make the revolutions and the Bronsteins pay the bills.' (Melamed, 'St Paul and Leon Trotsky', 8.)

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