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Maoist Internationalist Movement

A "what if" fantasy about Sultan-Galiev

In the early 1920s, the Bolsheviks made a decision to turn in a certain direction that needs re-evaluating. In purging Mirza Sultan-Galiev in 1923, the Bolsheviks took a direction against "bourgeois nationalism" that we have 83 more years of data to look back on as Monday morning quarterbacks.

It was Sultan-Galiev putting forward the theory that what the Bolsheviks needed was a Colonial International, not a Comintern, most of whose members were Europeans. Today we know that the Comintern split many hairs with many a German, French and Italian faction, but nothing came of it, except for the influence of the process on the migrants in the imperialist countries who returned home to make revolution in China, Vietnam and Ghana for example. China and Albania did break free. Then the colonies revolted. Germany never went socialist even when Hitler lost. The Red Army had to come, and even then the Germans chose to work harder for capitalism than for socialism. The rich countries got richer and the poor fell further behind.

The converse of Lenin's "seal of parasitism" "on a whole country" was Sultan-Galiev's "proletarian people." According to Sultan-Galiev there were whole peoples that communists should have faith in because of the role of their nationalities in the imperialist system.

Sultan-Galiev's theories put forward at the time give MIM a glimpse of something that causes a "what if" question. What if Lenin had taken charge of Soviet Russia and Russian-speaking territories that joined such as Ukraine and Belarus.

Then what if Stalin had taken charge of the USSR minus Russia? What if he had had the Tatar-Bashkir combination plus everything down to Azerbaijan and over toward China? Stalin could have had his capital in Baku or Kazan and Stalin's USSR would have spoken some variant of Turkish, maybe Azeri, since Stalin was familiar with Azerbaijan already.

Georgia and Armenia could go to either the USSR or the Soviet Republic of Russian Speakers. Religion and history would say Georgia and Armenia would go with the Russian-speakers, but theory would say they would have been better off with the new USSR under Stalin. Georgia also has Muslim districts.

The Chechen and Ingush people would have been in the USSR, but the Ossetians could have been in the Russian-speaking territory if they wanted. However, those with resentments of Russian imperialism should have joined the USSR under Stalin. Oppressed nations should not have used resentment of Russia as an excuse for everything: if they wanted they could join Stalin's USSR, so complaints against Russia should only go so far.

The key to the USSR was to exclude ex-imperialist countries. Though Russia had been an imperialist country, the Russians earned the right to set up a dictatorship of the proletariat because the workers and peasants of Russia were exploited and rose up. They even showed that they could withdraw from imperialist war, so not to rely on the Russian exploited at that time would have been bourgeois nationalism. This was true of Russia, because Russia was the "weak link" among imperialists, and least bourgeoisified with the least super-profits. Today there are no major imperialist countries with the possible exception of Russia and China (who Mao said would be "social-imperialist") again where there is any reason to believe the so-called workers would create anything other than a sham socialism. Our comrades in Russia and Belarus even tell us that the hold of the labor aristocracy is strong there.

The basic theory behind the USSR would be to exclude imperialist countries including Russia and organize oppressed nations. Internally, the oppressed nations would have to resolve their frictions, but having a large state covering many ethnicities would have contributed to internationalism, as would its contributions to defeating imperialism.


Lenin should have chosen Zinoviev to run the Russian-speaking SR. Zinoviev had proved to be the right man for the job. His famous fight depicted with John Reed in the movie "Reds" was on the necessity of using Islamic language of struggle. Zinoviev also made the point against Hilferding that 80% of the world was not European. In the movie, Zinoviev comes off looking opportunist and John Reed looks individualist to the point of not wanting his speeches rewritten; although Reed surely knew that Zinoviev was in charge. A re-examination might tend to show that Zinoviev was exactly right and should have pushed further. The party ended up retreating from the Zinoviev- Sultan-Galiev goals.

Stalin was uncompromisingly forward-looking with proletarian thought. He also knew all the sordid little fights the small nationalities had among themselves and he would have cracked down on them. It was to become the task of non-imperialist nations to get along and to distinguish conflicts with the dying system of imperialism from conflicts among themselves that may have been instigated at the beginning by imperialism.

Sultan-Galiev should have been Stalin's right hand and it would have been most correct for Mikoyan and Armenia to join the USSR. The Armenians were actually involved in putting down ethnically based revolts in the USSR as it was.

In this personnel shift, perhaps the biggest potential disaster would have been a Trotsky rise to power in Russia. Although Lenin made Trotsky witness some of Lenin's criticism of Stalin from the time, in fact, the things Lenin did not like about Stalin were even more true of Trotsky, when it came to the national question. Lenin's critiques at the end of 1922 in particular would really support Sultan-Galiev more than Trotsky, who was no friend of "going slow" in Russia-to-oppressed-nation relations. It was Trotsky who used the tsarist officers and we have no reason from his line to believe that he would have opposed the Europeanization of Central Asia.

Immediate implications

As Lenin spent his last political breath worrying about the nationalities question even in Stalin's Georgia, and he knew well that with the exception of the diplomatic ministries, old Russian chauvinists remained in place, Lenin would have had more reason for hope and a different set of fears with Sultan-Galiev playing a more prominent role.

Lenin's first fear would be that political elites of Turkey would somehow gain the upper hand over Stalin, with the help of the Western imperialists. Then Lenin would have regretted handing over all the territory to Stalin. However, these imperialist schemes go on all the time anyway. Nonetheless, the Russians would have to understand that they would need to aid Stalin's USSR. Stalin would surely accept the aid of Russian NKVD types against imperialist scheming. There is no reason to believe that such schemes would have had a better chance just because the USSR spoke a Turkish variant of language and had a smaller economy than it would have combined with Russia.

Would there have been enough fermentation among the peoples of the East? Perhaps it would have been a different fermentation. Today we see that the centrifugal placement of Russian settlers in the republics did not bring decisive revolutionary change. Rather the presence of Russians became a reason to avoid the solution of problems and exacerbate other problems.

Lenin said the following in December, 1922: "Now, we must, in all conscience, admit the contrary; the apparatus we call ours is, in fact, still quite alien to us; it is a bourgeois and tsarist hotch-potch and there has been no possibility of getting rid of it in the course of the past five years without the help of other countries and because we have been 'busy' most of the time with military engagements and the fight against famine."

"It is quite natural that in such circumstances the 'freedom to secede from the union' by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There is no doubt that the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietised workers will drown in that tide of chauvinistic Great-Russian riffraff like a fly in milk." Trotskyists loved this, because it is criticism of Stalin, but Trotsky was even more for preservation of direct European influence on Asia through tsarist officers, one international party etc. This late 1922 statement was really more supportive of Sultan-Galiev than Trotsky.

The "what if" road had a different set of risks. The idea that the Russian empire gave up territory for a revolutionary project, only to see it snatched up by Turkey is one risk. There would also be the risks of having two states where there used to be one--and hence a political basis for disunity.

Later implications

The resulting USSR under Stalin and Sultan-Galiev would have dwarved Turkey. Instead of going begging to Turkey, where communists died in a massacre, after being sent from World War I opponent Russia, Stalin would have gone to Turkey as the head of the largest pan-Islamic state, and the largest one using a Turkish group language. The Western connections of Turkey's rulers would have become their political weakness. If for example, the USSR started a campaign in India's Muslims, could Turkey's ruling class afford to look the other way?

Energy spent on the Basmatchi would have been reduced. The Whites still would have had the same problem, had they resuscitated, that they did not favor national liberation from Russia. The Tatars in the Crimea would have fought any Whites.

By the time the Great Depression rolled around in 1929, Stalin could have had the USSR moving forward, and posing an ever greater material challenge to Turkey.

Had Chechens belonged to Stalin's USSR set up from Baku, they would have had less contradiction with historical Russian imperialism, because they would not have been in the same state as the Russians. Perhaps Stalin would not have had to deport the Chechens. If the Germans decided to attack the Russian Soviet alone, perhaps Stalin would have had to keep an eye on the Chechens, but if the Germans decided to attack Stalin's USSR, the Chechens might think that they and other oppressed nations were under attack. Again it would seem that deportations could have been avoided then. Germans likely would have attacked anyway, to obtain Baku's oil, just as Hitler did in World War II. Chechens may have sensed that and opposed it.

Dare we dream that Pakistan would have separated from England before World War II and joined the USSR, partly because the USSR aided its armed struggle? Would the world have seen the Depression in Western Europe and seen the writing on the wall? Would Arabs and Persians have stood by because there were not so many in Stalin's USSR? Would there have been an I$rael if communist fire with an Islamic lifestyle had spread?

In terms of getting ready for World War II, the Estonians, Latvians and Finns may have been influenced by Stalin's example in Baku, but if not, the Russians would have had to take them over as they did. It would have been necessary to keep Ukraine in one or the other bloc. By language, the Ukrainians would have stayed with the Russians. Unfortunately, there is no "pan-X" ideology that would work in eastern Europe, only a confused medley of contenders that end up being genocidal "Greater Country Y" borders.

Even had the Germans still gone ahead with World War II to the East, there was every possibility that Stalin's USSR expanded to include more Islamic culture people, would have won more lopsidedly in combination with the Russian-speaking Soviet, with the biggest question mark being whether men such as Molotov could have kept Trotsky at bay (without Stalin on hand in Moscow) and moved the Soviet Russian-speakers ahead. (Another fantasy to consider would be keeping Stalin in Moscow while letting Sultan-Galiev set up the USSR.)

Although various moves in the East could raise or lower the mood of German workers with regard to Marxism-Leninism, a pan-Turkic movement led by Stalin and Sultan-Galiev would have contributed to Western imperialist stability only if Stalin and Sultan-Galiev ended up politically conquered. Whatever they managed to snatch away from imperialism in the East would have only undermined imperialism that much more.


It's hard to see how we Maoists can apply the above "what if" today, even as many non-Maoists cite Sultan-Galiev all over the world, because the persynalities seem missing and the world players even as countries are different. Although Sultan-Galiev apparently wrote a good bit, even thinking about 1923 and whether it had the persynalities necessary to have a USSR under Stalin excluding Russia is speculative.

Nonetheless, in the future, it is not so much that industrialism is inherently flawed, but Sultan-Galiev was correct that labor aristocracies would form and crush Marxist hopes in the industrial proletariat of many countries. Therefore, with the possible exception of the Russians or new imperialist "weak links," the general model of the revolution in the imperialist countries should be from the outside as part of the dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations. Specifically that means we do not want to see imperialist country settlers claiming to spread socialism. Nor do we want to see settler minorities become an excuse for old antagonisms.

On the other hand, settlers among oppressed nations should be regarded differently. Also, unless a nationality has capitalism with the dominance of its own finance capital, it should not be called "imperialist." The entire purpose of oppressed nation unity at this stage is to throw off the yoke of finance-capital, which dominates in the united $tates, Japan, England etc. This will do the most to clear the way for economic advance of the oppressed nations.


The West spills too much ink on Trotsky and Liberalism's interpretation of the USSR. Trotsky's faith in the Western so-called worker proved unrequited. The same is true of the Mensheviks. They cannot end imperialism.

Likewise, though Bukharin may have influenced some peasant policies in China and Vietnam, it is hard to see that losing World War II under his leadership would have helped Marxism-Leninism any. The real alternative, the real "what if" for communism now that we can look at the last 82 years since Lenin died is Sultan-Galiev.

For Lenin to leave Marx and Engels in the dust and say that Germany or Europe was not the center of the world would have been hard to do. He did not go far enough, but we certainly do not begrudge him the appearance of things in 1923. The people we begrudge are the ones who look at the history since and cannot admit that Mao was right and if anything Stalin did not go far enough in his Eastern orientation. If Sultan-Galiev were a bourgeois nationalist worthy of purging, it is 1000 times more true that today's Trotskyists are also bourgeois nationalists. They represent labor aristocracies of Europe and Amerika. That is the confusion we are living in today, the confusion that needs correcting.

Lenin and Stalin could not go as far East as they needed, because Germans had shown signs of rising. The communist versus fascist showdown of the early 1930s in Germany was still to come. On the other hand, Lenin had had his share of choosing among social-democratic factions and trying to determine which were the least social-democratic factions in Europe and why the workers did not follow the more communist leaders. All of that proved to be useless nitpicking except for non-European observors who took something from it.

As Peruvian Mariategui said, Trotsky was a man meant to be a Napoleon of Europe. His overall line turned out completely wrong and he ended up being a man totally out of place. Nonetheless, if he could have stayed within centralism, he should have been allowed to talk with the European social-democrats and arrange secret aid to comrades in Western Europe. Since he probably would have confused the already confused European communists, perhaps the Russians could have taken Trotsky up on one musing of his and given him 30 or 40,000 Russian men to go to India through Stalin's USSR. If Russians were so advanced, they could go prove it by fighting the British in India, not by settling in areas dominated by other nationalities.

Neither Stalin nor Sultan-Galiev may have been 100% correct about their view of the future. Lenin's tension with Stalin at the end of life had to do with the fact that Russian imperialism and its rotting corpse was much of the glue holding the USSR together. Lenin and Stalin had to make many decisions very quickly. The one we have the most doubts about today is the one concerning Sultan-Galiev. If a USSR ranging from the southwest region near Turkey spreading to Central Asia near China had adopted a state without Russian imperialism, Lenin's concerns could have been alleviated, and had it been led by a Stalin, the class struggle could have increased its intensity within its own borders without exacerbating tensions with Russians. A brutal class struggle to fuse the oppressed nations together under a Stalin would not have been blamed on Russians. Hence, Stalin could have been more Stalin and Lenin could have ceased his worries.