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date: 05 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Karl Marx was no friend of nationalism, yet the states that came into being in his name in the twentieth century were forced to reach an accommodation with it. The Soviet Union was a vast multi-ethnic empire that included more than a hundred different national and ethnic groups. The article shows how Marxists, notably the Austro-Marxists and Lenin, developed a theory of the ‘national question’, which in Lenin’s case linked support for national self-determination to anti-imperialism. The article examines the key facets of Bolshevik policy towards the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union, notably the strategy of ‘nativization’, and it discusses the recent historiography that tends to see the Soviet regime more as a ‘maker of nations’ than oppressor of them (although it was also that). It compares the efforts of the Soviet, Chinese, and Yugoslav governments to negotiate tensions between national equality, territorial autonomy, cultural development, and increasing national sentiment and, fundamentally, rising national sentiment with the imperative of centralization. It looks at the role of nationalism in the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Keywords: Marx and nationalism, Austro-Marxism, Leninist nationality policy, nativization, China, Yugoslavia, Soviet multi-ethnic state, break-up of USSR

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