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The Bolsheviks and the National Question, 1917–23 by Jeremy Smith (auth.)

By Jeremy Smith (auth.)

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Extra resources for The Bolsheviks and the National Question, 1917–23

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As the considerable numbers of refugees entering Russia were primarily fugitives from war in Belorussia and Armenia, Narkomnats in April 1918 proposed to the Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) that it should take on sole responsibility for this problem. 12 This proposal was rejected by the NKVD, leading Narkomnats to appeal to the Sovnarkom, which eventually resolved the dispute by creating a special Central Collegium for prisoners of war and refugee affairs attached to the NKVD. 13 Likewise, Narkomnats' proposal to set up its own cultural-educational commission was overruled in favour of a The Case for National Autonomy 33 commission attached to the People's Commissariat for Education, with some Narkomnats representation.

In common with Lenin and most other Marxists, Rosa Luxemburg identified a tendency for national differences to disappear. This led her to underestimate the problems posed by territories of mixed national composition, for which she foresaw only purely administrative difficulties in terms of education and language. This way of thinking, especially when taken up by the arguably less sensitive administrators of the new Soviet regime at both local and national levels, led inevitably to tensions and serious errors in underestimating the strength of national sentiments among the non-Russian peoples.

Thus on the one hand there was the head of the Jewish Section, S. Dimanshtein, who for a while was the effective head of Narkomnats, an Old Bolshevik who had little time for Jewish nationalism either in its Zionist form or as expressed in attempts to establish traditional Jewish culture and the Hebrew language. This was a reflection of his general attitude to the national question, as we shall see. On the other hand there were the members of the Muslim Commissariat, led by Mulla Nur Vakhitov and Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev, who espoused outright nationalist, pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic ideas.

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