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The Soviet Union as a Work-in-Progress: Ethnographers and the Category Nationality in the 1926, 1937, and 1939 Censuses

  • Francine Hirsch (a1)

Abstract

The All-Union Congress of Soviets ratified the Constitution of the USSR on 31 January 1924 and, according to traditional narratives, brought the formation of the Soviet Union to a close. The very same day, a group of leading ethnographers met at the Academy of Sciences in Petrograd to discuss a directive they had received from the Soviet of Nationalities: define nationality, determine “rational criteria” for classifying the population in the first All-Union Census, and notify the Central Statistical Administration as soon as possible. The legal formation of the Soviet Union had been completed, but the state-building process, which involved “re-imagining” the former Russian empire as a socialist federation of nationalities, was just getting under way. This essay argues that the classification of Soviet citizens by nationality in the All-Union Censuses of 1926, 1937, and 1939 was a fundamental component of the creation of the multinational state. The very establishment of the census category nationality marked a critical break with the tsarist regime, which had categorized its subjects on the basis of religion and native language. Ethnographers, statisticians, and linguists from Minsk to Vladivostok who formulated questionnaires and drew up lists of nationalities for all three censuses used their expertise to divine order out of chaos and create a new definitional grid. Not only did they have to decide which tribes, clans, and peoples belonged to which nationality, they also had to figure out what “nationality” meant.

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I am grateful to Laura Engelstein, Stephen Kotkin, Yuri Slezkine, Robert Crews, Adrienne Edgar, Deborah Field, Bruce Grant, Michele Rivkin-Fish, Rebecca Sokolovsky, and the Dissertation Writers’ Group at the Department of History, Princeton University, for helpful comments and suggestions. Drafts were presented at the workshops “The Politics of Counting” at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and “New Approaches to Russian and Soviet History” at the University of Maryland; I thank the participants in both forums for thought-provoking questions and stimulating discussions. Research was funded by the International Research and Exchanges Board with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United States Information Agency, and the U.S. Department of State, which administers the Russian, Eurasian, and East European Research Program (Title VIII).

1 Pipes, Richard, The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism,1917-1923 (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), 293 .

2 Sanktpeterburgskii filial Arkhiva Rossiiskoi akademii nauk (PFA RAN), f. 135, op. 1, d. 3 (Protokoly Zasedanii KIPS, 1919-1923), 1. 65; d. 13 (Protokoly Zasedanii KIPS, 1924-1925),1. 1.

3 Yuri Slezkine has explored the work of ethnographers in spreading the revolution and institutionalizing ethnoterritorial federalism. See Slezkine, , “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism,Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 414–52; Slezkine, , Arctic Mirrors: Russia and theSmall Peoples of the North (Ithaca, 1994); and Slezkine, , “From Savages to Citizens: The Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Far North, 1928-1938,Slavic Review 51, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 5276 . Bruce Grant's work on the Nivkhi also explores the junctures between nationality policy and “politicized ethnography.” See Grant, , In the Soviet House of Culture:A Century of Perestroikas (Princeton, 1995).

4 Examples of this approach include Pipes, Formation of the Soviet Union, and Hélène Carrère d’ Encausse, , The Great Challenge: Nationalities and the Bolshevik State,1917-1930 (New York, 1992).

5 See Sokolov, B., “K. organizatsii etnograficheskikh izuchenii na mestakh,Zhizn'natsional'nostei, 1923, nos. 3-4:114–15.

6 Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii, Moscow (GARF), f. 3316, op. 16a, d. 212 (Stenograficheskii otchet chastnogo soveshchaniia natsionalov-chlenov VTsIK i TsIK), 1. 30.

7 For example, GARF, f. 1318, op. 1, d. 9 (Protokoly Zasedanii Soveta natsional'nostei, 1922), 11. 4-7.

8 Suny, Ronald Grigor, The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and theCollapse of the Soviet Union (Stanford, 1993), 111 . I too have been influenced by Anderson’s, Benedict work, especially the chapter “Census, Map, Museum,” in Imagined Communities:Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London, 1991).

9 Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv ekonomiki (RGAE), f. 1562, op. 336, d. 8 (Protokoly Zasedanii Komissii po proizvodstvu Vsesoiuznykh perepisei 1926, torn 1), 1. 104.

10 Liber, George, Soviet Nationality Policy, Urban Growth, and Identity Change in theUkrainian SSR, 1923-1934 (Cambridge, Eng., 1992), 26 .

11 For a detailed discussion of the early demands for self-determination, see Carr, Edward Hallett, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, vol. 1 (New York, 1950).

12 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 8, 1. 105.

13 In other words, Russian nationality equaled Russian language and Orthodoxy. According to some works from the period, census administrators believed that native language (as distinct from vernacular) and nationality were more or less equivalents. Census totals for 1897 included a table on occupation that was correlated according to “narodnost1 based on native language“; the list included eleven main language groups with corresponding subgroups. Despite the absence of nationality as a formal census category in 1897, experts and government personnel did conceptualize the population in terms of national groups, as evidenced by the “Alphabetical List of People Residing in the Russian Empire,” printed by the Committee of Ministers in 1895 (St. Petersburg).

14 This was the rationale behind the policies of korenizatsiia (the creation of local elites in different national regions) such as the “Turkmenization” of the Turkmen government apparatus. GARF, f. 3316, op. 64, d. 397a (Protokoly Zasedanii fraktsii VKP[b] Prezidiuma TsIKa).

15 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 79 (Stenogramma instruktivnogo soveshchaniia po perepisi naseleniia), 1. 19.

16 Some peoples without territories continued to exist, such as the small peoples of the north. See Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors.

17 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 47 (Otchety mestnykh statbiuro o provedenii perepisi, torn 4), 1. 579.

18 Stalin, I. V., Marksizm i natsional'nyi vopros (Moscow, 1950), 51 .

19 KIPS (Komissiia po izucheniiu plemennogo sostava naseleniia Rossii i sopredel'nykh stran), formed in February 1917, studied the ethnic composition of Russia’s European and Asiatic borderlands in anticipation of the end of World War I. After October, the commission’s responsibilities were extended to include the ethnographic study of all peoples living in Soviet territory. Later renamed the Commission for the Study of the Tribal Composition of the Population of the USSR and the Borderlands (SSSR i sopredel'nykh stran), this umbrella organization included ethnographers, geographers, and other specialists.

20 Rossiiskii tsentr dlia khraneniia i izucheniia dokumentov noveishei istorii, Moscow (RTsKhlDNI), f. 17, op. 3, d. 546, 599, 601, etc. (Protokoly zasedanii Politbiuro TsK VKP[b]).

21 PFA RAN, f. 135, op. 1, d. 23 (Po uchastiiu KIPS v provedenii i razrabotke materialov perepisi 1926).

22 Birth certificates from 1920 to 1925 requested the mother’s natsional'nost'. Other official documents requested the respondent's natsional'nost' (documents before that time did not request nationality). From 1926 to 1927, official documents requested natsional'nost' and provided a list of possible choices. G. G. Melik˝ ian, ed., Narodonaselenie, Entsiklopedicheskii slovar', appendix 6, “Formulirovka voprosov v pervichnykh dokumentakh tekushchego ucheta demograficheskikh sobytii v Rossii” (Moscow, 1994), 591, 597. Beginning in 1928, official documents requested the natsional'nost' “to which the person concerned identifies himself or herself.” During the late 1920s, these documents requested “natsional'nost', that is, narodnost'.” By the late 1930s, the forms requested natsional'nost'.

23 PFA RAN, f. 135, op. 1, d. 11 (Po nauchno-organizatsionnym voprosam KIPS), 11. 115-16.

24 KIPS was made up of four main subdivisions (European Russia, Siberia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia), each led by a well-known specialist (D. A. Zolotarev, L. la. Shternberg, N. la. Marr, and V. V. Bartol'd). On the different schools that co-existed in Soviet ethnography of the 1920s, see Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors.

25 See, for example, Berg, L. S., Naselenie Bessarabii: Etnograficheskii sostav i chislennost', Trudy Komissii po izucheniiu plemennogo sostava naseleniia Rossii, vol. 6 (Petrograd, 1923), and Rudenko, S. I., ed., Garino-Amgunskaia ekspeditsiia 1926 goda, Predvaritel'nyiotchet N. G. Kargera i I. I. Koz'minskogo, Izvestiia Komissii po izucheniiu plemennogo sostava naseleniia SSSR i sopredel'nykh stran, vol. 3 (Leningrad, 1929).

26 Beginning in 1925, Narkompros required personnel at the Academy of Sciences to fill out questionnaires, which included a question about nationality. PFA RAN, f. 135, op. 1, d. 15 (Protokoly Zasedanii KIPS, 1925-1928), 11. 103-5.

27 PFA RAN, f. 135, op. 1, d. 11, 11. 134-37.

28 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 8, 1. 109.

29 PFA RAN, f. 135, op. 1, d. 23, 11. 21, 22, 35, 72, 72ob.

30 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 1, d. 433 (Stenograficheskii otchet Zasedanii demograficheskoi sektsii IV Vsesoiuznogo statisticheskogo s“ezda), 11. 62, 63, 81.

31 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 8, 1. 110.

32 Melik˝ ian, ed., Narodonaselenie, appendix 3, “Soderzhanie programm i formulirovka voprosov perepisei naseleniia Rossii,” 581.

33 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 1, d. 433, 11. 1-71.

34 PFA RAN, f. 135, op. 1, d. 11, 11. 109-11.

35 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 8, 1. 115.

36 Osinskii, N., “Printsipy i praktika vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia,Sovetskoestroitel'stvo, 1927, nos. 3-4:3651 .

37 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 1, d. 433, 11. 155, 157.

38 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 1, d. 433, 1. 177ob.

39 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 44 (Otchety mestnykh statbiuro, torn 2), 1. HOob.; Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1926 goda, vol. 14, Zakavkazskaia SSR (Moscow, 1929), iii.

40 Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1926 goda, vol. 17, SSSR (Moscow, 1929), 98, 99. This recommendation reflected the widespread belief that women, who did most of the child rearing in traditional households, passed on culture (kul'tura), everyday practices (byt), and language to the next generation.

41 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 26 (Dopolnitel'nye instruktsii), 11. 57, 151ob.

42 Osinskii, “Printsipy i praktika.“

43 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 4 (Stenogramma Vsesoiuznoi statisticheskoi konferentsii po razrabotke materialov perepisi naseleniia 1926), 1. 123.

44 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 52 (Perepiska), 11. 68, 68ob. (The questionnaire used the term narodnost'. The census taker used narodnost' and natsional'nost' as synonyms.) RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 8, 1. 114.

45 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 4, 1. 112.

46 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 47, 1. 51; Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1926 goda, vol. 17, SSSR, 101, 107.

47 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 4, 11. 28-37, 158-69.

48 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 4, 11. 30-32, 158ob.

49 The census explanatory notes state that there were 184 narodnosti. This figure includes the 12 smaller nationalities that had been eliminated from the list in 1927. A version of the list that includes these 12 smaller nationalities and the 4 Georgian subgroups (188 peoples in all) plus the “unfixed” nationalities was published with the census results. This published list includes footnotes that explain how and why the smaller nationalities lost their spots. Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1926 goda, vol. 17, SSSR, v, 106-7. For an earlier version of the list, see Central Statistical Administration USSR, Otdel perepisi, Programmy iposobiia k razrabotke vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia 1926goda, vol. 7, Perechen’ i slovar’ narodnostei (Moscow, 1927). In 1927 KIPS published a slightly different version, which included 169 peoples. Some of the “unfixed” or provisional narodnosti, such as the Uighurs and Oirats, were not included. See I. I. Zarubin, ed., Spisok narodnostei Soiuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, Trudy Komissii po izucheniiu plemennogo sostava naseleniia SSSR i sopredel'nykh stran, vol. 13 (Leningrad, 1927).

50 PFA RAN, f. 135, op. 1, d. 21 (Po nauchno-organizatsionnym voprosam KIPS), 1. 108.

51 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 4, 1. 8.

52 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 10 (Protokoly Zasedanii Komissii po proizvodstvu Vsesoiuznykh perepisei 1926, torn 2) 11. 58, 86.

53 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 11 (Protokoly Zasedanii Komissii po proizvodstvu Vsesoiuznykh perepisei 1926, torn 3), 11. 195, 195ob.

54 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 8, 1. 112.

55 PFA RAN, f. 135, op. 1, d. 79 (Soveshchaniia nauchnykh rabotnikov), 1. 8.

56 See, for example, Lebovics, Herman, True France: The Wars over Cultural Identity,1900-1945 (Ithaca, 1992).

57 The published census tables include fewer peoples than had been noted on the 1927 revised list of nationalities. The list for the census tables looks like a replica of the 1927 list and appears to feature the same number of peoples. But the numbers are not consecutive (nationalities are missing along with their originally designated number). Only 166 narodnosti are included along with 4 subgroups and 6 “unfixed“ narodnosti. Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1926 goda, vol. 17, SSSR, table 7 (26-33).

58 GARF, f. 3316, op. 22, d. 127 (O vydelenii iz Uzbekskoi SSR Tadzhikistana v soiuznuiu respubliku), 11. 203-20.

59 See Cherniakov, Z., “Ob etnograficheskom sostave SSSR,Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1933, no. 1:3867 .

60 A. B., , “Voprosy i otvety,Revoliutsiia i natsional'nosti 50, no. 4 (1934): 9194 .

61 PFA RAN, f. 142, op. 1 (1935), d. 34 (Perepiska s nauchnymi uchrezhdeniami), 11. 63, 63ob.

62 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 1439 (Khudozhestvennaia literatura proizvedenii o perepisi 1939), 11. 1-24.

63 See Slezkine, , “The USSR as a Communal Apartment.” Also Zaslavsky, Victor, The Neo-Stalinist State (Armonk, N.Y., 1982).

64 The 1937 census featured a question about religion, which made respondents especially suspicious. RGAE, f. 1562, op. 329, d. 143 (Materialy po predvaritel'nym itogam perepisi naseleniia 1936-1937), 11. 51-53.

65 GARF, f. 3316, op. 28, d. 865 (Spisok natsional'nostei SSSR), 11. 29-55.

66 GARF, f. 3316, op. 28, d. 865, 1. 56.

67 A number of drafts were put forward by both institutes. GARF, f. 3316, op. 28, d. 865, 11. 8-18, 29-55, 72-75. Also see Grande, B., “Materialy dlia utochneniia spiska narodov SSSR,Revoliutsiia i natsional'nosti 62, no. 4 (1935): 7787 . A similar list with synonyms and subgroups was published by the Bureau of the All-Union Census under Gosplan’s Central Administration of the National-Economic Inventory in 1937. See O. Kvitkin, ed., Slovar' natsional'nostei dlia razrabotki vsesoiuznoiperepisi naseleniia 1937goda (Moscow, 1937).

68 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 329, d. 145 (Razrabotochnye tablitsy TsUNKhU SSSR), II. 9-18.

69 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 329, d. 151 (Perepiska s TsK VKP[b], NKVD i organami Narkhozucheta), 1. 93.

70 GARF, f. 3316, op. 28, d. 865, 1. 94.

71 In 1936, the census commission of the Central Administration of the National- Economic Inventory explained that when a nationality lacked one of the four traits of a nation as denned by Stalin (common language, territory, economic life, and psychological makeup), it was up to the Soviet of Nationalities to decide whether or not to include it on the final list of nationalities. GARF, f. 3316, op. 28, d. 865, 1. 88.

72 Their indirect role is more difficult to assess.

73 Cited in Zhiromskaia, V. B., “Vsesoiuznye perepisi naseleniia 1926, 1937, 1939 goda: Istoriia podgotovki i provedeniia,htoriia SSSR, 1990, no. 3:88 . Zhiromskaia argues that this statement became a type of directive for the statisticians.

74 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 329, d. 116 (Perepiska s UnKhU soiuznykh respublik, s narkomatami), 1. 71.

75 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 329, d. 143, 1. 53.

76 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 329, d. 116, 11. 149, 149ob.

77 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 329, d. 145, 1. 59.

78 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 206 (Zamechaniia po povodu “Slovaria natsional'nostei“), 1. 71.

79 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 208 (Spiski natsional'nostei), 1. 30.

80 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 211 (Perepiska s Institutom Antropologii i Etnografii), 1. 19.

81 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 206, 1. 81.

82 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 208, 1. 65. The ethnographers’ suggestions were implemented and then reversed.

83 Poliakov, Iu. A., Vodarskii, Ia. E., Zhiromskaia, V. B., Kibelev, I. N., eds., Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1937 g.: Kratkie itogi (Moscow, 1991), 83 .

84 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 206, 11. 14-16. Poliakov, Iu. A., Vsesoiuznaia perepis’naseleniia 1939 goda: Osnovnye itogi (Moscow, 1992), 57 .

85 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 208, 11. 45-51.

86 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 79, 11. 18-24.

87 GARF, f. 7523, op. 65, d. 304 (Dokladnaia zapiska po voprosu opredeleniia natsional'nostei), 11. 7-10.

88 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 206, 11. 7-13.

89 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 206, 11. 72-76. Also Perechni otraslei narodnogo khoziaistvai truda, proizvodstv, zaniatii, natsional'nostei i tipov uchebnykh zavedenii, vydeliaemykhpri razrabotke materialov vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia 1939 goda (Moscow, 1939).

90 Poliakov, Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1939 goda, 57, 58.

91 RGAE, f. 1562, op. 336, d. 79, 1. 19.

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