In 1921, after the Bolshevik forces defeated the White Armies of the Russian Empire and completed their reconquest of tsarist territories, they found themselves in control of a vast and heterogeneous swath of Eurasia. The inhabitants of their new dominion were overwhelmingly rural – primarily peasants or nomads – the vast majority of whom were unschooled, illiterate, and devoid of national identity, instead identifying themselves by their family, tribe, or village, or simply as “people from here.” Aside from the fact that they were all now subject to Soviet control, the peoples of Eurasia had very little in common with one another. They spoke more than 150 different languages and countless dialects. Most were linked to their countrymen by neither road nor rail. Heterogeneity, insularity, and isolation were the order of the day.
Seventy years of Soviet control changed all of that. Over the subsequent decades, the peasants and nomads were systematically collectivized, educated, electrified, urbanized, industrialized, nationalized, organized, terrorized, surveilled, and ruled in much the same way across the vast territory of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The result of this methodically imposed project in social and political engineering was that by 1991, whether one lived in Tashkent or Tula, one was governed by identical political institutions, participated in the same centrally planned economy, and studied similar types of texts in similar schools.