Autonomization

Autonomization

 

a term which arose in connection with the work of a commission created by a decision of the Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik) in August 1922 to work out a proposal for uniting the independent Soviet republics—including the RSFSR, Ukrainian SSR, Trans-caucasian SFSR, and Byelorussian SSR—into a single state. J. V. Stalin (chairman, People’s Commissariat of Nationalities), G. I. Petrovskii, A. F. Miasnikov, S. M. Kirov, G. K. Ordzhonikidze, V. M. Molotov, A. G. Cher-viakov, and others took part in the commission’s work. The plan for autonomization, which was presented by Stalin and accepted by the commission, proposed that the RSFSR be declared a state which would include the Ukrainian SSR, Transcaucasian SFSR, and Byelorussian SSR with the rights of autonomous republics. Accordingly, the organs of supreme power and administration would be the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the Council of People’s Commissars, and the Council of Labor and Defense of the RSFSR.

The interrelations which had formed by that time among the independent republics were established on the basis of equitable treaties concerning military, political, and economic alliances. The tasks of strengthening defense, restoring and further developing the national economy on the path to socialism, and promoting the political, economic, and cultural development of all nationalities required closer unity among Soviet republics in a single multinational state. The principal problem of the Communist Party Central Committee commission concerned the political form of the multinational Soviet socialist state. Plan A was discussed by the plenums of the central committees of each of the republic communist parties and was not supported by a majority of them. Nevertheless, the commissions, at the meetings of Sept. 23 and 24, 1922, approved Stalin’s theses on the autonomization plan. This decision was a mistake. The theses of the plan took into account the need for strict unity and centralization of the efforts of the Soviet republics; but in so doing, it violated the sovereign rights of the republics. It was, in essence, a step backward in comparison with the forms of national-state construction already in existence.

V. I. Lenin, who at that time was ill, acquainted himself with the materials of the commission and discussed them with a number of comrades. On Sept. 26, 1922, he sent a letter to members of the Politburo of the Central Committee in which he presented a fundamental critique of the plan and proposed and supported the idea of forming a united state based on full equality of all independent Soviet republics. He wrote: “We recognize ourselves as having equal rights with the Ukrainian SSR and other republics, and together, on an equal basis, we will enter into a new union, a new federation” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 45, p. 211). Lenin stressed that the independence of the republics must not be impaired, but “a new stage, a federation of equal republics” must be created (ibid., p. 212). On Oct. 6, 1922, Lenin sent a memo to the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Party in which he categorically insisted on the equal representation of all union republics in the leadership of the all-federal Central Executive Committee (see ibid., p. 214). On the basis of Lenin’s plan for the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the commission prepared a draft that was reported by Stalin to the Plenum of the Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik) and approved by it on Oct. 6, 1922.

Lenin returned to his critique of the autonomization plan in one of his last letters, “On the Question of Nationalities, or On ‘Autonomization.’ “ Lenin wrote that “this entire venture of ‘autonomization’ was fundamentally wrong and untimely” (ibid., p. 356) and that it could bring only harm, distorting the ideas of unification of Soviet republics in the spirit of great power chauvinism. The draft violated the principle of the self-determination of nations, giving the independent republics only a right of autonomous existence within the RSFSR. Lenin spoke against excessive centralization in matters of unification and demanded maximum at-tentiveness and caution in resolving matters of national policy.

Unification of republics should be carried out in a way that would truly guarantee equal rights for nations and strengthen the sovereignty of each union republic. “It is necessary to preserve and strengthen the union of socialist republics,” wrote Lenin. “About this measure there can be no doubt. We need it, as does the world Communist proletariat, for the struggle with the world bourgeoisie and for defense against its intrigues” (ibid., p. 360). Lenin’s letter was made public at a meeting of leaders of delegations of the Twelfth Congress of the RCP (Bolshevik) in April 1923, and his directions became the basis for the resolution of the congress, “On the Nationality Question.”

The creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, completed by the first All-Union Congress of Soviets on Dec. 30, 1922, was a triumph of Lenin’s ideas of proletarian internationalism, fraternal friendship, and unity of equal and sovereign people.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “Ob obrazovanii SSSR.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 45.
Lenin, V. I. “K voprosu o natsional’nostiakh ili ob ‘avtonomizatsii.’” Ibid.
Istoriia natsional’no-gosudarstvennogo stroitel’stva v SSSR. Moscow, 1968. Pages 355–369.

L. A. ZAVELEVAND L. V. METELITSA

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