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(ôtŏn`əmē) [Gr.,=self-rule], in a political sense, limited self-government, short of independence, of a political state or, more frequently, of a subdivision. The term is also used for other self-governing units, such as a parish, a corporation, or a religious sect. A test of autonomy is the recognition that the group may make the rules governing its internal affairs. Political autonomy is frequently based on cultural and ethnic differences. Autonomy within empires has frequently been a prelude to independence, as in the case of the evolution of the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations, containing both autonomous and completely sovereign states. Autonomy as in the former Soviet "autonomous" republics and regions in Russia, providing local control over cultural and economic affairs, often is perceived as inadequate by nationalists, who sometimes have demanded independence, as in ChechnyaChechnya
or Chechen Republic
, republic (1990 est. pop. 1,300,000, with neighboring Ingushetia), c.6,100 sq mi (15,800 sq km), SE European Russia, in the N Caucasus. Grozny is the capital. Prior to 1992 Chechnya and Ingushetia comprised the Checheno-Ingush Republic.
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. The same has proved true in SlovakiaSlovakia
or the Slovak Republic,
Slovak Slovensko , republic (2015 est. pop. 5,439,000), 18,917 sq mi (48,995 sq km), central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic in the west, by Austria in the southwest, by Hungary in the south, by Ukraine in the east,
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, and provides impetus for terrorism by Basque, Corsican, and Welsh extremists.
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  1. the capacity possessed by the individual SELF for choice. The case for DEMOCRACY, as David Held (Models of Democracy, 1987) has shown, is linked crucially to the principle that individuals possess autonomous capacity Compare DECENTRED SELF.
  2. The capacity for self determination (see SOVEREIGNTY) possessed by an independent STATE.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the right to independent administration or to governmental decision-making by any part of a state, as expressed in the constitution of the state. Autonomy represents a degree of decentralization, but to a lesser degree than in a federation. According to Soviet state law, autonomy means the independent exercise of state power by a Soviet socialist national state (autonomous republic) or by a national political unit (autonomous oblast, national okrug) that forms part of a Union republic. Autonomy is exercised within the limits of competence established by the supreme bodies of state authority of the Union republic with the participation of the autonomous unit in question.

The Soviet system of autonomy, which was created as a result of the Great October Socialist Revolution, represents one of the state law forms of the solution to the nationality question.

V. I. Lenin formulated the following basic principles of Soviet autonomy: Soviet autonomy is based on the soviets and on the socialist ownership of the implements and means of production. It is a new type of autonomy unknown in previous history. In the Soviet system of autonomy, state authority is exercised by the working people, expresses their political will, and serves their interests. It is a state organization of Soviet socialist nations and the framework for exercising self-determination and sovereignty.

The Soviet system of autonomy follows national criteria; an autonomous unit is set up in a region that forms an economic unit and that has distinct national and cultural characteristics. It represents the closest alliance between the working people of a particular autonomous unit and the Union republic it is part of.

In the Soviet system of autonomy, all the agencies of state authority and state administration, the courts, and the prosecutor’s offices are staffed primarily with indigenous people, and the proceedings are, as a rule, in the language of the nationality forming the autonomous unit. This highly important principle of Soviet autonomy creates the necessary conditions for broad development of national culture and of education in the native language of the autonomous unit. In some autonomous units where the population consists of several nations or nationalities, the state agencies use several languages. For instance, in the Bashkir ASSR the laws adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the autonomous republic are published in Bashkir, Russian, and Tatar; in addition, court proceedings are conducted in Mari and Chuvash in the areas where these nationalities form the majority of the population. Persons who do not know these languages can acquaint themselves with all the materials of a case through an interpreter and also have the right to use their native language in court (Constitution of the Bashkir ASSR, arts. 24 and 78).

There are two forms of Soviet autonomy: political and administrative. Political autonomy, which expresses itself in a national autonomous state (autonomous republic), is characterized by a wider range of rights. An autonomous republic has its own constitution, supreme bodies of state authority, legislation, government, supreme courts, and citizenship requirements. Administrative autonomy (autonomous oblasts and national okrugs) applies only to administration. Its legal status is defined in a special law. For an autonomous oblast it is the “statute on the autonomous oblast,” drawn up by the autonomous oblast and approved by the supreme soviet of the Union republic it is part of; for a national okrug it is the “statute on the national okrugs,” adopted by the RSFSR Supreme Soviet (there are no national okrugs in other Union republics). In 1969 there were 38 autonomous units in the USSR: 20 autonomous republics, eight autonomous oblasts, and ten national okrugs. These autonomous units are distributed among five Union republics: the RSFSR and the Uzbek, Georgian, Azerbaijan, and Tadzhik soviet socialist republics.

The various forms of the Soviet system of autonomy result from certain historical conditions and, above all, from the degree of economic, political and cultural development of the numerous nations and nationalities of the Soviet Union. The Soviet system of autonomy arose at a time when some peoples still had a patriarchal-clan or semipatriarchal social system (for instance, in Bashkiria, among some peoples of the North Caucasus, in the greater part of Azerbaijan, in Kirghizia, and in Kazakhstan). Vestiges of the feudal-clan structure and the presence of semifeudal elements were still evident in the country many years after the October Revolution (see KPSS v resoliutsiiakh . . . , 7th ed., part 1, 1954, p. 559). Under these conditions Soviet autonomy, as well as the Soviet federation, fulfilled the highly important task of eliminating backwardness among many nations and nationalities.’

An important feature of the Soviet system of autonomy is its flexibility. This makes it possible to solve the nationality question as applied to the various stages of economic, political, and cultural development of a given nation or nationality in accordance with its expressed will, as well as to unite several nations or nationalities. Thus, the Chuvash form the bulk of the population in the Chuvash ASSR and the Yakuts in the Yakut ASSR. Each of these autonomous units therefore is a way to unite one nation. At the same time, there are several autonomous republics that unite several nations or nationalities, as for instance, the Dagestan ASSR.

The Soviet system of autonomy also makes it possible to set up new national states—autonomous republics—that is, to make the transition from administrative to broader political autonomy. This has happened throughout the history of Soviet autonomy. For instance, of the 16 autonomous republics in the RSFSR, 11 were created by elevating autonomous oblasts to this status (Kabarda-Balkar, Kalmyk, Karelian, Komi, Mari, Mordovian, North Ossetiian, Tuva, Udmurt, Chechen-Ingush, and Chuvash).


Lenin, V. I. “Tezisy po natsional’nomy voprosu.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23, pp. 314–22.
Lenin, V. I. “Kriticheskie zametki po natsional’nomy voprosu.” Ibid., vol. 24, pp. 113–50.
Lenin, V. I. “Proekt zakona o ravnopravii natsii i o zashchite prav natsional’nykh men’shinstv.” Ibid., vol. 25, pp. 135–37.
Lenin, V. I. “Proekt zakona o ravnopravii natsii i o zashchite prav pp. 255–320.
Lenin, V. I. “Variant stat’i ‘Ocherednye zadachi Sovetskoi vlasti.” Ibid., vol. 36, pp. 151–52.
Lenin, V. I. “K voprosu o natsional’nostiakh ili ob ‘avtonomizatsii.’ “ Ibid., vol. 45, pp. 356–62.
Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo S. G. Shaumianu, 6. dek. 1913.” Ibid., vol. 48, pp. 233–36.
Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo S. G. Shaumianu, 19 maia 1914.” Ibid., vol. 48, pp 288–91.
Shaumian, S. G. “Natsional’nyi vopros i sotsial-demokratiia.” Izbr. proizv., vol. 1. Moscow, 1957. Pages 132–61.
Zlatopol’skii, D. L. Gosudarstvennoe ustroistvo SSSR. Moscow, 1960. Chapter V, pp. 190–243.
Zlatopol’skii, D. L. Federativnoe gosudarstvo. Moscow, 1967.
Chistiakov, O. I. Stanovlenie Rossiiskoi federatsii, 1917–1922. Moscow, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the right or state of self-government, esp when limited
2. a state, community, or individual possessing autonomy
3. Philosophy
a. the doctrine that the individual human will is or ought to be governed only by its own principles and laws
b. the state in which one's actions are autonomous
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005