7 October, 2013
In the 1920’s Russia began the implementation of the Bolshevik ideology after their victory in the Civil War. It was a time of great change politically and economically, but the great cultural change was most important. The Bolsheviks were professional revolutionaries and they knew that they must transform “values, myths, norms, mores, aesthetics, popular images, and traditions” (Freeze 329) for their new socialist state to be successful. In short, they sought to create “The New Soviet Man”. In the beginning, this was a challenge everywhere in Russia, but it had the most resistance in the Muslim East of Central Asia. In 1922, the Soviet Union was formally created when the Declaration of Union and a Treaty of Union were approved. This was an important moment, but since “the Russian Empire was not at all a Russian state” (M. N. Pokrovskii) it contained a huge minority population that had fundamentally religious and cultural customs that differed from the ethnic Russians. It would prove to be difficult for the New Soviet Man to catch on in the minority areas of the Union.
While the Orthodox Christian religion had been defeated during the Civil War, many concessions had been made to the Islamic religion in an effort to keep Central Asia in the Bolshevik hands. This meant that their religious practices, which were a huge part of their national identity, were allowed to continue. During the 1920’s there were many cultural changes sweeping the empire, including redefining the family and the individual and subsequently giving more rights to women. The New Soviet Person was to be “unblinded by distinctions of nationality and gender” (Seventeen Moments). This was particularly hard to implement in the Muslim areas in the East because of the patriarchal nature of the Muslim religion. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History’s “Making Central Asia Soviet” section describes that during the 1920’s the Communist Party launched campaigns against many Islamic practices that were considered demeaning to women, such as polygamy, bride-price, forced marriage, and wearing the veil. Many women there embraced this liberation, and celebrated by burning their veils in town centers in masses of thousands. Their liberation did not go smoothly, and there were extremely violent retaliations by resisters. The situation reminds me of the Taliban’s violence against women in our century. When women were given new rights after the fall of the Taliban, they underwent (and still do now) terrible violence for exercising these rights. Throughout the 1920’s and into the 1930’s the local communist parties were required to abide by the campaigns that gave more rights to women, but the party members simply evaded the requirement. Seventeen Moments mentions the party’s concentration on women in Central Asia as being a result of the lack of proletariat in the area, which makes me wonder if they would have been given the same concentration of a proletariat existed there. Besides the campaigns for women, the communist also promoted other Islamic defiance. For example, the man pictured below is was proudly disobeying the Islamic law that prohibited contact with pork.
The transition to being culturally soviet was an ongoing process in Soviet Central Asia. The defiance of Soviet practices in favor of their traditional culture persisted. The Bolsheviks understood that they needed to make Soviet in people’s natural conscious, but in a place where soviet ideology clashed so dramatically with the people’s customs and ideals, they would never truly be able to be Soviet. I think that this clash is shown really well in the picture that I used to open the post. It shows Uzbeks dressed in their traditional clothes listening to a Soviet speech given outside of a Mosque. They were able to support the Soviets, but they still favored their traditional dress and their religion was truly at the center of their lives.
Background information from the Freeze text:
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
I used Seventeen Moments in Soviet Histoy’s Union Treaty and Making Central Asia Soviet sections respectively:
Links to the images in the order in which they appear are:
Finally, I linked an article in the post to M. N. Pokrovskii’s Russia as the Prison of Nations