sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

January 7, 2011

Theory and Practice of Communist Internationalism

Filed under: politics, Russia, society — Tags: , , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 5:52 am

Moe Lane says (via Instapundit):

Communism is by its nature an international movement that rejects the fostering and nurturing of individual national identities in favor of some nebulous transnational ‘class’ struggle: there is no place in the orthodox version of the faith for anything less than eventual world revolution.

That’s the theory.  In practice, too, Marxism means just that to many of its American followers.  At the same time Soviet Communism was well-aliened with Russian nationalism.  Russian Communists hardly pretended otherwise.  There was an idea there that ethnic Russians are more equal then equal in the world of Soviet brotherhood.  Take Soviet National Anthem.  It begins:

Союз нерушимый республик свободных
Сплотила навеки Великая Русь!


Great Rus’ welded forever an unbreakable union of free republics.

The anthem was written in 1944, under Stalin, who in our terms can be described as a self-hating Georgian.  Republics here mean large ethnic regions, like Ukraine, Estonia or Kazakhstan, that are now independent countries.  The anthem reflects on a special position of Russia in the union.  Rus’ or Kiev Rus’ is the medieval name of Russia, and nationalism likes to look back to some sort of past glory days.  And look back Soviet Union did.  Early Red Army uniforms (late 1910s-1920s), for instance, were based on the attire of bogatiri (knights) in Russian folklore.  Budenovka hats reminiscent of the helmets worn by the knights are particularly striking.

This 1920 recruitment poster featuring a soldier in budenovka is in Ukrainian.  Russia and Ukraine share early Medieval history.

The uniform was designed by Viktor Vasnetsov, a painter with an interest in Russian history and folklore.

Three Bogatyrs, 1898 by Vasnetsov.

Marxism views history as an evolution (from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism).  In this view, since Russians had socialist revolution first, they are more evolved.  Other nations have something to learn from them.  Moscow became the seat of the Communist International, akin to being the Third Rome.  (The Second Rome being Byzantium from which Russians picked up Orthodox Christianity.)

Interestingly, Soviet Union did not push the Soviet identity too hard.  Sure, there was Mayakovsky, for instance, whose poem My Soviet Passport was required high school reading.  In it Mayakovsky shocks border agents by proudly declaring his Soviet passport:

из широких штанин
бесценного груза.
я –
Советского Союза.

In Liviu Iacob’s translation:

I pull out
of my wide trouser-pockets
of a priceless cargo.
You now:
read this
and envy,
I’m a citizen
of the Soviet Socialist Union!

Let me assure you that the innuendos were not lost on us high school students.

Mayakovsky: Pretty hot in this classic Rodchnko photo.  Anywho, I love his early apolitical poems.

We were certainly taught to take pride in our Soviet citizenship.  But at the same time we all had a “nationality”, which is something that we here call ethnicity.  There were Russians, Estonians, Jews, Gypsies, Ukrainians, Chukchas and so on.  This “nationality” was written in our Soviet passports, the infamous fifth paragraph.  An wrong nationality could be a hindrance.  At the same time, it encouraged minorities to think of themselves as minorities.  National languages and literature were taught in the republics, and national songs and costumes of the republics were paraded on the TV.  Paradoxical, I know.  One way of thinking about it, is a hierarchy of nationalities with Russians on top.



  1. That was really educational. Being the typical American, I have no understanding or experience with Russian culture beyond the really boring or the caricature.

    That Mayakovsky had his own smokin’ version of Blue Steel, didn’t he?

    My very basic understanding of Communism v. Fascism is that both are totalitarian. But communism preaches an international, “no borders” form of class warfare, while fascism is all about the national identity and military might.

    But it really is much more complex than that, huh?

    Comment by nooneofanyimport — January 8, 2011 @ 3:45 am

  2. It’s all very cursory, though. There are books and books written about ethnic relations in USSR.
    I’m not sure Mayakovsky has his version of Blue Steel. He did some screenwriting and acting, but, I think it was all silent cinema.

    Comment by edgeofthesandbox — January 8, 2011 @ 6:44 am

  3. Your pictures are not loading, for some reason.

    Comment by daniel noe — January 9, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    • I’m not sure what’s going on there. It’s loading on our other computer.

      Comment by edgeofthesandbox — January 10, 2011 @ 6:55 am

  4. В рот тя по нотам , за „Рашку“, падел!

    Comment by Iskra — March 1, 2012 @ 8:08 am

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