Nationalism, Communism, and the Soviet Union


An interesting movement that slowly emerged over the course of the 1930’s and hit its peak in 1939 was the concept of nationalism in the Soviet Union. As noted in his essay entitled “The New Patriotism”, historian James von Golden noted that the later 1930’s saw a rise in the posthumous rehabilitation of figures from Russia’s past, especially military leaders (von Golden). These military leaders were treated as heroes of the Russia of the past and were emphasized as heroes to the then still relatively new Soviet state. This rehabilitation was part of the larger nationalist project that was going on in the Soviet Union. What’s interesting about this rise in nationalist feeling and its encouragement is that one would not expect such ideology to be encouraged in a communist state. Communism emphasis on the working class as a group and the center of the state would make one think that nationalism would not have a place. This is due to the fact that the working class does not have any single nationality, as it is a group defined not by where it is from, but by its experiences and its exploitation under capitalism. Sources such as “The New Military Oath”, “For the Fatherland!”, and the film Alexander Nevsky provide important insights into how the balance between communism and nationalism was found and nationalism sentiments were built during this decade.

“The New Military Oath” and “For the Fatherland!”provide important insights into how nationalism was built through the use of the military. These sources intertwine nationalism and communist ideology in ways to make them appear one in the same, part of the larger struggle. For example, one paragraph in “The New Military Oath” ended with the line, “to be faithful to the people, the Soviet Motherland, and the Workers-Peasants’ Government” (The New Military Oath). “For the Fatherland!” also included an interesting line, stating that, “The defense of the fatherland is the supreme law of life” (For the Fatherland!). The Soviet government here was trying to make the revolution, the building of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and nationalism one in the same. One point of interest in these posts was that nationalism was not used as a way of building and helping to sustain the revolution. Instead, they were treated as equal, one feeding into the other and given equal importance. For example, traitors in “For the Fatherland!” are not framed as being traitors of the working class in general. Instead, they are just traitors of the working class in the Soviet Union and the nation as whole. This insular focus on nationalism in the Soviet Union appears as a link to the policy of “Socialism in One Country” that Stalin followed. These two documents as a whole show the combined nationalism and communist ideology.

The film Alexander Nevsky showed another important focus of the building of nationalism, the rehabilitation of historical figures, and how they were used by Stalin. The film, directed by the great Soviet director Sergei Einstein, was based on the life the titular man, who played an important role in the 13th century of protecting Russia from invaders. While watching the film, it becomes clear to the viewer that Nevsky in the film was supposed to be a symbol for Stalin in terms of his leadership and guidance of the Russian (or Soviet) people. It fit into the trend of rehabilitating figures that could be used to draw easy parallels to then current Soviet leaders, to add people like Stalin to the long history of those defending the fatherland from outside influences. Interestingly enough, these figures were rehabbed even though they represented the old regime, the old way of thinking about social relations in Russia. While they didn’t represent the social revolution going on at the time, films like Alexander Nevsky represented a link to the past, that allowed the Soviet government and its leaders to link themselves to the greats of the past. They wanted to show they were continuing their legacy of protecting the fatherland and this time, protecting the workers revolution.

The relationship between nationalism and communism was an interesting one. One would think they would not be compatible, as the working class has no singular national identity, as workers are everywhere and their struggles against capitalism are the same. However, Stalin linked the two, almost as a continuation of his policy of building socialism in the Soviet Union. By encouraging nationalism, of that identity of being a citizen of the Soviet Union, he provided another way that the citizens of the nation could tie themselves to it, outside of being workers in a communist society.

This post earned a Red Star award from the editorial team


For the Fatherland!

The New Military Oath

Alexander Nevsky


9 thoughts on “Nationalism, Communism, and the Soviet Union

  1. This was an incredibly well written post. I learned a lot from your thoughts and by looking through the sources presented. The concept of nationality being merged with that of Communism is in fact, like you said, and interesting concept to grasp. Overall, I think you did a fantastic job explaining why the two ideas (nationalism and communism) wouldn’t seem to be work together, but in the end somewhat did.


  2. This was a great post and I loved how you broke down multiple aspects as to how Stalin intertwined communism and nationalism. It is interesting to watch the shift from the beginning of a Soviet state where it emphasized all workers as a nation and transformed into being part of something more than just the working nation, but rather the Soviet nation. I thought that by using the film it made it very clear how important it was to people of the time to understand that communism and nationalism were linked. I love that you made the point that we tend to think of communism and nationalism not mixing together because we tend to think of ourselves as having high levels of nationalism in America, yet Stalin firmly believed and spoke as though the two were equals. Loved this post overall.


  3. I thought you did a great job detailing how Stalin made nationalism synonymous with communism. I think it is clear that this worked as being more nationalistic became a coveted goal that went hand in had with becoming a more devout communist and working for the betterment of the people. Solid post this week!


  4. I like how you describe how Stalin interwove communism and nationalism, however I wouldn’t say that they ordinarily have to be separated. Although the workers did share distinctively different cultures throughout Russia, they shared common power amongst the state and a shared struggle against capitalism. These commonalities are what ultimately defines the working class as Soviet and is what becomes ingrained as Soviet nationalism.


  5. I think you did a wonderful job explaining nationalism and Stalins views and objectives when it came to nationalism. You also made a very fascinating point about the relationship between nationalism and communism and how Stalin connected the two. You taught me a lot about nationalism and communism in the area that I didn’t previous know anything about. Good job!


  6. This was a great post. Very interesting to read about these two concepts and their relationship. Also a good job with explaining Stalin’s view on the concepts. I liked that you used the image to go with the film you mentioned.


  7. The practice of combining socialist economics with a conservative social policy is paralleled in fascist Germany at the same time period. It’s a unique sight in World War 2 to see two great powers (Germany and Russia) under a system of totalitarian nationalism, with only a few core ideological differences waging war on one another.


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