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.
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