The Idea of Muslim National Communism: On Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev

Mirsaid Sultan Galiev
Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev

Introduction: Marxism and Nationalism Revisited

In The Wretched of the Earth, from 1961, Frantz Fanon argued that

Marx­ist analy­ses should always be slight­ly stretched every time we have to con­front the colo­nial prob­lem.1

This notion is an excel­lent start­ing point for reex­am­in­ing the post­colo­nial prob­lem­at­ic of what Dipesh Chakrabar­ty calls the “provin­cial­iz­ing” of Europe. With­in sub­al­tern, post­colo­nial, and decolo­nial stud­ies, there are two het­ero­ge­neous and com­pet­ing con­cep­tions of this provin­cial­iza­tion of Europe, whose entan­gle­ment remains a source of ambi­gu­i­ties. There is, on the one hand, a con­cep­tion that holds provin­cial­iza­tion to be syn­ony­mous with the par­tic­u­lar­iza­tion, and thus rel­a­tiviza­tion, of “Euro­cen­tric-Euro­pean thought,” and Marx­ist thought in par­tic­u­lar. There is, on the oth­er hand, an under­stand­ing of provin­cial­iza­tion as a stretch­ing that under­li­nes the need for an exten­sion and dis­place­ment of the bor­ders of the­o­ry beyond Europe, as a con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty of an authen­tic uni­ver­sal­iza­tion. The oppo­nents of post­colo­nial cri­tique have until now almost exclu­sive­ly seemed to resist the first of the­se two forms of provin­cial­iza­tion, rel­a­tiviza­tion, in that they real­ly per­ceived it to be a break with anti-colo­nial thought and strug­gles for eman­ci­pa­tion. But they seemed to be a bit less atten­tive to the sec­ond formstretch­ing or exten­sionwhere they would have seen that this indeed draws on deep roots in anti-colo­nial thought, and anti-colo­nial Marx­ism in par­tic­u­lar.

There are many ways to retrace this geneal­o­gy, that is, to elu­ci­date the con­ti­nu­ities as well as the rup­tures that are foun­da­tion­al to the his­tor­i­cal-epis­te­mo­log­i­cal tran­si­tion and divi­sion from anti-colo­nial­ism to post­colo­nial cri­tique. I look to con­sid­er here the prob­lem of the nation­al­iza­tion of Marx­ism. Usu­al­ly, this is under­stood as a sim­ple ques­tion of the “adap­ta­tion of Marx­ism to sin­gu­lar con­di­tions”; this does not account for the com­plex­i­ty of the way in which, as Gram­sci and C.L.R. James have shown, such a nation­al­iza­tion engages in a process of the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal trans­la­tions. The most famous exam­ple remains the “sini­fi­ca­tion” of Marx­ism led by Mao Zedong. As Arif Dir­lik writes, in what is oth­er­wise an unre­lent­ing cri­tique of post­colo­nial stud­ies: “One of Mao’s great­est strengths as a lead­er was his abil­i­ty to trans­late Marx­ist con­cepts into a Chi­ne­se idiom”; in oth­er words, he artic­u­lat­ed a “ver­nac­u­lar­iza­tion of Marx­ism.”2 Here, one can already see that the process of the nation­al­iza­tion of Marx­ism is not reducible to Stalin’s for­mu­la of “nation­al in form, social­ist in con­tent.”3

I am inter­est­ed in an expe­ri­ence that is less well-known, that of “Mus­lim nation­al com­mu­nism” as it was devel­oped in Sovi­et Rus­sia, then in the USSR, from 1917 to the end of the 1920s. It seems impor­tant to shed light on this expe­ri­ence for at least three rea­sons:

  1. First, as the name indi­cates, Mus­lim com­mu­nism rais­es the ques­tion - more rel­e­vant than ever - of the rela­tions between, on the one hand, eman­ci­pa­to­ry move­ments with “white ori­gins” (as in the Sovi­et exam­ple) and, on the oth­er hand, Islam and the groups that inte­grate it in mul­ti­ple ways into their own polit­i­cal claims.
  2. Sec­ond, one is con­front­ed with an anti-impe­ri­al­ist eman­ci­pa­to­ry move­ment that devel­oped in con­cert with a rev­o­lu­tion­ary process in the very heart of the (Rus­sian) empire, a his­tor­i­cal sit­u­a­tion whose most famous prece­dent is the con­nec­tion between the French and Haitian Rev­o­lu­tions at the tran­si­tion of the 18th to the 19th cen­tu­ry.
  3. The third rea­son con­cerns a “colo­nial rev­o­lu­tion” that unfolds from with­in the ter­ri­to­ri­al bor­ders of the “metropole,” its con­fines. But it is not a mat­ter of an excep­tion so much as a lim­it-sit­u­a­tion that dis­clos­es the fact that, in a glob­al impe­ri­al­ist con­text, extra-Euro­pean nation­al­ism nev­er forms an “out­side” to empire; rather, it is its per­ma­nent lim­it. To think the nation­al­iza­tion of Marx­ism, and more specif­i­cal­ly, of Bol­she­vism, as the provin­cial­iza­tion of Europe, means to there­fore not to imag­ine an rad­i­cal alter­i­ty opposed to Marx­ist-Lenin­ism, and could not alter or rel­a­tivize the lat­ter; it is to con­cep­tu­al­ize the the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal mar­gins of Bol­she­vismitself the the pro­duct of a pri­or trans­la­tion of Marx­ism into Rus­siaor in oth­er words, to stretch it. This entails as well the elu­ci­da­tion of the mod­es through which Bol­she­vism was rethought from the mar­gins of the empire.

Not hav­ing any pre­ten­sions of giv­ing an overview of all of Mus­lim nation­al com­mu­nism, I am inter­est­ed here in some­one who remains its major fig­ure, the Tar­tar Bol­she­vik intel­lec­tu­al and mil­i­tant Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, whose first arrest was remarked upon by Trot­sky in 1923, when he cit­ed Kamenev’s words:

Do you remem­ber the arrest of Sul­tan-Galiev? […] This was the first arrest of a promi­nent Par­ty mem­ber made upon the ini­tia­tive of Stal­in […] That was Stalin’s first taste of blood.4

But let’s take things up from the begin­ning.5

Sultan-Galiev and the Development of Muslim National Communism

Sul­tan-Galiev was born in Bashkiria in 1892 into a poor fam­i­ly. In 1907, he enters the teacher-train­ing school of Kazan, which is also a meet­ing place of nation­al­ist and rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas. Over the sub­se­quent years, he engages exten­sive­ly in jour­nal­ism and joins the Mus­lim nation­al­ist move­ment. Few months after the Feb­ru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion, he attends the All-Mus­lim Con­fer­ence in Moscow and is elect­ed Sec­re­tary of the All-Rus­sia Mus­lim Coun­cil. He joins the Bol­she­vik Par­ty in June 1917. In Octo­ber, he takes part in the Kazan mil­i­tary rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mit­tee and is des­ig­nat­ed head of the Mus­lim Mil­i­tary Col­lege, among oth­er respon­si­bil­i­ties. Then begins a peri­od of active col­lab­o­ra­tion with Stal­in in the People’s Com­mis­sari­at of Nation­al­i­ties. Three pri­ma­ry strate­gic ori­en­ta­tions or direc­tions emerge from Sultan-Galiev’s work dur­ing the­se years:

  1. The first one con­cerns the for­ma­tion of a Mus­lim Red Army or, as he puts it, an “Ori­en­tal Pro­le­tar­i­an Red Army.”6 As argued by Ben­nigsen and Quelque­jay, Sul­tan-Galiev, years before Mao, con­ceives of such an army as “a gen­uine orga­nized, hier­ar­chi­cal and high­ly politi­cized ‘social class,’ capa­ble of replac­ing the miss­ing indige­nous pro­le­tari­at as the dri­ving rev­o­lu­tion­ary force.”7
  2. The sec­ond strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion con­sists in the devel­op­ment of a Rus­sian Mus­lims’ Com­mu­nist Par­ty to be able to pre­serve the auton­o­my of the Mus­lim rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment, which would be jeop­ar­dized if it was incor­po­rat­ed in orga­ni­za­tions led by Rus­sians, all the more so given the long tra­di­tion of Rus­sian chau­vin­ism.
  3. The third ori­en­ta­tion, whose roots go far deep­er than the Sovi­et Rev­o­lu­tion, strives for the cre­ation of a large Tatar-Bashkir Repub­lic with­in the bound­aries of Sovi­et Rus­sia.

Dur­ing the same peri­od, Sul­tan-Galiev also lays the the­o­ret­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tions of Mus­lim com­mu­nism, which can also be syn­the­sized into three main points:

  1. First, the rela­tions between social class­es and, relat­ed­ly, between social rev­o­lu­tion and nation­al rev­o­lu­tion. Sul­tan-Galiev insists on the homo­gene­ity of the Mus­lim social struc­ture and the absence of a Tatar pro­le­tari­at. He argues that dur­ing the first stages of the rev­o­lu­tion the lead­er­ship of the move­ment should be assumed by rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies of a pet­ty bour­geois back­ground. By recast­ing Lenin’s oppo­si­tion between oppress­ing and oppressed nations, he calls for a “revenge of the oppressed over the oppres­sors,” and declar­es that “all the col­o­nized Mus­lim peo­ples are pro­le­tar­i­an peo­ples.”8
  2. The sec­ond point refers to the rela­tions between the social­ist rev­o­lu­tion and Islam. Sul­tan-Galiev  argues that, “like all the oth­er reli­gions in the world,” Islam “is doomed to dis­ap­pear.”9 But he also says that “among the ‘great reli­gions’ of the world, [it] is the youngest, thus the most endur­ing and strongest in terms of the influ­ence it exerts.” He asserts that Islam­ic law con­tains some “pos­i­tive” pre­scrip­tions such as the “manda­to­ry nature of education…the oblig­a­tion to work and trade,” and “the absence of pri­vate prop­er­ty rights to lands, waters and forests.” In addi­tion, Islam’s sin­gu­lar­i­ty relies on the fact that “dur­ing the last cen­tu­ry, the whole Mus­lim world has been exploit­ed by West­ern Europe’s impe­ri­al­ism.” Islam was and is still “an oppressed reli­gion forced to be on the defen­sive.”10 Such a per­ma­nent oppres­sion is the source of a deep “feel­ing of sol­i­dar­i­ty” among Mus­lims as well as of a pow­er­ful desire for eman­ci­pa­tion. Accord­ing to Sul­tan-Galiev, Com­mu­nists should not strive to elim­i­nate Islam, but rather work at its de-spir­i­tu­al­iza­tion, its “Marx­iza­tion.”
  3. The third and last point con­cerns the expor­ta­tion of the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion or, in Sultan-Galiev’s terms, the trans­porta­tion of the “rev­o­lu­tion­ary ener­gy” beyond the bor­ders of Rus­sia. Rev­o­lu­tion, he says, “must expand and become deep­er, both in its inter­nal con­tent and its exter­nal man­i­fes­ta­tions.”11 But the ques­tion is: in which direc­tion? Like oth­er non-Euro­pean Marx­ists, such as M.N Roy from India, Sul­tan-Galiev rec­om­mends to reverse the order of rev­o­lu­tion­ary pri­or­i­ties and to give the pri­ma­cy to the rev­o­lu­tion in the East. Not only isn’t this lat­ter con­di­tioned by the pri­or suc­cess of the rev­o­lu­tion in the West, it is like­ly to over­come the decrease of rev­o­lu­tion­ary ener­gy in West­ern Europe. For Sul­tan-Galiev, the anti-colo­nial rev­o­lu­tion in the East has to be con­ceived of as the pre­con­di­tion of Euro­pean and world rev­o­lu­tion, and not the reverse: “Deprived of the East, and cut off from India, Afghanistan, Per­sia and the oth­er Asian and African colonies, West­ern impe­ri­al­ism will with­er and die a nat­u­ral death.”12 Sultan-Galiev’s tour-de-force con­sists in argu­ing that Rus­sian Mus­lim com­mu­nists are the best qual­i­fied to prop­a­gate the Sovi­et rev­o­lu­tion in the East. He calls for a decen­ter­ing of rev­o­lu­tion­ary ini­tia­tive and urges the Bol­she­vik lead­ers to estab­lish the mar­gins of Rus­sia as the cen­tral source of the rev­o­lu­tion in the East. In oth­er words, for Sul­tan-Galiev, nation­al­ism at the periph­ery of the empires is noth­ing but the con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty of a need­ed renewal of inter­na­tion­al­ism on a glob­al scale.

How­ev­er, the alliance between Mus­lim com­mu­nists and Sovi­et lead­ers, close­ly linked to the demands of the civil war, dete­ri­o­rat­ed rapid­ly. After 1918, the Mus­lim Com­mu­nist Par­ty is trans­formed into the Mus­lim sec­tion of the Bol­she­vik Par­ty; the promise of the cre­ation of a Tar­tar-Bashkir repub­lic grad­u­al­ly evap­o­rat­ed. Sul­tan-Galiev become a per­sona non grata and does not attend Con­gress of the Peo­ple of the East held in Baku in 1920, which he has helped to orga­nize. It is often said that this Con­gress rep­re­sent­ed the high point of the “brief romance” between Sovi­et pow­er and the anti-impe­ri­al­ist move­ments for eman­ci­pa­tion in the East; a moment, how­ev­er ephemer­al, of hope, sym­bol­ized by Zinoviev’s call for a “holy war again­st Eng­lish and French cap­i­tal­ists.”13

How­ev­er, things at least went dif­fer­ent­ly for the Mus­lim com­mu­nists in Rus­sia who saw their hopes to spread rev­o­lu­tion in the East destroyed by. on the one hand, the affir­ma­tion of the con­tem­po­rane­ity of the social rev­o­lu­tion and the nation­al rev­o­lu­tion, whose lead­er­ship should not be incum­bent to the “rad­i­cal bour­geoisie, but the poor peas­antry”; and on the oth­er hand, the empha­sis on “the absolute pri­ma­cy of the pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion in the West over the colo­nial rev­o­lu­tion.”14 For Sul­tan-Galiev, the­se rejec­tions did not so much sig­nal the vic­to­ry of one con­cep­tion of the glob­al rev­o­lu­tion again­st anoth­erhis ownas the vic­to­ry of the Grand-Rus­sian chau­vin­ism that he was always dis­trust­ful and fear­ful of, con­stant­ly fight­ing again­st its hold on the Rus­sian com­mu­nists whose colo­nial men­tal­i­ties and prac­tices were inherit­ed from the Tsarist empire. The­se lat­ter were also crit­i­cized by Giorgi Safarov in a work pub­lished in 1921, The Colo­nial Rev­o­lu­tion.15

Conspiracies and Re-Articulations

Sultan-Galiev’s down­fall came in 1921. A few weeks after the XIIth Par­ty Con­gress, he is arrest­ed in Moscow and exclud­ed from the Par­ty. He is accused of “con­spir­a­cy” for hav­ing attempt­ed to orga­nize a rev­o­lu­tion in the East through under­ground work with com­mu­nists and non-com­mu­nists in Rus­sia and out­side Rus­sia. Chief among the­se were rebel nation­al­ist orga­ni­za­tions and lead­ers, such as Ahmed Zeki Vali­dov and the Bas­matchi move­ment in Cen­tral Asia.16 This con­dem­na­tion was the begin­ning of a vast cam­paign of repres­sion again­st those asso­ci­at­ed with “Sul­tan-Galievism.”

Between May 1923 until around the end of 1924, when his last hopes to be rein­stat­ed into the Par­ty are dashed, Sul­tan-Galiev finds him­self in a mar­gin­al posi­tion, already more “inside” but not yet on the “out­side” of Sovi­et rev­o­lu­tion­ary affairs. It is in pris­on, where he would remains for a few more months, that he com­pletes an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal let­ter, addressed to Stal­in and Trot­sky, and in which he elab­o­rates his the­ses on world rev­o­lu­tion:

I thought that the lib­er­a­tion move­ment in the colonies and the semi-colonies and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment of the work­ers in the metropole were inti­mate­ly and inex­tri­ca­bly linked, and that only a har­mo­nious com­bi­na­tion of them could guar­an­tee real suc­cess of the inter­na­tion­al social­ist rev­o­lu­tion.17

For Sul­tan-Galiev, the con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty of world rev­o­lu­tion is the com­bi­na­tion and com­po­si­tion, the cir­cu­la­tion and mutu­al inten­si­fi­ca­tion, of social rev­o­lu­tions in Europe and anti-colo­nial rev­o­lu­tions in the East—with both nev­er­the­less remain­ing autonomous from each oth­er. Yet this is the sit­u­a­tion that, accord­ing to him, is pro­duced with­in the bor­ders of Rus­sia itself:

The suc­cess of the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion is right­ly explained by the har­mo­nious alliance between the inter­ests of the Rus­sian pro­le­tari­at, on the one hand, and the move­ments for  nation­al and class lib­er­a­tion on its colo­nial mar­gins, on the oth­er. In this sense, Rus­sia shows all the traits of a great field of exper­i­men­ta­tion for the world rev­o­lu­tion.18

This is a strik­ing­ly orig­i­nal the­sis, and echoes what C.L.R. James will lat­er argue in The Black Jacobins, a work in which (to cite Edward Said) the “events in France and in Haiti criss­cross and refer to one anoth­er like voic­es in a fugue.”19

In a let­ter to the Cen­tral Con­trol Com­mis­sion dat­ed Sep­tem­ber 8, 1924, Sul­tan-Galiev requests to be rein­stat­ed into the Par­ty. He con­fess­es his “crime” but argues that it was noth­ing but “a reac­tion, even if may­be a patho­log­i­cal one, to Great Pow­er chau­vin­ism.” He also insists on the obsta­cles to rev­o­lu­tion­ary work among “back­ward nation­al­i­ties” in regions where com­mu­nist ideas were almost total­ly unknown before the Rev­o­lu­tion. Final­ly, he puts for­ward a tru­ly orig­i­nal anti-his­tori­cist con­cep­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion in the East:

From my per­son­al work expe­ri­ence among back­ward nation­al­i­ties dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion, I con­clud­ed that the devel­op­ment of the rev­o­lu­tion on our East­ern mar­gins will cer­tain­ly hap­pen in a non-lin­ear way, not even fol­low­ing curved lines, but fol­low­ing bro­ken lines.20

In the­se mar­gin­al spaces of the empire, rev­o­lu­tion­ary tem­po­ral­i­ty can only be a bro­ken tem­po­ral­i­ty, com­posed of leaps and rup­tures, peri­ods of laten­cy and sud­den unrest. This is an under­stand­ing of rev­o­lu­tion that imme­di­ate­ly calls to mind how C.L.R. James will lat­er come to describe the his­tor­i­cal process in the Antilles, as con­sist­ing of a “series of unco­or­di­nat­ed peri­ods of drift, punc­tu­at­ed by spurts, leaps and cat­a­stro­ph­es.”21

Death and Postcolonial Legacies

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, Sultan-Galiev’s request fails. He was nev­er to be rein­stat­ed in the Par­ty. After­wards, he begins to adopt a whol­ly new strat­e­gy, break­ing com­plete­ly with Sovi­et pow­er; thus from a cer­tain point of view, this is a “coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary” strat­e­gy. From now on, the ene­my is not only the bour­geoisies of impe­ri­al­ist coun­tries, but the “indus­tri­al soci­ety” as a whole, Sovi­et Union includ­ed. While this peri­od of his lifebetween 1923 and 1928remains large­ly unknown, we know he did author a pro­gram, writ­ten in Tar­tar, enti­tled Con­sid­er­a­tions on the Socio-polit­i­cal, Eco­nom­ic, and Cul­tur­al Bases of Devel­op­ment of the Turk­ish Peo­ple.22 It has since been lost but is cit­ed in sev­er­al Sovi­et stud­ies. Sultan’s-Galiev break with Sovi­et pow­er and Bol­she­vism is expressed through his attempt to tear dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism from its Euro­pean ori­gins, and his renam­ing it as “ener­get­ic mate­ri­al­ism,” draw­ing from East­ern sources, in par­tic­u­lar the Mon­gols. This epis­temic decen­ter­ing is only mean­ing­ful inso­far as it is part of an more gen­er­al ide­o­log­i­cal and strate­gic rup­ture. Sul­tan-Galiev advances the idea of a “com­mon front of the oppressed” unit­ing “all class­es of Mus­lim soci­ety, with the exclu­sion of only the big bour­geoisie and feu­dal landown­ers” and join­ing this front with the “tra­di­tion­al idea of the Ummah–com­mu­ni­ty of believ­ers.”23 In an even more rad­i­cal man­ner, he sub­sti­tutes the oppo­si­tion “under­de­vel­oped indus­try” for “exploit­ed-cap­i­tal­ist” and declar­es that the ene­my is not only the “bour­geoisie of the impe­ri­al­ist pow­ers, but all of indus­tri­al soci­ety,” includ­ing the Sovi­et Union.24 Accord­ing to Sul­tan-Galiev, the “liq­ui­da­tion of the social­ist rev­o­lu­tion in Rus­sia” was thus beyond recov­ery, and was nec­es­sar­i­ly accom­pa­nied by the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of Great-Rus­sian chau­vin­ism and, more gen­er­al­ly, the oppres­sion of Mus­lim peo­ples by the West. To be able to avoid this sit­u­a­tion, there is only one solu­tion: “the hege­mony of the under­de­vel­oped colo­nial world over the ‘Euro­pean pow­ers,’”25 or, in his terms, “the dic­ta­tor­ship of the semi-colo­nial and colo­nial coun­tries over the indus­tri­al metrop­o­les.”26 This is why it is nec­es­sary to work towards the cre­ation of a Colo­nial Inter­na­tion­al, which, he says, will be “com­mu­nist, but inde­pen­dent from the Third Inter­na­tion­al, and even opposed to it.” The heart of this Inter­na­tion­al will be an immense Turk­ish state with­in Rus­sia, the Repub­lic of Turan, led by a “Social­ist Par­ty of the East.”27

Sul­tan-Galiev devotes his clan­des­tine efforts to the­se tasks until his sec­ond arrest in 1928. He is sen­tenced to death on July 28th, 1930, and but then this sen­tence is com­mut­ed to ten years in exile at the begin­ning of 1931. He is then freed in 1934, only to be arrest­ed again in 1937, and sen­tenced to death in 1939. His is final­ly shot on the 28th of Jan­u­ary, 1940.28 This marked the end of a tremen­dous expe­ri­ence of co-gen­e­sis: the co-gen­e­sis of a social­ist rev­o­lu­tion in the “metropole” and an anti-colo­nial rev­o­lu­tion at the mar­gins of the empire. But Sul­tan-Galiev also left behind a lega­cy that can be traced through a num­ber of rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who attempt­ed to think the con­nec­tion between social­ism and the process of decol­o­niza­tion in the Mus­lim world and espe­cial­ly Alge­ria; this is a lega­cy that demands care­ful study and recon­struc­tion today, not only in the colonies and for­mer colonies, but above all in the post­colo­nial ex-metrop­o­les.29

This arti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished in Péri­ode.

– Trans­lated by Patrick King


  1. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Con­stance Far­ring­ton (New York: Grove Press, 1968), 40, trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. 

  2. Arif Dir­lik, “Mao Zedong and ‘Chi­ne­se Marx­ism,’” in Marx­ism Beyond Marx­ism, eds. Saree Mak­disi, Cesare Cesari­no, and Rebec­ca E. Karl (New York: Rout­ledge, 1996), 144. 

  3. “Under the con­di­tions of a dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at with­in a sin­gle coun­try, the rise of cul­tures nation­al in form and social­ist in con­tent has to take place, so that when the pro­le­tari­at wins in the whole world and social­ism is a part of ordi­nary life, the­se cul­tures will merge into one cul­ture, social­ist both in form and con­tent with a com­mon lan­guage.” J.V. Stal­in, Mark­sizm i natsional’no-kolonial’nyi vopros, (Moscow, 1934), 195. Quot­ed in Mari­na Frol­o­va-Walk­er, “‘Nation­al in Form, Social­ist in Con­tent’: Musi­cal Nation-Build­ing in the Sovi­et Republics” Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Musi­co­log­i­cal Soci­ety 51.2 (1998), 334. 

  4. Leon Trot­sky, Stal­in: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influ­ence (New York: Harper and Broth­ers Pub­lish­ers, 1946), 417. 

  5. I pri­mar­i­ly draw upon the essays of Sul­tan-Galiev that have been trans­lat­ed into French in Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen et Chan­tal Quelque­jay, Les mou­ve­ments nationaux chez les musul­mans de Russie: Le « sul­tan­gal­iévis­me » au Tatarstan. (Paris et La Haye, Mou­ton & Co, 1960) as well as sec­ondary sources. In addi­tion to Ben­nigsen and Quelquejay’s book men­tioned above, there is also their work Sul­tan Galiev, le père de la révo­lu­tion tiers-mondis­te: « Les incon­nus de l’histoire » (Paris: Fayard, 1986); Ben­nigsen also co-authored a book in Eng­lish that con­tains three trans­la­tions of Sultan-Galiev’s works, cf. Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen and S. Enders Wim­bush, Mus­lim Nation­al Com­mu­nism in the Sovi­et Union (Chicago: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago Press, 1979); see also Maxime Rodin­son, “Sul­tan-Galiev: A For­got­ten Pre­cur­sor,” in Marx­ism and the Mus­lim World, trans. Jean Matthews (Lon­don: Zed Press, 1979). Final­ly, I occa­sion­al­ly refer to the vol­ume of Sultan-Galiev’s writ­ings avail­able in Rus­sian, and to a cer­tain extent Tar­tar, pub­lished in Rus­sian in 1989 and which still demands a care­ful exe­ge­sis, yet to be done: Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, Izbran­ny­je troudy (Kazan: Gasyr, 1998). 

  6. “Deux­ième Con­grès des Organ­i­sa­tions Com­mu­nis­te des Peu­ples d’Orient : Réso­lu­tion sur la Ques­tion d’Orient,” pre­sent­ed by Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, Žizn’ nacional’nostej (La vie des nation­al­ités), n° 46 (54), 7 (20) Decem­ber 1919, n° 47 (55), 14 (27) Decem­ber 1919, reprint­ed in Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen and Chan­tal Quelque­jay, Le « sul­tan­gal­iévis­me » au Tatarstan, op. cit., 214. 

  7. Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen et Chan­tal Lemercier-Quelque­jay, Sul­tan Galiev, le père de la révo­lu­tion tiers-mondis­te, op. cit., 123. Also see Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, “The Tar­tars and the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion,” Žizn’ nacional’nostej 24 (122), 1921, reprint­ed in Ben­nigsen and Wim­bush, op. cit., 138-144. 

  8. Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, cit­ed in Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen et Chan­tal Quelque­jay, Le « sul­tan­gal­iévis­me » au Tatarstan, op. cit., 105. 

  9. Ibid., 106. 

  10. Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, “The Meth­ods of Antire­li­gious Pro­pa­gan­da among the Mus­lims,” Žizn’ nacional’nostej (La vie des nation­al­ités), 29 (127) and 20(128), 1921, reprint­ed in Ben­nigsen and Wim­bush, op. cit., 147. 

  11. Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, “The Social Rev­o­lu­tion and the East,” Žizn’ nacional’nostej (La vie des nation­al­ités), 38 (46), 1919, 39 (47) 1919, 42 (50), 1919,  reprint­ed in Ben­nigsen and Wim­bush, op. cit., 131. 

  12. Ibid., 136. 

  13. See Ian Bir­chall, “Un moment d’espoir: le con­gres de Baku 1920,” Con­tretemps web, 2012. 

  14. Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen and Chan­tal Quelque­jay, Le « sul­tan­gal­iévis­me » au Tatarstan, op. cit., 139-140. 

  15. Giorgi Safarov, Kolonial’naja rev­olu­ci­ja (La révo­lu­tion colo­niale). Opyt Turkestana, Gosu­darstven­noe izdatel’stvo, 1921, reprint­ed by the Soci­ety for Cen­tral Asian Stud­ies, Oxford, 1985. Safarov had been sent to Kaza­khstan in 1920 by Lenin, in an attempt to elim­i­nate the inequal­i­ties between Rus­sian col­o­niz­ers and the indige­nous pop­u­la­tions by return­ing to the lat­ter land left fal­low by the for­mer. Short­ly before this, Lenin had called “all the com­mu­nists of Turkestan infect­ed by the col­o­niz­ing mind­set and Rus­sian colo­nial­ism” back to Moscow. See Jean-Jacques Marie, “Quelques diva­ga­tions,” Les Cahiers du mon­de ouvri­er, n° 46, April-May-June 2010, 143. The strug­gle again­st Rus­sian chau­vin­ism, again­st Stal­in and his allies on the Geor­gian ques­tion, would be Lenin’s “last strug­gle”; see Moshe Lewin, Lenin’s Last Strug­gle, trans. A.M. Sheri­dan Smith (New York: Ran­dom House, 1968); see also Lenin’s essay,  “The Ques­tion of Nation­al­i­ties or Auton­o­miza­tion,” dic­tat­ed in Decem­ber 1922 at a time when his health per­mit­ted it, but not pub­lished until 1956. 

  16. An Eng­lish ver­sion of Stalin’s remarks at the con­fer­ence, includ­ing his com­ments on the “Sul­tan-Galiev case,” is avail­able in his col­lect­ed Works: J.V. Stal­in, “Fourth Con­fer­ence of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the R.C.P. (B.) with Respon­si­ble Work­ers of the Nation­al Republics and Regions,” in Works, Vol. 5 (Moscow: For­eign Lan­guage Pub­lish­ing House, 1953), 297-348. The steno­graph­ic record of the con­fer­ence – notably con­tain­ing sim­i­lar depo­si­tions from Sul­tan-Galiev and Trot­sky – was pub­lished in Rus­sia in 1992: Tajny nacional’noj poli­tiki CK RKP. Stenografičeskij otčet sekretno­go IV soveščani­ja CK RKP, 1923 g. (Moscow: INSAN, 1992). 

  17. Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, “Avto­bi­ografičeskij očerk “Kto ja ?” : Pis’mo čle­nam Central’noj kontrol’noj komis­sii, kopi­ja – I.V. Stal­inu i L.D. Trock­o­mu. 23 maja 1923” (Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal essay “Who Am I?”: Let­ter to mem­bers of the Cen­tral Con­trol Com­mis­sion of the Par­ty, copy for Stal­in and Trot­sky, May 23rd, 1923) in Izbran­nye trudy, op. cit., 446-509. 

  18. Ibid. 

  19. Edward Said, Cul­ture and Impe­ri­al­ism (New York: Vin­tage, 1994), 279. 

  20. Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, “Zajavle­nie v Central’nuju kontrol’nuju komis­si­ju RKP (b) s pros’boj o vosstanovlenii v par­tii. 8 sen­t­jabr­ja 1924 g.” (“Request for Re-entry to the Par­ty addressed to the Cen­tral Con­trol Com­mis­sion, Sep­tem­ber 8th, 1924), in Izbran­nye trudy, op. cit., 516-522. 

  21. C.L.R. James, “From Tou­s­saint L’Ouverture to Fidel Cas­tro,” in The Black Jacobins: Tou­s­saint L’Ouverture and the San Domin­go Rev­o­lu­tion, (New York: Vin­tage Books, 1989), 391. 

  22. Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen et Chan­tal Lemercier-Quelque­jay, Sul­tan Galiev, le père de la révo­lu­tion tiers-mondis­te, op. cit., 221. Ben­nigsen and Quelque­jay also men­tion the pro­gram of the clan­des­tine Turk­ish Erk par­ty which “con­tains sev­er­al points direct­ly inspired by the the­o­ries of Sul­tan-Galiev” (ibid., 224). 

  23. Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen and Chan­tal Quelque­jay, Le « sul­tan­gal­iévis­me » au Tatarstan, op. cit., 105. 

  24. Ibid., 103. 

  25. Ibid., 180. 

  26. Sul­tan-Galiev, cit­ed in Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen and Chan­tal Quelque­jay, Le « sul­tan­gal­iévis­me » au Tatarstan, op. cit., 180. 

  27. Alexan­dre Ben­nigsen et Chan­tal Quelque­jay, Le « sul­tan­gal­iévis­me » au Tatarstan, op. cit., 180. 

  28. See Robert Lan­da, “Sul­tan Galiev,” Cahiers du mou­ve­ment ouvri­er, 19 (Decem­ber 2002-Jan­u­ary 2003), 88. 

  29. Ahmed Ben Bel­la, the first pres­i­dent after inde­pen­dence, stat­ed that he had been influ­enced by Sultan-Galiev’s thought, in par­tic­u­lar his idea of a “colo­nial Inter­na­tion­al.” In anoth­er reg­is­ter, in Alge­ria Sul­tan-Galiev also became the sub­ject of a remark­able work of fic­tion by writer Habib Ten­gour, Sul­tan Galiev ou la rup­ture des stocks, which sees him as a close friend of Ser­gueï Ess­enine (Habid Ten­gour, Sul­tan Galiev ou la rup­ture des stocks (Paris: Sind­bad, 1985). 

Author of the article

holds a doctorate in political philosophy (Université de Paris Diderot and Università degli Studia di Bologna) and is a researcher at Les Afriques dans le Monde (CNRS, Sciences Po Bordeaux). He was previously a postdoctoral researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of Frantz Fanon: De l'anticolonialisme à la critique postcoloniale (2011) and L'Amérique de John Locke: Expansion coloniale de la philosophie européenne (2014).