Sultan-Galiev, Mirza Khaidargalievich

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(18921940), prominent Tatar Bolshevik and Soviet activist during the Russian Revolution and civil war.

Mirza Khaidargalievich Sultan-Galiev's rapid rise to prominence, sudden fall from grace, and sub-sequent vilification in Stalin's Russia has provided several generations with a metaphor for the promise and frustrations of early Soviet nationality policy.

Born in Ufa province in 1892, Sultan-Galiev had brief careers as a schoolteacher, librarian, and journalist, turning to revolutionary activities around 1913. In July 1917 he joined the Bolshevik party in Kazan, but maintained ties to many intellectuals and moderate socialists in the Muslim community. Sultan-Galiev played a major role in the establishment of Soviet power in Kazan and helped suppress an anti-Bolshevik Tatar nationalist revolt there in the first part of 1918. He was an early advocate of the ill-fated Tatar-Bashkir Soviet Republic, promulgated in March 1918 but never implemented, and of the Tatar Autonomous Republic founded in 1920 (today the Republic of Tatarstan). An able organizer and public speaker, Sultan-Galiev served the Soviet state during the civil war as chairman of the Central Muslim Military Collegium, chairman of the Central Bureau of Communist Organizations of Peoples of the East, and member of the collegium of the People's Commissariat of Nationality Affairs. This last position made him the highest-ranking member of a Muslim nationality in Soviet Russia.

Sultan-Galiev's numerous newspaper articles and speeches outlined a messianic role for Russia's Muslim peoples, who would bring socialist revolution to the subject peoples of Asia and help them overthrow the chains of European empires. Chief theorist of the so-called right wing among the Tatar intelligentsia, he hoped to reconcile communism with nationalism. Although personally an atheist, he advocated a cautious approach toward anti-religious propaganda among Russia's Muslim population. These views cause some emigré and foreign scholars to characterize Sultan-Galiev as a prophet of the national liberation struggle against colonial rule.

By the end of 1922 Sultan-Galiev had come into direct conflict with Josef Stalin's nationality policy, which he openly attacked in party meetings. He was particularly concerned with two issues, (1) plans for the new federal government (USSR), which would disadvantage Tatars and other Muslim groups that were not granted union republic status, and (2) the persistence of Russian chauvinism and of a dominant Russian role in governing Muslim republics. In an effort to silence this criticism, officials acting on Stalin's initiative arrested Sultan-Galiev in May 1923 and charged him with conspiring to undermine Soviet nationality policy and with illegally contacting Basmachi rebels. Although Sultan-Galiev was soon releasedstripped of his party membership and all positionsa major conference on the nationality question in June 1923 emphasized that Stalin's policies in this area were not to be challenged.

By the end of the 1920s, Sultan-Galievism (sultangalievshchina ) had become a common charge leveled against Tatars and other Muslims and was later deployed widely during the purges. Sultan-Galiev was rearrested in 1928 and tried with seventy-six others as part of a "Sultan-Galievist counterrevolutionary organization" in 1930. His death penalty was soon commuted, and he was released in 1934 and permitted to live in Saratov province. However, his third arrest in 1937 was followed by execution in January 1940. The case of Sultan-Galiev was reviewed by the Central Committee in 1990, leading to his complete rehabilitation and emergence as a new and old national hero in post-Soviet Tatarstan.

See also: islam; nationalities policies, soviet; people's commissariat of nationalities; tatarstan and tatars


Bennigsen, Alexandre A., and Wimbush, S. Enders. (1979). Muslim National Communism in the Soviet Union: A Revolutionary Strategy for the Colonial World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Daniel E. Schafer