In his new book, Nomads and Soviet Rule: Central Asia under Lenin and Stalin
(I.B. Tauris, 2018), Alun Thomas
examines the understudied experiences of Kazakh and Kyrgyz nomads in the NEP period. Thomas begins his book by examining enduring problems nomads faced such as increased European settlement that lead to sharp conflicts over land usage as well as nascent nationalist movements that had their roots in the tsarist period and how these problems were tackled by the Soviet state. The Soviet response, following the revolution, was initially quite weak as the party was small and central Asia even more under governed than in European Russia. But, as the Soviets consolidated power post-Civil War, they sought to Sovietize and modernize the region. Communists and Soviet officials viewed nomads as backwards and poverty stricken and difficult to manage and sought to modernize them and settle them through outreach such as literacy programs, Red Yurts, returning land that had been taken by European settles and tax breaks for nomads who settled, as well as coercion such as higher taxes for nomads who crossed jurisdiction, de-kukalization style campaigns aimed at wealthy nomadic tribal leaders or those with a lot of stock. Thomas addresses the complexities of these campaigns as well as how the Soviet prioritization of nationality over economic modes of production served to further disenfranchise nomads within the central Asian republics. Thomas concludes with a brief look at how all these NEP policies culminated in a disastrous collectivization campaign in the 1930s that effectively ended nomadism in much of central Asia and how accommodations that had been made for nomads in the early 1920s were irrevocably rolled back.
Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book,
Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution, is now available online. Her research can be viewed here.