Foreword to the Proceedings of the First and Second All-Russia Congresses of Communist Organizations of The Peoples of the East, Moscow, 1918 and 1919
by Salavat Iskhakov
One of the most important areas of contemporary historiography is the study of the condition of the multiethnic and multifaith Russian society, ethnopolitical problems, the self-awareness of Russia’s peoples and interethnic and interfaith tensions in the territory of the former Russian Empire during the Great Russian Revolution of 1917, the civil war and the early years of Soviet rule. Of particular interest in this regard is determining the influence of the religious factor on the social behavior of the population and the efficacy of ethnic policies.
There are different views in historiography as to what the Soviet leadership’s policy was during the years of the civil war and intervention, specifically toward the Muslim peoples both in Russia and neighboring countries; what the forms and methods of its implementation were; what the new government’s decisions were regarding the life of the Muslim masses and the rights of the Muslim peoples to an autonomous cultural life and state; what the influence of communist ideology was among Eurasian Muslims; and what the role of the Muslim East was in general in the Soviet state’s struggle against hostile internal and external forces.
These important and serious problems were the focus of the two congresses that were held in Moscow in 1918 and 1919. The work of these congresses has been explored in part in Soviet and Western historiography, but solely as congresses of Muslim Communists. On 2 October 1918 the CC of the RKP(B) resolved to convene an All-Russia Congress of Muslim Communists (later called the First All-Russia Congress of Communist Organizations of the Peoples of the East, abbreviated COPE). It was held 4–12 November 1918. At the conference were representatives of Muslim Communist committees that did not belong to RKP(B) organizations and of Muslim sections of the RKP(B) from 20 cities of European Russia, as well as representatives of Crimea, the Azerbaidzhani organization Gummet and Turkish Communists. In attendance, according to some data, were 46 delegates mostly from the Volga and Urals regions. The congress’s main task was to define the forms of unification of Muslim working people with the Russian working class. Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev and Izmail Firdevs, Tatar members of the collegium of the RSFSR People’s Commissariat on Nationality Affairs, spoke at the congress and also demanded recognition of a separate Muslim Communist Party with its own CC—the Russian Muslim Communist Party (Bolsheviks) [RMCP(B)], which was created in June 1918 in Kazan.
According to other data, 47 delegates participated in the congress: 40 Tatars, four Turks, two Azerbadizhanis and one Bashkir; 45 men and two women. They came from Astrakhan, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Penza, Perm, Petrograd, Samara, Simbirsk, Tambov and other places. Kazan Gubernia was represented by 17 people. Joseph Stalin, the head of the RSFSR People’s Commissariat on Nationality Affairs, who spoke, became chairman of the newly created Central Bureau (CB) of COPE, and Buniat Sardarov (an Azerbaidzhani) and Gaziz Yalymov (a Tatar from Turkestan) became his deputies. In terms of nationality makeup, the bureau consisted from seven Tatars, two Azerbaidzhanis, a Bashkir and a Georgian. Practically all of the bureau’s work was done by Yalymov, and its secretary was Nadezhda Allilueva, Stalin’s wife. The congress delegates issued a call to the Muslim peoples of the East to rise up against “international imperialism.” An administrative resolution proposed by Sardarov during polemics against Sultan-Galiev and Firdevs was adopted by the congress, abolishing the RMCP(B), which became part of the RKP(B).
Speaking there, Yalymov said that by the beginning of 1919 the CB of COPE had brought together at least 10,000 Communists—Muslim workers and peasants from Bashkiria, the Caucasus, Kazakhstan, the Volga Region and Turkestan (which had a Muslim population of at least 30 million), as well as Communist émigré groups from Azerbaidzhan, Bukhara, Georgia, Iran and Turkey. The CB, according to Yalymov, had an enormous “material influence” among the Muslim toiling masses, and Muslim Red Army soldiers who sympathized with communism included a total of at least 50,000 men who were fighting on the Eastern and Southern fronts against the Whites. From January 1918 through November 1918 the CB issued more than 4 million copies of newspapers, pamphlets and leaflets in the Tatar, Turkish and Kirgiz languages. In Moscow alone, the CB from December 1918 through January 1919 issued more than 2 million copies of newspapers, appeals and pamphlets in the Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Tatar, Azerbaidzhani, Tadzhik, Uzbek, Kirgiz and Kalmyk languages. In particular, the decisions of the congress itself were published in Moscow at the end of 1918.
Exactly what did the Central Bureau of COPE do under Stalin’s leadership in terms of solving the pressing problems of the Muslim peoples? The well-known Turkish Communist Mustafa Subhi, a delegate to the First Congress, wrote in December 1919 that one segment of its delegates (Sultan-Galiev and others) advocated “recruiting the people for a strong, powerful revolutionary movement” through the creation of individual republics, while another (Yumagulov and others) favored “mentoring the Tatar proletariat while working in common organizations.” It was not possible to precisely determine how much support each trend had among the masses. So the CB brought in representatives of both trends. But in 13 months of work this CB was unable to point its efforts in either direction. While in the first few months the CB was moving against nationality-based organizations, such as the Central Muslim Military Commissariat (CMMC), later, conversely, it bolstered the CMMC and helped to establish the Bashkir Republic in March 1919. Thus the CB effectively became Stalin’s instrument for implementing various ideas of his both in the Muslim Communist movement itself and in the process of carrying out Bolshevik nationality policies vis-à-vis the Muslim population. The situation at the congress and in the CB leadership reflected not so much the struggle of the “internationalists” against the “nationalists” as competition for power among the representatives of the new party and Soviet nomenklatura that was forming.
The RMCP(B) was not the only Muslim party from Soviet Russia that ceased to exist; another one was the Tatar Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (TSDWP), which was created at its First Congress in Ufa, held from 15–18 October 1917.
The purpose of the second congress of Russia’s Muslim Communists, which was held at the end of 1919, was to elevate, as Soviet historiography noted, the level of political educational work among the peoples of the East. “We can safely say that, with the Muslims of Turkestan behind us, we will have Afghanistan and Persia, and from there we will open the path to have an impact on India and Mongolia… We can safely say that the strengthening of our influence on Turkestan’s Muslims is the biggest victory over British imperialism,” wrote Stanislav Pestkovsky, the deputy people’s commissar for nationality affairs, a month before that congress began in a Tashkent newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Turkestan Krai Committee of the RKP(B). The same newspaper noted that before World War I “Muslims were oriented ‘to Berlin’ and were expecting liberation… from Germany,” for which it was “advantageous to perform the role of ‘Islam’s protector.’ But Germany… helped itself to everything that was lying around loose in the East… The orientation of Muslims ‘to Paris’ is as hopeless” as it is to Berlin. “The idea of ‘pan-Islamism’ among Muslims is still alive, like the idea of liberation from oppression… The goals of Muslims are the same as the aims of the Soviet government: national liberation in Asia, social revolution in Europe.”
The convocation of the congress was necessary to implement the Bolshevik leadership’s policies in the Muslim world as a whole. This can be seen by the concrete instructions from Vladimir Lenin, the head of the Soviet government, regarding the Muslim peoples: “It is imperative in Turkestan,” he wrote on 16 October 1919, “to quickly create… a resource base: make bullets… repair mil[itary] equipment, produce coal, oil, i r o n … We will spare no funds, we will send enough gold and foreign gold coins… to buy… the military equipment” that is needed to provide “assistance to the peoples of the East in the struggle against imperialism.” In mid-November Lenin wired his associates who had been sent to work in Bashkiria: “If we only ‘wring’ things out of the East[ern] peoples without giving them anything, then our e n t i r e international policy, the entire struggle ‘for Asia’ will go to hell… Otherwise we do nothing against Brit[ish] imp[erialism] in Asia, we are facing a serious struggle for Persia, India, China…” In a letter to Turkestan’s Communists that was published in Tashkent at the beginning of November 1919, Lenin pointed out that it was of “gigantic” importance for Russia “to establish proper relations with the peoples of Turkestan,” which requires “eradicating all traces of Great Russian imperialism.”
On 21 November 1919, at a meeting of delegates to the Second Congress called by the CC of the RKP(B) in Moscow, there was a discussion of these primary issues: the fundamental importance of communist organizations and parties of the East; organizational and party matters; administrative and state issues; each people’s specific issues; and methods and measures of communication with the toilers of each people against its bureaucracy, feudal lords and bourgeoisie. Lenin, Stalin and other Bolshevik leaders spoke multiple times before the group of delegates to the congress.
The congress, which took place in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel from 22 November to 3 December 1919, was defined in the Tashkent newspaper of Turkestan’s Communists before it opened as “a major event in the life of the Muslim East” and was called the All-Russia Congress of Muslim Organizations of the RKP(B); in present-day historiography it is commonly called the Second All-Russia Congress of Communist Organizations of the Peoples of the East (abbreviated COPE). However, its delegate pass read: Second All-Russia Congress of Muslim Communist Organizations of the Peoples of the East. Later the word “Muslim” disappeared completely from the name of the organization in the historical literature. Hence the proper abbreviation should be MCOPE.
The congress, according to some data, was attended by 82 delegates, including 71 delegates with a deciding vote and 11 with an advisory vote. The delegates represented 45,000 Muslim Communists from party organizations in the Caucasus, Kazakhstan, the Volga Region, Turkestan and the Urals, as well as communist émigré groups. According to Subhi’s data, 76 delegates participated in the congress. Be that as it may, the number of Muslim Communists during 1919 rose from 10,000 to 45,000, which attests to the great success of the Muslim Communists’ propaganda work among Muslims—above all in Turkestan.
The congress was opened by Stalin. Lenin delivered a report on the current moment, defining the place of the national-liberation movement in the worldwide revolutionary process. Lenin described the specific factors of the socioeconomic situation of the countries of the East, where he contended that appropriate reforms should be carried out without prodding, in accordance with reality, while gradually getting the peoples of the East accustomed to a change in their way of life, gradually introducing a new ideology and treating their traditions and customs with caution. The thrust of a report by Sultan-Galiev, who spoke after Lenin, was to try to prove that the East was a great and key force in the worldwide revolutionary process. That was where the principal levers of the worldwide social revolution were concentrated. The debate at the congress showed that Communists, Soviet and Eastern, were intensively seeking answers to the many questions that were being raised by the upsurge of the national-liberation movement in the countries of Asia and Africa.
The question of the creation of a Tatar-Bashkir Republic (TBR) generated a sharp debate. The CC of the RKP(B) expected that the congress participants would come out in favor of creating separate Bashkir and Tatar republics. A decision was adopted by a majority vote, however, that it was necessary to effectuate the Statute on the Tatar-Bashkir SSR of 22 March 1918. A new membership was elected for the CB of MCOPE and the Revolutionary Committee of the Tatar-Bashkir SSR.
On the same day, 13 December 1919, a meeting took place between the Politburo of the CC of the RKP(B) and the congress participants. There was a discussion, in particular, of the question of the membership of the new CB. Khusain Ibragimov (a Kazakh from Turkestan) declared that it had been ascertained at the congress that “the Kazan group had captured all power for itself, and all matters were being decided at its discretion… Turkestan, which numbered about 40,000 Communists and was out of touch with the center, had sent only five people. The Kazan group, meanwhile, only because it was better informed, had sent 25 people.” He proposed creating a CB that would be authoritative and would have a connection with the provinces. He was supported, in particular, by Movsum Israfilbekov (an Azerbaidzhani), who stated that the old Bureau had “done nothing for Azerbaidzhan, for Persia or for Turkestan.” Responding to the criticism, Shaimardan Ibragimov (a Tatar from Moscow) said that 90 percent of the 40,000 Turkestan Communists “go to mosques, and we do not want such representatives,” and explained that election to the new Bureau had proceeded on an individual rather than a regional basis.
The Politburo decided at a meeting on 20 December 1919 to approve the Bureau with these members: Sakhibgarei Said-Galiev, Shaimardan Ibragimov, Gasym Mansurov, Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev, Karim Khakimov, Mukhamedzhan Biserov, Nariman Narimanov and Khristian Rakovsky. The Tatar Said-Galiev from Yekaterinburg became the chairman of the new CB.
The number of Muslim Communists continued to increase under his leadership. As Ali Tairov-Deev, an employee of the Eastern Department of the CC of the RKP(B) (from the Caucasus), noted in a letter to Lenin on 30 August 1920, Muslim members of the RKP(B) at the time numbered almost 10 percent of the total party membership, i.e. or about 60,000. Therefore, by the summer of 1920 the number of Muslim Communists rose from 45,000 (in 1919) by almost 15,000, i.e. by 25-30 percent.
In November 1920, however, the CB of MCOPE was made accountable to the agitprop department of the CC of the RKP(B), and in January 1921, at a meeting of Communists from the Turkic peoples (attended by representatives of Azerbaidzhan, Bashkiria, Dagestan, Kirgizia, Crimea, Siberia, Tataria, Terek Oblast, Turkestan and Ufa Gubernia), it was abolished and replaced by the CB of Agitation and Propaganda Among Turkic Peoples under the CC of the RKP(B). Thus the CB of MCOPE left the political stage.
While the First Congress of representatives of the Muslim peoples of Soviet Russia and neighboring countries can be considered one of responses by the Bolshevik leadership to the end of World War I, to the victory in it of the Entente countries, primarily France and England, and to their armed intervention in Russia, their Second Congress became a reaction to the Paris Peace Conference that was under way, which was summing up the world war’s results, on which depended, in part, the fate of the peoples of Asia, including Muslim peoples. The purpose of these two Moscow congresses was to orient the peoples of the East to support Soviet Russia, to spur them to fight the powers that had won the world war and to bring about revolutions in the colonial and semicolonial countries.
Soviet historiography gave little attention to these congresses and their participants, above all because the prevailing view in 1920 already was that the first congress of the peoples of the East was the one that took place in September 1920 in Baku. In assessing its significance, a contemporary noted that World War I, which was actually caused primarily by the partitioning of the East between various military-political blocs, showed the eastern peoples and their leaders that the European states saw them solely as a source of raw materials. The ruling circles of the eastern countries, however, could not consolidate their actions and could not find a common language with one another. In fact, “the most powerful of these national-religious trends, panislamum,[*] for all of its strength attributable to the spread of Mohammedanism in the East, did not acquire a proper political form precisely for this reason.” Even this “religious cohesion did not afford enough of an opportunity for joint insurgent actions.” Hence the national-liberation movement in the East was invariably defeated due to the disunity and insufficient organization of its forces and the lack of a center capable of consolidating the uncoordinated efforts of the individual peoples. The Germanism used here means that Bolshevik propaganda was attempting to find another term in lieu of the odious “pan-Islamism” to identify the common interests of the Muslim peoples.
The proceedings of the Moscow congresses provide a basis to argue that they were the first congresses of the peoples of the East to be held under Soviet rule, and the Baku congress was the third. One of the participants in the Second Congress, a woman from Tashkent, proposed the idea of convening a Third Congress of Communists of the Peoples of the East. This initiative was picked up. At a joint session of representatives of the CB of MCOPE and the Bashkir, Kirgiz and Turkestan republics, as well as Kemalists, which was held in Moscow on 1 January 1920, Nizametdin Khodzhaev (Tashkent) declared that an All-Russia Congress of Muslim Communists should be convened to work out tactics in the East. Speaking in support of the proposal, Akhmet-Zaki Validov (Bashkiria) said that “we must take hold of the guiding threads of the East and exert all our efforts to revolutionize it. In my opinion, there is only one way out of the situation—that is to convene an All-Russia Congress of Communist Organizations of Peoples of the East, but in Baku rather than in Moscow. Whether the CC permits it or not, the congress must be convened.” Turar Ryskulov (Turkestan) spoke out in favor of such a congress, noting that it could be convened in Baku or in Tashkent. Akhmet Baitursunov (Kazakhstan) also endorsed the convocation of a new congress. As a result, the proposal was unanimously adopted by the session’s participants, who decided to convene it on 1 August 1920 in Baku. So the decision to convene the Baku congress was adopted by representatives of Communists from Bashkiria, Kazakhstan, Tataria, Turkestan and Turkey.
How did former CB chairman Stalin react to this initiative? This can be judged by the decision of the Politburo of the CC of the RKP(B) of 18 June 1920, which approved the Comintern’s “proposal” to convene a congress of peoples of the East in Baku. On 29 June 1920 the Politburo decided to form a bureau to organize the congress, thereby taking over its preparation and implementation. This is how it came to be defined as the first congress of peoples of the East, against the backdrop of which the first two congresses in Moscow were lost in the propagandist and historical literature.
The history of the two Moscow congresses, therefore, has not been fully explored in historiography, where a number of number of glaring contradictions and inaccuracies persist, including in regard to the number of delegates and their composition. The delegates to the congresses were primarily Communists, while the rest were either leftist Socialist Revolutionaries or Mensheviks and other socialists; there were politicians who were well known among Muslims, but there were also those about whom even specialist-historians know almost nothing even today. During the work on the proceedings, information was discovered about nearly all the speakers. It was established for the first time that the guests of the congresses included Europeans who were participating in the struggle for Soviet rule.
Many active participants in the Moscow congresses, especially prominent Communists from the Soviet Muslim republics and leaders of a number of Eastern Communist parties, became victims of the repressions of the 1930s. The proceedings of the Moscow congresses make it possible for the first time to get an idea, in particular, of the views such forgotten national figures as Yalymov held; what kind of struggle was taking place over them at the congresses; what problems, including financial ones, were associated with them; and how this impacted their political careers, which declined so quickly. The political biographies of a whole host of participants in the two Moscow congresses who were forgotten by Soviet historiography deserve separate study.
The proceedings of the congresses are of great importance not only from the standpoint of analyzing the plans of Soviet Russia’s leadership for the revolutionary awakening of the East. The data on the party affiliation of the delegates to the congresses, their nationality, age and so forth allow certain judgments to be made about the new Muslim Communist elite that began to emerge during the revolution and the civil war both in the center and in the regions of what was soon to be the USSR.
As notes were being prepared for the proceedings, materials on the participants in the congresses were discovered in the State Archive of the Russian Federation [GARF], the Russian State Archive of Social-Political History [RGASPI] and the Russian State Military Archive [RGVA], which also made it possible to nail down biographical information on a whole host of individuals who were known from various reference publications. For example, the questionnaires of the congress delegates who underwent the 1922 All-Russia Census of Members of the RKP(B) and the 1927 All-Union Party Census made it possible to establish the year of birth, vocation, education, activities before 1917, military-service status, participation in World War I and the civil war, etc. Most of these data are being put into scholarly circulation for the first time, making it possible to gain a clearer picture of the people who spoke at the congresses on behalf of the Muslim peoples.
A host of delegates had prerevolutionary experience in party work, were doing underground work already during the First Russian Revolution, while many joined the party in 1917, worked in the Soviets, were newspapermen, took part in the activities of various workers’ organizations and worked in responsible positions. As a rule, the delegates who spoke at the congresses were young people between 17 and 30 years old. Also of significant interest was the available, albeit incomplete, information on the social composition of the delegates: there were workers, peasants, white-collar employees (salespeople, clerks, etc.), soldiers, members of the intelligentsia (mostly teachers and journalists), undergraduates and former mullahs. Many of them had attended madrassas, and some had a secondary and higher education. Among the delegates to the Second Congress was Fatikh Tukhvatullin, a deputy of the All-Russia Constituent Assembly. The congress participants included not only Azerbaidzhanis, Bashkirs, Tatars and Turks but also, as was established for the first time, mountain people from the North Caucasus, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and others,--which provides a basis for calling these meetings congresses of representatives of the Muslim peoples of Soviet Russia and neighboring countries. It largely depended on all of them and each of them whether the Muslim peoples would support Soviet rule on their lands. In addition to being of informational value per se, therefore, the proceedings are an important source for the biographical examination of a whole host of both well-known individuals and those less popular in historiography, as well social-political figures of the time who as yet are unknown even to specialists.
Fragments from the proceedings of the congresses began to appear in anthologies of documents in the 1930s. There are references in the scholarly literature to the proceedings and often rather lengthy quotations from them, but most of the proceedings were, in effect, inaccessible to researchers. This is largely attributable to the quality of the proceedings, especially of the Second Congress. Many typewritten pages of the proceedings for that congress were hard to read already in the 1960s, since the text had faded badly. Meticulous work studying these texts succeeded in resolving the difficulties, deciphering all of the faded pages, of which there were about a hundred, or one-fifth of the proceedings, identifying errors, misprints and inaccuracies and determining a number of participants’ surnames for the first time. The proceedings, therefore, are fully available for the first time to a wide range of researchers.
The proceedings show the immense importance that was attached to these congresses both by the Bolshevik leaders and by numerous representatives of the Muslim peoples of Soviet Russia and countries contiguous to it. The proceedings reflected the most serious problems confronting the Muslim peoples of the countries of the East and showed the most diverse viewpoints that existed not only among the delegates but generally in the public consciousness of those peoples. The delegates also reflected the attitudes that prevailed among Muslims in various parts of the world. The proceedings provide a picture of what was said, and how, by the participants, many of whom later began to directly implement the contemplated decisions.
The proceedings will provide significant assistance to researchers in the study of the civil war in the Muslim regions of Soviet Russia, of the attitudes of the Muslim populace in the countries contiguous to it and of the activities of both the CC of the RKP(B) and the CB of MCOPE.
[*] Or more precisely, panislamtum (Ger.)
 Grazhdanskaia voina i voennaia interventsiia v SSSR. Entsiklopediia. Moscow, 1983, p. 507.
 Shastitko, P.M. Leningradskaia teoriia natsional’no-kolonial’nogo voprosa. Moscow, 1979, pp. 159-160.
 Khairutdinov, R.G. Trudnoe vozrozhdenie. Kazan, 1992, pp. 140–144.
 Ocherki istorii Kommunisticheskoi partii Azerbaidzhana. V trekh tomakh. T. 1. Baku, 1985, pp. 387-388.
 Kommunisticheskii internatsional, 1919, No. 4, p. 563.
 Rusiia miusliuman komiunist (bol’shevik)lerinin Birinchi is”ezdi kararlary (Meskeu. 4-12 noiabr 1918 il). Moscow, 1918.
 Mukhariamov, M.K. Oktiabr’ i natsional’no-gosudarstvennoe stroitel’stvo v Tatarii (oktiabr’ 1917 g.-1920 g.). Moscow, 1969, p. 153.
 Turkestanskii kommunist, 22 October 1919.
 ibid., 13 June.
 V.I. Lenin. Neizvestnye dokumenty. 1891-1922 gg. Moscow, 1999, pp. 302, 305.
 Lenin, V.I. Poln. sobr. soch. T. 5, p. 304.
 Leninskii sbornik. XXIV. Moscow, 1933, p. 194.
 Turkestanskii kommunist, 30 October 1919.
 Grazhdanskaia voina i voennaia interventsiia v SSSR. Entsiklopediia. Moscow, 1983, p. 639; Tatarskaia entsiklopediia. T. 1, Kazan, 2002, p. 648.
 Persits, M.A. “Vostochnye internatsionalisty v Rossii i nekotorye voprosy natsional’no-osvoboditel’nogo dvizheniia (1918-iiul’ 1920 g.).” In Komintern i Vostok, Moscow, 1969, pp. 96, 99.
 Tatarskaia entsiklopediia. T. 1, Kazan, 2002, p. 648.
 ibid., op.3,d.49,l.1.
 ibid., op.84,d.57,l.6.
 See Pervyi s”ezd narodov Vostoka. Baku, 1-9 sent. 1920 g. Stenograficheskie otchety. Petrograd, 1920; Pskovskii, S. Revoliutsiia i Vostok (s”ezd narodov Vostoka). Rostov-on-Don, 1920. The author was presumably S.S. Pestkovskii, deputy people’s commissar for nationality affairs of the RSFSR; Sorkin, G.Z. Pervyi s”ezd narodov Vostoka. Moscow, 1961; Riddell, J. To See the Dawn. Baku, 1920—First Congress of the Peoples of the East. New York; London; Montreal; Sydney, 1993.
 Pskovskii, S. Ukaz. soch., pp. 5, 30.
 ibid., f.17,op.3,d.89,l.1; d.92,l.2.
 See Pervyi god proletarskoi diktatury v Tatarii: Sb. dok. i materialov po istorii partorganizatsii i grazhdanskoi voiny v 1918 g. Kazan, 1933; Bor’by za pobedu Sovetskoi vlasti v Azerbaidzhane. 1918-1920. Dokumenty i materialy. Baku, 1967; Natsional’no-gosudarstvennoe ustroistvo Bashkortostana (1917-1925 gg.). Dokumenty i materialy: v 4 t. T.2. Ch. 1. Ufa, 2002; and others.
 Persits, M.A. Ukaz. soch., pp. 94, 98.