Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev

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Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev

Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev (Tatar: Мирсәет Хәйдәргали улы Солтангалиев, Mirsäyet Xäydärğäli ulı Soltanğäliev, pronounced [ˌmirsæˈjet xæɪˌdærɣæˈli ulɯ sɔlˌtɑnɣæˈliəf]; Russian: Мирсаид Хайдаргалиевич Султан-Галиев Mirsaid Khaydargalievich Sultan-Galiev; 1892–1940), also known as Mirza Sultan-Galiev, was a Tatar Bolshevik who rose to prominence in the Russian Communist Party in the early 1920s. He was the architect of Muslim "national communism". His views were a direct threat to the policies of the Comintern; he was imprisoned in 1923, and executed in 1940.

Early life and family

Sultan-Galiev, the son of a teacher, was born on July 13, 1892 in the village of Elembet'evo, Ufa Guberniya, Bashkiria, then part of the Russian Empire.[1] At base, he had a difficult and impoverished childhood: first, as a school teacher, his father made very little money (not nearly enough to support his wife and 12 children) and was frequently transferred from place to place; second, there was considerable, lasting tension between his parents, because they came from very different layers of Tatar society. Sultan-Galiev later wrote, "My mother was the daughter of a prince – a noblewoman, while my father was a simple "Mishar," and this quite often stung the eyes of my father."[2]

Though his parents could not afford to send him to a private school, Sultan-Galiev was able to learn a great deal from his father and at the latter's maktab, which followed the "New Method" of maktab teaching founded by Ismail Gasprinski (1851–1914). From a young age Sultan-Galiev studied the Russian language and read many of the Russian classics from his father's library. At his father's school, he studied from age 8 to 15, learning Tatar and Arabic, history, geography, and mathematics, while also receiving a basic understanding of the Qur'an and Sharia. All this, especially his knowledge of Russian, greatly helped him to gain entrance to the Kazan Teachers College (see Tatar State University of Humanities and Education) in 1907.[3]

An avid reader of Russian Literature, he translated works by Tolstoy and Pushkin into the Tatar language. In 1913, he married Rauza Chanysheva, who became a leading figure in the women's movement. They separated after personal problems in 1918.

Political activity

Sultan-Galiev was first drawn to revolutionary ideas during the abortive 1905 revolution. Following the revolution's defeat he moved to Baku, where he came to the attention of Nariman Narimanov. He was further drawn to revolutionary ideas while studying to become a teacher at the Tatar Teachers College in Kazan.[4] At this time, he also received his first lessons in socialism. The future bolshevik A. Nasybullin and the future Basmachi (see Basmachi Revolt) A. Ishmurzin gave him books on the theory of socialism and conversed with him about the books.[5]

Graduating from the Teacher's College in 1911, Sultan-Galiev began his career as a "half-starved village school teacher and librarian." In 1912 he also started to publish articles in various newspapers in Russian and Tatar, initially under various pseudonyms, such as "Sukhoi [Dry one]," Syn naroda [Son of the People]," "Uchitel'-tatarin [Teacher-Tatar]," "Karamas-kalinets," and then from 1914 under his own name. Over the same period, he also "secretly distributed anti-government proclamations in the Muslim villages of Ufa province and spoke out against the installation of Russian or Christianized Tatar teachers in Muslim schools.[6]

World War I and the Bolsheviks

As with most people of his generation, World War I played a large role in his personal transformation. With the war's outbreak, Sultan-Galiev and his wife Rauza Chanysheva moved to Baku, where Sultan-Galiev began to write for a variety of newspapers. He seems to have absorbed amongst the city's diverse population of Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Georgians, Russians, Tatars, and Iranians, a deep and growing dissatisfaction with the tsarist autocracy, its resistance to reform, and handling of the war effort. Baku's political climate in combination with the 1916 anti-conscription uprising of Muslims in Central Asia led him to break with the reform-minded Jadidism of his youth and move towards revolutionary socialism.[5]

In May 1917, Sultan-Galiev participated in the All-Russian Muslim Conference in Moscow and was elected to the All-Russia Muslim Council created by it. In July that year he went to Kazan, where he met Mullanur Waxitov, with whom he helped set up the Muslim Socialist Committee, with a program close to that of the Bolsheviks. In November 1917 he joined the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Following the establishment of Narkomnats in June 1917, Sultan-Galiev was asked to become head of the Muslim section. In January 1918 the Central Commissariat of Muslim affairs in Inner Russia and Siberia (Muskom), was set up under the chairmanship of Waxitov, with Sultan-Galiev as representative of the Russian Communist Party. He was appointed the chair of the Central Muslim Military Collegium when it was established in June 1918. He wrote for Zhizn' Natsional'nostei (Life of the Nationalities). Mustafa Suphi acted as his secretary.[7]

In December 1917, in response to some Tatars' accusations that he was betraying his own people to the Bolsheviks, Sultan-Galiev wrote a revealing explanation for his decision to join the Bolsheviks:

I now move to my cooperation with the Bolsheviks. I will say the following: I associate with them not from sycophancy. The love for my people, which lies inherently inside me, draws me to them. I go to them not with a goal to betray our nation, not in order to drink its blood. No! No! I go there because with my whole spirit I believe in the rightness of the Bolsheviks’ cause. I know this; it is my conviction. Thus, nothing will remove it from my soul. I realize that only some of the bolsheviks were able to implement what was promised at the beginning of the revolution. [But] only they stopped the war. Only they are striving to pass the nationalities’ fates into their own hands. Only they revealed who started the world war. What does not lead me to them? They also declared war on English imperialism, which oppresses India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Persia and Arabia. They are also the ones who raised arms against French imperialism, which enslaves Morocco, Algiers, and other Arab states of Africa. How could I not go to them? You see, they proclaimed the words, which have never been voiced since creation of the world in the history of the Russian state. Appealing to all Muslims of Russia and the East, they announced that Istanbul must be in Muslims’ hands. They did this while English troops, seizing Jerusalem, appealed to Jews with the words: ‘Gather together quickly in Palestine, we will create for you a European state.’[8]

The Revolution

During the Civil War he was active in organising the defence of Kazan against the Whites in August 1918 and liquidating opposition after they had been driven out. He was also instrumental in ensuring that the Bashkir people, led by Zeki Velidi Togan, joined the Bolshevik side which weakened the military potential of Kolchak's army. His knowledge of national movements in the East won him the trust of Stalin and other highly placed Party and government figures. Sultan-Galiev carried out many tasks on the personal orders of Stalin. In April 1919 he again was rushed to the Eastern Front to help shore up the morale of the Tatar 21st division at Malmyzh after Kolchak's spring offensive had forced the Red Army to abandon Izhevsk to the Whites. In June 1919 he was sent to Kazan at request of the local Bolshevik administration to help resolve the national question among the Tatars, but he was soon recalled to Moscow by Lenin to work on the nationality issue in the Narkomnats until 1922.[9]

Fallout with the Bolsheviks

Sultan-Galiev wanted to give Marxism an Islamic face. He argued that Tsarist Russians had oppressed Muslim society apart from a few big landowners and bourgeois. He was, despite this attempt at synthesis, thought of by the Bolsheviks as being excessively tolerant of nationalism and religion[10] and, in 1923, he was accused of nationalist, pan-Islamic and pan-Turkic deviations and he was arrested and expelled from the party.

He was freed, but with Lenin's death in 1924, he lost his only protector, and remained a political outcast, constantly watched by state security. In these years he spent his time travelling for the Hunting Union and writing occasional reviews and translations. He was accompanied by his second wife Fatima Yerzina, whom he had married in 1918, and their two children.

In 1928, he was arrested a second time and sentenced to be shot in July 1930. However, in January 1931 his sentence was commuted to ten years of hard labour for nationalism and anti-Soviet activity. In 1934 he was released and given permission to live in the Saratov Oblast. At the beginning of 1937 he was again arrested, and was forced to make a confession; he was convicted of being the "organizer and factual leader of an anti-Soviet nationalistic group," who led an "active struggle against soviet power" and the party "on the basis of pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism, with the goal of tearing away from Soviet Russia Turkic-Tatar regions and establishing in them a bourgeois-democratic Turan state." In December 1939, he received the death sentence which was carried out on 28 January 1940 in Moscow.[11]


  1. In a very long, autobiographical letter written shortly after his arrest (around 23 May 1923), Sultan-Galiev wrote, "I was born in Bashkiria in the Bashkir village of Shipaevo (in Russian it is called, I think, Belembeevo, Sterlitamakskii canton)." Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev: stati, vystupleniia, dokumenty, comp. by I.G. Gizzatullin, D.R. Sharafutdinov (Kazan:Tatarskoe knizhnoe izd-vo, 1992), p. 386.
  2. R. G. Landa, “Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev,” Voprosy Istoriia KPSS 1999 (8): 56. Mishar (Mişär) Tatars are an ethnic sub-group of the Volga Tatars, speaking a Western dialect of the Tatar language, originating from Mordovia and living in Bashkiria since the late middle ages; for more see Tatars, and scroll down to Mişär Tatars.
  3. Landa, "Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev," pp. 55-56.
  4. I.R. Tagirov (ed.), Neizvestnyi Sultan-Galiev: Rassekrechennye dokumenty i materialy (Kazan': Tatarskoe knyzhnoe izdatel'stvo, 2002), p. 11.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Landa, "Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev," p. 58.
  6. Landa, "Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev," p. 57.
  7. Left Wing of the Turkish Communist Party by Enternasyonalist Komunist Sol, October 2008
  8. I. G. Gizzatullin, D. R. Sharafutdinov (compilers), Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev. Stat’I, vystupleniia, dokumenty (Kazan’: Tatarskoe knizhskoe izdatel’stvo, 1992), p. 52. Sultan-Galiev's letter was published on 19 December 1917 in the newspaper Koyash, the same paper that had published the attack on Sultan-Galiev's sympathies two days earlier, a clear sign of the openness of political debate in Kazan at that time.
  9. Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev: His Character and Fate, Sh. F. Mukhamedyarov and B. F. Sultanbekov, Central Asian Survey, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 109-117, 1990 Society for Central Asian Studies.
  10. Stalin, a biography by Robert Service, page 154
  11. I.R. Tagirov (ed.), Neizvestnyi Sultan-Galiev: Rassekrechennye dokumenty i materialy (Kazan': Tatarskoe knyzhnoe izdatel'stvo, 2002), doc. 112, p. 384. Document 110 is the actual judgement, in which Sultan-Galiev is convicted of being the "organizer and factual leader of an anti-Soviet nationalistic group," who led an "active struggle against soviet power" and the party "on the basis of pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism, with the goal of tearing away from Soviet Russia Turkic-Tatar regions and establishing in them a bourgeois-democratic Turan state" (pp. 382-383).

Further reading

  • McCauley, Martin. Who's Who in Russia since 1900 (1997) p 90

External links