Domesticating Minzu: The Communists and the National Question
In his 1984 study The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy, Walker Connor analyzed the role of Marxist nationality theory in the development of the CCP.1 Contending that Communists around the world “manipulate nationalism into the service of Marxism,”2 Connor attempted to show how Bolshevik parties in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia strategically employed the promise of national self-determination to gain power within a multiethnic environment. According to Connor, during its struggle with the Guomindang, the CCP proffered the Mongol, Hui, Tibetan, and other strategically important ethnic minorities’ political independence from Chinese hegemony in order to secure their support, or at least a promise of neutrality toward its bid for national power. Yet after its triumph over the GMD in 1949, the Communists abruptly broke their promise and incorporated the minorities by force into a unitary state structure under central party rule. Though his work was pioneering, Connor had limited access to primary source materials (and all those in translation); the result is a misleading depiction of the CCP’s engagement with the “national question” (minzu wenti) that does not hold up to the evidence contained in recently published archival material.
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