The October Revolution of 1917 was not a singular event, but five years of violent political upheaval and social radicalization, culminating with the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922. It set the empire’s many peoples on the path to modern nationhood. Yet one of the paradoxes of October is that it did not resolve the “Russian Question.”
The relationship between empire and nation lies at the heart of Russia’s modern history. Some commentators argue that since the 19th century, the history of Russia has been one of an empire that wanted to act like a nation-state. Russian imperial bureaucrats did not succeed either in creating a viable civic national identity based on pan-imperial citizenship, or in forming a Russian ethnic nation based on Russian (russkii) ethnicity. According to Ronald Suny and other like-minded scholars, the Russian Empire’s story is one of the “incomplete nation-building.”
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Igor Torbakov is Senior Fellow at Uppsala University and at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm, Sweden.