Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Mark B Tauger

Committee Co-Chair

Joshua W Arthurs

Committee Member

Robert E Blobaum

Committee Member

Joseph M Hodge

Committee Member

Christian Peterson


This dissertation argues that the Soviet Union functioned as an empire despite its decidedly anti-imperialist rhetoric. Beginning in the 1920s, Bolshevik policies transformed the former Russian Empire into a new type of empire that was based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Moreover, the Bolshevik policy of korenizatsiia as well as Marxist-Leninist rhetoric promoted the development of a decolonization process among the non-Russian peoples of the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. Although Stalin abandoned korenizatsiia in the 1930s in favor of greater emphasis on Russification, the decolonization process continued into the Brezhnev period of the 1960s and 1970s. This decolonization process quickly rose to the surface in the 1980s as a result of Gorbachev's reforms.;This dissertation focuses on the Brezhnev leadership's handling of the Soviet nationality question as this period represents the final effort to maintain and to consolidate further the Soviet Empire. Brezhnev's doctrine of Developed Socialism emphasized the continued rapprochement of the nations of the USSR into a supranational Soviet nation, the importance of the Russian language as the language of inter-national communication within the Soviet Union, the further consolidation of power at the center of the Soviet Union at the expense of Union Republic sovereignty, and the treatment of the USSR as a single economic complex. The tenets of Developed Socialism, then, are imperialist in nature as they promoted the Russian language at the expense of non-Russian languages and they focused on the greater concentration of power in Moscow and the erosion of Union Republic sovereignty. The ratification of a new USSR Constitution in 1977 and of new Union Republic constitutions in 1978 is the high-water mark of Brezhnev's imperialist policies. The Brezhnev leadership's imperialist policies, however, were rooted in Marxist-Leninist ideology as an analysis of the essays written by Lenin and Stalin will show.;Although Brezhnev's policies were imperialistic, they were implemented unevenly across the USSR, resulting in continued diversity within the USSR in terms of nationality policy. Moscow kept a tighter rein on the western republics, such as Ukraine, while maintaining looser control over the Central Asian republics. As evidence of this, the CPSU Politburo removed Petro Shelest from his post as First Secretary in Ukraine for tolerating manifestations of Ukrainian nationalism while Sharaf Rashidov in Uzbekistan kept his post as First Secretary until his death in 1983 despite increasing displays of Uzbek nationalism there in the 1970s.;This dissertation also argues that a decolonization process began in the Soviet Union as early as the 1920s, but that this process is reignited by Khrushchev's policies in the 1950s. The Brezhnev leadership's focus on further consolidating power at the center could not stop this decolonization process and in some ways, it contributed to the continued growth of a decolonization process among the non-Russian peoples of the USSR. In the 1960s, nationalist dissent re-emerged, centered primarily in the western Soviet Union, which continued into the 1980s. Though it did not pose a direct threat to the Soviet regime's stability, nationalist dissent did encourage the Brezhnev leadership to rely further on the tenets of Developed Socialism.;This dissertation also compares Soviet nationality policies with similar policies enacted by other modern empires such as the British and French empires in the 19th and 20th centuries. Thus, much of Chapter One compares the Soviet Union with the British and French empires to demonstrate that the Soviet Union did indeed function as an empire. Moreover, Brezhnev's strategy of re-invigorating Soviet imperial policies through the tenets of Developed Socialism represented the Soviet Union's "second colonial occupation." Just as the British sought to rekindle their empire in East Africa and Malaya after World War II, the Soviet Union under Brezhnev acted to renew its imperial control over the Union Republics in the 1970s. The Brezhnev leadership's pursuit of grandiose construction and modernization projects such as the Baikal-Amur Mainline Railway are not unlike Britain's groundnut scheme in Tanganyika after World War II. Through comparing the Soviet Union with other modern empires, this dissertation places Soviet history and practices in a world history context.