People's Commissariat of Nationalities

People's Commissariat of Nationalities

People's Commissariat of Nationalities (abbreviation transliterated as Narkomnats) was the Government of the Soviet Union body set up to deal with non-Russian nationalities. It was part of the Council of People's Commissars.


It was established even before the October Revolution on 11 June 1917[1] by the Petrograd Soviet as part of three measures to create state forms which would guarantee federal and autonomous solutions to national questions in the Russian Revolution:

  • complete civil equality for all citizens
  • the right to use the mother tongue in official business, on a par with Russian
  • the formation of a Soviet of nationality affairs - Narkomnats.

This decision was made in response to the crisis triggered by the Ukrainian Rada's demands for autonomy for national territories and a seat at any peace conference. These demands were rejected by Alexander Kerensky. Narkomnats was set up as an organ of the Soviets to prepare for the Constituent Assembly, particularly as regards how Ukrainian autonomy could be handled. It provided for the organisation of a congress of representatives from all of Ukraine, which in turn would set up a Ukrainian Constituent Assembly. At this time the Bolsheviks opposed any national autonomy; however, on 13 August, Stalin published a tract that floated the idea of the Party might set up an agency for nationality affairs.[2] This came at a time when Kerensky and Mensheviks like Nikolay Chkheidze were arguing for a unified state. Kerensky told Latvian representatives that they could only hope for the status of Zemstvo.[3]

Joseph Stalin as commissar presided over five or six of the first seven meetings of the Narkomnats Collegium, but failed to attend the next twenty one.[4]

Specific Commissariats related to Narkomnats

  • Belnatskom was the Belorussian Commissariat established 31 January 1918[5]
  • Evkom was the Jewish Commissariat
  • Muskom was the Muslim Commissariat, chaired by Mullanur Waxitov


  1. ^ Petrogradskii Sovet Rabochikh i Soldatskikh Deputatov: Protokoly Zasedanii (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel'stvo, 1935).
  2. ^ Revoliutsionnoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Avgust' 1917 Goda: Protokoly (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Akademii Nauk SSR, 1959) This text was omitted from the collected Works of Stalin)
  3. ^ Revoliutsionnoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Mae-Iun' 1917 g., III (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Akademii Nauk SSR, 1959).
  4. ^ 'Stalin as Commissar of Nationalities' by Jeremy Smith in Stalin: A New History by Sarah Davies (Editor), James Harris (Editor), 2005, Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ The Sorcerer as Apprentice:Stalin as Commissar of Nationalities 1917 - 1924 by Stephen Blank, Greenwood Press 1995 p 20

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