J. V. Stalin

Congress of the Peoples
of the Terek Region1

November 17, 1920

Source : Works, Vol. 4, November, 1917 - 1920
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2009
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.


Comrades, this congress has been called in order to make known the will of the Soviet Government concerning the arrangement of the affairs of the Terek peoples and their relations with the Cossacks.

The first question is the attitude towards the Cossacks.

Experience has shown that endless trouble arises from the fact that Cossacks and highlanders are living together in one administrative unit.

Experience has shown that if mutual offence and bloodshed are to be avoided, the mass of the Cossacks must be separated from the mass of the highlanders.

Experience has shown that it would be to the advantage of both parties if they separated.

Accordingly, the Government has decided to separate the majority of the Cossacks into a special gubernia, and the bulk of the highlanders into an autonomous Highland Soviet Republic, with the River Terek as the boundary between them.

It has been the aim of the Soviet Government not to injure the interests of the Cossacks. It had no thought, comrade Cossacks, of taking your land away from you.

It had only one thought, and that was to deliver you from the yoke of the tsarist generals and plutocrats. That is the policy it has pursued from the first days of the revolution.

But the behaviour of the Cossacks has been dubious, to say the least. They looked askance at the Soviet Government and did not trust it. At one time they got mixed up with Bicherakhov, later they hobnobbed with Denikin, and then with Wrangel.

And recently, when peace had not yet been concluded with Poland and when Wrangel was advancing on the Donets Basin, at that moment a section of the Terek Cossacks treacherously—there is no other word for it—rose up against our armies in the rear.

I am referring to the recent revolt on the Sunzha line, the purpose of which was to cut off Baku from Moscow.

The Cossacks temporarily succeeded in this attempt.

At that moment the highlanders, to the shame of the Cossacks be it said, proved themselves worthier citizens of Russia.

The Soviet Government has been very patient, but patience has its limit. And so, because of the treachery of certain groups of Cossacks, stern measures had to be taken against them, the delinquent Cossack villages had to be cleared and settled with Chechens.

The highlanders understood this to mean that the Terek Cossacks could now be maltreated with impunity, that they could be robbed, their cattle stolen and their women dishonoured.

I must declare that if the highlanders think that, they are deeply mistaken. The highlanders must know that the Soviet Government protects all the citizens of Russia alike, irrespective of their nationality, regardless of whether they are Cossacks or highlanders. Bear in mind that if the highlanders do not desist from outrages, the Soviet Government will punish them with all the severity of revolutionary power.

The future of the Cossacks, both those who are constituted into a separate gubernia and those who remain within the Highland Autonomous Republic, will entirely depend upon their own behaviour. If the Cossacks do not desist from acts of treachery against workers' and peasants' Russia, I must say that the Government will again have to resort to repressive measures.

But if the Cossacks behave in future as honest citizens of Russia, I declare here before the whole congress that not one hair of the head of any Cossack will be injured.

The second question is our attitude towards the highlanders of the Terek region.

Comrade highlanders, the old period in the history of Russia, when the tsars and tsarist generals trampled upon your rights and destroyed your liberties—that period of oppression and slavery has gone for ever. Now, when power in Russia has passed into the hands of the workers and peasants, there must no more be any who are oppressed in Russia.

In granting you autonomy, Russia restores the liberties which were stolen from you by the bloodsucking tsars and the tyrannous tsarist generals. This means that your internal affairs should be arranged in accordance with your manner of life, your habits and customs —of course, within the framework of the general Constitution of Russia.

Each of the peoples—Chechens, Ingushes, Ossetians, Kabardinians, Balkarians, Karachais, and also the Cossacks who remain within the autonomous highland territory—should have its National Soviet to administer the affairs of the given people in accordance with its manner of life and specific features. There is no need to mention the inogorodnie, who were and remain loyal sons of Soviet Russia, and whose interests the Soviet Government will always staunchly defend.

If it is shown that the Sharia is necessary, then let the Sharia remain. The Soviet Government has no thought of declaring war on the Sharia.

If it is shown that the organs of the Extraordinary Commission and the Special Department are unable to adapt themselves to the manner of life and specific features of the population, then, clearly, appropriate changes must be made in this sphere as well.

The National Soviets should be headed by a Council of People's Commissars of the Highland Republic, elected by the latter's Congress of Soviets and directly linked with Moscow.

Does this mean that the highlanders will be severed from Russia, that Russia is abandoning them, that the Red Army will be withdrawn to Russia—as the highlanders are asking in alarm? No, it does not. Russia realizes that, left to their own resources, the small nationalities of the Terek cannot uphold their liberty against the world sharks and their agents—the highland landlords who have fled to Georgia and from there are intriguing against the labouring highlanders. Autonomy means not separation, but union between the self-governing highland peoples and the peoples of Russia. It is on this union that the Soviet autonomy of the highlanders will rest.

Comrades, it was usually the case in the past that governments consented to grant some reform, to make some concession to peoples, only at a time of difficulty, when they had been weakened and needed the sympathy of their peoples. That was always the case with the governments of the tsars and bourgeois governments generally. In contrast to them, the Soviet Government acts differently. The Soviet Government is granting you autonomy not at a time of difficulty, but at a time of resounding victories on the battlefields, at a time of complete triumph over the last stronghold of imperialism, in the Crimea.

Experience shows that that which governments grant in critical moments is insecure and unreliable, because it can always be withdrawn when the critical moment passes. Reforms and liberties can be secure only if they are granted, not under the pressure of momentary, temporary necessity, but in full knowledge of their usefulness, and when the government is in the full flower of its might and strength. That is just how the Soviet Government is acting now in restoring you your liberties.

In doing this, the Soviet Government wants you to know that it has full confidence in you, comrade highlanders, that it has faith in your ability to govern yourselves.

Let us hope that you will justify this confidence of workers' and peasants' Russia.

Long Live the Union of the Peoples of the Terek Region With the Peoples of Russia!


Comrades, I have received a number of written questions on the subject of autonomy. I must reply to them.

The first question concerns the territorial boundaries of the Highland Soviet Republic. In general, the boundaries will be the Terek in the North, and, in the other directions, the borders of the territories of the peoples of the Terek region: Chechens, Ingushes, Kabardinians, Ossetians, Balkarians, Karachais, as well as the ino-gorodnie, and also the Cossack villages on this side of the Terek. This will constitute the territory of the Autonomous Highland Republic. As to the detailed demarcation of the boundaries, that should be determined by a commission composed of representatives of the Highland Republic and the adjacent gubernias.

Second question: what will be the capital of the Autonomous Highland Republic, and will the towns Grozny and Vladikavkaz come within the republic? Of course, they will. Any town may be chosen as the capital of the republic. I personally consider that it should be Vladikavkaz, since it is a centre connected with all the nationalities of the Terek region.

The third question concerns the limits of autonomy. I am asked what type of autonomy is being granted to the Highland Republic.

There are different kinds of autonomy: administrative, such as the Karelians, the Cheremiss, the Chu-vashes and the Volga Germans enjoy, and political, such as is enjoyed by the Bashkirs, Kirghiz and Volga Tatars. The autonomy of the Highland Republic will be political and, of course, Soviet. It will be of the same type as the autonomy of Bashkiria, Kirghizia and Tataria. This means that the Highland Soviet Republic will be headed by a Central Executive Committee of Soviets, elected by the Congress of Soviets. The Central Executive Committee will appoint the Council of People's Commissars, which will be directly linked with Moscow. The republic will be financed out of the general treasury of the Federative Republic. The People's Commissariats in charge of economic and military affairs will be directly linked with the corresponding Commissariats in the centre. The other Commissariats—Justice, Agriculture, Internal Affairs, Education, etc.—will be subordinated to the Central Executive Committee of the Highland Soviet Republic, which will be linked with the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. Foreign trade and foreign affairs will be entirely under the jurisdiction of the central government.

Then there is a question as to when autonomy will come into force. In order to work out the detailed regulations, or, to use the formal word, the "Constitution," of the Republic, representatives should be chosen, one from each nationality, who, together with representatives of the Government in Moscow, will draft a Constitution for the Autonomous Highland Republic.

It would be as well if you were to elect these representatives at this congress, one each from the Chechens, Ingushes, Ossetians, Kabardinians, Balkarians, Kara-chais, and from the Cossack villages forming part of the Autonomous Highland Republic—seven representatives in all.

I am asked about the procedure of electing the National Soviets. They should be elected in conformity with the Constitution, that is, only working people should have the right to elect the Soviets. They must be Soviets of the working people.

We in Russia believe that he who does not work, neither shall he eat. You must declare that he who does not work, neither shall he vote. That is the basis of Soviet autonomy. That is the difference between bourgeois and Soviet autonomy.

The next question is about the army.

We must unquestionably have a common army, because the Highland Republic, with its tiny army, could not protect its liberty, would be powerless against armies subsidized by the Entente.

Concluding my speech, I want to stress the fundamental thing that autonomy can give you, the highlanders.

The chief evil that has always afflicted the highlanders is their backwardness, their ignorance. Only elimination of this evil, only broad enlightenment of the masses can save the highlanders from extinction and introduce them to the benefits of a higher culture. Therefore the first thing the highlanders should do in their autonomous republic is to build schools and cultural and educational institutions.

The whole purpose of autonomy is to draw the highlanders into governing their country themselves. You have all too few local persons capable of administering the affairs of the people. That is why the agencies of the Food Committee, the Extraordinary Commission, the Special Department, the national economy, are staffed with Russians who are not familiar with your manner of life and language. It is essential that your own people be drawn into all branches of the government of your country. The autonomy of which we are speaking here is to be understood to mean that all governing bodies should be staffed with your own people, who are familiar with your language and your manner of life.

That is the meaning of autonomy.

Autonomy should teach you to stand on your own feet — that is its aim.

The results of autonomy will not be felt all at once; your local forces cannot produce in one day people experienced in governing the country. But before two or three years have passed you will have acquired an aptitude for governing your country, and will be producing from your midst teachers, business executives, food officials, surveyors, military men, judges and Party and Soviet workers generally. And then you will find that you have learned the art of self-government.

Long live the autonomy of the highlands, which will teach you how to govern your country, and will help you to become as enlightened as the workers and peasants of Russia, who have learned not only how to govern their country, but also how to vanquish their sworn enemies!

Zhizn Natsionalnostei, Nos. 39 and 40, December 8 and 15, 1920


1.The Congress of the Peoples of the Terek region was held in Vladikavkaz, November 17, 1920. Over 500 delegates were present. G. K. Ordjonikidze and S. M. Kirov took part in the work of the congress. In a resolution adopted on the report of J. V. Stalin, the congress expressed confidence that "autonomy will still further strengthen the bonds of brotherhood between the labouring masses of the Terek region and Soviet Russia."