Category Archives: Mongolia

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia on the Mongolian People’s Republic


Mongolian People’s Republic

(Bugd Nairamdakh Mongol Ard Uls).

The Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR) is a state in Central Asia bounded by the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. Area, 1,565,000 sq km. Population, 1,377,900 (early 1974). The capital is Ulan Bator. Administratively, the country is divided into aimaks; Ulan Bator and Darkhan form separate administrative units (see Table 1).


The MPR is a socialist state and a people’s republic. The present constitution, adopted on July 6, 1960, proclaims that all power in the republic belongs to the working people. Socialist ownership of the means of production and the socialist economic system constitute the economic basis of the social system.

The highest organ of state power and the sole legislative body is the Great People’s Khural, popularly elected by secret ballot for a four-year term on the basis of universal, equal, and direct suffrage. One deputy is elected for every 4,000 inhabitants. The Great People’s Khural ratifies and amends the constitution, establishes the basic principles of domestic and foreign policy, and approves national economic plans, the state budget, and reports on the implementation of the plans. Between sessions of the Great People’s Khural, the highest state body is the Presidium, elected by the Khural and headed by a chairman, deputy chairmen, and a secretary. The highest executive and administrative body is the government of the MPR, the Council of Ministers, which is designated by the Great People’s Khural.

The local governing bodies in the aimaks, cities, and urban districts are khurals of deputies popularly elected for three-year terms. The khurals elect executive bodies from among the deputies. All those citizens who have attained the age of 18 may vote.

The judicial system of the MPR includes the Supreme Court, aimak and city courts, and special courts for criminal cases involving the military. There are also aimak circuit courts and district courts. The Supreme Court and the special courts are elected by the Great People’s Khural for a four-year term, and the other courts are elected by the corresponding khurals. People’s assessors participate in the consideration of cases. Supervision over the observance of legality is exercised by the procurator of the MPR, who is appointed for a four-year term by the Great People’s Khural, and by aimak, city, district, and military procurators appointed by the procurator of the MPR.

Terrain. The MPR is situated in steppe, semi desert, and desert regions of the temperate zone in northeastern Central Asia. A large part of the country lies at elevations of 1,000 to 2,000 m, with mountains predominating in the west and northwest and high plains in the east. The most important ranges are the Mongolian Altai, reaching 4,362 m on Mount Munkh-Khairkhan Ula and stretching for 1,000 km; the Gobi Altai; and the Khangai. The Khentei Upland occupies the central part of the country. The mountains have gentle, smooth slopes and crests, and their bases are often covered by thick talus mantles. Sharp peaks occur only in the highest ranges. The Gobi, one of the world’s largest deserts,extends into the country from the south and southeast. Several isolated volcanic massifs tower above the desert in the southeast, forming the Dariganga volcanic region. In the north and the northwest there are several vast, relatively deep intermontane basins and valleys, the largest of which are the Great Lakes Depression, the Valley of Lakes, and the depression occupied by the valleys of the Orkhon and Selenga rivers. The eastern part of the country consists of plains descending toward the northeast. In the southern and southeastern parts of the Gobi and the Great Lakes Depression, areas covered by sand total about 30,000 sq km.

Geological structure and minerals Mongolia belongs to the Central Asian system, part of the Ural-Mongolian Geosynclinal Belt. The system is divided into two distinct regions, a northern Caledonian and a southern Hercynian. There aretwo types of Paleozoic geosynclinal structures: those in which basic volcanism has played the leading role and those with sialic volcanism. Orogenic Molasse formations are associated with superimposed structures. Granitoids are extensively developed. Tectonics are of the foldblock type, with plutonic fractures, frequently accompanied by ultrabasites; the linear structures of the south are isolated. During the Paleozoic the geosynclines migrated and underwent rejuvenation from north to south.

Mesozoic and Cenozoic formations, filling the downwarps and grabens, are represented by volcanic and sedimentary rocks in the east and amagmatic strata in the west. Remains of dinosaurs have been found in the continental rocks of the Mesozoic.

Important minerals include deposits of coal in the Upper Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks of superimposed depressions and grabens (Tabun-Tologoi, Sharyn-Gol, Nalaikha). There are deposits of iron ore in Lower Paleozoic siliceous and siliceous-volcanic formations (Tamryn-Gol, Baiangol). The largest of the explored deposits of tungsten are at Buren-Tsogt and Ikh Khairkhan. Tungsten, copper, and molybdenum ores (Erdenituin-Obo) and deposits of fluorite (Berkh) are associated with the Mesozoic metallogenic age. Phosphorite deposits associated with carbonate deposits of the Upper Riphean and Vend have been discovered around Lake Khubsugul. The country also has deposits of gold, tin, zinc, piezoelectric quartz, asbestos, gypsum, granite, and other minerals.

Climate. The climate is dry, markedly continental, and temperate, and there are great seasonal and daily fluctuations in temperature. Winters are cold and sunny, with little snowfall. January temperatures average35°C (minimum,50°C) in the north and10°C in the south. Summers are warm and short. The average July temperature ranges from 18° to 26°C, reaching a maximum of 40°C. The north receives 200–300 mm of precipitation annually and the extreme south (especially the southwest), less than 100 mm. The mountains receive as much as 500 mm of precipitation annually, with the maximum occurring in summer. There are glaciers in the Mongolian Altai, and sporadic permafrost occurs in the northern part of the country.

Rivers and lakes. The largest river, the Selenga (flowing for about 600 km in the MPR), drains into the Arctic Ocean, and the large Kerulen and Onon rivers drain into the Pacific. The largest rivers of the interior are the Dzabkhan and the Kobdo. The annual runoff totals about 30 cu km. The rivers are fed chiefly by rain and snow; floods occur in spring and summer. Many large lakes are found in the tectonic depressions in the west. The largest saline lakes are Ubsu-Nur, covering 3,350 sq km, and Khirgis-Nur, and the principal freshwater lakes are Khubsugul, with an area of 2,620 sq km and a maximum depth of 238 m, and Khara-Us-Nur. There is year-round navigation on Lake Khubsugul and in the lower reaches of the Orkhon and Selenga rivers.

Soils and flora. Chestnut soils cover more than 60 percent of the country’s area, and brown soils with considerable salinization are also widespread, chiefly in the Gobi Desert. Chernozems are found in the mountains, and meadow soils occur along river valleys and in lake basins. More than 2,000 plant species have been identified. The plains of the north and northeast support grass and forb steppes of feather grass, Leymus chinensis, Koeleria, wheatgrass, Stipasplendens, and wormwood, with an admixture of caragana in places. Vegetation in the semideserts and deserts of the south and southeast includes feather grass, Stipa splendens, and saltworts. Tracts of saxaul are found in these mideserts. The most northerly desert region on earth is in the Great Lakes Depression. Forest steppe landscapes are characteristic of the mountain regions, the northern and northwestern slopes support forests of larch, cedar, pine,spruce, and birch. On the Khentei Upland and in the mountains adjoining Lake Khubsugul there are tracts of coniferous taiga. Forests occupy about 10 percent of the country’s territory. Groves of poplars, willows, and bird cherries grow along river valleys.

Fauna. There are more than 100 species of mammals in the MPR. The most common animals are rodents, including marmots, gerbils, jerboas, hamsters, and field mice. Tolai hares and pikas are found everywhere, and muskrats have been acclimatized. Sables, squirrels, flying squirrels, and Siberian chipmunks inhabit the forests. Ungulates include the wild ass and several antelopes—the Persian gazelle, Mongolian gazelle, and saiga. The forests harbor roe deer and maral, and elk and musk deer are found in the Khentei Upland. Wolves and foxes are numerous. Commercially valuable animals include the Mongolian gazelle, boar, lynx, squirrel, sable, and marmot. Such animals as the wild camel, Przhevalsky’s horse in the Gobi Desert, and the Gobi bear are almost unknown outside Mongolia. Taiga flora and fauna are protected in the Bogdo-Ula (Choibalsan-Ula) Preserve in the Khentei Upland, near Ulan Bator.

Natural regions. The Mongolian Altai has predominantly mountain steppe landscapes. The Great Lakes Depression consists of a series of plains occupied by semideserts and deserts, a melkosopochnik (region of low hills), and numerous lakes. The Khentei-Khangai region has mountain steppe and forest steppe landscapes. The East Mongolian region consists chiefly of steppe plains combined with stretches of melkosopochnik and volcanic uplands. The Gobiregion is dominated by semidesert and desert plains (with some depressions and a melkosopochnik ), covered in places with pebbles and rock debris.


Amantov, V. A., et al. “Osnovnye cherty tektoniki Mongolii.” In Orogenicheskie poiasa. Moscow, 1968.
Mongol’skaia Narodnaia Respublika. Moscow, 1971.
Geologiia Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1973.
Murzaev, E. M. Mongol’skaia Narodnaia Respublika, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1952.
Bespalov, N. D. Pochvy Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki. Moscow, 1951.
Iunatov, A. A. Osnovnye cherty rastitel’nogo pokrova Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Bannikov, A. G. Mlekopitaiushchie Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki. Moscow, 1954.
Kuznetsov, N. T. Vody Tsentral’noi Azii. Moscow, 1968.
Gungaadash, B. Mongoliia segodnia. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from Mongolian.)

E. M. MURZAEV (physical geography) and N. G. MARKOVA (geological structure and minerals)

Khalkha Mongols, numbering 901,200 persons (1969 census), constitute 75.3 percent of the population. Other Mongolian-speaking groups—Derbets (34,700), Baits (25,500), Zakhchins (15,000), Olets (6,900), and Torguts (7,100)—have joined with the Khalkhas to form a socialist nation. Khalkhas and the related Dariganga (20,600) live primarily in the central and eastern regions of the country, and the Derbets, Baits, Zakhchins, Olets, and Torguts inhabit the western regions. In the north live Mongolian-speaking Buriats (29,800), and the northwest is inhabited by Turkic-speaking Kazakhs (62,800; almost all live in the Kazakh national Baian-Ulegei Aimak), Tuvinians (15,700), and a small number of Khotons. Russians (22,100) are concentrated in the cities and in several rural settlements in the Selenga, Central, Khubsugul, and Bulgan aimaks. The official language is Mongolian. Believers among the population are Lamaist Buddhists. The official calendar is the Gregorian.

The country has a high natural population growth rate, averaging 2.8 percent a year between 1963 and 1971. About 60 percent of the population is under 30 years of age. The work force numbered 507,000 persons in 1970, of whom 58.7 percent were employed in agriculture, as compared with 70.1 percent in 1960. There were 93,700 industrial workers in 1969, as compared with 14,800 in 1940. The social composition of the population has changed radically during the years of people’s rule. Between 1956 and 1969 the proportion of industrial and office workers and their families increased from 25.9 percent to 56.4 percent of the total population, and the proportion of members of agricultural associations and handicrafts cooperatives increased from 11.1 percent to 43.5 percent. Population density is very low, averaging less than one person per sq km; the population is particularly sparse in the Gobi. In 1972 about 54 percent of the population lived in rural areas and about 46 percent in cities. Between 1956 and 1971 the urban population grew from 183,000 to 604,000; urban dwellers account for about half the population in Selenga, Eastern, and East Gobi aimaks (52 percent, 49 percent, and 51.5 percent, respectively). The largest city is Ulan Bator (303,000 in 1973, including Nalaikha), and cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants are Darkhan, Choibalsan, Kobdo, Tsetserleg, and Muren.

The primitive communal system and the first states (to the 13th century A.D.). The earliest traces of human habitation in Mongolia date from the end of the Lower Paleolithic, about 200,000 to 100,000 years ago (sites in the southern Gobi regions). Upper Paleolithic sites in the central, Gobi, and eastern regions (40,000 to 12,000 years ago) indicate that a matriarchal clan system had evolved. In Neolithic times, from about the fifth to the third millennium B.C., the chief occupations were hunting and fishing. Agriculture probably arose in eastern and southern Mongolia in the late Neolithic and early Aeneolithic. Copper and bronze articles were produced between the second and the middle of the first millennium B.C., as exemplified by the Karasuk culture and the culture of “grave slabs” and “reindeer stones” (stelae depicting running reindeer).

At the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age (first millennium B.C.), the Mongol tribes took up nomadic livestock raising, and the patriarchal clan system developed. Private property appeared in the fourth and third centuries B.C. as livestock became the property of individual families, and barter was introduced. Tribes united to form confederations, whose social structure exhibited “democratic” features (the rise of chiefs and a military elite), attesting to the disintegration of the primitive communal system and the beginning of feudal society. The first tribal confederation in Mongolia was that of the proto-Mongol Hsiungnu (third century B.C. to the first century A.D.), whose material culture has become well known through excavations conducted in the 1920’s by Soviet archaeologists under the leadership of P. K. Kozlov and excavations by Mongolian archaeologists in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In the first century A.D., the Hsiungnu confederation disintegrated and was succeeded by the Sienpi (Hsienpi) confederation. The process of feudalization continued between the fourth and tenth centuries in the Juan-Juan, Turkic, Uighur, and Kirghiz khanates.

The period of the Khitan state, also known as the Liao empire, which flourished from the tenth to the 12th centuries, constituted the final stage in the transition to feudalism. The Khitan state encompassed part of present day China as well as Mongolia. The collapse of the Liao empire in 1125 led to the formation of early feudal principalities and khanates in Mongolia. The basic means of production, the nomad grazing land (nutuk ), became the exclusive property of the feudal elite (noions), and the bulk of direct producers was gradually transformed into the feudally dependent arat class of nomadic herders. The creation of a strong centralized state capable of establishing and enforcing feudal relations by means of a powerful coercive apparatus became historically inevitable. Such a state was created at the beginning of the 13th century through the amalgamation of numerous Mongol tribes, khanates, and principalities under the noion Temiijin, who succeeded in subjugating rival noions.

Mongolia in the feudal period (13th to early 20th centuries). In 1206, Temiijin was proclaimed great khan, or Genghis Khan, at the great kurultai (assembly) of Mongol noions. His domestic policy was aimed at centralizing the state administration in the interest of the feudal lords and consolidating the autocratic rule of the khan. He sought to make land and pasture the property of the state, personified by the great khan. Land grants, called khubi, were bestowed on the noions in return for military service. These grants were similar to the Near Eastern iqta. Free movement by the direct producers was prohibited, which in effect bound them to the land. Genghis Khan created a unified army (comprising virtually the entire male population) under a centralized command and a personal aristocratic guard of many thousands, both based on harsh military discipline. The slightest insubordination or display of cowardice was punished by death.With the consolidation of feudalism, the formation of a single Mongol nation was completed.

Created in the interest of the noion class, which sought to enrich itself through feudal exploitation and the outright plunder of other countries, the military-feudal state embarked on a path of expansion and conquest. The wars of conquestof Genghis Khan, begun around 1210, were continued by his successors. Northern China, the Tangut state, Middle Asia, Transcaucasia, and Iran were conquered by the mid-13th century, and the Mongol-Tatar yoke was established inRus’. A vast state was formed, known as the Mongol feudal empire. The conquest of China was completed in the 1270’s by Kublai Khan, who founded the Yuan dynasty.

The wars of conquest of Genghis Khan and his successors, which brought great misery to the subjugated peoples and enriched the Mongol feudal lords, had a negative influence on the development of Mongolia itself and causeddecline in its productive forces. Lacking a unified economic base and torn by internal contradictions, the Mongol empire began to disintegrate. In 1368 the Mongol feudal lords were driven out of China, and the battle of Kulikovo in 1380 initiated the overthrow of the Mongol-Tatar yoke in Rus’. In the second half of the 14th century the Mongol state in Iran and Transcaucasia fell, and the conquerors met a similar fate in Middle Asia. The empire of the Mongol feudal lords disappeared in the last quarter of the 14th century.

In the ensuing period of feudal fragmentation the basic socioeconomic and political unit of society was the feudal domain— a khanate or principality (otok) belonging to a descendant of Genghis Khan as his hereditary property (umchi)State ownership of land and the system of conditional grants (khubi), which had existed during the empire, gave way to private feudal landed property and unconditional land grants (umchi). The unified early feudal Mongol state was replaced by a multitude of independent khanates and principalities requiring markets to barter livestock and animal products for the agricultural and handicrafts commodities of settled peoples. At this time China alone could provide this market, but it had little interest in such trade. Mongolia reached the point of economic crisis. The Mongol rulers attempted to impose barter on the Chinese authorities by force. The western Mongol (Oirat) feudal lords, separated from China by vast distances and by the eastern Mongol principalities, were at the greatest disadvantage. A protracted struggle over the trade routes to China developed between the feudal lords of eastern and western Mongolia.

Twice during the 15th century attempts were made to overcome feudal fragmentation and reestablish a unified Mongol state, first by the Oirat ruler Esen Khan (ruled 1440–55) and later by the Mongol Daian Khan (ruled c. 1479 to c. 1543).However, the states they created broke up immediately after their deaths, since the social and economic preconditions for unity were lacking. After the death of Daian Khan, Mongolia was divided into Southern and Northern Mongolia,separated by the Gobi Desert. Shortly thereafter, Northern Mongolia was subdivided into Western (Oirat) and Eastern (Khalkha) Mongolia with the boundary running along the Altai Mountains. This territorial division reflected the formation of distinct Mongolian-speaking feudal groups and nations that began in the 15th century. Subsequently these different groups followed separate lines of historical development. In the 16th century there were more than 200 khanates and principalities in the three parts of Mongolia.

In the last quarter of the 16th century the khans and princes of Southern Mongolia and later those of Khalkha were converted to Lamaist Buddhism. The princes of Western Mongolia were converted in the early 17th century, and shortlythereafter Lamaism became the state religion. Within a short time the church grew into a powerful feudal landowner.

The late 16th and early 17th centuries saw the expansion of the Manchu feudal lords, who in 1616 created a state headed by Nurhachi on the territory of present day northeastern China. Taking advantage of the fragmentation of Mongolia,the Manchu in 1634 destroyed the Chahar Khanate, the largest in Southern Mongolia, and in 1636 the noions of Southern Mongolia accepted the suzerainty of the Manchu ruler Abahai (ruled 1626–43). Southern Mongolia came to be called Inner Mongolia, in contrast to Khalkha Mongolia (present day MPR), which the Manchu called Outer Mongolia.

An Oirat feudal state arose in Western Mongolia in the 1630’s. In 1640 an assembly of Mongol khans and princes met in Dzungaria (Western Mongolia) with the aim of settling domestic feuds and unifying their forces to repel Manchu aggression. This unity proved to be short-lived. Especially acute was the conflict between the Oirat Khanate and the Khalkha noions, cleverly encouraged by the Manchu. In 1688 the Khalkha feudal lords, routed by the Oirat khan Galdan (ruled 1671–97), declared themselves subjects of the Ch’ing dynasty (1644–1911), founded by the Manchu after their conquest of China. The Manchu promised the Khalka protection against the Oirats. The Khalkha’s subjugation to the Manchu was confirmed in 1691 at the Dolonnor assembly of noions of Inner and Outer Mongolia. The Oirat Khanate, relying on the friendly neutrality of Russia, defended its independence in a stubborn struggle and remained the only independent Mongol state. From 1755 to 1758 a broad anti-Manchu liberation movement headed by the Oirat prince Amursana and the Khalkha noion Chingunzhab (Chingunjav) developed in Khalkha and Dzungaria. But the movement was suppressed because of its lack of organization and the vacillations of the noion class. In 1758 the Manchu destroyed the Oirat state, slaughtering more than half a million inhabitants. All of Mongolia came under the rule of Ch’ing China, and the Mongols found themselves under dual oppression, owing obligations not only to the noions and the church but also to the Manchu conquerors. To perpetuate its domination, the Ch’ing dynasty sought to isolate Mongolia from the outside world, primarily from Russia. Direct trade between Mongols and Russian merchants was banned by decrees issued in 1719 and 1722, and it was not resumed until the early 1860’s.

In the mid-19th century capitalist Europe “discovered” China. Mongolia was “discovered” at the same time and like China was rapidly drawn into the world market. Usurious Chinese capitalists poured into Mongolia. Unequal trade exhausted the already weak Mongolian economy. The large-scale livestock raising of the noions could not develop normally under these conditions, and income fell.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries feudal Mongolia became the object of imperialist struggle in the Far East. The main rivals were Japan and tsarist Russia, although Great Britain, the USA, and Germany were also interested. The Ch’ing dynasty began extensive colonization of Mongolia, eliminating the vestiges of the Mongol princes’ autonomy and placing the administration of the country in the hands of its own bureaucracy, supported by Manchu-Chinese garrisons. This policy provoked the resistance not only of the arats but also of the noions, whose position as a ruling class was thus undermined. The overthrow of Manchu domination and independence became nationwide goals. The Russian Revolution of 1905–07 and the growth of the revolutionary movement in China contributed to the revolutionary situation in Mongolia. Anti-Manchu uprisings became larger and more frequent. In the southwestern part of the Kobdo District of Outer Mongolia a movement led by the arat Aiushi assumed broad dimensions, but in general the struggle was directed by the noions.

In the summer of 1911 a secret assembly of high feudal lords convened in Urga (present day Ulan Bator) decided to send a secret mission to St. Petersburg to negotiate for Russian aid in creating an independent Mongolian state. But theRussian government advised Mongolia to seek autonomy within China, promising the noions Russian aid in return for privileges in the country. The overthrow of the Ch’ing dynasty and the formation of an independent Mongolian monarchy headed by the bogdo-gegen (the head of the church) were proclaimed in Urga in 1911. On Dec. 16, 1911, the bogdo-gegen formally assumed the khan’s throne. For more than three years the government established by the bogdo-gegen unsuccessfully sought recognition of Mongolian sovereignty by the Great Powers. In the end it was obliged to accept autonomy within China, which was confirmed by the Kiakhta Treaty of 1915.

Mongolia since 1917. THE VICTORY OF THE REVOLUTION OF 1921 AND THE ACHIEVEMENT OF GENERAL DEMOCRATIC GOALS. The victory of the October Revolution in Russia and the formation of the Soviet state in 1917 opened the way for the revolutionary renewal of Mongolia. The reactionary noion class, however, was hostile to the victory of the socialist revolution in Russia. The government of the bogdo-gegen closed the border with the RSFSR, refused to receive Soviet diplomats, maintained ties with representatives of the former tsarist regime, and in the spring of 1918 permitted Chinese militarist forces to enter the country. It concealed from the people the August 1919 appeal of the Soviet government to the people and government of Outer Mongolia in which the Soviet government renounced all unequal treaties between tsarist Russia and Mongolia, recognized Mongolia’s right to independence, and proposed establishment of diplomatic relations. In November 1919 the Mongolian government renounced autonomy, turning the country into a refuge for Russian White Guards and a base for anti-Soviet intervention, and in 1920–21 it supported the Japanese protege Baron R.F. Ungern von Sternberg, who occupied the country and established a military dictatorship.

Only a successful anti-imperialist and anti-feudal revolution could save the country from outright colonial enslavement. Preparations for such a revolution were begun. Progressive representatives of the arat class and progressive elements among other strata of the population, led by D. Sukhe-Bator and Kh. Choibalsan, established two underground revolutionary groups in Urga in the fall of 1919. In 1920 the two groups united to form a single revolutionary organization called the Mongolian People’s Party. Seeking to establish a direct link with Soviet Russia, the Mongolian revolutionaries sent representatives to Irkutsk and Moscow in the summer of 1920. Working under the terrorist regime of the Chinese and later the Ungern invaders, the members of the Mongolian revolutionary organization disseminated propaganda and organized the masses, laying the foundation for a people’s revolutionary army in preparation for a nationwide armed uprising.

The First Congress of the party, held in Kiakhta in March 1921, formally established the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), called the Mongolian People’s Party prior to 1925. In accordance with the resolutions of the congress, the Provisional People’s Government was formed on March 13, and the staff of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Army was confirmed; Sukhe-Bator was appointed commander in chief. On March 18 revolutionary troops liberated the city of Maimachen (present day Altan-Bulak) from the occupation forces. In June 1921, Red Army units entered Mongolia at the request of the Provisional People’s Government to assist in the struggle against Ungern’s bands. On July 6 the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Army and Soviet troops liberated Urga. On July 10, 1921, the Central Committee of the party adopted a resolution to transfer central authority to a permanent people’s government.The revolution triumphed. Power was entrusted to people’s khurals, which became the political foundation of the Mongolian state. A dictatorship of the toiling arat class, led by the party and drawing on the support and aid of the working class of Soviet Russia and the international communist movement, was established by legislation.

All state affairs were conducted by the people’s government, although from 1921 to 1924 Mongolia formally remained a limited monarchy headed by the bogdo-gegen. This situation resulted from the strong influence of the church on the masses and the need to unite all patriotic forces in the anti-imperialist struggle. The people’s government carried out a number of anti-imperialist and anti-feudal reforms. Debts to foreign merchants and usurers, primarily Chinese, were canceled, land was nationalized, serfdom and feudal titles and privileges were abolished, and local self-government was democratized. In the course of the revolution social lines were more clearly defined, and the class struggle intensified, as was reflected in the counterrevolutionary conspiracies of Bodo (1922) and Danzan (1924), which were crushed by the people’s government.

Mongolia’s ties with Soviet Russia were strengthened and expanded. Of paramount importance was a Mongolian delegation’s meeting with V. I. Lenin in November 1921. Lenin’s views on the possibility of noncapitalist development in Mongolia determined the political course of the party and the people’s government. The party joined the Comintern as a sympathizer. On Nov. 5, 1921, a Soviet-Mongolian friendship agreement was signed in Moscow.

The Third Congress of the party, held in August 1924, established as the general party line the noncapitalist development of the country. The socioeconomic measures between 1921 and 1924 under the leadership of the party strengthened the people’s state and created the preconditions for the establishment of a republican system in Mongolia. The first Great People’s Khural, held in November 1924, proclaimed Mongolia a people’s republic and ratified the first constitution of the Mongolian People’s Republic.

The people’s government did all it could to stimulate the growth of productive forces, relying on the aid of the Soviet state. In December 1921 the Mongolian Central People’s Cooperative (Montsenkoop) was formed; in June 1924 the Mongolian Commercial and Industrial Bank was established; and in December 1925 monetary reforms were carried out and a national currency, the tugrik, was issued. Through the efforts of the state and the cooperatives the first industrial enterprises were built, and modern transportation and communications systems were established.

The country’s noncapitalist development toward socialism was opposed by right-wing deviationists from 1926 to 1928. The rout of the rightists at the Seventh Congress of the MPRP, held from October to December 1928, was a major victory for the Leninist basic line of the party. In the early 1930’s foreign capital was expelled from the country’s economy, and a state monopoly over foreign trade was established. The taxation policy, the strengthening of Montsenkoop, and the aid of Soviet trade organizations ensured the fulfillment of these objectives.

For a long time former feudal lords held strong positions in the economy, owning more than one-third of all livestock in 1924. In 1929 the expropriation of large feudal holdings began, and the livestock and property of former feudal lords became the property of poor peasants and the people’s state. The elimination of the feudal lords as a class took place amid a fierce struggle. The forces of reaction employed various forms of resistance, ranging from small-scale sabotage to armed uprisings in 1932. The reactionaries took advantage of the errors of the ultra-left leadership in the party and the state between 1929 and 1932. Ignoring the real situation, the ultra-leftists proclaimed the transition of the revolution to the socialist stage and began to implement a policy that caused serious economic and political difficulties. The third Extraordinary Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the MPRP (June 1932) condemned the distortions that had been permitted and attempted to restore the party’s general line. The Ninth Congress of the MPRP, held in September and October 1934, approved the decisions of the Extraordinary Plenum.

Emancipation from colonial dependence and the abolition of feudal relations gave impetus to the development of the productive forces. The country’s livestock increased by 36 percent between 1929 and 1940. State and cooperative industry arose, chiefly coal mining, the production of electric energy, and the processing of agricultural raw materials. Automotive, railroad, and air transport developed. Between 1934 and 1939 the retail trade increased 2.5 times and exports 2.3 times; imports doubled. The main sources of revenue were the state and cooperative sectors: taxes and imposts collected from the population accounted for only 16.7 percent of revenues in 1940.

Against the background of a complicated international situation resulting from Japan’s aggressive policy, a Soviet-Mongolian gentlemen’s agreement on mutual aid in the event of an attack on one of the parties was concluded in November 1934. The oral agreement was confirmed by the Soviet-Mongolian Protocol on Mutual Assistance signed in March 1936. The Japanese troops that invaded Mongolia near the Khalkhin-Gol River in May 1939 were vigorously resisted by the Mongolian Army and the Soviet troops that came to its aid. In August 1939 the Japanese were completely routed.

By 1940 the country’s social structure had been fundamentally changed through revolutionary reforms. The class of feudal lords had disappeared, and the arats had become a class of free small producers. A national working class was emerging (numbering about 15,000 workers in 1940), and a working-class intelligentsia was developing. Small-scale and socialist enterprises were the basic economic unit. The socialist sector encompassed state and cooperative industry, mechanized transport, the financial system, and state and cooperative commerce. There were centers of socialist production in agriculture as well, the goskhozes, but small-scale production predominated. Capitalist elements also persisted in agriculture—large livestock-raising farms based on the hiring and exploitation of labor. In commerce these elements were represented by private merchants. In general, however, capitalist enterprises played an insignificant role in the national economy. The people’s government pursued a policy of limiting and displacing these elements. During the general democratic stage of development a cultural revolution took place with the aim of overcoming feudal vestiges in the people’s consciousness and establishing a revolutionary world view and progressive culture.

The achievements of the general democratic stage were summed up at the Tenth Congress of the MPRP held in March and April 1940 and at the Eighth Great People’s Khural in June 1940. The congress adopted a new party program,and the Eighth Great People’s Khural promulgated a new constitution reflecting the profound socio-economic changes that had occurred in the republic.

CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM. Having fulfilled the general democratic tasks of the revolution by 1940, the country entered a new, socialist stage. The main tasks now became the acceleration of the rate of growth of productive forces, the voluntary formation of production cooperatives out of individual arat farms throughout the country, the creation of a single socialist system for the national economy, and the further development of the cultural revolution.

The transition to the socialist stage took place during World War II. From the first day of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, the Mongolian people, the MPRP, and the government of Mongolia took a consistently internationalist position of supporting the just cause of the peoples of the USSR and giving them much moral and material aid. This position was set forth in the Declaration of the Joint Session of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the MPRP,the Presidium of the Lesser Khural, and the Council of Ministers of the MPR on June 22, 1941. Thousands of tons of food, warm clothing, the savings of Mongolian working people, and thousands of head of cattle were contributed to the Red Army. During the war, 32,000 horses were sent by the Mongolian people as a gift to the USSR. The workers of Mongolia sent several trainloads of gifts to the fronts of the Patriotic War. The Revolutionary Mongolia Tank Column and the Mongolian Arat Air Squadron, which fought in battles against fascist German troops, were built with money collected by the working people of Mongolia. The economic policy of the MPRP and the people’s government was oriented toward the fullest utilization of local resources and the satisfaction of the country’s needs through domestically produced products. The MPR participated directly in the rout of the Japanese aggressors, declaring war on Japan on Aug. 10,1945. Its 80,000-man army fought a heroic campaign across the Gobi Desert to the Gulf of Liaotung, making its contribution to the common cause of victory.

In 1944 the government of Mongolia abolished the restrictions on the electoral rights of former feudal lords and persons who had previously exploited the labor of others, granting them the right to elect representatives to organs of people’s power and to be eligible for election. In 1949 elections by stages were replaced by direct elections and open voting by secret ballot. The country’s international position was strengthened. Its sovereignty was confirmed at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Fraternal relations with the USSR were strengthened. The Treaty on Friendship and Mutual Assistance Between the USSR and the MPR and the Agreement on Economic and Cultural Cooperation were signed in February 1946. In 1948, Mongolia began to establish diplomatic relations with the other socialist states, and economic and cultural cooperation with these countries expanded.

The postwar period was marked by great achievements in socialist construction. In 1947 the Eleventh Congress of the MPRP adopted a resolution calling for long-term planning of the national economy and culture and ratified the directives for the first five-year plan (1948–52). The session of the Great People’s Khural held in July 1954 elected Zh. Sambu (died 1972) chairman of the Presidium of the Great People’s Khural and formed a government headed by lu.Tsedenbal.

In the following years the national economy developed according to the second five-year plan (1953–57) and the three-year plan (1958–60). The development of industry brought about the growth of the working class. In 1960 the number of industrial and office workers was 5.9 times greater than in 1940. At the country’s socialist stage of development the working class became the leading force in the construction of a new society.

Beginning in 1955 agricultural production cooperatives were organized on a large scale. By the spring of 1959, virtually all the country’s arat farms had joined agricultural associations. The plenum of the Central Committee of the MPRP held in December 1959 announced that with the completion of the organization of the arat class into production cooperatives, socialist productive relations had triumphed in all spheres of the national economy. This meant that the country had made the transition to the socialist social system and that the party’s general line of noncapitalist development toward socialism had been successful. The historic victories of the Mongolian people were reflected in the new constitution ratified in July 1960 at the first session of the fourth convocation of the Great People’s Khural.

The Fourteenth Congress of the MPRP, held in July 1961, confirmed that the country had entered the period in which the construction of socialism was being completed. The fullest development of the material and technical base of socialism was now the main goal. The congress approved the directives of the third five-year plan (1961–65). The new program of the MPRP, adopted by the Fifteenth Congress in 1966, reflected the successes that had been achieved and defined the tasks for transforming the country into an industrial-agrarian state. The directives of the fourth five-year plan (1966–70) for the development of the national economy and culture were approved. The successful fulfillment of the plan raised the level of Mongolia’s economy and culture to a still higher level.

The Sixteenth Congress of the MPRP, held in June 1971, summed up the achievements of the 50-year struggle of the working people to overcome the country’s backwardness and their efforts to ensure the victory of the socialist path of development. The congress approved the directives for the fifth five-year plan for the development of the national economy and culture (1971–75), which were successfully, carried out. Over these five years the gross national product increased by 44.5 percent, the national income by 38 percent, and the volume of industrial production by 55.2 percent. The Seventeenth Congress of the MPRP, held in June 1976, adopted the Guidelines for the Development of Mongolia’s National Economy for 1976–1980. The new five-year plan’s chief goal is to ensure a further growth of social production, to raise its efficiency, and to improve the quality of work in all sectors of the economy and culture,thereby achieving a steady improvement in the people’s living standard and cultural life.

Mongolia’s foreign policy aims at securing peaceful conditions for the construction of socialism and strengthening the unity and cohesion of the world socialist system. The republic supports the national liberation struggle of peoples and the revolutionary struggle of the working class of the capitalist countries, and it promotes the preservation and strengthening of peace and the security of nations. Observing the principles of equality, mutual respect, and nonintervention in domestic affairs, Mongolia is pursuing a policy of establishing and developing relations with nonsocialist states regardless of their social system. The republic supports the USSR’s proposals for general and complete disarmament (1959 and 1962). It signed the Moscow Treaty of 1963 banning the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outer space, and under water, the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons (1968), and the treaty on the ocean floor(1970). It supports the Arab countries’ struggle against Israeli aggression, the struggle of the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the proposals of the Korean Democratic People’s Republic for the peaceful unification of Korea, the anti-imperialist struggle of the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, collective security in Asia, and the struggle of progressive forces for peace and security in Europe. Mongolia has been a member of the UN since 1961 andmember of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance since 1962. By 1975 it had established diplomatic relations with 75 countries and trade relations with more than 20. It belongs to 62 international organizations, 19 of which are governmental, and since 1969 it has been a member of the Disarmament Committee. Soviet-Mongolian relations are governed by the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, signed in January 1966. Mongolia has also signed treaties on friendship and cooperation with a number of other socialist countries.


Bichurin, N. Ia. Zapiski o Mongolii, vols. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1828.
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Kozin, S. A. Sokrovennoe skazanie: Mongol’skaia khronika 1240 g., vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941.
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Pokotilov, D. Istoriia vostochnykh mongolov v period dinastii Min, 1368–1634: Po kitaiskim istochnikam. St. Petersburg, 1893.
Pozdneev, A. M. Mongol’skaia letopis’ “Erdeniin erikhe”: Podlinnyi tekst s perevodom i poiasneniiami, zakliuchaiushchimi v sebe materialy dlia istorii Khalkhi s 1636 g. po 1736 g. St. Petersburg, 1883.
“Shara Tudzhi”mongol’skaia letopis’ XVII v. Translated by N. P. Shastina. Moscow-Leningrad, 1957.
Altan-Tobchi: Mongol’skaia letopis’ XVIII v. Translated by P. B. Baldanzhapov. Ulan-Ude, 1970.
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Istoriia Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.
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Vladimirtsov, B. la. Obshchestvennyi stroi mongolov. Leningrad, 1934.
Maiskii, I. M. Mongoliia nakanune revoliutsii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1959.
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Zlatkin, I. la. Ocherki novoi i noveishei istorii Mongolii. Moscow, 1957.
Zlatkin, I. la. Istoriia Dzhungarskogo Khanstva. Moscow, 1964.
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Natsagdorzh, Sh. Khalkhyn tuukh. Ulan Bator, 1963.

E. A. NOVGORODOVA (to the third century B.C.), G. S. GOROKHOVA (from the third century B.C. to the 13th century A.D.), and I. IA. ZLATKIN (from the 13th century)

The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP; Mongol Ardyn Khuv’sgalt Nam) was organized at the First Congress, held Mar. 1–3, 1921. Until 1925 it was called the Mongolian People’s Party. In January 1976 it numbered more than 67,000 members and candidate members. The country’s trade unions were organized and amalgamated at the first congress of trade unions in 1927. In 1976 they had a membership of about 300,000, and since 1949 they have belonged to the World Federation of Trade Unions. The Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League, established in 1921 and numbering more than 140,000 members in 1976, belongs to the World Federation of Democratic Youth. Other organizations include the Committee of Mongolian Women, established in 1933; the Federation of Mongolian Organizations of Peace and Friendship, established in 1959; the Society for Mongolian-Soviet Friendship, established in 1947;the Mongolian Peace Committee, established in 1949; and the Mongolian Committee of Solidarity With the Countries of Asia and Africa, established in 1957.


As a result of the People’s Revolution of 1921, Mongolia embarked on the path of socialist development, bypassing the capitalist stage. Under the people’s government Mongolia was transformed from a backward agrarian-feudal country  with nomadic livestock raising into a rapidly developing socialist agrarian-industrial state. Extensive cooperation with the USSR and, in the postwar period, with other socialist countries as well played an important role in building the material and technical base of socialism and in developing industry, agriculture, transportation, communications, and other branches of the national economy. Mongolia maintains both bilateral and multilateral economic ties with the socialist countries in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). Within the international socialist division of labor, the republic specializes in producing food and light industry products—primarily processed raw materials of livestock raising. Mongolia supplies the world market with leather, wool, leather and wool articles, meat products, and casein.

Agriculture accounted for 19.6 percent of the national income in 1973, industry for 24.1 percent, construction for 12.6 percent, transportation and communications for 7.2 percent, and trade for 34.4 percent. The fifth five-year plan (1971–75) was inaugurated in 1971.

Agriculture. As a result of fundamental socioeconomic reforms, socialist productive relations dominate agriculture. There are two kinds of socialist property—cooperative (agricultural associations, called SKhO) and state (goskhozes). Along with traditional livestock raising, crop farming has become an important branch of agriculture. In 1972 livestock raising accounted for 83.4 percent of the gross agricultural product and crop cultivation for 16.6 percent. The ratio of livestock to inhabitants is one of the highest in the world. About 24.6 percent of the cultivated area, 95 percent of the pastures, and 75 percent of the livestock belong to the cooperative sector, comprising 272 SKhO’s at the end of 1972. Some 22.2 percent of the livestock is the personal property of SKhO members. The SKhO’s are the main suppliers of livestock products. The state sector, consisting of 35 goskhozes, owns 75.4 percent of the cultivated area, 3 percent of the pastures, and 4 percent of the livestock. It accounts for four-fifths of the total output of cereals and for a substantial quantity of potatoes, vegetables, and fodder crops. The goskhozes also raise pedigree livestock. The main farming operations on the goskhozes are largely mechanized. At the end of 1972 there were 6,300 tractors, as compared with 1,700 in 1960. Various measures are being taken to raise the level of agriculture, particularly animal husbandry,including the construction of livestock buildings and watering facilities, the irrigation of pastures, and the development of a mixed-feed industry.

LIVESTOCK RAISING. Sheep raising, the leading branch of animal husbandry, is well developed throughout the country, but especially in the western and central regions. Cattle are raised primarily in the northeastern and northern regions.Goats are raised in the west, camels chiefly in the south and southeast, and yaks and khainaks in mountainous areas. Horses are bred throughout the country. Hog and poultry farms are being established on the outskirts of towns. Fur farming is also important. (See Tables 2 and 3 for the number of livestock and the products of livestock raising.)


CROP CULTIVATION. Between 1955 and 1972 the sown area increased from 62,900 hectares (ha) to 475,000 ha through the opening of virgin land. Cereals and legumes occupy 88.4 percent


of the sown area; fodder crops, 10.7 percent; potatoes, 0.6 percent; and vegetables, 0.3 percent. (See Table 4 for the yield of principal crops.)

Table4Industry. Owing to Mongolia’s particular historical and socioeconomic development, the country’s socialist industrialization began with the creation of branches of the light and food industries. Between the 1940’s and 1960’s, along with such traditional branches as the production of textiles, clothing, and leather footwear, branches of the heavy industry also developed, including the mining, electrical energy, woodworking, building-materials, and metalworking industries.(See Table 5 for the branch structure of industry.)


Most industrial enterprises are small or medium in size. Between 1941 and 1950 the annual growth rate of the gross industrial product averaged 6.9 percent; from 1951 to 1960, 10.8 percent; and between 1961 and 1970, 9.7 percent.Overall, the gross industrial product increased 13.8 times between 1940 and 1970. In 1972 industry contributed more than one-third of the country’s social product. Almost the entire industrial output, 96.8 percent in 1972, was produced by the state sector. In 1973 producer goods accounted for 49.7 percent of the gross industrial output and consumer goods for 50.3 percent.

MINING AND ELECTRIC POWER. The main branch of mining is the extraction of coal, chiefly lignite. Most of the coal is mined at the Sharyn-Gol open pit mine near Darkhan, producing more than 1 million tons annually; the Nalaikha mine, with an annual capacity of 600,000 tons; and the Adunchulun open-pit mine near Choibalsan, with an annual capacity of 200,000 tons. There are a number of smaller strip mines in the Under-Khan region and elsewhere. Electric energy is produced by steam power plants, of which the largest is at Darkhan. In 1967 a unified power system was built in the Central Region with the aid of the USSR.

Tungsten and fluorspar (fluorite) are also extracted. In 1973 construction began on an ore-concentration combine for processing the output of the copper-molybdenum mine at Erdenetiin-Obo, Bulgan Aimak.

MANUFACTURING. The light and food industries account for about half the gross industrial output and employ about half the country’s industrial workers. Among the largest enterprises is the industrial combine at Ulan Bator with eight factories, including a wool-washing plant, tanneries processing large hides and kidskin, and factories producing leather articles, felt, worsted cloth, and footwear. Other large enterprises include meat-packing plants at Ulan Bator and Choibalsan, flour milling combines at Ulan Bator and Sukhe-Bator, and the Ulan Bator mechanized bakery. The woodworking combines at Ulan Bator and Sukhe-Bator and other forestry enterprises use local lumber, cut chiefly in the north (754,000 cu m in 1972). Important enterprises of the building materials industry include the prefabricated housing combine at Ulan Bator and the cement and brick plants at Darkhan. Other products include furs, sheepskin coats, carpets, pharmaceuticals, and glass and porcelain articles. There is a printing industry. The country’s three major industrial areas are the Ulan Bator, Darkhan-Selenga (center, Darkhan) and Eastern regions (center, Choibalsan). (See Table 6 forthe output of the principal industrial products.)


Transportation. Railroad transport accounted for about three-fourths of the total freight turnover in 1972. The railroad system is 1,400 km long. The main railroad is the Trans-Mongolian, which crosses the country from north to south. About one-fourth of the total freight is transported by motor vehicle. Most roads are unpaved. There is navigation on Lake Khubsugul and on the Selenga and Orkhon rivers. The Civilian Air Transportation Board was established in 1956. Ulan Bator has an international airport.

Foreign trade. Economic and scientific-technical cooperation and trade with the socialist countries (members of COMECON, which Mongolia joined in 1962) are an important factor in the development of the national economy. With the aid of the socialist countries a number of major enterprises have been constructed, including electric power plants at Ulan Bator and Darkhan (USSR), Ulegei (Czechoslovakia), and Kharkhorin (Poland); the shaft and open-pit mines atSharyn-Gol, Nalaikha, and Adun-Chulun (USSR); the Ulan Bator motor vehicle repair plant (USSR); woodworking and prefabricated housing combines at Ulan Bator and a building materials combine at Darkhan (USSR), and a cement plant at Darkhan (Czechoslovakia). Other enterprises built with the assistance of the COMECON countries include a silica brick plant (Poland), a carpet factory (German Democratic Republic), leather enterprises (Czechoslovakia), a sheepskin coat factory (Bulgaria), a garment factory (Hungary), meat-packing plants (USSR, German Democratic Republic, and Bulgaria), and wool-washing factories (USSR). The COMECON countries are also helping Mongolia in exploring and developing mineral deposits.

A foreign trade monopoly was instituted in 1930. In 1972 the socialist countries, chiefly members of COMECON, accounted for about 99 percent of Mongolia’s foreign trade; the USSR’s share amounted to 85 percent. The first trade agreement with the USSR was signed in 1923; Soviet-Mongolian agreements on economic cooperation and trade agreements for 1971–75 were concluded in 1970. Trade with the COMECON countries is regulated by five-year agreements.

The main exports are livestock, meat and meat products, wool, hides and leather goods, and minerals. The main imports are machines and equipment, petroleum products, ferrous metals, chemical products, foodstuffs, and consumer goods. The monetary unit is the tugrik. According to the exchange rate of the State Bank of the USSR in April 1974, 100 tugriks equaled 22 rubles 50 kopeks.


Growth of prosperity. The living standard and cultural level of the population have been rising steadily. Between 1940 and 1972 the national income increased 5.9 times, and in 1972 about 70 percent of the national income was allocated for goods and services. Production of consumer goods increased seven fold between 1950 and 1971. The standard of living of the working people is rising owing to higher wages for industrial and office workers (increasing by 27 percent during the fourth five-year plan from 1966 to 1970), the higher income of members of agricultural associations (by 240 million tugriks), and the rapid growth of the social consumption fund (by 19.9 percent). The average monthly wages of industrial and office workers increased 1.2 times between 1960 and 1972. The wage rates of workers in a number of branches of material production have risen.

In 1971 wages of up to 300 tugriks a month were declared exempt from income tax, and tax rates for monthly wages of more than 300 tugriks were reduced by approximately 20 percent. The salaries of certain categories of low-paid workers in agricultural associations were raised by an average of more than 15 percent.

The proportion of the social consumption fund allocated for the payment of pensions, allowances, and benefits and for free services has increased substantially. Industrial and office workers and the members of agricultural associations receive old age pensions. Between 1966 and 1970, old age pensions increased by an average of 20 percent, with the amounts ranging from 150 to 600 tugriks. Men 60 years of age and women 55 years of age (for jobs injurious to health,55 and 50 years, respectively) who have worked more than 20 years (or more than 15 years in unhealthy jobs) are eligible for pensions. In 1971 the allowance for mothers with many children was increased.

Much attention is devoted to the protection of labor. Paid vacations, disability pensions, and leaves for temporary disability have been instituted. The eight-hour workday and the six-day week are standard.

Measures have been taken to improve the working and living conditions of the rural population. The funds from which members of agricultural associations are paid for their labor have been increasing, and the members’ income from cooperative farming is growing. The prices paid by the state for the main products of livestock raising have increased, and incentive increments on products exceeding the plan for state procurements have been established.

Between 1960 and 1972 the per capita retail commodity turnover increased by 38 percent, with the per capita turnover of foodstuffs increasing by 67 percent. Up to 40 percent of the state budget is spent for social and cultural purposes excluding capital construction. In 1972 the per capita expenditure for social and cultural services was 37 times that of 1940. Free education is provided in general schools, vocational schools, technicums, and higher educational institutions in both cities and rural areas. Kindergartens, nurseries, boarding schools, hospitals, maternity homes, and other medical institutions are maintained by the state. The housing supply is continuously increasing; about 150,000 sq m of housing were constructed in 1971–72. Various measures are being taken to improve the living conditions of rural workers.



Ocherki ekonomiki Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki. Moscow, 1969.
Ovdienko, I. Kh. Sovremennaia Mongoliia. Moscow, 1964.
Gungaadash, B. Mongoliia segodnia: Priroda, liudi, khoziaistvo. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from Mongolian.)
Roshchin, S. K. Sel’skoe khoziaistvo MNR na sotsialisticheskom puti. Moscow, 1971.
50 let MNR: Statistich. sb. Ulan Bator, 1971.
Statisticheskii ezhegodnik stranchlenov Soveta ekonomicheskoi vzaimopomoshchi 1973. Moscow, 1973.

Mongolia’s armed forces, the Mongolian People’s Army (MPA), consist of ground troops, antiaircraft units, and border troops. The minister of defense exercises direction over the army, which is maintained by universal conscription. The period of active military service is three years, and the draft age is 19 years. Armaments include missiles of various types, modern tanks, artillery, jet aircraft, and engineering, radar, and other military equipment. The first regular units were organized in early 1921. Between May and August 1939 the MPA, along with Red Army troops, took part in the rout of the Japanese forces that attacked the republic near the Khalkhin-Gol River. In August 1945 the MPA and Soviet Armed Forces defeated the Kwantung Army of imperialist Japan. March 18 is observed as the anniversary of the MPA’s formation. On Mar. 18, 1921, Mongolian troops won their first major victory, liberating the city of Maimachen, present day Altan-Bulak, from the invaders.

The hardships of nomadic life in pre-revolutionary Mongolia and the prevalence of infectious and venereal diseases resulted in high morbidity and mortality rates (including infant mortality) compared to other Oriental countries.

In 1972 the birth rate was 39.3 per thousand inhabitants, and the overall mortality rate, 10.8 per thousand inhabitants (the corresponding figures in 1921 were 25 and 30). The infant mortality rate was 73.4 per thousand live births in 1970,compared to 500 in 1921. The average life span doubled between 1919 and 1969, rising to 64.5 years (62.5 years for men and 66.33 for women).

The incidence of infectious diseases decreased sharply under the people’s government. Smallpox, plague, typhus, and recurrent fever have been completely eradicated, and malignant anthrax, rabies, spinal meningitis, and trachoma have been reduced to isolated cases. Between 1965 and 1970 alone the incidence of diphtheria declined 7.2 times; brucellosis, 4 times; typhoid, 1.9 times; and dysentery, 1.7 times. The incidence of poliomyelitis in 1969 was 26 times less than that in 1963. Among parasitic diseases helminthiases predominate.

Mongolia has a state public health system providing free medical care for the entire population. In 1973 there were more than 350 hospitals with some 12,000 beds, or 9.6 beds per thousand inhabitants (in 1925 there was only one hospital with 15 beds). The country also had 164 polyclinics in 1971. The population of goskhozes, agricultural associations, and relatively inaccessible regions is served by 97 medical stations staffed by doctors and 846 stations run by medical assistants (1970). Maternity hospitals, obstetrical stations, maternity and children’s consultation clinics, child nutrition facilities, nurseries, and kindergartens have been established under the people’s government. Pregnant workingwomen are given a paid leave of 45 days both before and after delivery. Under the law mothers receive payments upon the birth of twins, and there are other benefits for mothers with many children. In 1970, 92 percent of pregnant women and 94 percent of children under the age of one were being regularly examined at dispensaries.

In 1972 there were about 2,500 doctors (one for every 520 persons), compared with two doctors in 1925 (one for every 325,900 persons); 93 dentists; 700 pharmacists; and about 8,000 intermediate medical personnel. Medical specialists are trained by the Mongolian State Medical Institute, founded in 1942 as the medical faculty of the Mongolian State University and functioning since 1961 as an independent institute. It has departments of medicine, pediatrics, hygiene, stomatology, and pharmacy, a division of dentistry, and advanced training courses for physicians. Intermediate medical personnel are trained at three medical technicums (in Ulan Bator and in the East Gobi and Gobi-Altai aimaks) and six schools (in Ulan Bator and Darkhan and in the Arakhangai, Kobdo, and Eastern aimaks). The country has many mineral springs, called arshans, at which health resorts for working people have been built. The largest resorts are Zhanchivlin, Gurvannur, Otgon Tenger, and Khudzhirt. In 1970 public health expenditures totaled about 106 million tugriks.


Veterinary services. Under the people’s government, Mongolia’s veterinary service, aided by Soviet specialists, has been highly successful in controlling epizootic diseases among livestock. Plague and peripneumonia of cattle,infectious pleuropneumonia of goats, and sheep pox have been wiped out. In 1966–68 specialists from COMECON assisted Mongolian veterinarians in carrying out a diagnostic examination of all livestock to determine the incidence of the most dangerous anthropozoonoses—glanders, brucellosis, and tuberculosis. A comprehensive program for eradicating these diseases was worked out. Other common diseases include scabies of sheep and camels, necrobacillosis, swine plague, and such helminthiases as coenurosis, echinococcosis, and cysticercosis.

The state veterinary service is under the Ministry of Agriculture. Veterinary preparations are produced at pharmaceutical plants in Songino and Kobdo. Research is conducted at the Research Institute of Livestock Raising, the Agricultural Institute, and the Central Veterinary Hygiene Laboratory of the Republic. Veterinarians are trained at the Agricultural Institute of Ulan Bator, and veterinary assistants are trained at four technicums. In 1970 there were 900 veterinarians.


In prerevolutionary Mongolia, less than 1 percent of the population was literate. The only schools in the country were the datsans attached to Buddhist monasteries, which taught primarily Tibetan, Buddhist philosophy, and astrology. After the victory of the People’s Revolution of 1921, the popular government began to organize a state system of public education. The Decree on the Organization of Elementary Schools was adopted in August 1921, and the Regulations for Elementary Schools were ratified the same year. In 1927 the Regulations for Secondary Schools were approved, banning private schools and providing for the creation of genuinely national state schools in which Mongolian would be the language of instruction. In 1921–22, 12 elementary schools and a seven-year school (in Ulan Bator) were established, with an enrollment of 400 children.

The organizational principles of public education were set forth in the party’s second program, adopted by the Fourth Congress of the MPRP in 1925. General secular schools were to be established for all children, regardless of sex or nationality. Instruction was to be free, compulsory, and coeducational for all children up to 18 years of age, and corporal punishment was abolished. One of the goals of education was to inspire devotion to the party and the nation. During the first years of the people’s government, the development of public education was complicated by a shortage of money for the organization of mass education, a lack of teachers, and a lack of experience in organizing schools. The first teacher-training courses were inaugurated in 1922. In the late 1920’s, the training of teachers in Soviet schools began. Standard curricula were introduced in 1933. The Lamaist clergy stubbornly resisted the introduction of secular education, and until the late 1930’s, monastic schools existed alongside state schools. In 1933, monastic schools had an enrollment of 18,000 students.

From the first years of the people’s government adult education courses were given at all schools and in all military units, industrial enterprises, and farm organizations. In 1941 a new alphabet was introduced, based on movement arose whose slogan was “Each literate person, teach at least three illiterates.” By the end of the first five-year plan (1952), illiteracy had been virtually eradicated among adults.

In 1955 the Central Committee of the MPRP and the Council of Ministers of the MPR adopted the resolution On Universal Compulsory Elementary Education of School-age Children, and in 1958 they adopted the resolution On the Introduction of Universal Compulsory Seven-year Education in the Cities and Aimak Centers. Adult education was further advanced through an extensive network of seasonal and general evening schools and schools for people working in shifts. The new party program adopted at the MPRP’s Fifteenth Congress in 1966 called for the immediate establishment of universal lower secondary education for all school age children. The program also envisaged a subsequent transition to universal upper secondary education. In 1972–73 a new secondary school curriculum was introduced, providing for three years of instruction in elementary schools, eight years in lower secondary schools, and ten years in upper secondary schools. In the 1973–74 school year there were 549 schools of all types, with an enrollment of 274,300.

A system of vocational training was organized in 1964 to train skilled workers. In 1972 there were 20 vocational schools with 8,700 students. Between 1965 and 1970 more than 20,000 workers were trained in 70 specializations.

In 1924 the first special secondary schools were established, whose teachers were Soviet educators and specialists. In 1970 there were 11,100 persons studying in 19 technicums, including several medical, veterinary and agricultural schools and schools of finance and economics, trade, polytechnical education, and railroad transport.

Public higher education was initiated in 1940 with the opening of the Pedagogical Institute in Ulan Bator. In 1942 the Mongolian State University was established with the aid of the USSR. Initially the university had three departments—medicine, veterinary science, and pedagogy. By 1972 the university had departments of physics and mathematics, chemistry and biology, social sciences (training specialists in philosophy, history, and law), economics, and philology.With the aid of UNESCO the Polytechnic Institute was created in 1969 under the auspices of the university. Several of the university’s departments have grown into independent institutes of pedagogy (1951), agriculture (1958), and medicine (1961). In the 1972–73 academic year, 8,900 students were studying in higher educational institutions. By 1970 more than 15,000 Mongolian specialists had been trained in higher and special secondary institutions of the USSR; more than 4,000 Mongolian students were receiving training in the USSR in 1973.

Ulan Bator is the site of the State Public Library (founded in 1921, 1 million volumes), the country’s largest library, the State Central Museum, the V. I. Lenin Museum, the Central Museum of the Revolution, the Museum of Religion, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of the Reconstruction of Ulan Bator, and the D. Natsagdorzh Museum.


Baldaev, R. L. Narodnoe obrazovanie v Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respub-like. Moscow, 1971.


Natural and technical sciences. In feudal Mongolia scientific knowledge was acquired primarily in astronomy, medicine, and agriculture. Under the people’s government, there have been notable scientific advances. Contacts with Soviet scientists were established in 1921, and in 1929 an agreement on cooperation was signed by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the Committee of Sciences of the MPR. During the 1930’s and 1940’s research in the natural sciences was oriented toward the needs of the national economy. Joint expeditions of Mongolian and Soviet scientists were organized to study the country’s flora and fauna, geography, and geology, and Soviet scientists helped train national scientific workers.

The 1950’s and 1960’s saw the development of branches of science dealing with agriculture. Zoological and botanical research by Mongolian scientists was aimed at increasing livestock productivity and improving breeds, treating and preventing animal diseases, efficiently using feed resources, and improving farming methods. An outstanding achievement was the development of a new breed of Orkhon sheep under the direction of T. Aiurzan, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR. This breed has a semi-fine fleece and is raised for meat and wool. Karakul sheep are being acclimatized in the Gobi regions. A new breed of goats is being developed for fleece by crossing local goats with Don goats from the USSR. Academician Ts. Toivgo’s studies of cattle have played a significant role in improving animal husbandry. Problems of camel breeding are also being studied. Productive strains of cereals, vegetables,and fruit adapted to the country’s severe climatic conditions have been developed by Kh. Zunduizhantsan, M. Ul’zii, and E. Shagdar, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR. Mongolian biologists are engaged in the study, classification, and systematization of Mongolia’s flora and fauna. Important works include the Index to the Plants of Central Mongolia, Aromatic Plants of the MPR, and Game Animals of the MPR and Their Protection.

During the 1960’s theoretical and practical research in chemistry and agricultural chemistry expanded. The Institute of Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR has studied the distribution of trace elements in the soil, compiled cartograms showing the occurrence of these elements in a number of regions, and made recommendations for using trace element fertilizers in farming, and for adding vitamins to certain foodstuffs. Considerable geochemical and biochemical research has been undertaken. A notable contribution is the monograph Biochemistry of Food Plants of Mongolia.

Working closely with specialists from the COMECON countries, Mongolian geologists have discovered many deposits of various minerals and compiled geological and tectonic maps of the MPR. Mongolian geographers are studying permafrost and defining the country’s natural and economic zones. Works have been published on the physical geography of Mongolia (Sh. Tsegmid) and on economic geography (B. Gungadash). Hydrometeorological research is being conducted by a special scientific research institute and more than 60 meteorological, aerological, and hydrological stations, constituting the MPR’s hydrometeorological service.

Since 1956, Mongolian physicists have been working at the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna. The Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, established in 1961, studies seismicity, magnetism, and the spread of radioactive fallout. Astronomical research includes observation of the sun’s corona and prominences, and artificial earth satellites are tracked. The Institute of Mathematics, founded in 1968, has a computer center and studies problems of theoretical and applied mathematics.

Among notable achievements in medicine are the development of scientific principles of combatting epidemic diseases and advances in the treatment of rheumatism and other diseases. Folk medicine and the properties of local medicinal plants are being studied, and preparations made from wild plants are used extensively in medical treatment.


Social sciences. PHILOSOPHY. After the formation of the Mongol state in 1206, shamanism, the hitherto unchallenged religion of the Mongol tribes, began to give way to Buddhism. The philosophical treatises of Buddhist monks began to reach Mongolia, and the first such Mongolian work, Loda Chzhaltsan’s Explanation of the Knowable, was written in the 13th century. By the 16th and 17th centuries, Lamaist Buddhism had become the official religion in the Mongol state. The work of the most important Mongolian philosophers—who wrote commentaries to Buddhist philosophical treatises—dates from this period. Robzhamba Sodnom Vanzhal was the author of a textbook on logic and dialectics called the Sun’s Ray. Agvan Dandar Lkharamba (of Alashan) offered his own interpretation of the problem of “alien animation” posed by the Indian logician Dharmakirti. Agvan Baldan analyzed various Indian philosophical schools and currents in his three-volume history of Indian philosophy, written in 1846 as a commentary to the History of Indian Philosophy by Gunchen Chzham’ian Shadp Dorchzhe, the great Tibetan scholar and philosopher of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. In the first half of the 18th century Chzhan-chzha Khu-tug-tu compiled a Tibetan-Mongolian dictionary of philosophical terms known as the Dictionary for Sages. Zhanzha Rol’bi Dorzhi wrote a two-volume work on the history of Indian philosophy, and one of Sakhar Lubsan Sul’tim’s main works was a commentary to the Theory of Thought by the Indian philosopher Asanga.

Under the influence of the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, Marxist-Leninist ideas began to spread in Mongolia, becoming the ideological foundation of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. In their studies Mongolian philosophers and sociologists offer theoretical generalizations based on the experience of socialist construction in the MPR. Philosophers are trained by the department of Marxism-Leninism and philosophy of the D. Sukhe-Bator Higher Party School in Ulan Bator.


HISTORY. The earliest example of Mongolian feudal historiography is the anonymous chronicle Mongolyn nuuts tobcho (Secret History), written at the earliest in 1240. The historical writings of the 14th to 16th centuries have not survived, but the events of this period were reflected in works dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, notably the anonymous Alton tobchi (The Golden Button), Sagan Setsen’s Erdeniin tobchi (The Jeweled Button), Rashipuntsug’s Bolor erikhe (The Crystal Beads), and Galdan’s Erdeniin erikhe (The Jeweled Beads). Biographies of Lamaist leaders and Mongolian translations of Tibetan and Chinese historical literature also appeared at this time. From the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when Lamaism became the dominant ideology, Mongolian feudal historiography developed under clerical influence. A critical, anti-Manchu tendency appeared in Mongolian historiography in the middle of the 19th century in the writings of Inzhinash. An 11-volume history of Mongolia, essentially continuing the tradition of feudal historiography, was written but not published under the feudal-theocratic monarchy from 1911 to 1919. There was a considerable body of historical literature in Tibetan by such scholars as Sh. Damdin.

Marxist-Leninist methodology became firmly established in Mongolian historiography after the victory of the people’s revolution in 1921. In the 1920’s and 1930’s the classics of Marxism-Leninism were translated into Mongolian; historical material was collected and historians were trained. Primary attention was devoted to the publication of sources and to archaeology, and the first secondary-school history textbooks were written. The works of the older generation of historians which appeared at this time—those of Kh. Maksarzhab, L. Dendeb, A. Amor, G. Navannamzhil—provided an objective account of Mongolian history, particularly for the period from 1911 to 1919. However, their work suffered from insufficient analysis and generalization. A notable exception was the collective work on the history of the Mongolian people’s revolution written in 1934 by Kh. Choibalsan, G. Demid, and D. Losol.

Several monographs and collective works on history were published in the 1940’s and 1950’s, including the one-volume History of the MPR, a joint work of Mongolian and Soviet scholars. This work, published in 1954, treats the history of the country from earliest times to the 1950’s. A second edition, in Russian, was published in Moscow in 1967. Marxist-Leninist methodology triumphed after a sharp struggle against the vestiges of feudalism and the influence of bourgeois and petit bourgeois ideology in historical research. During the 1960’s and 1970’s historical science entered a new stage. It assumed a greater role in the communist upbringing of the working people, drawing scientific generalizations from experience and revealing the laws of the history of the Mongolian people. The number of highly qualified historians, some trained in the USSR, increased; the scope of historical problems expanded; and the scientific and theoretical level of historical works rose.

Outstanding historical works of the late 1960’s include the basic three-volume History of the MPR (1966–70) and a synthesis of party history entitled Studies in the History of the MPRP (1967; Russian translation, 1971). Other importantstudies were B. Shirendyb’s works on Mongolia’s socioeconomic development at the turn of the century and on the people’s revolution and the formation of the MPR; Sh. Natsagdorzh’s works on the history of the arat movement and the history of Khalkha; B. Tudev’s work on the history of the Mongolian working class; and N. Ishzhamts’ work on the Mongolian people’s liberation struggle in the 18th century. Among the questions treated were the history of the Khitans, predecessors of the Mongols; the origin of the Mongol tribes; the role of Chinese merchants and moneylenders in Mongolia; the country’s foreign relations in the 19th and 20th centuries; and the history of Lamaism. Eminent historians include Kh. Perlee, D. Gongor, M. Sanzhadorzh, Sh. Sandag, and S. Purevzhav. Ts. Damdinsuren’s monograph on the historical roots of the epic about Geser Khan was published in 1957. The works of Mongol authors who wrote in Tibetan and of Mongolian feudal historgiography were studied by Sh. Bira. A wealth of archaeological material on the Paleolithic and Neolithic, the Bronze Age, and the early tribes and states on the territory of the MPR was gathered in the course of expeditions, particularly the Soviet-Mongolian historical-cultural expedition of 1969–71. This material was the basis for works on the ancient Turkic peoples (N. Ser-Odzhav), the history of shamanism (Ch. Dalai), and the life and economy of the Darkhats (Ch. Badamkhatan). Sources and documents on the country’s history, the revolution, and the building of socialism are being published.

The main centers for the study of history are the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, established in 1961; the Institute of Party History under the Central Committee of the MPRP, founded in 1955; and the department of history of the Mongolian State University, organized in 1942. Works by Mongolian historians are published in Tuukhiin tsuvral, the yearbook of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences, issued since 1961, and the journals BNMAU-yn Shinzhlekh ukhaany akademiin medee, issued since 1961, and Namyn am’dral, published since 1923.


ECONOMICS. The economic thought of feudal Mongolia was reflected in annals, laws, and contemporary works on economics, which proclaimed the immutable economic prerogatives of the khans, noions, and other feudal lords and contained much information on the economy and life of the Mongols. Economic works discussing herding and giving advice on managing everyday affairs appeared in the 18th century. The most important of these works was To-Van’s Admonitions (1853). At the beginning of the 20th century, progressive leaders called for overcoming economic backwardness and argued the necessity of developing industry and agriculture.

The anti-imperialist, anti-feudal revolution of 1921 laid the foundation for the development of Marxist economic thought. Between the 1920’s and 1940’s Mongolian economists directed their efforts primarily toward working out concrete economic programs, economic legislation, and problems of long-range socioeconomic development. In 1934 a collective work was published by Kh. Choibalsan, D. Losol, and D. Demid, analyzing Mongolian economic conditions prior to the revolution and the popular government’s first economic measures in the postrevolutionary period. From the late 1950’s scientific economic studies were promoted by directives of party congresses and decisions of plenums of the Central Committee of the MPRP on economic questions. Between the 1950’s and the early 1970’s Mongolian economists studied the country’s economic history (B. Shirendyb, Sh. Natsagdorzh), socialist construction (N. Zhagvaral, U.Kambar, B. Gungaadash, P. Nergui), agricultural economics (D. Dugar, S. Zhadamba, D. Moebuu), the economics of industry, construction, and transport (D. Zagasbaldan, D. Maidar, Ch. Sereeter, Ts. Gurbadam), the formation and development of the Mongolian working class (B. Tudev), domestic and foreign trade (P. Luvsandorzh, M. Pelzhee), and finance (O. Tsend, B. Dolgorma).

The main centers of economic science are the Institute of Economics of the Academy of Sciences and Gosplan (State Planning Committee) of the MPR, the Higher Party School under the Central Committee of the MPRP, and the Mongolian State University. The economics journal Ediin zasgiin asuudal, the organ of the Central Committee of the MPRP, has been published since 1959. Economic material is also published in the journals Namyn am‘dral (since 1923), BNMA U-yn Shinzhlekh ukhaany akademiin medee (since 1961), and Shinzhlekh ukhaany am’dral (since 1935).


JURISPRUDENCE. Mongolian legal scholars study problems relating to the organization and activity of the people’s khurals (S. Zhalan-aazhav, E. Avilmed) and other questions concerning the development of the socialist state. A leading authority on legal history is Sodovsuren. Textbooks on civil law and procedure have been published in Russian. Labor law has been extensively studied in connection with the preparation and adoption of the labor code in 1973, and problems of the law of agricultural associations are being examined. In criminal law and procedure Zh. Avkhia has written on crimes against the individual and R. Gunsen on crimes against socialist property. G. Sovd has publishedcourse on criminal law, and a textbook on criminal procedure has been written by Zh. Avkhia, B. Davaasambuu, and Ts. Buzhinlkham in collaboration with Soviet scholars.

Research in jurisprudence is conducted by the Division of Philosophy and Law of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, the Institute of Philosophy, Sociology, and Law of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, the Institute for the Study of the Causes and Prevention of Crime under the Procuracy of the MPR, and the law department of the Mongolian State University. The legal journals are Ardyn tor and Sotsialist khuul’es.

Scientific institutions. A system of scientific institutions was organized after the victory of the people’s revolution in 1921. The Scientific Committee was established in 1921 and renamed the Committee of Sciences of the MPR in 1929.At first the committee studied historical and philological problems, but from the late 1920’s it became increasingly active in scientific and economic research. In the 1930’s sectors for the study of national economic questions were organized within the committee, including offices of farming, livestock raising, and geology. In 1961 the committee was reorganized to form the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, the country’s main center for research in the social and natural sciences. In addition to the Academy of Sciences, more than 30 research institutions under various ministries and government departments conduct scientific work, including institutes of livestock raising and veterinary medicine,plant breeding and farming, and fodder and pastures (all under the Ministry of Agriculture), as well as institutes of pedagogy, medicine, and construction. Scientific work is coordinated by the State Committee on Science and Technology and by the Academy of Sciences of the MPR.


Shirendev, B. “Mongol ornoo tal burees n’ tanin sudlakhyg khicheezh baina.” Shinzhlekh ukhaan am’dral, 1971, no. 6.
“Ard tymniig uilchlegch Shinzhlekh ukhaan 50 zhild.” Zaluuchuudyn unen, February 17, 1971.

In 1972 there were 12 central and 18 local newspapers and a number of magazines whose total circulation exceeded 1 million copies. The leading newspapers and magazines are published in Ulan Bator. The daily Unen (Truth), published since 1925 and with a circulation of 113,000 in 1975, is the organ of the Central Committee of the MPRP and the Council of Ministers of the MPR. The monthly magazine Namyn am’dral (Party Life), published since 1923 and withcirculation of 25,000 (1975), is the organ of the Central Committee of the MPRP. The newspaper Khudulmur (Labor), founded in 1930 and published three times weekly, is the organ of the Central Council of Trade Unions of the MPR (circulation in 1975, 60,000). Zaluchudyn unen (Young People’s Truth), a newspaper founded in 1924 and published three times weekly (circulation in 1975, 60,000), is the organ of the Central Committee of the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League. The newspaper Novosti Mongolii (News of Mongolia) has been issued twice weekly since 1947. Its Russian-language edition had a circulation of 10,000 in 1975, and its Chinese edition, 1,000. Mongol uls (Mongolia),monthly illustrated magazine devoted to social and political affairs, literature, and the arts, has appeared since 1956 (circulation of Mongolian-language edition, 12,000 in 1975; Russian edition, 19,000; English edition, 1,000). The quarterly Mongolyn emegteichud (Mongolian Women), founded in 1925, had a circulation of 30,000 in 1975.

In 1957 a government telegraph agency, the Mongolian Telegraph Agency (MONTsAME), was established. The agency supplies the Mongolian press, radio, and television with information on foreign affairs and publishes a newspaper and information bulletins in English and French. Radio broadcasting, begun in 1934, is controlled by the State Committee for Information, Radio, and Television of the Council of Ministers of the MPR. There are two radio centers, one at Ulan Bator and the other at Ulegei. The radio center at Ulan Bator broadcasts in Mongolian on two programs (21 hours daily). Broadcasts in Russian, Chinese, English, French, and Kazakh are transmitted regularly (30 hours a week).

A television center went into operation in Ulan Bator in 1967. Since 1969 telecasts to Ulan Bator have been relayed by the Orbit space telecommunications station. Three television programs—a national program and two Orbit programs—are broadcast six days a week.


Mongolian folklore has a wealth of genres, including songs, epic songs, heroic legends, tales, iorols (good wishes), magtaals (eulogistic songs), surgaals (precepts), legends, riddles, proverbs, and sayings. Strong folkloric traditions account for the vitality of Mongolian epic literature, famous for the legend of Geser Khan and the folk epic Dzhangar (also found among the Kalmyks) about the flourishing land of Bumba and its hero and defender, Dzhangar. Epigraphsfrom the 12th and 13th centuries and the inscriptions on the cliffs of Khalkha Tsokto-taidzhi (1580–1637) attest to the great influence of folk songs and to the epic quality of Mongolian poetry. The work known as the Golden Horde Birch-bark Manuscript (early 14th century; Hermitage, Leningrad) provides examples of dialogue folk songs. The first known Mongolian written work, the Secret History (not earlier than 1240), by an anonymous author or group of authors, is both a historical and a literary work. The literature of the 13th and 14th centuries has survived only in fragmentary form in later works, chiefly 17th-century chronicles. These chronicles contain the famous Legend of Argasun-khuurch, Conversation of the Orphan Boy With the Nine Knights of Genghis Khan, and Legend of the Rout of the Three Hundred Taidzhiuts. Among later works incorporated in the chronicles are the 15th-century Lament of Togontemur and Legendof the Wise Mandukhai, The Khan’s Wife and the 16th-century Tale of Ubashi-khun-taizh. Three 17th-century chronicles are outstanding for their literary qualities: the anonymous Yellow Story, Lubsan Dandzan’s Golden Legend, and Sagan Setsen’s Jeweled Button.

A notable feature of original 19th-century Mongolian literature is the diversity of its genres. Inzhinash (1837–92) wrote the historical trilogy The Blue Chronicle and the novel of everyday life The One-story Pavilion. Khuul’ch Sandag wasmaster of folk satire in verse. Outstanding poets included D. Ravzhaa (1803–56), Gulransa (1820–51), Ishdanzanvanzhil (1854–1907), Luvsandondov (1854–1909), Khishigbat (1849–1916), and Gamal (1871–1916). Genden Meeren (1820–82) wrote the allegorical tale Dog, Cat, and Mouse. These works are marked by democratic anti-feudal tendencies.

Literature in translation flourished from the time of the Yuan empire, which lasted from the 1270’s to 1368. Among the translated works were Santideva’s narrative poem Kalila and Dimna, an Iranian version of the Pancatantra; One Hundred Thousand Songs by the Tibetan hermit poet Milaraiba, and the collection of aphorisms Subashita. The 108-volume Kanjur, containing not only scholarly treatises but also works on linguistics, versification, and rhetoric, and the 225-volume Tanjur, a commentary to the Kanjur, were translated for several centuries and printed in the 18th century. The afterwords to some translations name the translator. Choidzhi-odser, for example, wrote the verse afterword and commentary to his translation of the Bodhicaryavatara (14th century). Many tales and stories of Indian origin circulated widely, such as the Tales of the Vampire, the Pancatantra stories, and the legend of King Vikramaditya. Chinesenovels were transmitted orally. Especially popular were Shih Nai-an’s Water Margin, Lo Kuan-chung’s Three Kingdoms, Wu Ch’eng-en’s Monkey, and Ts’ao Hsiieh-ch’in’s Dream in the Red Chamber, and the short stories of P’u Sungling.

After the People’s Revolution of 1921 the young literature of Mongolia, drawing upon folklore, absorbed the best traditions of the literary heritage and expanded its ties with progressive world literature, primarily with classical Russian and Soviet literature. New genres developed, among which drama held a special place. A group of revolutionary writers banded together in 1929, forming the Mongolian Association of Revolutionary Writers in 1930. The new literature was inaugurated with the revolutionary songs Shive Kiakhta and Red Banner and with amateur plays on topical subjects (Sando amban’ 1922). Outstanding plays were written by D. Natsagdorzh (1906–37), one of the founders of contemporary Mongolian literature, and the talented writers S. Buiannemekh (1902–37), M. ladamsuren (1902–37), Sh. Aiusha (1904–37), and D. Namdag (born 1911). The first Mongolian novellas were published in the 1920’s, notably Lake Tolbo by Ulaan-otorch (pseudonym of Ts. Dambadorzh, 1900–34) and The Rejected Maiden by Ts. Damdinsuren (born 1908). Most of Natsagdorzh’s best works were written in the 1930’s—poetry, stories, lyrical miniatures, several plays, including the first national musical drama, Three Sorrowing Hills, and the first chapters of the story The Unthreaded Pearl. Damdinsuren wrote verses and the narrative poem My Gray-haired Mother (1934), expressing love for his mother and devotion to his homeland. Although they were profoundly national writers who continued folk traditions, Natsagdorzh and Damdinsuren were influenced by progressive foreign literature. Their works represent the first successes of socialist realism in Mongolian literature.

Many new poets and prose writers emerged in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The rout of Japanese forces near the Khalkhin-Gol River in 1939, the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (1941–45), and the MPR’s participation in the defeat ofthe Kwantung Army in the autumn of 1945 were portrayed in many works, and Mongolian-Soviet friendship became a dominant theme. Solidarity with the Soviet people was a central motif in the works of S. Dashdendev (born 1912), D. Tsevegmed (born 1915), Ch. Lkhamsuren (born 1917), P. Khorloo (born 1917), and D. Tarva (born 1923). National drama developed, and Mongolia’s past was evoked in the plays of Namdag, Ts. Tsedenzhav (born 1913), and B. Baast(born 1921). Folk plays were written by Ch. Oidov (1917–63) and plays on contemporary themes by D. Sengee (1916–59), E. Oiuun (born 1918), Ch. Lodoidamba (1917–70), and L. Vangan (1920–68). Sengee is also known for his many fine verses, songs, and narrative poems and his story “Aiuush” (1947) about a hero of the MPR.

A significant achievement of the 1950’s and 1960’s was the development of the novel, supplanting poetry, as the dominant genre. B. Rinchen (born 1905) and Lodoidamba wrote the first Mongolian novels. Mongolian society of the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries is portrayed in Rinchen’s novel Dawn on the Steppe (books 1–3, 1951–55). Lodoidamba’s novel In the Altai (1949) depicts a geological expedition and the molding of the new man. Lodoidamba’s most popular novel, Transparent Tamir (books 1–2, 1962–67), is a vast, multilevel work portraying the people’s revolution of 1921 and the lives of the toilers of Mongolia. Other novels dealing with the revolution are Troubled Years by Namdag, Grief and Happiness by Ts. Ulambaiar (born 1911), and Red Sun by Dashdendev. Outstanding novelists today are Zh. Purev (born 1921), L. Tudev (born 1935), and S. Dashdoorov (born 1935). The central theme in Tudev’s novels is socialist Mongolia and the passionate desire to create a new life (Mountain Stream, 1960; Migration, 1964).

The novella and short-story genres continue to develop. In Baast’s collections of short stories contemporary problems are intertwined with themes from the history of the revolution. The stories of M. Gaadamba (born 1924) deal with moral questions. The women writers Oiuun and S. Udval (born 1921) portray the lives of Mongolian women. Udval is best known for her short-story collection We Will Meet You (1965). The novellas of D. Miatmar (born 1933)— We and the Earth(1965), The Miller (1966), and The Miller’s Daughter (1966)—are imbued with humanitarian ideas. Ethical and moral problems are explored in Damdinsuren’s short-story collection Strange Wedding (1966). S. Erdene (born 1929) is a master of the psychological, lyrical short story. His best works are the short-story collection Dust From Under the Hooves (1964) and the novellas Year of the Blue Mouse (1970) and Grass Beneath the Snow (1971). The stories and novellas of the 1960’s and early 1970’s are devoted to actual conflicts and goals and portray heroes united by socialist ideas.

Among outstanding contemporary poets are Ts. Gaitav (born 1929), the author of the narrative poems Lenin Is With Us (1963), Karl Marx (1964), Sukhe-Bator (1967), and Friedrich Engels (1973); B. lavuukhulan (born 1929), a master oflyric and civic poetry; and Ch. Chimid (born 1927), a poet, prose writer, and playwright. Other noteworthy poets include D. Purevdorzh (born 1933), Sh. Surenzhav (born 1938), P. Purevsuren (born 1939), Sh. Dulma (born 1934), and M. Tsedendorzh (born 1932).

In the 1970’s many foreign works were translated into Mongolian. The works of contemporary writers, while preserving national traits, attest to the influence of progressive world literature.

The Union of Writers of the MPR regulates literary life; five congresses of Mongolian writers have been held. The Union of Writers publishes the journal Tsog (since 1944), the newspaper Utga zokhiol urlag (since 1955), and the literary miscellany Collection of Inspired Words (since 1929). The writings of young people are published in the yearbook Snowdrop.


Vladimirtsov, B. “Mongol’skaia literatura.” In the collection Literatura Vostoka, issue 2. Petrograd, 1920.
Mongolo-oiratskii geroicheskii epos. Petrograd-Moscow, 1923.
Gerasimovich, L. K. Literatura Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki 1921–1964 godov. [Leningrad] 1965.
Mikhailov, G. I. Literaturnoe nasledstvo mongolov. Moscow, 1969.
Mikhailov, G., and K. latskovskaia. Mongol’skaia literatura. Moscow, 1969.
Shastina, N. P. “Obraz Chingiskhana v srednevekovoi literature mongolov.” In the collection Tataro-mongoly v Azii i Evrope. Moscow, 1970.
Shastina, N. P. “Povest’ o spore mal’chika-siroty s deviat’iu vitiaziami Chingisa.” In the collection Strany i narody Vostoka, issue 11. Moscow, 1971.
Kara, D. Knigi mongol’skikh kochevnikov. Moscow, 1972.
Voprosy literatury, 1973, no. 12. (Issue devoted to the literature of the MPR.)
Luhsan, Danzan. Altai tobchi (The Golden Tale). Introduction, commentary, and appendixes by N. P. Shastina. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from Mongolian.)
Molodye poety Mongolii (collection). Introductory article by K. latskovskaia. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from Mongolian.)
Pesni aratov. Iz mongol’skoi narodnoi poezii. Compiled by G. Mikhailov and translated by N. Grebnev. Moscow, 1973.


The earliest works of art found in Mongolia, dating from the early Bronze Age, include depictions of animals engraved or painted on rock and copper and bronze knives decorated with pictures of animals, at first lifelike and later stylized. From the beginning of the Iron Age stylized figures of animals (such as running deer), in the Scythian animal style appear on bronze articles and “deer stones” (grave pillars or slabs). Imported and locally made utensils, fabrics, felt rugs,and decorated harnesses dating from the late first century B.C. and early first century A.D. have been found in the burial mounds of the Hun aristocracy in Noin-Ula. On metal articles, fanciful figures of wild animals in a refined animal style are frequently accompanied by insets of stones or colored paste. Hun cities had a square layout and were enclosed by earthen ramparts. They included artisan quarters, the palaces of rulers, and dwellings.

During the ascendancy of the Turkic khanate in the sixth to eighth centuries, handicrafts developed. Harnesses and weapons were covered with designs in which floral elements predominated. Memorial sculpture, represented by malestone figures at graves and stelae on tortoise-shaped bases, became widespread. Realistic depictions, such as the head of the statue of Kiul’-Tegin, existed alongside stylized representations, chiefly of animals, exemplified by the engravings on the grave slab of Kiul’-Tegin. Remains from the time of the Uighur khanate (745–840) include the ruins of the capital, Ordu-Balyk, later called Khara-Balgas, which had a regular layout, defensive structures, houses, and temples. Also dating from this period are reliefs on stone stelae and ceramics with stamped patterns.

Under the Khitan, from the tenth to 12th centuries, many cities were built. The cities generally had a square layout and were surrounded by moats and earthen ramparts. They were dissected by one or more streets lined with administrative buildings, temples, and homes; yurts and tents stood in the areas that were not built up. Excavations of the city of Bars-Khot I (tenth to 12th centuries) have uncovered the remains of a Buddhist temple and pagodas,reflecting both local traditions and Chinese influence, altars, and clay figures of divinities and animals. The ruins of the palace of Khan Ugedei and the heathen temples uncovered at Karakorum date from the time of the formation of the Mongolian feudal state and the rise of the Mongolian feudal empire in the late 12th and first half of the 13th centuries.

Between the 16th and the early 20th centuries the felt yurt with a wooden frame was the main type of dwelling in the Mongolian khanates and principalities. With the spread of Lamaism from the late 16th century many monasteries and temples were erected. Religious buildings made of wood appeared—frame structures with plank roofs that resembled yurts. Brick religious structures based on Chinese models and stone buildings of the Tibetan type were also erected. Oustanding examples of such architecture may be found in the monasteries of Erdenidzu and Amur-Baiaskhulantukhite. “Mixed” temples, combining Mongolian and Chinese, Tibetan and Chinese, or Tibetan and Mongolian features, have been preserved in the monasteries of Da-Khure and Gandan in Ulan Bator. Distinctive memorial structures, called suburgans, were developed, exemplified in the Bodisuburgan in Erdenidzu.

Painting of the 16th through early 20th centuries is represented by Buddhist compositions executed in gouache pigments on canvas and by wall paintings on dry plaster with engraved outlines. The influence of Tibetan, Chinese, and Nepalese painting is reflected in the strictly canonical composition, delicate drawing, and vivid colors of Mongolian art. The basic materials used in temple sculpture were clay, wood, and papier-mache, although the largest statues of deities and lamas were cast in bronze, brightly painted, and gilded. An important sculptor of the second half of the 17th century was Dzanabazar. In the late 19th century secular painting developed, including portraits, pictures of Mongolian everyday life and landscapes, and satirical works (Sharav).

In applied art, utensils and clothing were adorned with animal, floral (since the 13th century), and geometric designs. Embroidery and applique work on clothing and leather footwear was distinguished by a combination of contrasting colors. By the mid-17th century embossed and engraved bronze and silver articles of high quality were produced. Other important crafts were woodcarving (animal figurines and ornamental boxes) and the production of papier-mache masks of deities.

With the formation of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924, the country embarked on civil and industrial construction, the reconstruction of old cities (Ulan Bator), and the building of new cities and settlements with regular layouts (Darkhan, Nalaikha, and Sain-Shand) with the aid of the USSR. The centers of aimaks and somons (districts), such as Choibalsan and Tsetserleg, were built on the sites of monasteries. Public buildings of the 1920’s and 1930’s show the influence of Soviet constructivism. During the 1940’s and early 1950’s the facades of public buildings, for example, the university in Ulan Bator (1943–46), were decorated with porticoes, colonnades, and indigenous designs. Since the mid-1950’s buildings adapted to local climatic conditions have taken on clarity of spatial composition, notably the Shilen Baishin Exposition Pavilion built in Ulan Bator in 1964. Industrial methods of construction have been use dextensively in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

In the 1920’s, the painter Sharav and later his student Manibadar transformed Mongolian art, creating works on contemporary subjects and often employing chiaroscuro and linear perspective. Since the early 1950’s the range of subjects treated by such artists as ladamsuren, Sengetsokhio, and Damdinsuren has broadened, and national painting techniques have been successfully combined with European styles. The first oil paintings were executed by Choidog, Tsevegzhav, Gava, Tsultem, and Amgalan. Graphic art (S. Natsagdorzh, Sosoi) and sculpture (Choimbol, Zhamba) have flourished since the mid-1950’s. In applied art the production of porcelain and various kinds of ceramics and bonecarving are developing alongside traditional crafts.


Zhivopis’ Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki (album). Moscow, 1960.
Shchepetil’nikov, N. M. Arkhitektura Mongolii. Moscow, 1960. (Bibliography.)
Sovremennoe iskusstvo Mongolii (catalog). Moscow, 1968.
Maidar, D. Arkhitektura i gradostroitel’stvo Mongolii. Moscow, 1972.

L. A. EVTIUKHOVA (ancient art), N. M. SHCHEPETIL’NIKOV (architecture of the 13th to 20th centuries), and O. N. GLUKHAREVA (fine and applied art of the 13th to 20th centuries)

The ancient traditions of Mongolian musical culture were passed on by the khurs (khur players), uligers (bards), duus (soloists), and khogzhims (instrumentalists). Mongolian folk music, based on the pentatonic scale, consists of songs,epics, and instrumental music. Folk songs are single-voiced, and there are two kinds: the slow “long” songs, called urt-duu, which have a large range and rich ornamentation, and the “short” songs, called bogino-duu, which are simpler in rhythm and composition. Songs are sung to the accompaniment of folk instruments, the most important of which are the limbe (a kind of flute), the morin khur and khuchir (bowed stringed instruments), the shanza (played with a plectrum),and the eochina (cymbals).

The first Mongolian revolutionary song, “Shive Kiakhta” (The Capture of Kiakhta Fortress), was written in 1921. It was followed by “Red Banner,” “Song of the Airplane,” and other songs by outstanding composers and bards; notably Ishdulam’s “Lenin Our Teacher” and “The Song of Lenin and Sukhe-Bator,” U. Luvsan-khurchi’s “Marx and Lenin,” and M. Dugarzhav’s “Song of Sukhe-Bator.” Professional music originated and developed under the people’s government.The first musical dramas arose out of the dialogue songs of the bards. In 1942 the State Musical-Dramatic Theater was founded in Ulan Bator for staging musical dramas. The first symphony orchestra, formed in 1945, became the State Symphony Orchestra in 1950. In the 1940’s and 1950’s young composers, singers, conductors, and chorus masters received their musical education in the USSR and other socialist countries.

In 1963 a group of performers from the State Musical-Dramatic Theater formed the State Opera and Ballet Theater, which during the 1960’s and 1970’s staged many European classical and contemporary operas and ballets, as well as works by the Mongolian composers S. Gonchiksumla, B. Damdinsuren, L. Murdorzh, D. Luvsansharav, and E. Choidog. The theater’s conductor is Zh. Chulun and its ballet master is B. Zham’iandagva. The People’s Song and Dance Ensemble of the MPR, founded in 1950, has performed many times in the USSR and in European, Asian, and African countries. The State Symphony Orchestra performs classical and contemporary symphonic works and encourages new works by Mongolian composers. The Union of Composers was founded in 1964, and the State Philharmonic Society was organized in 1972. A school of music and choreography has been established in Ulan Bator.


Smirnov, B. F. Muzykal’naia kul’tura Mongolii. Moscow, 1963.
Smirnov, B. F. Mongol’skaia narodnaia muzyka. Moscow, 1971.
Kondrat’ev, S. A. Muzyka mongol’skogo eposa i pesen. Moscow, 1970.


Theatrical art in Mongolia dates from ancient times. The Mongols’ dances, particularly the bieleg dance, and rituals associated with marriage, birth, and harvest festivals contained elements of dramatization. Later these elements were incorporated into the tsam, a religious play that arose in the 17th century with the spread of Buddhism in Central Asia, and into the secular court theater. Princes maintained court theaters, where talented enserfed arats were taught to sing, dance, and play musical instruments. Court plays were presented annually, and puppet performances were given in the streets during New Year celebrations. The first public play, The Moon Cuckoo, was presented in the 1830’s.

After the triumph of the people’s revolution and the proclamation of the people’s republic in 1924, amateur theater groups flourished. Musical-dramatic groups that later developed into professional theaters were organized in Ulan Bator in the 1920’s. Plays were staged in the tradition of folk presentations. A drama studio was founded in Ulan Bator in 1930 and reorganized as the Central Mongolian State Theater in 1931; in 1942 it was renamed the State Musical-Dramatic Theater. The theater’s repertoire includes plays by Mongolian playwrights (D. Natsagdorzh, S. Buiannemekh, Sh. Aiuush, M. ladamsuren, D. Namdag, Ch. Oidov, and Ch. Chimid), Soviet plays and Russian and European classics. The Mongolian theater has assimilated the experience of the Soviet theatrical school. In 1963 the State Musical-Dramatic Theater was divided into the State Opera and Ballet Theater and the D. Natsagdorzh State Drama Theater. The Central Children’s Theater opened in Ulan Bator in 1950, and the Puppet Theater was founded in 1948. There are musical-dramatic theaters in various aimak centers, including Ulegei, Kobdo, Ulangom, and Choibalsan.


Uvarova, G. Sovremennyi mongol’skii teatr, 1921–1945. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.

Circus. Indian fakirs performed at the courts of the country’s spiritual rulers from the 16th century. Itinerant Chinese circuses displayed their art in the cities, at first in the streets and later in special open areas. During folk holidays competitions were held in horsemanship, wrestling, and archery. A professional Mongolian circus was established after the proclamation of people’s power in Outer Mongolia. A sports group was organized in Ulan Bator in 1934, several members of which studied circus arts in the USSR from 1936 to 1939 (Radnabazar, Gombo, and Natsag). Upon returning to the MPR, they became the organizers and leading artists of the first professional Mongolian circus. A building for circus performances opened in 1941. Other Mongolian circus artists noted for their many-faceted talent are Danzan and Damdinsuren, Maiia Norovtseren, Sandag, Tsrendulam Minzhin, Erdenetsetseg, Kh. Tsendaiush, and Ts.Tserendorzh. Directors include Zh. Damdisuren, Niamdash, Ichinnorov, and Natsag, who offers not only individual numbers but also extended presentations based on a single theme and children’s plays. The Mongolian circus has been greatly assisted by Soviet circus artists and the State School of Circus and Vaudeville Art. The new building of the Mongolian State Circus was opened in Ulan Bator in 1971. Mongolian performers participated in the Druzhba (Friendship)Program, together with circus artists from Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Poland, Rumania, the USSR, and Czechoslovakia.


The Mongolkino film studio, established in Ulan Bator in 1935, initially released documentaries, producing its first feature film in 1937. The development of a national cinematic art and the training of film artists were greatly aided by the work of Soviet cinematographers in Mongolia and by the participation of Mongolian actors and cameramen in producing such Soviet films as Son of Mongolia (1935, director I. Z. Trauberg), His Name Is Sukhe-Bator (1942, directors A. G.Zarkhi and I. E. Kheifits), and Steppe Heroes (1945, director lu. V. Tarich).

An important Mongolian film is Two Herdsmen (1955), directed by Ts. Zandra. The outstanding films What Hinders Us (1956), If Only I Had a Horse! (1959), The Call of the Heart (1966), and Transparent Tamir (1970, based on the novel by G. Lodoidamba) were directed by R. Dorzhpalam, the last of these in collaboration with Ch. Dolgosuren. Outcome (1968), directed by A. I. Bobrovskii and Zh. Buntar, was produced jointly with the USSR. Envoy of the People (1959), Flood (1966), and Harsh Morning (1969) were directed by D. Zhigzhid, and In the Den (1973) was directed by B. Sumkhuu. Three feature films and about 30 documentaries were released in 1973.

The leading film actors are G. Gombosuren, D. Ichinkhorlo, Ts. Dashnamzhil, L. Lkhasuren, D. Gombozhav, Ts. Tsevegmid, Z. Tsendekhu, and T. Tsevenzhav. Other noteworthy figures are M. Bolod, Ts. Navan, and B. Damdorzh, who make documentaries; the scriptwriter L. Vangan; and the composer D. Luvsansharav.

Grover Furr reviews Robert Thurston’s “Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934 -1941”

As always, the publication of an article does not necessarily imply an absolute endorsement of the entirety of its content.

– Espresso Stalinist.


by Grover Furr, from Cultural Logic, Volume 1, Number 2, Spring 1998

Robert W. Thurston, Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). $30.00.

Anti-Stalinism Hurts Workers, Builds Fascism

1. Billions of workers all over the world are exploited, murdered, tortured, oppressed by capitalism. The greatest historical events in the twentieth century — in fact, in all of human history — have been the overthrow of capitalism and establishment of societies run by and for the working class in the two great communist revolutions in Russia and China.

2. The Russian Revolution was the first of them, blazing the trail for all revolutionaries to come. Its history — its successes and failures — are the essential textbook for all workers and others who recognize the need to get rid of exploitation and build a better world run by those who toil.

3. Naturally the world’s capitalists do not want this learning process to happen! So the ruling class try to spread anti-Communist lies, the purpose of which is to demoralize potential revolutionaries and make us passive. These wrong ideas — wrong both in the sense that they are incorrect AND in that they serve the exploiters’ interests, not the interest of workers — include racism, religion, sexism, and anti- communism.

4. The main form anti-communism has taken for the past several decades has been anti-Stalinism. If workers and others can be convinced that any attempt to build a communist society — one based upon need, without exploitation, run by and for the working class — will end up “as bad as or worse than” Nazi Germany, then we will never really make the attempt. This means we will be reduced to struggling only for reforms under capitalism. This reformism is ultimately acceptable to the capitalists since it leaves them in control forever.

5. A second way the bosses use anti-Stalinism is to justify fascist repression and murder of any workers’ attempts to rebel against capitalism. After all, if “Stalinism” is “worse than Nazi Germany”, and if any attempt to build communism can lead only to “Stalinism”, then any and all repressive measures to suppress revolution are justified, including torture, mass murder, and fascism itself. This anti-communism has been the main justification for imperialist slaughter in the period since World War II, as indeed it had been for the Nazis’ aggression and atrocities.

6. Because it is the main ideological form of anti-communism, fighting anti-Stalinism is therefore a vital, life-and-death issue for the world’s workers — for all of us. This review essay will show how a new (1996) book can be useful in doing just that, and it also outlines some of the limitations of that book.

Strengths of Thurston’s Work

7. Thurston’s main points are as follows:

— The mass arrests and executions of 1936-38 in the USSR were not planned, but were panicked reactions to plots against the Soviet government.

— These events were not intended to, and did not in fact, spread “fear and terror” throughout the Soviet population, but rather were carried out against perceived enemies with the support and often the active participation of the Soviet population.

— They occurred at a time when the USSR was under enormous threat from hostile nations. (In addition, communists the world over were being imprisoned, tortured and murdered by capitalist regimes, though Thurston does not refer to these facts.)

— The numbers imprisoned and executed were far less that the inflated estimates claimed by anti-Communist sources.

— Rather than being cowed and demoralized by mass arrests and police activity, the growing Soviet industrial working class enjoyed an active voice inside the factories, encouraged by Soviet leaders to speak out about conditions in the plants and outside.

— The “acid test” of whether the workers and peasants supported Soviet socialism or were alienated from and hostile to it came with the Nazi invasion. Thurston shows that the Soviet people determinedly repulsed this massive onslaught by rushing either to join the Red Army or the factories to increase military production, while the Red Army fought with a dedication, effectiveness and morale utterly unmatched by the best Western capitalist armies.

8. Thurston’s introduction outlines what he calls the “standard version” (xiv) or “orthodox view” (xvi) of Stalin and the USSR in the ’30s, invoking the name of Robert Conquest — which he will then prove wrong. (Conquest, a former British Secret Service agent, is the foremost anti- communist liar about the Stalin years.) He also points out also how the present capitalist rulers of Russia have every motive to build anti-Stalinism.

9. This chapter also demonstrates that the Soviet legal system was evolving along recognizably capitalist lines in terms of its judicial process during the early ’30s. On the one hand, this contradicts the view of the Cold Warriors that the USSR was “totalitarian”, and this is Thurston’s main point: that the USSR was becoming more “liberal”, giving citizens protection against arbitrary police action, for example.

10. It reveals, however, how much the Bolsheviks relied on Western capitalist models, in the judicial system and elsewhere (education, culture, industry), for models of how to build a communist society. Here, the Bolsheviks’ view of communism was, as we can see now in hindsight, in many respects a “reformed” version of capitalist relationships. Learning from the Bolsheviks’ shortcomings as well as from their own experience, left forces within the Chinese Communist Party later challenged reliance on police and courts with reliance on the working class and poor peasants through political struggle, public trials, and an emphasis on self-criticism and being held accountable to the masses — a process that eventually reached its high point during the Cultural Revolution before it was finally defeated.

11. Chapter Two disposes of some ancient anti-Communist lies. Thurston shows there’s no evidence Stalin murdered either his second wife in 1932 or Politburo colleague Sergei Kirov in 1934. Both of these fairy-tales have been refuted by other scholars before Thurston but are still accepted without question as true by anti-Stalinists. Concerning the three big “Show Trials” of 1936-38, Thurston highlights the evidence that the basic charges against the defendants were in fact true. This was generally accepted even by keen Western observers at the time, like Joseph Davies, sent by President Roosevelt to check out the Soviet government (see his book Mission to Moscow), and confirmed long ago too by staunch anti-Communist scholars like Robert V. Daniels (see his Conscience of the Revolution, 1960).

12. Thurston shows that there was “wrecking” — industrial sabotage — in the economy under Yuri Pyatakov, whose confession to this effect is also shown to have been voluntary, not coerced (46). Even the charges against Nikolai Bukharin, main defendant in the 1938 trial, are shown to have been true in the main, as documents from Bolshevik archives prove (35-42). Thurston also states that some accusations against the defendants were “fabrications”, but he never gives any evidence to support this charge. In fact — though Thurston does not discuss this — it is quite likely that suspicions of “wrecking” were exaggerated by the recklessness built into the industrialization campaign, caused by the emphasis on “increasing productive forces” by sharpening wage differentials, privileges, and therefore class antagonisms: in short, by socialism, the mixture of communist and capitalist elements which communists since the days of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program had believed was a necessary interim stage between capitalism and a classless society.

13. Finally, Chapter Two also reaffirms that the massive arrests did not take place until after the arrests and executions in June 1937 of the military commanders led by Marshal Tukhachevsky. Stalin and the Bolshevik leadership clearly believed there was a real conspiracy, and there’s much, though not conclusive, evidence that such a conspiracy indeed existed. Chapter Three demonstrates that the Soviet government reacted in panic to the disclosure of such high-placed treason. There’s no evidence at all that Stalin was out to “terrorize the country”.

14. Nikolai Ezhov, the leader of the political police (or NKVD), was the person most directly responsible for the massive arrests and executions. Usually demonized by Cold-War historians, Ezhov was a long-time Communist with an honorable record, a worker since the age of 14, before being entrusted by the Politburo with the task of directly overseeing the repression of what all believed to be a massive counter-revolutionary plot.

15. Ezhov set high quotas for executions, which the police felt had to be met. There were many examples of police arresting and executing people either to “meet quotas” or from outright corruption. Recent research by Thurston ‘s colleagues suggests that between six and seven hundred thousand persons were executed during 1937-38. (See the article by Getty, Rittersporn, and Zemskov in American Historical Review, October 1993).

16. A few comments are in order here. First, the concept of “quotas” for executions appears to come from Lenin’s practice during the Civil War, although Thurston does not say so. After the Bolsheviks revolution privileged and propertied people throughout Russia opposed the Bolsheviks and Red Army, and White (anti-Communist) forces routinely executed Communists, workers who supported them, and all Jews. Under Lenin’s urging the Bolsheviks would take hostages from among the upper classes, threatening to execute them if the Whites opposed them.

17. It should be clear that such “quotas for execution” were completely inappropriate in a situation in which the Bolsheviks held state power and could confine anyone suspected of anti-Communist activity until their cases could be investigated. Such executions, whether of the guilty or, as was inevitable, of the innocent as well, serve no mass political function, as would public trials, investigations, and a concept of justice based upon the direct participation of the working class — an issue noted by Vyshinsky himself.

18. Anti-Communist “scholars” have repeatedly produced fantastically high figures for Soviet executions and jailings during the “purges”. Thurston challenges those inflated numbers with strong archival evidence. On page 137 he explicitly states that the inflated estimates are too high. On page 11 Thurston has a chart showing there were 1,196,439 camp inmates in 1937, a slight decline from the previous year (this included criminals as well as those arrested for political crimes, but does not include prison inmates). For purposes of comparison, we should note that this is much smaller than the US prison population today! While it seems clear to us now that many of those prisoners charged with political crimes (104,826, or 12.8% of the total) were not in fact guilty, that prison population is a long way from the Cold-War anti-Communist “guesstimates” of between 7 and 15 million prisoners — and some guess much higher still, 20 or 30 million!

19. Thurston shows there were, in fact, other real anti-Soviet plots in addition to the “Tukhachevsky Affair” (mass arrests and executions of military officers), including some spies within the NKVD itself. He also provides overwhelming evidence to show that the arrests targeted elite sectors — managers, specialists, intellectuals, party officials, and not “workers or poor peasants, the favored children of the new regime” (76). Naturally communists should not support unjust accusations against anyone, regardless of their class background. What this fact shows is that socialism — the continuation of capitalist relations of production and a capitalist notion of economic development — involved the continuation of class antagonisms under somewhat different forms, class antagonisms that found expression in the mass arrests and executions.

20. Thurston puts these events squarely in the context of the aftermath of the extremely violent years of 1914-21 (the beginning of World War I to the end of the very bloody Civil War) and, more immediately, of the sharpening international situation of the late ’30s, when Nazi Germany and all the imperialist countries were unmistakably bent upon surrounding and destroying the USSR.

21. However, even at that Thurston underplays the danger facing the Communist movement. On pages 34-5, he mentions the German reoccupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, unchallenged by the French who wanted Hitler to rearm, so as to pit him against the USSR. He mentions the start of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, but not the huge military support given to Franco, leader of the Spanish fascists, by Nazi German and fascist Italy, nor the phony “neutrality” of England, France, and the USA which cut the Spanish Republic off from international aid. He mentions fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in December 1935, unchallenged by the other imperialists, but never the Japanese fascists’ seizure of Manchuria in 1931 or the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany, Japan and Italy (1936-37), or the Japanese invasion of China (1937). Stalin would later express the Soviet view that the other imperialists were encouraging the Germans to attack and destroy the Soviet union:

“They kept on urging the Germans to go farther and farther east: ‘You just start a war against the Bolsheviks, and all will be well'” (quoted in Alexander Werth, Russia at War, p. 39).

22. Also left out is the Nazi decimation of the German Communist Party, the largest in Europe, beginning in 1934. In 1936, when the Soviet “purges” began, German Communists were being tortured and murdered by the thousands in German concentration camps, and similar treatment was being meted out to Communists and workers in dozens of other capitalist lands — as, in fact, it still is. Little wonder that the Soviets weren’t prone to treat too kindly those it considered to be German spies and agents!

23. And Thurston repeats, time and again, what his sources show him: the Soviet government favored workers and poor peasants over all others in the population, while they were being exploited, killed, etc., in every other country in the world! Thurston’s own evidence shows that the USSR was a “dictatorship of the working class”.

24. Some police agencies treated evidence as very important, though many did not. Conditions in the labor and punishment camps, the so-called “Gulag”, Thurston argues, were bearable both before and after the period 1937 to 1938, but very bad during this period, reflecting the fact that most police, and even prisoners, were convinced those arrested during this time were traitorous conspirators who deserved the worst treatment.

25. By January 1938, Thurston shows, complaints of unjustified repression were flooding the Central Committee, and the Plenum began to demand that expulsions from the Party be reviewed for unfairness. The next month Andrei Vyshinsky, formerly the head prosecutor at the “Show Trials”, complained about conditions in the labor camps and demanded punishment of camp officials who permitted bad conditions. He also insisted that those who fabricated evidence be arrested. In fact a number of trials of such fabricators did take place this year and the next, often with great publicity.

26. The need to pay greater attention to physical evidence, as opposed to confession, was re-emphasized. By the middle of 1938 the great period of panic, mass arrests, and executions was over. Police procedures were regularized; conditions in the camps improved; many of those falsely arrested were released and exonerated. Trials of NKVD men who had tortured and framed people were held, and the NKVD purged of such people.

27. Certainly the Soviet state was justified in acting to arrest preemptively, in times of crisis, anyone suspected of treason. But there was no reason for executing people on the same flimsy basis; they could certainly have been imprisoned pending a serious review of their cases. Had this been done, many or most executions would not have taken place. What is more, well-publicized trials of those who were guilty, with evidence publicly given, would have raised political consciousness, as did the Chinese Communist Party’s public trials of landlords in the period after their seizure of power, in which peasants openly accused those who had exploited and murdered them.

28. Chapter Six, “Life in the Factories”, shows that the Stakhanovite movement was, in fact, a mass movement which gave all workers the opportunity to gain recognition for improving production and technique, rather than a cynical way of “speeding-up” the workers, as it has been described by anti-Communists. Thurston argues that, in fact, Stakhanovism gave workers more power. Workers’ views and criticisms were respected; supervisors and foremen ignored them at their peril.

29. But here too we see that “socialist” relations of production were basically a reformed version of capitalist relations of production. While acknowledging the communist, collective aspects of the Stakhanov movement, we can see in retrospect how it inevitably became associated with speed-up, given the retention of a wage system. Thurston’s book neglects this aspect of the movement.

30. Thurston quotes some American workers who had also worked in the USSR as saying that conditions of work, and the atmosphere in the factories, were better for Soviet workers in the 1930s than for workers in the US (192). But he then undercuts their view — far more informed than his own — in the next sentence, where he writes that “Soviet workers were hardly better off or freer than their American counterparts”.

31. Ironically, he has already cited evidence on page 170 that at least some Soviet workers had shorter working hours than US workers. At the time, many people thought Soviet workers were, in fact, better off than were American workers. One of them was Walter Reuther, later the anti-Communist president of the United Auto Workers, who worked in a Soviet auto factory in the 1930s. In a passage not cited by Thurston, Reuther wrote home:

Here are no bosses to drive fear into the workers. No one to drive them in mad speed-ups. Here the workers are in control. Even the shop superintendent had no more right in these meetings than any other worker. I have witnessed many times already when the superintendent spoke too long. The workers in the hall decided he had already consumed enough time and the floor was given to a lathe hand to who told of his problems and offered suggestions. Imagine this at Ford or Briggs. This is what the outside world calls the “ruthless dictatorship in Russia”. I tell you … in all countries we have thus far been in we have never found such genuine proletarian democracy… (quoted from Phillip Bonosky, Brother Bill McKie: Building the Union at Ford [New York: International Publishers, 1953]).

32. Thurston says nothing about free medical care, cited in many studies of and novels about the Soviet Union in the 1930s. And much of his chapter shows how Soviet workers had a tremendous amount of input and right to criticize. Thurston also doesn’t mention that millions of US workers were unemployed in the ’30s, while the Soviets had a labor shortage. He omits the fact that US workers trying to unionize for better conditions were being violently attacked, and often killed, by the police, the military, and employer-hired goons. Conditions for the working class in Europe generally were even worse, with fascist or virtually fascist regimes, all viciously anti-working class, in most countries.

33. The final chapter deals with the response of the Soviet population to World War II. Here too Thurston concludes that the Soviet regime retained much loyalty and enthusiasm among the population. Soviet soldiers fought against the Japanese in Mongolia with high morale in 1938, where their military leadership was excellent, and against Finland and then the German Wehrmacht in 1940 and 1941, where both political and military leadership was initially poor and led to larger casualties than necessary. In the opening days of WWII, the Red Army fought well, counterattacking against far superior Axis forces, often fighting to the last man, rarely surrendering unless surrounded or demoralized by huge casualties and a hopeless situation. German officers uniformly remarked that the Soviets fought far better than any Western army (215).

34. Civilian morale was generally high in June 1941, even in Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland. The Polish fascist state had been racist towards Jews and Ukrainians in Eastern Poland, and therefore many of the Ukrainian population were supportive when the Soviets marched in, especially since the Soviets mainly repressed the enemies of the workers and peasants — landowners, Polish officers, and police — and did not collectivize the peasantry. But Ukrainian nationalists in Poland had already basically turned towards the Nazis, so many “Western” Ukrainians welcomed the Nazi invasion. German officers recognized that the Ukrainians in Soviet territory were very different, much more loyal to the USSR and often very hostile to the pro-Nazi West Ukrainians, as Thurston shows.


35. The research reported in this book because it will help to combat anti-communism and lies against Stalin and the USSR generally during his time. However, Thurston’s work also suffers from serious shortcomings. First, while he combats many anti-Communist lies with good evidence, Thurston also makes many statements critical of the Bolsheviks without any evidence. There are many instances of this.

36. Even more serious are Thurston’s historiographical shortcomings. Not a Marxist of any kind, Thurston frames his analysis entirely in bourgeois historical terms. Therefore, Thurston’s book is valuable when, and only when, he bases his conclusions on primary source evidence. Even when he does, this evidence must be put into an historical materialist, scientific framework in order for important lessons to emerge clearly.

37. Like all the other works of the anti-Cold War researchers — called “revisionists” or “Young Turks” — who have helped to refute anti-Stalin and anti-Communist lies, this is a work of bourgeois history. These works of research take capitalism for granted, and so have a capitalist bias from the outset. Though they come up with important evidence, and often use it well, they do so from an academic perspective. They may refute egregious Cold-War lies, but they never reject anti-communism, the fundamental premise of capitalist scholarship.

38. Most important for our purposes, the “revisionists” do not ask the questions which Marxists, and all those convinced that capitalism must be overthrown, need answers to: namely, What can we learn, positively and negatively, from the history of the USSR? What were the Bolsheviksí successes? Why did these dedicated communists fail?

39. Although it can’t provide answers to the questions revolutionaries need to ask, Thurston’s work, like those of other more objective, though bourgeois, researchers, can help us if we use them according to historical materialism, the scientific method of Marxism or communism.

40. After all, to learn the correct lessons, both positive and negative, from the Bolsheviks’ experience, the history of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and why it eventually turned into its opposite, we need something in addition to the Marxist method of understanding history, or dialectical and historical materialism. We also need an accurate account of what, in fact, happened, not a farrago of anti-Communist lies and horror stories.

41. It is here, in refuting anti-Communist lies, as well as in discovering what did happen in reality, that Thurston’s work, and that of other honest bourgeois historians, can be very helpful. Let me give two brief examples.

1. Capitalist Relations and Class Antagonisms within the USSR:

42. Thurston shows time and again that those most likely to have been arrested and executed during the panic of 1937-38 were officials, leaders, managers, officers, and “higher- ups” in general. This fact shows that there was a considerable divorce between “leaders” and ordinary workers and other citizens. How could this be?

43. Marx recognized that “all history is the history of class struggle”. The Bolsheviks believed that everything must be subordinated to the fight for industrialization and production. After the early ’30s they used “material incentives” to reward workers and managers, developing large wage differentials and, therefore, differences in living standards among workers and between workers and managers, Party leaders and rank-and-file members, and in every other aspect of society. Believing too that productive technique was “class-neutral”, they kept capitalist production relationships in the factories and capitalist relationships of hierarchy and inequality generally in society. Women still did all the housework as well as their jobs, putting real limits on the extent — real, also — to which sexism could be fought.

44. In short, social relationships in the USSR were “reformed” capitalist relationships more than they were truly communist egalitarian relationships. This had to give rise to new class antagonisms and create resistance to the disappearance of old ones.

45. Thurston’s research can help us see that the mass arrests and executions of 1937-38, which were “concentrated among the country’s elite” (232), reflected these class antagonisms at the same time Stalin and the Soviet leadership believed they had abolished class struggle. Without these capitalist relations the “panic” of the late ’30s and, in fact, the future evolution of the Soviet Union towards, first, state capitalism and, as now, “free-market” capitalism, would not have been possible.

2. Elitist Relations within the Party:

46. In 1938 and thereafter specific cases of police corruption, neglect of evidence, frame-ups, and other negligence were publicized and those guilty punished. Many cases of rehabilitation, both of the living and of those unjustly executed, took place. Nevertheless the Bolshevik leadership under Stalin never really underwent a thorough, public self-critical review of how any injustice could have happened, in order to get to the bottom of it.

47. There is also the question of why people like Zinoviev, Bukharin and others were in important positions of power to begin with. They had demonstrated rotten politics for years. Zinoviev had quit the party in fear rather than take part in the October Revolution. Bukharin had lied many times — Thurston documents this — and had even plotted with the Socialist Revolutionaries against Lenin during the Civil War. (The S-R’s then plotted to overthrow Lenin, and very likely tried to kill him.) They had been expelled from the Party.

48. What was the point of handing them major leadership posts? The Bolsheviks should have trained other members to do their jobs and not relied on these particular intellectuals. Perhaps the concept of a party of “professional revolutionaries”, a “cadre” party — Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and others had worked for the Party all their lives — had not yet been entirely abandoned for the better concept of a mass party of the working class.

Conclusion: Fight Capitalist Lies

49. Thurston’s work is useful in debunking anti-Communist lies. And his work is only one of a growing body of what has been called “revisionist” research on the history of the USSR. These works use the same kind of bourgeois historical methodology, rules of evidence, logic, and documentation, commonly used in less contentious fields of history, but hardly ever in the study of the communist movement.

50. For the first time, an outline of the major events in the USSR during the Stalin years is beginning to emerge, although the anti-Communist “Cold Warriors” — often joined by enthusiasts for Leon Trotsky — are still actively spreading their lies and contesting every bit of research which contradicts their preconceived ideas, what is virtually a “Cold-War Party Line”.This is exciting, and heady, material!

51. But it is for revolutionaries and workers of today to use research like Thurston’s towards this end. Neither this work nor any others like it can provide the historical materialist framework without which human history will not reveal its truths.

Revisionists’ Research on Soviet History: A Brief Bibliographical Note(Note: It is a daunting task to keep abreast of the exciting research into the history of the Soviet Union during Stalin’s leadership. The “revisionists”, of which Thurston is a leading representative, have split the field of bourgeois Soviet history, and there is much animosity on both sides. In addition, it’s very helpful to be able to read Russian, both in order to look at original sources, and to follow the research now being published in Russia that Getty is publishing there, for example. What follows is only a brief introduction.)

1. There are a number of strands in the “new” history of the Soviet Union during the Stalin years. The work of the late E. H. Carr, and of his successors at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Russian and East European Studies, led by R. W. Davies, and represented heavily in the journal Soviet Studies (since volume 45, 1993 retitled Europe-Asia Studies); the research of Jerry Hough, Sheila Fitzpatrick, and Roberta Manning, the inspiration and, in some cases, the teachers of the younger “revisionists”; and the younger cohort themselves. I will concentrate on this third group.

2. The book under review is an excellent place to begin. But, to my mind, the first and groundbreaking work of this school is John Arch Getty, Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938 (Cambridge University Press, 1985). A much revised version of his Ph.D. dissertation at Boston College, 1979, under Roberta Manning, this work is fundamental. One has to read it to get a feel for how completely the “accepted” version (Conquest-Solzhenitsyn, et al. — what Thurston calls the “standard version” or “orthodox view”) of this period must be rejected, how completely dishonest their “scholarship”, how poor their use of evidence. After Thurston, begin with Getty, and a careful reading of his footnotes.

3. The year after Getty’s book was published, the revisionists achieved recognition as a distinct school within Soviet history with Sheila Fitzpatrick’s article “New Perspectives on Stalinism”, The Russian Review 45, 4 (October 1986), 357-373, which the editors published together with four criticisms by established Cold-War historians, and a reply by Fitzpatrick, “Afterword: Revisionism Revisited”. A year later the same journal published eleven responses to Fitzpatrick’s article, including five by the leading younger scholars (William Chase, J. Arch Getty, Hiroaki Kuromiya, Gábor Rittersporn, and Lynne Viola), two supportive articles (by Jerry Hough and Roberta Manning), and an explicit attack by Conquest.

4. Robert Conquest’s voluminous work is the target, acknowledged or not, of much of the research on this period of Soviet history. Getty leads off his book with a brief exposé of Conquest’s irresponsible methods (Origins, p. 5 and note 12, p.222). The work of Steven G. Wheatcroft on the size of Soviet forced labor camps and number of deaths has developed as a refutation of Conquest and those whose research resembles his, like Steven Rosefielde. This debate continues today, and was launched by Wheatcroft’s article “On Assessing the Size of Forced Concentration Camp Labour in the Soviet Union, 1929-1956”, Soviet Studies 33 (April, 1981), 265-95. Conquest’s typically weak reply, with argument “from authority”, is in Soviet Studies 34 (July 1982), 434-39.

5. Wheatcroft and Conquest continue to criticize each other’s studies vigorously. For Wheatcroft’s research, begin with what appears in Europe-Asia Studies. For example, in “The Scale and Nature of German and Soviet Repression and Mass Killings, 1930-1945”, EAS 48 (December 1996), 1319-1353, Wheatcroft attacks the facile, anti-Communist comparison of Stalin with Hitler. The abstract reads:

     Repression and mass killings carried out by German and Soviet leaderships during the period 1930-45 differed in several respects. It appears that the German leader Adolf Hitler put to death at least five million innocent people mainly because of his antipathy towards Jews and communists. In contrast, Soviet leader Josef Stalin ordered the murder of some one million people because he apparently believed them to be guilty of crimes against the state. He was careful about documenting these executions whereas Hitler did not bother about making any pretence at legality.

6. A few other works which base themselves on recently-published Soviet archival documents and give the lie to Conquest-type horror-stories include: Nicolas Werth, “Goulag: Les Vrais Chiffres”, L’Histoire no. 169 (Septembre, 1993), 38-51; J. Arch Getty, Gábor T. Rittersporn, and Viktor N. Zemskov, “Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-war Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence”, American Historical Review 98 (December, 1993), 1017-49; R.W. Davies, “Forced Labour Under Stalin: The Archive Revelations”, New Left Review, 214 (November-December 1995), 62-80.

7. Other works explicitly critical of Conquest include: Jeff Coplon, “In Search of a Soviet Holocaust: A 55-Year-Old Famine Feeds the Right”, Village Voice, Jan. 12, 1988 (on the web at Coplon interviewed many of the foremost historians of the USSR, including many “Cold Warriors” as well as some “revisionists”; all rejected Conquest’s phony research on the Ukrainian famine, Harvest of Sorrow (Oxford, 1986), incidentally showing how Conquest was paid by Ukrainian nationalist groups which had collaborated with the Nazis.

8. Thurston was, I think, the first and (to date) the only historian of the Soviet Union to dare to attack Conquest in an academic journal: see Thurston, “On Desk-Bound Parochialism, Commonsense Perspectives, and Lousy Evidence: A Reply to Robert Conquest”, Slavic Review 45 (Summer 1986), 238-244.

9. A six-part series exposing the Nazi origins of the Ukrainian famine myth while remaining critical of Soviet actions from a communist viewpoint, can be found at the Progressive Labor Party website at; read its notes for scholarly references to that time. Another PLP series, this time in four parts, of Stalin, the PBS television series, and the accompanying book Stalin: A Time for Judgment, by Jonathan Lewis and Phillip Whitehead (New York: Pantheon, 1990), begins at These articles contain yet more references to “revisionist” scholarship, and end with a brief bibliography of suggested further readings, at An appreciative but critical review of Getty’s Ph.D. dissertation, the basis of his 1985 book, is at

10. This should be enough for anyone interested in studying the latest critiques of the Cold-War lies about Stalin and Bolshevik history, the wars within the field of Soviet history, and the best results of bourgeois historiography, to sink their teeth into.

11. Finally: there is an important theoretical issue which I deal with briefly towards the end of my review, and which is not apparent in any of the social-historical and empirical research of the past twenty years or so. That question is: How can the method of dialectical and historical materialism be brought to bear on the “facts” as we are coming to know them, in order to draw valid conclusions from the Bolsheviks’ successes and errors, so that future communists may build upon the past without repeating its mistakes?

12. These works can help us learn something about what did happen, and help us refute anti-Communist lies. But the task of learning from the past to build towards a communist future is up to us.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia on Genghis Khan


Genghis Khan

(personal name, Temujin). Born circa 1155, in the district of Deliun-Boldok, on the Onon River; died Aug. 25, 1227. Military leader and founder of the unified Mongol empire.

Genghis Khan was the son of Yesugei, a member of the royal Borjigin clan. By 1204 he had eliminated his principal rivals and, having seized vast territories, became the de facto ruler of the many clan-tribal alliances in the subjugated regions. In 1206, at a khurultai (assembly) of the steppe aristocracy, he was proclaimed the great khan of all the tribes and was given the title Genghis, from the Turkic tengis (ocean, sea).

In domestic policy, Genghis Khan concentrated on uniting the Mongol tribes and centralizing the government of the newly created state in the interests of the feudalized clan-tribal aristocracy. In 1206 he promulgated decrees that constituted a codification of customary law (yasa). He divided the Mongol tribes into military-administrative units called thousands: at the command of the khan each unit had to produce 1,000 mounted soldiers. The thousands, along with pasturelands, were granted as fiefs (khubi) to his relatives and to the noions —members of a new class of feudal lords made up of his trusted lieutenants. Genghis Khan created a personal guard (keshig) of 10,000 men that served as the principal force in the suppression of any stirrings of discontent in the empire.

In foreign policy, Genghis Khan sought to extend the territory under his control as far as possible. His strategy and tactics were based on thorough reconnaissance and sudden attack; his troops tried to divide the enemy forces and set up ambushes using special detachments to lure the enemy. He also made use of large groups of cavalry that could maneuver quickly.

Genghis Khan subdued the peoples of Siberia and eastern Turkestan between 1207 and 1211 and attacked the Jurchen kingdom of Chin in 1211 (see MONGOL CONQUESTS OF THE 13TH CENTURY). These wars, waged in the interests of the noion class, wreaked havoc on the peoples of the subjugated countries, most of which had achieved a higher level of economic and cultural development than the Mongol tribes, and hampered the development of the Mongol empire itself and the broad masses of its people—the simple arats (herdsmen bound to the land). The wars exhausted the empire and led to its political, economic, and cultural decline by the end of the 13th century. Genghis Khan died in the Tangut state of Hsi Hsia during a campaign undertaken in 1226.


Tataro-mongoly v Azii i Evrope: Sb. st. Moscow, 1970.
Kychanov, E. I. Zhizn’ Temuchzhina, dumavshevo pokorit’ mir. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Left Anticommunism: the Unkindest Cut



Despite a lifetime of “shaming” the system, NOAM CHOMSKY, America’s foremost “engagé” intellectual, remains an unrepentant left anticommunist.

In the United States, for over a hundred years, the ruling interests tirelessly propagated anticommunism among the populace, until it became more like a religious orthodoxy than a political analysis. During the Cold War, the anticommunist ideological framework could transform any data about existing communist societies into hostile evidence. If the Soviets refused to negotiate a point, they were intransigent and belligerent; if they appeared willing to make concessions, this was but a skillful ploy to put us off our guard. By opposing arms limitations, they would have demonstrated their aggressive intent; but when in fact they supported most armament treaties, it was because they were mendacious and manipulative. If the churches in the USSR were empty, this demonstrated that religion was suppressed; but if the churches were full, this meant the people were rejecting the regime’s atheistic ideology. If the workers went on strike (as happened on infrequent occasions), this was evidence of their alienation from the collectivist system; if they didn’t go on strike, this was because they were intimidated and lacked freedom. A scarcity of consumer goods demonstrated the failure of the economic system; an improvement in consumer supplies meant only that the leaders were attempting to placate a restive population and so maintain a firmer hold over them. If communists in the United States played an important role struggling for the rights of workers, the poor, African-Americans, women, and others, this was only their guileful way of gathering support among disfranchised groups and gaining power for themselves. How one gained power by fighting for the rights of powerless groups was never explained. What we are dealing with is a nonfalsifiable orthodoxy, so assiduously marketed by the ruling interests that it affected people across the entire political spectrum.

Genuflection to Orthodoxy

Many on the U.S. Left have exhibited a Soviet bashing and Red baiting that matches anything on the Right in its enmity and crudity. Listen to Noam Chomsky holding forth about “left intellectuals” who try to “rise to power on the backs of mass popular movements” and “then beat the people into submission. . . . You start off as basically a Leninist who is going to be part of the Red bureaucracy. You see later that power doesn’t lie that way, and you very quickly become an ideologist of the right. . . . We’re seeing it right now in the [former] Soviet Union. The same guys who were communist thugs two years back, are now running banks and [are] enthusiastic free marketeers and praising Americans” (Z Magazine, 10/95).

Chomsky’s imagery is heavily indebted to the same U.S. corporate political culture he so frequently criticizes on other issues. In his mind, the revolution was betrayed by a coterie of “communist thugs” who merely hunger for power rather than wanting the power to end hunger. In fact, the communists did not “very quickly” switch to the Right but struggled in the face of a momentous onslaught to keep Soviet socialism alive for more than seventy years. To be sure, in the Soviet Union’s waning days some, like Boris Yeltsin, crossed over to capitalist ranks, but others continued to resist free-market incursions at great cost to themselves, many meeting their deaths during Yeltsin’s violent repression of the Russian parliament in 1993.

Some leftists and others fall back on the old stereotype of power-hungry Reds who pursue power for power’s sake without regard for actual social goals. If true, one wonders why, in country after country, these Reds side with the poor and powerless often at great risk and sacrifice to themselves, rather than reaping the rewards that come with serving the well-placed.

For decades, many left-leaning writers and speakers in the United States have felt obliged to establish their credibility by indulging in anticommunist and anti-Soviet genuflection, seemingly unable to give a talk or write an article or book review on whatever political subject without injecting some anti-Red sideswipe. The intent was, and still is, to distance themselves from the Marxist-Leninist Left.

Adam Hochschild: Keeping his distance from the “Stalinist Left” and recommending same posture to fellow progressives.

Adam Hochschild, a liberal writer and publisher, warned those on the Left who might be lackadaisical about condemning existing communist societies that they “weaken their credibility” (Guardian, 5/23/84). In other words, to be credible opponents of the cold war, we first had to join in the Cold-War condemnations of communist societies. Ronald Radosh urged that the peace movement purge itself of communists so that it not be accused of being communist (Guardian, 3/16/83). If I understand Radosh: To save ourselves from anticommunist witchhunts, we should ourselves become witchhunters. Purging the Left of communists became a longstanding practice, having injurious effects on various progressive causes. For instance, in 1949 some twelve unions were ousted from the CIO because they had Reds in their leadership. The purge reduced CIO membership by some 1.7 million and seriously weakened its recruitment drives and political clout. In the late 1940s, to avoid being “smeared” as Reds, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a supposedly progressive group, became one of the most vocally anticommunist organizations.

The strategy did not work. ADA and others on the Left were still attacked for being communist or soft on communism by those on the Right. Then and now, many on the Left have failed to realize that those who fight for social change on behalf of the less privileged elements of society will be Red-baited by conservative elites whether they are communists or not. For ruling interests, it makes little difference whether their wealth and power is challenged by “communist subversives” or “loyal American liberals.” All are lumped together as more or less equally abhorrent.

Even when attacking the Right, the left critics cannot pass up an opportunity to flash their anticommunist credentials. So Mark Green writes in a criticism of President Ronald Reagan that “when presented with a situation that challenges his conservative catechism, like an unyielding Marxist-Leninist, [Reagan] will change not his mind but the facts.” While professing a dedication to fighting dogmatism “both of the Right and Left,” individuals who perform such de rigueur genuflections reinforce the anticommunist dogma. Red-baiting leftists contributed their share to the climate of hostility that has given U.S. leaders such a free hand in waging hot and cold wars against communist countries and which even today makes a progressive or even liberal agenda difficult to promote.

A prototypic Red-basher who pretended to be on the Left was George Orwell. In the middle of World War II, as the Soviet Union was fighting for its life against the Nazi invaders at Stalingrad, Orwell announced that a “willingness to criticize Russia and Stalin is the test of intellectual honesty. It is the only thing that from a literary intellectual’s point of view is really dangerous” (Monthly Review, 5/83). Safely ensconced within a virulently anticommunist society, Orwell (with Orwellian doublethink) characterized the condemnation of communism as a lonely courageous act of defiance. Today, his ideological progeny are still at it, offering themselves as intrepid left critics of the Left, waging a valiant struggle against imaginary Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist hordes.


Sorely lacking within the U.S. Left is any rational evaluation of the Soviet Union, a nation that endured a protracted civil war and a multinational foreign invasion in the very first years of its existence, and that two decades later threw back and destroyed the Nazi beast at enormous cost to itself. In the three decades after the Bolshevik revolution, the Soviets made industrial advances equal to what capitalism took a century to accomplish–while feeding and schooling their children rather than working them fourteen hours a day as capitalist industrialists did and still do in many parts of the world. And the Soviet Union, along with Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, and Cuba provided vital assistance to national liberation movements in countries around the world, including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in South Africa.

Left anticommunists remained studiously unimpressed by the dramatic gains won by masses of previously impoverished people under communism. Some were even scornful of such accomplishments. I recall how in Burlington Vermont, in 1971, the noted anticommunist anarchist, Murray Bookchin, derisively referred to my concern for “the poor little children who got fed under communism” (his words).

Slinging Labels

Those of us who refused to join in the Soviet bashing were branded by left anticommunists as “Soviet apologists” and “Stalinists,” even if we disliked Stalin and his autocratic system of rule and believed there were things seriously wrong with existing Soviet society. Our real sin was that unlike many on the Left we refused to uncritically swallow U.S. media propaganda about communist societies. Instead, we maintained that, aside from the well-publicized deficiencies and injustices, there were positive features about existing communist systems that were worth preserving, that improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people in meaningful and humanizing ways. This claim had a decidedly unsettling effect on left anticommunists who themselves could not utter a positive word about any communist society (except possibly Cuba) and could not lend a tolerant or even courteous ear to anyone who did.

Saturated by anticommunist orthodoxy, most U.S. leftists have practiced a left McCarthyism against people who did have something positive to say about existing communism, excluding them from participation in conferences, advisory boards, political endorsements, and left publications. Like conservatives, left anticommunists tolerated nothing less than a blanket condemnation of the Soviet Union as a Stalinist monstrosity and a Leninist moral aberration.

That many U.S. leftists have scant familiarity with Lenin’s writings and political work does not prevent them from slinging the “Leninist” label. Noam Chomsky, who is an inexhaustible fount of anticommunist caricatures, offers this comment about Leninism: “Western and also Third World intellectuals were attracted to the Bolshevik counterrevolution [sic] because Leninism is, after all, a doctrine that says that the radical intelligentsia have a right to take state power and to run their countries by force, and that is an idea which is rather appealing to intellectuals.” Here Chomsky fashions an image of power-hungry intellectuals to go along with his cartoon image of power-hungry Leninists, villains seeking not the revolutionary means to fight injustice but power for power’s sake. When it comes to Red-bashing, some of the best and brightest on the Left sound not much better than the worst on the Right.

At the time of the 1996 terror bombing in Oklahoma City, I heard a radio commentator announce: “Lenin said that the purpose of terror is to terrorize.” U.S. media commentators have repeatedly quoted Lenin in that misleading manner. In fact, his statement was disapproving of terrorism. He polemicized against isolated terrorist acts which do nothing but create terror among the populace, invite repression, and isolate the revolutionary movement from the masses. Far from being the totalitarian, tight-circled conspirator, Lenin urged the building of broad coalitions and mass organizations, encompassing people who were at different levels of political development. He advocated whatever diverse means were needed to advance the class struggle, including participation in parliamentary elections and existing trade unions. To be sure, the working class, like any mass group, needed organization and leadership to wage a successful revolutionary struggle, which was the role of a vanguard party, but that did not mean the proletarian revolution could be fought and won by putschists or terrorists.

Lenin constantly dealt with the problem of avoiding the two extremes of liberal bourgeois opportunism and ultra-left adventurism. Yet he himself is repeatedly identified as an ultra-left putschist by mainstream journalists and some on the Left. Whether Lenin’s approach to revolution is desirable or even relevant today is a question that warrants critical examination. But a useful evaluation is not likely to come from people who misrepresent his theory and practice.

Left anticommunists find any association with communist organizations to be morally unacceptable because of the “crimes of communism.” Yet many of them are themselves associated with the Democratic Party in this country, either as voters or members, seemingly unconcerned about the morally unacceptable political crimes committed by leaders of that organization. Under one or another Democratic administration, 120,000 Japanese Americans were torn from their homes and livelihoods and thrown into detention camps; atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with an enormous loss of innocent life; the FBI was given authority to infiltrate political groups; the Smith Act was used to imprison leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and later on leaders of the Communist Party for their political beliefs; detention camps were established to round up political dissidents in the event of a “national emergency”; during the late 1940s and 1950s, eight thousand federal workers were purged from government because of their political associations and views, with thousands more in all walks of life witchhunted out of their careers; the Neutrality Act was used to impose an embargo on the Spanish Republic that worked in favor of Franco’s fascist legions; homicidal counterinsurgency programs were initiated in various Third World countries; and the Vietnam War was pursued and escalated. And for the better part of a century, the Congressional leadership of the Democratic Party protected racial segregation and stymied all anti-lynching and fair employment bills. Yet all these crimes, bringing ruination and death to many, have not moved the liberals, the social democrats, and the “democratic socialist” anticommunists to insist repeatedly that we issue blanket condemnations of either the Democratic Party or the political system that produced it, certainly not with the intolerant fervor that has been directed against existing communism.

Pure Socialism vs. Siege Socialism

The upheavals in Eastern Europe did not constitute a defeat for socialism because socialism never existed in those countries, according to some U.S. leftists. They say that the communist states offered nothing more than bureaucratic, one-party “state capitalism” or some such thing. Whether we call the former communist countries “socialist” is a matter of definition. Suffice it to say, they constituted something different from what existed in the profit-driven capitalist world–as the capitalists themselves were not slow to recognize.

First, in communist countries there was less economic inequality than under capitalism. The perks enjoyed by party and government elites were modest by corporate CEO standards in the West [even more so when compared with today’s grotesque compensation packages to the executive and financial elites.—Eds], as were their personal incomes and life styles. Soviet leaders like Yuri Andropov and Leonid Brezhnev lived not in lavishly appointed mansions like the White House, but in relatively large apartments in a housing project near the Kremlin set aside for government leaders. They had limousines at their disposal (like most other heads of state) and access to large dachas where they entertained visiting dignitaries. But they had none of the immense personal wealth that most U.S. leaders possess.

The “lavish life” enjoyed by East Germany’s party leaders, as widely publicized in the U.S. press, included a $725 yearly allowance in hard currency, and housing in an exclusive settlement on the outskirts of Berlin that sported a sauna, an indoor pool, and a fitness center shared by all the residents. They also could shop in stores that carried Western goods such as bananas, jeans, and Japanese electronics. The U.S. press never pointed out that ordinary East Germans had access to public pools and gyms and could buy jeans and electronics (though usually not of the imported variety). Nor was the “lavish” consumption enjoyed by East German leaders contrasted to the truly opulent life style enjoyed by the Western plutocracy.

Second, in communist countries, productive forces were not organized for capital gain and private enrichment; public ownership of the means of production supplanted private ownership. Individuals could not hire other people and accumulate great personal wealth from their labor. Again, compared to Western standards, differences in earnings and savings among the populace were generally modest. The income spread between highest and lowest earners in the Soviet Union was about five to one. In the United States, the spread in yearly income between the top multibillionaires and the working poor is more like 10,000 to 1.

Third, priority was placed on human services. Though life under communism left a lot to be desired and the services themselves were rarely the best, communist countries did guarantee their citizens some minimal standard of economic survival and security, including guaranteed education, employment, housing, and medical assistance.

Fourth, communist countries did not pursue the capital penetration of other countries. Lacking a profit motive as their motor force and therefore having no need to constantly find new investment opportunities, they did not expropriate the lands, labor, markets, and natural resources of weaker nations, that is, they did not practice economic imperialism. The Soviet Union conducted trade and aid relations on terms that generally were favorable to the Eastern European nations and Mongolia, Cuba, and India.

All of the above were organizing principles for every communist system to one degree or another. None of the above apply to free market countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Thailand, South Korea, Chile, Indonesia, Zaire, Germany, or the United States.

But a real socialism, it is argued, would be controlled by the workers themselves through direct participation instead of being run by Leninists, Stalinists, Castroites, or other ill-willed, power-hungry, bureaucratic, cabals of evil men who betray revolutions. Unfortunately, this “pure socialism” view is ahistorical and nonfalsifiable; it cannot be tested against the actualities of history. It compares an ideal against an imperfect reality, and the reality comes off a poor second. It imagines what socialism would be like in a world far better than this one, where no strong state structure or security force is required, where none of the value produced by workers needs to be expropriated to rebuild society and defend it from invasion and internal sabotage.

The pure socialists’ ideological anticipations remain untainted by existing practice. They do not explain how the manifold functions of a revolutionary society would be organized, how external attack and internal sabotage would be thwarted, how bureaucracy would be avoided, scarce resources allocated, policy differences settled, priorities set, and production and distribution conducted. Instead, they offer vague statements about how the workers themselves will directly own and control the means of production and will arrive at their own solutions through creative struggle. No surprise then that the pure socialists support every revolution except the ones that succeed.

The pure socialists had a vision of a new society that would create and be created by new people, a society so transformed in its fundamentals as to leave little room for wrongful acts, corruption, and criminal abuses of state power. There would be no bureaucracy or self-interested coteries, no ruthless conflicts or hurtful decisions. When the reality proves different and more difficult, some on the Left proceed to condemn the real thing and announce that they “feel betrayed” by this or that revolution.

The pure socialists see socialism as an ideal that was tarnished by communist venality, duplicity, and power cravings. The pure socialists oppose the Soviet model but offer little evidence to demonstrate that other paths could have been taken, that other models of socialism–not created from one’s imagination but developed through actual historical experience–could have taken hold and worked better. Was an open, pluralistic, democratic socialism actually possible at this historic juncture? The historical evidence would suggest it was not. As the political philosopher Carl Shames argued:

How do [the left critics] know that the fundamental problem was the “nature” of the ruling [revolutionary] parties rather than, say, the global concentration of capital that is destroying all independent economies and putting an end to national sovereignty everywhere? And to the extent that it was, where did this “nature” come from? Was this “nature” disembodied, disconnected from the fabric of the society itself, from the social relations impacting on it? . . . Thousands of examples could be found in which the centralization of power was a necessary choice in securing and protecting socialist relations. In my observation [of existing communist societies], the positive of “socialism” and the negative of “bureaucracy, authoritarianism and tyranny” interpenetrated in virtually every sphere of life. (Carl Shames, correspondence to me, 1/15/92.)

The pure socialists regularly blame the Left itself for every defeat it suffers. Their second-guessing is endless. So we hear that revolutionary struggles fail because their leaders wait too long or act too soon, are too timid or too impulsive, too stubborn or too easily swayed. We hear that revolutionary leaders are compromising or adventuristic, bureaucratic or opportunistic, rigidly organized or insufficiently organized, undemocratic or failing to provide strong leadership. But always the leaders fail because they do not put their trust in the “direct actions” of the workers, who apparently would withstand and overcome every adversity if only given the kind of leadership available from the left critic’s own groupuscule. Unfortunately, the critics seem unable to apply their own leadership genius to producing a successful revolutionary movement in their own country.

Tony Febbo questioned this blame-the-leadership syndrome of the pure socialists:

It occurs to me that when people as smart, different, dedicated and heroic as Lenin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Ho Chi Minh and Robert Mugabe–and the millions of heroic people who followed and fought with them–all end up more or less in the same place, then something bigger is at work than who made what decision at what meeting. Or even what size houses they went home to after the meeting. . . .

These leaders weren’t in a vacuum. They were in a whirlwind. And the suction, the force, the power that was twirling them around has spun and left this globe mangled for more than 900 years. And to blame this or that theory or this or that leader is a simple-minded substitute for the kind of analysis that Marxists [should make]. (Guardian, 11/13/91)

To be sure, the pure socialists are not entirely without specific agendas for building the revolution. After the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, an ultra-left group in that country called for direct worker ownership of the factories. The armed workers would take control of production without benefit of managers, state planners, bureaucrats, or a formal military. While undeniably appealing, this worker syndicalism denies the necessities of state power. Under such an arrangement, the Nicaraguan revolution would not have lasted two months against the U.S.-sponsored counterrevolution that savaged the country. It would have been unable to mobilize enough resources to field an army, take security measures, or build and coordinate economic programs and human services on a national scale.

Decentralization vs. Survival

For a people’s revolution to survive, it must seize state power and use it to (a) break the stranglehold exercised by the owning class over the society’s institutions and resources, and (b) withstand the reactionary counterattack that is sure to come. The internal and external dangers a revolution faces necessitate a centralized state power that is not particularly to anyone’s liking, not in Soviet Russia in 1917, nor in Sandinista Nicaragua in 1980.

Engels offers an apposite account of an uprising in Spain in 1872-73 in which anarchists seized power in municipalities across the country. At first, the situation looked promising. The king had abdicated and the bourgeois government could muster but a few thousand ill-trained troops. Yet this ragtag force prevailed because it faced a thoroughly parochialized rebellion. “Each town proclaimed itself as a sovereign canton and set up a revolutionary committee (junta),” Engels writes. “[E]ach town acted on its own, declaring that the important thing was not cooperation with other towns but separation from them, thus precluding any possibility of a combined attack [against bourgeois forces].” It was “the fragmentation and isolation of the revolutionary forces which enabled the government troops to smash one revolt after the other.”

Decentralized parochial autonomy is the graveyard of insurgency–which may be one reason why there has never been a successful anarcho-syndicalist revolution. Ideally, it would be a fine thing to have only local, self-directed, worker participation, with minimal bureaucracy, police, and military. This probably would be the development of socialism, were socialism ever allowed to develop unhindered by counterrevolutionary subversion and attack. One might recall how, in 1918-20, fourteen capitalist nations, including the United States, invaded Soviet Russia in a bloody but unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the revolutionary Bolshevik government. The years of foreign invasion and civil war did much to intensify the Bolsheviks’ siege psychology with its commitment to lockstep party unity and a repressive security apparatus. Thus, in May 1921, the same Lenin who had encouraged the practice of internal party democracy and struggled against Trotsky in order to give the trade unions a greater measure of autonomy, now called for an end to the Workers’ Opposition and other factional groups within the party. “The time has come,” he told an enthusiastically concurring Tenth Party Congress, “to put an end to opposition, to put a lid on it: we have had enough opposition.” Open disputes and conflicting tendencies within and without the party, the communists concluded, created an appearance of division and weakness that invited attack by formidable foes.

Only a month earlier, in April 1921, Lenin had called for more worker representation on the party’s Central Committee. In short, he had become not anti-worker but anti-opposition. Here was a social revolution–like every other–that was not allowed to develop its political and material life in an unhindered way.

By the late 1920s, the Soviets faced the choice of (a) moving in a still more centralized direction with a command economy and forced agrarian collectivization and full-speed industrialization under a commandist, autocratic party leadership, the road taken by Stalin, or (b) moving in a liberalized direction, allowing more political diversity, more autonomy for labor unions and other organizations, more open debate and criticism, greater autonomy among the various Soviet republics, a sector of privately owned small businesses, independent agricultural development by the peasantry, greater emphasis on consumer goods, and less effort given to the kind of capital accumulation needed to build a strong military-industrial base.

The latter course, I believe, would have produced a more comfortable, more humane and serviceable society. Siege socialism would have given way to worker-consumer socialism. The only problem is that the country would have risked being incapable of withstanding the Nazi onslaught. Instead, the Soviet Union embarked upon a rigorous, forced industrialization. This policy has often been mentioned as one of the wrongs perpetrated by Stalin upon his people. It consisted mostly of building, within a decade, an entirely new, huge industrial base east of the Urals in the middle of the barren steppes, the biggest steel complex in Europe, in anticipation of an invasion from the West. “Money was spent like water, men froze, hungered and suffered but the construction went on with a disregard for individuals and a mass heroism seldom paralleled in history.”

Stalin’s prophecy that the Soviet Union had only ten years to do what the British had done in a century proved correct. When the Nazis invaded in 1941, that same industrial base, safely ensconced thousands of miles from the front, produced the weapons of war that eventually turned the tide. The cost of this survival included 22 million Soviets who perished in the war and immeasurable devastation and suffering, the effects of which would distort Soviet society for decades afterward.

All this is not to say that everything Stalin did was of historical necessity. The exigencies of revolutionary survival did not “make inevitable” the heartless execution of hundreds of Old Bolshevik leaders, the personality cult of a supreme leader who claimed every revolutionary gain as his own achievement, the suppression of party political life through terror, the eventual silencing of debate regarding the pace of industrialization and collectivization, the ideological regulation of all intellectual and cultural life, and the mass deportations of “suspect” nationalities.

The transforming effects of counterrevolutionary attack have been felt in other countries. A Sandinista military officer I met in Vienna in 1986 noted that Nicaraguans were “not a warrior people” but they had to learn to fight because they faced a destructive, U.S.-sponsored mercenary war. She bemoaned the fact that war and embargo forced her country to postpone much of its socio-economic agenda. As with Nicaragua, so with Mozambique, Angola and numerous other countries in which U.S.-financed mercenary forces destroyed farmlands, villages, health centers, and power stations, while killing or starving hundreds of thousands–the revolutionary baby was strangled in its crib or mercilessly bled beyond recognition. This reality ought to earn at least as much recognition as the suppression of dissidents in this or that revolutionary society.

The overthrow of Eastern European and Soviet communist governments was cheered by many left intellectuals. Now democracy would have its day. The people would be free from the yoke of communism and the U.S. Left would be free from the albatross of existing communism, or as left theorist Richard Lichtman put it, “liberated from the incubus of the Soviet Union and the succubus of Communist China.”

In fact, the capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe seriously weakened the numerous Third World liberation struggles that had received aid from the Soviet Union and brought a whole new crop of right-wing governments into existence, ones that now worked hand-in-glove with U.S. global counterrevolutionaries around the globe.

In addition, the overthrow of communism gave the green light to the unbridled exploitative impulses of Western corporate interests. No longer needing to convince workers that they live better than their counterparts in Russia, no longer restrained by a competing system, the corporate class is rolling back the many gains that working people have won over the years. Now that the free market, in its meanest form, is emerging triumphant in the East, so will it prevail in the West. “Capitalism with a human face” is being replaced by “capitalism in your face.” As Richard Levins put it, “So in the new exuberant aggressiveness of world capitalism we see what communists and their allies had held at bay” (Monthly Review, 9/96).

Having never understood the role that existing communist powers played in tempering the worst impulses of Western capitalism, and having perceived communism as nothing but an unmitigated evil, the left anticommunists did not anticipate the losses that were to come. Some of them still don’t get it.

The Neo-Nazis of Mongolia: Swastikas Against China

By Mitch Moxley
Monday, July 27, 2009

In the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator, “Shoot the Chinese” is spray-painted on a brick wall near a movie theater. A pair of swastikas and the words “Killer Boys …! Danger!” can be read on a fence in an outlying neighborhood of yurt dwellings. Graffiti like this, which can be found all over the city, is the work of Mongolia’s neo-Nazis, an admittedly implausible but often intimidating, and occasionally violent, movement.

Ulan Bator is home to three ultra-nationalist groups claiming a combined membership of several thousand — a not insignificant number in a country of just 3 million people. They have adopted Nazi paraphernalia and dogma, and are vehemently anti-Chinese. One group, Blue Mongolia, has admitted to shaving the heads of local women found sleeping with Chinese men. Its leader was convicted last year of murdering his daughter’s Mongolian boyfriend, who had merely studied in China.

The neo-Nazis may be on society’s fringe, but they represent the extreme of a very real current of nationalism. Sandwiched between Russia and China, with foreign powers clamoring for a slice of the country’s vast mineral riches, many Mongolians fear economic and ethnic colonization. This has prompted displays of hostility toward outsiders and slowed crucial foreign-investment negotiations.

Fifty-year-old Zagas Erdenebileg is the leader of Dayar Mongol (All Mongolia), the most prominent of the neo-Nazi groups. “If our blood mixes with foreigners’, we’ll be destroyed immediately,” says Erdenebileg, who has run unsuccessfully for parliament four times. He loathes the Chinese — whom he accuses of involvement in prostitution and drug-trafficking — and reveres Genghis Khan, who he says influenced Adolf Hitler. I ask him if he considers his adoption of the beliefs of a regime that singled out and executed people with Mongol features from among Soviet prisoners of war to be in any way ironic. “It doesn’t matter,” he shrugs. “We share the same policies.”

If Erdenebileg is the elder statesman of Mongolia’s neo-Nazis, Shari Mungun-Erdene, the 23-year-old leader of the roughly 200-strong Mongolian National Union (MNU), is the new kid on the block and sports a swastika tattoo on his chest. The MNU takes vigilante action against law-breaking outsiders, Mungun-Erdene says, mainly Chinese. When I ask what kind of action, he replies, “Whatever it takes so that they don’t live here.” At other times, though, he comes across as an overzealous adolescent. He opens his laptop to show photos of his neo-Nazi buddies. But beside the folders entitled “Guns” and “Skinheads” are others with names like “My Car” and “Mom in Japan.”

Dagva Enkhtsetseg, program manager for the Open Society Forum, an Ulan Bator – based organization that promotes public participation in civic life, points out that the neo-Nazis don’t enjoy broad support. A graduate in Mongolian nationalism, she argues that hard-line nationalism’s allure is subsiding as more young Mongolians are exposed to globalization or study abroad. That was evident during the presidential election in May, when bogus accusations that Democratic Party leader and eventual winner Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj was part Chinese fell on deaf ears. “In the past that would have worked,” Enkhtsetseg says.

The neo-Nazis still pose some threats, however. In May, a newsletter of the international development charity Voluntary Service Overseas reported allegations that two Peace Corps volunteers were “severely beaten” outside a pub after a confrontation with Dayar Mongol members. (Erdenebileg denies his group’s involvement.) One 25-year-old American living in Ulan Bator, who didn’t wish to be named, said he was accosted by neo-Nazis at a nightclub for cavorting with a Mongolian woman. “After they showed a swastika, my initial thought was, This isn’t going to be a normal fight,” he says. “They wanted to send a message.” That message, delivered by spray paint or fists, translates to “get out.”