Terry Martin, Associate Professor of History at Harvard University, has written the definitive book on Soviet nationalities policy in the 1920s and 1930s. He writes, "the Soviet Union became the first multiethnic state in world history to define itself as an anti-imperial state." He points out, "The Soviet Union was the first country in world history to establish Affirmative Action programs for national minorities, and no country has yet approached the vast scale of Soviet Affirmative Action."
As he observes, "The Bolsheviks attempted to fuse the nationalists' demand for national territory, culture, language, and elites with the socialists' demand for an economically and politically unitary state. In this sense, we might call the Bolsheviks internationalist nationalists or, better yet, Affirmative Action nationalists."
Martin notes, "Russia's new revolutionary government was the first of the old European multiethnic states to confront the rising tide of nationalism and respond by systematically promoting the national consciousness of its ethnic minorities and establishing for them many of the characteristic institutional forms of the nation-state. ... New national elites were trained and promoted to leadership positions in the government, schools, and industrial enterprises of these newly formed territories. In each territory, the national language was declared the official language of government. In dozens of cases, this necessitated the creation of a written language where one did not yet exist. The Soviet state financed the mass production of books, journals, newspapers, movies, operas, museums, folk music ensembles, and other cultural output in the non-Russian languages. Nothing comparable to it had been attempted before, and, with the possible exception of India, no multiethnic state has subsequently matched the scope of Soviet Affirmative Action."
He writes, "the Soviet state created not just a dozen large national republics, but tens of thousands of national territories scattered across the entire expanse of the Soviet Union." But this, unfortunately, turned out to be a mistake. "This system was based on the assumption that, to use Stalin's famous formulation, national territorial forms could be empty of national content, that if national territories were granted, national solidarity would crumble and class differentiation would become apparent. ... The larger the territory, and the more multinational its composition, the less intensely any one given group will feel its minority status. As the scale of territory is reduced and the number of ethnic groups drops to only two, the minority group becomes acutely aware of its minority status. Drawing any national border creates ethnic conflict. The Soviet Union literally drew tens of thousands of national borders. As a result, every village, indeed every individual, had to declare an ethnic allegiance and fight to remain a national majority rather than a minority. It is difficult to conceive of any measure more likely to increase ethnic mobilization and ethnic conflict."
In passing, Martin concludes, "The famine was not an intentional act of genocide specifically targeting the Ukrainian nation."
The Soviet government punished chauvinist words and deeds, but, "The Affirmative Action Empire required a constant practice of ethnic labelling and so inadvertently indoctrinated its population in the belief that ethnicity was an inherent, fundamental, and crucially important characteristic of all individuals. ... the nationality line on Soviet passports became one of the single most important factors in reinforcing the belief, and the social fact, that national identity was primordial and inherited."
Stalin wrote, "The leaders of the revolutionary workers of all countries study eagerly the enormously instructive history of the Russian working class, knowing that in addition to reactionary Russia, there existed a revolutionary Russia, the Russia of Radishchevs and Chernyshevskiis, Zheliabovs and Ulianovs, Khalturinyis and Alekseevs. All of this instills in the hearts of the Russian workers (and cannot not instill) a feeling of revolutionary national pride, able to move mountains, able to create miracles."
So Russia was not just its reactionary ruling class, but was also its revolutionary working class. Stalin's definition of nation applies to all nations.