2.7 The socialist revolution and after In February, 1921, the mad and brutal White Russian, Baron von Ungern-Sternberg, leading an army of Whites and Mongols, had taken Ih Hüree, and restored the Javzandamba Hutagt to the throne. This temporary alliance was soon to sour, and the Baron was driven out in July of 1921 by the Provisional Government, backed by the Soviet Red Army. The Bogd Khaan's government did not go quietly, however, waging a war of propaganda against the partisans, and even resorting to religious ceremonies (Ewing 1980: 245).

With their capture of Ih Hüree, the partisans established a constitutional monarchy, with the Bogd Khaan remaining in his position as head of the government, although limited in his powers, until his death in 1924. While it remains a subject of some debate among historians, the generally received view is that the bulk of the fighting was carried out by the Red Army, with only a small vanguard of Mongols. "[I]n the final and fiercer stages of the war, [the Mongolians] served more or less only as a cover to the main forces of the Soviet troops in action against the whites" (Bawden 1989: 220).

With the socialists in power, the Bogd Khaan was allowed to remain on the throne until his death in May of 1924. At that time, a socialist government was declared, and the country became known as the Mongolian People's Republic, the name it was known by until 1992, when it become simply Mongolia.

Although Rupen has declared "integral to the revolution in 1921 were Marxism-Leninism and Communism", both ideologically and organizationally (Rupen 1979: 23) this is a debatable point. While Bawden also acknowledges the role played by the Soviet Communist Party and Comintern (the Communist International), he also writes that judging by the original composition of the Government in 1921, "at most it can have been a few extremists who looked forward to ultimate communism" (1989: 235). It must also be kept in mind, however, that even lamas and nobles can be revolutionaries, and the lack of Marxist-Leninist propaganda can very easily be seen as a tactical move.

Concerned with consolidating their position, and defeating the White Russians, the socialists did not immediately seek to bring about substantial social and economic changes, although the 1924 Constitution did note "the fundamental task ... is to obliterate the remains of the feudo-theocratic system" (Triska 1968: 293). It was not until the late 1920s and early 1930s that they would concentrate on destroying both the feudal system and the power of the Lamaist Church. Indeed, both lamas and nobles were active in the 1921 Revolution, and in establishing the new government. As we shall see in Chapter Six, an early MAHN oath even included defense of the Buddhist faith as one of its goals.

For the next seventy years, the Mongolian People's Republic was to essentially follow policy dictated by the Soviet Union, including deviations and purges. The 1920s were to be relatively capitalist in nature, followed by a sharp leftward swing in 1929. This 'leftist deviation' included a disastrous first attempt at collectivisation of livestock, when herdsmen often slaughtered animals rather than letting them being collectivised, much as has happened in the Soviet Union during collectivisation and "de-kulakisation". Several armed uprisings, especially in the western parts of Mongolia also took place at this time. This period of early socialism also saw the almost complete destruction of the nobility and the Buddhist Church, which was to continue throughout the 1930s.

The 'deviation' of 1929 was followed by the New Turn Policy of 1932. It was at this time that H. Choibalsan began to emerge as the next leader of Mongolia, and one who portrayed himself as the chosen heir of Sühbaatar, who had died in 1923.[21] (While under socialism, it was often alleged Sühbaatar had been poisoned by agents of the Bogd Khaan, or other counter-revolutionaries, in 1993 it was often said to have been the work of the Russians.) The 1930s were to characterized by waves of purges, similar to Stalin's Great Terror. Although the exact figures will probably never be known, it is estimated that out of a population of about one million people, anywhere from 30,000 to 300,000 died in the purges.

Although Mongolia was functionally independent (or more accurately, becoming a Soviet satellite state) after the 1921 Revolution, China did not immediately renounce its claim on the country. Under the terms of the Yalta Agreement after World War II, a plebiscite was held in Mongolia in 1946, and the people voted overwhelmingly to become independent. In 1961, the Mongolian People's Republic became a member of the United Nations. Mongolia's policy toward China largely followed the fortunes of Sino-Soviet relations, being relatively friendly up until the late 1950s, and deteriorating afterwards (Rahul 1989).

Collectivisation was 'successfully' undertaken in the 1950s, with the creation of the negdels.[22] In addition, education and medical care, largely non-existent prior to World War II, were greatly expanded. Choibalsan having died in 1952, the 1950s were also a time of re-evaluation, and a condemnation of the 'cult of personality' that had grown up around Choibalsan. He was succeeded by Yu. Tsedenbal, who was to rule for over 40 years.

Additionally, while some Western authors note that there was a relative liberalisation in intellectual circles in the 1950s (Bawden 1989: 410-411; Rupen 1964: 288), some Mongolian intellectuals had suggested to me that this period in fact marked the beginning of a loss of traditional historical knowledge. They suggested that it was with the success of collectivisation that the Sovietisation of history was most noticeable. This issue, while touched upon in Chapter Five, must await future research to be more fully explored.

The last years of Tsedenbal's reign (he was removed in 1984 and fled to the Soviet Union) were marked by a period of economic stagnation, now often known as "Tsedenbalism". The reforms of the 1980s, instituted by Tsedenbal's successor, Batmönh, and the democratic changes that followed are examined in Chapter Four.

Before dealing with the events of 1989/90 that lead to the fall of socialism in Chapter Four, I offer a brief ethnography of Ulaanbaatar in Chapter Three. This is intended largely to contextualize the rest of the dissertation, as well as fill in a gap in the ethnography of Mongolia.

Check out the bibliography.


21. Despite Sühbaatar's eminence in the early years of the Mongolian People's Republic, he in fact never held the office of Prime Minister.

22. There is relatively little written on this period of Mongolian history. Bawden (1989) remains the key work. Other works exist, such as Rupen (1979), but these tend to focus much more on international relations and the role of the Soviet Union. Sanders (1987) provides an overview of the government and economy in the later part of the socialist period.

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