Elusive rebels : researching the uprisings on the eve of the Great Femine in Kazakhstan (1921-1931)


Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


The article provides an outline of the most recent scholarly literature on the wave of anti-state insurgencies against collectivization and procurements of livestock and grain in the period between 1929 and 1931 in Kazakhstan. After briefly assessing the primary sources limitation for the study of the topic, the article provides a periodization and typology of the different uprisings and an overview of their development and causes. The authors then summarize the results of the most recent and complete monograph on the topic, written by Talas Omarbekov. Omarbekov’s book provides the most articulate exposition so far of the “national interpretation” of the wave of uprisings on the eve of the great famine,strongly connecting them with the 1916 revolt in the Kazakh steppe. Furthermore, the authors discuss other recent historiographical contributions to the topic, especially those from European historians, thus providing an up-to-date overview of the scholarly debate on this important page of Kazakh and Soviet history. The most important issues tackled by the scholarly literature about the uprisings are the continuity or discontinuity between the insurgency during collectivization and anti-colonial rebellions in the nineteenth and early twentieth century; the role of Kazakh elites in the insurgencies and the sources of their authority; the extent to which Tsarist domination had reshaped Kazakh society and influenced its ability to resist the Soviet state’s onslaught; and the question of whether the category of “civil war” is useful for understanding the widespread violence that engulfed Kazakhstan during collectivization and the great famine. The article concludes by underscoring the irreducibility of the diverse dynamics of uprisings in different provinces of Kazakhstan on the eve of the famine to a unitary political project and language. It also stresses the need for microhistories of single insurgency episodes, based on political police materials and local archives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-43
JournalJournal of history
Issue number2
Early online date10 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • famine
  • rebellion
  • local elite
  • collectivization
  • Kazakh steppe
  • continuity


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