A while back we had a long and interesting thread about the crackpot linguistic theories of N. Y. Marr, which were officially imposed by Stalin for a couple of decades before he officially denounced them. (Marr himself had the good sense to die in 1934, avoiding all sorts of unpleasantness.) The denouncing was done in the 1950 article “Concerning Marxism in Linguistics,” which begins with the pleasingly succinct Q&A “QUESTION: Is it true that language is a superstructure on the base? ANSWER: No, it is not true.” (There have long been allegations that the article was written not by Stalin but by Marr’s longtime critic Arnold Chikobava; I doubt we will ever know, but it’s silly to suppose Stalin was incapable of writing it.) The effect of the article was immediate and severe: everyone hastily backtracked from the now deprecated theory, and actual linguistic science was back in fashion. But I have long wondered why the Great Helmsman made this particular intervention, and I’ve just come across a plausible suggestion by Geoffrey Hosking in his excellent Rulers and Victims: The Russians in the Soviet Union (p. 261):
What motivated this abrupt reversal of policy? On this matter no direct evidence exists, but one may hypothesize that the change was a delayed aspect of the move away from a class-based and internationalist approach to the building of socialism toward a Russian cultural and imperial one. Marr’s doctrine had implied that there might ultimately be an international language of the proletariat, generated by cross-fertilization of existing languages but distinct from any of them. Stalin, however, clearly believed by now that the appropriate international proletarian language was and would remain Russian. World socialism was to be an infinitely extended Russian-Soviet empire, at least until the ultimate triumph over imperialism.
Again, we’ll never know, but it makes sense. (And I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in the difficult question of what it means to be Russian as opposed to being the citizen of an empire or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; it’s a worthy successor of his Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917, which I quoted almost a decade ago.)