This is the first comprehensive history of language planning in the USSR, covering the formative period under Lenin and Stalin. Based on party and state archival materials only recently made available, it explores the tension between linguistic russification and nativization of the Soviet experience. The author argues that from the moment of its greatest victory in the Russian Revolution to the difficult days of reconstruction after World War II, the government was locked into a hegemonic imperative which required a measure of dependence upon the rural Russians and peripheral non-Russian peoples as much as domination over them. Language issues help to understand how the Soviet state structure was a machine of centrifugal, as well as centripetal, force. To prove this point, the author examines such unprecedented initiatives as the simplification of the Russian spelling system; the 'latinization' of the Arabic alphabets of the Muslim peoples; and the reform of school grammars and teaching curriculums. He also offers new interpretations about the various linguistic trends which informed these projects, from G.G. Shpet's remarkable `structural' phenomenology, to N.Ia Marr's 'Marxist' school of linguistics, to Stalin's infamous linguistic essay of 1950. He reveals how the Communist Party micro-managed language reform in Muslim Central Asia, and how it dealt with decades of failure rates on the countrywide Russian language examinations. The result is an original reading of sociolinguistics and Soviet history, weaving together the scientific contributions of linguists, the political imperatives of the party-state, and the everyday responses of various social and ethnic groups.