A Contribution to the History of the National Programme in Austria and in Russia

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In Austria the national programme of the Social-Democratic Party was discussed and adopted at the Brünn Congress in 1899. There is a very widespread but mistaken opinion that this Congress adopted what is known as “cultural-national autonomy”. The reverse is true: the latter was unanimously rejected there.

The South-Slav Social-Democrats submitted to the Brünn Congress (see p. XV of the official Minutes of the Congress in German) a programme of cultural-national autonomy worded as follows:

(§2) “every nation inhabiting Austria, irrespective of the territory on which its members reside, shall constitute an autonomous group, which shall quite independently administer all its national (language and cultural) affairs”.

The words underlined by us clearly express the gist of “cultural-national autonomy” (otherwise called extra-territorial). The state is to perpetuate the delimitation of nations in educational and similar affairs, and every citizen is free to register with any nation he pleases.

At the Congress this programme was defended both by Kristan and the influential Ellenbogen. It was later with drawn,however. Not a single vote was cast for it. Victor Adler, the Party’s leader, said, “...I doubt whether anybody would at present consider this plan practicable” (p. 82 of the Minutes).

One of the arguments against it, on principle, was advanced by Preussler, who said: “The proposals tabled by comrades Kristan and Ellenbogen would result in chauvinism being perpetuated and introduced into every tiny community, into every tiny group” (ibid., p. 92).

Clause 3 of the Brünn Congress programme relevant to this subject reads as follows:

“The self-governing regions of a given nation shall form a single national association which shall settle all its national affairs quite autonomously.”

This is a territorialist programme which directly precludes, for example, Jewish cultural-national autonomy. Otto Bauer, the principal theoretician of “cultural-national autonomy”, devoted a special chapter of his book (1907) to proving that “cultural-national autonomy” for the Jews could not be demanded.

We would mention on this issue that Marxists stand for full freedom of association, including the association of any national regions (uyezds, volosts, villages, and so forth); but Social-Democrats cannot possibly agree to having statutory recognition given to single national associations within the state.

In Russia, as it happens, all the Jewish bourgeois parties (as well as the Bund, which actually follows in their wake) adopted the programme of “extra-territorial (cultural-national) autonomy”, which was rejected by all the Austrian theoreticians and by the Congress of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party!

This fact, which the Bundists for quite obvious reasons have often tried to deny, can be easily verified by a reference to the well-known book, Forms of the National Movement (St. Petersburg, 1910)—see also Prosveshcheniye No. 3, 1913.

This fact clearly shows that the more backward and more petty-bourgeois social structure of Russia has resulted in some of the Marxists becoming much more infected with bourgeois nationalism.

The Bund’s nationalist vacillations were formally and unequivocally condemned long ago by the Second (1903) Congress, which flatly rejected the amendment moved by the Bundist Goldblatt on “the setting up of institutions guaranteeing freedom of development for the nationalities” (a pseudonym for “cultural-national autonomy”).

When, at the August 1912 Conference of liquidators, the Caucasian Mensheviks, who until then had for decades been strenuously fighting the Bund, themselves slipped into nationalism, under the influence of the entire nationalist atmosphere of the counter-revolution, the Bolsheviks were not the only ones to condemn them. The Caucasian Mensheviks were also emphatically condemned by the Menshevik Plekhanov, who described their decision as “the adaptation of socialism to nationalism”.

“The Caucasian comrades,” Plekhanov wrote, “who have begun to talk about cultural autonomy instead of political autonomy, have merely certified the fact that they have unwisely submitted to the hegemony of the Bund.”

Besides the Jewish bourgeois parties, the Bund and the liquidators, “cultural-national autonomy” was adopted only by the conference of the petty-bourgeois national parties of the Left-Narodnik trend. But even here four parties (the Jewish Socialist Labour Party; the Byelorussian Hromada; the Dashnaktsutyun and the Georgian Socialists-Federalists[1]), adopted this programme, while the two largest parties abstained from voting: these were the Russian Left Narodniks and the Polish “Fracy” (P.S.P.)!

The Russian Left Narodniks expressed particular opposition to the compulsory, legal-state associations of nationalities proposed in the famous Bund plan.

From this brief historical survey it is clear why both the February and the summer conferences of Marxists in 1913 emphatically condemned the petty-bourgeois and nationalist idea of “cultural-national autonomy”.[2]

  1. The reference is to Byelorussian Socialist Hromada—a nationalist organisation which came into being in 1902 under the name of “Byelorussian Revolutionary Hromada”. It defended the interests of the Byelorussian bourgeoisie, landlords and kulaks, denied the revolutionary class struggle, and tried to keep the Byelorussian people away from the Russian revolutionary working class. These attempts met with no support among the working masses of the Byelorussian people. In the national question, the Hromada stood for “cultural-national autonomy”. After the February bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1917 the Hromada supported the policy of the bourgeois Provisional Government. Following the October Socialist Revolution it split up into three counter-revolutionary groups who joined the whiteguards and foreign interventionists in an active struggle against the Soviets.
    Dashnaktsutyun—a bourgeois-nationalist party founded in the early nineties of the nineteenth century in Turkish Armenia with the aim of liberating the Armenians from the Turkish yoke. The party was a bourgeois-democratic conglomerate of representatives of various classes. Alongside the bourgeoisie, a prominent place in it was occupied by the national intelligentsia, as well as by peasants and workers unaffected by Social-Democratic propaganda, and part of the lumpenproletariat forming the zinvors squads.
    On the eve of the 1905–07 Revolution this party transferred its activities to the Caucasus and aligned itself with the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The party’s Left wing formed the Young Dashnaktsutyun group, which joined the S. R. Party in 1907.
    The activities of the Dashnaktsutyun were of an anti-popular nature. Its nationalist propaganda was greatly detrimental to the internationalist education of the proletariat and the masses of Armenia and the entire Transcaucasia.
    After the February bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1917, the Dashnaks supported the policy of the bourgeois Provisional Government. After the October Socialist Revolution they entered into a counter-revolutionary bloc with the Mensheviks, S. R.s and Musavatists against the Bolsheviks. In 1918–20 the Dashnaks stood at the head of the bourgeois-nationalist counter-revolutionary government of Armenia. Their action was designed to convert Armenia into a colony of the foreign imperialists and a stronghold of the Anglo-French interventionists and Russian whiteguards in their struggle against the Soviet government. Under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party and with the help of the Red Army, the working people of Armenia overthrew the Dashnak government in November 1920. With the victory of the Soviets, the Dashnaktsutyun organisations in Transcaucasia were smashed and liquidated.
    Georgian Socialists-Federalists—a bourgeois-nationalist party founded in April 1904. Demanded national autonomy for Georgia within the framework of the Russian bourgeois-landlord state. During the period of reaction, the Socialists-Federalists became open opponents of the revolution. In concert with the Mensheviks and anarchists, this party tried to smash the united international front of the working people of Transcaucasia against tsarism and capitalism. After the Great October Socialist Revolution the S. F.s, together with the Georgian Mensheviks, the Dashnaks and Musavatists, organised a counter-revolutionary bloc, which was supported by the Germano-Turkish, and later, by the Anglo-French interventionists.
  2. See present edition, Vol. 18, p. 461 and Vol. 19, pp. 427–28.—Ed.