Critical Remarks on the National Question
Published in 1913, in the journal Prosveshcheniye Nos. 10, 11 and 12. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the journal text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 17-51.
The article “Critical Remarks on the National Question” was written by Lenin in October-December 1913 and published the same year in the Bolshevik legal journal Prosveshcheniye Nos. 10, 11 and 12.
The article was preceded by lectures on the national question which Lenin delivered in a number of Swiss cities—Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne and Berne—in the summer of 1913.
In the autumn of 1913 Lenin made a report on the national question at the “August” (“Summer”) Conference of the Central Committee of the RSDLP with Party workers. A resolution on the report drafted by Lenin was adopted. After the Conference Lenin started work on his article “Critical Remarks on the National Question”.
It is obvious that the national question has now become prominent among the problems of Russian public life. The aggressive nationalism of the reactionaries, the transition of counter-revolutionary bourgeois liberalism to nationalism (particularly Great-Russian, but also Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, etc.), and lastly, the increase of nationalist vacillations among the different “national” (i. e., non-Great-Russian) Social-Democrats, who have gone to the length of violating the Party Programme—all these make it incumbent on us to give more attention to the national question than we have done so far.
This article pursues a special object, namely, to examine, in their general bearing, precisely these programme vacillations of Marxists and would-be Marxists, on the national question. In Severnaya Pravda No. 29 (for September 5, 1913, “Liberals and Democrats on the Language Question” ) I had occasion to speak of the opportunism of the liberals on the national question; this article of mine was attacked by the opportunist Jewish newspaper Zeit, in an article by Mr. F. Liebman. From the other side, the programme of the Russian Marxists on the national question has been criticised by the Ukrainian opportunist Mr. Lev Yurkevich (Dzvin, 1913, Nos. 7–8). Both these writers touched upon so many questions that to reply to them we are obliged to deal with the most diverse aspects of the subject. I think the most convenient thing would be to start with a reprint of the article from Severnaya Pravda.
1. Liberals and Democrats on the Language Question[edit source]
On several occasions the newspapers have mentioned the report of the Governor of the Caucasus, a report that is noteworthy, not for its Black-Hundred spirit, but for its timid “liberalism”. Among other things, the Governor objects to artificial Russification of non-Russian nationalities. Representatives of non-Russian nationalities in the Caucasus are themselves striving to teach their children Russian; an example of this is the Armenian church schools, in which the teaching of Russian is not obligatory.
Russkoye Slovo (No. 198), one of the most widely circulating liberal newspapers in Russia, points to this fact and draws the correct conclusion that the hostility towards the Russian language in Russia “stems exclusively from” the “artificial” (it should have said “forced”) implanting of that language.
“There is no reason to worry about the fate of the Russian language. It will itself win recognition throughout Russia,” says the newspaper. This is perfectly true, because the requirements of economic exchange will always compel the nationalities living in one state (as long as they wish to live together) to study the language of the majority. The more democratic the political system in Russia becomes, the more powerfully, rapidly and extensively capitalism will develop, the more urgently Will the requirements of economic exchange impel various nationalities to study the language most convenient for general commercial relations.
The liberal newspaper, however, hastens to slap itself in the face and demonstrate its liberal inconsistency.
“Even those who oppose Russification,” it says, “would hardly be likely to deny that in a country as huge as Russia there must be one single official language, and that this language can be only Russian.”
Logic turned inside out! Tiny Switzerland has not lost anything, but has gained from having not one single official language, but three—German, French and Italian. In Switzerland 70 per cent of the population are Germans (in Russia 43 per cent are Great Russians), 22 per cent French (in Russia 17 per cent are Ukrainians) and 7 per cent Italians (in Russia 6 per cent are Poles and 4.5 per cent Byelorussians). If Italians in Switzerland often speak French in their common parliament they do not do so because they are menaced by some savage police law (there are none such in Switzerland), but because the civilised citizens of a democratic state themselves prefer a language that is understood by a majority. The French language does not instil hatred in Italians because it is the language of a free civilised nation, a language that is not imposed by disgusting police measures.
Why should “huge” Russia, a much more varied and terribly backward country, inhibit her development by the retention of any kind of privilege for any one language? Should not the, contrary he true, liberal gentlemen? Should not Russia, if she wants to overtake Europe, put an end to every kind of privilege as quickly as possible, as completely as possible and as vigorously as possible?
If all privileges disappear, if the imposition of any one language ceases, all Slays will easily and rapidly learn to understand each other and will not be frightened by the “horrible” thought that speeches in different languages will be heard in the common parliament. The requirements of economic exchange will themselves decide which language of the given country it is to the advantage of the majority to know in the interests of commercial relations. This decision will be all the firmer because it is adopted voluntarily by a population of various nationalities, and its adoption will be the more rapid and extensive the more consistent the democracy and, as a consequence of it, the more rapid the development of capitalism.
The liberals approach the language question in the same way as they approach all political questions—like hypocritical hucksters, holding out one hand (openly)to democracy and the other (behind their backs) to the feudalists and police. We are against privileges, shout the liberals, and under cover they haggle with the feudalists for first one, then another, privilege.
Such is the nature of all liberal-bourgeois nationalism—not only Great-Russian (it is the worst of them all because of its violent character and its kinship with the Purishkeviches), but Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Georgian and every other nationalism. Under the slogan of “national culture” the bourgeoisie of all nations, both in Austria and in Russia, are in fact pursuing the policy of splitting the workers, emasculating democracy and haggling with the feudalists over the sale of the people’s rights and the people’s liberty.
The slogan of working-class democracy is not “national culture” but the international culture of democracy and the world-wide working-class movement. Let the bourgeoisie deceive the people with various “positive” national programmes. The class-conscious worker will answer the bourgeoisie—there is only one solution to the national problem (insofar as it can, in general, be solved in the capitalist world, the world of profit, squabbling and exploitation), and that solution is consistent democracy.
The proof—Switzerland in Western Europe, a country with an old culture and Finland in Eastern Europe, a country with a young culture.
The national programme of working-class democracy is: absolutely no privileges for any one nation or any one language; the solution of the problem of the political self-determination of nations, that is, their separation as states by completely free, democratic methods; the promulgation of a law for the whole state by virtue of which any measure (rural, urban or communal, etc., etc.) introducing any privilege of any kind for one of the nations and militating against the equality of nations or the rights of a national minority, shall be declared illegal and ineffective, and any citizen of the state shall have the right to demand that such a measure be annulled as unconstitutional, and that those who attempt to put it into effect be punished.
Working-class democracy contraposes to the nationalist wrangling of the various bourgeois parties over questions of language, etc., the demand for the unconditional unity and complete amalgamation of workers of all nationalities in all working-class organisations—trade union, co-operative, consumers’, educational and all others—in contradistinction to any kind of bourgeois nationalism. Only this type of unity and amalgamation can uphold democracy and defend the interests of the workers against capital—which is already international and is becoming more so—and promote the development of mankind towards a new way of life that is alien to all privileges and all exploitation.
2. “National Culture”[edit source]
As the reader will see, the article in Severnaya Pravda, made use of a particular example, i. e., the problem of the official language, to illustrate the inconsistency and opportunism of the liberal bourgeoisie, which, in the national question, extends a hand to the feudalists and the police. Everybody will understand that, apart from the problem of an official language, the liberal bourgeoisie behaves just as treacherously, hypocritically and stupidly (even from the standpoint of the interests of liberalism) in a number of other related issues.
The conclusion to be drawn from this? It is that all liberal-bourgeois nationalism sows the greatest corruption among the workers and does immense harm to the cause of freedom and the proletarian class struggle. This bourgeois (and bourgeois-feudalist) tendency is all the more dangerous for its being concealed behind the slogan of “national culture”. It is under the guise of national culture—Great-Russian, Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, and so forth—that the Black-Hundreds and the clericals, and also the bourgeoisie of all nations, are doing their dirty and reactionary work.
Such are the facts of the national life of today, if viewed from the Marxist angle, i. e., from the standpoint of the class struggle, and if the slogans are compared with the interests and policies of classes, and not with meaningless “general principles”, declamations and phrases.
The slogan of national culture is a bourgeois (and often also a Black-Hundred, and clerical) fraud. Our slogan is: the international culture of democracy and of the world working-class movement.
Here the Bundist Mr. Liebman rushes into the fray and annihilates me with the following deadly tirade:
“Anyone in the least familiar with the national question knows that international culture is not non-national culture (culture without a national form); non-national culture, which must not be Russian, Jewish, or Polish, but only pure culture, is nonsense; international ideas can appeal to the working class only when they are adapted to the language spoken by the worker, and to the concrete national conditions under which he lives; the worker should not be indifferent to the condition and development of his national culture, because it is through it, and only through it, that he is able to participate in the ‘international culture of democracy and of the world working-class movement’. This is well known, but V. I. turns a deaf ear to it all....”
Ponder over this typically Bundist argument, designed, if you please, to demolish the Marxist thesis that I advanced. With the air of supreme self-confidence of one who is “familiar with the national question”, this Bundist passes off ordinary bourgeois views as “well-known” axioms.
It is true, my dear Bundist, that international culture is not non national. Nobody said that it was. Nobody has proclaimed a “pure” culture, either Polish, Jewish, or Russian, etc., and your jumble of empty words is simply an attempt to distract the reader’s attention and to obscure the issue with tinkling words.
The elements of democratic and socialist culture are present, if only in rudimentary form, in every national culture, since in every nation there are toiling and exploited masses, whose conditions of life inevitably give rise to the ideology of democracy and socialism. But every nation also possesses a bourgeois culture (and most nations a reactionary and clerical culture as well) in the form, not merely of “elements”, but of the dominant culture. Therefore, the general “national culture” is the culture of the landlords, the clergy and the bourgeoisie. This fundamental and, for a Marxist, elementary truth, was kept in the background by the Bundist, who “drowned” it in his jumble of words, i. e., instead of revealing and clarifying the class gulf to the reader, he in fact obscured it. In fact, the Bundist acted like a bourgeois, whose every interest requires the spreading of a belief in a non-class national culture.
In advancing the slogan of “the international culture of democracy and of the world working-class movement”, we take from each national culture only its democratic and socialist elements; we take them only and absolutely in opposition to the bourgeois culture and the bourgeois nationalism of each nation. No democrat, and certainly no Marxist, denies that all languages should have equal status, or that it is necessary to polemise with one’s “native” bourgeoisie in one’s native language and to advocate anti-clerical or anti-bourgeois ideas among one’s “native” peasantry and petty bourgeoisie. That goes without saying, but the Bundist uses these indisputable truths to obscure the point in dispute, i. e., the real issue.
The question is whether it is permissible for a Marxist, directly or indirectly, to advance the slogan of national culture, or whether he should oppose it by advocating, in all languages, the slogan of workers’ internationalism while “adapting” himself to all local and national features.
The significance of the “national culture” slogan is not determined by some petty intellectual’s promise, or good intention, to “interpret” it as “meaning the development through it of an international culture”. It would be puerile subjectivism to look at it in that way. The significance of the slogan of national culture is determined by the objective alignment of all classes in a given country, and in all countries of the world. The national culture of the bourgeoisie is a fact (and, I repeat, the bourgeoisie everywhere enters into deals with the landed proprietors and the clergy). Aggressive bourgeois nationalism, which drugs the minds of the workers, stultifies and disunites them in order that the bourgeoisie may lead them by the halter—such is the fundamental fact of the times.
Those who seek to serve the proletariat must unite the workers of all nations, and unswervingly fight bourgeois nationalism, domestic and foreign. The place of those who advocate the slogan of national culture is among the nationalist petty bourgeois, not among the Marxists.
Take a concrete example. Can a Great-Russian Marxist accept the slogan of national, Great-Russian, culture? No, he cannot. Anyone who does that should stand in the ranks of the nationalists, not of the Marxists. Our task is to fight the dominant, Black-Hundred and bourgeois national culture of the Great Russians, and to develop, exclusively in the internationalist spirit and in the closest alliance with the Workers of other countries, the rudiments also existing in the history of our democratic and working-class movement. Fight your own Great-Russian landlords and bourgeoisie, fight their “culture” in the name of internationalism, and, in so fighting, “adapt” yourself to the special features of the Purishkeviches and Struves—that is your task, not preaching or tolerating the Slogan of national culture.
The same applies to the most oppressed and persecuted nation—the Jews. Jewish national culture is the slogan of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie, the slogan of our enemies. But there are other elements in Jewish culture and in Jewish history as a whole. Of the ten and a half million Jews in the world, somewhat over a half live in Galicia and Russia, backward and semi-barbarous countries, where the Jews are forcibly kept in the status of a caste. The other half lives in the civilised world, and there the Jews do not live as a segregated caste. There the great world-progressive features of Jewish culture stand clearly revealed: its internationalism, its identification with the advanced movements of the epoch (the percentage of Jews in the democratic and proletarian movements is everywhere higher than the percentage of Jews among the population).
Whoever, directly or indirectly, puts forward the slogan of Jewish “national culture” is (whatever his good intentions may be) an enemy of the proletariat, a supporter of all that is outmoded and connected with caste among the Jewish people; he is an accomplice of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, those Jewish Marxists who mingle with the Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and other workers in international Marxist organisations, and make their contribution (both in Russian and in Yiddish) towards creating the international culture of the working-class movement—those Jews, despite the separatism of the Bund, uphold the best traditions of Jewry by fighting the slogan of “national culture”.
Bourgeois nationalism and proletarian internationalism—these are the two irreconcilably hostile slogans that correspond to the two great class camps throughout the capitalist world, and express the two policies (nay, the two world outlooks) in the national question. In advocating the slogan of national culture and building up on it an entire plan and practical programme of what they call “cultural-national autonomy”, the Bundists are in effect instruments of bourgeois nationalism among the workers.
3. The Nationalist Bogey of “Assimilation”[edit source]
The question of assimilation, i. e., of the shedding of national features, and absorption by another nation, strikingly illustrates the consequences of the nationalist vacillations of the Bundists and their fellow-thinkers.
Mr. Liebman, who faithfully conveys and repeats the stock arguments, or rather, tricks, of the Bundists, has qualified as “the old assimilation story” the demand for the unity and amalgamation of the workers of all nationalities in a given country in united workers’ organisations (see the concluding part of the article in Severnaya Pravda).
“Consequently,” says Mr. F. Liebman, commenting on the concluding part of the article in Severnaya Pravda, “if asked what nationality he belongs to, the worker must answer: I am a Social-Democrat.”
Our Bundist considers this the acme of wit. As a matter of fact, lie gives himself away completely by such witticisms and outcries about “assimilation”, levelled against a consistently democratic and Marxist slogan.
Developing capitalism knows two historical tendencies in the national question. The first is the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states. The second is the development and growing frequency of international intercourse in every form, the break-down of national barriers, the creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science, etc.
Both tendencies are a universal law of capitalism. The former predominates in the beginning of its development, the latter characterises a mature capitalism that is moving towards its transformation into socialist society. The Marxists’ national programme takes both tendencies into account, and advocates, firstly, the equality of nations and languages and the impermissibility of all privileges in this respect (and also the right of nations to self—determination with which we shall deal separately later); secondly, the principle of internationalism and uncompromising struggle against contamination of the proletariat with bourgeois nationalism, even of the most refined kind.
The question arises: what does our Bundist mean when he cries out to heaven against “assimilation”? He could not have meant the oppression of nations, or the privileges enjoyed by a particular nation, because the word “assimilation” here does not fit at all, because all Marxists, individually, and as an official, united whole, have quite definitely and unambiguously condemned the slightest violence against and oppression and inequality of nations, and finally because this general Marxist idea, which the Bundist has attacked, is expressed in the Severnaya Pravda article in the most emphatic manner.
No, evasion is impossible here. In condemning “assimilation” Mr. Liebman had in mind, not violence, not inequality, and not privileges. Is there anything real left in the concept of assimilation, after all violence and all inequality have been eliminated?
Yes, there undoubtedly is. What is left is capitalism’s world-historical tendency, to break down national barriers, obliterate national distinctions, and to assimilate nations—a tendency which manifests itself more and more powerfully with every passing decade, and is one of the greatest driving forces transforming capitalism into socialism.
Whoever does not recognise and champion the equality of nations and languages, and does not fight against all national oppression or inequality, is not a Marxist; he is not even a democrat. That is beyond doubt. But it is also beyond doubt that the pseudo-Marxist who heaps abuse upon a Marxist of another nation for being an “assimilator” is simply a nationalist philistine. In this unhandsome category of people are all the Bundists and (as we shall shortly see) Ukrainian nationalist-socialists such as L. Yurkevich, Dontsov and Co.
To show concretely how reactionary the views held by these nationalist philistines are, we shall cite facts of three kinds.
It is the Jewish nationalists’ in Russia in general, and the Bundists in particular, who vociferate most about Russian orthodox Marxists being “assimilators”. And yet, as the afore-mentioned figures show, out of the ten and a half million Jews all over the world, about half that number live in the civilised world, where conditions favouring “assimilation” are strongest, whereas the unhappy, down trodden, disfranchised Jews in Russia and Galicia, who are crushed under the heel of the Purishkeviches (Russian and Polish), live where conditions for “assimilation” least prevail, where there Is most segregation, and even a “Pale of Settlement”, a numerus clausus and other charming features of the Purishkevich regime.
The Jews in the civilised world are not a nation, they have in the main become assimilated, say Karl Kautsky and Otto Bauer. The Jews in Galicia and in Russia are not a nation; unfortunately (through no fault of their own but through that of the Purishkeviches), they are still a caste here. Such is the incontrovertible judgement of people who are undoubtedly familiar with the history of Jewry and take the above-cited facts into consideration.
What do these facts prove? It is that only Jewish reactionary philistines, who want to turn hack the wheel of history, and make it proceed, not from the conditions prevailing in Russia and Galicia to those prevailing in Paris and New York, but in the reverse direction—only they can clamour against “assimilation”.
The best Jews, those who are celebrated in world history, and have given the world foremost leaders of democracy and socialism, have never clamoured against assimilation. It is only those who contemplate the “rear aspect” of Jewry with reverential awe that clamour against assimilation.
A rough idea of the scale which the general process of assimilation of nations is assuming under the present conditions of advanced capitalism may be obtained, for example, from the immigration statistics of the United States of America. During the decade between 1891-1900, Europe sent 3,700,000 people there, and during the nine years between 1901 and 1909, 7,200,000. The 1900 census in the United States recorded over 10,000,000 foreigners. New York State, in which, according to the same census, there were over 78,000 Austrians, 136,000 Englishmen, 20,000 Frenchmen, 480,000 Germans, 37,000 Hungarians, 425,000 Irish, 182,000 Italians, 70,000 Poles, 166,000 people from Russia (mostly Jews), 43,000 Swedes, etc., grinds down national distinctions. And what is taking place on a grand, international scale in New York is also to be seen in every big city and industrial township.
No one unobsessed by nationalist prejudices can fail to perceive that this process of assimilation of nations by capitalism means the greatest historical progress, the break down of hidebound national conservatism in the various backwoods, especially in backward countries like Russia.
Take Russia and the attitude of Great Russians towards the Ukrainians. Naturally, every democrat, not to mention Marxists, will strongly oppose the incredible humiliation of Ukrainians, and demand complete equality for them. But it would be a downright betrayal of socialism and a silly policy even from the standpoint of the bourgeois “national aims” of the Ukrainians to weaken the ties and the alliance between the Ukrainian and Great-Russian proletariat that now exist within the confines of a single state.
Mr. Lev Yurkevich, who calls himself a “Marxist” (poor Marx!), is an example of that silly policy. In 1906, Sokolovsky (Basok) and Lukashevich (Tuchapsky) asserted, Mr. Yurkevich writes, that the Ukrainian proletariat had be come completely Russified and needed no separate organisation. Without quoting a single fact bearing on the direct issue, Mr. Yurkevich falls upon both for saying this and cries out hysterically—quite in the spirit of the basest, most stupid and most reactionary nationalism—that this is “national passivity”, “national renunciation”, that these men have “split [!!] the Ukrainian Marxists”, and so forth. Today, despite the “growth of Ukrainian national consciousness among the workers”, the minority of the workers are “nationally conscious”, while the majority, Mr. Yurkevich assures us, “are still under,the influence of Russian culture”. And it is our duty, this nationalist philistine exclaims, “not to follow the masses, hut to lead them, to explain to them their national aims (natsionalna sprava)” (Dzvin, p. 89).
This argument of Mr. Yurkevich’s is wholly bourgeois-nationalistic. But even from the point of view of the bourgeois nationalists, some of whom stand for complete equality and autonomy for the Ukraine, while others stand for an independent Ukrainian state, this argument will not wash. The Ukrainians’ striving for liberation is opposed by the Great-Russian and Polish landlord class and by the bourgeoisie of these two nations. What social force is capable of standing up to these classes? The first decade of the twentieth century provided an actual reply to this question: that force is none other than the working class, which rallies the democratic peasantry behind it. By striving to divide, and thereby weaken, the genuinely democratic force, whose victory would make national oppression impossible, Mr. Yurkevich is betraying, riot only the interests of democracy in general, but also the interests of his own country, the Ukraine. Given united action by the Great-Russian and Ukrainian proletarians, a free Ukraine is possible; without such unity, it is out of the question.
But Marxists do not confine themselves to the bourgeois-national standpoint. For several decades a well-defined process of accelerated economic development has been going on in the South, i. e., the Ukraine, attracting hundreds of thousands of peasants and workers from Great Russia to the capitalist farms, mines, and cities. The “assimilation”—within these limits—of the Great-Russian and Ukrainian proletariat is an indisputable fact. And this fact is undoubtedly progressive. Capitalism is replacing the ignorant, conservative, settled muzhik of the Great-Russian or Ukrainian backwoods with a mobile proletarian whose conditions of life break down specifically national narrow-mindedness, both Great-Russian and Ukrainian. Even if we assume that, in time, there will be a state frontier between Great Russia and the Ukraine, the historically progressive nature of the “assimilation” of the Great-Russian and Ukrainian workers will be as undoubted as the progressive nature of the grinding down of nations in America. The freer the Ukraine and Great Russia become, the more extensive and more rapid will be the development of capitalism, which will still more powerfully attract the workers, the working masses of all nations from all regions of the state and from all the neighbouring states (should Russia become a neighbouring state in relation to the Ukraine) to the cities, the mines, and the factories.
Mr. Lev Yurkevich acts like a real bourgeois, and a short-sighted, narrow-minded, obtuse bourgeois at that, i. e., like a philistine, when he dismisses the benefits to be gained from, the intercourse, amalgamation and assimilation of the proletariat of the two nations, for the sake of the momentary success of the Ukrainian national cause (sprava). The national cause comes first and the proletarian cause second, the bourgeois nationalists say, with the Yurkeviches, Dontsovs and similar would-be Marxists repeating it after them. The proletarian cause must come first, we say, because it not only protects the lasting and fundamental interests of labour and of humanity, but also those of democracy; and without democracy neither an autonomous nor an independent Ukraine is conceivable.
Another point to be noted in Mr. Yurkevich’s argument, which is so extraordinarily rich in nationalist gems, is this: the minority of Ukrainian workers are nationally conscious, he says; “the majority are still under the influence of Russian culture” (bilshist perebuvaye shche pid vplyvom rosiiskoi kultury).
Contraposing Ukrainian culture as a whole to Great-Russian culture as a whole, when speaking of the proletariat, is a gross betrayal of the proletariat’s interests for the benefit of bourgeois nationalism.
There are two nations in every modern nation—we say to all nationalist-socialists. There are two national cultures in every national culture. There is the Great-Russian culture of the Purishkeviches, Guchkovs and Struves—hut there is also the Great-Russian culture typified in the names of Chernyshevsky and Plekhanov. There are the same two cultures in the Ukraine as there are in Germany, in France, in England, among the Jews, and so forth. If the majority of the Ukrainian workers are under the influence of Great-Russian culture, we also know definitely that the ideas of Great-Russian democracy and Social-Democracy operate parallel with the Great-Russian clerical and bourgeois culture. In fighting the latter kind of “culture”, the Ukrainian Marxist will always bring the former into focus, and say to his workers: “We must snatch at, make use of, and develop to the utmost every opportunity for intercourse with the Great-Russian class-conscious workers, with their literature and with their range of ideas; the fundamental interests of both the Ukrainian and the Great-Russian working-class movements demand it.”
If a Ukrainian Marxist allows himself to he swayed by his quite legitimate and natural hatred of the Great-Russian oppressors to such a degree that he transfers even a particle of this hatred, even if it be only estrangement, to the proletarian culture and proletarian cause of the Great-Russian workers, then such a Marxist will get bogged down in bourgeois nationalism. Similarly, the Great-Russian Marxist will be bogged down, not only in bourgeois, but also in Black-Hundred nationalism, if he loses sight, even for a moment, of the demand for complete equality for the Ukrainians, or of their right to forum an independent state.
The Great-Russian and Ukrainian workers must work together, and, as long as they live in a single state, act in the closest organisational unity and concert, towards a common or international culture of the proletarian movement, displaying absolute tolerance in the question of the language in which propaganda is conducted, and in the purely local or purely national details of that propaganda. This is the imperative demand of Marxism. All advocacy of the segregation of the workers of one nation from those of another, all attacks upon Marxist “assimilation”, or attempts, where the proletariat is concerned, to contrapose one national culture as a whole to another allegedly integral national culture, and so forth, is bourgeois nationalism, against which it is essential to wage a ruthless struggle.
4. “Cultural-National Autonomy”[edit source]
The question of the “national culture” slogan is of enormous importance to Marxists, not only because it determines the ideological content of all our propaganda and agitation on the national question, as distinct from bourgeois propaganda, but also because the entire programme of the much-discussed cultural-national autonomy is based on this slogan.
The main and fundamental flaw in this programme is that it aims at introducing the most refined, most absolute and most extreme nationalism. The gist of this programme is that every citizen registers as belonging to a particular nation, and every nation constitutes a legal entity with the right to impose compulsory taxation on its members, with national parliaments (Diets) and national secretaries of state (ministers).
Such an idea, applied to the national question, resembles Proudhon’s idea, as applied to capitalism. Not abolishing capitalism and its basis—commodity production—but purging that basis of abuses, of excrescences, and so forth; not abolishing exchange and exchange value, but, on the contrary, making it “constitutional”, universal, absolute, “fair”, and free of fluctuations, crises and abuses—such was Proudhon’s idea.
Just as Proudhon was petty-bourgeois, and his theory converted exchange and commodity production into an absolute category and exalted them as the acme of perfection, so is the theory and programme of “cultural-national autonomy” petty bourgeois, for it converts bourgeois nationalism into an absolute category, exalts it as the acme of perfection, and purges it of violence, injustice, etc.
Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the “most just”, “purest”, most refined and civilised brand. In place of all forms of nationalism Marxism advances internationalism, the amalgamation of all nations in the higher unity, a unity that is growing before our eyes with every mile of railway line that is built, with every international trust, and every workers’ association that is formed (an association that is international in its economic activities as well as in its ideas and aims).
The principle of nationality is historically inevitable in bourgeois society and, taking this society into due account, the Marxist fully recognises the historical legitimacy of national movements. But to prevent this recognition from becoming an apologia of nationalism, it must be strictly limited to what is progressive in such movements, in order that this recognition may not lead to bourgeois ideology obscuring proletarian consciousness.
The awakening of the masses from feudal lethargy, and their struggle against all national oppression, for the sovereignty of the people, of the nation, are progressive. Hence, it is the Marxist’s bounden duty to stand for the most resolute and consistent democratism on all aspects of the national question. This task is largely a negative one. But this is the limit the proletariat can go to in supporting nationalism, for beyond that begins the “positive” activity of the bourgeoisie striving to fortify nationalism.
To throw off the feudal yoke, all national oppression, and all privileges enjoyed by any particular nation or language, is the imperative duty of the proletariat as a democratic force, and is certainly in the interests of the proletarian class struggle, which is obscured and retarded by bickering on the national question. But to go beyond these strictly limit ed and definite historical limits in helping bourgeois nationalism means betraying the proletariat and siding with the bourgeoisie. There is a border-line here, which is often very slight and which the Bundists and Ukrainian nationalist-socialists completely lose sight of.
Combat all national oppression? Yes, of course! Fight for any kind of national development, for “national culture” in general?—Of course not. The economic development of capitalist society presents us with examples of immature national movements all over the world, examples of the formation of big nations out of a number of small ones, or to the detriment of some of the small ones, and also examples of the assimilation of nations. The development of nationality in general is the principle of bourgeois nationalism; hence the exclusiveness of bourgeois nationalism, hence the endless national bickering. The proletariat, however, far from undertaking to uphold the national development of every nation, on the contrary, warns the masses against such illusions, stands for the fullest freedom of capitalist intercourse and welcomes every kind of assimilation of nations, except that which is founded on force or privilege.
Consolidating nationalism within a certain “justly” delimited sphere, “constitutionalising” nationalism, and securing the separation of all nations from one another by means of a special state institution—such is the ideological foundation and content of cultural-national autonomy. This idea is thoroughly bourgeois and thoroughly false. The proletariat cannot support any consecration of nationalism; on the contrary, it supports everything that helps to obliterate national distinctions and remove national barriers; it supports everything that makes the ties between nationalities closer and closer, or tends to merge nations. To act differently means siding with reactionary nationalist philistinism.
When, at their Congress in Brünn (in 1899), the Austrian Social-Democrats discussed the plan for cultural-national autonomy, practically no attention was paid to a theoretical appraisal of that plan. It is, however, note worthy that the following two arguments were levelled against this programme: (1) it would tend to strengthen clericalism; (2) “its result would be the perpetuation of chauvinism, its introduction into every small community, into every small group” (p. 92 of the official report of the Brünn Congress, in German. A Russian translation was published by the Jewish nationalist party, the J.S.L.P.).
There can be no doubt that “national culture”, in the ordinary sense of the term, i. e., schools, etc., is at present under the predominant influence of the clergy and the bourgeois chauvinists in all countries in the world. When the Bundists, in advocating “cultural-national” autonomy, say that the constituting of nations will keep the class struggle within them clean of all extraneous considerations, then that is manifest and ridiculous sophistry. It is primarily in the economic and political sphere that a serious class struggle is waged in any capitalist society. To separate the sphere of education from this is, firstly, absurdly utopian, because schools (like “national culture” in general) cannot be separated from economics and politics; secondly, it is the economic and political life of a capitalist country that necessitates at every step the smashing of the absurd and outmoded national barriers and prejudices, whereas separation of the school system and the like, would only perpetuate, intensify and strengthen “pure” clericalism and “pure” bourgeois chauvinism.
On the boards of joint-stock companies we find capitalists of different nations sitting together in complete harmony. At the factories workers of different nations work side by side. In any really serious and profound political issue sides are taken according to classes, not nations. With drawing school education and the like from state control and placing it under the control of the nations is in effect an attempt to separate from economics, which unites the nations, the most highly, so to speak, ideological sphere of social life, the sphere in which “pure” national culture or the national cultivation of clericalism and chauvinism has the freest play.
In practice, the plan for “extra-territorial” or “cultural national” autonomy could mean only one thing: the division of educational affairs according to nationality, i.e., the introduction of national curias in school affairs. Sufficient thought to the real significance of the famous Bund plan will enable one to realise how utterly reactionary it is even from the standpoint of democracy, let alone from that of the proletarian class struggle for socialism.
A single instance and a single scheme for the “nationalisation” of the school system will make this point abundantly clear. In the United States of America the division of the States into Northern and Southern holds to this day in all departments of life; the former possess the greatest traditions of freedom and of struggle against the slave-owners; the latter possess the greatest traditions of slave ownership, survivals of persecution of the Negroes, who are economically oppressed and culturally backward (44 per cent of Negroes are illiterate, and 6 per cent of whites), and so forth. In the Northern States Negro children attend the same schools as white children do. In the South there are separate “national”, or racial, whichever you please, schools for Negro children. I think that this is the sole instance of actual “nationalisation” of schools.
In Eastern Europe there exists a country where things like the Beilis case are still possible, and Jews are condemned by the Purishkeviches to a condition worse than that of the Negroes. In that country a scheme for nationalising Jewish schools was recently mooted in the Ministry. Happily, this reactionary utopia is no more likely to be realised than the utopia of the Austrian petty bourgeoisie, who have despaired of achieving consistent democracy or of putting an end to national bickering, and have invented for the nations school-education compartments to keep them from bickering over the distribution of schools ... but have “constituted” themselves for an eternal bickering of one “national culture” with another.
In Austria, the idea of cultural-national autonomy has remained largely a flight of literary fancy, which the Austrian Social-Democrats themselves have not taken seriously. In Russia, however, it has been incorporated in the programmes of all the Jewish bourgeois parties, and of several petty-bourgeois, opportunist elements in the different nations—for example, the Bundists, the liquidators in the Caucasus, and the conference of Russian national parties of the Left-Narodnik trend. (This conference, we Will mention parenthetically, took place in 1907, its decision being adopted with abstention on the part of the Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries and the P.S.P., the Polish social-patriots. Abstention from voting is a method surprisingly characteristic of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and P.S.P., when they want to show their attitude towards a most important question of principle in the sphere of the national programme!)
In Austria it was Otto Bauer, the principal theoretician of “cultural-national autonomy”, who devoted a special chapter of his book to prove that such a programme cannot possibly be proposed for the Jews. In Russia, however, it is precisely among the Jews that all the bourgeois parties—and the Bund which echoes them—have adopted this programme. What does this go to show? It goes to show that history, through the political practice of another state, has exposed the absurdity of Bauer’s invention, in exactly the same way as the Russian Bernsteinians (Struve, Tugan-Baranovsky, Berdayev and Co.), through their rapid evolution from Marxism to liberalism, have exposed the real ideological content of the German Bernsteinism.
Neither the Austrian nor the Russian Social-Democrats have incorporated “cultural-national” autonomy in their programme. However, the Jewish bourgeois parties in a most backward country, and a number of petty-bourgeois, so-called socialist groups have adopted it in order to spread ideas of bourgeois nationalism among the working class in a refined form. This fact speaks for itself.
Since we have bad to touch upon the Austrian programme on the national question, we must reassert a truth which is often distorted by the Bundists. At the Brünn Congress a pure programme of “cultural-national autonomy” was presented. This was the programme of the South-Slav Social Democrats, § 2 of which reads: “Every nation living in Austria, irrespective of the territory occupied by its members, constitutes an autonomous group which manages all its national (language and cultural) affairs quite independently.” This programme was supported, not only by Kristan but by the influential Ellenbogen. But it was withdrawn; not a single vote was cast for it. A territorialist programme was adopted, i. e., one that did not create any national groups “irrespective of the territory occupied by the members of the nation”.
Clause 3 of the adopted programme reads: “The self governing regions of one and the same nation shall jointly form a nationally united association, which shall manage its national affairs on an absolutely autonomous basis” (cf. Prosveshcheniye, 1913, No. 4, p. 28). Clearly, this compromise programme is wrong too. An example will illustrate this. The German colonists’ community in Saratov Gubernia, plus the German working-class suburb of Riga or Lodz, plus the German housing estate near St. Petersburg, etc., would constitute a “nationally united association” of Germans in Russia. Obviously the Social-Democrats cannot demand such a thing or enforce such an association, although of course they do not in the least deny freedom of every kind of association, including associations of any communities of any nationality in a given state. The segregation, by a law of the state, of Germans, etc., in different localities and of different classes in Russia into a single German-national association may be practised by anybody—priests, bourgeois or philistines, but not by Social-Democrats.
5. The Equality of Nations and the Rights of National Minorities[edit source]
When they discuss the national question, opportunists in Russia are given to citing the example of Austria. In my article in Severnaya Pravda (No. 10, Prosveshcheniye, pp. 96–98), which the opportunists have attacked (Mr. Semkovsky in Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta, and Mr. Liebman in Zeit), I asserted that, insofar as that is at all possible under capitalism, there was only one solution of the national question, viz., through consistent democracy. In proof of this, I referred, among other things, to Switzerland.
This has not been to the liking of the two opportunists mentioned above, who are trying to refute it or belittle its significance. Kautsky, we are told, said that Switzerland is an exception; Switzerland, if you please, has a special kind of decentralisation, a special history, special geographical conditions, unique distribution of a population that speak different languages, etc., etc.
All these are nothing more than attempts to evade the issue. To be sure, Switzerland is an exception in that she is not a single-nation state. But Austria and Russia are also exceptions (or are backward, as Kautsky adds). To be sure, it was only her special, unique historical and social conditions that ensured Switzerland greater democracy than most of her European neighbours.
But where does all this come in, if we are speaking of the model to be adopted? In the whole world, under present-day conditions, countries in which any particular institution has been founded on consistent democratic principles are the exception. Does this prevent us, in our programme, from upholding consistent democracy in all institutions?
Switzerland’s special features lie in her history, her geographical and other conditions. Russia’s special features lie in the strength of her proletariat, which has no precedent in the epoch of bourgeois revolutions, and in her shocking general backwardness, which objectively necessitates an exceptionally rapid and resolute advance, under the threat of all sorts of drawbacks and reverses.
We are evolving a national programme from the proletarian standpoint; since when has it been recommended that the worst examples, rather than the best, be taken as a model?
At all events, does it not remain an indisputable and undisputed fact that national peace under capitalism has been achieved (insofar as it is achievable) exclusively in countries where consistent democracy prevails?
Since this is indisputable, the opportunists’ persistent references to Austria instead of Switzerland are nothing but a typical Cadet device, for the Cadets always copy the worst European constitutions rather than the best.
In Switzerland there are three official languages, but bills submitted to a referendum are printed in five languages, that is to say, in two Romansh dialects, in addition to the three official languages. According to the 1900 census, these two dialects are spoken by 38,651 out of the 3,315,443 inhabitants of Switzerland, i.e., by a little over one per cent. In the army, commissioned and non-commissioned officers “are given the fullest freedom to speak to the men in their native language”. In the cantons of Graubünden and Wallis (each with a population of a little over a hundred thousand) both dialects enjoy complete equality.
The question is: should we advocate and support this, the living experience of an advanced country, or borrow from the Austrians inventions like “extra-territorial autonomy”, which have not yet been tried out anywhere in the world (and not yet been adopted by the Austrians themselves)?
To advocate this invention is to advocate the division of school education according to nationality, and that is a downright harmful idea. The experience of Switzerland proves, however, that the greatest (relative) degree of national peace can be, and has been, ensured in practice where you have, a consistent (again relative) democracy throughout the state.
“In Switzerland,” say people who have studied this question, “there is no national question in the East-European sense of the term. The very phrase (national, question) is unknown there....” “Switzerland left the struggle between nationalities a long way behind, in 1797–1803.”
This means that the epoch of the great French Revolution, which provided the most democratic solution of the current problems of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, succeeded incidentally, en passant, in “solving” the national question.
Let the Semkovskys, Liebmans, and other opportunists now fry to assert that this “exclusively Swiss” solution is inapplicable to any uyezd or even part of an uyezd in Russia, where out of a population of only 200,000 forty thousand speak two dialects and want to have complete equality of language in their area!
Advocacy of complete equality of nations and languages distinguishes only the consistently democratic elements in each nation (i. e., only the proletarians), and unites them, not according to nationality, but in a profound and earnest desire to improve the entire system of state. On the contrary, advocacy of “cultural-national autonomy”, despite the pious wishes of individuals and groups, divides the nations and in fact draws the workers and the bourgeoisie of any one nation closer together (the adoption of this “cultural-national autonomy” by all the Jewish bourgeois parties).
Guaranteeing the rights of a national minority is inseparably linked up with the principle of complete equality. In my article in Severnaya Pravda this principle was ex pressed in almost the same terms as in the later, official and more accurate decision of the conference of Marxists. That decision demands “the incorporation in the constitution of a fundamental law which shall declare null and void all privileges enjoyed by any one nation and all infringements of the rights of a national minority”.
Mr. Liebman tries to ridicule this formula and asks: “Who knows what the rights of a national minority are?” Do these rights, he wants to know, include the right of the minority to have “its own programme” for the national schools? How large must the national minority be to have the right to have its own judges, officials, and schools with instruction in its own language? Mr. Liebman wants it to be inferred from these questions that a “positive” national programme is essential.
Actually, these questions clearly show what reactionary ideas our Bundist tries to smuggle through under cover of a dispute on supposedly minor details and particulars.
“Its own programme” in its national schools!... Marxists, my dear nationalist-socialist, have a general school programme which demands, for example, an absolutely secular school. As far as Marxists are concerned, no departure from this general programme is anywhere or at any time permissible in a democratic state (the question of introducing any “local” subjects, languages, and so forth into it being decided by the local inhabitants). However, from the principle of “taking educational affairs out of the hands of the state” and placing them under the control of the nations, it ensues that we, the workers, must allow the “nations” in our democratic state to spend the people’s money on clerical schools! Without being aware of the fact, Mr. Liebman has clearly demonstrated the reactionary nature of “cultural-national autonomy”!
“How large must a national minority be?” This is not defined even in the Austrian programme, of which the Bundists are enamoured. It says (more briefly and less clearly than our programme does): “The rights of the national minorities are protected by a special law to he passed by the Imperial Parliament” (§4 of the Brünn programme).
Why has nobody asked the Austrian Social-Democrats the question: what exactly is that law, and exactly which rights and of which minority is it to protect?
That is because all sensible people understand that it is inappropriate and impossible to define particulars in a programme. A programme lays down only fundamental principles. In this case the fundamental principle is implied with the Austrians, and directly expressed in the decision of the latest conference of Russian Marxists. That principle is: no national privileges and no national inequality.
Let us take a concrete example to make the point clear to the Bundist. According to the school census of January 18, 1911, St. Petersburg elementary schools under the Ministry of Public “Education” were attended by 48,076 pupils. Of these, 396, i. e., less than one per cent, were Jews. The other figures are: Rumanian pupils—2, Georgians—1, Armenians—3, etc. Is it possible to draw up a “positive” national programme that will cover this diversity of relationships and conditions? (And St. Petersburg is, of course, far from being the city with the most mixed population in Russia.) Even such specialists in national “subtleties” as the Bundists would hardly be able to draw up such a programme.
And yet, if the constitution of the country contained a fundamental law rendering null and void every measure that infringed the rights of a minority, any citizen would be able to demand the rescinding of orders prohibiting, for example, the hiring, at state expense, of special teachers of Hebrew, Jewish history, and the like, or the provision of state-owned premises for lectures for Jewish, Armenian, or Rumanian children, or even for the one Georgian child. At all events, it is by no means impossible to meet, on the basis of equality, all the reasonable and just wishes of the national minorities, and nobody will say that advocacy of equality is harmful. On the other hand, it would certainly be harmful to advocate division of schools according to nationality, to advocate, for example, special schools for Jewish children in St. Petersburg, and it would be utterly impossible to set up national schools for every national minority, for one, two or three children.
Furthermore, it is impossible, in any country-wide law, to define how large a national minority must be to be entitled to special schools, or to special teachers for supplementary subjects, etc.
On the other hand, a country-wide law establishing equality can be worked out in detail and developed through special regulations and the decisions of regional Diets, and town, Zemstvo, village commune and other authorities.
6. Centralisation and Autonomy[edit source]
In his rejoinder, Mr. Liebman writes:
“Take our Lithuania, the Baltic province, Poland, Volhynia, South Russia, etc—everywhere you will find a mixed population; there is not a single city that does not have a large national minority. However far decentralisation is carried out, different nationalities will always be found living together in different places (chiefly in urban communities); and it is democratism that surrenders a national minority to the national majority. But, as we know, V. I. is opposed to the federal state structure and the boundless decentralisation that exist in the Swiss Federation. The question is: what was his point in citing the example of Switzerland?”
My object in citing the example of Switzerland has already been explained above. I have also explained that the problem of protecting the rights of a national minority can be solved only by a country-wide law promulgated in a consistently democratic state that does not depart from the principle of equality. But in the passage quoted above, Mr. Liebman repeats still another of the most common (and most fallacious) arguments (or sceptical remarks) which are usually made against the Marxist national programme, and which, therefore, deserve examination.
Marxists are, of course, opposed to federation and decentralisation, for the simple reason that capitalism requires for its development the largest and most centralised possible states. Other conditions being equal, the class-conscious proletariat will always stand for the larger state. It will always fight against medieval particularism, and will always welcome the closest possible economic amalgamation of large territories in which the proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie can develop on a broad basis.
Capitalism’s broad and rapid development of the productive forces calls for large, politically compact and united territories, since only here can the bourgeois class—together with its inevitable antipode, the proletarian class—unite and sweep away all the old, medieval, caste, parochial, petty-national, religious and other barriers.
The right of nations to self-determination, i. e., the right to secede and form independent national states, will be dealt with elsewhere. But while, and insofar as, different nations constitute a single state, Marxists will never, under any circumstances, advocate either the federal principle or decentralisation. The great centralised state is a tremendous historical step forward from medieval disunity to the future socialist unity of the whole world, and only via such a state (inseparably connected with capitalism), can there be any road to socialism.
It would, however, be inexcusable to forget that in advocating centralism we advocate exclusively democratic centralism. On this point all the philistines in general, and the nationalist philistines in particular (including the late Dragomanov), have so confused the issue that we are obliged again and again to spend time clarifying it.
Far from precluding local self-government, with autonomy for regions having special economic and social conditions, a distinct national composition of the population, and so forth, democratic centralism necessarily demands both. In Russia centralism is constantly confused with tyranny and bureaucracy. This confusion has naturally arisen from the history of Russia, but even so it is quite inexcusable for a Marxist to yield to it.
This can best be explained by a concrete example.
In her lengthy article “The National Question and Autonomy”, Rosa Luxemburg, among many other curious errors (which we shall deal with below), commits the exceptionally curious one of trying to restrict the demand for autonomy to Poland alone.
But first let us see how she defines autonomy.
Rosa Luxemburg admits—and being a Marxist she is of course bound to admit—that all the major and important economic and political questions of capitalist, society must be dealt with exclusively by the central parliament of the whole country concerned, not by the autonomous Diets of the individual regions. These questions include tariff policy, laws governing commerce and industry, transport and means of communication (railways, post, telegraph, telephone, etc.), the army, the taxation system, civil and criminal law, the general principles of education (for example, the law on purely secular schools, on universal education, on the minimum programme, on democratic school management, etc.), the labour protection laws, and political liberties (right of association), etc., etc.
The autonomous Diets—on the basis of the general laws of the country—should deal with questions of purely local, regional, or national significance. Amplifying this idea in great—not to say excessive—detail, Rosa Luxemburg mentions, for example, the construction of local railways (No. 12, p. 149) and local highways (No. 14–15, p. 376), etc.
Obviously, one cannot conceive of a modern, truly democratic state that did not grant such autonomy to every region having any appreciably distinct economic and social features, populations of a specific national composition, etc. The principle of centralism, which is essential for the development of capitalism, is not violated by this (local and regional) autonomy, but on the contrary is applied by it democratically, not bureaucratically. The broad, free and rapid development of capitalism would be impossible, or at least greatly impeded, by the absence of such autonomy, which facilitates the concentration of capital, the development of the productive forces, the unity of the bourgeoisie and the unity of the proletariat on a country-wide scale; for bureaucratic interference in purely local (regional, national, and other) questions is one of the greatest obstacles to economic and political development in general, and an obstacle to centralism in serious, important and fundamental matters in particular.
One cannot help smiling, therefore, when reading how our magnificent Rosa Luxemburg tries to prove, with a very serious air and “purely Marxist” phrases, that the demand for autonomy is applicable only to Poland and only by way of exception! Of course, there is not a grain of “parochial” patriotism in this; we have here only “practical” considerations ... in the case of Lithuania, for example.
Rosa Luxemburg takes four gubernias—Vilna, Kovno, Grodno and Suvalki—assuring her readers (and herself) that these are inhabited “mainly” by Lithuanians; and by adding the inhabitants of these gubernias together she finds that Lithuanians constitute 23 per cent of the total population, and if Zhmuds are added, they constitute 31 per cent—less than a third. The natural inference is that the idea of autonomy for Lithuania is “arbitrary and artificial” (No. 10, p. 807).
The reader who is familiar with the commonly known defects of our Russian official statistics will quickly see Rosa Luxemburg’s mistake. Why take Grodno Gubernia where the Lithuanians constitute only 0.2 per cent, one-fifth of one per cent, of the population? Why take the whole Vilna Gubernia and not its Troki Uyezd alone, where the Lithuanians constitute the majority of the population? Why take the whole Suvalki Gubernia and put the number of Lithuanians at 52 per cent of the population, and not the Lithuanian uyezds of that gubernia, i. e., five out of the seven, in which Lithuanians constitute 72 per cent of the population?
It is ridiculous to talk about the conditions and demands of modern capitalism while at the same time taking not the “modern”, not the “capitalist”, but the medieval, feudal and official-bureaucratic administrative divisions of Russia, and in their crudest form at that (gubernias instead of uyezds). Plainly, there can be no question of any serious local reform in Russia until these divisions are abolished and superseded by a really “modern” division that really meets the requirements, not of the Treasury, not of the bureaucracy, not of routine, not of the landlords, not of the priests, but of capitalism; and one of the modern requirements of capitalism is undoubtedly the greatest possible national uniformity of the population, for nationality and language identity are an important factor making for the complete conquest of the home market and for complete freedom of economic intercourse.
Oddly enough, this obvious mistake of Rosa Luxemburg’s is repeated by the Bundist Medem, who sets out to prove, not that Poland’s specific features are “exceptional”, but that the principle of national-territorial autonomy is unsuitable (the Bundists stand for national extra-territorial autonomy!). Our Bundists and liquidators collect from all over the world all the errors and all the opportunist vacillations of Social-Democrats of different countries and different nations and appropriate to themselves the worst they can find in world Social-Democracy. A scrap-book of Bundist and liquidator writings could, taken together, serve as a model Social-Democratic museum of bad taste.
Regional autonomy, Medem tells us didactically, is good for a region or a “territory”, but not for Lettish, Estonian, or other areas (okrugs), which have populations ranging from half a million to two million and areas equal to a gubernia. “That would not be autonomy, but simply a Zemstvo.... Over this Zemstvo it would be necessary to establish real autonomy” ... and the author goes on to condemn the “break-up” of the old gubernias and uyezds.
As a matter of fact, the preservation of the medieval, feudal, official administrative divisions means the “break up” and mutilation of the conditions of modern capitalism. Only people imbued with the spirit of these divisions can, with the learned air of the expert, speculate on the contra-position of “Zemstvo” and “autonomy”, calling for the stereotyped application of “autonomy” to large regions and of the Zemstvo to small ones. Modern capitalism does not demand these bureaucratic stereotypes at all. Why national areas with populations, not only of half a million, but even of 50,000, should not be able to enjoy autonomy; why such areas should not be able to unite in the most diverse ways with neighbouring areas of different dimensions into a single autonomous “territory” if that is convenient or necessary for economic intercourse—these things remain the secret of the Bundist Medem.
We would mention that the Brünn Social-Democratic national programme is based entirely on national-territorial autonomy; it proposes that Austria should be divided into “nationally distinct” areas “instead of the historical crown lands” (Clause 2 of the Brünn programme). We would not go as far as that. A uniform national population is undoubtedly one of the most reliable factors making for free, broad and really modern commercial intercourse. It is beyond doubt that not a single Marxist, and not even a single firm democrat, will stand up for the Austrian crown lands and the Russian gubernias and uyezds (the latter are not as bad as the Austrian crown lands, but they are very bad nevertheless), or challenge the necessity of replacing these obsolete divisions by others that will conform as far as possible with the national composition of the population, Lastly, it is beyond doubt that in order to eliminate all national oppression it is very important to create autonomous areas, however small, with entirely homogeneous populations, towards which members of the respective nationalities scattered all over the country, or even all over the world, could gravitate, and with which they could enter into relations and free associations of every kind. All this is indisputable, and can be argued against only from the hidebound, bureaucratic point of view.
The national composition of the population, however, is one of the very important economic factors, but not the sole and not the most important factor. Towns, for example, play an extremely important economic role under capitalism, and everywhere, in Poland, in Lithuania, in the Ukraine, in Great Russia, and elsewhere, the towns are marked by mixed populations To cut the towns off from the villages and areas that economically gravitate towards them, for the sake of the “national” factor, would be absurd and impossible. That is why Marxists must not take their stand entirely and exclusively on the “national-territorial” principle.
The solution of the problem proposed by the last conference of Russian Marxists is far more correct than the Austrian. On this question, the conference advanced the following proposition:
“...must provide for wide regional autonomy (not for Poland alone, of course, but for all the regions of Russia] and fully democratic local self-government, and the boundaries of the self-governing and autonomous regions must he determined [not by the boundaries of the present gubernias, uyezds, etc., but] by the local inhabitants themselves on the basis of their economic and social conditions, national make-up of the population, etc.”
Here the national composition of the population is placed on the same level as the other conditions (economic first, then social, etc.) which must serve as a basis for determining the new boundaries that will meet the needs of modern capitalism, not of bureaucracy and Asiatic barbarism. The local population alone can “assess” those conditions with full precision, and on that basis the central parliament of the country will determine the boundaries of the autonomous regions and the powers of autonomous Diets.
We have still to examine the question of the right of nations to self-determination. On this question a whole collection of opportunists of all nationalities—the liquidator Semkovsky, the Bundist Liebman and the Ukrainian nationalist-socialist Lev Yurkevich—have set to work to “popularise” the errors of Rosa Luxemburg. This question, which has been so utterly confused by this whole “collection”, will be dealt with in our next article.
- Purishkevich, V. M.—(1870-1920)—a big landlord and rabid reactionary (a Black-Hundred monarchist).
- The Bund (The General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia) came into being in 1897 at the Inaugural Congress of Jewish Social-Democratic groups in Vilna. It consisted mainly of semi-proletarian Jewish artisans of Western Russia. At the First Congress of the RSDLP in 1898 the Bund joined the latter “as an autonomous organisation, independent only in respect of questions affecting the Jewish proletariat specifically”. (The CPSU in Resolutions, and Decisions of Congresses, Conferences and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, Russ. ed., Part I, 1954, p. 14.)
The Bund was a vehicle of nationalist and separatist ideas in Russia’s working-class movement. In April 1901 the Bund’s Fourth Congress resolved to alter the organisational ties with the RSDLP as established by the latter’s First Congress. In its resolution, the Bund Congress declared that it regarded the RSDLP as a federation of national organisations, of which the Bund was a federal member.
Following the rejection by the Second Congress of the RSDLP of the Bund’s demand for recognition as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat, the Bund left the Party, but rejoined it in 1906 on the basis of a decision of the Fourth (Unity) Congress.
Within the RSDLP the Bund constantly supported the Party’s opportunist wing (the Economists, Mensheviks, and liquidators), and waged a struggle against the Bolsheviks and Bolshevism. To the Bolsheviks’ programmatic demand for the right of nations to self-determination the Bund contraposed the demand for autonomy of national culture. During the years of the Stolypin reaction and the new revolutionary upsurge, the Bund adopted a liquidationist stand and played an active p art in the formation of the August anti-Party bloc. During the First World War (1914–18) the Bundists took a social-chauvinist stand. In 1917 the Bund supported the bourgeois Provisional Government and sided with the enemies of the Great October Socialist Revolution. During the foreign military intervention and the Civil War, the Bundist leaders made common cause with the forces of counter-revolution. At the same time a tendency towards co-operation with the Soviets became apparent among the Bund rank and file. In March 1921 the Bund dissolved itself, part of the membership joining the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in accordance with the general rules of admission.
- Pale of Settlement—districts in tsarist Russia where Jews were permitted permanent residence.
- Numerus clausus—the numerical restriction imposed in tsarist Russia on admission of Jews to the state secondary and higher educational establishments, to employment at factories and offices, and the professions.
- This refers to the Congress of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party held in Brünn (Austria) from September 24 to 29, 1899 (new style). The national question was the chief item on the agenda. Two resolutions expressing different points of view were submitted to the Congress: = (1) the resolution of the Party’s Central Committee supporting the idea of the territorial autonomy of nations, and = (2) the resolution of the Committee of the South-Slav Social-Democratic Party supporting the idea of extra-territorial cultural-national autonomy.
The Congress unanimously rejected the programme of cultural-national autonomy, and adopted a compromise resolution recognising national autonomy within the boundaries of the Austrian state. (See Lenin’s article “A Contribution to the History of the National Program me in Austria and in Russia”, pp. 36 of this volume.)
- J.S.L.P. (Jewish Socialist Labour Party)—a petty-bourgeois nationalist organisation, founded in 1906. Its programme was based on the demand for national autonomy for the Jews—the creation of extra-territorial Jewish parliaments authorised to settle questions concerning the political organisation of Jews in Russia. The J.S.L.P. stood close to the Socialist-Revolutionaries, with whom it waged a struggle against the RSDLP
- The Beilis case—a provocative trial engineered by the tsarist government in 1913 in Kiev. Beilis, a Jew, was falsely accused of having murdered a Christian boy named Yushchinsky for ritual purposes (actually, the murder was organised by the Black Hundreds). The aim of this frame-up was to fan anti-Semitism and incite pogroms so as to divert the masses from the mounting revolutionary movement. The trial excited great public feeling. Workers’ protest demonstrations were held in a number of cities. Beilis was acquitted.
- Socialist-Revolutionaries—a petty-bourgeois party in Russia, which came into being at the end of 1901 and beginning of 4902 as a result of a merger of various Narodnik groups and circles. The S.R.s saw no class distinctions between the proletarian and the petty proprietor, played down the class differentiation and antagonisms within the peasantry, and refused to recognise the proletariat’s leading role in the revolution. Their views were an eclectic mixture of the ideas of Narodism and revisionism. In Lenin’s words, they tried, to mend “the rents in the Narodnik Ideas with bits of fashionable opportunist ‘criticism’ of Marxism.” (See present edition, Vol. 9, p. 310.)
The Socialist-Revolutionaries’ agrarian programme envisaged the abolition of private ownership of the land, which was to be transferred to the village commune on the basis of the “labour principle” and “equalised land tenure” and also the development of co-operatives. This programme, which the S.R.s called “socialisation of the land”, had nothing socialist about it. In his analysis of this programme, Lenin showed that the preservation of commodity production and private farming on communal land would not do away with the domination of capital or free the toiling peasantry from exploitation and impoverishment. Neither could the co-operatives be a remedy for the small farmers under capitalism, as they served only to enrich the rural bourgeoisie. At the same time, as Lenin pointed out, the demand for equalised land tenure, though not socialistic, was of a progressive, revolutionary-democratic character, inasmuch as it was directed against reactionary landlordism.
The Bolshevik Party exposed the attempts of the S.R.s to pass themselves off as socialists. It waged a stubborn fight against them for influence over the peasantry, and revealed the damage their tactic of individual terrorism was causing the working-class movement. At the same time, the Bolsheviks, on definite terms, entered into temporary agreements with the Socialist-Revolutionaries to combat tsarism.
The Socialist-Revolutionary Party’s political and ideological instability and organisational incohesion, as well as its constant vacillation between the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat, were due to the absence of class homogeneity among the peasantry. During the first Russian revolution, the Right wing of the S.R.s broke away from the party and formed the legal Labour Popular Socialist Party, whose views were close to those of the Constitutional-Democrats (Cadets), while the Left wing split away and formed a semi-anarchist league of “Maximalists”. During the period of the Stolypin reaction, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party suffered a complete break-down ideologically and organisationally. During the First World War most of its members took a social-chauvinist stand.
After the February bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1917 the Socialist-Revolutionaries, together with the Mensheviks and the Cadets, were the mainstay of the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government of the bourgeoisie and landlords. The leaders of the S.R. Party—Kerensky, Avksentyev and Chernov—were members of this Cabinet. The S.R. Party refused to support the peasants’ demand for the abolition of landlordism, and stood for the preservation of landlord ownership. The S.R. members of the Provisional Government authorised punitive action against peasants who had seized landed estates.
At the end of November 1917 the Left win of the S.R. Party formed an independent party of Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, who, in an endeavour to preserve their influence among the peas ant masses, formally recognised Soviet rule and entered into an agreement with the Bolsheviks. Shortly, however, they began a struggle against the Soviets.
During the years of foreign intervention and the Civil War the S.R.s carried on counter-revolutionary subversive activities. They actively supported the interventionists and whiteguards, took part in counter-revolutionary plots, and organised terroristic acts against leaders of the Soviet state and the Communist Party. After the Civil War, the S.R.s continued their anti-Soviet activities within the country and in the camp of the White émigrés.
- The Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna)—a reformist nationalist organisation founded in 1892. Adopting the slogan of struggle for an independent Poland, the P.S.P., under Pilsudski and his adherents, carried on separatist nationalist propaganda among the Polish workers, whom they tried to divert from the joint struggle with the Russian workers against the autocracy and capitalism. Throughout the history of the P.S.P. Left-wing groups kept springing up within the party, as a result of the activities of the rank-and-file workers. Some of these groups eventually joined the revolutionary wing of the Polish working-class movement.
In 1906 the party split up into the P.S.P. Left wing and the Right, chauvinist wing (the so-called “revolutionary faction”). Under the influence of the Bolsheviks and the Social-Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania, the Left wing gradually adopted a consistent revolutionary stand.
During the First World War some of the P.S.P. Left-wing adopted an internationalist stand. In December 1918 it united with the Social-Democrats of Poland and Lithuania to form the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland (as the Communist Party of Poland was known up to 1925).
During the First World War, the P.S.P. flight wing continued its policy of national chauvinism, organising Polish legions on the territory of Galicia to fight on the side of Austin-German imperialism. With the formation of the Polish bourgeois state, the Right P.S.P. in 1919 united with the P.S.P. organisations existing on Polish territories formerly seized by Germany and Austria, and resumed the name of the P.S.P. At the head of the government, it arranged for the transfer of power to the Polish bourgeoisie, systematically carried on anti-communist propaganda, and supported a policy of aggression against the Soviet Union, a policy of conquest and oppression against Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia. Various groups in the P.S.P. who disagreed with this policy joined the Communist Party of Poland.
After Pilsudski’s fascist coup d’état (May 1926), the P.S.P. was nominally a parliamentary opposition, but actually it did not carry on any active fight against the fascist regime, and continued its anti-communist and anti-Soviet propaganda. During that period the Left-wing elements of the P.S.P. collaborated with the Polish Communists and supported united-front tactics in a number of campaigns.
During the Second World War the P.S.P. again split up. Its reactionary and chauvinist faction, which assumed the name “Wolność, Równosc, Niepodłeglość” (Liberty, Equality, Independence), took part in the reactionary Polish émigré “government” in London. The Left faction, which called itself the Workers’ Party of Polish Socialists, under the influence of the Polish Workers’ Party, which was founded in 1942, joined the popular front against the Nazi invaders, fought for Poland’s liberation, and pursued a policy of friendly relations with the U.S.S.R.
In 1944, after the liberation of Poland’s eastern territories and the formation of a Polish Committee of National Liberation, the Workers’ Party of Polish Socialists resumed the name of P.S.P. and together with the P.W.P. participated in the building up of a people’s democratic Poland. In December 1948 the P.W.P. and the P.S.P. amalgamated and formed the Polish United Workers’ Party.
- That the Bundists often vehemently deny that all the Jewish bourgeois parties have accepted “cultural-national autonomy” is understandable. This fact only too glaringly exposes the actual role being played by the Bund. When Mr. Manin, a Bundist, tried, in Luch to repeat his denial, he was fully exposed by N. Skop (see Prosveshcheniye No. 3). But when Mr. Lev Yurkevich, in Dzvin (1913, Nos. 7–8, p. 92), quotes from Prosveshcheniye (No. 3, p. 78) N. Sk’s statement that “the Bundists together with all the Jewish bourgeois parties and groups have long been advocating cultural-national autonomy” and distorts this statement by dropping the word “Bundists”, and substituting the words “national rights” for the words “cultural national autonomy”, one can only raise one’s hands in amazement! Mr. Lev Yurkevich is not only a nationalist, not only an astonishing ignoramus in matters concerning the history of the Social-Democrats and their programme, but a downright falsifier of quotations for the benefit of the Bund. The affairs of the Bund and the Yurkeviches must be in a bad way indeed! —Lenin
- Bernsteinism—an anti-Marxist trend in international Social-Democracy. It arose towards the close of the nineteenth century in Germany and bore the name of the German opportunist Social-Democrat Eduard Bernstein. After the death of F. Engels, Bernstein publicly advocated revision of Marx’s revolutionary theory in the spirit of bourgeois liberalism (see his article “Problems of Socialism” and his book The Premises of Socialism and the Tasks of Social-Democracy) in an attempt to convert the Social-Democratic Party into a petty-bourgeois party of social reforms. In Russia this trend was represented by the “legal Marxists”, the Economists, the Bundists; and the Mensheviks.
- Lenin refers to Stalin’s article “Marxism and the National Question” published in the legal Bolshevik journal Prosveshcheniye, Nos. 3, 4 and 5 for 1913 under the title “The National Question and Social-Democracy”. Chapter 4 of Stalin’s article quotes the text of the national programme adopted at the Brünn Congress of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party.
- See pp. 20–22 of this volume.—Ed.
- Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta (New Workers’ Paper)—a legal daily of the Menshevik liquidators, published in St. Petersburg from August 1913. From January 30 (February 12), 1914 it was superceded by Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta (Northern Workers’ Paper) and subsequently by Nasha Rabochaya Gazeta (Our Workers’ Paper). Lenin repeatedly referred to this newspaper as the Novaya Likvidatorskaya Gazeta (New Liquidationist Paper).
- Cadets—members of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, the principal party of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie in Russia. It was formed in October 1905 and consisted of representatives of the bourgeoisie, landlord members of the Zemstvos, and bourgeois intellectuals. Prominent leaders of the Cadets were: = P. N. Milyukov, S. A. Muromtsev, V. A. Maklakov, A. I. Shingaryov, P. B. Struve and F. I. Rodichev. To mislead the masses the Cadets called themselves the “party of people’s freedom”, but actually they went no further than the demand for a constitutional monarchy. They considered the fight against the revolutionary movement their chief aim, and strove to share power with the tsar and the feudalist landlords. During World War I the Cadets actively supported the tsarist government’s aggressive foreign policy, and during the February 1917 bourgeois-democratic revolution they tried to save the monarchy. Holding key posts in the bourgeois Provisional Government, the Cadets pursued an anti-popular and counter-revolutionary policy. After the victory of the October Socialist Revolution, the Cadets came out as the avowed enemies of Soviet rule, taking part in all armed counter-revolutionary acts and campaigns of the interventionists. Living abroad as émigrés after the defeat of the interventionists and whiteguards, the Cadets continued their anti-Soviet activities.
- See René Henry: La Suisse et la question des langues, Berne, 1907. —Lenin
- See Ed. Blocher: Die Nationalitäten in der Schweiz, Berlin, 1910. —Lenin
- Lenin obtained these figures from the statistical handbook One-Day Census of Elementary Schools In the Empire, Made on January 18, 1911. Issue I, Part 2, St. Petersburg Educational Area. Gubernias of Archangel, Vologda, Novgorod, Olonets, Pskov and St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg, 1912, p. 72.
- See pp. 393–454 of this volume.—Ed.
- Dragomanov, M. P. (1841–1895)—Ukrainian historian, ethnographer and publicist. Exponent of Ukrainian bourgeois national-liberalism.
- Przegląd Socjaldemokratyczny, Kraków, 1908 and 1909. —Lenin
- In elaborating her ideas Rosa Luxemburg goes into details, mentioning, for example—and quite rightly—divorce laws (No. 12, p. 162 of the above-mentioned journal). —Lenin
- V. Medem: “A Contribution to the Presentation of the National Question in Russia”, Vestnik Yevropy, 1912, Nos. 8 and 9. —Lenin
- Interpolations in square brackets (within passages quoted by Lenin) are by Lenin, unless otherwise indicated—Ed.
- See present edition, Vol. 19, pp. 427–28.—Ed.
- Lenin is referring to an article he was planning on “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination”. The article was written in February-May 1914 and published in April-June in the journal Prosveshcheniye Nos. 4, 5 and 6. (See pp. 393–454 of this volume.)