On the Right of Nations to Self-Determination: Understanding National Task of the Proletariat in the Spirit of Leninism

Proletarian Reorganizing Committee (PRC), CPI (ML)

[This is the paper presented by PRC, CPI (ML) at the Seminar on ‘National Question and Marxism’ organized by Adara ‘Pratibaddh’ in Barnala, Punjab on 7th November 2021. However, due to some practical difficulties, it could not be distributed among the seminar’s participants.)


“That is why internationalism on the part of oppressors or “great” nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice. Anybody who does not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question, he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view. What is important for the proletarian? For the proletarian it is not only important, it is absolutely essential that he should be assured that the non-Russians place the greatest possible trust in the proletarian class struggle. What is needed to ensure this? Not merely formal equality. In one way or another, by one’s attitude or by concessions, it is necessary to compensate the non-Russian for the lack of trust, for the suspicion and the insults to which the government of the “dominant” nation subjected them in the past.”[1]

V. I. Lenin

Throughout the history of Marxism-Leninism – from Marx-Engels to Stalin and Mao – the question of right of nations to self-determination has occupied an important place, both in theory as well as practice. That is precisely why, since Marx’s time, it has been one of the most passionately debated question, and it is well known, even Rosa Luxemburg, one of the most talented and revered revolutionary leaders that the international communist movement ever produced, committed serious mistakes on this question. She was opposed to Right of nations to self determination, including the right to secession. She accused this (the question of right of nation to self-determination) of being abstract and metaphysical in nature as it provided, according to her, no practical day-to-day lead in the working class movement. She also held that this question is impregnated with propensity towards succumbing to bourgeois nationalism. She took “succumbing to nationalism” as something predisposed and inherent in this question, and as such it wasn’t surprising that she herself was a victim of tendency of committing abstraction and succumbing to metaphysics, as we shall see. As a result, in her ever intensified anxietyto oppose bourgeois nationalism of oppressed nation, she frequently forgot the oppressor nations.[2]Lenin showed extensively in his writings on this subject how Rosa Luxemburg continuously lapsed “into generalities about self-determination” and was unable to see where “the gist of the matter” on this subject lay – whether “in legal definitions or in the experience of the national movements throughout the world.”

PRESENTATION OF HISTORY OF DEBATE ON THIS QUESTION

What is the history of national movement and nationalism? What is its historically determined economic basis? Why is the national state typical for capitalism? Such are the questions we need to address and begin with to reach up to the core of the debate on “right of nations to self-determination.[3]

The period of the final victory of capitalism over feudalism simultaneously led to the rise of national movements and national states. The complete victory of commodity production and capitalism made it necessary. It was necessary for the complete victory of commodity production that bourgeoisie capture the home market. This dire need necessitated and led to striving for politically united and consolidated territories whose people speak a single language. It led the bourgeoisie and the national movement to striving for eliminating all obstacles to the development of a national language and its literary consolidation. The surest path to fulfilling all these tasks and necessities taken together was the formation of national states. Once a national state comes into being, the final task towards fulfilling this necessity is completed.[4]

This is, in fewest of words, the history of national movement and the national states. But, this is only the initial history, the history that tells us about their genesis in the epoch of rising capitalism. The later day developments in capitalism, which are still taking enormously, has led to many changes such as dispersion, migration and fusion of population (nationals) of different nationalities into one-another on account of tremendous progress of economic exchange and commerce on the one hand, and simultaneous concomitant concentration and centralisation of capital as a general trend towards internationalisation of capital on the other, has made the language question much more complicated as well as simplified, complicated if considered from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, and simplified when viewed from the standpoint of the required unity of proletariat and indivisibility of class struggle and working class movement. Not taking into consideration the ongoing developments will land the proletariat in trouble, however there is no doubt that the economic foundation, basic driving force and intent behind the national movement and the formation of national states will keep working with elemental force until the abolition of classes. This is why all national movements have naturally led to and so long as the national oppression, national inequality and national alienation – the bases of their existence and emergence exist – will keep leading to a fight for establishing national states.[5]

“Therefore, for the whole of Western Europe, nay, for the entire civilised world, the national state is typical and normal for the capitalist period” – so concludes Lenin. (see volume 20)

In short, this is what our teachers have taught us and we have seen what the most profound economic basis of national movement and national state is and how the need of a common language plays its paramount role in it i.e. driving a national movement towards the goal of formation of national states.

Language question is, and there is no doubt about it, of paramount importance, both in this question[6] as well as in the solution of this question for it is the most important means of all forms of interactions and communication among human beings. It is the most needed means of human intercourse and hence its unity is the most important conditions for “a genuinely free and extensive development of commerce as required by modern capitalism.” A genuinely and much needed condition for development of capitalism at that time was a “close and natural connection between the market and proprietors, big or little, and between sellers and buyers”, and as Lenin says, it is impossible without a “genuinely free grouping of populations consisting of all classes.” Therefore, the tendency of every national movement is towards the formation of national states along common language, so that above-mentioned requirements of modern capitalism are best fulfilled and satisfied.

But as the capitalist national state is also a state of oppression and exploitation, once the bourgeoisie is successful in forming an independent state of its own based on a single national language and culture, it’s very often found that such a national state too, in its own turn, starts suppressing in various forms and manners “the other” national minorities, ethnic and racial groups etc. ( targeting their not only their way of life, habits, cultural customs, but also their languages) residing in the same national territory. It has also been found that it starts disregarding the rights of those nationals who migrate into that nation on account of uneven but gigantic economic development and progress occurring under modern day capitalism. The development under capitalism is bound to be, in any case, uneven. This leads to emergence of national strife once again even in a national state, whereas to find a purest national state having no regional or local diversity of language or culture is impossible. Only in socialism which will tirelessly work for abolition of classes will national differences, national oppression, national strife, bickerings and wrangling etc. be completely done away with by guaranteeing the fullest and consistent democracy whose first basis is created by the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.  

Consequently, in order that we correctly grasp the meaning of the “right of nations to self-determination” in the spirit of Leninist teachings, we must first of all examine and grasp the historical and economic conditions that gave rise to national movements in motion. Lenin showed that on the one hand it will inevitably lead to the conclusion according to which the right to self-determination of nations means nothing if the right to secession and formation of an independent nation is not included in it, while on the other hand it will also and inevitably lead to the conclusion according to which proletarians must not make a fetish of national movement as the basic trend of today’s highly developed monopoly capitalism is both – subjugation as well as integration. Subjugation is being reflected in the rise of fascism which is re-igniting and re-inflaming the national question afresh in different parts, even there where it was previously ‘solved’ by applying the big brother’s method of co-option and incorporation, in addition to intensifying oppression of already heavily bruatlised “subject people”, while at the same time a world-wide wave of capitalist integration can also be also seen accelerating with unprecedented speed that is also unifying working class as well as toilers movement beyond and breaking national barriers. This is creating a profound and solid material basis for the emergence of the proletariat itself as a nation in all nations putting the vision of a new way of life in the most materialised form i.e. in the form of free and independent assimilation of nations. Does it mean the national question is going to be rendered unnecessary? No, just the opposite. The emerging class unity of working class beyond national barriers is going to encounter an increased intensity of national movement as rise of fascism will lead to intensification of national oppression, though in content the first trend will be the main trend, while in outer region the later will pose itself to be main trend. This we shall have to amicably solve. However, in the first place, the solution certainly lies in recognising intensification of national struggles and for solving it putting forward the immediate slogan of abolition of all national privileges and equality of all nations, which of course means nothing and will be a hollow idea if the recognition of right to self-determination is not included in it, with the recognition of right to secession automatically included as said earlier.

From above discussion, though very short and preliminary, gives ample light on our present day tasks on the front of national question.

IN DEFENCE OF RIGHT TO SELF DETERMINATION: KAUTSKY-ROSA-LENIN DEBATE

Those who opposed Lenin on this actually overlooked or dismissed this inescapable conclusion that a national state is the best suited form of state where it can best fulfill its tasks i.e. the tasks of bourgeois development. They also dismissed this concrete fact that the abovementioned profound economic factors (along with other historically determined factors) underlie the very urge of nations towards forming a national state. They thus evaded the historical and economic presentation of the question. Among profound revolutionaries, Rosa Luxemburg seriously suffered such evasionary deviations.

Leaving some exception apart (such as the question of Ireland), purely national states (of course with regional-racial-ethnical-national diversities) came into existence in Western Europe as a result of rise of national movement in the epoch of rising capitalism. However, multinational states (that emerged in East Europe, for example in Austria) also came into existence in East Europe. When Marxist Kautsky explained this ‘deviationist’ phenomenon of multinational states, Lenin supported it while Rosa vehemently opposed. Kautsky wrote that “states of mixed national composition (known as multinational states, as distinct from national states) are “always those whose internal constitution has for some reason or other remained abnormal or under developed.” [7]Stalin also wrote that “the formation of multinational states could take place only where feudalism had not yet been eliminated, where capitalism was feebly developed, where the nationalities had not yet been able to consolidate themselves economically into integral nations.” [8]

Rosa Luxemburg criticized Kautsky on this but miserably failed. She wasn’t at all interested and consequently saw no purpose in examining the question in the historico-economic sense. She even couldn’t raise it, leave alone drawing a line demarcating the historico-economic presentation from the psychological ones developed and followed by the flag-bearers of cultural-national autonomy, like some nationalist social democrats of Austria (Bauerand others) and Russia’s Bundists, who tried to utilize Rosa’s position to consistently rail against the right to self-determination.

She wrote this: This ‘best’ national state is only an abstraction, which can easily be developed and defended theoretically, but which does not correspond to reality.

What Rosa actually argued in the main was that the right to self-determination of small nations is illusory as it was so made by the rise of the great capitalist powers and imperialism. She didn’t believe that small nations like Montenegrins, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Serbs, Greeks, etc. could ever be free. She also believed that if some are free that is because of the political and the diplomatic game of the big powers. Rosa thus raised the question of impossibility of fulfillment of the right to self-determination of small nations. This is the crux of what she argued. “The state that best suits these conditions (those governed by dominance of great powers ~ added) is “not a national state, as Kautsky believes, but a predatory one”- she wrote. She naturally filled the debate with frightening figures of the size of British, French and other colonial possessions in support of her logic. Lenin calls it her “ability to misunderstand the how and the why of things” and describe it as an attempt to cleverly raise the bogey economic dependence as against a political question i.e. the right to self-determination. She tried to frightened others because she herself was frightened by the struggle that, she said, was “raging among the bourgeois states for the predatory suppression of other nations” and bases herself on this for evading the question of the right to self-determination. But unfortunately what she said had no, not even “the slightest bearings on the issue being discussed” as Lenin says. Lenin further writes that “this is just as intelligent as if someone, in discussing the programmatic demand for the supremacy of parliament were to expound the perfectly correct conviction that big capital dominates in a bourgeois country, whatever the regime in it.”

Lenin writes,

“Rosa Luxemburg notwithstanding, the example of the whole of progressive and civilised mankind, the example of the Balkans and that of Asia prove that the national state is the rule and the “norm” of capitalism; the multinational state represents backwardness, or is an exception. From the standpoint of national relations, the best conditions for the development of capitalism are undoubtedly provided by the national state. This does not mean, of course, that such a state, which is based on bourgeois relations, can eliminate the exploitation and oppression of nations. It only means that Marxists cannot lose sight of the powerful economic factors that give rise to the urge to create national states. It means that “self-determination of nations” in the Marxists’ Programme cannot, from a historico-economic point of view, have any other meaning than political self-determination, state independence, and the formation of a national state.”

CATEGORISATION OF PERIOD IS NECESSARY

Yes, categorisation of period of development is necessary to not only understand the development of capitalism but also to see the national movement and our task in motion. This is the Marxist-Leninist Method.

What we can conclude is that national movements, where ever it arose, has a concrete origin and history, and arose in a definite epoch – the epoch of rising capitalism and falling feudalism. This makes it imperative as well as incumbent upon us to concretely present it in today’s conditions of development of capitalism, in theory as well as in politics. It necessitates a historically determined categorisation of periods of development of capitalism that runs from the beginning of its initial epoch to the present day epoch, to the last day’s development of capitalism. We can’t avoid drawing the historical limits – in which capitalism grew till the last day, from the epoch of rising bourgeoisie in which it first arose to the epoch of mature capitalism and then to the present day epoch of decadent world capitalism which has been suffering with unyielding crisis since later 70s in general and since the first and second decade of the 21st century in particular. 

This is one thing. The other necessary thing is that if it refers to a particular country, then its specific and distinguishing features (features that distinguishes that country from other countries) belonging to that given historical epoch must also be taken into account.

Let us see how Lenin does it and then learning from how we can develop it further.

First of all, it implies that we need to draw a clear distinction between two periods of capitalism – says Lenin. Why because the two periods “differ radically from each other as far as the national movement is concerned.”

The first period is “the period of the collapse of feudalism and absolutism’ which is also ‘the period of the formation of the bourgeois-democratic society and state’, when the national movements not only arose for the first time but also ‘in one way or another’ became the hub of politics drawing ‘all classes of the population into politics through the press, participation in representative institutions, etc.’

The second period is the period of ‘fully formed capitalist states with a long-established constitutional regime and a highly developed antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie—a period that may be called the eve of capitalism’s downfall.”

We may however think of a third period also, the period of fully decadent and too much aged monopoly capitalism which since the fall of its golden era and specifically since its neo-liberal phase has entered into its most critical phase in economic as well as political sense, the critically revived phase of general crisis characterised by an economic crisis that has gone too deep and travelled too far and wide so that its recovery and not the crisis itself surprises the capitalists, revived once again since it was first formulated by Lenin when the development of old capitalism gave way to a new one i.e. monopoly capitalism setting the capitalism’s inbuilt contradictions (and of course the resulting crisis) in a different format, the format of a strong tilt towards the supremacy of finance capital which today has taken over the whole world economy and finally led it to a full-fledged shift towards itself i.e. financialisation of production and the whole economy (of course in a dialectical sense). This has led the present day economic crisis to turn into an unyielding and unrelenting crisis. It won’t be an overemphasis or an overzealous statement if we want to call it a permanent crisis in dialectical sense, as nothing is permanent. Based on this, in the present discussion, the categorisation of the present period may be called a relatively new period of development of capitalism within the “second period” itself as characterised by Lenin. The purpose of doing this separate categorisation is limited to, confined only to highlighting the extraordinary revolutionary potential inherent in the present day phase of monopoly capitalism under which monopolization of finance has increased manifold compared to what Lenin had said and described in his thesis on imperialism, making the present phase an era of decisive battle for the proletariat’s historical mission of liberating itself and the whole society as well from the yoke of all forms of class exploitation and oppression.

I shall come on this topic again after some time with a detailed presentation of its effect on national question. But before closing this footnote, I would like to bring to notice of our readers and comrades one more specificity that makes this (present) period of development of capitalism a relatively separate period. This is the utmost expansion of capitalism in the whole world bringing socialism on agenda in most part of the world. It is unlike in the past when most of countries were still trying to come of age in economic development. It has changed the old class balance of the worldwide agenda between socialism and capitalism, and consequently it will certainly result in a change in worldwide balance of class forces tilting in the favour of the proletariat and toilers in future, once the ascendancy of proletarian revolution comes to dominate (which is bound to come) the political scene unleashing revolutionary movements that envision the complete end of the era of class rule. As I said, I will come to this again as to what impact does it have on national question, however, this much can be said right now that as this era is marked with a comparatively complete shift towards the dominance of big and monopoly finance capital (which is concentrating too fast in fewer and still fewer hands sidelining even the bigger capitalists of the same club (showing that competition is going on very acutely), and as the crisis appearing too frequently is actually the crisis triggered by the extreme dominance of finance capital, with no sign of any substantial recovery, and as the main feature of this period of capitalism is the constantly increasing erosion of (bourgeois) democracy and incessant rise of ultra reactionary fascist, semi-fascist and authoritarian states or regimes in which the democratic rights will go on being heavily curtailed and the chances of its revival through regime changes (change of guards) by other ruling class parties getting reduced to minimum, due to all this this period will see a sudden rise in all types of general democratic movements including national movement, a spectacular rise in outcry about national oppression. It means that our tasks on this front are going to increase.

In the first period, its typical features was the awakening of national movements and the drawing in these movement of the peasants who fought for liberty in general and for the rights of their own nations in particular, whereas in the second period, its typical features were “the absence of mass bourgeois-democratic movements and the fact that developed capitalism, in bringing closer together nations that have already been fully drawn into commercial intercourse, and causing them to intermingle to an increasing degree, brings the antagonism between internationally united capital and the international working-class movement into the forefront.”[9]

This is what Lenin writes in 1913. To what greater degree the development of capitalism has reached today can be easily understood by the gigantic strides of monopolisation it has completed and is still completing. With the general tendency of rise of fascism in every part of the world, both these above tendencies (as mentioned just above by Lenin) are intensifying and are leading afresh to awakening of national movement as well as much more intensified confrontation between international capital and international working class movement. Unprecedented increase in this “intensification” is the uniqueness of the latest phase of development of capitalism i.e. the third period of the development of capitalism (If we so suppose) which is not much different from what Lenin has already said about and chiefly characterised in the second period except in this that the degree of maturity of the second period (international unity of working class movement) has reached extraordinary level and the development of capitalism today is far greater and at the same time far more rapacious than in any past historical period. Naturally, this doesn’t relieve us from our tasks on the front of national question, rather intensifies them so that much required unity of international working class movement despite increase in national strife is achieved, as without which the victory of socialism – the main mission and cause of the proletariat would remain a far cry.

Lenin also writes that the two periods are not fully separated, rather they are connected by numerous transitional links, because the various countries are not at the same stage of their economic developments and also differ from each other in the rapidity of their national development such as their national makeup, consolidation of their language and distribution of their population, and so on and so forth. That’s why while discussing national question in respect of a particular country or nation, we take into account its specific features to be assessed afresh today and not just copying from Lenin.For example, with the development of ‘mature’ capitalism in most parts of the world and with their own, of late, contribution to general crisis of the present day world capitalism, the difference in rapidity of economic development of different nations, as mentioned by comrade Lenin, has yielded to be lesser than before, though the basic law of uneven development holds true, that too more so at this stage of too much aged financial monopoly capitalism.

THE CASE OF AUSTRIA: OUR OWN ASSESSMENT AND LESSON

Let us take an account of its history necessary for the given purpose 

There is a definite period, approximately between 1789 and 1871, in which the epoch of bourgeois-democratic revolutions in Western Europe was concluded. We have already discussed that the awakening of national movements in Western Europe that led to creation of national states transforming whole of Western Europe into bourgeois states and from the national point of view, those states were, as a general rule, nationally uniform states.

However, in Eastern Europe and Asia, bourgeois democratic revolutions – the revolutions in Russia, Persia, Turkey and China, India, and Balkans – did not begin until 1905 – as Lenin writes. 

The case of Austria came to be unique in East Europe. It was a country and a state “with an extremely varied national composition”. The bourgeois-democratic revolution in Austria began in 1848 and completed in 1867. Lenin writes that since then, a bourgeois constitution was in force and a legal workers’ party functioned there. Therefore, from the standpoint of the development of capitalism in general, in Austria and among its various nations in particular, there were no factors ‘that produced leaps and bounds, a concomitant of which might be the formation of nationally independent states’, meaning thereby that though national strife and national differences (and to that extent national oppression) were present even among ruling national nations and bourgeoisies, but that didn’t produce the required leaps and bounds that could lead to formation of nationally independent states.

There was a uniqueness in its turn of events of history that led to a unique national status of Austria. Lenin writes: “Secondly, … Not only was Austria for a long time a state in which the Germans preponderated, but the Austrian Germans laid claim to hegemony in the German nation as a whole.” This “claim” was however shattered in the war of 1866. The German nation predominating in Austria (meaning that other nations weren’t place on equal status as German in Austria from the very beginning) “found itself outside the pale of the independent German state” that took shape in 1871.”

There was also one more special incident. The Hungarians did attempt to create an independent national state but failed as the Russian serf army had already crushed them as far back as 1849.

Thus, a very peculiar situation emerged that made possible a striving “on the part of the Hungarians and then of the Czechs, not for separation from Austria, but, on the contrary, for the preservation of Austria’s integrity[10], precisely in order to preserve (their) national independence, which might have been completely crushed by more rapacious and powerful neighbours! Owing to this peculiar situation, Austria assumed the form of a dual state, and she is now being transformed into a triple state (Germans, Hungarians, Slavs).”

A striving for preserving the unity and integrity – this was at the root of the uniqueness of Austria’s dual or triple state. This urge of unity forced the predominating German nations to stop dominating and share state power and other things with Hungarians and later with Czechs almost on equal basis. This again bring us to India’s case. This urge of unity can be seen in the multinational state of India’s too. In case of India, in brief, it originated however from a different background, one that has its root in collective efforts of all nations residing in India’s old imperial boundary, for first of all gaining independence from the British Imperialism and then deciding and fighting about their own national independence. However, it turned out completely differently after the British went back, for nations of the periphery of India’s boundary. While within the mainland, the different nations were in the main ‘ready’ (with some exceptions, of course) to be co-opted and incorporated as partners in India’s state power on the basis of federalism (that too stunted) with a strong centre (which turned out to be very strong as time passed) mainly led and controlled by the big bourgeoisie (Gujrati and Marwaris) of the bigger (Hindi speaking) nation, but those on periphery kept demanding separation and independence from India’s newly formed state. So, here in India too, a multinational state emerged under the predominance of a particular nation with other nations, particularly those on periphery being crushed brutally even today when I am penning my article. In Austria, no such brutal crushing of small nations, not even of Poles and Ruthenians, existed, though sense of national alienation was in good amount and they, even the ruling nations, never ceased to dream of forming into independent nations. So, similarity of India’s situations with Austria’s are only small and restricted – in a definite and not in a general sense. So similarity of Austria with India ceases after that. So far as the locations of brutally oppressed nations on India’s periphery is concerned, conditions in India are similar to those in Russia. For example, like in Russia, in India too, the oppression nation occupies a vast unbroken territory (Hindi heartland) inhabited by a vast Hindi population and other brutally oppressed peoples inhabit the border regions. After this, again similarities in general with Russia also end.           

Is it wholly true that Austrian social democrat didn’t adopt the right to self determination?

No, it is not. The actual fact is stated by Lenin while responding to Rosa’s criticism –

“…even from the purely factual angle, Rosa Luxemburg’s assertion that the Austrian Social-Democrats’ programme does not contain any recognition of the right of nations to self-determination is incorrect. We need only open the Minutes of the Brünn Congress, which adopted the national programme, to find the statements by the Ruthenian Social-Democrat Hankiewicz on behalf of the entire Ukrainian (Ruthenian) delegation (p. 85 of the Minutes), and by the Polish Social-Democrat Reger on behalf of the entire Polish delegation (p. 108), to the effect that one of the aspirations of the Austrian Social-Democrats of both the above-mentioned nations is to secure national unity, and the freedom and independence of their nations. Hence, while the Austrian Social-Democrats did not include the right of nations to self-determination directly in their programme, they did nevertheless allow the demand for national independence to be advanced by sections of the party. In effect, this means, of course, the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination! Thus, Rosa Luxemburg’s reference to Austria speaks against Rosa Luxemburg in all respects.”

Though, in Austria, German, Hungarian and Czechs all participated in state power almost on equal basis, there were lots of national bickerings and wrangling that made the national question the hub of political activities in Austria. It means, national differences and fights over them existed even among Germans and Hungarians. Apart from that, the fact that polish and Ruthenians sections of the Austrian social democrats had aspirations for national unity and independence, proves that national question was very much present on the whole, even though the bourgeoisie of those nations weren’t oppressed as such, in general sense of the term. But when considered in a strictly dialectical sense, to the extent national differences and bickerings existed, there also existed national oppression and a feeling of national unity and a desire of forming into a separate independent national state.

Here it is clear that the Ruthenians and the poles harboured such feelings as the feelings of national unity and wanted to be formed into separate nations, and when they so proposed before the party and demanded the right to self-determination, the party had no hesitation whatsoever to allow it, even though there is no such evidence that they were brutally suppressed by the alliance of three ruling nations or ruling nations individually. And sofar as existence of national strife, national difference, sense of national alienation, and to that national oppression, etc. are concerned, these existed not only among smaller nations such Ruthenians and poles but also among the three ruling nations, otherwise the Austria’s capital won’t have been the hub of national politics, to the extent of disrupting parliament, which proves beyond doubt that things weren’t as equally placed, and can’t be equally placed for all nations, even if they are all ruling in an alliance and all are enjoying ‘equal’ status.

This brings us to India’s case for some consideration. It forces us to think of the real fate of its mainland second grade nations “participating” in the so called ruling alliance, particularly when the biggest among all of them [those who stand first and foremost for unity and integrity of India and not for equality of nations, the latest open (Hindutva) version being most reactionary calling for One Nation Hindu Rashtra), One Language (Hindi) and One Culture (Hindu Culture)]  has been continuously pushing for its domination by all possible means. The situations that existed in Austria provide a lot of things to learn how thing could have been with respect to Punjabi, Bengali and other small nations who have been co-opted within the ruling alliance of nations led by Gujrati and Marwaris. Initially, till the 70s and 80s, Marwaris were the main player, but exclusively since 2014 things have gone too much in favour of Gujaratis. So, with the rise of fascism, contradictions not only among smaller and brutally oppressed nations, even acute strife and tension is bound to surface between the biggest partners too, while national strife is bound to resurface in appreciable amount between the biggest partners and the small partners. Insofar as such a situation is day-by-day mounting due to increasing fascist onslaught in the country led by RSS-BJP combine, it is certain for all of us to properly take note of it. But, inasmuch as the fascists are still away from establishing open terroristic rule, The worst still keeps waiting in semi-dark conditions if not in the dark situation. We don’t know how the things will exactly unfold.

“PRACTICALITY” IN NATIONAL QUESTION

This question is very important so far as fight against oppressed and refined nationalism is concerned. Lenin writes that the proletariat is opposed to Bourgeois definition (point of view) of “practicality’. Bourgeoisie strive to garner from the proletariat and the toilers “support for all national aspirations”. The class of oppressed Bourgeoisie in particular thinks that only such a point of view is practical.

However, Lenin writes:

“the proletariat’s policy in the national question (as in all others) supports the bourgeoisie only in a certain direction, but it never coincides with the bourgeoisie’s policy. The working class supports the bourgeoisie only in order to secure national peace (which the bourgeoisie cannot bring about completely and which can be achieved only with complete democracy), in order to secure equal rights and to create the best conditions for the class struggle. Therefore, it is in opposition to the practicality of the bourgeoisie that the proletarians advance their own principles in the national question; they always give the bourgeoisie only conditional support”. (p. 418. vol-20 LCW)

What are the things that bourgeoisie run after and strive for in national question? Bourgeoisie is out for either privileges for its own nation, or exceptional advantages for it in the national question, whereas the proletariat is for national peace and unity of workers and toilers. So the proletariat can’t support the “practicality” of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat is opposed to all privileges, to all exclusiveness which is practical things for the bourgeoisie. So, to demand that working class should be “practical” means following the lead of the bourgeoisie, falling into national opportunism.

Lenin thus puts his views with profound clarity. 

This “practicality” demands from us communists a categorical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ reply to any demand of secession that is or may be raised by a national bourgeoisie. Naturally, we can’t and won’t oblige them with such “practicality”. Lenin says, “it is metaphysical in theory, while in practice it leads to subordinating the proletariat to the bourgeoisie’s policy.” The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront in a categorical fashion, whereas the proletariat subordinate these demands to the interests of the class struggle. It means that we can’t say theoretically in advance ‘whether the bourgeois-democratic revolution will end in a given nation seceding from another nation, or in its equality with the latter’ for in either case the main thing to see for the proletariat is that which of the case ‘will ensure the development of its class’. This goes directly against the bourgeoisie of that nation and hence they will do everything to hamper this development by pushing its divisive agenda to the forefront in an otherwise democratic and progressive national struggle, the struggle of a nation against its oppression by another nation.

This is how things stand for the proletariat in the national question on the issue of “practicality” which was also and incidentally raised by Rosa. Lenin writes, “That is why the proletariat confines itself, so to speak, to the negative demand for recognition of the right to self-determination, without giving guarantees to any nation, and without undertaking to give anything at the expense of another nation.” (ibid)

Lenin further says that what is unpractical from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie is the only guarantee of securing the most democratic of all solutions of the national question. The kind of guarantee that bourgeoisie demands in the name of “practically” is not what the proletariat wants. In all national movements, we can say that the proletariat and the bourgeoisie act like two mutually contradictory competitors – both trying to strengthen their own class, while fighting against national oppression of other nations or nations.

QUESTION OF “FEASIBILITY” LEADS TO A SOLUTION DETERIMENTAL TO PROLETARIAT

More dangerous is however the question of “feasibility.” The question of “feasibility” is such that forces as well as encourages the nationally oppressed bourgeoisie to come to terms with the nationally oppressor bourgeoisie, to the detriment of the proletariat, as Lenin had said.Lenin writes –

“The bourgeoisie is most of all interested in the “feasibility” of a given demand—hence the invariable policy of coming to terms with the bourgeoisie of other nations, to the detriment of the proletariat. For the proletariat, however, the important thing is to strengthen its class against the bourgeoisie and to educate the masses in the spirit of consistent democracy and socialism” (p.418, vol-20)

Lenin here clearly opines that on account of the excessive interest of bourgeoisie in “feasibility” of a given demand results in an “invariable policy of coming to terms (of an oppressed nation ~ added) with the bourgeoisie of other nations” and this may be detrimental to the interests of the proletariat and toilers. What is the lead in this statement of Lenin for us? The main lead is that it may lead to unholy compromises and alliance of the oppressed bourgeoisie with the oppressor bourgeoisie for the so called ‘solution’ of national question, which may be detrimental to the nationally oppressed proletariat and the toilers, but may be advantageous to the nationally oppressed bourgeoisie. Given that the national bourgeoisie comes to terms with the oppressor nations, it will be advantageous to the oppressed bourgeoisie. Herein lies a possibility that national question may get solved for the bourgeoisie but may not be solved to the advantage of the working class i.e. scope for national oppression of the people at large of that nation may continue and similarly the scope of national strife among the people at large, such as on question of language and other related issues including the issues of territory and distribution of population, is deliberately left unsolved, solely with a purpose to “divide and rule” the workers and toilers of different nations. It means that the national oppression may get solved and be over for the oppressed bourgeoisie in a limited sense (the limit is determined by the economic status and opportunity allowed or offered by the oppressor nation) but not for the masses, not even in that same limited sense which however doesn’t mean that national oppression of the bourgeoisie is completely eliminated. Given the extraordinarily clandestine and cunning character of big bourgeoisie, it is beyond doubt that they know how to foil equality which they declare to have given and foster inequality.

When Lenin candidly writes that seeing or measuring the “feasibility” of a given demand the bourgeoisie invariably pursue the policy of coming to terms with the bourgeoisie of other nations, to the detriment of the proletariat, it automatically means that the oppressed bourgeoisie of a given oppressed nation may give in to the oppressor bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation, while securing feasible concessions and settlement for themselves and those feasible settlements may be detrimental to the interests of the proletariat and toilers both as what is detrimental to the proletariat is also detrimental to other toilers.

What is the lead for us in this statement of Lenin? To ascertain this is the main important thing in this connection. The main lead is that it may lead to unholy compromises and alliance of the oppressed bourgeoisie with the oppressor bourgeoisie for the so called ‘solution’ and settlement of the national question, which may still be detrimental to the nationally oppressed proletariat and the toilers, but may be advantageous to the nationally oppressed bourgeoisie. It clearly means that the question of national oppression may get solved and be over for the oppressed bourgeoisie but may not be over for the masses of the people, for the workers, other toilers including petty producers including poor and lower middle peasants, and of course for small bourgeoisie including upper middle and rich peasants. It means that the national oppression may get solved and be over for the oppressed bourgeoisie in a limited sense (the limit is determined by the economic status and opportunity allowed or offered by the oppressor nation) but not for the masses, not even in that same limited sense which however doesn’t mean that national oppression of the bourgeoisie is completely eliminated. Given the extraordinarily clandestine and cunning character of big bourgeoisie, it is beyond doubt that they know how to foil equality which they declare to have given and foster inequality.

Given, according to Lenin, that the national bourgeoisie comes to terms with the oppressor nations such that it will be advantageous to the oppressed bourgeoisie, so herein lies a possibility (to be later taken up extensively connecting it with the experience of the ruling alliance of the three nations in Austria) that national question may get solved for the bourgeoisie but may not be equally solved to the advantage of the working class and other mass of people of that nation; the scope for national oppression and national strife or difference for the people at large of that nation may continue, getting reflected too often in varied form of suppression of a national language, culture and other related issues including the issues of partial distribution of territory and population etc., is deliberately left unsolved solely with a purpose (in unison with the big oppressive bourgeoisie) to “divide and rule” the workers and toilers of different nations. We shall come to this issue in a separate essay.

That’s why Lenin writes: “The whole task of the proletariat in the national question is “unpractical” (as viewed ~ added) from the standpoint of the nationalist bourgeoisie of every nation, because the proletarians, opposed as they are to nationalism of every kind, demand “abstract” equality; they demand, as a matter of principle, that there should be no privileges, however slight. Failing to grasp this, Rosa Luxemburg, by her misguided eulogy of practicality, has opened the door wide for the opportunists, and especially for opportunist concessions to Great-Russian nationalism.”

This is how Rosa commits a serious sin in the name of “practicality”

Further –

“The proletariat is opposed to such practicality. While recognising equality and equal rights to a national state, it values above all and places foremost the alliance of the proletarians of all nations, and assesses any national demand, any national separation, from the angle of the workers’ class struggle. This call for practicality is in fact merely a call for uncritical acceptance of bourgeois aspirations.”

But, what is important that just after this, in the same breath, Lenin also criticises those who oppose the nation’s right to secede.

“By supporting the right to secession, we are told, you are supporting the bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed nations. This is what Rosa Luxemburg says, and she is echoed by Semkovsky, the opportunist… Our reply to this is: No, it is to the bourgeoisie that a “practical” solution of this question is important. To the workers the important thing is to distinguish the principles of the two trends. Insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation fights the oppressor, we are always, in every case, and more strongly than anyone else, in favour, for we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. But insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation stands for its own bourgeois nationalism, we stand against. We fight against the privileges and violence of the oppressor nation, and do not in any way condone strivings for privileges on the part of the oppressed nation.”

Criticising vehemently Rosa and all others who deny to accept the right of nations to secede, Lenin further writes:

” … If, in our political agitation, we fail to advance and advocate the slogan of the right to secession, we shall play into the hands, not only of the bourgeoisie, but also of the feudal landlords and the absolutism of the oppressor nation. Kautsky long ago used this argument against Rosa Luxemburg, and the argument is indisputable. When, in her anxiety not to “assist” the nationalist bourgeoisie of Poland, Rosa Luxemburg rejects the right to secession in the programme of the Marxists in Russia, she is in fact assisting the Great-Russian Black Hundreds. She is in fact assisting opportunist tolerance of the privileges (and worse than privileges) of the Great Russians. Carried away by the struggle against nationalism in Poland, Rosa Luxemburg has forgotten the nationalism of the Great Russians, although it is this nationalism that is the most formidable at the present time. It is a nationalism that is more feudal than bourgeois, and is the principal obstacle to democracy and to the proletarian struggle. The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content that we unconditionally support. At the same time we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness; we fight against the tendency of the Polish bourgeois to oppress the Jews, etc., etc. This is “unpractical” from the standpoint of the bourgeois and the philistine, but it is the only policy in the national question that is practical, based on principles, and really promotes democracy, liberty and proletarian unity. The recognition of the right to secession for all; the appraisal of each concrete question of secession from the point of view of removing all inequality, all privileges, and all exclusiveness.” (p.420, V. 20, bold added)

This is the kernel of Leninist policy, taking care of both – the vacillations towards oppressor nation as well as vacillations towards oppressed nation.

“…we cannot move towards that goal (class goal ¬ added) unless we combat all nationalism, and uphold the equality of the various nations. Whether the Ukraine, for example, is destined to form an independent state is a matter that will be determined by a thousand unpredictable factors. Without attempting idle “guesses”, we firmly uphold something that is beyond doubt: the right of the Ukraine to form such a state. We respect this right; we do not uphold the privileges of Great Russians with regard to Ukrainians; we educate the masses in the spirit of recognition of that right, in the spirit of rejecting state privileges for any nation.”

SOCIALISM AND EVASION OF RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION

Can we evade the recognition of a nation’s Right to Self-Determination (up to right to secession) because we have already recognised in the program of Socialism or Socialist Revolution the equality of all nations and our opposition to all national injustices and violence?

According to Lenin, ‘no’ and according to Rosa, ‘yes’. This was the Rosa’s second most profound error on the national question.

Lenin criticised her for this, too, in no uncertain terms.

Lenin writes:

“Her … argument is actually a timid evasion of the question whether or not recognition of national equality includes recognition of the right to secession. If it does, then Rosa Luxemburg admits that, in principle, §9 of our Programme (article 9 speaks of the right a nation to self-determination, including secession) is correct. If it does not, then she does not recognise national equality. Shuffling and evasions will not help matters here!” (p.430, ibid)

Lenin concludes this by saying –

“The interests of the working class and of its struggle against capitalism demand complete solidarity and the closest unity of the workers of all nations; they demand resistance to the nationalist policy of the bourgeoisie of every nationality. Hence, Social-Democrats would be deviating from proletarian policy and subordinating the workers to the policy of the bourgeoisie if they were to repudiate the right of nations to self-determination, i.e., the right of an oppressed nation to secede, or if they were to support all the national demands of the bourgeoisie of oppressed nations.” (p.432, ibid)

Here again we can see that Lenin takes care of both the deviations. While Lenin attacks those who repudiate the right of an oppressed nation to secede from an alien body, in the same breadth he doesn’t spare those who show the slightest tendency to fall a prey to bourgeoise nationalism (refer to the bold lines in the above quote). This is evident throughout his writings. This shows, on this question (as on all other questions) how much rigorous he was.

Lenin advocates for the proletariat to remain indifferent to display of all types of national prejudices.

“It makes no difference to the hired worker whether he is exploited chiefly by the Great-Russian bourgeoisie rather than the non-Russian bourgeoisie, or by the Polish bourgeoisie rather than the Jewish bourgeoisie, etc. The hired worker who has come to understand his class interests is equally indifferent to the state privileges of the Great Russian capitalists and to the promises of the Polish or Ukrainian capitalists to set up an earthly paradise when they obtain state privileges.” (ibid)

“Capitalism is developing and will continue to develop, anyway, both in integral states with a mixed population and in separate national states. In any case the hired worker will be an object of exploitation. Successful struggle against exploitation requires that the proletariat be free of nationalism, and be absolutely neutral, so to speak, in the fight for supremacy that is going on among the bourgeoisie of the various nations. If the proletariat of any one nation gives the slightest support to the privileges of its “own” national bourgeoisie, that will inevitably rouse distrust among the proletariat of another nation; it will weaken the international class solidarity of the workers and divide them, to the delight of the bourgeoisie. Repudiation of the right to self-determination or to secession inevitably means, in practice, support for the privileges of the dominant nation.’ (ibid)

INTERESTING CASE OF NORWAY’S SECESSION

Do the Social-Democrats in a mixed national state need a programme that recognises the right to self-determination or secession?

The Norway’s secession confirms it more strikingly that the proletariat must choose to be neutral in the fight of supremacy among various nations and advocate for the recognition of the right of political self-determination of a nation.

Lenin quotes Rosa on the topic and then criticizes her. The quote is very informative for readers as to what happened in Sweden and how Norway seceded from Sweden. That’s why I am giving it here in full.

“The latest event in the history of federative relations, the secession of Norway from Sweden—which at the time was hastily seized upon by the social-patriotic Polish press (see the Cracow Naprzód186) as a gratifying sign of the strength and progressive nature of the tendency towards state secession—at once provided striking proof that federalism and its concomitant, separation, are in no way an expression of progress or democracy. After the so-called Norwegian ‘revolution’, which meant that the Swedish king was deposed and compelled to leave Norway, the Norwegians coolly proceeded to choose another king, formally rejecting, by a national referendum, the proposal to establish a republic. That which superficial admirers of all national movements and of all semblance of independence proclaimed to be a ‘revolution’ was simply a manifestation of peasant and petty-bourgeois particularism, the desire to have a king ‘of their own’ for their money instead of one imposed upon them by the Swedish aristocracy, and was, consequently, a movement that had absolutely nothing in common with revolution. At the same time, the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway showed once more to what extent, in this case also, the federation which had existed until then was only an expression of purely dynastic interests and, therefore, merely a form of monarchism and reaction.” (Przeglad.)

Criticising this, Lenin writes:

“Admittedly, it would have been difficult for her to have revealed the hopelessness of her position more saliently than she has done in this particular instance. The question was, and is: do the Social-Democrats in a mixed national state need a programme that recognises the right to self-determination or secession? What does the example of Norway, cited by Rosa Luxemburg, tell us on this point? Our author (Rosa ¬ added) twists and turns, exercises her wit and rails at Naprzód, but she does not answer the question! Rosa Luxemburg speaks about everything under the sun so as to avoid saying a single word about the actual point at issue! Undoubtedly, in wishing to have a king of their own for their money, and in rejecting, in a national referendum, the proposal to establish a republic, the Norwegian petty bourgeoisie displayed exceedingly bad philistine qualities. Undoubtedly, Naprzód displayed equally bad and equally philistine qualities in failing to notice this. But what has all this to do with the case? The question under discussion was the right of nations to self-determination and the attitude to be adopted by the socialist proletariat towards this right! Why, then, does not Rosa Luxemburg answer this question instead of beating about the bush?” (p. 434, ibid)

What is the reason behind the blindfoldedness of Rosa? Lenin answers this question with an idiom –

“To a mouse, there is no stronger beast than the cat. To Rosa Luxemburg there is evidently no stronger beast than the “Fracy”.[11] …To analyse this example in Marxist fashion, we must deal, not with the vices of the awfully terrible “Fracy”, but, first, with the concrete historical features of the secession of Norway from Sweden, and secondly, with the tasks which confronted the proletariat of both countries in connection with this secession.” (ibid)

“The geographic, economic and language ties between Norway and Sweden are as intimate as those between the Great Russians and many other Slav nations. But the union between Norway and Sweden was not a voluntary one. … Norway was ceded to Sweden by the monarchs during the Napoleonic wars, against the will of the Norwegians; and the Swedes had to bring troops into Norway to subdue her. Despite the very extensive autonomy which Norway enjoyed (she had her own parliament, etc.), there was constant friction between Norway and Sweden for many decades after the union, and the Norwegians strove hard to throw off the yoke of the Swedish aristocracy. At last, in August 1905, they succeeded: the Norwegian parliament resolved that the Swedish king was no longer king of Norway, and in the referendum held later among the Norwegian people, the overwhelming majority (about 200,000 as against a few hundred) voted for complete separation from Sweden. After a short period of indecision, the Swedes resigned themselves to the fact of secession.

This example shows us on what grounds the cases of the secession of nations are practicable, and actually occur, under modern economic and political relationships, and the form that secession sometimes assumes under conditions of political freedom and democracy.[12] No Social-Democrat will deny—unless he would profess indifference to questions of political freedom and democracy (in which case he is naturally no longer a Social-Democrat)— that this example virtually proves that it is the bounden duty of class-conscious workers to conduct systematic propaganda and prepare the ground for the settlement of conflicts that may arise over the secession of nations, not in the “Russian way”, but only in the way they were settled in 1905 between Norway and Sweden. This is exactly what is meant by the demand in the programme for the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination.” (p.435, ibid) 

Lenin is so vivid when he writes:

“In the question of the self-determination of nations, as in every other question, we are interested, first and foremost, in the self-determination of the proletariat within a given nation.”

In no other words and in no better way other than this, the proletarian policy in national questions could have been so beautifully yet so plainly portrayed!

The above statement has a great bearing on the role of the proletariat in national question. Inasmuch as the proletariat forms the majority in a nation and is subjected to all forms of exploitation and oppression (including culturally and linguistically), occupies the national territory to its last nook and corner, is capable of organising production on its own and wipe out all oppression by smashing the rule of exploiters of all hues and colour, it is, along with other toilers, in itself a nation. So, once the proletariat of a nation organises itself as a nation, and so does the proletariat of all nations, the national boundaries will themselves and automatically disappear, then and there. We shall usher in the era of complete internationalism.

Look at what Lenin writes –

“This is true. It is impossible to abolish national (or any other political) oppression under capitalism, since this requires the abolition of classes, i.e., the introduction of socialism. But while being based on economics, socialism cannot be reduced to economics alone. A foundation—socialist production—is essential for the abolition of national oppression, but this foundation must also carry a democratically organised state, a democratic army, etc. By transforming capitalism into socialism the proletariat creates the possibility of abolishing national oppression; the possibility becomes reality “only”—“only”!—with the establishment of full democracy in all spheres, including the delineation of state frontiers in accordance with the “sympathies” of the population, including complete freedom to secede. And this, in turn, will serve as a basis for developing the practical elimination of even the slightest national friction and the least national mistrust, for an accelerated drawing together and fusion of nations that will be completed when the state withers away. This is the Marxist theory, the theory from which our Polish colleagues have mistakenly departed.” (The discussion on self-determination summed up, LCW Vol. 22, p 323-325)

RESOLUTION OF THE LONDON INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS, 1896

The recognition of the right of an oppressed nation to self-determination was also passed by the delegates of the International Congress of the social democrats held in as far back as 1896 in London. 

This resolution reads:

“This Congress declares that it stands for the full right of all nations to self-determination [Selbstbestimmungsrecht] and expresses its sympathy for the workers of every country now suffering under the yoke of military, national or other absolutism. This Congress calls upon the workers of all these countries to join the ranks of the class-conscious [Klassenbewusste—those who understand their class interests] workers of the whole world in order jointly to fight for the defeat of international capitalism and for the achievement of the aims of international Social-Democracy.”

This is the Lenin’s point of view on this resolution

“The International’s resolution reproduces the most essential and fundamental propositions in this point of view: on the one hand, the absolutely direct, unequivocal recognition of the full right of all nations to self-determination; on the other hand, the equally unambiguous appeal to the workers for international unity in their class struggle. We think that this resolution is absolutely correct, and that, to the countries of Eastern Europe and Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century, it is this resolution, with both its parts being taken as an integral whole, that gives the only correct lead to the proletarian class policy in the national question.”

MARX-ENGELS ON INDEPENDENCE OF POLAND

Marx-Engels were in support of independence of Poland.

Lenin writes:

“Karl Marx and Frederick Engels considered it the bounden duty of the whole of West-European democracy, and still more of Social-Democracy, to give active support to the demand for Polish independence. For the period of the 1840s and 1860s, the period of the bourgeois revolutions in Austria and Germany, and the period of the “Peasant Reform” in Russia, this point of view was quite correct and the only one that was consistently democratic and proletarian”

It must be remembered that Marx-Engels supported the cause of Polish Independence, even when it was the liberation struggle of the gentry of Poland. Lenin writes:

“So long as the masses of the people in Russia and in most of the Slav countries were still sunk in torpor, so long as there were no independent, mass, democratic movements in those countries, the liberation movement of the gentry in Poland assumed an immense and paramount importance from the point of view, not only of Russian, not only of Slav, but of European democracy as a whole.”[13] 

But what was correct in 40s, 50s and 60s didn’t remain correct in the twentieth century – writes Lenin. If Marx had been alive, he also would have changed his position.

Lenin writes:

“But while Marx’s standpoint was quite correct for the forties, fifties and sixties or for the third quarter of the nineteenth century, it has ceased to be correct by the twentieth century. Independent democratic movements, and even an independent proletarian movement, have arisen in most Slav countries, even in Russia, one of the most backward Slav countries. Aristocratic Poland has disappeared, yielding place to capitalist Poland. Under such circumstances Poland could not but lose her exceptional revolutionary importance.”

“The attempt of the P.S.P. (the Polish Socialist Party, the present-day “Fracy”) in 1896 to “establish” for all time the point of view Marx had held in a different epoch was an attempt to use the letter of Marxism against the spirit of Marxism. The Polish Social-Democrats were therefore quite right in attacking the extreme nationalism of the Polish petty bourgeoisie and pointing out that the national question was of secondary importance to Polish workers, in creating for the first time a purely proletarian party in Poland and proclaiming the extremely important principle that the Polish and the Russian workers must maintain the closest alliance in their class struggle.”

So maintaining closest unity of workers of Poland with those of Russia in the beginning of 20th century was the main policy and the national question became secondary. It doesn’t mean that national question was abandoned. Only a crook will derive such a meaning.  

Social democrats, it is true, didn’t support the cause of polish independence in the beginning of the 20th century, but, as Lenin writes, did it also mean that the principle of political self-determination of nations, or the right to secede, was regarded as something rejected for Poland?

This is what Stalin wrote in his famous thesis “National Question And Marxism” –

“At the end of the nineteenth century the Polish Marxists were already declaring against the secession of Poland; and they too were right, for during the fifty years that had elapsed profound changes had taken place, bringing Russia and Poland closer economically and culturally. Moreover, during that period the question of secession had been converted from a practical matter into a matter of academic dispute, which excited nobody except perhaps intellectuals abroad. This, of course, by no means precludes the possibility that certain internal and external conditions may arise in which the question of the secession of Poland may again come on the order of the day.”

Actual facts of later day history also confirmed it. Poland exercised its right to secede and was granted independence unconditionally just the other she demanded it from Socialist Russia, just after the victory of the great October Revolution.

Lenin writes in 1913 this:

“No. At a time when bourgeois-democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe and Asia have begun, in this period of the awakening and intensification of national movements and of the formation of independent proletarian parties, the task of these parties with regard to national policy must be two fold: recognition of the right of all nations to self-determination, since bourgeois-democratic reform is not yet completed and since working-class democracy consistently, seriously and sincerely (and not in a liberal, Kokoshkin fashion) fights for equal rights for nations; then, a close, unbreakable alliance in the class struggle of the proletarians of all nations in a given state, throughout all the changes in its history, irrespective of any reshaping of the frontiers of the individual states by the bourgeoisie.”

The 1896 resolution of the International was formulated in the same spirit.

Similarly, the underlying principle of the resolution adopted by the Conference of Russian Marxists held in the summer of 1913 has the same substance. It recognised both – the right to self-determination and secession as well as warned the workers against the nationalist slogans of the bourgeoisie of any nation and demanded the unity and amalgamation of the workers of all nations in internationally united proletarian organisations.

Actually, according to Lenin, the recognition of the right of all nations to self-determination implies the maximum of democracy and the minimum of nationalism which may look like a contradiction only to those who have extremely shallow minds, who are incapable of grasping the importance of unity of class and indivisibility of class struggle in dealing with national question from the very beginning. 

When the Swedish workers upheld Norway’s freedom to secede and form an independent state, then proletariat of both Sweden and Norway gained enormous strength. It is all a well established fact.

MARX-ENGELS AND FIRST INTERNATIONAL ON NATIONAL QUESTION (POLAND AND IRELAND)

Initially, particularly Engels, had no faith in the insurrection of the polish gentry. But (12 years) later, both Marx and Engels treated Poland and its struggle for Independence with ardent and profound sympathy. When drafting the Address of the (first) International in 1864, what Marx wrote to Engels (on November 4, 1864) clearly shows it. “Marx had no doubt as to the subordinate position of the national question as compared with the labour question.” But it doesn’t mean that he ignored the national movement. There is no truth in this gossip. It is well known that when it came to taking sides on national questions he combated big nations. In a letter to Engels, he wrote that “I had to combat Mazzini’s nationalism” and that “I spoke of countries, not of nationalities, and denounced Russia, not the minores gentium.”

A few years later, in 1866, he criticises Proudhon who declared nationalities as absurdity.

Lenin writes:

“Yesterday, Marx wrote on June 20, 1866, “there was a discussion in the International Council on the present war… The discussion wound up, as was to be foreseen, with ‘the question of nationality’ in general and the attitude we take towards it… The representatives of ‘Young France’ (nonworkers) came out with the announcement that all national ties and even nations were ‘antiquated prejudices’… The English laughed very much when I began my speech by saying that our friend Lafargue and others, who had done away with nationalities, had spoken ‘French’ to us, i.e., a language which nine-tenths of the audience did not understand. I also suggested that by the negation of nationalities he appeared, quite unconsciously, to understand their absorption by the model French nation.”

Lenin further writes:

“The conclusion that follows from all these critical remarks of Marx’s is clear: the working class should be the last to make a fetish of the national question, since the development of capitalism does not necessarily awaken all nations to independent life. But to brush aside the mass national movements once they have started, and to refuse to support what is progressive in them means, in effect, pandering to nationalistic prejudices, that is, recognising “one’s own nation” as a model nation (or, we would add, one possessing the exclusive privilege of forming a state)”

“Once the mass national movements have started” – This is what Lenin writes and it is very important. This conveys an important warning that while the proletariat by themselves or positively doesn’t raise the issue (don’t make a fetish of national movement) but it must not brush the issue aside once it has been raised or mass national movement have started.

With regard to Marx’s position on Ireland, this is what he wrote to Engels on November 2, 1867

“I have done my best to bring about this demonstration of the English workers in favour of Fenianism… I used to think the separation of Ireland from England impossible. I now think it inevitable, although after the separation there may come federation.”[14]

Again on November 30 of the same year, he writes this

“…what shall we advise the English workers? In my opinion they must make the Repeal of the Union” [Ireland with England, i.e., the separation of Ireland from England] (in short, the affair of 1783, only democratised and adapted to the conditions of the time) an article of their pronunziamento. This is the only legal and therefore only possible form of Irish emancipation which can be admitted in the programme of an English party. Experience must show later whether a mere personal union can continue to subsist between the two countries…”

Further he writes

“…What the Irish need is: 1) Self-government and independence from England; “2) An agrarian revolution…”

“Marx attached great importance to the Irish question and delivered hour-and-a-half lectures on this subject at the German Workers’ Union (letter of December 17, 1867). In a letter dated November 20, 1868, Engels spoke of “the hatred towards the Irish found among the English workers”, and almost a year later (October 24, 1869), returning to this subject, he wrote: “Il n’y a qu’un pas [it is only one step] from Ireland to Russia… Irish history shows what a misfortune it is for one nation to have subjugated another. All the abominations of the English have their origin in the Irish Pale. I have still to plough my way through the Cromwellian period, but this much seems certain to me, that things would have taken another turn in England, too, but for the necessity of military rule in Ireland and the creation of a new aristocracy there.”

In nutshell,

“At first Marx thought that Ireland would not be liberated by the national movement of the oppressed nation, but by the working-class movement of the oppressor nation. Marx did not make an Absolute of the national movement, knowing, as he did, that only the victory of the working class can bring about the complete liberation of all nationalities.”

“However, it so happened that the English working class fell under the influence of the liberals for a fairly long time, became an appendage to the liberals, and by adopting a liberal-labour policy left itself leaderless. The bourgeois liberation movement in Ireland grew stronger and assumed revolutionary forms. Marx reconsidered his views and corrected it. “What a misfortune it is for a nation to have subjugated another.” The English-working class will never be free until Ireland is freed from the English yoke. Reaction in England is strengthened and fostered by the enslavement of Ireland (just as reaction in Russia is fostered by her enslavement of a number of nations!).”

“And, in proposing in the International a resolution of sympathy with “the Irish nation”, … Marx advocated the separation of Ireland from England, “although after the separation there may come federation”.

What were the theoretical grounds for Marx’s conclusion?

“In England the bourgeois revolution had been consummated long ago. But it had not yet been consummated in Ireland; it is being consummated only now, after the lapse of half a century, by the reforms of the English Liberals. If capitalism had been overthrown in England as quickly as Marx had at first expected, there would have been no room for a bourgeois-democratic and general national movement in Ireland. But since it had arisen, Marx advised the English workers to support it, give it a revolutionary impetus and see it through in the interests of their own liberty.”

Thus In the Irish question, too, Marx and Engels pursued a consistently proletarian policy, which really educated the masses in the spirit of democracy and socialism.

“If the Irish and English proletariat had not accepted Marx’s policy and had not made the secession of Ireland their slogan, this would have been the worst sort of opportunism, a neglect of their duties as democrats and socialists, and a concession to English reaction and the English bourgeoisie.”

Proletariat And National Wrangling On Language

Lenin in Russia was opposed to a single official language, though he believed that on account of “requirements of economic exchange”, the nationalities living in one state (as long as they wish to live together) “would be compelled to study the language of the majority” and it is something that a communist can’t object.

Lenin calls it the basis of free and independent “assimilation of nation”

Giving examples of Switzerland, he favours multiple languages having the official status. In Switzerland, there were three official languages – German (spoken by 70% of the population), French (22%) and Italian (7%). In Russia, though Great Russian was spoken by only 43% it was imposed on all other nations by law i.e. giving it an official status. In Russia, other nationalities such as for examples Ukrainians constituted 17%, poles 6% and Belorussian only 4.5% of the population.

So, what must be the correct proletarian policy?

  • Abolish all privileges given to any language.
  • Only by abolishing all privileges in the field of language and by giving fullest democracy to all languages can it be finally decided in due course of time as to which language will win recognition of all nations as their common language – the language of all nations living in a state.
  • It is also a part of gradual, free and completely independent assimilation of nations

How do liberals behave in this matter?

They on the one hand shout that they are against privileges, but, from behind the back (indirectly), they support privileges or “haggle with feudalists and imperialists (big oppressor nations, now for one and then for other privileges. 

Such liberal democrats are found not only in oppressor nations but also in oppressed nations – Lenin says

But Lenin at the same time differentiates between Great Russian nationalism and other nationalism, because of it being the worst of all i.e. being of most violent character as well as being in kinship with black hundred Monarchists. (Purishkevich)

Proletariat And National Wrangling On Culture

Lenin clearly writes that the slogan of working class democracy is not national culture or nationalism but the internationalist culture and internationalism and world wide working class movement based on world wide class unity.

What does it mean?

It means that according to Lenin the national program of working class must include

  • Absolutely no privilege to any national culture or language
  • the solution of the problem of national culture and language (the political self-determination of nations) on the basis of completely free democratic process and methods
  • The free and democratic methods must include “promulgation of a law or laws that shall make any measure introducing privileges and rise of militancy against the equality of nations or the equality of rights of national minorities illegal and those who are involved in such attempts punishable.”

Internationalist culture, what does it mean?

This is what precisely Lenin suggests

  • working class democracy contraposes to national wrangling of the bourgeoisie and their parties over the question of language and culture by “demanding complete amalgamation of workers of all nationalities in all working class organisations – trade unions, co-operatives etc. in contradistinction to bourgeois nationalism” as the basis of equality of all nations, their languages and culture.
  • only such a policy can uphold true democracy and defend the interests of the working class against capital which has already become international and becoming more so under modern day monopoly capitalism
  • only such a policy can promote the development of making towards a new way of life that socialism is.

National Culture In General And The Question of Class and Non-Class Culture

Marxists believe in class national culture. What does it mean?

Lenin writes –

“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.”

So general slogan of national culture means the culture of the bourgeoisie and the landlords, and hence a fraud for the proletariat and toilers.

The “class gulf” in national culture is very important and Marxist-Leninist make it a departure point by doing everything to reveal this “class gulf” instead of obscuring it.

what happens to this “class gulf” when we advance in general the national culture or culture?

This class gulf is obscured and not revealed.

What happens when we advance “internationalism” in place of “general nationalism”?

This class gulf is revealed completely. We actually take only the democratic and socialist elements from all the national cultures. We do it in opposition to bourgeois national culture or nationalism.

Lenin puts in like this:

“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.”

Further –

“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 Marxists.”

If we can take a concrete example[15], shouldn’t be reject the slogan of guarantee of development of a particular national culture or language (say Punjabi) in Punjab in the same manner as we reject in case of imposition or undertaking by state of guaranteeing of development of Hindi language and culture – the culture and language of the oppressor nation in India? Shouldn’t we instead fight all such things in the truest spirit of internationalism that demands no privilege to any of them and no guarantee of development to be accorded to any of them? Lenin, in the context of Russia, candidly writes that the same applies to even the most oppressed nationality – the Jews?

LENIN ON CENTRALISATION VS FEDERATION AND AUTONOMY

It is correctly said that Marxists stand not only for centralisation but also for larger states. Why? Is it because Marxist stand for tyranny and bureaucracy? No. we Marxists stand for centralised state as well as larger state because it corresponds with and help the ultimate cause of the proletariat.

Lenin Writes –

“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.” (p.51, vol-20)

We Marxist are well versed in this that the fate and victory of socialism is integrally bound with the Capitalism’s broad development and the rapid growth of the productive forces. This, Lenin writes, 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 (ibid) without which proletariat’s struggle can’t develop on the broadest possible basis and thus victory of socialism will be jeopardised.

Marxists are thus opposed, under any circumstances, to advocacy of either the federal principle or decentralisation for the simple reason that “the great centralised state is a tremendous historical step forward from medieval disunity to the future socialist unity of the whole world.”

Lenin, in this perspective only, sees that such a centralised state, which is historically inseparable from capitalism, can be of great help when we travel on road to socialism.

“It would, however, be inexcusable to forget that in advocating centralism we advocate exclusively democratic centralism” – Lenin writes

What does this democratic centralism mean here, in the above context?

Lenin writes that his advocacy for centralism doesn’t “preclude local self-government, with autonomy for regions having special economic and social conditions, a distinct national composition of the population, and so forth, and hence democratic centralism necessarily demands both.” (bold and italics added)

Like in Russia, centralism is constantly confused with tyranny and bureaucracy in India. This is linked with the history of both India and Russia. Even then, Lenin writes, “it is quite inexcusable for a Marxist to yield to it.”

LENIN ON CONNECTION BETWEEN AUTONOMY AND CENTRALISM

Lenin conclusively writes that the two (Autonomy and Centralism) don’t constitute dialectical thesis and anti-thesis. Rather, he writes, one (the former) is necessary for the truest application of the other (the latter), because unnecessary (bureaucratic) interference from above in purely local matters (regional, national, and other) hinders not only “economic and political development in general” but also impedes the application of centralism in “serious, important and fundamental matters in particular.”

Lenin writes:

“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.” (p.53)

So, according to Lenin, providing autonomy under a large and highly centralised capitalist state to regions with appreciably distinct economic and social features, farm from being an impediment, is a necessary tool for democratically, in place of bureaucratically, applying centralism.  

Lenin debates Rosa who was in general opposed to the slogan autonomy, allowing it only in case of Poland and by way of exception. It is a well known fact that the Rosa’s errors on questions of autonomy were utilized to oppose territorial national autonomy.

Lenin further writes in favour of autonomy in this way:

“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. (page -54, bold and italics added)

LOGIC OF NATIONAL TERRITORY AND SOVEREIGNTY OF THE PEOPLE INHABITING IN IT

Where is the limit in deciding boundaries based on “national territory”? Is there any such limit?

YES, according to Lenin.

On the one hand, he writes:

“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[16] 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.(p.56, ibid, bold added)

On the other hand, in the subsequent paragraph, he writes:

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. (p.56, bold added)

Then what are the other principles that Marxists must base themselves while deciding about boundaries? Lenin answers this, too, quoting “the solution of the problem” provided and proposed by the “last conference of Russian Marxists” which he said was “far more correct than the Austrian.” He quotes this:

“… 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 be 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.” (p.57, ibid, bold added)

Here what do we see? We see that here “the national composition of the population is placed on the same level as the other conditions” such as economic and social conditions.

It means that there are other economic and social factors and conditions, which together with national territory principle, Lenin writes “must serve as a basis for determining the new boundaries that will meet the needs of modern capitalism, not of bureaucracy and Asiatic barbarism.”

He subsequently writes that

“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[17].” (ibid, p.57) 

Comrades!

            This paper is not yet exhaustive and complete. It is very much in the form of lengthy and extensive reading notes and not yet fully ready as a complete essay. Moreover, how do national question and national tasks of the proletariat work out in India hasn’t been dealt altogether. Yet, the paper is no less capable in informing readers and comrades about our views that give enough lead to precisely understand what our approach could be as distinguishable from or in conformity with others. In coming few months, we will come up with our delineated position on Our National Tasks in India. It would be appropriate to however mention here that though we are in broad agreement with ‘Pratibaddh’ on national question except on few things as written in its papers, yet we encounter a difference in properly applying Leninist rigour (which we feel is palpably lacking) in dealing with a question as vital as this (the national question). Does it mean any serious disagreement infolding in future? We can’t say and hope it doesn’t. As of today, except for that above-mentioned Leninist rigour, as I have said, we don’t differ much.


[1] Lenin (CW 36)

[2] This kind of deviation is quite common among those true communists who by birth belong to oppressed nations. But it is inexcusable for those belonging to oppressor nation. Its vice-versa is also true.

[3] Here we are not beginning with the definition of a Nation for which one can study Stalin’s thesis “National Question and Marxism.” Extensive quotes have already been given in comrade Sukhvinder’s article.

[4] Stalin wrote – “The process of elimination of feudalism and development of capitalism is at the same time a process of the constitution of people into nations.”

[5] There are at present 195 countries (nation states included) but fight for formation of national states are still going on in Europe, Asia and Africa. More than 50 new countries emerged since the 40s. In multinational states, many nations are struggling for their separate nation states, while many others are fighting for their regional autonomy. In India, the Kashmiris and the nations of North-East are fighting for their independence, while in the rest of India national question is not completely resolved. Out of hundreds of languages only 22 have been accorded the official status. 43 more languages are struggling to be included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In Pakistan also, the Kashmiri, Pashto, Baloch are fighting for their independence. Uyghur in China are oppressed. similarly Rohingyas in Myanmar are being repressed. In Sri Lanka also, Tamils have been crushed but their national aspirations haven’t died.

[6] This is one of reasons why debate on this question mostly took the form of debate on national language and national culture. We shall come to this later.

[7] Lenin subsequently explains that Kautsky here is speaking of only such abnormality (and not about any unique turn of events) as can be termed as a lack of conformity (and exclusively in this sense) of with what was best adapted to the requirements of a developing capitalism.

[8] But it doesn’t mean that the existence of multinational states blocked capitalist development.

[9] However, in the third period of capitalism which will see rise of fascism and authoritarianism may lead to an unprecedented rise in national mass movements along with and as a part of a rise in general democratic mass movements bring the national question to the fore in a different form, a form in which national movement may be fought without “national” bourgeoisie as a whole participating in it.

[10] It however doesn’t and mustn’t mean that the urge or aspirations for national unity and independence had ceased to exist in them.

[11] “Fracy” is the popular term for the “Polish Socialist Party”, its so-called revolutionary section, in actuality a petty bourgeois outfit. The Cracow newspaper Naprzód shares the views of that “section”. Rosa Luxemburg is so blinded by her fight against the nationalism of that “section” that she loses sight of everything except Naprzód. If Naprzód says “yes”, Rosa Luxemburg considers it her sacred duty to say an immediate “no”, without stopping to think that by so doing she does not reveal independence of Naprzód, but, on the contrary, her ludicrous dependence on the “Fracy” and her inability to see things from a viewpoint any deeper and broader than that of the Cracow anthill. Naprzód, of course, is a wretched and by no means Marxist organ; but that should not prevent us from properly analysing the example of Norway, once we have chosen it. To analyse this example in Marxist fashion, we must deal, not with the vices of the awfully terrible “Fracy”, but, first, with the concrete historical features of the secession of Norway from Sweden, and secondly, with the tasks which confronted the proletariat of both countries in connection with this secession.

[12] So Lenin hints that even when the most democratic solution of national questions has been offered and achieved, as was achieved in Sweden and Norway which was under almost no concrete subjugation of Sweden, except for the fact they didn’t have their own king, the national question is still present and the secession may occur, and the working class must adhere to the principle of recognition of the right to self-determination.

[13] “Lenin is referring to the Polish national liberation insurrection of 1863-64 against the yoke of the tsarist autocracy. The original cause of the rising was the tsarist government’s decision to carry out a special recruitment aimed at removing the revolutionaryminded youth en masse from the cities. At first the rising was led by a Central National Committee formed by the petty-nobles’ party of the “Reds” in 1862. Its programme demanding national independence for Poland, equal rights for all men in the land, irrespective of religion or birth, transfer to the peasants of the land tilled by them with full right of ownership and without redemption payments, abolition of the corvée, compensation for the landlords for the alienated lands out of the state funds, etc., attracted to the uprising diverse sections of the Polish population— artisans, workers, students, intellectuals from among the gentry, part of the peasantry and the clergy. …In the course of the insurrection, elements united around the party of the “Whites” (the party of the big landed aristocracy and the big bourgeoisie) joined it with the intention of using it in their own interests and, with the help of Britain and France, securing a profitable deal with the tsarist government. ..The attitude of the revolutionary democrats of Russia towards the rebels was one of deep sympathy, the members of Zemlya i Volya secret society associated with N. G. Chernyshevsky trying to give them every possible assistance. The Central Committee of Zemlya i Volya issued an appeal “To the Russian Officers and Soldiers”, which was distributed among the troops sent to suppress the insurrection. A. I. Herzen and N. P. Ogaryov published a number of articles in Kolokol devoted to the struggle of the Polish people, and rendered material aid to the rebels. … Owing to the inconsistency of the party of the “Reds”, which failed to hold the revolutionary initiative, the leadership of the uprising passed into the hands of the “Whites”, who betrayed it. By the summer of 1864, the insurrection was brutally crushed by the tsarist troops. Marx and Engels, who regarded the Polish insurrection of 1863-64 as a progressive movement, were fully in sympathy with it and wished the Polish people victory in its struggle for national liberation. On behalf of the German emigrant colony in London, Marx wrote an appeal for aid to the Poles (footnote in Lenin’s Vol 20).

[14] Though, in principle, an enemy of federalism, Marx in this instance granted the possibility of federation, as well,* if only the emancipation of Ireland was achieved in a revolutionary, not reformist way, through a movement of the mass of the people of Ireland supported by the working class of England – Lenin writes. (p.449)

Lenin also writes this in the footnote (on the same page)– ” By the way, it is not difficult to see why, from a Social-Democratic point of view, the right to “self-determination” means neither federation nor autonomy (although, speaking in the abstract, both come under the category of “self-determination”). The right to federation is simply meaningless, since federation implies a bilateral contract. It goes without saying that Marxists cannot include the defence of federalism in general in their programme. As far as autonomy is concerned Marxists defend, not the “right” to autonomy, but autonomy itself, as a general universal principle of a democratic state with a mixed national composition, and a great variety of geographical and other conditions. Consequently, the recognition of the “right of nations to autonomy” is as absurd as that of the “right of nations to federation”.

[15] Taking a concrete example, shouldn’t be reject the slogan of national culture in Punjab in the same manner as we reject the slogan of Hindi culture and language – the culture of the oppressor nation in India? Shouldn’t we instead fight it in the truest spirit of internationalism that demands no privilege to any of them and no guarantee of development to be accorded to any of them? Lenin, in the context of Russia, candidly writes that the same applies to even the most oppressed nationality – the Jews?

[16] Read old medieval, despotic and bureaucratic divisions, suited not for modern capitalism i.e. the principle of nationality.

[17] Diets were local autonomous bodies.

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