Joseph Stalin and the National Question

Joseph Stalin is a man who is a bunch of different things to many different people, some love and hate him at the same time. He is a man who truly strove to be Lenin’s student, and actively tried to carry out his plans for the Soviet people, he always claimed to be nothing more than Lenin’s pupil.

One of the things he’s most known for is his take on the National Question within the Soviet Union, one of his most popular books is called Marxism and the National Question and really is quite insightful to people on both the left and right.

This will be part 1 in an ongoing look at how Stalin viewed the National Question, the statements come from a book called Stalin’s Kampf and is highly recommended by the site printer.


Russia’s Nationalities

A nation is not merely a historical category but a historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism. The process of elimination of feudalism and development of capitalism was at the same time a process of amalgamation of people into nations. Such, for instance, was the case in Western Europe. The British, French, Germans, Italians and others formed themselves into nations at the time of the victorious advance of capitalism and its triumph over feudal disunity.

But the formation of nations in these instances at the same time signified their conversion into independent national states. The British, French and other nations are at the same time British, French, etc, states. Ireland, which did not participate in the process, does not alter the general picture.

Matters proceeded somewhat differently in Eastern Europe. While in the West the nations developed into states, in the East multinational states were formed, each consisting of several nationalities. Such are Austria-Hungary and Russia. In Austria, the Germans proved to be politically the most developed, and they took it upon themselves to amalgamate the Austrian nationalities into a state. In Hungary, the most adapted for state organization were the Magyars- the kernel of the Hungarian nationalities- and it was they who united Hungary. In Russia, the role of welder of nationalities was assumed by the Great-Russians, who were headed by an aristocratic military bureaucracy, which had been historically formed and was powerful and well organized.

This peculiar method of formation of states could take place only where feudalism had not yet been eliminated, where capitalism was feebly developed, where the nationalities which had been forced into the background had not yet been able to consolidate themselves into integral nations.

But capitalism also began to develop in the Eastern states. Trade and means of communication were developing. Large towns were springing up. The nations were becoming economically consolidated. Capitalism, erupting into the tranquil life of the ousted nationalities, was arousing them and stirring them into action. The development of the press and the theater, the activity of the Reichsrat (Austria) and of the Duma (Russia) were helping to strengthen “national sentiments.” The intelligentsia that had arisen was being imbued with “the national idea” and was acting in the same direction…

But the ousted nations, aroused to independent life, could no longer shape themselves into independent national states; they encountered the powerful resistance of the ruling strata of the dominant nations, which had long ago assumed the control of the state. They were too late!

In this way the Czechs, Poles, etc., formed themselves into nations in Austria; the Croats, etc., in Hungary; the Letts, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, etc., in Russia. What had been an exception in Western Europe (Ireland) became the rule in the East.

In the West, Ireland responded to its exceptional position by a national movement. In the East, the awakened nations were bound to respond in the same fashion.

Thus arose the circumstances which impelled the young nations of Eastern Europe into the path of struggle.

The struggle began and spread, to be sure, not between nations as a whole but between the ruling classes of the dominant and ousted nations. The struggle is usually conducted by the urban petty bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation against the big bourgeoisie of the dominant nations (Czechs and Germans), or by the rural bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation against the landlords of the dominant nation (Ukrainians in Poland), or by the whole “national” bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations against the ruling nobility of the dominant nation (Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine in Russia).

The bourgeoisie plays the leading role.

The chief problem for the young bourgeoisie is the problem of the market. Its aim is to sell its goods and to emerge victorious from competition with the bourgeoisie of another nationality. Hence its desire to secure its “own,” its “home” market. The market is the first school in which the bourgeoisie learns its nationalism.

But matters are usually not confined to the market. The semi-feudal, semi-bourgeoisie bureaucracy of the dominant nation intervenes in the struggle with its own methods of “arresting and preventing.” The bourgeoisie of the dominant nation, whether large or small, is able to deal more “rapidly” and “decisively” with its competitors. “Forces” are united and a series of restrictive measures is put into operation against the “alien” bourgeoisie, measures passing into acts of repression. The struggle passes from the economic sphere into the political sphere. Limitation of freedom of movement, repression of language, limitation of franchise, restriction of schools, religious limitations, and so on are piled on the head of the “competitor.” Of course, such measures are designed not only in the interest of the bourgeois classes of the dominant nation, but also in pursuit of the specifically caste aims, so to speak, of the ruling bureaucracy. But from the point of view of the results achieved that is quite immaterial: the bourgeois classes and the bureaucracy in the matter go hand in hand- whether it be in Austria-Hungary or in Russia.

The Bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, repressed on every hand, is naturally stirred into movement. It appeals to its “native folk” and begins to cry out about the “fatherland,” claiming that its own cause is the cause of the nation as a whole. It recruits itself an army from among its “countrymen” in the interests of… the “fatherland.” Nor do the “folk” always remain unresponsive to its appeals, they rally around its banner: the repression from above affects them also and provokes their discontent.

Thus the national movement begins.

The strength of the national movement is determined by the degree to which the wide strata of the nation, the proletariat and peasantry, participate in it.

Whether the Proletariat rallies to the banner of bourgeois nationalism depends on the degree of development of class contradictions, on the class-consciousness and degree of organization of the proletariat. A class-conscious proletariat has its own tried banner, and it does not need to march under the banner of the bourgeoisie.

As far as the peasants are concerned, their participation in the national movement depends primarily on the character of the repression. If the repression affects the “land,” as was the case in Ireland, then the mass of the peasants immediately rally to the banner of the national movement.

On the other hand, if, for example, there is no serious anti-Russian nationalism in Georgia, it is primarily because there are no Russian landlords there or a Russian big bourgeoisie to supply the fuel for such nationalism among the masses. In Georgia there is anti-Armenian nationalism; but this is because there is an Armenian big bourgeoisie there which, beating the small and still unconsolidated Georgian bourgeoisie, drives the latter to anti-Armenian nationalism.

Depending on these factors, the national movement either assumes a mass character and steadily grows (as in Ireland and Galicia), or it is converted into a series of petty collisions, degenerating into squabbles and “fights” over signboards (as in some of the towns in Bohemia)

The nature of the national movement, of course, will not everywhere be the same: it is wholly determined by the diverse demands made by the movement. In Ireland the movement bears an agrarian character; in Bohemia it is concerned with “language”; in one place the demand is for civil equality and religious freedom, in another for the nation’s “own” officials or its own Assembly. The diversity of demands not infrequently reveals the diverse features which characterize a nation in general (language, territory, etc.)…

The fate of the national movement, which is essentially a bourgeois movement, is naturally connected with the fate of the bourgeoisie. The final collapse of the national movement is possible only with the collapse of the bourgeoisie. Only under the reign of socialism can peace be fully established. But even within the framework of capitalism it is possible to reduce the national struggle to a minimum, to sever its roots, to render it as innocuous as possible for the proletariat. This is borne out by the examples of Switzerland and America. It requires that the country should be democratized and the nations allowed opportunity for free development.

National oppression is that system of exploitation and plunder of subject peoples, those measures of forcible restriction of the political rights of subject peoples, which are resorted to by imperialist circles. These, taken together, present the policy generally known as a policy of national oppression.

The first question is, on what classes does any government depend in carrying out its policy of national oppression? In order to obtain an answer to this question it must first be understood why different forms of national oppression exist in different states, why in one state national oppression is more severe and crude than in other states. For example, in Great Britain and Austria-Hungary national oppression never took the form of pogroms, but existed in the form of restrictions on national rights of the subject peoples; whereas in Russia it not infrequently assumes the form of pogroms and massacres. In certain states, on the other hand, no specific measures against national minorities are practiced at all. For instance, there is no national oppression in Switzerland, where French, Italians and Germans all live freely.

How are we to explain the difference in attitude towards nationalities existing in different states?

The difference depends on the degree of democracy in these states. When in former years the old landed aristocracy controlled the state power in Russia, national oppression could assume, and actually did assume, the monstrous form of massacres and pogroms. In Great Britain, where there is a definite degree of democracy and political freedom, national oppression bears a less brutal character. Switzerland, for her part, approximates to a democratic society, and in that country the small nations have more or less complete freedom. In a word, the more democratic a country, the less the national oppression, and vice versa. And since by democracy we mean that definite classes are in control of state power; it may be said from this point of view that the closer the old landed aristocracy stands to power, as was the case in old Tsarist Russia, the more severe is the oppression and the more monstrous the forms it assumes.

However, national oppression is supported not only be the agrarian aristocracy. There is, in addition, another force- the imperialist groups, who transfer the methods of enslaving peoples acquired by them in the colonies to their own country itself and thus become the natural allies of the landed aristocracy. They are followed by the petty bourgeoisie, a section of the intelligentsia, a section of the upper strata of the workers, who also enjoy the fruits of the plunder. There is thus a whole choir of social forces which support national oppression, headed by the landed and financial aristocracy. In order to create a real democratic system, it is first necessary to clear the soil and remove this choir from the political stage.

The first question is, how are we to arrange the political life of the oppressed nations? In answer to this question it must be said that the oppressed nations forming part of Russia must be allowed the right to decide for themselves whether they wish to remain part of the Russian state or to separate and form an independent state. We are at present witnessing a definite conflict between the Finnish People and the Provisional Government. The representatives of the Finnish people, the representatives of Social-Democracy, are demanding that the Provisional Government should return to the people the rights they enjoyed before they were annexed to Russia.

Further, what is to be done with those peoples which may desire to remain within the Russian state? Any mistrust of Russia which existed among the peoples was fostered chiefly by the policy of Tsarism. But now that Tsarism no longer exists, its policy of oppression no longer exists, this mistrust is bound to diminish and the attraction towards Russia increase. I believe that now, after the overthrow of Tsarism, nine tenths of the peoples will not desire secession. The party therefore proposes to institute regional autonomy for regions which may not desire secession and which are distinguished by peculiarities of social life and language, as, for instance, Transcaucasia, Turkestan and the Ukraine. The geographical boundaries of these autonomous regions shall be determined by the population itself with due regard for the exigencies of economic life, social life, etc…

There finally remains the question of the national minorities. Their rights must be specifically protected. The party therefore demands complete equality of rights in educational, religious and other matters and the removal of all restrictions on national minorities…

We have still to settle the question of how to organize the proletariat of the various nations into a single, common party. One plan is that the workers should be organized according to nationality- so many nations, so many parties This plan was rejected by the Social-Democratic Party. Experience has shown that the organization of the proletariat of a given state according to nationality only leads to the destruction of the idea of class solidarity. All the proletarian members of all the nations in a given state must be organized in a single, invisible proletarian collective body.

Thus, our views on the national question reduce themselves to the following propositions: a) the recognition of the rights of he peoples to secession; b) regional autonomy for peoples which remain within the given state; c) specific laws guaranteeing freedom of development for national minorities; d) a single, indivisible proletarian collective body, a single party, for the proletarians of all nationalities in the given state.

In addition to “national” governments, the borderlands also have national workers and peasants. Even before the October Revolution they were organized in their own revolutionary Soviets of Deputies, after the model of the Soviet of Deputies obtaining in the central parts of Russia, and never severed their connections with their brothers in the North. They, too, strove for victory over the bourgeoisie; they, too, fought for the triumph of socialism. No wonder the conflict between them and “their own” national governments increased from day to day. The October Revolution only consolidated the alliance between the workers and peasants of the borderlands and workers and peasants of Russia, inspiring them with faith in the triumph of socialism. And the war of the “national governments” against the Soviet government brought their conflict with these “governments” to a complete break with them, brought them to open rebellion against them.

Thus was formed the socialist alliance between the workers and peasants of all Russia against the counter-revolutionary alliance of the national-bourgeois “governments” of Russia’s borderlands.

Some people depict the struggle of the borderland “governments” as a struggle for national liberation and against the “soulless centralism” of the Soviet government. This, however, is wrong. No government in the world ever granted such extensive decentralization, no government in the world ever afforded its peoples such plenary national freedom as the Soviet government of Russia. The struggle of the borderland “governments” was and remains a struggle of the bourgeois counter-revolution against socialism. The national flag is tacked on to the cause only to deceive the masses, only as a popular flag which conveniently covers up the counter-revolutionary designs of the national bourgeoisie.

However, the struggle of the “national” and regional “governments” proved to be an unequal struggle. Attacked from two quarters-from without by the Soviet government, and from within by “their own” workers and peasants-the “national governments” had to retreat after the very first battles. The uprising of the Finnish workers and agricultural laborers and the flight of the bourgeois “Senate”; the uprising of the Ukrainian workers and peasants and the flight of the bourgeois “Rada”; the uprising of the workers and peasants in the Don region, in Kuban, in Siberia and the downfall of Kaledin, of Kornilov and of the Siberian “government”; the uprising of the poor of Turkestan and the flight of the “autonomous government”; the agrarian revolution in the Caucasus and the utter helplessness of the “national councils” of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan- these are facts of common knowledge demonstrating the complete isolation of the borderland “governments” from “their own” masses. Having been completely defeated, the “national governments” were “forced” to appeal to the imperialists of Western Europe, to the age long oppressors and exploiters of the small nations of the whole world, for aid against “their own” workers and peasants.

Such was the beginning of the period of foreign intervention in, and occupation of, the borderlands-a period revealing once more the counter-revolutionary nature of the “national” and regional “governments.”

Only now has it become obvious to all that the national bourgeoisie is striving not for the liberation of “its own people” from national oppression but for the liberty of wringing profits from it, for the liberty of preserving its own privileges and capital.

Only now has it become obvious that the liberation of the oppressed nationalities is inconceivable without breaking with imperialism, without overthrowing the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations, without power passing into the hands of the toiling masses of those nationalities.

After being victorious in the central part of Russia and taking possession of a number of borderlands, the October Revolution could not stop short at the territorial boundaries of Russia. In the atmosphere of imperialist world war and general discontent among the lower classes, it could not but spread to the neighboring countries. The break with imperialism and the liberation of Russia from the predatory war, the publication of the secret treaties and the solemn abrogation of the policy of seizing foreign soil, the proclmation of national freedom and the recognition of the independence of Finland, the declaration of Russia as a “Federation of Soviet National Republics” and the militant battle-cry of a resolute struggle against imperialism broadcast all over the world by the Soviet government in millions of pamphlets, newspapers and leaflets in the mother tongues of the peoples of the East and West- all this could not fail to have its effect on the enslaved East and the bleeding West.

And in truth, the October Revolution is the first revolution in the history of the world that has broken the sleep of centuries of the toiling masses of the oppressed nations of the East and drawn them into the struggle against world imperialism. The formation of workers’ and peasants’ soviets in Persia, China and India, modeled after the soviets in Russia, is sufficiently convincing proof of this.

The the struggle in the East and even in the West has not yet succeeded in shedding the bourgeois-nationalist features is not at all the point at issue- the point is that the struggle against imperialism has begun, that it goes on and is inevitably bound to reach its logical termination.

It is said that the principles of self-determination and of the “defense of the fatherland” have been abrogated, but their bourgeois interpretation. It is sufficient to cast a glance at the occupied regions, languishing under the yoke of imperialism and yearning for liberation; sufficient to cast a glance at Russia conducting a revolutionary war for the defense of the socialist fatherland against the pirates of imperialism; sufficient to ponder the events that are now transpiring in Austria-Hungary; sufficient to glance at the enslaved colonies and semi-colonies that have already organized soviets in their respective countries (India, Persia, China)- one need but cast a glance at all this to realize the full revolutionary potential of self-determination in its socialist interpretation.

Indeed the great international importance of the October Revolution consists mainly in that this revolution:

1.) has widened the scope of the national question, transforming it from a partial question of struggling against national oppression into a general question of liberating the oppressed nations, colonies and semi-colonies from imperialism;

2.) has ushered in vast opportunities and disclosed the actual means for this liberation, thus considerably facilitating the task of the oppressed nations of the West and East to accomplished their liberation and drawing them into the common channel of a victorious struggle against imperialism;

3.) has thereby erected a bridge between the socialist West and the enslaved East, by setting up a new front off revolutions extending from the proletarians of the West on through the Russian Revolution to the oppressed nations of the East against world imperialism.

This largely explains the brutal fury with which the imperialist robbers of the whole world have hurled themselves against Soviet Russia.

(Pg. 178-191)

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