* See this volume, p. 71. --Ed.
question today lies in the struggle that the masses of the people of the colonies and dependent nationalities are waging against financial exploitation, against the political enslavement and cultural effacement of those colonies and nationalities by the imperialist bourgeoisie of the ruling nationality. What significance can the competitive struggle between the bourgeoisies of different nationalities have when the national question is presented in that way? Certainly not decisive significance, and, in certain cases, not even important significance. It is quite evident that the main point here is not that the bourgeoisie of one nationality is beating, or may beat, the bourgeoisie of another nationality in the competitive struggle, but that the imperialist group of the ruling nationality is exploiting and oppressing the bulk of the masses, above all the peasant masses, of the colonies and dependent nationalities and that, by oppressing and exploiting them, it is drawing them into the struggle against imperialism, converting them into allies of the proletarian revolution. The national question cannot be regarded as being, in essence, a peasant question if the social significance of the national movement is reduced to the competitive struggle between the bourgeoisies of different nationalities. And vice versa, the competitive struggle between the bourgeoisies of different nationalities cannot be regarded as constituting the social significance of the national movement if the national question is regarded as being, in essence, a peasant question. These two formulas cannot possibly be taken as equivalent.
Semich refers to a passage in Stalin's pamphlet Marxism and the National Question, written at the end
of 1912. There it says that "the national struggle under the conditions of rising capitalism is a struggle of the bourgeois classes among themselves." Evidently, by this Semich is trying to suggest that his formula defining the social significance of the national movement under the present historical conditions is correct. But Stalin's pamphlet was written before the imperialist war, when the national question was not yet regarded by Marxists as a question of world significance, when the Marxists' fundamental demand for the right to self-determination was regarded not as part of the proletarian revolution, but as part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. It would be ridiculous not to see that since then the international situation has radically changed, that the war, on the one hand, and the October Revolution in Russia, on the other, transformed the national question from a part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a part of the proletarian-socialist revolution. As far back as October 1916, in his article, "The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up," Lenin said that the main point of the national question, the right to self-determination, had ceased to be a part of the general democratic movement, that it had already become a component part of the general proletarian, socialist revolution. I do not even mention subsequent works on the national question by Lenin and by other representatives of Russian communism. After all this, what significance can Semich's reference to the passage in Stalin's pamphlet, written in the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia, have at the present time, when, as a consequence of the new historical situation, we have entered a new epoch, the epoch of proletarian revolution?
It can only signify that Semich quotes outside of space and time, without reference to the living historical situation, and thereby violates the most elementary requirements of dialectics, and ignores the fact that what is right for one historical situation may prove to be wrong in another historical situation. In my speech in the Yugoslav Commission I said that two stages must be distinguished in the presentation of the national question by the Russian Bolsheviks: the pre-October stage, when the bourgeois-democratic revolution was the issue and the national question was regarded as a part of the general democratic movement; and the October stage, when the proletarian revolution was already the issue and the national question had become a component part of the proletarian revolution. It scarcely needs proof that this distinction is of decisive significance. I am afraid that Semich still fails to understand the meaning and significance of this difference between the two stages in the presentation of the national question.
That is why I think Semich's attempt to regard the national movement as not being, in essence, a peasant question, but as a question of the competition between the bourgeoisies of different nationalities "is due to an under-estimation of the inherent strength of the national movement and a failure to understand the profoundly popular and profoundly revolutionary character of the national movement" (see
Bolshevik, No. 7).*
That is how the matter stands with Semich's second mistake.
* See this volume, p. 72. --Ed.
It is characteristic that the same thing about this mistake of Semich's was said by Zinoviev in his speech in the Yugoslav Commission:
"Semich is wrong when he says that the peasant movement in Yugoslavia is headed by the bourgeoisie and is therefore not revolutionary" (see
Pravda, No. 83).
Is this coincidence accidental? Of course, not!
Once again: there is no smoke without fire.
Finally, on the third question I stated that Semich makes an "attempt to treat the national question in Yugoslavia in isolation from the international situation and the probable prospects in Europe."[*]
Is that true?
Yes, it is, for in his speech Semich did not even remotely hint at the fact that the international situation under present conditions, especially in relation to Yugoslavia, is a major factor in the solution of the national question. The fact that the Yugoslav state itself was formed as a result of the clash between the two major imperialist coalitions, that Yugoslavia cannot escape from the big play of forces that is now going on in the surrounding imperialist states -- all this remained outside of Semich's field of vision. Semich's statement that he can fully conceive of certain changes taking place in the international situation which may cause the question of self-determination to become an urgent and practical one, must now, in the present international situation, be regarded as inadequate. Now it is by no means a matter of admitting that the question of the
* Ibid. --Ed.
right of nations to self-determination may become urgent, given certain changes in the international situation, in a possible and distant future; this could, if need be, now be admitted as a prospect even by bourgeois democrats. That is not the point now. The point now is to avoid making the present frontiers of the Yugoslav state, which came into being as a result of war and violence, the starting point and legal basis for the solution of the national question. One thing or the other: either the question of national self-determination, i.e., the question of radically altering the frontiers of Yugoslavia, is an
appendage to the national programme, dimly looming in the distant future, or it is the
basis of the national programme. At all events it is clear that the point about the right to self-determination cannot be at one and the same time
both an appendage to and the basis of the national programme of the Yugoslav Communist Party. I am afraid that Semich still continues to regard the right to self-determination as an appendage concerning prospects added to the national programme.
That is why I think that Semich divorces the national question from the question of the general international situation and, as a consequence, for him the question of self-determination, i.e., the question of altering the frontiers of Yugoslavia, is, in essence, not an urgent question, but an academic one.
That is how the matter stands with Semich's third mistake.
It is characteristic that the same thing about this mistake of Semich's was said by Comrade Manuilsky in his report to the Fifth Congress of the Comintern:
"The fundamental premise of Semich's whole presentation of the national question is the idea that the proletariat must accept the bourgeois state
within those frontiers which have been set up by a series of wars and acts of violence
"[*] (see Stenographic Report of the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, p. 597).
Can this coincidence be regarded as accidental? Of course, not!
Once again: there is no smoke without fire.
* My italics. -- J. St.