Bolshevik Writers: J. V. Stalin (1879-1953)

J. V. Stalin

THE NATIONAL QUESTION ONCE AGAIN

Concerning the Article by Semich

The magazine Bolshevik, No. 11-12,
June 30, 1925

Signed: J. Stalin

 From J. V. Stalin, Works
Foreign Languages Publishing House,
Moscow, 1954,

Vol. 7, pp. 219-30.


Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo,djr@marx2mao.org (October 2000)(Corrected and Updated March 2004)


    THE NATIONAL QUESTION ONCE AGAIN

    Concerning the Article by Semich

    One can only welcome the fact that now, after the discussion that took place in the Yugoslav Commission, Semich, in his article, wholly and entirely associates himself with the stand taken by the R.C.P.(B.) delegation in the Comintern. It would be wrong, however, to think on these grounds that there were no disagreements between the R.C.P.(B.) delegation and Semich before or during the discussion in the Yugoslav Commission. Evidently, that is exactly what Semich is inclined to think about the disagreements on the national question, in trying to reduce them just to misunderstandings. Unfortunately, he is profoundly mistaken. He asserts in his article that the dispute with him is based on a "series of misunderstandings" caused by "one, not fully translated," speech he delivered in the Yugoslav Commission. In other words, it follows that we must make a scapegoat of the person who, for some reason, did not translate Semich's speech in full. In the interests of the truth I must declare that this assertion of Semich's is quite contrary to the facts It would have been better, of course, had Semich supported his assertion with passages from the speech he delivered in the Yugoslav Commission, the report of which is kept in the Comintern files. But for some reason he did not do this. Consequently, I am compelled to go through this not very pleasant, but very necessary, procedure for him.
    This is all the more necessary since even now, after Semich has wholly associated himself with the stand taken by the R.C.P.(B.) delegation, there is still much that is unclear in his present position.
    In my speech in the Yugoslav Commission (see Bolshevik,[
40] No. 7)[*] I spoke of disagreements on three questions: 1) the question of the ways of solving the national question, 2) the question of the internal social content of the national movement in the present historical epoch, and 3) the question of the role of the international factor in the national question.
    On the first question I said that Semich had "not fully understood the main essence of the Bolshevik presentation of the national question," that he separated the national question from the general question of the revolution, and that, consequently, he was inclined to reduce the national question to a constitutional issue.
    Is all that true?
    Read the following passage from Semich's speech in the Yugoslav Commission (March 30, 1925) and judge for yourselves:

    "Can the national question be reduced to a constitutional issue? First of all, let us make a theoretical supposition. Let us suppose that in state X there are three nations A, B, and C. These three nations express the wish to live in one state. What is the


    * See this volume, pp. 69-76. --Ed.  [Transcriber's Note: See Stalin's "Concerning the National Question in Yugoslavia". -- DJR]

 
issue in this case? It is, of course, the regulation of the internal relationships within this state. Hence, it is a constitutional issue. In this theoretical case the national question amounts to a constitutional issue. . . . If, in this theoretical case, we reduce the national question to a constitutional issue, it must be said -- as I have always emphasised -- that the self-determination of nations, including secession, is a condition for the solution of the constitutional issue. And it is solely on this plane that I put the constitutional issue."

    I think that this passage from Semich's speech needs no further comment. Clearly, whoever regards the national question as a component part of the general question of the proletarian revolution cannot reduce it to a constitutional issue. And vice versa, only one who separates the national question from the general question of the proletarian revolution can reduce it to a constitutional issue.
    Semich's speech contains a statement to the effect that the right to national self-determination cannot be won without a revolutionary struggle. Semich says: "Of course, such rights can be won only by means of a revolutionary struggle. They cannot be won by parliamentary means; they can result only from mass revolutionary actions." But what do "revolutionary struggle" and "revolutionary actions" mean? Can "revolutionary struggle" and "revolutionary actions" be identified with the overthrow of the ruling class, with the seizure of power, with the victory of the revolution as a condition for the solution of the national question? Of course not. To speak of the victory of the revolution as the fundamental condition for the solution of the national question is one thing; but it is quite another thing to put

 "revolutionary actions" and "revolutionary struggle" as the condition for the solution of the national question. It must be observed that the path of reforms, the constitutional path, by no means excludes "revolutionary actions" and "revolutionary struggle." Decisive in determining whether a given party is revolutionary or reformist are not "revolutionary actions" in themselves, but the political aims and objects for the sake of which the party undertakes and employs these actions. As is known, in 1906, after the first Duma was dispersed, the Russian Mensheviks proposed the organisation of a "general strike" and even of an "armed uprising." But that did not in the least prevent them from remaining Mensheviks, for why did they propose all this at that time? Not, of course, to smash tsarism and to organise the complete victory of the revolution, but in order to "exert pressure" on the tsarist government with the object of winning reforms, with the object of widening the "constitution," with the object of securing the convocation of an "improved" Duma. "Revolutionary actions" for the purpose of reforming the old order, while power remains in the hands of the ruling class is one thing -- that is the constitutional path. "Revolutionary actions" for the purpose of breaking up the old order, for overthrowing the ruling class, is another thing -- that is the revolutionary path, the path of the complete victory of the revolution. There is a fundamental difference here.
    That is why I think that Semich's reference to "revolutionary struggle" while reducing the national question to a constitutional issue does not refute, but, on the contrary, only confirms my statement that Semich

had "not fully understood the main essence of the Bolshevik presentation of the national question," for he failed to understand that the national question must be regarded not in isolation from, but in inseparable connection with, the question of the victory of the revolution, as part of the general question of the revolution.
    While insisting on this, I do not in the least mean to imply that I have said anything new about Semich's mistake on this question. Not at all. This mistake of Semich's was already mentioned by Comrade Manuilsky at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern[41] when he said:

    "In his pamphlet The National Question in the Light of Marxism, and in a number of articles published in Radnik, the organ of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, Semich advocates a struggle for the revision of the Constitution as a practical slogan for the Communist Party, that is, he in fact reduces the whole question of self-determination of nations exclusively to a constitutional issue" (see Stenographic Report of the Fifth Congress, pp. 596-97).

    Zinoviev, too, spoke about this same mistake in the Yugoslav Commission, when he said:

    "In the prospect drawn by Semich it appears that only one little thing is lacking, namely, revolution," that the national question is a "revolutionary and not a constitutional" problem (see Pravda, No. 83).

    These remarks by representatives of the R.C.P.(B.) in the Comintern concerning Semich's mistake could not have been accidental, groundless. There is no smoke without fire.

    That is how matters stand with Semich's first and fundamental mistake.
    His other mistakes arise directly from this fundamental mistake.
    Concerning the second question, I said in my speech (see Bolshevik, No. 7) that Semich "refuses to regard the national question as being, in essence, a peasant question."[*]
    Is that true?
    Read the following passage from Semich's speech in the Yugoslav Commission and judge for yourselves:

    "What is the social significance of the national movement in Yugoslavia?" asks Semich, and he answers there: "Its social content is the competitive struggle between Serb capital on the one hand and Croat and Slovene capital on the other" (see Semich's speech in the Yugoslav Commission).

    There can be no doubt, of course, that the competitive struggle between the Slovene and Croat bourgeoisie and the Serb bourgeoisie is bound to play a certain role here. But it is equally beyond doubt that a man who thinks that the social significance of the national movement lies in the competitive struggle between the bourgeoisies of the different nationalities cannot regard the national question as being, in essence, a peasant question. What is the essence of the national question today, when this question has been transformed from a local, intrastate question into a world question, a question of the struggle waged by the colonies and dependent nationalities against imperialism? The essence of the national


    * 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,"[42] 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.

    NOTES

      [40] Bolshevik, a fortnightly theoretical and political magazine, organ of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U.(B.); began publication in April 1924.    [p. 220]

      [41] The Fifth Congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow, June 17-July 8, 1924. On June 30, D. Z. Manuilsky delivered a report on the national question.    [p. 223]

      [42] See V. I. Lenin, Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 22, pp. 306-44.    [p. 226]