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Lenin, Stalin - On The Right to Self-Determination"""Does recognition of the right of nations to self-determination really imply support of any demand of every nation for self-determination? After all, the fact that we recognize the right of all citizens to form free associations does not at all commit us"" (1)
The right and demand to self determinationThe largest confusion related to Marxist Leninist fundamental theories have been about the theory of "State" , "Defense of fatherland", and the "Right to Self-determination", therefore eclectic approach has been widely applied by all sides concerned; eclecticism of bourgeois Liberals, chauvinists, nationalists and opportunistic ML tailgaters, inevitably continued to blur the subject and related confusion.
Taking the internationalist unity of the workers and oppressed people as the basic principle, Marxist-Leninist "Right to Self-determination" theory, counter-aims the cynical purpose of the bourgeoisie. Thus, the Importance of this theory should not be underestimated. Because this theory, to counter the bourgeois approach, has both theoretical and tactical content .
Stalin states;The merits of this slogan are that it :
1) removes all grounds for suspicion that the toilers of one nation entertain predatory designs against the toilers of another nation, and therefore creates a basis for mutual confidence and voluntary union;
2) tears the mask from the imperialists, who hypocritically prate about self-determination but who are striving to keep the unequal peoples and colonies in subjection, to retain them within the framework of their imperialist state, and thereby intensifies the struggle for liberation that these nations and colonies are waging against imperialism. (2)Due to the tactical nature of the theory, if and when the approach to the theory is partial, not to the entire context, it will inevitably be perceived as contradictory.. Tweezing this "dual - contradictory content" will bring about the practical and "pseudo-right" results in accord with ones own ideological understanding and purpose .
The Conflicting AppearanceWhen we carefully read the writings of Lenin on the Right to Self-determination, what strikes the eye first, is that Lenin's comments appear to be conflicting duality .
On the one hand Lenin and Stalin, while making an internationalist obligation to defend "The Right to Self-determination", on the other hand they indicate that the realization of this right could only be by a socialist revolution.
These examples of citations are related to the self-determination RIGHTS that we often see and read."" Whoever..... does not fight against all national oppression or inequality, is not a Marxist; he is not even a democrat "" (3)
"A nation has the right freely to determine its own destiny. It has the right to arrange its life as it sees fit, without, of course, trampling on the rights of other nations. That is beyond dispute." (4)""...there is one case in which the Marxists are duty bound, if they do not want to betray democracy and the proletariat, to defend one special demand in the national question; that is, the right of nations to self-determination, i.e., the right to political secession.''' (5)On the other hand, this excerpt of the Self-Determination of Nations' transformation to an active DEMAND appears to be contradictory;"" .... the revolutionary experience of recent years has again confirmed that: the national and colonial questions are inseparable from the question of emancipation from the rule of capital; ........ the unequal nations and colonies cannot be liberated without overthrowing the rule of capital;...."" (6)"the Communist International’s entire policy on the national and the colonial questions should rest primarily on a closer union of the proletarians and the working masses of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landowners and the bourgeoisie. This union alone will guarantee victory over capitalism, without which the abolition of national oppression and inequality is impossible." (7)So, there has to be a theoretic and practical difference between defending and promoting the RIGHT and its transformation into agenda as DEMAND, since the first is absolute for socialism and latter, leaded by other classes, may contradict the interests of working class. For Marxists the interests of working class and its struggle cannot be subordinated to any other class and its struggle. Here the question arises.
Stalin summarizes this "duality", "contradiction" :"while not contradicting the rights of these nations, do contradict "the precise meaning" of the programme""", meaning the demand for secession.""Obviously, "the rights of nations" and the "precise meaning" of the programme are on two entirely different planes. Whereas the "precise meaning" of the programme expresses the interests of the proletariat, as scientifically formulated in the programme of the latter, the rights of nations may express the interests of any class – bourgeoisie, aristocracy, clergy, etc. – depending on the strength and influence of these classes. On the one hand are the duties of Marxists, on the other the rights of nations, which consist of various classes. "" (8)
Attitude to the "Right and to the actual "Demand"Marxist Leninists always defend and support the RIGHT. This constitutes the essence of the tactical theory, but when the actual DEMAND comes to the agenda , an approach to support the DEMAND at any cost, is contradictory to the soul and to the fundamental theories of Marxism Leninism. It would be a bourgeois approach to support and defend a DEMAND without assessing ıts impact on working class. Marxist Leninists have to assess the specific conditions, and their practice should be in the interests of laboring people and of their struggle. This fundamental approach is never rendered secondary to any democratic demands.
As Lenin explains ;"".... our unreserved recognition of the struggle for freedom of self-determination does not in any way commit us to supporting every demand for national self-determination. As the party of the proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party considers it to be its positive and principal task to further the self-determination of the proletariat in each nationality rather than that of peoples or nations. We must always and unreservedly work for the very closest unity of the proletariat of all nationalities"" (1)Lenin clarifies the distinction between Marxist and Bourgeois approach to the question;""In contrast to the petty-bourgeois democrats, Marx regarded every democratic demand without exception not as an absolute, but as an historical expression of the struggle of the masses of the people, led by the bourgeoisie, against feudalism. There is not one of these demands which could not serve and has not served, under certain circumstances, as an instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie for deceiving the workers. To single out, in this respect, one of the demands of political democracy, specifically the self-determination of nations, and to oppose it to the rest, is fundamentally wrong in theory. In practice, the proletariat can retain its independence only by subordinating its struggle for all democratic demands, not excluding the demand for a republic, to its revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.. "" "(9)
The RIGHT to Self Determinationİf in a reactionary society where a woman is not entitled to any saying at all, where women has no right to divorce, yet men can divorce her with just one word,"divorced", the RIGHT to divorce for women must be defended , same way , the RIGHT of a nation to secede should be defended, in all circumstances. The RIGHT that the women would win, is for free, voluntary association and distinct from forcible association. The most important difference not being understood is to defend and support the RIGHT to divorce, and to propose and support the actual DEMAND of divorce.
Lenin while criticizing Semkovsky states;"It would seem that even with Mr. Semkovsky’s mental abilities it is not difficult to deduce that “the right to divorce” does not require that one should vote for divorce! But such is the fate of those who criticize -they forget the ABC of logic. "" (10)Theory speaks of the RIGHT and the DEMAND differently;""our programme (on the self-determination of nations) cannot be interpreted to mean anything but political self-determination, i.e., the right to secede and form a separate state " (11)and explains the reasons clearly;"The championing of this right, far from encouraging the formation of small states, leads, on the contrary, to the freer, fearless and therefore wider and more widespread formation of very big states and federations of states, which are more beneficial for the masses and more fully in keeping with economic development. " (12)So, the championed RIGHT is not one suggesting the separation, but one tactical support theory that is aimed at freely formation of the association. Because, as noted below, anti-imperialist, and socialist struggle is the current agenda.
Since capitalism is the beginning of the nations, inevitably, there are two historic periods to the right of Nations Self-determination. ""The first is the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states So "the awakening of national life and national movements and the creation of national states", bourgeois national movements, .""(13) Second period ", a mature capitalism that is moving towards its transformation into socialist society" (13) corresponds to the imperialist era.
Lenin explains the dual approach and purpose;"" The Marxists’ national programme takes both tendencies into account, and advocates, firstly, the equality of nations and languages and the impermissibility of all privileges in this respect ....; secondly, the principle of internationalism and uncompromising struggle against contamination of the proletariat with bourgeois nationalism, even of the most refined kind.. "" (13)"the main thing today is to stand against the united, aligned front of the imperialist powers, the imperialist bourgeoisie and the social-imperialists, and for the utilization of all national movements against imperialism for the purposes of the socialist revolution " (14)If we want to stay true to the tactical nature of the theory, in this period too, the RIGHT must be supported in all circumstances. Lenin emphasizes that this RIGHT should be recognized even in the most adverse conditions ."The bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations persistently utilize the slogans of national liberation to deceive the workers....The fact that the struggle for national liberation against one imperialist power may, under certain conditions, be utilized by another "great" power for its own, equally imperialist, aims, is just as unlikely to make the Social Democrats refuse to recognize the right of nations to self determination as the numerous cases of bourgeois utilization of republican slogans for the purpose of political deception and financial plunder are unlikely to make the Social-Democrats reject their republicanism" (15)(We have seen articles trying to pass theoretical sheath for the cooperation with imperialists, especially in Syria , by the writers' eclecticism where the words " against an imperialist power " is deleted.)
On the extent and limit of support ,or what is to be supported at what degree, and with what precautions Lenin states ;"Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the “most just”, “purest”, most refined and civilized brand.............. The principle of nationality is historically inevitable in bourgeois society and, taking this society into due account, the Marxist fully recognizes the historical legitimacy of national movements. But to prevent this recognition from becoming an apologia of nationalism, it must be strictly limited to what is progressive in such movements, in order that this recognition may not lead to bourgeois ideology obscuring proletarian consciousness."" (16)
When the DEMAND to secede is on the agendaConfusion and problem arises when the RIGHT comes to the actual agenda as DEMAND. These words of Lenin below, clarifies that the decision to an actual DEMAND should be depending on the outcome of the evaluation of concrete conditions.And he emphasizes that it should be based on the interests of the struggle of the laboring people. Marxist Leninists cannot say "yes" or "no" to an actual DEMAND before making an assessment guarding the interests of the working class and her struggle."" Does recognition of the right of nations to self-determination really imply support of any demand of every nation for self-determination? After all, the fact that we recognize the right of all citizens to form free associations does not at all commit us, Social-Democrats, to supporting the formation of any new association; nor does it prevent us from opposing and campaigning against the formation of a given association as an inexpedient and unwise step. We even recognize the right of the Jesuits to carry on agitation freely,... . "" (17)""In conformity with its fundamental task of combating bourgeois democracy and exposing its falseness and hypocrisy, the Communist Party, as the avowed champion of the proletarian struggle to overthrow the bourgeois yoke, must base its policy, in the national question too, not on abstract and formal principles but, first, on a precise appraisal of the specific historical situation "'""the need constantly to explain and expose among the broadest working masses of all countries, and particularly of the backward countries, the deception systematically practiced by the imperialist powers, which, under the guise of politically independent states, set up states that are wholly dependent upon them economically, financially and militarily."" (18)In reference to being "practical" and saying "yes" or "no", Lenin's criticism of Rosa's approach touches the core of the subject;"" "What does the demand for “practicality” in the national question mean?""It means one of three things: support for all national aspirations; the answer “yes” or “no” to the question of secession by any nation; or that national demands are in general immediately “practicable”.The bourgeoisie, which naturally assumes the leadership at the start of every national movement, says that support for all national aspirations is practical. However, 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 principles in the national question; they always give the bourgeoisie only conditional support. What every bourgeoisie is out for in the national question is either privileges for its own nation, or exceptional advantages for it; this is called being “practical”. The proletariat is opposed to all privileges, to all exclusiveness. To demand that it should be “practical” means following the lead of the bourgeoisie, falling into opportunism. "(.....)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.
This may not be “practical” as far as the opportunists are concerned, but it is the only real guarantee, the guarantee of the greater national equality and peace, despite the feudal landlords and the nationalist bourgeoisie.The whole task of the proletarians in the national question is “unpractical” 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.
On the plea that its demands are “practical”, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations will call upon the proletariat to support its aspirations unconditionally. The most practical procedure is to say a plain “yes” in favour of the secession of a particular nation rather than in favour of all nations having the right to secede!Lenin outlines most clearly this difference between the RIGHT and the DEMAND and the cause for the rejection of demand;The proletariat is opposed to such practicality. While recognizing 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 . (19)"The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement, but it would be ridiculous to delete the demand for a republic from the programme of international Social-Democracy on these grounds." (20)In this citation Lenin talks about DEMAND being not absolute, chauvinists cite this as for the RIGHT being not absolute. .
The conditions for the DEMAND to be supported can be summarized in the following quotes where he emphasizes the quality over quantity;" it is not so much a question of the size of an organisation, as of the real, objective significance of its policy: does its policy represent the masses, does it serve them, i.e., does it aim at their liberation from capitalism, or does it represent the interests of the minority, the minority’s reconciliation with capitalism? "" (21)A national(ist) movement could be very strong with thousands of followers , yet for ML what matter is its policy and practice in regard to its relation with the capitalism and imperialism. Lenin states that movements seeking exclusive rights to his own bourgeoisie against the other bourgeoisie would not be supported.
If it is not through the revolution, as an alternative leaving in a peaceful manner Lenin indicates that it is reactionary .. In the words of Lenin "separation through legislation from a minority of the other is a reactionary idea." (22)
Tactical content summarizedTactical content and importance of Lenin's Right to Self determination theory can be summarized in two ways.
1 - The right to self-determination theory , based on the principles of Marxism and internationalism, is the theory of the practice of providing voluntary merger rather than by force and repression .
Lenin summarizes this tactical approach as following;"" 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.. "(23)He explains the essence of the theory and reasons;"" If we demand freedom of secession for ... all other oppressed and unequal nations without exception, we do so not because we favor secession, but only because we stand for free, voluntary association and merging as distinct from forcible association. That is the only reason!. """....no self-respecting Social-Democrat will consider anyone opposing the right of divorce a democrat, let alone a socialist. That is the crux of the matter. All “democracy” consists in the proclamation and realization of “rights” which under capitalism are realizable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights, without a struggle to introduce them now, immediately, without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle, socialism is impossible. (24)2 -National movements force the ruling classes to decide on problems
Lenin explains this tactical approach as following;"" The right to self-determination” implies a democratic system of a type in which there is not only democracy in general, but specifically one in which there could not be an undemocratic solution of the question of secession. ........When a democratic vote gives the reactionaries a majority, one of two things may, and usually does occur: either the decision of the reactionaries is implemented and its harmful consequences send the masses more or less speedily over to the side of democracy and against the reactionaries; or the conflict between democracy and reaction is decided by a civil or other war, which is also quite possible under a democracy..."" (25)In short, Marxist theory of Right to Self Determination is a theory that weight tactical content.
On the Attitude of Marxists from each sideAlways keep in mind "" Bourgeois nationalism and proletarian internationalism—these are the two irreconcilably hostile slogans that correspond to the two great class camps throughout the capitalist world, and express the two policies (nay, the two world outlooks) in the national question..." "(26)
In terms of the defense of Right, on Marxists general attitude;"Social-Democracy, therefore, must give most emphatic warning to the proletariat and other working people of all nationalities against direct deception by the nationalistic slogans of “their own” bourgeoisie," (27)"Those who seek to serve the proletariat must unite the workers of all nations, and unswervingly fight bourgeois nationalism, domestic and foreign. ." (28)On the oppressor nations Marxist-Leninist attitude ;"" the Great-Russian Marxist (oppressor nation's Marxist EA) will be bogged down, not only in bourgeois, but also in Black-Hundred nationalism, if he loses sight, even for a moment, of the demand for complete equality for the Ukrainians (oppressed nations') , or of their right to forum an independent state.." "(29)On the oppressed nations Marxists attitude;"workers who place political unity with “their own” bourgeoisie above complete unity with the proletariat of all nations, are acting against their own interests, against the interests of socialism and against the interests of democracy." (30)"If a Ukrainian Marxist (Marxist of oppressed nation) allows himself to be swayed by his quite legitimate and natural hatred of the Great-Russian oppressors to such a degree that he transfers even a particle of this hatred, even if it be only estrangement, to the proletarian culture and proletarian cause of the Great-Russian workers, then such a Marxist will get bogged down in bourgeois nationalism. "" (31)
Risk of wrong approachWrong approach to the theory, -as the condition of the current revolutionary struggle in Turkey is the sad historical example of this - will end up as " an apologia of nationalism, and will lead to bourgeois ideology obscuring proletarian consciousness", create division, hostility and hatred among the laboring masses of given country.
The approach and attitudes to the Right to self-determination cannot be identical to the DEMAND for secession . The decision to support or not the DEMAND for secession depends on the evaluation of the specific conditions in relation to the interests of the working class and the socialist struggle at that given time. If this fundamental approach is ignored , the theory of the Right to Self determination , becomes the bourgeois theory of content. In Lenins words;""Self-determination of nations demand that's it (the working class) we must subordinate the interests of the struggle. The national question in our attitude to our bourgeois-democratic attitude of the difference precisely lies in these circumstances "" (32)". It is beyond doubt that any national movement can only be a bourgeois‐democratic movement, since the overwhelming mass of the population in the backward countries consist of peasants who represent bourgeois‐capitalist relationships. It would be utopian to believe that proletarian parties in these backward countries, if indeed they can emerge in them, can pursue communist tactics and a communist policy, without establishing definite relations with the peasant movement and without giving it effective support. However, the objections have been raised that, if we speak of the bourgeois‐democratic movement, we shall be obliterating all distinctions between the reformist and the revolutionary movements. Yet that distinction has been very clearly revealed of late in the backward and colonial countries, since the imperialist bourgeoisie is doing everything in its power to implant a reformist movement among the oppressed nations too. There has been a certain rapprochement between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often—perhaps even in most cases—the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, while it does support the national movement, is in full accord with the imperialist bourgeoisie, i.e., joins forces with it against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes. This was irrefutably proved in the commission, and we decided that the only correct attitude was to take this distinction into account and, in nearly all cases, substitute the term “national‐revolutionary” for the term “bourgeois‐democratic”. The significance of this change is that we, as Communists, should and will support bourgeois‐liberation movements in the colonies only when they are genuinely revolutionary, and when their exponents do not hinder our work of educating and organizing in a revolutionary spirit the peasantry and the masses of the exploited. If these conditions do not exist, the Communists in these countries must combat the reformist bourgeoisie. "" (33)
ConclusionTheory cannot be taken independent from the class struggle, as an absolute theory by itself, especially as a an empty slogan without content . To defend and support the RIGHT and to defend and promote DEMAND has different contents .." If viewed from the Marxist angle," as Lenin said ," and if the slogans are compared with the interests and policies of classes, and not with meaningless “general principles” ""we should approach the theory ."from the standpoint of the class struggle" (34)In this sense, the Right to Self Determination theory should NOT be understood in a theoretical and practical context where the interests of class struggle is subordination and dependent. On the contrary, parts and related theories, should be subjected to the subordination for the interests of the working class. Otherwise it can not be Marxism, but would be bourgeois conciliation and bourgeois tailing ..
Lenin puts it in concrete terms ;"" The national cause comes first and the proletarian cause second, the bourgeois nationalists say, with the Yurkeviches, Dontsovs and similar would-be Marxists repeating it after them. The proletarian cause must come first, we say, because it not only protects the lasting and fundamental interests of labor and of humanity, but also those of democracy .....without democracy neither an autonomous nor an independent (nation is conceivable. "" (35)In these days seeing wide spread examples of opportunist nationalist movement tailgating (especially in Turkey) these words of Lenin must be digested;"“But we cannot be in favor of a war between great nations, in favor of the slaughter of twenty million people for the sake of the problematical liberation of a small nation with a population of perhaps ten or twenty millions!” Of course not! And it does not mean that we throw complete national equality out of our Programme; it means that the democratic interests of one country must be subordinated to the democratic interests of several and all countries. " (36)These two quotes above and below are crucially important in current situation where the DEMAND for secession in Syria is on the agenda . Even we are against the DEMAND, it emphasizes the need to be opposed to any would be active action against the demand taken by the bourgeoisie..""be unconditionally hostile to the use of force in any form whatsoever by the dominant nation (or the nation which constitutes the majority of the population) in respect of a nation that wishes to secede politically"" (37)"The Social-Democrats will always combat every attempt to influence national self-determination from without by violence or by any injustice. However, our unreserved recognition of the struggle for freedom of self-determination does not in any way commit us to supporting every demand for national self-determination." (38)So while the RIGHT to Self Determination is supported in any event, as Lenin states "" a Marxist can recognize the DEMAND for national independence only conditionally, namely, on the condition indicated above" ( which is subject to proletarian struggle).. But it is to the interests of this struggle that we must subordinate the demand for national self-determination."It is this that makes all the difference between our approach to the national question and the bourgeois-democratic approach. The bourgeois democrat (and the present-day socialist opportunist who follows in his footsteps) imagines that democracy eliminates the class struggle, and that is why he presents all his political demands in an abstract way, lumped together, “without reservations,” from the standpoint of the interests of the “whole people,” or even from that of an eternal and absolute moral principle. Always and every where the Social-Democrat ruthlessly exposes this bourgeois illusion, whether it finds expression in an abstract idealist philosophy or in an absolute demand for national independence."" (38)""In contrast to the petty-bourgeois democrats, Marx regarded every democratic demand without exception not as an absolute"" one. Every democratic demand , including the right to self determination is secondary to the interests of working class and her struggle. While we defend and support the RIGHT to self determination, we do not say "yes" to every actual DEMAND to secede without assessing the concrete situation with the interest of working class in mind.
Stalin clearly states this approach on "Foundation of Leninism;"Leninism .. recognizes the existence of revolutionary capacities in the national liberation movement of the oppressed countries, and the possibility of using these for overthrowing the common enemy, for overthrowing imperialismThis does not mean, of course, that the proletariat must support every national movement, everywhere and always, in every individual concrete case. It means that support must be given to such national movements as tend to weaken, to overthrow imperialism, and not to strengthen and preserve it. Cases occur when the national movements in certain oppressed countries come into conflict with the interests of the development of the proletarian movement. In such cases support is, of course, entirely out of the question. The question of the rights of nations is not an isolated, self-sufficient question; it is a part of the general problem of the proletarian revolution, subordinate to the whole, and must be considered from the point of view of the whole."
September 26, 2017 - October 3, 2017Updated with Stalin's Foundation of Leninism 1/1/2019
""no Marxist, without renouncing the principles of Marxism and of socialism generally, can deny that the interests of socialism are higher than the interests of the right of nations to self-determination." Lenin, On The History Of The Question Of The Unfortunate PeaceReferences