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J. V. Stalin
The Social-Democratic View on the National Question
September 1, 1904
Everything changes. . . . Social life changes, and with it the "national question" changes, too. At different periods different classes enter the arena, and each class has its own view of the "national question." Consequently, in different periods the "national question" serves different interests and assumes different shades, according to which class raises it, and when.
For instance, we had the so-called "national question" of the nobility, when—after the "annexation of Georgia to Russia"—the Georgian nobility, realising how disadvantageous it was for them to lose the old privileges and power they had enjoyed under the Georgian kings, and regarding the status of "mere subjects" as being derogatory to their dignity wanted the "liberation of Georgia." Their aim was to place the Georgian kings and the Georgian nobility at the head of "Georgia," and thus place the destiny of the Georgian people in their hands! That was feudal-monarchist "nationalism." This "movement" left no visible trace in the life of the Georgians; not a single fact sheds glory on it, if we leave out of account isolated conspiracies hatched by Georgian nobles against the Russian rulers in the Caucasus. A slight touch from the events of social life to this already feeble "movement" was enough to cause it to collapse to its foundations. Indeed, the development of commodity production, the abolition of serfdom, the establishment of the Nobles' Bank, the intensification of class antagonisms in town and country, the growth of the poor peasants' movement, etc.—all this dealt a mortal blow to the Georgian nobility and, with it, to "feudal-monarchist nationalism." The Georgian nobility split into two groups. One renounced all "nationalism" and stretched forth its hand to the Russian autocracy with the object of obtaining soft jobs, cheap credit and agricultural implements, the government's protection against the rural "rebels," etc. The other, the weaker section of the Georgian nobility; struck up a friendship with the Georgian bishops and archimandrites, and thus found under the protecting wing of clericalism a sanctuary for the "nationalism" which is being hounded by realities. This group is working zealously to restore ruined Georgian churches (that is the main item in its "programme"!)—"the monuments of departed glory"—and is reverently waiting for a miracle that will enable it to achieve its feudal-monarchist "aspirations."
Thus, in the last moments of its existence, feudal-monarchist nationalism has assumed a clerical form.
Meanwhile, our contemporary social life has brought the national question of the bourgeoisie to the fore. When the young Georgian bourgeoisie realised how difficult it was to contend with the free competition of "foreign" capitalists, it began, through the mouths of the Georgian National-Democrats, to prattle about an independent
Georgia. The Georgian bourgeoisie wanted to fence off the Georgian market with a tariff wall, to drive the "foreign" bourgeoisie from this market by force, artificially raise prices, and by means of "patriotic" tricks of this sort to achieve success in the money-making arena.
This was, and is, the aim of the nationalism of the Georgian bourgeoisie. Needless to say, to achieve this aim, strength was required — but only the proletariat possessed this strength. Only the proletariat could infuse life into the emasculated "patriotism" of the bourgeoisie. It was necessary to win over the proletariat— and so the "National-Democrats" appeared on the scene. They spent a great deal of ammunition in the endeavour to refute scientific socialism, decried the Social-Democrats and advised the Georgian proletarians to desert them, lauded the Georgian proletariat and urged it to strengthen in one way or another the Georgian bourgeoisie "in the interests of the workers themselves." They pleaded incessantly with the Georgian proletarians: Don't ruin "Georgia" (or the Georgian bourgeoisie?), forget "internal differences," make friends with the Georgian bourgeoisie, etc. But all in vain! The honeyed words of the bourgeois publicists failed to lull the Georgian proletariat! The merciless attacks of the Georgian Marxists and, particularly, the powerful class actions which welded Russian, Armenian, Georgian and other proletarians into a single socialist force, dealt our bourgeois nationalists a crushing blow and drove them from the battle-field.
Since our fugitive patriots were unable to assimilate socialist views, they were obliged, "in order to rehabilitate their tarnished names," "at least to change their colour," at least to deck themselves in socialist garb. And indeed, an illegal . . . bourgeois-nationalist —"socialist," if you please—organ suddenly appeared on the scene, Sakartvelo!1 That was how they wanted to seduce the Georgian workers! But it was too late! The Georgian workers had learned to distinguish between black and white, they easily guessed that the bourgeois nationalists had "changed only the colour" but not the substance of their views, that Sakartvelo was socialist only in name. They realised this and made a laughing-stock of these "saviours" of Georgia! The hopes of the Don Quixotes of Sakartvelo were dashed to the ground!
On the other hand, our economic development is gradually building a bridge between the advanced circles of the Georgian bourgeoisie and "Russia"; it is connecting these circles with "Russia" both economically and politically, thereby cutting the ground from under the feet of already tottering bourgeois nationalism. This is another blow to bourgeois nationalism!
A new class has entered the arena—the proletariat— and, with it, a new "national question," has arisen—"the national question" of the proletariat. And the "national question" raised by the proletariat differs from the "national question" of the nobility and of the bourgeoisie to the same degree that the proletariat differs from the nobility and the bourgeoisie.
Let us now discuss this "nationalism."
What is the Social-Democratic view of the "national question"?
The proletariat of all Russia began to talk about the struggle long ago. As we know, the goal of every struggle is victory. But if the proletariat is to achieve victory, all the workers, irrespective of nationality, must be united. Clearly, the demolition of national barriers and close unity between the Russian, Georgian, Armenian, Polish, Jewish and other proletarians is a necessary condition for the victory of the proletariat of all Russia.
That is in the interests of the proletariat of all Russia.
But the Russian autocracy, the bitterest enemy of the proletariat of all Russia, is constantly counteracting the efforts to unite the proletarians. It brutally persecutes the national cultures, the languages, customs and institutions of the "alien" nationalities in Russia. It deprives them of their essential civil rights, oppresses them in every way, hypocritically sows distrust and hostility among them and incites them to bloody collisions. This shows that its sole object is to sow discord among the nations that inhabit Russia, to intensify national strife among them, to reinforce national barriers in order more successfully to disunite the proletarians, more successfully to split the entire proletariat of Russia into small national groups and in this way bury the class consciousness of the workers, their class unity.
That is in the interests of Russian reaction; such is the policy of the Russian autocracy.
Obviously, sooner or later, the interests of the proletariat of all Russia inevitably had to come into collision with the tsarist autocracy's reactionary policy. That is what actually happened and what brought up the "national question" in the Social-Democratic movement.
How are the national barriers that have been raised between the nations to be demolished? How is national isolation to be eliminated in order to draw the proletarians of all Russia closer together and to unite them more closely?
That is the substance of the "national question" in the Social-Democratic movement.
Divide up into separate national parties and establish a "loose federation" of these parties—answer the Federalist Social-Democrats.
That is just what the Armenian Social-Democratic Labour Organisation 2 is talking about all the time.
As you see, we are advised not to unite into one all-Russian party with a single directing centre, but to divide up into several parties with several directing centres — all in order to strengthen class unity! We want to draw together the proletarians of the different nations. What should we do? Divide the proletarians from one another and you will achieve your aim! answer the Federalist Social-Democrats. We want to unite the proletarians in one party. What should we do? Split up the proletarians of all Russia into separate parties and you will achieve your aim! answer the Federalist Social-Democrats. We want to demolish national barriers. What measures shall we take? Reinforce the national barriers with organisational barriers and you will achieve your aim! they reply. And all this advice is offered to us, the proletarians of all Russia, who are fighting under the same political conditions, and against a common enemy! In short, we are told: Act so as to please your enemies and bury your common goal with your own hands!
But let us agree with the Federalist Social-Democrats for a moment, let us follow them and see where they will lead us! It has been said: "Pursue the liar to the threshold of the lie."
Let us assume that we have taken the advice of our Federalists and have formed separate national parties. What would be the results?
This is not difficult to see. Hitherto, while we were Centralists, we concentrated our attention mainly on the common conditions of the proletarians, on the unity of their interests, and spoke of their "national distinctions" only in so far as these did not contradict their common interests; hitherto, our major question was: in what way do the proletarians of the different nationalities of Russia resemble each other, what have they in common?—for our object was to build a single centralised party of the workers of the whole of Russia on the basis of these common interests. Now that "we" have become Federalists, our attention is engaged by a different major question, namely: in what way do the proletarians of the different nationalities of Russia differ from one another, what are the distinctions between them?—for our object is to build separate national parties on the basis of "national distinctions." Thus, "national distinctions," which are of minor importance for the Centralist, become, for the Federalist, the foundation of national parties.
If we follow this path further we shall, sooner or later, be obliged to conclude that the "national" and, perhaps, some other "distinctions" of, say, the Armenian proletarians are the same as those of the Armenian bourgeoisie; that the Armenian proletarian and the Armenianbourgeois have the same customs and character; that they constitute one people, one indivisible "nation."3 From this it is not a far cry to "common ground for joint action," on which the bourgeois and the proletarian must stand and join hands as members of the same "nation." The hypocritical policy of the autocratic tsar may appear as "additional" proof in support of such friendship, whereas talk about class antagonisms may appear as "misplaced doctrinairism." And then somebody's poetic fingers will "more boldly" touch the narrow-national strings that still exist in the hearts of the proletarians of the different nationalities in Russia and make them sound in the proper key. Credit (confidence) will be granted to chauvinistic humbug, friends will be taken for enemies, enemies for friends—confusion will ensue, and the class consciousness of the proletariat of all Russia will wane.
Thus, thanks to the Federalists, instead of breaking down the national barriers we shall reinforce them with organisational barriers; instead of stimulating the class consciousness of the proletariat we shall stultify it and subject it to a dangerous strain. And the autocratic tsar "will rejoice in his heart," for he would never have obtained such unpaid assistants as we would be for him.
Is that, then, what we have been striving for?
And, lastly, at a time when we need a single, flexible, centralised party, whose Central Committee should be able to rouse the workers of the whole of Russia at a moment's notice and lead them in a decisive onslaught upon the autocracy and the bourgeoisie, we are offered a monstrous "federal league" broken up into separate parties! Instead of a sharp weapon, they hand us a rusty one and assure us: With this you will more speedily wipe out your mortal enemies!
That is where the Federalist Social-Democrats are leading us!
But since our aim is not to "reinforce national barriers," but to break them down; since we need not a rusty, but a sharp weapon to uproot existing injustice; since we want to give the enemy cause not for rejoicing but for lamentation, and want to make him bite the dust, it is obviously our duty to turn our backs on the Federalists and find a better means of solving the "national question."
So far we have discussed the way the "national question" should not be solved. Let us now discuss the way this question should be-solved, i.e., the way it has been solved by the Social-Democratic Labour Party. 4
To begin with, we must bear in mind that the Social-Democratic Party which functions in Russia called itself Rossiiskaya (and not Russkaya). 5 Obviously, by this it wanted to convey to us that it will gather under its banner not only Russian proletarians, but the proletarians of all the nationalities in Russia, and, consequently, that it will do everything to break down the national barriers that have been raised to separate them.
Further, our Party has dispelled the fog which enveloped the "national question" and which lent it an air of mystery; it has divided this question into its separate elements, has lent each element the character of a class demand, and has expounded them in its programme in the form of separate clauses. Thereby it has clearly shown us that, taken by themselves, the so-called "national interests" and "national demands" are of no particular value; that these "interests," and "demands" deserve our attention only in so far as they stimulate, or can stimulate, the proletariat's class consciousness, its class development.
The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party has thereby clearly mapped the path it has chosen and the position it has taken in solving the "national question."
What are the elements of the "national question"?
What do Messieurs the Federalist Social-Democrats demand?
1) "Civil equality for the nationalities in Russia?"
You are disturbed by the civil inequality that prevails in Russia? You want to restore to the nationalities in Russia the civil rights taken away by the government and therefore you demand civil equality for these nationalities? But are we opposed to this demand. We are perfectly aware of the great importance of civil rights for the proletarians. Civil rights are a weapon in the struggle; to take away civil rights means taking away a weapon; and who does not know that unarmed proletarians cannot fight well? It is necessary for the proletariat of all Russia, however, that the proletarians of all the nationalities inhabiting Russia should fight well; for, the better these proletarians fight, the greater will be their class consciousness, and the greater their class consciousness, the closer will be, the class unity of the proletariat of all Russia. Yes, we know all this, and that is why we are fighting, and will go on fighting with, all our might, for the civil equality of the nationalities in Russia! Read Clause 7 of our Party programme, where the Party speaks of "complete equality of rights for all citizens, irrespective of sex, religion, race or nationality," and you will see that the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party sets out to achieve these demands.
What else do the Federalist Social-Democrats demand?
2) "Freedom of language for the nationalities in Russia?"
You are disturbed by the fact that the proletarians of the "alien" nationalities in Russia are practically forbidden to receive education in their own languages, or to speak their own languages in public, state and other institutions? Yes, it is something to be disturbed about! Language is an instrument of development and struggle. Different nations have different languages. The interests of the proletariat of all Russia demand that the proletarians of the different nationalities inhabiting Russia shall have full right to use the language in which it is easiest for them to receive education, in which they can best oppose their enemies at meetings or in public, state and other institutions. That language is the native language. They ask: Can we keep silent when the proletarians of the "alien" nationalities are deprived of their native language? Well, and what does our Party programme say to the proletariat of all Russia on this point? Read Clause 8 of our Party programme, in which our Party demands "the right of the population to receive education in their native languages, this right to be ensured by the establishment of schools for this purpose at the expense of the state and of local government bodies; the right of every citizen to speak at meetings in his native language; the introduction of the native language on a par with the official state language in all local public and state institutions"—read all this, and you will see that the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party sets out to achieve this demand as well.
What else do the Federalist Social-Democrats demand?
3) "Self-government for the nationalities in Russia?" By that you want to say that the same laws cannot be applied in the same way in the various localities of the Russian state which differ from one another in specific conditions of life and composition of the population? You want these localities to have the right to adapt the general laws of the state to their own specific conditions? If that is the case, if that is what you mean by your demand, you should formulate it properly; you should dispel the nationalistic fog and confusion and call a spade a spade. And if you follow this advice you will see for yourselves that we have no objection to such a demand. We have no doubt at all that the various localities of the Russian state which differ from one another in specific conditions of life and composition of the population, cannot all apply the state constitution in the same way, that such localities must be granted the right to put into effect the general state constitution in such a way as will benefit them most and contribute to the fuller development of the political forces of the people. This is in the class interests of the proletariat of all Russia. And if you re-read Clause 3 of our Party programme, in which our Party demands "wide local self-government; regional self-government for those localities which are differentiated by their special conditions of life and the composition of their population," you will see that the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party first dispelled the nationalistic fog which enveloped this demand and then set out to achieve it.
4) You point to the tsarist autocracy, which is brutally persecuting the "national culture" of the "alien" nationalities in Russia, which is violently interfering in their internal life and oppressing them in every way, which has barbarously destroyed (and goes on destroying) the cultural institutions of the Finns, has robbed Armenia of her national property, etc.? You demand guarantees against the robber violence of the autocracy? But are we blind to the violence which the tsarist autocracy is perpetrating? And have we not always fought against this violence?! Everyone today clearly sees how the present Russian government oppresses and strangles the "alien" nationalities which inhabit Russia. It is also beyond all doubt that this policy of the government is day after day corrupting the class consciousness of the all-Russian proletariat and exposing it to a dangerous strain. Consequently, we shall always and everywhere fight the tsarist government's corrupting policy. Consequently, we shall always and everywhere defend against the autocracy's police violence not only the useful, but even the useless institutions of these nationalities; for the interests of the proletariat of all Russia suggest to us that only the nationalities themselves have the right to abolish or develop this or that aspect of their national culture. But read Clause 9 of our programme. Is not this the purport of Clause 9 of our Party programme, which, incidentally, has caused much argument among both our enemies and our friends?
But here we are interrupted with the advice to stop talking about Clause 9. But why? we ask. "Because," we are told, this clause of our programme "fundamentally contradicts" Clauses 3, 7 and 8 of the same programme; because, if the nationalities are granted the right to arrange all their national affairs according to their own will (see Clause 9), there should be no room in thisprogramme for Clauses 3, 7 and 8; and, vice versa, if these clauses are left in the programme, Clause 9 must certainly be deleted from the programme. Undoubtedly, Sakartvelo6 means something of the same sort when it asks with its characteristic levity: "Where is the logic in saying to a nation, 'I grant you regional self-government,' and reminding it at the same time that it has the right to arrange all its national affairs as it sees fit?" (see Sakart-velo, No. 9). "Obviously," a logical contradiction has crept into the programme; "obviously," one or several clauses must be deleted from the programme if this contradiction is to be eliminated! Yes, this must "certainly" be done, for, as you see, logic itself is protesting through the medium of the illogical Sakartvelo.
This calls to mind an ancient parable. Once upon a time there lived a "learned anatomist." He possessed "everything" a "real" anatomist requires: a degree, an operating room, instruments and inordinate pretensions. He lacked only one minor detail—knowledge of anatomy. One day he was asked to explain the connection between the various parts of a skeleton that were lying scattered on his anatomical table. This gave our "celebrated savant" an opportunity to show off his skill. With great pomp and solemnity he set to "work." Alas and alack, the "savant" did not know even the ABC of anatomy and was entirely at a loss as to how the parts should be put together so as to produce a complete skeleton!
The poor fellow busied himself for a long time, perspired copiously, but all in vain! Finally, when nothing had come of all his efforts and he had got everything mixed up, he seized several parts of the skeleton, flung them into a far corner of the room and vented his philosophic ire on certain "evil-minded" persons, who, he alleged, had placed spurious parts of a skeleton on his table. Naturally, the spectators made fun of this "learned anatomist."
A similar "misadventure" has befallen Sakartvelo. It took it into its head to analyse our Party programme; but it turns out that Sakartvelo has no idea of what our programme is, nor of how it ought to be analysed; it has not grasped the connection that exists between the various clauses of this programme or the significance of each clause. So it "philosophically" gives us the following advice: I cannot understand such and such clauses of your programme, therefore (?!) they must be deleted.
But I do not want to make fun of Sakartvelo, which is a laughing-stock already; as the saying goes: don't hit a man when he is down! On the contrary, I am even prepared to help it and explain our programme to it, but on condition that 1) it confesses its ignorance, 2) listens to me with attention, and 3) keeps on good terms with logic.7
The point is as follows. Clauses 3, 7 and 8 of our programme arose out of the idea of political centralism.
When inserting these clauses in its programme the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party was guided by the consideration that what is called the "final" solution of the "national question," i.e., the "emancipation" of the "alien" nationalities in Russia, is, speaking generally, impossible so long as the bourgeoisie retains political power. There are two reasons for this: first, present-day economic development is gradually building a bridge between the "alien nationalities" and "Russia," it is creating increasing intercourse between them, and thereby engendering friendly feeling among the leading circles of the bourgeoisie of these nationalities, thus removing the ground for their "national-emancipation" aspirations; second, speaking generally, the proletariat will not support the so-called "national-emancipation" movement, for up till now, every such movement has been conducted in the interests of the bourgeoisie, and has corrupted and crippled the class consciousness of the proletariat. These considerations gave rise to the idea of political centralism, on which Clauses 3, 7 and 8 of our Party programme are based.
But this, as has been said above, is the general view.
It does not, however, preclude the possibility that economic and political conditions may arise under which the advanced bourgeois circles among the "alien" nationalities will want "national emancipation."
It may also happen that such a movement will prove to be favourable for the development of the class consciousness of the proletariat.
How should our Party act in such cases?
It is precisely with such possible cases in view that Clause 9 was included in our programme; it is precisely inanticipation of such possible circumstances that the nationalities are accorded a right which will prompt them to strive to arrange their national affairs in accordance with their own wishes (for instance, to "emancipate themselves" completely, to secede).
Our Party, the party whose aim is to lead the militant proletariat of the whole of Russia, must be prepared for such contingencies in the life of the proletariat and, accordingly, had to insert such a clause in its programme.
That is how every prudent, far-sighted party ought to act.
It seems, however, that this interpretation of Clause 9 fails to satisfy the "savants" of Sakartvelo, and also some of the Federalist Social-Democrats. They demand a "precise" and "straightforward" answer to the question: is "national independence" advantageous or disadvantageous to the proletariat? 8
This reminds me of the Russian metaphysicians of the fifties of the last century who pestered the dialecticians of those days with the question: is rain good or bad for the crops? and demanded a "precise" answer. It was not difficult for the dialecticians to prove that this way of presenting the question was totally unscientific; that such questions must be answered differently at different times; that during a drought rain is beneficial, whereas in a rainy season more rain is useless and even harmful; and that, consequently, to demand a "precise" answer to such a question is obviously stupid.
But Sakartvelo has learned nothing from such examples.
Bernstein's followers demanded of the Marxists an equally "precise" answer to the question: are co-operatives (i.e., consumers' and producers' co-operative societies) useful or harmful to the proletariat? It was not difficult for the Marxists to prove that this way of presenting the question was pointless; they explained very simply that everything depends on time and place; that where the class consciousness of the proletariat has reached the proper level of development and the proletarians are united in a single, strong political party, cooperatives may be of great benefit to the proletariat, if the party itself undertakes to organise and direct them. On the other hand, where these conditions are lacking, the co-operatives are harmful to the proletariat, for they breed small-shopkeeper tendencies and craft insularity among the workers, and thereby corrupt their class consciousness.
But the Sakartvelo-ists have learned nothing even from this example. They demand more insistently than ever: is national independence useful or harmful to the proletariat? Give us a precise answer!
But we see that the circumstances which may give rise to and develop a "national-emancipation" movement among the bourgeoisie of the "alien" nationalities do not yet exist, nor, for that matter, are they really inevitable in the future—we have only assumed them as a possibility. Furthermore, it is impossible to tell at present what the level of the class consciousness of the proletariat will be at that particular moment, and to what extent this movement will then be useful or harmful to the proletariat! Hence, we may ask, on what basis can one build9 a "precise" answer to this question? From what premises can it be deduced? And is it not stupid to demand a "precise" answer under such circumstances?
Obviously, we must leave it to the "alien" nationalities to decide that question themselves; our task is to win for them the right to do so. Let the nationalities themselves decide, when this question faces them, whether "national independence" is useful or harmful to them, and, if useful—in what form to exercise it. They alone can decide this question!
Thus, Clause 9 grants the "alien" nationalities the right to arrange their national affairs in accordance with their own wishes. And that same clause imposes on us the duty to see to it that the wishes of these nationalities are really Social-Democratic, that these wishes spring from the class interests of the proletariat; and for this we must educate the proletarians of these nationalities in the Social-Democratic spirit, subject some of their reactionary "national" habits, customs and institutions to stern Social-Democratic criticism—which, however, will not prevent us from defending these habits, customs and institutions against police violence.
Such is the underlying idea of Clause 9.
It is easy to see what a profound logical connection there is between this clause of our programme and the principles of the proletarian class struggle. And since ourentire programme is built on these principles, the logical connection between Clause 9 and all the other clauses of our Party programme is self-evident.
It is precisely because dull-witted Sakartvelo cannot assimilate such simple ideas that it is styled a "wise" organ of the press.
What else remains of the "national question"?
5) "Defence of the national spirit and its attributes?"
But what is this "national spirit and its attributes"? Science, through the medium of dialectical materialism, proved long ago that there is no such thing as a "national spirit" and that there cannot be. Has anyone refuted this view of dialectical materialism? History tells us that no one has refuted it. Hence, we must agree with this view of science, and, together with science, reiterate that there is no such thing as a "national spirit," nor can there be. And since this is the case, since there is no such thing as a "national spirit," it is self-evident that defence of what does not exist is a logical absurdity, which must inevitably lead to corresponding historical (undesirable) consequences. It is becoming only for Sakartvelo—"organ of the revolutionary party of Georgian Social-Federalists" (see Sakartvelo, No. 9)10 to utter such "philosophical" absurdities.
* * *
That is how matters stand with the national question.
As is evident, our Party divided this question into several parts, distilled its vital juices from it, injected them into the veins of its programme, and thereby showed how the "national question" should be solved in the
Social-Democratic movement in such a way as to destroy national barriers to their foundations, while not departing from our principles for a moment.
The question is: Where is the need for separate national parties? Or, where is the Social-Democratic "basis," on which the organisational and political views of the Federalist Social-Democrats are supposed to be built? No such "basis" is to be seen—it does not exist. The Federalist Social-Democrats are floating in mid-air.
They have two ways of getting out of this uncomfortable position. Either they must entirely abandon the standpoint of the revolutionary proletariat and accept the principle of reinforcing the national barriers (opportunism in the shape of federalism); or they must renounce all federalism in party organisation, boldly raise the banner of demolition of national barriers, and rally to the united camp of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.