Sunday, December 25, 2016

V. I. Lenin: Critical Remarks on the National Question, Parts 1 & 2 (1913)
It is obvious that the national question has now become prominent among the problems of Russian public life. The aggressive nationalism of the reactionaries, the transition of counter-revolutionary bourgeois liberalism to nationalism (particularly Great-Russian, but also Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, etc.), and lastly, the increase of nationalist vacillations among the different “national” (i. e., non-Great-Russian) Social-Democrats, who have gone to the length of violating the Party Programme—all these make it incumbent on us to give more attention to the national question than we have done so far.

This article pursues a special object, namely, to examine, in their general bearing, precisely these programme vacillations of Marxists and would-be Marxists, on the national question. In Severnaya Pravda[2] No. 29 (for September 5, 1913, “Liberals and Democrats on the Language Question”[1] ) I had occasion to speak of the opportunism of the liberals on the national question; this article of mine was attacked by the opportunist Jewish newspaper Zeit,[3] in an article by Mr. F. Liebman. From the other side, the programme of the Russian Marxists on the national question has been criticised by the Ukrainian opportunist Mr. Lev Yurkevich (Dzvin,[4] 1913, Nos. 7–8). Both these writers touched upon so many questions that to reply to them we are obliged to deal with the most diverse aspects of the subject. I think the most convenient thing would be to start with a reprint of the article from Severnaya Pravda.


On several occasions the newspapers have mentioned the report of the Governor of the Caucasus, a report that is noteworthy, not for its Black-Hundred[5] spirit, but for its timid “liberalism”. Among other things, the Governor objects to artificial Russification of non-Russian nationalities. Representatives of non-Russian nationalities in the Caucasus are themselves striving to teach their children Russian; an example of this is the Armenian church schools, in which the teaching of Russian is not obligatory.

Russkoye Slovo[6] (No. 198), one of the most widely circulating liberal newspapers in Russia, points to this fact and draws the correct conclusion that the hostility towards the Russian language in Russia “stems exclusively from” the “artificial” (it should have said “forced”) implanting of that language.

“There is no reason to worry about the fate of the Russian language. It will itself win recognition throughout Russia,” says the newspaper. This is perfectly true, because the requirements of economic exchange will always compel the nationalities living in one state (as long as they wish to live together) to study the language of the majority. The more democratic the political system in Russia becomes, the more powerfully, rapidly and extensively capitalism will develop, the more urgently will the requirements of economic exchange impel various nationalities to study the language most convenient for general commercial relations.

The liberal newspaper, however, hastens to slap itself in the face and demonstrate its liberal inconsistency.

“Even those who oppose Russification,” it says, “would hardly be likely to deny that in a country as huge as Russia there must be one single official language, and that this language can be only Russian.”

Logic turned inside out! Tiny Switzerland has not lost anything, but has gained from having not one single official language, but three—German, French and Italian. In Switzerland 70 per cent of the population are Germans (in Russia 43 per cent are Great Russians), 22 per cent French (in Russia 17 per cent are Ukrainians) and 7 per cent Italians (in Russia 6 per cent are Poles and 4.5 per cent Byelorussians).   If Italians in Switzerland often speak French in their common parliament they do not do so because they are menaced by some savage police law (there are none such in Switzerland), but because the civilised citizens of a democratic state themselves prefer a language that is understood by a majority. The French language does not instill hatred in Italians because it is the language of a free civilised nation, a language that is not imposed by disgusting police measures.

Why should “huge” Russia, a much more varied and terribly backward country, inhibit her development by the retention of any kind of privilege for any one language? Should not the, contrary he true, liberal gentlemen? Should not Russia, if she wants to overtake Europe, put an end to every kind of privilege as quickly as possible, as completely as possible and as vigorously as possible?

If all privileges disappear, if the imposition of any one language ceases, all Slavs will easily and rapidly learn to understand each other and will not be frightened by the “horrible” thought that speeches in different languages will be heard in the common parliament. The requirements of economic exchange will themselves decide which language of the given country it is to the advantage of the majority to know in the interests of commercial relations. This decision will be all the firmer because it is adopted voluntarily by a population of various nationalities, and its adoption will be the more rapid and extensive the more consistent the democracy and, as a consequence of it, the more rapid the development of capitalism.

The liberals approach the language question in the same way as they approach all political questions—like hypocritical hucksters, holding out one hand (openly)to democracy and the other (behind their backs) to the feudalists and police. We are against privileges, shout the liberals, and under cover they haggle with the feudalists for first one, then another, privilege.

Such is the nature of all liberal-bourgeois nationalism—not only Great-Russian (it is the worst of them all because of its violent character and its kinship with the Purishkeviches[7]), but Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Georgian and every other nationalism. Under the slogan of “national culture”   the bourgeoisie of all nations, both in Austria and in Russia, are in fact pursuing the policy of splitting the workers, emasculating democracy and haggling with the feudalists over the sale of the people’s rights and the people’s liberty.

The slogan of working-class democracy is not “national culture” but the international culture of democracy and the world-wide working-class movement. Let the bourgeoisie deceive the people with various “positive” national programmes. The class-conscious worker will answer the bourgeoisie—there is only one solution to the national problem (insofar as it can, in general, be solved in the capitalist world, the world of profit, squabbling and exploitation), and that solution is consistent democracy.

The proof—Switzerland in Western Europe, a country with an old culture and Finland in Eastern Europe, a country with a young culture.

The national programme of working-class democracy is: absolutely no privileges for any one nation or any one language; the solution of the problem of the political self-determination of nations, that is, their separation as states by completely free, democratic methods; the promulgation of a law for the whole state by virtue of which any measure (rural, urban or communal, etc., etc.) introducing any privilege of any kind for one of the nations and militating against the equality of nations or the rights of a national minority, shall be declared illegal and ineffective, and any citizen of the state shall have the right to demand that such a measure be annulled as unconstitutional, and that those who attempt to put it into effect be punished.

Working-class democracy contraposes to the nationalist wrangling of the various bourgeois parties over questions of language, etc., the demand for the unconditional unity and complete amalgamation of workers of all nationalities in all working-class organisations—trade union, co-operative, consumers’, educational and all others—in contradistinction to any kind of bourgeois nationalism. Only this type of unity and amalgamation can uphold democracy and defend the interests of the workers against capital—which is already international and is becoming more so—and promote the development of mankind towards a new way of life that is alien to all privileges and all exploitation.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 19, pp. 354–57.—Ed.

[2] Severnaya Pravda (Northern Truth)—one of the names of the newspaper Pravda. Pravda—a legal Bolshevik daily published in St. Petersburg. Founded on the initiative of the St. Petersburg workers in April 1912.

Pravda was a popular working-class newspaper, published with money collected by the workers themselves. A wide circle of worker-correspondents and worker-publicists formed around the newspaper. Over eleven thousand correspondence items from workers were published in a single year. Pravda had an average circulation of 40,000, with some issues running into 60,000 copies.

Lenin directed Pravda from abroad, where he was living. He wrote for the paper almost daily, gave instructions to the editorial board and rallied the Party’s best literary forces around the newspaper.

Pravda was subjected to constant police persecution. During the first year of its existence it was confiscated forty-one times, and thirty-six legal actions were brought against its editors, who served prison sentences totalling forty-seven and a half months. In the course of two years and three months Pravda was closed down eight times by the tsarist government, but reissued under new names: = Rabochaya Pravda, Severnaya Pravda, Pravda Truda, Za Pravdu, Proletarskaya Pravda, Put Pravdy, Rabochy, and Trudovaya Pravda. = On July 8 (21), 1914, on the eve of the First World War, the paper was closed down.

Publication was not resumed until after the February Revolution. Beginning from March 5(18), 1917, Pravda appeared as the Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P. Lenin joined the editorial board on April 5(18), on his return from abroad, and took over the   paper’s management. In July–October 1917 Pravda changed its name frequently owing to persecution by the Provisional Government, appearing successively as Listok Pravdy, Proletary, Rabochy, and Rabochy Put. On October 27 (November 9) the newspaper began to appear under its old name—Pravda.

[3] Zeit (Time)—a weekly,organ of the Bund, published in Yiddish in St. Petersburg from December 20, 1912 (January 2, 1913) to May 5(18), 1914.

[4] Dzvin (The Bell)—a monthly legal nationalist journal of Menshevik trend, published in the Ukrainian language in Kiev from January 1913 to the middle of 1914.

[5] The Black Hundreds—monarchist gangs formed by the tsarist police to fight the revolutionary movement. They murdered revolutionaries, assaulted progressive intellectuals and organised pogroms.

[6] Russkoye Slovo (Russian Word)—a daily, published in Moscow from 1895 (the first trial issue appeared in 1894) to July 1918. Formally non-party, the paper defended the interests of the Russian bourgeoisie from a moderate-liberal platform. News was given a wide coverage in the paper, which was the first in Russia to send special correspondents to all the large cities at home and to many foreign capitals.

[7] Purishkevich, V. M.—(1870-1920)—a big landlord and rabid reactionary (a Black-Hundred monarchist).


As the reader will see, the article in Severnaya Pravda, made use of a particular example, i. e., the problem of the official language, to illustrate the inconsistency and opportunism of the liberal bourgeoisie, which, in the national question, extends a hand to the feudalists and the police. Everybody will understand that, apart from the problem of an official language, the liberal bourgeoisie behaves just as treacherously, hypocritically and stupidly (even from the standpoint of the interests of liberalism) in a number of other related issues.

The conclusion to be drawn from this? It is that all liberal-bourgeois nationalism sows the greatest corruption among the workers and does immense harm to the cause of freedom and the proletarian class struggle. This bourgeois (and bourgeois-feudalist) tendency is all the more dangerous for its being concealed behind the slogan of “national culture”. It is under the guise of national culture—Great-Russian, Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, and so forth—that the Black-Hundreds and the clericals, and also the bourgeoisie of all nations, are doing their dirty and reactionary work.

Such are the facts of the national life of today, if viewed from the Marxist angle, i. e., from the standpoint of the class struggle, and if the slogans are compared with the interests and policies of classes, and not with meaningless “general principles”, declamations and phrases.

The slogan of national culture is a bourgeois (and often also a Black-Hundred, and clerical) fraud. Our slogan is: the international culture of democracy and of the world working-class movement.

Here the Bundist[1] Mr. Liebman rushes into the fray and annihilates me with the following deadly tirade:

“Anyone in the least familiar with the national question knows that international culture is not non-national culture (culture without a national form); non-national culture, which must not be Russian, Jewish, or Polish, but only pure culture, is nonsense; international ideas can appeal to the working class only when they are adapted to the language spoken by the worker, and to the concrete national conditions under which he lives; the worker should not be indifferent to the condition and development of his national culture, because   it is through it, and only through it, that he is able to participate in the ‘international culture of democracy and of the world working-class movement’. This is well known, but V. I. turns a deaf ear to it all....”

Ponder over this typically Bundist argument, designed, if you please, to demolish the Marxist thesis that I advanced. With the air of supreme self-confidence of one who is “familiar with the national question”, this Bundist passes off ordinary bourgeois views as “well-known” axioms.

It is true, my dear Bundist, that international culture is not non national. Nobody said that it was. Nobody has proclaimed a “pure” culture, either Polish, Jewish, or Russian, etc., and your jumble of empty words is simply an attempt to distract the reader’s attention and to obscure the issue with tinkling words.

The elements of democratic and socialist culture are present, if only in rudimentary form, in every national culture, since in every nation there are toiling and exploited masses, whose conditions of life inevitably give rise to the ideology of democracy and socialism. But every nation also possesses a bourgeois culture (and most nations a reactionary and clerical culture as well) in the form, not merely of “elements”, but of the dominant culture. Therefore, the general “national culture” is the culture of the landlords, the clergy and the bourgeoisie. This fundamental and, for a Marxist, elementary truth, was kept in the background by the Bundist, who “drowned” it in his jumble of words, i. e., instead of revealing and clarifying the class gulf to the reader, he in fact obscured it. In fact, the Bundist acted like a bourgeois, whose every interest requires the spreading of a belief in a non-class national culture.

In advancing the slogan of “the international culture of democracy and of the world working-class movement”, we take from each national culture only its democratic and socialist elements; we take them only and absolutely in opposition to the bourgeois culture and the bourgeois nationalism of each nation. No democrat, and certainly no Marxist, denies that all languages should have equal status, or that it is necessary to polemise with one’s “native” bourgeoisie in one’s native language and to advocate anti-clerical or anti-bourgeois ideas among one’s “native” peasantry and   petty bourgeoisie. That goes without saying, but the Bundist uses these indisputable truths to obscure the point in dispute, i. e., the real issue.

The question is whether it is permissible for a Marxist, directly or indirectly, to advance the slogan of national culture, or whether he should oppose it by advocating, in all languages, the slogan of workers’ internationalism while “adapting” himself to all local and national features.

The significance of the “national culture” slogan is not determined by some petty intellectual’s promise, or good intention, to “interpret” it as “meaning the development through it of an international culture”. It would be puerile subjectivism to look at it in that way. The significance of the slogan of national culture is determined by the objective alignment of all classes in a given country, and in all countries of the world. The national culture of the bourgeoisie is a fact (and, I repeat, the bourgeoisie everywhere enters into deals with the landed proprietors and the clergy). Aggressive bourgeois nationalism, which drugs the minds of the workers, stultifies and disunites them in order that the bourgeoisie may lead them by the halter—such is the fundamental fact of the times.

Those who seek to serve the proletariat must unite the workers of all nations, and unswervingly fight bourgeois nationalism, domestic and foreign. The place of those who advocate the slogan of national culture is among the nationalist petty bourgeois, not among the Marxists.

Take a concrete example. Can a Great-Russian Marxist accept the slogan of national, Great-Russian, culture? No, he cannot. Anyone who does that should stand in the ranks of the nationalists, not of the Marxists. Our task is to fight the dominant, Black-Hundred and bourgeois national culture of the Great Russians, and to develop, exclusively in the internationalist spirit and in the closest alliance with the Workers of other countries, the rudiments also existing in the history of our democratic and working-class movement. Fight your own Great-Russian landlords and bourgeoisie, fight their “culture” in the name of internationalism, and, in so fighting, “adapt” yourself to the special features of the Purishkeviches and Struves—that is your   task, not preaching or tolerating the Slogan of national culture.

The same applies to the most oppressed and persecuted nation—the Jews. Jewish national culture is the slogan of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie, the slogan of our enemies. But there are other elements in Jewish culture and in Jewish history as a whole. Of the ten and a half million Jews in the world, somewhat over a half live in Galicia and Russia, backward and semi-barbarous countries, where the Jews are forcibly kept in the status of a caste. The other half lives in the civilised world, and there the Jews do not live as a segregated caste. There the great world-progressive features of Jewish culture stand clearly revealed: its internationalism, its identification with the advanced movements of the epoch (the percentage of Jews in the democratic and proletarian movements is everywhere higher than the percentage of Jews among the population).

Whoever, directly or indirectly, puts forward the slogan of Jewish “national culture” is (whatever his good intentions may be) an enemy of the proletariat, a supporter of all that is outmoded and connected with caste among the Jewish people; he is an accomplice of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, those Jewish Marxists who mingle with the Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and other workers in international Marxist organisations, and make their contribution (both in Russian and in Yiddish) towards creating the international culture of the working-class movement—those Jews, despite the separatism of the Bund, uphold the best traditions of Jewry by fighting the slogan of “national culture”.

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. In advocating the slogan of national culture and building up on it an entire plan and practical programme of what they call “cultural-national autonomy”, the Bundists are in effect instruments of bourgeois nationalism among the workers.


[1] The Bund (The General Jewish Workers’ Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia) came into being in 1897 at the Inaugural Congress of Jewish Social-Democratic groups in Vilna. It consisted mainly of semi-proletarian Jewish artisans of Western Russia. At the First Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in 1898 the Bund joined the latter “as an autonomous organisation, independent only in respect of questions affecting the Jewish proletariat specifically”. (The C.P.S.U. in Resolutions, and Decisions of Congresses, Conferences and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, Russ. ed., Part I, 1954, p. 14.)

The Bund was a vehicle of nationalist and separatist ideas in Russia’s working-class movement. In April 1901 the Bund’s Fourth Congress resolved to alter the organisational ties with the R.S.D.L.P. as established by the latter’s First Congress. In its resolution, the Bund Congress declared that it regarded the R.S.D.L.P. as a federation of national organisations, of which the Bund was a federal member.

Following the rejection by the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. of the Bund’s demand for recognition as the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat, the Bund left the Party, but rejoined it in 1906 on the basis of a decision of the Fourth (Unity) Congress.

Within the R.S.D.L.P. the Bund constantly supported the Party’s opportunist wing (the Economists, Mensheviks, and liquidators), and waged a struggle against the Bolsheviks and Bolshevism. To the Bolsheviks’ programmatic demand for the right of nations to self-determination the Bund contraposed the demand for autonomy of national culture. During the years of the Stolypin reaction and the new revolutionary upsurge, the Bund adopted a liquidationist stand and played an active part in the formation of the August anti-Party bloc. During the First World War (1914–18) the Bundists took a social-chauvinist stand. In 1917 the Bund supported the bourgeois Provisional Government and sided with the enemies of the Great October Socialist Revolution. During the foreign military intervention and the Civil War, the Bundist leaders made common cause with the forces of counter-revolution. At the same time a tendency towards co-operation with the Soviets became apparent among the Bund rank and file. In March 1921 the Bund dissolved itself, part of the membership joining the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in accordance with the general rules of admission.

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