Monday, December 26, 2016

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Parts 4-6 (Feb.-May, 1914)

Rosa Luxemburg’s argument that §9 of our Programme contains nothing “practical” has been seized upon by the opportunists. Rosa Luxemburg is so delighted with this argument that in some parts of her article this “slogan” is repeated eight times on a single page.

She writes: §9 “gives no practical lead on the day-by-day policy of the proletariat, no practical solution of national problems”.

Let us examine this argument, which elsewhere is formulated in such a way that it makes §9 look quite meaningless, or else commits us to support all national aspirations.

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”.

Let us examine all three possible meanings of the demand for “practicality”.

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 demand for a “yes” or “no” reply to the question of secession in the case of every nation may seem a very “practical” one. In reality it is absurd; it is metaphysical in theory, while in practice it leads to subordinating the proletariat to the bourgeoisie’s policy. The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront, and does so in categorical fashion. With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle. Theoretically, you cannot say in advance whether the bourgeois-democratic revolution will end in a given nation seceding from another nation, or in its equality with the latter; in either case, the important thing for the proletariat is to ensure the development of its class. For the bourgeoisie it is important to hamper this development by pushing the aims of its “own” nation before those of the proletariat. That is why the proletariat confines itself, so to speak, to the negative demand for recognition of the right to self-determination, without giving guarantees to any nation, and without undertaking to give anything at the expense of another nation.

This may not be “practical”, but it is in effect the best guarantee for the achievement of the most democratic of all possible solutions. The proletariat needs only such guarantees, whereas the bourgeoisie of every nation requires guarantees for its own interest, regardless of the position of (or the possible disadvantages to) other nations.

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. Failing to grasp this, Rosa Luxemburg, by her misguided eulogy of practicality, has opened the door wide for the opportunists, and especially for opportunist concessions to Great-Russian nationalism.

Why Great-Russian? Because the Great Russians in Russia are an oppressor nation, and opportunism in the national question will of course find expression among oppressed nations otherwise than among oppressor nations.

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!

The proletariat is opposed to such practicality. While recognising 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.

By supporting the right to secession, we are told, you are supporting the bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed nations. This is what Rosa Luxemburg says, and she is echoed by Semkovsky, the opportunist, who incidentally is the only representative of liquidationist ideas on this question, in the liquidationist newspaper!

Our reply to this is: No, it is to the bourgeoisie that a “practical” solution of this question is important. To the workers the important thing is to distinguish the principles of the two trends. Insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation fights the oppressor, we are always, in every case, and more strongly than anyone else, in favour, for we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. But insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation stands for its own bourgeois nationalism, we stand against. We fight against the privileges and violence of the oppressor nation, and do not in any way condone strivings for privileges on the part of the oppressed nation.

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. Kautsky long ago used this argument against Rosa Luxemburg, and the argument is indisputable. When, in her anxiety not to “assist” the nationalist bourgeoisie of Poland, Rosa Luxemburg rejects the right to secession in the programme of the Marxists in Russia, she is in fact assisting the Great-Russian Black Hundreds. She is in fact assisting opportunist tolerance of the privileges (and worse than privileges) of the Great Russians.

Carried away by the struggle against nationalism in Poland, Rosa Luxemburg has forgotten the nationalism of the Great Russians, although it is this nationalism that is the most formidable at the present time. It is a nationalism that is mere feudal than bourgeois, and is the principal obstacle to democracy and to the proletarian struggle. The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content that we unconditionally support, At the same time we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness; we fight against the tendency of the Polish bourgeois to oppress the Jews, etc., etc.

This is “unpractical” from the standpoint of the bourgeois and the philistine, but it is the only policy in the national question that is practical, based on principles, and really promotes democracy, liberty and proletarian unity.

The recognition of the right to secession for all; the appraisal of each concrete question of secession from the point of view of removing all inequality, all privileges, and all exclusiveness.

Let us consider the position of an oppressor nation. Can a nation be free if it oppresses other nations? It cannot. The interests of the freedom of the Great-Russian population[1] require a struggle against such oppression. The long, centuries-old history of the suppression of the movements of the oppressed nations, and the systematic propaganda in favour of such suppression coming from the “upper” classes have created enormous obstacles to the cause of freedom of the Great-Russian people itself, in the form of prejudices, etc.

The Great-Russian Black Hundreds deliberately foster these prejudices and encourage them. The Great-Russian bourgeoisie tolerates or condones them. The Great-Russian proletariat cannot achieve its own aims or clear the road to its freedom without systematically countering these prejudices.

In Russia, the creation of an independent national state remains, for the time being, the privilege of the Great-Russian nation alone. We, the Great-Russian proletarians, who defend no privileges whatever, do not defend this privilege either. We are fighting on the ground of a definite state; we unite the workers of all nations living in this state; we cannot vouch for any particular path of national development, for we are marching to our class goal along all possible paths.

However, we cannot move towards that goal unless we combat all nationalism, and uphold the equality of the various nations. Whether the Ukraine, for example, is destined to form an independent state is a matter that will be determined by a thousand unpredictable factors. Without attempting idle “guesses”, we firmly uphold something that is beyond doubt: the right of the Ukraine to form such a state. We respect this right; we do not uphold the privileges of Great Russians with regard to Ukrainians; we educate the masses in the spirit of recognition of that right, in the spirit of rejecting state privileges for any nation.

In the leaps which all nations have made in the period of bourgeois revolutions, clashes and struggles over the right to a national state are possible and probable. We proletarians declare in advance that we are opposed to Great-Russian privileges, and this is what guides our entire propaganda and agitation.

In her quest for “practicality” Rosa Luxemburg has lost sight of the principal practical task both of the Great-Russian proletariat and of the proletariat of other nationalities: that of day-by-day agitation and propaganda against all state and national privileges, and for the right, the equal right of all nations, to their national state. This (at present) is cut principal task in the national question, for only in this way can we defend the interests of democracy and the alliance of all proletarians of all nations on an equal footing.

This propaganda may be “unpractical” from the point of view of the Great-Russian oppressors, as well as from the point of view of the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations (both demand a definite “yes” or “no”, and accuse the Social-Democrats of being “vague”). In reality it is this propaganda, and this propaganda alone, that ensures the genuinely democratic, the genuinely socialist education of the masses. This is the only propaganda to ensure the greatest chances of national peace in Russia, should she remain a multi-national state, and the most peaceful (and for the proletarian class struggle, harmless) division into separate national states, should the question of such a division arise.

To explain this policy—the only proletarian policy—in the national question more concretely, we shall examine the attitude of Great-Russian liberalism towards the “self-determination of nations”, and the example of Norway’s secession from Sweden.


[1] A certain L.Vl.[2] in Paris considers this word un-Marxist. This L.Vl. is amusingly “superklug” (too clever by half). And “this too-clever-by-half” L.Vl. apparently intends to write an essay on the deletion of the words “population”, “nation”, etc., from our minimum programme (having in mind the class struggle!). —Lenin

[2] L. Vl.—L. Vladimirov (pseudonym of M. K. Sheinfinkel)—a Social-Democrat.


We have seen that the following argument is one of Rosa Luxemburg’s “trump cards” in lies struggle against the programme of the Marxists in Russia: recognition of the right to self-determination is tantamount to supporting the bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed nations. On the other hand, she says, if we take this right to mean no more than combating all violence against other nations, there is no need for a special clause in the programme, for Social-Democrats are, in general, opposed to all national oppression and inequality.

The first argument, as Kautsky irrefutably proved nearly twenty years ago, is a case of blaming other people for one’s own nationalism; in her fear of the nationalism of the bourgeoisie of oppressed nations, Rosa Luxemburg is actually playing into the hands of the Black-Hundred nationalism of the Great Russians! Her second argument is actually a timid evasion of the question whether or not recognition of national equality includes recognition of the right to secession. If it does, then Rosa Luxemburg admits that, in principle, §9 of our Programme is correct. If it does not, then she does not recognise national equality. Shuffling and evasions will not help matters here!

However, the best way to test these and all similar arguments is to study the attitude of the various classes of society towards this question. For the Marxist this test is obligatory. We must proceed from what is objective; we must examine the relations between the classes on this point. In failing to do so, Rosa Luxemburg is guilty of those very sins of metaphysics, abstractions, platitudes, and sweeping statements, etc., of which she vainly tries to accuse her opponents.

We are discussing the Programme of the Marxists in Russia, i.e., of the Marxists of all the nationalities in Russia. Should we not examine the position of the ruling classes of Russia?

The position of the “bureaucracy” (we beg pardon for this inaccurate term) and of the feudal landlords of our united-nobility type is well known. They definitely reject both the equality of nationalities and the right to self determination. Theirs is the old motto of the days of serfdom: autocracy, orthodoxy, and the national essence—the last term applying only to the Great-Russian nation. Even the Ukrainians are declared to be an “alien” people and their very language is being suppressed.

Let us glance at the Russian bourgeoisie, which was “called upon” to take part—a very modest part, it is true, but nevertheless some part—in the government, under the “June Third” legislative and administrative system. It will not need many words to prove that the Octobrists are following the Rights in this question. Unfortunately, some Marxists pay much less attention to the stand of the Great-Russian liberal bourgeoisie, the Progressists and the Cadets. Yet he who fails to study that stand and give it careful thought will inevitably flounder in abstractions and groundless statements in discussing the question of the right of nations to self-determination.

Skilled though it is in the art of diplomatically evading direct answers to “unpleasant” questions, Rech, the principal organ of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, was compelled, in its controversy with Pravda last year, to make certain valuable admissions. The trouble started over the All-Ukraine Students’ Congress held in Lvov in the summer of 1913.[4] Mr. Mogilyansky, the “Ukrainian expert” or Ukrainian correspondent of Rech, wrote an article in which he poured vitriolic abuse (“ravings”, “adventurism”, etc.) on the idea that the Ukraine should secede, an idea which Dontsov, a nationalist-socialist, had advocated and the above-mentioned congress approved.

While in no way identifying itself with Mr. Dontsov, and declaring explicitly that he was a nationalist-socialist and that many Ukrainian Marxists did not agree with him, Rabochaya Pravda stated that the tone of Rech, or, rather, the way it formulated the question in principle, was improper and reprehensible for a Great-Russian democrat, or for anyone desiring to pass as a democrat.[1] Let Rech repudiate the Dontsovs if it likes, but, from the standpoint of principle, a Great-Russian organ of democracy, which it claims to be, cannot be oblivious of the freedom to secede, the right to secede.

A few months later, Rech, No. 331, published an “explanation” from Mr. Mogilyansky, who had learned from the Ukrainian newspaper Shlyakhi,[5] published in Lvov, of Mr. Dontsov’s reply, in which, incidentally, Dontsov stated that “the chauvinist attacks in Rech have been properly sullied [branded?] only in the Russian Social-Democratic press”. This “explanation” consisted of the thrice-repeated statement that “criticism of Mr. Dontsov’s recipes” “has nothing in common with the repudiation of the right of nations to self-determination”.

“It must be said,” wrote Mr. Mogilyansky, “that even ‘the right of nations to self-determination’ is not a fetish [mark this!] beyond criticism: unwholesome conditions in the life of nations may give rise to unwholesome tendencies in national self-determination, and the fact that these are brought to light does not mean that the right of nations to self-determination has been rejected.”

As you see, this liberal’s talk of a “fetish” was quite in keeping with Rosa Luxemburg’s. It was obvious that Mr. Mogilyansky was trying to evade a direct reply to the question whether or not he recognised the right to political self-determination, i. e., to secession.

The newspaper Proletarskaya Pravda, issue No. 4, for December 11, 1913, also put this question point-blank to Mr. Mogilyansky and to the Constitutional-Democratic Party.[2]

Thereupon Rech (No. 340) published an unsigned, i.e., official, editorial statement replying to this question. This reply boils down to the following three points:

1) §11 of the Constitutional-Democratic Party’s programme speaks bluntly, precisely and clearly of the “right of nations to free cultural self-determination”.

2) Rech affirms that Proletarskaya Pravda “hopelessly confuses” self-determination with separatism, with the secession of a given nation.

3) “Actually, the Cadets have never pledged themselves to advocate the right of ‘nations to secede’ from the Russian state.” (See the article “National-Liberalism and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination”, in Proletarskaya Pravda No. 12, December 20, 1913.[3] )

Let us first consider the second point in the Rech statement. How strikingly it shows to the Semkovskys, Liebmans, Yurkeviches and other opportunists that the hue and cry they have raised about the alleged “vagueness”, or “indefiniteness”, of the term “self-determination” is in fact, i. e., from the standpoint of objective class relationships and the class struggle in Russia, simply a rehash of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie’s utterances!

Proletarskaya Pravda put the following three questions to the enlightened “Constitutional-Democratic” gentlemen of Rech: (1) do they deny that, throughout the entire history of international democracy, and especially since the middle of the nineteenth century, self-determination of nations has been understood to mean precisely political self-determination, the right to form an independent national state? (2) do they deny that the well-known resolution adopted by the International Socialist Congress in London in 1896 has the same meaning? and (3) do they deny that Plekhanov, in writing about self-determination as far back as 1902, meant precisely political self-determination? When Proletarskaya Pravda posed these three questions, the Cadets fell silent!

Not a word did they utter in reply, for they had nothing to say. They had to admit tacitly that Proletarskaya Pravda was absolutely right.

The liberals’ outcries that the term “self-determination” is vague and that the Social-Democrats “hopelessly confuse” it with separatism are nothing more than attempts to confuse the issue, and evade recognition of a universally established democratic principle. If the Semkovskys, Liebmans and Yurkeviches were not so ignorant, they would be ashamed to address the Workers in a liberal vein.

But to proceed. Proletarskaya Pravda compelled Rech to admit that, in the programme of the Constitutional-Democrats, the term “cultural” self-determination means in effect the repudiation of political self-determination.

“Actually, the Cadets have never pledged themselves to advocate the right of ‘nations to secede’ from the Russian state”—it was not without reason that Proletarskaya Pravda recommended to Novoye Vremya and Zemshchina these words from Rech as an example of our Cadets’ “loyalty”. In its issue No. 13563, Novoye Vremya, which never, of course, misses an opportunity of mentioning “the Yids” and taking digs at the Cadets, nevertheless stated:

“What, to the Social-Democrats, is an axiom of political wisdom [i.e., recognition of the right of nations to self-determination, to secede], is today beginning to cause disagreement even among the Cadets.”

By declaring that they “have never pledged themselves to advocate the right of nations to secede from the Russian state”, the Cadets have, in principle, taken exactly the same stand as Novoye Vremya. This is precisely one of the fundamentals of Cadet national-liberalism, of their kinship with the Purishkeviches, and of their dependence, political, ideological and practical, on the latter. Proletarskaya Pravda wrote: “The Cadets have studied history and know only too well what—to put it mildly—pogrom-like actions the practice of the ancient right of the Purishkeviches to ‘grab ’em and hold ’em’ has often led to.” Although perfectly aware of the feudalist source and nature of the Purishkeviches’ omnipotence; the Cadets are, nevertheless, taking their stand on the basis of the relationships and frontiers created by that very class. Knowing full well that there is much in the relationships and frontiers created or fixed by this class that is un-European and anti-European (we would say Asiatic if this did not sound undeservedly slighting to the Japanese and Chinese), the Cadets, nevertheless, accept them as the utmost limit.

Thus, they are adjusting themselves to the Purishkeviches, cringing to them, fearing to jeopardise their position, protecting them from the people’s movement, from the democracy. As Proletarskaya Pravda wrote: “In effect, this means adapting oneself to the interests of the feudal-minded landlords and to the worst nationalist prejudices of the dominant nation, instead of systematically combating those prejudices.”

Being men who are familiar with history and claim to be democrats, the Cadets do not even attempt to assert that the democratic movement, which is today characteristic of both Eastern Europe and Asia and is striving to change both on the model of the civilised capitalist countries, is bound to leave intact the boundaries fixed by the feudal epoch, the epoch of the omnipotence of the Purishkeviches and the disfranchisement of wide strata of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie.

The fact that the question raised in the controversy between Proletarskaya Pravda and Rech was not merely a literary question, but one that involved a real political issue of the day, was proved, among other things, by the last conference of the Constitutional-Democratic Party held on March 23–25, 1914; in the official report of this conference in Rech (No. 83, of March 26, 1914) we read:

“A particularly lively discussion also took place on national problems. The Kiev deputies, who were supported by N. V. Nekrasov and A. M. Kolyubakin, pointed out that the national question was becoming a key issue, which would have to he faced up to more resolutely than hitherto. F. F. Kokoshkin pointed out, however [this “however” is like Shchedrin’s “but”—“the ears never grow higher than the forehead, never!”] that both the programme and past political experience demanded that ‘elastic formulas’ of ‘political self-determination of nationalities’ should be handled very carefully.”

This most remarkable line of reasoning at the Cadet conference deserves serious attention from all Marxists and all democrats. (We will note in parentheses that Kievskaya Mysl, which is evidently very well informed and no doubt presents Mr. Kokoshkin’s ideas correctly, added that, of course, as a warning to his opponents, he laid special stress on the danger of the “disintegration” of the state.)

The official report in Rech is composed with consummate diplomatic skill designed to lift the veil as little as possible and to conceal as much as possible. Yet, in the main, what took place at the Cadet conference is quite clear. The liberal-bourgeois delegates, who were familiar with the state of affairs in the Ukraine, and the “Left” Cadets raised the question precisely of the political self-determination of nations. Otherwise, there would have been no need for Mr. Kokoshkin to urge that this “formula” should be “handled carefully”.

The Cadet programme, which was of course known to the delegates at the Cadet conference, speaks of “cultural”, not of political self-determination. Hence, Mr. Kokoshkin was defending the programme against the Ukrainian delegates, and against the Left Cadets; he was defending “cultural” self-determination as opposed to “political” self-determination. It is perfectly clear that in opposing “political” self-determination, in playing up the danger of the “disintegration of the state”, and in calling the formula “political self-determination” an “elastic” one (quite in keeping with Rosa Luxemburg!), Mr. Kokoshkin was defending Great-Russian national-liberalism against the more “Left” or more democratic elements of the Constitutional-Democratic Party and also against the Ukrainian bourgeoisie.

Mr. Kokoshkin won the day at the Cadet conference, as is evident from the treacherous little word “however” in the Rech report; Great-Russian national-liberalism has triumphed among the Cadets. Will not this victory help to clear the minds of those misguided individuals among the Marxists in Russia who, like the Cadets, have also begun to fear the “elastic formulas of political self-determination of nationalities”?

Let us, “however”, examine the substance of Mr. Kokoshkin’s line of thought. By referring to “past political experience” (i.e., evidently, the experience of 1905, when the Great-Russian bourgeoisie took alarm for its national privileges and scared the Cadet Party with its fears), and also by playing up the danger of the “disintegration of the state”, Mr. Kokoshkin showed that he understood perfectly well that political self-determination can mean nothing else but the right to secede and form an independent national state. The question is—how should Mr. Kokoshkin’s fears be appraised in the light of democracy in general, and the proletarian class struggle in particular?

Mr. Kokoshkin would have us believe that recognition of the right to secession increases the danger of the “disintegration of the state”. This is the viewpoint of Constable Mymretsov, whose motto was “grab ’em and hold ’em”. From the viewpoint of democracy in general, the very opposite is the case: recognition of the right to secession reduces the danger of the “disintegration of the state”.

Mr. Kokoshkin argues exactly like the nationalists do. At their last congress they attacked the Ukrainian “Mazeppists”. The Ukrainian movement, Mr. Savenko and Co. exclaimed, threatens to weaken the ties between the Ukraine and Russia, since Austrian Ukrainophilism is strengthening the Ukrainians’ ties with Austria! It remains unexplained why Russia cannot try to “strengthen” her ties with the Ukrainians through the same method that the Savenkos blame Austria for using, i.e., by granting the Ukrainians freedom to use their own language, self-government and an autonomous Diet.

The arguments of the Savenkos and Kokoshkins are exactly alike, and from the purely logical point of view they are equally ridiculous and absurd. Is it not clear that the more liberty the Ukrainian nationality enjoys in any particular country, the stronger its ties with that country will be? One would think that this truism could not be disputed without totally abandoning all the premises of democracy. Can there be greater freedom of nationality, as such, than the freedom to secede, the freedom to form an independent national state?

To clear up this question, which has been so confused by the liberals (and by those who are so misguided, as to echo them), we shall cite a very simple example. Let us take the question of divorce. In her article Rosa Luxemburg writes that the centralised democratic state, while conceding autonomy to its constituent parts, should retain the most important branches of legislation, including legislation on divorce, under the jurisdiction of the central parliament. The concern that the central authority of the democratic state should retain the power to allow divorce can be readily understood. The reactionaries are opposed to freedom of divorce; they say that it must be “handled carefully”, and loudly declare that it means the “disintegration of the family”. The democrats, however, believe that the reactionaries are hypocrites, and that they are actually defending the omnipotence of the police and the bureaucracy, the privileges of one of the sexes, and the worst kind of oppression of women. They believe that in actual fact freedom of divorce will not cause the “disintegration” of family ties, but, on the contrary, will strengthen them on a democratic basis, which is the only possible and durable basis in civilised society.

To accuse those who support freedom of self-determination, i. e., freedom to secede, of encouraging separatism, is as foolish and hypocritical as accusing those who advocate freedom of divorce of encouraging the destruction of family ties. Just as in bourgeois society the defenders of privilege and corruption, on which bourgeois marriage rests, oppose freedom of divorce, so, in the capitalist state, repudiation of the right to self-determination, i. e., the right of nations to secede, means nothing more than defence of the privileges of the dominant nation and police methods of administration, to the detriment of democratic methods.

No doubt, the political chicanery arising from all the relationships existing in capitalist society sometimes leads members of parliament and journalists to indulge in frivolous and even nonsensical twaddle about one or another nation seceding. But only reactionaries can allow themselves to be frightened (or pretend to be frightened) by such talk. Those who stand by democratic principles, i.e., who insist that questions of state be decided by the mass of the population, know very well that there is a “tremendous distance”[6] between what the politicians prate about and what the people decide. From their daily experience the masses know perfectly well the value of geographical and economic ties and the advantages of a big market and a big state. They will, therefore, resort to secession only when national oppression and national friction make joint life absolutely intolerable and hinder any and all economic intercourse. In that case, the interests of capitalist development and of the freedom of the class struggle will be best served by secession.

Thus, from whatever angle we approach Mr. Kokoshkin’s arguments, they prove to be the height of absurdity and a mockery of the principles of democracy. And yet there is a modicum of logic in these arguments, the logic of the class interests of the Great-Russian bourgeoisie. Like most members of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, Mr. Kokoshkin is a lackey of the money-bags of that bourgeoisie. He defends its privileges in general, and its state privileges in particular. He defends them hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder with Purishkevich, the only difference being that Purishkevich puts more faith in the feudalist cudgel, while Kokoshkin and Co. realise that this cudgel was badly damaged in 1905, and rely more on bourgeois methods of fooling the masses, such as frightening the petty bourgeoisie and the peasants with the spectre of the “disintegration of the state”, and deluding them with phrases about blending “people’s freedom” with historical tradition, etc.

The liberals’ hostility to the principle of political self-determination of nations can have one, and only one, real class meaning: national-liberalism, defence of the state privileges of the Great-Russian bourgeoisie. And the opportunists among the Marxists in Russia, who today, under the Third of June regime, are against the right of nations to self-determination—the liquidator Semkovsky, the Bundist Liebman, the Ukrainian petty-bourgeois Yurkevich—are actually following in the wake of the national-liberals, and corrupting the working class with national-liberal ideas.

The interests of the working class and of its struggle against capitalism demand complete solidarity and the closest unity of the workers of all nations; they demand resistance to the nationalist policy of the bourgeoisie of every nationality. Hence, Social-Democrats would be deviating from proletarian policy and subordinating the workers to the policy of the bourgeoisie if they were to repudiate the right of nations to self-determination, i.e., the right of an oppressed nation to secede, or if they were to support all the national demands of the bourgeoisie of oppressed nations. It makes no difference to the hired worker whether he is exploited chiefly by the Great-Russian bourgeoisie rather than the non-Russian bourgeoisie, or by the Polish bourgeoisie rather than the Jewish bourgeoisie, etc. The hired worker who has come to understand his class interests is equally indifferent to the state privileges of the Great-Russian capitalists and to the promises of the Polish or Ukrainian capitalists to set up an earthly paradise when they obtain state privileges. Capitalism is developing and will continue to develop, anyway, both in integral states with a mixed population and in separate national states.

In any case the hired worker will be an object of exploitation. Successful struggle against exploitation requires that the proletariat be free of nationalism, and be absolutely neutral, so to speak, in the fight for supremacy that is going on among the bourgeoisie of the various nations. If the proletariat of any one nation gives the slightest support to the privileges of its “own” national bourgeoisie, that will inevitably rouse distrust among the proletariat of another nation; it will weaken the international class solidarity of the workers and divide them, to the delight of the bourgeoisie. Repudiation of the right to self-determination or to secession inevitably means, in practice, support for the privileges of the dominant nation.

We will get even more striking confirmation of this if we take the concrete case of Norway’s secession from Sweden.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 19, pp. 268–69.—Ed.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 19, pp. 525–27.—Ed.

[3] See pp. 56–58 of this volume.—Ed.

[4] This refers to the Second All-Ukraine Students’ Congress held in Lvov on June 19–22 (July 2–5), 1913, to coincide with anniversary celebrations in honour of Ivan Franko, the great Ukrainian writer, scholar, public figure, and revolutionary democrat. A report “The Ukrainian Youth and the Present Status of the Nations” was made at the Congress by the Ukrainian Social-Democrat Dontsov, who supported the slogan of an “independent” Ukraine.

[5] Shlyakhi (Paths)—organ of the Ukrainian Students’ Union (nationalistic trend), published in Lvov from April 1913 to March 1914.

[6] Lenin is quoting from Griboyedov’s comedy Wit Works Woe.


Rosa Luxemburg cites precisely this example, and discusses it as follows:

“The latest event in the history of federative relations, the secession of Norway from Sweden—which at the time was hastily seized upon by the social-patriotic Polish press (see the Cracow Naprzod[2]) as a gratifying sign of the strength and progressive nature of the tendency towards state secession—at once provided striking proof that federalism and its concomitant, separation, are in no way an expression of progress or democracy. After the so-called Norwegian ‘revolution’, which meant that the Swedish king was deposed and compelled to leave Norway, the Norwegians coolly proceeded to choose another king, formally rejecting, by a national referendum, the proposal to establish a republic. That which superficial admirers of all national movements and of all semblance of independence proclaimed to be a ‘revolution’ was simply a manifestation of peasant and petty-bourgeois particularism, the desire to have a king ‘of their own’ for their money instead of one imposed upon them by the Swedish aristocracy, and was, consequently, a movement that had absolutely nothing in common with revolution. At the same time, the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway showed once more to what extent, in this case also, the federation which had existed until then was only an expression of purely dynastic interests and, therefore, merely a form of monarchism and reaction.” (Przeglad.)

That is literally all that Rosa Luxemburg has to say on this score! Admittedly, it would have been difficult for her to have revealed the hopelessness of her position more saliently than she has done in this particular instance.

The question was, and is: do the Social-Democrats in a mixed national state need a programme that recognises the right to self-determination or secession?

What does the example of Norway, cited by Rosa Luxemburg, tell us on this point?

Our author twists and turns, exercises her wit and rails at Naprzod, but she does not answer the question! Rosa Luxemburg speaks about everything under the sun so as to avoid saying a single word about the actual point at issue!

Undoubtedly, in wishing to have a king of their own for their money, and in rejecting, in a national referendum, the proposal to establish a republic, the Norwegian petty bourgeoisie displayed exceedingly bad philistine qualities. Undoubtedly, Naprzod displayed equally bad and equally philistine qualities in failing to notice this.

But what has all this to do with the case?

The question under discussion was the right of nations to self-determination and the attitude to be adopted by the socialist proletariat towards this right! Why, then, does not Rosa Luxemburg answer this question instead of beating about the bush?

To a mouse there is no stronger beast than the cat, it is said. To Rosa Luxemburg there is evidently no stronger beast than the “Fracy”. “Fracy” is the popular term for the “Polish Socialist Party”, its so-called revolutionary section, and the Cracow newspaper Naprzod shares the views of that “section”. Rosa Luxemburg is so blinded by her fight against the nationalism of that “section” that she loses sight of everything except Naprzod.

If Naprzod says “yes”, Rosa Luxemburg considers it her sacred duty to say an immediate “no”, without stopping to think that by so doing she does not reveal independence of Naprzod, but, on the contrary, her ludicrous dependence on the “Fracy” and her inability to see things from a view point any deeper and broader than that of the Cracow ant hill. Naprzod, of course, is a wretched and by no means Marxist organ; but that should not prevent us from properly analysing the example of Norway, once we have chosen it.

To analyse this example in Marxist fashion, we must deal, not with the vices of the awfully terrible “Fracy”, but, first, with the concrete historical features of the secession of Norway from Sweden, and secondly, with the tasks which confronted the proletariat of both countries in connection with this secession.

The geographic, economic and language ties between Norway and Sweden are as intimate as those between the Great Russians and many other Slav nations. But the union between Norway and Sweden was not a voluntary one, and in dragging in the question of “federation” Rosa Luxemburg was talking at random, simply because she did not know what to say. Norway was ceded to Sweden by the monarchs during the Napoleonic wars, against the will of the Norwegians; and the Swedes had to bring troops into Norway to subdue her.

Despite the very extensive autonomy which Norway enjoyed (she had her own parliament, etc.), there was constant friction between Norway and Sweden for many decades after the union, and the Norwegians strove hard to throw off the yoke of the Swedish aristocracy. At last, in August 1905, they succeeded: the Norwegian parliament resolved that the Swedish king was no longer king of Norway, and in the referendum held later among the Norwegian people, the overwhelming majority (about 200,000 as against a few hundred) voted for complete separation from Sweden. After a short period of indecision, the Swedes resigned themselves to the fact of secession.

This example shows us on what grounds cases of the secession of nations are practicable, and actually occur, under modern economic and political relationships, and the form secession sometimes assumes under conditions of political freedom and democracy.

No Social-Democrat will deny—unless he would profess indifference to questions of political freedom and democracy (in which case he is naturally no longer a Social-Democrat)—that this example virtually proves that it is the bounden duty of class-conscious workers to conduct systematic propaganda and prepare the ground for the settlement of conflicts that may arise over the secession of nations, not in the “Russian way”, but only in the way they were settled in 1905 between Norway and Sweden. This is exactly what is meant by the demand in the programme for the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination. But Rosa Luxemburg tried to get around a fact that was repugnant to her theory by violently attacking the philistinism of the Norwegian philistines and the Cracow Naprzod; for she understood perfectly well that this historical fact completely refutes her phrases about the right of nations to self-determination being a “utopia”, or like the right “to eat off gold plates”, etc. Such phrases only express a smug and opportunist belief in the immutability of the present alignment of forces among the nationalities of Eastern Europe.

To proceed. In the question of the self-determination of nations, as in every other question, we are interested, first and foremost, in the self-determination of the proletariat within a given nation. Rosa Luxemburg modestly evaded this question too, for she realised that an analysis of it on the basis of the example of Norway, which she herself had chosen, would be disastrous to her “theory”.

What position did the Norwegian and Swedish proletariat take, and indeed had to take, in the conflict over secession? After Norway seceded, the class-conscious workers of Norway would naturally have voted for a republic,[1] and if some socialists voted otherwise it only goes to show how much dense, philistine opportunism there sometimes is in the European socialist movement. There can be no two opinions about that, and we mention the point only because Rosa Luxemburg is trying to obscure the issue by speaking off the mark. We do not know whether the Norwegian socialist programme made it obligatory for Norwegian Social-Democrats to hold particular views on the question of secession. We will assume that it did not, and that the Norwegian socialists left it an open question as to what extent the autonomy of Norway gave sufficient scope to wage the class struggle freely, or to what extent the eternal friction and conflicts with the Swedish aristocracy hindered freedom of economic life. But it cannot be disputed that the Norwegian proletariat had to oppose this aristocracy and support Norwegian peasant democracy (with all its philistine limitations).

And the Swedish proletariat? It is common knowledge that the Swedish landed proprietors, abetted by the Swedish clergy, advocated war against Norway. Inasmuch as Norway was much weaker than Sweden, had already experienced a Swedish invasion, and the Swedish aristocracy carries enormous weight in its own country, this advocacy of war presented a grave danger. We may be sure that the Swedish Kokoshkins spent much time and energy in trying to corrupt the minds of the Swedish people by appeals to “handle” the “elastic formulas of political self-determination of nations carefully”, by painting horrific pictures of the danger of the “disintegration of the state” and by assuring them that “people’s freedom” was compatible with the traditions of the Swedish aristocracy. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the Swedish Social-Democrats would have betrayed the cause of socialism and democracy if they had not fought with all their might to combat both the landlord and the “Kokoshkin” ideology and policy, and if they had failed to demand, not only equality of nations in general (to which the Kokoshkins also subscribe), but also the right of nations to self-determination, Norway’s freedom to secede.

The close alliance between the Norwegian and Swedish workers, their complete fraternal class solidarity, gained from the Swedish workers’ recognition of the right of the Norwegians to secede. This convinced the Norwegian workers that the Swedish workers were not infected with Swedish nationalism, and that they placed fraternity with the Norwegian proletarians above the privileges of the Swedish bourgeoisie and aristocracy. The dissolution of the ties imposed upon Norway by the monarchs of Europe and the Swedish aristocracy strengthened the ties between the Norwegian and Swedish workers. The Swedish workers have proved that in spite of all the vicissitudes of bourgeois policy—bourgeois relations may quite possibly bring about a repetition of the forcible subjection of the Norwegians to the Swedes!—they will be able to preserve and defend the complete equality and class solidarity of the workers of both nations in the struggle against both the Swedish and the Norwegian bourgeoisie.

Incidentally, this reveals how groundless and even frivolous are the attempts sometimes made by the “Fracy” to “use” our disagreements with Rosa Luxemburg against Polish Social-Democracy. The “Fracy” are not a proletarian or a socialist party, but a petty-bourgeois nationalist party, something like Polish Social-Revolutionaries. There never has been, nor could there be, any question of unity between the Russian Social-Democrats and this party. On the other hand, no Russian Social-Democrat has ever “repented” of the close relations and unity that have been established with the Polish Social-Democrats. The Polish Social-Democrats have rendered a great historical service by creating the first really Marxist, proletarian party in Poland, a country imbued with nationalist aspirations and passions. Yet the service the Polish Social-Democrats have rendered is a great one, not because Rosa Luxemburg has talked a lot of nonsense about §9 of the Russian Marxists’ Programme, but despite that sad circumstance.

The question of the “right to self-determination” is of course not so important to the Polish Social-Democrats as it is to the Russian. It is quite understandable that in their zeal (sometimes a little excessive, perhaps) to combat the nationalistically blinded petty bourgeoisie of Poland the Polish Social-Democrats should overdo things. No Russian Marxist has ever thought of blaming the Polish Social-Democrats for being opposed to the secession of Poland. These Social-Democrats err only when, like Rosa Luxemburg, they try to deny the necessity of including the recognition of the right to self-determination in the Programme of the Russian Marxists.

Virtually, this is like attempting to apply relationships, understandable by Cracow standards, to all the peoples and nations inhabiting Russia, including the Great Russians. It means being “Polish nationalists the wrong way round”, not Russian, not international Social-Democrats.

For international Social-Democracy stands for the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination. This is what we shall now proceed to discuss.


[1] Since the majority of the Norwegian nation was in favour of a monarchy while the proletariat wanted a republic, the Norwegian proletariat was, generally speaking, confronted with the alternative: either revolution, if conditions were ripe for it, or submission to the will of the majority and prolonged propaganda and agitation work. —Lenin

[2] Naprzod (Forward)—central organ of the Social-Democratic Party of Galicia and Silesia, published in Cracow beginning with 1892. The newspaper, which was a vehicle of petty-bourgeois nationalist ideas, was described by Lenin as “a very bad, and not at all Marxist organ”.

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