Stalin on Yugoslavia, 1925

Chris Burford cburford at
Fri Aug 11 08:05:16 MDT 1995

Leo asked for clarification of the marxist approach to the national
question without relying on Lenin or Stalin's six point definition of
a nation. Someone else chimed in to say we should not rely on Lenin,
Stalin or Trotsky.

One of the ironies of studying more on the national question is for
me a realisation that Stalin, so much the tyrant over nations in the
thirties and forties, really has to be credited, no doubt partly for
his own motives as a Georgian, with giving great attention to the
national question both before and after the revolution. It must have
made a crucial contribution to the great majority of the national groups of
the former Tsarist Empire coming over mainly voluntarily to the Soviet

Stalin's first major study, "Marxism and the National Question",
January 1913 predates Lenin's contributions and was clearly taken
seriously by Lenin, whose own major articles I understand are as follows

Oct-Dec 1913 Critical Remarks on the National Question
Feb-Mar 1914 The Right of Nations to Self-Determination
Jan-Feb 1916 The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to
               Self Determination
July    1916 The Discussion on Self-Determination summed up.

As Leo indicates, Stalin had an overclear, pedagogical style, that
gives neat shopping lists. I cannot help thinking that this was one of
the factors that won him supremacy over Trotsky in 1924/1925.
His Foundations of Leninism at that time, are clearly a crisp and
confident claim to the mantle of Lenin, and include a chapter on the
national question.

With apologies to Scott Marshall, but I believe a Central Committee
consisting of 100 pure industrial proletarians, would not have protected
the party from the attractions of the crispness of Stalin's formulas,
unless the party was also imbued with an understanding of dialectics.
In fact I fear it would have made things worse.

In some ways I think his crisp polemical style, sort of institutionalised
Lenin's ideological excursions against opportunism.

Nevertheless when actually read, Stalin's writing on the national question
are also very thoughtful.

I found in my second hand marxist library a speech of March 1925 on
The National Question in Yugoslavia. It is not entirely irrelevant today.
After neatly disposing of an unfortunate Comrade Semich, he says

"We must also bear in mind the circumstances that Yugoslavia is not a fully
independent country, that she is tied up with certain imperialist groups,
and that, consequently, she cannot escape the great play of forces that
is at work outside of Yugoslavia. If you are drawing up a national
programme for the Yugoslavian Party (and that is precisely what we are now
dealing with), you must remember that this programme must be based not
only on what exists at present, but also on what is developing and what
will inevitably occur by virtue of international relations. That is why
I think that the question of the right of nations to self-determination
should be regarded as an immediate and burning question."

Earlier he had warned of the danger of under-estimating "the potential
might latent, for example, in the movement of the Croats for national
emancipation. This underestimation is pregnant with serious
complications for the whole of the Yugoslav Communist Party."

After stressing that the "postulate of a revolution must be the starting
point of the national programme", and repeating the importance of a
special point on the right of nations to self determination, he went on
to make a specific point on *nationalities*.

"Finally, the programme should include a special point providing for
national territorial autonomy for those nationalities in Yugoslavia which
do not find it necessary to secede from that country. Those who think
that such a contingency must be excluded are wrong. That is a mistake.

Under certain circumstances, as a result of the victory of the Soviet
revolution in Yugoslavia, it may well be that on the analogy of what
occurred in Russia, certain nationalities will not desire to secede. It
is therefore clear that it is necessary to provide for such a contingency
and have in the programme a point on autonomy, with a view to the
transformation of the state of Yugoslavia into a federation of
autonomous national states based on the Soviet system."

Although Stalin was arrogant and ruthless, these comments I think are
more than the product of one mind, and to some extent reflect discussions
and experiences of a wide nature. That is why they are arguably relevant
as a pointer to what has been assumed to be a marxist policy on
the national question in Yugoslavia. What would be still closer, would
be some passages from Tito.

Can anyone help?

Chris B, London

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list