Lenin, secession and the national question

James M. Blaut 70671.2032 at SPAMcompuserve.com
Fri Dec 31 18:55:19 MST 1999

Lenin commissioned Stalin to do a big article on the national question, in
order to counter, mainly, two 1912-13 attacks on the Bolshevik position:

1) The Bund was demanding organizational autonomy in the RSDLP, as a
basicaally distinct party within the RSDLP, using Bauer's and the Austrian
party's theory that nations don't have to have definitie terrirory (the
Bund claimed that Jews were a nation although they didn't occupy a definite
territory and, being a nation, the Jewish socialist movement, the Bund, had
the same righht to constitue a distinct national party as did other nations
in russia).

2) Some RSDLP members, influenced particularly by Luxemburg, were demanding
that the party discard the plank in the party program (the famous Ninth
Point) that proclasimed the right of self-determnination for all nations
within Russia. They attacked it as nationalism. They claimed that this
plank merely encouraged bourgeois nationalism. Lenin believed, however,
that the Luxemburgian position was, itself, narrow nationalism, Russian
nationalism, because it (like the Austrians') wanted to maintain the
emppire intact and not dismantle the empire by permitting opprerssed
nastions within Russia to secede and become independent.

But how do you oppose bourgeois nationalism and at the same time defend the
Bolshevik position, that all nations have the right of self-determination
-- of full indepenbdence? This was really the central problem that Stalin
had to deal with persuasively. He did it mainly by making two arguments:
First: a society deserves the right of self-deteremination only if it is a
real nation: and nations must occupy a definite territory. Second:
independent nations are the proper strategy of the rising bourgeoisie as it
fights for political power against feudalism; hence the right of
self-determination is essential to the struuggles against the archaic
Russian empire -- but the right was not a part of the struggle AGAINST the
bourgeoisie. StaLIN'S essay was effective.

However,after the start of the World War, the issue of the
self-determination plank in the Bolshevik (RSDLP) program heated up again.
Luxemburg, Radek, and Bukharin fought against Lenin on this issue. Their
position was still: all natioinalism is bourgeois and you don't defend it.
Now, however, Lenin was fighting also on another front: internationally. In
1914 or 1915 he firmly decided that colonies deserved the right of SD and
would win independence, even before the demise of capitalism on a world
scale. He also understood that independence was in the interests of the
exploited classes, not just the bouyrgeoisie, in oppressed nations. He saw
that a characteristic of imperialism was to intensify national oppression
and the struggle against imperialism incorporated the struggle for
self-determination. He called his opponents' position "imperialist
economism" -- economism in the period of imperialism (because it dismissed
politicasl struggles short of the revolution itself).

Lenin never thereafter (after 1914) made reference to Stalin's theory
because it clearly did not apply to the era of imperialism and to colonial
nations. Stalin had argued that "the nation is a historical category
belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism." Lenin said
in 1915, "imperialism is the the era of the oppression of nations on a new
historical basis." In fact, "the division of nations into oppreossor asnd
opprerssed...forms the *essence* of imperialism." No more about nations
dissolving as capitalism matures. Stalkin had said in his 1913 essay, "in
the early stages of capitalism nations become welded together" but later "a
process of dispersion sets in." "Since when have Socil Democrats begun to
occupy thermxselves with 'organizing' nations,''constituting' nations,
'creating' nations?" (Works, 3:340). But that was precisely what the
sturggle against colonialism entailed.

If you read Stalin's essay, you will see that it really denounces -- or at
least dismisses  as irrelevant --national struggles of all types (within
Europe and russia -- he said nothing about the wider world). This is
incompatible with Lenin's view after he analyzed imperialism, and with
modern struggles for self-ddetermination. Todsay, Stalin's theory, and his
cookie-cutter dfinition of "nation," is mainly used by those Marxists who,
in the Luxemburgian tradition, denounce all nationalism and more or less
sneer at strugglesa of oppressed peoples for independence.

Trotsky's views, insofar as I understand them, seem to have been ambiguous.
I don't think he took the side of Luxemburg, Radek, Bukharin , et al.,
against Lenin on the prrinciple of the right of SD, point 9 in the program.
But he seems to have held to the view that nationalism is out of date. "The
war of 1914 represents first of all the collapse of the *nation-state* as a
self-sufficienteconomic area." (1914. Quoted in Horace Davis, _Toward a
Marxist Theory of Nationalism_, p. 84.) "The national state has outgrown
itself -- as the frame for the development of of the productive forces, as
the basis for the clsass struggle..." (1916. Q. in R. Daniels, _The
Conscience of the Revolution,_, p. 33.) Trotsky  was later a firm supporter
of natioinal liberation struggles. If I'm not mistaken, he fought against
Stalin's attempt to get rid of the right of self determination in
post-revolutionary Russia and substitute some sort of wishy-washy
"autonomy" instead of full independence. Lenin (from his sickbed in 1922)
certainly denounced Stalin in this regard: see his  "The Question of
Nationalities or 'Autonomization'," Works 36:605-11. But Trotsky, in a
comment that I find very strange, applauded Stalin's essay (in _Stalin_,
1967, p.p. 156-7) and said that it entitled Stalin "to recognition as an
outstanding theorist." On the other hand, Trotsky thought that Stalin's
essay had been virtually ghost-written by Lenin (same cite).

If you want more argumentation to the effect that Stalin's theory  was seen
by Lenin (and almost everyone else today) as out-of-date, check out my book
_The National Question_ or my article in MR 1977, or an article entitled
"Nationalism as an autonomous force" in S&S 1982.

Happy New Millennium!


Jim B

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