[Marxism] Stalinism and the 1913 pamphlet on the national question (was: Talkin about a union and the Swift raids)

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Sat Dec 23 08:28:07 MST 2006

Charles Brown says in relation to my comments on the 1913 Bolshevik pamphlet
on Marxism and the National Question, "CB: Indeed, lets get that compulsory
'anti-Stalinist' declaration  out of the way so we can have some serious

As I hope my description would have made clear, at least to people
conversant with the history, the positions expressed in the 1913 pamphlet on
Marxism and the National Question didn't have anything to do with
"Stalinism," whether you're for it, against it, or indifferent. It was a
summary of the commonly-held views in the left wing of social democracy at
that time, and, in particular, of Lenin's views. 

"Stalinism" --which arose in the 1920's-- undoubtedly had a great deal to do
with it being looked up to by some currents, but on the other hand, that
should have doomed it with others, and it did not. In fact, the pamphlet was
recommended and studied in the Trotskyist SWP as it was in Maoist groups and
pro-Moscow groups. 

Others may want to propose their own explanations for why this would have
been the case, but I think the reasons for the pamphlet's continuing
acceptance is its relentless class reductionism, its trenchant hostility to
"all nationalism" but in reality the nationalism of the oppressed, since it
is blind to the nationalism of the oppressor, and its reassuring line that
simply by fighting prejudice and discrimination and adding a pro-forma
"defend the right to self-determination" line to the party program, the
national question can be rendered harmless. Thus it corresponds to the
outlook of oppressor nationality workers who are radical minded but
nevertheless mostly blind to their own nationalism -- not flag waving cheap
patriotism but the subtler kind that finds its expression in unspoken and
even unconscious assumptions of superiority and a blindness to that social

I have written here before at some length why the pamphlet is all wrong; I'm
not going to repeat it now.

The influence of this pamphlet among pretty much all Marxist currents in
turn helped to fuel long-running debates about whether Blacks were a nation
and similar topics. I called these debates "silly"; Charles Brown disagrees,
saying "There's been a lot of serious debate on the Left on the subject as
well. It's a touchstone issue for the topic you are agitating on." But
Stalin's "materialist" criteria of what is or is not a nation leaves out the
two most important factors in nation-formation in the modern epoch, number
1, imperialist national oppression and number two, the reaction against it
by the oppressed by coming together as a people.

The failure of this theory of the national question is shown by how
completely the Bolsheviks, including Lenin, and other revolutionary minded
social democrats were blind-sided by the collapse of the Second
International in August 1914, so much so that Lenin initially suspected that
the newspaper reports of the German social democracy's capitulation to the
war hysteria were police fabrications.

In a sense Charles is right that these debates were taken up with the utmost
seriousness but it is simply not very useful on the kinds of terms it was
carried out. 


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