[Marxism] Re: Stalinism and the 1913 pamphlet on the national question

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Thu Dec 28 17:13:03 MST 2006

Louis writes, "Lenin's evolution on the national question had less to do
with the economics of imperialism than it did with seeing the
anti-capitalist dynamic of such struggles, even when they appeared to fall
short of socialist expectations." 

I think the concept of capitalism as a world system, and not the specifics
of the economic analysis, is really the heart and soul of Lenin's view of
imperialism. And this concept is essential to his position on the Easter
Rising which Louis quotes.

What you won't find in Lenin before WWI is the idea that capitalism as a
WORLD system has divided the globe between a handful or robber states and a
big majority of oppressed and exploited nations, territories and peoples.

But this has tremendous importance in how you analyze the national question,
because it stops being mainly a movement of the rising bourgeoisie against
precapitalist economic, social and state institutions in which the countries
of the East are belatedly following the footsteps of Western Europe, leading
to essentially reproducing the same kind of society, and the national
movements become INSTEAD attacks on foreign domination, on the world
imperialist system, on capitalism. 

Hence the *strategic* line of the Second Comintern Congress, "workers and
oppressed peoples of the world, unite," rather than just workers of the
world, unite.

And while imperialism in some senses as a completed system may not have
fully emerged until 1898, the reality that its most important political
characteristic, the division of the world between oppressor countries and
oppressed territories/nations/peoples, as a TENDENCY, had existed for
hundreds of years, was inextricably intertwined with the emergence of
capitalism as a dominant economic system, and was evident to at least some
advanced revolutionary fighters (like José Martí) long before Lenin's

I believe that the truth is that Marx and Engels, despite powerful passages
in various works condemning the crimes of capitalist colonialism, and
pointing to looting of colonies as one of the mainsprings of capitalist
development, did not see that this dividing of the world into oppressor
nations and oppressed peoples/territories was a tendency inherent in
capitalism as a world system; they expected instead a replication of the
English pattern elsewhere (with all sorts of national peculiarities, of
course) as had indeed happened during their lifetimes in Western Europe. And
it is precisely this that the left wing of the Second International also did
not understand. 

In the specific case of Lenin and his friends, if you look at the Stalin
articles --said to have been written under Lenin's guidance, and dated Jan.
1913-- and Lenin's own work on "The Right of Nations to Self Determination"
(finished in May, 1914) the basic analytical framework is the same. National
movements are a phenomenon of emerging capitalism in territories beginning
to take the "West European" road of development.

Nevertheless, whereas the nationalism of the oppressor had been largely
ignored in 1913, by 1914 it is singled out in Lenin's work. I don't think
this is due to "differences" between Lenin and Stalin but rather that the
dynamic of the debate sharpened and helped develop further the views of
Lenin and his friends. Still, even in May 1914 the central importance of the
nationalism of the oppressor doesn't receive its due because they don't YET
understand where it comes from, which is the rivalry of imperialist powers
vying for domination of the capitalist world system, nor have looked closely
at its immediate material basis among a layer of working people, which is
the relatively privileged position of an "aristocracy of labor" in the
imperialist countries.

What would drive the point home was the collapse of the second international
a few months later.

While his comments on the 1916 Easter Rising show that by then he had come
to pretty much his final outlook, Lenin's changed views on the national
question did not find full and systematic expression until AFTER 1917. This
is important in one respect because Lenin, when he finally deals with the
question systematically, doesn't really answer the question of what road of
national development a succesful national revolutionary movement should
take. Instead, he has an immediate political proposal, which is that such
countries should adopt the Soviet system of government and join an expanding
union of soviet republics (and, I'm sure in his own mind, he was thinking
"for the relatively brief period it is going to take to finish capitalism in
Western Europe, at least now that we've got the ball rolling"). Already in
the 1916 comments you see Lenin's thinking colored by the imminence of
socialist revolution; but AFTER 1917, it is the REALITY of socialist
revolution ON THE GROUND straddling a great part of the Eurasian land mass
that completely changes everything, and makes the impossible possible. 

And if you compare the somewhat convoluted draft theses that  he prepared
before the Second Comintern Congress with the simplicity and clarity of his
report to the Congress itself on those theses as amended by a special
commission of delegates and the supplementary theses also adopted by the
commission, I think the logical conclusion is that his post-1917 views were
systematized and cohered in the course of those discussions leading up to
and at that Congress itself.

Perhaps the most telling point is his explanation in the report of the
decision to STOP talking in terms of "bourgeois democratic" national
movements and talk instead about "national revolutionary" movements,
becauese it symbolizes and captures in a very clear, sharp way the change in
TONE, ATTITUDE and STANCE of the revolutionary workers movement in relation
to national movements of oppressed peoples.

And in fact, it marked a RETURN to the political approach of Marx and Engels
in the case of national movements of oppressed peoples that they were most
familiar with, the Polish and Irish national movements (speaking here
broadly of aspirations of a people, not specific political groups). 


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