N.I. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism

Chapter 7: Communism and the Problem of Nationality

§ 55. The oppression of subject nationalities

One of the forms of the oppression of man by man is the oppression of subject nationalities. Among the barriers by which human beings are separated, we have, in addition to the barriers of class, those of national disunity, of national enmity and hatred.

National enmity and ill-feeling are among the means by which the proletariat is stupefied and by which its class consciousness is dulled. The bourgeoisie knows how to cultivate these sentiments skilfully in order to promote its own interests.

Let us consider how class-conscious proletarians should approach the problem of nationality, and how they can best solve it so as to further the speedy victory of communism.

A nation or a people is the name given to a group of persons who are united by the use of a common tongue and who inhabit a definite area. There are additional characteristics of nationality, but these two are the most important and the most fundamental.1)

A few examples will help us to understand what is meant by the oppression of a subject nationality. The tsarist government persecuted the Jews, forbade them to live in certain parts of Russia, refused to admit them into the State service, restricted their entry into the schools, organized anti-Jewish pogroms, etc. The tsarist government, moreover, would not allow the Ukrainians to have their children taught the Ukrainian language in the schools. The issue of newspapers in the Ukrainian tongue was forbidden. None of the subject nationalities in Russia were even permitted to decide whether they wished to form part of the Russian State or not.

The German government closed the Polish schools. The Austrian government prohibited the use of the Czech language and forcibly imposed German upon the Czechs. The British bourgeoisie regards the indigens of Africa and Asia with contempt; it subjugates the backward semi-savage peoples, plunders them, and shoots them down when they attempt to deliver themselves from the British yoke.

In a word, when in any State the people of one nation possess all rights and the people of another nation possess only a part of these rights; when one nation, the weaker nation, has been forcibly united to a stronger nation; when the stronger nation has against the will of the weaker nation imposed upon the latter a foreign tongue, foreign customs, etc.; when the people of the weaker nation are not allowed to lead their own lives then we have what is termed oppression of a subject nationality, we have national enslavement.

§ 56. The unity of the proletariat

First of all, however, we must propound and decide an extremely important and fundamental problem. Should the Russian worker and the Russian peasant look upon the Germans, the French, the British, the Jews, the Chinese, or the Tartars, as enemies, irrespective of the class to which these belong? Are the Russian workers and peasants entitled to hate or to regard with suspicion those who belong to another nation, for the sole reason that these latter speak a different tongue, that their skins are black or yellow, that they have different customs and laws? Obviously, this would be quite wrong. The German workers, the French workers, the Negro workers, are just as much proletarians as the Russians are. No matter what tongue the workers of other lands may speak, the essential feature of their condition lies in this, that they are all exploited by capital, that they are all comrades, that they all alike suffer from poverty, oppression, and injustice.

Is the Russian worker to love the Russian capitalist because his fellow- countryman abuses him in the familiar Russian terms, because his employer cuffs him with a Russian fist, or lashes him with a Russian whip? Of course not. Nor is the German workman likely to love the German capitalist any better because the latter taunts him in the German language and after the German fashion. The workers of all lands are brothers of one class, and they are the enemies of the capitalists of all lands.

The same considerations apply in the case of the poor peasants of every nation. To the Russian peasant (the poor peasant or the middle peasant), the semi-proletarian peasant of Hungary, or the poor peasant of Sicily or Belgium, is nearer and dearer than can possibly be the rich peasant of his own land who exploits him, or the skinflint landlord who happens to be born on Russian soil and to speak the Russian tongue.

But the workers of the whole world must not merely recognize themselves to be brothers by class, to be brothers in oppression and slavery. It would do no good if they were to rest content with railing against their capitalist compatriots in their respective tongues; if in each land the sufferers were to wipe one another's tears, and only within their own State were to carry on the struggle against the enemy. Brothers in oppression and slavery must be brothers in one world-wide league for the struggle with the capitalists. Forgetting all the national differences that tend to hinder union, they must unite in one great army to carry on a joint war against capitalism. Only by closing their ranks in such an international alliance, can they hope to conquer world capitalism. This is why, more than seventy years ago, the founders of communism, Marx and Engels, in their famous Communist Manifesto, fulminated the splendid slogan: 'Proletarians of all lands, unite!'

It is essential that the working class should overcome all national prejudices and national enmities. This is requisite, not only for the world-wide attack upon capital and for the complete overthrow of the capitalist system, but also for the organization of a single world-wide economic system. Soviet Russia cannot exist without Donetz coal, Baku mineral oil, Turkestan cotton; but it is just as true that Central and Western Europe cannot do without Russian wood, hemp, flax, and platinum, or without American wheat; it is just as true that Italy finds British coal a vital necessity, and that Britain urgently needs Egyptian cotton, etc., etc. The bourgeoisie has found itself unable to organize a world economy, and the bourgeois system has been shipwrecked upon this difficulty. The proletariat is alone competent to organize such a system with success. To this end, however, it must proclaim the watchword, 'All the world and all the wealth that it contains belong to the whole world of labour.' This watchword implies that the German workers must completely renounce their national wealth, the British theirs, and so on. If national prejudice and national greed oppose the internationalization of industry and agriculture, away with them, wherever they may show themselves and under whatever colours they may sail!

§ 57. The causes of national enmity

But it does not suffice that the communists should declare war on the oppression of nationalities and upon national prejudices, that they should advocate international unity in the struggle against capitalism, and that they should desire to found a world-wide economic alliance of the victorious proletariat. We must seek a far quicker way towards the overthrow of all jingoism and national egoism, of national stupidity and pride, of mutual mistrust among the workers of the various nations. This legacy from a brutal period of human life and from the brutal nationalist quarrel of the feudal and capitalist epochs, still hangs like a heavy burden round the neck of the world proletariat.

National enmities are of very ancient date. There was a time when the different tribes were not content with fighting one another for lands and forests, but when the men of one tribe would actually eat those of another. Remnants of this brutal mistrust and enmity between nation and nation, between race and race, continue to exist between the workers and peasants of all lands. These vestiges of intertribal enmity are gradually dying out; in proportion as world commerce develops, as economic contact ensues, as migrations and minglings bring people of various stocks into close association on the same territory; but especially do they die out owing to the universality of the class struggle of the workers of all lands. Yet these vestiges of intertribal enmity do not merely fail to become extinct, but actually glow with renewed life, when to the old causes of national ill-feeling there is superadded an antagonism of class interests or the appearance of such antagonism.

The bourgeoisie in each country exploits and oppresses the proletariat of its own land. But it does its utmost to convince its own proletariat that the latter's enemies are not to be found among bourgeois fellow-countrymen, but among the peoples of other lands. The German bourgeoisie cries to the German workers, 'Down with the French! Down with the English!' The British bourgeoisie cries to the British workers, 'Down with the Germans!' The bourgeoisies of all countries, especially of late, join in the cry, 'Down with the Jews!' The aim of this is to switch off the class struggle of the workers against their capitalist oppressors, into a struggle between nationalities.

The bourgeoisie, however, in its desire to divert the workers' minds from the struggle for socialism, is not content with inflaming national hatred. It endeavours in addition to give the workers a material interest in the oppression of other peoples. During the recent war, when the bourgeois were chanting the German national anthem 'Germany, Germany above all', the bourgeois economists of Germany tried to convince the German workers that the latter stood to gain a great deal from the victory, stood to gain from the oppression and plunder of the workers of the conquered lands. Before the war the bourgeoisie made a practice of bribing the leaders of the working class with the lure of the profits derivable from colonial plunder and from the oppression of backward and weakly nationalities. The workers of the more advanced European lands, acting on the instigation of the most highly paid members of the working class, acceded to the proposals of the capitalists, and allowed themselves to be talked over by the jingo socialists into accepting the belief that they too would have a fatherland if only they would acquiesce in the plunder of the colonies and of the partially dependent nations. The worker who, under capitalism, proclaims himself a patriot, is selling for a copper or two his real fatherland, which is socialism; and thereby he becomes one of the oppressors of the backward and weak nations.

§ 58. The equal rights of the nations and the right to self-determination; federation

The Communist Party, declaring a relentless war upon all oppression of man by man, takes a decisive stand against that oppression of subject nationalities which is indispensable to the existence of the bourgeois system. Even more relentlessly do communists resist the slightest participation in this oppression on the part of the working class. It does not suffice, however, that the proletariat of a great and strong country should re pudiate all attempts at the oppression of the other peoples which the bourgeoisie or the aristocracy of its own land has crushed. It is also essential that the proletarians of oppressed nations should not feel any mistrust of their comrades who belong to the lands of the oppressors. When the Czechs were oppressed by the German bourgeoisie of Austria, the Czech workers looked upon all Germans as their oppressors. Our tsarist government oppressed the Poles, and the population of Poland has con tinued to cherish mistrust of all Russians; not merely of the Russian tsar, the Russian landlord, and the Russian capitalist. If we are to eradicate the mistrust felt by the workers of op pressed nations for the workers of oppressor nations, we must not merely proclaim national equality, but must realize it in practice. This equality must find expression in the granting of equal rights in the matter of language, education, religion, etc. Nor is this all. The proletariat must be ready to grant complete national self- determination, must be ready, that is, to concede to the workers who form the majority in any nation the full right to decide the question whether that nation is to be completely integrated with the other, or is to be federated with it, or is to be entirely separated from it.

Is it possible, the reader will ask, that the communists can advocate the severance of the nations? How then will come into existence that unified proletarian world-embracing State which the communists aspire to found? There seems to be a contradiction here.

There is no contradiction, however. In order to secure as speedily as possible the full union of all the workers of the world, it is sometimes necessary to countenance the temporary separation of one nation from another.

Let us consider the circumstances in which such a course may be requisite. We will suppose that in Bavaria, which now forms part of Germany, a Soviet republic has been declared, while at Berlin the bourgeois dictatorship of Noske and Scheidemann still prevails. Is it right for the Bavarian communists, in that case, to strive for the independence of Bavaria? Certainly! And not only the Bavarian communists, but also the communists of other parts of Germany, must welcome the separation of Soviet Bavaria, for this will not be a separation from the German proletariat, but will be a deliverance from the yoke of the German bourgeoisie.

Here is the obverse example. A Soviet republic has been proclaimed throughout Germany, Bavaria alone excepted. The Bavarian bourgeoisie desires separation from Soviet Germany, but the Bavarian proletariat desires union. What should the communists do? It is obvious that the communists of Germany should help the Bavarian workers, and should offer armed resistance to the separatist endeavours of the Bavarian bourgeoisie. This would not be the oppression of Bavaria, but the oppression of the Bavarian bourgeoisie.

Again, the Soviet Power has been proclaimed both in England and in Ireland, both in the land of the oppressors and in the land of the oppressed. Furthermore, the Irish workers will not trust the English workers, who belong to a country which has oppressed Ireland for centuries. From the economic point of view, the separation will be harmful. What course should the English communists pursue in these circumstances? Whatever happens, they must not use force, as the English bourgeoisie has done, to maintain the union with Ireland. They must grant the Irish absolute freedom to separate. Why must they do this?

First of all, because it is necessary to convince the Irish workers that the oppression of Ireland has been the work of the English bourgeoisie and not of the English proletariat. The English workers have to win the Irish workers' confidence.

Secondly, because the Irish workers will have to learn by experience that it is disadvantageous for them to form a small independent State. They will have to learn by experience that production in Ireland cannot be properly organized unless Ireland is in close political and economic union with proletarian England and other proletarian lands.

Finally, take the case of a nation with a bourgeois government which wishes to separate from a nation with a proletarian I regime, and let us suppose that, in the nation which desires to separate, the majority of the workers or a notable proportion of them are in favour of the separation. We may suppose that the workers of the separating country are distrustful, not only of the capitalists, but also of the workers belonging to the country whose bourgeoisie has oppressed them in the past. Even in this case it would be better to allow the proletariat of the separating land to come to terms in its own way with its own bourgeoisie, for otherwise the latter would retain the power of saying: ' It is not I who oppress you, but the people of such and such a country.' The working class will speedily realize that the bourgeoisie has desired independence that it may independently flay its own proletariat. The workers will speedily realize, moreover, that the proletariat of the neighbouring Soviet State desires the union, not for the sake of exploiting or oppressing the workers of the smaller land, but that all the workers may join in a common struggle for deliverance from exploitation and oppression.

Although, therefore, communists are, as a general principle, opposed to the severance of one nation from another, especially when the lands in question have close economic ties, they can nevertheless countenance temporary separations. They will act as a mother acts when she allows her child to burn its fingers once that it may dread the fire evermore.

§ 59. Who expresses the "Will of the Nation"?

The Communist Party recognizes that the nations have the right to self- determination even up to the point of secession; but it considers that the working majority of the nation and not the bourgeoisie embodies the will of the nation. It would, therefore, be more accurate to say that when we speak of recognizing the right of the nations to self-determination, we are referring to the right of the working majority in any nation. As far as the bourgeoisie is concerned, inasmuch as during the period of civil war and proletarian dictatorship we deprive it of civic freedoms, we deprive it also of the right to any voice in the question of national affairs.

What have we to say concerning the right of self-determination and the right of secession in the case of nations at a comparatively low or extremely low level of cultural development? What is to happen to nations which not only have no proletariat, but have not even a bourgeoisie, or if they have it, have it only in an immature form? Consider, for example, the Tunguses, the Kalmucks, or the Buryats, who inhabit Russian territory. What is to be done if these nations demand complete separation from the great civilized nations? Still more, what is to be done if they wish to secede from nations which have realized socialism? Surely to permit such secessions would be to strengthen barbarism at the expense of civilization?

We are of opinion that when socialism has been realized in the more advanced countries of the world, the backward and semi-savage peoples will be perfectly willing to join-the general alliance of the peoples. The imperialist bourgeoisie which has seized its colonial possessions and has annexed them by force has good reason to fear the secession of the colonies. The proletariat, having no desire to plunder the colonies, can procure from them by the exchange of goods such raw materials as are required, and can leave to the natives of backward lands the right to arrange their own internal affairs as they please. The Communist Party, therefore, wishing to put an end for ever to all forms of national oppression and national inequality, voices the demand for the national right of self- determination.

The proletariat of all lands will avail itself of this right, first of all in order to destroy nationalism, and secondly in order to form a voluntary federative league.

When this federative league proves incompetent to establish a world- wide economic system, and when the great majority has been convinced of its inadequacy by actual experience, the time will have come for the creation of one world-wide socialist republic.

If we examine the manner in which the bourgeoisie propounded and solved the problem of nationality (or, as mostly happened, complicated the issue), we see that in the days of its youth the capitalist class dealt with questions of nationality in one fashion, and that in the days of its old age and decay it is dealing with them quite differently.

When the bourgeoisie was an oppressed class, when the aristocracy headed by a king or a tsar held the reins of power, when kings and tsars gave away whole peoples as their daughters' dowries, then the bourgeoisie was not merely accustomed to say fine things about the freedom of the nations, but actually attempted to realize such freedoms in practice - or at least the bourgeoisie of each nation did so as far as its own case was concerned. For example, when Italy was ruled by the Austrian crown, the Italian bourgeoisie headed the movement for national independence, endeavouring to secure the deliverance of Italy from the foreign yoke and its union to form a single state. When Germany was split up into a large number of petty princedoms and was crushed beneath the heel of Napoleon, the German bourgeoisie endeavoured to promote the union of Germany into a single great State, and it fought for the deliverance of the country from the French enslavers. When France, having overthrown the autocracy of Louis XVI, was attacked by the monarchical States of the rest of Europe, the revolutionary French bourgeoisie led the defence of the country and composed the national anthem known as the Marseillaise. In a word, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations always took the van in the struggle for deliverance; it created a rich national literature; it produced numerous men of genius painters, prose writers, poets, and philosophers. This is what happened in earlier days, when the bourgeoisie was an oppressed class.

Why did the bourgeoisie of oppressed nations strive on behalf of national freedom? If we are to listen to bourgeois poets, if we are to heed the works of bourgeois artists, the motive which animated the bourgeoisie was its hatred of all national oppression, its longing for the freeing and self-determination of every national stock, however small. In truth, when the bourgeoisie in any country fought for the deliverance of that country from a foreign yoke, it was fighting for the establishment of its own bourgeois State; for the power of fleecing the people of its own land without any competition on the part of other exploiters; for the right to the whole of the surplus value created by the town and country workers of their own land.

The history of all capitalist countries bears witness to this truth. When the bourgeoisie is oppressed in conjunction with the working people of its own nation, it clamours for the freedom of the nations in general, and insists upon the wrongfulness of any kind of national enslavement. But as soon as the capitalist class has secured power and has expelled the foreign conquerors be these aristocrats or bourgeois - it does its utmost to subjugate any weak nationality whose subjugation may seem profitable. The revolutionary French bourgeoisie, as represented by Danton, Robespierre, and the other noted figures of the first epoch of the revolution, appealed to all the people of the world on behalf of deliverance from every form of tyranny; the Marseillaise, written by Rouget de l'Isle, and sung by the armies of the revolution, is dear to the hearts of all oppressed peoples. But this same French bourgeoisie, having entered the second .phase of its revolution under the régime of Napoleon, subjugated the peoples of Spain, Italy, Germany, and Austria, to the strains of the aforesaid Marseillaise, and continued to plunder them throughout the Napoleonic wars. When the German bourgeoisie was subject to oppression, such writers as Schiller with his Wilhelm Tell voiced the struggle of the peoples against foreign tyrants. But this same German bourgeoisie under the leadership of Bismarck and Moltke forcibly annexed the French provinces of AlsaceLorraine, seized Schleswig from the Danes, tyrannized over the Poles of Posen, etc. The Italian bourgeoisie, having delivered itself from the yoke of the Austrian aristocracy, was perfectly ready to shoot down the conquered Bedouins of Tripoli, the Albanians and the Dalmatians on the shores of the Adriatic, and the Turks in Anatolia.

Why did these things happen, and why do they happen now? Why has the bourgeoisie invariably voiced the demand for national freedom, and why has it never been able to realize such freedom in actual fact?

The explanation is that every bourgeois State which has freed itself from the yoke of another nation inevitably strives to extend its own dominion. In any capitalist country you please to select, you will find that the bourgeoisie is not content with the exploitation of its own proletariat. The capitalists need raw materials from all the ends of the earth. They therefore strive to acquire colonies, whence, after subjugating the natives, they can without hindrance procure the raw materials they need for their factories. They require markets for the sale of their wares, and they endeavour to find such markets in backward lands, being quite unconcerned as to how this may affect the general population or the still immature bourgeoisies of such countries. They need territories to which they can export surplus capital, so that they may extract profits from these distant workers, and they enslave such territories, disposing of them as freely as they do of their own land. If during the conquest of colonies and during the economic enslavement of backward lands, another powerful bourgeoisie is encountered as a competitor, the dispute is settled by war, and this tends to take the form of such a world war as the one which has just been finished in Europe. The great war did not end the enslavement of the colonies and of the backward lands; if any change has taken place for these, it has only been a change of masters. Furthermore, as the outcome of the war, Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria, which were free countries, have been enslaved. In this manner it has come to pass that the development of the bourgeois system, far from leading to a reduction in the number of the countries which are enslaved by other countries and by the bourgeoisies of these, has led to a positive increase in the number of enslaved lands. The bourgeois dominion has culminated in universal national oppression, for the whole world is now enslaved by the victorious group of capitalist States.

§ 60. Antisemitism and the proletariat

One of the worst forms of national enmity is antisemitism, that is to say, racial hostility towards the Jews, who belong to the Semitic stock (of which the Arabs form another great branch). The tsarist autocracy raised the hunt against the Jews in the hope of averting the workers' and peasants' revolution. 'You are poor because the Jews fleece you,' said the members of the Black Hundreds; and they endeavoured to direct the discontent of the oppressed workers and peasants away from the landlords and the bourgeoisie, and to turn it against the whole Jewish nation. Among the Jews, as among other nationalities, there are different classes. It is only the bourgeois strata of the Jewish race which exploit the people, and these bourgeois strata plunder in common with the capitalists of other nationalities. In the outlying regions of tsarist Russia, where the Jews were allowed to reside, the Jewish workers and artisans lived in terrible poverty and degradation, so that their condition was even worse than that of the ordinary workers in other parts of Russia.

The Russian bourgeoisie raised the hunt against the Jews, not only in the hope of diverting the anger of the exploited workers, but also in the hope of freeing themselves from competitors in commerce and industry.

Of late years, anti-Jewish feeling has increased among the bourgeois classes of nearly all countries. The bourgeoisie in other countries besides Russia can take example from Nicholas II in the attempt to inflame anti-Jewish feeling, not only in order to get rid of rival exploiters, but also in order to break the force of the revolutionary movement. Until recently, very little was heard of antisemitism in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Today, even British ministers of State sometimes deliver antisemitic orations. This is an infallible sign that the bourgeois system in the west is on the eve of a collapse, and that the bourgeoisie is endeavouring to ward off the workers' revolution by throwing Rothschilds and Mendelssohns to the workers as sops. In Russia, antisemitism was in abeyance during the March revolution, but the movement regained strength as the civil war between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat grew fiercer; and the attacks on the Jews became more and more bitter in proportion as the attempts of the bourgeoisie to recapture power proved fruitless.

All these considerations combine to prove that antisemitism is one of the forms of resistance to socialism. It is disastrous that any worker or peasant should in this matter allow himself to be led astray by the enemies of his class.


1) Long ago, the Jews inhabited a definite territory and possessed a common speech; today they have no territory, and many of them do not understand Hebrew. The gypsies have their own language, but they do not inhabit any definite territory. The non-nomadic Tunguses in Siberia have a territory, but they have forgotten their distinctive tongue.


Lenin, The Right of Self-Determination; Stalin, Marxism and the Problem of Nationality; Zalevsky, The International and the Problem of Nationality; Petrov, Truth and Falsehood about the Yews; Kautsky, The Yews; Bebel, Antisemitism and the Proletariat; Steklov, The Last Word in Antisemitism.