Iskra, No. 33, Feburary 1, 1903.
Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 326-329.
Translated: ??? ???
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
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A new Social-Democratic organisation has made its appearance in the Caucasus: The League of Armenian Social-Democrats. This League, as we know, began its practical activities over half a year ago and already has its own paper, published in Armenian. We have received the first issue of this paper, which is called Proletariat and next to its title carries the inscription “Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.” It contains a number of articles, commentaries, and reports dealing with the social and political conditions which have called into existence the League of Armenian Social-Democrats, and giving a general outline of the programme of its activities.
The leading article, “Manifesto of the Armenian Social- Democrats,” states: “In its activities, the League of Armenian Social-Democrats, as one of the branches of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party which extends the net work of its organisations far and wide over the entire expanse of Russia, is in complete accord with the R.S.D.L.P., and will fight together with it for the interests of the Russian proletariat in general, and of the Armenian proletariat in particular.” Further, after referring to the rapid development of capitalism in the Caucasus and the monstrously powerful and manifold results of this process, the authors go on to speak of the present state of the working-class movement in the Caucasus. In the industrial centres of the Caucasus, such as Baku, Tiflis, and Batum, with their big capitalist establishments and numerous industrial proletariat, this movement has already struck deep roots. However, because of the extremely low cultural level of the Caucasian workers, their struggle against the employers has naturally been of a more or less instinctive, spontaneous nature till now. A force was necessary which could unite the workers’ scattered forces, give their demands articulate form and develop class-consciousness among them. That force is socialism.
Then, after briefly setting forth the main theses of scientific socialism, the League explains its stand in relation to the present-day trends in international, and, in particular, Russian, Social-Democracy. “The attainment of the socialist ideal,” says the Manifesto, “is, in our opinion, conceivable neither through the working class’ efforts in the economic sphere nor through partial political and social reforms; it is possible only by completely smashing the entire existing system, by means of a social revolution, to which the political dictatorship of the proletariat must he the necessary prologue.” Then, pointing out that the existing political system in Russia is hostile to every social movement, especially to that of the working class, the League declares that it sets itself the immediate task of politically educating the Armenian proletariat and drawing it into the struggle of the entire Russian proletariat for the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy. Without at all denying the need for the partial economic struggle of the workers against the employers, the League, however, does not consider it of importance in itself. The League recognises this struggle insofar as it improves the material condition of the workers and helps develop political consciousness and class solidarity among them.
Of particular interest to us is the League’s attitude towards the national question. “Taking into consideration,” says the Manifesto, “that the Russian state is made up of many different nationalities at varying levels of cultural development, and believing that only the extensive development of local self-government can safeguard the interests of these heterogeneous elements, we deem essential the establishment of a federative [italics ours] republic in the future free Russia. As to the Caucasus, in view of the extremely diverse national composition of its population, we shall strive to unite all the local socialist elements and all the workers of the various nationalities; we shall strive to create a united and strong Social-Democratic organisation, for a more successful struggle against the autocracy. In the future Russia we shall recognise the right of all nations to free self-determination, since we regard national freedom as being only one of the aspects of civil liberties in general. Proceeding from this proposition, and taking into account the above-mentioned diverse national composition of the Caucasus and the absence of geographical boundaries between the various nationalities, we do not find it possible to include in our programme the demand for political autonomy for the Caucasian peoples; we demand only autonomy in matters pertaining to cultural life, i. e., freedom of language, schools, education, etc.”
We whole-heartedly welcome the Manifesto of the League of Armenian Social-Democrats and especially its splendid attempt to give a correct presentation of the national question. It is highly desirable that this attempt be carried through to the end. Two fundamental principles by which all Social-Democrats in Russia should be guided in the national question have been quite correctly outlined by the League. These are, firstly, the demand for political and civil liberties and complete equality, rather than for national autonomy; and, secondly, the demand for the right to self-determination for every nationality forming part of the state. But neither of these principles is as yet quite consistently brought out by the League of Armenian Social-Democrats. As a matter of fact, is it possible from the Armenian Social-Democrats’ point of view to speak of the demand for a federative republic? Federation presupposes autonomous national political units, whereas the League rejects the demand for national autonomy. To be fully consistent, the League should delete the demand for a federative republic from its programme, confining itself to the demand for a democratic republic in general. It is not the business of the proletariat to preach federalism and national autonomy; it is not the business of the proletariat to advance such demands, which inevitably amount to a demand for the establishment of an autonomous class state. It is the business of the proletariat to rally the greatest possible masses of workers of each and every nationality more closely, to rally them for struggle in the broadest possible arena for a democratic republic and for socialism. And since the state arena in which we are working today was created and is being maintained and extended by means of a series of outrageous acts of violence, then, to make the struggle against all forms of exploitation and oppression successful,we must not disperse but unite the forces of the working class, which is the most oppressed and the most capable of fighting. The demand for recognition of every nationality’s right to self-determination simply implies that we, the party of the proletariat, must always and unconditionally oppose any attempt to influence national self-determination from without by violence or injustice. While at all times performing this negative duty of ours (to fight and protest against violence), we on our part concern ourselves with the self-determination of the proletariat in each nationality rather than with self-determination of peoples or nations. Thus, the general, basic and ever-binding programme of Russian Social-Democracy must consist only in the demand for equal rights for all citizens (irrespective of sex, language, creed, race, nationality, etc.) and for their right to free democratic self-determination. As to support of the demand for national autonomy, it is by no means a permanent and binding part of the programme of the proletariat. This support may become necessary for it only in isolated and exceptional cases. With regard to Armenian Social-Democracy, the League of Armenian Social-Democrats has itself recognised the absence of such exceptional circumstances.
We hope to return to the question of federalism and nationality.[See pp. 454-63 of this volume.–Ed.] For the time being we shall conclude by once again welcoming a new member of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party—the League of Armenian Social Democrats.