V. I.   Lenin

Critical Remarks on the National Question


It is obvious that the national question has now become prominent among the problems of Russian public life. The aggressive nationalism of the reactionaries, the transition of counter-revolutionary bourgeois liberalism to nationalism (particularly Great-Russian, but also Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, etc.), and lastly, the increase of nationalist vacillations among the different “national” (i. e., non-Great-Russian) Social-Democrats, who have gone to the length of violating the Party Programme—all these make it incumbent on us to give more attention to the national question than we have done so far.

This article pursues a special object, namely, to examine, in their general bearing, precisely these programme vacillations of Marxists and would-be Marxists, on the national question. In Severnaya Pravda[2] No. 29 (for September 5, 1913, “Liberals and Democrats on the Language Question”[1] ) I had occasion to speak of the opportunism of the liberals on the national question; this article of mine was attacked by the opportunist Jewish newspaper Zeit,[3] in an article by Mr. F. Liebman. From the other side, the programme of the Russian Marxists on the national question has been criticised by the Ukrainian opportunist Mr. Lev Yurkevich (Dzvin,[4] 1913, Nos. 7–8). Both these writers touched upon so many questions that to reply to them we are obliged to deal with the most diverse aspects of the subject. I think the most convenient thing would be to start with a reprint of the article from Severnaya Pravda.



On several occasions the newspapers have mentioned the report of the Governor of the Caucasus, a report that is noteworthy, not for its Black-Hundred[5] spirit, but for its timid “liberalism”. Among other things, the Governor objects to artificial Russification of non-Russian nationalities. Representatives of non-Russian nationalities in the Caucasus are themselves striving to teach their children Russian; an example of this is the Armenian church schools, in which the teaching of Russian is not obligatory.

Russkoye Slovo[6] (No. 198), one of the most widely circulating liberal newspapers in Russia, points to this fact and draws the correct conclusion that the hostility towards the Russian language in Russia “stems exclusively from” the “artificial” (it should have said “forced”) implanting of that language.

There is no reason to worry about the fate of the Russian language. It will itself win recognition throughout Russia,” says the newspaper. This is perfectly true, because the requirements of economic exchange will always compel the nationalities living in one state (as long as they wish to live together) to study the language of the majority. The more democratic the political system in Russia becomes, the more powerfully, rapidly and extensively capitalism will develop, the more urgently Will the requirements of economic exchange impel various nationalities to study the language most convenient for general commercial relations.

The liberal newspaper, however, hastens to slap itself in the face and demonstrate its liberal inconsistency.

Even those who oppose Russification,” it says, “would hardly be likely to deny that in a country as huge as Russia there must be one single official language, and that this language can be only Russian.”

Logic turned inside out! Tiny Switzerland has not lost anything, but has gained from having not one single official language, but three—German, French and Italian. In Switzerland 70 per cent of the population are Germans (in Russia 43 per cent are Great Russians), 22 per cent French (in Russia 17 per cent are Ukrainians) and 7 per cent Italians (in Russia 6 per cent are Poles and 4.5 per cent Byelorussians).   If Italians in Switzerland often speak French in their common parliament they do not do so because they are menaced by some savage police law (there are none such in Switzerland), but because the civilised citizens of a democratic state themselves prefer a language that is understood by a majority. The French language does not instil hatred in Italians because it is the language of a free civilised nation, a language that is not imposed by disgusting police measures.

Why should “huge” Russia, a much more varied and terribly backward country, inhibit her development by the retention of any kind of privilege for any one language? Should not the, contrary he true, liberal gentlemen? Should not Russia, if she wants to overtake Europe, put an end to every kind of privilege as quickly as possible, as completely as possible and as vigorously as possible?

If all privileges disappear, if the imposition of any one language ceases, all Slays will easily and rapidly learn to understand each other and will not be frightened by the “horrible” thought that speeches in different languages will be heard in the common parliament. The requirements of economic exchange will themselves decide which language of the given country it is to the advantage of the majority to know in the interests of commercial relations. This decision will be all the firmer because it is adopted voluntarily by a population of various nationalities, and its adoption will be the more rapid and extensive the more consistent the democracy and, as a consequence of it, the more rapid the development of capitalism.

The liberals approach the language question in the same way as they approach all political questions—like hypocritical hucksters, holding out one hand (openly)to democracy and the other (behind their backs) to the feudalists and police. We are against privileges, shout the liberals, and under cover they haggle with the feudalists for first one, then another, privilege.

Such is the nature of all liberal-bourgeois nationalism—not only Great-Russian (it is the worst of them all because of its violent character and its kinship with the Purishkeviches[7]), but Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Georgian and every other nationalism. Under the slogan of “national culture”   the bourgeoisie of all nations, both in Austria and in Russia, are in fact pursuing the policy of splitting the workers, emasculating democracy and haggling with the feudalists over the sale of the people’s rights and the people’s liberty.

The slogan of working-class democracy is not “national culture” but the international culture of democracy and the world-wide working-class movement. Let the bourgeoisie deceive the people with various “positive” national programmes. The class-conscious worker will answer the bourgeoisie—there is only one solution to the national problem (insofar as it can, in general, be solved in the capitalist world, the world of profit, squabbling and exploitation), and that solution is consistent democracy.

The proof—Switzerland in Western Europe, a country with an old culture and Finland in Eastern Europe, a country with a young culture.

The national programme of working-class democracy is: absolutely no privileges for any one nation or any one language; the solution of the problem of the political self-determination of nations, that is, their separation as states by completely free, democratic methods; the promulgation of a law for the whole state by virtue of which any measure (rural, urban or communal, etc., etc.) introducing any privilege of any kind for one of the nations and militating against the equality of nations or the rights of a national minority, shall be declared illegal and ineffective, and any citizen of the state shall have the right to demand that such a measure be annulled as unconstitutional, and that those who attempt to put it into effect be punished.

Working-class democracy contraposes to the nationalist wrangling of the various bourgeois parties over questions of language, etc., the demand for the unconditional unity and complete amalgamation of workers of all nationalities in all working-class organisations—trade union, co-operative, consumers’, educational and all others—in contradistinction to any kind of bourgeois nationalism. Only this type of unity and amalgamation can uphold democracy and defend the interests of the workers against capital—which is already international and is becoming more so—and promote the development of mankind towards a new way of life that is alien to all privileges and all exploitation.



[1] See present edition, Vol. 19, pp. 354–57.—Ed.

[2] Severnaya Pravda (Northern Truth)—one of the names of the newspaper Pravda. Pravda—a legal Bolshevik daily published in St. Petersburg. Founded on the initiative of the St. Petersburg workers in April 1912.

Pravda was a popular working-class newspaper, published with money collected by the workers themselves. A wide circle of worker-correspondents and worker-publicists formed around the newspaper. Over eleven thousand correspondence items from workers were published in a single year. Pravda had an average circulation of 40,000, with some issues running into 60,000 copies.

Lenin directed Pravda from abroad, where he was living. He wrote for the paper almost daily, gave instructions to the editorial board and rallied the Party’s best literary forces around the newspaper.

Pravda was subjected to constant police persecution. During the first year of its existence it was confiscated forty-one times, and thirty-six legal actions were brought against its editors, who served prison sentences totalling forty-seven and a half months. In the course of two years and three months Pravda was closed down eight times by the tsarist government, but reissued under new names: = Rabochaya Pravda, Severnaya Pravda, Pravda Truda, Za Pravdu, Proletarskaya Pravda, Put Pravdy, Rabochy, and Trudovaya Pravda. = On July 8 (21), 1914, on the eve of the First World War, the paper was closed down.

Publication was not resumed until after the February Revolution. Beginning from March 5(18), 1917, Pravda appeared as the Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P. Lenin joined the editorial board on April 5(18), on his return from abroad, and took over the   paper’s management. In July–October 1917 Pravda changed its name frequently owing to persecution by the Provisional Government, appearing successively as Listok Pravdy, Proletary, Rabochy, and Rabochy Put. On October 27 (November 9) the newspaper began to appear under its old name—Pravda.

[3] Zeit (Time)—a weekly,organ of the Bund, published in Yiddish in St. Petersburg from December 20, 1912 (January 2, 1913) to May 5(18), 1914.

[4] Dzvin (The Bell)—a monthly legal nationalist journal of Menshevik trend, published in the Ukrainian language in Kiev from January 1913 to the middle of 1914.

[5] The Black Hundreds—monarchist gangs formed by the tsarist police to fight the revolutionary movement. They murdered revolutionaries, assaulted progressive intellectuals and organised pogroms.

[6] Russkoye Slovo (Russian Word)—a daily, published in Moscow from 1895 (the first trial issue appeared in 1894) to July 1918. Formally non-party, the paper defended the interests of the Russian bourgeoisie from a moderate-liberal platform. News was given a wide coverage in the paper, which was the first in Russia to send special correspondents to all the large cities at home and to many foreign capitals.

[7] Purishkevich, V. M.—(1870-1920)—a big landlord and rabid reactionary (a Black-Hundred monarchist).


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