V. I.   Lenin

The Nationality of Pupils in Russian Schools

Published: Proletarskaya Pravda No. 7, December 14, 1913. Published according to the Proletarskaya Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 531-533.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: Unknown
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To obtain a more precise idea of the plan for “cultural national autonomy”, which boils down to segregating the schools according to nationality, it is useful to take the concrete data which show the nationality of the pupils attending Russian schools. For the St. Petersburg educational area such data are provided by the returns of the school census taken on January 18, 1911.

The following are the data on the distribution of pupils attending elementary schools under the Ministry of Public Education according to the native languages of the pupils. The data cover the whole of the St. Petersburg educational area, but in brackets we give the figures for the city of St. Petersburg. Under the term “Russian language” the officials constantly lump together Great-Russian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian (“Little Russian”, according to official terminology). Total pupils—265,660 (48,076).

Russian—232,618 (44,223); Polish—1,737 (780); Czech—3 (2); Lithuanian—84 (35); Lettish—1,371 (113); Zhmud—1 (0); French—14 (13); Italian—4 (4); Rumanian—2 (2); German—2,408 (845); Swedish—228 (217); Norwegian—31 (0); Danish—1 (1); Dutch—1 (0); English—8 (7); Armenian—3 (3); Gipsy—4 (0); Jewish—1,196 (396); Georgian—2 (1); Ossetian—1 (0); Finnish—10,750 (874); Karelian—3,998 (2); Chud—247 (0); Estonian—4,723 (536); Lapp—9 (0); Zyryan—6,008 (0); Samoyed—5 (0); Tatar—63 (13); Persian—1 (1); Chinese—1 (1); not ascertained—138 (7).

These are comparatively accurate figures. They show that the national composition of the population is extremely mixed, although they apply to one of the basically Great-   Russian districts of Russia. The extremely mixed national composition of the population of the large city of St. Petersburg is at once evident. This is no accident, but results from a law of capitalism that operates in all countries and in all parts of the world. Large cities, factory, metallurgical, railway and commercial and industrial centres generally, are certain, more than any other, to have very mixed populations, and it is precisely these centres that grow faster than all others and constantly attract larger and larger numbers of the inhabitants of the backward rural areas.

Now try to apply to these real-life data the lifeless utopia of the nationalist philistines called “cultural-national autonomy” or (in the language of the Bundists) “taking out of the jurisdiction of the state” questions of national culture, i.e., primarily educational affairs.

Educational affairs “shall be taken out of the jurisdiction of the state” and transferred to 23 (in St. Petersburg) “national associations” each developing “its own” “national culture”!

It would be ridiculous to waste words to prove the absurdity and reactionary nature of a “national programme” of this sort.

It is as clear as daylight that the advocacy of such a plan means, in fact, pursuing or supporting the ideas of bourgeois nationalism, chauvinism and clericalism. The interests of democracy in general, and the interests of the working class in particular, demand the very opposite. We must strive to secure the mixing of the children of all nationalities in uniform schools in each locality; the workers of all nationalities must jointly pursue the proletarian educational policy which Samoilov, the deputy of the Vladimir workers, so ably formulated on behalf of the Russian Social-Democratic workers’ group in the State Duma.[1] We must most emphatically oppose segregating the schools according to nationality, no matter what form it may take.

It is not our business to segregate the nations in matters of education in any way; on the contrary, we must strive to create the fundamental democratic conditions for the peaceful coexistence of the nations on the basis of equal rights. We must not champion “national culture”, but expose the clerical and bourgeois character of this slogan in   the name of the international culture of the world working-class movement.

But we may be asked whether it is possible to safeguard the interests of the one Georgian child among the 48,076 schoolchildren in St. Petersburg on the basis of equal rights. And we should reply that it is impossible to establish a special Georgian school in St. Petersburg on the basis of Georgian “national culture”, and that to advocate such a plan means sowing pernicious ideas among the masses of the people.

But we shall not be defending anything harmful, or be striving after anything that is impossible, if we demand for this child free government premises for, lectures on the Georgian language, Georgian history, etc., the provision of Georgian books from the Central Library for this child, a state contribution towards the fees of the Georgian teacher, and so forth. Under real democracy, when bureaucracy and “Peredonovism”[2] are completely eliminated from the schools, the people can quite easily achieve this. But this real democracy can he achieved only when the workers of all nationalities are united.

To preach the establishment of special national schools for every “national culture” is reactionary. But under real democracy it is quite possible to ensure instruction in the native language, in native history, and so forth, without splitting up the schools according to nationality. And complete local self-government will make it impossible for anything to be forced upon the people, as for example, upon the 713 Karelian children in Kem Uyezd (where there are only 514 Russian children) or upon the 681 Zyryan children in Pechora Uyezd (153 Russian), or upon the 267 Lettish children in Novgorod Uyezd (over 7,000 Russian), and so on and so forth.

Advocacy of impracticable cultural-national autonomy is an absurdity, which now already is only disuniting the workers ideologically. To advocate the amalgamation of the workers of all nationalities means facilitating the success of proletarian class solidarity, which will guarantee equal rights for, and maximum peaceful coexistence of, all nationalities.


[1] Samoilov made his statement at a session of the State Duma on November 26 (December 9), 1913, during the discussion on a bill to increase the salaries of teachers of religion in agrarian schools.

[2] For Lenin’s characterisation of Peredonov see the article “The Question of Ministry of Education Policy”.

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