V. I.   Lenin

National-Liberalism and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination

Published: Proletarskaya Pravda No. 12, December 20, 1913. Published according to the text in Proletarskaya Pravda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 56-58.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Coming to the aid of the muddled Mr. Mogilyansky, the editors of the liberal Rech[1] recently (in issue No. 340) published an unsigned, i. e., official and editorial statement on an important issue, namely, the right of nations to self-determination.

Evading a direct answer, Mr. Mogilyansky had asserted that his views had “nothing in common with the repudiation of the right of nations to self-determination”. Now Rech officially declares that Clause 11 of the Constitutional-Democratic Party programme gives a “direct, precise and clear answer to the question of the right to free cultural self-determination”.

The word we have underlined is particularly important, since it was not “cultural” self-determination that was discussed in Mr. Mogilyansky’s first article, or in Mr. Dontsov’s reply to it, or in Mr. Mogilyansky’s polemic with Mr. Dontsov. The question discussed was the political self-determination of nations, i. e., the right of nations to secede, whereas by “cultural self-determination” (a meaningless, pompous phrase, which contradicts the entire history of democracy) the liberals really mean only freedom of languages.

Rech now declares that Proletarskaya Pravda hopelessly confuses self-determination with “separatism”, with secession by a nation.

Which side is revealing hopeless (or perhaps deliberate...) confusion?

Will our enlightened “Constitutional-Democrats” deny that, throughout the entire history of international democracy,   and especially since the middle of the nineteenth century, self-determination of nations has been understood to mean precisely political self-determination, i. e., the right to secede, to form an independent national state?

Will our enlightened “Constitutional-Democrats” deny that the International Socialist Congress held in London in 1896, in reaffirming the established democratic principle (to which, of course, the Congress did not confine itself) also had in mind political and not some sort of “cultural” self-determination?

Will our enlightened “Constitutional-Democrats” deny that Plekhanov, for example, who wrote about self-determination as far back as 1902, thereby understood political self-determination?

Please, gentlemen, explain yourselves more clearly; do not conceal the fruits of your “enlightenment” from the “mob”!

On the main issue Rech states:

Actually, the Cadets have never pledged themselves to advocate the right of ‘nations to secede’ from the Russian state.”

Splendid! Thank you for being so candid, and for making such an explicit statement of principles! We draw the attention of Rossiya, Novoye Vremya, Zemshchina,[2] and others, to this “most loyal” statement by the Cadets’ semi-official organ!

But stay your ire, gentlemen of the Cadet Party, should you be called national-liberals precisely for that reason. Herein lies one of the root causes of your chauvinism and of your ideological and political bloc with the Purishkeviches (or of your ideological and political dependence upon them). The Purishkeviches and their class inculcate in the ignorant masses the “firm” belief that it is “right” to “grab ’em and hold ’em”.[3] The Cadets have studied history and know only too well what—to put it mildly—“pogrom-like” actions the practice of this “ancient right” has often led to. A democrat could not remain a democrat (let alone a proletarian democrat) without systematically advocating, precisely among the Great-Russian masses and in the Russian language, the “self-determination” of nations in the political amid not in the “cultural” sense.

Always and everywhere the characteristic feature of national-liberalism lies in its taking a stand entirely on the basis of relations (and boundaries) determined by the Purishkevich class and protected (often to the detriment of economic development and of “culture”) by Purishkevich methods. In effect, this means adapting oneself to the interests of the feudal-minded landlords and to the worst nationalist prejudices of the dominant nation, instead of systematically combating those prejudices.


[1] Rech (Speech)—a daily published in St. Petersburg from February 23 (March 8), 1906, as the central organ of the Cadet Party. Its actual editors were P. N. Milyukov and I. V. Hessen, and its close collaborators were M. M. Vinaver, P. D. Dolgorukov, P. B. Struve. The newspaper was closed down on October 26 (November 8), 1917 by the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. Later (till August 1918) it resumed publication under the names of Nasha Rech (Our Speech), Svobodnaya Rech (Free Speech), Vek (Century), Novaya Rech (New Speech), and Nash Vek (Our Century).

[2] Rossiya (Russia)—a reactionary, Black-hundred daily, published in St. Petersburg from November 1905 to April 1914. In 1906 it became the organ of the Ministry of the Interior, being subsidised out of the government’s secret (“reptile”) funds. Lenin called Rossiya “a venal police rag”.

Novoye Vremya (New Times)—a daily published in St. Petersburg from 1868 to 1917. Owned by various publishers, it frequently changed its political trend. It was moderately liberal at the outset, but, after 1876, when it was published by A. S. Suvorin, it became the organ of reactionary circles of the nobility and the bureaucracy. After 1905 it became a mouthpiece of the Black Hundreds. Following the February bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1917 the newspaper supported the counter-revolutionary policy of the bourgeois Provisional Government and hounded the Bolsheviks. It was closed down by the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet on October 26 (November 8), 1917.

Zemshchina—a Black-Hundred daily, published in St. Petersburg from June 1909 to February 1917. Organ of the extreme Right-wing deputies of the Duma.

[3]Grab ’em and hold ’em”—an expression used by the Russian writer Gleb Uspensky to describe police tyranny.

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