V. I.   Lenin

“Cultural-National” Autonomy

Published: Za Pravdu No. 46, November 28, 1913. Published according to the Za Pravdu text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 503-507.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: Charles Farrell
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2000). 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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The essence of the plan, or programme, of what is called “cultural-national” autonomy (or: “the establishment of institutions that will guarantee freedom of national development”) is separate schools for each nationality.

The more often all avowed and tacit nationalists (including the Bundists) attempt to obscure this fact the more we must insist on it.

Every nation, irrespective of place of domicile of its individual members (irrespective of territory, hence the term “extra-territorial” autonomy) is a united officially recognised association conducting national-cultural affairs. The most important of these affairs is education. The determination of the composition of the nations by allowing every citizen to register freely, irrespective of place of domicile, as belonging to any national association, ensures absolute precision and absolute consistency in segregating the schools according to nationality.

Is such a division, be it asked, permissible from the point of view of democracy in general, and from the point of view of the interests of the proletarian class struggle in particular?

A clear grasp of the essence of the “cultural-national autonomy” programme is sufficient to enable one to reply without hesitation—it is absolutely impermissible.

As long as different nations live in a single state they are bound to one another by millions and thousands of millions of economic, legal and social bonds. How can education be extricated from these bonds? Can it be “taken out of the jurisdiction” of the state, to quote the Bund formula,   classical in its striking absurdity? If the various nations living in a single state are bound by economic ties, then any attempt to divide them permanently in “cultural” and particularly educational matters would be absurd and reactionary. On the contrary, efforts should be made to unite the nations in educational matters, so that the schools should be a preparation for what is actually done in real life. At the present time we see that the different nations are unequal in the rights they possess and in their level of development. Under these circumstances, segregating the schools accord lug to nationality would actually and inevitably worsen the conditions of the more backward nations. In the Southern, former slave States of America, Negro children are still segregated in separate schools, whereas in the North, white and Negro children attend the same schools. In Russia a plan was recently proposed for the “nationalisation of Jewish schools”, i.e., the segregation of Jewish children from the children of other nationalities in separate schools. It is needless to add that this plan originated in the most reactionary, Purishkevich circles.

One cannot be a democrat and at the same time advocate the principle of segregating the schools according to nationality. Note: we are arguing at present from the general democratic (i.e., bourgeois-democratic) point of view.

From the point of view of the proletarian class struggle we must oppose segregating the schools according to nationality far more emphatically. Who does not know that the capitalists of all the nations in a given state are most closely and intimately united in joint-stock companies, cartels and trusts, in manufacturers’ associations, etc., which are directed against the workers irrespective of their nationality? Who does not know that in any capitalist undertaking—from huge works, mines and factories and commercial enterprises down to capitalist farms—we always, without exception, see a larger variety of nationalities among the workers than in remote, peaceful and sleepy villages?

The urban workers, who are best acquainted with developed capitalism and perceive more profoundly the psychology of the class struggle—their whole life teaches them or they perhaps imbibe it with their mothers’ milk—such workers instinctively and inevitably realise that segregating   the schools according to nationality is not only a harm jut scheme, but a downright fraudulent swindle on the part of the capitalists. The workers can be split up, divided and weakened by the advocacy of such an idea, and still more by the segregation, of the ordinary peoples’ schools according to nationality; while the capitalists, whose children are well provided with rich private schools and specially engaged tutors, cannot in any way be threatened by any division or weakening through “cultural-national autonomy”.

As a matter of fact, “cultural-national autonomy”, i.e., the absolutely pure and consistent segregating of education according to nationality, was invented not by the capitalists (for the time being they resort to cruder methods to divide the workers) but by the opportunist, philistine intelligentsia of Austria. There is not a trace of this brilliantly philistine and brilliantly nationalist idea in any of the democratic West-European countries with mixed populations. This idea of the despairing petty bourgeois could arise only in Eastern Europe, in backward, feudal, clerical, bureaucratic Austria, where all public and political life is hampered by wretched, petty squabbling (worse still: cursing and brawling) over the question of languages. Since cat and dog can’t agree, let us at least segregate all the nations once and for all absolutely clearly and consistently in “national curias” for educational purposes!—such is the psychology that engendered this foolish idea of “cultural-national autonomy”. The proletariat, which is conscious of and cherishes its internationalism, will never accept this nonsense of refined nationalism.

It is no accident that in Russia this idea of “cultural-national autonomy” was accepted only by all the Jewish bourgeois parties, then (in 1907) by the conference of the petty-bourgeois Left-Narodnik parties of different nationalities, and lastly by the petty-bourgeois, opportunist elements of the near-Marxist groups, i.e., the Bundists and the liquidators (the latter were even too timid to do so straightforwardly and definitely). It is no accident that in the State Duma only the semi-liquidator Chkhenkeli, who is infected with nationalism, and the petty-bourgeois Kerensky, spoke in favour of “cultural-national autonomy”.

In general, it is quite funny to read the liquidator and Bundist references to Austria on this question. First of all, why should the most backward of the multinational countries be taken as the model? Why not take the most advanced? This is very much in the style of the bad Russian liberals, the Cadets, who for models of a constitution turn mainly to such backward countries as Prussia and Austria, and not to advanced countries like France, Switzerland and America!

Secondly, after taking the Austrian model, the Russian nationalist philistines, i.e., the Bundists, liquidators, Left Narodniks, and so forth, have themselves changed it for the worse. In this country it is the Bundists (plus all the Jewish bourgeois parties, in whose wake the Bundists follow without always realising it) that mainly and primarily use this plan for “cultural-national autonomy” in their propaganda and agitation; and yet in Austria, the country where this idea of “cultural-national autonomy” originated, Otto Bauer, the father of the idea, devoted a special chapter of his book top roving that “cultural-national autonomy” cannot be applied to the Jews!

This proves more conclusively than lengthy speeches how inconsistent Otto Bauer is and how little he believes in his own idea, for he excludes the only extra-territorial (not having its own territory) nation from his plan for extra-territorial national autonomy.

This shows how Bundists borrow old-fashioned plans from Europe, multiply the mistakes of Europe tenfold and “develop” them to the point of absurdity.

The fact is—and this is the third point—that at their congress in Br\"unn (in 1899) the Austrian Social-Democrats rejected the programme of “cultural-national autonomy” that was proposed to them. They merely adopted a compromise in the form of a proposal for a union of the nationally delimited regions of the country. This compromise did not provide either for extra-territoriality or for segregating education according to nationality. In accordance with this compromise, in the most advanced (capitalistically) populated centres, towns, factory and mining districts, large country estates, etc., there are no separate schools for each nationality!

The Russian working class has been combating this reactionary, pernicious, petty-bourgeois nationalist idea of “cultural-national autonomy”, and will continue to do so.


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