V. I.   Lenin

On the Question of National Policy[4]

Written: Written later than April 6 (19), 1914
Published: First published in 1924 in the journal Proletarskaya Revolutsia No. 3 (26). Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 217-225.
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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I wish to deal with our government’s policy on the national question. This is one of the most important of the questions that come within the jurisdiction of our Ministry of the Interior. Since the time the Duma last discussed the estimates of this Ministry, our ruling classes have been bringing the national question in Russia into the forefront and rendering it more, and more acute.

The Beilis case attracted the repeated attention of the whole civilised world to Russia and exposed the disgraceful state of affairs in this country. There is not a vestige of legality in Russia. The Administration and the police are given a free hand in their wanton and shameless persecution of the Jews, even to the extent of covering up and condoning crimes. This precisely was the, upshot of the Beilis case, which revealed the closest and most intimate connection....[1]

To show that I am not exaggerating when I speak of the pogrom atmosphere Russia is breathing, I can quote the evidence of that most “reliable”, most conservative writer, Prince Meshchersky, the “minister-maker”. Here is the opinion of “a Russian from Kiev”, published in Prince Meshchersky’s journal, Grazhdanin.[5]

The atmosphere in which we are living is suffocating;;wherever you go there is whispering, plotting; everywhere there is blood lust, everywhere the stench of the informer, everywhere hatred, everywhere mutterings, everywhere groans....”[2]

the political atmosphere which Russia is breathing. To talk or think about law, legality, a constitution, and similar liberal na\"iveties in such an atmosphere is simply ridiculous, or rather, it would be ridiculous, were it not so ... serious!

This atmosphere is felt day in day out by every person in the country who is at all intelligent and observant. But not everyone has the courage to admit the significance of this pogrom atmosphere. Why does such an atmosphere reign in our country? Why is it able to reign? Only because the country is actually in a state of scarcely concealed civil war. Some find it very unpleasant to admit this truth; they would put a cloak over it. Our liberals, both the Progressists[6] and the Cadets, are particularly fond of stitching such a cloak out of patches of almost quite “constitutional” theories. But I permit myself to consider that there is nothing more harmful, nothing more criminal than for representatives of the people to spread edifying deception from the rostrum of the Duma.

The government’s entire policy towards the Jews and other “subject peoples”—pardon me for using this “government” expression—will at once become clear, natural and inevitable if we face the truth and admit the undoubted fact that the country is in a state of scarcely concealed civil war. The government is not ruling, but is waging war.

It chooses “genuinely Russian”, pogrom methods of warfare because it has no others at its disposal. Everybody defends himself the best he can. Purishkevich and his friends cannot defend themselves otherwise than by pursuing a “pogrom” policy, for they have no other means. It is no use sighing; it is absurd to try to make shift with talk about a constitution, or law, or the system of administration; here it is simply a matter of the class interests of Purishkevich and Co., a matter of the difficult position this class is in.

Either settle accounts with this class resolutely and not merely in word, or else admit that the “pogrom” atmosphere is inevitable and inescapable in the entire policy of Russia. Either resign yourselves to this policy, or else support the popular, mass, and, in the first place, the proletarian movement against it. These are the only alternatives. There can be no middle course here.

In Russia, even according to official, i. e., palpably exaggerated statistics, which are faked to suit the “government’s plans”, the Great Russians constitute no more than 43 per cent of the entire population of the country. The   Great Russians in Russia constitute less than half the population. Officially, according to Stolypin “himself”, even the Little Russians, or Ukrainians, are classed as a “subject people”. Consequently, the “subject peoples” in Russia constitute 57 per cent of the population, i. e., the majority of the population, almost three-fifths, in all probability actually more than three-fifths. In the Duma I represent Ekaterinoslav Gubernia, the overwhelming majority of whose population are Ukrainians. The ban on the celebrations in honour of Shevchenko[7] was such an excellent, splendid, exceptionally happy and well-chosen measure as far as anti-government agitation is concerned, that no better agitation could be conceived. I think that none of our best Social-Democratic agitators against the government could ever have achieved such sensational success in so short a time as was achieved by this measure in rousing opposition to the government. After this measure was taken, millions upon millions of ordinary people began to be converted into public-minded citizens and were made to see the truth of the saying that Russia is “a prison of nations”.

Our parties of the right and our nationalists are now clamouring so vehemently against the “Mazeppists” and our famous Bobrinsky is defending the Ukrainians from the oppression of the Austrian Government with such splendid, democratic zeal, that one would think he wanted to join the Austrian Social-Democratic Party. But if by “Mazeppism” is meant gravitation towards Austria and preference for the Austrian political system, then perhaps Bobrinsky will not he one of the least prominent of the “Mazeppists”, for he complains and rants about the oppression of the Ukrainians in Austria! Just think how hard it must be for a Russian Ukrainian, for instance for an inhabitant of Ekaterinoslav Gubernia which I represent, to read or hear this! If Bobrinsky “himself”, if the nationalist Bobrinsky, if Count Bobrinsky, if squire Bobrinsky, if factory owner Bobrinsky, if Bobrinsky who has links with the highest nobility (almost with the “spheres”) thinks that the status of the national minorities is unjust and oppressive in Austria, where there is nothing like the disgraceful Jewish Pale of Settlement, or the despicable practice of deporting Jews at the whim of   despotic governors, or the prohibition of the native language in schools, then what should be said about the Ukrainians in Russia? What should be said about the other “subject peoples” in Russia?

Do not Bobrinsky and the other nationalists, as well as the Rights, realise that they are bringing home to the “subject peoples” in Russia, that is, to three-fifths of the population of Russia, the fact that Russia is a backward country even compared with Austria, which is the most backward of European countries?

The whole point is that the position of Russia, which is governed by the Purishkeviches, or rather, groaning under the heel of the Purishkeviches, is so peculiar that the utterances of the nationalist Bobrinsky admirably explain and foment Social-Democratic agitation.

Keep it up, noble factory owner and landlord Bobrinsky; you will certainly help us to arouse, enlighten and stir up both the Austrian and the Russian Ukrainians! In Ekaterinoslav I heard several Ukrainians say that they wanted to send Count Bobrinsky an address of thanks for his successful propaganda in favour of the Ukraine’s secession from Russia. I was not surprised to hear this. I saw propaganda leaflets, on one side of which was the Ukase banning the Shevchenko celebrations while on the other side were excerpts from Bobrinsky’s eloquent speeches in favour of the Ukrainians.... I advised sending these leaflets to Bobrinsky, Purishkevich and other Ministers.

But if Purishkevich and Bobrinsky are superlative agitators in favour of transforming Russia into a democratic republic, our liberals, including the Cadets, are trying to conceal from the people their agreement with the Purishkeviches on certain fundamental questions of national policy. I would not be fulfilling my duty if, in speaking on the estimates of the Ministry of the Interior, which is pursuing a national policy everybody is aware of, I did not mention this agreement of the Constitutional-Democratic Party with the Ministry of the Interior’s principles.

Indeed, is it not clear that anybody who wishes to be—putting it mildly—in “opposition” to the Ministry of the Interior must also know the ideological allies of this Ministry in the Cadet camp.

According to a Rech report, the Constitutional-Democratic Party, or the “party of people’s freedom”, held its regular conference in St. Petersburg on March 23 to 25 of this year.

National questions,” says Rech (No. 83), “were discussed... in a most lively manner. The deputies from Kiev, who were supported by N.V. Nekrasov and A. M. Kolyubakin, stated that the national question was a maturing major factor which had to be met more firmly than it had been up to now. But F. F. Kokoshkin said that both the programme and previous political experience called for very careful handling of the ‘elastic formulas’ of political self-determination for ‘nationalities’.”

This is Rech’s version of the matter. And although this version is deliberately worded to keep the greatest numbers of readers in the dark, the gist of the matter is nevertheless clear to every observant and thinking person. Kievskaya Mysl,[8] which sympathises with the Cadets and voices their views, reports Kokoshkin’s speech with the addition of the following comment: “Because it may lead to the disintegration of the state.”

This, undoubtedly, was the gist of Kokoshkin’s speech. Among the Cadets, Kokoshkin’s point of view prevailed even over the extremely timid democratism of the Nekrasovs and Kolyubakins. Kokoshkin’s point of view is that of the Great-Russian liberal-bourgeois nationalist who defends the privileges of the Great Russians (although they are a minority in Russia), and defends them hand in hand with the Ministry of the Interior. Kokoshkin “theoretically” defended the policy of the Ministry of the Interior—that is the gist, the core, of the matter.

More careful handling of political self-determination” of nations! Care must be taken that it does not “lead to the disintegration of the state”!—that is the substance of Kokoshkin’s national policy, which fully coincides with the main line of policy pursued by the Ministry of the Interior. But Kokoshkin and the other Cadet leaders are not infants. They are perfectly familiar with the saying: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” The state exists for the people, not the people for the state. Kokoshkin and the other Cadet leaders are not   infants. They know perfectly well that in our country the state is (in effect) the Purishkevich class. The integrity of the state is the integrity of the Purishkevich class. If one looks at the essence of their policy, stripped of its diplomatic trappings, one will realise what the Kokoshkins are concerned about.

For the sake of illustration I shall quote the following simple example. In 1905, as you know, Norway seceded from Sweden in face of vehement protests from the Swedish landlords, who threatened to go to war against Norway. Fortunately, the feudalists in Sweden are not all-powerful as they are in Russia, and there was no war. Norway, with a minority of the population, seceded from Sweden in a peaceful, democratic, and civilised way, not in the way the feudalists and the militarist, party wanted. What happened? Did the people lose by it? Did the interests of civilisation or the interests of democracy, or the interests of the working class, suffer as a result of this secession?

Not in the least! Both Norway and Sweden are countries that are far more civilised than Russia is—incidentally, precisely because they succeeded in applying in a democratic manner the formula of the “political self-determination” of nations. The breaking of compulsory ties strengthened voluntary economic ties, strengthened cultural intimacy, and mutual respect between these two nations, which are so close to each other in language and other things. The common interests, the closeness of the Swedish and Norwegian peoples actually gained from the secession, for secession meant the rupture of compulsory ties.

I hope that this example has made it clear that Kokoshkin and the Constitutional-Democratic Party take their stand entirely with the Ministry of the Interior when they try to scare us with the prospect of the “disintegration of the state” and urge us to be “careful in handling” an absolutely clear formula, which is accepted without question by the entire international democracy—the “political self-determination” of nationalities. We Social-Democrats are opposed to all nationalism and advocate democratic centralism. We are opposed to particularism, and are convinced that, all other things being equal, big states can solve the problems of economic progress and of the struggle between the   proletariat and the bourgeoisie far more effectively than small states can. But we value only voluntary ties, never compulsory ties. Wherever we see compulsory ties between nations we, while by no means insisting that every nation must secede, do absolutely and emphatically insist on the right of every nation to political self-determination, that is, to secession.

To insist upon, to advocate, and to recognise this right is to insist on the equality of nations, to refuse to recognise compulsory ties, to oppose all state privileges for any nation whatsoever, and to cultivate a spirit of complete class solidarity in the workers of the different nations.

The class solidarity of the workers of the different nations is strengthened by the substitution of voluntary ties for compulsory, feudalist and militarist ties.

We value most of all the equality of nations in popular liberties and for socialism....[3]

and insist on the privileges of the Great Russians. But we say: no privileges for any one nation, complete equality of nations and the unity, amalgamation of the workers of all nations.

Eighteen years ago, in 1896, the International Congress of Labour and Socialist Organisations in London adopted a resolution on the national question, which indicated the only correct way to work for both real “popular liberties” and socialism. The resolution reads:

This Congress declares that it stands for the full right of all nations to self-determination, and expresses its sympathy for the workers of every country now suffering under the yoke of military, national or other absolutism. This Congress calls upon the workers of all these countries to join the ranks of the class-conscious workers of the whole world in order jointly to fight for the defeat of international capitalism and for the achievement of the aims of international Social-Democracy.”

And we, too, call for unity in the ranks of the workers of all nations in Russia, for only such unity can guarantee the equality of nations and popular liberties, and safeguard the interests of socialism.

The year 1905 united the workers of all nations in Russia. The reactionaries are trying to foment national enmity. The liberal bourgeoisie of all nations, first and foremost the Great-Russian bourgeoisie, is fighting for the privileges of its own nation (for example, the Polish kolo[9] is opposed to equal rights for Jews in Poland), is fighting for national segregation, for national exclusiveness, and is thereby promoting the policy of our Ministry of the Interior.

But true democracy, headed by the working class, holds aloft the banner of complete equality of nations and of unity of the workers of all nations in their class struggle. From this point of view we reject so-called “cultural-national autonomy”, that is, the division of educational affairs in a given state according to nationality, or the proposal that education should be taken out of the hands of the state and transferred to separately organised national associations. A democratic state must grant autonomy to its various regions, especially to regions with mixed populations. This form of autonomy in no way contradicts democratic centralism; on the contrary, it is only through regional autonomy that genuine democratic centralism is possible in a large state with a mixed population. A democratic state is bound to grant complete freedom for the native languages and annul all privileges for any one language. A democratic state will not permit the oppression or the overriding of any one nationality by another, either in any particular region or in any branch of public affairs.

But to take education out of the hands of the state and to divide it according to nationality among separately organised national associations is harmful from the point of view of democracy, and still more harmful from the point of view of the proletariat. This would merely serve to perpetuate the segregation of nations, whereas we must strive to unite them. It would lead to the growth of chauvinism, whereas we must strive to unite the workers of all nations as closely as possible, strive to unite them for a joint struggle against all chauvinism, against all national exclusiveness, against all nationalism. The workers of all nations have but one educational policy: freedom for the native language, and democratic and secular education.

I conclude by expressing my gratitude once again to Purishkevich, Markov II and Bobrinsky for their effective agitation against the entire political system in Russia, for the object-lessons they have given, which prove that Russia’s transformation into a democratic republic is inevitable.


[1] The next page of this manuscript is missing.—Ed.

[2] The next page of this manuscript is missing.—Ed.

[3] The next two pages of this manuscript are missing.—Ed.

[4] The MS. “On the Question of National Policy” is the draft of a speech that, was to have been delivered in the Fourth Duma by the Bolshevik deputy G. I. Petrovsky. As the Left deputies were expelled from the Duma on April 22 (May 5), 1914 and suspended for fifteen sessions (cf. pp. 274–76 of this volume for further details), this speech was not delivered. Parts of the MS. of this draft speech are missing. Appropriate footnotes are given in such cases.

[5] Grazhdanin (The Citizen)—a reactionary newspaper published in St. Petersburg from 1872 to 1914. From the eighties of the nineteenth century it was the organ of the extreme monarchists. It existed largely on government subsidies. From 1906 it appeared as a weekly.

[6] Progressists—a political group of the Russian liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, which, during the elections to the Duma and within the Duma, attempted to unite elements of the various bourgeois-landlord parties and groups under the flag of “non-partisanship”.

In November 1912 the Progressists formed an independent political party with the following programme: a moderate constitution with restricted electoral qualifications, petty reforms; a responsible Ministry, i. e., a government accountable to the Duma, and suppression of the revolutionary movement. Lenin pointed out that in composition and ideology the Progressist were “a cross between Octobrists and Cadets” and described the programme of the Progressist Party as being a national-liberal programme.

During World War I the Progressists became more active and demanded a change of military leadership, the gearing of industry to the needs of the front, and a “responsible Ministry” with the participation of representatives of the Russian bourgeoisie. After the February bourgeois-democratic revolution some of the party’s leaders were members of the bourgeois Provisional Government. After the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution the Progressist Party waged an active struggle against the Soviet government.

[7] Shevchenko, Taras (1814–1861)—the great Ukrainian poet, painter and revolutionary democrat, who fought against tsarism and serfdom. His works which are imbued with hatred of the oppressors, reflected the struggle of the revolutionary Ukrainian peasantry and the conditions of life of the Ukrainian people.

[8] Kievskaya Mysl (Kiev Thought)—a daily of a bourgeois-democratic trend published in Kiev from 1906 to 1948. Until 1915 the paper came out with a weekly illustrated supplement, and from 1917 in two editions, morning, and evening.

[9] Polish kolo—an association of Polish deputies in the Duma. The leading core of this association in the First and Second Dumas   were the natlonal-democrats—members of the reactionary nationalist party of Polish landlords and bourgeoisie. On all basic questions of Duma tactics the Polish kolo supported the Octobrists.

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