V. I.   Lenin

A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism


4. The Example of Norway

Norway “achieved” the supposedly unachievable right to self-determination in 1905, in the era of the most rampant imperialism. It is therefore not only absurd, but ludicrous, from the theoretical standpoint, to speak of “unachievability”.

Kievsky wants to refute that by angrily calling us “rationalists”. (What has that to do with it? The rationalist con fines himself to purely abstract disquisitions, while we have pointed to a very concrete fact! But perhaps Kievsky is using the foreign word “rationalist” in the same... how to put it more mildly?... in the same “unhappy” manner he used the word “extractive” at the beginning of his article, when he presented his arguments “in extractive form”?)

Kievsky reproaches us. For us, he says, “the important thing is the appearance of phenomena rather than the real substance”. Well, let us examine the real substance.

His refutation begins with this example: enactment of a law against trusts does not prove that their prohibition is unachievable. True enough. But the example is an unhappy one, for it militates against Kievsky. Laws are political measures, politics. No political measure can prohibit economic phenomena. Whatever political form Poland adopts, whether she be part of Tsarist Russia or Germany, or an autonomous region, or a politically independent state, there is no prohibiting or repealing her dependence on the finance capital of the imperialist powers, or preventing that capital from buying up the shares of her industries.

The independence Norway “achieved” in 1905 was only political. It could not affect its economic dependence, nor   was this the intention. That is exactly the point made in our theses. We indicated that self-determination concerns only politics, and it would therefore be wrong even to raise the question of its economic unachievability. But here is Kievsky “refuting” this by citing an example of political bans being powerless against the economy! What a “refutation”!

To proceed. “One or even many instances of small-scale industry prevailing over large-scale industry is not sufficient to refute Marx’s correct proposition that the general development of capitalism is attended by the concentration and centralisation of production.”

Again, the argument is based on an unfortunate example, chosen to divert the attention (of the reader and the author) from the substance of the issue.

We maintain that it would be wrong to speak of the economic unachievability of self-determination in the same sense as we speak of the unachievability of labour money under capitalism. Not a single “example” of such achievability can be cited. Kievsky tacitly admits we are correct on this point when he shifts to another interpretation of “unachievability”.

Why does he not do so directly? Why does he not openly and precisely formulate his proposition: “self-determination, while achievable in the sense that it is economically possible under capitalism, contradicts development and is therefore either reactionary or merely an exception”?

He does not do so because a clear formulation of this counter-proposition would immediately expose its author, and he therefore tries to conceal it.

The law of economic concentration, of the victory of large-scale production over small, is recognised in our own and the Erfurt programmes. Kievsky conceals the fact that nowhere is the law of political or state concentration recognised. If it were the same kind of law—if there were such a law—then why should not Kievsky formulate it and suggest that it be added to our programme? Is it right for him to leave us with a bad, incomplete programme, considering that he has discovered this new law of state concentration, which is of practical significance since it would rid our programme of erroneous conclusions?

Kievsky does not formulate that law, does not suggest that it be added to our programme, because he has the hazy feeling that if he did he would be making himself a laughing stock. Everyone would laugh at this amusing imperialist Economism if it were expressed openly and if, parallel with the law that small-scale production is ousted by large-scale production, there were presented another “law” (connected with the first or existing side by side with it) of small states being ousted by big ones!

To explain this we shall put only one question to Kievsky: Why is it that economists (without quotation marks) do not speak of the “disintegration” of the modern trusts or big banks? Or of the possibility and achievability of such disintegration? Why is it that even the “imperialist Economist” (in quotation marks) is obliged to admit that the disintegration of big states is both possible and achievable, and not only in general, but, for example, the secession of “small nationalities” (please note!) from Russia (§e, Chapter II of Kievsky’s article)?

Lastly, to show even more clearly the lengths to which our author goes, and to warn him, let us note the following: We all accept the law of large-scale production ousting small-scale production, but no one is afraid to describe a specific “instance” of “small-scale industry prevailing over large-scale industry” as a reactionary phenomenon. No opponent of self-determination has yet ventured to describe as reactionary Norway’s secession from Sweden, though we raised the question in our literature as early as 1914.[1]

Large-scale production is unachievable if, for instance, hand-worked machines remain. The idea of a mechanical factory “disintegrating” into handicrafts production is utterly absurd. The imperialist tendency towards big empires is fully achievable, and in practice is often achieved, in the form of an imperialist alliance of sovereign and independent—politically independent—states. Such an alliance is possible and is encountered not only in the form of an economic merger of the finance capital of two countries, but also in the form of military “co-operation” in an imperialist war. National struggle, national insurrection, national secession   are fully “achievable” and are met with in practice under imperialism. They are even more pronounced, for imperialism does not halt the development of capitalism and the growth of democratic tendencies among the mass of the population. On the contrary, it accentuates the antagonism between their democratic aspirations and the anti-democratic tendency of the trusts.

It is only from the point of view of imperialist Economism, i.e., caricaturised Marxism, that one can ignore, for instance, this specific aspect of imperialist policy: on the one hand, the present imperialist war offers examples of how the force of financial ties and economic interests draws a small, politically independent state into the struggle of the Great Powers (Britain and Portugal). On the other hand, the violation of democracy with regard to small nations, much weaker (both economically and politically) than their imperialist “patrons”, leads either to revolt (Ireland) or to defection of whole regiments to the enemy (the Czechs). In this situation it is not only “achievable”, from the point of view of finance capital, but sometimes even profitable for the trusts, for their imperialist policy, for their imperialist war, to allow individual small nations as much democratic freedom as they can, right down to political independence, so as not to risk damaging their “own” military operations. To overlook the peculiarity of political and strategic relationships and to repeat indiscriminately a word learned by rote, “imperialism”, is anything but Marxism.

0n Norway, Kievsky tells us, firstly, that she “had always been an independent state”. That is not true and can only be explained by the author’s burschikose carelessness and his disregard of political issues. Norway was not an independent state prior to 1905, though she enjoyed a very large measure of autonomy. Sweden recognised Norway’s political independence only after her secession. If Norway “had always been an independent state”, then the Swedish Government would not have informed the other powers, on October 26, 1905, that it recognised Norway’s independence.

Secondly, Kievsky cites a number of statements to prove that Norway looked to the West, and Sweden to the East, that in one country mainly British, and in the other German, finance capital was “at work”, etc. From this he draws the   triumphant conclusion: “This example [Norway] neatly fits into our pattern.”

There you have a sample of the logic of imperialist Economism! Our theses point out that finance capital can dominate in “any”, “even independent country”, and all the arguments about self-determination being “unachievable” from the point of view of finance capital are therefore sheer confusion. We are given data confirming our proposition about the part foreign finance capital played in Norway before and after her secession. And these data are supposed to refute our proposition!

Dilating on finance capital in order to disregard political issues—is that the way to discuss politics?

No. Political issues do not disappear because of Economism’s faulty logic. British finance capital was “at work” in Norway before and after secession. German finance capital was “at work” in Poland prior to her secession from Russia and will continue to “work” there no matter what political status Poland enjoys. That is so elementary that it is embarrassing to have to repeat it. But what can one do if the ABC is forgotten?

Does this dispense with the political question of Norway’s status? With her having been part of Sweden? With the attitude of the workers when the secession issue arose?

Kievsky evades these questions because they hit hard at the Economists. But these questions were posed, and are posed, by life itself. Life itself posed the question: Could a Swedish worker who did not recognise Norway’s right to secession remain a member of the Social-Democratic Party? He could not.

The Swedish aristocrats wanted a war against Norway, and so did the clericals. That fact does not disappear because Kievsky has “forgotten” to read about it in the history of the Norwegian people. The Swedish worker could, while remaining a Social-Democrat, urge the Norwegians to vote against secession (the Norwegian referendum on secession, held on August 13, 1905, resulted in 368,200 votes for secession and 184 against, with about 80 per cent of the elector ate taking part). But the Swedish worker who, like the Swedish aristocracy and bourgeoisie, would deny the Norwegians the right to decide this question themselves, without the   Swedes and irrespective of their will, would have been a social-chauvinist and a miscreant the Social-Democratic Party could not tolerate in its ranks.

That is how §9 of our Party Programme should be applied. But our imperialist Economist tries to lump over this clause. You cannot jump over it, gentlemen, without falling into the embrace of chauvinism!

And what of the Norwegian worker? Was it his duty, from the internationalist point of view, to vote for secession? Certainly not. He could have voted against secession and remained a Social-Democrat. He would have been betraying his duty as a member of the Social-Democratic Party only if he had proffered a helping hand to a Black-Hundred Swedish worker opposed to Norway’s freedom of secession.

Some people refuse to see this elementary difference in the position of the Norwegian and Swedish worker. But they expose themselves when they evade this most concrete of political questions, which we squarely put to them. They remain silent, try to wriggle out and in that way surrender their position.

To prove that the “Norwegian” issue can arise in Russia, we deliberately advanced this proposition: in circumstances of a purely military and strategic nature a separate Polish state is fully achievable even now. Kievsky wants to “discuss” that—and remains silent!

Let us add this: Finland too, out of purely military and strategic considerations, and given a certain outcome of the present imperialist war (for instance, Sweden joining the Germans and the latter’s semi-victory), can become a separate state without undermining the “achievability” of even a single operation of finance capital, without making “unachievable” the buying up of Finnish railway and industrial shares.[2]  

Kievsky seeks salvation from unpleasant political issues in an amazing phrase which is amazingly characteristic of all his “arguments”: “At any moment... [that is literally what he says at the end of §c, Chapter I] the Sword of Damocles can strike and put an end to the existence of an ‘independent’ workshop” (a “hint” at little Sweden and Norway).

That, presumably, is genuine Marxism: a separate Norwegian state, whose secession from Sweden the Swedish Government described as a “revolutionary measure”, has been in existence only some ten years. Is there any point in examining the political issues that follow from this if we have read Hilferding’s Finance Capital and “understood” it in the sense that “at any moment”—if we are to exaggerate then let’s go the whole hog!—a small state might vanish? Is there any point in drawing attention to the fact that we have perverted Marxism into Economism, and that we have turned our pol icy into a rehash of the speeches of case-hardened Russian chauvinists?

What a mistake the Russian workers must have made in 1905 in seeking a republic: finance capital had already been mobilised against it in France, England, etc., and “at any moment” the “Sword of Damocles” could have struck it down, if it had ever come into being!

*     *

The demand for national self-determination is not ...utopian in the minimum programme: it does not contradict social development, inasmuch as its achievement would not halt that development.” That passage from Martov is challenged by Kievsky in the section in Which he cites the “statements” about Norway. They prove, again and again, the generally known fact that Norway’s “self-determination”   and secession did not halt either the development of finance capital generally, or expansion of its operation in particular, or the buying up of Norway by the English!

There have been Bolsheviks among us, Alexinsky in 1908–10, for instance, who argued with Martov precisely at a time when Martov was right! God save us from such “allies”!



[2] Given one outcome of the present war, the formation of new states in Europe (Polish, Finnish, etc.) is fully “achievable” without in any way disturbing the conditions for the development of imperialism and its power. On the contrary, this would increase the influence, contacts and pressure of finance capital. But given another outcome, the formation of new states in Hungary, Czechia, etc., is likewise “achievable”. The British imperialists are already planning this second outcome in anticipation of their victory. The imperialist era does not destroy either the striving for national political independence or its   “achievability” within the bounds of world imperialist relationships. Outside these bounds, however, a republican Russia, or in general any major democratic transformations anywhere else in the world are “unachievable” without a series of revolutions and are unstable without socialism. Kievsky has wholly and completely failed to understand the relation of imperialism to democracy. —Lenin

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