V. I.   Lenin

A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism


5. “Monism And Dualism”

Reproaching us for “interpreting the demand dualistically”, P. Kievsky writes:

Monistic action of the international is replaced by dualistic propaganda.”

That sounds quite Marxist and materialistic: monistic action is contrasted to “dualistic” propaganda. Unfortunately, closer examination reveals that it is verbal “monism”, like the “monism” of Dühring. “if I include a shoe brush in the unity mammals,” Engels wrote exposing Dühring’s “monism”, “this does not help it to get mammary glands.”[3]

This means that only such things, qualities, phenomena and actions that are a unity in objective reality can be declared “a unity”. It is this “detail” that our author overlooks!

He thinks we are “dualists”, first, because what we demand, primarily, of the workers of the oppressed nations—this refers to the national question only—differs from what we demand of the workers of the oppressor nations.

To determine whether P. Kievsky’s “monism” is the same as Dühring’s, let us examine objective realities.

Is the actual condition of the workers in the oppressor and in the oppressed nations the same, from the standpoint of the national question?

No, it is not the same.

(1) Economically, the difference is that sections of the working class in the oppressor nations receive crumbs from the superprofits the bourgeoisie of these nations obtains by extra exploitation of the workers of the oppressed nations. Besides, economic statistics show that here a larger percentage of the workers become “straw bosses” than is the case in the oppressed nations, a larger percentage rise to the labour   aristocracy.[1] That is a fact. To a certain degree the workers of the oppressor nations are partners of their own bourgeoisie in plundering the workers (and the mass of the population) of the oppressed nations.

(2) Politically, the difference is that, compared with the workers of the oppressed nations, they occupy a privileged position in many spheres of political life.

(3) Ideologically, or spiritually, the difference is that they are taught, at school and in life, disdain and contempt for the workers of the oppressed nations. This has been experienced, for example, by every Great Russian who has been brought up or who has lived among Great Russians.

Thus, all along the line there are differences in objective reality, i.e., “dualism” in the objective world that is independent of the will and consciousness of individuals.

That being so, how are we to regard P. Kievsky’s assertion about the “monistic action of the International”?

It is a hollow, high-sounding phrase, no more.

In real life the International is composed of workers divided into oppressor and oppressed nations. If its action is to be monistic, its propaganda must not be the same for both. That is how we should regard the matter in the light of real (not Dühringian) “monism”, Marxist materialism.

An example? We cited the example of Norway (in the legal press over two years ago!), and no one has challenged it. In this concrete case taken from life, the action of the Norwegian and Swedish workers was “monistic”, unified, inter nationalist only because and insofar as the Swedish workers unconditionally championed Norway’s freedom to secede, while the Norwegian workers raised the question of secession only conditionally. Had the Swedish workers not supported Norway’s freedom of secession unconditionally, they would have been chauvinists, accomplices of the chauvinist Swedish landlords, who wanted to “keep” Norway by force, by war. Had the Norwegian workers not raised the question of secession conditionally, i.e., allowing even Social-Democratic Party members to conduct propaganda and vote against secession, they would have failed in their internationalist duty and   would have sunk to narrow, bourgeois Norwegian nationalism. Why? Because the, secession was being effected by the bourgeoisie, not by the proletariat! Because the Norwegian bourgeoisie (as every other) always strives to drive a wedge between the workers of its own and an “alien” country! Because for the class-conscious workers every democratic demand (including self-determination) is subordinated to the supreme interests of socialism. For example, if Norway’s secession from Sweden had created the certainty or probability of war between Britain and Germany, the Norwegian workers, for that reason alone, would have had to oppose secession. The Swedish workers would have had the right and the opportunity, without ceasing to be socialists, to agitate against secession, but only if they had waged a systematic, consistent and constant struggle against the Swedish Government for Norway’s freedom to secede. Otherwise the Norwegian workers and people would not, and could not, accept the advice of the Swedish workers as sincere.

The trouble with the opponents of self-determination is that they confine themselves to lifeless abstractions, fearing to analyse to the end a single concrete real-life instance. Our concrete statement in the theses that a new Polish state is quite “achievable” now, given a definite combination of purely military, strategic conditions,[2] has not been challenged either by the Poles or by P. Kievsky. But no one wanted to ponder the conclusions that follow from this tacit admission that we were right. And what follows, obviously, is that internationalist propaganda cannot be the same for the Russians and the Poles if it is to educate both for “monistic action”. The Great-Russian (and German) worker is in duty bound unconditionally to insist on Poland’s freedom to secede; otherwise he will, in fact, now be the lackey of Nicholas II or Hindenburg. The Polish worker could insist on secession only conditionally, because to speculate (as do the Fracy[4]) on the victory of one or the other imperialist bourgeoisie is tantamount to becoming its lackey. Failure to understand this difference, which is a prerequisite for “monistic action” of the International, is about the same as failing to understand why “monistic action” against the   tsarist army near Moscow, say, requires that the revolutionary forces march west from Nizhni-Novgorod and east from Smolensk.

*     *

Second, our new exponent of Dühringian monism reproaches us for not striving to achieve “the closest organisational unity of the various national sections of the International” in the event of a social revolution.

Under socialism, P. Kievsky writes, self-determination becomes superfluous, since the state itself ceases to exist. That is meant as an argument against us! But in our theses we clearly and definitely say, in three lines, the last three lines of section one, that “democracy, too, is a form of state which must disappear when the state disappears”. It is precisely this truism that P. Kievsky repeats—to “refute” us, of course!—on several pages of his §r (Chapter I), and repeats it in a distorted way. “We picture to ourselves,” he writes, “and have always pictured the socialist system as a strictly democratic [!!?], centralised system of economy in which the state, as the apparatus for the domination of one part of the population over the other, disappears.” This is confusion, because democracy too is domination “of one part of the population over the other”; it too is a form of state. Our author obviously does not understand what is meant by the withering away of the state after the victory of socialism and what this process requires.

The main point, however, is his “objections” regarding the era of the social revolution. He calls us “talmudists of self-determination”—what a frightening epithet—and adds: “We picture this process [the social revolution] as the united action of the proletarians of all [!] countries, who wipe out the frontiers of the bourgeois [!] state, who tear down the frontier posts [in addition to “wiping out the frontiers”?], who blow up [!] national unity and establish class unity.”

The wrath of this stern judge of the “talmudists” notwithstanding, we must say: there are many words here, but no “ideas”.

The social revolution cannot be the united action of the proletarians of all countries for the simple reason that most of the countries and the majority of the world’s population   have not even reached, or have only just reached, the capitalist stage of development. We stated this in section six of our theses, but P. Kievsky, because of lack of attention, or inability to think, did “not notice” that we included this section for a definite purpose, namely, to refute caricature distortions of Marxism. Only the advanced countries of Western Europe and North America have matured for socialism, and ii Engels’s letter to Kautsky (Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata)[5] Kievsky will find a concrete illustration of the real and not merely promised “idea” that to dream of the “united action of the proletarians of all countries” means postponing socialism to the Greek calends, i.e., for ever.

Socialism will be achieved by the united action of the proletarians, not of all, but of a minority of countries, those that have reached the advanced capitalist stage of development. The cause of Kievsky’s error lies in failure to understand that. In these advanced countries (England, France, Germany, etc.) the national problem was solved long ago; national unity outlived its purpose long ago; objectively, there are no “general national tasks” to be accomplished. Hence, only in these countries is it possible now to “blow up” national unity and establish class unity.

The undeveloped countries are a different matter. They embrace the whole of Eastern Europe and all the colonies and semi-colonies and are dealt with in section six of the theses (second- and third-type countries). In those areas, as a rule, there still exist oppressed and capitalistically undeveloped nations. Objectively, these nations still have general national tasks to accomplish, namely, democratic tasks, the tasks of overthrowing foreign oppression.

Engels cited India as an example of such nations, stating that she might perform a revolution against victorious socialism, for Engels was remote from the preposterous imperialist Economism which imagines that having achieved victory in the advanced countries, the proletariat will “automatically”, without definite democratic measures, abolish national oppression everywhere. The victorious proletariat will reorganise the countries in which it has triumphed. That cannot be done all at once; nor, indeed, can the bourgeoisie be “vanquished” all at once. We deliberately emphasised this in our theses, and Kievsky has again failed to   stop and think why we stressed this point in connection with the national question.

While the proletariat of the advanced countries is over throwing the bourgeoisie and repelling its attempts at counter-revolution, the undeveloped and oppressed nations do not just wait, do not cease to exist, do not disappear. If they take advantage even of such a bourgeois imperialist crisis as the war of 1915-16—a minor crisis compared with social revolution—to rise in revolt (the colonies, Ireland), there can be no doubt that they will all the more readily take advantage of the great crisis of civil war in the advanced countries to rise in revolt.

The social revolution can come only in the form of an epoch in which are combined civil war by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries and a whole series of democratic and revolutionary movements, including the national liberation movement, in the undeveloped, backward and oppressed nations.

Why? Because capitalism develops unevenly, and objective reality gives us highly developed capitalist nations side by side with a number of economically slightly developed, or totally undeveloped, nations. P. Kievsky has absolutely failed to analyse the objective conditions of social revolution from the standpoint of the economic maturity of various countries. His reproach that we “invent” instances in which to apply self-determination is therefore an attempt to lay the blame at the wrong door.

With a zeal worthy of a better cause, Kievsky repeatedly quotes Marx and Engels to the effect that “one must not invent things out of his own head, but use his head to discover in the existing material conditions” the means that will free humanity of social evils. When I read those oft repeated quotations I cannot help recalling the late and unlamented Economists who just as tediously... harped on their “new discovery” that capitalism had triumphed in Russia. Kievsky wants to “smite” us with these quotations: he claims that we invent out of our own heads the conditions for applying self-determination in the epoch of imperialism! But we find the following “incautious admission”in his own article:

The very fact that we are opposed [author’s italics] to defence of the fatherland shows most clearly that we will   actively resist suppression of a national uprising, for we shall thereby be combating imperialism, our mortal enemy” (Chapter II, §r).

To criticise an author, to answer him, one has to quote in full at least the main propositions of his article. But in all of Kievsky’s propositions you will find that every sentence contains two or three errors or illogicalities that distort Marxism!

1) He is unaware that a national uprising is also “defence of the fatherland”! A little thought, however, will make it perfectly clear that this is so, since every “nation in revolt” “defends” itself, its language, its territory, its fatherland, against the oppressor nation.

All national oppression calls forth the resistance of the broad masses of the people; and the resistance of a nationally oppressed population always tends to national revolt. Not infrequently (notably in Austria and Russia) we find the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations talking of national revolt, while in practice it enters into reactionary compacts with the bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation behind the backs of, and against, its own people. In such cases the criticism of revolutionary Marxists should be directed not against the national movement, but against its degradation, vulgarisation, against the tendency to reduce it to a petty squabble. Incidentally, very many Austrian and Russian Social-Democrats overlook this and in their legitimate hatred of the petty, vulgar and sordid national squabbles—disputes and scuffles over the question, for instance, of which language shall have precedence in two-language street signs—refuse to support the national struggle. We shall not “support” a republican farce in, say, the principality of Monaco, or the “republican” adventurism of “generals” in the small states of South America or some Pacific island. But that does not mean it would be permissible to abandon the republican slogan for serious democratic and socialist movements. We should, and do, ridicule the sordid national squabbles and haggling in Russia and Austria. But that does not mean that it would be permissible to deny support to a national uprising or a serious popular struggle against national oppression.

2) If national uprisings are impossible in the “imperialist era”, Kievsky has no right to speak of them. If they are possible,   all his fine-spun talk about “monism” and our “inventing” examples of self-determination under imperialism, etc., etc., falls to pieces. Kievsky defeats his own arguments.

If “we” “actively resist suppression” of a “national uprising”—a case which P. Kievsky “himself” considers possible—what does this mean?

It means that the action is twofold, or “dualistic”, to employ the philosophical term as incorrectly as our author does: (a) first, it is the “action” of the nationally oppressed proletariat and peasantry jointly with the, nationally oppressed bourgeoisie against the oppressor nation; (b) second, it is the “action” of the proletariat, or of its class-conscious section, in the oppressor nation against the bourgeoisie of that nation and all the elements that follow it.

The innumerable phrases against a “national bloc”, national “illusions”, the “poison” of nationalism, against “fanning national hatred” and the like, to which P. Kievsky resorts, prove to be meaningless. For when he advises the proletariat of the oppressor countries (which, be it remembered, he regards as a serious force) “actively to resist suppression of a national uprising”, he thereby fans national hatred and supports the establishment of a “bloc with the bourgeoisie” by the workers of the oppressed nations.

3) If national uprisings are possible under imperialism, so are national wars. There is no material political difference between the two. Military historians are perfectly right when they put rebellions in the same category as wars. Kievsky has unwittingly refuted not only himself, but also Junius[6] and the Internationale group, who deny the possibility of national wars under imperialism. And this denial is the only conceivable theoretical ground for denying self-determination of nations under imperialism.

4) For what is a “national” uprising? It is an uprising aimed at the achievement of political independence of the oppressed nation, i.  e., the establishment of a separate national state.

If the proletariat of the oppressor nation is a serious force (in the imperialist era, as our author rightly assumes), does not its determination “actively to resist suppression of a national uprising” imply assistance in creating a separate national state? Of course it does.

Though he denies the “achievability” of self-determination, our brave author now argues that the class-conscious proletariat of the advanced countries must assist in achieving this “unachievable” goal!

5) Why must “we” “actively resist” suppression of a national uprising? P. Kievsky advances only one reason: “...we shall thereby be combating imperialism, our mortal enemy.” All the strength of this argument lies in the strong word “mortal”. And this is in keeping with his penchant for strong words instead of strong arguments—high-sounding phrases like “driving a stake into the quivering body of the bourgeoisie” and similar Alexinsky flourishes.

But this Kievsky argument is wrong. Imperialism is as much our “mortal” enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism; we will not support an uprising of the reactionary classes against imperialism and capitalism.

Consequently, once the author admits the need to support an uprising of an oppressed nation (“actively resisting” suppression means supporting the uprising), he also admits that a national uprising is progressive, that the establishment of a separate and new state, of new frontiers, etc., resulting from a successful uprising, is progressive.

In none of his political arguments is the author consistent!

The Irish Rebellion of 1916, which took place after our theses had appeared in No. 2 of Vorbote, proved, incidentally, that it was not idle to speak of the possibility of national uprisings even in Europe.


[1] See, for instance, Hourwich’s book on immigration and the condition of the working class in America, Immigration and Labour.—Ed.


[3] This is from Engels’s Anti-Dühring, Moscow, 1959, pp. 63–64.

[4] Fracy (“Revolutionary Faction”)—the Right wing of the Polish Socialist Party (P.S.P.), a reformist nationalist party founded in 1892 and led by Pilsudski. While advocating independence for Poland, the P.S.P. conducted separatist nationalist propaganda among the Polish workers, endeavouring to discourage them from joint struggle with the Russian workers against the autocracy and capitalism.

In 1906 the party split into the Left P.S.P. and Right P.S.P. or Fracy. The latter continued the P.S.P. nationalist and chauvinist policy before, during and after the First World War.

[5] Reference is to Engels’s letter to Kautsky of September 12, 1882. Lenin cites it in his article “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up” (see present edition, Vol. 22, pp. 352–53).

[6] Junius was the pen-name of Rosa Luxemburg.

  4. The Example of Norway | 6. The Other Political Issues Raised and Distorted By P. Kievsky  

< backward     Contents     forward >
Works Index   |   Volume 23 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index