V. I.   Lenin

The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.)

APRIL 24–29, 1917


Speech on the National Question April 29 (May 12)

Beginning from 1903, when our Party adopted its programme, we have been encountering violent opposition on the part of the Polish comrades. If you study the Minutes of the Second Congress you will see that they were using the same arguments then that they are using now, and that the Polish Social-Democrats walked out from that Congress because they held that recognition of the right of nations to self-determination was unacceptable to them. Ever since then we have been coming up against the same question. Though imperialism already existed in 1903, the Polish Social-Democrats made no mention of it in their arguments. They are making the same strange and monstrous error now as they were then. These people want to put our Party’s stand on a par with that of the chauvinists.

Owing to long oppression by Russia, Poland’s policy is a wholly nationalist one, and the whole Polish nation is obsessed with one idea—revenge on the Muscovites. No one has oppressed the Poles more than the Russian people, who served in the hands of the tsars as the executioner of Polish freedom. In no nation does hatred of Russia sit so deep as with the Poles; no nation dislikes Russia so intensely as the Poles. As a result we have a strange thing. Because of the Polish bourgeoisie, Poland has become an obstacle to the socialist movement. The whole world could go to the devil so long as Poland was free. Of course, this way of putting the question is a mockery of internationalism. Of course, Poland is now a victim of violence, but for the Polish nationalists to count on Russia liberating Poland—that would be treason to the International. The Polish nationalists have   so imbued the Polish people with their views that this is how the situation is regarded in Poland.

The Polish Social-Democratic comrades have rendered a great historic service by advancing the slogan of internationalism and declaring that the fraternal union of the proletariat of all countries is of supreme importance to them and that they will never go to war for the liberation of Poland. This is to their credit, and this is why we have always regarded only these Polish Social-Democrats as socialists. The others are patriots, Polish Plekhanovs. But this peculiar position, when, in order to safeguard socialism, people were forced to struggle against a rabid and morbid nationalism, has produced a strange state of affairs: comrades come to us saying that we must give up the idea of Poland’s freedom, her right to secession.

Why should we Great Russians, who have been oppressing more nations than any other people, deny the right to secession for Poland, Ukraine, or Finland? We are asked to become chauvinists, because by doing so we would make the position of Social-Democrats in Poland less difficult. We do not pretend to seek to liberate Poland, because the Polish people live between two states that are capable of fighting. Instead of telling the Polish workers that only those Social-Democrats are real democrats who maintain that the Polish people ought to be free, since there is no place for chauvinists in a socialist party, the Polish Social-Democrats argue that, just because they find the union with Russian workers advantageous, they are opposed to Poland’s secession. They have a perfect right to do so. But people don’t want to understand that to strengthen internationalism you do not have to repeat the same words. What you have to do is to stress, in Russia, the freedom of secession for oppressed nations and, in Poland, their freedom to unite. Freedom to unite implies freedom to secede. We Russians must emphasise freedom to secede, while the Poles must emphasise freedom to unite.

We notice here a number of sophisms involving a complete renunciation of Marxism. Comrade Pyatakov’s stand repeats that of Rosa Luxemburg....[1] (Holland is an example.)   This is how Comrade Pyatakov reasons, and this is how he refutes himself, for in theory he denies freedom of secession, but to the people he says that anyone opposing freedom of secession is not a socialist. Comrade Pyatakov has been saying things here that are hopelessly muddled. In Western Europe most countries settled their national questions long ago. It is Western Europe that is referred to when it is said that the national question has been settled. Comrade Pyatakov, however, puts this where it does not belong—to Eastern Europe, and we find ourselves in a ridiculous position.

Just think of the dreadful mess that results! Finland is right next door to us. Comrade Pyatakov has no definite answer for Finland and gets all mixed up. In yesterday’s Rabochaya Gazeta you read that the movement for separation is growing in Finland. Finns arriving here tell us that separatism is growing there because the Cadets refuse to grant the country complete autonomy. A crisis is approaching there, dissatisfaction with Governor-General Rodichev is rife, but Rabochaya Gazeta writes that the Finns should wait for the Constituent Assembly, because an agreement will there be reached between Finland and Russia. What do they mean by agreement? The Finns must declare that they are entitled to decide their destiny in their own way, and any Great Russian who denies this right is a chauvinist. It would be another thing if we said to the Finnish worker: Decide what is best for yourself....[2]

Comrade Pyatakov simply rejects our slogan, saying that it means giving no slogan for the socialist revolution, but he himself gives no appropriate slogan. The method of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” is all muddled up. We have not succeeded in publishing the article in which I called this view “Imperialist Economism”.[3] What does the “method” of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” mean? We maintain that the state is necessary, and a state presupposes frontiers. The state, of course, may hold a bourgeois government, but we need the Soviets. But even Soviets are confronted with the question of frontiers. What does “Down with frontiers”   mean? It is the beginning of anarchy....The “method” of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” is simply a mess. When the time is ripe for socialist revolution, when it finally occurs, it will spread to other countries. We shall help it along, but in what manner, we do not know. “The method of socialist revolution” is just a meaningless phrase. We stand for the settlement of problems which the bourgeois revolution has left unsolved. Our attitude to the separatist movement is indifferent, neutral. If Finland, Poland or Ukraine secede from Russia, there is nothing bad in that. What is wrong with it? Anyone who says that is a chauvinist. One must be mad to continue Tsar Nicholas’s policy. Didn’t Norway secede from Sweden? Alexander I and Napoleon once bartered nations, the tsars once traded Poland. Are we to continue this policy of the tsars? This is repudiation of the tactics of internationalism, this is chauvinism at its worst. What is wrong with Finland seceding? After the secession of Norway from Sweden mutual trust increased between the two peoples, between the proletariat of these countries. The Swedish landowners wanted to start a war, but the Swedish workers refused to be drawn into such a war.

All the Finns want now is autonomy. We are for Finland receiving complete freedom, because then there will be greater trust in Russian democracy and the Finns will not separate. While Mr. Rodichev goes to Finland to haggle over autonomy, our Finnish comrades come here and say, “We want autonomy.” But what they get is a broadside, and the answer: “Wait for the Constituent Assembly.” But we say: “Any Russian socialist who denies Finland freedom is a chauvinist.”

We say that frontiers are determined by the will of the [local] population. Russia, don’t you dare fight over Kurland! Germany, get your armies out of Kurland! That is how we solve the secession problem. The proletariat cannot use force, because it must not prevent the peoples from obtaining their freedom. Only when the socialist revolution has become a reality, and not a method, will the slogan “Down with frontiers” be a correct slogan. Then we shall say: Comrades, come to us....

War is a different matter entirely. If need be, we shall not draw the line at a revolutionary war. We are not pacifists....   When we have Milyukov sitting here and sending Rodichev to Finland to shamefully haggle with the Finnish people,we say to the Russian people: Don’t you dare coerce Finland; no nation can be free that oppresses other nations.[4] In the resolution concerning Borgbjerg we say: Withdraw your troops and let the nation settle the question itself. But, if the Soviet takes over power tomorrow, that will not be a “method of socialist revolution”, and we shall then say: Germany, get your troops out of Poland, and Russia, get your troops out of Armenia. If we did otherwise we should be deceiving people.

Comrade Dzerzhinsky tells us that in his oppressed Poland everybody is a chauvinist. But not a single Pole has said a word about Finland or Ukraine. We have been arguing over this so much since 1903 that it is becoming difficult to talk about it. Do as you please....Anyone who does not accept this point of view is an annexationist and a chauvinist. We are for a fraternal union of all nations. If there is a Ukrainian republic and a Russian republic, there will be closer contact and greater trust between the two. If the Ukrainians see that we have a Soviet republic, they will not secede, but if we have a Milyukov republic, they will. When Comrade Pyatakov said in self-contradiction that he is against the forcible retention of nations within the frontiers, he actually recognised the right of nations to self-determination. We certainly do not want the peasant in Khiva to live under the Khan of Khiva. By developing our revolution we shall influence the oppressed people. Propaganda among the oppressed mass must follow only this line.

Any Russian socialist who does not recognise Finland’s and Ukraine’s right to freedom will degenerate into a chauvinist. And no sophisms or references to his “method” will ever help him to justify himself.

A brief report published May 15 (2), 1917 in Pravda No. 46 Published according to the typewritten copy of the Minutes
First published in full in 1921 in N. Lenin (V. Ulyanov), Works, Volume XIV, Part 2



[1] A gap in the minutes.—Ed.

[2] A gap in the minutes.—Ed.

[3] See present edition, Vol. 23, pp. 28–76.—Ed.

[4] See Engels, “Flüchtlings-Literatur. 1. Eine polnische Proklamation”. Der Volksstaat, Nr. 69, 17. VI. 1874.

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