Rosa Luxemburg
The National Question

1. The Right of Nations
to Self-Determination

Among other problems, the 1905 Revolution in Russia has brought into focus the nationality question. Until now, this problem has been urgent only in Austria-Hungary. At present, however, it has become crucial also in Russia, because the revolutionary development made all classes and all political parties acutely aware of the need to solve the nationality question as a matter of practical politics. All the newly formed or forming parties in Russia, be they radical, liberal or reactionary, have been forced to include in their programs some sort of a position on the nationality question, which is closely connected with the entire complex of the state’s internal and external policies. For a workers’ party, nationality is a question both of program and of class organization. The position a workers’ party assumes on the nationality question, as on every other question, must differ in method and basic approach from the positions of even the most radical bourgeois parties, and from the positions of the Pseudo-socialistic, petit bourgeois parties. Social Democracy, whose political program is based on the scientific method of historical materialism and the class struggle, cannot make an exception with respect to the nationality question. Moreover, it is only by approaching the problem from the standpoint of scientific socialism that the politics of Social Democracy will offer a solution which is essentially uniform, even though the program must take into account the wide variety of forms of the nationality question arising from the social, historical, and ethnic diversity of the Russian empire.

In the program of the Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) of Russia, such a formula, containing a general solution of the nationality question in all its particular manifestations, is provided by the ninth point; this says that the party demands a democratic republic whose constitution would insure, among other things, “that all nationalities forming the state have the right to self-determination.

This program includes two more extremely important propositions on the same matter. These are the seventh point, which demands the abolition of classes and the full legal equality of all citizens without distinction of sex, religion, race or nationality, and the eighth point, which says that the several ethnic groups of the state should have the right to schools conducted in their respective national languages at state expense, and the right to use their languages at assemblies and on an equal level with the state language in all state and public functions. Closely connected to the nationality question is the third point of the program, which formulates the demand for wide self-government on the local and provincial level in areas which are characterized by special living conditions and by the special composition of their populations. Obviously, however, the authors of the program felt that the equality of all citizens before the law, linguistic rights, and local self-government were not enough to solve the nationality problem, since they found it necessary to add a special paragraph granting each nationality the “right to self-determination.”

What is especially striking about this formula is the fact that it doesn’t represent anything specifically connected with socialism nor with the politics of the working class. “The right of nations to self-determination” is at first glance a paraphrase of the old slogan of bourgeois nationalism put forth in all countries at all times: “the right of nations to freedom and independence.” In Poland, the “innate right of nations” to freedom has been the classic formula of nationalists from the Democratic Society to Limanowski’s Pobudka, and from the national socialist Pobudka to the anti-socialist National League” before it renounced its program of independence.[2] Similarly, a resolution on the “equal rights of all nations” to freedom was the only tangible result of the famous pan-Slav congress held in Prague, which was broken up in 1848 by the pan-Slavic bayonets of Windischgraetz. On the other hand, its generality and wide scope, despite the principle of “the right of nations to self-determination” which obviously can be applied not only to the peoples living in Russia but also to the nationalities living in Germany and Austria, Switzerland and Sweden, America – strangely enough is not to be found in any of the programs of today’s socialist parties. This principle is not even included in the program of Austrian Social Democracy, which exists in a state with an extremely mixed population, where the nationality question is of crucial importance.

The Austrian party would solve the nationality question not by a metaphysical formula which leaves the determination of the nationality question up to each of the nationalities according to their whims, but only by means of a well-defined plan. Austrian Social Democracy demands the elimination of the existing state structure of Austria, which is a collection of “kingdoms and princely states” patched together during the Middle Ages by the dynastic politics of the Hapsburgs, and includes various nationalities mixed together territorially in a hodgepodge manner. The party rather demands that these kingdoms and states should be divided into territories on the basis of nationality, and that these national territories be joined into a state union. But because the nationalities are to some extent jumbled together through almost the entire area of Austria, the program of Social Democracy makes provision for a special law to protect the smaller minorities in the newly created national territories.

Everyone is free to have a different opinion on this plan. Karl Kautsky, one of the most knowledgeable experts on Austrian conditions and one of the spiritual fathers of Austrian Social Democracy, shows in his latest pamphlet, Nationality and Internationalism, that such a plan, even if it could be put into effect, would by no means completely eliminate the conflicts and difficulties among the nationalities. Nonetheless, it does represent an attempt to provide a practical solution of these difficulties by the party of the proletariat, and because of the importance of the nationality question in Austria, we shall quote it in full.

The nationality program of the Austrian party, adopted at the Brünn Congress in 1899, says:

Because national conflicts in Austria are obstructing all political progress and the cultural development of the nationalities, because these conflicts result primarily from the backwardness of our public institutions and because the prolongation of these conflicts is one of the methods by which the ruling classes insure their domination and prevent measures in the true interests of the people, the congress declares that:

The final settlement of the nationality and language question in Austria in the spirit of equality and reason is primarily a cultural demand, and therefore is one of the vital interests of the proletariat.

This is possible only under a truly democratic regime based on universal, equal, and direct elections, a regime in which all feudal privileges in the state and the principalities will have been abrogated. Only under such a regime will the working classes, the elements which really support the state and society, be able to express their demands.

The nurturing and development of the national peculiarities of all peoples in Austria are possible only on the basis of equal rights and the removal of oppression. Therefore, state-bureaucratic centralism and the feudal privileges of the principalities must be opposed.

Only under such conditions will it be possible to create harmony among the nationalities in Austria in place of the quarrelling that takes place now, namely, through the recognition of the following guiding principles:

Austria is to be transformed into a democratic federation of nationalities (Nationalitätenbundesstaat).

The historic Crown lands are to be replaced by nationally homogeneous self-ruling bodies, whose legislation and administration shall be in the hands of national chambers, elected on the basis of universal, equal, and direct franchise.

All self-governing regions of one and the same nation are to form together a nationally distinct union, which shall take care of this union’s affairs autonomously. [That is, linguistic and cultural, according to the explanation given in the draft by the party’s leadership.]

A special law should be adopted by the parliament to safeguard the rights of national minorities.

We do not recognize any national privilege; therefore we reject the demand for a state language. Whether a common language is needed, a federal parliament can decide.

The party congress, as the organ of international social democracy in Austria, expresses its conviction that on the basis of these guiding principles, understanding among peoples is possible.

It solemnly declares that it recognizes the right of each nationality to national existence and national development.

Peoples can advance their culture only in close solidarity with one another, not in petty quarrels; particularly the working class of all nations must, in the interest of the individual nationalities and in the general interest, maintain international cooperation and fraternity in its struggle and must conduct its political and economic struggle in closely united ranks.

In the ranks of international socialism, the Russian Workers’ Party is the only one whose program includes the demand that “nationalities be granted the right to self-determination.”

Apart from Russian Social Democracy, we find this formula only in the program of the Russian Social Revolutionaries, where it goes hand in hand with the principle of state federalism. The relevant section of the political declaration of the Social Revolutionary Party states that “the wide application of the principle of federalism in the relations between individual nationalities is possible,” and stresses the “recognition of their unlimited right to self-determination.”

It is true that the above formula exists in another connection with international socialism: namely, it is a paraphrase of one section of the resolution on the nationality problem adopted in 1896 by the International Socialist Congress in London. However, the circumstances which led to the adoption of that resolution, and the way in which the resolution was formulated, show clearly that if the ninth paragraph in the program of the Russian party is taken as an application of the London Resolution, it is based on a misunderstanding.

The London resolution was not at all the result of the intention or need to make a statement at an international congress on the nationality question in general, nor was it presented or adopted by the Congress as a formula for the practical resolution of that question by the workers’ parties of the various countries. Indeed, just the opposite was true. The London Resolution was adopted on the basis of a motion presented to the Congress by the social-patriotic faction of the Polish movement, or the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), a motion which demanded that the reconstruction of an independent Poland be recognized as one of the most urgent demands of international socialism.[3] Influenced by the criticism raised at the Congress by Polish Social Democracy and the discussion concerning this in the socialist press, as well as by the first mass demonstration of the workers’ movement in Russia the memorable strike of forty thousand textile workers in Petersburg in May 1896 the International Congress did not consider the Polish motion, which was directed in its arguments and in its entire character against the Russian revolutionary movement. Instead, it adopted the London Resolution already mentioned, which signified a rejection of the motion for the reconstruction of Poland.

The Congress – the resolution states – declares itself in favor of the complete 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 despotism; the Congress calls on the workers of all these countries to join the ranks of the class-conscious workers of the whole world in order to fight together with them for the defeat of international capitalism and for the achievement of the aims of international Social Democracy.

As we can see, in its content, the London Resolution replaces the exclusive consideration of the Polish question by the generalization of the question of all suppressed nationalities, transferring the question from a national basis onto an inter-national one, and instead of a definite, completely concrete demand of practical politics, which the motion of the PPS demanded the reconstruction of independent Poland-the resolution expresses a general socialist principle: sympathy for the proletariat of all suppressed nationalities and the recognition of their right to self-determination. There can be no doubt that this principle was not formulated by the Congress in order to give the international workers’ movement a practical solution to the nationality problem. On the contrary, a practical guideline for socialist politics is contained not in the first part of the London Resolution quoted above, but in the second part, which “calls upon the workers of all countries suffering national oppression to enter the ranks of international Social Democracy and to work for the realization of its principles and goals.” It is an unambiguous way of emphasizing that the principle formulated in the first part – the right of nations to self-determination can be put into effect only in one way: viz., by first realizing the principles of international socialism and by attaining its ultimate goals.

Indeed, none of the socialist parties took the London Resolution to be a practical solution of the nationality question, and they did not include it in their programs. Even Austrian Social Democracy, for which the solution of the nationality problem was a question involving its very existence, did not do this; instead, in 1899, it created for itself independently the practical “nationality program” quoted above. What is most characteristic, even the PPS did not do this, because, despite its efforts to spread the tale that the London Resolution was a formula in ”the spirit” of socialism, it was obvious that this Resolution meant rather a rejection of its motion for the reconstruction of Poland, or at the very least, a dilution of it into a general formula without any practical character.[4] In point of fact, the political programs of the modern workers’ parties do not aim at stating abstract principles of a social ideal, but only at the formulation of those practical social and political reforms which the class-conscious proletariat needs and demands in the framework of bourgeois society to facilitate the class struggle and their ultimate victory. The elements of a political program are formulated with definite aims in mind: to provide a direct, practical, and feasible solution to the crucial problems of political and social life, which are in the area of the class struggle of the proletariat; to serve as a guideline for everyday politics and its needs; to initiate the political action of the workers’ party and to lead it in the right direction; and finally, to separate the revolutionary politics of the proletariat from the politics of the bourgeois and petit bourgeois parties.

The formula, “the right of nations to self-determination,” of course doesn’t have such a character at all. It gives no practical guidelines for the day to day politics of the proletariat, nor any practical solution of nationality problems. For example, this formula does not indicate to the Russian proletariat in what way it should demand a solution of the Polish national problem, the Finnish question, the Caucasian question, the Jewish, etc. It offers instead only an unlimited authorization to all interested “nations” to settle their national problems in any way they like. The only practical conclusion for the day to day politics of the working class which can be drawn from the above formula is the guideline that it is the duty of that class to struggle against all manifestations of national oppression. If we recognize the right of each nation to self-determination, it is obviously a logical conclusion that we must condemn every attempt to place one nation over another, or for one nation to force upon another any form of national existence. However, the duty of the class party of the proletariat to protest and resist national oppression arises not from any special “right of nations,” just as, for example, its striving for the social and political equality of sexes does not at all result from any special “rights of women” which the movement of bourgeois emancipationists refers to. This duty arises solely from the general opposition to the class regime and to every form of social inequality and social domination, in a word, from the basic position of socialism. But leaving this point aside, the only guideline given for practical politics is of a purely negative character. The duty to resist all forms of national oppression does not include any explanation of what conditions and political forms the class-conscious proletariat in Russia at the present time should recommen d as a solution for the nationality problems of Poland, Latvia, the Jews, etc., or what program it should present to match the various programs of the bourgeois, nationalist, and pseudo-socialist parties in the present class struggle. In a word, the formula, “the right of nations to self-determination,” is essentially not a political and problematic guideline in the nationality question, but only a means of avoiding that question.


The general and cliché-like character of the ninth point in the program of the Social Democratic Labor Party of Russia shows that this way of solving the question is foreign to the position of Marxian socialism. A “right of nations” which is valid for all countries and all times is nothing more than a metaphysical cliché of the type of ”rights of man” and “rights of the citizen.” Dialectic materialism, which is the basis of scientific socialism, has broken once and for all with this type of “eternal” formula. For the historical dialectic has shown that there are no “eternal” truths and that there are no “rights.” ... In the words of Engels, “What is good in the here and now, is an evil somewhere else, and vice versa” – or, what is right and reasonable under some circumstances becomes nonsense and absurdity under others. Historical materialism has taught us that the real content of these “eternal” truths, rights, and formulae is determined only by the material social conditions of the environment in a given historical epoch.

On this basis, scientific socialism has revised the entire store of democratic clichés and ideological metaphysics inherited from the bourgeoisie. Present-day Social Democracy long since stopped regarding such phrases as “democracy,” “national freedom,” “equality,” and other such beautiful things as eternal truths and laws transcending particular nations and times. On the contrary, Marxism regards and treats them only as expressions of certain definite historical conditions, as categories which, in terms of their material content and therefore their political value, are subject to constant change, which is the only “eternal” truth.

When Napoleon or any other despot of his ilk uses a plebiscite, the extreme form of political democracy, for the goals of Caesarism, taking advantage of the political ignorance and economic subjection of the masses, we do not hesitate for a moment to come out wholeheartedly against that “democracy,” and are not put off for a moment by the majesty or the omnipotence of the people, which, for the metaphysicians of bourgeois democracy, is something like a sacrosanct idol.

When a German like Tassendorf or a tsarist gendarme, or a “truly Polish” National Democrat defends the “personal freedom” of strikebreakers, protecting them against the moral and material pressure of organized labor, we don’t hesitate a minute to support the latter, granting them the fullest moral and historical right to force the unenlightened rivals into solidarity, although from the point of view of formal liberalism, those “willing to work” have on their side the right of “a free individual” to do what reason, or unreason, tells them.

When, finally, liberals of the Manchester School demand that the wage worker be left completely to his fate in the struggle with capital in the name of “the equality of citizens,” we unmask that metaphysical cliché which conceals the most glaring economic inequality, and we demand, point-blank, the legal protection of the class of wage workers, thereby clearly breaking with formal “equality before the law.”

The nationality question cannot be an exception among all the political, social, and moral questions examined in this way by modern socialism. It cannot be settled by the use of some vague cliché, even such a fine-sounding formula as “the right of all nations to self-determination.” For such a formula expresses either absolutely nothing, so that it is an empty, noncommittal phrase, or else it expresses the unconditional duty of socialists to support all national aspirations, in which case it is simply false.

On the basis of the general assumptions of historical materialism, the position of socialists with respect to nationality problems depends primarily on the concrete circumstances of each case, which differ significantly among countries, and also change in the course of time in each country. Even a superficial knowledge of the facts enables one to see that the question of the nationality struggles under the Ottoman Porte in the Balkans has a completely different aspect, a different economic and historical basis, a different degree of international importance, and different prospects for the future, from the question of the struggle of the Irish against the domination of England. Similarly, the complications in the relations among the nationalities which make up Austria are completely different from the conditions which influence the Polish question. Moreover, the nationality question in each country changes its character with time, and this means that new and different evaluations must be made about it. Even our three national movements beginning from the time of the Kosciuszko Insurrection could be seen as a triple, stereotyped repetition of the same historical play (that is, “the struggle of a subjugated nationality for independence”) only in the eyes of either a metaphysician of the upper-class Catholic ideology such as Szujski, who believed that Poland had historical mission to be the “Christ of nations,” or in the eyes of an ignoramus of the present-day social-patriotic “school.” Whoever cuts deeper with the scalpel of the researcher more precisely, of the historical-materialist researcher – will see beneath the surface of our three national uprisings three completely different socio-political movements, which took on an identical form of struggle with the invader in each case only because of external circumstances. To measure the Kosciuszko Insurrection and the November and January insurrections by one and the same yardstick – by the sacred laws of the “subjugated nation” – actually reveals a lack of all judgment and the complete absence of any historical and political discrimination.[6]

A glaring example of how the change of historical conditions influences the evaluation and the position of socialists with respect to the nationality question is the so-called Eastern question. During the Crimean war in 1855, the sympathies of all democratic and socialist Europe were on the side of the Turks and against the South Slavs who were seeking their liberty. The “right” of all nations to freedom did not prevent Marx, Engels, and Liebknecht from speaking against the Balkan Slavs and from resolutely supporting the integrity of the Turks. For they judged the national movements of the Slavic peoples in the Turkish empire not from the standpoint of the “eternal” sentimental formulae of liberalism, but from the standpoint of the material conditions which determined the content of these national movements, according to their views of the time. Marx and Engels saw in the freedom movement of the socially backward South Slavs only the machinations of Russian tsardom trying to irritate the Turks, and thus, without any second thoughts, they subordinated the question of the national freedom of the Slavs to the interests of European democracy, insisting on the integrity of Turkey as a bulwark of defense against Russian reaction. This political position was maintained in German Social Democracy as late as the second half of the 1890s, when the gray-haired Wilhelm Liebknecht, on the occasion of the struggle of the Ormian Turks, still spoke in that spirit. But by this time the position of German and international Social Democracy on the Eastern question had changed. Social Democracy began to support openly the aspirations of the suppressed nationalities in Turkey to a separate cultural existence, and abandoned all concern for the artificial preservation of Turkey as a whole. And at this time it was guided not by a feeling of duty toward the Ormians or the Macedonians as subjugated nationalities, but by the analysis of the material base of conditions in the East in the second half of the last century. By this analysis, the Social Democrats became convinced that the political disintegration of Turkey would result from its economic-political development in the second half of the nineteenth century, and that the temporary preservation of Turkey would serve the interests of the reactionary diplomacy of Russian absolutism. Here, as in all other questions, Social Democracy was not contrary to the current of objective development, but with it, and, profiting from its conclusions, it defended the interests of European civilization by supporting the national movements within Turkey. It also supported all attempts to renew and reform Turkey from within, however weak the social basis for such a movement may have been.

A second example of the same thing is provided by the diametrically opposite attitudes of Marx and Engels during the revolution of 1848 with respect to the national aspirations of the Czechs and the Poles. There is no doubt that from the point of view of the “right of nations to self-determination” the Czechs deserved the support of the European socialists and democrats no less than the Poles. Marx, however, did not pay any attention to that abstract formula, and hurled thunderbolts at the heads of the Czechs and their aspirations for freedom, aspirations which he regarded as a harmful complication of the revolutionary situation, all the more deserving of severe condemnation, since, to Marx, the Czechs were a dying nationality, doomed to disappear soon. The creators of The Communist Manifesto put forth these views at the same time that they were defending the nationalist movement of the Poles with all their strength, calling upon all revolutionary and progressive forces to help our patriots.

The sober realism, alien to all sentimentalism, with which Marx examined the national problems during the revolution itself, is shown by the way he treated the Polish and Czech questions:

“The Revolution of 1848,” wrote Marx in his articles on the revolution which appeared in February 1852 in the American paper, Daily Tribune,

calling forth at once the claim of all oppressed nations to an independent existence, and to the right to settle their own affairs for themselves, it was quite natural that the Poles should at once demand the restoration of their country within the frontiers of the old Polish Republic before 1772. It is true, this frontier, even at that time, had become obsolete, if taken as the delimitation of German and Polish nationality; it had become more so every year since by the progress of Germanization; but then, the Germans had proclaimed such an enthusiasm for the restoration of Poland, that they must expect to be asked, as a first proof of the reality of their sympathies, to give up their share of the plunder. On the other hand, should whole tracts of land, inhabited chiefly by Germans, should large towns, entirely German, be given up to a people that as yet had never given any proofs of its capability of progressing beyond a state of feudalism based upon agricultural serfdom? The question was intricate enough. The only possible solution was in a war with Russia. The question of delimitation between the different revolutionized nations would have been made a secondary one to that of first establishing a safe frontier against the common enemy. The Poles, by receiving extended territories in the east, would have become more tractable and reasonable in the west; and Riga and Milan would have been deemed, after all, quite as important to them as Danzig and Elbing. Thus the advanced party in Germany, deeming a war with Russia necessary to keep up the Continental movement, and considering that the national reestablishment even of a part of Poland would inevitably lead to such a war, supported the Poles; while the reigning, middle-class party clearly foresaw its downfall from any national war against Russia, which would have called more active and energetic men to the helm, and, therefore, with a feigned enthusiasm for the extension of German nationality, they declared Prussian Poland, the chief seat of Polish revolutionary agitation, to be part and parcel of the German Empire that was to be.[7]

Marx treated the Czech question with no less political realism:

The question of nationality gave rise to another struggle in Bohemia. This country, inhabited by two millions of Germans, and three millions of Slavonians of the Czechian tongue, had great historical recollections, almost all connected with the former supremacy of the Czechs. But then the force of this branch of the Slavonic family had been broken ever since the wars of the Hussites in the fifteenth century. The province speaking the Czechian tongue was divided, one part forming the kingdom of Bohemia, another the principality of Moravia, a third the Carpathian hill country of the Slovaks, being part of Hungary. The Moravians and Slovaks had long since lost every vestige of national feeling, and vitality, although mostly preserving their language. Bohemia was surrounded by thoroughly German countries on three sides out of four. The German element had made great progress on her own territory; even in the capital, in Prague, the two nationalities were pretty equally matched; and everywhere capital, trade, industry, and mental culture were in the hands of the Germans. The chief champion of the Czechian nationality, Professor Palacky, is himself nothing but a learned German run mad, who even now cannot speak the Czechian language correctly and without foreign accent. But, as it often happens, dying Czechian nationality, dying according to every fact known in history for the last four hundred years, made in 1848 a last effort to regain its former vitality an effort whose failure, independently of all revolutionary considerations, was to prove that Bohemia could only exist, henceforth, as a portion of Germany, although part of her inhabitants might yet, for some centuries, continue to speak a non‑German language. [Revolution and Konterrevolution in Deutschland, pp.57-62]

We quote the above passages in order to stress the methods which Marx and Engels used with respect to the nationality question, methods not dealing in abstract formulae, but only in the real issues of each individual case. That method did not, though, keep them from making a faulty evaluation of the situation, or from taking a wrong, position in certain cases. The present state of affairs shows how deeply Marx was in error in predicting, sixty years ago, the disappearance of the Czech nationality, whose vitality the Austrians today find so troublesome. Conversely, he overestimated the international importance of Polish nationalism: this was doomed to decay by the internal development of Poland, a decay which had already set in at that time. But these historical errors do not detract an ounce from the value of Marx’s method, for there are in general no methods of research which are, a priori, protected against a wrong application in individual cases. Marx never claimed to be infallible, and nothing, in the last resort, is so contrary to the spirit of his science as “infallible” historical judgments. It was possible for Marx to be mistaken in his position with respect to certain national movements, and the author of the present work tried to show in 1896 and 1897 that Marx’s views on the Polish question, as on the Eastern question, were outdated and mistaken. But it is this former position of Marx and Engels on the question of Turkey and the South Slavs, as well as on the national movement of the Czechs and Poles, that shows emphatically how far the founders of scientific socialism were from solving all nationality questions in one manner only, on the basis of one slogan adopted a priori. It also shows how little they were concerned with the “metaphysical” rights of nations when it was a matter of the tangible material problems of European development.

Finally, an even more striking example of how the creators of modern socialist politics treated the national question is their evaluation of the freedom movement of the Swiss in the fourteenth century. This is part of history, therefore free from the influence of all the expectations and passions of day to day politics. The uprising of the Swiss cantons against the bloody oppression of the Hapsburg despotism (which, in the form of the historical myth of William Tell, is the object of absolute worship by the liberal-bourgeois romantic idealist) was appraised by Friedrich Engels in 1847 in the following way:

The struggle of the early Swiss against Austria, the famous oath at Rytli, the heroic shot of Tell, the immortal victory at Morgarten – all this represented the struggle of restless shepherds against the thrust of historical development, a struggle of hidebound, conservative, local interests against the interests of the entire nation, a struggle of primitivism against enlightenment, barbarism against civilization. They won their victory over the civilization of that period, but as punishment they were cut off from the whole later progress of civilization.[8]

To this evaluation Kautsky adds the following commentary:

A question mark could be added to the above concerning the civilizing mission which the Hapsburgs were carrying out in Switzerland in the fourteenth century. On the other hand it is correct that the preservation of the independence of the cantons was an event which was conservative to the nth degree, and in no way revolutionary, and that thenceforth the freedom of those cantons served as a means of preserving an element of blackest reaction in the center of Europe. It was those forest cantons which defeated Zwingli and his army in 1531 at the battle of Kappel, and thereby put a stop to the spread of Protestantism in Switzerland. They provided armies to all the despots of Europe, and it was the Swiss of the forest cantons who were the staunchest supporters of Louis XVl against the revolution. For this the republic raised a magnificent monument to them in Lucerne. [Die Neue Zeit, 1904-1905, Vol.II, p.146.]

From the point of view of the ”right of nations to self-determination,” the Swiss uprising obviously deserves the sympathy of socialists on all scores. There is no doubt that the aspirations of the Swiss to free themselves from the Hapsburg yoke were an essential expression of the will of the “people” or a huge majority of them. The national movement of the Swiss had a purely defensive character, and was not informed by the desire to oppress other nationalities. It was intended only to throw off the oppression of a foreign and purely dynastic invader. Finally, this national movement formally bore all the external characteristics of democratism, and even revolutionism, since the people were rebelling against absolute rule under the slogan of a popular republic.

In complete contrast to this movement is the national uprising in Hungary in 1848. It is easy to see what would have been the historical outcome of the victory of the Hungarians because the social and national conditions of that country insured the absolute domination of the Magyar minority over the mixed majority of the other, subjugated nationalities. A comparison of these two struggles for national independence - the Hungarian in 1848 and the Swiss five centuries earlier – is all the more significant since both were directed against the same enemy: the absolutism of the Austrian Hapsburgs. The method and the viewpoint on national politics of Marx and Engels are brought into high relief by this comparison. Despite all the external evidences of revolutionism in the Swiss movement, and despite the indisputable two-edged character of the Magyar movement, obvious in the flunkeyism with which the Hungarian revolutionaries helped the Vienna government to suppress the Italian revolution, the creators of scientific socialism sharply criticized the Swiss uprising as a reactionary event, while they supported fervently the Hungarian uprising in 1848. In both cases they were guided not by the formula of “the right of nations to self-determination,” which obviously was much more applicable to the Swiss than to the Magyars, but only by a realistic analysis of the movements from a historical and political standpoint. The uprising of the fragmented peasant cantons, with their regionalism against the centralist power of the Hapsburgs, was, in the eyes of Engels, a sign of historical reaction, just as the absolutism of the princely power, moving toward centralism, was at that time an element of historical progress. From a similar standpoint, we note in passing, Lassalle regarded the peasant wars, and the parallel rebellion of the minor knights of the nobility in Germany in the sixteenth century against the rising princely power, as signs of reaction. On the other hand, in 1848, Hapsburg absolutism was already a reactionary relic of the Middle Ages, and the national uprising of the Hungarians – a natural ally of the internal German revolution – directed against the Hapsburgs naturally had to be regarded as an element of historical progress.


What is more, in taking such a stand Marx and Engels were not at all indulging in party or class egoism, and were not sacrificing entire nations to the needs and perspectives of Western European democracy, as it might have appeared.

It is true that it sounds much more generous, and is more flattering to the overactive imagination of the young “intellectual,” when the socialists announce a general and universal introduction of freedom for all existing suppressed nations. But the tendency to grant all peoples, countries, groups, and all human creatures the right to freedom, equality, and other such joys by one sweeping stroke of the pen, is characteristic only of the youthful period of the socialist movement, and most of all of the phraseological bravado of anarchism.

The socialism of the modern working class, that is, scientific socialism, takes no delight in the radical and wonderful-sounding solutions of social and national questions, but examines primarily the real issues involved in these problems,

The solutions of the problems of Social Democracy are not in general characterized by “magnanimity,” and in this respect they are always outdone by socialist parties which are not hampered by scientific “doctrines,” and which therefore always have their pockets full of the most beautiful gifts for everyone. Thus, for example, in Russia, the Social Revolutionary Party leaves Social Democracy far behind in the agricultural question; it has for the peasants a recipe for the immediate partial introduction of socialism in the village, without the need of a boring period of waiting for the conditions of such a transformation in the sphere of industrial development. In comparison with such parties, Social Democracy is and always will be a poor party, just as Marx in his time was poor in comparison with the expansive and magnanimous Bakunin, just as Marx and Engels were both poor in comparison with the representatives of “real” or rather “philosophical” socialism. But the secret of the magnanimity of all socialists with an anarchist coloration and of the poverty of Social Democracy, is that anarchistic revolutionism measures “strength by intentions, not intentions according to strength”; that is, it measures its aspirations only by what its speculative reason, fumbling with an empty utopia, regards as ̶good” and “necessary” for the salvation of humanity. Social Democracy, on the other hand, stands firmly on historical ground in its aspirations, and therefore reckons with historical possibilities. Marxian socialism differs from all the other brands of socialism because, among other things, it has no pretensions to keeping patches in its pocket to mend all the holes made by historical development.

Actually, even if as socialists we recognized the immediate right of all nations to independence, the fates of nations would not change an iota because of this. The “right” of a nation to freedom as well as the “right” of the worker to economic independence are, under existing social conditions, only worth as much as the “right” of each man to eat off gold plates, which, as Nicolaus Chernyshevski wrote, he would be ready to sell at any moment for a ruble. In the 1840s the “right to work” was a favorite postulate of the Utopian Socialists in France, and appeared as an immediate and radical way of solving the social question. However, in the Revolution of 1848 that “right” ended, after a very short attempt to put it into effect, in a terrible fiasco, which could not have been avoided even if the famous “national work-shops” had been organized differently. An analysis of the real conditions of the contemporary economy, as given by Marx in his Capital, must lead to the conviction that even if present-day governments were forced to declare a universal “right to work,” it would remain only a fine-sounding phrase, and not one member of the rank and file of the reserve army of labor waiting on the sidewalk would be able to make a bowl of soup for his hungry children from that right.

Today, Social Democracy understands that the “right to work” will stop being an empty sound only when the capitalist regime is abolished, for in that regime the chronic unemployment of a certain part of the industrial proletariat is a necessary condition of production. Thus, Social Democracy does not demand a declaration of that imaginary “right” on the basis of the existing system, but rather strives for the abolition of the system itself by the class struggle, regarding labor organizations, unemployment insurance, etc., only as temporary means of help.

In the same way, hopes of solving all nationality questions within the capitalist framework by insuring to all nations, races, and ethnic groups the possibility of “self-determination” is a complete utopia. And it is a utopia from the point of view that the objective system of political and class forces condemns many a demand in the political program of Social Democracy to be unfeasible in practice. For example, important voices in the ranks of the international workers’ movement have expressed the conviction that a demand for the universal introduction of the eight-hour day by legal enactment has no chance of being realized in bourgeois society because of the growing social reaction of the ruling classes, the general stagnation of social reforms, the rise of powerful organizations of businessmen, etc. Nonetheless, no one would dare call the demand for the eight-hour day a utopia, because it is in complete accordance with the progressive development of bourgeois society.

However, to resume: the actual possibility of “self-determination” for all ethnic groups or otherwise defined nationalities is a utopia precisely because of the trend of historical development of contemporary societies. Without examining those distant times at the dawn of history when the nationalities of modern states were constantly moving about geographically, when they were joining, merging, fragmenting, and trampling one another, the fact is that all the ancient states without exception are, as a result of that long history of political and ethnic upheavals, extremely mixed with respect to nationalities. Today, in each state, ethnic relics bear witness to the upheavals and intermixtures which characterized the march of historical development in the past. Even in his time, Marx maintained that these national survivals had no other function but to serve as bastions of the counter-revolution, until they should be completely swept from the face of the earth by the great hurricane of revolution or world war. “There is no country in Europe,” he wrote in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung:

which doesn’t have in some corner one or more of these ruins of nations, the remains of an ancient people displaced and conquered by a nation which later became a standard-bearer of historical development. These remains of nationalities, mercilessly trampled on by history - as Hegel says – these national left-overs will all become and will remain until their final extermination or denationalization fanatic partisans of the counter-revolution, since their entire existence is in general a protest against the great historical revolution. For ex-ample, in Scotland the Gaels were the mainstays of the Stuarts from 1640 to 1745; in France, it was the Bretons who were the mainstays of the Bourbons from 1792 to 1800; while in Spain, the Basques were the supporters of Don Carlos. In Austria, to take another example, the pan-Slavic South Slavs are nothing more than the national left-overs of a highly confused thousand-year-long development. [Aus dem literarischen Nachlass von Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels und Ferdinand Lasalle, Vol.III, p.241]

In another article, treating the pan-Slavs’ strivings for the independence of all Slavic nations, Marx writes,

The Germans and Hungarians, during the times when great monarchies were a historical necessity in Europe, forged all those petty, crippled, powerless little nations into one big state, thereby allowing them to participate in the development of history which, if left to themselves, they would have completely missed. Today, because of the huge progress of industry, trade, and communications, political centralization has become an even more pressing need than it was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. What is not yet centralized is being centralized. [Ibid., p.255.]

We abandoned Marx’s views on the South Slavs a long time ago: but the general fact is that historical development, especially the modern development of capitalism, does not tend to return to each nationality its independent existence, but moves rather in the opposite direction, and this is as well known today as during the time of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.

In his most recent paper, Nationality and Internationalism, Karl Kautsky makes the following sketch of the historical fates of nationalities:

We have seen that language is the most important means of social intercourse. As that intercourse grows with economic development, so the circle of people using the same language must grow as well. From this arises the tendency of unified nations to expand, to swallow up other nations, which lose their language and adopt the language of the dominant nation or a mixture.

According to Kautsky, three great cultural communities of humanity developed simultaneously: the Christian, the Muslim, and the Buddhist.

Each of these three cultural groupings includes the most variegated languages and nationalities. Within each one most of the culture is not national but international. But universal communication has further effects. It expands even more and everywhere establishes the domination of the same capitalist production ... Whenever a closely knit community of communication and culture exists for a fairly long time among a large number of nations, then one or a few nations gain ascendancy over the government, the military, the scientific and artistic heights. Their language becomes indispensable for every merchant and educated man in that international cultural community. Their culture – in economy, art, and literature – lends its character to the whole civilization. Such a role was played in the Mediterranean basin until the end of ancient times by Greek and Latin. In the Mohammedan world it is played by Arabic; in the Christian, including Jews and atheists, German, English, and French have become universal languages ... Perhaps economic and political development will add Russian to these three languages. But it is equally possible that one of them, English, will become the only common language ... The joining of nations to the international cultural community will be reflected in the growth of universal languages among merchants and educated people. And this union was never as closely knit as it is now; never was a purely national culture less possible. Therefore it strikes us as very strange when people talk always of only a national culture and when a goal of socialism is considered to be the endowing of the masses with a national culture ... When socialist society provides the masses with an education, it also gives them the ability to speak several languages, the universal languages, and therefore to take part in the entire international civilization and not only in the separate culture of a certain linguistic community. When we have got to the point where the masses in our civilized states can master one or more of the universal languages besides their native language, this will be a basis for the gradual withdrawal and ultimately the complete disappearance of the languages of the smaller nations, and for the union of all civilized humanity into one language and one nationality, just as the peoples in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean were united in Hellenism after Alexander the Great, and the peoples of the western area later merged into the Roman nationality.

The variety of languages within our circle of civilization makes understanding among members of the various nations difficult and is an obstacle to their civilized progress. [Emphasis in the following paragraph is R.L.s] But only socialism will overcome that obstacle, and much work will be needed before it can succeed in educating entire masses of people to obtain visible results. And we must keep in mind already today that our internationalism is not a special type of nationalism differs from bourgeois nationalism only in that it does not behave aggressively – that it leaves to each nation the same right which it demands for its own nation, and thereby recognizes the complete sovereignty (Soveränität) of each nation. Such a view, which transforms the position of anarchism concerning individuals onto nations, does not correspond to the close cultural community existing between nations of contemporary civilisation.

These last, in fact, in regard to economy and civilization, form one single social body whose welfare depends on the harmony of the cooperation of the parts, possible only by the subordination of all the parts to the whole. The Socialist International is not a conglomerate of autocratic nations, each doing what it likes, as long as it does not interfere with the equality of rights of the others; but rather an organism wherein the better it works, the easier it is for its parts to come to agreement and the more they work together according to a common plan.

Such is the historical scheme as described by Kautsky. To be sure, he presents the matter from a different point of view than Marx does, emphasizing mainly the side of cultural, peaceful development, whereas Marx accents its political side, an external armed conquest. Both, however, characterize the fate of nationalities in the course of events, not as tending to separate themselves and become independent, but completely vice-versa. Kautsky formulates – as far as we know, for the first time in socialistic literature of recent times – the historical tendency to remove completely all national distinctions within the socialist system and to fuse all of civilized humanity into one nationality. [K. Kautsky, Nationalität und Internationaliät, pp.12-17 & p.23.]

However – that theoretician believes – at the present time capitalist development gives rise to phenomena which seem to work in the opposite direction: the awakening and intensification of national consciousness as well as the need for a national state which is the state form “best corresponding to modern conditions, the form in which it can most easily fulfil its tasks.” [ibid.]

The “best national state is only an abstraction which can be easily described and defined theoretically, but which doesn’t correspond to reality. Historical development toward a universal community of civilization will, like all social development, take place in the midst of a contradiction, but this contradiction, with respect to the consolidating growth of international civilization, lies in another area than where Kautsky seeks it, not in the tendency toward the idea of a “national state,” but rather where Marx indicates it to be, in the deadly struggle among nations, in the tendency to create – alongside the great areas of civilization and despite them – great capitalist states. The development of world powers, a characteristic feature of our times growing in importance along with the progress of capitalism, from the very outset condemns all small nations to political impotence. Apart from a few of the most powerful nations, the leaders in capitalist development, which possess the spiritual and material resources necessary to maintain their political and economic independence, “self-determination,” the independent existence of smaller and petty nations, is an illusion, and will become even more so. The return of all, or even the majority of the nations which are today oppressed, to independence would only be possible if the existence of small states in the era of capitalism had any chances or hopes for the future. Besides, the big-power economy and politics – a condition of survival for the capitalist states – turn the politically independent, formally equal, small European states into mutes on the European stage and more often into scapegoats. Can one speak with any seriousness of the “self-determination” of peoples which are formally independent, such as Montenegrins, Bulgarians, Rumanians, the Serbs, the Greeks, and, as far as that goes, even the Swiss, whose very independence is the product of the political struggles and diplomatic game of the “Concert of Europe”? From this point of view, the idea of insuring all “nations” the possibility of self-determination is equivalent to reverting from Great-Capitalist development to the small medieval states, far earlier than the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The other principal feature of modern development, which stamps such an idea as utopian, is capitalist imperialism. The example of England and Holland indicates that under certain conditions a capitalist country can even completely skip the transition phase of “national state” and create at once, in its manufacturing phase, a colony-holding state. The example of England and Holland, which, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, had begun to acquire colonies, was followed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by all the great capitalist states. The fruit of that trend is the continuous destruction of the independence of more and more new countries and peoples, of entire continents.

The very development of international trade in the capitalist period brings with it the inevitable, though at times slow ruin of all the more primitive societies, destroys their historically existing means of “self-determination,” and makes them dependent on the crushing wheel of capitalist development and world politics. Only complete formalist blindness could lead one to maintain that, for example, the Chinese nation (whether we regard the people of that state as one or several nations) is today really “determining itself.” The destructive action of world trade is followed by outright partition or by the political dependence of colonial countries in various degrees and forms. And if Social Democracy struggles with all its strength against colonial policy in all its manifestations, trying to hinder its progress, then it will at the same time realize that this development, as well as the roots of colonial politics, lies at the very foundations of capitalist production, that colonialism will inevitably accompany the future progress of capitalism, and that only the innocuous bourgeois apostles of “peace” can believe in the possibility of today’s states avoiding that path. The struggle to stay in the world market, to play international politics, and to have overseas territories is both a necessity and a condition of development for capitalist world powers. The form that best serves the interests of exploitation in the contemporary world is not the “national” state, as Kautsky thinks, but a state bent on conquest. When we compare the different states from the point of view of the degree to which they approach this ideal, we see that it is not the French state which best fits the model, at least not in its European part which is homogeneous with respect to nationality. Still less does the Spanish state fit the model; since it lost its colonies, it has shed its imperialist character and is purely “national” in composition. Rather do we look to the British and German states as models, for they are based on national oppression in Europe and the world at large – and to the United States of America, a state which keeps in its bosom like a gaping wound the oppression of the Negro people, and seeks to conquer the Asiatic peoples.

The following table illustrates the imperialist tendency of national conquest. The figures refer to the number of oppressed people in colonies belonging to each country.

The huge figures quoted, which include around five hundred million people, should be increased by the colossal addition of the countries which do not figure as colonies, but are actually completely dependent on European states, and then we should break these totals down into countless nationalities and ethnic groups to convey an idea of the effects to date of capitalist imperialism on the fates of nations and their ability to “determine themselves.”

  In Asia   In Africa   In America   In Australasia
Great Britain 361,445,000 40,028,000 7,557,300 5,811,000
France   18,073,000 31,500,000    428,819      89,000
Germany        120,041 11,447,000    448,000
Holland   37,734,000    142,000
Belgium 19,000,000
Denmark      42,422
Spain      291,000
Portugal        810,000   6,460,000
USA     7,635,426    953,243      13,000

Of course, the history of the colonial expansion of capitalism displays to some extent the contradictory tendency of the legal, and then political gaining of independence of the colonial countries. The history of the breaking away of the United States from England at the end of the eighteenth century, of the countries of South America from Spain and Portugal in the twenties and thirties of the last century, as well as the winning of autonomy by the Australian states from England, are the most obvious illustrations of this tendency. However, a more careful examination of these events will point at once to the special conditions of their origins. Both South and North America, until the nineteenth century, were the victims of a still primitive system of colonial administration, based more on the plundering of the country and its natural resources for the benefit of the treasures of European states than on a rational exploitation for the benefit of capitalist production. In these cases, it was a matter of an entire country, which possessed all the conditions for the independent development of capitalism, making its own way by breaking the rotting fetters of political dependence. The force of that capitalist thrust was stronger in North America, which was dependent on England, while South America, until then predominantly agricultural, met a much weaker resistance from Spain and Portugal, which were economically backward. Obviously, such an exceptional wealth of natural resources is not the rule in all colonies. On the other hand, the contemporary system of colonization has created a dependence which is much less superficial than the previous one. But the winning of independence by the American colonies did not remove national dependence, it only transferred it to another nationality – only changed its role. Take first the United States: the element freeing itself from the scepter of England was not a foreign nation but only the same English emigrants who had settled in America on the ruins and corpses of the redskin natives – which is true also of the Australian colonies of England, in which the English constitute 90 percent of the population. The United States is today in the vanguard of those nations practicing imperialist conquest. In the same way, Brazil, Argentina, and the other former colonies whose leading element is immigrants – Portuguese and Spanish - won independence from the European states primarily in order to exercise control over the trade in Negroes and their use on the plantations, and to annex all the weaker colonies in the area. Most likely the same conditions prevail in India, where lately there has appeared a rather serious “national” movement against England. The very existence in India of a huge number of nationalities at different degrees of social and civilized development, as well as their mutual dependence, should warn against too hasty evaluation of the Indian movement under the simple heading of “the rights of the nation.”

Apparent exceptions only confirm on closer analysis the conclusion that the modern development of capitalism cannot reconciled with the true independence of all nationalities.

It is true the problem appears much simpler if, when discussing nationality, we exclude the question of colonial partitions. Such a technique is often applied, consciously or unconsciously, by the defenders of the “rights of nations”; it also corresponds to the position with respect to colonial politics taken, for example, by Eduard David in the German Social Democracy or van Kol in the Dutch. This point of view considers colonialism in general as the expression of the civilizing mission of European peoples, inevitable even in a socialist regime. This view can be briefly described as the “European” application of the philosophical principle of Fichte in the well known paraphrase of Ludwig Brone: “Ich bin ich – was ausser mir ist Lebensmittel” (”I am myself – what is outside of me is the means of life”). If only the European peoples are regarded as nations proper, while colonial peoples are looked on as “supply depots,” then we may use the term “nation-state” in Europe for countries like France, Denmark, or Italy, and the problem of nationality can be limited to intra-European dimensions. But in this case, “the right of nations to self-determination” becomes a theory of the ruling races and betrays clearly its origin in the ideologies of bourgeois liberalism together with its “European” cretinism. In the approach of socialists, such a right must, by the nature of things, have a universal character. The awareness of this necessity is enough to indicate that the hope of realizing this “right” on the basis of the existing setup is a utopia; it is in direct contradiction to the tendency of capitalist development on which Social Democracy has based its existence. A general attempt to divide all existing states into national units and to re-tailor them on the model of national states and statelets is a completely hopeless, and historically speaking, reactionary undertaking.[9]


The formula of the “right of nations” is inadequate to justify the position of socialists on the nationality question, not only because it fails to take into account the wide range of historical conditions (place and time) existing in each given case and does not reckon with the general current of the development of global conditions, but also because it ignores completely the fundamental theory of modern socialists - the theory of social classes.

When we speak of the “right of nations to self-determination, “ we are using the concept of the “nation” as a homogeneous social and political entity. But actually, such a concept of the “nation” is one of those categories of bourgeois ideology which Marxist theory submitted to a radical re-vision, showing how that misty veil, like the concepts of the “freedom of citizens,” “equality before the law,” etc., conceals in every case a definite historical content.

In a class society, “the nation” as a homogeneous socio-political entity does not exist. Rather, there exist within each nation, classes with antagonistic interests and “rights.” There literally is not one social area, from the coarsest material relationships to the most subtle moral ones, in which the possessing class and the class-conscious proletariat hold the same attitude, and in which they appear as a consolidated “national” entity. In the sphere of economic relations, the bourgeois classes represent the interests of exploitation – the proletariat the interests of work. In the sphere of legal relations, the cornerstone of bourgeois society is private property; the interest of the proletariat demands the emancipation of the propertyless man from the domination of property. In the area of the judiciary, bourgeois society represents class “justice,” the justice of the well-fed and the rulers; the proletariat defends the principle of taking into account social influences on the individual, of humaneness. In international relations, the bourgeoisie represent the politics of war and partition, and at the present stage, a system of trade war; the proletariat demands a politics of universal peace and free trade. In the sphere of the social sciences and philosophy, bourgeois schools of thought and the school representing the proletariat stand in diametric opposition to each other. The possessing classes have their world view; it is represented by idealism, metaphysics, mysticism, eclecticism; the modern proletariat has its theory – dialectic materialism. Even in the sphere of so-called “universal” conditions – in ethics, views on art, on behavior – the interests, world view, and ideals of the bourgeoisie and those of the enlightened proletariat represent two camps, separated from each other by an abyss. And whenever the formal strivings and the interests of the proletariat and those of the bourgeoisie (as a whole or in its most progressive part) seem identical – for example, in the field of democratic aspirations - there, under the identity of forms and slogans, is hidden the most complete divergence of contents and essential politics.

There can be no talk of a collective and uniform will, of the self-determination of the “nation” in a society formed in such a manner. If we find in the history of modern societies “national” movements, and struggles for “national interests,” these are usually class movements of the ruling strata of the bourgeoisie, which can in any given case represent the interest of the other strata of the population only insofar as under the form of “national interests” it defends progressive forms of historical development, and insofar as the working class has not yet distinguished itself from the mass of the “nation” (led by the bourgeoisie) into an independent, enlightened political class.

In this sense, the French bourgeoisie had the right to come forth as the third estate in the Great Revolution in the name of the French people, and even the German bourgeoisie in 1848 could still regard themselves, to a certain degree, as the representatives of the German “nation” – although The Communist Manifesto and, in part, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung were already the indicators of a distinct class politics of the proletariat in Germany. In both cases this meant only that the revolutionary class concern of the bourgeoisie was, at that stage of social development, the concern of the class of people who still formed, with the bourgeoisie, a politically uniform mass in relation to reigning feudalism.

This circumstance shows that the ”rights of nations” cannot be a yardstick for the position of the Socialist Party on the nationality question. The very existence of such a party is proof that the bourgeoisie has stopped being the representative of the entire mass of the people, that the class of the proletariat is no longer hidden in the skirts of the bourgeoisie, but has separated itself off as an independent class with its own social and political aspirations. Because the concepts of “nations,” of “rights,” and the “will of the people” as a uniform whole are, as we have said, remnants from the times of immature and unconscious antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the application of that idea by the class-conscious and independently organized proletariat would be a striking contradiction – not a contradiction against academic logic, but a historical contradiction.

With respect to the nationality question in contemporary society, a socialist party must take class antagonism into account. The Czech nationality question has one form for the young Czech petite bourgeoisie and another for the Czech proletariat. Nor can we seek a single solution of the Polish national question for Koscielski and his stable boy in Miroslawie, for the Warsaw and Lodz bourgeoisie and for class-conscious Polish workers all at the same time; while the Jewish question is formulated in one way in the minds of the Jewish bourgeoisie, and in another for the enlightened Jewish proletariat. For Social Democracy, the nationality question is, like all other social and political questions, primarily a question of class interests.

In the Germany of the 1840s there existed a kind of mystical-sentimental socialism, that of the “true socialists” Karl Grün and Moses Hess; this kind of socialism was represented later in Poland by Limanowski. After the 1840s there appeared in Poland a Spartan edition of the same – see the Lud Polski [Polish People] in the early 1870s and Pobudka [Reveille] at the end of that decade. This socialism strove for everything good and beautiful. And on that basis, Limanowski, later the leader of the PPS, tried to weld together Polish socialism and the task of reconstructing Poland, with the observation that socialism is an idea that is obviously beautiful, and patriotism is a no less beautiful idea, and so “Why shouldn’t two such beautiful ideas be joined together?”

The only healthy thing in this sentimental socialism is that it is a utopian parody of the correct idea that a socialist regime has, as the final goal of the proletariat’s aspirations, taken the pledge that by abolishing the domination of classes, for the first time in history it will guarantee the realization of the highest ideals of humanity.

And this is really the content and the essential meaning of the principle presented to the International Congress at London [in 1896] in the resolution quoted. “The right of Nations to self-determination” stops being a cliché only in a social regime where the “right to work” has stopped being an empty phrase. A socialist regime, which eliminates not only the domination of one class over another, but also the very existence of social classes and their opposition, the very division of society into classes with different interests and desires, will bring about a society which is the sum total individuals tied together by the harmony and solidarity their interests, a uniform whole with a common, organized will and the ability to satisfy it. The socialist regime will realize directly the “nation” as a uniform will – insofar as the nations within that regime in general will constitute separate social organisms or, as Kautsky states, will join into one – and the material conditions for its free self-determination. In a word, society will win the ability to freely determine its national existence when it has the ability to determine its political being and the conditions of its creation. “Nations” will control their historical existence when human society controls its social processes.

Therefore, the analogy which is drawn by partisans of the “right of nations to self-determination” between that “right” and all democratic demands, like the right of free speech, free press, freedom of association and of assembly, is completely incongruous. These people point out that we support the freedom of association because we are the party of political freedom; but we still fight against hostile bourgeois parties. Similarly, they say, we have the democratic duty to support the self-determination of nations, but this fact does not commit us to support every individual tactic of those who fight for self-determination.

The above view completely overlooks the fact that these “rights,” which have a certain superficial similarity, lie on completely different historical levels. The rights of association and assembly, free speech, the free press. etc., are the legal forms of existence of a mature bourgeois society. But “the right of nations to self-determination” is only a metaphysical formulation of an idea which in bourgeois society is completely non-existent and can be realized only on the basis of a socialist regime.

However, as it is practiced today, socialism is not at all a collection of all these mystical “noble” and “beautiful” desires, but only a political expression of well-defined conditions, that is, the fight of the class of the modern proletariat against the domination of the bourgeoisie. Socialism means the striving of the proletariat to bring about the dictatorship of its class in order to get rid of the present form of production. This task is the main and guiding one for the Socialist Party as the party of the proletariat: it determines the position of that party with respect to all the several problems of social life.

Social Democracy is the class party of the proletariat. Its historical task is to express the class interests of the proletariat and also the revolutionary interests of the development of capitalist society toward realizing socialism. Thus, Social Democracy is called upon to realize not the right of nations to self-determination but only the right of the working class, which is exploited and oppressed, of the proletariat, to self-determination. From that position Social Democracy examines all social and political questions without exception, and from that standpoint it formulates its programmatic demands. Neither in the question of the political forms which we demand in the state, nor in the question of the state’s internal or external policies, nor in the questions of law or education, of taxes or the military, does Social Democracy allow the “nation” to decide its fate according to its own vision of self-determination. All of these questions affect the class interests of the proletariat in a way that questions of national-political and national-cultural existence do not. But between those questions and the national-political and national-cultural questions, exist usually the closest ties of mutual dependence and causality. As a result, Social Democracy cannot here escape the necessity of formulating these demands individually, and demanding actively the forms of national-political and national-cultural existence which best correspond to the interests of the proletariat and its class struggle at a given time and place, as well as to the interests of the revolutionary development of society. Social Democracy cannot leave these questions to be solved by “nations.”

This becomes perfectly obvious as soon as we bring the question down from the clouds of abstraction to the firm ground of concrete conditions.

The “nation” should have the “right” to self-determination. But who is that “nation” and who has the authority and the “right” to speak for the “nation” and express its will? How can we find out what the “nation” actually wants? Does there exist even one political party which would not claim that it alone, among all others, truly expresses the will of the “nation,” whereas all other parties give only perverted and false expressions of the national will? All the bourgeois, liberal parties consider themselves the incarnation of the will of the people and claim the exclusive monopoly to represent the “nation.” But conservative and reactionary parties refer no less to the will and interests of the nation, and within certain limits, have no less of a right to do so. The Great French Revolution was indubitably an expression of the will of the French nation, but Napoleon, who juggled away the work of the Revolution in his coup of the 18th Brumaire, based his entire state reform on the principle of “la volonté generale” [the general will].

In 1848, the will of the “nation” produced first the republic and the provisional government, then the National Assembly, and finally Louis Bonaparte, who cashiered the Republic, the provisional government, and the national assembly. During the [1905] Revolution in Russia, liberalism demanded in the name of the people a “cadet” ministry; absolutism, in the name of the same people, arranged the pogroms of the Jews, while the revolutionary peasants expressed their national will by sending the estates of the gentry up in smoke. In Poland, the party of the Black Hundreds, National Democracy, had a claim to be the will of the people, and in the name of “the self-determination of the nation” incited “national” workers to assassinate socialist workers.

Thus the same thing happens to the “true” will of the nation as to the true ring in Lessing’s story of Nathan the Wise: it has been lost and it seems almost impossible to find it and to tell it from the false and counterfeit ones. On the surface, the principle of democracy provides a way of distinguishing the true will of the people by determining the opinion of the majority.

The nation wants what the majority of the people want. But woe to the Social Democratic Party which would ever take that principle as its own yardstick: that would condemn to death Social Democracy itself as the revolutionary party. Social Democracy by its very nature is a party representing the interests of a huge majority of the nation. But it is also for the time being in bourgeois society, insofar as it is a matter of expressing the conscious will of the nation, the party of a minority which only seeks to become the majority. In its aspirations and its political program it seeks to reflect not the will of a majority of the nation, but on the contrary, the embodiment of the conscious will of the proletariat alone. And even within that class, Social Democracy is not and does not claim to be the embodiment of the will of the majority. It expresses only the will and the consciousness of the most advanced and most revolutionary section of the urban-industrial proletariat. It tries to expand that will and to clear a way for a majority of the workers by making them conscious of their own interests. “The will of the nation” or its majority is not therefore an idol for Social Democracy before which it humbly prostrates itself. On the contrary, the historical mission of Social Democracy is based above all on revolutionizing and forming the will of the “nation”; that is, its working-class majority. For the traditional forms of consciousness which the majority of the nation, and therefore the working classes, display in bourgeois society are the usual forms of bourgeois consciousness, hostile to the ideals and aspirations of socialism. Even in Germany, where Social Democracy is the most powerful political party, it is still today, with its three and a quarter million voters, a minority compared to the eight million voters for bourgeois parties and the thirty million who have the right to vote. The statistics on parliamentary electors give, admittedly, only a rough idea of the relation of forces in times of peace. The German nation then “determines itself” by electing a majority of conservatives, clerics, and freethinkers, and puts its political fate in their hands. And the same thing is happening, to an even greater degree, in all other countries.


Let us take a concrete example in an attempt to apply the principle that the “nation” should “determine itself.”

With respect to Poland at the present stage of the revolution, one of the Russian Social Democrats belonging to the editorial committee of the now defunct paper, Iskra, in 1906 explained the concept of the indispensable Warsaw constituent assembly in the following way:

if we start from the assumption that the political organization of Russia is the decisive factor determining the current oppression of the nationalities, then we must conclude that the proletariat of the oppressed nationalities and the annexed countries should be extremely active in the organization of an all-Russian constituent assembly.

This assembly could, if it wished, carry out its revolutionary mission, and break the fetters of force with which tsardom binds to itself the oppressed nationalities.

And there is no other satisfactory, that is, revolutionary way of solving that question than by implementing the rights of the nationalities to determine their own fate. [Emphasis in the entire citation is RLs.] The task of a united proletarian party of all nationalities in the assembly will be to bring about such a solution of the nationality question, and this task can be realized by the Party only insofar as it is based on the movement of the masses, on the pressure they put on the constituent assembly.

But in what concrete form should the admitted right to self-determination be realized?

Where the nationality question can be more or less identified with the existence of a legal state – as is the case in Poland – then the organ which can realize the nation’s right to self-determination can and should be a national constituent assembly whose special task is to determine the relation of a given “borderland country” to the state as a whole, to decide whether it should belong to the state or break away from it, to decide its internal set-up and its future connection with the state as a whole.

And therefore the constituent assembly of Poland should decide whether Poland will become part of a new Russia and what its constitution should be. And the Polish proletariat should use all its strength to insure that its class makes its mark on the decision of that organ of national self-government.

If we should ask the all-Russian assembly to hand the solution of the Polish national question over to the Warsaw sejm, I do not believe that there is any need to put off calling that sejm until the Petersburg constituents should take up the nationality question.

On the contrary, I think that the slogan of a constituent assembly in Warsaw should be put forth now, at the same time as the slogan for an all-Russian constituent assembly. The government which finally calls a constituent assembly for all Russia should also call (or sanction the calling of) a special constituent sejm for Poland. The job of the all-Russian assembly will be to sanction the work of the Warsaw sejm, and in the light of the different social forces involved in the Petersburg constituent assembly, the more this is given on the basis of the real principles of democracy the more decisively and clearly will the Polish nation express its national will. It will do this most clearly in the elections to the sejm especially called to decide the future fate of Poland. On the basis of this sejm’s decisions, the representatives of the Polish and Russian proletariat in the all-Russian assembly will be able to energetically defend the real recognition of the right to self-determination.

Thus, the simultaneous calling of all-Russian and all-Polish constituent assemblies: this should be our slogan.

The presentation by the proletariat of the demand for a constituent assembly for Poland should not be taken to mean that the Polish nation would be represented in the all-Russian assembly by any delegation of the Warsaw sejm.

I think that such representation in the all-Russian assembly would not correspond to the interests of revolutionary development. It would join the proletariat and bourgeois elements of the Polish sejm by bonds of mutual solidarity and responsibility, in contradiction to the real mutual relations of their interests.

In the all-Russian assembly, the proletariat and bourgeoisie of Poland should not be represented by one delegation. But this would occur even if a delegation were sent from the sejm to an assembly which included representatives of all the parties of the sejm proportionally to their numbers. In this case, the direct and independent representation of the Polish proletariat in the assembly would disappear, and the very creation of real political parties in Poland would be made difficult. Then the elections to the Polish sejm, whose main task is to define the political relations between Poland and Russia, would not show the political and social faces of the leading parties, as elections to an all-Russian assembly could do; for the latter type of elections would advance, besides the local, partial, historically temporary and specifically national questions, the general questions of politics and socialism, which really divide contemporary societies. (Here as everywhere I speak of a definite manner of solving the nationality question for Poland, not touching those changes which may prove themselves indispensable while resolving this question for other nations. – Note of the author of the cited article.) [The above article appeared in Robotnik, the organ of the PPS, no.75, February 7, 1906.- Note of the editorial board of Przeglad Sozial-demokratyczny]

This article gives a moral sanction on the part of the opportunist wing of Russian Social Democracy to the slogan put forth by the PPS in the first period of the revolution: that is, to the Warsaw constituent assembly. However, it had no practical result. After the dissolution of the PPS, the so-called left wing of that party, having publicly rejected the program of rebuilding Poland, found itself forced to abandon its partial program of nationalism in the form of the slogan of a Warsaw constituent assembly. But the article remains a characteristic attempt to give practical effect to the principle of “the right of nations to self-determination.”

In the above argument, which we quoted in full in order to be able to examine it from all aspects, several points strike the reader. Above all, according to the author, on the one hand “a constituent assembly of Poland should decide whether Poland should enter the formation of a new Russia and what kind of constitution it should have.” On the other, “the Polish proletariat should use its strength to insure that its class will make the greatest mark on the decisions of that organ of national self-government. “ Here the class will of the Polish proletariat is expressly opposed to the passive will of the Polish “nation.” The class will of the proletariat can obviously leave “its mark” on the decisions of the Warsaw constituent assembly only if it is clearly and expressly formulated; in other words, the class party of the Polish proletariat, the Socialist Party, must have a well-defined program with respect to the national question, which it can introduce in the Warsaw constituent assembly a program which corresponds not to the will of “the nation” but only to the will and interests of the Polish proletariat. Then, in the constituent assembly, in the national question, one will, or “the self-determination of the proletariat” will come out against the will or “the self-determination of the nation.” For Polish Socialists, the “nation’s right to self-determination” as an obligatory principle in fact disappears, and is replaced by a clearly defined political program on the national question.

The result is rather strange. The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party leaves the solution of the Polish question up to the Polish “nation.” The Polish Socialists should not pick it up but try, as hard as they can, to solve this question according to the interests and will of the proletariat. However, the party of the Polish proletariat is organizationally tied to the all-state party, for instance, the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania is a part of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Thus, Social Democracy of all of Russia, united both in ideas and factually, has two different positions. As a whole, it stands for the “nations in its constituent parts, it stands for the separate proletariat of each nation. But these positions can be quite different and may even be completely opposed to each other. The sharpened class antagonism in all of Russia makes it a general rule that in the national-political question, as in questions of internal politics, the proletarian parties take completely different positions from the bourgeois and petit bourgeois parties of the separate nationalities. What position should the Labor Party of Russia then take in the case of such a collision?

Let us suppose for the sake of argument, that in the federal constituent assembly, two contradictory programs are put forth from Poland: the autonomous program of National Democracy and the autonomous program of Polish Social Democracy, which are quite at odds with respect to internal tendency as well as to political formulation. What will the position of Russian Social Democracy be with regard to them? Which of the programs will it recognize as an expression of the will and “self-determination” of the Polish “nation”? Polish Social Democracy never had any pretensions to be speaking in the name of the “nation.” National Democracy comes forth as the expresser of the “national” will. Let us also assume for a moment that this party wins a majority at the elections to the constituent assembly by taking advantage of the ignorance of the petit bourgeois elements as well as certain sections of the proletariat. In this case, will the representatives of the all-Russian proletariat, complying with the requirements of the formula of their program, come out in favor of the proposals of National Democracy and go against their own comrades from Poland? Or will they associate themselves with the program of the Polish proletariat, leaving the “right of nations” to one side as a phrase which binds them to nothing? Or will the Polish Social Democrats be forced, in order to reconcile these contradictions in their program, to come out in the Warsaw constituent assembly, as well as in their own agitation in Poland, in favor of their own autonomous program, but to the federal constituent assembly, as members well aware of the discipline of the Social Democratic Party of Russia, for the program of National Democracy, that is, against their own program?

Let us take yet another example. Examining the question in a purely abstract form, since the author has put the problem on that basis, let us suppose, to illustrate the principle, that in the national assembly of the Jewish population of Russia for why should the right to create separate constituent assemblies be limited to Poland, as the author wants? – the Zionist Party somehow wins a majority and demands that the all-Russian constituent assembly vote funds for the emigration of the entire Jewish community. On the other hand, the class representatives of the Jewish proletariat firmly resist the position of the Zionists as a harmful and reactionary utopia. What position will Russian Social Democracy take in this conflict?

It will have two choices. The “right of nations to self-determination” might be essentially identical with the determination of the national question by the proletariat in question that is, with the nationality program of the concerned Social Democratic parties. In such a case, however, the formula of the “right of nations” in the program of the Russian party is only a mystifying paraphrase of the class position. Or, alternatively, the Russian proletariat as such could recognize and honor only the will of the national majorities of the nationalities under Russian subjugation, even though the proletariat of the respective “nations” should come out against this majority with their own class program. And in this case, it is a political dualism of a special type; it gives dramatic expression to the discord between the “national” and class positions: it points up the conflict between the position of the federal workers’ party and that of the parties of the particular nationalities which make it up.

A special Polish constituent assembly is to be the organ of realizing the right of the nation to self-determination. But that right is, in reality, severely limited by the author, and in two directions. First, the competence of the Warsaw constituent assembly is reduced to the special question of the relation of Poland to Russia and to the constitution for Poland. Then, even within this domain, the decisions of the “Polish nation” are subordinated to the sanction of an all-Russian constituent assembly. The assembly, however – if this reservation is to have any meaning at all – can either grant or deny these sanctions. Under such conditions the unlimited “right of the nation to self-determination” becomes rather problematic. The national partisans of the slogan of a separate Warsaw constituent assembly would not at all agree to the reduction of their competence to the narrow area of relations between Poland and Russia. They wanted to give the assembly the power over all the internal and external relations of the social life of Poland. And from the standpoint of the “right of nations to self-determination,” they would undoubtedly have right and logic on their side. For there seems to be no reason why “self-determination” should mean only the solution of the external fate of the nation and of its constitution, and not of all social and political matters. Besides, the separation of the relation of Poland to Russia and the constitution of Poland from the “general problems of politics and socialism” is a construction which is artificial to the highest degree. If the “constitution of Poland” is to determine – as it evidently must – the electoral law, the law of unions and meetings, the law of the press, etc., etc., for Poland, then it is not clear what political questions remain for the federal constituent assembly to solve with respect to Poland. From this point of view, only one of two points of view is possible: either the Warsaw constituent assembly is to be the essential organ for the self-determination of the Polish nation, and in this case it can be only an organ on the same level as the Petersburg constituent assembly; or, the constituent assembly of Warsaw plays only the role of a national sejm in a position of dependence on and subordination to the federal constituent assembly, and in this case, “the right of the nation to self-determination,” dependent on the sanction of the Russian “nation,” reminds one of the German concept: “Die Republik mit dem Grossherzog an der Spitze” [“The Republic with the Grand Duke at the Head”] .

The author himself helps us to guess how, in his understanding, the “right of the nation,” proclaimed in the introduction so charmingly in the form of a Warsaw constituent assembly, is finally canceled out by the competence and right of sanction of the Petersburg constituent assembly.

In this matter, the Menshevik journalist adopts the view that the Warsaw constituent assembly will be the organ of national interests, whereas the federal assembly will be the organ of the class and general social interests, the terrain of the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Thus, the author shows so much mistrust of the Warsaw organ of the “national will” that he opposes the representation of that national sejm in the Petersburg constituent assembly, for which he demands direct elections from Poland to insure the best representation of the interests of the Polish proletariat. The defender of two constituent assemblies feels instinctively that even with universal and equal elections to the Warsaw assembly, its very individual nature would weaken the position of the Polish proletariat, while the combined entry of the Polish proletariat with the proletariat of the entire state in a general constituent assembly would strengthen the class position and its defense. Hence arises his vacillation between one and the other position and his desire to subordinate the organ of the “national” will to the organ of the class struggle. This is, then, again an equivocal political position, in which the collision between the “national” point of view and the class point of view takes the form of the opposition between the Warsaw and the Petersburg constituent assemblies. Only one question remains: since the representation in a federal constituent assembly is more useful for the defense of the Polish proletariat, then why cannot that body resolve the Polish national question, in order to insure the preponderance of the will and interests of the Polish proletariat? So many hesitations and contradictions show how desirable it would be for the “nation” and the working class to develop a common position.

Apart from this, we must add that the entire construction of the Warsaw constituent assembly as the organ of national “self-determination” is only a house of cards: the dependence or independence of nation-states is determined not by the vote of majorities in parliamentary representations, but only by socio-economic development, by material class interests, and as regards the external political affairs, by armed struggle, war, or insurrection. The Warsaw assembly could only really determine the fate of Poland if Poland had first, by means of a successful uprising, won factual independence from Russia. In other words, the Polish people can realize its “right” to self-determination only when it has the actual ability, the necessary force for this, and then it will realize it not on the basis of its “rights” but on the basis of its power. The present revolution did not call forth an independence movement in Poland; it did not show the least tendency to separate Poland from Russia. On the contrary, it buried the remains of these tendencies by forcing the national party (National Democracy) to renounce the program of the reconstruction of Poland, while the other party (the PPS) was smashed to bits and also, midway in the struggle, was forced to renounce this program explicitly. Thus, the “right” of the Polish nation to self-determination remains – the right to eat off gold plates.

The demand for a Warsaw constituent assembly is therefore obviously deprived of all political or theoretical importance and represents only a momentary tentative improvisation of deteriorated Polish nationalism, like a soap bubble which bursts immediately after appearing. This demand is useful only as an illustration of the application of “the right of a nation to self-determination” in practice. This illustration is a new proof that by recognizing the “right of nations to self-determination” in the framework of the present regime, Social Democracy is offering the “nations” either the cheap blessing to do what they (the “nations”) are in a position to do by virtue of their strength, or else an empty phrase with no force at all. On the other hand, this position brings Social Democracy into conflict with its true calling, the protection of the class interests of the proletariat and the revolutionary development of society, which the creators of scientific socialism used as the basis of their view on the nationality question.

The preservation of that metaphysical phrase in the program of the Social Democratic Party of Russia would be a betrayal of the strictly class position which the party has tried to observe in all points of its program. The ninth paragraph should be replaced by a concrete formula, however general, which would provide a solution of the nationality question in accordance with the interests of the proletariat of the particular nationalities. That does not in the least mean that the program of the Social Democratic organization of the respective nationalities should become, eo ipso, the program of the all-Russian party. A fundamental critical appraisal of each of these programs by the whole of the workers’ party of the state is necessary, but this appraisal should be made from the point of view of the actual social conditions, from the point of view of a scientific analysis of the general tendencies of capitalist development, as well as the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat. This alone can indicate a uniform and consistent position of the party as a whole and in its constituent parts.

[2] Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie (Democratic Society/Polish), 1832-1862, was the biggest organization of Polish emigrants in France and in England, professing revolutionary and democratic views. After 1840, it was involved in preparing an insurrection in the three parts of partitioned Poland.

Pobudka (Reveille), also called La Diane, was a journal of the Polish National Socialist Party published in Paris, 1889-1893.

Liga Narodwa (National League), founded 1893 as a successor of the “Polish League,” was a secret political organization in Russian, German, and Austrian Poland. It promoted class solidarity and nationalism; it represented the interests of the propertied classes. In 1896, it founded the Party of National Democrats (Endecja), which was considered bourgeois, with strong nationalist tendencies.

[3] The above motion read: ”Whereas, the subjugation of one nation by another can serve only the interests of capitalists and despots, while for working people in both oppressed and oppressor nation it is equally pernicious; and whereas, in particular, the Russian tsardom, which owes its internal strength and its external significance to the subjugation and partition of Poland, constitutes a permanent threat to the development of the international workers’ movement, the Congress hereby resolves: that the independence of Poland represents an imperative political demand both for the Polish proletariat and for the international labor movement as a whole.” [Apparently note by R.L.]

[4] Only the German branch of the Polish Socialist Party thought it relevant to include the London Resolution in its program during its struggles with German Social Democracy. After it joined the German Party again, the PPS adopted the Erfurt program as its own without reservations.[5] [Apparently note by R.L.]

[Confusingly the note below is noted in the note above. Note by transcriber]

[5] The three partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) had left Poland divided among Russia, Prussia, and Austria (62 percent, 20 percent, and 18 percent of Polish territory respectively). The Polish Socialists in each of the occupied areas cooperated in one or another fashion with the Socialist parties of the partitioning powers, more closely though with the German Social Democratic Party and the Austrian Social Democratic Party (until 1898 there was no Russian Socialist Party).

Proletariat, founded in 1882 by Ludwik Waryński, was called the first Polish Socialist Party. It signed an agreement with the Russian Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will). After the destruction of Proletariat in the late 1880s, three small groups continued to function, the so-called “Second Proletariat,” (Martin Kasprzak), the Union of Polish Workers (Julian Marchlewski, Adolf Warszawski, Bronislaw Wesolowski), and the Association of Workers. Simultaneously with the Proletariat. the Polish People was organized by Bronislaw Limanowski in Portsmouth in 1881.

In 1892, the leaders of the Polish Socialist groups of Austrian Galicia and German Silesia formed distinct and separate Polish parties in their territories. In November 1892, a congress of all Polish Socialists in exile created the united Polish Socialist Party (PPS). PPS covered the Russian territories of Poland and was closely related to the German-Polish Socialist Party and to the Polish Social Democratic Party in Austrian Galicia. Until the foundation of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP) by Rosa Luxemburg, Julian Marchlewski, Adolf Warszawski, and Leo Jogiches in 1893, the Poles appeared as one unit at international congresses.

The SDKP saw itself as the direct successor to Proletariat. Its immediate aim was a liberal constitution for the entire Russian empire with territorial autonomy for Poland; Polish independence was specifically rejected. Up to the First World War, the Polish Socialist movement remained sharply divided on the issue of Polish independence. After the fusion of SDKP and the Lithuanian Social Democrats (1899), the new party took the name of Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL).

In 1911, the SDKPiL split into two factions: the Zarzadowcy faction included Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches-Tyszka, Marchlewski, and Felix Dzherzhynski, while the Roslamowcy faction had as members Hanecki, Radek, the Brothers Stein, and Bronski. Both factions passed out of existence with the formation of the Polish Communist Party in 1918. This party was shortly declared illegal; it was almost totally purged by Stalin in 1937. The direct successor of the Polish Communist Party was the Polish Workers’ Party (Polska Partia Robotnicza), founded in 1942.

The PPS ceased to exist in 1948 when it was united with the PPR. The fusion of these two gave birth to the present Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR), the ruling party in the Polish People’s Republic.

[6] Josef Szujski (1835-1883), Polish historian and statesman, spokesman for a conciliatory, pro-Austrian policy, co-author of Teka Stanczyka – a political pamphlet opposing the independence movement in Poland.

Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746-1817), Polish general, supreme commander of the so-called Kosciuszko Insurrection of 1794. Directed against Russia and Prussia – the main beneficiaries of Poland’s partitions of 1776 and 1793 – the abortive insurrection was followed by the third partition in 1795, which wiped Poland from the map of Europe until she regained independence in 1918.

The November Insurrection, 1830-31, in Russia-occupied Poland, was caused by an intensified Russianizing policy. The pro-Russian Polish nobility and upper military class were opposed by revolutionary intellectuals and the lower-ranking army officers. When the sejm dethroned the tsar, an armed conflict erupted which ended in Russia’s ultimately liquidating the sovereignty of the rump Kingdom of Poland.

The January Insurrection; 1863-64, was directly caused by the draft of Poles into the tsarist army. Supported by peasants and civilians, the insurrection spread to the Prussia- and Austria-occupied territories of Poland. It ended in defeat, and the commander in chief, Romuald Traugutt, was hanged by the Russians.

[7] Actually, the articles were written by Engels. But Marx submitted them, and it is perfectly correct for Rosa Luxemburg to cite them as illustrating Marx’s technique of analysis.

[8] Friedrich Engels, Der Schweizer Bürgerkrieg, in Nachlass, II, 448.

[9] In the minds of legal formalists and professors, this development appears in the form of the “degeneration of the national idea.”

The other stream of nationalist trends appears in the strivings of nations which have already gained political independence, to assert their superiority and ascendancy over other nations. These strivings are expressed on the one hand in the glorification of their past historical virtues or the present features of their national character, the “soul,” or finally as completely undefined hopes for a future cultural role, for some kind of a mission of destiny given to certain nations, strivings which are now christened with the name of nationalism. On the other hand, these political tendencies bring about the expansion of the territorial boundaries of a given nation, the strengthening of its global position by partitioning various other countries and by increasing its colonial possessions—that is, the politics of imperialism. These movements embody the further development of the national idea, but they represent a contradiction of the original contents of that idea, and in its fatal results, so degrading for civilization, it is impossible not to see the degeneration of that idea and its death. It is obvious that the century of nationalities has finished. We must await a new age, colored by new trends. – W.M. Ustinow, Idyeyu Natsyonalnovo Gosudarstva (Kharkov: 1906). [Apparently note by R.L.]

Next Chapter: The Nation-State and the Proletariat

Last updated on: 11.12.2008