Rosa Luxemburg
The National Question

3. Federation, Centralization, and Particularism

We must turn next to another proposed form of the solution of the nationality question, i.e., federation. Federalism has long been the favorite idea of revolutionaries of anarchic hue. During the 1848 revolution Bakunin wrote in his manifesto: ”The revolution proclaimed by its own power the dissolution of despotic states, the dissolution of the Prussian state ... Austria ... Turkey ... the dissolution of the last stronghold of the despots, the Russian state ... and as a final goal – a universal federation of European Republics.” From then on, federation has remained an ideal settlement of any nationality difficulties in the programs of socialist parties of a more or less utopian, petit bourgeois character; that is, parties which do not, like Social Democracy, take a historical approach but which traffic in subjective ”ideals.” Such, for example, is the party of Social Revolutionaries in Russia. Such was the PPS in its transitional phase, when it had ceased to demand the creation of a national state and was on the way to abandoning any philosophical approach. Such, finally, are a number of socialist groups in the Russian Empire, with which we will become acquainted more closely at the end of the present chapter.

If we ask why the slogan of federation enjoys such wide popularity among all revolutionaries of anarchistic coloring, the answer is not difficult to find: “Federation” combines ‑ at least in the revolutionary imagination of these socialists – “independence” and ”equality” of nations with “fraternity.” Consequently, there is already a certain concession from the standpoint of the law of nations and the nation-state in favor of hard reality, it is a sui generis, ideological, taking into account the circumstance, which cannot be overlooked that nations cannot live in the vacuum of their “rights” as separate and perfectly self-sufficient ”nation-states,” but that there exist between them some links. Historically developed connections between various nationalities, the material development which welded whole areas, irrespective of national differences, the centralization of bourgeois development – all this is reflected in the heads of those revolutionary improvisers; in place of ”brute force” they place “voluntarism” in relations between nations. And since republicanism is self-evident in this because the very same “will of the people” which restores independence and equality to all nations obviously has so much good taste as to throw simultaneously with contempt to the dump of history all remnants of monarchism, consequently the existing bourgeois world is transformed at one stroke into a voluntary union of independent republics, i.e., federation. Here we have a sample of the same “revolutionary” historical caricature of reality by means of which the appetite of Tsarist Russia for the southern Slays was transformed, in Bakunin’s phraseology, into the pan-Slavic ideal of anarchism, “a federation of Slavic Peoples.” On a smaller scale, an application of this method of “revolutionary” alterations of reality was the program of the PPS adopted at its Eighth Congress in 1906: a republican federation of Poland with Russia. As long as the social-patriotic standpoint – in the pre-revolutionary period – was maintained in all its purity and consistency, the PPS recognized only the program of nation-states, and rejected with contempt and hatred the idea of federation offered, for instance, by the Russian Social Revolutionaries. When the outbreak of revolution all at once demolished its presuppositions, and the PPS saw itself forced to follow the road of concessions in favor of reality which could no longer be denied, in view of the obvious fact that Poland and Russia form one social entity, a manifestation of which was precisely the common revolution, the program of federation of Poland with Russia, previously held in contempt, became the form of that concession. At the same time, the PPS, as is usual with ”revolutionaries” of this type, did not notice the following fact: when Social Democracy took for the historical basis of its program and tactics the joint capitalistic development of Poland and Russia, it merely stated an objective, historical fact, not depending on the will of the socialists. From this fact, the revolutionary conclusion should have been drawn in the form of a united class struggle of the Polish and Russian proletariat. The PPS, however, putting forward the program of federation of Poland with Russia, went much further: in place of the passive recognition of historical fate, it itself actively proposed a union of Poland with Russia and assumed responsibility for the union, and in lieu of the objective historical development, it placed the subjective consent of socialists in ”revolutionary” form.

But federalism as a form of political organization has, like the “nation-state” itself, its definite historical content, quite different from, and independent of, the subjective ideology attached to that form. Therefore, the idea of federation can be evaluated from the class standpoint of the proletariat only when we examine the fate and role of that idea in modern socialist development.


An outstanding tendency of capitalistic development in all countries is indisputably an internal, economic, and capitalist centralization, i.e., an endeavor to concentrate and weld into one entity the state territory from the economic, legislative, administrative, judicial, military, etc. viewpoints. In the Middle Ages, when feudalism prevailed, the link between the parts and regions of one and the same state was extremely loose. Thus, each major city with its environs, itself produced the majority of objects of daily use to satisfy its needs; it also had its own legislation, its own government, its army; the bigger and wealthier cities in the West often waged wars on their own and concluded treaties with foreign powers. In the same way, bigger communities lived their own closed and isolated life, and each area of land of a feudal lord or even each area of knightly estates constituted in itself a small, almost independent state. The conditions of the time were characterized by a diminution and loosening of all state norms. Each town, each village, each region had different laws, different taxes: one and the same state was filled with legal and customs barriers separating one fragment of a state from another. This decentralization was a specific feature of the natural economy and the nascent artisan production of the time.

Within the framework of the pulverization of public life, connected with the natural economy, and of the weak cohesion between the parts of the state organism, territories and whole countries passed incessantly from hand to hand in Central and Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages. We note also the patching together of states by way of purchase, exchange, pawnings, inheritance, and marriage; the classical example is the Hapsburg monarchy.

The revolution in production and trade relations at the close of the Middle Ages, the increase of goods production and moneyed economy, together with the development of international trade and the simultaneous revolution in the military system, the decline of knighthood and the rise of standing armies, all these were factors that, in political relations, brought about the increase of monarchical power and the rise of absolutism. The main tendency of absolutism was the creation of a centralized state apparatus. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are a period of incessant struggle of the centralist tendency of absolutism against the remnants of feudalist particularism. Absolutism developed in two directions: absorbing the functions and attributes of the diets and provincial assemblies as well as of the self-governing munici palities, and standardizing administration in the whole area of the state by creating new central authorities in the administration and the judiciary, as well as a civil, penal, and commercial code. In the seventeenth century, centralism triumphed fully in Europe in the form of so-called “enlightened despotism,” which soon passed into unenlightened, police-bureaucratic despotism.

As a result of the historical circumstance that absolutism was the first and principal promoter of modern state centralism, a superficial tendency developed to identify centralism in general with absolutism, i.e., with reaction. In reality, absolutism, insofar as, at the close of the Middle Ages, it combated feudal dispersion and particularism, was undoubtedly a manifestation of historical progress. This was perfectly well understood by Staszic, who pointed out that the [Polish] gentry commonwealth could not survive “in the midst of autocracies.” On the other hand, absolutism itself played only the role of a “stirrup drink” [parting good wishes] with regard to the modern bourgeois society for which, politically and socially, it paved the way by toppling feudalism and founding a modern, uniform, great state on its ruins. Indeed, independent of absolutism, and after its historical demise, bourgeois society continued to carry through with undiminished force and consistency the centralist tendency. The present centralism of France as a political area is the work of the Great Revolution. The very name, “Great Revolution,” exerted, everywhere its influence reached in Europe, a centralizing influence. Such a product of the Revolution’s centralism was the “République Helvétique,” in which, in 1798, suddenly the previously loosely confederated Swiss cantons were compressed. The first spontaneous action of the March [1848] revolution in Germany was the destruction by the popular masses of the so-called customs houses [Mauthäuser], the symbols of medieval particularism.

Capitalism, with its large-scale machine production, whose vital principle is concentration, swept away and continues to sweep away completely any survivals of medieval economic, political, and legal discrimination. Big industry needs markets and freedom of untrammeled trade in big areas. Industry and trade, geared to big areas, require uniform administration, uniform arrangement of roads and communications, uniform legislation and judiciary, as far as possible in the entire international market, but above all in the whole area inside each respective state. The abolition of the customs, and tax autonomy of the separate municipalities and gentry holdings, as well as of their autonomy in administering courts and law, were the first achievements of the modern bourgeoisie. Together with this went the creation of one big state machinery that would combine all functions: the administration in the hands of one central government; legislation in the hands of a legislative body – the parliament; the armed forces in the form of one centralized army subject to a central government; customs arrangements in the form of one tariff encompassing the entire state externally; a uniform currency in the whole state, etc. In accordance with this, the modern state also introduced in the area of spiritual life, as far as possible, a uniformity in education and schools, ecclesiastical conditions, etc., organized on the same principles in the entire state. In a word, as comprehensive a centralization as possible in all areas of social life is a prominent trend of capitalism. As capitalism develops, centralization increasingly pierces all obstacles and leads to a series of uniform institutions, not only within each major state, but in the entire capitalistic world, by means of international legislation. Postal and telegraphic services as well as railway communication have been for decades the object of international conventions.

This centralist tendency of capitalistic development is one of the main bases of the future socialist system, because through the highest concentration of production and exchange, the ground is prepared for a socialized economy conducted on a world-wide scale according to a uniform plan. On the other hand, only through consolidating and centralizing both the state power and the working class as a militant force does it eventually become possible for the proletariat to grasp the state power in order to introduce the dictatorship of the proletariat, a socialist revolution.

Consequently, the proper political framework in which the modern class struggle of the proletariat operates and can conquer is the big capitalistic state. Usually, in the socialist ranks, especially of the utopian trend, attention is paid only to the economic aspect of capitalistic development, and its categories – industry, exploitation, the proletariat, depressions – are regarded as indispensable prerequisites for socialism. In the political sphere, usually only democratic state institutions, parliamentarianism, and various “freedoms” are regarded as indispensable conditions of this movement. However, it is often overlooked that the modern big state is also an indispensable prerequisite for the development of the modern class struggle and a guarantee of the victory of socialism. The historical mission of the proletariat is not ”socialism” applicable on every inch of ground separately, not dictatorship, but world revolution, whose point of departure is big-state development.

Therefore, the modern socialist movement, legitimate child of capitalist development, possesses the same eminently centralist characteristic as the bourgeois society and state. Consequently, Social Democracy is, in all countries, a determined opponent of particularism as well as of federalism. In Germany, Bavarian or Prussian particularism, i.e., a tendency to preserve Bavaria’s or Prussia’s political distinctiveness, their independence from the Reich in one respect or another, is always a screen for gentry or petit bourgeois reaction. German Social Democracy also combats, with full energies, the efforts, for instance, of South German particularists to preserve a separate railroad policy in Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg; it also energetically combats particularism in the conquered provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, where the petite bourgeoisie tries to separate itself, by its French nationalism, from political and spiritual community with the entire German Reich. Social Democracy in Germany is also a decided opponent of those survivals of the federal relationship among the German states inside the Reich which have still been preserved. The general trend of capitalist development tends not only toward the political union of the separate provinces within each state, but also toward the abolition of any state federations and the welding of loose state combinations into homogeneous, uniform states; or, wherever this is impossible, to their complete break-up.

An expression of this is the modern history of the Swiss Confederacy, as well as of the American Union; of the German Reich, as well as of Austria-Hungary.


The first centralist constitution of the integrated republic of Switzerland, created by the great revolution, was obliterated without a trace by the time of the Restoration, and reaction, which triumphed in Switzerland under the protection of the Holy Alliance, quickly returned to the independence of the cantons, to particularism and only a loose confederation. Domestically, this implementation of the ideal “of voluntary union of independent groups and state units” in the spirit of anarchists and other worshipers of “federation.” involved the adoption of an aristocratic constitution (with the exclusion of the broad working masses) as well as the rule of Catholic clericalism.

A new opposition trend, toward the democratization and the centralization of the Swiss federation, was born in the period of revolutionary seething between the July [1830] and March [1848] revolutions, which was manifested in Switzerland in the form of a tendency to create a close state union in place of federation, and to abolish the political rule of noble families and of the Catholic clergy. Here, centralism and democracy initially went hand in hand, and encountered the opposition of the reaction which fought under the slogan of federation and particularism.

The first constitution of the present Swiss Confederation of 1848 was born out of a bitter struggle against the so-called “Sonderbund,” i.e., a federation of seven Catholic cantons which, in 1847, undertook a revolt against the general confederation in the name of saving the independence of the cantons and their old aristocratic system, and clericalism. Although the rebels proudly waved the banner of “freedom and independence” of the cantons against the “despotism” of the Confederacy, in particular of “freedom of conscience” against Protestant intolerance (the ostensible cause of the conflict was the closing of the convents by the Democratic Radical parties), democratic and revolutionary Europe, undeceived by this, applauded wholeheartedly when the Confederacy, by brutal armed force, i.e., by “violence,” forced the advocates of federalism to bow and surrender to the Confederate authority. And when Freiligrath, the bard of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, triumphantly celebrated the victory of the bayonets of Swiss centralism as a reveille to the March revolution – “In the highlands the first shot was fired, in the highlands against the parsons” it was the absolutist government of Germany, the pillar of Metternich’s reaction, that took up the cause of the federalists and the defenders of the old independence of the cantons. The later development of Switzerland up until the present has been marked by constant, progressive, legal and political centralization under the impact of the growth of big industry and international trade, railroads, and European militarism. Already the second Constitution of 1874 extended considerably the attributes of the central legislation, the central government authority, and particularly of a centralized judiciary in comparison with the Constitution of 1848. Since the Constitution was thoroughly revised in 1874, centralization has progressed continuously by the addition of ever new individual articles, enlarging the competence of the central institutions of the Confederacy. While the actual political life of Switzerland, with its development toward a modern capitalist state, is increasingly concentrated in the federal institutions, the autonomous life of the canton declines and becomes increasingly sterile. Matters have gone even further. When the federal organs of legislation and uniform government, originating from direct elections by the people (the so-called Nazionalrat and the so-called Bundesrat), assume increasingly more prestige and power, the organ of the federal representation, i.e., of the cantons (the so-called Ständerat), becomes more and more a survival, a form without content, condemned by the development of life to slow death.[1] At the same time, this process of centralization is supplemented by another parallel process of making the cantonal constitutions uniform by means of constant revisions in the legislatures of the respective cantons and the mutual imitation and borrowing among them. As a result, the former variety of cantonal particularisms rapidly disappears. Until now, the main safeguard of this political separateness and independence of the cantons was their local civil and penal law which preserved the entire medley of its historical origin, tradition, and cantonal particularism. At present, even this stubbornly defended fortress of the cantons’ independence has had to yield under the pressure of Switzerland’s capitalist development – industry, trade, railroads and telegraphs, international relations – which passed like a leveling wave over the legal conditions of the cantons. As a result, the project of one common civil and penal code for the entire confederation has been already elaborated, while portions of the civil code have already been approved and implemented. These parallel currents of centralization and standardization, working from above and below and mutually supplementing each other, encounter, almost at every step, the opposition of the socially and economically most backward, most petit bourgeois French and Italian cantons. In a significant manner, the opposition of the Swiss decentralists and federalists even assumes the forms and colors of a nationality struggle for the French Swiss: the expansion of the power of the Confederacy at the expense of cantonal particularism is tantamount to the increase of the preponderance of the German element, and as such they, the French Swiss, openly combat it. No less characteristic is another circumstance, viz., the same French cantons which, in the name of federation and independence, combat state centralism, have internally the least developed communal self-government, while the most democratic self-governing institutions, a true rule of the people, prevail in those communes of the German cantons which advocate centralization of the Confederation. In this way, both at the very bottom and at the top of state institutions, both in the latest results of the development of present-day Switzerland and at its point of departure, centralism goes hand in hand with democracy and progress, while federalism and particularism are linked with reaction and backwardness.

In another form the same phenomena are repeated in the history of the United States of America.

The first nucleus of the Union of the English colonies in North America, which until then had been independent, which differed greatly from one another socially and politically, and which in many respects had divergent interests, was also created by revolution. The revolution was the advocate and creator of the process of political centralization which has never stopped up to the present day. Also, here, as in Switzerland, the initial, most immature form of development, was the same ”voluntary federation” which, according to the conscious and unconscious adherents of anarchistic ideas, stands at the apex of modern social development as the crowning summit of democracy.

In the first Constitution of the United States, elaborated in the period 1777-1781, there triumphed completely the ”freedom and independence of the several colonies, their complete right of self-determination.” The union was loose and voluntary to such an extent that it practically did not possess any central executive and made possible, almost on the morrow of its establishment, a fratricidal customs war among its ”free and equal” members, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland, while in Massachusetts, under the blessing of complete “independence” and “self-determination,” a civil war, an uprising of debt-encumbered farmers broke out, which aroused in the wealthy bourgeoisie of the states a vivid yearning for a strong central authority. This bourgeoisie was forcibly reminded that in a bourgeois society the most beautiful ”national independence” has real substance and “value” only when it serves the independent utilization of the fruits of “internal order,” i.e., the undisturbed rule of private property and exploitation.

The second Constitution of 1787 already created, in place of federation, a unified state with a central legislative authority and a central executive. However, centralism had still, for a long time, to combat the separatist tendencies of the states righters which finally erupted in the form of an open revolt of the Southern states, the famous 1861 war of secession Here we also see a striking repetition of the 1847 Swiss situation. As advocates of centralism, the Northern states acted representing the modern, big-capital development, machine industry, personal freedom and equality before the law, the true corollaries of the system of hired labor, bourgeois democracy, and bourgeois progress. On the other hand, the banner of separatism, federation, and particularism, the banner of each hamlet’s “independence” and “right of self-determination” was raised by the plantation owners of the South, who represented the primitive exploitation of slave labor. In Switzerland as in America, centralism struggled against the separatist tendencies of federalism by means of armed force and physical coercion, to the unanimous acclaim of all progressive and democratic elements of Europe. It is significant that the last manifestation of slavery in modern society tried to save itself, as reaction always does, under the banner of particularism, and the abolition of slavery was the obverse of the victory of centralist capitalism. After the victorious war against the secessionists, the Constitution of the American Union underwent a new revision in the direction of centralism; the remainder was, from then on, achieved by big capital, big power, imperialist development: railroads, world trade, trusts, finally, in recent times, customs protectionism, imperialist wars, the colonial system, and the resulting re-organization of the military, of taxation, and so on. At present, the central executive in the person of the President of the Union possesses more extensive power, and the administration and judiciary are more centralized than in the majority of the monarchies of Western Europe. While in Switzerland the gradual expansion of the central functions at the expense of federalism takes place by means of amendments to the constitution, in America this takes place in a way of its own without any constitutional changes, through a liberal interpretation of the constitution by the judicial authorities.

The history of modern Austria presents a picture of incessant struggle between a centralist and federalist trend. The starting point of this history, the 1848 revolution, shows the following division of roles: the advocates of centralism are the German liberals and democrats, the then leaders of the revolution, while the obstruction under the banner of federalism is represented by the Slavic counter-revolutionary parties: the Galician nobility; the Czech, Moravian and Dalmatian diets; the pan-Slavists and, the admirers of Bakunin, that prophet and phrasemaker of the anarchist ”autonomy of free peoples.” Marx characterized the policy and role of the Czech federalists in the 1848 revolution as follows:

The Czech and Croat pan-Slavists worked, some deliberately and some unknowingly, in accordance with the clear interests of Russia. They betrayed the cause of revolution for the shadow of a nationality which, in the best case, would have shared the fate of the Polish one. The Czech, Moravian, Dalmatian, and a part of the Polish delegates (the aristocracy) conducted a systematic struggle against the German element. The Germans and a part of the Poles (the impoverished gentry) were the main adherents of revolutionary progress; fighting against them, the mass of the Slavic delegates was not content to demonstrate in this way the reactionary tendencies of their entire movement, but even debased itself by scheming and plotting with the very same Austrian government which had dispersed their Prague congress. They received a well-deserved reward for their disgraceful behavior. They had supported the government during the October uprising, the outcome of which finally assured a majority to the Slavs. This now almost exclusively Slavic assembly was dispersed by the Austrian soldiery exactly as the Prague congress had been and the pan-Slavists were threatened with imprisonment if they dared to complain. They achieved only this: that the Slavic nationality is now everywhere threatened by Austrian centralism.[2]

Marx wrote this in 1852 during the revival of absolutist rule in Austria after the final collapse of the revolution and of the first era of constitutionalism – “a result which they owe to their own fanaticism and blindness.”

Such was the first appearance of federalism in the modern history of Austria.

In no state did the socio-historical content of the federalist program and the fallacy of the anarchist fantasies concerning the democratic or even revolutionary character of that slogan appear so emphatically also in later times, and, so to speak, symbolically, as in Austria. The progress of political centralization can be directly measured here by the program of the right to vote for the Vienna parliament, which, passing successively through four phases of gradual democratization, was increasingly becoming the main cement binding together the state structure of the Hapsburg monarchy. The October Patent of 1860, which inaugurated the second constitutional era in Austria, had created in the spirit of federalism a weak central legislative organ, and given the right of electing the delegations to it not to the people, but to the diets of the respective crownlands. However, already in 1873, it proved indispensable for breaking the opposition of the Slavic federalists, to introduce voting rights not by the diets, but by the people themselves, to the Central Parliament [Reichsrat] – although it was a class, unequal, and indirect voting system. Subsequently, the nationality struggle and the decentralist opposition of the Czechs, which threatened the very existence and integrity of the Hapsburg monarchy, forced, in 1896, the replacement of their class voting right by a universal one, through the addition of a fifth curia (the so-called universal election curia). Recently we witnessed the final reform of the electoral law in Austria in the direction of universal and equal voting rights as the only means of consolidating the state and breaking the centrifugal tendencies of the Slavic federalists. Especially characteristic in this respect is the role of Galicia. Already from the first session of the Viennese Reichsrat and the Galician Diet in April 1861, the Galician nobility came forward as an extreme opposition against the liberal cabinet of Schmerling, violently opposing the liberal reforms in the name of “national autonomy” and the right of nations to “self-determination,” i.e., in the name of the autonomous rights of the Provincial Diet.

Soon the policy became crystallized in the Stanczyk program of the so-called Cracow party, the party of such men as Tarnowski, Popiel, Wodzicki, and Kozmian, and found its expression in the notorious “resolution” of the Galician Diet of September 28, 1868, which is a kind of Magna Carta of the “separation of Galicia.” The resolution demanded such a broadening of the competence of the Provincial Diet that for the Central Parliament there remained only the most important all-monarchy matters; it completely abolished the central administration, handing it over exclusively to the crown land authorities, and in the end completely separating also the crown land judiciary. The state connection of Galicia with Austria was reduced here to such a flimsy shadow that sanguine minds, who did not yet know the flexibility of Polish nationalism, would be ready to see in this ideal program of federalism, “almost” national independence or at least a bold striving toward it. However, to prevent any such illusions, the Stanczyk party had announced its political credo and begun its public career in Austria not with the above program of federation but with the notorious address of the Diet of December 10, 1866, in which it proclaimed its classical formula: “Without fear of deserting the national idea and with faith in the mission of Austria we declare from the bottom of our hearts that we stand and wish to stand by Your Majesty.” This was only a concise aphoristic formulation of the sanguinary crusade which the nobility party around Przeglad Polski (Polish Review) waged, after the January uprising, against the insurrection and the insurgents against the “conspiracy,” “illusions,” “criminal attempts”, “foreign revolutionary influences,” “the excesses of social anarchy,” liquidating with cynical haste the last period of our national movements under the slogan of “organic work” and public renunciation of any solidarity with Russian-dominated Poland. Federalism and political separatism were not in reality an expression of national aspirations but were, rather, their simple negation and their public renunciation. The other harmonious complement of the Stanczyk program of federation (read: separation) was opposition and obstruction in coalition with Czech and Moravian federalists and the German clerical-reactionary party against any liberal reforms in Austria: against the liberal communal law, against the liberal law concerning elementary schools, against the introduction of the law concerning direct elections by the people to the Central Parliament; on the other hand it supported the government in all reactionary projects, e.g., support of the military laws starting with Taaffe’s Law, etc. This development has been coupled with extreme reaction also in provincial policies, the most glaring expression of which is the adamant opposition against the reform of elections to the Provincial Diet.

Finally, the third component of Galician federalism is the policy of the Polish nobility toward the Ruthenians. Quite analogous to the French federalists of Switzerland, the Galician advocates of a potential decentralization of the Austrian state have been strict centralists internally in relation to the Ruthenian population. The Galician nobility has from the beginning stubbornly combated the demand of autonomy for the Ruthenians, the administrative division of Galicia into Eastern and Western, and the granting of equal status to the Ruthenian language and script along with the Polish language. The program of ”separation” and federalism suffered a decisive defeat in Austria as early as 1873, when direct elections to the Central Parliament were introduced, and from then on the Stanczyk party, in keeping with its opportunistic principles, abandoned the policy of obstruction and acquiesced in Austrian centralism. However, Galician federalism from then on appears on the stage if not as a program of realistic politics then as a means of parliamentary maneuvers each time that serious democratic reforms are considered. The last memorable appearance of the program of ”separating” Galicia in the public arena is connected with the struggle of the Galician nobility against the most recent electoral reform, against the introduction of universal and equal voting rights for the Vienna Parliament. And as if to put stronger emphasis on the reactionary content of the federalist program, the deputies of Austrian Social Democracy, in April 1906, voted unanimously against the motion concerning the separation of Galicia. At their head in his character as representative of the Austrian Workers’ Party, a representative of the all-monarchy proletarian policy spoke and voted against the separation of Galicia: this was Mr. Ignacy Daszynski, who, as a leader in the three parts of the patriotic PPS, considers the separation of the Kingdom of Poland from Russia as his political program. The Austrian Social Democracy is a determined and open advocate of centralism, a conscious adherent of the state consolidation of Austria and consequently a conscious opponent of any separatist tendencies.

“The future of the Austrian state” says Kautsky – “depends on the strength and influence of Social Democracy. Precisely because it is revolutionary, it is in this case a party upholding the state [eine staatserltaltende Partei] in this sense; although this sounds strange, one may apply to the Red revolutionary Social Democracy the words which half a century ago Grillparzer addressed to the hero of the Red Yellow reaction, General Radetzky: ‘In your camp is Austria.’” [“In deinen Lager ist Osterreich”][3] is just as in the matter of the “separation” of Galicia Austrian Social Democracy decisively rejects the program of the Czech Federalists, that is, the separation of Bohemia. Kautsky writes:

The growth of the idea of autonomy for Bohemia is only a partial Manifestation of the general growth of reaction in all big states of the Continent. The program of “autonomy” would not yet make Bohemia an autonomous state. It would still remain a part of Austria. The Central Parliament would not be abolished by this. The most important matters (military affairs, customs, etc.) would remain in its competence. However, the separation of Bohemia would break the power of the Central Parliament, which today is very weak. It would break it not only in relation to the diets of the several nations but also in relation to the central government, on the model of the delegations. [The reference here is to delegations of Austria and Hungary which were elected by the Vienna and Budapest parliament and had as their task the arrangement of the so-called Austro-Hungarian compromise, that is, the mutual relationship or proportion contributed by both countries for the common expenses of the state and the settlement of certain matters affecting both.] The state council, that is, the Central Parliament of Austria, would have to be reduced to a miserable idol nodding its head to everything. The power of the central government in military and customs affairs, as well as foreign policy, would then become unrestricted. The separation of Bohemia would signify the strengthening of the rule of bourgeois peasant clericalism in the Alpine lands of the nobility and in Galicia; also that of the capitalist magnates in Bohemia. As long as these three strata must exercise their authority in the Central Parliament jointly, they cannot develop all their power because their interests are not identical; holding them together is no easy matter. Their strength will be increased if each of these strata can concentrate on a certain defined area. The clericals in Innsbruck and Linz, the Galician nobility in Cracow and Lemberg, the Bohemian Tories in Prague are more powerful separately than all together in Vienna. Just as in Germany, the reaction draws its strength from the particularism and weakness of the Central Parliament; here, just as there, giving one’s moral support to particularism means working in favor of reaction. Here, just as there, we are obligated to resist strongly the present current tending to the weakening of the Central Parliament. [Kautsky ends with these words:] We must combat Bohemian states’ rights [the program of separating off Bohemia] as a product of reaction and a means of its support. We must combat it since it means splitting the proletariat of Austria. The road from capitalism to socialism does not lead through feudalism. The program of separating off Bohemia is just as little a preliminary to the autonomy of peoples as anti-Semitism (that is, a unilateral struggle against Jewish capital) is a preliminary to Social Democracy.[4]

Where the remnants of feudalism have been preserved to this day in Europe, they are everywhere a protection of monarchy. In Germany, a striking manifestation of this is the fact that the unity of the Reich is based on a universal equal voting right to Parliament, while all German states taken individually have much more reactionary state constitutions, from Prussia, with its (as Bismarck expressed it) ”most monstrous” tri-class electoral law, up to Mecklenburg, which is still in general a medieval state with a purely class constitution.

The city of Hamburg itself is an even more striking example if we believe that progress and democracy are connected with centralism, and reaction with particularism and federalism. The city of Hamburg, which forms three electoral districts of the German Reich, is represented in Parliament on the basis of a universal voting right, exclusively by social Democratic deputies. On the basis of the Constitution of the Reich as a whole, the Workers’ Party is, therefore, in Hamburg, the unique ruling party. But the very same city of Hamburg, as a separate little state, on the basis of its distinction, separateness, introduced for itself a new electoral law even more reactionary than the one in force until now, which makes it almost impossible to elect Social Democrats to the Hamburg Diet.

In Austria-Hungary we see the same. On the one hand, a federal relationship between Hungary and Austria is an expression not of freedom and progress but of monarchical reaction because it is known that the Austro-Hungarian dualism is maintained only by the dynastic interest of the Hapsburgs, and Austrian Social Democracy clearly declared itself in favor of the complete dissolution of that federation and the complete separation of Hungary from Austria.

However, this position resulted by no means from the inclinations of Austrian Social Democracy for decentralization in general, but just the reverse: it resulted from the fact that a federal connection between Hungary and Austria is an obstacle to an even greater political centralization inside Austria for the purpose of restoring and consolidating the latter, and here the very same Social Democratic Party is an advocate of as close a union of the crownlands as possible, and an opponent of any tendencies to the separation of Galicia, Bohemia, Trieste, the Trentino, and so on. In fact, the only center of political and democratic progress in Austria is her central policy, a Central Parliament in Vienna which, in its development, reached a universal equal-voting right, while the autonomous Diets Galician, Lower Austrian, Bohemian – are strongholds of the most savage reaction on the part of the nobility or bourgeoisie.

Finally, the last event in the history of federal relationships, the separation of Norway from Sweden, taken up in its time eagerly by the Polish social-patriotic parties (see the Cracow Naprzod [Forward]) as a joyous manifestation of strength and the progressiveness of separatist tendencies, soon changed into a new striking proof that federalism and state separations resulting from it are by no means an expression of progress or democracy. After the so-called Norwegian “revolutions,” which consisted in the dethronement and the expulsion from Norway of the King of Sweden, the Norwegians quietly elected another king for themselves, having even formally, in a popular ballot, rejected the project of introducing a republic. That which superficial admirers of all national movements and all semblances of independence proclaimed as a “revolution” was a simple manifestation of peasant and bourgeois particularism, a desire to possess for their own money a “king of their own” instead of one imposed by the Swedish aristocracy, and, therefore, a movement which had nothing in common whatever with a revolutionary spirit. At the same time, the history of the disintegration of the Swedish-Norwegian union again proved how far, even here, the federation had been an expression of purely dynastic interests, that is, a form of monarchism and reaction.


The idea of federalism as a solution of the nationality question, and in general, an “ideal” of the political system in international relations, raised sixty years ago by Bakunin and other anarchists, finds at present refuge with a number of socialist groups in Russia. A striking illustration of that idea, as well as of its relation to the class struggle of the proletariat at the present time, is given by the congress of those federalist groups of all Russia held during the recent [1905] revolution and whose deliberations have been published in a detailed report. [See the Proceedings of the Russian National Socialist Parties, April 16-20, 1907, Knigoi Izdatielstvo, Sejm (St. Petersburg: 1908).]

First of all, a characterization of the political complexion and of the “socialism” of these groups is interesting. In the Congress, there participated Georgian, Armenian, Byelo-Russian, Jewish, Polish, and Russian federalists. The Georgian Socialist Federalist Party operates mainly – according to its own report – not among the urban population but in the countryside, because only there does there exist in a compact mass the national Georgian element; these number about 1.2 million and are concentrated in the gubernias of Tiflis, Kutai, and partially, Batum. This party is almost completely recruited from peasants and petty gentry. “In its striving for an independent regulation of its life” – declares the delegate of the Georgian Socialist Federalist Party – “without counting on the centralist bureaucracy, whether this be absolutistic or constitutional or even social-democratic (!), the Georgian peasantry will probably find sympathy and help on the part of that petty Georgian gentry which lives on the land and by the size of its possessions and also its way of life differs little from the peasantry.” Therefore, the party considers that “even independently of considerations of a basic (!) nature, merely the practical conditions of Georgian agriculture demand the treatment of the agrarian question as a class question, peasant or gentry only as an over-all national question, as a social (!) problem, as a problem of work(!).” Starting with these assumptions, the Georgian Federalists, in harmony with the Russian Social Revolutionaries, strive for the “socialization of land which is to be achieved under the rule of the capitalistic or bourgeois system.” A beautiful addition to this program is the reservation that “socialization” cannot be extended to orchards, vineyards and other “special cultivations,” or to farms, because these are areas “demanding a certain contribution of work and material means which cannot be returned in one year or in several years” and which would be difficult for a Georgian peasant to renounce.” Consequently, there remains private property for “cultivations” and “socialism” for grain-planting - of which there is little in the Caucasus – as well as for dunes, marginal lands, bogs, and forests.

The main thing on which the Socialist Federalists put emphasis is the reservation that the agricultural question in Georgia should be decided not in a constituent assembly nor in a central parliament, but only in autonomous national institutions, because “however life will decide this question, in principle, only this is unquestionable, that the land in a Georgian territory should belong first of all to the Georgian people.” The question, how it happens that the “socialist” party is joined, en masse, by the petty gentry and bourgeoisie, the delegates of the Georgian Federalists explained by saying that this happens only because “there is no other party which would formulate the demands of these strata.”

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation, that is, Dashnaktsutyun, founded at the beginning of the 1890s for the purpose of liberating the Armenians from Turkey, was exclusively concerned with “militarizing the people,” i.e., the preparation of fighting detachments and armed expeditions into Turkey, the import of weapons, the direction of attacks on Turkish troops, etc. Only recently, at the beginning of the current century, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation expanded its activity into the Caucasus and assumed at the same time a social aspect. The cause for the revolutionary outburst of the movement and the terroristic action in the Caucasus was the confiscation of the estates of the Armenian clergy for the [tsarist] treasury in 1903. Besides its main combat” action, the party began, against the background of those events, a propaganda among the rural population in the Caucasus as well as a struggle against tsardom. The agrarian program of Dashnaktsutyun demands the expropriation of gentry estates without compensation, and surrendering there to the communes for equal distribution. This reform is to be based on the still rather general communal property in the central part of the Transcaucasus. Recently, there arose a “young” trend among the Armenian Federalists maintaining that the Dashnaktsutyun party is simply a bourgeois, nationalistic organization of a rather doubtful socialistic aspect – an organization linking within itself completely heterogeneous social elements, and in its activity and action on completely heterogeneous socio-political territory, such as Turkey on the one side and the Caucasus on the other. This party recognizes, according to its own report, the principle of federalism both as a basis of nation-wide relations and the basis on which should be thoroughly reconstructed the conditions in the Caucasus, and finally, as an organizing principle for the party.

A Byelorussian organization was formed in 1903 under the name of the Byelorussian Revolutionary Hromada. Its cardinal programmatic demand was separation from Russia, and in the sphere of economics, the nationalization of the land. In 1906, this program underwent a revision and from then on the party has been demanding a federal republic in Russia, with territorial autonomy for Lithuania and a diet in Vilna, as well as a non-territorial national cultural autonomy for the remaining nationalities inhabiting Lithuania, while on the agrarian question the following demands were adopted: lands held by the treasury, by the church, and by the monasteries, as well as big landed property above eighty to one hundred dessiatins are to be confiscated and turned into a land fund out of which, first of all, the landless and small peasants should be supplied on the basis of hereditary property, with the aim of eliminating pauperism as well as developing the productive forces of the country. The socialization of land cannot yet be mentioned because of the low intellectual level of the Byelorussian peasant. Thus, the task of the party is the creation and maintenance of a peasant farm in a normal size of eight dessiatins, as well as the consolidation of lands. Furthermore, forests, bodies of water, and bogs are to be nationalized. Hronmada carries on its activity among the Byelorussian peasants who inhabit, to the number of about seven millions, the gubernias of Vilna, Minsk, Grodno, and part of Witebsk.

The Jewish Federalist group, “Sierp” [“The Sickle”], organized only a few years ago by Jewish dissidents from the Russian Social Revolutionary Party, demands non-territorial autonomy for all nationalities in the Russian state; out of them would be created voluntary state political associations combining together into a state federation, in order to strive in that way for its ultimate goal, territorial (!) autonomy for the Jews. It directs its activity mainly to the organizing of Jewish workers in Witebsk, Ekaterinoslav, Kiev, etc., and it expects the implementation of its program to arise from the victory of the socialist parties in the Russian state.

It is superfluous to characterize the remaining two organizations, the PPS “revolutionary faction,” and the Russian Party of Social Revolutionaries, since they are sufficiently known by origin and character.

Thus appears that Diet of Federalists cultivating at present that antiquated idea of federation rejected by the class movement of the proletariat. It is a collection of only petit bourgeois parties for whom the nationalist program is the main concern and the socialist program an addition; it is a collection of parties mainly representing – with the exception of the revolutionary fraction of the Polish Socialist Party and the Jewish Federalists – the chaotic aspirations of a peasantry in opposition, and the respective class proletarian parties that came into being with the revolutionary storm, in clear opposition to the bourgeois parties. In this collection of petit bourgeois elements, the party of the Russian terrorists is a trend, not only the oldest one, but also the one furthest left. The others manifest, much more clearly, that they have in common with the class struggle of the proletariat.

The only common ground which links this variegated collection of nationalists has been the idea of federation, which all of them recognize as a basis of state and political, as well as party, relations. However, out of this strange harmony, antagonism arises immediately from all sides the moment the question turns to practical projects of realizing that common ideal. The Jewish Federalists bitterly complain of the “haughtiness” of the nations endowed by fate with a “territory” of their own, particularly the egoism of the Polish Social Patriots, who presented the greatest opposition to the project of non-territorial autonomy; at the very same time, these Jewish nationalists questioned in a melancholy way whether the Georgian Federalists would admit any other nationality to their territory, which they claimed as the exclusive possession of the Georgian nationality. The Russian Federalists, on the other hand, accuse the Jewish ones, saying that, from the standpoint of their exceptional situation, they want to impose on all nationalities a non-territorial autonomy. The Caucasian, Armenian, and Georgian Federalists cannot agree concerning the relationship of the nationalities in a future federal system, specifically on the question of whether other nationalities are to participate in the Georgian territorial autonomy, “or whether such counties as Akhalkalak, inhabited mainly by Armenians, or Barchabin, with a mixture of population, will form individual autonomous territories, or will create an autonomy for themselves according to the composition of their population.” The Armenian Federalists, on their part, demand the exclusion of the city of Tiflis from the autonomous Georgian territory, inasmuch as it is a center primarily inhabited by Armenians. On the other hand, all the Georgian and Armenian Federalists recognize that at present, since the Tatar-Armenian slaughter, the Tatars must be excluded from the federation of autonomous Caucasian peoples as “a nationality immature from the cultural point of view”! Thus, the conglomeration of nationalists agreeing unanimously to the idea of federation changes into as many contradictory interests and tendencies; and the “ideal” of federalism, which constitutes in the theoretical and super-historical abstraction of anarchism, the most perfect solution of all nationality difficulties, on the first attempt at its implementation appears as a source of new contradictions and antagonisms. Here it is strikingly proved that the idea of federalism allegedly reconciling all nationalities is only an empty phrase, and that, among the various national groups, just because they don’t stand on a historical basis, there is no essentially unifying idea which would create a common ground for the settlement of contradictory interests.

But the same federalism separated from the historical background demonstrates its absolute weakness and helplessness not only in view of the nationality antagonisms in practice but also in view of the nationality question in general. The Russian Congress had as its main theme an evaluation and elucidation of the nationality question and undertook it unrestricted by any “dogmas” or formulae of the “narrow doctrine of Marxism.” What elucidation did it give to one of the most burning questions of present political life? “Over the whole history of mankind before the appearance of socialism” – proclaimed the representative of the Social Revolutionary Party in his speech at the opening of the Congress – “one may place as a motto the following words from the Holy Scripture: ‘And they ordered him to say “shibboleth” and he said ”sibboleth” and they massacred him at the ford of the river.’ Indeed, the greatest amount of blood spilled in international struggle was spilled because of the fact that one nation pronounced ‘shibboleth’ and the other ‘sibboleth.’” After this profound introduction from the philosophy of history, there followed a series of speeches maintained at the same level, and the debates about the nationality questions culminated in the memorandum of the Georgian Federalists which proclaimed:

”in primitive times, when the main task of people was hunting wild animals as well as creatures like themselves there were neither masters nor slaves. Equality in social relations was not violated; but later, when people came to know the cultivation of the soil, rather than killing and eating their captives they began to keep them in captivity. What, therefore, was the reason out of which slavery arose? Obviously not only material interests as such, but also this circumstance: that man was by his physical nature a hunter and a warrior(!). And despite the fact that man has already long since become an industrial animal, he is to this very day a predator, capable of tearing apart his neighbor for minor material considerations. This is the source of unending wars and the domination of classes. Naturally the origin of class domination was influenced also by other causes, for instance, man’s ability to become accustomed to dependence. But undoubtedly if man were not a warrior, there would be no slavery.”

There follows a bloody picture of the fate of the nationalities subject to tsardom and then again a theoretical elucidation:

“Somebody may tell us that bureaucratic rule rages not only in the borderlands but in Russia itself. From our point of view this is completely understandable. A nation subjugating other nations eventually falls into slavery itself. For instance, the more Rome expanded its domination, the more the plebeians were losing their freedom. Another example: during the great French Revolution the military victories of the Republican Army annihilated the fruit of the revolution – the Republic (!). The Russians themselves enjoyed incomparably greater freedom before they united in one powerful state, that is, at the time of the rule of die separate princes.” Thus, the memorandum ends its historio-philosophical lecture; freedom does not agree with the clatter of arms. Conquest was the main cause which brought into being both slavery as well as the rule of some social classes over others.

That is all that the Federalists of the present time are able to say about the nationality question. It is literally the same phraseology from the standpoint of “justice”, “fraternity”, “morality” and similar beautiful things which already, sixty years ago, was proclaimed by Bakunin. And just as the father of anarchism was blind to the Revolution of 1848, its inner springs, its historical tasks, the present last of the Mohicans of federalism in Russia stand helpless and powerless before the revolution in the tsarist system.

The idea of federation, by its nature and historical substance reactionary, is today a pseudo-revolutionary sign of petit bourgeois nationalism, which constitutes a reaction against the united revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat in the entire Empire.

[1] Characteristic is the antipathy, general among the Swiss population, against the Ständerat as a “do-nothing” institution. This is only a subjective expression of the fact that this organ of federalism has been deprived of its functions by the objective course of historical development. Original note by R.L.

[2] Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Revolution and Konterrevolution in Deutschland (Weimar: 1949), pp.77, 78-79.

[3] Die Neue Zeit, 1897-1898, Vol.1, p.564.

[4] Die Neue Zeit, 1898-1899, pp.293, 296, 297, 301.

Next Chapter: Centralization and Autonomy

Last updated on: 11.12.2008