Leon Trotsky


Nationalism in Lenin [1]

LENIN’S internationalism needs no recommendation. Its distinguishing mark is the irreconcilable break, in the first days of the world war, with that falsification of internationalism that prevailed in the Second International. The official leaders of “Socialism,” from the parliamentary tribune, by abstract arguments in the spirit of the old Cosmopolites, brought the interests of the fatherland into harmony with the interests of humanity. In practice this led, as we know, to the support of the rapacious fatherland through the proletariat.

Lenin’s internationalism is by no means a form of reconciliation of Nationalism and Internationalism in words but a form of international revolutionary action. The territory of the earth inhabited by so-called civilized man is looked upon as a coherent field of combat on which the separate peoples and classes wage gigantic warfare against each other. No single question of importance can be forced into a national frame. Visible and invisible threads connect this question with dozens of phenomena at all ends of the world. In his appreciation of international factors and powers Lenin is freer than most people from national prejudices.

Marx was of the opinion that the philosophers had declared the world satisfactory and believed it to be his task to transform it. But he, the prophet of genius, had not lived to see it. The transformation of the old world is now in full swing and Lenin is its first worker. His internationalism is a practical appreciation of historical events and a practical adaptation to their course on an international scale and for international aims. Russia and her fate are only one element in this great historical struggle upon whose outcome the fate of humanity depends.

Lenin’s internationalism needs no recommendation. Withal Lenin himself is national to a high degree. He is deeply rooted in the new Russian history, makes it his own, gives it its most pregnant expression, and thereby reaches the height of international action and international influence.

At first the characterization of Lenin as “national” may seem surprising, and yet it is, fundamentally considered, a matter of course. To be able to direct such a revolution, without precedent in the history of peoples, as is now taking place in Russia, it is most evidently necessary to have an indissoluble organic connection with the main strength of popular life, a connection which springs from the deepest roots.

Lenin embodies in himself the Russian proletariat, a youthful class, that politically is scarcely older than Lenin himself, withal a deeply national class, for the whole past development of Russia is bound up with it, in it lies Russia’s entire future, with it lives and dies the Russian nation. Lack of routine and example, of falseness and convention, moreover, firmness of thought and boldness of action, a boldness that never degenerates into want of understanding, characterize the Russian proletariat and also Lenin.

The nature of the Russian proletariat, that has actually made it the most important power in the international revolution, had been prepared beforehand by the course of Russian national history, by the barbaric cruelty of the most absolute of states, the insignificance of the privileged classes, the feverish development of capitalism in the dregs of exchange, the deterioration of the Russian bourgeoisie and their ideology, the degeneration of their politics. Our “Third Estate” knew neither a reformation nor a great revolution and could not know them. So the revolutionary problems of the proletariat assumed a more comprehensive character. Our historical past knows neither a Luther, nor a Thomas Münzer, neither a Mirabeau nor a Danton, nor a Robespierre. For that very reason the Russian proletariat has its Lenin. What was lacking in tradition was gained in revolutionary energy.

Lenin reflects in himself the Russian workman’s class, not only in its political present but also in its rustic past which is so recent. This man, who is indisputably the leader of the proletariat, not only outwardly resembles a peasant, but has also something about him which is strongly suggestive of a peasant. Facing Smolny stands the statue of the other hero of the proletariat of the world: Marx on a pedestal in a black frock coat. To be sure, this is a trifle, but it is quite impossible to imagine Lenin in a black frock coat. In some pictures Marx is represented in a broad shirt front on which a monocle dangles.

That Marx was not inclined to coquetry is clear to all who have an idea of the Marxian spirit. But Marx grew up on a different basis of national culture, lived in a different atmosphere, as did also the leading personalities of the German workman’s class, with their roots reaching back, not to the village, but to the corporation guilds and the complicated city culture of the middle ages.

Marx’s style also, which is rich and beautiful, in which strength and flexibility, anger and irony, harshness and elegance are combined, betrays the literary and ethical strata of all the past German socialistic literature since the reformation and even before. Lenin’s literary and oratorical style is extremely simple, ascetic, as is his whole nature. But this strong asceticism has not a shade of moral preaching about it. This is not a principle, no thought-out system and assuredly no affectation, but is simply the outward expression of inward concentration of strength for action. It is an economic peasant-like reality on a very large scale.

The entire Marx is contained in the Communistic Manifesto, in the foreword to his Critique, in Capital. Even if he had not been the founder of the First International he would always remain what he is. Lenin, on the other hand, expands at once into revolutionary action. His works as a scholar mean only a preparation for action. If he had never published a single book in the past he would still appear in history what he now is: the leader of the proletarian revolution, the founder of the Third International.

A clear, scholarly system – materialistic dialectics #8211; was necessary, to be able to renounce deeds of this kind that devolved upon Lenin; it was necessary but not sufficient. Here was needed that mysterious creative power that we call intuition: the ability to grasp appearances correctly at once, to distinguish the essential and important from the unessential and insignificant, to imagine the missing parts of a picture, to weigh well the thoughts of others and above all of the enemy, to put all this into a united whole and the moment the “formula” for it comes to his mind, to deal the blow. This is intuition to action. On the one side it corresponds with what we call penetration.

When Lenin, his left eye closed, receives by radio the parliamentary speech of a leader of imperialistic history or the expected diplomatic note, a web of bloodthirsty reserve and political cant, he resembles a damnably proud moujik who won’t be imposed upon. This is the high-powered peasant cunning, which amounts almost to genius, equipped with the latest acquisitions of a scholarly mind.

The young Russian proletariat is able to accomplish what only he accomplishes who has plowed up the heavy sod of the peasantry to its depths. Our whole national past has prepared this fact. But just because the proletariat came into power through the course of events has our revolution suddenly and radically been able to overcome the national narrowness and provincial backwardness; Soviet Russia became not only the place of refuge of the Communistic International, but also the living embodiment of its program and methods.

By unknown paths, not yet explored by science, on which the personality of man acquires its form, Lenin has taken from nationalism all that he needed for the greatest revolutionary action in the history of humanity. Just because the social revolution, that has long had its international theoretical expression, found for the first time in Lenin its national embodiment, he became, in the true sense of the word, the revolutionary leader of the proletariat of the world.


1. Pravda, No.86, April 23rd, 1920.

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Last updated on: 20.1.2007