Leon Trotsky

Platform of the Joint Opposition


Chapter 6
The National Question

THE SLOWING up of the general tempo of socialist development; the growth of the new bourgeoisie in town and country; the strengthening of the bourgeois intelligentsia; the increase of bureaucratism in the state organs; the bad regime in the party; and bound up with all this the growth of Great-Power jingoism and the spirit of nationalism in general – all this finds its most morbid expression in the national regions and republics. The difficulties are redoubled by the existence in some of the republics of pre-capitalist culture-survivals.

Under the New Economic Policy, the role of private capital Increases with special rapidity in the industrially-backward areas remote from the centre. Here the economic organs often rely entirely upon the private capitalist. They fix prices without considering the real situation of the poor and middle-peasant mass. They lower artificially the wages of farm-hands. They extend immoderately the system of private and bureaucratic mediation between industry and the peasants who supply raw material. They guide the co-operatives in the direction of greater service to the richer elements in the villages. They neglect the interests of the especially backward group, the cattle-breeders and those partly engaged in cattle breeding. The vital task of carry out a plan of industrial construction in the national areas, especially a plan for industrialization of the working up of agricultural raw materials – is kept completely in the background.

Bureaucratism. sustained by the spirit of Great-Power jingoism, has succeeded in transforming Soviet centralization into a source of quarrels as to the allotment of official positions among the nationalities (the Transcaucasian Federation). It has spoiled the relations between the centre and the outlying areas. It has reduced to nothing, as a matter of actual fact, the signilicance of the Society of Nationalities. It has carried bureaucratic guardianship over the autonomous republics to the point of depriving the latter of the right to settle land disputes between the local and the Russian population. To the present day this Great-Power jingoism, especially as it expresses itself through the State machinery, remains the chief enemy to the drawing together and unity of the workers of different nationalities.

A real support to the rural poor, a drawing together of the bulk of the middle peasantry with the poor and the farm-hands, an organization of the latter into an independent class force – all this is of special importance in the national regions and republics. Without a real organization of the farm labourers, without the creation of co-operatives and organizations of the poor, we run the risk of leaving our backward eastern countryside in its traditional condition of slavery, and our party groups in these regions deprived entirely of genuine ties with the working people.

The task of Communists in the more backward or just-awakening nationalities should be to direct the process of national awakening along Soviet socialist channels. We should draw the working masses into the economic and cultural work of construction, particularly by promoting the development of the local language and schools, and the “nationalization” of the Soviet machinery.

In regions where there is friction with other nationalities or national minorities, nationalism accompanying the growth of the bourgeois elements often becomes sharply aggressive. In these circumstances “nationalization” of the local apparatus takes place at the expense of the national minorities. Boundary questions become a source of national rancour. The atmosphere of the party, Soviet, and trade union work is poisoned with nationalism.

Ukrainization, Turkification, etc., can proceed properly only by overcoming bureaucratic and Great-Power habits in the institutions and organs of the Union. It can proceed properly only if the leading role of the proletariat is preserved in the national republics, only if we support ourselves on the lower strata in the countryside and carry on a continual and irreconcilable struggle with the kulak and jingo elements.

These questions are especially important in such industrial centres as the Donbas or Baku, whose proletarian population is largely of a different nationality from that of the surrounding countryside. In these cases correct cultural and political relation between town and country demand:

  1. an especially attentive and genuinely fraternal attitude on the part of the town toward the material and spiritual requirements of the countryside where the nationality is different;
  2. a determined resistance to every bourgeois attempt to drive a wedge between the town and the country – whether by cultivating a bureaucratic arrogance toward the rural districts, or a reactionary kulak envy of the town.

Our bureaucratic regime hands over the actual enactment of its superficial show of ‘nationalization’ into the hands of officials, specialists, and petty-bourgeois teachers, who are connected by countless social ties with the upper strata of the city and the country. They accomodate their policies to the interests of these upper strata. This repels the local poor from the party and the Soviet power and throws them into the arms of the commercial bourgeoisie, the usurers, the reactionary priests, and feudal-patriarchal elements. At the same time our bureaucratic regime pushes into the background the genuinely Communist elements of the nationality, denouncing them often as “deviators”, persecuting them in every possible manner. This happened, for example, to an important group of Georgian old Bolsheviks, who incurred the displeasure of the Stalin group, and were hotly defended by Lenin in the latter period of his life.

That elevation of the working masses of the national republic and territories made possible by the October Revolution is the reason why these masses aspire to direct and independent participation in practical constructive work. Our bureaucratic regime is attempting to paralyse this aspiration by frightening the masses with the cry of local nationalism.

The Twelfth Congress of our party recognized the necessity of a struggle against “the relics of Great-Power jingoism”, against “the economic and cultural inequality of the nationalities within the Soviet Union”, against “the relics of nationalism in a whole series of peoples who have endured the heavy joke of national oppression”. The fourth conference (1923) with responsible leaders of the national republics and regions declared that “one of the basic tasks of the party is the nurture and development of Communist organizations among the proletarian and semi-proletarian elements of the local population in the national republics and regions”. The conference unanimously declared that Communists who go from the centre to the backward republics and regions ought to play the role “not of pedagogues and nurses, but of helpers”. [1] During recent years the whole thing has developed in exactly the opposite direction. The heads of the national party apparatus, appointed by the Secretariat of the Central Committee, take upon themselves the actual decision of all party and Soviet questions. They crowd out the active workers of the nationalities as a kind of second-rate Communists whom one brings into the work merely to fulfil a formal “representative function” (Crimea, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tartaria, the mountain area of Northern Caucasus, etc.). An artificial division from above of all local party workers into “right” and “left” is carried out as a system in order that the secretaries appointed by the centre may arbitrarily command both groups.

In the sphere of our national policy, just as in other spheres, it is necessary to return to the Leninist position:

(1) To carry out an incomparably more systematic, more consistent, more vigorous, effort to overcome national divisions among the workers of different nationality – especially by an attitude of consideration to the newly-arrived ‘national’ workers, increasing their skill and bettering their living and cultural conditions; to firmly remember that the real lever for bringing the backward national countryside into the Soviet work of construction is the creation and development of proletarian cadres in the local population.

(2) To reconsider the five-year economic plan with a view to increasing the tempo of industrialization in the backward periphery, and to work out a 15-year plan which shall take into consideration the interests of the national republics and regions; to adapt our State purchasing policy to the development of special crops among the poor and middle peasants (cotton in Central Asia, tobacco in the Crimea, Abkhazia, etc.). The cooperative credit policy and also the policy of land improvement (in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, etc.) ought to be carried out strictly on class lines, in keeping with the fundamental tasks of socialist construction; to give greater attention to the development of cattle raising co-operatives, to carry out industrialization of the working up of agricultural raw materials in a manner adapted to local conditions. To revise our transmigration policy in strict accordance with the interests of a correct policy on the national question.

(3) To carry out conscientiously the policy of nationalization of the Soviet, and also the party, trade union and co-operative machinery, with genuine consideration of class and international relations; to wage a real struggle against ‘colonizing’ deviations in the activities of the state, co-operative, and other organs; to reduce bureaucratic mediation between the centre and the periphery; to study the experience of the Transcaucasian Federation from the standpoint of its promoting or failing to promote the industrial and cultural development of the nationalities concerned.

(4) Systematically to remove every obstacle to the fullest possible union and co-operation of the working people of different nationalities in the Soviet Union, on the basis of Socialist construction and international revolution; to wage a determined struggle against the mechanical imposition upon the workers and peasants of other nationalities of the predominant national language. In this matter the labouring masses should have full freedom of choice. The real rights of every national minority within the boundaries of every national republic and region must be guaranteed. In all this work special attention must be given to those exceptional conditions arising between formerly oppressed nationalities and nationalities ‘who were formerly their oppressors.

(5)A consistent carrying out of inner-party democracy in all the normal republics and regions; an absolute repudiation of the attitude of command toward non-Russians, of appointment and transfer from above; a repudiation of the policy of arbitrary division of the non-Russian Communists into ‘rights’ and ‘lefts’; a most attentive promotion and training of local proletarian, semi-proletarian, agricultural proletarian and (anti-kulak) peasant active workers.

(6) A repudiation of the Ustryalov tendency, and of all kinds of Great-Power tendencies – especially in the central commissariats and in the state machine in general. An educational struggle against local nationalism upon the basis of a clear and consistent class policy on the national question.

(7) Transformation of the Soviet of Nationalities into a really functioning organ bound up with the life of the national republics and regions, and really capable of defending their interests.

(8) Adequate attention to the national problem in the work of the trade unions and to the task of forming national proletarian cadres. Business in these unions to be transacted in the local tongue, and the interests of all nationalities and national minorities protected.

(9) No franchise under any circumstances for exploiting elements.

(10) The fifth conference on nationality questions to be called on a basis of real representation of the rank and file.

> (11) Publication in the press of Lenin’s letter on the national question, which contains a criticism of Stalin’s line on this question.


1. Lenin, To S.G Said-Galiev, July 20, 1921.

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Last updated on: 26.1.2007