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Communist Workers Group (Marxist-Leninist)

Our Tasks on the National Question

Against Nationalist Deviations in Our Movement


A. Obligations of Communists to Their Class

As a point of principle, the workingclass must always uphold the right of an oppressed nation to self-determination. As we have seen, that in no way means the workingclass gives unqualified support to a particular national movement, but supports that movement only to the extent that it weakens imperialism and advances the interests of the exploited masses of the subject nation. In every case we must draw a clear and unmistakable line between the interests of a nation and the interests of the proletariat. We give principled support to the national movement, but

This, of course, does not mean that Social-Democrats will support every demand of a nation. A nation has the right even to return to the old order of things; but this does not mean that Social-Democrats will subscribe to such a decision if taken by any institution of the said nation. The obligations of Social-Democrats, who defend the interests of the proletariat, and the rights of a nation, which consists of various classes, are two different things. Stalin Marxism and the National Question p.23

Upholding the right to self-determination is not the same thing as encouraging a particular course of action by a particular nation. We may uphold the right of a nation to political secession, and yet actively propagandize against such secession if it threatens the interests of the workingclass. The rights of the workingclass are a higher right, more democratic, more comprehensive than the rights of any ensemble of classes. This is especially apparent when the workingclass takes state power.

It should be borne in mind that in addition to the right of nations to self-determination, there is also the right of the workingclass to consolidate its power, and the right of self-determination is subordinated to this latter right.

There are cases when the right of self-determination conflicts with another, a higher right – the right of the workingclass that has come to power to consolidate its power. In such cases – this must be said bluntly – the right of self-determination cannot and must not serve as an obstacle to the workingclass in exercising its right to dictatorship. The former must yield to the latter.

Such was the case in 1920, for instance, when in order to defend workingclass power we were obliged to march on Warsaw. Stalin National Factors in State and Party Affairs M&NQ p.158

While there can be no belittling of the right to self-determination, we must be clear as to its subordinate role in the general labor ’question’. Failure to maintain the proper perspective results in accommodation of either great-nation chauvinism of imperialism, or narrow nationalism of the subject nation.

B. Upholding Self-Determination

In putting forward the slogan of the right to self-determination, we are guaranteeing the right of a nation to determine its own affairs. In principle we are not for the general separation of nations, but for their voluntary association. Only by upholding the freedom of secession can mutual trust be created between the workers of oppressor and oppressed nations, and voluntary association be realized. For the workers in the imperialist countries, then, it is necessary to consistently, and as a matter of communist principle, actively put forward the right of the oppressed nations to self-determination. In this way, the workers of the advanced nations show to the workers of the oppressed nations that they have no stake in imperialism, no wish to maintain great-nation privileges, and do not side with ‘their own’ bourgeoisie against the subject nations. At the same time, workers of the oppressed nations must propagandize for voluntary association with the workingclass of the advanced nations. In this way they make a complete break with narrow nationalism, and show they have no interest in minority special privileges.

People who have not gone into the question thoroughly think that it is ’contradictory’ for Social-Democrats of oppressor nations to insist on the ’freedom to secede’, while Social-Democrats of the oppressed nations insist on the ’freedom to integrate’. However, a little reflection will show that there is not, and cannot be, any other road to internationalism and the amalgamation of nations, any other road from the given situation to this goal. Lenin Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up CW Vol. 22 p.347

It is through active support of the right of self-determination that communists forge the ties between the workers of all countries and create the alliance between the revolutionary movements in the West with the national-revolutionary movements in the East. The closer the unity of the international movement, the more effective is the struggle against imperialism, and the less we have of national frictions, national privileges, and nationalist ideology.

For the workers of the oppressed nation, the right to self-determination is more than an expression of the solidarity of the workers of the oppressor nation. It is through the clarification of this principle that the workingclass can distance itself from bourgeois nationalism and create an independent and leading role in the national movement. For the workers of the oppressor nation, the principle of the right to self-determination is a means of distancing themselves from ’their own’ imperialist bourgeoisie and learning to differentiate between the interests of the national movement and the interests of the workers within that movement.

Hence, the Social-Democrats would be deviating from proletarian policy and subordinating the workers to the policy of the bourgeoisie if they were to repudiate the right of nations to self-determination, i.e. the right of an oppressed nation to secede, or if they were to support all the national demands of the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations. It makes no difference to the hired worker whether he is exploited chiefly by the Great Russian bourgeoisie rather than by the non-Russian bourgeoisie, or by the Polish bourgeoisie rather than the Jewish bourgeoisie, etc. The hired worker who has come to understand his class interests is equally indifferent to the state privileges of the Great Russian capitalists and to the promises of the Polish or Ukrainian capitalists to set up an earthly paradise when they obtain state privileges. Capitalism is developing and will continue to develop, anyway, both in integral states with a mixed population and in separate national states.

In any case, the hired worker will be an object of exploitation. Successful struggle against exploitation requires that the proletariat be free of nationalism, and be absolutely neutral, so to speak, in the fight for supremacy that is going on among the bourgeoisie of the various nations. If the proletariat of any one nation gives the slightest support to the privileges of its ’own’ national bourgeoisie, that will eventually rouse distrust among the proletariat of another nation; it will weaken the international class solidarity of the workers and divide them, to the delight of the bourgeoisie. Repudiation of the right to self-determination or to secession inevitably means, in practice, support for the privileges of the dominant nation. Lenin The Right of Nations to Self-Determination CW Vol.20 p.424

The right to self-determination is an objective right and stands independently of the class content of the national movement. An oppressed people may or may not be for secession, but in point of principle they always have the right to secession as long as they constitute a nation. It is the duty of communists, as the political leadership of the workingclass, to uphold that right. Whether or not actual secession is in the interests of the working-class must be determined by the particular situation. But the right must be advanced at all times.

C. Great-Nation Chauvinism and Narrow Nationalism

In advancing the slogan of self-determination, the workers of the advanced nation repudiate the great-nation chauvinism fostered by the imperialist bourgeoisie. In advancing voluntary association, the workers of the oppressed nation break with the narrow nationalism fostered by the national bourgeoisie. We must continually guard against any trace of either form of chauvinism appearing within communist ranks, and must continually expose the class basis for both. We draw a firm line between the interests of the workers as a whole, and the bourgeoisie as a whole, so that the fight against class and national oppression strikes home.

For the workers of the advanced countries, there is always the danger of the corrupting influence of imperialist ideology, jingoism, racism and national chauvinism. The Imperialist bourgeoisie creates a bogus identity of interests between itself and its workingclass through bribing the upper strata of the workingclass, the skilled trade and trade-union leaders. It is the duty of communists in the advanced countries to split the workingclass from imperialist chauvinism. For the workers of the oppressed nation, there is the danger of identifying with its own national bourgeoisie, and turning its anger against the entire oppressor nation.

If a Ukrainian Marxist allows himself to be swayed by his quite legitimate and natural hatred of the Great Russian oppressors to such a degree that he transfers even a particle of this hatred, even if it only be estrangement, to the proletarian culture and proletarian cause of the Great Russian workers, then such a Marxist will get bogged down in bourgeois nationalism. Lenin Critical Remarks on the National Question CW Vol.20 p.33

The struggle against great-nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism is thus a fight on two fronts. The question arises, what is the best means for waging this struggle, and who is to conduct it. The Party must always be at the head of the struggle. Generally, great-nation chauvinism poses the greatest danger, since it has the force of state power and hundreds of years of conditioning behind it. But narrow nationalism can become equally divisive if it is not fought at the source. The struggle against both is most effective when communists of the various nationalities assume the responsibility for fighting their ’own’ particular form of chauvinism.

When it is said that the most important thing in the national question is to fight Great-Russian chauvinism, this indicates what the duties of a Russian Communist are; it implies that it is the duty of every Russian Communist himself to wage war on Russian chauvinism. If the fight against Russian chauvinism were undertaken not by the Russian but by the Turkestanian or Georgian Communists, it would be interpreted as anti-Russian chauvinism. Only the Russian Communists can undertake the war on Great-Russian chauvinism and fight it to a finish. Stalin Report on National Factors in the Development of the Party and the State M&NQ p. 159


Russian Communists cannot combat Tatar, Georgian, or Bashkir chauvinism; for if a Russian Communist were to undertake the difficult task of fighting Tatar or Georgian chauvinism it would be regarded as the fight of a Great-Russian chauvinist against the Tatars or the Georgians. This would only confuse the whole issue. Only the Tatar, Georgian, and other Communists can fight Tatar, Georgian and other chauvinism, only the Georgian Communists can successfully combat Georgian nationalism or chauvinism. That is the duty of the non-Russian Communists. Ibid p.160

This ’division of labor’ in the fight against all forms of chauvinism applies only to the Party’s mass work and in no way means that the Party itself restricts its internal struggles against chauvinism to national lines. To make such a division within Party ranks would be to drag the national line into the Party, and from that would inevitably follow Bundist fragmentation. We must assume, and in fact demand, that Party members be free from the slightest nationalist or chauvinist tendencies, and that deviations on the part of particular members be criticized by the membership as a whole.

We can now sum up the general theoretical aspects of the national question as a whole:

1) Criteria. The four criteria of nationhood are objective and inter-related categories. They are aspects of a single entity, the nation, which evolves in given historical conditions. If a nation loses one or more criteria, it ceases to be a nation. If we do not hold to these four criteria for our definition of a nation, then we no longer have a basis for objectivity, and therefore no basis for a principled understanding of the national question.
2) National movements under rising capitalism. National movements are initiated and led by the national bourgeoisie, which develops nationalism as the ideological means to bind the workingclass to itself. The national movements occur primarily in Europe, and result in independent capitalist states.
3) National movements under imperialism. Imperialism may allow political independence, but frustrates the ambitions of the national bourgeoisie for an independent capital. The workingclass and peasantry take the lead. The national question becomes international.
4) Self-determination. Self-determination can only mean political secession, since under imperialism economic self-determination can only be achieved through socialism.
5) The stand of the workingclass. The workingclass upholds and actively fights for the right of nations to self-determination. But that general right is subordinate to the right of the workingclass to protect its class interests. Upholding the right to self-determination is the means by which the workers of all nations break with bourgeois ideology and forge the alliance between the workingclass of the West with the national liberation movements in the East.

It is only within the framework of these five basic points that we can apply the general thesis of the national question to a particular nation or peoples, and thus develop a principled, Marxist-Leninist line of action.