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The New International, July 1944

N. Lenin

On the Program of the Party



From The New International, Vol. X No. 7, July 1944, pp. 208–210. [1]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


I have to say the same thing with regard to the national question. Here too the wish is father to the thought with comrade Bukharin. He says that it is impossible to admit the right of nations to self-determination. A nation implies the bourgeoisie together with the proletariat. And are we, the proletarians, to recognize the right to self-determination of the despised bourgeoisie? That is absolutely incompatible! Pardon me, it is compatible with what actually exists. If you eliminate this, the result will be sheer fantasy. You refer to the process of differentiation which is taking place in the depths of nations, the process of separation of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie. But let us look at the way this differentiation is proceeding.

Take, for instance, Germany, the model of an advanced capitalist country, which, in respect to the organization of capitalism, finance capitalism, was superior to America. She was inferior in many respects, in respect to technical development and production and in respect to politics, but in respect to the organization of finance capitalism, in respect to the conversion of monopoly capitalism into state monopoly capitalism, Germany was superior to America. She is a model, it would seem. But what has taken place there? Has the German proletariat become differentiated from the bourgeoisie? No! Why, it was only of a few towns that it was reported that a majority of the workers are opposed to the Scheidemannites. How was this? It was owing to the alliance between the Spartacists and the thrice-accursed German Menshevik-Independents, who make a muddle of everything and want to wed the system of Soviets to a Constituent Assembly! And this is what is taking place in Germany! And she, mark you, is an advanced country.

Comrade Bukharin says, “Why do we need the right of nations to self-determination?” I must repeat what I said in objection to him in the summer of 1917, when he proposed to delete the minimum program and to leave only the maximum program. I then retorted, “Don’t shout until you’re out of the wood.” When we have conquered power, and even then after waiting a while, we shall do this. We have conquered power, we have waited a while, and now I am willing to do it. We have fully launched into socialist construction, we have beaten off the first assault that threatened us – now it will be in place. The same applies to the right of nations to self-determination. “I want to recognize only the right of the toiling classes to self-determination,” says Comrade Bukharin. That is to say, you want to recognize something that has not been achieved in a single country except Russia. That is ridiculous.

Case of Finland

Look at Finland; she is a democratic country, more developed, more cultured than we are. In Finland a process of separation, of differentiation of the proletariat, is proceeding, proceeding in a peculiar way, far more painfully than was the case with us. The Finns have experienced the dictatorship of Germany; they are now experiencing the dictatorship of the Entente. And thanks to the fact that we recognize the right of nations to self-determination, the process of differentiation has been facilitated there. I very well recall the scene when, at the Smolny, it was my lot to hand an act to Svinhufvud – which in Russian means “swinehead” – the representative of the Finnish bourgeoisie, who played the part of a hangman. He amiably shook my hand, we exchanged compliments. How unpleasant that was! But it had to be done, because at that time the bourgeoisie was deceiving the people, was deceiving the toilers by declaring that the Muscovites, the chauvinists, the Great Russians, wanted to stifle the Finns. It had to be done.

And yesterday, was it not necessary to do the same thing in relation to the Bashkir Republic? When Bukharin said, “We recognize this right in some cases,” I even wrote down that he had included in the list the Hottentots, the Bushmen and the Indians. Hearing this enumeration, I thought, how is it that comrade Bukharin has forgotten a small trifle, the Bashkirs? There are no Bushmen in Russia, nor have I heard that the Hottentots have laid claim to an autonomous republic, but we have Bashkirs, Kirghiz and a number of other peoples, and to these we cannot deny recognition. We cannot deny it to a single one of the peoples living within the boundaries of the former Russian Empire. Let us even assume that the Bashkirs have overthrown the exploiters and we have helped them to do so. But this is possible only where a revolution has fully matured. And it must be done cautiously, so as not to restrain by one’s interference the process of differentiation of the proletariat which we ought to expedite.

What, then, can we do in relation to such peoples as the Kirghiz, the Sarts, who to this day are under the influence of their mullahs? In Russia the population, having had a long experience of the priests, helped us to overthrow them. But you know how badly the decree on civil marriage is still being put into effect. Can we approach these Sarts and say, “We shall overthrow your exploiters”? We cannot do this, because they are entirely under the influence of their mullahs. In such cases we have to wait until the given nation develops, until the differentiation of the proletariat from the bourgeois elements, which is inevitable, has taken place.

Comrade Bukharin does not want to wait. He is possessed by impatience: “Why should we? When we have ourselves overthrown the bourgeoisie, proclaimed a Soviet government and the dictatorship of the proletariat, why should we act thus?” This has the effect of a rousing appeal, it contains an indication of our path, but if we were to proclaim only this in our program, it would not be a program, but a proclamation. We may proclaim a Soviet government, and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and utter contempt for the bourgeoisie, which it deserves a thousand times over, but in the program we must write absolutely and precisely just what actually exists. And then our program will be irreproachable.

We hold a strictly class standpoint. What we are writing in the program is a recognition of what has in fact taken place since the period when we wrote of the self-determination of nations in general. At that time there were still no proletarian republics. It was when they appeared, and only as they appeared, that we were able to write what is here written: “A federation of states of the Soviet type.” The Soviet type is becoming international. And this is all we can say. To go farther, one step farther, one hair’s breadth farther, would be false, and therefore unsuitable for a program.

Self-Determination and Soviets

We say that account must be taken of the stage at which the given nation finds itself on the way from mediaevalism to bourgeois democracy, and from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy. That is absolutely correct. All nations have the right of self-determination – there is no need to speak especially of the Hottentots and the Bushmen. The vast majority, most likely nine tenths of the population of the earth, perhaps ninety-five per cent, come under this description, since all countries are on the way from mediaevalism to bourgeois democracy or from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy. This is an absolutely inevitable course. More cannot be said, because it would be wrong, because it would not be what actually exists. To cast out the self-determination of nations and insert the self-determination of toilers would be absolutely wrong, because this statement of the question does not reckon with the difficulties, with the zigzag course which differentiation within a nation takes. In Germany it is not proceeding in the same way as in our country: it is proceeding in certain respects more rapidly, and in other respects in a slower and more bloody way. Not a single party in our country adopted so monstrous an idea as a combination of Soviets and a Constituent Assembly. Why, we have to live side by side with these nations. The Scheidemannites are already saying that we want to conquer Germany. That is of course ridiculous, nonsensical. But the bourgeoisie has its own interests and its own press, which is shouting this to the whole world in hundreds of millions of copies; and Wilson is supporting this in his own interests. The Bolsheviks, they declare, have a large army, and they want by means of conquest to implant their Bolshevism in Germany. The best people in Germany – the Spartacists – told us that the German workers are being provoked against the Communists: See, they are told, how bad things are with the Bolsheviks! And we cannot say that things with us are very good. And there they influence the masses with the argument that the proletarian revolution in Germany would result in the same disorders as in Russia. Our disorders are a protracted malady. We are striving against desperate difficulties in creating the proletarian dictatorship in our country. As long as the bourgeoisie, or the petty bourgeoisie, or even part of the German workers, are under the influence of this bugbear – “the Bolsheviks want to establish their system by force” – so long will the formula “the self-determination of the toilers” not help matters. We must arrange things so that the German social-traitors will not be able to say that the Bolsheviks are trying to impose their universal system, which, as it were, can be introduced into Berlin by Red Army bayonets. And this is what may happen if the principle of the self-determination of nations is denied.

Our program must not speak of the self-determination of the toilers, because that would be wrong. It must speak of what actually exists. Since nations are in different stages on the road from mediaevalism to bourgeois democracy and from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy, this thesis of our program is absolutely right. With us there have been very many zigzags on this road. Every nation must secure the right to self-determination, and that will make the self-determination of the toilers easier. In Finland the process of separation of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie is proceeding with remarkable clarity, force and profundity. At any rate, things will proceed there not as they do in our country. If we were to declare that we do not recognize the Finnish nation, but only the toiling masses, that would be sheer banality. We cannot refuse to recognize what actually exists; it will itself compel us to recognize it. The demarcation between the proletariat and bourgeoisie is proceeding in different ways in different countries. Here we must act with great caution. We must be particularly cautious with regard to the various nations for there is nothing worse than lack of confidence in a nation. Self-determination of the proletariat is proceeding among the Poles. Here are the latest figures on the composition of the Warsaw Soviet of Workers’ Deputies: Polish social-traitors – 333, Communists – 297. This show that, according to our revolutionary calendar, October there is not very far off. It is somewhere about August or September 1917 there. But, firstly, no decree has yet been issued stating that all countries must live according to the Bolshevik revolutionary calendar; and even if it were issued, it would not be observed. And, secondly, the situation at present is such that the majority of the Polish workers, who are more advanced than ours, better educated, share the standpoint of social-defensism, social patriotism. We must wait. We cannot speak here of the self-determination of the toiling masses. We must carry on propaganda on behalf of this differentiation. This is what we are doing, but there is not the slightest shadow o£ a doubt that we must recognize the self-determination of the Polish nation now. That is clear. The Polish proletarian movement is taking the same course as ours, towards the dictatorship of the proletariat, but not in the same way as in Russia. And there the workers are being scared by statements to the effect that the Muscovites, the Great Russians, who have always oppressed the Poles, want to carry their Great-Russian chauvinism into Poland in the guise of communism. Communism cannot be imposed by force. When I said to one of the best comrades among the Polish Communists, “You will do it in a different way,” he replied, “No, we will do the same thing, but better than you.” To such an argument I had absolutely nothing to object. We must give them the opportunity of fulfilling a modest wish – to create a better Soviet government than ours. We have to reckon with the fact that things are proceeding in rather a peculiar way, and we cannot say, “Down with the right of nations to self-determination! We grant the right of self-determination only to the toiling masses.” This self-determination proceeds in a very complex and difficult way. It exists nowhere but in Russia, and, while foreseeing every stage of development in other countries we must decree nothing from Moscow. That is why this proposal is unacceptable in principle.

Reply to the Discussion

Further, I must dwell on the question of the self-determination of nations. This question has acquired an inflated significance in our criticism. Here the weakness of our criticism was expressed in the fact that this question, which essentially plays a less than secondary part in the general structure of the program, in the sum total of program demands – this question has acquired a special significance in our criticism.

When comrade Pyatakov spoke I wondered: What is this, a discussion of the program, or a dispute between two organization bureaus? When comrade Pyatakov said that the Ukrainian Communists act in accordance with the instructions of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, I could not understand in what tone he was speaking. Was it a tone of regret? I do not suspect comrade Pyatakov of that, but the idea of his speech was as follows: What is the good of all this self-determination when there is a fine Central Committee in Moscow? This is a childish point of view. The Ukraine was separated from Russia by exceptional circumstances, and the national movement did not take deep root there. In so far as it did manifest itself it was knocked out by the Germans. This is a fact, but an exceptional fact. Even with the language there, the position is such that it has become uncertain whether the Ukrainian language is the mass language or not. The toiling masses of other nations were imbued with distrust for the Great-Russians, as a kulak and oppressing nation. That is a fact. A Finnish representative told me that among the Finnish bourgeoisie, who hated the Great Russians, voices are to be heard saying, “The Germans turned out to be vile beasts, the Entente turned out to be vile beasts, we had better have the Bolsheviks.” This is a tremendous victory we have gained over the Finnish bourgeoisie in the national question. This in no way prevents us from fighting it as a class enemy, selecting suitable methods for the purpose. The Soviet Republic, which has been formed in a country whose czarism used to oppress Finland, must declare it respects the right of nations to independence. We concluded a treaty with the Red Finnish government, which existed for a short time, we consented to make certain territorial concessions, on account of which I have heard not a few purely chauvinistic objections, such as, “There are excellent fisheries there, and you have surrendered them.” There are the kind of objections of which I have said: Scratch some Communists and you will find Great-Russian chauvinists.

Great-Russian Chauvinism

It seems to me that this example of Finland, and of the Bashkirs, shows that in the national question you cannot argue that economic unity is necessary at all costs. Of course it is necessary! But we must endeavor to secure it by propaganda, by agitation, by a voluntary alliance. The Bashkirs distrust the Great-Russions because the Great-Russians are more cultured and used their culture to rob the Bashkirs. That is why in these remote places the name Great-Russian for the Bashkir is tantamount to oppressor, swindler. This must be reckoned with, it must be combated. But, after all, this is a prolonged process. You cannot eliminate it by a decree, you know. In this matter we have to be very cautious. Caution is particularly necessary on the part of a nation like the Great-Russian nation, which aroused furious hatred among all the other nations, and we have only now learned to correct the situation, and that badly. For instance, there are in the Commissariat of Education, or connected with the Commissariat of Education, Communists who say: There is a unified school, and therefore don’t dare to teach in any language but Russian! In my opinion such a Communist is a Great-Russian chauvinist. He lurks in many of us, he must be combated.

That is why we must declare to the other nations that we are out-and-out internationalists and are striving for a voluntary union of the workers and peasants of all nations. This in no way precludes wars. War is another question, and arises out of the very nature of imperialism. If we are fighting Wilson, and Wilson makes a small nation his instrument, we say that we shall oppose this instrument. We have never declared ourselves against this. We have never said that a socialist republic can exist without military force. War may be a necessity under certain conditions. But now the essence of the question of self-determination is that various nations are following a similar historical road, but by zigzag and footpaths differing extremely, and that the more cultured nations are obviously moving in a different way from the less cultured nations. Finland moved in a different way. Germany is moving in a different way. Comrade Pyatakov is right a thousand times when he says that we need unity. But we must strive for it by means of propaganda, by party influence, by the creation of trade unions. However, here too we cannot act in one stereotyped way. Just try to extend this to Germany nowl We have conquered the trade-union movement, but the German comrades say, “In our country the leaders in all the trade unions are so yellow that our slogan is to liquidate the trade unions.” We tell them, “You have national peculiarities, you are absolutely right.” If we suppressed this point, or formulated it a different way, we should be deleting the national question from the programme. This might be done if there were people without national peculiarities. But such people do not exist, and we cannot build a socialist society in any other way.

Note by ETOL

1. In the following issue of New International (Vol. X No. 8, August 1944, p. 269) the following correction appeared:

The article, Bolshevism and Self-Determination – Two Speeches by Lenin, in the July 1944 issue of this magazine was meant to include only the two pieces by Lenin which appeared under the title, On the Program of the Party. Lenin’s polemic against Bukharin (written in 1915), which appears directly under the head, Bolshevism and Self-Determination, is an entirely separate piece, and should not have appeared under this head.

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