J. V. Stalin

On the Road to Nationalism

(A Letter From the Caucasus)

January 12 (25), 1913

Source : Works, Vol. 2, 1907 - 1913
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

Among the decisions which will perpetuate the glory of the Liquidators' conference, the decision on "cultural-national autonomy" occupies by no means the last place.

Here it is:

"Having heard the communication of the Caucasian delegation to the effect that at the last conference of the Caucasian organisations of the R.S.D.L.P., as well as in the literary organs of these organisations, the Caucasian comrades expressed the opinion that it is necessary to demand national-cultural autonomy, this conference, while expressing no opinion on the merits of this demand, declares that such an interpretation of the clause of the Party programme which recognises the right of every nationality to self-determination does not contradict the precise meaning of the programme, and it expresses the wish that the national question be put on the agenda of the next congress of the R.S.D.L.P."

This resolution is important not only because it expresses the Liquidators' opportunist shuffling in face of the rising nationalist tide. It is also important because every phrase in it is a gem.

For example, what a pearl is the statement that the conference, "while expressing no opinion on the merits of this demand," nevertheless "declares" and decides? Things are "decided" in this way only in comic opera!

Or the phrase stating that "such an interpretation of the clause of the Party programme which recognises the right of every nationality to self-determination does not contradict the precise meaning of the programme." Just think! The clause in the programme referred to (Clause 9), speaks of freedom of nationalities, of the right of nationalities to develop freely, of the Party's duty to combat all violence against them. Speaking generally, the right of nationalities, within the meaning of that clause, must not be restricted, it may be extended to autonomy and federation, as well as to secession. But does this mean that it is a matter of indifference to the Party, that it is all the same to it, how a given nationality decides its destiny, whether in favour of centralism or of secession? Does it mean that on the basis of the abstract right of nationalities alone it is possible "while expressing no opinion on the merits of this demand," to recommend, even indirectly, autonomy for some, federation for others, and secession for still others? A nationality decides its destiny, but does that mean that the Party must not influence the will of a nationality towards a decision most in accordance with the interests of the proletariat? The Party stands for freedom of conscience, for the right of people to practise any religion they please. Does this mean that the Party will stand for Catholicism in Poland, for the Orthodox Church in Georgia and for the Gregorian Church in Armenia? That it will not combat these forms of world outlook? . . . And is it not self-evident that Clause 9 of the Party programme and cultural-national autonomy are on two entirely different planes that are as capable of "contradicting" each other as, say, Cheops' pyramid and the notorious Liquidators' conference?

But it is by means of such equilibristics that the conference "decides" the question.

The most important thing in the above-mentioned decision of the Liquidators is the ideological collapse of the Caucasian Liquidators, who betrayed the old banner of internationalism in the Caucasus and succeeded in obtaining this decision from the conference.

The Caucasian Liquidators' turn towards nationalism is no accident. They began to liquidate the traditions of the Party long ago. The deletion of the "social section" from the minimum programme, the repudiation of the "hegemony of the proletariat" (see Diskussionny Listok, No. 2 1 ), the declaration that the illegal Party is an auxiliary organisation of the legal organisations (see Dnevnik, No. 9 2 )—all these are commonly known facts. Now the turn has come for the national question.

From their very first appearance (in the beginning of the ‘nineties) the organisations in the Caucasus bore a strictly international character. A united organisation of Georgian, Russian, Armenian and Moslem workers fighting solidly against the foe—such was the picture of Party life. . . . In 1903, at the first, inaugural congress of the Caucasian (strictly speaking Transcaucasian) Social-Democratic organisations, which laid the foundation for the Caucasian Union, the international principle of building up the organisation was re-affirmed as the only correct principle. From that time onwards Caucasian Social-Democracy grew in the struggle against nationalism. The Georgian Social-Democrats fought "their" nationalists, the National-Democrats and Federalists; the Armenian Social-Democrats fought "their" Dashnaktsa-kans; the Moslem Social-Democrats fought the Pan-Islamists.3 And in this fight Caucasian Social-Democracy expanded and strengthened its organisations irrespective of groups. . . . The question of cultural-national autonomy came up for the first time in 1906, at the Caucasian Regional Conference. It was introduced by a small group from Kutais, which demanded a decision in its favour. The question "was a resounding failure," as it was said at the time, because, among other things, it was opposed with equal vigour by both groups, represented respectively by Kostrov and the writer of these lines. It was decided that what was called "regional self-government for the Caucasus" was the best solution for the national question, a solution most in accordance with the interests of the Caucasian proletariat which was united in the struggle. Yes, that is how it was in 1906. And this decision was re-affirmed at subsequent conferences: it was advocated and popularised in the Menshevik and Bolshevik press in the Caucasus, legal and illegal. . . .

But 1912 arrived, and it "turned out" that "we" need cultural-national autonomy, of course (of course!) in the interests of the proletariat! What had happened? What had changed? Perhaps the Caucasian proletariat had become less socialistic? But in that case, to erect national organisational and "cultural" barriers between the workers would have been the most unwise thing to do! Perhaps it had become more socialistic? In that case, what can we call these "Socialists," save the mark, who artificially erect and reinforce barriers which are breaking down, and which nobody needs? . . . What had happened then? What had happened was that peasant Kutais had dragged in its wake the "Social-Democratic Octo-brists" of Tiflis. Henceforth, the affairs of the Caucasian Liquidators will be decided by the Kutais peasants who have been intimidated by militant nationalism. The Caucasian Liquidators were unable to stand up against the nationalist tide, they dropped the tried banner of internationalism and . . . they began to drift "on the waves" of nationalism, throwing their last thing of value overboard: "a useless thing, who wants it?" . . .

But he who takes the first step must take the next: there is logic in everything. The Georgian, Armenian, Moslem (and Russian?) national-cultural autonomy advocated by the Caucasian Liquidators will be followed by Georgian, Armenian, Moslem and other Liquidationist parties. Instead of a common organisation we shall have separate national organisations, Georgian, Armenian and other "Bunds," so to speak.

Is this what Messrs. the Caucasian Liquidators are driving at with their "solution" of the national question?

Well, we can wish them more courage. Do what you want to do!

At all events, we can assure them that the other section of the Caucasian organisations, the Georgian, Russian, Armenian and Moslem pro-Party Social-Democrats, will resolutely break away from Messrs. the National-Liquidators, from these traitors to the glorious banner of internationalism in the Caucasus.


Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 30, January 12 (25), 1913


1. See "Letters From the Caucasus," pp. 194-97 in this volume.

2. In No. 9 of Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata (A Social-Democrat's Diary) G. V. Plekhanov criticised the statements made by the Georgian Menshevik Liquidator S. Jibladze in Golos Sotsial-Demokrata.

3. Pan-Islamism—a reactionary religious and political ideology which arose in Turkey in the latter half of the nineteenth century among the landlords, the bourgeoisie and the clergy and later spread among the propertied classes of other Moslem peoples. It advocated the union into a single whole of all peoples professing the Moslem religion. With the aid of Pan-Islamism the ruling classes among the Moslem peoples tried to strengthen their positions and to strangle the revolutionary movement among the working people of the Orient. Today the U.S.-British imperialists use Pan-Islamism as a weapon in their preparations for an imperialist war against the U.S.S.R. and the People's Democracies, and for suppressing the national-liberation movement.