J. V. Stalin
Source : Works, Vol.
4, November, 1917 - 1920
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2009
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.
One of the questions that was particularly agitating Russia just now, the speaker said, was the national question. Its importance was enhanced by the fact that the Great Russians did not constitute an absolute majority of the population of Russia and were surrounded by a ring of other, "non-sovereign" peoples, the inhabitants of the border regions.
The tsarist government realized the importance of the national question and tried to handle the affairs of the nationalities with a rod of iron. It carried out a policy of forcible Russification of the border peoples, and its method of action was the banning of native languages, pogroms and other forms of persecution.
Kerensky's coalition government abolished these national disabilities, but, because of its class character, it was incapable of a full solution of the national question. The government of the early period of the revolution not only did not adopt the course of completely emancipating the nations, but in many instances it did not hesitate to resort to repressive measures to crush the national movement, as was the case with the Ukraine and Finland.
The Soviet Government alone publicly proclaimed the right of all nations to self-determination, including complete secession from Russia. The new government proved to be more radical in this respect than even the national groups within some of the nations.
Nevertheless, a series of conflicts arose between the Council of People's Commissars and the border regions. They arose, however, not over issues of a national character, but over the question of power. The speaker cited a number of examples of how the bourgeois nationalist governments, hastily formed in the border regions and composed of representatives of the upper sections of the propertied classes, endeavoured, under the guise of settling their national problems, to carry on a definite struggle against the Soviet and other revolutionary organizations. All these conflicts between the border regions and the central Soviet Government were rooted in the question of power. And if the bourgeois elements of this or that region sought to lend a national colouring to these conflicts, it was only because it was advantageous to them to do so, since it was convenient for them to conceal behind a national cloak the fight against the power of the labouring masses within their region.
As an illustration, the speaker dwelt in detail on the Rada, convincingly showing how the principle of self-determination was being exploited by the bourgeois chauvinist elements in the Ukraine in their imperialist class interests.
All this pointed to the necessity of interpreting the principle of self-determination as the right to self-determination not of the bourgeoisie, but of the labouring masses of the given nation. The principle of self-determination should be a means in the struggle for socialism and should be subordinated to the principles of socialism.
On the question of a federal structure of the Russian Republic, the speaker said that the supreme organ of the Soviet Federation must be the Congress of Soviets. In the intervals between congresses its functions should be vested in the Central Executive Committee.
1) The Russian Socialist Soviet Republic is constituted on the basis of a voluntary union of the peoples of Russia, as a Federation of the Soviet Republics of these peoples.
2) The supreme organ of power in the Federation is the All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, convened not less frequently than once every three months.
3) The All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies elects an All-Russian Central Executive Committee. In the intervals between congresses the All-Russian Central Executive Committee is the supreme organ.
4) The Government of the Federation, the Council of People's Commissars, is elected and replaceable in whole or in part by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets or the All-Russian Central Executive Committee.
5) The way in which the Soviet Republics of regions distinguished by a specific manner of life and national composition will participate in the federal government, as well as the demarcation of the spheres of activity of the federal and regional institutions of the Russian Republic, will be determined, immediately upon the formation of the regional Soviet Republics, by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Central Executive Committees of these republics.
Comrade Stalin wound up the discussion of the proposed resolution on the federal institutions of the Russian Republic.
He pointed out that the resolution was not intended as a law, but only outlined the general principles of the future Constitution of the Russian Federative Republic.
So long as the struggle between the two political trends—nationalist counter-revolution, on the one hand, and Soviet power, on the other—had not ended, there could be no question of a clear-cut Constitution that distinctly and precisely defined every detail of the state structure of the Soviet Republics.
The resolution set forth only the general principles of the Constitution. They would be submitted to the Central Executive Committee for detailed elaboration, and presented for final endorsement to the next Congress of Soviets.
Replying to the reproach that the Soviet Government was displaying excessive severity in its fight against the bourgeois Rada, Comrade Stalin pointed out that it was a fight against bourgeois counter-revolution clothed in a national-democratic garb.
Comrade Stalin stressed that the democratic flag employed by various political leaders of the Rada (such as Vinnichenko) was by no means a guarantee of a really democratic policy.
We judge the Rada not by its words, but by its deeds.
In what way did the "Socialists" of the Rada display their socialism?
They professed in their Universal 2 to be in favour of the transfer of all the land to the people, but, actually, in their published explanation, they restricted the transfer by proclaiming part of the landlords' land inviolable and not transferable to the people.
They professed their loyalty to the Soviets, but, actually, they waged a desperate struggle against them, disarming Soviet troops, arresting Soviet officials and making the continued existence of the Soviets absolutely impossible.
They professed their fidelity to the revolution, but, actually, they had proved themselves to be bitter enemies of the revolution.
They professed neutrality in the struggle with the Don, but, actually, they were rendering direct and active assistance to General Kaledin, helping him to shoot down
Soviet troops and preventing the passage of grain to the North.
All these were generally known facts, and that the Rada was essentially bourgeois and anti-revolutionary in character was beyond all doubt.
That being so, what fight of the Soviets against democracy was Martov referring to here?
The speakers of the Right, especially Martov, evidently praised and defended the Rada because they saw in its policy a reflection of their own. In the Rada, which represented that coalition of all classes so dear to Messrs. the compromisers, they saw the prototype of the Constituent Assembly. No doubt, on hearing the speeches of the representatives of the Right, the Rada would just as assiduously praise them. It was not for nothing that the proverb said: Birds of a feather flock together. (Laughter and applause.)
The speaker then dwelt on the question of self-determination of the Caucasus, and cited exact data showing that the Caucasian Commissariat3 was pursuing a manifestly aggressive policy against the Caucasian Soviet organizations and the army Soviet, and at the same time was maintaining contact with the hero of the counter-revolutionary movement in the Caucasus, General Przhevalsky.
From all this it followed that it was necessary to continue the so-called civil war, which was actually a struggle between the trend which was striving to establish coalition, compromising governments in the border regions, and the other trend which was striving to establish socialist power, the power of the Soviets of the labouring masses of the workers', soldiers' and peasants' deputies.
That was the nature and historical import of the bitter conflicts which were arising between the Council of People's Commissars and the bourgeois-nationalist coalition governments in the border regions. The assertion of these governments that they were fighting to uphold national independence was nothing but a hypocritical cover for the campaign they were waging against the working people. (Stormy applause.)
Replying to Martov's reproach that the Soviet Government was guilty of a contradiction in demanding proletarian power in the Russian border regions and contenting itself with a referendum in Courland, Lithuania, Poland, etc., as advocated by Trotsky in Brest-Litovsk, Comrade Stalin remarked that it would be utterly absurd to demand Soviet power in the Western regions when they had not yet even Soviets, had not yet had a socialist revolution.
"If we acted on Martov's prescription," the speaker said, "we should have to invent Soviets where they do not yet exist, and what is more, where the road to them has not yet even been paved. To talk of self-determination through Soviets under such conditions is the height of absurdity."
In conclusion, the speaker dwelt again on the fundamental difference between the Right and Left wings of the democracy. Whereas the Left wing was striving to establish the dictatorship of the lower classes, the power of the majority over the minority, the Right wing recommended turning back to an already past stage, the stage of bourgeois parliamentarism. The experience of parliamentarism in France and America convincingly showed that the ostensibly democratic governmentsresulting from universal suffrage were actually coalitions with finance capital which were very remote from, and hostile to, genuine democracy. In France, that land of bourgeois democracy, the members of parliament were elected by the whole people, but the ministers were supplied by the Bank of Lyons. In America the suffrage was universal, but it was representatives of the billionaire Rockefeller who were in power.
"Is not that a fact?" the speaker asked. "Yes, we have indeed buried bourgeois parliamentarism, and it is in vain that the Martovs are trying to drag us back to the martovsky 4 period of the revolution. (Laughter and applause.) We, the representatives of the workers, want the people not only to vote, but to govern as well. It is not those who vote and elect that rule, but those who govern." (Stormy applause.)
1.The Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies met in Petrograd from January 10 to 18, 1918, and was attended by 1,046 delegates. A report on the activities of the Council of People's Commissars was made by V. I. Lenin, and a report on the activities of the C.E.C. of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies by Y. M. Sverdlov. J. V. Stalin made a report on the national question. The congress passed a resolution approving the policy of the C.E.C. and the Council of People's Commissars and endorsed the "Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited Peoples," which was drafted by V. I. Lenin with the participation of J. V. Stalin, the decrees of the Council of People's Commissars recognizing the independence of Finland and Armenia, and a resolution moved by J. V. Stalin on the federal institutions of the Russian Republic.
2.The reference is to the Third Universal (Manifesto) of the Ukrainian Central Rada, adopted on November 7, 1917.
3.The Caucasian, or Transcaucasian, Commissariat was set up in Tiflis in November 1917 by the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, Dashnaks and Mussavatists. It existed until May 26, 1918.
4. The Russian adjective martovsky is the adjectival form of both "March" and "Martov."—Tr.