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.
In connection with the discussion that has developed in the past few days in the Soviet press on the principles and methods of constituting a Russian Federation, our correspondent requested the opinion of Comrade Stalin, People's Commissar for the Affairs of Nationalities.
The following is Comrade Stalin' s reply to a series of questions put by our correspondent.
Of all the existing federal unions, the most characteristic of the bourgeois-democratic system are the American and Swiss federations. Historically, they evolved from independent states, through confederations, into federations, but in fact they became unitary states, federalism being preserved only in form. This whole process of development—from independence to unitarism— proceeded to the accompaniment of violence, oppression and national wars. Suffice it to recall the war between the Southern and Northern states of America 1 and the war between the Sonderbund 2 and the other cantons in Switzerland. Nor can one refrain from observing that the Swiss cantons and the American states were built not on national, nor even on economic lines, but quite by chance—by virtue of the chance seizure of this or that territory by colonial immigrants or village communities.
The federation now being built in Russia presents, and should present, an entirely different picture.
Firstly, the regions which have separated out in Russia represent quite definite units as regards manner of life and national composition. The Ukraine, the Crimea, Poland, Transcaucasia, Turkestan, the Middle Volga, and the Kirghiz territory are distinct from the centre not only because of their geographical location (border regions!), but also because they are integral economic territories having a population with a specific manner of life and national composition.
Secondly, these regions are not free and independent territories, but units which were forcibly squeezed into the all-Russian political organism, and which are now striving to secure the necessary freedom of action in the shape either of federal relations or complete independence. The history of the "union" of these territories is one long tale of violence and oppression on the part of the former Russian governments. The establishment of a federal system in Russia will mean the emancipation of these territories and the peoples inhabiting them from the old imperialist yoke. From unitarism to federalism!
Thirdly, in the Western federations the shaping of the state is in the hands of the imperialist bourgeoisie.
Small wonder, then, that "union" there could not be effected without violence. Here, in Russia, on the contrary, the shaping of the political structure is in the hands of the proletariat, the sworn enemy of imperialism. In Russia, therefore, the federal system can, and must, be built on the basis of a free union of peoples.
That is the essential difference between the federation in Russia and the federations of the West.
It is clear from this, Comrade Stalin continued, that the Russian Federation is not a union of independent cities (as caricaturists in the bourgeois press think), or of regions generally (as some of our comrades believe), but a union of definite historically evolved territories, each distinguished by a specific manner of life and national composition. The point is not the geographical location of certain regions, or even that certain areas are separated from the centre by stretches of water (Turkestan), or mountain ranges (Siberia), or steppes (Turkestan again). This geographical federalism, such as is preached by Latsis, has nothing in common with the federalism proclaimed by the Third Congress of Soviets. Poland and the Ukraine are not separated from the centre by mountain ranges or stretches of water. Nevertheless it would not enter anyone's head to assert that the absence of these geographical attributes precludes the right of these regions to free self-determination.
On the other hand, Comrade Stalin said, it is unquestionable that the peculiar form of federalism advocated by the Moscow regionalists, who would artificially unite fourteen gubernias around Moscow, has likewise nothing in common with the resolution on federation of the Third Congress of Soviets. Undoubtedly, the central textile area, which embraces only a few gubernias, does in a way represent an integral economic unit, and as such it will undoubtedly be administered by a regional authority of its own, as an autonomous part of the Supreme Council of National Economy. But what can there be in common between backwoods Kaluga and industrial Ivanovo-Voznesensk, and on what principle they are "united" by the present regional Council of People's Commissars is beyond comprehension.
Obviously, not every area or unit, and not every geographical territory can or should become a member of the federation, but only definite regions which naturally combine a specific manner of life, a specific national composition, and a certain minimum integrality of economic territory. Such are Poland, the Ukraine, Finland, the Crimea, Transcaucasia (incidentally, the possibility is not excluded that Transcaucasia may break up into a number of definite national-territorial units, e.g., Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan-Tatar, etc.), Turkestan, the Kirghiz territory, the Tatar-Bashkir territory, Siberia and so on.
The rights of these federating regions will be definitely delimited in the process of constituting the Soviet Federation as a whole, but the general outline of these rights can be indicated already. Military and naval affairs, foreign affairs, railways, post and telegraph, currency, trade agreements and general economic, financial and banking policy will probably all come within the province of the central Council of People's Commissars. All other affairs, and primarily the methods of implementation of general decrees, education, judicature, administration, etc., will come within the province of the regional Councils of People's Commissars. No compulsory "state" language—either in the judicature or in the educational system! Each region will select the language or languages which correspond to the composition of its population, and there will be complete equality of languages both of the minorities and the majorities in all social and political institutions.
The structure of the central authority, its manner of constitution, is determined by the specific features of the Russian Federation. In America and Switzerland, federalism resulted in practice in a two-chamber system: on the one hand, a parliament elected on the basis of general elections, and, on the other, a federal council constituted by the states or cantons. That is the two-chamber system which in practice leads to the usual bourgeois legislative red tape. Needless to say, the labouring masses of Russia would not reconcile themselves to such a two-chamber system. And this apart from the fact that such a system is wholly incompatible with the elementary demands of socialism.
We think, Comrade Stalin continued, that the supreme organ of power of the Russian Federation should be the Congress of Soviets elected by all the labouring masses of Russia, or the Central Executive Committee, acting as its deputy. Moreover, we shall have to discard the bourgeois prejudice regarding the infallibility of the "principle" of universal suffrage. The suffrage will probably be granted only to those sections of the population which are exploited, or which at least do not exploit the labour of others. That is a natural corollary of the fact of the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasants
As to the organ of executive power of the Russian Federation, i.e., the central Council of People's Commissars, it will be elected at the Congresses of Soviets, presumably from candidates nominated by the centre and the federating regions. Thus between the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People's Commissars there will not be, and should not be, any so-called second chamber. Without a doubt, practice may, and probably will, evolve other and more expedient and flexible forms of combining the interests of the regions and the centre in the structure of authority. But one thing is certain: namely, that whatever forms may be evolved in practice, they will not resurrect the obsolete two-chamber system which has been buried by our revolution.
These, in my opinion, Comrade Stalin continued, are the general contours of the Russian Federation whose process of constitution we are now witnessing. Many are inclined to regard the federal system as the most stable, and even as ideal, and America, Canada and Switzerland are often cited as examples. But this infatuation with federalism is not warranted by history. In the first place, America and Switzerland are no longer federations: they were federations in the 1860's, but they have in fact become unitary states since the end of the last century, when all authority was transferred from the states or cantons to the central federal government.
History has shown that federalism in America and Switzerland was only a transitional step from the independence of the states or cantons to their complete union. Federalism proved quite expedient as a transitional step from independence to imperialist unitarism, but it became out of date and was discarded as soon as the conditions matured for the union of the states or cantons into a single integral state.
In Russia, constitutional development is proceeding in a reverse way. Compulsory tsarist unitarism is being replaced by voluntary federalism, in order that, in the course of time, federalism may be replaced by an equally voluntary and fraternal union of the labouring masses of all the nations and races of Russia. As in America and Switzerland, Comrade Stalin concluded, federalism in Russia is destined to serve as a means of transition—transition to the socialist unitarism of the future.
1. The American civil war of 1861-65, which ended in the victory of the Northern states and the defeat of the separatist tendencies of the Southern states and the establishment of a centralized state.
2.Sonderbund—a reactionary alliance of the seven Catholic cantons in Switzerland, formed in 1 845. In 1847 an armed struggle broke out between the Sonderbund and the other cantons, which favoured a centralized government for Switzerland. The war ended with the defeat of the Sonderbund and the conversion of Switzerland from a union of states into an integral federal state.