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.
Comrades, this conference has been called on the initiative of the Commissariat for the Affairs of Nationalities and in agreement with the Council of People's Commissars, in the person of its Chairman.
The purpose of the conference is to set up a commission for convening a constituent congress of Soviets of your region. The purpose of the future congress will be to determine the frontiers and character of Tatar-Bashkir autonomy. The idea of autonomy springs from the very nature of the October Revolution, which brought liberty to the nationalities. The Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia issued by the Council of People's Commissars in the October days, and the decision of the Third Congress of Soviets proclaiming Russia a federation of autonomous regions distinguished by a specific manner of life and composition of the population, are only a formal expression of the nature of the October Revolution.
The Third Congress of Soviets laid down general provisions of the Constitution of the Soviet Republic, and called upon the labouring elements of the peoples of Russia to say in what concrete political forms they would like to constitute themselves in their regions, and in what relations they would like to stand to the centre. Of all the regions, Finland and the Ukraine, I think, are the only ones that have declared themselves definitely. They have declared in favour of independence. And when the Council of People's Commissars became convinced that not only the bourgeoisie, but also the proletarian elements of these countries were striving for independence, these countries received what they demanded without any hindrance.
As to the other regions, their labouring elements have proved to be rather inert in the matter of the national movement. But the greater their inertia the greater was the activity displayed by the bourgeoisie. Nearly everywhere, in all the regions, bourgeois autonomous groups were formed which set up "National Councils," split their regions into separate national curiae, with national regiments, national budgets, etc., and thus turned their countries into arenas of national conflict and chauvinism. These autonomous groups (I am referring to the Tatar, Bashkir, Kirghiz, Georgian, Armenian and other "National Councils")—all these "National Councils" were out for one thing only, namely, to secure autonomy so that the central government should not interfere in their affairs and not control them. "Give us autonomy and we shall recognize the central Soviet power, but we cannot recognize the local Soviets and they must not interfere in our affairs; we shall organize ourselves as we wish and can, and shall treat our national workers and peasants as we please." That is the sort of autonomy—essentially bourgeois in character—aimed at by the bourgeoisie who demand full power over "their" working people within the framework of autonomy.
It goes without saying that the Soviet power cannot sanction autonomy of this kind. To grant autonomy in order that all power within the autonomous unit may belong to the national bourgeoisie, who insist upon non-interference on the part of the Soviets, to surrender the Tatar, Bashkir, Georgian, Kirghiz, Armenian and other workers to the tender mercies of the Tatar, Georgian, Armenian and other bourgeois— that is something to which the Soviet power cannot consent.
Autonomy is a form. The whole question is what class content is put into this form. The Soviet power is not at all opposed to autonomy. It is in favour of autono-my—but only such autonomy in which the entire power belongs to the workers and peasants, and in which the bourgeois of all nationalities are debarred not only from power, but even from participation in the election of government bodies.
Such autonomy will be autonomy on a Soviet basis.
There are two types of autonomy. One is purely nationalistic. It is built on the principle of extra-territoriality, on the basis of nationalism. The outcome of this type of autonomy is "National Councils," with national regiments around these councils, division of the population into national curiae, and the national strife which is bound to follow from this. That type of autonomy spells inevitable doom for the Soviets of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies. It is the type of autonomy which the bourgeois Rada was out for. In order to grow and develop, the Rada had naturally to wage war on the workers' and peasants' Soviets. That has also been the outcome of the existence of the Armenian, Georgian and Tatar National Councils in Transcaucasia. Gegech-kori was right when he said to the Transcaucasian Soviets and the Commissariat: "Do you know that the Commissariat and the Soviets have become a fiction, since all power has actually passed into the hands of the National Councils, which possess their own national regiments?"
That type of autonomy we reject in principle.
We propose another type of autonomy, autonomy for regions where one or several nationalities predominate. No national curiae, no national barriers! Autonomy must be Soviet autonomy, based on Soviets. This means that the division of the population of the given region must be on class, not national lines. Class Soviets as the basis of autonomy, and autonomy as the form of expression of the will of these Soviets—such is the nature of the Soviet autonomy we propose.
The bourgeois world has elaborated one definite form of relation between autonomous regions and the central authority. I am referring to the United States of America, Canada and Switzerland. In these countries the central authority consists of a national parliament of the whole country, elected by the entire population of the states (or cantons), and, parallel with this, a federal council, chosen by the governments of the states (or cantons). The result is a two-chamber system, with its legislative red tape and the stifling of all revolutionary initiative.
We are opposed to such a constitution of authority in our country. We are opposed to it not only because socialism categorically repudiates such a two-chamber system, but also because of the practical exigencies of the period we are passing through. The fact is that in the present transitional period, when the bourgeoisie has been broken but not crushed, when the disruption of economic life and of the food supply, aggravated by the machinations of the bourgeoisie, has not yet been eliminated, and when the old, capitalist world has been shattered but the new, socialist world has not yet been completely built—at such a moment the country needs a strong all-Russian power capable of crushing the enemies of socialism completely and organizing a new, communist economy. In short, what we need is that which has come to be called the dictatorship of the urban and rural proletariat. To set up sovereign local and regional authorities parallel with the central authority at such a moment would in fact result in the collapse of all authority and a reversion to capitalism. For this reason, all functions of importance to the whole country must be left in the hands of the central authority, and the regional authorities must be vested chiefly with administrative, political and cultural functions of a purely regional nature. These are: education, justice, administration, essential political measures, forms and methods of application of the general decrees in adaptation to the national conditions and manner of life—and all this in the language native to and understood by the population. Hence the generally recognized type of regional union, headed by a regional Central Executive Committee, is the most expedient form of such autonomy.
That is the type of autonomy the necessity of which, in the present transitional period, is dictated both by the interests of consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat and by the common struggle of the proletarians of all the nations of Russia against bourgeois nationalism, that last bulwark of imperialism.
All this clearly enough defines the tasks of our conference. The conference will hear reports from the localities, so as to obtain a general idea of the demands of the labouring masses of the nationalities of this region. It will then trace a rough preliminary chart of the territory, the labouring population of which will be invited to take part in electing a regional constituent congress of Soviets, the right to elect being granted to the labouring masses organized in the Soviets not only of the given autonomous territory, but also of the adjacent districts. Lastly, the conference will elect a commission, which will be entrusted with the convening of the regional constituent congress of Soviets. It will be left to this constituent congress to decide the question of autonomy, to define the jurisdiction of the autonomous government, and definitely to fix the frontiers of the region.
Such are the tasks of this conference.
In opening the conference, I wish to express the assurance that it will accomplish its task with credit.
Permit me to say on behalf of the central Soviet power that the Council of People's Commissars has always regarded it as its sacred duty to meet the aspirations of the movement for emancipation of the oppressed and exploited masses of the peoples of the East, and especially of the Moslem East, the most down-trodden of all. The whole character of our revolution, the very nature of Soviet power, the entire international situation, and lastly even the geographical position of Russia, situated as it is between imperialist Europe and oppressed Asia, are all factors which undoubtedly dictate to the Soviet power a policy of rendering fraternal support to the oppressed peoples of the East in their struggle for emancipation.
Of all forms of oppression existing today, national oppression is the most subtle and dangerous. Subtle, because it serves so conveniently to mask the wolfish countenance of the bourgeoisie. Dangerous, because it so astutely diverts the lightning from the bourgeoisie by stirring up national conflicts. If the European sharks succeeded in hurling the workers against one another in the world slaughter, and if they have succeeded until now in keeping the slaughter going, one of the reasons is that the power of the bourgeois nationalism which is befogging the minds of the workers of Europe has not yet spent itself. Nationalism is the last position from which the bourgeoisie must be driven in order to vanquish it completely. But nationalism cannot be smashed by disregarding the national question, ignoring and denying its existence, as some of our comrades do. Far from it! National nihilism only injures the cause of socialism, because it plays into the hands of the bourgeois nationalists. In order to smash nationalism, it is necessary first of all to tackle and solve the national question. But in order to solve the national question openly and in a socialist way, it must be tackled on Soviet lines and be fully and entirely subordinated to the interests of the labouring masses organized in Soviets. Thus, and only thus, can the last intellectual weapon of the bourgeoisie be struck from its hands. The Autonomous Tatar-Bashkir Republic now in process of formation is the practical way of solving this general problem which is of such importance for our entire revolution. May this Autonomous Republic serve as a living beacon to the Moslem peoples of the East, lighting the path to their emancipation from oppression.
I hereby close the conference on the convening of a constituent congress of Soviets of the Tatar-Bashkir Republic, and wish you success in the building of your autonomous republic.
Pravda, Nos. 96 and 101, May 18 and 24, 1918
1.The conference on the convening of a constituent congress of the Tatar-Bashkir Soviet Republic met in Moscow from May 10 to 16, 1918. It was attended by representatives of\ the Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvashes and Maris, and was presided over by J. V. Stalin. It appointed a commission for the convening of a constituent congress of Soviets of the Tatar-Bashkir Soviet Republic. The outbreak of civil war prevented the holding of the congress.