J. V. Stalin
Source : Works, Vol.
5, 1921 - 1923
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.
Before proceeding to deal with the Party's concrete immediate tasks in the national question, it is necessary to lay down certain premises, without which the national question cannot be solved. These premises concern the emergence of nations, the origin of national oppression, the forms assumed by national oppression in the course of historical development, and then the methods of solving the national question in the different periods of development.
There have been three such periods.
The first period was that of the elimination of feudalism in the West and of the triumph of capitalism. That was the period in which people were constituted into nations I have in mind countries like Britain (excluding Ireland), France and Italy. In the West—in Britain, France, Italy and, partly, Germany—the period of the liquidation of feudalism and the constitution of people into nations coincided, on the whole, with the period in which centralised states appeared; as a consequence of this, in the course of their development, the nations there assumed state forms. And since there were no other national groups of any considerable size within these states, there was no national oppression there.
In Eastern Europe, on the contrary, the process of formation of nations and of the liquidation of feudal disunity did not coincide in time with the process of formation of centralised states. I have in mind Hungary, Austria and Russia. In those countries capitalism had not yet developed; it was, perhaps, only just beginning to develop; but the needs of defence against the invasion of the Turks, Mongols and other Oriental peoples called for the immediate formation of centralised states capable of checking the onslaught of the invaders. Since the process of formation of centralised states in Eastern Europe was more rapid than the process of the constitution of people into nations, mixed states were formed there, consisting of several peoples who had not yet formed themselves into nations, but who were already united in a common state.
Thus, the first period is characterised by nations making their appearance at the dawn of capitalism; in Western Europe purely national states arose in which there was no national oppression, whereas in Eastern Europe multi-national states arose headed by one, more developed, nation as the dominant nation, to which the other, less developed, nations were politically and later economically subjected. These multi-national states in the East became the home of that national oppression which gave rise to national conflicts, to national movements, to the national question, and to various methods of solving this question.
The second period in the development of national oppression and of methods of combating it coincided with the period of the appearance of imperialism in the West, when, in its quest for markets, raw materials, fuel and cheap labour power, and in its fight for the export of capital and for securing important railway and sea routes, capitalism burst out of the framework of the national state and enlarged its territory at the expense of its neighbours, near and distant. In this second period the old national states in the West—Britain, Italy and France—ceased to be national states, i.e., owing to having seized new territories, they were transformed into multi-national, colonial states and thereby became arenas of the same kind of national and colonial oppression as already existed in Eastern Europe. Characteristic of this period in Eastern Europe was the awakening and strengthening of the subject nations (Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians) which, as a result of the imperialist war, led to the break-up of the old, bourgeois multinational states and to the formation of new national states which are held in bondage by the so-called great powers.
The third period is the Soviet period, the period of the abolition of capitalism and of the elimination of national oppression, when the question of dominant and subject nations, of colonies and metropolises, is relegated to the archives of history, when before us, in the territory of the R.S.F.S.R., nations are arising having equal rights to development, but which have retained a certain historically inherited inequality owing to their economic, political and cultural backwardness. The essence of this national inequality consists in the fact that, as a result of historical development, we have inherited from the past a situation in which one nation, namely, the Great-Russian, is politically and industrially more developed than the other nations. Hence the actual inequality, which cannot be abolished in one year, but which must be abolished by giving the backward nations and nationalities economic, political and cultural assistance.
Such are the three periods of development of the national question that have historically passed before us.
The first two periods have one feature in common, namely: in both periods nations suffer oppression and bondage, as a consequence of which the national struggle continues and the national question remains unsolved. But there is also a difference between them, namely: in the first period the national question remains within the framework of each multi-national state and affects only a few, chiefly European, nations; in the second period, however, the national question is transformed from an intra-state question into an inter-state question— into a question of war between imperialist states to keep the unequal nationalities under their domination, to subject to their influence new nationalities and races outside Europe.
Thus, in this period, the national question, which formerly had been of significance only in cultured countries, loses its isolated character and merges with the general question of the colonies.
The development of the national question into the general colonial question was not a historical accident. It was due, firstly, to the fact that during the imperialist war the imperialist groups of belligerent powers themselves were obliged to appeal to the colonies from which they obtained man-power for their armies. Undoubtedly, this process, this inevitable appeal of the imperialists to the backward nationalities of the colonies, could not fail to rouse these races and nationalities for the struggle for liberation. The second factor that caused the widening of the national question, its development into the general colonial question embracing the whole world, first in the sparks and later in the flames of the liberation movement, was the attempt of the imperialist groups to dismember Turkey and to put an end to her existence as a state. Being more developed as a state than the other Moslem peoples, Turkey could not resign herself to such a prospect; she raised the banner of struggle and rallied the peoples of the East around herself against imperialism. The third factor was the appearance of Soviet Russia, which achieved a number of successes in the struggle against imperialism and thereby naturally inspired the oppressed peoples of the East, awakened them, roused them for the struggle, and thus made it possible to create a common front of oppressed nations stretching from Ireland to India.
Such are all those factors which in the second stage of the development of national oppression not only prevented bourgeois society from solving the national question, not only prevented the establishment of peace among the nations, but, on the contrary, fanned the spark of national struggle into the flames of the struggle of the oppressed peoples, the colonies and the semi-colonies against world imperialism.
Obviously, the only regime that is capable of solving the national question, i.e., the regime that is capable of creating the conditions for ensuring the peaceful co-existence and fraternal co-operation of different nations and races, is the Soviet regime, the regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
It scarcely needs proof that under the rule of capital, with private ownership of the means of production and the existence of classes, equal rights for nations cannot be guaranteed; that as long as the power of capital exists, as long as the struggle for the possession of the means of production goes on, there can be no equal rights for nations, just as there can be no co-operation between the labouring masses of the different nations. History tells us that the only way to abolish national inequality, the only way to establish a regime of fraternal co-operation between the labouring masses of the oppressed and non-oppressed nations, is to abolish capitalism and establish the Soviet system.
Further, history shows that although individual peoples succeed in liberating themselves from their own national bourgeoisie and also from the "foreign" bourgeoisie, i.e., although they succeed in establishing the Soviet system in their respective countries, they cannot, as long as imperialism exists, maintain and successfully defend their separate existence unless they receive the economic and military support of neighbouring Soviet republics. The example of Hungary provides eloquent proof that unless the Soviet republics form a state union, unless they unite and form a single military and economic force, they cannot withstand the combined forces of world imperialism either on the military or on the economic front.
A federation of Soviet republics is the needed form of state union, and the living embodiment of this form is the R.S.F.S.R.
Such, comrades, are the premises that I wanted to speak of here first of all, before proceeding to prove that our Party must take certain steps in the matter of solving the national question within the R.S.F.S.R.
Although, under the Soviet regime in Russia and in the republics associated with her, there are no longer either dominant or nations without rights, no metropolises or colonies, no exploited or exploiters, nevertheless, the national question still exists in Russia. The essence of the national question in the R.S.F.S.R. lies in abolishing the actual backwardness (economic, political and cultural) that some of the nations have inherited from the past, to make it possible for the backward peoples to catch up with central Russia in political, cultural and economic respects.
Under the old regime, the tsarist government did not, and could not, make any effort to develop the statehood of the Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkestan and other border regions; it opposed the development of the statehood, as well as of the culture, of the border regions, endeavouring forcibly to assimilate their native populations.
Further, the old state, the landlords and capitalists, left us a heritage of such downtrodden nationalities as the Kirghiz, Chechens and Ossetians, whose lands were colonised by Cossack and kulak elements from Russia. Those nationalities were doomed to incredible suffering and to extinction.
Further, the position of the Great-Russian nation, which was the dominant nation, has left traces of its influence even upon Russian Communists who are unable, or unwilling to draw closer to the labouring masses of the local population, to understand their needs and to help them to extricate themselves from backwardness and lack of culture. I am speaking of those few groups of Russian Communists who, ignoring in their work the specific features of the manner of life and culture of the border regions, sometimes deviate towards Russian dominant-nation chauvinism.
Further, the position of the non-Russian nationalities which have experienced national oppression has not failed to influence the Communists among the local population who are sometimes unable to distinguish between the class interests of the labouring masses of their respective nations and so-called "national" interests. I am speaking of the deviation towards local nationalism that is sometimes observed in the ranks of the non-Russian Communists, and which finds expression in the East in, for example, Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism.
Lastly, we must save the Kirghiz, the Bashkirs and certain mountain races from extinction, we must provide them with the necessary land at the expense of the kulak colonisers.
Such are the problems and tasks which together constitute the essence of the national question in our country.
Having described these immediate tasks of the Party in the national question, I would like to pass to the general task, the task of adapting our communist policy in the border regions to the specific conditions of economic life that obtain mainly in the East.
The point is that a number of nationalities, chiefly Tyurk—comprising about 25,000,000 people—have not been through, did not manage to go through, the period of industrial capitalism, and, therefore, have no industrial proletariat, or scarcely any; consequently, they will have to skip the stage of industrial capitalism and pass from the primitive forms of economy to the stage of Soviet economy. To be able to perform this very difficult but by no means impossible operation, it is necessary to take into account all the specific features of the economic condition, and even of the historical past, manner of life and culture of these nationalities. It would be unthinkable and dangerous to transplant to the territories of these nationalities the measures that had force and significance here, in central Russia. Clearly, in applying the economic policy of the R.S.F.S.R., it is absolutely necessary to take into account all the specific features of the economic condition, the class structure and the historical past confronting us in these border regions. There is no need for me to dwell on the necessity of putting an end to such incongruities as, for example, the order issued by the People's Commissariat of Food that pigs be included in the food quotas to be obtained from Kirghizia, the Moslem population of which has never raised pigs. This example shows how obstinately some people refuse to take into account peculiarities of the manner of life which strike the eye of every traveller.
I have just been handed a note requesting me to answer Comrade Chicherin's articles. Comrades, I think that Chicherin's articles, which I have read carefully, are nothing more than literary exercises. They contain four mistakes, or misunderstandings.
Firstly, Comrade Chicherin is inclined to deny the contradictions among the imperialist states; he overestimates the international unity of the imperialists and loses sight of, under-estimates, the internal contradictions among the imperialist groups and states (France, America, Britain, Japan, etc.), which exist and contain the seeds of war. He has over-estimated the unity of the imperialist upper circles and under-estimated the contradictions existing within that "trust." But these contradictions do exist, and the activities of the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs are based on them.
Next, Comrade Chicherin makes a second mistake. He under-estimates the contradictions that exist between the dominant great powers and the recently formed national states (Czechoslovakia, Poland, Finland, etc.), which are in financial and military subjection to those great powers. Comrade Chicherin has completely lost sight of the fact that, although those national states are in subjection to the great powers, or to be more exact, because of this, there are contradictions between the great powers and those states, which made themselves felt, for example, in the negotiations with Poland, Estonia, etc. It is precisely the function of the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs to take all these contradictions into account, to base itself on them, to manoeuvre within the framework of these contradictions. Most surprisingly, Comrade Chicherin has underestimated this factor.
The third mistake of Comrade Chicherin is that he talks too much about national self-determination, which has indeed become an empty slogan conveniently used by the imperialists. Strangely enough, Comrade Chiche-rin has forgotten that we parted with that slogan two years ago. That slogan no longer figures in our programme. Our programme does not speak of national self-determination, which is a very vague slogan, but of the right of nations to secede, a slogan which is more precise and definite. These are two different things. Strangely enough, Comrade Chicherin fails to take this factor into account in his articles and, as a result, all his objections to the slogan which has become vague are like firing blank shot, for neither in my theses nor in the Party's programme is there a single word about "self-determination." The only thing that is mentioned is the right of nations to secede. At the present time, however, when the liberation movement is flaring up in the colonies, that is for us a revolutionary slogan. Since the Soviet states are united voluntarily in a federation, the nations constituting the R.S.F.S.R. voluntarily refrain from exercising the right to secede. But as regards the colonies that are in the clutches of Britain, France, America and Japan, as regards such subject countries as Arabia, Mesopotamia, Turkey and Hindustan, i.e., countries which are colonies or semi-colonies, the right of nations to secede is a revolutionary slogan, and to abandon it would mean playing into the hands of the imperialists.
The fourth misunderstanding is the absence of practical advice in Comrade Chicherin's articles. It is easy, of course, to write articles, but to justify their title: "In Opposition to Comrade Stalin's Theses" he should have proposed something serious, he should at least have made some practical counter-proposals. But I failed to find in his articles a single practical proposal that was worth considering.
I am finishing, comrades. We have arrived at the following conclusions. Far from being able to solve the national question, bourgeois society, on the contrary, in its attempts to "solve" it, has fanned it into becoming the colonial question, and has created against itself a new front that stretches from Ireland to Hindustan. The only state that is capable of formulating and solving the national question is the state that is based on the collective ownership of the means and instruments of production—the Soviet state. In the Soviet federative state there are no longer either oppressed or dominant nations, national oppression has been abolished; but owing to the actual inequality (cultural, economic and political) inherited from the old bourgeois order, inequality between the more cultured and less cultured nations, the national question assumes a form which calls for the working out of measures that will help the labouring masses of the backward nations and nationalities to make economic, political and cultural progress, that will enable them to catch up with central—proletarian—Russia, which has forged ahead. From this follow the practical proposals which constitute the third section of the theses on the national question which I have submitted. (Applause.)
Comrades, the most characteristic feature of this congress as regards the discussion on the national question is that we have passed from declarations on the national question, through the administrative redivi-sion of Russia, to the practical presentation of the question. At the beginning of the October Revolution we confined ourselves to declaring the right of peoples to secede. In 1918 and in 1920 we were engaged in the administrative redivision of Russia on national lines with the object of bringing the labouring masses of the backward peoples closer to the proletariat of Russia. Today, at this congress, we are presenting, on a purely practical basis, the question of what policy the Party should adopt towards the labouring masses and petty-bourgeois elements in the autonomous regions and independent republics associated with Russia. Therefore, Za-tonsky's statement that the theses submitted to you are of an abstract character astonished me. I have before me his own theses which, for some reason, he did not submit to the congress, and in them I have not been able to find a single practical proposal, literally, not one, except, perhaps, the proposal that the word "East-European" be substituted for "R.S.F.S.R.," and that the word "Russian" or "Great-Russian" be substituted for "All-Russian." I have not found any other practical proposals in these theses.
I pass on to the next question.
I must say that I expected more from the delegates who have spoken. Russia has twenty-two border regions. Some of them have undergone considerable industrial development and differ little from central Russia in industrial respects; others have not been through the stage of capitalism and differ radically from central Russia; others again are very backward. It is impossible in a set of theses to deal with all this diversity of the border regions in all its concrete details. One cannot demand that theses of importance to the Party as a whole should bear only a Turkestan, an Azerbaijanian, or a Ukrainian character. Theses must seize on and include the common characteristic features of all the border regions, abstracted from the details. There is no other method of drawing up theses.
The non-Great-Russian nations must be divided into several groups, and this has been done in the theses. The non-Russian nations comprise a total of about 65,000,000 people. The common characteristic feature of all these non-Russian nations is that they lag behind central Russia as regards the development of their statehood. Our task is to exert all efforts to help these nations, to help their proletarians and toilers generally to develop their Soviet statehood in their native languages. This common feature is mentioned in the theses, in the part dealing with practical measures.
Next, proceeding further in concretising the specific features of the border regions, we must single out from the total of nearly 65;000,000 people of non-Russian nationalities some 25,000,000 Tyurks who have not been through the capitalist stage. Comrade Mikoyan was wrong when he said that in some respects Azerbaijan stands higher than the Russian provincial districts. He is obviously confusing Baku with Azerbaijan. Baku did not spring from the womb of Azerbaijan; it is a superstructure erected by the efforts of Nobel, Rothschild, Whishaw, and others. As regards Azerbaijan itself, it is a country with the most backward patriarchal-feudal relations. That is why I place Azerbaijan as a whole in the group of border regions which have not been through the capitalist stage, and in relation to which it is necessary to employ specific methods of drawing them into the channel of Soviet economy. That is stated in the theses.
Then there is a third group which embraces not more than 6,000,000 people; these are mainly pastoral races, which still lead a tribal life and have not yet adopted agriculture. These are chiefly the Kirghiz, the northern part of Turkestan, Bashkirs, Chechens, Ossetians and Ingushes. The first thing to be done in relation to this group of nationalities is to provide them with land. The Kirghiz and Bashkirs here were not given the floor; the debate was closed. They would have told us more about the sufferings of the Bashkir highlanders, the Kirghiz and the Highlanders, who are dying out for want of land. But what Safarov said about this applies only to a group consisting of 6,000,000 people. Therefore, it is wrong to apply Safarov's practical proposals to all the border regions, for his amendments have no significance whatever for the rest of the non-Russian nationalities, which comprise about 60,000,000 people. Therefore, while raising no objection to the concretisation, supplementation and improvement of individual points moved by Safarov relating to certain groups of nationalities, I must say that these amendments should not be uni-versalised. I must next make a comment on one of Safa-rov's amendments. In one of his amendments there has crept in the phrase "national-cultural self-determination":
"Before the October Revolution," it says there, "the colonial and semi-colonial peoples of the eastern border regions of Russia, as a result of imperialist policy, had no opportunity whatever of sharing the cultural benefits of capitalist civilisation by means of their own national-cultural self-determination, education in their native languages," etc.
I must say that I cannot accept this amendment because it smacks of Bundism. National-cultural self-determination is a Bundist formula. We parted with nebulous slogans of self-determination long ago and there is no need to revive them. Moreover, the entire phrase is a most unnatural combination of words.
Further, I have received a note alleging that we Communists are artificially cultivating a Byelorussian nationality. That is not true, for there exists a Byelorussian nation, which has its own language, different from Russian. Consequently, the culture of the Byelorussian people can be raised only in its native language. We heard similar talk five years ago about the Ukraine, about the Ukrainian nation. And only recently it was said that the Ukrainian Republic and the Ukrainian nation were inventions of the Germans. It is obvious, however, that there is a Ukrainian nation, and it is the duty of the Communists to develop its culture. You cannot go against history. It is obvious that although Russian elements still predominate in the Ukrainian towns, in the course of time these towns will inevitably be Ukrainianised. About forty years ago, Riga had the appearance of a German city; but since towns grow at the expense of the countryside, and since the countryside is the guardian of nationality, Riga is now a purely Lettish city. About fifty years ago all Hungarian towns bore a German character; now they have become Magyarised. The same will happen in Byelorussia, where non-Byelorussians still predominate in the towns.
In conclusion, I propose that the congress elect a commission, containing representatives of the regions, for the purpose of further concretising those practical proposals in the theses that interest all our border regions. (Applause.)
The Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party. Verbatim Report, Moscow, 1921.
1.The Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) was held on March 8-16, 1921. It discussed the reports of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission, and also reports on the trade unions and their role in the economic life of the country, on the tax in kind, on Party affairs, on the immediate tasks of the Party in the national question, on Party unity and the anarcho-syndicalist deviation, etc. The political report of the Central Committee, and the reports on the tax in kind, on Party unity, and on the anarcho-syndicalist deviation, were made by V. I. Lenin. The congress summed up the discussion that had taken place on the trade-union question and by an overwhelming majority endorsed Lenin's platform. In its resolution on "Party Unity," drafted by V. I. Lenin, the congress condemned all the factional groups, ordered their immediate dissolution, and pointed out that Party unity was the fundamental condition for the success of the proletarian dictatorship. The congress adopted V. I. Lenin's resolution on "The Syndicalist and Anarchist Deviation in Our Party," which condemned the so-called "Workers' Opposition" and declared that propaganda of the ideas of the anarcho-syndicalist deviation was incompatible with membership of the Communist Party. The Tenth Congress adopted a decision to pass from the produce surplus appropriation system to the tax in kind, to pass to the New Economic Policy. J. V. Stalin's report on "The Immediate Tasks of the Party in the National Question" was heard on March 10. The congress unanimously adopted J. V. Stalin's theses on this question as a basis, and appointed a commission to elaborate them further. J. V. Stalin reported on the results of the commission's work at the evening session on March 15. The resolution that he proposed on behalf of the commission was unanimously adopted by the congress, which condemned the anti-Party deviations on the national question, i.e., dominant-nation (Great-Russian) chauvinism and local nationalism, as being harmful and dangerous to communism and proletarian internationalism. The congress particularly condemned dominant-nation chauvinism as being the chief danger. (Concerning the Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) see History of the C.P.S.U.(B.), Short Course, Moscow 1952, pp. 391-97. Concerning the resolutions adopted by the congress, see "Resolutions and Decisions of C.P.S.U.(B.) Congresses, Conferences and Central Committee Plenums," Part I, 1941, pp. 356-95.)