Lenin’s Theory of the National Question and its Contradictions

The era of global capitalism did not bring an end to nations and nationalism; indeed our current period has very much seen a return of the national question.  Movements for greater self-government and independence in varied forms exist from the Kurdish struggle, the Scottish independence movement and the revived campaign for a united Ireland.  The national question has continued to be a subject of controversy among socialists; a key reference point remains the debates in the era of Classical Marxism particularly in the Social Democratic Workers movement in the Russian Empire.  The ideas of the leader of Russian Social Democracy, Vladimir Lenin remain influential amongst the radical left to this day.  Yet rarely considered are the views of those Marxists from amongst the majority oppressed nations of the Russian Empire.  Republished here is an analysis of Lenin’s theory of the national question by the Ukrainian Marxist Andriy Karpenko published in the émigré Ukrainian socialist journal Meta in 1979.

 Christopher Ford

Lenin’S Theory of the National Question and its Contradictions

By Andriy Karpenko

Within the Bolshevik party, only Lenin himself sought an objective solution to the national question applicable to both the needs of the proletarian revolution and the needs of oppressed peoples. The other political activists within the Bolshevik party, to the last man, believed that national liberation movements were foreign to and hampered the proletarian revolution (for example, the supporters of Rosa Luxemburg — Piatakov, Radek, and, in part, Bukharin), or else they ignored the national question completely.

Lenin

In the spring of 1913 at the conference of the CC RSDRP  [Russian Social Democratic Workers Party], Lenin added the following to one of the resolutions: “The conference requests that the Central Committee, Party press and various organizations examine the national question (in brochures, discussions and so forth).” However, this remained simply a resolution for the party cadres.  To illustrate this one might mention that during the war, in 1915, when Tsarist armies occupied the Ukrainian territories which were then part of Austria-Hungary, that is, Galicia, burned Ukrainian libraries there, closed down Ukrainian schools, and deported members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia to Siberia, at a time when all of Europe was protesting these barbaric acts of the Russian army, not one Bolshevik of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv even mentioned this national oppression of Ukraine at their conference which was then taking place. 

This “blindness” of the cadres of the Russian Bolsheviks to national oppression within the Russian Empire was ridiculed after the Revolution, in 1918, by V. Zatonsky, one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party in Ukraine. He wrote:

The principle of self-determination of nations is fine as long as it pertains to India or Egypt…but is little understood when it comes to resolving it at home, in Ukraine, for example…Here the Bol­shevik Party is comprised largely of Russians…To speak out against the self-determination of nations in this case is inconvenient — the Ukrainians already call us Russifiers even without this. To recognize Ukraine [as an oppressed nation — A.K.] — our hearts are not really in it. Carry on your self-determination in general (damn you), but why does this necessarily have to be in my Party’s ancestral homeland (Ukraine). Well alright, lets have even an independent Ukraine (if this is unavoidable), but somewhere In Australia…

As already mentioned, Lenin upbraided the Bolshevik cadres for their Russian chauvinism. Let us recall that at the VII Congress of the Communist Party in 1919, during dis­cussion of the Party programme on the national question, Lenin stated

We concluded an agreement with the red Finnish government which existed for a short while, we made certain territorial concessions. And on account of these concessions I have heard no small number of objections of an essentially chauvinistic character. “There are good fisheries there, and you are relinquishing them” is one such objection. It’s this kind of statement that I was thinking of when I said: “Scratch every second communist, and you will find a great-power chauvinist… He sits inside many of us and he has to be fought. 

Lenin was to deplore this kind of chauvinism to his very death.   The   old   Ukrainian Bolshevik,   Mykola   Skrypnyk, illustrated Lenin’s statement with very concrete examples at the XII Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) in 1923.

Great-power prejudices, imbibed with their mothers’ milk, have become the instinct of countless of our comrades were shocked when our union of republics was not given the name RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics) but was called instead the USSR. Recall the confused discussions that were heard among some com­rades upon the renaming of the Russian Communist Party as the Communist Party of the USSR, how many comrades viewed even raising this question as intolerable on principle, saw it as something offensive…as though the defence of a party name according to national composition instead of territory did not reveal a form of the great-power mentality. 

Stalin at the XII Congress of the RCP(b) talked of the existence of Russian chauvinism not only among the rank and file, but even among Central Committee members,

I was witness to conversations among members of the Central Committee that were not fitting of communists — speeches that have nothing to do with internationalism… The trust that we have gained [among the non-Russian peoples during the October Revolution — A.K.], we might lose completely if we do not ail arm ourselves against this new Great-Russian chauvinism which crawls without a form, without a face, which is slowly permeating our ears and eyes, drop by drop changing our spirit, the whole soul of our workers in such a way that that spirit risks becoming un­recognizable… Do not forget, comrades, that when we went with unfurled banners against Kerensky and brought down the Provisional Government, we were successful because, among other reasons, we had behind our backs the trust of those oppressed peoples who were awaiting liberation by the Russian proletariat. 

Stalin had, however, already begun to understand that if he were to continue fighting against Russian nationalism the chauvinistic Russian party apparatus would not tolerate him, a Georgian, at the head of the Communist Party. In order to gain the trust of this apparatus, he would have to become a bigger great-power chauvinist than were the Russians, And so Stalin moved in the direction of the Russian nationalist element in the Party: from the ’30s onwards he became more of a leader of Russian nationalism than a Russian Bolshevik could have been at this time. Lenin’s words, therefore, came true: “It is well known that Russified foreigners always overdo things when it comes to the genuine Russian sentiment.” The Russian Black Hundreds (fascists) before the Revolution also called themselves “genuine Russians.” 

As for the practical implementation of the nationalities policy by Russian Bolshevik cadres after the October revolution, a candidate member of the Central Committee and  representative   of  the   Central   Asian   peoples,   Safarov, described it as follows at the X Congress of the RCP(b) in 1921.

In Turkestan the Communist Party was born only after the October revolution… When the RCP became the party of government, it was to be expected that the creation of a party at such a moment would attract those who were trying to ingratiate themselves. Turkestan is a typical example of this…who managed to worm his way into the party? Only last year I saw in one town in Turkestan (in Pishpok) an announcement which said: “Because today’s mass will be performed by…a communist priest, all members of the Communist Party are invited to this service!” This was in June 1920… It is very typical and shows the kind of element that made his way into the party — the old Russian civil servant. Earlier he had pinned his hopes on the imperialists, but when this hope was dashed, when he saw that there was no point in awaiting immediate help from the bourgeoisie and land­owners in Moscow and Petersburg, he understood that the situation in Turkestan…required the creation of whatever rule was possible, as long as it was Russian rule. In this way the Party there became soiled.. .we failed to attract to it the native proletarian and semi-proletarian elements. These elements, however, do exist… In reality we found in our ranks the communist priest, the Russian policeman and the kulaks of Semyrichenska oblast who to this day keep dozens of servants and hunt the Kirghiz in the same manner as game. During the Revolution such horrors took place there that it is about time we talked openly about them, so that the Russian colonizing tendencies which still exist among our ranks might be finally extinguished, so that the resolutions of the Comintern might become something, more for us than empty sounds… 

Safarov further recounts how during the World War, in 1916, the Russian general Volbaum compelled the Kirghiz hired hands to do military work in the army’s rear. When they refused, the general ordered them to be shot, their homes to be confiscated and given to Russian settlers. After the February revolution, the Kirghiz were accused of supporting Tsar Nicholas, and for this they were again robbed and shot, were sown up in thick felt, petrol poured over them, and set on fire 01 buried alive.

One ought to recall at this point that something similar toqk place during Stalin’s collectivization in the ’30s, except on a much larger scale: hundreds of thousands of local Turkestan people were exterminated through hunger. (In Ukraine the figure was in the millions). The Russian colonization of Turkestan is carried out-today more intensively than before the Revolution. For this reason Safarov’s speech at the X Congress is relevant to this day.

The Russian Kulaks, who by the will of fate appeared as the “bearers” of the proletarian dictatorship in the surrounding areas, pushed the native masses into the camp of counter-revolution… There were, of course, honest communists in the surrounding area also, but they were under the power of an ideology that was foreign to us…And it was because every Russian in the area had the privilege of being a ‘proletarian “, that power was made up of the most , despicable ingratiating elements who, with the aid of Soviet power and in the ranks of Soviet power, organized all kinds of counter-revolution… This is an automatic continuation of old colonial relations under a communist guise and form… According to the statistics of Semyrichenska oblast, during the Revolution the Russian kulak landholdings grew from 53% to 70%. Comrades, note that this was during the Revolution, under Soviet power! And in that time the number of Kirghiz people extinguished in the Semyrichen­ska obiast rose to 35%… Hundreds of thousands of kulaks in the area, who formed the living force of imperialism; lived and continue to live, enjoying a whole list of privileges…

Following a short-lived attempt in the ’20s to carry out the nationalities policy suggested by Lenin, a new attack was levelled at the Turkestanis and other non-Russian peoples of the USSR, this time without Lenin at the head of the Party. And colonialism in Turkestan in the present period is realized not by Russian kulaks any more, but by the Russian “Com­munist” bureaucracy, controlled by the Second Secre­taries of the Central Committees of republican Communist Parties and by the Second Secretaries of oblast committees of the CPSU.

Continuous centralism and a great-power frame of mind survived among Bolshevik cadres not only because of imperialist traditions, but also because of the absence of a clear theory in the Communist Party on the national question. Such a theory, as has already been said, was being created by Lenin, but in Lenin’s ideas themselves there were gaps and inadequacies. These ideas rested upon European traditions and the dreams of the European social-democratic parties, which were the parties of ruling nations.

Prior to the First World War, the idea of the progressiveness of large state formations, necessary for the rapid develop­ment of capitalism, dominated in Europe. The English historian James Bryce stated at the International Congress of Historians in 1913:

What does the traveller in India, Africa, in both Americas, in Australia, on both sides of the Pacific Ocean see today? He sees how the small, weak and more backward races change or disappear under the blows of civilized man, Their languages disappear, their religions die out, the tribal organization disintegrates, their customs die out…a hybrid race develops in which the stronger more civilized elements are destined to dominate …Flight large states control the political fate of the planet… Several European languages have spread to all continents. It is quite possible that by about the year 2000 over nine-tenths of humanity will speak less than twenty languages. 

A large section of European social democracy, which headed the workers* movement in the metropoli of European imperialism, was also under the influence of these ideas. The theory of assimilation — the engulfment of small nations by larger ones—was also fashionable among European socialists, who viewed this process as progressive. Russian social democrats readily applied this theory to the Russian Empire.

But with the development of capitalism and its movement into the imperialist stage, the national-colonial question was thrown into a sharper light. Lenin and the Austrian Marxists turned their attention to movements of national liberation earlier than other European Marxists. This was no accident: both Russia and Austro-Hungary were multinational states in which national contradictions were coming to a head.

Lenin’s view on the national question can be divided into three periods: 1) the beginning of the 20th century and up to the First World War, when the young Lenin examined the national question in connection with the development of capitalism and the struggle for democracy in Russia; 2) the period of the war and the proletarian revolution in Russia; 3) the period following the Civil War when the national question had to be resolved in Soviet Russia in the context of a post-war stabilization of European capitalism.

In the first period Lenin clearly supported the idea of the progressive nature of multinational large-scale states. He considered that such states were more suitable for the workers’ movement and lead to the fusion of nations, which Lenin considered to be the ideal of socialism. In 1913 he wrote:

The wide-ranging and rapid development of productive forces under capitalism demands territories unified and enclosed by large states, in which the bourgeois class alone will be able, together with its antipode, the proletarian class, to concentrate, destroying all the old, medieval, sexual, narrowly local, religious and other obstacles… As long as and insofar as various nations comprise one state, Marxists will in no case propagate either a federalist principle or decentralization. A centralized large state is a great historical step forward from medieval divisions towards a future of socialist unity of the whole world; and other than through such a state (indissolubly tied to capitalism) there is not and cannot be any path to socialism. [Lenin’s italics — A.K.]

In another place Lenin stated that “large states can accomplish the task of economic progress and the tasks of proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie more successfully than can small ones.” But Lenin also wrote the following: “In 1905 Norway separated from Sweden… What does this mean? Did the people lose? Did the interests of culture lose? Or the interest of democracy? Or the interests of the working class from such a separation? Not at all!… The unity and closeness of the Swedish and Norwegian peoples in fact gained from the separation.”   This contradiction in Lenin (the progressive nature of multinational states and the progressive nature of the dissolution of multinational states) fed, on the one hand, centralism and great-power attitudes of the Russian com­munists after October, and, on the other hand, encouraged those who wished to separate from Russia as a means of achieving real equal rights among the communists of nations oppressed by Russia.

Most of Lenin’s statements, nevertheless, were in support of preserving the integrity of the Russian Empire, in 1903 he considered its disintegration “an empty phrase as long as its economic development continued to bind its various parts more closely into one political whole.” The break-up of Russia, according to Lenin, would be a step backwards, “in contrast to our aim of overthrowing autocracy,” In 1913 Lenin wrote: “Autonomy is our plan for the organization of a democratic state. Separation is not our plan at all… On the whole we are opposed to separation. But we support the right to separation.”

Lenin considered the overthrow of autocracy and the victory of a democratic republic in Russia a sufficient precondition for the resolution of the national question. Using the example of Switzerland, he wrote that democracy strengthens the drawing together of nations into one state. “The closer a democratic social order is to the complete freedom to separate” — he wrote in 1916 — “the fewer and weaker will be the aspirations to separate in practice, for the advantages of large states, both from the point of view of economic progress and the interests of the masses, are incontrovertible… The aim of socialism is not only to destroy the division of humanity into small states and all national aloofness, not only the rapprochement of nations, but also their merging,”

Lenin was to become disenchanted with the possibilities provided for realizing separation in the Russian democratic republic. In 1917 Kerensky’s republic was democratic almost to the point of potential anarchy, and all the same it did not allow even a limited degree of autonomy for Ukraine, for which Lenin sharply criticized the government. After the Second World War, in the conditions of a democratic Europe we have witnessed an intensification of the struggle of the nations for equal rights: the Flemish in Belgium, the Basques in Spain and France, the Irish in Northern Ireland, and so on.

History has not yet provided us with the example of nations in one state enjoying complete equality, because a state is not only class coercion, but also national coercion. The stronger nation in a multinational state always wishes to be the ruling one. Switzerland is an exception in that each of the three nations — German, French and Italian — have their own nation states behind their backs. If these states were not to exist, one or other of the three nations, probably the largest one — the German — would attempt to be the dominant one.

In the USSR, even during the most liberal years of the ’20s, the nationalities did not enjoy complete national equality. Al­though the tendency was towards equal rights, at a later date, after the most powerful Russian nation grasped that there was a real progression towards national independence, the hands of Stalin, obedient to the demands of Russian nationalism, crushed this equality. Yugoslavia comes close to giving its nations equal rights, but even there one cannot point to their satisfactory guarantee. The Serbs, for example, ardently wish to preserve Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity, whereas the Croats do not — an indication of an unequal balance with the Serbs in the position of a privileged nation.

The complete equality of nations in a single state is impossible. The state capital has of necessity to be on the territory of one of the nations, probably the largest. The very fact of the existence of a capital belonging to one nation creates inequalities for the other nations. Obviously, when nations have some great common goal (such as the building of socialism) and since such a goal requires unification, then the separate nationalities in such a union would be led to sacrifice a part of their rights. The most propitious form such a union could take would be federation, in which the privileges accruing to any one nation would be minimized. As long as the state — violence — exists, equal rights for nations will be impossible, no matter how democratic the state might be.

Disagreeing with Lenin’s statement that a democratic Russian republic would make the realization of the national right of separation a possibility, the Ukrainian Marxist, Lev Yurkevych (pen name L. Rybalka) wrote in 1916:

It is ridiculous to speak of the possibility of the ruler of a capitalist state “.safeguarding rights of nations to self-determination,” Every state, even the most democratic, and especially today in the age of imperialism, would not only never agree to the separation of oppressed peoples but would always aspire towards new territorial gains, to a further oppression of nations. Capitalist govern­ments have always looked upon the “rights of nations to self-determination” as treason to the fatherland and have punished the guilty with the death penalty… A blind faith in the democratic and socialist advantages of Russia…is in no way an expression —as is often thought •— of the Great Russian socialism. On the contrary…the national program of Russian revolutionary social demo­crats is nothing other than the repetition of Great-Russian liberal patriotic programs, formulated in the age of peasant liberation… It is worth remembering that the national federalist program of Herzen, which already included all the elements of insatiable Great Russian nationalism, was built upon the principle [of] “the right of nations to self-determination.” 

The first stage of Lenin’s work on the national question spans the period up to the First World War. But this phase also overlaps, in part, the war period and even the period of the October revolution. The greatest number of Lenin’s unclear formulations and contradictions belong to this phase. Lenin wrote, on the one hand, that it was impermissible to force the Russian language upon the peoples of Russia: “you cannot drive people to heaven with an oak-wood club.” But, on the other hand, he wrote that in Ukraine in the Donbas region ‘ ‘the assimilation of the Great Russian and Ukrainian proletariat is an incontestable fact, and this fact is undoubtedly a progressive thing,” even though Tsarist assimilation was precisely the “oak-wood club” that Lenin condemned. For the Tsarist regime forebade the Ukrainian proletariat its own schools and compelled the Ukrainians to learn only in Russian. In another place Lenin wrote that he was for assimilation as long as it was not forced. But where in history does one see an uncompelled, voluntary assimilaton?!

Although Lenin did support the right of the peoples of Russia to self-determination and to separation from Russia, at the same time he considered that the separation of an oppressed people and its creation of an independent state divided the proletariats of various nations, while a bourgeois multinational state with a ruling nation in command united them. At the same time, even the experience of Lenin’s time proved that the Polish workers, while living in the same state as the Russian workers (the Russian Empire), were more estranged from the Russians than were the German workers, for instance, who did not share the same state. Today the Irish in Northern Ireland who inhabit the same state as the English are more estranged from the latter than are the Irish of the independent Irish state. The French worker is closer to the Irish inhabitants of Northern Ireland than is the English worker. State boundaries do not hinder the international drawing together of the workers of various nations. On the contrary, boundaries signify a respect for equal rights, and a real drawing together is only possible among equals.

There are other debatable positions in Lenin’s writings on the national question in the first period of his interest in this question. The advantages gained by workers in large states is one example. History bears witness to the fact that, after the First and especially the Second World War, not the preservation, but the dismemberment of large multinational states into their national elements turned out to be” more progressive. The creation of a Czechoslovakian state after the First War brought not only national liberation but also accelerated economic progress, and improved the position of the working class in Czechoslovakia. This is even more clearly manifested in the case of Finland. Its secession from the Russian Empire led to an unexpectedly great historical step — from backwardness to a leading European nation. Even in the tiny national states of the Baltic like Estonia, Latvia. Lithuania, with their economic dependence on other countries, the situation of the working class improved after they left the Russian Empire. The fact that small nations do not carry such a heavy load in terms of armaments as do the large imperialistic states with their ambitions of being the “strongest” of course plays a role in this.

Today, with the disintegration of colonial empires it has become clear that they were not, as Lenin considered, “a great historical step forward.,.,” and it is untrue that “there is not and cannot be any path to socialism except through such states.” The creation of multinational empires was not the task at revolutionary and in entirely of capitalist progress — as Lenin thought — it was the continuation of the traditions of conquest of European feudal absolutism, only using the arms of capitalist technology. Modern American capitalism, which is not weighed down by feudal traditions, does not require the incorporation of other peoples into its state borders in order to dominate them. It would be easy for it to do this, for example in Canada, but this is completely unnecessary for capitalist progress.

Apart from this it was unfitting for a workers’ social-democratic party to support even the “progressive” tasks of capitalism on the eve of the First World War, because these tasks were accomplished with steel and blood. All this has to be recalled today because the degenerated CPSU cites the young Lenin while extending the boundaries of the Russian Empire (the USSR) and while it is accomplishing the “progressive” concentration of capital within it, Russification and the “socialist”‘ merging of nations.

Lenin upheld the doctrine of European social democracy that nations are a bourgeois phenomenon, and that national-liberation movements are bourgeois-democratic movements. An argument arose between Lenin and communists of the colonial countries on this point during the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920, And. as Lenin himself wrote, “as a result of this discussion we came to the unanimous decision that instead of the expression ‘bourgeois-democratic’ movements we would talk of ‘national liberation’ move­ments.” But “there can be no doubt,” Lenin added all the same, “that all national movements can be only bourgeois-democratic, because the main mass of the population in backward countries is composed of peasantry which is the representative of bourgeois-capitalist relations.”  The peasantry, this “main mass of the population,” nevertheless established Soviet power in Russia; yet this did not prevent Lenin from considering the October revolution proletarian and not bourgeois-democratic. In China over 500 million peasants are the mainstay, and not the enemies, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The same is true of North Korea, Vietnam…

The nation is not simply a bourgeois phenomenon. Marx and Engels recognized the Phoenicians as a nation. They considered that in the era of the fall of Rome “the elements of new nations were present everywhere.” They wrote about “feudally organized nations, from which bourgeois national states later sprang.” In the contemporary USSR the notion of “socialist nations” has been legitimized.

Lenin changed his ideas on the national question sig­nificantly during the period of the First World War and the proletarian revolution in Russia. He no longer spoke of the progressive character of large multinational capitalist states and their assimilation of small nations. During this period one no longer finds such expressions as “there is not, and cannot be any path to socialism, except through such a state (indissolubly linked to capitalism).” On the contrary, Lenin now considered that the most democratic capitalist country was reactionary, that capitalism was decaying and that the only way out was through a socialist revolution and the disinte­gration of multinational and colonial empires.

Until the revolution of 1917 Lenin considered that a bourgeois-democratic republic in Russia would guarantee the self-determination of oppressed nations. It turned out, however, that the Russia of Kerensky, as has been mentioned, refused not only “self-determination as far as separation” but .even limited autonomy. In 1917 Lenin supported the struggle of Ukraine, as well as of the other peoples of the Russian Empire, for national freedom and supported the dissolution of a multinational bourgeois-democratic Russia. He considered that the peoples of Russia could unite again only in a union of republics with equal rights.

In this second period Lenin linked the resolution of the national question in Russia to the victory of the proletarian revolution. The fierce Civil War demanded a severe centralization and considerable limitations on the sovereignty of the national Soviet republics. But with the victory of the proletarian dictatorship in’ Russia and the postponement of internationalist purity of proletarian revolution in the West following a stabilization of capitalism, when the Soviet republics faced the question of survival under a capitalist encirclement, Lenin put forward the task of safeguarding the equal rights of Soviet nations not only in a declarative way but in reality.

This third period in Lenin’s resolution of the national question relates to the last two years of his life and receives its best expression in his “Testament,” in his instructions to the XII Party Congress, according to which the Party was to realize the free development and guarantee equal rights for the nations formerly oppressed under the Russian Empire.

Lenin demanded that the Party finally understand the difference between the nationalism of an oppressed nation and that of an oppressor nation. This distinction he had already discussed on the eve of the First World War in his work On the Rights of Nations to Self-Determinaiion, He had written there that “in every bourgeois nationalism of an oppressed nation there is a general democratic content against oppression, and it is precisely this content that we support unconditionally, strictly differentiating the desire for a national exclusiveness.” Later, before his death, in the “Testament” Lenin reiterated this, distinction between the nationalism of an oppressed and oppressor nation even more categorically.

Internationalism ought to mean not merely the maintenance of a formal equality between nations, but also of an inequality on the side of the oppres­sor nation, the large nation, an inequality that would compensate for the inequality that is in fact created in life… Through one’s concessions one has to reimburse the member of another nation for the mistrust and suspicion, the wrongs, which the government of the “great-power” nation in the historical past has inflicted upon him… Nothing holds back the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity as much as national injustice.

Lenin indicated practical ways of compensating for the historical injustices. He writes in his “Testament” that

one has to introduce the strictest rules for use of the national language in the national republics… and to check these rules particularly carefully. There is no doubt that under the pretext of a unified railway service, under the pretext of fiscal unity and so on, a host of abuses of the “holy Russia” type will creep in. A special versatility is needed to combat these abuses, not to mention a particular honesty… A detailed code is needed here, which only the members of a nation who lived in a given republic are capable of forming successfully. In addition in no case should a premature promise be made that would result in…a reversal at the next congress of Soviets, in other words, leaving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics only for military and diplomatic concerns and in all other respects renewing complete independence… “

Lenin did not consider the USSR to be a federation within the framework of the former Russian Empire; he viewed it from the perspective of uniting new socialist countries to the USSR, as a “universal commune.” Characteristic of Lenin’s attitude to Russian nationalism at this time is his “Note to the Politbureau on the Struggle with Great-Power Chauvinism” written in October 1922, which states:

I declare war on great-power chauvinism not for life, but unto death. As soon as 1 rid myself of the cursed tooth, I will eat it with a!l my healthy teeth. One must absolutely demand that in the Union Central Executive Committee [the equivalent of the Supreme Soviet at the time — A.K.] a Russian, a Ukrainian, a Georgian, etc., take turns to be head. This is absolutely necessary! Yours, Lenin [Underlined in the original — A.K.] 

The contemporary USSR is a new Russian Empire with which all the socialist countries are terrified of uniting because this unification would mean their oppression by Russia. The leaders of the CPSU today disguise their chauvinistic Russian politics with quotations from the early works of Lenin — about the lack of perspectives for small nations, on the progressive-ness of multinational states, on the fusion of nations, etc.  But they avoid quoting the last works of Lenin, his appeals to direct the main blow against Russian great-power chauvinism. Even quotations from the early works of Lenin are, moreover, twisted out of context. Most importantly, however, even if Lenin did express debatable positions on the national question in his early years, he did this in the interest of the proletarian revolution. Today, however, Lenin is used to camouflage the oppression of the non-Russian peoples and the rejuvenation of another Russian empire.

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