Monday, October 30, 2017

The October Revolution and The National and Colonial Question

Democracy and Class Struggle publishes a chapter of the Marxism Leninism Maoism textbook of the CPI Maoist on the National and Colonial Question.

The recent wave of Imperialist Economism on the Left in Europe around Catalonia has been exposed by Maoist comrades in France and Italy and Spain and shows how critical the national question is when confronting modern revisionism and its trotskyist incarnation and the ideological if not yet organisational strength  of Marxism Leninism Maoism in Europe

The earliest national movements arose in Western Europe. These national movements were mainly led by the bourgeoisie in their fight against feudalism. The main aim of these national movements
was to unite into one nation and state a large territory, which was under the rule of numerous feudal lords. This was necessary for the bourgeoisie to get a single large market and to avoid the harassment and domination of the various feudal lords.

Thus the bourgeois revolution against feudalism and the national movement to establish a single nation-state often combined into one. Thus the national movement was not normally a struggle for independence from oppression by another nation. In the whole of Western Europe, the only place where a national movement for independence took place was when Ireland fought to free itself from Britain.

Marx and Engels lived in this period, when the later national liberation struggles were yet to break out in a major way. They thus did not devote much attention to developing Marxist theory on the national question. Marx however formulated the basic stand in relation to the Irish Question by calling on the English proletariat to support the national struggle of the Irish people and oppose its national oppression.

The next phase of nationality movements came in Eastern Europe, with the spread of capitalism, and the weakening of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. Nationality movements and organisations starting growing in the whole of East Europe, including Russia. 

It was necessary for the international proletarian movement and the RSDLP to have a proper understanding and stand on the question. It was during this period that Stalin, in 1913, made the first systematic Marxist presentation on the national question. Stalin himself was a Georgian, a member of an oppressed nationality in Russia, where a national movement was rapidly developing.

In Georgia it was therefore doubly necessary to present the correct Marxist understanding and take the correct political stand. This is what Stalin attempted to do in his pioneering work, Marxism and
The National Question.

In his work Stalin started by defining what is a nation. He defined a nation as “a historically evolved, stable community of people, based upon the common possession of four principal attributes, namely: a common language, a common territory, a common economic life, and a common psychological make-up manifesting itself in common specific features of national culture.” Stalin rejected the concept of nation based merely on religion or culture, like the Jews. 

He insisted that a community should have all the above characteristics to be called a nation. Stalin proposed that all such nations should have the right to self-determination. 

This right of self self determination however cannot be limited to autonomy, or to linking up in a federation, as some other parties of that time were proposing. 

The right of self-determination had to include the right of  secession, i.e. to separate and exist as an independent state. However Stalin pointed out that how to exercise the right depended on the concrete historical circumstances at a particular point of time. 

It was up to the revolutionaries to try and influence the nation’s decision regarding self determination.

The decision of the revolutionary party would be based on whether autonomy, or federation, or secession, or any other course would be in the best interests of the toiling masses, and particularly the proletariat.

Though Stalin’s presentation clarified many questions, it was still incomplete because it did not link the national question to imperialism and the question of colonies. 

This was only done after Lenin’s analysis of imperialism in 1916. On the basis of an analysis of imperialism, Lenin linked the question of self-determination of nations to the national-liberation struggles being waged in the colonial countries. 

Thus it came to cover the vast majority of the world’s peoples. It did not remain merely an internal state problem of a few countries, which had oppressed nationalities within their boundaries. 

The national question became a world problem, a question of the liberation of the oppressed peoples of all dependent countries and colonies from the burden of imperialism.

Thus when Lenin, in 1916, presented his Thesis on The Socialist Revolution and The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, he included all the countries of the world in his analysis. 

He divided the countries of the world into three main types:

First, the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe and the United States of America. These are oppressor nations who oppress other nations in the colonies and within their own country. 

The task of the proletariat of these ruling nations is to oppose national oppression and support the national struggle of the peoples oppressed by their imperialist ruling classes.

Secondly, Eastern Europe and particularly Russia. The task of the proletariat in these countries is to uphold the right of nations to self determination. In this connection the most difficult but most important task is to merge the class struggle of the workers in the oppressing nations with the class struggle of the workers in the oppressed nations.

Thirdly, the semi-colonial countries, like China, Persia, Turkey, and all the colonies, which then had a combined population amounting to a billion. With regard to these colonial countries, Lenin took the stand that socialists must not only demand the unconditional and immediate liberation of the colonies without compensation, but must also give determined support to the movement for national liberation in these countries and assist rebellion and revolutionary war against the imperialist powers that oppress them.

This was the first time within the international socialist movement that such a clear stand had been taken on the national and colonial questions. There was naturally thus some debate and confusions.

One such argument was that support to self-determination and national liberation went against proletarian internationalism. It argued that socialism aimed at the merger of all nations. 

Lenin agreed that the aim of socialism is to abolish the division of mankind into small states, to bring nations closer together, and to even merge them.

However he felt it would be impossible to achieve this by the forced merger of nations.

 The merging of nations could only be achieved only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all oppressed nations i.e. their freedom to secede. 

While presenting the party programme in 1917 Lenin said, “We want free unification, that is why we must recognise the right to secede. Without freedom to secede, unification cannot be called free.” 

This was the proletariat’s democratic approach to the national question, which stood opposed to the bourgeoisie’s policy of national oppression and annexation.

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