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From the National Question and Leninism


Reply to Comrades Meshkov, Kovalchuk, and Others

March 18, 1929

 Works, Vol. 11, January, 1928 to March, 1929

1. The Concept of "Nation"

The Russian Marxists have long had their theory of the nation. According to this theory, a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of the common possession of four principal characteristics, namely: 

a common language, 

a common territory,

 a common economic life, and 

a common psychological make-up manifested in common specific features of national culture. 

This theory, as we know, has received general recognition in our Party.

It is evident from your letters that you consider this theory inadequate. You therefore propose that the four characteristics of a nation be supplemented by a fifth, namely, that a nation possesses its own, separate national state. You consider that there is not and cannot be a nation unless this fifth characteristic is present.

I think that the scheme you propose, with its new, fifth characteristic of the concept "nation," is profoundly mistaken and cannot be justified either theoretically or in practice, politically.

According to your scheme, only such nations are to be recognised as nations as have their own state, separate from others, whereas all oppressed nations which have no independent statehood would have to be deleted from the category of nations; moreover, the struggle of oppressed nations against national oppression and the struggle of colonial peoples against imperialism would have to be excluded from the concept "national movement" and "national-liberation movement."

More than that. According to your scheme we would have to assert:

a) that the Irish became a nation only after the formation of the "Irish Free State," and that before that they did not constitute a nation;

b) that the Norwegians were not a nation before Norway's secession from Sweden, and became a nation only after that secession;

c) that the Ukrainians were not a nation when the Ukraine formed part of tsarist Russia; that they became a nation only after they seceded from Soviet Russia under the Central Rada and Hetman Skoropadsky, but again ceased to be a nation after they united their Ukrainian Soviet Republic with the other Soviet Republics to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

A great many such examples could be cited.

Obviously, a scheme which leads to such absurd conclusions cannot be regarded as a scientific scheme.

In practice, politically, your scheme inevitably leads to the justification of national, imperialist oppression, whose exponents emphatically refuse to recognise as real nations oppressed and unequal nations which have no separate national state of their own, and consider that this circumstance gives them the right to oppress these nations.

That is apart from the fact that your scheme provides a justification for the bourgeois nationalists in our Soviet Republics who argue that the Soviet nations ceased to be nations when they agreed to unite their national Soviet Republics into a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

That is how matters stand with regard to "supplementing" and "amending" the Russian Marxist theory of the nation.

Only one thing remains, and that is to admit that the Russian Marxist theory of the nation is the only correct theory



The Seventh (April) Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. (Bolsheviks)

April 24-29, 1917

Further, what is to be done with the peoples which may desire to remain within the Russian state? Whatever mistrust of Russia existed among the peoples was fostered chiefly by the tsarist policy. But now that tsarism no longer exists, and its policy of oppression no longer exists, this mistrust is bound to diminish and attraction towards Russia to increase. I believe that now, after the overthrow of tsarism, nine-tenths of the nationalities will not desire to secede. The Party therefore proposes to institute regional autonomy for regions which do not desire to secede and which are distinguished by peculiarities of customs and language, as, for instance, Transcaucasia, Turkestan and the Ukraine. The geographical boundaries of these autonomous regions must be determined by the populations themselves with due regard for economic conditions, customs, etc.

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