In his immortal work, Foundations of Leninism, Stalin forthrightly stated: “The [October] revolution would not have been victorious in Russia, and Kolchak and Denikin [White Guard admiral and general respectively] would not have been crushed, had not the Russian proletariat enjoyed the sympathy and support of the oppressed peoples of the former Russian Empire. But to win the sympathy and support of these peoples it [the October Revolution] had first of all to break the fetters of Russian imperialism and free these peoples from the yoke of national oppression.” As Stalin indicates, one characteristic feature of the successful October Revolution was that the proletariat of the oppressing country, Russia, led by the Bolshevik Communist Party, carried the emancipation of the toiling masses of the population both inside Russia and in the oppressed nations on the territory of the former Tsarist Empire on their revolutionary working class shoulders.
How was this accomplished?
Most dramatically, eight days after the victory of Red October, the new Soviet government led by the Russian working class, issued an edict (signed by Lenin as Chairman of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars, the head of the government, and Stalin as the Commissar of Nationalities) entitled “Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia.” The law provided every nation formerly oppressed by Tsarist Russia the right to self-determination up to and including the right to a separate and independent existence as a state.
Unlike the proletariat of other “ruling nations,” whose vanguard parties failed to carry out “a stubborn, continuous and determined struggle against the dominant-nation chauvinism of the “socialists” of the ruling nations (Britain, France, America, Italy, Japan, etc.) who do not want to fight their imperialist governments, who do not want to support the struggle of the oppressed peoples of ‘their’ colonies for emancipation from oppression, for secession,” the Russian proletariat had been educated by the Bolshevik Party. The Russian working class was trained “in the spirit of true internationalism, in the spirit of closer relations with the toiling masses of the dependent countries and colonies, in the spirit of real preparation for the proletarian revolution.” It was such an internationalist working class that could produce the “Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia” and stand strongly behind its implementation.
Stalin continued: “Without this it would have been impossible to consolidate Soviet power, to implant real internationalism and to create that remarkable organization for the collaboration of peoples which is called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and which is the living prototype of the future union of peoples in a single world economic system.” (p. 81, “The National Question,” Chapter VI, Foundations of Leninism)*
*Stalin’s tremendous confidence in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (cited here from 1924) proved well founded as even U.S. bourgeois experts grudgingly came to admit over the next several decades that, “... the USSR within the framework of the over-all Soviet system seemed to have found a constructive solution to its nationalities question, and is the best example afforded by the twentieth century of a multinational state.” (A History of the Modern World, R.R. Palmer, Second Edition, 1956, p. 732)
But Leninism also teaches that, “The victory of the working class in the developed countries and the liberation of the oppressed peoples from the yoke of imperialism are impossible without the formation and consolidation of a common revolutionary front.” (Stalin, p. 79) “Hence, the necessity of fighting against the national isolationism, narrow-mindedness and aloofness of the Socialists in the oppressed countries, who do not want to rise above their national parochialism and who do not understand the connection between the liberation movement in their own countries and the proletarian movement in the ruling countries. Without such a struggle it is inconceivable that the proletariat of the oppressed nations can maintain an independent policy and its class solidarity with the proletariat of the ruling countries in the fight for the overthrow of imperialism.” (ibid, p. 82, my emphasis)
The Foreign Intervention and Civil War resulted in total victory for the Soviet Republic and the Bolshevik-led Soviet Red Army created in the crucible of this war. One favorable result of this war in which the Bolsheviks rallied the workers and peasants on the basis of a war for the fatherland against the foreign invaders and the bourgeois and landlord Whiteguards, is that the opportunist parties smashed by the revolution, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Anarchists, and nationalists had supported the Whiteguard generals and the invaders, fomented anti-Soviet plots against the Soviet Republic and resorted to terrorism against Soviet leaders. Whatever support they had retained prior to this war, now they all suffered total political collapse. This was also a Leninist implementation of the national question in the proletarian revolution.
To help explain the Leninist position on the national question, Comrade Stalin discussed “the two tendencies in the national question: the tendency towards political emancipation from the shackles of imperialism and towards the formation of an independent state — a tendency which arose as a consequence of imperialist oppression and colonial exploitation; and the tendency towards closer economic relations among nations, which arose as a result of the formation of the world market and a world economic system. (page 80, my emphasis)
He points out that “for imperialism these two tendencies represent irreconcilable contradictions,” because imperialism can only exist on the basis of exploitation of colonies and on their forcible retention within the imperialist framework and because imperialism only brings nations together by means of annexations and colonial conquest. “For communism, on the contrary,” says Stalin, “these tendencies are but two sides of a single cause — the cause of the emancipation of the oppressed peoples from the yoke of imperialism; because communism knows that the union of peoples in a single world economic system is possible only on the basis of mutual confidence and voluntary agreement, and that the road to voluntary union of peoples lies through the separation of the colonies from the ‘integral’ imperialist ‘whole,’ through the transformation of the colonies into independent states.” (ibid, p.81, my emphasis)
Contrasting the national question in the period of the Second International and in the period of Leninism, Stalin made the following observations:
1. “Formerly, the national question was usually confined to a narrow circle of questions, concerning, primarily, ‘civilized’ nationalities ... European nationalities — that was the circle of unequal peoples in whose destinies the Second International were interested. The scores and hundreds of millions of Asian and African peoples who are suffering national oppression in its most savage and cruel form usually remained outside of their field of vision. Leninism laid bare this crying incongruity, broke down the wall between whites and blacks, between Europeans and Asians, between the ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ slaves of imperialism and thus linked the national question with the question of the colonies.
2. “Formerly, the principle of self-determination of nations was usually misinterpreted ... leaving all political power in the hands of the ruling nation ... . Leninism broadened the conception of self-determination, interpreting it as the right of the oppressed peoples of the dependent countries and colonies to complete secession, as the right of nations to independent existence as states.”
3. “Formerly, the national question was regarded from a reformist point of view, as an independent question having no connection with the general question of the power of capital, of the overthrow of imperialism, of the proletarian revolution ... . Leninism has proved, and the imperialist war and the revolution in Russia have confirmed, that the national question can be solved only in connection with and on the basis of the proletarian revolution, and that the road to victory of the revolution in the West lies through the revolutionary alliance with the liberation movement of the colonies and dependent countries against imperialism.” (ibid, pp. 72-75)
Thus, Leninism raised the cause of the emancipation of the oppressed peoples from the yoke of imperialism as one of the three most important contradictions facing capitalism in its last, dying, imperialist stage — on the same level of importance as the contradiction among the various financial groups and imperialist powers over re-division of the already divided up world and the contradiction between labor and monopoly capital and imperialism. Leninism taught that these three contradictions need to be implemented in coordinated struggle for the overthrow of monopoly capitalism and imperialism.
Soviet implementation of the Leninist position on the National Question
Veteran Chinese communist leader Liu Shao-chi observed in his outstanding Marxist-Leninist document, “Internationalism and Nationalism,” (1948): “As soon as the Great October Revolution in Russia had overthrown the bourgeois provisional government and placed the toilers in power, Lenin and Stalin immediately proclaimed the annulment of all the unequal treaties which the Czarist government had concluded with China and other countries, abolished the whole system of enslavement which Russian imperialism had imposed on its colonies and semi-colonies and proclaimed the complete equality of all nationalities within the country. Such is the application, in deeds, of the great principles of proletarian internationalism.” (ROL, USA Reprint, 2017, p. 20)
Soviet implementation of this proletarian internationalist policy on the national question, no doubt helped inspire the preeminent bourgeois leader of the Chinese national democratic revolution, Sun Yat-sen, to arouse the people and unite “for a common struggle with all the nations of the world who regard us as equals.” According to comrade Liu, “Sun Yat-sen also carried into effect the three great principles of unity with the USSR and with the Communist Party [of China], and of extending support to the workers and peasants.” Thus, the October Revolution’s stand on the national question immediately helped strengthen the Chinese national democratic revolution even before the Chinese Communist Party came to the forefront of that crucially important struggle. And this heroic effort culminated in the liberation of one quarter of humanity from the yoke of imperialism with the victory of the Chinese national democratic revolution in 1949.
Another important implementation of this Leninist line by the new Soviet Union and the Bolshevik Party was the creation of the University of the Toilers of the East. Named for Stalin, a native of the oppressed nation of Georgia. its acronym was KUTVA. The outstanding Afro-American communist, Harry Haywood was enrolled there beginning around early 1926. In his invaluable autobiography, Black Bolshevik, Haywood stated: “It was founded by the Bolsheviks for the special purpose of training cadre from the many national and ethnic groups within the Soviet Union — the former colonial dependencies of the czarist empire — and also to train cadres from colonies and subject nations outside the Soviet Union.” (Black Bolshevik, p. 155)
When he got there the student body already represented more than seventy nationalities and ethnic groups. According to Haywood, it was divided into two sections—inner and outer. The inner section included Turkmenians, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazaks and both Inner and Outer Mongolia from Soviet Asia. From the Caucasus, Armenians, Georgians, and many more that Haywood had never heard of before. The outer section of the school included, in addition to the Afro-Americans, Indians, Koreans, Indonesians, Filipinos, Persians, Palestinian Jews, Arabs from the Middle East and North Africa, Moroccans and Algerians, Chinese and others.
Haywood pointed out, “The Chinese, several hundred strong, comprised the largest group of the outer section at the school. This was obviously because China, bordering on the USSR, was in the first stage of its own anti-imperialist revolution, a revolution receiving direct material and political support from the Soviet Union. While KUTVA trained the communist cadres from China, there was also the Sun Yat-sen University, just outside Moscow, which trained cadres for the Kuomintang.” (ibid, p.156)
Quite impressive proletarian internationalist support for the struggle for emancipation of the oppressed peoples from the yoke of imperialism from the still new and struggling Soviet Union!
Of course, the Soviet Union was also hosting and leading the Communist International on its liberated turf. Led by the Bolshevik Party and Lenin, and armed with the Leninist position on the National Question, the Communist International advanced the Marxist slogan for the world’s workers to now include in the era of imperialism and the unfolding proletarian revolution:
Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples UNITE!
FIRST APPEARED IN ROL, USA NEWSLETTER #103