By Alan Davies
Lenin emphasised that it is a fundamental error to conceive of the class struggle as between the working class of one country and the capitalist class of that country – of the British working class against British capitalism, of the French working class against the French capitalists, etc. Instead, Lenin noted: ‘The socialist revolution will not be solely or chiefly, a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their own bourgeoisie – no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialist-oppressed colonies and countries, of all dependent countries, against international imperialism’ (Lenin V. I., 22 November 1919). Lenin’s point continually needs understanding and emphasising, particularly in imperialist countries.1
The huge present events in the Arab world, in Latin America and in other regions dominated by imperialism, also illustrates again another fundamental understanding of Lenin’s – that the outcome of the world struggle for socialism would be determined by the struggle of those in the countries dominated by imperialism, i.e. of the colonial revolution. In the last article Lenin was ever able to finish, ‘Better Fewer, But Better’, completed on 2 March 1923 and written after his first stroke and only seven days before the second attack which ended his political life, Lenin noted emphatically: ‘a number of countries of the East, India, China, etc., have been completed jolted out of the rut… it is now clear to the whole world that they have been drawn into a process of development that must lead to a crisis in the whole of world capitalism… precisely as a result of the first imperialist war, the East has been definitely drawn into the revolutionary movement, has been definitely drawn into the general maelstrom of the world revolutionary movement… In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc., account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe’ (Lenin V. I., 2 March 1923, p. 499)
To give a small part of Lenin’s more detailed thinking on this issue we reproduce below two fundamental documents on the struggle against imperialism. One is the historically crucial ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’ adopted by the Second Congress of the Communist International on 28 July 1920. In contrast to the previous reformist politics of the social democratic parties, this laid down a line for the Communist Parties of uncompromising struggle against imperialism and outlined a number of tasks within that. The second document is Lenin’s report to the Congress on adopting the Theses.
There is a further reason for reproducing Lenin’s report. He was a person who aimed at great precision. Therefore to see him sharpening up his own words is to have a highly clarifying experience. Lenin had written an original ‘Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions,’ which was published prior to the Congress, but, as he explains, in light of the discussion he adopted a number of amendments. Some of these were minor or merely clarified points. Two, however, were important. In order to understand the passages Lenin refers to in his speech below, it is worth outlining the changes he made to his own original draft.
Given the crucial importance Lenin gave to the struggle against imperialism, he personally prepared the ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’ for the Communist International and reported on them to the Communist International’s Second Congress. Lenin published the ‘Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions’ on 5 June 1920 and invited comment (Lenin V. I., 5 June 1920). Lenin’s actual verbal report, which included motivating amendments to his original draft, was given at the Second Congress of the Communist International on 26 July 1920 – slightly over seven weeks later.
In this report, Lenin proposed no changes in the fundamental framework of the analysis of the relation between the imperialist powers and the states oppressed by imperialism. As he stated: ‘what is the cardinal idea underlying our theses? It is the distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations. Unlike the Second International and bourgeois democracy, we emphasise this distinction. In this age of imperialism, it is particularly important for the proletariat and the Communist International to establish the concrete economic facts and to proceed from concrete realities, not from abstract postulates, in all colonial and national problems.
‘The characteristic feature of imperialism consists in the whole world, as we now see, being divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressor nations, the latter possessing colossal wealth and powerful armed forces… This idea of distinction, of dividing the nations into oppressor and oppressed, runs through the theses.’
All amendments were within this framework, and there were no significant changes to these paragraphs between the first and final drafts.
Regarding amendments that Lenin supported to his own draft, most were either minor, for example to give more examples of reactionary ideologies to be struggled against, or clarified points without altering their sense. Two points, however, were substantial.
The first was that in the original draft, in Theses 6 and 11, Lenin had referred to the need to form alliances in the struggle against imperialism with the ‘bourgeois-democratic liberation movement’ in countries dominated by imperialism. In the final version this was changed to read the need to form alliances with ‘the revolutionary liberation movement.’ Lenin gives his reason for making this change in his report below.
Therefore, textually, the original draft of the 6th thesis read: ‘Consequently, one cannot at present confine oneself to a bare recognition or proclamation of the need for closer union between the working people of the various nations; a policy must be pursued that will achieve the closest alliance, with Soviet Russia, of all the national and colonial liberation movements. The form of this alliance should be determined by the degree of development of the communist movement in the proletariat of each country, or of the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement of the workers and peasants in backward countries or among backward nationalities.’ As amended the final sentence read: ‘The forms of this alliance will be determined by the stage of development of the communist movement among the proletariat of every country, or of the revolutionary liberation movement in the backward countries.’2
A parallel amendment was made in Thesis 11. The original draft by Lenin read: ‘all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries.’ (Lenin V. I., 5 June 1920, p. 149) This was replaced by ‘All communist parties must support by action the revolutionary liberation movement in these countries.’ (Degras, 1919-1922, p. 143)
The second amendment was that Lenin clarified it was not necessary for colonial countries to pass through a capitalist stage of revolution – that is, countries dominated by imperialism could achieve not only a bourgeois but a socialist revolution. Lenin, therefore, outlined the possibilities which actually later unfolded in China, Vietnam and Cuba.
It is also significant to point out, however, that Lenin outlined that in a country dominated by imperialism achieving a socialist revolution was possible, but not that this was the only possibility. It was also possible to have movements which would represent progress against imperialism but would not involve passing to a socialist revolution. Again, to take later events, the wave of decolonialisation following World War Two, including in such cases as Algeria decolonialisation by revolutionary war, but also without directly revolutionary struggles, as in India or in countries in Africa, was also possible. Lenin, again, outlines his reason for the amendments in his speech below. The result of the different outcomes, from the point of view of achieving the tasks of decolonialisation and progress of the country, is beyond the scope of this article.
The way Lenin’s change on this point was reflected in the document was to emphasise further, compared to the original draft, the reactionary role of the colonial ruling classes even in countries that were formally politically independent from imperialism. The original draft by Lenin had called for: ‘the need constantly to explain and expose among the broadest masses of all countries, and particularly of the backward countries, the deception practiced by the imperialist powers, which, under the guise of politically independent states, set up states that are wholly dependent on them economically, financially and militarily.’ (Lenin V. I., 5 June 1920, p. 150) The phrase ‘with the help of privileged classes’ was inserted so that after amendment it read: ‘It is necessary continually to lay bare and to explain among the broadest masses of all, but in particular of the backward, countries the deception committed by the imperialist powers with the help of the privileged classes in the oppressed countries when, under the mask of politically independent states, they bring into being state structures that are economically, financially and militarily completely dependent on them.’3
Simultaneously, in the final Thesis 12, a sentence in the original which emphasised limits on the struggle in colonial countries was dropped. Lenin had originally included a sentence which read: ‘On the other hand, the more backward the country, the stronger is the hold of small-scale agricultural production, patriarchalism and isolation, which inevitably lend particular strength and tenacity to the deepest of petty-bourgeois prejudices, i.e. to national egoism and national narrow-mindedness.’ (Lenin V. I., 5 June 1920, p. 150) This passage was deleted entirely in the final draft.
The revolutionary potential of the peasantry was strongly emphasised by adding as a task: ‘if possible to organise the peasants and all the victims of exploitation in soviets.’ The original ‘Preliminary Draft Theses’ by Lenin had argued for: ‘the need, in backward countries, to give special support to the peasant movement against the landowners, against landed proprietorship, and against all manifestations or survivals of feudalism, and to strive to lend the peasant movement the most revolutionary character by establishing the closest possible alliance between the West-European communist proletariat and the revolutionary peasant movement in the East.’ (Lenin V. I., 5 June 1920, p. 149) This became in the final version: ‘Support for the peasant movement in the backward countries against the landowners and every form and remnant of feudalism is particularly necessary. What must be striven for above all is to give the peasant movement as revolutionary a character as possible and wherever possible to organise the peasants and all victims of exploitation in soviets and thus bring about as close a link as possible between the Western European communist proletariat and the revolutionary movement of peasants in the East.‘
This concept of the possibility to organise the peasantry into ‘soviets’, or more generally to develop the organisation of the revolutionary struggle based among the peasants, was of course later taken up and hugely developed, in a different form, by Mao Zedong in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, and Fidel Castro in Cuba.
The changes to the original draft theses in order to stress the reactionary role of the ruling class in semi-colonial countries, the possibility of organising peasant ‘soviets’, and that it was possible to achieve socialist revolution in the countries dominated by imperialism without passing through a stage of bourgeois democratic revolution, of course gave a more radical edge to the entire theses.
Naturally, the fact that they were written ninety years ago affects some of the vocabulary of these documents – no one in the Marxist movement today could legitimately use the term ‘backward country’ for example. But because of the total break with the accommodation with imperialism carried out by the social democratic parties, because of the determining role played by the colonial revolution after Lenin’s death, an overall development he had foreseen, and because of the starting point they gave for parties which overthrew capitalism and liberated their countries from imperialism, these documents are among the most important in the history of the Marxist movement. The texts, the discussions at the Congress of the Communist International, and other relevant materials can be found at that enormously valuable resource www.marxists.org.
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Document 1: Lenin – Report Of The Commission On The National and The Colonial Questions (to the Second Congress of the Communist International) 26 July 1920
‘Comrades, I shall confine myself to a brief introduction, after which Comrade Maring, who has been secretary to our commission, will give you a detailed account of the changes we have made in the theses. He will be followed by Comrade Roy, who has formulated the supplementary theses. Our commission have unanimously adopted both the preliminary theses, as amended, and the supplementary theses. We have thus reached complete unanimity on all major issues. I shall now make a few brief remarks.
‘First, what is the cardinal idea underlying our theses? It is the distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations. Unlike the Second International and bourgeois democracy, we emphasise this distinction. In this age of imperialism, it is particularly important for the proletariat and the Communist International to establish the concrete economic facts and to proceed from concrete realities, not from abstract postulates, in all colonial and national problems.
‘The characteristic feature of imperialism consists in the whole world, as we now see, being divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressor nations, the latter possessing colossal wealth and powerful armed forces. The vast majority of the world’s population, over a thousand million, perhaps even 1,250 million people, if we take the total population of the world as 1,750 million, in other words, about 70 per cent of the world’s population, belong to the oppressed nations, which are either in a state of direct colonial dependence or are semi-colonies, as, for example, Persia, Turkey and China, or else, conquered by some big imperialist power, have become greatly dependent on that power by virtue of peace treaties. This idea of distinction, of dividing the nations into oppressor and oppressed, runs through the theses, not only the first theses published earlier over my signature, but also those submitted by Comrade Roy. The latter were framed chiefly from the standpoint of the situation in India and other big Asian countries oppressed by Britain. Herein lies their great importance to us.
‘The second basic idea in our theses is that, in the present world situation following the imperialist war, reciprocal relations between peoples and the world political system as a whole are determined by the struggle waged by a small group of imperialist nations against the Soviet movement and the Soviet states headed by Soviet Russia. Unless we bear that in mind, we shall not be able to pose a single national or colonial problem correctly, even if it concerns a most outlying part of the world. The Communist parties, in civilised and backward countries alike, can pose and solve political problems correctly only if they make this postulate their starting-point.
‘Third, I should like especially to emphasise the question of the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. This is a question that has given rise to certain differences. We have discussed whether it would be right or wrong, in principle and in theory, to state that the Communist International and the Communist parties must support the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. As a result of our discussion, we have arrived at the unanimous decision to speak of the national-revolutionary movement rather than of the “bourgeois-democratic” movement. It is beyond doubt that any national movement can only be a bourgeois-democratic movement, since the overwhelming mass of the population in the backward countries consist of peasants who represent bourgeois-capitalist relationships. It would be utopian to believe that proletarian parties in these backward countries, if indeed they can emerge in them, can pursue communist tactics and a communist policy, without establishing definite relations with the peasant movement and without giving it effective support. However, the objections have been raised that, if we speak of the bourgeois-democratic movement, we shall be obliterating all distinctions between the reformist and the revolutionary movements. Yet that distinction has been very clearly revealed of late in the backward and colonial countries, since the imperialist bourgeoisie is doing everything in its power to implant a reformist movement among the oppressed nations too. There has been a certain rapprochement between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often – perhaps even in most cases – the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, while it does support the national movement, is in full accord with the imperialist bourgeoisie, i.e., joins forces with it against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes. This was irrefutably proved in the commission, and we decided that the only correct attitude was to take this distinction into account and, in nearly all cases, substitute the term “national-revolutionary” for the term “bourgeois-democratic”. The significance of this change is that we, as Communists, should and will support bourgeois-liberation movements in the colonies only when they are genuinely revolutionary, and when their exponents do not hinder our work of educating and organising in a revolutionary spirit the peasantry and the masses of the exploited. If these conditions do not exist, the Communists in these countries must combat the reformist bourgeoisie, to whom the heroes of the Second International also belong. Reformist parties already exist in the colonial countries, and in some cases their spokesmen call themselves Social-Democrats and socialists. The distinction I have referred to has been made in all the theses with the result, I think, that our view is now formulated much more precisely.
‘Next, I would like to make a remark on the subject of peasants’ Soviets. The Russian Communists’ practical activities in the former tsarist colonies, in such backward countries as Turkestan, etc., have confronted us with the question of how to apply the communist tactics and policy in pre-capitalist conditions. The preponderance of pre-capitalist relationships is still the main determining feature in these countries, so that there can be no question of a purely proletarian movement in them. There is practically no industrial proletariat in these counnries. Nevertheless, we have assumed, we must assume, the role of leader even there. Experience has shown us that tremendous difficulties have to be surmounted in these countries. However, the practical results of our work have also shown that despite these difficulties we are in a position to inspire in the masses an urge for independent political thinking and independent political action, even where a proletariat is practically non-existent. This work has been more difficult for us than it will be for comrades in the West-European countries, because in Russia the proletariat is engrossed in the work of state administration. It will readily be understood that peasants living in conditions of semi-feudal dependence can easily assimilate and give effect to the idea of Soviet organisation. It is also clear that the oppressed masses, those who are exploited, not only by merchant capital but also by the feudalists, and by a state based on feudalism, can apply this weapon, this type of organisation, in their conditions too. The idea of Soviet organisation is a simple one, and is applicable, not only to proletarian, but also to peasant feudal and semi-feudal relations. Our experience in this respect is not as yet very considerable. However, the debate in the commission, in which several representatives from colonial countries participated, demonstrated convincingly that the Communist International’s theses should point out that peasants’ Soviets, Soviets of the exploited, are a weapon which can be employed, not only in capitalist countries but also in countries with pre-capitalist relations, and that it is the absolute duty of Communist parties and of elements prepared to form Communist parties, everywhere to conduct propaganda in favour of peasants’ Soviets or of working people’s Soviets, this to include backward and colonial countries. Wherever conditions permit, they should at once make attempts to set up Soviets the working people.
‘This opens up a very interesting and very important field for our practical work. So far our joint experience in this respect has not been extensive, but more and more data will gradually accumulate. It is unquestionable that the proletariat of the advanced countries can and should give help to the working masses of the backward countries, and that the backward countries can emerge from their present stage of development when the victorious proletariat of the Soviet Republics extends a helping hand to these masses and is in a position to give them support.
‘There was quite a lively debate on this question in the commission, not only in connection with the theses I signed, but still more in connection with Comrade Roy’s theses, which he will defend here, and certain amendments to which were unanimously adopted.
‘The question was posed as follows: are we to consider as correct the assertion that the capitalist stage of economic development is inevitable for backward nations now on the road to emancipation and among whom a certain advance towards progress is to be seen since the war? We replied in the negative. If the victorious revolutionary proletariat conducts systematic propaganda among them, and the Soviet governments come to their aid with all the means at their disposal – in that event it will be mistaken to assume that the backward peoples must inevitably go through the capitalist stage of development. Not only should we create independent contingents of fighters and party organisations in the colonies and the backward countries, not only at once launch propaganda for the organisation of peasants’ Soviets and strive to adapt them to the pre-capitalist conditions, but the Communist International should advance the proposition, with the appropriate theoretical grounding, that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, backward countries can go over to the Soviet system and, through certain stages of development, to communism, without having to pass through the capitalist stage.
‘The necessary means for this cannot be indicated in advance. These will be prompted by practical experience. It has, however, been definitely established that the idea of the Soviets is understood by the mass of the working people in even the most remote nations, that the Soviets should be adapted to the conditions of a pre-capitalist social system, and that the Communist parties should immediately begin work in this direction in all parts of the world.
‘I would also like to emphasise the importance of revolutionary work by the Communist parties, not only in their own, but also in the colonial countries, and particularly among the troops employed by the exploiting nations to keep the colonial peoples in subjection.
‘Comrade Quelch of the British Socialist Party spoke of this in our commission. He said that the rank-and-file British worker would consider it treasonable to help the enslaved nations in their uprisings against British rule. True, the jingoist and chauvinist-minded labour aristocrats of Britain and America present a very great danger to socialism, and are a bulwark of the Second International. Here we are confronted with the greatest treachery on the part of leaders and workers belonging to this bourgeois International. The colonial question has been discussed in the Second International as well. The Basle Manifesto is quite clear on this point, too. The parties of the Second International have pledged themselves to revolutionary action, but they have given no sign of genuine revolutionary work or of assistance to the exploited and dependent nations in their revolt against the oppressor nations. This, I think, applies also to most of the parties that have withdrawn from the Second International and wish to join the Third International. We must proclaim this publicly for all to hear, and it is irrefutable. We shall see if any attempt is made to deny it.
‘All these considerations have formed the basis of our resolutions, which undoubtedly are too lengthy but will nevertheless, I am sure, prove of use and will promote the development and organisation of genuine revolutionary work in connection with the national and the colonial questions. And that is our principal task.’
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Theses on the national and colonial question – adopted 28 July 1920 by the Second Congress of the Communist International
1. An abstract or formal conception of the question of equality in general and national equality in particular is characteristic of the bourgeoisie by its very nature. Under the pretence of the equality of the human person in general, bourgeois democracy proclaims the formal legal equality of the proprietor and the proletarian, of the exploiter and the exploited, and thus deceives the oppressed classes in the highest degree. The idea of equality, which is itself a reflection of the relations of commodity production, is transformed by the bourgeoisie, under the pretext of the absolute equality of the human person, into a tool in the struggle against the abolition of classes. The true significance of the demand of equality lies only in the demand for the abolition of classes.
2. As the conscious expression of the proletarian class struggle to throw off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, and in accordance with its main task, which is the fight against bourgeois democracy and the unmasking of its lies and hypocrisy, the Communist Party should not place the main emphasis in the national question on abstract and formal principles, but in the first place on an exact evaluation of the historically given and above all economic milieu. Secondly it should emphasise the explicit separation of the interests of the oppressed classes, of the toilers, of the exploited, from the general concept of the national interest, which means the interests of the ruling class. Thirdly it must emphasise the equally clear division of the oppressed, dependent nations which do not enjoy equal rights from the oppressing, exploiting, privileged nations, as a counter to the bourgeois democratic lie which covers over the colonial and financial enslavement of the vast majority of the world’s total population, by a tiny minority of the richest and most advanced capitalist countries, that is characteristic of the epoch of finance capital and imperialism.
3. The imperialist war of 1914 has shown all the enslaved nations and oppressed classes throughout the world with particular clarity the mendacity of bourgeois-democratic phraseology. justified on both sides by phraseology about peoples’ liberation and the right of nations to self determination, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest on the one side and the Treaty of Versailles and St. Germain on the other have shown that the victorious bourgeoisie determines even ‘national’ frontiers to suit its economic interests. Even ‘national’ frontiers are merely objects of trade for the bourgeoisie. The so-called ‘League of Nations’ is merely the insurance policy by which the victors in this war mutually guarantee their booty. The strivings to re-establish national unity, for ‘reunification with ceded territories’ are for the bourgeoisie nothing other than the attempts by the vanquished to gather strength for new wars. The reunification of nations that have been artificially torn apart also corresponds to the interests of the proletariat. The proletariat can however only achieve real national freedom and unity by the path of revolutionary struggle and over the body of the defeated bourgeoisie. The League of Nations and the whole post-war policy of the imperialist states reveal this truth even more clearly and sharply, everywhere strengthen the revolutionary fight not only of the proletariat of the advanced countries but also of the toiling masses of the colonies and the dependent countries, and hasten the collapse of petty-bourgeois illusions in the possibility of peaceful coexistence and the equality of nations under capitalism.
4. From the principles set forth it follows that the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial question must be based mainly on the union of the workers and toiling masses of all nations and countries in the common revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the landlords and of the bourgeoisie. For only such a union can secure victory over capitalism, without which the destruction of national oppression and inequality is impossible.
5. The international political situation has now placed the dictatorship of the proletariat on the order of the day, and all the events in international politics are concentrated inevitably around one single central point, around the struggle of the international bourgeoisie against the Russian Soviet Republic. The latter rallies around itself, on the one hand, the soviet movements of the vanguard of the working class in every country and, on the other hand, all the national liberation movements of the colonies and the oppressed nationalities who have been convinced by bitter experience that for them there is no salvation outside an alliance with the revolutionary proletariat and the victory of soviet power over world imperialism.
6. Consequently it is impermissible today to limit oneself to mere recognition or proclamation of sympathy with the toilers of various nations, but it is necessary to pursue a policy of bringing about the closest possible alliance between all the national and colonial liberation movements with Soviet Russia. The forms of this alliance will be determined by the stage of development of the communist movement among the proletariat of every country, or of the revolutionary liberation movement in the backward countries and among the backward nationalities.
7. Federation is a transitional form on the way to the complete unification of the toilers of all nations. Federation has already showed its expediency in practice, not only in the relations between the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic and the other Soviet Republics (the Hungarian, Finnish and Latvian in the past, those of Aserbaijan and the Ukraine at present), but also within the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, even in relation to nationalities who possessed neither political existence nor self-government (for example the Bashkir and Tartar Republics in the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, which were set up in 1919 and 1920).
8. The task of the Communist International in this respect consists not only in the further development of this federation based on the soviet order and the soviet movement, but also in its study and the testing of our experiences with it. Recognising that Federation is a form in the transition to complete unification, we must strive for an ever closer federal link. What must be taken into consideration is first the impossibility for the Soviet Republics, surrounded as they are by the militarily significantly stronger imperialist states of the whole world, of continuing to exist without closer links with other Soviet Republics; secondly the necessity of a close economic alliance between the Soviet Republics, without which it is impossible to restore the productive forces destroyed by capitalism and assure the welfare of the toilers; and thirdly the efforts to create a unified world economy according to a common plan regulated by the proletariat of all nations. This tendency has already emerged quite openly under capitalism and insistently seeks its further development and completion under socialism.
9. In the sphere of relations within states the national policy of the Communist International cannot confine itself to the bare formal recognition of the equality of nations, expressed only in words and entailing no practical obligations, to which the bourgeois democracies confine themselves, even those that call themselves ‘socialist’.
It is not sufficient for the Communist Parties to expose unflinchingly in their propaganda and agitation both on the parliamentary tribune and elsewhere the continually repeated offences in every capitalist state, in spite of all the ‘democratic’ constitutions, against the equality of nations and the guaranteed rights of national minorities. It is also necessary first to clarify constantly the point that only the soviet order is capable of assuring nations true equality by uniting first the proletariat and then the whole mass of the toilers in the fight against the bourgeoisie, and secondly to give direct support to the revolutionary movements in dependent nations and those deprived of their rights, through the Communist Parties of the countries in question.
Without the last particularly important condition the struggle against the oppression of the dependent nations and the colonies and the recognition of their right to a separate political existence remains the kind of mendacious hypocrisy that we see in the parties of the Second International.
10. Recognising internationalism in words alone and watering it down in practice with petty-bourgeois nationalism and pacifism is a common phenomenon not only among the parties of the Second International but also among those that have left the International. This phenomenon is frequently seen even in those parties that now call themselves Communist. The fight against this evil, against the most deeply-rooted petty-bourgeois nationalist prejudices, which appear in every possible form such as racial hatred, the baiting of minorities and anti-semitism, must be brought all the more into the foreground the more burning becomes the question of transforming the dictatorship of the proletariat from a national dictatorship (i.e. a dictatorship existing only in one country and incapable of pursuing an independent international policy) into an international dictatorship of the proletariat in at least a few advanced countries which is capable of exercising a decisive influence on international politics). What petty-bourgeois nationalism means by internationalism is the mere recognition of the equality of nations (irrespective of the fact that such recognition is granted in words alone) which leaves national egoism untouched. Proletarian internationalism on the other hand demands: 1) the subordination of the interests of the proletarian struggle of the one country to the interests of this struggle on a world scale, and 2) the ability and the readiness on the part of the nation that carries out its victory over the bourgeoisie to make the greatest national sacrifice in order to overthrow international capitalism.
Therefore the first and most important task in those countries that are already completely capitalist and have workers’ parties that really do represent a vanguard of the proletariat, is to combat the petty-bourgeois pacifist distortions of the conceptions and policies of internationalism.
11. In relation to those states that have a more backward, predominantly feudal, patriarchal or peasant patriarchal character, special attention must be paid to the following points:
a) All Communist Parties must support the revolutionary liberation movements in these countries by their deeds. The form the support should take must be discussed with the Communist Party of the country in question, should such a party exist. This obligation to offer active assistance affects – in the first place the workers of those countries on which the backward countries are in a position of colonial or financial dependence.
b) An unconditional struggle must be carried out against the reactionary and medieval influence of the clergy, the Christian missions and similar elements.
c) A struggle is necessary against Panislamism, the Panasiatic movement and similar currents which try to tie the liberation struggle against European and American imperialism to the strengthening of the power of Turkish and Japanese imperialism, the nobility, the big landlords, the clergy, etc.
d) Support for the peasant movement in the backward countries against the landowners and every form and remnant of feudalism is particularly necessary. What must be striven for above all is to give the peasant movement as revolutionary a character as possible and wherever possible to organise the peasants and all victims of exploitation in soviets and thus bring about as close a link as possible between the Western European communist proletariat and the revolutionary movement of peasants in the East, in the colonies and in the backward countries.
e) A determined fight is necessary against the attempt to put a communist cloak around revolutionary liberation movements that are not really communist in the backward countries. The Communist International has the duty to support the revolutionary movement in the colonies only for the purpose of gathering the components of the future proletarian parties – communist in fact and not just in name in all the backward countries and training them to be conscious of their special tasks, the special tasks, that is to say, of fighting against the bourgeois-democratic tendencies within their own nation. The Communist International should accompany the revolutionary movement in the colonies and the backward countries for part of the way, should even make an alliance with it; it may not, however, fuse with it, but must unconditionally maintain the independent character of the proletarian movement, be it only in embryo.
f) It is necessary continually to lay bare and to explain among the broadest masses of all, but in particular of the backward, countries the deception committed by the imperialist powers with the help of the privileged classes in the oppressed countries when, under the mask of politically independent states, they bring into being state structures that are economically, financially and militarily completely dependent on them. The Zionists’ Palestine affair can be characterised as a gross example of the deception of the working classes of that oppressed nation by Entente imperialism and the bourgeoisie of the country in question pooling their efforts (in the same way that Zionism in general actually delivers the Arab working population of Palestine, where Jewish workers only form a minority, to exploitation by England, under the cloak of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine). In today’s economic conditions there is no salvation for the weak and dependent nations outside of an alliance with Soviet Republics.
12. The centuries of enslavement that the weak and colonial nationalities have suffered at the hands of the great imperialist powers has left in the toiling masses of the enslaved countries not only a feeling of combativity, but also a feeling of mistrust towards the nations that have exploited them in general, including the proletariat of those nations. The base betrayal of socialism by the majority of the official leaders of that Proletariat between 1914 and 1919, when the social patriots masked the defence of ‘their’ bourgeoisie’s ‘rights’ to enslave and plunder the financially dependent countries under ‘defence of the Fatherland’ – this betrayal could only strengthen that completely justified mistrust. Since this mistrust and national prejudices can only be rooted out after the destruction of imperialism in the advanced countries and the radical transformation of the whole basis of economic life in the backward countries, the removal of these prejudices will only be able to proceed very slowly. This means that the class conscious communist proletariat of every country has the duty of giving special care and attention to national feelings, in themselves outdated, in those long-enslaved countries and nationalities, and at the same time the obligation to make concessions in order to overcome this mistrust and these prejudices all the more rapidly. Without the voluntary alliance of the proletariat and with them the toiling masses of every country and nation in the world united as one, the victory over capitalism cannot be drawn to a completely successful conclusion.
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Appendix – the amendments to the original ‘Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions’ by Lenin which were motivated by Lenin above.
The formal reading out of the amendments to the original Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions was carried out by Maring and may be found here or in The Second Congress of the Communist International – published in Moscow and Hamburg in 1921 and translated into English by New Park in 1977. (Archer, 1921, p. 114) This is still obtainable from Amazon.
Maring: Comrades, I am giving the report on the work of the Commission on the National and Colonial Question. The Commission checked over Comrade Lenin’s Theses and also Comrade Roy’s supplementary Theses. The following amendments and additions to Comrade Lenin’s theses were accepted:
The end of Thesis I to read ‘abolition of the classes’ instead of ‘annihilation’.
In the first sentence of the 3rd Thesis you can read: ‘The imperialist war of 1914 has shown all nations and all oppressed classes in the whole world with particular clarity, etc. [Reads the text of the Thesis] This sentence has been changed as follows: [reads it out].[This was a minor amendment. The original draft was ‘The imperialist war of 1914-18 has very clearly revealed to all nations and to the oppressed classes of the whole world the falseness of bourgeois-democratic phrases, by practically demonstrating that the Treaty of Versailles of the celebrated “Western Democracies” is an even more brutal and foul act of violence against weak nations than was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of the German Junkers and the Kaiser.’ (Lenin V. I., 5 June 1920, p. 145) This was replaced by a revised section starting ‘The imperialist war of 1914 has shown all the enslaved nations and oppressed classes throughout the world with particular clarity the mendacity of bourgeois-democratic phraseology.’ (Archer, 1921, p. 178)
The 4th Thesis (German Edition p. 52, 3rd line from the bottom) is to read ‘and labouring masses of every nation and country’.
5th Thesis (p. 52 line 16) strike out ‘masses around itself’ and add ‘and is to mass the oppressed peoples around itself. The same Thesis (line 20): ‘That there is no salvation for them outside of their connection with the revolutionary proletariat and the victory of Soviet power.’
6th Thesis, 10th line from the top: Instead of ‘the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement’ read ‘the revolutionary liberation movement’. In line 11 of this Thesis the words ‘workers and peasants’ are deleted.
In the 8th Thesis, 5th line from the top, for ‘without any basis’ read ‘on the basis.’
9th Thesis lines 7 to 11 are to read ‘to which the bourgeois democrats limit themselves, however much they call themselves “socialist”.’
Line 13 after the word ‘prejudices’ add in brackets ‘which appear in all possible forms, such as racial hatred, nationalist propaganda, anti-semitism’.
11th Thesis paragraph I should read ‘all Communist Parties must’ etc.
Paragraph 2 should read: ‘A struggle must necessarily be carried out against the reactionary and medieval influence of the clergy, the Christian missions, and similar elements.’
Paragraph 3 should read ‘a fight is necessary against Panslavism, and the Panasiatic movement, and similar currents.’
In paragraph 4 add after the words ‘to give’, ‘if possible to organise the peasants and all the victims of exploitation in Soviets.’
In paragraph 5, lines 2, 6 and 17 the words ‘bourgeois-democratic’ are to be changed to ‘revolutionary’.
Paragraph 6 line 5 should read ‘the imperialist powers with the help of the privileged classes’.
In Thesis 12 delete the whole sentence from ‘on the other hand’ to ‘appear’.
1 Tony Cliff’s study of Lenin, for example, devotes a grand total of two pages (Cliff, 1979, p. 41) out of over one thousand to Lenin’s Theses on the National and Colonial Questions and does not quote either the passage in this paragraph or those from from ‘Better Fewer but Better’. Bluntly, not to deal with these views of Lenin is to thoroughly distort his analysis and views.
2 Confusingly, and incorrectly, the book Theses Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International (Adler, 1919-23) prints the preliminary draft by Lenin but does not print the amended version that was actually adopted of Theses 6 and 11. This is bad editing on such an important issue and given Lenin made a specific report explaining his changes. In addition to reading the report by Lenin, correct versions on this point in the final amended Theses 6 and 11 may be found in (Degras, 1919-1922, p. 141) and in (Archer, 1921, p. 179).
3 Due to differences in translation, Lenin from Russian and the final Theses of the Communist International from German, slight differences in phrasing exist in the versions by the addition of the idea is clear.
Adler, A. (Ed.). (1919-23). Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Communist International (Inkinks London 1980 ed.). (A. Holt, & B. Holland, Trans.)
The Second Congress of the Communist International (New Park Publications Ltd. 1977 ed., Vol. 1). (1921). (R. A. Archer, Trans.) Moscow and Hamburg: Publishing House of the Communist International.
Cliff, T. (1979). Lenin – Vol 4: The Bolsheviks and World Revolution. London: Pluto Press.
Degras, J. (Ed.). (1919-1922). The Communist International 1919-1943 Documents (Vol. 1). Plymouth and London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd 1971.
Lenin, V. I. (22 November 1919). Address to the Second All-Russia Congress of Communist Organisations of the People’s of the East. In Collected Works (Progress Publishers, Moscow 1965 ed., pp. 151-162).
Lenin, V. I. (2 March 1923). Better Fewer, But Better. In Collected Works (Vol. 33, pp. 487-502). Progress Publishers, Moscow 1966.
Lenin, V. I. (5 June 1920). Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions – for the Second Congress of the Communist International. In Collected Works (Progress Publishers, Moscow 1966 ed., Vol. 31, pp. 144-151).