Trotsky, L. The Russian Revolution and Self-Determination of Oppressed Nationalities (1930)


In this text, excerpted from The History of the Russian Revolution (1930) Volume Three: The Triumph of the Soviets, Chapter 39: The Problem of Nationalities, Leon Trotsky describes how the Russian Revolution addressed the question of national self-determination, focusing in particular on the cases of Finland and Ukraine. The second part of the text includes analysis of the differences between the early Bolshevik and the Stalinist approach to the national question.

The Russian Revolution and Self-Determination of Oppressed Nationalities

By Leon Trotsky, 1930
Russia was formed not as a national state, but as a state made up of nationalities. This corresponded to its belated character. On a foundation of extensive agriculture and home industry commercial capital developed not deeply, not by transforming production, but broadly, by increasing the radius of its operation. The trader, the landlord and the government official advanced from the centre toward the periphery, following the peasant settlers who, in search of fresh lands and freedom from imposts, were penetrating new territory inhabited by still more backward tribes. The expansion of the state was in its foundation an expansion of agriculture, which with all its primitiveness showed a certain superiority to that of the nomads in the south and east. The bureaucratic-caste state which formed itself upon this enormous and continually broadening basis, became sufficiently strong to subjugate certain nations in the west, possessed of a higher culture but unable because of their small numbers or condition of inner crisis to defend their independence (Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic states, Finland).
To the seventy million Great Russians constituting the main mass of the country, there were gradually added about ninety million “outlanders” sharply divided into two groups: the western peoples excelling Russia in their culture, and the eastern standing on a lower level. Thus was created an empire of whose population the ruling nationality constituted only 43 per cent. The remaining 57 per cent, were nationalities of various degrees of culture and subjection, including Ukrainians 17 per cent, Poles 6 per cent, White Russians 4½ per cent.
The greedy demands of the state and the meagreness of the peasant foundation under the ruling classes gave rise to the most bitter forms of exploitation. National oppression in Russia was incomparably rougher than in the neighbouring states not only on its western but even on its eastern borders. The vast numbers of these nationalities deprived of rights, and the sharpness of their deprivation, gave to the national problem in czarist Russia a gigantic explosive force.
Whereas in nationally homogeneous states the bourgeois revolutions developed powerful centripetal tendencies, rallying to the idea of overcoming particularism, as in France, or overcoming national disunion, as in Italy and Germany – in nationally heterogeneous states on the contrary, such as Turkey, Russia, Austria-Hungary, the belated bourgeois revolution released centrifugal forces. In spite of the apparent contrariness of these processes when expressed in mechanical terms, their historic function was the same. In both cases it was a question of using the national unity as a fundamental industrial reservoir. Germany had for this purpose to be united, Austria-Hungary to be divided.
Lenin early learned the inevitability of this development of centrifugal national movements in Russia, and for many years stubbornly fought – most particularly against Rosa Luxemburg – for that famous paragraph 9 of the old party programme which formulated the right of nations to self-determination – that is, to complete separation as states. In this the Bolshevik Party did not by any means undertake an evangel of separation. It merely assumed an obligation to struggle implacably against every form of national oppression, including the forcible retention of this or that nationality within the boundaries of the general state. Only in this way could the Russian proletariat gradually win the confidence of the oppressed nationalities.
But that was only one side of the matter. The policy of Bolshevism in the national sphere had also another side, apparently contradictory to the first but in reality supplementing it. Within the framework of the party, and of the workers’ organisations in general, Bolshevism insisted upon a rigid centralism, implacably warring against every taint of nationalism which might set the workers one against the other or disunite them. While flatly refusing to the bourgeois states the right to impose compulsory citizenship, or even a state language, upon a national minority, Bolshevism at the same time made it a verily sacred task to unite as closely as possible, by means of voluntary class discipline, the workers of different nationalities. Thus it flatly rejected the national-federation principle in building the party. A revolutionary organisation is not the prototype of the future state, but merely the instrument for its creation. An instrument ought to be adapted to fashioning the product; it ought not to include the product. Thus a centralised organisation can guarantee the success of revolutionary struggle – even where the task is to destroy the centralised oppression of nationalities.
For the oppressed nations of Russia the overthrow of the monarchy inevitably meant also their own national revolution. In this matter, however, we observe the same thing as in all other departments of the February régime: the official democracy, held in leash by its political dependence upon an imperialist bourgeoisie, was totally incapable of breaking the old fetters. Holding inviolable its right to settle the fate of all other nations, it continued jealously to guard those sources of wealth, power and influence which had given the Great Russian bourgeoisie its dominant position. The compromisist democracy merely translated traditions of the czarist national policy into the language of libertarian rhetoric: it was now a question of defending the unity of the revolution. But the ruling coalition had also another more pointed argument: wartime expediency. This meant that the aspirations of individual nationalities toward freedom must be portrayed as the work of the Austro-German General Staff. Here too the Kadets played first violin and the Compromisers second.
The new government could not, of course, leave absolutely untouched that disgusting legal tangle, the complicated medieval mockeries of the outlanders. But it did hope and endeavour to stop at a mere annulment of the exceptional laws against individual nations – that is, to establish a bare equality of all parts of the population before the Great Russian state bureaucracy.
This formal equality gave most of all to the Jews, for the laws limiting their rights had reached the number of 650. Moreover, being city dwellers and the most scattered of all the nationalities, the Jews could make no claim either to state independence or even territorial autonomy. As to the project of a so-called “national-cultural autonomy” which should unite the Jews throughout the whole country around schools and other institutions, this reactionary Utopia, borrowed by various Jewish groups from the Austrian theoretician, Otto Bauer, melted in those first days of freedom like wax under the sun’s rays.
But a revolution is a revolution for the very reason that it is not satisfied either with doles or deferred payments. The abolition of the more shameful national limitations established a formal equality of citizens regardless of their nationality, but this revealed only the more sharply the unequal position of the nationalities as such, leaving the major part of them in the position of step-children or foster-children of the Great Russian state.
The proclamation of equal rights meant nothing to the Finns especially, for they did not desire equality with the Russians but independence of Russia. It gave nothing to the Ukrainians, for their rights had been equal before, they having been forcibly proclaimed to be Russian. It changed nothing in the situation of the Letts and Esthonians, oppressed by the German landlord’s manor and the Russo-German city. It did not lighten in the least the fate of the backward peoples and tribes of Central Asia, who had been held down to the rock bottom not by juridical limitations, but by economic and cultural ball and chain. All these questions the Liberal-Compromisist coalition refused even to bring up. The democratic state remained the same old state of the Great Russian functionary, who did not intend to yield his place to anybody.
The deeper the revolution sank among the masses in the borderlands, the more clear it became that the Russian state language was there the language of the possessing classes. The régime of formal democracy, with its freedom of press and assemblage, made the backward and oppressed nationalities only the more painfully aware to what extent they were deprived of the most elementary means of cultural development: their own schools, their own courts, their own officials. References to a future Constituent Assembly only irritated them. They knew well enough that the same party would dominate that assembly which had created the Provisional Government, and was continuing to defend the tradition of Russification, making clear with its jealous greed that line beyond which the ruling classes would not go.
Finland became from the first a thorn in the flesh of the February régime. Thanks to the bitterness of the agrarian problem, in Finland a problem of “torpars” – that is, small enslaved tenants – the industrial workers, although comprising only 14 per cent of the population, carried the rural population with them. The Finnish Seim was the only parliament in the world where the social-democrats got a majority: 103 seats out of 200. Having by their law of June 5 declared the Seim a sovereign power except on questions of war and foreign policy, the Finnish social-democrats appealed for support “to the comrade party of Russia.” But their appeal, as it turned out, was sent quite to the wrong address. The Provisional Government stepped aside at first, permitting the “comrade party” to act. An advisory delegation headed by Cheidze went to Helsingfors and returned empty-handed. Then the socialist ministers of Petrograd – Kerensky, Chenov, Skobelev, Tseretelli – decided to dissolve by force the socialist government at Helsingfors. The chief of the headquarters staff, the monarchist Lukomsky, gave warning to the civil authorities and the population of Finland that in case of any action against the Russian army “their cities, and Helsingfors, first of all, would be laid waste.” After this preparation, the Government issued a solemn manifesto – a plagiarism from the monarchy even in its literary style – dissolving the Seim. And on the first day of the offensive they placed Russian soldiers withdrawn from the front at the doors of the Finnish parliament. Thus the revolutionary masses of Russia – making their way to October – got a good lesson on the qualified place occupied by the principles of democracy in a struggle of class forces.
Confronted by this unbridled nationalism of the ruling classes, the revolutionary troops in Finland adopted a worthy attitude. A regional congress of the soviets held in Helsingfors early in September announced: “If the Finnish democracy finds it advisable to renew the sessions of the Seim, any attempt to hinder this will be regarded by the Soviet congress as a counter-revolutionary act.” That was a direct offer of military help. But the Finnish democracy, in which compromisist tendencies predominated, was not ready to take the road of insurrection. New elections, held under the threat of a new dissolution, gave a majority of 180 out of 200 to those bourgeois parties in agreement with whom the government had dissolved the Seim.
But here domestic questions come to the front, questions which in this Switzerland of the North, a land of granite mountains and greedy proprietors, would lead inexorably to civil war. The Finnish bourgeoisie was half openly preparing its military cadres. Secret nuclei of the Red Guard were forming at the same time. The bourgeoisie turned to Sweden and Germany for weapons and instructors. The workers found support in the Russian troops. Meanwhile in bourgeois circles – yesterday still inclined to agreement with Petrograd – a movement was developing for complete separation from Russia. Their leading newspaper, Khuvudstatsbladet, wrote: “The Russian people are possessed by an anarchist frenzy … Ought we not in these circumstances … to separate ourselves as far as possible from that chaos?” The Provisional Government found itself obliged to make concessions without awaiting the Constituent Assembly. On the 23rd of October a decree was adopted recognising “in principle” the independence of Finland except in military and foreign affairs. But “independence” given by the hand of Kerensky was not worth much: it was now only two days before his fall.
A second and far more gigantic thorn in the flesh was the Ukraine. Early in June, Kerensky forbade the holding of a Ukrainian soldier-congress convoked by the Rada. The Ukrainians did not submit. In order to save the face of his government Kerensky legalised the congress ex post facto, sending a declamatory telegram which the assembled-deputies greeted with disrespectful laughter. This bitter lesson did not prevent Kerensky from forbidding three weeks later a military congress of the Mussulmans in Moscow. The democratic government seemed anxious to make it plain to the discontented nations: you will get only what you grab.
In its first “universal” issued on June 10th, the Rada, accusing Petrograd of opposing national independence, declared: “Henceforth we will build our own life.” The Kadets denounced the Ukrainian leaders as German agents; the Compromisers addressed them with sentimental admonitions; the Provisional Government sent a delegation to Kiev. In the heated atmosphere of the Ukraine, Kerensky, Tseretelli and Tereschenko felt obliged to take a few steps to meet the Rada. But after the July raids on workers and soldiers, the Government veered right on the Ukrainian question also. On August 5, the Rada by an overwhelming majority accused the government, “imbued with the imperialist tendencies of the Russian bourgeoisie,” of having broken the agreement of July 3rd. “When the time came for the government to redeem its pledge,” declared the head of the Ukrainian government, Vinnichenko, “it turned out that the Provisional Government … is a petty cheat, who hopes to get rid of a great historic problem by swindling.” This unequivocal language conveys an adequate idea of the authority of the government even in those circles which ought politically to be rather close to it. For in the long run the Ukrainian Compromiser, Vinnichenko, was distinguished from Kerensky only as a mediocre novelist from a mediocre lawyer. (…)
The population of the cities in these borderland was completely different in its national ingredients from the population of the country. In the Ukraine and White Russia the landlord, capitalist, lawyer, journalist, was a Great Russian, a Pole, a Jew, a foreigner; the rural population was wholly Ukrainian and White Russian. In the Baltic states the cities were havens of the German, Russian and Jewish bourgeoisie; the country was altogether Lettish and Estonian. In the cities of Georgia, a Russian and Armenian population predominated, as also in Turkish Azerbaijan, being separated from the fundamental mass of the people not only by their level of life and culture, but also by language, as are the English in India. Being indebted for the protection of their possessions and income to the bureaucratic machine, and being closely bound up with the ruling classes of all other countries, the landlords, industrialists and merchants in these borderlands grouped around themselves a narrow circle of Russian functionaries, clerks, teachers, physicians, lawyers, journalists, and to some extent workers also, converting the cities into centres of Russification and colonisation.
It was possible to ignore the villages so long as they remained silent. When they began, however, more and more impatiently to lift their voices, the city resisted and stubbornly continued to resist, defending its privileged position. The functionary, the merchant, the lawyer, soon learned to disguise his struggle to retain the commanding heights of industry and culture under the form of a top-lofty condemnation of an increasing “chauvinism.” The desire of a ruling nation to maintain the status quo frequently dresses up as a superiority to “nationalism,” just as the desire of a victorious nation to hang on to its booty easily takes the form of pacifism. Thus MacDonald in the face of Gandhi feels as though he were an internationalist. Thus, too, the gravitation of the Austrians toward Germany appears to Poincaré an offence against French pacifism.
“People living in the cities of the Ukraine” – so wrote a delegation of the Rada to the Provisional Government in May – “see before them the Russified streets of these cities … and completely forget that these cities are only little islets in the sea of the whole Ukrainian people.” When Rosa Luxemburg, in her posthumous polemic against the programme of the October revolution, asserted that Ukrainian nationalism, having been formerly a mere “amusement” of the commonplace petty bourgeois intelligentsia, had been artificially raised up by the yeast of the Bolshevik formula of self-determination, she fell, notwithstanding her luminous mind, into a very serious historic error. The Ukrainian peasantry had not made national demands in the past for the reason that the Ukrainian peasantry had not In general risen to the height of political being. The chief service of the February revolution – perhaps its only service, but one amply sufficient – lay exactly in this, that it gave the oppressed classes and nations of Russia at last an opportunity to speak out. This political awakening of the peasantry could not have taken place otherwise, however, than through their own native language – with all the consequences ensuing in regard to schools, courts, self-administration. To oppose this would have been to try to drive the peasants back into non-existence.
The difference in nationality between the cities and the villages was painfully felt also in the soviets, they being predominantly city organisations. Under the leadership of the compromise parties the soviets would frequently ignore the national interests of the basic population. This was one cause of the weakness of the soviets in the Ukraine. The soviets of Riga and Reval forgot about the interests of the Letts and the Esthonians. The compromisist soviet in Baku scorned the interests of the basic Turcoman population. Under a false banner of internationalism the soviets would frequently wage a struggle against the defensive nationalism of the Ukrainians or Mussulmans, supplying a screen for the oppressive Russifying movement of the cities. A little time after, under the rule of the Bolsheviks, the soviets of these borderlands began to speak the language of the villages. (…)
All these processes in which an awakened national dignity was linked up with social indignation, now holding it back, now pushing it forward, found an extremely sharp expression in the army. Here there was a veritable fever for creating national regiments, and these were at one time patronised, at another tolerated, at still another persecuted by the central government, according to their attitude to the war and the Bolsheviks. But in general they kept growing more and more hostile to Petrograd.
Lenin kept a firm hand on the “national” pulse of the revolution. In a famous article, The Crisis is Ripe, written toward the end of September, he insistently pointed out that the National curia of the Democratic Conference “had stood second in the matter of radicalism yielding only to the trade unions, and standing higher than the Soviet curia in its percentage of votes against the Coalition (40 out of 55).” This meant that the oppressed people were no longer hoping for any benefit from the Great Russian bourgeoisie. They were more and more trying to get their rights by independent action, a bite at a time and in the form of revolutionary seizures.
In an October congress of the Buriats in far off Verkhneyudinsk, a speaker declared that “the February revolution introduced nothing new” in the position of the outlander. His summing up of the situation made it seem necessary, if not yet to take the side of the Bolsheviks, at least to observe an attitude of more and more friendly neutrality toward them. (…) Thus the national problem, along with all others, showed the Provisional Government a Medusa’s head on which every hair of the March and April hopes had changed into a snake of hate and indignation.
The Bolshevik Party did not by any means immediately after the February revolution adopt that attitude on the national question which in the long run guaranteed its victory. This was true not only in the borderlands, with their weak and inexperienced party organisations, but also in the Petrograd centre. During the war the party had so weakened, the theoretical and political level of its cadres had become so lowered, that on the national question too its official leaders took an extremely confused and half-way position until the arrival of Lenin.
To be sure, following their tradition, the Bolsheviks defended the right of a nation to self-determination. But the Mensheviks also subscribed to this formula in words. The text of the two programmes remained identical. It was the question of power which was decisive. And the temporary leaders of the party proved wholly incapable of understanding the irreconcilable antagonism between the Bolshevik slogans on the national, as well as the agrarian, question, and the preservation of a bourgeois-imperialistic régime, even though disguised in democratic forms.
The democratic position found its most crass expression from the pen of Stalin. On March 25, in an article dealing with a government decree on the abolition of national limitations, Stalin tried to formulate the national question on a historic scale. “The social basis of national oppression,” he writes, “the power inspiring it, is a decaying land aristocracy.” The fact that national oppression developed unprecedentedly during the epoch of capitalism, and found its most barbaric expression in colonial policies, seems to be beyond the ken of the democratic author. “In England,” he continues, “where the landed aristocracy shares the power with the bourgeoisie, where the unlimited power of this aristocracy long ago ceased to exist, national oppression is milder, less inhumane – leaving out of account, of course, the circumstance that during the course of the war, when the power had gone over into the hands of the landlords(!) national oppression was considerably strengthened (persecution of Ireland and India).” Those guilty of oppressing Ireland and India are the landlords, who – evidently in the person of Lloyd George – have seized the power thanks to the war. “… In Switzerland and North America,” continues Stalin, “where there is no landlordism and never has been (!), where the power is undivided in the hands of the bourgeoisie, nationalities have developed freely. National oppression, generally speaking, finds no place …” The author completely forgets the Negro, Indian, immigrant and colonial problems in the United States.
From this hopelessly provincial analysis, which comes only to a confused contrasting of feudalism with democracy, purely liberal political inferences are drawn. “To remove the feudal aristocracy from the political scene, to snatch the power from it – that is exactly the same thing as to put an end to national oppression, to create the actual conditions necessary for national freedom.” “Insofar as the Russian revolution has conquered,” writes Stalin, “it has actually created these conditions …” We have here perhaps a more principled apology for the imperialistic “democracy” than all that has been written on this theme by the Mensheviks. Just as in foreign policy Stalin, along with Kamenev, hoped to achieve a democratic peace by means of a division of labour with the Provisional Government, so in domestic policy he found in the democracy of Prince Lvov the “actual conditions” of national freedom.
As a matter of fact the fall of the monarchy first fully exposed the fact that not only the reactionary landlords, but also the whole liberal bourgeoisie, and following after it the whole petty bourgeois democracy, along with the patriotic upper crust of the working class, was implacably hostile to a genuine equality of national rights – that is to say, an abolition of the privileges of the dominant nation. Their whole programme came down to a business of mitigation, of cultural sugar-coating, of democratic concealment of the Great Russian ascendancy.
At the April conference, in defending Lenin’s resolution on the national question, Stalin formally starts from the thesis that “national oppression is that system … those measures which are adopted by the imperialistic circles.” But he straightway and inevitably gets off the track and goes back to his March position. “The more democratic a country, the weaker its national oppression and vice versa.” Such is the speaker’s own summary, and not the one he borrowed from Lenin. The fact that democratic England is oppressing feudal and caste-ridden India escapes, as before, from his limited field of vision. In distinction from Russia, where “an old land aristocracy” has dominated – continues Stalin – “in England and Austria-Hungary the national oppression has never taken the form of pogroms.” As though a land aristocracy “never” dominated in England, and as though it does not dominate to this day in Hungary! The combined character of historic development which unites “democracy” with the strangling of weak nations, had remained for Stalin a sealed book. (…)
Political practice remained, of course, far more primitive than political theory. For things are harder to change than ideas. But theory nevertheless only carried the demands of practical action clear through. In order to achieve liberation and a cultural lift, the oppressed nationalities were compelled to link their fate with that of the working class. And for this they had to free themselves from the leadership of their own bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties – they had to make a long spurt forward, that is, on the road of historic development.
This subordination of the national movements to the fundamental process of the revolution, the struggle of the proletariat for power, was not accomplished at once, but in several stages – and moreover differently in different regions. The Ukrainian, White Russian and Tartar workers, peasants, and soldiers who were hostile to Kerensky, the war and the Russification, became thereby, in spite of their compromisist leadership, allies of the proletarian insurrection. From being an objective support of the Bolsheviks, they became obliged at a further stage to go over consciously also to the Bolshevik road. In Finland, Latvia and Estonia, and more weakly in the Ukraine, the stratification of the national movement had taken such sharp forms by October, that only the interference of foreign troops could prevent the success of the proletarian revolution. In the Asiatic East, where the national awakening was taking place in more primitive forms, it could only by degrees and with a considerable lag come under the leadership of the proletariat – only, indeed, after the proletariat had conquered the power. If you take this complicated and contradictory process as a whole the conclusion is obvious: the national current, like the agrarian, was pouring into the channel of the October revolution.
The irrevocable and irresistible going over of the masses from the most rudimentary tasks of political, agrarian and national emancipation and abolition of serfdom to the slogan of proletarian rulership, resulted not from “demagogic” agitation, not from preconceived schemes, not from the theory of Permanent Revolution as the Liberals and Compromisers thought, but from the social structure of Russia and the conditions of the worldwide situation. The theory of Permanent Revolution only formulated the combined process of this development.
It is a question here not of Russia alone. This subordination of belated national revolutions to the revolution of the proletariat follows a law which is valid throughout the world. Whereas in the nineteenth century the fundamental problem of wars and revolutions was still to guarantee a national market to the productive forces, the problem of our century is to free the productive forces from the national boundaries which have become iron fetters upon them. In the broad historic sense the national revolutions of the East are only stages of the world revolution of the proletariat, just as the national movements of Russia became stepping stones to the Soviet dictatorship.
Lenin appraised with admirable profundity the revolutionary force inherent in the development of the oppressed nationalities, both in czarist Russia and throughout the world. That hypocritical “pacifism,” which “condemns” in the same way the war of Japan against China aiming at her enslavement, and the war of China against Japan in the cause of her liberation, got nothing but scorn from Lenin. For him a war of national liberation, in contrast to wars of imperialistic oppression, was merely another form of the national revolution which in its turn enters as a necessary link in the liberating struggle of the international working class.
This appraisal of national wars and revolutions does not by any means imply, however, that the bourgeoisie of the colonial and semi-colonial nations have a revolutionary mission. On the contrary, this bourgeoisie of backward countries from the days of its milk teeth grows up as agentry of foreign capital, and notwithstanding its envious hatred of foreign capital, always does and always will in every decisive situation turn up in the same camp with it. Chinese compradorism is the classic form of the colonial bourgeoisie, and the Kuomintang is the classic party of compradorism. The upper circles of the petty bourgeoisie, including the intelligentsia, may take an active and occasionally a very noisy part in the national struggles, but they are totally incapable of playing an independent rôle. Only the working class standing at the head of the nation can carry either a national or an agrarian revolution clear through.
The fatal mistake of the Epigones, and above all Stalin, lies in this, that from Lenin’s teaching about the progressive historic significance of the struggle of oppressed nations they have inferred a revolutionary mission of the bourgeoisie of the colonial countries. A failure to understand the permanent character of revolution in an imperialist epoch; a pedantic schematisation of the course of development; a chopping up of the living and combined process into dead stages imagined to be necessarily separated in time – all these errors have brought Stalin to a vulgar idealisation of democracy or a “democratic dictatorship,” a thing which can be nothing in reality but either an imperialist dictatorship or a dictatorship of the proletariat. Step by step Stalin’s groups have proceeded along this road to a complete break with the position of Lenin on the national question, and to their catastrophic policy in China.
In August 1927, in conflict with the Opposition (Trotsky, Rakovsky, and others) Stalin said at a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks: “A revolution in imperialist countries is one thing; there the bourgeoisie … is counter-revolutionary at all stages of the revolution … A revolution in colonial and dependent countries is something else. There the national bourgeoisie can at a given stage and a given date support the revolutionary movement of their country against imperialism.”
With side remarks and softenings due only to his lack of confidence in himself, Stalin here transfers to the colonial bourgeoisie those same traits with which he was adorning the Russian bourgeoisie in March. Obedient to its deeply organic nature Stalin’s opportunism finds its way as though impelled by some law of gravitation, through whatever channels always in the same direction. The choice of theoretic arguments becomes here a purely accidental matter.
From this transfer of his March appraisal of the Provisional Government to the “national” government of China resulted Stalin’s three-year co-operation with the Kuomintang, a policy which led up to one of the most shocking facts of modern history. In the capacity of loyal armour-bearer, the Bolshevism of the Epigones accompanied the Chinese bourgeoisie right up to April 11, 1927, the day of its bloody massacre of the Shanghai proletariat. “The fundamental mistake of the Opposition” – thus Stalin tried to justify his comradeship in arms with Chang Kai Shek – “lies in the fact that it identifies the revolution of 1905 in Russia – in an imperialist country oppressing other peoples, with the revolution in China, an oppressed country …” It is astonishing even in Stalin that he has never thought of viewing the revolution in Russia, not from the standpoint of the nation “oppressing other peoples,” but from the standpoint of the experience of these same “other peoples” of Russia who have suffered no less oppression than the Chinese.
In that gigantic field of experience represented by Russia in the course of her three revolutions, you can find every variant of national and class struggle except one: that in which the bourgeoisie of any oppressed nation played a liberating rôle in relation to its own people. At every stage of its development every borderland bourgeoisie, no matter in what colours it might dance, was invariably dependent upon the central banks, trusts, and commercial institutions which were in essence the agents of all Russian capital. They subjected the bourgeoisie to the Russifying movement, and subjected to the bourgeoisie broad circles of the liberal and democratic intelligentsia. The more “mature” a borderland bourgeoisie might be, the more closely was it bound up with the general state machine. Taken as a whole, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation played the same role in relation to the ruling bourgeoisie that the latter played in relation to international finance capital. The complex hierarchy of antagonisms and dependencies did not remove for one single day the fundamental solidarity of the three in the struggle against the insurrectionary masses.
In the period of counter-revolution (1907-1917), when the leadership of the national movements was in the hands of the native bourgeoisie, they were even more candid than the Russian liberals in seeking a working agreement with the Russian monarchy. The Polish, Baltic, Tartar, Ukrainian, Jewish bourgeois vied with each other in the display of imperialist patriotism. After the February revolution they hid behind the backs of the Kadets – or, like the Kadets, behind the backs of their own national Compromisers. The bourgeoisie of the border nations entered the road of separatism in the autumn of 1917, not in a struggle against national oppression, but in a struggle against the advancing proletarian revolution. In the sum total the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations manifested no less hostility to the revolution than the Great Russian bourgeoisie.
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