It's Very Simple: The True Story Of Civil Rights

Chapter One: The National Question

By Alan Stang

The weaknesses of the capitalistic world which we can use are its insuperable antagonisms--antagonisms which dominate the whole international situation.1---Joseph Stalin

In 1913 Lenin assigned Stalin to prepare the Bolshevik position on the national and colonial question, that is, on national minorities and the colonies of the major powers. Stalin came back with the idea that a group of this kind was actually a nation within a nation, and he wrote:

The right of self determination means that a nation can arrange in life according to its own will. It has the right to arrange its life on the basis of autonomy. It has the right to enter into federal relations with other nations. It has the right to complete secession. Nations are sovereign and all nations are equal2
This did not mean, however that a nation always had to secede:
. . . A people has the right to secede, but it may or may not exercise that right, according to circumstances. Thus we are at liberty to agitate for or against secession, according to the interests of the proletariat, of the proletarian revolution. Hence, the question of secession must be determined in each particular case independently, in accordance with existing circumstances, and for this reason the question of the recognition of the right to secession must not be confused with the expediency of secession in any given circumstances. . .3
The tactic of secession, then is exactly that: a tactic, solely designed to further the interests of the "proletarian revolution." At certain times, Communists would endorse secession--that is, "self-determination"--at others they would oppose it, but only because it was at the moment inexpedient, inimical to the "interests of the proletariat"--as in Katanga--not because they opposed the principle.

Russia was the first country the Communists captured. And in 1917, just before the revolution, Lenin said he would apply the theory to the Russian minorities:

As regards the national question, the proletarian must, first of all, insist on the promulgation and immediate realization of full freedom of separation from Russia for all nations and peoples who were oppressed by trarism, who were forcibly included or forcibly retained whithin the boundaries of the state, i.e. annexed.4
Lenin wasn't giving anything away, of course. He wanted people on his side, and knew he wasn't yet doing enough to opress them himself.

Now, why is the principle of self-determination--that is, secession--so important?

Lenin gives the answer:

The social revolution cannot come about except in the form of an epoch of proletarian civil war against the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries combined with a whole series of democratic and revolutionary movements, including movements for national liberation, in the undeveloped, backward and oppressed nations.5
But a question arises: Marx said it was one of the goals of socialism--that is communism--to produce one socialist world, be selling the idea of "internationalism," by destroying national barriers and inhibiting nationalism. In fact, Lenin tells us: "The aim of socialism is not only to abolish the present division of mankind into small states and end all national isolation; not only to bring the nations closer together, but to merge them. . . "6 (italics added)

How then can Lenin advocate a national revolution and the encouragement of nationalism? Isn't this a mistake? Some sort of contradiction?

Once again, Lenin himself gives the answer:

. . . Just as mankind can achieve the abolition of classes only by passing through the dictatorship of the proletariat, so mankind can achieve the inevitable merging of nations only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all oppressed nations, i.e., their right to secede.7

National liberation then [writes Professor Wilson Record] was a transitory factor. It was a prelude to a working class movement within the nation, and its ultimate aim was socialism. Communists would support such movements, but at the same time time they would seek to obtain control over them and, where possible, turn them into workers' and peasants' revolutions.8

. . . When these elements controlled the state apparatus, then the possibility of unifying that nation with the rest of the socialist world could be realized.9 (italics added)
Why in fact was the national revolution alone--free from communist control--out of the question? Why, for instance, couldn't a nation have a capitalist revolution, as, for instance, in 1776?

Stalin himself has the answer:

Only now has it become obvious to all that the national bourgeoisie is striving not for the liberation of "its own people" from national oppression but for the liberty of wringing profits from them, for the liberty of preserving its own privileges and capital.

Only now has it become obvious that the liberation of the oppressed nationalities is inconceivable without breaking with imperialism, without overthrowing the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations, without power passing into the hands of the toiling masses of those nationalities.10
In other words, writes Professor Record:
Working class elements might indeed favor the national liberation movement, but it would be the responsibility of the "most advanced elements" of that class to turn the conflict into a civil war against the native bourgeoisie, either during the course of the immediate struggle or at the first opportunity later. By the "most advanced elements" Stalin meant the various sections of the Communist International in the respective national states or the organizations which they either supported or controlled outright.11
Let's sum up: According to Lenin and Stalin it is the goal of socialism, i.e., communism, to control the world: "The aim of socialism is . . . not only to bring the nations closer together, but to merge them." In order for the communists to capture a "bourgeois" government, however, it is first necessary to disrupt that government. It is necessary to encourage "proletarian civil war against the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries combined with a whole series " of "national liberation movements" in the "oppressed nations." It is necessary, in short, to encourage civil war in the industrial nation, and secession in the primitive nation. "Mankind can achieve the inevitable merging of nations only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all oppressed nations, i.e., their right to secede." A "whole series" of such secessions will indicate that everything is going according to plan.

For the last step is to turn this revolutionary combination--civil war and secession--into a communist revolution.

Victory will come when the Communists --under the cloak of the national liberation movement--take control of the government.12


  1. From the Stalin archives of the National War College in Washington, D.C., as quoted in Coronet, vol. 29, no 3 (January 1951), p. 22.

  2. Joseph Stalin, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question (London, Martin Lawrence Limited, 1936?), p. 19. Also, Joseph Stalin, Marxism and the National Question (New York, International Publishers, 1942), pp. 23-24. As quoted by William A. Nolan, Communism Versus the Negro (Chicago, Henry Regnery Company, 1951), p. 11.

  3. Joseph Stalin, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question, p. 64. Speech delivered at the seventh all-Russian conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (April 29, 1917).

  4. V. I. Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution (New York, International Publishers, 1932), p. 17. As quoted by Nolan, p. 42.

  5. V. I. Lenin, "A Caricature of Marxism and 'Imperialist Economism,'" (August-October 1916), Lenin on Proletarian Revolution and Proletarian Dictatorship (Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1960), p. 55.

  6. V. I. Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination (New York, International Publishers, 1951), p. 76. Also, V. I. Lenin, "The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Self-Determination," Collected Works,, vol. 14 (New York, International Publishers, 1942), p. 51. As quoted by Wilson Record, "The Development of the Communist Position on the Negro Question in the United States," Phylon, vol. 19, no. 3 (Fall 1958), p. 315.

  7. Record, "The Development . . . ," p. 315.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid., p. 319.

  10. As quoted by Emil Burns, ed., A Handbook of Marxism (New York, International Publishers, 1935), p. 817. Also, as quoted by Record, "The Development . . . ," p. 318.

  11. Record, "The Development . . . ," p. 318.

  12. See William T. Shinn, Jr., "The National Democratic State,'"World Politics, vol. 15, no. 3 (April 1963), pp. 377-389, for a discussion of the use of nationalism to produce a coalition state headed by a non-Communist as a transition to a complete Communist government.