Lenin on the national question

Submitted by Anon on 5 March, 2006 - 11:40

The history of capitalism is filled with examples
of nations conquering nations, taking control of
territories, plundering economies, downgrading
language and culture and treating the conquered
peoples as less than equal. Russia under the Tsar
was a "prison-house of nations": the ethnic
Russian majority oppressed other nationalities
within that country mercilessly.

One of Lenin's big contributions to Marxism was
consistent democracy on the national question.
"We fight against the privileges and violence of
the oppressor nation and do not in any way
condone strivings for privileges on the part of
the oppressed nation." (The Right of Nations to
Self Determination, 1914)

Lenin championed the right of all nations to
self-determination i.e. the right of a clearly
defined majority to decide whether they remain
part of a larger state, or separate and form
their own state e.g. Norway's separation from
Sweden in 1905.

Whether socialists positively advocate
independence depended on the consequences for the
workers' movement.

Lenin's view on how socialists should relate to
minorities within states of mixed population was:
"In so far as national peace is in any way
possible in a capitalist society based on
exploitation, profit making and strife it is
attainable only under a consistently and
thoroughly democratic republican system of
government the constitution of which contains a
fundamental law that prohibits any privileges
whatsoever to any one nation and any encroachment
whatsoever upon the rights of a national
minority. This particularly calls for wide
regional autonomy and fully democratic local
government, with the boundaries of the
self-governing and autonomous regions determined
by the local inhabitants themselves on the basis
of their economic and social conditions, national
makeup of the populationŠ."

Lenin supported the rights of peoples under
colonial rule and of countries oppressed by
Tsarism (such as Poland) to independence, but
advocated a Balkan federation for the
(intermingled) peoples of south-east Europe. Such
ideas are important in working out a socialist
stance to current questions such as Ireland,
Israel-Palestine and Kosova.

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