Workers Vanguard No. 1042

21 March 2014


Leninism and National Self-Determination

(Quote of the Week)

Writing amid World War I, V.I. Lenin argued against the claim of Bolshevik Georgy Pyatakov (Kievsky) that the right of national self-determination did not apply in the imperialist epoch. Lenin insisted that Pyatakov’s methodology, carried to its logical conclusion, meant rejection of the struggle to fulfill all immediate political and democratic tasks. Recalling the late 19th- and early 20th-century Russian Economists, who restricted their political activity to economic struggles by the workers, Lenin dubbed this approach “imperialist Economism.”

The Marxist solution of the problem of democracy is for the proletariat to utilise all democratic institutions and aspirations in its class struggle against the bourgeoisie in order to prepare for its overthrow and assure its own victory. Such utilisation is no easy task. To the Economists, Tolstoyans, etc., it often seems an unpardonable concession to “bourgeois” and opportunist views, just as to Kievsky defence of national self-determination “in the epoch of finance capital” seems an unpardonable concession to bourgeois views. Marxism teaches us that to “fight opportunism” by renouncing utilisation of the democratic institutions created and distorted by the bourgeoisie of the given, capitalist, society is to completely surrender to opportunism!

The slogan of civil war for socialism indicates the quickest way out of the imperialist war and links our struggle against the war with our struggle against opportunism.... In our civil war against the bourgeoisie, we shall unite and merge the nations not by the force of the ruble, not by the force of the truncheon, not by violence, but by voluntary agreement and solidarity of the working people against the exploiters. For the bourgeoisie the proclamation of equal rights for all nations has become a deception. For us it will be the truth that will facilitate and accelerate the winning over of all nations. Without effectively organised democratic relations between nations—and, consequently, without freedom of secession—civil war of the workers and working people generally of all nations against the bourgeoisie is impossible.

—V.I. Lenin, “Reply to P. Kievsky (Y. Pyatakov)” (August-September 1916)