By the editorial board of the periodical Red Flag.
Originally published September 26, 2020: Version in Norwegian.
Back to Marxism in the National Question – A Rebuttal of Social Patriotism
“The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.
National differences and antagonisms between peoples are vanishing gradually from day to day, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.
The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
– The Communist Manifesto, 1848.
“The aim of socialism is not only to abolish the present division of mankind into small states and all national isolation; not only to bring the nations closer to each other, but also to merge them… Just as mankind can achieve the abolition of classes only by passing through the transition period of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, so mankind can achieve the inevitable merging of nations only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all the oppressed nations, i.e., their freedom to secede.”
– Lenin, 1916
“What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own? It is the spirit of internationalism, the spirit of communism, from which every Chinese Communist must learn… We must unite with the proletariat of all the capitalist countries, with the proletariat of Japan, Britain, the United States, Germany, Italy and all other capitalist countries, for this is the only way to overthrow imperialism, to liberate our nation and people and to liberate the other nations and peoples of the world. This is our internationalism, the internationalism with which we oppose both narrow nationalism and narrow patriotism.”
– Mao, 1939
“Chairman Gonzalo has established the international line of the Communist Party of Peru. As proletarian internationalists, he teaches us that we must begin by unfolding the Peruvian revolution through people’s war as part of, and at the service of, the world proletarian revolution…”
– Communist Party of Peru, 1988
In this way, the classics of communism give a spirit and guidance as to how communists should handle the national question. Lenin’s thesis, which in the preceding quote is cited in Joseph Stalin’s classic work Marxism and the National and Colonial Question1, presupposes a dialectical-materialist view on nations. This is to say firstly that one sees nations as having both a beginning and an end, and secondly that nations go through different and particular stages in their development.
Furthermore, Marxists will, taking Lenin’s thesis as our starting point, as well as Mao’s lessons on contradiction, understand that the contradictions that must be handled by the proletariat and its party will be different in each stage of the nation’s development. Different stages have different principal contradictions, and different principal contradictions must be resolved with different methods. Likewise, the handling of the question in each specific stage must be resolved in a way that serves the aim of the entire process.
In short, the proletariat, and the party of the proletariat—that is to say the communist party—must always handle the national question with the aim in sight that Lenin holds forth for communism: To melt humanity’s different nations together into a whole, through a transition period where all oppressed nations liberate themselves completely from the chains of imperialism and chauvinism.
The foremost classic work within Marxism-Leninism-Maoism on nations and nationalism is the aforementioned collection of Joseph Stalin’s texts on the question. In the work’s first text, which Stalin wrote in 1913, he gives the correct Marxist definition of a nation, a definition that communists have used ever since. Stalin was appointed as the People’s Commissar of Nationalities in the first Bolshevik government in 1917. In this position, he became entirely central in handling the national question during the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which handled the national question under socialism within a socialist federal constitution.
Stalin was appointed to this position by the party and government under Lenin’s leadership, partly owing to his role in formulating the Marxist theory regarding the nation, and thereby the Bolshevik line for handling the national question in Russia. Stalin was the defender of Leninism and consequently used the teachings of Lenin in this work2.
In this article, we will, through a series of quotes from Joseph Stalin, present a rejection of bourgeois nationalism in all of its forms. We will criticize the Norwegian Marxist-Leninist movement of the 1970s for their nationalistic deviation and also carry out a self-critical evaluation of errors made by the Communist League Serve the People [Tjen Folket] in this question. We will also address the nationalism of Peder Furubotn, who was expelled from the Communist Party of Norway in 1949. This bourgeois nationalism has time and time again been smuggled into the labor movement. Cloaked in Marxist phrases, it has fostered social chauvinism, which now can be seen in vulgar form among those like Pål Steigan and his cronies.
We see this article as being very important because, if it is taken up and applied, it can be used to draw a line of demarcation against the nationalist deviation that has cast a shadow over the communist movement in this country. Norway is an imperialist country and the Norwegian nation is a bourgeois nation. There is no basis for a progressive left nationalism in Norway.
We invite all honest revolutionaries who have questions or objections to write to us, and perhaps also raise the debate publicly. We do not view this article as the last word in this discourse, but rather see it as an attempt to form a correct starting point. We maintain that this can be summarized as a return to Marxism, a return to the evaluations and principles of Lenin and Stalin. Only on this basis can the correct application today in the imperialist countries be chiseled out with a clear boundary drawn against all forms of bourgeois nationalism and social patriotism.
What is a Nation?
In the article “Marxism and the National Question”, which Stalin authored in Vienna in 1913, he writes (our emphasis):
“A nation is primarily a community, a definite community of people…. A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture. It goes without saying that a nation, like every historical phenomenon, is subject to the law of change, has its history, its beginning and end.”
Briefly summarized, Stalin maintains that not all kinds of groups of people are nations, but that nations are stable communities that are historically constituted, that is over a long period of time, on the basis of four common features. In his work, he says that if only one of these common characteristics is missing, the group either does not form a nation, or it did, but that the nation is falling apart. He uses as an example the British and the English-speaking North Americans as an example. The Atlantic Ocean that separated them also eventually divided the nation.
Therefore, in our interpretation, one cannot only look at the criteria. The main point here – the synthesized understanding – is not the individual criteria or a simple addition of these criteria, but rather that on the basis of these four common relations, a stable community of people is constituted. A short-term separation or a temporary departure from, for instance, a common territory, does not dissolve such a community overnight. Nor is it the case that the nation must have its own exclusive language or territory. For instance, a number of different nations can enter into one and the same state formation, and in this way have a common economic life with one or many other nations. This is relevant if we think of, for instance, the Welsh in the UK and Basque People in Spain.
In the end – and this is worth emphasizing – Stalin maintains that nations, like all other phenomena, are not permanent. Nothing is permanent, and certainly not nations. They must first have a beginning and secondly have an end.
Stalin’s definition is a classic Marxist definition, which the Bolsheviks made into the base of their politics, and which has become part of the proletarian ideology as a true reflection of reality.
When and Where Are Nations Constituted?
Stalin further writes (emphasis our own):
“A nation is not merely a historical category but a historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism. The process of elimination of feudalism and development of capitalism is at the same time a process of the constitution of people into nations. Such, for instance, was the case in Western Europe. The British, French, Germans, Italians and others were formed into nations at the time of the victorious advance of capitalism and its triumph over feudal disunity.”
In short, Stalin explains in his work how different tribes, cultures, linguistic groups, and groups of people were neither able nor willing to constitute different nations before capitalism smashed feudalism. It was first with capitalism, on top of the ruins of feudalism, that people to a large degree were gathered into societal production and a common market. It was first with capitalism that the old feudal distinctions, old lords, tolls, tributes, tithes, servitude, and principalities, were broken down and replaced by united common markets within capitalist nation states. There arose common markets that not only included a small number of products, but rather very many, and where the working classes needed to sell their labor power in order to survive.
Where the old peasant was tied to their landowner through feudal bonds, these were torn away by capitalism and large-scale industries. Where the old peasant produced most of their life necessities in their own private production, the modern proletariat now enters into an enormous societal production process as a tiny cog. And the working classes also, for the first time in history, are drawn into politics en masse. Nations are constituted where the old parochial and village communities, tribal communities, and estates were smashed.
The bourgeoisie needed nation states in order to develop capitalism, and in this way placed themselves at the fore for constituting nations. These had a progressive character when they placed themselves in opposition to feudalism, which at that time was a hindrance that stood in the way of progress.
National Formation Is Halted in the Third World
Here, it is important to add that the development that occurred in Western Europe, where the bourgeois revolution took the form of national and democratic revolutions and led to the fall of the nobility to the benefit of bourgeois nation states, was immediately halted in the colonies. The bourgeoisie conquered the countries in Western Europe, but they also simultaneously usurped the colonial holdings of the old monarchies. Here, the bourgeoisie from the US, England, France, and other colonial great powers put an immediate stop to the peoples of the colonies organizing themselves into nations.
Groups of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were held down in colonial chains. The European bourgeoisies and their states deliberately worked to sow disunity among the oppressed groups of peoples. In Rwanda and Burundi, Hutus and Tutsis were pitted against each other; in Sri Lanka, Tamils and Sinhalese were pitted against each other; and so on. One can see that in the entirety of the Third World, national formation was, and continues to be, hindered. The states that eventually gained formal independence were born in shackles, without constituting themselves as actual nations.
The colonial and feudal oppression is maintained by colonialism and imperialism, and therefore the national and democratic revolution, in the form of new democratic revolution, remains on the agenda for all oppressed nations in the world.
The Communist Party of Peru, for instance, writes (emphasis original):
“President Gonzalo masterfully establishes that the capitalism that is unfolding in Peru is a bureaucratic capitalism hindered by the surviving shackles of semi-feudalism that bind it on the one hand, and on the other hand is subjugated to imperialism which does not permit it to develop the national economy; it is, then, a bureaucratic capitalism that oppresses and exploits the proletariat, the peasantry, and the petty bourgeoisie, and that constricts the middle bourgeoisie. Why? Because the capitalism that develops is a delayed process that only allows an economy to serve imperialist interests.”
Regarding the national question, they write as point 8 in their program:
“To complete the formation of the Peruvian nation, truly unifying the country to defend it from all reactionary and imperialist aggression, safeguarding the rights of the minorities.”
In other words, communists see that the nations in the oppressed countries have not completed their formation, their organizing, their constitution, because they have been held down in semi-feudalism and imperialism’s links and, as we have seen earlier with Lenin, communists put forth the goal of completing this formation through breaking these links through democratic revolutions, and Mao Zedong shows that these must be new democratic because they are democratic revolutions of a new type. Since the bourgeoisie is now unable to lead the national and democratic revolution, the leadership is taken over by the proletariat and its party. These revolutions, and the constitution of nations in all of these countries, can only be carried out by an alliance of all democratic and national classes, a front based on the worker-peasant alliance, under the leadership of the proletariat and the proletariat’s party: the communist party.
Against Bourgeois Nationalism
Bourgeois nationalism initially served progress and historical necessity. It played a progressive role in tearing down feudalism and constituting large-scale industrial society on top of its ruins, but Stalin categorically reaffirms that bourgeois nationalism is not for the proletariat (emphasis our own):
“Whether the proletariat rallies to the banner of bourgeois nationalism depends on the degree of development of class antagonisms, on the class consciousness and degree of organization of the proletariat. The class-conscious proletariat has its own tried banner, and has no need to rally to the banner of the bourgeoisie.”
He further writes (emphasis our own):
“…the workers are interested in the complete amalgamation of all their fellow-workers into a single international army, in their speedy and final emancipation from intellectual bondage to the bourgeoisie, and in the full and free development of the intellectual forces of their brothers, whatever nation they may belong to. The workers therefore combat and will continue to combat the policy of national oppression in all its forms, from the most subtle to the most crude, as well as the policy of inciting nations against each other in all its forms. Social-Democracy3 in all countries therefore proclaims the right of nations to self-determination… The right of self-determination means that only the nation itself has the right to determine its destiny… While combating the coercion of any nation, [Social-Democracy] will uphold only the right of the nation itself to determine its own destiny, at the same time agitating against harmful customs and institutions of that nation in order to enable the toiling strata of the nation to emancipate themselves from them. The right of self-determination means that a nation may arrange its life in the way it wishes. 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 have equal rights. This, of course, does not mean that Social-Democracy will support every demand of a nation. A nation has the right even to return to the old order of things; but this does not mean that Social-Democracy will subscribe to such a decision if taken by some institution of a particular nation. The obligations of Social-Democracy, which defends the interests of the proletariat, and the rights of a nation, which consists of various classes, are two different things.”
Stalin here points out several things. First: that the proletariat has their own banner and will not subjugate themselves to the bourgeoisie. Second: that the proletariat must be welded together into a united international army. Third: that all nations have the right to determine their own destiny, without exception. Fourth: that even though nations are sovereign, communists will not support each and every national demand. Fifth, and most importantly: Stalin underscores that the foremost obligation of communists is to serve the interests of the international proletariat, even in the question regarding nations.
Stalin warns against bourgeois nationalism in all its forms, and not only the open and the vulgar, but also against all those shadowy forms that will even cloak themselves with Marxist phrases. Our history, as well as our present, is full of these forms. Bourgeois nationalism has time and time again been smuggled into the labor movement serving to divide it. Chauvinism benefits from fostering division, and in the worst case, can lead the proletariat into imperialist wars and bloodbaths. But it would be an error to be vigilant only towards the open and vulgar forms of chauvinism. Even its disguised form, which can be expressed as separatism in the defense of oppressed minorities, will serve the same motive: to destroy the proletariat’s unity and struggle.
Stalin dedicates parts of his work to the critique of the Jewish socialist league Bund, which, within the Russian Empire, organized Jewish workers and socialists in particular and with their own discipline and their own demands, partly within the Russian labor movement, and partly outside of it. Stalin shows how what initially is a justified struggle against oppression ends up with organizational division that can only serve the enemy.
The Tendency for Nations to First Form, then to Disperse
Stalin writes further (our emphasis):
“There is no doubt that in the early stages of capitalism nations become welded together. But there is also no doubt that in the higher stages of capitalism a process of dispersion of nations sets in, a process whereby a whole number of groups separate off from the nations, going off in search of a livelihood and subsequently settling permanently in other regions of the state…”
And he continues (our emphasis):
“But the unity of a nation diminishes not only as a result of migration. It diminishes also from internal causes, owing to the growing acuteness of the class struggle. In the early stages of capitalism one can still speak of a «common culture» of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But as large-scale industry develops and the class struggle becomes more and more acute, this «common culture» begins to melt away. One cannot seriously speak of the «common culture» of a nation when employers and workers of one and the same nation cease to understand each other. What «common destiny» can there be when the bourgeoisie thirsts for war, and the proletariat declares «war on war»? Can a single inter-class national union be formed from such opposed elements?”
In this way, Stalin points out that the development of nations within the bourgeois epoch can be divided into an earlier stage and a higher stage, which corresponds with capitalism’s early and higher stages. The tendency in the early stage is a merging, a constitution, of nations, and the tendency in the higher stage is a dissolution of nations. Of course, there exist tendencies that contradict this direction. There are tendencies towards dissolution in the first phase, and there are also tendencies towards merging in the higher stage. But Stalin points out the principal tendencies, and how the two stages differentiate themselves from each other.
How does Stalin’s description harmonize with our own time, more than 100 years later? Is it not rather clear that, even though there of course exist tendencies in both directions, there is a clear tendency towards nations now beginning to dissolve? Are there not separatist groups in very many European countries? Isn’t it the case that some groups of people eventually have an enormous diaspora, as a result of migration? Do we not see a number of tendencies in which more and more states are more and more influenced by inhabitants with linguistic and cultural roots in other countries?
And not least, the revolutions and the class struggle have again and again – recall that Stalin wrote the article we have cited above in 1913(!) – torn the bourgeois national community to ribbons, to the benefit for the formation of new socialist nations. We have also seen movements and “states within states” in the form of the working class’s organizations created in their own image. In our own country, there were long periods where the working class observed May 1 and the bourgeoisie and farmers observed May 174, where the worker’s sports organizations were distinct from the bourgeoisie’s teams and where working purchased their groceries from workers cooperatives.
Furthermore, we can see how the proletariat in the world need not even unite under the red banner in order to merge more and more together, culturally speaking. We see common music and clothing, common platforms on the internet for friendship and the exchange of thoughts and dreams, and so on. In short – despite the bourgeoisie’s aggressive militarism and nationalism, the tendency towards the dissolution of the old nations is much clearer today than when Stalin wrote in 1913.
Against National Cultural Autonomy
In the question on how national minorities’ rights are to be preserved in socialist society, Stalin goes against the so-called “national personal autonomy” that Otto Bauer, Karl Renner, and the Jewish socialist league Bund were proponents of.
Stalin writes (our emphasis):
“But if national autonomy is unsuitable now, it will be still more unsuitable in the future, socialist society. Bauer’s prophecy regarding the «division of humanity into nationally delimited communities» is refuted by the whole course of development of modern human society. National barriers are being demolished and are falling, rather than becoming firmer. As early as the ‘forties Marx declared that «national differences and antagonisms between peoples are daily more and more vanishing» and that «the supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster.» The subsequent development of mankind, accompanied as it was by the colossal growth of capitalist production, the reshuffling of nationalities and the union of people within ever larger territories, emphatically confirms Marx’s thought. Bauer’s desire to represent socialist society as a «checkered picture of national unions of persons and territorial corporations» is a timid attempt to substitute for Marx’s conception of socialism a revised version of Bakunin’s conception. The history of socialism proves that every such attempt contains the elements of inevitable failure.”
This excerpt is from a polemic against Otto Bauer. He was an Austrian social democrat and one of the founders of the so-called “Austro-Marxism”. This was a variant of social democratic right-opportunism, a form of revisionism, which developed itself in Austria5. This direction inspired later “Eurocommunists” and others who have claimed to have formed a “third way” between social democracy and communism. Bauer’s first book from 1907 regarded the labor movement and the national question, and it is against the ideas from this book that Stalin writes his polemic. Bauer’s standpoint was shared with the Austrian Karl Renner and the Jewish league Bund. Their standpoint for “national personal autonomy” was that national minorities should be organized into autonomous cultural units, not based on geography, but rather as associations of persons.
The Russian Bundist Vladmir Medem concretized this line such that in a country with several nationalities, each nationality would organize a particular association, and that each citizen would join this organization that corresponded with their nationality. These would host cultural assemblies in regions and also cultural assemblies on country level. These assemblies would then either themselves collect taxes from their members, or the state would distribute tax money to these entities. Each citizen would belong to such organizations and would decide this for themselves, as a personal choice. The organizations were to be subject to the state’s laws, but also have their own autonomous responsibilities.
It appears as if the Norwegian Sami Parliament is by and large organized in line with this thought, but a complete solution would demand an “ethnic Norwegian” assembly as well, along with, at the very least, an assembly for Kven people, Finnish people, and Jews. Perhaps Muslims or Somalians, or other groups as well.
Stalin referred to Bauer’s line as a revised version of the anarchist Bakunin’s thoughts, and said that this is a model that leads to the dissolution and division of the proletariat and its organizations, and that it therefore was a line for defeat. Stalin writes that this thinking was at the end of the day a form of nationalism which was at odds with internationalism.
Stalin writes (our emphasis):
“True, such nationalism is not so transparent, for it is skilfully masked by socialist phrases, but it is all the more harmful to the proletariat for that reason. We can always cope with open nationalism, for it can easily be discerned. It is much more difficult to combat nationalism when it is masked and unrecognizable beneath its mask. Protected by the armour of socialism, it is less vulnerable and more tenacious. Implanted among the workers, it poisons the atmosphere and spreads harmful ideas of mutual distrust and segregation among the workers of the different nationalities.”
And further (our emphasis):
“On the contrary, it is the duty of Social-Democracy to conduct such agitation and to endeavour to influence the will of nations so that the nations may arrange their affairs in the way that will best correspond to the interests of the proletariat. For this reason Social-Democracy, while fighting for the right of nations to self-determination, will at the same time agitate, for instance, against the secession of the Tatars, or against cultural-national autonomy for the Caucasian nations…”
That is, to underscore Stalin’s point, it is the case that even if communists fight for the right to a nation’s self-determination, we will in a number of cases go against secession and always against the principle of “cultural-national autonomy”. The principle that guides us is not only the nation’s right to determine its own destiny, but principally the interests of the proletariat. Stalin, in similarity to Lenin, underscores again and again the nation’s right to self-determination, and categorically rejects all force applied against nations that violate this right, but they nonetheless do not advocate for states to dissolve into the smallest possible units. On the contrary, they supported the assembly of nations in a league, like that of the Soviet Union for instance.
We maintain that Stalin’s thought on “national personal autonomy” is relevant in other questions than the national question as well. The identity politics and postmodernist tendency in our time has its ideological roots in similar thought as that of people like Bauer and Bund. They dissolve the unity of the proletariat, but also stand for the idea that “only Jews can represent Jews” or “only Black people can speak for Blacks”. The demand for “representation” based on everything other than one class lays the basis for petit bourgeoisies of different nationalities or “identities» being the only ones who can speak for their respective section of the masses, instead of the proletariat organizing itself in one party and uniting themselves in a united movement. Identity politics distorts anti-racism into racism, and feminism into anti-feminism – in the same way that the Bundist line against national oppression became nationalism.
As a correct resolution to the problem, in contrast to Bauer and Bund’s standpoints, Stalin raises the regional self-governance within a democratic state formation.
For Regional Autonomy and Democracy
Regional autonomy differentiates itself from the national-cultural personal autonomy by using geographic areas and different degrees of self-governance within them as its starting point, and not “all individuals” who belong to a nationality or group of peoples. For instance, within the Russian Soviet Republic, which itself was a member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, there were a total of 16 autonomous republics, 5 autonomous oblasts, and 10 autonomous regions. Examples of this include: the autonomous Tatar republic, the Kirghiz autonomous republic, the Dagestan autonomous republic, and the Jewish autonomous oblast.
In short, the Bolshevik line was fiercely in favor of having different forms of autonomy based on nationality and culture, but then as geographic federal subjects. These republics, oblasts, and regions could for instance have their own official languages. Several peoples within Russia and the Soviet Union got, for the first time, their own written language only after the Russian revolution with the aid of Soviet power and the line of liberation of the nations. Before this, the [non-russian] peoples were brutally oppressed by the Russian Tsarist state and Greater Russian chauvinism.
In a Norwegian context, this might result in parts of the country becoming autonomous Sami administrative units. Instead of a Sami Parliament with very limited power, but elected by Sami people throughout the entire country, it would mean a Sami Regional Council with much more political power, but limited to a smaller region6.
Stalin writes (our emphasis is underlined; all other emphasis original):
“Thus, regional autonomy is an essential element in the solution of the national question. Of course, not one of the regions constitutes a compact, homogeneous nation, for each is interspersed with national minorities. Such are the Jews in Poland, the Letts in Lithuania, the Russians in the Caucasus, the Poles in the Ukraine, and so on. It may be feared, therefore, that the minorities will be oppressed by the national majorities. But there will be grounds for fear only if the old order continues to prevail in the country. Give the country complete democracy and all grounds for fear will vanish.”
And further (our emphasis is underline; all other emphasis original):
“Thus, equal rights of nations in all forms (language, schools, etc.) is an essential element in the solution of the national question. Consequently, a state law based on complete democratization of the country is required, prohibiting all national privileges without exception and every kind of disability or restriction on the rights of national minorities.”
Stalin underscores, in other words, that regional autonomy within a true democracy is a prerequisite for the liberation of nations. And he points out that the right to speak one’s own language, to develop one’s own culture, and access to schools for national minorities is a part of the democratic rights of national minorities. We wish to underscore that this must of course not only be practiced in regional units, but also that the nationalities’ rights must be guaranteed throughout the entire country.
There is a myth that Stalin and the Bolsheviks stood for a policy of assimilation in the Soviet Union. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the Russian revolution led to the smashing of the old oppressive Russian Empire, and to the constitution of a number of free [socialist] nations expressed in Soviet Republics, and several different forms of regional autonomy. Many nationalities and peoples that had been cowed within the Russian Empire were able, for the first time, to formulate their own written language, speak their own languages at school, and cultures were developed that were national in form and socialist in content.
Organizing the Movement on the Basis of Internationalism
Stalin continues (our emphasis is underlined; all other emphasis original):
“We know where the demarcation of workers according to nationalities leads to. The disintegration of a united workers’ party, the splitting of trade unions according to nationalities, aggravation of national friction, national strikebreaking, complete demoralization within the ranks of Social-Democracy – such are the results of organizational federalism. This is eloquently borne out by the history of Social-Democracy in Austria and the activities of the Bund in Russia. The only cure for ‘this is organization on the basis of internationalism. To unite locally the workers of all nationalities of Russia into single, integral collective bodies, to unite these collective bodies into a single party – such is the task. It goes without saying that a party structure of this kind does not preclude, but on the contrary presumes, wide autonomy for the regions within the single integral party.”
And further (our emphasis is underlined; all other emphasis original):
“There is no middle course: principles triumph, they do not «compromise.» Thus, the principle of international solidarity of the workers is an essential element in the solution of the national question.”
Stalin here goes against those who wish for “their own” parties or labor unions for workers from the individual nationalities in Russia. Instead, he put forth the principle of organizing on the basis of internationalism. We must keep in mind that Stalin reached this conclusion within a “prisonhouse of nations”, as Tsarist Russia was for all non-Russian nationalities and peoples of the empire. Stalin, a Georgian, was by no means a Great Russian-chauvinist, nor was Lenin. They were internationalists, and they fought fiercely against Russian chauvinism, but without falling into organization federalism and the splitting of workers according to nationality.
This remains a very relevant question. In all countries with national oppression, there will be spontaneous tendencies in the direction of demarcation on the basis of nationality. As an answer to chauvinism and national oppression, particular nationalist organizing might grow forth and [their representatives] insist on federalist principles in organizing. They can manifest from the “left”, and behind red banners with Marxist phrases. Stalin meets this direction with uncompromising internationalism, and with uniting the proletariat in one united party: today the Maoist [and Militarized] Communist Party.
A more recent example is given by the split in the Marxist-Leninist movement in the US in the 1960s and 70s, where nationalist tendencies created their own “communist parties” for particular minorities. Today, Maoists in the US have declared that their task is to reconstitute the Communist Party of the USA. Like Stalin, they make internationalism their basis. They fight uncompromisingly against racism and national oppression, they fight for the right to national self-determination and full democratic rights for all minorities, but again without falling victim to identity politics and nationalism that seeks to make splits via demands for separatism, “representation”, and federalism.
The so-called new communist movement in Western Europe and North America in the 1960s and 70s was plagued by confusion, errors, and shortcomings when it came to the treatment of the national question. Instead of taking Lenin and Stalin as their starting point, they fell for petit bourgeois nationalism and a purely superficial understanding of the Marxist lesson of the national and colonial question. A number of Marxist-Leninists learned Stalin’s definition of a nation, but never went further in their study of the question. Therefore, there are many examples from the past 50 years of “Marxist-Leninist” parties and organizations that went over to separatism, chauvinism, or completely dissolved as a result of their deviation in this question.
In the text “Report on the National Question” dated April 29, 1917 (that is, a few months before the Russian revolution), Stalin writes (our emphasis):
“We have still to settle the question of how to organize the proletariat of the various nations into a single, common party. One plan is that the workers should be organized on national lines—so many nations, so many parties. That plan was rejected by the Social-Democrats. Experience has shown that the organization of the proletariat of a given state on national lines tends only to destroy the idea of class solidarity. All the proletarians of all the nations in a given state must be organized in a single, indivisible proletarian collective.”
Stalin further summarizes his line in the same report (our emphasis):
“a) Recognition of the right of nations to secession;
b) Regional autonomy for nations remaining within the given state;
c) Special legislation guaranteeing freedom of development for national minorities;
d) A single, indivisible proletarian collective, a single party, for the proletarians of all nationalities of the given state.”
In this way, he identifies four immortal principles in organizing the proletarian revolution, a crystal clear part of doctrine for how communists must relate to the national question in the revolutionary movement and in regards to the new state.
Imperialism and the Movement Against National Oppression
Stalin writes further (our emphasis):
“There is a movement for independence in Ireland. On whose side are we, comrades? We are either for Ireland or for British imperialism. And I ask: Are we on the side of the peoples which are resisting oppression, or on the side of the classes which are oppressing them? We say that inasmuch as the Social-Democrats are steering for a socialist revolution, they must support the revolutionary movement of the peoples, which is directed against imperialism. Either we consider that we must create a rear for the vanguard of the socialist revolution in the shape of the peoples which are rising against national oppression — and in that case we shall build a bridge between West and East and shall indeed be steering for a world socialist revolution; or we do not do this—and in that case we shall find ourselves isolated and shall be abandoning the tactics of utilizing every revolutionary movement among the oppressed nationalities for the purpose of destroying imperialism. We must support every movement directed against imperialism. Otherwise what will the Finnish workers say of us? Pyatakov and Dzerzhinsky tell us that every national movement is a reactionary movement. That is not true, comrades. Is not the Irish movement against British imperialism a democratic movement which is striking a blow at imperialism? And ought we not to support that movement?”
In the text “World-Wide Significance of the October Revolution” published in Pravda no. 241 and 250 on November 6 and 19, 1918, Stalin writes (our emphasis):
“Thus, from the particular question of combating national oppression, the national question is evolving into the general question of emancipating the nations, colonies and semi-colonies from imperialism. The mortal sin of the Second International and its leader, Kautsky, consists, incidentally, in the fact that they have always gone over to the bourgeois conception of national self-determination, that they have never understood the revolutionary meaning of the latter, that they were unable or unwilling to put the national question on the revolutionary footing of an open fight against imperialism, that they were unable or unwilling to link the national question with the question of the emancipation of the colonies. The obtuseness of the Austrian Social-Democrats of the type of Bauer and Renner consists in the fact that they have not understood the inseparable connection between the national question and the question of power, that they tried to separate the national question from politics and to confine it to cultural and educational questions, forgetting the existence of such «trifles» as imperialism and the colonies enslaved by imperialism.”
And furthermore (our emphasis is underline; all other emphasis original):
“The great world-wide significance of the October Revolution chiefly consists in the fact that:
1) It has widened the scope of the national question and converted it from the particular question of combating national oppression in Europe into the general question of emancipating the oppressed peoples, colonies and semi-colonies from imperialism;
2) It has opened up wide possibilities for their emancipation and the right paths towards it, has thereby greatly facilitated the cause of the emancipation of the oppressed peoples of the West and the East, and has drawn them into the common current of the victorious struggle against imperialism;
3) It has thereby erected a bridge between the socialist West and the enslaved East, having created a new front of revolutions against world imperialism, extending from the proletarians of the West, through the Russian revolution, to the oppressed peoples of the East.”
From these short excerpts, and the context in which they were originally written, we can point out some standpoints that will have consequences for communists’ line today. First: Stalin emphatically maintains that either one supports the oppressed and colonized peoples in their struggles for liberation, or one supports imperialism. Second: he maintains that we must support all movements that fight against imperialism. Third: he maintains that one cannot separate the question of nations from the question of power, that is political power. The national question is a political question and it is a deviation to treat it as a purely cultural question.
What consequences does this have, if we are to draw some logical conclusions for communists in Norway today? To start with the last point, it means that for the imperialist nations, that is nations that are already constituted and have won their independence, there is no longer a national question that must be resolved! To the degree that there are exceptions, we may perhaps speak on cultural questions, for instance US cultural imperialism that “threatens” the French or Norwegian language, but it is not really a question of power. The dominating nation in an imperialist state is by definition politically liberated. The question of power is resolved, to that nation’s benefit. On the contrary, the national question and the national movement in the higher stage of capitalism grows forth as a movement for liberation from imperialism, but then only in the oppressed nations. Their struggle against imperialism, against colonial and semi-colonial oppression, is justified, and must be uncompromisingly supported by the proletariat’s party. This goes for all movements that fight against imperialism, and either one supports them, or one supports the imperialists.
In Stalin’s three points on the October Revolution’s significance on these questions, he lays the basis for what would later be developed by Chairman Mao and Chairman Gonzalo, and what the Communist Party of Peru formulates in the “International Line” (our emphasis is underlined; all other emphasis original):
“There are two currents that operate in the international Communist movement: The international proletarian movement and the national liberation movement. The first leads and the second is the base.”
And further (our emphasis):
“[The national liberation movement] is waged in the oppressed nations against imperialism and reaction. In the first decade of this century, Lenin paid close attention to the struggles in India, China, and Iran. He expounded that the socialist revolution would not be only and exclusively of the proletariat against its bourgeoisie, but also of all the colonies against their oppressors. He said there is a fusion of two forces, the international proletarian movement and the national liberation movement and, that the weight of the masses in the oppressed nations constitutes most of the population in the world and shall be decisive in the world revolution… Developing Marx, Lenin laid the foundations of the strategy for world revolution to undermine imperialism, link the struggle of the national liberation movement with the struggles of the international proletarian movement, and to develop the revolution. If the slogan for Communists is “Proletarians of all countries, Unite!,” he put forth the slogan that should guide the struggle of the two forces: “Proletarians of all countries and peoples of the world, Unite!” Chairman Mao Tse-tung developed Lenin’s strategy centering on the transcendental importance the national liberation movement has for the world revolution since imperialism fleeces more and more from the oppressed nations, which in turn rise-up in powerful revolutionary storms that should be led by their Communist parties. Thus, the national liberation movement is grounded on the international proletarian movement and these two forces propel the development of world history. Chairman Gonzalo teaches us that the strategy that we Communists must unfold should start from the foundations laid down by Lenin and developed by Chairman Mao.”
In this way, the Communist Party of Peru formulates communists’ further and deeper understanding of the bridge between the proletarian revolution, that is the socialist revolution, and the national liberation movements, that is the new democratic revolution, understood as two currents in one and the same movement: the proletarian world revolution.
Away with the Myth of Norway as a Victim of Imperialism
Is it possible on this basis for one to speak of national liberation of a country like Norway, the way some “Marxist-Leninists” have done and continue to do? If so, should there not therefore be a national-democratic revolution on the agenda? It is typical to portray the US as oppressing Norway, but is it meaningful to view Norway as an oppressed nation? Was the bourgeois-democratic and national revolution in Norway not fulfilled in 1905? If it was, would this not mean that the question of power has already been resolved? Our answer is that there is no foothold to be found in what Stalin has written to support a national liberation of Norway. Such a standpoint can do nothing other than to either create confusion or, in the worst case, lead to a complete transition to social chauvinism – the way a number of old Marxist-Leninists have done under the black flag of Pål Steigan7.
These are harsh words, but comrades who feel that this hits close to home should know that those who are signing this article, to smaller or larger degrees, are also hit hard by this criticism. In some way this is a self-criticism from comrades who have themselves made errors in this question after having been fostered in the Norwegian Marxist-Leninist movement’s confusion and social patriotic understanding of the national question. This was a movement [with important exceptions] that in the EEC struggle prior to the 1972 referendum, and in the question of a third world war and the threat of Soviet social imperialism succumbed to vulgar patriotic rhetoric and politics. AKP(m-l)8 was often self-portrayed, deliberately and with full knowledge and intention, as the “true patriots» who accused the bourgeoisie of “selling out Norway”.
An example of the confusion is the fact that AKP(m-l), in their most left-oriented program (1976) had on one hand defined Norway as imperialist, but on the other written:
“Norway is a victim of imperialism. Since Norway won independence in 1905, there has always been a great deal of foreign imperialist property in Norway. American, British, French, Swedish, and other imperialist capitals have plundered Norway’s natural riches and exploited labour power in Norway…”
All imperialists compete, and in this way they can, as capitalists have always attempted to do, make a profit at others’ expense. Trade capitalists can claim a portion of the surplus value of industrial capitalists. Monopoly capitalists can, by virtue of the power of their monopoly position, claim a portion of the surplus value from non-monopolistic capitalists. The latter is a clear tendency and a characteristic of imperialism, that is that of capitalism’s highest stage. A stage that Lenin said could be characterized quite simply as monopoly capitalism. But does this mean that Norway is a victim of imperialism? If so, then all imperialists, including the USA, England, and France, are also “victims” of imperialism! US imperialism even portrays itself, under the leadership of Donald Trump, as a victim of Chinese imperialism. Does this really make sense? Should communists in the US unite themselves with this vulgar fascistoid rhetoric?
This would be completely at odds with what Stalin and the other classics of Marxism have taught us. Marxism’s classics seize the principal side and maintain that imperialists are not victims. A thief who comes home to find that there has been a break-in in their apartment cannot go to the police and report that “their own” stolen items have been stolen, and then claim compensation from an insurance company.
Imperialist Norway’s possessions are all based on the imperialist system in which imperialists plunder the oppressed nations. Fighting over these spoils is a fight among robbers, just as Lenin branded imperialist war as a war of robbers. In the same way that Lenin demanded that genuine revolutionaries take a position in opposition to “their own” bourgeoisie in the imperialist war, Norwegian communists cannot take a position in favor of “their own” bourgeoisie against neither Yankee, British, French, or Swedish (!) imperialism. Such a position can lead only one way: to betrayal [of the international proletariat] and a transition into social patriotism.
Social patriotism means socialism in words, but nationalism in practice. It is opportunism’s transition to chauvinism, with its foremost [historical] example in the social democratic leaders’ betrayal against internationalism in 1914 when WWI broke out. Social patriotism means that nations struggle against nations, with the servile support of opportunism, and to the proletariat’s subjugation under bourgeois interest and bourgeois political leadership. It is a prostration before bourgeois nationalism.
Even in the communist league Tjen Folket, there was a serious deviation in this direction, where the league advocated for patriotism. This was inherited from the Marxist-Leninist movement [of AKP (m-l)], but parallels can also be found in Peder Furubotn and NKP [The Communist Party of Norway], and even among people like Ottar Brox and others in SV [Socialist Left Party (Norway)] and of course AP [Labour Party (Norway)]. In other words, this has been a strong tendency among the Norwegian left. We find the same social patriotic tendency in other European and North American countries, for instance in the “CPUSA” and the Swedish “Kommunistiska Partiet”. The common denominator is that the national question is separated from the question of power and the question of imperialism, and that a depiction of a progressive nationalism from the “left” is formed.
These left-nationalists have the idea that one can embrace the bourgeois nation, the imperialist nation, and advance its interests, without this leading to an embrace of the bourgeois imperialist state and its interests. In practice, this becomes an impossible exercise. That becomes clear when one supports Norwegian monopoly capitalist companies against foreign ones, when one wishes to strengthen the military apparatus in the name of the nation, and when one celebrates the constitution or embraces “Norwegian values”. Furthermore, it also comes forth rather clearly in immigration opposition. To the degree that they talk only about culture, they advance a classless understanding of the nation, and idealistic ideas about Norwegian values.
Furthermore, there is this idea on the Norwegian left that Norwegian nationalism is qualitatively different from all other nationalisms. In fact, not even the idea that it is “special” is actually special. For instance, in France and the US, two of the world’s foremost imperialists, there are powerful portrayals of a particularly progressive US-American or French patriotism. Even in the UK, one can find nationalism and the defense of “British jobs” not only in the Labour Party, but even among the Trotskyist Socialist Party and the “Marxist-Leninist” CPBML [not to be confused with the CPGB-ML]. The infamous CPGB-ML ended up supporting the racist Nigel Farange’s Brexit Party in the last elections, and they are outspoken opponents of Scottish independence. Within the German Die Linke, people like Wagenknecht spout an immigration-critical line “to combat right populism”. In short: As many imperialist countries have their social patriots today as they did in 1914. There is nothing special about this. It is a rule, rather than an exception, that opportunists in the imperialist countries evolve into chauvinism, just as Lenin describes in his work Imperialism.
This kind of nationalism on the “left” might seem absurd, especially in the case of the US, but it is not certain that revolutionaries in other countries find a Norwegian nationalism from the “left” any less tasteless. How absurd must it be for Afghans, Libyans, Filipinos, and Estonian and Polish working class people if Norwegian communists were to refer to Norway, one of the world’s richest countries in absolute terms, as a victim of imperialism? The Norway of Equinor, Statkraft, Aker, Orkla, and Hydro, the Norway of NATO-Stoltenberg, Libya bombing Norway, Afghanistan occupying Norway – a victim of imperialism? Also to us it is absurd.
“Successful struggle against exploitation requires that the proletariat be free of nationalism, and be absolutely neutral, so to speak, in the fight for supremacy that is going on among the bourgeoisie of the various nations. If the proletariat of any one nation gives the slightest support to the privileges of its “own” national bourgeoisie, that will inevitably rouse distrust among the proletariat of another nation; it will weaken the international class solidarity of the workers and divide them, to the delight of the bourgeoisie.”
This is a crystal clear guidance on how communists must regard themselves to the question of Norway as a “victim of imperialism” and to the struggle between Norwegian capitalists and foreign capitalists. There cannot, if one puts Lenin’s line at the basis of one’s analysis, be any room for the defense of Norwegian capital against foreign imperialism.
This of course does not mean that we position ourselves as indifferent towards privatization or environmentally destructive activities that benefit only monopoly capital. Communists consequently fight for the masses’ welfare and against capital’s plundering of people and the environment. We are against British railroad companies within the railways and Swedish companies within the education and healthcare sector not because they are British or Swedish and that we would rather prefer Norwegian capitalists, but because we are against budget cuts and the attacks on the welfare of the masses.
We underscore in this context that we do not seek an antagonistic struggle with comrades who we believe to have errors and shortcomings in the question of Norwegian nationalism “from the left”. Some of us have ourselves made what we believe today to be grave errors in this question. We can therefore not take an arrogant and complacent position. We wish for an honest and open discussion with such comrades. It is our hope that they will enrich their understanding on this subject with Marxism’s classics. And we know for sure that these comrades, if they are truly comrades, are already irreconcilably opposed to racism and Norwegian imperialist war. We speak therefore not about an antagonistic contradiction with these comrades, but rather a contradiction among the people that should be the starting point of a discussion among friends.
In such a discussion, we see little value in bringing up Lenin’s article “On the National Pride of the Great Russians”, Stalin’s guidelines on the sovereignty for even capitalists countries in 1945 (directed towards Yankee-imperialism’s maneuvers for establishing themselves as the hegemonic superpower), or Mao’s texts on communists in China needing to be both internationalists and patriots. An imperialist nation is not an oppressed country in the Third World. We must differentiate between 1914, 1945, and 2020. We are not writing on national pride or warm feelings for the masses of peoples’ history. We must base ourselves on the principles that have been crystal clear for the communist classics: internationalism is the spirit of communism. And we must, at the same time, be aware of context and the correct [particular] tactics. If we have the ability to unite a firmness of principles with flexibility in tactics we have been successful in our function as communists.
We also underscore, as a conclusion in this topic, that we do not wage a struggle against Norwegian language, traditional clothing, traditional music, or other such expressions of Norwegian culture. In a number of instances, there are examples of pre-capitalist traditions that have their origins amongst the masses of people, and not the bourgeoisie. To turn the struggle against nationalism into a question of such expressions would also be an example of the national question being reduced to a question of culture and not focusing on political power.
Two Types of Nations – Bourgeois and Socialist
In the text “The National Question and Leninism”, Stalin writes an answer to comrades Meshkov, Kovalchuk, and others in a great debate on this question. The text is dated March 18, 1929, and synthesizes a further development of the Marxist theory of nations. Stalin writes (our emphasis):
“You assert that nations arose and existed before capitalism. But how could nations have arisen and existed before capitalism, in the period of feudalism, when countries were split up into separate, independent principalities, which, far from being bound together by national ties, emphatically denied the necessity for such ties? Your erroneous assertions notwithstanding, there were no nations in the pre-capitalist period, nor could there be, because there were as yet no national markets and no economic or cultural national centres, and, consequently, there were none of the factors which put an end to the economic disunity of a given people and draw its hitherto disunited parts together into one national whole.
Of course, the elements of nationhood—language, territory, common culture, etc.—did not fall from the skies, but were being formed gradually, even in the precapitalist period. But these elements were in a rudimentary state and, at best, were only a potentiality, that is, they constituted the possibility of the formation of a nation in the future, given certain favourable conditions. The potentiality became a reality only in the period of rising capitalism, with its national market and its economic and cultural centres.”
And furthermore (our emphasis):
“That is how matters stand with regard to the rise of the so-called «modern» nations… Such nations must be qualified as bourgeois nations. Examples are the French, British, Italian, North-American and other similar nations. The Russian, Ukrainian, Tatar, Armenian, Georgian and other nations in Russia were likewise bourgeois nations before the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviet system in our country.
Naturally, the fate of such nations is linked with the fate of capitalism; with the fall of capitalism, such nations must depart from the scene.
It is precisely such bourgeois nations that Stalin’s pamphlet Marxism and the National Question has in mind when it says that «a nation is not merely a historical category but a historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism,» that «the fate of a national movement, which is essentially a bourgeois movement, is naturally bound up with the fate of the bourgeoisie,» that «the final disappearance of a national movement is possible only with the downfall of the bourgeoisie,» and that «only under the reign of socialism can peace be fully established.»”
And further (our emphasis):
“That is how matters stand with regard to the bourgeois nations.
But there are other nations. These are the new, Soviet nations, which developed and took shape on the basis of the old, bourgeois nations after the overthrow of capitalism in Russia, after the elimination of the bourgeoisie and its nationalist parties, after the establishment of the Soviet system.
The working class and its internationalist party are the force that cements these new nations and leads them. An alliance between the working class and the working peasantry within the nation for the elimination of the survivals of capitalism in order that socialism may be built triumphantly; abolition of the survivals of national oppression in order that the nations and national minorities may be equal and may develop freely; elimination of the survivals of nationalism in order that friendship may be knit between the peoples and internationalism firmly established; a united front with all oppressed and unequal nations in the struggle against the policy of annexation and wars of annexation, in the struggle against imperialism—such is the spiritual, and social and political complexion of these nations.
Such nations must be qualified as socialist nations.
These new nations arose and developed on the basis of old, bourgeois nations, as a result of the elimination of capitalism—by their radical transformation on socialist lines. Nobody can deny that the present socialist nations of the Soviet Union—the Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Tatar, Bashkir, Uzbek, Kazakh, Azerbaijanian, Georgian, Armenian and other nations— differ radically from the corresponding old, bourgeois nations of the old Russia both in class composition and spiritual complexion and in social and political interests and aspirations.
Such are the two types of nations known to history.”
Here, Stalin put forth the theory of the fundamental difference between bourgeois and socialist nations. This is an understanding that has been completely absent in the Norwegian Marxist-Leninist movement, but which has not always been “forgotten” by Norwegian communists. In relation to the struggle against the right opportunist Peder Furubotn in 1949, the Communist Party of Norway directed hard blows against his bourgeois nationalism. In a speech held by the chairman Emil Løvlien at the party’s congress in 1950, later printed in the pamphlet “The Party’s Consolidation and the Break with the Second Center”, he says the following (our translation):
“First, it is now clear that Furubotn’s definition of the concept of nations is in contradiction with Marxism’s definition. The classic definition of the concept of nation is given by Stalin… in 1913… 16 years later, Stalin writes the article “The National Problem and Leninism” [sic] where he further develops his theory. Stalin here talks about bourgeois and socialist nations… [there can] be no doubt that the Norwegian nation in capitalist Norway is a bourgeois nation and not a socialist nation. And Stalin writes in his article in 1929 regarding this. He reveals the bourgeois nationalists that did not acknowledge other nations than the bourgeois ones and would not realize that the national question must be subordinated under the primary question for every socialist: the struggle for the working class’s victory, the victory of socialism.”
Løvlien further states that there is a fundamental difference between bourgeois and socialist nations and that (our translation):
“Class contradictions put their stamp on the whole bourgeois nation. In the bourgeois nations, there is no social unity, no common national consciousness, and no common national culture. Every class within the bourgeois nation has their own class consciousness. Lenin says that within every bourgeois nation, there exists “two nations”: exploiters and exploited.”
Løvlien writes that the socialist nations are established on the ruins of the bourgeois nations and he writes further (our translation):
“The labor movement must wage an uncompromising struggle against the bourgeois nationalism that will separate people from each other and create animosity between them.”
We do not have much to add to this presentation, but we emphasize that the question of bourgeois and socialist nations has not been afforded any focus in studies and discussions among revolutionaries in Norway in the last 50 years. Stalin’s theory was silently ignored by the Norwegian “Marxist-Leninist movement” [in the 70thies], even though the NKP acknowledged its importance in 1950. What function does this avoidance have? It is obvious to us that it has contributed in strengthening bourgeois nationalism. It has been as Løvlien maintained: that one has only looked at and acknowledged the bourgeois nations, and this has contributed to rally socialists around the banner of bourgeois nationalism, for instance in the struggles regarding the EU referendums in 1972 and 19949.
We will not in this article open a discussion on what would have been a correct line on the struggle over EU membership. Communists are of course opponents of this imperialist alliance under German-French leadership. This alliance is an alliance of imperialists, against the world’s poorest, against the world’s oppressed peoples, and against European semi-colonies (primarily in Eastern and Central Europe). It is a bourgeois alliance against the proletariat. Any way, we maintain that the correct form of struggle against this alliance cannot happen under a Norwegian flag and under the leadership of Norwegian agricultural monopoly capital, as it was carried out especially in 1994, although we will not go further on this question, as it is not part of the main theme of this text.
In conclusion, we must also note that the Norwegian nation is not only a bourgeois nation, but also an imperialist nation. Even though it is a relatively small country, Norway has been one of the world’s imperialist countries for a very long time. Norwegian vessels have taken part in the plunder of colonies for hundreds of years, and this has contributed in laying the basis for Norwegian monopoly capital and Norwegian imperialism. What does this mean for the development of the nation? What particular characteristics does an imperialist nation have? What consequences does this have for the national question? It is high time that communists in Norway investigate this.
The National Question in Different Epochs of Socialism’s Victory
Stalin writes (our emphasis):
“You commit a grave error in putting a sign of equality between the period of the victory of socialism in one country and the period of the victory of socialism on a world scale, in asserting that the disappearance of national differences and national languages, the merging of nations and the formation of one common language, are possible and necessary not only with the victory of socialism on a world scale, but also with the victory of socialism in one country. Moreover, you confuse entirely different things: «the abolition of national oppression» with «the elimination of national differences,» «the abolition of national state barriers» with «the dying away of nations,» with «the merging of nations.»
It must be pointed out that for Marxists to confuse these diverse concepts is absolutely impermissible. National oppression in our country was abolished long ago, but it by no means follows from this that national differences have disappeared and that nations in our country have been eliminated. National state barriers, together with frontier guards and customs, were abolished in our country long ago, but it by no means follows from this that the nations have already become merged and that the national languages have disappeared, that these languages have been supplanted by some one language common to all our nations.”
And further (our emphasis is underlined; all other emphasis original):
“The period of the victory of socialism on a world scale differs from the period of the victory of socialism in one country primarily in the fact that it will abolish imperialism in all countries, will abolish both the striving to subjugate other nations and the fear inspired by the menace of national enslavement, will radically undermine national distrust and national enmity, will unite the nations into one world socialist economic system, and will thus create the real conditions necessary for the gradual merging of all nations into one.
Such is the fundamental difference between these two periods.
But it follows from this that to confuse these two different periods and to lump them together is to commit an unpardonable mistake.”
And (our emphasis):
“It would be incorrect to think that after the defeat of world imperialism national differences will be abolished and national languages will die away immediately, at one stroke, by decree from above, so to speak. Nothing is more erroneous than this view. To attempt to bring about the merging of nations by decree from above, by compulsion, would be playing into the hands of the imperialists, it would spell disaster to the cause of the liberation of nations, and be fatal to the cause of organising co-operation and fraternity among nations. Such a policy would be tantamount to a policy of assimilation.
You know, of course, that the policy of assimilation is absolutely excluded from the arsenal of Marxism-Leninism, as being an anti-popular and counter-revolutionary policy, a fatal policy.”
And finally (our emphasis):
“It would be a mistake to think that the first stage of the period of the world dictatorship of the proletariat will mark the beginning of the dying away of nations and national languages, the beginning of the formation of one common language. On the contrary, the first stage, during which national oppression will be completely abolished, will be a stage marked by the growth and flourishing of the formerly oppressed nations and national languages, the consolidation of equality among nations, the elimination of mutual national distrust, and the establishment and strengthening of international ties among nations.
Only in the second stage of the period of the world dictatorship of the proletariat, to the extent that a single world socialist economy is built up in place of the world capitalist economy—only in that stage will something in the nature of a common language begin to take shape; for only in that stage will the nations feel the need to have, in addition to their own national languages, a common international language—for convenience of intercourse and of economic, cultural and political cooperation. Consequently, in this stage, national languages and a common international language will exist side by side. It is possible that, at first, not one world economic centre will be formed, common to all nations and with one common language, but several zonal economic centres for separate groups of nations, with a separate common language for each group of nations, and that only later will these centres combine into one common world socialist economic centre, with one language common to all the nations.
In the next stage of the period of world dictatorship of the proletariat—when the world socialist system of economy becomes sufficiently consolidated and socialism becomes part and parcel of the life of the peoples, and when practice convinces the nations of the advantages of a common language over national languages—national differences and languages will begin to die away and make room for a world language, common to all nations.
Such, in my opinion, is the approximate picture-of the future of nations, a picture of the development-of the nations along the path to their merging in the-future.”
Briefly summarized, Stalin describes here, with a starting point in Lenin’s original thesis, how socialism, that is the dictatorship of the proletariat, first includes a blossoming and liberation of nations. For the oppressed nations, revolution means national liberation from imperialism and fulfillment of the formation process, that is an organization of genuinely free nations. This is the first epoch of time, where the dictatorship of the proletariat is established in one country after the other.
It is only when imperialism is defeated throughout the entire world and all the world’s socialist countries are united in a global dictatorship of the proletariat, that the merging of all the world’s peoples and nations begins [to take primacy]. Thus the luminous world communism necessitates that nations, even the socialist nations, wither away. They wither away because, as Stalin explains, it cannot be the result of an enforced assimilation from above, as this would fundamentally conflict with our ideology and the interests of the peoples of the world.
What is the alternative to the merging of nations? It is a never-ending division into nations, endless persistence of nations, or an endless cycle of new nations. One would have to ignore the fact that before there were nations, there was none, that is nations are a relatively new occurrence in the great developmental process of humanity. One would have to ignore the forceful tendency within imperialism, which is in full bloom within socialism, that is the socialization of production and all social life that ultimately rests on production. Simply put, the tendency on one hand is that people are united despite all the old divisions, and on the other hand that the old entities are dissolved into smaller units. Humanity is united and the old nations are dissolved. The logical consequence of this is the unity of humanity in world communism, including the merging of nations.
This of course does not entail that everybody becomes the same, just as the unity of people into nations has not made all of the members of the nation identical. Nor does it entail that there will not exist different customs, cultures, and even languages in different areas. Our development is from the relatively simple to the relatively complex. Perhaps communism will include even greater and more complex multitudes of variations. Communism is not without contradictions, as all that exist is unities of contradictions. But if we are to take the position of Lenin and Stalin, we must acknowledge and embrace that world communism will merge all the world’s nations together, and that this is the inevitable course of history.
Conclusion and Summary
On the basis of this review, we see that Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, with Stalin’s synthesis of the national question, has an understanding of the development of nations from beginning to end, and a line for the party’s handling of the national question in each stage and each epoch of the nations’ development. This is a synthesis that provides the origin to a line on the basis of principles.
The fundamental principle in our approach to the national question and the national movement is to subjugate ourselves to the interests of the proletariat and to internationalism.
In short, we believe that the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist view on nations and the handling of the national question can be summarized as follows:
1. Nations are stable communities of people, historically constituted on the basis of a common territory, language, economy, and psychological make-up (expressed in a common culture).
2. Nations are organized and constituted in capitalism’s advancing and earlier stage as bourgeois nations under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. The tendency in this stage is the unity of nations and for this unity to be reinforced.
3. In capitalism’s highest stage, that is imperialism, the tendency is for the unity of nations to be weakened as a result of the sharpening of the class struggle and other dissolving processes.
4. Imperialism hinders the constitution of nations in the oppressed nations because it hinders the development of capitalism into anything other than bureaucratic capitalism, born in the shackles of imperialism and semi-feudalism.
5. The national question in the imperialist epoch cannot be separated from the question of political power and the struggle against imperialism.
6. The national movement against imperialism in the oppressed nations is a current within the proletarian world revolution and is its main support.
7. The proletariat must lead the democratic and national revolution because the bourgeoisie is not in a position to lead it in the epoch of imperialism.
8. The national movement against imperialism finds its victory in new democratic revolutions where the oppressed nations can for the first time complete their constitution and liberation.
9. The proletarian movement and the communist parties are organized on the basis of internationalism as a movement and one party for all nations in one country, all while they are merged together into a united international movement.
10. After the victories of the socialist revolutions, each country will enter into the socialist stage where the dictatorship of the proletariat is established and is firmly established in each country.
11. In the first phase, socialist nations are formed under the leadership of the proletariat, on the ruins of the bourgeois nations. This first phase is a blossoming phase in which nations unfold themselves, liberate themselves, strengthen themselves, their language and their culture, on the basis of socialism and internationalism.
12. Socialism guarantees the right of national self-determination and handles the national question without assimilation and with regional autonomy for national minorities within a true democracy.
13. When the proletarian world revolution has swept imperialism from the face of the earth and all the world’s socialist nations are united in the global dictatorship of the proletariat, the process in which all nations are merged begins, without the use of force, in classless global communism.
This is how we must handle the national question in general, and this is how the question is resolved in the form of uncompromising principles for the revolutionary movement and the communist party.
Tjen Folket Media trenger din støtte. Vi får selvsagt ingen pressestøtte eller noen hjelp fra rike kapitalister slik som rasistiske “alternative medier”. All vår støtte kommer fra våre lesere og fra den revolusjonære bevegelsen. Vi er dypt takknemlige for dette. Vi overlever ikke uten, og du kan gjøre ditt bidrag ved å støtte oss med det du kan avse.
- Translator’s note: This book was originally published 1934, and it is a collection of articles, speeches, and extracts from such, by Stalin between 1913 and 1934. This article refers to the Norwegian version published by Oktober Forlag in 1978 consisting of 26 individual texts and extracts.
- Translator’s note: The article of 1913 was written on behalf of the Party. Stalin was given the task, inspired and guided directly by Lenin. The charlatan Trotsky has suggested that Lenin and/or Bucharin was the real author(s) behind the article. This false claim has been resirculated by some bourgeois “intellectuals”.
- Translator’s note: This, written in 1913, was before the bolshevik Party took the name Communist Party, and it was still called Social-Democratic, thus this must be understood as synonymous with the Party and movement of the international proletariat, that is the Communist Party and the International Communist Movement.
- Translator’s note: Constitution Day, the national day of Norway.
- Translator’s note: The “Austro-Marxists” was viewed as the spearhead of the “left” tendency in international Social Democracy for a period.
- Translator’s note: This is purely a thought experiment from the authors, not expression of a consolidated line of the revolutionary movement in Norway.
- Translator’s note: Former chairman of the AKP (m-l) in the period 1975–1984, today: political blogger, businessman and outspoken social patriot.
- Translator’s note: Worker’s Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) was constituted in 1973 in a premature process of Party constitution. It defined itself as guided by Mao Tse-Tung Thought and it was almost totally dominant among the Marxist-Leninist groups in Norway.
- Translator’s note: Two times the Parliament held advisory popular votes regarding membership in the EEC/EC (1972) and the EU (1994). The opposition was spearheaded by the agricultural monopoly capital and its party, the Centre Party of Norway. The movement led by MLG/AKP(m-l)/AKP, took an active part in the alliance to vote no at both occasions.