THE REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON THE NATIONAL AND COLONIAL QUESTIONS1
A draft of this had been circulated by Lenin to leading Bolsheviks and international leaders of the communist movement and members of the interenational leadership of the Communist Interntational.
July 26, 1920
Comrades, I shall confine myself to a brief introduction, after which Comrade Maring, who was secretary of our commission, will give you a detailed account of the changes we have made in the theses. He will be followed by Comrade Roy, who formulated the supplementary theses. Our commission unanimously adopted both the preliminary theses, as amended, and the supplementary theses. We have thus reached complete unanimity on all major issues. I shall now make a few brief remarks.
First, what is the most important, the fundamental idea of our theses? The distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations. We emphasize this distinction – in diametric contrast to the Second International and bourgeois democracy. In the epoch of imperialism, it is particularly important for the proletariat and the Communist International to establish the concrete economic facts and in the solution of all colonial and national questions, to proceed not from abstract postulates but from concrete realities.
The characteristic feature of imperialism is that the whole world, as we see, is now divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressor nations, which command colossal wealth and powerful armed forces. The overwhelming majority of the world’s population, more than a thousand million people, and very probably 1,250 million – if we take the world’s total population at 1,710 million – or about seventy per cent of the world’s population, belong to the oppressed nations, which are either in a state of direct colonial dependence or are semi-colonies such as Persia, Turkey and China, or else, having been defeated by the armies of a big imperialist power, have become greatly dependent on that power by virtue of peace treaties. This idea of distinction, of dividing the nations into oppressor and oppressed, runs through all the theses, not only the first theses published earlier over my signature, but also Comrade Roy’s theses. The latter were framed chiefly from the standpoint of the situation in India and other big Asian peoples oppressed by Britain. That is what makes them very important for us.
The second guiding idea of our theses is that in the present world situation, after the imperialist war, the mutual relations between the nations, the whole world system of states, are determined by the struggle of a small group of imperialist nations against the Soviet movement and the Soviet states headed by Soviet Russia. If we let this escape us, we shall not be able correctly to pose a single national or colonial question, even if it concerns a most remote corner of the world. Only by proceeding from this point of view can the communist parties, whether in civilized or in backward countries, correctly pose and solve political questions.
Third, I should like especially to emphasize question of the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. It was this question that gave rise to some differences. We argued about whether it would be correct, in principle and in theory, to state that the Communist International and the communist parties must support the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. As a result of this discussion, we arrived at the unanimous decision to speak of the national-revolutionary movement rather than of the “bourgeois-democratic” movement. There is not the slightest doubt that every national movement can only be a bourgeois-democratic movement, for the overwhelming mass of the population in backward countries consists of peasants who represent bourgeois-capitalist relations. It would be utopian to believe that proletarian parties, if indeed they can emerge in these backward countries, could pursue communist tactics and a communist policy without establishing definite relations with the peasant movement and without giving it effective support. But here objections were raised that if we speak of the bourgeois-democratic movement, all distinction between the reformist and the revolutionary movements will be obliterated. Yet that distinction has been very clearly revealed of late in the backward and colonial countries, for the imperialist bourgeoisie is doing everything within its power to implant the reformist movement among the oppressed nations too. There has been a certain rapprochement between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonial countries, so that very often – even in most cases, perhaps – while the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries does support the national movement, it is at the same time in accord with the imperialist bourgeoisie, that is, together with the latter it fights against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes. This was irrefutably demonstrated in the commission, and we decided that the only correct thing was to take this distinction into account and in nearly all cases substitute the term “national-revolutionary” for the term “bourgeois-democratic”. The meaning of this change is that we, as Communists, should and will support bourgeois liberation movements in the colonies only when they are genuinely revolutionary, and when their exponents do not hinder our work of educating and organizing the peasantry and the broad mass of the exploited in a revolutionary spirit. If these conditions do not exist, the Communists in these countries must combat the reformist bourgeoisie, to which belong also the heroes of the Second International. Reformist parties already exist in the colonial countries, and in some cases their spokesmen call themselves Social-Democrats and Socialists. The above-mentioned distinction has now been made in all the theses with the result, I think, that our viewpoint has been formulated much more precisely.
Next, I would like to make a few remarks on peasants’ Soviets. The practical activities of the Russian Communists in the former tsarist colonies, in such backward countries as Turkestan, etc., confronted us with the question of how to apply communist tactics and policy in pre-capitalist conditions, because the chief characteristic feature of these countries is that pre-capitalist relationships still predominate, and there can therefore be no question of a purely proletarian movement. There is practically no industrial proletariat in these countries. Nevertheless, even there we have assumed, as we must assume, the role of leaders. Our work has demonstrated that colossal difficulties have to be overcome in these countries; but the practical results of our work have also shown that, despite these difficulties and even where there is practically no proletariat, it is possible to inspire in the masses the urge for independent political thought and independent political action. For us this work has been more difficult than it will be for comrades from the West-European countries, because in Russia the proletariat is overwhelmed with the work of state administration. It is quite understandable that peasants living in semi-feudal dependence can assimilate excellently the idea of Soviet organization and put it into practice. It is also clear that the oppressed masses, exploited not only by merchant capital but also by the feudalists, and by a state based on feudalism, can apply this weapon, this type of organization, in their own conditions too. The idea of Soviet organization is a simple one, and is applicable not only to proletarian, but also to peasant feudal and semi-feudal relations. Our experience in this respect is not very considerable as yet, but the debates in the commission, in which several representatives from colonial countries participated, irrefutably demonstrated that the Communist International’s theses should indicate that peasants’ Soviets, Soviets of the exploited, are a means that can be employed not only in capitalist countries, but also in countries with pre-capitalist relations, and that it is the absolute duty of communist parties, and of those persons that are prepared to found communist parties, to conduct propaganda in favour of the idea of peasants’ Soviets, or toilers’ Soviets, everywhere, backward countries and colonies included. And wherever conditions permit, they must make immediate attempts to set up Soviets of the toiling people.
This opens up a very interesting and very important field of practical work for us. So far our general experience in this respect is not particularly extensive, but gradually more and more data will accumulate. There can be no question but that the proletariat of the advanced countries can and should assist the toiling masses of the backward countries, and that the backward countries can emerge from their present stage when the victorious proletariat of the Soviet republics extends a helping hand to these masses and is in a position to render them support.
There were rather lively debates on this question in the commission, not only in connection with the theses signed by me, but still more in connection with Comrade Roy’s theses, which he will defend here, and to which certain amendments were adopted unanimously.
The question was posed as follows: Are we to accept as correct the assertion that the capitalist stage of development of the national economy is inevitable for those backward nations which are now winning liberation and in which a movement along the road of progress is to be observed since the war? We replied in the negative. If the victorious revolutionary proletariat conducts systematic propaganda among them, and the Soviet governments come to their assistance with all the means at their disposal – in that event, it would be wrong to assume that the capitalist stage of development is inevitable for the backward peoples. In all the colonies and backward countries, not only should we build independent contingents of fighters, party organizations, not only should we launch immediate propaganda for the organization of peasants’ Soviets and strive to adapt them to pre-capitalist conditions, but the Communist International should advance and theoretically substantiate the proposition that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, the backward countries can pass over to the Soviet system and, through definite stages of development, to communism, without going through the capitalist stage.
What means are necessary for this cannot be indicated beforehand. Practical experience will suggest this. But it has been definitely established that the idea of Soviets is close to the hearts of the mass of working people even of the most remote nations, that these organizations, the Soviets, should be adapted to the conditions of the pre-capitalist social system, and that the communist parties should immediately begin work in this direction in all parts of the world.
I wish also to mention the importance of revolutionary work by the communist parties not only in their own countries, but also in the colonial countries, and particularly among the troops which the exploiting nations employ to keep the peoples in their colonies in subjection.
Comrade Quelch of the British Socialist Party spoke of this in our commission. He said that the rank-and-file English worker would consider it treachery to help the enslaved nations in their revolts against British rule. True, the jingoist and chauvinist-minded labour aristocracy of England and America represents a very great danger to socialism, and is the strongest support of the Second International, and here we have to deal with the greatest treachery by the leaders and workers belonging to this bourgeois International. The colonial question was discussed in the Second International too. The Basle Manifesto also spoke of this quite clearly. The parties of the Second International pledged themselves to act in a revolutionary way, but they have given no sign of genuine revolutionary work or assistance to the exploited and dependent nations in their revolts against the oppressing nations. And this, I think, applies also to most of the parties that have withdrawn from the Second International and wish to join the Third International. This we must declare publicly, for all to hear, and it cannot be refuted. We shall see if any attempt is made to refute it.
All these considerations lay at the basis of our resolutions which, undoubtedly, are too long, but which, I trust, will nevertheless prove useful and will help the development and organization of genuine revolutionary work in connection with the colonial and national questions. And that is our principal task.
|Published in 1921 in the book The Second Congress of the Communist International, Verbatim Report, published by the Communist International, Petrograd||Printed according to the text given in the book, checked against the verbatim report in German|
1 This report was delivered by Lenin at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920.
The Commission on the National and Colonial Questions was formed by the Second Congress of the Communist International and composed of representatives of the Communist Parties of Russia, Bulgaria, France, Holland, Germany, Hungary, the U.S.A., British India, Persia, China, Korea, Britain and others. The commission carried out its work under the guidance of Lenin, whose theses on the national and colonial questions were adopted by the congress on July 28 after being discussed at its fourth and fifth sessions.
FOREIGN LANGUAGES PRESS