Communism and the Problem of Nationality: E.A. Preobrazhenky with Bukharin ed.:Excerpt with link

One of the forms of the oppression of man by man [sic] is the oppression of subject nationalities. Among the barriers by which human beings are separated, we have, in addition to the barriers of class, those of national disunity, of national enmity and hatred.

National enmity and ill-feeling are among the means by which the proletariat is stupefied and by which its class consciousness is dulled. The bourgeoisie knows how to cultivate these sentiments skilfully in order to promote its own interests.

*     *    *.[continued below]

This excerpt is from the book The ABC of Communism written jointly by Nikolai Bukharin and E.A. Preobrazhensky in 1919 in the height of the Russian Civil War which followed the October Revolution of 1917. According to the preface the authors divided the work and the section on national oppression was written by Preobrazhensky. Bukharin and Preobrazhenky were collaborators and friends at this stage of the revolution. They jointly occupied the beginnings of the “left opposition” and opposed the proposal supported by both Lenin and Trotsky to negotiate and sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on the grounds that it was a capitulation of the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary internationalist mission. {For the Theses on the Current Situation (1918), in which the left position toward Brest-Litovsk is defended, follow this link}

With the establishment of the New Economic Policy of 1921 in which market mechanisms and some basic property rights were reintroduced at the end of the Civil War, Preobrazhensky and Bukharin became political opponents as Bukharin sided with the more conservative elements in the Communist Party and Preobrazhensky became a leading political figure and perhaps the leading organizational figure in the Left Opposition which opposed the rising administrative power of Stalin, the closing down of debate and democratic freedom within the party and the relative conciliation of the Soviet State with the world capitalist powers. Preobrazhensky’s later writing especially The New Economics are in part a polemic against Bukharin’s conservative positions. Both Bukharin and Preobrazhenky were eventually broken politically and put to death by Stalin, Bukharin after a humiliating show trial and ‘confession’ in 1938, Preobrazhenky silently in 1937 as he refused to confess in the end.

The ABC of Communism was written to “be an elementary textbook of communist knowledge.” according to its preface. As such it lacks some of the subtlety and complexity of the later writings of Bukharin and especially Preobrazhenky; nonetheless it represents a comprehensive overview of the revolutionary communist ideas as they were promulgated in the context of an intense battle for the survival of the socialist regime during the civil war.

The links to this work are flawed as they are not complete and unfortunately cut off Preobrazhensky’s section on finance an area in which he later became an expert. They also include a maliciously erroneous biographical paragraph on Preobrazhenky in which he is stated to have made “no significant contribution” to Bolshevism, prior to meeting Bukharin. In fact Preobrazhenky was collaborating with the central leadership of the Bolsheviks, participated in the workers uprising in Presnya in 1905, was a leading underground organizer and propagandist in the Urals during the buildup to the October Revolution and was among the first Bolsheviks to rally to Lenin’s “April Theses” calling for the insurrection that brought the Soviets to power in 1917. Details of these activities can be found in his Autobiography serialized in this blog.

For the full text of N.I. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism, ‘Chapter 7’ by Preobrazhensky, follow the link below.

Chapter 7: Communism and the Problem of Nationality

” It is essential that the working class should overcome all national prejudices and national enmities. This is requisite, not only for the world-wide attack upon capital and for the complete overthrow of the capitalist system, but also for the organization of a single world-wide economic system. Soviet Russia cannot exist without Donetz coal, Baku mineral oil, Turkestan cotton; but it is just as true that Central and Western Europe cannot do without Russian wood, hemp, flax, and platinum, or without American wheat; it is just as true that Italy finds British coal a vital necessity, and that Britain urgently needs Egyptian cotton, etc., etc. The bourgeoisie has found itself unable to organize a world economy, and the bourgeois system has been shipwrecked upon this difficulty. The proletariat is alone competent to organize such a system with success. To this end, however, it must proclaim the watchword, ‘All the world and all the wealth that it contains belong to the whole world of labour.’ This watchword implies that the German workers must completely renounce their national wealth, the British theirs, and so on. If national prejudice and national greed oppose the internationalization of industry and agriculture, away with them, wherever they may show themselves and under whatever colours they may sail!

§ 57. The causes of national enmity

But it does not suffice that the communists should declare war on the oppression of nationalities and upon national prejudices, that they should advocate international unity in the struggle against capitalism, and that they should desire to found a world-wide economic alliance of the victorious proletariat. We must seek a far quicker way towards the overthrow of all jingoism and national egoism, of national stupidity and pride, of mutual mistrust among the workers of the various nations. This legacy from a brutal period of human life and from the brutal nationalist quarrel of the feudal and capitalist epochs, still hangs like a heavy burden round the neck of the world proletariat.

National enmities are of very ancient date. There was a time when the different tribes were not content with fighting one another for lands and forests, but when the men of one tribe would actually eat those of another. Remnants of this brutal mistrust and enmity between nation and nation, between race and race, continue to exist between the workers and peasants of all lands. These vestiges of intertribal enmity are gradually dying out; in proportion as world commerce develops, as economic contact ensues, as migrations and minglings bring people of various stocks into close association on the same territory; but especially do they die out owing to the universality of the class struggle of the workers of all lands. Yet these vestiges of intertribal enmity do not merely fail to become extinct, but actually glow with renewed life, when to the old causes of national ill-feeling there is superadded an antagonism of class interests or the appearance of such antagonism.

The bourgeoisie in each country exploits and oppresses the proletariat of its own land. But it does its utmost to convince its own proletariat that the latter’s enemies are not to be found among bourgeois fellow-countrymen, but among the peoples of other lands. The German bourgeoisie cries to the German workers, ‘Down with the French! Down with the English!’ The British bourgeoisie cries to the British workers, ‘Down with the Germans!’ The bourgeoisies of all countries, especially of late, join in the cry, ‘Down with the Jews!’ The aim of this is to switch off the class struggle of the workers against their capitalist oppressors, into a struggle between nationalities.

The bourgeoisie, however, in its desire to divert the workers’ minds from the struggle for socialism, is not content with inflaming national hatred. It endeavours in addition to give the workers a material interest in the oppression of other peoples. During the recent war, when the bourgeois were chanting the German national anthem ‘Germany, Germany above all’, the bourgeois economists of Germany tried to convince the German workers that the latter stood to gain a great deal from the victory, stood to gain from the oppression and plunder of the workers of the conquered lands. Before the war the bourgeoisie made a practice of bribing the leaders of the working class with the lure of the profits derivable from colonial plunder and from the oppression of backward and weakly nationalities. The workers of the more advanced European lands, acting on the instigation of the most highly paid members of the working class, acceded to the proposals of the capitalists, and allowed themselves to be talked over by the jingo socialists into accepting the belief that they too would have a fatherland if only they would acquiesce in the plunder of the colonies and of the partially dependent nations. The worker who, under capitalism, proclaims himself a patriot, is selling for a copper or two his real fatherland, which is socialism; and thereby he becomes one of the oppressors of the backward and weak nations.

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News and political commentary from the point of view of the social interests of the international working class.
This entry was posted in E.A. Preobrazhensky, Soviet/Bolshevik history, The Right of Nations to Self Determination and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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