The Seventh (April) Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. (Bolsheviks)
April 24-29, 1917
Works, Vol. 3, March - October, 1917
Comrades, that which Bubnov proposes is provided for in Comrade Lenin's resolution. Comrade Lenin does not reject mass action, demonstrations. But this is not the point at present. The disagreement centres around the question of control. Control presumes controller and controlled, and some sort of agreement between controller and controlled. We had control and we had an agreement. What were the results of control? Nil. After Mi-lyukov's pronouncement (of April 19) its shadowy character has become particularly evident.
Guchkov says, "I regard the revolution as a means of fighting better: let us make a small revolution for the sake of a big victory." But now the army is permeated with pacifist ideas and it is impossible to fight. The government tells us, "Stop the propaganda against the war, otherwise we resign."
On the agrarian question the government is likewise unable to meet the interests of the peasants, the seizure by the latter of the landed estates. We are told, "Help us to curb the peasants, otherwise we resign."
Milyukov says, "A united front must be preserved, we must attack the enemy. Inspire the soldiers with enthusiasm, otherwise we resign."
And after this we are proposed control. It is ridiculous! At first the Soviet outlined the program, now the Provisional Government outlines it. The alliance concluded between the Soviet and the government on the day after the crisis (Milyukov's pronouncement) signifies that the Soviet is following the government. The government attacks the Soviet. The Soviet retreats. To suggest after this that the Soviet controls the government is just idle talk. That is why I propose that Bubnov's amendment on control be not accepted.
2. Report on the National Question
The national question should be the subject of an extensive report, but since time is short I must make my report brief.
Before discussing the draft resolution certain premises must be established.
What is national oppression? National oppression is the system of exploitation and robbery of oppressed peoples, the measures of forcible restriction of the rights of oppressed nationalities, resorted to by imperialist circles. These, taken together, represent the policy generally known as a policy of national oppression.
The first question is, on what classes does any particular government rely in carrying out its policy of national oppression? Before an answer to this question can be given, it must first be understood why different forms of national oppression exist in different states, why national oppression is severer and cruder in one state than in another. For instance, in Britain and Austria-Hungary national oppression has never taken the form of pogroms, but has existed in the form of restrictions on the national rights of the oppressed nationalities. In Russia, on the other hand, it not infrequently assumes the form of pogroms and massacres. In certain states, moreover, there are no specific measures against national minorities at all. For instance, there is no national oppression in Switzerland, where French, Italians and Germans all live freely.
How are we to explain the difference in attitude towards nationalities in different states?
By the difference in the degree of democracy prevailing in these states. When in former years the old landed aristocracy controlled the state power in Russia, national oppression could assume, and actually did assume, the monstrous form of massacres and pogroms. In Britain, where there is a certain degree of democracy and political freedom, national oppression is of a less brutal character. Switzerland approximates to a democratic society, and in that country the nations have more or less complete freedom. In short, the more democratic a country, the less the national oppression, and vice versa. And since by democracy we mean that definite classes are in control of the state power, it may be said from this point of view that the closer the old landed aristocracy is to power, as was the case in old tsarist Russia, the more severe is the oppression and the more monstrous are its forms.
However, national oppression is maintained not only by the landed aristocracy. There is, in addition, another force—the imperialist groups, who introduce in their own country the methods of enslaving nationalities learned in the colonies and thus become the natural allies of the landed aristocracy. They are followed by the petty bourgeoisie, a section of the intelligentsia and a section of the upper stratum of the workers, who also share the spoils of robbery. Thus, there is a whole gamut of social forces, headed by the landed and financial aristocracy, which support national oppression. In order to create a real democratic system, it is first of all necessary to clear the ground and remove these forces from the political stage. (Reads the text of the resolution.)
The first question is, how is the political life of the oppressed nations to be arranged? In answer to this question it must be said that the oppressed peoples forming part of Russia must be allowed the right to decide for themselves whether they wish to remain part of the Russian state or to secede and form independent states. We are at present witnessing a definite conflict between the Finnish people and the Provisional Government. The representatives of the Finnish people, the representatives of Social-Democracy, are demanding that the Provisional Government should restore to the people the rights they enjoyed before they were annexed to Russia. The Provisional Government refuses, because it will not recognize the sovereignty of the Finnish people. On whose side must we range ourselves? Obviously, on the side of the Finnish people, for it is inconceivable for us to accept the forcible retention of any people whatsoever within the bounds of a unitary state. When we put forward the principle that peoples have the right to self-determination we thereby raise the struggle against national oppression to the level of a struggle against imperialism, our common enemy. If we fail to do this, we may find ourselves in the position of bringing grist to the mill of the imperialists. If we, Social-Democrats, were to deny the Finnish people the right to declare their will on the subject of secession and the right to give effect to their will, we would be putting ourselves in the position of continuing the policy of tsa-rism.
It would be impermissible to confuse the question of the right of nations freely to secede with the question of whether a nation must necessarily secede at any given moment. This latter question must be settled quite separately by the party of the proletariat in each particular case, according to the circumstances. When we recognize the right of oppressed peoples to secede, the right to decide their political destiny, we do not thereby settle the question whether particular nations should secede from the Russian state at the given moment. I may recognize the right of a nation to secede, but that does not mean that I oblige it to do so. A people has the right to secede, but it may or may not exercise that right, according to the circumstances. Thus we are at liberty to agitate for or against secession in accordance with the interests of the proletariat, of the proletarian revolution. Hence, the question of secession must be determined in each particular case independently, in accordance with the existing situation, and, for this reason, recognizing the right of secession must not be confused with the expediency of secession in any given circumstances. For instance, I personally would be opposed to the secession of Transcaucasia, bearing in mind the common development in Transcaucasia and Russia, certain conditions of the struggle of the proletariat, and so forth. But if, nevertheless, the peoples of Transcaucasia were to demand secession, they would, of course, secede without encountering opposition from us. (Reads further the text of the resolution.)
Further, what is to be done with the peoples which may desire to remain within the Russian state? Whatever mistrust of Russia existed among the peoples was fostered chiefly by the tsarist policy. But now that tsarism no longer exists, and its policy of oppression no longer exists, this mistrust is bound to diminish and attraction towards Russia to increase. I believe that now, after the overthrow of tsarism, nine-tenths of the nationalities will not desire to secede. The Party therefore proposes to institute regional autonomy for regions which do not desire to secede and which are distinguished by peculiarities of customs and language, as, for instance, Transcaucasia, Turkestan and the Ukraine. The geographical boundaries of these autonomous regions must be determined by the populations themselves with due regard for economic conditions, customs, etc.
In contradistinction to regional autonomy there exists another plan, one which has long been recommended by the Bund,  and particularly by Springer and Bauer, who advocate the principle of cultural-national autonomy. I consider that plan unacceptable for Social-Democrats. Its essence is that Russia should be transformed into a union of nations, and nations into unions of persons, drawn into a common society no matter what part of the state they may be living in. All Russians, all Armenians, and so on, are to be organized into separate national unions, irrespective of territory, and only then are they to enter the union of nations of all Russia. That plan is extremely inconvenient and inexpedient. The fact is that the development of capitalism has dispersed whole groups of people, severed them from their nations and scattered them through various parts of Russia. In view of the dispersion of nations resulting from economic conditions, to draw together the various individuals of a given nation would be to organize and build a nation artificially. And to draw people together into nations artificially would be to adopt the standpoint of nationalism. That plan, advanced by the Bund, cannot be endorsed by Social-Democrats. It was rejected at the 1912 conference of our Party, and generally enjoys no popularity in Social-Democratic circles with the exception of the Bund. That plan is also known as cultural autonomy, because from among the numerous and varied questions which interest a nation it would single out the group of cultural questions and put them in the charge of national unions. The reason for singling out these questions is the assumption that what unites a nation into an integral whole is its culture. It is assumed that within a nation there are, on the one hand, interests which tend to disintegrate the nation, economic, for instance, and on the other, interests which tend to weld it into an integral whole, and that the latter interests are cultural interests.
Lastly, there is the question of the national minorities. Their rights must be specially protected. The Party therefore demands full equality of status in educational, religious and other matters and the abolition of all restrictions on national minorities.
There is § 9, which proclaims the equality of nations. The conditions required for its realization can arise only when the whole of society has been fully democratized.
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.
Thus, our views on the national question can be reduced to the following propositions:
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.
The two resolutions are on the whole similar. Pyata-kov has copied all the points of our resolution except one—"recognition of the right of secession." One thing or the other: either we deny the nations the right of secession, in which case it must be stated explicitly; or we do not deny them this right. There is at present a movement in Finland for securing national freedom, and there is also the fight waged against it by the Provisional Government. The question arises, who are we to support? Either we are for the policy of the Provisional Government, the forcible retention of Finland and the reduction of her rights to a minimum—in which case we are annexa-tionists, for we are bringing grist to the mill of the Provisional Government; or we are for independence for Finland. We must express ourselves definitely one way or the other; we cannot limit ourselves to a statement of rights.
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?
First published in The Petrograd City and All-Russian Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.) in April 1917, Moscow and Leningrad, 1925
 Bund — the General Jewish Workers' Union of Poland, Lithuania and Russia, founded in October 1897 (see J. V. Stalin, Works, Vol. 1, p. 394, Note 7).