Abolition of National Disabilities
March 25, 1917
Works, Vol. 3, March - October, 1917
One of the ulcers that disgraced the old Russia was national oppression.
Religious and national persecution, forcible Russification of the "alien" peoples, suppression of national-cultural institutions, denial of the franchise, denial of liberty of movement, incitement of nationality against nationality, pogroms and massacres — such was the national oppression of shameful memory.
How can national oppression be eliminated?
The social basis of national oppression, the force which animates it, is the obsolescent landed aristocracy. And the nearer the latter is to power and the firmer it grasps it, the more severe is national oppression and the more revolting are its forms.
In the old Russia, when the old feudal landed aristocracy was in power, national oppression operated to the limit, not infrequently taking the form of pogroms (of Jews) and massacres (Armenian-Tatar).
In England, where the landed aristocracy (the landlords) share power with the bourgeoisie and have long since ceased to exercise undivided rule, national oppression is milder, less inhuman—if, of course, we disregard the fact that in the course of this war, when power has passed into the hands of the landlords, national oppression has become much more severe (persecution of the Irish, the Indians).
And in Switzerland and North America, where landlordism has never existed and the bourgeoisie enjoys undivided power, the nationalities develop more or less freely, and, generally speaking, there is practically no soil for national oppression.
This is to be explained chiefly by the fact that, owing to its very position, the landed aristocracy is (cannot but be!) the most determined and implacable foe of all liberty, national liberty included; that liberty in general, and national liberty in particular, undermines (cannot but undermine!) the very foundations of the political rule of the landed aristocracy.
Thus the way to put an end to national oppression and to create the actual conditions necessary for national liberty is to drive the feudal aristocracy from the political stage, to wrest the power from its hands.
Inasmuch as the Russian revolution has triumphed, it has already created these actual conditions, having overthrown the power of the feudal serfowners and established liberty.
What is now necessary is:
1) to define the rights of the nationalities emancipated from oppression, and
2) to confirm them by legislation.
This is the soil from which sprang the Provisional Government's decree on the abolition of religious and national disabilities.
Spurred by the growth of the revolution, the Provisional Government was bound to take this first step towards the emancipation of the peoples of Russia; and it did take it.
The decree amounts in general substance to the abolition of restrictions on the rights of citizens of non-Russian nationality and not belonging to the Orthodox Church in respect to: 1) settlement, domicile and movement; 2) acquisition of property rights, etc.; 3) engaging in any occupation, in trade, etc.; 4) participation in joint-stock and other societies; 5) entering the government service, etc.; 6) enrolling in educational institutions; 7) use of languages and dialects other than Russian in the transaction of the affairs of private associations, in tuition in private educational establishments of all kinds, and in commercial accountancy.
Such is the Provisional Government's decree.
The peoples of Russia who were hitherto under suspicion may now breathe freely and feel they are citizens of Russia.
This is all very good.
But it would be an unpardonable mistake to think that this decree is sufficient to guarantee national liberty, that emancipation from national oppression is already fully accomplished.
In the first place, the decree does not establish national equality in respect to language. The last clause of the decree speaks of the right to use languages other than Russian in the transaction of the affairs of private associations and in tuition in private educational establishments. But what about the regions with compact majorities of non-Russian citizens whose language is not Russian (Transcaucasia, Turkestan, the Ukraine, Lithuania, etc.)? There is no doubt that they will have (must have!) their parliaments, and hence will have "affairs" (by no means "private"!) and "tuition" in educational establishments (not only "private"!)—and all this, of course, not only in Russian, but also in the local languages. Is it the idea of the Provisional Government to proclaim Russian the state language and to deprive these regions of the right to conduct "affairs'" and "tuition" in their native languages in their, by no means "private," institutions? Apparently, it is. But who but simpletons can believe that this signifies complete equalization of the rights of nations, about which the bourgeois gossips of Rech  and Dyen  shout from all the housetops and cry at all the crossroads? Who can fail to realize that this means legitimizing inequality of nations in respect to language?
Furthermore, whoever wants to establish real national equality cannot confine himself to the negative measure of abolishing disabilities—he must proceed from the abolition of disabilities to the adoption of a positive program which will guarantee the elimination of national oppression.
It is therefore necessary to proclaim:
1) political autonomy (not federation!) for regions representing integral economic territories possessing a specific way of life and populations of a specific national composition, with the right to conduct "affairs" and "tuition" in their own languages;
2) the right of self-determination for such nations as cannot, for one reason or another, remain within the framework of the integral state.
This is the way towards the real abolition of national oppression and towards guaranteeing the nationalities the maximum liberty possible under capitalism.
Pravda, , No. 17, March 25, 1917
 Rech (Speech) — a newspaper, central organ of the Cadet (Constitutional Democratic) Party, published in St. Petersburg from February 1906 to October 26, 1917.
 Dyen (Day) — a newspaper founded in St. Petersburg in 1912, financed by the banks and run by the Menshevik Liquidators. It was suppressed for counter-revolutionary activities on October 26, 1917.