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The Problem of Nationalities . History of the Russian Revolution Vol. III Leon Trotsky .

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The Problem of Nationalities

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The problem of nationalities

The Problem of Nationalities

History of the Russian Revolution Vol. III

Leon Trotsky

The problem of nationalities

"Russia was formed not as a national state, but as a state made up of nationalities. This corresponded to its belated character. On a foundation of extensive agriculture and home industry commercial capital developed not deeply, not by transforming production, but broadly, by increasing the radius of its operation."

Russian empire census 1897

Russian Empire Census 1897

~170 different nationality groups

~ More different languages spoken in the Caucasus, the mountain range to the northeast of the Black Sea, than in all of Europe outside Russia.

~Ethnic Russians ("Great Russians") made up less than half of the entire population of 125 million

The problem of nationalities

“To the seventy million Great Russians constituting the main mass of the country, there were gradually added about ninety million “outlanders” sharply divided into two groups: the western peoples excelling Russia in their culture, and the eastern standing on a lower level. Thus was created an empire of whose population the ruling nationality constituted 43 per cent. The remaining 57 per cent, were nationalities of various degrees of culture and subjection, including Ukrainians 17 per cent, Poles 6 per cent, White Russians 4 ½ per cent” (27).

Most spoken languages

Most Spoken Languages







Finnic Languages.......................3,502,147



Kartvelian Languages.................1,352,535



Moldavian & Romanian..............1,121,669

Dagestani Languages................1,091,789

Tendencies of bourgeois revolutions

Tendencies of Bourgeois Revolutions

in nationally homogenous states:

Centripetal Tendency

in nationally heterogeneous states:

Centrifugal Tendency

The problem of nationalities

"And for unity in the ranks of the workers of all nations in Russia, for only such unity can guarantee the equality of nations and popular liberties, and safeguard the interests of socialism."

“Whatever may be the further destiny of the Soviet Union … the national policy of Lenin will find its place among the eternal treasures of mankind” (46).

The problem of nationalities

Bolshevik Policy on Oppressed Nationalities

"...the Bolshevik party did not by any means undertake an evangel of separation. It merely assumed an obligation to struggle implacably against every form of national oppression, including the forcible retention of this or that nationality within the boundaries of the general state. Only in this way could the Russian proletariat gradually win the confidence of the oppressed nationalities.

The problem of nationalities

Bolshevik Policy on Oppressed Nationalities (contd.)

~Insistence on Rigid Centralism within framework of the party and workers' organizations

~Strong stance against "every taint of nationalism which might set the workers against each other or disunite them"

~"While flatly refusing to the bourgeois states the right to impose compulsory citizenship, or even a state language, upon a national minority, Bolshevism at the same time made it a verily sacred task to unite as closely as possible, by means of voluntary class discipline, the workers of different nationalities"

The problem of nationalities

"A revolutionary organization is not the prototype of the future state, but merely the instrument for its creation. An instrument ought to be adapted to fashioning the product. Thus a centralised organization can guarantee the success of revolutionary struggle--even where the task is to destroy the centralised oppression of nationalities" (27-28)

So what happens after the february revolution

...So what happens after the February Revolution?

Very little

....Very Little

~overthrow of monarchy should have resulted in national revolutions for oppressed nationalities but Russian bourgeoisie not willing to let go of these sources of wealth and power

~Compromisist democracy accuses any individual nation wanting to separate as being traitors working with the Austro-German enemies and threatening the unity of the revolution

~"Formal Equality" - abolition of some of the most reprehensible national limitations. this does not result in significant change for oppressed nationalities but only more glaringly reveals the sharp inequalities of oppressed nationalities.

Why formal equality is meaningless

Why "Formal Equality" is Meaningless

Finns- don’t want equality with Russians, they want independence from Russians

Ukrainians- already have equal rights, though forcibly proclaimed to be Russians. They also want independence.

Peoples of Central Asia- Legal equality means little when they are held down by an "economic and cultural ball and chain"

The problem of nationalities

Formal Equality kinda works out for the Jews...

~650 laws limiting the rights of Jews. Some of these are annulled.

Finland and the ukraine

Finland and the Ukraine

Thorns in the Flesh of the February Regime

The problem of nationalities


  • Agrarian problem in Finland drives large rural population to follow the lead of the industrial population

  • Social democrats win majority of the Seim with 103 out of 200 seats

  • Finland declares Seim a sovereign power except on questions of war and foreign policy

  • appeals to “comrade party of Russia” for support, compromisers try to dissuade them and when they refuse socialist ministers decided to dissolve the government in Helsingfors by force.

  • Finnish soviets offer military support to defend Seim but Finnish Compromisers chicken out and then hold another election where bourgeois parties gain majority

  • bourgeoisie tries to separate from Russia “possessed by anarchist frenzy”

  • Oct. 23 Kerensky grants Finland’s independence “in principle” but this is meaningless given the fact that it happens only 2 days before his fall

The problem of nationalities

Rally in Helsingfors

The problem of nationalities


  • Rada declares independence in June

  • Kadets denounce Ukrainian leaders as German agents, Compromisers try compromising but after July Days veer right

  • Russia too reliant on Ukrainian resources- grain, coal and ore to allow Ukrainian independence

  • Ukrainian Compromisers very similar to Kerensky’s gov.

  • comparatively strong/stable petty-bourgeoisie in Ukraine, still very economically underdeveloped country, swift industrial dev. of certain areas but overall lagging behind Russia

  • less homogenous proletariat made it harder for them to organize, weak Bolshevik party- small in numbers and skilled cadres, still more in line with the Menshevik compromisists

  • Ukrainian bourgeoisie- even weaker. Most powerful sections were foreigners abroad and or from Russia proper

The problem of nationalities

Ukraine Demonstration, March 1917

The problem of nationalities

“The chief service of the February revolution--perhaps its only service, but one amply sufficient--lay exactly in this, that it gave the oppressed classes and nations of Russia at last an opportunity to speak out. This political awakening of the peasantry could not have taken place otherwise, however, than through their own native language--with all the consequences ensuing in regard to schools, courts, self-administration" (33).

February revolution in the borderlands

February Revolution in the Borderlands

  • Soviets relatively weak in the Ukraine. Differences between city and country populations negatively impacts development of soviets, which are predominately city organizations

  • “Under the leadership of of the compromise parties the soviets would frequently ignore the national interests of the basic population” (33).

  • Siberian Outlanders-- economic and cultural primitiveness, held down by nature and economic exploitation, could not even rise to the point of developing nationalist aspirations. Feb. rev. did not reach this far.

  • Peoples and tribes of Central Asia, along the Volga, in the northern Caucasus- had neither proletariat nor bourgeoisie, struggles were over having their own alphabet, teachers, priests, etc.

The problem of nationalities

"Bolshevism based itself upon the the assumption of an outbreak of national revolutions continuing for decades to come, and instructed the advanced workers in this spirit."

“In the national sphere also, the uprooting of mediaeval remnants falls to the lot of the proletariat. In order to achieve liberation and a cultural lift, the oppressed nationalities were compelled to link their fate with that of the working class. And for this they had to free themselves from the leadership of their own bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties – they had to make a long spurt forward, that is, on the road of historic development.”

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