About the text:
From: V.I. Lenin: On Imperialism and Opportunism, Futura 1974, 103 p., pp. 29-32.
Written July-August, 1915.
First published in 1924.
Let us see how this question should be posed by socialists.
The peace slogan can be advanced either in connection with definite peace terms, or without any conditions at all, as a struggle, not for a definite kind of peace, but for peace in general (Frieden ohne weiters). In the latter case, we obviously have a slogan that is not only non-socialist but entirely devoid of meaning and content. Most people are definitely in favour of peace in general, including even Kirchener, Joffre, Hindenburg, and Nicholas the Bloodstained, for each of them wants an end to the war. The trouble is that every one of them advances peace terms that are imperialist (i.e., predatory and oppressive, towards other peoples), and to the advantage of his “own” nation. Slogans must be brought forward so as to enable the masses, through propaganda and agitation, to see the unbridgeable distinction between socialism and capitalism (imperialism), and not for the purpose of reconciling two hostile classes and two hostile political lines, with the aid of a formula that “unites” the most different things.
To continue: can the socialists of different countries be united on definite terms of peace? If so, such terms must undoubtedly include the recognition of the right to self-determination for all nations, and also renunciation of all “annexations”, i.e., infringements of that right. If, however, that right is recognised only for some nations, then you are defending the privileges of certain nations, i.e., you are a nationalist and imperialist, not a socialist. If, however, that right is recognised for all nations, then you cannot single out Belgium alone, for instance; you must take all the oppressed peoples, both in Europe (the Irish in Britain, the Italians in Nice, the Danes in Germany, fifty-seven per cent of Russia’s population, etc.) and outside of Europe, i.e., all colonies. Comrade A. P. has done well to remind us of them. Britain, France, and Germany have a total population of some one hundred and fifty million, whereas the populations they oppress in the colonies number over four hundred million: The essence of the imperialist war, i.e., a war waged for the interests of the capitalists, consists, not only in the war being waged with the aim of oppressing new nations, of carving up the colonies, but also in its being waged primarily by the advanced nations, which oppress a number of other peoples comprising the majority of the earth’s population.
The German Social-Democrats, who justify the seizure of Belgium or reconcile themselves to it, are actually imperialists and nationalists, not Social-Democrats, since they defend the “right” of the German bourgeoisie (partly also of the German workers) to oppress the Belgians, the Alsatians, the Danes, the Poles, the Negroes in Africa, etc. They are not socialists, but menials to the German bourgeoisie, whom they are aiding to rob other nations. The Belgian socialists who demand the liberation and indemnification of Belgium alone are also actually defending a demand of the Belgian bourgeoisie, who would go on plundering the 15,000,000 Congolese population and obtaining concessions and privileges in other countries. The Belgian bourgeoisie’s foreign investments amount to something like three thousand million francs. Safeguarding the profits from these investments by using every kind of fraud and machinations is the real “national interest” of “gallant Belgium”. The same applies in a still greater degree to Russia, Britain, France and Japan.
It follows that if the demand for the freedom of nations is not to be a false phrase covering up the imperialism and the nationalism of certain individual countries, it must be extended to all peoples and to all colonies. Such a demand, however, is obviously meaningless unless it is accompanied by a series of revolutions in all the advanced countries. Moreover, it cannot be accomplished without a successful socialist revolution.
The slogan of self-determination of nations should also be advanced in connection with the imperialist era of capitalism. We do not stand for the status quo, or for the philistine Utopia of standing aside in great wars. We stand for a revolutionary struggle against imperialism, i.e., capitalism. Imperialism consists in a striving of nations that oppress a number of other nations to extend and increase that oppression and to repartition the colonies. That is why the question of self-determination of nations today hinges on the conduct of socialists of the oppressor nations. A socialist of any of the oppressor nations (Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United States of America, etc.) who does not recognise and does not struggle for the right of oppressed nations to self-determination (i.e., the right to secession) is in reality a chauvinist, not a socialist.
Only this point of view can lead to a sincere and consistent struggle against imperialism, to a proletarian, not a philistine approach (today) to the national question. Only this point of view can lead to a consistent application of the principle of combating any form of the oppression of nations; it removes mistrust among the proletarians of the oppressor and oppressed nations, makes for a united international struggle for the socialist revolution (i.e., for the only accomplishable regime of complete national equality), as distinct from the philistine Utopia of freedom for all small states in general, under capitalism.
This is the point of view adopted by our Party, i.e., by those Social-Democrats of Russia who have rallied around the Central Committee. This was the point of view adopted by Marx when he taught the proletariat that “no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations”. It was from this point of view that Marx demanded the separation of Ireland from Britain, this in the interests of the freedom movement, not only of the Irish, but especially of the British workers.
If the socialists of Britain do not recognise and uphold Ireland’s right to secession, if the French do not do the same for Italian Nice, the Germans for Alsace-Lorraine, Danish Schleswig, and Poland, the Russians for Po land, Finland, the Ukraine, etc., and the Poles for the Ukraine – if all the socialists of the “Great” Powers, i.e., the great robber powers, do not uphold that right in respect of the colonies, it is solely because they are in fact imperialists, not socialists. It is ridiculous to cherish illusions that people who do not fight for “the right to self-determination” of the oppressed nations, while they themselves belong to the oppressor nations, are capable of practising socialist policies.
Instead of leaving it to the hypocritical phrase-mongers to deceive the people by phrases and promises concerning the possibility of a democratic peace, socialists must explain to the masses the impossibility of anything resembling a democratic peace, unless there are a series of revolutions and unless a revolutionary struggle is waged in every country against the respective government. Instead of allowing the bourgeois politicians to deceive the peoples with talk about the freedom of nations, socialists must explain to the masses in the oppressor nations that they cannot hope for their liberation, as long as they help oppress other nations, and do not recognise and uphold the right of those nations to self-determination, i.e., the freedom to secede. That is the socialist, as distinct from the imperialist, policy to be applied to all countries, on the question of peace and the national question. True, this line is in most cases incompatible with the laws punishing high treason – but so is the Basle resolution, which has been so shamefully betrayed by almost all the socialists of the oppressor nations.
The choice is between socialism and submission to the laws of Joffre and Hindenburg, between revolutionary struggle and servility to imperialism. There is no middle course. The greatest harm is caused to the proletariat by the hypocritical (or obtuse) authors of the “middle-course” policy.
LCW vol. 21, pp. 290-294.
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