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Source: The National Question — Rosa Luxemburg (1909)


1. The Right of Nations
to Self-Determination

[. . .]


The formula of the “right of nations” is inadequate to justify the position of socialists on the nationality question, not only because it fails to take into account the wide range of historical conditions (place and time) existing in each given case and does not reckon with the general current of the development of global conditions, but also because it ignores completely the fundamental theory of modern socialists – the theory of social classes.

When we speak of the “right of nations to self-determination, “ we are using the concept of the “nation” as a homogeneous social and political entity. But actually, such a concept of the “nation” is one of those categories of bourgeois ideology which Marxist theory submitted to a radical re-vision, showing how that misty veil, like the concepts of the “freedom of citizens,” “equality before the law,” etc., conceals in every case a definite historical content.

In a class society, “the nation” as a homogeneous socio-political entity does not exist. Rather, there exist within each nation, classes with antagonistic interests and “rights.” There literally is not one social area, from the coarsest material relationships to the most subtle moral ones, in which the possessing class and the class-conscious proletariat hold the same attitude, and in which they appear as a consolidated “national” entity. In the sphere of economic relations, the bourgeois classes represent the interests of exploitation – the proletariat the interests of work. In the sphere of legal relations, the cornerstone of bourgeois society is private property; the interest of the proletariat demands the emancipation of the propertyless man from the domination of property. In the area of the judiciary, bourgeois society represents class “justice,” the justice of the well-fed and the rulers; the proletariat defends the principle of taking into account social influences on the individual, of humaneness. In international relations, the bourgeoisie represent the politics of war and partition, and at the present stage, a system of trade war; the proletariat demands a politics of universal peace and free trade. In the sphere of the social sciences and philosophy, bourgeois schools of thought and the school representing the proletariat stand in diametric opposition to each other. The possessing classes have their world view; it is represented by idealism, metaphysics, mysticism, eclecticism; the modern proletariat has its theory – dialectic materialism. Even in the sphere of so-called “universal” conditions – in ethics, views on art, on behavior – the interests, world view, and ideals of the bourgeoisie and those of the enlightened proletariat represent two camps, separated from each other by an abyss. And whenever the formal strivings and the interests of the proletariat and those of the bourgeoisie (as a whole or in its most progressive part) seem identical – for example, in the field of democratic aspirations – there, under the identity of forms and slogans, is hidden the most complete divergence of contents and essential politics.

There can be no talk of a collective and uniform will, of the self-determination of the “nation” in a society formed in such a manner. If we find in the history of modern societies “national” movements, and struggles for “national interests,” these are usually class movements of the ruling strata of the bourgeoisie, which can in any given case represent the interest of the other strata of the population only insofar as under the form of “national interests” it defends progressive forms of historical development, and insofar as the working class has not yet distinguished itself from the mass of the “nation” (led by the bourgeoisie) into an independent, enlightened political class.

In this sense, the French bourgeoisie had the right to come forth as the third estate in the Great Revolution in the name of the French people, and even the German bourgeoisie in 1848 could still regard themselves, to a certain degree, as the representatives of the German “nation” – although The Communist Manifesto and, in part, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung were already the indicators of a distinct class politics of the proletariat in Germany. In both cases this meant only that the revolutionary class concern of the bourgeoisie was, at that stage of social development, the concern of the class of people who still formed, with the bourgeoisie, a politically uniform mass in relation to reigning feudalism.

This circumstance shows that the ”rights of nations” cannot be a yardstick for the position of the Socialist Party on the nationality question. The very existence of such a party is proof that the bourgeoisie has stopped being the representative of the entire mass of the people, that the class of the proletariat is no longer hidden in the skirts of the bourgeoisie, but has separated itself off as an independent class with its own social and political aspirations. Because the concepts of “nations,” of “rights,” and the “will of the people” as a uniform whole are, as we have said, remnants from the times of immature and unconscious antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the application of that idea by the class-conscious and independently organized proletariat would be a striking contradiction – not a contradiction against academic logic, but a historical contradiction.

With respect to the nationality question in contemporary society, a socialist party must take class antagonism into account. The Czech nationality question has one form for the young Czech petite bourgeoisie and another for the Czech proletariat. Nor can we seek a single solution of the Polish national question for Koscielski and his stable boy in Miroslawie, for the Warsaw and Lodz bourgeoisie and for class-conscious Polish workers all at the same time; while the Jewish question is formulated in one way in the minds of the Jewish bourgeoisie, and in another for the enlightened Jewish proletariat. For Social Democracy, the nationality question is, like all other social and political questions, primarily a question of class interests.

In the Germany of the 1840s there existed a kind of mystical-sentimental socialism, that of the “true socialists” Karl Grün and Moses Hess; this kind of socialism was represented later in Poland by Limanowski. After the 1840s there appeared in Poland a Spartan edition of the same – see the Lud Polski [Polish People] in the early 1870s and Pobudka [Reveille] at the end of that decade. This socialism strove for everything good and beautiful. And on that basis, Limanowski, later the leader of the PPS, tried to weld together Polish socialism and the task of reconstructing Poland, with the observation that socialism is an idea that is obviously beautiful, and patriotism is a no less beautiful idea, and so “Why shouldn’t two such beautiful ideas be joined together?”

The only healthy thing in this sentimental socialism is that it is a utopian parody of the correct idea that a socialist regime has, as the final goal of the proletariat’s aspirations, taken the pledge that by abolishing the domination of classes, for the first time in history it will guarantee the realization of the highest ideals of humanity.

And this is really the content and the essential meaning of the principle presented to the International Congress at London [in 1896] in the resolution quoted. “The right of Nations to self-determination” stops being a cliché only in a social regime where the “right to work” has stopped being an empty phrase. A socialist regime, which eliminates not only the domination of one class over another, but also the very existence of social classes and their opposition, the very division of society into classes with different interests and desires, will bring about a society which is the sum total individuals tied together by the harmony and solidarity their interests, a uniform whole with a common, organized will and the ability to satisfy it. The socialist regime will realize directly the “nation” as a uniform will – insofar as the nations within that regime in general will constitute separate social organisms or, as Kautsky states, will join into one – and the material conditions for its free self-determination. In a word, society will win the ability to freely determine its national existence when it has the ability to determine its political being and the conditions of its creation. “Nations” will control their historical existence when human society controls its social processes.

Therefore, the analogy which is drawn by partisans of the “right of nations to self-determination” between that “right” and all democratic demands, like the right of free speech, free press, freedom of association and of assembly, is completely incongruous. These people point out that we support the freedom of association because we are the party of political freedom; but we still fight against hostile bourgeois parties. Similarly, they say, we have the democratic duty to support the self-determination of nations, but this fact does not commit us to support every individual tactic of those who fight for self-determination.

The above view completely overlooks the fact that these “rights,” which have a certain superficial similarity, lie on completely different historical levels. The rights of association and assembly, free speech, the free press. etc., are the legal forms of existence of a mature bourgeois society. But “the right of nations to self-determination” is only a metaphysical formulation of an idea which in bourgeois society is completely non-existent and can be realized only on the basis of a socialist regime.

However, as it is practiced today, socialism is not at all a collection of all these mystical “noble” and “beautiful” desires, but only a political expression of well-defined conditions, that is, the fight of the class of the modern proletariat against the domination of the bourgeoisie. Socialism means the striving of the proletariat to bring about the dictatorship of its class in order to get rid of the present form of production. This task is the main and guiding one for the Socialist Party as the party of the proletariat: it determines the position of that party with respect to all the several problems of social life.

Social Democracy is the class party of the proletariat. Its historical task is to express the class interests of the proletariat and also the revolutionary interests of the development of capitalist society toward realizing socialism. Thus, Social Democracy is called upon to realize not the right of nations to self-determination but only the right of the working class, which is exploited and oppressed, of the proletariat, to self-determination. From that position Social Democracy examines all social and political questions without exception, and from that standpoint it formulates its programmatic demands. Neither in the question of the political forms which we demand in the state, nor in the question of the state’s internal or external policies, nor in the questions of law or education, of taxes or the military, does Social Democracy allow the “nation” to decide its fate according to its own vision of self-determination. All of these questions affect the class interests of the proletariat in a way that questions of national-political and national-cultural existence do not. But between those questions and the national-political and national-cultural questions, exist usually the closest ties of mutual dependence and causality. As a result, Social Democracy cannot here escape the necessity of formulating these demands individually, and demanding actively the forms of national-political and national-cultural existence which best correspond to the interests of the proletariat and its class struggle at a given time and place, as well as to the interests of the revolutionary development of society. Social Democracy cannot leave these questions to be solved by “nations.”

This becomes perfectly obvious as soon as we bring the question down from the clouds of abstraction to the firm ground of concrete conditions.

The “nation” should have the “right” to self-determination. But who is that “nation” and who has the authority and the “right” to speak for the “nation” and express its will? How can we find out what the “nation” actually wants? Does there exist even one political party which would not claim that it alone, among all others, truly expresses the will of the “nation,” whereas all other parties give only perverted and false expressions of the national will? All the bourgeois, liberal parties consider themselves the incarnation of the will of the people and claim the exclusive monopoly to represent the “nation.” But conservative and reactionary parties refer no less to the will and interests of the nation, and within certain limits, have no less of a right to do so. The Great French Revolution was indubitably an expression of the will of the French nation, but Napoleon, who juggled away the work of the Revolution in his coup of the 18th Brumaire, based his entire state reform on the principle of “la volonté generale” [the general will].

In 1848, the will of the “nation” produced first the republic and the provisional government, then the National Assembly, and finally Louis Bonaparte, who cashiered the Republic, the provisional government, and the national assembly. During the [1905] Revolution in Russia, liberalism demanded in the name of the people a “cadet” ministry; absolutism, in the name of the same people, arranged the pogroms of the Jews, while the revolutionary peasants expressed their national will by sending the estates of the gentry up in smoke. In Poland, the party of the Black Hundreds, National Democracy, had a claim to be the will of the people, and in the name of “the self-determination of the nation” incited “national” workers to assassinate socialist workers.

Thus the same thing happens to the “true” will of the nation as to the true ring in Lessing’s story of Nathan the Wise: it has been lost and it seems almost impossible to find it and to tell it from the false and counterfeit ones. On the surface, the principle of democracy provides a way of distinguishing the true will of the people by determining the opinion of the majority.

The nation wants what the majority of the people want. But woe to the Social Democratic Party which would ever take that principle as its own yardstick: that would condemn to death Social Democracy itself as the revolutionary party. Social Democracy by its very nature is a party representing the interests of a huge majority of the nation. But it is also for the time being in bourgeois society, insofar as it is a matter of expressing the conscious will of the nation, the party of a minority which only seeks to become the majority. In its aspirations and its political program it seeks to reflect not the will of a majority of the nation, but on the contrary, the embodiment of the conscious will of the proletariat alone. And even within that class, Social Democracy is not and does not claim to be the embodiment of the will of the majority. It expresses only the will and the consciousness of the most advanced and most revolutionary section of the urban-industrial proletariat. It tries to expand that will and to clear a way for a majority of the workers by making them conscious of their own interests. “The will of the nation” or its majority is not therefore an idol for Social Democracy before which it humbly prostrates itself. On the contrary, the historical mission of Social Democracy is based above all on revolutionizing and forming the will of the “nation”; that is, its working-class majority. For the traditional forms of consciousness which the majority of the nation, and therefore the working classes, display in bourgeois society are the usual forms of bourgeois consciousness, hostile to the ideals and aspirations of socialism. Even in Germany, where Social Democracy is the most powerful political party, it is still today, with its three and a quarter million voters, a minority compared to the eight million voters for bourgeois parties and the thirty million who have the right to vote. The statistics on parliamentary electors give, admittedly, only a rough idea of the relation of forces in times of peace. The German nation then “determines itself” by electing a majority of conservatives, clerics, and freethinkers, and puts its political fate in their hands. And the same thing is happening, to an even greater degree, in all other countries.


Let us take a concrete example in an attempt to apply the principle that the “nation” should “determine itself.”

With respect to Poland at the present stage of the revolution, one of the Russian Social Democrats belonging to the editorial committee of the now defunct paper, Iskra, in 1906 explained the concept of the indispensable Warsaw constituent assembly in the following way:

if we start from the assumption that the political organization of Russia is the decisive factor determining the current oppression of the nationalities, then we must conclude that the proletariat of the oppressed nationalities and the annexed countries should be extremely active in the organization of an all-Russian constituent assembly.

This assembly could, if it wished, carry out its revolutionary mission, and break the fetters of force with which tsardom binds to itself the oppressed nationalities.

And there is no other satisfactory, that is, revolutionary way of solving that question than by implementing the rights of the nationalities to determine their own fate. [Emphasis in the entire citation is RLs.] The task of a united proletarian party of all nationalities in the assembly will be to bring about such a solution of the nationality question, and this task can be realized by the Party only insofar as it is based on the movement of the masses, on the pressure they put on the constituent assembly.

But in what concrete form should the admitted right to self-determination be realized?

Where the nationality question can be more or less identified with the existence of a legal state – as is the case in Poland – then the organ which can realize the nation’s right to self-determination can and should be a national constituent assembly whose special task is to determine the relation of a given “borderland country” to the state as a whole, to decide whether it should belong to the state or break away from it, to decide its internal set-up and its future connection with the state as a whole.

And therefore the constituent assembly of Poland should decide whether Poland will become part of a new Russia and what its constitution should be. And the Polish proletariat should use all its strength to insure that its class makes its mark on the decision of that organ of national self-government.

If we should ask the all-Russian assembly to hand the solution of the Polish national question over to the Warsaw sejm, I do not believe that there is any need to put off calling that sejm until the Petersburg constituents should take up the nationality question.

On the contrary, I think that the slogan of a constituent assembly in Warsaw should be put forth now, at the same time as the slogan for an all-Russian constituent assembly. The government which finally calls a constituent assembly for all Russia should also call (or sanction the calling of) a special constituent sejm for Poland. The job of the all-Russian assembly will be to sanction the work of the Warsaw sejm, and in the light of the different social forces involved in the Petersburg constituent assembly, the more this is given on the basis of the real principles of democracy the more decisively and clearly will the Polish nation express its national will. It will do this most clearly in the elections to the sejm especially called to decide the future fate of Poland. On the basis of this sejm’s decisions, the representatives of the Polish and Russian proletariat in the all-Russian assembly will be able to energetically defend the real recognition of the right to self-determination.

Thus, the simultaneous calling of all-Russian and all-Polish constituent assemblies: this should be our slogan.

The presentation by the proletariat of the demand for a constituent assembly for Poland should not be taken to mean that the Polish nation would be represented in the all-Russian assembly by any delegation of the Warsaw sejm.

I think that such representation in the all-Russian assembly would not correspond to the interests of revolutionary development. It would join the proletariat and bourgeois elements of the Polish sejm by bonds of mutual solidarity and responsibility, in contradiction to the real mutual relations of their interests.

In the all-Russian assembly, the proletariat and bourgeoisie of Poland should not be represented by one delegation. But this would occur even if a delegation were sent from the sejm to an assembly which included representatives of all the parties of the sejm proportionally to their numbers. In this case, the direct and independent representation of the Polish proletariat in the assembly would disappear, and the very creation of real political parties in Poland would be made difficult. Then the elections to the Polish sejm, whose main task is to define the political relations between Poland and Russia, would not show the political and social faces of the leading parties, as elections to an all-Russian assembly could do; for the latter type of elections would advance, besides the local, partial, historically temporary and specifically national questions, the general questions of politics and socialism, which really divide contemporary societies. (Here as everywhere I speak of a definite manner of solving the nationality question for Poland, not touching those changes which may prove themselves indispensable while resolving this question for other nations. – Note of the author of the cited article.) [The above article appeared in Robotnik, the organ of the PPS, no.75, February 7, 1906.- Note of the editorial board of Przeglad Sozial-demokratyczny]

This article gives a moral sanction on the part of the opportunist wing of Russian Social Democracy to the slogan put forth by the PPS in the first period of the revolution: that is, to the Warsaw constituent assembly. However, it had no practical result. After the dissolution of the PPS, the so-called left wing of that party, having publicly rejected the program of rebuilding Poland, found itself forced to abandon its partial program of nationalism in the form of the slogan of a Warsaw constituent assembly. But the article remains a characteristic attempt to give practical effect to the principle of “the right of nations to self-determination.”

In the above argument, which we quoted in full in order to be able to examine it from all aspects, several points strike the reader. Above all, according to the author, on the one hand “a constituent assembly of Poland should decide whether Poland should enter the formation of a new Russia and what kind of constitution it should have.” On the other, “the Polish proletariat should use its strength to insure that its class will make the greatest mark on the decisions of that organ of national self-government. “ Here the class will of the Polish proletariat is expressly opposed to the passive will of the Polish “nation.” The class will of the proletariat can obviously leave “its mark” on the decisions of the Warsaw constituent assembly only if it is clearly and expressly formulated; in other words, the class party of the Polish proletariat, the Socialist Party, must have a well-defined program with respect to the national question, which it can introduce in the Warsaw constituent assembly a program which corresponds not to the will of “the nation” but only to the will and interests of the Polish proletariat. Then, in the constituent assembly, in the national question, one will, or “the self-determination of the proletariat” will come out against the will or “the self-determination of the nation.” For Polish Socialists, the “nation’s right to self-determination” as an obligatory principle in fact disappears, and is replaced by a clearly defined political program on the national question.

The result is rather strange. The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party leaves the solution of the Polish question up to the Polish “nation.” The Polish Socialists should not pick it up but try, as hard as they can, to solve this question according to the interests and will of the proletariat. However, the party of the Polish proletariat is organizationally tied to the all-state party, for instance, the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania is a part of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Thus, Social Democracy of all of Russia, united both in ideas and factually, has two different positions. As a whole, it stands for the “nations in its constituent parts, it stands for the separate proletariat of each nation. But these positions can be quite different and may even be completely opposed to each other. The sharpened class antagonism in all of Russia makes it a general rule that in the national-political question, as in questions of internal politics, the proletarian parties take completely different positions from the bourgeois and petit bourgeois parties of the separate nationalities. What position should the Labor Party of Russia then take in the case of such a collision?

Let us suppose for the sake of argument, that in the federal constituent assembly, two contradictory programs are put forth from Poland: the autonomous program of National Democracy and the autonomous program of Polish Social Democracy, which are quite at odds with respect to internal tendency as well as to political formulation. What will the position of Russian Social Democracy be with regard to them? Which of the programs will it recognize as an expression of the will and “self-determination” of the Polish “nation”? Polish Social Democracy never had any pretensions to be speaking in the name of the “nation.” National Democracy comes forth as the expresser of the “national” will. Let us also assume for a moment that this party wins a majority at the elections to the constituent assembly by taking advantage of the ignorance of the petit bourgeois elements as well as certain sections of the proletariat. In this case, will the representatives of the all-Russian proletariat, complying with the requirements of the formula of their program, come out in favor of the proposals of National Democracy and go against their own comrades from Poland? Or will they associate themselves with the program of the Polish proletariat, leaving the “right of nations” to one side as a phrase which binds them to nothing? Or will the Polish Social Democrats be forced, in order to reconcile these contradictions in their program, to come out in the Warsaw constituent assembly, as well as in their own agitation in Poland, in favor of their own autonomous program, but to the federal constituent assembly, as members well aware of the discipline of the Social Democratic Party of Russia, for the program of National Democracy, that is, against their own program?

Let us take yet another example. Examining the question in a purely abstract form, since the author has put the problem on that basis, let us suppose, to illustrate the principle, that in the national assembly of the Jewish population of Russia for why should the right to create separate constituent assemblies be limited to Poland, as the author wants? – the Zionist Party somehow wins a majority and demands that the all-Russian constituent assembly vote funds for the emigration of the entire Jewish community. On the other hand, the class representatives of the Jewish proletariat firmly resist the position of the Zionists as a harmful and reactionary utopia. What position will Russian Social Democracy take in this conflict?

It will have two choices. The “right of nations to self-determination” might be essentially identical with the determination of the national question by the proletariat in question that is, with the nationality program of the concerned Social Democratic parties. In such a case, however, the formula of the “right of nations” in the program of the Russian party is only a mystifying paraphrase of the class position. Or, alternatively, the Russian proletariat as such could recognize and honor only the will of the national majorities of the nationalities under Russian subjugation, even though the proletariat of the respective “nations” should come out against this majority with their own class program. And in this case, it is a political dualism of a special type; it gives dramatic expression to the discord between the “national” and class positions: it points up the conflict between the position of the federal workers’ party and that of the parties of the particular nationalities which make it up.

A special Polish constituent assembly is to be the organ of realizing the right of the nation to self-determination. But that right is, in reality, severely limited by the author, and in two directions. First, the competence of the Warsaw constituent assembly is reduced to the special question of the relation of Poland to Russia and to the constitution for Poland. Then, even within this domain, the decisions of the “Polish nation” are subordinated to the sanction of an all-Russian constituent assembly. The assembly, however – if this reservation is to have any meaning at all – can either grant or deny these sanctions. Under such conditions the unlimited “right of the nation to self-determination” becomes rather problematic. The national partisans of the slogan of a separate Warsaw constituent assembly would not at all agree to the reduction of their competence to the narrow area of relations between Poland and Russia. They wanted to give the assembly the power over all the internal and external relations of the social life of Poland. And from the standpoint of the “right of nations to self-determination,” they would undoubtedly have right and logic on their side. For there seems to be no reason why “self-determination” should mean only the solution of the external fate of the nation and of its constitution, and not of all social and political matters. Besides, the separation of the relation of Poland to Russia and the constitution of Poland from the “general problems of politics and socialism” is a construction which is artificial to the highest degree. If the “constitution of Poland” is to determine – as it evidently must – the electoral law, the law of unions and meetings, the law of the press, etc., etc., for Poland, then it is not clear what political questions remain for the federal constituent assembly to solve with respect to Poland. From this point of view, only one of two points of view is possible: either the Warsaw constituent assembly is to be the essential organ for the self-determination of the Polish nation, and in this case it can be only an organ on the same level as the Petersburg constituent assembly; or, the constituent assembly of Warsaw plays only the role of a national sejm in a position of dependence on and subordination to the federal constituent assembly, and in this case, “the right of the nation to self-determination,” dependent on the sanction of the Russian “nation,” reminds one of the German concept: “Die Republik mit dem Grossherzog an der Spitze” [“The Republic with the Grand Duke at the Head”] .

The author himself helps us to guess how, in his understanding, the “right of the nation,” proclaimed in the introduction so charmingly in the form of a Warsaw constituent assembly, is finally canceled out by the competence and right of sanction of the Petersburg constituent assembly.

In this matter, the Menshevik journalist adopts the view that the Warsaw constituent assembly will be the organ of national interests, whereas the federal assembly will be the organ of the class and general social interests, the terrain of the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Thus, the author shows so much mistrust of the Warsaw organ of the “national will” that he opposes the representation of that national sejm in the Petersburg constituent assembly, for which he demands direct elections from Poland to insure the best representation of the interests of the Polish proletariat. The defender of two constituent assemblies feels instinctively that even with universal and equal elections to the Warsaw assembly, its very individual nature would weaken the position of the Polish proletariat, while the combined entry of the Polish proletariat with the proletariat of the entire state in a general constituent assembly would strengthen the class position and its defense. Hence arises his vacillation between one and the other position and his desire to subordinate the organ of the “national” will to the organ of the class struggle. This is, then, again an equivocal political position, in which the collision between the “national” point of view and the class point of view takes the form of the opposition between the Warsaw and the Petersburg constituent assemblies. Only one question remains: since the representation in a federal constituent assembly is more useful for the defense of the Polish proletariat, then why cannot that body resolve the Polish national question, in order to insure the preponderance of the will and interests of the Polish proletariat? So many hesitations and contradictions show how desirable it would be for the “nation” and the working class to develop a common position.

Apart from this, we must add that the entire construction of the Warsaw constituent assembly as the organ of national “self-determination” is only a house of cards: the dependence or independence of nation-states is determined not by the vote of majorities in parliamentary representations, but only by socio-economic development, by material class interests, and as regards the external political affairs, by armed struggle, war, or insurrection. The Warsaw assembly could only really determine the fate of Poland if Poland had first, by means of a successful uprising, won factual independence from Russia. In other words, the Polish people can realize its “right” to self-determination only when it has the actual ability, the necessary force for this, and then it will realize it not on the basis of its “rights” but on the basis of its power. The present revolution did not call forth an independence movement in Poland; it did not show the least tendency to separate Poland from Russia. On the contrary, it buried the remains of these tendencies by forcing the national party (National Democracy) to renounce the program of the reconstruction of Poland, while the other party (the PPS) was smashed to bits and also, midway in the struggle, was forced to renounce this program explicitly. Thus, the “right” of the Polish nation to self-determination remains – the right to eat off gold plates.

The demand for a Warsaw constituent assembly is therefore obviously deprived of all political or theoretical importance and represents only a momentary tentative improvisation of deteriorated Polish nationalism, like a soap bubble which bursts immediately after appearing. This demand is useful only as an illustration of the application of “the right of a nation to self-determination” in practice. This illustration is a new proof that by recognizing the “right of nations to self-determination” in the framework of the present regime, Social Democracy is offering the “nations” either the cheap blessing to do what they (the “nations”) are in a position to do by virtue of their strength, or else an empty phrase with no force at all. On the other hand, this position brings Social Democracy into conflict with its true calling, the protection of the class interests of the proletariat and the revolutionary development of society, which the creators of scientific socialism used as the basis of their view on the nationality question.

The preservation of that metaphysical phrase in the program of the Social Democratic Party of Russia would be a betrayal of the strictly class position which the party has tried to observe in all points of its program. The ninth paragraph should be replaced by a concrete formula, however general, which would provide a solution of the nationality question in accordance with the interests of the proletariat of the particular nationalities. That does not in the least mean that the program of the Social Democratic organization of the respective nationalities should become, eo ipso, the program of the all-Russian party. A fundamental critical appraisal of each of these programs by the whole of the workers’ party of the state is necessary, but this appraisal should be made from the point of view of the actual social conditions, from the point of view of a scientific analysis of the general tendencies of capitalist development, as well as the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat. This alone can indicate a uniform and consistent position of the party as a whole and in its constituent parts.

Next Chapter:  2.The Nation-State and the Proletariat


Index of The National Question — Rosa Luxemburg (1909):


  1. The Right of Nations to Self-Determination
  2. The Nation-State and the Proletariat
  3. Federation, Centralization, and Particularism
  4. Centralization and Autonomy
  5. The National Question and Autonomy