The Bund, It’s Nationalism, It’s Separatism: Marxism and the National Question

by Joseph Stalin

We said above that Bauer, while granting the necessity of national autonomy for the Czechs, Poles, and so on, nevertheless opposes similar autonomy for the Jews. In answer to the question, “Should the working class demand autonomy for the Jewish people?” Bauer says that “national autonomy cannot be demanded by the Jewish workers.” According to Bauer, the reason is that “capitalist society makes it impossible for them (the Jews – J. St.) to continue as a nation.”

In brief, the Jewish nation is coming to an end, and hence there is nobody to demand national autonomy for. The Jews are being assimilated.

A demonstration of the General Jewish Labour Bund, 1917

This view of the fate of the Jews as a nation is not a new one. It was expressed by Marx as early as the ‘forties, in reference chiefly to the German Jews. It was repeated by Kautsky in 1903, in reference to the Russian Jews. It is now being repeated by Bauer in reference to the Austrian Jews, with the difference, however, that he denies not the present but the future of the Jewish nation.

Bauer explains the impossibility of preserving the existence of the Jews as a nation by the fact that “the Jews have no closed territory of settlement.” This explanation, in the main a correct one, does not however express the whole truth. The fact of the matter is primarily that among the Jews there is no large and stable stratum connected with the land, which would naturally rivet the nation together, serving not only as its framework but also as a “national” market. Of the five or six million Russian Jews, only three to four per cent are connected with agriculture in any way. The remaining ninety-six per cent are employed in trade, industry, in urban institutions, and in general are town dwellers; moreover, they are spread all over Russia and do not constitute a majority in a single gubernia.

Thus, interspersed as national minorities in areas inhabited by other nationalities, the Jews as a rule serve “foreign” nations as manufacturers and traders and as members of the liberal professions, naturally adapting themselves to the “foreign nations” in respect to language and so forth. All this, taken together with the increasing re-shuffling of nationalities characteristic of developed forms of capitalism, leads to the assimilation of the Jews. The abolition of the “Pale of Settlement” would only serve to hasten this process of assimilation.

The question of national autonomy for the Russian Jews consequently assumes a somewhat curious character: autonomy is being proposed for a nation whose future is denied and whose existence has still to be proved!

Nevertheless, this was the curious and shaky position taken up by the Bund when at its Sixth Congress (1905) it adopted a “national programme” on the fines of national autonomy.

Two circumstances impelled the Bund to take this step.

The first circumstance is the existence of the Bund as an organization of Jewish, and only Jewish, Social-Democratic workers. Even before 1897 the Social-Democratic groups active among the Jewish workers set themselves the aim of creating “a special Jewish workers’ organization.” They founded such an organization in 1897 by uniting to form the Bund. That was at a time when Russian Social-Democracy as an integral body virtually did not yet exist. The Bund steadily grew and spread, and stood out more and more vividly against the background of the bleak days of Russian Social-Democracy…. Then came the 1900’s. A mass labour movement came into being. Polish Social-Democracy grew and drew the Jewish workers into the mass struggle. Russian Social-Democracy grew and attracted the “Bund” workers. Lacking a territorial basis, the national framework of the Bund became too restrictive. The Bund was faced with the problem of either merging with the general international tide, or of upholding its independent existence as an extra-territorial organization. The Bund chose the latter course.

Thus grew up the “theory” that the Bund is “the sole representative of the Jewish proletariat.”

But to justify this strange “theory” in any “simple” way became impossible. Some kind of foundation “on principle,” some justification “on principle,” was needed. Cultural-national autonomy provided such a foundation. The Bund seized upon it, borrowing it from the Austrian Social-Democrats. If the Austrians had not had such a programme the Bund would have invented it in order to justify its independent existence “on principle.”

Thus, after a timid attempt in 1901 (the Fourth Congress), the Bund definitely adopted a “national programme” in 1905 (the Sixth Congress).

The second circumstance is the peculiar position of the Jews as separate national minorities within compact majorities of other nationalities in integral regions. We have already said that this position is undermining the existence of the Jews as a nation and puts them on the road to assimilation. But this is an objective process. Subjectively, in the minds of the Jews, it provokes a reaction and gives rise to the demand for a guarantee of the rights of a national minority, for a guarantee against assimilation. Preaching as it does the vitality of the Jewish “nationality,” the Bund could not avoid being in favour of a “guarantee.” And, having taken up this position, it could not but accept national autonomy. For if the Bund could seize upon any autonomy at all, it could only be national autonomy, i.e., cultural-national autonomy; there could be no question of territorial-political autonomy for the Jews, since the Jews have no definite integral territory.

It is noteworthy that the Bund from the outset stressed the character of national autonomy as a guarantee of the rights of national minorities, as a guarantee of the “free development” of nations. Nor was it fortuitous that the representative of the Bund at the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Party, Goldblatt, defined national autonomy as “institutions which guarantee them (i.e., nations – J. St.) complete freedom of cultural development.” A similar proposal was made by supporters of the ideas of the Bund to the Social-Democratic group in the Fourth Duma….

In this way the Bund adopted the curious position of national autonomy for the Jews.

We have examined above national autonomy in general. The examination showed that national autonomy leads to nationalism. We shall see later that the Bund has arrived at the same end point. But the Bund also regards national autonomy from a special aspect, namely, from the aspect of guarantees of the rights of national minorities. Let us also examine the question from this special aspect. It is all the more necessary since the problem of national minorities – and not of the Jewish minorities alone – is one of serious moment for Social-Democracy.

And so, it is a question of “institutions which guarantee” nations “complete freedom of cultural development” (our italics – J. St.).

But what are these “institutions which guarantee,” etc.?

They are primarily the “National Council” of Springer and Bauer, something in the nature of a Diet for cultural affairs.

But can these institutions guarantee a nation “complete freedom of cultural development”? Can a Diet for cultural affairs guarantee a nation against nationalist persecution?

The Bund believes it can.

But history proves the contrary.

At one time a Diet existed in Russian Poland. It was a political Diet and, of course, endeavoured to guarantee freedom of “cultural development” for the Poles. But, far from succeeding in doing so, it itself succumbed in the unequal struggle against the political conditions generally prevailing in Russia.

A Diet has been in existence for a long time in Finland, and it too endeavours to protect the Finnish nationality from “encroachments,” but how far it succeeds in doing so everybody can see.

Of course, there are Diets and Diets, and it is not so easy to cope with the democratically organized Finnish Diet as it was with the aristocratic Polish Diet. But the decisive factor, nevertheless, is not the Diet, but the general regime in Russia. If such a grossly Asiatic social and political regime existed in Russia now as in the past, at the time the Polish Diet was abolished, things would go much harder with the Finnish Diet. Moreover, the policy of “encroachments” upon Finland is growing, and it cannot be said that it has met with defeat….

If such is the case with old, historically evolved institutions – political Diets – still less will young Diets, young institutions, especially such feeble institutions as “cultural” Diets, be able to guarantee the free development of nations.

Obviously, it is not a question of “institutions,” but of the general regime prevailing in the country. If there is no democracy in the country there can be no guarantees of “complete freedom for cultural development” of nationalities. One may say with certainty that the more democratic a country is the fewer are the “encroachments” made on the “freedom of nationalities,” and the greater are the guarantees against such “encroachments.”

Russia is a semi-Asiatic country, and therefore in Russia the policy of “encroachments” not infrequently assumes the grossest form, the form of pogroms. It need hardly be said that in Russia “guarantees” have been reduced to the very minimum.

Germany is, however, European, and she enjoys a measure of political freedom. It is not surprising that the policy of “encroachments” there never takes the form of pogroms.

In France, of course, there are still more “guarantees,” for France is more democratic than Germany.

There is no need to mention Switzerland, where, thanks to her highly developed, although bourgeois democracy, nationalities live in freedom, whether they are a minority or a majority.

Thus the Bund adopts a false position when it asserts that “institutions” by themselves are able to guarantee complete cultural development for nationalities.

It may be said that the Bund itself regards the establishment of democracy in Russia as a preliminary condition for the “creation of institutions” and guarantees of freedom. But this is not the case. From the report of the Eighth Conference of the Bund it will be seen that the Bund thinks it can secure “institutions” on the basis of the present system in Russia, by “reforming” the Jewish community.

“The community,” one of the leaders of the Bund said at this conference, “may become the nucleus of future cultural-national autonomy. Cultural-national autonomy is a form of self-service on the part of nations, a form of satisfying national needs. The community form conceals within itself a similar content. They are links in the same chain, stages in the same evolution.”

On this basis, the conference decided that it was necessary to strive “for reforming the Jewish community and transforming it by legislative means into a secular institution,” democratically organized (our italics – J. St.).

It is evident that the Bund considers as the condition and guarantee not the democratization of Russia, but some future “secular institution” of the Jews, obtained by “reforming the Jewish community,” so to speak, by “legislative” means, through the Duma:

But we have already seen that “institutions” in themselves cannot serve as “guarantees” if the regime in the state generally is not a democratic one.

But what, it may be asked, will be – the position under a future democratic system? Will not special “cultural institutions which guarantee,” etc., be required even under democracy? What is the position in this respect in democratic Switzerland, for example? Are there special cultural institutions in Switzerland on the pattern of Springer’s “National Council”? No, there are not. But do not the cultural interests of, for instance, the Italians, who constitute a minority there, suffer for that reason? One does not seem to hear that they do. And that is quite natural: in Switzerland all special cultural “institutions,” which supposedly “guarantee,” etc., are rendered superfluous by democracy.

And so, impotent in the present and superfluous in the future – such are the institutions of cultural-national autonomy, and such is national autonomy.

But it becomes still more harmful when it is thrust upon a “nation” whose existence and future are open to doubt. In such cases the advocates of national autonomy are obliged to protect and preserve all the peculiar features of the “nation,” the bad as well as the good, just for the sake of “saving the nation” from assimilation, just for the sake of “preserving” it.

That the Bund should take this dangerous path was inevitable. And it did take it. We are referring to the resolutions of recent conferences of the Bund on the question of the “Sabbath,” “Yiddish,” etc.

Social-Democracy strives to secure for all nations the right to use their own language. But that does not satisfy the Bund; it demands that “the rights of the Jewish language” (our italics – J. St.) be championed with “exceptional persistence,” and the Bund itself in the elections to the Fourth Duma declared that it would give “preference to those of them (i.e., electors) who undertake to defend the rights of the Jewish language.”

Not the general right of all nations to use their own language, but the particular right of the Jewish language, Yiddish! Let the workers of the various nationalities fight primarily for their own language: the Jews for Jewish, the Georgians for Georgian, and so forth. The struggle for the general right of all nations is a secondary matter. You do not have to recognize the right of all oppressed nationalities to use their own language; but if you have recognized the right of Yiddish, know that the Bund will vote for you, the Bund will “prefer” you.

But in what way then does the Bund differ from the bourgeois nationalists?

Social-Democracy strives to secure the establishment of a compulsory weekly rest day. But that does not satisfy the Bund; it demands that “by legislative means” “the Jewish proletariat should be guaranteed the right to observe their Sabbath and be relieved of the obligation to observe another day. “*

It is to be expected that the Bund will take another “step forward” and demand the right to observe all the ancient Hebrew holidays. And if, to the misfortune of the Bund, the Jewish workers have discarded religious prejudices and do not want to observe these holidays, the Bund with its agitation for “the right to the Sabbath,” will remind them of the Sabbath, it will, so to speak, cultivate among them “the Sabbatarian spirit. “…

Quite comprehensible, therefore, are the “passionate speeches” delivered at the Eighth Conference of the Bund demanding “Jewish hospitals,” a demand that was based on the argument that “a patient feels more at home among his own people,” that “the Jewish worker will not feel at ease among Polish workers, but will feel at ease among Jewish shopkeepers.”

Preservation of everything Jewish, conservation of all the national peculiarities of the Jews, even those that are patently harmful to the proletariat, isolation of the Jews from everything non-Jewish, even the establishment of special hospitals – that is the level to which the Bund has sunk!

Comrade Plekhanov was right a thousand times over when he said that the Bund “is adapting socialism to nationalism.” Of course, V. Kossovsky and Bundists like him may denounce Plekhanov as a “demagogue” – paper will put up with anything that is written on it – but those who are familiar with the activities of the Bund will easily realize that these brave fellows are simply afraid to tell the truth about themselves and are hiding behind strong language about “demagogy. “…

But since it holds such a position on the national question, the Bund was naturally obliged, in the matter of organization also, to take the path of segregating the Jewish workers, the path of formation of national curiae within Social-Democracy. Such is the logic of national autonomy!

And, in fact, the Bund did pass from the theory of “sole representation” to the theory of “national demarcation” of workers. The Bund demands that Russian Social-Democracy should “in its organizational structure introduce demarcation according to nationalities.” From “demarcation” it made a “step forward” to the theory of “segregation.” It is not for nothing that speeches were made at the Eighth Conference of the Bund declaring that “national existence lies in segregation.”

Organizational federalism harbours the elements of disintegration and separatism. The Bund is heading for separatism.

And, indeed, there is nothing else it can head for. Its very existence as an extra-territorial organization drives it to separatism. The Bund does not possess a definite integral territory; it operates on “foreign” territories, whereas the neighbouring Polish, Lettish and Russian Social-Democracies are international territorial collective bodies. But the result is that every extension of these collective bodies means a “loss” to the Bund and a restriction of its field of action. There are two alternatives: either Russian Social-Democracy as a whole must be reconstructed on the basis of national federalism – which will enable the Bund to “secure” the Jewish proletariat for itself; or the territorial-international principle of these collective bodies remains in force – in which case the Bund must be reconstructed on the basis of internationalism, as is the case with the Polish and Lettish Social-Democracies.

This explains why the Bund from the very beginning demanded “the reorganization of Russian Social-Democracy on a federal basis.”

In 1906, yielding to the pressure from below in favour of unity, the Bund chose a middle path and joined Russian Social-Democracy. But how did it join? Whereas the Polish and Lettish Social-Democracies joined for the purpose of peaceable joint action, the Bund joined for the purpose of waging war for a federation. That is exactly what Medem, the leader of the Bundists, said at the time:

“We are joining not for the sake of an idyll, but in order to fight. There is no idyll, and only Manilovs could hope for one in the near future. The Bund must join the Party armed from head to foot.”

It would be wrong to regard this as an expression of evil intent on Medem’s part. It is not a matter of evil intent, but of the peculiar position of the Bund, which compels it to fight Russian Social-Democracy, which is built on the basis of internationalism. And in fighting it the Bund naturally violated the interests of unity. Finally, matters went so far that the Bund formally broke with Russian Social-Democracy, violating its statutes, and in the elections to the Fourth Duma joining forces with the Polish nationalists against the Polish Social-Democrats.

The Bund has apparently found that a rupture is the best guarantee for independent activity.

And so the “principle” of organizational “demarcation” led to separatism and to a complete rupture.

In a controversy with the old Iskra on the question of federalism, the Bund once wrote:

Iskra wants to assure us that federal relations between the Bund and Russian Social-Democracy are bound to weaken the ties between them. We cannot refute this opinion by referring to practice in Russia, for the simple reason that Russian Social-Democracy does not exist as a federal body. But we can refer to the extremely instructive experience of Social-Democracy in Austria, which assumed a federal character by virtue of the decision of the Party Congress of 1897.”

That was written in 1902.

But we are now in the year 1913. We now have both Russian “practice” and the “experience of Social-Democracy in Austria.”

What do they tell us?

Let us begin with “the extremely instructive experience of Social-Democracy in Austria.” Up to 1896 there was a united Social-Democratic Party in Austria. In that year the Czechs at the International Congress in London for the first time demanded separate representation, and were given it. In 1897, at the Vienna (Wimberg) Party Congress, the united party was formally Liquidated and in its place a federal league of six national “Social-Democratic groups” was set up. Subsequently these “groups” were converted into independent parties, which gradually severed contact with one another. Following the parties, the parliamentary group broke up – national “clubs” were formed. Next came the trade unions, which also split according to nationalities. Even the co-operative societies were affected, the Czech separatists calling upon the workers to split them up. We will not dwell on the fact that separatist agitation weakens the workers’ sense of solidarity and frequently drives them to strike-breaking.

Thus “the extremely instructive experience of Social-Democracy in Austria” speaks against the Bund and for the old Iskra. Federalism in the Austrian party has led to the most outrageous separatism, to the destruction of the unity of the labour movement.

We have seen above that “practical experience in Russia” also bears this out. Like the Czech separatists, the Bundist separatists have broken with the general Russian Social-Democratic Party. As for the trade unions, the Bundist trade unions, from the outset they were organized on national lines, that is to say, they were cut off from the workers of other nationalities.

Complete segregation and complete rupture – that is what is revealed by the “Russian practical experience” of federalism.

It is not surprising that the effect of this state of affairs upon the workers is to weaken their sense of solidarity and to demoralize them; and the latter process is also penetrating the Bund. We are referring to the increasing collisions between Jewish and Polish workers in connection with unemployment. Here is the kind of speech that was made on this subject at the Ninth Conference of the Bund:

“… We regard the Polish workers, who are ousting us, as pogromists, as scabs; we do not support their strikes, we break them. Secondly, we reply to being ousted by ousting in our turn: we reply to Jewish workers not being allowed into the factories by not allowing Polish workers near the benches…. If we do not take this matter into our own hands the workers will follow others” (our italics – J. St.)

That is the way they talk about solidarity at a Bundist conference.

You cannot go further than that in the way of “demarcation” and “segregation.” The Bund has achieved its aim: it is carrying its demarcation between the workers of different nationalities to the point of conflicts and strike-breaking. And there is no other course: “If we do not take this matter into our own hands the workers will follow others….”

Disorganization of the labour movement, demoralization of the Social-Democratic ranks – that is what the federalism of the Bund leads to.

Thus the idea of cultural-national autonomy, the atmosphere it creates, has proved to be even more harmful in Russia than in Austria.

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