Indeed, compared to their support of national liberation struggles like East Asia and Africa e. Vietnam, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, etc.
It is an obvious fact that the USSR was a fair-weather friend only interested in realpolitik , and without concern for the well-being of the Palestinian people, much less for a legitimate peace in the Middle East. Georgy Safarov was born in St. Petersburg in He joined the Bolsheviks in , and from spent many years exiled in Switzerland, returning to Russia alongside Lenin in Despite spending most of his political career up until the revolution in Western Europe, he took a keen interest in the national question, especially the plight of the Muslim population of Russian Central Asia.
He was sent to Soviet Turkestan in to aid in the establishment of soviet power and the fight against the counterrevolutionary Basmachi movement. The complexity of carrying out these tasks—establishing soviet power, winning over the oppressed masses, building socialism, and combatting both counterrevolutionary nationalism and Russian chauvinism—led Safarov to engage in a comprehensive study of Central Asian economic and social conditions.
The two pieces we present below were written around the time that Safarov was engaged in a struggle with Mikhail Tomsky, who also had come to hold a leadership position in Soviet Turkestan. Tomsky, as Matthieu Renault elaborates in his essay Revolution Decentered: Two Studies on Lenin , wished to transplant the methods used with regard to the peasantry in the Russian core—the tax-in-kind, etc.
To this proposal, Safarov counterposed the establishment of committees of the poor peasants and distribution of the lands of the large landowners to these peasants, in order to encourage class conflict within the Muslim population, against both their own elites and the Russian colonisers. As Renault demonstrates, Lenin—eternally concerned with Great Russian chauvinism and bureaucratism—attempted to mediate between the two, but clearly sided with Safarov.
This was a struggle that he and Safarov were to lose. The first essay, The Evolution of the National Question , published in the French publication Bulletin communiste in early , is a brief sketch of the development of the national question throughout the revolutionary period, and concludes with a list of problems and a set of prescriptions for the Soviet government to act upon.
The style, structure, and content suggest that it was rather hastily written as a call to action, a feature that we have attempted to preserve in this translation. The second, The East and Revolution , published in Bulletin communiste a few months after and having been published in German in late , greatly elaborates on the content of the first article, with references to anthropological, economic, and historical studies, especially of the Central Asian peoples of the Russian Empire. In the spirit of scientific inquiry, Safarov examines the nature of imperialism, its effect on the economies and societies of colonised nations, the changes in the global and Russian situations since the beginning of the First World War, and the experiences of the national-democratic and proletarian revolutions occurring worldwide in the wake of the war.
He then discusses solutions to the national question, in an earnest attempt to resolve the tensions inherent to the national-democratic and socialist revolutions in Russia, and by extension the world. But the importance of the soviets, for Safarov, is not the particularities of the soviet form as manifested in Russia in he in fact refers also to the anjoman , a type of revolutionary council that emerged during the Persian Constitutional Revolution of Rather, it is their status as popular organs of the revolutionary masses, created in the actual process of the class struggle, and as anti-agreementist organs from which the exploiting strata are excluded.
For Safarov, the significance of the soviet form is not in their size, nor in their organisational norms; it is in their class composition. Only the class-independence of the labouring masses the proletariat, the peasantry, and the petty producers alike from their exploiters can fully carry out the project of national liberation from imperialism.
The native exploiters, Safarov demonstrates, will inevitably betray the interests of the majority of the nation in favor of their own class interests, and in so doing will side with imperialist dictatorship. It is crucial to note that Safarov does not at any point confuse national liberation with the transition to communism, nor does he advocate liquidation of the proletarian struggle against exploitation into the pure struggle for national liberation. Just as the Russian proletariat was incapable of exercising power without the support and active participation of the peasantry unless they wanted to wage a brutal war against the countryside , it was also unable to exercise power without the participation of the exploited strata of the oppressed nations.
This applies not only to the Soviet Republic internally, but also to the international revolution.
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The tendencies that Safarov identifies constitute an early version of a thesis later elaborated upon by postcolonial revolutionaries and scholars, such as Frantz Fanon. The thesis rejects both stageism—the idea that the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions are and must be entirely distinct events—and the notion that proletarian revolution must be directly transplanted to the colonies by the advanced proletariat of the imperial core, to the exclusion of a native, national-democratic revolution. These two stages of revolution—national and socialist—are not identical, but neither can they be isolated from each other.
We contend that these articles are not only a historical curiosity, but can provide insight into questions of imperialism, uneven economic development, and national oppression even today, along with the larger body of scientific study on the national question. The experience of the revolution has not been sufficiently instructive with regard to the national question. At the beginning of the October Revolution this question had not been posed as concretely, nor with such tangible importance and keenness as today.
In the first year of soviet power, the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination manifested itself above all as the liquidation of the colonial heritage of the old Russian Empire. Soviet power gave them national equality, up to and including the right to create an independent state. The needs of the struggle against internal counterrevolution made this question a problem of prime urgency. Thanks to the concentration of the proletariat in the big cities and the industrial regions of Central Russia, to the favourable strategic position inhabited by this proletariat over the course of Russian history, the seizure of power could not have been easier.
But these same circumstances determined in advance the historic path of the Russian counterrevolution, bourgeois and aristocratic, a path travelling from the outer provinces towards the centre. The key to victory was in the resolution of the national question. But obtaining this resolution has not been easy.
It has been necessary, firstly, to educate the Russian proletarian masses, infected—at least among their backwards sections—by an unconscious nationalism that makes them see the Russian cities as the focal point of the revolution, and the non-Russian villages as the focal point of the petite bourgeoisie; this leads them to apply the same methods of attack against these villages as are employed against capital.
It has been necessary on the other hand to overcome the age-old distrust of the non-Russian villages towards the Russian cities and factories. The cities and the factories were developed and fortified on the immense expanses of the peasant world, as centres of Russian colonisation. The assault against capital, advancing beyond the outskirts of the city, encounters an environment where the classes were not distinguished. It comes up against an impassable wall of national distrust. The primary attitude of the oppressed, non-Russian countryside was above all the desire for the Russian cities to finally cease commanding them, and to let the oppressed nations freely pursue their proper path towards national development.
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The poor sections of the oppressed nations considered soviet power to be a force hostile to their national character. The well-off sections and the nationalists of the intellectual stratum, having become the direct object of requisitions and confiscations, as well as of the struggle against counterrevolution, speculation, and sabotage, saw soviet power as a direct menace to their class domination or to their privileges as intellectual workers.
This state of mind naturally facilitated, in a large way, the projects of the Russian counterrevolution. Crushed in the first declared encounter, they naturally seized upon the principles of separation, decentralisation, and independence. The masses of Russian proletarians inhabiting the frontiers understood, too, that without the middle peasant it was impossible to hold firm against the aristocrats and the generals, that without the allogenous peoples it was impossible to create global proletarian power.
The immediate collision of Soviet Russia with international imperialism compelled the oppressed nations to stand with the Russian proletariat against imperialist dictatorship, since the latter excluded all possibility of democracy and national liberty. The civil war was terrible, but it made the peoples of Russia pass through entire eras of history.
Over the course of the civil war the possessing classes of the oppressed nations demonstrated to even the most backwards their internal, profound impotence in maintaining their positions of national independence in the struggle between capital and the soviets. The conclusion of this experience has been clear and indubitable: all the bourgeois-national movements, led by the ruling class, have a natural tendency to adapt to imperialism, to enter into the imperialist system of the great powers, the buffer states, and the colonies.
The natural tendency, unconscious from the first, of all national-revolutionary movements, is, by contrast, to draw on the revolutionary governing organisation of the proletariat of the more advanced countries, in order to obtain, by this course, their freedom to develop their nation in the global socialist economic system presently being constructed.
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The structure of the Federation of Soviets of Russia, the decisions of the Congress of the Peoples of the East, the existing alliance with the eastern revolutionary movements with the European revolutionary proletariat, are proof of this. Three years of soviet power have presented the national question on a global scale, as a question of class struggle. We can thus say that soviet power is the algebraic formula of revolution. The Second Congress of the Communist International recognised this, in concluding that the backwards peoples, with the aid of the proletariat of the more advanced countries, and by means of the formation of soviets, can jump over the capitalist stage to immediately prepare for communism.
Our Russian colonisers in no way differentiate themselves from the bourgeois socialists of the Yellow International. To combat them is to combat bourgeois—however radical it appears—influence on the proletariat.
If we transplant the communist revolution, unaltered, to the backwards countries, we can obtain but a single result: to unite the exploited masses with their exploiters in a common struggle for the freedom of national development. But the soviets are the class organisational form which permits the smooth advancement to communism, starting from the lowest stages of historical development. The semi-proletarian Kirghiz, the poor Bashkir, the Armenian peasant, each has wealthy classes in their country. For the labourers of the backwards countries, bourgeois democracy can represent nothing other than a reinforcement of traditional domination, half-feudal, half-bourgeois.
Six years of turmoil, to , have brought hardship to the labourers of the backwards countries. The Kirghiz who were mobilised in to dig trenches have even now not been able to recover their lands, once given by the tsar to the rich peasants of Russia. The economic crisis, the absence of flour and cloth, has significantly exacerbated the subjugation of the poor class among the Kirghiz, in Bashkiria, in Turkestan, etc.
In the countries of the East, placed between life and death by the yoke of English imperialism, the crisis clears the market of European products, but at the same time it augments the appetites of the Western generals, the adventurers and the national usurers. This entire programme has not a single communist element.
It is only after its realisation that the preparation for communism can begin among the backwards peoples. Here, as everywhere, we must terminate that which has not terminated — which has been incapable of terminating — capitalism. The communist revolution, throughout its entire course, must struggle against the exploiters of all historic periods and all types.
Soviet power has become the form by which the right of the oppressed peoples to self-determination manifests. The soviet organisation of the oppressed peoples, from the national point of view as from the political point of view, sets itself against a slew of practical barriers, arising from class inequality and from traditional injustices. There are enormous spaces, populated by the nations formerly oppressed by tsarism, a great distance away from the railroads.
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A characteristic example: the Semirechye line, impossible to construct, although the remoteness of this region with respect to Turkestan proper permits the large Russian peasants to maintain an autonomous existence. The nomads fear the city, because they see it as an erstwhile nest of police. There are no Muslim printed letters, because printing was the privilege of the dominant nation. There is no one literate in the native language; in Turkestan the cantons are forced to lend secretaries between each other for their executive committees.