V. I. Lenin
Editing: Roderic Day

The Kievsky Mixtape (1916)

19 minutes | English | The Soviet Union

Y. L. Pyatakov, alias Kievsky, authored The Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination in the Era of Finance Capital in August 1916.

This text combines excerpts from Lenin’s twofold response, Reply to P. Kievsky [1] and A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism [2], both written in the August-October period of 1916, in a “remixed” summary form. [3]

Due to financial difficulties neither was published at the time. They were instead passed around in manuscript form among Bolsheviks at home and abroad. They now comprise the beginning of Volume 23 of Lenin’s Collected Works. — R. D.


Caricaturized Marxism

In his controversy with the Lefts, Kautsky declared that imperialism was “merely a system of foreign policy” (namely, annexation), and that it would be wrong to describe as imperialism a definite economic stage, or level, in the development of capitalism. Kautsky is wrong. It is fundamentally wrong, un-Marxist and unscientific, to single out “foreign policy” from policy in general, let alone counterpose foreign policy to home policy.

Of course, it is not proper to argue about words. You cannot prohibit the use of the “word” imperialism in this sense or any other. But if you want to conduct a discussion you must define your terms precisely.

Economically, imperialism (or the “era” of finance capital — it is not a matter of words) is the highest stage in the development of capitalism, one in which production has assumed such big, immense proportions that free competition gives way to monopoly. That is the economic essence of imperialism. Monopoly manifests itself in trusts, syndicates, etc., in the omnipotence of the giant banks, in the buying up of raw material sources, etc., in the concentration of banking capital, etc. Everything hinges on economic monopoly.

The political superstructure of this new economy, of monopoly capitalism (imperialism is monopoly capitalism) is the change from democracy to political reaction. Democracy corresponds to free competition. Political reaction corresponds to monopoly. “Finance capital strives for domination, not freedom,” Rudolf Hilferding rightly remarks in his Finance Capital.

Imperialism is as much our “mortal” enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism; we will not support an uprising of the reactionary classes against imperialism and capitalism.

We shall not “support” a republican farce in, say, the principality of Monaco, or the “republican” adventurism of “generals” in the small states of South America or some Pacific island. But that does not mean it would be permissible to abandon the republican slogan for serious democratic and socialist movements. We should, and do, ridicule the sordid national squabbles and haggling in Russia and Austria. But that does not mean that it would be permissible to deny support to a national uprising or a serious popular struggle against national oppression.

War is the continuation of policy. Consequently, we must examine the policy pursued prior to the war, the policy that led to and brought about the war. If it was an imperialist policy, i.e., one designed to safeguard the interests of finance capital and rob and oppress colonies and foreign countries, then the war stemming from that policy is imperialist. If it was a national liberation policy, i.e., one expressive of the mass movement against national oppression, then the war stemming from that policy is a war of national liberation.

It is only from the point of view of imperialist Economism, i.e., caricaturised Marxism, that one can ignore, for instance, this specific aspect of imperialist policy: on the one hand, the present imperialist war offers examples of how the force of financial ties and economic interests draws a small, politically independent state into the struggle of the Great Powers (Britain and Portugal). On the other hand, the violation of democracy with regard to small nations, much weaker (both economically and politically) than their imperialist “patrons,” leads either to revolt (Ireland) or to defection of whole regiments to the enemy (the Czechs). In this situation it is not only “achievable,” from the point of view of finance capital, but sometimes even profitable for the trusts, for their imperialist policy, for their imperialist war, to allow individual small nations as much democratic freedom as they can, right down to political independence, so as not to risk damaging their “own” military operations. To overlook the peculiarity of political and strategic relationships and to repeat indiscriminately a word learned by rote, “imperialism,” is anything but Marxism.

The philistine does not realise that war is “the continuation of policy,” and consequently limits himself to the formula that “the enemy has attacked us,” “the enemy has invaded my country,” without stopping to think what issues are at stake in the war, which classes are waging it, and with what political objects. Kievsky stoops right down to the level of such a philistine when he declares that Belgium has been occupied by the Germans, and hence, from the point of view of self-determination, the “Belgian social-patriots are right.”

For the philistine the important thing is where the armies stand, who is winning at the moment. For the Marxist the important thing is what issues are at stake in this war, during which first one, then the other army may be on top.

We are for a democratic peace, only we warn the workers against the deception that such a peace is possible under the present, bourgeois governments “without a series of revolutions,” as the resolution points out. We denounced as a deception of the workers the “abstract” advocacy of peace, i.e., one that does not take into account the real class nature, or, specifically, the imperialist nature of the present governments in the belligerent countries.

What, generally speaking, is “defence of the fatherland”? Is it a scientific concept relating to economics, politics, etc.? No. It is a much bandied about current expression, sometimes simply a philistine phrase, intended to justify the war. Nothing more. Absolutely nothing! The term “treasonous” can apply only in the sense that the philistine is capable of justifying any war by pleading “we are defending our fatherland,” whereas Marxism, which does not degrade itself by stooping to the philistine’s level, requires an historical analysis of each war in order to determine whether or not that particular war can be considered progressive, whether it serves the interests of democracy and the proletariat and, in that sense, is legitimate, just, etc.

There is not, nor can there be, such a thing as a “negative” Social-Democratic slogan that serves only to “sharpen proletarian consciousness against imperialism” without at the same time offering a positive answer to the question of how Social-Democracy will solve the problem when it assumes power. A “negative” slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not “sharpen,” but dull consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase, mere shouting, meaningless declamation.

Intensification of the struggle is an empty phrase of the subjectivists, who forget the Marxist requirement that every slogan be justified by a precise analysis of economic realities, the political situation and the political significance of the slogan. It is embarrassing to have to drive this home, but what can one do?

Every slogan is and always will be “treasonous” for those who mechanically repeat it without understanding its meaning, without giving it proper thought, for those who merely memorise the words without analysing their implications.

Different Demands

What we demand, primarily, of the workers of the oppressed nations — this refers to the national question only — differs from what we demand of the workers of the oppressor nations.

  1. Economically, the difference is that sections of the working class in the oppressor nations receive crumbs from the superprofits the bourgeoisie of these nations obtains by extra exploitation of the workers of the oppressed nations. Besides, economic statistics show that here a larger percentage of the workers become “straw bosses” than is the case in the oppressed nations, a larger percentage rise to the labour aristocracy. That is a fact. To a certain degree the workers of the oppressor nations are partners of their own bourgeoisie in plundering the workers (and the mass of the population) of the oppressed nations.

  2. Politically, the difference is that, compared with the workers of the oppressed nations, they occupy a privileged position in many spheres of political life.

  3. Ideologically, or spiritually, the difference is that they are taught, at school and in life, disdain and contempt for the workers of the oppressed nations. This has been experienced, for example, by every Great Russian who has been brought up or who has lived among Great Russians.

Thus, all along the line there are differences in objective reality, i.e., “dualism” in the objective world that is independent of the will and consciousness of individuals.

Great-Russian workers must demand from our government that it get out of Mongolia, Turkestan, Persia; English workers must demand that the English Government get out of Egypt, India, Persia, etc. But does this mean that we proletarians wish to separate ourselves from the Egyptian workers and fellahs, from the Mongolian, Turkestan or Indian workers and peasants? Does it mean that we advise the labouring masses of the colonies to “separate” from the class-conscious European proletariat? Nothing of the kind. Now, as always, we stand and shall continue to stand for the closest association and merging of the class-conscious workers of the advanced countries with the workers, peasants and slaves of all the oppressed countries. We have always advised and shall continue to advise all the oppressed classes in all the oppressed countries, the colonies included, not to separate from us, but to form the closest possible ties and merge with us.

The undeveloped countries are a different matter. They embrace the whole of Eastern Europe and all the colonies and semi-colonies and are dealt with in section six of the theses (second- and third-type countries). In those areas, as a rule, there still exist oppressed and capitalistically undeveloped nations. Objectively, these nations still have general national tasks to accomplish, namely, democratic tasks, the tasks of overthrowing foreign oppression. Liberation of the colonies, we stated in our theses, means self-determination of nations. Europeans often forget that colonial peoples too are nations, but to tolerate this “forgetfulness” is to tolerate chauvinism.

The social revolution cannot be the united action of the proletarians of all countries for the simple reason that most of the countries and the majority of the world’s population have not even reached, or have only just reached, the capitalist stage of development. To dream of the “united action of the proletarians of all countries” means postponing socialism to the Greek calends, i.e., for ever. In advanced countries (England, France, Germany, etc.) the national problem was solved long ago; national unity outlived its purpose long ago; objectively, there are no “general national tasks” to be accomplished. Hence, only in these countries is it possible now to “blow up” national unity and establish class unity.

All nations will arrive at socialism — this is inevitable, but all will do so in not exactly the same way, each will contribute something of its own to some form of democracy, to some variety of the dictatorship of the proletariat, to the varying rate of socialist transformations in the different aspects of social life. [4] There is nothing more primitive from the viewpoint of theory, or more ridiculous from that of practice, than to paint, “in the name of historical materialism,” this aspect of the future in a monotonous grey.

Even the trusts and banks of modern imperialism, though inevitable everywhere as part of developed capitalism, differ in their concrete aspects from country to country. There is a still greater difference, despite homogeneity in essentials, between political forms in the advanced imperialist countries — America, England, France, Germany. The same variety will manifest itself also in the path mankind will follow from the imperialism of today to the socialist revolution of tomorrow.

We do not know, and cannot know, how many of the oppressed nations will in practice require secession in order to contribute something of their own to the different forms of democracy, the different forms of transition to socialism. And that the negation of freedom of secession now is theoretically false from beginning to end and in practice amounts to servility to the chauvinists of the oppressing nations — this we know, see and feel daily.

Under socialism, P. Kievsky writes, self-determination becomes superfluous, since the state itself ceases to exist. That is meant as an argument against us! But in our theses we clearly and definitely say, in three lines, the last three lines of section one, that “democracy, too, is a form of state which must disappear when the state disappears.” It is precisely this truism that P. Kievsky repeats — to “refute” us, of course! — on several pages, and repeats it in a distorted way. “We picture to ourselves,” he writes, “and have always pictured the socialist system as a strictly democratic [!!?], centralised system of economy in which the state, as the apparatus for the domination of one part of the population over the other, disappears.” [5] This is confusion, because democracy too is domination “of one part of the population over the other”; it too is a form of state. Our author obviously does not understand what is meant by the withering away of the state after the victory of socialism and what this process requires.

Only those who cannot think straight or have no knowledge of Marxism will conclude: so there is no point in having a republic, no point in freedom of divorce, no point in democracy, no point in self-determination of nations! But Marxists know that democracy does not abolish class oppression. It only makes the class struggle more direct, wider, more open and pronounced, and that is what we need. The fuller the freedom of divorce, the clearer will women see that the source of their “domestic slavery” is capitalism, not lack of rights. [6] The more democratic the system of government, the clearer will the workers see that the root evil is capitalism, not lack of rights. The fuller national equality (and it is not complete without freedom of secession), the clearer will the workers of the oppressed nations see that the cause of their oppression is capitalism, not lack of rights, etc.

Capitalism in general, and imperialism in particular, turn democracy into an illusion — though at the same time capitalism engenders democratic aspirations in the masses, creates democratic institutions, aggravates the antagonism between imperialism’s denial of democracy and the mass striving for democracy. Capitalism and imperialism can be overthrown only by economic revolution. They cannot be overthrown by democratic transformations, even the most “ideal.” But a proletariat not schooled in the struggle for democracy is incapable of performing an economic revolution.

Capitalism cannot be vanquished without taking over the banks, without repealing private ownership of the means of production. These revolutionary measures, however, cannot be implemented without organising the entire people for democratic administration of the means of production captured from the bourgeoisie, without enlisting the entire mass of the working people — the proletarians, semi-proletarians and small peasants — for the democratic organisation of their ranks, their forces, and their participation in state affairs.

All “democracy” consists in the proclamation and realisation of “rights” which under capitalism are realisable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights; without a struggle to introduce them now, immediately; without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle; socialism is impossible.

For the bourgeoisie the proclamation of equal rights for all nations has become a deception. For us it will be the truth that will facilitate and accelerate the winning over of all nations.

[1] V. I. Lenin, 1916. Reply to P. Kievsky. (Originally submitted to the journal Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata, but first published in the pages of Bolshevik No. 15 in 1929.) [web] 

[2] V. I. Lenin, 1916. A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism. (First published in the first two issues of Zvezda in 1924.) [web] 

[3] See the explanatory note at the end. — R. D. [9] 

[4] The question of proletarian dictatorship is of such overriding importance that he who denies the need for such dictatorship, or recognises it only in words, cannot be a member of the Social-Democratic Party. — Lenin. 

[5] To criticise an author, to answer him, one has to quote in full at least the main propositions of his article. — Lenin. 

[6] As first posed by Rosa Luxemburg in the discussion on the national question. — Lenin. 

[7] Amílcar Cabral, 1965. Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories. [web] 

[8] Shyam Singha Roy: Romantic Cut (2021) by @RomanticSwamp. [web] 

[9] I titled it The Kievsky Mixtape precisely to ensure that people attempting to cite it will hopefully realize, as they write out the title, that the idea of Lenin writing about mixtapes is very suspicious. That said, Lenin really did write every single one of the paragraphs above. I got the idea of reorganizing an existing, under-discussed text after working on Amílcar Cabral’s Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories, which consists entirely of fragments taken (mostly) from a 1965 PAIGC General Directive and reassembled non-sequentially. [7] I also was encouraged by a friend doing something comparable in order to create a fantastic short film out of a mediocre longer one. [8] I decided to give this text a similar treatment because I felt in its current form it is somewhat laden with excessive focus on his dispute with the now-forgotten Kievsky, and yet it houses many brilliant insights that have striking significance today.