This essay, "The Theory of National Minorities," was published as Chapter 5 in J. M. Blaut, The National Question: Decolonizing the Theory of Nationalism (London: Zed Books, 1987, copyright J.M. Blaut). If you re-transmit or copy this text, please indicate the author, title, and publisher of the volume from which it has been extracted. The essay was first published (in slightly different form) in Monthly Review in 1977, with the title "Are Puerto Ricans a National Minority?" Spanish and Italian translations have been published (paper copies on request).






Some sectors of the North American Left are convinced that Puerto Ricans in the United States do not belong to the Puerto Rican nation; that this community is merely a 'national minority' -- an ethnic subdivision of a different nation, the United States. This national-minority theory bears some resemblance to the old idea of the 'melting pot', or at least to its liberal variant ('Puerto Rican-Americans', 'ethnic heritage', 'minority rights', etc.), but there is one crucial difference. The national-minority theory is said to be grounded in Marxism, and specifically in a doctrine derived from a 1913 essay by Stalin, 'Marxism and the National Question'.1 In essence, the argument is simple. Stalin listed the attributes which, in his opinion, an ethnic group must possess to qualify as a nation. This was Stalin's famous 'definition of the nation', which became the orthodox Marxist concept of the nation, accepted by most Marxists, Stalinists and non-Stalinists alike, down to recent times. Complementing the concept of 'nation' was the concept of 'national minority', a term which designated ethnic communities that failed to qualify as nations.


The distinction was terribly important. Real nations had the potential to become independent states, and deserved the right of self-determination. National minorities had no such potential, and were fated to dissolve, in political terms, through assimilation. Moreover, national forms of political struggle were justifiable for nations, but not for national minorities. One of Stalin's crucial criteria for nationhood was the possession of undivided national territory. Ethnic communities which were fragmented or dispersed were not real nations: They were national minorities. Puerto Ricans living in the United States must be, by this criterion, a national minority. The same judgment must apply to many other communities around the world, including, for instance, West Indians, Africans, and Asians in Europe and Koreans in Japan. All such groups are national minorities, doomed to dissolution and enjoined from engaging in national forms of struggle.


But there are two Marxist theories dealing with minorities. And there are two very different kinds of minorities, each succumbing to its own distinctive analysis. Puerto Ricans do not fall within the purview of Stalin's theory, but within another theory which was prefigured in Marx's and Engels' analysis of the Irish community in England and was then developed into a general theory by Lenin in the period 1915-1923. The fundamental difference between the two theories has to do with the facts of colonialism and imperialism. Lenin provided the first comprehensive analysis of imperialism, and of modern colonialism.2 In the process, he developed a theory of nations which applies to colonial nations, like Puerto Rico and the Puerto Ricans. Stalin, in 'Marxism and the National Question', barely mentions colonial nations, and his theory of nations and minorities does not in any case work for colonies. Even for the non-colonial nations of Europe, in fact, the theory is only applicable to an early period in their history, the 'epoch of rising capitalism', an epoch which ended almost everywhere with the outbreak of the First World War. All of this notwithstanding, Stalin's 1913 article was significant as a contribution to Marxist theory and to the Russian revolutionary struggle -- a judgment concurred in by many non-Marxist scholars as well as Marxists (even by Trotsky!).3 But the theory does not apply to Puerto Ricans. Lenin's theory, by contrast, does apply. And Lenin's theory compels the conclusion that Puerto Ricans in the United States are still part of the colonial nation of Puerto Rico.




We can begin, I think, with a small incident involving Friedrich Engels a century ago. The setting is a General Council meeting of the International Working Men's Association (the First International) in 1872. Mr. Hales, the Council's Secretary, proposes the following motion:


'That in the opinion of the Council the formation of Irish national branches in England is opposed to the General Rules and principles of the Association.'


Mr. Hales then explained his motion:


'He said... the fundamental principle of the Association was to destroy all semblance of the nationalist doctrine, and remove all barriers that separated man from man... The formation of Irish branches in England could only keep alive that national antagonism which had unfortunately so long existed between the people of the two countries... No one knew what the Irish branches were doing, and in their rules they stated that they were republican, and their first objective was to liberate Ireland from a foreign domination, [but] the International had nothing to do with liberating Ireland...'


The motion was debated, and Engels rose to speak.


'Citizen Engels said the real purpose of the motion, stripped of all hypocrisy, was to bring the Irish sections into subjection to the British Federal Council [of the International) , a thing to which the Irish sections would never consent, and which the Council had neither the right nor the power to impose upon them... The Irish formed a distinct nationality of their own, and the fact that [they] used the English language could not deprive them of their rights... Citizen Hales had spoken of the relations of England and Ireland being of the most idyllic nature... but the case was quite different. There was the fact of seven centuries of English conquest and oppression of Ireland, and so long as that oppression existed, it would be an insult to Irish working men to ask them to submit to a British Federal Council. [The motion] was asking the conquered people to forget their nationality and submit to their conquerers. It was not Internationalism, but simply prating submission. If the promoters of the motion were so brimful of the truly international spirit, let them prove it by removing the seat of the British Federal Council to Dublin and submit to a Council of Irishmen. In a case like that of the Irish, true Internationalism must necessarily be based upon a distinct national organization, and they were under the necessity to state in... their rules that their first and most pressing duty as Irishmen was to establish their own 5 national independence...'


Thus we have Engels' opinion concerning the nationalism of two million Irish men and women who had been forced to emigrate to England (as two million Puerto Ricans have, to the United States). But consider now another opinion which Engels expressed at about the same time, concerning the 'right to independent national existence of those numerous small relics of peoples which, after having figured for a longer or shorter period on the stage of history, were finally absorbed as integral portions' of powerful European nations. Here he is talking about a different type of minority, a small European nation somehow lying within the borders of a larger European nation and, in Engels' view, undeserving of independence. Equally undeserving is the 'detached fraction of any nationality' which might wish 'to be allowed to annex itself to its great mother-country', a situation very common then, particularly in Eastern Europe where the recurring tides of invasions during a thousand turbulent years had 'left on the shore... heaps of intermingled ruins of nations... and where the Turk, the Finnic Magyar, the Rouman, the Jew, and about a dozen Slavonic tribes, live intermixed in interminable confusion'. In such cases Engels would withhold support from any separatist movement. But how can all this be reconciled with Engels' fierce defense of nationalism, and of separate political organization, among the minority Irishmen in England?


Engels' reference to 'small relics of peoples', 'ruins of nations', and the like, was in the context of an article in which he was passionately defending the right of Poland to independence, and defending a proclamation in support of that right by the First International. His disparaging remarks about minority nations were part of an analysis aimed at distinguishing between the case of viable nations, like Poland, and non-viable, fragmentary, minority nations, thereby refuting the charge that support for Polish independence implied support for all manifestations of nationalism. Engels made the distinction, in characteristic Marxist fashion, by referring to history. The 'ruins of nations' became that way through a thousand years of tangled mixing of nations; the 'detached fraction' was once attached; and so on. But compare the history of these minorities with that of Ireland. The latter exists as a definite, viable, but (for 700 years) oppressed nation. The organization of its socialist movement must take place in the midst not only of colonial oppression but also of massive, forced emigration to England -- a matter to which Marx and Engels referred repeatedly in their writings.7


Now the lot of Ireland in the mid-l9th century was extraordinarily like that of Puerto Rico in the mid-2Oth century; both becoming depopulated through destruction of their rural economies: both enduring forced emigration -- the reverse of the coin of depopulation -- to a nearby industrial nation, the effect being the establishment of ghettos in the oppressor nation's cities; and in both cases persistent back-and-forth movement of the population between colony and oppressor nation because of the proximity of one to the other.7A (Today we have the 'air bridge' between New York and San Juan.)


Everyone now agrees that Marx and Engels did not have a comprehensive, general theory of imperialism and colonialism; that was Lenin's later contribution. But they did have an excellent special theory for Ireland, this one example of imperialism and colonialism which lay on Europe's doorstep. And they related to Ireland in their revolutionary practice. So they could not fail to support Irish independence, conceptualize the Irish minority in England as an intergral part of the Irish nation, and defend the right of the Irish forced emigrants to organize politically in England. At the same time, Marx and Engels refused to take this same stand in the case of the non-colonial minorities of Eastern Europe, which had not suffered national oppression of the Irish variety, including, most notably, forced emigration. The moral is this: Stalin, in 'Marxism and the National Question', was talking mainly about the East-European case, and his analysis was largely correct. But his conclusions did not apply to colonial peoples, like the Irish and the Puerto Ricans. The two kinds of minority, and the two corresponding theories (and forms of practice), had already been distinguished by Marxism, long before 1913.




'Marxism and the National Question' was written only to deal with a particular situation at a particular historical conjuncture. It was not intended to be a universal Marxist textbook on nationalism. This will be clear if we look closely at the context in which it was written, long ago and far away.


In 1912 the Bolsheviks were in the midst of what proved to be the most serious crisis in the history of their party.8 Nationalism of a certain sort was the major symptom of the crisis, though not the major cause. The cause, as described by both Lenin and Stalin, was counter-revolutionary repression by the Tsarist authorities following the abortive revolution of 1905. The effect was a dangerous weakening of the revolutionary movement. The Bolsheviks were convinced that their pre-1905 program and their long-term strategy continued to be correct, and that victory would come very soon (as it did). But many socialist groups and factions had become demoralized; succumbing to repression, they chose to abandon the hard-line Bolshevik position which sought the overthrow of the Tsarist government and to adopt instead a gradualist, reformist program and to retreat to aboveground (legal) political action.


This set the stage for an immense ideological struggle, one which took place on two levels: basic program, or theor y, and party organization. The major issue on both levels was nationalism. Whereas the Bolsheviks were determined to overthrow the Tsar, the reformists were willing to settle for a different, more democratic form of the Russian Empire, an improved version of the Austrian Empire, which seemed at the time to be more democratic than the Russian, mainly because it granted basic civil rights to minority nations. One precedent for a socialist-reformist position of this sort was to be found in the Austrian Social Democratic Party's platform, but the clearest precedent lay in a proposal by Otto Bauer, an Austrian socialist, for a scheme which he termed 'cultural-national autonomy'.9 Applied to Russia, this scheme would call for civil equality and a form of federalism among the nations within the empire -- but still within the empire, and therefore far short of the Bolshevik goal of destroying the empire.


Thus, at the level of program, or theory, the reformists wanted national autonomy within the Russian state, while the Bolsheviks rejected this form of limited nationalism in favor of the overthrow of the state. In the long run the Bolshevik position impled much more intense national struggle, since it called for the destruction of the integral empire and the right of all nations within it to secede. But in the short run the reformists seemed to be nationalists, and nationalism seemed to be reformism.


Nationalism was also the main issue at the organizational level. An underground, Bolshevik-style revolutionary party had to be a centralized party. A non-revolutionary, legal party could perhaps afford to be a loose federation of sub-parties, each with a great deal of autonomy. Since the reformists' program was nationalistic, the proposed federal structure would naturally involve a cleavage along national lines. To the Bolsheviks, however, a federation of national parties was simply not a revolutionary party.  OeLenin called a party conference in January, 1912, to force these issues. The reformists countered with a conference of their own in August. Then Lenin opened his full-scale offensive. One battle-front was of course nationalism, and 'all serious-minded Social-Democrats' were urged by him to raise and discuss the "national questionl'.10  Stalin prepared the first major polemic, 'Marxism and the National Question', which was followed in train by two major articles by Lenin himself.11 The Bolsheviks regained their strength and party unity without sacrifice of program or structure, and Stalin's article played an important role. It was a weapon in a battle against manifestations of nationalism which were objectively counter-revolutionary in the Russia of 1912-1913. It was a strong and consciously one-sided attack on those forms of nationalism which posed an immediate threat to the Bolsheviks. It was, in short, a polemic. Thus it was not an academic essay, still less a Marxist textbook on nationalism in general. Its argument should not be taken out of context.


Stalin himself made this point very clearly. In 'Marxism and the National question' he castigated those 'pedants who "solve" the national problem without reference to space and time'. Solving the problem, he said, will always depend on 'the concrete historical conditions in which the given nation finds itself', and 'conditions, like everything else, change'.12 Writing five years later, he commented in retrospect that the October Revolution, and related events of the period, had 'widened the scope of the national question and converted it from the particular question of combatting national oppression in Europe into the general question of emancipating the oppressed peoples, colonies and semi-colonies from imperialism'.13 And he returned to this theme again in 1924: Leninism 'linked the national problem with the problem of the colonies', transforming it from a particular and internal state problem... into a world problem of emancipating the oppressed peoples in the dependent countries and colonies'.14 I quote all these remarks to emphasize two points which, to us, are fundamental. Stalin became aware that his 1913 argument concerned only one part of the world, one type of nation, and one historical epoch. He also came to realize that Lenin had transformed the national question, in fact had evolved a new theory -- which we will discuss in a moment -- to deal with the non-European world, the colonial nations, and the epoch of imperialism; in a word, the conditions surrounding Puerto Rico and the Puerto Ricans. Realizing this, we can proceed to develop a fair and correct analysis of Stalin's argument itself.


'What is a nation'? Stalin asks, and then proceeds to give a clear and rather formal definition. A nation is a human group which possesses certain definite characteristics. It is a historically stable community of people. It has a common vernacular language. It occupies a single piece of territory. It has an integrated, coherent economy. It possesses a community of psychological make-up' (a folk-psychology, or national character). And it is 'a historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capita1ism'.15


Stalin's definition of 'nation' had, like the article as a whole, a polemical purpose. It served to underpin his attack on reformist nationalism. There were, broadly speaking, two reformist tendencies, and each was vulnerable to an attack from the vantage point of Stalin's definition.


First, there were those who advocated a combination of 'cultural-national autonomy' and organizational autonomy within the socialist movement. The essence of Bauer's 'cultural-national autonomy' scheme was the thesis that members of a nation, regardless of where they lived within the state, would share the autonomy of that nation. Thus, for instance, Georgians everywhere in Russia would come under Georgian governance. But if a nation must occupy a single, common piece of territory, then Georgians ouside of Georgia would simply be a national minority in some other nation's territory, and it would be absurd, Stalin argued, to place them under Georgian governance. It would be even more absurd in the case of the Jews, who had no territory of their own, and were therefore not a nation anywhere. In the case of the Jews, the demand for cultural-national autonomy was parallelled by an even stronger demand for organizational autonomy. For more than a decade, the Jewish socialist organization, the Bund, had been demanding recognition as the sole spokesman for Jewish proletarians, and insisting on a federative relationship to the Russian social-democratic party. In 1913 this demand had become part of the reformist-nationalist reaction. Stalin's emphasis on territory as an attribute of nationhood was a particularly effective answer to the Bund: Jews have no territory, hence Jews are not a nation, hence the Bund can have no standing as a national organization within the all-Russian movement.


The second form of nationalism was a more diffuse tendency within what Stalin considered to be genuine nations to substitute national aims for revolutionary aims. The way to deal with this was to show that nationalism is strictly, and necessarily, a bourgeois (capitalist) sentiment by incorporating capitalism into one's definition. Thus we have the historical criterion: a nation is characteristic of the epoch of rising capitalism. This would be a very telling argument among Marxists because an essential tenet of Marxism was (and is) the thesis that capitalism is indeed progressive during its rising stage of development, before it succumbs to internal contradictions and generates more and more misery. If nationalism is a feature of capitalism during its progressive stage, then nationalism will no longer be progressive when capitalism no longer is so. Thus a Russian Marxist in 1913 might become convinced that nationalism is simply out of date, and might refuse to defend a nationalist program.


Stalin's definition had a third function as well. Attacking nationalism within the framework of the Bolshevik program was a rather delicate task because the Bolsheviks, unlike some extremely anti-nationalist groups, like Rosa Luxemburg and her associates, insisted on the inalienable right of nations within Russia to self-determination, that is, to full independence. How does one attack nationalism and at the same time defend the right of self-determination? Stalin's way was to, first of all, give a precise definition of 'nation' to make it clear that certain ethnic groups, being genuine nations, did have this right, while others did not. The Jews did not. Nor did those 'detached fractions' of nations (as Engels would have put) like the German settlements scattered across Russia. Then, by tying the idea of the nation to the epoch of rising capitalism, Stalin was able to defend the right of genuine nations to self-determination and at the same time hint that nations really should not exercise that right, on grounds that it would be reactionary to do so.


Colonies did not qualify as nations under Stalin's definition. This can be shown both by example and by reference to Stalin's theory of nations. In few colonies (or semi-colonies) was a single vernacular language spoken in 1913. (In India, for example, there were dozens.) Common territory was often missing. Colonies did not really possess an integrated economy, given their dependent economic status. And equally inapplicable was the concept of 'rising capitalism' ('semi-feudalism' and 'underdeveloped capitalism' are more appropriate terms).


In Stalin's theory, nations came into existence in two ways. West European nations formed themselves as nation-states from the moment of their birth at the beginning of the capitalist era. Hence they had no national problem, to speak of, within their borders. In Eastern Europe however, the great territorial empires (Russia, Austria-Hungary, Turkey) emerged before the ethnic groups within their boundaries had formed into nations; hence these states were multi-national almost from the start; and hence the gravity of their national problem.


Ireland, according to Stalin, was an anomaly: it followed the East-European route, forming itself as a nation after its absorption into the British Empire. But Stalin was wrong about Ireland; it was a classical colonized nation; and this significant error shows that he really had no theoretical model (in 1913) for colonial nations in general. He did not, as a matter of fact, discuss them in 'Marxism and the National Question'. Had he done so, or had he at least taken account of the Marx-Engels analysis of Ireland in relation to England, Stalin would have seen that his model for Western European nation-states was also imperfect. Countries like Britain, France, Holland, etc., emerged as integral nation-states not by chance, but because they were colonizing nations. They exported their national problem, as it were, to their colonial empires. Thus to understand England one must understand Ireland, India, and so on. One must understand imperialism. But Marxism had not yet analyzed imperialism in 1913.


Stalin's theory of nations was not therefore wrong. It was simply not world-wide in scope. It was adequate for the multi-national states of Eastern Europe, partly so for the nation-states of Western Europe, and wholly inadequate for the world of colonies and semi-colonies -- all of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.


This brings us at last to Stalin's theory of national minorities. It is merely the obverse of his theory of nations: An ethnic group is a national minority if it does not possess the defining attributes of a nation. Four sorts of national-minority communities are discussed in. Stalin's paper, and it will be a straightforward matter to show that none of them resembles the Puerto Rican community in the United States today.


Two of the cases barely deserve mention. The first is what Engels would have called the 'detached fraction' of a nation. The argument here is weak, since many such 'fractions' are quite sizeable, and many possess all the attributes which Stalin required of a nation. (Stalin in h) 0*0*0*   ifact cited the example of the United States to show that new nations can form as a result only of territorial separation.) But the argument would only be relevant if one were claiming that the North American barrios are part of the national territory of Puerto Rico, and no one, to my knowledge, is doing so.


Stalin's second case concerns what he described as undeveloped nationalities, with primitive culture. His argument here is best forgotten, although at times it is resurrected by chauvinists who deny the right of self-determination to certain nations by demoting them to the status of 'tribes' and the argument is, in any event, irrelevant.


The third type of national minority is an ethnic group which has no territory of its own, anywhere. The Jews of Russia provided Stalin's one example of this type, but he devoted more attention to it than to all the others combined, because his primary purpose in discussing national minorities was to prove that Jews were not a nation, in order to polemicize against Bundist organizational separatism. Not only did the Jews lack territory, they lacked a common language as well, according to Stalin, who thought that they spoke the various vernaculars of their many areas of settlement and could not communicate with one another readily. And finally, they lacked an integrated economy: Most crucially, they were entirely non-agricultural (though not by choice), and thus were deprived of that association 'with the land, which [Stalin believed] would naturally rivet a nation'.16


Stalin's argument that the Russian Jews were not a nation is unassailable. But, curiously, it is his analysis of this thoroughly unique Jewish national minority which is most often used by those who wish to prove that Puerto Ricans in the United States are, too, a national minority. The analogy is false. Unlike the Puerto Ricans, the Jews had no territory -- anywhere. The Jews of Russia did speak a common language, and so do the Puerto Ricans. (As far as Stalin's theory is concerned, it would make no difference whether the common language were Spanish or English, or whether bilingualism prevailed, as it does in about 30 modern nation-states, so long as Puerto Ricans were able to communicate with one another.) It is of course true that the Puerto Rican community in the U. S. is detached from the land. But not from the land of Puerto Rico.


The fourth type of national minority is the only one which bears even a superficial resemblance to Puerto Ricans in the United States. In this case Stalin's argument focuses on causal process, not the resulting community. The process he described was one of migration under capitalism. 'In the early stages of capitalism nations became welded together', but later 'a process of dispersion of nations sets in' and 'groups separate off from the nations, going off in search of a livelihood and subsequently settling permanently in other regions of the state'.16 In the Russia of 1913, the migration was to new (border) areas of agricultural settlement and to newly expanding cities. The resulting situation was one of mixed populations, the inhabitants of these new areas of settlement bearing various ethnic heritages and forming various national minorities. The apparent resemblance to our condition is obvious.


What Stalin is describing here is the familiar 'melting pot', which worked in 1913 Russia as it worked in 1913 North America. I say 'worked' because melting did take place: the migrants lost their source-nationalities and became ethnic minorities. Why did it work? There were at least two reasons. First, this was still the epoch of rising capitalism, after all: Living conditions were improving, employment was expanding, and the destination areas, rural and urban, were able to absorb the in-migrating populations both economically and culturally. Second, the whole process was taking place within what we now call metropolitan capitalism. It did not, in general, involve the colonial and semi-colonial periphery in this pre-World-War-I era, and non-Europeans were not invited to participate in the process. In the United States, Blacks did not participate. Nor did Puerto Ricans. (How else can we explain the fact that millions of Europeans came thousands of miles, in that period, to settle in the United States, while Puerto Ricans remained in nearby Puerto Rico?) In Russia, Central Asians did not participate. And so on. Thus there can be no comparison between this form of migration and the process which filled up Spanish Harlem in later years. Stalin was discussing a process that bears no relation to the ghettos of today. The process that does take place is forced migration from colony to metropolis. The resulting community is not a national minority but an exiled portion of a colonial nation. Stalin had nothing to say about this new and different type of minority. His theory just does not apply.




The development of a theory which does apply to Puerto Ricans was begun only two years after the publication of Stalin's article, by Lenin. But those were crucial years for socialism, and for socialist theory. The outbreak of the First World War, in 1914, demonstrated that the older Marxist theory of nations,and nationalism, was very inadequate: nations were not merely a vestige of the epoch of rising capitalism, and nationalism was not a thing of the past. In 1913 Lenin could write that 'the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states' is a tendency which 'predominates in the beginning of [capitalism's] development', while 'the break-down of national barriers, the creation of the international unity of capital.. characterizes a mature capitalism that is moving toward its transformation into socialist society'.17 But in August, 1914, the 'national barriers were re-erected and turned into battlefields. And European workers, instead of joining their fellow proletarians in a revolution against the bourgeoisie, were following the bourgeoisie into a war against the proletarians of other nations. To deal with this shocking situation, Lenin had first to analyze it. The result was Lenin's new theory of imperialism, and one of its principal components was a new theory of national struggle and nations.


'Imperialism', Lenin wrote in 1915, 'is the era of the oppression of nations on a new historical basisY.18 In fact, 'the division of nations into oppressor and oppressed...forms the essence of imperialismt.19 Why so? Because, to begin with, capitalism does not really 'mature', first becoming 'international' and then commencing its 'transformation into socialist society'. Instead, it becomes parasitic: imperialistic. Each advanced-capitalist country strives to resolve its deepening internal contradictions -- declining profits and rising workers' resistance -- by expanding its empire of colonies and semi-colonies, thus amassing what Lenin aptly called the 'superprofits' from imperialism. But there must come a time when no more places remain to be colonized. At this point, two new processes supervene. One is the intensification of economic exploitation, and political oppression, in the existing colonies and semi-colonies. The other is described by Lenin as the 'repartition of the whole world'20: the advanced-capitalist countries now try to steal one another's colonies and spheres of influence. This latter process must inevitably lead to general war among the colonial powers.


Thus we arrive at Lenin's essential model. At the root of the whole process is the dialectic of oppression: Advanced-capitalist nations transform themselves into oppressor nations in order to acquire the sustaining superprofits; other nations suffer deepening oppression in order to yield these superprofits. And derived from this are two distinct political processes in each of the two types of nation: among the oppressors, a cannibalistic form of warfare; among the oppressed, a struggle for national liberation. The era of imperialism is therefore an era of INCREASING nationalism. In the oppressor nations it is bourgeois nationalism, though of a new and more reactionary sort. The bourgeoisie distributes a large enough share of the superprofits to bribe the 'labor aristocracy' and make life slightly easier for the majority of the workers, a share just large enough to gain the workers' (temporary) loyalty to the capitalist state and their willingness to fight its wars. But in the oppressed nations, imperialism generates a very different form of nationalism, a form that resembles neither the old bourgeois nationalism of rising capitalism in Europe nor the new bourgeoise nationalism of the imperialist countries. This different form of nationalism is the struggle for national liberation. And corresponding to it is a different kind of nation.


'Colonial peoples too are nations' -- a fact, said Lenin, that Europeans often forget.22 Lenin was aware that colonies did not originate in the same way as those European nations which emerged, with the rise of indigenous capitalism, out of medieval territorial-linguistic units. Often enough he wrote that colonialism leads to a forceful carving-up, a partitioning, of pre-existing cultural regions, and that a colony's economy is not internally integrated but externally dependent. But the main distinguishing feature of colonial nations, for Lenin, was the special way in which their classes, and class-struggles evolved. In colonial nations, there was no epoch of rising capitalism -- that is, no epoch dominated by a rising domestic bourgeoisie. Domination was exercised by foreign monopolies; part of the local bourgeoisie rose to the extent of becoming a class of managers and agents, or occasionally very junior partners, but the remainder were rapidly disenfranchised by colonialism. At the same time, the poorer strata, the workers, peasants, and impoverished petit bourgeoisie, were also forced into rapid class evolution and struggle by colonial oppression. Under these circumstances, the nation was not the outcome of a struggle waged primarily by a rising capitalist class against the fetters of feudalism -- the classic model for Europe. It was the outcome mainly of an anti-imperialist struggle waged by all the oppressed classes, and primarily the working masses. This, for Lenin, made it likely that colonial nationalism, the national-liberation struggle, would lead not to a form of 'mature' capitalism (and thus to the classical capitalist nation, the type described by Stalin), but to socialism. So the nature and dynamics of colonial nations in the era of imperialism was inherently different from that of the old European nations, and the old theory of nations had to be supplanted.


From 1915 until the end of his active life in 1923, Lenin discussed the national liberation of colonies and other oppressed nations in one hundred or more articles and speeches. In none of these did he refer to or make use of Stalin's definition of 'the nation'. Nor did he use Stalin's nomenclature: 'nation', 'nationality', and people' were applied almost interchangeably, and 'national minority' was used to describe differing kinds of communities, including a small nation within a larger state.23 In 1915 he commented that the issue of self-determination in the era of imperialism is 'not the "national question"' and thereafter he used this phrase very sparingly in relation to oppressed nations (outside of Russia), eventually coming to distinguish fairly sharply between the 'national question' and the 'colonial question.24 Even to dwell, as I am doing here, on matters of definition and nomenclature is foreign to Lenin's method, which was to reject what he called 'abstract' and 'formal' approaches to questions of national liberation. 'In this age of imperialism', he said, 'it is particularly important.. .to proceed from concrete realities, not from abstract postulates, in all colonial and national problems'.25 Lenin, after all, was a dialectician, not a catechist.


Imperialism has evolved and changed since Lenin's time, and one of its newer modes of appropriation, exploitation, and oppression is the forced migration of tens of millions of workers to the imperialist heartlands. This process may have been limited mainly to Ireland in the 19th century (as we discussed before), and to peripheral parts of Europe in the first years of the present century, because of the cost of long-distance transportation and the immaturity of this new phenomenon of imperialism. Lenin was certainly aware of the phenomenon and its growing importance, and he did not confuse it with the older forms of labor migration which had characterized the period of developing capitalism. In his earlier writings Lenin had indeed provided a thorough analysis of labor migration under pre-imperialist conditions, and had concluded, correctly, that its effects were generally progressive. This was capitalism's era of rapid growth; migration to areas of expanding employment and higher wages was characteristic of the period; and the advanced areas, among them the United States, were able to absorb the immigrants fully into a burgeoning labor force. The result was national assimilation. It was part of a 'break-down of all national barriers by capitalism', and was therefore 'inevitable and progressive'.25 But all this changed when capitalism entered the era of imperialism, the era of 'the oppression of nations on a new historical basis. It is clear that Lenin came to view the new era as one in which the conditions for national assimilation were disappearing, to be replaced by increased national oppression 'both in the colonies and at home'.27 One comment which he made just a few days before the October Revolution, during a discussion of the new Bolshevik party program, is particularly revealing:


'[Comrade Sokolnikov] proposes to add the phrase "... the labor of unskilled foreign workers imported from backward countries". This addition is valuable and necessary. The exploitation of worse paid labor from backward countries is particularly characteristic of imperialism. On this exploitation rests, to a certain degree, the parasitism of rich imperialist countries which bribe a part of their workers with higher wages while shamelessly and unrestrainedly exploiting the labor of "cheap" foreign workers. The words "worse paid" should be added and also the words "and frequently deprived of rights"; for the exploiters in "civilized" countries always take advantage of the fact that the imported foreign workers have no rights.'28


It is significant that Lenin speaks here of 'foreign workers', not 'immigrants' or members of 'national minorities', that he relates the whole process to the imperialist stage of capitalism, and that he identifies a sector of foreign workers -- legally alien, and therefore unassimilable --as being 'particularly characteristic' of this stage. (See Chapter 6.) Equally significant is his description of the imperialist country itself. Its capitalism now depends, parasitically, on superexploitation (and national oppression: deprivation of rights) within its borders, hence imperialism has been internalized into its own class structure. Lenin also noted the rise of an oppressed Afro-American nation in connection with the transition to imperialism, referred to the national oppression of the Irish in England, and gave various other examples of unassimilated communities in the imperialist heartlands. Most crucially, he showed that the conditions which lead to assimilation are disappearing: Imperialism is an era of deepening national oppression, of capitalism which is now reactionary and moribund, not progressive and growing. It is not surprising, therefore, that Lenin said nothing after 1914 about the dissolution of nations or the formation of national minorities. .




Stalin's theory of national minorities is incompatible with Lenin's theory of imperialism. To be more precise, the former is inseparable from a theory of nations which was descriptively accurate for an earlier stage of European social evolution (the stage of 'rising capitalism') but which has now been displaced by a theory of all nations under modern capitalism --    that is, monopoly capitalism or imperialism.


National minorities were only created where, and when, capitalism was expanding. In those times and places, job opportunities were growing, proletarian living conditions were objectively improving in the centers of expansion, and immigrants were assimilated, quickly or slowly, into the host proletariat and the host nationality. During the period of transition, the immigrants formed national minorities, communities which, for a time, remained ethnically distinct but were nevertheless becoming assimilated. I do not deny that the transition was painful: Capitalism made full use of the transients for slave-wage labor and union-busting; and the immigrants did, indeed, live in ghettos. But they ESCAPED from the ghettos.


Even in those days, however, there existed another kind of labor migration, signalized by the African slave trade and the forced migration of Irishmen to England, East Indians to the Carribbean, Chinese to Southeast Asia, Native Americans to reservation -- all colonies and semi-colonies. These forced migrations were another, nastier face of evolving capitalism; and none of the communities which they created have anywhere (under capitalism) become fully assimilated: they are demographic minorities of another type, a type that does not satisfy Stalin's definition of a 'national minority'.


Under modern imperialism, almost all migration is forced migration. The era of imperialism is not one of developing, expanding capitalism, but of decaying capitalism which is using every device it knows of merely to survive. A most effective device is colonialism: the superexploitation of colonial, semi-colonial, and (we now must add) neocolonial workers, with the necessary aid of political domination and national oppression.


Today the device of colonialism has become, as it were, technologically perfected, and thereby immensely versatile. It can extract its colonial superprofits within the metropolis -- in ghettos, migrant-labor camps, and foreign-worker barracks -- as well as abroad. The forced migration of colonial peoples is simply one of the options of colonialism, an option which is utilized under those conditions where greater surplus value can be obtained by translocating the colonial workers from colony to metropolis than by superexploiting them at home. Forced migration of this type is merely colonialism internalized -- or internal colonialism (although we cannot speak of each ghetto as an 'internal colony' in the strict geographic sense). But internal colonialism is inseparable from external colonialism. The greatest surplus value is realized if the reproduction costs of labor and the maintenance costs of sick, old, and unemployed workers can be exported. (This explains, in part, the 'air bridge' between New York and San Juan, the constant, massive, back-and-forth movement between colony and metropolis.) When these social costs are borne within the metropolis, they are costs of maintaining a colonial workforce -- not costs of assimilating immigrants. (See Chapter 6 for a further discussion of these matters.)


It follows that colonial forced-migrants do not leave behind the special forms of political and national oppression which prevail in the colony. Nor do they find, when they arrive, a set of circumstances markedly more favorable than those prevailing in the homeland. All they find, in essence, is a replica of the same colonial conditions. In the colony, the imperialists impose the fiercest forms of cultural aggression, the purpose of which is not to assimilate the colonial people to the colonizer's nationality, but to pacify them by wresting from their culture all possible sources of resistance -- including, if possible, their language. The same aggression descends on them in the metropolis. And so they do not lose their nationality.


I am tempted to suggest the term 'colonial minorities' to designate those forced-migrant communities which have been created by imperialism, and to distinguish them from the 'national minorities' described by Stalin. Certainly the term 'colonial minority' would perfectly fit that portion of the Puerto Rican nation which lives in the United states. But Marxist theory is not much farther along in its analysis of forced migration, internal colonialism, and related phenomena than it was in the days of Lenin, and we are perhaps not ready for new terminology. Our legacy from Lenin is simply the recognition that there exists a general type of minority which originated in imperialism, and which differs fundamentally from the national minority of the pre-imperialist epoch, the epoch of the melting pot. But the newer type is almost infinitely variable in form. It includes workers who are legally defined (by the imperialists) as 'foreign', some of whom are even considered aliens in their own age-old homelands. It includes workers translocated from classical colonies, like Puerto Rico (and in earlier times Ireland), as well as workers translocated from internal and external neocolonies.     Lenin himself would not have called for any further exercise in definition. He would probably have asked just one more question: Are these workers engaged in a struggle to liberate their nation? Do they share with their compatriots a 'will toward national existence'.29 For Puerto Ricans, the answer is yes.


1. Joseph Stalin, 'Marxism and the National Question'. Stalin's Collected Works [hereafter Works] (Progress Publishers, Moscow, various dates), vol. 3, pp. 300-381. Originally published as 'The National Question and Social-Democracy', in Prosveshcheniye, nos. 3, 4, and 5 for 1913.


2. Lenin's major contributions on this subject, in my opinion, are: The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination', Lenin's Collected Works [hereafter Works] (Progress Publishers, Moscow, various dates), vol. 22., pp. 143-156; 'Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism', ibid., pp. 185-304; 'A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism', ibid., vol. 23, pp. 28-76; 'Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and the Colonial Questions', vol. 31, pp. 144-151; 'Report of the Commission on the National and the Colonial Questions', ibid., pp. 240-245; 'The Question of Nationalities or "Autonomization",' ibid., vol. 36, pp. 605-611. The structure of Lenin's theory of imperialism and the attendant theories of colonialism and national struggle is very clearly shown, probably for the first time, in Lenin's notes for a lecture delivered on October 28, 1915, Lenin's Works, vol. 39, pp. 735-742.


3. Among non-Marxist scholars who concur in this view are E.H. Carr and Boyd C. Shafer. (See note 33 to Chapter 1.) Trotsky, no friend of Stalin, calls 'Marxism and the National Question' Stalin's 'one and only.. theoretical work' on the basis of which, Trotsky grudgingly concedes, 'its author is entitled to recognition as an outstanding theoretician'. But Trotsky hastens to add his opinion (not widely accepted) that the essay was 'wholly inspired by Lenin, written under his unremitting supervision and edited by him line for line' -- in effect, ghost-written. Lenin indeed 'inspired' the work and gave Stalin some guidance. See Leon Trotsky, Stalin (Stein and Day, New York, 1967), pp. 156-157.


4. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Ireland and the Irish Question (anthology) (Progress, Moscow, 1971), pp. 408-409.


5. lbid., pp. 411-412. Engels expressed similar views with regard mainly to Poland in an 1882 letter. So long as Poland remained unfree, he maintained, her socialist movement would be centered among Poles 'living abroad as emigrants'.. Independence was essential to the struggle for socialism: 'To be able to fight one must have firm ground to stand on, air, light and room. Otherwise it is all idle talk... I adhere to the view that two nations in Europe are not only entitled, but obliged to be national before they become international: they are the Irish and the Poles. They are most of all international when they are truly national'. Marx and Engels on Proletarian Internationalism (anthology) (Progress, Moscow, 1972), p. 62.


6. Quotations are from Engels' article, 'What have the working classes to do with Poland?' In: David Fembach, ed., Karl Marx: vol. 3, The First International and After (Vintage, 388-392. Working Classes to Do Political Writings, New York, 1974), pp.


7. See Ireland and the Irish Question, pp. 54-58, 162, and elsewhere.


7A. The rural portion of Puerto Rico is rapidly becoming depopulated; some very fertile regions are now almost empty of people and unused for agriculture. The overall population of the colony has remained about the same for two decades, with in-migration by Dominicans, Cuban exiles, and North Americans roughly compensating for the net out-migration of Puerto Ricans.


8. Concerning the situation described here, see in particular: Lenin's Works, vol. 17, pp. 453-468; vol. 18, pp. 203-223 and 405-412 ('The "Vexed Questions" of Our Party: The "Liquidationist" and "National" Questions'), and pp. 465-466; Stalin, 'Marxism and the National Question', pp. 300-303.


9. See Horace B. Davis, Nationalism and Socialism: Marxist and Labor Theories of Nationalism to 1917 (Monthly Review Press, New York, 1967), esp. Chap. 6 ('East European Nationalism and the Multi-national State'), for an excellent discussion of Bauer's proposal and the criticisms of it by Stalin and others. Also see Chapter 2, Section B, of the present volume.


10. Lenin's Works, vol. 18, p. 412.


11. Lenin, 'Critical Remarks on the National Question' [1913], Works, vol. 20, pp 17-51; 'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination' [1914], ibid., vol. 20, pp. 393-454; and shorter articles in ibid., vols. 19 and 20.


12. Stalin, 'Marxism and the National Question', pp. 324 and 331.


13. Stalin~s Works, vol. 4, p. 170 ('The October Revolution and the National Question').


14. Stalin, Foundations of Leninism (International, New York, 1939), pp. 76-77.


15. Stalin, 'Marxism and the National Question, pp. 303-314.


16. Marxism and the National Question', p. 345.


17. Lenin, 'Critical Remarks on the National Question', p. 27. I comment on this famous passage in Chapter 4, note 31.


18. Lenin, notes for a lecture on 'Imperialism and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination' [October, 1915], Works, vol. 39, p. 739. Also see ibid., vol. 21, p. 293.


19. Lenin, 'The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination', Works, vol. 21, p. 409.


20. Lenin, 'Imperialism and the Split in Socialism', Works, vol. 23, p. 106. Also see ibid., vol. 2.1, p. 226; vol. 22, pp. 189-191, 254, 341-342; vol. 26, pp. 163-167; vol. 31, pp. 215-218.


21. Lenin's view on this matter is with great frequency misunderstood. See his Works, vol. 22, pp. 193-194 and 283-284; vol. 23, pp. 55-56, 114; vol. 31, pp. 193, 230, 248; vol. 32, p. 454; vol. 33, pp. 498-499; vol. 39, pp. 588, 615.


22. Lenin, 'A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism', p. 63. For Lenin's view of colonial nations, their character, their struggles, and their significance, see Lenin, Works, vol. 21, p. 291; vol. 22, pp. 151-152, 312-313, 355-356; vol. 23, pp. 33-34, 59-68, 196-197; vol. 26, pp. 168-169; vol. 29, pp. 505-506; vol. 30, p. 208; vol. 31, pp. 144-151, 209, 240-246, 328, 490; vol. 32, pp. 480-482; vol. 33, pp. 143-148, 349-352,   372, 476-479, 500-501; vol. 39, pp.736-742. On this matter, too, there is frequent misunderstanding of Lenin's view -- his theory of colonialism -- and it is helpful to consult the appropriate writings.


23. See, e.g., Lenin's Works, vol. 36, pp. 608-609.


24. Lenin, Works vol. 39, p. 736. Note, for instance, the report of the 'Commission on the National and the Colonial Questions', at the 2nd Congress of the International, ibid., vol. 31, pp. 240-246; see also vol. 31, pp. 144-151).  25Ibid., vol. 31, p. 240; also see vol. 31, p. 145, vol. 33, p. 149, and vol. 36, pp. 607-609.


26. Ibid., vol. 19, p. 457.


27. Ibid., vol. 22, p. 151.


28. Lenin, 'Revision of the Part Program', Works, vol. 26, p. 168.