“Leninism and the National Question” is undoubtedly the most challenging book I have read in 2021. At 540 pages long, it is also one of the largest Soviet Progress Publisher books I own, and it is definitely not a light, after work read. It took all my mental faculties to finish this book.
The book was written by a team of scholars from the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, CC CPSU, including P. N. Fedoseyev. It examines all aspects of Lenin’s contribution to the national question and national relations within the USSR and between the USSR and other states.
Overall I wasn’t impressed with this book. Despite being one of the longest Soviet books I own, there is little in the book that has not already been described in other books that are far less turgid, cumbersome, and repetitive. True, there are passages in this book that made me think “Aha!” but they are relatively few and far between, and mostly confirm what others have already written about in far greater detail. For example, on page 203, the authors of the book describe the demarcation of the various entities within the USSR, a subject I have read much about: “The borders of the Union republics, and those of the autonomous republics, autonomous territories and national areas were drawn to fit in with the economic factors, the way of life, and the national make-up of their population. The national sovereignty of all peoples, big and small, is safeguarded by the Constitution and legislation of the USSR, as well as those of individual Union republics.” The essence of this passage is that the demarcation of the USSR was shaped by a multiplicity of factors including ethnic, economic, demographic, etc., and not some Moscow-inspired conspiracy to divide-and-rule the peoples of the former Russian Empire, as bourgeois historians claim. However, many other historians, both Western and Soviet, have much more concisely and much more thoroughly debunked bourgeois falsifications about the creation of the USSR, including Adeeb Khalid, Adrienne Lynn Edgar, Årne Haugen, Arsène Saparov, I. Zenuskina, Francine Hirsch, R. R. Sharma, A. Roslyakov and S. Tashliev, Yu. M. Ivanov, Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, R. Tuzmuhamedov, etc.
There was one passage that definitely gave me something to think about. On page 340 the authors write: “For the developing countries, the substance of the national question is to eliminate direct or indirect imperialist oppression and dependence on imperialism, to unfold the processes of national consolidation, and assure the formation and free development of nations and nationalities.” While seemingly insignificant, this passage, if true, seems to confirm my hypothesis that Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabakh’s) right to secession from Azerbaijan would be in full accordance with Leninism. It is my thesis that the bourgeoisie of both Armenia and Azerbaijan use the conflict over Artsakh to divide the Armenian and Azerbaijani working class and oppress their own nations, and that imperialism benefits from this perpetual state of conflict in the already volatile Caucasus region. Artsakh’s right to self-determination up to and including secession from Azerbaijan would weaken imperialism, “unfold the process of national consolidation, and assure the formation and free development of nations and nationalities.”
Nonetheless in both style and content this book reads like a mass produced pamphlet that was unnecessarily lengthened to 540 pages. That was a disappointment to me. Anyone interested in Lenin’s contribution to the national question and national relations would be better off reading I. Zenushkina’s book (review here) than this one.