14 April, 2000

Author: George Irbe

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The armed revolution of 1848 by subject nations of the Austro-Hungarian empire had failed. Both Marx and Engels were understandably disappointed, and showed their anger for the nations who had been more interested in securing national autonomy than the proletarian revolution. Friedrich Engels wrote an article titled "The Magyar Struggle" for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 194, January 13, 1849, of which his friend Karl Marx was editor.

The tenor of Engels' disgust with certain nationalities and his wish to see "petty hidebound nations" wiped out is reflected in these excerpts from the article:

The year 1848 first of all brought with it the most terrible chaos for Austria by setting free for a short time all those different nationalities which, owing to Metternich, had hitherto been enslaving one another. The Germans, Magyars, Czechs, Poles, Moravians, Slovaks, Croats, Rutheinans, Rumanians, Illyrians and Serbs came into conflict with one another, while within each of the nationalities a struggle went on also between the different classes. But soon order came out of this chaos. The combatants divided into two large camps: the Germans, Poles and Magyars took the side of revolution; the remainder, all the Slavs, except for the Poles, the Rumanians and Transylvanian Saxons, took the side of counter-revolution.

All the earlier history of Austria up to the present day is proof of this and 1848 confirmed it. Among all the large and small nations of Austria, only three standard-bearers of progress took an active part in history, and still retain their vitality - the Germans, the Poles and the Magyars. Hence they are now revolutionary.

All the other large and small nationalities and peoples are destined to perish before long in the revolutionary world storm. For that reason they are now counter-revolutionary.


... at the first victorious uprising of the French proletariat, which Louis Napoleon is striving with all his might to conjure up, the Austrian Germans and Magyars will be set free and wreak a bloody revenge on the Slav barbarians. The general war which will then break out will smash this Slav Sonderbund and wipe out all these petty hidebound nations, down to their very names.

The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.


Lenin and Joseph Stalin agreed with Engels that wiping out "entire reactionary peoples" ... "is a step forward." Lenin was in the habit of couching his orders for criminal actions in euphemisms, or of arranging for one of his commissars to issue them. Lenin's recommendation for eradicating recalcitrant nationalities, reported by Stalin in Foundations of Leninism (1924), typically refers to the right to self-determination as a "particle" which "must be cast off." One can suppose that a "concrete instance" for doing so would be when the majority of a nation fights resolutely against communist take-over. Stalin writes:

In the forties of the last century Marx supported the national movement of the Poles and the Hungarians and was opposed to the national movement of the Czechs and the Jugo-Slavs. Why? Because the Czechs and the Jugo-Slavs were then "reactionary nations" in Europe, outposts of absolutism; whereas the Poles and the Hungarians were "revolutionary nations," fighting against absolutism; ... "The various demands of democracy," writes Lenin, "including the right to self-determination, are not absolute in themselves, but are particles of the general democratic (now general socialist) world movement. In certain concrete instances a particle may contradict the whole in which case it must be cast off." [from: Foundations of Leninism, International Publishers, New York, 1932; p. 77]

The eradication of stubbornly resistant nationalities was adopted as a policy of state in the Soviet Union. It took three forms: a) physical extermination, deportation and relocation, b) cultural genocide by suppression of national language and traditions, c) dilution of the ethnic stock by encouraging settlement of  people from other nationalities on the nation's territory. This policy was followed most rigorously against the independence-minded nations in the Caucasus region and in the Baltic states. Marx and Engels can be credited with injecting the idea of nation-killing into communist doctrine.

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