By David Sole
The right of oppressed nations to self-determination was a concept argued for and implemented by the great Russian revolutionary V. I. Lenin. Some socialist contemporaries of Lenin in the early 1900s argued that no special demands needed to be raised in regard to nations suffering subjugation from larger or more powerful nationalities. They believed that the coming socialist revolution would solve those inequalities.
Lenin, however, understood that historical oppression of one nation over another could not be ignored. To build the strongest movement against a powerful oppressor nation, like the Russian Empire before 1917, the socialists, champions of the whole working class, had to recognize the rights of the oppressed nations to self-determination, even if this meant separation. Only then could unity be feasible when oppressed people saw that socialists from the oppressor nation were committed to getting the boot heel off the necks of the oppressed.
The great Russian Revolution of 1917 overthrew the hated Tsar and placed the working class into power. Many of the nations that had been held captive in the Russian Empire’s “prison house of nations” opted to federate into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. A feature of the revolutionary government formed after 1917 was to establish one of the two houses making up their congress with equal representation of each and every nationality in the USSR.
At the very same time all the western imperialist powers waged a war to overthrow the new revolution. Starting in 1918, over 250,000 troops from over 12 different foreign nations surrounded the budding workers’ state, including U.S. troops. They remained and fought for several years, finally to all be defeated and withdrawn.
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson took up the slogan of “self-determination” toward the end of the First World War (1914-1918). This was taken straight from Lenin in a cynical effort to influence oppressed nations and nationalities as a wartime strategy. There was no serious consideration among the western colonial and imperialist powers to implement the principle.
Self-determination for oppressed nations cannot be viewed as an absolute rule. It is a duty of socialists to respect that right. But it makes no sense to apply it to situations where a nation has enlisted itself into the service of imperialist aggression and expansion.
Today Ukraine has become the pawn of United States imperialism and militarism. It is fighting a proxy war on behalf of the U.S. and its European allies. Washington’s goal is to dominate and occupy all of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia with NATO bases, troops and missiles. This includes the aim of regime change in the Russian Federation, which, while no longer socialist, still maintains its own economic independence.
The U.S. government has approved sending another $40 billion in weaponry to Ukraine on top of the estimated $10 billion previously approved in the past few months, enriching the U.S. war industry. European Union nations are funneling billions more of armaments.
It should also be recalled that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) engineered the 2014 coup d’etat that overthrew the elected neutral leaning president in Kyiv, Ukraine and installed an anti-Russian, pro-U.S. right-wing regime. That regime was given military training and weapons with the aim to make it part of NATO for the past 8 years.
Ukraine’s government, which some phony “progressives” in the U.S. argue must be given “self-determination,” also has waged internal war against ethnic Russian Ukrainians in the Donbas region, causing over 14,000 deaths.
The right of self-determination of oppressed nations must not be twisted to become a slogan to cover up the crimes of U.S. imperialism in its unrelenting fight to dominate and exploit the people and resources of the entire world.