The Question of Nationalities and Social Democracy

The Question of Nationalities and Social Democracy

The Question of Nationalities and Social Democracy

The Question of Nationalities and Social Democracy


Until now, The Question of Nationalities and Social Democracy was the only remaining work of classical Marxism not fully translated into English. First published in German in 1907, this seminal text has been cited in countless discussions at nationalism, from the writings of Lenin to Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities.

The issues Bauer addressed almost a century ago still challenge current debates on diversity and minority rights. In this remarkably prophetic text, Bauer foreshadowed current ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Union and advocated an early concept of multiculturalism. Attempting to reconcile Marxism with nationalism, Bauer called for a system of self-determination for ethnic communities in which extensive autonomy would be granted within a confederal, multicultural state -- Bauer's words, a "United States of Europe", with remarkable similarities to the contemporary European Union.


In all the states of the European cultural sphere, the position of the Social Democratic Worker’s Party on national questions is at the center of political discussion. in Austria and in Russia, the national question represents one of the most intractable problems of domestic policy. But in the nation-states of Western and Central Europe, too, Social Democracy is finding itself unable to evade the discussion of the relationship between the national community and the state; after all, national questions are inseparable from the problems of foreign policy that are acquiring a growing significance for the working classes of all nations by the year.

An investigation of the evolution of the Social Democratic policy on nationalities requires that we locate the forces that are acting upon millions of workers and thousands of trade unionists and, in the process, are shaping the consciousness of the working masses and determining their resolutions in all questions of national life. Locating these forces enables us to comprehend the Social Democratic policy on nationalities from the standpoint of the working class within bourgeois society, to comprehend the national question as a social problem. This project entails the application of Marx’s method of social research to a new field of investigation; it is in this sense that my work is to be understood as a Marx-Studie.

The national community is one of the most complicated of all social phenomena, a complex of the most diverse social manifestations. Anyone wishing to investigate how the bond of membership in a national community determines the will of the working class in its struggle must therefore approach this problem from different angles. Such a task entails the risk of venturing beyond the limits set by disciplinary boundaries, of here and there taking somewhat unfamiliar paths. I myself would have preferred to continue my usual work within my own narrow field of inquiry rather than deal—with the aid of unfamiliar and often incomplete research—with a problem the diversity and intricacy of which confronts the labor-power and the knowledge of a single individual with a task that can never be completed. However, it does not follow that the struggling working class should simply do without . . .

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