Allan Armstrong has completed the third volume of his book – Internationalism from Below: Reclaiming a communist tradition to challenge the nation-state and capitalist empire. This volume is titled, Revolutionary Social Democracy, Nation-States and Nationalism in the Age of High Imperialism and the Second International (1889-1916). It can be read online at:-

Most of the theories the Left uses today to address the ‘National Question’ have their origins in the period of High Imperialism leading up to the First World War and the outbreak of the 1916-21/3 International Revolutionary Wave. These theories are linked to the names of Kaul Kautsky, Otto Bauer, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin. All emerged in the context of a Second International struggling with the impact of High Imperialism and the growing threats of war.  The authors  of these theories sometimes competed over their claims to provide  an orthodox Marxist underpinning for their approach to the ‘National Question’. However, during this period an ‘Internationalism from Below’ trend also emerged. It was less concerned with being orthodox, but analysed the latest developments in the formation of nations and nation-states from the perspective of revolutionary Social Democrats living in oppressed nations. These writers and activists included James Connolly in Ireland, Kazimierz Kelles-Kreuz in Poland and Lev Iurkevich in Ukraine. Their theories were to be tested in the 1916-21/3 International Revolutionary Wave, which forms the subject of Volume 4.


Below are the Contents and Introduction to Volume 3:-






A.   The triumph of the High Imperialism

i)       Mercantile, Free Trade and Monopoly Capitalist Imperialism

ii)      A world divided into ‘nation’-states with their colonies

iii)     From territorial division to redivision; from international diplomacy to the possibility of world war

iv)     The political impact of Imperialist populism

v)      The victims and the resistance


B.    The Development of Orthodox Marxism and the ‘National Question’

i)     The Positivist-Materialist and Idealist philosophical split amongst pre-First World War One, Social Democrat and its application to the ‘National Question’

ii)     From Positivist-Materialist philosophy to mechanical economic determinist theory

iii)    Kautsky and the Austro-Marxists set the terms of the debate on the issue of nationality, nations and nationalism


C.    Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz takes on the Orthodox Marxists

 i)     Luxemburg and Kelles-Krauz and the division over Poland in the Second International

ii)     Luxemburg and Kelles-Krauz take their differences over Poland to the 1896 Congress of the Second International in London

iii)    Luxemburg and Kelles-Krauz continue their struggle at the 1900 Congress of the Second International in Paris

iv)    Kelles-Krauz challenges Luxemburg’s Radical Left and Auer and Winter’s Right social chauvinist alliance in the SDPD

v)     Kelles-Krauz takes on Kautsky of the SDPD and Renner of the SDPO

vi)    Kelles-Krauz’s contribution on the issue of national minorities – the case of the Jews

vii)   Kelles-Krauz and organisation amongst oppressed minorities

viii)  Kelles-Krauz’s theory of nation and nationality formation


D.    James Connolly’s early contribution towards ‘Internationalism from Below’  

i)      Connolly uses the language issue to point the way to a new ‘internationalism from below’

ii)     Kelles-Krauz and Connolly find common ground over the business of the 1900 Paris Congress

iii)    Summary of the impact of ‘High Imperialism’ on Social Democratic politics




A.     The 1904-7 International Revolutionary Wave

i)      The impact of workers and peasant struggles

ii )    The impact of national democratic struggles within the Tsarist Russian Empire

iii)    The impact of national democratic struggles outside the Tsarist Russian Empire


B.     Revolutionary social democrats consider the issue of Imperialism and different paths of development

i)      Kautsky and Bauer and the different challenges from the three wings of the Internationalist Left

ii)     Kautsky’s and Bauer’s differences over their solution to the ‘National Question’ mask their agreement over the maintenance of existing territorial states

iii)   The ‘National Question’ – old issues sharpened after the new issues raised – the Jews and the Muslims

iv)   The International Left – the Radical Lefts, Rosa Luxemburg and the Balkan Social Democrats

v)    Imperialism – the new Centre takes the theoretical lead but is challenged by Rosa Luxemburg

vi)   Luxemburg and Lenin on different paths of capitalist development

vii)  Luxemburg and Lenis on two worlds of development and  their differences on the role of the peasantry

viii) Luxemburg and Lenin clash over ‘the right of nations to self-determination’ and national autonomy

ix)   Luxemburg and Lenin attack Bauer over the issue of ‘one state, one party’

x)    Lenin on the “democratic and socialist element” in national culture and the case of Norway

xi)   Summary of the impact of the 1904-7 International  Revolutionary Wave on Social Democratic politics




A.    The further development of ‘Internationalism from Below’– James Connolly

i)      Connolly uses some parallel arguments to Lenin on the “socialist and democratic element” in his History of Irish Labour

ii)     Connolly comes up against the limitations of ‘one  state, one party’ politics of the International Left

iii)    The outbreak of the First World War and the responses on The International Left up to the 1916 Dublin Rising


B.     The further development of ‘Internationalism from Below’– Lev Iurkevich

i)       The Tsarist Empire – a ‘prisonhouse of nations’

ii)      Lenin and the influence of developments in Finland, Poland, Georgia and Latvia

iii)     Ukraine challenges the social chauvinism of the RSDLP  before the First World War

iv)     The background of Lev Iurkevich and his role in Ukrainian  Social Democracy

v)      Iurkevich and Lenin debate the nature of Imperialism and the forthcoming revolution

vi)     The contradictions of federation

vii)    Iurkevich investigates the historical roots of Russian social chauvinism and imperialism

viii)   Iurkevich’s opposition to ‘the right of self-determination’

ix)     Iurkevich identifies the common ground held by Lenin and  the Radical Left

x)      Iurkevich highlights the connection between the exercise of  self-determination and the need for independent parties

xi)     Towards the ‘Russian’ Revolution

xii)    Summary of the thinking of James Connolly and Lev Iurkevich




Volume Two examined the body of work left by Marx and Engels on the ‘National Question’ between the end of the 1847-9 International Revolutionary Wave and Engels’ death in 1895.  It was shown that Marx and Engels bequeathed a particular legacy on this issue, which, in its most developed form, amounted to an Internationalism from Below approach.  In 1896, soon after Engels’ death, the Second International, which had been formed in 1889, adopted its well-known support for ‘the right of nations to self-determination’. This was a significant contribution by leading Social Democrats to addressing the ‘National Question.’ They wanted to forge an orthodox Marxism which they thought should underpin the working of the Second International.

Book Three examines some of the debates from 1895, which took place amongst Social Democrats within the Second International and its constituent Social Democratic parties up to the first two years of the First World War from 1914-16.  After this Introduction (Part 1), Part 2A outlines the global context of ‘High Imperialism’ which dominated the world from 1895-1916. ‘High Imperialism’ was the culmination of two decades of the ‘New Imperialism’, which had been building up since the 1870s (see Book 2, Part 3A).

Part 2B shows outlines the debates over the ‘National Question’ of those wanting to claim the orthodox Marxist mantle. In this new situation of ‘High Imperialism’, theoreticians and spokespersons, from a number of Second International affiliated Social Democratic parties, examined the ‘National Question’ by looking through ‘lenses’ they claimed to have been left by Marx and Engels.  However, they could be quite selective in their choice of ‘lens’. This often led to blinkered viewpoints.  As the pressures of the ‘New Imperialism’ (1) followed by ‘High Imperialism’ bore down upon Social Democrats, they tended to ignore Marx and Engels’ own later ‘internationalism from below’ approach to the ‘National Question’.

As the influence of ‘High Imperialism; grew, would-be orthodox Marxists of the Second International were able to identify a definite Revisionist current associated with Social Democracy’s Right wing.  However, most Rightists were less interested in participating in Social Democracy’s Marxist debates. Instead they increasingly used their official party and trade union positions to come to an accommodation with their host states, their rulers, employers and the imperialist policies they promoted. Thus, an initially unacknowledged social chauvinism and social imperialism, often found amongst Social Democrats in the dominant nations of the imperial states contribed, in turn, to a social patriotic response amongst many Social Democrats in the oppressed nations and nationalities.

Orthodox Marxists were often less vigorous in opposing the Right in practice, as opposed to theory.  However, even the developing orthodox Marxist theories had failings, which made them less effective in countering the overall drift to the Right.  Those would-be orthodox Marxists of the Second International became divided into two main camps over the ‘National Question’.  The first camp was led by Karl Kautsky of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDPD) (2), the second by Otto Bauer of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SDPO) (3).  The debates between these two camps had most resonance in the Prussian/German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires.

Given the awe, in which the SDPD was held by most Social Democrats, it was Kautsky’s theories that tended to have the greater international influence.  Many on the Left saw the organisationally and electorally successful SDPD, and its ‘German road to socialism’, as the model to adopt.  Just as the earlier, very French Jacobins believed that they provided a universal model for others to emulate, so too, if not so self-consciously, did the German Social Democrats.   Most revolutionary Social Democrats, including Lenin and others in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) also accepted the SDPD’s and, in particular, Kautsky’s political lead up to the First World War.

Bauer led the other would-be orthodox Marxist, Social Democratic approach to the handling of the ‘National Question’. Along with Max Adler and Karl Renner, he helped to develop an Austro-Marxist (4) approach to the ‘National Question’. The SDPO advocated the reconstitution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a federation of territorial nations and nationalities (ethnic groups), where they formed concentrated populations, with cultural autonomy for national minorities.  This was meant to address the problems arising from the multinational nature of the Hapsburg Austrian state. Bauer’s ideas were also taken up in the Russian Empire, particularly by the influential Jewish Bund, but also by other Social Democrats, especially in Ukraine and the Caucasus.

Rosa Luxemburg (5) emerged as a key figure in trying to develop an alternative updated orthodox Marxist position on the ‘National Question’ She realised that the creation of a new orthodoxy meant going beyond a dogmatic repetition of earlier Marxist texts. Nevertheless, with regard to the ‘National Question’, Luxemburg still tried to stay within the theoretical framework already provided by Kautsky to combat the social patriots in the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) led by Josef Pilsudski (6).

However, there was another trend in the PPS. Part 2C introduces the thinking of Kelles-Kreuz (7) who returned to Marx’s and Engels’ ‘Internationalism from Below’ approach over the ‘National Question’. Engels had outlined this, with regard to Poland, as recently as 1892. Kelles-Kreuz, a relatively unknown Polish revolutionary Social Democrat, became involved in the debates over the ‘National Question’ in the Second International and developed a body of theory addressing this. Before his tragic death in 1905, as revolution was breaking out in Poland, Kelles-Kreuz had already identified the weaknesses of both the Kautsky and Austro-Marxist wings of orthodox Marxism, anticipating their political trajectories in the First World War.  Part 2D finishes this section by briefly examining James Connolly’s thinking, developed in Ireland, over this period. He was another promoter of an ‘Internationalism from Below’ approach.

Part 3A examines the impact of the 1904-7 International Revolutionary Wave, which punctuated the period of ‘High Imperialism’. This wave was centred upon Tsarist Russia, and produced its strongest effects, not to its West, where nevertheless, it had an impact, but to the East in Persia, the Ottoman Empire, China and colonial India, where its impact continued for some time later. This International Revolutionary Wave brought about a shift in the thinking of many Social Democrats over the ‘National Question’. Part 3B examines Lenin’s emergence as an advocate of a stretched version of the orthodox Marxism of Kautsky over the ‘National Question’. In this he was very much influenced by the impact of national democratic movements in the Tsarist Empire during the 1904-7 International Revolutionary Wave. From this, he drew different conclusions to Luxemburg.

Part 3C shows that Luxemburg and Lenin believed they were helping to extend the vision of revolutionary Social Democrats, by buffing up their own versions of Kautsky’s lenses.  They both firmly rejected the alternative repolished glasses offered by Bauer.  But in the period just before the war, differences emerged between Lenin and Luxemburg over their understanding of Imperialism and the response Social Democrats should make to the re-emergence of the ‘National Question’. Luxemburg was beginning to move away from Kautsky’s version of orthodox Marxism by 1910, whilst Lenin continued to uphold this until 1914.

It was during this period that the three main components of what later the International Left emerged. They consisted of the Radical Left, most influenced by Rosa Luxemburg; the Bolsheviks, most influenced by Lenin; and the third component, the advocates of Internationalism from Below, who included Lev Iurkevich in Ukraine and James Connolly in Ireland. They provided a glimpse of the possibilities once the orthodox Marxist spectacles were removed. Connolly’s work is relatively well known, albeit often highly contested. Iurkevich’s work is either hardly known, or known only from dismissive comments, written by Lenin.

When the Second International collapsed, in the face of the First World War, the International Left upheld the revolutionary Social Democratic legacy its leaders had abandoned. Part 4 examines how the three main currents in the International Left responded to the First World War. They all recognised this war had arisen as a consequence of the growing inter-imperialist rivalry, but they differed over significance of the ‘National Question’ and in particular the ‘right to national self-determination’.

During this period, new theories of Imperialism and the ‘National Question’ were developed. Luxemburg had already produced her own theory of Imperialism shortly before the war broke out. The outbreak of the First World War led Lenin to follow Luxemburg and break from Kautsky. This contributed to him developing his own theory of Imperialism. Yet, despite both now having broken with Kautsky, Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s divisions over the ‘National Question’ widened. Part 4A, Chapter iii shows that Lenin’s thinking was particularly affected by the impact of the 1916 Rising in Ireland. But he now found himself having to challenge a Luxemburg-influenced Radical Left amongst the Bolsheviks, including Pyatakov and Bukharin.

It was during this period that James Connolly and Lev Iurkevich further developed the ‘Internationalism from Below’ approach. When the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave broke out, which ended the period of ‘High Imperialism’ dealt with in this book, the theories and strategies put forward by Lenin, Luxemburg and those advocates of ‘Internationalism from Below’ were to be tested in practice. This period will be examined in Volume 4.




References for Chapter 1


(1)    Book 2, 3A.i.

(2)    Massimo Salvadori, Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution, 1880-1938 (KKatSR) (Verso, 1979, London) and and

(3)    s

(4)    Tom Bottomore & Patrick Goode, Austro-Marxism (translated texts) (AM) (Clarendon Press, 1978, Oxford) and

(5)    Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (RL) abridged edition, (Oxford University Press, 1969, London)


(7)    Timothy Snyder, Nationalism, Marxism and Modern Central Europe – A Biography of Kazimierz Kelles-Kreuz (1872-1905) (Ukrainian Research Institute (Harvard, Cambridge, 1997, Massachussets)



also see:-

Volume 1.  The historical development of nation-states and nationalism up to 1848

Volume 2. The world of nation states and nationalism between the Communist League and the eaely Second International (1845-1895)


and for an application of   ‘Internationalism from Below’ to the UK see:-

From Pre-Brit to Ex-Brit: The Forging and the Break-up of the UK and Britishness