Cultural-National Autonomy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Cultural-National Autonomy


an opportunistic nationalist theory advanced in the early 20th century by some leaders of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, becoming an integral part of Austro-Marxism. The theory purported to solve the national question in the Austro-Hungarian multinational bourgeois-feudal state without destroying its social basis. The theory’s leading exponents were K. Renner and O. Bauer, although similar views, with some modifications, arose independently among Slovene Social Democrats, notably E. Kristan.

The theory of cultural-national autonomy is described most fully in Bauer’s The National Question and Social Democracy (1907; Russian translation, 1909). “All nations,” Bauer wrote, “wherever they may reside, would always constitute corporations independently managing their national affairs. Two or more nations would live side by side in the same city, without interfering in each other’s affairs, and would peacefully develop their own forms of national self-government and build their own educational institutions” (Natsional’nyi vopros i sotsial-demo-kratiia, St. Petersburg, 1909, p. 368).

The theory of cultural-national autonomy arose from the erroneous conception of the nation as an association of like-minded people that evolved through a common fate. It divorced the nation from the territory it occupied and ignored the division of nations into antagonistic classes. The theory reduced the solution of the national problem to the attainment of national self-government in cultural, educational, and language matters, apart from the political struggle of classes. In actuality this would have meant isolation, the separation of different parts of the proletariat by nation and its subordination to the bourgeoisie.

In exposing the opportunistic nature of the theory of cultural-national autonomy, V. I. Lenin also criticized attempts to apply it to the multinational Russian state and to substitute it for the principles of internationalism. In 15 works written in 1913–14, Lenin criticized the Austrian and Russian advocates of cultural-national autonomy—Bundists, Mensheviks, and bourgeois ideologists and politicians. Lenin showed the unsoundness of the theory of cultural-national autonomy and, demonstrated, from the standpoint of consistent internationalism, that “propaganda in its favor is propaganda in favor of refined nationalism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24, p. 342). Lenin established that the theory of cultural-national autonomy stemmed from the idealist conception of the nation held by a narrow circle of Social Democratic leaders and ‘that it had no chance of being implemented. “In Austria, the idea of cultural-national autonomy has remained largely a flight of literary fancy, which the Austrian Social Democrats themselves have not taken seriously” (ibid. , p. 135). Lenin also pointed out that the theory of cultural-national autonomy was born of the desperation of its originators, who could not conceive of a solution to the national question in Austria-Hungary through a genuinely revolutionary struggle. He wrote that “This idea of the despairing petit bourgeois could arise only in Eastern Europe, in backward, feudal, clerical, bureaucratic Austria, where all public and political life is hampered by wretched, petty squabbling (worse still: cursing and brawling) over the question of languages” (ibid., p. 176).

The theory of cultural-national autonomy was so Utopian that it never became a party document, despite Renner’s and Bauer’s considerable ideological influence on Austrian Social Democracy. Although Renner continued to profess the theory of cultural-national autonomy, Bauer began changing his views under the pressure of events. Without formally renouncing the theory, Bauer proposed the slogan of territorial autonomy, and in 1918, on the eve of Austria-Hungary’s collapse, he advanced the slogan of self-determination of nations with the right of secession. The theory of cultural-national autonomy thus proved to be both theoretically and practically untenable.


Lenin, V. I. “Rabochii klass i natsional’nyi vopros.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “Tezisy po natsional’nomu voprosu.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “O ‘kul’turno-natsional’noi’ avtonomii.” Ibid., vol. 24.
Lenin, V. I. “O natsional’noi programme RSDRP.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Kriticheskie zametki po natsional’nomu voprosu.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “O prave natsii na samoopredelenie.” Ibid., vol. 25.
Stalin, I. V. “Marksizm i natsional’nyi vopros.” Soch., vol. 2. Moscow, 1946.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The second half of the book, more programmatic, deals with territorial and non-territorial national autonomy and finally with the "program and tactics of Austrian Social Democracy." The Jews figure here as the major case study: in response to the question as to whether the Jews should claim cultural-national autonomy, Bauer discards such a possibility, claiming that while the Jews used to be a nation during feudal times, in his time t hey were integrating and it was likely that they would in the future completely assimilate into the surrounding nations.

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