National Liberation Revolution

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

National Liberation Revolution


a revolution developing out of a national liberation movement and aimed at abolishing foreign domination, winning national independence, eliminating national and colonial oppression and exploitation, and gaining a nation’s right to self-determination and its right to establish its own nation-state.

National movements appeared in one form or another even in the precapitalist epoch, under feudalism. The national oppression and national conflicts that gave rise to these movements were engendered by private property relations and exploitation. In the national movements of the precapitalist epoch, nationalities and national groups fought against foreign domination and defended their own existence (for example, the struggle of the South Slavs against the Turkish yoke, the struggle of the Czech people against their German masters, and the struggle of the Armenians and Georgians against the Turkish and Persian conquerors).

The capitalist epoch brought into being massive national movements of the people as a whole and the first national liberation revolutions. The formation and consolidation of nations (natsii, nations in the historical sense) and the rise of national consciousness led to an abrupt sharpening of the contradictions between the foreign masters and the oppressed peoples and drew broad strata of the peasantry and the urban population into the struggle against foreign domination. The economic basis for this process was the development of capitalist relations and the formation of a nationwide market. The national aspirations of peoples who did not have statehood or who had been deprived of it met with opposition from the exploiting classes of the dominant nations. This was true, for example, of the national aspirations of the Polish people, who had fallen under the yoke of tsarist Russia, Germany, and Austro-Hungary; of the Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Croats, and other peoples held captive in the “prisonhouse of nations,” the Austro-Hungarian Empire; and of the Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks, and other peoples who had been forcibly absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the attempts to suppress the national aspirations of various peoples, national movements seeking self-determination emerged. Bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic, and antifeudal in character, they were led by the bourgeoisie, which subsequently took control of the new nation-states.

Owing to the uneven development of capitalist relations, national movements and national liberation revolutions developed at different times in different parts of the world. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and the first half of the 19th, nations were formed, national movements developed, and nation-states were created in Western Europe, North America, and Russia (for example, the Dutch bourgeois revolution and the War of Independence in North America). In the second half of the 19th century, Germany and Italy were unified, and nation-states emerged in Bulgaria, Rumania, and Serbia. The struggle of the Czech, Polish, and Finnish peoples for independence also unfolded. According to V. I. Lenin, the wars between 1789 and 1871 in Europe were, for the most part, “indubitably connected with the most important ‘interests of the people,’ namely, a powerful bourgeois-progressive movement for national liberation which involved millions of people, with the destruction of feudalism, absolutism, and foreign oppression” (Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 101). Observing that as a result of these national movements and wars the era of national liberation revolutions in Europe had essentially been completed, Lenin conceded that under certain conditions such movements might develop again. This proposition was confirmed during World War II, when the struggle of the European peoples against Hitlerism was, to a considerable degree, a national liberation struggle.

During the 20th century national movements and national liberation revolutions have developed primarily in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which were for many centuries the chief regions for the expansion of the European powers and the building of colonial empires. After freeing itself from Spanish domination in the 19th century, Latin America became subject to the US imperialists. At the turn of the 20th century, as capitalism entered the imperialist stage, the expansion of the imperialist states reached an unparalleled scope and acquired new characteristics. The colonial system of imperialism emerged. The tendency toward closer, supranational economic relations among peoples was promoted by the development of productive forces, the use of crude violence, and the enslavement of peoples. The countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America became the objects of national oppression and exploitation by monopoly capital. In these countries the national liberation revolutions are a manifestation of the extreme sharpening of the contradictions between imperialism and the oppressed peoples.

The national liberation revolutions in the colonies and dependent countries of the contemporary world differ from the national movements of the past in several important respects. They are antifeudal revolutions, but above all, they are anti-imperialist revolutions—component parts of the world revolutionary process and an active force contributing to the destruction of imperialism. Closely connected with the struggle of socialist forces, the national liberation revolutions are the objective allies of the socialist movement. The Great October Socialist Revolution opened the epoch of national liberation revolutions and linked the national liberation movements with the socialist revolution in practice. The development of socialism into a world system and the further deepening and intensification of the general crisis of capitalism led to victorious national liberation revolutions in the colonies and dependent countries and culminated in the collapse of the colonial system of imperialism. The socialist system gives powerful support to the national liberation movement and blocks military reprisals by the colonialists against the peoples who rise up in arms. “The rise of socialism marks the advent of the era of emancipation of the oppressed nations” (Program of the CPSU, 1972, p. 44).

During the postwar period (1945–73) more than 1.5 billion people have thrown off the colonial and semicolonial yoke, and more than 70 new nation-states have emerged. With the existence of two world systems and a new relationship of forces in the world arena, the peoples enslaved by imperialism have won independence by nonmilitary means (India, Sri Lanka, and most of the African countries), as well as by armed struggle (for example, Indonesia and Algeria).

Under contemporary conditions the national liberation movement is directed not only against particular colonial powers, but against the colonial system as a whole. At the same time, the imperialist powers, despite contradictions among themselves, coordinate their actions against the national liberation forces, relying on a common, worldwide strategy and often working in a united front.

The main driving forces in today’s national liberation revolutions are the working class—the most consistent champion of the national interests, social progress, and carrying the revolution through to the end—and the peasantry, which plays a significant role in the anti-imperialist liberation struggle. In the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America strata of the urban petite bourgeoisie, the patriotic intelligentsia, and the army also play an active and important role in the national liberation struggle. These groups are often characterized by strong anti-imperialist and anticapitalist attitudes, and, as has been demonstrated by experience, under certain conditions they may take revolutionary democratic positions. The national bourgeoisie participates in the national liberation movement, often providing it with leadership. Profound economic and political contradictions between it and the colonialists and the foreign monopolies impel the national bourgeoisie to fight against these groups. However, fear of the masses, as well as narrow class interests, promote the tendency of the national bourgeoisie to compromise with imperialism.

In the past the bourgeoisie usually led the national movement, the victory of which resulted in the formation of a bourgeois state. Under contemporary conditions, in a number of countries the possibility has arisen for the working class and the peasantry to lead the national movements and ensure their culmination in the creation of working people’s states. This possibility has become a reality in a number of Asian countries. In colonial and dependent countries where revolutionary democratic forces lead the struggle for national liberation, the nation-states established after the victory of the revolution have chosen to develop along socialist lines.

In the national liberation revolutions of the epoch of developing capitalism, the aim of national liberation was essentially achieved when a colony broke its political ties with the metropolitan country. Today, when foreign monopolies retain control over the economies of former colonies, the conquest of political independence does not free the people from their status as an exploited nation. Although the creation of a nation-state represents a victory for the people of the former colony, it fails to fulfill completely the goals of the national liberation revolution. Therefore, with the collapse of the colonial system, the national liberation revolution enters a new stage, the struggle for economic independence. A national liberation revolution “does not end with the winning of political independence. Independence will be unstable and will become fictitious unless the revolution brings about radical changes in the social and economic spheres and solves the pressing problems of national rebirth” (ibid., p. 46). As a rule, the contradiction between oppressed and oppressor nations takes the form of a conflict between politically independent countries and imperialism, leads to a deepening of the revolution, and results in its entry into the stage of fundamental social and economic transformations. This new stage of the national liberation revolution is associated with the question of the direction to be taken by the social and economic development of the liberated countries. The problem of social and economic progress becomes the main link in the revolutionary process.

In many countries the struggle for national liberation has become a struggle against exploitative relations, both feudal and capitalist. In the present epoch capitalism cannot guarantee the nationally independent development of countries that have broken away from colonial domination, nor can it ensure sufficiently rapid economic growth. The noncapitalist path—that is, development toward socialism—provides the most favorable conditions for economic progress and corresponds to the interests of the majority of nations.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. O kolonial’noi sisteme kapitalizma. Moscow, 1959. [A collection.]
Lenin, V. I. O natsional’nom i natsional’no-kolonial’nom voprose. Moscow, 1956. [A collection.]
Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm. Moscow, 1961.
Mezhdunarodnoe soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii ν Moskve ν iiune 1969 g. Moscow, 1969.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Sovremennoe osvoboditel’noe dvizhenie i natsional’naia burzhuaziia: sb. st. Prague, 1961.
Woddis, J. Afrika: Lev probuzhdaetsia. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from English.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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