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an aggregation of people or peoples of one or more cultures, races, etc., organized into a single state
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


a community of sentiment (Max WEBER, 1920) or an imagined community (B. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 1983) based on one or more of the following: race, ethnicity, language, religion, customs, political memory, and shared experience of the Other. A nation exists where a people succeeds in its claim to be one by securing recognition of it from others. Ethnicity has proved neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of nationhood. According to Weber, modern nations usually need a state to protect their integrity and interests, and states usually need a nation if they are to command the allegiance of the individual. There are, however, many stateless nations, such as Scotland, and there have been many nationless (or multinational) states such as Prussia and the Soviet Union. Differences between ethnic nations (communities of descent) and civic nations (associations within a territory) have major implications for pluralism and the accommodation of difference, the character of civil society and the definition of citizenship.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(natsiia), a historical community of people that comes into existence with the formation of a common territory, common economic ties, a literary language, a general character, and certain cultural features that constitute its identifying traits.

A truly scientific theory of nations was created by Marx and Engels and developed by Lenin. According to the theory, the nation emerged as a new sociohistorical phenomenon when the feudal fragmentation of society was being overcome and political centralization based on capitalist economic ties was being consolidated. The classical Marxist-Leninist theorists emphasized the importance of the state in the consolidation of the nation. Lenin wrote that the formation of national states was the tendency (or aspiration) of every national movement. “Therefore, the national state is typical and normal for the capitalist period” (Poln. sobr. Soch, 5th ed., vol. 25, p. 259). Lenin rejected the favorite device of bourgeois sociology and historiography, which is to confuse the nation with the race or tribe and to portray it as a continuation and more complex development of tribal and kinship ties and as an eternal, natural, suprahistorical phenomenon. He criticized the views of O. Bauer, who defined the nation as a community of culture and character based on common historical destiny. According to Lenin, this theory is idealistic (Leninskii sb., XXX, 1937, p. 53). The presence of ethnically related tribes and nationalities (narodnosti) facilitates the consolidation of a nation but is not a necessary condition for this process. Furthermore, a direct genetic line connecting the ethnic attributes of a tribe, nationality, and nation is not necessary for the consolidation of a nation. In fact, there are no homogeneous nations. All nations grew out of disparate tribes. Some trace their origins to several distinct nationalities. Many nations, including the Americans, were formed not only from different ethnic groups but even from different races. Thus, racial homogeneity cannot be included in the concept of nation. A nation cannot be defined in terms of a common religion or state. Although some nations profess one religion, others are made up of groups that belong to different religions. There are single states that include several different nations, and there are nations that do not have a state.

In the history of a nation and in its relations with other nations, ethnic characteristics (language, culture, and customs) are very important. They are not biologically determined but are the product of social development. When different ethnic groups live and act together in the framework of a fully developed nation, a new ethnic (or national) character is produced, in which it is possible to trace certain “lasting” elements inherited from earlier historical communities. For all their durability, however, even these lasting elements are not unchangeable. Thus, the nation is essentially a sociohistorical phenomenon.

Lenin constantly emphasized the social origin and social essence of the nation and pointed out that the creation “of national ties was nothing else than the creation of bourgeois ties” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 154). According to Lenin, “the transition from feudalism to capitalism would have been impossible without national ideas” (ibid., vol. 26, p. 35), and “nations are an inevitable product, an inevitable form, in the bourgeois epoch of social development” (ibid., p. 75). Lenin believed that the historical stage of the formation of nations began in the late Middle Ages and at the beginning of the modern era. In capitalism Lenin saw the economic foundation of the nation because of its call for a domestic market and a common language for a particular community as important tools in forging commercial ties.

The development of a bourgeoisie and the formation of a single market were necessary conditions for the rise of many modern nations. A fully developed nation has an explicit “economic character” (Leninskii sb., XXX, 1937, p. 53). Before a common economic life can develop, there must be a common territory. A common territory is a necessary condition for the formation of a nation and, subsequently, one of a nation’s distinguishing features. During the consolidation of a nation a common literary language develops in various ways and becomes a powerful means for forging national ties. A common cultural life also arises, based on the long common experience of people linked by a single economy, territory, and language.

Although the founders of Marxism-Leninism considered a unified cultural life important to the development of a nation, they stressed the contradictory character of the culture and psychology of a nation made up of hostile classes. Bearing in mind the opposition between bourgeois-landlord and clerical culture and democratic and socialist culture, Lenin wrote: “There are two national cultures in every national culture” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24, p. 129). These two cultures are created by representatives of the same nationality who are also representatives of “two different nations within one nation,” with distinct social ideologies and psychologies. Nonetheless, it is correct to speak of the psychological traits of a nation as one of its distinctive features.

Common economic ties, a common language and territory, and certain traditions and characteristics of a national culture and psychology give rise to a national unity—a national consciousness. Once it has emerged, national consciousness becomes an important factor in the existence and development of a nation. It begins to function not only as an objective tie among people but also as a tie based on consciousness in a broader sense, including consciousness of a common ethnic background, national language, homeland, culture, certain set of relations with other nations, and feeling of national pride.

The vitality and activity of a nation are to a considerable extent determined by the character and degree of national consciousness. Nevertheless, the antagonistic classes and their parties adhere to opposing views and develop opposing political lines for promoting national consciousness. The Marxist-Leninist parties promote national consciousness in a manner consistent with the true national interests, which are inseparably linked with the international unity of the working people of all countries. The bourgeois and petit bourgeois ideologists, however, distort national consciousness and pretend that narrow egoistic, nationalistic interests are the true national interests.

The formation of different nations is determined by the correlation of economic, political, and ethnic factors, as well as by the character of the historical epoch. In some cases the processes of a nation’s formation and the conditions for its existence run parallel and supplement each other. For example, the first European nations were based on major, well-developed nationalities that had a common language, territory, and various ethnic features that were conditions for the formation of these nations. In other cases nations have come into existence before all the conditions for their formation are fully ready. Thus, in a number of Asian and African countries nations have developed during the struggle for independence and particularly after the winning of independence. Such nations emerge on territory that has been shaped historically by colonial partitioning and is inhabited by tribes and nationalities with different languages, cultures, and economic ties. They become the form for the territorial and economic consolidation and political and cultural development of the countries in which they arise. It is necessary to keep in mind that the formation of a nation is not a universal stage of development for all peoples of the world. Many numerically small peoples, such as tribes and territorial linguistic groups, have merged with larger nations.

In order to arrive at a correct understanding of the essence of the nation and the role and significance of its ethnic characteristics, it is necessary to recognize the differences between such related but not identical concepts as natsiia and natsional’nost’. The term natsional’nost’, which signifies a common ethnicity, is only one of the factors contributing to a nation or to nationhood. Thus, natsional’nost’ is a narrower concept than “nation.” The distinction between the two concepts helps explain why a group of people who are of the natsional’nost’ of a particular nation but who do not live on its territory are not members of that nation. Also, it is clear why a nation or nationality under socialism radically changes its social essence while retaining its natsional’nost’.

During socialist construction exploitative classes and antagonisms within and between nations are eliminated. Nations undergo fundamental changes, and the nations of capitalist society are transformed into socialist nations. Preserving their distinctive ethnic traits or modifying them to some extent, nations fundamentally change their social type and become socialist in their class structure, political system, and cultural makeup. To a great extent, the original characteristics of the nation are given new content, and new traits appear, the product of the nation’s socialist and international life.

The development of the socialist nations and their social, political, and ideological unity are based on the establishment of a genuinely common economic life in each of them. In the multinational states the unity of interests of the working people of all nations emerges. The common territory, a condition for the existence of a socialist nation, acquires a new quality. The borders of national republics (for example, in the USSR) lose their former significance and do not promote national exclusiveness. Contacts of every kind are maintained among the Soviet nations, which seek to rationally utilize the entire territory of the USSR as the common property of the Soviet people.

Socialism creates the most favorable conditions for the development of national languages. In addition to the native tongue, the knowledge of a language of international communication, such as Russian has become in the USSR, contributes to the mutual enrichment of the national cultures, which are national in form and socialist in content. On the basis of their common economic, social, ideological, and political ties, the socialist nations develop the international features of their cultures, and the national cultures draw closer together. While preserving their progressive cultural heritage, the socialist nations create new cultural values that become the common property of all the peoples. The national and international elements in the culture of the socialist nations make up an integral whole in which the international aspect is dominant. With the building of communism new traditions develop, bringing the socialist nations closer together, uniting them, and strengthening their shared cultural values.

The new features of socialist nations are formed under the decisive influence of the working class, the leading international force in the nation. Under socialism, revolutionary changes in all aspects of social, economic, political, and cultural life give rise to a socialist national consciousness. In mature socialist society an intensive, integrated process is under way in which each nation flourishes and all nations draw closer together. The socialist nations can truly thrive not through national isolation but through an internationalized economy and politics, a unified ideology, and the development of international features in their culture and cultural life. For this reason, the flourishing of nations promotes their drawing together, which, in turn, promotes their flourishing.

One of the most essential characteristics of the socialist nations is their fraternal cooperation and mutual assistance based on the principles of socialist internationalism, which have given rise to new international communities such as the Soviet people and the ever stronger commonwealth of socialist peoples.

Under communist construction the drawing together of nations is accelerated, leading to the obliteration of differences among them that are associated with outdated forms of existence and resulting in the amalgamation of small ethnic groups. The obliteration of national differences is a more prolonged process than the breakdown of class differences. The complete integration of nations will take place as a result of their further flowering and their gradual drawing together in all spheres of life. Communists do not advocate making national distinctions eternal and everlasting and support the objective, progressive, comprehensive drawing together of nations, which creates the conditions for their ultimate fusion and integration on a fully voluntary and democratic basis. Marxist-Leninists are equally opposed to retarding this process and to forcing it artificially.

A clear knowledge of the prospects for national development are especially important to the socialist countries, whose social relations, including national relations, are scientifically guided and directed toward a definite goal. On the basis of Marxist-Leninist theory, it is possible to predict that the victory of communism throughout the world will create the conditions necessary for the amalgamation of nations and that all people will belong to a worldwide human society free from classes or nations, with a unified economy and a unified communist culture, tremendously rich and varied.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Manifest Kommunisticheskoipartii. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. “O pol’skom voprose.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Engels, F. “Po i Rein.” Ibid., vol. 13.
Engels, F. Proiskhozhdenie sem ’i, chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva. Ibid., vol. 21.
Engels, F. O razlozhenii feodalizma i vozniknovenii natsional’nykh gosudarstv. Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. Chto takoe ’druz’ia naroda’ i kak oni voiuiut protiv sotsialdemokratov? Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. “Ot kakogo nasledstva my otkazyvaemsia?” Ibid., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. v “Polozhenie Bunda ν partii.” Ibid., vol. 8.
Lenin, V. I. “K voprosu ob obshchenatsional’noi revoliutsii.” Ibid., vol. 15.
Lenin, V. I. “Kriticheskie zametki po natsional’nomu voprosu.” Ibid., vol. 24.
Lenin, V. I. “O ’kul’turno-natsional’noi’ avtonomii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “O natsional’noi programme RSDRP.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Tezisy referata po natsional’nomu voprosu. Mezhdu 10 i 20 ianvaria (23 ianvaria i 2 fevralia) 1914 g.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Pod chuzhim flagom.” Ibid., vol. 26.
Lenin, V. I. Sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia i pravo natsii na samoopredelenie. Ibid., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. “Rech’ po natsional’nomu voprosu 29 aprelia (12 maia) 1917 g.” Ibid., vol. 31.
Lenin, V. I. “II Kongress Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. O proletarskoi kul’ture. Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “III Kongress Kommunisticheskogo Internationala.” Ibid., vol. 44.
Lenin, V. I. “K voprosu o natsional’nostiakh ili ob ’avtonomizatsii’.” Ibid., vol. 45.
Programma KPSS (Priniata XXII s”ezdom KPSS). Moscow, 1973.
Mezhdunarodnoe soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1969.
Materialy XXIVs”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Marksizm-leninizm o proletarskom internatsionalizme. Moscow, 1969. [A collection.]
Leninizm i natsional’nyi vopros v sovremennykh usloviiakh. 2nd ed. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
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Twenty years later, the subject was more industriously sifted, and for half a century became one of the principal topics of controversy between the ablest and most enlightened men in the nation. The instrument of voluntary association executed on board the "Mayflower" testifies that the parties to it had anticipated the improvement of their nation.
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.and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.