National-Cultural Autonomy and 'Neutralism': Vladimir Medem's Marxist Analysis of the National Question, 1903-1920.


  • Roni Gechtman Mount Saint Vincent University



This article examines the views of Vladimir Medem (1879-1923) —a major leader and theorist of the Jewish Labour Bund in Tsarist Russia and, after 1918, in independent Poland— on the ‘national question’, as he presented them in internal discussions within the Bund and in his theoretical works. It demonstrates that Medem’s goal was not just to outline a political program for the Bund but to establish the foundations for a comprehensive theoretical analysis of the nation from a social democratic perspective. Strongly opposed to nationalism in all its manifestations, Medem put forward, as an alternative to the nation-state (demanded by all nationalist movements), a model of a ‘state of nationalities’ in which citizenship would be nationally neutral and granted equally to the members of all nationalities. At the same time, Medem proposed that the state must take an active role in protecting national minorities by granting each of them a national-cultural autonomy with a limited jurisdiction over cultural matters (and only those matters). Medem’s analysis of the national question and the Bund’s program of national-cultural autonomy (like the similar views formulated by Austro-Marxist theorists Karl Renner and Otto Bauer) deserve special attention, I argue; as a form of ‘multiculturalism avant la lettre’, they may offer insights relevant to today’s increasingly diverse and multicultural societies.