From 1905 Lenin noticed that the Russian revolution gave an impetus to bourgeois democratic movements and national awakening in countries like Iran, Turkey and China. National awakening in colonial and semi-colonial countries was loaded with explosives for the world revolution. He considered the awakening in Asia and the rise in national liberation struggles in his articles at that time. In the national awakening in colonial and semi-colonial countries he saw a potential of inflicting a blow to the system of colonialism. And what is more important, he tried to connect the awakening in Asia with the proletarian revolution in the West:
The social revolution can come only in the form of an epoch in which are combined civil war by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries and a whole series of democratic and revolutionary movements, including the national liberation movement, in the undeveloped, backward and oppressed nations.
As is seen, Lenin did not consider the struggles for national liberation in colonial countries as something isolated from the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat across the world, something not influencing it or being influenced by it. On the contrary, he had the view that social revolutions would proceed through interaction of worldwide revolutionary struggles going on at different levels. Taking into account the conditions of that time, he was pointing out that it would be a serious miscalculation to expect pure social revolutions:
To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc. -- to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, "We are for socialism", and another, somewhere else and says, "We are for imperialism", and that will be a social revolution!
Basing his analyses on the uneven development of historical process Lenin tackled the national question by dividing countries in different historical steps into mainly three groups. We know that these differences are now generally left far behind considering the present conditions. But, it is important to examine Lenin’s approach on the question at stake to understand the revolutionary line extending back to the past. About those capitalist countries for which the national question was a thing of the past, Lenin said:
In the Western countries the national movement is a thing of the distant past. In England, France, Germany, etc., the "fatherland" is a dead letter, it has played its historical role, i.e., the national movement cannot yield here anything progressive, anything that will elevate new masses to a new economic and political life. History's next step here is not transition from feudalism or from patriarchal savagery to national progress, to a cultured and politically free fatherland, but transition from a "fatherland" that has outlived its day, that is capitalistically overripe, to socialism..
However, the situation was different in undeveloped countries:
They embrace the whole of Eastern Europe and all the colonies and semi-colonies… In those areas, as a rule, there still exist oppressed and capitalistically undeveloped nations. Objectively, these nations still have general national tasks to accomplish, namely, democratic tasks, the tasks of overthrowing foreign oppression .
As lessons derived by Marx from the revolutionary experience of 1848 show; the European bourgeoisie was horrified as the proletariat had entered the historical arena and it could not any more lead the bourgeois democratic transformations in a revolutionary way. From then on, this task would be fulfilled by the proletariat within the context of permanent revolution. But according to Lenin, Asia has not yet passed the way Europe had left behind and historical reality was different in various countries of Asia:
Advanced Europe is commanded by a bourgeoisie which supports everything that is backward. … Everywhere in Asia a mighty democratic movement is growing, spreading and gaining in strength. The bourgeoisie there is as yet siding with the people against reaction.
Lenin thought Asian countries were even far behind Russia from the standpoint of the level of capitalism and thus of the working class. Therefore, it was possible to say that there was a bourgeoisie in these countries that may in a way play the role of the progressive bourgeoisie in Europe in the 18th century. Taking historical differences into account in national question, Lenin considered national awakening in colonies as a progressive step with bourgeois democratic character and he supported them. This way of thinking, prevalent on Lenin, would also be prevalent on national question and the question of colonies which were addressed in the Second Congress of the Comintern and would serve a base for the debates up to now.
Indeed, contrary to some arguments, this approach of Lenin towards national question is correct in general and it is not in conflict with the idea of permanence of the proletarian revolution. Therefore, those considerations that Lenin changed his approach on this subject after a certain point are kind of overstatements. Since Lenin did not divide the process of revolution which has to progress under the hegemony of the proletariat into different stages of power; but he was pointing to an inevitable historical process which would open the road for the working class in backward countries.
In historically belated colonial and semi-colonial countries, the bourgeoisie could still play a progressive role in the framework of gaining national independence; but in imperialist epoch how comprehensive or stable could it be? It must be kept in mind that Lenin never attributed the bourgeoisie of these counties an absolute or stable progressive mission; quite the contrary, he warned communists about how slippery they could be:
Not infrequently (notably in Austria and Russia) we find the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations talking of national revolt, while in practice it enters into reactionary compacts with the bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation behind the backs of, and against, its own people.
In fact, national liberation struggles in various Asian and African countries sufficiently exposed the slippery and dual attitude of the bourgeoisie of the colonial and semi-colonial countries which were struggling for their own nation-state in imperialist epoch. But we must never forget that in terms of its historical and social scope a national liberation war is just what it is; and nothing more! A struggle of this kind can obviously march under the leadership of the bourgeoisie; so, it can involve various compromises with imperialists. But this does not reduce a just national uprising of masses to the level of an unjust struggle. Lenin’s warning about this is very important:
The fact that the struggle for national liberation against one imperialist power may, under certain conditions, be utilised by another “great” power for its own, equally imperialist, aims, is just as unlikely to make the Social Democrats refuse to recognise the right of nations to self determination…
He also makes an important assessment about national movements in colonial and semi-colonial countries:
…the semi-colonial countries, such as China, Persia and Turkey, and all the colonies, which have a combined population of 1,000 million. In these countries the bourgeois-democratic movements either have hardly begun, or have still a long way to go. Socialists must not only demand the unconditional and immediate liberation of the colonies without compensation -- and this demand in its political expression signifies nothing else than the recognition of the right to self-determination; they must also render determined support to the more revolutionary elements in the bourgeois-democratic movements for national liberation in these countries and assist their uprising -- or revolutionary war, in the event of one -- against the imperialist powers that oppress them. 
Lenin did not content himself with only noting the bourgeois character of national liberation movements. He insists on the necessity of distinguishing between different tendencies within “the bourgeois democratic movement”. According to him, the more revolutionary elements (that is, the petty-bourgeois radicals and peasant masses) should be assisted in their uprisings against the imperialist states oppressing them. But what does that mean? Communists should deal with democratic demands without separating them from the aim of proletarian revolution, and wage their struggle with this approach. The support to be provided by communists to movements of national liberation on the basis of oppressed nations’ just struggle is a secondary issue from the standpoint of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. Since the primary concern for the proletariat is to make all democratic demands, including national self-determination, directly part of its struggle for power. Lenin mentioned this important issue in connection with the recognition of national self determination. He made an emphasis on “...the necessity to subordinate the struggle for the demand under discussion and for all the basic demands of political democracy directly to the revolutionary mass struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeois governments and for the achievement of socialism.”
Another important point is about what must be understood from the support for national liberation struggles. First, every support only makes sense under certain concrete conditions; so, the question of who will be supported, and how, is not a matter of principle, but a conditional tactical question. Second, revolutionary proletariat gives its support to the just struggle of the oppressed nation and realization of this support depends on the level of the revolutionary organization of the proletariat. For example, a just national struggle may gain a big momentum under circumstances where the workers’ movement is calm or revolutionary political organization of the working class has swung far back for various reasons. Under such circumstances the support of the revolutionary proletariat could largely be on a principal level. But under conditions that revolutionary struggle of the proletariat is on the rise, the task is essentially to support the oppressed nation’s right to self-determination and to work to establish working class hegemony over the toiling masses revolting on the basis of the demand of national liberation. We can reiterate in a brief way that in its revolutionary struggle the proletariat defends the right to national self-determination of a nation with a view to subordinating this democratic demand to its struggle for power.
The movement of toiling masses in a country that rises on the basis of demanding national liberation can take a real anti-imperialist course only on this basis, and only under the hegemony of the proletariat. Otherwise a national liberation struggle cannot go beyond its limits. And within these limits, it must never be forgotten that its essential concern is not liberation from the imperialist-capitalist system but from being a colony. Therefore we consider national liberation struggles as anti-colonialist struggles in their essence. And this holds true even if they are waged against an imperialist state in 20th century.
Lenin’s assessments on the significance of national liberation struggles gained a new dimension with the victory of October Revolution and establishment process of the Soviet republics following it. Under the new historical setting where the proletariat rose to power in one part of the world it was correct to seek to win over the toiling masses which were struggling for national liberation. By this way, a broad front of struggle against imperialist system on a world scale could be formed under the leadership of the proletariat. Besides, it was even more important at a time when the Soviet proletariat faced an assault of the imperialist powers. The drive for winning the toiling masses of the colonial and semi-colonial countries, particularly in Asia, to the side of the October Revolution was an extension of the national worker-peasant alliance on a world scale. That is why Lenin attributed great importance to national liberation struggles. Nevertheless, looking at his close interest in revolutionary developments in Asian countries, some researchers of history asserted that Lenin was gradually getting away from a “Euro-centric” understanding of revolution. According to them, Lenin moved closer to the idea that an Eastern storm from peasant nations would overthrow capitalism. Although such interpretations have been in circulation for a long time in the name of “Marxism”, they have nothing to do with Lenin. These are exaggerated attempts to portray Lenin as a third-worldist. While noting the awakening in Asia, Lenin was very clear on his conception of the world revolution before and after the October Revolution, and during the first congresses of Comintern. He always believed that the proletarian world revolution could only march to victory through revolutionary leap forward of the proletariat of advanced European countries.
About distortions we need to underline one last point. It is true that Lenin considered national liberation struggles as an ally of the proletarian world revolution whose natural aim is to overthrow imperialist-capitalist system. But he never left the door open for anti-Marxist interpretations which amount to identifying the two or substitution of the former for the latter. With the victory of October Revolution and birth of a new political centre of power, he advocated the perspective of bringing the toiling masses of the oppressed nations and colonial countries together in a war front under the politic leadership of the Soviet proletariat. There is no similarity between his approach and the distorted understanding of “anti-imperialist struggle” which was later shaped under the dominance of Stalinism. Because, the latter is a political tendency that substitutes national liberation struggles for the proletarian revolution, and that seeks to prevent the proletariat’s political hegemony. Stalinism in fact forced the revolutionary proletariat to submit to the hegemony of the national bourgeoisie in the name of a so-called anti-imperialist front. With the pretext of defending “the interests of the Soviet state which are supreme,” it strangled revolutions that had the potential of developing towards founding a workers’ rule.
 “Inflammable Material in World Politics” (1908); “Events in the Balkans and in Persia” (1908); “Regenerated China” (1912); “The Balkan War and Bourgeois Chauvinism” (1913); “Awakening of Asia” (1913); “Backward Europe, Advanced Asia” (1913).
 Lenin, “A Caricature of Marxism”, p.60
 Lenin, “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up”, CW, Vol. 22, pp.355-56
 Lenin, “Socialist Revolution and Self-Determination”, CW, Vol. 22, pp.150-152
 Lenin, “A Caricature of Marxism”, p.39
 Lenin, ibid, p.59
 Lenin, “Backward Europe and Advanced Asia”, CW, Vol. 19, p.99-100
 Lenin, “A Caricature of Marxism”, p.61
 Lenin, “Socialist Revolution and Self-Determination”, p.148
 Lenin, ibid, pp.151-52
 Lenin, ibid, p.156