Nationalism, Socialism, and Self-Determination

April 20,1984  – UNITY CommentaryA MARXIST-LENINIST VIEW

Excerpts from

Nationalism, Self-determination and Socialist Revolution

The question of Self-Determination is a question of * the extension of all around democracy to all nations; it is not Marxists winking at nationalism. Marxists oppose nationalism, a bourgeois ideology which promotes the privilege, primacy and exclusiveness of the nation. Nationalism is not the same thing as patriotism which Mao said was applied internationalism in the case of oppressed nations, and is not the same as national consciousness.

Bourgeois nationalism ultimately does not serve the real interests of the masses of that nationality. As ironic as this sounds, nationalism does not ultimately serve the nation.
UNITY is reprinting excerpts from ‘‘Nationalism, Self-Determination and Socialist Revolution. ” This article was originally published in Black Nation magazine in 1982.

This article, along with various internal documents, was written in mid-1982 as part of a League education campaign on Marxism-Leninism and nationalism.

Amiri Baraka

Contributing editor

… A Marxist is an internationalist, but also as Mao pointed out the Marxist of an oppressed nation must also be a patriot. The fight against that nation’s national oppression is “internationalism applied.” Marxists cannot be so involved with theoretically upholding internationalism that they dismiss their own nation’s concrete national liberation struggle — that would be a caricature of Marxism. This is precisely why Mao wrote this essay, to counter those people disguised as Marxists who wanted to “liquidate the national question.” Lenin fought thesame battle with Rosa Luxemburg and the Polish and Dutch Social Democrats, among other Marxists in the early 20th century who wanted to deny the right of Self-Determination as an exercise in reformism or nationalism.

But to talk rationally of internationalism, one must understand and fight for the freedom of all nations! In the U.S., one of the main deterrents in really multinational communist organizing has been incorrect political positions on the national question, particularly the Afro-American National Question. For a long time the liquidationist and chauvinist positions held sway in the CPUSA, and actually it was Lenin and Stalin and the weight of the Third International, plus the agitation and struggle of correct comrades including several Afro-American cadre, that forced the CPUSA to take the correct position upholding SelfDetermination for the Afro-American Nation in the Black Belt South.

The question of Self-Determination is a question of the extension of all around democracy to all nations; it is not Marxists winking at nationalism. Marxists oppose nationalism, a bourgeois ideology which promotes the privilege, primacy and exclusiveness of the nation. Nationalism is not the same thing as patriotism which Mao said was applied internationalism in the case of oppressed nations, and is not the same as national consciousness which we will talk more of later. Lenin said that even the bourgeois nationalism of an oppressed nation has elements of democracy in it, to the extent to which such nationalists fight against imperialism. So Marxists support “the nationalists in the sense of a negative support,” that is we support nationalists to the extent to which they fight imperialism, but there is no support whatsoever for nationalism, per se!

It would seem obvious to any advanced observer of a society like the U.S., for instance, that nationalism has been one of the greatest assets the U.S. ruling class has possessed. The class struggle inside the oppressor nation that the imperialist U.S. is, in relationship to the African American or Chicano Nations, is consistently repressed, diverted, fragmented and held off by the white racist monopoly capitalist ruling class having infected sectors of the white working class with the drug of white supremacy. Chauvinism, Lenin called, opportunism in its most developed and finished state, where the bourgeoisie could use “its workers” to fight against the workers of another nation! Such chauvinism has the same economic base as opportunism, the bribe of a small section of the workers and petty bourgeoisie with the spoils of imperialism ….

It is nationalism that can divide the workers so that the workers of one nationality are struggling against the workers of another nationality for a few illusory crumbs the rulers throw out exactly for that purpose! It is nationalism that can pit groups of workers against each other with the most hideous rage, while their mutual oppressors skip offwith both their purses for a little sun and fun ….

Black national oppression, based as it is on the slave trade and the enslaving of African Americans, has created an obvious and even “justifiable” ground for Black nationalism. The fact that white supremacy has been the most easily defined instrument in that national oppression creates a situation where Black nationalism can flourish. But even so, the majority of African Americans are not nationalists. In fact, part of the struggle to strengthen the BLM must be in creating a stronger national consciousness among the African American people, i.e., an awareness of the Afro-American Nation and of the political necessities of Black survival and development.

The BLM, the national liberation struggle of Black people in the U.S., must include the heightening of national consciousness, identity and self-respect. But these are not the same as nationalism, an ideology, a world outlook, promoted by the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie that advocates the primacy, exclusiveness and privilege of “their” nation.

The masses of the oppressed peoples want national equality, democratic rights for their nationality equal with all other nations. This is why in essence the Black struggle, the struggle of the African American Nation for Self-Determination is a national democratic struggle, the struggle as an oppressed nation for liberation.

Nationalism, though, means exclusivism and isolation. Any nationalism finally implies that those pebple are better than all others. The Black struggle is for equality, in essence, not “superiority.” We are the victims of a nationalism that preaches superiority and inferiority. We have seen its obscene terror and oppression. We are not fighting so that we can put these on somebody else.

And further. Bourgeois nationalism ultimately does not serve the real interests of the masses of that nationality. As ironic as this sounds, nationalism does not ultimately serve the nation. This is true and has been proven correct time and again. Bourgeois nationalism after a certain point isolates the oppressed masses from their mass allies and delivers them into the hands of the exploiters and reactionaries of their own nationality. In today’s world, imperialism must be destroyed to destroy national oppression and certainly this couldn’t be more true than here in the heartland of the U.S. superpower.

Zionism should teach us at this moment more forcibly than anything else, how even the most “justifiable” nationalism, taken to its logical conclusion, can end up justifying the slaughter of almost anybody else outside the nation. Certainly, the slaughter of six million Jews by Nazi fascism (rule by the most nationalistic sector of finance capital) made Zionism seem attractive and reasonable to many people who had never taken it seriously before. Now we see the Israelis, themselves turned into fascists, slaughtering the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples, justifying it with Israeli nationalism.

. . . Too many so-called M-Ls even think the mass movement is the nationalist sector of the BLM ….

The working class recognizes and supports all the various struggles against National Oppression, but the struggle that unifies that class completely must be the struggle to smash monopoly capitalism forever. Therefore the class-conscious African American workers must fight consciously not only for Self-Determination for the Afro-American Nation but for the victory of the whole working class. Such a class-conscious worker must support all the just struggles of the various oppressed nationalities, but also see as primary the collective struggle of the multinational working class.

Actually, the Afro-American struggle for Self-Determination is fought against the same enemy that the multinational working class fights against, that is, the white racist monopoly capitalist class which rules the U. S. and is the chief beneficiary of U.S. imperialism. So that a well-organized and fighting multinational workers movement must attack the same chief enemy of the Black Nation — the white racist monopoly capitalist class — the U.S. imperialist class.

This is why the strategic alliance between the multinational working class and oppressed nationalities is so critical. It is the creation of a conscious fighting unity, a revolutionary unity, that monopoly capitalism cannot withstand ….