Paul Mattick 1956

Barghoorn on Soviet Russian Nationalism — Review.

Source: Western Socialist, September-October, 1956;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.

Soviet Russian Nationalism. By Frederick C. Barghoorn. Oxford University Press, New York, 1956, pp. 330; $7.00.

Capitalism, although it is an international mode of production, developed within the frame of the modern nation-state. Its “internationalism” assumes the form of aggressive “nationalism.” The imperialistic expansion of nationally-organized capitalism needs such extra-nationalist ideologies as “the civilizing mission” of colonialism, or “the defense of democracy” against fascist national movements and their imperialist aspirations. The vested interests of the national state and the power of nationalist ideologies oppose socialism because it would put an end to the private-enterprise system with its nationalist and imperialist requirements. The “nationalism” as well as the “internationalism” of capitalism, as world-wide systems of production and exchange, are necessarily ambiguous; or rather, since the goal of capital production is capital, both its nationalism and its internationalism are means to this end. The internal contradictions of capital production explain both its concrete contradictions and those between world-wide capital expansion and the specific profit-interests of nationally-organized capital structures. The contradiction between private capital interests and social needs reappears in the contradiction between national interests and the requirements of a social world system of production and distribution based on the actual needs and possibilities of its inhabitants.

Capital concentration and the centralization of political and economic power on an international scale gave rise to national movements in underdeveloped, imperialistically-controlled and exploited countries. The capitalization of these countries took on an exaggerated national form in opposition to imperialist nations and often in opposition to their own ruling classes, which held control by virtue of an imperialistically-maintained backwardness. National revolutions took on an “anti-capitalist,” anti-imperialist character, even though their goal was capitalization and modernization under government control.

The nationalism and internationalism of these countries were less ambiguous, however, than that of imperialist nations because their main concern was, at first, the establishment of national existence and security as a presupposition for the possible development of imperialist tendencies. Their immediate needs, furthermore, demanded the support of all the anti-imperialist forces of the world. Soviet Russian nationalism, with which Barghoorn concerns himself, was for a considerable time subordinated to the programmatic internationalism of bolshevism. Nationalism was stressed internally only when a need for it arose, that is, when the existence of the Soviet Union demanded an appeal to traditional Russian nationalism. The right of national self-determination was propagated to support national movements where these would embarrass and weaken the ruling imperialist powers and thus strengthen Russia’s world position. Basically, however, and aside from whatever else the bolshevik revolution represented, it was a national attempt to keep the Russian empire from disintegrating or becoming dismembered in an era of world-wars.

According to Barghoorn, “the Soviet Union is in fact the most highly integrated and centralized nation-state that has yet existed in the world. Like all extreme forms of nationalism, that of the Soviet Union is imperialistic. It is expansionist and its horizon of ambition is bounded only by the realities of geography and counterbalancing power.” The Russian type of nationalism, “is appropriate to an order in which the ruling class is the collective owner of the means of production and the collective exploiter of the masses.” It is a state-capitalist system bent on getting as much control of the world as possible. In this respect, of course, it does not differ from other capitalist-imperialist powers. But because the Russian “state bourgeoisie” is both “more powerful as a class, and more insecure as individuals, than the elite strata of traditional monarchies or of capitalist democracy,” Barghoorn thinks that in Russia “social tensions are probably more acute than in constitutional states. To a much greater extent than in freer societies there is a compulsion to direct the aggression generated by these tendencies to out-groups.”

This brings us to the “message” of the book. Russian bolshevism was previously combatted by upholding the values of nationalism and the efficiency of private enterprise. Now the apparent success of the Russian economy and her nationalist-imperialist inclinations are regarded as dangerous not only to the Western world but to all nations within the Russian orbit. The roles have been reversed. It is not the “internationalism” but the nationalism of Russia that is bad; not pseudo-socialist state-planning but imperialist expansions. In brief, now that it is extremely nationalistic, Russian imperialism is twice as bad as that of other powers. Adherence to the Western world appears to be the lesser evil because it is less intensely nationalistic and its imperialism is declining — with constitutional governments and democracy thrown into the bargain. Progress and well-being lie not in the reactionary nationalism of Russian bolshevism but in the enlightened nationalism and internationalism of Western capitalism. In other words, the bolsheviks are really vicious capitalists, whereas the Western bourgeoisie look more like old bolsheviks fending off imperialist aggression.

In addition to this message which is more implicitly than explicitly stated, Barghoorn gives a comprehensive description of bolshevik Russification within the Soviet Union with regard to traditional and revolutionary factors in Soviet Russian nationalism. The bolshevik’s use of national sentiments, as well as their discrimination against national minorities, are traced back to Lenin and are demonstrated by present-day Russian policies. These descriptions, often unnecessarily detailed and repetitious, are not as important as elements of Russian imperialism as Barghoorn imagines them to be. They show, however, that in their imperialistic nationalism, the bolsheviks have “reached and over-reached” their Western adversaries. Barghoorn, who likes the Western brand of nationalism better, pleads for its survival as the opposing force to Russia’s drive for world control.