Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ivo Banac

Re-Reassessments: What Is Nationalism?

Published: The Stanford Daily, Volume 156, Issue 41, 24 November 1969. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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(This is the first in a series of two articles by Ivo Banac, graduate student in History and member of the SDS Worker-Student Alliance Caucus, written in response to an article by T. H. Andre.)

As the panelist who defended the Progressive Labor Party’s positions at the SDS-sponsored meeting on the U.S. radical movement, I read with deep interest Mr. T. H. Andre’s reassessment of “our” thesis that “all nationalism is reactionary.”

In replying to Mr. Andre I would, first of all, like to point out that this position is not a property of the PLP, nor has it been invented by the PLP. Marxist—Leninists have always advanced this thesis. The fact that this claim is now so widely challenged among our “revolutionaries” merely shows the tremendous strength of revisionism within the movement here and abroad.

Lenin has said, “The whole task of the proletarians in the national question is ’impractical’ from the standpoint of the nationalist bourgeoisie of every nation, because, being opposed to all nationalism [my emphasis, 1.8.], the proletarians demand ’abstract’ equality, they demand that on principle there shall be no privileges, however slight.”

Stalin has said, “Sometimes the bourgeoisie succeeds in drawing the proletariat into the national movement, and then the national struggle externally assumes a ’nation-wide’ character. But this is so only externally. In its essence it is always a bourgeois struggle, one that is to the advantage and profit, mainly of the bourgeoisie.”

Nationalist Movements

What is fundamental in Mr. Andre’s article is his assumption that “certain contemporary nationalist movements are progressive, in the present historical conditions.”

What is nationalism? Is it an ideology which stands above classes? Does it contradict Mao Tsetung’s profoundly Marxist observation that in a class society “every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class?” Of course not! Nationalism is a bourgeois ideology which came into existence in the era of bourgeois revolutions, at the time when the bourgeoisie was a progressive class fighting against feudalism.

Nationalism holds that members of a national group, regardless of class have, as Mr. Andre so well puts it, “a communal integrity” that is stronger than the ties between workers of different nations.

Two-Stage Struggle

Although Mr. Andre never states that he is defending nationalism in light of the so-called “two-stage struggle,” i.e. that the struggle for national liberation is subsequently transformed into a socialist revolution, we are to presume that he has the interests of socialism (dictatorship of the proletariat) at heart when he defends the nationalism of (among others) the Vietnamese leadership.

Recent experience in Algeria, Indonesia as well as in Vietnam have shown that national liberation movements that do not openly proclaim socialism as a goal have not and indeed cannot lead to the liberation of the peoples struggling against imperialism.

It is not an accident that more clever imperialists such as McCarthy and Kennedy (who are now organizing honest [and some not so honest] people behind their “Moratorium” fraud) have long since realized that nationalism is not a threat to U.S. interests. The U.S. Government has managed to “co-exist” very “peacefully” with “national communists” and revisionists of all stripes, whose socialist phrases mask naked natioanlism.

Sonorous Title

“Socialists” who never tire of referring to the late Ho Chi Minh as “George Washington of Vietnam” ought to examine the essence of this sonorous title. It implies that no basic contradictions ought to exist between Vietnamese nationalism and U.S. imperialism. If this is what they mean, then they are quite right. This is precisely what the revisionist program of the Provisional “Revolutionary” Government of Vietnam envisions in its article No. 12, where its authors state their intention “to accept aid, with no political conditions attached [!], from any country . ..[which of course includes the U.S.].

The U.S. Government, on its part, is already drawing up plans for economic “co-operation” with Vietnam after the termination of hostilities. In this respect U.S. imperialism is much more sophisticated than the apologists for “revolutionary” nationalism.

Proletariat Dictatorship

It sees clearly that as long as the dictatorship of the proletariat is not the order of the day (and it isn’t: check the same PRG or NLF programs’ for any reference to socialism or produce any independent socialist program from the southern section of the Vietnamese Lao Dong [Workers] Party) the essence of the current struggle in Vietnam is an attempt of one group of would-be-capitalists to fight outside capitalists for profits. The problem is that Mr. Andre, as well as so many others, has not learned much from the tragedy of revisionism and capitalist restoration in the USSR and eleven other former socialist countries.

This reversal has been conveniently accomplished under the guise of “updating” socialism. No one should be deceived by this stratagem. We must carefully distinguish between what revisionists say and what revisionists do. I challenge Mr. Andre to show me one nationalist who built socialism.

Similarly, I challenge Mr. Andre to show me one Marxist reference which proclaims the nationalism of the oppressor nation as reactionary and the nationalism of the oppressed nation as progressive. [Citing Mr. Bruce Franklin will not do. Mr. Franklin might be an authority on science fiction, but he is no Marxist. Marxists, you see, believe in classes.] Marxist-Leninists distinguish between oppressor and oppressed nations for the purpose of breaking down chauvinism which hinders the unity of all workers, and not in order to raise the possibility that some nationalism is better than other.