Jim Blaut, who died last week (Nov. 13, 2000), was one of the foremost Marxist writers on the national question in recent decades. I have just finished reading his book, The National Question: Decolonising the Theory of Nationalism, published by Zed Books in 1987 and now unfortunately out of print. Among other things, I was struck by the many ways in which this work addresses and illuminates issues that have been debated in recent months on this list. Jim himself posted to the List last July an excerpt from the book that dealt with Stalin's Marxism and the National Question, in answer to the centrist DSP of Australia, which has apparently embraced Stalin's 1913 approach.


His chapter on Tom Nairn, an editor of New Left Review who published a book "The Break-Up of Britain" in the mid-1970s, goes a long way toward answering the questions raised by those List subscribers who were recently speculating on why NLR had so little to say about the Irish question. (Nairn looked to the Protestant community of Northern Ireland as one of the "national" forces that would help to emancipate Great Britain from its archaic constitutional structure!)


But the major contribution of Blaut's book is its discussion, throughout, of how Lenin's analysis redefined the parameters and implications of the national question in revolutionary strategy. He takes aim in particular at two misconceptions that were characteristic of pre-1914 Marxism: the belief that the national struggle is autonomous from the class struggle, and the analysis of other Marxists who recognized that national struggles were class struggles but limited the progressive validity of nationalism to the ideology of the bourgeoisie characteristic of an ascendant capitalism. Lenin, in contrast, modified his position over the years, and during World War I carried out a fundamental shift in his assessment of nationalism by incorporating his analysis of the national question into his developing theory of imperialism.


Blaut's major concern in writing this book was to counter the mistaken theories being propagated by many Marxists concerning the Puerto Rican struggle, with which Blaut was closely identified. But the book is one of the most interesting and valuable discussions on the national question I have read. The following extract, from his critique of Eric Hobsbawm (an English ex-Stalinist who treats all nationalism today as "irrational") describes the transformation of Lenin's thinking on the national question.


Richard Fidler




Lenin's Theory


In a sense there are two Leninist theories of nationalism or the national question. Hobsbawm's essential error lies in his neglect of the second and later theory. This second theory is not associated with some intellectual 'break', some biographical phenomenon of intellectual maturation of the sort which certain Marxists claim to find in the life and ideas of Karl Marx. In Lenin's case it was the World War which forced this great thinker to try to come up with an explanation for a historical crisis which was catastrophic, unexpected (at least in its effects on the workers' movement), and not comprehensible within the corpus of Marxist theory as it existed at that time. (I will call this corpus of pre-war ideas 'post-classical Marxism' to distinguish it from the 'classical' Marxism of the Marx-Engels period.) Postclassical Marxism contained a body of accepted ideas about the national question, national movements, and the emergence of nation states during the period of 'rising capitalism'. There were indeed differences of theory and practice, but most of the central ideas were held in common. Lenin broke with this post-classical corpus of ideas on national struggle (and on other matters of theory, notably imperialism) in his writings of the period 1915-1920. By 1920 he held a radically different view of national struggle.


The emergence of this distinctively Leninist theory of nationalism or national struggle has tended to be neglected for a number of reasons, one being the high visibility of Lenin's earlier debates with Luxemburg, another being the prominence of Stalin's 1913 essay on national struggle, 'Marxism and the National Question', in most respects a typical example of post-classical Marxist thought which nonetheless continued to be accepted as biblical dogma all through the Stalin period and beyond. (See Chapter 5 below. [The discussion on Stalin was posted by Jim to this List on July 23, 2000.]) In 1913 and thereabouts it was agreed by all the major theorists on the national question, including Lenin, Stalin, Luxemburg, Bauer, and Kautsky, that the set of phenomena embracing national movements and the emergence of nation states was characteristic only of the period of early or rising capitalism. As Marx and Engels had said before them, nationalism would tend to quieten down or disappear as capitalism matured, because mature capitalism was fully international: because the modern bourgeoisie had become or were becoming a world-wide class with common, world-wide interests, and with no interest in maintaining the 'fetters' (as they were called) of national barriers. In a nutshell: national struggle was part of the struggle of the rising bourgeoisie, was thus innately 'bourgeois', and would have no function after capitalism had matured and the bourgeoisie had 'risen'.[59] Some Marxists then extended this argument to the point where it became transformed into an argument against all national struggles, and against any participation by socialists or workers in such struggles. This view we associate mainly with Luxemburg, although others agreed with her. She maintained that the era of nationalism was definitively ended; that new nation states were very unlikely to emerge anywhere; that national movements were thus rather idle and utopian, and they should not be supported for that reason and also because they were now, in the period of mature capitalism, reactionary.[60]


Lenin replied to Luxemburg by attacking this extended or elaborated argument, but holding to the basic position they both shared with post-classical Marxism in general. He said in effect: of course national movements and national struggles are characteristic of the period of rising capitalism, and of course they will tend to die out, along with the national question in general, as capitalism matures. But, he said, the maturation of capitalism is very uneven over the face of the earth. In eastern Europe capitalism is still rising, and national movements may still, in certain circumstances, have a chance of success, of forming new nation states. Furthermore, the peculiarly barbarous character of the Russian Empire leads to intense national oppression, hence to intense and popular resistance which may take the form of national movements. And finally, the peculiar characteristics of the Tsarist empire tend to unite the national movements in oppressed nations with the struggle for bourgeois political democracy - another feature of the period of rising capitalism - and hence to bring the national question close to the centre of the socialists' struggles for democratic rights.[61] There is of course much more than this to Lenin's pre-war position (and to Luxemburg's), but what I have said will suffice for our purposes. And what I have said would probably not be challenged by Hobsbawm.


We have to note two additional elements for a theory of nationalism which were enunciated by Lenin before the start of the World War. The first of these was the proposition that discussions about nationalism could not be limited to the nationalism of small and oppressed nations and aspiring national movements. What he called 'great nation nationalism' tended to be ignored by Marxists notably, he pointed out, by Luxemburg - but it was something that had to be taken account of as seriously as, and indeed more seriously than, the nationalism of those who aspired to state independence.[62] In essence, great nation nationalism was the dialectical opposing force to national movements. It was also, in its ideological form, easily disguised behind arguments that great states are more progressive, more suitable for modern capitalism, etc., than small ones. In later years Lenin elaborated this idea of great nation nationalism into a major theoretical proposition about the intensification of great nation nationalism in the era of imperialism. In the pre-war period he was far ahead of his contemporaries in understanding the nature and significance of great nation nationalism.


The second theoretical element was an extension of the argument that national movements in eastern Europe were still viable, important, and in some cases progressive. Lenin began to argue this clear and simple proposition: national movements in the advanced capitalist countries of western Europe are a thing of the past; those of eastern European imperial states, a thing of the present; those of the colonial world, a thing of the future.[63] In other words, anti-colonial national movements and those of semi-colonies (like China) were progressive and viable, and deserved support. Hobsbawm agrees on this matter: the Leninist position, he notes correctly, 'widened the category of "national movements" regarded as essentially "progressive" in their impact much beyond Marx's and Engels' own'.[64] On the other hand, Hobsbawm badly neglects the other Leninist proposition, that great nation nationalism needs to be looked at through the same theoretical lens as the nationalism of small and oppressed nations and national movements aspiring to independence. I suppose he accepts the proposition in principle, but there is scarcely any mention of great nation nationalism in his discussions of nationalism and when he uses the word 'nationalism' it seems to refer almost always to movements for autonomy or independence.


Lenin developed his theory of imperialism mainly in 1915 and 1916. It was inherently a political theory, designed to explain the political realities of a war which was destroying the European workers movements, and necessary to reveal the basic features of the era in which the war was taking place. The overt problem was flag-waving nationalism, but Lenin did not make the mistake of imagining this to be some merely ideological epidemic. It was clear that a profound change in both the economics and politics of capitalism was taking place. Capitalism had always sought to export its crises by spatial expansion, mainly colonial and semi-colonial. With the rise of finance capital and monopoly capitalism the need for expansion (including the export of capital) increased very greatly, but, the earth being finite in extent, fields for new territorial expansion had disappeared. Therefore, according to, Lenin, two basically novel and very powerful political forces had come into play: first, struggles among great powers to 'repartition' (Lenin's word) the already 'partitioned' world, which necessarily implied political struggles among the powers and thus eventually world war, and second, the growth of national liberation movements in colonies and semi-colonies, roughly in proportion to the intensifying economic exploitation and deepening national oppression which the new era brought forth.[65] This analysis led Lenin to a series of fundamental theorems about nationalism.


(1) Nationalism is not merely characteristic of the era of early or 'rising' capitalism, dying down as capitalism matures, and associated only with the early capitalist process of state formation. In the era of imperialism, the 20th Century, nationalism becomes more intense than ever, and acquires new functions. Great nation nationalism becomes more important and powerful than ever because of the need to repartition economic space, and this leads to world war. This newly intensified great power nationalism is not precisely a new phenomenon, since great power nationalism already had its own inglorious history prior to the 20th Century; it is new in that it is immensely increased in intensity and in significance, leading to the Great War and all its consequences.[66]


(2) The nationalism of colonies and semi-colonies is called into being by the intensification of exploitation and oppression. In an important way, this is a new phenomenon, or, to be more precise (since anti-colonial resistance also had its history), it cannot be assimilated to the theory of national movements which emerge during the rise of capitalism and have as their (as it were) purpose or goal the simple creation of a bourgeois state. The nature of colonialism is such that producing classes suffer along with whatever young or incipient bourgeoisie may exist. Therefore the national liberation movements in colonies and semi-colonies are profoundly different from the national movements of earlier oppressed nations such as those in non-colonial portions of the Tsarist empire. It is not innately a bourgeois struggle against feudal forces for the creation of a classical bourgeois state. It is a multi-class struggle directed primarily against imperialism.[67]


(3) The old-fashioned nationalism of rising capitalism continues to be found in various parts of the world, but it is distinct from, and now less important than, the two new forms: the intensified bourgeois nationalism of the great capitalist states and the national liberation struggles in colonies and semi-colonies. What all three forms have in common is struggle over the sovereignty of states. And indeed for Lenin this is the essence of the national question, and the subject matter for the theory of nationalism.


Lenin's ideas on colonial liberation struggles had evolved in his later years. By 1920 Lenin was convinced that workers and other exploited classes, with the proletariat in the van, could take the leading role in such struggles sooner or later. Even when these movements had bourgeois leadership they were struggles against monopoly capitalism and could be turned onto a socialist trajectory or a noncapitalist trajectory which would result in socialism.[68] On the basis (mainly) of this reasoning Lenin quite categorically argued that national independence movements must be supported[69] (Hobsbawm notes only Lenin's pre-war position, which did not call for categorical or unconditional support of national movements in oppressed nations.[70] And it was clear to Lenin that colonial liberation movements were a new form of national movement in the sense that they could not be assimilated to the old model of the rise of capitalism. New states and new nations were emerging under conditions of monopoly capitalism, not early capitalism. Some of them were part of the rise of socialism.[71]


All of this adds up to a new Marxist theory of nationalism, new in the precise sense that it implies the negation of some important theorems of the earlier theory, the view characteristic of post-classical Marxism. Nationalism is not simply a part of the state-forming process of the young, rising bourgeoisie; of early capitalism. It is also characteristic of monopoly capitalism. And it is also characteristic of the struggle for socialism during the period when monopoly capitalism still dominates most of the earth, a period during which the rise of socialism must take the form (from a geographical perspective) of a multiplicity of struggles to create socialist states. Nationalism is not an innately bourgeois phenomenon: in the colonial and semi-colonial countries the national struggle is engaged in by workers and peasants as well as the conventional 'rising bourgeoisie', and workers and peasants can, under the right circumstances and with the right politics and tactics, take the lead. In the case of these struggles, though not necessarily in other sorts of national struggles, the proper posture for socialists is to provide full and unqualified support.


The difference between Hobsbawm's approach to the theory of nationalism and Lenin's should now be fairly clear. Hobsbawm builds his theory on the basis of post-classical Marxist thought, which includes Lenin's pre-World War writings. Hobsbawm appears to maintain that all nationalism, if it is indeed rational, is part of the state forming process associated with the rise of capitalism. He certainly believes that national liberation movements in colonies are likely to be progressive but he seems to assimilate these, in their turn, to the rise of capitalism in a straightforward diffusion model: capitalism arose in Europe in the 19th Century and then spread outwards across the world, bringing nationalism with it.[72] Lenin, on the other hand, postulates that national movements in colonial countries are essentially different, and may either be struggles for socialism, not capitalism, or will at least be struggles against monopoly capitalism. And they are struggles which deserve pretty much unconditional support, unlike earlier national movements involved in the rise of capitalism, movements to which socialists were expected to concede the unconditional right of self-determination, of independent statehood, but movements which socialists were not enjoined to support.


Hobsbawm's second definite category of national processes consists of the 'irrational' nationalism of our time (and that of the 'Ruritanias' of yesterday), a category which appears to include all sorts of cases of 20th Century national movements including those of colonies and those of ethnically distinct regions within advanced capitalist countries. Nationalisms of this type are 'devoid of any discernible rational theory': they have no theory and they succumb to no theory. Lenin, on the other hand, provides a theory that broadly explains these movements. Perhaps the matter should be put negatively: the old Marxist theory could not explain major tendencies towards state formation, with their national movements, in the era of mature or modern capitalism. It was Lenin, then, who added certain crucial propositions to the Marxist theory of nationalism and deleted others which were inapplicable to the modern period. Lenin may not have prevised the special sorts of nationalism which one now finds in some developed capitalist countries (for example, Scottish or Basque nationalism). But the fact that nationalism would be intense and important in the era of imperialism is very explicit in Lenin's theory.


Lenin's theory also provides an explanation for a phenomenon which clearly puzzles Hobsbawm to the point where he must make fun of it: the process leading to the creation of small peripheral states, some of them 'mini-states'. ('Any speck in the Pacific' with 'enough beaches and pretty girls to become a tourist paradise . . .'; 'Kuwaitis . . . treated like the English milord of old'[73] a 'vast Saharan republic resting on 60,000 nomads'[74]). It is a fairly direct deduction from Lenin's theory of nationalism to argue as follows: the overall force of superexploitation in colonies and semi-colonies, and its attendant political force, national oppression, is the basic, underlying cause of the rise of national movements in these sorts of areas. Hence the cause has nothing intrinsically to do with the size of the eventual independent state. Presumably there are forces of nationalism in every town and village over great portions of the colonial world. What turns some of the resulting movements into struggles which eventually create mini-states is a completely different set of circumstances. Usually it is nothing more than the conversion of a 'mini-colony' into a 'mini-independent-state'.


The national liberation process would be at work almost regardless of the size and shape of the territory to be liberated. It is in essence the same force in India as in the Seychelles, in Nigeria as in Grenada. I think it most unlikely that any leader of any genuine national liberation movement anywhere fails to see the desirability of a large and powerful state. But for an oppressed, exploited, colonized people, a mini-state is likely to appear better than no state at all. And the conditions which lead national movements to create small states, occasionally mini-states, conditions which include the colonizer's cartography and also matters of ethnic complexity, political ambitions of local despots, intrigues of the CIA and multinational corporations, etc., all such forces are fundamentally distinct from the basic and prior force, the national struggle against colonial exploitation and oppression. Here, I believe, is Hobsbawm's most serious error. A large share of the political problems of the world of modern states he attributes to one or another sort of irrational nationalism. But the national struggle of colonial areas is perfectly rational: it is a struggle for freedom.



Reading Hobsbawm and certain other modern Marxists on the national question I have the eerie feeling of being transported back into the midst of the debate which was raging on this question in 1915 and 1916, the debate in which (as I mentioned previously) Lenin characterized the position of his opponents as 'imperialist economism'. This was part of the larger debate in and around the Zimmerwald Left concerning the wartime crisis and the issues of theory and practice which it raised. The issue of wartime annexations by belligerents (e.g., Germany's occupation of Belgium) became fused with the issue of the liberation of colonies (including Ireland), and with the issue of whether or not to retain the demand for selfdetermination in the Bolshevik programme and whether or not to assert this principle on a wider scale than the Russian. All such questions merged into a great debate on the national question, probably the most important one in the history of Marxism. On one side of the debate were Lenin along with what must have been a majority of the Bolshevik participants, and doubtless other socialists. On the other side were Bukharin, Pyatakov, Radek, Luxemburg (who was in jail in Germany and participated indirectly, through her 'Junius' pamphlet), Polish socialists close to Luxemburg, and others.


One central issue was the right of self-determination of nations as a general principle, and the question whether and how socialists should fight for the liberation of oppressed nations. Among many arguments put forward by Lenin's opponents (as I will describe them for brevity's sake) were the following:


(1) Big states are more progressive than small states, and it is therefore reactionary to advocate the secession, or even the right of secession, of portions of these big states. The Luxemburgians and others extended this argument to the matter of the secession of colonies, which was judged by them to be something to advocate publicly but with no confidence in the possibility, perhaps even the desirability, of realization under capitalism, since colonies were parts of big states.[75]


(2) 'Imperialism', said Radek and two Polish associates, 'represents the tendency of finance capital to outgrow the bounds of a national state'.[76] This is the argument that capitalism is now a single international system, and thus the national state (or any state) is rendered obsolete, while under socialism ultimately there will be, of course, no states at all.


(3) To advocate the right of self-determination and, beyond that, to advocate secession (or liberation) for any country is to throw the workers of that country into the arms of the bourgeoisie, and at the same time to cut off this community of workers from their brother workers of the larger (or oppressing) state. In sum: socialists are interested only in self-determination for the working class, not for the nation (which in any case no longer exists except as an abstraction, thanks to the differentiation of its population into warring classes). Bukharin advanced this argument even after the October revolution; it seemed to him to be an important reason for refusing the right of self-determination, of secession, to the nations within post-Tsarist Russia.[77]


(4) National liberation movements, whether or not they are progressive, are inherently bourgeois, because nation state formation is a dimension of the rise of the bourgeoisie, of capitalism, and not part of the rise of socialism.


Lenin forcefully and successfully answered the opponents of self-determination and national liberation, responding to the first two of the four arguments in the 1915-1916 debates and dealing with the latter two arguments somewhat later. Lenin also found a phrase which seemed to provide an accurate label for his opponents. He described them as 'imperialist economists' in a series of articles written in 1916, the first of which (directed mainly against Bukharin) was called 'The Nascent Trend of Imperialist Economism'.[78] As we noted earlier, Lenin considered an 'imperialist economist' to be someone who advocated a new form of the old disease called 'economism' (i.e., stressing economic forces and neglecting the political ones), a form suited to the new era of imperialism. Why were the arguments of Lenin's opponents 'economistic'? Because, he said, they were asserting that the new era of imperialism is one which renders obsolete all partial and local struggles for political democracy, including most pointedly struggles for national independence. Why obsolete? Because, they claim, capitalism in its imperialist stage is now fully international, and this means that the principle of scale or concentration renders small states irrelevant and struggles to create small states reactionary, while the internationalization of this economic system, capitalism, makes all individual states, large or small, obsolete. Thus the arguments (1) and (2).


Lenin's answer deserves to be read, not summarized. His most telling points were perhaps the following.


(1) The Marxist principle of concentration is an economic principle, not a political one:


 The law of economic concentration, of the victory of large-scale production over small, is recognized in our own and the Erfurt programmes . . . Nowhere is the law of political or state concentration recognized . . . Everyone would laugh at this amusing imperialist Economism if it were expressed openly and if, parallel with the law that small-scale production is ousted by large-scale production, there were presented another 'law' . . . of small states being ousted by big ones!'[79]


(2) In the era of imperialism, political struggles are no less important than they were in capitalism's preceding era, because capitalism is inherently a political system as well as an economic system; or, stated differently, the capitalist economic system cannot function without a political environment which it controls, and that political environment is mainly supplied by states and state power, in the present era as in others. In Lenin's words:


 A vast distance separates the era of the establishment of capitalism and the national state from the era of the collapse of the national state and the eve of the collapse of capitalism itself.'[80]


 The question is the relation of economics to politics: the relation of economic conditions and the economic content of imperialism to a certain political form.'[81]


(3) In the same text there is the kernel of an argument that national movements need not be inherently bourgeois - as there is the kernel of such an argument in Marx's and Engels' writings about Ireland many years earlier- but this argument in its full form, as an assertion that working masses and socialists can and should lead national movements in colonial countries, was developed in Lenin's later works.[82]


(4) The argument that national liberation struggles 'divide the class' or 'unite workers with bourgeoisie' was answered by Lenin in a number of subtle arguments. In 1918 he responded to Bukharin by pointing out that in no modern country, including even capitalist Germany and revolutionary Russia, had the'differentiation of the classes' approached anything like completion; hence, the nation was still a reality, not an abstraction.[83] (Elsewhere in later writings he went further, discussing, for instance, the distinctiveness and cohesiveness of national cultures, which would persist after the withering away of states.)[84]


It would take us too far afield to discuss in full Lenin's response to those whom he called 'imperialist economists'. In the course of this debate Lenin asserted, I think for the first time, the general principle that liberation struggles in colonies should be supported categorically, providing only that they were genuine and serious, of the type of a 'national uprising or a serious popular struggle against oppression'.[85] In later writings he stated the principle more fully.[86] It clearly followed from his analysis of the politics of imperialism.


The direction of my own argument should by now be apparent. The four generalizations advanced by Lenin's opponents are very similar to the arguments of those Marxists today who assert that (1) the creation of mini-states and even nation-states in general is irrational or reactionary, (2) capitalism is now fully international and its characteristic institutions, multinationals and other giant corporations, are able to transcend the bounds of national states at will, thus rendering all states more or less obsolete, (3) to advocate the secession or independence of any state, colonial or otherwise, is to 'throw the workers into the arms of the bourgeoisie', 'conciliate the nationalists', 'divide the working class', or 'undermine proletarian internationalism', and (4) national struggles are essentially bourgeois struggles, because they are inherently part of the rise of capitalism, and thus all nationalism is 'bourgeois nationalism'.


Hobsbawm, as I think I have shown in the present essay, subscribes to generalizations (1) and (2).[87] As to (3), Hobsbawm is frustratingly ambiguous. He asserts that nationalism -- meaning in context any national movement whatever' -- by definition subordinates all other interests to those of its specific "nation,",[88] while nationalists - meaning in context any fighters for state independence, anywhere - 'are by definition unconcerned with anything except their private collective'.[89] It is unthinkable that Hobsbawm would mean such statements to apply to the past struggles in Vietnam, Angola, Cuba, and other socialist countries which gained victory in a national liberation struggle, or to struggles such as those in Puerto Rico and Namibia where the same goal is being sought today.[90] These statements are of course devastatingly correct when applied to reactionary and unrealistic national movements. Yet Hobsbawm proffers no qualifications. Hence the ambiguity.


Hobsbawm is again ambiguous about generalization (4). He speaks of 'the category of movements directed against imperialist exploitation and representing something like the "bourgeois-democratic phase" in the development of backward countries', a 'category' which seems in context to include all anti-colonial national movements. Thus he seems almost to argue the diffusionist thesis that nationalism equals rising capitalism, and to deny that Lenin was right to categorize anti-colonial national movements as 'national revolutionary' and not 'bourgeois democratic' (a question of theory, not simply terminology).[91] Hobsbawm has explicitly called it an error to equate nationalism only with capitalism and thus to dismiss contemporary nationalisms as 'troublesome "bourgeois" . . . survivals'.[92] But the statement, in context, seems directed at the reactionary nationalisms within socialist countries, and perhaps also the nationalisms within advanced capitalist countries. Thus we cannot tell whether Hobsbawm truly enlarges the national process to include struggles, not for capitalism, but against it. Yet Hobsbawm is not one to denounce any socialist revolution, including those in colonies. Hence, again, the ambiguity.


Hobsbawm is not an 'imperialist economist', although some other modern Marxists richly deserve that title. Yet Hobsbawm's position on the national question is an extremist one, He is just about as strongly opposed to national movements and national struggles as one can be without departing entirely from the mainstream tradition on the national question, the tradition which both he and I consider to be Leninist.


There is, in all of this, a very important question about the long-term development of Marxist thought, a question which has immense political implications for the struggles of the 1980s and beyond. I would express the matter as follows. It appears that there has always been a differentiation among Marxists, sometimes even an oscillation in the thinking of a given Marxist at different periods, on the subject of national movements and the national question. In each period there is a 'Luxemburgist' position which tends to limit its vision to cosmopolitan or international horizons and be suspicious of, or hostile to, the merely national forces. And there have been the 'Leninists', taking more or less opposing positions, and not for merely pragmatic reasons. The first great cycle of 'Leninist versus Luxemburgian' quarrels occurred before and during the First World War. Leninism officially won, and the Third International became a powerful force for national liberation in the colonial world. Within national communist parties ofadvanced countries, I suspect that the Luxemburgian view was rather powerful, and must have had something to do with the far from proud record of some of these parties in the matter of the liberation of 'their own' colonies. Nevertheless, the Leninist position on the national question was the dominant one, and this explains a great deal about the relative ease with which Marxism became the philosophical underpinning of very many national liberation movements.[93] And in the period from 1945 to the present the Leninist position has been far more prominent than the Luxemburgian. This has been the era of national liberation movements, and the theory and practice of  'imperialist economism' has had precious little to offer this kind of movement.


Today, however, a change seems to be taking place, at least in the universe of discourse embracing Marxist journals and books in advanced capitalist countries. It may well be the trend of 'imperialist economism' renascent. Certainly it projects the view that national struggles today are of secondary importance, emphasizes their limitations and failings rather than their successes, and so on. And certainly this is done with the use of theoretical arguments which would have sounded familiar to Lenin in his day. (Capitalism is no longer national. Nations, states, and nation states are no longer important, are indeed dissolving. Multinational corporations are not fettered by national boundaries.) The world of the 1980s is of course different from that of Luxemburg's and Lenin's time. But not entirely different. Old arguments may seem still to make sense, and likewise the answers to these arguments. 'Imperialist economism' may be as relevant today as it was in 1915-1916. Or as irrelevant.


The bottom line is political struggle. Perhaps thirty million people still live in old-fashioned colonies and are still fighting for their freedom. A billion people live and struggle in neocolonies. Arguments like Hobsbawm's and those of the 'imperialist economists' can have a progressive effect with regard to silly and reactionary national movements, of which there are many. But they can have a damaging effect on anticolonial liberation movements, like that of Puerto Rico. And they can be just as damaging for countries like El Salvador in which there is a national struggle for genuine state sovereignty and against neocolonialism, and likewise for countries like Nicaragua which have won a precarious national liberation and are struggling to hold on to what they have won. Arguments like Hobsbawm's do not help these struggles at all.






59. Lenin's best-known statement of this position is in his (1913) essay, 'Critical Remarks on the National Question', Works 20. The following passage from that essay is still very frequently quoted by Marxists of all tendencies, in spite of the fact that Lenin specifically rejected this theoretical position in later years: 'Developing capitalism knows two historical tendencies in the national question. The first is the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states. The second is the development and growing frequency of international intercourse in every form, the break-down of national barriers, the creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science, etc. Both tendencies are a universal law of capitalism. The former predominates in the beginning of its development, the latter characterizes a mature capitalism that is moving toward its transformation into socialist society' (p. 27). There is no problem with regard to the first of the two tendencies, nor with the concept of growing internationalization of capital, science, etc. But the idea of 'break-down of national barriers' as 'mature capitalism' transforms itself into socialist society was completely superseded. Lenin's later position, as I show in the present chapter, substituted a theory of intensified and profoundly altered national processes under imperialism for the concept of 'mature capitalism . . . moving toward its transformation . . .' More precisely, the period of the 'break-down of national barriers', etc., was later seen by Lenin as having ended in 1914.


60. See Luxemburg, The National Question, particularly the essay entitled 'The Nation-State and the Proletariat' and other essays in the 1908-1909 series 'The National Question and Autonomy'.


61. The basic statement is Lenin's essay of 1914 'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination', Works 20.


62. See for example Lenin's 'The National Programme of the RSDLP', Works 19, and 'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination'.


63. The division is almost explicit in'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination' and completely so in 'The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination: Theses' (early 1916), Works 22.


64. 'Some Reflections on "The Break-up [of Britain"], New Left Review 105 (1977), p. 10.


65. Lenin's Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism is of course the basic source on the economics of imperialism (Works 22, pp. 185-304). But, as Lenin warned in the preface to the book (which was not published until April 1917), he had been forced to avoid political analysis in this work, and concentrate only on economics, in the hope of passing the censor. This caution is cavalierly ignored by very many modern Marxist and non-Marxist scholars, who for that reason hopelessly misunderstand Lenin's theory of imperialism. Because of the widespread misunderstanding, I give the following partial list of the works by Lenin which present the political dimension of this theory and which in particular discuss matters relevant to the present essay: 'The Question of Peace', 21, pp. 290-4; notes for a lecture in Geneva, Oct. 1915, 39, pp. 735-42; 'The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination', 21, pp. 407-14;'The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up', 22, pp. 320-60; 'A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism', 'Imperialism and the Split in Socialism', 23, pp. 105-20; 'War and Revolution', 24, pp. 400-21; 'Revision of the Party Program', 26, pp. 149-78; 'Report on the International Situation' (2nd Congress of the Communist International), 31, pp. 215-34; and'Report of the Commission on the National and special note: see his Works 19, pp. 332-6 and 22, pp. 353-8.


66. 'Imperialism is the era of the oppression of nations on a new historical basis', Works 39, p. 739. See also 21, p. 293; 31, pp. 215-18.


67. See, e.g., 'A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism'. See also later discussions, e.g., 31, pp. 240-45; 332, pp. 481-2.


68. See Works, 31, pp. 240-45; 33, pp. 350, 500. See also, on non-capitalist development: V. Solodovnikov and V. Bogoslovsky, Non-Capitalist Development: An Historical Outline (1975). On the specificity of the national liberation struggle and its differences from the classical bourgeois nationalist struggle see: K. N. Brutents, National Liberation Revolutions Today (1977).


69. See note 57.


70. 'Lenin, in fact, did not recommend socialists in the countries concerned to _favour_ secession except in specific, and pragmatically identifiable, circumstances'. 'Some Reflections on "The Break-up of Britain"', p. 10.


71. Works 29, pp. 172-3.


72. "'progressive" nationalism was therefore not confined only to the category of movements directed against imperialist exploitation and representing something like the "bourgeois-democratic phase" in the development of backward countries', 'Some Reflections on "The Break-up . . ."' p. 10.


73. Ibid., p. 7.


74. Ibid.


75. Pyatakov: 'we limit ourselves, in respect to the colonies, to a negative slogan . . . "get out of the colonies!" Unachievable within the framework of capitalism, this demand serves to intensify the struggle against imperialism, but does not contradict the trend of development'. Quoted in Lenin's 'A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism', pp. 64-5. For Luxemburg, see The National Question, esp. pp. 131 290.


76. From'Theses' of the editors of Gazeta Robotnicza (Radek, Stein-Krajewski, and Bronski), English text given in Luxemburg, The National Question, p. 303. Lenin's 'The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up', is in part a reply to these 'Theses'.


77. See Lenin's Works 29, pp. 170-75 (a response to Bukharin).


78. 'The Nascent Trend of Imperialist Economism', 'Reply to P. Kievsky (Y. Pyatakov)"A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism' Lenin's Works 23.


79. 'A Caricature', pp. 49-50.


80. Ibid., p. 37.


81. Ibid., p. 45.


82. See Chapter 5.


83. See note 77.


84. See, e.g., ' "Left-Wing" Communism - An Infantile Disorder', Works 31, p. 92.


85. .'A Caricature . . .', p. 61.


86. See note 25.


87. There is ambiguity in Hobsbawm's position on the growing obsolescence of states, or perhaps he has changed his mind: see his Workers (1984) p. 22.


88. 'Some Reflections on "The Break-up . . ."', p. 9.


89. Ibid., p. 7.


90. In one of his characteristically sweeping and unqualified generalizations about the national question, Hobsbawm asserts: 'It is or ought to be obvious that the specific character of regions or groups,'',does not point invariably in one direction . . . _Political independence is one option out of several_. ('Some Reflections on "The Break-up"', p. 20, italics added.) Does Hobsbawm mean to apply this statement to colonies like Puerto Rico and Namibia which are struggling for independence today? Is political independence just 'one option out of several' for classical colonies? (Note also Hobsbawm's criticism of 'the assumption that state independence, or what amounts to it, is the normal mode of satisfying the demands of any group with some claims to a territorial base . . . a "country",' ibid., p. 8.)


91. See 'Report of the Commission on the National and Colonial Questions', p. 241.


92. 'Some Reflections on Nationalism', p. 405.


93. See, in this regard, Ho Chi Minh's essay, 'The Path Which Led Me to Leninism', Ho Chi Minh: Selected Articles and Speeches: 1920-1967 (1970).