Jim Blaut on Lenin and the National Question -- Part 1

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Sun Nov 19 23:18:12 MST 2000

Richard Fidler posted the excerpts from Jim Blaut's work:

>Jim Blaut, who died last week, 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.
>[Blaut follows]
>(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
>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.

I wish Jim lived long enough to update the book on the National
Question.  I think that (1) & (3) still hold with a little
modification but that (2) demands further elaboration, given the
waning of national liberation movements in colonies & semi-colonies.
How might we reformulate (2) with regard to the cases of Fiji (with
its division between Fijians & Indo-Fijians), East Timor/Indonesia,
Yugoslavia, Chechnya/Russia, the Central African region, etc. for

We might also examine what might be called "Islamic
internationalism."  In terms of actual international extension of
social networks, military engagement, economic assistance,
ideological expansion, etc., today, it is not socialists (or
anarchists or pan-Africanists or secular pan-Arabists or other
would-be internationalists on the Left) but "Islamic radicals" (for
the lack of a better term) who may be actual practitioners of
concrete internationalism, aside from capital's liberal
internationalism (with which it has had an ambiguous relationship,
oscillating between hostility and cooperation).

With regard to (3), we should also analyze an intriguing phenomenon
of (what Giovanni Arrighi, et al call) "the Overseas Chinese
capitalist diaspora" & its investment pattern (and where & how the
People's Republic of China fits into them):

*****   "Globalization, State Sovereignty, and the 'Endless'
Accumulation of Capital"

by Giovanni Arrighi (arrighi at jhu.edu)

© Fernand Braudel Center 1997.

(Revised version of a paper presented at the Conference on "States
and Sovereignty in the World Economy," University of California,
Irvine, Feb. 21-23, 1997.  I would like to thank Beverly Silver,
David Smith, Dorie Solinger and Steven Topik for very useful comments
on the earlier version of the paper.)

...If the main attraction of the PRC for foreign capital has been its
huge and highly competitive reserves of labor, the "matchmaker" that
has facilitated the encounter of foreign capital and Chinese labor is
the Overseas Chinese capitalist diaspora.

Drawn by China's capable pool of low-cost labor and its growing
potential as a market that contains one-fifth of the world's
population, foreign investors continue to pour money into the PRC.
Some 80% of that capital comes from the Overseas Chinese, refugees
from poverty, disorder, and communism, who in one of the era's most
piquant ironies are now Beijing's favorite financiers and models for
modernization.  Even the Japanese often rely on the Overseas Chinese
to grease their way into China. (Kraar 1994: 40)

In fact, Beijing's reliance on the Overseas Chinese to ease Mainland
China's reincorporation in regional and world markets is not the true
irony of the situation.  As Alvin So and Stephen Chiu (1995: ch. 11)
have shown, the close political alliance that was established in the
1980s between the Chinese Communist Party and Overseas Chinese
capitalists made perfect sense in terms of their respective pursuits.
For the alliance provided the Overseas Chinese with extraordinary
opportunities to profit from commercial and financial intermediation,
while providing the Chinese Communist Party with a highly effective
means of killing two birds with one stone: to upgrade the domestic
economy of Mainland China and at the same time to promote national
unification in accordance to the "One Nation, Two Systems" model.

The true irony of the situation is that one of the most conspicuous
legacies of nineteenth-century Western encroachments on Chinese
sovereignty is now emerging as a powerful instrument of Chinese and
East Asian emancipation from Western dominance.  An Overseas Chinese
diaspora had long been an integral component of the indigenous East
Asian tribute-trade system centered on imperial China.  But the
greatest opportunities for its expansion came with the subordinate
incorporation of that system within the structures of the Eurocentric
world system in the wake of the Opium Wars.  Under the US Cold War
regime, the diaspora's traditional role of commercial intermediation
between Mainland China and the surrounding maritime regions was
stifled as much by the US embargo on trade with the PRC as by the
PRC's restrictions on domestic and foreign trade.  Nevertheless, the
expansion of US power networks and Japanese business networks in the
maritime regions of East Asia, provided the diaspora with plenty of
opportunities to exercise new forms of commercial intermediation
between these networks and the local networks it controlled.  And as
restrictions on trade with and within China were relaxed, the
diaspora quickly emerged as the single most powerful agency of the
economic reunification of the East Asian regional economy (Hui 1995).

It is too early to tell what kind of political-economic formation
will eventually emerge out of this reunification and how far the
rapid economic expansion of the East Asian region can go.  For what
we know, the present rise of East Asia to most dynamic center of
processes of capital accumulation on a world scale may well be the
preamble to a recentering of the regional and world economies on
China as they were in pre-modern times.  But whether or not that will
actually happen, the main features of the on-going East Asian
economic renaissance are sufficiently clear to provide us with some
insights into its likely future trajectory and implications for the
global economy at large....   (Giovanni Arrighi, ""Globalization,
State Sovereignty, and the 'Endless' Accumulation of Capital," 1997,
at <http://fbc.binghamton.edu/gairvn97.htm>)   *****

While I disagree with Arrighi when he confidently proclaims that "The
true irony of the situation is that one of the most conspicuous
legacies of nineteenth-century Western encroachments on Chinese
sovereignty is now emerging as a powerful instrument of Chinese and
East Asian emancipation [!] from Western dominance," even aside from
the problem that his analysis now sounds rather dated since it was
written before the Asian currency & other crises, nonetheless, the
phenomenon that Arrighi discusses has to be taken into account if we
are to attempt a new analysis of the National Question.


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