Blaut on the national question, 1917-23

Mark Jones markjones011 at
Wed Aug 28 02:27:47 MDT 2002

At 27/08/2002 23:15, you wrote:

>>Question for Mark (or anyone else): Can you direct us to Jim Blaut's
>>writings on the Bolshevik approach to the national question post-1917?
>When Jim first showed up on the old Marxism list, he used to refer
>everybody to his "The National Question" which was prompted by urgent
>political and theoretical disputes in the Puerto Rican Socialist Party,

I posted to articles by Jim Blaut to Lou's list but they haven't showed up
probably because they are too long, so I've put them on the A-List and they
can be accessed on the website:

The first essay, "The Theory of National Minorities," was published as
Chapter 5 in J. M. Blaut, *The National Question: Decolonizing the Theory
of Nationalism*(London: Zed Books, 1987, copyright J.M. Blaut).  If you
re-transmit or copy this text, please indicate the author, title, and
publisher of the volume from which it has been extracted. The essay was
first published (in slightly different form) in Monthly Review in 1977,
with the title "Are Puerto Ricans a National Minority?" Spanish and Italian
translations have been published (paper copies on request).



  Some sectors of the North american Left are convinced that Puerto Ricans
in the United States do not belong to the Puerto Rican nation; that this
community is merely a 'national minority' -- an ethnic subdivision of a
different nation, the United States. This national-minority theory bears
some resemblance to the old idea of the 'melting pot', or at least to its
liberal variant ('Puerto Rican-Americans', 'ethnic heritage', 'minority
rights', etc.), but there is one crucial difference. The national-minority
theory is said to be grounded in Marxism, and specifically in a doctrine
derived from a 1913 essay by Stalin, 'Marxism and the National Question'.1
In essence, the argument is simple. Stalin listed the attributes which, in
his opinion, an ethnic group must possess to qualify as a nation. This was
Stalin's famous 'definition of the nation', which became the orthodox
Marxist concept of the nation, accepted by most Marxists, Stalinists and
non-Stalinists alike, down to recent times. Complementing the concept of
'nation' was the concept of 'national minority', a term which designated
ethnic communities that failed to qualify as nations.


The 2nd essay:

  [Jim Blaut's note to me about the piece below stated inter alia: "The
only piece on the national question that I have on disk is the following.
It is a translation of one section of a book, *Aspectos de la cuestisn
nacional en Puerto Rico*, by J. M. Blaut and Loida Figueroa (San Juan:
Editorial Claridad, 1988; Copyright 1988 by Claridad.) Stalin's essay on
the national question is not mentioned here but a large part of his theory
is discussed, and Lenin's revision of the theory is also discussed.". Mark


4. Marxists Who Oppose Independence

In 1983 an article entitled "Marxismo o independentismo socialista?" --
"Marxism or socialist independentism?" -- appeared in the Puerto Rican
journal Pensamiento Crmtico, under the joint authorship of the Colectivo
Socialista de San Juan (CSSJ)./79 In this article the CSSJ declared itself
opposed to the struggle for independence in the present era, and declared
that Marxism is incompatible with national struggle. The article caused a
stir in the Puerto Rican left, and beyond the left, because this was the
first time in perhaps 30 years that any Puerto Rican Marxists had expressed
opposition to independence. Did this perhaps reflect a growing trend?
Suspicion that this

might be the case was fueled by the fact that some other small left sectors
had been denouncing, since around 1977, what they considered to be the
"bourgeois nationalism" of the Puerto Rican left and in particular the two
major parties, the social-democratic Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP)
and the Marxist Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP). Another source of
concern was the fact that the CSSJ position seemed to echo a view that was
becoming increasingly popular among Marxists of metropolitan countries --
as memories of the Vietnam era receded -- that anti-colonial, anti-
imperialist struggles are inconsequential, backward, and "bourgeois," that
they are "merely nationalism" and not "class struggle."

Two years earlier a long theoretical article entitled "The National
Question: Some Neglected Theses," by K. A. Santiago, had appeared in the
CSSJ journal, Proceso./80 The substance of Santiago's article was an
argument designed to demonstrate that Lenin in particular, and Marxism in
general, would necessarily oppose national struggles of the Puerto Rican
sort. The

argument consisted largely of a long string of quotations from Lenin,
interspersed with Santiago's interpretive commentaries. This article, which
gave a critique of national struggle purely in terms of Marxist theory (or
what Santiago declared to be Marxist theory) was instrumental in persuading
the CSSJ to take its negative position on the independence struggle in
Puerto Rico. The CSSJ's later position paper, "Marxismo o socialismo
independentista?" mainly consisted of a summary of the supposedly Leninist
position on the national question which Santiago had presented earlier,
along with a florid denunciation of the entire Puerto Rican left for its
"nationalism" or "social- patriotism," and along with a very strange
attempt to argue that any genuine Marxist who accepts Lenin's version of
Marxist theory must refuse to fight for the establishment of any kind of
state whatever, be it colonial, metropolitan, capitalist, or socialist: a
sort of anarcho-Leninism, if such a thing can be conceived.

[see A-list archive for full articles]

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