Forwarded from Anthony (language)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Feb 19 08:15:00 MST 2002

Language, culture, racism, nations, class and POLITICS

In the recent tiff here about the Nicaraguan revolution etc, one of the
contributors made a remark about language and politics that, in my very
humble opinion, expressed a very serious misunderstanding of where language
fits into politics, class, nations and culture.

I would like to begin a discussion here about language and politics, not
return (at this moment) to Nicaragua.

Jose wrote,

"- that the FSLN forced Spanish on the native aborigines and Blacks (this
ENTIRELY misses the point of the mistakes the Frente unwittingly fell into
in the Atlantic Coast, which were POLITICAL, not "cultural," at root; the
problem was much GREATER than mere cultural insensitivity, which mostly did
not take this form anyways);"

Language is a key element in all social relations, including and especially
the relations among social classes.

But it is a defining aspect of nations, and nationalities.

When one national group oppresses another economically and politically, it
MUST oppress the other groups language rights.

Why? Language gives people, or denies people: legal rights, economic
access, political access - membership in society.

Those who can use the official language have power, those who can't use it,
have no power - they are not allowed into the club (not the country club,
the social structure) except as maids and janitors, and maybe not even then.

When a nation, or nationality group - such as a tribe - has its language
repressed or limited in any way, this is always a form of national oppression.

Language is a key issue for race and class as well.

Recently in California, for example, the extreme right wing successful
mobilized a racist movement around the slogan of "English Only". This was a
movement directed against the use of Spanish, Chinese, and other languages
widely spoken among immigrants - who are almost entirely part of the most
oppressed sections of the working class in California.

The social implications are simple: to deny access to jobs, information,
business contracts, etc. to people who are not fluent in English. 60 years
ago the racists would have simply used the slogan, "whites only."

The political implications of course, are that political power in
California (and the USA and the rest of the world) should be reserved only
for (white) English speaking people.

Repression of language is a hallmark of every form of imperialism and
colonialism. In the former Spanish empire in the Americas, neither Nauhatl
nor Quichua are mainstream languages. Spanish is. And English is the
language which dominates all social relations globally.

Globalization has made the issue of language even more important than it
was in the past.

A defense of the language rights of the oppressed, at this stage in world
history, is one of the key elements of the struggle to defend democratic

Attacks on language rights of the oppressed serve only one purpose, to
divide the oppressed against each other, so that capitalism and imperialism
can conquer.

 Anybody who hadn't figured this out after the Spanish conquest, the rise
and Fall of the British empire, or the creation of the United States of
America, simply refused to learn from history - or is still refusing to.

All the best, Anthony

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list:

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list