Nationalism - a reply to David Schanoes on Venezuela

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Fri Jul 18 09:22:21 MDT 2003

David, you wrote:

Why defend Venezuela along the lines of the right of nations to
self-determination, when the real essence, and real struggle is a class
struggle?  Certainly the bourgeoisie recognize the struggle for what it is.
Why shrink from the terms of your own battles?  They sure don't.

Because (1) the bourgeois do, contrary to what you say, fooling a lot of
people. Suppose the US Government had come out saying things like, "We need
to occupy Iraq to advance corporate business interests in the region, we
need the oil, Iraqis are incompetent turds, we need to show Islamic upstarts
who is the boss around here,  Hussein gets in the way of our plans, and we
need to reduce the cost of our Israeli beachhead in the Middle East." Of
course they do not do this. They justify their position in terms of human
nature and human empathy, religion, philosophy, culture, perceived threats
and risks, etc. The whole purpose of ideology is, precisely, as Goran
Therborn points out (The Power of Ideology and the Ideology of Power),  to
present a sectional interest as the general interest, and our socialist
ideology is no different, insofar as it says that the interests of the
working classes represent the general interests of society and human
civilisation and culture as a whole. The reason why you have ideology at
all, is that we are (a) all human beings, but (b) we all live in stratified,
class-divided (socially unequal) societies, however this might be hidden or
disguised with theories of individual opportunity on equal terms. This is
the ABC of the materialist conception of history, which specifies the role
of ideas in history in terms of the interests human beings have in producing
and reproducing their material life.

(2) Because we are dutibound to defend the national sovereignity of a
people, or the emancipatory aspiration to that sovereignity by a people,
against colonialism, imperialist aggression and exploitation. We do this
both as a matter of moral (human) principle, the principle of
self-emancipation, or self-liberation, and because we believe strongly, that
implementing this moral principle is conducive to human progress. Surveying
the history of imperialism, one can only come to the conclusion, that
whatever real and undeniable material progress was made in dominated
countries, as a result of economic intervention and "aid" by imperialist
powers, this material progress is corrupted and demolished by the enormous
suffering, exploitation and oppression resulting from imperialist
interference. An economic step forwards is not infrequently a human step
backwards, and what seems like progress in the short term is ruination in
the long term. The imperialist powers do not not approach the dominated
country on the basis of an invitation from the dominated country to pursue
activity of mutual interest and concern, on the basis of real equality;
rather the imperialist power seeks to establish its power, mastery and
hegemony on the dominated country on the basis of the principle that "might
makes right" and that "possession is 9/10ths of the law". The international
economic division of labour established by the imperialist powers is to the
advantage of the imperialist powers, and develops to the advantage of the
imperialist powers, resulting in lop-sided, unequal development in the
dominated countries, where only those industries develop which are
compatible with the interests of the imperialist powers and others are
blocked or destroyed, because the imperialist countries reject industries
that would out-compete them, or capture their own markets. To grasp this
point fully in the deeper, theoretical sense, one must begin with a thorough
critique of David Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage in world trade,
such as provided by Anwar Shaikh, Guglielmo Carchedi, and Robert Went.
Ricardo's bungling, decrepit apology for imperialism, given new life by
Heckscher-Ohlin and other apologists, who think that the economy exists in
splendid isolation from politics, culture, and class conflict, in the same
manner that their own economics faculty exists separately from the sociology
faculty and the political science faculty, confuses the matter entirely. The
only proper sphere for talk of "comparative advantage" is in the political
field of international relations, since, politically, we must do what our
own country can do best, what it is best at, without pretending that we can
do everything well or have all the answers. The liberal theories of
multiculturalism tell us that we must be ""sensitive to other cultures",
"respect difference", and recognise "equality of status between cultures",
but do not do so in practice; we, on the other hand, must utilise our
sensitivity to other cultures, etc. in order to achieve common goals, for
which we must solicit the cooperation of those cultures in the things that
they are best at doing, knowing full well that no culture can claim to be
best at everything. And here it can be shown incontrovertibly, that some
cultures can do some things better than any culture, and we wish to use that
asset, that superiority, rather than drown political discussion in banale
relativistic chatter.

(3) Because socialists believe in the importance of the rule of law, in the
necessity of socialist legality. The young Lenin himself studied in the
profession of law, realising full well the importance of law for the
regulation of civil conduct and the prevention of its regression into
barbarism. Hugo Chavez likewise believes in the rule of law. He is of course
very well aware of the perfidies of class justice, of "one rule for the
rich, and one rule for the poor", the insufficient information that the poor
have about the laws of the land, legal chicanery and so forth, nevertheless
this does not cancel out a concern with the rule of law, since as noted in
(1) above, we are not just human beings living in class society, but we are
all human beings. The formal equality of human beings, historically affirmed
by bourgeois law subsequent to the bourgeois revolutions, and stated
explicitly in the US Constitution for instance - which claims that "all
human beings are created equal" (ignoring the fact that hundreds of millions
on the planet are born in conditions of destitution, malnutrition, murder
and other atrocious, vile circumstances) - is a gain for the human species,
and not something we wish to trivialise or cancel out. Instead, we wish to
endow that juridical equality with real content, real substance, and
intransigently advance and extend this principle of juridical equality until
real social equality for all citizens is established. Our critique of
bourgeois law is not that its principle of juridical equality is merely
formal; it is rather that it flouts this principle in practice and engages
in all sorts of juridical hypocrisy, such that, after the fine print of the
law and sundry juridical disputations have been exhaustively discussed and
examined, one law for the rich and one law for the poor results. We do not
say: the law is an ass, rather we have to ride that ass and keep it out of
mischief. And this principle can also be applied to the right to national
sovereignity and national self-determination in the case of Venuzuela,
because even within bourgeois law this right is supposed to be guaranteed.
Confronted with an attack by the oppressed and the poor on its corrupt,
money-grubbing activities, the bourgeoisie hastens to repudiate its former
juridical principles, violate them, say that they are not necessary, and
that "humanitarian" civil conduct is best guaranteed by the bayonets of the
armed forces. Which is to say, that human interests and human equality is
suddenly forsaken in order to protect the sectional interests of the
bourgeoisie. Our task, the socialist task, in that case is not to forsake
the law and call it an ass, but to insist precisely on human interests and
human equality relentlessly, when the bourgeois class denies it in practice.
And, mutatis mutandis, the very same principle and strategy applies to the
conduct of international affairs, to the rights of nations and the rights of
peoples whose claim to nationhood is still denied.

Finally, I should balance my comments with an admission that you are correct
in another sense. The concept of a "nation", at least in the modern epoch,
is itself a bourgeois invention, even although proletarians often functioned
as shocktroops in its establishment. It has its roots in the struggle by the
bourgeoisie for a unified national market, with a single set of legal rules
governing the conduct of trade, a single currency, and governmental
institutions which protect the bourgeoisie against the robbery of its
ill-gotten gains, which would hinder a cumulative accumulation process. Old
feudal kingdoms, principalities, fiefdoms, charters, turnpikes and the like
had to be removed and wiped out, in order to provide the legal guarantees,
social stability and "investment climate" that would be conducive to the
expansion of business interests and commercial trade. In the words of Marx
and Engels, "The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an
end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn
asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors",
and has left no other nexus between people than naked self-interest, than
callous "cash payment". It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstacies of
religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in
the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth
into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered
freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom -- Free Trade."
Here you have the class basis of the national aspirations of the

The contradiction of the modern epoch is, however, that the bourgeoisie has
transcended all national boundaries in its pursuit of the accumulation of
capital, and therefore is forced to trample on nationalities and national
peculiarities. As Marx and Engels put it themselves, "The need of a
constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the
 entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere,
establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has, through its
exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to
production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of
reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national
ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been
destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new
industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all
civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw
material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose
products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe.
In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we
find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant
lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and
self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal
inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual
production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common
property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more
impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there
arises a world literature."

Nevertheless, this process is highly contradictory, and we do not get very
far by talking about globalisation in 1847 rather than imperialism in 2003.
The question is one of wresting back, by degrees, territorial control from
the bourgeoisie, applying precisely those gains of the bourgeois
revolutions, such as juridical equality, popular democracy and national
self-determination, which the bourgeoisie nowadays wishes to deny, in its
haste to impose corporate organisational principles on its world empire, and
which deny the territorial rights of those workers settled in a particular
area, who must live there with the consequences of bourgeois interventions
in their territory, consequences from which the bourgeois seeks to absolve
himself just as soon as the "investment climate" deteriorates, markets
shrink and profits decline. The haute bourgeoisie takes a hypocritical
attitude to central governments. Central governments must provide an optimal
legal and social infrastructure for the corporations, take on
responsibilities and costs, whereas the bourgeoisie must have the freedom to
be able to export its capital and profits to more propitious climes, should
business conditions not be to its satisfaction. Since this contradiction
cannot be resolved, the haute bourgeoisie seeks to trensform the bourgeois
state into a corporation, which has no principles of democracy, equality and
self-determination, but which seeks only to implement policies conducive to
the expansion of corporate activities. As far as the haute bourgeoisie is
concerned, the age of the democratic citizen is over, the age of the
corporate citizen has begun.

I do not have time to finish my story, but hope you get the point.


More information about the Marxism mailing list