[Marxism] Blacks as a Nation (Was Re: Adios, Marxmail)

bob bobo926 at verizon.net
Sat Nov 6 09:41:27 MST 2004

Although I am not a Stalinist and am sensitive to the the fact that a lot of
people have feelings of revulsion just in hearing the name, it remains that
the the classic on the topic is Marxism and the National Question by Stalin
written in 1913. Some people say that Lenin actually wrote it or at least
outlined it. Available at

The issue at that time was the Jewish community in Russia. This was a
community that had a ill-defined homeland called the pale in what is now
Poland, Lithuania and Belarus as well as population pockets elsewhere. Some
Jewish people saw that any socialist political organizing should take place
based on recognition of the right of Jewish people to organize a separate
party. Lenin and others thought that this was needlessly divisive and argued
in favor of a single organization that would include both Jewish and
non-Jewish Russians.

The analysis in this pamphlet goes a bit deeper than what is common for an
email list. Nevertheless, I think it's worth considering.

I'll give a few quotes because I think it at least presents a starting point
for analysis:

"It is possible to conceive of people possessing a common "national
character" who, nevertheless, cannot be said to constitute a single nation
if they are economically disunited, inhabit different territories, speak
different languages, and so forth. Such, for instance, are the Russian,
Galician, American, Georgian and Caucasian Highland Jews, who, in our
opinion, do not constitute a single nation."

"A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed
on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and
psychological make-up manifested in a common culture."

The first point to make is that a nation must have all of the attributes not
just some.

"This community is not racial, nor is it tribal. The modern Italian nation
was formed from Romans, Teutons, Etruscans, Greeks, Arabs, and so forth. The
French nation was formed from Gauls, Romans, Britons, Teutons, and so on.
The same must be said of the British, the Germans and others, who were
formed into nations from people of diverse races and tribes.

"Thus, a nation is not a racial or tribal, but a historically constituted
community of people."

"What distinguishes a national community from a state community? The fact,
among others, that a national community is inconceivable without a common
language, while a state need not have a common language. The Czech nation in
Austria and the Polish in Russia would be impossible if each did not have a
common language, whereas the integrity of Russia and Austria is not affected
by the fact that there are a number of different languages within their
borders. We are referring, of course, to the spoken languages of the people
and not to the official governmental languages.

"Thus, a common language is one of the characteristic features of a nation."

"But people cannot live together, for lengthy periods unless they have a
common territory. Englishmen and Americans originally inhabited the same
territory, England, and constituted one nation. Later, one section of the
English emigrated from England to a new territory, America, and there, in
the new territory, in the course of time, came to form the new American
nation. Difference of. territory led to the formation of different nations.

"Thus, a common territory is one of the characteristic features of a

"But this is not all. Common territory does not by itself create a nation.
This requires, in addition, an internal economic bond to weld the various
parts of the nation into a single whole. There is no such bond between
England and America, and so they constitute two different nations. But the
Americans themselves would not deserve to be called a nation were not the
different parts of America bound together into an economic whole, as a
result of division of labour between them, the development of means of
communication, and so forth."

"Thus, a common economic life, economic cohesion, is one of the
characteristic features of a nation."

"Thus, a common psychological make-up, which manifests itself in a common
culture, is one of the characteristic features of a nation."

I hope that this is useful.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mark Lause" <MLause at cinci.rr.com>
To: "'Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition'"
<marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2004 10:20 AM
Subject: [Marxism] Blacks as a Nation (Was Re: Adios, Marxmail)

> Fred,
> It would be interesting, perhaps, to hear the case argued that African
> Americans constitute a "nation."  Back in the early 1970s, this was a
> point of disagreement between myself and the SWP leadership.  I don't
> necessarily disagree with you, but I'm very fuzzy about the criteria.
> On the other hand, I frankly think the act of intellectually declaring
> blacks a "nation" abstracted the question and allowed the predominantly
> white socialist movement to abstain from many concrete struggles in
> which race and racism were central. (In fact, our YSA local was
> explicitly told to stay away from the Panthers--except for selling them
> MILITANTS, of course--because they had to work out their own problems.)
> In an earlier discussion of class, I defended the basics of E.P.
> Thompson's approach that consciousness of class had to be a central
> component.  Far more traditionally in the Marxist tradition, nationalism
> requires conditions, consciousness, etc. in the real material world.
> The conditions and the consciousness of black America are very different
> today than they were in the late 1960s.
> I would like to hear--and expect that I would learn something
> myself--from hearing this case made.
> Best,
> Mark
> _______________________________________________
> Marxism mailing list
> Marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu
> http://lists.econ.utah.edu/mailman/listinfo/marxism

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