Proletarian Internationalism or National Chauvinism?

In the imperialist countries there is an upsurge in a wave of xenophobia and racism particularly against recent migrant workers. This is particularly pronounced in the countries of Europe. The ‘Brexit’ campaign over the British EU referendum was an example of this and anti migrant rhetoric was a key plank of the Brexiters’ propaganda along with the ambiguous call for ‘national sovereignty’. Some of the left attempted to move the campaign in an anti austerity direction but without success.

In Hungary there is already a racist right wing government in power, France is witnessing a surge in support for Marie Le Pen of the Front National and in the Netherlands for Geert Wilders of the anti-migrant Party of Freedom. The ruling class is finding it increasingly difficult to rule in the old ways. Nationalism is becoming a rising political trend causing division among the working class. The lower sections of the working class which includes migrants from Eastern Europe, Africa the Middle East and South America which are nations oppressed and dominated by the imperialist countries are targeted in particular. The media in Britain, for example, often scapegoats such migrant workers for everything from unemployment to lack of housing and violent crime.

Some on the left, including certain “communists” are peddling the call for ‘national independence’ and ‘sovereignty’ for imperialist countries and some are joining the chorus of the ruling class to blame migrant workers for ‘pushing down’ the wages of workers in Britain. It is, of course, capitalism-imperialism which drives down wages as a result of the uneven development of capitalism. The argument used by some on the left, such as the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) that British workers wages are pushed down or jobs threatened by migrant workers is the same now discredited argument which was used against women fighting for equal pay in the nineteen sixties at Ford Dagenham. It was argued that women being paid the same as men would threaten men’s wages and job security.


Not only do the working class sell wage labour across nations so to are they employed by increasingly monopolistic capitalist enterprises that cross nations and continents. Increasingly in the 20th century the working class across the world came to face the same enemy the monopoly capitalists concentrated in the imperialist centres of the US and Western Europe. Not only was it the working class who faced this enemy but also the poor and peasant masses in the countries dominated and oppressed by the imperialist countries such as China, India and Ireland. Not only is capitalism a global system but it creates its global gravediggers; the working class and oppressed masses. However it is clear that despite the objective condition of a global class of wage labourers emerging the differences between them due to uneven national development still have not disappeared. Differences in language and culture are exploited by the ruling class to turn workers against workers. When the ruling class falls out among themselves they use these differences to send workers to slaughter each other as in World War One in which 10 million died in battle. Under imperialism when we have a falling out amongst these thieves it is the working class and oppressed who pay the price and are saddled with the burden.


More and more of the world is being penetrated by capitalism as never before. In oppressed nations this has led to displacement from rural areas and a growth in the working class and unemployed. The vast reserve army of labour is forced by competition for employment and impoverishment to move to other nations in particular the imperialist ones where job prospects are greater. This has had the result of the imperialist countries themselves becoming host to populations of people from the countries they dominate and oppress. Frequently the capitalist media and politicians attempt to blame social ills and unemployment in the imperialist countries on these very people who have had their countries held back in development and ruined by the imperialist nations! The urban areas in particular in the metropolitan centrers of imperialism increasingly become representative of the nations they dominate through migration both legal and illegal. In the majority of cases the labour power of the working class from the imperialistically oppressed nations will be valued lower by capitalism then that of the so called ‘native’ workers. This of course means poverty and long working hours for many migrant workers along with poor working conditions. These people are an integral part of the working class in a country such as Britain and must be defended against attacks by racists and fascists and scapegoating by the capitalist class and its media.

The capitalist class itself has also become increasingly global. Many of the world’s richest individuals have homes in more then one country. In London today there are property empires owned by Russian oligarchs, Arab princes, Texan oil barons as well as British property tycoons. This pushes up rents and property prices for the working class and middle strata of whatever nationality in the city. The class struggle itself is a global phenomenon. It will of course differ from nation to nation. This is due to the historically and geographically determined differences and in the economic ties which bound certain communities of a common territory and language. These became nations under capitalism, and as the bourgeoisie developed and unified the nation it was a progressive development, but in the age of imperialism that is to say the highest stage of capitalism. Nationalism has become a reactionary ideology in imperialist nations. It promotes the dominance of the imperialist nations over other nations and peoples, which is of course the nature of imperialism as a parasitic system. It promotes egoism and racism to further its aims.

In the imperialist nations there should be no appeal to such sentiments as ‘national independence’ or demanding rights for an imperialist nation in particular at such a time when there is an increase in racism and xenophobia. When the ruling classes of various imperialist nations go to war with one another the working class must be neutral in such conflicts and promote the solidarity of the working class in all the belligerent nations against all the ruling class of those nations. The working class should as Lenin said turn the world war into a civil war against our rulers. Not to do so would cause distrust and suspicion from workers in the other nation.


In the twentieth century some communists in the imperialist countries have appealed to nationalism and it had a damaging effect on the class struggle. Appealing to nationalism leads to a tailing of the bourgeoisie, nationalism is after all a bourgeois ideology. When communist parties embraced nationalism this was usually followed by embracing reformism and revisionism. In the 1930s when the USSR was in mortal danger from the aggressive fascist imperialist countries of Italy and Germany it made complete sense for them to have friendly diplomatic relations with the imperialist nations of Europe which still were under the rule of a bourgeois democratic system. The working class of those countries could organise politically and defend themselves through trade unions unlike in the fascist states. However the communist parties interpreted this as defence of ‘their’ governments, ‘their’ fatherland. This appeal to nationalism was formulated by Earl Browder in the USA and by Comintern leader GeorgiDimitriov when he was understandably trying to organise the Communist International into supporting diplomatic moves by the Soviets for the survival of the socialist state. This was a difficult task as it would have been easy for the imperialist states to label communist parties as unpatriotic and to suppress them. In the eyes of the Soviet leaders this could jeopardise forming friendly relations with imperialist states who could be potential allies against Nazi Germany which constantly proclaimed its desire to destroy Bolshevism and the USSR. The result both before and after the war was communist parties defending the bourgeoisie as became clear in France, Italy and Britain and in the nineteen sixties most disastrously in Indonesia.

Chairman Mao was always aware of the danger of the proletarian movement being subordinate to the bourgeoisie after the experiences in China during the civil war there. Mao said that while Communists must support whatever diplomatic manoevres a socialist state undertakes to enhance its chances of survival, they must also continue to facilitate and strive to lead the class struggle in each country and not be compromised by the diplomatic ties of a socialist government and that if a socialist government has hostile relations with a capitalist government that does not mean they are not hostile to the people of that country. In fact they are their friends.

Unfortunately the advice Mao gave was not taken by most communist parties and especially those in imperialist countries who began talking of ‘national independence’, economic protectionism and defending ‘parliamentary democracy’. It is no surprise open reformism was the result and an abandonment of an anti imperialist position. Then in the nineteen seventies some anti-revisionist organisations made the same mistake regarding the diplomatic manoeuvres of China, even when it was becoming apparent that these were no longer so much manoeuvres as rather capitulation to US imperialism with the ‘Theory of Three Worlds’ formulated by Deng Xiaoping. These Communist groups such as the Revolutionary Communist League of Britain ended up supporting national defence in the imperialist countries of the second world in the name of ‘national independence’ from social imperialism of the now transformed USSR. This ultimately led to defence of NATO. the same sort of position as Karl Kautsky and the Second International had taken in World War I.


Even now leftist campaigns such as ‘Stop the War’ are afraid to call for or to celebrate attacks on the British armed forces in Afghanistan or Iraq and instead call for Britain to return the troops, sometimes even referring to them as ‘our’ troops. At the time of the Iraq invasion spearheaded by both the US and British imperialists, the left and those leading the anti war movement liked to present Britain as a victim of US imperialism, that Blair was George Bush’s ‘lap dog’ and claiming American military bases were a form of occupation of Britain. The late Labour politician Tony Benn was a proponent of this argument. Again this argument appeals to the idea that Britain needs to struggle for national independence and ignores the fact that Britain is one of the central players in these transnational imperialist mechanisms and wars. It is an attempt to use anti-Americanism and sentiment to strengthen support for British imperialism. It also of course ignores all the countries which have been and are under British occupation. British imperialism may be old but it is still a powerful and very parasitic force in the world.

Appealing to nationalist sentiment is a dangerous road to go down and leads to reformism and defence of British military occupations. The majority of people in Britain still have sympathy for British troops and much of the opposition to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan was due to concern over the safety of British troops. This is a direct product of nationalist sentiment and must be combated. In reality the British working class are oppressed by British imperialism as are the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore any victory by Afghani and Iraqi resistance against the British state is also a victory for the workers of Britain. Communists must lead an ideological struggle amongst workers against loyalty to the British state.


The struggle for national independence of a nation oppressed by imperialism plays a progressive role in that it promotes the independence from the imperialist nations and encourages pride in defence against imperialism. In the age of imperialism for this to be a reality it depends whether upon the leadership in these nations is really revolutionary and led by the proletariat or is in fact led by local reactionaries in the pockets of imperialist masters. The progressive local capitalists must be under the leadership of the proletariat in alliance with other oppressed people of the oppressed nation. The oppressed can only be free and have independence if capitalism has been overthrown and driven out of their country. For the working class the national struggle is always subordinate to the class struggle. True independence will come when national struggle develops into socialist revolution. The Chinese revolutionary Jiang Qing explained the stages in revolutionary development in oppressed nations:

Poor and backward countries can cast off the control of imperialism and colonialism to achieve independence. However, they cannot spare themselves from the polarization and division brought upon them by the inequitable distribution of wealth in society. This division provides the material for lighting the fire of the proletarian revolution. The development of the national economy is a prerequisite to the establishment of proletarian troops and can ignite this flammable material. It is impossible to attain the final victory of the socialist revolution by departing from national independence and development of the national economy.”

Communists can and have lead struggles for national independence in order to continue the class struggle against the imperialists but nationalism is not an end in itself for the proletariat and is its enemy.

We have witnessed that if the class struggle does not continue then the new rulers will always turn to some imperialist power or another to help keep them in power or to get a cut of the world loot and riches. In such conditions the nationalism of former colonial nations becomes a tool for the new ruling class to also turn the people against other nations in the regions, usually leading to wars for resources which will have the backing of the imperialists who hope to get a cut of the victors newly acquired resources or to make a bonanza of weapons sales. Nationalism in such cases not only benefits the local ruling class but also their capitalist masters. In the 1970s the Cambodian and Vietnamese people liberated their countries from imperialism, but almost immediately the Vietnamese leaders abandoned Marxism-Leninism in all but name in favour of nationalism and re-creating a greater Vietnam in the territory of former Indochina. This meant taking away the independence of Cambodia and Laos. After many attacks and border raids Vietnam completely invaded and occupied these countries. This in turn led to a nationalist backlash by the Cambodian liberation forces which soon sold themselves to the US imperialists and also abandoned Marxism-Leninism.

Nationalism proved to be a poisonous ideology of the bourgeoisie and its uncritical adoption is always a sign of communist movements taking the bourgeois line. Nationalism can become the enemy of national sovereignty as it claims superiority of one nation over another or all others. The revisionist takeover of the Peoples Democracies in Eastern Europe proves this. The example of the nationalism of the Ceausescus is testament to this as is the nationalism which Gomulka, (jailed in the late 1940s for nationalist deviations), in Poland used to develop capitalist relations in that country from the nineteen fifties onwards. Both Poland and Romania ended up heavily in debt to imperialist banks and financial institutions while making their workers pay for it in food rationing.


The former colonial nations today are not socialist countries and most are tied to the imperialists in economic ‘aid’, debt and military assistance. There is nothing progressive in these regimes or their nationalism. The struggle for independence from imperialism and for national development is progressive so long as it aims to cooperate with other such forces in mutual aid. Nationalism on the other hand is a means of proclaiming superiority and therefore domination of other peoples and the plundering of the resources of their nation. It is a means by which the bourgeoisie can continue to carry out its selfish fighting for ownership and control of wealth and a means by which they can fight for a share of the surplus value of workers. Nationalism cannot be an end in itself during the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.


Patriotism should not be confused with nationalism. Patriotism is the love of one’s community, local culture and country of upbringing and the peculiarities iy encompasses and there is nothing wrong with this sentiment. Most people have a strong connection with their community and place of origin and we should share what is positive about it with other peoples. That is one of the interesting experiences of living in multicultural cities where many people from different cultures live together and enjoy each others unique cuisine and customs. Nationalism seeks to put up ignorance and barriers between various national cultures and exploit emotional attachments claiming one is more deserving or superior to the other. They also whip up racism by claiming an exclusive ethnic group is naturally tied to a certain geographical land mass. Thus often racism and nationalism go hand in hand. History and material circumstances are now moving against the ruling class and many nationalities and cultures are more familiar and indeed increasingly interconnected than was the case decades before because of capitalism’s own development. This is an inherent contradiction within the capitalist system. The bourgeoisie and its hacks play on people’s emotions of fear bought about through he economic insecurities of capitalism.

Communists must not deny the historical differences and cultures of nations, but freed from capitalist imperialism these difference can be resolved into non antagonistic contradictions and eventually as society moves towards full communism the cooperation between various nations will lead to the dissolving of artificial national boundaries. As the class struggle continues under socialism cultural revolution will bring about a proletarian culture of each nation which Stalin described as ‘Proletarian content, national in form-such is the universal culture towards which socialism is proceeding’. British communist George Thompson characterises this international proletarian culture:

The proletarian culture of the future will be international in content, national in form. It will be international, and therefore homogeneous, in content, because it will express the socialist outlook common to the masses of people in all nations. It will be national, and therefore varied in form, because that outlook will be embodied concretely in forms determined by the language, customs and traditions of each nation”

Stalin predicted that when socialism is finally on a world scale national differences would merge:

“I have always adhered and continue to adhere to the Leninist view that in the period of the victory

of socialism on a world scale, the national languages are inevitably bound to merge into one common language, which, of course, will be neither Great Russian nor German, but something new.”

The struggle against national chauvinism requires building solidarity work with foreign workers in the imperialist countries and the struggles they are undertaking. It is also a struggle against emotional fears which the ruling class exploits and instead to struggle for a scientific understanding of the world and the true reasons for economic insecurity. In Britain there are new independent unions of low-waged workers being formed and these workers are mainly from oppressed nations. The material conditions and development of capitalism have bought us the conditions in which workers from all corners of our planet now face capital in the same cities, workplaces and even homes It is essential to build unity and not tail nationalist, protectionist rhetoric and nostalgia of the populists. It also requires exposing that the enemy of workers in Britain is the British state and British capitalists along with other imperialist powers. The true internationalist duty of communists and progressives in Britain must be the overthrow of the British state and therefore concentrating on uniting all workers in struggles in Britain.

Workers and oppressed people of all countries unite!

Long live proletarian internationalism!