Nationalism and Imperialism
In part 1, I talked about the possibility of a socialist revolution taking place today. The chances are quite small in my view, and one of the reasons for that is the ideological divides and how people perceive different –isms. In this piece, I just want to touch on nationalism and imperialism, with reference to ideas of Lenin’s quoted in Christopher Hill’s Lenin and the Russian Revolution.
Starting with a quick bit of semantics, I think it’s prudent to explain there are two kinds of nationalism – the historic version and the modern version. They are somewhat interchangeable, as both can and have occurred at various times, but are just more prominent in their respective time periods. The historic nationalism is that of a native population throwing off the shackles of colonial rule and fighting for their right to self-determination. Examples would be Latin America and the Middle East in the 1900’s. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of WW1, the British, French, and Italian ‘empires’ (they were still around but with dwindling influence) divvied up the regions of the Middle East and North Africa. A number of the struggles in countries like Egypt, Libya, Iraq, etc. were based on their sense of Arab nationalism and, later in the 60’s and 70’s, Islamic revival. Many of these were successful, and while in a number of cases the military takeover became a military dictatorship, the sense of nationalism was extended outwards as a ward against imperialist powers.
The modern version is that espoused by the likes of the Coalition and One Nation, Trump’s Republican administration, and the Tories in Australia, the US, and the UK respectively. Nationalism is still used as a force against ‘outsiders’, but rather than being a fight against oppression they take on the role of oppressor. The easiest example is the US, where black and Hispanic peoples are scapegoated in every negative light possible, or how Muslims are unfairly stereotyped as terrorists. Instead of an outward display of international autonomy, it becomes an inward display of prejudice. For converse examples, the modern nationalism is what drove the propaganda of Nazi Germany in WW2, and the historic nationalism still holds true in a number of Latin American countries under the boot of the US as an imperialist power. In this piece, I will be referring to nationalism in the above historical context, not the dangerous modern variant.
When talking about the idea of a socialist revolution, Lenin followed others before him in saying that no true socialist revolution can take place in an imperialist nation. While Britain and France were two countries that could have possibly gone down the socialist path, they didn’t. There were a great many factors that contributed to this, and while their empire tendencies may have had little impact overall, I find myself agreeing with Lenin on this point. A nation cannot truly overthrow its oppressive masters if they themselves are still the oppressive masters of others. Advocating and revolting for your right to absolute freedom as an individual is not compatible with extorting and ruling over others.
In those other countries, like Egypt, the British Empire’s puppet government did very little for Egyptian’s interests and instead it commandeered the Suez almost as if it were a separate entity. Under Nasser, they were able to overthrow the government and cast out the British – although not before escalations of conflict with the fledgling Israel later on. Nasser’s nationalist movement was so widespread that for a few short years Egypt and Syria were actually joined together – although that quickly fell apart as Egypt started to overreach itself.
The point here is that British interests, or at least the interests of the government and bourgeois capitalists, took precedent over the nationalist interests of the Arabs. While a nation has vested interests elsewhere in the world propagating the capitalist system, discussion of socialist movements is redundant and meaningless. Today, a majority of the nations that have a discourse over the idea of socialism, such as Australia, are limited by that single point. Our alliance with the US inextricably combines us with their imperialist interests to the point that at times we could be considered the Asia-Pacific arm of the US. We also have our own attempts at empire, including our role in the Indonesian atrocities against East Timor (and later our espionage and underhanded dealings with Timor-Leste when they became independent) over oil and gas resources and West Papua today, again over resources. While we aren’t explicitly involved in the same way the US has been involved in the Middle East, say, it still keeps us chained to the economic interests of capitalism.
No serious discussion about socialism can be had until we leave our imperialist aspirations in the past – both ours against others, and others against us. The first major move in that direction would be reconsidering our relationship with the US and, while maintaining diplomatic ties, severely limit our military cooperation across the globe, and rework trade agreements such as the TPP to work for all member states’ populations and not the corporate giants that technically wrote them behind the scenes.
You can never be free from oppression when you yourself are an oppressor.
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