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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/Archive for tag progressive

A few highlights of the previous discussion:


I was wondering under what  circumstances Platypi would consider nationalism as progressive, or as having a role to play within the left.

I was reading the "Who is  Responsible?" interview with Fred Halliday, and was struck by his
hostility to Irish Republicanism, which he describes as religious-ethnic hatred dressed up in progressive language. While there have
always been those within the Republican movement whose main concern was settling scores with northern Protestants, for the most part its
history-- starting in the French Revolutionary era, when liberal Protestants called for the unity of all Irishmen to break the
connection with Britain-- has been one of opposing the source of sectarian divisions, rather than attempting to intensify them. I'd be
interested to know what members of the group think in regards to what role progressive nationalism, if there is such a thing, has to play
in the past and present.


For Marx and Engels, the 'progressive' aspect in (bourgeois) nationalism was in its capacity to further the development of the proletariat and the centralization of the state; for example, on occasion they supported German unification.  However the rule was not hard or fast-- in the case of Eastern European nationalism before the 1870s, for example, both Marx and Engels suspected that a national revolution would be coopted by the Russian Tsar and its feudal regime and thereby debilitate the international working class.  A good account of Marx and Engels own politics with respect to the "national question" can be found in both Edmund Wilson's 'To the Finland Station' and Franz Mehring's 'Karl Marx: His Life'.

Lenin and Luxemburg continued Marx's revolutionary tradition, however argued that the bourgeoisie's capacity for 'progressive' nationalism had been exhausted.  Therefore both were intensely critical and suspicious of "nationalist" movements, which were in the case of Europe seen as plots of the bourgeois to deceive the masses and their national proletariat.  The roots of both revolutionaries' radicalism is to be found in their sharp and intellectually stimulating critiques of nationalist populism: Lenin's 'Development of Capitalism in Russia' and Luxemburg's 'Industrial Development of Poland'.  The implicit aim of these works was to show that autarky on the basis of peasant communes was impossible, that capitalist development was a 'progressive' development (albeit problematic), and show how the only progressive solution to the current problems was international proletarian revolution.  This view basically guided both figure's politics ever since.

Another interesting piece of this story is Trotsky, who following the Russian Revolution of 1905 developed his notion of 'permanant revolution' in his pamphlet, 'Results and Prospects'.  Here Trotsky analyzed the strengths and limitations of the revolution, and predicted that future revolutions would require proletarian leadership because the parties of the peasantry and bourgeoisie were incapable of making a 'bourgois'-democratic revolution possible.


from Adorno's lecture given in post-war Germany "The Meaning of Working Through the Past" which I have found helpful:

"Nationalism today is both obsolete and up-to-date. Obsolete, because in the face of the compulsory coalition of nations into great blocs under the supremacy of the most powerful country, which is already dictated by the the development in weapons technology alone, the individual sovereign nations, at least in advanced continental Europe, have forfeited their historical substance. The idea of the nation, in which the common economic interests of free and independent citizens once united against the territorial barriers of feudalism, has itself become a barrier to the obvious potential of society as a totality. But nationalism is up-to-date in so far as the traditional and psychologically supremely invested idea of nation, which still expresses the community of interests within the international economy, alone has sufficient force to mobilize hundreds of millions of people for goals they cannot immediately identify as their own. Nationalism does not completely believe in itself anymore, and yet it is a political necessity because it is the most effective means of motivating people to insist on conditions that are, viewed objectively, obsolete. This is why, as something ill at ease with itself, intentionally self-deluded, it has taken on grotesque features nowadays."

All this is to point out that nationalism as a political form is only potentially "progressive" to the extent that a violent and painful symptom in a patient undergoing psychotherapy can point towards the pathogenic root of their illness, and lead to progress in its coming to self-consciousness, and thus towards its treatment. I believe that this is what a political figure like Lenin would have meant, of course sans the psychology, when he spoke of support for national self-determination. Such nationalist-consciousness was only endorsed as a means to making more acute the need for proletarian internationalist consciousness, in a context in which it was organizationally possible for the latter political consciousness to be fought for. It had to emerge in order to be struggled with. Today however, nationalist-consciousness only serves to suppress forms of consciousness adequate to the tasks of freedom. [...]

Therefore, nationalism as necessity must to confronted with the image of its own oppressiveness.


Then there's the issue of Lenin and Luxemburg on the political relation of proletarian socialism to democratic struggles for self-determination, including "national" ones, and Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, which seeks to overcome "stage theories" of the struggle for socialism, i.e., that one needs to first subordinate oneself to a "bourgeois-democratic" phase of political struggle before attemptying to struggle for socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. All three would agree that the proletariat needs to struggle to take the lead of (otherwise "bourgeois," meaning within the historical limits of capital) democratic revolutions, in order to push them further in the direction of the proletarian socialist revolution against capital.

The problem is that "Marxists" of all varieties have tried to extrapolate from their positions to make arguments beyond the specific cases under consideration. The practical politics of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution does not translate well to cases other than Russia, because Russia was uniquely in the position of being able to spark and be bound up with European-wide (and, as Lenin would point out, Asian) revolution.

What LLT cared about above all was the self-determination of the working class in the struggle for socialism, which meant first and foremost overcoming nationalist separations that prevented this.

Taking the national-spatial frame for one's politics or even analysis has proven the surest route for the opportunist liquidation of Marxism: Trotsky called it "adopting a Stalinist method even while being supposedly against Stalinism."

I don't think that, as Ben B. put it, that nationalism is a necessary symptom to be worked through. For most countries in the world are not "nations" in any historically meaningful sense: they are not unified labor markets that provide a meaningful social-political basis for proletarianization. Only a few such nations have ever existed as anything like actual, effective social-political entities for the mediation of capital, and even they only problematically (e.g., Britain, France, the U.S.). On the other hand, counterrevolution against the possibility of international socialism has taken the form of the politics of the nation-state, in which, e.g., the USSR and China have also taken part. We can skip nationalism and do not need to overcome it immanently, in part because it has become weakened since its mid-20th Century reactionary heyday (for which Adorno had to recognize it as a nearly insurmountable obstacle).

Today, we would struggle against more extreme localisms (e.g., Scottish identity, various indigenist identities) as well as broader regionalisms and ethno-religious identities (e.g., Islamism, which contains a distinct Arab-suprematist racism) and less against nationalism per se.

In this context, the fact of the U.S. as global hegemon and its not being really a "national" state at all, but rather a "nation of nations," in which nearly all other groups in the world have a significant presence, could be a great boon for constituting a cosmopolitan anticapitalist politics of proletarian socialism. North America could be the natural nerve-center for a global Left. Platypus needs to be unabashed in offering a perspective that flows from the possiblity of creating a global "dictatorship of the proletariat" starting in North America.


I think a short answer to the question of "progressive" nationalism is that nationalism ceased to have a "progressive" character after the 1860s. There is no possibility for "progressive" nationalism anymore because there is nowhere in the world where capitalism needs to be advanced against pre-capitalist brakes. "Progressive" nationalism implies a pro-capitalist attitude. A confusion has been engendered by blurring two separate issues: whether nationalism is "progressive" and whether people X have "a right to national self-determination". To the extent that national oppression is seen as an obstacle to social revolution Marxists have defended "self determination" and also as an heir to liberalism , national self determination is seen as a legitimate "right" by Marxists , but this is not an absolute principle but "all other things being equal". "National self determination" is an inherently problematic concept, thus Israeli and Palestinian rights to "self-determination" for example are in fundamental conflict.

To the extent that the anti-colonial struggle of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s took on the character of Third World nationalism this has to be seen as a defeat. Nationalism is historically an ideology of the left (early 19th century) that in the mid-19th century shifted to being an ideology of the right, but this shift has left problematic remnants that have continued to disorient and disrupt the left. Much of the 20th century is the unfortunately successful export of 19th century European ideology to the rest=2 0of the planet.


Whereas nationalism was probably spent as a progressive ideology by the middle 19th century (and for Marx and Engels this meant chiefly German, Italian and potentially Slavic nationalisms, correct?) the question of national liberation remained pertinent into the 20th century, and probably still matters in some areas today, albeit often in a deeply problematic way as in Israel-Palestine. Of course even "national liberation" became something of a fetish for the 20th century left, to say the least. Platypus can hopefully reclaim the notion of national liberation as a historic necessity, while also speaking the (unpleasant for many on the left) truth that today few genuine cases of "national oppression" really remain (most of these are in the most godforsaken backwaters, for example, something like the West Papua situation in Indonesia comes to mind, or a situation like Tibet where the Tibetans certainly identify as an "oppressed nation" but where the character of their movement for self-determination is also wholly reactionary).

One other thought springs to mind, that the belief in national liberation is perhaps one thing that unites both the mainstream left and "decent" left...witness Hitchens's vain enthusiasm for the Kurds (shared by many other leftists historically, mainly just his pro-intervention followers today).

LLT's point was that emancipation of the working class on a national basis is impossible. At the same time, workers are oppressed as members of groups subject to national and other forms of communalist oppression. But their grievances in this regard are "bourgeois-democratic," i.e. don't point beyond capitalism. So how can a Marxian approach address them as such? By taking the lead of such bourgeois-democratic or liberal struggles, in order to tie them into the struggle against capitalism.

So the self--determination of the working class is of paramount importance, and national oppression is important only the degree to which it is an obstacle to this.

Otherwise, one is left searching the world for potential grievances and orienting oneself politically that way, the formula for opportunist adaptation, instead of the opposite, what needs to be done from a Marxian perspective, which is to regard the world from the standpoint of the necessities of emancipation beyond capital, and having one's politics flow from this. The matter of priority is important, because it is fundamentally concerns perspective and orientation, whether one is oriented to grievances as they exist, or towards their potential transformation in an actually emancipatory (anticapitalist) direction.

Confronting the confusion and fragmentation that wrought progressive politics in recent decades, Ernesto Laclau’s work attempts to theorize the path to the construction of a radical democratic politics. Drawing on Gramsci’s concept of hegemony to devise his own theory by that name, Laclau describes the processes of social articulation that creates popular political identities.
The perception of gentrification in Chicago mirrors would-be progressive groups’ social imaginations and the heterogeneity of their goals. Gentrification is the reconstitution of a neighborhood which occurs when lower-income areas with lower land value are re-developed with higher-value housing into a decidedly wealthier neighborhood. During this process the class-composition and character of the neighborhood is changed; those already living in the neighborhood cannot sustain the rise in property taxes and must move elsewhere.