The East: Nationalist Barbarism

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Throughout Eastern Europe and the USSR we are witnessing a violent explosion of nationalism.

Yugoslavia is in the process of dis­integration. "Civilized" and "European" Slovenia demands independence, while subjecting the 'sister' republics of Serbia and Croatia to an economic blockade. In Serbia, the nationalism stirred up by the Stalinist Milosevic has led to pogroms, the poisoning of water supplies and a brutal repression of the Albanian minority. In Croatia, the first 'democratic' elections have seen the victory of the CDC, a violently rescidi­vist and nationalist group; a football match between Dynamo Zegred and Belgrade (Serbia) degenerated into violent confrontations.

The whole of Eastern Europe is being shaken by nationalist tensions. In Romania, a neo-­fascist organization, Cuna Rumana, stuffed full of the old Securitate and with the indirect support of the 'liberators' of the NSF (National Salvation Front), have carried out sadistic beatings of Hungarians who, in their turn, have used the fall of Ceausescu to carry out anti-­Romanian pogroms. For its part, the central government in Bucharest, the beautiful child of the 'democratic' governments, viciously persecutes the Gipsy minority and the ethnic Germans. Hungary, the pioneer of the 'democratic' changes, discriminates against the Gypsies and encourages the demands of the Hungarian minority in Romanian Transylvania. In Bulgaria, the new 'democracy' protects massive and demonstrations against the minority. In the Czechoslovakia of the velvet revolution", the government of the "dreamer" Havel "democratically" persecutes the Gypsies and a violent polemic has broken out involving demonstrations and confrontations, between the Czechs and Slovaks, over the momentous question of whether to call the "new free republic": Czechoslovakia or Czecho­Slovakia.

But above all, it is in the USSR, which until 6 months ago was the second world power, where this nationalist explosion has reached proportions that could call into question the existence of the state. This explosion is partic­ularly bloody and chaotic: the killing of Azeries at the hands of Armenians and of Armenians at the hands of Azeries, of Azerbaijani victims of Georgians, Turks lynched by Uzbeks, the beating of Russians by Kazaks; above all, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Ukraine demanding independence.

The nationalist explosion: The decomposition of the living body of capitalism

For bourgeois propagandists, these movements are a "liberation" produced by the "democratic revolutions" with which the people of the East have thrown off the boot of "communism".

This "liberation" has opened up a Pandora's Box. The collapse of Stalinism has unleashed violent nationalist tensions, strong centrifugal forces, which the decadence of capitalism has incubated, radicalized and deepened, in these countries, fed by their insuperable backwardness, and by Stalinist domination which expresses and is an active factor in this backwardness[1].

The so-called "order of Yalta", which for 45 years dominated the world, kept in check these enormous tensions and contradictions which capitalism's decadence inexorably matured towards the total holocaust of a 3rd imperialist world war. The rebirth of the proletarian struggle since 1968 has blocked this 'natural' course of decadent capitalism. But with the inability of the proletarian struggle to go towards its ultimate conclusion the international revolutionary offensive these centrifugal tendencies, increasingly profound contradictions and growing destructive aberrations, are causing the body of capitalist order to rot on its feet; this is what we call its generalized decomposition[2].

This decomposition in the old domain of the Russian bear has 'liberated' the worst racist feelings, nationalist recidivism, chauvinism, anti­semitism, patriotic and religious fanaticism, which have been expressing themselves with all their destructive fury.

"Shamed, dishonored, wading in blood and dripping with filth, thus capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the role of peace and righteousness, of order, or philosophy, of ethics - but as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as a pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity so it appears in all its hideous nakedness." (Rosa Luxernburg, The Junius Pamphlet, page 6)

The bourgeoisie usually distinguish between a "savage", "fanatical", "aggressive" nationalism and a "democratic", "civilized", "respectful of others", etc, nationalism. This distinction is a pure swindle, the fruit of the hypocrisy of the "great democratic" states of the West, whose position of strength allows them to intelligently and astutely use the barbarity, the violence and destruction inherent in the principle of every nation and nationalism in decadent capitalism.

The "democratic", "civilized" and "peaceful" nationalism of France, the USA, etc, is that of the slaughter and torture in Vietnam, Algeria, Panama, Central Africa, Chad, or the unquestion­ing support of Iraq in the Gulf War; it is the two world wars which cost more than 70 million murdered through exaltations to patriotism, xenophobia, racism, which were used to hide the acts of barbarity carried out against Nazi rivals: the American bombing of Dresden or Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the French atrocities against the German population in its occupation zone, as much after the first world war as after the second.

It was the "civilization" and "pacifism" of the "liberation" of France with the defeat of the Nazis, when the "republican" forces of de Gaulle and the PCF jointly encouraged a declaration of a German pogrom. "To each his Boche" was the "civilized" slogan of "eternal" France. These loud and aggressive calls for nationalism have always been embodied by the Stalinists.

It is the hypocritical cynicism of helping the illegal immigration of African workers, in order to have cheap labur at hand, permanently intimidated and blackmailed by police repression (which according to the needs of the national economy sends back to their country of origin thousands of immigrant workers to the atrocious conditions), while at the same time, touchingly weeping "anti-racist" crocodile tears. It is, the brazen hypocrisy of Thatcher, who, while "lamenting" and being "horrified" by the barbarity in Romania, returns 40,000 illegal immigrants to Vietnam, who have been brutally hunted down by Her Majesty's police' in Hong Kong. All forms, all expressions of nationalism, big or small, necessarily and fatally lead into the march of aggression, of war, of "all against all", of exclusivism and discrimination.

If in the ascendant period of capitalism, the formation of new nations constituted a step forward in the development of the productive forces, giving them a framework for expansion and full development - the world market - in the 20th century, in the decadence of capitalism, the contradiction between the world character of production and the inevitable private-national nature of capitalist relations, has exploded. Through this contradiction, the nation, as the basic cell of the regroupment of each gang of capitalists in their war to the death to divide up the supersaturated market, reveals its reactionary character, its congenital nature as a force of division, fettering the development of humanity's productive forces.

"Since the internationalization of capitalist interests express only one side of the internationalization of economic life, it is necessary to review also its other side, namely, that process of nationalization of capitalist interests which most strikingly expresses the anarchy of capitalist competition within the boundaries of the world economy, a process that leads to the greatest convulsions and catastrophes; to the greatest waste of human energy, and most forcefully raises the problem of establishing new forms of social life" (Bukharin: Imperialism and the World Economy, page 62, Merlin edition)

All nationalism is imperialism

The Trotskyists, the extreme left of capital, always "critically" support Russian imperialism, presenting a "positive" picture of the nationalist explosion in the East. According to them, it represents the exercise of the "self-­determination of peoples", which is supposed to be a blow against imperialism and a destabilization of the imperialist blocs.

We have already amply demonstrated the fallacy of the slogan about "the 'right' of peoples to self-determination", including within the ascendant period of capitalism[3]. Here, what we want to show, is that this nationalist explosion, even though it is a consequence of the hecatomb of Russian imperialism and is part of the process of destabilization of the imperialist constellations which for 40 years dominated the world (the "Yalta order"), in no way calls into question imperialism and, more importantly, as with the process of decomposition, it has nothing positive to offer the proletariat.

All mystification relies on false truths and what appears to be the truth, in order to efficiently deceive. Thus, it is obvious that the Western bloc is perturbed and worried by the present process of the explosion of the USSR into a thousand pieces. Its attitude in front of the independence of Lithuania has been, apart from the propagandistic threat of "don't touch Lithuania" and to pat Landsburges and his clique on the head, to give thinly veiled support to Gorbachev.

The United States and its western allies do not have, for the moment, any interest in the explosion of the USSR. They know that such an explosion would produce enormous destabilization, with savage nationalist and civil wars, in which the nuclear arsenal accumulated by Russia could be used. Likewise, a destabilization of the present frontiers of the USSR would reverberate throughout the Middle East and Asia, unleashing equally enormous nationalist, religious, ethnic and other tensions which have accumulated there and are being contained only with great difficulty.

However, the present unanimity of the great western powers is makeshift. Inevitably, as the process, already underway, of dislocation of the Western bloc sharpens - the principle factor of cohesion was its unity against the threat of the Russian bear which has now disappeared - each power will begin to play its own imperialist cards, fanning the flames of this or that nationalist gang, supporting this or that nation against another, backing this or that independent nation, etc, etc.

This form of speculation on destabilization clearly does not call into question that which revolutionaries have defended since the First World War: "So-called 'national liberation struggles' are moments in the deadly struggle between imperialist powers, large or small to gain control over the world market. The slogan of 'support for people in struggle' amounts, in fact, to defending one imperialist power against another under nationalist or 'socialist' verbiage" (The Basic Positions of the ICC). Nevertheless, admitting that the present phase of capitalist decomposition accentuates the anarchic and chaotic imperialist appetites of each nation, however small, does not eliminate imperialism or local imperialist wars, nor does it make them less dangerous; on the contrary, it stokes up the imperialist tensions and deepens and aggravates their capacity for destruction.

What all of this demonstrates, is another class position of revolutionaries: "All national capitals, no matter how small, are imperialist, and could not survive without recourse to imperialist politics. We defend this position with the utmost firmness in front of the speculations of the revolutionary milieu, particularly those expressed by the CWO (Communist Workers Organization), who say that not all national capitals are imperialist, which has given rise to all sorts of ambiguities, amongst them the reduction of imperialism in the last instance, to a 'superstructure' localized to a limited group of super powers, which, like it or not, makes the 'national liberation' of the other nations something that can be positive ". (International Review, no 14: "On Imperialism")

What the present epoch of capitalism's decomposition demonstrates, is that all nations, or small nationalities, all groups of capitalist gangsters, no matter if their private property is the huge territory of the USA or some miniscule neighborhood of Beirut, are imperialists, whose objective and way of life is robbery and destruction.

If the decomposition of capitalism and thus the chaotic and uncontrollable expressions of imperialist barbarity, result from the difficulty of the proletariat to take its struggle towards reclaiming its own being that of an international class and its revolutionary outcome ­then all support for nationalism, (including in its guise as a "marxist tactic" the "we support the small nations which destabilize imperialism" of the Trotskyists) derails the proletariat from its revolutionary road and feeds the rotting of capitalism, the destruction of humanity through decomposition. The only real blow, at the heart of imperialism, is the interna­tional revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, its autonomous struggle as a class, separated from and totally opposed to inter-classism and the nationalist terrain.

The false national community

The present "spring of the people" is seen by the anarchists as a "confirmation" of their positions. It expresses their idea of the "federation of the people" freely regrouped in small communities according to affinities of language and territory. It also expresses their other idea, "Self-management" which says that the decomposition of the economic apparatus makes small units supposedly more accessible to the people. The radically reactionary character of the anarchists position is confirmed by the anarchic and chaotic barbarity of the nationalist explosion in the east. Decomposition, which is reducing vast areas of the world to horrendous chaos, confirms that "self-management" is radical "assemblyism", that adapts itself to and consequently stirs up decomposition.

If capitalism gave something to humanity it was the tendency to the centralization of the productive forces on a world scale, through the formation of the world market. What is revealed by the decadence of capitalism is its incapacity to go beyond this process of centralization and its inevitable tendency to destruction and dislocation: "the reality of decadent capitalism, despite the momentary appearance of the imperi­alist antagonisms as two opposing monolithic entities, is the tendency of decadent capitalism to discord, chaos: this expresses the essential necessity of socialism, which seeks to build a world community" (Internationalisme: "Report on the International Situation" 1945)

The development of these growing tendencies to dislocation, chaos, anarchy, which are becoming increasingly less controllable in entire areas of the world market, are made crystal clear by the decomposition of capitalism.

If today the great nations, which in the last century constituted coherent economic entities, are a too-narrow framework, a reactionary obstacle against the real development of the productive forces, a fountainhead of destructive competition and wars, then the dislocation of the small nations will increasingly aggravate these tendencies towards distortion and chaos of the world economy.

Likewise, in this epoch of capitalist decadence, the lack of social perspectives, the evident manifestation of the destructive and reactionary character of the social order produces a formidable vacuum of values, of guide-lines to hold onto, of beliefs to abide by, in order to support individual lives.

This generates growing tendencies, to clutch onto all sorts of false communities such as the nation, which provide an illusory sense of security through "collective support", which anarchism stimulates with its slogan of "federations of small communes":

"Materially crushed, with no future, vegetating in a completely restricted day-to-day existence, wallowing in mediocrity, they are in their despair prey to all kinds of mystification, from the most pacifist ...  to the most blood thirsty (Black Hundreds, pogronomists, racists, Klu Klux Klan, fascist gangs, gangsters and mercenaries of all kinds). It is mainly in the latter, the bloody ones, that they find the compensation of an illusory dignity. It is the heroism of the coward, the courage of the clown, the glory of sordid mediocrity" (International Review, no 14: "Terror, Terrorism and Class Violence" pages 7-8)

In the nationalist killings, the inter-ethnic confrontations that are taking place in the East, we see the stamp of these petty-bourgeois masses, despairing of a situation they cannot improve, debased by the barbarity of the old regimes in which they often carried out the lowest tasks, stirred up by the openly reactionary bourgeois political forces.

But the weight of the "national community", as a false community with illusory roots also acts on the proletariat. In the East, its weakness, its terrible political backwardness, the outcome of Stalinist barbarity, has determined its absence as an autonomous class in the confrontations that have marked the fall of the old regimes of "true Socialism". This absence has given more force to the reactionary and irrational actions of these strata, consequently, at the same time increasing the vulnerability of the proletariat.

The working class, must affirm itself against the reactionary illusions of nationalism, propagated by the petty-bourgeoisie; must affirm that the "national community", is a mask for the domination of each capitalist state.

The nation is not the sovereign domain of all those "born in the same country", but the private property of the capitalists who organize through the national state the exploitation of the workers and the defense of their interests in front of the relentless competition of the other capitalists states.

"The capitalist state and the nation are two indissoluble concepts subordinated one to the other. The nation without the state is as impossible as the state without the nation. In effect, the latter is the social medium necessary for the mobilization of all the classes around the interests of the bourgeoisie's struggle for the conquest of the world. As an expression of the position of the dominant class, the nation can have no other axis than the apparatus of oppression: the state" (Bilan, no 14: "The Problem of National Minorities" page 474)

Culture, language, history, the common territory which the intellectuals and paid hacks of the national state present as "fundamental" to the "national community", are the product of centuries of exploitation, they are the seal of blood and fire with which the bourgeoisie have capped the creation of their private enclosure in the world market: "For marxists there exists no sufficient criteria to indicate where a 'nation', a 'people' or the 'rights' of national minorities begin or end neither from the point of view of race or history are the conglomerations that the national bourgeois states or groups represent, justified. Language and common territory, are the two factors that animate the academic charlatanism about nationalism, but these two elements have continually changed due to wars and conquests" (Bilan, idem, page 473)

The false national community is the mask for capitalist exploitation, the alibi of the national states to embroil their "citizens" in the crimes that imperialist wars are, the justification for calling on workers to accept pay cuts, lay-offs, etc, etc, because "the national economy needs them to"; the call to recruit them into their "competitive" battle with the other national capitalisms who, with the same vigor, divide and confront the working class in other countries, in order to shackle them to new and worse sacrifices, misery and unemployment. The only progressive community today is the autonomous unification of the working class: "In order for people to become really united their interests must be common. For their interests to be common the existing property relations must be abolished, since exploitation of one nation by another is caused by the existing property relations. And it is only in the interests of the working class to abolish the existing property relations; only they have the means to achieve it. The victory of the prole­tariat over the bourgeoisie represents at the same time the victory over national and industrial conflicts, which at present create hostility between different peoples." (Karl Marx: "Speech On Poland" 1847)

The struggle of the proletariat contains the seed for overcoming national, ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions with which capitalism ­continuing the work of the oppressors of the previous modes of production has tortured humanity. In the common body of the united struggle for class interests these divisions will naturally and logically disappear. The common bases are the conditions of exploitation, which everywhere will tend to worsen with the world crisis, the common interest is the affirmation of their necessities as human beings against the inhuman necessities, each time more despotic, of the commodity and the national interest.

The goal of the proletariat, communism, which is to say a human world community, represents a centralization, a new human community, the highest reached by the forces of production, capable of giving them their full development and expansion. It is the unity of conscious centralization based on common interests produced by the abolition of classes, the destruction of wage labor and national frontiers.

"The illusory community, in which individuals have up until now combined, always took on an independent existence to them, and was at the same time, since it was the combination of one class against another, not only a completely illusory community, but as fetter as well. In a real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association." (Marx and Engels: The German Ideology, page 83, Student edition).

Adalen 16.05.1990



[1] See International Review no 61 our ‘Thesis on the Economic and Political Crisis of the Countries of the East'

[2] See the ‘Thesis on Decomposition: The Ultimate Stage of Decadent Capitalism', in this International Review.

[3] See the series on "Revolutionaries and the National Question" in International Review nos 34 and 43.