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The Marxist Approach to the National Question: A Critique of Nimni's Interpretation Author(s): Enzo Traverso and Michael Löwy Reviewed work(s):

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Science& Society, Vol. 54, No. 2, Summer 1990, 132-146

o

The

Marxist Approach to the

Question:

A

Critique

Interpretation

National

of Nimni's

ENZO TRAVERSO and MICHAEL LÖWY

HISTORIANS (MARXIST

OR NOT) emphasize

the

writings on thenational question. The critique of Engels'

Engels'

incompleteness and

limitationsof Marx'and

theory of

timeat the

nations"without history" - formulatedforthe first

beginning of this centuryby

Otto Bauer in his

unddieSozialdemokratie

(1907)

monumentalDie Nationalitätenfrage

developed

in a more

the

UkrainianMarxisthistorianRoman Rosdolsky aftertheSecond

WorldWar -

porary Marxistliteratureon the

Marxisthistoriansareinclinedtoconsiderthenational problem as

one ofthemain gaps in thetheoreticalelaborationofMarxand

category of the

"non-historical peoples" (geschichtlosenVölker) as basically con- tradictory to the premises of Marxism.

Engels. In particular,they have analyzed the

and

systematic and rigorouswayby

hasbecame today a solid acquisition ofthecontem-

national question. In general,

dissenting view, thinksthat

"Marxand Engels havea coherentviewofthenational question,

evenifthereisno

theirtheoriesin an

thecoherenceof

"paradigms" ofhistoricalmaterialism: a) a

a visionof

universaland

theory which analyzes

ism" -

theforcesof

thatwould represent the

132

Ephraim Nimni,however, in a

singlecorpus ofliteraturethat directlypresents

explicitway"(Nimni,1989).

In his

opinion,

this conception is

basedon threefundamental

theory of evolution, i.e.

history "as a progressive seriesof changesthrough

hierarchically defined stages";b)

-

a deterministic

through a formof"economicreduction-

growth of

all social changes as theautomaticresultofthe

production;c)

at last, a "Eurocentric"world view,

necessary andinevitable consequence of

THE NATIONAL QUESTION

133

thetwo previous "theoretical parameters." Afterthis premise, the

reader might wellthinkthatthis study isconceivedas a

Marxismas a whole; at the end, however, one discoversthat

Ephraim Nimniconsidershimselftobe a Marxistand

an historicalmaterialism purged of the

European Marxism" (p. 34).

tentions, butwe thinkhis attitudeis

were convincedthatMarx's theory is foundedon a formof evolutionismand economicdeterminism inevitablyopening on a

Eurocentricworldview, we should certainly be anti-Marxists.In

reality, the premise of

thought and

the

Kautsky, Plekhanovand Bukharin.Some

Engels,

aspects of an evolutionistor economicdeterminist tendency in

their interpretation of

to reducethewholeof Marx's

history as theresultofnaturallawsof

forces, or as a seriesof

Some of Nimni'scriticalremarksare indeedrelevant -

stance, when he observesthatMarx and

derstandthosenationalistmovementsthatwereneither willing

analysis is

extremely unilateral, generalizing fromisolated phrases; timesittendstobecomea caricature bearing littleresemblanceto Marx'sideas.

norable toestablisha nationalstate.Buttoooftenhis

critique of

appeals

to

"misleadingheritage of

We understandNimni's good in-

quitecontradictory. If we

Nimni's essay is a caricatureof Marx's

writings of

Marxand

wouldbe more appropriate as a characterizationof

differentmaterialist Weltanschauungen elaborated by

quite

firstofall

theCommunist Manifesto,undoubtedlypresent

history. However, itwouldbe

totallywrong

thought to a viewof society and

development of productive

model.

forin-

stagesaccording tothe European

Engels

did not un-

some-

2.

Some passages oftheCommunist Manifesto canbe readas a

a

"revolutionary" characterto capitalism

Europe,

in a period in which, withinthe

destroyed

developmentthrough theindustrializa-

Bd. 9,

leading

the "unconsciousinstrumentof 133). In the same vein, Engels

true apology ofthehistoricalworkof

capitalism in destroying the

feudalorderand, in general, all archaicsocialformations.Marx

and

Engels assigned outsidethefrontiersof

continent, they consideredtheconditions ripe fora socialistrevo-

lution.In India, GreatBritainwouldhaveon onehand

theancient society and, on theotherhand, laiddownthefounda-

tionsformodernsocial

tionofthe country. In 1853Marxdefined England, the

forceof thissocial change, as

History"(MEW, 1957,

134

SCIENCE öfSOCIETY

approved

cause,

better than the indolent Mexicans" in assuring the economic

1848 Engels

even welcomed - as Nimni stresses - the French

Algeria

in

condemn these statements, but

to see

denounced the cultureof their colonial

a

ity"(Marx, 1974,457-458). They werefascinated by the spread of

intoa social calam-

the annexationof California

by "theactiveYankees would be

In

of

and schematic

Engels

often

the United Statesbe-

according to his explanation,

growth of the region(quoted

Gallissot,1976, 25).

in Davis, 1967, 62).

conquest as "a happy eventforthe progress ofcivilization" (quoted

it is important to criticizeand

Obviously,

itwould be

wrong

Marx and

only these passages. In reality,

mystification,deeply and in

epoch

conquests

as

rooted in the Eurocentric

imperialistideology, that presents

"civilizing missions." They saw capitalism as

progress

system that"turns every economic

capitalism on a world scale, the barbaric and violent

was accom-

plished. In respect

compared the "human progress" to an "horrible pagan

which did not wish to drinkthe nectarbut in the skullsof the

killed" (MEW, 1957, Bd. 9, 226). In 1857, in an articleon

Algeria

writtenfor the

horrorsand the

the "Arabian and weal and

precious

theirlife" (quoted in Gallissot,1976, 99). In 1861, Marx defined

of foreign rule the first imperative of

but at the same time they denounced

way

in which this

process

to the Britishcolonization of India, Marx

idol,

denounced "the

French"barbarouswar" against

Kabylian tribes, for which independence is a

the hate

to Mexico as

in the annals of international

history"

American Encyclopaedia,Engels

brutality" of the

"one of the most

the European expedition

monstrous enterprises

15, 366). This statement, and thosein favorof

(MEW, 1957,

"Opium Wars" with England, are not at all

typical Similarly, theevolutionistic interpretation of Marx cannotbe

accepted, and the richnessof his

passage

more de-

ism of the Second International:"the

veloped industrially shows, to theless developed,

own future"

cage of

the

of its

positivistic Marx-

the Chinese in the

Bd.

of Eurocentrism.

because itschematizesand

in

Capital

impoverishes the complexity

reduces it to a famous

thought. Nimni

dogma

thatbecame a

forthe

country thatis

the

of

image

(Marx, 1974, 19). At the turn

the century,

Kautskyan"orthodoxy" closed Marx's

this

much identified with the social-Darwinistictheories that the

theory intotheiron

thought

evolutionistic interpretation. The

of Marx was so

THE NATIONAL QUESTION

135

Gramsciwelcomedthe Russianrevolutionof 1917 as a

However,

represent Marx's theory in its

neverclaimedto transposemechanically toall coun-

does notat all

developmentstages

of Western Europe

-

and his

- primitive

writings on

possibility ofa

peasantcommunity) to communism,

young

"revolution againstCapitar(Gramsci,1967, 80-83).

this singlepassage

totality. He

triesthe

communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism

pre-capitalist societiesare hypotheses forfurther research, rather than unquestionable conclusions.With respect to Russia, in 1881-

directtransitionfrom

the obshchina (the Russian

capital-

ism, ifa

socialistrevolutionin

Europe. RussianreviewOtchestvenie Zapiski, Marx warnedthe readers

against the danger of

capitalism in Western Europe"

theory of the general

situation they findthemselves" (MEW,

1881he reaffirmedthesame concept in a famouslettertoVera

Zasulich, wherehe presented thetraditionalrural community as

the

without goingthrough allthe"terrible ups anddowns"of

1882Marxconsideredthe

peasant revolutionin Russiashouldfuse together witha

In a lettersentin 1877 to the

transforming his"outlineofthe

intoa

genesis of

"historical-philosophical

peoples, in any

march fatally laid to all

1957, Bd. 19, 111). In

"startingpoint forthesocial regeneration of Russia" (MEW,

35, 167; cf. Shanin,1984).

The Russian Marxists, led by

"skipping"capitalismappeared as

wasfoundand

only an example of the

Marx's writings.

1957, Bd.

Plekhanov, towhomtheideaof

a populistheresy,scrupulously hid thisletter (it

publishedby Riazanovin 1911). It is

anti-evolutionistcurrentsin

3. Marxand Engels formulatedan idea, morethanan accom-

national question. This fact

represents a

proposedby Kautsky(the

nationas an economic-

1976, n. 96; Traverso,1984, n. 1). Both German

Europe (Germany,Italy,

Poland, Hun-

and thisfact necessarily influencedtheirview.We can

capitalist modeof production

plishedtheory, of the

limitationof theirtheoreticalelaboration, butat sametime pro- tects against the danger ofa too-rigid and normative definition,

like those

linguistic-territorialentity) or Stalin (the nationas an economic, territorial, linguistical, culturaland psychologicalcommunity)

(see Löwy,

revolutionarieslivedinan epoch stillmarked by theformationof

some nationalstatesin

gary),

deducefromtheir writings a concept ofthenationas a historical

formation linkedto theriseof the

136

SCIENCE öfSOCIETY

and

(see Rodinson, 1968, 133; Haupt

concept was never developed

completeness in their analysis of thenational question is probably

linked to theirbelief that they lived in an

bourgeoiscosmopolitanism and by

of a socialism transcending nationalconflicts.In a worksuch as

the Communist Manifesto,cosmopolitanism and internationalism

tendto fuse. There, theinternationalizationofthe

of production and theformationoftheworldmarketare seen as a

process which"has made cosmopolitan[kosmopolitisch] the produc-

tion and the consumption of all the countries," establishing a

"universal

creating a "worldliterature."In thisceaseless transformationof

social life, capitalism would have subjected "the country to the

town, the barbarous and semi-barbarousnationsto the civilized

ones, the peasant peoples to the bourgeoispeoples, theOrientto

This admiring accountof

theOccident"

the revolutionary functionof the capitalist mode

viewed as an economic the world

more

the basis for national conflicts, certainly led the authors of the

Manifesto to neglect the

underestimation, whichdoubtlesscontainssome elementsof eco-

nomicreductionismand Eurocentrism, markedin particular the

crystallized in a politicalsuperstructure: the national state

1974, n. 2), but this

and Weill,

in a

systematicway. This in-

epoch dominated by

the advent, in thenear future,

capitalist mode

of all nations

one another" and

dependence

upon

(MEW, 1957, Bd. 4, 466).

of

production,

system that would everyday more and

materially and "spiritually" and suppress

importance of thenational

question.

This

unify

writings of Marx and Engels

It is truethattheCommunist Manifesto containssome doubtful

formulations; it is, however, inaccurateto write, as Nimni does,

that for Marx and

advancing tideof history." What they wroteis thatthe supremacy

of the

limitations (Absonderungen) and antagonisms between peoples."

Absonderung can

tionor

in our opinion, the one presented by Roman

essay munist society national

appear, they meant "certainly notthe'abolition'of existing ethnic

and linguistic communities (which would have been

the political delimitationsof peoples. In a society in which (in the

of 1848-1849.

Engels

"the nation will be abolished by the

of "national de-

proletariat will cause the disappearance

be translatedas difference,delimitation, separa-

isolation.The most likelyinterpretation of this phrase is,

Rosdolsky in an thatin a com-

Engels hoped and delimitationswill dis-

from 1965: when Marx and

antagonisms

absurd!) but

THE NATIONAL QUESTION

137

words of the Manifesto) 'the public power

character'and thestateas suchwillwither away, there can be no

will lose its

political

"

roomfor separate 'nationalstates'

different,"minimalist," interpretation, see Bloom,1941,26).

(Rosdolsky, 1965,335; fora

Engels

was

This internationalist standpoint of Marx and

basednotonsome perverse "unilinearandEurocentric" ideology,

buton thehumanist hope thatin a socialist world, a worldwithout

frontiers, not only

national antagonisms and conflictswilldis-

political(but not cultural) 1981a, n. 14).

butalsothe economic, socialand

Löwy,

appear, differencesbetweennations (See

The Irish

example

illuminatesa differenttheoretical ap-

essentiallypolitical.

proach

and

as a historicalnationwas not economic, but

Their

wishto becomean independent nation.In Ireland, nationalism

grewstronger indirect proportion tothe process ofdenationaliza-

tioncarriedout

not

linguistic assimilationof the Irish, who abandonedthe Gaelic

tongue in orderto

wild

tookbreathand raisedthemselves again, as if they drewtheir

force just fromthe garrison thatwas imposedupon theminorder

to

nationwas notdefined according to

language,territory,etc.),

element:thewilloftheIrishtoliberatethemselvesfromBritish

rule.This

"economicreductionism," instead emphasized the importance of

national identity and interiority. In

samemethod, ina discussionwithC. L. R. James abouttheBlack

question in

criterionis notdecisive, butthehistorical consciousness, thefeel-

ings

to thenational phenomenon thatcan be foundin Marx

Engels. The criterionthat brought themto recognize Ireland

startingpoint wasthe understanding oftheIrish people's

by

British imperialism. This process determined

theeconomic spoliation of the island, butevena true

speakEnglish.Engels wrote:"Afterthemost

extermination, theIrish

only

repression, after everyattempt at

oppress them" (Engels,

1975,192). In this case, the concept of

objective criteria (economy,

subjective

butratherwas foundedon a

difficulttofind anysigns of

1939

Trotskyadopted

the

conception, in whichitis

America, arguing that"on thismatteran abstract

are

more important"(Trotsky,

and

the impulses ofa group

-

reality, thetwomainMarxist interpretations ofthe

national

terministic theory of Kautsky and Stalin and, on the other, the

historicaland cultural theory ofBauerand

fromtheclassicalMarxist approach, whose

bothissue

1978,28). In

phenomenon

on one hand, the economicand de-

-

Trotsky

incompleteness and

138

SCIENCE öfSOCIETY

fluidity can be developed in eitheran evolutionisticor a dialectical

way. In his

attempt to prove

but a

thatMarx'sviewsare not

fragmentary

systematic and coherent "evolutionist"

and incomplete,

whole, Nimni argues thathis (and Engels')

tical assumption" was that "every national state"is "indissolubly

linkedwiththeuniversalizationof the

tionand the hegemony ofthe bourgeoisie." This explains,

ing to him, Marx's and Engels' "firm advocacy of the right of

self-determinationto the Irish and Poles," and at the same time

the harsh treatmentof the "southern Slavs." Now, far from

supporting Ireland because of "bourgeoishegemony," Marx was

verypleased thatthe hegemonic

agrarian struggle, the

tendency(in a negative

ofthe

and not Serbian or Bohemian nationalism, were not economistic

("the universalizationof the

political:

otherswere considered

thecase oftheSouth Slavs, one can

was wrong; one cannot prove thatitwas the logical

general should Poland be more

even less of the "classical

"fundamentaltheore-

capitalist mode of produc-

accord-

forcesin the Irish nationaland

were "characterized by a socialist

against the appropriation

Fenians,

sense, directed

soil)" (Marx,n.d.,323). The reasonsfor supporting Poland,

capitalisteconomy")

but

exclusively

the Polishnationalmovementwas anti- tsarist, whilethe

by Marx as manipulatedby

argue

thathis

Tsarism. In

political attitude outcomeof a

(by the way,why

"evolutionist"and "Eurocentric"view

"European" than, say, Bohemia?),

epistemology of Marxism."

and

4. With

respect to the

theory of"non-historical nations," there

argument:

on one side, he

of social transforma-

processes

later he observes that this

Hegelian toa historicalmaterialist

entirelyagree

with this last

is a basic contradictionin Nimni's

writesthatthis theory is "a clear effect"of the "classicalMarxist

epistemology" withits "universal

tion" (308). But two

pages conceptualization is "in direct opposition

conception of history"! He evenconsidersit

"idealist

historicalmaterialism" (310). We

thesis, but it is The other

Marx thesame viewsas

offeringvery littleevidence for this. Let us examine his

ment:

"strange" to findsuch

echoed "in the worksof the foundersof

speculations"

obviouslyincompatible withthe firstone.

Engels

problem is that Nimni insistson attributing to

about the"non-historical peoples,"

argu-

THE NATIONAL QUESTION

139

a) It is "unthinkable"thatMarx and

Engels

disagree

begs the question.

disagreed(or

the factitis thathe

"would

over such a fundamentalissue." Well, this

There is nothing to showthatMarxeither agreed or

did not care to takea stand) withthis

didnotuseitinhis

views to him. Differencesbetween Marx and

writings. It

theory:

is therefore arbitrary to impute such

have been

observed by Marxist philosophers

issues -

There is no reason why thisshouldbe "unthinkable"in relationto

the national

Engels and scholars on several

without necessarlyinvolvingany explicitdisagreement.

question.

indulged

in a derogatory denunciationof small

national communities." He used

and was "impatient and intolerantwithethnic

some remarks about

b) "Marx also

language"

and non-western European

"abusive

minorities."As

Spaniards,

an "ethnic minority" and none was considered as "non-historic"

by

iards are not - either

or "non-Western"nation!

examples, Nimni quotes

Mexicans and Chinese. Now, none of thosenationsis

Engels (they had already a state). And Span-

-

geographically or historically

a "small"

eitherMarx or

Moreover, the quotation about China is taken completely out

Nimni:farfrom being"derogatory" towards China,

of Eu-

ofcontext by

thisarticle

rope

Celestial Empire - the veryopposite of Europe - than on any

exists

spark loaded mineof the present industrial system and cause the explo-

sionof the long preparedgeneral crisis,which, spreading abroad,

revolutionsin the Continent"

(Marx, 1969, 67, 73). Far from being "Eurocentric," this pre-

diction - alas, enterelywrong,

timistic predictions

akin to the mostextreme"third-worldism"of the 1960s. True, Marx often refers to the Chinese nation as "semi-

barbarian"; but writing about the Chinese war against English

imperialism in 1858 he

principle of morality" and was "promptedby

refusalto

representative of over-

whelming modern societyfights forthe privilege of buying in the

cheapest and selling

projects that"the next uprising

of the

people

maydepend more probably on whatis now passing in the

It

maysafely be augured

into the over-

other political cause thatnow

that the Chinese revolutionwill throwthe

willbe closely followed by political

as were

many other wildlyop-

surprisingly

of Marx and his followers - is

observesthatthisnation "stood on the

ethicalmotives" (the

while"the

accept opium trade),

in thedearestmarket" (Marx, 1969, 343-4).

140

SCIENCE 6fSOCIETY

Engels all kindsof "derogatory remarks"in referencesto several nations;

it is also true that their

horrible expressions,

forLassalle. But we do not believethatone can make

out of all this, particularly ifone considersthatthe

cal nations" (France, Germany,England) also receivetheirshare

of "derogatory remarks." It is also true thatthereis in some of Marx's

writings of the

There is no doubt thatone can findin bothMarx and

privatecorrespondence

like the infamous

contains some

"Jewishnigger" formula

a "theory"

"histori-

great

1840s and 50s a

verynegative

assessmentof the South-Slavna-

It was rather

"evolu-

tions, but thiswas not

tionist, economicistand Eurocentric"

the ad hoc

product tion, and of Panslavismas a tool of the Tsar. As soon as the

prospects of revolution in Russia began

organically linked to any general

philosophy.

of his obsessivefearof Tsaristcounterrevolu-

to materialize (after

entirely fromhis writ-

1870),

this negative assessment disapears

ings.

5. Engels' approach

to the so-called"non-historical peoples"

vocabulary this term designated

geographical, political

the

and in-

history, who,

stage

fromthe

of civilization, are

was very

nations lacking the "historical,

dustrial premises of independence and vitality."Engels wrote:

"Nations (Völker), who neverhad theirown

momentwhen they arriveat thefirstraw

already under foreign domination, or whichwere compelledby a

foreignyoke to enterthefirst stage of civilization, have no vitality

(Lebensfähigkeit) and will

ence" (MEW, 1957, Bd. 6, 275). Engels was

nationsthatknew

foreign assimilated by the

tions. Engels

a

different.In his

independ-

referring to those

permanently in their history the political ruleof

never achieve any formof

state and that, in his opinion,

were doomed to be

socially and economically more advanced na-

continued:

Thereisno country in Europe whichdoesnothaveinsomecornerorotherone

orseveral fragments of peoples(Völkerruinen), theremnantofa former popula-

tionthatwas

themainvehicleforhistorical development(Trägerin der geschichtlichen Entwick-

lung). Theserelicsofa nation, mercilesslytrampled underthecourseof history,

as

Hegelsays theseresidual fragments of peoples(Völkerabfalle)always become fanaticalstandard-bearersofcounter-revolutionand remainso untiltheircom-

suppressed andheldin bondageby

thenationwhichlaterbecame

THE NATIONAL QUESTION

141

pleteextirpation or lossof theirnationalcharacter (gänzlichenVertilgung oder

Entnationalisierung),just

against a great historicalrevolution. (MEW,1957, Bd. 6, 172.)

as theirwholeexistencein

general is itselfa protest

This

land, the Bretons, the Basques, the

Eastern Europe

greatEuropean nations

exception

of the Poles) werealliedwithTsarismon theside of reaction.

Engels didnot

playedby

itfromtheir supposed"counterrevolutionary" nature.The fail-

precise causes, at all the"vendean"natureof theSouthernSlavs. Rather, this

ure of the 1848 revolutionshad

category included, according to Engels,

and, in

theGaels of Scot-

Yiddish-speakingJews of

particular, theSouthernSlavs.

in 1848 the

According to Engels,

wereon thesideof revolution, whiletheSlavs (with the

try to grasp thesocialcausesofthe"vendean"role

thesenationalmovementsin 1848, but simply deduced

whichwerenot

defeatwas linkedto a historicalcontext:an

Europeanbourgeoisie had exhaustedits revolutionarypotential

(being unable to solvethe main problems on the agenda: the

nationaland

ready totake power. In

revolutionand too soon fora socialistrevolution (see

epoch

in whichthe

agrarianquestions), and the proletariat wasnot yet

other words, itwastoolatefora

bourgeois

Löwy,

1981b,27).

Engels'theory of peoples

"without history" was

brilliantly

criticized by Roman

tency. He explains the reactionary role playedby

nationalmovements during the uprisings of 1848in the

theintrinsiccontradictionsof therevolutionin

somenationswho fought fortheirown liberation, likePolandand

Hungary,oppressed othernationalitiesandethnicalminoritiesin

theirown bosom.The

leading Magyar movementswerethe bourgeoisie andthe gentry,opposed

Ruthenians (Ukrainians) of

Galicia, for example,

independence, because theyalready defendedthe embryos of

theirown

pressed theirclass conflict withthePolishlandowners. Serbs, Croa-

tians,Romanians, Slovaksand all the other "peasant

of Southeastern Europe took the same attitudetowardsthe

Germansand the

torical peoples" would have participated in the revolutionif

Rosdolsky, who proved

itsbasic inconsis-

the Slavonic

light of

Eastern Europe:

socialforcesof the Polishand

to theother "peasant nations."The

national identity, a

did not support the demand for Polish

national identity whicheven ex-

nations"

reality, theseso-called"non-his-

Magyars. In

142

SCIENCE tf SOCIETY

they had obtained a land reformfromthe bourgeoisie and the

gentry, but the chauvinistand conservative

German,

cept this and pushed the peasant

Tsarist counterrevolution.Instead of

method - the social roots of the Pan-Slavistmovement, Engels

drew a map of Europe based on two

nations"and

ically viable, the

This

anti-

dialectical. Rosdolskyproves,

even after 1848 East-Central

same allies (in the

(tsarist Russia and the Pan-Slavist movement) (see Rosdolsky,

ening

grasping - witha Marxist

leadership of the

Polish and Magyar national movementswould not ac-

masses into the arms of the

categories:"revolutionary

firstviewedas histor-

fragments of the past.

nextawak-

"peoples without history," the

second

regarded

whichdenies a

as dead

"peoples

Engels

position,

of the

priori the possibility of a

history,"

is

without

completely

witha large list of citations, that

Polish) and the same enemies

retained his view of the revolutionin

Germanrevolution, with the

Europe as a basically

first place

the

1979, 125).

Already Socialistmovementin the Balkan

Engels' mistake (See Haupt, 1980, 185). In 1907, in his great work

on the national question, Otto Bauer criticized Engels, recogniz-

ing

nationalities (i.e.,

ch. 3). In his critique,Rosdolsky introducesanother argument: he

explains that during

national

played

Nevertheless, they laterbuilta national anti-imperialist movement

(Rosdolsky, 1979, 116). Through a critique

Zeitung's attitude, Rosdolsky elaboratesa brilliantMarxist analysis

of the national as Nimni

of the

again,

"historicaland non-historicalnations," he comes to a

conclusion:the theory of residue of the idealistic

foreignbody in the

We can

towards the South Slavonic nations reveals some elements of positivistic evolutionism, economic determinismand Eurocen- trism.Marx's friend doubtless internalizedthe cultural preju-

at theend ofthe 19th

century,facing thebirthof the countries, Kautsky denounced

the social and cultural development of the differentSlavonic

their adaptation

to

modern life)(Bauer, 1975, 1,

Cromwell's revolutionthe Irish Marx and

justly supported by

-

whose

-

rights

were

Engels

a notless reactionary role thantheAustrianSlavs in 1848.

of theNeue Reinische

question in the 1848 revolution.Far from falling

agree

thinks, into

Engels' "paradigmatictrap"

very

clear

the geschichtlosen Völkeris nothing but "a

conception of history and thereforea

theoretical system of Marxism" (Ibid., 121).

withNimni'sstatementthatthe attitudeof

Engels

THE NATIONAL QUESTION

143

dicesof

thisattitude:the

only an aspect of Engels'approach to

19th-centuryEurope,

butitwouldbe

wrong to generalize

concept of "people without history"represents

thenational question.

Fromthe end of the 19th century onwards, Marxistideas

theethnicextra-territorialminoritiesand

explain

thehistorical process of formationof

project ofboth

by

theMarxistcurrentsofsuch

(Smeral),Bulgaria(Blagoev),

Ukraina (Rosdolsky),

(Dobrogeanu-

Romania

the

Russian-Jewish(Medem,Borokhov)Socialists,

to

good

reason

as a

national question

the

Basques(See Nin,1977, esp. 70-72; Are-

by

thesocialistsof

spreadwidelyamong theso-called"non-historicalnations"ofEast-Central Europe. The

workers'movementandtheSocialist intelligentsia ofthesenations

foundinMarxist theory thebestintellectualinstrumentto

their oppression, to grasp

theircultural identity and, at last, to elaboratea

socialand nationalliberation.The concept of cultural-national

autonomy wascreatedfirstofall

oppressed nationalitiesas theSlavs (the SlavonicFederationof

Austrian Social-Democracy), the Jews(theBund) and theArme-

nians (the "Specifists"). The Socialistsof

Bohemia

Gherea),Georgia(Jordania), as well as the Austrian-Slavonic

(Kristan) and

usedMarxismto analyze theirdifferentnationalrealities (seeesp.

Weill,1987). The theory of peoples "without history"appeared

themas totallywrong and useless, butthiswasnota

for rejecting the Marxist theory of the

whole.In the years betweentheworld wars, the Spanish Marxists

whoweremostinstrumentalin developing thetheoretical analysis

of the national question wereAndreu Nin, a Catalan, and

Arenillabrothers, two

nillas,1978). If theMarxistdebateon thenational question was

carriedforward, after Engels' death, aboveall

theethnicminoritiesand the oppressed nations, thismeansthat theclassicalMarxist writings on thismatterhad somelimitations and did notresolvethe problem(that muchis obvious), butalso thatMarxist theory was indispensable inordertoconfrontnation-

al issues.

6. In conclusion:ifthe concept ofnationelaborated by Marx

incomplete, if Engels'theory of the pseudo-historicistmetaphysicstotally

and Engels is vague and

"non-historical" peoples isa

foreign to Marxism, whatremainsof theirreflectionson the national problem? Weshall attempt nowto synthesize theclassical Marxist approach.

144

SCIENCE öfSOCIETY

In 1867, when they returnedto the Irish question, Marx and

the source of the Irish

for

explaining the impotence of

superiority ofthe

English proletariat. Marx wrotein 1870:

Engels acquired a basic oppressed nations. They

not only

key

most numerous and

second halfof the 19th century. The chauvinismand

national

nourished by the British bourgeoisie, which

tagonism in order to maintainitsrule in Ireland and to oppress

exploited this an-

English workerstowardstheIrishwere

feelings of

organized proletariat of the world in the

Englishworking class, the

but also the

theoretical point: the dichotomy dominanti

saw in the colonial dominationof Ireland

people's oppression,

the

the

Every industrialand commercialcenterin

classdividedintotwohostile camps,Englishproletarians and Irish proletarians.

The ordinaryEnglish workerhatestheIrishworkeras a

hisstandardoflife.In relationtotheIrishworkerhefeelshimselfa memberof the ruling nationandso turnshimselfintoa toolofthearistocratsand capitalists

against Ireland, thus strengthening theirdominationover

England now possesses a working

competitor wholowers

This an-

Englishworking class, despite its

tagonism is the secret of the impotenceof the

organization. Itisthesecret by whichthe capitalist classmaintainsits power. And

thatclassis

fully awareof it. (Marx-Engels, 1965,236-7.)

Marxthusformulatedtwo concepts whichwouldbecomethebasis

ofLenin's theory ofnationalself-determination: a) thenationthat

oppresses anothercannotbe free

fortune"fora

the oppressed nationisa dominantnationitself.

(Engels

consideredit a "mis-

people

to ruleover another);b) theliberationof

premise forthesocialistrevolutioninthe

Today, this approach stillretainsits importance and validity,

absolutelynecessarypremise forthe development

andremainsan

methodological approach is neithereconomicdeterminisinor Eurocentric, but

simplyrepresents an irreplaceablecompass forthosewhobelieve in internationalism.We cannotconsiderourselvesMarxistsifwe do not support the right ofself-determinationofNewCaledonia's

Kanaksin France,

Balticnationalitiesin USSR, ofKosovo'sAlbanesesin

ofKurdsin Iran,

do not struggle intheUnitedStates against theAmerican military

interventionin Nicaragua andSalvador.If

withus - as we hope he does - on this

and thetheoreticalenrichmentofMarxism.This

of Palestiniansin Israel, of Armeniansand

Yugoslavia,

least, ifwe

Iraq,Syria and Turkey; last, butnot

Ephraim Nimni agrees

conclusion, he must

THE NATIONAL QUESTION

145

recognize that it is possible to criticize Marx's and Engels'

approach

to the national

question without rejecting Marxism.

Paris, France

ENZO TRAVERSO

MICHAEL LÖWY

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