A few people have asked me to give my thoughts on nationalism. The Third Worldist view holds that it’s a good thing for the Third World and bad for First World. So at their request I’m clarifying the position at least in my own words. I cannot speak for any Third Worldist group, I can only speak for myself. My position is that they are very different things
that manifest themselves in two opposite ways. This manifestation is of course dependent upon their position within a power dynamic.
First World Nationalism
When we look at nationalist movements in the First World, what do we see? We see xenophobia and racism mostly. This tends to be the entire core of these movements. The idea that there are others coming into ‘our’ countries and taking away what ‘we’ve’ built up. Those immigrants or refugees are seen as parasites, outsiders are seen this way. What they hold is a disdain for anyone who is from outside the country, because they’ll steal what we’ve taken from others. When we speak of nationalism in the First World we’re talking about an arrogance that declares us to be superior to others, not national pride as those who hold it assert.
Nationalism, of course, manifests itself militarily as well. In the First World this means being pro-imperialist war. When we use love of the country as a justification for war, it is to attack weaker countries and steal their resources. Or it can be used as a means of revenge against someone who has attacked us when we ‘did nothing wrong’. What is important is that we stand on the top end of a power dynamic. First Worlders often feel a moral superiority, a God given right to enter other countries and tell them how to live. It is believed that we have some supposed right to install a government for other people according to our values, i.e. capitalism, bourgeois democracy.
For us there is no invasion on altruistic grounds. Capitalism is not capable of doing that. Capitalism can only plunder, steal, rape, and murder. It will not do any good simply because it’s the right thing to do. Capitalism will only invade a national if it can materially benefit from it. Meaning, they have to profit from it. If there’s nothing in it for the capitalist class, then they’re not going to put out any effort. Look at the Rwandan genocide, no country cared about it, because it couldn’t be twisted to their benefit. It was only the actions of Canadian UN General Roméo Dallaire, out of an actual desire to stop genocide that anything happened.
Capitalism cannot care, it cannot show solidarity.
Third World Nationalism
When we look at nationalist movements in the Third World what do we see? We see struggles to liberate a country from colonization, imperialism. It is not the same as it is in the First World. They are looking to abolish control of their country by others. They seek self-determination. When they call for national pride they are speaking of taking their destinies in their own hands. The nationalist stance is one of liberation, to remove those who oppress the country. Not as it is in the First World, a justification for the oppression of another nation. When we speak of nationalism in the Third World we’re speaking of a desire to build one’s self up, not tearing another down.
It is different when it’s a Third World country. Third World nationalism is entirely different. Why? Because it comes from the opposite end of that global power dynamic. It’s coming from the oppressed, the occupied, not the oppressor, the occupier. A struggle for national pride from an oppressed country is a reaction to its oppression by another. It’s an act of defiance against that really existing oppression. Not as it is in the First World, a perceived oppression from immigrants and refugees. When the militant forces are brought together, it is to fight off people in their country who hold power over them. Not like it is in the First World where nationalist militancy attacks disposed people, those who do not hold power in society. The power dynamic makes all the difference.
In this case capitalism can be somewhat altruistic. Albeit in a limited form. Mao spoke of the national bourgeois who also wanted liberation. By no means does this make them socialists. It means they can be temporary allies in the fight against imperialism, which is after all the primary contradiction. This doesn’t mean capitalism is good, it means it’s possible to turn one part of the capitalist class against another. This weakens the overall power of the bourgeoisie as most of it is propped up by the imperialist occupation. This tactic has proven absolutely correct in history as we’ve seen with Mao and the Communist Revolution. The key here, as it is with nationalism in general, is the power dynamic.
But, What If…?
First World countries which are capitalist cannot invade out of solidarity with Third World people. The system is capitalism. No matter how much the ‘working class’ of the invader may show solidarity with the working class of an oppressed nation, this doesn’t change the nature of the invasion itself and its after effects. There is no altruistic invasion by capitalism.
What if the invading country is a socialist one? Then it would certainly not be the same as a capitalist one. In that case, depending on the circumstances, it could be altruistic. But we must of course distinguish the difference between a genuine liberation effort from that of social imperialism.
Mao said, “It’s always right to rebel.” But you have to be on the oppressed end of a power dynamic in order to do so.