[OPE] Marx on international relations

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@telfort.nl)
Date: Wed May 14 2008 - 16:18:20 EDT


Roman Rosdolsky was a reputable Marx-scholar - of course, he published mainly in the 1950s and 1960s and now we have more sources, data and evidence to refer to.

The concept of "nations without a history" originated in Hegel's philosophy of history. For example, Hegel argues:

"Where that iron bondage of distinctions derived from nature prevails, the connection of society is nothing but wild arbitrariness, - transient activity, - or rather the play of violent emotion without any goal of advancement or development. Therefore no intelligent reminiscence, no object for Mnemosyne presents itself; and imagination - confused though profound - expatiates in a region, which, to be capable of History, must have had an aim within the domain of Reality, and, at the same time , of substantial Freedom." http://www.class.uidaho.edu/mickelsen/texts/Hegel%20-%20Philosophy%20of%20History.htm#--III.

In his famous 1849 article, Engels argues that:

"We repeat: apart from the Poles, the Russians, and at most the Turkish Slavs, no Slav people has a future, for the simple reason that all the other Slavs lack the primary historical, geographical, political and industrial conditions for independence and viability. Peoples which have never had a history of their own, which from the time when they achieved the first, most elementary stage of civilization already came under foreign sway, or which were forced to attain the first stage of civilization only by means of a foreign yoke, are not viable and will never be able to achieve any kind of independence. And that has been the fate of the Austrian Slavs. The Czechs, among whom we would include the Moravians and Slovaks, although they differ in respect of language and history, have never had a history of their own. Bohemia has been chained to Germany since the time of Charles the Great. The Czech nation freed itself momentarily and formed the Great-Moravian state, only immediately to come under subjugation again and for 500 years to be a bill thrown from one to another by Germany, Hungary and Poland. Following that, Bohemia and Moravia passed definitely to Germany and the Slovak regions remained with Hungary. And this historically absolutely non-existent "nation" puts forward claims to independence? The same thing holds for the Southern Slavs proper. Where is the history of the Illyrian Solvenes, the Dalmatians, Croats and Shokazians?

Roman Rosdolsky provides a careful evidence-based argument in his book to show that Engels was simply wrong about all that - effectively, it is a sort of racist victimisation really. 

A modern example would be how the racist Zionist state in Israel regards the Palestinian people explicitly as a "people without a history", who can just be "bulldozered away" where necessary. The racist US government endorses this idea in practice, and oppresses the Palestinian people, by requiring them to give all kinds of guarantees "as if they were an independent state" even although the whole point is that they are not an independent state. America stands for the slavery of the Palestinian people to Zionist requirements. Zionism is of course incompatible with a written constitution and a citizens' bill of rights, because it is a doctrine of racial privilege enforced by terrorists, gangsters, trash and riffraff. An Israeli (a racist Jew) by definition does not acknowledge equal rights for all citizens. His identity depends on the denial of those equal rights, on the assertion of a racial state.  Marx had no real sympathy for Jewish nationalism, arguing that the real question was about social, economic and civil equality.

There are various indications particularly in the earlier M&E writings that they thought that the identity of some ethnic groupings would be more or less "swept away" or assimilated in the course of capitalist modernisation, but also that some nationalisms were just totally obscure reactionary and nonsensical. A great national liberation movement in M&E's eyes might spawn all kinds of other movements seeking to imitate it, but these other movements might be really rather nutty and superficial, rather than based on any profound and genuine shared experience. In other words, a group of people might raise the "slogan" of nationalism, but this nationalism was not rooted in any profound shared historical experience, and lacked a genuine shared spirituality animating its culture. Some nationalist movements embodied human progress, but others were more an obstacle to human progress, or an anachronism.

Roman Rosdolsky suggests however that Engels's sweeping generalisations could very be harmful from the point of view of human emancipation from oppressive conditions, and that they traverse a very tricky area in which not generalities are of importance, but rather a very specific knowledge of a culture, its history and its political dynamics. Just as with religion, nationalist sentiment is an area into which all kinds of different political and power relations can be "projected", and therefore it is very important to try and understand the true "meaning" (significance) that is behind the expressions which an ethnic groups gives to its culture.

In defence of Marx & Engels, however, in their later years, they seemed to become more sensitive or sympathetic to the way in which an oppressed or alienated group can cling tenaciously to a national/cultural identity which, although it might not make much sense from a practical or business point of view, contains the meaning of a dignified life to be lived, defended in spite of a history of oppression by others. This kind of thinking implies that an ethnic group could form a common identity, not because they had anything very special in common to start off with, but rather because they were systematically negated as a group, i.e. its identity would be formed negatively, in reaction to oppression.  


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