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Guilford Press
On the Development of a Marxist Approach to Nationalism
Nationalism and Socialism. Marxist and Labor Theories of Nationalism to 1917 by Horace B.
Davis
Review by: V. G. Kiernan
Science & Society, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring, 1970), pp. 92-98
Published by: Guilford Press
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REVIEW ARTICLE
ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF A MARXIST APPROACH
TO NATIONALISM
has been,and remains,
one ofthemostpotentand leastunNationalism
littledebatedin
derstoodforcesof themodernworld,and one curiously
it
concerns
so
whom
Marxists,
closelyin so many
any systematic
way.
that
this
an
have
drifted
toward
problemhas aleasyassumption
ways,
it
line"
on
"Marxist
that
is
a
been
dealt
there
with,
readyto hand.
ready
In thisbook*Dr. Davis doesnotsetout fromanyready-made
thesis,but
useful
service
far
a morecriticaland
more
by reviewingthe
performs
bywhichMarxismgraduallyarrivedby
long,painful,confused
processes
thetimeofWorldWar I at opinionswhicheventhenwerestilldubious
and unsettled.
He showshow theideas of Marx and Engelsthemselves
and Hegeliantheory,
a
of Germanconditions
from
emerged
background
and goeson to tracetheirlaterthinking,
oftena responseto European
issuesof themoment,
about thenation,nationalism,
war,and theirsigHe discusses
nificance
fortheworkingclassand the socialistmovement.
also theirdisputeswithotherrevolutionaries;
it is an interesting
feature
of the book thatit stresses
of theseissuesin ditheprimeimportance
and givesBakunincreditforseeing
vidingMarxismfromBakuninism,
of
the
truth
about
them
that
Marxand Engelsmissed.
aspects
Therefollowsa surveyof thesocialistand labormovements
growing
up in theWestin theirattitudestowardforeigncountriesand toward
thecoloniestheirowncountries
Nextcomesthesituationthat
possessed.
bedeviled
socialists
in
eastern
similarly
Europe,especiallyin the Hapswhere
small
nationalities
werechallenging
burgempire,
longsuppressed
thedomination
of thestronger
ones,Austrianand Magyarand Russian.
A chapteron nationalminorities
and theoutlookof laborin theUnited
Stateswill be noveland stimulating
to manyEuropeanreaders.Lenin's
contribution
towardbringingMarxismup to date endsa book against
whichone'sonlyseriouscomplaintis thatit is notlonger.To closewith
• Nationalism and Socialism. Marxist and Labor Theories
of Nationalism to 1917, by
Horace B. Davis. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967. $7.50. Pp. xiv, 258.
92
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REVIEW ARTICLE
93
WorldWarI wasa sensibledecision,
givingtheworkmoreunitybylimitingit to theearlyand classicalperiodsof Marxism;but thereare sevthanthe
withlessfamiliarmatters
eralsections,
someofthemconcerned
nationalfeudswithintheHapsburgempire,whichcould have benefited
oí
literature
fromgreaterdetailand fullerquotationfroma voluminous
a master.
whichDr. Davisis evidently
He writesas a friendof Marxism,but a critical,even iconoclastic
withthetwosmall
one,a factthatwillstandout ifhisbookis compared
1940
and Wareditedin
volumeson Marxism,
byDona Torr.
Nationality
of a briefgeneration
theorthodoxy
These maybe said to represent
ago.
fromthesamecorpusof olderMarxist
Theycontaina wealthofextracts
thatDr. Davisdrawson,and theyweredonebya verycompetent
writings
intoa logis to tryto fitquotationstogether
scholar;but theirtendency
schemethatMarx,Engels,Lenin,and Stalinweresupposed
ical,coherent
tohavebequeathedto theirdisciples.Dr. Davison thecontrary
recognizes
that theseand othersocialistsBauer, Rosa Luxemburg,
throughout
a bewildering
wereall gropingtheirwaythrough
maze,forming
Kautskyto
the
of
on
often
spur passingevents,coming conclusions
judgments
or in contradiction
sometimes
mistaken
or
often
one-sided,
contradictory,
Marxand Engels
with
what
withpoliticalfacts.To sumup
anyprecision
he warnsus, is scarcely
aboutnationalism,
possible(p. 79). One
thought
mightadd that therewere topics,like "increasingmisery,"on which
theyleftbehindthemtoohardand fasta creed;on thetopicofnationalismit was just theopposite."Marxhad not givena stronglead on the
so theMarxistswerebadlydivided"(p. 105).Dr.
subjectof nationalism,
ofFrance,wherethebulkyEngels-Lafargue
Davis is writing
correspondfromthe1870
howFrenchsocialism,
encemightbe drawnon to illustrate
nationalpride;but similar
war onward,was crippledby an embittered
MarxIn
encountered
were
everywhere. Germanyprofessed
perplexities
would
Marxist
no
that
endorse,
istsoftenwanderedintoopinions
today
whodeveloped"whatwouldnow
whileit was notseldoma non-Marxist
a good Marxistposition"(p. 84).
be considered
about nationalismit
It would seemthatin theirjoint speculations
was Engelswhotookthelead,ratherthanMarx,whoseown territorial
believedthoseofthenewproletariat
rootswereas shallowas he wrongly
in race
to
to be. It mayhavecomenaturally him to be moreinterested
toward
racialism,"as
thanin nation.At any ratehe showed"leanings
from
more
deal
Dr. Davis says(and mighthave said a good
forcibly),
whichEngelshelpedto rescuehim(pp. 72-73).Engelsforhis partmust
which
be said to havehad leanings,or ratherworse,towardnationalism,
He belongedto a postwithMarx helpedto counteract.
hisassociation
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94
SCIENCE
AND
SOCIETY
1815generationof Germanstudentswhose mentality,progressivein some
ways,containeda verystrongdash of chauvinism;and later on he could
harborsome illusions about his native land more easily because he spent
mostof his life awayfromit. He and Marx would both have spokenmore
indulgentlyof England if theyhad not lived there.Dr. Davis quotes some
hair-raisingutterancesof his early days (p. 3). Engels was of course alwaysgiven to a bold uncompromisingmannerof sayingwhateverwas in
his mind: he carried into controversyhis temperamentof a gunnery
officer.
His views about nationalityevolved,or fluctuated,but never lost a
certain unconsciouslyGermanic undervaluationof Slavs, at any rate of
the small scatteredSlav peoples that historyseemed to have forgotten
about like so many unfinishednovels. Bakunin was readier to recognize
his own Russian soul than Engels his German, and dreamed of a farflungfederationof emancipated Slavs (p. 42). In the split betweenhim
and the Marxistcamp we mustsee an elementof the old historicdivision,
whichstilllingers,betweeneasternand westernEurope. This divisionhas
been mostobtrusiveand dangerousin the formof anti-easternfeelingby
itselfwith the West
a centralEurope, or Germany,bent on identifying
and, to bolsterits claim of westernism,
demandingthe leadershipof the
West. Dr. Davis holds the balance fairly.He shows Engels learningby
experience,comprehendingby 1882how disastrousa European war would
be, and by 1893 that theRussia againstwhich he and Marx had so often
since 1848 preached a crusadewas no longer militarilystrongenough to
be a threatto united Germany.By the end of the centurythingswere
changing further;Lenin saw this, Engels would have seen it. He and
Marx and Bakunin were all, deeply as theymightbe tincturedby their
local origins,genuine internationalists(pp. 50-51) .
If pioneers did not indulge in some too rosy hopes, therewould be
no pioneers.Marx and Engels early believed, and could never willingly
cease to believe, that peoples were naturallyfriendly,and that once each
had achievedunityand modernitywithinits naturalfrontiers
theywould
settle down happily together,and war lose any popular appeal. This
owed too much to the illusionsof theband of liberal emigresfromall over
Europe who rubbed shouldersin London or Paris before1848; it was on
a par with the simple faith of Spanish and other democratsthat once
monarchywas replaced by republicanismthe light of reason would shine
on all. Engels failed to take into account that the fanaticismkindled by
wars of national unificationlike those of Germanyand Italy was bound
to acquire an energyof its own, and that governmentswould be able to
fomentand manipulateit fortheirown purposesforyearsto come. Marx
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REVIEW ARTICLE
95
failedto foreseethestrength
of economicnationalism
and its appeal to
all classesbecause,Dr. Davis notes,he held thatneo-mercantilist
systems
likeList'swouldprovehelplessagainstthecompetition
offreetrade(pp.
8-9). All thelaterrecordis of theworkingclassesof Europecomingto
and theirinterests
associatethemselves
moreand morewiththeirown
statesand rulingclasses.Russianworkers
because
escapedthisinfection
was too obsoleteand reactionary
to makethemfeelat homein
tsarism
therecould have been no 1917.
theirown land; otherwise
A relatedillusionof earlyMarxismwas thatthemanynationalities
too smallto supporta moderneconomycould be painlessly,
unprotestlike
written
disbanded
when
no
wanted
at the
off,
ingly
regiments
longer
end of a campaign,and assimilated
into biggerunits.Marxand Engels
ofeasternEurope,ofsmallpeoplesin theiryounger
werethinking
chiefly
whobefore1848seemedmerely
futileand in 1848
astir,
daysonlyfaintly
a positivenuisance,an obstacleto theirbiggerneighbors'
But
progress.
drawn
hints
in
some
useful
from
have
the
West,
theymight
happenings
nationalities.
If Welsh
whichwas not withoutits own smallstruggling
and Bretonshad scarcely
as yet,therewas Irebegunto rousethemselves
land,and in thegreatCarlistwarof 1833-39thereweretheBasquesand
Catalans.Dr. Davis mighthave foundmore roomforSpain and its
becausetherethe contestbetweenMarxismand
minorities,
particularly
and federalism(a new versionof the
nationalcentralism
Bakuninism,
of
rivalry 1793),camemoreinto the arena of history
Jacobin-Girondin
thananywhere
else,above all in thestormy
daysof thefirstRepublic
True,Basquesand Catalansin the1830swereon thewrongside,forDon
and towhatever
extentMarx
CarlosandHolyChurchagainstLiberalism,
and Engelstooknoticeofthemthismaywellhavehelpedto determine
in
advancetheirhostility
to theCzechsand Croatsof 1848.But themoral
in awakening
theyoughtto havedrawnwas thatpopularconsciousness
areaswas sureto takethemoldat first
of nationality
morethanof class;
thatanyattemptto suppress
it wouldhavea morbideffect;
and thatthe
a
smallestofdisgruntled
can
be
to
the
peoples
stumbling-block biggestof
Dr.
Davis's
of
the
neighbors.
survey
latter-day
Hapsburgempireshows
thatwhilein somewaysthe spreadof industry
brokedown local sepas Marxismpredicted,
it also had theoppositeeffect
ofintensifyaratism,
for
local
the
instance
masses
of
Slav
ing
feeling,
among
peasantswho
had to migrate
to German-speaking
townsin searchofwork(pp. 143ff.)thekindof thingthatis nowhappeningin partsofAfrica.
It has cometo be fashionable
to contrast
thelaterMarxunfavorably
is nottheonlytopicon whichhe
withtheyounger
one,butimperialism
and his allyweredistinctly
wiserin theirlateryearsthantheirearlier.
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96
SCIENCE
AND
SOCIETY
As Dr. Davis says,"Here as elsewhere,realism and willingnessto learn
featuredthe writingsof Marx and Engels" (p. 65). An article probably
by Engels applauded the Frenchconquest of Algeria, despite its brutality,because the inhabitantswere "a nation of robbers,"irreclaimableby
gentlermeans (pp. 63-64). In the same vein, akin to what came to be
knownin England as "Liberal Imperialism,"Marx and Engels could see
the medieval German drive into eastern Europe, the modern Russian
drive into centralAsia, the Britishconquest of India, as all triumphsot
progress.Somethingof thisrobustattitudelingeredin Marxismdown to
verylate days.When Israel came into being it was feltby manythat this
would be a blessing,if a rough one, to the Arabs, because the irruption
of modern ways would shake them out of their old stagnation,wean
them away fromfeudalismand bigotry.And in some ways, afterall, it
has done this.Marxismstill cannot claim to have a finalor completeanswer to the question whetherit was good for India to be conquered by
Britain,or centralAsia by Russia. (Soviet historianshave been inclined
to take forgrantedthat the resultsfor India were bad, forAsia good.)
But what Marx and Engels were compelled increasinglyto face was
that such conquestscould produce real progress,if at all, only indirectly
and painfully,by stimulatinga local reaction.Whetherforcibleoccupation by a socialiststate,as that of Tibet by China, can have a betteroutcome remainsto be seen. Under capitalist auspices at any rate a direct
transitionfrombarbarismto civilizationwas no more possiblethan from
feudalismto socialism.There would have to be an intermediatestage,of
the conquered reassertingthemselves,strugglingfor an independence
only to be won back throughinnerchange and acceptanceof a new world.
Algeria would be civilized not by French colonialistsbut by Algerians
learning to turn French weapons against them. Here too nationalism
would be springingup in new forms,not dyingout, and the perplexities
it had createdfor Europe would assail Asia and Africa.Anouar AbdelMalek's recentbook,Egypt:MilitarySociety,is a strikingexample of how
Marxism is now having to wrestlewith these puzzles in freshcontexts.
For an Arab socialist today the question of what is his nation- Egypt,
Iraq, a pan-Arabunion- and what should be its attitudeto Israel, is indeed a dilemma.
For the philosophicalhistorianto observethe superiorityof German
materialcultureover Slav in the Middle Ages was one thing;forthiskind
of observationto be broadcast among modern Germans was quite another-"Sweet, sweet,sweet poison for the age's tooth," as Shakespeare
might say. United Germanyand the German workingclass were born
more or less together,
whichmade it easier forthe workersto be brought
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REVIEW ARTICLE
97
to thinkof this new Reich as theirown, a Fatherland theywere helping
to make- and to forget,afterthe firstfew years,how largelyit was only
a centuries-oldPrussia expanded. There were fromthe outset two souls
in the breastof the Germanworkingclass,as well as of the middle class.
With the internationalsocialismupheld by Marx and Engels, Dr. Davis
contraststhe nationalistictrend inspired by Lassalle (pp. 51 ff.).From
thisa continuousline can be traceddown to the surrenderof the working class to Hitlerafter1933. This was not a sudden fall frominnocence.
The workershad been deeply infectedby chauvinismbefore 1914; after
the defeat of 1918 theyveered back toward socialism,but in the mass
theyvoted for it while it appeared the more practical bread-and-butter
choice, not because a bias toward socialismwas, as Marx had reckoned,
a fundamentalof working-class
existence.Socialistsare not born, in any
but
have
to
be
made.
class,
European experiencein general has been the same, if nowhere else
quite so glaringlyas in Germany.Even where socialism has come to
power it has been heavilytingedwith nationalism.In 1941-45 the Soviet
Union foughta Great PatrioticWar ratherthan a defenseof socialism,
beand 1969's border clashes and hystericalchargesand counter-charges
tween the Soviet Union and China are somber evidence that ruling
groups in socialistas well as capitaliststatescan appeal to "patriotism"
againsteach other.Today the prospectsof socialismin the restof eastern
Europe depend verymuch on how farit can be harmonizedand blended
withnational feeling;a factthat last year'soccupation of Czechoslovakia
showed the Russian governmentobstinatelydeterminedto ignore,obstinatelyclingingto the delusion that small peoples (though not Russians) can be translatedat one strokefromtribalismto cosmopolitanism.
Fortunately,thereis also a conversetruththathas become visible in
the last fewdecades, that nationalismitselfcan be, or become,genuinely
socialist.Dr. Davis shows in Chapter VIII how Lenin during 1913-16
was reviewingthe whole problem,and findingit, much more than Marx
and Engels had done, a duty to supportnational freedommovements.In
the colonies he expected local bourgeoisiesto head progressivestruggles,
as in Europe before 1870. But in fact the unificationof Germanyand
Italy, though it had benefitedcapitalism greatly,had not taken place
under bourgeois leadership; and in most colonial movementsa small
timid bourgeoisiesoon dropped out, frightened
by repressionor by mass
was
to happen in the most
What
to
control.
not
it
could
hope
stirrings
favorablecases- China, Vietnam,Cuba- was that the mass of the people
were thenleftto representthe nation,to feel themselvesto be the nation,
to pursue national and social liberationsimultaneously.Much the same
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98
SCIENCE
AND
SOCIETY
happened in Yugoslavia. It could happen only in relativelyprimitive
communities,where the poor, or the "People," were the great majority;
in advanced societiesthereis too much division,too heavy a dead weight
of propertyoverwide strata.France,Holland, Norwaydid not riseagainst
Nazi occupation as Yugoslavia did. Paradoxically the lesson of modern
historyseems to be that it is the poor, backward nations that are to inherit the kingdom of socialism, whereas the industrial countries that
Marx and Lenin thoughtto be on its thresholdhave found it as hard
to enteras forthe camel to pass throughthe eye of the needle.
Historicalbackwardnessis of course no guaranteeby itselfof success.
In Ireland socialismhas been overlaid by religiosityand kulak-mentality;
though as Dr. Davis says in a deserved tributeto James Connolly, this
Irishmanwas one of the firstto see how socialismmightbe fusedwith a
democraticnationalism of the masses-a doctrinestartlingin 1916, but
destinedto be "accepted throughoutthe colonial world, and in Marxist
theoryas well" (p. 126).
If Wordsworthwas once drunk,and Porson once sober,the U.S. once
had a progressivelabor movement."The tradeunion movement,incredible as it seems today,went througha phase of active opposition to the
imperialisticactivitiesof the United States" (p. 168). There was also be*
fore 1914 a militantSocialist Party,much of it recruitedfromEuropean
immigrantsand their language societies.By an odd freakof historythe
proletarian internationalism,the fraternityof peoples, that Marxism
vainly preached in a Europe corroded by centuriesof national hatreds,
found its freestif brief expressionbeyond the Atlantic.In spirit if not
in dogma thesemigrantswere truersocialiststhan mostof Europe's,until
the melting-pot,raised by American industrialismto a far higher temperature than the Hapsburg empire could achieve, puddled their children togetherinto one moremerenation,as aggressiveas any of Europe's.
This too Engels, writinghis streamof lettersto settlersin America,
did not anticipate. But Dr. Davis could not have concluded his study
more judiciously than he has done by sayingthat Marxism is not to be
blamed forfailingto supplyanswersto all problemsin advance. The test
of a systemof ideas is its abilityto grapple with new problemsas they
arise; and by this test "Marxism and the dialectic method have been
abundantlyvindicated" (p. 214). They will always be vindicated while
theyfindstudentsto pursue them as intelligentlyand as honestlyas Dr.
Davis has done.
Universityof Edinburgh
Edinburgh,Scotland
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V. C. KIERNAN
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