Cold Truth, Liberating Truth: How This System Has Always Oppressed Black People, and How All Oppression Can Finally Be Ended

Nationalism and Internationalism

Nationalism has played a major role in the struggles of Black people in the U.S. and in the struggles of other oppressed peoples. But the basic question is: Whose interests does the ideology of nationalism represent and can nationalism lead to all-the-way liberation?

Nationalism as an ideology actually favors the bourgeoisie over the proletariat, and in the final analysis it promotes capitalism. Of course, not all nationalism is the same. Black nationalism is hardly the same as white nationalism. The nationalism of an oppressed nation is very different from the nationalism of an oppressor nation. The nationalism of an oppressed people does have to do with fighting against oppression--against discrimination and inequality--while the nationalism of an oppressor nation only has to do with enforcing oppression and trampling on justice and equality. There is a fundamental distinction between oppressor and oppressed nations, and it is crucial to recognize this fundamental dividing line, or else you will end up siding with the oppressors.

But when all is said and done, nationalism, of any kind, is still the outlook of the bourgeoisie and ultimately serves capitalism. It is still the outlook of exploiters and wanna be exploiters, even if those exploiters and wanna be exploiters are held down and discriminated against by bigger, more powerful exploiters. Black capitalists may not be big sharks like the white capitalists who rule in the system of U.S. imperialism--and it may be possible to some degree to unite with Black capitalists against this system of imperialism--but one basic truth remains: capitalism means exploiting people. Nobody has ever accumulated capital except by exploiting other people --and nobody ever could--that's the nature of the beast.

We can get a more concrete sense of how nationalist ideology ultimately serves capitalism by looking at the most influential nationalist movement among Black people in America in this century: the Garvey movement. Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica, and his ideas have had a very large influence there, but they also have had major impact in the U.S. In fact, after World War 1 Garvey organized a movement that was the biggest movement of Afro-Americans since the Civil War--the biggest movement until the upsurge of Black people's struggle in the 1950s and '60s. And Garvey's ideas have continued to influence nationalist movements and organizations among Black people, including the Nation of Islam ("Black Muslims") founded by Elijah Muhammad (originally a follower of Garvey) and other groups.

Garvey established the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which rallied the participation and support of over one million Black people. The main base for Garvey's movement were landless or land-poor Black farmers who fled the South and migrated to the Northern cities beginning at the time of World War 1. In these Northern cities they still faced segregation, discrimination, unemployment, poverty, and other forms of being used and abused by the capitalists and the government. Garvey preached Black pride and he bitterly denounced white society and its treatment of Black people. But, in the final analysis, Garvey's program still came down to promoting capitalism and even working with the white oppressors to promote Black capitalism.

Garvey called for a mass exodus of Black people--a return to Africa. Garvey had dreams of setting up a new government in Africa--he declared himself President of Africa and formed a government-in-exile--with not one African included. But the fact was that different imperialists had already carved up and colonized Africa, and Garvey tried to work with the imperialists in pursuing his program. He openly declared capitalism to be a positive, progressive force and preached that Black working people should not wage struggle against their capitalist bosses.

Despite his attempts to promote capitalism and work with the imperialists, the U.S. government persecuted him because he had "stirred up" masses of Black people, and millions of aroused Black people always pose a great threat to this system. Garvey's organization was destroyed and his efforts finally ended in failure. But even if they had succeeded, even if Garvey had been able to carry out his program, it would only have resulted in some kind of new oppressive setup--a new form of colonialism in Africa, based in capitalist exploitation and controlled by U.S. imperialism.

But does it have to be like that? Is it bound to be the case that nationalism will ultimately serve capitalism?

Nationalism may claim to stand for everyone--for the nation as a whole--and not just the upper classes within the nation. It may even declare itself most in favor of the working classes and poor people of the nation. But to really represent the working class and poor people--the proletariat--a different ideology is needed. Because the proletariat, as a class, can win its emancipation only by ending exploitation and oppression, in every form, everywhere, the outlook that serves the interests of the proletariat is not nationalism but internationalism. Above all, the allegiance of the proletariat is not to any one nation but to the cause of emancipation--of ending all exploitation and oppression--worldwide.

The question for the proletariat is: What ideology can unite the oppressed and exploited people to fight for their highest interests? How can nationalism--even a revolutionary kind of nationalism that stands up against the system in the name of the oppressed peoples--build the highest and broadest unity? How can it build unity among all who must be united, on the best, the most powerful basis and with the most all-the-way revolutionary line in the lead? It cannot. Nationalism may be a powerful and a positive force in the struggle of an oppressed people up to a point. But nationalism cannot take things as far as they need to go--it cannot be the guide to complete liberation.

Nationalism falls short in uniting oppressed people of different nationalities. If nationalism is the guide, then everybody must look out for their own nationality first and before all else--that is what nationalism means.

Nationalism can't tell us what the fundamental interests of different classes and groups are, who should lead in the struggle against oppression, and how the leading group (or class) should relate to other groups and classes in the struggle.

Nationalism doesn't give a full picture of our struggle as a world struggle and it isn't good enough as a guide in uniting with real friends to fight common enemies, not just in one nation or country but worldwide.

Nationalism doesn't begin to give the answer to the question of how to end all oppression, including the big question of how to end the oppression of women and how to fully unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution. Even when nationalism includes equality for women in its program, it will not be able to carry through on this--it will not be able to end the domination of women by men because it cannot make a complete break with capitalism and its outlook.

Fundamentally, nationalism goes along with the interests of the capitalist class, which seeks to strengthen its control over the territory and economic life of "its" nation and to promote "its" nation above others. It is not in the basic interests of the capitalist class to promote the equality of all nations and the unity of the masses of people of all nations. The capitalist class does not want to work for the day when national barriers will have been overcome on the basis of equality. Nationalist ideology is in accord with the capitalist class on this. In expressing the viewpoint of "my nation first," nationalism actually promotes relations of inequality and the division of the world into nations that are in conflict with each other, a world divided into oppressor and oppressed nations. And this goes along with the division of society into classes, into exploiters and exploited.

To bring it all together: Nationalism can't point all the way to the final goal of moving human society forward, beyond the stage where it is divided into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed--forward to a new world of freely cooperating human beings, no longer divided by class or nation.

There is only one ideology that can do all this: the revolutionary communist ideology of the international proletariat: Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

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