Nationalism And The Egalitarian Alternatives



As Benedict Anderson has rightly pointed out in The Imagined Communalities, the concept of nationalism as a new identity criterion and as a hegemonic ideology “was born in an age when Enlightenment and revolutions were destroying the legitimacy of divinely ordained hierarchical dynastic realm”. In fact the basis of the secular allegiance in place of the old religious-feudal is traced to the European Renaissance. Machiavelli’s prince is not a hereditary ruler but a Condotierre – a mercenary leader who leads people to found a new state and uses religion as an instrument to keep people faithful and united.

Renaissance marked the epochal transition not only in terms of emancipatory creativities and unprecedented intellectual explosions but also the replacement of one form of the social configurations by the other. It also witnessed the emergence of a new species of the heroes – the hero of the finance. This new hero – the Print capitalist — of Anderson was struggling for the inclusion of money making in the circle of virtues, even if the peripheral one. This peripheral hero in 150 years time acquired the centre stage and its chief spokesperson of the time John Lock categorically declared that governance is a serious matter it can be entrusted to only those who have proved their worth by amassing sufficient wealth. This would be ruling class preferred the unified absolutist monarchies, the precursor of the modern, liberal state – the nation state as to scattered feudatories and the pyramids of vassals and the overlords.

It used the invention of printing press to disseminate the new ideas in vernaculars to maximize its circulation. This facilitated the local dialects to interact with each other leading to a common discourse. In the words of Anderson, “European nations formed around national print language”.

Hobbes is the first clear-cut liberal thinker whose man made almighty with enough coercive power to overawe the entire humanity, is a contractual authority to create order for the protection of the persons and the properties. This unquestioned obligation of the loyalty to the state is transformed into the ideology of nationalism and the amorphous, abstract national interest.

The development of capital from industrial/national to international to global and corresponding changes in the character of nation state and the nationalism would be interesting to look at but beyond the scope of this paper. The capital is no more international but is global in the sense that it is not geocentric either in terms of source or the investment.

The nation states were imperialist. Nationalism has been and continues to be jingoist and parochial. Nationalism is also used in non-territorial, e.g. ethnic, religious, and cultural terms also. But this paper is concerned with only political nationalism.

Nationalism in India and other colonies emerged as the ideology of the anti colonial movements. Thus nationalism, regardless of inequalities and exploitations, is conceived as the basis of “deep, horizontal comradeship”. (Anderson) Earlier blood shed through wars took place in the name of religion or faith now they take in the name of nation in the national interest, though, God is not undermined. George bush consulted him before attacking and keeping occupation forces had consulted God.

Whenever there is some crisis in the government, nationalist sentiments are aroused, generally thorough hoax of danger to nation. Our heroes achieve martyrdom fighting heroically for the nation and their soldiers are butchered. We don’t say that we have killed so many humans together. Some killings take place in the name of Bharat Rashtra and some in the name of Hindu Rashtra. At any “war like situation” Ambanis, Subrat Roy Saharas and their likes most loudly pronounce their nationalism. One is reminded of Samuel Johnson that patriotism is the last resort of scoundrels. As far characterization of nation state and nationalism as its ideology is concerned, Marx’s view expressed in the Communist Manifesto as the executive committee to manage the general affairs of bourgeois classes holds as true now as before. That is why a communist has no nation irrespective of the accident of the birth.

Much has been vividly discussed, debated and critiqued about various aspects of the nationalism in its various socio-historical contexts by many distinguished scholars and Political Scientists during the program from which all of us enormously benefited. But it seems that we have taken it under TINA syndrome as permanent feature of the human history, and did not explore and debate the theories and possibilities of alternatives.

The revolutionary aspect of Hegel’s theory of Dialectics is that anything that exists is destined to perish through evolutionary quantitative changes and revolutionary qualitative changes on the confluence of objective and subjective factors. Owing to the time and space limitations comprehension discussion on various challenges to the nation-state i.e. the bourgeois state and alternatives offered. I will just touch upon some of them.

The first serious challenge the theories of nationalism as an ideology of bourgeois state came from the 18th century vagabond philosopher Rousseau. Rousseau was a romantic rebel against the Locke’s tradition that eulogized property. In reaction Rousseau eulogized the nature and transported the notions of good and evil from metaphysics to social-physics. Not the obscure wishes of some God were responsible but society for the evils and hence it is the society only which has to cure. Rousseau a common man himself created people, who till then treated as dupes, tools of the princes, princes themselves were different matter. Rousseau rejected the contracts of his predecessors’ as the contracts of the bondage. He transformed the state in a way to look its antithesis. Sovereignty lies with the free people in their collectivity. Un-freedom can not be a right therefore they would be forced to be free. Rousseau’s general will is a romantic solution to the real problem. His kind of collective sovereignty and participatory democracy is a fit model for pre-modern rustic socialism, theory of scientific socialism was to be worked out by Marx and Engels. Rousseau proved that revolution is not only desirable but possible. Continue bombarding the Bastille. Revolution did happen, just that Rousseau was no more to rejoice it. One glaring model of experiment of the theory of General Will was short-lived Paris commune which became the model for the theory of dictatorship of proletariat. Rousseau’s democratic theory of popular sovereignty has forced the subsequent bourgeois states to begin their constitutions with, “We the people”.

Between Rousseau and Marx, we have various other theories and models of alternatives – anarchists, who along with communists were integral part of the 1st International. The utopian socialists — August Comte, Fourier, Robert Owen- – about whom Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific gives comprehensive account of their theoretical lacunas and failure of their attempts to create socialism due to lack of dialectical approach.

Another alternative model is Gandhi’s theory of state, if used as a method and not the model it can be an influential theory of a decentralized bourgeois state that shall be less oppressive.

Of course, as discussed and debated with great details in course of over last 150 years, the real and viable alternative is a global society in which exploitation of human by man shall be made impossible, a society of human emancipation where everyone has appropriate conditions to realize one’s creative potentialities. History never ends its moves ahead and its motor does not have back gear. This social transformation shall happen broadly within the basic principles of Marxism, which is a dynamics, a theory of change and not the statics. For people who consider it statics, Marx had once pejoratively said, “Thanks God! I am not a Marxist “! Marxism does not mean only writings of Marx but had been enriched by kaleidoscopic debates by a galaxy of Marxist scholars including Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and the short stature, one of the tallest intellectual of the 20th century, Antonio Gramsci. The process of enrichment is on.

USSR and CPC never said they are socialist countries but People’s Republics. Tons of obituaries had been written to socialism. They were just experiments. Capitalism is world system hence its alternative has to be global. Oppression is global so the resistance has to be global. National revolutions under the leadership of socialist/communist parties were experiments in the lower stage of socialist building. These revolutions played their historical role. Randhir Singh’s Crisis of Socialism comprehensively and scientifically deals with the debates and development in the growth and decline of the USSSR.

Eventually, I will just refer to contemporary debates and developments on building socialism. There are people’s movements in Latin America, Europe, USA, Russia, in fact all over the world. As Nivedita’s well researched paper on Trans-nationalism and her presentation on the subject tells about various kind of transnational amorphous groups are getting into bi and multilateral common discourse and action at a global scale. May it be prelude to a 5th international (4th was formed by Trotsky, though not much talked about. Imperative is an analysis of nation-state in present corporate led globalization era of capitalism. As an over optimist, I shall conclude my presentation with the slogan, “workers shall unite as they have nothing to lose but chains and gain the global human emancipation where the principle of “from each according to ability to each according to need” principle shall prevail.

Ish Mishra, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Hindu College, University of Delhi

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