Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Revolutionary Nationalism

I translate here an article[es] by Josemari Lorenzo Espinosa recently published at the Cultural Society Pepe Rei, which I believe has great interest in the debate on national liberation and socialist revolution:

Josemari Lorenzo Espinosa. Revolutionary Nationalism.

Federico Krutwig Sagredo
Historian Josemari Lorenzo Espinosa rescues an article by Federico Krutwig, published at Branka magazine in April 1966, in which the author dissected the revolutionary vision of nationalism. For Krutwig, the nationalist prism gives the revolution of a content that non-nationalist communism lacks. For Krutwig, the national and revolutionary components within Revolutionary Nationalism are impossible to separate. 

Soon it will be the 50th anniversary of the birth of Branka magazine, published in the 1960s in Belgium by Basque exiles. Among the collaborations of its first issue, one by F. Krutwig (1) had a notable influence in that time. Under the title "Revolutionary Nationalism" (2), "a new way of struggle of man for his freedom and, very especially, of the working classes for their national liberation" was applied to the Basque case. The author established differences between this "revolutionary nationalism" and communism, although he assured that its roots were in Lenin and Bakunin. He said that Lenin introduced a new vision of nationalism, compared with that of the founders of Marxism, which implied an essential change. Lenin considered that the "national liberation struggle of every people is an integral part of the struggle of liberation of the oppressed in general". According to Krutwig, the development of that theory would have produced revolutionary nationalism, which "is the form of struggle (...) adopted by the peoples submitted to imperialism". In the author's opinion, and in spite of the Leninist contributions to Marxism, "the peoples not submitted to foreign occupation (...) are not able to understand the great revolutionary and progressive force that the struggles of the oppressed against colonialism do contain". Therefore, with the birth of revolutionary nationalism, communists would be finally ready to understand the just national claims of workers and these to participate in their own revolutionary movements. According to Krutwig, "in revolutionary nationalism, national and revolutionary components form a chemical compound. They are inseparable". For this author, revolutionary nationalism was a dialectic jump in the revolutionary struggle of workers. A new reality and, even though partly similar to bourgeois nationalism, its essence and praxis were different. 

This revolutionary nationalism, which was being experimented in Latin America, in Asia or in Africa, applied to the Basque case had a major impact. Krutwig charged, in his article, against the Spanish and French communist parties. This last one criticized also for its attitude towards Algeria, accusing them of "bringing a new imperialism to the Basque Country, this time under proletarian command". Simultaneously he opened the door for the participation of the Basque petty bourgeoisie, something, that he admitted as unthinkable without the foreign occupation. That is, the possibility of bourgeois-proletarian collaboration (what was then called National Front) existed only because of the existence of shared national interests. Krutwig saw a revolutionary fraternity beyond the undeniable class confrontation, because "the Spanish revolutionary fights against a foe within his own people, while in the struggle of the Basque People, the enemy is first and foremost defined by its character as foreign looter". On the other hand, in this struggle, "if Spanish proletarians side with the oppressor state, they will become our enemies".

Among the enemies of the Basque People, Krutwig mentioned notably those "Basque by surname": "Esteban Bilbao, Areilza, Lequerica, Careaga and so many agents of imperialism", saying that the fatherland of these people is Spain. Also to the North he pointed them: the Ibarnegaray, Ibarrondo, Elizabide, etc., who held ranks in French parties. "From all this that the Basque national liberation struggle must to be carried on against all that means the chimera Spain..." For Krutwig the historical moment must be interpreted and to each case the specific revolutionary solution applied. And, even if he cites Lenin, Mao and others, he wants to avoid mimicry and to demand the application of the socialism most adequate for each particular case. For that purpose, he rejects the experience and contributions of the Spanish and French communist parties, who ignore Leninist texts in favor of self-determination and do not seem able to interpret the specific needs of the oppressed peoples of these states, and resorts instead to the liberation examples of the communist parties of China, Vietnam, Cuba or Korea, concluding that national liberation cannot be achieved without social emancipation. 

The author does not ignore the problems of a national front with the bourgeoisie. "Basque nationalist bourgeoisie", he claims, "tends to collaborate with the Spanish bourgeoisie" and also: "the jelkide* is by nature bourgeois". However for Krutwig, in revolutionary nationalism "the primary condition is to be nationalist". In this aspect, Krutwig dedicated ample room to quotes from Mao. Among them he brought forward a cue: "In a nation which struggles against a foreign enemy, the class struggle takes the shape of national struggle and, under this form, unity manifests". Not forgetting ever that the main contradiction is which confronts the exploiter class (bourgeoisie) and the working class, Krutwig says that many examples of colonial liberation show that there is variance to it. And then the problem of the "pure leftist" ones is that they become "reactionary imperialists". For Krutwig this demonstrates a complete ignorance of the specific conditions of revolutionary struggle in Vasconia. These people, sometimes, for rejecting the bourgeois nature of the Basque Nationalist Party, what they did was to throw the baby with the dirty water down the sink. In support of this thesis he cites again Mao: "In the event of a war of aggression (...) the different classes can join forces provisionally to carry on a national war against imperialism". Doubtlessly the situation is much less dramatic today in the Basque case, where the occupation is not always as crude as in the Chinese, Vietnamese, Algerian and other cases, or even in the Basque Country of 1936. But for this Mao also had an advise: "When imperialism does not resort to war, it can use other means: political, economical and cultural ones as more moderate forms of oppression". Then "the dominant class of the semicolonial country can capitulate to imperialism: an oppressor alliance is then formed against the popular masses". 

Krutwig does not forget either the fundamental role that the native language acquires in the processes of national liberation. He dedicates many paragraphs and offers ideas against cultural or linguistic oppression. And he did propose, based on the thesis of the Vietnamese Troung Chinh, the creation of the well known fronts (which later ETA would try to adopt) among which the cultural one would deal with the promotion of the Basque language and to create contradictions with bourgeois nationalism, which, in addition to being bourgeois is also promoting the Spanish language. This and other writings by Krutwig on revolutionary nationalism, or also on Basque history, enlightened and marked the thought of a whole generation in a period of unprecedented cultural repression. But they have not lost all their relevance. For whoever has this article at hand, we recommend its re-reading. In any case, we leave floating the possible actuality of these, then revolutionary theories, that are now almost 50 years old, and which in some aspects may require mending but in others retain their original lucidity.

(1) Federico Krutwig (1921-1998): Basque scholar and militant. One of the most influential members of ETA in the period of the V Assembly. 
(2) "Nacionalismo Revolucionario" Branka, nº1 - April 1966. Ediciones vascas (1979).

Translation note:
* Jelkide: member of the bourgeois Basque Nationalist Party. The term means "follower" or "supporter of the JEL", which is the acronym of the barely reformed Carlist principles, after removal of allegiance to the King: "God and the Old Law" (Jainkoa Eta Legizarra).


Addendum by Maju:

As Lorenzo Espinosa says in the last paragraph, some of the details and emphasis of Krutwig's Revolutionary Nationalism require mending or revision. I personally find a bit annoying his insistence on inter-classist alliance with the petty bourgeoisie, which in the mid term is not too productive and appears to lead to an incomplete revolution. However he is right that in the event of national oppression, as in any other form of oppression, every ally is valuable and we should not disdain them. 

My opinion on the matter is that the petty bourgeoisie is generally weak and cowardly, however many of them are also borderline proletarians, so harsh is the Capitalist exploitation, especially in times of crisis like the one we suffer today, that they are also pushed against the ropes and their objective interest converges with that of the working class: dignified life vs the Capitalist offer of slavish survival.

In the mid twentieth century probably the petty bourgeoisie was perceived as a stronger and more dynamic sub-class, however nowadays they lack even personality of their own, as the "middle classes", as they call them, are being wiped out altogether with very few exceptions, to make room for the insatiable greed of the grand bourgeoisie. 

This is in any case not a major problem for the proletarian camp, because 90% and 99% are not that different. It is however a serious problem for the capitalist one, because 10% and 1% have almost no comparison. The door is always open for whoever in the petty bourgeoisie wants to join us but this time we, the 90%, the working class, shall set the terms: terms of dignity, terms of freedom, terms of equality but without concessions to private property privileges of any kind. They must choose between a worthy human life and their coveted but extremely eroded property privileges: it is not us who are in the middle of the most colossal struggle ever: we are one side, the one who has the big numbers and the productive skills, so we really do not need their help. If they are welcome is only because our camp is the camp of Humankind, so every person who chooses this camp deserves praise and support, but there is no other reason. 

The reality of Revolutionary Nationalism today has more to do with the fact of ethnic identity being a real social agglutinative force, something that Krutwig also grasps. Nearly all people, not just the bourgeois, but actually even more intensely the workers, feel this kind of, maybe subtle but very real, social organization which is the ethnicity or nationality. Fighting against it is futile and counter-productive, and doing so in the case of oppressed peoples is plainly unfair, a treason to the principles of Humanism that we have as our standard. If all peoples are equal, all peoples have the same right to self-rule and should not be submitted by others.

Blending together these two vectors of liberation can only add up and become enriched fuel for World revolution from the local communitarian level. Reality confirms it: nationalist or otherwise ethnic-based revolutionary forces are almost invariably much stronger and persistent in the long run than similar ones in the context of imperialist nations, precisely because they blend two (or more) legitimate demands of emancipation, making a much more stable platform for popular struggle.

But the petty bourgeoisie is totally unnecessary as ally: they are nearing extinction and add nothing of value to the power of the Working Class.

Update: the original text (in Spanish, with occasional quotes in French) by Krutwig (signed with his pen name F. Sarrailh de Ihartza) is available online in PDF (thanks to Petriko Barreno for the info). Some translated key fragments:

Lenin demands from the socialists that they must support without reservations the national liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples. This demand he proclaims very especially for very proletarian class of the oppressor nation. He imposes to the communist parties the duty of making the workers of the oppressor nations understand the just rights of the oppressed peoples. And he sees in this preaching of the right of self-determination of the oppressed peoples, preaching that must be realized by the worker parties of oppressor nations among their members, the ultimate proof of true proletarian internationalism. Without such support of the right of self-determination (and for greater clarity Lenin declares that for right of self-determination we must understand the right of the oppressed people to separate themselves from the oppressor people and to create their own state), Lenin proclaims that there is no proletarian internationalism.

He then mentions other examples of strong criticism by Russian revolutionaries of the Jacobin-chauvinist stand of Spanish and French communist parties on the national issue. Koltsow, Pravda journalist in the time of Stalin, and Trotsky alike made such sharp criticisms, condemning the chauvinist stand of these as anti-Leninist (Koltsow) and debilitating of the class struggle (Trotsky).

While Lorenzo seems to prefer the, somewhat inter-classist, quotes of Mao, he ignores, for some reason, the ones by Lenin, which are much more rotund, unequivocally proletarian, and more directly applicable to the European reality, for example:

The Working Class of the oppressor nations cannot limit itself to generic and stereotyped sentences repeated by any pacifist bourgeois against the annexations and in favor of equality among nations in abstract. The Working Class cannot remain silent in front of the question, particularly "upsetting" for the imperialist bourgeoisie of the state borders based on national oppression. The Working Class cannot stop fighting against the violent retention of oppressed nations within the borders of any given state, and that means fighting for the right of self-determination. The Working Class must demand the freedom of political separation of colonies and nations oppressed by "their" nation. Otherwise proletarian internationalism will become a hollow and merely verbal concept; class trust and solidarity will become impossible between the workers of the nations oppressed by "their own" nation and held captive by the violence of "their own" state. 
Lenin again with particularly fiery verb:
If Finland, Poland or Ukraine separate themselves from Russia there is nothing wrong with it. What could be wrong? Whoever claims that is a chauvinist!

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