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National liberation

Marxist Dictionary

Bourgeois revolution taking the form of a state splitting into two or several states. Historically it occurred as a segregation of regions with characteristic bourgeois development from empires and feudal states or as a bourgeois reaction against the domination of its territory by an occupier or colonizer.

Rising capitalism experiences the expansion and rise of the bourgeoisie as a ruling class. With the bourgeois revolutions the nation appears as an expression of the project of articulation of the whole society by the bourgeoisie.

In the great empires where regional bourgeoisies appear that can articulate a territorial alternative within the territory of the quasifeudal state, the bourgeois revolution can take the form of national liberation, that is, the separation of a territory from the dynastic state to become a national market under a national state of its own. As long as there is no proletariat with a leading capacity -as in the Russian empire and its more industrialized provinces, such as Poland or Finland, from 1900- these movements will be historically progressive. Progressive because they aim at the expansion of the world market, the development within the new frontiers of a massive working class and therefore, the formation of the proletariat as a universal class.

The goal of national liberation is the emancipation of the bourgeoisie from a political and legal framework that constrains the development of capital. It does not, therefore, have a historically progressive meaning per se, but only when there is the possibility of a development independent of national capital which in turn makes possible the extension and development of the proletariat into new territory.

The bourgeoisie’s need to control the internal market is not the only material basis for national movements. There are other factors: militarism, which guarantees the sovereignty of the country while helping to open a passage to the world market; customs protectionism; a jurisprudence, an education and new means of communication. Capitalism needs to ensure the economic conditions for its growth and to fully establish the apparatus of a modern state. The bourgeoisie, in order to expand, needs both to develop its means of production and to strengthen its class power.

Thus, the independent state constitutes the historically indispensable form of government that allows the bourgeoisie to move from the defensive to the offensive, from the struggle for centralization to imperialist policy.

Rosa Luxemburg. The National Question and Autonomy, 1908

These conditions disappear gradually under imperialism and permanently with the entry into decadence.

The development towards the Great State that characterizes the modern epoch and that gains importance with the progress of capitalism, condemns the set of mini and micronationalities to political weakness. Alongside some very powerful nations, which are the real managers of capitalist development because they have the material and intellectual means indispensable to preserve their economic and political independence, “self-determination”, the autonomous existence of mini and micronations, is increasingly illusory. This return to the autonomous existence of all, or at least the great majority of currently oppressed nations, would only be possible if the existence of small states had possibilities and future prospects in the capitalist era. For the time being, the economic and political conditions of a large state are so necessary in the struggle for the existence of the capitalist nations that even the small, politically independent states, formally equal in rights, that exist in Europe, only play a symbolic role and are mostly puppets of other states. Can one speak formally of “self-determination” for the Montenegrins, Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs or Greeks, formally independent, or even, in a certain way, for the Swiss? (…)

The second fundamental aspect of recent evolution, which makes this slogan utopian, is capitalist imperialism. (…) The result of this trend is the permanent liquidation of the independence of an increasing number of countries, peoples and entire continents. (…) Taking into account this evolution and the need of the big capitalist states for the struggle for existence in the international market, for universal politics and for colonial possessions, “the most adequate to carry out their functions in the present conditions”, that is, what best corresponds to the needs of capitalist exploitation, is not the “national state” -as Kautsky supposes- but the imperialist state. (…)

As socialists understand it, this right [self-determination] must, by its very nature, have a universal character, and the mere fact of recognizing it in this way is enough to show that the hope of realizing this “right” in the existing system is a utopia in direct contradiction with the trend of capitalist development, on the basis of which social democracy has been constituted. To return to the objective of dividing all existing states into national units and limiting them mutually according to the models of the states and the small national states is a desperate and, from a historical point of view, reactionary attempt.

Rosa Luxemburg. The National Question and Autonomy, 1908

The impossibility of independent capitalist development would become evident to revolutionaries who were organizing the communist left in semi-colonial countries, such as Antonio Gallo.

So what does the struggle for national liberation mean? Doesn’t the proletariat as such represent the historical interests of the nation in the sense that it tends to liberate all social classes by its action and to overcome them by its disappearance? But for this it needs, precisely, not to be confused with the national interests (which belong to the bourgeoisie, since it is the ruling class) that in the internal and external terrain are sharply contradicted. So this slogan is absolutely false. (…)

Argentina’s characteristics only ratify the need to apply the general laws of the revolution and the historical dynamics that basically govern all the countries of the planet. One of the most characteristic features of capitalism is that its economy no longer coincides with national borders. If in the past -in relation to feudalism- these were a progress, at present they are one of the greatest defects of humanity, together with nationalism, partly its consequence. The economy, like politics, is still international. By creating global productive forces, dividing up labor on a universal scale and forming a world market, capitalism prepares the conditions for political forms to take on an international aspect. This means that the backward country can, through external pressure, assimilate the historical stages of the advanced countries in all respects. This dynamic conception of the present society as a whole eliminates any possibility of real value to the distinction of countries in rank or ortherwise for socialism.

“Where is Argentina going? Popular Front or struggle for Socialism?” Antonio Gallo, 1935

In his debate with Mariátegui, Gallo denounces the Peruvian writer’s “anti-imperialist agrarian revolution” because it either “means alliance with a non-existent revolutionary and anti-imperialist bourgeoisie” or…

…it is about the resolution of the democratic problems of the socialist revolution, that is, the expropriation of imperialist properties, the abolition of national, provincial and municipal debts, the national ownership of land, to hand it over to the peasants in possession for cultivation, the abolition of church properties, that is, all the problems not yet solved by the bourgeois democratic revolution, [and] this is not an anti-imperialist agrarian revolution.
Because the proletariat, as established in power, will not stop at an intermediate stage or government but, after solving these problems, will continue forward, toward the socialization of the means of production and change, the collectivization of the land, etc. This revolution can only be made by the proletariat, conquering or neutralizing, for its own ends, the urban and rural middle classes, not in alliance with the bourgeoisie, but against it. This is what we Marxists call socialist revolution and to this solution of the contradiction between the stage not yet definitely developed of the bourgeois democratic revolution and the socialist revolution we give it a character of continuity that we formulate, more concretely and clearly, as permanent revolution, according to Marx’s definition. That is the October Revolution process. This is Marx and Lenin’s solution. The other is that of Stalin and the apprentices, or what is the same, Kuomintang’s re-edition, an alliance of all classes, national liberation.

“Where is Argentina going? People’s Front or struggle for Socialism?” Antonio Gallo, 1935

Not only is development independent of national capital impossible anymore, but in generic human terms, even if there is growth over more or less long periods, there is no authentic social development. The system has long ceased to be progressive as a whole and with it its most characteristic political form: the nation itself. From then on:

Revolutionaries must divest themselves of all national attributes, shake off the defects of patriotism like dirt, in order to be in a position to organize the workers’ rebellion wherever they are, whatever their uniform they may wear.

G. Munis