Relationship Between Communism, Nationalism and Anti-Colonialism, Term Paper Example

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Communism and nationalism seem to be two absolutely conflicting concepts incapable of any compromise with each other. Both are relatively new in history. The concept of nationalism was developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and communism more recently in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The absence of barriers: the chronic revolutionary situation; the overtaking of orthodox nationalism; the peasant strategy; all these formed a unique constellation of circumstances favorable to the triumph of Communism what have not–yet–been paralleled elsewhere in the newer Asian countries. Here, nationalism still retains its dynamic, and social revolution has barely begun. Nationalism and Communism have therefore been able to work together. Similarly, anti-colonialism is one of the main forms of nationalism. It has developed in a vast range of societies and its successes have transformed the political map of much of the world.

Ideologically, the conflict between communism and nationalism seems to be obvious. However, in history, one should not limit himself to intellectual exercises. One has to deal with the actual development in history, with the reality of the situation. Practically speaking, nationalism and communism confronted each other in the twentieth century. The ideological struggle of identity between the two was settled by World War I. The masses identified themselves more strongly with their nations than with their classes and went to the “patriotic” war. About this time also the Bolshevik Revolution took place. Through that historic event, the Communist world came out of the War much stronger than before.

The Bolsheviks turned their attention without delay to ‘the East’, which in Russian usage they meant the Russian Asian territories, the rest of Asia, and Africa as well. From the beginning the Communist message to colonial subjects was twofold. It called for an end to imperialism, hence for liberation of subject peoples; it also called for liberation for the oppressed classes within colonial territories. Communists had to work out how to fit the ‘national question’ into their vision to program of the class struggle. Drawing upon the resolutions of the International Congress against Imperialism meeting and the Speech of JT Gumede, this political program had two main components that essentially hinged on the central question as to whether South Africa could be defined as a colonial situation. It answered this in the affirmative. Arguing for the national self-determination as the initial step toward socialist revolution in South Africa, it interpreted South Africa as a colony, despite the Union’s self-governing status since 1910. Second, it located the origin of revolutionary change not to urban workers but to the rural peasantry. Unifying these principles was the perspective that the concerns of black South Africans should take precedent; the political sovereignty on the basis of majority interest established the needed premise for socialist revolution to take place.

Nationalism and anti-colonialism fuelled many social movements both before and after the Second World War. Jawaharlal Nehru had an enduring fascination with paradoxes. His anti-colonialism is the apparent paradox of internationalist nationalism. At first glance, this seems inexplicable. He wrote prolifically as one of the most prominent of anti-colonial leaders, conceived the notion of non-alignment, helped established non-aligned movement, and was among the first to propose the major non-proliferation regimes in existence today.

Chinese history provides many examples of such social movements in the early twentieth century. In early 1967, China was gripped by a confused power struggle among Communist leaders. Mao Tse-tung, elderly but holding firmly to his role as dictator, had proclaimed a Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution with the aim of destroying the last vestiges of the old social order. Millions of teen-aged Red Guards flocked to his call. The youngsters surged through the capital of Peking, sacking ministries, arresting people, and in general creating pandemonium. Clearly, Mao Tse-tung had diluted Chinese communism with a massive dose of nationalism.

For China, the Second World War was not a global confrontation of ideology so much as a nationalist war; it is called the “Anti-Japanese War” in Chinese, and the communists defeated the Kuomintang forces in 1947 in large part because they were able to continue to mobilize people around a powerful anti-colonial ideology. This anti-imperialist nationalism was typical of other mass revolutions followed the Pacific War. Indeed, the communist insurgencies in Thailand and Malaysia each failed to attract a large following because they were seen to be more Chinese than national.

Related in importance to the indigenous culture pattern or ideology was the existence, prior to the introduction of Marxism, of political trends arising in response to the impact of the West. For example, the most popular slogans in Southeast Asia are associated with anti-colonialism or anti-imperialism, which prevailed in the area before Marxism had begun to play a role. The Leninist variant of Marxism, when discovered by some Western-educated Southeast Asian elites, provided additional intellectual justification for their reaction against alien political domination. Its common usage, particularly between the two world wars, served to blunt political and organizational distinctions between Marxist – both socialists and communists – and revolutionary or ‘extreme’ nationalists. However, 1948 Communist insurrections in Burma and Indonesia subsequently caused the non-Communists to modify or drop the Leninist rationalization and vocabulary and sharpened inherent, earlier-perceived difference between communism and nationalism, though the powerful theme of anti-colonialism has been meaningfully retained.

Nationalism, no matter how it was conceived and how it led to organization and activity, came first on the political stage in Burma, Vietnam, and Indonesia. In each of these countries, patriotic memories of an independent, dynastic past, free from foreign controls, were prominent. Such memories of recent or older vintage, depending on the history of the country before the advent of the British, French, and Dutch rule, were actively fed by Buddhism in Burma, the Confucian mandarinate in Vietnam and Islam in Indonesia. This first expression of political and social antagonism to imperialist sway did not succeed in any ultimate sense, but it never really disappeared. It began in these three countries at roughly at the same time – the turn of the century.

Marxism came in ostensible support of nationalism. At the time it arrived, first in Vietnam and Indonesia and later in Burma, it was regarded by the indigenes as genuinely supportive of nationalist and anti-colonial aspirations. Factional fights, divisive maneuvers, fratricidal warfare, severe as these might be, were regarded not as signs of an ineluctable conflict between dictatorship and freedom, but rather as ‘family’ squabbles.

The bourgeoisie, for their own benefit, developed the concept of nationalism to cover up social and economic tensions with an artificial identity of a nation. The unity of the nation was contrived in order to assist the bourgeoisie in recruiting other classes for their own benefit. This technique would mask their oppression of other classes under a subjective framework and would provide the excuse and the legitimacy for their oppression.

Given the existing colonial state structure at independence, the nationalists of the new ‘nation-states’ had to preserve boundaries which reflected the boundaries of colonial power rather than cultural or national divisions. Thus nation-building, irredentism and secessions were permanently on the agenda of nearly all these new states. Now nationalism did not usually mean anti-colonialism, except in the form of hostility to ‘dependency’ on the former colonial powers (re-categorized as ‘neo-colonialism’).

Works Cited

Tse-tung, Maro. The Tasks of the Chinese Communist Party in the Period of Resistance to Japan. 1937. Web. 30 November 2011.

http://marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_14.htm

http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=4544&t=The%20Early%20Years

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1941nehru.html

http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/baku/ch04a.htm

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