October 15, 2017


`Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.` Karl Marx

`Bourgeois nationalism and proletarian internationalism—these are the two irreconcilably hostile slogans that correspond to the two great class camps throughout the capitalist world, and express the two policies (nay, the two world outlooks) in the national question.` V. I. Lenin

Nations as a definite stage in the development of consolidation processes and of human communities emerged with the appearance of capitalism. The economic foundation of the emergence of nations was the development of commodity production and exchange during the period of late feudalism, which eroded both the isolated village communities, in which the natural economy predominated, and the exclusive medieval craft guilds. New and broader relations were established and consolidated, whereby men interacted as members of states. The growing convergence of the means of production and the accumulation of wealth into the hands of a few capitalists also resulted in political centralisation.

Lenin wrote: ’Throughout the world, the period of the final victory of capitalism over feudalism has been linked up with national movements. For the complete victory of commodity production, the bourgeoisie must capture the home market, and there must be politically united territories whose populations speak a single language, 71 with all obstacles to the development of that language and to its consolidation in literature eliminated. Therein is the economic foundation of national movements. Language is the most important means of human intercourse. Unity and unimpeded development of language are the most important conditions for genuinely free and extensive commerce on a scale commensurate with modern capitalism, for a free and broad grouping of the population in all its various classes and, lastly, for the establishment of a close connection between the market and each and every proprietor, big or little, and between seller and buyer.’ (1)

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the introduction of the steam engine and machinery gave rise to the Industrial Revolution in Britain, which spread during the nineteenth century to the whole of Europe and North America. ’The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry, the place of the industrial middle class, by industrial millionaires, the leaders of whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.’ (2)

Feudal states were usually extremely fragmented, which hampered free commodity production and exchange. Capitalism surmounted these obstacles; formerly isolated areas were united into one state, with common laws and a single customs system. The state was turned into ’a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’. (3)

Machinery, railways, electricity, the introduction of chemistry in industry and agriculture, metallurgy, mechanical engineering—these and other achievements in the field of production marked an upswing in industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century and proved the capitalists’ growing power within national and multinational states and even beyond their frontiers. Productive forces transcended national boundaries and became increasingly international.

As industrial capitalism grew, production and consumption became, as might be expected, cosmopolitan rather 72 than national. ’In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrowmindedness become more and more impossible....’ (4)

With the development of the capitalist mode of production, the contradictions of capitalism were increasingly evident. So in France, where the peasants made up, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the vast majority of the population, Sismondi, a petty-bourgeois economist and Socialist, was able to see the social ulcers of capitalism. Marx and Engels wrote that he ’proved, incontrovertibly, the disastrous effects of machinery and division of labour; the concentration of capital and land in a few hands; over-production and crises’, pointing out the ’inevitable ruin of the petty bourgeois and peasant, the misery of the proletariat, the anarchy in production, the crying inequalities in the distribution of wealth, the industrial war of extermination between nations, the dissolution of old moral bonds, of the old family relations, of the old nationalities’. (5)

Yet Sismondi and other petty-bourgeois romantics, as they were called by Lenin, failed to see the then progressive role of commodity production and capitalist relations. Nor were they aware of the proletariat’s historic mission. Their ideal lay not in the future, but in the past, in industrial guilds and patriarchal agriculture.

As he analysed the conditions prevailing in Russia in the past century, Lenin criticised the Russian Sismondians. He wrote: ’Does not capitalism, which destroys the medieval village community, guild, artel and similar ties, substitute others for them? Is not commodity economy already a tie between the producers, a tie established by the market?.The antagonistic character of this tie, which is full of fluctuations and contradictions, gives one no right to deny its existence. And we know that it is the development of contradictions that with ever-growing  force reveals the strength of this tie, compels all the individual elements and classes of society to strive to unite, and to unite no longer within the narrow limits of one village community, or of one district, but to unite all the members of the given class in a whole nation and even in different countries.’ (6)

The instability of capitalism, Lenin explained, the development of the most acute antagonisms inherent in it, is an enormously progressive factor, one which accelerates social development and draws larger and larger masses of the population into the whirlpool of social life. (7) Lenin saw elements of progress, such as the growth of productive forces and the socialisation of labour on a national scale, in the instability of capitalism with its disproportion1 ate development and crises, which are due, in turn, to the main contradiction of the capitalist mode of production, i.e., that between the social character of labour and the private capitalist form of appropriation.

As soon as the capitalist system had basically emerged, it became obvious that it was divided into two opposing classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This was the more apparent when the working class entered the arena of political struggle as an independent leading force. The bourgeoisie, firmly entrenched in power, drastically curtailed the democratic slogans proclaimed by the antifeudal revolutions, making democracy nominal and establishing its own dictatorship over the workers. Lenin wrote that bourgeois states are ’most varied in form, but their essence is the same: all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’. (8)

In this situation, the bourgeoisie thoroughly revised the democratic ideas which were the watchword of bourgeois revolutions in their initial stage. Lenin wrote: ’The French liberal bourgeoisie already began to reveal its hostility to consistent democracy during the movement of 1789– 74 1793.’ (9) Now the bourgeoisie also resorts to overt dictatorship.

When the French Jacobins were overthrown by a strong conspiracy hatched by the higher bourgeoisie, the Thermidorians, the bourgeois Directory launched the counterrevolutionary terror and broke the ground for the military dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte (1799-1814). Better instruments for the political domination of the bourgeoisie were devised, and the system was legally upheld by the bourgeois civil, commercial and criminal codes, which perpetuated the abolition of the old feudal order and sanctified capitalist ownership rights. This validated a new form of exploitation, one which rested on capitalist ownership and profit.

Bourgeois ideologists try to prove that the bourgeois social system is just and historically unshakable. They deny the historical significance of the class struggle, contending that there exists ’solidarity of classes’ within a nation. The bourgeoisie tries to deny class antagonism and class inequality in capitalist society, seeking to replace it with the false and anti-democratic notion of the allegedly natural inequality of races and nationalities. The bourgeoisie does everything to gloss over the objective fact that there is no unity of nations under capitalism, that the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, whether naked or .clothed in parliamentary garb, exists in every capitalist country, and that the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are locked in an irreconcilable class struggle. Through the ages, bourgeois statesmen, ideologists and lawyers have elaborated, refined and maintained the ideological system of the dictatorship of big business and the exploitation of the toiling and oppressed peoples, through a system of laws, statutes and ideological concepts, including those on the question of nationalities.

Nationalism, which is vital to the interests of the exploiting classes and which, as capitalism developed, assumed increasingly violent and odious forms, such as chauvinism, racism and fascism, becomes the ideology and policy of the bourgeoisie and the landlords. In one form or another it penetrates the middle and petty bourgeoisie, and even contaminates the working class and peasantry and their political parties. The bourgeoisie tries, moreover, to pass off its class interests as ‘national’ interests. It insists, under threat of repression, on ’civil peace’ in the nation, and stirs up hatred and suspicion of other peoples. The bourgeoisie seeks to gloss over class contradictions, to estrange working people of different nationalities from one another, breeding suspicion and animosity between them, and it tries to make them see everything in terms of money. ’The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront, and does so in categorical fashion,’ Lenin wrote. ’With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle.’ (10)

In exposing the bourgeois nationalist falsehood of the ‘identity’ of the interests of the bourgeois and the proletarians within a ’single nation’, Engels stressed that the essence of the political ideas of the most ‘progressive’ bourgeois nationalists was that they ’confused the radical bourgeois with the radical proletarians’ and tried to bring the most inveterate enemies together as friends. (11)

The bourgeois world is one of social and national inequality and oppression, of national strife and isolation. Bourgeois nationalism is a product and instrument of capitalism, used to achieve the class objectives of the bourgeoisie, which the latter passes off as national objectives. The bourgeoisie tries to infect working people with nationalism and chauvinism, to foment among them national hatred and enmity, to divide the proletarians and working people of different nations and countries by artificial barriers.

It is significant that while proclaiming the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, (12)  the French and American bourgeoisie invested them, even at the close of the eighteenth century, with a purely formal and local sense. 76 Even the French Constitution of 1793 failed to extend the principles of freedom of conscience and equal social rights of citizenship to the population of the French colonies. The bourgeois-revolutionary Declaration of Independence, adopted by the US Congress on 4 July 1776, which declared that colonial oppression went counter to man’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, did not, however, condemn either the slavery or the racial inequality which persisted in the United States.


[1] V. I. Lenin, ’The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’, op. cit., Vol. 20, p. 396.

[2] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,.’Manifesto of the Communist Party’. In: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, op. cit., Vol. 6, p. 485. 

[3] Ibid., p. 486.

[4] Ibid, p. 488. 

[5] Ibid., p. 509.

[6] V. I. Lenin, ’A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism’, op. cit, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1960, p. 214. 

[7] Ibid.

[8] V. I. Lenin, ’The State and Revolution’, op. cit, Vol. 25, Moscow, 1974, p. 418.

[9] V. I. Lenin, ’Fundamental Problems of the Election Campaign’, op. cit, Vol. 17, Moscow, 1963, p. 412.

[10] V. I. Lenin, ’The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’, op. cii, Vol. 20, p. 410.

[11] Frederick Engels, ’The Festival of Nations in London’. In: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, op. cit, Vol 6, p. 7.

[12] The slogan ’Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ was absurdly enough inscribed on all French prisons.