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The obverse of the social oppression of the working class, of the masses, by capitalism was national oppression, the colonial enslavement of whole peoples and continents. The development of capitalism through the ruin of the immediate producers of goods and the extension of the home market went hand in hand with its development through violent subjugation and oppression of other nations and nationalities. One example of this is the history of France under Napoleon Bonaparte. About that period Lenin wrote that the "wars of the Great French Revolution began as national wars and indeed were such. They were revolutionary wars—the defence of the great revolution against a coalition of counter-revolutionary monarchies. But when Napoleon founded the French empire and subjugated a number of big, viable and long-established national European states, these national wars of the French became imperialist wars and in turn led to wars of national liberation against Napoleonic imperialism’. (1)

National and colonial oppression and the economic expansion of the more developed countries into foreign markets and territories are inherent in the capitalist mode of production. Even in the nineteenth century, industrial capitalism increasingly tended towards the creation of a national and then a world economy and towards the internationalisation of economic relations between 77 different countries and peoples. This also had an impact on national consolidation processes. ’Developing capitalism’, Lenin wrote in 1913, ’knows two historical tendencies in the national question. The first is the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states. The second is the development and growing frequency of international intercourse in every form, the break-down of national barriers, the creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science, etc.’ (2)

While objectively embodying a progressive tendency towards the internationalisation of economic relations, capitalism combined the exploitation of the workers and toilers of ’its own’ nation with the exploitation and enslavement of other peoples, exacerbating the social and national antagonisms typical of it and worsening the plight of working people in both the oppressor and the oppressed countries. But it also encouraged the consolidation of the emancipation movements of the international working class and the peoples of the oppressed and dependent countries of the world. 

In pursuit of markets and sources of raw materials, the capitalists eagerly sought access to every corner of the globe. Capitalism made war an instrument of the life of society, making conquest and enslavement a rule of international relations. It was not for nothing that capitalist international law was referred to in bourgeois textbooks as the ’international law of civilised nations’, i.e., it deliberately excluded the oppressed, enslaved and dependent nations as supposedly ‘uncivilised’. 

One sinister chapter in the series of crimes perpetrated by the colonisers was the slave trade, which assumed gigantic proportions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It led to the depopulation and devastation of vast areas and the extermination of numerous peoples. According to William Du Bois, the progressive American historian, the African continent lost no less than 60 million Negroes as a consequence of the importation of 78 slaves into America. Roughly the same number were made expatriate as a result of the Moslem-run slave trade. It would therefore be no exaggeration to say that the slave trade cost Africa 100,000,000 lives. 

The main suppliers of slaves to America were the British, and Liverpool, a major English port, owed its rise to the slave trade. At the end of the eighteenth century, it accounted for five-eighths of the British and threesevenths of the European slave trade. Marx wrote that ’Liverpool waxed fat on the slave-trade. This was its method of primitive accumulation.’ (3)

From the enslavement of individuals, industrial capitalism, and then imperialism, proceeded to the enslavement of entire peoples, countries and even continents. Ancient exploiting societies had already been familiar with colonial conquests and the subjugation of weaker or less organised countries and peoples by those who were stronger and better organised. There is nevertheless a fundamental difference between the colonisers in ancient societies and bourgeois colonisers. The Roman colonial masters exacted contributions from the conquered provinces and countries and drew slaves from them for their latifundia, not encroaching upon the economic relations which existed in those territories. The colonisers of the epoch of primary accumulation and industrial capitalism went farther. They plundered the colonies and turned them into markets for their own goods, dooming millions of local artisans and peasants to abject poverty. Under capitalism the colonies were turned into sources of raw materials and cheap labour. 

The economic exploitation of the colonies steadily became better organised and the profits of the capitalist companies grew. With the progress of capitalist industry in the home countries, the importance of the colonies as a part of the capitalist world economy increased. 

The growing exploitation of the colonial countries hastened the introduction of commodity-monetary relations into their economies. Colonial administrators forcibly curtailed the cultivation of food crops in the colonies and drove the native population into reservations, turning 79 the land into plantations for the production of industrial crops which were exported to Europe. In some colonies, they started enterprises for processing farm produce. The British joint-stock companies in India seized land for plantations, and, by importing large quantities of English textiles, ruined the ancient craft industry and doomed the Indians to starvation and extinction. The colonisers also built railways for strategic reasons and to facilitate the exploitation of the colonies, set up enterprises for the primary processing of jute, and so on. A similar parasitic policy was conducted by the Dutch capitalists in Indonesia and by the American capitalists in the Philippines. All this held back the consolidation processes in these countries and helped to strengthen the hold of reaction and militarism in the countries which were conducting the colonisation. 

The bourgeoisie which began to emerge gradually and unevenly in the colonies was usually dependent on and subservient to the foreign capitalists—it was a compradore bourgeoisie. Simultaneously the working class began to form, recruited from those peasants and artisans who had either been ruined or were working for hire. 

The Western powers’ colonial expansion in Asia and Africa had highly contradictory consequences for the social and economic development of those continents. It prevented social and cultural development, ruined the economy, and exposed the masses to a dual oppression, that of the foreign colonisers and that of the compradore bourgeoisie and landlords. Ethnic consolidation was also held back. In the first half of the nineteenth century, feudal relations prevailed even in the most advanced Eastern countries. At the same time, by sapping the foundations of the feudal economic system, foreign capital objectively promoted the development of capitalism within the Asian and African countries. 

The peoples of Latin America, Asia and Africa reacted to this bloodthirsty colonial expansion by launching liberation movements in the first half of the nineteenth century. These movements were devoted to the struggle against colonial oppression for national sovereignty. The anti-colonial movements at the end of the nineteenth 80 century can already be described as national liberation movements. 

Counter to the colonialists’ wishes, the influence of a more advanced economy and of the progressive ideas of the working class and democratic forces in the colonialists’ own countries caused the anti-colonial forces in Asia, Africa and Latin America to mature more rapidly. The struggle against the colonial masters aroused political awareness. Patriotic feelings, love of their national culture" and language seized the peoples and helped them to unite. Their struggle was of an unmistakably national character. It was so not only in countries where capitalism was clearly emerging (in Asia in the first half of the nineteenth century, this applied only to Japan, but also in colonial and semi-colonial countries in which the liberation struggles alone promoted the consolidation and eventual union of nationalities, thus paving the way for the later formation of nations. 

In countries where the bourgeoisie and the proletariat did not yet exist as classes, the national liberation struggle was headed by feudal lords and tribal chiefs deprived of power and privilege by the foreign invaders. This limited the aims of the liberation movements which, nevertheless, became more or less clearly anti-colonialist. Some prominent liberation leaders—Diponegoro in Indcnesia, Nana Sahib and others in India—were nobles. 

During the Diponegoro rising or the Java War (1825- 1830), the insurgents, led by Diponegoro, one of the rulers of the principality of Jogjakarta, inflicted heavy defeats on the Dutch. Tn the second period of the rising, they captured a large part of Java. The Dutch managed to get the upper hand only in the final stage of the Java War, by concentrating large forces in Indonesia. But, above all, they had to make concessions to the feudal rulers in order to split the anti-colonial front of the insurgents. 

The central event in the anti-colonial struggle in the mid-nineteenth century was the great national uprising in India in 1857. Marxist historians reject the attempts made in bourgeois historiography to dismiss this rising as a mere series of sepoy mutinies. In reality it was a popular uprising which broke out in the centre of Northern India 81 and shook the entire structure of British colonial rule in India, compelling the British to mobilise major military forces to suppress it. The great strength of the uprising, which is justly known as a war of independence, was due to the fact that the British were then opposed not merely by peasants armed with bows and arrows, but by the well-armed regular Indian army, trained by the British themselves and numbering almost 140,000. The army was the source and major military support of the revolt. 

The ideas of an insurrection against British rule was propagated in Northern India by the Wahhebis, a Moslem sectarian organisation, and by numerous nameless patriots, both Moslem and Hindu, who infiltrated the Bengal sepoy army. In May 1857, the insurgents captured Delhi and forced the last titular Great Mogul ruler of Hindustan, Bahadur Shah II, to sign an appeal for a general insurrection in India. In June, the insurgents, led by Nana Sahib, an adopted son of the former ruler of Maharashtra, captured Cawnpore and set up their government there. Oudh province became the centre of resistance to the British. The Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmi Bai, and Tantia Topi, a capable Indian military leader, were in command of large insurgent forces. It was only at the expense of heavy losses, after bringing large military formations into action and making a deal with the feudal overlords, that the British finally suppressed the rebellion in 1859. 

Although actually unsuccessful, the national uprising of 1857-1859 was of immense significance to India’s political life. It educated Indian patriots in the realities of liberation struggles. Its lessons remained in the people’s memory and were passed on to succeeding generations, bearing fruit several decades later in a changed historical situation. It acted as a catalysing agent that hastened the formation of nations and nationalities in India. 

The struggle against the colonial conquests had a great impact on the progress of social thought in Asia and Africa. Initially, the struggle of the masses was headed practically everywhere by patriotically-minded scions of the feudal nobility. An ideological trend known as ’feudal nationalism’ arose, which endeavoured to unite the patriotism of the masses with the defence of the interests of the feudal lords. (4)

Elements of feudal nationalism formed even in the pre-colonial period, in the course of the struggle waged by one people or another against the foreign rulers of medieval empires. They were a kind of reflection in men’s minds of one of the stages of ethnic consolidation. But they did not possess—nor could they possess—such independent significance as they had in Europe. The formation of national self-awareness in European countries was to a certain extent connected with the establishment there of centralised states and of capitalist relations, which destroyed the former relations between lord and peasant. In many Asian and African countries, the colonial conquests heightened their peoples’ patriotic feelings, enabling feudal nationalism to persist for a comparatively long time as a specific anti-colonial ideological trend. 

The interpretation given to the patriotic ideals of feudal nationalism corresponded, at a certain stage of the development of the oppressed nations, to the level of the social consciousness of the peasants who idealised the pre-colonial past, remaining devoted to their illusions and ideas of the revival of faith, which gave shape and theoretical justification to anti-colonial concepts. 

Feudal nationalism also contained the idea of a ’ reconciliation’ of the interests of the peasants and the feudal lords in the name of ridding the country of foreign domination. This appeal was historically justified, although its underlying idea was retrospective, not progressive. Thus, feudal nationalism and, in particular, the concept of ’closing the country’, of complete isolation from the external world, were designed to conserve medieval backwardness in such countries as Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf emirates, and obstructed the spread and penetration of progressive ideas. Popular resistance to the colonialists temporarily 83 postponed to some extent the struggle against these peoples’ own feudal lords and bourgeoisie. 

In a number of Asian and African countries—above all in the colonies—in the second half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries, feudal nationalism was the principal trend of social thought. Starting from the latter half of the*" nineteenth century, however, anti-feudal emancipation movements began to spread increasingly among the merchants, artisans and peasants in India, China and Iran. The interests of the rising local bourgeoisie also found reflection in various anti-colonial and anti-feudal ideological currents. Yet the bourgeois elements were still Very weak and there was as yet no independent bourgeois ideology in Asian or African countries. 

As a result, feudal nationalism retained its hold on people’s minds long after the beginning of the bourgeois Enlightenment. Even in the more developed colonial and semi-colonial Asian countries, bourgeois ideology became an influential trend in social thought only in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Bourgeois-democratic and revolutionary-democratic tendencies in social thought and in the peoples’ liberation struggles began to exert a substantial influence early in the twentieth century when, under the impact of the first Russian revolution of 1905-1907, Asia’s awakening began. 

History shows that as the different forms of struggle in oppressed countries (such as the class struggle, national liberation struggle, the struggle between feudal rulers, and so on) intermingle, the parties very soon define their relative positions. Many reactionary feudal lords conclude that their chief enemies are not the colonisers but their own peoples, and seek to unite with the former against the latter. Colonial administrators and capitalist colonisers see that it is best for them to come to an understanding with the local elite and let the tribal and feudal nobility and the compradore bourgeoisie enjoy a share of the colonial plunder so as to be able to use them as servants and subordinates and exploit the people with their help and support. 

That was how the British colonial administrators acted in India, where they preserved the numerous feudal 84 principalities, supporting the rulers against the people and using them as a screen for their colonial pillage. The British, French and American colonisers in China acted in a similar way, supporting the Ch’ing dynasty against the T’ai-pings. 

The liberation movements of the mid-nineteenth century in many Asian and African countries were temporarily defeated. This was due, first, to the social and economic backwardness of these countries and the consequent inferiority of their weapons, and, second, to the population mix in most Asian and African countries, where a variety of tribes coexisted. The low level of national, patriotic self-awareness made it possible for the colonisers to set one tribe against another, breed enmity between different peoples—in a word, to pursue their policy of ’divide and rule’. The position of the oppressed peoples was made still worse by the fact that at that period the liberation movement could not yet rely on any substantial support from the proletariat and the progressive forces in Europe and America. The important thing was, however, that the oppressed peoples now had a powerful ally in the exploited proletarian masses in the industrialised capitalist countries, which had already launched an organised struggle against the bourgeoisie in their own countries, on an international scale. As represented by their vanguard, the Marxist parties and groups, the proletariat was orientated towards the support of national liberation movements. 

On the whole, a great gap formed in the capitalist world between the oppressor nations, a small group of economically advanced European and North American countries, and the oppressed nations, which comprised the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe and which were in colonial or semi-colonial enslavement. 

The socio-economic basis of the national liberation movements among the colonial and semi-colonial peoples was their opposition to foreign political and economic oppression and also.their opposition to those classes and elements in society which were in the service of the colonialists (e.g., local colonial administration officials, native mercenary soldiers, and so on) or associated with them economically, such as compradores and their ilk. 


[1] V. I. Lenin, ’The Junius Pamphlet’, op. (it,, Vol. 22, Moscow, 1977, p. 309. 

[2] V. I. I.enin, ’Critical Remarks on the National Question’, op. cil., Vol. 20, p. 27. 

[3] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1972, p. 711. 78 

[4] Feudal nationalism is not a trend peculiar to Asia or Africa alone. Lenin repeatedly noted the existence in the mid-nineteenth century of aristocratic nationalism in Poland, for example, and stressed the theoretical and political relevance of investigating the change of aristocratic into bourgeois, and then into peasant, nationalism.
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