Left-wing nationalism

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Left-wing nationalism describes a form of nationalism based upon social equality, popular sovereignty, and national self-determination.[1] It has its origins in the Jacobinism of the French Revolution.[1] Left-wing nationalism typically espouses anti-imperialism.[2][3] It stands in contrast to right-wing nationalism, and often rejects racist nationalism and fascism,[2] although some forms of left-wing nationalism have included intolerance and racial prejudice.[2]

Notable left-wing nationalist movements in history have included Mahatma Gandhi's Indian National Congress that promoted independence of India, Labor Zionism which promoted the Jewish national revival, Sinn Féin as the main Irish republican party, the African National Congress of South Africa under Nelson Mandela that successfully ended apartheid.

Marxism and nationalism

Marxism identifies the nation as a socioeconomic construction created after the collapse of the feudal system, which was utilized to create the capitalist economic system.[4] Classical Marxists have unanimously claimed that nationalism is a "bourgeois phenomenon" that is not associated with Marxism.[5] However, certain interpretations of the works of Karl Marx have claimed that although he rejected nationalism as a final outcome of international class struggle, he tacitly supported proletarian nationalism as a stage to achieve proletarian rule over a nation, then allowing succeeding stages of international proletarian revolution.[6] Marxism, in certain instances, has supported nationalist movements if they are in the interest of class struggle, but rejects other nationalist movements deemed to distract workers from their necessary goal of defeating the bourgeoisie.[7] Marxists have evaluated certain nations to be "progressive" and other nations to be "reactionary".[4] Joseph Stalin supported interpretations of Marx tolerating the use of proletarian nationalism that promoted class struggle within an internationalist framework.[4][6]

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels interpreted issues concerning nationality on a social evolutionary and class reductionist basis.[8][citation needed] Marx and Engels claim that the creation of the modern nation state is the result of the replacement of feudalism with the capitalist mode of production.[9] With the replacement of feudalism with capitalism, capitalists sought to unify and centralize populations' culture and language within states in order to create conditions conducive to a market economy in terms of having a common language to coordinate the economy; to contain a large enough population in the state to insure an internal division of labour; and to contain a large enough territory for a state to maintain a viable economy.[9]

Though Marx and Engels saw the origins of the nation state and national identity as bourgeois in nature, both believed that the creation of the centralized state as a result of the collapse of feudalism and creation of capitalism had created positive social conditions to stimulate class struggle.[10] Marx followed Hegel's view that the creation of individual-centred civil society by states as a positive development, in that it dismantled previous religious-based society and freed individual conscience.[10] In The German Ideology, Marx claims that although civil society is a capitalist creation and represents bourgeois class rule, it is beneficial to the proletariat because it is unstable in that neither states nor the bourgeoisie can control a civil society.[11] Marx described this in detail in The German Ideology, saying:

Civil society embraces the whole material intercourse of individuals within a definite stage of development of productive forces. It embraces the whole commercial and industrial life of a given stage, and, insofar, transcends the state and the nation, though on the other hand, it must assert itself in its foreign relations as nationality and inwardly must organize itself as a state.[10]

Marx and Engels evaluated progressive nationalism as involving the destruction of feudalism, and believed that it was a beneficial step, but evaluated nationalism detrimental to the evolution of international class struggle as reactionary and necessary to be destroyed.[12] Marx and Engels believed that certain nations that could not consolidate viable nation-states should be assimilated into other nations that were more viable and further in Marxian evolutionary economic progress.[12]

On the issue of nations and the proletariat, the Communist Manifesto says:

The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word. National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat. [13]

In general, Marx preferred internationalism and interaction between nations in class struggle, saying in Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy that "[o]ne nation can and should learn from others".[14] Similarly, though Marx and Engels criticized Irish unrest for delaying a worker's revolution in England, both Marx and Engels believed that Ireland was oppressed by Great Britain but believed that the Irish people would better serve their own interests by joining proponents of class struggle in Europe, as Marx and Engels claimed that the socialist workers of Europe were the natural allies of Ireland.[15] Also, Marx and Engels believed that it was in Britain's best interest to let Ireland go, as the Ireland issue was being used by elites to unite the British working class with the elites against the Irish.[15]

Stalinism and "revolutionary patriotism"

Joseph Stalin promoted a civic patriotic concept called "revolutionary patriotism" in the Soviet Union.[6] As a youth, Stalin had been active in the Georgian nationalist movement and was influenced by Georgian nationalist Ilia Chavchavadze who promoted cultural nationalism, material development of the Georgian people, statist economy and education systems.[16] When Stalin joined Georgian Marxists, the Marxism in Georgia was heavily influenced by Noe Zhordania, who evoked Georgian patriotic themes and opposition to Russian imperial control of Georgia.[17] Zhordania claimed that communal bonds existed between peoples that created the plural sense of "I" of countries, and went further to say that the Georgian sense of identity pre-existed capitalism and the capitalist conception of nationhood.[17]

After Stalin became a Bolshevik in the 20th century, he became fervently opposed to national culture, denouncing the concept of contemporary nationality as bourgeois in origin and accused nationality of causing retention of "harmful habits and institutions".[18] However, Stalin did believe that cultural communities did exist where people lived common lives, and were united by holistic bonds, these, Stalin claimed were "real nations", while others that did not fit these traits were "paper nations".[19] Stalin defined the nation as being "neither racial nor tribal, but a historically formed community of people".[19] Stalin believed that the assimilation of "primitive" nationalities like Abkhazians and Tartars into the Georgian and Russian nations was beneficial.[18] Stalin claimed that all nations were assimilating foreign values and that the nationality as a community was diluting under the pressures of capitalism and with rising rational universality.[20] In 1913 Stalin rejected the concept of national identity entirely and advocated in favour of a universal cosmopolitan modernity.[20] Stalin identified Russian culture as having greater universalist identity than that of other nations.[21] Stalin's view of vanguard and progressive nations such as Russia, Germany, and Hungary in contrast to nations he deemed primitive is claimed to be related to Friedrich Engels' views.[21]


Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the rule of Josip Broz Tito and the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, promoted both communism and Yugoslav nationalism (Yugoslavism).[22] Tito's Yugoslavia was overtly nationalistic in its attempts to promote unity between the Yugoslav nations within Yugoslavia and asserting Yugoslavia's independence.[22] To unify the Yugoslav nations, the government promoted the concept of "Brotherhood and Unity", where the Yugoslav nations would overcome their cultural and linguistic differences through promoting fraternal relations between the nations.[23] This Yugoslav nationalism was opposed to cultural assimilation, as had been carried out by the previous Yugoslav monarchy, but was instead based upon multiculturalism.[24] While promoting a Yugoslav nationalism, the Yugoslav government was staunchly opposed to any factional ethnic nationalism or domination by the existing nationalities, as Tito denounced ethnic nationalism in general as being based on hatred and was the cause of war.[25] The League of Communists of Yugoslavia blamed the factional division and conflict between the Yugoslav nations on foreign imperialism.[25] Tito built strong relations with states that had strong socialist and nationalist governments in power, such as Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser and India under Jawaharlal Nehru.[22]

In spite of these attempts to create a left-wing Yugoslav national identity, factional divisions between Yugoslav nationalities remained strong and it was largely the power of the League of Communists and popularity of Tito that held the country together.[26]


A republican mural in Belfast showing solidarity with the Basque nationalism.

Left-wing nationalists have historically led the separatism and autonomist movements in the Basque Country (Basque nationalism), Catalonia (Catalan independence), Galicia (Galician nationalism)[27][28] and Sardinia (Sardinian nationalism).[29]


During the 1890s, Australian-born novelists and poets such as Henry Lawson, Joseph Furphy and Banjo Paterson drew on the archetype of the "Australian bushman"; these and other writers formulated the "bush legend", which included broadly left wing notions that working class Outback Australians were "democratic", egalitarian, anti-authoritarian and cultivated "mateship". However, terms like "nationalist" and "patriotic" were also utilised by pro-British Empire political conservatives, culminating with the formation in 1917 of the Nationalist Party of Australia, which remained the main centre-right party until the late 1920s.

During the 1940s and 1950s, radical intellectuals, many of whom joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), combined philosophical internationalism with a radical nationalist commitment to Australian culture. This type of cultural nationalism was possible among radicals in Australia at the time, because:

  • of the "patriotic turn" in Comintern policy from 1941, and;
  • the most common understanding of what it meant to be "patriotic" at the time was a kind of pro-Imperial "race patriotism" and anti-British sentiment was, until the late 1960s, regarded as subversive and;
  • radical nationalism dovetailed with a growing respect for Australian cultural output among intellectuals, which was itself a product of the break in cultural supply chains – lead actors and scripts had always come from Britain and the United States – occasioned by the war.[30]

Post-war radical nationalists consequently sought to canonise the "bush" culture which had emerged during the 1890s. The post-war radical nationalists interpreted this tradition as having implicitly or inherently radical qualities: they believed it meant that working class Australians were "naturally democratic" and/or socialist. This view combined the CPA's commitment to the working class with the post-war intellectuals' own nationalist sentiments. The apotheosis of this line of thought was perhaps Russel Ward's book The Australian Legend (1958), which sought to trace the development of the radical nationalist ethos from its convict origins, through bushranging, the Victorian gold rush, the spread of agriculture, the industrial strife of the early 1890s and its literary canonisation. Other significant radical nationalists included the historians Ian Turner, Lloyd Churchward, Robin (Bob) Gollan, Geoffrey Serle and Brian Fitzpatrick, whom Ward described as the "spiritual father of all the radical nationalist historians in Australia",[31] and the writers Stephen Murray-Smith, Judah Waten, Dorothy Hewett and Frank Hardy.

The radical-nationalist tradition was challenged during the 1960s, during which New Left scholars interpreted much of Australian history – including labour history – as dominated by racism, sexism, homophobia and militarism.[32] Since the 1960s, it has been uncommon for those on the political left to claim Australian nationalism for themselves. The "bush legend", however, has survived the above changes in Australian culture: it informed much cultural output during the period of the "new nationalism" in the 1970s and 1980s, the language of Australian nationalism was adopted by centre-right politicians such as Prime Minister John Howard for the political right during the 1990s.[33] In the 21st century, attempts by left-leaning intellectuals to re-claim nationalism for the Left are few and far between.[34]


In Canada, nationalism is associated with the left in the context of both Quebec nationalism and pan-Canadian nationalism (mostly in English Canada but also in Quebec).

In Quebec, the term was used by S. H. Milner and H. Milner to describe political developments in 1960s and 1970s Quebec which they saw as unique in North America. While the liberals of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec had opposed Quebec nationalism which had been right-wing and reactionary, nationalists in Quebec now found that they could only maintain their cultural identity by ridding themselves of foreign elites, which was achieved by adopting radicalism and socialism. This ideology was seen in contrast to historic socialism, which was internationalist and considered the working class to have no homeland.[35][36]

The 1960s in Canada saw the rise of a movement in favour of the independence of Quebec. Among the proponents of this constitutional option for Quebec were militants of an independent and socialist Quebec.[37] Prior to the 1960s, nationalism in Quebec had taken various forms. First, a radical liberal nationalism emerged and was a dominant voice in the political discourse of Lower Canada from the early 19th century to the 1830s. The 1830s saw the more vocal expression of a liberal and republican nationalism which was silenced with the rebellions of 1837 and 1838.[38] In the 1840s, in a now annexed Lower Canada, a moderately liberal expression of nationalism succeeded the old one, which remained in existence but was confined to political marginality thereafter. In parallel to this, a new catholic and ultramontane nationalism emerged. Antagonism between the two incompatible expressions of nationalism lasted until the 1950s.

According to political scientist Henry Milner, the manifestation of a third kind of nationalism became significant when intellectuals raised the issue of the economic colonization of Quebec, something the established nationalists elites had neglected to do.[39] Milner identifies three distinct clusters of factors in the evolution of Quebec toward left-wing nationalism: the first cluster relates to the national consciousness of Quebecers (Québécois), the second to changes in technology, industrial organization, and patterns of communication and education, the third related to "the part played by the intellectuals in the face of changes in the first two factors".[40]

In English Canada, support for government intervention in the economy to defend the country from foreign (i.e. American) influences is one of Canada's oldest political traditions, going back at least to the National Policy (tariff protection) of Sir John A. Macdonald, and has historically been seen on both the left and the right. However, calls for more extreme forms of government involvement to forestall a putative American takeover have been a staple of the Canadian left since the 1920s, and possibly earlier. Right-wing nationalism has never supported such measures, which is one of the major differences between the two. Leftist nationalism has also been more eager to dispense with historical Canadian symbols associated with Canada's British colonial heritage, such as the Canadian Red Ensign or even the monarchy (see Republicanism in Canada). English Canadian leftist nationalism has historically been represented by most of Canada's socialist parties, factions with the social-democratic New Democratic Party (such as the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada in the 1960s and 1970s), and in a more diluted form in some elements of the Liberal Party of Canada (such as Trudeauism to a certain extent). Today it manifests itself pressure groups such as the Council of Canadians. This type of nationalism is associated with the slogan "it's either the state or the States", coined by the Canadian Radio League in the 1930s during their campaign for a national public broadcaster to compete with the private, American radio stations broadcasting into Canada,[41] representing a fear of annexation by the United States. Right-wing nationalism continues to exist in Canada, but tends to be much less concerned with integration into North America, especially since the Conservative Party embraced free trade after 1988. As well, many far-right movements in Canada are nationalist, but not Canadian nationalist, instead advocating for Western Separation or union with the United States.


In Europe, a number of left-wing nationalist movements exist, and have a long and well-established tradition.[42] Nationalism itself was placed on the left during the French Revolution and the French Revolutionary Wars. The original left-wing nationalists endorsed civic nationalism[43] which defined the nation as a "daily plebiscite" and as formed by the subjective "will to live together." Related to "revanchism", the belligerent will to take revenge against Germany and retake control of Alsace-Lorraine, nationalism could then be sometimes opposed to imperialism.


The Irish republican movement has been synonymous with left-wing nationalism. This has been advocated by the political party Sinn Fein and also the SDLP.


The Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) (English: Mauritian Militant Movement) is a left-wing socialist political party in Mauritius. The party was formed by a group of students in the late 1960s, advocating independence from the United Kingdom, socialism and social unity. The MMM advocates what it sees as a "fairer" society, without discrimination on the basis of social class, race, community, caste, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

The MMM was founded in 1968 as a students' movement (Mouvement Etudiants Mauricien) by Paul Bérenger, Dev Virahsawmy, Jooneed Jeeroburkhan, Chafeekh Jeeroburkhan, Sushil Kushiram, Tirat Ramkissoon, Krishen Mati, Ah-Ken Wong, Kriti Goburdhun, Allen Sew Kwan Kan, Vela Vengaroo, and Amedee Darga amongst others. In 1969 it became the Mouvement Militant Mauricien.

The MMM is a member of the Socialist International, an international grouping of socialist, social-democratic, and labour parties, as well as the Progressive Alliance.

United Kingdom

The Scottish independence movement is mainly left-wing and is spearheaded by the Scottish National Party (SNP), who have been on the left of centre since the 1970s.[44]

Similarly, in Wales, there is a left-wing movement led by Plaid Cymru and in Cornwall, a centre-left movement led by Mebyon Kernow.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sa'adah 2003, 17-20.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Smith 1999, 30.
  3. Delanty, Gerard; Kumar, Krishan. The SAGE handbook of nations and nationalism. London, England, UK; Thousand Oaks, California, USA; New Delhi, India: Sage Publications, Ltd, 2006. Pp. 542.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Nimni 1991, 14.
  5. Nimni 1991, 16.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 van Ree 2002, 49.
  7. Nimni 1991, 4.
  8. Nimni 1991, 17.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Nimni 1991, 18.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Nimni 1991, 21.
  11. Nimni 1991, 21-22.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Nimni 1991, 22.
  13. Marx, Karl (1848). "The Communist Manifesto". Retrieved 11 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Nimni 1991, 7.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Schmitt 1997 [1987], 169.
  16. van Ree 2002, 58-59.
  17. 17.0 17.1 van Ree 2002, 60.
  18. 18.0 18.1 van Ree 2002, 64.
  19. 19.0 19.1 van Ree 2002, 67.
  20. 20.0 20.1 van Ree 2002, 65.
  21. 21.0 21.1 van Ree 2002, 66.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Perica 2002, 98.
  23. Perica 2002, 99-100.
  24. Perica 2002, 100.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Perica 2002, 98 & 100.
  26. Perica 2002, 98 & 101.
  27. González, Justo Beramendi; Núñez Seijas, X. M. (1995). O Nacionalismo Galego (in galego). A Nosa Terra.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. González, Justo Beramendi (2007). De provincia a nación (in galego). Edicións Xerais de Galicia.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Entrevista a Marcel Farinelli: “Córcega y Cerdeña forman un archipiélago invisible al tener sus islas nacionalismos de signo opuesto"
  30. Stephen Alomes, A Nation at Last? (Sydney, 1988).
  31. Russel Ward, A Radical Life (South Melbourne, 1988), p.222.
  32. Humphrey McQueen, A New Britannia (Melbourne, 1970).
  33. Judith Brett, Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class (Cambridge, 2003), pp.203-206.
  34. See: David McKnight, Beyond Right and Left: New Politics and the Culture Wars (2005); Tim Soutphommasane, Reclaiming Patriotism (2009); Russell Marks, 'Labor No Longer Party of Progressive Nationalism', National Times, 19 August 2010.
  35. Milner 1973.
  36. Milner 1989, vii.
  37. Milner 1973, 9.
  38. Pask 2001.
  39. Milner 1973, 188.
  40. Milner 1973, 191.
  41. http://individual.utoronto.ca/salutin/states.htm
  42. Frankel 1984 [1981].
  43. Andrew Knapp and Vincent Wright (2006). The Government and Politics of France. Routledge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. James Mitchell, Lynn Bennie and Rob Johns (2012). The Scottish National Party: Transition To Power. Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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