5.3.4 Multicultural and nationalist issues

Dr. Étienne Schmitt

To the historical divisions that oppose idealistic and rationalist, anti-statist and statist, revolutionary and reformist currents, we should add that of monism and pluralism. Socialism postulates that individuals are always reduced to their social class in a capitalist system since this system is based on the exploitation of the dominated by the dominant. Moreover, certain collective affiliations – such as cultures, ethnic groups, nations or religions – participate in domination because they degrade the dominated classes. According to this perspective, socialism is more or less receptive to the recognition of collective affiliations. To be precise, it oscillates between a monism that perceives the individual solely through the prism of his or her social class and aspires to unite the dominated in order to fight against the dominant, and a pluralism deemed emancipatory in the face of the bourgeois ideology and its corollary: imperialism. This underscores the many ideological contradictions within socialism and its currents.

The national question bears witness to this debate between monism and pluralism. For Karl Marx, there is a primacy of social class over any other historical category, including the nation. Nevertheless, Karl Marx acknowledges the existence of oppressed nations such as Ireland and Poland, both victims of imperialism. Austromarxism seeks to demonstrate that the national struggle is complementary to the class struggle. Thus, Otto Bauer ([1907] 2000) believes that nations are not naturally instruments of oppression. It is the bourgeoisie that creates nationalism in order to divide the workers’ movement on an international scale and to maintain an artificial sense of belonging that does not allow the proletariat to recognize itself as a social class. According to Otto Bauer, a nation is both an association of individuals who share social and cultural characteristics (community of character) and common interests and history (community of fate). The working class must re-appropriate the nation in order not to cede its cultural goods to capitalism. The role of socialism is then to achieve international unity in national diversity. Otto Bauer thus pleads for a multinational state. Lenin re-appropriated the concept and, as early as 1917, declared himself in favour of the self-determination of nations within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). With its desire for world proletarian revolution, Marxism-Leninism then claimed to be the defender of the nations oppressed by capitalism. It inspired several national liberation movements, but also certain authors of decolonization such as Franz Fanon (1965).

It should be noted, however, that socialism has not been immune to hate speech. The anti-Semitism, colonialism, homophobia, misogyny, racism and xenophobia espoused by some theorists in the fight against capitalism cannot be excused, especially since some thinkers at the same period sought to emancipate oppressed minorities. This is the case of August Bebel who, in addition to advocating for the equality between men and women, pleaded for the legalization of homosexuality ([1879] 1910) and virulently denounced anti-Semitism in the ranks of socialism, which he called “socialism of fools”. It was only with the decolonization movement, the anti-segregationist and anti-apartheid struggle, widespread immigration and the composition of an immigrant proletariat, and the numerous struggles for the recognition of minorities in the 1980s that socialism began to describe itself as pluralist.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Étienne Schmitt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book