5.3.4 Multicultural and Nationalist Issues

Étienne Schmitt

Socialism postulates that individuals are always reduced to their social class into capitalism because this system is based on the exploitation of the dominated by the dominant. Moreover, collective affiliations – such as cultures, ethnic groups, nations, or religions – participate in that domination. 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 the social class and aspires to unite the dominated to fight the dominant, and pluralism deemed emancipatory in the face of the bourgeois ideology and its corollaries: imperialism and colonialism. This underscores the many ideological contradictions within socialism and its currents.

The National Question

The national question is important to understand the ideological shift from monism to pluralism. For Karl Marx, there is the primacy of social class over any other category, including ethnical or national belonging. Nevertheless, Karl Marx acknowledges the existence of oppressed nations such as Ireland and Poland, both victims of imperialism. Austromarxism – named because of this revisionism rooted in the Austrian context – theorizes the national struggles are reverberation of the class struggles. Thus, Otto Bauer (1907/2000) believes that nations are not naturally instruments of oppression. It is the bourgeoisie that creates nationalism to divide the workers’ movement to maintain an artificial feeling that restrains 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 reappropriate the nation in order to remain its cultural goods confiscated by capitalism. The role of socialism is then to achieve international unity in national diversity. Therefore, Otto Bauer pleads for a multinational state. Lenin reappropriated the concept and, as early as 1917, declared himself in favor of the self-determination of nations within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Marxism-Leninism also 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).

Racism and Discrimination Within the Socialist Movement

It should be noted, however, that socialism has not been immune to hate speech. Anti-Semitic, colonialist, homophobic, misogynic, racist, and xenophobic discourses have been reproduced by some theorists in their fight against capitalism. Contrariwise to 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 takes the decolonization movement, the anti-segregationist and anti-apartheid struggles, the widespread immigration and the composition of an immigrant proletariat, and the numerous struggles for the recognition of minorities in the 1980s that socialism describes itself as a pluralist.


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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction - 2nd Edition Copyright © 2023 by Étienne Schmitt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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