Nationalism Here and There

By: the CPUSA International Department’s Publications Subcommittee

“America first!” – the now infamous phrase shouted by Donald Trump at his inauguration. Before the U.S. entered WWII, “America First” was the name given to the big business funded-movement which sought to collaborate with Nazi Germany and its Axis allies, opposing all aid to Britain and the Soviet Union and blaming the war on “the Communists and the Jews.” This phrase has become the calling card of the American extreme right, an agglomeration of groups that includes fascists, religious extremists, white supremacists, free-market extremists, and anti-Communists of varying sorts. Like their WWII predecessors, some of whom were tried for treason and sedition in 1944, these different groups have few things in common. However, one of the only things that holds them together is the nationalistic cry “America first!” 

Charles Lindbergh, the infamous American Nazi sympathizer and spokesperson for the “American First” movement in the 1940s.

What does this phrase mean and why does this brand of nationalism appeal so many varied groups on the far right of the political spectrum? The phrase appeals to the very basic idea of nationalism, which is to put one group over all others – in this case, the United States above the rest of humanity. According to Lenin, nationalism is used to divide workers apart from one another in order to get them to enforce their own oppression.

Recognition of the equality of nations and languages is important to Marxists, not only because they are the most consistent democrats. The interests of proletarian solidarity and comradely unity in the workers’ class struggle call for the fullest equality of nations with a view to removing every trace of national distrust, estrangement, suspicion, and enmity. And full equality implies the repudiation of all privileges for any one language and the recognition of the right of self-determination for all nations. (1)

In other words, nationalism is a form of bigotry that the ruling class uses to divide the working class and to keep the working class submissive to capitalist rule. In Marxism and the National Question, Stalin explains further:

From what has been said it will be clear that the national struggle under the conditions of rising capitalism is a struggle of the bourgeois classes among themselves. Sometimes the bourgeoisie succeeds in drawing the proletariat into the national movement, and then the national struggle externally assumes a “nation-wide” character. But this is so only externally. In its essence it is always a bourgeois struggle, one that is to the advantage and profit mainly of the bourgeoisie.

But that does not by any means follow that the proletariat should not put up a fight against the policy of national oppression.

Restriction of freedom of movement, disfranchisement, repression of language, closing of schools, and other forms of persecution affect the workers no less, if not more, than the bourgeoisie. Such a state of affairs can only serve to retard the free development of the intellectual forces of the proletariat of subject nations. One cannot speak seriously of a full development of the intellectual faculties of the Tatar or Jewish worker if he is not allowed to use his native language at meetings and lectures, and if his schools are closed down.

But the policy of nationalist persecution is dangerous to the cause of the proletariat also on another account. It diverts the attention of large strata from social questions, questions of the class struggle, to national questions, questions “common” to the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. And this creates a favorable soil for lying propaganda about “harmony of interests,” for glossing over the class interests of the proletariat and for the intellectual enslavement of the workers.

This creates a serious obstacle to the cause of uniting the workers of all nationalities.(2)

Lenin and Stalin sitting together

Today, the struggle against this sort of  divisive nationalism is at the center of the political struggle in the United States. In fact, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) has identified the struggle against the far right as the primary facing the American working class today. The CPUSA Party Program identifies ultra-nationalism as a tool used by the right-wing to divide to the working class at domestically, and to garner support for US imperialism internationally, stating, “Under the Trump administration, the extreme right has used ultra-nationalism and Islamophobia to justify its attempts to dictate to the world and to beat down internal opposition. Whenever international organizations such as the United Nations do not follow U.S.-dictated policies, they are ignored until the U.S. government is able to dominate, undermine, or override them.” (3)

Unfortunately, this struggle is not unique to the United States. Across the world, we have seen the rise of extreme far right, ultra-nationalist governments. Israel, India, Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine are just a few examples. Ukraine is of particular importance at this moment due to the major conflict happening at this time and the mass disinformation campaign about the conflict being perpetuated by the US government and the mainstream media. 

In 2014, the United States and its NATO allies helped topple the democratically elected government of Ukraine because that government was too friendly with Russia for the U.S.-NATO alliance. In its place, a new government was installed Kiev, a government that is propped up by the fascists and Nazis from the Ukrainian extreme right.

Reactionary and openly fascist movements, like that of Svboda in Ukraine and Republicans in the United States, attempt to hitch the interests of some of the working class with the national bourgeoisie to be directed against other nationalities. When Svboda members rally to eliminate the Russian language from being spoken by Russian speakers in Ukraine, they are not seeking to ‘liberate Ukraine’ but to chain it irrevocably into the hands of the bourgeoisie, and essentially the imperialists, under the banner of national independence. Although it has not been advanced with state terrorist tactics, the “English only” campaigns in the U.S., seeking to remove all bilingual programs from U.S. education and government, is similar.

In this regard, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) in its most recent statement on the war in Ukraine, develops this analysis:

What is happening in and around Ukraine

There is a war in Ukraine. Outwardly, it looks like an armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All political forces, including Left, have spoken out about these events. The range of assessments: from humanistic-emotional (“people are dying, stop the war”) to purely class (“The West is pushing two oligarchic regimes”). In fact, this conflict has deep roots. When analyzing the situation, we must take into account both the national content of the class struggle and the class content of the national struggle…..

Now it is the poorest country in Europe. The level of corruption and social differentiation is of the world highest. The manufacturing industry except metallurgy, is practically destroyed. The economy rests on Western loans and money transfers from migrant labour who left for Europe and Russia in search of work. (about 10 million out of 45 million people), basically qualified specialists. The degradation of human capital has reached its limit. The country is on the verge of a national catastrophe.

The population of Ukraine is strongly dissatisfied. However this dissatisfaction with pro-Western authorities is manipulated in such a way that each time even more pro-Western forces win the elections. In February 2014, a US and NATO-backed state coup was carried out in Ukraine. The US State Department has publicly stated that it has invested $5 billion in its preparation.

Neo-Nazis came to power. These are, first of all, people from Western Ukraine (Galicia), which for centuries was under the rule of Poland and Austria-Hungary. Extremely nationalistic, anti-Semitic, anti-Polish, Russophobic and anti-Communist sentiments are historically strong there. After Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, German troops were greeted in Western Ukraine with flowers. SS divisions were formed there fought against the Red Army. Local nationalists, led by Hitler’s admirer Stephan Bandera, set about exterminating the Jewish population. In Ukraine about 1.5 million Jews were killed – one fourth of all Holocaust victims. During the “Volyn massacre” in 1944 about 100,000 Poles were brutally murdered in Western Ukraine. Banderas destroyed Soviet guerillas and burned alive the men, women and children in hundreds of villages in Belarus. Ukrainian nationalists who served as guards in German concentration camps became notorious for monstrous cruelty.

The nature of the current Ukrainian state is an alliance of big capital and the state bureaucracy, relying on criminal and fascist elements under the full political and financial control of the United States.

After 2014 Nazi ideology is being implanted in Ukraine. Day of Victory over fascism on May 9 has been canceled. Ukrainian fascists – organizers and participants in the atrocities of the war – are officially recognized as national heroes. Every year torch marches are held in honor of fascist criminals. Streets and squares are named after them. The Communist Party of Ukraine operates underground. Intimidation and political assassinations of politicians and journalists became constant. Monuments to Lenin and everything related to the memory of life in the USSR are being destroyed.

At the same time an attempt began to forcibly assimilate the Russian population of Ukraine with the suppression of the Russian language. An attempt to introduce Afrikaans instead of English in South Africa led to the Soweto uprising in 1976. The same thing happened in Ukraine. An attempt to transfer school education from Russian into Ukrainian gave rise to powerful resistance in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. People took up arms. In May 2014 a referendum was held there, in which 87% of citizens voted for independence. This is how the Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk people’s republics (LPR) arose. After several unsuccessful attempts to invade the LPR-DPR, the Nazis from Kyiv switched over to terror. During 8 years of shelling from large-caliber guns, more than 13 thousand civilians, including children, women and  elderly people were killed in LPR-DPR. With the complete silence of the world community. (4)

Coming back home again, our own rising ‘patriotic’ nationalist movements also use language of nationalism to tie working class people to the leadership of the bourgeoisie, meaning here the large transnational  and intertwined corporations banks and brokerage  houses who together form monopoly capital. These “nationalists” point to Russia and say that it is the cause for political instability at home and internationally. They point to China’s socialist economy and immigrants from Latin America robbing Americans of jobs  They scream “America first” and rally the working class of the United States onto the side of the capitalist ruling class and against their fellow workers from other countries and it reality the overwhelming majority of American workers, who can only be  further impoverished by the policies they advocate.

Iowa’s reactionary Repblican governor, Kim Reynolds wrote in her rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union Address (5): “It’s time for America to once again project confidence; it’s time to be decisive. It’s time to lead.  But we cannot project strength abroad if we’re weak at home.”

Did her proposals for strength involve expanding democracy, increasing wages, pushing for greater healthcare or equality and mutual respect between ethnicities and nationalities?  No, in fact she said in reference to teaching Critical Race Theory, which focusses on  the destructive effects of “systemic racism” through U.S. history and its unscientific, fraudulent nature, saying, “[Americans are] tired of people pretending the way to end racism is by categorizing everybody by their race.  They’re tired of politicians who tell parents they should sit down, be silent, and let government control their kids’ education and future.”

And in reference to immigrants and asylum seekers from Latin America who have fled as a result of both  the US’s imperialist policies and the attacks of their own local capitalist classes, allies of U.S. monopoly capital, Reynolds charged, “But the Biden Administration has refused to secure our border. They’ve refused to provide the resources to stop human trafficking. To stop the staggering influx of deadly drugs coming into our neighborhoods. They’ve refused to protect you. With Texas and Arizona leading the way, I, along with Republican governors from several states, have sent resources to the border.”

Policies such as shortening early voting and limiting language to English supposedly meant to protect our elections, are designed as refined nationalistic demands to have one nationality suppress the rights of another, thereby dividing the American working class.

It is of utmost importance that the working class across the world struggle against the growing wave of nationalism sweeping the globe. Too many of the working class and supposed leftists are being lured into supporting the far right domestically and/or internationally and thereby aiding in dividing the working class. This has happened to our movement before. During the First World War, working class movements and Marxist Social Democratic parties turned against one another as they joined the got swept up in the nationalism of international conflict. We cannot let this happen again. 

We all must remember that it was through his steadfast opposition to this imperialist war that Lenin both developed his theory of imperialism Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism, which added to his theory of a revolutionary vanguard party leading the working class in the development of a revolutionary workers state – the ideas embodied his is great works What is to be  Done? (1903) and State and Revolution(1916). Together these three principles served as the foundation for the Communist parties which were founded in the aftermath of socialist revolution in the Russian Empire and the Third or Communist International (Comintern), which sought to advance the development of both Communist parties and anti-imperialist movements through the world.

In 1935, faced with the direct danger of fascism and war in the aftermath of Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany, the Comintern and its General Secretary ,Georgi Dimitrov, addressed the national question and called upon Communists to both build broad anti-fascist peoples’ fronts with many organizations and  focus on the inclusive and pluralistic progressive traditions within the development of national cultures – to take the very idea of  “the nation” and its symbols away from reactionaries and fascists who use it to oppress their own working classes and subjugate other nations and peoples. These words from Dimitrov’s 1935 Moscow address ring true to this day:

Comrades, proletarian internationalism must, so to speak, “acclimatize itself” in each country in order to strike deep roots in its native land. National forms of the proletarian class struggle and of the labor movement in the individual countries are in no contradiction to proletarian internationalism; on the contrary, it is precisely in these forms that the international interests of the proletariat can be successfully defended…..

The sole road to victory for the proletarian revolution in the imperialist countries lies through the revolutionary alliance of the working class of the imperialist countries with the national-liberation movement in the colonies and dependent countries, because, as Marx taught us, ‘no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.’…

Communists belonging to an oppressed, dependent nation cannot combat chauvinism successfully among the people of their own nation if they do not at the same time show in practice, in the mass movement, that they actually struggle for the liberation of their nation from the alien yoke. And again, on the other hand, the Communists of an oppressing nation cannot do what is necessary to educate the working masses of their nation in the spirit of internationalism without waging a resolute struggle against the oppressor policy of their “own” bourgeoisie, for the right of complete self-determination for the nations kept in bondage by it. If they do not do this, they likewise do not make it easier for the working people of the oppressed nation to overcome their nationalist prejudices. (6)

Georgi Dimitrov, who defined the fascist threat to the international working class

“Patriots” love the working people and the best democratic traditions of the nations and fight for the liberation of their people and all people. Reactionaries and fascists “love” the wealth and power of their ruling classes and seek that wealth and power for themselves.  Their “nationalism” is national chauvinism which they seek to force onto people through the military and police power of the state.

These ideas were put forward today by one veteran member of the CPUSA said, “So essential to a Marxist response to this war is the commitment to rebuild international communist unity, as the party in Ukraine (and others in International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties) has been pointing out. Similarly, all parties in capitalist countries must commit to aim our fire at ‘our own’ governments.” We must fight in the best tradition of proletarian internationalism for a conscience unity of the working class across the world!



  3. CPUSA Program

  4. What is happening in and around Ukraine