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date: 25 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The myth that Marx wrote little of value on nationalism or national movements has been sustained by superficial scholarship and attempts to portray him as a class reductionist. In fact, Marx’s extensive writings on Poland and Ireland show a subtle interweaving of nationalism and class in relation to revolution. Marx’s lifelong concern with and support for Polish national emancipation is expressed as early as the Communist Manifesto of 1848 but more substantively in his speeches on Poland during that period. Here he makes clear the importance of an emancipatory nationalism that aims at social reform of land and property structures vs. a narrowly nationalist movement aimed solely at throwing off a foreign yoke. On Ireland, the class dimension of Marx’s analysis of nationalism is more pronounced, as he singles out the peasant-based and anti-landlord Fenian movement of the 1860s as a harbinger, not only of a progressive national revolution in Ireland but also of a wider working-class revolution. At the same time, he holds that anti-Irish racism on the part of the English working class is blocking the development of a class-conscious English proletariat. Other writings on the national aspirations of the Slavic peoples of Europe, save the Poles, are less original. Marx, and even more so Engels, views these small nations as the tools of Pan-Slavist policies of the Russian Empire, the most conservative power of the time. These writings exhibit a pronounced ethnocentrism and lack entirely the originality and subtlety of those on Poland and Ireland.

Keywords: nationalism, ethnicity, class, revolution, landed property, democracy, racism, ethnic chauvinism

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