The Contemporary Importance of National Liberation

In today’s world, the principal contradiction is between imperialism and humanity. Giant multinational corporations are fleecing the globe for their own interests, forming international networks of monopoly capital through the geographic expansion of corporate power. This has involved transferring parts of production, commercial, and financial service to peripheral countries in search of cheap labor. Super-profits are being reaped through a production system based on the enormous wage differentials that persist between the Global North and the Global South. If these rules of exploitation are broken by any country, imperialist powers use a discourse of humanitarianism to justify: military buildups and threats of war; the carrying out of actual military interventions; economic sanctions and blockades; political interference in the elections of other countries; and the launching of “color revolutions”.

Taking into account the pervasiveness of imperialist power arrangements, national liberation in the Third World continues to be an indispensable process. As Anouar Abdel-Malek writes in Nation and Revolution: Volume 2 of Social Dialectics:

The central problem in social dialectics is the problem of the combination of scope, intensity and continuity, that is, the problem of finding the largest possible front of allied forces aiming at the most intensive possible action rallied around the issues most capable of achieving maximal intensity of action. And such is, specifically, the privileged role of national movements, throughout the various phases of their unfolding. Here, and here alone, do we witness the greatest possible concentration of different social groups, classes, forces, trends, united broadly to achieve the fundamental tasks of liberation and socio-economic transformation.

In contrast to the reactionary nationalism of the developed countries – which involves xenophobia and expansionist perspectives – national liberation is the struggle against dependency which has as its objective, beyond the clearing of the national territory, the independence and sovereignty of the state and the comprehensive eradication of the deeply entrenched social force of imperialism. In other words, national liberation is the reconquest of the power of decision in all domains of national life, a process of renaissance undertaken on the basis of fundamentally national demands, and a struggle for sovereignty. These ideas are crystallized in the concentrated concept of “self-reliance”. Abdel-Malek writes:

Self-reliance is…to be seen as the assertion of national independence within the interdependence of nations, regions and areas, with the emphasis always on the national position of the problem, and not vice versa.

The stress on the national element was similarly formulated by Antonio Gramsci in the following way:

The international situation should be considered in its national aspect…the line of development is towards internationalism, but the point of departure is ‘national’.

Thus, socialist thought must root itself in the concrete context in which it is situated; i.e., it should develop on the basis of a national position, not from any a priori cosmopolitan vision under the mask of internationalism. When the global Left confronts diverse national soils, it is bound to face the deep structures of national formations, the historical specificity of each society.

Hence, leftists need to respect the peculiarity which the revolutionary creativity of the peoples of the former colonies and semi-colonies tends to introduce into national liberation movements because of the specific conditions in the countries themselves and also in consequence of the specific features of the present-day international situation. The national movements’ struggle for independence, national liberation and social revolutions asserts itself as a struggle for the recovery of national identity, sovereignty and socio-economic clout against imperialist hegemony. It thus follows that national movements are bound to exhibit a potent density of explicit specificity-content – precisely in as much as this specificity lies at the very heart of their liberation struggles and revolutions. In effect, national liberation arrives at the proclamation of socialist goals not through the class-based negation of capitalism, but through anti-imperialist nationalism.

In this respect, they recapitulate to a definite extent the social logic of the revolutionary process. If national unity is now placed “above” class struggle, the “nation” and “national unity” at issue is as a rule understood in a new way – as excluding the “forces of reaction” (usually feudal landlords and the big bourgeoisie). If the nationalism puts national interest above all else, the class factor is already represented in this interest (in a specific, nationalist way, of course). The use of nationalism as a key political grammar for anti-systemic struggles is necessary because – in the words of Max Ajl:

The core uses its own states’ mechanisms to reshape, if not shatter, state mechanisms in the periphery to protect and expand the gap between such zones, either turning the state against the nation or ripping the state from the nation.

It would be odd to suggest that national and nationalist logics for organizing struggles for human emancipation and structures for human social reproduction and flourishing should be abandoned as imperialism seeks precisely that abandonment through the political shattering of states by the dismantling of institutions and dissolution of ideas of state and nation.

The core component of national liberation movements – the establishment of national productive forces under sovereign and national control – has proven to be a strong counter-balance to the influence of imperialism. As Ajl elaborates:

[National liberation was a successful attempt to] break the patterns of primitive accumulation, secured by colonial violence and manifest in ongoing colonial drain and unequal exchange, through which the core countries continued to extract wealth from the periphery. National liberation’s limited achievements were still achievements, something missed in chatter eager to assimilate one nationalism to the next, one set of capitalist contradictions to the next, and one passel of elites to their successors…Gains for human dignity occurred because decolonization was seldom just about hoisting a flag over an alabaster statehouse….decolonization…put a stop to colonial income deflation… Colonial famines ceased…Investment in enhancing agricultural productivity by national governments was one of the harvests of decolonization, and it arrested and reversed secular declines in food-grain availability, and stopped deindustrialization… Public health networks spread and per capita food-grain absorption gradually increased…This occurred by putting the “process of development of the productive forces under the control of petty bourgeois elements that tended to the basic needs of the formerly colonized population.

The Third World’s national elaboration of a general line – directly linked to the transformation of actual societies in the real world of our times – has involved the institution of repressive measures. Criticized by many as authoritarian, these actions are necessary to protect the gains made under their chosen development model; to protect against regime change operations being organized, sponsored, armed and financed by an imperialist world that will stop at nothing to dismantle sovereign nations and to assert hegemony. Abdel-Malek notes:

Autocratic power…which so often seems to be necessary during the first phase of nationalitarian construction…revolts those who restrict themselves to seeing it in itself, as a structure so to speak, instead of locating it within the framework of historical evolution – instead of conceiving liberty within the framework of necessity.

Moreover, the maintenance of a strong state means actively and substantively defending national sovereignty as the carapace within which to resolve internal contradictions.

The indispensability of national liberation processes in the current conjuncture can’t be emphasized enough. Intensified neo-colonial strangulation of the Global South necessitates the opening of socialist, anti-imperialist fronts which can effectively stanch the flows of value from the periphery and semi-periphery to the core and the uneven accumulation such flows forge and reinforce. In November 1919, after the establishment of the world’s first workers’ and peasants’ state, Vladimir Lenin said:

The socialist revolution will not be solely, or chiefly, a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their bourgeoisie – no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialist-oppressed colonies and countries, of all dependent countries, against international imperialism.

This clear statement serves as a forceful clarion call for the mobilization of the Third World people in a national liberation struggle against imperialism and capitalism.

Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India. Read other articles by Yanis.