11 March 2016

Wallerstein: Is it left to be nationalist?

The Blog

Observing why a new unified global political left ideology or platform has become so difficult to create, social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein tackled the question of whether the left should be nationalist or globalist in outlook.

Prominent left wing anti-imperialist theorists, going back as far as Frantz Fanon or Edward Said, held a belief in a strong patriotic movement by colonial subjects to gain their freedom from the international capitalist bourgeois class (if we are to use old Marxist terminology). Samir Amin is possibly the one who best expresses such thinking at a theoretical level today.

Other left wing theorists are avowed antistatists, who emphasize the boundless nature of class, with exploited and oppressed people existing in all nation-states and their oppressors hopping freely from country to country to maintain global exploitation. In theoretical terms, it is starkly clear that proponents of left internationalism and antistatism are more faithful to the social science behind left wing groups and movements. By comparison, left wing nationalism has been ad hoc or influenced by cultural details, and usually justified by the needs of the moment to oppose wars of meddling and intervention by the west (e.g. Algeria in Fanon's time, or Syria now).

Immanuel Wallerstein's commentary from 15 February points out the problem of the ideological gulf between anti-imperialist patriotic and cultural movements and globalist left-wing social theory and liberation, by asking the question:
Is it left to be internationalist, one-worldist, or is it left to be nationalist against the intrusion of powerful world forces? Is it left to be for the abolition of all frontiers or for the reinforcement of frontiers? Is it class-conscious to oppose nationalism or to support national resistance to imperialism?
Wallerstein doesn't answer from his own heart, but asks us to think about this. However, as a Beliefnet response points out, there is a "strongly seductive anti-nation-state thread" in all of Wallerstein's writing. It is clear that he would fall onto the globalist side in such a debate, as would any left wing proponents of technological modernity and digital activism such as the technoprogressives (including this very blog!).

The inability to reconcile left wing national liberation causes with theories of global oppression and liberation is crippling the left's ability to appeal to people as a united and coherent ideology (the way Socialism did in the old days of the late 19th and early to mid 20th Century) according to Wallerstein. As Wallerstein concludes, "the failure of the global left to enter into a collective internal debate in a solidary manner undermines the ability of the global left to be a principal actor today on the world scene".

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