The Factors of Race and Nation in Marxist Theory – Amadeo Bordiga



Races, Nations or Classes?


The method of the Italian and international communist left has never had anything in common with the false dogmatic and sectarian extremism that seeks to abolish the forces that operate in the real process of history with empty verbal and literary denials.

In a recent article in our “Thread of Time” series (“Racial Pressure of the Peasantry, Class Pressure of the Peoples of Color”, Il Programma Comunista, no. 14, August 24, 1953), which contains a series of reflections on the national-colonial and agrarian questions—and therefore concerning the principal contemporary social questions in which important forces are involved, forces that are not limited to industrial capital and the wage-earning proletariat—it was demonstrated with documentary evidence that a perfectly orthodox and radical revolutionary Marxism acknowledges the current significance of these factors and the corresponding need for an adequate class and party policy to address them; and this was undertaken not exclusively with quotations from Marx, Engels and Lenin, but also with the founding documentation, from the years 1920-1926, of the left opposition in the International and the Communist Party of Italy which during that period was a member of the International.

Only in the fatuous insinuations of the adversaries of the left, who have in the meantime followed the path of opportunism and are today shockingly floundering in the repudiation of class-based Marxism and in counterrevolutionary politics, has the left been complicit in the absolutist and metaphysical error according to which the communist party must concern itself only with the duel between the pure forces of modern capital and the wage workers, from which duel the proletarian revolution will arise, denying and ignoring the influence on the social struggle of any other class or any other factor. In our recent work involving the reconstruction of the basics of Marxist economics and of the Marxist revolutionary program we have fully proven that this pure “phase” does not actually exist in any country, not even in the most highly industrialized nations where the political rule of the bourgeoisie has been most deeply rooted, such as England, France and the United States; to the contrary, this “phase” cannot be verified anywhere, and its existence by no means constitutes a necessary precondition for the revolutionary victory of the proletariat.

It is therefore plain foolishness to say that, since Marxism is the theory of the modern class struggle between capitalists and workers, and since communism is the movement that leads the struggle of the proletariat, we have to deny any historical impact on the part of the social forces of other classes, the peasants, for example, and racial and national tendencies and movements, and that by correctly establishing the basis of our activity we shall consider such elements to be superfluous.


Historical materialism, presenting the course of prehistory in a new and original way, has not only considered, studied and evaluated the process of formation of families, groups, tribes, races and peoples up to the formation of nations and political states, but has precisely explained these phenomena in the context of their connection with and how they are conditioned by the development of the productive forces, and as manifestations and confirmations of the theory of economic determinism.

The family and the horde are forms that we undoubtedly also encounter among the animal species, and it is often said that even the most highly evolved animal families and herds, while they may begin to display examples of collective organization for certain purposes of defense and self-preservation and even for the gathering and storage of food, still do not display productive activity, which distinguishes man, even the most primitive man. It would be more correct to say that what distinguishes the human species is not knowledge or thought or some particle of divine light, but the ability to produce not only objects of consumption but also objects devoted to subsequent acts of production, such as the first rudimentary tools for hunting, fishing, gathering fruit, and, later, for agricultural and craft labor. This primordial need to organize the production of tools is linked—and this characterizes the human species—with that of subjecting the reproductive process to some kind of discipline and rules, overcoming the accidental nature of the sexual relation with forms that much more complex than those presented by the animal world. It is especially in the classic work by Engels, to which we shall make abundant references, that the inseparable connection, if not the identity, of the development of the institutions of the family and of production is demonstrated.

Thus, in the Marxist view of the course of human history, before social classes even appeared—our whole theoretical battle is aimed at proving that these classes are not eternal; they had a beginning and they will also have an end—the only possible explanation is provided, on scientific and material bases, for the function of the clan, the tribe and the race and of their ordering under increasingly more complex forms due to the influence of the characteristics of the physical environment and to the growth of the productive forces and of the technology at the disposal of the collectivity.


The historical factor of nationalities and of the great struggles for and among them, displayed so variously throughout history, becomes decisive with the appearance of the bourgeois and capitalist social form by means of which this factor is extended over the entire earth, and Marx in his time devoted the greatest attention, no less than he devoted to the processes of social economy, to the struggles and wars of national consolidation.

With the doctrine and party of the proletariat already in existence since 1848, Marx not only provided the theoretical explanation for these struggles in accordance with economic determinism, but also strove to establish the limits and the conditions of time and place for supporting insurrections and wars for national independence.

By developing the great organized units of peoples and nations, and by superimposing state forms and hierarchies on them and their social dynamism that was differentiated by castes and classes, the racial and national factors played diverse roles in the various historical epochs; slavery, local chieftains, feudalism, capitalism. The importance of these factors varied from one form to another, as we shall see in the second part of our essay and as we have shown on so many occasions. In the modern epoch, in which the transition from the feudal form, from personal dependence and limited and local exchange, began and spread throughout the world, to the bourgeois form of economic servitude and the formation of the great unitary national markets, and then to the world market, the consolidation of nationality according to race, language, traditions and culture, and the demand that Lenin summarized in his formula, “one nation, one state” (while he explained that it was necessary to fight for this although he also said that it was a bourgeois formula and not a proletarian and socialist one), possess a fundamental force in the dynamic of history. What Lenin had verified with regard to the pre-1914 era in eastern Europe was true for Marx after 1848 in all of western Europe (except England) and even in 1871, as everyone knows. And today it is true outside of Europe, in vast areas of the inhabited world, although the process is impelled and accelerated by the potential for economic exchange and all sorts of other factors on a world scale. As a result, the problem of what position must be taken with regard to the irresistible tendencies of the “backward” peoples to engage in struggles for national independence is of contemporary relevance.

Opportunism and the National Question


The dialectical core of the issue does not reside in equating an alliance in the physical struggle for anti-feudal revolutionary goals between bourgeois states and the working class and its party with a repudiation of the doctrine and the politics of the class struggle, but in showing that under the historical conditions and in the geographical regions in which this alliance is necessary and unavoidable, the programmatic theoretical and political critique of the goals and ideologies for which the bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements fight should remain integral and should be pursued tirelessly.

In the third and final part of our essay we shall show how Marx, at the same time that he energetically defends, for example, the cause of Polish or Irish independence, never ceases not only to condemn, but to utterly demolish and bury in ridicule the idealist conceptions of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois authors concerning democratic justice and the freedom of the peoples. Whereas for us the national market and the centralized capitalist nation-state constitute stepping stones to the international economy that will supersede the state and the market, for the famous personalities that Marx ridicules—Mazzini, Garibaldi, Kossuth, Sobieski, etc.—the democratic consolidation into nation-states is an end-point that will terminate all social struggles, and they want the homogeneous nation-state because in such a state the employers will not appear as enemies or as elements that are foreign to the exploited workers. At this historical moment the front lines are shifted, and the working class wages civil war against the state of its own “fatherland”. The advent of this moment was hastened and its conditions were being established by the process of the revolutions and bourgeois national wars of consolidation in Europe (and today in Asia and Africa as well): this is how to decipher this problem that, while changing, never ceases to offer variable directions.


Opportunism, betrayal, backsliding, and counterrevolutionary and philo-capitalist action on the part of today’s Stalinist false communists has a double impact on this terrain (no less than on the strictly economic and social terrain of so-called domestic politics). They contribute to the emergence of national democratic demands and values with excessive open political alliances, even in the highly advanced capitalist West where any plausible reason for engaging in such alliances was ruled out in 1871; but they also disseminated among the masses the sacred respect for the patriotic national and popular ideology identified with that of their bourgeois allies, and even court the support of the champions of these policies, who were ferociously denounced by Marx and Lenin in their time, while they pursue their mission of extirpating all class sentiment in the workers who have the misfortune of following them.

It would be stupid to offer as an extenuating circumstance for the infamy of the parties that today claim to represent the workers, and above all in Italy, under the false name of communists and socialists, the fact that they acknowledge as an admitted Marxist method, the participation in revolutionary national alliances on the part of the workers parties, on the condition that they should take place outside the 20th century and outside of the historical-geographical boundaries of Europe. When, in the conflict that recently erupted in the highly developed West (France, England, America, Italy, Germany, Austria), the Russian state and all the parties of the former Communist International then joined in the military alliance with all the bourgeois states, when there was no Napoleon III or Nicholas II or similar figures, first of all the lessons of Marx’s Address on behalf of the First International to the Paris Commune of 1871 were directly contravened, in which Marx denounced and ruled out forever any alliance with “national armies” because “the national governments are one as against the proletariat”, and secondly Lenin’s theses on the war of 1914 and the founding of the Third International were also contravened, in which it was established that, once the stage of generalized imperialist wars had commenced, demands for democratic reform and national self-determination no longer had anything to do with the policies of states, condemning all social-nationalist traitors, from the Rhine to the Vistula.

A simple proposal to “reapply the terms” conceded to capitalism, transferring 1871 and 1917 to 1939 and 1953, with an incalculable subsequent extension, cannot proceed very far without completely undermining the entire Marxist method of reading history, at the crucial points in which its doctrinal force began to open up a breach in the armies defending the past: the European 1848, and the Russian 1905. Furthermore, such a proposal leads to the repudiation of all classical economic and social analysis, by claiming to assimilate the recent fascist totalitarianism with feudal remnants that still existed during that period (and even non-fascist, when Poland was divided between Germany and Russia!).

But the sentence of diametrical treason is also encountered in the second aspect: the total and integral cancellation of that critique of the “values” of bourgeois thought, which proclaim a classless world of popular independence, free nationalities, and independent and peaceful fatherlands. Marx and Lenin, however, when they were forced to reach some kind of agreement with the authors of this putrid conceptual framework, drove the struggle to liberate the working class from the fetishes of the national fatherland and democracy proclaimed by the big names of bourgeois radicalism to the highest point of virulence, and were able to in fact break with them in the historical dynamic, and when the relation of forces permitted they crushed its movement. Their successors today have inherited the function of the priests of these fetishes and myths; now it is not a matter of a historical pact that they will break later than they had foreseen, but of the total submission to the demands of the capitalist bourgeoisie in order to obtain the optimum of the regime that would allow them privileges and power.

The thesis is interesting because it conforms to the demonstration, offered in “Dialogue with Stalin” and in other inquiries in the field of economic science, that Russia today is a state that has completed the capitalist revolution, and that in its social marketplace there is a place for the flags of nationality and fatherland, as well as the most unbounded militarism.


It is a very serious mistake not to see, and indeed to deny, the fact that in today’s world national and ethnic factors still have an impact and exercise enormous influence, and that careful study of the limits in time and space in which campaigns for national independence, linked with social revolutions against pre-capitalist forms (Asiatic, slave and feudal) still have the character of necessary preconditions for the transition to socialism—with the founding of nation-states of the modern type (in India, China, Egypt, Persia, etc., for example)—is still relevant.

Differentiating between these situations is difficult, on the one hand because of the factor of xenophobia determined by the ruthless capitalist colonialism, and on the other due to the widespread dissemination throughout the world of productive resources that causes commodities to reach the most distant markets; but on the world scale the burning question posed in 1920 in the area of the former Russian empire, that of offering political and armed support to the independence movements of the peoples of the East, is by no means closed.

For example, to say that the relation between industrial capital and the class of the wage workers is expressed in precisely the same way in Belgium and Thailand, and that the praxis of their respective struggles should be established without taking into account in either of the two cases the factors of race or nationality, does not mean you are an extremist, but it means in effect that you have understood nothing of Marxism.

It is not by draining Marxism of all its depth and scope as well as its harsh and uninviting complexity that one conquers the right to refute, and one day to crush, despicable renegades.