Ber Borochov:


Zionism and Israel- Documents and Texts

home Zionism on the Web News definitions about issues history documents  links photo gallery contact help Zionism

Resources for Zionism and Israel

INTRODUCTION - Ber Borochov and Socialist Zionism

Ber Borochov - Biography

Ber Borochov was born June 21, 1881 in  Zolotonshi in the Ukraine.  Two months after his birth Borochov’s parents moved to  Poltava, which was a town of exile for revolutionaries and also  became a Zionist center.  A branch of' Hovevei Tziyon was established there, and Borochov’s father Moses Aaron, a Hebrew teacher, was an active member.

Borochov attended the Gymnasium (high school) but did not enter a university owing to his resentment over antisemitism. 

In 1900 Borochov joined with the Russian Social Democratic Party and served as an organizer and propagandist. He was expelled from the party in May 1901, for nationalist deviationism, and organized a labor club with Socialist Zionist leanings.

Labor Zionism: Ber Borochov - a founder of Socialist Zionism
Ber Borochov (1881-1917)

Borochov joined the Poalei Tziyon Party in November 1905, after the Sixth Zionist Congress, when the question of the "night refuge" in Uganda was raised. His opposition to Uganda or  any other territory than Palestine being made the new Jewish homeland resulted in his famous essay "To the Question: Zion and Territory." At the Poltava conference (November 1905), Borochov helped to formulate the Poalei Tziyon program.

On June 3, 1906, the Czarist government disbanded the Duma, and on the same night Borochov was arrested. He soon escaped from prison and settled for a time in Minsk. Constantly spied on by the police, Borochov was forced to leave Russia, and in the latter part of 1907 he left for Cracow and then to the Hague.  In the summer of 1907, Borochov helped found the World Confederation of Poalei Tziyon. He became a member of its administration and for a time was also its secretary.

He went to Vienna to edit the Party organ, Das Freie Wort (The Free Words), from 1907 to 1910.  Borochov visited England, France, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. He was a correspondent for a number of European and American Jewish papers. During this period he also attempted unsuccessfully to unite the  Jewish socialist and labor parties.

With the outbreak of the World War, Borochov was forced to leave Austria, and he came to the United States.  He became one of the outstanding proponents of a democratically organized American and World Jewish Congress. He remained a Social Democrat and protested against sections of Poalei Tziyon who joined the Bolsheviks.  In March of 1917, the Mensheviks came to power in Russia. Borochov returned to Europe en route to Russia. He stopped in Stockholm and helped to prepare the memorandum containing the Poalei Tsiyon demands before the Holland-Scandinavian Socialist Conference. From there he proceeded to Russia to attend the Third All-Russian Poalei Tsiyon Convention. In Russia, Borochov contracted pneumonia and died in Kiev on December 17, 1917 at the age of 36. In 1963, his remains were reinterred in the cemetery at Kibbutz Kinneret, alongside the other founders of Socialist Zionism.

Ber Borochov - Ideology

Borochov's ideological stands changed throughout his life. His signal achievement was to derive Socialist Zionism from classic Marxian theory, thereby providing an ideological framework for Zionist revolutionaries. The hallmark of his ideology was the belief that economic forces alone did not determine history and that each people was subject to unique national conditions, that were being ignored by Marxist historians. These questions are dealt with at length in "The National Question and the Class Struggle." Borochov also advanced a mechanistic "Borochovian" explanation of the Jewish problem, based on the fact that the Jews, being guests everywhere, were never fully integrated into the class structure of their society, and were restricted by law from following those occupations that were closest to the core of national economies. The Jewish class structure formed an "inverted pyramid" with fewer real proletarians and more professionals, intelligentsia  and people engaged in non-essential consumer production, according to Borochov. As economies developed, native populations produced their own professionals and intelligentsia, and competition for jobs in all spheres intensified. This generated antisemitism, because native populations coveted the jobs and positions of Jews, and it forced Jews to migrate from country to country, in a "stychic process" that would inevitably bring them to their own country,. Palestine, when all other possibilities were exhausted. This mechanistic ("vulgar determinist') view gave way to an understanding of the spiritual and cultural roots of Zionism, and a more humanistic view in his last recorded speech.

Borochov's views on the Arab question formed the basis of socialist Zionist ideology, and refute the charges that Zionists planned to expel the Arabs of Palestine. In his last recorded speech, Borochov said:

Many point out the obstacles which we encounter in our colonization work. Some say that he Turkish law hinders our work, others contend that Palestine is insignificantly small, and still others charge us with the odious crime of wishing to oppress and expel the Arabs from Palestine...

When the waste lands are prepared for colonization, when modern technique is introduced, and when the other obstacles are removed, there will be sufficient land to accommodate both the Jews and the Arabs. Normal relations between the Jews and Arabs will and must prevail.

(Eretz Yisrael in our Program and Tactics - Kiev, September 1917)

Borochov believed that Arab and Jewish proletariat would have similar class interests, and would develop a common front in the class struggle. This ideology did not fit the reality of Palestine before WW I, where Arabs were competing with Jews for jobs. However, subsequently, the Zionist workers movements  tried to establish joint organizations with Palestinian Arabs.

The National Question and the Class Struggle deals with the central contribution of Borochov to Marixist thought. Stripped of the Marxist jargon, Borochov's thesis amounts to pointing out that nationalist and ethnic motives play as strong a part in history as class ideology. The thesis was to prove itself correct, tragically, not only for the Jewish people, who were eventually ejected from the mainstream of Bolshevik politics, but also for the German Social Democrats who supported World War I, and again it would prove itself correct in Soviet imperialism and Stalin's genocidal nationalities policies.

Borochovian ideology was a cornerstone of the Poalei Tziyon movement, and in particular of  Hashomer Hatzair (later Mapam - the United Workers Party of Israel), which opted for a binational state solution until this proved to be impractical.


This page may be copied for nonprofit use, provided you credit  Zionism and Israel On the Web and link to us as shown here. The Introduction is copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel on the Web.


by Ber Borochov

I. Two-fold Division of Human Society

In the preface to his book, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx states: "In the social production which men carry on, they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production."

In order to live, men must produce. In order to produce, they must combine their efforts in a certain way. Man does not as an individual struggle with nature for existence. History knows man only as a unit in a social group. Since men do live socially, it follows that between them certain relations are developed. These relations arise because of production. Indeed, Marx terms them: relations of production.

"The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society — the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness." Thus the relations of production in China, or in France, for example, are the basis for the whole "social order" of Chinese or French society.

But when we refer to societies by different names, we imply that there are several societies. These societies are in some manner differentiated one from the other. If this were not so, we could not speak of an English bourgeoisie, for example, and a German bourgeoisie or an American proletariat and a Russian proletariat. Then we would speak only of mankind as a whole, or at least of civilized humanity, and no more. But the English and the Germans, the Americans and the Russians, are each part of mankind, and if you will, of civilized humanity, and yet they are differentiated from one another. We therefore, see that humanity is divided into several societies.

The above is common knowledge, and it would never occur to anyone to deny it. The question is, however, how can we explain the causes which make for this division of humanity? To be sure, many explanations have already been offered. One has but to inquire of those who speak in the name of "national ideologies," of a "pure Russian spirit," of a "true German spirit," of "Judaism," and so on. The problem for us, however, is to explain this in terms of the materialistic concept, which teaches us to seek the basic causes of every social phenomenon in economic conditions.

We know why men are divided into classes. We know that all members of a given society are not in the same position in the relations of production. Each group in society takes a different part in the system of production (feudal or capitalistic). Each group bears a specific relation to the means of production. Some are the entrepreneurs, others the workers, a third group are peasants, and so on. The groups which are so differentiated from one another represent the different classes. Every society is therefore divided into classes.

What, however, is responsible for the difference between the various societies which give rise to the whole national question and its concomitant struggles? On what grounds do these differences arise, and what are the conclusions to be drawn from the previously stated Marxian theory.


II. Conditions of Production

We stated above: in order to live, men must produce. In the process of production various relations of production arise. But the production itself is dependent on certain conditions, which are different in different places.

Citing Marx above, we said that the nature of the relations of production is independent of man’s intellect and volition. The character of the relations of production depends on the state of the forces of production, which are in the control of man. But in the state of the forces of production and their development is primarily dependent on the natural conditions which man must face in his struggle for existence. The condition of the forces of production is therefore dependent on the geographic environment, and the latter is, of course different in different places.

What is true of the forces of production is also true of the development of production. This development is always influenced by certain naturally and historically different conditions, which result in different economic structures among different peoples.

The conditions of production vary considerably. They are geographic, anthropological, and historic. The historic conditions include both those generated within a given social entity and those imposed by the neighboring social groups.

Engels recognizes these conditions in his second letter in the Socialist Academician. He states therein that among the many factors which make for different economies are also the geographical environment, the race, and even the human type, which has developed differently in different places.

In the third volume of Capital Marx also states that one and the same economic base can develop in different ways because of different conditions, such as natural environment, race, and external historical influences. Therefore we see, according to the teachers of historical materialism, that one and the same process of development of productive forces can assume various forms according to the differences in the conditions of production.[1]

Of the above-mentioned conditions of production, the natural non-social factors predominated first. As society develops, however, the social and historic environment gains in importance over the non-social, natural conditions, just as man in general assumes mastery over nature.

In this conception of the "conditions of production" we have a sound basis for the development of a purely materialistic theory of the national question. For in it is contained the theory and the basis of national struggles.

For scientific accuracy, however, we must add the following explanation: the foregoing citation from Marx speaks about historic influences asking from without. When we say "from without," it means that the thing which is being influenced is a distinct entity from the other. It therefore has an internal and an external life. But is there anything in the world which is an absolute totality in itself? No. And yet we do speak of certain totalities. It is common knowledge that to the present day humanity must still be considered an aggregate of certain entities, which are to an extent distinct from one another. Thus, for example, everyone knows that the French masses are distinct from the German masses, and so on. Scientists very often do speak of various things, which are in some measure connected one with the other, and yet are considered distinct entities. Why is this so?

As we gave already emphasized, there are many things, which are to a certain extent totalities in themselves. True, they are absolute, but only to an extent, in other words, not relatively distinct entities. Humanity must to the present day be considered an aggregate of relatively distinct entities. It is therefore apparent that when speaking of such relatively distinct entities, we can also speak of internal and external relations. In speaking of "influences acting from without" Marx by that alone recognizes the relative totality of modern societies.

What, however, brings about this relative totality of social life of a certain group, so that we may consider it a closed entity? Why do we consider England as something different than France, although both these societies have an identical capitalistic system of production? We may speak, and do speak of a relative distinctness of social groups only because there is a relative distinctiveness in the conditions of production under which each group must develop its life. Sometimes such a group is called a socio-economic organism. [2]

We, therefore, come to the formulation and explanation of the following two sorts of human groupings: 1) the group into which humanity is divided according to the differences in the conditions of the relatively distinct productions are called societies, socio-economic organism (tribes, families, peoples, national); 2) the groups into which the society is divided according to their role in the system of production itself, i.e., according to their respective relations to the means of production, are called classes (castes, ranks, etc.).


III. The National Struggle

Having ascertained the causes for the division of humanity into societies, we can now proceed to a discussion of the national struggle and the grounds from which it arises.

We know that the class struggle arises because of conditions of the various classes in the system of production are different. The position of one class may be better or worse, more advantageous or less so, than the position of a second class. The striving of the various groups within a given society to gain for themselves an already achieved position, or to retain for themselves an already achieved position, results in the class struggle.

The class struggle assumed the character of a social problem wherever the development of the forces of production disturbs the constitution of the relations of production, i.e., when the constitution of the relations of production is archaic, obsolete, and no longer suitable to the further development of production.

The same is true of the national struggle. The situation as regards one set of material conditions of production may be more advantageous than the situation in another set of material conditions of production; and there develops a striving of the same character as that previously described in connection with the class struggle. The result of this striving is the struggle between social entities.

Nor is it even necessary that the conditions should differ as to relative advantageousness. For no matter how advantageous the position of a given society may be in the sphere of its usual conditions of production, it may nevertheless strive to expand its production, to increase the sum total of its energies. It therefore becomes necessary in the process of enlarging the scope of its conditions of production to annex those of other social entities. And here we perceive the same phenomenon: one body seeks to annex the field of the other, or to defend itself against the other; in other words, we are witnessing a national struggle.

We have thus demonstrated two bases which give rise to the struggle between social entities. We may quite simply state that a national struggle takes place whenever the development of the forces of production demands that the conditions of production belonging to a social group be better, more advantageous, or that in general they be expanded. In other words a national struggle comes about when the existing conditions of production are no longer compatible with the further development of production. The national problem therefore arises when the development of the forces of production of a nationality conflicts with the state of conditions of production.

Every social phenomenon is primarily related to the material elements of society. A struggle is waged not for "spiritual" things, but for certain economic advantages in social life. The class struggle is waged not for "spiritual" values, but for the means of production. So too, with the national struggle.

The class struggle is waged for the material possessions of the classes, i.e., for the means of production. The means of production may be material or intangible. Material wealth is for the most part something that can be expropriated, such as machines. Intangible assets, on the other hand, are those which cannot be expropriated, as for example, technical proficiency, skill, and so on. Despite the fact that the struggle between classes very often assumed the form of a conflict between cultural-spiritual ideologies, such a struggle is not waged for the possession of intangible assets, but for the control of the material means of production.

The national struggle is also waged for the material possessions of social organisms, the assets of a social body like in its control of the conditions of production. These, too, may be material or "spiritual," i.e., such as can and such as cannot be expropriated. The material conditions consist of the territory and all the products of the material culture, which have been developed by man, particularly the tangible conditions of production. The "spiritual" conditions consist of languages, customs, mores, weltanschauungen, [world outlook] in other words — the "historic" conditions of production.

The national struggle is waged not for the preservation of cultural values but for the control of material possessions, even though it is very often conducted under the banner of spiritual slogans. Nationalism is always related to the material possessions of the nation, despite the various masks, which it may assume outwardly.

However, first it is necessary to determine what is "nationalism." The terms "nationalism" and "national question" are directly linked with the term "nation," and it therefore becomes imperative to ascertain precisely what we mean by this latter term.


IV. Peoples and Nations

The terms "people" and "nation" each denote a different stage or degree of development in the life of a given society. In order that we may better understand the distinction between the two, we may bring as an illustration the single word "class," and the interpretation of which it is capable. It is well known that the meaning of the word "class" as employed by Marx is ambiguous and somewhat complicated. On the one hand, Marx considers as a class every social group which differs from other groups in the same society as regards its participation in production or in its relation to the means of production. It is in this sense that Marx and Engels stated that the history of humanity is the history of class struggles.

But then again we find passages in Marx which indicate that he employed the term "class" in another, much narrower sense. Here it appears that he understands a class to be not merely any economic group occupying a special place in the system of production, but such a group as has already achieved a measure of self-consciousness and has appeared on the political arena with clearly expressed interests and demands.

These two meanings of the word "class" are to be found in Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy. In one instance we find "the working class will substitute, in the course of its development, for the old order of civil society and association which will excluded classes and their antagonism…" In another instance we find, "So long as the proletariat is not sufficiently developed to constitute itself as a class, so long as, in consequence, the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie has not acquired a political character…" And in still another instance we find, "Many researches have been made to trace the different historical phases through which the bourgeoisie has passed from the early commune to its constitution as a class." In these last two examples we have the second meaning of "class." Here Marx distinguishes between the two different conditions of the group: one, when the group is a class only in relation to the other groups; and the second, when it enters the political arena and becomes a class in its own consciousness.

A whole society may also find itself in one of these two conditions: in the first, when it appears as a relatively distinct entity only in relations with other social organisms; and in the second, when it appears as a social organism with a consciousness of its own.

When we wish to denote the respective states of groups which developed under different conditions of production we have two terms. Thus a social group which developed under the same conditions of production is commonly called a "people." And the same social group, which is united also through the consciousness of the kinship between its members, is commonly called a "nation." Thus, a people become a nation only on a higher plane of its development. When did peoples acquire their national character? We shall discuss this question later. For now, we shall confine ourselves to an explanation of the concept, "nationalism."


V. Nationalism

The psyche of every personality adapts itself, more or less, to the conditions under which its group lives. In this way there develops a group psychology, and definite earmarks of a group character emerge. The keen observer will always discover in these traits some relationship to the material conditions of a given system of production or to a definite stage in the development of the system. This relationship may, however, often be obscure.

Furthermore, although the members of each group, be it a class or a society, may have certain generally common characteristics, it does not yet follow that this similarity denotes the community and solidarity of their interests. And even where there is such community of interests; there may not always be any consciousness thereof.

There are some groups among whose members there can be no mutuality of interests, because they are in constant conflict with one another as a result of inner group contradictions. And even groups, which really have common, harmonious interests, do not easily become conscious of them, for this consciousness can develop only to the course of a more or less extended period of time.

However, in groups which are organized so harmoniously that their individual members adapt themselves uniformly to their environment, there sooner or later develops also the consciousness of this harmony. Thus we perceive that because the group lives under uniform and also harmonious conditions of production or relations of production there sometimes develops, in addition to the group character, also a group-consciousness. All the emotions, which result from this group-consciousness, give rise, in the main, to what is commonly called the feeling of kinship or affinity.

Life under relations of production, which are harmonious for the individuals of the group, evokes class solidarity.

Life under one and the same conditions of production, when the conditions are harmonious for the members of a society evokes the national consciousness of that society, and the feelings of national kinship.

The individual members feel this kinship as something associated with their common past. Naturally, this does not always mean that they really have a common past. Sometimes the antiquity of the common past is purely fictitious.

This feeling of kinship, created as a result of the perceived common historic past and rooted in the common conditions of production, is called nationalism.


VI. Nationalism and the Territory

We previously stated that, in the last analysis, nationalism is always related to the material resources of the nation. What are the material resources of the nation?

The resources of a society, in general, we have pointed out, are the conditions of its system of production. These may be material or spiritual. The most vital of the material conditions of production is the territory. The territory is furthermore the foundation on which rises all other conditions of production, and it serves as a base for the introduction of all external influences.

In addition, every nationality also has fashioned certain instruments for the preservation of its resources. These are its political unity and the political institutions, its language, its national education, and nationalism itself.

Here, however, it is necessary to remember that the nation is divided into classes (in both senses of the word). They are each in a different position in the system of production of the nation; their places in the relations or production are not the same. Therefore, the conditions of production can under no circumstances be of equal value to all. Each class has a different interest in the national wealth and therefore possesses a different type of "nationalism." If we should formerly define nationalism as a striving to preserve the national interest, which are always in some manner or other related to the base of the conditions of production, the territory, and to its instruments of preservation, then we have, because of the diversity of national interests, also various types of nationalism.

The national interests may be directed internally or externally; they may be conservative or progressive, aggressive or defensive in character. All this naturally accounts for certain variations in the types of nationalism.

VII. The origins of Nationalism

There can be no nationalism where the conditions of production have not yet been nationalized, i.e., where the relatively distinct society has not yet been segregated from without and united from within.

Both conditions mentioned above — the segregation from the outside world, and the internal unity — must be met.

The feudal system satisfied only the first condition — it only served to segregate one society from another, but it did not unite the members of each society with a strong national bond. The feudal era was not possessed of a harmonious wholeness in the conditions of production. Consequently it had not conception of the existence of nations, but only of "peoples." And therefore, too, it had no conception of nationalism and the national question.

The nationalism of ancient times was purely political in character. It often flared up spontaneously at times when the external relations between peoples became sharply strained. This sort of nationalism came to life and subsided together with the great wars, which, however, were not waged because of national interests, and were not, therefore, national in character.

When, however, commerce began to develop out of the feudal system, a great revolution was set in motion. Gradually, nationalities, nationalism, and in consequence the national question came into being. The first simple national policy — which cannot yet be termed national — shifted from without to within society. Instead of being purely occasional and accidental, as heretofore, it assumed permanent and regular features. And only by the shift to within the society did it become national. The development of capital slowly shook the foundation of the existing order, and with its aid there began the consolidation of the land and great monarchies developed.

We may well ask: What interest prompted the movement which nationalized the conditions of social production? In the next chapter, we shall answer this question. Before concluding this chapter, however, we wish to point out the following: the first protagonist of national ideas, the bourgeoisie (the mercantile and industrial bourgeoisie), which was so young and progressive in its day, waged an energetic struggle with the old order and created a new world. Needless to say, it could not at the same time also defend the traditional concepts. From its very beginning nationalism has been independent of traditions.

Those who berate nationalism in general as something obsolete and reactionary, as a traditional thing, are remarkably shallow and ignorant. Nationalism is a product of the bourgeois society — it was born simultaneously with it, its reign is as old as that of the bourgeois society, and it must be reckoned with as much as any other phenomenon of bourgeois society. Speaking from the proletarian standpoint, we must therefore say that the proletariat is directly concerned with nationalism, with the national wealth, and with the territory. Since the proletariat takes part in the production, then it must also be interested in the conditions of production, and there must develop a specific proletarian type of nationalism —, as is, indeed, the fact.

A generally essential condition, one of the prerequisites of the capitalistic system of production, is freedom. Commerce and industry develop only through free competition, i.e., when there is freedom to transport capital and goods and to trade with them. The worker must also be free to sell his labor power; he must be able to move about freely, for only in this manner can surplus value, the life-blood of capitalism, be created. The freedom to travel is the first and most essential of all liberties, for without it all others have no value.

Travel and transportation, naturally, depend on the territory. The prerequisite of freedom of transportation is a free territory. And this makes clear to us what interest led the bourgeoisie to engage in the struggle to make the land free. The struggle was waged first to free a specific territory, with definite boundaries. These boundaries marked off the whole territory in which a given language was spoken.

It also became necessary to emancipate the population living within this territory and to abolish the feudal barriers, which covered the land like a network and obstructed the freedom of transportation. Thus the bourgeoisie created a relatively segregated social organism, freed it from serfdom, and harmonized the conditions of its production. That is why it was nationalistic. In addition, it also emancipated the whole population of the country — to be sure, with the aid of the masses. It united with all classes jointly against the one class — against the lords of that period. This strengthened and encouraged all the more its militant and really progressive nationalism.

Thus the European peoples became nations.

There developed among each people a national consciousness and the members of the nation became imbued with the feeling of kinship arising from their common historic past, or — to employ the materialistic terminology — from the common conditions of their system of production. The various peoples, who now desired to develop their national wealth, realized that such wealth indeed did exist, but that it was necessary to wrest it from the toils of reigning feudalism. Thus they each began to love their respective territories — the homeland, the fatherland; that is to say the common base of the conditions of production. They began to love its instrument of preservation and to cultivate the national language, and aspired to a truly national commonwealth. [3]

After the French Revolution, however, the divisions within the society itself became clearly manifest. It became evident that the nation consists of different classes. And after the national wealth had been emancipated, and the controlling powers proceeded to the division thereof, the class struggle broke out in all its fury. The harmony and solidarity of which they formerly spoke were dispelled like smoke. The fundamental postulate, "the people," proved to be a fiction. The "homeland," "our" land, "our" language, "our" culture — all these conditions of the system of production remained a part of the national wealth. But they no longer appeared as the common possession of all members of the nation. Even the basic feeling of kinship, arising on the ground of the common historic past, lost its original aura. It lost its passion, and remained a mere experience; it became a tradition.

The above is true as regards free nations which oppress no one and are not themselves oppressed, i.e., nations which live under normal conditions of production. With them the feeling and consciousness of kinship has become a tradition, an historic reminiscence. And life itself has helped to further this condition. The material conditions of life, which gave rise to class antagonisms, have pushed aside this tradition and prevented it from exerting any social influence. Each class has assumed its social position, and it values a particular aspect of the national wealth — that aspect with which it is most concerned.

Free nations, which do not oppress others are not oppressed themselves, lack the environment in which all national interests may merge. In other words, there is no instance in the conditions of production, which finds that the common interests of all members of the nation are affected. Such nations have dynamic "nationalism." It expresses itself only in weak sympathies, in "love for one's own," so to say. This "love" may simply mean that, all other conditions being equal; [4] an individual will "help his own" more readily than "a stranger."

Among certain classes of free nations, there may, however, sometimes exist a latent sort of nationalism. But this is no more than a potential (a repressed) nationalism, which may manifest itself strongly at the first opportune occasion. It must always be remembered, however, that this occasion will arise only when the national resources are affected, and at that, only the material resources. These, incidentally, must be affected in such a manner that the interests of some class are also involved, because the center of gravity of free nations lies not in their national existence -- for their conditions of production are normal -- but in their class structure, in the relations which are developed within the confines of the system production itself. As long as the national interests of some class are not endangered, so long does the propaganda of nationalism sere only to dampen class-consciousness; and on that consideration it is harmful.

It goes without saying, however, that when the conditions of the system of production of a certain nation are in an anomalous state, its nationalism assumes an altogether different aspect.

VIII. Nationalism and Class Consciousness

It must be noted in general, that all anomalies in the conditions of production, i.e., the class structure, heighten nationalism. It is a commonly known fact that under normal condition of production the class antagonisms become more acute, whereas under abnormal conditions of production they abate somewhat.

Normal conditions of production denationalize the people and dull its national consciousness, whereas abnormal conditions of production (i.e., when some part of the national possession is lacking or its organs or preservation are curtailed) harmonize the interests of various classes of the nation and heighten its national consciousness. Therefore, there is a kind of antagonism between the class-consciousness and national consciousness of a given group, and the two are wont to obfuscate one another. It sometimes happens that the interests of the individuals of various classes in a nation, under abnormal conditions of production, are in reality harmonious in some respect, and yet certain irrational ideologists ignore these national interests, which are also of great significance to their own class, too. The same effect is created by carrying on a nationalistic propaganda within a nation which is living under normal conditions of production or where the propagandists will have the people believe that the common interests are broader and more harmonious than is really the case. In this latter instance nationalism blunts class-consciousness, as it is therefore detrimental to the whole nation, because it hides the real relations between the various groups within the nation. This results in self-deceit, illusions and social myopia.

It is always harmful to obscure the class or national consciousness of a given group, irrespective of whether this is a result of a class or national demagogy. Whether it is class or national interests which are being obscured, or whether it is the real conditions of production or the relations of production which are being falsely interpreted, is immaterial, since the one attempt as well as the other is reactionary.

The ruling classes of free as well as of oppressed nations, take advantage of this fundamental contradiction between national and class consciousness, and are often inclined to carry on a hypocritical nationalistic propaganda in order to obscure the class-consciousness of those whom they oppress. We should not be misled by this condition into believing that these ruling classes are in reality nationally inclined. The ruling classes are not national, but nationalistic.

All propaganda and every moment, which is rooted in the character of the conditions of production of a given society, is either national or nationalistic. Whenever it attempts to blunt the class and civic consciousness of the members of that society, and whenever it ignores the class structure and the antagonism between the interests of the classes, it is nationalistic. If, however, it does not obscure the class structure of the society, it is national.

The phrase "national spirit," all sorts of "cultural-historical essences," and all other exaggerated traditions are the best warning signals against confusion of the two. Nationalistic speeches are always liberally dotted with them. Empty phraseology, crammed with these and similar conceptions, is not national but nationalistic.

Taking into consideration the fact that there exists a common national character, which is the same for all members of the nation, a person who thinks nationalistically is inclined to forget on account of all the social differences between the individuals making up the nation. On the other hand, a person who thinks nationally -- even when he recognizes the existence of a common character created in the environment of common conditions of production -- realizes nevertheless, first of all, that it is rather difficult to define this national character and the national-culture type, for they are too intangible; and secondly, that within every nationality the separate characteristics of each class appear much more acutely and can be more readily discerned.

Finally, a person who thinks nationalistically believes that all members of society should be nationalistic; he conceives of nationalism and patriotism as a holy imperative. But a person who thinks nationally does not consider it "traitorous" when he discovers that certain classes of the society are wholly free of nationalism, while others understand nationalism each in their own way, in relation to their respective class interests.


IX. The Nationalism of the Great Land Owners

The great land owners are the class which lives from land-rent. Naturally, their income consists in part also of interest derived from their capital. But land-rent is the principal source of their income. As a result they are mainly concerned about the immobile things, about their estates. They cherish the territory only in as much as it represents a piece of land from which they can exact their rents. Their nationalism is inherently a land nationalism. It is affected only when some other neighboring people attempt to annex the soil itself; for should such conquest be achieved, the land owners would lose their source of income. The land owners are not concerned with the fact that the territory also serves other classes of their nation as a national market, and it would hardly trouble them at all should a foreign people, foreign capitalists, attempt to wrest from their own bourgeoisie the domestic market offered by the territory. However, other incidental interests oblige them to give some attention to those matters.

For the land owning class occupies a transitory position in the history of social development. This class is rapidly becoming capitalistic and it is therefore beginning to find itself in a new relationship to the national wealth and to the instrument of national preservation: the land owning class is but a remnant of the feudal system whose death knoll social progress has long since sounded. The land owners have lost their economic power and they are losing more and more of the political power which they still retain in some countries, where the land owning class has to a certain extent preserved its identity, it still exerts a greater influence on the State than do other classes.

One must bear in mind, that the present-day State is a class State. The respective interests of the various groups in the State are different. Naturally then, not all groups in the society are in a position of power. The State regime is intimately associated with some one class. As far as possible, however, the State strives to gain the confidence of the whole population, irrespective of class. In order to exert its influence the state pretends to steer a middle course between all classes. It is possible for it to maintain such a position, however, only when it can raise some issue which rises above all antagonisms within the social organism. This issue is nationalism.

Moreover, wherever they still retain the political power in their hands, the big land owners do precisely that. We frequently behold the following phenomenon: the same adherents to feudalism, who formerly had no conception whatsoever of "national ideals" or the "national mission," are now the first to shout these slogans. In reality, though they acquired this idea from their former enemy, the bourgeoisie. This phenomenon can be explained only by the fact that the land owners are forced to pretend to a position above al classes. In order not to awaken any dissatisfaction in the subordinated populace, they ferret out everything that has any semblance of national value and go to all extremes to preserve it, thus pulling the wool over the eyes of the populace. That also is why the big land owners are so sensitive about the national honor, and are so exaggeratedly finicky in a nationalistic sense. They are, so to say, the permanent powder-barrel of nationalism, and are always ready to explode on the slightest provocation.

The nationalism of the land owning class has another characteristic; this class has preserved the whole store of traditions amassed during the feudal period. And although nationalism itself has nothing in common with traditionalism when it made its first appearance, the land owners nevertheless enmesh it in the toils of old traditions. [5]

In the countries where the bourgeoisie is in control, and the land owners are powerless, the traditional nationalism of the latter class manifests itself clearly, as does the reactionary and barren nature of its tactics. Approaching its grave, the landed aristocracy leaves a trail of wretched scandals along its tragic road. That is the sort of "nationalism" we find in France; as its days become numbered the more numerous are the scandals.

X. The Nationalism of the Great Bourgeoisie

Big business knows no tradition. We have repeatedly made this statement. When big business is nationalistic, we can readily foretell that this nationalism is utterly remote from any connection with tradition. To the inner national market and to its language -- the national language prevailing in this market, -- Big Business is only feebly bound. Big Business has long ago swept beyond the narrow borders of the national market and language. Now it strides, head raised high, over the broad extensive world market. In the distribution of its goods, the great bourgeoisie is not confined within the limits in which the national language predominates; it has no direct relations with the consumer. The latter is concerned, now with the manufacturer, but with the retailer. The manufacturer, in fact, does not need to know any other tongue but his mother-tongue; his secretaries and bookkeepers will take care of his correspondence with foreign countries. The financier, the money capitalist, whose clutches are on the whole course of the modern economy, has even less contact with the domestic market than has the great industrialist.

The great bourgeoisie, therefore, does not conduct a domestic national policy. It dreams of the universal might of its national capital. It seeks to crowd all "foreign" capital out of the world-market, so that its own profits may be the greater. For this purpose, a strong navy and a well-trained army are essential. Such "noble" matters as "the national cultural spirit," and so on, seldom interest it. It is much more interested in bayonets, bombs, and battleships. Questions of language and national education interest it little. Of greater importance is the budget for the army and navy. In order to exercise the proper influence upon such matters, political power is necessary. And the real basis of political power is, obviously, the territory.

Thus, the territory and its borders, so far as Big Business is concerned, represent an operating base from which to seize the world market. [6]


XI. The Nationalism of the Middle-Class

We now must deal with the middle-class and the petty bourgeoisie. Unlike the land owners, they do not regard their territory merely as an area of land. For them, the territory is importante as a market for consumption-goods. The frontiers of this market naturally coincide with the sphere of influence of the national tongue. The immediate buyer must speak the same language as the immediate seller. Thus, it follows that the middle-class is interested in having more and more people speak its language. The nationalism of this particular bourgeois group draws its inspiration from the interests of the national market. The middle-class is, therefore, the chief supporter -- not, of course, the only supporter -- of those policies which hinder the freedom of foreign languages. The essence of nationalism, as the middle-class sees it, is the language and everything that is intimately connected with the language -- traditional culture, education, etc.

It happens, sometimes, that the great land owners of some powerful nation wish to seize the soil upon which a subject people is dwelling; and so they try to assimilate the inhabitants. They assume the guise of cultural crusaders, crush the language of the nation which they desire to assimilate, and strangle its education. The middle-class is always the readiest partner of the land owners in this noble task, for the former presumes to be the devoted "knights" of the "cultural crusade." To be convinced thereof one has but to remember the assimilatory politik in Prussian Silesia.

The ideologists of this class employ the same phraseology as the land owners. Incidentally, they also have another similarity to the latter; they occupy the middle position between the two main classes of society; and they, too, pretend to stand above the class struggle.

In reality they fear every social upheaval, for it might signify their death warrant. They sanctify orderliness, and mortally fear revolution. They cling fast to whatever property is still in their possession, and tremble lest that too be wrested from them. They are therefore the bulwark of "law and order," and are ready to defend with fire and sword the existing order of things. In general they are vexatious, as might be expected from an element which is on the down-grade to pauperization, and which cannot fight for its future or face it squarely. Everything that is in whatever degree unusual or strange, appears to them as rebellious, traitorous and subversive. Their poor dull wit will not permit them to rise above their drab possessiveness.

Such conditions have provided excellent soil for the various nationalistic prejudices and superstitions. The troubled petty-bourgeoisie heads are wholly concerned with "we" and "they," "native" and "alien." Incidentally, this is not to be wondered at, for they constitute a class whose members, engaged in cut-throat competition, are eternally squabbling among themselves. They lack a common meeting-point where their class-interests may coincide. Class-consciousness can find no foot-hold here; all the more reason, then, why national self-consciousness so vigorously sprouts. This group, indeed, creates its own "ideals," -- but this is not the place to dwell upon them.

Of importance to us is this, that the middle-class and petty-bourgeoisie, though directly concerned with the protection of their domestic market, indirectly support the chauvinistic domestic and foreign policies of the land owners. This wretched type of nationalism plays no independent role; and when it loses its strong ally, the land owning class, it will completely die out. The more rapidly this propertied class becomes declassed, and its members are distributed among the proletariat and the great bourgeoisie, the quicker will this type of nationalism become extinct.

Some elements of the middle-class and petty bourgeoisie who are concerned with the national culture -- teachers, historians, writers, artists, etc., -- are inclined to a peaceful form of honor-- able, respectable, "cultural" naturalism. They place great hope in the recognition of the right of every nation to its own self-determination. They have no desire to destroy every other nationality and do not wish to swallow anyone. In domestic politics, they are liberal, frequently even radical, and they maintain the same position in international politics, they are liberal, frequently even radical, and they maintain the same position in international politics. And yet, they do love the "native" more than the "alien"; somehow, the traditions of their own culture are dearer to their hearts. They are not nationalistically "snobbish" but they feel that they must protect their national prestige.

The more intellectually developed and progressive elements do not even deny the class structure of society. Nevertheless, they are not concerned therewith, because in general, they loath conflict and disorder. They have only managed to preserve in a petrified state the earlier sentiment of pre- (French) revolutionary, bourgeois nationalism, with its old national-democratic traditions.[7]

Until now we have considered the nationalism of the ruling classes. It is a diversified nationalism, as we have just seen. It is, of course, difficult to differentiate the national ideas of the land owners, the great bourgeoisie (big business) and the middle-classes. It is difficult, even from an economic point-of-view, to distinguish between one or another. There are innumerable transitional forms of nationalism which make one type of nationalism approximate another; but to the inexperienced eye they seem to blend into a single whole. The materialistic interpretation of history, however, teaches us to distinguish everywhere between the basic characteristics and their variations, and always to resolve into its original elements what may superficially appear to be one compounded whole.

XII. The Nationalism of the Proletariat


No one is bound to accept the widely spread fallacy, which claims that the proletariat really bears no relationship to the territory, and consequently possesses neither a national sense nor national interests. There is no class in society that lies outside of the conditions of production. It follows that the state of these conditions of production possesses a definite significance for the proletariat too. Let us forget those empty and hazardous imbecilities, so commonly current among the progressive public in respect to this particular question. If the common base and reservoir of the conditions of production, (viz., the territory) possesses for the landlords the importance of landed property and is the mainstay of their political power, if it possesses for the great bourgeoisie the importance of an operating base from which to seize the world market and for the middle-classes of society the importance of a consumers' market, and if the protective forms of the national possession have for each of these classes their respective importance -- then the territory has likewise its importance for the proletariat, i.e., the importance of a work-place. The protective forms, too, have their specific importance for the proletariat.

Were the worker "a thousand times over a god in human form," as certain demagogic agitators try to convince us, he must still eat, and must therefore work. Unemployment is not a very pleasant thing for him. Even Marx recognized the fact that there exists a degree of competition among workers for the place of work when he said, "The great industry masses together in a single place a crowd of people unknown to each other. Competition divides their interests… Thus competition has always a double end, that of eliminating competition among themselves while enabling them to make a general competition against the capitalist," (The Poverty of Philosophy). Competition among rude, untutored workers, will often lead to competition between urban dwellers and workers from other cities, even of the same country. The competitive spirit among the more cultured workers is on a higher, more refined level; these will, of course, not molest outsiders. When foreign workers stream in, however, and cause a drop in wages, then the interests of even civilized workers are keenly affected and they can no longer remain indifferent.

Some individuals whose abilities to think have been stultified by partisan phraseology and vulgar agitation will protest that we are desecrating the veracity of our above contentions through facts. What more convincing proof is needed than the fact that Volmar's Munchener Zeitung, for example, is always quick to raise an alarm when Bavarian private or governmental contractors hire Italian instead of German workers. And Volmar is at the head of a great party. To be sure, he is a revisionist; but nevertheless, at the party conference in Jena, he is a most respected comrade. Or consider, for instance, the policy of the Australian Government as regards immigrants. It is, it seems to me, quite clear that these restrictions to immigration are not instituted in the interests of capital but rather in the interests of the workers.[8]

We shall not dwell on the behavior of the American proletariat towards the Chinese coolie. The crying facts of the maltreatment of Chinese workers are too well-known to the reader. Judging from the fact that party theorists tend to devote themselves more and more to the national question, it is quite apparent that the proletariat is not at all unrelated to this accursed question. But there is one point, particularly, where the national question very intimately and pertinently affects the workers; and that is the territory as a place of employment.

There are a number of other working-class interests that are related to the territory, e.g., the cultural interests of language, education, literature. They are valuable as a means of developing class-consciousness. The development of class-consciousness derives its real sustenance, however, not from this "culture," but through the process of class struggle itself.

The class struggle, however, can take place only where the worker toils; in other words, where he has succeeded in occupying a definite work-place The weaker his status at this position, the less ground he has for a systemic struggle. As long as the worker does not occupy a definite position, he can wage a struggle. It is, therefore, in his own interests to protect his position.

It matters not from what angle we approach the national question in order to determine the "raison d'etre" for the proletariat. Even if first we were to discover only its cultural needs, still it would not matter. Invariably, we shall arrive at the material basis, i.e., at the question of the work-place and place of struggle (the strategic base). This is what the territory represents for the proletariat. [9]

The question of work has not only a class aspect, but a national aspect. Thus, the English worker must protect his place of employment not only against the profit considerations of the capitalist, but also against the immigrant worker. It follows therefore, that as long as the national work-place is not secure, the national problem overshadows the labor problem. And as long as the workers of a given nation have not yet made their place of work secure, the problem of work is of far greater importance to them than the issues of the class struggle.

In consequence we have the following results: first, the masses which are just becoming proletarianized and are looking fore work are generally incapable of becoming readily class-conscious and are therefore only nationalistically inclined; secondly the class-consciousness of even the cultural proletariat is greatly obscured by its national consciousness whenever the proletariat is formed to defend its national place of employment. Thus, the constant immigration of new workers into England and the United States of America is a threat to the security of the places of employment of the English and American workers, and as a result, the national consciousness of the latter is heightened, deterring the development of their class-consciousness. This is one of the main reasons why the labor movements in those countries have not yet developed beyond their present trade-unionist framework.

The orthodox Marxist dogmatists have not as yet been able to explain this extraordinary backwardness of the English and American proletariat. It is a fact which affords them considerable irritation. In just happens that this fact has no connection with the relations of production. Hence their dilemma. Correctly to interpret the above-mentioned fact, a thorough-going analysis of the conditions of the English and American production-life is required. An approach, more profound and more genuine, needs to be adopted towards the national question; once and for all to renounce every vulgar bias. It must accordingly be understood, that whenever the national question, in whatever form it exists, has not yet been solved, class-consciousness cannot normally developed.

Those students who ignore the role of the conditions of production and devote themselves exclusively to a study of the relations of production are not in a position to understand the national question. Therefore, the following contradictions in the capitalistic economy must forever remain for them an insoluble mystery. They cannot explain why, on the one hand, the capitalistic system appears as international in scope and destroys all boundaries between tribes and peoples and uproots all traditions, while, on the other hand, it is itself instrumental in the intensification of the international struggle and heightens national self-consciousness. How is it possible that at the same time when the various societies are drawn economically closer together, and their respective and relative distinctions are modified, the national problem is intensified and the various national movements develop? Unless the materialist can answer this question, he must entangle himself in a nest of contradictions.

Kautsky made several attempts to explain this problem, but in doing so he deserted his materialistic concepts. Nevertheless, we must admit, he gradually approaches the theory which we have here developed. And according to this theory, the solution of the above-mentioned riddle is quite clear. If we take into consideration the fact that humanity is divided into groups of production, then we will understand that the inherent striving of capital to expand must result in friction between these relatively distinct groups. One aspect of the above-mentioned contradiction is the cause, the other is the effect. This is one of the many contradictions with which modern society is burdened.

We have previously stated that the national question, and also the conversion of the various peoples into nations, is a result of the capitalistic modes of production. It might therefore be presumed that the national struggle must disappear together with the class struggle. But this conclusion would be to far-fetched.

Every serious student must consider as even more far-fetched and hazardous the contention that national differences will be eradicated simultaneously with the eradication of class differences. We do not wish to dwell on this question, for we consider it inconsequential to do so. Furthermore, no definite factual answer can be given at the present moment. So far as we are concerned, the national question is a problem of today. We cannot predict what will happen a hundred years hence; -- whether nations will still be nations or whether they will intermingle. Today, this question cannot be answered.

XIII. Summary

During the feudal period the various social groups, each of which was engaged in the struggle for existence under a different and relatively distinct complex of conditions of production emerged as separate peoples. The physiognomy and character of each people possess relatively distinct traits.

From out of the midst of feudal economy capitalism evolved. By reason of this development, there arose within the production-life a two-fold material socio-economic contradiction. On the one hand, the productive forces, by reason of their higher stage of development, ceased to be adapted to the antiquated feudal relations of production. On the other hand, the productive forces -- which were passing through the processes of capitalist development -- were no longer adapted to the antiquated system of conditions of production. For the feudal order had broken up the peoples and their territories by means of innumerable barriers and this enormously impeded the development of capitalism.

As a rule, every disparity between the forces of production and the relations of production results in a social problem which can be solved only by the emancipation of the oppressed class. This type of contradiction which appeared at the beginning of capitalism, was felt most severely by the bourgeoisie; and the latter, therefore took the initiative to wipe it out. It succeeded in achieving this purpose through the French Revolution.

Every disparity of the second sort, i.e., between the forces of production while they are in the process of development, and the conditions of production which hinder this development, results in a national problem which can be solved only by the emancipation of the oppressed nation. This type of contradiction, which manifested itself at the very beginning of capitalism, was felt by all classes of the society of the day. Therefore, all oppressed classes at the time of the French Revolution were imbued with the feeling of a common nationality which was being oppressed by the "upper-strata." It was generally believed that there was a common national harmony of interest, and only the ruling classes of that period were excluded from this ostensible harmony. Nationalism then assumed the aspects under which we understand it today.

The development of the capitalistic economy created the basis for the feeling of kinship which we call nationalism. This development transformed the former peoples into modern nations.

Nationalism, therefore, first became manifest not in the external politics of the ruling classes, but in the internal struggle of the oppressed classes. Nationalism, in the present sense of the word, was carried over to the sphere of external politics only later, when the national question made its full appearance.

Soon after the newly developed capitalism had superseded feudalism, it became evident that the expansion of its forces of production was impeded not only by the state of the conditions of production within the relatively separated societies, but also by the relative distinctiveness of the various conditions of production, every society comes into conflict with neighboring societies which offer it resistance. Thus, the development of the capitalistic system places the national question in the limelight.

The root of the national question lies in the conflict between relatively distinct socio-economic organisms. The national question is manifest in the phenomena arising out of international competition.

International competition is not a result of some despotic, egotistic trait of the ruling classes. It is a consequence of capitalist economy which, in the process of its development, exhibits an inevitable tendency to expand. Upon the basis of this competition, certain emotions and feelings arise among the people concerned in it. As their origin lies deeply imbedded in economic life, these people first imagine that such feelings are utterly without relation to the material life. They fail to observe the profound economic basis of this sentiment and are thus deprived of the possibility of understanding its underlying cause, which to them appears holy and far removed from the materialistic.

From these sentiments arise multifarious fantastic nationalistic ideologies, which are prone to obscure the national consciousness and emphasize the antagonism between it and class-consciousness.

Capitalist economy has bestowed the national question, not upon the bourgeoisie alone, but upon all classes in society, for all are involved in international competition one way or another. The territory, from whatever angle it is studied, possesses a certain importance for each class, as the base for the conditions of production.

Among free peoples, those which oppress no one and are not themselves oppressed, nationalism finds itself in a state of potential (or latent) energy. At the first opportunity, however, this energy is transformed into a kinetic, dynamic state. The ruling classes are the first to lose their equilibrium. They constantly evince a tendency -- and it can hardly be otherwise -- to seize the world market or to extend the domestic consumers'' market. On such occasions of disturbed equilibrium, the hitherto calm, but quietly smoldering nationalistic feelings burst into a fierce blaze. For nationalism, when it originates from the ambition to extend the home market, acquires an aggressive, consciously belligerent character. The weapons employed are the conquest of foreign territory and forced assimilation of national minorities.

The effort of the proletariat to extend its work-market and its work-place cannot, however, be expressed by an acquisitive policy. The proletariat, and the proletenarianizing masses have, it is well known, no direct influence upon international politics. There is but one way of extending the work-place; -- that is, by peaceful emigration into foreign countries.

But the migrating masses, who wander around the world seeking employment, do not carry their national politics with them. The migrating worker, thrust out of his sphere of conditions of production, has no profound attachment to his old home. Were it not for incidental circumstances; for example, were it not for the traditions of education or kinship with those left behind, the emigrating worker would not manifest even those feeble indications of affection for his fatherland, which he occasionally displays.

Different, however, is the case of the proletariat of those countries to which emigration flows. There, an effort to retain the work-place for itself is clearly observed. Simultaneously with this effort the national self-consciousness is sharpened. Among the proletariat of a free nation it assumes the sharply expressed, belligerent self-defensive character of an anti-immigration complex. This is shown in even greater degree in the behavior and mood of the native proletarianizing masses. They, even more so than the proletariat, are strongly concerned that their national work-place be not affected.

We see, then, in the first place, that in the case of the proletariat, the national question is virtually part and parcel of the question of emigration and immigration; herein lies the local character of the proletarian nationalism. And secondly, we see, that among free unoppressed peoples, nationalism presents diverse forms, depending invariably upon the respective classes -- ruling or subject -- which manifest this phenomenon.

Among the oppressed peoples nationalism appears in a much simpler light. These oppressed peoples constantly exist under abnormal conditions of production; abnormal for the reasons that we have mentioned before, viz., the lack of deficiency of territory and its protective forms, (political independence, freedom of language, and freedom of cultural development). Such abnormal conditions bring the varying interests of all the individuals of the nation into harmonious agreement. It is owing to the outside pressure which hinders and disorganizes the influence of the conditions of production that the relations of production and the class-struggle itself are hindered in their development. For the proper course of the mode of production is thus hindered, class antagonisms become abnormally dulled, and national solidarity derives greater strength.

Apart from the fact that the separate interests of each particular class are adversely affected by this external pressure; apart from the fact that the bourgeoisie suffers from a lack of markets, and that the proletariat lacks the freedom to control completely his work-place, -- this pressure is also felt by all the individuals of the nation. All feel and all comprehend that the pressure is a national one; it has its origin in a foreign nation and is directed against their own nationality as such. The language, for instance, now assumes an importance far exceeding that of a simple expedient devised for the purpose of protecting the market. When freedom of language is interfered with those who are oppressed become more closely attached to it. In short, the national question of an oppressed people becomes sharply divided from the connection it normally has with its basis, -- with the material conditions of its production life. Cultural needs then assume an independent importance and all members of the nation become concerned about the freedom of national self-determination.

It is during the struggle for national liberation, however, that class-structure and class-psychology become discernible. The groups of an oppressed people generally bound up with its tradition are the middle-class and the petty bourgeoisie , particularly the "clericals" and the landlords. Those participating in the national education and the national literature, -- teachers, writers, -- also color their traditionalism with a national hue. The chief protagonists of national freedom are, however, always the progressive elements among the people and among the intelligentsia. When these groups have attained a high degree of development, have freed themselves from the narrow framework of traditionalism, then their nationalism accordingly acquires a pure and genuine character. The process of liberation is essentially not nationalistic, but national. And among the progressive elements of an oppressed nation there develops a genuine nationalism. It does not dream of preserving its traditions; it does not exaggerate their importance; it is not deluded by the sham of national unity; it has a clear comprehension of the class-character of society; it does not stifle the genuine interests of anyone. Its goal is the actual liberation of the nation, to restore to normal its conditions and relations of production.

Genuine nationalism: It is that nationalism which does not obscure class-consciousness. It is to be found only among the progressive elements of oppressed nations. Within the most progressive class, -- within the organized revolutionary proletariat of an oppressed nations, genuine nationalism is expressed in the firm, lucidly formulated demands which it presents in its minimum program. Such demands have the clearly marked aim to attain, -- by the establishment of the nation under normal conditions of production, -- a normal work-place and base of struggle for the proletariat.

Once this goal is reached, the objective of genuine nationalism is fulfilled. In place of the former solidarity of national interests during certain processes of liberation,-- solidarity that is both obligatory and abnormal -- there emerges anew with unmistakable clarity a sound class-structure and a sound class-struggle.


[1] Undoubtedly, conditions of production as everything else in the world are not absolutely independent. They, too, develop and alter; they can even be influenced in turn, by the very productive forces and relations of production, which originally evolved out of the self-same conditions of production.

[2] The greater the growth of the productive forces, the more intimate became the relations among the people both within and also without the given socio-economic organism. The organism is thus rendered less and less distinct. This process is repeated among the adjacent "organisms." Undoubtedly, the growth of the productive forces, if it does not lead to an amalgamation of these "organisms" into which mankind is divided, does at least lead to a mutual rapprochement. But the growth of the productive forces itself occurs within the conditions of production of the given community; and these conditions of production, be it remembered, are relatively distinct.

[3] In conjunction with this progressive type of nationalism there grew up among the militant bourgeoisie also a cosmopolitan -- more correctly a universal sentiment. It strove to bring happiness to all humanity and to wipe feudalism completely out of the world. The world wars of Napoleon had no deliberate nationalistic purpose. There was even no indication of any desire to oppress foreign nationalities, root out their languages, smooth out their differences or establish uniformity in their customs. No, the youthful bourgeoisie dealt disinterestedly indeed with the differences that existed among the subject peoples. On the contrary, wherever he went, he merely overthrew the dynasty and permitted the people to retain their independence. (It is well known that Napoleon often depended for support in his campaigns, upon the oppressed nationalities while he simultaneously attacked their oppressors. According to certain date, he even planned to restore Palestine to the Jews.) But the wave of nationalism which swept over Europe finally washed away even this sign of cosmopolitanism which Napoleon had manifested.

[4] We said "all other conditions being equal," for when genuine solidarity embraces also the "foreigner," the entire nationalism collapses at once. To illustrate, the strength of Dutch nationalism is manifested by the fact that the Dutch employer would sooner help a starving Dutchman than a Belgian; nevertheless he would prefer the Belgian conservative to the Dutch socialist. Neither the national question, nor nationalism as a phenomenon of great social importance, has much connection with such simple nationalistic sentiments.

[5] Because the great landowners are in the limelight of political life, there are some observers who conclude that nationalism and traditionalism are synonymous. Such a superficial conclusion does no honor to those who believe in nationalism. Only in the case of the great landowners do nationalism and traditionalism have an identical meaning. Their nationalism is aggressive in foreign policy and is the chief supporter of militarism. Their nationalism is conservative in domestic policy and is the chief supporter of the status quo. These nationalists label as "anti-national" and "traitorous" every movement of the oppressed. They wish to obscure every difference between the "internal" and "external" enemy, pointing to the first as an ally of the second and characterizing both as conspirators, criminals, etc.

[6] With the exception of the great daily press, there are among the intelligentsia practically no ideologists sufficiently concerned about the great bourgeoisie (big business) to engage in an effort to formulate its attitude to life. The press is by no means fastidious in its selection of the means to carry out its chauvinistic work of demoralization. The opinions, with which the press feeds the public mind, are derived from whatever source may be close at hand. It will utilize even the traditions of the landowners so long as they will suit its purpose. Essentially however, we repeat, the great bourgeoisie with its particular sort of nationalism has very little to do with all traditions, -- although it is the modern ruling class. It would not be amiss for all the implacable foes of nationalism to remember this. It plainly relegates to the discarded past the opinion, currently mooted, that the concepts of nationalism, tradition, rule are, in reality, identical.

[7] As we have already indicated, this sort of nationalism is called "spiritual" nationalism. It is by no means identical with the so-called "spiritual" (cultural) nationalism of the landlords. The landlords, and the bourgeois mass that follows in its wake, spout high-faluting phrases expressive of all sorts of cultural-national fictions, little concerned about their purport. They may, in fact, believe profoundly in these fictions. For this reason, of course, they fail to subject them to a critical analysis but accept them dogmatically, -- with the result that the queerest nationalistic theories are invented.

[8] The example of the Australian Government is clearer and more convincing that the policies of the English Government and of the Government of the United States of America. The workers of Australia and New Zealand wield a great influence upon their governments' policy but the American workers have no influence upon the Government of the United States. In England and the United States, the workers are, in fact, strongly concerned that immigration be restricted. Were it not, however, for the support afforded these workers by the other influential classes, Australia and New Zealand would not, of themselves, have succeeded in enacting the immigration laws of their respective countries. In these countries, the following classes are interested in the imposition of restrictions upon immigration:-- a) the petty mercantile and industrial bourgeoisie, for the reason that a large proportion of the immigrants, unable to obtain a livelihood in the factories, are compelled to resort to trade and handicrafts and thus to compete with the local shop-keepers and artisans; b) the great, middle-class entrepreneurs who suffer from the competition of the sweat-shop system, for the reason that the greatest number of workers in such shops consists of immigrants; if it had not been for this immigration, this competition would not have been created; c) the unemployed and the insecure, unskilled laborers who suffer more intensely than all the others from the stream of unemployed emigrants. The protests of the Trade-Union Conference in England prove nothing, since the trade unions are composed mainly of qualified workers with secure employment. After all, they are the smallest section of the general working-class population of England. One can hardly identify the interests of a tiny, privileged group, with the interests of the masses of the workers as a whole.

[9] To ignore the material basis of the proletarian national question, as the Bundists have done, is certainly not in accordance with the spirit of materialism. Their entire emphasis is laid only upon culture as a medium for the development of class-consciousness. To be concerned, however, about the struggle without considering the conditions of the struggle-base and the workplace  is stupidity. The historical materialist, at any rate, ought certainly not to seek the actual purport of a social question in the culture; therein lies the supreme fallacy of Bundism. It vividly serves to illustrate the inconsistency of the Bundists.


This text is an adaptation, modernization and correction of the text that appears at  with the following note:

(Note: Ber Borochov wrote "The National Question and the Class Struggle" in 1905. This edition is based primarily on the English translation published by Poale Zion -- Zier Zion of America and the Young Poale Zion Alliance of America in 1937. I have also used the 1935 English translation by Levic Jessel (published by Farlag Borochov) as a reference and have imported from Jessel footnotes by Borochov and certain paragraphs which were either left out of the 1937 translation or whose ideas are expressed more clearly in the Jessel translation. Several grammatical corrections have also been made.)

You are reading this at  Zionism and Israel On the Web


1916: Ber Borochov - The Economic Development of the Jewish People 

1917: Ber Borochov - Eretz Yisrael in our program and tactics  

Related (External):

Labor Zionism - Early History and Critique - Contribution of Labor Zionism to the creation of the Jewish state, and problems of Labor Zionism in a changing reality.


Zionism On The Web Directory

Learn more about this site at our Zionism Main page. Comment and add your thoughts to our Zionism and Israel discussion forums. See our Resource Centers on the British Academic Boycott of Israel, and the Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism Resource Center, and the special section on the Palestinian state. Learn more from our articles on Zionism in the commentary collection. Extend your learning through out links about Zionism or at our Zionism links directory.

External links on Israel and Zionism

If you found this site helpful, please tell others about Zionism and Israel on the Web and link to us at

We'll be happy to add a link to our directory for any site on Israel, Zionism, the Middle East, or Judaism that links to us. You can add your site and if you have a link to us we'll aprove it. You can aslo e-mail us at for an additional link on our links page.

We also work closely with webmaster at the following sites:
Information about Israel and Zionism at

The Zionism Pages at

Zionism, Israel and me at

Recommended sources on Zionism

On the subject of Zionism we recommend the following sites:

Wikipedia article about Zionism - A comprehensive article including the history of Zionism as well as links to specific topics and articles about anti-Zionism.
Zionism - Table of contents at the Jewish Virtual Library
Zionism article at Infoplease
Zionism - Definition and Brief History - A balanced article that covers the definitions and history of Zionism as well as opposition to Zionism and criticisms by Arabs,  Jewish anti-Zionists.
Zionation - Progressive Zionism and Israel Web Log A community blog updated regularly
Labor Zionism - Early History and Critique - Contribution of Labor Zionism to the creation of the Jewish state, and problems of Labor Zionism in a changing reality.
Essential Texts of Zionism
Jewish Agency Zionism pages - Links to basic information about Zionism from the Jewish Agency
Ambassador Herzog explains Zionism in the UN

US Library of congress on Zionism
The US Library of congress has a comprehensive and balanced set of articles about Zionism:
Zionist Precursors - US Library of Congress
Political Zionism - US Library of Congress
Cultural Zionism - US Library of Congress
Labor Zionism - US Library of Congress
Revisionist Zionism - US Library of Congress

Zionism advocacy sites
Active Zionism - A Zionist advocacy site with many useful links
Realistic Religious Zionism - moderate religious Zionist Web site
Zionism- 100 Years - Selected Materials - Israel Ministry of Information

Recommended sources on Israel

Israel is a small, high tech, democratic country in the Middle East. It's capital Jerusalem is central to Judaism and highly important to Christianity and Islam. We recommend the following sites:

Wikipedia article about Israel - A comprehensive article including the history of Israel
Israel - Table of contents at the Jewish Virtual Library

US Library of congress & CIA World Fact Book on Israel
Main article on Israel - US Library of Congress
The Israeli Parliment (the Knesset) - US Library of Congress
Government and Politics of Israel - US Library of Congress
World Facts: Israel

Israel today - beyond the conflict

Virtual Jerusalem
Israel21C - A focus beyond the conflict
Beyond Images

(c) Zionism On The Web, 2005-2006.
You may reproduce most of our content on your own site provided you include a link back to us. This includes articles where we've received explicit permission from the author both to republish at Zionism On The Web and to pass this permission on to others. If you have articles on Zionism or Israel that you'd like us to share with others, please e-mail the content address below. If you have copyright questions please e-mail the webmaster. Thank you to all who have contributed their time and resources to - Andre Oboler (Chief Executive) and the team at Zionism On The Web.

Mail the webmaster at: Please mail ZIONISTGUYS at the domain ZIONISMONTHEWEB.ORG
Mail potential content to: Please mail CONTENT at the domain ZIONISMONTHEWEB.ORG