An essay evaluating the historical context of patriotism and what it means in the contemporary United States
The topic of patriotism has come to prominence for self-described Communists, Anarchists, and other left-wing ideological thinkers. In the context of the modern United States, when the average non-Marxist thinks of patriotism, thoughts about reciting the pledge of allegiance, supporting the troops, and celebrations of living in a so-called free country come to mind.
From the perspective of the Western online left, a common understanding of patriotism is that it is a reactionary tendency, deeply rooted in white supremacy and has no place in a Communist movement. After all, the United States was founded upon slavery and genocide. Therefore, how could one be patriotic?
These so-called Marxists proudly identify themselves as righteous anti-patriotic Marxists, only to reveal their ineptitude with Marxism, distorting it to the highest degree. To them, patriotism is seen as a deviation of Marxism, some new reactionary form of Marxism that is chauvinist, nationalist, and fascist. To these so-called Marxists, they label orthodox Marxists as “Patriotic Socialists” or “PatSocs,” because to them, patriotism is not a dialectic, inherent to Communism, it is a cancer that must be excised from the proletarian movement, like a tumor.
In this essay, we will dismantle the line of thinking that one cannot have patriotism while living in the United States. To do this, we will establish a consistent, and historical understanding of what patriotism means to Marxists.
The Dialectic of Patriotism
All individuals are patriotic. One might scoff at this assertion; however, patriotism and its essence are not simply sloganeering of specific jargon to promote the state (Although this can be a component of the overall form).
The essence of patriotism is not rooted in aesthetics; rather, patriotism is rooted in actions that determine the form of patriotism, whether it is for the oppressor class, or the oppressed. In the case of China, we can see those involved in the revolution were carrying out actions that impacted the material reality of those involved, leading to a qualitatively different environment, ultimately leading to a sublation of the old way of governance.
Patriotism of the oppressor class, or bourgeoisie, also leads to a qualitatively different environment as well, because it too is not rooted in aesthetics. A qualitatively different environment is not always in the interests of the proletariat, the working masses of a particular nation, it may forge an environment only suitable to the ruling oppressor class.
In the United States specifically, a line of thinking that is so prevalent amongst so-called Marxists, is that patriotism in the United States is not reconcilable, that there is no conceivable way to be patriotic in a country founded on white supremacy and the genocide of the native population. To these so-called Marxists, patriotism is seen as a dogmatic uncritical support for the symbology of the United States flag, its jingoistic military, and the continued oppression of its people. To them, exhibiting any semblance of patriotism in the United States is the gravest sin any Marxist could commit.
These so-called Marxists who think like this fundamentally misunderstand the dialectic of patriotism, that it is not rooted in abstract morality, nor is it rooted in any form of aesthetics. Its basis is material, separated from all the rhetoric. Simpy shouting “I love my country!” is not patriotism, for sloganeering is not the essence of patriotism. Participation in revolutionary action to remove the oppressor class, in favor of a proletarian dictatorship, would be an example of true patriotism, for the love of country manifests itself in a qualitatively different environment, rather than just empty rhetoric.
On the surface, these so-called Marxists may feel satisfied with their own acknowledgement of the genocidal past of the United States. This however is merely a performative, aesthetic, way of thinking. There is no qualitatively different environment that is given life as a result of sloganeering and acknowledging the historical development of the United States. These so-called Marxists are patriotic, whether they would like to admit it, or not.
Their actions determine the form of their patriotism. Are they voting for the oppressor class? If the answer is yes, regardless of whether their rhetoric seems morally sound, their actions are leading to a qualitatively different outcome, against the oppressed classes, by being patriotic for the bourgeoisie. A so-called Marxist may publicly condemn others for attempting to be patriotic for people, land, and bread, for they are rallying this patriotism from within the United States, a country they routinely condemn for its genocidal history. These so-called Marxists would rather cede the entire country to the bourgeoisie so that they feel virtuous and morally correct.
Unfortunately, these so-called Marxists misunderstand that, patriotism is inherent to being a Communist, specifically a Communist is someone who is always patriotic for the people against the oppressor class, to seek liberation and self-determination for the people. The question these so-called Marxists should be asking instead of closing their eyes and pretending patriotism does not relate to them, is whether their patriotism serves that of the bourgeoisie, or the proletariat.
Mao Tse Tung - Patriotism and Internationalism
In the case of China for instance, their patriotism throughout the Chinese Revolution, its essence was resistance to the oppressors, and establishing a proletarian dictatorship for the people, against imperialist invaders. Mao Tse Tung, writing on this topic elaborates:
We can clearly see that Mao distinguished between two different forms of patriotism, one of the oppressor class, and patriotism as Communists, whose patriotism was deeply rooted in the proletariat, against the imperialists.
The patriotism of Germany and Japan, however, was patriotism towards the bourgeoisie of their respective countries. Patriotism was not rooted in the people, rather reinforcement and preservation of the bourgeois oppressor class and the form of the state, that of Nazi Germany, and that of the Japanese Empire.
These types of patriotism can be identified simply as proletarian patriotism, and bourgeois patriotism.
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin - “On the National Pride of the Great Russians”
V.I. Lenin also understood this important distinction between patriotism of the oppressor class vs the patriotism of the oppressed class, the proletariat. From his work On the National Pride of the Great Russians, Lenin describes and acknowledges this distinction, desiring the defeat of tsarism, so that “…Russia may become a free and independent, a democratic, republican and proud Great Russia.”
We can see that Lenin understood that Russia itself, despite its dark history of tsarism, war and bloodshed, that it was still a definite community of people, who have needs that are contrary to the ruling oppressor class. The Bolsheviks would not have been successful if their organizational apparatus were comprised of so-called Marxists that condemned the idea of desiring the defeat of tsarism, the overthrow of the oppressor class by establishing a dictatorship of the oppressed class, a dictatorship of the proletariat.
Joseph Stalin - “The National Question”
The so-called anti-patriotic Marxists routinely attempt to draw from misquoted historical texts to support their distortion of patriotism, often confusing patriotism with chauvinism, or nationalism. One common quote these so-called Marxists recite is directly from Stalin in The National Question:
“And that is why the class-conscious proletariat cannot rally under the "national" flag of the bourgeoisie.”
To these so-called Marxists, this is the winning blow in their debate against orthodox Marxists, that because Stalin wrote this line, one cannot be patriotic for the people of the United States if the flag is involved, for it “symbolizes the bourgeoisie.” They assert that any proletarian movement be purged of any semblance of the American ethos, for it represents genocide, war, and white supremacy.
Of course, this is not actually what Stalin meant, for he too understood what constitutes a nation, and separates it from the form of the bourgeois state. If we look at Stalin’s work more closely, we can see these so-called Marxists completely misunderstand what Stalin said:
Once one reads the quote in full context, it is clear that Stalin is not simply saying to aesthetically ban organizing using your national flag. Rather, he is specifically referring to the “national” flag of the bourgeoisie in the context of Bauer’s “evolutionary national” policy because it was in direct contradiction with the interests of the proletariat. Stalin speaks nothing about condemning the proletariat for taking up to rally behind their national flag, instead of ceding it to the bourgeoisie.
In other words, so-called Marxists misquote Stalin when they assert that the proletariat cannot rally behind the national flag of their country, against the bourgeoisie. This is ahistorical as revolutions from Russia, to Cuba, all recognized the importance of acknowledging the objective definite community of people, with their own historical development, and revolutionary history. To abandon such history would be a rejection of historical materialism.
Daniel DeLeon - “PATRIOTISM AND POVERTY”
Daniel DeLeon, a trade union organizer, and Socialist Labor Party Member, wrote on this topic in The Daily People, a Socialist newspaper, also articulates a distinction between patriotism of the proletariat, and what he called “paid-for bastard patriotism,” patriotism of the oppressor Capitalist class.
If we analyze DeLeon’s writings, we can see he understands the difference between patriotism rooted in one’s love for their country, and people, a patriotism that is diametrically opposed to the patriotism of the bourgeoisie.
Understanding the difference between a country, and its people, vs the form of the state is a crucial step in understanding the dialectic of patriotism.
Eugene V. Debs - “International Patriotism”
Eugene Debs also had much to say about the topic of patriotism. In 1915, he published a work outlining, yet again, the distinction between the patriotism of the bourgeoisie and patriotism of the proletariat, he writes:
It is “patriotism” of the workers of one nation to fall upon and foully murder the workers of another nation to enlarge the possessions of their masters and increase the piles of their bloodstained riches, and as long as the poor, deluded toiling masses are fired by this brand of “patriotism,”they will serve as cannon fodder and no power on earth can save them from their sodden fate.
We socialists are not wanting in genuine patriotism, but we are deadly hostile to the fraudulent species which is “the last refuge of the scoundrel” and which prompts every crook and grafter and every blood -sucking vampire to wrap his reeking carcass in the folds of the national flag that he may carry on his piracy and plunder in the name of “patriotism.”
Mr. Debs viewed the patriotism of the oppressor class, using the oppressed class to wage wars against workers of another nation as distinctly different from his patriotism. In the second paragraph we can derive even more wisdom from Debs, in that he describes the bourgeoisie using the “national flag to carry on its piracy”, in other words, he did not seem keen on ceding the national flag to the bourgeoisie so that it may be used for what he calls piracy. Debs continues…
“Ours is a wider patriotism — as wide as humanity. We abhor murder in uniform even more than we do in midnight assassination.
We stand with Garrison upon the proposition that the world is our
country and that all mankind are our countrymen.
We stand for peace and for the only system that makes peace possible. They, who support a system that breeds war cannot consistently say they are for peace, and they who prate so much about their “patriotism” have, as a rule, the hearts of poltroons and the souls of cowards.
Patriotism, like brotherhood, must be international and all embracing to be at all. Socialism rightly understood is the most profound patriotic movement on the planet.”
Here we see another nail in the coffin of the infantile leftist sentiment that as Marxists, we cannot be patriotic, especially within the United States.
For Debs, since he understood the distinction between proletarian patriotism and bourgeoisie patriotism, he was able to articulate the type of patriotism that is inherent to being a Socialist and declares Socialism as being the most profound patriotic movement on the planet.
Tito also continued this tradition of viewing patriotism as a dialectic between patriotism of the bourgeoisie and that of the proletariat. Tito derives his understanding of patriotism from Lenin on the national question, he writes:
Tito concludes this paragraph by describing that what he calls socialist patriotism, its essence profoundly international. Here we see the argument of the so-called anti-patriotic Marxists fall apart yet again, where what Tito calls socialist patriotism, is merely proletarian patriotism rooted in one’s love for country, and its people.
Ho Chi Minh - “The Path Which Led Me To Leninism”
Ho Chi Minh understood the connection of proletarian patriotism to the national question, as written by Lenin. He writes in a short work on this where he describes his ideological path to Marxism-Leninism, which he notes that patriotism is what led him to have confidence in Lenin, in a break away from the Second International:
Of course, this passage does not make the distinction between bourgeois patriotism and proletarian patriotism, because for Ho Chi Minh, patriotism, the love for his people and his country is what led him to embrace Marxism-Leninism, for he saw that only Socialism and Communism could liberate the working masses.
James Connolly - “Patriotism and Labour”
Continuing with our tour of Marxist theoreticians and their consistent views on patriotism, we have James Connolly, who also understood the distinction between proletarian patriotism and bourgeoisie patriotism, noting again the difference between what “love for country” means for the oppressor class versus the oppressed class.
It is clear that the dialectic of patriotism hold true, even for the revolutionaries of Ireland, Connolly continues…
“True patriotism seeks the welfare of each in the happiness of all, and is inconsistent with the selfish desire for worldly wealth which can only be gained by the spoliation of less favoured fellow-mortals. It is the mission of the working class to give to patriotism this higher, nobler, significance. This can only be done by our working class, as the only universal, all-embracing class, organizing as a distinct political party, recognizing in Labour the cornerstone of our economic edifice and the animating principle of our political action.”
Unlike the so-called Marxists of the modern United States left, Connolly does not reject patriotism, rather he asserts that “…It is the mission of the working class to give to patriotism this higher, nobler, significance.” Once again, we see this anti-patriotic line of thinking is merely a distortion of Marxism.
Fidel Castro - “Palm Garden Room in New York on October 30, 1955”
Fidel Castro also was one of the great revolutionaries that embraced the patriotism of the proletariat, for he understood that this is something inherent to Marxism-Leninism. In a speech he delivered in New York, he opened his speech with the following:
“There are few times when the human word would appear to be as limited and deficient as it does today, to express the series of feelings, emotions, and ideas born in the heat of the great display of patriotism we have witnessed this morning, moments of emotions similar to those experienced on other occasions when we have had the chance to meet with large crowds.”
“We consider tonight’s event as a victory for Cuba, a victory for Cubans. And the fame of the virtue and the patriotism of our people will grow throughout New York and the prestige of Cuba will grow.”
It is clear that Castro never subscribed to this anti-patriotic flavor of Marxism that seems so prevalent today, instead he celebrated and cherished the patriotism of his people. Castro concludes his speech with a powerful statement…
“As the Apostle said, help the martyr, the martyr who asks for help, who awaits help, who relies on help, who wants to redeem himself with help. Not just today, but every day, not with the patriotism of a single day but with the pure patriotism of an entire lifetime, not just in a moment of fleeting enthusiasm.”
These so-called anti-patriotic Marxists would prefer to cede everything to the bourgeoisie, including the revolutionary history of the proletariat, and their historic struggle against the oppressor class, simply because they rally around the flag they identify as their flag, these so-called Marxists would rather condemn them as fascists, or reactionaries.
These so-called Marxists are the prostitutes of the bourgeoisie and only serve to create an impotent working class, without any national identity to rally behind, forcibly divided into sectarian groups. The rejection of dialectical materialism, substituted with an idealistic, dogmatic view of patriotism, should be seen as what it is, anti-Communism. These so-called Marxists should be seen as what they are, distorters of Marxism, and traitors to the working class.