Both Bolshevik and Fanonist ideologies focus on the ways in which societies can overthrow existing economic, political, and societal structures that serve as means of oppression and subsequently bring about new systems that are egalitarian and socialist. While both ideologies share this common goal of creating these new socialist orders, the two ideologies vary both in their views on what should be the means to this end, as well as with regards to the question of the role that nationalism should play in this process.
In this essay I argue that, while both ideologies may be striving towards the same end goal, their views with regards to nationalism and its place in socialist revolution render these two ideologies fundamentally very different. Marxist ideology, I will maintain, is, at its core, opposed to the concept of nationalism, allowing for the acceptance and mobilization of certain nationalist sentiments only in specific instances when it is viewed as beneficial to the communist cause.
Fanon’s ideology, on the other hand, is heavily based in and reliant on the idea that nationalism and national identity are crucial unifying and mobilizing forces without which the transformation to socialist egalitarianism could not take place. Excellent intro! Modern nations and nationalisms, according to Marx are essentially economic units that are instrumental constructs of the bourgeoisie. Nationalisms, he believed, are byproducts of the capitalist era and as the world progressed through capitalism towards socialism, he believed, nationalisms would begin to devolve and fade away.
As nationalisms and national distinctions were, according to Marxist ideology, artificial constructions brought about by the bourgeoisie during the age of capitalism, the only real societal division was that of class and economic status. Marx believed that nationalism was purely a bourgeois ideology designed to prevent the proletariat from achieving class-consciousness and realizing its own interests. Marxist ideology maintains that the only way for socialism to take hold was for the proletariat to first achieve class consciousness and then to revolt against the bourgeoisie, thus bringing about a new socialist order.
Fanon, however, did not view nationalism as a construct used by the bourgeoisie to prevent proletariat class-consciousness. Rather, he views nationalism and national identity in an almost primordialistic sense –good! Nationalism is instrumental for Marx. In other words, while Marx believed that the only real social division was that of class, Fanon believed that national identities and racial distinctions, not class distinctions, were what truly divided and stratified society.
He did not believe that nationalism would fade as more of the world turned to socialism, but rather that these nationally and racially defined socialist utopias would be formed from the mobilization of such nationalisms –good!. In fact, Fanon did not believe that class-consciousness was at all crucial to the end goal of achieving a new socialist structure, especially in the case of colonized territories and peoples, placing this stress on the importance of racial and national identity where Marx emphasized class. Racial consciousness is necessary for Fanon, however.
There is a need for the native to ‘realize’ his/her position. Particularly in places where indigenous peoples were colonized and racially categorized, Fanon argues, ethnicity is a more clear and prominent feature of discrimination and oppression than class. This racial segregation and classification introduced by the settlers provides a clear group for the oppressed settlers to target and revolt against – in other words, the colonized may use the settlers’ own categorization and self-definition (not really –Fanon relies on the mobilization of the native group, but he re-defines what the native is.
It does not mean what the settler wanted it to mean (backward native), instead it is a true, origibal, new man native) of race to mobilize against them. As Fanon explains in The Wretched of the Earth, “in the colonies, the foreigner coming from another country imposed his rule by means of guns and machines. In defiance of his successful transplantation, in spite of his appropriation, the settler still remains a foreigner –while anyone native becomes unified, thus breaking with the distinctions among natives imposed by the Westerners..
It is neither the act of owning factories, nor states, nor a bank balance which distinguishes the governing class. The governing race is first and foremost those who come from elsewhere” (Fanon, 40). This, he explains, is why Marxist analysis does not reflect or account for the reality of the colonial problem. “The cause is the consequence”, Fanon states, “you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich” (Fanon, 40).
In other words, while Marx repudiated the idea that ethnonational sentiments could serve as the basis for a claim to statehood, Fanon believed that race and national identity is what creates societal divisions and hierarchies, maintaining that national identity and national consciousness, not class consciousness, should serve as the mobilizing force that propels societies towards rebellion and the beginning of a new system of equality and socialist egalitarianism.
Marx, in addition to focusing largely on the importance of class and class-consciousness, was also greatly preoccupied with economic considerations. His ideology justifies overseas colonialism, positing that the imposition of capitalism and imperialism in these colonies would lead to a realization of class oppression, and therefore subsequently towards revolution and communism. This colonial experience, according to Marx, was the most efficacious way for these ‘underdeveloped’ countries to advance to a higher economic stage.
Yet, with regards to the question of nationalism in these colonized countries, “Marx would not attempt to breathe the national idea into industrially backwards people (whom he and Engels alternately referred to as “people without history,” “remains of nations,” “ruins of people,” “ethnic trash,” and worse). He preferred to see such human categories attached to more progressive nations” (Connor, 9).
He also believed that, since nationalism was a byproduct of capitalism, these colonized peoples would not form or be able to mobilize nationalist identities or sentiments without nationalism being introduced or fostered by the capitalist oppressors. This view is in stark contrast with Fanon, who believes that nationalisms are primordial and true, and that race and national identity are what can most effectively be mobilized in order to bring about revolution and a subsequent new, egalitarian utopia and a new humanity that is defined in racial, rather than class, terms.
Another ideological difference that plays into the ways in which Marx and Fanon differ on their views of nationalism is that Marxist ideology maintains that the proletariat is the group who are fully capable of understanding and mobilizing socialist revolution, while Fanon believes that the peasantry – the class segment of the population that has less to gain or lose from the settler’s system –they are detached from capitalism. – are the ones who are most capable of understanding and carrying out this revolution and completely reforming their society from the bottom up.
Since Fanon does not believe that the proletariat will come to an all-important class realization and be able to mobilize a revolution, he relies on ethnicity and national identity to serve as a mobilize that will appeal to the national group as a whole against their racially differentiated oppressors. In comparing the views of Fanon and Marx, it becomes clear that, while both are advocating for revolution and the proliferation of socialism, Bolshevik ideology is, in many ways, fundamentally at odds with the concept of nationalism.
Fanon’s approach to socialism, however, is founded on the idea of nationalism and that fact that nationalist sentiments and traits can be mobilized and used to spawn socialist revolution and the creation of egalitarian utopia. However, while there are very clear and stark differences between these two ideologies, a direct comparison of them is complicated by the fact that these two positions came out of different points in history, with different circumstances influencing each ideologues’ argument.