Postmodernism, Part 35: Nationalism and Internationalism

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is inspired by the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Trotsky on World War One, by Leon Trotsky; The Red Flag: A History of Communism; Mussolini, by Nicholas Farrell.)

Red Star Rising

The Franco-Prussian War united victorious Germany.  Defeated France divided in civil war.  Marx exploited the bloody Paris Commune.  Marx’s First International split.  The anarchist Bakunin warned against Marx’s authoritarianism, dictatorship, and slavery.  Nietzsche hinted of looming twentieth century catastrophe, likening Socialists to poisonous spiders, bent on vengeance and weaving webs of deception.

The First World War would see Marx’s Second International split, this time over nationalism.

Nationalism and Internationalism

The twentieth century saw nationalism blamed for the world wars.  Was nationalism to blame?  Who ascribed blame?  Why?  What were nationalism’s alternatives?  Imperialism? International Communism?  When the First World War broke out, nationalism faced Communism with an existential crisis.

Earlier, in 1872, the First International had fallen apart, riven by divisions between Marx’s state socialism (“authoritarian communism”) and Bakunin’s anarchism (“revolutionary collectivism”).  They shared goals (a new social order, collective ownership of the means of production), but disagreed over the means.  Bakunin warned that Marx’s corrupt “cult of the state” would conquer and enslave.

International Communism was an inevitable fact of history, Marx and Engels had espoused.  However, the anarchist Bakunin had questioned Marx’s internationalism.  He accused Marx of being a German nationalist.  Marx’s international communism, Bakunin warned, would be a “great Pan-German State” dictatorship.  So, the First International collapsed.  Marx’s state socialists split from the anarchists.

The Communists organized “Social Democrat” parties to represent workers within the bourgeois political system until the inevitable (international) proletarian revolution and “dictatorship of the proletariat”. (Communists then identified as Social Democrats, with the terms “Communist”, “Social Democrat”, and “Democratic Socialist” being generally interchangeable.)  “Socialism”, they said, would follow until the “withering of the state” and true Communism.


The German Social Democrats showed their nationalist stripes when war began in 1914.  Germany was the capital of Communism.  The German Social Democrats were the largest member of the Second International.  All nations furthered bourgeois interests and all war was bourgeois war.  The Second International collapsed when the Germans chose nation over class.

Leon Trotsky

As war broke out, Russian Social Democrats took strong anti-war positions. “Revolution has no real interest in war,” argued Leon Trotsky, in his anti-war booklet, The War and the International.  The proletariat should not shed blood for bourgeois war.  He blasted German Social Democrats for their nationalist war support.

Trotsky condemned German Social Democrats for “hysterical nationalism” and abandoning “the standpoint of international Socialism”.  He blamed the Germans for the collapse of the Second International (but also blamed the Austrian, French, English, and Polish socialists for their nationalism).  “The German party was the strongest, most influential, and in principle the most basic member of the Socialist world,” he said, “Its historic capitulation reveals most clearly the causes of the downfall of the Second International.”

Nevertheless, Trotsky believed the War marked the end of nations.  “All talk of the present bloody clash being a work of national defense is either hypocrisy or blindness,” he argued, the war was “at bottom a revolt of the forces of production against the political form of nation and state” that meant “the collapse of the national state as an independent economic union.”

The war would spark revolution, Trotsky claimed.  “When the people, deafened by the thunder of the cannon, realize the meaning of the events now taking place in all their truth and frightfulness,” he wrote, “The revolutionary reaction of the masses will be all the more powerful the more prodigious the cataclysm which history is now bringing upon them.”

Trotsky scoffed at German Social Democrats’ promises to “liberate” Russia from czarism.  Russian Social Democrats “stand so firmly on the ground of internationalism, that we cannot … entertain the idea of purchasing the doubtful liberation of Russia,” he wrote, “which German imperialism offers us in a … munitions box, with the blessing, alas! of German Socialism.”  This was not liberation, but the “unlimited mastery of German militarism in all Europe … which began with the capitulation of [German Social Democrats] to nationalistic militarism,” he wrote, “the cause of the Social Revolution would have received a mortal blow.”

The nationalism crisis did not shake Trotsky’s faith that proletariat victory was near.  “Why should we have faith in the future of the Socialist movement?” Trotsky asked, when the “the [bankruptcy] of the old Socialist parties has become catastrophically apparent”?  His faith was unshaken.  “It is not Socialism that has gone down, but its temporary historical external form,” he claimed, “The revolutionary idea begins its life anew as it casts off its rigid shell.”  It is “the old Socialist parties [that] have become the main hindrance to the revolutionary movement of the working class,” Trotsky argued, “The New International … must rise up out of the present world cataclysm, the International of the last conflict and the final victory.”

Seeds of Fascism
Benito Mussolini

The nationalism crisis did shake the faith of another Communist, Italy’s Benito Mussolini.  He would forsake international Communism, but remain a Socialist to his dying day.

Benito Mussolini followed the socialist politics of his father, Alessandro Mussolini.  Alessandro was a revolutionary Socialist agitator, who had joined the First International.  Alessandro participated in local politics until his death in 1910.

By 1910, Benito was a revolutionary Socialist agitator and journalist.  In the preceding years, he was tutored by Angelica Balabanoff, a Ukrainian revolutionary Socialist.  After deserting from the army, Mussolini fled to Switzerland (where he attended lectures by Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto) before returning to complete his military service after the king granted amnesty to deserters. By 1908, he had begun his career in Socialist journalism.

In 1912, Mussolini rose to leadership in the Italian Socialists.  To Lenin’s approval, Mussolini ousted the “reformist” (democratic) leadership and replaced them with revolutionaries.  (Lenin later remarked, “Mussolini was the only one among you [Italian Socialists] with the mind and temperament to make a revolution.”) Mussolini awaited unrest that he might use to stir up revolution.  Then, in June 1914, came “Red Week”, a general strike and uprising that was quickly crushed.

Months later, the War broke out. Italy remained neutral (disregarding its treaty obligations to Germany and Austria).  Italian Socialists advocated neutrality because “any war between nations was a bourgeois war”.  Mussolini demanded neutrality, “or else the proletariat will know how to impose [neutrality] on [Italy] with all its means”.

Then, the Second International collapsed.  Classical revolutionary socialist theory was dead.  The proletariat did not rise up in general strikes and refuse to fight.  German, then British, then French socialists supported their governments.  The governments did not collapse.  The Second International collapsed, instead.  Mussolini contemplated a different Marxian theory: that bloody war would cause the proletariat to rise in revolution (a theory shared by Italy’s revolutionary syndicalists).

The nationalism issue remained. Mussolini considered the power of nationalism. Nationalism had prevailed over class for Germany’s devout Social Democrats.  Why not nationalism? And why not national war against foreign class enemies?  The Italian Mussolini favored neutrality, while the Socialist favored war.

Finally, Mussolini renounced neutrality and joined support for the War.  After Italy joined the war, he joined the fight.  Nationalism had collapsed the Second International and brought his own incipient nationalism to the fore.  The War, its aftermath, and the plight of its veterans would lead Mussolini and Italy further to Fascism.


Marxist theory failed, causing a crisis for the faithful.  The socialists had chosen nation over class.  This crisis was especially hard on “reformist” socialists (who favored gaining power through democratic means).  Revolutionary socialists (like Lenin and Mussolini) were more adaptable because they had little faith in democracy.  Trotsky and Lenin clung to international Communism, while Mussolini parted company.  He embraced nationalism but clung to revolutionary socialism.

Mussolini was far from alone in Italian nationalism.  Italy was a young nation.  National unity was still recent.  (The Risorgimento had culminated a few decades earlier, in 1870.)  Nationalist feeling was shared across the political spectrum.  For a revolutionary socialist, like Mussolini, nationalism appeared a means to revolution.  And why not?

Bakunin was proved prophetic (and, awfully, would be again).  The German Social Democrats had chosen nationalism.  They had betrayed international Communist ideals.  Bakunin was right that Marxism anticipated a “great Pan-German State”.

By and large, Marxist theory would continue to fail.  The major failures would cause new existential crises.  Each crisis would spawn mutations that bring us ever closer to postmodernism.


Marx’s theory is taking too long.  So, the Communists get tired of waiting and come up with a new plan.  Next: Part 36, What Is To Be Done?.


Postmodernism, Part 28: Frankfurt Fumbles

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport; A History of Germany, by Bayward Taylor; Bismarck and the German Empire, by Dr. Erick Eyck; Freedom and Organization, by Bertrand Russell.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Revolutionary Disappointment


Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).  The postmodernists took refuge in the earlier collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism morphed out of the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel), Rousseau, and Napoleon.  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism sprung from the same German Counter-Enlightenment roots, plus a dash of romanticism and (disgraceful) industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution – morality, not so much.  Deplorable (“third world”) industrial working conditions were (truly) breeding revolution.  The Communists Marx and Engels thought so, and concocted their “scientific socialism” (that prophesied a Communist destiny).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

The Revolutions of 1848 would be a big letdown.  They were driven by hunger (crop failures), nationalism (growing cultural and ethnic identities), and economics (growing industrialization).

bastiatFrederic Bastiat

The French Revolution of 1848 led to a republic and socialist experiments that quickly flopped, triggering (the usual) radical leftist uprising.  (To prevent another Reign of Terror, the uprising was quickly crushed.)  Frederic Bastiat blamed France’s recurring revolutions (1789, 1815, 1830, 1848) on a public deluded by leftist charlatans and their impossible promises (free stuff without taxation).  He rejected the (postmodern) ideas of (totalitarian collectivist) Rousseau, (murderous) Robespierre, and (socialist) Louis Blanc: that the state constructs everything (human nature, society, and property).  (This idea leads to slavery, Bastiat warned.)  He argued that people, society, liberty, and property are natural institutions.

Marx hoped the French Revolution of 1848 was a class uprising.  He was in Paris, at the time, but was focused on German revolution.  (The Communists would be disappointed, as usual).

Prussia Stirs

Germany was divided.  There was Austria (under Emperor Ferdinand I), Prussia (under King Frederick William IV), and the German Confederation (assorted German states, under Austria).  Austria and Prussia competed for German leadership.

In 1847, Prussia was already dealing with liberal revolutionaries.  King Frederick William needed to borrow money to build railways (for military and economic purposes).  An 1820 law compelled the King to get approval for the loan by convening the Estates of the Realm.  (This was similar to how French finances compelled Louis XVI to convene the Estates General, starting the French Revolution of 1789.)

bismarck-1847Bismarck (1847)

The estates met in the United Diet of 1847 (“Prussian Diet”).  The King allowed the press to report on their proceedings (a break from standard censorship).  The public cheered on the Prussian liberals (who demanded a constitution and national representation). The public jeered at the conservative Junkers (hereditary aristocrats), especially the unpopular and obnoxious medievalist, Otto von Bismarck.  (Bismarck preferred popularity with the King over popularity with the people).

The Prussian Diet rejected the railway loan (for legal reasons).  The King dismissed the Prussian Diet (but the political pot had been stirred).

Austria Rumbles

Austrian power was getting shaky.  Emperor Ferdinand (“Ferdy the Loony”) was mentally challenged.  The real ruler was (the legendary) Chancellor Metternich (formidable, but past his prime).  By 1848, Metternich’s 1815 European governance masterpiece had fallen apart.  (He had orchestrated the carving up of Europe, among its hereditary sovereigns, at the Congress of Vienna.)

In March 1848, Metternich (the power behind the throne) got booted out.  In Vienna, revolts broke out (inspired by the French Revolution of 1848).  Students and protestors took to the streets, invading parliament (French-style).  Troops fired on protestors (German-style).  Ferdinand folded.  He announced a constitutional assembly, and gave Metternich the boot. (This was huge!)

Prussia Grumbles
frederick-william-ivFrederick William IV

In Prussia, protests broke out in Berlin.  Protestors took to the streets (demanding free speech, a free press, and a constitutional government).  Troops fired on them.  On March 18, humiliated Frederick William folded (for now), agreeing to the revolutionaries’ demands, and calling for German unity.  “I want German freedom and German unity,” declared the King, “Prussia will henceforth be merged with Germany.”  (Of course, German freedom meant national freedom, not individual freedom).

The Prussian Diet met one last time, to prepare for constitutional rule.  In a speech, (indignant) Bismarck slammed the King for his weakness (and did again, to his face).  A new Prussian National Assembly was elected (minus the unpopular Bismarck).  Bismarck and conservative Junkers conspired in a shadow government, to undermine and plot counter-revolution.

Frankfurt Fumbles

In Frankfurt, the German Confederation (the other German states) got proactive (facing calls for constitutional reform).  They declared popular sovereignty, and convened the first National Parliament of Germany to discuss German governance and unity.

Republican revolutionaries got impatient and frustrated with the constitutional monarchists, and staged an insurrection.  They were quickly defeated..

karl-marxKarl Marx

Elsewhere, radical leftists fomented revolution.  The Jacobin (Rousseauist) Arnold Ruge published leftist propaganda, in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Cologne.  Marx and Engels did the same in Cologne.  However, the Communist Manifesto and their ideas of class conflict alienated German workers.  Also, the German labor movement was quite fond of private property.  Marx was bitter.

Meanwhile, the Parliament at Frankfurt debated German unity.  The republican minority opposed the constitutional monarchist majority.  The “Small-Germans” wanted Germany united without Austria.  The “Great-Germans” wanted Germany united with Austria.  The Protestants opposed the Catholics.  Prussia and Austria were wary of the whole thing.

Elsewhere, ethnic nationalist revolts broke out.  The Poles revolted.  (The communist revolutionary Bakunin was there, fomenting revolution.)  Prussia put down the revolt.  The Czechs revolted.  (Again, Bakunin was there, fomenting revolution.)  Austria put down the revolt.  The Danes revolted.  Prussia (urged on by Frankfurt) put down the revolt, invading Denmark.  Russia and England intervened, pressuring Prussia into a treaty (giving up the disputed territory).

The Parliament approved the treaty, but most were furious over the territorial concessions.  In the September uprisings, protests broke out across Germany.  In Frankfurt, radical leftist mobs threw up barricades in the streets (French-style).  Mobs stormed the parliament and murdered two members (French-style).

In Vienna, the National Assembly fled riots and insurgency.  Austria got serious.  They crushed the insurgency and executed the leaders.  “Ferdy the Loony” abdicated the throne.  The young Francis Joseph became Emperor.

In Frankfurt, the Parliament decided that Prussia should lead united Germany, electing Prussian King Frederick William to the job of hereditary emperor (Kaiser).  (Austria voted nay.)

Thanks, but no thanks, said Frederick William.  He hated revolutions, especially this one.


Germany missed her chance for unification (for now).  The republicans and radicals had underestimated the powers that be.  The Revolutions of 1848 fizzled out, and the conservatives regained power.

The Marxists missed their proletarian uprising.  The communists (Marx, Engels, Bakunin) would end up exiles.

Communism had shown its nationalist and ethnic stripes: Marx and Engels were (unabashed) German nationalists.  Bakunin was pro-Slavic.  Marx was (ethnic) Jewish and anti-Slavic.  Bakunin was antisemitic.  So much for the international brotherhood of man.


Austria struggles to hold its empire together.  Next: Part 29, Young Italy.