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 29: Young Italy

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; Mussolini: A New Life, by Nicolas Farrell; and A History of Germany, by Bayward Taylor.)


Enlightenment and Darkness

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.

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).

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

The postmodernists took refuge in the totalitarian collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism

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

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism sprang from the same German Counter-Enlightenment roots, adding romanticism and disgust at industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (not morality).  Marx and Engels brewed a Hegelian concoction: “scientific socialism” (revealed history and Communist prophecy).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

The Revolutions of 1848 was a big letdown.  The French Revolution of 1848 created a republic.  Their socialist experiments flopped.  (The usual) radical leftist uprisings were crushed.  In the German Revolutions of 1848, Communism and German unity were epic fails.  (Marx was bitter.)  However, Marx’s seeds were sown and Bismarck (who would unify Germany) had come onstage.

Young Italy
mazziniGiuseppe Mazzini

Italy was bristling under Austrian domination.  A new breed of “professional revolutionaries” appeared:

  • Giuseppe Mazzini was an Italian nationalist republican.  In exile, he led an underground nationalist movement (“Young Italy”).
  • Giuseppe Garibaldi was a military leader and follower of Mazzini.  In exile, he was leading a “Red Shirt” revolutionary army, in Uruguay.

Both Mazzini were in exile, following a failed “Young Italy” revolution in Piedmont (northern Italy) against Charles Albert, King of Sardinia.  They were tried in absentia, and sentenced to death.  Mazzini’s writings were outlawed in many places.

Austrian Chancellor Metternich called Mazzini “the most dangerous man in Europe”.  Mazzini thought it Italy’s mission to lead oppressed Europe to liberty.  He created an international revolutionary network (“Young Europe”).

Mazzini was unlike Marx.  Mazzini was patient, practical, and a liberal republican.  Marx was an impatient Communist.  (Marx despised the “old ass” Mazzini and his bourgeois revolutions.)  Mazzini played the long game, “[laboring] less for the generation that lives around [us] than for the generations to come.”

War for Independence

The Italian revolutions of 1848 and First War for Independence had a number of things going against them:

  • People feared revolution would be followed by anarchy and a second (leftist) revolution and Terror.  (The French Revolution of 1789 and Reign of Terror gave left radicalism a bad name.)
  • Italy mostly lacked a strong sense of national unity.  While there was some “ethnic nationalism” (shared ethnicity, language, culture), there was a lack of “civic nationalism” (common political identity).
  • Italy lacked political cohesion because its governance was medieval and fragmented (among hereditary aristocrats and the Papal States).
  • The revolutionaries lacked real armies, and were forced to turn to Italian nobles and an unreliable Pope.
  • Austria may have had weak political leadership, but could still mobilize considerable military force.

The Italian revolutions were mostly doomed from the start.

charles-albertKing Charles Albert

The revolutionaries lacked real armies and had to turn for help to Charles Albert, King of Sardinia.  He demanded a price: northern Italy united under his constitutional monarchy.  The republican Mazzini returned from exile, and reluctantly agreed to a truce with Charles Albert.  (Better a united Italy, now, and a republic, later.)  The revolutionaries in Milan, Venice, Naples, and Turin did the same.

The Pope was in a pickle.  Elected in 1846, “liberal” Pope Pius IX had made liberal reforms in the Papal States (relaxing censorship and freeing political prisoners).  Protestors demanded that the Pope raise an army to fight for Italian unity.  Liberal republicans warned that he should join the revolution (or it might turn against him).  Reluctantly, the Pope had sent a small force to join with Charles Albert.

Garibaldi returned from exile to offer his services to Charles Albert (who had sentenced him to death, a decade earlier).  Charles Albert declined Garibaldi’s offer.

radetzkyMarshall Radetzky

The wily octogenarian Austrian Marshal Johann Radetzky (governor of Milan), defeated Charles Albert.  (Defeated, Charles Albert abdicated his throne, in favor of his son, Victor Emmanuel II.)  In defeating Charles Albert, the steely Radetzky had overcome the weak political leadership of Emperor Ferdinand (even ignoring Ferdinand’s orders).  There was still strength in Austria and Radetzky.

With Charles Albert defeated, Radetzky moved to retake Milan.  Naples soon fell to counter-revolution.  The poor slum-dwelling lazzaroni, who had swelled the ranks of revolutionary mobs, now turned on the revolutionaries, looting and pillaging.  Venice would follow.

The Roman Republic

The Pope withdrew his support for the revolution.  He couldn’t wage war against Catholic Austria (especially with revolutionaries calling this a holy war “to exterminate the enemies of God and Italy”).  Now, the Catholic church was officially against the war (and against liberal republicanism).

The Pope was forced to flee Rome.  Radicals had assassinated his  moderate Minister, Count Pellegrino Rossi (who had envisioned an Italian league, led by the Papal States).  Thousands (including armed civic guards) marched on the papal palace, demanding a republic.  Shots were fired (killing the Pope’s secretary).  The Pope fled in the night.


With Charles Albert defeated, Garibaldi and his “Italian Legion” moved to defend Rome. Garibaldi hailed Rossi’s murder, “In getting rid of him, … A young Roman had wielded anew the sword of Brutus and drowned the marble steps of the Capitol with the tyrant’s blood.”

The republicans now held Rome.  They encouraged the Pope to return and negotiate.  He wasn’t interested.  So, they declared a Roman Republic (that Mazzini thought a bit premature).  Mazzini and the republicans made liberal reforms (religious tolerance, abolition of censorship and the Inquisition).

The Pope called for help.  French President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sketchy nephew) answered the call.  He dispatched French troops to retake Rome (pressured by French Catholics, but secretly wanting to crush revolution).  The French raced to beat Austrian troops to take Rome, but faced fierce fighting against Garibaldi and company.  Outnumbered and outgunned, Garibaldi evacuated (followed by Mazzini).  The French restored papal rule.

The Pope and his “Red Triumvirate” got back to their old ways: staining Christianity (restoring the Inquisition and capital punishment; and exiling liberals and the Jews).  (This whole Papal States question wouldn’t be settled until Mussolini.)

Mazzini and Garibaldi would be back.


In 1848, Mazzini’s ideas were much more dangerous than Marx’s.  He inspired nationalist revolutionaries across Europe (“Young Ireland”, “Young Poland”, “Young Ukraine”) and beyond (“Young Argentina”).  (The “Young Turks” would seize control of the Ottoman Empire, lead them into World War I, and commit the Armenian genocide.)

papa-mussoliniAlessandro Mussolini

Before long, the ideas of Marx (Communism), Mazzini (nationalism), and Garibaldi (militarism) would be embraced by a Communist agitator named Alessandro Mussolini.  “Socialism,” he would write, “is open rebellion, violent and moral, against the inhumanity of things as they are.”  He would pass these ideas on to his son, Benito (named for Mexican revolutionary Benito Juarez, who executed Austrian Archduke Maximilian).

In his father’s obituary, Benito Mussolini would write, “[Alessandro] became a follower of the [Communist] International … and formed the [local] organization of the International. … He left me no material heritage, but he left me a moral one – his treasure: the Ideal … I pursue my way, following in his footsteps.”


France gets another Empire.  Germany gets one step closer to unification.  Next: Part 30, Blood and Iron.