Recently, debate has erupted throughout the American left regarding the idea of Communist Patriotism and the controversy around this debate has fractured many left wing circles both online and in-person. The discourse is chaotic and unorganized as nobody can seem to agree on the definitions of various relevant terms, and many people on both sides of the debate–the primary sides being those who advocate for Communist Patriotism and those who advocate against it–have reduced their arguments down to moralistic pandering rather than basing them on solid analysis. As is true of any issue, it falls upon principled Marxists to analyze the issue of Communist Patriotism from an objective, material standpoint. I have been working on a much lengthier piece that tackles the same issue and will be essentially boiling the arguments made in that piece down to their essential elements for the purposes of this column.
As far as I can tell, the attention this debate has received originates primarily from statements made on the subject by various online political personalities on both sides. Some say that Communist Patriotism is a default position for Marxists globally and that the American question is no different to that default. Others claim that the US is a settler colonial state and, as a result, American patriotism is incompatible with Marxism or Communism. These arguments arrive at different conclusions based on both different analysis and different definitions, and those of the after opinion seem to conflate certain terms.
In the larger piece mentioned above, I began to tackle the question of Communist Patriotism by outlining the definitions of all the relevant terms (primarily by tracing their historical and contemporary use) and, to support this, cited a number of authors and dictionaries. For the purposes of this column, I will skip the lengthy analysis used to arrive at the definitions and provide the definition for both ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism.’ I chose these terms in particular because the debate has largely centered around the question of whether American Patriotism is inherently nationalistic/chauvinistic.
Nationalism is the doctrine or ideology that places moral or hierarchical emphasis on one’s own national character, unified language, national territory, and/or economy as opposed to the national character, unified language, national territory, and/or economy of other nations. Essentially, a person or idea is nationalistic if it depicts one’s own nation as being superior to other nations.
Patriotism, on the other hand, is the doctrine or practice of loving one’s place of origin, the people who inhabit it, and a compulsion to protect these brothers and sisters, as well as bring prosperity to them. Patriotism, while in colloquial use being synonymous with nationalism or chauvinism, is a much broader (and older) term that does not necessarily refer to any strict ideological or political structure, nor does it refer to a nation specifically.
It is obvious from these definitions how one could get confused as to their differences. It is of course possible for nationalist to be patriotic (in fact, I’d say most nationalists at least think they are patriots). It is, also, possible for a patriot to be nationalistic. However, the terms are not synonymous. Believing your nation is superior to another is not necessary for you to love your country or it’s people. In fact, in the American case specifically, loving our country and wanting the best for her people would run counter to the nationalistic line because our countries nationalistic and chauvinistic policies have historically harmed those abroad and at home.
A perfect example of this is the imperialist interventionism that the US has routinely engaged in since the end of WWII. Imperialistic wars such as the invasions of Vietnam, Korea, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan have always been predicated on the superiority of American society in comparison to other societies. Vietnam and Korea were invaded in fear of the Communists taking power and disrupting US interests; all of the conflicts mentioned above were framed in such a way as to imply the superiority of US liberal democracy to whatever sociopolitical structure existed in these nations. As such, these wars were certainly nationalistic (even if the US does not neccessarily constitute a nation in the Marxist sense) and chauvinistic. If nationalism and patriotism were synonymous, then these wars would have been patriotic as well (i.e. they would have been fought on the behalf of and in the interest of the American people). It is obvious, however, that these wars did not benefit the vast majority of Americans. Young Americans were conscripted against their will to fight in Vietnam and Korea and the inherent mechanisms of economic imperialism (that is, the conversion of domestic productive capital into finance capital and the exporting of production into imperialized countries) are harmful to American workers, since they revoke jobs that once existed domestically and throw working Americans into the clutches of unstable precarious labor.
Notice that pointing out the harm done to American workers as a result of imperialism does not come at the expense of imperialized countries; one can recognize the horrible atrocities committed under the banner of US imperialism as well as understanding that imperialism has also done harm domestically.
To be a patriot, one must fight for the policies and principles that will best uphold the interests of the American people. And for us to do that, we must reject nationalism, chauvinism, and every other reactionary ideology utilized by the ruling class to justify it’s atrocities. Exporting labor to the Global South harms US workers. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on imperialist wars while US infrastructure and healthcare crumbles harms US workers. Subjugating indigenous nations and using their land to expand corporate profits harms US workers. Since all of these things harm the people of the US, it then follows that a good patriot must vehemently oppose all of these things.
It is quite convenient, then, that American communists (such as myself) do, in fact, oppose all of these things. And not only do we oppose these things but we also openly advocate for the policies and principles that would end all of these things. American communists support the end of imperialist conflicts that destroy developing nations and use them for cheap production. We support spending taxpayer money on infrastructure and healthcare rather than further engorging the bloated Military-Industrial Complex. We support the recognition of indigenous self-determination in a way that gives indigenous people (and not massive corporations) sovereignty over tribal land.
From this we can conclude that, yes, Communist Patriotism is the correct line for principled Marxists. Further, American communists must be patriots; to love one’s people is necessary in loving all people. American communists must be city builders who seek to end the rampant destruction caused by US imperialism. We are proudly communist and we are proudly patriotic. Loving the American people, for us, is the first step in the dismantling of the bourgeois system and marching onward towards the progression of mankind