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You are here: Home / 2017 / Imperialism, National and Identity Politics and Third World Fascism: a Marxist Leninist Approach

Imperialism, National and Identity Politics and Third World Fascism: a Marxist Leninist Approach

Drafted by the Theoretical Study Group of the NDMLP Sri Lanka, July 2017



For a long time I believed that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by English working-class ascendancy....Deeper study has now convinced me of the opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general.”

[K Marx, 10 December 1869 from Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Lawrence & Wishart, Electric Book 43 (Letters) pp. 1868-70, 2010]


A people which oppresses another cannot emancipate itself. The power which it uses to suppress the other finally always turns against itself. As long as Russian soldiers remain in Poland, the Russian people cannot free itself either politically or socially.

[F Engels, 1974, from Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Marxist Internet Archive, 24 pp. 5-11]


The class-conscious workers do not advocate secession. They know the advantages of large states and the amalgamation of large masses of workers. But large states can be democratic only if there is complete equality among the nations; that equality implies the right to secede.

The struggle against national oppression and national privileges is inseparably bound up with the defence of that right.”

[VI Lenin: “More about “Nationalism” Put Pravdy No. 17, 20.2.1914;

Lenin Collected Works, Moscow,1972, 20, pp. 109-110.]




1 Imperialist Manipulation of Post-Colonial Nationalism

Nationalism under Colonialism

Here, post-colonial refers to being free of direct colonial or semi-colonial rule. The context is not truly post-colonial as colonialism has transformed into neocolonialism as warned by Frantz Fanon in “the Wretched of the Earth” (1961, Grove Press, New York) and explained clearly by Kwame Nkrumah in his “Neocolonialism the Last Stage of Imperialism” (Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., London 1965). Decolonisation was in effect a project of neo-colonisation. The end of colonial rule in much of the Third World did not mean the end of control by the colonial masters. Marxist and progressive leaders in many former British colonies pointed out on the eve of ‘independence’ that what was on offer was a transfer of power from colonial rulers to acquiescent social elite. It will, however, be to oversimplify to say that the transfer was always smooth or that loyalty was always assured or that political succession was as desired by the colonialists. Much depended on the colonial power and the colony and various geo-socio-historical factors.

Nationalism had a central role in anti-colonial uprisings and was to that extent a progressive force as noted by Lenin. The contexts of the struggles for freedom, their form and the class and class interests that dominated the freedom movement were decisive in the political development of former colonies. The way countries were created under direct colonial rule including colonial carving up of regions in the Middle East and parts of Africa and South and South East decided the trajectory of “post-colonial” nationalism in the Third World.


The Post-Colonial Nation

The national question when Lenin offered the right to self determination to nations that were prisoners of Tsarist rule is vastly different from what it is today. Thus to quote Lenin or Stalin out of context to decide the validity of the claim of a people to nationhood is unscientific. The core criterion used by Lenin and Stalin, namely anti-imperialism, to recognise any given nationalism as progressive is, however, still valid. (Lenin, ’The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’, Selected Works Vol. 1, Part 2, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1950; Stalin, ’Marxism and the National and Colonial Question, Lawrence & Wishart, London 1947)

The post-colonial (really neocolonial) context, at least superficially, poses a dilemma to an anti-imperialist analyst. While the post-colonial state is the victim of neocolonialism, it is also an oppressor of minority nations, nationalities and national minorities (the definitions of which we will come to later). Thus, it is necessary to develop fresh criteria to identify the oppressor and the oppressed: Mao’s analysis of contradictions is most helpful in distinguishing between primary and secondary contradictions, between the primary contradiction and the main contradiction during a certain historical stage, and thus between hostile and ‘friendly’ contradictions. (Mao Zedong, ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People’ Speech at the 11th Session (Enlarged) of the Supreme State Conference, February 1957)

Terms like nation, nationalism, national oppression and national liberation relating to the neocolonial national question bear superficial similarity to those under colonialism. But the identities of oppressor and oppressed and the relation between them vastly differ. Thus the Marxist Leninist approach to the national question under neocolonialism needs to address the changed circumstances.


Defining a Nation

The association of a nation with a state met the needs of an emergent capitalist class. The need to define a nation arose in Europe in the context of a people constituting a socio-economic entity seeking independent statehood against domination by an imperialist power.

Nationalism served imperialist interests well by giving the oppressor state a respectable national identity in which even the oppressed classes were deluded into having a stake. The neat definition by Stalin in ’Marxism and the National and Colonial Question’ remains an appropriate description of what constituted the modern nation: “A nation is an historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological makeup manifested in a community of culture”.

The definition came out of a thorough understanding of what made a nation state feasible in the context of national oppression and Lenin’s offer of the right of nations to self-determination. The key features of a nation defined by Stalin are still essential to a nation state.

One should remember that nothing is natural about a nation and that historical and socio-economic factors decided the emergence of nations. Progressive thinkers like EJ Hobsbawm and B Anderson were rather dismissive of nationalism. Hobsbawm in Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, 1990 says that no universal criteria are required for a nation so that “any sufficiently large body of people whose members regard themselves as members of a nation will be treated as such”; and Anderson in Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 1983 proceeds to name all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact as imagined, with nations imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. Yet, neither rejects the significance of nations and nationalism or their right to exist.

The concept of nation state, was closely linked to the development of capitalism, became domestically less important to imperialism with internationalisation of capital cutting across national boundaries and imperialism pursuing globalisation for its global domination. Nationalism in advanced capitalist countries was at worst dormant and reactivated in the wake of the global economic crisis that started in 2008, manifesting as resistance in Europe to domination of the EU by Germany as well in the clash of interests of the US and EU. This should not be confused with the rivalry for global domination among powerful capitalist nation states in the colonial era up to the end of WW2. While prospects are weak for rivalry between powerful capitalist states lading to war, nationalist rivalry among imperialist countries and can lead to serious conflicts including proxy wars.


Post-colonial National Oppression and the Concept of Nationality

The end of direct colonial rule of a Third World country meant that nation oppression of the colonial kind was a thing of the past. But residues of colonialism remain, allowing former colonial masters a say in the affairs of the former colony, and tempting communities in conflict, as in the former French colonies of North and West Africa, to look up to former colonial masters to solve internal issues. There are instances of the US stepping into the shoes of the old colonial master. But no context exists for mass struggle against an occupying imperialist power, except as a partner of a loyal regime. The burden of controlling militant protest against exploitation and plunder has thus been transferred to the local elite.

The national question under neocolonialism concerns contradictions among nationalities with national oppression meaning a strong community (usually a majority nationality) oppressing a weaker community (usually a minority nationality) in a territory controlled by the stronger. The term nationality is should be read in a broad sense to mean a nation or any community possessing the essential features of a nation and thus the potential to become a nation-state but may or may not claim nationhood for various reasons. The use of the concept of nationality helps one to better understand the national question under neocolonialism. The concept is valuable to the resolution of conflicts in contexts where co-existence of a nationality with other nationalities (or other communities) within the framework of a multi-ethnic or multi-national state is challenged.

The irony of the current form of national oppression is that both the oppressing and oppressed nationalities face imperialist exploitation and domination. Imperialism, no more the ruler of a colony, plays the role of a promoter of conflict, profiting from arming one or both parties to the conflict and as a peacemaker or guarantor of peace earning access and influence with the parties to the conflict. It is known to have cynically used the concept of the right of nations to self determination and the newly created Right to Protect (R2P) to stir conflict between nationalities and use it to intervene militarily.

It should be remembered that the evolution of nations in the Third World is based more on the history of colonial rule than on identity based development. Since the nation-state is a product of capitalism, which in the colonies and neo-colonies was― with rare exception ―a colonial-imperialist implant, the creation of Third World nations was based on the whims of the colonial masters and now imperialist powers. Colonial rivalry for regional and global domination decided how borders of countries were drawn. The interests of the colonial masters dictated whether a colony was carved up or lumped with other colonies to make a single administrative unit.


The Third World Nation as a Colonial Product

Scholars in the West who comment on the national question generally ignore the role of colonialism and neocolonialism in the creation of nations and nation states. The way capitalism developed in what became the Third World ensured that national awareness and nationalism differed vastly from their European counterparts, which have been analysed in depth by many scholars. Nationalism under colonial rule had far less to do with the growth of capitalism in the colony than with colonial/imperialist exploitation of countries and communities. Under neocolonialism, nationalism evolved mostly in response to oppression by a local elite class (often acting in the name of a community) or by imperialism or by the combined action of imperialism and a local elite class. Thus feudal and semi-feudal societies too were propelled into ‘nationalism’ of some kind.

Carving up of territories by colonial powers and demarcation of borders based on colonial/imperialist economic interests meant that new ‘national’ identities were imposed on people who in the absence of colonial intervention could have developed into a single nation, as in the case of Arabs. It also meant suppression of national identity, as in the case of Kurds who got divided among four countries.

Colonial and imperialist powers, besides oppressing and exploiting people and plundering natural resources in the colonies and semi-colonies, also indulged in many forms of slave trade, with harmful implications for national identity and nationalism even under neocolonialism. The national identity of displaced populations, already complicated by forced and voluntary migration of labour under colonialism, got more complex following mass displacement owing to civil war and economic crisis induced by neocolonialism and migration of labour under imperialist globalisation.

Despite the reactionary content of nationalism deriving from its bourgeois character and the complexity of the identity of migrant populations, nationalism exists and cannot be lightly dismissed. Imagined or not, it plays a role for both oppressor and oppressed. Marxist Leninists view nationalism based on objective reality, which is why they then defended the rights of nations and now defend the rights of nationalities, not in an abstract or crudely universal sense but based on objective reality in the neocolonial context.


2 Colonial and neocolonial Creation of Nations

Making Nations of Colonies

The European nation state arrived to serve capital. The uneven development of capital used colonialism to control trade, and natural and human resources. This had implications for the emergence of nations in territories under direct or indirect colonial rule. European capitalism which became imperialism in late 19th Century willingly undermined relations between ethnic groups and communities which, despite rivalry among traditional rulers for hegemony, had coexisted in relative harmony.

The way in which colonial powers set out to wield control over different regions of the world varied, with much depending on the kind of capitalist development of the colonial power. The way each colony was administered also depended on the predominant social structure of the colony.

The emergence of states in Latin America and the Muslim Middle East and North Africa, despite major differences, show how ‘nations’ and national boundaries emerged from territories without internal boundaries― regardless of feasibility of boundaries based on ethnic identity or geographic features ―merely to suit colonial purposes. In contrast, in South Asia, British colonialism held together under a single colonial administration a vast area with ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural identity more diverse than all Europe. So did the Dutch colonialists in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) with many languages, cultures and religions. Ethno-linguistically and culturally distinct regions comprising Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos made the federated colony of Indochina under the French. Rival colonial powers controlled China through coerced trade and territorial concessions by a series of unequal treaties.

Besides indirect control, neocolonialists, for strategic reasons, also directly controlled several small regions such as Hong Kong (freed in 1997), Gibraltar and the Malvinas (still under British rule), Macau which Portugal held on to until 1999, and French occupied territories like its overseas regions of Guiana, Reunion etc. and numerous overseas collectives and territories. The US which emerged as the major neocolonial power since the Second World War (WW2), has de facto colonial possession and control of many territories. It dominated over China’s Taiwan for some decades. While such colonial features make more complex the national question in the Third World, the most pressing issue is national oppression in post-colonial states.

Colonial rulers encouraged the merging of its ex-colonies of Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak (as well as Singapore which was forced out before long) into the larger state of Malaysia, for fear that the large Chinese population in Malaya could sway the country towards socialist China. On the other hand, they induced secession in India. The North-South division of Vietnam and Korea were both outcomes of imperialist fear that, united, these countries would go socialist.

While imperialism desired economic alliances such as ASEAN and the EU in to protest capitalist interests, it did everything in its power to dismantle voluntary unions of nations with a socialist goal, however imperfect. The break-up of Yugoslavia was followed by further punishment of Serbia by enabling the secession of province of Kosovo which already had considerable autonomy. Imperialist cynicism led to the secession (albeit temporarily) of Katanga (1960-63) from the newly independent Congo to punish the left-oriented leadership, and the secession of South Sudan in 2011 to punish defiant Sudan.

Thus it is clear that, under colonial rule as well as under neocolonial domination, people and regions outside West Europe and North America have been grouped and un-grouped as countries, based on imperialist interests. The cynical role of imperialism in the national question of Third World countries will be commented on later in the context of national contradiction in the Third World.


The Post-Colonial National Question

It can be seen that the emergence of independent states from colonial or semi-colonial rule had more to do with colonial interests or even whimsical decisions than with ethno-linguistic, cultural or religious identity. Thus, many post-colonial states are lacking in one or several of the basic features of a nation as defined by Stalin, namely ‘a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture’.

While a post-colonial state generally has contiguous territory, a common language is often absent as is a common culture. Economic life too could be less shared or fragmented unlike in the emergent capitalist nation that Stalin had in mind, for the reason that the independent state emerging from colonial rule rarely had a modern industrial economy and the economic development that followed was built on the residue of its colonial heritage, rather in the fashion of an appendage of the economic interests of the neocolonial power dominating its economy.

Neo-colonial bondage to imperialism ensured that development of capitalism and economic modernisation in the post-colonial state was conditioned more by external forces than by factors internal to the country. Motivation for different ethno-linguistic identities to merge into a common national identity was weaker than that during the growth of European capitalism. Also, the role of native languages in the economic lives of the people in several parts of the world, especially South and South East Asia, was curtailed by neocolonial domination and now the process of imperialist globalisation with English (and to a less extent French) as the dominant language of business of the region as well as the key link language between speakers of regional languages. This has had adverse implications for inter-community relations in countries with several native languages: it discouraged learning other local languages, and strengthened both politically and socially a new middle class with affinity for English.

The sense of nationalism in colonial countries was driven by a spirit of patriotism and desire for freedom from colonial rule. Uneven social development under colonial rule followed by rivalry among the elite for political and economic dominance and rivalry among the middle classes for upward social mobility amid limited opportunities resulted in identity-based rivalries, often involving ethnicity.

Historical contradictions between identity groups, which seemed insignificant during the anti-colonial struggle, came to the fore in the run-up to or after independence from colonial rule. Often, such rivalries were encouraged by the colonial rulers who set one community against the other to weaken anti-colonial unity.

Whatever the cause, minority nationalities and minority ethnic and religious communities are now increasingly a target of oppression by a majority. And failure to correctly handle such contradictions is to the detriment of the socialist cause.


Responding to Colonial Carve-up

Arab Nationalism: Victorious anti-colonial struggles persuaded a few Arab leaders to work for the political unity of Arabs. The United Arab Republic comprising Egypt and Syria, founded in 1958, fell apart in 1961; a subsequent Iraqi proposal to re-establish the UAR comprising Egypt, Syria and Iraq failed too. This experience, despite the desire of the Arab people for unity, showed that divisions among the ruling elite driven by class interests and the influence of imperialism obstructed not only Pan-Arabism but even Arab unity in matters affecting the Arab people. Imperialist control of the Middle East would not have lasted almost as long as a century following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in early 20th century was it not for the weakening of Arab nationalism by colonial carving-up. Imperialism and Zionism now rely heavily on the division of the Arab World based on rivalry among the ruling elite, while ensuring that a few strategically important states remain clients of US imperialism for their survival against the anger of the oppressed population. Thus what exists in the name of Arab unity are alliances like the Arab League and its sub-groups led by the most reactionary Arab states. Thus, besides the weak prospects for reviving a pan-Arab nationalist project, the imperialist grip on the dominant Arab state will ensure that any Arab alliance will not benefit the anti-imperialist cause. While prospects for a progressive international Islamic alliance are weak, international Islamic alliances nurtured by the US and its Arab allies have become reactionary outfits with fascist features.


Kurdish nationalism: The national liberation project of the Kurdish people, whose large territory was wilfully carved up and shared between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, transcends state borders. Prospects for a strong left-nationalist alliance were strong in Turkish Kurdistan with the prospect of uniting the Kurdish nation in the course of an anti-imperialist struggle, since imperialism was a close ally of their biggest oppressor, Turkey. Developments over the past two decades, however, enabled the US to manipulate Kurdish leaders in Iraq, and to some extent Turkey, to pin their hopes on imperialism. The revolutionary potential of the Kurdish liberation forces hangs in the balance amid issues of regional power rivalry.


Pan-Africanism: The concept of the nation state in the African Continent was much weaker than elsewhere as geographic borders, especially in sub-Saharan Africa was not based on any form of ethnic or linguistic identity. Unlike in Asia, development of the languages and culture was undermined by colonialism, through the domination of the two main colonial languages, namely English and French, and the intrusion of Christian faiths, while ethnic (or ‘tribal’) differences were kept alive in each colony. Kwame Nkrumah, leader of Ghana, the first Black African colony to be freed of colonial rule turned this negative context on its head.

Nkrumah, a true anti-imperialist and internationalist, proposed a progressive anti-imperialist pan-African alliance. The project failed to materialise owing to imperialist subversion in the continent which continues to this day, while what exists in the name of African Union is an alliance of states, generally subservient to imperialism. There are, however, efforts to revive the pan-African project as imagined by Nkrumah. But success requires the emergence of strong progressive and anti-imperialist political forces in Africa.


Latin America and the Caribbean: What is important about national identities that emerged from centuries of colonial intervention in the Americas is that the language, culture and even religion have been seen as those of the occupying powers at the expense of the identity of the indigenous people. The settlement of Africans and, to a less extent, south Indians as slaves or indentured labour, especially in Caribbean, added new ethnic identities as did mixing between races.

In South and Central America, the Portuguese colony of Brazil remained more or less intact as one country, while Spanish colonies splintered into several, based largely on colonial administrative regions. The republic of Gran Colombia― comprising predominantly Spanish-speaking regions of present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, and parts of other countries ―founded by the initiative of Simon de Bolivar, a progressive thinker and an important anti-colonial leader, was short-lived (1819-1831), but the Bolivarian spirit was revived a decade ago by Hugo Chavez amid the anti-imperialist upsurge in South America. What is important about the Bolivarian project is that, inspired by the Cuban experience, it extended its scope to include the Caribbean so that alliances like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have emerged to counter the US imperialist neocolonial projects like the Organization of American States (OAS) to subjugate the region and resist the installation of US-sponsored dictatorships. Although the Bolivarian project has been weakened by subversion by the US and local reactionaries, it survives as something more than a Latin American nationalist project with great anti-imperialist potential for the new millennium.

An important feature of the 21st Century democratic movement in Latin America is the restoration of the national rights of indigenous people. Mass uprisings and left governments led to state recognition of indigenous people as nationalities or national minorities and granting legal status to indigenous languages as in Peru granting official language status to Quechua and Aymara in 1975; and Venezuela in 1999 and Bolivia in 2009 making all indigenous languages official languages. Much work has to be done to prevent the subversion of the unity of South American countries by US imperialism by promoting narrow nationalism among the indigenous people, whose rights were totally denied to them by dictatorial regimes backed by US imperialism.

Unlike South and Central America, with many predominantly Spanish speaking countries, North America has just three nation states― with the US expanding its territory even in the 20th Century and itching to take control of Puerto Rico. But the US encourages secessionism in South and Central America, already divided among several nations. Support for secession is, however, based on class interests that coincide with the imperialist interests and not ethnic interests, like the rights of indigenous people in Canada and the US.


Other Victims of the Nation State

The formation of nation states led to the marginalisation and denial of traditional territory of nomadic people like the Gypsies across Europe and seriously undermined the territorial rights of the Sami in the arctic region of Europe. The emergence of the nation state with arbitrary boundaries as in Africa divided communities and affected the livelihood as well as identity of ethnic (or tribal) groups.

The concept of the right to self determination has been tampered with by the United Nations which recognises that right only for aggregated populations of territories under colonial or foreign domination, but denying it to many indigenous people who form minority groups within those aggregated populations. Such minorities suffer colonial-style discrimination and face the prospect of assimilation or extinction under a state acting in the name of a majority.

The global search for mineral resources threatens the existence of indigenous people, despite the UN General Assembly adopting, after much struggle, the Draft Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples to protect against discrimination, racism, oppression, marginalisation and exploitation, (See “Rights of Indigenous People” by Anup Shah in

Imperialism, despite its notorious record of denying freedom to nations and nationalities, helped to create nations, by transplanting populations, as in Israel, by breaking up countries by inducing ethnic and national conflicts, as in Yugoslavia and the subsequent secession of Kosovo Province from Serbia. Imperialist attempts to break up Somalia are not much unlike the attempted secession of Katanga from Congo in the early 1960s and Biafra from Nigeria in the late 1960s.

Imperialism switches loyalties for opportunist reasons, as in Ethiopia and Sudan― both colonial creations ―where cases for self determination of Eritrea and South Sudan were strong. Imperialist backing of secession in both cases was for geopolitical reasons.


Post-Colonial Nationalist Projects and the Left

Third World societies have coped with diverse identities; and countries survived without serious ethnic conflict. The Third World national question owes much of its complexity to colonialism and now imperialism, whose interest in the right to self determination of populations and the creation of nation states has been driven by a single purpose, namely global control.

Imperialism is likely to aggressively pursue an agenda of supporting nationalist causes where states seem to defy imperialism, but allowing oppression of nationalities and indigenous people to pass unchecked elsewhere. Imperialism simply keeps the oppressed people divided.

The lesson for oppressed people therefore is to find ways of resolving their respective national questions in ways that will avert imperialist and hegemonic intervention in their affairs.

Although European colonial powers have since WW2 yielded to control by the US neocolonial control in many countries, they hold sway in several countries and have acted to change governments that dared to defy imperialism.



3 Ethnicity and Nationhood

National Identity in the Colonial Era

The development of the nation state alongside capitalism in Europe, led to the emergence of a dominant or language in each of several European countries. The modern capitalist state killed many ethnic and national identities by various means. Besides a rise in literacy, a common educational system, industrial development, expansion of economic activity and mobility of the population generally weakened and/or marginalised dialects and regional languages.

For example, British national identity emerged at expense of the Cornish, Welsh and Scottish identities, but assimilation of Irish identity to the British was less successful despite forced disuse of the Irish (Gaelic) language. French national identity forged under Napoleon meant suppression of all languages but official French. Italian became the main language of Italy since unification in 1861, but dialects/regional-languages persisted so that the adoption of Italian as the official language in 2007 met with dissent in parliament. The German language was successfully unified to become the standard language in Germany and elsewhere. Exceptionally, following the Bolshevik revolution, Russia adopted Russian as the official language of the federal government but with co-official status for twenty (now 27) regional languages.

Things were different in what later became the Third World. Feudal imperial rule in Asia could not suppress ethnic and linguistic identities, although religious conversion and cultural hegemony had a lasting impact on communities under foreign domination. If most feudal empires did not indulge in genocide, it was not because of the benevolence of the rulers but because it was not in the interest of the empire. But European colonial expansion indulged in genocide in the Americas and Australia for territorial expansion. Africa became a massive resource of not only raw materials but also labour in the form of slaves, while parts of Asia provided indentured labour. The impact of European colonialism on ethnic and linguistic identity of people varied with region and period of history, and was greater than under feudal empires, owing to the combination of capitalist economic expansion with colonial conquest.

Thus, when part or whole of a community was drawn into the economic activity of the colonial power, it came under the cultural hegemony of the latter. This altered the cultural identity of sections of the community and led to the emergence of distinct ethnic groups, based on newly acquired religious, linguistic and cultural identities. Communities which were not directly exposed to colonialism and thus remained relatively isolated have, following the transformation of colonialism into neocolonialism, suffered intense oppression and exploitation, especially under the globalisation of monopoly capital.

After feudal resistance to colonial occupation died down, colonial rulers, to facilitate capitalist expansion, became accommodative of the feudal or pre-feudal social order that prevailed in the colonies. This preserved the old social hierarchy to the extent that it served colonial interests as well as stood in the way of integration of ethnic groups and local communities into larger social groups, unlike under European capitalism. Thus even small regions and countries retained many distinct ethnic groups and communities, including religious and caste groups.


Post-Colonial National Identity

While group identities did not change following end of direct colonial rule, inter-group relations changed as group interests moved to take the place of what was collective anti-colonial national interest. Assertion of group interests took different forms according to context of rivalry and tendency for some groups to dominate over others based on identity. Contradictions concerned elite group interests and found expression in terms of ethnicity, caste, religion and region. National oppression based on ethnic identity or nationality is a serious issue in Asia. Caste has been the oldest socially divisive factor as well as mode of division of labour and therefore class exploitation and oppression in South Asia. Caste-based oppression exists, more in rural areas, but with declining relevance to social production. Caste identity persists owing to endogamy and social discrimination, and needs to be addressed seriously, but not as ethnic identity. Under exceptional circumstances, religion defined nationality as in the case of Bosnian Muslims, Sikhs in India and, more recently, Muslims in Sri Lanka. But it proved inadequate to cut across ethno-linguistic identity to define nationality as the experience of Pakistan has shown.

Economic and social development in some contexts enabled some ethnic identities to be assimilated to larger national or regional identities. Post revolution Russia recognised its ethnic groups as major indigenous people or titular nations (which we place on par with nationalities) and minor indigenous people (which we will refer to as national minorities). China recognises 55 minority ethnic groups (including those one may refer to as minority nationalities) as national minorities. While India refers to indigenous people other than major nationalities as Scheduled Tribes thereby offering some constitutional protection, Indonesia recognises its ethnic groups but denies special rights on the grounds that all national except Chinese and other immigrants are indigenous.

To the colonialists Africa was just a source of minerals and slave labour. As a result, modern African states were defined by colonial conquest and mostly retain the borders drawn by European colonial rulers, which have little to do with ethnicity, language, culture or way of life. Thus the post-colonial African state comprises indigenous people of diverse identity. Conversion to Christianity and imposition of foreign languages added to social complexity while denial of educational and industrial development rendered most colonies unprepared for transition to an industrial society. Ethnic (or tribal) identity as a substitute for nationalism was a threat to the post-colonial African governments. This occurred in Nigeria when Biafra seceded in 1967 and was forced back into Nigeria in 1970 by war, and again in recent times with ethno religious differences and externally induced Islamic fundamentalist violence acting to destabilise Nigeria. Another cruel experience is the civil war in South Sudan which is the direct outcome of imperialist encouragement of ethno-religious feelings in southern Sudan to induce the secession of Sudan.

Latin America and the Caribbean predominantly comprise descendents of European colonists (mainly from Spain and Portugal) and people from Africa and to a less extent South Asia forcibly brought in as toilers. Colonial genocide and adverse living conditions imposed on the native population led to depletion of the indigenous population and their marginalisation from the mainstream of society. There has, however, been considerable mixing among all sections of the immigrants and to varying extents with the indigenous people.

Ethnic nationalism in Latin America and the Caribbean has not been a divisive force, (except for the unsuccessful demands for secession of small regions of Chile, Brazil and Colombia). The indigenous populations secured much of their linguistic and cultural rights across the region through struggle, but economic rights remain to be won. Although much has been achieved, mainly under leftist governments with an anti-imperialist agenda, much remains to be done. Notably there is demand for more autonomy by the people of French Guiana, which France claims is its Overseas Province. The more serious attempts at secession have been US imperialist instigated attempts of the economically well to do provinces to demand more autonomy or to threaten secession as in the case of the Santa Cruz Province of Bolivia in 2008 and the Zulia state of Venezuela in 2006.


Ethnicity and Secessionism

Some view each distinct ethnic group as a nation or nationality and prescribe secession as the remedy for oppression and exploitation. Such prescription lacks understanding of the concept of nation and its historical development, and mostly ignores the need for a sustainable economy and feasibility of an independent state.

It is correct for any ethnic group to asset its right to determine its modes of social and political existence. But this right cannot be readily read as right to self determination meaning the right to secession. To a Marxist, the right to self determination is mainly a means to unite nations and nationalities with a common interest, which in current context also implies resisting imperialist and hegemonic domination and exploitation. Thus the principle of self determination should be interpreted in its true spirit and applied not just to nations or nationalities but also in appropriate fashion to national minorities and other socio-ethnic groups that may individually be not in a position to become independent nation states.

At the other end is chauvinism of a dominant majority seeking to suppress all minority national and ethnic identities by negation of contiguous territory, forced assimilation of sections of the population and denial of cultural, linguistic and religious rights. Such oppression divides the people and thereby strengthens the local exploiting classes and their imperialist masters.

Imperialism thrives on internal contradictions in the neo-colonies. If the policies of a rival power (like Russia or China) or a neocolonial country are to the slightest displeasure of imperialism, internal conflict is encouraged to bring pressure upon the regime to make it yield, failing which steps are taken to destabilise the regime, as in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Tibetan and Uygur separatism are used to bully China and Islamic fundamentalists are use to create chaos in Russia.


Ethnicity, Language and Nationality

Many countries have regions comprising several indigenous ethnic groups who preserve their distinct identities amid shared economic interests and interaction between the groups, which under conditions of rapid capitalist development would have led to the merging or elimination of some identities. Commerce and urbanisation which have blurred ethno-linguistic geographical boundaries have also enabled coexistence of the ethnic groups and multi-lingualism.

Multi-lingualism of a community does not mean that each member is fluent in several languages, but that large sections of it use different languages for different social purposes. Even now, many Italians and American Blacks use “standard language” for formal activities and dealings with ‘outsiders’ but revert to dialect― mostly unintelligible to other communities ―within their community. While modernisation and migration weaken the significance of dialects, linguistic identities have endured the thrust of capitalist development.

Whereas in European countries capitalism allowed a local language or dialect to become the common language, in the colonies, often the language of the colonial rulers became the common language. The language of the colonial power owed its pre-eminence during the colonial and early post-colonial periods to its foremost position in the affairs of the state, economic and political activities of the local elite, higher education, modern professions, and the print media. After neocolonialism replaced colonialism, English consolidated its position in former British colonies. Imperialist globalisation enabled its US version to edge out other European languages and gain importance in parts of the Third World without direct or indirect colonial control.

The elite of many Third World countries are cosy with English as the dominant language in business activities as well as inter-state and intra-state affairs. Thus, despite strong nationalist sentiments expressed by South and Southeast Asian elite, the de facto ‘common language’ for the affairs of the state is not a national language.

The importance of language in the struggle against neocolonialism does not comprise xenophobic rejection of any foreign language but concerns the assertion of the voice of the oppressed masses. But the way the language question was posed in multi-ethnic societies of the Third World led to rivalry among powerful native languages for hegemony amid submission to the dominance of English or another language of neocolonialism.

Thus, addressing the national question in the Third World demands reviewing or redefining national identity in terms of the objective reality of countries and regions subject to oppression by an alliance of neocolonialism and feudal-capitalist elitism.

There is a tendency to define a nation as comprising a single ‘race’ or an ethnic group and proceeding from there either for a majority community to suppress other identities or a minority to demand the right to secession by defining itself as a ‘nation’. The logical end of this narrow approach would be, on the one hand, the suppression of ethnic minority identities and on the other the fragmentation of Third World countries into many nation states. Neither is in the interest of the oppressed masses.

In contexts lacking capitalist development, it is beneficial to recognise as nations or nationalities a group of people who live in a contiguous territory and have common interests, a sense of community despite ethnic differences, and a shared need to protect themselves against globalised capital and ‘great nation’ oppression. Language is not divisive where ethnic groups coexist and share a group of languages, and that commonality can define a nation or a nationality in place of a single common or dominant language.

Multi-ethnic societies are a greater reality today, owing to migration of labour and displacement of people by war, national oppression, natural disaster and economic crises among other reasons. What is important in the context of imperialist domination is to encourage multi-ethnic societies to preserve their identities as multi-ethnic nations or countries. There is, however, the need to ward off attempts to divide them based on ethnic identity and deny the right to identity of any ethnic group in the name of national unity


4. Politics of Identity

Evolution of Identity Politics

The term ‘identity politics’ came into being in the 1970s after Black Liberation movements like the Black Panther Party of the US combined Black Liberation with Marxist class analysis and working class awareness. Intellectual sources of progressive identity politics include the feminist studies of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) and decolonisation studies by Frantz Fanon (1925-1961). It is now not confined to race, gender or ethnicity, and since the 1990’s is also an intellectually fashionable substitute for, if not challenge to, class struggle and left politics.

Contrary to claims that identity politics is a mode of organising intimately connected to the idea that some social groups are oppressed, not all socio-cultural groups and interests pursuing identity politics concern oppressed sections. Some, like white racist groups and high caste elite, are on the side of imperialism and bourgeois oppression.

Much of the literature on identity politics in the West concerns gender, colour, sexuality, and cultural identity. Elsewhere, it is about indigenous rights, nationalist calls for autonomy or secession, and issues of caste and religious identity. Unlike the Black identity politics in the US in the 1960’s with strong radical and left tendencies, middle class feminism and Dalitism deteriorated fast to take anti-left positions and form alliances with oppressive caste and class forces.

By distancing itself from the left, Dalitism weakened itself and hurt unity among the oppressed castes. The way caste politics evolved in India ensured that Dalitist electoral politics eventually served the interests of the ruling elite, unlike the anti-castism campaign in Sri Lanka’s north led by Marxist Leninists in the 1960’s which culminated in a prolonged struggle against caste discrimination and oppression by an alliance of progressive forces, including members of the ‘upper castes’.

Feminism, postmodernism and identity politics have gone separate ways in the West. But proponents of South Asian identity politics still draw on postmodernist ideas to reject class and class struggle and isolate identities, by emphasising the particular over the general. Ironically, identity politics, in course of seeking commonness or uniformity within a group to buttress its cause ended up wrecking the cause of common identity. For example, Dalit politics in India, not only failed to unite the depressed castes as a social force but also divided the oppressed castes on caste lines or even narrower bases, for opportunist political reasons. Thus identity politics is a loose alliance of distinct social groups subject to oppression and denial or suppression of identity.


Identity Politics and Attitude towards the Left

Acceptance or rejection of identity politics the issue facing the Marxist left or other progressives. What matters is to recognise how any identity issue fits into the broader picture of class struggle and how it manifests itself as anti-imperialist, anti-hegemonic liberation struggle. It is also important to examine how one form of identity politics relates to other forms.

In the colonial era, Marxist Leninists castigated as reactionary the nationalism of oppressor but endorsed as progressive nationalist projects opposed to imperialism. With neocolonialism as the mode of imperialist domination of Third World countries, the ruling national bourgeoisie readily compromise with imperialism and oppress minority nationalities and national minorities. This has led to new ethno-political identities and strange alliances, where imperialism sides with a minority to encourage secession or with the majority to brutally suppress a liberation struggle. The Marxist Leninist stand therefore has to be appropriately formulated.

Identity politics will exist as long identity-based oppression exists. Struggle against such oppression will invariably assume the identity of the oppressed. That in itself is not reactionary. The progressive content of a struggle is very much determined by how it relates to other just struggles. The just struggle of a group reinforces itself by allying with just struggles of other groups suffering similar or different forms of oppression by a common oppressor or group of oppressors.

A major weakness of identity politics has been that that it often restricts itself to a single issue or closely related issues, chosen to maximise unity within a group. As a corollary there is aversion to addressing broader issues and isolation from other just struggles. Consequent failure to benefit from other struggles against oppression leads to frustration and exploitation by reactionary forces.

Identity political activists in the Indian sub-continent have at times flirted with other causes, but hostility to Marxism and the left persisted. This could have been due to the leaders wishing to preserve their ‘patch’ from ‘intruders’ even at the risk of losing the cause. Notably, identity politics is reluctant to highlight the fact that imperialism sustains social oppression, despite occasional anti-imperialist posturing lacking in substance. Thus identity politics attracts NGO sponsorship through community based projects which are carefully isolated from mainstream political issues.

Some advocates of identity politics cynically identify trade unionism with Marxism to present the latter as identity politics exclusively for the working class to the exclusion of other identities. Nothing is further from the truth. The historical stand of Marxists on gender oppression, liberation from colonial oppression, and oppression based on race and caste is well known. Marxists are now at the forefront of defending the rights of indigenous minorities in every sphere of activity.


Marxist Leninists and Identity Politics

A Marxist Leninist cannot be indifferent to any form of social oppression. However, while opposing social oppression on any basis, one should view each issue in the context of class and class struggle, neocolonialism and imperialist globalisation. It should be noted that the national question in the neocolonial context is more complex than that in the colonial context.

That identity politics has thus far mostly served to hurt the universal goal of human liberation is no argument to reject the causes that underlie identity politics. Identity is important in a world divided by identity and where there is identity-based oppression there will be identity-based struggles. The question is whether such struggles, however just, could succeed in isolation from other just struggles.

Of all political theories opposing oppression of humans by humans, only Marxism Leninism draws a distinction between hostile and friendly contradictions and seeks to resolve amicably conflict of interests among the oppressed. Thus Marxist Leninists, while supporting an identity-based just struggle, also act as a catalyst that unifies a wide range of oppressed groups against an oppressive system upheld by imperialism.

Politics of national liberation has the potential, however limited, to work with other identities for a common cause. While nationalists cannot address the liberation of humanity as a whole, they can fight against social injustice within their community. Marxist Leninists can treat such nationalists as natural allies, at least in the short and medium term.

Narrow nationalists who ignore other just causes in the name of unity of the nationality, tend to align tactically or strategically with imperialism and eventually become pawns of imperialism and reaction.

Marxist Leninists thus need to isolate the just causes that underlie identity politics from the agenda of identity politics and device ways to address identity issues that will prevent the oppressed from falling prey to imperialist schemes.


5. Fascism under Neocolonialism

The Party undertook an extensive study of fascism in the neocolonial context, and the findings were reported in an article titledUnderstanding Fascism in Context” (MLND 58). The main findings are summarised here in the context of fascism as an outgrowth of nationalism, its impact on the national question, and as a challenge to the anti-imperialist cause.


Fascism in Context

Fascism, a 20th Century phenomenon, has been defined variously based on one’s ideological outlook. Features of pre Second World War (WW2) fascism dominate most definitions and a common failure is the omission of its mutability and adaptation to the neocolonial environment.

Fascism has, however, been researched extensively, and despite difficulty in arriving at a universal definition, its salient features are well identified, with emphasis varying with ideological outlook. It should be noted that several features of fascism, taken individually, apply to many non-fascist states and political organisations, while truly fascist outfits lack in some.

Fascism came into being during the First World War (WW1) amid European capitalist crisis to dominate much of Europe until end of WW2. Georgi Dimitrov in ‘The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism’ (Main Report delivered at 7th World Congress of the Communist International; describes fascism accurately as "an open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of the financial capital”.

Dimitrov also noted that “the development of fascism, and the fascist dictatorship itself, assume different forms in different countries, according to historical, social and economic conditions and to the national peculiarities, and the international position of the given country” and explained that the accession to power of fascism is a substitution of one state form of bourgeois class domination by another, namely bourgeois democracy by explicitly terrorist dictatorship.

The large body of writings by Marxist and other progressive analysts on the re-emergence of fascism in Europe and the Americas have overlooked the place of fascism in the neocolonial context. Based on writings of Dimitrov (Against Fascism and War, New York: International Publishers, 1986) and Palme-Dutt (R Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution, New York: International Publishers, 1934), the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) in 2002 characterised fascism as “the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital and an extreme measure taken by the bourgeoisie to forestall proletarian revolution” (accessible on

While the above sums up the essence of fascism as it was in the first half of the 20th Century, fascism in the colonies and neo-colonies was not in the same class as that in industrialised Europe. The imperialist dimension referred to therein is, however, most relevant to the neocolonial context.


Post-Colonial Fascism in Europe and the Americas

Fascism was defeated in war, but not eradicated. Several of the neo-Nazi organisations which sprouted in Europe since WW2 are still alive. While aversion for fascism ensured that European fascism and its derivatives did not, on their own, muster sufficient electoral support to secure state power as in post-WW1 Europe, neo-fascists have since the 1980’s grown strong enough to be partners in government in several West European countries. Fascists also re-emerged in Russia and some European member states of the former Soviet Union, notably Ukraine, where they joined government in 2014 with help from the US.

Post-WW2 fascism (also referred to as neo-fascism) retains key features of pre-WW2 fascism including the reactionary, racist, chauvinist and anti-left essence. As the European left movement weakened amid the degeneration of the parliamentary left, European fascism donned ultra-nationalism and racism to play on prejudice and, where possible, resort to populist politics. European racism finds expression most in anti-immigrant policies based on, but not entirely on, colour.

While several small neo-Nazi groups exist in the US, the main source of fascism is the state, which is fully under the control of monopoly capital. It implements a fascist agenda within and outside the US in the name of democracy, freedom and defending the American way of life. The rise of the potentially fascist Christian fundamentalism in the US is no accident; and Barry Goldwater, the unsuccessful presidential candidate of 1964, and President Donald Trump are not racist freaks but spokespersons for the reactionary white supremacist ideology pervading society.

Fascism in Latin America, unlike its European counterpart, was not home grown. Fascist dictatorships were imposed on Latin America by the US in the 1960’s and 70’s. Thus Latin American fascism is unlike European fascism, where fascists use populist politics. There are, however, instances, as in Chile in 1974, where manufactured dissent served as pretext to impose a US-backed fascist regime that lasted until 1990. Despite political defeat, fascism has its footprints in Chilean politics. The people of Latin America have suffered brutal US-backed fascistic regimes so that popular resistance to right wing regimes is strong. However, the pattern of US-induced regime-changes in Latin America persists and the US has not given up its endeavour to replace any regime with a semblance of social justice or anti-imperialism with an oppressive right-wing dictatorship.


Fascism in Asia and Africa

In pre-WW2 Asia, only Japan had a fascist regime imposed on the people by a militarist takeover approved by the monarchy. Several anti-colonial movements, resentful of colonial domination, were attracted to fascism in the run up to and during WW2. Fascination with European fascism faded out with the emergence of a strong socialist bloc.

The most important post-WW2 fascist event in Asia was the US-backed military coup which installed General Suharto in power in Indonesia in 1965. Suharto invoked religion to incite anti-communist violence by the Muslim majority. The army, aided by anti-communist militias and guided by US intelligence, killed between 500,000 and 1,000,000 communists and sympathisers. His fascist regime annexed West Papua in 1969 and East Timor in 1976, with the blessings of the US, and pursued cruel repression in East Timor (1975-99) and Aceh (1976-2005). Even after liberation in 1999, East Timor was punished through Indonesian state-sponsored violence. Suharto’s fall has yet to fully free Indonesia of its fascist legacy of 32 years.

Another serious fascistic development was in the Philippines following the re-establishment of the Communist Party of Philippines (CPP) in 1968. President Marcos declared martial law in 1972, and in 1973 extended his rule beyond the constitutional limit using Communist threat and Moro nationalist insurgency as pretext. Public anger dislodged him in 1986 despite US support for his fascist dictatorship.

The only neo-fascist forces in Africa with European fascist features were in South Africa where Nazism had an early audience but not much impact. There was however the Afrikaner Volksfront, a white-supremacist coalition formed in 1993 to prevent, unsuccessfully, the transfer of power to the native majority by disrupting elections scheduled for 1994. White racism survives in South Africa, but is less explicit, since Black leaders of the ruling ANC have assured that imperialist domination and privileges of the White capitalists will remain as long as they are in power.


Modern Fascism in Asia

Modern fascism in Asia developed along two routes: transformation of ethno-religious chauvinism into neo-fascism; religious fundamentalism induced or encouraged by imperialism. Modern religious intolerance in South and South East Asia can be traced to anti-colonial ethno-religious nationalism, resentful of colonial rule as well as religious minorities.

In Sri Lanka, Sinhala Buddhism first targeted Catholics, then Muslims, Hill Country Tamils and Tamils in that order. Muslims are increasingly targeted since the last decade of the 20th Century. Myanmar (formerly Burma) has a long record of national oppression of minority nationalities and armed struggles in response. Its record of anti-Indian violence from the time of WW1 ended with the military regime expelling Indians en masse in 1964. Burmese Chinese were victims of state-sponsored violence and injustice from 1967 through the 1970’s. Buddhist fundamentalist pogroms targeting Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine is a phenomenon that followed political transition in 2011. Militant Buddhism in Myanmar and in Sri Lanka, despite differences in detail, has much in common. The main fascist movements, Ma Ba Tha in Myanmar and the JHU in Sri Lanka are religious fundamentalist entities playing on the sensitivity of Buddhists. However, unlike the JHU, which suffered several splits, Ma Ba Tha, for now, dominates Buddhist extremism in Myanmar.

Ultra-nationalistic, anti-socialist Hindu fundamentalism in India had its origins in sections of the Indian national movement which identified India closely with Hinduism. Hindu identity, initially asserted as response to colonial rule and Christian domination, later emphasised Hindu-Muslim rivalry. Right-wing Hindu nationalists were quick to adopt the concept of a Hindu India. This combined with communal friction aggravated by colonial rule enabled the emergence of potentially fascist outfits of Hindu extremism viewing Muslims as the main enemy.

Sangh Parivar’ refers to a group of Hindu nationalist organisations dominated by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the oldest and strongest Hindutva (Hinduness) organisation, founded in 1925, which also had direct links with European fascists. (For a fuller account, see “Soldiers of the Swastika” by AG Noorani in Frontline, 23 January 2015.) Ideologically Hindutva has much in common with European fascism and, despite diversity of opinion on a range of issues and in the style of work ranging from social work through active politics to outright thuggery, the Sangh Parivar concurs on the idea of a Hindu Indian state and the concept of Hindutva. More importantly, the RSS, despite claims to being apolitical, exercises control over the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it did over its predecessor the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.

Among prominent faces of Hindu fascist violence are the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), notorious for tearing down the Babri Masjid in December 1992, the Bajrang Dal, the militant youth arm of the VHP, a key player in anti-Christian and anti-Muslim attacks across India, including the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi was implicated as Chief Minister of Gujarat, and the Shiv Sena, the Marathi sectarian front founded in 1966 which joined the Hindutva bandwagon in the 1970’s. Of late the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) the student arm of the RSS has been notorious for Hindutva fascist activities in the universities.

Anti-Muslim violence by Hindutva organisations and the State, especially in Kashmir have provoked Islamist acts of terror and attacks on public places. But there is no Islamic fundamentalist organisation targeting other religious communities in India. Thus there is distinction between home-grown Muslim militancy in South Asia, including terrorism with or without Pakistani state backing, an outcome of unresolved Indo-Pakistan issues, Kashmir especially, and the Islamist fundamentalist and terrorist outfits which emerged in the 1980’s under President Zia-ul-Haq. Nurtured by the US to topple the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan, they proliferated but went out of control of the Pakistani state.


Political Islam

Modern political Islam started in the 1970’s in response to economic stagnation in several Muslim countries, and had an anti-imperialist (and anti-Marxist) content. Later, the US adopted Islamist fundamentalism and terrorism as part of its plan for global domination, with the help of reactionary Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, mainly.

Externally induced Islamist militant outfits like al-Qaida and the Saudi-backed Wahabi and salafi groups act to destabilise secular Arab states and African countries with large Muslim populations. But they fall short of being fascist, as they are neither nationalistic nor represent capitalist interests in the country where they operate. But they have fascist potential.

Imperialist dominated media use the term “Islamofascism” to discredit Arab mass political parties like the Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, and Hizbullah by placing them on par with terrorist groups like al-Qaida to justify institutionalised harassment of European Muslim immigrants.

The newest arrival, Islamic State (IS), differs in objectives from other Islamist organisations despite a shared pedigree with the most pernicious of Wahabi, salafi practices concerned with juridical and theological issues of Sunni Islam. The IS indulges in fascist political, social, and militaristic practices besides state building based on corporatist, capitalist structures, with the ‘state’ and its war machine generating revenue through the oil infrastructure, extorted taxes and tariffs. It enforces its corporatism by a security apparatus and ‘Islamic’ to administer a severe penal system to coerce obedience. (

What matters is the direction that an Islamist militant organisation would take when in power. Islamist regimes have been severely repressive with streaks of fascist repression. The danger in dubbing all repression as fascist is that one loses sight of real fascism. It should be remembered that Christian fundamentalism has greater fascist potential and global reach than Islamist fundamentalism since the former is an imperialist ally while the latter is a tool which occasionally goes out of control.


Dealing with Fascism

The global left revolutionary as well as parliamentary debates if Turkey is a fascist state. Eric Draitser’s comment in New Eastern Review ( seems close to reality: “…a close analysis of Turkey in the ‘Age of Erdogan’ does reveal a country that has given over to violence as a political tool, repression and censorship as standard government practice, and sponsorship of terrorism as foreign policy. If it hasn’t already earned its fascist moniker, it may well be on its way”. The recent constitutional reform of April 2017 has made it clear that President Erdogan is constitutionally pushing Turkey towards a fully fledged fascist state.

There are many states and political organisations with fascist features, but insufficient to identify them as fascist, based the on characteristics of European fascism between WW1 and WW2. Also, the methods used by modern fascism to seize power differ from the populist methods of pre-WW2 fascism. Post-WW2 European fascism has implanted its clones within bourgeois democratic parties so that the centre-right and at times “centre-left” parties of Europe, willingly accept key aspects of the fascist agenda, on immigrants, the working class and the left.

Since WW2, fascism found fertile ground in parts of the Third World, where nationalism, once a progressive anti-colonial force, degenerated into chauvinism and narrow nationalism, even making religion part of national identity. When survival demands repression, such identity-based politics, bereft of anti-imperialism, seeks imperialist patronage and acquires fascist characteristics or turns fascist. When imperialism turns a blind eye to such events, the anti-imperialist struggle inevitably become an anti-fascist struggle as well.

Some tend to identify militant ultranationalists and fundamentalists as neo-fascist while exempting their electoral political counterparts. In reality the Arakan National Party of Myanmar is as fascist as that of the Ma Ba Tha or the 969 Movement; and the JHU in Sri Lanka as fascist as the BBS or the Sinhala Ravaya; and the BJP as fascist as the RSS or the Bajrang Dhal.

Populist fascism is dangerous and needs to be dealt with firmly by the left and democratic forces. Unlike pre-WW2 fascism, fascism today implements its fascist agenda not only as a party in power but also as a partner in coalition government and as a forceful pressure group, both within and outside parliament. The left has to be proactive to prevent fascism of any kind form hijacking the anger of the alienated working class and other disillusioned sections of the people.

Political counteraction cannot await identification of an organisation as fascist. Identification is important, but action is needed not only against identified fascist, neo-fascist or proto-fascist outfits but also against fascist tendencies such as ultra nationalism, anti-left rhetoric and pro-imperialist attitudes. One needs to act before fascist violence strikes.

Being neo-colonial subjects, Third World fascists need backing from imperialism for prolonged survival, and therefore become clients of imperialism. Imperialism, on the other hand, is desperate to sustain the global swerve to the Right. Thus global capitalism and bourgeois democracy are conciliatory towards ultra-nationalism, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim racism. Thereby, anti-fascism in the Third World becomes inseparable from anti-imperialism. Third World anti-fascists should, in the context of mass struggles for social justice, be alert to active as well as passive imperialist support for fascist tendencies.


6. Extending the Right to Self Determination

The New Democratic Marxist Leninist Party has since its founding in 1978 studied the national question in depth and concluded that the right to self-determination offers the most fair and sustainable solution to the national question within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. The NDMLP, based on experiences of the USSR, China and Nicaragua among others, explored the national question in far broader terms to cover national minorities and to bringing them within the scope of Self Determination. “On Self Determination” (New Democracy 1) and its revised version “Self Determination Revisited” (MLND 55) present the analysis in fuller detail.

The national question was analysed in the post-colonial context as discussed earlier based on the Leninist position outlined in “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, (first published April-June 1914, Collected Works 20, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, pp. 393-454;


The Spirit of Self Determination

The study by the NDMLP, while accepting Stalin’s definition of nation as fundamentally correct, noted the inadequacy of confining solutions to the national question based on the right to self determination to entities recognised as nations. It noted that this approach led to subjective definitions of a nation, on the one hand, to assert self determination with a view to secession and, on the other, to deny national identity to a people and thereby reject not just the right to secede but even autonomy.

Why and how a group of people declare distinct identity and even nationhood and why calls for secession arise were closely examined in the context of Sri Lanka where the national question― once seen as a Sinhala-Tamil question ―over a few decades became one concerning a Sinhala majority and three predominantly Tamil-speaking minority nationalities. The study took note of a tendency for both oppressor and oppressed to insist that self determination means secession, so as to achieve their shared objective, namely escalation of conflict; and reasserted that the right to self determination is a powerful device that enables the voluntary union of nations (or nationalities) and not a whimsical license to secession.

Difficulty in defining contiguous regions comprising predominantly one nationality was noted in the context of Sri Lanka as well as countries with fragmented populations, and nomadic people. Thus the right to self determination was reviewed from a perspective of its underlying spirit, namely, the right of a community which has the essential, but not necessarily all, qualifying features of a nation to decide its socio-political mode of existence alongside other communities. The study also noted contexts where secession is inadequate to preserve the socio-political mode of existence of a community (be it a nation/nationality or a national minority), so that the choice of a nation to secede is a special instance where co-existence is for some reason impossible.

It noted that oppression of a nation by another in the colonial context involved an imperial power oppressing a colony or semi-colony. Although strong counties like India, Indonesia, Morocco and the US have annexed weaker countries and France and Britain have not freed all occupied territories, the study stressed that post-colonial national oppression mainly concerns oppression of a nation (or nationality) by another within the same state, both being victims of neocolonial subjugation. Thus ethnic minorities tend to be treated as lesser social groups by the main nationality. This could be a result of viewing the rights of a people to identity from the point of the right to nationhood.

Today’s national question is complex and involves more than the co-existence of nations. The principle underlying the right of a people to decide their mode of existence as a distinct entity cannot apply only to ethnic groups that are identified as nations but denied to others.

The term nationality allows putting on par with a nation any community with most of the defining characteristics of a nation but unable to secede for geo-political or other reasons. Using the term nationality in place of nation within the framework of a state de-emphasises secession― often seen as the sole option for nations which find it hard to coexist. It puts on equal footing nomadic communities which exist as large groups whose territory changes seasonally and communities with well defined territory.

Republics of the USSR had autonomous regions. Russia itself had 22 autonomous republics and many more autonomous units. Not all national minorities had their own autonomous unit, but there was recognition for all minorities and their rights. Socialist China was a unitary state which recognised even tiny minorities as national minorities and besides its five major autonomous regions it had around 150 sub-units with varying degrees of autonomy and provisions to protect the rights of each national minority. Another good example of devolution is Nicaragua (area 130,375 km2) with 15 Departments and two autonomous regions in which seven indigenous groups (population range: 2,000 to 150,000) enjoy autonomy [“Nicaragua's Constitution of 1987 with Amendments through 2014”]. Such autonomy now exists in several South American countries, following the ascent of left leaning governments.

While ethnicity and ethnic rights are widely discussed, they are also part of the imperialist agenda of ‘Identity Politics’ often promoted through NGOs. Caste politics was promoted in India to the point of placing caste on par with nation, while class and class struggle seemed inimical to identity group interests. The principled Marxist Leninist stand, in contrast, respects identity, opposes identity-based oppression, and urges solidarity among oppressed communities in combating oppression.

While some want ethnic groups to be allowed, if not actively encouraged, to preserve their identity as a distinct social group for as long as they wish, there are others who hold that such preservation is harmful to national unity and urge integration of minority groups into the mainstream or assimilation by a local majority. Marxist Leninists should understand why a group of people asserts its identity, respect its right to its identity, and let the community concerned decide its future.


Hazards of Limiting Self Determination to Nations

Limiting self determination to groups said to constitute a nation hurts the interests of other ethnic groups, some with population exceeding many nation states. The rights of Native American races and tribes who are now refugees on their own soil continue to erode in North America as in some of the troubled democracies of South America. The aboriginal peoples of Australia lack recognition as national minorities. Colonial carving up of Africa created awkward national questions in the continent and adversely affected the way of life of nomadic people who knew no national boundaries. Gypsies and other Travelling People and Jews have been at the receiving end of European nationalism for centuries. The problems of the tribal people of India, highlighted particularly since the Naxalbari uprising in 1967, haunt Indian politics in more than one way.

The oppressed groups listed above cannot constitute nations in the classic sense. Can it deny them self determination? If self determination is read as the right to secession, they cannot exercise that right, which will be a perversion of the spirit of self determination. The right to secession is the highest level at which a nation (or nationality) exercises its right to its chosen mode of existence. Where that option is unavailable, it should have a feasible alternative, subject to the constraints that rule out secession.

Recognition of languages has been a long-standing problem and what distinguishes a language from a dialect is still disputed. For example, in India, Chhattisgarhi― with many dialects of diverse sources ―was once declared a dialect of Hindi. It earned language status after a prolonged campaign that led to the formation of the state of Chhattisgarh. The state of Jharkhand was formed based on the desire of indigenous people to asset their identity, but it did not lead to recognition of the languages. The hidden agenda seems to be to let such languages fade away. Indigenous people, despite recognition as Scheduled Tribes, do not make a nation of Scheduled Tribes in the conventional sense anywhere in India as they comprise several groups with different languages and cultural traditions, and lack a common socio-political heritage. The viability of a tribal homeland is an issue distinct from reasons for the demand, which cannot be wished away. As secession is not an option, the case is strong for the highest degree of autonomy for each community. There is, however, need to consider tribal rivalries which, like those among nationalities, are susceptible to manipulation by the state, the capitalist classes and imperialism. The risk of a tribe seeking hegemony over numerically or economically weaker tribes within an autonomous tribal region is strong under capitalism. There are lessons to learn from the positive experiences of Bolivia, Ecuador and Mexico on the handling of such contradictions.

Some ultra-leftists desire the disintegration of the Union of India and prescribe secession, even of nationalities that do not desire it. Then there are Indian nationalists, unfortunately including several Marxists, oblivious to the reality that India is a multi-national, multi-ethnic state that is unable to meet the aspirations of its minority nations or nationalities, tribes and other ethnic minorities in the face of surging Hindi-Hindu chauvinism and capitalist greed. India is the world's most complex mix of nationalities and ethnic minorities. Carving up the sub-continent into a multitude of nation states is not a good solution. But, however desirable the stability and unity of India may be, it will be unattainable unless the national question is addressed based on the equality of national, tribal and other ethnic communities as well as allowing secession by free choice where there is a historical claim to separate existence.


Nationalism as Oppressor and Liberator

We need to return to the dual nature of nationalism as a liberator and oppressor. Even nationalities struggling for self determination resolutely deny the right of autonomy to minorities within their territory. This was true of Sinhala nationalism from early 20th Century and Tamil nationalism from its embryonic stages.

Discussion of the Sri Lankan national question, at home and abroad, has been confined to the Sinhala and Tamil nationalities, with occasional reference to the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils. The leaders of the four nationalities take no notice of the aboriginal people of the Island, the Attho (also known as the Vedda, meaning hunters) with their own language, customs and culture, who have lost most of their territory to agricultural development and colonisation. Besides, the gypsy community and the “Rodi” have been traditional outcasts in the Sinhala south. Rights of the Burgher and Malay minorities are rarely spoken of. No minority nationality has the right to subject a smaller minority to hegemony or demand surrender of identity to a larger group. The NDMLP was the first political party to recognise the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils as distinct nationalities and demand national rights of all national minorities.

Tribal populations of India have little say in matters affecting their life and livelihood and are not beneficiaries of projects undertaken at the expense of their traditional grazing, farming and hunting lands. To some they are development projects and to some others a process modernising the tribal people. Most liberals and sections of the left see “economic development” as an end in itself with little consideration for social consequences. Thus they play into the hands of imperialism by letting imperialism define development, which invariably occurs at the expense of the natural and human resources of several oppressed minorities. Environmental activists and several feminist groups in India, correctly, oppose such development. The ‘Naxalite’ movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s stood by the tribal people in their struggles against capitalist greed. But, little has been won so far in relation to the right of tribal populations to choose the path and pace of their transition to modernism, when they desire it. Thus the Third World needs to redefine development and democracy in context and in the interest of all sections of the masses.

The tribal population of India is losing control over its traditional lands partly as a consequence of development as advocated by the elite of India and partly as a result of global capitalist greed. Imperialist globalisation has accelerated the dispossession of tribal and aboriginal people in India and elsewhere. Development projects and extensive mining threaten livelihood as well as the right to homes. Election of the BJP to power in 2014 in India has aggravated the crisis of the tribal people, and attacks on tribal people are likely to intensify on pretext of fighting “Maoist terror”.

The plight of the tribal population in most Asian and Latin American countries is like that of their Indian counterparts. Political change in Latin America in the past two decades or so has made native populations aware of their rights and politically assertive. Such awareness, unless guided by progressive ideology, is easily abused by imperialism to subvert the gains of mass struggle. In other words, empowerment of a nationality or an ethnic group must be accompanied by anti-imperialist political awareness.



Imperialism and Self Determination

Issues of human and democratic rights matter to imperialism only to bully states that challenge its aim of global dominance. Thus the oppressed can depend only on themselves for their emancipation and it is important that issues of class, race, national liberation, women’s struggle for equality, and environment are interlinked and the widest possible unity forged among victims of imperialist exploitation and plunder. Achieving that unity needs amending of the principle of self determination in a way applicable to ethnic groups that are not recognised as nations. This idea needs further consideration in view of the ploy of “internal self determination” adopted by the UN (Equality of Ethnic Identity Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, General Recommendation 21, The right to self-determination (48th Session, 1996), U.N. Doc. A/51/18, annex VIII at 125 (1996), reprinted in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI\GEN\1\Rev.6 at 209 (2003) Para 4). “Internal self determination” allows member states to deny the right to secession of people with a claim to nationhood from a member country. Imperialism has, however, facilitated secession in several instances by encouraging secessionists and militarily intervening in the name of defending human rights, now under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), which too has UN acceptance. Thus imperialism plays self determination both ways, letting some states practice national oppression unhindered while enabling secession to punish or humiliate ‘hostile’ states.

Bourgeois advocates of centralised state power and large and powerful states resent devolution. Their notions of global economic integration are flawed. Mankind will not be united by negating the identity of any people. The struggle of the oppressed people of the Third World is inseparable from the demand for devolution and self determination which is part of the struggle for global democracy. The practicality and feasibility of the extension of the principle of self determination are challenged mainly by advocates of global integration as imagined by imperialism.


A Positive Approach

Self determination cannot be in isolation from the international context. A study of inconsistencies in the US policy on the national question and its inducing ethnic and other forms of conflict in ‘unfriendly’ countries will show that the US and its allies cynically manipulate the national sentiment to imperialist advantage. As it is hard to separate the national question from the struggle against imperialism, the left should take the initiative to defend the rights of oppressed minorities to deny imperialism a foothold in any country on the pretext of defending them.

The case for unity and close collaboration between the peoples of the Third World is strong. Such unity is not possible amid national oppression. Thus the expansion of the scope of self determination to cover ethnic minorities will reinforce democracy, enable devolution of power and strengthen the struggle of the Third World for political and economic freedom from imperialist exploitation and domination.


7. Concluding Remarks

The national question became prominent in the context of capitalism developing into imperialism and imperialist domination and oppression of weaker nations. The need to define the nation arose in the context of the right of nations to statehood, and the right of nations to self determination as proposed by Lenin with the aim to enable nations to coexist as a voluntary union under socialism. The definition offered by Stalin precisely defines the nation in that context and for other general purposes.

The emergence of independent states from colonial rule had no consistent pattern so that the ethnic composition of countries was determined at the whim of colonial powers, with people who would constitute a single nation split as different countries or scattered between several countries as minorities, and with people of diverse identity lumped together as one country. Arbitrarily drawn national boundaries restricted the freedom of mobility of large nomadic populations. Socialist countries provided for communities that would strictly not constitute a nation by offering them autonomous or semi-autonomous status.

The post-colonial context altered the national question in two important ways. Firstly, it led to the emergence of states with a complex of ethnic groups, some qualifying as ‘nations’ and others not. Secondly, the replacement of colonialism by neocolonialism meant that colonial oppression of a country, yielded to less explicit overall control by neocolonial powers, with contradictions between nations, strictly nationalities, which are themselves neocolonial victims coming to the fore.

Post-colonial inter-state conflicts are rare and, mostly, involve border disputes and unresolved issues from the colonial past. Tendency is strong for a powerful socio-ethnic group, often a majority nationality, to oppress minority nationalities and other ‘national minorities’. Also a variety of identity issues, besides gender and race, that often concern tribe, caste, region and religious sect have received prominence.

Imperialism and reactionary forces of Third World countries use contradictions among people, especially the chauvinism of a majority and the narrow nationalism of a minority, to keep the oppressed masses divided so that they can continue to dominate and exploit them.

Since the resolution of the national question is the key to economic development and social justice, it is the central task of the Left in achieving working class unity and frustrating the conspiracies of imperialism and reaction. Thus the Left and other progressive forces should act with resolve to unite the oppressed masses by resolving the national question.


Summary of Party Recommendations

The NDMLP having taken into consideration the predatory imperialist interest in the national question and identity issues in the Third World arrived at the following conclusions on the resolution of the national question in the neocolonial era:

  • The national question in any Third World country is best analysed and resolved in terms of nationality.

  • The right to self determination should be applicable to all nationalities to assure to each nationality the maximum feasible autonomy, including the right to secession where necessary.

  • The rights of national minorities should be assured based on the underlying principle of self determination, namely the right of a group of people to choose its mode of existence

The NDMLP also notes the desirability of the notion of multi-ethnic nationalities which may share several languages and diverse socio-cultural identities.

The NDMLP urges Marxist Leninists pay attention to issues of identity as essentially friendly contradictions among the people and thus isolate the just causes that underlie identity politics from isolationist agendas of identity politics and address identity issues in ways that protect the oppressed from falling prey to reactionary and imperialist schemes.

The NDMLP identifies post-colonial fascism as distinct from pre-WW2 fascism in important ways. Fascism in Europe and North America manifests mainly as xenophobic racism. Third World fascism, on the other hand, is a client and/ally of imperialism and targets minorities in the name of ethnicity and religion. Thus the struggle against fascism should be integrated with the struggle for social justice, the resolution of the national question and anti-imperialism.



NDMLP Documents used in the Production of the Paper

Asvaththaamaa: “National Question and Self Determination” New Democracy 35, 2009

From Monks to Politicians” Marxist Leninist New Democracy 45, 2012

Re-reading the Right to Self Determination” Marxist Leninist New Democracy 56, 2015

Deshabakthan: “Understanding Fascism in Context” Marxist Leninist New Democracy 58, 2016

Imayavaramban: “On National Relations in Sri Lanka” November Chennai Books, Madras, 1988

National Democracy and the Right to Self Determination” (in Tamil) South Asian Books Chennai & Puthiya Poomi Publishers, Colombo, 1992

Muslims and Hill country Tamils and the Right to Self Determination” (in Tamil) South Asian Books Chennai & Puthiya Poomi Publishers, Colombo, 1994

Nationalism Yesterday and Today” (in Tamil) South Asian Books Chennai & Puthiya Poomi Publishers, Colombo, 1995

Religion as a Tool in Sate Oppression: Some Concerns for Sri Lanka” New Democracy 3, 2000

On Self Determination” (in Tamil) Puthiya Poomi Publishers, Colombo, 2001

Marxists and the Sri Lankan National Question” New Democracy 24, 2007

Nation State and the Anti-Imperialist Struggle” New Democracy 26, 2007

Self Determination as Imperialist Tool” Marxist Leninist New Democracy 45, 2012

Self Determination Revisited” Marxist Leninist New Democracy 55, 2015 (revised text of article “On Self Determination” in New Democracy 1, 1999)

Post-War National Question and the Sri Lankan Left” (in three parts) Marxist Leninist New Democracy 51,52,53, 2015

New Democratic Marxist Leninist Party: “Political Report of the Fourth National Congress, November 2002” (also see New Democracy 11, 2003)

Documents of the Fifth Congress New Democracy 39, 2010

Documents of the Sixth Party Congress, Marxist Leninist New Democracy 57, 2015

NDMLP International Affairs Study Group: “Fascism: Making it in India” Marxist Leninist New Democracy 58, 2016

Senthivel, SK: “The National Question and Marxists” New Democracy 2, October 1999 (reproduced in Marxist Leninist New Democracy 50, 2014

The National Question and Marxist Leninist Position” New Democracy 13, 2004

“The Nationalities in Sri Lanka and Their Future” New Democracy 20, 2006

“Casteism and Social Justice” Marxist Leninist New Democracy 61, 2017

Subramaniam, KA: “Minimum Proposals of the Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Communist Party (Left) for an Interim Solution to the National Question” (pamphlet in Tamil) 1986, reproduced in Marxist Leninist New Democracy 50, 2014

Thambiah, E: “On the Question of Nationhood and the Right to self Determination” New Democracy 1, 1999

Power Sharing and the National Question” New Democracy 21, 2006

“The Hill Country Tamil Nationality” New Democracy 26,

Theivendran, MeeNilankco: “A Class Based Approach to the National Question” New Democracy 50, 2014


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