For many Marxist-Leninists, nationalism is anathema to the ideological, philosophical and scientific underpinnings of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism. Nationalism that seeks to obstruct the class struggle, or undermine proletarian unity is dangerous, counter-revolutionary and only serves the interest of the ruling bourgeoisie.
But just like any other social phenomena or movement, it [nationalism] must be viewed through the appropriate historical and materialist lens. That being said, nationalism in the twenty-first century is an entirely different beast from its predecessors in the twentieth, nineteenth centuries (and so on). The nationalist tendencies of the ruling class have largely been substituted for cosmopolitanism and globalism in order to expand to new markets and satisfy the endless aspirations and ambitions of the international bourgeoisie. Capitalism is indeed no longer a national problem, but an international one.
The internationalist tendencies of the capitalist ruling class have increased exponentially in the post-World War II era; no longer does the bourgeoisie need to wage war to expand its hegemony in order to open new-markets for its goods and products. Now, international institutions of free trade and financial exchange have relegated military conflict as the least optimal solution to expanding economic control over other peoples. Coupled with the development of post-industrial capitalism in the West, nationalism is no longer an absolute tool of the bourgeoisie in its efforts to dominate and exploit.
In fact, nationalism has always played a major (if not entirely dominant) role in influencing the struggles of dependent peoples against their imperialist exploiters. This much can be seen across the dozens of national liberation struggles that have occurred throughout the course of the last fifty years, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Afghanistan, Iraq, occupied Palestine, etc., etc. Some of these national liberation movements have identified themselves as socialist, or even been led by the local Communist (or Workers) Party, as was the case in Vietnam. But even Vietnam’s struggle against the French, and then the United States, was an inclusive movement that involved the non-socialist Vietnamese who were simply disgusted with the US puppet regime in so-called “south” Vietnam.
Therefore, nationalism must be viewed in its relation to whether or not it serves the interests of the status quo (imperialism, globalized capitalism); or contrarily detrimental to these interests. The former is reactionary and the latter progressive.
Historically, nationalism has been led by the petty bourgeoisie or even the oppressed national bourgeoisie against the forces of the dominant nation’s big bourgeoisie (for a much more detailed account of the national movement, refer to Marxism and the National Question by J.V. Stalin). But success of the nationalist movement to re-assert independence in the face of imperialist domination and control must raise the question of involvement of the proletariat. As noted by Stalin in the above mentioned work, whether or not the proletariat will involve itself in the national movement largely depends on the existing degree of class-consciousness. The oppressed bourgeoisie, petty-bourgeoisie and proletariat may have diverging interests in the long term, but the short-term strategy of liberating the nation against the oppressive big bourgeoisie of the dominant nation is of higher-priority. Only then will the national/oppressed bourgeoisie show its face and its attempts to control the “home market “ – at which point the local class struggle resumes in heightened form between the national bourgeoisie and the national proletariat.
Contemporary examples abound in which the proletariat and the oppressed bourgeoisie combine forces to fight a greater enemy, as can be seen in occupied Afghanistan, occupied Iraq, occupied Palestine, and so forth. The struggle by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its ruling regime against pro-Western intriguers bent on selling Iran to Western capital is likewise an example of progressive nationalism taking shape.
To write-off nationalism as inherently contradictory to the interests of the working class is as vulgar and anti-Marxist-Leninist as it is stupid. Only dogmatic ultra-leftists dismiss nationalism’s potential to rally the people against a larger, more threatening enemy such as the big bourgeoisie of the oppressor nation within the oppressed nation.