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August 22, 2007

Comments

Helen Louie

I believe that Vera has done a good job explaining Anderson’s argument. However, in addition to Vera’s summary, I believe another important point of Anderson’s argument is his belief that these “imagined communities” are not actual communities because all of the members in the community are unable to interact with one another. Moreover, he believes that even though people in the “imagined communities” do not know one another, because of this nationalism, they fight for their country and defend their nation’s people.

I agree with Vera such that the biggest flaw in Anderson’s argument is his disbelief in nationalism. Like Vera, I believe that nationalism can be used as an “unifying force”, in which Anderson is skeptic about. He does not understand the reasons for why people would care about others that they have never associated with and that the only aspect in which they have in common is that they are of the same community/nation. Nationalism can be used as a positive force because it brings people together, people who would normally not be together. Anderson also believes that the nations want to be their own separate states; however, I believe that this is also a flaw in his argument because of the modern day world. The United States is made up of many different kinds of people with many different backgrounds. However, there is still nationalism between the people in the United States. The different states and the different neighborhoods do not want to separate from the rest of the United States to become their own state. It also appears that Anderson dislikes “print-capitalism”; however, I believe that “print-capitalism” has improved the world by making it possible for people of different people to communicate.

Zack Simon

As previous classmates have made much relevant reference to, the roots of what Djilas refers to as the ‘new class’ are, to me, the roots of the most rudimentary form of abuse of power. Society is first stripped down to the simplest of human organization, where the majority of its citizens occupy equal territory in the domain of civic space; Power is an end in itself and the essence of contemporary Communism, so says Djilas. Other classes may be able to maintain monopoly over ownership without power, or to maintain power without monopoly, but it is yet to be done outside of the ‘new class’ of the State (the Bolshevik bureaucrats) the author says—at least for a sustainable period of time.

Power must be totalitarian and exclusive in communistic State practice. There is no way it can allow other groups to spring up at will. If it did, an organized State could never function with factions working to maintain some sway. Therefore, Djilas maintains that Power, Ownership, and Ideology are what keep then-contemporary Communism running. If we believe this, we believe that socialism can never come to fruition without the violent usurpation of power and a palpable sense of desperation in all vectors of society. In his conclusion, Djilas makes particular reference to the nature of war as it (probably still, fifty years later) exists today. Wars today lead to substantial changes even when they do not lead to actual revolutions. “Leaving frightful devastation behind them, they change both world relations and relations within individual countries.” In the case of the Soviet Republic, the re-manufacturing of the social, political, and economic domains was made on the brink of total collapse wrought by a totalitarian regime meant to preserve the dignity it historically held as self-preserved empire in centuries past. The tendency toward the unification of the world, concludes Djilas, is the basic characteristic of our time. Tendencies toward unification in the 19th century were held on the basis of the conflicts and associations of a monopolistic capitalism. This was a higher level of unity than that which could be achieved in the market by a common social citizenry. “While the former unities were achieved by means of national struggles or through conflicts and wars over spheres of interest, contemporary unity is being formed, and can only be formed, by the destruction of the social relationships of previous periods.”

In my reading of this book—which, unfortunately for me, demonstrates air-tight explication for nearly everything—I cannot see how socialism can be wrought by any other means besides violent usurpation of the State, a radical move that forces every citizen onto the same plane. Unlike other forms of governments, like constitutional republics such as ours, socialism inherently requires the cooperation of every citizen. Without this total cooperation, it can hardly be defined as a socialist state. I know that my response hasn’t shed any light on real means by which socialism can flourish as an authentic will of the people, but maybe this is because I can only imagine models that I have seen in hindsight and that have inevitably failed.

Tomas Salcedo

Djilas critique of the communist system is in many ways colored by his own personal experience with it. Essentially, I don't believe his critiques apply to communism as an abstract thing, but rather the manner in which it has been put into practice. The entire premise behind the idea of the New Class and the elite that the socialist revolution created is something that is not intrinsic to Marx's ideas. It is rather a product of the way in which communism was implemented within the context of a stratified and divided society. Benedict Anderson makes the case that nationalism is a rather recent phenomenon. People are able to imagine a horizontal comradeship in which their living standard or social class does not matter, but rather their ethnic and linguistic heritage. Nationalism is imagined , in the sense that those that share residence within a certain nations boundaries, or have a common language do not necessarily see their causes advanced by this sense of belonging. Socialism, at least as Marx originally intended it supersedes nationalism as people align themselves based on class as opposed to imagined commonalities that take no account of oppressors and the oppressed. Aligning oneself based on class makes more sense because those of the same social class can at least have common grievances that can be solved were they to work together. Nationalism is more of a distractive element than a constructive tool for progress. Anderson's arguments ring more true for me considering that unlike how Djilas credits his disappointment with socialism to his own personal experience, Anderson seems to base his analysis on a more detached theoretical level.

Ellen Dobie

Djilas’ frustration and outrage with Communism in practice is very understandable. His experience as a top political advisor to Tito, as a prisoner during the prewar royalist regime, as a communist in the underground, as a partisan in the war, all give his words true street-cred. He experienced--no, he created--the reality of Communism within the Soviet Union. But what happens when Communism is put into practice? He realizes that his ideals have been boiled down to Russian imperialism under the disguise of ideology. With his harsh words of criticism, Djilas broke away from his own party--going against Lenin's personal warning against "factionalism" as one of the most unforgivable of sins. Djilas chooses to tarnish the party's image as an invincible authority (which, we see, is a key crux in its ability to enforce its own ideals.)

I disagree with Glory’s point that "[Djilas's] biggest flaw is that he 'umbrellas' Communism too much by making these very large points in order to prove the failures of the system without considering the fine print…that Djilas forgets some of the primary goals which Communism attempts to deliver: liberty and justice." Djilas approaches the issue of how systems of Communism interact with their original ideals of liberty and justice. He points to how Communist revolutions do not replace revolution fervor with social liberties for all immediately thereafter, as compared to other bourgeois revolutions. Instead, because of the unique nature of Communist revolutions, power must be highly centralized (in order to create and maintain a new social order) and the issues of liberty and justice are put on the backshelf. Liberty and justice are secondary to the establishment of new social relations. This argument contributes to Djilas's argument of Communist societies' inability to create a classless community--the very nature of a Communist revolution necessitates an overruling class in which power is concentrated.

Glory's point that "something is better than nothing" is well-taken. As Djilas notes, the "backwards society" that was Russia in the post-European-industrial-revolution age necessitated change, necessitated revolution. Djilas points to how even though the revolution might not have achieved the original ideals of the Communists, it at least achieved a huge push forward in industrial mechanized power.

Elimination of a benefiting, exploiting, dominant upper class, as Adriana mentions, is probably not possible—or at least extremely difficult to bring about. Djilas’ points to the non-reality of creating a classless society. However, perhaps we should approach the equation from a different end: empowering the working-class from within. Djilas points to the complication that arises within Communist revolutions in that the bureaucratic class harvests the fruit of the struggles of the working class—this complication results in the harsh centralization of power within this bureaucratic class. But why not look to historic precedents of workers that have created their own solutions (without resorting to help from bourgeois/bureaucratic power sources.) One example of the fabricas recuperadas (recuperated factories) movement that originated in Argentina. After its economic crisis in 2001 (which resulted from an overly-haste liberalization of its goods and financial markets), Argentina experienced major capital-flight as many foreign companies quickly withdrew their investments in the country as its economy came crashing down. Factories (without their foreign capital) were shut down, and workers were unemployed. Soon enough, workers decided to invade the shut-down factories, occupy them, and then restart production on their own behalf without the involvement of shifty foreign investors. The movement was received with skepticism at first, but indeed there are now more than 200 worker-run factories throughout Argentina and now in Venezuela. The factories are all democratically run with one-man-one-vote policies, they engage in international trade, and have proven to maintain and/or improve production levels since their inception. The fabricas recuperadas movement is a successful example of true social/economic change in which workers can throw off the shackles of oppression from the outside and create change from within. Ideals of equality and liberty are maintained, and not disguised through a different and just as oppressive power structure (as Djilas’s experience with Communism is described.)

Serena Yang

In Chapter 6 of his book, Anderson explores the relationship between imperialism and official nationalism, which he describes as “an anticipatory strategy adopted by dominant groups which are threatened with marginalization or exclusion from an emerging nationally-imagined community” (p. 101). It is in this chapter that I find Anderson’s analysis of nationalism less than convincing. The marginalization of the colonized peoples, Anderson says, is indicative of the “fact that at the core of the empires nations too were emerging…and these nations were also instinctively resistant to ‘foreign’ rule” (p. 111). In this way, imperialism was a tool of official nationalism, as well as a means of building nationalism at home.

However, imperialism needs not rest solely on nationalistic interests nor does nationalism necessarily lend itself to imperialism. For example, English imperialism was often begun by joint-stock companies, so imperial forces were driven primarily (at least at first) by economic interests. Furthermore, nationalism does not need to assert itself through imperialist tendencies only. Vera and Helen argue that nationalism can be a unifying force and I agree to a certain extent. In constructing an identity, one cannot help but define himself in opposition to what he is not, so instead, I believe in expanding the idea of the nation to something more global. Anderson merely defines the nation as an imagined political community, the borders of which are imagined, so why not broaden this political community to something more global?

As modern technological advances bring people closer and closer in contact, much the way that Anderson argues print-capitalism did for Europe, why not extend the definition of the nation beyond the traditional borders? Sovereignty conflicts aside, the world is so inter-connected today that actions have consequences that resonate across national borders, and issues like poverty and hunger in developing countries are considered global problems, not merely local or regional problems. In his introduction, Anderson calls nationalism a cultural artifact; it is unnatural and “imagined” in the sense that humans created this idea and it continues on solely through our belief in it. Therefore, as an idea that has adapted itself to various historical circumstances, why not create a new nationalism and a new expression of nationalism for the modern globalized society?

Serena Yang

In Chapter 6 of his book, Anderson explores the relationship between imperialism and official nationalism, which he describes as “an anticipatory strategy adopted by dominant groups which are threatened with marginalization or exclusion from an emerging nationally-imagined community” (p. 101). It is in this chapter that I find Anderson’s analysis of nationalism less than convincing. The marginalization of the colonized peoples, Anderson says, is indicative of the “fact that at the core of the empires nations too were emerging…and these nations were also instinctively resistant to ‘foreign’ rule” (p. 111). In this way, imperialism was a tool of official nationalism, as well as a means of building nationalism at home.

However, imperialism needs not rest solely on nationalistic interests nor does nationalism necessarily lend itself to imperialism. For example, English imperialism was often begun by joint-stock companies, so imperial forces were driven primarily (at least at first) by economic interests. Furthermore, nationalism does not need to assert itself through imperialist tendencies only. Vera and Helen argue that nationalism can be a unifying force and I agree to a certain extent. In constructing an identity, one cannot help but define himself in opposition to what he is not, so instead, I believe in expanding the idea of the nation to something more global. Anderson merely defines the nation as an imagined political community, the borders of which are imagined, so why not broaden this political community to something more global?

As modern technological advances bring people closer and closer in contact, much the way that Anderson argues print-capitalism did for Europe, why not extend the definition of the nation beyond the traditional borders? Sovereignty conflicts aside, the world is so inter-connected today that actions have consequences that resonate across national borders, and issues like poverty and hunger in developing countries are considered global problems, not merely local or regional problems. In his introduction, Anderson calls nationalism a cultural artifact; it is unnatural and “imagined” in the sense that humans created this idea and it continues on solely through our belief in it. Therefore, as an idea that has adapted itself to various historical circumstances, why not create a new nationalism and a new expression of nationalism for the modern globalized society?

Megan Roberto

In a world of incessant nationalist propaganda, Benedict Arnold’s arguments in Imagined Communities, speaks to a reader of the 21st century. Images and print facilitate what Arnold calls a “sense of parallelism,” which trains people to believe that they are inextricably linked to their fellow man on the basis of a perceived commonality. The most powerful commonality that has been invented by man, in Arnold’s opinion is Nationalism.

As Vera has already succinctly summarized, nationalism grew due to the decline of “three fundamental cultural conceptions,” and the ability of print-capitalism to allow “rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate to others, in profoundly new ways.”
This “relation to others,” however, comes at a cost to already existing communities within any country’s arbitrary boundaries.

Nationalism depends on the subjugation of the masses. While it does “unify” people as both Vera and Helen stated, it also demands that people be able to speak a particular language and adjust customs to fit those of the dominant group in exchange for the benefits of being American, German, etc. While resistance is possible through the mixing of culture and language, the dominant group will demand the obedience of the minority in order to create this new community.

Nationalism can only be positive when print-capitalism spreads truths about the disparities in wealth and opportunities to allow those within “imagined” communities reap the benefits that their “real” governments gain from their subservience and treats diversity as an advantage rather than a threat.

Shannon Oakes

While Nationalism may lead to the development of imagined communities with only “the image of its subjects’ communion,” it is also a source for progress of a nation and its subjects. Anderson says that Nationalism originates from “the interaction between a system of production and productive relations (capitalism), a technology of communications (print), and the fatality of human linguistic diversity.” Capitalist writers started “vernacularizing” languages in order to increase circulation. While unifying around one particular language may diminish diversity, it also makes communication more efficient. A universal language leads to more exchange and discourse among neighbors which actually expand communities. Anderson mentions that among the bourgeoisie, imaginary comradeship came from print capitalism because they began to imagine themselves like one another through print. While this camaraderie might have been false, it’s hard to argue that literary works didn’t stimulate ideas among this class of people. In this way, print did contribute to the progress of nations. The rise of the newspaper created more socially conscious individuals which is arguably a positive aspect of nationalism.

Nationalism may arguably lead to racism and hostility between nations, but it also leads to positive social change. This “unifying force” as people have called it not only brings together people who may only share geographic ties, but it also informs people of the ways of surrounding nations. A universal form of communication allows for physical mobility for trade and commerce and in this way, this vernacularizing also leads to social consciousness. While I agree with Anderson that nationalism may just provide a way for people to identify themselves in general terms, I do think that it is a source for positive social change among peoples.

Danielle Mahan

I found the summaries of Djilas’ The New Class complete and thorough but would like to emphasize points that I found especially interesting. Djilas largely criticizes Communist movements and revolutions that have come to pass. He claims that the Communist Revolutions in Russia and Yugoslavia took place in societies that were not developed enough for the ideology. The Party had to impose its novel social order on the masses when they took power – unlike the bourgeois revolutions of the 19th century which were more like manifestations of the a social order that had already become commonplace but didn’t have an organizing power leading it. Djilas goes on to describe the failures, horrors, and hypocrisies of Communism.
Djilas might have made his biggest error in this generalization. While his analysis that Communism’s totalitarianism is inherent because of its radical distinction with developing market economies of the 20th century, he doesn’t consider markets that are ready for central planning and socialist policies. Marx would have never prescribed Communism for nations like Czarist Russia or Yugoslavia of the 1940s. Socialism can be practical in economies that have high levels of production and sustained growth. Timing might be most important about implementation of socialist policy – gradually and only when called for. Like Ziwei mentioned, some nations have successfully moved toward socialism.
I think Zach’s point about socialism being somewhat inherently oppressive is interesting. While anyone can decide to be socialist in a democratic market economy, being a capitalist in a Communist state is subversive and dangerous. Would communism or socialism ever be compatible with American social order which is so deeply rooted in freedom of choice?

Brendan Gluck

In Anderson’s analysis of nationalism and description of ‘imagined communities,’ he states that political communities are “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” (6) Yet, I find it flawed to say that if person A and person B have never met, that it is illogical that they can feel any sense of connectedness towards one another. The mere fact that they have not met does not automatically mean that they do not share common values, beliefs, etcetera. For example, America was founded on the principles of freedom, equality, opportunity and liberty, which united the many constituents living within the region. Not everyone in the region had met each other, yet they were able to develop a sense of nationalism because they knew they all shared these same ideas. Therefore, their community was much less ‘imagined’ and much more of a reality, stemming from common values inherent in the minds of all. This nationalism continues to this very day in our nation. The same morals that America was built upon continue to unite its population and connect one another with authentic bonds that do not require actual contact.

I agree with the previous posters about the positive aspect of nationalism, yet I think this unifying force is the exact same reason why nationalism can become problematic and lead to catastrophe. This solidarity for ones country, when one does not even know most of ones’ neighbors, is exactly what Anderson has a problem with. Obviously, there is a thin line between the positive and negative aspects of nationalism and the transformation from strong societal ties to mass mobilization can occur in an instant.

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