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August 22, 2007

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David Guarino

Capitalism, nationalism, socialism: all poor options when taken to their extremes, particularly when their supporters push them to complete exclusion of the others. Yet it's hard to write them off intellectually.

Any PEIS major has been beaten over the head with the market system's intellectual justification, and economics students have been beaten over the head with mathematical proof (*cough*) of its social optimality.

Despite the intellectual hegemony of liberalism dominant in the West, we at Berkeley should also be well familiar with the mostly sound intellectual basis of Marxist theory. Marx, for all his failings, was quite bright. And his model -- for lack of a labor theory of value inherited from Ricardo -- is pretty attractive intellectually. There's a reason that so many over in Sociology, Rhetoric, and Anthropology maintain something of Marx in their core programs. There's a reason that so many were willing to study, critically analyze, and then fight for the Marxist cause. There's a reason the Spartacus Youth still do so on Sproul every few days.

And nationalism, as Anderson points out, may lack a precise intellectual justification, but its prevalence -- and resilience in the face of other ideologies -- cannot be ignored. Hence the flood of interest in the politics of identity.

All social science must take nationalism seriously, and it has been a failing of both liberals and socialists that they write it off simply because it doesn't appeal to their ivory-tower sensibilities. That a French farmer cares more about his urban French kin (significantly richer, distinct in class, and perhaps even so cosmopolitan that she doesn't feel the same way about the farmer) than his class-functional equivalent over in Iowa is a monkey wrench in the theoretical machinery of economic determinism.

But this is all avoiding Professor Delong's real question. What can be salvaged from the discrediting of both nationalism and socialism in historical reality? I believe nothing can. I'll choose to attack Anderson, only because it is much harder to argue for socialism than for nationalism.

Yes, nationalism is a social construction. Perhaps I'll even buy his argument that it was produced by advances in printing that led to local vernaculars being solidified into identities, thereby distinguishing themselves from other national print-cultures. But why should the nationalist impulse be suppressed? And how is it to be done?

Anderson's answer is laughable. Nationalism is not intrinsically bad for aggregate welfare. Nationalism is not even a coherent notion. It is precisely because it is "imagined" that it cannot be changed from above. Nor is it out of the range of possibility for nationalism to be molded into something positive for all. Nationalism represents little more than the influence of identity on decision-making. It does not mean provincialism. And identity can be a good thing. Common identity -- even imagined -- is the root of empathy. There's a reason people care about the hoards of famine-ridden African folks, but many fewer care that much about Panda bears. Anderson's fundamental flaw is the implicit belief that the negative roots of nationalism (that is to say, the creation of it in opposition to others) precludes the possibility of a universal common identity.

It is very plausible that someday -- perhaps through globalization or through socialist-style education, who knows -- that the discourse of human rights, of a universally common human nationalism, will trump provincial identities. At worst it will just take a Martian invasion beforehand.

Morgan Brewer

Nationalism is almost necessary for a harmonious state. This is one of Ernest Gellner’s arguments for nationalism. Benedict Anderson, while defining Nationalism, was never a proponent. This is Anderson’s primary flaw. While he did, in fact, present the downsides of nationalism, he did not adequately explore the possible benefits. Ernest Gellner, a philosopher and social anthropologist (1925-1995), explores what Anderson did not, in detail. In his work, Nations and Nationalism (1983), Gellner proposes that “nationalism is primarily a political principle that holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent.” (www.wikipedia.com). He basically argues against Benedict Anderson in that he claims nationalism is a “sociological necessity” in today’s world. His supporting arguments cover the struggle for territory and resources. Gellner states that in order for an industrialized state to maintain control over the work force and other resources, the culture and the state must be one.
This is still merely a theory, but one that Anderson refuses to even dream about in his work, let alone discuss in detail. One of the most important parts of an argument for or against something, in this case nationalism, is to address both sides. I personally agree with Anderson on most of his points about nationalism. It can be deadly and lead to fascist states in the countries that a very nationalistic nation occupies. One such example is the Aryan Nation unified under Hitler. This is quite an extreme example, but is still an appropriate example of what can happen when nationalism is taken too far.

Kieran M. Duffy

I really, really enjoyed Anderson's book. I felt that his simplistic approach in describing how influential the publication of written words in Newpapers and Novels "Print Capitalism" and how it was related to Nationalism and "Nation-ness" was eye opening. A flaw in this work, I believe is that his study while broad in terms of time, and geography was excellent initially, I felt he focused too much on South East Asia in the last third of the book.

I think that there ways to turn nationalism into a positive force. When he refers to Nationalism saying that "Nationalism has to be understood by alinging it with the large cultural sytems such as religous communities and dynastic realms I think of Japan. He also mentions in the book about how at many times in the past how imagined communities create nationalism when being marginalized and encroached upon by outside powers. This reminds me of when the Japanese were being encroached upon by Western powers and how nationalistic ferver spread all throughout Japan and how in less than a generation went through the fastest modernization in world hostory, going from semi-colonial status to a World power after beating Russia in 1905. I also think about Germany. I think about how they were punished after WWI and how this led to nationalism fueled by Hitler and in the years 1936-39 going from a starving nation, vicitm of the greatest hyperinflation in history to the biggest GDP in Europe of 8.9%. Therefore I think Nationalism can be used for rallying people and getting them to unite behind a common cause. Not differant from G. Bush after his address to Congress after 9/11.

I do not think that Really Existing socialism can be used for good. I think we need a free market economy. I think that the eastern bloc and the western bloc can serve as good egs. Eastern germany under Communism floundered, while Western Germany under Democracy experienced economic recovery, and a boom going forward.

Salman Ahmed

Communism according to Djilas is unattainable and foolish to even consider as a viable form of government. To me there seems to be no holes in his argument which he has formulated after examining the Socialist experiments which had already taken place. As many have said before me, the system which set out to create a classless society ended up creating a new elite class known as the Nomenklatura in the USSR. In order for Communism to exist, leaders of the state could not be considered the authority on issues themselves. No one man or woman should be able to embody the state as did Stalin and every other Communist leader to this day. Since man by nature is power seeking, it would be impossible to relinquish power of that magnitude. If you look at the roots of socialism and communism, they are meant for the good of Society and the community as a whole, not just to benefit a small elite class. Glory really did do a great job breaking down Djilas analysis. You made it much easier for every poster after you.
Anderson argues that nationalism, although producing positives such as higher literacy and an abandonment of the divine rule ideals of old. He also argues that it can be used in detrimental ways when in the wrong hands. In fact, nationalism can be credited to an extent for subjugating the population of the Soviet Union under Stalin, most of whom felt that Mother Russia had to be put ahead of themselves. Nationalism was also used to justify Hitler’s policies for extending living space for the Aryan nation. Many of my colleagues feel that nationalism can be used to unify a populace, but I would propose a different term for this purpose; patriotism. Nationalism perpetuates an us vs. them mentality which generally leads to conflict. This is why nationalism is a delusion along with pure socialism which can never exist. An alternative? Perhaps the social welfare state as I have stated in previous posts.

Ada Tso

In “Imagined Communities”, Anderson argues that the concept of a nation is an “imagined political community” and has four distinct characteristics: (1) Imagined (because most of the nation’s members will never meet each other); (2) Limited (all nations are finite in size); (3) Sovereign (because the concept was born out of the Enlightenment); and (4) Community (since nations are conceived as a ‘deep, horizontal comradeship’). These imagined communities were able to come into existence because of “print-capitalism,” which let people understand each other despite differing local dialects.

Anderson implies that nation-states are frauds, that they are artificial constructs created for the benefit of economic and political ends. He also indicates that nationalism, to some extent, is something foisted onto its people by the government to achieve stability. I think Anderson makes a mistake in confusing the nation state with the idea of nationalism. While the success of nation states is facilitated by a strong sense of nationalism, Anderson fails to acknowledge nationalism as something beyond political/economic when it is really quite psychological. One can find the same elements of nationalism in tribalism, which was dominant in time when nation states were distinctly nonexistent. Anderson neglects to consider crowd psychology and the natural instinct of humans to identify with a group.

miles palacios

As many people have mentions already, Imagined Communities discusses that Andersons main causes of nationalism and the creation of an imagined community are reduction in such languages like Latin and an emergence of the printing press under capitalism. I agree with Serena’s point that his idea for nationalism shouldn’t be excluded to the borders. In this day in age where we pick up the phone or turn on a computer, we instantly have conversation with someone halfway around the world. In Anderson’s day, there were no computers and contact isn’t as easy as it is today. Taking Anderson’s view, wee could conceivably create a nationalist view and apply it to the world. Maybe its hard to believe, but maybe the whole world can have a nationalistic view with each other. I believe that many people missed on the fact that Anderson put a great deal of blame on the fact that capitalism helped cause the rise of nationalism.
Also his view that printing would help to push nationalism, now is false. In today’s world everything can be translated. Books or information can read in all different types of languages. I believe that its human nature to be proud of their nation and want their country and customs to be prevalent around the world. I agree with Anderson in that the communities are “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know fellow members”. I think that people are even a little hesitant to feel nationalistic in this country. For example, So cal is so much different in Nor Cal. The west coast is very much different from the South. The East Coast has a bias against the West Coast.
in conclusion, communities are immagined, we just have a hope that we have similarities.

houtan Zojaji

I believe Marx’s theory can’t be applied everywhere; proletariat revolutions are NOT inevitable. In fact, the idea of a proletariat revolution is only applicable in societies that have an industrialized. In reality, Communism is an ideology of the party controlling the state, all its functions, and all its people, and therefore cannot be regarded as a system where everyone is free. We can learn from history that Communism actually creates a new class—the privileged bureaucratic class—which essentially controls the state. This new class views the laboring classes as an endless source of replaceable labor that will fuel rapid industrialization and secure the power of the bureaucratic class. In general I agree with Milovan Djilas’ arguments but he does not seem to like to idea that we accept Socialism as an ideology, which could have positive influence. One can argue that prosperity existed in Sweden today has a lot with Marx’s ideology. One can argue that Sweden’s welfare state is somewhat socialist in its ideals and application

Lisa Xu

Djilas’s analysis of the contemporary communist state seems to be fairly accurate, as many people have pointed out. He explains how communism (or what labels itself as communism) in practice became dissociated from communism in theory, and shows how the totalitarian state established by Lenin and consolidated by Stalin merely created a new expropriating class, the political bureaucracy. In addition, the bureaucracy is incapable of effectively managing the economy, leading to stagnating or even decreasing living standards. Communism as implemented in Russia, Yugoslavia, and China failed to achieve the goal of a classless society because the revolutionary party was unwilling to relinquish its power, or unable to do so without abandoning its goals (e.g., industrialization). Djilas writes, “The most important problem for Communism, in theory and practice, is the question of the state…” (87) For him, this question has not been satisfactorily answered, and so communism as a system has failed.

However, each of these communist states were established by revolutionary means, and had to resort to oppressive measures to maintain their power and legitimacy once the revolution was over. It is perhaps conceivable that a democratically elected communist government could maintain it power and legitimacy without having to resort such measures, even if it no longer remained democratic. This is unlikely (after all, Hitler was democratically elected, and converted Germany to a totalitarian state), but Djilas does not necessarily make a distinction between non-revolutionary communism and revolutionary communism, so some of the characteristics of the communist state which he describes are perhaps more inherent to their revolutionary origins, rather than to communism itself. In any case, as Djilas believes, Democratic socialism would obviously be preferable.

David Grande

Roughly looking at both thinkers, it is hard to pinpoint an argument against Djilas regarding his findings on how socialism is a snare and delusion. Using the same words to describe nationalism, Benedict Anderson feels that socialism is the worthwhile alternative. Whose word should we really trust? Djilas personal help in creating and living through socialism really helps us decide who has an honest opinion.

While Djilas holds an honest opinion of how socialism “really is,” his biggest flaw in his argument is his idea of implementation. The idea of how Communism is implemented the same way around the world, in different societies is too farfetched. His idea of how communism failed in Eastern Europe, this idea firms Djilas to express that socialism will fail anywhere else. That clearly is not the case, as there are communist states in the world and even socialist activities that are practiced in different nations as well.

To answer the question if socialism could be transformed into something that ought to exist, it really depends on the implementation of its force. If whatever state feels that it this should be the applied, it also depends on how different classes will adapt and that is obviously different between societies.

Colin Zealear

There have been numerous accounts throughout history of nations attempting to transform their political institutions towards the ideals that Marx is most famous for writing, that is a centralized socialist government whom can conrtol every facet of social life. Because none of them succeded in fully transforming into the eventual superpowers they hoped to become because of the improbabliity of a proliteriate revolt, it is easy to see, as Djilas points out, that attempts at obtaining absolute dictatorship by a "new bureaucratic bougeoise class" leads to unavoidable disaster. He continues by saying, and I agree that this new class is inherently unable to properly rule over the laboring class. I think if the correct institutions as well as humble selfless intellectual leaders were implimented that socialist values can be successfully achieved. Citizenship requirements like enlisting in the army and welfare as well as unemployment aid may be good ideas but they are sensitive cycles that affect the entire economy. His biggest flaw in his book to me is that he gives no counter arguments as to how a really existing socialist political economy could function under the right leadership. Many contemporary European countries such as obviously Switzerland and others like Spain have seen some of their most progressive eras in history under socialist leadership.

As for Anderson's argument countering the belief that nationalism is a snare and delusion I think is very misguided. I think it is a very real and tangible force and a powerful one at that. There are many forms of nationalism other than being patriotic, it means being loyal to any sort of organization including religion. There have been, presently are, and will be in the future a multitude of acts committed on the basis of nationalist views. Most humans, apart from anarchists prefer to be involved in civil societies and most are, or atleast should be, involved in or are aware of the actions of the political system of the respective nation in which they live. His biggest flaw is denying that nationalism has the ability to be a positive influence on society, why do you think we won WWII.

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