Understanding Reactionary vs. Revolutionary Nationalism

celine qin 🌷
3 min readAug 14, 2021

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Nationalism as a movement aims to gain and maintain a nation’s self-governance and independence and tends to advocate the interests of the nation or a group of people within that country. Particularly for colonized subjects and nations affected by imperialism or colonialism, nationalism promotes the self-determination of the nation and the subjects as a way to resist against outside powers in order to obtain economic or political rights.

Still, there are various types of nationalism: types that harness the power of the masses to achieve liberation from oppressors through its incredibly revolutionary potential, and types that are reactionary movements pushing society towards the direction of fascism while suppressing and eliminating hopes for equality, human rights, or a thriving society for the people. Therefore, it is intrinsic to our understanding of the world to not conflate the two.

The reason to know the difference between reactionary and revolutionary nationalism is not only because the two represent drastically separate causes, aiming to turn society one way or the opposite, putting human rights, political and economical equity, and various societal formations on the chopping block, but also because it is imperative to recognize the immense power imbalance and disparities between the oppressor and the oppressed.

It would be impossible to comprehend modern geopolitics without considering who holds the most power and influence. Ignoring this major difference is equivalent to falling into the traps of global imperialism and colonial ideology.

A reactionary movement in political science is a movement that aims to revert society to a previous status quo, almost all the time before certain achievements in civil rights or social justice.

In other words, reactionary movements react to social progress and act to confiscate the rights of those who were historically oppressed, marginalized, racialized, dispossessed, colonized, etc., conserving or intensifying the systemic obstacles that were nearly always prevalent to tyrannize a “lesser” class or group.

Especially today, these movements almost always have the backing of the plutocrats, imperial hegemony (such as that of the United States), and serve as the direct train track to, if not the epitome of, fascism. This makes these movements inseparable from white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, capitalism, settler colonialism, and more, as these have always been a segway to far-right society.

In addition, to nourish its reactionary nature, reactionary movements can depend on theories, or irrational notions (utilized in a rational paradigm), to justify its existence. They cling onto fallacious conspiracies or their own false “oppression” in order to masquerade the movement as something that is “revolutionary” rather than the opposite. Examples of reactionary nationalism include the KKK, the Nazi Party, and white nationalism and “blue lives matter.”

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, revolutionary left-wing nationalism is a fight for freedom from oppressors and injustice. Within Marxism and with the influence of Vladimir Lenin on imperialism, the concept of national liberation aided the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist cause, particularly for those fighting against colonial rule by the imperial core (United States, Canada, and powers of Europe).

Examples of revolutionary national liberation include Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism, Indigenous nationalism and Land Back, Free Palestine, and the liberation of societies terrorized by imperial conquest, colonization, and exploitation, especially those in the Global South.

This stands in sharp contrast to reactionary nationalism, and instead allows the progress towards a more just society through self-determination against colonizers and oppressive systems. Reactionary and revolutionary nationalism are not the same.

Furthermore, revolutionary national liberation is the crucial bridge that supports a global struggle against western hegemony. Therefore, national liberation has always been imperative to the struggle of the global working class against the current political and economical tyrants. With this, we can achieve a new level of international solidarity and cooperation.

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celine qin 🌷

creative writer focused on healing, feminism, & the liberating politics of it all ☆°•.¸☆¸.•°☆