Nationalisms of the Oppressed

And Why You Should Critique Them


By an Irani

Regardless of what school of thought one follows, most anti-capitalists can agree: self-determination for peoples is a fundamental human right and a fundamental principle of anti-capitalism.


Though we must respect this right, we must also respect the many layers of the term. There is an ignorant belief among some in the anti-capitalist community that nationalisms of the oppressed/GS (Global South) as a whole, is somehow more "progressive" than nationalisms in the West/GN (Global North). Duplicating ruling classes and oligarchies in states modeled after European republics somehow becomes conflated with “national liberation.”


We should not look to nationalism as a solution for our problems.


National liberation vs Nationalism

In my view, there must first be a distinction between nationalism and national liberation.


Nationalism is inherently built around statism, forcing all ethnicities that live in one or more regions to identify with one sole identity; to

assimilate or else. Nationalism also often insists subjection to hierarchies like capitalism, patriarchy, militarism and queer-phobia.


National liberation on the other hand, can be paired with multiculturalism, anti-capitalism and resistance against the state and its structures. Though it is often conflated with postcolonial statism, national liberation is not a monolith, and it does not always end at unitary state structures.

In the example of the Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities, Subcomandante Marcos frequently refers to Mexico and Mexicans, appealing to all who identify with the Mexican nation to free themselves from statism, separating the nation from the state.


In the example of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the Kurdish regions of Rojava are seen as part of Kurdistan, but the Rojava revolution in fundamentally opposed to Kurdish nationalism and statism. Kurds in Rojava often associate with the Kurdish nation, but they cannot impose this identity onto other communities.


Some Personal Words

Within SWANA, the region I hail from, nationalisms are often suited for only one ethnicity and religion. Regarding Iran, there is a frequent remark of calling the region "Persia" and associating it ONLY with Persian identity/culture. This ignores the true diversity of Iran, which has and continues to be the home for numerous ethnic and religious groups. The concept of Iran itself must also be questioned in its Persian-centric origins and related state structures. Not everyone in the region known as Iran identifies as Iranian or Irani, and this must be respected. Pan-Iranist nationalism has led to numerous genocides and atrocities on minority ethnic groups.


In Arab-majority countries, pan-Arabism is often pervasive. This, of course, ignores the various ethnic and religious minorities that live within those regions. The historical and ongoing efforts of pan-Arab states to purge minority populations in order to create a homogeneous nation-state must not be ignored in our understanding of nationalism and national liberation.


Let us not forget that for the Global South, the nation-state is historically a foreign concept to us, brought over by European colonizers. We had the chances to fight for structural decolonization, whether in South Asia, Latin America, SWANA and Africa, but we were denied. Instead, colonial political systems were and still are used, this time by local peoples instead of colonizers. Our regions continue to be a mosaic of various peoples, cultures and identities, something that the inhumane nation-state system seeks to destroy and stamp out.


As we have seen in history, as well as revolutions today, we can fight for something better than the nation-state and its institutions.

Don't just kill the cop in your head, remember to kill the nationalist as well!