chapter  10
32 Pages

Nationality and Class in the Revolutions of 1917: a Re-examination of Categories

The concepts of class and nationality have been problematic ever since they entered the broad political discourse of European intellectuals in the mid-nineteenth century. Long before they were categories employed by social scientists, their use by political activists and publicists carried with it values, expectations, and political claims that determined and limited their analytical utility. While Mill regarded nationality as positively related to the contemporary democratic struggles, conservatives of his day, like Lord Acton, feared the implications of claims to political recognition based on ethnicity and culture. In the classical Marxist tradition class was considered to be a more historically durable formation than nationality and provided both legitimacy for the socialist project and an instrument to achieve it. Not surprisingly, then, the proponents of enfranchisement of these social groups tended in their own understanding, and with the aid of committed intellectuals, to essentialise, eternalise, and naturalise the social categories whose political claims they were defending.