NAFTA — The North American Free Trade Agreement
An international trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico that allowed U.S. manufacturers to move factories to Mexico, especially, and to then import goods made there with low-wage labor back into the U.S. without major tariff penalties. Many politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, were in essence bought off by the big corporations in order to achieve and maintain this anti-labor trade agreement.
The NAFTA agreement was signed on Dec. 17, 1992 by President George H. W. Bush and his counterparts in Canada and Mexico, and went into effect on January 1, 1994. Many politicians, including Barack Obama, have criticized or opposed NAFTA during their electoral campaigns but then changed their position once elected. (I.e., they lied about their real position.) President Trump also promised to renegotiate or terminate NAFTA in his election campaign in 2016. He did end up slightly “renegotiating” it under the new name, the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA), to make it somewhat more favorable to the U.S. ruling class and, a concession to the Democrats, to ease just a few of the many anti-labor aspects of it. This revised version of NAFTA was signed into law by President Trump on January 29, 2020, and he now claims that he kept his promise to “get rid of NAFTA” (by mostly just changing its name!) and the Democrats now claim that they made NAFTA “more labor friendly” in all three countries (though the anti-labor essence of the agreement hadn’t changed at all!). In other words, more bourgeois demagogic politics as usual.
“When Obama was bidding for the Democratic presidency nomination in 2008,
he defined himself as a candidate of ‘hope and change’ in a number of ways. He thrilled
labor audiences in primary states such as Wisconsin by denouncing policies that had
saddled the United States with NAFTA, the permanent normalization of trade with China,
and yawning trade deficits. Obama promised to scrap the secretive, ‘backroom-deal’
negotiating style of ‘Fast Track’ agreements that elbowed the Congress and the American
people out of the process. He talked about renegotiating NAFTA to add safeguards for the
environment and labor rights. If Canada and other trading partners rejected changes,
Obama said he was open to exiting the agreements altogether. It seemed as if a new day
was dawning when it came to the trade policy—or, at the very least, in the approach of
a too-frequently-compromised Democratic Party.
“Then came reports that Obama’s senior economic adviser, Austin Goolsbee, had quietly assured the Canadians that the candidate’s statements were not to be believed—that his populist appeals in working-class towns battered by trade-related layoffs and factory closings ‘should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.’ When the news broke, before the critical Ohio primary, Obama aides pointed political journalists toward reports that his rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, had apparently had aides provide similar ‘not to worry’ assurances to the Canadians. Reporters who had never bothered to connect the dots between trade policies, shuttered factories, and the righteous indignation of Ohio workers were lapping up the ‘he-said, she-said’ scrap. The controversy grew so intense that Obama had to address it. He told a Cleveland TV station: ‘I think it’s important for viewers to understand that [the claim that he was saying one thing to workers and another thing to Wall Street elites and foreign governments] was not true.’
“Obama lost Ohio, but he won enough other states to secure the nomination. Then, within days of assembling the delegates he needed, Fortune magazine featured an interview with the candidate headlined ‘Obama: NAFTA Not So Bad after All.’ Reminded that during the primary season he had referred to NAFTA as ‘devastating’ and suggested he might use an opt-out clause in the trade agreement ... Obama replied, ‘Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and simplified.’
“‘Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don’t exempt myself,’ Obama continued. Abandoning the tough talk of just a few months earlier, Obama sounded an awful lot like the free-trader the Canadians had been assured he would be.... Fortune was satisfied.”
—Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy (2016), pp. 136-138. [The authors then elaborate on how Obama not only lied about NAFTA but went on to promote numerous other free-trade deals that would further harm American workers. They do not, however, “connect the dots” themselves, nor conclude, as they should have done, that Obama was just another politician representing the interests of the capitalist class, rather than those of the working class. —Ed.]
The belief that the phenomena of nature or society can be, and should be, examined in the absence of any initial theory or hypothesis, and that mere raw observation will normally suffice to lead us to valid scientific explanations for the new phenomena. In reality, in both science and politics, we very rarely investigate any phenomenon starting with completely empty heads and with no guess whatsoever as to what might be going on. We bring to our investigations what we have learned (or think we have learned) earlier, including hypotheses that our existing knowledge has suggested with regard to the new phenomenon. Our new investigations may confirm those hypotheses, or else they may lead us to revise them or to reject the initial hypotheses entirely and construct new ones. This is the means by which we gradually extend and revise our existing knowledge based on new experience and new investigations.
A crude form of materialism which doesn’t really comprehend how mind and consciousness can arise out of complex organizations of matter such as brains. A naïve materialist might say something like “Mind is just an aspect of nature; even rocks have simple kinds of minds.” This sort of foolishness serves to discredit materialism in general, even though there are much more sophisticated kinds of materialism, especially dialectical materialism.
See also: ELIMINATIVE MATERIALISM, IDEALISM—Origin Of [Engels quote], IDENTITY THEORY, INSTRUMENTALISM [1st sense], MECHANICAL MATERIALISM, NATURALISM
al-Nakba, which means “the Catastrophe”, was the expulsion in 1948 of vast numbers of Palestinians from their country by the Israeli Zionists. Up until that time the large majority of people living in Palestine were Arab Palestinians, but the Zionists were intent on ethnic cleansing (and often even outright genocide), that is on forcing the Palestinians off of their own lands and out of their own country. Many such Palestinians still live in refugee camps in Lebanon to this day.
“Israel expelled most of the majority Palestinian population in 1948, and
has prevented them from returning to their homes ever since. Hundreds of towns and villages
were leveled to the ground, a crime that Palestinians call al-Nakba (the Catastrophe). But
Israel did not stop there. It repeatedly attacked Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, killing
“Suddenly stateless and without the benefits of citizenship, Palestinian refugees were extremely vulnerable and had very few rights.... 71 years later, not much has changed for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who continue to be denied basic civil rights as well as their most fundamental right: to return to their homeland.
“These Palestinians have different experiences than other Palestinians, even as they share a common struggle and identity. They are not living under Israeli occupation. Israel does not allow them to visit their homes, much less live there. As exiles, they have a different perspective from Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the part of Palestine that became Israel.”
—From the announcement of the 2019 North America Nakba Tour in support of stateless Palestinians in Lebanon.
NAKED SHORT SELLING
See: SHORT SELLING
“The name of a thing is entirely external to its nature. I know nothing of a man if I merely know his name is Jacob.” —Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 3, Sect. 1. (Penguin ed., p. 195.)
NAPOLEON BONAPARTE (1769-1821)
A French military and political leader who first became famous during the latter part of the great French Revolution and who then usurped personal power and, as Napoléon I, became the Emperor of France. He proceeded to lead France in a series of wars in which he was mostly victorious, and at his peak ruled, directly or indirectly, most of continental Europe. He was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and then exiled and held prisoner by the victorious British empire on one of the most remote islands in the world, Saint Helena, until his death. There is some evidence that he was poisoned to death with arsenic by his British captors.
The revolutionary Jacobin leadership in the French Revolution abolished slavery in the French colonies in 1794, but Napoleon reinstituted slavery there in 1802. But although Napoleon helped pervert the course of development of the French Revolution, his civil control of Europe during a crucial period helped further the transformation of many feudal traditions and relationships into more modern bourgeois institutions.
NAPOLEON — Russian Campaign of 1812
A disastrous military campaign by Napoleon against Russia during which most of his invading army was destroyed.
The famous graphic at the right, by Charles Joseph Minard, provides a great deal of information about the campaign. “Beginning at the left on the Polish-Russian border near the Niemen, the thick band shows the size of the army (422,000 men) as it invaded Russia. The width of the band indicates the size of the army at each position. In September, the army reached Moscow with 100,000 men. The path of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales. The remains of the Grande Armée struggled out of Russia with 10,000 men. Minard’s graphic tells a rich, coherent story with its multivariate data, far more enlightening than just a single number bouncing along over time. Six variables are plotted: the size of the army, its location on a two-dimensional surface, direction of the army’s movement, and temperature on various dates during the retreat from Moscow. It may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” —Edward Tufte
See: WAR ON DRUGS
[From the Russian word narod, meaning “people”.]
“Narodism—a petty-bourgeois trend in the Russian revolutionary
movement, which arose between the sixties and seventies of the nineteenth century. The
Narodniks were out to abolish the autocracy and hand over the landed estates to the
peasantry. At the same time they denied the tendency towards the development of capitalist
relations [of production] in Russia, and consequently considered the peasantry, not the
proletariat, the principal revolutionary force. They regarded the village commune as the
embryo of socialism. In their endeavor to rouse the peasants to the struggle against the
autocracy, the Narodniks went into the villages, ‘among the people’, but they met no
“In the [1880s and 1890s] the Narodniks adopted a policy of conciliation with tsarism. They expressed the interests of the kulaks and waged a fierce struggle against Marxism.” —Note 120, LCW 20:590-591.
NARODNYA VOLYA (PEOPLE’S WILL)
“The secret political organization of Narodnik terroists formed in
August 1879 following the split in the Zemlya i Volya organization. It was headed by an
Executive Committee consisting of A. I. Zhelyabov, A. D. Mikhailov, M. F. Frolenko,
N. A. Morozov, Vera Figner, Sophia Perovskaya, A. A. Kvyatkovsky, and others.
“While still adhering to the Narodnik utopian-socialist ideas, Narodnaya Volya believed also in political struggle, regarding the overthrow of the autocracy and the achievement of political freedom as a major aim. ‘The Narodnaya Volya members,’ Lenin wrote, ‘made a step forward when they took up the political struggle, but they failed to connect it with socialism’ [LCW 8:72].
“Narodnaya Volya fought heroically against the tsarist autocracy. But, going by the erroneous theory of ‘active’ heroes and a ‘passive’ mass, it expected to achieve the remaking of society without the participation of the people, by its own efforts, through individual terrorism that would intimidate and disorganize the government. After the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881, the government was able, by savage reprisals, death sentences, and acts of provocation, to crush it out of existence. Repeated attempts to revive the organization during the eighties ended in failure.
“While criticizing Narodnaya Volya’s erroneous, utopian programme, Lenin expressed great respect for its members’ selfless struggle against tsarism and had a high opinion of their technique of secrecy and their strictly centralized organization.” —Note 78, Lenin, SW I (1967).
Supporters of Narodism.
NASHE ZARYA [“Our Dawn”] and NASHE DELO [“Our Cause”]
Nashe Zarya was a Russian language monthly magazine published by the Menshevik “Liquidators” in St. Petersburg from 1910 to 1914 when it was suppressed by the government. It was then replaced by Nashe Delo.
See: STATE, PRIMITIVE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
The section of the bourgeoisie during a new democratic revolution which (unlike the comprador or bureaucrat bourgeoisie) is an intermediate class (between the people and the enemy), and portions of which may be won over to side with the people in that struggle. The national bourgeoisie is a class out for itself, and which strives to control the nation in its own class interests, which brings it into conflict with foreign imperialist intervention in the country. If it achieves power it may still be in conflict with foreign imperialism, but it also comes more powerfully into conflict with the proletariat and its allies such as the peasantry.
To continue to regard the national bourgeoisie as an ally (or potential ally) of the proletariat once the new democratic revolution is complete (or where there is no need for, or possibility for a new democratic revolution) is an extremely serious rightist or revisionist error.
“With the overthrow of the landlord class and the bureaucrat-capitalist class, the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie has become the principal contradiction in China; therefore the national bourgeoisie should no longer be defined as an intermediate class.” —Mao, “The Contradiction Between the Working Class and the Bourgeoisie is the Principal Contradiction in China” (June 6, 1952), SW 5:77.
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH (NBER)
A private American organization of bourgeois economists. This organization is very prominent and even has quasi-official aspects to it. For example, bourgeois economists generally grant its Business Cycle Dating Committee the right to decide precisely when U.S. recessions begin and end. The NBER was founded in 1920 with money from the Rockefellers and other oil barons in order to gather and publish economic statistics in the period before the U.S. government took on that task. Today it mostly focuses on studies and reports on economic matters, all—of course—from a solidly bourgeois perspective. Nevertheless, some of these studies occasionally have some useful infomation buried in them. NBER’s website is at: http://www.nber.org
NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR A FREE EUROPE
“In June 1949, [Allen] Dulles [future head of the CIA] organized the National Committee for a Free Europe in conjunction with an illustrious board that included General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille, and Time-Life publishing magnate (and close friend) Henry Luce. Ostensibly a private philanthropic group, the committee was actually a CIA front that channeled funds to anti-Communist European émigrés and financed major propaganda efforts like Radio Free Europe. At least $2 million of the money poured into the committee’s clandestine projects came from the Nazi gold that Dulles had helped track down at the end of the war. In the early years of the Cold War, the Nazi treasure looted from Jewish families and German-occupied nations would become a key source of funding for Dulles’s secret operations.” —David Talbot, Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (2015), p. 148.
NATIONAL HATRED — Combating
“[The Narodnik] Mr. Mikhailovsky cannot grasp the simple truth that there is no other way of combating national hatred than by organizing and uniting the oppressed class for a struggle against the oppressor class in each separate country, than by uniting such national working-class organizations into a single international working-class army to fight international capital.” —Lenin, “What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are” (1894), LCW 1:156.
NATIONAL INTERESTS (Under Capitalism)
What are often described as “national interests” in a capitalist state are in fact the interests of its ruling class, the bourgeoisie. Thus when the U.S. government tells Americans that it is in the “national interests” of the United States that it should make war against Vietnam or Iraq, we should understand full well that this is only a camouflaged way of talking about the class interests of the capitalists who currently own and control the country.
“It’s in our national interest to prevent this from happening [the collapse of the giant insurance corporation AIG]. This is beyond a company and beyond its shareholders. It’s in our national interest.” —Hank Greenberg, former head of AIG, pleading on CNBC for the U.S. government bailout of the company, Sept. 16, 2008. The government proceeded to do just that, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, because Greenberg’s ruling class pals who were running the government felt exactly the same way.
“Great powers have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. They only have permanent interests.” —Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary, mid-nineteenth century. Quoted in Robert Smith Thompson, The Eagle Triumphant: How America Took Over the British Empire (2004), p. 101.
NATIONAL INTERESTS (Under Socialism)
The true, long-term “national interests” of a socialist state are those of the ruling working class. However, it must be recognized that in the short term, even a socialist country may have “national interests” which diverge from the interests of the world communist revolution. And in that case, it is important and correct that the conflicting “national interests” of the socialist country be ignored or set aside, and the real interests of the people of the world and the world revolution be satisfied instead. This requires a greatness of mind and purpose on the part of the leaders of any genuine socialist country since in the short term it may create serious problems for them (including possibly even war).
The revisionist leaders of the old Soviet Union claimed that “National interests and the interests of the socialist system as a whole combine harmoniously.” [“The Letter of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U. to the Central Committee of the C.P.C.” (March 30, 1963), included in A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement (Peking: FLP, 1963), p. 88.] But this just is not so! It is just a fact of life that sometimes short-term interests, including short-term “national interests”, conflict with the true and genuine long-term interests of the people and the world revolution. Revisionists, and social-imperialists always try to deny this truth.
See also: PATRIOTISM UNDER SOCIALISM
NATIONAL LIAISON COMMITTEE
An alliance of revolutionary groups in the U.S. “New Communist Movement” of the early 1970s, which unsuccessfully attempted to transform this alliance into a new united revolutionary communist party. It consisted of the Black Workers Congress, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, and the Young Lords Party, all of which were organized on national or ethnic lines, and the Revolutionary Union, which was mostly white, though it also had members from other “races” or ethnicities, including Chinese-Americans. Unfortunately this alliance fell apart, and the RU went on to form the Revolutionary Communist Party in October 1975 mostly by itself.
“The National Liaison Committee (NLC) was formed in the summer of
1972, marked by the coming together of the Black Workers Congress (BWC), organized
in 1970, the Puerto Rican Revoutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO), originally
(1969-72) the Young Lords Party, and the Revolutionary Union (RU). At the time this
was an important advance for Marxist-Leninist forces.
“(For a time another organization involved in the NLC was I Wor Kuan, an opportunist organization brought into the NLC at the insistence of PRRWO. IWK quickly showed its bankrupt character and fled from the NLC.)
“At its inception the NLC set for itself two basic tasks: common work and ideological struggle, that is, the linking up with the actual mass struggle of the American people especially the working class and building of a new communist Party through forging a unified ideological and political line.
“The NLC was formed based on the recognition that in the U.S. there is only one working class, a single multinational proletariat, and this multinational proletariat, especially the industrial proletariat, is the main and leading force of the revolution. The NLC was united around the need to build the Party of the proletariat to act as its vanguard at the earliest time in accordance with placing ideological and political line in the forefront and on the basis of establishing deeper ties with the masses, especially the working class. Further principles of unity of the committee were upholding Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and opposition to revisionism and Trotskyism.
“In the latter part of 1973, BWC and PRRWO began a rapid process of degeneration and disintegration—the result of a qualitative retreat by these organizations into nationalism and other forms of bourgeois ideology which were closely linked with this nationalist outlook—though all of this was put forward in the guise of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought. This turn toward opportunism, linked with the antics of D. H. Wright within the RU, resulted in a split between the BWC and PRRWO on the one hand and the RU on the other, and caused the breakup of the NLC in late 1973.
“For more on the history of this period see the article, ‘Marxism, Nationalism and the Task of Party Building: History and Lessons of the National Liaison Committee,’ in The Communist, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Fall/Winter 1977).” —Bill Klingel and Joanne Psihountas, “Important Struggles in Building the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA” (Oct. 1978), p. 47, online at: https://www.bannedthought.net/USA/RCP/Pamphlets/ImportantStrugglesInBuildingTheRCPUSA-1978.pdf The issue of The Communist referred to is online at: https://www.bannedthought.net/USA/RCP/TheCommunist/TheCommunist-RCP-03-Fall-Winter1977.pdf
NATIONAL REVIEW MAGAZINE
An ultra-reactionary American ruling class magazine founded by William F. Buckley in 1955. Racist and semi-fascist in its outlook, it has been and continues to be very influential in conservative ruling class circles.
“[Here are] some of Buckley’s early insights into nationalism
• 1957: On Spanish [fascist] military dictator Francisco Franco: ‘An authentic national hero.’
• 1961: On South African apartheid: ‘Black Africans,’ when left to their own devices, ‘tend to revert to savagery.’
• 1965: On ending segregation [in the U.S.]: ‘[A] suddenly enfranchised, violently embittered Negro population... will take the vote and wield it as an instrument of vengeance, shaking down the walls of Jericho even to their foundations, and reawakening the terrible genocidal antagonisms that scarred the Southern psyche during the days of Reconstruction.’”
—The Nation magazine, December 21-28, 2015, p. 6.
“NATIONAL SECURITY” (As the Term is Used in Bourgeois Discourse)
Although capitalist ruling classes talk about “national security”, it is obvious that what they most centrally mean by that term is the continued security of their own class, and their continued rule not only within their own country but also in whatever parts of the rest of the world which they currently dominate. Terms such as “national security” simply must be understood in class terms if we are to make any sense of what our rulers say.
“According to received doctrine in scholarship and general
intellectual discourse, the prime goal of state policy is ‘national security.’
There is ample evidence, however, that the doctrine of national security does not
encompass the security of the population. The record reveals that, for instance,
the threat of instant destruction by nuclear weapons has not ranked high among the
concerns of planners. That much was demonstrated early on, and remains true to the
“McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies ... [commented that] ... ‘I am aware of no serious contemporary proposal, in or out of either government [the U.S. or Soviet Union], that ballistic missiles should somehow be banned by agreement.’ In short, there was apparently no thought of trying to prevent the sole serious threat to the United States, the threat of utter detruction in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.” —Noam Chomsky, Who Rules the World? (2016), pp. 180-181.
[The explanation, of course, is simple from the Marxist-Leninist point of view: Imperialist countries are unwilling to give up the weapons which allow them to dominate major parts of the world even if the continued existence of those weapons puts their own existence at risk. Capitalist-imperialism is indeed a maniacal social system. —S.H.]
NATIONAL SECURITY ACT OF 1947
“Under the National Security Act of 1947, Washington had already forged the basic instruments for its exercise of global power—the Defense Department, the air force, the National Security Council (NSC), and the CIA. Through parallel changes in signals intelligence, the NSA emerged by 1951, completing the apparatus of covert power. Under Eisenhower, an expanded NSC would serve as its central command and brain trust for fighting the Cold War, meeting weekly to survey a fast-changing world and plan foreign policy. At the same time, the expanding CIA became his executive strike force for securing the new system of subordinate elites [in other countries].” —Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (2017), p. 54.
NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY
One of the many spy agencies of the U.S. government. This particular agency focuses on spying on communications, including phone calls and the Internet. Its goal is to monitor every single communication in the world, and thus to spy on every single person in the world. And it more closely approaches this police-state goal every year.
See also below, and: SURVEILLANCE STATE, U.S. GOVERNMENT SPYING (On its Own Citizens), COMPUTERS—Security Of, FISA COURTS
NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY — Spying on Close Allies
“Apart from tracking terrorists, the NSA has conducted extensive
surveillance of allied nations, both their leaders and governments, to more efficiently
control the nexus of subordinate elites that has been the fulcrum for US global power
since the mid-1950s. What is the aim of such sensitive surveillance, which runs the risk
of serious political repercussions if exposed? Here, the history of colonial policing
provides a precedent that explains the strategic logic of current eavesdropping.
“Just as colonial police forces once watched thousands of local elites to assure their continuing collaboration with European empires, so the CIA and the NSA have monitored several hundred national leaders worldwide who now play an analogous role in America’s global dominion. Aggressive international surveillance provides Washington with the information needed to maintain its hegemony—operational intelligence on dissidents (once communists, now terrorists) to be countered with covert action or military intervention; basic political and economic intelligence to give American diplomats an advantage in bilateral or multilateral negotiations; scurrilous information about the activities of national leaders useful in coercing their compliance; and, perhaps most important, a sense of omniscience when it comes to independent foreign elites, from Berlin to Bogota, Jakarta to Johannesburg.” —Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century (2017), p. 127. [This is the perspective of a liberal historian. Marxists would give more emphasis to the dialectical contradictions which exist, and which are definitely worsening, between the various imperialist countries themselves. —Ed.]
“NATIONAL SECURITY STATE”
A state (i.e., government) which is strongly focused on security and the continued tight control over society by its own ruling class. This includes huge and powerful police forces which concentrate more on suppressing political dissention than they do on stopping crime. It also requires a pervasive system of spying on its own citizens who it simply does not trust. (See: SURVEILLANCE STATE.) The U.S. today is a perfect example of a national security state, as are current and past fascist states such as Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and contemporary capitalist-imperialist China.
See also entries above, and: FBI, U.S. GOVERNMENT SPYING (On its Own Citizens), FISA COURTS
The right, or in some cases the falsely claimed “right”, of nations to determine their own form of social organization, leadership, government, economy, culture, etc., entirely by themselves without any external interference. Most essentially, this includes the right to first exist as a separate nation politically, economically, and in other respects. Obviously, in the present capitalist world, this is generally something to be supported. It is international imperialism, especially that of the United States, that is most opposed to the right of national self-determination for other nations.
Marxists, of course, and in the context of the present capitalist-imperialist era, usually support this right for nations in general, as part of our determined opposition to world imperialism. However, there are exceptions. Lenin explained that efforts to maintain the unity of the revolutionary working class movement within the Russian empire could often be more important than supporting national self-determination. (See quote below.) And after the imperialist powers of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were finally defeated in World War II, Marxists, along with all anti-fascist people, insisted that for the time being Germany and Japan had lost that full right of national self-determination. It was properly insisted, for example, that the remaining Nazis had to be removed from power in Germany and suppressed—no matter what the national feeling in Germany was at the time. Then too, there are often conflicts between what is deemed the national rights of one nation and that of another. Support for the national rights and national self-determination of the Kurdish people, for example, should clearly take precedence over the falsely claimed rights of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran to control and govern what should actually be parts of a separate nation of Kurdistan rather than parts of those countries. In most cases, the exceptions to the general principle of supporting national self-determination arise in imperialist countries and their unjustified areas of external control or interference, or else in messy situations that have resulted from their previous control and misrule, as in the Middle East and other former colonial areas.
Looked at from a longer perspective, beyond that of the current capitalist era, there are also big problems with the notion of national self-determination. Since the state will no longer exist in communist society, the world communist society of the future can of course not consist of separate nation-states. The exact organization of the future communist world will be something for the people then to work out. But adherence to the notion of national self-determination might well be one sort of obstacle which interferes with the construction of that new world. In short, national self-determination is a a much more complex thing and a much more dialectically self-contradictory issue than many people today seem to understand.
“We surely cannot deny to any nation that right whereon our own government
is founded, that every one may govern itself according to whatever form it pleases, and
change these forms at its own will; and that it may transact its business with foreign
nations through whatever organs it thinks proper, whether King, Convention, Assembly,
Committee, President, or anything else it may choose. The will of the nation is the only
essential thing to be guarded.” —Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Gouverneur Morris, March 12,
[But what determines the “will” of a nation? Whichever internal power can forcefully dominate all the others? And must human society really always be organized into “nations”? After all, Homo sapiens has existed for several hundred thousand years, and nations only came into existence less than 10,000 years ago. (And in some future world communist society, isn’t it desirable—and virtually necessary—that humanity not be split up into competing nations?) And even just in the present capitalist nation-state era should not the proletariat in every country try not only to seize power at home, but to also aid the proletariat the masses in other lands to do the same; and when such seizures of people’s power are won, to unite to the maximum degree possible with other revolutionary states? Jefferson’s principle is indeed appropriate and applicable in many situations, such as where it is employed to oppose foreign imperialist intervention in other nations for the purpose of setting up comprador regimes. But as an absolute principle which is supposedly valid at all times and places... no, it is surely not that. —S.H.]
“In our draft Party programme we have advanced the demand for a republic
with a democratic constitution that would guarantee, among other things, ‘recognition of
the right to self-determination for all nations forming part of the state.’ Many did not
find this demand in our programme sufficiently clear, and in issue No. 33, in speaking
about the Manifesto of the Armenian Social-Democrats, we explained the meaning of this
point in the following way. The Social-Democrats will always combat every attempt to
influence national self-determination from without by violence or by any injustice. However,
our unreserved recognition of the struggle for freedom of self-determination does not in
any way commit us to supporting every demand for national self-determination. As the party
of the proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party considers it to be its positive and
principal task to further the self-determination of the proletariat in each nationality
rather than that of peoples or nations. We must always and unreservedly work for the
very closest unity of the proletariat of all nationalities, and it is only in
isolated and exceptional cases that we can advance and actively support demands conducive
to the establishment of a new class state or to the substitution of a looser federal unity,
etc., for the complete political unity of a state.”
—Lenin, “The National Question in Our Programme" (July 15, 1903), LCW 6:454.
[Lenin is here explaining that the support for national self-determination is not an absolute, Kantian universal sort of principle that people should always and everywhere uphold. On the contrary, in the context of the Russian Revolution (for example) there was this higher principle: Upholding the unity of the proletariat of all the nationalities in Russia. Only in exceptional cases did that generally higher principle have to give way to acceptance of separation of the existing proletarian struggles within an existing single country into different struggles in multiple separated countries. The point to emphasize here is that our support for the right of national self-determination is not an absolute! On the contrary, our absolute is our support for the world proletarian revolutionary struggle which is based on the real long-term interests of the people of the whole world! —S.H.]
[Intro material to be added...]
“On the national question the world outlook of the proletarian party is internationalism, and not nationalism. In the revolutionary struggle it supports progressive nationalism and opposes reactionary nationalism. It must always draw a clear line of demarcation between itself and bourgeois nationalism, to which it must never fall captive.” —A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement: The letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in reply to the letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of March 30, 1963 (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1963), p. 17.
[To be added... ]
This was an anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, pro-eugenicist, racist movement in the United States which peaked during the early decades of the 20th Century. It was both a dominant ideology within the arising U.S. capitalist-imperialist ruling class itself at that time, and also—because of their influence and efforts—a powerful reactionary movement among large sections of the white Protestant masses themselves. And of course this trend of reactionary, anti-ethnic, racist thought never completely died out, and has in recent decades been making a comeback (under other names) in the anti-immigrant demagogic movements at the present time.
“Today’s vehement demands to stop immigrants are neither new nor
proportional to their numbers. Immigrants arriving between 2000 and 2010 constituted
approximatedly 3 percent of the United States population, while those arriving between
1900 and 1910 constituted 8.9 percent of the population. The nativist movement, as
anti-immigrant campaigns were once called, began a century and a half ago, directed
first against the Irish, later against those arriving from southern and eastern Europe.
The case against these European immigrants was remarkably similar to today’s complaints
about those at our gates: They steal jobs from the native born, they are costly to
taxpayers, they don’t respect American values, and they are inclined to be criminals.
[Now, as then, mostly bull shit, of course. —Ed.]
“This does not mean that history repeats itself. Up through at least the 1920s nativists primarily targeted Catholics and Jews. And their bigotry was quite possibly shared by the majority of white Protestant Americans....
“[A new book, The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law that Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America, by Daniel Okrent (2019)] explores who these nativist leaders were and how their elite status allowed them to pass off bogus claims as science. Nativist leaders were among the most distinguished men of the country; upper class, highly educated and Protestant, men who personally had nothing to fear from new immigrants....
“Their class privilege is important because then, as now, critics tend to associate bigotry with poor, uneducated rural and working class people, a misleading analysis.
“All scientists [within this nativist trend], and all boasting familiarity with Mendelian genetics, these nativists nevertheless considered loyalty and ‘shiftlessness,’ for example, to be genetic characteristics....
“Henry Goddard’s famed Kallikak study of ‘defectives’ persuaded more than 30 states to impose forced sterilization on the ‘feeble-minded.’ He also tested arrivals at Ellis Island and ‘found’ that 83 percent of the Jews, 80 percent of Hungarians, 79 percent of Italians were either ‘morons’ or ‘imbeciles.’
“... by the 1920s eugenicists were ranking ethnic groups as superior or inferior, and their work was considered state-of-the-art science, taught in standard biology textbooks. Up to World War II nativist bigotry could be found across the political spectrum, Socialists [so-called! —Ed.], anarchists, civil rights leaders (including W.E.B. Du Bois), Jewish leaders and feminists tried unsuccessfully to formulate progressive versions of eugenics. Few of the mainstream eugenicists, however, considered Jews and people of color as desirable immigrants. The young Eleanor Roosevelt—who would later become an outspoken anti-racist—described someone as ‘an interesting little man, but very Jew,’ and allowed that she’d ‘rather be hung’ than attend another ‘Jew party.’ The most influential opposition to nativism came from a different section of the wealthy: industrialists who wanted the cheap labor only immigrants could provide....
“Nativism’s denouement was the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. Previous immigration restrictions targeted particular groups—notably people from Asia—but this comprehensive law aimed not just to limit immigration but to preserve white Protestant dominance in America. It assigned a quota to each nation, ranging from 51,000 for Germany to 2,000 for Russia to 1,100 for the entire African continent.” —Linda Gordon, “The Original Wall: A history of the 1920’s nativist and eugenicist movements that shut down immigration to America”, New York Times book review section, July 7, 2019.
See: NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION
Growing numbers of what we still call “natural disasters” are in fact not completely “natural” at all! Instead, they are more and more being caused by human activity directed by the ruling capitalist class in order to increase their profits, and almost totally without regard to what their polluting factories and machines are doing to the climate and to humanity. It is not just through their endless wars that the capitalist-imperialists kill so many people, but in many other ways as well.
[Speaking of contemporary American capitalist society:] “During
good times, it’s easy to deride ‘big government’ and talk about the inevitability of
cutbacks. But during disasters, most everyone loses their free market religion and
wants to know that their government has their backs. And if there is one thing we
can be sure of, it’s that extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, Typhoon
Haiyan in the Philippines, and the British floods—disasters that, combined, pummeled
coastlines beyond recognition, ravaged millions of homes, and killed many
thousands—are going to keep coming.
“Over the course of the 1970s, there were 660 reported [major] disasters around the world, including droughts, floods, extreme temperature events, wildfires, and storms. In the 2000s, there were 3,322—a fivefold boost. That is a staggering increase in just over thirty years, and clearly global warming cannot be said to have ‘caused’ all of it. But the climate signal is also clear. ‘There’s no question that climate change has increased the frequency of certain types of extreme weather events,’ climate scientist Michael Mann told me in an interview, ‘including drought, intense hurricanes, and super typhoons, the frequency and intensity and duration of heat waves, and potentially other types of extreme weather though the details are still being debated within the scientific community.’”
—Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014), p. 107. [Klein is only a reformer, but what she says here is correct. —Ed.]
A system of production for direct use and not for sale; i.e., not commodity production.
NATURAL LAW (In Science)
See: SCIENTIFIC LAWS
“NATURAL LAW” (In Ethics and Politics)
The theory that there are laws, higher than any man-made laws, and which are universal, unchanging, and an inherent part of human nature. These “natural laws” are supposed to be discoverable through human reason, but oddly enough they always seem to be laws that the current ruling class would approve of. Advocates of the theory of “natural law” include the ancient Stoic philosophers, “Saint” Thomas Aquinas, and many modern “libertarian” reactionaries.
“NATURAL RESOURCE CURSE”
A term which refers to the very common phenomenon where the people of a Third World country actually suffer rather than benefit from having some major natural resource in their country. This phenomenon is particularly common in the case of countries which have large oil deposits. This “natural resource curse” seems inexplicable to most bourgeois economists and to many other people, but the primary explanation is not hard to determine: Countries with large natural resource wealth are simply major targets of foreign imperialism. Not only do imperialist powers end up with most of that natural wealth, they do so in large part by corrupting and dominating the government of the country. What little of the natural wealth remains in the country therefore goes to a small number of politicians and military leaders (and sometimes in part to a small comprador capitalist class), while the masses often end up worse off than if no oil or other natural resource existed there at all! In short, the real curse is not in having the natural resources, but rather in being the victim of the imperialists and their local agents because of those natural resources.
The notion that certain freedoms or privileges belong innately to human beings and cannot be denied in any society. One famous advocate of natural rights was John Locke, whose opinions on the matter helped inspire the framers of the American Constitution. However, the whole concept of “rights” is inferior to that of interests as a basis for morality and politics; “rights” are more of a legalistic concept.
NATURAL SELECTION [Evolutionary Biology]
At the most abstract level natural selection is the propagation of certain configurations of matter relative to other configurations by virtue of the effects that they have on the world. The English biologists Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection to account for the diversity, complexity and functionality of life. Natural selection is a powerful and ever-present condition of biological nature, but it does not exist as an independent “force”; it is simply the consequence of certain ubiquitous features of this biological nature, namely variation (not all individuals are the same), heredity (some of those differences can be passed on to offspring) and differential “competence” (some variants happen to be more well suited to the prevailing conditions in an environment). Those variants that happen to be more competent at dealing with the constraints and challenges of a particular environment will automatically tend, on average, to have the opportunity to produce more offspring of their likeness more regularly than other variants (and, willy-nilly, be able to pass on those traits that conferred this greater success). Cumulative natural selection, taking place over many generations wherein “small but useful increments” (to borrow a phrase from Darwin) are added to existing configurations, is perhaps the most important mechanism by which biological complexity and diversity are generated. However, natural selection need not result in change per se; it can also maintain existing configurations, favouring them over alternatives that arise in a population, if those existing configurations are better suited to the environment. Like so much in biology and other complex systems, the answer to the question, “What will happen?”, will be, “It depends”.
Biological organisms, which always exist in the context of other organisms, have, through billions of years, evolved and adapted to live in each other’s presence and to benefit from this proximity. This has resulted in vastly different strategies for eking out an existence. The members of one lineage may evolve to exploit the members of another lineage, which will themselves evolve to avoid being exploited or to mitigate the harm done by exploitation; thus selection can result in biological “arms races”, and this is certainly an important feature of the struggle between hosts and parasites and predators and prey. Selection can also favour cooperative alliances (known as “symbioses”), in which two or more parties allocate resources in a mutually beneficial way. Exploitation and cooperation have evolved many times independently throughout the history of life, and they are present in varying degrees all throughout the tree (or web) of life. Within species, selection can also favour different behaviours or “strategies”, for example with regard to mating preferences and resource allocation in familial groups. However diverse the strategies, adaptations and complexes produced by selection, they only ever get to be selected if they can “pay” for themselves; that is, if the cost of their use does not, on average, outweigh their benefit. The sheer diversity of life, and the ubiquity of both exploitation and cooperation (and all the gradations in between) shows that there is certainly a lot hidden within this basic formula! But it is important to realise that there is nothing deeply mysterious about this; it all comes back to the qualifier, “It depends” (“it” being the pressures imposed by the environment, and the existing features and constraints of the organism—themselves products of past selection and evolution).
Selection can effect change at vastly different speeds, it can reverse direction, it can tend towards stable equilibrium, and it can produce recurrent patterns. This is all ultimately grounded in the everyday, mundane goings-on of material, biological entities interacting with one another.
Modern evolutionary theory recognises that selection can take place at various levels, from genes to individuals all the way up to species and even larger categories. Selection is one of several processes in the evolution of life, which biological science aims to understand by integrating these processes into a coherent framework. —L.C.
1. [In bourgeois philosophy of mind:] The view that there is no reality except that of the “natural world”, which is usually defined narrowly to exclude not only God and souls, but also mind. From the dialectical materialist point of view this is an example of naive materialism.
2. [In ethics:] Among cognitive ethical theories (which hold that moral judgments are meaningful and either true or false), the biggest division is between intuitionism, which holds that moral terms signify some supposed “non-natural” and “indefinable” quality of things, and naturalism, which holds that moral words (such as ‘good’, ‘right’, ‘ought’, etc.), can be defined in terms of non-moral concepts. Most versions of naturalism hold that “moral judgments are empirical statements verifiable by the same methods of natural science” as any other statements. The Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Class Interest Theory of Ethics is therefore one major type of ethical naturalism, and holds that moral terms can be defined and explicated in terms of people’s collective interests, and—in class society—in terms of class interests.
The belief of many bourgeois philosophers that it is invalid to infer any moral principles from factual statements. If, as Marxists hold, morality is simply a question of what is in the interests of the people, then it is a simple matter to deduce from a plain fact (such as that “A law against striking is harmful to the interests of the workers”) that something is morally right or wrong (“The anti-strike law is wrong.”). In short, talk about the “naturalistic fallacy” is itself a fallacy. An earlier version of the so-called naturalistic fallacy was Hume’s claim that you cannot derive ought from is.
NATURE — Dialectics Of
[Intro material to be added... ]
“Marx and I were pretty well the only people to rescue conscious dialectics from German idealist philosophy and apply it in the materialist conception of nature and history. But a knowledge of mathematics and natural science is essential to a conception of nature which is dialectical and at the same time materialist.” —Engels, Preface to the 1885 edition of Anti-Dühring, MECW 25:11.
“... in nature, amid the welter of innumerable changes, the same dialectical laws of motion force their way through as those which in history govern the apparent fortuitousness of events; the same laws which similarly form the thread running through the history of the development of human thought and gradually rise to consciousness in thinking man.... And finally, to me there could be no question of building the laws of dialectics into nature, but of discovering them in it and evolving them from it.” —Engels, ibid., MECW 25:11-13.
“And since biology has been pursued in the light of the theory of evolution, one rigid boundary line of classification after another has been swept away in the domain of organic nature.... It is precisely the polar antagonisms put forward as irreconcilable and insoluble, the forcibly fixed lines of demarcation and class distinctions, which have given modern theoretical natural science its restricted, metaphysical character. The recognition that these antagonisms and distinctions, though to be found in nature, are only of relative validity, and that on the other hand their imagined rigidity and absolute validity have been introduced into nature only by our reflective minds—this recognition is the kernel of the dialectical conception of nature. It is possible to arrive at this recognition because the accumulating facts of natural science compel us to do so; but one arrives at it more easily if one approaches the dialectical character of these facts equipped with an understanding of the laws of dialectical thought.” —Engels, ibid., MECW 25:14.
“Nature is the proof of dialectics, and it must be said for modern
science that it has furnished this proof with very rich materials increasing daily,
and thus has shown that, in the last resort, nature works dialectically and not
“An exact representation of the universe, of its evolution, of the development of mankind, and of the reflection of this evolution in the minds of men, can therefore only be obtained by the methods of dialectics with its constant regard to the innumerable actions and reactions of life and death, of progressive or retrogressive changes.” —Engels, Anti-Dühring, MECW 25:23-24. [Engels also slightly expanded the first paragraph above in his additions to the text of Anti-Dühring available at MECW 25:633, where he added that Nature “does not move in the eternal oneness of a perpetually recurring circle, but goes through a real historical evolution.” He then referenced the work of Darwin as a demonstration of this. —Ed.]
Common name for Maoist revolutionaries in India. [More to be added... ]
See: NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
See: GERMAN IMPERIALISM—In the Nazi Era
See: OPERATION PAPERCLIP
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