Social Scientist. v 4, no. 37 (Aug 1975) p. 14.


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IRFAN HABIB

Emergence of Nationalities

THE NATION is often recognized as the central political entity of the modern world. Yet, as happens with terms which have a wide use, exceptions tend to blur the main principles, and a definition of nation acceptable to all is hard to find. Marxists have however generally followed Stalin's well-known definition: "A nation is a historically constituted community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture".1

There is a traditional scholarly objection to common language being a necessary characteristic of the nation, the example of Switzerland with its three languages (German, French and Italian) being usually cited to show that a nation (in this case, the Swiss nation) might arise in spite of a multiplicity of languages. Yet the Swiss case is unique; and one might say that here the other factors, namely, geography and historical circumstances have been of such overwhelming importance as to override language as a factor altogether. There is no other indisputable case in which people speaking two different developed literary languages have yet formed a nation.

Stalin's definition does, however, contain a crucial omission, an omission which may be supplied by what he himself says about the



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