The Uzbekistan government recently banned “meaningless” music that fails to “praise the motherland.”

Certainly, pop music is extremely self-absorbed and appears superficial, a characteristic reflective of late capitalist-imperialism. The ban on pop music may be, according to some, an appropriate response to protect the cultural sovereignty of Uzbekistan. According to this perspective, the ban on Western-influenced music is a nationalism of the oppressed. Thus, some argue, this ban should be seen as a progressive, anti-imperialist measure.

In truth, the ban on Western-inspired music fits a pattern of superficial cultural nationalism. Such cultural nationalism is typically promoted as substitute for actual empowerment within economic and political spheres of life. Moreover, such cultural nationalism is often retrogressive- promoting oppressive internal relations under the guise of ‘tradition’ and ‘self-determination.’ While such cultural nationalism may offer a semblance of self-determination, it is often employed in the context of increasing disempowerment within global and local economies. Thus, though Uzbeks may feel a sense of pride via music which “praises the motherland,” they are increasingly disempowered vis-a-vis the First World and the Uzbek comprador class. A similar process is happening in more stark terms in nearby Kyrgyzstan, where forced marriages are on the rise, defended as part of the ‘traditional’ national culture.

Real national self-determination, including in cultural matters, requires economic and political liberation from imperialism. Patriotic songs, burkas, forced marriages, etc, which are all expressions of false cultural nationalism, will never lead to liberation when imposed in conjunction with economic and political disempowerment.

A desire to ban or restrict petty-bourgeois pop music is understandable. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a struggle was waged against bourgeois ideology and culture. While the Cultural Revolution represents the furthest advance toward communism in human history, it ultimately failed, perhaps because of its extensive focus on cultural affairs while neglecting structural ones.

Though class struggle often occurs within culture, the most decisive battles occur in the realm of economic and political power. Rather than promoting false nationalism, anti-imperialist culture celebrates the struggle for revolution. Only revolution can truly empower oppressed people.

-Nikolai Brown

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