Really Existing Nationalisms challenges the conventional view that Marx and Engels lacked the theoretical resources needed to understand nationalism.
It argues that the two thinkers had a much better explanatory grasp of national phenomena than is usually supposed, and that the reasoning behind their policy towards specific national movements was often subtle and sensitive to the ethical issues at stake.
Instead of offering an insular 'Marxian' account of nationalism, the book identifies arguments in Marx and Engels' writings that can help us to think more clearly about national identity and conflict today.
These arguments are located in a distinctive theory of politics, which enabled the authors to analyse the relations between nationalism and other social movements and to discriminate between democratic, outward-looking national programmes and authoritarian, ethnocentric nationalism.
Erica Benner suggest that this approach improves on accounts which stress the `independent' force of nationality over other concerns, and on those that fail to analyse the complex motives of nationalist actors.
She concludes by criticising these 'methodological nationalist' assumptions and 'post-nationalist' views about the future role of nationalism, showing how some of Marx and Engels' arguments can yield a better understanding of the national movements that have emerged in the wake of 'really existing socialism'.