Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Lenin on the National Question

"The cornerstone of the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial questions", stated Lenin, "must be closer union of the proletarians and working masses generally of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landlords and the bourgeoisie; for this alone will guarantee victory over capitalism, without which the abolition of national oppression and inequality is impossible." (Preliminary Draft of Theses on the National and Colonial Questions, 5th June 1920)

So, there can be no resolution to the national question under capitalism, according to Lenin. Elsewhere he wrote:
"The tendency of every national movement is towards the formation of national states, under which these requirements of modern capitalism are best satisfied." (The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Progress Publishers, pp.8-9)
Something of the same fatalism informs my own view as nationalism is seemingly closely tied to capitalism. It's certainly very hard to reconcile nationalism with socialism, internationalist as it is. Hence my own ambivalence towards national movements, i think, of which I am essentially non-plussed: national issues seem so chauvanist. But on the other hand nationalist movements can be seen as anti-colonialist movements, self-assertive and foundational for an identity away from colonial, imperialist capitalism. Both Palestine and Israel can be seen as examples of Nationalist movements too and that makes the particular position all the more difficult. Still, I think my position has largely been informed by a growing perception that Israel's nationalist movement gets small regard as compared to the Palestinian one because any jewish nationalist movement can be considered zionism and 'zionism' has become an acceptable term for anti-semitism. Treating existing jewish nationalism (zionism) as a euphemism for Hitlerite jewish world conspiracy leads people to consider jewish nationalism to be illegitimate, even as other nationalisms (the Palestinians in particular) are treated as unimpeachably positive, ethical and anti-imperialistic. On what grounds then is jewish nationalism (zionism) so derided and considered to be so malign? Because Israel (jews) is/are considered to be the ultimate imperialists - world jewish conspiracy - capitalism as jewish plot etc. Even discarding such objectionable views, Israel can be considered a more integral part of capitalist imperium than Palestine (if such a thing as Palestine can be said to exist.) Israel is an American ally....a client state. But even then, it is a client state and as such is a victim of the imperialist system too, even as it claims its special privileges due by dint of its strategic importance as an ally in a particularly hostile part of the world (hostile to american imperialist hegemony, that is, which is partly what gives Israel its strategic position - an ally amongst a sea of enemies.) Point being, Israel is locked into present status quo because it needs protection of imperium. That makes Israeli nationalism a victim of (capitalist) imperium too, a product of it. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is just another subset of the same relationships and a product and example of the same system. Anti-semitism provides a way to ignore this, and leads to obsession about a particular aspect, whereby all the flaws of the wider (capitalist imperialist) system are laid at Israel's door. So the criticism of the anti-semites makes sense in so far as it deploys legitimate structural criticism of capitalism and imperialism (and nationalism, and racism and war and MIC) only they ascribe the problems to Israel Jews.... That's their appeal (legitimate criticism) and their error (to ascribe it to Israel/Jews alone)

Lenin might legitimately know about nationalism because of the position of Czarist Russia, one which the Revolution eventually inherited and had to deal with. Incredibly successfully it has to be said. Notably, perhaps, not without violence and threats of it. Civil war. The Cheka. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union did manage to bind seemingly infinite nationalist and separatist movements. says:
".....tsarist Russia, whose empire constituted a "prison house of nationalities". Such was the make-up of the empire that the Great Russians, the ruling nationality, only constituted 48% of the whole. Those under Russian domination (Poles, Lithuanians, Estonians, Finns, Letts, Ukrainians, and so on), deprived of their rights, were systematically oppressed by tsarism. It was this that gave the national question in Russia such an explosive force.
So, Lenin obviously had every reason to deal with nationalism and independence movements along with imperialism. And it really was handled incredibly successfully in many ways. No small thanks to the transition to Stalinism though, I guess, which takes some gloss off of the apparent accomplishment (doesn't it always? Stalin you fuck!!!) says
"The demand of the right to self-determination [gave] rise to a heated controversy within the Russian Party, with opposition from Rosa Luxemburg, Bukharin, Pyatakov, and others. The essence of their opposition was that under capitalism, self-determination was utopian, while under socialism it was reactionary."
I think that would be my position. Further than that I find it hard to go. I really don't know much about I/P conflict to decide a definite policy, and declare individual instances of strict right and wrong. Anyway, I seem to always agree with Rosa Luxemburg. [I had an argument once with a history graduate who was astonished I claimed there was an attempt at a socialist revolution in Germany post ww1.....he couldn't believe what i was saying and i couldn't believe he was a history graduate. I don't know much about it, but Rosa Luxemburg did exist, right? Spartacists existed too? didn't they?] disagrees and argues that
"...the argument is completely false as it ignores the epoch of the socialist revolution and its tasks. Clearly, under the domination of imperialism, the existence of stable independent small states is impossible."
Eh? They add
"Also under socialism, with the progressive withering away of the state, the question of national boundaries will fall away. However, in the intervening period, the forces have to be educated and mobilised to overthrow capitalism and a correct dialectical approach to the national question would facilitate this task."
Well, I don't think that's good enough. That's no response at all. - legitimate and authentic? I don't know.

I'm disappointed with I can get that far on my own - that a "correct approach" is needed. What is it though?! says:
"Above all, the slogan of the right to self-determination was a powerful weapon in undermining bourgeois nationalism and winning the confidence of the workers of the oppressed nation. The possibility of separation facilitated a free unification of peoples. In order to convince the more politically backward workers, who had nationalist prejudices, it was necessary to stress that the working class had no interest in coercing any national minority. At the same time, we must argue for the unity of the working class under one banner, with implacable hostility to the poison of the small nation mentality and the poison of chauvinism."
That criticism of the "small nation mentality and chauvanism" can be laid at both Israeli and Palestinian nationalism but in fact it seems to be used exclusively against Israeli/jewish nationalism. That's one reason I am repelled by most supposedly 'pro-palestinian' causes. It's extremely rare to find such arguments deployed against Palestinian nationalism, rather it's always framed as 'anti-imperialist', self-assertive, positive. Nevermind it's lead by a clerical fascism? An Islamic religious/ethnic ultra-nationalism? Hardly something one can support without being sick. The same is said about Israeli leadership too.

From again:
"Above all, Lenin regarded the right of self-determination as subordinate to the interests of the working class. "The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront, and does so in categorical fashion. With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle." (Ibid, p.21) And again, "While recognising equality and equal rights to a national state, it values above all and places foremost the alliance of the proletarians of all nations, and assesses any national demand, any national separation, from the angle of the workers' class struggle." After all, the right to national self-determination is a bourgeois-democratic demand, not a socialist one."
self determination is subordinate to the class struggle. it is the bourgeoisie that places its national demands in the forefront. [When do you ever see that argument made? I never do, it's always appeals to nationalism and division]

that argument can suit both I & P. Well, I can relax - Trotsky said it was very complex, so how in hell will I know? again:
"In the Middle East, there can be no solution to the "Palestinian problem" on a capitalist basis. While the Marxists opposed the partition of Palestine in 1948, and the expulsion of the Palestinians, Israel now exists with a people living there. The question now is how to guarantee a homeland to the Palestinians and put an end to their national oppression.

Revolutionary Programme

The national oppression of the Palestinian masses by the Israeli state expresses itself in the desire for their own homeland. How can this aspiration be realised? The policy and methods of the PLO, of individual terrorism and fawning towards the reactionary Arab regimes for a period of decades, have proved to be completely bankrupt. Only a revolutionary programme can serve to appeal to the Israeli workers and the Arab masses. Only a socialist revolution in Israel and similarly in all the surrounding Arab states can bring about a socialist federal state of Israel/Palestine, with its capital in Jerusalem, linked to a socialist federation of the Middle East."
Hmmm - that's optimistic? wow. some hope? What about until then?

1 comment:

socrates said...

That was well put together. Thoughtful people who read it will get something out of it. Goofy conspiracy theorists who believe in Jewish World Order nonsense will not understand any of it.

It's strange how nationalism can be both good and bad. It was wicked awesome, when it was time to get rid of the monarchs. Unfortunately it never got promoted much beyond France, the US, and the other industrialised, western nations. And even within those so-called democratic nations exists heaps of social injustice and war mongering. As we saw with Al Giordano, many new forms of nationalistic movements have evolved into kinder and gentler forms of imperialism.

I'm more optimistic than most that Israel and Palestine will eventually live side by side in peace. Northern Ireland has made strides, and that beaut of a dispute has been going on for centuries.

Stupid neonazi, conspiracy theorists deserve all the mockery they receive. I applaud you for your continued efforts. I do think such work, even as a hobby, somewhat explains why Alex Jones kicked Mike Rivero to the Jooooo hater curb. I guess I am throwing in some self-promotion, as I too have looked into that specific genre of shitola.