manchester class struggle forum, 29th april

15 04 2010

The third Manchester Class Struggle Forum will host a discussion on national liberation and internationalism, with a lead off from the World Revolution group.

From the IRA, MPLA and the Viet Minh, to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Tamil Tigers. All these anti-working class groups received support from a number of leftist in the 20th and 21st Centuries. This is not a new phenomenon, at the outbreak of the First World War all members of the ‘Second International’ apart from The Bolsheviks lined up in support of their respective national bourgeoisie.

Is it right for communists to support national liberation struggles, however critically? Did not Marx and Engels support national liberation? Was it ever correct historically to support national liberation?

Please come and discuss the national question with us.

To best prepare yourself for the debate we suggest you read the following two pamphlets.

Nation or Class by the ICC – http://en.internationalism.org/pamphlets/nationorclass/

Against Nationalism by AF – http://libcom.org/library/against-nationalism

If you would like to read more, Lenin and Luxemburg famously exchanged polemics on this matter.

Lenin: The Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1914)http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/self-det/index.htm

Luxemburg: The National Question (1909) http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1909/national-question/index.htm

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14 responses

15 04 2010
Chris

This is a rather confusing blurb, whilst it is obviously an introduction to a debate it starts by making it a statement of fact that an variety of historically and politically different national liberation movement were indeed anti-working class. Then links them to the role of the Second International and its collapse into support for the imperialist First World War. But this is not a direct connection or the same thing.
The national liberation movements have arisen as a dialectical negation to the imperialist division of the globe, which is dominated, especially in 1914 by the metropolitan European powers. It was not a coincidence the leading parties of the Second International were also located in those imperialist centres and corrupted by imperialism. The traitors y were not supporting national liberation but the opposite, they were supporting the dominant imperialist powers. It is a completely different phenomena from national liberation struggles.
Nor as a point of fact is it true that the Bolsheviks were the only ones to not line up with their national bourgeoisie, the Irish, the SLP in the UK, the Ukrainians, Serbs parties to name but a few opposed the war on thoroughly internationalist grounds. All of them also combining opposition to imperialism with national liberation.

15 04 2010
c0mmunard

I can’t be there, but have questions:

1) would the ICC say they are “against national liberation”?

2) is there such a thing as national oppression?

3) if so, is it potentially legitimate for it to be resisted by those who are subject to it? (By “potentially”, I mean assuming that generalised murder, anti-working class violence etc. etc. are excluded as tactics, and let’s also assume that the oppresion in question is overwhelmingly terrible – e.g. as in Palestine…)

4) It isn’t true, is it, that the situation post “national liberation” is often “the same” or “worse”, from a working class/subaltern point of view, as it was before? (i.e. capitalism persists, but in terms of day to day material conditions, in many – but not all – cases there have been notable improvements, right?)

5) Doesn’t much national oppression take place in the context of barely formed, if formed at all, national proletariats or otherwise highly ambiguous or novel class structures? What is the significance of this?

6) Can national oppression be reduced to, or seen solely in terms of, class oppression?

16 04 2010
bill j

Its very one sided to say these groups were simply “anti-working class”. For example was Vietnam better off with or without US bombs, which killed its estimated around 4 million people or around 5% of the population.
Surely supporting the Viet Minh against the US was entirely necessary under the circumstances, which was why indeed the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese peasants and workers did just that.
That’s not to say of course that the Viet Minh weren’t Stalinist counter revolutionaries, who notably slaughtered the Trotskyists amongst many other political opponents, but it is to say that its not as simple as saying for or against.

16 04 2010
c0mmunard

I disagree with Bill. They were anti-working class, and that isn’t conditional on US bombing being a bad thing. Being against reactionary factions which slaughter political opponents is a programmatic necessity – anything else is suicide, or compromise with Stalinist reaction.

The analogy with domestic bourgeois factions is a strong one. It may be the case that Labour winning the election makes working class people in the UK somewhat “better off”. But, nonetheless, Labour are “anti-working class”, and we should be definitively against them.

It isn’t a question of equivocating in the degree opposition, but about being clear about the class basis from which the opposition must come. Thus I’m not for Labour being defeated by the Tories, or (in retrospect) the Viet Minh being defeated by the US, but I’m nonetheless against them both.

As the article by Aitemad Muhanna in this month’s Commune demonstrates, it is impossible to stake out a principled position for resistance to imperialism, whilst compromising ideologically with groups like Hamas (or, by analogy, the Viet Minh), in fact such compromise is the death of any left vision for such resistance.

18 04 2010
bill j

I’m against them too. But I’m not against them fighting the USA. If you start out from such Kantian absolutes as “anti-working class forces” then we are forced to define “pro-working class forces”. I’m guessing that all of the “pro-working class forces” that you would like to think of – the Bolsheviks, the trade unions, the FAI/CNT, have elements of their practice which are or were “anti-working class”.
So were they anti-working class forces too?
It is certainly possible to construct a policy which navigates this contradiction. But one which starts from a refusal to say – support Hamas against the IDF, or the Vietcong against the USA, or the ANC against apartheid – doesn’t do so.

18 04 2010
Matthew

What you also have to account for is the further degeneration of nationalism as a political ideology now that Stalinism (which sustained much of it) has gone. On the one hand you have Sinn Fein as junior partner in administering the state they formerly sought to break out of. Similarly you have the PLO/Fatah living off the crumbs of imperialism in what are effectively a variety of prison camps. On the other hand you have the black reaction and anti-human methods of Hamas, the Taliban and the Iranian regime etc.
While national oppression does exist and must be part of any political programme of liberation, nationalism does not have the answers.

18 04 2010
Rob Kirby

Interesting discussion. I’d agree with Bill that simply bunching all of these groups together as “anti-working class” is ridiculous. The IRA pretty much were the working class in some areas, whilst in some of the other conflicts mentioned, the working class wasn’t a large enough social group for anyone to be “against” them as such. I’d also agree with Matthew – the terms of the debate today are very very different to those 20 years ago; a lot of this kind of politics is a ghost of its former self.

I suppose I’d argue that in a situation where the domination of capital takes the form of national domination, struggle against capital will take the form of fighting for national liberation. Once you’ve achieved that goal, obviously the question changes, but I think we have to recognise that nationalism isn’t the same thing here as it is in colonised countries. Also, I’d argue that national self determination is a prerequisite for the proper development of any other kind of politics; so even right wing groups who fight against our government for independence should be supported (on that one issue).

18 04 2010
Barry

The debate can only be had at the meeting. The view of Chris about national liberation is one perspective, the publicity about the meeting is another. As for Bills, Kantian absolutes. I would have thought the more pertinent absolute is Hegels. Trotsky could never make his mind up about stalinism. Was it semi revolutionary (centrist) because it was in favour of nationalisation. Or was it revolutionary when it nationalised or abolished private capitalism. or what it simply counter revolutionary? The answer for many Trotslyists was it was neither one thing or the other. It was both revolutionary and counter revolutionary. Thats dialectics comrades.( in the Healy, tradition.) No kantian absolutes there. That where trotskyism fell into irrationality. But were the koumintang in china 1920’s 30’s counter revolutionary or revolutionary? Well for lenin, Stalin and Trotsky who placed his theory of permanent revolution of one side in deference to lenin until 1926(too late) it was not one thing or the other. No absolutes. Hence critical and fatal support.But thats one for the debate.

19 04 2010
bill j

Moan on about Trotsky all you like. But at least he tried.
The debate certainly can be had at the meeting. It can also be had on line. That’s the beauty of the comments box.
Instead of using Kantian absolutes like “pro-working class” should we not in fact adopt the tried and tested Marxist category of an organisations class nature? That allows us to have a category that embodies contradictions. So Hamas is the movement of an oppressed bourgeois/semi-bourgeois movement, which encompasses the defeats of nationalism and turn to religion in the middle east.
The Viet Cong were Stalinists with a bourgeois programme of counter revolution, limited to the democratic revolution, but based on the working class and peasantry and therefore, capable of progressive actions against imperialism.
etc.

19 04 2010
c0mmunard

In bold disregard, not only for “Kantian absolutes” but also formal logic, Bill says now “I’m against them too”, though does not reject his earlier view that “it its not as simple as saying for or against.” So which is it?

Bill ignores the main thrust of my argument. I am saying it is a programmatic necessity for internationalists to oppose such groups, and as I say I’m offering the article on p6-7 of this month’s commune – see PDF – as evidence of this. Obviously if you want to characterise them academically, their are various senses in which different things they do are good or bad for working class people. But that is not the question, it is trivially true. The necessity of developing a programmatic response, however, polarises the analysis.

Bill is right to say that CNT, Bolsheviks, unions, embody pro- and anti-working class elements. But, programatically, such organisations do not (or did not always) require such polarisation. e.g. unions it still makes sense to join, whilst understanding their limitations and contradictions. You can’t say the same for Hamas though, right?

I’m for movements of national resistance to real, serious national oppression (e.g. Cornish not being an official language doesn’t count) on an internationalist class basis, but I’m not for emphasising the national struggle for than it has to be emphasised due to the seriousness of the oppression.

I think Rob’s pushing it a bit to suggest that the LTTE for example were really “a form of struggle against capital”. Really? What in what they actually did/do leads you to see them like that? To be sure, any socialist, class struggle in Tamil Eelam would have had to have had a national dimension… but that doesn’t mean that any national liberation militia is therefore the bearer of class struggle or socialism.

19 04 2010
bill j

My point is simple. Instead of using the Categorial Imperative “anti-working class” why not use class analysis?
Hamas inasmuch as they defend Gaza against the Israelis deserve support, that defence is in the interests of the working class. Hezbollah successfully ejected the IDF from Southern Lebanon, that too was in the interests of the working class. When the VietCong ejected the USA from Vietnam that was as well. When the ANC defeated apartheid likewise. This list goes on.
Its not enough simply to say these forces are “anti-working class” when they carry out, episodically, pro-working class actions, like defeating imperialism for example.
Simply saying you oppose such groups – presumably means that you also oppose their actions against the IDF/US imperialism/apartheid South Africa etc.. In which case who’s the “anti-working class” force?

20 04 2010
c0mmunard

Categorial Imperative “anti-working class” why not use class analysis?

I am. And you’re misusing the phrase “categorical imperative”. For correct usage, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_imperative

Simply saying you oppose such groups

what, like you did when you said above “I’m against them too”?

– presumably means that you also oppose their actions against the IDF/US imperialism/apartheid South Africa etc..

Not necessarily, but potentially. Depends what the actions are, obviously. And anyway, the logic doesn’t go through. From the fact that I say “I’m against the Labour Party” – or “against Gordon Brown” – it doesn’t necessarily follow that I’m irreconcilably opposed to everything they/he does. e.g. some equalities legislation – to take an obvious example – I don’t oppose. But there is no tension between that and being “against Labour” or “against Gordon Brown”.

Anyway, you still didn’t read that article did you?

In which case who’s the “anti-working class” force?

Both.

20 04 2010
bill j

You are. And I do not misunderstand “Categorical imperative”

“A categorical imperative, on the other hand, denotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself. It is best known in its first formulation:
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”[1]”

So you potentially oppose Hezbollah against the IDF? You potentially oppose the Vietcong against the USA? You potentially oppose the ANC against apartheid South Africa? Or put it another way; You potentially support the IDF against Hezbollah, the apartheid racists against the ANC, the US imperialists against the VietCong.
Its not your strongest argument. If you think for a moment.
And it reveals the whole problem with your moral absolutes. The point of Marxism is to provide a class analysis of contending forces. Not to judge the world by categorical imperatives.
Kant’s interesting you know. You’d like him.

20 04 2010
c0mmunard

Yeah you do, and that quotation doesn’t show otherwise, since it doesn’t describe what I refer to. And the whole point of the CI (although I think it’s nonsense as an ethical theory) is that it only appears in specific forms, which Kant gives, and one of which you quote.

You said I used a Categorial Imperative “anti-working class”. But a Categorical imperative must have the form “act always…” or equivalent. And you don’t even bother to try and put my position in those terms. In fact – as I have said – my position is conditional (i.e. is a hypothetical imperative, if yo like) with reference to certain specific, named movements. I haven’t even made bold statements about “nationalist movements” or “republican movements” in general (and if I did do, I’d be very careful). We’ve been discussing a set of named groups, which happen to share certain historic, structural features; features to which the points I have made refer.

So you potentially oppose Hezbollah against the IDF? You potentially oppose the Vietcong against the USA? You potentially oppose the ANC against apartheid South Africa? Or put it another way; You potentially support the IDF against Hezbollah, the apartheid racists against the ANC, the US imperialists against the VietCong.

Yes, as:

a) I might oppose a given act on strategic or tactical grounds as useless or counterproductive;

b) I might oppose an act on political grounds as – although ostensibly directed against ‘the imperialist aggressor’ – it might de facto represent an murderous attack on innocent people.

Examples?

– ANC/Umkhonto wa Sizwe bombings in shopping malls.
– Hamas bombs on civilian buses (albeit with a few soldiers on) in Israel
– Even some military operations, for example those whose objective is merely to provoke or reawaken general hostilities with the purpose of shoring up domestic support, or keep conflict on the military terrain away from popular struggle (witness, for example, how the 2nd intifada was managed into a paramilitary affair…)
– LTTE operations carried out by forced labour/soldiers whose family would be killed if they desert (and who would otherwise desert), even if such operations have “military” value against the Sri Lankan army

controversial? Shouldn’t be.




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