Marxism Against Nationalism ?

15 06 2013

Barry Biddulph reflects on Marxism and Nationalism.

Communists are against Nationalism. However, many on the left, following Marx, have  given tactical support to various kinds of nationalism to clear the way to capitalist development or assist workers  struggles. Paradoxically,  some have even seen some forms of nationalism as proletarian. But  are these tactical concessions and approaches to nationalism correct ?  After all,   nationalism  has not only prevented an alternative to capitalism from emerging from class struggles,  but has directly contributed to the bloody suppression of attempts to overthrow capitalism.  The aim of communism is  freeing humanity from exploitation and oppression :  ” Nationalism is the doctrine that upholds loyalty to a particular nation above universal respect and support for humanity in general”.  (1)

The nation appears be a natural category, a primordial  fact . But ethnic and cultural continuity is a historically recent invention by elites.  when we try to define a nation,  the answer is unclear and artificial. What has been accepted as constituting  a nation has changed throughout history. Is it unity stuck together with language or religion; when there have been nations with more than one language  and one Religion.  How can there be a shared culture with class antagonism ?  It cannot be an ancient common territory when we are aware nations and nation states in many parts of the world were lines drawn arbitrarily on maps  by imperialists. Is it ultimately a subjective identity of a group of people, an imagined community ? But this definition can collapse into a  subjectivity free from  objectivity.  “Neither objective nor subjective definitions are satisfactory”.  (2)

There is Joseph Stalin’s famous Bolshevik check list,  which lumps together all the elements considered over many years as necessary for a nation :  ” a nation is a historically constituted stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make up manifested in a common culture”  ( 3 )  Stalin’s  definition accepts and expresses nationalist assumptions . It seems to have been accepted by Lenin, if not promoted by him, and influenced by Bukharin. But historically nations have not always conformed to this static and dogmatic definition.

The origins of the modern nation and nation-state are historically novel and specific to the origins of capitalism and capitalist development in western Europe in the Sixteenth to Eighteenth centuries.  “Nationalism grew up as part of the ideology of capitalist development, the idea of a nation is inseparable from a range of ideas associated with the bourgeois revolution” .  (4)  The Dutch republic became was the first modern commercial nation following a war of national liberation.  There was the Bourgeois Revolution in England in the 1640’s, consolidated by the so-called glorious Revolution in 1688 which cleared the way to a capitalist nation-state.  And of course the great French revolution of 1789, which established a nation of citizens.  By the “Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries the European powers had forced the state system on the rest of the world”.  (5)

Following the revolutions of 1848,  ” neither Marx or Engels seem to have grasped what a new historical phenomena the nation was”. (6) This is a polite way of saying that Marx and Engels shared some bourgeois nationalist assumptions.  Indeed , part of their assessment of nationalities contained characteristics which were not free of racism.  This is particularly the case with Engels.  At one point, he painted “the entire conflict in Europe since 1848 as one between Pan- Slavism and the Roman Celtic Germanic races”.  (7)  ‘Southern Slaves’ or entire Peoples  were deemed to be counter-revolutionary. There was also racism underneath Engel’s notion of unhistoric Peoples.  This included the Czechs! Apparently they did  not have the national characteristic to form a viable historic nation. The main enemy of those civilised  states developing capitalism in western Europe was seen as uncivilised Russia, a bastion of barbarism. The creators of historical materialism applied it inconsistently.

Marx and Engels view of Russia was partly tactical : factually for many years Russia was the stronghold of reaction.  Nonetheless, behind the tactical stance was a view of Russia and Russian history, which was at odds with the approach of historical materialism and a class focused analysis.  The development of the distinctive approach of Marx and to a lesser extent his friend Engels, gave way to passionate involvement in the politics and indeed prejudices of the time.  In Marx’s book ,  Secret Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century, Russia appeared to be immune from internal revolution. The Russian government was considered to be synonymous with the Russian people; it was a history of dynastic ambition and intrigue.  Tsar Peter the Great’s regime  was understood to be a product of Mongol barbarism and the people shared the government’s values of arrogance and guile.

Following the defeated revolutions of 1848,  Engels, “saw Germany as having a civilising mission to fulfil in relation to her eastern neighbours “. (8)  This was mainly, but not exclusively,  directed at Russia.  These kind of comments were later influential in German Social Democracy, which used them out of context to justify support for Germany’s First World War aims.  The  Main eastern nationality not considered to be destined to be destroyed in a war- revolution was Poland.  The Polish national idea was not tied to capitalist development internally,  but was the ideology of the Polish agrarian nobility,  who were not agrarian capitalists, as in England.  For Marx and Engels,  an independent Poland would be a barrier to reactionary Russia.

In their view, this would help the revolutionary nationalism of Western Europe.   As late as 1867, Marx declared :” There is only one alternative left in Europe, Asiatic barbarism under Muscovite leadership….or must restore Poland,that places between herself and Asia, 20 million heroes, gaining breathing time for the accomplishment of her social generation”. (9)

This kind of support for non proletarian social forces and supporting the lesser evil between great powers was to set a dangerous precedent, not only for German  Social Democracy, but also for Russian Social Democracy and Bolshevism.   Marx and Engels were writing at the time when modern capitalism was in its infancy in Europe, not to mention the world, and the working class and the alternative to capitalism were only at the start of their development.  Nonetheless, were these tactics, which were a departure from direct class politics,  justified even at the time?  The politics underlying the tactics were an exaggerated view of the role of capitalist forces in Bourgeois Revolutions.  But in the revolutions of 1848 the European bourgeoisie turned away from revolution and undermined national democratic revolution from below,  which was the banner of Marx and Engels.

German Unification was not achieved by a national revolutionary war from below, but by counter-revolution from above.   The support for national unification and centralisation, to aid capitalist development, became detached from a revolutionary  struggle from below.  Reactionaries modernised from above.  One example is Prince Otto Von Bismark, and the aristocratic Prussian Junkers in Germany.  Bismark , the state chancellor in 1862,  made the politics clear when he stated : ” if revolution there is to be, let us undertake it, rather than undergo it”.   ( 10)  Giving tactical support to national selfdetermination,  which in the abstract might provide indirect aid to the development of capitalism and the working class, in the long run,  comes unstuck when these politics become tools for reactionaries.

Many Marxists have an uncritical,  even religious approach to Marx.  Rosa Luxemburg was not one of them.  She regarded the views of Marx and Engels on the National Question as outdated.  Russia had been transformed by capitalist industrialism and internal revolution was a growing possibility. There was no longer a need to support Polish Independence.   Marx had been wrong to argue  “that without an independent Poland, there can be no independent and united Germany” .  (11)  A united Germany had changed things.  The development of imperialism had transformed politics in Europe.  Furthermore, ” as long as imperialist world politics determine and regulate the inner and outer life of a nation, there will be no national self-determination”. (12)   Rosa Luxemburg considered that a general right of self-determination was utopian. The modern state was not about freedom, but class dominance of the bourgeoisie.

Lenin’s response to Luxemburg in the debates shortly before and after the First World War was to pin a label on her. Luxemburg’s  position on self -determination was considered to be a political deviation called ‘ Imperialist Economism’ :  politics as a reflex of economics.  But outside the name calling Lenin acknowledged that Self determination was a bourgeois demand, “the domination of finance capitalism in general is not to be abolished by any reforms in the sphere of political democracy ; and self-determination belongs wholly and exclusively to this sphere “.  (13)   Following, Karl Kautsky, Lenin emphasised the extension of  democracy in capitalism and the democratic political revolution, which was his mistaken perspective for the coming Russian Revolution.  In other words, educating the working class in parliamentary politics and the minimum programme.  Echoing Kautsky, he insisted that “a proletariat not schooled in the struggle for democracy is incapable of performing an economic revolution” . (14)

Trotsky also took part in this debate on the national question.  His intuition was that the Nation State had outlived itself as a political framework for the productive forces.  In his view, in  the coming Russian Revolution the working class would find itself at the head of the nation.  Lenin mocked this perspective : ” if in Russia the proletariat already stands counterpoised to the bourgeois nation, then Russia is facing a socialist revolution”. (15 )   Lenin’s critics on self-determination in the Bolshevik party advocated a proletarian self-determination.   But Lenin was able to aim a  powerful blow against this notion  : “a nation means the bourgeois together with the proletariat.  There would be no sense in restricting the exercise of self-determination to the labouring class”. (16)  Self determination would then become an expression of the  nation, as if it was independent of the bourgeoisie : a working class nationalism.

How could Bourgeois Democratic demands, which could be met without overthrowing capitalism, relate to those of a direct revolutionary working class struggle against imperialism ?   “How could Bourgeois Democracy be so kind or foolish to allow Communist parties to direct independent mass class based movements under the banner of a national revolution”.  (17 )  Although Lenin hedged his support for Bourgeois National Liberation in China and elsewhere with revolutionary sounding qualifications, in practice the independence of working class forces were undermined, compromised and damaged by counter-revolutionary nationalism before the establishment of Stalinism. To consolidate the Bolshevik regime, Lenin supported and conducted diplomatic business as usual with Turkish nationalism, even though Kemal Pasha ( Ataturk ) murdered the leadership of the Communist Party of Turkey.  Lenin also allowed the right of national to self-determination to be crushed in  in the Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet Union.

Rosa Luxemburg understood that the problem of nationalism could not be solved as long as imperialism and a world system of Capitalist States existed. Only socialism or a communist alternative could resolve national antagonisms. National liberation in the old colonial empires, following the Second World War, liberated new elites not the impoverished masses.   The evolution of Vietnam from an oppressed nation, in relation to American imperialism,  to its own imperialism,  and oppression of its neighbouring countries, demonstrates the national antagonism implicit in all nationalisms in the world Capitalist system.

In Britain today, the mainstream socialist left, in defiance of history,  still regards internationalism as abstract propaganda and is campaigning for a yes vote for Scottish nationalism and independence for Scotland, which is not an oppressed nation.  In a globally integrated world economy, dominated by transnational corporations and world financial organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund, the entire question of national independence becomes hollowed out as in Greece.  And how can the creation of another capitalist state, based on cutting business rates and corporation tax,  and other measures to attract capitalist investment,  benefit the working class ?  Loyalty to a new Capitalist State would renew nationalism and class collaboration and blunt any class struggle for a post Capitalist alternative.

Independence lite, the programme of the SNP, sharing the Bank of England, the army, the Monarchy  and a currency will not represent the break up of the British State.  Yet the left in Scotland is putting its hopes on steering the state left .  The Radical Independence Campaign is  “a coalition that does not even pretend to be based on the goal of Socialism. Indeed, this emerging coalition is very much in the tradition of welfare provision in Scotland and England for a century.  (18)  Nationalism given a Social Democratic gloss to attract the working class.  “The only way in which the grip of a capitalist world system on individual countries, can be broken, is that if the system itself is destroyed. And no national struggle can achieve this, only the international working class” (19) Working class self emancipation from below  cannot be built on a nation, utilize the nation-state, or be confined to the nation-state.


1 Hillel Ticktin, Marxism, Nationalism and the National Question after Stalinism, in Critique 36-37. p.16

2 Eric J Hobsbawn, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, Cambridge University Press. (Cambridge 1991) p.8

3  John Hutchinson and Anthony D Smith, edited, Nationalism, Oxford University press,   ( Oxford 1994 ) p.20.

4  Chris Harman, The Return Of The National Question, International Socialism 56, 1992, p.11.  It is important to add that Bourgeois Revolutions are understood to be about consequences, not revolutions led by the bourgeoisie.

5 Nigel Harris, National Liberation, Penguin Books , ( London 1990 ) p.32.

6  Chris Harman, The Return of the National Question, International Socialism, 56, Autumn 1992. p.18.

7  Kevin B Anderson, Marx at the Margins, University of Chicago Press, (London 2010 ) p.49.

8 Ian Cummins, Marx,  Engels and National Movements , Croom Helm, (London 1980 ) p 45.

9 Kevin B Anderson, Marx at the Margins, University of Chicago Press,  (London 2010) p.76.  Marx did advocate a general European war against Russia. In effect he was giving advice to leaders of nation states.

10 Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions ? Haymarket Books, ( chicago 2012 ) p. 162 .

11  Karl Marx, the First International, Introduction David Fernbach, Verso ,  ( London 2010)   With his focus not to say obsession with Russia, Marx missed the origins of the growing antagonism between Germany and Britain.  But later in his life, he did move to a more positive view of the Russian Village community, rather than the view that it shored up despotism.

12  Peter Hudis and Kevin Anderson,  (edited)  The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, Monthly Review Press. (New York 2004 ) p.325.  Marx and Engels did not argue for a general right of self-determination.

13 Lenin’s Struggle for an International, Pathfinder Press, (London and New York 1986 ) p.355

14 Ibid, p.367

15 Ibid, p 394.    Trotsky did have his own definition of a nation : “a national community is the living hearth of culture, as the national language is its living organ, and there will still retain this significance through indefinitely long historical periods” . This definition seems at odds with his idea of Permanent Revolution.

16 Nigel Harris, National Liberation, penguin Books, ( London 1990 ) p 88. Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky with their emphasis on the working class as the head of the nation, did have an element of proletarian nationalism about their politics.  In other words, they stretched the boundaries of Social Democracy,  but did not break entirely with its theoretical framework.

17  ibid p 123.

Rosa Luxemburg did predict that the right of self- determination in the Soviet Union would become a choice between revolution and counter-revolution.

18 Eric Chester, From Syriza to Scotland,The Commune 26/12/2012.

19 Alex Callinicos, Marxism and the National Question, in Scotland, Class or Nation, edited by Chris Bambery,  Bookmarks ( London 1999) p.46

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15 responses

15 06 2013

I cannot agree at all. However I’ll try to be brief.

First of all there is not just one nationalism but at least two very different kinds: defensive nationalism (independentism, proper of stateless nations) and offensive nationalism (imperialism, proper of nation-states or the nations hegemonic in such nation-states, for example the English in Britain).

Second, the right of self-determination is a fundamental democratic right (i.e. proper of people’s power). You cannot proclame people’s power and then deny certain very qualified peoples from exerting it. People’s power is in fact the same as collective self-determination.

Third, it is not really correct, but rather a modern myth, that the idea of ‘nation’ originates in the bourgeois age. Not at all, the same that the idea of ‘people’ is not bourgeois either. Both pre-date it and will post-date it as well, exactly as many other natural or quasi-natural human concepts, like gender, age, empathy or freedom. Neither Capitalism nor Communism are above such things but can’t but be always under the dictate of human nature. There have always been nations and even nation-states, any non-biased look to history evidences it: Ancient Greeks recognized their own ethnic nation beyond the city-state, Medieval Basques had their own nation state, as did many other peoples (just two examples). What happens is that the bourgeoisie more or less wisely used such concepts in opposition to the often apatrid condition of the aristocracy first, and later against the internationalism of the worker movement.

However the nation-state (often) created or renovated by the bourgoisie is full of the imperialist elements inherited (and renovated) from the Ancien Regime. As such it does not recognize the real ethnic diversity and seeks to uniformize all the peoples living under the same polity into a single artificial nation, almost always against the will of the minority peoples, which must be therefore be recognized as oppressed peoples. This forced uniformiation is always a act of oppression.

I cannot fathom why would you say that Scotland “is not an oppressed nation”. Scotland was forcibly annexed to the English Empire (aka Great Britain), imposed a foreign language and culture, and suffered first and foremost the brutalities of bourgeois accumulation within the island. Until now it did not have the right to self-determination. It may well not be the most oppressed nation on Earth, sure, but it is still oppressed in as much as the decissions are taken by institutions in which they are only a minority.

In our own, still ongoing, process of national liberation, we Basques have learned that: (1) our local bourgeoisie is, at least the upper layer, not national but imperial (i.e. Spanish nationalist, unionist), (2) that there is Basque Worker People, which includes all immigrants who want to join it, and which is subject of unquestionable popular sovereignty, (3) that even without a nation-state, there is indeed a nation-people and that it is this nation-people (and not the artificial, imperialist, imposed and bourgeois state) the only subject of democratic rights.

We had also to realize that we have a very difficult time collaborating with the allegedly revolutionary forces in core Spain and core France, because in most cases (not all), they have adopted the imperialist bourgeois ideology on a pretext of “internationalism” (which is expressed as state nationalism, not as real internationalism). It is not our rightful nationalism what impedes collaboration but their own imperalist nationalism under a pathetic “internationalist” varnish. We do want to work with then but in a setting of full mutual respect, so they have first to fully acknowledge our rights as nation-people as being above the unfair privilege of the bourgeois state to opress us. If they are real internationalists, they must solidarize themselves with us and our struggle as well and not join with the bourgeoisie against us.

Finally, as I see that the Marxist historical thought is so full of trash on the matter of nationalism and the right of peoples to their self-rule, I can’t but recommend a master work by one of the best Anarchist thinkers: Kropotkin’s “Finland: A raising nationality”, which totally supports the struggle of that Northern nation-people to their self-rule on revolutionary grounds.

However, if you wish a more strictly Marxist-Leninist approach, the best is probably Argala, surely the most influential modern ideologue of revolutionary Basque Nationalism, part of whose thoughts on the matter I translated to English in December.

15 06 2013

Oh – lookie here.

Another England based socialist group setting us straight on the “one true path”. When will the English Left learn?! We Scots are sick of being instructed from London – that goes for the state and it goes for socialist groups as well.

The bald assertion that Scotland is “not an oppressed country” is ridiculous. We are a colony – a privilaged colony, but a colony none the less. This is a situation that needs to and will change, the English left can either practise the internationalism it preaches, or it can side with the British State, the British Empire and British Imperialism to keep us under British Rule.

Interesting that Eric Chester appears to have done a 180 degree turn since the last time that I spoke to him when he was arguing that the Glasgow Coalition of Resistance , which brings together groups fighting the cuts to give support and solidarity to each other should not allow anyone who was not in support of independence to join in campaigns.

The Radical Independence Campaign is a major step forward for progressive politics in Scotland to fight for the decolonisation of our country entwined with the radical politics that can both break the British Empire from within and establish a radical and progressive state within Europe.

17 06 2013

Hi Maju
You state : ” Scotland was forcibly annexed to the English Empire” But it was the British Empire because there was a voluntary union and joint partnership with Scotland which played a full and prominent role in imperialism bringing many benefits to the elite in Scotland. Scotland was not a colony nor did it have the status of a colony within the British State.

Here is what the most outstanding academic Historian in Scotland has to say :
” The new Scotland which was emerging in the later eighteenth century was grounded on the imperial project. The Scots were not only full partners in this grand design, but were at the very cutting edge of British global expansion.”

T.M. Devine, Scotland’s Empire,16.00-1815, Penguine Books ( London 2003) p360.

British and Scottish modern identity grew together. Most of the great Scottish enlightenment thinks had a dual identity, they thought of themselves as Scottish and British. Here is Devine again : the union was essentially seen as a partnership between the two nations symbolised by the union jack with its combined Saltire and cross of St George. p352

Here is the conclusion of another Scottish historian, this time a left historian,a member of the SWP : “Scotttishness as we know it today not only emerged at the same time as Britishness, but is part of Britishness”.

Neil Davidson, Origins of Scottish Nationhood, Pluto Press, ( London 2000) p201. and once more again if Scottishness itself is at least partly the product of imperialism and ethnic cleansing, then it is futile to imagine that merely setting up a Scottish nation state will by itself remove the attendant poisons of racism and hostility towards cultures which are perceived to be different ” p202

There had been a Scottish kingdom for many years, but this was based on a royal dynasty and loyal support to that royal family, not popular sovereignty. This brings us to another point. The highland clans and their chief’s with their loyalty to the Catholic Stuarts were at odds with the rise of the modern nation, Capitalism and the lowland Scots, hence no united nation. It was only with the defeat of the Stuart cause at the battle of Culloden 1746 and the clearing and destruction of the highland clan system following this – the highlanders were removed from the land and replaced with profitable sheep- that Scotland became a capitalist nation within the British State and Great Britain.

We now come to your other comment that : ” there have always been nations and even nation States”

This is obviously a nationalist prejudice. Let me give you one example. Iron Age, Britain or rather the Iron Age in the area of land now called Britain, since Britain , England, Wales and Scotland did not exist. What did exit was small regional or sub regional,local area tribes or given the imperialist corruption of this word, small peoples of local groups of peoples. No nations. So when Roman imperialism invaded this area they did not face a united nation, but a large number of local peoples who were already divided among themselves. That’s what made the military occupation possible. Lets give the Latin names given to the peoples by the Romans : Briganti’s, Parsi, Deceangli, Atrebates, Trinovants and so on.

You claim that the right of Nations to self determination is a fundamental democratic right. But in a Capitalist world this is pure utopia. Did the Southern Slave states in the American civil war have the right to self determination? Did the Scottish Highlanders? The right of self determination was proclaimed by an American president in the first world war. It was an ideological fig leaf for imperialism. Think of Amerian expansion in Latin America not to mention the genocide of the native Americans. The slogan is rather like all citizens are equal in the Capitalist Nation state. But once you step into the factory or work place there is a dictatorship of capital.

On the Peter Kropotkin link.

Peter Kropotkin in Finland a rising Nationality makes some very good points about the failure of the democratic nation revolution from below in 1848. He says, we now know that national problems are not identical with the peoples problems and that political independence still leaves unachieved economic independence. Moreover, he is aware formally oppressed Hungary is in turn oppressing it’s own minorities. And in addition the poor have to bear the burden of the new national states attempts to gain a place in among the great powers.

But then he descends into dubious nationalist theorising in the manner of Engels. There are Racial features, and although some of the ethnic family that makes up the Finland nation are scattered it does not matter, some are left behind and even if many of the people in the area are Russians or Swedes, they have taken on the national character of the pipe smoking Finns, contemplative pipe smoking and so on. They have common aspirations and common conceptions. It is all circular. They have a common tradition because they have a common tradition, which is specifically, contemplative pipe smoking and other unspecified aspirations.

Argal’s thought.

This is a nationalist thought : “worker internationalism means class solidarity expressed in mutual support,among workers of various nations,but respecting each other in their peculiar ways of national being ” But how can humanity divided up into nations respect general humanity? they have their own national being not international being. In capitalism there is international relations where Capitalist nations show respect for other nations, but you have imperialism and lack of respect. Imperialism is often cosmopolitan,but its a fake internationalism.

17 06 2013

Are you telling me that the 1707 Parliament of Scotland was representative of the Scottish People? AFAIK it was a medieval institution of the “three states”, in which the aristocracy controlled the turf. Even if we consider “valid” the minority bourgeois representation, the vast majority of the People was not represented nor consulted in any way. Corruption and vote buying was a common practice.

Whatever the case, I am not bound by my father’s deals, a decision taken centuries ago (particularly a non-democratic one, as is the case) cannot bind the present. That’s a ridiculous imperialist claim. It’s as good as making valid the protectorate treatiesies established under duress with African chieftains or the “unfair treaties” imposed to China after the Opium Wars.

I can’t really believe that someone who considers him/herself as a revolutionary dares to make such biased (and bourgeois-aristocratic) argumentation against the fundamental communist principle of People’s Power.

“There had been a Scottish kingdom for many years, but this was based on a royal dynasty and loyal support to that royal family, not popular sovereignty”.

Possibly but only up to a point. Monarchs alone cannot create nations, they require a social fabric that supports their statehood/nationhood claims. In the Middle Ages this social fabric was largely structured by aristocrats, indeed, much like today it is by the bourgeois. We cannot do much about that but study the phenomenon objectively. Ethnogenesis is complex and only occasionally democratic: elite domination is no doubt a major determinator in the formation of at least many nations (not the Basque or Finnish cases surely but it has been crucial in most European ethnogenesis at this or that period).

But, regardless, the present-day result is nation-peoples which are subject of rights such as self-determination and self-rule. Looking at old history is no doubt interesting but only somewhat relevant. What really matters is the democratic will of the People.

“This is obviously a nationalist prejudice. Let me give you one example. Iron Age, Britain or rather the Iron Age in the area of land now called Britain, since Britain , England, Wales and Scotland did not exist”.

With your Iron Age Britain example, you are twisting my argument till non-recognition. I said that “there have always been nations and even nation-states”, not that they have necessarily survived to present day. Ethnogenesis is complex and dynamic. People who long ago felt, say, Celtic Briton, now may feel English. It does not reject that there was once a Celtic Briton nation (nowadays shrunk to just Wales, plus the sister nation of Brittany and the debatable Cornish case).

There was once, say, a Saxon (Low Saxon) nation which is today erased by the modern German nation. Sure: things change, you can’t fight against History. Nations rise and vanish and, no matter how much I’d like to preserve them all, I know that this is not realistic.

What matters to us today is the people-nations which do exist right now and feel the need or desire or socio-political will to reafirm themselves as such distinct nations, shaking the yoke imposed by their imperialist neighbors. Even if the yoke is light, even if the cage is gilded, it is nonetheless a clear case of oppression. Was Iceland oppressed by Denmark?Debatable. What matters is the Icelanders decided to break apart and that’s their unquestionable fundamental democratic right. Was the Czech Country oppressed by Austria? Debatable. Was Slovakia oppressed by the Czechs? Debatable. What matters is that, at some point, they did feel the domain of such neighbors as oppressive and decided to quit it with overwhelming popular acclaim. That’s their democratic right; nobody can question it, much less those who belong to the ethnicity that exerts the imposition.

From a revolutionary viewpoint, members of the oppressor nations, must adopt an internationalist viewpoint of solidarity with the oppressed nations, as Kropotkin (a Russian) dared to do. That is the only true internationalism valid here: support for the popular self-determination of other nations. Only that way the injuries of the past can heal and bridges of solidarity can be erected again.

Sure that Kropotkin has some, almost unavoidable, romantic elements in his opus on Finland. It can even be said that he seems to have felt in love with that particular people-nation. But does that really question the fundamentals of his analysis. Kropotkin was without doubt a committed revolutionary and internationalist and, as such internationalist, he practiced the solidarity with the smaller people-nations, being also the first to ethnographically map the Russian Empire, in a work that was fundamental to the later plurinational foundation of the Soviet Union, which, at least formally, recognized the rights of the peoples to self-determination.

“But how can humanity divided up into nations respect general humanity?”

From mutual respect and con-federation. Do you maybe dream of a single vertical World Government? That makes no sense. Some kind of World government surely needs to exist but can only be such based on the local grassroots democratic self-rule of the peoples. Otherwise oppression, megalomania, lack of democracy and the unavoidable new private accumulation in the hands of the bureaucratic elite (as happened in the USSR, a lesson we must learn well) will happen. Socialist or Communist Revolution is not accomplished by merely putting some new dictatorship under a red banner, we must reckon that. It is accomplished only when real democracy at all levels (critically also at economic-ecological level) is implemented, and such a real democracy can only include the right of the various peoples to self-rule, as well as all kind of local autonomy.

Anarchists may lose the path out of excessive Communist purity, Marxists instead lose the goal out of excessive Revolutionary (power-conquest) pragmatism. In my understanding, these are actually two complementary, dialectal, polarities within the Communist Movement and the centrist position is something in between, eclectically acknowledging the merits and vices of both extremes and trying to fuse them in a workable and renewed revolutionarily democratic strategy (thesis). In this sense, acknowledging the democratic rights and legitimate demands of minority nations and ethnicities is a must: you cannot make “democratic impositions” on whole peoples (clearly different from the privileged classes, on which democratic imposition is necessary) without causing a self-defeat, without reproducing the authoritarian nature of the oligarchic class-domination regimes that we want to destroy for good.

” In capitalism (…) you have imperialism”.

Which is a Capitalist thing. Imperialism should not exist in Communism.

“Imperialism is often cosmopolitan,but its a fake internationalism”.

Abosolutely agreed. Why don’t you apply that your own thought? Isn’t forcing Scots to remain within Britain against their will a form of Imperialism and therefore of “fake internationalism”? Of course it is.

18 06 2013

You write : “with your iron age Britain example,you are twisting my argument till non recognition. I said that there have always been nations even nation states,not that they have necessarily survived to the present day”

In so far as I understand this comment, it seems to mean that although there might be historical breaks or gaps where there are no nation states, this fundamental human building block has reemerged and might reemerge again. This is the Origin myth of nationalism. My point was different. There was no nations or nation states in Iron Age Britain or before,therefore nation states have not always existed in the past and therefore will not exist in the future, if the struggle for a post capitalist society is successful.

You have origin myths in mind for England. You repeat nationalist origin myths about a celtic nation. There was no celtic nation when the Romans arrived. ( Rome not Italy which did not exist until the middle of the 19th century) Modern research in History and Archaeology has disproved myths about closed mass ethnic groups migrating across Europe as political nations in the so called dark ages and early middle ages. This is to impose modern nationalism on a situation which historically predates it. There was no mass slaughter of the celts by ethnic or nationalist Saxons. (there was no Germany at the time) And so on.

You shout : are you telling me that the 1707 parliament of Scotland was representative of the Scottish people?

What I was saying is that the elite in the Scotland at the time, benefited from empire and a shared partnership in British imperialism. Scottish and English shipping was redefined in legislation to British, to allow Scotland access to trade and navigation with English colonies,with the protection of the Royal Navy. A huge Atlantic trade developed in Scotland with tobacco barons in Glasgow among other spectacular economic growth. Previously the Scottish Kingdom had tried to develop its own Empire, but this had ended in economic failure in Darien. Younger sons of the Scottish aristocracy find employment in the service of the Britsh army overseas, and the elite became colonial governors or administrators of the Empire. We cannot go into all the history here,but obviously for the landless highlanders and other proletarians there were only prospects as cannon fodder.

what matters to you, is that like with Iceland and Denmark, the people had decided to break apart. Its not clear how this advances working class struggle to overcome Capitalism, since you admit the bourgeoisie structure the nation people. However,as yet, in Scotland there has not even been a vote on independence. A vote on the independence on offer has not been prevented by the British state. Although the independence on offer falls well short of the real thing for nationalists. But you discuss the context as one of the ethnicity of those that exert impositions (denial of the right of self determination) There is no ethnic English Nation. Again, you are looking at things through nationalist spectacles. You declare that you support the grass roots democratic rule of the peoples ( nation peoples ) The commune as the name implies stand for democratic self rule from below, against the state,including the British State, but not for people states, which would only mean the freedom of Class exploitation and oppression.

You Falsely allege that Barry and presumably the Commune are in favour of forcing the Scots to remain in Britain. Even if there is a yes vote in Scotland for an independence lite, this will not be an independent Scotland. And in the context of international capitalism, a Scottish Capitalist state would not be able to determine it’s own future anyway. The SNP is already bending the knee to neo Liberalism to make a future Scottish State attractive to investors. But obviously the Commune and Barry are not campaigning for the union or a no vote. The left supporters of the yes campaign are the State Socialists, looking for welfare capitalism or state intervention from a new capitalist state in the midst of the longest capitalist crisis anyone can remember.

18 06 2013

I don’t care so much about “nation-states” but about nation-peoples, which are very real and have always been. Whether they organize as bourgeois state, medieval realm, tribal structures or maybe in the future as federation of communes, is not too relevant and only responds to the circumstances they live through.

You have anyhow many gaps in your historical knowledge, it seems to me, filling them with clichés like “Italy … did not exist until the middle of the 19th century”. In fact Italy as ethnic-political reality is a Roman creation. From Wikipedia:

During the Republic and the first centuries of the empire, Italia (which extended at the beginning from Calabria to Rubicon, starting from Augustus from Calabria to the Alps) was not a province, but rather the territory of the city of Rome, thus having a special status.

This is the seed of the ethnogenesis of Italy as nation, as nation-people, which, even if only consolidated as state in the 19th century (with some partial medieval and modern precursors), existed anyhow in the popular, social feeling, as you can find in the writings of many authors from Dante to Machiavelli and the proclaimed goals of many popular uprisings.

“There was no celtic nation when the Romans arrived” [to Britain].

Very debatable. Maybe there were many nations: one per tribe. How does it matter? There was anyhow a Roman-Celtic (Brythonic) nation (and state) between the Roman retreat and the Anglo-Saxon invasion. The details are not well known but everything I’ve read points to it. Several political leaders are mentioned by historical sources: Vortigern and Ambrosius Aurelianus at the very least. They may have been weak but not completely powerless and they represent the attempt and social need of sub-Roman British (excluding Scotland) society to self-organize as a polity.

Whatever the case in ancient Brittania, there was for example a Basque Nation at the time of Roman collapse. We do have almost no written data but the archaeological one clearly describes a scenario of popular anti-feudalist uprising (class war of the time, late bagaudae) which resulted in a de facto independent Basque national area, with unknown political organization (possibly tribal-comunal) extending roughly between the Garonne to the Upper Ebro. Only thanks to that popular uprising Basque language and identity have survived to present day, not without difficulty nor important loses. This tribal area was brought by History to coalesce into medieval nation-states: first the Duchy of Vasconia (“duchy” in Carolingian terminology meant nation-state under formal imperial rule, being the Duke originally elected by the nation), and later the Kingdom of Pamplona (Navarre). All them were “imperfect” in their national constitution, especially when compared to modern bourgeois nation-states, with their imposed homogenity, but they also display many characteristics of these.

Other nation-states existed in Northern Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Frisia, Lithuania, Poland, etc.) Even the seed of the HRE, the German Kingdom, can well be considered to be a nation-state at least in prototype form. The situation was more complex in Latin Europe, where Romanization had blurried or even erased ethnic distinctions, but this does not mean that ethnic identity was not relevant at all nor that it did not play a role in the formation of the various romance states. For example Portugal was born as result of Galician attempts to segregate themselves from the new Castile-Leon unified crown, Castile itself was born as opposed to both León and Navarre, French identity played a role in the Hundred Years’ War, while anti-French sentiment leant the Gascons (romanized Basques) in favor of England instead. Even the wars of religion were plagued by ethnic identity issues, for example the Hussittes being a prototype case of Czech nationalism, while the Huguenot identity was played in favor of the nationalist claims of Basques, Gascons and Occitans.

As I said, it’s not too important if the bourgeois form of the nation-state existed or not (surely it was not well developed yet) but whether nation-peoples did exist. They did, of course, and their demands and uprisings, even if not always successful, participated in the shaping of modern Europe.

It does not matter either if particular nation-peoples are “eternal” (not at all) but if the concept of nation (nation-people) does exist always. And it does.

Even the very idea of internationalism makes no sense if we (wrongly) declare nations non-existant. Internationalism means solidarity “among nations” after all.

“What I was saying is that the elite in the Scotland of the time benefited from empire and a shared partnership in British imperialism”.

Almost exactly what happened and still happens with Basque (and Catalan) elites within Castile-Spain. Why would the People have to be tied by agreements between the oligarchies? What this in fact reveals is that these annexation pacts were and are done against the will, interests and desires of the Peoples, and therefore must be denounced as such imperialist agreements between oligarchies which have no legitimacy whatsoever.

The Scottish Capitalist class is the main enemy of the Scottish Working People, the Basque Capitalist class is the main enemy of the Basque Working People, etc. IF, as is actually the case, these oligarchies want to join other states, this probably means that the Peoples involved are NOT interested in such arrangements and should fight against them. It probably also applies to the Peoples of the oppressor nations, such as the English and Castilian/Spanish in the examples debated here.

18 06 2013

you say , “nation peoples” are very real and have always been there. This is nationalist imagination, thinking outside actual historical development. The “Nation people” travels through time in a nationalist Tardis. A ” National people” appears now as isolated and scattered Iron age or Bronze age tribe,now as a medieval realm,then again as an ethnic nation,or a modern nation State and with the end of the nation state and its replacement by communes, the time machine will arrive with the timeless national category of the “nation people”.Your category of nation people is empty or hollow category without real or historical content.

You end with a nationalist flourish, “internationalism means solidarity among nations after all” No it doesn’t, it means working class solidarity across nations and nation States : Class not nation.

I will come back to your ancient understanding of British history in the next post.

18 06 2013

Nation-peoples, ethnic communities, “tribes” if you wish… are very real and have always been. We can endlessly debate the details but I think you are agreeing with me without formally acknowledging it.

Also I see absolutely no reason to fight against them, being legitimate and largely spontaneous forms of popular organization. Almost every single people tends to love the culture, language and other identitarian cues inherited from their parents: why to fight against that? Why not support it, at least as long as it not a reactionary burden? Why to recreate the bourgeois forms of oppression which are the state, so-called “nation-state” but usually rather imperialist oppressive multinethnic, plurinational state?

[Internationalism] “means working class solidarity across nations and nation States”…

Indeed. We are in agreement again.

… “Class not nation”.

They are not oppossed, the same that class and gender are not either, for example. Class spontaneously manifests as Working People, which is often if not always national or ethnic in its natural manifestation. We see that everywhere: Ireland, Kurdistan, Palestine, Basque Country, even among peoples who haven’t formulated “nationalist” demands such as the Maya but who tend to organize within ethnic dimensions.

We see how ethnic differences criss-cross the class structure and how the bourgeois class uses them to divide the workers along lines that they intuitively recognize as very real. Instead many “class only” proponents offer no realistic counterweight but just amorphous, intangible humankind ideas, which also weight, indeed but are not the only identities of workers.

Actually some of the most durable class movements are those that fuse ethnicity/nationality with class. They may take the form of patriotic anti-imperialism, or independentist class struggles (which merge the two main popular demands: class emancipation and national liberation) or of communitarian ethnic organization such as among African-Americans or various immigrant or native communities which are treated unequally by the system (hence: oppressed in an additional dimension than just class).

Anyhow, an accusation that has been thrown here by the Worker People camp and not satisfactorily answered at all: that members of the oppressor nations shield yourselves in a vague pretext of internationalism in order to perpetuate imperialist oppression. This is a very real and major issue and a most serious matter that undermines internationalism in fact. That is something that you guys need to meditate about because you are in fact allying yourselves with the oppressor Capitalist Class and helping to divide the Working Class.

The same that racist culture must be criticized, the same that sexism must be fought against, exactly the same imperialist nationalism must be the focus of a major debate and criticism, because it only serves to introduce a wedge of distrust and even hatred between segments of the Working Class along ethnic lines. And cammouflaging that bourgeois imperialist prejudice under a varnish of “internationalism”, which is not such (otherwise you’d solidarize with the Scottish Working People) does not help at all.

We are indeed a single Class and a single Humankind and we must work together as much as possible. And it is precisely for those very reasons that the members of the Working Class, very especially those with the highest class consciousness and compromise, must solidarize themselves with the legitimate demands of other segments of the Working Class, of other Worker Peoples. That is Internationalism, all the rest is just a pitiful excuse for imperialist nationalism of bourgeois roots.

19 06 2013

Maju- I did intend to provide more historical detail on periods when there was no nation or nation states,but it would be futile. You would simply respond by superimposing on the historical detail your faith in the “nation people” always existing.

You repeat the nationalist faith about a natural national community replicating itself over and over again. So you write “almost every single people tends to love the culture Language and other identification cues inherited from their parents”

Your assertion about national liberation is free of historical reality as well. Your nationalist belief is that it is possible “to merge class emancipation with national emancipation” By that, I think you mean working class emancipation, merges with national liberation. Obviously national liberation entails the liberation of an elite or ruling class/aspiring ruling class. I cannot think of any national liberation in reality, outside your value system, liberating the working class. Where when ? In China, national liberation resulted in the destruction of revolutionary workers organizations and the creation of a new exploiting class, a dictatorship over workers.

In desperation you resort to false allegations. The Commune is aligning itself with the oppressor class” and not showing solidarity with the Scottish working people. How ? when? Do we show solidarity with the majority of working people currently, who do not support an independent Scottish capitalist Republic or the minority who do not? If there is a yes vote for a partly independent Scottish Capitalist state, it would not be possible to support that, because a new Capitalist state would not further the struggle for working class emancipation. Support for the Scottish workers fighting the bedroom tax and Hospital closures, wage cuts, job cuts and anti state , anti capitalist struggles. Yes. No support for workers voting for the British Labour party. No support for workers voting or supporting pro union or racist and fascist organisations. Communists do not support a “nation people”,but working class emancipation.

19 06 2013

“Obviously national liberation entails the liberation of an elite or ruling class/aspiring ruling class”…

It does not. First of all, ruling classes are not and cannot be “free”: they can have more or less power maybe but freedom is not something that can achieved by oppressing others. Second, in all cases considered here (Scotland in Britain, Basque Country in Spain), it seems obvious that it is precisely the ruling classes the ones more clearly interested in the forced annexation and most benefitted by it.

National liberation is either class-neutral (the elites continue exploiting the people almost the same as before) or revolutionary (for as much as the people gains some power, what may be a mirage or not).

“In desperation you resort to false allegations. The Commune is aligning itself with the oppressor class” and not showing solidarity with the Scottish working people”.

Not “The Commune” specifically, nor you either, but, in general, the alleged revolutionaries of the oppressor and somewhat privileged nations with a “national state”, such as England-Britain, Castile-Spain, France, etc.

It is not any “false allegation”: it is clear that these “nation-states” are bourgeois entities and that, with the pretext of “internationalism”, you and the author of this article (not sure if the same person) you are defending them as such. My criticism is not directed anyhow at particular individuals or organizations, at least not primarily, but at the general attitude of support of the extant states on the pretext of “internationalism”, internationalism that is not real in as much as it does not entail solidarity with the nations (nation-peoples) in whose oppression you participate, more or less consciously, more or less willingly.

I’m hoping to open your eyes to this key issue and change your attitude of favoring the (bourgeois) status quo against the will and the rights of the various peoples caged in “nation-states” undemocratically.

It is indeed possible, likely, that, under continuity of bourgeois socio-economic conditions, independence or self-determination do not change much but that is no reason to oppose self-determination, at most to feel neutral about it. Still something does change every time the people or segments of it achieves some of its natural rights: women rights have indeed changed things, abolition of apartheid has changed things, etc. We cannot reject these achievements as pointless or even argue them as negative just because they fall short of (or are somewhat transversal to) class revolution. Similarly we cannot reject the right of self-determination from a revolutionary veiwpoint but at risk of drifting to bourgeois and authoritarian positions ourselves.

I understand that you and The Commune are revolutionary, communist and anti-authoritarian, right? I’m giving you credit for that. I’m just asking you to be coherent with that ideology and not allow yourselves to be captured by English-British nationalist-imperialist ideology.


20 06 2013

Maju- I have made a number of historical and social points about the Union in 1707. You do not reply to these points . Instead, you repeat your nationalist subjective conviction that there was a forced annexation of Scotland by England in 1707.

The English parliamentary elite wanted to bring the Scottish elite into an alliance to consolidate the revolution of 1688 which Marx regarded as a bourgeois revolution. It would be a partnership against the Englands Catholic rivals in Europe. So there was no military or forced coercion or reduction to a colony.

There was economic blackmail. A threat was made that Scotland trading right to the English markets would be stopped. Most of Scotland trade prior to the union was with England. Access to the empire and colonial markets was offered, as I have already pointed out, and the usual bourgeois parliamentary practices of pensions, bribes and elevated positions were offered and accepted. There was no economic subjection/conquest. The partnership in Empire was hugely successful for the Scottish economic elite. There was no cultural subjection either. The Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, who admired Englands modern commercial nation, were influential across the world, including an influence on Karl Marx (see The German Ideology). The presbyterian church was not annexed, but given access to the colonies.

Scottish Conservative and Trotskyist historians agree that : ” Scotland avoided debasement to a colonial or arguably a provincial level” ( Michael Fry, The Scottish Empire,2002. ) p.494. And since you keep resubmitting your nationalist values, I will repeat this : the historical context in 1707 was that there was no united nation in Scotland. As Neil Davidson notes : ” the Scottish nation was only formed in the late eighteenth century “. In 1707 there was a divide between the highlands and lowlands, between two different social systems and people, speaking different languages,English and Gaelic. The communications and access to the highlands was very, very limited.

But you have a romantic nationalist view, so you would probably agree with true Scottish Nationalists who believe that what makes Scotland is not found in economic or social history. Only the Scottish know what scotland is. Its not tangible, its has a dream like quality : a love affair. Those Scottish national people have always been there, even in the mists of time past.

I will reply to your further points on national liberation in the next post.

20 06 2013

I did reply to that: I do not find too important those details because it is obvious that the union was not product of any democratic choice but, as you admit, a coalition of oligarchies. Falling to such arguments is exactly to pay tribute to the nationalist mythology of Great Britain as plurinational chimeric “nation-state” and lending credence to Greater English (= British) nationalism/imperialism and its oligarchic (aristocratic-bourgeois) roots. You are not arguing neither as internationalist nor as democrat but as mere Greater English nationalist (I can understand that you will feel offended by this but it is a fact that must be underlined because you seem oblivious to how much your discourse is not in anything different from bourgeois British Nationalist one, so I can just hope that you understand that this not “ad hominem” but a very real aspect in need to underline and criticize).

Yesterday I translated a text on the ideas of Basque Anarcho-Marxist Nationalist activist F. Krutwig on the issue of “Revolutionary Nationalism”. However I felt that his mid-20th-century analysis lacked some key elements developed later (Argala’s “Worker People” concept) and fell a bit too much in inter-classism. Therefore I felt obligued to add an addendum or commentary of my own.

In any case, a most important issue arises all the time when we discuss this matter: the working class of the smaller nations trapped by diverse historical events into larger polities (notably Spain, France and Britain in Western Europe) face a major difficulty (in most cases) in collaborating with the revolutionary forces of the larger “core” nations of the extant “nation-states” precisely because the latter do not seem to feel any sympathy (with some honorable exceptions) towards the legitimate and democratic ethnic-nationalist claims by the former, which have often very strong popular support and appeal. This creates unnecessary and very harmful breaking lines within the Worker Class of Western Europe for both state-wide and pan-European joint struggle (to add to the also very real low levels of solidarity across state borders).

This should or even must be mended and the only actual way (and the only democratic way as well) to do it is that the revolutionary forces of the larger “core nations”, such as the English, Castilian-Spanish, etc. initiate a serious process of reflection and self-criticism on this intolerance and de-facto allegiance with bourgeois imperialist nationalism. Acceptance of the legitimate claims of self-rule for the smaller nations (people-nations) is a necessary foundation for effective internationalist solidarity and joint struggle on the basis of mutual respect.

“Only the Scottish know what scotland is.”

Of course. That is what makes ethnicities: collective self-identification, what else? Who are others to challenge that? I as Basque do not feel legitimate to discuss the Catalans on what is Catalonia, the Scottish on what is Scotland or the Bretons on what is Brittany. I can of course have some opinions and second-hand knowledge but the first-hand knowledge and feelings belongs to them. I can only respect that.

“But you have a romantic nationalist view”…

You also do, just that yours is a Greater English (= British) view. Nationalism always has a “romantic” element to it because it is largely about social, collective, emotions. Ethnic identity cannot be purely rational nor it has to be at all. Obsession with crude rationalism, whose epitome is Jacobinism, is not really better nor efficient. Hyper-rationalism, can well become irrational because human nature is not 100% rational at all, but has at least a quite important emotional component that cannot be ignored, especially if you want to be comprehensively, holistically, rational. You have to find some place in your “equations” for emotions and feelings. People do not go to fight on the barricades, for example, just because of “rational” processing: they do largely moved by emotions such as anger (against injustice and oppression), love (for other people, for Humankind maybe but surely also for their motherland and particular community) and hope (of freedom, dignity and justice).

But in any case I do not think that you are being particularly rational but at least as “romantic” and nationalist (in an imperialist sense) as the Scottish nationalists or myself, if not more. I used to be in fact upon a time, quite strictly non-nationalist (not Spanish nationalist either), not caring about the national reality of my society, but I have opened my eyes to reality since then. One thing is objectively clear in my particular Basque context: revolutionary forces that pay no or low attention to the ethnic-national feeling remain small and have almost no appeal among the Basque Working Class, even among those of recent immigrant ancestry, who do not live in a bubble but are in fact in active relationship with locally rooted people and therefore tend to feel (even if maybe less strongly on average) Basque themselves.

20 06 2013

I’m going to take some more space to quote Lenin on this matter, as I have realized that the aforementioned 1966 article by Krutwig has some very relevant ones, not reflected in Lorenzo’s review.

First Krutwig’s vision of Lenin’s stand on self-determination and internationalism:

Lenin demands from the socialists that they must support without reservations the national liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples. This demand he proclaims very especially for very proletarian class of the oppressor nation. He imposes to the communist parties the duty of making the workers of the oppressor nations understand the just rights of the oppressed peoples. And he sees in this preaching of the right of self-determination of the oppressed peoples, preaching that must be realized by the worker parties of oppressor nations among their members, the ultimate proof of true proletarian internationalism. Without such support of the right of self-determination (and for greater clarity Lenin declares that for right of self-determination we must understand the right of the oppressed people to separate themselves from the oppressor people and to create their own state), Lenin proclaims that there is no proletarian internationalism.

Then Lenin’s quotes:

(1) The Working Class of the oppressor nations cannot limit itself to generic and stereotyped sentences repeated by any pacifist bourgeois against the annexations and in favor of equality among nations in abstract. The Working Class cannot remain silent in front of the question, particularly “upsetting” for the imperialist bourgeoisie of the state borders based on national oppression. The Working Class cannot stop fighting against the violent retention of oppressed nations within the borders of any given state, and that means fighting for the right of self-determination. The Working Class must demand the freedom of political separation of colonies and nations oppressed by “their” nation. Otherwise proletarian internationalism will become a hollow and merely verbal concept; class trust and solidarity will become impossible between the workers of the nations oppressed by “their own” nation and held captive by the violence of “their own” state.

(2) If Finland, Poland or Ukraine separate themselves from Russia there is nothing wrong with it. What could be wrong? Who claims that is a chauvinist!

I truly think that there is still a lot to learn in Western Europe from this.

21 06 2013

The Ukraine nationalist movement did want to separate from the Soviet Union, but was forcefully annexed by the Bolshevik regime and Lenin. Lenin supported Stalin-the gravedigger of nationalities- as the government minister for nationalities. The consolidation of the Bolshevik regime came before the principle of national self determination. The dictatorship of the Bolsheviks was seen as the dictatorship of the proletariat, and this was seen as a priority over self determination of any nation within the USSR.

In the debate with Luxemburg, Lenin saw self determination as a bourgeois demand for a bourgeois future in Russia and elsewhere. So his support for this bourgeois right,in these polemics, seemed an absolute general right. However, there were, escape clauses or qualifications about self determination furthering the interests of the working class struggle. In other words, for Lenin it was a tactic rather than a principle. In some circumstances, it could be abandoned, as in the situation above.

Lenin’s writings on self determination at the height of imperialism, in the first world war and afterwards, were directed at the great imperialist powers, including the combination of Scotland and England. (Great Britain ) Scottish imperialists,colonial governors, slave traders, slave managers, empire administrators, were all up to their necks in imperialist exploitation, and oppression. Even before the Union of 1707, the Scottish state had helped to settle and colonise Ireland.

The essence of the partnership between England and Scotland in imperialism, was the spread of a bourgeois revolution from England in 1688 to Scotland. Britain became the greatest Capitalist power in the world, with Glasgow as the second city of Empire. In the early years,the Hanoverian regime had to consolidate itself against powerful Catholic absolutist regimes in Europe, mainly France. And this is where the historic battle of Culloden, in 1746 comes in.

Now, when I first went to live in South Yorkshire, I went walking on the hillsides, and saw a huge tower on a hill in an area which had once been a great estate of one of the largest and richest landowners in Britain. (amongst other things an agrarian capitalist) My first impression was that it was a folly,an eccentric building built by an eccentric rich man, who had nothing else to do with his money. But, when I was close to the tower I noticed there was an inscription in the stone, with these words : built to commemorate (celebrate ) the defeat of the unnatural Jacobite rebels at Culloden in 1746.

Not defeat of the Scottish or Scotland, but the Jacobites who were enemies of the British Hanoverian state. They wanted to restore a catholic king in London. They were supported by France the then powerful enemy of Britain. The Jacobites were mainly based in the highlands of Scotland and the feudal Clans. In 1745, they marched all the way through England to Preston, where they won a famous victory. All the great landowners, including the one above, feared their wealth and stability would be ruined. Britain would be destroyed, before its potential power was expressed throughout the world. But at Culloden moor in 1746, the Jacobite army was butchered (Literally)

The battle was no romantic gathering of the Scottish Nation or nation people on one side, and the English Oppressors on the other. On the one side was the Jacobite Army–clansmen and some french soldiers. On the other side were the English, the lowland Scots and some clans who had feuded with some of the clans on the Jacobite side of the battle. In part it had the aspect of a civil war. Certainly the harrowing of the highland families after the battle was partly a civil war.

Unlike the Confederacy,the southern states in the American Civil War, there were social and political divisions within Scotland at the time of Culloden. The Southern Slave states were a nation according to nationalist definitions. The Southern Rebels had the support of the Manchester Guardian and other liberal opinion in Britain. The Manchester Guardian supported the right of self determination for the slave states. (this is what a political mess the principle of self determination gets you into) Marx dismissed the right of self determination for the slave states and stood for the Union and free labour.

Finally, on your point about National liberation ,you are unable to back up your claim that national liberation from colonialism and imperialism goes or went hand in hand with the self emancipation of the working class or socialism. The masses in South Africa are still mired in extreme poverty and exploitation. The only difference is that in the rich communities there is now a black middle class and the ANC leaders have enriched themselves. South African Capitalism has modernised itself, which it desperately needed, and there is formal equality between Black and white. Zimbabwe is another example of how the two stage theory, of first national revolution, then later Socialist revolution, the theory underlying the early Comintern policy, has proved disastrous for working people. China is another example, of why nationalism is the enemy of the international working class.

21 06 2013

Lenin seems indeed contradictory. Whatever the case he appointed Stalin (apparently because he was a trusted Georgian and no other reason) to write the official report and plan on Russian Empire’s nations, which resulted in the USSR, which formally recognized the right of self-determination, even if it did not apply it. The ability of the USSR to recognize ethno-political diversity and self-rule was no doubt an advance, even if it was marred by many contradictions.

I do not wish to discuss “ancient history”. Can you tell me which nation of Western Europe, with or without state, has not participated in colonialist oppression? That was a continental reality, not something that can be said of this or that “evil” nation, and certainly I see no particular reason to single out Scots in this. Basques participated in the Castilian and French empires and Scots did in the English one. If you want to keep throwing pointless historical responsibility accusations around you could well also name the many African ethnicities which were necessary active participants in the slave trade, etc.

The only thing clear on this matter is that it belongs to the oligarchies and not the People, so it’s pretty much irrelevant.

As do the extant states of Western Europe, the infamous imperial triad of Spain, Britain and France (with the smaller partners Netherlands, Portugal, etc.) These are oligarchic entities created to oppress both the peoples (the working class) at home as (even more intensely and cruelly) abroad.

You are very quick to throw your darts against Scottish history but I see absolutely zero criticism of what you should criticize the most: English-British imperialism.

All that is interesting for a historical chat but not so much for the now and here, where we sit.

You mention anyhow an issue that is indeed of some relevance: the detachment of class and national struggle and the risks it implies of just partial, minor (or less conclusive), achievements. That is true and that is yet another reason for avoiding that the national self-determination issue, which is legitimate and I’d dare say necessary in itself, becomes an obstacle for class solidarity for internationalism. We must blend all those other legitimate rights’ struggles with the central one around the issue of class and economic power, we do not need more enemies than the essential ones, we do not want to alienate minorities, women, etc. from the revolutionary struggle but to fully incorporate their legitimate demands into it.

The only solution to that is accepting it for what it is: a most reasonable component of popular power. No people has the privilege to impose their will on other peoples, at least not in most cases – we could maybe find the rare exceptional circumstance, I guess, but it would be something circumstantial, not persistent. Maybe if there was an ongoing class revolution in England-Britain and the Scottish nationalism became a pretext to detach that country from such revolutionary development, we could feel justified to let the Red English intervene against the White Scots (not against their national rights but just against the reactionary drift). But this is not the case at all, even if you seem to be all the time talking as if that was something real.

I know that, by the moment, Scotland does not have strong left nationalist forces (although it is quickly changing, if I’m correct) but, in my better known case, it is clear that the Basque Country does have (precisely because of the fusion of communism and nationalism in the undetachable “chemical compound” of Krutwig) one of the strongest (and growing) socialist movements in Western Europe. Another such case is for example North (core) Kurdistan (and indeed Kurds were important in the recent Turkish popular uprising). So we are not taking “lessons” from anyone, much less submitting to their bourgeois chauvinistic claims.

You say: “nationalism is the enemy of the international working class”.

Not at all. Nationalism is at worst neutral in this and at best our ally. The enemy of the working class is the bourgeoisie, Capitalism, which takes indeed many forms, some of which at least we do not want to leave in their hands, such as feminism, LGBT liberation, anti-racism, human rights in general, democracy (civil-political rights but beyond the bourgeois restrictions and controls) or defensive nationalism (different from chauvinism-imperialism). We need to strengthen our central class struggle by incorporating all the legitimate demands of the various sectors and sensibilities of the People. We do not lose anything by adding them to our project and struggle but the opposite: we gain more and more reinforcement lines.

And anyhow it is something basic within anti-authoritarianism: respect for the democratic decisions of every people, or, if you wish, segment of the global people.


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