The earth is not flat: a review of 'Against Nationalism'

David Broder of The Commune critiques the Anarchist Federation pamphlet Against Nationalism. We do not agree with the critique but reproduce it as part of a constructive debate.

libcom editor's note - this article was written while David Broder was a member of 'The Commune', he has since become a contributor to Jacobin Magazine and shifted towards an increasingly Stalinist politics, as well as endorsing French left-nationalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon

by David Broder

Against Nationalism is a pamphlet produced by the Anarchist Federation. The introduction explains that the document has its origins in arguments around the time of the winter 2008-09 war in Gaza, at which time AF argued for a 'no state' solution to the conflict.

The pamphlet scores a number of easy points against Trotskyist cheerleaders for movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas and details such groups' anti-working class credentials. However the far more interesting question posed by the pamphlet is the distinction between 'nationalism', 'resisting imperialism' and 'class politics'.

How did nation(alism)s come about?

"The nation is a smokescreen, a fantasy which hides the struggle between classes which exists within and across them. Though there are no real nations, there are real classes with their own interests, and these classes must be differentiated. Consequently, there is no single ‘people’ within the ‘nation’, and there is no shared ‘national interest’ which unifies them."

The pamphlet explains in some detail the consolidation of European nation states in line with the development of capitalism in the 16th to 19th centuries. Factors like the invention of the printing press and the establishment of a central state bureaucracy, added to the bourgeois-democratic ideas of popular sovereignty and citizenship, were the underpinning of the nation-state. Nation-states are not just an outgrowth of some common culture but a top-down project of galvanising the population behind the apparatus of the capitalist state.  Many of the arguments here are similar to those in Imagined Communities.

Yet here Against Nationalism explains the development of nationalism wholly in terms of the development of European nation-states hundreds of years ago, even though its main polemical target is left-wing support for anti-imperialist nationalist movements. But the criteria explaining the consolidation of the French nation state tell us little about the formation of Palestinian nationhood, nor Irish nor Algerian, nor any nation subject to colonialism.

Of course, if you think that all nationalisms are the same then this would appear not to matter. But this merely divorces particular nationalisms from their historic roots and thus makes them impossible to understand, whether or not one thus attributes them progressive characteristics. This is a common failing of anarchist and Trotskyist schemas on the national question alike. But the earth is not flat, not all nation-states have the same basis for existence. For example, it is easy to think of many Third World nationalisms which emerged not from the gradual development of an industrial bourgeoisie who wanted to strengthen the apparatus of state, but rather as a reaction to imperialist rule.

This also relates to how we relate to everyday nationalist assumptions. AF also point to the fact that although a social construct, this set-up is presumed to be a natural state of affairs, "Whenever we involve ourselves in everyday life, we find ourselves defined in national terms… The division of the world’s population into distinct nations and its governance accordingly is a given, and seems as straightforward as anything occurring in nature."

This argument does not only reveal that allegiance to a particular nation-state is an example of alienation, where we are ruled by attachment to social constructs which are not natural. It also shows that the national question has a real impact in the real world and cannot just be sidestepped. It is not merely a capitalist 'smokescreen' external to the mass of people, but rather a real factor in most people's consciousness. Money is as much of a social construct as freedom from national oppression. So too is the whole idea of democratic 'rights'.  But that does not mean we do not want more of all three.

The national question and nationalists

The very fact that imperialism and states exist and create a national question means that it is real and not a fantasy. Palestine has never been a united, independent nation-state. So that might make one think the idea of Palestinian nationhood is a fake. But the Palestinians do have a shared culture and identity, because they have lived the common experience of subjugation by the Israeli state, which they commonly want to stop, and their national cause has developed accordingly.

Attempts to dismiss the national question are also problematic insofar as they sustain Eurocentric illusions in our rulers' internationalism. Against Nationalism comments 'By the last decades of the Nineteenth Century, the idea that each ‘people’ had a moral right to their own nation-state was solidly established. The concerns about viability which defined earlier debates had disappeared. It was now a right of ‘peoples’, defined in whichever way, to a state of their own.'

This is an utterly mistaken view of the world as it was 100 years ago, and even today. At the end of the Nineteenth Century the majority of the world population were the subjects of colonial empires. The argument that these people could not govern themselves – and needed a civilising mission – was a commonly accepted justification for empire, not least among socialists such as Henry Hyndman and many leaders of Germany's SPD.

Even though Brown, Obama etc. no doubt consider themselves liberal internationalists, we hear echoes of the same
attitude today – the endless occupation of Afghanistan and repeated US interventions in Haiti are also justified with the rhetoric of stopping contagion from 'failed states'. Not subjectively racist, not unwilling to co-operate with local elites, the leaders of the imperialist countries do nonetheless hold the assumption that certain states have the right to lord it over the world, and invade other countries, whereas others are irresponsible threats to the current world order, who ought to know their place.

True enough that freedom from the imperialist yoke may not bring peace. When the British left India there was a bloodbath. If the troops left Afghanistan, forces even worse than Hamid Karzai's government might take over. If the US troops had not intervened in Haiti after the recent earthquake the government would have collapsed entirely. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: imperialism has shaped the world in its own image, and has created a 'stability' based on imperial domination which if disrupted could have 'chaotic' consequences.  Against Nationalism sidesteps this question, however. AF demand the troops leave Afghanistan yet also argue that national independence is pointless and will merely produce more warfare, asserting that nationalist forces are proto-states and thus bound to produce renewed oppression upon victory.

This is to ignore the distinction between a national cause – the struggle against national oppression and thus some limited extension of popular sovereignty – and a particular nationalist movement. Support for the Palestinians does not have to entail support for Hamas, even if it is Hamas who most ardently fight the Israeli state, and we must strongly oppose Hamas sexism, homophobia and hostility to strikes. The reverse is also true: nor do these actions on the part of Hamas somehow taint and render untouchable the Palestinian national movement, as Zionists who appeal to liberal public opinion would have us believe.

In this sense, conflating a particular nationalist grouping with all 'national' movements, AF in part mirror the mistake of groups like the SWP who cheerlead for Hezbollah. Such Trotskyist ideas are typified by Leon Trotsky's 1938 argument that in the hypothetical case of a war between fascist Brazil and 'democratic' Britain, he would support fascist Brazil, since the alternative was the British imposing 'their' fascism on Brazil in place of the existing dictator Vargas. But what he does not explain is why Brazilian communists should 'mediate' their opposition to the British via the existing state apparatus and a regime which would deny them any space for political action. This position has been mimicked repeatedly for decades, for example in some groups' support for the wars of Saddam Hussein and Argentina's General Galtieri.

Are all states imperialist?

One of the main themes of Against Nationalism is that there are not a few imperialist states, but rather that all nation states are imperialist. This does relate to one relevant point worth making, namely to combat the idea that there are 'good peoples' and 'bad peoples'. The pamphlet argues that the fundamental equivalence of all nation-states is because the interest of every state is to advance the interest of its 'own' capitalism.

"The state negotiates access for domestic companies to resources, investment, trading and expansion abroad. The success of this process brings profits flowing back into the country in question and by enriching its business and the ‘national economy’, the state secures the material basis of its own power: it increases its own resources, wealth and ability to project itself. It is therefore not simply a puppet of ‘corporate interests’, but is an interested party in its own right."

The Commune often argues that we should not advocate statist measures, or some sort of 'socialist' control of the state, since in reality the state works in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole. However, as I have argued in a previous piece on imperialism and populism in Latin America, the analysis underlying that position needs more definition.

To take an unambiguous, if not typical, example, in Colombia it is not really the case that the government and the state advance the general and long term interests of the Colombian capitalist class. A very small elite, dependent on alliance with multinational corporate interests own the vast majority of land and sell natural resources at below-market prices. They systematically underdevelop infrastructure. There are railway lines straight from the mines to the coast for the purpose of exports, but not much of a passenger train service. The US had a similar relation to Fulgencio Batista's Cuba in the 1950s, and that is why Fidel Castro could appeal to a 'national' sentiment even though Cuba already had formal political independence.

In such circumstances a government of state-capitalist development would totally undermine the existing elite by rendering inoperable its dependent alliance with US imperialism: that is why in return for its many favours its rule is protected by seven US military bases and huge funding for the paramilitary drive against the FARC rebels. There is a long history of coups within Latin American ruling classes, including recently in Venezuela and Bolivia, as the result of such tensions among the capitalist class.

The mere fact of international alliances or promoting 'ideology' does not make a state imperialist. Colombia is not imperialist but its rulers are little but proxies of US imperialism. Where is the Bolivian, or Congolese, or Afghan corporation which gets cut-price privatised resources and controls foreign governments in the manner that American ones can?  The reason is that the US state is massively more powerful than all others, indeed to the extent that they are the lynchpin of all international treaties and the only power that can act with total impunity and with no fear of meaningful sanctions.

This is, I repeat, not because there are 'good peoples' and 'bad peoples', but because of capitalist interests. But there is an established hierarchy of nation-states which orders the world capitalist system. The WTO, IMF, UN etc. all express the existing relations of dominance. It would not be somehow metaphysically 'better' for the US, EU and China to swap places in the ranks the preponderant powers, or to 'reverse the poles of national oppression'. But it is meaningless to oppose slogans such as support for the Palestinians or Haitians on the ground that they might somehow be elevated to the ranks of imperialist powers.

Gender, race and national oppressions

There are oppressions and divisions of labour which structure capitalism other than straightforwardly defined social class. These are facets of an alienated anti-human class society but are not simply binaries of class: for example, the division of labour and power in society to the disadvantage of women; the differing roles migrant workers as opposed to 'British-born' workers (as well as overt racism); homophobia and sexual repression.

There are different responses to such questions, but most left groups would consider their own to be one of 'class politics' rather than 'identity politics'. As opposed to merely rendering the ruling class more 'diverse' – more black people on company boards, more women MPs – they stress the importance of working-class unity across gender, national, racial etc. lines. Normally this would be coupled with some alternative approach to organising (collective, democratic, in unity with other workers) as opposed to liberal lobbyist organisations like the Fawcett Society.

Nonetheless, in spite of these different approaches to organising, fundamentally these struggles do not only affect workers, and go beyond the mere economic structures of class society. For example, a socialist feminism is not just 'equality with men', but one which challenges fundamentally the hierarchies and alienation in society, including those rooted in capitalism but also those within the working class and left organisations. It is much more than trade union militancy which happens to include women, as well as being far removed from radical feminism.

So too can the national question be defined in terms other than those of divisionism and bigotry. Communists do not have to simply tail nationalist militias nor grant them sole ownership of the struggle over national oppression. For example, mass collective action rather than terrorism; effective direct action  in the imperialist countries against wars and multinationals rather than liberal lobbying of MPs or peaceful protest marches; attempts on the part of the oppressed to appeal for solidarity from soldiers and civilians in the imperialist countries; and so on.

What are 'class politics'?

The slogan, as perpetrated by the likes of the Socialist Party (and in their own way, the ICC), that all workers should organise together irrespective of their gender, race and nationality, is an inadequate response to the question. Even if desirable, it is not incumbent on black workers to wait on unity with white workers before they can take action against racism. Just like 'Black and white, unite and fight', the idea of Palestinian and Israeli workers' unity is a fine ideal: but cynical deprecation of the existing Palestinian movement, and demanding of it that it wait forever on the support of the Israeli working class, is illusory. Workers in imperialist countries and underdeveloped ones cannot just unite around wage demands and common material interests: imperialism is a class question, and too much of the British labour movement is on the wrong side.

Against Nationalism asserts that "It is through mass struggle that consciousness develops. Under capitalism, ‘pure’ struggles rarely exist. It is through struggle in the defence of material working class interests, related to material demands – more pay, less hours, access to services, eventually against work and capitalism altogether – that the bonds of nationalism can be severed by posing the incompatibility of our needs with the needs of capitalism to stay profitable. The separate interests of classes become apparent in such struggles, and the ability to draw the conclusion that the capitalist system itself must be destroyed can and has spread like wildfire."

Thus underlying the pamphlet is the assumption that better living conditions and more welfare are 'class questions', and fighting for these is the way to develop consciousness of the need to overthrow capitalism. Nationalism (and presumably, gender oppression and racism…) melt away with the advent of militancy. This is very similar to the politics of the Socialist Party – everything is reduced to 'class politics'. Nowhere do AF advocate, for example, what kind of means the oppressed should use to combat imperialism itself, only abstractly advocating a struggle against capitalism.

This kind of attitude is wrong for three reasons. Firstly, there are plentiful examples of workers militant in the struggle for their own interests but sectional and indifferent to other oppressions. Indeed, the dockers who marched in support of Enoch Powell in 1968 – which gets a mention in Against Nationalism – were very militant in the fight against their own bosses. There is a very long and deep history of protectionism, 'skilled-ism' and chauvinism in the British labour movement, and even more so in American trade unions. The Lindsay oil refinery strike's slogan 'British Jobs for British Workers' was not particularly new, even in the miners' strike there was much waffle about the British miners being best in the world.

Secondly, economic interests are neither the only concern of the working class nor the only way in which class exists. To again take the most obvious and extreme case in point, Israeli and Palestinian workers cannot unite and fight over workplace concerns: the disparity between them is huge, and most Israeli workers are pretty happy about that; they do not have common employers and most Palestinians are not employed as workers at all; and the single most important oppression in both countries, tying the Israeli workers' interests to those of the Israeli state and affecting everyday life in Palestine, is the Israeli state's merciless oppression of the Palestinians and theft of Palestinian land, water and resources. If your home is demolished, if your union is terrorised by US-backed paramilitaries, or you cannot have your children educated in your own language, then national oppression structures your whole existence. It is crude indeed to try and displace the movement against such attacks in favour of workplace organisation on 'class struggle'
grounds.

Thirdly, obtaining a better position for the working class in capitalist society is not communistic as such. It may help build a movement or build people's confidence and solidarity such as to overthrow capitalism: that could result from a national struggle as much as one for higher wages and shorter hours. But AF simply have no strategy for national or anti-imperialist struggles. Ever-better working conditions and a bigger welfare state will not eventually 'open out' into a stateless, moneyless society either: in fact, the communist project is one which seeks to dissolve class relations and hierarchies in society, not merely advance a 'militant' workers' movement. Higher wages or more public services do not fundamentally challenge class society any more than other particular struggles nor necessarily prove the common interests of all workers.

Conclusion

Against Nationalism draws very broad lessons from a few specific cases, dismissing the importance of fighting national oppression on its own terms, but rather 'militarism, nationalism and war'. Rather than addressing the national question it papers it over with vague references to proper class politics. Essentially, it lacks any solution to national oppression other than general advocacy of getting rid of capitalism.

But there can be a communist approach to the national question which neither supports elitist nationalist groups –
who merely want their 'seat at the table', equality with other states – nor ignores the need to combat national oppression on its own terms.

It is quite possible to call for the independence of a country, and oppose the exploitation of its resources by multinationals, with a movement which does not ally with state-capitalist or Islamist national movements; which is based on mass collective action and not on suicide bombings or deals with this or that other power; which does not construct new relations of oppression or a new state apparatus. Fleetingly this was attempted in the Ukrainian revolution, both Hungarian revolutions and the Kurdish workers' councils of 1991, and today in the indigenous Minga movement in Colombia.

There is nothing about the idea of 'nationhood' which any more than gender or race binds a movement to bourgeois politics: that is merely part of the projects of certain forces arising in opposition to imperialism. Communists must not sideline or dismiss the national question in order to solely focus on 'class politics', but rather confront all such obstacles to a truly human society head-on.

Posted By

davidbroder
Apr 28 2010 23:42

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ernie
May 2 2010 11:49

It is nice that DB thinks that the ICC has such an influence on AF, but as comrades have pointed out: the AF position is not based on the analysis of the ICC. As other comrades have pointed out there various currents of thought that have lead to the defense of internationalist positions against national liberation. Within the Communist Left there has not been a unified understanding of the need to reject national liberation struggles in decadence, these differences are usually based on different understandings of the decadence of capitalism. Some Bordigists do not accept this conception and defend national liberation, in specific circumstances. Whilst the ICC and the ICT are agreed on the basic concept of decadence and the need to reject support for national liberation.
Historically the question of national liberation has been an important question for the COmmunist left. Our pamphlet Nation or Class deals with these positions, as well as explaining our position in more detail
Nation or Class.
It is a bit old now but a new version is available in French and is in the process of being produced in English.

Farce
May 2 2010 14:13
Quote:
if the palestinians want to rule themselves as a nation state, we should allow that.

And if "the British" "want" to be ruled by the Conservatives (or Labour for that matter) we should just let them get on with it and not criticise that either? Same goes for if "the Americans" "want" to be ruled by the Republicans or Democrats, I suppose.

Quote:
we can throw imperialism out now

No we can't.

Quote:
i see palestinians electing hamas as if drugs were legalized, is hamas and drugs harmful to ourselves?

People who take drugs are harmful to themselves, but they don't generally go around breaking strikes, persecuting homosexuals, etc. There's a subtle difference there.

Quote:
i see a lot of excuses for imperialism

Like what?

Django
May 2 2010 21:48
BiglittleJ wrote:
Quote:
On the question of nationalism they say (in a typically timeless way, a bit like the unhistoric approach of the AF)

How on earth do you make that out? The pamphlet spends a great deal of time dealing with the history of nationalism, and goes to great lengths to set it's subject within its historical context.

Based on the way the word 'historical' is used by certain Marxists, I'm assuming he means that the AF doesn't have a theory of decadence. On the issue of nationalism, that usually means arguing that in capitalism's ascendent stage national liberation movements were a potential gain in the sense that they could establish an independent capitalist class, which is now impossible, due to world imperialism. So the theory goes, anyway.

But obviously thats very obscure political jargon, and isn't what most people think the word 'historical' means.

baboon
May 3 2010 19:55

I’ve read the text “Against Nationalism” and welcome it, particularly as a defence of the working class and the masses against the support for nationalism that it expressed within the Commune’s position. The text is an affirmation of the internationalism of the proletariat and denunciation of nationalism and the development of imperialism. I particularly liked its analysis of the development of strategic factors in imperialism over and above (and including) financial and exploitative reasons and its analysis of the development of state capitalism.

One point though. I tend to agree with Trenchone that the text tends to only ascribe a critique of nationalism to anarchism. This point is made throughout the text. Now, I’ve seen some stuff on anarchism opposing nationalism and clearly defending internationalism and I’m sure that there’s a lot more that I’m unaware of or previously underestimated. But this whole critique of nationalism is, in my opinion, an expression of the workers’ movement as a whole and the more that’s brought out the better. The text does mention Rosa Luxemburg’s position, although even here, given the importance of supporting national development for the interests of the working class, it shouldn’t be forgotten that even with her very clear analysis she still had some hangovers in supporting some elements of Polish nationalism. But my point here is to defend the critique of nationalism made by revolutionaries, communists and left communists that the text doesn’t mention.

Rosa Luxemburg’s position, summed up in the quote from the text by Trenchone, has been amply confirmed by history. Her critique of Lenin’s position and the rejection of national liberation began by accepting the basic framework of a discussion between communists. It was a question of power and not “rights” and national liberation represented a bourgeois capitalist framework beyond class. It ties the proletariat to the left elements of capital and directly attacks the unity of the working class. Her rejection of national liberation was directly tied to her analysis of imperialism. Bourgeois democratic revolutions were a thing of the past and gave way to states of conquest in which a return to an earlier capitalism was utopian.

Cohering around Rosa’s rejection of national liberation, even before WWI, was the German, Dutch and Polish left as well as the Kommunist group inside the Bolshevik Party. All these defended the idea of a decisive break with the past against Lenin’s position: the only answer to imperialism, “The modern imperialist pirate state” (Bukharin, 1915), was not to defend part of it, but the proletarian revolution. For Bukharin, self-determination from 1914 had become the defence of the fatherland. Lenin’s reply to him (State and Revolution) was to concede on the destruction of the bourgeois state but he still included self-determination and other bourgeois-democratic traits based on the previous period.

In the crucible of WWI it was becoming obvious to the clearest elements of the workers’ movement that any nationalist movement was against the interests of the proletariat. It was demonstrable in the cases of Ukraine (whose nationalism is still supported by elements (?) of The Commune today who have the advantage of one hundred years of hindsight), Poland and Finland – Rosa used these to drive the point home against Lenin and the Bolsheviks, adding the examples of Lithuania, the Baltic countries and the Caucasus. More elements of the Bolsheviks went towards Luxemburg’s position, summed up in the words of one of them in “Away with all frontiers”. Lenin’s position of trying to weaken capitalism by supporting national rights only strengthened it.

The First Congress of the CI was relatively clear on national liberation, colonial oppression and imperialism; victory could only come from proletarian revolution. Further congresses degenerated on these issues but there were still communist minorities that fought against it. The degeneration was further reinforced by the “disastrous” position of defending the (increasingly isolated) Russian bastion. Pannekoek also descibed the tactic of giving support to national liberation struggles as disastrous for the proletariat. Within the International there were still disagreements with the policy and even Lenin warned against the danger of “painting nationalism red”. But that didn’t stop the further disasters of supporting nationalist movements of the like of Turkish nationalism in 1923 and the Kuomintang in 1927 which a minority of communists opposed and which led to the massacres of numerous communists, expressing and developing the forces of the counter-revolution.

After the Treaty of Versailles, the “democratic peace”, recognised the rights of self-determination of all the countries in central and Eastern Europe: Finland, the Baltics, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland – all served the imperialist interests of either Britain, France or both and all of them were cut through with internal and external conflicts within and between themselves. This mess of national states, completely unstable with their own imperialist conflicts and desires, very quickly turned out to be not the factor of “peace and stability” seen by Versailles, but a new descent into the imperialist maelstrom, where as Luxemburg had noted, the ideology of nationalism was the weapon to persuade the workers to act as cannon fodder and massacre one another.

The work of left communism, and that of Bilan in the 30s, contributed to developing the analysis of nationalism and imperialism tying it in with the counter-revolution and the danger of another world war. And in the depths of the counter-revolution, up to and through WWII - a real test - the communist left was active in denouncing the nationalism of all the participants and analysing the developments of imperialism around it and from it.

davidbroder
May 4 2010 09:30

I will later reply to the above, but just to say people may be interested in http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/imperialism-and-the-national-question-sheffield-tuesday-11th-may/ if they can make it, not to toot my own horn too much but I will be there and up for a discussion...

davidbroder
May 4 2010 11:22

A few points:

Quote:
Baboon: It was demonstrable in the cases of Ukraine (whose nationalism is still supported by elements (?) of The Commune today who have the advantage of one hundred years of hindsight), Poland and Finland – Rosa used these to drive the point home against Lenin and the Bolsheviks, adding the examples of Lithuania, the Baltic countries and the Caucasus

The problem I have with this statement, as well as the whole passage (I may as well have quoted the whole thing) is that it just asserts all these failures without explanation. Baboon, I do not know if you attended our day school on the Russian revolution last August (which is perhaps why you mention Ukraine), but there Chris gave a presentation about how Russian imperialism in Ukraine, the underdevelopment and cultural oppression etc., were grievances in tandem with a general anti-capitalist one.

There was a mass movement which established an independent republic of workers' councils. I am no expert on Ukraine. But what I am putting forward is the idea that national struggle and support for the national bourgeoisie are not necessarily the same thing.

This is a case in point. Maybe you might provide evidence that this was not an example of that, or that the independentist streak weakened the class struggle (and then draw general lessons from that), but please do so by demonstration and explanation rather than simple assertion. I can take no responsibility for Lenin's support of Turkish nationalists or whatever, and nowhere said I did.

So what about in 1919 when the Ukrainian soviets were deprived of their autonomy? Does the fact that this also happened in other areas of Russia make the forced cultural/linguistic Russification less bad? And what about the Russian invasion of Poland in 1920? Did that bolster or weaken the Polish regime?

Quote:
Joseph Kay: i support workers struggling to defend or advance their interests, if that at any given time means resisting oppression on national/ethnic/racial/gender/sexuality/etc lines that's fine, and all part of the class struggle. the point is i don't drop the class analysis by lumping it into 'national oppression' as if rulers and ruled share the same conditions and interests, just like i wouldn't respond to racism by calling for 'racial self-determination.'

But it's not just all part of the class struggle. It may facilitate class struggle, and we would encourage a 'class struggle' approach to fighting such forms of oppression, but that is not limited to working-class people or possible to challenge solely in class terms. Working-class militancy which does not put resisting all hierarchies and forms of oppression at the forefront is not a movement for the liberation of humanity. Calling it 'all part of the class struggle' seems to limit what is specific and important about resisting other privileges/oppressions.

The racial self-determination thing is not comparable because nationality, people living in the same territory is not necessarily exclusivist (although it could be) whereas that is the strong implication of 'racial self-determination'.

I don't accept the idea that Palestinian workers (and the much larger mass of unemployed, refugees, petty bourgeoisie etc) only see their struggle as a national one because leftists and nationalists tell them to. That denies them any agency. Surely they do not only fight a national struggle because that is a banner or because there are flags, but because that is the main oppression structuring Palestinian society: the oppressor structures its oppression in national terms. If there are any Palestinians who are not oppressed on the basis of nationality then they are only those who are lackeys of the Israeli state.

As a general point I think as with a lot of debates on LibCom there may be more common ground than is represented in the discussion itself. The review and my comments above do bend the stick on nationalism but I also attempted to bring out some different points e.g. what is above and beyond class struggle.

Someone earlier said that the language of a more 'sophisticated' approach is one which masks a call for supporting national bourgeoisies, but I simply don't see that, and indeed, noticeably, nowhere at all have I advocated support for national bourgeoisies or the forces here referred to as 'national liberationists'.

davidbroder
May 4 2010 11:49
Quote:
the communist left was active in denouncing the nationalism of all the participants and analysing the developments of imperialism around it and from it.

OK, but even some Trot groups were revolutionary defeatist on all sides. Not the mainstream but e.g. the people who produced Arbeiter und Soldat for German troops in occupied north-west France and had no qualms about denouncing the imperialist character of Gaullist resistance and the PCF

I say that not to bolster Trotskyism or whatever, but simply to recognise that kind of position is not particularly specific to left communism, and indeed is also obvious to me.

Joseph Kay
May 4 2010 11:55

there seems to be two main theoretical/conceptual differences underlying this argument; (1) the nature of the class and class struggle (davidbroder suggests that the unemployed are not workers, and that class is one of a series of oppressions alongside national oppression and others) and (2) the nature of imperialism (as an action of powerful states versus a tendency inherent to the states-system itself). i don't have time to reply right now, but these seem to be the substantive differences from which some of the other points derive.

mistral
May 4 2010 17:22
Quote:
Baboon:I’ve read the text “Against Nationalism” and welcome it, particularly as a defence of the working class and the masses against the support for nationalism that it expressed within the Commune’s position.

On the Commune web site someone asked whether David's position was endorsed by the Commune as a collective. While there are some who would agree with David - it is not a position that can be attributed to the group. I am a member of the Commune and I disagree with the general thrust of David's argument although I would agree with some of the detailed points he has made. I agree more with the arguments made by Joseph (particularly the last comment), the AF and others, although I don't agree with everything that has been said in opposition to David either.

However, I don't have time to get involved in the debate right now so this is just a plea to recognise that there are diverse opinions within the Commune on a number of issues not just national liberation. No doubt we will be having the same debate within the group. wink

Alf
May 4 2010 18:02

And what about the Russian invasion of Poland in 1920? Did that bolster or weaken the Polish regime?

Just a quick point on this: it became evident to many of the Bolsheviks (and this was also a point drawn out more explicitly by Bilan in the 1930s) that the idea of spreading the revolution by military means alone was a fundamental error. The Red Army's advance into Poland did indeed tend to push the Polish workers into the arms of their own bourgeoisie. But that is an argument against imposing revolution from above or 'outside', which is a contradiction in terms. It is not an argument in favour of national self-determination. By the same token, if a smaller soviet republic had hesitations in fusing with a larger one, it would be counter-productive to try to force that fusion - real unity could only come about by convincing the workers of that area that their interests lie in a global council power. But again that's not the same as 'national self-determination'. The reduction of the autonomy of the soviets in the Ukraine in any case was part of a process which saw all the soviets throughout Russia losing their autonomy from the growing bureaucracy of the state

Devrim
May 4 2010 20:52

I have three points to make on this. One has been made already, but I would like to add a little even if it is slightly off topic:

Posi wrote:
"National liberation" is not a category introduced by me, or David. It's a term of art on libcom - introduced in its current sense by the ICC
davidbroder wrote:
It is a pity that ICC dogma is copied by others on LibCom, utter cynicism and disregard for the specific ways in which people are terrorised.

As people have pointed out the AF's point on nationalism in the aims and principles was adopted long before Libcom existed, and while many of the AF posters on here were still in short trousers, I imagine (I am pretty sure that it was in the late 80s).

Furthermore, political ideas do not belong to particular organisations, but to the class as a whole.

The ICC itself has not always realised this. An example could be a particularly shocking article we wrote about the AF: Left communism is not part of the anarchist tradition.

While the title itself may be true, unfortunately the rest of the article is awful. The work of communists/anarchists of the past belongs not exclusively to those who claim descendence from them but to the class as whole. Yes it is wrong to claim people belonged to a tradition that they didn't, which I don't think the AF did, but the political inheritance of the German left belongs as much to other revolutionary groups as to the groups of the communist left.

The second point is more connected to the issue at hand:

davidbroder wrote:
But AF simply have no strategy for national or anti-imperialist struggles. Ever-better working conditions and a bigger welfare state will not eventually 'open out' into a stateless, moneyless society either: in fact, the communist project is one which seeks to dissolve class relations and hierarchies in society, not merely advance a 'militant' workers' movement. Higher wages or more public services do not fundamentally challenge class society any more than other particular struggles nor necessarily prove the common interests of all workers.

I think that it is lucky then that the Commune has a massive group in Palestine (which the writer was referring to at this point). That is implementing the correct strategy on the ground.

Internationalists are often accused of dealing only in abstractions by those who deal in exactly that. There are no Trotskyist groups, or anarchist groups in Palestine, nor any left communist ones for that matter. Personally I don't think that this is just by chance, but is a direct result of the weakness of the working class in that country.

If there was a revolutionary anarchist group there, I am sure it would have developed a practical orientation to day to day problems. This though is not the AF's task, though of course there input into discussions with groups in these situations will, of course, be valuable in the future. The task of the AF, and the ICC in the UK, is to put forward a communist perspective on these struggles, which I think the AF do admirably.

There are of course anarchist groups and left communist groups in countries where there are national liberation struggles. Two examples of groups from which there are people on these boards would be the anarcho-syndicalist 'Organise!', who in my opinion do a brave and necessary job in putting forward class politics in Northern Ireland, a country where the working class suffers from deep sectarian division, and the ICC in Turkey, who have recently been deeply involved in a struggle involving both Kurdish and Turkish workers where people really began to build class unity in the face of attacks on wages and living standards.

I think that the work done by both is much more relevant than weather a Trotskyist in England 'supports' nationalist movements, which in Northern ıreland entrench the sectarian division amongst the working class, and in Turkey go as far as shooting school teachers for teaching in Turkish. Neither of which in my opinion do anything to advance working class struggle, nor do leftists abroad who support them.

My final point concerns both the nature of the period and the development of confidence within the class:

davidbroder wrote:
]Thirdly, obtaining a better position for the working class in capitalist society is not communistic as such. It may help build a movement or build people's confidence and solidarity such as to overthrow capitalism: that could result from a national struggle as much as one for higher wages and shorter hours.

I haven't noticed many people recently 'obtaining a better position for the working class in capitalist society'. What I notice is workers trying to hold onto the jobs and conditions that they have, and not become more impoverished. For us though it is through struggle that the working class develops confidence, but through its own struggle in its own interests. Why would a national struggle increase class confidence?

Devrim

Django
May 4 2010 21:27
davidbroder wrote:
Django: this doesn't change the meaning of the quote though... That is not the opposite of what is being claimed. Against Nationalism cites the examples of Belgium, Catalunya etc as evidence of national movements emerging in this period given the rising (risen) idea of nation-states/popular sovereignty.

"To be ruled by another nation or its representatives was abhorrent (in theory at least – imperialism had its own logic)." is not exactly an insight into the relationship of the colonised world, and its nationalisms, to the imperialist powers, which is the fault I was pointing out.

Thats because its part of a section describing the development of the 'national idea', up to the point where a) national liberation struggles proliferate and have a significant effect on world politics and b) the 'national idea' as we can begin to recognise it from the modern world starts to come into play. That these ideas weren't manifested as a world of nation-states on an even playing field is acknowledged in the text, not just in the part of that paragraph you left out, but in other, more relevent bits of the pamphlet. (Plus its worth pointing out that the fact that during high imperialism powers like Britain could interfere in parts of the world like the middle east while claiming to be protecting the 'national independence' of the arabs, jews and armenians shows that the interaction of ideology and praxis isn't as simple either way, either in the 'flat earth' viewpoint you claim the AF holds or the one you counter it with).

So criticising the bit you've quoted for not providing an "insight into the relationship of the colonised world, and its nationalisms, to the imperialist powers" just looks like quotemining.

baboon
May 5 2010 16:22

If some Trotskyist elements denounced both sides in WWII – and I believe some small groupings did – then this would clearly put them on the side of internationalism against imperialism and this would be part of the expression of the workers’ movement to defend class positions.

Revolutionary wars, imposing soviet centralisation by force, were errors that could only be overcome by the extension of the revolution. But these tactics themselves had the effect of further strangling the revolution and were counter-productive. Also to echo Alf regarding the Ukraine soviets, their forced assimilation to the bureaucracy was the same as happened within Russia. Ukraine in this context can be added to all the other concrete examples given by Rosa Luxemburg above. In relation to these examples, Lenin pointed out the dangers of “Greater Russian Chauvinism” which he restricted to Stalin and others, blaming himself “before the workers”, for not intervening with “sufficient energy” beforehand. That Lenin blamed Stalin and his cohorts didn’t mean that he didn’t glimpse the general, overriding problem. The apparatus that the Bolsheviks inherited and used was no more than the old imperial apparatus “anointed with a little Soviet holy oil” and the incorporated idea of free secession was, according to him, “only a scrap of paper incapable of defending the minorities”. All the charges made by the Workers’ Opposition within Russia were first laid out by Lenin and just before his death, after his period of illness; he affirmed that the new apparatus is the same bureaucratic apparatus of the old regime “only slightly repainted on the surface” and here lay the nub of the problem.

DB says above that national struggle and support for national bourgeoisies is not the same thing. But the problem is that it is: one faction or the other. The question of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 (and all the other coloured revolutons elsewhere) is that support for national struggle could only support one side or the other, one imperialist configuration or the other. In 1997, the workers of Ukraine fought on their own ground for their own interests. This class struggle was not only absent in the cause of Ukrainian nationalism, it was totally wiped out in the fight of rival Ukrainian nationalist clans and the wider interests of imperialism.

davidbroder
May 6 2010 09:07
Quote:
Me: So what about in 1919 when the Ukrainian soviets were deprived of their autonomy? Does the fact that this also happened in other areas of Russia make the forced cultural/linguistic Russification less bad? And what about the Russian invasion of Poland in 1920? Did that bolster or weaken the Polish regime?
Quote:
Baboon: Revolutionary wars, imposing soviet centralisation by force, were errors that could only be overcome by the extension of the revolution. But these tactics themselves had the effect of further strangling the revolution and were counter-productive. Also to echo Alf regarding the Ukraine soviets, their forced assimilation to the bureaucracy was the same as happened within Russia. Ukraine in this context can be added to all the other concrete examples given by Rosa Luxemburg above. In relation to these examples, Lenin pointed out the dangers of “Greater Russian Chauvinism” which he restricted to Stalin and others, blaming himself “before the workers”, for not intervening with “sufficient energy” beforehand. That Lenin blamed Stalin and his cohorts didn’t mean that he didn’t glimpse the general, overriding problem. The apparatus that the Bolsheviks inherited and used was no more than the old imperial apparatus “anointed with a little Soviet holy oil” and the incorporated idea of free secession was, according to him, “only a scrap of paper incapable of defending the minorities”.

Although I agree with much of your passage, I don't see how it effectively answers my question and there is a contradiction in it. The controlling from above/the centre of the Ukrainian soviets did take place as part of the gutting out of the Soviets in Russia proper, but I openly state this in my question.

Clearly spreading the revolution by force was counter-productive. So too was Russian chauvinism and denying the autonomy Ukraine. The idea that free secession was only a scrap of paper, does not tell us that it would not have been preferable for the Ukrainian soviet republic (it was not just individual soviets which happened to be in Ukraine) to preserve its independence.

Indeed had it done so it could have better facilitated the spread of the revolution into Hungary and beyond and moreover been a bulwark against the wider Great Russian statist project, both because of the interplay between the use of the Tsarist bureaucracy, statism and Russian nationalism, but also because the soviets in Ukraine had a more thoroughgoing multi-party soviet democracy for longer.

What all this does show is that it is meaningless for you to then go on to say: "DB says above that national struggle and support for national bourgeoisies is not the same thing. But the problem is that it is: one faction or the other." OK, how does that apply to the Ukrainian revolution of 1917, Hungary '56...

The marginalisation of communists as of the 2004 Orange Revolution is hardly evidence that all national struggles are merely ciphers for competing imperialist powers, given that (i) in the example of Ukraine in 1917-21 the independence movement and soviet democracy went hand in hand and bourgeois nationalists were marginalised (ii) I nowhere express support for one faction or another of the bourgeoisie (iii) it is actually quite rare for a country to be so 'in play' between two rival imperialisms as Ukraine is

baboon
May 6 2010 13:10

By 1919 all was by no means lost as far as the generalisation of class struggle and the revolution was concerned, even with the increasingly counter-revolutionary role of the Bolshevik Party. But it’s an unlikely possibility that an independent Ukrainian soviet republic, with the attendant dangers of nationalism therein, would have been, at its best, strong enough to turn the prevailing tide. It’s speculation.

I don’t think that it’s at all “rare” for a national state to be pivotal to imperialist rivalries as you pose it with Ukraine. Again, there’s the concrete examples of Rosa Luxemburg; Poland, the Baltics and so on. We can add Yugoslavia to these and Georgia and of course today Afghanistan and the Middle East, not least the question of a Palestinian nationalism. It’s the norm rather than a rarity.

I didn’t say anything about the absence of communists in Ukraine in 2004 but posed that event where the class struggle was completely drowned out and the workers mobilised by rival nationalist factions, to 1997, when workers in Ukraine fought for their conditions against both Ukrainian and Russian bosses.

On Hungary 56, the answer is revealing: Russia and Stalinism generally, called it a “fascist uprising”, whereas in the west it was a struggle for democracy, freedom, both lies but the main axis being that this was a struggle of the “Hungarian people”. But this was a high level of class struggle, in a counter-revolutionary period, against the most savage terror, attacks and exploitative speed-up – the “Stourmovtchina” regularly suffered by workers in Russia and other Russian satellites. Czech workers rose up in Pilsen in 1953, strikes in East Berlin the same year, Poland also with martial law declared in Warsaw, Krakow and Silesia. Terror upon terror was unleashed by the Russian and national apparatuses but this only provoked, in Hungary, more workers’ struggles. National independence was popular in Hungary even among some Stalinists and the national communists who called for the “Hungarian path to socialism”, epitomised by Imre Nagy, the “hero of the revolution” in the west. The “sovietised” army, under the control of the Hungarian officer class, who traditionally looked to the west, was also not averse to national independence. The “patriotic resistance” could be accommodated by this officer class and supported by intellectuals and their “aspirations of the Hungarian people”. These were lies to cover up a bitter struggle of the workers against state terror and tremendous levels of exploitation, particularly with Hungary being an important part of the Stalinist war machine.

Though the levels of self-organisation in Hungary 56 were nothing like that of the workers’ councils in 1917 and the contamination of nationalism was present, they nevertheless represented high levels of class struggle and potentially a threat to and possible contagion of world order. The workers were denounced by Stalinists and Maoism world wide and US secretary of state Dulles told the Russian bourgeoisie “Gentlemen, you are masters of your own house; it is up to you to clean it up”. In December, the Hungarian social-democrat minister said that the government would put to death 10,000 people to prove that it and not the soviets were the real government.
This was a workers, not a nationalist struggle. It was against capitalist exploitation and not for nationalist aims. To see it thus is to greatly underestimate it.

Further, to come back to an earlier point made by David which equally underestimates the class struggle. He says that Lindsey, London dockers and Ulster Workers’ Councils show the nationalism at work in workers’ struggles.
Firstly, elements of nationalism may have infected the Lindsey struggle, the bourgeoisie certainly did its best to make sure that they did, but again, this was a workers struggle for their own interests, taking place on their own terrain, ie, against increased attacks. This was a completely illegal strike (compare it to the ballot-bollocks of BA and the RMT) and there was no attempt by the state to enforce its law. The overall thrust of this movement was positive for the working class.
The London dockers (and Smithfield meat workers) did march behind racist slogans in 68 (the dominating Stalinist unions were out and out racist), but a few years later were at the forefront of a massive wave of struggle involving millions of workers which included all kinds of colours again fighting for their own interests.
The Ulster Workers’ Council strike however started off in a nationalist framework and from its “nationalist aspirations” had no chance whatsoever of breaking out of it. It was thoroughly reactionary from top to bottom and would seem to further undermine the sort of argument that David is putting forward.

davidbroder
May 6 2010 14:50

You say: "DB says above that national struggle and support for national bourgeoisies is not the same thing. But the problem is that it is: one faction or the other. " i.e., national struggle is support for the national bourgeoisie.

I say "So what about in 1919 when the Ukrainian soviets were deprived of their autonomy? Does the fact that this also happened in other areas of Russia make the forced cultural/linguistic Russification less bad?"

You say: "to echo Alf regarding the Ukraine soviets, their forced assimilation to the bureaucracy was the same as happened within Russia"

I say "The idea that free secession was only a scrap of paper, does not tell us that it would not have been preferable for the Ukrainian soviet republic (it was not just individual soviets which happened to be in Ukraine) to preserve its independence. Indeed had it done so it could have better facilitated the spread of the revolution into Hungary and beyond and moreover been a bulwark against the wider Great Russian statist project, both because of the interplay between the use of the Tsarist bureaucracy, statism and Russian nationalism, but also because the soviets in Ukraine had a more thoroughgoing multi-party soviet democracy for longer."

Your reply "it’s an unlikely possibility that an independent Ukrainian soviet republic, with the attendant dangers of nationalism therein, would have been, at its best, strong enough to turn the prevailing tide. It’s speculation."

But earlier you argued that the demand for national independence is in fact just support for the national bourgeoisie! Hardly the same argument. Really you are just evading the nuance of the question. Surely you must be in favour of the independence of soviet Ukraine as against its integration.

Similarly as regards the evidence of Lindsey (which I supported) and the London dockers in '68. I already myself invoked these as examples of militant workers, yet you refer to them as if I didn't... my point is that militant workers can also be sectionalist, which I of course refer to in the original article.

I don't see why the Ulster Workers' Council strike undermines my argument at all, since Orange nationalism (accusing British imperialism of going soft) has nothing to do with anti-imperialism. Why do you even reference this? Where did I say I support this?

Perhaps you did not pay attention, but my argument is not just some sort of general call for people to be nationalists. That is easier to argue against though, I am sure, although it is an absurd and disingenous interpretation of my points. Like above when I referenced that Ukraine was denied autonomy at the same time the soviets were shut down, and your reply was "ah, yes, but the soviets were shut down!"

This reminds me of a talk I gave in Manchester where I explained the roots of Latin American populism and thus why a section of the ruling class supports state-capitalism, and why Hugo Chavez is a state capitalist.... only for an ICCer to counter-attack using exactly the arguments as if I had just said that state capitalism is the bee's knees!

davidbroder
May 6 2010 14:52

[its integration by the Bolshevik leadership into the Russian bureaucratic state etc]

baboon
May 6 2010 22:21

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to understand the “nuances” of your position David. I understand it’s based on the truth that all national entities, exemplified in the modern bourgeois state, have specificities: historical, cultural, economic and political elements more or less peculiar to themselves. Your conclusion to this is not clear to me and seems to imply some sort of nebulous support for national specifics and further implies a support, under the excuse of the pain and suffering of those peoples involved, for nationalist movements. You say it yourself: you can’t dismiss “the importance of fighting national oppression on its own terms”.

You don’t support the bourgeoisie outright but any support of the nation has to support one or the other sections of the ruling class of that nation or the machinations and exploitation of the leaderships of these “movements of oppressed peoples”.

You ignore the globality of imperialism, in which every nation and people’s movement is immersed; it “settles everywhere”. You ignore all the concrete historical examples above of the dangers of any sort of nationalism, particularly to the workers’ movement. And you underestimate the centrality of the class struggle which by its development poses the only real threat to imperialism possible.

Steven.
May 8 2010 11:10

I'm getting quite confused by what David's actual position is.

From the review it seemed like you were arguing for some level of support for national liberation or national self-determination.

Now it seems you are definitively stating that this is not the case. And instead you just seem to be saying that you support "national struggle".

It would be helpful to me if you could define "national struggle".

Because it seems clear here that the AF/Solfed/ICC/libcom people have of course recognized that some oppressions can be based on nationality - of Palestinians in Palestine, or of non-EU citizens in the UK for example.

However, our response I believe is quite clear - we support class struggle in our own interests. And our interests can be against discrimination on the basis of our nationality - for example for employment rights, for civil rights in Ireland, against restriction of movement in Palestine etc. But we think it's important that these struggles are recognized as being class struggles, where all workers have the common interest of getting rid of discrimination, and that nationalist groupings do not mystify the situation in order to garner support for their own intentions of grabbing power, and setting workers of different nationalities against each other.

Similarly, for example, a Brazilian worker in the UK may suffer "national oppression" by being treated unfairly at work, paid below minimum wage as she doesn't have legal status, etc. In response to this, rather than support "national liberation" or "self-determination" of Brazilians in the UK we support working class organisation and struggle in the workplace against low pay, bullying, etc.

What is your disagreement with this? Is it just that you would not call this class struggle, but instead national struggle? Or what?

baboon
May 15 2010 13:10

I hope that we will see some sort of write-up of the recent discussions of The Commune on this question.

In the meantime, to return to one point mentioned by David above. He says, words to the effect, that "it is actually quite rare for a country (Ukraine) to be 'in play' between two rival imperialisms". This is quite a concrete observation and manifestly erroneous. Briefly, and without looking at a map (so there maybe some geographical errors), we can see major imperialist faultlines where national or ethnic entities are well "in play" between two, three or several imperialisms and where national and ethnic entities are, more or less, pawns in this play.

We could start with the Caucusus separating Europe from Asia: Chechnya, Georgia, Ossieta, Abkhazia, Azerbaijan, Armenia - all involving ethnic and nationalist factions with greater power involvement.

At the heart of Europe we have the Balkans. The war of the 90s involving all the major powers (even China) and all the local factions and entities was totally immersed in imperialism and the war did absolutely nothing to settle any of the questions but, on the contrary, exacerbated them. Today, like many other imperialist faultlines throughout the globe, the Balkans remains a running sore ready to spread its nationalist poison with its local factions manipulated by Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Turkey and the United States, all of them expressing their own imperialist interests.

Then the Middle East: the Palestinian question involving a multitude of major and local imperialist interests with contingent alliances but mostly a war of each against all. Iraq, still a running sore with the involvement of Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia with French, British, German and American imperialist involvement.

The crossroads to Asia: Afghanistan involving India, China, Britain, Germany, Pakistan, America... The ex-southern republics of Russia and the tensions and rivalries on the back of national and ethnic movements involving the major powers of America, China, Britain, India, Russia...

And then we have the "offshoots": Africa - at least 5 million killed in the DRC with inter-ethnic strife stirred up by the major powers as they back their local pawns in order not just to establish their influence but to do down their rivals (an increasingly common factor of imperialism now). The Horn of Africa and the rivalries expressed here.
Latin America and some countries involvement in their own imperialist interests elsewhere as well as the involvement of the major powers in the continent itself: America, China, Britain, Spain, France...

I won't go on but its sufficient to see that imperialist rivalries over national, ethnic or proto-national entities is far from rare but is the norm for capitalist relations in spreading increasing suffering and misery on a global scale. Imperialism, as Rosa says, "settles everywhere, nestles everywhere" and this should be the overall framework for revolutionaries approaching the national question.

davidbroder
Jun 9 2010 20:58

Amongst other things, Django and I will be debating at the upcoming The Commune summer school on June 19th:
http://thecommune.wordpress.com/events/beyond-resistance-19th-june-summer-school/imperialism-and-the-national-question/

Steven.
Feb 8 2011 16:03

Re-read this the other day. One thing which really jumped out at me was the ridiculousness of the title "the Earth is not flat" which throughout the entire text is completely unjustified.

posi
Feb 8 2011 16:31

... obviously it's metaphorical - the claim in the piece is that the AF pamphlet says something akin to "nations aren't real, they're imaginary, so why struggle over national issues - all you need is do 'class struggle'", whereas - the reply says - this amounts to denying the independent reality of nationality (the unflatness of the world, if you will), its material basis, and its consequent necessity as an object of struggle in certain circumstances. I'm not sure we want to dive back into that though...

IMHO, recalling the debate (but not re-reading the above), it seemed to largely depend on whether you preferred to say that national oppression is merely an aspect of a given class position, or is something with distinct reality which has a different form of appearance depending on its class context - which is such a sufficiently boring and possibly even non-existant distinction that I don't particularly relish starting this again. But there you are.

Steven.
Feb 8 2011 16:50

Well clearly it's metaphorical. But believing the Earth to be flat is something which is completely obvious, and was demonstrated to be correct thousands of years ago. So comparing someone to a flat earther is basically saying that they cannot recognise completely obvious facts. For example someone arguing that the Earth didn't go around the sun, or that God created the world in six days.

It is not remotely comparable to a minor, completely subjective obscure political disagreement, and it is an extremely un-comradely and dismissive comparison to make.

In any case, your categorisation of the discussion seems pretty accurate, in that the claim in the article above invents a strawman position for the AF which you outline, then knocks it down. Whereas actually any disagreement was pretty unclear. I did try to ask David in my post #85 above exactly what the disagreement was, but he didn't come back on it, which I would still like him to to be honest.

posi
Feb 8 2011 17:23

OK. I didn't see the title of the article as saying "the AF are flat-earthers" or something like that. I dunno, I think it's just normal to come up with a vaguely interesting title for an article, rather than calling it "AF position on nationalism not fully nuanced" or something like that.

... maybe a different title would have been better, my apologies if people did find it unduly aggressive - but I've gotta say I didn't think of that particular angle til you mentioned it now.

Re: your post #85, I can't answer for David, but this is my view.

The article does not invent a straw man. The article was based on a reasonable reading of the pamphlet and (in general) reflected my impressions having read the pamphlet as well: my memory is - I'm not going to read the whole thread again now - that some aspects of that understanding were challenged by people saying "yeah, but actually we don't think that, see this other thing we said here which contradicts it". For example, the pamphlet said "'national oppression’ has nothing to do with class struggle", and we pointed out this was wrong, and then people said something like "yeah, but you should have understood we didn't really mean that, what we meant was it does have something to do with class struggle, but in this particular way..." There were a few other examples throughout the debate.

But it's not necessarily obvious to someone reading a text like Against Nationalism that all inconsistencies are meant to be resolved in the way which they, the reader, would agree with. It's legitimate to criticise what's wrong in the text.

In my view, the thin distinction which I suggest above was not at all apparent at the beginning, and was only something which emerged in the course of the debate.

Furthermore, if me and D could be criticised for inventing a "straw man" position; what of all those who argued against us who created "straw men" of their own - who repeatedly insinuated or outright argued that the above was some sort of sophisticated support for Hamas?

OK - I could say more, but gotta run now.

Red Marriott
Feb 8 2011 18:02
D Broder wrote:
1. Lots of national independence movements do not have bad outcomes, and of course we can only ask what would happen if the occupiers etc. stayed in charge. In the thread below the original AF pamphlet, someone said that the supporters of Palestinian independence should ask themselves why that is so worthwhile given what happened in various Stalinist-ruled countries who won independence. Well, equally, might not the people of e.g. Ghana, Tanzania, Tunisia etc. not be glad they did not suffer the same fate as the Palestinians?

That is damning national liberation with very faint praise; "the people" of, eg, Tunisia, have very different opinions (depending on their class) as to what 'Independence' has delivered.

Boris Badenov wrote:
davidbroder wrote:
1. Lots of national independence movements do not have bad outcomes

Any examples?

Those totally un-Stalinist-like regimes Tunisia & Egypt, as confirmed by recent events.

posi
Feb 8 2011 18:30

I hear an important part of the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt were the call for them to be reoccupied by European powers.

Steven.
Feb 8 2011 19:21

He is being sarcastic Jim, implying that people still believe they are better off without foreign occupation

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2011 20:57
posi wrote:
I hear an important part of the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt were the call for them to be reoccupied by European powers.

no straw men you say? so if you oppose national liberation, you must support revived colonialism? come on, this kind of argument's beneath you.

fwiw i don't think you can characterise the AF argument as 'nations aren't real so don't struggle for them', it's entirely possible to acknowledge a material basis for something without supporting self-determination struggles for it. race for example is a clearly a construct, but not one without a material basis. but no leftists (to my knowledge) call for 'racial self-determination', because it's obviously possible to oppose racism without doing so.

Boris Badenov
Feb 8 2011 21:01
posi wrote:
I hear an important part of the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt were the call for them to be reoccupied by European powers.

Right, because that's what anti-nationalism is about, calls for a renewal of colonialism.