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

Share

Attached files

Comments

Steven.
Feb 8 2011 22:01
posi wrote:
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.

right, maybe I was being oversensitive, although that was the only way I could read it. I still can't really see any other way of it being interpreted other than it comparing the AF to flat earthers. But anyway…

Quote:

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

you characterise the AF position described in the article above as: "nations aren't real, they're imaginary, so why struggle over national issues - all you need is do 'class struggle'". Whereas this is incorrect. From what I can recall it acknowledges that nationality can be a factor in people's oppression, as can race for example, but that is not a reason to support national liberation or national self-determination, like Joseph says anymore than we call for racial self-determination.

Quote:

: 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..."

with that phrase, basically it would depend on your interpretation of the phrase "national oppression". Certain aspects of oppression on the basis of nationality, communists shouldn't have anything to do with them, as they are nothing to do with class struggle (for example, if a certain national group were denied the right to serve in a country's military, or be a business owner. This would be comparable to opposing sexism from a working-class perspective, but not caring about proportionality of men and women executives), whereas others would be relevant to class struggle - such as people of some nationalities not having employment rights.

Quote:
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.

this I agree with.

Quote:
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.

I don't recall that particular accusation (I haven't just re-read the whole debate). However, it would be a question I want to ask. Because it looks like David is attacking an article which argues that we should not support national liberation movements. I've tried to see what David's actual position is, but he did not respond. But it seems like if he's against not supporting national liberation movements, doesn't that mean he's trying to say we should support them? And if he does then what national liberation movements does he actually mean? If not Hamas, then who? And how?

posi
Feb 8 2011 23:49
JK wrote:
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

Obviously it was a ridiculous thing to say. The point is that it was no more ridiculous than what Red was saying - if you read his last point, he's making exactly the inverse of that point (or seems to me to be).

Quote:
fwiw i don't think you can characterise the AF argument as 'nations aren't real so don't struggle for them',
Steven. wrote:
you characterise the AF position described in the article above as: "nations aren't real, they're imaginary, so why struggle over national issues - all you need is do 'class struggle'". Whereas this is incorrect.

Against Nationalism says:

Quote:
We do not see a world of nations in struggle, but of classes in struggle. 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

I think they could have taken the position JK suggests "to acknowledge a material basis for something without supporting self-determination struggles for it" - and indeed some comments in the debate afterward might have suggested such an approach. But I think passages such as the one I just quoted are fairly characterised in the terms I suggested. It's a fairly straight reading I think - I'm sure you can see why I'd interpret it in the way I have.

Steven. wrote:
From what I can recall it acknowledges that nationality can be a factor in people's oppression, as can race for example, but that is not a reason to support national liberation or national self-determination, like Joseph says anymore than we call for racial self-determination.

But are you against national (state) self-determination (i.e. in every case, you'd rather it not happen)? I'm not.

I am against racial (state) self-determination though, always. I think that's one among several differences.

I think that a discourse has developed where one question people ask, politically on these boards, is "do you support national liberation?"; and - put in those words - I think it's not politically useful. In my opinion, it's no more helpful than starting with the inverse question "are you against national liberation?" and insisting on a Yes or No answer. I'm not "against national liberation", nor am I "for national liberation" in the abstract. In fact, very few people - including on "the left" - are. e.g. the SWP are for independence for Palestine, but against it for Scotland.

What is the real content of national liberation? In Palestine, would the end of the occupation lead to - indeed be materially identical with - the founding of a new nation state? Yes. Would you call it "national liberation"? I don't know if you would; I think you might, and can't immediately see why you wouldn't. Am I for the end of the occupation? Yes. Are you? I assume so. So... where does that leave us? Are we both "for the national liberation of Palestine"? If not, why not? Of course, you could say, "I'm for the ending of the occupation, not the creation of a new state" - but in my view that's more or less entirely semantic. (David may not hold this view, I'm not sure...) They would be the same event; and they were the same event in dozens of ex-colonies. Another option, is to say "I'm for meeting the needs of Palestinian proletarians, but neutral on the occupation" - I think that's an impossibly abstract position given the real relation between the two.

Saying you're not for national independence doesn't mean you're for imperialism - ok. But in any given case where the problem was concretely posed, there would be the alternative, one or the other. Sometimes, to read these boards, you'd think there was literally no greater threat to the global proletariat than some colonial or imperial relationship collapsing to be replaced by a new nation state.

Quote:
it looks like David is attacking an article which argues that we should not support national liberation movements. I've tried to see what David's actual position is, but he did not respond. But it seems like if he's against not supporting national liberation movements, doesn't that mean he's trying to say we should support them? And if he does then what national liberation movements does he actually mean? If not Hamas, then who? And how?

Wine and Cheese - and CWO - also criticised the pamphlet, and both made some of the same points, whilst having, overall, a different perspective. But you don't assume either of them were for national liberation militias.

David's article starts off by saying that the pamphlet makes correct criticisms of Hamas, etc - I think it calls them "easy points", and repeats such criticisms throughout. It doesn't engage in the debate on the grounds of "are you for or against national liberation movements?", it puts that debate aside in the first few paragraphs. What it says is that the way the pamphlet theorises nation and nationality is wrong in more general terms. It comments on the way the pamphlet accounts for the emergence of nations and nationalism, the idea that all nations are imperialist (as well as also all being imaginary, as indicated above, presumably), and a few other things besides.

Although, for example, the pamphlet concludes - and has a post-script or something - saying that e.g. popular village committees in the West Bank, resisting the wall, are a good thing, and that they ought to be supported, nowhere in the pamphlet is it established - as I recall *why* they ought to be supported, apart from that they are not Hamas. No less than Hamas, they want their own state. If your line of demarcation is "do they want national independence" (or national rights in one state, which you presumably think is no less reactionary - this is what the PKK spent most of it existence campaigning for), then the popular committees are as bad as Hamas. But AF say they're not. Why not? Because they're struggling for their "needs", not a political vision (although in fact they are, as well, just a more low-key one)? Doesn't Hamas struggle to meet needs as well? Of course it does. So... ?

But what is the positive content of what what we can support in these village committees, go out demonstrating at the wall each week? It is clearly a national struggle of a sort - it is a struggle over national realities, and how they are defined, their concrete appearance. You could call it a national struggle or a national movement of a sort if you like. I don't think we've got a proposal for a tightly defined vocabulary to talk about these things.

To explain... JK argued before something like "we mustn't define our programme on the terrain of national demarcations; choosing between imperial occupier and national independence: we must, instead, struggle to assert our own needs - for land, food, water, freedom of movement, etc." (I hope that's a fair characterisation.) IMHO, this is more or less a category error; supposing that the struggle for those needs is somehow outside and separate from a struggle against national oppression, or that it can be, is misleading. To ask - for instance - that Palestinians resist the wall, settlements, road-blocks, but merely conceive of them each as isolated instances, not part of a general pattern (of national subjugation), is impossible. There is a concrete structure of oppression, the occupation, which really exists on the basis of national distinctions (and which creates/sustains those national distinctions). Recognising that there are national politics at play is just recognising reality.

Sorry, that could be alot more polished, and I don't have time to read it over before posting just now.

Joseph Kay
Feb 9 2011 00:22
posi wrote:
I think they could have taken the position JK suggests "to acknowledge a material basis for something without supporting self-determination struggles for it" - and indeed some comments in the debate afterward might have suggested such an approach. But I think passages such as the one I just quoted are fairly characterised in the terms I suggested. It's a fairly straight reading I think - I'm sure you can see why I'd interpret it in the way I have.

it's a while since i read it, but i'm pretty sure it conceptualised the nation as an imagined community. now maybe it's just cos i'm familiar with Benedict Anderson, but the concept has its roots in a materialist analysis of urbanisation and the spread of print media and concommitant standardisation of language. it also seemed to draw heavily on Hobsbawm's argument about the importance of the French Revolution in defining the nation in terms of a linguistic community. without reading the pamphlet again i can't say how well that comes across, but i don't remember the analysis being on the level of 'lol ur nationz izn't real'.

Red Marriott
Feb 9 2011 00:33

I was criticising the convoluted notion that that classless entity called "the people" of the police states of Tunisia & Egypt would be "equally" as glad they weren't in Palestinian conditions as the subjects of Stalinist regimes would be disappointed by their conditions. A great "outcome" for all. As I said, damning with very faint praise, at best.

No more net access for a week and I probably wouldn't continue this old chestnut anyway.

Django
Feb 9 2011 19:00
Posi wrote:
Wine and Cheese - and CWO - also criticised the pamphlet, and both made some of the same points, whilst having, overall, a different perspective. But you don't assume either of them were for national liberation militias.

I suspect that's because neither concluded that a national struggle may provide the basis for communism, and because both lay out an internationalist/anti-national perspective and attempt to articulate that more sucessfully than Against Nationalism does. Neither do they imply that the 'independence' of countries would generally be beneficial from a communist perspective as the above does.

Posi wrote:
I think that a discourse has developed where one question people ask, politically on these boards, is "do you support national liberation?"; and - put in those words - I think it's not politically useful. In my opinion, it's no more helpful than starting with the inverse question "are you against national liberation?" and insisting on a Yes or No answer. I'm not "against national liberation", nor am I "for national liberation" in the abstract. In fact, very few people - including on "the left" - are. e.g. the SWP are for independence for Palestine, but against it for Scotland.

That's kind of disengenious, as you know the Bolsheviks had an organisational commitment to the "right of nations to self-determination" as a political principle, as did the second international. The Commune used to as well in the early days of the organisation.

Posi wrote:
Saying you're not for national independence doesn't mean you're for imperialism - ok. But in any given case where the problem was concretely posed, there would be the alternative, one or the other.

Well, not really. What does an 'independent' nation look like? Any new nation would face a set of geopolitical realities it would have to navigate, and basically end up negotiating imperialist power relations. You can reject the notion of national independence being possible in a meaningful sense in today's world, let alone desirable from a communist perspective, whilst at the same time supporting concrete struggle against military occupation.

Overall though, I don't think sections of Against Nationalism read particuarly well now, and it doesn't give any analysis of the material basis for the success of nationalism and its persistance. I think a more nuanced and detailed explanation of why the idea of 'national oppression' isn't particuarly useful in describing reality is necessary. It could do with an overhaul.

posi
Feb 11 2011 22:01
Quote:
I suspect that's because neither concluded that a national struggle may provide the basis for communism . . .

I don't think the above claims that?

Quote:
That's kind of disengenious

No it's not, it leads on to the para after which asks some fairly specific questions.

Quote:
the Bolsheviks had an organisational commitment to the "right of nations to self-determination" as a political principle

Yeah, and Rosa L had a commitment to opposing imperialist intervention. The question is, as the next para suggests, what is the real content of "national liberation" in concrete cases, and its relation to either of those formulations? What does it even mean?

Quote:
What does an 'independent' nation look like? Any new nation would face a set of geopolitical realities it would have to navigate, and basically end up negotiating imperialist power relations.

In general it's an important point, but in this context just semantics. Pick whatever word you like to illustrate the different situations present in Palestine and Tamil Eelam on the one hand, and France and India on the other.

Django
Feb 12 2011 16:04
Posi wrote:
I don't think the above claims that?

The article says this:

Quote:
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.

Which, yeah, doesn't say 'national struggles can be the basis for communism', but does say that a "national struggle" can be as much of a basis for it as "class" struggles.

Posi wrote:
No it's not, it leads on to the para after which asks some fairly specific questions.

I was commenting on your point that no-one on the left supports national self-determination in the abstract (and therefore implicitly there's no point laying out an argument against it) because clearly that tradition is there in the revolutionary movement, and it demands a response.

davidbroder
Apr 22 2011 15:41

The comments on Tunisia are completely unjustified. I did not, of course, say I supported the Ben Ali régime, but that it was better that the country was freed from French colonialism than not.

Steven complains about my "uncomradely" dismissal of AF because of the title 'The Earth is Not Flat'. In fact it was not my intention to compare them to dogmatic religious types five hundred years ago, but more simply to highlight the idea that e.g. not all states are imperialist.

It is also markedly less uncomradely than Steven's treatment of my piece. He does not pay any attention to what I say, instead assuming that the article is a justification of "national liberationists", apparently meaning Hezbollah, Mugabe etc. It is as if you cannot imagine any position other than (i) support for Hezbollah or (ii) limiting ourselves to narrowly economic concerns. Even though I quite straightforwardly argue that I do not support these groups, and that it is mistaken to identify particular groups with the idea of a movement against national oppression.

The comparison to "racial self-determination" is not at all comparable, nor that of the Brazilian migrant worker in the UK. To me "racial self-determination" sounds like exclusivism, whereas that is not at all the case with splitting one state unit up into multiple ones.

Android
Apr 22 2011 16:08


davidbroder wrote:
Steven complains about my "uncomradely" dismissal of AF because of the title 'The Earth is Not Flat'. In fact it was not my intention to compare them to dogmatic religious types five hundred years ago, but more simply to highlight the idea that e.g. not all states are imperialist.

To be fair, I didn't interpret the title the way Steven did and thought it was clear what was being referred to give the perspective articulated in Against Nationalism.

People often use the title of texts to make a political point so I think this is really a non-issue.

davidbroder wrote:
The comparison to "racial self-determination" is not at all comparable, nor that of the Brazilian migrant worker in the UK. To me "racial self-determination" sounds like exclusivism, whereas that is not at all the case with splitting one state unit up into multiple ones.

But, don't all nation-states operate around an exclusion mechanism, i.e. who is and is not part of the nation?

Tojiah
Apr 22 2011 16:14
davidbroder wrote:
The comparison to "racial self-determination" is not at all comparable, nor that of the Brazilian migrant worker in the UK. To me "racial self-determination" sounds like exclusivism, whereas that is not at all the case with splitting one state unit up into multiple ones.

Of course it does. To "split up" at all would require that some people will be excluded from belonging to one unit or the other. Otherwise it is no more than redistricting.

davidbroder
Apr 24 2011 08:17

By 'exclusivism' I mean, like, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Racial self-determination is an absurd red herring.

It is not the same thing as saying e.g. a majority of people in a given area with common language, tradition, subject to foreign oppression, could get their own state. That by no means precludes the participationof minority national groups in its economic or political life.

In Israel-Palestine the exclusion already exists - against the Palestinians!

I am against border controls of any kind. Given its terrible poverty i doubt an independent Palestine would be a match for 'fortress Europe' (few countries in the Global South are except UAE etc). Some states e.g. Ecuador have basically no such controls. It just doesn't seem to be the issue, since it has nothing to do with the struggle over whether or not it should get independence.

posi
Apr 24 2011 13:47
Django wrote:
Posi wrote:
I don't think the above claims that?

The article says this:

Quote:
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.

Which, yeah, doesn't say 'national struggles can be the basis for communism', but does say that a "national struggle" can be as much of a basis for it as "class" struggles.

But, according to you (I think), and certainly some people in the thread above, the struggle - for example - against the occupation is an example of class struggle, no? Is it that you don't think it's also a national struggle? To me, it seems obviously to be a struggle over a national question. But if that's true, wouldn't it follow that sometimes a national struggle could be part of the class struggle?

Anyway, I don't agree with that way of framing it. What the para you quote would argue would be that struggles over national issues *can be* (but obviously, are not necessarily, and indeed are arguably very rarely) as much a part of the class struggle as *wage* issues... it's your identification, in what you say here, of class struggle precisely with wage struggles that has lead David, I think, to characterise your position as economistic.

(Happy Easter abstract communist debate fans.)

Khawaga
Apr 24 2011 17:22
posi wrote:
the struggle - for example - against the occupation is an example of class struggle, no? Is it that you don't think it's also a national struggle? To me, it seems obviously to be a struggle over a national question

In Palestine a lot of the actual struggles going on now are all livelihood struggles basically over land and/or freedom of movement so you can get to work. So not a direct class struggle in terms of guns blazing, but more like the reaction to austerity measures that's hit parts of the world recently. The majority of Palestinians do, however, see them as part of the national struggle.

Spikymike
Apr 17 2020 15:58

This debate is resurected just now on 'The Commune' website with an introduction along strong internationalist lines and perhaps closer to the content of the earlier AF pamphlet than the approach of David Broader here (though some weaknesses in the otherwise excelant AF text were acknowledged by it's authors elswhere).

See: http://thecommune.co.uk/2013/06/15/marxism-against-nationalism/#more-884...

I think this can still be found here:
https://thecommune.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/no-national-solutions/
along with some other contributions from Barry Biddulph.
Also now on this site here:
https://libcom.org/library/no-national-solutions

Mike Harman
Oct 2 2018 12:25

The author of this piece, David Broder, is now writing for Jacobin that the left should support France Insoumise and Mélenchon https://jacobinmag.com/2018/09/france-insoumise-melenchon-sixth-republic... - downplaying Mélenchon's whitewashing of post-war France's continuity with Vichy, while France Insoumise move to the right on immigration (see thread in French here on their rightward move since 2012: https://twitter.com/dareljedid/status/1046799415351156737).

Craftwork
Oct 3 2018 19:19
Mike Harman wrote:
The author of this piece, David Broder, is now writing for Jacobin that the left should support France Insoumise and Mélenchon https://jacobinmag.com/2018/09/france-insoumise-melenchon-sixth-republic... - downplaying Mélenchon's whitewashing of post-war France's continuity with Vichy, while France Insoumise move to the right on immigration (see thread in French here on their rightward move since 2012: https://twitter.com/dareljedid/status/1046799415351156737).

He's a stalinist these days.

Mike Harman
Oct 4 2018 11:24
Craftwork wrote:
He's a stalinist these days.

Given craftwork's form for misrepresenting people's political views I had to verify this myself, but here's a glowing obituary of Domenico Losurdo, so... yeah.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/07/domenico-losurdo-italian-marxism-coun...

Craftwork
Jan 30 2019 20:54
David Broder wrote:
"On 24 January 1979 the Italian Communist Party activist and trade unionist Guido Rossa was murdered by the vile ultra-left terrorists of the "Red Brigades" (BR). Over 250,000 people attended the PCI man's funeral. Socialist president Sandro Pertini was one of those in Genoa that day, and asked to meet the dockworkers, many of whom, he had heard, sympathised with the BR. A veteran of the Resistance now in his eighties, Pertini thundered "I speak to you not as the president of the Republic, but as comrade Pertini. And I knew the real red brigades: they fought with me against the fascists, not against democrats. For shame!" There was silence, and then applause."

https://www.facebook.com/david.broder.980/posts/223962278548511