The Right of Nations to Self Determination

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LBird
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Jan 28 2011 05:25
devoration1 wrote:
I'm not sure what to make of your comment. I'm trying to be as clear as possible- I oppose national liberation/the right of nations to self-determination; ...[but] I don't believe removing all traces of reactionary ideology from any population of workers (including those affected by proto-states, NL, such as the Kurds, Palestinians, etc) is necessary for the struggle for socialism

Still sounds like 'hares and hounds' to me, mate.

devoration1 wrote:
More either/or scenarios.

Well, that's easily fixed - let's add a third stance to our provisional list:

1. Alexander's (and others?) - support (critical?) for national liberation struggles.

2. Mine (and LibComs?) - propaganda only for national liberation struggles, but support for class conscious liberation movements.

3. devoration1's - some support for national liberation struggles, and support for class conscious liberation movements.

devoration1 wrote:
(including those affected by proto-states, NL, such as the Kurds, Palestinians, etc) is necessary for the struggle for socialism (and would say that this is true of all workers everywhere)

Errr... I don't think I agree with this - surely workers in the Third World, infected with ideas of national liberation, are in a different category to those of the First World, for whom NL is meaningless? This isn't to say, of course, that they are not infected by other equally dangerous ideologies, like 'Free Market Individualist Consumptionism'. But it is different.

devoration1 wrote:
"class conscious liberation movement"

I don't think anyone has argued for or even mention this possibility - how can a 'class conscious' movement want (presumably you mean 'national') liberation? Only Fascists try to mix up irreconcilably-opposed categories into the myth of 'National Socialism'. I'm sure that's something all positions 1-3 would reject.

devoration1 wrote:
I think Juan summed it up the best:

Quote:

The positive aspects of them don't seem much to fight for and the negative aspects of them are either absolutely devastating or similar to what an authentic communist upheaval would face, why not just fight for the authentic communist upheaval?

Yes, I agree - but that's because I think it encapsulates position 2, above.

'don't seem much to fight for' = propaganda only, then?

'just fight for the authentic communist upheaval' = class conscious liberation movements.

If you prefer, we could remove 'liberation' from that category - I only kept it in to keep the link with the discussion about the Third World, but you're probably right to see it as unnecessarily confusing.

So, I propose the 3 positions are now:

1. Alexander's (and others?) - support (critical?) for national liberation struggles;

2. Mine (and LibComs?) - propaganda only for national liberation struggles, but support for class conscious movements.

3. devoration1's - some support for national liberation struggles, and support for class conscious movements.

Open to usual comments/changes.

[edit]

Had a thought - should add second clause to 1 - I'm sure Alexander would agree.
But now 1 and 3 look very similar, just a slight difference, perhaps, in level of support.

Should we therefore say:

1. Alexander's and devoration1's - support (of some sort) for national liberation struggles, and support for class conscious movements;

2. Mine (and LibComs?) - propaganda only for national liberation struggles, but support for class conscious movements.

[end edit]

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Tojiah
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Jan 28 2011 05:30
devoration1 wrote:
More either/or scenarios. I think the confusion lies in treating the workers from areas where minority religious/ethnic/national groups are engaged in conflict (Turkey, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Sudan, etc) differently than workers in first world or more industrialized or more homogenous nation-states.

Adding that to the mention of race above, "race" as a social construct is used in the more centralized and established nation-states in the first world in the same way that nationalism is used in less consolidated areas such as the Middle East. Walking around a typical racially-diverse US city, I can't help but note how similar the segregation is to that between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in Israel.

It's not that there are no historical contingencies that are the basis for these identities (the ruling class is, as ever, conscious of the need for recycling ideology), but that they are futile rallying points for change.

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Noa Rodman
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Jan 28 2011 14:06
Lbird wrote:
and Noa Rodman - I'm not really sure what you're saying. Do you agree with Alexander or with me (which, I maintain, is the general policy for LibCom, as far as I understand it so far), or do you have a third position?

One has to desist of taking a practical position, and anyway, like Juan said, there's no real support any worker can give to the struggle of oppressed nationalities, and it's worthless in comparison to the military aid provided by rival states.
From the point of view of raising class-consciousness of workers in the West anti-imperialism/colonialism is useless because it does not make any political difference to Joe-the-prole whether Kurds et al. have a state or not (majority of nationalists would support other nationalists' claims, so it's even reinforcing nationalist ideology).
The question is not so much what should the workers who happen to be of an oppressed people do (which is always class struggle), but what position, e.g. French workers in the 1950s with regard to Algeria or Spanish workers nowadays with regard to Basques, should take (who live in a state 'directly' oppressing another people). Here workers with nationalist attitude will not support nationalist claims of this other people, and really convincing them of the right (not support, because again French workers could do nothing for independent Algeria and so on) to self determination to the people in question, would have to mean that they theoretically already abandon their French/Spanish nationalism. I think that was Lenin's goal with this slogan, but in itself it falls short and this:

LBird
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Jan 28 2011 14:39

Well, Noa, you seem, to me at least, to be agreeing with position 2.

2. Mine (and LibComs?) - propaganda only for national liberation struggles, but support for class conscious movements.

But...

Noa Rodman wrote:
...what should the workers who happen to be of an oppressed people do (which is always class struggle)...

I think you're wrong, on this point, though. Surely there are many 'doings' of the working class of an 'oppressed' people which we would not characterise as 'class struggle'? Like, for example, carry out pogroms against an even smaller 'oppressed' minority, while under the baleful influence of their 'own' (Loretta-like) nationalist ideology? Perhaps I'm missing a subtle point you're making?

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Steven.
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Jan 28 2011 14:46

LBird, you seem to be getting a bit confused.

Firstly, with respect to your "two positions" devoration does not support national liberation., Secondly

LBird wrote:
Well, Noa, you seem, to me at least, to be agreeing with position 2.

2. Mine (and LibComs?) - propaganda only for national liberation struggles, but support for class conscious movements.

I'm not sure what you mean here by "propaganda only for national liberation struggles"? We wouldn't put up propaganda supporting national liberation struggles. As to what "policy" libertarian communists should have regarding workers in so-called "oppressed" nations, it is the same "policy" we have for workers everywhere, which is that we support in whatever way we can all workers' struggles in their collective class interest.

Quote:

But...

Noa Rodman wrote:
...what should the workers who happen to be of an oppressed people do (which is always class struggle)...

I think you're wrong, on this point, though. Surely there are many 'doings' of the working class of an 'oppressed' people which we would not characterise as 'class struggle'? Like, for example, carry out pogroms against an even smaller 'oppressed' minority, while under the baleful influence of their 'own' (Loretta-like) nationalist ideology? Perhaps I'm missing a subtle point you're making?

I don't understand what you mean here. Carrying out pogroms has absolutely nothing to do with class struggle - quite the opposite in fact, as you realise. I think you are misunderstanding Noa's quote. Here's what he says:

Quote:
The question is not so much what should the workers who happen to be of an oppressed people do (which is always class struggle),

Here he is saying that what workers in "oppressed" nations should do is struggle for their class interests.

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Steven.
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Jan 28 2011 14:55
georgestapleton wrote:
It's odd that you can both not know what I'm saying and know that it's a straw man.

Ed pretty much responded to you on my behalf above, but I will respond as well.

I can understand the contents of your post. And as Ed pointed out most of it is strawmen arguments which you attribute to other people on libcom, which as far as I know none of the internationalists here have ever espoused.

The initial poster here ask the question:

Quote:
I would like people to post their views on the right of nations to self-determination here on this topic.

so I do not know what you are trying to say on this issue, nor what your views are on this issue. Your post did not seem to address this question, but instead seem to be about you being aggrieved about how some people on libcom spoke to you in previous discussions about this, possibly years ago. If you wanted to answer the initial poster's question I think that would be instructive for everyone.

LBird
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Jan 28 2011 15:19

Well, Steven, I'll let devoration1 correct me and my misunderstanding.

More importantly, I think you capture both parts of position 2 well, with your statements:

Steven wrote:
I'm not sure what you mean here by "propaganda only for national liberation struggles"? We wouldn't put up propaganda supporting national liberation struggles.

Of course not! Not support, silly! Propaganda given to any curious members of NLFs to help undermine nationalism, and strengthen any incipient class tendencies we might observe. I'm sure you'd agree with that!

Steven wrote:
As to what "policy" libertarian communists should have regarding workers in so-called "oppressed" nations, it is the same "policy" we have for workers everywhere, which is that we support in whatever way we can all workers' struggles in their collective class interest.

Agreed, 100%!

Policy:

National Liberation: 'counter-propaganda', no support/aid (unlike Alexander's position)

Class conscious workers anywhere: full support/aid (just like Alexander)

Simples!

[I'd assumed, rather foolishly as it turned out, given my many previous statements, that by 'propaganda' I obviously meant 'in favour of workers', not 'national liberation', but I'll be sure to be more accurate in future - we all learn, don't we?]

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Steven.
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Jan 28 2011 15:26

LBird, thanks for the clarification, I'm glad we agree.

Regarding devoration, he as already tried to clarify his views for you. Reread his post #29 above:

devoration1 wrote:
you wrote:
devoration1 - your post seems to fall between the two stools, or rather, you're hunting with the hounds and running with the hares - perhaps it's my fault for being a bit thick. Could you clarify it, please?

I'm not sure what to make of your comment. I'm trying to be as clear as possible- I oppose national liberation/the right of nations to self-determination

LBird
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Jan 28 2011 16:06
Steven wrote:
LBird, thanks for the clarification, I'm glad we agree.

Well, under the influence of your and others' posts and links, I think all I'm doing is clarifying your position, in opposition to Alexander's. But it's been a hard slog...

On devoration1's statement, "I oppose national liberation/the right of nations to self-determination...", wasn't there a caveat? I just wanted dev to make the statement, full stop. To clarify.

We really should be trying to get to the real essence of our various positions, rather than mystifying them with endless qualifications. I think it's a sign of unclear thinking, if politics can't be explained relatively easily.

It's easier to generate support for a policy if workers actually understand it, rather than be fobbed off with references to old books or links to huge documents.

After all, aren't we trying to persuade workers to come to our Communist policies? And if anyone says struggle itself, alone, will do the job, I'm afraid I think they're wrong.

Who was it who talked about the unity of theory and practice?

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georgestapleton
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Jan 28 2011 20:32
radicalgraffiti wrote:
georgestapleton wrote:
Which is precisely what I disagree with. The reason nations exist is no more because of nationalists than the reason race exists is because of racists.

but race is entirely a idea that people believe in, it has no real scientific basis.

If by scientific basis you mean race doesn't exist biologically then yeah of course. But equally class doesn't exist biologically but that doesn't mean its not real. Nor does it mean that its simply an 'idea that people believe in'. Ditto with race and the nation, just because they don't exist in our blood doesn't mean that they are simply ideas that people believe in. They are real social phenomena.

Joseph Kay wrote:
George, what does the materiality or otherwise of 'nations' have to do with whether to support "the right of nations to self-determination"?

Well part of your argument seems to be that nations are 'inherently bourgeois' and therefore we shouldn't support their 'self-determination'. So the question of what a nation is does matter to the question of their 'right to self-determination'. Really this is a somewhat stupid point. How could the "materiality or otherwise of 'nations'" NOT have relevance to "whether to support "the right of nations to self-determination""?

Steven. wrote:
I can understand the contents of your post. And as Ed pointed out most of it is strawmen arguments which you attribute to other people on libcom, which as far as I know none of the internationalists here have ever espoused.

The initial poster here ask the question:

Quote:
I would like people to post their views on the right of nations to self-determination here on this topic.

so I do not know what you are trying to say on this issue, nor what your views are on this issue. Your post did not seem to address this question, but instead seem to be about you being aggrieved about how some people on libcom spoke to you in previous discussions about this, possibly years ago. If you wanted to answer the initial poster's question I think that would be instructive for everyone.

Firstly, I don't think I've argued against any straw men. I don't think the libcom version of anti-nationalism entails a proper critique of the nation. I think as I said that "the discussion of nationalism on libcom is always disappointing. A critique of national liberation movements is taken as a stand in for a critique of the nation."

Now honestly I don't see how you could have read the above, understood it, and not seen its relevance to the OP's question. I think that in order to have a proper critique of the right of nations to self-determination you need to have a proper critique of the nation. And I think that the arguments made on libcom regarding the nation are extremely superficial and often plain wrong.

Judging from Joseph K.'s first post on this thread, he seems to agree with me that the reason for the national self-determination being dead end for the task of human liberation is because of the nature of the nation. What I think is problematic is that in this and every discussion on libcom and on the British libertarian left/ultra-left is that the critique of the nation is so underdeveloped.

Also seeing as the OP wrote: "I am most interested in hearing from people who believe that any claims of any people to the right of nationhood is "nationalism" and "nationalism" is by definition reactionary and that we should never, under any circumstances support it." What he/she seems to be interested in here is precisely what I am saying is problematic: the conflation of the nation with the nation-state; the conflation of nationalism with national liberation ideologies etc. So although I haven't given a clear snappy 'line' on national self-determination in my posts, I don't think my post have been irrelevant or ignored the OP.

Finally, I think saying that my post was seemed "to be about you being aggrieved about how some people on libcom spoke to you in previous discussions about this, possibly years ago" is cynical and dishonest. In my post I clearly made an argument for two paragraphs, regardless of it merits, and then made a sardonic comment about my arguments reception in the final paragraph. This is clear and to say that my argument arises from some affection of aggrievedness is basely, false and most importantly unfair, distrustful and as I said cynical.

Jason Cortez
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Jan 28 2011 21:22

George could you actually state your definition of a 'nation' and how it constitutes itself. I am right in assuming that you are coming at this from a 'first nation' perspective or something similar. Or just point me to something that explains what you are on about, because it isn't clear at all what your argument actually is, beyond repeatedly stating that 'LibCom' lacks a proper critique of the 'nation. Oh and do you believe 'nations' have rights?

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Joseph Kay
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Jan 28 2011 21:45
georgestapleton wrote:
Really this is a somewhat stupid point. How could the "materiality or otherwise of 'nations'" NOT have relevance to "whether to support "the right of nations to self-determination""?

because something being material doesn't mean you have to support it? 'a somewhat stupid point' indeed. my point, which is indeed elementary is that a nation is a cross-class imagined community*, and therefore any 'liberation' of a nation is at best a 'liberation' of a domestic ruling class.

my further point is that this 'liberation', even when 'successful' is meaningless since nation-states exist in a geopolitical system where the strong states dominate the weak ones, and formal colonialism only represents a one such form of said domination. for a nation-state to become strong requires the subjugation of the working class to fund the necessary modernisation/economic/military strength.

my underlying argument is this shouldn't come as any surprise. the politics of 'the nation' come from the revolutionary bourgeoisie seeking power in the name of the people, it's no surprise whatsoever that other would-be elites learn to speak the language of nationalism/national liberation in order to acomplish something similar.

Edit: a further point with regard to the OP; 'the right' of nations is what i've been mainly arguing about. you could in principle reject the idea of 'the right of nations to self-determination' but argue in a realpolitik fashion for 'the might of nations to self-determination' or somesuch (i.e. that there's no 'right' to it beyond the power to make it so). i think that's a better account of the reality of the 'right', but obviously don't support it for the above reasons.

georgestapleton wrote:
I don't think I've argued against any straw men. I don't think the libcom version...

LOL. is this satire? or do you not get that arguing against amalagams is constructing straw men, since 'libcom' is not a single entity and the posters here offer different arguments for things. Even when you mention me, you immediately return to arguing about the amalgam of 'the British ultra-left'. why not engage with actual things people say instead of battling this half-remembered amalgam from a couple of years ago?

georgestapleton wrote:
the conflation of the nation with the nation-state; the conflation of nationalism with national liberation ideologies etc

right then, crazy idea, offer an argument why 'nations' can be separated from nation-states and why national liberation is not nationalism.

* this does not mean it's 'all in the mind', all sorts of material processes constitute this community from national media, shared language, political status (either as citizens or colonial subjects) and so on.

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Tojiah
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Jan 29 2011 00:29

George, if you really think libcom doesn't have a well-enough developed critique of the nation, while you apparently do, why not present one yourself? This forum is only as good as its contributors.

Alexander Roxwell
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Jan 29 2011 03:55

I am really snowed under here - buried under an avalanche of random thoughts coming from all directions. Here are a few of my random reactions to just a few of them

Juan Conatz wrote:
What is "support" even mean? You plan on funneling arms & cash? Volunteering for an insurgency group? Starting a "Friends Of the [enter oppressed nation here]" public relations organization? It all seems rhetorical and pointless. Your support is meaningless anyway.

This is a good question - at least up to the comment about it being pointless. I think we have to recognize a legitimate struggle when we see it but we will have to debate the specifics of that struggle. I never said I “automatically” support every claim. If we are talking about the French Underground in World War II I think funneling arms and cash would be appropriate. If I was in France I would have volunteered. In the case of Vietnam I would say to the worker (and did) that we are the bad guy and “they” should defeat us. In the case of Kurdistan your statement about it being pointless probably has a lot of merit.

quote of devoration wrote:
Lenin's position that socialists are duty-bound "to conduct an implacable struggle" against all those who at any time "defend or sanction national oppression or the denial of the right of nations to self-determination"

I think this is the position I took on Vietnam – or Nicaragua – or Grenada – or Iraq.

Noa Rodman wrote:
The slogan of right to self-determination was certainly not meant as an endorsement of every national struggle ([---]). Its use was meant as educative propaganda against reactionary attitudes of the workers in the oppressing countries. I think Lenin's point of view makes sense that efforts should mainly go to convincing/educating Israeli workers, Turkish workers, etc.

Certainly to those of us who are in Imperialist countries like the United States, Britain, France, and so on this is fundamentally correct. It is a way of showing that justice is with the “other” and not with “us.” We cannot sit there and pretend that “both sides” are in any way “equal.” Israeli workers must oppose their nation’s terrorism against Palestine but Palestinian workers do not need to oppose their fellow workers who retaliate against Israel.

Noa Rodman wrote:
That a future Kurdish state would oppress its workers, be subservient to more powerful states, etc. Lenin would call these remarks banalities (true, but skirting the issue).

And I would wholeheartedly agree with Lenin on this point. One of my sore points with much of the left when the war against the people of Iraq started was that Saddam Hussein’s personality was utterly irrelevant to the issue. Yes he was a piece of pig shit but that is not why they went after him. We defend any victim of the Empire – they are not required to be virtuous.

Joseph Kay wrote:
nation-states exist in a geopolitical system where the strong states dominate the weak ones, and formal colonialism only represents a one such form of said domination.

We certainly do not pretend that "getting your nation" solves your problem. But it may make your life a little better.

Alexander Roxwell
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Jan 29 2011 03:58
Alexander Roxwell wrote:
I I think this is the position I took on Vietnam – or Nicaragua – or Grenada – or Iraq.

should have read:

Alexander Roxwell wrote:
I I think this is the position I took on Vietnam – and Nicaragua – and Grenada – and Iraq.
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devoration1
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Jan 29 2011 06:00
Quote:
wasn't there a caveat? I just wanted dev to make the statement, full stop. To clarify.

There is no caveat. Steven. is correct about what I wrote. Your characterization of what I wrote is what I have a problem with, even after trying to clarify.

Quote:
3. devoration1's - some support for national liberation struggles, and support for class conscious movements.

No support for any national liberation struggle.

LBird
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Jan 29 2011 09:36
devoration1 wrote:
There is no caveat. Steven. is correct about what I wrote. Your characterization of what I wrote is what I have a problem with, even after trying to clarify.

dev, I apologise. You're very clear.

devoration1 wrote:
No support for any national liberation struggle.

But I presume you would agree with this, from post #37?

LBird wrote:
Policy:

National Liberation: 'counter-propaganda', no support/aid (unlike Alexander's position)

Class conscious workers anywhere: full support/aid (just like Alexander)

Thanks for your forbearance.

LBird
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Jan 29 2011 09:51
Alexander Roxwell wrote:
If we are talking about the French Underground in World War II I think funneling arms and cash would be appropriate. If I was in France I would have volunteered.

But doesn't this beg the question, Alexander, which 'French' Resistance? The nationalists of de Gaulle? The Stalinists of the French Communist Party? They both killed German workers, many of whom had been conscripted.

Surely our policy would apply here? Counter-propaganda against the Nazi Regime, aimed at both sets of workers, French and German? Pointing out that the rich French and Germans will happily use either Fascism or Liberal Democracy to achieve their ends?

Paris Commune? Vichy? Petain: "This [1940 defeat] is the result of 30 years of Marxism..."

Was the 'Liberation Hero' de Gaulle an ally of the workers of Algeria?

Who and what would you have fought, and possibly have given your life, for?

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Steven.
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Jan 29 2011 17:52
georgestapleton wrote:
Steven. wrote:
I can understand the contents of your post. And as Ed pointed out most of it is strawmen arguments which you attribute to other people on libcom, which as far as I know none of the internationalists here have ever espoused.

The initial poster here ask the question:

Quote:
I would like people to post their views on the right of nations to self-determination here on this topic.

so I do not know what you are trying to say on this issue, nor what your views are on this issue. Your post did not seem to address this question, but instead seem to be about you being aggrieved about how some people on libcom spoke to you in previous discussions about this, possibly years ago. If you wanted to answer the initial poster's question I think that would be instructive for everyone.

Firstly, I don't think I've argued against any straw men.

if you have forgotten your initial post on this thread, it is here:
http://libcom.org/forums/history/right-nations-self-determination-27012011#comment-412784

Here are some of the strawmen contained therein:

Quote:
The discussion of nationalism on libcom is always disappointing. A critique of national liberation movements is taken as a stand in for a critique of the nation. And in so far as there is a critique of the nation it treats the nation as though its historical contingency is proof of its non-existence and therefore once you know that nations don't 'really' exist you have the problem dealt with.

there is one straw man you have invented. If you reckon it is not straw man, and this is something that "libcom" has said, please provide us with relevant links/quotes. Moving on…

Quote:
The trouble with this is that you can no more think your way out of the nation than you can think your way out of value, class, property, exchange, gender, race etc. All these social forms really exist.

here you are arguing against a strawman. Again, if you can demonstrate where people have said you can "think your way out of the nation" please do.

Now onto your subsequent sentence:

Quote:
And saying that national hierarchies don't matter because we are all workers

here is another strawman. As previously, if you are saying this is not a strawman you should be able to evidence this.

Quote:
I don't think the libcom version of anti-nationalism entails a proper critique of the nation. I think as I said that "the discussion of nationalism on libcom is always disappointing. A critique of national liberation movements is taken as a stand in for a critique of the nation."

you are a poster on libcom as much as anyone else. As others have requested, if you can enlighten us with the proper critique please do.

Quote:
Now honestly I don't see how you could have read the above, understood it, and not seen its relevance to the OP's question. I think that in order to have a proper critique of the right of nations to self-determination you need to have a proper critique of the nation. And I think that the arguments made on libcom regarding the nation are extremely superficial and often plain wrong.

the person who made the initial post only registered here recently. In all likelihood he won't have read the years of discussions we have had on this issue. I have read them all, and I don't know what you're on about. All you did was say that "libcom" is wrong, and then invented a strawman position and argued against that. I don't see the relevance of that to the discussion I'm afraid. If you gave your views on national liberation, or your "proper critique of the nation" that might be relevant.

Quote:

Also seeing as the OP wrote: "I am most interested in hearing from people who believe that any claims of any people to the right of nationhood is "nationalism" and "nationalism" is by definition reactionary and that we should never, under any circumstances support it." What he/she seems to be interested in here is precisely what I am saying is problematic: the conflation of the nation with the nation-state; the conflation of nationalism with national liberation ideologies etc. So although I haven't given a clear snappy 'line' on national self-determination in my posts, I don't think my post have been irrelevant or ignored the OP.

your initial post doesn't mention that you have a problem with the conflation of the nation and the nation state, let alone it be clear that this is "precisely" what you are saying.

Quote:
Finally, I think saying that my post was seemed "to be about you being aggrieved about how some people on libcom spoke to you in previous discussions about this, possibly years ago" is cynical and dishonest. In my post I clearly made an argument for two paragraphs, regardless of it merits, and then made a sardonic comment about my arguments reception in the final paragraph. This is clear and to say that my argument arises from some affection of aggrievedness is basely, false and most importantly unfair, distrustful and as I said cynical.

as above, the argument you made two paragraphs was not a real argument. And your admittedly sardonic comment at the end was clearly a reference to how posters have perceived you here in the past. And as it was sardonic you clearly didn't seem happy about how you had been perceived in the past, so I thought it would be fair to say you were aggrieved by it. I did specify that to me it seemed that was what your post about, so I don't see how it is dishonest of me to say how something appears. I apologise if you found this offensive, but similarly I didn't find your libcom amalgam strawman argument particularly constructive, honest, accurate or fair in any way either, and the tone of your post was both patronising and dismissive. But let's try to move on now then.

Alexander Roxwell
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Jan 29 2011 23:42

What is the role of a communist in a class society?

An elitist communist (an oxymoron I know but they are out there), if they were honest, might answer that the role of a communist is to rise to the leadership of the class struggle and use it to take power for “the party” so as to redesign society in a manner more favorable to the workers.

How about the rest of us? I would answer it by stating that I believe the role of a communist is to try to steer the inchoate and unfocused class struggle in such a way as it reaches fruition – bring it to climax with the working class seizure of power and the overthrow of capitalist society.

The class struggle is ongoing and permanent but it is usually unconscious or semi-conscious and often incoherent. It is generally not focused on where it is going. It is not “conscious of itself.” That is why we need “communists.”

Communists must first of all join the class struggle. They cannot remain aloof from it or try to be “above” it. They cannot be like a crabby old schoolmarm whose function is to endlessly correct the spelling and punctuation of the errant school children and bang their hands with a ruler and go “tsk tsk.”

“Communists” who do that are often called “sectarians.” They stand outside the class struggle looking down on it with contempt for its “errors.”

Communists cannot set pre-conditions on the class struggle. “Until they dump their [bourgeois / popular front / revisionist / charismatic ] misleadership I will remain on the sidelines giving them lectures like an old schoolmarm. Communists cannot allow a fear of failure to prevent them from engaging in the class struggle. What if I spent 20 years helping such a movement and all they ended up with was putting Fidel Castro in power and he threw me in prison for my efforts. Boo Hoo. Up to now no class struggle has reached climax. The chances are that yours might not either.

There is much smoke and many mirrors in the real class struggle. The line of march is not clear even to the best of us – let alone the mass of workers. If it were we would have succeeded by now and there would not be so many rival “brands” of communism. Workers are born into this fog and if they wake up at all they wake up in fragments. Each worker who wakes up wakes up to this or that reality, maintaining, at least for awhile, some illusions elsewhere. Each worker sheds their illusions in phases, frequently exchanging one “deep fog” illusion for one that is a little less foggy but still not quite right. No worker does this in isolation. The major training ground is the “class struggle” itself. The class struggle is a process. The workers learn as they go along. No class struggle begins where it ends.

Communists must meet the workers in imperfect consciousness, engaged in the class struggle the way it actually presents itself to us, not the way we communists would like it to present itself. If the communists stand aside others will lead the class struggle into a cul de sac.

The class struggle will ebb and flow and make many wrong turns. That is where the fight is in the land of smoke and mirrors.

The main class struggle is between the capitalists and workers. But there are other players as well. There are landlords and peasants. There are petit-bourgeois and the “professional” middle classes (which are not identical or even particularly similar). They move and fight and squabble and help stir up the smoke as well. There are ethnic groups and cultural subsets. There are students and youth and gays. Workers often identify at least as much with some of these groups as they do as “workers” even as they engage in the class struggle. Just pinning the label "false consciousness" does not make this reality disappear.

Less so today than in recent history; less so in advanced industrialized societies than in the Third World societies, an ethnic group is kept down, as an ethnic group, by a foreign imperialist overlord. This ethnic group will organize itself to seek relief from this oppression and this may take the form of “nationalism.” This is the “nationalism” of the oppressed and they often seek “national self-determination.” And yes. When they do Communists must support that effort.

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Noa Rodman
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Jan 29 2011 23:46
Alexander Roxwell wrote:
Noa Rodman wrote:
The slogan of right to self-determination was certainly not meant as an endorsement of every national struggle ([---]). Its use was meant as educative propaganda against reactionary attitudes of the workers in the oppressing countries. I think Lenin's point of view makes sense that efforts should mainly go to convincing/educating Israeli workers, Turkish workers, etc.

Certainly to those of us who are in Imperialist countries like the United States, Britain, France, and so on this is fundamentally correct. It is a way of showing that justice is with the “other” and not with “us.” We cannot sit there and pretend that “both sides” are in any way “equal.” Israeli workers must oppose their nation’s terrorism against Palestine but Palestinian workers do not need to oppose their fellow workers who retaliate against Israel.

I think acceptance of the slogan would be more of a result, after having fought nationalist assumptions in the workers of the oppressing countries, than an argument in itself. It's not about showing justice (that'd be liberal humanism) or useless symbolic action (as mocked in the Life of Brian clip), the purpose of the slogan would be lost if if its put forth for such reasons. Also, to take another example, Corsican workers DO need to oppose their fellow workers who retaliate against France, if they don't believe a Corsican state would make 'their life a little better', and if their fellow workers fight under the banner of counter-revolutionary democratic-nationalism.

Alexander Roxwell wrote:
Noa Rodman wrote:
That a future Kurdish state would oppress its workers, be subservient to more powerful states, etc. Lenin would call these remarks banalities (true, but skirting the issue).

And I would wholeheartedly agree with Lenin on this point. One of my sore points with much of the left when the war against the people of Iraq started was that Saddam Hussein’s personality was utterly irrelevant to the issue. Yes he was a piece of pig shit but that is not why they went after him. We defend any victim of the Empire – they are not required to be virtuous.

This is the real question, but it should be clear that the slogan of right to self-determination has no effect (on clarifying workers' thought) to optional wars, which is what the US wars are.

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devoration1
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Jan 30 2011 00:20
Quote:
“Communists” who do that are often called “sectarians.” They stand outside the class struggle looking down on it with contempt for its “errors.”

Communists cannot set pre-conditions on the class struggle. “Until they dump their [bourgeois / popular front / revisionist / charismatic ] misleadership I will remain on the sidelines giving them lectures like an old schoolmarm. Communists cannot allow a fear of failure to prevent them from engaging in the class struggle.

I don't believe communists are seperate from the working class. They are class conscious workers (the 'advanced elements' Marx wrote of)- who are a part of the class struggle the same as other workers. No one is suggesting we 'stay on the sidelines'. This is yet another 'Either/Or' scenario: if you are not actively participating with the popular front/national liberation struggle/etc, you are 'standing on the sidelines' and 'not participating' in your schema above. This is not how it happens in the real world. For example, showing up at a local strike picket and passing out propaganda concerning the union involved's obstructionism, opportunism, etc is actively participating in the class struggle. Attending demo's and rallies called by/for a "national liberation" group or movement and speaking out against dragging the downtrodden and oppressed workers into a militaristic adventure for new exploiters in leadership positions is actively participating in the class struggle.

Communists are workers too!. It is not a 'fear of failure' that most here won't try and 'bore from within' labor unions and political parties, not by a long shot.

Quote:
What is the role of a communist in a class society?

An elitist communist (an oxymoron I know but they are out there), if they were honest, might answer that the role of a communist is to rise to the leadership of the class struggle and use it to take power for “the party” so as to redesign society in a manner more favorable to the workers.

How about the rest of us? I would answer it by stating that I believe the role of a communist is to try to steer the inchoate and unfocused class struggle in such a way as it reaches fruition – bring it to climax with the working class seizure of power and the overthrow of capitalist society.

I'd agree with the second part- I don't see the role of communist militants to 'lead' their fellow workers in a heirchical/top-down sense. But I completely disagree with the conclusions you draw from this- that only by joining the class collaberationist, bourgeois, opportunist, etc groups and movements are we "actively engaging in the class struggle".

LBird
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Jan 30 2011 14:29
Alexander Roxwell, post #44 wrote:
If we are talking about the French Underground in World War II I think funneling arms and cash would be appropriate. If I was in France I would have volunteered.
Alexander Roxwell, post #50 wrote:
Communists must first of all join the class struggle.

Alexander, I see these two statements of yours as contradictory.

They would only make sense if you were to characterise WW2 as a 'class war'.

Although there may have been some class elements, I would say WW2 was overwhelmingly a war between nation-states.

Please also consider my post #48, which you haven't yet responded to (well, not directly).

Alexander Roxwell
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Jan 31 2011 00:03
LBird wrote:
Alexander Roxwell wrote:
If we are talking about the French Underground in World War II I think funneling arms and cash would be appropriate. If I was in France I would have volunteered.

But doesn't this beg the question, Alexander, which 'French' Resistance? The nationalists of de Gaulle? The Stalinists of the French Communist Party? They both killed German workers, many of whom had been conscripted.

Surely our policy would apply here? Counter-propaganda against the Nazi Regime, aimed at both sets of workers, French and German? Pointing out that the rich French and Germans will happily use either Fascism or Liberal Democracy to achieve their ends?

Paris Commune? Vichy? Petain: "This [1940 defeat] is the result of 30 years of Marxism..."

Was the 'Liberation Hero' de Gaulle an ally of the workers of Algeria?

Who and what would you have fought, and possibly have given your life, for?

I am not sure how to respond to this - I am not sure what you are saying. The statement:

LBird wrote:
Surely our policy would apply here? Counter-propaganda against the Nazi Regime, aimed at both sets of workers, French and German? Pointing out that the rich French and Germans will happily use either Fascism or Liberal Democracy to achieve their ends?

if you were in France at the time of Vichy you would pass out leaflets to the German Army pointing out that "the rich French and Germans will happily use either Fascism or Liberal Democracy to achieve their ends" ??? !!!!!! ??? Surely you jest. They would not understand what you were talking about but would shoot you dead. It is far more likely - but not guaranteed - that you would get away with your life passing out such leaflets to the French Resistance soldiers but I would find it hard to imagine that they would understand it any better.

In the United States we have a group that likes to do this kind of thing. They are called the "Socialist Labor Party" and they are a shriveled up sectlet that degenerated from the DeLeonists back in the 1890s. Even in the 1960s they hardly grew. Some of their stuff is very good as theoretical material - but as mass propaganda it is utterly worthless. If this is what you would have advocated you would have been as irrelevant as the Socialist Labor Party is in the United States today.

I was not aware that there were "two French Undergrounds" altho I was aware that there were at least two factions if not more. In the real world you join with the local group wherever you are and then scan around to navigate your way around the factions. Contrary to your evident "Trotskyist" training most of your time and energy in the real class struggle is not spent in faction fights but in engaging with "the enemy." Sometimes you lay side by side with a Stalinist or even a Gaullist bourgeois in a trench shooting at drafted working-class German soldiers talking of nothing but "do you see behind the ..... " and "do you have any water left."

The class struggle is dirty and messy and it is easy to make a mistake in the fog.

LBird wrote:
Paris Commune?

Are you asking me whether I like it? Whether I read it? What?

LBird wrote:
Vichy? Petain: "This [1940 defeat] is the result of 30 years of Marxism...

What are you asking me here? Was I aware that the French bourgeoisie, or a large segment of it, accommodated to the Nazis? That Marshall Petain was its head? That he said something like your quote? What do I think of the quote? How does one refute the quote? What ?

LBird wrote:
Was the 'Liberation Hero' de Gaulle an ally of the workers of Algeria?

Gee whiz. The answer is "no" but I think you knew that already. What is your point?

LBird wrote:
Who and what would you have fought, and possibly have given your life, for?

Yes indeed. I might have laid down my life only to see the winner be DeGaulle and the French bourgeoisie just as many good Bolsheviks - as well as anarchists - laid down their life only to see Stalin reap the benefits.

There are no guarantees in life - and even fewer in the class struggle. That is just the way it is.

And fighting with the French Resistance during the occupation of France by the Nazis was the right thing to do at the time.

Ditto fighting with the partisans of Yugoslavia and, yes, even the Communist Party of China against the Japanese and the Viet Minh of Vietnam against the Japanese as well as the National Liberation Front against the United States.

Alexander Roxwell
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Jan 31 2011 00:29
devoration1 wrote:
showing up at a local strike picket and passing out propaganda concerning the union involved's obstructionism, opportunism, etc is actively participating in the class struggle. Attending demo's and rallies called by/for a "national liberation" group or movement and speaking out against dragging the downtrodden and oppressed workers into a militaristic adventure for new exploiters in leadership positions is actively participating in the class struggle.

Stalinists call this "Trotskyite splitting and wrecking" and they often have a very good point.

It is seen by the workers engaged in the actual class struggle as an attack on them as workers fighting for their rights. It very often works to advantage of the very bureaucrats you are attacking.

They have often been with the workers from the start and you are seen as something coming from outside, descending upon them all.

The Spartacist League was famous for this kind of sabotage of the class struggle in the United States. They never built anything from the roots up - they just went in and attacked what others built - destroyed their movement and picked off a few recruits to their little sectlet.

Objectively they were indeed "splitters and wreckers" altho I do not believe that they thought of themselves that way. Their role in the "class struggle" was to stop working class fightback because it had some defects.

What the Spartacist League did was reactionary.

Whether what you are advocating here is reactionary or not depends upon the context and how "connected" you are to the workers in struggle. That is why you must already be "embedded" within the workers.

"Communists" may be "workers" in the abstract - but are they part of the "workers in struggle" that are engaged in this particular struggle?

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devoration1
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Jan 31 2011 01:57
Quote:
Stalinists call this "Trotskyite splitting and wrecking" and they often have a very good point.

It is seen by the workers engaged in the actual class struggle as an attack on them as workers fighting for their rights. It very often works to advantage of the very bureaucrats you are attacking.

This is silly. Actual workers (not the mythical 'working class' written of in leftist pamphlets as an 'other' chunk of clay that must be molded or children to be led) do not react this way. Since I'm a lifelong American I can't speak for national liberation, but the issue of unions is something that comes up fairly often- and I can say from experience that rank and file workers generally don't feel allegience to their union leaders (local or regional or national) just because they've been 'around awhile', nor do they think every criticism or attack on the union, or the union official, or the unions decision, etc is an attack on them. People are smarter than you give them credit. Most union workers I've met are more anti-union than they realize; and often can't articulate, outside of their own experiences, why that is. Hell I had such a long conversation today with a co-worker about the obstructionism of labor unions, how they seem to 'get in the way'.

Quote:
Whether what you are advocating here is reactionary or not depends upon the context and how "connected" you are to the workers in struggle. That is why you must already be "embedded" within the workers.

So not towing the party line of a Stalinist or leftist group or union is reactionary? The only way to support workers in struggle is to cheerlead for whatever anti-worker (you say 'not perfect') group shows up to 'lead them'?

If and when the PA teachers strike I plan on going up to do whatever support work I can- I'll let you know how many call me a 'reactionary Trotskyite splitter' for not kissing the NEA's ass. Should they just do whatever the union says, even if leads them to become social pariah's in their community and state and losing the immediate struggle? The chamber of commerce, conservative and right-wing political establishment, and associated characters are pumping lots of money into PR campaigns, websites, law firms and lobbying groups, to defeat the traditionally militant teachers and education workers. They're tying their bid to make PA a 'Right To Work' state to their media blitz to villify and slander these militant workers in the minds of the community and the state. The NEA is playing into their hands (now the union is trying to get the school board to raise property taxes to pay for their contract- doing a better job tarring education workers than the right-wing media campaign could ever do).

It's not about 'purity'; it's about trying to not only win the immediate struggle, but further class consciousness, increase solidarity and unity. Not following a 'flawed' (re: reactionary, anti-worker) clique or group or movement is not reactionary, it is not sectarian. Comparing this to the opportunism and ugly organizational practices of a statist lefty group like the Sparts is a non-starter. I put them in the same category as your nationalist, Stalinist, social-democrat, union, etc groups.

The same would apply to a national liberation movement- whats going on in Nepal is a good example. Should the workers support the UCPN-M, even though they've subjected them to a guerilla war, facilitated and supported the development of bourgeois institutions, banned strikes, etc? Would an international and/or local group that spreads anti-Maoist propaganda reactionary? Despite all of their opportunism and anti-working class behavior?

LBird
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Jan 31 2011 11:35

Alexander, I was very disappointed at both the content and tone of your reply to my, I thought, reasonable request for you to clarify your two contradictory statements.

You could have explained that one or both was incorrect (we all make mistakes at times, sometimes through rushing), or that they only appear contradictory and gone to clarify with a further argument, or you could, perhaps, have seen that they were contradictory, and shifted your stance. After all, we're all here to debate and learn, aren't we, not just to mindlessly push our already "correct" politics.

I entered the discussion on Ireland for two reasons: I was genuinely confused on the issue of national liberation, and I thought that, on other threads, that you personally had had a bit of a raw deal, being 'ganged up on' by the bullies, and deserved a chance to explain properly your position.

Instead of a reasoned argument, I get, "??? !!!!!! ??? Surely you jest."

Then, you call me a "Trotskyist". This was a real shock, because one of your (justified) complaints earlier was that you were always being tagged a 'Maoist' or some other insult, instead of being engaged in debate. I'm not a Trotskyist, and you're not a Maoist.

At least you had the decency to concede that:

Alexander Roxwell wrote:
I was not aware that there were "two French Undergrounds"...

It seems that you are quite unaware that, not only France, but other occupied countries, like Yugoslavia with Tito's Communist partisans and Mikhailovich's Nationalist Chetniks, had whole movements that fought and killed each other. They both contained workers.

This indeed throws fresh light upon your posts on the other thread on Ireland, in which I was prepared to think that you just hadn't expressed yourself properly, but now I'm inclined to think, as the other posters alleged, that you were just ignorant.

Alexander Roxwell wrote:
And fighting with the French Resistance during the occupation of France by the Nazis was the right thing to do at the time.

The 'right thing to do'? This is liberal moralism, not class analysis. How can shooting German workers be right? Or would you only shoot SS men? What about a unit of cooks in a field kitchen serving an SS unit? And some of your 'French Resistance' comrades went on to torture Vietnamese and Algerian workers.

Well, I for one have 'gone over' to the dark side: I'm now much more inclined to agree with the stance taken in opposition to yours.

Unless someone posts on this site who is a better advocate for your position than you evidently are, I think I'm likely to stay with 'class analysis'. Y'know, Communism, not Nationalism.

My apologies for my tone - I'm a bit pissed off. I even thought that your post's content was so different that perhaps your login had been hacked. Let's hope the 'old' Alexander comes back, eh?

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devoration1
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Jan 31 2011 22:40
Quote:
Well, I for one have 'gone over' to the dark side: I'm now much more inclined to agree with the stance taken in opposition to yours.

There were those who organized and propogated workers resistance to the militarization of labor in the allied countries (distributing press and propaganda in the factories), as well as distributing internationalist, anti-war, anti-partisan, revolutionary defeatist propaganda in French and German to both sides- all of this was done by the Italian left in exile in France and Belgium.

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waslax
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Jan 31 2011 23:27
Alexander Roxwell wrote:
I was not aware that there were "two French Undergrounds" altho I was aware that there were at least two factions if not more. In the real world you join with the local group wherever you are and then scan around to navigate your way around the factions. Contrary to your evident "Trotskyist" training most of your time and energy in the real class struggle is not spent in faction fights but in engaging with "the enemy." Sometimes you lay side by side with a Stalinist or even a Gaullist bourgeois in a trench shooting at drafted working-class German soldiers talking of nothing but "do you see behind the ..... " and "do you have any water left."

The class struggle is dirty and messy and it is easy to make a mistake in the fog.

Laying side by side with a Stalinist or even a Gaullist bourgeois in a trench shooting at drafted working-class German soldiers is NOT a part of the class struggle, it is part of imperialist war, i.e. it is part of the capitalist counter-revolution. This may have been difficult for many workers to see at the time. Today it should not be difficult for communists to understand. The class enemy of French workers then was not working-class German soldiers, but the French ruling class and its political forces (including the Stalinists).

There is no real 'debate' for communists to have about this. It is basically what some call a 'class line'.

bootsy
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Feb 1 2011 01:15
Quote:
if you were in France at the time of Vichy you would pass out leaflets to the German Army pointing out that "the rich French and Germans will happily use either Fascism or Liberal Democracy to achieve their ends" ??? !!!!!! ??? Surely you jest. They would not understand what you were talking about but would shoot you dead. It is far more likely - but not guaranteed - that you would get away with your life passing out such leaflets to the French Resistance soldiers but I would find it hard to imagine that they would understand it any better

Do you not think this is a fairly elitist approach to take? So far, Alexander, I don't see you refuting the actual arguments which are being made in this thread. Instead you seem to be saying that the internationalist position you are arguing against is problematic not due to the merits of the actual argument, but because workers will be too thick to understand said arguments.