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Nations, National Liberation and Revolutionary Struggle

March 2, 2010


As the 4SM editor, I’m going to exercise my ability to begin some debate on certain practical and theoretical points, raised and argued by Bill Dunne, in his detailed essay on the Sri Lankan civil war.

In the latter part of Bill’s essay, under the headings, ‘The Lesson, The Prescription, The Conclusion,’ he criticizes some of the LTTE’s practice and their underlying basis of nationalist struggle. Bill’s analysis and arguments about the LTTE’s methods and practice, of how they organized their nationalist struggle, are serious, thought provoking and often convincing. From the specifics of this Tamil struggle Bill draws conclusions about the relevance and correctness of nationalist struggles in general, arguing that, ‘Nationalism as a revolutionary strategy, however, is a demonstrated failure.’ In the following paragraphs Bill asks, ‘what are revolutionaries talking about when they talk about nations?’ He then goes on to discuss culture, geography, race, etc.

First, let’s be clear what revolutionaries are and should be talking about, in terms of defining nations and thus national liberation struggles. The revolutionary, as well as modern scientific definition of a nation is a people with a: 1.)common history/culture/language; 2.)common economic relationship/ties; 3.)a common or shared land mass. This definition holds true whether we are talking about an independent self ruled country or a subjugated colonial nation.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the history and origin of nation states and the nationalism they foster. The world today, primarily organized in nation states, is largely a product of the capitalist era of human societal development/history. That is, nation states along the lines of how we know them today, have been in existence for about 500 years. Prior to that the world was organized in fuedal states/kingdoms, in empires, and in tribes. we see remnants of this in the world today.

With the advent of nation states we also witnessed people seeing themselves as members of particular nations – French, Mexican, Irish, Vietnamese, etc. Nations and the people wit him them aspired to be independent and self ruling. However one looks at it, this is and has been a reality of the world, particularly in the past 100 years.

Individual nations can and have been ruled in a variety of different ways, from democratic and equitable to fully fascist and repressive. For the most part elite small classes (the capitalist class usually) rule (and abuse) the majority (workers and peasants and farmers) within each nation. Colonialism, that is where an outside foreign country conquers and rules another country, has been a historical reality of the past several centuries. In response the world has seen innumerable anti-colonial, national liberation struggles and wars. The desire of people to have self determination and their own national independence has been universal. When this desire is blocked we always see a nationwide nationalistic push for independence. The fact is, nation states and nationalism is a reality of this era of history.

Depending on conditions, time and place, nationalism can be progressive and revolutionary or reactionary, racist and fascist. Presently the nationalism of big power imperialistic countries is almost always negative and reactionary, and used to attack, invade and occupy other smaller countries. Likewise the nationalism of smaller countries or colonies, the ones being attacked or occupied, can be an expression of the revolutionary effort to liberate it. So nationalism is not inherently reactionary or revolutionary.

In modern times many national liberation struggles, particularly those led by communist/socialist parties/movements, have been revolutionary and nationalist – for example Vietnam AND CUBA. But nationalism should not automatically be assumed to be revolutionary. None the less, I do not think Bill is correct to say, ‘that nationalism is at best obsolescent as a revolutionary strategy.’

As a working class revolutionary and socialist, I am first of all an internationalist – a proletarian internationalist. The struggle for the future, is certainly a struggle for the working class of all nations to get rid of their own capitalist misleaders – rulers, and to establish the democratic rule of the working class and majority of people for their own common interests, in line with the similar majority common interests of people in other countries. In order for the world to survive and thrive this has to be our future. With this struggle certainly will come the new culture Bill spoke about. A culture based on cooperation, modern technology and a common effort to make sure our planet and all of us on it, survive.

People and nations, countries need to come together to do this, but nations have to come together as independent equal entities. Until all colonies and many neo-colonial relationships are abolished, until each nation has the right to step forward as an independent entity, national liberation struggles will continue to exist. National liberation struggles, to have the best chance of success, should be as progressive and revolutionary as possible. A national independence struggle has to unite many sectors and classes in its nation to be successful. The crucial question is, under what ideology and leadership is the liberation struggle organized? A progressive, secular, leftist, non-racist, in fact internationalist outlook, is the ideology and organizing method that is most likely to lead the struggle to success. Once a nation is independent, immediately a new struggle ensues to create the new just and equitable society in that country. This effort is at least as difficult as the independence struggle, and Bill is correct in pointing out that way too many successful national liberation struggles have not yet resulted in very just, democratic or equitable countries. Gaining national independence is only the first step towards political, social and economic revolution. In a world economy dominated by imperialism and corporate capitalist globalism, the WTO, NAFTA, IMF, World Bank, etc., it is extremely hard for smaller countries and economies to not fall under the dictates of U.S. and western imperialism. The struggle continues though and one example is countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba and others working together and posing some alternatives in South America.

Bill raises many important questions, but I do not think the era of national liberation struggles, as one necessary road to revolutionary change and progress, is over. Nationalism and especially self-determination, including the right to national independence, for colonial (and many neo-colonial) subjugated people and their nations, continues to be a reality in the world. This means that progressive secular national liberation struggles will continue to be one revolutionary path towards the future.

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