determination ,chris?

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Apr 18 23:58:52 PDT 1999

At 17:06 18/04/99 +1000, Angela wrote:
>below is a paste of previous posts.
>my point being is that the claim to self-determination is unsustainable *as
>an unconditional claim*; and *at the same time*, it is not possible to
>support self-determination *with conditions* since this is no longer
>to put it another way, to frame this conflict within the terms of
>self-determination is to make a decision to accept one set of claims (the
>kla) and to reject another set of claims (the Serbian nationalists) , since
>both lay claim to the same territory, with the same recourse to History,
>etc. it is clear that this right to self-determination does not provide
>any comprehension of the situation, nor does it provide any solutions. it
>only makes the decision to opt for one side's claims over the other *seem*
>like they are self-evident.
>more importantly perhaps, self-determination (autonomy) in today's world
>means more and more the creation of dependant zones (bantustans) which have
>their claims on economic support from the previously-central government
>severed whilst allowing a hollow cultural autonomy (as I think nanuvat will
>unfortunately look like). increasingly, it is a way of containing any
>claims, containing a pool of reserve or underpaid labour, establishing
>internal responsibilities for policing that labour (as in the Palestinian
>authority, for eg), and so on. it is, in short, a way of corralling.
>I think g*rd*n (?) is right, framing one's rights/identity in terms of the
>nation-state is a liberal concoction.
>rcollins at

How to orientate ourselves, and avoid just choosing one historical narrative over another?

There are many points here but essentially it is necessary to take a democratic and a historical materialist approach to this question. We are in favour of working people of the world uniting, yes? We should also take a developmental view of the progress of economic formations, and their cultural accompaniments, to understand the rise and fall of nations.

BTW I quote Lenin a lot, not because I believe in Biblical authority. There are some points on which I do not agree with Lenin. But because he was the most systematic, rigorous, and influential applier of marxism in the 20th century, and because I like to confront those who parade sloppy left radical propositions as marxism.

First the economic basis:

>"Developing capitalism knows two historical tendencies in the national
question. The first is the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states. The second is the development and growing frequency of international intercourse in every form, the break-down of national barriers, the creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science, etc."
>"Critical Remarks on the National Question" 1913

>From this point of view Serb nationalism is absurdly reactionary.

Medieval stories had a material relevance in the 19th century when the bourgeois nation state was being formed. The capture of southern Serbia by Serbia in the period 1872 to 1878, with the subsequent expulsion of the Albanians in that region was in conformity with the level of development of the forces of production, since capitalism was of a size that could grow by intensifying the exploitation purely of the bounds of a nation state.

Similarly the capture of Kosovo in 1913.

But in 1999 for Serbia to try to stabilize itself in the wake of the collapse of the Eastern bloc, with a nationalism that in all seriousness is trying to reverse the defeat of a Serb king in 1389 is utterly anachronistic, utterly idealist, utter nonsense. But go to the Serbian ministry of information web-site and see for yourself what it says about "Kosovo-Metohija".

Were there any prospects of Eastern Europe stabilising against assimilation into the European super-state with a policy of nationalism and socialism some marked violations of democratic rights would be worth the price. There is absolutely no chance. It is complete nonsense.

What is not complete nonsense however, is that it only takes a small proportion of the population to practice vicious fascist measures over a minority, with the tacit, acquiescence of a majority for massive population moves to be precipitated by terror.

If Albanians are driven out of Kosovo by terror into Macedonia, the Serbs of Macedonia, must quickly decide whether to drive them out, kill them, or let them die in tens of thousands of disease and starvation, to avoid their population balance being altered. And if the Albanians of Macedonia come to their assistance then they will have to be dealt with by means of even more exemplary terror. The Greek government does not recognise the existence of the FROM, and would need to move its troops to the border and perhaps across the border. Turkey, who looks for all opportunities to have a fight with Greece, would see its co-religionists being massacred and would need to advance into parts of Greece to hold it hostage as a guarantee of fair treatment for the Albanian muslims. The Slavic Bulgarians would be torn by nationalist movements seeking redress in drawing their borders. Neo-Nazi parties do not need to restrict their propects to Austria. A similar party to Haider's could step forward in Hungary demanding justice for the Hungarian minority in Voivodina, in the north of Serbia, and in the north west of Romania. The Ukraine might move troops closer to the border of Romania. Romania might issue statements of support for Moldova. The Ukraine might support leftists trying to overthrow the Moldovar government to unite it again with the Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in a re-emergence of the Soviet Union.

While the former Soviet Union might re-stabilise as some sort of economic bloc, the rest of the scenario of nationalist purification in the Balkans is not just horrific, it is complete nonsense in objective terms about the stage of the productive forces, which can in no way be limited now to the confines of pure nation states. But such nonsense could fuel far worse scenes of destruction, of barbarism.

What is the progressive stance towards national differences in an economic environment that has largely transcended the nation state?

You state:
>framing one's rights/identity in terms of the
>nation-state is a liberal concoction.

Well I am agreeing that to frame it in terms of a nation state is now often anachronistic. But as to it being a concoction, the right not to be nationally oppressed is one of many bourgeois democratic rights, which like all bourgeois democratic rights, are an accompaniment of capitalist intensive commodity production, and which have a dual nature. They are partly abstract illusory rights which can never be totally enforced in isolation. They are on the other hand very important bastions against the most destructive and oppressive tendencies of capitalism. Democrats, working people and marxists must absolutely be prepared on many occasions to defend them, despite the catcalls and sneers of sloppy pseudo-marxists.

That does not mean we should have idealist illusions in such bourgeois rights: that is the aspect in which they are concoctions.

I have already quoted in the post on the American Civil War from yesterday

Lenin argued in Critical Remarks on the National Question, 1913:

"there is only one solution to the national problem (insofar as it can, in general, be solved in the capitalist world, the world of profit, squabbling and exploitation), and that solution is consistent democracy."

Lenin goes on to say:

"The national programme of working-class democracy is: absolutely no privileges for any one nation or any one language; the solution of the problem of the political self-determination of nations, that is, their separation as states by completely free, democratic methods; the promulgation of a law for the whole state by virtue of which any measure (rural, urban or communal, etc, etc) introducing any privilege of any kind for one of the nations and militating against the equality of nations or the rights of a national minority, shall be declared illegal and ineffective, and any citizen of the state shall have the right to demand that such a measure be annnulled as unconsitutional, and that those who attempt to put it into effect be punished."

Thus just one Kosovan who has been threatened with deportation should have the right under the Yugoslav Constitution drawn up with Tito's leadership to challenge that deportation.

Such an approach should be unconditional. In fighting for it to be unconditional we strengthen the unity of all working people.

It cannot be implemented in disregard of the actual economic environment. Without a geographically compact area it is impossible to organise local or regional autonomy. That is not the case in Kosovo. Its autonomy was removed in 1989. Clinton is right that this war has been going on for 10 years. In this he is more marxist than the marxists who shuffle a set of idealist dogmas divorced from concrete reality to strike an imposing stance.

The right to self-determination requires a right for nationally compact areas to secede. That is the sense in which Lenin called for "The recognition of the right to secession for all".

Support for the right to secession makes secession less likely not more likely. Marxists are not particularly in favour of the disintegration of bourgeois democratic states.

Now under conditions of supra-national capitalism, certain resolutions of national questions become more possible. Europe is being reconceived as Europe of the regions. So long as there is a unified market it is the interests of the large capitalists and of the working class (dialectics sometimes includes these unbearable shocks) that oppressed regions obtain autonomy. In Britain Scotland is just about to get a parliament for the first time for 350 years. Wales is about to get an assembly. If they wish to secede they can and not one Englishman will stop them.

They are unlikely to, but they may be able to fight better for an equitable division of resources.

The development of capitalism in western Europe permits non-violent compromises in Ireland, because under any configuration all parts will remain within the European market.

Jim H is right in his comments under this thread title that Yorkshire is not a nation, but it is to some extent an oppressed region, and a democratic solution to the administration of the regions in England is quite possible alongside a more democratic solution to the nations of the United Kingdom.

Jim's points about the economic difficulties for the Albanians of Kosovo to have a viable economic unit with the Albanians of Albania is correct. That is one of the reasons why it was so reactionary and destructive of the unity of working people that the Serbs removed their autonomy. There are good economic reasons why a Kosovo run by mainly Albanians would want civilised relations with Serbia.

But the Albanians of Kosovo, not just the KLA, want NATO involvement because they are grievously oppressed. No doubt it shows very bad taste in the eyes of western RRRevolutionary marxists, but the right of nations, and nationalities to self-determination, and freedom from oppression cannot be conditional on them avoiding all petty-bourgeois prejuduces. They will of course show them.

A marxist and a leninist policy of resistance against all national oppression cannot in all fairness be restricted only to those people who have reached the intellectual heights of the most complacent and self-satisfied marxist authorities on a list like this. One of those paradoxes of dialectics, I am afraid. But what has dialectics got to do with marxism?

Chris Burford


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list