Thursday, 1 April 2021

Marxism, Zionism and the National Question - The Truth Is Always Concrete (3/3)

Marxism, Zionism and the National Question

The Truth Is Always Concrete (3/3)

In the 20th century, the slogan of self-determination, and national sovereignty, becomes one used to mean "defence of the fatherland", or else it is used by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalists, to divert the proletariat from class struggle. For the existing large capitalist nation states, it can only ever mean the former. For the small states, it is a utopian demand, because all political independence is constrained by economic dependence, and the smaller states can only reduce their economic dependence through association and federation with other states, thereby, pooling their national sovereignty. Or else, they become vassals of larger states, acting as their proxy.

“This is a fact. And it was indicated at the time with incontrovertible truth: in 1848 revolutionary nations fought for liberty, whose principal enemy was tsarism, whereas the Czechs, etc., were in fact reactionary nations, and outposts of tsarism.”

Today, it is not just the large imperialist state that leaves no such room, for the small state, but also the fact that the multinational corporation, rootless and foot free, is able to muster greater economic muscle than even many of the established nation states, making their joining together in huge economic blocs the 21st century equivalent of the nation state of the 19th century. That it is capitalism, via social-democracy, that has brought this about, rather than socialism, does not change that reality, a reality itself driven by the material conditions created by mammoth, socialised capitals.

“If the concrete situation which confronted Marx when tsarism dominated international politics were to repeat itself, for instance, in the form of a few nations starting a socialist revolution (as a bourgeois-democratic revolution was started in Europe in 1848), and other nations serving as the chief bulwarks of bourgeois reaction—then we too would have to be in favour of a revolutionary war against the latter, in favour of “crushing” them, in favour of destroying all their outposts, no matter what small-nation movements arose in them...

The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement, but it would be ridiculous to delete the demand for a republic from the programme of international Social-Democracy on these grounds.”


This is one reason why Marxists cannot accept the idea of liberal interventionism, even were it the case that, in some particular instance, such intervention led to the liberation of an oppressed people. By giving imperialism a free hand to undertake such actions, it strengthens imperialism against the global working-class, and undermines its struggle.

Describing the subordinate role of bourgeois-democratic demands, such as self-determination, Lenin gives the example of two large kingdoms, and a smaller one, in which there are family ties between the royal families. The example is particularly relevant in respect of the Falklands War. The people of the small kingdom seek to establish a democratic republic. If the expulsion of the monarch would then lead to a war between the two larger kingdoms, in order to restore either that or some other monarch then,

“There is no doubt that all international Social-Democracy, as well as the really internationalist section of Social-Democracy in the little country, would be against substituting a republic for the monarchy in this case. The substitution of a republic for a monarchy is not an absolute, but one of the democratic demands, subordinate to the interests of democracy (and still more, of course, to those of the socialist proletariat) as a whole. A case like this would in all probability not give rise to the slightest disagreement among Social-Democrats in any country. But if any Social-Democrat were to propose on these grounds that the demand for a republic be deleted altogether from the programme of international Social-Democracy, he would certainly be regarded as quite mad. He would be told that after all one must not forget the elementary logical difference between the general and the particular.”


The abstract right to self-determination can be asserted “in general”, but what position Marxists take on it in any “particular” case, can only be determined by concrete analysis. Today, the right to self-determination is used by chauvinists as a cover for “defence of the fatherland”, for demands such as “take back control”, for the imposition of immigration controls, and so on. For socialists in such nations, where they occupy or oppress other nations, for example, Britain in Ireland, Israel in Palestine and so on, the demand is raised, not because we seek separation of the oppressed nation, but because the emphasis upon the right to separate for the oppressed nation, is the necessary first step of gaining the trust of the people of the oppressed nation, for a joint political struggle against the capitalist oppressor.

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