Bob Gould, 2003

Self-determination and nationalism

Source: Marxmail, July 21, 2003
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Erudite chit-chat about the exact details of the Lenin-Hegel-Goethe quote are of considerably less importance than the political issues raised by Ed George. In my view, Ed George’s contribution on the national question, and nationalism in general, is of great value.

Tom O’Lincoln’s response that he has some Lenin quotes, too, but he won’t bother pitching them at us, is a just a bit on the coy side. The point about Ed George’s carefully selected quotes from Lenin, and the further expression of his own opinions, is that George did what is quite unusual when quoting Lenin in a sectarian environment: he meticulously put the quotes in context. That is the way such quotes ought to be used, but rarely are.

As I’ve asserted on a couple of other occasions, this is often slippery territory. Some Marxist sectarians routinely toss off what they call Marxist principles, sometimes buttressed by the odd out-of-context quote, but such “principles” are really only the opinion of the people making the assertions.

Nowhere is this done more frequently than in the discussion of the national question and nationalism, where most assertions that I’ve seen on Marxmail, other than from Ed George and a couple of others, seem to me to be just opinionated hot air.

A while back I raised some of these issues at some length in a serious and careful way, and made some references. The only serious response I got was from Nestor. Tom, who follows Marxmail fairly carefully, didn’t bite, which doesn’t however stop him continuing to toss off summary little barbs and assertions from time to time about nationalism.

Ed George’s sustained argument, with which I find myself in almost total agreement, really requires a serious and thorough response from Tom, DMS and others of a similar viewpoint, if they are to be taken seriously.

At the risk of being boring, I would refer Marxmail readers once again to my own contribution, East Timor, Luxembourg and Lenin. Norm Dixon’s seminal piece in Links, Marx, Engels and Lenin on the National Question, is of the greatest importance in this discussion. My articles, Multiculturalism and Australian National Identity, and Racism and the Australian Labor Party, are also of some interest, particularly in relation to Australian nationalism.

I would be very interested to see Tom, DMS and others make some sort of sustained response to Dixon, Ed George and myself on these questions, rather than just tossing off assertions. In this context, I’d be very interested to hear Tom’s Lenin quotes and to look at their context.

These questions of national self-determination are very current politically because of the way US, British and Australian imperialism set themselves up demogogically as defenders of democracy and sometimes of national self-determination for small nations such as the Kurds, Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, while the Russian ex-Stalinist national state belts the Chechens into the ground.

It’s necessary to fight very hard against the global hegemonic aspirations of US imperialism, but in my view the project of combating US imperialism is not aided at all by a contemptuous and dismissive attitude towards the right of nations to self-determination.

In my view, ostensible Leninists do a lot of damage, often, by turning Lenin’s enormous and useful political legacy into some kind of semi-religion. Lenin was the greatest practitioner and theorist of socialist politics of all time, so far. In particular, his legacy to us on the national question is among his most important.

I’m not impressed at all by DMS’s blithe dismissal yesterday of Lenin’s views on the national question without any attempting to refute them in a serious and sustained way, other than assertions.

In the past couple of months I’ve been intrigued by lengthy and heated discussions on Marxmail of a number of very abstruse questions of higher Marxist theory, while on the other hand sustained and serious argument on major current political questions, such as Zane Boyd’s contribution The Debate Over the Recent Arrests and Sentences in Cuba, is allowed to go through to the keeper, so to speak, and gets no sustained critical response whatever, despite the fact that a number of people on Marxmail clearly disagree with him.

It’s to be hoped that Ed George’s reasoned and careful article on the national question doesn’t get the same treatment. It’s to be hoped that those who disagree with Ed George, Norm Dixon and myself, such as Tom O’Lincoln and others, take this opportunity to put forward a serious exposition of their views, rather than the chummy, dismissive asides that seems to pass for discussion so much of the time.