Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

S. Wallis

Hawaii Nation? Some Thoughts, Part I

First Published: Modern Times, Vol. II, No. 3, March 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The question has been raised: Can Hawaii be considered a nation, and what attitude should revolutionaries take toward the Ohana and other nationalist organizations in Hawaii?

In the first place, Hawaii nationalism springs primarily from the existence of capitalist social relations through the development of U.S. colonialism, and the oppression of nationalities and working people locally by the ruling class. Capitalism divides exploited classes of people along racial (and sexual) lines today as it did dining the early plantation days in Hawaii. Capitalism perverts cultural traditions and makes a mockery of Hawaiian history, packaging it like “canned aloha” for tourists and profits. Capitalism alienates land from the users, makes it a “commodity” on the market, and destroys the heritage of Hawaii as it alters the landscape and attacks the cultural roots of the people. The feelings of nationalism felt by many Hawaiians and others of Hawaii’s peoples are natural reactions to this oppression.

Yet, knowing this, what is the role of nationalism in Hawaii?

Right to Self-Determination

Revolutionary Marxism has held that nationalism (in the sense of setting apart the interests of your “own” nation against those of another) in the era of imperialism is no longer unqualifiedly progressive, but that each oppressed nation, nonetheless, has the right to self-determination— up to and including the right to politically secede from an oppressor nation. Given this, socialists support nationalist movements in their struggles against imperialist domination, and at the same time, argue that nationalism itself stands in the way of overall political development of the working class internationally. Generally speaking, the task of complete national self-determination can only be solved on the basis of economically united peoples, purged of bourgeois rule. However, the relationship between the national aspirations of an oppressed people and the working class movement has not been easily resolved.

In particular, cases such as Hawaii where the nationalities are intimately intermingled, not separated into clear geographical concentrations, present difficult problems. We cannot depend on old “masters” for the solution. We must taste the prickly pear in order to know it . . . we must struggle with the reality of Hawaii nationalism.

Perhaps a useful way to assist in examining the national question in Hawaii would be to set forth some of the possible positions revolutionaries could take on the question of Hawaiian nationalism. In doing so, it is essential that this be carried out within the context of building a revolutionary program which aims to unite workers of all nationalities and sexes in Hawaii. We must also remember that the key question for non-Hawaiian socialists is to attack our own ruling class even if we disagree with the ideology of Hawaii nationalism.

Possible Positions on Hawaiian Nationalism

1. Diversion. The national struggle is a diversion from the class struggle and is essentially petty-bourgeois. Hawaii is integrated into the U.S. The Hawaii “nation” no longer exists (or perhaps never existed) and is unlikely to exist in the future. Hawaiians are now simply an oppressed minority like Samoans. Blacks, etc.

The role of socialists must be to oppose the national movement and contrast to it a revolutionary perspective for all of Hawaii’s working class people.

2. Reparations. The U.S. illegally deprived Hawaiians of their nationhood (1893) and thus Hawaiians should receive monetary compensation. This could be in the form of cash payments or in an extension of various welfare and community services or organizations.

3. Land. The chief aspect of U.S. imperialism in Hawaii was the illegal seizure of lands, therefore Federal land should be returned to the Hawaiian people, either on an individual basis or to a revived Hawaiian Homes Commission, or into parks and sanctuaries.

4. Self-determination. The Hawaiian people (as an ethnic group) are a nation and thus have the right to self-determination. Hawaii is no longer a separate national political entity “oppressed” by the U.S. but Hawaiians still have, and feel, a national oppression from the history and workings of imperialist expansion in the Pacific. The exact implications of this position can only be seen in the unfolding of the struggle, but it implies a loss of control by the U.S. over a portion of “its subjects,” as a positive goal.

Short-term demands could involve Hawaiian language and cultural issues, affirmative action, etc. Ultimately the demand might be extended to cover actual separation of a part of Hawaii from the United States under the control of a Hawaiian government, or some forms of local autonomy.

5. Secession. Hawaii should secede from the U.S. as the best means of ending two centuries of colonial oppression against Hawaii and its immigrant people. Hawaii is essentially a “third world” country and will have to break politically from the U.S. before its economy can be built up and standard of living improved.

These probably cover the major ground of the various possible positions, hut where should we begin in investigating them? First, “a precise appraisal of the specific historical situation and, primarily, of economic conditions” must be made.

The U.S. economy, while partially recovered from the recession of 1974-75, is unlikely to regain the high growth patterns found after World War If. This implies a depressive effect for Hawaii’s economy, which is increasingly tied to the U.S. business cycle by the fragile tourism industry. As a result, corporations and politicians will be trying to co-opt any resistance and force the workers to bear the cost of capitalist crisis . . . lower wages, higher taxes, fewer public services, greater environmental destruction, U.S. nationality tie jingoism. The “Business is Life” campaign by the Hawaii Business Council is an indication of the propaganda that can be expected in the future, as well as the employers’ use of Con Con against the public: workers’ right to strike and continued attacks on unemployment and welfare benefits.

Second, the distortion of Hawaii’s economy through the colonial and neo-colonial development of sugar, pineapple, defense, and tourism means that Hawaii’s working class is particularly atomized and isolated. The unions have lost much of their strength with the decline of plantation agriculture and the inability to organize effectively in the tourist industry. The traditional ties of labor to the Democrats are disarming the labor movement politically.

Third, the political backwardness of the working class movement in the U.S. and the isolation of Hawaii from other Pacific areas suggests that Hawaii socialists cannot wait for the growth of an international revolutionary movement to have an impact in Hawaii. Eventually Hawaii’s socialists must link up with those on the mainland (and probably in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific area). But in the meantime we must rapidly and consistently develop a revolutionary program with immediate impact in Hawaii. The problems of slower economic growth in Hawaii are going to present some real dangers to the workers movement here.

Finally, as a result of these problems and the specific manner in which tourism and the U.S. military presence attack Hawaiian culture, we can expect the Hawaiian struggle to remain in the forefront until a more generalized working class response and political movement begins. This is not a call for socialists to put all their eggs in the Ohana basket, but to realize that many of the best militants in Hawaii will be involved in these struggles, as they have been in the past. Besides supporting the Hawaiian struggle for its own sake, socialists should also recognize that routes to the working class appear in many places, and the national struggle may be a key one in Hawaii. Also key to unity with these struggles is the understanding that their victories weaken our common foes—the military and the corporations it protects.

(Next issue: Evaluating the various positions on the Hawaii nation.)