Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

S. Wallis

Positions on the Hawaii National Question, Part II

First Published: Modern Times, Vol. II, No. 4, April 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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(This article is a continuation of last month’s opening piece on the important issue of the Hawaii national question: Is Hawaii a nation, and how should socialists relate the struggle against national oppression to working class struggle for socialist revolution? The author, in this concluding article, assesses the various positions on the question and sums up the tasks ahead. Your responses are welcome, and needed.–ed.)

A Diversion? This position involves one of the most difficult contradictions. On the one hand, it recognizes the objective reality that nationalism (as opposed to demanding the right to self-determination) in Hawaii is primarily petty bourgeois and that the real solution to the oppression of Hawaiians can only finally be brought about through socialist revolution. It also recognizes the fact of the effective integration of Hawaii into the U.S. On the other hand, by denying the specific oppression of Hawaiians which has developed historically, this position amounts to confirming the ruling class notion of a pluralistic and homogenous state, a “melting pot” society with no substantial national or ethnic grievances or injustices.

What is the nature of the “Hawaiian nation?” It is relatively clear that from 1893 to the 1930s, Hawaii was essentially a colonial possession of the U.S. Political independence was already becoming tenuous by the time of the Great Mahele in 1848. From the beginnings of the sugar industry, Hawaiian society became more and more dominated by capitalist formations tied to U.S. monopoly capitalism in an almost classic Marxist determination. However, it is relatively clear as well that up to the preparations for World War II, socialists would have supported attempts for national self-determination for Hawaii.

With the rise of World War II, both U.S. and local bourgeois interests found commercial and political reasons for Hawaii to be integrated into the U.S., and this occurred fairly rapidly. By 1940 the population was already 26% haole (foreign, usually meaning Caucasian), second only to the Japanese workers. Hawaii as a nation had dissolved.

However, just as the Native Americans (Indians) have been demanding a measure of self-determination on the Mainland, the intermingling of peoples in Hawaii has not overcome the cultural and socio-economic oppression of Hawaiians in their own land. When one considers that Hawaii has been a state for only 18 years, and effectively under integration by the U.S. only for 40 or 50 years, and when one recognizes the pockets of Hawaiian culture which exist uneasily with capitalism in rural areas, then the special interests of Hawaiians are better seen.

The crux of the national question may come down to these questions: how deeply do the Hawaiians feel their oppression, how oppressed are they materially, and would the vast majority of Hawaiians actively support a progressive national movement? Socialists arguing that the national movement is a diversion must have strong answers to these questions.

Reparations? The basis of the reparations argument is really that of recognizing U.S. control of Hawaii today, denying the existence of national status for Hawaiians, opting instead for special status within the confines of the U.S. It would seem that this position is the least tenable for socialists since it seeks to create special advantages based on heritage, rather than citing current oppression. Apparently, this position represents liberal or paternalistic interests trying to get a bigger piece of the pie for themselves. Socialists have few interests in compensating former big landowners for losses which another part of the capitalist class has appropriated.

Land? This position seems to be an improvement over the financial reparations position since it imposes no special levy against other sectors of Hawaii and U.S. people through additional taxation. It is, however, a very unclear position at present… which land is to be repossessed, who is going to get it, etc.? In many cases, the land position amounts to setting up various Hawaiians in the same special status of reparations winners, with no acknowledgment of ongoing oppression. The question of turning the land over to parks, sanctuaries and other public areas is admirable, but hardly a key component of the national struggle.

Self-determination? The ultimate conclusion of this position, separation of the Hawaiian islands into Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian political formations, seems to some so extraordinary that the position cannot be feasible. However, there are many problems which cannot be solved under capitalism (such as full employment) and yet remain important and effective demands. The position recognizes the specific oppression of Hawaiians in the context of the territory’s integration into the U.S. It helps replace U.S. national chauvinism with anti-imperialism, and can also be the basis for generating a higher socialist consciousness in Hawaii.

Many of the demands in the process of self-determination and rejection of the legitimacy of the existing government situation concerning Hawaiians will be difficult to work out. Others will pose sharp problems for the State and the U.S., such as attempts to put land areas such as Kaboolawe under Hawaiian control. If the position moved toward its ultimate conclusion, one would expect that a widespread social movement would have already erupted in Hawaii.

Secession? Although socialists support the right to self-determination, they also realize the actual implementation of that demand may not be in the interests of the working-class movement in the oppressed nation. In fact, the secession question is most closely related to the chauvinist and backward immigration limitations proposed by Ariyoshi, which must be thoroughly rejected. The idea of secession fosters the illusion of “self-sufficiency” and “progressive” elements of the local bourgeoisie. In this climate, secession should not be supported by revolutionaries, although it might be in a radically changed social and political situation in the future.

Summing Up. We would justify the right of self-determination for Hawaiians on the basis of historic and current oppression. Main of the questions included in this process pose difficult questions for the monopoly capitalists and can be used to attack their rule. At the same time we must realize that the major present dangers for Hawaii socialists are Hawaii localism (implied by the secession argument) and insensitivity to the Hawaiian struggle. Socialists must analyze this question more completely, integrate the existence of the national movement into an overall revolutionary program striking at bourgeois rule, and attempt to link up with revolutionaries internationally. In fact, without this theory, program and practice, the chances for degeneration of the national struggle, such that it becomes a hurdle for socialists, become greater month by month.