National Liberation and Nation-States

by Muhsin Yorulmaz

“The National Question” has been debated among communists for well over 150 years. This is because the nascent socialist movement was born into a capitalist world of nation-states; and the nation-state had itself emerged with capitalism. To Marx and Engels, this new form of state was a reflection of a stage of social development, of the bourgeoisie reshaping society not on the basis of a particular ruling bloodline or theological basis, but primarily on the basis of common social interaction, as a whole society. In the first instance, this is a progressive process: “Modern nationalities are thus the creations of the oppressed classes”, writes Engels in his analysis of the transition from feudal statelets to nascent modern capitalist nation-states.

It is not only from the perspective of economic development or at the stage of capitalist construction that Engels defended national rights, but also as a precondition for socialist revolution:

Without restoring autonomy and unity to each nation, it will be impossible to achieve the international union of the proletariat, or the peaceful and intelligent co-operation of these nations toward common aims.”
–Preface to the 1893 Italian edition of the Communist Manifesto, 1893

Taking a few lines of Engels out of context, it would be easy to reimagine Marxism as nothing but perpetual support for bourgeois nationalism of each and every nation, an ideology which poses no threat to capitalism itself. But it must not be forgotten that Marx and Engels were revolutionaries who actively organized against the bourgeois nationalist states of their day: they did not defend these bourgeois nationalisms beyond their ability to achieve said “autonomy and unity” for a given nation (that is, to overcome oppression by another nationalism), and to carry forward bourgeois domination of the feudal oppressor classes (that is, to overcome oppression by backwards, pre-capitalist and pre-nationalist ideologies).

After these conditions are met, the bourgeois state and its nationalism are to be understood as instruments of oppression and exploitation like any other ideology which conceals the contradictions between oppressor and oppressed classes. The communist perspective is always, at all stages of history, to turn popular social processes into weapons against the oppressor classes and their states. Thus, the struggle for a a modern democracy is progressive until a certain point of solidification. At this point, the limitations of liberal democracy become clear, and the social struggle is increasingly reduced to one between capital and labor, the apparent “final” struggle of class society. Because the new capitalist state is a weapon in the hands of capital, a new collection of “oppressed classes” find themselves in conflict with it. But who are these classes? Are they always and only the proletariat? Can the bourgeoisie be an oppressed class under capitalist rule? Here we come to the essence of why we speak of “the national question”.

The individual capitalist does not “want to” share their control of productive relations, and the capitalist class as a whole likewise jealously guard their privileges. Their desire to dominate as much of the market as possible leads the individual capitalist into competition with other capitalists, and leads the ruling classes of one society into conflict with other societies, leading to national oppression. The national formations which are held down by the power of the bourgeois state take on the same quality of being “oppressed” which the bourgeoisie as a whole did under feudal social relations. The oppressed nations in their entirety seem to play a progressive role, a weapon not only for their own society, but against the oppression of the capitalist state.

Thus was it that Marx and Engels noted the importance of the national struggle in Ireland and the anti-colonial struggle in India, in spite of the advanced development of the English proletariat in productive and social terms relative to other working classes around the world. Thus did it come to be that the Marxist watchword was “no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations”.

But what precisely is meant by this, and what is our explicit goal? If national oppression means that any oppressed nationality’s class struggle is held back, that the “stage” of socialist revolution cannot yet be reached, do we simply advocate a struggle for a particular set of national borders which will allow for the “pure” class conflict to emerge afterwards?

In practice, this has been impossible to achieve on a universal scale: national liberation struggles are rendered more difficult precisely because of the strength of imperialism as an economic world-system. Even “victorious” national liberation struggles may be arrested at the moment of victory, such that the movement forward to socialist revolution may be indefinitely postponed in the eyes of the masses themselves by the very real fact of imperialist attempts to indirectly or directly dominate a nominally independent country.

Further, the class interests of the bourgeoisies of different nationalities mean that they come into conflict with each other: which of the major 20th century national liberation movements have arrived at their expected end? True, Vietnam was able to drive out imperialist occupiers, only to invite them back to counterbalance economic domination by other imperialist powers. True, the PLO was able to fight the Israeli state to the negotiating table, only to have a single killing by Zionist fanatics— the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin– turn the negotiating table into the farcical site of Zionist domination, with no single meaningful concession to the oppressed Palestinian people since. Even in many of the countries which threw off the colonial yoke of yesteryear, such as Sri Lanka, who freed themselves from the British, national conflicts between the local peoples remain intractable.

These national questions seem effectively endless, lurching from conflict to conflict much as capitalism lurches from crisis to crisis. Far from bourgeois nationalist ideology providing us with resolutions to the national question, the old nationalist conflicts which the liberal bourgeois media has spent decades trying to convince us were resolved (in Ireland, in the United States, in Turkey and Kurdistan), are returning, more relevant than ever, as the crisis deepens.

Proletariat and bourgeoisie in oppressed nations

As materialists observing the facts such as they have been simplistically laid out above, we might naively conclude that Marx and Engels were mistaken: that the struggle for national liberation, anti-colonial struggles, all manner of struggle which is not proletarian revolution as such, all of these things represent a dead end, and are not progressive. Capitalism has universalized itself long since, and appeals to “nationhood” as even a component of political analysis amount to nationalism, a covering up of the essential universal conflict between bourgeoisie and proletarian.

However, it is a known fact about the world that the national divisions which exist and come to constitute nation-states cause real, material conflict which results in wars, deportations, in short: the suffering of the poor. The imperialist world-system means that the exploitation of a Pakistani worker is clearly greater than that experienced by an equivalent white worker in the United States. A Pashtun in this same country faces a military violence imposed by the same United States, and relative ambivalence towards their plight by the ruling classes not only because they are poor, but because other poor Pakistanis may be turned against them on the grounds of the social division between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.

Such contradictions among different kinds of exploited and oppressed, different sections of the proletariat, take many forms: such as those which are gendered, racialized, etc. All of these contradictions must be taken up, criticized, and overcome through concrete social struggle. But due to the particular political-social power of nationhood specifically under capitalism, the highest level of politics takes on a national form, and this fact cannot be brushed aside, if we wish to intervene and change the world.

Taking a bird’s eye view of the historical process of nationalism will allow our analysis to become clearer: robbed of political power, the nationalist bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation today appears weak under the subjugation of more powerful nations, particularly the great imperialist powers. Upon achieving power and controlling a nation-state in the capitalist world system, that subjugation is felt as economic or even military pressure, and the exploitative logic of capital dictates that the same nationalist bourgeoisie, once in power, becomes openly reactionary in its political program.

The contradiction between the known shortcomings of nationalism as an ideology and the actual national form of oppression and exploitation experienced by the proletarian masses cannot be resolved by a choice between nationalism and an abstractly anti-nationalist socialism, but only sublated in concrete proletarian internationalism. The great Marxist theoretician Vladimir Lenin wrote so extensively on the nuances of a proletarian internationalist approach to the national question that these writings alone constitute a substantial body of work covering a broad period and diverse particular conflicts.

To briefly summarize, however, the proletarian internationalist perspective which Lenin outlines is to oppose all national oppression and privilege, and concretely fight for equal rights under all circumstances. This puts us in the same camp as the nationalists of oppressed nations when they fight for democratic rights, and against them when they fight for their own bourgeois privileges. It is an ideology based neither on numerical majority nor on states and political power as it already exists, but based on recognition of the equal status of every particular national identity in reflecting some universal human experience.

Thus if every nation is equal, the common interest of the proletarians of all countries is less an aspiration and more a practical basis for common struggle. In seeking this unity, the proletarians of oppressor nations show the level of development of their internationalist consciousness by “suicidally” defending the national interests of their class brethren of the oppressed nations against their “own” oppressor nation bourgeoisie. The far-sighted oppressed national proletarians, likewise, do not merely follow their “own” bourgeoisie into nationalist struggle, but strengthen this nationalist struggle by identification with their class brethren among other oppressed peoples.

Settler-colonialism and nation-building in the United States

Turning to the United States, the oppressor nation is the white settler-colonist nation which dominates the country, the Yankee nation which was “born as slave-masters and settler-colonisers”. Both in its current state, and historically, it is not difficult to see why the proletariat of the Yankee nation did not automatically stand together with the Indigenous nations, for example: though they are divided from their “own” bourgeoisie on class grounds, they had no reason to identify with the victims of developing US imperialism because they were at no point struggling for recognition of their democratic national rights. From the beginning, white Yankee men were able to gain tremendous privileges by aiding in the genocide of Indigenous peoples, whose resistance was not relatable for them.

It is with this in mind that J. Sakai made claims about a “mythology of the white proletariat”: obviously there are objectively speaking white workers who earn their wages in a proletarian fashion under US capitalism. But only when they attack the nationalist project of their “own” bourgeoisie does a Yankee proletariat worthy of the name emerge as a political class, a conscious subjectivity.

The labeling of the United States as a “settler-colony” by birth and in its ongoing operational logic to this day evokes rather shrill and unwarranted reactions from many white communists in the United States: “If this is a settler-colony in need of decolonization, will you be demanding the deportation of all white people back to Europe?” “How can the Indigenous nationalities ‘decolonize’ without ‘oppressing’ settlers?” This reaction, the fear of “white genocide”, implicitly reveals a still-lingering identification with the ideology of the ruling classes. Opposition to the liberation of groups that are a threat to the political order of capital in their “own” country is usually excused by labeling the national movements of these oppressed people as “bourgeois” (though we cannot deny that all national movements have some bourgeois element, because the bourgeoisie is part of the whole nation and indeed the part that coemerges with the nation as category). In practice, however, it is tragically obvious that such “leftists” are seeking a “left” defense for their “own” bourgeoisie— the hegemonic class in the most powerful imperialist country on Earth!

The Yankee bourgeoisie really did deport Indigenous peoples en masse from their own lands, in addition to creating a new Afro-American nation by forcibly importing and enslaving untold numbers of Africans. These crimes are not hypothetical excesses, but the real violent foundation of the political and economic order in the United States. While dreaming up all the possible ways that anti-colonial resistance could “go wrong”, how much does the white left in the United States really understand the immense violence that was necessary to construct and is still necessary to maintain the dominance of a nation founded and dominated by European settlers on the continent?

“If violence began this very evening and oppression had never existed on the earth, perhaps the slogans of non-violence might end the quarrel. But if the whole regime, even your non-violent ideas, are conditioned by a thousand-year-old oppression, your passivity serves only to place you in the rank of the oppressors.”
–Jean-Paul Sartre, Introduction to Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”

But, of course, chest-beating anti-imperialism does little to actually bring white communists into agreement about what is to be done. They are implicitly asking what national liberation for the victims of US imperialism “at home” will concretely look like, and this question is a legitimate one.

That is to say, although giving up the fight for the liberation of oppressed peoples––Indigenous peoples in the “lower 48”, the New African people and their land, the “Alaska Native” peoples who are divided from their co-nationals by the colonial border with Canada, the island colony of Hawai’i, etc.––would mean objectively defending the real oppression of these peoples by Yankee imperialism (and is therefore reactionary)… despite this, we should––after declaring our unconditional support and comradely defense of the anti-colonial struggles of these peoples––confess that a new bourgeois state built in the names of these people could indeed reproduce new forms of national oppression, including of other oppressed peoples: for example, one can easily imagine a liberated New Africa wherein the Indigenous peoples of the continent are still denied their land and national rights, no longer by white settlers, but by a now-free nation of New Africans. If we are not merely nationalists for currently oppressed nations, but revolutionary communists, surely we have something to say about this?

Let us return to the idea that the nation emerges as the bourgeoisie, initially itself an oppressed class, rises in prominence. It thus appears as the “natural” leader of the national liberation struggle in cases of colonized peoples. The proletariat of such colonized nations finds itself in a difficult position: like the proletariat of the oppressor nation and the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, their struggle is against the ruling classes of the oppressor nation. However, unlike the oppressor nation bourgeoisie, this seems to place the proletariat of the oppressed nation in an alliance with the bourgeoisie.

How can the oppressed nation proletariat, and how can internationalists interested in their liberation, chart an independent course through the struggle for national liberation? How can we truly overcome nationalism and arrive at a real proletarian internationalism?

Self-determination and proletarian internationalism in the US

So far I have danced around the question of what self-determination will actually look like for Afro-Americans and Indigenous peoples in the US, which is at present a rather “hot” issue on the radical left. Let us then turn to concrete examples: suppose that some or the other oppressed nation in the United States were able to muster enough force to be able to exercise its right to self-determination and enter into sincere negotiations with the members of other nationalities affected by this exercise. That is to say, explicitly, if the Hawai’ian people were to demand their national rights and call for a vote on secession for their territory (which, being a set of islands, is fairly easy to demarcate). Let us further suppose that this Hawai’ian liberation movement were able to gather enough popular support and accordingly pressure through whatever means necessary for their political will to be heard.

Given the fact that the Hawai’ian people, however they are conceived of, are victims of colonialism without significant capital behind them facing a state which is still the premiere imperialist power on Earth, such a struggle would be a long and difficult one, including likely both legal and illegal methods, messy alliances, and complex organization. But at the moment of forcing the US state to a stalemate, it would be able to negotiate with the diverse groups in Hawai’i who might not accept Hawai’ian nationality about the terms of their rights as minority nationalities. The process of this struggle over a territory more or less pre-determined by geography would likely involve discussions about what Hawai’ian nationality would look like and what this national movement’s understanding of minority rights would be, among others.

In the “mainland” US, however, the land claims of oppressed nations would appear more complicated: first by past violated treaties between various Indigenous nations and the US; secondly by overlapping land claims between Indigenous peoples; and thirdly by questions such as the larger non-Indigenous nationalities— first and foremost the oppressor Yankee nation and the oppressed Afro-American nation. For the Afro-American nation, their land claims have the disadvantage of having never been accepted in US law, and therefore not being able to appeal to international law even in the realm of theoretical debate.

This last example, of the Afro-American people’s claim to land in New Afrika, has the unique position of being a significant national claim of the size expected for a settler nation, such as the French in Canada for a non-Indigenous group that is none the less similarly oppressed (that is, subjected to harsh colonial oppression and not mere dispreferential treatment as is the case for the French in Canada, for example). The land claimed for the national liberation of this internal colonized people accordingly includes traditional Indigenous land as well. How is this question to be dealt with, before we even touch upon the question of what will happen to white settler society in the land affected?

In fact, both the Afro-American people and the Indigenous have made rather clear their willingness to negotiate with representatives of other oppressed nationalities to arrive at a mutually satisfactory arrangement in the liberation of the land to which they have meaningful historical connections.

Why might not the Afro-American national liberation project place any emphasis on a similar arrangement with the Yankee nation? Quite simply, because the current arrangement is the one in which the Yankee nation already has control of effectively all of the land, all political and cultural and economic power. In short, negotiations at the point of Yankee rifles were concluded long ago, resulting in all other nationalities in the United States have already made maximal concessions, as the abandonment of the Afro-American people following the failure of Reconstruction, and the subsequent joint war by northern and southern capital against the Indigenous, resulting in genocide and broken treaty after broken treaty, can attest.

In fact, such a decolonial project would share much with that of other former colonies around the world, where deals between various victims of colonialism might go wrong, but the former colonizers were largely disregarded because they had no interest in negotiations from the beginning, since their maximal privilege was the starting point against which the colonized were revolting. The fear harbored by the former oppressors of revenge by the former oppressed resulted around the world, including in the US, in fascist gangs guarding their privileges jealously. This, and not the “excessive” nationalism of the colonized, is the real threat to peace between peoples. Neutralization of such reactionary threats, like the forcing of the colonizing state to a stalemate, is the precondition for peaceful and democratic discussion of the possibility of “reverse oppression” and the safeguarding of the minority rights of the former dominant group— provided, of course, that in the new society, the former colonizers actually lose enough of their privileges that this can even be a meaningful possibility.

The limits of nationalism and national liberation

If it should occur that an oppressed nation in the US should achieve its liberation and so strip white settler society of its privileges, including economic influence and physical force, that the rights of white settlers as white settlers could in fact be violated, the white settlers would merely find themselves in the same position as the other minorities in a given territory. Let us suppose that the Republic of Lakotah were realized, the Lakota people reclaimed their stolen land, and were able to form a state which allowed them to develop their culture. like any other nation-state.

Let us further suppose that the white population in this territory were to consider itself a settler nation within this nation-state, and accept to leave at peace in this arrangement, with the numerical support of whatever percentage of non-Lakota (whether settlers or not). Perhaps the local population would begin to adopt the Lakota language more and more, and acculturation and assimilation might hypothetically reduce the remaining population identified with white settler culture to a minority over time.

Again, this proposed scenario is less oppressive than the real reality which the Lakota people have experienced since they were subjected to invasion, genocide, and colonization. But, if this new state is indeed yet another normative nation-state in a world of nation-states, it is a fact we should acknowledge that potentially minorities in the territory may feel put upon by the Lakota language and culture, and therefore could potentially come into conflict with the state and apparently experience oppression by a Lakota ruling class.

The current apparent diplomatic stance between the Afro-American and Indigenous peoples mentioned above reflects something of an anomaly: the peoples in question have not yet dealt with the practical reality of dividing between their ruling classes the profits of capitalism in the territory in question without Yankee domination. The conceding of land to another oppressed people could still serve the interests of the national bourgeoisie in so far as it serves as a kind of deal-making aimed towards gaining any of the land and profits that both want from their common colonial oppressor.

But once this victory is achieved, the foundation for a normative bourgeois-nation state of these oppressed nations will be laid. If the revolution goes no further than liberating the land, it will certainly be a great step forward for the liberation of an oppressed people from harsh colonial rule, the crushing of their culture, the thorough subjugation of their toiling classes among the workers of a given country, etc. But it can easily be transformed into a Bantustan dominated by imperialism, or even as a “fully” independent country impoverished by imperialist blockade, one in which the ruling classes fight ever more jealously for whatever profits they can squeeze out, thus necessitating a new “local” national oppression of whatever minorities to safeguard the interests of the new ruling classes.

In this case, the difference between settler society and colonized societies would matter less— which is not to say it would not matter at all. An independent Québec would almost certainly, under current conditions, continue to harshly oppress the Indigenous in its borders, and a liberated Indigenous nation in North America would could easily find itself under the sway of no longer anti-colonial but simply everyday nationalism by which the national bourgeoisie would use any tools at its disposal, including national oppression of whatever minorities, to ensure that it received the maximal benefit of its own territory. Demands for national rights by minorities in such a context would go unheeded because of the class interests of those in power, as such demands are now.

The spreading of revolutionary anti-colonial struggle across a broader geography would alleviate some of these problems, by bringing more parity between peoples over a vast geography with an interdependent market, and weakening the imperialist blockade or subordination which would currently be so easy to imagine. But the nations of Europe (or the western part of the Eurasian continent, per your preference) presently have such a relationship, and they too find themselves— particularly in moments such as the current economic crisis— in struggle over nation-based economic domination, competing with one another for allies and markets in the region and abroad, and finding “local” national enemies in the form of immigrants or peoples who have yet to achieve a nation-state of their own.

The persistence of inequality between national groups under diverse particular circumstances shares as its common thread the problem of capitalist ruling classes competing in a capitalist market in a capitalist world-system. It is the task of the revolutionary proletariat, the first class in history which does not seek to exploit but which is only exploited, the first underclass in history which has a global and universal reflection, that is truly an international class, to push the revolution beyond the limits of nationalism, which has no apparent end under capitalism. The proletariat can and it seems must take part in the struggle for national liberation, but must due so out of a commitment to a true proletarian internationalism, and will seek to push forward these particular nationalist struggles beyond their limits such that that conscious political will as the political class of proletariat is able to overcome the bourgeois national consciousness with which it finds immediate common cause against imperialism.

To create a society where rights are not curtailed based on an exploitative logic requires questioning and struggling against the nation-state which right now appears the horizon of the liberationist imagination of so many oppressed peoples around the world. It requires bringing down the entire capitalist order which created the nation-state so that in practice, all people, regardless of identity or numerical minority or majority, can enjoy truly equal rights as part of a united humanity.

Recommended reading: “The National Question in Turkey” by İbrahim Kaypakkaya

Lights for Liberty – Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC

On Friday, July 12, thousands of people participated in over 750 events around the country (and around the world) to protest the racist, inhumane, and fascistic US border regime, specifically the policies of the Trump administration. Two such events, in Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC were attended by Struggle for a New World writers.

Raleigh, NC

One of over 20 events statewide, the Raleigh Lights for Liberty protest was organized by the Carolina Peace Center, and held across from the state legislative building. Attended by around 200 people, the protest consisted of a moment of silence, a candlelight vigil (many candles were repeatedly snuffed out by the wind), the reading of the names of those who have died, and several speeches and chants.

D_T95DfWkAIC0fHphoto taken by Spectrum News RDU

Speeches were made by protest organizer Faisal Khan, head of the Carolina Peace Center, as well as Reverend Edgar Millan, a local pastor and chair of the Hispanic/Latino Committee of the North Carolina Council of the United Methodist Church. Besides these speeches, a middle school age son of immigrants, a local immigration lawyer, a local pediatrician, a local psychiatrist, and an 18- year-old member of local synagogue Temple Beth Or spoke. Each speaker spoke from their particular backgrounds, with the middle schooler speaking of his fears for the future and how he dreamed of a world where families like his aren’t used as political bargaining chips, and the paediatrician reading part of the report made by a doctor who visited the camps and reaffirming that these camps are state-sanctioned child abuse.

Every speaker diagnosed a common problem and prescribed a common cure. The problem is the racist policies of the Trump administration and the Republican Party, and the cure is calling your congressperson and voting for the Democrats. Mr. Khan ended his concluding speech by encouraging the crowd to vote in November, and said that next year things would be different. The official message was that we must “Make America Humane Again,” as was written on a sign propped up in front of the microphone. Those who lead the protests are unwilling and unable to articulate the fact that America has never been humane, that what is happening at the border is the product of the system and its twin parties, and that voting blue will not solve this. The speakers urged us not to let the situation be normalized. But in 2021, with a Democratic president, the odds are good that many protesters will return to their normality while the border regime grinds on under more acceptable liberal leadership.

Washington, DC

Hundreds of people attended the rally in front of the White House in Washington, DC, which was sponsored by a variety of immigrant rights organizations, LGBT organizations, and faith-based organizations. An even wider array of activist groups and organizations were in attendance. The speakers included immigrant activists from a variety of countries targeted by US policy, faith leaders, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers, and a lawyer who had worked to expose the conditions in the camps.

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All of the speakers called on the crowd to take further action, to oppose all manifestations of racism and xenophobia, and to refuse to become complacent. Many discussed the violence they had personally experienced at the hands of the U.S. immigration system, both as they crossed the border and after. Others discussed how they, as citizens, had acted in solidarity with more vulnerable communities.

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There were two speakers whose presence was surprising. A former White House staffer spoke, discussing her own family’s experience coming to the United States as refugees from Sri Lanka. She contrasting the Trump administration negatively with the Obama administration, under which she had worked, and led the crowd in a chant of “USA” that was picked up with enthusiasm.

Congresswoman Nora Torres, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala as a child, also spoke, directing anger against Trump and calling on the crowd in both English and Spanish to continue to organize. Torres had voted in late June to appropriate $5.4 billion in so-called “emergency funding” for the border, which she and other supporters claimed would only be used for humanitarian purposes. Since that vote, ICE has opened three new detention centers, and jailed migrants remain in the same horrific conditions.

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Conclusion

A recurring theme, common in protest signs and echoed even by the speakers who decried the role of US imperialism in Latin America and systemic white supremacy in this crisis, was that the current situation at the border is some kind of deviation from supposed “American ideals”.

On the one hand, this is positive in so far as it shows that the furious opposition to the very existence of these camps is a popular sentiment extending far into the liberal center of US politics. The large crowds responded with resounding support to calls for continued organizing against them. However, efforts towards such organizing will be weakened and ultimately fall short of any effective change if they cannot emphasize that this crisis is fundamentally the result of the state’s own “American ideals”.

If such large numbers of people are willing to stand publicly against the camps, it should be made clear to them that the Democratic Party is as responsible for what has happened there as the Republican Party, and that a true response must go beyond stating opposition to a particular Trump administration policy, which could easily be continued into a Democratic administration, as US imperialism’s “War on Terror” was from the Bush to the Obama era.

The calls for more action and organizing are absolutely correct and must be embraced and carried forward in practice. We must continue to stand in solidarity with migrants and all oppressed peoples, shoulder to shoulder in a popular front against rising fascism. But our message must be clear: the problem is systemic, and so too must be the solutions.

Close the camps, free them all!

Juneteenth Statement

On this Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the end of American chattel slavery, Struggle for a New World stands with the oppressed Afro-American nation in their continued struggle for freedom. The US Empire was built using the stolen labor of African slaves, and to this day the foundations of this country rest on the backs of the oppressed Afro-American nation formed through the processes of slavery and Reconstruction. Following the failure of reconstruction, the Republican Party abandoned its radical left wing in favor of defending US imperialism against all oppressed peoples who stood in their way.

Thus, while the Republican Party and the US Empire of which it is part may hypocritically celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, Juneteenth stands for the history from below of the Afro-American people, who still struggle for freedom from the powers that enslaved and continue to oppress them to this day. The national liberation struggle of the Afro-American people remains an unfinished revolution on the lands they have tilled, the Achilles Heel of US imperialism.

Ever since the first slave ship sailed up to Jamestown exactly 400 years ago, Black African people have been struggling for their freedom from Anglo-American settler society. This struggle has always been among the foremost revolutionary struggles within the US. The most significant democratic advances in US history, those of the Civil War and Reconstruction and of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, were caused and won by the oppressed Afro-American nation and its struggle.

We salute and uphold the few heroic examples of settler-colonist revolutionaries, such as John Brown, who fought and died alongside them in this fight, where overwhelmingly they have fought alone. Following this example, and conscious of this history, every serious revolutionary in the US, regardless of national background, must unite with the Black revolutionaries who constitute a true vanguard of revolutionary struggle against the objective interests of the white supremacist settler-colonial state.

From the Indigenous who suffered horrific genocide at the hands of the same settlers who enslaved the people who became the Afro-American nation, to the exploited immigrant laborers who toil in similar precarious circumstances and whose homelands share a colonial subjugation to US imperialism “from without”, to the class-conscious settler proletarians and revolutionaries, a real revolutionary solidarity between all oppressed demands that we all stand with the oppressed Afro-American people in their national liberation struggle.

Without apology, without conditions, without caveats, we affirm that no real liberation can be secured for any single one of us if we cede even an inch to the exploiters and oppressors on the question of any one of our liberations. For those revolutionaries in the US who know the bloody history of genocide, subjugation, and oppression to which the Afro-American people have been subjected, anything less than a firm defense of their ongoing struggle for full liberation would be the most hypocritical betrayal of everything we claim to stand for.

Black Power!

Free the Land!

Let Us March On Till Victory is Won!

Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World, Unite!

May Day 2019

Struggle for a New World greets the working and oppressed peoples of the world on May 1st, with whom we celebrate this International Workers’ Day. Today is the working class’s own holiday, a day that belongs to all the exploited and oppressed; today is the day we raise our voices loudest in our struggle against capitalism, imperialism, and fascism, and for socialism, peace, and democracy. From the U.S. to Uruguay, from the Philippines to Poland, from Italy to India, from South Africa to South Korea, from the Congo to Cuba, indeed, in every corner of the world, our class and our movement is celebrating and struggling. Greetings comrades!

 

The holiday of the international proletariat, which began with a workers’ resistance in the United States, is scarcely known in this country – while “Labor Day,” a holiday created by the state, is pushed as an apolitical day off. Outside of the radical left, it is little known that the mass movement in the US for the 8-hour workday gave birth to this day. But as the contradictions of the global crisis sharpen, the younger generation of strugglers, workers, students, women, LGBT+, and oppressed nationalities feel themselves more connected to the struggles against the capitalist-imperialist world system and fascism around the world. May 1st is again on the lips of the real, class-conscious masses in the belly of the beast!

 

This May Day happens at a time of great darkness, yet there is a great light of hope shining still. Across the world, reaction, fascism, and war are on the rise – but the struggles of the workers and oppressed also rise up higher in resistance. US imperialism just launched yet another assault on revolutionary Venezuela and threatens Cuba, but the Venezuelan and Cuban peoples stand up against the empire. Austerity means cuts to education, but today teachers in the Carolinas walkout in protest to these measures. The Trumps, Bolosaros, Dutertes, Modis, Orbans, and all the rest may strut themselves about and push us around on behalf of the ruling classes whom they represent: but the resistance to their tyranny builds every day. This resistance will show itself on the streets today, in all of those who march in defense of the basic rights of humanity, the working class, and all the exploited and oppressed. This is what will overturn the powers that be and win the struggle for socialism. We must join these growing masses in the streets and become one with them.

 

This May Day, let us come out for our class and for socialism. This May Day, let us rally like those before us have. This May Day, let us continue the struggle to “bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old” – a world in which “the international working class shall be the human race.”

 

Long live May Day!

Workers and oppressed people of the world – unite!

#FreeRonnieLong

On March 6th, 2019 a group of students and faculty from Winston-Salem State University, a local HBCU, as well as pastors and other community activists (including a writer from Struggle for a New World), traveled an hour and a half to the state capitol to protest the continued incarceration of Ronnie Long by the state of North Carolina. The recently elected Attorney General is the son of a longtime civil rights lawyer, and many people had hoped his election would lead to a long-overdue reevaluation of the Ronnie Long case. However, in a case coming up later this month, the state will argue against the introduction of new evidence that the defense believes will definitively prove his innocence.

In 1976, then 21-year-old Ronnie Long, an Afro-American man, was arrested and charged with raping the wealthy white widow of an executive at Cannon Mills, a textile company that had bought an old plantation to build its plant into what was still effectively a company town. The prosecution’s evidence was his identification by the victim based solely on a leather jacket, a footprint that “could” have matched his shoes and the testimony of the lead detective (who was later found to have lied under oath). The defense presented numerous alibis for his activities the night of the crime and pointed out inconsistencies in the scant physical evidence the prosecution provided. An all-white jury, four of whom either worked for Cannon Mills or had a spouse who did, deliberated for approximately half an hour and delivered a guilty verdict to a racially segregated courtroom, which nearly sparked a riot. Ronnie Long has spent the 43 years since in prison, maintaining his innocence, and after decades of legal effort and periods of street protests on his behalf, his lawyers have forced the state to slowly release forensic evidence that had been hidden from the defense during the initial trial. This new evidence, collected by the SBI, shows there were no DNA matches, no hair matches, no fingerprints – in a word, no physical evidence implicating Ronnie Long.

The largely Afro-American group of protesters gathered outside the NC Department of Justice, but before the protest could begin officials from the Attorney General’s office invited the group inside. Several people from our group spoke, older faculty members as well as younger student organizers, about the egregious miscarriages of justice involved in Ronnie Long’s 43-year incarceration. Then the state officials responded, with the empty platitudes typical of officialdom about how “conflicted” they felt that they were “forced” to argue in court for his continued incarceration. There were tense moments when the students interrupted, or Ronnie’s wife Ashleigh Long snapped back at their evasions, and several of the older protesters tried to calm them down. Several students spoke again to express their displeasure that the so-called Department of Justice felt it had no choice, and to emphasize that they did have a choice. Then the officials spoke again, trying to placate the protesters’ objections without offering any concrete concessions. One white official asked us to “remember who makes these laws,” pointing off into the distance to reference the NC General Assembly a few blocks down the road, and many in the room voiced agreement. The meeting concluded with one of the older faculty emphasizing that, while the meeting inside was appreciated, we still fully intended to hold our rally out in the cold and make our voices heard in the streets.

We filtered outside and stood on the steps and did a few chants. The idea of marching to the State Legislative Building had taken hold in several of the lead organizers, and when proposed to the group was met with enthusiasm. We marched on the sidewalk the couple of blocks to the NC General Assembly, where we were quickly but discreetly surrounded by capitol police. Two of the older faculty stepped into the building while the rest of the protesters stood outside, chanting and holding the space. The police tried to make us leave, but when we pushed them for clarification admitted that we were allowed to protest so long as we “didn’t block the entrance,” a rule they proceeded to enforce more or less at whim. The typical chant of “No Justice, No Peace” evolved into “No Justice, No Vote,” until the representatives from our district emerged to speak to the crowd.

Our district’s representative and senator both spoke briefly, saying little and promising less. When pushed by the students on whether they were willing to use their influence to help the case they both hesitated to make concrete statements. The older activists spoke out to try to reassure the younger generation that these politicians were “on our side,” which received a cool reception. Many in the crowd used the opportunity of the circle to pass out flyers to capitol visitors, and then decided to march back to where we had started. We marched back down the sidewalk and reassembled on the steps of the Department of Justice to close out the rally, remind people of the appeal hearing on the 20th, and pile back into the vans to head home.

Though the case against the state’s unjust conviction has been fought for far longer than most of these students have been alive, they nonetheless saw their own possible futures – and for many, their own family members’ present – in Ronnie Long’s incarceration. Though older activists maintain leadership roles and try to smooth over their harsh words as they deem expedient, the young Afro-American students were by and large uninterested in listening to well-dressed officials and politicians in positions of power wring their hands about how powerless they were. The students of WSSU want justice. They have been organizing for justice, and they will continue to do so. With luck they will reach out to other HBCUs in the state to join the rally for Ronnie Long’s appeal hearing. It will take much more than luck, however, to reach the white activist community. Despite a number of predominantly white socialist groups in both cities, the author was one of only four white activists in attendance. A weekday event at noon will limit the ability of many to attend, especially non-students, but this single observation is very much symptomatic of a trend. Socialist organizations that wish to expand their membership beyond the “organic” growth that reproduces the South’s continued de facto segregation must look to the struggles already being fought in Afro-American communities and find ways to join them without overtaking them and colonizing the Afro-American freedom struggle.

More information about Ronnie Long’s struggle can be found here, including an email to contact the campaign as well as the petition for his release. You can write to Ronnie Long to express solidarity at:

Ronnie Long
0247905
PO Box 460
Badin, NC 28009

You can also write to the NC Attorney General’s Office to demand they cease prosecuting an innocent man and release him as soon as possible at:

Attorney General’s Office                                                                                                              9001 Mail Service Center                                                                                                        Raleigh, NC 27699-9001

International Working Women’s Day 2019 Statement

On this International Working Women’s Day, Struggle for a New World sends our greetings to all the militant women of the world in their struggle against patriarchy and gender oppression. This International Working Women’s Day comes in a time of fierce reactionary assaults on women’s rights and equally fierce, if not greater resistance and fight back on the part of women. While figures such as Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and their counterparts spew misogynistic and sexist filth, the women of the US, the Philippines, Turkey, and the entirety of the world resist. In every country, working women continue their centuries long fight against oppression and for social justice.

It is often said, to quote the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, that “women hold up half the sky.” But in the case of the revolutionary movement, it can be said that women hold up a far greater portion. The February Revolution was started by a strike of women textile workers on this very day. It is working women who have carried out the vast majority of internal organizational work in revolutionary organizations, in a reflection of the sublated sexism of their male comrades. It is working women who have fought and died on the frontlines of revolutionary struggles, who have marched and been maced, organized and been arrested, all for the revolution. There has never been, and there never will be, a socialist revolution without the active and leading participation of working women. As such, our movement must ruthlessly struggle against the male chauvinism, patriarchy, and gender oppression that has been sublated into it. As such, we must always and unconditionally participate in the women’s movement and, as we do in every movement, work to bring to the fore the question of the revolution and socialism, and the fundamental unity between this struggle and struggles of all the oppressed and exploited.

To quote Rosa Luxemburg in her speech on women’s suffrage,

“The current mass struggle for women’s political rights is only an expression and a part of the proletariat’s general struggle for liberation. In this lies its strength and its future. Because of the female proletariat, general, equal, direct suffrage for women would immensely advance and intensify the proletarian class struggle. This is why bourgeois society abhors and fears women’s suffrage. And this is why we want and will achieve it. Fighting for women’s suffrage, we will also hasten the coming of the hour when the present society falls in ruins under the hammer strokes of the revolutionary proletariat.”

The women’s revolution is the proletarian revolution, and the proletarian revolution is the women’s revolution. Those alleged “communists” who play lip service to the women’s struggle on March 8 and ignore it every other day of the year, and those who reject it out right and sneer at the struggles of particular segments of the working class are not only chauvinists, but setting us up for defeat. Alexandra Kollontai responded to the chauvinists of her day by saying

“But this is not a special day for women alone. The 8th of March is a historic and memorable day for the workers and peasants, for all the Russian workers and for the workers of the whole world. In 1917, on this day, the great February revolution broke out. It was the working women of Petersburg who began this revolution; it was they who first decided to raise the banner of opposition to the Tsar and his associates. And so, working women’s day is a double celebration for us.”

So International Working Women’s Day has been, and so it will be. March 8 is and always will be a day of revolutionary struggle.

Long Live International Working Women’s Day!

Long Live the Women’s Revolution!

Death to Patriarchy and All Forms of Gender Oppression!

“Green New Deal” or Planned Green Economy?

by Güney Işıkara

The report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in September 2018, immediately followed by the UN COP24 climate change conference in December of the same year, immediately resulted in a flurry of discussion around the world, including within the United States. As the environmental crisis looms ever more as an existential crisis in the popular imagination, it is increasingly reflected in policy proposals. The “Green New Deal” proposed by the Green Party in the US has been taken up by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), including some, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who sit in prominent offices through the Democratic Party. The fact that corporate greenwashing, along with the propagation of a “green capitalism,” has been organized around the concept of sustainability should not drive the left. The main task is to frame the question in correct terms, putting our fingers on the systemic aspect of the crisis— namely capitalism as a totality.

However, this does not simply mean providing an abstract criticism of capitalism as responsible for the crisis, while standing aloof from the specifics of the environmental crisis. The initial consciousness of the system as the source of the crisis cannot be equated with the posing a concrete solution. On what grounds can Marxists analyze the environmental crisis, and what distinctive political prescriptions follow from this, that might differ from social-democratic reforms?

In this short piece, we will mainly focus on the deadlock which solution proposals that do not problematize the capitalist market mechanism find themselves in, and suggest the blueprints of a radical, socialist response that the crisis itself is calling for. Particularly taking up the question of growth vs. degrowth, we are aware that the piece leaves many important issues untouched.

 

Growth and current historic juncture

Climate Change has diverse causes and effects, and is accordingly subject to extensive scientific inquiry which this short piece cannot justly summarize in its totality. Therefore, we must focus on the most pressing aspect, which itself gives us the most immediate and concrete grounds to incorporate this question into the contradictions of capitalism and the struggle by socialists against it.

Everything we consume has to be produced, and all production consumes energy. Globally, economic growth is approximately proportionately linked with energy consumption, such that an increase of approximately 1% in global GDP requires an increase of approximately 1% in global energy use. Under current technology and production, the energy consumed is overwhelmingly (over 90%) produced through the combustion of fossil and biofuels, which releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Obviously, given our current technologies, and assuming current patterns of production and consumption, it follows that this economic growth is itself part of the cause of the carbon footprint which is raising average global temperatures and is already changing climate patterns.

Today, however, growth on its own only part of the problem. If, relative to pre-industrial levels of global average temperatures, we intend to remain within the limits of an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (the limit provided by most experts, beyond which the effects on the environment according to models become dangerously non-linear, catastrophic, in short, apocalyptic), we have a remaining global carbon budget of 420 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or, put in terms of our actual current levels of emission, roughly 10-11 years (depending on the reports consulted). This approximate timespan refers to a business-as-usual scenario under which no significant change takes place in energy use, its carbon intensity, and/or the way our social production and consumption is organized.

Although predictions and prescriptions vary, there is a growing consensus in scientific literature that in order to avoid the predicted catastrophic effects of climate change, by approximately 2030, we must have decreased our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% of the projected levels; and furthermore, by 2050, have effectively transitioned to an economy which does not produce any new carbon dioxide.

 

The environmental crisis and the political response

This reality goes far beyond mere academic interest: this is a ticking time bomb for our species, biodiversity, and sustained life as we know it on our planet. Therefore, as a political issue, it appears at first glance to go beyond the question of class and national politics. Indeed, this is precisely how the problem is presented in the media and in much of the scientific literature. We are presented with the concept of an “Anthropocene” epoch, a geological era in which “humanity” is said to affect the primary change on the climate and environment. This is impossible to deny on one level, but unfortunately, like so many truths, it can be used to conceal as much as it reveals. What it conceals is that, like all human activity in our era, the effect of humanity on the environment is unequally distributed across national boundaries, and on a more fundamental and essential level, unequally distributed across social class. The fact is that the problem itself is an outcome of a class society that organizes production for the market under the guide of the profit motive, and cannot be solved without recognizing this fact.

Were this an academic publication, there are countless references we could make to studies detailing global patterns of consumption and their relationship to carbon emissions, most of which articulate similar patterns, differing mostly in extent. It suffices here to mention one particular overview found in the 2015 Oxfam media briefing on “Extreme Carbon Inequality”. According to the estimates in this report, basically half of global carbon dioxide emissions associated with private consumption are attributed to the richest 10% of the global population, whereas the poorest 50% emit only 10% of the global carbon dioxide emissions. To help imagine the extent of horizontal (cross-country) inequality in terms of per-capita emissions associated with consumption, it suffices to mention that consumption emissions of the richest layers of Chinese and Indian population are literally dwarfed by their counterparts in advanced countries such as the US. The former are only comparable to the per-capita consumption of rather poor sections of the population in richer countries.

When one consults mainstream media sources in English-speaking countries concerned with this problem, it is not difficult to find a picture painted of countries like China and India developing in such a way as to massively exacerbate global carbon dioxide emissions. By contrast, these same authors might praise the United States or EU countries for some relative improvement (which may be as much a result of a decline in growth as it is of any commitment to reducing emissions in these countries). This is because they (likely purposefully) rely on production-based emissions, according to which the Global South is rapidly increasing its emissions. However, it is nothing short of self-delusion to ignore that a substantial share of the commodities produced in these countries are consumed in advanced countries. We can see that the increase in living standards in the more advanced countries still directly relies on the same carbon dioxide-heavy production which is outsourced to other countries; the very same countries to which capital is exported to superexploit labor are also those countries in which global capitalism is able to exploit the environment to its fullest.

On top of this horizontal inequality, it suffices to mention that the consumption-based per-capita emissions of the richest 10% of the US population is 3 to 5 times (estimates vary from study to study) that of the poorer half of the society.

Two conclusions follow from this: first, just like it is a small class of capitalists who appropriate the wealth resulting from social production, it is again the same class who uses up a disproportionate share of the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases without regard to the risk of an end to life on Earth. As the point of departure for a socialist response, this very capacity, as well as the environment more broadly, must be perceived as common property. Second, the class division of society and the inherent expansion motive of capital does not only result in exploitation, domination and inequality within nations, but also gives rise significant to asymmetries between nations on a global scale. This global character of the problem renders merely individual nation-based responses ineffective.

 

The “Green New Deal”

Let us then speak about the current en vogue solution in the United States, the so-called “Green New Deal”. This proposal has many supporters in the US— from the academic left, to the Green Party of the United States, who popularized it, and now, increasingly, in the DSA and in other socialist or socialist-leaning progressive political organizations. It attempts to gradually diminish greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time creating new jobs to avoid an increase in unemployment (resulting from the closure of factories, mines, energy plants, and so on). Mechanisms for this might include subsidies for corporations willing to transition to clean production, price incentives through carbon taxes that would push firms to reduce their emissions, and cap-and-trade or cap-and-dividend schemes.

The seemingly most progressive measure in this framework is a “cap and dividend” system by which across the board, a limit would be placed on the national level of carbon dioxide emissions by the government, and permits to emit carbon dioxide (incrementalized in the amount of, for example, one ton) would be sold to firms. This imposes a supply-side control on total emissions, while at the same time it constitutes a substantial source of revenue for the government, which is distributed to all citizens in the form of dividends, leading to a redistribution of income in favor of the poor. However, it is totally timid on the question of the level of national permits. Given the fact that there is a relatively small global carbon budget left, a primary issue to be addressed is its distribution to different countries with different standards of living.

The issue is clear: the environment is our common, global heritage, and it is a common, global property. The combined share of the US and EU-28 countries in total (cumulative since 1750) CO2 emissions is around 50%. Thus, given the small amount of remaining carbon budget, no country from the Global South will abide by a ‘deal’ where the aforementioned rich countries will keep using up a substantial portion of it. Again, bourgeois ideologues in the West will tell you that, for instance, China is emitting more carbon than the US and EU combined. This is true. But if we adjust the emissions for population (China has a population that is more than 1.5 times the combined population of the other two), in other words, if we look at per-capita emissions, we see that the US still more than doubles Chinese levels— despite the fact that these numbers are derived from a production-based approach!

(For those some examples of this fixation on China’s contribution to climate change in the western mainstream press, we provide here some examples of pieces which border on announcing that we have entered a “Sinanthropocene” era.)

By no means are we attempting to salvage China. As a capitalist country, all points raised above hold for China as well. Our point however, is that in advanced countries it is particularly important to develop a political narrative and mobilization that questions and dispenses with the fixation on growth under current circumstances, which is concomitant with emphasizing the need for conscious, democratic planning that puts environmental and human well-being above all. This is not to dispense the concept of growth as such, but growth in a capitalist setting that is no longer reconcilable with the aforementioned ecological goals on the one hand, and does not essentially benefit the working classes, on the other.

This implies a political program that, on the one hand, promises to do away with coal-fired plants as soon as possible, be rid of the massive oil and gas industries, shift to electric power generated by solar, wind, and water sources, and even reorganize urban life to decrease reliance on automobiles, increase the accessibility and extent of mass transportation. It demands measures to immediately increase energy efficiency in buildings, industry, and transportation. Given the extent and speed with which this massive transformation has to be carried out, the case for democratic planning is much stronger compared to the erratic market mechanism full of uncertainties and lags.

On the other hand, popular support for such a program can only be obtained by ensuring that the poor and working classes will not be harmed by an eventual suspension of growth (not that they reap its current benefits anyway). The most immediate and simple way of doing this is to facilitate their access to essential goods and services such as housing, education, healthcare services, basic food and clothing items, and the like. In the immediate short-run, this can take the form of a combination of public provision, subsidies, price controls, and so forth. Recent public discussions indicate that even in the US the broad masses are much more sympathetic than expected to substantial increases in the tax rates imposed on the rich. Already we have an answer to the usual suspect question: where are the resources for such a program?

All of the points mentioned above are in direct contradiction with the chaotic nature of the market resulting from decision-making by atomized, myopic entities whose interests conflict with one another. What is instead required is a planned intervention in the way our production and consumption is organized. The name of this planning is socialism, an economic system which does away with the profit motive and the exploitation it begets, an exploitation which is not only the exploitation of our collective labor, but also of our common heritage in the form of environment in which we live. This exploitation of the environment which the ruling classes under capitalism cannot propose a means of escaping now threatens the very future of life on the planet. Socialists must emphasize this as an urgent rallying cry and a means of organizing the broad masses against the system which degrades and destroys without regard to the present and the future.

As much as it is an enormous threat, the current environmental crisis also represents a great opportunity for the case for a democratic planning mechanism that puts use-values (including a livable environment) at the center. They know it as well as we do: carbon-producing fossil and biofuels are built into the heart of our economic system, and we have very little time left to change it. This cannot be done without disrupting the current economic system. And it is in our hands to use this opportunity to push for a green, egalitarian, democratic, and planned socialist economy!