Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

The national question and self-determination

254. The International Committee’s analysis of globalisation occasioned a re-examination and deepening of the Marxist approach to the question of national self-determination. This was necessitated by the tragic experiences of the working class with nationalist movements such as the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organisation and their ultimate accommodation with imperialism. It was also required in light of the development of separatist movements of a retrogressive character in many countries around the world. In every instance, these movements sought to translate their efforts to establish direct relations with the global corporations into the language of cultural or ethnic separation, with disastrous consequences.

255. The International Committee noted that Lenin’s support for the “right to self-determination” had been aimed at combating nationalist influences over the working class and oppressed masses, and striking down ethnic and linguistic barriers characteristic of regimes with a belated capitalist development. It had been framed, moreover, in recognition of the progressive nature of the unification of often disparate peoples in a more viable economic unit, and the anti-imperialist sentiments that generally animated such movements against colonial oppression. The vast development of globalised production meant that the social relations and political conditions that had prevailed at the turn of the 20th Century no longer existed at the dawn of the 21st Century. In Asia, Africa and Europe, the emergence of separatist movements was a result of either the failure of the bourgeois national movements of the past to achieve liberation from imperialist domination, or the break-up of long-established nation states. In the former territories of the USSR, these movements took on an explicit pro-imperialist character, often under the direct tutelage of Washington. They all advanced a perspective for the atomisation of the working class into ethnic cantons, wholly dependent upon imperialism, with the “right to self-determination” invoked only as a means of advancing the selfish interests of the local bourgeoisie.

256. While insisting on the defence of the former colonial countries against imperialism, the International Committee stressed that the social and democratic interests of workers and the oppressed masses could not be realised through the creation of new and ever smaller states. Rather, it meant ending the division of the world into antagonistic nation states through the methods of social revolution. The correctness of this appraisal was given additional confirmation when, six years later, Sinn Fein was incorporated into the British state apparatus in Northern Ireland, sitting alongside the Unionist parties under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.