The unprecedented global integration of capitalist production has vastly diminished the significance of these national markets in comparison to the global market to which production is more and more directed. Instead of seeking the expulsion of imperialist capital and the development of national industries, the old bourgeois nationalist regimes are carrying out austerity and privatization programs aimed at attracting globally mobile capital with cheap labor and conditions of unrestricted exploitation. At the same time, the national bourgeoisie have linked their fate directly to the world markets, exporting ever-increasing amounts of their own capital to global financial centers like Wall Street.
The new global economic relations have also provided an objective impulse for a new type of nationalist movement, seeking the dismemberment of existing states. Globally-mobile capital has given smaller territories the ability to link themselves directly to the world market. Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have become the new models of development. A small coastal enclave, possessing adequate transportation links, infrastructure and a supply of cheap labor may prove a more attractive base for multinational capital than a larger country with a less productive hinterland.
At the same time IMF austerity programs which mandate the dismantling of national development schemes and destruction of limited social welfare programs have turned central governments in the oppressed countries into bill collectors for the foreign banks. Rival ruling cliques in regions possessing natural resources or industries which are being siphoned off to pay the foreign debt see in separatism the possibility of eliminating the middle man and striking a more profitable arrangement by dealing directly with foreign capital themselves.
In India and China, the national movement posed the progressive task of unifying disparate peoples in a common struggle against imperialism—a task which proved unrealizable under the leadership of the national bourgeoisie. This new form of nationalism promotes separatism along ethnic, linguistic and religious lines, with the aim of dividing up existing states for the benefit of local exploiters. Such movements have nothing to do with a struggle against imperialism, nor do they in any sense embody the democratic aspirations of the masses of oppressed. They serve to divide the working class and divert the class struggle into ethno-communal warfare.
The International Committee opposes this type of bourgeois separatism. For this reason Spartacist has accused it of “social chauvinism” as well as “passive acceptance of imperialist oppression and exploitation of backward countries.” Most of its charges are repeated from a series of articles which appeared in Workers Vanguard in 1995, under the headline “David North ‘abolishes’ the right to self-determination.”
Contrary to Spartacist’s hysterical assertions, the national secretary of the SEP in the US has no more “abolished” the rights of oppressed peoples than he has “embraced” the long dead Karl Kautsky. The International Committee’s real crime, in the eyes of Spartacist, is to make a fresh examination of the Marxist attitude toward the national question in general, and the formula “right of self-determination” in particular, in light of the changes in the forms of capitalist production and the concrete experience of the working class and the oppressed masses over the course of the 20th century.
This, Spartacist maintains, is impermissible. It rejects a dialectical materialist analysis in favor of a purely scholastic approach, searching through the writings of Lenin and Trotsky to find quotations, ripped out of context, to justify its ongoing adaptation to bourgeois nationalism. In this, as in many other respects, the Spartacist League only apes the retrograde methods pioneered by Stalinism. The thrust of Spartacist’s indictment is that the Socialist Equality Party fails to ritualistically repeat the formulations put forward by Lenin in 1913.
In Lenin’s defense, however, it should first be stated that even 80 years ago his position had nothing to do with the support for national separatism now espoused by Spartacist and so many other groups representing the middle class left.
For Lenin, the right to national self-determination had one meaning and one meaning only—the right to form a separate, independent state. He repeatedly insisted that this right had for the Bolshevik Party a “negative” connotation. That is, in recognizing this right, the Bolsheviks did not advocate national separatism as a preferred course of action. Rather, the right was inserted into the program to make it clear that the party opposed the Tsarist regime’s use of military force to compel an oppressed nationality to remain within the borders of the Russian empire.
Lenin insisted that it was necessary to recognize the right of self-determination in order to win the confidence of the oppressed nationalities in the leadership of the working class. At the same time, he fought all manifestations of national separatist influence on the working class itself, insisting on the political independence and unity of the workers throughout the Russian empire under the leadership of a common all-Russian party.
Spartacist and other middle class leftists who espouse national separatism today start from a diametrically opposed perspective. Their aim is not to win the confidence of the oppressed in the working class and a socialist solution to the conditions created by capitalism. To the extent that these groups themselves ever had any confidence in the working class and socialism, they abandoned it long ago. They promote national separatism as a more “realistic” means of opposing imperialism. They try to invest it with a non-existent revolutionary potential in order to better subordinate the working class politically to the nationalist movements.