The Workers Vanguard articles denounced the International Committee specifically for failing to invoke this right in four separate areas: Bosnia, the Indian states of Kashmir and Punjab, Quebec and Sri Lanka. Let us consider the content of this demand in each of these concrete cases.
What are the consequences of proclaiming the right of “self-determination” in Bosnia? That should by now be abundantly clear. Such a demand serves not to win the confidence of the working class in a socialist perspective, but only legitimizes the bloody activities of the rival ethnic nationalist leaderships.
Spartacist fails to make clear to whose self-determination it is precisely referring. Is it Bosnia as a whole, or the Moslems, Croats and Serbs who live in this territory? And, if one takes the Marxist conception of the right to self-determination seriously, i.e. the right to establish an independent state, how is this to be realized in Bosnia? History has already provided the answer. The formation of separate independent states based on ethnic or religious identity in the former Yugoslavia can be achieved only through the extermination or expulsion of entire populations.
This was why the Marxist movement, beginning in the late 19th century, developed the demand for a socialist federation of the Balkans as a means not of carving out new territories, but rather, overcoming the national divisions which mired the region in backwardness and violence. Together with the rest of the middle class left, Spartacist rejects such a socialist and working class solution to the crisis in the region.
Spartacist goes on to state that the SEP is “against the right of self-determination for Kashmir, the Punjab and other nations locked into the prison house of peoples that is the Indian bourgeois state.”
This use of the term “prison house of nations” in regard to India is dubious to say the least. The phrase is appropriated from an earlier epoch when it was used to describe the old Tsarist empire in which conquered nationalities were repressed and denied basic rights.
India, however, emerged as the abortive outcome of the national struggle. There was in fact no Indian nationality, language or ethnic identity. The struggle for independence from Britain involved the progressive goal of uniting the vast territory and its inhabitants, breaking down their division into some 500 princely states.
This task, however, could not be completed under the leadership of the national bourgeoisie and its political instrument the Indian Congress. The result was India’s partition along religious lines, with the creation of Muslim Pakistan and the vast pogroms and expulsions that accompanied it.
Marxists indicted the Indian Congress not for having failed to create scores of separate ethnically-based nation states, but rather for its inability to carry through the struggle against colonialism and effect a genuinely democratic unification.
Fifty years after independence, the whole nationalist project in India is in an advanced state of disintegration. The Congress Party and every section of the Indian bourgeoisie has renounced the old national development programs in favor of integration into the world market. Barriers to foreign capital are being thrown down and industries denationalized.
The result is growing social inequality and regional economic disparities. These are the driving forces both of the new national separatist movements that have broken out throughout the subcontinent as well as the growth of Hindu chauvinism expressed in the rise of the BJP movement.
In both Kashmir and the Punjab, the national separatist movements are based upon religion. In Punjab the national separatists demand the creation of Khalistan, a state which would exclude the large non-Sikh population that inhabits the region. In Kashmir it is the demand for Moslem rule. Kashmiri nationalism is closely bound up with the continuing conflict between India and Pakistan. Pakistani military intelligence exercises a considerable control over the most active of the armed groups in the area which call for a jihad, or holy war, aimed at joining Kashmir with Pakistan.
As with all of these movements, the Kashmiri separatist agitation has won popular support by diverting social unrest and demands along religious and ethno-chauvinist lines. The rise of Kashmiri separatism was fueled by the growth of an educated middle class in the region, with no corresponding growth in employment. The result has been an increasingly intense competition for posts in government, education, etc. The demand that these positions should go to the majority Moslem population has been coupled with anti-Pandit (Hindu) agitation resulting in the expulsion of nearly a quarter million Hindus from the region. The cycle of armed guerrilla actions and government repression has subjected wide layers of the population to state violence, further fueling separatist sentiments.
Even in Lenin’s day, the Marxist movement drew a sharp distinction between what it saw as legitimate nationalist movements and those which based themselves on religion. The Communist International specifically opposed the Pan-Islamic movements of the day as reactionary and warned against imperialism’s fomenting of conflicts between “national-religious sects.” For Spartacist and other petty-bourgeois ex-radicals, this distinction no longer applies. By endorsing Kashmiri and Punjabi self-determination, it is endowing a national-religious conflict with a supposedly democratic and revolutionary content.
The central question here is, how does the revolutionary party of the working class respond to the breakup of the old bourgeois nationalist movements? Are the masses in these countries to advance their interests through new separatist movements based on fragments of the states created through decolonization and founded on religious particularism?
We categorically reject such a perspective. Such statelets will provide no way forward for the working class and the oppressed masses in India or anywhere else. At best they will create profits for a thin layer of the privileged classes if they are able to create a free enterprise zone and cut their own deals with transnational capital. For the masses they hold out the prospect only of ethnic bloodbaths and intensified exploitation.