Yet more on national liberation (not)

Steve Wright sj at deakin.edu.au
Sun Apr 9 05:04:39 MDT 1995


Like Chris, I've been enjoying the discussion on national liberation. Coming
out of council communist and then autonomist politics, I have a natural
sympathy for the sorts of arguments that Alex generally runs, but I have
also been particularly struck by two important points/objections raised by
Chris and (I think) Kenny. These concern i) what Chris called 'national
democratic struggles' in the 'First World' and ii) our attitudes -
and practice - towards phenomena such as the EZLN.

i) I guess I've never thought of the sort of issues that Chris raises as
'national democratic' in nature, but rather as being within a
discourse on reformism and 'bread and butter' questions. And rather than
just cross one's arms and stand aside waiting for a 'pure' class issue to
emerge, as some of the Bordighists mentioned by Alex have a propensity to do,
I've always understood involvement in issues around me, whether in the
workplace or community, as part of a collective process of winning back some
space and time from capital and the state - a sort of 'reformism from below',
where the *form* of 'struggle' (I can't think of a less jargonistic phrase
right now) becomes inseparable from the content and goal. Campaigns
that enhance autonomy from capital and the state become important for the
glimpses of 'something else' they offer, as well as what they 'win'; those
that reinforce passivity and delegation to one's 'betters' or 'experts'
should be scrutinised even more critically, whatever their
material gains (and without denigrating the worth of the latter). Hardly
original insights, I know, but rather different to talk of the battle for
'national democratic goals'.

As for the actual example Chris gave - gun control - god knows, as it is not
something I have ever tried to think through before, and it is only just now
becoming an issue here in Melbourne, where trigger-happy cops have shot quite
a few people in the past year or so - they seem to have a particular thing for
people classified as 'mentally ill' and then cast loose by recent
cost-saving de-institutionalisation programs. Petitions (presumably directed
towards the state ) can be a way of meeting people in the local shopping
centre, I guess, but what part can they play in developing strategies which, in
combatting violence within and against the working class, don't
simultaneously strengthen the state?

ii) What do others on this list think of the latter-day Zapatistas? I
have to admit that my first response was a fairly predictable ultra-left
knee-jerk - 'they're just "armed reformists"' (and so they have been
described - although not necessarily in a hostile manner, in one piece
last year in an Italian autonomist journal). Reading through the
Autonomedia collection *Zapatistas!*, which I'm supposed to review for a
small left journal here, and following the posts circulated by Harry
Cleaver since the resumption of hostilities back in February, I'm rather
more impressed than I initially wanted to be by the EZLN. Someone I know
in the International Socialist tendency recently sneered that I had
finally found a non-leninist national liberation movement to champion,
but I'm not sure if it's as simple as that. As Alex suggests, there is a
sense of the battle over the 'commons' in their work which also has real
resonances in a city like Melbourne, where (just one example) public
parkland is presently being destroyed in aid of a quick-fix, 'spectacular',
money-as-capital strategy of accumulation through Grand Prix racing car tourism.

Some of the most interesting talk of the global battle over the commons
that I've seen has been in the American journal *Midnight Notes* (yes,
another plug for an autonomist outfit). Not that I agree with it all,
but I do find it stimulating just the same. What their reflections suggest,
and what therefore makes aspects of the EZLN's project so interesting, is the
collapse to some degree of First/Second/Third World distinctions - or perhaps
more accurately, the appearance of the Third and Fourth Worlds within the West
itself. From that point of view, can events in Chiapas actually be forced
into categories like 'national liberation movement'? And maybe efforts to
block particular forms of capitalist development are less the completion
of a democratic process which the bourgeoisie has let fall in the mud (to use
Stalin's evocative phrase - what a little wordsmith he was), than an
attempt to pull the emergency cord before we all plummet
over the precipice (he says, shamelessly paraphrasing Walter Benjamin).

I know, more weird ramblings, and appallingly mixed metaphors - time to
watch Ren and Stimpy, I guess. 'night all.

Steve Wright



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