Yugo and Estonia

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Sun Oct 8 09:25:30 MDT 1995

I agree with Bryan's overview of Lorenzo's lengthy and thoughtful 
posts on Yugoslavia. [BTW it is good to have such active participation
from Spain - perhaps the time will come when we Europeans can secede
from this US dominated list ???]

The historical detail is very interesting but inevitably one-sided.
It is mainly the account of the manoeuvrings of great powers and 
Lorenzo invests his democratic feelings in opposition to this in the 
movement in the late 19th centry of Serbian nationalism.

He fails to ask what is the democratic proletarian stand now in a way
that Bryan does, and he fails to draw a distinction between the 
progressive nature of small nation nationalism in the 19th century and 
the reactionary nature of nationalism in the late twenthieth at a time
of the breakup of the "actually existing socialist" states of Eastern 

He fails to draw a distinction between progressive 19th century 
Serbian nationalism and reactionary social fascist late 20th 
century Greater Serbian Nationalism.

Lorenzo looks for a marxist interpretation of when secession is "just".
I would say that is not quite right. We are not looking for abstract 
ideas of justice, but what policy in any concrete situation minimises 
antagonisms between working people against capital, and what maximises 

Lorenzo draws on Lenin and the Chinese to imply that once a socialist 
state has been created, socialists may resist by force of arms the right
to secede from it, on socialist grounds. Some marxists hold this view 
and related views, eg in support of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 
in the 70's. I think such a view is unwise in an increasingly fluid world.

Thought experiment, [almost reality] -

Soviet Union. Early 90's. The Baltic Republics want to secede. Lots of 
historical arguments can be produced on one side or another to say that
their claim to nationhood is pretty spurious. 

The Soviet Army is dominated
by Russians. It is concerned that 1/3 of the population of Estonia is 
Russian, and may be imperilled if Estonia declares independence. Anyway it
is obvious that the leading Estonian nationalists have clear links
to capitalism and imperialism.

So the effectively Russian army partitions Estonia on ethnic lines, driving
out non-Russians from its chosen sector and almost making the rump unviable.
The Estonians are initially in disarray and rout.

This process is accelerated by atrocities and counter-
atrocities. The apartheid border that appears plausible in practice is more 
like 50/50.
The Russian army advances further. Local Russian speakers some of whom
have lived in Estonia for 40 years, are particularly shocked at the 
atrocities on their grandparents. They set up an assembly which raises 
the question of why Russians should be denied access to the sea, because
of the strip of land that is now rather narrow in places, occupied by
the Estonians. Besides, there are many Russian speakers in the capital
city of Tallinn. Some suburbs are 70% Russian speaking and have formed
their own militias. The Russian Federal Army must intervene not just
by supplying weapons but be open force. Celebrations occur as they 
march in....

Leftists in the West demonstrate against the possibility of NATO 
attacks against a Russian Federal Army still loyal to the ideal of 
socialism, whatever hypocritical things Gorbachov is 
saying.  Clearly Estonia should not have been allowed to secede. 
Theoreticians from the old Communist Parties study the national 
question and Lenin, and they argue that Lenin was prepared in practice
to withdraw the right of self-determination if the fundamental interests
of socialism were at stake.

And on this point and this point alone, I think the leftist would have
been correct, but they would have forgotten that the most fundamental 
feature of the marxist policy on the national question is always to 
mimimise oppression and disunity among working people, and in whatever
twists and turns develop, to maximise the opportunity of cooperation 
against capitalism and imperialism. 

I leave someone else to analyse the apparent and the true marxist 
position on Chechenya. But that was not a thought experiment.

And Lorenzo may have to excuse me if I leave others to reply to the 
responses which he is likely to wish to make, if I am to get away 
on holiday.

Chris B, London.

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