Self Determination- Support It!

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at
Sun Aug 20 22:40:14 MDT 2000


>>This comment by me provoked such a reaction, Jose.......     Why is
it you need names?      It seems to me that you are being the
McCarthyite here.

>>I believe that the truth of what I have said about the selective
focus of some tendencies in how they bring up struggles for self
determination, hits the bullseye square on the nail.<<

    The reason for my reaction  is simply this:

    You asserted that those who supported the call of the
independence movement in East Timor to propitiate or facilitate or
whatever you want to call it the withdrawal of the
imperialist-inspired Indonesian occupation have a certain position on
Yugoslavia, Chechenia and so on, and are totally oblivious to the
struggles of the Basque patriots for independence from the Spanish
state, of the Irish for freedom from centuries of Brit domination,
etc. etc. etc. etc.

    In the last year and a half or so I've learned a tremendous amount
from this list.  One of the things I've learned is that agreement on
one issue does not necessarily imply agreement on others, that what I,
rightly or wrongly, perceived as your statement that there are certain
underlying trends or currents, is basically false.

    So when you said, well, those who say such-and-such about East
Timor ALSO say this about Chechnia and that about Yugoslavia, and why
don't they talk about the Basques and about the Irish, it tended to
make me a little ballistic. Because you're trying to pin on me all
sorts of positions I don't hold.

    I was among the people on this list who most stridently defended
the RIGHT of the independence movement in East Timor to call for an
international force and ALSO expressed agreement with/deferred to
their judgment that this was a correct demand under the concrete
circumstances that arose a year ago.

    But initially that wasn't my position. My *initial*
reaction --concretely, in response to what was posted here about the
Australian DSP demanding a force that would include their "own"
imperialism's troops, was to say, that's got to be wrong.

    And actually who started me on the road to reaching the opposite
conclusion was Louis, who raised the whole issue of, how is this
different from the call for federal troops to the South in the 50's
and to Boston in the 70's. Louis had his reasoning as to why it was
different, but I found it unconvincing. His polemic AGAINST the
position I eventually came to hold played a big role in convincing me
it was right.

    On Yugoslavia, Kosovar, etc., as you may recall when I first
joined the list I tended to support the idea that Kosovar-Albanian
self-determination was a central or the central issue in what was
going on there. I no longer believe that in the simplistic way I did
then. Actually, the ONLY thing I NOW believe is that whatever the U.S.
has NATO doing (or more precisely: whatever the U.S. imperialists are
doing in NATO drag) I am against. Comrades here were more than
sufficiently convincing, especially Louis and Borba100, that, quite
simply, I did not have a coherent, defensible position.

    For that reason, since I am  not the world party of socialist
revolution, and I do not have to take a more defined position on every
question and in fact I choose not to try, I'll just say that whatever
Clinton is for, that's what I'm against. It is, I admit, an extremely
primtive position. On Chechenia I'll go even  further and say I just
plain don't have a clue or any opinion whatsoever.

    But I most definitely DO have a position on the Basque and Irish
national struggles. I find your accusation that people who supported
the demand of the Timorese independence movement for a UN force a year
ago therefore somehow don't really support the Basque or Irish
patriots to be insulting.

>>One can judge some cases to be weaker than others.     As in the
case of Indonesia fighting to maintain East Timor in its sphere.
But the fact is, Australia was fighting to split East Timor off into
the Aussie orbit.<<

This is just a pretext to justify not supporting the struggle of the
people of East Timor for self-determination and independence.
Australia was NOT "fighting to split East Timor off into the Aussie
orbit", Australia was a key backer (with the Americans) of the
Indonesian occupation of East Timor to begin with and throughout the
1980s and 1990s. The Americans didn't do it themselves in the mid-70s
because they HAD NO EFFECTIVE ARMY in the wake of the U.S. defeat in
Vietnam. Washington did exactly the same thing in Angola at the same
time, i.e., use surrogates, the South African drive against Angolan
independence and the Indonesian drive against East Timor independence
were two specific instances of the same U.S. imperialist strategy.

The Indonesian ruling class and their imperialist senior partners
switched to a policy of decolonization not so the Aussies could
develop more influence there but because after a quarter century of
trying, not only had the Indonesians not been able to defeat the
Timorese resistance, but the effort was undermining the political
stability of Indonesia itself. The fundamental decision was one to cut
their losses, retreat to a more easily defended line, try to
restabilize things on the basis of formal independence, neo
colonialism, rather than naked annexation.

So a deal was cut to hold a referendum, and despite the referendum
being held under continuing Indonesian colonial military occupation,
and with the central leader of the independence movement in prison,
the victory of the patriotic forces was overwhelming the Indonesian
occupiers suffered a humiliating, crushing defeat.

That the East Timor leadership accepted going into the referendum even
with such onerous conditions is testimony to their tactical savvy and
confirmation that they had a good grasp of the situation and the
strength of the movement among the people.

The rabidly anti-Timorese Indonesian armed forced and militias
responded with a pogrom, in response to which the Timorese
independence movement called for a U.N. force to replace the
Indonesians. It was, in effect, a demand that the U.N, security
council defend the outcome of the referendum on independence held
under its auspices. It was also a way of trying to force the U.S. and
other imperialist countries involved to complete the break with the
quarter-century-long policy of supporting and encouraging the
Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

Those who say what was involved here at bottom was a reaccommodation,
a redivision of the spoils between the imperialists and their junior
partners in the Indonesian ruling classes, thereby deny that the
people of East Timor through their independence movement and
organizations were real protagonists in this situation.

And as long as imperialism exists, it will always be true that ANY and
EVERY big change in the political arrangements and status of a
colonial or semicolonial country will involve ALSO a reaccommodation
among the imperialists and their junior partners in the bourgeoisies
of the semicolonial countries. That is true even of workers states, as
is shown by the way some Spanish, Canadian and Mexican interests have
taken advantage of the business opportunities Cuba has been forced by
circumstances to offer them.

I understand why you want to talk vaguely about leftists and so on,
and totally ignore the Timorese, because you do not want to remind
people that when the Timorese independence movement, unquestionably
and without doubt the legitimate representatives of the people of East
Timor, asked people like you, "brother, help me get the boot of the
Indonesian occupation off my neck," you TURNED YOUR BACK ON THEM. You
said, "Oh, yuck, imperialist troops, no way I'm going to support that.
After all, the Aussies are going to try to use it to their advantage."

It is exactly the same idiotic, ultraleft line of reasoning that led
the U.S. Socialist Workers Party to abstain from the fight to force
the U.S. Government to remove Elián González from the hands of the
kidnappers in Miami. "Can't do that -- the Clintonites are going to do
it in such a way as to prettify the image of the INS." This left the
SWP in the utterly ridiculous posture of expressing the fond hope that
somehow Elián might be restored to his real family with absolutely no
practical way to accomplish it.

This sort of position is so deft and ultraleft, so completely
incoherent, that the opponents of the independence movement's demand
for a multinational force have, in most cases from what I can tell,
have abandoned their support of the right of the people of East Timor
to self-determination and independence altogether. And this either in
the name of the Indonesian (or some other broader) revolution, or on
the basis that history has now shown that East Timor is only viable as
some sort of imperialist outpost, that under current circumstances the
independence movement of East Timor could only have a reactionary

Well let me tell you: a mistake on the national question can prove
deadly to a revolutionary process. The Nicaraguan contras would have
been one or two hundred former Somoza National Guards and could have
been easily defeated in the first year or two of the war if
imperialism hadn't been able to use the Miskitu national question
against the revolution. It transformed the contra into a force of a
couple of thousand, Miskitus in their big majority, and by the time
the FSLN was able to reverse this, tremendous damage has been done,
the economy was sinking into a maddening crisis, and thus the
imperialists were able to leverage the temporary contra social base
among the Miskitus into a broader social base for the contra among a
layer of the peasantry. Moreover, the FSLN was able to neutralize the
contra-Miskitu alliance only by recognizing the national rights of the
Miskitu people, by granting sweeping local autonomy to the Atlantic
Coast. How sweeping? Pretty much the whole northern region, apart from
Puerto Cabezas, was left under the control, not of the army, but of
the autonomy militias. And where did these militias come from? They
were the bands of Miskitu warriors that were formerly known as the

    The lesson is quite simple. Look at things and how they turned
out, and ask yourself, what would have been better for the revolution
as a whole, the Miskitus or even the whole Atlantic Coast achieving
complete autonomy or even becoming a separate, independent country
after July 1979 or staying as part of Nicaragua, as really happened?

    And it does no good to whine that the such-and-such people should
have more of a sense of perspective, of history, of their broad
strategic interests, and ally with the workers and peasants or the
oppressor nation. It is one of the peculiarities of having the boot of
colonial/national oppression on your neck that you don't get much of a
chance to develop a broader outlook because there is only so much you
can see with your head pinned to the ground.  That's why Lenin urged
revolutionary workers interested in forging an alliance with the broad
masses of colonially and nationally oppressed people to  take the boot
off the neck of such people by guaranteeing them the right to
self-determination and independence.

    Lenin's approach on the national and colonial question was, it is
true, a highly principled one but it was also an eminently practical
one. After seizing and consolidating power, the workers will have all
the time in the world, the rest of history, to explore new political
arrangements with formerly oppressed nations, come up with a common or
complimentary approach to economic development, all sorts of things.
But to begin with, the ONLY thing the workers can offer as proof of
their good faith is unconditional recognition and defense of the right
of oppressed nations or national groups to control their own destiny,
and even go it alone, if that is what they want. Nicaragua's
experiences confirm that a revolution that does not strictly adhere to
a policy of having the workers of the majority/dominant/oppressor
nation(ality) bend over backwards to demonstratively, dramatically and
definitively BREAK with the past of national oppression, does so at
its greatest peril.

    The issue isn't that imperialism can or will or is using or is
manipulating the XXX people or the YYY nationality or ZZZ ethnic
group. Of course they are! That's the whole point, divide and rule. We
can't stop imperialism from trying to manipulate national and colonial
questions, and the sentiments and struggles of oppressed peoples. All
we can do is decide how we're going to respond. And if our response is
that XXX or ZZZ is too susceptible to being used and abused by the
imperialists, or that they are too "backward," therefore we dare not
let them achieve independence, then we will have played right into the
hands of the imperialists.

I firmly believe the Leninist position of unconditional support to the
national rights of oppressed peoples, including the right to
independence, is the only possible strategic approach by the workers
movement. The workers have to unite all who can be united against
imperialism, otherwise WE WILL FAIL.

    And let's make one final point perfectly clear:  the Leninist
approach to the national question (and also to the agrarian question,
with which it is often intimately intertwined) is NOT a "socialist" or
"proletarian" program, it is a *bourgeois* program. Saying, "this is
just a bourgeois nationalist movement" both belabors what should be
obvious and misses the real point entirely.

    Our real program, once we have wiped capitalism from the face of
the earth, is to do away with nations and states altogether, just as
our real program isn't that the great-great-great-great grandchildren
of today's Cuban farmer will still be working the same small plot of
land as his forebears. The abolition of nations and states of
necessity implies also the abolition of national rights in particular
and all political rights in general. But the only way to get there
from here is NOT through the negation NOW of national rights, but on
the contrary by fighting for their fullest expression, their universal
application. They will wither away not by suppression but by
fulfillment, by having been exhausted.


----- Original Message -----
From: Tony Abdo <aabdo at>
To: <marxism at>
Sent: Friday, August 18, 2000 6:52 PM
Subject: Re: Self Determination- Support It!

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