In reply to Joan Cameron

Mato Ska mato_ska at
Sat Sep 8 10:44:02 MDT 2001


I have no problem at all with your thesis on the right of
self-determination. It is a proposition that has long been maintained by
the historical "left". I would add that this proposition is really most
relevant in a historical period of national development, and in the
context of the guarantee of political rights for national minorities with
separation being the ultimate guarantee of those rights. The context is
very important because it is an indication of the antagonisms that exist
in given nations and the solutions that are proposed to resolve them.

Having witnessed and been active in actively supporting struggles for
self-determination, I do not disagree with the need to address issues of
national oppression in a way that effectively permits a resolution of the
inequalities and social injustice. While I can see concrete examples of
where this demand could be implemented in this period, such as Puerto
Rico,  I can also see other examples within the US where  other options
are viable, such as autonomy for First Nations. Other examples stretch
the imagination to suppose that there is any prospect of such political
forms can develop in the context of existing political domination.
African-Americans, Chicanos and other historical groups have at times
proposed the option to secede or establish independent nations, but have
never been able to develop a movement sufficient to make this a reality.
Clearly there are a wide range of disagreements within those minorities
which make thiis option just so much wishful thinking on the part of
those who propose it.

Not only is the proposition largely untenable in the context of American
political life, at this point, but more to the point it has proven to be
a negative factor in the development of an independent political agenda
that seeks to address the fundamental political and social injustices and
inequality that plague this nation. Those groups who have proposed that
self-determination represent a demand of national minorities do so in the
context of work almost exclusively within their own communities.
Politically, they are often more focused on questions of cultural
diversity and find themselves more engaged with the "left" of the
Democratic Party, often to the point of attacking independent political
parties that include agendas that support their struggles. The impact of
this is to maintain the status quo, to delete the impact of their demands
for decent and equal treatment and provide a springboard for a Democratic
Party which is ill-inclined to address their national aspirations. It is
simply not enough to say, in this day and age, these are OUR demands,
it's up to you to support them, or you become defined as the enemy, too.

I have seen very little developed theoretically to address this
situation. It is an extremely serious situation because it impacts on all
of us. We have seen a political agenda adopted where 2 million people are
incarcerated and the urban areas are being increasingly militarized in
the face of an impotent opposition. And yet the continued response has
been to act as though we have the luxury of proposing options that are
not in fact on the political playing field. The solution has become to
say constantly "and the situation of women and African-Americans
is......". As if this indicates something more profound than the citing
of statistical relations that most people don't really care about. If we
want to deal with these issues I am more convinced than ever it will have
to be in the context of addressing common problems with common solutions.
You know: Unite the Many to Defeat the Few, that kind of thing.

Politically and organizationally this means moving beyond the existing
parameters of organizational and political separatism that have dominated
the agenda for the last 30 years. How can this be done? First of all, it
takes all of us to honestly review the successes and failures of the last
30 years to evaluate what really works and what doesn't. Secondly, it
takes a willingness to engage others openly about the detrimental effects
that division has had on the political agenda of the day. Thirdly, it
takes engagement by all forces to review their own actions and be willing
to accept the limitations of them for the future. Fourthly, it takes a
unified effort to work consistently in areas that impact on national
minorities, such as the criminal justice system, the right to vote,
economic development, environmental justice without always making them a
"racial" issue.

Organizing that focuses on areas of concern that express the antagonisms
that are created under the existing social order can be done in a way
that can effectively mobilize broad sections of people and can provide
political solutions without the precondition of referring to them as
"racial". Such a concept of organizing looks at the overview of American
society and tries to evaluate in each circumstance where different
segments of people who support substantive change can be found. From
there the question becomes how do we seek to engage them politically,
what are our demands and how do we propose to implement them.

In this city, there are two separate and distinct political movements,
and overlapping is rarely accomplished. The antagonisms are such that
unity is still a concept on the drawing board of some, but not even on
the screen for others. In this situation the demand of self-determination
provides little help in developing a movement that can win. Rather, it
stands as a wall that no one can get over, but which everyone has to live

Those people who have actively been involved in struggle realize these
difficulties, but many have not yet addressed the political ramifications
for the future of continuing on this road. It is interesting, that when I
listen to Al Sharpton recently, I detected an understanding on his part
of the costs of division and the proposal to develop a more effective and
unified agenda. Granted, he is currently tied to the hip organizationally
to the Democratic Party, but it is curious that some people are already
trying to move beyond the existing condition of inertia.

We need to be cognizant of this situation in our theoretical work and our
political work. Not to obscure the character and manifestations of
national oppression, but to clarify the points of unity which present
themselves in the course of struggle and to avoid being isolated and made
irrelevant. I may be overstating the case based on my own experiences,
but I would surely hope that others engaged could address my concerns
based on their own experiences and understandings.

It is in this context that I would qualify my support for the right of
self-determination and would urge people who are reviewing it with each
other not to make it a no-touch zone. Rather, it is an issue that remains
in the rhetoric of some but remains outside the context of others. As
such, we should not expect unanimity at this point, and grant others the
prerogatives of making their observations and analysis without being
attacked for doing so. There are no real obvious solutions and if the
world looked the same to everybody then we could all agree on everything.
But it doesn't and we need to be willing to understand what it is that
people are trying to get at in the examination of the issues, without
making personal attacks. That neither provides clarity nor unity. This
does not apply to you Jose. I have no difficulty in your posts and find
them to be based on principles and theory.

During the Sixties in this country, there were many different movements
that expressed the aspirations of oppressed nationalities, GI's, women,
peace activists, professionals, organized rank and file workers, for
justice, peace and equality. Although they expressed themselves through
different organizations, there were links that were manifest between
them. Martin Luther King spoke out against the war in Vietnam; Panthers
joined VVAW, etc. This came because of the common experiences and
battlefronts that we confronted together. It was not a solution in itself
but it was clearly a different situation than the one we confront today.
Our willingness to redefine the political tasks of the day will decide
the future relevancy of the "left" not to mention the political agenda of
the mass struggle.
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