East Timor, Luxembourg and Lenin

LouPaulsen LouPaulsen at attbi.com
Mon Mar 3 07:37:55 MST 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: "Ozleft" <ozleft at optushome.com.au>

> The current Marxmail debate over Timor has both a concrete immediate
> and a Marxist theoretical dimension. I'll deal with the concrete aspect
> first.
> I'm in sympathy with the Ben Courtice, Dave Riley, Clinton Fernandez,
> Michael Keaney, Nick Fredman view, and in opposition to the Phil Ferguson,
> Tom O'Lincoln, Nestor Gorojovsky and Gary McLennan view.

I haven't read this whole thing yet, but I just want to point out something:
it is, unless I'm misinterpreting things, incorrect to lump Nestor in with
Phil, Tim, and Gary.

Phil, Tom, and Gary say that it is wrong for leftists in an imperialist
country to call for the imperialist country to send in troops on behalf of a
national liberation struggle within the third-world country.

Nestor says that the 'national liberation struggle within the third-world
country' is necessarily reactionary in the first place: that we always
should have realized that the East Timorese struggle was not going to end up
in any good place, since its main aspect was to break up Indonesia.

If I had to pick one of these three sides, I would find myself closest to
Phil, Tom, and Gary, but I have to say I am much more worried about Nestor's
criticism than I am about the criticisms of the other side, and I think
Nestor, who, after all, has the experience of actually being IN an oppressed
country, is raising an aspect that deserves to be looked at.

I don't think that such struggles are as INEVITABLY wrong-headed as he says
with his "_any" and his "no matter how":

"_any support to a movement which, no matter how revolutionary it
might sound or believe to be, aims at splitting a Third World
country, no matter how reactionary and pro-imperialist its regime
might be_ is bound to end up in giving life to a pro-imperialist

I think that it depends on the situation and has to be looked at more
dialectically than the sentence above gives room to do.  I mean, to take the
argument to the absolute extreme, I hope nobody would say that if the US
tries to "unify Korea" by launching a war to conquer the DPRK, it is a
mistake to defend the DPRK because we would be fighting to SPLIT KOREA.

But I do think that there is a tendency on the left within imperialist
countries, or at least within the US, to forget (in this regard as in every
other) that there is a difference between imperialist countries and
oppressed countries, and that there is a difference between (a) the support
we give to the national liberation struggle against our own imperialist
country (which is mandatory and unconditional); (b) the support we give to
the national liberation struggle against the OTHER imperialist country
(which must always be watched to make sure you aren't supporting
anti-imperialist rivalry); and (c) our attitude toward the national
liberation struggle of oppressed nation A within oppressed country B, where
you are always in danger of finding yourself being used as an imperialist

We would be much worse leftists, not even leftists at all, if we never
supported national liberation struggles at all, of course.  But we can't be
lazy leftists and conclude that any time anyone launches a new national
struggle somewhere, it is our duty to plunge into the struggle -without
thinking- dialectically about what the issues are.  Our opposition to our
own imperialism is primary.  Our support for national liberation struggles
outside the borders and sphere of 'our own' imperialism is secondary to

Personally I still believe that FRETILIN's struggle was progressive when
Suharto's Indonesia seized East Timor after its initial declaration of
independence from Portugal, and that particularly when the US and Suharto
were indistinguishable in the work of crushing it, it was necessary for
Marxists in the US to defend it, but this judgment takes into account both
the nature of the Suharto government and the struggle between the socialist
and imperialist camp at the time.  Both of these things had dramatically
changed by the time Australian troops went in there.

Lou Paulsen

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