[Marxism] Should the Iraqi resistance resume the 50-year war between Iraq and "Iraqi" Kurdistan ? Or, In defense of the "well-known national liberalism of Comrade Lenin" (corrected version)

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri May 7 21:24:10 MDT 2004

I am sending in a corrected version, primarily to get rid of a number of
garbled sentences and thoughts and add a few thoughts.  I am sending it
to Marxmail, where I sent it, and to GreenLeft, where Bob Gould
submitted it.
Fred Feldman

Jose wrote:

Gary writes: "What of the Kurds? ... their desire for national autonomy
should be 

Absolutely NOT. Not until and unless the Kurds break cleanly and
completely with the CIA is any talk about this possible. Any other talk
of "autonomy" is simply a U.S. aircraft carrier on dry land. To ally
with U.S. imperialism against Iraq and the Arab peoples is to commit
national suicide. That is the path the Kurdish leaders have chosen. 

A wing of the Kurdish leadership, which appears to be dominant, decided
more than a decade ago on a strategic alliance with U.S. imperialism.
This is not some newly-awakened people whose inchoate national
aspirations are being manipulated by imperialism. This was a conscious
choice by people who should have known better. They CHOSE to link their
national demands to imperialism's success in Iraq. So be it.


Frankly, I think that this is a proposal that Iraq (the REAL Iraq, which
does include the Shiites and Sunnis of Iraq, but does NOT include
the Kurds of "Iraqi" Kurdistan) should join the Kurds in a national
suicide pact by an all-out war to reconquer Iraqi Kurdistan for the
Shiite or Sunni bourgeoisies or both.

He is offering a road back into the REAL Iraq for US imperialism at a
time when they are in the (far from over) process of  being pushed out
by the struggle of the people of Iraq.  A US military intervention in
defense of the the Iraqi Kurds against a renewed war against the Kurds
(a war that might well have an initial popular base among Iraqis today)
would be be widely accepted among the Kurdish masses, something they
have not had for their occupation of Southern and Central Iraq.  

Currently, Kurdistan is the least directly occupied part of Iraq.  While
there are 130,000 US, not to mention other, troops, trying to hold down
the REAL Iraq which is in revolt, there are 300 Coalition troops (not
CIA agents, etcetera) in Kurdistan, where masses genuinely believe that
decades of struggle AND alliance with US imperialism has accomplished
their goal of creating an independent nation of Kurdistan, in fact if
not in form.

I think the Iraqi bourgeoisie's aspiration (and the bourgeoisie
currently politically dominates the resistance movement among both
Shiites and Sunnis although that's not, of course, who is doing the
fighting to save Iraq from "democratic" reconstruction in the interests
of US imperialism) to regain their control and exploitation over
Kurdistan is perhaps the greatest single danger now facing the
popular resistance. And sloganeering among US leftists about Kurdish
"national suicide" is no help in dealing with this very difficult

I think that the lesson of the resistance struggle has been to make
clear that while there is an Iraq, IT DOES NOT INCLUDE KURDISTAN AND THE
YEARS.  After all, the eternal war for Kurdistan is part of what brought
Iraq to its current devastated position.

Jose argues that Iraqi Kurdistan today is an "aircraft carrier" for US
imperialism, and therefore war to the knife must be waged against it by
Iraq.  Iraq cannot give up its claim to Kurdistan (which I think would
tremendously strengthen the struggle against imperialism, although it is
unlikely to happen) unless the Kurdish leaders break all ties with the
CIA, etc. (This is something, by the way, that not all
leaders of the resistance are anywhere close to doing.)

Should Iraq be called on to invade all the nations that are or may act
as aircraft carriers for imperialism, or just Kurdistan? And if just
Kurdistan, why? What about
Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates? What about Saudi Arabia?
What about Jordan? Turkey? Azerbaijan? We
have already experienced how wonderfully the decision to take over
Kuwait advanced the Iraqi struggle against imperialist domination, not
to mention the half-century of war in Kurdistan itself.  Never mind. In
Jose's view, the Kurdish leaders have committed national suicide for the
Kurdish people, and since the Kurds -- despite committing suicide --
have not really dropped dead, Jose demands
that the Iraqi people be once again drafted to execute the suicide for

What other nations have supposedly committed suicide by allying with
imperialism?  We know that quite a few leftists today take this approach
to the "counter-revolutionary" Albanians of Kosovo, and even the
"counter-revolutionary" nation of Albania as a whole.  Their right to
self-determination is said to be entirely contingent on their opposition
to US imperialism. By collaborating with imperialism, their leaders have
committed national suicide for the entire Albanian people, completely
cancelling out any claim to national rights.  The Milosevic regime was
only doing its revolutionary duty by executing the suicide for the
(with the great revolutionary consequences we all see today). To put it
mildly, the denial of the Albanians in Kosovo (not to
mention Albania) to independent national existence is not the road out
of the ruinous situation in the former Yugoslavia today.

And of course, there is the "reactionary nation" of Afghanistan. It has
sometimes seemed like the whole world has been trying to execute the
national suicide note  signed by the Afghan Islamists when they allied
with US imperialism against the 1978 upheaval that began a brief (and
brutally misled) revolutionary process.  The 25 years of attacks --
direct and indirect from abroad -- included the ten year war by the
former Soviet Union.  (That went well, didn't it? You remember the
Soviet Union.)


Unlike before World War II, on a world scale today (certainly
in the United States and Europe), are mostly upper-middle-class and led
politically by Zionists.  In Israel, millions of Jews are organized as a
national oppressor of the Palestinian people and their territory serves
as an aircraft carrier (to put it mildly) for imperialism.  Doesn't that
mean that the Jewish people have committed national suicide?  Aren't
other nations where Jews are gathered in large numbers (say the United
States, where the Zionists' adherents among the Jewish people are no
small percentage and probably a significant majority at present) as duty
bound to execute this national suicide as the Iraqi people are to
execute the suicide of the Kurds, and as the Serbs are to carry out the
suicide of the
Albanians of Kosovo.  

Logically, mustn't we conclude that a "final solution" of the Jewish
question in the future may have a more progressive, working-class and
character than it did prior and during World War II, when the political
alignments of Jewish populations tended to have a much more left
character, and when their composition was much more proletarian and
plebeian petty bourgeois than today?  Mustn't the oppressed and
exploited wage war against the political aircraft carrier of imperialism
represented by world Jewry -- unless, of course, they break all ties
with imperialism, the CIA, the Jewish State of Israel, etc.

not to prejudice against Jews, but to A CERTAIN TYPE OF LEFTISM ON THE
NATIONAL QUESTION which seems quite prevalent in far left circles.

It is fairly common on this list, but this is not where I first found
myself in conflict with it.  The fact is that the Socialist Workers
Party's rejected the Lenin-Trotsky position on the national question.
Trotsky came to agree with Lenin's position in fundamentals even through
phrases reflecting his former Luxemburg-related views turns up in some
of his polemics around  Finland -- for instance his analogy between big
capitals absorbing smaller ones,  with great nations absorbing smaller
ones.  The analogy is flawed because when big capitals absorb smaller
ones, the latter tend to disappear without a trace whereas, in the epoch
of imperialism, this does not occur when one nation is violently taken
over by another.  This reflected his former view that small nations were
outmoded by capitalist development.

(I sometimes wonder why Trotsky's arguments on the Soviet occupation of
Eastern Poland in 1939 are so rarely cited by those who disagree openly
or in practice with Lenin on the national question.  Reviewing his
comments provided the answer.  Trotsky argues for the defense of the
Soviet action in Poland partly on a Ukrainian nationalist basis (the
unity of Soviet with Polish-occupied Ukraine).

Anyway in the mid-1980s the SWP began a a new "class," "turn" stance on
Jewish question centered on their reactionary political role and upper
middle-class composition.   This was extended to Blacks, Iraq, etcetera.

Of course the SWP's posture today is not a particularly "leftist" one.
They support the struggle for self-determination in Kurdistan and
Kosovo, but oppose the current struggle against the US occupation of
Iraq (while calling for withdrawal of US troops on general principles).
They defend their stand  on the struggle in Iraq by citing the bourgeois
nationalist character of the leaderships, although rumor has it that the
leaderships in Kosovo and Kurdistan are bourgeois nationalist as well.

Jose and I both attended the SWP leadership school in the early 1980s.
attended in Winter-Spring 1981, I believe Jose may have done so later.
We both got to read a lot
of Marx's 1848 writings on German and European revolutions of that time.
At one point, I remember, Marx and Engels -- who were really striving,
among other things, to convince the liberal bourgeoisies of Germany and
Austria to put up a
real fight against the German and Austrian monarchies and the power of
Russian Tsarism
in Eastern Europe -- called on them to join the Czech bourgeoisie who
at the head of a popular revolt in Prague and the Hungarian bourgeoisie
which was doing likewise in BudaPest and  Austrian liberals who headed a
revolt in Vienna, to wage "a war of extermination" against the Slovaks
and Croats
(whose ever-problematic national liberation movements were then being
backed by Tsarism against the revolts, which were eventually crushed by
Tsarism and the German and Austrian --later "Austro-Hungarian"--

Marx and Engels believed at that time that the "great historic nations"
such as Hungary, Austria, Germany, etc., were fated to absorb the
non-historic nations -- the Croats, Slovaks, etc. Well, perhaps that
would have happened if the bourgeoisie had proved capable of carrying
out radical democratic revolutionary transformations on the French
1789-94 model
in 1848, but they were utterly incapable of doing so.  The Croats,
Slovaks, and so on are with us to this day.

Later, Marx and Engels saw that the desire of the  German and Austrian
bourgeoisies to hang onto the  Czechs, South Slavs
(especially the Croats), the Hungarians and other subject peoples had
been among the factors that led the German and Austrian bourgeoisies to
betray "their own" democratic revolutions, and seek instead to act
(rather successfully, over time) as bourgeois pressure groups on their
own monarchies.

With the emergence of imperialism and the opening of the First World
War, Lenin came to the conclusion that there would be no further
absorption and assimilation of small nations by what Marx had called the
Great Historic (bourgeois revolutionary) nations.  He held that unifying
the oppressed and exploited for revolutions against imperialism would
require recognition of a quite broad "right of self-determination" to
nations, meaning their right to self-determination and sovereignty.
This was a development of the experience of Marx and Engels, but it was
not the same as their position in 1948 (which they never revived in
subsequent European struggles). And it was quite different from the
"assimilationist" view which Kautsky, basing himself (a little loosely
in my opinion) on Marx and Engels, had put forward and which Lenin had
advocated in the 1903 debates that led to the formation of the Bolshevik
"faction." (See "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back").

Lenin's view was a minority one in the revolutionary movement then and,
I believe, now.  It was opposed in various ways not only by
pro-imperialists like Kautsky and Bauer,  but by Luxemburg, Trotsky
(before the revolution -- see his 1916 article on the Easter rising in
Ireland as an example), Radek and many others inside and outside the
Bolshevik faction.

And Lenin did apply this principle quite broadly.  He did not limit it,
for example, to "progressive nations" where there were successful
revolutions.  He did not limit it to nations where the bourgeoisies (or
other ruling classes) broke all ties to imperialism (a tall order, of
course).  The Bolshevik revolution instituted self-determination not
only for those nations which supported the revolution (Ukraine,
Byelorussia, etc.), but even some where he knew that revolution was not
likely in the short run (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) and in Finland,
where the issue was touch and go and the revolution was defeated.

Poland and Georgia are often cited as proving that Lenin believed that
there was no right of self-determination if you were opposed to the
Bolshevik revolution.  The invasion of Poland is often treated,
including by far-leftists who support it, as a war of conquest, in the
spirit that tended to permeate Stalinist-led occupation of Eastern
Europe afer World War II (which, of course, was part of the progressive
war against Hitler Germany's invasion).  It was nothing of the kind in
fact.  It was based on (1) an attempt to end the Polish involvement in
the counterrevolutionary wars against the Soviet Union and (2) the
expectation that a Soviet war against Poland would inspire a popular
revolution in Poland, to which the Soviet military could provide
decisive aid.  There were divisions in the Soviet leadership over the
realism of the second objective. The attempt backfired, but there was no
attempt to end
Poland's national independence and forcibly Sovietize the country
through the Soviet Red Army.

In Georgia, a Menshevik-dominated coalition government was actively
involved against the Bolsheviks in the Civil War.  Here, as part of the
civil war, the Bolsheviks did occupy and "sovietize" the country, to the
outrage of liberals and social-democrats everywhere.  The second chapter
is less known and even less often cited today. Lenin had no illusion
that the overturn carried out had solved the national question by
abolishing it, by "subordinating the national question to the class
struggle" as the saying goes.

 After the defeat of the
counterrevolutionary armies in the civil war and with the formation of
the Soviet Union underway, Lenin argued for the application in Georgia
of the national rights of the 
Georgian people, including the right of self-determination.  He
supported a wing of the Communist movement in Georgia which sought to
win over Georgian nationalists (especially among the peasants but also
the workers) and sought to abolish "red terror" as a method of
suppressing nationalist aspirations.

Lenin's opponents in this fight were led by Stalin.  His allies included
Trotsky.  It was in this context that Stalin -- who is still imagined by
some to be the great student and successor of Lenin on the national
question -- wrote that Lenin's position would strengthen "bourgeois
nationalism" in Georgia, "to the detriment of the well-known national
liberalism of Comrade Lenin."  The depiction of Lenin as a "liberal" on
the national question was the sharpest political attack that Stalin ever
made on Lenin, and registered his recognition that the developing break
between them was becoming final. 

Today, the tendency I see on the left is to interpret Lenin's position
as basically an endless series of exceptions to the "rule".  Well, of
course, Lenin was for self-determination but he subordinated it to the
class struggle.  Yes, but he didn't ONLY subordinate it to the class
struggle, he also recognized it as an integral, inevitable part of the
class struggle that could not be evaded or abolished, and that
anti-imperialist unity on a world scale among the oppressed and
exploited could only be forged on the basis of full recognition of
national rights.

 The statement that the national question is subordinated to the class
struggle lends itself to this misuse, when it is taken out of the
overall context that Lenin used it in which was very clear, because it
counterposes the class struggle to the national question to the class
struggle as though they were mutually exclusive categories. The national
question is part of the class struggle.  And sometimes other class
struggle issues have to be subordinated to the national question, or the
overall class struggle will be terribly damaged.  (Another phrase,
popular in the SWP in its declining days, that tends to push the
national question out of the class struggle was "Affirmative action (or
whatever) is a class, question, not a national question."  An evasion
pure and simple, since the issue is what kind (or kinds) of class
issues, including the national question, does affirmative action (or
whatever) form part of

The class struggle exception tends to begin with defense of the October
revolution (re Poland and Georgia, and later, with the opening of World
War II, Finland). But lickety split, it becomes:
self-determination does not apply when one nation is more progressive
than another, when one leader is more "progressive" than the other, when
one government is more opposed to "privatization"  than the other, or
one nation is more in conflict with
imperialism than the other, and on and on.  This has been and remains
one of the royal roads to ruin for the world struggle for socialism, and
I believe it is high time to start trying to get it right.
Fred Feldman




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