The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, August 10, 2008



The Guns of August



Just how many ironies of history are concentrated in the above BBC picture of Georgian reservists in Gori, near a statue of Gori's most famous son, the author of Marxism and the National Question?

Useful analysis and links to more analyis and news are provided by veteran reporter Chris Floyd here and here. Another useful summary here. The same blogger has more. (Via.) Yet more, with background.

If this dispute escalates, well ... it's been nice knowing you, and in case you're wondering what hit me, it was probably the naval dockyard at Rosyth.

Back to the bloke on the plinth.

His above-mentioned pamphlet argues for 'the right of nations to self-determination' and against 'cultural-national autonomy'. In practice its author (a former Georgian nationalist poet who became a Bolshevik) implemented a policy that looked for the most part awfully like 'cultural-national autonomy' under the guise of 'self-determination': all the nations and nationalities and ethnicities of the Russian Empire were given the trappings of actual or embryonic statehood (including, for the Union Republics, the formal right to secession), but in practice what they (mostly) had was the right to local use of their own language, customs, colourful costumes, etc, while actual political control remained firmly in Moscow. The government of a republic could at any time exercise its right to secede from the USSR, but the CPSU and the KGB made sure that no government at all likely to do so would ever be elected.

When the CPSU and KGB lost their grip, all the large and small components of the Soviet Union had a national or ethnic state apparatus already in place (this matters, because otherwise the various nationalists would have had to construct new states from scratch) and most of them quickly self-determined themselves out of the union. But quite a few of them had, like Georgia, smaller ethnic proto-states inside them and/or straddling their borders. For interested outside powers near and far, the question of just which unit counted for 'self-determination' and which for 'territorial integrity' became purely and simply a question of whose ox is gored. This whole dynamic played itself out in Yugoslavia too.

Future multi-national republics might do well to avoid the mistake made by the author of Marxism and the National Question. Languages, customs, costumes, dances and cookery, yes. But for the rest, the component nations and nationalities of multinational states should be left not so much as a line on a map.

18 Comments:

You mean it would have been better if all the new states would have been improvised in the style of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Serbian_Krajina? Can't see how that would have been better than the orderly secession of a Slovenia or an Estonia.

When Socrates acted dumb, that was irony: Socrates was smart.
When Stalin was cruel, dishonest, short-sighted- it wasn't irony.

The trouble is, Ken, multi-national republics (or monarchies for that matter) need internal administration; and that means internal boundaries; and that means lines on maps.
We're screwed.

"Future multi-national republics might do well to avoid the mistake made by the author of Marxism and the National Question. Languages, customs, costumes, dances and cookery, yes. But for the rest, the component nations and nationalities of multinational states should be left not so much as a line on a map."

Kinda strongly implies this is advice for a non-voluntary association: I mean, should it be an objective of a theoretical more closely integrated future EU to eliminate old national borders by law as well as by changed circumstance?

And it seems (8/12) to be mostly over, sans escalating. Was there any real chance it would? Our Peerless Leaders haven't even worked up the nerve for a surprise attack on quite-entirely-nuke-free Iran...

Bruce

Good points, all, though I might not agree with all of them. I'll zap up another post about the new war soon.

Meanwhile, I have to admit that I let my irritation with the endless manipulation of the national question get the better of my reason in the last sentence of my post ...

Just tell me one thing: Why can't the US (plus Europe) and Russia be friends? The Russians aren't communists anymore. They have a democracy that functions almost as well as that of the US (yeah, I know).

So why are we always working on cornering the Russians in (NATO expansions, missile shield), when we could cooperate with them on making the world a better place.

I don't get it.

"But for the rest, the component nations and nationalities of multinational states should be left not so much as a line on a map."

Interestingly in Otto Bauer's book on nationalities (which Stalin mentions) I believe he advances the idea of nations being organized as 'associations' of people within a multinational unit, not delineated in patches of land. So one would presumably have an English or Welsh membership card...

"So why are we always working on cornering the Russians in (NATO expansions, missile shield), when we could cooperate with them on making the world a better place.

I don't get it."

It's got something to do with cut-throat capitalism and cut-throat competition for increasingly scarce energy resources, not to mention the natural tendency of imperialism to try and subjugate its rivals...

You're welcome!

Just tell me one thing: Why can't the US (plus Europe) and Russia be friends? The Russians aren't communists anymore.

...because the Russians still want to dominate the politics of their "near abroad" - the European states of the former Soviet Empire - and those states don't want to be dominated.

There is something to be said about the US dominating the politics of their own near abroad, too, during the last half of a century, but that's of course all justifiable. In a way yes, in a way perhaps no.

The Major Problem for me while trying to decide what kind of a stand to take on the Georgia-Russia situation is, that there is no way for me to get any even remotely trustworthy information on the situation. Who did what? Who had been doing what already for a long time?

I have no doubt, that Putin is mightily pissed by the prospect of Georgia joining NATO, but I neither doubt the ability of Sakashvili to try to use Russians' bad reputation to foster his own politics. After Afghanistan, Chechnyia and all, how easy it is to make the Russians look like monsters trying to suck the life out of the free and democratic Georgia. This game is not easy to play, and the Westerns public opinion is bound the accept the easiest and ethically simplest solution.

I'm sad, and I feel immense pity for the people caught in the middle of this all, but I can feel no sympathy for the governments of either countries.

Several years ago I gradually lost my interest in what John le Carre was up to, about the time of "Single & Single", whose plot driver is the struggle for um, er South Ossetia.

Still a dull book, mind, but does capture, via the incomprehension of the protagonists, the profound lack of understanding we have in the west of this region and [insert number at random] others within the former USSR.

Sadly, we no longer have any living politicians who might give Vladimir useful advice as to how to cope with the chaos once your lovely empire is gone.

Nice pic of cat in previous post, mate.

Dave H

The controversial British and
Irish Communist Organisation
reprinted "Marxism and the
National Question" in 1974.

I vaguely remember the Le Carre
book-it was partly about Chechnya
and Ossetia and Ingushietia
and the difficulties with
the numerous ethnic groups there.
I reckon JLC might have
scored what Thomas M Disch
called "prophetic points"
with his insight into
post-Soviet ethnic conflict.

I must check out the Le Carre.

The B&ICO was controversial partly because of their views on the 'marvellous Georgian' and partly because of how they applied the ideas he put forward in that pamphlet: they argued that on his definition of a nation there were two nations in Ireland. The NI Protestants were either part of the British nation or (possibly, though I don't recall this being a major emphasis) a nation in their own right. Either way, the Protestants couldn't (and shouldn't) be treated as misguided Irish who had to be convinced, forcibly if necessary, that their true intersts lay in a United Ireland.

Strangely enough, now that almost everyone accepts the 'two nations' thesis (under the name of 'two communities' or 'two traditions') the successors of the B&ICO (the same people, under a different name) now argues for a United Ireland and supports Sinn Fein. The consistency is that they don't regard NI as a viable arena for normal class-based politics, and now that there is no chance of its being incorporated fully into the UK, its incorporation into Ireland is the only way forward.

I really must link to Atholl Books, the current B&ICO incarnation, which continues to produce interesting and provocative work.

I take it the "marvellous Georgian"
the B&ICO admired wasn't 18th
century architecture.

The "two-nations" idea is interesting,but it doesn't really hold water,since most Ulster Protestants haven't identified
themselves as a separate nation. For most Ulster Unionists ,when independence of the rest of
Ireland was inevitable,wanted
to remain tightly linked to
another nation (the UK),not
express themselves as a separate
nation.

There were some Ulster Loyalists
who advocated an Independent
Ulster in the 1970s,but IIRC
the B&ICO were very strongly
against any such idea.

They do have a point,though, about
NI not being a "viable arena" for
class-based politics to work
in due to the sectarian divisions,
an issue other NI Marxists from
different groups such as
Eamonn McCann have also discussed.

Anon, the 'two nations' idea is that the Protestants/Unionists are separate from the Irish nation (and not that the NI Protestants are themselves a nation). Most people who hold that view think, like the B&ICO, that the Protestants are part of the British nation. As you correctly point out, the B&ICO opposed the notion of an independent Ulster: one of their most interesting and best-written pamphlets was Against Ulster Nationalism.

I've seen arguments against the 'two nations' theory that swing from saying the Protestants can't be a nation because they never sought independence, to saying they can't be British because some of them have said that if they'd prefer an independent Ulster to a United Ireland.

I intend to look out a copy of The Two Irish Nations some day. It went into all this in a lot of polemic against Eamonn McCann and others.

The better Le Carré book about the Caucasus is Our game, which focuses on the Ingush struggle against Russian domination (and in which the North Ossetains are secondary baddies, just in case anyone was concerned about this all being insufficently complicated).

..."the 'two nations' idea is that the Protestants/Unionists are separate from the Irish nation (and not that the NI Protestants are themselves a nation). Most people who hold that view think, like the B&ICO, that the Protestants are part of the British nation."

Interesting,but if the Ulster
Protestants aren't a "nation" in
themselves,doesn't that make
them just an ethnic group?
Or a group of Irish people
who wish to remain under
British rule for religious
and cultural reasons?

There was an awful lot of
controversy about the "two-nations
theory" in Ireland. The
concept is much older than
the B&ICO;the Victorian
Unionist Thomas MacKnight
advocated it in his
book "Ulster as It Is",and
the Irish Free State issued
a book in the 1920s called
"Handbook of the Ulster
Question" which advocated
Irish Unity. This book contained
an essay arguing against
"The Two Nations Theory" as
a justification for partition.

If you are interested in these
issues, Stephen Howe's book
"Ireland and Empire" and
"Ireland: Divided Nation,
Divided Class" by Austen Morgan
and Bob Purdie have discussions
of the issues of Marxism,
Northern Ireland, and
"two-nations theories".

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