The limits of national liberation

national liberation

While I don’t entirely agree with this meme, and think some national liberation struggles may be worth pursuing (American Independence helped crack feudal Europe), it’s hyper-provocative enough to merit discussion.

Some leftcoms have made the argument that, in the absence of global socialism, national liberation just repeats capitalism or bureaucratic oligarchy on a local scale and is pointless.  This is because socialism is impossible in one country, if that country is forced to subject too much of its production to military defense to a planet overwhelmingly oriented to its military destruction, as we saw with the Russian Civil War, which included intervention by at least 12 foreign militaries.

Such foreign encirclement and intervention can put a country’s economy back considerably, devastating the material basis for socialism.  In How the Revolution Was Lost:

In 1920, the production of pig iron was only 3 per cent of the pre-war figure; of hemp 10 per cent; flax, 25 per cent; cotton, 11 per cent; beets, 15 per cent. This implied privation, hardship, famine. But much more. The dislocation of industrial production was also the dislocation of the working class. It was reduced to 43 per cent of its former numbers. The others were returned to their villages or dead on the battlefield. In purely quantitative terms, the class that had led the revolution, the class whose democratic processes had constituted the living core of Soviet power, was halved in importance. In real terms the situation was even worse. What remained was not even half of that class, forced into collective action by the very nature of its life situation. Industrial output was only 18 per cent of the pre-war figure, labour productivity was only one third of what it had been. To keep alive, workers could not rely on what their collective product would buy. Many resorted to direct barter of their products – or even parts of their machines – with peasants for food.

This created a curious contradiction that would determine the fate of the socialist tradition for the rest of history:

But what was to be the fate of the revolution if the class that made it ceased to exist in any meaningful sense? This was not a problem that the Bolshevik leaders could have foreseen. They had always said that isolation of the revolution would result in its destruction by foreign armies and domestic counter-revolution. What confronted them now was the success of counterrevolution from abroad in destroying the class that had led the revolution while leaving intact the State apparatus built up by it.

However the modern problems of national liberation are more problems of post-colonialism and sovereign debt payments, say Africa, or Greece.

What we have instead are economies that have been somehow depleted or disadvantaged already, either by past “primitive accumulation” (brutal colonial theft at gunpoint) or modern methods (general capitalist-embedded exploitation and debt-slavery, corrupt government spending, political battles over standard of living, sovereign debt).

Now these economies are forced to make one of two choices:

  1. Accept imperialism’s terms, and integrate into the global economy on the basis of being subjugated
  2. Refuse imperialism’s terms, and secede from the global economy, only to suffer and extreme deprivation and devastation of being left to manage one’s own diminished resources

What this all really points to is the need for socialist movements in the first world, in the countries with a manufacturing base, and in the superpowers.  Fortunately these are stronger than they have been for some time.

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