Thursday, September 15, 2016

Letters to the Editors: Democracy or nationalism? (1997)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

In the May Socialist Standard you recommend to Kurdish workers that they struggle for democratic and trade-union rights, and not for a Kurdish state. Isn’t the right to speak and be educated in your own language a democratic right? Indeed isn’t a sovereign national assembly a democratic right? If socialists don’t oppose national oppression. I’m afraid "any hypothetical Kurdish-speaking socialists" will remain just that— hypothetical.

You support struggles for democratic rights but oppose all wars. This seems inconsistent. Suppose the workers in the Kurdish area of Iraq organise mass demonstrations for trade-union and democratic rights. Iraqi troops come out of the local garrisons to suppress them. However, the workers seize some weapons and fight back. At this point the struggle becomes civil war. The Kurdish workers defeat the local garrisons. Baghdad sends in reinforcements. The workers resist, and their peasant relatives join in. At this point the civil war becomes a national war. The Kurds are winning. Alarmed by this. Russia supplies more arms to the Iraqi state. The USA sees its chance and offers arms to the Kurdish workers, for its own reasons of course. The Kurdish workers accept the arms and use them to defend themselves. The struggle now has elements of inter-imperialist rivalry. All along the Kurdish workers have stuck to their guns and fought only for democratic and trade-union rights.

At which point do they lose the Socialist Party’s support, and why?
Ken MacLeod,
South Queensferry,
West Lothian


Reply:
1. There is only one thing wrong with your elaborate scenario. It is built on sand as we never said what you say we did. What we recommended to Kurdish workers is what we recommend to workers everywhere: that they should struggle for Socialism, adding that "socialists in countries where political democracy does not exist should campaign . . . independently for this as well as campaigning for socialism". So. it is not a question of Socialists supporting others campaigning for political democracy but of Socialists themselves campaigning for this on their own and in fact in opposition to other political groups. The basic reason for this opposition is that the other parties campaigning for political democracy will be supporting capitalism while Socialists want Socialism. If and to the extent that any workers’ movement for democracy in some country follows or allows itself to be dominated by such parties, that is the point at which we criticise it. Your scenario is based on assuming that it is just this that happens since what you describe sounds more like a nationalist movement for "a sovereign national assembly" than a workers' movement for political democracy as such.

2. Yes, you could say that being able to speak and be educated in your own language is a "democratic right". In any event. Socialists are fully in favour of this and it will be a feature of socialist society.

3. No. "a sovereign national assembly" is not a necessity to achieve language rights. There are plenty of examples of minority language speakers having full rights to speak and be educated in their language within the boundaries of larger, existing states. Welsh in Britain is a case in point. Only nationalists argue that what is needed is an independent state but their aim is to exploit language and other differences for their own political end of establishing a new state in which they hope to become the new ruling class. Workers have no interest in going down that road. It leads, as in your scenario, to workers killing each other in the name of “the nation" and “democracy”.

4. Socialists do oppose national oppression (discrimination against some group on the basis of the language they speak or whatever). Our argument is that the only way to end this for all groups is through the establishment of socialism because, as we put it in our declaration of principles "the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex".

5. Finally, Socialists from the part of the world we are talking about are not as hypothetical as you think. We know socialists from the area whose mother tongue is Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic, Iranian, Armenian, Azerbaijani and will be pleased to supply on request to you, or anyone else interested, Socialist literature in Turkish and Arabic. What is hypothetical for the moment is not the existence of such Socialists but the existence of socialist parties operating in the various states of the region.
Editors.


Dear Editors,

It has been claimed in a publication Socialist Studies that your party is now anarcho-socialist in outlook. This claim is based, in part, on a resolution at a Socialist Party conference that "This conference affirms that Socialism will entail the immediate abolition and not the gradual decline of the state". The charge appears to have some substance. At least, it is difficult to reconcile the conference resolution with the reference in your Declaration of Principles regarding the taking over of the machinery of government, and its conversion from an instrument of oppression into an agent of emancipation. Immediate abolition of the state precludes its conversion to anything.
David Rolfe,
London SWI5


Reply: 
The resolution you mention, as its terms show, clearly intended to repudiate the view that the state (as the coercive machinery of government) would continue into socialism and then gradually decline. It reaffirmed the traditional Socialist view that socialism will be a stateless society, which follows from the fact that the state is an instrument of class rule while socialism will be a classless society and so have no place for such an instrument. The state will not "gradually decline” after socialism is established, but the end of the state and the beginning of socialism will be simultaneous.

The question of how socialism will come about is a different one and was not addressed by the resolution. As you correctly point out. the Socialist Party holds that the way to establish socialism is through political action, i.e. through a socialist-minded majority winning control of the state and using it to abolish capitalism "by the conversion into the common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people".

This done—and we don't envisage this taking very long, so that terms such as "transitional period" and "gradual decline" are quite out of place—the state is dismantled. Its coercive elements are simply disbanded. The useful administrative elements, such as those concerned with health, housing, transport, education, etc. are made more democratic and retained as part of the non-coercive administrative machinery of socialism.
Editors.

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