[OPE] Marx on international relations

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Fri May 23 2008 - 21:04:49 EDT

I am unable to verify on-line just now whether Engels used the exact phrase "geschichtslosen Völker". I would need to visit the IISH to look at the original texts because I do not have the MEGA2 here.

But this terminological issue is hardly relevant anyway since he explicitly makes the argument that some peoples (in this case certain Slavic peoples) just DO NOT HAVE A HISTORY OF THEIR OWN that could generate a strong and authentic movement for national self-determination. Your reading of Engels is imprecise and it is worth studying the many things he wrote to get the full argument. Engels's argument is actually a lot more sophisticated than later vulgarisers suggest, and if you read Rosdolsky's book you would understand that.

Engels's argument, as I said, had its intellectual origin in Hegel's philosophy of history, although in reality it is of much older vintage, if you consider the whole lineage of imperialist thought in tribal & class societies. There was always some or other ethnic group which was considered to be "doomed to die out or be assimilated" - with different shades of argument being put forward. Some peoples of course did actually die out or were really assimilated. Engels's argument is not primarily a moral argument at all, but obviously it lends itself to various moral critiques about national self-determination.

You can also check with: 

Dr. Thomas Scheffler "Geschichtslose Völker", in: Wolfgang Fritz Haug (ed.), Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, Bd. 5, Hamburg: Argument, 2001, pp. 457-460.

My argument about the Jews has nothing much to do with Leftwing fashions. If your people are being systematically exterminated, it is only natural and healthy that you should look for a "homeland", "a place to be" where your identity is fully accepted and protected against those wishing to destroy it. In this sense, the desire of the Jews to create a homeland in Israel and various other places was a healthy response to racist oppression. In fact many of the original Jewish settlers were socialists of some kind.

But what is not healthy, is if this homeland is created by ousting, oppressing or exterminating the people who actually lived there, with various racial arguments. Because in that case you are morally in the same class as the people that oppressed you, you perpetuate the same fascist, racist idea about national dominance. 

In world war 2, my parents had to carry an Ausweis, and Granddad (an upstart entrepreneur) had to falsify his personal history to prove he didn't really have sufficient Jewish blood to warrant deportation. The very same thing happens to Palestinians now in Israel and the territories. The Israelis are in that sense just as fascist as those who oppressed their parents and grandparents, and the fanatics among them even glory in that, citing the Holocaust as the precedent which excuses any kind of murder, violence, injustice or cruelty in defence of Jewish interests.

>From Marx's point of view, a Jew emancipates himself when he realises he can make a home among other people anywhere in the world, and if he supports the liberation of all from the conditions that oppress them. This is an internationalist, cosmopolitan point of view which looks forward to the global unification of the human race, rather than backwards to an ethnic identity hundreds or thousands of years ago which no longer really really exists in the same way. It is a viewpoint which emphasizes the importance of what human beings have in common over how they differ ethnicallly. It is a viewpoint which says that the shared class interests of workers can unite them, whatever their ethnic differences, because they are exploited by the same people whether their skin is white, black or some other colour. 

I think it is important that Palestinians must have the right to form an independent state recognised by the world, and they should get the means to do it. But in many ways it is a bit of an abstraction since the territories are objectively to a large extent "Bantustans" of Israel. So Palestinian independence is only a first step. The real challenge is the destruction of the racist, Zionist state, so that a democratic state can be born, where citizens are equal before the law, rather than some being secondclass citizens on racial grounds. The challenge is to create a society that can include everybody, and is not just a resort for a privileged Jewish middle class which hires foreign coolies to do the menial work for them and service them. Regrettably it is likely that this will take a long time to achieve.

Many modern Jewish Israelis in fact no longer support Zionism already, because they realize very well that it makes no sense anywhere except to American christianist rednecks. They talk about "Post Zionism" instead. Post-Zionism is very much preferable to Zionism but it is still crucially vague about everything that really matters. So in practice, it is really just as waffly as when the Bush-Cheney gang makes speeches about "democratizing the Middle East". The rhetoric sounds beautiful, but in reality it means murder, destruction, terror, torture, tyranny, robbery, and cruelty. 


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