[OPE] self-determination, socialism, and internationalism

From: GERALD LEVY <gerald_a_levy@msn.com>
Date: Tue Dec 16 2008 - 08:50:13 EST

Hi Paul B and Paul Z:
One can offer 'unconditional support for the right of oppressed nations to
self-determination' (Lenin) and, yet, *at the same time* be critical of a
government - even if you believe the society is 'socialist'.
There are a number of major issues, though, which have to
be evaluated before one - as a practical matter - offers that criticism
because it will determine, to a great degree, _how_ one responds:
1. Has their been a betrayal of socialist principles and the working class by
the government? If the answer to that is 'yes', then it our *obligation*
as internationalists and socialists to offer very harsh criticism indeed!
[NB: Of course, what one socialist tendency might consider to be a betrayal,
others might not. It depends, in part, on what we identify as 'socialist
principles'. This will obviously also be impacted by our position on the
class character of the state and whether 'socialism' exists in a given society
or whether the leaders simply claim that there is socialism. This, in turn, depends
on our differing perspectives on what constitutes socialism.]
2. Do we have reliable and verifiable information on what is happening in
that country? I hope we would all agree that we can not simply rely
uncritically on the domestic and international bourgeois press for an assessment.
The point here is that before we offer criticism we should at least do our homework
and know what is *actually* happening . If we simply cite right-wing sources
and imperialist state propaganda (e.g. reactionary TV evangelists or the
US State Department) then our criticism might justifiably be viewed by the
people there as a betrayal.
3. If it's not a matter of betrayal, but of criticism and we feel we have
reliable information on the topic in question then the issues is - *how* do we
offer criticism? What we did _before_ we offered criticism matters here.
For instance, if we have a record of demonstrating solidarity with the
revolutionary movement there, then our criticism will be much more likely
to be heard and have an impact. If _all_ we are known for is advancing
criticism, then it's doubtful whether the people in that society will want to
hear what we have to say - about anything. But, there are ways
to offer criticism in a comradely way - as fellow socialists and revolutionaries.
Whether this criticism is offered publicly or not depends on the circumstances.
It's also worthwhile doing more investigation: e.g. the issue we think might
requires criticism might have been widely discussed by socialists there already.
How foolish, presumptuous, and arrogant we might seem to offer criticism
about something which has been widely debated if we don't even know those
debates had happened.
4. It's also often the case that those 'on the ground' in the struggle have information
which we don't (in some cases, they might decide - for legitimate reasons -
to keep that information secret). That's something that has to be considered
as well. It's worthwhile to remember that an alternative (and often a prelude)
to offering criticism is asking *questions*.
5. What is the meaning of *self-determination*? If we support self-determination
then we also have to support the right of people to make their own decisions -
even if they turn out to have be mistakes and even if they are not the decisions
we think we would have made. It's easy enough to support democracy and
self-determination when all of the decisions are ones we agree with. However,
*our* commitment to those principles are tested when/if we find ourselves in
a minority. This doesn't mean that you can't be critical anyway but it does
suggest that you need to *accept* the results and recognize an obvious fact:
any movement is going to make mistakes - sometimes very serious ones - along
the way. Making mistakes and then, hopefully, recognizing them later as mistakes
and drawing conclusions is the way that real movements grow.
6. A corollary to the above might be a caution for us not to be seen as
micro-managing from afar. A criticism of every tactical decision made by a society
or movement won't be appreciated or effective. Save criticism for the BIG questions
isn't a bad idea for socialists in other countries to follow.
7. Timing is important. If a foreign power is busy at work trying to lay the ground
work for an invasion, that will surely affect what we say and do. There is a time when
solidarity should come before everything else. It is generally possible after a
crisis ends to have a 'post-mortem' on what had just happened and to draw conclusions
and make criticisms.
In solidarity, Jerry

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Received on Tue Dec 16 09:00:55 2008

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