This article will analyze the burning national questions in South Asia, in which the established National left proves to have collided with Imperialist processes and the Chauvinist national bourgeoisie in denying National existence and the inalienable Rights of the oppressed nations within Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India. Furthermore the colonial basis of the modern ‘post-colonial states will also be highlighted. In particular there will be an analysis of the case of Sri Lanka and the role of the National left in the genocidal processes perpetuated by the Sri Lankan state on the Eelam Tamil Nation. It will also address the principles of the Marxist-Leninist tradition in which Marx, Engels and Lenin provides historical clarity and profound analysis of the national question and accordingly elucidate the stand socialist are meant to take but which have been gravely neglected or forsaken.
Introduction: Geo Politics, Colonialism and Post-independence
South Asia as a region is the locus of one of the highest concentrations of people worldwide stretching from Pakistan in the north-west, India in the centre, Bangladesh in the East to Sri Lanka in the south. Besides its population density, it is also a region of crucial strategic importance, as it links the west to the east by land as well as containing essential coastlines in the Indian Ocean across which the sea trade from Europe, Africa and Middle East to India, South East Asia and China is forged upon. The ancient Silk Road and the sea trade routes were axed in and around the region.
It is therefore of crucial geo-strategic importance and has been at the focal point of world trade, colonialism, imperialism and geo-politics from yore. The population density distributed across the region implies a diversity of nationalities and ethnicities with each having distinguished traditional homelands, languages, political history, socio-cultural and socio-economic structures and practices. Nevertheless there are only a few nation states present to accommodate the national and democratic aspirations of such a diversity of people. During the 19th and 20th century various colonial processes consolidated political administrative entities which would evolve into the modern nation-states of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Rather than accommodating indigenous nations with the right to shape their own collective and political development, it was the dynamics of the colonial geo politics in the region which directed the colonial powers in the constitution and formation of the post-colonial state. Such an undemocratic process inevitably laid the foundations for national oppression and genocide as the echelons of one nation was preferred by the colonial masters as inheritors of the neo-colonial state.
The Durand line of 1893 signed between the British Raj and the Afghan Monarch was machinated by the British imperial rulers and demarcated modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan. This adversely affected the indigenous Baloch and Brahui speaking peoples inhabiting the Baloch homelands. Consequently Baluchistan was dissected and delegated in the west to the Iranian monarchy and to the east to a Punjabi chauvinist Pakistan and annexed within Afghanistan to the North.
In India various colonial processes ensured the consolidation of a fictive nation state modeled on the Mughal and British colonial administration with its centre situated in New Delhi. The brokering between the colonial regime and the leadership of the upper caste, class and Hindi centric Indian National Congress determined the administrative framework as well as the territorial boundaries of what became India. Incidentally it also provided a pretext for the ruling classes during ‘post-independence’ to annex and occupy by force neighboring independent nations and sovereign people under the New Delhi and Hindi centered bureaucratic and political framework. Thus colonial processes and imperialism facilitated internal colonialism and national oppression in the ‘post-colonial’ era. The native successors of the British Raj even devised a policy known as the ‘Privy Purse’ in which the newly independent state annually paid the monarchs of various princely states roughly the equivalent of their former state revenues in return for the formal accession of the territories under their rule into the Indian union and the rule of New Delhi.
These hegemonic processes on part of the Indian state, its political leadership and the ruling classes often implied the use of state violence upon the people resisting annexation. Consequently peoples’ struggles and national mobilization within that which was designated as India, was criminalized, brutally suppressed and the Indian government proceeded to devour these nations within the newly formed yet oppressive union.
One such event was in the twilight of independence, following negotiations between the Nizam of Hyderabad and New Delhi; the communist led peasant insurrection in Telengana which had successfully rebelled against the tyrannical rule of the Nizam in 1947 was largely violently quelled by the Indian state in 1948. In the following years the region was incorporated into the union and all the progress of the revolution in disintegrating the feudal system, such as extensive land distribution was reversed.
On the island known as Sri Lanka, in 1833 the British imperialists in a bid to suit their own geo- political interests forcefully molded forth the present unitary state disregarding the traditional homelands of the Tamil speaking peoples to the North and East of the island, their sovereignty and separate national existence . Throughout the world the colonial powers tend to adhere to a policy in the colonies they ruled of favoring a particular class, class coalition or the elites of a particular nation to function as their comprador agents prior and during the course of post-independence as well as in the era of ‘post-independence’.
The elite classes closest to their own imperialistic interests would be granted patronage and in Sri Lanka this was obvious in the comprador status enjoyed by the Sinhala English educated bourgeoisie. The British colonial predilection towards the Sinhala English educated bourgeoisie was most evident in the decision to devolve political power in the unitary state to the former through the establishment of an almost exclusive Sinhala state council in the early 1930s. Effectively from then, the unitary state developed its discriminatory and genocidal policies towards the Tamil speaking people on the island with the undertaking of state sponsored colonization schemes and land appropriation in strategic Tamil areas in the east of the island under the pretext of ‘development’.
An excerpt from a memorandum by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, titled ‘Report on Ceylon’ and dated 17th March, 1948 is illustrative of the British favouring of the Sinhala English educated bourgeoisie and their leader D.S. Senanayake who incidentally became the first ‘independent prime minister of Ceylon’. “Ceylon is settling down as a genuine Dominion. Present Ministers are extremely friendly and want to maintain and deepen the British connexion. They want, for instance, to preserve English as the official language in Parliament and courts. They do not want Ceylon to be a Republic : in looking for a name to describe themselves they are inclined to favour ” Kingdom of Ceylon.” Sehanayake is in the genuine tradition of Dominion Prime Ministers : deeply committed to the British connexion.
The present Administration is firmly in the saddle and has, I think, been strengthened by the transfer of power. To quite an extent we can help the present Administration if we preserve the right approach to them. It is hardly too much to say that if we treat them strictly as a Dominion, they will behave very like a loyal colony: whereas if we treat them as a Colony we may end in driving them out of the Commonwealth. For some time the tone in which we conduct our various negotiations will be extremely important. I think that all such negotiations should, therefore, be conducted by our High Commissioner or through the Commonwealth Relations Office .
Besides being motivated by the empire’s geo-political and imperialistic interest such an endorsement by the British colonial masters of the Sinhala state council’s (referred to as the present administration) demand to be granted ‘self-rule’ and independence was possible only due to the existence of goodwill and ‘trust’ between both parties. Astonishingly with the absence of bloodshed or any form of armed resistance or even extensive civil disobedience the Sinhalese bourgeoisie were granted state power by the British in 1947 and crowned as the rulers of the unitary Sinhala state.
What is evident is that a range of nations who lost their sovereignty upon colonial conquest were forcefully annexed into nation-states crafted by the colonial masters who ceremonially transferred power to native comprador classes and elites of their preference. Thus it was dealings between these comprador classes and the colonial masters who determined the political future of numerous nations and people as their colonial subjugation was transmitted and continued into what state centric narrations present as ‘post-independence’.
The post-colonial nation state: national oppression and the national left
The administrative framework of the post-colonial states was in essence unitary and centralized while the colonial powers granted state power to the English educated bourgeoisie of particular nations which subsequently lead to the dispossession of other nations. Thus often the parliamentary system provided means to legalize the national oppression of these dispossessed nations as the decision making processes rested entirely with the political representatives of the politically stronger nation i.e. the oppressor nation. Moreover, a prerequisite for participation in the electoral democracy of the new state was to pledge allegiance to its territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity. Hence the political aspirations and the national existence of the dispossessed nations were from the very onset constitutionally delegitimized and criminalized.
The post independent state was inherently oppressive in this regard; thereby the political forces founded on the idea and existence of these states would continue to display similar tendencies in addressing the burning national questions in the region despite the fact that numerous nations were and are still subjected to brutal military occupation, genocide and counter-insurgency (COIN) by these ‘post-colonial’ states.
Thus being entrenched in the national electoral democracy, the established left in these nation states often colludes with the centre and right parties in safeguarding the integrity and unity of their nation by endorsing both state enacted violence against and the criminalization of democratic and national aspirations of oppressed nations. In a similar spirit the national existence of the oppressed nations are framed unfavorably by these states as ‘minorities’ in a bid to contain their access to the inalienable rights of nations.
As much as the national communist parties might challenge their respective nation-state there is a structural limitation to their capacity in addressing the national question in even a democratic manner as they ultimately naturalize and legitimize the territorial domain and structures of the established state, which is the source of the political injustice and national oppression inflicted upon the oppressed nations.
This idea of the state is in effect as Slavoj Zizek labels a ‘fantasy’ which ensures the longevity of the idea of the state in the consciousness despite the rational deconstruction of it . Such structural limitations and fantasies is evident among the established national Left and in turn directs and legitimizes their approaches towards ethnic nationalities and the liberation struggles of the oppressed. It is in this light that some of the foremost principles of Marxists-Leninism regarding the equality of nations and the rights to self determination are deliberately forsaken by the left leadership, driven by their state fetishism and commitment to the idea of the established ‘nation-state’ despite their pledging of the opposite.
The national left parties are in effect establishment-centric as the political ideology of Marxist -Leninism and socialism is compromised with the chauvinistic, oppressive and often genocidal characteristic of the established nation state.
It is in this regard that I wish to examine the case of the Sri Lankan left in order to illuminate the revisionist nature of these parties as well as the consistent failure of the national Left in righteously addressing the national questions of the oppressed.
The Sri Lankan Left
From the 1930s onwards the Sri Lankan state consolidated its Sinhala chauvinistic characteristic through four main processes, in which the Tamil speaking people were subjected to systematic national oppression and structural genocide by successive Sinhala governments in Colombo. Colonization schemes, Oppressive Laws and anti-Tamil pogroms were chief in these processes which pursued the eradication of essential foundations of the national existence of the Tamils. In the 1970s COIN was incorporated by the state to eradicate a vibrant Eelam Tamil national mobilization and resistance which demanded the creation of a secular and socialist state of Tamil Eelam in the traditional homeland of the Tamils.
The deployment of a brutal COIN alongside the continued perpetuation of other forms of oppression has unambiguously displayed the genocidal intentions of the Sinhala state regarding the Eelam Tamils and has been decisive in defining the characteristic of the Sri Lankan statecraft. Moreover the interrelation of the Sri Lankan state through the COIN with Israel, U.K. and U.S. and many other countries brought an international and imperialistic dimension to the national oppression and genocide of the Eelam Tamils.
Considering the relationship between the national left, the Tamil national question and the state it is fruitful to grasp the corruption, revisionism and absurdity of dominant Marxism in South Asia as it is utilized as a means towards silencing genocide and facilitating a fascist state in enjoying legitimacy through naturalizing national oppression.
Throughout the 20th century, Left wing politics were prominent in the national political scenario of the island. The LSSP founded on trade unionist and Trotskyite orientation in the 1935, was considered the largest Trotskyite organization in Asia. In its founding charters they righteously recognized the right to self determination of the Tamils. However with the increased consolidation of the genocidal character of the Sinhala state and the populist appeal of Sinhala nationalism, the LSSP compromised their earlier stand on self-determination as exemplified by the decisions of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and N.M. Perera when supporting the Colombo government in the implementation of oppressive legislatures and actions against the Tamils.
In fact in the 1960s, Srimavo Bandaranaike, celebrated by the world to be the first female head of a state led a coalition government constituted by her center-left SLFP, the Communist party and the LSSP. The Sinhala left government despite their clamor to socialist rhetoric, proved unprecedented in their repression of Tamil national mobilization and political demands. In 1961 for three months a successful civil disobedience campaign was mobilized throughout the Tamil homeland by the Federal Party in demand of Tamil statehood, and the mass appeal of the campaign effectively paralyzed Colombo’s rule over the North and East. In response the left coalition government for the first time in the island’s post-independence history authorized the use of military violence to crush civilian protest. In its aftermath the political representatives of the Tamils were unlawfully detained for several months and the spirit of resistance among the Tamils was contained.
It is to be noted that it was a Sinhala dominated Left coalition government which enacted the very first acts of military violence against unarmed civilians on the island. Conspicuously the targeted civilians were exclusively Tamils, the geography their homeland and the politics they represented concerned nationhood and self-determination. It was also under the Srimavo government that further oppressive legislations were passed, in line with the Official Language Act of 1956 passed by the SLFP government under her husband S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, which denoted Sinhala as the official language of the state. The Court Language Act was passed in 1960 and ordered that Sinhala was the language in which all court proceedings and records were to be held in. The Finance Act of 1963, stated that all ‘deeds of sales of land where the purchasers appears to bear Tamil or Muslim names are held up without registration pending proof of citizenship’ .
The Ceylon Citizenship act of 1948 passed by the rightist UNP government, had implemented a chauvinistic citizenship policy which disenfranchised over one million Tamils from the plantation sector in the hill country, many of whom were workers brought to the island as indentured laborers a century earlier and whose labor under inhuman conditions built and produced the economic backbone of the island.
The Citizenship Act demanded people who were not Sinhala, to produce birth certificates and proof of their connection to the land, this act collectively targeted Tamils: the hill country Tamils were disenfranchised and stripped of civil rights while the Eelam Tamils were subjected to the possibility of being stripped of rights under the pretext of needing to document their ‘nativeness’.
This historical period cemented the conjunction between Sri Lankan Marxist parties, the bourgeoisie state and Sinhala nationalism, structures upon which the genocide and national oppression inflicted upon the Eelam Tamils rested. The LSSP also had in fact already betrayed its initial stand on self determination and the national question by opting for the chauvinist Official Language Act, which collectively discriminated against the Tamil speaking people. The parliamentary Marxist parties in Sri Lanka steadily degenerated and become increasingly intertwined with the Sri Lankan state, Sinhala nationalism and in the subsequent national oppression of Tamils.
For decades they have maintained silence on the national oppression of Tamils, they have failed in addressing the national question in line with Marxist-Leninist principles and they have delegitimized Tamil national existence and supported the criminalization of Tamil self-determination. The fact that such political positions are rationalized by the logic of chauvinism engenders among the Sri Lankan Marxists a pathological condition in denying Tamils their inalienable rights.
Further appalling, many Sri Lankan Marxists proved to be increasingly aggressive against Tamil nationalism regardless of the intensifying of national oppression, structural genocide and imperialist supported COIN against the Tamils from the 1970s onwards. During the 1970s and 80s when the national armed resistance of the Tamils thrived and the LTTE became increasingly successful in challenging the state, various Sri Lankan Marxist discourses tried to distort and represent Tamil nationalism as bourgeoisie and absolved of the democratic aspiration of the masses. There were also attempts to defame Tamil militants as proxies and imperialist vassals. All the revolutionary language was in fact applied to unconditionally defend the most antitheist act for a Marxist- the legitimization of a fascist bourgeoisie state and national oppression. The general Marxists’ argument against nationalism would be manipulated by the state centric Marxist in delegitimizing the virtues of nationalism and the necessity of national mobilization for the oppressed.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels elucidated that the individuals belonging to the oppressed Irish and Polish nations had as a revolutionary duty to be nationalist and seek national liberation, as both their national liberation implied revolutionary restructuring of society. Likewise V.I Lenin in a legendary defense of the national right to self-determination, and in rebuking chauvinism declared that Russian Marxist or others who oppose the Polish claim to self determination on grounds of bourgeoisie nationalism are in fact worse than then the Great Russian chauvinist.
JVP: Sinhala chauvinism and Marxism
Beside the parliamentary oriented Trotskyist LSSP, a mass based Sinhala Marxist inspired youth movement emerged in the Sinhala south during the mid-1960s. It was known as the Peoples Liberation Front (JVP) and held the promise of a socialist movement which could challenge the bourgeoisie state and its predatory nationalist hold on the Sinhala masses. The JVP declared a war against the state in 1971, and embarked on an ill-coordinated insurgency against the state in an attempt to topple it. Nevertheless the Sri Lankan state again under the leadership of Srimavo Bandaranaike, enlisted the aid of the Indian state to crush the Sinhala youth rebellion. Over ten thousands youths were reported to have been massacred and hundreds imprisoned.
This movement had indeed an inspirational effect on the Tamil militant youths of the North and East, who within years would launch the armed national liberation struggle for Eelam, after decades of witnessing the inadequacy of the Tamil political leadership embedded within the parliament in protesting and arresting the rampant national oppression. The JVP as it re-emerged in the 1980s proved to be another movement within the Sinhala left which instead of challenging the anti-Tamil Sinhala sentiments and national psyche cultivated by the bourgeoisie state and building common ties with the Tamil liberation struggle, opted to utilize the nationalist platform to compete with the state and other parties in capitalizing on Sinhala nationalism.
When the Indian state dispatched the IPKF in 1987 which numbered at its peak over 100 000 Indian soldiers to subdue the Tamil national liberation struggle headed by the LTTE, and subsequently enforced a three year genocidal occupation of Eelam to fight the latter, the JVP launched another insurrection against the state in the south. While the Tamils where fighting the armed forces of imperialistic India, the JVP were fighting the fascist forces of the Sri Lankan state.
Interestingly in addition to JVP’s class based propositions of change and anti-liberalization politics, it also held as a primary concern for rebellion the surrender by the Sinhala political leadership of the island’s sovereignty to Indian expansionism and declared that Sinhala peoples’ sovereignty was at stake. It was believed that the IPKF will also move towards the south.
Ironically their anti-Indian stand never materialized during the insurrection as no attacks took place against the Indian armed forces as such, and perhaps tragically they did not build common grounds with the LTTE who was in reality fighting this very Indian military force which the JVP espoused to be opposed to.
The JVP insurrection was subsequently destroyed by the Sri Lankan state which resulted in the massacres of over 40 000 Sinhalese in the period 1987-1990. In the aftermath of the brutal destruction, the movement went underground. As mentioned the JVP leadership for all their Marxist fervor and anti-Indian imperialist rhetoric never identified the LTTE and the Tamil liberation struggle as legitimate and revolutionary nor as potential allies in fighting the fascist state or the Indian occupation. It was thus a mammoth tragedy that the JVP leadership did not grasp the fact that it was only the LTTE which practiced what they so fervently preached.
In 1994, the JVP re-emerges once again and decides to register itself as a political party and to endorse Sinhala nationalism in a bid to capitalize on voters, thus directly legitimizing the national oppression of Tamils and the Sinhala bourgeoisie state. In the same spirit they launched a ‘blue lotus’ national campaign in which the leadership mobilized the cadres to visit the encampments of the Sri Lankan armed forces to encourage and display national solidarity to the soldiers fighting the war against the LTTE. It is a galling paradoxical and displays the moral corruption of the leadership, when they choose to endorse the fascist state and its armed forces responsible for the massacres and torture of their comrades.
From then onwards the JVP has taken a decisive ultra nationalist and chauvinist approach and has at all venues legitimized the oppression and the COIN war against the Tamils and nefariously denied them their inalienable rights. Marxism in Sri Lanka, and among the Sinhala society has indeed been a peculiar trait, however this sort of state centrism and chauvinist substratum among national Marxist parties and organizations is indeed not unheard of in both Pakistan and India.
In respect to the Sinhala left-liberal intelligentsia who proclaims themselves as being Marxist, Dayan Jayatileke and Sumanasiri Liyanage are prime examples of how initial recognition of the Tamil nations right to self-determination metamorphs into the staunchest denial of the national existence or the rights of the oppressed Tamils. Throughout the COIN war against the Eelam Tamils which resulted in the genocidal massacres on the shores of Mulluvaykal in North-East Sri Lanka in May 2009, the Sinhala left-liberal intelligentsia has denied genocide and state terrorism to the effect of naturalizing the government’s actions against the Tamils .
Hailing from the second JVP insurrection, was a group from the younger section of the Sinhala Marxists who true to their Marxist-Leninist principles and absolved of poisonous Sinhala chauvinism espoused solidarity to the Tamil national liberation struggle and strove to rationalize it among their nation. However they remained a micro minority and were associated with the small but influential ‘Hiru’ group who were rather isolated in the Sinhala nation due to their unwavering solidarity with the Eelam Tamils.
The Failure of the National Left
What remains for the oppressed nations to do when the national left parties wittingly or unwittingly legitimize the national oppression and genocidal actions unleashed by the neo colonial state?
Historical trajectories and the persistent anti-national liberation struggle policies of the national left have indeed proven as impediments for left leaning forces among the oppressed to build common cause with the former in the truest sense of internationalism. Often the national left, such as in Sri Lanka, Pakistan or India which might criticize the state for economic policies, upholds their ‘fantasy’ regarding the established state and levels vicious attacks on the liberation movements and struggles of the Baloch, Sindhis, Eelam Tamils, Assamese, Manipuri and Kashmiris. This has led to serious attacks on the legitimacy of the resistance of oppressed nations and their emancipatory national politics which hold in them the revolutionary qualities required to restructure the present capitalist-feudal society which the national left has failed to effectively challenge. Instead their actions are directly abetting the fascist bourgeoisie states of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the imperialist facilitated COIN war waged against the oppressed.
In such a state of affairs, the betrayal of the oppressed by the national left in the greatest hours of need, and the abetting of genocide is inexcusable. Thereby the common demand by the national left in the west also in urging the oppressed nations to compromise their struggles and their nationalist perspectives in order to build common grounds with progressive forces of the oppressor nations is exclusively a utopic and arrogant proposal. The oppressed are expected to subordinate their national liberation struggle to such bridge building projects irrespective of the collusion of the national left with the fascist government in enforcing national oppression. Such an absurdity has in fact led to many struggles of the oppressed nations to be unjustly delegitimized in international left circles. When the international left, which espoused solidarity to the oppressed, in fact emerges as more committed to respecting the structural linkages they enjoy with the national left in the established nation states, they fall into this matrix of chauvinism, national oppression and genocide.
The international left should employ Marxist analysis and assessment of material and historical reality and conditions in line with Marxist-Leninist guidelines to the national question to assess the situations in South Asia and elsewhere. To deny the representatives of the oppressed solidarity on the basis of linkages to the national left implies the risk of being complicit in oppression which socialism pledges to oppose.
A restructured approach to international solidarity, a re-evaluation of the national left in context of national oppression and genocide and a revitalization of socialism in line with the correct Marxist-Leninist guidelines to the national question is imperative to prevent the criminalization of oppressed nations national aspirations and their inalienable rights.
V.I. Lenin states in his classic works on the national question that although the left is to oppose bourgeoisie nationalism, it is the national bourgeoisie revolution and the subsequent liberation of the oppressed nations which can create the material conditions and the national equality necessary to pursue the socialist project and revolution. Without fighting the most immediate oppression, which is national oppression, the proletariat and the progressives of the oppressor nation can never succeed in creating socialist internationalism or pursue a socialist revolution in the interests of their own masses.
Thereby contrary to revisionism upheld by the national left and at times their colleagues in the international Marxist federations, it is the proletariat, the peasantry and the progressive forces of the oppressor nation which should pioneer the vindication of the oppressed nation’s inalienable right to self-determination and national liberation. Not vice versa, as propagated conveniently by the national left parties of the oppressor nations today. In Sri Lanka, the Tamils are repeatedly told by the international left and the national left to build alliances with the progressive forces of the Sinhala nation, instead of insisting upon the workers of the Sinhala nation to oppose their state’s national oppression and genocide of Eelam Tamils and to recognize and support their right to self-determination and secession.
Lenin illuminates that Karl Marx in 1867 having lived in England for fifteen years, in a letter to Engels analyzed the national question of the Irish and vowed support to their liberation movement, the Fenians , “Such was the programme proposed to the British workers by Marx, in the interest of Irish freedom, of accelerating the social development and freedom of the British workers: Because the British workers could not become free so long as they helped to keep another nation in slavery (or even allowed it)” .
Likewise in his classical 1914 ‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’ , Lenin defends the Polish nation’s right to self-determination against the critique proposed by Rosa Luxemburg and Semkovsky as reminiscent of the contemporary national left. Lenin brilliantly elucidates “If, in our political agitation, we fail to advance and advocate the slogan of the right to secession, we shall play into the hands, not only of the bourgeoisie, but also of the feudal landlords and the absolutism of the oppressor nation. …When, in her anxiety not to “assist” the nationalist bourgeoisie of Poland, Rosa Luxemburg rejects the right to secession in the programme of the Marxists in Russia, she is in fact assisting the Great-Russian Black Hundreds. She is in fact assisting opportunist tolerance of the privileges (and worse than privileges) of the Great Russians” .
He refutes those with sinister motives or blinded by theoretical interpretations absolved of the material analysis of history, deny oppressed people their inalienable rights. He also unambiguously declares that the right of the oppressed Polish nation is to be decided in Warsaw and not in Moscow.
Lenin makes it clear that the spirit of self-determination lies in the fact that it is the oppressed nation which must be facilitated to determine their collective political future. In this regard he upholds the Swedish proletariat as being exemplary in regards to the Norwegian national question. In 1905 when the Swedish bourgeoisie and clergy decided to enforce their union upon Norway and annex it by force, the Swedish proletariat denounced such an intention and struggled to assist the Norwegian demand for self-determination by pushing for a referendum to be held among the Norwegian people.
Lenin reiterates that for an oppressed nation bourgeoisie revolution is necessitated to eradicate national oppression. Furthermore the revolution of a national liberation struggle is imperative for the socialist revolution to be implemented due to its democratic potential.
Lenin’s words hold clarity and display the true spirit of the Marxist-Leninist tradition in regard to the national question, a spirit which has been either forsaken or forgotten by many in the established national and international left.
The pursuit of national liberation is the natural outcome of a historical trajectory and evolutionary process in which the oppressed nations have journeyed through and thus it is also the duty of the Marxist to recognize such a process and subsequently acknowledge the national aspirations of the oppressed to opt for secession. It is the material conditions imposed upon the oppressed nation by the oppressor nation-state which necessitates the former to pursue national liberation and armed resistance.
Nevertheless many a Marxist of the chauvinist brand would still put forth the argument that separation in itself is inimical to Marxism and that it would lead to the impediments of building internationalism through the encouragement of smaller states and nationalism in general. Lenin provides the sharpest of elaboration to liquidate such a stand regarding separation.
“To accuse those who support freedom of self-determination, i.e., freedom to secede, of encouraging separatism is as foolish and hypocritical as accusing those who advocate freedom of divorce of encouraging the destruction of family ties. Just as in bourgeois society the defenders of privilege and corruption, on which bourgeois marriage rests, oppose freedom of divorce, so, in the capitalist state, repudiation of the right to self-determination, i.e., the right of nations to secede, means nothing more than defence of the privileges of the dominant nation and police methods of administration, to the detriment of democratic methods…
From their daily experience the masses know perfectly well the value of geographical and economic ties and the advantages of a big market and a big state. They will, therefore, resort to secession only when national oppression and national friction make joint life absolutely intolerable and hinder any and all economic intercourse.” (9)
Ironically the established national left in their failure to fight the predatory nationalism, fascism and the genocidal chauvinism of their own nation state and within the oppressor nation directs instead in a decontextualized fashion their displaced Marxist critique exclusively to the movements of the oppressed. In the face of such lack of acumen the oppressed nation is condemned to pursue national liberation by the sole agency of their own national mobilization and spirit of resistance to fight COIN and national oppression. Throughout South Asia a large section of the progressives, workers and so on of the oppressor nations have often failed to provide assistance to the righteous struggles of the oppressed nations due to the chauvinist intransigence of the leadership of the national left.
Forsaking the historical clarities provided by Lenin, the leadership of the national left has failed in grasping and in communicating to the masses of the oppressor nations that a socialist or proletariat revolution among them is dependent on the national liberation of the oppressed. In Sri Lanka the Sinhalese masses and left had the golden opportunity of allying with the Tamil liberation struggle spearheaded by the LTTE, instead the Sinhala left leadership committed a historical failure in choosing alliances with the fascist Sri Lankan state. As a result the comprador state is left unchallenged in perpetuating fascism and genocide while endorsing neo-liberalism and imperialist capitalism.
Thus in the words of Marx and Lenin any prospectus of the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka or the Punjabis in Pakistan or the Hindi speaking people in India to attain socialist justice and progress is dependent on the ability to rationalize, recognize and support the liberation struggles of the oppressed Eelam Tamils, the Balochi, the people of North-East India and Kashmir.
1) For more on Baloch sovereignty and the impact of colonial processes on the Baloch nation see: D. Nasheer 2012 “ The Baloch and Baluchistan : A historical account from the beginning to the fall of the Baloch state” Trafford Publishers.
2) For more on the colonial process which established Sri Lanka and Tamil sovereignty see : Anthony Hensman’s article and Tamilnet editorial.
3) [CP. (48) 91] 17 March 1948: Memorandum by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. ‘Report on Ceylon’ The National Archives, U.K
4) Zizek, Slavoj 1995 “Mapping Ideologies” Verso. London
5) Navaratnam, V. 1996 “The Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation”. Selpco Inc. Montreal
6) For an discussion on the dynamics of the Sinhala left intelligentsia see here
7) V.I Lenin. 1914 “The British Liberals and Ireland” in Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 148-151.
8) V.I Lenin. 1914 “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” in Lenin Collected Works: Progress Publishers 1972, Moscow: Volume 20. Pp. 293-454.
9) V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 20, p.422-433