[Marxism] correction on: Did Cannon have a"liquidationist"position on the Black question in the U.S.?

Nick Fredman srcsra at scu.edu.au
Sun Mar 5 18:38:02 MST 2006

My comments on this issue are a bit abstract as a 
fully admit I know little about the African 
American question, and I don't think there's any 
major "political" differences. However I have 
some more points about the national question 


>It is rather "Blacks are a nation because the ACT as a nation"<.

This type of framework (also advanced by Fred and 
Joaquin) for looking at the question is similar 
to that presented by Eric Hobsbawn in /Nations 
and Nationalism Since 1789/ (1990), - that 
nations are that which is created by political 
national movements, and/or are those groups of 
people who see themselves as a nation. Hobsbawn 
though, with the slightly absent-minded and 
empiricist air of a British don, doesn't go in 
for definitions, but what he seems to be saying 
is that nationalism is an essentially political 
question, not based on any necessary 
preconditions, and he's not too focused on any 
particular social changes wrought by the creation 
of nations either. Despite the author's Communist 
background, Hobsbawn's is a somewhat less 
orthodox Marxist account than Benedict Anderson's 
also influential /Imagined Communities/ (1983, 
2nd edn 1991). The latter is usually seen by 
Marxist critics as idealist and a key founding 
text of post-structuralist cultural studies, and 
while it is, it pays a lot more attention to the 
profound material changes related to 
nation-formation per se than e.g. Hobsbawn. 
Anderson also points out something fairly obvious 
but usually forgotten by Euro-centric 
commentators including most Marxists - 
nationalism and national movements began in the 
Americas, in the wars of liberation against 
Britain (USA), France (Haiti), and Spain (Latin 
America), before taking hold hold in Europe.

A lot of this debate over material vs. 
political-ideological-cultural factors goes back 
to debates within the Second International. As 
I've mentioned the Fourth International-linked 
Michel Lowy in /Fatherland or Mother Earth/ 
(1999) defends Otto Bauer's conception  (in 
/Social Democracy and the National Question/, 
1909), of nations as "communities with a common 
historical destiny", that Stalin and Lenin 
polemicised against.

The interesting thing about Stalin's "four 
categories" is that while nearly all respectable 
academic commentators see them as rigid and 
reductionist, they put what one would normally 
think of as "material" factors (economy and 
territory) on the same plane as "superstructural" 
factors (language, psychology-culture). Hobsbawn 
points out that national movements can be quite 
advanced while only a very small minority speak 
anything like a common language (e.g. Italy in 
the 1860s, with about 2% speaking recognisable 
Italian). But the point surely is that a national 
movement, to the extent it's successful in 
mobilising people, will advance common language, 
economy and culture, and often, by winning a 
state, create a more distinctive common 
territory. That is, the best way to see Stalin's 
"categories" is not as "pre-conditions", but as a 
dialectical totality, with some factors appearing 
first and advancing the others. More so than 
class formation I think, the political and/or 
cultural factors can be most noticeable first, 
because a national movement can start from a 
minority and reflect particular interests (e.g. 
bourgeois and petty bourgeois 

However I think for it to be useful to call a 
movement national or a group of people a nation 
there has to be some possibility of attaining the 
four categories and some motion towards them. 
Otherwise the notion is too broad, and 
encompasses things which are too divergent. Yes 
common experience, particular oppression, can 
forge nations, and can do so quite quickly. The 
East Timorese people developed from a very 
"proto" nation when decolonisation began in 1974 
to a very conscious and active nation within a 
few years of national political life and 
Indonesian invasion and resistance. While there 
may be "national" aspects to the African American 
people and their struggle, I think it's very 
debatable at least that the best way to view 
their social existence and struggle against 
oppression is through a national lens, whereas 
only the most deluded right-wingers could say the 
same thing about the East Timorese after 1975. 
The double-barrelled signifier "African American" 
points to a lot of ambiguity and contradiction, 
but "East Timorese Indonesian" was always a 
complete non-sense.

Similarly for the Jewish question. There might be 
"national aspects" to the existence of the Jewish 
people as a whole, but nothing like in the same 
sense as a definite and all-rounded nation such 
as that now constituted by Hebrew speaking people 
in Israel. Hence I think it's more accurate and 
useful to see African Americans and Jews per se 
as oppressed castes.

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