By Thomas Foster
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Why we support national liberation

The struggles that develop in colonial countries unite the whole population against imperialist rule
Issue 2906
Soldiers of the National Liberation Army during the Algerian War of Independence (Picture: Zdravko Pečar)

Soldiers of the National Liberation Army during the Algerian War of Independence (Picture: Zdravko Pečar)

 
The world today is dominated by nation states who are competing against each other for economic and political power.
 
In their quest for power, imperialist states conquer and loot less powerful countries to fuel their own aims. And so struggles develop in such countries that try to unite the whole population against imperialist rule.
 
The National Liberation Front (NLF) fighting against the United States’ army in south Vietnam in the 1970s is an instance of this.
 
There the NLF was rising up against US imperialist domination. To achieve national liberation, it had to get rid of US imperialism and the elements dependent on it.
 
The demand for self-determination was driven by the oppression that people suffered at the hands of imperialism—a global system where states of all sizes are rivals.
 
The fight for independence in India in the 1940s and the subsequent defeat of Britain caused a deep political crisis and was a significant blow to imperialism.
 
Genuine national liberation struggles, like the struggles of Palestinians today, contribute directly to undermining the global imperialist system.
 
Because of this, revolutionary socialists in imperialist countries should support such struggles unconditionally.
 
The worldwide imperialist system can lead to the oppression of whole nations, threaten endless war and pump wealth out of less powerful countries.
 
Fighting that oppression can bring people from all classes onto the streets.
 
And what’s key is that for workers in the West, the Western imperialist states that frequently try to smash national liberation struggles are the greatest enemy.
 
Supporting national liberation struggles is also a way to win the workers of imperialist countries to a position of supporting the right of oppressed nations to self-determination.
 
This can break the hold of patriotic or chauvinistic ideas in their head.
 
It’s a method of fighting reactionary ideas and pushing back against workers identifying with their ruling class’s imperialist aims.
 
We can imagine the impact of a national liberation movement failing.
 
If imperialist countries thwart the aims of such movements, then they will become more powerful when it comes to resisting the demands of workers in Britain.
 
National liberation struggles mean that ruling classes of imperialist countries face an additional opponent as well as their own working class.
 
Socialists can encourage national liberation through mechanisms of class struggle that go beyond the aims of national liberation.
 
But unconditional doesn’t mean uncritical. National liberation movements are often led by sections of local upper and middle classes.
 
This means there will be serious weaknesses—they will be terrified of unleashing full-on class struggle from below.
 
The trajectory is often one of carving out a space within the capitalist system.
 
Socialists in the countries where the genuine national liberation struggle is happening should support the struggle but remain independent. 
 
By staying independent, socialists can support the struggle while also giving warnings that middle or upper class leaders cannot be trusted.
 
In our imperialist system, struggles that begin with demands for national liberation can end with demands for socialism.
 
And revolutionary socialists in imperialist countries do not support national struggles whose triumph would strengthen imperialism.
 
In the Balkans, a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia state descended into fighting and ethnic cleansing in the 1990s.
 
The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) developed among the poorest and most oppressed group, the Kosovan Albanians.
 
But the KLA began to ally itself with Western imperialist forces, and it shifted to being used as a tool by these forces.
 
The demand for immediate Kosovan independence became a reactionary one.
 
The starting point is the existence of imperialism and the need for a revolutionary strategy attuned to the domination of capitalism on a world scale.
 
As Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky argued, socialists must have an “attitude towards oppressed nations, even the most backwards, that considers them not only as the objects but also the subjects of politics”.
 
This is the 13th part of a series of columns that discuss What We Stand For, the Socialist Workers Party statement of principles, printed every week in Socialist Worker. For the full series go to tinyurl.com/WWSF2024
 

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