Report on the International Seminar on the Nationality Question

Our Special Correspondent

The All-India People's Resistance Forum organised an international seminar on the nationality question in Delhi on February 16 to 19, 1996. Participants included a number of communist parties from home and abroad as well as organisations involved in national struggles in different parts of India. The AIPRF itself placed two major papers before the seminar: 'Globalisation - Structural Adjustment and National Resurgence' and 'Nationality Question in India'. A comprehensive account of the seminar is outside the scope of this report. Here only selected themes are taken up which arise from the posing of the nationality question by various participating communist parties.

In its paper the AIPRF noted that the national question in colonial and semi-colonial countries was part of the democratic revolution directed against imperialism and feudalism in which the national struggle united the working class, the peasantry and the toilers and excluded the big bourgeoisie and the big landlords. In India there is no single oppressor nation in contrast to the situation in Tsarist Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Palestine. The centralised Indian state which represents the interests of imperialism, the big bourgeoisie and the feudal landlord classes suppresses all of the nationalities in the country. The intermixture of religion and the national struggles, the still developing nationalities amongst the tribals and the conflicts between the developing nationalities add to the complexity of the national question. The nationalities in India developed in the medieval period based on the development of the vernacular languages. The diverse conditions of the agrarian economy and trade meant that there was great diversity amongst the different regions of India. The British conquest stifled the emergence of nationalities and set off a chain of tribal and peasant rebellions. The rise of the anti-colonial movement stimulated the various national languages. The National Congress was compelled to take this into account and at its Nagpur Congress in 1920 it accepted the need to restructure its organisation on the basis of linguistic provinces. After 1947 the Congress did not fulfil its promise to establish linguistic provinces. Only after the agitation for the formation of the Andhra Province was the government compelled - despite the opposition of big capital based in Bombay - to establish the reorganisation of the states on the basis of linguistic affinity which led to a partial resolution of the national question.

The AIPRF then makes a distinction between three types of nationality movements. The first category is composed of 'those nationalities which, historically, have never been a part of India and were territorially annexed to the Indian Union'.

It must be stated unequivocally that this logic is entirely specious. Any notion of an 'historic India' if examined has to correspond to the oppressive multi-national states established in ancient, medieval and colonial times. No notion of an 'historic India' is required to defend the right of secession of the Kashmiris, the Assamese, the Mahipuris, Nagas and Mizos. This right exists on the basis of the democratic right of national self-determination. This permits them the right to secede from the existing reactionary Indian state or the future democratic state as they so desire.

A second category is suggested of the relatively 'developed nationalities' which have become consolidated in linguistic states where the nationality question expresses itself as a conflict between the centralised economic and political power of the centralised Indian state and the aspirations of the bourgeoisie of the various nationalities. By this logic the Akali Dal, the TDP, ACIP, DMK, AIADMK, the CPI and the CPI(M) articulate these demands. The third category embraces movements for statehood in areas such as Telengana, Vidarbha and Uttarakhand where the uneven development of capitalist development leads to disadvantages in particular regions as well as amongst the tribal nationalities of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh where the mineral and forest wealth are being ruthlessly exploited by the big bourgeoisie, the regional bourgeoisie and the landlords.

In the realms of administration and education the all-India big bourgeoisie foists the English and Hindi languages throughout the country and thereby stunts the development of the languages of the nationalities. The language question may only be resolved by permitting equality of the national languages in the Indian state. The Indian ruling classes attempts to promote unity of the state on the basis of Hindi identity, it targets the minority communities through anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh pogroms.

The nationality movements suffer from a number of problems. They are not always clear that imperialism, the big bourgeoisie and the feudal elements are the main forces which are retarding national development. Moreover, questions of nationality are mixed with religious fundamentalism and the nationality movements often adopt national chauvinist stands against the smaller nationalities as has occurred in the case of the Assamese against the Bodos and Karbis. If the nationality struggles take up the question of feudal exploitation the majority of the masses of the nationality may he mobilised.

A consistent democratic approach to the nationality question necessitates support for the Kashmiris and the nationalities of the North-East, the establishment of a voluntary federation of the nationalities based on the right to secession, autonomy for the minority nationalities in each national republic, the end of the current centralised economic and political control by the central government, the use of national languages in the administration and education in the mother-tongue, a struggle against big national chauvinism of the bigger nationalities and against fundamentalism particularly Hindi fundamentalism.

The approach paper of the AIPRF, despite flaws, is a welcome attempt to tackle the national question in India in the light of Marxism. It correctly notes that the Soviet Union after 1917 implemented the principle of national self-determination in a principled manner. But the paper is reticent on the experience of the CPC and the People's Republic of China. The CPC supported the right of secession before 1935 but in the several constitutions promulgated after the revolution the right of secession for the nationalities of Mongolia, Tibet, Sinkiang and the Chuang was terminated. The notion of a free federation of nationalities was replaced by the idea of a unified multi-national state. Mao did not implement the Leninist-Stalinist nationality policy.

The AIPRF is inspired by the CPC and Mao. In this circumstance it may be legitimately asked: why should the Kashmiris, the Nagas, the Manipuris, the Bodos and other oppressed nationalities throughout India accept the assurances put forward by the AIPRF that they support the right of secession? Will they not be betrayed as were the Mongolians, the Tibetans, the Chuang, the nationalities of Sinkiang? The professions of the AIPRF shall only be taken seriously if they demarcate their positions from those of the CPC and Mao Zedong just as vigorously as they have distanced themselves from the positions of the CPI and CPI(M).

The papers of the three communist parties analysed below may be conveniently examined in the light of Lenin's thinking and the views of the CPC. The papers of the other international participants are not treated here as their contributions dealt only indirectly with the theoretical examination of the nationality question.

In 'The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed up' Lenin indicated the differing tactics of communists on the question of national self-determination of the oppressing and oppressed countries.

In the international education of the workers of the oppressor countries, emphasis must necessarily be laid on their advocating freedom for the oppressed countries to secede and their fighting for it. Without this there can be no internationalism. It is our right and duty to treat every Social-Democrat of an oppressor nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as a scoundrel and an imperialist (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 22, Moscow, 1964, p. 346).

With respect to the tactics of communists of the oppressed country Lenin stated:

a Social-Democrat from a small nation must emphasise in his agitation the second word of our general formula: "Voluntary integration" of nations. (op. cit. p. 347)

Let us see how the CPC fares in the light of Lenin.

An examination of the Constitution of the Chinese Soviet Republic which was promulgated in 1931 reveals that the CPC upheld the Marxist position:

The Soviet Government in China recognise the right of self-determination of the national minorities in China, their right to complete separation from China, the formation of an independent state for each national minority. All Mongolians, Tibetans, Miao, Yao, Koreans and others living in the territory of China, shall enjoy the full right to self-determination i.e. they may either join the Chinese Soviet state or secede from it and form their own state as they prefer (ed. Bela Kun: 'The Fundamental Law of the Chinese Soviet Republic', London, 1934, p. 22).

By 1938 the CPC gave its new understanding:

'the Mongolians, the Mohammedans, the Tibetans, the Miaos, the Yiaos, the Yees, and the Fangs, etc., must have equality with the Chinese people. Under the condition of struggle against Japan they must have the right to self-determination and at the same time they should continue to unite with the Chinese people to form one nation'. (Mao Tse-tung, 'The New Stage', Chungking, n.d., p. 48)

Under the new logic the communists of the oppressing Han nation no longer advocated the freedom of secession of the minority nationalities, they stressed only self-determination (in the abstract) and equality with the Chinese nation, and demanded their unity with the Chinese people to form one nation (i.e. asked the minority nationalities to obliterate themselves in the Han Chinese nation).

The CPC continued its headlong retreat from Leninist-Stalinist nationality principles. By 1945 it simply adopted the positions of Sun Yat-sen who recognised self-determination (but not secession) of the minority nationalities. Thus we read in the first Indian edition of Mao's 'On Coalition Government':

In the Manifesto of the First National Congress of the Kuomintang (1924), Dr. Sun Yat-sen said: "The nationalism of the Kuomintang has a two fold meaning: the self-emancipation of the Chinese nation, and the equality of all races in China".

Then he said: "The Kuomintang can state with solemnity that it recognises the right of self-determination of all Chinese republics (i.e. formed with the voluntary consent of the various races) as soon as the war against imperialism and war-lords is victoriously concluded".

The Kungchantang (the CPC - ed. R.D.) is in complete accord with Dr. Sun's racial and national policy indicated above. (Mao Tse-tung, 'The Way Out of China's Civil War', Bombay, 1946, p. 66).

In 1945 the CPC argued for national self-determination (as soon as the war was concluded), rejected the policy of advocating secession for the minority nationalities, and opted for the equality of nationalities in the Chinese state.

The first Constitution of the People's Republic of China which was promulgated in 1954 represented a retreat even from its earlier acceptance of the principles of Sun Yat-sen on the national question. In Article 3 we read:

The People's Republic of China is a single multi-national state.

All the nationalities are equal. Discrimination against, or oppression of, any nationality, and acts which undermine the unity of the nationalities are prohibited..

Regional autonomy applies in areas where people of national minorities live in compact communities. National autonomous areas are inalienable parts of the People's Republic of China. ('Documents of the First Session of the First National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China', Peking, 1955, p. 136)

The 1954 Constitution as can be seen unequivocally rejected national self-determination and the right to secession, illegalised attempts to implement the right to secession, established a mere formal equality of the nationalities, and introduced 'Regional Autonomy', which for the Bolsheviks was founded on the principle of secession, as a substitute for secession itself.

Lenin, as we have seen, declared that the failure to advocate freedom of secession for the oppressed countries and to fight for it by communists of the oppressing country had the following implication: 'It is our right and duty to treat every Social-Democrat of an oppressor nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as a scoundrel and an imperialist'.

After this excursus into the history of the CPC we are in a better position to scrutinise the stances of international communist parties represented in the seminar.

In his paper entitled 'A Maoist Perspective On The National Question In The U.S. And On A World Scale', Raymond Lotta of the Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA focussed on the Black Nationality Question.

This question was important in the U.S. because the heritage of chattel slavery and continued national oppression of the Afro-Americans had stamped every aspect of U.S. society and the Black people's resistance has been a decisive struggle in the country.

The Black nation was formed under conditions of slavery and after the Civil War under the feudal system of sharecropping in the Black Belt. The Black masses were denied democratic rights under the Jim Crow system. After the two World Wars huge migrations had taken place to the northern industrial belts but this did not end the distinct Black nation as they were not integrated into the Euro-American nation. Lotta traced the history of the Black people's struggles from the civil rights movements of the 1960s to the liberation struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s right through to the Los Angeles rebellion of 1992. The revisionist CP USA, he noted, denied the existence of the black nation. The position of the RCP USA was that it defended the right of self-determination and upheld the right to establish a separate black state while striving to carry out a unified revolutionary struggle aimed at the establishment of 'a single unified state over the largest possible territory on the basis of the equality of nations', (p. 7). A number of lacuna immediately strike the eye. The RCP USA rejects the position proposed by the Executive Committee of the Communist International in 1930 that the right of self-determination of the Black nation was the main slogan of the Communist Party in the Black Belt. It fails to distinguish between the right and duty of the Communists of the oppressor Euro-American nation in the U.S. to advocate the right to secession for the Black nation (and the Puerto Ricans) and the duty of the Communists of the oppressed Black nation to stress the 'voluntary integration' of the nations in the U.S. The Euro-American members of the RCP USA turn Lenin upside down by advocating the tactical position of the Black communists. This error is compounded by the failure of the RCP USA to call for the establishment of a voluntary federation in the USA of the various nationalities, founded on the right of secession, and in its stead to strive for the establishment of a 'single unified state'.

In a paper devoted to the national question in the Philippines Luis Jalandoni, Member of the National Council of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, pointed out that there were a total of some forty minority nationalities in the country comprising ten million people or fifteen per cent of the population. The principal national minorities were the three million strong Moro people of Mindanao (who have been struggling for independence under the Moro National Liberation Front), the Lumads of Mindanao (two-three million) and the Igorot tribes in the Cordillera region in northern Luzon (one million). The reactionary pro-imperialist and pro-landlord governments have been seizing the ancestral lands of the minorities and passed them over to the land speculators, loggers, ranchers, mining companies and landlords. Under the Financial Technical Assistance Agreements over twenty per cent of the total land area of the country has been opened up for mining by the transnational corporations. The minority nationalities have been removed through military operations, through such 'development aggression' some two million internal refugees have been created the bulk of whom are indigenous peoples. In resistance to the depredations of imperialism a number of the minority nationalities have joined the revolutionary movement and are allied to the National Democratic Front.

While criticising the compromising stand of the Moro National Liberation Front in having signed the Tripoli Agreement in March 1977 with the Marcos government in which the MNLF agreed to accept regional autonomy in thirteen provinces, constituting sixty per cent of the Moro homeland, under the sovereignty of the reactionary state, the Communist Party of the Philippines has recognised 'their right to secede from the present reactionary state that has for so long oppressed them as a nation'. The CPP argues furthermore that 'Even when there shall be a people's democratic state in which the Moro people as a nation are in a position to enjoy regional autonomy, they shall still retain the right to secede as a safeguard against national oppression'. Once again we see an instance of the repudiation of the Leninist obligation for the Communists of the oppressing nation to advocate the right of secession. In place of conducting propaganda on these lines the CPP seeks to pre-empt the decision of the Moro nation by selling the notion of 'regional autonomy'. This policy is confirmed by the policy adopted by the First Conference of the National Democratic Front which reaffirmed the right of secession and then went ahead to negate it by stating its preference for encouraging the voluntary acceptance of 'genuine autonomy': 'Under a democratic Philippines where the equality of peoples and nationalities is guaranteed, the Bangsa Moros shall be encouraged to take the valid and viable option of a genuinely autonomous political rule'.

The views of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on the national question in Nepal were presented by Hisila Yami, President, All-Nepal Women's Association (Revolutionary). It was argued that Nepal is a semi-colonial and semi-feudal state which is dominated by British, Japanese, German and U.S. imperialism as well as by the Indian expansionists. Indian capitalists control about eighty per cent of Nepali industry and trade. India is the dominant trade partner of Nepal, it supplies manufactures to Nepal and in turn receives primary products and cheap labour. Moreover it exploits the vast water resources of Nepal through unequal treaties. The Indian rulers engage in constant political manipulations to put their puppets in power, going to the extent of armed intervention to crush rebellion in Nepal as occurred in 1953 when the Indian army put down the peasant uprising led by Bhim Dutta Pant in Western Nepal.

Nepal is a multi-national state in which the Khas nationality dominates the state and oppresses the nationalities of the Tibetan-Burman group of languages as well as other nationalities. The Khas language belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. Other nationalities which belong to the same language group are the Newari nationality in the Katmandu Valley, the Maithili and Bhojpuri nationalities in the southern Terai region. A number of nationalities belong to the Tibeto-Burman language group: the Rai, Limbu, Lepcha, Sherpa, Sunwar in the eastern Hills; Tamang in the central Hills; the Gurung, Magar, Thakali and Chantel in the western hills; the Tharu in the western Terai and inner Terai; the Dhimal, Rajvanshi, Gangai, Meche in the eastern Terai; and the Majhi, Darai, Kumul, Raute, Raji and Dhanuwar in the inner Terai. While the Khas nationality oppresses the other nationalities no single nationality constitutes a numerical majority in Nepal.

The policy of the CPN(M) on the nationality question is determined by its interpretation of the writings of Lenin on the question. It argues that: 'the correct policy and programme of revolutionary Marxists on the national question would have to be based on the three pillars as specified by Lenin, namely: (i) complete equality of rights for all nations, (ii) the rights of nations to self-determination, and (iii) the unity of workers of all nations', (Hisila Yami, 'National Question in Nepal' pp. 2-3, citing V.I. Lenin, 'Collected Works', Vol. 20, Moscow, 1964, p. 454).

Lenin in fact does say this but he immediately precedes this with the following passage which is omitted:

the proletariat of Russia is faced with a two-fold, or rather, a two-sided task: to combat nationalism of every kind, above all, Great-Russian nationalism; to recognise, not only fully equal rights for all nations in general, but also equality of rights as regards polity, i.e., the right of nations to self-determination, to secession, (V.I. Lenin, op. cit., p. 453-54).

As can be readily understood the CPN(M) rejects the right of secession of the oppressed nationalities of Nepal and substitutes in its place a demand for 'autonomy' on the basis of a clear distortion of the teachings of Lenin.

The logic given by the CPN(M) for rejecting the right to secession for the oppressed nationalities of Nepal is that they are: 'keeping in view the low level of development of the nationalities' (Hisila Yami, op. cit., p. 10). It thus seems that the views of Lenin and Stalin require emendation. To the principle of the right of nations to secession the Communists must inscribe a rider: 'we support the right of nations to secession except when the nationalities are at a low level of development'. The CPN(M) viewpoint is a throwback to the view projected in the period of the Second International. Stalin pointed out that its leaders 'hesitated to put white and black, "civilised" and "uncivilised" on the same plane' (J. Stalin, 'Works', Vol. 6, Moscow, 1953, p. 143). Leninism transformed this understanding, Stalin continued, 'Now we can say that this duplicity and half-heartedness in dealing with the national question has been brought to an end. Leninism laid bare this crying incongruity, broke down the wall between whites and blacks, between Europeans and Asiatics, between the "civilised" and "uncivilised" slaves of imperialism, and thus linked the national question with the question of the colonies' (Ibid., pp. 143-44).

The international seminar on the nationality question reveals in a transparent form that the views of the AIPRF on the nationality question, in common with several revolutionary organisations in India, stand far in advance of the perspectives of the general run of parties which share the ideological perceptions of the AIPRF in other parts of the globe.

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