Sean Matgamna replies to Ashok Kumar's "National rights and the decolonial gaze"
Sometimes a person will have to do odd things for socialism.
Trotsky recorded that when women induced the soldiers not to fire at the crowds at the outset of the February Revolution, they had to get at them by first crawling under the belly of Cossack horses. What Trotsky referred to so summarily loses much of its meaning in the minds of modern people who have no experience of horses.
Your horse has a very small brain — the size of a chestnut, perhaps. A horse is sensitive and that makes horses appear intelligent sometimes. But they aren’t. Perhaps because of this nobody has ever succeeded in potty-training a horse. And of course a horse is far too big for nappies. He just puts his tail to one side and discharges a volley of lumps of solid waste matter; he will just stand there and discharge a large volume of liquid waste matter. Anywhere. So when a troop of horses is milling around, the ground tends to becomes messy. The women, good Russian proletarians, braved it. They did what they had to do.
So too with Kumar. It’s messy work and I’m a timid old Irish prole; but I’ll think of those heroic Russian women workers and crawl through it.
Kumar has been boasting on social media, I understand, that his involvement in this discussion is a “piss-take”. If he is satirising the language of pretentious academe, that would explain quite a lot. If he is taking the piss it is by way of heroic self-mockery. But whatever he thinks he’s doing he is showing himself up as incredibly confused and, it needs to be said, disablingly ignorant. His language is as precise as candy floss or cotton wool, and it is often difficult to know what he thinks he means. His piece is scarcely even an attempt to reply to what I wrote.
Kumar outlines a full philosophy of modern history.
Apparently I think: “there are no good and bad peoples.” And “Hitler-led German settlers in Poland, white South Africans, Northern Irish Protestants, Australians, and Zionists in the West Bank… For my correspondent all of these, too, are peoples with national rights. Occupation does not, he insists, produce eternal legacies of guilt: the Ulster Scot like the Catholic, Israeli like the Palestinian, has … also carved out his claim, his right to his place in the world.”
Striking here is Kurmar’s lack of grip on both 20th century history and on AWL policy. We call on Israel to get out of the West Bank and say that this is territory for a Palestinian state. I said nothing about Hitler-led German settlers in Poland (that is, invaders of 1939). The 13 million Germans driven out of Russian held territory (with the prior agreement of Britain and America) were people whose ancestors had lived there for centuries — these were the three million Sudeten Germans and the people of the East Prussian part of the German state and others.
Apparently never am I “more confused” than when “(I) attribute to the Soviet Union the aim of mounting a colonial war of conquest in Afghanistan even when the world’s first Socialist state supported a legitimate and truly national government.” They did more than “aim to mount” a war of colonial conquest. They mounted it and sustained it in a decade-long war of colonial conquest, whose methods were identical to those of the French in Indo-China and Algeria. The idea that the Stalinist government after 1978 and the Russian puppet government after Christmas 79 was a “legitimate” and “truly national government” is pure Stalinist ideologising. And pure Stalinist lying. There is quite a lot of AWL literature on Afghanistan on our website, which I suggest Kumar looks at.
“…The labour movement’s support for the struggle to end white South Africa, or the historical dead-end that was Rhodesia, was (not) mistakenly based on contrasting “good and bad peoples.” But we supported the peoples of South Africa and Zimbabwe against the minority white ruling caste!
From here on in I have difficult in understanding what Kumar is saying. It will be enough to highlight it. “So, too can temporary totems to regimes of whiteness in Australia, Canada, Chile, and New Zealand be seen in the same perspective.” They are like South Africa? In light of his errors on the most basic of facts, I can’t be sure he doesn’t think that Australia, Canada, Chile, and New Zealand are ruled by white minorities.
Now if I were writing a satire on what Kumar and people like him say of Israel-Palestine, reducto ad absurdum stuff, I would write something like what he writes here, have him propose that these and other such countries be turned over to the descendants of the displaced peoples. What is he saying, or proposing? For Canada and “its so-called peoples”? He wants to drive out the descendants of British and French colonists? If he doesn’t, what is he on about? And Australia, Chile, New Zealand? “Arming the Aboriginal peoples, of these countries is in this sense, nothing but a prerequisite for an equality of national freedoms.”
What in the name of sense is he talking about? We should want an uprising of the Aboriginals of Australia? We want the Amerindians to assert themselves in arms? In Chile? In New Zealand we want the Māori people to rise up? In the colonial settler state of Argentina, which he neglects to mention, we want the surviving two percent or so of the original population to rise in arms? To do what? Drive out the rest? I repeat what on earth is the man talking about?
Does he want a great movement across the world to reverse the ethnic transfers of the last five hundred years? Socialists are concerned with vengeance for the displaced, massacred, vastly-depleted peoples of history?
The displacements and massacres of the earlier peoples in these countries is of course a terrible story. It happens that I am rereading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, an account of the Nazi-like massacres of the Amerindians. These stories arouse anger, indignation, pity, regret. But history — terrible, savage, merciless — is what this is.
We can only alleviate some of the consequences of what has been and what was done. In the present, socialists advocate working-class unity across the divides that still exist, for the creation of a socialist society on the basis of what history has so far created.
I said that the charge of racism was frequently employed as a form of ideological terrorism to forbid thought and proper discussion of difficult questions. He responds that I make “a ‘colour-blind’ effort to see all peoples on an equal footing; [he] confuses cause for effect, in suggesting that even our words in rebellion against colonialism are to be painted in the language of terrorism and its policing. Or perhaps counter-insurgency?” Again, what is he talking about?
Where colonialism exists Marxists support uprisings of the colonised against the imperial power. But colonialism is more or less a historical category. What do we advocate after it has ceased to exist? Marxists advocate a workers’ revolution against capitalism — the unity of all workers against capitalism, native and foreign. We advocate “black and white unite”.
There isn’t space for me to reprise what I wrote on Israel-Palestine. Against Kumar’s effort it, surely, isn’t necessary either.