Kosambi Circle meeting 8 notes

17 April 2020

2110 – 2320

Meeting notes

This was the eighth meeting of the KRAC done online via zoom, 102 people attended. This meeting was a continuation of the April theme of nationalism. In the last meeting we had left after a long discussion of the Rosa-Lenin debate on the question of self determination with a position that “absolute and unlimited” right of elf determination is an nonviable position for socialists, that making an evaluation on purely economist grounds a la Rosa is also nonviable and inaccurate for our purposes as socialists. In the last meeting we had also discussed the “what really happened historically” after the formation of the soviet state and how the national questions played out using Trotsky's writings on the Georgian invasion and Rosa's writing on the Brest-Litovsk treaty.

And in the last meeting we had discussed in heavy detail the implication of this national question in present times, various movements inside and outside India and the convoluted problem of leftists and liberals making space for ethnonationalism due to a warped understanding of right to self determination. This meeting thus began with a long recap of this discussions from the last meeting. Please listen to the voice note: Notes on Nationalism and read the notes from the last meeting to get the context.

After going through the recap certain salient points were revisited in detail, for one Rosa's prediction of “national socialism”, in her case Polish national socialism but also then German militarism and why Lenin and the soviets were not evaluating in correctly. The class composition of the Polish national movement thus being very interesting, not being capitalist but landowning feudal. It was examined in detail how some of these factors were actually realised by the Indian communist movements and how their positions evolved independently of Moscow on nationalism. There were questions raised as to what actually was happening inside Russia in the civil war (and why exactly the conflict between the Bolsheviki and the Left SRs happened) and outside Russia in Georgia etc and why exactly the USSR project took the shape it did.

From the last meeting we also revisited the Cabinet Mission Plan and the Pakistan movement and why it was necessary for the left to oppose the later. Some speculation was done on the CMP. The last meeting having been left after some discussion of Indian subnationalisms this was taken up again. The complex relationships of these with the language movements was examined, for example the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti was discussed in some detail, how it formed and how the language demands had a class component as well, and how that changed when the language movement was subsumed by later ethnonationalist movements which also proved to be useful weapons for the downfall of class politics. This was compared to how historically reactionary and right wing parties are able to leech working class support by subverting and appropriating such movements, the case of the Strasser brothers in the Nazi movement was discussed. Also the problems of reactionary tendencies within Trade Unions, their resistance to migrant workers, their caste tendencies, with examples from all kinds of places and times (France, Maharashtra, USA etc) were discussed. Closed border politics in relation to this and the chauvinist strands in American left were also discussed.

At this point chauvinism and “demographic anxiety” was explored and why socialists should always oppose such politics and the pitfalls of falling into such erroneous analysis. A point was raised here that despite the dated (and conservative in parts, especially on caste) nature of Tagore's document he managed before a lot of people to grasp this matter, that the problem with nationalist movement is that soon you do not care for your political goals or even liberal ideals like justice when you start pursuing the abstraction of nation which has no meaningful connection to your original goals. The success of your national movement becomes essentially a moral stance which is contrary to any materialist politics but also contrary to any idealist understanding of justice. For a socialist at least, the question that should be posed always to a nationalist movement is “what does this movement achieve for the working class”

It was discussed that no matter how “simple” these contradictions look there can be multiple identities and hostilities even within the working class but we cannot capitulate to that because that's a reality which would always exist in class society. We cannot dismiss these identities and should aim to create solidarity despite this. It was discussed how ephemeral these things are and not some organic perennial “state of natures”, with visa regimes and immigration laws to even the concepts of “borders” being but a few centuries old. It was mentioned how initially a few of the visa regimes were created with the aim of preventing skilled workers from leaving an area rather than preventing outsiders from coming in: brain drain logic, which is opposite to how it is now to prevent free flow of labour. It was again discussed how the ruling class while happy with captive labour forces which it can play against a “reserve army of labour” is actually quite happy with the free flow of capital and capitalists. In fact the most ruthless and authoritarian states when it comes to nationalism are quite happy to play comprador.

Similarly, the landowner feudal class was discussed in its role in the various south asian national movements. The interesting case of the Kashmiri movement was discussed with its past rooted in land politics, the class nature of the conflict and imminent settler colonisation in the wake of the attack on article 370. Land redistribution was discussed and debated in detail, both the correct socialist logic behind it, and the non socialist logic of reparations which brings historical disenfranchisement but in doing so erases class and more importantly turns the socialist project into a moral one. Palestine was discussed. How historical injustices are to be dealt with as socialists while furthering socialist politics was discussed. After more discussion of national movements, mainly in the subcontinent but some outside as well, the meeting ended.