Thinking About Self-Determination

Diemer, Ulli
Publisher:  Canadian Dimension / Ulli Diemer, Canada
Year Published:  1994
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX5293

Does that familiar canon of the left, 'the right to self-determination', actually mean anything, or is it an empty slogan whose main utility is that it relieves us of the trouble of thinking critically?

According to Ulli Diemer, the "right to self-determination" as promulgated by much of the left is in fact nothing more than mindless cheerleading for bourgeois nationalism. By contrast, socialists like Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg argued that it was necessary to analyze the political, economic, and class content of nationalist movements on their individual merits, and support them only if they were progressive.
The kind of serious political analysis advocated by Marx and Luxemburg -- perhaps because it requires intellectual effort -- has become decidedly unpopular on the left, to be replaced by an uncritical acceptance of bourgeois concepts of nationality and the nation-state, devoid of class or socialist content.
The accepted dogma now seems to be that each nationality and each ethnic and language group needs, and is entitled to, its own nation-state. In the real world, however, it is rarely possible to draw political boundaries that correspond with nationality. Nearly every nation-state and aspiring nation-state contains its own national minorities with conflicting nationalist claims on the same territory. These national groups are usually intermingled and intermarried, sharing the same physical territory, the same cities and towns, the same streets, the same bedrooms..
As a result -- except in those rare instances where a national group constitutes a homogeneous society united in its desire for national independence within uncontested borders -- "self-determination" for the majority frequently amounts to denying minorities their "right to self-determination".

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