In the last few months over a million Catalans have participated in a series of demonstrations for independence from the Spanish State. Scotland is due to have a referendum on independence next year and movements for regional or outright independence are growing elsewhere.
In India the CPI(Maoist) have formed an alliance with Maoists in Manipur and a faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam, advancing the people’s struggle by extending the Red Corridor into the North Eastern states whilst at the same time supporting these movements in their aim of national self-determination. The potential threat of this alliance to the Indian State is alarming the authorities in Delhi as five other North Eastern states, plus Kashmir, harbour significant independence movements.
Some Maoists in Western Europe are consciously organising along regional lines too; in Occitan (French State), Euskadi (Basque Country), Cantabria, Galizia and Andalusia (Spanish State) small groups of Maoists (not necessarily holding the same line on all issues) are organising. The Occitan Maoists have attempted to develop Maoist theory to support their position:
And we’ve understood that building itself in parallel and at the service of capitalist development these States have built ‘centres’;(as typically the Paris region, or the Greater London and southeast England; and peripheries, and that, if everywhere; exploited people fight similarly their exploiters, this fight deploys itself, in terms of intensity from the ‘peripheries’ toward the ‘centres’ on worldwide level, from the ‘Third world’, the ‘Storm zone’, toward imperialist ‘G8’but also inside; these imperialist ‘metropolis’, as ‘British islands’ or ‘France’.
(Serve the People from Occitany send solidarity to Great Unrest Group for a Welsh Republican Party-http://democracyandclasstruggle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/serve-people-from-occitany-send.html)
There are some obvious problems with this reformulation and the equation of the region with the countryside, not least the fact that in Occitan’s case the capital of Occitan is Toulouse the fourth largest city in France, so hardly ‘from the countryside to the city’. Nevertheless it is an interesting concept that has potential resonance in Western Europe where economic struggles tend to be less militant owing to the relatively prosperous character of most of the working class but such short cuts in the struggle can often turn out to be dead-ends.
Maoists are not the only progressive tradition reorganising along the lines of regional autonomy. Anarchists are beginning to see self determination of smaller nations as a front in the battle against existing nation states.
Perhaps surprisingly, this is not new. Indeed, in the past, for all the wrong reasons, anarchists supported a Siberian independence movement in Russia in the early 1920s – a reactionary position as this was deliberately counter posed as an alternative to the Bolsheviks. Today, it would also be problematic, in a not dissimilar way to demands for Quebec independence as within Siberia are a myriad of indigenous nations (Buryats, Evenks, Tuvans, the Altai peoples etc.) whose self-determination should take precedenceover the descendents of Russian settlers in much the same way as Mohawks, Cree and Innuit interests should take precedence over the Quebec settlers.
In order to support national autonomy, some anarchists are distinguishing between the ‘state’ (which they oppose) and the ‘nation’ which is supportable. Though not inevitable this is potentially the beginning of a slippery slope towards ethnic based nationalism. Moreover redrawing the borders and creating new states is difficult to reconcile with the internationalist demand of No Borders!
Today many Antifa groups (largely but not wholly anarchist in its orientation) organise not only against fascism and racism but also homophobia, sexism, capitalism and, where appropriate for regional autonomy/national self determination. In the Spanish state Catalan and Basque nationalism is implicitly antifascist and republican, so the causes flow into each other naturally. Antifa’s visibility in these movements should be welcomed because of the often double edged nature of movements for national determination.
There are other contradictions of the ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ variety. Whilst there is a great affinity between Irish Republicans and their Basque comrades in arms, virtually all Irish Republicans would have no sympathy for Britain’s continuing presence in Gibraltar, an imperialist anachronism as much as the continuation of partition. The Basques however often view Britain’s continuing hold on Gibraltar positively, as a thorn in the side of the ambitions of their principal enemy, the Spanish State. An anti-imperialist approach to this contradiction is to demand thatGibraltar should be Spanish but by the same token Malilla and Ceuta, the two enclaves controlled by the Spanish state on the coast of Morocco should be Moroccan, whilst Catalonia, Euskadi and other viable nations within the Spanish, British and French states should also have the right to succeed.
Outside of Europe, as already alluded to in the passing reference to Quebec, the growing popularity of struggles of the First Nation peoples in North America have been an inspiration to many in recent years. The advent of the direct action campaign group Idle No More (as well as the more militant Warrior Societies) and the fusion of indigenous and environmental struggles have revived what many had once thought a lost cause, that of Native American liberation.
The environmental angle is significant as decentralisation is a central tenet of the green movement and this gels with demands for regional autonomy and independence. Even here though, there are contradictions.
Whilst writing this essay, a series of militant protests erupted in Brittany. Whilst many protesters carried the Breton flag (and wore the red cap of the Jacobin revolutionaries) their target was a proposed eco-tax on heavy goods vehicles. As one environmental activist commented ‘they were demonstrating for the right to pollute’.
The growing popularity of left leaning national autonomy movements and the creation of Maoist cells within them should be welcomed but the contradictions are many and it is unclear how far this strategy will develop in Europe. Elsewhere however, for historical and economic reasons, in North America and South Asia the potential is already beginning to be seen.
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