Sunday, November 04, 2007

1848,1956 and all that

On this day in 1956 state capitalist Russia sought to reassert its authority in Hungary. Thousands of people were killed or injured as the world looked on. The UN belatedly and impotently asked the troops and tanks to be withdrawn in September 1957. Those crying for the right to self-determination then (as now) failed to heed history, and learn the lesson that this 'right' means no more than supporting an alternative ruling class.

Indeed, nearly 160 years ago there was a revolt in Hungry to secure independence from Austria, one which was eventually crushed with the aid of Russian troops. There was too a resolution which, like those of the UN, was merely an expression of sympathy:

"That in their present glorious struggle for liberty, the Hungarians command our highest admiration and have our warmest sympathy; that they have our prayers for their speedy triumph and final success; that the government of the United States should acknowledge the independence of Hungary as a nation of free men at the very earliest moment against which they are contending; that in the opinion of this meeting, the immediate acknowledgment of the independence of Hungary by our government is due from free men to their struggling brethren, to the general cause for republican liberty, and not violative of the just rights of any nation or people."

The September 1849 meeting at which this resolution was passed had one Abraham Lincoln as chairman. He met Louis Kossuth, the exiled Hungarian leader, several times and in January 1852 wrote more on the right of national independence. Lincoln was of the opinion that " . . . it is the right of any people, sufficiently numerous for national independence, to throw off, to revolutionize, their existing form of government, and to establish such other in its stead as they may choose."

The Socialist Standard of October 1957 continues this important history lesson:

"As often happens, the leader of the Opposition, when he gets into power, can hardly recognise the things he has been saying. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln became President and then refused to acknowledge the right of the Southern States to secede (notwithstanding clause one of his 1852 resolution on Hungary). He waged the bloodiest war of a 100 years to prevent secession. Lincoln did not pretend, as his admirers sometimes pretend, that the war was being fought to destroy slavery. He saw, however, that in the world as it really is admission of the right of any American State to go its own way would have reduced powerful united America to a disunited medley of small and weak States. This is true of the world today, and will remain true so long as capitalism is allowed to continue. Capitalist trade and the maintenance of private property demand central government with powerful military forces and defensible frontiers, and against this the so-called "natural right" and "international principle" of self-determination are merely fanciful; along with UN protests, they have no deterrent effect on the world. The nationalist movements organized to gain independence are not striving for abstract principle, but for the power of a propertied class to operate capitalism within territory under their own control. High-flown talk about "principles of self-determination" may be an incidental aid in the struggle, but has no bearing on the conduct of affairs once independence has been won. There is, therefore, no real inconsistency in the action of one group achieving independence and then forcibly suppressing movement for independence on the part of another minority within the country. Britain, America, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Russia, and all the other national capitalist groups which flout it whenever important economic or strategic interests are involved, are all being true to the vital belief they have in common, belief in the necessities of capitalism."

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