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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Right to Self Determination - Tamil Eelam > Self Determination & Secession - Anton S.Balasingham
The Tamil national question in Sri Lanka is being fought on the basis of that nation's right to self-determination. For the last thirty-five years the nation of Tamil Eelam has been subjected to severe oppression. It took the form of a violent oppression perpetrated against a small nation by the national chauvinism of a big nation, the Sinhala nation, the ruling elites of which pursued a disastrous policy aimed at destroying the ethnic identity of the Tamil speaking people and threatened their very survival.
For nearly a quarter of a century Tamil parliamentary political parties launched non-violent campaigns of Satyagraha seeking the restoration of basic human rights. Yet the civilized political demands of the Tamils were met with a savage form of military repression, the promises given to them never fulfilled, and the agreements and pacts became dead letters. The national friction between the two nations finally emerged as a major contradiction leading to the demand for secession by the oppressed.
To the world community, the Sri Lankan ruling class portrays the country as a tranquil island, cherishing the Buddhist ideals of peace and Dharma and adhering to a harmless political doctrine of non-alignment. Paradoxically behind this political facade lies the factual reality, the reality of national oppression, of the blatant violation of basic human rights, of racial crimes, of police and military violence, of attempted genocide.
Master-minding the worst form of capitalist exploitative machinery under the slogans of democracy and socialism, the Sinhala ruling class since independence had always reinforced their political power with an abominable ideology of national chauvinism and religious fanaticism.
By utilising such ideological apparatus and by actually practising a calculated policy of genocidal oppression the ruling bourgeoisie has been able to maintain its domination over the proletariat of the oppressor nation and prevented the class unity between the Sinhalese and Tamils. Yet on the other hand, Sinhala chauvinism and its violent manifestations have helped the polarisation of the heterogenous masses of the oppressed Tamil nation, with different class elements and castes towards a determined revolutionary struggle for political independence.
The struggle for national freedom having failed in its democratic popular agitations, having exhausted its power to mobilise the masses for peaceful campaigns, gave rise to the emergence of armed resistance movement in Tamil Eelam early seventies. Armed resistance as a mode of popular struggle arose when our people were presented with no alternative other than to resort to revolutionary resistance to defend themselves against a savage form of state terrorism.
The armed struggle, therefore is the historical product of intolerable national oppression; it is an extension, continuation and advancement of the political struggle of our oppressed people. Our liberation movement which spearheads the revolutionary armed struggle in Tamil Eelam is the vanguard of the national struggle.
The principal determinant factor that propelled the dynamics of national friction leading to this inevitable choice of political independence was none other than national oppression. Therefore, in the study of the Tamil Eelam national question, oppression, that is, the oppression of a big nation against a small nation perpetrated within the power structure of a unitary state becomes the crucial element for a theoretical analyses as well as for a political strategy.
Positing the problem within the theoretical discourse of Marxism, we hold that Lenin's theoretical elucidations and political strategies offer an adequate basis for a precise formulation of this question. Lenin's exposition of the concept of self-determination, that deals primarily with a nation's right to secession and statehood is adopted here as a theoretical guide to provide a concrete presentation of the Tamil national question.
Out reliance on Lenin's formulations is determined by the fact that neither Marx or Engels nor any other theoretician offers a systematic theory with a concrete political strategy for proletarian praxis in relation to the national question. Indisputably Lenin's works will stand as a theoretical and political paradigm on this domain engaging the problems in manifold aspects.
Situating the question within the theoretical framework of historical materialism, providing a historico-economic analysis, Lenin advances a correct proletarian perspective on the national question inter-relating the national struggle with proletarian class struggle. His analysis exposes the limitations and bankruptcy of bourgeois democracy and the dangers of extreme*bourgeois nationalism. Lenin firmly held that the non recognition or rejection of the problems of national minorities will deeply affect the working-class movement and obstruct the proletarian struggle for socialist revolution. White taking Lenin's discourse as our guide, we are not blind to the fact that every national struggle must be situated within the context of its own concrete historical conditions. The liberation struggle of the Tamil Eelam nation demanding political independence, the historical conjunctures of which we have already outlined, arose primarily from the contradictions of national oppression and therefore must be confined to the theoretical specifications and political implications of that nation's right to secession. Within this context many questions are posed.
These problems are raised and hotly debated within the context of the Tamil national question. The debates and arguments enmeshed with vague generalisations and loose conceptualisations, have created so much confusion and controversy that a clarity and a correct perspective on this issue has become absolutely essential.
Self Determination and Secession
The Tamil nation is a historically constituted social formation possessing all the basic elements that are usually assembled to define a concrete characterisation of a nation. Yet a definition as to what constitutes a nation is theoretically unnecessary since we can precisely formulate our issue within the Leninist conceptual framework of the self determination of nations.
Attempting to show a radical face as revolutionaries these political opportunists are proclaiming that the Tamil speaking people as an oppressed nation has the right to self-determination but they do not have the right to secession. It is precisely on this position one finds a calculated distortion of a clearly defined concept. Lenin's texts on the national question constantly reiterate the definition that the self-determination of nations is nothing but secession and the formation of an independent state. To quote a couple of examples:
Thus, Lenin offers a precise definition. The right of nations to self-determination in his formulation means the right of an oppressed nation to secede from the oppressor nation and form an independent national state. Therefore, those who pretend to recognise the right of the oppressed Tamil nation to self-determination and argue such a right does not embody the freedom to secede, are neither Marxists nor Leninists but chauvinists parading under socialist slogans. To characterise these pseudo-socialists in Lenin's own words:
The freedom of an oppressed nation to secede in Lenin's theoretical analysis, is advanced, on one level, as a universal socialist principle of workers, democracy, a corner stone of what Lenin calls 'consistent democracy'. On a different level the struggle of an oppressed nation to secession is seen as a revolutionary ground for mass action, a ground for a proletarian onslaught on the bourgeoisie.
Therefore, the political genius of Lenin situates this struggle of the oppressed nations within the realms of socialist democracy and proletarian revolution. It is precisely within these two spheres we wish to situate the Tamil national question to elucidate the progressive and revolutionary character of this independence struggle.
Inalienable Right of A Nation
In championing the right of secession and articulating the principle of self-determination in the national, democratic programme, Lenin sparked off a violent theoretical controversy among his co-revolutionaries. Whether such a right will lead to disintegration and fragmentation of smaller states, whether the freedom to secede contradicts the Marxian principle of proletarian internationalism, were questions raised against his thesis on the national question. These questions and Lenin's consistent defence of this position are important to us because it is precisely these questions that are hurled against the Tamil demand for secession.
The freedom of secession should not be confused with the reactionary bourgeois category of ‘separatism' which is sometimes utilised to undermine the genuine democratic struggle of the oppressed Tamil nation. The freedom of secession articulated within the concept of self-determination exclusively implies an inalienable right of a nation of people to agitate for political independence from the oppressor nation.
This complete freedom to agitate for secession is a right, which can be exercised under conditions of intolerable oppression. Therefore, the recognition of this right to secession, Lenin repeatedly argued, is vital to prevent national friction arising out of a big nation's chauvinism, a right that upholds the complete equality of nations, a right, if violated will lead to national hostility and the fragmentation of nations.
It is here, Lenin advances the dialectical principle that in order to ensure unity there must be freedom to separate. He even argued that freedom to divorce will not cause the disintegration of the family. Therefore, Lenin rigorously held he was not advocating a doctrine of separatism but advancing a higher principle of socialist democracy in which absolute freedom should be accorded to a nation of people to secede under nay conditions of oppression. To quote him in this context:
Marxist political praxis certainly advances proletarian. internationalism, but at the same time gives fullest recognition to the revolutionary character and the historical legitimacy of national movernents. The principle of nationality, or rather, the phenomenon of nationalism itself, in Marxist discourse is characterised as an historically inevitable political phenomenon in bourgeois society.
For Marx, nationalism is historically prior to proletarian internationalism. Proletarian revolutions in the advanced capitalist social formations, Marx foresaw, will generate the progressive forces of internationalism towards the gradual structuration and consolidation of a world socialist society.
Lenin, who saw the historical unfolding of the great socialist revolution became an ardent champion of proletarian internationalism, since he rightly believed that only the revolutionary power of a united international proletariat can challenge the structure of dominance of world capitalism. Therefore we find in Lenin's texts a constant emphasis on the necessity of the solidarity of the working classes of all nations to mobilise to fight against the hegemony of international capital.
Yet, on the other hand, we find Lenin as a fierce champion of the oppressed fought vigorously against all forms of oppressions. He correctly perceived that national oppression is the enemy of the class struggle and without the emancipation of the oppressed, proletarian solidarity of the oppressed and the oppressor nations is unattainable. That is why, Lenin firmly held that proletarian internationalism demands that the proletariat of the oppressor nation should grant the right to self-determination (i.e. the right to secession) to the oppressed nation.
The right of nations to self-determination does not contravene the socialist principle of proletarian internationalism. On the contrary, as Lenin has shown, the recognition of this right is a fundamental necessity to advance internationalism. It will amount to chauvinism and political opportunism to preach the noble ideals of internationalism to a nation of people caught up in a liberation struggle against the oppression of the bigger dominant nation.
Intolerable Oppression and Inevitable Secession
We are now approaching the most crucial stage of our discussion on the Tamil Eelam national question. That is, under what political and economic conditions of oppression a nation will opt for secession, and whether such a decision to secede and the struggle for national independence will serve the interests of the class struggle of both the oppressed and oppressor nations.
An elucidation of these issues is vital for a theoretical comprehension and for a political strategy for proletarian revolutionaries in Sri Lanka who are confronted with a national struggle of an oppressed nation which has chosen the path of secession.
The determinant factors behind the Tamil's decision to secede and form a state of their own, as we have pointed out earlier, are the historical conditions of intolerable national oppression. The cumulative effects of this multi-dimensional oppression made joint existence unbearable. The contradictions that emanated from national friction made a political rupture inevitable. Thrown into the painful dilemma of political isolation and economic deprivation and threatened with an annihilation of their ethnic identity, the Tamil speaking people of Eelam nation, had no other alternative but to - opt for secession. Under intensified conditions of national oppression, a decision to secede and fight for political independence, is not only a correct action but also a revolutionary move which will serve the interests of the class struggle. Lenin says:
Within the Leninist perspective we can safety hold that the decision of the oppressed Tamil nation to secede from the oppressor nation was necessary and historically inevitable because of the extreme conditions of oppression, the nature and form of which we have outlined.... The question that can be posed now is, whether the Tamil struggle for political independence will serve the interests of the class struggle of the oppressed arid oppressor nations.
The Role of the Progressives of the Oppressor Nation
Marx who supported the Irish national movement, called upon the English working classes to fight for the liberation of Ireland, which he considered as an oppressed colony under England. He firmly held that the liberation of Ireland was a necessity and an essential condition for the emancipation of the English working classes. He asserted that no nation can be free while it practises oppression against another country.
The writings of Marx and Lenin on the national question announces a very important political truth, that national oppression would inevitably hold back and divide the working classes of the oppressor nation. It is through oppression and through the hegemony of a national chauvinistic ideology that the ruling bourgeoisie exerts dominance and power over the working masses of the oppressor nation. Marx wrote:
Lenin took Marx as his guide on the national question when he wrote "Our model will always be Marx, who, after living in Britain for decades and becoming half-English, demanded freedom and national independence for Ireland in the interests of the socialist movement of the British workers". (Lenin: 'On the National Pride of the Great Russians')
We advocate that the progressives and revolutionaries of the oppressor nation (in this case, the Sinhala nation) who uphold the proletarian praxis of Marxism and Leninism should follow the strategy advanced by these great revolutionary teachers arid give an unconditional, unrelenting support to the freedom struggle of the oppressed Tamil nation. Such a political strategy can only serve the interests of the class struggle of both the oppressed and the oppressor nation, since the ruling Sinhala bourgeoisie has been reinforcing, a chauvinistic ideological hegemonv and has been actually practising a vicious form of national oppression with the motive of dividing and weakening the working class movement of Sri Lanka.
To break this bourgeois ideological hegemony and to unite the proletariat of the oppressor nation, the revolutionary. Marxistsin the southl should advance an ideological. battle supporting most resolutely the right of the oppressed Tamil nation to secession. Such strategy requires a profound political education of the masses on the democratic rights of the oppressed nation. As Lenin said, the masses must be systematically educated to champion-most resolutely, consistently, boldly and in a revolutionary manner, the right of nations to self determination.
Such an ideological struggle on the part of the Sinhala Progressives is essential to raise the level of political consciousness of the Sinhala proletariat to understand and accept the legitimacy of the Tamil cause. It is precisely this lack of 'political consciousness that draws Sinhala masses into anti -Tamil racial violence and prevents the development of a proletarian class consciousness.
Proletarian revolutionaries committed to the task of socialist revolution should seek and understand the revolutionary potential of mass movements. The national liberation struggle of the oppressed Tamil nation has such revolutionary potential, the failure on the part of the Sinhalese Progressives to chart a political programme) with the fullest comprehension of the objective and subjective conditions of that struggle, will be a great set back to the class struggle of the Sinhala nation.
The most important political truth to be grasped in this historical situation is that only the national emancipation of the oppressed Tamil nation will enable the working masses of the oppressor nation to free themselves from the shackles of bourgeois chauvinism and mobilise them against the State power. The liberated socialist Tamil Eelam would be a revolutionary ally of the oppressed Sinhala masses to fight and destroy the bourgeois state apparatus.
National Struggle and Class Struggle
The theoretical perspective of historical materialism necessitates the investigation of any national movement in relation to the historical development of world capitalism. The nationalism of the European nation states arose with the collapse of feudalism and the transitions to capitalism, with the unification of markets and the revolutionary development of productive forces leading to the birth of a new bourgoois class.
The ascendancy of the bourgeoisie and bourgeois nationalism fed to the oppression and exploitation of other nations. Advanced stage of capitalist development gave rise to monopoly capitalism which took the global form of imperialism. The imperialist penetration and its form of oppression produced determinant effects on the mode of production of the peripheral formations.
Separating the direct producers from their means of production, creating a mass of free labourers, these effects generated the dynamics of the capitalist mode in the penetrated societies The development of the productive forces in the capitalist made led to the organisation of the proletariat as a revolutionary class force.
The imperialist penetration, not only generated the mechanisms of the capitalist development but also shifted the national struggles to the peripheral social formations. In this context the nature of nationalism, the national struggle and the class relations in the national movements of the Third World countries must be viewed in relation to the transformations in the expanding capitalist economy, 'its global effects, its structural relations with developing peripheral capitalism. The world hegemony and the development of the revolutionary proletarian classes within the space of imperialist dominance, have changed the structure and character of the contemporary national struggles of the Third World.
The so called progressive national bourgeoisie has lost its revolutionary character to advance the national struggle as a democratic social force. The historical conjuncture of global capitalism has eliminated all progressive elements of the national bourgeoisie, its historical role in the national revolution has shifted to the revolutionary proletariat.
Such structural transformation in the class elements has necessitated a revolutionary socialist strategy inter-relating the class struggle with national liberation struggle under the leadership of the revolutionary 'proletariat, a strategy to advance the class struggle along with the national liberation struggle both against the indigenous bourgeoisie and international capitalism. This political objective of our movement is to advance the national struggle along with the class struggle, or rather, our fundamental objective is national emancipation and socialist transition of our social formation.
The Politico-Military Strategy
The politico-military strategy, of our liberation movement is devised in accordance with the specific concrete conditions of our oppressed nation. We are committed, since the inception of our movement, to an armed revolutionary struggle to achieve our ultimate objective, i.e the establishment of an independent sovereign socialist State of Tamil Eelam. Our strategy aims at the organisation and politicisation of the broad masses of Tamil Eelam towards a popular war of national liberation and socialist revolution.
Our total strategy therefore integrates both the national struggle and class struggle, inter-linking both nationalism and socialism into a revolutionary project aimed at liberating our people both. from national oppression and from the exploitation of man by man. This strategy aims to fuse the progressive patriotic feelings of the broad masses with proletarian class consciousness to accelerate the process of national emancipation and socialist transition of our social formation.