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Is Democracy “Practicable” Under Imperialism


The old polemic conducted by Polish Social-Democrats against the self-determination of nations is based entirely on the argument that it is “impracticable” under capitalism. As long ago as 1903 we, the Iskrasupporters, laughed at this argument in the Programme Commission of the Second Congress of the R.S.D:L.P.. and said that it way repetition of the distortion of Marxism preached by the (late lamented) Economists. In our theses we dealt with this error in particular detail and it is precisely on this point, which contains the theoretical kernel of the whole dispute, that the Polish comrades did not wish to (or could not?) answer any of our arguments.

To prove the economic impossibility of self-determination would require an economic analysis such as that used to prove the impracticability of prohibiting machines or introducing labour-money, etc. No one has even attempted to make such an analysis. No one will maintain that it has been possible to introduce “labour-money” under capitalism “by way of exception” in even one country, in the way it was possible for one small country to realise this impracticable self-determination, even without war or revolution, “by way of exception”, in the era of the most rabid imperialism (Norway, 1905).

In general, political democracy is merely one of the possible forms of superstructure above capitalism (although it is theoretically the normal one for “pure” capitalism). The facts show that both capitalism and imperialism develop within the framework of any political form and subordinate them all. It is, therefore, a basic theoretical error to speak of the “impracticability” of one of the farms and of one of the demands of democracy.

The absence of an answer to these arguments from our Polish colleagues compels us to consider the discussion closed on this point. To make it graphic, so to say, we made the very concrete assertion that it would be “ridiculous” to deny the “practicability” of the restoration of Poland today, making it dependent on the strategic and other aspects of the present war. No reply was forthcoming!

The Polish comrades simply repeated an obviously incorrect assertion (S. II, 1), saying that “in questions of the annexation of foreign territories, forms of political democracy are pushed aside; sheer force is decisive.... Capital will never allow the people to decide the question of their state frontiers...” As though “capital” could “allow the people” to select its civil servants, the servants of imperialism! Or as though weighty decisions on important democratic questions, such as the establishment of a republic in place of a monarchy, or a militia in place of a regular army, were, in general, conceivable without “sheer force”. Subjectively, the Polish comrades want to make Marxism “more profound” but they are doing it altogether unsuccessfully. Objectively, their phrases about impracticability are opportunism, because their tacit assumption is: this is “impracticable” without a series of revolutions, in the same way as democracy as a whole, all its demands taken together. is impracticable under imperialism.

Once only, at the very end of S. II,1, in the discussion on Alsace, our Polish colleagues abandoned the position of imperialist Economism and approached the question of one of the forms of democracy with a concrete answer and not with general references to the “economic”. And it was precisely this approach that was wrong! It would, they wrote, he “particularist, undemocratic” if some Algatians, without asking the French, were to “impose” on them a union with Alsace, although part of Alsace was German-oriented and this threatened war!!! The confusion is amusing: self-determination presumes (this is in itself clear, and we have given it special emphasis in our theses) freedom to separate from the oppressor state; hut the fact that union with a state presumes the consent of that state is something that is “not customarily” mentioned in polities ally more than the “consent” of a capitalist to receive profit or of a worker to receive wages is mentioned in economics! It is ridiculous even to speak of Such a thing.

If one wants to be a Marxist politician, one should, in speaking of Alsace, attack the German socialist scoundrels for not fighting for Alsace’s freedom to secede and attack the French socialist scoundrels for making their peace with the French bourgeoisie who want to annex the whole of Alsace by force—and both of them for serving the imperialism of “their own” country and for fearing a separate state, even if only a little one—the thing is to show how the socialists who recognize self-determination would solve the problem ill a few weeks without going against the will of the Alsatians. To argue, instead, about the horrible danger of the French Alsatians “forcing” themselves on France is a real pearl.

3. What Is Annexation?
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