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29.9.07

The UK Left on Cornwall

Just a few responses from the UK left on the Cornish question.

Compass

Thank you for your email and sorry for the slow response. Compass does not at this moment in time have a policy on Cornish independence, however we do believe in as much devolved decision making and democracy as is possible. But we don’t have a policy on Cornish independence. However we do fully support the freedom of information act. I have to be honest I am not sure that Compass is best placed to advance your cause on this matter however. We are a small London-based pressure group with limited resources. However we will soon be publishing the final volume in our programme for renewal ‘democracy and the public realm’ and I think there may be further opportunity when that is published, for you to push and bring to people’s attention some of the issues you have raised below, which fundamentally I think are probably linked to democracy more than anything. You might also like to view Progress’ 100 days project and submit a policy along the lines you describe below.

Many thanks for emailing us and good luck in your campaigning.

Best wishes

Compass - direction for the democratic left
Southbank House
Black Prince Road
London SE1 7SJ
T: +44 (0) 207 463 0633
M: +44 (0) 7900 195591

Respect - the Unity Coalition

Respect Press Office: press@respectcoalition.org

Big questions. As I'm married to a woman from Cornwall I am pretty circumscribed! It's not something we have ever debated but I'd hazard that all forms of local and national identity are worth preserving and encouraging. The more involvement in democracy the better. Although there are surely enough countries in the world now to be going on with.

That's my personal view.

Communist Party

Dear Comrade

Thank you for your enquiry as to our policy concerning devolution to Cornwall. The Communist Party has long recognised that Britain should be a country comprising of four nations, England, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. Indeed within our own party Cornwall is recognised as a Nation (rather than region of England) in the same way as Scotland and Wales is. We are in favour of devolution of powers away from Westminster to National Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. We are not however in favour of the breaking up of Britain into four seperate countries. I hope this clarifies our position.

Yours in Solidarity

CPB Party Centre

Communist Party of Britain Marxist-Leninist

Sut mae rwyf yn siarard Cymraeg ond serch hynny rwyf i yn rhan of. Not sure about your familiarity with other Celtic languages but that first bit was in Welsh and said “how do you do ...I am Welsh speaker but I am nevertheless a member of the CPBML. We would vigorously opposed to the EU project which is not about independent nations but a charter for capitalism..I could send you a useful recent publication from Trade Unionists against the EU constitution which sets out these arguments..and as regionalisation is the other side of the EU coin we would also oppose Cornish devolution. (again we have a useful pamphlet ..although rather old by now). There is more that unites the working class from Shetland to Cornwall than divides us and none of this is incompatible with speaking Cornish or enjoying Cornish literature etc. The sooner we do something about EU policy on Fishing and agriculture the better it will be for the people for Cornwall and the rest of us.

Socialist Party South West

Thank you for your letter which raised some stimulating points about the question of Cornwall and the issue of nationality more generally. Our party has always had a principled approach to the national question, recognising that it can never be applied in a mechanical way, but must be seen primarily from the viewpoint of those who feel oppressed, whether materially or mentally.

We base ourselves on Lenin's writings, which identified 3 strands to the national question, common territory, common language and common culture. He stressed however that in each circumstance we should examine concretely which of these factors are at play and in what combination. For instance it is possible to characterise both the Basques and the Serbs as nations and support their right to self-determination. In the first case it is straightforward enough to say that on the basis of a shared territory, unique language and identifiable culture, the Basques should be granted not only the fullest autonomy, but be allowed to secede from Spain should the majority of Basque people desire it. But in relation to the Serbs the situation is more complicated than seems to be the case upon a cursory glance. Clearly they are an "old" people who are definable according to language, culture and tradition. However beyond the territory that is Serbia proper lies a Diaspora of Serbs, some living in Bosnian enclaves, some in Croatia. They too demand independence, but as was shown in the early 1990s, this yearning for a greater Serbia led to the horrors of ethnic cleansing and all-out war. Can we support their right to self-determination? What would this mean in reality?

We saw in the nightmare of the war that gripped ex-Yugoslavia, how apparently dormant national antagonisms can flare up under circumstances of heightened social and political tension. Because of the failure of capitalism to resolve the national question, which properly speaking is a task that it needed to deal with at the dawn of its political rule through the creation of nation states, we have in the 21st century a pock-marked landscape of national antagonisms that threaten to boil over again and again. Compared to when Lenin wrote, the situation today is much more complicated.

Resolving the situation in the north of Ireland, or Israel/Palestine, is precisely so difficult because you have two peoples fighting over a common territory. To casually support self-determination in the north of Ireland is a meaningless and very dangerous concession to green liberalism. It is an abstract slogan. Under capitalism the Protestants will never be persuaded to enter a united Ireland that they believe will be a Catholic hegemonist state. Equally the Catholics reject the imprisonment of Stormont and the narrow sectarianism of loyalist politicians.

What is needed is a programme and analysis that starts from the premise that we need to build workers' unity around common arenas of struggle. This too has to be our departure point for an analysis of the contending forces in Israel/Palestine. While we uphold the Palestinians' right to a secure homeland and self-determination, we cannot simply say that the state of Israel must be removed from the equation. Israel is a concrete reality and has been for 60 years. In that country as well, despite the dead hand of Zionism, there are workers who understandably would ask whether or not we supported their rights too.

Once we start sloganising without examining concrete complexities, we invariably fall into the trap of taking sides. This is not a position that Marxists can justify.

We are for the right of nations to self-determination. Fine, that's our starting point. Where the issue of nationality is not paramount, we do not talk it up, but neither do we fall into the trap of believing the issue is dormant for ever. But because we are for the right of nations to self-determination, this does not mean we are advocates for secession and the creation of ever more nation states. As an English socialist I uphold the right of Scots to secession should the majority desire it. I will still argue though that the most fundamental task facing both English and Scottish workers is uniting against the corroding forces of global imperialism.

I would be happy to send you more material on the national question and our analysis, but to move on to your specific questions now. Do we support devolution for Cornwall? I think there is a very powerful argument for this. As to whether we would inscribe such a demand prominently upon our banner that would depend upon the degree to which it was a burning issue. We recognise the specialness of Cornwall and particularly its language and it goes without saying that we are in favour of taking all steps necessary to protect the language. We have little confidence in bodies such as the Council of Europe, but in the same way as we support the right of any minorities to learn and practice their language, so too we would be responsive to any measures that were designed to defend the Cornish tongue.

Marxists are internationalists by nature and outlook. Capitalism in its most ugly form stirs up national tensions and uses them as cloaks with which to more effectively conduct its plunder of the working class. We cannot wish away national sentiment however. It is rooted in the past and so long as nation states continue, there will always be those who identify themselves according to race, ethnicity and nationality before seeing themselves as workers.

We have to try and separate out what is progressive from what is reactionary in the national question. Ireland will only be genuinely able to unite when we have secured socialism. So too in the Middle East where the overriding task is to build workers' unity in order to overthrow a system that holds all the peoples - Arab and Jew alike - in chains.

Therefore for us, a correct approach to the national question may determine whether we can gain an ear, or whether we'll be seen as just another set of outsiders. Treading a careful path between the mines laid by the national question in all its forms is not only necessary but crucial. Against national oppression. For the right of nations to self-determination, including secession if a majority desire it. For workers' unity against ethnic divisions fostered by capitalism. For a socialist world federation these brief remarks are but a starting point for developing our position. I hope you will find them useful and will excuse the many gaps that lack of time has made necessary. For a fuller explanation of our position, write to our national office and order some literature and also consider coming to our annual education weekend, Socialism 2005, which is being held in London on 12/13 November and will contain workshops on the national question.

Yours in Solidarity,

Robin Clapp

Socialist Party South West

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