First Published: The Guardian, September 8, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Four months ago, the Guardian launched a discussion over a fundamental question confronting the U.S. left–its international line. As we see it, that question when reduced to its essence comes down to a choice between proletarian internationalism and objective class collaboration.
The take-off point for that discussion was China’s foreign policy. Given the fact that many U.S. left groups are influenced by China’s positions–including ourselves–such a focus proved unavoidable.
The exchange of views which has appeared in these pages during this period has been enlightening and–while not unprecedented–rare enough in the history of the U.S. left to elicit varying degrees of astonishment, both pleasant and outraged. But while the debate over our movement’s international line will, of course, continue to go on in the pages of the Guardian, it is time to bring one aspect of the discussion we initiated–China’s foreign policy–to a close.
Before proceeding to put forward our own views on the principal questions involved in this discussion, however, a word of explanation is in order. The determination of China’s foreign policy–as with the foreign policy of any socialist country–is, in the first place, a matter for the people of that country itself. We are not of that school of “revolutionary” thought which takes it upon itself to intervene in the internal affairs of a socialist country. At the same time, we hope a frank expression of our views may prove useful.
But we have taken up the question of China’s foreign policy out of other considerations as well.
First, China enjoys enormous prestige among the world’s peoples as a result of its own signal accomplishments in building socialism and for its decades-long record of firm support to revolutionary forces throughout the world. By the same token, when China makes an error in policy, this likewise has an effect of international dimensions. In our view, for instance, China has made an unsound assessment of the struggle in Angola which has had an effect in the U.S. movement and around the world. This error, in our opinion, stems from a more fundamental judgment made in the last couple of years concerning the international balance of forces and the key strategic tasks confronting revolutionary forces today.
Second, large sections of the antirevisionist left in the U.S.–particularly many of the forces actively involved in the process of building a new communist party–have uncritically adopted these recent developments in China’s international line as their own and, by making a mechanistic application of that line to conditions in the U.S., have found themselves in the position of objective class collaboration with their “own” bourgeoisie in opposition to national liberation movements which are leading their people in the struggle against U.S. imperialism. Since the justification for their position has been that China’s view of the world provides the only correct basis for developing the international line of the U.S. left, it has been necessary to discuss in an open and frank way the content of those views.
U.S. Marxist-Leninists have been profoundly influenced by the Chinese revolution, the extraordinary contributions of Mao Tsetung to the science of revolution and the role of the Chinese Communist Party. In particular, China’s ideological critique of Soviet revisionism was correctly seen as posing a clear-cut choice before the world revolutionary movement–whether to fight imperialism or to conciliate it. This was at the heart of the Sino-Soviet ideological dispute during the period roughly 1957-1969.
China’s willingness to stand up to the revisionist Soviet leadership and–together with Albania–defy a “socialist” superpower with enormous prestige as well as military capacity helped many on the U.S. left to come to grips with the fundamental questions posed by the revisionist world view. It helped them to understand how the revisionism of the U.S. Communist Party was classical class collaboration and why there was no choice but to form a new, revolutionary working-class party in the U.S.
The courageous and principled stand of the Chinese Communist Party also helped to underscore the importance of each party being staunchly independent and developing its views on the basis of its own application of the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism to the class struggle in its own country as well as on a world scale. The resistance of the Soviet leadership to China’s assertion of independence and political self-reliance, particularly when the USSR retaliated by using economic pressure against China, also helped to reveal how national chauvinism and superpower hegemonism–in other words, Soviet social-imperialism–had become consolidated features of the USSR’s foreign policy.
The remarkable accomplishments of Chinese socialism in transforming the world’s most populous country from a land of misery and exploitation into a rapidly developing beacon of hope for all oppressed peoples–particularly third world peoples–has offered a living demonstration of the scientific validity of Marxism-Leninism. The proletarian cultural revolution of the 1960s was a signal advance on the frontiers of socialism. It helped demonstrate in a concrete fashion how the dictatorship of the proletariat deepens the whole revolutionary process by involving the masses in the continuing struggle against revisionism, the expression of bourgeois ideology within the party and superstructure of a socialist state.
But to respect and admire the accomplishments of China, to learn from the rich revolutionary experiences of China is not to blindly follow China–or anyone else–on all questions. Nor are we suggesting that China’s leaders have ever proclaimed the doctrine of their own infallibility, since they clearly consider a number of fraternal countries with views other than their own as socialist and their parties Marxist-Leninist.
The present discussion was triggered off by the publication (in our May 5 issue) of William Hinton’s forthright contention that a significant shift had taken place in China’s perception of the world relationship of forces. Hinton said: “There was a period when the superpowers were seen as more or less equal enemies threatening not only the emerging nations of the third world, but also the independence of the lesser industrial nations of the second world. What China called for then was a worldwide united front against the two superpowers.... Today there is still a major contradiction between the people of the world and the two superpowers, but as between the two superpowers, one–the Soviet Union–is more dangerous than the other. It is, in fact, the main danger confronting the whole world today.”
In the same issue of the Guardian, correspondent Wilfred Burchett discussed what the application of this outlook had meant in Angola, where, he said, “China has made an error of extreme dimensions.” Burchett, who had spent considerable time in both Angola and Mozambique–where he had the benefit of the views of President Samora Machel and other African leaders–said China displayed a “lack of judgment in favoring the FNLA of Holden Roberto, long after it was recognized (in Peking as elsewhere) that Roberto was a creature of the CIA.” He also said that this error had “been compounded by false versions as to what is happening in Angola today... [resulting] in another very serious decline in China’s prestige in the African sector of the third world and a general lack of confidence in China’s version of what goes on in various parts of the world.”
But long before these articles by Hinton and Burchett appeared it was obvious that a change in China’s world outlook had taken place. The shift toward seeing the Soviet Union as the principal danger on a world scale was reflected in a wide-ranging assortment of commentaries ranging from implicit expressions of support for NATO to statements of concern over the activities of various revisionist parties in Latin America which China cited as examples of Soviet penetration into the Western hemisphere where, supposedly, the USSR was becoming an aggressive and near-equal rival to the U.S.
Naturally, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of all of Hinton’s comments. It is also clear that some of his assertions are in the realm of interpretation and others his own view of how forces within the U.S. should act on these perceptions. But it is ingenuous to argue, as some have done, that Hinton has no standing and has completely misrepresented China’s views. There is far too much evidence to the contrary.
The discussion which followed the publication of these two articles was as fascinating as it was diverse. The response (in the pages of the Guardian and elsewhere) demonstrated that it was a timely discussion for our movement.
While most contributions that appeared in these pages were useful and principled, some-went beyond the bounds of political responsibility, as for instance, the intimation in one commentary that China was actually promoting a third world war when it undertook to warn the world’s peoples of the likelihood of such an event. One or two others used the occasion to dredge up once again in a more subtle form the discredited Trotskyist notion that all of the problems being discussed were the result of “building socialism in one country.” A few availed themselves of the opportunity to indulge in some name-calling (usually directed at the Guardian) that added heat but little light to the discussion.
But by and large the discussion reflected the deep and healthy concern of the U.S. left with the implications of the issues involved.
As to our own position. We believe that on a world scale, the revolutionary strategy for most people struggling for their liberation will consist in striking the main blow at U.S. imperialism and its allies and puppets, while simultaneously guarding against attempts by the Soviet Union to “fill the vacuum” by substituting its own hegemony for the dominance of U.S. capital. This is especially true in three of the principal areas of struggle today–Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. It also ought to go without saying–although some left dogmatists seem to have difficulty comprehending this basic fact–that it is certainly true of the struggle of the working class and its allies within the U.S.
Although the U.S. is the principal superpower enemy in most areas of the world, there are also areas where the Soviet Union is the superpower whose hegemonism is the chief force to be overcome. This is certainly true in Eastern Europe, as evidenced by the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the continuing threats to other expressions of independence among the countries of that area. Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev’s assertion of the doctrine of “limited sovereignty”–whereby the USSR arrogates to itself the right to interfere in the internal affairs of “fraternal” countries–is a naked expression of social-imperialism and has nothing in common with the relations of equality that must prevail between socialist countries.
Likewise, Soviet domination in India has created a situation in which the principal superpower aligned against the genuine interests of the people today is the USSR rather than the U.S.–which is not to say U.S. imperialism is not a danger to the Indian people. This is also true in the case of the People’s Republic of China, where the menace of Soviet aggression and intervention has increased as the U.S. threat–largely due to the military defeat in Indochina–has diminished.
But for the peoples of Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Korea, the Philippines, the Caribbean and Western Europe, the struggle against U.S. imperialism clearly continues to be the principal concern.
What are the principal arguments advanced in support of the strategy of directing the main blow at the Soviet Union?
1. The Soviet Union is a rising imperialist power and the U.S. is a declining imperialist power and this makes the Soviet Union more aggressive and more dangerous.
2. The Soviet Union disguises itself as a socialist country and is able to fool a lot of people.
3. The Soviet Union is rapidly becoming–if it is not already–stronger than the U.S. in absolute military terms.
4. Capitalism has been fully restored in the Soviet Union which is today a fascist state capable of acting in a more direct fashion because it is not hampered by the curbs of bourgeois democracy.
5. Superpower contention has become–along with revolution–the main trend in the world today. A third world war pitting the two superpowers against each other seems almost inevitable. In such a war, the likelihood is that the defeat of the USSR–an aggressive, powerful fascist state–would be the principal objective of the world’s peoples.
Let us examine these points more closely.
That U.S. imperialism is on the decline is a fact that is not only true–it is a cause of great rejoicing among the world’s peoples. But that decline has not simply been a process of attrition. U.S. imperialism has suffered severe defeats in recent years–most particularly in Indochina and southern Africa. It remains, however, a far more powerful and dangerous enemy–indeed the most immediate and principal enemy–for the great majority of peoples still struggling to throw off the yoke of oppression and exploitation.
To suggest that the world’s peoples should in any respect let up in the struggle against this enemy–and this is the inexorable logic of a position which now sees the Soviet Union as the principal enemy–does not correspond to the real tasks confronting revolutionary forces.
In our view, the very defeats suffered by the U.S. monopoly capitalists have made them more desperate than ever. While the after-effects of the Vietnam war and Watergate imposed certain limitations on U.S. options in Angola, it should not be forgotten that U.S. imperialism came within a hair’s breadth of achieving its political and military objectives in Angola last fall. Working through South Africa and the client regime of Zaire, with help from Zambia, the CIA was able to breathe some life into two Angolan “liberation” groups which, by themselves, were no match for the MPLA. Thanks to the timely support of Cuban volunteers and other internationalist aid– material and political–the U.S. counterrevolutionary scheme was defeated.
But to conclude from this that the U.S. has somehow become an ineffectual superpower, one which, in Hinton’s words, “cannot easily bring its great strength to bear,” would be a major blunder.
True the Soviet Union is a superpower on the rise. In recent years it has extended its influence significantly beyond its own borders and has clearly been engaged in the imperial game of ”spheres of influence” and great power rivalry. But it is also necessary to separate hard fact from polemical fantasy. Certain phrases can be repeated almost endlessly concerning the preeminence of Soviet might, aggressiveness, expansionism and imperial accomplishment–but constant repetition is no substitute for concrete evidence.
Here is what one bourgeois commentator, Joseph C. Harsch (writing in the Christian Science Monitor) has to say: “There is Soviet imperialism, yes. The Soviets seize every possible opportunity for gaining political influence and military bases. But their gains are not particularly impressive. In fact they probably have less political influence in Africa today than they did in the mid-1950s when the liquidation of the old European empires was at its height and Moscow was posing as the new champion of liberty.”
Harsch undoubtedly will be considered among those– like Secretary of State Kissinger as opposed to former Defense Secretary Schlesinger–who do not have a “realistic” view of the world relationship of forces. Although this argument largely comes from the far right in the U.S., some who subscribe to China’s view likewise take the same position.
What are these remarkable gains that the Soviet Union has presumably made in recent years? We can think of two. The Helsinki agreement of last summer clearly solidified the Soviet hold over Eastern Europe and the Soviet-Indian alliance has thrust the USSR into a position of superpower dominance in south Asia. At the moment, Moscow does not appear to be an especially successful meddler in the Middle East and even if one were to accept the thesis that in Portugal and Chile it was the Soviet Union (rather than the U.S.) which was the chief outside superpower–and we do not accept that thesis–the case can hardly be made that Moscow has much to show for its efforts in either country.
Indeed, given the self-evident problems in the Soviet economy and the growing disaffection of previously die-hard Soviet loyalist parties in the West, there are significant signs of Soviet weakness as well as strength.
Does all this add up to a picture of rising Soviet expansionism which has so nearly overtaken U.S. imperialism that it can rightfully be considered an equal threat to the world’s peoples–let alone a greater one? We think not.
Then what about the ”masked man” argument? Undoubtedly the socialist history of the USSR has stood Moscow in good stead in recent years. But the thesis that the Soviet Union’s “socialist disguise” makes it into the more dangerous of the two superpowers strikes us as a mighty thin basis to rest such an important conclusion. Great powers are past masters at describing their self-interest in altruistic terms–whether as U.S. imperialism’s “nations of the free world” or Soviet pretensions to Marxism-Leninism. But we do not think that the peoples of the oppressed countries struggling for their liberation against all manner of aggression, counterrevolution and deception are so easily tricked.
As with most of the arguments that have been advanced to buttress this thesis, it seems to us that this matter of the “socialist disguise” has also been advanced in a decidedly one-sided way. In this connection we should like to ask this question of those who think that “directing the main blow at the Soviet Union” is the correct revolutionary strategy for the U.S. left: concerning which superpower– the U.S. or the Soviet Union–do you think the U.S. working class has more illusions? Doesn’t the ruling class tell them every day in a thousand ways that the Soviet Union is the chief source of war, poses the greatest threat of aggression and is indeed the enemy against which they should strike the main blow?
But hasn’t the Soviet Union overtaken the U.S. in military terms? Again we are treating a myth whose reiteration may seem to lend it a luster of truth but which is overwhelmingly contradicted by the hard evidence. U.S. military superiority over the Soviet Union is so marked and readily demonstrable that it is nothing short of dangerous mischief for any on the U.S. left– presumably devoted to leading the struggle against their own ruling class–to suggest otherwise. For isn’t it obvious that the very promotion of the idea of U.S. military inferiority–no matter what its motivation–provides the Pentagon with objective assistance in building up that military establishment which is the principal means for the subjugation of peoples at home and abroad?
Some argue that the only relevant question in all this is whether or not capitalism has been fully restored in the Soviet Union. We agree the USSR is well along on the road to capitalism but have not been convinced by the evidence put forward thus far that it has reached the end of that road. We have expressed–on other occasions–the unanswered questions we have concerning this thesis.
But is this really the question? Even if one were to accept that theory, it would still be necessary to demonstrate on the basis of hard fact and verifiable evidence that the Soviet Union was the “main danger,” the “principal enemy” and the appropriate object against whom revolutionaries should “direct the main blow.”
Which leaves the matter of superpower contention and the danger of a third world war. These are questions that are rightly the cause of grave concern by all the world’s peoples. With the interests of both superpowers in sharp contradiction in a number of key areas of the world, the danger that a war which might engulf a large portion of the earth will break out has been increased. But in our view, the much more likely source of such a war is U.S. imperialism which, increasingly desperate in the face of the anti-imperialist struggles of the oppressed peoples and nations, has already demonstrated that it is prepared to risk world conflagration in defense of its profit-swollen empire.
Naturally, we can expect the U.S.–as it always has done–to claim that it is waging a holy war against “communism” and Soviet Russia every time it commits itself to military aggression and armed counterrevolution. And we can also expect the Soviet Union to try to take advantage of every situation in which people are standing up to U.S. imperialism in order to ingratiate itself with the liberation forces, increase and extend its own spheres of influence and thereby assist in the weakening of its superpower rival.
But unlike eras of earlier imperial rivalries, there is a profoundly new element in today’s situation. Previously, the national liberation movements and oppressed countries has not been a decisive factor when the major powers fought with each other over the division of the world. Today, however, the struggle of the oppressed peoples and nations and the movement of nonaligned countries has become a key factor in all these situations. In other words, despite the intensification of superpower rivalry, revolution is and continues to be the main trend of our time.
And should that war come, shall we take the view as some apparently do, that the task of U.S. revolutionaries will be to side with their own bourgeoisie against the Soviet Union? We say no. We say the task of the working-class movement and those who would be its revolutionary vanguard is to mobilize the American people against their own exploiters and oppressors, to try to prevent that war and, in any event, to direct the main blow against their own ruling class, the U.S. imperialists. This does not liquidate the struggle against both superpowers or the battle against revisionism in the working-class movement; it gives it revolutionary content!
In our opinion, a house of cards has been constructed to uphold a strategy that does not correspond to the realities of the world. In Angola, this construct has led China commit a serious error. “The truth of any knowledge theory is determined not by subjective feelings, but objective results in social practice,” says Chairman Mao (“On Practice”). In our view, Angola was the test in “social practice” that clearly demonstrated how erroneous is the thesis that sees the Soviet Union–rather than U. imperialism–as the principal enemy of the world peoples. Any examination of the concrete realities southern Africa must surely demonstrate that in Angola the fall and winter of 1975-76, the chief task confronting the Angolan people was the defeat of the forces of U. imperialism, South African apartheid fascism and Portuguese colonialism–operating both in their own name and in the guise of neocolonialist forces of various kinds.
The conclusions arrived at by all of the progressive African countries and revolutionary movements themselves–in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Guineau Bissau and elsewhere–provides eloquent and convincing testimony as to who was right and who was wrong in Angola. And China’s error here stemmed from its thesis on where the main blow should be directed–as did the class-collaborationist error of certain U.S. “revolutionary” groups.
China, we are confident, will correct this error. It is great socialist country with a strong socialist base and has demonstrated in the past a profound capacity for correcting mistakes and providing a shining example c revolutionary leadership.
But it is nothing short of political absurdity that, in the name of following China, sections of the U.S. left put themselves in the untenable position of opposing the legitimate national liberation struggle of a colonial people who were fighting against U.S. imperialism. Objective class collaboration thus became intertwined with national chauvinism.
And in the final analysis, it is this–the international line of our movement rather than China’s foreign policy– which is our deepest and most legitimate concern. There can be no communist party–especially in the heartland of U.S. imperialism–that does not firmly and unequivocally base itself on proletarian internationalism. In the case of Angola, many of the party-building forces were tried and found wanting and none of the tortured explanations and rationalizations for their position can explain that away.
But Angola was neither the first nor only example of how some U.S. Marxist-Leninists practiced objective class collaboration. One need only cite the unprincipled attacks on the Puerto Rican independence movement and the betrayal of the Omani people’s struggle against a U.S.-backed feudal ruler and the Shah of Iran as further evidence of what their line has meant in practice. What right have U.S. revolutionaries to demand acceptance of their own views as the condition for their support for national liberation struggles against imperialism?
Both superpowers are enemies of the world’s peoples, with U.S. imperialism so obviously the chief danger. The inexorable logic of genuine struggles for national liberation and in defense of national sovereignty means that the efforts of both superpowers to exercise domination and hegemony must be opposed. But for U.S. Marxist-Leninists that task can only be carried out by directing the main blow at their “own” ruling class and building the broadest possible base of support for all anti-imperialist struggles so that no people is forced by necessity to seek aid from the other superpower while fighting against its immediate oppressor.
Furthermore, Angola will come again. The cutting-edge struggle for liberation is spreading throughout southern Africa. The liberation movements in Latin America are stirring. Despite serious setbacks, the struggle of the Palestinian people in the Middle East remains a touchstone for the revolutionary aspirations of all the people of that region. And circumstances similar to those that prevailed in Angola last fall are more than likely to reoccur in at least some of these struggles.
Clarity on the meaning and application of proletarian internationalism is, therefore, a critical question for our movement at this time. This struggle over international line has long had a polarizing effect within our movement. In the long run, that will prove to be a good thing. It has helped to clear the way for transforming the political energy and understanding of Marxist-Leninists into the process of building a new communist party–and building that party on the firm cornerstone of a proletarian internationalist world outlook.