Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee

The Struggle for the Right of Self-Determination: Criticism/Self-Criticism On The National Question


First Published: Unite!, Vol. 2, No. 1, February 15-April 15, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In 1930, the Communist International pointed out that the CPUSA “has not yet succeeded in overcoming in its own ranks all under-estimation of the struggle for the slogan of the right to self-determination, and still less succeeded in doing away with all lack of clarity on the Negro question. In Party discussion the question was often wrongly put... (UNITE!, Vol. 1, NO. l, p-16).

In the last few years, since the break with the revisionist line of the RCP on the Black National Question, important steps have been taken toward recognizing the importance of the struggle for the slogan of the right to self-determination, and toward reaching clarity on the “Negro question ” but we remain a long way from successfully carrying out this task which the Communist International set before the American working class some 46 years ago.

The MLOC has consistently recognized the objective importance of the national question as a component part of proletarian revolution. Historically in the United States, whether or not to recognize the existence of an oppressed nation in the Black Belt South, to raise the struggle for the slogan of the right to self-determination for this oppressed nation, provide concrete material aid to this struggle, has always been a clear demarcation between revolution and reaction, Marxism-Leninism and opportunism.

In UNITE!, Vol.1,No.1 (pg. 10, c.3, p3), the MLOC stated that, “In particular, each of Stalin’s five criteria must be fully demonstrated....” This is one example, as the Comintern pointed out, of putting the question wrongly!

Comrade Stalin, in THE NATIONAL QUESTION AND LENINISM (Vol 11, p.348-9), in combatting the opportunist lines at that time in Russia, stated clearly that,

The Russian Marxists have long had their theory of the nation. According to this theory, a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of the common possession of four principal characteristics, namely: a common language, a common territory, a common economic life, and a. common psychological make-up manifested in common specific features of national culture. This theory, as use know, has received general recognition in our Party.

It is evident from your letters that you consider this theory inadequate. You therefore propose that the four characteristics of a nation be supplemented by a fifth, namely, that a nation possesses its own, separate national state. You consider that there is not and cannot be a nation unless this fifth characteristic is present.

I think that the scheme you propose, with its new, fifth characteristic of the concept “nation”, is profoundly mistaken, and cannot be justified either theoretically or in practice, politically.

It is clear from what Comrade Stalin stated that the position of the MLOC that there exists “five criteria” is a definite right deviation on the national question, applied to the Black Nation in the United States. This deviation is two-fold. First, in adding an additional fifth factor to the theory of the nation. Second, in referring to what Stalin indicates as “characteristics” or “elements” as criteria. Both of these errors must be repudiated.

This repudiation of these errors is a result both of the internal struggle within the MLOC which developed around these questions, and the comradely criticism offered the MLOC by the Communist Workers Group (ML) pointing out the deviation regarding five, rather than four characteristics.

SELF-CRITICISM

In advancing this self-criticism, the MLOC points to the general importance of criticism and self-criticism around the National Question in particular, and its crucial need within the revolutionary movement in general.

Comrade Stalin pointed out two vital elements of self-criticism in “The Work of the April Joint Plenum of the C.C. and C.C.C.” WORKS, Vol. II, p. 38. First, that we must conduct self-criticism to ”sharpen the vigilance of the working class, make it pay more attention to our shortcomings, facilitate their correction...”. And second, “to improve the political culture of the working class.” In the case of the former, there should be little doubt of the importance of sharpening our vigilance against deviations and opportunist lines on the National Question, and overcoming the numerous weaknesses in theory and practice on the Black National question amongst Marxist-Leninists in this country. With the latter, it is a question of training cadre to find their own independent bearings, to always ask the whys and wherefores of everything; it is in this spirit that self-criticism is offered by the MLOC.

The first error of the MLOC was to add an additional fifth feature to the Marxist theory of a nation. Stalin is clear that the Russian Marxist theory of a nation contains four “characteristics” (Vol. ll, p. 348, line 14) or “elements” (Vol.11, p. 351, line 19), (1) a common language, (2) a common territory, (3) a common economic life, (4) a common psychological make-up manifested in a common culture”.

The error the MLOC made was to split the question of psychological make-up and common culture into two separate elements of the nation, rather than one, as Stalin indicates. Another similar right deviation, often occurring in our movement, is to consider the basic definition of a nation, the “historically constituted, stable community of people” as a fifth element of the theory of a nation.

This deviation must be distinguished from the opportunist line which adds some completely different element, such as the existence of a state apparatus, which Stalin criticized, as a fifth characteristic of the theory of the nation. The historical analogy today is represented by the RCP’s line of a “peasant nation”. (Red Papers 5, p. 31)

The second error of the MLOC was in considering what Stalin held to be “characteristics” or “elements” of the theory of the nation as criteria. This is not a semantic dlfference, as we will demonstrate.

Stalin is clear that “none of the above characteristics is by itself sufficient to define a nation. On the other hand, It Is sufficient for a single one of these characteristics to be absent and the nation ceases to be a nation” (Stalin, COLLECTED WORKS, Vol.2, p.307). Here Stalin is clear that the formation and existence of a nation requires all four elements to be present, but not in some abstract textbook definition as the term “criteria” implies. In approaching concrete reality, we must first rely upon the international experience of the proletarian movement summed up, that is, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. We must not launch an investigation of either the Black Belt South or the Southwest with the aim of identifying each of the four features as an absolute quality which must be present. It is in relation to the basic theory of a nation, the historically constituted, stable community of people, that the four characteristics of a nation must be understood, not in and of themselves.

Furthermore, that because imperialism oppresses nations, each of these four characteristics will certainly not remain stable, but will be transformed in considerable degree through the oppression of nations.

We cannot, therefore, judge the common economic life of a nation, for instance, by the same standards of common economic life by which we evaluate the oppressor nation.

MISTAKE

The MISTAKE of the MLOC was (1) in the right deviation of advancing five rather than four characteristics of a nation, and (2) in suggesting that they be considered criteria, as if they stand independent of the definition of the nation itself, rather than in relation to the historically constituted, stable community, as the characteristics or elements of this community.

CIRCUMSTANCES

The CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH GAVE RISE TO THESE MISTAKES stem from the context and manner in which the MLOC took up the investigation of the Black National Question.

The MLOC emerged out of the struggle against the right danger in the Black Workers Congress. One of the chauvinist lines that the right opportunists took was that the Black Workers Congress had done insufficient investigation to uphold the Communist International’s 1928 and 1930 Resolutions, and that we needed to prove them agaln, today. The correct line upheld by the comrades who became the MLOC was that we must stand on the International experience of the proletariat. We upheld that in regard to the Black National Question, the positions of Lenin, Stalin, the Communist International and others were a very reliable guide, and that we definitely did not need to re-prove what the international proletariat had been clear about for some 60 years.

In developing our line on the Black National Question in the MLOC, the National Question Commission undertook the defense of the positions of the Communist International, while at the same time setting out to understand their concrete application to the conditions of the Black Belt South today, and to provide a concrete program and slogans to the right of the Black Nation to self-determination, and the struggle for democratic rights.

In the process, we did not adequately reconsider many of the views on the Black National Question which the Black Workers Congress held. We did not seek to find our own independent bearings.

This was particularly true in regard to the formulation of “criteria”. In regard to four or five characteristics, when UNITE! (Vol. 1, No. 1) went to press, there was already struggle within the MLOC over this question, last August. Rather than resolving this question before publication, which would have been the correct stand, publication proceeded without this question being resolved.

REASONS

THERE WERE THREE REASONS FOR THIS DEVIATION FROM MARXISM-LENINISM.

First, the comrades who were undertaking the work on the Black National Question for the MLOC were relatively untrained theoretically. This was reflected in a relatively low grasp of Marxist-Leninist theory on the National Question, and of the history of the Black people in the United States. Further, many comrades had relatively little direct experience in the Black Liberation Struggle.

Second, in our struggle to combat the right liquldatlonist or centrist lines on the Black National Question (that is, the line that there is no nation, or that we must prove the Communist International Resolutions today), the left error of impetuosity arose to cover the right deviations we were combatting.

Third, in rushing ahead to publish the article in UNITE! without first resolving this important question of four or five characteristics, democratic centralism did not function properly within the MLOC. In particular, we did not adequately concentrate the experience and views of the cadre, raise them to a higher level, rely upon the most advanced Marxist-Leninist theory, and forge a correct political line.

The philosophical source of these errors is subjective idealism, divorcing the idea of the nation from material reality, and therefore, from genuine Marxist-Leninist theory, which sums up the historical materialist experience of the working class itself.

The ideology this represents is petty bourgeois ideology. The vacillating nature of the petty bourgeoisie, between the working class and the bourgeoisie, results in the subjective outlook of this class, an outlook rooted in the dying material basis for its existence impetuosity reflects this vacillating class stand. Within the MLOC, while the majority of comrades are of working class backgrounds, the struggle against petty bourgeois ideology must be a conscious struggle. In allowing this error to occur in the MLOC, it has confirmed for us the need to intensify the struggle against petty bourgeois ideology within our organization.

RECTIFICATION

THE MEANS TO RECTIFY THESE ERRORS IS IN UPHOLDING THE CORRECT STAND, VIEWPOINT, AND METHOD on the national question in general, and the Black National question and Chicano National question in particular.

Everyone, of course, admits the necessity for the correct stand, viewpoint, and method. But the real question is whether or not dialectical and historical materialism is truly the guiding light in our practice.

A correct stand on the national question in general, and the Black National question in particular, starts from the realization that the national question is a component part of proletarian revolution, that it Is a fundamental class question. It is only if we approach the national question with the stand of the proletariat, that we can accurately grasp the general trend of historical development, make a scientific analysis of the question, and point to the correct resolution of the contradiction.

The stand of the proletariat is against the bourgeoisie, and with all those who are exploited and oppressed, by monopoly capitalism. With the final and monopoly stage of capitalism, imperialism, national antagonisms intensify; they are not resolved. It is only with proletarian revolution that the national question becomes transformed from an antagonistic to a non-antagonistic contradiction.

In considering the Black National question, we do not begin with our own, limited experience, but with the international experience of the proletariat over the last 64 years, since Lenin first advanced the theory of an oppressed nation in the Black Belt South of the U.S. In determining the national character of Black oppression in the U.S., Lenin began with the question of rights.

“They (Blacks) should be classed as an oppressed nation, for the equality won in the Civil War of 1861-65 and guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic was in many ways increasingly curtailed in the chief Negro areas (the South)...” “Statistics and Sociology”, Lenin, CW, Vol. 23, p. 275. Lenin grasped this from Russia; he did not need to go to the Black Belt South. Has this situation changed today? Does there remain a qualitative difference between the situation of the Black worker, and the multi-national proletariat as a whole, in regard to wages, benefits, voting patterns, education, housing, medical care, concentration in prisons, etc?

Scientific investigation today reveals that rather than the situation of the Black worker improving, the absolute impoverishment has increased, and indeed assumes new forms all the time.

Recognizing this oppression, we ask, is this simply a result of class exploitation, or is something else involved which explains the qualitative difference between the Black worker and the multi-national proletariat as a whole. Lenin concluded, as we must, that the source of this division within the working class was the existence of an oppressed nation in the Black Belt South.

Lenin recognized, as we must, that imperialism does not resolve class or national contradictions, as Lovestone, Browder, and the RCP, U.S.A. put forward but sharpens them. The salvation of nations, in the era of imperialism, rests with the revolutionary action of the proletariat.

This means that the struggle for self determination of oppressed nations is a crucial and component part of the class struggle. In speaking of Ireland, Lenin stated that,

“A blow delivered against the power of the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland is a hundred times more significant politically than a blow of equal force delivered in Asia or in Africa.”, “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up”, Lenin, CW, Vol. 22, p. 357. Obviously the same holds true for the oppressed Black nation in the South, perhaps even more so. The struggle for self-determination in the South strikes directly at the heart of U.S. imperialist rule, while a blow struck around the world is directed at the tentacles of imperialism.

A correct stand on the national question recognizes that national contradictions become more intense with imperialism, and are not resolved. The proletarian stand on the Black National question recognizes the fact that the struggle for self-determination is a component part of the class struggle against monopoly capitalism, and therefore upholds the struggle for self-determination and democratic rights.

It is the failure to recognize this which is the fundamental explanation for the lines of the RCP, U.S.A., the CLP, Harry Chang, and others who take a bourgeois class stand on the national question. They must be considered, in Lenin’s words, scoundrels and imperialists.

VIEWPOINT ON THE BLACK NATIONAL QUESTION

The Marxist viewpoint is materialism. We rely upon concrete material reality as our guide, the foundation of our knowledge. Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought, our theoretical guide to action, represents the international experience of the proletariat summed up.

A correct viewpoint begins with the position of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought on this question, originally developed by Lenin, upheld by Stalin, the Comintern, further developed by Harry Haywood in the late 1950’s, and Comrade Mao Tsetung’s statements to the Afro American people in 1963 and 1968. Mao Tsetung stated in 1963 that “The struggle of the Black people in the U.S. is bound to merge with the American workers movement, and this will eventually end the criminal rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class.”

Clearly Comrade Mao Tsetung points to the very special and decisive importance of the Black struggle, such that it, together with the workers struggle, will end the rule of monopoly capitalism.

Relying upon the viewpoint of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, we can apply the Marxist theory of a nation, containing a basic definition and four characteristics. This means in considering, for instance, the “common economic life” of the Black Belt South, we do not start by looking for the manifestations of some textbook definition of that economic life in the Black Belt South, i.e., in a bourgeoisie, proletariat, petty bourgeoisie, national market, etc.

On the contrary, we look to see whether previously disunited communities have been transformed into a single stable community owing to the unifying force of an imperialist economy. Stalin pointed out that the Georgian principalities were united into a national community by the unifying force of Russian capital intruding into their previously disunited existence. Therefore, the function of common economic life is to unite groups into a single community, something which, in the era of competitive capitalism can be done only by establishing the integrity of national markets; but which, in the era of imperialism, can and is done by the unifying force of the imperialist home market itself. Imperialism, noted Stalin, calls to life previously non-existent national movements.

METHOD ON THE BLACK NATIONAL QUESTION

Our method of investigation is dialectical and historical materialism. All questions must be seen in both their entirety and their interconnection. This was Lenin’s method in considering the Black National question: “The Inference is clear: We must seek to build a reliable foundation of precise and indisputable facts that can be confronted to any of the ’general’ or ’example-based’ arguments now so grossly misused in certain countries. And if it is to be a real foundation, we must take not individual facts, but the sum total of facts, without a single exception, relating to the question under discussion. Otherwise there will be the inevitable, and fully justified, suspicion that the facts were selected or compiled arbitrarily, that instead of historical phenomena being presented in objective interconnection and interdependence and treated as a whole, we were presenting a ’subjective’ concoction to justify what might prove to be a dirty business. This does happen...and more often than one might think.”, “Statistics and Sociology”, Lenin, CW, Vol.23, pp. 272-273.

Lenin put this another way in a letter to Inessa Armand.

“The whole spirit of Marxism, its whole system, demands that each proposition should be considered 1. only historically, 2. only in connection with others, 3. only in connection with concrete experience of history.”, “To Inessa Armand”, Lenin, CW, Vol. 35, p. 250. This is the method we must employ, to consider all the facts, to consider their interdependence and interconnection, the unity of opposites, and to rely upon historical experience.

Here we must ask, have the people in the Black Belt South evolved in a given geographical area; do they represent a stable population in this area, do they represent a relatively homogenous and distinct community in this area? These questions must be considered in view of the entire history of the Black people in this country, over 400 years, and they must be considered in relation to the multi-national state, not just the Black Belt South.

It would be an idealist method to simply look at one particular decade, or even just the period since World War II, consider census statistics, and draw a conclusion. Migrations, for instance, must be considered both in their entire pattern, as well as establishing the sources for these migrations, which in the case of the Black Belt South, stem from imperialist oppression and exploitation. As Lenin stated,

the policy of oppressing nationalities, is one of dividing nations..., “National Equality”, Lenin, CW, Vol. 20, p. 237.

The method of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought requires that we consider something in its inception, growth, and development, and thereby know it in its present form. This is the only correct method in taking up the national question.

CONCLUSION

In the struggle to approach the Black National question and Chicano National question from the correct stand, viewpoint, and method, the MLOC has been able to rectify its right deviation on the national question and develop a relatively correct ideological and political line. At the same time we have taken steps toward correcting errors in the functioning of democratic centralism and the development of political line In the MLOC.

Since the struggle against the right liquidationist line of the RU in 1973-1974, many advances have been made in taking a relatively correct line on the Black National question – although on the Chicano National question the struggle against opportunism for a correct Ideological and political line is less developed. Even with advances, the struggle against opportunism, both the right opportunist lines and the centrist lines, must be escalated.

In the last many months, centrism on the Black National question has become an increasing danger, under the guise that “we are still investigating the question...” or that “we must go to the Black Belt South for investigation...” These lines represent centrism because a correct line on the Black National question has existed in the international communist movement for 64 years. It would seem that if Lenin can correctly sum up the situation in the Black Belt South 64 years ago from Russia – we can do as much from New York or San Francisco now.

Centrism is the ideology of adaption to subordinate the interests of the proletariat to the interests of the petty bourgeoisie. During the Second International, Stalin points out that the centrists policy consisted

in embellishing the opportunism of the Rights with Left phrases and subordinating the Lefts to the Rights, “Industrialization and the Right-Deviation”, Stalin, WORKS, Vol. II, p. 294.

In the current context, centrism means avoiding a direct stand on the question, stating the need for “further investigation”, while at the same time posing themselves in opposition to the open right liquidationist position.

The essence of a correct line on the National Question is the correct stand, viewpoint, and method; not first hand investigation or the need to prove or disprove the correctness of the Comintern Resolutions.

Lenin was very clear about his attitude toward those who defend self-determination, yet remain silent regarding nations oppressed by “their own” nation:

The proletariat must demand freedom of political separation for the colonies and nations oppressed by ’their own’ nation. Otherwise, the internationalism of the proletariat would be nothing but empty words; neither confidence nor class solidarity would be possible between the workers of the oppressed and the oppressor nations; the hypocrisy of the reformists and Kautskyites, who defend self-determination but remain silent about the nations oppressed by ’their own’ nation and kept in ’their own’ state by force, would remain unexposed., “Socialist Revolution and Self-Determination”, Lenin, CW, Vol. 22, pp. 147-148.

The MLOC calls upon all advanced detachments of the class struggle to intensify the struggle against opportunism and centrism on the Black National question and the Chicano National question, to actively bring Marxism Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought to the advanced elements in the revolutionary national movements, and to merge the class and national struggles. In particular, a correct ideological and political line on the Chicano National question must be advanced against the existing opportunist lines; concrete program and content must be given to the slogan of the right of the Black Nation to self-determination up to and including secession, and to the struggle for democratic rights of all oppressed minorities. All forms of national chauvinism and bourgeois nationalism must be combated vigorously.

A very important question which must be raised and resolved is the question of building genuine multinational unity, which means building a genuine multi-national communist party. This question is not resolved by simply recruiting comrades from different nationalities in the same organization. This may, or may not mean that genuine multi-national unity exists. The entire question of actually building that unity within the existing Marxist-Leninist organizations and collectives, cementing that unity into a vanguard communist party, needs much greater attention. The key to this process is the development of a correct ideological and political line, together with policy and program on self-determination for oppressed nations and democratic rights for national minorities.

Because the National Question is a component part of proletarian revolution, it is a fundamental question of building the unity of the proletariat as a whole, one around which all “lack of clarity” must be eliminated. As Lenin stated,

In the internationalist education of the workers of the oppressor countries, emphasis must necessarily be laid on their advocating freedom for the oppressed countries to secede and their fighting for it. Without this there can be no internationalism. It is our right and duty to treat every Social-Democrat of an oppressed nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as a scoundrel and an imperialist. This is an absolute demand, even where the chance of secession being possible and ’practicable’ before the introduction of socialism is only one in a thousand. “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up”, Lenin, CW, Vol. 22, p. 346.