Max Shachtman


National and Colonial Problems

A Reply to Shamefaced Critics – Concluding Article

(March 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 3, March 1943, pp. 76–82.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Under the conditions of the dominating and all-determining imperialist World War, the struggle of the colonial and semi-colonial countries for national freedom cannot be carried on under the leadership of the national bourgeoisie. This struggle, which rose and fell in one country after another before the outbreak of the World War, can be re-launched only under the leadership of the proletariat, and by virtue of that fact, launched on a higher social and historical plane.

The dependency of the colonial bourgeoisie upon one imperialist power or another is inherent in the fundamental relationships between the two. When the rivalry between imperialist powers amounts to nothing more than what Lenin used to call a “contributory element of no great importance” in a colonial struggle against one of these powers, it is mandatory upon all revolutionary socialists to support the colony against the imperialist oppressor even if the former is led by the native bourgeoisie. When, however, the rivalry between imperialist powers reaches the point of open hostilities, of war, and the war extends to the colony, then the dependency of the colonial bourgeoisie upon one of the imperialist powers promptly manifests itself in the integration and subordination of the colony by the imperialist war. The colonial bourgeoisie – by virtue, we repeat, of its inherent relationship to modern imperialism – acts as the subject-ally of one or another imperialist camp. A war in alliance with imperialism is an imperialist war, said Lenin categorically and rightly. To support the colony under these conditions means to support one of the imperialist camps in the war.

The ring of the all-embracing imperialist war can and will be broken. The just war of the colonies against foreign oppression can and will be launched again, and again receive the support of revolutionists everywhere. But only if the leadership of the colonial struggle is taken over by a genuinely anti-imperialist class, the proletariat.

Greatly summarized, these are the views of Lenin, repeated by him time and again in the First Imperialist World War, accepted generally by the international Marxian movement after the war, and confirmed all over again by the events of the Second World War. They were reiterated by the author in the preceding articles of this series, directed against the Cannonites, who have not only abandoned these views but have publicly denounced them as petty bourgeois.

Why the Cannonite position of continued support to China is a variety of social-patriotism has been set forth in the earlier articles. How it is related to their position on India and on the national question in present-day Europe is what this article aims to show. [1]

In the September 1942 issue of his magazine, Morrow launches one of his characteristic attacks upon us on the subject of India. It is introduced with a pontifical homily on the essence of petty bourgeois radicalism which, he expertly assures us, “is phrasemongering with no thought that the words will ever have to be followed by deeds ... Shouting and doing, Marx noted, are irreconcilable opposites ...

“With the moderation of doers [continues Morrow], Lenin and Trotsky declared the working class, by its own methods, should support any colonial struggle, even if it were led by the colonial bourgeoisie,” and so on and so forth.

The conclusion, as the French say, imposes itself; it is obvious; it is elementary, inescapable, and beyond serious debate. There is on the one side a long line and tradition of doers, beginning with Lenin and Trotsky and ending, for the time being – no false modesty! – with Morrow; and on the other side a line of petty bourgeois, radicalistic shouters represented – the truth is the truth – by Shachtman. Now let us see just what it is that this well known Man of Action does, and what it is that we shout.

We wrote last June that in the conditions of the war, the struggle for national independence has been deserted by the colonial bourgeoisie, “by the people who led and directed it and then, at the showdown, brought it into the imperialist war camp,” etc., etc.

Shachtman scarcely had gotten this off his chest when the pressure of the Indian masses impelled the bourgeois All-India Congress to embark on a civil disobedience campaign against Britain. Shachtman had said all such struggles are inevitably part of the imperialist war and undeserving of support. But great masses, ignoring his prophetic decree, arose under the formal leadership of the Congress. What would Shachtman say now?

Instead of admitting his error, as Morrow would do if he ever made one, Shachtman, it appears, was interested solely in saving face. But let Morrow speak for himself:

The new formula that Shachtman found is the Workers Party Statement on India (Labor Action, August 17). Its boldly-conceived principle is: “Stand by the people of India.” What about this present struggle led by the Congress – does Shachtman support it? There is nothing about that in the statement. “The Workers Party stands 100 per cent with the people of India.” But at the given moment the people of India are lighting under the banner of the Congress – does the “Workers Party” stand 100 per cent, or 10 per cent, behind this struggle? No, that is ruled out by Shachtman’s June pronouncement, which he had to maintain in order, as they say in the Orient, to save face. That is worth more to Shachtman than ten revolutions ...

The “Workers Party” statement is a deliberately dishonest document. It is designed to give the appearance of support without declaring support of the actual struggle led by the Congress.

And still further on:

Likewise for India, Shachtman will support nothing less than simultaneous insurrection on two fronts: against British imperialism and the native bourgeoisie. Naturally that would be best. But if the workers of India are not yet ready, if the native bourgeoisie stands, for the time being, at the head of the struggle against British imperialism? Shachtman will not support it, as he will not support the Soviet Union against Hitler, or China against Japan.

Nothing more than these few sentences are needed to reveal the essence of Morrow’s political position, and how far removed it is from any understanding of what is going on in India, much less an understanding of Marxism.

What the Colonial Bourgeoisie Fights For

We say, literally, that “the struggle for national emancipation of the colonies has been deserted” by the colonial bourgeoisie, that it is not fighting imperialism, that it is serving one imperialist war camp, or another, or, as in some cases, is in the process of shifting from one camp to another. We say, for the colonial bourgeoisie to fight for national emancipation now, more than ever before, means to let loose such class forces (workers and peasants) as would directly imperil its own social position, simply because in the conditions of the war a fight against imperialism (i.e., for national freedom) requires a struggle against both imperialist camps. That the bourgeoisie of the colonies is incapable of carrying on.

Morrow says, the Indian bourgeoisie launched a struggle against British imperialism, is carrying on such a struggle (or at least was doing so when Morrow wrote), and even “stands, for the time being, at the head of the struggle against British imperialism.” Morrow says, the bourgeois All-India Congress is leading the “actual struggle,” and it is this struggle and no other that must be supported, especially if you want to be saved from the tin thunderbolts of his theatrical wrath.

Morrow is not satisfied with our statement against British imperialism, for the full and unconditional national independence of India, and for the struggle – the strikes, the demonstrations, the so-called “riots,” etc. – that the people are carrying on. No; that, you see, is just a lot of shouting on our part. And Morrow, if he is anything, is a doer. A statement of support of that struggle of the Indian people is not enough, says he. It seems there is something far more important, something that offers the decisive test of the revolutionist, especially of the doing revolutionist (i.e., Morrow). And the test? Simply this: Do you support the actual struggle? What, pray, is that? Why, nothing but the struggle led by the Congress, by the bourgeoisie! And what struggle is that? Why, nothing but the actual struggle!

In the admittedly vain hope that some day we may be transmogrified into a doer (e.g., like Morrow), and acting on the assumption that he can take off a minute from his ardent work of doing to enlighten us with some telling, we ask him: Just what does a person have to do in order to support “the actual struggle led by the Congress”? Do you have to call formally at Congress headquarters, ask politely if the bourgeoisie is in this morning, and leave a card or statement reading: “This is to certify that the undersigned recognizes and supports the actual struggle led by the bourgeoisie. (L.S.) Felix Morrow”? If not that, then what, oh Doer of Awe-Inspiring Deeds, do you do?

To the extent that Morrow’s mumbo-jumbo has a political meaning – and it has one, that is clear – it is this: A prerequisite for participating in the struggle against British imperialism is to acknowledge the leadership of the Indian bourgeoisie! That is what he demands of us – otherwise all this mess of words about the mysterious “actual struggle” led by the bourgeoisie would be what it seems to be at first blush, but isn’t – mere gibberish.

The whole point is that the actual events, which Morrow so elatedly describes as a refutation of our point of view, actually strengthen it. Bear in mind that we said the colonial bourgeoisie cannot now carry on “the struggle for national emancipation,” that “only the leadership of the proletariat can re-launch the just wars of the colonies against imperialism.” Morrow repeatedly, if unwittingly, proves that he is incapable of directing a revolutionary struggle against the treacherous colonial bourgeoisie because he is so greatly preoccupied with painting it in attractive colors instead of presenting it in its true light. That is what we mean by referring to his ignorance of the Indian situation and o£ Marxism.

Where is the “struggle for national emancipation” that the Indian bourgeoisie launched when, as Morrow puts it, “Shachtman scarcely had gotten this off his chest”? Where is the struggle that the Indian bourgeoisie “stands, for the time being, at the head of”? Where is the “actual struggle led by the Congress”? It would be most enlightening to hear some details on these questions from Morrow.

He says that the masses, ignoring Shachtman, “arose under the formal leadership of the Congress.” Do the words we italicized have a meaning, or are they there to fill up the line? If the leadership of the Congress was only formal, then it was not actual or real, and all that Morrow writes about it is so much wind through a funnel. But if there is some sort of “actual struggle led by the Congress,” then the leadership is not formal but real. The fact is that Morrow’s phrase, though obviously accidental and without significance to him, represents a most important truth: The struggle launched by the Indian masses last fall was not led by the bourgeoisie; the bourgeoisie stabbed it in the back. That is what Morrow does not understand; the poor fellow keeps talking about the “struggle against British imperialism” of the native Indian bourgeoisie and demands that everybody pay his respects to this leadership. But while that struggle may rage over the pages of the Fourth International, it was not to be found in India. Here is why:

With the rapid advances of Japan in the Pacific and on the Asiatic mainland, especially after the Burma campaign, the whole position of British imperialism in India was directly and immediately threatened. Threatened also, however, was the position of the Indian national bourgeoisie, the real bourgeoisie and not merely its petty bourgeois ideologists and parliamentarians. Gandhi, assuming he is really the political cretin he sometimes seems to be, declared that under his rule an independent India could be maintained even in the face of the Japanese threat by the simple device of telling the Japanese to desist. But apart from him, surely there is not, and was not then, a single serious capitalist or capitalist politician who actually thought in terms of an “independent India” ruled by them, without the presence of the British, and yet able to hold off the Japanese.

How They View Matters

Under the circumstances, there is no doubt – as we wrote at that time – that the bourgeoisie, or at least a section of it, was beginning to think in terms of transferring its allegiance from the imperialism which seemed to be on its way out (Britain) to the imperialism which seemed to be on its way in (Japan). This may sound like pure, and arbitrary, deduction, but we will nevertheless insist on it at least as a “working hypothesis,” on the basis of our tested analysis of the colonial bourgeoisie, on the basis of the experience with that section of the Chinese bourgeoisie represented by Wang Chin Wei, on the basis of the experience with the former leader of the Indan Congress, Bose, who went, over to the Axis some time ago.

Another section of the bourgeoisie, and above all of its political representatives, differed from the former not in thinking of national independence under native bourgeois rule – the Indian bourgeoisie rightly looks upon this as a Utopia under the actual conditions of the imperialist war in the Orient! – but in making a new arrangement with hard-pressed British (not Japanese) imperialism. The new arrangement had nothing to do with what the native bourgeoisie knows to be the unrealizable goal of national independence, unrealizable for it, that is, in the conditions of that “total and all-dominating war” whose character Morrow does not yet grasp. It had to do merely with a few more concessions to the native bourgeoisie, politically and militarily.

Did the bourgeoisie – again, we are speaking of the authentic native bourgeoisie, and not of petty bourgeois muddle-heads like Nehru who think they represent some independent social or political power – did the bourgeoisie even want national independence? Nonsense! That would mean, in the first place, the withdrawal of the British imperialist troops, the forces of occupation. It is the last thing in the world the Indian bourgeoisie wants right now, for it knows the realities of the “total and all-dominating” war in the East. It knows that the military forces capable of resisting both imperialist dangers can be mobilized and inspired only by another class, the proletariat. Even the section of the bourgeoisie that thinks in terms of a bargain with the Japanese would be averse to the British leaving right now, for that would deprive it of a strong bargaining point in any negotiations with the Japanese. That is why no responsible Indian bourgeois, and not even any serious Congress leader, made the categorical demand: Withdraw the military forces and military rule of Britain. Even Gandhi left himself an open door on this all-important and all-revealing point.

Alas for Morrow, he is so infernally busy with his doing (more exactly: with shouting about doing!), that all these simple facts pass by him and are nowhere reflected in his writings on India. He does not understand the significance of the little inter-imperialist war that is being fought in the East. He does not understand that under the conditions created by the war, the Indian bourgeoisie, precisely in order to maintain and improve its social and political position, needs British (or American!) imperialism. That’s why he writes, with his eyes focused sharply on the seventh astral plane, that the “native bourgeoisie stands, for the time being, at the head of the struggle against British imperialism.” He couldn’t say it better if he were an editor of The Nation or the New Republic.

The State of the Mass Movement

Facts, please? There aren’t any. The facts, at least so far as they are sent us through the dense screen of British censorship by the more or less intelligent bourgeois correspondents, indicate that the mass movement – that is, the strikes, demonstrations, “riots,” the actions of the masses to which we are guilty of “confining” our support – is leaderless. The Congress leaders who were “impelled... to embark on a civil disobedience campaign,” as Morrow so delicately puts it, made no evident arrangements to carry on a struggle – for the good reason that they had no intention of launching a mass movement of struggle. Again relying on what seems to be the most objective bourgeois reports from India, it appears fairly clear that once British democracy jailed the Congress leaders (to the relief of many of them, no doubt), the mass movement really broke out-but without leaders or directives or centralization! That’s the distinguishing feature of the months-long struggle in India – and not the alleged “leadership of the bourgeoisie.” To the extent that the movement had local and isolated leadership or direction, it was essentially petty bourgeois – students, intellectuals, middle class elements, trade union leaders, etc., etc.

And the bourgeoisie, which “stands at the head of the struggle” – where was it in reality? Breaking strikes – that has been definitely reported by the New York Times correspondent! Running around from one imperialist circle to another in an effort to get a little something, a little concession from the adamant British, so that its hand could be strengthened in an open move to crush the mass movement, that is, to crush the “actual struggle” which they were “actually leading.” If the British, who had meanwhile gained an important breathing spell in the struggle with the Japanese, did not find it necessary to grant a single concession, did not even feel it necessary to stall for time with another farce of a Cripps mission, it is because they know more about the real relationships between the Indian bourgeoisie and the struggle of the masses than Morrow does.

Why was the movement sapped and disorganized and disoriented and finally disintegrated? What happened to the “actual struggle,” the one “the Indian bourgeoisie stands, for the time being, at the head of”? All reports seem to agree that for the present the scope of the movement has been greatly reduced and its effectiveness virtually broken. Did the bourgeoisie, which was “at the head of the struggle against British imperialism,” call it off? When? And why? Morrow cannot possibly answer these questions. It was not “called off” by the bourgeoisie, because the bourgeoisie did not lead it, Morrow to the contrary notwithstanding.

What is true, and in a most important way, is that the movement, like the Indian masses in general, was under the ideological influence of the bourgeoisie, or more exactly, of the Congress. Having said this, the fatal, un-Marxian analysis and line of Morrow become more patent. Under such conditions, the task of the revolutionist is not to repeat with every liberal spinster that the struggle is “led by Congress” and that we must support this “actual struggle” and no other. Surely, a country that has produced one Louis Fischer has already over-subscribed its quota, and doesn’t need another one in the person of Morrow. Surely, a movement that went through the experience of Stalinism with the Kuomintang doesn’t need to go through it again, even if only in the form of political articles that reproduce, essentially, the Stalinist line in India today.

A good three-fifths of Morrow’s attack on us can be found in the pages of the Stalinist press attacks on the Trotskyist China position in 1926–27: “petty bourgeois radicalism,” “doers vs. shouters,” the “actual struggle led by the Kuomintang,” “abstentionism” – yes, a good three-fifths of Morrow can be found there. With this exception: the claim that the Chinese bourgeoisie stood at the head of a struggle against British imperialism some fifteen years ago was exactly one thousand times more warranted than Morrow’s claim that the Indian bourgeoisie “stands, for the time being, at the head of the struggle against British imperialism.” The Chinese bourgeoisie at least organized whole armies, millions of men, to fight the mercenaries of imperialism; the Indian bourgeoisie has yet to mobilize, arm, train and send into the field against the imperialists a single platoon.

For a Marxist Program – Against Opportunism

The task of the revolutionary Marxist is not to glorify the Indian bourgeoisie as the leader of an anti-imperialist struggle, but to expose its reactionary and treacherous rôle to the bone; not to cover it up the way Morrow does, but to show how it is begging to serve British and American imperialism in the war, only on somewhat more favorable terms for itself; not to shout “support the struggle led by the bourgeoisie,” but to say to the masses:

Watch them. Don’t trust them an inch. They are not leading a fight against imperialism, but are dependent upon it and work hand in glove with it. Don’t shout: “We are following the Congress!” but rather set about forming your own organizations, your own councils in town and village, completely independent of Congress and all other bourgeois parties and organizations. Threatened on one side by the British who hold you, and the Japanese who threaten to take you, you cannot and must not rely upon any other class to organize and lead the struggle for national freedom but the proletariat. Under the leadership of the princes or the bourgeoisie, you will only be impressed into the service of imperialism, to fight for the victory of one foreign exploiter over another. Only under proletarian leadership can you take the road to freedom.

This is the simple truth, and we are able to tell it. Our understanding of class relationships in the colonies, and of the character of the war, makes it possible for us to teach these ideas. They are the ideas that lead to the victory of the Third Camp over the two present imperialist camps. The Third Camp is the camp of the independent socialist proletariat and of the oppressed colonial peoples – the camp which Trotsky in the First World War called the Third Power.

The Cannonites cannot, it goes without saying, speak any longer in our terms. Under our influence and guidance, they did speak that way for the first few weeks following the outbreak of the war, but no longer. They have an utterly false conception of the war, not as an imperialist world war with its own sharp internal contradictions and unevennesses, but as being at least two different wars, each independent from the other. They have an utterly false, essentially Stalinist, conception (1926 vintage, not 1943, to be sure) of class relations in the colonies, a conception which has as little in common with Lenin’s teachings during the First World War as it has with Trotsky’s development of the basic theory of the permanent revolution.

Morrow quotes from the Workers Party statement on India in Labor Action of August 17, 1942. Much more to the point is a quotation from The Militant of the same time, August 22, 1942. It runs an editorial that is significantly headed: 1776 Showed the Way for India. It says:

Yet the people of India can find inspirations and weapons in their fight for freedom in America – not in the war Roosevelt carries on today but in the Revolutionary War for Independence (likewise from the British Empire), not in the Atlantic Charter, but in the Declaration of Independence.

This quotation, saturated with the spirit of Stalinist Kuomintangism, helps us understand a little better Morrow’s insistence that we recognize the leadership of the bourgeoisie. The Indian Revolution faces, not its 1917, but its 1776, that is, the triumph and consolidation of national bourgeois power. And this reactionary tripe was written (by Morrow?) and printed in a Trotskyist paper. Engels once said upon reading Dühring: “If Hegel were not dead, he would hang himself.” Upon reading Morrow and The Militant, all you have to do is replace Hegel’s name with Trotsky’s.

These conceptions lead the Cannonites, in the absence of a serious corrective and in the absence of Trotsky, to their social-patriotic position on China and to their glorification of the Indian bourgeoisie. Granted that it is organic with Morrow to give a semi-liberal, semi-Stalinist exaggeration to their policy. But the fact is that it is only an exaggeration of what is already a false line and the fact is, furthermore, that Morrow writes with impunity. Aren’t there people who know better? Of course, we know several in the SWP. But they have grown tired. Not all the tired radicals are outside the movement.

* * *

Once Again, the National Question

The social-patriotic position taken by the Cannonites on China in the war is catching up with them, so to speak, and in the strangest place – occupied Europe. It is worth discussing, if only because of the conflict between their obviously opportunistic position on the national (colonial) question in Asia and their apparently “radical” position on the national question in Europe.

Our own view on the latter question is adequately and roundedly presented in the resolution printed in the February issue of The New International. It is a question that the war’s developments put forward with increasing persistency. Every day, almost, brings reports from the continent that show how vain is every attempt to escape taking a clear-cut position on the problems posed by the changes in the situation. Anyone with an ounce of political acumen plus an ounce of Marxian education knows that the national question – that is, the question of national independence, of the right of self-determination, of the struggle for national freedom – is now raised before us again in Europe, on a new and almost unprecedented scale, in a new period, and therefore in a new form.

Well over a year ago, our party first raised the question in the Marxian movement. We put forward a tentative, not fully developed, but nevertheless tendentious position. Independently, and at about the same time, the German Fourth Internationalists raised the question and began developing a viewpoint related, and in any case not hostile to our own. The same may be said, a little while later, of the French Fourth Internationalists. But every endeavor of the German and French comrades to interest the Cannonite leaders in the problem – to say nothing of their efforts to have the matter discussed – met with that suspicious and bellicose resistance that new ideas almost always meet from the small-minded provincial bureaucrat. How familiar we are with this phenomenon which, while not original with Cannon and his circle, is nonetheless indigenous to them. How well acquainted the French and Germans are with it now. One of the great advantages of living is the opportunities it affords you to learn.

Finally, more than a year after they submitted their views for discussion, and after the SWP arrived at a decision on the question (if you can call a couple of ridiculous paragraphs buried in a longer resolution a decision), the Fourth International prints a somewhat dated document by the German comrades. It is brief, highly condensed. We consider some of the formulations too loose, lending themselves to misinterpretation, especially when reviewed by a malicious or disloyal critic; other formulations are too summary and therefore inadequate. But summa summarum, as they say, the document showed that the German comrades were on the right track while the Cannonites were seated firmly in a stagnant pool. The German document (Three Theses) is answered by the ubiquitous Morrow. What can be said, with all fairness, of Morrow’s reply? It is disloyal, sly as a knife, pretentious. After the dirtiest possible innuendo and misrepresentation of the German position, he ends in a tone of mock earnest camaraderie: Perhaps we haven’t fully understood you; we invite

you in all comradeliness to make your position clear; kindly contribute a further explanation. So far as we know, the German comrades have not replied. It is deplorable, but not entirely surprising. After having been none too politely kicked around, abused and threatened for their independence of spirit, put under the gag, and then insulted by a reply from Morrow (not so much by the reply itself, mind you, but by the fact that Morrow was assigned to write it), there is little wonder that some of them end up disheartened and even demoralized. Answer at this date? and Morrow? ...

The Appearance of New Polemicists

Not so disheartened is Marc Loris. He has finally been given signed and sealed permission to write, and he contributes a most intelligent, even if not fully rounded (the problem of Stalinism is wrongly treated, for example; the Chinese question is falsely presented) analysis of the national problem in Europe (Fourth International, September and November 1942). It is of course a polemical presentation, though given the nature of the situation in which its author finds himself, the polemic is anonymous.

Wright’s downright perversion of Lenin which we exposed several months ago – namely, Wright’s declaration that there is a difference in principle between the national problem in the colonies and in Europe – is rejected out of hand by Loris. As for his other Cannonite colleagues, he speaks of them discerningly (though still anonymously!) in these terms: “formalists”; “absurd, pedantic and empty”; “incurable pedant” (the theory that Wright is incurable is, we think, debatable); “total lack of comprehension of imperialism”; “such mentality betrays a complete lack of understanding of our epoch” (not more, not less); “under a mask of radicalism, this argument betrays an inertia of thought inherited from liberalism” (this could be Morrow!); and more of the same. Restraint obviously contributes here to accuracy.

In the January 1943 issue of the Fourth International, a much more serious personage than Morrow takes up the task of answering Loris’ views, M. Morrison. Three solid pages of denuded and processed forest are covered with a wordy and terribly embarrassed effort to refute Loris. Morrow’s polemics produce nausea; Morrison’s, sympathetic tears. If you want a primer on how to say Yes, No and Maybe in systematic rotation, read the Morrison article (one might almost say: read any Morrison article).

The reader may say: Surely you are joking, or exaggerating. We reply: Not at all, for, following Loris’ example, we are writing with restraint. Proof? Here it is – a representative sample of the prose, word for word, just as it is in the original Volapuk:

It goes without saying that under no circumstances should a revolutionary party ignore the natural and justifiable sentiments of the masses for national freedom. The masses must at all times see in socialism a champion of the right of self-determination of nations. That is true during the imperialist war as well as before or after it. It is not at all a question, as Loris puts it, of abandoning the demand for national freedom during the war.

It does not at all follow that, in order to be the champions of national freedom, we must under all circumstances use the slogan of national liberation. At the present moment, in the occupied countries we must concentrate on three things. We must refuse to support or participate in any way in the imperialist war; we must stand out as the c hampion of national freedom; we must emphasize the necessity of socialism as the solution to the problem confronting the European masses. Insofar as one slogan is capable of indicating these manifold tasks, the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe best serves that purpose.

To any question whether we arc for national independence, an unhesitating answer in the affirmative must be forthcoming [It would be refreshing, we must say, to hear Morrison give an unhesitating answer in the affirmative to any question – M.S.], with the explanation that in order to achieve it the masses must struggle for power to the workers.

Not bad, eh? “We must stand out as the champion of national freedom.” “The masses must at all times see in socialism a champion of the right of self-determination of nations.” How stand out as the champion of national liberation? How be seen as the champion. Simple! By not adopting the slogan of national liberation! It is subtle, it requires real figuring out – the kind Cannon would call dialectical – but it is unassailable: the way to get yourself looked on as a supporter of national liberation – what are we saying, “supporter”? We mean champion, yes, champion! – the way really to stand out as the champion of national liberation is ... not to raise the slogan of national liberation. Not a diabolically clever way of achieving an aim, but a novel one.

But tell me, in all confidence of course, if you don’t put forward the slogan of national liberation, how will you stand out as its champion? How will the masses see you as its champion, and “at all times,” to boot?

Bah! That’s the easiest thing in the world, like falling off a log! You want to know how we’ll stand out, how the masses will see our position, our championship? Why, if they should care to ask us, we’ll tell them! Unhesitatingly! What’s to prevent the masses from finding out about our position under such circumstances? All they have to do is fill out a form letter with the right question, enclose a stamped return envelope, with ten cents in coin or stamps for research, handling and carrying charges, address it legibly to the right department of the party, and in less time than it takes to tell, they have our answer, “unhesitating ... in the affirmative.” No reasonable man could ask for more than that.

Morrison on a Merry-Go-Round

Just why shouldn’t the Marxists raise and fight for the slogan of national liberation? Morrison is forced to give the real reason for Cannonite “abstentionism” on this point. He tries, first of all, to motivate his position theoretically and traditionally.

Whenever Marxists have advanced the slogan of national liberation it has been under circumstances where they were willing to support a struggle for independence even when it was under bourgeois leadership.

No sirree! Not always! There is, if you please, not an ounce of dialectical thinking in this statement. It does not correspond to the facts.

The program of the Fourth International puts forward the slogan of national liberation for the Ukraine. Did Morrison vote for that slogan under the impression that it meant supporting a struggle for Ukrainian independence “even when it was under bourgeois leadership”?

In the First World War, Lenin retained the slogan of national liberation for a series of countries (Servia, Poland, etc.). Trotsky also “advanced the slogan of national liberation” for a number of countries in the First World War, Loris reminds us, by writing in 1916 that “the independence of the Belgians, Serbians, Poles, Armenians and others ... belongs to the program of the fight of the international proletariat against imperialism. Yet neither Lenin nor Trotsky was “willing to support a struggle for independence, even when it was under bourgeois leadership” for the good, revolutionary-internationalist reason that these “bourgeois leaderships” were part and parcel of the imperialist war camps!

Along with the rest of the Cannonite leadership, Morrison simply has not grasped the Marxist, or, if you will, the Leninist, or, if you will, the Trotskyist, point of view on the national and colonial struggles in the period of inter-imperialist war. Morrison could not have put it more succinctly, or more crassly: If you are for national liberation, you will support its bourgeoisie in the struggle, come peace, come war, come hell or high water, morning, noon or night, year in and year out. The sentence quoted allows no other interpretation.

Yet Morrison cannot deny that the national question presses for an answer in Europe. He even wants to be, as we have seen, the champion of national liberation (a most peculiar kind of champion, but nevertheless a champion). But he will not raise the slogan of national liberation – like a terrified medicine man he refuses to mention the thrice-accursed Word. For a revealing reason:

Were we to adopt the slogan of national liberation for the occupied countries of Europe, consistency would demand that we pursue the same course in these countries as in China and India, that is, that we support the struggle for independence even if led by representatives of capitalism.

The Opportunism of the Cannonites

There we have it! There is the explanation for the conflict between the Cannonite position in China and in Europe. What “consistency would demand,” the Cannonites are, fortunately, not prepared to give. The consistent application of then: Chinese position to Europe would make transparently clear its essential social-patriotism. The fact that the Marxists, before the war, supported China against Japan, makes it possible for the Cannonites to continue supporting China now without the social-patriotic character of their position being immediately obvious, at least to most Cannonite followers. “Consistency would demand,” however, that they now support Mikhailovich, King Haakon, de Gaulle and ... Giraud, yes, Giraud! But that – how shall we put it? – that wouldn’t look so good, would it?

Brought to the very brink of open social-patriotism by the logic of his China policy, Morrison pulls up short and tries to beat a retreat. That does credit to his revolutionary sentiment, but not to his policy or his logic. What happens to the demands of consistency? Simple: we refuse “to adopt the slogan of national liberation for the occupied countries.” Which occupied countries? In the very ones, replies the self-same Morrison on the next page, where “we must stand out as the champion of national freedom.”

Do you want a better example of how petty bureaucrats, trapped by the unfolding logic of a false policy but unwilling to acknowledge their mistake, will thrash about in a confusing frenzy and blacken the water all around them like a flailing octopus?

The Cannonites are writhing helplessly in the grip of a contradiction which their Chinese policy prevents them from solving. (Contrariwise, by the way, Loris, who supports the Cannonite policy in China, cannot possibly reconcile it with his more or less correct policy on the national question in Europe, and Morrison’s taunts on this score are not out of place!) The contradiction can be resolved only on the basis of Marxist doctrine, which is confirmed by an objective analysis of the objective situation.

This does not signify, as some of our mechanical-minded critics seem to think, the abandonment of the struggle for national liberation in those countries, East or West, where it stands on the order of the day.

It does signify a recognition of the fact that today the leadership of the national bourgeoisie means that this struggle is and cannot but be transformed into an integral part of the inter-imperialist war.

For the Program of the Workers Party

It signifies recognizing the fact that to support the struggle under present world circumstances, be it led by Mikhailovich, or de Gaulle, or Chiang Kai-shek, means to support one imperialist camp against another – and not the camp of national freedom against the camp of imperialism.

It signifies recognizing the fact that it is a bourgeois lie and deception when it is said that the war “led by Chiang Kai-shek is independent of the imperialist conflict” and that it is no less a lie and a deception when written over the signature of M. Morrison.

It signifies recognizing the fact that the proletariat, and above all the revolutionary Marxists, must really become the champions (and not Morrisonian champions, God save the mark!) of national liberation.

Finally and above all, it signifies recognizing the fact that the struggle for genuine national freedom, be it in China or Belgium, Servia or India, can be re-launched only under the leadership of the proletariat, that is, under the leadership of the only class capable of breaking with both imperialist war camps.

The fight for national freedom cannot be conducted by the national bourgeoisie for the simple reason that it is incapable of breaking with imperialism, which means today that it is capable only of serving one imperialist camp or the other. The fight for national freedom cannot be conducted, either, by justifying and apologizing for the imperialist alliances made by the colonial bourgeoisie, which is the task assumed by Wright, Morrow and Morrison. The prerequisite for resuming the fight for national liberation – and resumed it must be, and under the openly unfurled banner of national liberation – is a break with imperialism! That is not only the road to national freedom for the oppressed countries, but through national freedom the road to socialist freedom!

Whoever does not teach and teach and teach these fundamental truths is not serving the cause of socialism or of national freedom, but will end by serving reaction in one way or another.


1. See articles on India and China by Wright and Morrow in various issues of the Fourth International during 1942, as well as my articles on the same subject in The New International of June, September and October 1942. The author asks the reader’s indulgence for the delay in concluding the series; other tasks more urgently demanded attention.

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Last updated on 15 March 2015