Maoism vs. National Liberation: Where Does RYM II Stand?

First Printed: March 1970
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Hammer & Steel Introduction:The following is a report prepared by youth supporters of Hammer & Steel. It has been discussed and approved by Hammer & Steel’s editorial board and is being distributed to Hammer & Steel readers and others.

The contradiction between imperialism, headed by US imperialism, and the oppressed peoples is the main contradiction in the world. US imperialism grew by murdering the Indians, oppressing the Afro-Americans in the Black Belt, stealing land from Mexico and annexing Puerto Rico. Thus the main contradiction extends within the borders of the United States.

The leaders of RYM II faction of SDS claim to agree that this is the main contradiction. They claim to support the right of Afro-Americans to land and state power in the Black Belt. At the same time they claim to support Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao has made two statements on the Afro-American question without mentioning the right of self-determination. The principles of peaceful coexistence proposed by China for the Warsaw talks include mutual non-interference in internal affairs and mutual respect for boundaries – support to US imperialist territorial claims. This seems to put RYM II in a contradictory position. However, a closer study of their theory and practice shows that this contradiction has been resolved against the right of the oppressed peoples.

The Afro-American question has historically been a test for Marxist-Leninists in the United States. In 1928, the Third International passed a resolution supporting the right of Afro-Americans to self-determination in the Black Belt, an area approximately 1300 miles long and 300 miles wide with seaports, transportation and features of a restricted economy typical of an oppressed nation. Self-determination meant Afro-American ownership of the land, the right to set up an independent Black state with a Black army, the right to secede from the US. Such a state would be a powerful supporter of Afro-American minority rights in the cities of the North and West.

This position on the Afro-American struggle is based on Stalin’s definition of a nation as “a historically constituted stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” (Marxism and the National Question)

Since it is a national struggle, many classes, including the national bourgeoisie of the Afro-American nation can play a revolutionary role. The Trotskyites and revisionists have always tried to cover up the existence of the Afro-American nation. They consider it merely a question of class and often call the Afro-American bourgeoisie the main enemy. Since 1956, this has been the dominant line. Nationally and internationally there has been a conspiracy of silence on the rights of the Afro-American nation.

Some Afro-American nationalists have made the demand for land and state power in the Black Belt as the only hope for the survival of their people. The issue is being widely discussed by the Afro-American people. The struggle for this land is potentially the most powerful force within this country against US imperialism. It is no longer possible to ignore this question.

Some Marxist groups like Progressive Labor came out openly against the rights of the Afro-American people to land and state power. Others who had long been part of the “silent majority” now claim to support this demand. The leaders of RYM II are in the second category. By putting forward some correct formulations they have won some following as “experts” on the national question. However, their main aim is to mislead whites on their responsibilities as members of the oppressor nation. By putting up socialism as an immediate demand they return to the essence of PL’s position of class struggle being primary.

There are tricks that RYM II leaders use to give a theoretical justification for emphasizing the economic demands of white workers. The first is a left-wing form of American exceptionalism – denial that national struggle is the main anti imperialist straggle in the US, as it is in the world as a whole.

“It must be emphasized that the united front against imperialism can only be a tactical orientation of the proletariat, acting in the interests of the overwhelming masses of the world’s people.” (Appendix to RYM II)

This is an excuse for letting the oppressed peoples battle alone for their national liberation while US “revolutionaries” worry about the position of their own working class relative to US imperialism. If the strategy in this period is socialist revolution then all tactics and partial demands must be oriented toward organizing the working class for such a revolution. This is a fine way to bring PL’s policy of trade unionism in the back door.

“Strategy is the determination of the main blow of the proletariat at a given stage of the revolution, the elaboration of a corresponding plan for the disposition of revolutionary forces (main and secondary reserves), the fight to carry out this plan throughout the given stage of the revolution,” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism)

Taking an internationalist view, as Marxist-Leninists must, we see that the main blows against US imperialism will come from the national liberation struggles of the oppressed nations. The most advanced and anti-imperialist section of the US proletariat will strike a blow by organizing all forces that will support national liberation struggles. There was an international United Front against fascism; today we must build an international coalition against US imperialism based on support to national liberation struggles.

We believe in revolution by stages. There cannot be Socialism in the US before the empire is torn apart by liberation struggles outside and within the borders of the US. The US proletariat cannot take power, and is not fit to take power, until it has demonstrated solidarity with the oppressed peoples by supporting their right to self-determination. Those who try to find some “short-cut” to Socialism mislead the workers, deceive the oppressed peoples and are enemies of Socialism.

RYM II’s second justification for playing up the working class struggle and playing down the national liberation straggles is not so much a trick as an outright lie. In his paper “To Sail on Stormy Seas We Need a Science of Navigation” Noel Ignatin, RYM II “theoretician,” devotes most of the space attempting to prove that the US white proletariat receives no benefits, even short-term, for its support to imperialist oppression. In this context he gives an account of the “typical” white worker’s life-style, making it sound as bad as possible. It is no accident that the conditions of Blacks in the North or in the Black Belt are not mentioned. To compare the wages, unemployment, type of work, chances for education, treatment by police, etc. would show how absurd it is to try to cover up the differences between oppressed and oppressor nation.

Supposedly on the authority of Lenin Mr. Ignatin says “Lenin... showed conclusively that opportunism in the labor movement rested mainly on the corruption of the bribed upper strata, was always careful to specify that the bribe was shared by only a minority of the working class, even in the case of the English workers from 1848-1868 when Britain enjoyed the industrial and colonial monopoly of the whole world.” (“Science of Navigation”)

But Mr. Ignatin, some people do read and will tell what Lenin really said. In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, he quotes Engels:

“...the British working class is actually becoming more and more bourgeois and it seems that this most bourgeois of nations wants to bring matters to such a pass as to have a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat side-by-side with the bourgeoisie. Of course this is to some extent justifiable for a nation which is exploiting the whole world.”

Almost a quarter of a century later in a letter dated August 11, 1881, Engels speaks of the “very worst English (trade unions) which allow themselves to be led by men to or at least paid by the middle class.” In a letter to Kautsky, dated September 12, 1582, Engels wrote:

“You ask me what the English workers think of the policy? The same as they think about politics in general. There is no labour party here, there are only conservative liberal radicals, and the workers enjoy with them the fruits of the British world market and colonial monopoly.”

In his preface to the second edition of The Condition of the Working Class in England Engels spoke directly to Mr. Ignatinís lie:

“During the period of England’s industrial monopoly the working class has, to a certain extent, shared in the benefits of the monopoly. These benefits were very unequally parceled out amongst them; the privileged minority pocketing most, but even the great mass had at least a temporary share now and then. With the breakdown of that monopoly, the English working class will lose that privileged position.”

After World War II the US took ever a vast colonial empire in Africa, Asia and Latin America and in addition grabbed a large share of the industry of the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe and Japan. National liberation struggles and rival imperialists will break up this empire but at present US imperialism can and does use some of its super-profits to bribe the masses of the white proletariat. This is seen in the better housing, better food, longer life expectancy and hundreds of other advantages of being a US white.

Mr. Ignatin does admit, “It seems true, however, that the conditions of the masses of US workers are somewhat superior to workers in most other countries. If it is true, it does not necessarily follow that the superiority is due to imperialism, since the same superiority has existed since 1700, long before the imperialist epoch. It was the main reason (white) workers immigrated here from other countries.”

“Of course, we will immediately be charged with overlooking the extermination of the Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, which could be said to constitute early forms of imperialism, and therefore factors in US ’affluence.’ As for the extermination of the Indians, what was taken from them was land, which never fell into the hands of the white masses who did the exterminating but instead enriched the railroad barons, cotton planters and cattle ranchers. For their loyalty in helping their masters steal the land and kill the rightful owners, the poor whites were rewarded with death and taxes, and monopolistic exclusion from land ownership.” (“Science of Navigation”)

Mr. Ignatin makes it clear that he would prefer that people did not raise the questions of the extermination of the Indians and the enslavement of Africans. However, we insist and we also insist on setting straight the very important question of land.

The land stolen from the Indians was distributed to masses small white farmers. Can it be a mistake that the question of land is raised in relation to whites but not to Afro-American who after hundreds of years have less control of their land than ever before? Land distribution is characteristic of developed capitalism. Semi-feudal land relations such as in the Black Belt are characteristic of an oppressed nation. Why does Mr. Ignatin cover up this difference?

RYM II says that white supremacy has no material basis the US working class. Therefore it is easy for them to talk organizing the workers to fight for socialism without first supporting the national liberation struggles. The history of the working class shows that such labor opportunism cannot lead to socialism.

How has the RYM II line been put into practice? First polemics against PL on the national question have been dropped in order to argue with Weatherman over their attitude toward the white workers. Obviously RYM II thinks that one’s attitude to white workers is the key question. On the national question Ignatin says, “We do not intend to go into such lengths on it. We do not think it incumbent upon SDS and on white revolutionaries in general to be taking ’positions’ on this matter isolated from the thinking of Black Marxists. We have written a paper on the subject which we regard as a contribution to the thinking of Marxists in general and at the proper moment we will offer it for consideration.

Lenin said just the opposite: “The weight of emphasis internationalist education of the workers in the oppressing must necessarily consist in advocating and urging them to demand freedom of secession for oppressed countries. Without this can be no internationalism. It is our right and duty to treat a Socialist of an oppressing nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as an imperialist and a scoundrel.” (The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up)

On the most important task for revolutionaries in oppressor nations Mr. Ignatin is waiting for the “proper time.” The “proper time” is no doubt the last possible moment that Mr. Ignatin thinks he can avoid being exposed as an opportunist and roadblock to those who want to discuss the national question. It should be noted that what is positive in Mr. Ignatinís paper on the Afro-American question was copied from Harry Haywood, written when Harry Haywood was a Black Marxist leader.

Other RYM II leaders agree with Mr. Ignatin on the national question. Les Coleman, a colleague of his from Chicago, deals with the Afro-Americans in his “Notes en Class Analysis” by assigning them to the lower levels of the second and third sections of the petit bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Of course he has some words about an “internal colony” but he makes it clear that he is talking about a socialist revolution and not a national liberation struggle. He condescendingly equates “Black and Brown” movements with “proletarian leadership.”

Mr. Klonsky writes a long article, “Why I Quit”, dealing with Weatherman’s attitude toward white workers but never mentioning self-determination for Afro-Americans, Vietnamese or any other oppressed peoples.

Organizationally, RYM II has emphasized getting mere workers to join on an unprincipled basis rather than winning forces who support the demands of Afro-Americans for land and state power in the Black Belt.

The Detroit Conference

This first national meeting of RYM II was a good example of the RYM II leaders in action. Mr. Ignatin was on the agenda as a speaker on the national question. This talk was postponed and then dropped.

Instead Ted Allen showed up without previous announcement and was introduced as a speaker on the fight against white chauvinism. Like Mr. Ignatin, Mr. Allen was a member of POC which claimed to fight revisionism in the CPUSA by bringing it closer to Khrushchev. Instead of being self-critical on this he praised himself for having used the tern “white skin privilege*’ in a paper two years ago. Actually this term as it is used obscures facts, emphasizing color rather than national oppression. A quote from that paper parallels his speech: “The ending of white supremacy does not pose the slightest peril to the real interests of the white workers; it definitely poses a peril to their fancied interests, their counterfeit interests, their white skin privileges.” (“White Blindspot”)

Mr. Allan spoke for quite awhile about the virtues of fighting white chauvinism without once mentioning self-determination for Afro-Americans. In fact, he hardly mentioned Afro-Americans at all, let alone their rights as a nation in the Black Belt. Immediately after the speech the meeting was adjourned for workshops so that there was no discussion.

There was discussion in Detroit about trips to Cuba, Weatherman, the Chicago action, “womenís’ liberation”, GI organizing, and labor organizing. But not on the national question. Can the absence of discussion be attributed to bad planning? Of course, if the leaders of RYM II really cared about land and state power for the Afro-Americans, wouldn’t they have invited a representative from Hammer & Steel to speak rather than Ted Allen? After all, H &S has a record of many years of support to this demand while others were silent.

We should not be surprised by such opportunism by those who have been silent so long on the rights of Afro-Americans. Those who claimed to fight revisionism in the name of Khrushchev now come to us in the name of Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Mao told the Afro-Americans “the national struggle merges with the class struggle.”

These who truly support national liberation struggles cannot side with the left-revisionist Cultural Revolution which does not support the rights of non-Han peoples in China. These Trotskyite, class-struggle-only, renegades have never called a conference to mobilize support for Vietnam. When hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries were slaughtered in Indonesia they said it was a wonderful revolutionary situation. After the Brazilian Indians were practically exterminated, Mao repeated that the national struggle merges with the class struggle. Now the Cultural Revolution is making diplomatic and trade agreements with the butchers of Song My.

Because of the temporary strength of US imperialism, and because of the defection of Marxist-Leninist parties in state power, it is very difficult to develop Marxism-Leninism on the national question at this time. It is definitely not a wonderful revolutionary situation. It is necessary to wage an ideological straggle against the Cultural Revolution leaders and their representatives in the US whether they be of the PL or the RYM II variety. Only in this way will we win support for national Liberation struggles. Only by supporting national liberation struggles do we move toward our long-range goal of socialism.