First Published: International Socialist Review Vol. 32, No. 11, December 1971
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Reading from left to right we discover that the Progressive Labor Party, after ten years as the leading Maoist organization in the U.S., has broken with Mao and ended all support to the Chinese government In the November 1971 PL (Progressive Labor’s theoretical magazine), PLP claims that Mao’s policies led to a restoration of capitalism during the early 1960s, and that a “red” bourgeoisie now controls China.
This “reversal of workers’ power,” PL postulates, is the fruit of China’s support of nationalism in the international arena and an internal emphasis on production which resulted in an accumulation of privilege and wealth by administrators, who have become the new “red” bourgeoisie.
(If China were now capitalist that would mean that revolutionists would be under no obligation to defend it from imperialist attack. For a reply to this characterization see “In Defense of the Chinese Revolution: An Answer to Progressive Labor,” by Tony Thomas in the October 1, 1971 issue of the socialist weekly The Militant)
Nationalist sentiments and national liberation struggles, PL maintains, are major obstacles in the fight for socialism. The then American Maoists first broke with Black nationalism in this country in 1969, denouncing Malcolm X and other Black independence fighters as would-be Black “bosses.” Now they have declared a universal anathema on nationalist movements of any kind. In the November PL they write:
The history of the past 50 years shows that national liberation movements are the political embodiment of the fight waged by local ’national bourgeoisies’ to accumulate amounts of capital and establish themselves either as important junior partners of imperialism or as the rulers of an independent capitalist economy in their own right.
This unqualified denunciation of all struggles for national self-determination by the oppressed colonial peoples marks PL’s break not only with Mao, but with the position of Marxism and Leninism as well. This is spelled out quite explicitly in an article entitled “Strengths and Weaknesses in the Line of the International Communist Movement” in the November PL.
The old communist movement, led by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, is dead as a revolutionary force,” the ex-Maoists write. Further in the article they develop this theme in opposition to a whole range of Lenin’s policies:
But the experience of the Bolshevik party, both in Russia and internationally, indicates that on balance, Lenin . . . consistently supported national bourgeoisies in their struggle to develop ’democratic’ capitalism.
Lenin, it seemed, “failed to understand fully the broad significance of the Russian revolution.” This in turn left him “unable to appreciate how important the communist consciousness of the rural working people would be. He failed to recognize who was truly advanced and who was truly backward, though he wrote many articles about the ’advanced East’ and the ’backward West’ And so the ultimate result was that the communist movement substituted radical nationalist consciousness for communist consciousness in the case of the urban working class as well.” (Emphasis in original.)
This ignorant and slanderous projection back on Lenin (and Trotsky) of the class-collaborationist policies of Stalin and Mao becomes for PL a screen for junking Marxism in wholesale lots.
PL correctly characterizes as counterrevolutionary Mao’s policy of uncritical support for repressive neocolonial regimes such as that of Yahya Khan in Pakistan or Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Ceylon. These governments of the “national bourgeoisie” have continued to receive material aid and moral backing from Peking while carrying out bloody repression of indigenous revolutionary movements. But these governments are anything but “nationalist”; they are pro-imperialist to the core.
PL latches onto the elementary truism that Marxists are internationalists, fighting for a world society that will see an end to all artificial national boundaries. But this is hardly the be all and end all of the science of revolutionary politics. The fact remains that the world is divided between a small number of advanced imperialist nations, and the colonized, oppressed countries of the so-called Third World, which are denied the elementary bourgeois-democratic right of national self-determination.
The reformists of the old, pre-World War I Social Democratic parties, in Germany and other imperialist countries, found it convenient and highly socially “acceptable” to invoke the principle of internationalism to justify their neutrality when imperialist armies invaded the underdeveloped countries. (After all, weren’t the underdeveloped countries also bourgeois, or even feudal?)
Lenin answered that the workers in the advanced nations must at all costs demonstrate to the oppressed colonial peoples that they were not accomplices in the actions of “their” imperialist bourgeoisies. To do this, they must give unconditional support to the right of self-determination of oppressed nations or nationalities. (The workers’ movement has no interest whatsoever in defending the national “rights” of imperialist countries, to which it counterposes the struggle for the socialist revolution.)
But, PL asks, doesn’t this policy mean uncritical support for bourgeois parties and leaders in the underdeveloped countries? After all, this is certainly the way it has been interpreted by Mao, and Stalin before him. Not at all. Marxists in the imperialist centers have one obligation toward national liberation movements: to unconditionally defend them from imperialist attack, despite their leadership. They are under no obligation to endorse the social policies at home of the colonial bourgeoisie. On the contrary, they point out over and over again that the national bourgeoisie is the main ally of imperialism in these countries and real national liberation can only be won when the liberation struggle comes under the leadership of the working class, which combines the fight for self-determination with the socialist revolution. This in capsule form is the essence of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which was adopted by Lenin in his April Theses in 1917 that paved the way for the October Revolution.
The policy of seeking political coalitions with the national bourgeoisie was Stalin’s innovation, assiduously pursued by Mao afterwards, and was aimed not at national liberation at all, but merely at furthering the diplomatic ends of the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies.
In rejecting all struggles of oppressed peoples that have not yet achieved socialist leadership, PL abstains from the real fight against the murderous depredations of imperialism here and now.
The course PL projects for the American working class is equally sectarian and abstentionist. They revive the discredited Stalinist tactic of the “united front from below,” which they claim to have been following for the past two years. The November PL describes it this way:
As we have repeatedly pointed out, we reject the concept of a united front with bosses. We reject the concept of a united front with revisionists. We reject the concept of a united front with Trotskyists and the herd of various fakes on the left. We believe in a united front that advances the struggle, not one that leads the masses into the arms of the enemy. We can’t and won’t run after every leader or group that may appear left but is really right in essence.
The “united front from below” is, of course, a contradiction in terms. The tactic of the united front was developed by the leadership of the Communist International under Lenin and Trotsky in 1921-1922 precisely as a means of forcing the leaderships of the major reformist organizations into a common struggle in defense of the working class. As long as workers remained loyal to “revisionist” parties, it was impossible to win them to joint actions “from below,” i.e., without first forcing their reformist leaders to accept a concrete program of struggle.
As Lenin pointed out, if the members of the reformist organizations would be willing to follow the Communist Party in action, against their present leaders, they would be ready also to join the Communist Party and what would be needed would not be a united front but a recruitment campaign. That the Communist Party remained a minority of the working-class movement was telling proof that it could not simply leap over the heads of the reformists.
(The conditions placed by the Communists on such a united front were that it be around mass actions in the real interests of the working class, and that all the participants maintain their complete organizational independence and right to criticize the other tendencies involved.)
The so-called united front from below was tried by Stalin during his ultra-left period, from 1928-1934. In Germany this resulted in the complete isolation of the Communist Party, which rejected any effort to win the Social Democratic workers for a common struggle against Nazism. Hitler came to power without a shot being fired, in the greatest single defeat for the working-class movement in the twentieth century.
PL has used this rabidly sectarian tactic to boycott and even physically attack the united front antiwar movement in this country – a movement that has dealt imperialism real blows and played a signal role in defense of the Vietnamese revolution. (We will not take the space here to refute PL’s gratuitous lumping of the Trotskyists, the only genuine representatives of revolutionary Marxism today, with “the revisionists.”)
It might be noted that PL has recently sent some of its members into the Student Mobilization Committee and the National Peace Action Coalition. This is to the good, but how it squares with PL’s “united front from below” strategy we leave up to the pundits at PL headquarters to explain.