First Published: Guardian, April 3, 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In the March 20 Guardian, Carl Davidson devotes his ’Which Side Are You On?’ column to the “two trends that have appeared in the communist movement on the question of revolutionary nationalism.”
Since Comrade Davidson does not mention where these “two trends” are coming from in the communist movement, i.e., what organizations are representing either “trend,” we have to guess that Davidson is alluding to the struggle between the Black Workers Congress (BWC) and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO) on the one hand and the Revolutionary Union (RU) on the other. We cannot be sure that Davidson is speaking of this struggle because his article fails to deal with any of the real fundamental issues raised in the ongoing debate between these three communist organizations. We will therefore try to clear, up the confusion surrounding this struggle for Comrade Davidson and the Guardian and the rest of the communist movement.
In our opinion, Davidson’s article can be summed up as follows:
The “two trends” that are being discussed represent some fundamental questions in regards to the national question and revolutionary strategy in general in the U.S. Both “trends” liquidate the national question by primarily failing ”to make the distinction between the nationalism of the oppressed and oppressor nations.” The “all nationalism is nationalism” trend over-emphasizes the class aspect (blurs over the difference between the two kinds of bourgeois nationalism), and the “revolutionary nationalism” trend over-emphasizes the national aspect by subordinating the class struggle to the national question. Both “trends” link the national bourgeoisie with the imperialists (“like the Trotskyites”) and pursue an “all struggle and no alliance” line. Finally, because of the foregoing, both fail to understand real “proletarian internationalism” which Davidson says is a “unity of opposites” –the national with the class struggle –while the “two trends” liquidate either aspect into “the other.”
The fundamental issue separating the BWC and PRRWO from the RU in regards to the national question (there is even a more fundamental one which concerns the central task of communists), concerns the nature of the two types of nationalism –both bourgeois and revolutionary nationalism–and the attitude of communists toward it.
In our view the RU makes the following fundamental errors. First they adopt a formal attitude towards the national question by failing to make a distinction between “nationalism as an ideology” and “nationalism as a political phenomenon” in today’s world. When the RU (in their National Bulletin No. 13) says, “All nationalism is nationalism,” they mean both bourgeois and revolutionary nationalism are products of bourgeois ideology. Both mean “my nationality first” in their view. Both “in the final analysis” are antithetical to proletarian revolution and proletarian internationalism, because both represent the ideology of the bourgeoisie. Our view is just the opposite. Though we agree that nationalism as an ideology is bourgeois, it would be absurd to conclude from this that both bourgeois and revolutionary nationalism are the same politically. Bourgeois nationalism represents the ideology the rising bourgeoisie–even in the oppressed countries who are seeking to remove the fetters of feudalism and external oppression which hinder the full development if national market. This struggle has a progressive aspect in that it has the political effect of weakening and undermining the system of imperialism by depriving the imperialists of their reserves. This struggle is to the tactical advantage of proletarian revolution and the Chinese comrades are masters at making use of it. But to say that because of this that bourgeois nationalism is progressive – as the RU and apparently Davidson does –is absurd. The “bourgeois nationalism” of the oppressed nation’s bourgeoisie is not progressive because it is against the interests of the vast masses–the workers and peasants –of the oppressed nation and therefore detrimental to the interest of developing unity between workers of different nationalities. Why? Because the essence of the national question today, even in the oppressed countries, is not a question of the competition between the bourgeoisies of the various nationalities (as the RU and Davidson seem to contend) but in the profoundly popular, profoundly revolutionary nature of the national movement. (See Stalin’s writings against “Comrade Semich.”)
The point is that the national question and consequently bourgeois nationalism changes with the development of capitalism. During the “progressive” phase of capitalism the bourgeoisie fights consciously for the nation, i.e., for the removal of the fetters of feudalism and colonialism which hinder the full development of the national market. At the same time in the interest of “national unity” the bourgeoisie (we are talking about the national bourgeoisie as well) holds down the workers and peasants so that it can exploit them for its own purposes. As the productive forces and the struggle of the masses continue to develop, and in the third world countries this process has been manifested in the transition from colonialism to neo-colonialism, and even the national bourgeoisie when in power becomes reactionary (Idi Amin, Qadaffi, etc.) especially in its internal relations (like Peron). That is why Mao calls even the national bourgeoisie a very unreliable ally which can only play a progressive role to the extent it follows the lead of the workers and peasants. Davidson is completely confused when he compares our position to that of the Trotskyites who are against any alliance with the national bourgeoisie.
Secondly, in regards to revolutionary nationalism, though the RU admits that it is progressive, they don’t speak of why, they don’t speak of the class content of revolutionary nationalism; in other words, about what class or classes of the oppressed nations can be revolutionary nationalists or patriots. The RU, in National Bulletin 13, speaks as though revolutionary nationalism is devoid of class content. Davidson says “revolutionary nationalism” is the outlook of the national bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries. In our view both of these opinions are wrong.
In our view the revolutionary nationalism of Black people and every oppressed people is a reflection of the nationalism of the working masses and not that of the bourgeoisie as the RU and Davidson contend. The national aspirations of the oppressed peoples are in themselves revolutionary because of the class content of their national struggle. The main content of this type of nationalism, revolutionary nationalism or patriotism, is not “my nationality first” as the RU contends. And as Mao says this type of nationalism does not contradict proletarian internationalism but complements it. It is applied proletarian internationalism. Why? Because while oppressed peoples struggle for self-determination and national survival against imperialism, they are at the same time aiding the proletariat in its revolutionary struggle to transform society as a whole. In the third world countries, the national liberation struggle is neither a bourgeois-democratic revolution of the old type as Davidson contends, nor a proletarian socialist revolution as the Trotskyites contend. It is a bourgeois democratic revolution of a new type, a new democratic revolution, directed against imperialism and against feudalism. A section of the bourgeoisie goes over to the side of imperialism and opposes the revolution; the other section, the so-called national bourgeoisie, vacillates between the support of the revolution and support of the counter-revolution (Chile) while the basic motive forces are the working class and the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie, which are led by the working class. The immediate objectives are national liberation, agrarian reform, development of the national industry and the suppression of the counter-revolutionaries. Only on the basis of carrying through these national democratic tasks can the revolution advance to the next step, to the stage of socialism.
In the imperialist countries the national question is more complicated because there are no “democratic” tasks to speak of. The immediate task of the revolution is proletarian dictatorship and socialism. Nevertheless, the working class must oppose all national oppression and support every national striving against oppression. No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations. The working-class party must resolutely defend the right of all nations (both internally and externally) to self-determination, including the right of secession.
To deny this right is tantamount to defending national oppression and supporting the privileges of the dominant nation. At the same time we communists oppose all bourgeois nationalism or narrow nationalism which always seeks special advantages for “its own” nation. The working class is opposed to all national privileges without exception and fights against all national exceptionalism and oppression.
Internationalism has different implications in great oppressor nations and in small oppressed nations (something which neither the RU or Davidson seems to understand). In the former it compels communists to emphasize the right of the oppressed nations to freedom to secession; in the latter, emphasis must be placed on the struggle for “voluntary union,” together with the fight against bourgeois nationalism, narrow nationalism or narrow-mindedness. Lenin said to talk about internationalism (as the RU and Davidson do) apart from these concrete conditions is to “pay lip service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.”
In “The National Pride of the Great Russians,” Lenin shows that love of country, national pride and national patriotism is not alien to socialism as long as one’s country is not oppressing another. This is what we mean when we said that revolutionary nationalism does not contradict internationalism. One can be for the liberation of one’s own people without saying “my nationality first,” as the RU, Progressive Labor and others contend. The fight to end the class and national oppression in one’s own country is the best wav of applying proletarian internationalism.
The fundamental demands of the Black liberation movement are objectively bound up with the fundamental demands of the whole U.S. proletariat. The liberation of the Afro-American people is inseparable from their emancipation from the power of monopoly capital. On the other hand, it is impossible for the U.S. proletariat to be successful in its revolutionary struggle for proletarian dictatorship and socialism if it does not struggle for the full freedom of the Afro-American nation and all other countries oppressed by U.S. imperialism. The RU plays down this fact by suggesting that the struggle of Black people is mainly a struggle for democratic rights and not a struggle for self-determination and the right of political secession. This is not the first time in this country where so-called “communists” counterpose the national question to the class struggle with the aim of liquidating the former and ultimately both. White chauvinism has appeared many times before under the guise of “upholding proletarian internationalism” and putting the “niggers” in their place. This is what we oppose and will resolutely struggle against.
Though we welcome the participation of any and even communist in this ideological struggle of the greatest importance, we cannot unite with Davidson’s article which we feel distorts the essence of both positions. In our opinion, Davidson’s ”new line” is a mass of muddle which tries to wiggle between two mutually exclusive points of view. Though he contends that ”both trends” are bourgeois and ”liquidate the national question,” he objectively unites with the RU position (which in all honesty he doesn’t present accurately either). Davidson treats ”both trends” in a light and superficial way, in a ”25 words or less” journalistic style. These positions were presented in very lengthy documents, documents that obviously Davidson did not base his analysis on. Otherwise he would have not attributed such absurd remarks as ”how can both Malcolm X and Marxism-Leninism represent the proletarian line,” and ”all the nationalism of the oppressed is revolutionary,” to us. We would suggest that the Guardian and anyone else interested in this struggle study the documents outlining the positions of both sides before off-the-cuff remarks are made.