Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 4

The Franklin Group

Revisionism or Proletarian Revolution

Many theories are being brought forward on the exact position of Black people in the United States. In general, they fall into two camps: those that deny the national oppression of Black people and reduce the Black peoples’ movement to a subordinate position in the class struggle; and those that recognize that the Black liberation struggle is both a national and a class question. We hold the second view. We recognize it as the key to understanding the dynamics of proletarian revolution in the U.S. (RED PAPERS 2)

Recognizing that the Black peoples’ movement is both a national and a class question, we understand the struggles for national liberation around the world – all involving military struggle as part of political struggle – are an integral part of our United Front Against Imperialism strategy. And we are trying to develop in theory and practice the military implications of the United Front Against Imperialism strategy put forward in RED PAPERS 2. We base ourselves on a belief that the principal contradiction in the world is between U.S. Imperialism and the oppressed peoples and nations, who are fighting back with wars of national liberation. We consider the Black nation and Aztlan to be two of these nations, and see the proletariat of these two nations as the leaders of the entire United Front Against Imperialism, both in the struggle to overthrow the dictatorship of the imperialists and to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The paper “Revolutionary Adventurism or Proletarian Revolution” makes it clear that there is now a struggle within the organization that goes far beyond the issue of armed struggle. The struggle is over basic line. For the authors of this paper deny the national character of the Black liberation struggle. They reduce the national liberation movements of the Black and Brown peoples to a “subordinate position in the class struggle,” which is exactly what PL, the CPUSA, and other Trotskyists and revisionists do.

To say that the authors of “Revolutionary Adventurism or Proletarian Revolution” are taking a revisionist line is not to be uncomradely; we say this in the spirit that Mao advises when he says that sometimes it is necessary to tell an erring comrade, “You’re sick,” in order to be able to cure him. After all, we recognize that at least one of these comrades has been one of the leaders nationally in smashing the very same line he is now following. He was the one who wrote in RED PAPERS 2.

The most basic truth that all revolutionaries must grasp, the starting point for our action, is the fact that the principal contradiction in the world today is between the oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the imperialists headed by U.S. Imperialism. What distinguishes Marxists from pseudo-Marxists is the question of support for the national liberation struggles of oppressed peoples, and for the struggle of the working class to achieve leadership within these liberation movements. Within the U.S. this means support for the third world liberation struggles, headed by the Black people’s movement, and for the leading role of Black and other third world workers. (p. 35)

He then goes on to point out that “Two, equally dangerous, errors are committed by opposing tendencies within the revolutionary anti-imperialist movement in the mother country.” He correctly describes the second error as the failure to understand the class division within the oppressed nation, and therefore in practice allowing the bourgeois forces within the oppressed nations to usurp leadership of the movement from the proletariat. And he describes the first dangerous error with equal accuracy:

The first is to deny altogether the colonial oppression of Black and other oppressed peoples in this Country, reducing their struggles to a mere part of the struggles of the working class, whose present consciousness and level of struggle is far lower than that of the great majority of the oppressed peoples. In practice this means selling out the Third World liberation movements. (p. 35)

This is precisely the dangerous error made throughout the “Revolutionary Adventurism or Proletarian Revolution” paper.

Of course just about nobody who calls himself a Marxist comes right out and says: ’There is no national liberation character at all in the struggles of Black and Brown people.” PL, for instance, admits that what they call “the Black liberation struggle” is “national in form” (though “class in content”). At the time RED PAPERS 1 was attacking PL for extreme “national chauvinism” and “fascism” in denying the national character of the Black liberation struggle, PL was still dressing up their position in these words:

The struggle of Black people for their liberation has reached unprecedented heights. Beginning with the 1964 Harlem uprising, millions have engaged in open – and frequently armed – resistance to ruling-class oppression. Black rebellions represent the most advanced .aspect of class struggle in the U.S. at the present time. (“Program for Black Liberation,” PL, Feb., 1969.)

(Comrades should reread RED PAPERS 1’s entire attack on PL’s position on the national question to see how well it describes the position now being put forward in “Revolutionary Adventurism or Proletarian Revolution.”) The CPUSA recognizes that the “Black Liberation Movement” has a “national character” and also argues that ”it is Black workers – concentrated as they are in the pivotal centers of the production process of the capitalist economy – who in unity with their white class brothers” bring out “the decisive aspect of the role of the working class in the leadership, program, strategy, and tactics of the Black people’s liberation movement.” (Draft Main Political Resolution, CPUSA, Jan., 1969.)

Revisionism today always reveals itself by what it omits in discussing the liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples within the U.S. It fails to mention that the Black people, Aztlan, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans each constitute an actual nation with the most fundamental right of nations, the right to a separate, self-determined national existence. It fails to recognize that each of these nations is in fact a colony or semi-colony of U.S. imperialism, just as much as “South Vietnam,” “South Korea,” Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Liberia.

The “Revolutionary Adventurism or Proletarian Revolution” paper comes about as close as revisionism ever does to outright denial that the Black nation and the conquered nation of Aztlan are colonies or semi-colonies of U.S. imperialism. By its own logic, if it recognized the Black nation and Aztlan as colonies or semi-colonies, it would have to admit that they are in a “revolutionary situation”:

To put it simply: in a colonial or semi-colonial country, the masses are always in a revolutionary situation; in an imperialist country, the masses, the majority, are in a revolutionary situation only during a period of extreme economic and political crisis.

So therefore the paper, in trying to prove that they are not in a revolutionary situation, assumes from beginning to end that what it calls “the Black and brown people” and “the Black and brown communities” are not in fact oppressed nations. This is not an anti-imperialist position at all. In fact, it is objectively a pro-imperialist position. For it asks the oppressed nations to consider themselves part of the imperialist nation.

Throughout the paper, there is an assumption that the so-called United States of America is a single nation which can be treated merely as an “imperialist nation.” Where does this leave the Black and Brown peoples? It leaves them precisely in the position the ruling class would like to see them: accepting the stars and stripes as their flag, forgetting their national identity, giving up their fight for national liberation. In fact, this paper asks the revolutionary masses of these oppressed nations not to fight until the proletariat of the imperialist nation is ready, willing, and able to unite with them to seize state power! We might as well make the same request of the Vietnamese.

This is characteristic of the entire paper, which totally divorces “our” nation from the world revolution. Its definition of a “revolutionary situation” is the very one that Stalin opposes as out of date by 1924:

Formerly it was the accepted thing to speak of the existence of objective conditions for the proletarian revolution in individual countries, or, to be more precise, in one or another developed country. Now this point of view is no longer adequate. Now we must speak of the existence of objective conditions for the revolution in the entire system of world imperialist economy as an integral whole; the existence within this system of some countries that are not sufficiently developed industrially cannot serve as an insuperable obstacle to the revolution, if the system as a whole or, more correctly, because the system as a whole is already ripe for revolution.

Formerly it was the accepted thing to speak of the proletarian revolution in one or another developed country as of a separate and self-sufficient entity opposing a separate national front of capital as its antipode. Now, this point of view is no longer adequate. Now we must speak of the world proletarian revolution; for the separate national fronts of capital have become links in a single chain called the world front of imperialism, which must be opposed by a common front of the revolutionary movement in all countries. (THE FOUNDATIONS OF LENINISM, pp. 28-29.)

The authors of this paper seem unable to grasp the most basic principles of Communist internationalism.

As Communists, what should be our attitude toward the liberation movements of the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Native American nations, whether or not they have proletarian leadership and a socialist program? Marxist-Leninist principles are very clear on this point:

The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican program of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement. The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism; whereas the struggle waged by “desperate’ democrats and “Socialists,” “revolutionaries” and republicans ... during the imperialist war was a reactionary struggle, for its result was the embellishment, the strengthening, the victory of imperialism. For the same reasons, the struggle that the Egyptian merchants and bourgeois intellectuals are waging for the independence of Egypt is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the bourgeois origin and bourgeois title of the leaders of the Egyptian national movement, despite the fact that they are opposed to socialism; whereas the struggle that the British “Labor” Government is waging to preserve Egypt’s dependent position is for the same reasons a reactionary struggle, despite the proletarian origin and the proletarian title of the members of that government, despite the fact that they are “for” socialism. (THE FOUNDATIONS OF LENINISM, pp. 75-76)

The authors of the revisionist paper would probably object at this point, saying that large sections of the Black and Brown peoples are also part of the U.S. proletariat, and therefore non-proletarian leadership of their struggle would split the working class and weaken both their liberation movements and the overall U.S. proletarian revolution. We would agree completely. That is why their view is so dangerous, because they split the Black and Brown masses away from the U.S. proletariat. Only a pure white view could be so blind to the Black and Brown proletariat as to say:

Within the U.S. working class today there are a small number of people who have become completely fed up with the capitalist system and are looking for revolutionary leadership and organization to fight against it. But there is still no mass, revolutionary working class movement and the experience of the advanced minority within the working class – like the experience of Communist organizations – is very limited.

What they are doing here is placing the masses of Black and Brown proletarians outside the proletariat. It is precisely because they reject Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought on the national question that the authors have to go even further, to tear out part of the very heart of Marxist class analysis of capitalist society. They throw the most oppressed sectors of the proletariat out of the proletariat. We see all this in its most racist, argument developed on pages 15-16. [Page numbers refer to the original documents – R.U.]

They begin by quoting the paper presented at the Central Committee: “In the formative and intermediary stages the main combat areas of the revolutionary struggle will be in and around Black and brown communities, as it is the revolutionary peoples of the internal colonies who are the vanguard in the fight against U.S. imperialism, for their national liberation, and for the establishment of socialism.” They claim that this statement “is not based on the reality of U.S. conditions,” and then offer their version of this reality:

The ghettoes and barrios are oppressed communities, a kind of concentration, camp of poor housing, high unemployment, poverty, disease, inadequate education and recreation, broken down streets, gouging landlords and merchants. The pigs occupy the community to enforce these conditions. Faced with these conditions, many of the most oppressed sections of the Black and brown people-the unemployed and especially the permanent reserve army of labor (those the Panthers call the “lumpenproletariat”) see no way out but destruction. It is these sections of the Black and brown people that have participated most heavily in the rebellions; it is these unemployed who engage in individual acts of rebellion – sniping pigs, throwing bombs, etc. Since their lives are the least stable, forcing them into a daily struggle for survival, their condition is very explosive: they move more quickly than more stable sections of the Black and Brown peoples – workers who are regularly employed – into conflict with the oppressor and especially the armed enforcer of the oppressor, the pig. But they lack the largeness of mind of the proletariat, they cannot easily see be yond destruction, they have no firm concept of socialized production or socialized, collective struggle, no vision of a society based on these proletarian principles.

If this isn’t a perfect example of “those that deny the national oppression of Black people and reduce the Black peoples’ movement to a subordinate position in the class struggle,” what is? Note first that they completely cut out the national aspect of this struggle. It is hard to believe that they weren’t aware of what they were doing, for the sentence they are attacking explicitly uses the terms “internal colonies,” “U.S. imperialism,” and “national liberation.” But the authors reduce the Black and Brown nations to “oppressed communities” or the “Black and brown people.” U.S. imperialism becomes simply “the oppressor.” Next, notice that they reduce the most courageous armed resistance that took place within massive rebellions – the sniping and cocktails to “individual acts.” But that is not going far enough in dismissing the national liberation struggle of the Black and Brown nations. Because if the authors had to acknowledge that it was the Black and Brown proletariat who were out in the streets, they might have to admit that their position was a little bit embarrassing. (If masses of the white proletariat were doing the same thing would our present inaction also be defended as true Marxism-Leninism?) So they just blandly assume that it was the unemployed who were rebelling, and not “workers who are regularly employed.” Then they degrade these heroic masses by saying that “they lack the largeness of mind of the proletariat”!

There are only three things wrong with this besides its blatant racism and national chauvinism: its facts, its class analysis, and its class loyalties.

The facts are wrong because many and perhaps most of those doing the fighting during the urban rebellions were employed workers.

The class analysis is wrong because the unemployed masses in capitalist society (unlike a peasant society like pre-revolutionary China or Algeria) are overwhelmingly proletarian.

The class loyalties are wrong because you cannot be loyal to the proletariat without being loyal to the entire class, particularly the most oppressed sections of the class. (Revisionism, like trade union bureaucracy, always bases itself on the less oppressed sections.)

What these comrades have done is to accept Eldridge Cleaver’s mistaken class analysis and then put their class loyalties on the opposite side. Cleaver splits the proletariat into two classes, calling the unemployed section the “lumpen-proletariat” and the employed section “the working class.” He, of course, throws his lot in with the “lumpen,” whom he sees in contradiction with “the working class.” Our comrades throw their lot in with “workers who are regularly employed,” as opposed to the “unemployed masses,” with “their narrow outlook and their destructiveness.”

Maybe we better go back to our ABC’s. The founders of our science, Marx and Engels, very clearly define the unemployed masses of capitalist society as part of the proletariat. In fact, they point out that as capitalism enters its final crisis, the entire proletariat sinks deeply into poverty and unemployment. This is how they describe the condition of the proletariat as the end of capitalism approaches:

The modern laborer ... instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society ... It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. (“Manifesto of the Communist Party,“ SELECTED WORKS I, 45. Italics ours.)

Do the authors of this paper think that whenever sections of the proletariat are thrown out of work for long periods that they lose their class as well as their livelihood? What do they think the conditions of life will be like under imperialism in its final spasms? But we suppose that at the time when the majority of the proletariat is in the streets there will still be some little sect of “Marxist-Leninists” basing themselves on the “workers who are regularly employed,” and waiting for their “largeness of mind” to lead the rabble out in the streets.

The proletariat is that section of the working class which has absolutely no property and whose first great historical mission is indeed to destroy the institution of private property. “The proletariat is without property.” (“Manifesto,” SELECTED WORKS I, 44.) “Modern industry” turns “the workers” into “a completely propertyless proletarian,” “a free outlaw” (Engels, “The Housing Question,” SELECTED WORKS I, 563; those are his italics). “The worker who owns a little house” is ”no longer a proletarian.” (Ibid, 586) “Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.” (“Manifesto,” SELECTED WORKS, I, 44.) ”The proletariat” is “the lowest stratum of our present society.” (Ibid.) “They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.” (Ibid.)

In these writings, Marx and Engels set out in general terms the developing crisis of capitalism, which throws more and more members of the proletariat into the ranks of the unemployed and thus produces the revolutionary force destined to overthrow it. In CAPITAL, particularly in Book I, Part VII, “The Accumulation of Capital,” Marx works this out in much greater detail. Here he shows mathematically that, “The whole form of the movement of modern industry depends upon the constant transformation of a part of the laboring population into unemployed or half-employed hands” (p. 633). The entire capitalist system of wages and profits depends on this suicidal fact, for the ever-growing “industrial reserve army” is “the pivot upon which the law of demand and supply of labor works,” (p. 639). The “general movements of wages” are determined “by the varying proportions in which the working-class is divided into active and reserve army.” Thus capitalism itself rests on this division of the proletariat:

The overwork of the employed part of the working class swells the ranks of the reserve, whilst conversely the greater pressure that the latter by its competition exerts on the former, forces these to submit to over-work and to subjugation under the dictates of capital. The condemnation of one part of the working-class to enforced idleness by over-work of the other part, and the converse, becomes a means of enriching the individual capitalists, and accelerates at the same time the production of the industrial reserve army on a scale corresponding with the advance of social accumulation. (p. 636)

What this means in the lives of working people is this: no matter how miserable the job, the boss can always say, “Nobody is forcing you to work here. Find something else if you don’t like it.”

The most important aspect for revolutionaries is that they must “try to organize a regular co-operation between employed and unemployed.” For capitalism is shaken by “every combination of employed and unemployed.” The point, as RED PAPERS 2 explains, is to unite the entire proletariat. It is precisely because the Black and Brown peoples are both oppressed nations fighting for their liberation and the most oppressed section of the proletariat, that RED PAPERS 2 states straight out in the section Unite the Proletariat: “White revolutionaries must join now with Black and Brown revolutionaries in armed self-defense and other forms of armed struggle.”

The American people will continue to pit revolutionary violence against Nixon’s counter-revolutionary violence. With the American people waging a joint struggle with the people the world over, US. imperialism now lives on borrowed time. (Peking Review, Nov. 13, 1970.)