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Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 6: Build the Leadership of the Proletariat and its Party

RU Reply to the BWC

(This was written in reply to the April 3 BWC Guardian article and printed in the May 1 Guardian and in the May issue of Revolution.)

In BWC’s “Radical Forum” statement (Guardian, April 3) two things stand out: 1. Despite its blast at others for talking about nationalism and internationalism “apart from these concrete conditions,” BWC makes no concrete analysis of the national question in the U.S.; and 2. BWC’s general theoretical presentation is erroneous in several crucial points.

But just as serious is the way BWC distorts the terms of the struggle around revolutionary nationalism. A cornerstone of communist ideology is materialism, and this means to “seek truth from facts.” BWC violates this completely when it says that the RU is “failing to make a distinction between ’nationalism as an ideology’ and ’nationalism as a political phenomenon.’” The RU has consistently insisted on this very distinction, and in the past we were told by BWC leadership that making this distinction is “opportunism.”

Now BWC not only turns this on its head, but uses the Guardian to broadcast its distortions, knowing that most Guardian readers don’t have the documents of this struggle, which make the real positions clear.

RU National Bulletin 13 was written as an internal document to deal with the relation of revolutionary nationalism to Marxism, and other related questions. It was given to BWC and PRRWO leadership to further important discussions between these organizations and the RU.

Progressive Role

The phrase “all nationalism is–nationalism” in Bulletin 13 was used precisely to make the point that nationalism can play a very progressive role in the political struggle, but as an ideology it is ”in the final analysis, bourgeois ideology.” This phrase does not mean that all nationalism is the same as a “political phenomenon,” but that as an ideology, nationalism is not proletarian ideology, and that ideologically, communism is a qualitatively higher form of consciousness than “revolutionary nationalism.”

This Bulletin quoted the Chinese “General Line” proposal: “On the national question the world outlook of the proletarian party is internationalism and not nationalism. In the revolutionary struggle it supports progressive nationalism and opposes reactionary nationalism.” Bulletin 13 added: “While the ideology of the proletariat cannot be reconciled with any kind of nationalism –as a category of bourgeois ideology –the struggle of the proletariat for its emancipation certainly can and must be ’reconciled,’ united with the struggle of the oppressed nationalities against national oppression. . . . To do this the class conscious proletariat, the communists, must unite with the progressive or Evolutionary nationalism of the masses of oppressed nationalities, with their determination to fight imperialist oppression of them as peoples.”

This Bulletin is obviously drawing exactly the distinction between nationalism ideologically and “nationalism as a political phenomenon.” So why is BWC distorting this?

Covering Own Position

They are trying to cover their own position that revolutionary nationalism “doesn’t have to make any sort of ’leap to a higher form of ’consciousness, class consciousness’”–as they put it in a “Criticism” they wrote of Bulletin 13. What is fit issue here is consciousness, ideology, and what BWC argues here is that for oppressed nationalities, revolutionary nationalism is the same as class consciousness, proletarian ideology.

So in the Guardian, while forced to “agree that nationalism as an ideology is bourgeois,” BWC still tries to present revolutionary nationalism as a “new” ideology for oppressed nationalities. They say that revolutionary nationalism is a “reflection of the nationalism of the working masses” and “not that of the bourgeoisie.” First BWC admits nationalism is bourgeois ideology, then they turn around and argue that there is a special kind of nationalism, revolutionary nationalism, that is proletarian ideology– for oppressed nationalities. BWC may think they have invented a “third” (or “third world”) ideology, but as Lenin insisted, “the only choice is–either bourgeois or socialist ideology for mankind has not created a ’third’ ideology. . . . To belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.”! (What Is To Be Done?, emphasis Lenin’s).

BWC’s equating of communism with nationalism) ideologically leads them to make very serious errors and does, unfortunately, land them in objective unity with the Trotskyites. In the Guardian, BWC says that only the “working masses” (and urban petty bourgeoisie) in the Third World countries can be patriotic, that “even the national bourgeoisie when in power becomes reactionary .. . especially in its internal relations.”

The Chinese “General Line” proposal says something far different from this. Referring to the “nationalist countries that have recently won political independence” and where the national bourgeoisie is in power, the Chinese say that “In some of these countries the patriotic national bourgeoisie continue to stand with the masses in struggle against imperialism and colonialism and introduce certain measures of social progress. This requires the proletarian party to make a full appraisal of the progressive role of the patriotic national bourgeoisie and strengthen unity with] them.”

Anti-Imperialist, Anti-feudal

The correct understanding is not, as BWC claims, that the national bourgeoisie can play a progressive role only to the extent that it “follows the lead of the workers and peasants.” The national bourgeoisie, even in power, plays a progressive ’role to the extent that it opposes imperialism and feudalism internally–introduces “certain measures of social progress”–and it does this, up to a point, in its own interests.

The proletariat must, while uniting with these progressive aspects, struggle for its leadership in the united front; only with proletarian leadership can the struggle against imperialism and feudalism be fully earned out and carried through to the stage of socialism. But the proletariat does not establish its leadership by declaring the national bourgeoisie reactionary and driving it into the reactionary camp.

BWC makes this basic error because it is bent on equating a progressive nationalist role in the political struggle–patriotism–with proletarian ideology, in the oppressed nations. Since the bourgeoisie cannot be proletarian in its ideology, there cannot be a patriotic section of the bourgeoisie, even in the oppressed nations–this is the logic of BWC.

Where this would lead BWC, if it carried it out, would be to declare that, for example, the government of Tanzania is reactionary (or becoming reactionary). This is the same line as the Trotskyites.

The reason BWC is forced to slap itself in the face like this is its attempts to equate and combine communism and nationalism to create a “third” ideology–revolutionary nationalism–which can only be held by the “working masses” of the oppressed nationalities.

Question of Self-Determination

Another BWC distortion is to try to make the RU sound reformist by saying that the RU holds 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,” and that therefore the RU is trying to “counterpose the national question to the class question.”

Bulletin 13 says that we must uphold the right of the Black nation to self-determination –which means the right to secession–but that the “’essential thrust’ of the Black people’s struggle has not been for self-determination in the form of secession, but the fight against discrimination, the denial of democratic rights, violent police repression, and against exploitation and oppression as members of the working class, suffering caste-like oppression within the class.” (emphasis added here).

BWC completely omits the last part and completely omits any analysis of the fact that the masses of Black people are part of the single multi-national proletariat of the U.S. In fact they treat the Black nation as something completely apart from the rest of the U.S., referring to the “Afro-American nation and all other countries oppressed by U.S. imperialism.” (emphasis added).

While making the analysis that Black people throughout the U.S. today form a nation of a new type–dispersed throughout the country but concentrated in urban centers; mainly workers, part of the single proletariat, but with bourgeois strata based on a Black market–we don’t see how anyone can say that the Black nation is a separate country from the U.S. This erroneous line and not the RU line separates the national and class struggles in the U.S., instead of building on the powerful links between them.

BWC says that the basic demands of the Black liberation struggle “are objectively bound up with the fundamental demands of the whole U.S. proletariat.” This is true of all anti-imperialist struggles everywhere in the world; the point is that the struggle for Black liberation is directly and immediately linked with the single stage struggle for proletarian revolution in the U.S., and so the masses of Black people are a powerful driving force in this.

Solution to All Oppression

The RU’s line is to build on the dual character of the Black people’s struggle–against national and class oppression–to win the masses to the understanding that socialist revolution is the solution to this oppression, to merge the struggle against national oppression and the workers’ movement into a revolutionary struggle against all oppression and for proletarian revolution and socialism – and within that to uphold the right of self-determination, and not to rule out the possibility of the establishment of a separate Black state. ”

The BWC line (as laid out in their “Criticism” of Bulletin 13 and elsewhere) is to develop the Black liberation struggle as a separate struggle from the class struggle, with the objective of re-constituting Black people as a majority in the “Black Belt” south –where they are now nowhere near a majority – in order to decide the question of forming a separate state or not. According to BWC this struggle is allied with the class struggle against a common enemy, monopoly capitalism, but it has basically different immediate objectives.

This stems from BWC’s failure to really base itself on the fact that the masses of Black people, while part of an oppressed nation, are also part of the single multi-national proletariat; that it is this multi-national proletariat that will overthrow monopoly capital and seize power throughout the country, including in the “Black Belt”; that the struggle in the “Black Belt” today is not a bourgeois democratic struggle of the old or new type –“land to the tiller”–but directly and immediately a part of the single stage proletarian revolution throughout the country; and that socialist revolution to liberate the productive forces is the road to liberation for all oppressed and exploited people in the U.S. In short, BWC fails to really base itself on the proletariat and proletarian ideology.

We don’t think that even under U.S. conditions today, socialist revolution will eliminate the right of self-determination; in fact only socialist revolution will make exercising this right a possibility. But neither do we see that reconstituting Black people as a majority in the “Black Belt” to decide on secession is absolutely necessary to liberate Black people, or is the highest objective of the Black people’s struggle.

Red Papers 6

Space doesn’t allow us to analyze this question further here. Of course, it is always easier to spread confusion and slander than to analyze questions scientifically, but it is a sign of the bankruptcy of BWC’s position that they are reduced to accusing the RU of “putting the ’niggers’ in their place.”

Really it is BWC, with its “new” ideology, that is putting Black people “in their place” by telling them: you don’t need to develop class consciousness, you don’t need to grasp the historic role of the international proletariat in liberating all mankind and advancing to communism–nationalism is good enough for you. As Lenin stressed, this means strengthening bourgeois ideology.

The RU believes that, especially now, when the struggle of the masses and the state of the communist movement cry out for clarity and unity around a correct line, bourgeois ideology must be combatted, wherever it comes from. We know that the masses of revolutionary-minded people will determine what is the correct line that can unite people on the basis of Marxism-Leninism and move the mass movement forward. We agree with BWC that people should study the documents on both sides of this struggle.

But we don’t think the Guardian is the best place to carry out this struggle, nor do we intend to help people like Davidson play their familiar game of contriving (as Lenin said of Trotsky) “to worm his way into the cracks of any given difference.”

Instead, to make clear our stand, in opposition to that of BWC and PRRWO, and to further the struggle for unity in the communist movement around a correct line, at this decisive stage, we are planning to publish Red Papers 6, containing major documents from both sides of this current struggle, as well as our views on the tasks ahead.