Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Group (Marxist-Leninist)

Our Tasks on the National Question

Against Nationalist Deviations in Our Movement


Anyone who is familiar with the Marxist world outlook understands that Marxism views classes and class struggle as the fundamental contradiction of modern society. The struggle between the workingclass and the bourgeoisie conditions the whole of social life, and creates the contours for the development and transformation of society from one stage to another. The class line, then, is the most profound dividing line in modern times. But class is not the only form of distinction between peoples. Society is also marked through with the division between the sexes, between races, and between nationalities. These lesser contradictions play their part in the development of capitalism, and consequently exert themselves during the transformation from capitalism to socialism. Each contradiction poses a question to the workingclass movement as it organizes for the overthrow of capital. In the case of women, the workingclass must ask, what is the nature of the oppression of women, and what is the material basis for ending that oppression? In general, the woman question poses the relation of sex to class, and attempts to ally sections of the women’s movement in the struggle against all forms of oppression. In the case of nationalities, the workingclass must ask, what is a nation, what is the nature of national oppression, and in what cases and to what extent should the workingclass support national movements? In general, the national question poses the relation of nationality to class, and attempts to ally revolutionary national struggles in the general offensive against imperialism.

The woman question is universal, in that there is no doubt that women exist in every capitalist country and suffer some form of oppression. Still, the specific forms of oppression and the specific means for overcoming them must be determined by the communist movements within each country. The national question is likewise universal, in that as long as imperialism exists, national oppression will exist. In some cases, oppressed nations exist within the territory of the oppressor state. More frequently, imperialist powers oppress nations on other continents, maintaining them as markets and sources of cheap raw materials and labor. The workers in both oppressor and oppressed nations must determine the correct class standpoint to take towards each other and their “own” bourgeoisie. From point of theory, the national question is ”resolved” when the workingclass movement develops a principled position towards national movements and finds the practical means for fighting against national oppression. In practice, the national question is only resolved when national oppression in all forms has been wholely eliminated.

Some questions are more unanswered than others, depending on how the question is posed and who attempts to answer it. The problems before the workingclass movement are the responsibility of its political leadership, the Communist Party. If the Communist Party does not or cannot correctly answer the fundamental questions before the movement and develop a line of action from its analysis, then secondary contradictions --such as the national question-can become severe and primary contradictions, and the movement as a whole is set back. This is the objective result when, as in the U.S., the Communist Party has become revisionist.

The CPUSA long ago “resolved” the national question in theory by simply liquidating it, and effecting a fusion with the NAACP and other black bourgeois organizations. The position it maintained throughout the 30’s and 40’s that Blacks in the Black Belt were a nation became a block to its merger with the Eastern liberals, and was promptly abandoned. This was facilitated by the fact that even while the former line was maintained, it was never correctly understood by the Party that put it forward. The practical and theoretical destruction the CP has worked within the socialist movement is one of the main sources of the present confusion over all major questions, but especially over the national question.

The national question poses both an internal and international problem before the American workingclass movement. On the international level, it must resolve the relation between the American workingclass as a whole and the revolutionary movements in the Third World. In principle this means creating an alliance between the revolutionary movements abroad and the American workingclass against the American imperialist bourgeoisie. Internally, the workingclass must resolve the contradictions rising from its own multi-national composition. The bourgeoisie fosters divisions along national and racial lines within the workingclass in order to pit worker against worker. The greater the divisions within the workingclass, the less will the class as a whole be able to take up a united struggle against capital. This is a lesson the bourgeoisie has applied consistently over the past two hundred years. In order to create a strong and unified class movement, then, the new communist movement must find the correct solution to the national question and develop a principled line of action.

Why has the national question received such abuse in the American movement? Because the national question, more than any other, demands a thorough and conscientious study of conditions peculiar to the U.S., conditions that have not been fully analysed in any Marxist text. Like all major questions of principle, it requires a concrete application of Marxism. The national question, therefore, acts as a barometer for the entire movement, since the resolution of this one question reveals more than any other how well or how poorly American communists understand Marxism-Leninism. Based on the positions offered by the organized movement to date, we would conclude that this understanding is not yet consolidated. No one has answered the question, Are Blacks in the U.S. a nation?, in a principled and thorough way. Instead we have been shown a series of tediously superficial positions that in one way or another adapt socialism to nationalism. We can expect that weaknesses or outright opportunism that emerge around the national question will spread to other major questions as well. No organization can have solid principles on a number of questions, while lapsing into gross opportunism on others. Opportunism is not that provincial, is always attracted to fresh and unspoiled ideological territory. It first conquers the frontier areas, which are poorly guarded, and then presses into the interior. The national question is an outpost within the communist movement, a subordinate question to the general class struggle. Our official border area begins with the class line, which we must defend at all costs. As opportunism penetrates our movement, it tries to push that line further and further back, until the line dissolves and we are left with no ground to stand on. Hence the importance of clarifying and reinforcing our “outposts”, so as to check the advance of opportunism and rid our movement of it.

The national question in the U.S. has become a primary and demanding question, not because it is so objectively, but because of the poor subjective state of our movement. It is the most important question in our movement, since our main task, the creation of a new and principled communist party, cannot be accomplished until the correct principles of unity are established. Until there is a communist party with its feet firmly grounded in Marxism-Leninism, the workingclass will be without correct political leadership. Until the national question is resolved correctly in theory, there can be no truly communist party.

What is the content of the national question? It involves these five basic points:
1) The criteria of nationhood
2) National movements in the period of rising capitalism
3) National movements in the imperialist era
4) The right of nations to self-determination
5) The stand of the workingclass in relation to nations and national movements, or the relation of class to nationality

The elaboration of each of these points forms the theoretical ground on which we can analyse a particular nation or national movement. The general principles worked out by Lenin and Stalin are as definitive and accurate as any other fundamental principle of Marxism It remains for us only to strengthen our grasp on these basic principles and apply them to our own concrete and peculiar conditions Likewise, any analysis of a particular people or nation that deviates from or revises these principles must be regarded as a break with Marxism, a concession to one or another form of bourgeois nationalism.

What is the role of the national question within the working-class movement? The national question is, first of all, a secondary question. Like every other democratic issue, the national question is included within, and subordinate to, the class struggle. In formulating the national question we guard against any form of national oppression, chauvinism or privilege, but never advance nationalism as such. We support the right of nations to self-determination, but in no way encourage nationalist separatism. And further, we never put the rights of nations above the rights and duties of our class. We must always and everywhere advance the class line over every other, whether it is color, sex or nationality. The workingclass is, objectively and practically the most consistently democratic class in modern society. Only the workingclass has as a natural and essential facet of its class interests a material stake in the abolition of all forms of oppression and exploitation. The resolution of national oppression can thus be accomplished only through the consistent class struggle of the workingclass as a whole.