Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Group (Marxist-Leninist)

Our Tasks on the National Question

Against Nationalist Deviations in Our Movement


As we have seen, the criteria for nationhood and the rights based on national status are completely objective categories. If a given people constitute a nation, if they fulfill the four basic categories, it automatically follows that they are entitled to the right of self-determination. Likewise, if a given people have ceased to be a nation, it just as automatically follows that they do not have the right to self-determination. Such a people are in no way prevented from fighting for control of their own affairs, of fighting against national oppression, of fighting for basic democratic rights. But if they lack the essential criteria of nationhood, they naturally do not have a basis for separate political self-determination.

A minority peoples, whether they constitute a nation or not, still have some form of class structure. In the general struggle against national oppression, each class makes the most of the national movement to advance its own class interests. For the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, this merger of the national movement and their own class interests takes the form of nationalism, an ideology based not on the objective status of nationality, but on the subjective aspirations of the minority ruling classes. The national bourgeoisie has no objective conception of what constitutes a nation or a nation’s rights. They do not demand the right to self-determination as a point of principle, but being entirely unprincipled demand whatever they can get away with. Such tendencies are pervasive not only in oppressed nations, but within national minorities as well. We must distinguish, then, between the degree of nationalism among any specific peoples, and that peoples’ objective status. Nationalism does not equal nationhood. Nationalism is a subjective and bourgeois category, a form of ideology. Nationhood is an objective and scientific category, a social, historical and economic concept. Nationalism is a product of the bourgeoisie, of its aspirations to gain class privileges. Nationhood as a scientific concept is the product of Marxism-Leninism, of the workingclass, in its aspiration to develop a clear and principled stand on the national question.

How, then, do we determine whether or not a given people are a nation? An objective category requires an objective method, a thorough and conscientious study:

The inference is clear: we must seek to build a reliable foundation of precise and indisputable facts that can be confronted to any of the ’general’ or ’example-based’ arguments now so grossly misused in certain countries. And if it is to be a real foundation, we must not take individual facts, but the sum total of facts, without a single exception, relating to the question under discussion. Otherwise there will be the inevitable and fully justified suspicion that instead of historical phenomena being presented in objective interconnection and interdependence and treated as a whole, we are presenting a ’subjective’ concoction to justify what might prove to be a dirty business. This does happen...and more often than one might think. Lenin, Statistics and Sociology CW Vol. 23 p.272

If we are to believe Lenin, there has already been a lot of ’dirty business’ done to the national question in the U.S. Here we have seen communist-inclined organizations rushing into print, taking and defending positions on the national question, based on the most superficial, fragmentary, and highly selective factual data. Or, as with the left revisionists, ’principled’ positions are taken without a single fact to back them up. What is currently characteristic of our movement is the lack of Marxist-Leninist method, of a communist style of work, and instead a willingness to bend facts to preconceptions, to omit ’unsuitable’ information or principles, and when pressed, to revise fundamentals of Marxism in order to accommodate petty bourgeois tendencies.

All this is done in the name of ’the most thorough and scientific manner”. We are told time and again what everyone has by now learned by rote but not yet grasped, that we must study ’concrete conditions’, ’scientifically1, ’in a dialectical way’, etc. We have yet to see any of these fine words put into action. Instead we have the opposite. Hot the ’sum total of facts’, but the most useful. Not ’interconnections and interdependence’, but fusion of categories, arbitrariness, and artificiality. This is not only a reflection of the weakness and immaturity of our movement, but a source of it. Opportunism in leadership engenders opportunism among the rank and file. It sets an example, a limit on the demands the movement places on itself. If the ’leading’ organizations promote and defend opportunist lines, how can that not help but restrict the growth of the movement as a whole? How can that not help but drive potential cadre from the movement? What good can come from an organization that attempts to merge with the workingclass and win over advanced workers with theoretical shortcuts and a shoddy style of work? If we do not have the ’sum total of facts, without a single exception, relating to the question under discussion’, then it is far better, from a workingclass standpoint, to simply leave the question open until we have a sufficient grasp on it. Instead, our movement has been inundated with tediously superficial propositions, none of which claim to be the ’last word’ but which are defended in practice as fundamental principles.

The national question has become clogged with such amateurishness and theoretical opportunism. In order to clear the path for its solution, it will be necessary to first clear the theoretical field, to see what obstacles stand in our way and how we go about removing them.

Below we will criticize the three major sources of deviations on the national question: The Communist Party U.S.A., the Black Workers Congress, and the Revolutionary Union. The treatment of the CPUSA is necessarily brief, and is meant only to cover the general history of the line. In handling the BWC and the RU, we must understand that both organizations are fairly young, that their theoretical and organizational development has been fairly rapid, and that in general both retain a flexibility in line. Neither has fully consolidated into a definite and unmistakable tendency, as has the CPUSA. Our criticism is not against the organizations as such, against the leadership or cadre, but aimed solely at deviations in line. This is usually taken for granted in polemical exchanges, but in such a tender and thin-skinned movement, mentioning this is almost obligatory. To the extent that a leadership or organization persists in an erroneous or opportunist line, however, this contradiction becomes antagonistic. Just as we should not hesitate to change our views when we are proven wrong, we should not hesitate to make a clean break.