Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Group (Marxist-Leninist)

Our Tasks on the National Question

Against Nationalist Deviations in Our Movement


The following pamphlet is presented as a contribution to the debate on the national question within our movement. It was written with two aims in mind. First, to present a general survey of the theoretical history of the question and its role within the communist movement. In this we have only summarized the universal principles on the national question developed by Lenin and Stalin. Secondly, we have attempted to explain the nature and source of nationalist deviations in the contemporary movement, and to show how our theoretical and practical tasks on the national question have not yet been met.

The pamphlet deals only with the theoretical aspects of the national question, and does not attempt to answer the question of whether or not Blacks in the U.S. constitute a nation. A correct understanding of the general theory is necessary if our movement is to resolve the question of the objective status of Blacks in the U.S., but it is really only the first step. We must then apply this general understanding to our own specific conditions, to the “sum total of facts, without a single exception” (Lenin). Our original plan was to present a thorough study of the general theory, the theoretical deviations that have developed around the line, and a historical survey of the objective development of the Black population. Our work on this last section is still in progress, and we hope to present the reader with the final part within a few months. From the standpoint of accuracy and effectiveness, of course, it would be must better to present all three sections at once. But recent developments within our movement have forced us into print prematurely. What occurs within our movement in the next few months may determine the course of the movement for years to come.

What are these new developments? That the largest new communist organization, the Revolutionary Union, is maneuvering to consolidate all the unformulated elements in our movement around a completely unprincipled and opportunist programme on the basis of which it intends to declare a new Communist Party. This is all supposed to come about by the fall of this year. It goes without saying that everyone in our movement recognizes, if only formally, the necessity of establishing a new Party. If it were a simple matter of declaration, we would have had one long ago. That we do not presently have one is an indication that although our movement desperately desires a Party and is building to create one, it also recognizes that such a Party must be built on a solid foundation and that

...Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. Otherwise, our unity will be purely fictitious, it will conceal the prevailing confusion and hinder its radical elimination. V.I. Lenin Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra, CW Vol. 4 p. 355

It is because the RU’s Draft Programme does not draw “firm and definite line of demarcation”, bat instead obscures those lines in its effort to create unity around the lowest common denominator; does not put forward clear and unmistakable Marxist-Leninist principles, but instead sacrifices those principles in order to attract a large following; does not eliminate the prevalent confusion in our movement, but instead fosters and perpetuates that confusion by giving it a consolidated form; does not advance the movement, but drags it back; does not raise our movement to a higher level, but attempts to lower the movement to its own level; does not lay the guidelines for a communist style of work, for a thorough Marxist-Leninist method, but instead offers our movement the model of its own theoretical and practical opportunism; it is for these reasons that our movement must reject the RU Draft Programme and any other attempt to consolidate the movement on the basis of opportunism and lack of principle. A Party built on such a basis is in essence no different from the revisionist CPUSA, and if the RU is intent on creating such a Party, there is no need to take a roundabout route.

Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. Without firm and unbreakable principles all talk about the struggle against revisionism, the revolutionary organization of the working class, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat is just a diversion. The RU may sincerely want to establish a revolutionary communist party, may be burning with revolutionary enthusiasm, but our movement by now has learned that good intentions are no substitute for a thorough grasp on Marxism-Leninism, and that revolutionary sentiment alone is not enough. If the RU is successful in its attempt to create a Party on the basis of amateurism and lack of principle, if it is able to attract the unformulated elements of the movement and maintain them in an unformulated state, if it does not meet with concerted and principled criticism, our movement will face yet another consolidated brand of “revolutionary” opportunism, one more “communist” Party to hinder and confuse the process of working class organization, one more rallying point for petty bourgeois tendencies whose destructive influence is strengthened a hundredfold simply by being given an organized form.

That the RU top leadership is entirely capable of such utter bankruptcy can be seen from their treatment of the national question in the U.S. The errors the RU commits on this question are not simply fits of theoretical confusion. It is plain the RU has set into the question with definite political ambitions. It would like to attract Black nationalist-inclined cadre to its organization, and so makes every effort to create a hospitable atmosphere. That this act of accommodation requires the liquidation of a few Marxist-Leninist principles does give the RU theoreticians some difficulties, but they quickly prove themselves equal to the task. After all, what are a few paltry principles compared to “palpable results”? Hence, the RU’s contribution to the “creative application of Marxism-Leninism”: the Nation of a New Type and the Third Period. With the adaptation of socialism to nationalism through the revision of fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism, the RU has demonstrated its ability to adapt Marxism-Leninism to any bourgeois current that promises “palpable results”.

The RU formulation is completely indefensible, transparently opportunist, and yet our movement has seen the very real damage such lines can cause to the development of the movement as a whole. The line has been defended not only by rank and file RU cadre, but by people completely independent of the RU, who out of respect for the size and influence of the organization assume its theoretical positions must be well-founded. What an innocent, and for the movement, fatal, assumption!

Just as the RU discovered the Nation of a New Type when it applied itself to the national question, it has broken ground for an opportunism of a new type in its Draft Programme. It hopes through its relatively prestigious position in the movement, through the Programme’s concilliatory and “inoffensive” tone, to raise its nose-count to an acceptable level and then simply declare the Party. By clamping a lid on that sector of the movement under its control, the RU will then be able to “conceal the prevailing confusion”, especially its own, and set about adapting Marxism-Leninism to opportunism. Either we will help bankroll the RU for this adventure, rally around its high school essay, and compromise our principles for the sake of “unity”; or, we will draw an indelible line between ourselves and the opportunism of the RU leadership, expose the Draft Programme, and force the RU line out of the movement. It is the responsibility of every rank and file Marxist-Leninist to take up this struggle.

* * *

The following pamphlet is divided into three parts. The first section dealing with the theoretical history of the national question is based on the writings of Lenin and Stalin. Since we have used only those sections covering the principal points, we urge the reader to study the original sources for further background.

The second section covers the deviations on the national question within the Communist Party, U.S.A. (CPUSA), the Black Workers Congress (BWC), and the Revolutionary Union (RU). The history of the line in the CPUSA is based on public documents in Political Affairs, the CP’s theoretical journal, and is therefore more of an outline history than a full study. For a thorough study we would need the documents of the inner-Party debates, which unfortunately have not been made available to the movement as a whole. Likewise, the critiques of the BWC and the RU are based on their available publications, which the reader should consult to see whether or not we have accurately represented their arguments. Since the section on the BWC was written, the organization has undergone a split. Our criticism of their position on the national question, then, may be out-dated, but since their organization has not formally revised their former position we have decided to publish the criticism as a contribution in that direction.

The last section covers two recent publications: Critique of the Black Nation Thesis by Harry Chang of the Racism Research Project, and Defeat the “National Question” Line in the U.S. and Unite to Fight Racism, by an organization called the New Voice. Both of these pamphlets reject the application of the national question to the internal U.S., and hold that Blacks are only an oppressed race.

We have not dealt with other contemporary groups, such as the October League, the Guardian, soft-core Trotskyite groups like the Sojourner Truth Organization, or hard-core Trotskyites like the Progressive Labor Party and the Communist League. The “left” revisionist tendencies, like the October League, are content to take almost any position that promises “palpable results” on the basis of generalities alone. The Trotskyite groups have never had any need of principle, and rarely bother to justify themselves in terms of Marxism-Leninism. And the Guardian, a ”centre” of petty bourgeois good intentions, is tailing so far behind the communist movement it really cannot contribute to our present theoretical and organizational tasks. The lines of all these organizations should be studied, however, since we are bound to run into them in our practical work.

Among the minority communists there are tendencies either to narrow nationalism, separatism, refusal to work with whites, and an exaggeration of the “inherent” revolutionary content of the struggle against national oppression; or, a tendency towards accommodation, liberal reformism, and careerism through special privileges.

These tendencies will dominate the movement until hard and fast principles are developed around which the movement as a whole can organize. It is the obligation of every communist in our movement to contribute to the development of those principles.

Communist Workers Group (Marxist-Leninist)