Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Red Dawn Committee (M-L)

Critique of OL’s Opportunism


Since the inception of the Communist Movement in the United States, the struggle for a revolutionary position on the Black national question, and for its correct implementation, has been a hallmark separating the genuine from the sham, Marxist-Leninists from social chauvinists. Those of us who participated in the struggles of the late 1960’s, early 1970’s can attest to the fact that the struggle to expose opportunism often centered on the question of Afro-Americans. The opportunism of the Revolutionary Union, for example, became particularly apparent in their revisionist theory of the Black nation of a now type. This is no accident. Social chauvinism in an advanced imperialist country such as the U.S. will necessarily manifest itself in the stance so-called revolutionaries take towards a nation their own country is oppressing. To support the struggle of Black South Africans for national liberation is much easier than to fully uphold the right of Black Americans to self-determination since the latter means the upheaval of the existing order within the United States, and there are many among us whose class interests will be stymied when this occurs.

Although the October League formulates a correct position on Afro-Americans – that Afro-Americans in the Black Belt in the South constitute a nation and as a nation have the right to self-determination up to and including secession, and that Afro-Americans throughout the rest of the U.S. constitute an oppressed national minority – their subtle distortions of the meaning of both nationhood and self-determination rip the revolutionary heart out of the national liberation struggle of Afro-Americans. The O.L. allegedly bases its position on the Comintern Resolutions of 1928, 1930. These documents, which put forward the above position, represented part of an attempt by the Comintern to help the CP-USA repudiate its right opportunist position on the national question, e.g. that the industrialisation of the South would proletarianize the Black peasantry and eliminate the special national needs of the Afro-American people. Formulated and approved by the entire international Communist Movement, it is entirely correct to use these documents as the basis for our stance towards the Afro-American question. Although the South has been increasingly industrialised and it is our responsibility to seriously investigate these changes, the essential relations of production – ownership of the land and industry by the white minority bourgeoisie while the Black peasantry and semi-proletariat works the land under tremendously oppressive and exploitative conditions – have not changed, and there is therefore no material reason for changing the basic position of the Comintern.

At the heart of the Afro-American national question is the agrarian question. The relation of the Black population to the land, as tenant farmers, sharecroppers, is key to the struggle for the emancipation of the Black Belt. A nation cannot, after all, exist without land, without a designated territory and for an oppressed nation in which actual ownership of the land is by the oppressing nation, it is the relationship of the oppressed masses to the land that entitles them to eventual control over it. O.L. gives us a subtle distortion of this concept in their “Resolution of the Third national Congress of O.L. – The Struggle for Black Liberation and Socialist Resolution.” On the one hand they give statistics on the backwardness of the rural South, raising the plight of the Black farmer through these statistics. They go on to state that the Majority of Black people in the South are part of the proletariat, They state that it would be wrong to use this fact to change the essential nature of the struggle in the Black Belt, But they fail to call for land redistribution as the material basis for the implementation of the demand for self-determination for the Black Belt. Rather the demand for land redistribution is jumbled together with overtly reformist demands such as jobs for youth and free quality health care. Robbed of its revolutionary material basis, redistribution of the land, the slogan of self-determination is a shallow, empty call.

The Comintern resolution of 1930 specifically spells out that the call for self-determination for the Negro masses in the Black Belt is meaningless and Utopian without a resolute struggle for 2 other demands:

(a) Confiscation of the landed property of the white landowners and capitalists for the benefit of the Negro farmers, The landed property in the hands of the white American exploiters constitutes the most important material basis of the entire system of national oppression and serfdom of the Negroes in the Black Belt, More than three-quarters of all Negro farmers here are bound in actual serfdom to the farms and plantations of the white exploiters by the feudal system of ’sharecropping.’ Only on paper and not in practice are they freed from the yoke of their former slavery. The same holds completely true for the great mass of black contract laborers. Here the contract is only the capitalist expression of the chains of the old slavery, which even today are not infrequently applied in their natural iron form on the roads of the Black Belt (chain gang work). These are the main forms of present Negro slavery in the Black Belt, and no breaking of the chains of this slavery is possible without confiscating all the landed property of the white masters. Without this revolutionary measure, without the agrarian revolution, the right of self-determination of the Negro population would be only a Utopia or, at best, would remain only on paper without changing in any way the actual enslavement. (“Resolution on the U.S. Negro Question”, p.160)

There’s a saying in Alabama – every time they want to build a new road, Black men fill up the prisons. The highways in the South are still being built by the sweat and blood of Black chain gangs. Prisoners still work state-owned farms at little or no pay. Vestiges of slavery remain in the South. And the fact that Black farmers are losing their land at a rate of six acres a day should only intensify our resolve to fight for the land that is legitimately theirs.

The second demand the Comintern raises in connection with the right to self-determination is the “establishment of the state unity of the Black Belt.” (ibid, p. 160) This state would not be exclusively Black. It would be a state in which the Black population constitutes a majority and exercises political power over the white minority. O.L. on the other hand calls for “units based on areas of Black majority.” (“Resolutions of the Third National Congress”, p. 72) Because the political districts in the South are drawn to give white people a majority at election time, O.L. wants to create new districts or units representative of the Black majority, we can only assume, in order to increase the number of Black congressmen elected to the House of Representatives. This has nothing to do with a united state in which the white minority must submit to the will of the Black majority. Nowhere does O.L. mention what is to be the relationship between white and black people. They want to avoid the issue of white chauvinism which has permeated the thinking of white Americans, as well as the October League. They try to gloss over the racial oppression which Afro-Americans have also suffered in an attempt to make their program acceptable to the most backward sectors of the white working class.

In the O.L. Resolution of 1976 they undermine the material basis for the implementation of the demand for self-determination. One year later in their Party Program (“Documents from the Founding Congress of the Communist Party-Marxist-Leninist”) they totally liquidate this basis, failing even to give lip service to the demand for land and for an Afro-American state. The right to self-determination becomes an abstract theoretical question rather than a slogan of action as O.L. tries to mask its actual opposition to self-determination for the Afro-American nation.

Lenin dearly points out what the right to self-determination means:

The right of nations to self-determination means only the right to independence in a political sense, the right to free, political secession from the oppressing nation. Concretely this political democratic demand implies complete freedom to carry on agitation in favour of secession, and freedom to settle the question of secession by means of a referendum of the nation that desires to secede. Consequently this demand is by no means identical with the demand for secession, for partition, for the formation of small states. It is merely the logical expression of the struggle against national oppression in every form. (Lenin, On the National and Colonial Question – Three Articles, Peking ed., p. 5)

Concretely it means the right of a people to control their own land, to administer their own forms of government and to determine their own relations with other nations and governments. Self-determination is not synonymous with secession. It means the freedom to choose the course of relations between two countries.

No conditions can be attached to the guarantee of this freedom, Even if a Communist party, based on an analysis of the particular concrete conditions facing a nation, is opposed to secession, they must still uphold the right of the particular nation to determine its own destiny. For example Stalin said in 1917 that he opposed secession of the Transcaucasia from Russia “bearing in mind the general level of development of Transcaucasia and in Russia, the conditions of the struggle of the proletariat, and so forth,” (Stalin, Marxism and the National Question, “Report on the National Question” p,103, Prog. Pub.) However he hastened to add: “But if, nevertheless, the peoples of Transcaucasia were to demand secession, they would of course secede, and would not encounter opposition on our part.”

Given the unparalleled forced nature of the establishment of the Black nation, given the depth of white chauvinism among the white masses, it is imperative for all revolutionaries to fight for the right of Black people to voluntarily and freely choose their political status and relationship to the United States.

O.L., however, has already chosen the course of struggle for the Afro-American nation. O.L. decided at their Third National Congress that “...they oppose secession at this time as a solution to the Afro-American question...” (“Resolution of the Third National Congress of the October League (ML)”, p.37) How do they arrive at this conclusion? The O.L. assumes that the struggle of Afro-Americans is so intimately bound up (in reality subordinate to) with the struggle of the proletariat for power that it cannot be resolved until after the socialist revolution in this country.

The fact that the majority of Black people are working side by side with their brothers and sisters, white and other oppressed minorities, lays a basis for a united assault against the imperialists, Our strategic outlook then calls for a socialist revolution, based on proletarian internationalism, which will accomplish in one sweep the basic conditions for the emancipation of the working class and the liberation of Black people. (ibid, p.37)

With all their talk about self-determination, O.L. simply cannot envision the liberation of the Black Belt before a socialist revolution.

But it is a fact that the Black national movement of the 1960’s was a revolutionary national movement that was not led by the proletariat, either white or Black. The impact this movement had on all of America was tremendous. O.L., who would like to write the Black Panther Party out of the history books, is telling those freedom fighters that they should have waited for the rest of the proletariat to make a united assault on U.S. imperialism. In effect O.L. argues that life under imperialism is preferable to national liberation for the Afro-American masses. They have set conditions for the struggle of the Black masses and robbed them of their right to choose.

This position of overtly opposing secession has to some extent been exposed by the rest of the communist movement in the U.S. Nowhere does O.L. actually repudiate it. Rather, in their Party Program of 1977 O.L. tries to disguise their true position, by stating:

Recognition of the right to self-determination does not mean that our Party advocates or supports separation as the solution to the Afro-American national question, nor does it mean that it will give its support to every bourgeois secessionist movement. The Party of the working class takes as its starting point the unity of the workers of all nationalities. The CP-(ML) supports only those national demands which weaken imperialism and enhance the unity and fighting ability of the class. (“Documents from the Founding Congress of the Communist Party (ML”), p. 129-130)

The negative wording of this statement – to say that support of self-determination does not mean support of secession – is a slick way of continuing to oppose secession. To emphasize the danger of bourgeois secessionist movements – movements that are relatively weak in this country at this time – is essentially to contend that all secessionist movements are bourgeois national movements that will somehow strengthen U.S. imperialism. But if the Black national movements of the 50’s and 60’s didn’t objectively threaten the internal class rule of U.S. imperialism, then why were the best leaders of that movement mercilessly suppressed and murdered? Were Malcolm X and Fred Hampton killed in cold blood because they were building and leading movements that strengthened bourgeois rule? Or isn’t it a fact that the ruling class couldn’t allow them to live because they were practicing revolutionary nationalism, because they represented a rising force that had to be stopped if U.S. imperialism was to continue intact. The U.S. ruling class couldn’t even tolerate the leadership of Martin Luther King who, although not a revolutionary, was a mass leader and who, towards the end of his life, had begun to realize the link between the oppression of the Black masses at hone and the national liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people. There is no justification for assuming that the revolutionary national movements of the future will be diametrically opposed to the revolutionary national movements of the past. Marrow nationalism is not indeed the main danger to the revolutionary movement in the United States.

O.L., by opposing the national liberation struggle of Afro-Americans to the struggle for working class unity and proletarian revolution, by implying that the struggle for the national rights of Afro-Americans weakens the unity of the working class, in effect argues that the main danger to the overall communist movement is narrow nationalism, and not, as is the case, social chauvinism and white supremacy. O.L. believes that unity between white and Black masses and other national minorities can be built from the fact that white and Black workers work side by side and are exploited by the same bourgeoisie. This conception of “unity” simply does not correspond to reality. Although the Supreme Court has ruled against discrimination in hiring practices, segregation practices in the workplaces throughout America still exist. Afro-Americans and other national minorities still fill the most difficult and lowest paying jobs. They are the last hired and first fired. The rate of unemployment is 2 to 3 times higher among Black people than among whites. The recent Bakke decision attests to the fact that higher education remains the privilege of the white majority. Black families still cannot buy homes or rent apartments in many communities throughout the United States. Black people have not “been integrated into the mainstream of American life oven though Andrew Young is the chief U.S. representative to the United Nations.

Even if O.L.’s conception of unity did correspond to reality, it would still be wrong because it is simple trade union, economist unity. In their pamphlet “Building Class Struggle Trade Unions”, O.L. says “...uniting the workers of all nationalities has become the hall-mark of recent communist-led struggles.” (p.33) Unity around what? Jobs or income now? O.L. wants to narrow the unity of the working class movement to unity around reformist, economist demands. For the O.L. to say that the “unity” of the picket line at the Phillip Morris strike in Louisville, Kentucky “...was broken by the appearance of anti-busing signs on the picket lines...” (Ibid, p.34) means that O.L. equates proletarian unity with the lowest level of trade union economism. Black and white workers will walk on the same picket line together. But this does not necessarily mean they have any unity with each other beyond the implementation of a halfway decent contract. If their alleged “unity” could be broken by reactionary white slogans, proletarian unity never existed. If it had, at least a minority of the white workers and the majority of the Black workers would have fought to suppress those workers who raised the anti-busing slogans. If this is to be the kind of multinational unity O.L. plans to utilize to develop the strategic alliance between the proletariat and the national minorities, it will be a fragile and unprincipled alliance indeed.

Revolutionary unity – the basis of the strategic alliance between the revolutionary proletariat and the revolutionary national movements – must be built on the firm foundation of proletarian internationalism. For the communists of an oppressing imperialist nation this means a determined struggle for the right of self-determination for the oppressed nations, particularly for nations oppressed within its own boundaries. For the communists of the oppressed nations this means a determined struggle against narrow nationalism, for the “voluntary union of nations.”

People who have not gone thoroughly into the question think there is a ’contradiction’ in Social Democrats of oppressing nations insisting on ’freedom of secession.’ while Social Democrats of oppressed nations insist on ’freedom of union.’ However a little reflection will show that there is not, and cannot be, any other road leading from the given situation to internationalism and the amalgamation of nations, any other road to this goal. (Lenin, Vol.XIX, p.261-2, taken from Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, p. 81)

What this means concretely to revolutionaries in the U.S. is that we must place the right to self-determination for the Afro-American nation at the forefront of the struggle for equal rights. Unity, and the revolutionary alliance between the national movements and the proletariat, will not be built until the communist movement proves in practice that it will not conciliate to any forms of white chauvinism and reaction. This means taking the front lines in the battle against anti-busing movements, against the Ku Klux Klan, against the Nazi party and any and all other manifestations of reaction, discrimination and fascism. This and only this will break the deep mistrust – based on years of oppression – Black workers feel towards white workers. This and only this – the real practice of proletarian internationalism – will root out white chauvinism and provide a real, material basis for the revolutionary alliance between the revolutionary national movements and the revolutionary proletarian movement.

O.L. also shows its opposition to self-determination as a Leninist principle in their position on the many other nationalities whose territories are governed by the U.S. imperialists, inside or outside the boundaries of the U.S. O.L. offers no concrete analysis of the native ’peoples of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Micronesia and other Pacific Islands. We know these peoples are cruelly oppressed and ruled by U.S. imperialism. But are they nations, colonies, tribal groups or what? O.L. lumps all of them together and claims to support their struggles for “full national rights.” Full national rights is a meaningless vague demand. And for those nations that are direct colonies of the United States such as the Virgin Islands, it is a wrong demand. Although these nations are small, they are as entitled as any other group of people to decide their own future, i.e. to independence and national liberation. Typical of all great power chauvinists, O.L. falls to make any analysis of these peoples – they’re small after all – and wants to deny them their right to secede from the imperialist arms of the United States. This would, after all, break up the empire O.L. apparently wants salvage.

The demands O.L. sets for the national minorities living within the boundaries of the United States are for “...full democratic rights and regional autonomy for all national minority peoples...” (“Documents from the Founding Congress of the CP ML”), p. 126) What is regional autonomy? O.L.’s only known attempt to define regional autonomy was in 1975 in their journal, “Class Struggle.” This explanation which quotes Stalin out of context is so garbled that it makes no sense at all. Fortunately Stalin’s works on regional autonomy (and the national question in general) do make sense if only one takes the time to study them.

Regional autonomy was the form of relations the Soviet government adopted to connect the border regions of Russia (Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkestan, etc) with the center of Russia in the initial stages of the development of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Each of these regions constituted a definite territory with a definite population. The populations of these territories were not homogeneous but varied, mixed, heterogeneous. (For example the Caucasus apparently included Mingrelians, Abkhasians, Adjarians, Svanetians, Lesghians, all of whom spoke different languages.) Secondly the economic life of these territories was feudal, semi-feudal, in some cases tribal. Industrialization of the border regions had not taken place at the time of the 1917 revolution. The relations of production wore feudal and the forces of production were primitive, backward and undeveloped. Thirdly those areas had a history of being dominated and ruled by the more advanced center of Russia, particularly by the criminal rule of the Tsars. Fourthly the entente (the alliance of Great Britain, Franco and Russia during World War I) was trying to destroy the Soviet revolution by cutting Russia off from the border regions, isolating central Russia and putting an end to the world’s first proletarian state.

The purpose of regional autonomy was to draw the masses of the various regions into active political life, to build Soviet power from below, to consolidate the union of the border regions with central Russia by education and persuasion, i.e. freely and voluntarily, and to develop the productive forces of the regions according to the needs and aspirations of the local populace under the guidance of central Russia. Underlying the implementation of regional autonomy was respect for the right of the peoples of the various territories to secession from the Union should they so desire. The degree of autonomy and the forms it took varied from region to region depending on the development and needs of the population. It was not a fixed or stagnant principle, but a stepping stone towards the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Soviet autonomy is the most real and correct form of the union of the border regions with central Russia. Nobody will deny that the Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkestan, Kirghizia, Bashkiria, Tataria and the other border regions, if they desire the cultural and material prosperity of their masses, must have native schools, courts, administration and organs of authority, recruited principally from the local people. Furthermore the real sovietization of these regions, their conversion into Soviet countries closely bound with central Russia in one integral state, is inconceivable without the widespread organization of local schools, without the creation of courts, administrative bodies, organs of authority, etc., staffed with people acquainted with the life and language of the population. But establishing schools, courts, administration and organs of authority functioning in the native language – this is precisely putting Soviet autonomy into practice, for Soviet autonomy is nothing but the sum total of all these institutions clothed in Ukrainian, Turkestan, Kirghiz, etc. forms. (Stalin, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question. “The Policy of the Soviet Government on the National Question in Russia”, written in 1920, Stalin’s italics, p.130-131)

Regional autonomy is a policy of self-government pursued by nations that do not choose to secede from a larger union. It is the practical implementation – or one form the implementation may take – of the right of nations to self-determination, with the ultimate goal of organising Society according to class (i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat) and not nationhood or nationality. Applied to the United States regional autonomy might be chosen as a step towards achieving equality by the Afro-American nation, the Chicane or Native American peoples, etc. However, for the October League to advocate regional autonomy as the solution to the oppression these peoples suffer once again robs then of their night to determine their own destinies. Just as O.L. decided the future of the Afro-American nation (against secession), so 0.L. has decided the future of the Chicano and Native American peoples without even bothering to concretely analyse who those people are. For O.L. it is enough to say that the Chicano and Native American people are national minorities. Nowhere does O.L. refute the very serious analysis put forward by the August 29th Movement in 1975-76 that the Chicano people constitute a nation and as a nation have the right to self-determination up to and including the right to secession. Nor does the October League take up the task of analysing the rich, varied and complicated history of the Native American people. O.L. simply calls for supporting “...the struggle of the Native American Indians for full democratic rights, including the right to regional autonomy...” (Documents, p. 136) Regional autonomy where? In the five states of Arizona, California, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oklahoma? What about the native Americans who are presently struggling for the implementation of their treaty rights in the Northeastern states, particularly in Maine and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts?

O.L. fails to answer the question of territory which is basic to the realisation of regional autonomy for any group of people. Falling to speak to this issue means that O.L. views regional autonomy as an extension of community control by a particular national group and not the administration of self-rule by a heterogeneous population over a definite area of land. O.L.’s conception of regional autonomy becomes most peculiar if one tries to envision what it would actually mean if applied to the national minorities who are concentrated throughout the urban areas of the United States. New York City might be divided into several autonomous regions. The South Bronx would be the autonomous region of the Puerto Rican national minority; Harlem of course would belong to the Afro-Americans; and the Lower East Side would be divided Into Little Italy, Chinatown and a small enclave of Jews. Regional autonomy applied to the national minorities living in the inner cities is an absurdity which maintains the status quo, keeping the national minorities looked in the oppressive overcrowded ghettos in which they already live.

In Marxism and the National Question Stalin explains the basis of the discontent of the national minorities as stemming from their general lack of rights within the broader society. For example Puerto Ricans living within the U.S. as an oppressed national minority are denied the right to speak their native language (among other things) and this has been a rallying point for the struggle of the Puerto Rican national minority in the United States. They have not struggled for an artificial union with the island of Puerto Rico through some magical air shuttle, even though certain revolutionary groups (YLP in the late 60’s, PSP today) have tried to rally them to this demand. Without denying the relationship between the Puerto Ricans living on the island of Puerto Rico, as a colony of the United States, and Puerto Ricans living within the boundaries of the United States, as an oppressed national minority, the material needs and thus the correct demands for both groups of people are different, i.e. independence for the Puerto Rican nation, equal rights and an end to discrimination against the Puerto Rican national minority. As Stalin says:

What is it that particularly agitates a national minority?

A minority is discontented not because there is no national union but because it does not enjoy the right to use its native language. Permit it to use its native language and the discontent will pass of itself.

Thus, equal rights of nations in all forms (language, schools, etc. is an essential element in “the solution of the national question. Consequently, a state law based on complete democratization of the country is required, prohibiting all national privileges without exception and every hind of disability or restriction on the rights of national minorities.

That and that alone, is the real, not a paper guarantee of the rights of a minority. (J.V. Stalin, Marxism and the National Question, p.91-92, Stalin’s emphasis)

Rather than state how equal rights of the national minorities are to be achieved, O.L. concentrates its energy on calls for democratic demands, narrowing the struggle to jobs or income new, free quality health care, equality in education, and an end to drugs and drug pushers. They raise these partial demands out of the context of the revolutionary struggle for proletarian power, on a par with revolutionary demands, distorting the relationship of reforms to revolution. When HRUM raised the demand for free quality health care in 1969 it was revolutionary because the overall content of HRUM’s activity, although in the main spontaneous, was revolutionary. For O.L. to raise the same demand today, out of the context of a revolutionary struggle of the masses for it, as representatives of the supposed subjective factor, is nothing but bourgeois economism. As the Comintern Resolution states:

a) The direct alms and partial demands around which a partial struggle develops are to be linked up in the course of the struggle with the revolutionary fundamental slogans brought up by the question of power...

b) One should not venture to draw up a complete program of some kind, or a system of ’positive’ partial demands. Such programs on the part of petty bourgeois politicians should be exposed as attempts to divert the masses from the necessary hard struggles by fostering reformist and democratic illusions among thorn.. .(p. l65)

The struggle for real equality of the oppressed national minorities in the U.S. has by no means been accomplished. The enforcement of laws prohibiting all forms of discrimination cannot be realized until there is a proletarian revolution. There can be no equality as long as power is concentrated in the hands of the few over the many. Partial struggles against all forms of discrimination and oppression become revolutionary in the context of the struggle for the full equality that can only be materialized under the dictatorship of the proletariat because the proletariat is the only class in society that has a material interest in guaranteeing full equality for all oppressed people regardless of national or racial background.

In summation, in struggling against the manifestations of social chauvinist trends in the U.S. communist movement we should keep in mind Engels’ famous words: “No nation can be free if it oppresses another.”