Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Internationalism vs Irwin Silber’s Revisionism


First Published: In Angola’s Revolutionary National War and the Struggle for Proletarian Internationalism, by The Compass [Boston, MA], December 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Publisher’s Note: The following is the beginning of a polemic with the Guardian’s role in the struggle to support the revolutionary liberation struggle in Angola.

* * *

In a series of editorials, Irwin Silber of the Guardian raised the question of the “meaning” and “application” of proletarian internationalism for the U.S. revolutionary movement. Since Silber is speaking as a representative of the U.S. left, his accusations and social chauvinism should not be allowed to continue without a struggle.

In an editorial in the Guardian, Silber said, “There can be no communist party – especially in the heartland of U.S. imperialism – that does not firmly and unequivocally base itself on proletarian internationalism.” (9/8/76)

That is a fine principle. But let us look at the brand of so-called “proletarian internationalism” being actively propagated around the country by Mr. Silber. He writes:

The question of Angola has become a crucial political test for the U.S. left.

Every anticolonial struggle poses a similar test for communists in the “mother” country. Just as the revisionist French Communist Party faltered on the question of the Algerian independence struggle, so some in the American left are faltering on the question of Angola.

To U.S. communists it must be a matter of the highest principle to support the struggles of an oppressed people when they are directed against the U.S. bourgeoisie–and in Angola this struggle is led by the MPLA. Failure to do so is nothing less than class collaboration no matter how much “revolutionary” rhetoric may be expended in explaining one’s position.

Mr. Silber has reduced communists to nationalists! The U.S. communists must support the struggles of an oppressed people when they are directed against the U.S. bourgeoisie. The French communists must support the struggles of an oppressed people against the French bourgeoisie, etc. That is true, but the issue it evades is substantial. U.S. communists must support the struggles against all imperialism – particularly, but by no means exclusively, against U.S. imperialism. Why then has Mr. Silber substituted the struggle against U.S. imperialism for the struggle against imperialism? Isn’t he trying to hoodwink well intentioned anti-imperialist people? Imperialism is based on a world-wide system of financial networks, of loans and obligations. Imperialism means a small handful of monopolists from one state are engaged in a fierce rivalry with a handful of monopolists from other states struggling over the redivision of the imperialist loot, the loot sweated off the backs of the oppressed and exploited peoples world-wide.

For Mr. Silber, socialists who support the struggle of oppressed nations against all imperialism have gone too far. The struggle for national liberation means just that – the struggle to liberate an oppressed nation from all imperialist domination. But Mr. Silber, like the Soviet social imperialists, is frightened by the audacity of the oppressed nations to know they can survive without any imperialist rulers. Otherwise, why would Mr. Silber equate the call “superpowers out of Angola” with support for a “neo-colonialist position”? (Guardian, 2/11/76. p.9)[1] For Mr. Silber, genuine anti-imperialism has become neo-colonialism and his support of neo-colonialism i.e., foreign troops in support of one faction as in Angola – he calls anti-imperialism. At first glance it may seem as if he is just confused.

Mr. Silber travels around the country attacking anyone who warns that like U.S. imperialism, Soviet social imperialism is also the enemy of progress. But the progressive peoples of the world will fight against all imperialism, whatever its nationality. Mr. Silber, haven’t you become a salesman for a rival slavemaster? The slaves are fighting for an end to the system of plunder and oppression, not just for a new oppressor.

In Angola, imperialism, the system of superpower rivalry, was at work. The superpowers chose up sides and tried to instigate fighting among the liberation organizations which had won respect and a following through their struggle against Portuguese colonialism. The U.S. tried to choose F.N.L.A.; the Soviet Union, M.P.L.A. The People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, encouraged the three organizations to unite and to form a representative and a new democratic government so as to be able to continue their struggle against all foreign domination. The position of choosing sides is the old imperialist ’divide and rule’ tactic; the position of encouraging national unity against all imperialist domination is the method the Chinese successfully employed to throw the imperialists out of China.

Silber, however, imparts to the Soviet Union, honorable – not imperialist – intentions: “The Soviet Union,” he writes, “sees a chance to weaken its super power rival, the U.S. ... Soviet leaders can see just as well as everyone else can that the U.S. is trying to retain its influence via the two rival ’liberation’ organizations it is backing. Therefore, from the Soviet point of view, backing for the M.P.L.A. becomes a way of helping to seal U.S. isolation in West Africa.” (Guardian, 2/11/76)

This is the same reasoning Silber employs in justifying his position of choosing sides. “And after all the rhetoric is cleared away,” he writes, “the choices are that clear-cut. Whatever hopes the U.S. may have had for a military victory over the M.P.L.A. were dashed when Angolan patriots, supported by Cuban troops, threw back the FNLA-UNITA-South African forces after the CIA backed counter revolutionaries had made some initial gains shortly after independence was declared.” (Guardian 2/11/76)

But the sides are not as the imperialists want to portray them – M.P.L.A., Soviet Union, Guardian vs. F.N.L.A., U.N.I.T.A., U.S. imperialism, South Africa, C.I.A. The sides are imperialism versus national liberation. The genuine forces of proletarian internationalism, led by the People’s Republic of China, correctly encouraged the three liberation organizations, all of whom had demonstrated their legitimacy by active fighting against the Portuguese colonialist rule to return to the government of National Unity that the three organizations had agreed to during joint negotiations. And in practice, the People’s Republic of China has demonstrated its uncompromising support for the struggle against imperialist intervention in Angola on the part of South Africa, U.S. imperialism, Soviet social imperialism, and Cuba.

A careful study of Silber’s arguments reveals that his apologies for imperialism are not just confused jumbles, but conscious window dressing intended to aid and abet Soviet social imperialist neo-colonial efforts. Otherwise, how can he acknowledge: “It can also be expected that the Soviet Union will attempt to exploit the national liberation struggles in order to replace U.S. influence with Soviet influence”, and yet attack those genuine anti-imperialists forces who have taken up the struggle against both U.S. imperialism and Soviet social imperialism.

Silber, like the Soviet Union, has come to understand that the struggle for national liberation can no longer easily be opposed openly. Instead, under the cover of attacking “class collaboration” he seeks to try to sabotage the national liberation struggles encouraging them to change masters rather than supporting their struggle for total liberation from all imperialist domination.

Silber knows and approves of what the Soviet Union is up to. And so his slanders of genuine anti-imperialist fighters must be taken with utmost seriousness. Let no one be even temporarily fooled. He is an active distorter of Marxism. He is using the slogan “proletarian internationalism” to attack genuine proletarian internationalism.

Those who have fought imperialism and colonialism will not long be fooled by Soviet social imperialism because it carries a supposed “socialist” flag. Conquerors and bullies, regardless of their camouflage, are hated by democratic peoples everywhere. The days of imperialist rule, under whatever cover, are numbered.

We agree, Mr. Silber, class collaboration ... will prove fatal.


[1] “For any in the U.S. left, under cover of the slogan “superpowers out of Angola, ” to support this neocolonialist solution is an indefensible abandonment of the most elementary expression of revolutionary solidarity.” Irwin Silber, Guardian, 2/11/76, p.9.