First Published: The Red Banner, Vol. 1, No. 2, Summer 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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August 29th Movement (M-L) Introduction: The following article has been contributed to Red Banner by comrades from the East Wind Organization, a Marxist-Leninist group from the Los Angeles area.
This article is an excerpt from a document circulated by the East Wind Organization in which the political line of the organization is further developed on party build-and the national question. The organization has been active in organizing and giving political leadership to the tenants’ struggles of the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. Most recently the comrades have begun to broaden out their area of mass work to include work among the industrial proletariat.
The article speaks to one of the prominent questions facing communists and class conscious workers; how to build the strategic alliance between the proletariat and the oppressed peoples and. nations of the United States. The article focuses on the Japanese national minority and what should be the basic democratic demand for this national minority. Though the subject is the Japanese minority, we believe the approach to this question has implications for the millions of national minorities in the country.
We believe the comrades of the East Wind have addressed this question seriously. The comrades have not only done an analysis of the Japanese minority, they are also testing their conclusions in practice. This serious approach to their work is in stark contrast to the October League who in dealing with the same question are content to simply raising the demand for regional autonomy for Native Americans and fail to develop this view or test it in practice.
The ATM supports the right of the Japanese national minority to national development. We believe this is a basic democratic right of all national minorities and is not a matter for debate. However, the demand as formulated by the East Wind comrades is essentially reformist. For example, the East Wind says:
The right to national development means the right of an oppressed nationality to determine how and whether to exist and develop as a people on the basis of equality with other nationalities. The application of this right includes the access to resources, facilities, and other specific rights, to enable the continued existence and development of an oppressed people in such areas as education, language, culture, communication, health, and social services, economic development, community organization, etc.
We object to even posing the question at to “whether” a national minority has the right to develop as a people. It is their unconditional right to exist and develop, on this recognition we all must remain firm. But our principle disagreement is that East Wind reduces the right to national development to a question of “access” to bourgeois institutions. The demand as posed does not challenge imperialist domination of the oppressed minorities. The East Wind Organization derives this demand from the Soviet experience, specifically from the writings of Stalin on the third period of the national question, i.e., the period of developing nations under socialism (refer to Stalin’s “Report on the Immediate Tasks of the Party in the National Question”). In this article, Stalin addresses the problem of lingering inequality of the minority nationalities under socialism. He put forward the solution of all-rounded development through assistance by the proletarian state. “Access” to resources of state in the hands of the proletariat is qualitatively different from “access” to resources in a bourgeois state. The latter could only lead to reforms of the system and the fostering of reformist illusions about the impartiality of the bourgeois state. In other words, we believe the comrades of East Wind have mechanically applied the correct solution for nations and minorities under socialism to the conditions of an imperialist United States. We also must point out that East Wind leaves a series of questions unanswered:
1. How would existing political institutions be affected by the realization of this demand (police, local government, etc.)?
2. What would be the relation of national minorities to the federal tax system?
3. What is the relationship between East Wind’s demand and regional and local autonomy?
We hope that the comrades will answer the above questions by further developing their views. It can serve as a basis for further struggle among Marxist-Leninists so as to arrive at the correct demand. The ATM is not opposed in principle to the spirit of the demand. We would, however, pose the question this way: What is the demand that can lay the conditions for a national minority to exercise its right to national development. We are presently studying this problem and the East Wind paper certainly has been of assistance toward helping us achieve a deeper understanding of the National question.
* * *
If we understand a fundamental aspect of the LT [Little Tokyo – EROL] struggle as a fight against national oppression, how should we look at its resolution? What are the demands that we as communists and advanced workers and fighters raise to link the partial and specific demands to the overall struggle to overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie, and win socialist revolution and national liberation (for the colonies and oppressed nations)?
The East Wind organization in putting forth the “right to national development” as such a basic demand in relation to the national aspect of the overall class struggle in LT (the proletarian struggle of the multi-national working class is the other fundamental aspect).
Before we get into the right to national development, a few words are in order relative to the requirements of an ML line on a concrete national question. There is no absolute, timeless formula in ML science for resolving the national question. Marx, Lenin, and Stalin repeatedly warned against formula-orientation, and a tendency to want to start the analysis from definitions. Rather, they taught us to apply the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-Tung thought (its stand, viewpoint, and method) to the historically specific and concrete reality in order to arrive at a policy or a basic line.
And this line must be such that not only is it based on the actual history, needs, movements of that oppressed nationality, but also is integrally linked to the strategic aim of communists. For us in the U.S., the immediate strategic aim is proletarian socialist revolution and national liberation in the U.S. and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
To accomplish this, we need a line on the national question of oppressed national minorities in the U.S. that will:
truly end national oppression;
serve to unite the working class and oppressed masses of all nationalities;
be in accord with the true, long-range progressive aspirations of the oppressed toiling masses of that nationality, especially the working class; and finally,
contribute to a non-chauvinist, internationalist outlook which is a basic requirement for building socialism and consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat.
One last methodological point is to caution comrades against looking for principles or line that is guaranteed against any future abuse or shortcomings, in the area of the national question. There is no such thing. As Lenin pointed out against those “left” liquidators on the right to political secession:
No democratic demand can fail to give rise to abuses, unless the specific is subordinated to the general; we are not obliged to support “any” struggle for independence . . . Secondly, no formula for the struggle against national oppression can fail to suffer from the same “shortcoming”. (Discussion on Self-Determination)
Well over 30 million TW peoples live in this country who are oppressed nationalities but who are either outside of their respective oppressed nations or colonies, or who do not constitute even rudimentary nations (i.e. national minorities). They face national oppression basically as intense and pervasive as those TW peoples in the U.S. living in their “home territories” (e.g. Black-belt South). The differences between the oppression of the masses in oppressed nations and the oppressed national minorities are significant, but we consider them, İn the whole, quantitative rather than qualitative.
A large majority of the national minorities are heavily concentrated in ghettoes, barrios, Chinatowns, Japanesetowns, and Manila towns, in the inner cities and in specific rural communities. The right to political secession as a basic demand applies only to colonies, oppressed nations, and rudimentary nations. It does not apply to the 30+ million TW peoples who are national minorities (including every Pacific and Asian peoples).
What, then, is a basic democratic demand that we as communists should raise that will link every struggle for partial democratic rights and reforms to a larger revolutionary motion to overthrow imperialism and establish socialism? The right to free national development is such a demand.
Definition: The right to national development means the right of an oppressed nationality to determine how and whether to exist and develop as a people on the basis of equality with other nationalities. The application of this right includes the access to resources, facilities, and other specific rights, to enable the continued existence and development of an oppressed people in such areas as education, language, culture, communication, health and social services, economic development, community organization, etc.
For an oppressed people with rudimentary elements of a nation, national development could take the form of development into a nation under a certain set of objective conditions. This has happened with some oppressed peoples in the Third World in the course of their protracted resistance to imperialism, and the possibility of such a development cannot be excluded in the United States (e.g. the Native American peoples).
For the national minorities in the Asian American groups, however, the basis of development into a nation does not exist now, and so, nation-development is not a real political question either for Marxist-Leninists or for the masses.
In any case, we do not consider the question of developing into a full nation to be the essence of the right to national development. The right to national development or “free national development” was upheld in the revolutionary Soviet Union and is upheld in revolutionary China and Vietnam today, for oppressed national minorities for whom nationhood is not a real question.
The concept and practice of national development arises out of the writings on the national question in the third period and the practice of socialist countries today.
In other words, the right to national development arises out of a legacy of stunted national development resulting from centuries of national oppression under feudalism, capitalism, and imperialism.
Imperialism creates and depends upon national oppression. It restricts, distorts, and hampers the free development of an oppressed nationality. The full productive forces of an oppressed nationality is pressed down, crippled, and used and tapped according to the dictates of the imperialist economy. In order to facilitate domination and weaken the resistance of the oppressed people, the popular national culture of the masses are twisted out of shape or even partially destroyed, and an attempt is made to transform/cripple/colonize the whole national consciousness of the oppressed and toiling masses.
Under socialism, nations, and nationalities are encouraged to develop in the areas of economy, political education, culture (NCQ, pg. 173), and language. (Documents of the first session of the Fourth National Peoples Congress of the Peoples Republic of China, 1975, pg. 12). Organs of self government are instituted, in “national autonomous areas” according to “regions, prefectures, and counties” (Ibid., pg. 24).
As for dispersed national minorities who do not have such geographically based areas, the right of dispersed national minorities to reconcentrate on a definite territory and form autonomous national areas is upheld in a socialist society, to the extent that this is necessary to end national oppression and facilitate economic development. Lenin points out that national areas of 50,000 enjoying autonomy are entirely feasible, and that in order to end national oppression “it is important to create autonomous areas, however small . . . towards which members of the respective nationalities scattered all over the country, or even all over the world, could gravitate . . .” (Critical Remarks on the NQ, 1913, Sec. 6).
Once an oppressed nationality secures through revolutionary struggles and fighting for socialism the right to national development in a given area – either mainly, for that nationality, or with other oppressed national minorities, which is more likely – and wins access to all the resources, rights, facilities, etc., for free national development of that people in that given area, then even the dispersed individuals of that nationality in other parts of the country achieves a significant material basis for her/his national identity, culture, etc. Without such a national development on a definite geographical area, and without political, economic, social and cultural institutions in those areas, that nationality will cease to function as a nationality, and step-by-step will dissolve and disappear as a people, (not biologically; a nationality is a social-historical and not a biological phenomenon).
It is also clear from the content and practice of Marxism-Leninism on the right to national development in the third period that oppressed nations and nationalities do not disappear under socialism, but in fact are given concrete assistance to blossom. This “development” is seen as a positive step toward building true equality among peoples such that the eventual “amalgamation” of peoples under world communism can take place under conditions of equality and voluntary union. Just as Lenin pointed out that a step in the world revolutionary process toward world communism would involve a separation and formation of nations; so too Stalin pointed out that the road to proletarian international culture is through the development of progressive national cultures that are national in form and international and proletarian in content. This seeming contradiction is but two sides of the same dialectic and it is precisely from this standpoint that Lenin and Stalin consistently struggled with the national nihilists of their time who advocated a universal cosmopolitan culture and opposed the slogan of developing national cultures. These liquidationists of the national question asserted that developing national cultures was “not important” and even predicted the assimilation and disappearance of oppressed national minorities in the second and third periods.
Since “free national development” can only take place in the third period of the national question, under socialism, what are our tasks today? National development is a democratic right, a basic demand which can only be fully realized under socialism, but which must be fought for now as part of our education and mobilization for socialism. Partial demands must be linked to basic demands as outlined by Marxism-Leninism.
All democratic demands are ’unachievable’ under imperialism in the sense that politically they are hard to achieve or totally unachievable without a series of revolutions. It is fundamentally wrong, however, to maintain that self-determination is unachievable (under capitalism) in the economic sense. (“Imperialist Economism,” Vo. 23, pg. 40)
National struggle, national insurrection, national secession are fully “achievable” and are met with in practice under imperialism. They are even more pronounced, for imperialism does not halt the development of capitalism and the growth of democratic tendencies among the masses of the population. On the contrary, it accentuates the antagonism between their democratic aspirations and the anti-democratic tendency of the trusts. (Ibid., pg. 51)
(Imperialist economists) in their discussion of divorce, fail to understand the issue and avoid its substance, namely, that under capitalism the right of divorce, as all other democratic rights without exception, is conditional, formal, narrow, and extremely difficult of realization. Yet no self-respecting Social-Democrat will consider anyone opposing the right of divorce a democrat, let alone a socialist. That is the crux of the matter. All “democracy” consists in proclamation and realization of rights – which under capitalism are realizable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights, without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle, socialism is impossible.
Having failed to understand that, Kievsky bypasses the central question . . ., namely how will Social Democracy abolish national oppression? (His) only one single argument: the socialist revolution will solve everything. Or, the argument sometimes advanced by people who share his views: self-determination is impossible under capitalism and superfluous under socialism.
From the theoretical standpoint, that view is nonsensical; from the practical standpoint, it is chauvinistic. It fails to appreciate the significance of democracy. . . to proclaim that self-determination is superfluous under socialism is . . . just as nonsensical and just as hopelessly confusing as to claim that democracy is superfluous under socialism.
The economic revolution will create the necessary prerequisites for eliminating all types of political oppression. Precisely for that reason it is illogical and incorrect to reduce everything to the economic revolution, for the question is: how to eliminate national oppression? It cannot be eliminated without economic revolution. This is incontestable. But to limit ourselves to this is to lapse into absurd and wretched imperialist economism.” (Ibid.)
Capitalism in general and imperialism in particular turn democracy into an illusion – though at the same time capitalism engenders democratic aspirations in the masses, creates democratic institutions, aggravates the antagonism between imperialism’s denial of democracy and mass striving for democracy. Capitalism and imperialism can be overthrown only by economic revolution. They cannot be overthrown by democratic transformations, even the most “ideal.” But a proletariat not schooled in the struggle for democracy is incapable of performing an economic revolution. Capitalism cannot be vanquished without taking over the banks, without repealing private ownership of the means of production. These revolutionary measures, however, cannot be implemented without organizing the entire people for democratic administration of the means of production captured from the bourgeoisie, without enlisting the entire mass of the working people, proletarians, semi-proletarians and small peasants for the democratic organization of their ranks, their forces, their participation in state affairs. (...) the awakening and growth of socialist revolt against imperialism are indissoluably linked with the growth of democratic resistance and unrest. Socialism leads to the withering away of every state, consequently every democracy, but socialism can be implemented only through the dictatorship of the proletariat, which combines violence against the bourgeoisie . . . with full development of democracy, that is, the genuinely equal and genuinely universal participation of the entire mass of the population in all state affairs and in all the complex problems of abolishing capitalism. (“Reply to Kievsky”, Vol. 23, Pgs. 24-25)
Many ML forces and trends, while clear about fighting against national oppression and fighting for specific demands, like the right to bilingual education, have not pushed out for this positive right of national development. In fact, there seems to be some hesitation to recognize this right as a part of our revolutionary program.
This is somewhat analogous to those Marxists who in Lenin’s day affirmed the need to oppose annexations and colonial conquests, but disagreed with the slogan of the right to political secession. Lenin showed that “to be against annexations means to be in favor of the right to self-determination.” A protest against a known evil (annexation) “necessarily means recognition of a positive concept that precludes the evil” (i.e. the right to political secession). (“The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up,” 1916, Sec. 3) Not to see this and affirm the positive is to risk losing one’s political clarity.
The hesitation to affirm the positive (the right to political secession) arose from Proudhonism on the national question which “denies the national problem in the name of social revolution” (“Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” Sec. 5). It starts off with a “left” suspicion of the narrow nationalism of the oppressed nation, but sometimes ends up objectively covering up the nationalism and annexations by the oppressor nation. In an analoguous way, we say that to oppose the evil of forced dispersal and forced assimilation necessarily means to affirm and to fight for the positive concept of the right to national development that would preclude that evil.
The importance of raising the right to national development for oppressed national minorities now is to educate and organize around our right to fight against forced dispersal and forcible assimilation, and affirm the legitimacy of maintaining and strengthening geographical concentration of our peoples for the exercise of our right to national development. The question of massive re-settlement of Asian-American nationalities on definite territories to facilitate national development does not arise as a question with a material basis at this time.
The concrete, long-term application of this right to reconcentrate and form national autonomous areas should be investigated and discussed, both by the Party and the revolutionary masses in the course of our struggle for power.
The importance of raising the right in relation to the Little Tokyo struggle is not to fight for Little Tokyo as a “national autonomous area” in itself, but as one geographic concentration and manifestation of the national life of our people which must be defended as part of our general right to exist and develop as a people. Our main task as communists is not to actually “build Little Tokyo” as the main thing, but to develop a fighting mass movement which is thoroughly educated as to the rights which must be fought for now, but which can only be fully realized through socialism. Through such struggles, however, some partial concessions may be won even now.
Fighting for the right of national development will also hook up to the genuine aspirations of our people, who have already been drawn into the actual motions of the national movement.
National oppression by imperialist bourgeoisie creates collective resistance by oppressed nationalities. In the course of collective resistance as an oppressed national group, a people form or strengthen various organizations’ and institutions, and find it necessary to solidify national identity and continue to further develop their progressive national characteristics. This is the dialectics to the process of forced assimilation that sections of the people are compelled into. We’ve witnessed this process of solidifying of collective national existence by all the oppressed peoples in the U.S. in the past decades.
Thus, the process of progressive national development is a part of the necessary means of fighting national oppression and building toward proletarian revolution. The achievement of the right to national development and the creation of the conditions that make progressive national development possible, is also a goal of national struggle and movement. Any view that denies the importance of fighting for this right of oppressed national minorities to exist and further develop as a people, deprives the national movement of a fighting tool, as well as a key part of the goal. Such a view facilitates national oppression, and helps to undermine the national movement. It objectively reflects the imperialist’s logic that the solution to the national question is the elimination of oppressed nationalities.
A large section of the oppressed national minorities are clear that they would like their nationality to continue to exist and develop as a people. The other sections who are not so sure, or who want to integrate, demand nevertheless, that they as a people have the right to make that choice, that is, to exercise the right to national development.
Although faced with seemingly insurmountable difficulties and attacks by the imperialist bourgeoisie, the masses dared to fight for national development. Many associations and organizations have been formed. Ways of shared economic survival were found and popularized (cooperatives, tanomoshi, grassroots credit unions, etc.); institutions for common welfare were founded (Okei orphanage, Kenjinkai’s for example). Educational, cultural, and religious groups and networks were built with great sacrifices by the working people.
People want to and are compelled to develop and nurture common ways of fighting back, and accumulate and forge a capacity to move politically as a people (this is even true of those who aspire to assimilation and integration – NAACP, GI Forum, JACL, Chinese American Citizens Alliance, etc.). A popular culture of resistance and of survival is built on the basis of the progressive aspects of the old culture, in the heat of the toiling masses struggle against the system and the ruling class.
The imperialists tell us: Accept forced segregation and/or forced assimilation and cultural genocide – either one or the other, or some combination of both all at their convenience and profit. The oppressed masses, especially the working class of the oppressed national minorities have answered through their practice: We want the right to integrate voluntarily and with complete equality; we also demand the right to exist and develop as ourselves, as a people, on the basis of full equality – all according to our true collective interests and needs as oppressed people and laboring masses.
To sum-up, the right to national development and regional autonomy for oppressed national minorities is a basic democratic demand to which other specific democratic rights, and fights for partial immediate reforms to fight national oppression (such as the right to language, culture, social life, to learn our true history of resistance, to bilingual / bicultural education and services, political representation as an oppressed people, etc.) should be linked.
This, of course, goes for the partial demands in the Little Tokyo struggle, as will be discussed later.
The concept of the right to national development is in itself neither revolutionary or Bundist, anymore than the concept of the right to self-determination guarantees correct revolutionary policy or necessarily leads to narrow nationalism.
The concept of the right to national development could lead to Bundism and to bourgeois nationalism unless it is an inseparable part of an overall revolutionary program and strategy for proletarian revolution and national liberation in the U.S. The propaganda around it and its concrete application must be governed by the stand, viewpoint and method of MLM on the national question. The outlook of ML as related to the right of national development includes the following principles:
1. National oppression is an integral part of the imperialist-capitalist system. It cannot be resolved or ended under this system.
2. The end of national oppression and creation of the conditions for the full implementation of the right to national development can only take place as a part of the world proletarian revolution, the destruction of imperialism in the U.S., the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the construction of socialism and communism.
3. All particular needs, demands, and struggles, including those around the right to national development, must be subordinated to the overall interests of the total revolutionary struggle.
4. Fighting against national oppression and for the equality of peoples is absolutely needed to build the unity between the oppressor and oppressed nationality workers. Conversely, the necessary fight for the specific demands of the oppressed nationalities, including the right to national development, must be waged in such a way as to maximize the revolutionary unity of the multi-national proletariat.
5. The national struggle and movement must be based on the interests of the working class and led by that class.
6. The specific implementation and application of the right to national development > in the second and third periods must be based on the application of the science of ML to the specific concrete conditions.
7. Marxist-Leninists are not wedded to any specific path of national development or on the actual exercise of the right to political secession. (Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Sec. 4) We insist on fighting for the right of political secession, the right of national development, and for the creation of material conditions to enable the exercise of these rights as key links in our overall revolutionary struggle. The rest is up to the desire of the revolutionary masses and the actual requirements of the overall struggle, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
 According to Stalin, the third period is defined as:
“The third period is the Soviet period, the period of the abolition of capitalism and of the elimination of national oppression, when the question of dominant and subject nations, of colonies and metropolises, is relegated to the archives of history, when before us, in the territory of the R.S.F.S.R., nations are arising having equal rights to development, but which have retained a certain historically inherited inequality owing to their economic, political, and cultural backwardness. The essence of this national inequality consists in the fact that, as a result of historical development, we have inherited from the past a situation in which one nation, namely, the Great-Russian, is politically and industrially more developed than the other nations. Hence the actual inequality, which cannot be abolished in one year, but which must be abolished by giving the backward nations and nationalities economic, political and cultural assistance.“ (Stalin, Marxism and the National-Colonial Question, pg. 155)
 Democratic rights include everything from individual civil rights, to collective rights of oppressed nationalities to language, etc., to the right of national development, to the right of oppressed nations to political secession, a.) all of these arc democratic rights, not just individual rights, b.) the fact that all these arc democratic rights docs not negate the necessity to put on relief or specify certain ones, e.g. the right of political secession needs to be specified, etc.