Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

’...Fan the Flames’

First Published: The Guardian, December 24, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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What attitude should communists take to those national liberation movements which have been coming to the forefront in the struggle against imperialism in the recent period?

The fact that the question is even posed indicates that what ought to be an obvious answer is not always perceived as such.

All-out support for these movements would seem to be an elementary invocation of the principle of proletarian internationalism. But it has to be said that some communists are faltering in respect to particular struggles, particularly those of Angola, Palestine, Puerto Rico, Dhofar and Chile.

Of course, as a general principle, no revolutionary could possibly oppose the struggles of the colonial peoples. But since these are real struggles taking place in the real world, one must go beyond general expressions of support. Specific organizations and parties are in the leadership of each of these struggles, positions they have earned not by any international fiat but on the basis of their political practice in their own countries.


It is the obligation of communists to make some objective determination of which forces play the genuine vanguard role–or have the soundest basis for playing such a role–in each particular struggle. But that determination cannot be made–as some seem to think it should–simply by ascertaining a party’s “international line” or by imposing an abstract set of criteria.

Some U.S. communists advance the idea that unless the view of the Soviet Union as a social-imperialist superpower equally as dangerous as U.S. imperialism is held by a party, it cannot be a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. Others take the attitude–although not always with consistency–that Soviet aid (material, political or diplomatic) to a particular movement transforms such movements into objective instruments of Soviet social-imperialism.

In the real world, the living refutation of such theses may be seen in Vietnam, Korea and a number of other revolutionary countries and movements. But these comrades also make a serious theoretical error. They fall into a metaphysical rather than a dialectical way of looking at political development. Mao Tsetung points out, in his essay “On Contradiction,” that “the fundamental cause of development of a thing is not external but internal.... Similarly, social development is due chiefly not to external but internal causes.’’

A party becomes the revolutionary vanguard of its struggle not because it upholds the international line of one or another ideological center in the world movement and not because it may be designated as such by any other party. It becomes that vanguard on the basis of the way it concretely applies Marxism-Leninism to the historical conditions of its own country and in practice develops the party organization, revolutionary strategy, mass line and ties with its own working masses that can lead its own people to victory in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.


Does this mean that international line is not important? Of course it is. There are times when international line can be decisive. Thus the flunkeyism of the various parties whose international line was always the automatic reflection of the Soviet party led these parties into the abyss of revisionism without a murmur when Khrushchev and his successors abandoned Marxism-Leninism.

But if a party jealously guards its independence vis-a-vis other parties while deepening its ties with its own toiling masses, using Marxism-Leninism as its theoretical compass, its views on all questions have to be treated with respect. And it is certainly to be expected that, especially in the absence of an agreed-upon center to the world revolutionary movement, each party’s experiences may lead it to somewhat different conclusions on different international questions.

For U.S. communists to make agreement with their international view the basis for concrete support of the leading organizations in various national liberation struggles is, therefore, impermissible. True, in almost every country some sect can invariably be found whose views seem to parallel that of a tendency in the U.S. But this is a very shaky and dangerous basis for determining one’s view of who the vanguard force may be in that country. This is standard practice among the revisionist parties who never have to examine the role of a particular party so long as its line and organization have received the sanctification of Moscow. It would be sad to see Marxist-Leninists fall into that same trap.


Let us examine some concrete examples. In the case of Angola, many Marxist-Leninist organizations in the U.S. continue to withhold support from the MPLA. For a time many could legitimately claim a lack of hard information. But as recent events have amply demonstrated, the forces opposing MPLA in Angola are not only staunchly anticommunist, they represent the neocolonial aspirations of Portuguese colonialism, South African racism and U.S. imperialism.

But what about Soviet social imperialism and its support of MPLA? Yes, the Angolan people would be well-advised to guard against the danger of losing their hard-won independence through undue reliance on Soviet support. But if in fighting the principal enemy in Angola– neocolonialism led by the U.S.–the Angolan people accept aid from the USSR, Cuba and other countries, that is a decision they have the right to make. The requirements of their struggle may not exactly coincide with the view of building a united front against the two superpowers, although objectively the achievement of Angolan independence under the leadership of its most consistent patriotic force will immeasurably strengthen the ability of the people of Angola to withstand all superpower encroachments on their national sovereignty.

The case of Puerto Rico, while not looming as large on an international scale, is of even more consequence to U.S. communists. Because Puerto Rico is Washington’s foremost colony and because the Puerto Rican national minority in the U.S. comprises a most important sector of the multinational working class, the stand of U.S. communists on the question of Puerto Rico is imbued with enormous practical consequences.

In this connection, a recent analysis of Puerto Rican reality offered by the October League (OL) is disturbing. They say (The Call, Dec. 1975): “The October League takes note of the fact that it is no longer only one imperialist country which threatens the Puerto Rican people. In the past period, Puerto Rico has become one of the Latin American areas of sharpest contention between the two superpowers, the U.S. and the USSR. While unable to compete on an equal scale with the U.S. economic penetration of Puerto Rico, the USSR has attempted to exercise its domination through control of the independence movement.”

Before anything else, one must ask whether or not the above statement corresponds to reality. Is Puerto Rico “one of the Latin American areas of sharpest contention” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union? Does the phrase “unable to compete on an equal scale” accurately reflect the different levels of economic penetration in Puerto Rico by the superpowers (U.S. investment $15 billion; Soviet investment $0)? And, most important, whatever may go on in the heads of the Kremlin’s international strategists, has the Soviet Union managed to acquire some significant foothold in the Puerto Rican independence movement?

Clearly this last question is the critical one. It is the obvious foundation for the statement that Puerto Rico has become the scene of ̶-;the sharpest contention” between the superpowers. In practice, it amounts to a charge that the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP), the leading force in the independence movement, has to some significant degree come under the control of Soviet social imperialism.

It is a most serious assertion–made doubly so by the fact that it is precisely the slander utilized by U.S. imperialism, the colonial puppet administration and the most extreme right wing terrorist groups in Puerto Rico against the PSP. But it is a charge that cannot be supported. No honest person who spends any time in Puerto Rico observing the political struggle in that country can help but conclude that the impulse and inspiration for the PSP comes from its closeness to the realities of its own people, from a deep-seated patriotism, from its ever-deepening ties with the Puerto Rican masses and from its adoption of Marxism-Leninism as its basic theoretical underpinning.

The OL’s distortion of reality, unfortunately, is not just an investigative mistake. It is the inevitable result of a view which sees U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism as equally the principal enemies of the world’s peoples, at all times and in all places and which, in practice, actually seems to have tilted significantly in the direction of seeing the Soviet Union as the greater enemy.

Such a view poses grave pitfalls for the communist movement in the U.S. It implies the possibility of objective collaboration with the most powerful and reactionary ruling class the world has ever known. The attitude to the struggles now taking place in Angola, Puerto Rico, Dhofar, Palestine and Chile are significant bellwethers of how U.S. communists are going to be able to integrate the struggles of the American working class with the developing tide of world revolution.

It is not too much to say that the political integrity of any proposed new communist party in the U.S. is at stake.