Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

’...Fan the Flames’

First Published: The Guardian, August 28, 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Internationalism–proletarian internationalism–has always been a cornerstone of communism.

But this simple statement, which might appear to be self-evident, requires amplification. All tendencies which describe themselves as “left” lay some claim to having an internationalist outlook.

The revisionist Communist party, for instance, has no peers when it comes to proclaiming its international solidarity with revolutionary struggles. But little investigation is required to demonstrate that what the CPUSA so unabashedly announces as proletarian internationalism is nothing more than a tortuous promotion of every twist and turn in the foreign policy of Soviet social-imperialism.

In the Middle East, for instance, where the USSR has been trying to play superpower catch-up politics with its U.S. rival, the CPUSA no longer disguises its support for Zionism. Completely in line with the Soviet position on the Mideast, the CPUSA, after claiming to support the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, says: “Unfortunately, the Palestine Liberation Organization. . .still has a provision in its program calling for the creation of a democratic state on the whole territory of Palestine in the distant future.” The revisionists claim that this stand by the PLO will “turn international public opinion against the Palestine liberation movement.”


The Trotskyists, on the other hand, claim that no one is more internationalist than they are. They are so “internationalist” that they have a pat formula for revolution in every country. This is a great time-saver, of course, since it obviates the necessity for concrete investigation into conditions in each struggle. Unfortunately, their formula has invariably led to disaster wherever it has been tried but this has left the Trotskyists in their favorite posture of being able to support socialism everywhere except where it exists. Even where they have played a role in supporting national liberation struggles–as through their participation in the American antiwar movement–they consistently refused to follow the leadership of the Vietnamese themselves.

Some Trotskyist groups were more blatant than others in their attacks on Ho Chi Minh and other “Stalinists” but all of them were united in their opposition to the general political line of the liberation forces.

Another distortion of proletarian internationalism which still has some currency on the left sees revolution as an exclusively third world phenomenon with the working masses of the advanced capitalist countries so hopelessly bribed or compromised that they cannot be distinguished from the imperialists themselves. This view, which in essence abdicates the possibilities of mass struggle in the U.S., is shared in varying degrees by such disparate groups as Weathermen, the Communist League and the Eldridge Cleaver wing of the Black Panther party.


The reverse side of this supposedly super-militant (but essentially defeatist) view is to be found among various “democratic” and “libertarian” socialists, such as New American Movement (NAM), Arthur Kinoy and others. These forces tend to view the struggle of the American working class in isolation from the struggle on a world scale. While their sympathies are generally with liberation movements, they tend to see most international questions–whether the Sino-Soviet “dispute” or the struggle in the Middle East–as only dimly connected, at best, with the class struggle at home. This view inevitably gives rise to various expressions of national chauvinism and American exceptionalism.

One of the significant accomplishments of the new communist movement, therefore, has been to bring genuine proletarian internationalism back into the American working class movement.

This is not simply a moral question, although the revolutionary process gives rise to a new proletarian morality for which we need make no apology. But the continuing internationalization of capital (now the chief characteristic of monopoly capitalism), the intricate web of economic inter-dependency of all capitalist countries, the eruption of the third world in anti-imperialist struggle and the intense rivalry of the two world imperialist systems–all of this dictates the absolute necessity of a revolutionary perspective that is intimately bound up with the struggle on a world scale.

And so the new communist movement looks at the international struggle seriously, not with self-inflationary Olympianism but with a profound understanding that the statement of Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto that “the working men have no country” is a practical as well as a principled question. (They also say, it is only fair to add, “though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.”)

The new communist movement is, obviously, a firm supporter of the Peoples Republic of China. Are we not then, as some charge, the mirror image of the revisionists for whom a Moscow endorsement is the hallmark of revolutionary orthodoxy?


First of all, in the spirit of revolutionary candor, we must admit that such a tendency–blind acceptance and mechanical application of China’s views–has some currency in our ranks.

It is one thing to say, quite correctly, that even reactionary governments such as those in Iran or Ethiopia can objectively take an anti-imperialist stand on one or another question; or that the strivings for national independence in such countries, even when led by feudal elements, have a progressive aspect. It is quite another thing, however, to see the class struggle within those countries as a completely secondary question.

The position of the October League, for instance, which opposes the slogan of “No Arms to the Shah,” is an example of such a view that would liquidate the class struggle in Iran. Similarly, the view that opposition to Echeverria in Mexico objectively aids imperialism because the Mexican government has shown some measure of independence from the U.S. is likewise unsound. While communists can unite with the progressive aspects of such regimes, we know that it is no longer possible for either the national bourgeoisie or the remnants of feudal oligarchies to carry through the struggle for national independence.

However, such errors are only a minor aspect of the generally correct and healthy stand of the new communist movement as a whole which has developed its solidarity with China not because Peking has suddenly become the new Mecca of the left but because it was China (together with Albania) that had the great courage and revolutionary insight to take up and lead the struggle against revisionism and for Marxism-Leninism in the world communist movement.

Those who would reduce the Sino-Soviet “dispute” to a matter of everyone choosing their “favorite socialist country” demean their own capacity to understand the essence of the two-line struggle–on a party level between reform and revolution, on a state level between capitalist restoration and socialism–that has wracked the world communist movement.

Solidarity with China does not preclude differences. Neither does political independence require great shows of public proclamation when views may not coincide.

More to the point, every movement and party must develop and put forward its own political perspective in a thoroughly independent way. Naturally, the opponents of revisionism and the upholders of Marxism-Leninism are going to be, united on most questions. Something would be seriously wrong if they were not.

But the new communist movement must know from the beginning that the correctness of its general line will not be determined by its conformity either with particular writings of Marx and Lenin or with the latest issue of Peking Review. That will only be determined by its class stand which must correspond to the real world and with the particular stage of national and class struggle at that time and place.