Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

The party must be multinational

First Published: The Guardian, December 8, 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.

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Is a multinational communist party–or preparty organization–a concession to white chauvinism?

Such a question might appear to be absurd on the face of it. And yet, in one form or another it continues to be argued by people and organizations who insist upon labeling themselves “Marxist-Leninist.”

Offhand, one would think that the necessity for the proletariat’s vanguard revolutionary organization to embrace all sectors of the working class would be so overwhelmingly obvious that the matter would have long since been settled. And probably for most Marxist-Leninists it has.

Still, there are some who advance the notion that at this time Marxist-Leninists should organize along national lines: Blacks to form Black communist organizations, with other nationally oppressed sectors doing likewise. By inference–and also in practice–white communists would form separate organizations.

This is not a “new” question for communists. It has come up in one form or another in many countries where there have been oppressed minority nations and peoples. The matter was a burning issue in prerevolutionary Russia and was one of the practical considerations involved in the attention that both Lenin and Stalin gave to the national question. Interestingly enough, however, in Russia it was the representatives of the Jewish Bund (a Marxist organization) who were the most ardent advocates of “separate” organizational forms rather than representatives of the Ukrainians or Georgians or other oppressed nations inside of Russia. (Theoreticians of the Bund argued that Jews were a nation, a view which was ultimately rejected by the Bolsheviks.)


The ideological dispute with the Bund produced Stalin’s classical work on the national question and also reasserted the Leninist organizational principle of the primacy of politics (as opposed to class or nationality) in determining the work of the party. Not only did the Bolsheviks reaffirm the principle of a single multinational party, they also thoroughly rejected the concept of nationality “caucuses” within the party and any other kind of separate internal organizational form that would weaken the party’s democratic centralist structure.

While the question was still being debated, Stalin wrote: “We have still to settle the question of how to organize the proletariat of the various nations into a single common party. One plan is that the party should be organized on national lines–so many nations, so many parties. That plan was rejected by the Social Democrats [the communists]. Experience has shown that the organization of the proletariat of a given state on national lines tends only to destroy the idea of class solidarity. All proletarians of all nations in a given state must be organized in a single, indivisible proletarian collective.” (“Marxism and the National Question.”)

Useful though it may be for reminding us of how other communists at other times dealt with this question, a judgment made 60 years ago in Russia hardly settles the question. More to the point is the fact that virtually without exception, communists of all countries have resolved this question in a similar fashion. (Of course, we are not speaking here of the colonies of the capitalist countries where separate forms of organization are clearly required, although it is useful to recall that many revolutionary patriots from the colonies became Marxist-Leninists and joined the communist party of the oppressor-country; Ho Chi Minh, for instance, joined the French Communist Party in the early 1920s and then devoted himself for the next 10 years to founding the Indochinese Communist Party.)

Nevertheless, we must still resolve this question for ourselves based on our own conditions.

What is the argument of those who advocate separate communist organizations–a view, incidentally, which appears to have more currency among some whites who describe themselves as “Marxist-Leninists” than it does among communists of the oppressed nationalities? Briefly summarized, the thesis would appear to be that communists among the nationally oppressed must build their own separate power base before entering into a common organization with white communists; otherwise they will be “swallowed up” in “multinational” organizations that are bound to be dominated by whites and this in turn will lead to a subordination of the national question and the perpetuation of white chauvinism in the party.

Well, what’s wrong with all this? In a word–everything.

Far from being a plan to bring a new party into being, it puts off the party-building process indefinitely. It denies to communists that mutuality of shared experience and practice which itself is an indispensable aid in overcoming the white chauvinist ideology that is bound to exist within the ranks of the party. It actually liquidates the struggle against white chauvinism by segregating it and making it into a lifeless question removed from the interaction of shared theory and practice.

The thesis of nationally separate forms of party organization rests upon a determinist view of revolutionary forces that completely fails to distinguish between the working class as a whole and its vanguard sector. Objective laws of social development can thus help us to understand the ideological level of the working class (and every other class) at any given historical stage. And it is undeniable that these laws also affect the party and its cadre. But in discussing the party, we must give primacy to the subjective element, that is to the revolutionary consciousness which is based on the concentrated and summed-up collective experience of the working-class movement as a whole. When it comes to the party, communists say “politics in command.” To espouse nationally separate forms of organization is to surrender to mechanical materialism and to deny the leading role of political line. In practice, it amounts to an administrative “solution” to what is, in essence, a political question.

Where does this backward view come from? Among whites, it is an extension of the antiworking-class elitism which for too long characterized much of “new left” politics. It accepts the bourgeoisie’s claim that the majority of white workers have an ongoing positive stake in capitalism. The thesis has been most forthrightly articulated by those who say that “a system of white skin privileges [is] the main pillar of capitalist rule in the U.S. [that] dooms every struggle of the working class to be split by white people’s narrow group interest.”

This view concedes to the bourgeoisie that which the communists can never concede–the objective allegiance of the majority of the working class to their own exploitation. As a result, it reduces the struggle against white chauvinism to a “moral” question, one that white workers will only take up out of some sense of “injustice” but which will require their “giving up” certain “benefits” they presently derive from capitalism. Small wonder that the upholders of the “white skin privilege” thesis think that all class struggle is “doomed” by the narrow self-interest of whites.


Do communists deny that a section of the working class is “bribed” by imperialism? Of course not. This is the material basis for opportunism, revisionism and narrow trade unionism and helps to account for the political outlook of the union bureaucracy and the upper stratum of the working class. But as Lenin pointed out 60 years ago, “only this upper stratum–which constitutes a minority of the proletariat–is usually spoken of by the reactionaries and opportunists who promote the concept that the interests of the workers and the capitalists are really one and the same.

In essence, the holders of these views deny the primacy of class struggle and say that in the U.S. today the principal contradiction is between the nationally oppressed peoples and U.S. imperialism. They see the white workers as a “vacillating” force at this point more likely to side with imperialism than with the nationally oppressed. Thus, the Weather Underground: “To argue, as some do, that Black liberation must wait upon the industrial proletariat or the socialist revolution of the whole U.S. is both false and racist.... Whatever decisions Black people and other oppressed peoples make in exercising the right of self-determination, white revolutionaries and anti-imperialists have a very clear-cut responsibility to support these decisions once they are arrived at. This does not mean to support only those choices one approves of.”

Those who argue this way surround themselves with an air of eminently righteous authority. But they are wrong! And such is the hold of petty bourgeois moralizing on certain sections of our movement that we must say it over and over again.

Life and monopoly capitalism have inseparably linked the destinies of the nationally oppressed peoples in the U.S. with that of the multinational working class as a whole. It can be said without qualification–the fantasies of certain juvenile revolutionaries notwithstanding–that no minority people in the U.S. will win its liberation on a “go-it-alone” strategy. And it must also be said that the working class will not win its own emancipation unless it defeats white chauvinism within its ranks and takes up the democratic and special demands of the minority workers and makes them the cause of the class as a whole. This is the indispensable key to class unity.

To adopt an organizational plan of “separate” parties is an open invitation for petty bourgeois moralism to dominate the “white” sector and for bourgeois nationalism to dominate the third world sectors. And make no mistake about it, no matter how militant it may seem around issues of the moment and in its expressions of hatred for white supremacy, bourgeois nationalism will betray the real interests of the Black and Latin toiling masses. It will separate them from their white brothers and sisters in the working class and instead deliver them into the hands of the monopoly capitalists.

To say that proletarian revolution is the key to both Black emancipation and the emancipation of the working class as a whole is to bring to bear in the cause of the Afro-American people the single most powerful revolutionary force of capitalist society. The strategy advanced by communists is to build a united front between the multinational working class and the nationally oppressed peoples within the U.S. There is a material basis rooted in the self-interest of all in such a united front.

Who will forge such a united front? The task can be accomplished only by a multinational communist party. Such a party will embody in its very cadre the living substance of that united front. The very fabric of such a party is a living demonstration that the communists uphold both in theory and in life the unity of interests of the working class as a whole and the natural and mutually supportive alliance between the multinational U.S. working class and the nationally oppressed peoples of this country. With such a view, a single unified revolutionary strategy and a single unified multinational revolutionary party is both necessary and possible.