Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael Klonsky

The National Question and Party Building

The historic fight between communism and white chauvinism


First Published: Class Struggle, No. 11, Winter 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following article is based on a speech given by CPML Chairman Michael Klonsky at a recent Party conference on nationalities work. In it, Klonsky gives a brief summary of the role that struggle around the national question has played in the history of our movement. The bulk of his remarks, however, are focused on the present situation inside the Party, and the relationship between deviations on the national question and the present campaign against the “three evils”–sectarianism, subjectivism and bureaucracy. Here Klonsky gives practical guidance on the aims of this struggle and the methods that should be used in carrying it out.

* * *

The Party has organized this conference on nationalities work for the purpose of heightening the political level of comrades in this area of work and strengthening our unity and organization against white chauvinism, narrow nationalism and other anti-Marxist deviations.

Our Party’s history has been one of militant struggle in defense of all oppressed peoples. It has struggled to unite the working class, to support the right of self-determination of all oppressed nations and for full equality and democratic rights.

Therefore it is only natural that we should take up the struggle within our own ranks as well as among the masses. At this conference we can sum up the internal struggle as well as our experiences in building the national movements and in carrying out our work among the workers, minority and white. We should target revisionism and various anti-Marxist lines. We should also criticize our own mistakes and work to help comrades who have made errors.

Specifically, our Party has taken up an internal campaign against what we call the “three evils”–subjectivism, sectarianism and bureaucracy. Subjectivism is one-sidedness. Sectarianism isolates us from our real friends. And bureaucracy cripples us by breaking down democratic centralism. It makes us unable to mobilize the masses because we are too top heavy and disorganized.


At this conference we should try and link the fight against the “three evils” to the struggle around the national question in our Party. The “three evils” are a deadly enemy in our nationalities work and every blow against them will push this work forward immeasurably.

The first topic under discussion deals with the connection between the Party and the national question. The Party must become the leader of the workers and all the oppressed people. Its task is to bring the science of Marxism-Leninism to the people’s struggles, through the Party’s work among the masses. It must train the cadres to understand the national question and to be able to unite with the national movements against oppression. The Party must combat the great-nation chauvinism promoted by the bourgeoisie and the reactionary labor bureaucrats as well as narrow nationalism and national exclusiveness, which are also forms of bourgeois ideology.

The national question is one of the fundamental questions in building the Party in this country. Since the development of imperialism, when the national question as Stalin said, became “a world problem of emancipating the oppressed peoples in the dependent countries and colonies from the yoke of imperialism,”[1] the Marxist-Leninist parties have come to the forefront of many of the successful liberation struggles. In a country like the U.S.–which was born in the slave trade, the massacre of the Indians and the westward expansion–the national question plays a particularly important role, especially in party building.

Because the U.S. is a multinational country, the party of the U.S. working class must be a multinational party. It must fight for the unity of all nationalities with the aim of the complete overthrow of the rule of the bourgeoisie by the working class.

By multinational party, I mean that the Party fights for the emancipation of all the various nationalities and is made up of the most revolutionary-minded fighters from all the nationalities within the country.

To accomplish this, the Party must carry out a consistent struggle against white chauvinism, both among the masses and within its own ranks, in the course of waging the class struggle.

In the Party and among the masses, the fight against white chauvinism as well as narrow nationalism falls under the heading of “contradictions among the people.” At the same time, the struggle against national oppression and racial discrimination and the fight for self-determination, democratic rights and regional autonomy is directed against the bourgeoisie and is a “contradiction with the enemy.” While the white workers are often infected with chauvinism, this cannot be compared with the chauvinism of the bourgeoisie. This is for the simple reason that chauvinism and national oppression are not in the interests of the workers and cause them harm rather than profit.


The link between the national question and party-building has a long history. From the very beginnings of the socialist movement in America, the fight in defense of Marxism has been accompanied by a struggle against chauvinism and white supremacy. Joseph Weydemeyer[2] and the early U.S. Marxists stood firmly on the side of the Black slaves and took up arms against the reactionary slave-owning classes in the Civil War.

In the early socialist movement, nonetheless, there was a deep-rooted trend of white chauvinism and great-nation chauvinism. For example, the Socialist Labor Party of Daniel De Leon had a line which reduced the Afro-American national question simply and exclusively to a “class” question. Black people, said De Leon, constituted “a special division in the ranks of Labor. ... In no economic respect is he different from his fellow wage slaves of other races... .”[3] De Leon’s only program for struggle against national oppression was that it would be dealt with in the future by socialism. He saw no need to take up the immediate struggles against oppression nor to have any concrete program for self-determination under socialism. This obviously kept the Black and other oppressed nationalities isolated from the SLP and vice-versa.

The Socialist Party also had a chauvinist line on the national question, copying many of De Leon’s formulations. It claimed at its founding convention in 1901 that Black people were simply “workers” and that no special question of oppression existed. This was at a time when lynching was rampant and 85% of Black people worked the land, primarily as sharecroppers.

Within the Communist Party, which was a real Marxist-Leninist Party until it was seized and wrecked by the modern revisionists, there was also a chauvinist deviation promoted by the likes of Lovestone and Browder. They claimed that the advance of the productive forces itself would eliminate the national question, peacefully integrating the oppressed nationalities into the imperialist melting pot.


But side by side with the chauvinist tendency grew the Leninist line, fighting at every step for unity of the class and the Party. It took up the special demands of the oppressed nationalities, waged a fight against revisionism. Especially with the development of imperialism and the First World War, this struggle against chauvinism in the ranks of the working class movement became the major thrust of the fight against revisionism.

The Leninist parties and organizations split openly from the chauvinists of the Second International. Lenin himself called for the real communist parties to “render direct aid to the revolutionary movements among the dependent and underprivileged nations (for example, Ireland, the American Negroes, etc.) and in the colonies.”[4]

In the fight against Khrushchev and Brezhnev’s line and against the modern revisionists, the fight against social-chauvinism–socialism in words, chauvinism in deeds–is also a central theme. Much of the history of this struggle in the U.S. party is recorded in Comrade Haywood’s Black Bolshevik and needs no further elaboration here.

But it is important to point out that following the betrayal of the leaders of the CPUSA, the struggle arose once again on many fronts with the effort to forge our new Party. The struggle grew especially sharp during the late 1960s in the fight against the chauvinist line of the Progressive Labor Party. These “left” opportunists once again dragged up the old chauvinist line that the national movements had no validity on their own and that they should only be seen as “part of the class question.” In fact, PL attacked the national movements as “reactionary.” This came at a time when the Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano, Asian-American and Native American struggles were in a period of mass upsurge and when the CPUSA had proven itself in real life to be incapable of leading such movements.

But the flip side of PL’s opportunism also emerged in this struggle. It was a line that came out of the student movement and claimed that white workers were “bought off” and “too backward” to be won to socialism and the Party. It was put forward most blatantly by the “Weatherman” terrorists, who targetted the American people as “counter-revolutionary.”

The struggles in this period of the late 1960s marked the rebirth of the genuine Marxist-Leninist trend out of which our Party grew. In doing so, we had to fight one deviation, one incorrect line after another. We had to target not only the “left” line of liquidating the national question, but also the rightist, nationalist line claiming that there should be “many vanguards,” one for each oppressed nationality: a Black Marxist-Leninist party for Blacks, a Puerto Rican vanguard for Puerto Ricans, and so on.

The Black Panther Party promoted this line for a while. When they did it, it had a certain progressive aspect. For the first time in nearly 20 years, since the old Communist Party was destroyed by the revisionists, the Panthers used this line to disseminate a certain amount of Marxism-Leninism among the Afro-American people. So we should give credit where credit is due. In fact our Party, the CPML, has some roots in the traditions of the Black Panther Party that arose in this period. Some of our members today were members of the Panthers in the 1960s.


Today, however, the entire struggle is taking place on a higher level. This is something that we have discussed with some former Panther Party members. Some are beginning to get active again, to see new signs of hope. We told them this is a good thing and encouraged them. But they also said they’re talking about reactivating the Panther Party. Here we said no, that this would not be correct. Instead we pointed out that the CPML today is the successor, the type of party that Fred Hampton and other comrades were trying to build. We explained that today’s conditions were different, that it was just not possible to start in the old way all over again.

Of course, even in the 1960s, the Panther’s line was seriously flawed. It had many weaknesses. While it did call for “class struggle,” it promoted this idea of “many vanguards,” even when it tried to federate each group into the “rainbow coalition,” as it was called then. Along with this serious underestimation of the capabilities of the working class came a strong reformist streak which kept the day to day work of the party on a very narrow plane.

All this was based on the concept that the white workers in general were bought off, that they could not be a revolutionary force. Or at least, the white workers could only be organized around their “own” narrow interests, their supposed “interests” as “white people,” as opposed to their class interests. Of course this line has very dangerous consequences. This kind of populism has a long and tragic history in the United States. And today, it’s the line that the reformists as well as the Nazis and other fascists take into the white working class communities as well as the prisons. By way of contrast, our Party has been educating white workers that, first and foremost, they are workers, that they have more in common with a Black worker than with a white bourgeois or petty bourgeois, because of their class. Briefly, we try to carry out some class education.

Our appeal to the white workers is based on their concrete position in society as part of an exploited class, which suffers oppression along with all oppressed peoples under the rule of capitalism. We especially encourage our white comrades to carry out special work among the white workers, to go where they go, to belong to the organizations they belong to, to live where they live. We take up the struggle against white chauvinism by showing through practice how it harms the white workers as well as the minorities. We show how it weakens their unions, lowers their wages, and most importantly, cripples their ability to fight back and overthrow the system. In other words, not moralistic appeals, but real internationalist education is what we carry out.


This erroneous line of “many parties” was carried over and reinforced in the early days of the so-called Revolutionary Union, the RU. We had to fight them on this question from the very beginning. If a Black worker came and applied for membership in the RU in those days, they would turn him away. They would say, in effect, we don’t recruit any Black people. If you want to be in the revolution, join the Panther Party. We just take white people. If a Puerto Rican came, it would be the same. We don’t take Puerto Ricans, you have to go and join the Young Lords Party.

All this came from a pessimistic view of the working class and the class struggle. It over-estimated the strength of the enemy and underestimated the strength of the masses. This subjective assessment is still part of the arsenal of today’s Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) which grew out of the RU. Only today, it is characterized by a policy of complete capitulation to the big-nation chauvinism of U.S. imperialism.

But now we have proven, even in our embryonic stage, that it is both correct and possible to build a multinational party, a unified communist party. It is important to see that this struggle around the national question and party building has a history.

We are all familiar with the present-day struggle against the reactionary line of the RCP, a chauvinist line which has merged with fascism and the KKK. I don’t need to elaborate on this. The reason I’m going through some of these earlier things is because some people have taken the mistaken view that the struggle against chauvinism on these questions began this week or this month or this year. Likewise, some people have overestimated our own importance, acting as if we have been the first, or the only, people to take up this struggle.

Both our Party’s work among the masses and its internal struggle are simply a continuation in present times of a struggle that’s been going on for a long, longtime. There have been many others ahead of us. And even in our own Party, we are developing an important tradition.

To go back to the 1960s again, the national question and the struggle around it played a very important and basic role in the birth of our movement and our Party. Among many of the pre-party circles, it seemed we had some unity on many other questions, but we could not find unity on the national question. Sometimes this led to very difficult conditions. Often we were forced to continue as a small circle, when we could have increased the size of our forces if we had only merged with the RCP behind a chauvinist line.

But our comrades at the time refused to do so. They asked: What kind of party would we be building? What kind of party would we be working in and giving our sweat, our blood and maybe our lives to build? This is why we stuck to principle. This is the tradition we have had, both in the Party and in the October League and other groups.

The struggle around the national question has gone on continuously. Sometimes it has been at a high peak, sometimes at a lower level; sometimes it has been very noisy, sometimes relatively quiet. But in any case, we have always combatted the influence of the bourgeoisie, primarily directing our blows at white chauvinism but also dealing with narrow nationalism of various types.

This struggle has gone very well. Time after time, the opportunist lines were defeated and were never able to take hold in our Party. This is not to say that chauvinism was knocked out with one blow and killed. No, it still exists and it will continue to exist for some time to come. But every attempt it makes to seize hold of our Party, to win dominance over the Party’s line and program, it will be defeated. This will be due to the vigilance both of our leadership and of the rank and file.

Now a new struggle is breaking out. This is a good thing, but we should keep in mind this fine tradition in solving our problems. The main lessons of these traditions are:

1) This is a protracted struggle. There won’t be a single death blow or knockout punch, like Ali against Liston. It’s going to be a 15 rounder, a fight to the finish.

White chauvinism and nationalism are rooted in the material conditions of the society, in its class and national oppression by the monopoly capitalists. Chauvinism has its main voice in the working class movement through the reactionary trade union leaders, while reactionary nationalism is promoted mainly by the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nationalities.

The bribery of the upper stratum of the working class with a portion of imperialism’s superprofits results in the creation of a chauvinist labor aristocracy. The privileged position in the world of U.S. imperialism has accelerated this phenomenon as well as the spread of chauvinism among many workers and other people.

Even with the victory of socialism, a special program will be necessary to wipe out national oppression. Education of the masses against chauvinism will be needed for a long period.

2) In order to win, we must unite the many. Some people think it’s enough just to be “correct,” to have a correct position. They fancy themselves as some single hero or lonely martyr in the struggle. But if you are really correct, you must be able to succeed in uniting 90%, the vast majority, around a correct line. This is the hallmark of a Marxist-Leninist, as opposed to some petty bourgeois academic or intellectual, who is content simply to sit behind a desk and write commentaries on oppression. That path is bound to lead to defeat.

3) We must have a correct orientation on the nature of the main contradiction in this struggle. What is it? It is not between the minority and white workers. It is not between the minority and white Party comrades. There are contradictions among these people, of course, and they have to be handled in their own special way. But these are not the main contradiction. Nor is it between the leadership and the rank and file or different Party units. We all have the same task, we all have the same interest in this fight–the rank and file, the different nationalities, the leadership, and so on.

In our Party, this is a contradiction between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism. It is a reflection within our ranks of the contradiction between the two main classes in U.S. society, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. And it can only be resolved correctly if we view it in that way. Any attempt to obscure or circumvent that contradiction will only wind up in defeat.

In society as a whole, the task of the proletariat is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and to liberate all the oppressed peoples. The proletariat is the only class that can do this.

But within the Party, our task in this struggle is to unite the Party and leadership and to strengthen both. Let the opportunists resort to cliques and factions. Our Party members have always placed their faith in the Party, in its democratic centralism and in the masses. Our task is to target the erroneous line, to unite the whole Party around the correct line and to raise the level of the whole Party.

Having said this, however, I won’t say that it isn’t necessary to change leaders at certain times. That’s a law of dialectics on any Party. Leadership changes. Some people advance, some people go backward. And the leadership, obviously, should be the leading People.

But the main task of our struggle around this question is not to overthrow individuals. It’s to overthrow revisionism. And as with any campaign that we take on, this struggle has to be organized stage by stage. By saying that it’s a protracted struggle, we mean that it has to be organized stage by stage. We fight revolution by stages. That’s the Marxist-Leninist way.

At this stage of this campaign, the task is to raise the level, to educate and mobilize. In this way we arm people with the basic weapons, with the right tools. Then we can criticize the main aspect of revisionism on this question. We can narrow the target, criticizing revisionism, chauvinism and nationalism.

Our aim must be to win over people who have taken a wrong view. We should not try to drive them out, but try to save them. That’s our policy. As Chairman Mao said, “We should first wage a struggle to rid him of his wrong ideas. Second, we should also help him. Part one, struggle, and part two, help.”[5] And we should not go in for ruthless criticism and merciless blows. We should proceed step by step, using the method of patient education.

With comrades who are sliding backwards, our first step is to slow down the backward slide. Then we should try to stop it, then slowly begin moving forward. If a car starts rolling down a hill, you can’t immediately knock it back up to the top again. You have to first slow it down and stop it. Then you can begin getting it back up to where it should be.

It’s the same thing when dealing with backsliding comrades. Too often we’ve practiced sectarianism on this point, not realizing how important every comrade is, even comrades who have made serious mistakes. This leads to the next lesson.

4) Mistakes are inevitable. Without mistakes, we couldn’t move forward. We should have a two-sided view of mistakes and not be afraid of them. Some comrades get very subjective when they see mistakes being made. You might think they expect to have a party completely free from mistakes. But what kind of party could that be? Some parties claim that they have only “one line” instead of two and that people who make errors are therefore “alien” and should be crushed. But we are all human beings, we all have two-line struggles within our thinking and outlook, and we all make mistakes. It is ridiculous for anyone to think that they have not or will not make any mistakes. Nobody is free from mistakes, and when we see them being made, we should view these mistakes two-sidedly.

What does this mean? On one hand, mistakes, especially if they are repeated, do harm to the Party. But on the other hand, mistakes are inevitable and they have a positive aspect to them. What is this positive side? First of all, who are the comrades who usually make the most mistakes? They are the ones who are out there in the thick of the class struggle, the ones doing the most work. As for these comrades, the ones out there getting beat up by the police, fighting on the side of the people and making every mistake in the world, we should take them any day over the comrades who don’t do shit and never make a mistake. It’s not our Party’s style to abstain from class struggle out of fear, even if it’s fear of making mistakes. In fact, to abstain from class struggle is the biggest mistake of all.

So we shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. Our comrades should not be timid, thinking, “Oh, I’d better not get into this or that, since I’m bound to mess it up,” to make some chauvinist error or some nationalist error. More important, we should combat the atmosphere that reinforces this timidity. What is this atmosphere? It’s when comrades make mistakes and then they’re hit right away with ruthless struggle and merciless blows, especially around the national question.


We want to fight national oppression. We know the importance of the question and want to take a militant stand on it. At the same time, however, we have to use some restraint. We have to develop a real core of fighters who have made mistakes and, as a result, have summed up lessons and have become steeled in the struggle. They can then go out among the masses and know what’s happening. They will not be so moralistic with the masses or crack up every time>a white worker uses a chauvinist expression or a Black worker makes a nationalist remark. Instead of cracking up, they will know how to deal with these things, since they will have been through some of the same pitfalls themselves.

We have to link the fight around the national question with the main thrust of the Party’s work every step of the way. The Party will have a different thrust at different stages of the struggle. Sometimes the thrust will be to build up the Fight Back work. At other times the thrust will be a certain internal campaign or the holding of a congress or the celebration of an anniversary, or other things like this.

But we should link up the fight against chauvinism concretely, making sure it’s in unity with the main thrust. We should not try to wage the struggle against chauvinism as some separate battle, with its own supposedly independent life or independent interests. Likewise, we should not see all the different nationalities in the Party as different lobbying groups, as groups all just fighting for their own narrow interests.

The national question is subservient to the overall struggle for socialism. This is a Marxist-Leninist principle. The demands of each oppressed nationality have to be subordinated to the struggle of the whole working class. We are not a Party of special interest groups. And our Central Committee is not made up of representatives acting like different lobbyists representing different nationalities. Our entire Central Committee is made up of the hardest fighters for all oppressed peoples. It isn’t especially important what nationality they are.

It’s no accident, of course, that our leadership is comprised of such a large section of oppressed nationalities, way beyond their proportion in society as a whole. This is because these are some of the most advanced fighters, those who have been the least shackled with white chauvinism and opportunism on this question. But our leadership is not put together like some opportunist groups where they say, okay, 25% will be Afro-American, 10% will be Chicano, and so on. Our view is that class and national background is important in estimating leadership abilities, but political line and political stand taken in struggle must be the decisive factor.

5) Next, in this struggle, we should focus on the big problems, not on the petty problems. You should not strike out in 10 different directions at once. Or, as Chairman Mao put it, we should not try to catch 10 fleas with 10 fingers. This approach will never succeed. Instead, we must take a dialectical approach when many contradictions come up. I’ve been to district committee meetings, for instance, where people summed up the present state of the district’s work and produced a list of dozens of problems. People would look at it like a big mountain that couldn’t be moved.

But if you use Marxism when you sum up and analyze these things, you will be able to make distinctions, to determine what is the main problem, what is the main task. Then by solving the main problems, step by step, this will lead the way to resolving all the other problems. This is the dialectical method. But if you do not grasp the main thing, or get bogged down in rumor mongering and things like “did you hear what so and so said to so and so yesterday,” or the tone of voice someone used about this or that, then you won’t get anywhere.

Of course methods of work are not unimportant. Our Party has always tried to develop and maintain a good style of work. But nonetheless, secondary matters should never be made into the main thing.

I would like to sum up my remarks by again stressing a point made earlier. In struggles like this, we must distinguish between the two types of contradictions. First, there are contradictions between the people and the enemy. Second, there are those among the people. There are two different methods for dealing with these two types of contradictions, and we should not confuse them. Against the enemy, we use the “Bang, Bang” method. We hit them hard and give no quarter. But in dealing with contradictions among the people, we use the method we are using at this meeting today. We employ criticism and self-criticism, reason things out, and patiently persuade and educate people. As you all know, there’s been a history in our movement of turning this upside down, of using the “Bang, Bang” method against comrades while letting the bourgeoisie go with some nasty words.

A few mistakes are bound to be made here as well. Some noses are bound to be bloodied. We shouldn’t be crybabies about this. As Chairman Mao pointed out, criticism often has to sting a bit in order to be effective. But fundamentally, we must keep correct methods in mind. That’s the only way to win.

Finally, this struggle has to be linked to the masses. We can’t advance the Party without advancing the masses. Every step forward the Party takes must be combined with moving the masses forward. This means the struggle against chauvinism and other deviations on the national question has got to be linked with our mass work. If it’s just turned inward and isolated from practice, then it’s a phony fight. Haywood’s book, Black Bolshevik, has an instructive chapter on the “phony war against white chauvinism” waged in the CPUSA in the early 1950s. It did great harm to the party then, and sabotaged the real struggle against deviations on the national question.

So we should see to it that the work of our Party doesn’t stop while everyone turns inward and indulges in a kind of petty bourgeois sensitivity training session. Our real problem is to link the fight to the mass work, to bring up the level of the masses. After all, there’s nobody in the Party who exploits and oppresses the people. There’s nobody in the Party who owns any factories and who makes Black workers work for half the wages of white workers. No one here passes laws against the use of the Spanish language in the schools, or rounds up immigrant workers and deports them.

Instead, we are fighting the ideological influence of the class that does carry out these things, and this pernicious influence does sharpen the contradictions among the people. And it can lead to antagonism and splits unless we take care not to confuse the two types of contradictions. With that, I’m going to end my comments. I hope everyone here gets a chance to speak out clearly and frankly, that we have some good struggle, and I am sure we will leave here with a higher and stronger level of unity.


[1] J.V. Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1970), p. 71.

[2] Joseph Weydemeyer, a German immigrant to the U.S., was an early leader of the Marxist movement in this country. A staunch opponent of slavery, he played an important role in winning working class support for the anti-slavery forces, recruiting and commanding a Union regiment during the Civil War.

[3] Eric Hass, Socialism: World Without Race Prejudice, p. 19, as cited in William Z. Foster, The Negro People in American History (New York: International Publishers, 1954), p. 399.

[4] V.I. Lenin, Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions (Calcutta: Calcutta Book House, 1970), p. 58.

[5] Mao Tsetung, “Dialectical Approach to Inner Party Unity,” Selected Works, vol. 5 (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977), p. 515.