Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist Party

“You Can’t Beat The Enemy While Raising His Flag”: MLPUSA Tries It


First Published: Revolution, Vol. 6, No. 1, June 1981.
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.

The preceding article drew some blood. Within weeks of its first appearance in the Revolutionary Worker, there was a copious (if somewhat thin) gushing from the “Marxist-Leninist Party of the USA” (MLPUSA) in a special supplement to their Workers’ Advocate (August 25, 1980).

The MLPUSA, formerly known as COUSML, is most notable for its strange trajectory from its bizarre zombie parody of “Maoism” in the early seventies, which seemed almost designed to discredit revolutionary China and Mao Tsetung Thought, down to today, when, as equally zombie-like followers of Enver Hoxha, they openly seek to discredit it. They pose as theoreticians, as champions of the “ideological struggle” which they accuse their Hoxha-ite rivals of opposing. But they caricature such struggle by combining cut and pasted quotes from Lenin–cleverly cut off just before they disprove their own point–with lies and slander designed to fool the ignorant.

“IThe ’RCP, USA’ which lives in an oppressor country, is looking down its nose at the oppressed nationalities,” they say, and this assertion is the foundation of their polemic. First, it is a lie. Like the rest of the lies around which the MLPUSA has built this article, its only hope of survival is if the reader doesn’t know anything about what the MLPUSA is talking about. Second, this assertion reveals the MLPUSA’s own imperialist outlook, for the “oppressed nationalities” whose nationalism the MLPUSA is defending against our alleged ”national nihilism” are the imperialist countries of Western Europe, Japan and Canada. In fact, it is Mao’s (and of course, by implication Leninism’s) distinction between oppressor and oppressed nations that is the target of the MLPUSA’s polemic.

The MLPUSA itself is not worth refuting. But their arguments can be put to use. What is useful about this polemic of theirs is that it puts our criticism of the nationalist deviation that has stunk up the scene for so long, especially since the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935, squarely in the context of the struggle around Hoxha and Mao that has divided the international communist movement today, and also brings out very sharply the current practical implications and actual place of this deviation.

Since their article is not very available, we’ll quote it at some length. It begins with the standard Hoxha-ite trick of labeling Deng Xiaoping’s counter-revolutionary (and little heard lately) three worlds theory “Mao Zedong Thought,” attacking it for upholding the bourgeoisie and negating the revolution in the imperialist countries of Japan and Western Europe “first on the pretext of the need to fight U.S. imperialism, and later on the pretext of the need to fight Soviet social-imperialism.” But then they add a fascinating twist.

But Maoism is an eclectic brew, an amalgam of anti-Marxist-Leninist theses. It vacillates from one extreme to the other and combines both extremes. Thus there are those followers of Maoism who denounce the anti-imperialist struggle in a capitalist or imperialist country on the pretext of supporting the socialist revolution. This is fully a Maoist position. It preserves the basic Maoist stand of separating and putting a Chinese wall between the anti-imperialist struggle and the class struggle. Moreover in practice it too amounts to submission to all imperialism, both foreign as well as domestic, for it justifies the U.S. imperialist hegemony over its imperialist allies in Western Europe, Japan and Canada and supports this dangerous weapon against the proletariat.
The ’RCP, USA’ is just such a follower of Maoism. The ’RCP, USA’ has taken up the superpower chauvinist position of denouncing the struggle of the proletariat of capitalist countries against U.S. imperialist hegemony. Traveling along the same road of the Progressive Labor Party which justified great-power chauvinism under the slogan ’all nationalism is reactionary,’ the ’RCP, USA’ has openly taken up the banner of national nihilism. We denounce this position in this article as it is the duty of all internationalists to expose and fight against the chauvinists who defend the imperialism of ’their own’ bourgeoisie. This is especially pressing in a superpower such as the U.S., which rules over a vast world empire . . .
On the one hand, such countries as Germany, France, Japan, Great Britain or Canada are imperialist powers in their own right. These are highly developed industrial countries where the moribund monopoly capitalist system has long been fully established. Internally the big monopoly capitalist bourgeoisie of these states ruthlessly exploits and oppresses the working class and the broad masses of working people. Externally these imperialists are bloodsucking neo-colonialists (some also maintain parts of their old colonial holdings) and international marauders. One the other hand, particularly since the conclusion of the Second World War, to one degree or another, these imperialisms have been placed under the jackboot of U.S. imperialist domination. . .
In the 1930s Mao Zedong defined as a fundamental characteristic of ’capitalist countries’ that ’in their external relations, they are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress, other nations.” (Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 219) Taken literally this Maoist formula means that by definition a capitalist country cannot be oppressed and, conversely, if a country is oppressed by others it is therefore by definition not a capitalist country. And nearly half a century later we find Mao’s followers pontificating that for a country to be truly capitalist and imperialist it cannot be oppressed by U.S. imperialism, and must have its full and complete sovereignty intact. Such a conception of imperialism, however, may agree with Kautskyism or Maoism, but not with Leninism. As Lenin pointed out in his famous work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, ’The characteristic feature of imperialism is precisely that it strives to annex not only agrarian territories, but even most highly industrialized regions (German appetite for Belgium; French appetite for Lorraine).’ (p. 109) This characteristic feature of imperialism means that the world system of imperialism is a system of the ruthless oppression of nations, both capitalistically undeveloped nations and developed capitalist and imperialist ones. And as witnessed in recent years, the two most powerful imperialisms, the United States and the Soviet Union, are attempting to completely subjugate the entire capitalist-revisionist world between themselves. Thus, apart from possibly these two superpowers, the search for a ’pure’ capitalist and imperialist country which fits into Mao’s schematic formula will simply have to be pursued on some other planet besides this one with which we have become acquainted.. . .
In particular these positions are based on Mao’s social-democratic schematism which creates an artificial Great Wall between the bourgeois democratic and the socialist revolution and which divides with a gaping chasm the democratic or anti-imperialist and the socialist tasks of the revolution.
It was this artificial barrier created by Mao that blocked the uninterrupted transition of the Chinese bourgeois democratic, anti-imperialist revolution into a socialist revolution. . .
Regarding the advanced capitalist-imperialist countries of the so-called ’second world’ the Maoists have constructed the same kind of anti-Marxist Great Wall. . .
Whether from the angle of the ’danger of the Soviet threat’ or from the angle of the open championing of national nihilism, the followers of Chinese revisionism have also thrown overboard the major problem of the struggle of the West European peoples against U.S. imperialist domination.

The method of these Hoxha-ites is simple: now you see it, now you don’t. “Imperialism is a system of the ruthless oppression of nations,” they tell us, and then–poof–the distinction between imperialist countries and those oppressed by them, between the monopoly capitalist countries and the semi-feudal, colonial, and semi- and neo-colonial countries just disappears, all with the wave of the hand and the magic words “both capitalistically undeveloped nations and developed capitalist and imperialist ones.” Imagine that: both “countries like Germany, France, Japan, Great Britain and Canada”. . and countries like India, Puerto Rico, South Korea.

The MLPUSA’s approach here is significant. It was not Mao but Lenin who first summed up that with the advent of imperialism the world was divided into oppressor and oppressed nations. The MLPUSA doesn’t try to weasel out of this division by pointing to more complicated countries, such as, for instance, Portugal, which some people argue are both imperialist and dominated by foreign capital. No, they take Lenin’s line straight on–although they try to pretend it’s only “Maoism” they’re after. After all, they must know that in the same article they quote so much, Lenin wrote: “In the Western countries the national movement is a thing of the distant past. In England, France, Germany, etc., the ’fatherland’ is a dead letter, it has played its historical role, i.e., the national movement cannot yield here anything progressive, anything that will elevate new masses to a new economic and political life.” (“A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism,” Vol. 23, p. 39)

Of course Lenin didn’t deny that these imperialist great powers fight each other–the question was, over what? In the very next sentence in Imperialism, after the part about annexation the MLPUSA so dishonestly tries to use to try to prove that the essence of imperialism is big imperialist countries taking over littler ones, Lenin goes on to say that the cause of this “striving for annexation” is “1) the fact that the world is already divided up obliges those contemplating a redivision to reach out for every kind of territory, and 2) an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several Great Powers in the striving for hegemony, i.e., for the conquest of territory, not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and undermine his hegemony. (Belgium is particularly important for Germany as a base for operations against England; England needs Bagdad as a base for operations against Germany, etc.)” (Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Peking edition, p. 109)

Lenin’s whole point here is that war between imperialists is war for redivision of the world. Referring to what the opportunists who thought otherwise considered their strongest argument, Lenin replied, “Let us suppose even that the Germans take Paris or St. Petersburg. Would that change the nature of the present war? Not at all. The Germans’ purpose–and more important, the policy that would bring it to realization if they were to win–is to seize the colonies, establish domination over Turkey, annex areas populated by other nations, for instance, Poland, etc. It is definitely not to bring the French or Russians under foreign domination. The real nature of the present war is not national but imperialist. In other words, it is not being fought to enable one side to overthrow national oppression, which the other side is trying to maintain. It is a war between two groups of oppressors, between two freebooters over the division of their booty, over who shall rob Turkey and the colonies.” (“Caricature,” pp. 33-34)

This exposure of imperialism is what the MLPUSA is trying to hide. “A given imperialism does not become something else when gigantic sums of foreign capital are invested in its industries or when it incurs massive indebtedness to the foreign imperialist banks,’’ they (correctly) declare, aiming their polemical arrows at the easily disproven argument that Western Europe is a “colony proper.” But having made what they think is a sufficient rhetorical flourish about this to prove the “Leninist” credentials under whose authority they attempt to indict Mao, they go on to try to hide the imperialist bourgeoisie of West Germany, France, Japan, Canada, etc. behind the masses in those countries. “But according to the Marxist outlook,” they claim, “the oppression of a nation, whether or not it is capitalistically developed, means in the first place the oppression of the working class and the working masses, the further destruction of their livelihood, the suppression of their culture, the further limitation of their political rights and freedoms, and so on. This is true in the capitalist countries as in other countries.”

Again the old magic wave of the wand–but saying “this is true” doesn’t make truth out of falsehood. The “Great Wall” (or “Chinese wall,” as they chauvinistically stoop to call it) that they are trying to batter down is not only Mao’s distinction between the national-democratic and socialist stages of the proletarian revolution in oppressed countries –Mao’s theory of New Democracy, which showed how the proletariat could lead the national-democratic revolution and how this revolution could prepare the conditions for socialist revolution–but also the distinction between oppressor and oppressed nations itself. This is the real “Great Wall”–and basic principle of Marxism-Leninism–that they object to, a distinction not maliciously invented by Mao but rather formulated by Lenin, who first summed up the division of the world that had taken place with the advent of the era of imperialism.

If they would allow their readers to continue just a little further on in Lenin’s “Caricature” that they abuse so badly, Lenin himself testifies against them: ”Is the actual condition of the workers in the oppressor and in the oppressed nations the same, from the standpoint of the national question?

No, it is not the same.
1) Economically, the difference is that sections of the working class in the oppressor nations receive crumbs from the superprofits the bourgeoisie of these nations obtains by extra exploitation of the oppressed nations. Besides, economic statistics show that here a larger percentage of the workers become ’straw bosses’ than is the case in the oppressed nations, a larger percentage rise to the labor aristocracy. That is a fact. To a certain degree the workers of the oppressor nations are partners of their own bourgeoisie in plundering the workers (and the mass of the population) of the oppressed nations.
2) Politically, the difference is that, compared with the workers of the oppressed nations, they occupy a privileged position in many spheres of political life.
3) Ideologically, or spiritually, the difference is that they are taught, at school and in life, disdain and contempt for the workers of the oppressed nations. (“Caricature,” pp. 55-56)

Lenin’s point here is that this is the economic, political and ideological basis for imperialism to corrupt a section of the workers who cling to imperialism and for opportunists to justify and base themselves on that corruption and spread it, crying “defend the fatherland” in the face of inter-imperialist conflict and ignoring or attacking the anti-imperialist struggle in the oppressed nations. Why does the MLPUSA attack Mao’s perfectly correct summary of Lenin’s principles, that capitalist countries, in their external relations, “are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress, other nations”? Because it is exactly the difference between oppressed and oppressor–in other words, national privileges, national oppression–that they are seeking to defend.

Even the MLPUSA’s mandatory pretense of internationalism reeks of nationalism, covered with a drop of moralism: “As Marxism-Leninism teaches, the proletariat of Japan, West Germany, France, Britain, Canada, etc., must shoulder their proletarian internationalist duties in regard to the crimes of their ’own’ imperialisms against the oppressed peoples if they are going to succeed in realizing their own social emancipation. However, to portray the outrages which one’s ’own’ imperialist rulers perpetrate against the oppressed peoples as simply the responsibility of U.S. imperialism is to embellish one’s ’own’ imperialist marauders. It is, of course, correct and necessary to explain to the masses that many of these crimes are committed in direct collaboration with and even under the immediate direction of U.S. imperialism. But the condemnation of one’s ’own’ bourgeoisie as ’lackeys,’ ’front men’ and ’agents’ of U.S. imperialism must always be used to instill in the masses a burning hatred against this bourgeoisie....”

The rulers of Western Europe, Japan, Canada, etc. are not “lackeys,” “front men” or “agents” of U.S. imperialism–they represent independent imperialist ruling classes within these countries, despite the fact that due to their less favorable position in the world at the moment they find themselves presently obliged to pursue their imperialist aims as members of the U.S. bloc. For instance, in the context of present world relations France’s intervention in Africa may help the U.S. against the Soviets, but France is no mere messenger boy–above all, France’s moves are dictated by its own imperialist interests, which include keeping the U.S. restricted in France’s “sphere of influence.” To criticize them as “lackeys,” etc., even while mentioning that they are “also” imperialist, is to say that what’s wrong with them is that they’re not strong enough imperialists.

But what is most significant is what is not being said here. It is not an accident that the MLPUSA’s argument is couched in such academic terms, with so little reference to the current world situation, for that is precisely what they seek to obscure most. The contradiction between the U.S. and Western European imperialists, etc., is not taking place in a vacuum. It is conditioned by the much more powerful contradiction between the U.S. and Soviet blocs. In fact, the only way all the imperialist powers, including those of Western Europe, can actually move to redivide the world–which, impelled by the laws of imperialism in ever-sharpening crisis they are bound to do–is precisely by lining up into war blocs behind one or the other superpower. This is not because the superpowers have some magical ability to transform lesser imperialists into lambs (or sheep), but because each is the only one strong enough to take on the other, or in other words, to really lead in bringing about the world’s forcible redivision. Under these circumstances, what is the practical meaning of berating the Western European imperialists for being “lackeys” of the U.S.? Doesn’t this amount to a cover-up of their imperialist nature, no matter how many times it’s said, “Of course, they’re imperialists, too”? And doesn’t it at least leave the door open to the idea that if they “stood up” more to U.S. imperialism–i.e., served their imperialist interests by entering into some other imperialist alliance which under today’s conditions could only mean an alliance with the other superpower–that somehow this would be better?

The main exponent of “national communism” in Western Europe today is not the Hoxha-ites, although they’d like to claim that mantle. It is the so-called Eurocommunist parties, which openly claim the “national communist” label. The Basic Principles for the Unity of Marxist-Leninists and for the Line of the International Communist Movement, in analyzing the pro-Soviet revisionist parties of Western Europe, points out, “one of the essential aspects of this strategy [“to bring about. . . a form of state capitalism in which they play a major or if possible a dominant role in alliance with some sections of the traditional ruling class”] is the attempt to reconcile or ’merge’ the ’national interests’ of their countries and of the Soviet Union. While in colonial and dependent countries such parties seek to replace one form of imperialist domination with another in which they can act as major comprador capitalists, especially through the state, in the imperialist countries they are genuine patriots–that is, defenders of the imperialism of their countries–seeking only to alter the form of the imperialist state and to move it from one imperialist bloc into or toward another. Thus, particularly in the latter countries, their stance of combining allegiance to the nation with support for the Soviet social-imperialists is not simply an attempt to appeal to the philistine chauvinism of their social base–a philistinism and chauvinism they actively promote–but represents these revisionists’ actual highest aspirations and in particular their efforts to unite with sections of the bourgeoisie on the basis that their common interests are best served by moving toward accommodation with the Soviet bloc.” (p. 29, paragraph 145)

The point here is not to identify the MLPUSA with the Eurocommunist revisionist parties–whatever it is that they are, it isn’t exactly that. In fact, they criticize the Eurocommunist parties for “negating the struggle against U.S. imperialist domination.” The point is that their arguments fit well with the Soviets’ own purposes and outlook, despite their occasional burps of impolite anti-Sovietism. (The MLPUSA does criticize the Soviet rulers for, believe it or not, “national nihilist cosmopolitanism.” The Soviets, however, do not concede to this charge. An article called “Proletarian Internationalism and the Battle of Ideas” in the Aug. 15,1980 Pravda [Reprints from the Soviet Press, Sept. 15, 1980] denounces “national nihilism.’’ While it emphasizes the importance of social-imperialist “proletarian internationalism”–the subordination and subjugation of other countries by the Soviet Union–it specifically denies that there is anything contradictory in other countries between upholding social-imperialism as well as nationalism, denouncing “futile attempts to present communists as people who abhor patriotism,” including in imperialist countries.

This is not to argue that it is only the Soviets who can use and benefit from the confounding of Marxism and nationalism, but only to show this line in its most ugly and naked form. In fact, once you start defending one or more imperialist countries against the others in the name of resisting “hegemonism” or “annexation,” then not only do you end up supporting imperialist war and opposing turning it into revolutionary civil war in Europe, but–to follow the argument to its logical conclusion–also supporting one or each of the superpowers against the other’s attempts to dominate it. Clearly this is imperialist logic which can be used by any imperialism.

In passing, the MLPUSA makes some snide comments on how the “’RCP, USA’ and its predecessors supported cultural nationalism”–referring to our support for the revolutionary nationalist (not cultural nationalist) thrust of the Black liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Then they go on to shriek that we’re following the same tradition today, since we “rave hysterically against the flag” and even–horror of horrors–burn it, which offends “the revolutionary traditions of a people and all national culture.” For whatever reason, they don’t hesitate to speak of the “jackboots” of U.S. imperialism and in general compare the U.S. to Nazi Germany–implying, in a grotesque caricature of the Comintern line, that the peoples of the world should unite with their imperialist rulers (including in the USSR) against the U.S. But the MLPUSA’s own reactionary outlook means that even within the U.S. they prefer the imperialists’ nationalism to revolutionary struggle against national oppression and to revolution in general.

At any rate, regardless of which camp the MLPUSA’s pro-imperialist nationalism serves, they have done well by providing a fine example of how the attack on Mao Tsetung Thought and “Maoism” is an attack on Leninism as well, and some of what is at stake for the international working class in regard to this question of “national nihilism.”