Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Unity Organization

Sooner or Later

Questions & Answers on War, Peace & the United Front

Conclusion: A Self-Criticism on Proletarian Internationalism

In this pamphlet we have urged you to think the “unthinkable” – that we are faced with the prospect of world war sooner rather than later. We have pointed out the profound implications that such a prospect represents for our work in every area of American political life. World war is not in the interest of the masses of the American people and we must make every effort to widen the struggle to postpone and even avoid war. This struggle affects our strategy and tactics in the trade unions, the women’s movement, the anti-imperialist movement, the movements of oppressed nationalities as well as in the electoral process. A subject of such central importance to our work and to the future of our country and the world merits a far more searching debate than has taken place up to this time.

When William Hinton first raised the possibility that the Soviet Union was the main danger to the peoples of the world toward which the main blow should be directed, his views were quickly dismissed and debate was short-lived. The Guardian printed Hinton’s views in the spring of 1976 not to open discussion but to use them as a foil in their attack on China’s foreign policy. This was the opening salvo in an assault on the so-called international ultra-left trend led by China and founded on “dogmatism”. This view became the spearhead of an “anti-dogmatist” trend led by the Guardian, the PWOC, El Comite, and others.

While our own group did not reject Hinton’s views out of hand, we largely ignored them. Our reaction to the emerging struggle over international line was to regard it as another in a long series of sectarian disputes that could not be settled in the ultra-left atmosphere that dominated the movement. While our recognition of the sectarianism of the movement was doubtlessly accurate, we were blinded from seeing the forest through the trees. There were two reasons for our failure to grasp the significance of what Hinton was saying and the immense importance of the changes that were going on in the world.

Our first mistake was to exaggerate the struggle vs. ultra-leftism. When our collective was formed in 1975, one of our chief points of unity was that ultra-leftism constituted the main danger in the movement. We saw the communist movement as being driven apart by what we considered sterile and sectarian disputes over partial questions (national question, form of the united front, party building, the details of the restoration of capitalism in the U.S.S.R.) while losing sight of the whole – the need to unite Marxist-Leninists. What we did not recognize was that despite the sectarian manner in which it was carried out, the issues being debated were of great significance. Part of our error was confusing style and content; another part was exaggerating the importance of ultra-leftism and thus ignoring the issues.

This was related to another deeply held but incorrect view: that we are living in a pre-party period, where the central task of Marxist-Leninists is to build the party. Despite our critique of its ultra-leftism, for a long time our group shared the movement’s preoccupation with party-formation. Despite our critique of dogmatism we armed ourselves with formulae and recipes from Lenin and Stalin to justify “focussing our care and attention on the movement itself” (Stalin, “Political Strategy and Tactics of the Russian Social Democrats”). Like many others we thought it self-evident that “in the pre-party period the central task is to form the party.”

As a result of this view we originally concentrated our attention on the communist movement itself, hoping to develop a broad ideological unity in a struggle against ultra-leftism. We tended to see struggles over political line as obstructive of this effort. Party-building was central, ideological line was key.

But such a view was difficult to maintain amidst what was going on around us. The centrifugal tendencies in the movement were, if anything, intensifying. Differences over international line (Angola, Eritrea, Cuba, etc.) began to take organizational form when the Guardian, PWOC, etc. put out a call for an anti-dogmatist trend. We had been accepted for participation in something called the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC) undertaken by the PWOC. We wanted to struggle with our partners in anti-leftism over their sectarian party building line and their incorrect understanding of the international situation and China’s foreign policy. As the struggle developed their intransigence on their opposition to China made us begin to suspect their real nature. The struggle revealed to us their essence was not opposition to “leftism” in the movement but as a “left” apologist for the Soviet Union. By the conclusion of this struggle, with our resignation from this formation, we had to ask ourselves a hard question: why did we fail to recognize the pro-Soviet essence of this grouping and mistake them for anti-“left” allies?

Our self-criticism compelled us to review our line. We saw that we were misled by the anti-dogmatists because we regarded all political line questions as secondary to party building and ideological line. This was rooted in the notion that in a pre-party period our central task is party building. In discussing party building among ourselves and with other groups we came to the conclusion that while it is true that we live in a pre-party period, pre-party periods vary tremendously depending on which ’other’ periods they are ’inside’. The Russian pre-party period was inside the period of the intense development of the workers’ movement, of the breakdown of feudalism in the countryside and the rise of capitalism in the cities, of the crisis of the autocracy, of the rise of revisionism, etc. The pre-party period in China was inside an agrarian revolution and a national liberation struggle. That of Albania was inside the imperialist, fascist invasion of the country. In all these countries party-building was always a strategic goal but it wasn’t always the primary task. In Albania, for instance, the primary task at one point was building the united front against fascism. That proved to be the key link that ensured the successful development of the Party.

Thus to establish the relationship of party building and political line we had to begin with an analysis of the overall political situation in the world and the country. Instead we had underemphasized political line questions and overemphasized “ideological” line and style. As one member said:

We have spent a long summer’s day kneeling by the shore building our sand castle party. Long shadows have fallen over our castles. The shadow has turned the white sand gray or even black. Former friends (the Cubans, Vietnamese, Guardian) sport different colors, as do former enemies (Yugoslavia, RWH). Sometimes we have noticed the change in color of former friends and enemies and we have paused momentarily to wonder about this and comment among ourselves, before returning to our ’central task’ of securing the foundations of our sand castle. It did not occur to us to look for the source of these long shadows, to look up and see the huge menacing clouds which blocked the sun, to look out to sea to see the great storm approaching. (Internal C/S-C, 9/78)

But to recognize that the task of building the party must be seen in the light of our concrete situation is not to liquidate party building. On the contrary, party building is sometimes a by-product of the larger political struggle. The experience of Albania in the early 1930s when the economic struggle of the workers developed rapidly and the anti-imperialist movement was gathering force and yet the communist movement stagnated for lack of “ideological maturity” (History of the PLA, 35) illustrates this point. In the end it was the anti-imperialist, anti-fascist united front against the Italian invaders which welded the leading core of the PLA together.

While the negotiations among the leaders of the communist groups dragged along for months, the popular and anti-fascist movement was growing all over the country. The communists stood at the head of this movement. After the occupation of the country, a radical change had taken place in their understanding. The rank and file members of the communist groups were becoming more and more aware that unity could not be achieved through sterile talks among chiefs but through a common struggle against the fascist invaders. This gradually pushed the political and ideological differences into the background. (PLA, 70)

As a result of the common struggle there had sprung up within the communist forces a leadership core of “professional revolutionary cadres who had been able to rise above the disputes among the groups... It was these cadres who, through their tireless efforts, prepared the ideological and organizational framework of the Albanian Communist Party.” (PLA, 85)

This unity was achieved despite the severe ultra-leftism, sectarianism and dogmatism which had plagued the Albanian communist movement. It was very dangerous since it had kept the Albanian movement divided for 15 years. But the fascist invasion was more dangerous. Its significance dwarfed the danger of “leftism”. It was as if a great monster had entered the room in which a bunch of children were squabbling over marbles. To most Albanians (communist or not) it was clear that the monster was their biggest danger.

Ultra-leftism remains a serious danger in our movement. But we cannot allow our struggle against that error to blind us to the political realities developing in the world. The international communist movement split twenty years ago over the nature of the U.S.S.R. This is no longer simply an ideological question which distinguishes revisionists from Marxists-Leninists but a political question which provides a litmus test for anti-imperialism. We can no longer regard opposition to the U.S.S.R. as a simple article of faith to which we ritually swear allegiance in order to renew our revolutionary credentials. Especially since 1975 it has become the key political (strategic and tactical) question for our movement. The deviations in our movement have to be understood in this new political context and in the light of proletarian internationalism.

The “anti-dogmatists” opened their attack by invoking “proletarian internationalism” and accusing supporters of China’s views of “class collaboration”. We were “ultra-left” because we refused to make tactical alliances with revisionists, with secondary enemies. For the “anti-dogmatists” proletarian internationalism was a simple matter: it could be ascertained by asking whether a movement regarded the U.S. as its main enemy. In the name of proletarian internationalism opposition to Soviet aggression was tagged as collaboration with imperialism or as Browderism or even ultra-leftism. For these forces, proletarian internationalism is synonymous with support for the MPLA, the AMF in Portugal and Cuba’s presence in Africa.

What is it to be proletarian internationalist today? For Marx, proletarian internationalism derived from the international character of the proletariat. It had no “national interests”, knew “no national frontiers”. The proletarian revolution was “international in character” though its form was national. Proletarian internationalism means grasping the whole, understanding how world proletarian revolution is unfolding. Then we must ask the question, “what are the interests of the world revolution at this point?”

Is world proletarian revolution furthered by splitting the national liberation struggle, dividing the non-aligned movement, violating the independence and national sovereignty of Third World nations? Does such activity build the unity of the working class and the oppressed nations? Does it weaken imperialism? Counter to what the anti-dogmatists sustained, support of Cuba, MPLA, Vietnam, and the U.S.S.R. is not really proletarian internationalism at all. There is nothing “internationalist” in supporting the violation of independence and sovereignty that Cuban, Vietnamese and Soviet actions have signified. On the contrary, proletarian internationalism demands resisting these attacks. Proletarian internationalism is not the inverse patriotism which identifies revolution with opposition to the U.S. The U.S.S.R. has shown that opposition to the U.S. is not necessarily revolutionary or even progressive.

This same measure applies to our allies as well. Neither does proletarian internationalism consist of raising partial struggles against U.S. imperialism at home or abroad above the whole, above the struggle against imperialism, hegemonism, and reaction on a world-wide scale.

In dealing with the questions raised here (the struggles of the U.S. working class, the oppressed nationalities, the Third World against U.S. imperialism in the context of the united front against hegemonism) we have stressed continuously the necessity to approach the part – the individual elements of the proletarian struggle – from the point of view of the whole. Marxist dialectics teaches that to understand the individual contradiction within a complex process, we must first grasp the principal contradiction and use it to place and assess the other contradictions:

Hence, if in any process there are a number of contradictions, one of them must be the principal contradiction playing the leading and decisive role, while the rest occupy a secondary and subordinate position. Therefore, in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding its principal contradiction. Once this principal contradiction is grasped, all problems can be readily solved. This is the method Marx taught us in his study of capitalist society. Likewise Lenin and Stalin taught us this method when they studied imperialism and the general crisis of capitalism and when they studied the Soviet economy. There are thousands of scholars and men of action who do not understand it, and the result is that, lost in a fog, they are unable to get to the heart of a problem and naturally cannot find a way to resolve its contradictions. (Mao, “On Contradiction”, MSW, Vol. I, p. 332)

And this is not just a question of method. It is a political and ideological question as well. It is the question of proletarian internationalism versus chauvinism and opportunism:

No matter whether their country is big or small, if communists counterpose the interests of their own country and nation to the general interest of the international proletarian movement, and if they make national interests a pretext for opposing the general interest, and not really upholding international proletarian solidarity in actual practice, but on the contrary damaging it, they will be committing a serious mistake of violating the principles of internationalism and Marxism-Leninism. (Mao, “More on the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, FLP, Beijing, 1958)

The bulk of this pamphlet was written before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Had we known then what we know now, we would not have called the pamphlet “Sooner or Later” but “Better Late Than Never”! We wonder whether the movement will still be debating what to do about Soviet expansion when they march into Baluchistan or Cuban troops enter Oman.

This is no longer the post-Vietnam War period but the pre-World War III period. It is past time to break out of the shell of the antiwar period and honestly evaluate the present circumstances. This is what we have tried to do in the pamphlet. We have asked hard questions and come up with hard answers.

The rapid pace of change in the world and the increasing boldness of the U.S.S.R. has thrust the struggle against Soviet expansion into the mainstream of American politics. For too long communists have isolated themselves from the masses. Ultra-leftism has kept us and our views from the principal arena for political struggle in the U.S., electoral politics. Similarly it has kept us out of all but the narrowest united fronts. The American political process is evolving its policy toward war and peace. Despite our sophisticated understanding of the world situation and of the tremendous significance of the rise of Soviet Social Imperialism we have no influence over political policy. Unless communists join the fray, we shall have nothing to say – the bourgeoisie will call the tune and we will have to sing the chorus.

Events beyond their control are forcing communists to debate this question, for without debate we can have no unity of action. But it is action that is needed. The choice is ours – either enter the incipient united front against hegemonism or let the bourgeoisie build it in its own image.