In Defence of Leninism: In Defence of the Fourth International (excerpts)
by Ernest Germain (Ernest Mandel)
Excerpt from "In Defence of Leninism: In Defence of the Fourth International," dated January 5 1973, International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 10, No, 4, April 1973. The document was signed by "Ernest Germain" a pen-name used by the Belgian Marxist Ernest Mandel for internal Fourth International documents.
The following are the sections of Mandel's document that dealt with Canada. For information on the context in which this document was written and published, see Introduction to Debate with Mandel on this website.
14. Tail-Ending Reformism
The position which the LSA/LSO (Canadian section) leadership – and staunch supporters of the minority position on Latin America – has adopted towards the reformist social-democratic party, the NDP in its country, and its position on the October 30, 1972 general elections in Canada in particular, expresses a clear tailist deviation from Leninism. In a leaflet distributed on a large scale before these general elections, we can find the following gems:
It is true that this astonishing prose is only published in the name of the Canadian Young Socialists, and not in the section’s own name. But the prose of the Canadian section itself is hardly more edifying. Here is what we can read in its central organ’s editorial on the general elections, entitled For the labour Alternative: Vote NDP Oct. 30!
In a certain sense, the LSA/LSO appeal is even worse than the YS one. For while it prudently leaves out the most extreme pro-reformist formulations of the leaflet, it doesn’t even include the pious reference to the "conservative leadership" of the NDP and its parliamentary illusions. In fact, it doesn’t contain a single word of criticism of reformism and electoralism, not a single word of differentiation from social-democracy!
We are not dealing here with a hypothetical Labor Party, arising from a young rebellious and still partially democratic trade-union upsurge, similar to the one Trotsky projected in the late Thirties for the USA in relation to the rise of the CIO. We are talking about a social-democratic party, with a program well to the right of even British social-democracy, not to speak of the French and Italian socialist parties. We are talking about politicians who abhor revolution, extra-parliamentary struggles for overthrowing capitalism, and whose horizon is totally limited to that of winning reforms within the framework of capitalist economy and the bourgeois state.
We are talking about people who are 100% in favor of class-collaboration politically, economically and socially. In the best of cases, a coming to power of the NDP would lead to what Trotsky called a miserable comedy, like the first MacDonald governments in Britain. If things go worse, it could lead to big defeats and demoralization of the working class, if a powerful revolutionary party does not exist to lead the workers’ struggle beyond social-democratic reforms and towards socialist revolution.
All this is ABC for any Leninist, and any supporter of the Fourth International. Obviously, it is ABC for the leadership of the LSA as well. Why then do they write the exact opposite of what they believe on these questions? For "tactical" reasons? Is it part of Leninist "tactics" to hide the truth from the workers (leave alone the radicalized vanguard whom you can’t fool for a minute, and who don’t believe that reformist rubbish anyway)? Where did Lenin ever advise revolutionary socialists and communists to call social-democracy an "alternative" to the bourgeois status quo? Where did he ever say that big business hates social-democrats (does British capital "hate" Wilson, not to mention Roy Jenkins)? Did Lenin ever say that a social-democratic government would open up "the way for fundamental social change"? What is this strange animal anyway, supposedly different from a socialist revolution, in the epoch of imperialism? Did Lenin ever consider that political class consciousness grows inside the working class through a strengthening of the reformist mass parties? Isn’t it a serious deviation for a revolutionary socialist to seriously write that the election of a reformist government, which will manage bourgeois society and capitalist relations of production like all its counterparts have done since 1918, "constitutes big strides in the path of the working people ... towards breaking ... from capitalism as a system"? What has any of this in common with Leninism?
Of course, our criticism does not imply that it would be incorrect for Canadian revolutionary Marxists to call upon the workers and other oppressed layers of society to vote NDP. Lenin taught us to support social-democratic candidates in elections under certain conditions "like the rope supports the hanging man." He specified that this task poses itself especially when it is a question of winning a majority of the workers to a communist party which has already set itself upon the road to such a conquest. He underlined that before setting upon that course, it is imperative to assemble, steel and educate the vanguard. And he specifically laid down the conditions for denouncing reformism which had to accompany any such electoral support, lest it lead the masses closer to the reformist fakers, the labor lieutenants of capital (to whom our comrades in Canada now refer to, for shame, as "the party of the working people"!) instead of helping them to free themselves from reformist illusions and traitors:
In other words: while Lenin posed as a condition for a call to vote labour the simultaneous denunciation of their leaders as worthless, petty-bourgeois and treacherous, moving towards inevitable bankruptcy; while he called upon the British Communists to use the hearing they could get from Labour workers to make communist propaganda in favor of workers democracy and Soviets, against parliamentary and reformist illusions, the Canadian section of the Fourth International, while calling on the workers to vote NDP, abstains from any such revolutionary propaganda, and indeed increases the hold of reformism upon the workers by presenting things as if a "fundamental social change" and "breaking from capitalism as a system" could be conquered by the masses through an electoral victory of the NDP. How, under such circumstances, these same masses could be capable of breaking with reformism after their experience with the bankruptcy of an NDP government, and how they could be won over to revolutionary Marxism remains a mystery.
The trend of the electoral policies of the LSA/LSO is clear. It can be summarized in one formula: tail-ending reformism.
16. Tail-Ending a New "Stage-Theory" of the Revolution
The tendency towards opportunist tail-ending has manifested itself in the Canadian section not only through its attitude towards social-democracy but also via its attitude towards the national question in its own country. In the September/October 1972 issue of Liberation, the organ of the LSO, we find the following statements signed by Comrade Alain Beiner, in relation to a recent split which occurred within the LSO:
[Footnote: The following is the English translation from the French: "Contrary to the positions of Lenin and Trotsky on the national struggle of an oppressed people, the tendency refused to support Quebec nationalism unconditionally. The tendency did not accept the theory of permanent revolution, formulated by Trotsky and confirmed by the Russian Revolution, according to which the national bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation (like Quebec), owing to its dependence on world imperialism, is incapable of breaking all imperialist ties in order to lead a national liberation struggle against foreign oppression to a successful conclusion. For the tendency, the dangers of an ‘easy cooption’ of nationalism and the national struggles in Quebec by the bourgeoisie and its parties (like the PQ) outweighed the thoroughly revolutionary significance of the struggle for national emancipation."
We shall deal furthermore with the completely non-Leninist identification of "national liberation" or "the right of self-determination of nations" on the one hand, and "nationalism" on the other hand. Let us first of all clarify what is programmatically wrong in Comrade Beiner’s summary of what he thinks to be Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, and what is in reality a revision of that very same theory.
Is it true that, because the national bourgeoisie is dependent upon imperialism, it is unable to break all ties with imperialism and therefore cannot lead a victorious struggle against foreign oppression? This is completely wrong. The struggle against national oppression is not an anti-capitalist struggle. It is a struggle for a bourgeois-democratic demand. The existence of the world capitalist system is not an absolute obstacle to the overthrow of national oppression, under conditions of imperialism. Indeed, in the very debate with Rosa Luxemburg in favour of the support for the right of self-determination of oppressed nationalities, Lenin pointed out that it was not impossible for this right to be gained in the struggle, before the overthrow of world imperialism. In fact, from the case of Norway cited by Lenin, to that of Poland and Finland who conquered their national independence in 1918, to that of most of the former colonial countries of Asia and Africa who conquered independence after 1947, the history of the 20th century has confirmed that it is not necessary to "break all ties with imperialism" in order to eliminate foreign national oppression.
Of course, under imperialism – especially in its epoch of decay – the struggle against national oppression becomes more and more difficult on a global scale. New forms of national oppression arise constantly, even when old ones are partially eliminated. Where foreign national oppression is eliminated, foreign economic exploitation remains and increases. The inability of the national bourgeoisie to start a process of cumulative industrialization makes it in many cases impossible to create a national market and thereby to bring to an end the process of formation of a classical nation in the historic sense of the word. But all this raises questions which are far beyond the realm of "foreign national oppression." To say that India, Indonesia or Nigeria, not to speak about Brazil, Argentina, Finland or Turkey, are today countries in which foreign national oppression by imperialism reigns would be obviously misleading.
Trotsky never stated that in the epoch of imperialism, the "national" bourgeoisie in a backward country is unable to begin waging a struggle for some of the historical demands of the bourgeois democratic revolution. On the contrary, he stressed time and time again that the beginning of such a struggle under bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership was nearly inevitable. Such was the case not only in Poland and Finland, but in nearly all the colonial countries of Asia and Africa. Where he opposed himself sharply to "Marxist orthodoxy" as it had been represented up to 1906 by the whole of international social-democracy was in his understanding that it was basically wrong to separate different revolutionary tasks as if they presented themselves in different successive stages of mass struggle. The theory of the permanent revolution was born from the discovery of the law of uneven and combined development, i.e., of the combination of tasks with which the masses in a backward country are simultaneously faced under conditions of imperialism.
The discovery of this law of uneven and combined development results from an analysis of the sum total of social and economic relations which prevail in these countries in the 20th century. The national bourgeoisie is not only tied to imperialism but also to the landlord-moneylender-comprador class. The national question is not the only key question of the bourgeois democratic revolution which remains unfulfilled in backward countries in the 20th century. Apart from the question of democratic political rights of the toiling masses and of initiating a process of cumulative industrialization, there is the decisive question of the agrarian revolution. But when the peasant masses rise to overthrow the landlords-usurer-merchant alliance, they not only often attack direct property (capital investments) of the "national bourgeoisie" too, but they also create in the country a revolutionary situation which challenges the rule of propertied classes in general, thereby assisting the challenge of the proletariat against the private property of the national bourgeoisie itself.
All these reasons have to be added to the "national" bourgeoisie’s links with imperialism in order to understand why, while it can certainly start the struggle for some demands of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, it cannot fulfill them all, especially not the agrarian revolution and the break with the capitalist world market as a necessary precondition for a cumulative industrialization process. More: because it fears mass uprisings of peasants and workers, and because the process of revolution, even when it starts around the demand of national independence, inevitably will bring large masses of peasants and workers to struggle for their own immediate and historic class demands, the "national" bourgeoisie will inevitably go over to the camp of the counter-revolution at some stage of the struggle. Therefore the choice before the revolution in a backward country is either the victory of counter-revolution, if the "national" bourgeoisie remains in the leadership – and in that case essential parts of the historic tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution remain unfulfilled – or the conquest of hegemony in the revolutionary struggle (i.e., over rural and urban petty-bourgeois masses) by the proletariat and its independent revolutionary party. In that case the revolution can triumph. Through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat allied to the poor peasantry it will combine the thorough realization of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution with the fulfillment of the essential tasks of the proletarian socialist revolution.
This whole analysis of concrete social forces and their mutual inter-relations hinges precisely upon the refusal to separate any stage of "national liberation" from a subsequent "stage" of agrarian revolution, and a still later stage of "independent working class struggle." The whole essence of the theory of permanent revolution derives from the understanding that all these tasks are combined and intertwined from the beginning of the revolutionary process, as the result of the class reality and the class relations prevailing in these countries.
It was the Comintern leadership under Stalin-Bukharin which formulated the theory of a "first stage of national liberation struggle," in which the "main" enemy was supposedly foreign imperialism, and in which for that reason the struggles of the workers against capitalist property, and the struggle of the peasants against the class alliance of their exploiters, had to be subordinated to the "common and most pressing goal" of conquering national independence. Revolutionary Marxists do not reject this Menshevik theory of stages only or mainly because they stress the inability of the national bourgeoisie to actually conquer national independence from imperialism, regardless of concrete circumstances. They reject it because they refuse to postpone to a later stage the peasant and workers uprisings for their own class interests, which will inevitably rise spontaneously alongside the national struggle as it unfolds, and very quickly combine themselves into a common inseparable program in the consciousness of the masses.
It has become the Stalinist line towards the colonial revolution that there has been after 1945 a "stage of national liberation struggles," which is supposed to solve the problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, as it remains common Stalinist theory that the "bourgeois-democratic revolution" was fulfilled in Russia in February 1917, thereby opening the stage for the "socialist October revolution." Trotsky and Trotskyists categorically reject this theory of "stages." The tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution cannot be reduced to national independence or the suppression of foreign national oppression, any more than they can themselves be separated into successive stages. It is because the agrarian question was not solved by the February revolution, in spite of the overthrow of the tsar, that the October revolution was objectively possible, i.e., that the proletariat was not isolated from the great majority of the peasantry. It is because the agrarian question is not solved today in any of the semi-colonial countries which conquered national independence after World War 2 that in spite of the minority situation of the proletariat, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat allied to the poor peasantry remains a realistic perspective.
For that reason, it is confusing, to say the least, to present any revolution in a backward country – be it the Algerian revolution, the Cuban revolution, the Vietnamese revolution, the Palestinian or the Arab revolution – as a "national liberation struggle." The Trotskyist way of looking at these revolutions is as processes of permanent revolution in which the struggle for national liberation, for agrarian revolution, for full democratic freedoms for the masses, and for defence of the class interests of the working class are inextricably combined and intertwined, whatever may be the aspect of that struggle which appears in the forefront (and very often appearance and reality are at variance with each other. In South Vietnam, to take that most telling example, the liberation struggle of the peasantry against their exploiters has probably mobilised more people and covered more ground since the early fifties than the struggle against foreign counter-revolutionary imperialist intervention).
If we reject any theory of stages even in backward colonial and semi-colonial countries, we have to reject them all the more in advanced imperialist countries, in which unsolved problems of national oppression survive or newly arise. As Trotsky pointed out in The Transitional Program, even in fascist countries, a revolutionary program should base itself on the dialectics of the class struggle, and not on episodic aspects of the political superstructure:
Neither in imperialist countries with a fascist regime, nor in imperialist countries which, under conditions of decaying bourgeois democracy witness phenomena of oppressed national minorities within their boundaries, can there be any "stage" of "democratic revolution," of "national liberation," separate and apart from the general upsurge of the proletariat which represents the majority of the population of these countries. The "formulas of democracy" (and national liberation is a formula of democracy) becomes intertwined with proletarian, objectively socialist goals, as soon as the movement assumes a mass character. The experience of Quebec admirably bears out this prediction of Trotsky’s: As soon as a significant (although still minority) sector of the Quebecois working class was drawn into large mass actions, the nature of the mass movement took on more and more clearly defined proletarian, i.e., objectively revolutionary socialist aspects.
The public service employees organized a general strike in May 1972. Examples of workers control – probably the most advanced ever seen in North America – arose. Radio stations were seized and occupied by the workers and transformed into weapons of strike propaganda. Even a whole town was seized by the strikers for more than 48 hours. Yet prisoners of their backsliding into a new version of a theory of stages, the editors of the July/August 1972 issue of Liberation blandly present in a huge headline this issue general strike as an example of "the struggle of the Quebecois for national liberation" on the same level and in the same spirit as the "patriots rebellion" of ... 1837!
There is no justification for comrade Mill’s group’s split from the LSA-LSO. In our view, comrades who have serious differences with the majority line of their national sections should fight for their political views inside these sections.
But this being said, objectivity demands to state unequivocally that Comrade Mill has been proved right against the majority leadership of the Canadian section in both instances where he differed with it on the national question. He requested the section to take up the demand for an independent Quebec several years before the leadership came around to that position. Thereafter he requested the leadership to acknowledge the dynamics of the class struggle in Quebec, which he understood correctly to be the most advanced in North America, and to combine more and more in its propaganda and its agitation socialist with national demands. In the first instance, the leadership of the section stubbornly refused to raise the independence slogan till the very eve of the outbreak of an independentist mass movement. In the second instance, the leadership of the section stubbornly clung to the concentration on the language slogans in spite of a general strike of 200,000 workers with the appearance of workers control.
In both cases the roots of the mistake are evident: tail-endism. The majority leadership of the LSA-LSO waited till the masses had already clearly shown a given "mood" before they were ready to adapt their slogans to that mood. This is, to say the least, a bizarre application of the concept of a "Leninist vanguard party." Should the main distinctive quality of communists inside the mass movement not be the one to understand and spell out the direction in which the movement has to develop because of its objective logic, and the historical class interests which it represents, rather than to wait until the masses spontaneously discover this logic and start to act upon it, before daring to unfold it before their eyes?
In its so-called Action Program, of July 1972, which the LSO leadership never officially repudiated, the reversal to a new edition of the Menshevik "theory of stages" of the Quebecois revolution is pushed to its logical extreme. The program culminates in the demand for a "democratic republic," complete with blueprint how to organize bourgeois democracy (with a president of the Republic, a National Assembly and the like) in Quebec.
And this under circumstances where, as that same LSO leadership admits, "since 1970, the fiercest attacks on the Quebec working class’s standard of living and rights have been made by the Quebec bourgeoisie and the Quebec government" (Draft Quebec resolution submitted to the Political Committee of the LSA-LSO, Discussion Bulletin of the LSA-LSO, December 1972, p.6).
Presumably, what the Quebecois Trotskyists should concentrate their fire on, is not this fierce attack of the Quebec bourgeois against the workers’ interests, but the "inability" of those "national traitors," the bourgeoisie, to cut themselves loose from imperialism in order to create an independent bourgeois state of French Quebec. That is the logic of tail-ending a new "stage-theory" of the revolution.
17. Tail-Ending Petty-Bourgeois Nationalism
There is another aspect to the LSA-LSO error on the national question which expresses itself in Comrade Beiner’s article quoted above. This is the identification of the right of national self-determination, and the mass struggles evolving around that right, i.e., concrete demands and slogans which express it, with "nationalism." This identification leads Comrade Beiner to the preposterous statement that the "positions of Lenin and Trotsky" imply "unconditional support for Quebecois nationalism" (or for nationalism of any oppressed nation). This is absolutely untrue.
Both Lenin and Trotsky, in all their basic writings on the national question, draw a clear distinction between the need for Marxists to defend the right of self-determination of nations which do not wish to remain within a given bourgeois state boundary – otherwise, Marxists become objectively accomplices to annexationism – and the principled opposition which they have to maintain to bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nationalism. Nationalism is an ideology, the ideology of national solidarity irrespective of regional, ethnic or social differences. This ideology played a progressive role essentially in the 16th, 17th and 18th century, i.e., in the classical period of bourgeois-democratic revolution of the pre-industrial era, when the bourgeoisie was historically a revolutionary class. It was a powerful ideological and political weapon against two reactionary social forces: particularistic feudal or semi-feudal regional forces, which resisted their integration into modern nations; native or foreign absolute monarchs and their aids and props, which resisted that emergence even more desperately. With the development of capitalist industry in the 19th century, nationalism gradually loses its progressive character. The triumphant bourgeoisie uses that ideology now less against – rapidly disappearing – pre-capitalist reactionary social forces, and more and more against its foreign capitalist competitors (or worse: other nations whose territory it wants oppressively to include in its own "home market") and against the working class. "National solidarity" is called upon to stifle the rise of the proletarian class struggle.
With the epoch of imperialism, nationalism as a rule becomes reactionary, whether it is "purely" bourgeois or petty-bourgeois in character. The universal idea of independent organization of the working class, of the autonomous class goals followed by the proletariat and the poor peasantry in the class struggle, of international class solidarity of the workers of all countries and all nationalities, is opposed to the idea of national solidarity or national community of interests. In the best of cases – when advanced among oppressed nations – it is a narrow, parochial substitute and cover for the program of the permanent revolution, i.e., national and social emancipation. In most cases – when advocated by the capitalist class or its ideological representatives – it is a thoroughly deceptive and mystifying ideology to prevent or retard independent class organization and class struggle by the workers and poor peasants.
Sectarians and opportunists alike fail to make this basic distinction between the struggle for national self-determination and nationalist ideology. Sectarians refuse to support national self-determination struggles under the pretext that their leaders – or the still prevalent ideology among their fighters – is nationalism. Opportunists refuse to combat bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nationalist ideologies, under the pretext that the national-self determination struggle, in which this ideology is predominant, is progressive. The correct Marxist-Leninist position is to combine full support for the national self-determination struggle of the masses including all the concrete demands which express this right on the political, cultural, linguistic field, with the struggle against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalism.
This principled opposition to nationalism does not imply an identification between nationalism of oppressor nations – nationalism of scoundrels, as Trotsky used to call it – and the nationalism of oppressed nations. It especially imposes on communists who are members of oppressor nations the duty to concentrate their fire upon their own oppressive bourgeoisie, and to leave the struggle against petty-bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed to the communist members of the oppressed nationalities themselves. Any other attitude – not to speak of the refusal to support national self-determination struggles under the pretext that they are still led by nationalists – becomes objectively a support for imperialist, annexationist or racialist oppressors. But all these considerations do not imply a support for bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nationalism by revolutionary Marxists of the oppressed nationalities, leave alone "unconditional support." After all, Alain Beiner like Michel Mill were discussing the attitudes of Quebecois Trotskyists, not the attitude of Anglo-Canadian revolutionary Marxists.
Lenin’s position on this question is unequivocal. In his major contribution to the national question, his 1914 article The Right of Self-Determination of Nations, Lenin makes crystal clear that "workers are hostile to all nationalism" (p.434). He says that it is impossible to march towards our class goal, socialism, without "fighting against all and every nationalism" (p.436). He stresses that to struggle against capitalist exploitation, the proletariat must be alien towards all forms of nationalism, included that of oppressed nations (p.448). He concludes his article by saying that the proletariat has the dual task of struggling for national self-determination and of combating all nationalism (p.480). It is often overlooked that, while chiding Rosa Luxemburg for not accepting that the Russian Marxists should proclaim and support the right of self-determination of Polish, Finnish, Georgian, and other nationalities oppressed by tsarism, he lauds her for struggling, as a Polish Marxist, against Polish nationalism (pp.454, 458.) All references are to the French edition of Lenin’s Works, Vol.20, Editions Sociales, Paris 1959).
In his next major article devoted to that same question, written in the midst of the first imperialist war (Results of the discussion on the right of self-determination, October 1916), Lenin fully maintains the same position. And in his final major contribution to the question, which has programmatic value, his Theses on the National and Colonial Questions, written for the 2nd Congress of the Comintern, we read the following illuminating passage:
[Footnote: The following is the English version of the French. The first two paragraphs were taken from the English version of Lenin’sCollected Works, Vol. 31, pages 145 and 148. The last two paragraphs were translated from the French as they do not appear in the English Collected Works of Lenin.
["... the Communist Party, as the avowed champion of the proletarian struggle to overthrow the bourgeois yoke, must base its policy, in the national question too, not on abstract and formal principles but, first, on a precise appraisal of the specific historical situation and, primarily, of economic conditions; second, on a clear distinction between the interests of the oppressed classes, of working and exploited people, and the general concept of national interests as a whole, which implies the interests of the ruling class; third, on an equally clear distinction between the oppressed, dependent and subject nations and the oppressing, exploiting and sovereign nations, in order to counter the bourgeois-democratic lies that play down this colonial and financial enslavement of the vast majority of the world’s population by an insignificant minority of the richest and advanced capitalist countries, a feature characteristic of the era of finance capital and imperialism."
["Recognition of internationalism in word, and its replacement in deed by petty-bourgeois nationalism and pacifism, in all propaganda agitation and practical work, is very common, not only among the parties of the Second International, but also among those which have withdrawn from it, and often even among parties which now call themselves communist ... Petty-bourgeois nationalism proclaims as internationalism the mere recognition of the equality of nations, and nothing more. Quite apart from the fact that this recognition is purely verbal, petty-bourgeois nationalism preserves national self-interest intact ..."
["In the oppressed countries, there exist two movements that each day move further and further apart: the first is the bourgeois-democratic nationalist movement that has a program of political independence and bourgeois order; the other is the movement of the poor and backward peasants and workers for their emancipation from all forms of exploitation.
["The first attempts to lead the second and has often succeeded to a certain extent. But the Communist International and the parties belonging to it must combat this tendency and seek to develop independent class sentiments in the working masses of the colonies."]
Trotsky, like Lenin, counterposes support to national self-determination demands to the duty to fight against nationalism (e.g. History of the Russian Revolution, vol.2, p.357 of the German edition). In his writings on the Spanish revolution, several times we find that while stressing the need for Spanish Marxists to support the right of the Basque and Catalan nationalities for self-determination, there are at the same time severe attacks against the right-wing "Catalan Federation" of the CP, which later, after its break with Stalinism, renamed itself the "Workers and Peasant Bloc" and finally fused with the majority of the Spanish Left Oppositionists to become the main force of the POUM, which was born from this fusion. Trotsky heaped scorn upon the "Catalan nationalism" of these right-wing opportunists.
The materialist basis of this struggle against contemporary nationalism is admirably clarified by Trotsky in the following passage:
This Leninist opposition to nationalism is not an abstract and formal principle, but starts, as Lenin indicates, from a "clear notion of the historical and economic circumstances." That is why there can be some exceptions to the rule based upon exceptional "historical and economic circumstances," i.e. those of oppressed nationalities which do not yet possess their own ruling class, or which have only such a miserable embryo of a bourgeoisie that, in the given and foreseeable situation, it is excluded that this embryo could actually become a ruling class without a complete disintegration of the imperialist structure. The best example of such exceptions are of the black and Chicano nationalities inside the United States. We shall discuss them in more detail in the final section of this text.
But it is clear that neither Quebec, Catalonia, the Basque country, India, Ceylon nor the Arab nation, can be classified as exceptional. All these nations have their own bourgeois class. Many of them even have their own semi-colonial bourgeois state. To support nationalism within these nationalities, under the pretext of supporting anti-imperialist liberation struggles, or even to defend the doctrine that "consistent nationalism" would automatically lead to a struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, is to lose the "clear notion of the historical and economic circumstances," to lose sight of the class structure, the class decisions and the irreconcilable class conflicts inside these nations, which national oppression or economic exploitation by imperialism in no way eliminates but, in a certain sense, even exacerbates when compared to what occurs in non-oppressed nations. To defend the notion of "unconditional support" for Quebecois nationalism, Arab nationalism, Indian nationalism, or Ceylon nationalism, is to disarm the workers and poor peasants of these countries in their class struggle against their own bourgeoisie, is to make the conquest of power by the proletariat in the course of the anti-imperialist struggle – i.e. the whole process of permanent revolution – more difficult if not impossible, and puts a big obstacle on the road of building Leninist parties among these nationalities.
An analysis of the concrete historical and economic circumstances in which national oppression presents itself is a vital starting point for adopting a correct position towards the national question. In that sense it is inadmissible to identify national oppression inside imperialist countries with national oppression inside colonial countries. The whole notion of applying the formula of permanent revolution to imperialist countries is extremely dubious in the best of cases. It can only be done with the utmost circumspection, and in the form of an analogy.
Not a single bourgeois-democratic revolution in the past has solved all its historical tasks. The survival of bourgeois society under conditions of the growing decay of capitalism has wholly or partially destroyed some of the conquests of past victorious bourgeois revolutions as well. Under these circumstances, there is undoubtedly an element of combined historical tasks with which the proletarian revolution will be faced in every country. The very fact that all revolutionary Marxist organizations in all countries have to struggle in different proportions for certain democratic demands bears testimony to that combined character of all contemporary revolutions.
But it would be pure sophistry to draw the conclusion that no qualitative difference exists between the combined tasks facing the revolution in imperialists, and those facing it in colonial or semi-colonial countries, simply because of the undeniable fact that some tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution remain unsolved in the most advanced imperialist nations, or rise up again there, whereas all the basic tasks of that revolution remain unsolved (or solved only in a miserably incomplete way) in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. Trotsky pointed out in the Transitional Program that
This concept is already sufficient to indicate how inadmissible it is to ascribe to the national self-determination struggle of the Quebecois or of the Basque nationality a similar weight in the Canadian revolution or in the revolution on the Iberian peninsula as, say, the national self-determination struggle of the black people in the revolution in Southern Africa.
Both the objective and the strategic aspects of this difference need clarification. Trotsky clarified the objective significance of the struggle for national independence in colonial and semi-colonial countries in the following way:
Inside imperialist nations, national oppression does not have the same function. The oppressed Polish and Finnish nationalities, far from being on a lower historical plane than Tsarist Russia, were in fact economically and socially richer and industrially more developed than the oppressor nationality. In no way can one say that national oppression meant for them "enslavement" and "the end of economic and social development." The same applies for the Basque and Catalan nationalities inside Spain, before 1936 and partially even today. National oppression has not stopped or thwarted capitalist development or industrialization in these oppressed nationalities.
Strategically, the implications are even more far-reaching. In semi-colonial and colonial countries, democratic demands have generally the weight of transitional demands. It is impossible to realize them under capitalism, at least in their collective essence. In imperialist countries, this is not true. Democratic demands will normally not be granted by the decaying imperialist bourgeoisie. But nothing organically, economically, socially, (i.e. in terms of basic class relations), prevents the bourgeoisie from granting them as a "lesser evil" in order to avoid a mass movement approaching a victorious socialist revolution. Organically, the "national bourgeoisie" of the colonial world cannot solve the agrarian question without to a large extent expropriating itself. There is no fundamental obstacle of the same kind to prevent the realization of free abortion on demand, or freedom of the press, or even a democratic electoral law in an imperialist country. Given a powerful mass upsurge with a revolutionary potential, the imperial bourgeoisie can grant these concessions precisely in order to avoid expropriation.
In normal circumstances, imperialism was in the past never willing to grant national independence to Poland or Finland; nor is it prepared to do so even today to Quebec or Ireland. But given a pre-revolutionary situation, a powerful upsurge of the workers’ struggle, a concrete danger of a "workers’ republic" being set up, there is no fundamental class interest which would prevent imperialism from transforming any such nationality into independent puppet states.
For these reasons the danger of a mass struggle in an imperialist country based solely on demands for national self-determination being absorbed by the bourgeoisie is very real. That is why revolutionary Marxists must constantly combine in their propaganda and agitation, demands expressing the right of national self-determination for oppressed minorities with demands of a proletarian and socialist character in order to make this absorption much more difficult. To relate the proletarian demands to a "later stage," presumably when the mass movement is "more advanced," is to objectively increase the danger of diversion. This is what Trotsky meant when he argued that we must prevent democratic demands in imperialist countries from becoming "a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat."
18. Tail-Ending Imperialist Nationalism
During the summer of 1972, we were confronted with an extraordinary spectacle. Within the space of a month, the Central Committee of the Canadian section, the LSA/LSO, first nearly unanimously adopted the general line of a political resolution expressing support for "Canadian nationalism" as against "US domination of Canada," and then rejected the very same line by an overwhelming majority.
We don’t want to concentrate on the somewhat disturbing formal aspects of this development. How is it possible that without a word of explanation a majority of Trtoskyist leaders can adopt two completely conflicting positions, within a few weeks of each other, one of which is totally alien to the tradition of Leninism? Canada is an imperialist country. The fact that there is a strong economic weight of foreign imperialists inside Canada does not modify in the least this basic character of Canadian society. Nationalism in imperialist nations is essentially a weapon of inter-imperialist competition (and secondarily a weapon of annexationism). Foreign imperialist influence in Tsarist Russia was as big as it is in Canada today. Can one imagine Lenin under any circumstances supporting Great-Russian nationalism in Tsarist Russia because of that economic situation, e.g. Great-Russian nationalism against "foreign domination" by French, British, German, finance capital?
How could an experienced Trotskyist leader like Comrade Ross Dowson, trained for decades in the Trotskyist program, arrive at such a gravely wrong position? Why did the large bulk of the Central Committee of the Canadian section follow him at first on that line? Because the method of approach to the national question in an imperialist country was wrong – and had been wrong too in the approach to the Quebecois question. Because, contrary to Lenin’s advice, the Canadian comrades did not start from "a clear notion of historical and economic circumstances," i.e. from an analysis of objective class relations, but from speculations about the moods of the masses. What inspired Comrade Dowson to move to this wrong position was the fact that growing mass support seemed to manifest itself for concrete demands oriented against US imperialism. At the root of his revisionism is the same deviation of tail-endism.
Within imperialist nations, nationalism is one of the main ideological instruments with which the bourgeoisie (and its petty-bourgeois hangers-on) try to weaken and paralyze the proletarian class struggle. In the first world war, "the Kaiser" and the "bloody Tsar" played that role in both imperialist camps. In the second world war, "fascism" and "western plutocracies" were used for the same purposes. Since the late forties, with the help of the CPs and the Maoists, the European bourgeoisie is using the same ideological weapon to confuse and divide the workers. The "main enemy" is supposed to be US imperialism (or the Common Market, or some other "foreign" factor. Some extreme Maoists even say today that the "main enemy" is "soviet fascist social imperialism") – but never the imperialist rulers of one’s own country.
To this nationalism, communists have always countered with the slogan: the enemy is in our own imperialist country! It is the task of the workers of each imperialist country to overthrow their own ruling class and its state power, irrespective of the relative importance of that ruling class in the imperialist hierarchy. The only way in which the Canadian working class can decisively further the world struggle against imperialism – including the struggle against US imperialism – is by overthrowing Canadian capitalism and its bourgeois state. Canadian nationalism, by diverting attention from that task towards the supposed priority of struggling against "predominant" US imperialism, creates an ideological and political obstacle on the road towards class consciousness and class organization of the Canadian proletariat, thereby making the overthrow of the Canadian bourgeois state more difficult, and, incidentally, in the long run reducing the contribution which the Canadian working class could make towards a socialist revolution inside the USA, the only development which can effectively and totally destroy US imperialism.
There are no doubt some "progressive elements" in "Canadian nationalism." But then, there are also "progressive elements" in proletarian social-patriotism as well, as Trotsky points out in the Transitional Program. When workers say they want to defend their imperialist fatherland, it is obviously not for the same reasons as those which make the imperialist bourgeoisie raise the banner of patriotism. But does one draw from that the conclusion that, because there is "some progressive content" in workers’ social-patriotism, revolutionary Marxists should advocate social-patriotism? Isn’t the correct conclusion rather that it is necessary to separate the content of these "progressive elements" (by means of concrete immediate, democratic or transitional demands) from their form, social-patriotism, in order to wage a more efficient war against that reactionary form? Why should we depart from that standard procedure in the case of English-Canadian nationalism?
The US capitalists’ stranglehold over Canadian economic life is not something peculiar to the USA as a nation or to the US rulers. It is the result of a specific relationship of forces in the framework of world-wide inter-imperialist rivalries. Yesterday, the Canadian economy was dominated by British imperialism, a domination which was no more "progressive" than that of the US overlords. Tomorrow, it could become a big arena of contest between US, European, Japanese and "autonomous" Canadian capitalists. What we oppose in Canada is not "foreign monopolies," but monopoly capitalism tout court. What Canadian workers should overthrow is the stranglehold of Big Business, and not just of US Big Business. We struggle for the expropriation of all capitalist property, not just US or foreign-owned property.
When he used the formula "Canadians resent blatant violations of Canadian law by US based corporations leading to loss of jobs and trade by Canada" (p.21 of the Discussion Bulletin of the LSA-LSO, No.5, 1972) Comrade Dowson made an additional step of converting himself from a defender of the "progressive" into a defender of the reactionary content of "Canadian Nationalism." Since when is the working class worried by the "loss of trade" of its own imperialist bourgeoisie? Since when do Marxists counterpose solidarity with the trade interests of their own bourgeoisie to international solidarity of the workers of all competing capitalist countries, against all capitalist competitors? Since when are we worried lest Canadian bourgeois law is violated? How can you ever make a socialist revolution in Canada without violating bourgeois law? Do you educate the workers of your country towards understanding the need for a socialist revolution, if you instill in them simultaneously worries about loss of trade by Canadian capitalism and the sacred character of Canadian bourgeois law?
The main argument used by Comrade Dowson to justify his tail-ending of Canadian nationalism is the assumed inability of the Canadian bourgeoisie to use in its own interests the nationalist sentiments developing in certain strata of the masses, because its fate is "inextricably bound up with the fate of US imperialism." This argument is completely wrong. The Japanese, West German, British, French, Italian bourgeoisies are as conscious as the Canadian one that "their fate is inextricably bound up with the fate of US imperialism." But that does not prevent them from developing all kinds of "nationalisms" in order to modify the relationship of forces (the way profits, burdens and spoils are being divided) inside the imperialist alliance. We have for years correctly analyzed the situation inside the world imperialist camp as that of inter-imperialist rivalry and competition within the framework of an alliance. Events during the last years, e.g. around the "dollar crisis," have completely confirmed the correctness of that analysis. But it then follows that the second half of Comrade Dowson’s formula in no way results from the first half. On the contrary: in spite of them being conscious of the fact that, ultimately, they have to hang together in order not to be hung separately, the different imperialist powers, including Canada, certainly try to use all kinds of economic, political and ideological weapons ("Nationalism" and "anti-Americanism" being one of them) in order to further their own specific competitive interests and to weaken the class struggle in their own country.
It follows that anti-US Canadian nationalism has no automatic "anti-imperialist" or even "anti-capitalist" thrust, as Comrade Dowson tries to imply. It could have this only under very concrete conditions of conscious political working class hegemony inside the mass movement, i.e. hegemony by conscious revolutionary Marxist forces, by the Canadian Trotskyists. To consider this hegemony as guaranteed in advance is to be guilty of a gross over-optimism. In reality, there will be a constant struggle between revolutionary and reformist (i.e. objectively pro-class collaboration and pro-bourgeois) political forces inside that mass movement. In this struggle for political hegemony by the revolutionary Marxists, confusion on the issue of nationalism is going to make things easier for the petty-bourgeois reformist and class collaborationist forces, and certainly not for the revolutionary Marxist ones.
Just to mention one example: nationalization under workers control is not at all the only possible alternative to US domination of Canadian factories. Other ways are to strengthen "our" businessmen in their competition against the American ones (helping them make larger profits and therefore accepting voluntary wage restraints). Another way again would consist in bringing in stronger partnership with British, West-European and Japanese capital. Still another one would be the takeover of certain American-controlled corporations by the Canadian bourgeois state, without workers control, in the interests of "independent" capital accumulation by the private Canadian imperialists. Do we consider any of these alternatives "lesser evils" which we have to support "critically" as against US ownership or control? If not, how can we cover that whole complex situation by supporting "Canadian nationalism"?
The basic weakness of this whole argumentation is its static character. It deals with the question of Canadian nationalism exclusively from the point of view of political forces as they are – or more correctly: as they appear to be – to-day. But in the coming years, there will be many shifts and upheavals in Canadian political life, some of momentous character, as the class struggle sharpens and the crisis of Canadian imperialism and its pluri-national state deepens. It is unwise and unrealistic, to say the least, to exclude under these conditions the desire or ability of sections of the Canadian bourgeoisie to use nationalism in a "Gaullist" way, in order to canalize and divert temporarily a mass explosion towards channels compatible with the survival of the capitalist relations of production. To exclude that possibility is to eliminate the difference between Canada as imperialist country and backward semi-colonial and colonial countries. Comrade Dowson’s grave mistakes on the question of Canadian nationalism flow from the wrong method used by the majority of the Canadian section’s leadership in determining its position on Quebecois nationalism too, – a method of tail-ending mass moods, instead of starting from an assessment of the dynamics of class relations and class struggle.
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