Advancing the World Revolutionary Movement: Questions of Strategic Orientation
by Bob Avakian
This is the text of a talk given shortly after "Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will." It was first published in Revolution magazine in Spring 1984.
This presentation on advancing the world revolutionary movement could also be titled “Breaking With Old Ideas.” First of all and essentially the idea that has to be broken with, which unfortunately has had a lot of currency in the international communist movement, is the idea that internationalism is something that is extended from the proletariat (or the people) of one nation to others, to the workers (or peoples) of other countries. This would correspond to a kind of literal rendering of “inter-national,” and in fact during the period when we opened the pages of our paper to discussion and struggle over the drafts of the New Programme and the New Constitution of our party1, as part of the process of coming up with the final version of those documents, we printed a letter from someone who argued that we should junk the term “internationalism” and call it “world revolutionism” or something like that, because the writer didn’t like even the implication of “one nation to another” that could be drawn by making a literal rendering of “inter-nationalism.” Well, that writer’s suggestion is a bit of a mechanical way of trying to deal with a problem; proletarian internationalism and whether or not you really uphold it has come to stand for something, in fact it is a basic dividing line, and the term is fine in that sense. But there is a point that was being gotten at, even if not quite correctly, in that letter—that is, the criticism of this view that internationalism is something extended from the workers or the people of one nation to those of other nations. Such a view actually reduces internationalism to something secondary and subordinate, however important it may be said to be.
Much has been presented by our party on how the world arena is decisive and on the question of how to correctly view the internal and external factors in this era of imperialism—on the relationship between the process of revolution in a particular country and the process of the advance from the bourgeois epoch to the epoch of communism on a world scale and how the contradiction and struggle within particular countries is integrated into that overall process and determined primarily by its motion and development. Keeping that in mind we can see even more clearly what the material basis and the philosophical basis is for a correct understanding of proletarian internationalism. Certainly it is not mere window dressing, but beyond that it cannot be treated as something secondary or subordinate or something extended from the proletariat of one nation to others. It really has to be the foundation and starting point for the proletariat in all countries: the proletariat in advancing the struggle can only advance it by approaching it, and seeking to advance it, on a world level first of all. This doesn’t mean of course that you try to make revolution irrespective of the conditions in different parts of the world or the conditions within particular countries, but it means that even in approaching that you proceed from the point of view of the world arena as most decisive and the overall interests of the world proletariat as paramount. And that is not merely a good idea. It has a very material foundation, which has been laid by the system of imperialism.2
Now here I’ll just mention something that I have been wanting to investigate. Maybe others know more about it. It is something that I think should be looked into. As I understand it, there was a struggle or a disagreement (however it should be described) between Lenin and James Connolly, who was one of the leading revolutionary Irish figures, one of the revolutionary leaders at the time of the Easter Uprising in Ireland during World War 1. To summarize the difference very briefly, Connolly more or less viewed internationalism as the unity extended from a people to other peoples, whereas Lenin insisted, and correctly, that proletarians do not have a nation, in the ideological sense. That doesn’t mean literally and materially that they don’t live in a particular nation at a given time. But ideologically they are not representatives of a nation, and do not have a nation in that sense. They are representatives of the international proletariat.
This was also sharply focused on in one of Lenin’s polemics against the bourgeois nationalists, so-called socialists from the Jewish Bund inside the Russian social-democratic movement. Lenin quoted one of them saying, well, according to the Bolsheviks, when asked what his nationality is, a worker should say, “I’m a social-democrat.” Lenin went on after quoting him, saying this is the acme of our opportunist’s wit, that he thinks this is an exposure of the Bolsheviks. In other words, Lenin was saying right on, that is what you should say, that should be your orientation. And more than that, it is the acme of your wit, and self-exposure, if you attack that as some sort of a deviation on the part of the Bolsheviks.3 That didn’t mean of course that Lenin denied or negated the existence of nations, the national question and the right of self-determination. Quite the contrary—but what he insisted on was with all that, proletarians are internationalists. In an ideological sense and in terms of their fundamental point of departure, they are not representatives of this or that nation. And Connolly’s viewpoint, as opposed to that, was that you should be internationalist but if for example you were Irish, you represented the Irish people and on that basis you were for unity with all the other oppressed people and the workers of all other nations. These are two sharply opposed viewpoints. And unfortunately I would have to say, to put it a little provocatively, that since the time of Lenin’s death, Connolly’s viewpoint (if you want to describe it that way) and not Lenin’s, has prevailed increasingly in the international communist movement. 4
To continue to be provocative, I would say that this was more or less the viewpoint of Mao: while he fought for proletarian internationalism, and overall you would have to certainly say that he was a proletarian internationalist, his viewpoint on what proletarian internationalism is, the viewpoint that comes through in his writings and speeches, is the viewpoint that we represent the Chinese nation and on that basis we are for unity with the proletariat and all the other oppressed peoples throughout the world. This differs from the viewpoint that Lenin fought for—that whether in an oppressed nation or in an oppressor nation, from an ideological standpoint communists do not represent nations.5 This deviation certainly did not begin with Mao. Rather I would put it the other way around. This is something that Mao didn’t break with—a rupture that Mao did not make with what had become overwhelmingly the prevailing view in the international communist movement. In Conquer the World I referred to a law that was passed in the Soviet Union in 1934 which made for stiffer penalties, including the death penalty, for actions betraying the Soviet Union; and in the preamble to that law, it is said that defense of the fatherland is the highest duty of a communist. Now I don’t think that has anything in common with Lenin’s viewpoint, with Leninism on the question of the fatherland, with internationalism and so on. Lenin repeatedly insisted, particularly with regard to the imperialist countries—and that is where this sort of line takes the most harmful form—Lenin insisted that in those countries the fatherland is a dead issue, because the national question and the national liberation struggle is a dead issue in the advanced capitalist countries. He was also careful to say that phenomena in the world are not “pure” or absolute, and even in speaking of Europe, for example, he cited the Irish question precisely as an example of where there was still a national question in Western Europe. But taking not the exception but the rule, in other words the main aspect of the situation and not secondary aspects in opposition to the essence, he said that in Western Europe (and in the U.S. where there is also the national question, particularly for Black people as well as for others) on the whole the national question is over and done with. Therefore the question of the fatherland, of the defense of the fatherland and so on, was not the point on the historical agenda in these countries.
But even for those countries where it is on the agenda, and where politically it is necessary to not only wage but to strive to lead the struggle for national liberation, there is still the question of orientation and point of departure, whether or not your orientation and point of departure is that you are a representative of the nation or the representative of the international proletariat. To extend this a little bit, or to put it in somewhat geometric terms, I would say that you are better off as a communist going more horizontally than vertically. By that I mean you’re better off seeking your links and your identification with the proletarians and the oppressed masses all over the world in the contemporary era than you are seeking your roots and identification going back decades, or even hundreds or thousands of years, within your own nation. That is not to say that you should ignore the concrete conditions or the history and historical development of the nation that you are objectively a part of. But in terms of what your orientation is, your identification should be with the international proletariat of the contemporary era, and your emphasis should be on the fact that this is a radically different era, and that the proletarian revolution is a radically different revolution than all previous ones—or to paraphrase Marx and Engels, this revolution represents a radical rupture, both materially and ideologically, with anything previous.
Why raise this? Well, you know, it’s a problem. It has been a problem in the international communist movement. For example, here in France, I mean, when a Marxist-Leninist force emerges which clearly says “fuck the French Revolution of 1789 and that whole tradition, that’s the first thing that we want to have nothing more to do with, that’s in the past,” it will be a tremendous leap forward for the Marxist-Leninist movement in France. In my observations, one of the biggest millstones around the neck of any attempted Marxist-Leninist formation in France is that they all think that there is this great “left” tradition in France, and they go around wearing it—even those who may refer to it cynically on the one hand still believe it and follow in its path on the other. It is a big millstone. Because in fact that’s a bourgeois, at best a bourgeois “left,” tradition in the present era—it is still within the bounds of bourgeois democracy. As far as bourgeois revolutions go, the French Revolution was fine; it was the most thorough one, I suppose, that we know of. It was not totally accidental that the Bolsheviks, for example, borrowed certain analogies from this French Revolution, even sometimes took on pseudonyms from it, used analogies to the Jacobins and this and that. It was a very thoroughgoing revolution for its era. But that’s precisely the point. And I was reading, just this morning actually, an article where Lenin was polemicizing against Boris Souvarine, who was an opportunist leader of the socialists in France during World War 1. And it was so refreshing, especially after having been here for a while, even as an observer. Souvarine is attacking Lenin for his stand of revolutionary defeatism and throwing up all kinds of opportunist, Kautskyite-type arguments to obscure the issue and raising the history of France and of the French Revolution and the democratic and even revolutionary traditions of France—insisting that all this cannot possibly be compared to Germany and so on and so forth. And Lenin just bluntly says, look, this war has got nothing to do with the France of the end of the eighteenth century, this is imperialist France that’s waging this war. That epoch is over and done with. Let the dead bury their dead, as Marx said in another context. 6
So, you see, this is not just some sort of academic question, but right down to today this confusion of nationalism with internationalism—and specifically the stand of being a “communist inheritor” of the best traditions of the nation and the best representative of its true interests—continues to plague the international communist movement and Marxist-Leninists in a number of countries. Of course we shouldn’t one-sidedly negate the past or even one-sidedly cut ourselves off from the past, but there is a radical rupture involved. We are not the continuators of the previous revolutions of the previous eras. That is not what we communists are, that is not what the proletarian revolution is. In the U.S. we had one of the more grotesque (if not the most grotesque, at least one of the most grotesque) and internationally famous examples of this in the leadership of Earl Browder of the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA), who coined the slogan “Communism is twentieth-century Americanism.” (laughter) And it’s easy to laugh at that because this is in fact extremely crude and grotesque. And to this day the CP in the U.S. has bookstores which bear the name “Jefferson Bookstore” and so on. Earl Browder is gone and the CPUSA is today worse than they were even then. But they’ve always done that, you know. Since the mid-’30s on. Since the time of the Dimitrov report.7 Those tendencies which already existed inside the CPUSA were given a tremendous boost and have been dominant ever since then without exception; when Earl Browder was in power and after he was thrown out by the Comintern and the leadership of the CPUSA, that line remained.
But it’s not just the CPUSA. I remember someone telling me they came to France right after World War 2, and Thorez, the head of the French CP at the time, gave a speech about why it was that they were the upholders of the traditions, the great revolutionary traditions, of the French nation and why they could still say “Vive la republique.” And then Thorez added, of course that doesn’t mean that the British comrades can say, “God save the Queen.” Well why not? It seems to me that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I mean if the French comrades can say “Vive la republique,” then I think it’s only fair that their comrades of the British Communist Party should be able to say, “God save the Queen.” After all, they’d said almost everything else anyway by that time. (laughter) The British CP was proud to boast that it had gotten there first when Khrushchev announced peaceful transition, that it already had that as a policy for a number of years before that.
But to return to the French CP and this whole viewpoint of being a part of the great tradition of the nation: at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris there’s a whole corner that’s been bought by the CP. Unfortunately it rings the Wall of the Communards, which the CP has sort of appropriated—it has bought up all the land in the cemetery right around the Wall of the Communards (the wall where the last defenders of the Commune were slaughtered). Well there are these disgusting monuments on different graves, for example the monuments to two soldiers who died as part of a French regiment in the Spanish Civil War—their graves are side by side and the CP has erected gravestones with the inscriptions, “here’s the one who believed in God, here’s the one who didn’t.” The only thing is you’re not sure which one is the CP member. But, one of them was a CP member and one of them wasn’t, one of them believed in God and one didn’t, and they are lying side by side because they fought shoulder to shoulder in the Spanish Civil War. Well, it’s not that everybody who fought in the Spanish Civil War should have been an atheist or a communist. But the CP is going out of its way to make a point out of this, and if you see it in its context here, it’s all part of “they died so that France can live.” And over the graves of open CP members—even Central Committee members of the French Communist Party—are monuments with slogans about how they died for the French nation, for the glory of France, and so on. It’s all part of a piece there, it’s the great continuing tradition of the great French nation and its republic—this is what’s being upheld. Now these are perhaps some of the more crude and grotesque expressions of this: so-and-so member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the French CP, who fought to preserve the independence of France during World War 2 and peace and liberty—you have to go read it to see how thoroughly revisionist it is. Unfortunately, this didn’t begin with George Marchais (the current head of the French CP) and won’t end with him. Similarly in the U.S. this sort of thing did not begin and end with Earl Browder, but was a consistent thread going back to the mid-’30s, and after Browder was gotten rid of it remained a consistent thread. Even if it wasn’t always quite so crudely expressed as in the slogan, “Communism is twentieth-century Americanism,” that has been the line.
I remember one time being interviewed by a reporter who considered himself to be, and I guess in a certain way was, sympathetic. He had obviously been around the CP, and he kept feeding me what he thought were fat lines like, “your party, it is sort of an American party, sort of rooted in the soil of America, isn’t it?” And I’d say, “no.” Well, it went on like this, back and forth, and finally he just got explicit and said, “Well, listen, what I’m trying to get at is that you are an American phenomenon. That’s what I’m trying to get you to say.” And I replied, “I know that, and that’s what I’m not going to say.” But remember this guy was more or less sympathetic. He’d been around the old CP and he thought this was helpful. He thought these were big, fat lobs (as in baseball), he thought he was pitching you these nice fat pitches, so you could, WHISH!!, get some good hits. But it wasn’t what we wanted to say. From his experience, that’s what he thought we would want to say, because he’d been around the old CP and that’s what they do want to say, and that’s what they do say. That’s what they have said for nearly fifty years. And when they said “Communism is twentieth-century Americanism,” unfortunately as a self-description it was true. What they were presenting as communism was twentieth-century Americanism, i.e., imperialism. That’s what they had become an appendage of and apologist for. The worst expressions of this are going to naturally be in the imperialist countries, whose role in relation to the national question is to be the oppressors of other nations.
Naturally the attempt to be patriotic, to be the best upholders of the nation and so on, is going to take its most grotesque and harmful form in these imperialist countries. But, as an ideological stand, as a point of departure, it’s still not correct for communists of any nation, even if in some ways it is not as harmful in those countries where the national question is on the agenda as opposed to those advanced and capitalist countries where it is not on the agenda. Still, in the oppressed nations, over time and particularly if the revolution does succeed in advancing beyond the first stage and into the socialist stage—beyond national liberation and the new-democratic stage of revolution to the stage of socialism—this kind of outlook will more and more come into contradiction with the need to further advance the revolution and will place limitations on the ability of those leading it to guide the revolution forward in unity with the overall struggle of the international proletariat—to advance it as part of, and a subordinate part of, the world revolutionary movement. It’s one thing to say that we have to practice internationalism. But merely the desire to uphold and apply proletarian internationalism is not enough to actually do so. It is necessary, again, to understand from a materialist and a dialectical standpoint, both the material and philosophical basis for why things have to be approached first of all and as a point of departure from the world arena; and as an ideological reflection of that, why communists are, in terms of their basic stand and point of departure, representatives of the international proletariat and not representatives of any nation or even of the workers of that particular nation (which is also another variant of how this nationalist deviation can express itself). It can express itself as, we are the representatives of the American or British or French or Chinese or Egyptian workers, what have you—you can just fill in the blank. But even if it’s given a “class content” in this way, it is still a nationalist deviation.
So this is a crucial point on what it means to grasp both the material basis and the philosophical basis for the fact that the world arena is the decisive arena and it has to be the starting point, the point of departure for the international proletariat. And I’ll talk more about some of the concrete, including organizational, expressions and implications of this at the end of this presentation. But I want to begin with that as a cornerstone for what follows. This is not simply rehashing old principles; unfortunately, to paraphrase Lenin, it is necessary to do a certain amount of excavation to bring back to life, to rescue and revive basic principles of Marxism-Leninism which have been to a large degree buried, distorted or altogether discarded in the international communist movement for some time now, and increasingly following the time of Lenin’s death.
The International United Front
Now this brings us next to the question that has also been a big part of the heritage that I think we are all part of, and in particular a big part of the general body of knowledge and general approach of the Marxist-Leninist movement that arose in opposition to modern revisionism in the 1960s. And that is the question of the united front. Actually this has been, in various forms, a part of the political arsenal, for good or bad, of the international communist movement even before the 1960s, going back for quite some time. A watershed, which I’ll be looking at from different angles, is the united front against fascism and the whole line of the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern. But I think we have to approach this from an historical perspective and also look at it in light of present-day conditions to understand this question of the united front in general and the role of the united front against fascism line more specifically.
In The Foundations of Leninism Stalin puts forth a general formulation which is correct, even if it contains certain erroneous tendencies in the direction of saying that the victory of the October Revolution in Russia has changed everything, in sort of a mechanical way, and along with that, perhaps you could say it makes the existence of the Soviet Union too much of a linchpin in terms of the alliance between the proletariat in the West and the oppressed peoples of the East. Nevertheless, even with those shortcomings I think this basic formulation that he puts out in his Foundations of Leninism is correct: “Hence the third conclusion: that under imperialism wars cannot be averted, and that a coalition between the proletarian revolution in Europe and the colonial revolution in the East in a united world front of revolution against the world front of imperialism is inevitable.”8 Now I think it’s important to note his formulation here, that the “coalition between the proletarian revolution in Europe and the colonial revolution in the East in a united world front of revolution against the world front of imperialism is inevitable.” I think there are a number of parts to this formulation that are important, not just the united world front, but a united front of revolution. In other words, what is the content that’s being put forward for this united front? What is its objective, what is its content? It is revolution, not peace and so on and so forth. And it is directed “against the world front of imperialism.” In other words, it is directed against not this or that major imperialist power, but against the world front of imperialism. Then again, in the chapter on the national question, he makes the following statement: “the interests of the proletarian movement in the developed countries and of the national liberation movement in the colonies call for the union of these two forms of the revolutionary movement into a common front against the common enemy, against imperialism.”9 Stalin then goes on to talk about how this is impossible “unless the proletariat of the oppressor nations renders direct and determined support to the liberation movement of the oppressed peoples against the imperialism of its ‘own country,’” and then he says that, “unless this slogan is implemented, the union and collaboration of nations within a single world economic system, which is the material basis for the victory of world socialism, cannot be brought about.”10
Here it should be pointed out that the reference to a single world economic system as a material basis for the victory of world socialism, while not wrong in itself, is tied in with the idea that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is the living prototype of the future union of peoples in a single world economic system. Now, I don’t think this is essentially a question of chauvinism; this was also Lenin’s viewpoint at that time, and the prevailing viewpoint in the international communist movement—they expected the victory of the world revolution a lot faster than, unfortunately, it has come. Even though by 1924 it was already clear that there was going to be a temporary lull, they expected it to be perhaps briefer than it’s been. And they thought that they had created, even materially, the center of the future world socialist system, to which other socialist republics would be adjoined—not dominated by, but would come into (exactly what he says) free union with it. Now, if it had been the case that in the next decade or so the front of imperialism had been breached in many different places and basically, to use a much misused phrase, the balance of forces in the world had gone over to a situation where socialism was dominant in the world, then this kind of view would not have been particularly wrong. So what I want to emphasize here is not so much that this view contained some mistaken notions but that it was clung to all the way through the next war and has been perpetuated in even worse form of course by the revisionists in power beginning with Khrushchev—the view that the Soviet Union is the center of all future development toward socialism, not only ideologically, which would be bad enough under present conditions, but literally materially. But with all this, the basic position put forward by Stalin in The Foundations of Leninism—the common front against imperialism, the linking of the proletarian movement in the developed countries and the national liberation movement in the colonies into a common front against a common enemy, which is imperialism—is a basically correct formulation and basically correct strategic analysis of the general objectives and general alignment of forces in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution.
The United Front Against Fascism Line
Now, as we know, this is not the beginning and the end of the question of the united front. Nor is this the only approach that has been taken to the united front since that time. The first major departure from this orientation, in terms of the major strategic orientation of the international communist movement, came in the united front against fascism in the middle 1930s. And this was part of, and in fact subordinate to, an overall international line and foreign policy of the Soviet Union which was then, to be blunt, foisted upon the international communist movement as an alleged strategy or tactic for the struggle of the proletariat at that particular time. In Conquer the World I made the point, which I think is a very important point, that this whole united front against fascism strategy was very much linked up with the preoccupation of the Soviet Union with the European theater. In other words, this was overwhelmingly a strategy and an orientation dictated by the Soviet Union’s concern with the situation in Europe. It was also, to continue being blunt, a Eurocentric, chauvinist outlook to begin with, which openly appealed to bourgeois-democratic prejudices and Eurocentric chauvinism among the workers and the communists within Europe, in particular Western Europe. Because it was in Western Europe where capitalism was the most developed, where the colonial powers were centered, where imperialism had the greatest strength, and where it was able even in the midst of the 1930s Depression to make more concessions. If the people in the imperialist countries suffered in the Depression, which they did, you only have to think what the situation was like for the people who were not in the imperialist countries, who were in the colonial countries and the countries dominated by imperialism. And the Comintern made arguments in defending the position of the Seventh Congress, the united front against fascism line, which were blatant deviations from the Leninist position on defense of the fatherland.
We reprinted some of these quotes—they’re really rather remarkable—in this pamphlet in which we said a word on behalf of national nihilism, the pamphlet “You Can’t Beat The Enemy While Raising His Flag.” There are some quotes in there from the Comintern in the late ’30s on how the workers’ viewpoint toward the fatherland is and should be different now than it was at the time of World War 1. Basically their argument was that at the time of World War 1 the workers really had no stake in the nation, they were on the outside looking in, they were without any rights, they were totally impoverished, and so on and so forth, and therefore they had a very bitter hatred for the whole situation. It is almost implied that Lenin’s stand during World War 1 was sort of a subjective one which corresponded to the subjective bitter feeling of the workers then—they don’t directly criticize Lenin, of course, but the sum total of what comes through is that there was this subjective bitter feeling on the part of the workers and this led them to have a sort of nihilist position towards the nation. What they’re actually describing, the position and sentiments of the workers who did not rally to the defense of the fatherland in World War 1, corresponds in fact to what Marx and Engels said about the proletariat in the Communist Manifesto, that behind every institution they see nothing but the pretenses and interests of the bourgeoisie.11 These were workers who had no stake in the imperialism of their fatherlands, and therefore it was possible to rally them against the fatherland. But then the Comintern went on to talk about how the workers in the imperialist countries in the 1930s had won trade unions, won certain other basic rights and so on, and so now they have a stake in the future of the nation, and therefore, a stake in defending it. This argument was not to any degree more sophisticated than the way I’m presenting it right now. And our party, in the course of doing some investigation on this question, discovered these quotes which are rather remarkable.
In Conquer the World I posed this as a question but here I’ll phrase it more strongly: I think what was being done by the Comintern then was an attempt to rally that section of the workers who were more bourgeoisified and, even in the midst of the 1930s Depression, still maintained a lot of the bourgeois-democratic prejudices and a longing for a more privileged position based on the historical position of their countries as imperialist exploiters and plunderers. It was a call to them to rally to the defense of the fatherland, not based on ignorance on the part of the leaders of the Comintern and Soviet Union as to what the Leninist position was—and not based on ignorance as to whether or not these countries were really imperialist, but based frankly on the narrow nationalist, narrowly-defined needs of the Soviet state. The proof of this is that from the period when the war broke out in September 1939, with the events in Poland being the spark, up until the time when the Soviet Union was attacked and entered the war in 1941, the Comintern all of a sudden rediscovered the Leninist position on imperialist war. Here, for example, are some excerpts from a letter the Comintern leadership wrote to the French Communist Party, which certainly needed a letter written to it combating its deviations from Leninism and its tendencies already to defend the fatherland. But this letter could stand as a refutation by the Comintern of its own position both in the period before and then after the brief interval of 1939 to 1941. The letter says, “This war is a continuation of many years of imperialist rivalry in the capitalist camp.” Notice there’s no distinctions between one capitalist (or one side) or the other. “The three richest states, England, France, and the United States, assert their domination over the great routes and markets of the world. They have seized the principal sources of raw materials. They have in their hands great economic resources. They keep more than half of the human race in a state of subjugation.”12 This doesn’t sound like the Comintern’s description of these three states before and afterwards—“peace, love, and democracy.” The letter continues on these states: “They disguise their exploitation of workers and oppressed people behind a false mask of democracy in order to deceive the masses more easily.”
Here is the Leninist viewpoint, that when looking at a war, you have to look not just at what happened the day or the year or even just a few years before the war broke out, you have to look at the whole train of development, sometimes over decades, of which the war is a continuation. Here, all of a sudden, this position is rediscovered and is used to criticize the French Communist Party, which deserved criticism along these lines. But, unfortunately, one has to ask whether this criticism was being made on the basis of principle or whether it conformed (which is my opinion) to a particular turn of events and the particular tactics of the Soviet Union in pursuing its own national interests at that point. If you examine what was said and done, both before and after this brief interval, it becomes undeniably clear that the latter was the case. This takes us back to the point that the united front against fascism was based to a large degree on rallying Eurocentric chauvinism. As I said, the Comintern’s letter criticizing the French Communist Party stands as a criticism of the Comintern itself, that is, its united front against fascism line. Look what the letter says about England, France and the U.S. These are not the fascist states, they are the democratic nonbelligerent states—as they were defined before the war broke out and again later during the period when the Soviet Union was in the war. “They have seized the principal sources of raw materials” and so on; “they keep”—they, England, France and the U.S.—“keep more than half of the human race in a state of subjugation.” And they use this democracy as a disguise and a mask in order to carry this out.
All this, of course, was (and is) perfectly true. And as I pointed out previously, in Conquer the World, if you were to go into India at that time, for example, and argue with the people there who were the least bit conscious of their own oppression and its source, and you were to make this big strong case about how much more terrible it would be if Japan were to take over, this would probably not get over so well. Or if you went into parts of Africa that were colonized by the British or the French and argued, “Oh, if Germany, if those fascists who even defile and despoil German culture” (this is another argument made by the Comintern—they don’t even speak the real German language, these fascists, you know, not the good German of Schiller and Goethe—this was the kind of stuff that was passed off as communist analysis), “well these German fascists, they don’t even speak good German, and if they come in here, as opposed to the British, or the French, why you can just see how much more terrible everything is going to be”—if you said things like that to such victims of “democratic” colonial oppression, then as Lenin once said, you should hope that they have a law against people laughing in public places, because otherwise you would be killed by laughter. Can you imagine trying to convince people in India how much worse Japanese imperialism would be for them, given the whole history of British imperialism? And on and on and on. Or in China for that matter? It is true that in China it was correct to line up forces to fight against Japanese imperialism. But that had to do with the particular situation there and not because Japanese imperialism was some completely different imperialism that would be worse for the people of China than British and U.S. imperialism would be. It had to do much more with the alignment of the forces and the contradictions among the imperialists, and the possibilities for taking advantage of certain contradictions to advance the revolutionary struggle, so long as initiative and independence was maintained by the communist vanguard, which it was. But to argue on the level that it would be so much worse in China, or in India, Burma, or what have you, or Egypt, or North Africa, if the Japanese or the Germans or the Italians were to take over would in fact be ludicrous.
The fact is that this argument was geared not to those people, but to the sections of the more bourgeoisified workers in Europe and communists there who were encouraged, were led, to pitch themselves politically (and ideologically) to these workers. Beyond that, if we look at Stalin’s speech concerning the Soviet constitution of 1936 13 it can be seen that broad, democratic strata, that is petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois strata, were being appealed to in these certain imperialist countries to unite with the Soviet Union on the basis that it was for democracy and that the threat in the world was the threat of democracy being wiped out and civilization being hurled back decades or centuries if fascist barbarism were to win out. In fact, there have been some studies that have done much to disprove this whole notion. One “revisionist” British scholar (this doesn’t mean revisionist in the Marxist-Leninist sense, but revisionist in that they revise the standard conceptions of history) has made the rather brash statement (sometimes I guess the British imperialists are good for this) that the only thing wrong with Hitler from a political and diplomatic point of view was that he was German. In other words, if we reinterpret somewhat to get the essence of what he was saying, Hitler was just another imperialist statesman who happened to conform to and represent the needs and interests of German imperialism at a certain particular juncture, given its situation particularly coming out of World War 1 and through the period leading up to World War 2. The analysis that’s been done for America in Decline reveals that what Hitler and those around him were after in World War 2 (Charlie Chaplin movies aside where, you know, Hitler’s got this globe and he’s dancing around with it, “this is my lovely world” and so on—all that aside) was not taking over the whole world in sort of this classless and non-materialist sense.14 Hitler was actually attempting to achieve more or less what Germany had tried to achieve in World War 1 and had come close to achieving before it was defeated.
When Lenin was waging polemics in the middle of World War 1 against Kautsky—who all of a sudden shifted gears and came out in defense of a “peace without annexations”—Lenin was quick to point out that it was very easy for Kautsky to say this because Germany had by then done much better in this war than anyone had expected. It had won some colonies and occupied a fair amount of its enemies’ territory. So here were the German imperialists saying to the other imperialists (and Lenin was very explicit on this) that they would give back parts of France and Belgium and so on in exchange for this and that colony. And in fact their objective was not, in World War 1, nor for that matter in World War 2, to colonize the rest of Europe and to reduce the other European countries to a state of barbarism and tutelage under Germany and so on.
Of course, a victorious Germany would have reorganized those countries on German imperialist terms, with German imperialism in the top world position. That’s what always happens when imperialists win wars. They don’t win a war and then put things back on the basis they were before the war, or reorganize them on the basis of equality. Of course the victors take most of the spoils. That’s the laws of the game. But nevertheless their objective strategically (in World War 2 as well as World War I) was not to colonize these areas in Europe and then turn them into German vassals and reduce the people to a state of slavery and barbarism and so on. Their objective was more or less to win back the colonies that they had almost won and that they were deprived of in World War 1 in Africa and other parts of the Middle East, and to make certain inroads into the Balkans and parts of Eastern Europe, although this could not be achieved without decisive military victory in the European theater—a redistribution of power among the imperialists, who were largely centered in Europe. This is what their objective was, and Hitler was an extreme expression of German imperialist interests when German imperialism was in an extreme position. Lenin pointed out at the end of World War 1 that Germany’s position was a desperate one. This becomes obvious by looking even superficially at history. There’s a kind of irony here, because after a certain point, mistakenly in my opinion, even Lenin (and certainly leaders after him!) tried to get the German communists to become a part of the struggle against the conditions imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty at the conclusion of World War 1. And if you want to be a little bit nasty and provocative you could say that the communists kept calling for a struggle against the Versailles Treaty and then they were finally successful: in 1933 Germany tore up the Versailles Treaty and then we saw what happened.
This shows you the limitations and shortcomings of that sort of approach. Of course the communists were unsuccessful; actually the irony is that insofar as they made an attempt (and unfortunately they did make some attempts) at implementing this approach, the communists were not successful in rivaling the bourgeoisie and in particular the extreme, open parties of reaction, including the Nazis, they were not successful in rivaling them for the national banner of the trampled-upon German imperialist nation. That banner rightfully went to the bourgeoisie and in the conditions of Germany the bourgeoisie brought forward its most open reactionary representatives and instituted an open reactionary dictatorship and took extreme measures because its necessity was extreme. In the face of this, materialist analysis and materialist dialectics were thrown out in the adoption and application of the united front against fascism line. Again, this line was sold to people in those countries, such as Britain, France, and the United States—which did in fact have more than half the human race in a state of subjugation, and which even in the middle of a depression (and before that depression in a much greater way and even during it to some degree) continued to give certain droppings from these spoils to the sections of the working class and to the intermediate strata in these imperialist countries. These strata were granted a relatively privileged position, certainly in relationship to the world proletariat as a whole and to the masses of people in the world. And it was to these more bourgeoisified workers, those who now had a stake in the fatherland, as the Comintern openly expressed it, and to the intermediate and even some bourgeois strata, that the appeal of the united front against fascism was made and to whom it was geared. That’s why I say that it was a Eurocentric and social-chauvinist appeal that, frankly, sought to rally people, including even sections of the bourgeoisie, in the “have” imperialist countries to fight to remain in that position and to keep the “have-not” imperialists from taking it away from them. This is the essence of the Soviet policy and the united front against fascism—which has to be viewed, in my opinion, as an extension of Soviet international line and foreign policy; that’s what the essence of it came down to.
Now a lot of arguments were advanced, first as to why it was correct to single out the fascist states. But it’s interesting, and ironic, that even from the point of view of the Soviet Union there are certain glaring inconsistencies that punch holes in the arguments that were made to justify this strategy. For example it is very striking and remarkable that many revolutionaries can be really good on a lot of questions, but when you get to this question of World War 2 and fascism, they start sounding like ordinary liberals. This goes to show you the powerful role of the superstructure and of consciousness: all of us have been trained, including by the communist movement, to think nonmaterialistically and to think metaphysically and with an idealist approach to this question—and it is necessary to make a radical break with it. All of a sudden it’s not a question of imperialism—this war and all the buildup to it was not the continuation of the very policies of plunder on both sides that were described by the Comintern itself at a certain interlude—instead it’s the desire of some madmen and some evil people to take away everybody’s democratic rights and conquer the world and enslave it, as if oppressed people and nations were already free. People have been trained in that outlook and it dies very hard. The line is that there were these fascist states that were out to conquer the world and an inevitable part of their particular essence was that they had an inveterate hatred for the Soviet Union as a land of socialism (as if that wasn’t true of all imperialism), such an inveterate hatred that they just had to see it extinguished. But even if you look at it from that point of view, how do you explain the fact that Japanese imperialism was, for most of World War 2, not at war with the Soviet Union—until the very end of the war when the Soviet Union declared war on Japan? If it is some innate characteristic of these fascists that they had to extinguish the Soviet Union at all costs, why was it that Japanese imperialism (part of the fascist Axis) came to terms with the Soviet Union, after very brief skirmishes at the beginning, and during most of the war was not at war with the Soviet Union?
In fact, that can be easily explained, but it’s explained on the basis of the particular interests and needs of Japanese imperialism, and not by some classless and nonmaterialist theory of fascism. And the differences between Italy/Germany, Italy/Japan, Japan/Germany—all within the same bloc—as well as the differences within the other bloc, are all understandable from the point of view of Lenin’s analysis of imperialism, from the point of view of materialist dialectics. But they are not explainable by the approach that was taken with the antifascist united front. To cite a more recent expression of this, I was recently reading a pamphlet by a group of people who have broken off from the Communist Party of Turkey, Marxist-Leninist, and have joined up with a strange variety of opportunists in Germany and Austria, sort of the dogmato-revisionist kind. They are very strongly against the “three worlds theory” of the Chinese revisionists and they are very strongly against any notion that there’s any difference among any of the imperialists, even in terms of the role they play in the world. In other words, they are willing to argue that German imperialism could just as easily be the force that starts the war as U.S. or Soviet imperialism, that any of the imperialist states could be the one to pull everybody together and start a war. This may sound very “left,” but it is not. Yet, at the same time, they sum up the reasons why it was correct to have this antifascist united front policy and to line up with certain states against the others as was done under Stalin’s leadership, because they go down the line defending Stalin. Wherever Mao and Stalin disagreed they think Mao was wrong and wherever he criticized Stalin, Mao was wrong, not Stalin. So they have to explain this phenomenon of Stalin’s united front with “democratic” imperialism in World War 2. They attack Mao for seeking to build an anti-Soviet united front in the early ’70s—but what about what Stalin did around World War 2? That was different, you see, and they give a number of reasons which are basically regurgitations of the reasons that were given at the time for why it was okay. One of them is that there was a powerful socialist country, the Soviet Union, capable of leading this antifascist united front.
Well, a couple of things have to be said about that. To start with, the question of leading, as presented in this argument, is sort of a contentless and classless concept. I mean, what does that mean, to say “leading it”? That begs the question. First of all you have to say whether this policy is correct and whether anybody should lead it, then you can argue about whether there was somebody capable of leading it. So this argument about leadership is a tautological argument on one level that you can dismiss as such. But then the other question—what really is being gotten at—is the question of whether there was a force, as represented by the Soviet Union, capable through exercising such leadership of actually causing the imperialists with which it was seeking alliance and did have alliance to act in some way that would not be reactionary or not be imperialist, at least in its principal aspect, during the period of that alliance. In other words, even if it couldn’t change their nature overall, could it cause them at least in that period of time to act in a way which was principally not the extension of imperialist politics and economics but somehow progressive and contributing to the eventual complete defeat of imperialism? That’s the real argument that has to be made. And I don’t think on examining the concrete relationship of forces and the concrete facts and the actual course and outcome of the whole period leading up to and through World War 2 that you can argue that this occurred. I think that it is rather clear, and has to be summed up, that throughout the entire period the principal aspect (the overwhelming aspect) and the essence of what these “democratic” imperialists were doing was pursuing imperialist interests by imperialist means as a continuation of what they had been doing before the war. This remained true throughout the entire period when the Soviet Union was seeking and entered into alliance with them.15 To justify the kind of all-encompassing alliance that was built with the “democratic” imperialist states in World War 2, you would have to show that even without changing their nature it was possible to change the essence of the actions of these imperialists for a certain period. But that did not happen, and in fact it is not the case that it was possible to do so. There weren’t the means at hand to change the basic character of even the actions of these imperialists—that is, to change them into actions which would be principally progressive, viewed in terms of objective content and objective effect. The only way to argue that this was possible (and that it happened) is to state the flattest tautology—that their actions were principally progressive because they were allied with the Soviet Union against its main enemy—which is not only tautological but is based on the same fundamental error as Soviet policy overall in that period: subordinating the interests of the world revolution to the defense of the Soviet Union.
Another argument is that it was only the fascist states that were instigating war at that time, whereas the other states were taking a nonaggressive posture. Sometimes the more “left” version of this is that the nonfascist imperialists, as represented by the agreements at Munich and so on, were egging on the fascist states to go against the Soviet Union, but still it was the fascist Axis that was really responsible for the war. Therefore it was correct, for example, to have collective security agreements and to unite in a certain way with the other imperialists, because they too, for their own interests and reasons, did not want a war. Well, this again doesn’t hold water from the point of view of Marxism-Leninism. And I think this argument also links up with the Eurocentric viewpoint that I was criticizing earlier. One of the things that Lenin hit on over and over again during the course of World War 1 was precisely the European chauvinist approach to the whole question, which says that a war is not really a war unless there is devastation and death that touches Europeans in a significant way. I’m looking for an article—but I’ll just paraphrase it since I can’t seem to find it: Lenin says that we Europeans are often fond of forgetting that colonial wars are also wars. And he goes on to criticize the whole viewpoint that if no Europeans are killed, well, then it’s not really a war, that a war is when we Europeans get hurt or get killed.16 (This is, unfortunately, an all too frequent and current viewpoint down to today.) It’s not too hard to understand that this is part of the whole European chauvinist, pro-imperialist viewpoint that seeks to preserve a privileged position and says that as long as we Europeans stay out of it, then it’s not anything to really worry about. 17
Lenin’s polemic against this was part of his whole argument against the “who fired the first shot” sort of reasoning. He exposed that as an irrelevant stupidity; he insisted that you have to look at the whole history of what led up to this war (World War 1), and that, he said, is the conquest and plundering of colonies by all the imperialists. That’s what this war is essentially and is mainly being fought over. It’s irrelevant which one of them instigated or immediately started the war. In fact at one point, I believe (in an article I don’t seem to be able to find), Lenin even says the Germans started the war, but then he immediately follows that up with the profound question: “So what?” That’s his whole stand: who cares who “started” it—that’s got nothing to do with the essence of this war. If you want to say Germany started it, I don’t care. It could be argued the other way. But the point is that it is a continuation of definite politics and economics, imperialist economics and imperialist politics, over decades, and in particular the conquest and plundering and the rivalry for conquest and plundering in the colonies.
Although World War 1 was centered in Europe, as was World War 2, both wars were mainly fought over colonies. This relates to an important point about the present world situation and developments toward a new world war: a lot of us, our party included, were for a time misled by this formulation put out by the Chinese party for a number of years in relationship to the world war now on the horizon, that Europe is the focal point of contention, Europe is the prize and so on. This formulation is a distortion that, unfortunately, was an extension of certain objectives that China had, even when it was socialist China. Frankly, and again to perhaps be somewhat provocative about it, I think there was a certain desire on the part of the Chinese to try to push the imperialists toward confronting each other in Europe, rather than having a Soviet attack on China—or at least as a means to delay that. Now I should also say that, taking this question by itself and on those terms, then from the point of view of the international proletariat you certainly couldn’t argue that it would be worse if the two imperialist blocs went directly at each other and revolutionary China thereby was able to avoid or delay being attacked. But to get into that whole sort of posture of trying to maneuver the imperialists to fight this way and not that way, and on this terrain and not that, to attack this and not that, already gets you into very dangerous territory, and a very dangerous dialectic. The main point I want to make here, however, is that Europe, neither in World War 1, nor in World War 2, nor in the new world war looming ahead, Europe is not the focal point and prize. It was, in the previous two world wars, the main arena of battle, although in World War 2 the arena was much broadened, and there were many important war theaters, including the Pacific. You could still say it was concentrated in Europe in a certain sense, in terms of the most decisive battles. But if you don’t have a Eurocentric viewpoint you can see more clearly that the battles in the Pacific, in Asia, and obviously the Chinese Revolution were a tremendous part of the overall terrain of World War 2. Returning to World War 1, it’s rather clear the main battle and focal point of struggle, of the actual military confrontation, was in Europe. But Lenin’s point (and the point I’m stressing here) is precisely that even when that was the case, the issue was still not the future of Europe, per se, but the battle for colonies.
So the question is, didn’t this Leninist argument apply also to World War 2? In other words, wasn’t that war (as, again, the Comintern itself said it was at a certain point) a continuation of decades of imperialist plunder and rivalry? The Comintern letter cited earlier says, “This war is the continuation of many years of imperialist rivalry in the capitalist camp.” Perfectly true. Just as World War 1 was. True, World War 2 involved other, progressive and revolutionary elements, on a much greater scale than World War 1 (Lenin said about World War 1, correctly if in a bit exaggerated terms, that the only national element is the Serbia/Austria struggle). The national element in World War 1 was a very limited and certainly secondary element. But even in World War 2 it remained secondary. Even with the Chinese Revolution advancing through the struggle against Japan, and other genuine national liberation struggles that were waged (with or without the proletariat’s leadership), plus the battle of the Soviet Union to defend itself, which was a just war (even if the line guiding it was not a correct line from the standpoint of Marxism-Leninism, it was a just war)—with all that, when you look at the balance sheet, if you will, and apply the law that the principal aspect determines the essence of things, the progressive aspect was not the principal aspect or the essence of the overall course or the outcome of World War 2. Certainly it was not what gave rise to the war. In other words, in the main that war was not a continuation of national liberation struggles, or a continuation mainly of the Soviet Union’s efforts to defend itself (or a combination of this with national liberation struggles, revolutionary civil wars, and so on). It was overwhelmingly, in its principal aspect and in its essence, a continuation of (as the Comintern said at one point) imperialist rivalry within the capitalist camp.
What Lenin insisted on in relationship to World War 1—that you can’t just look at the events of the last few years—has to be applied. You can’t just look at what happened after Germany was put on a war footing after Hitler was brought to power, or Japan invading China or Italy invading Abyssinia (Ethiopia)—you can’t just look at those events, but you have to look, for example, at what was Britain doing in the colonies? What was the U.S. doing in Latin America during that period? They no longer shot down the “natives” in the colonial countries? They no longer carried out suppression of the people who were under their domination in vast areas of the world? For that decade of the 1930s, say, they sat with their arms folded and didn’t carry out armed suppression of the people in the colonies and dependent countries? They didn’t seek to expand their colonial spheres of influence? If you could argue all that, then maybe you could say that they were “not instigators of the war” from the Leninist point of view. But if you can’t, which you can’t—unless you are going to be totally blinded by chauvinism, you can’t argue that these imperialist powers were not carrying out those same policies all during the period of the ’20s and the ’30s—then you should recognize that the war when it broke out was a continuation of all that. So the argument that only one side (the fascist Axis) was responsible for World War 2 does not have validity from a scientific, Marxist-Leninist standpoint. In other words, it’s not true.
Now there is also the argument that has already been touched on somewhat—it’s related to the previous argument, but from a little different angle—that as opposed to World War 1 there was actually an attempt in World War 2, particularly by Germany, to subjugate a number of states in Europe itself and therefore national defense became justified there and this made the world war, as it approached and broke out, different than World War 1. Well, just basically to summarize what’s already been said, the objectives of German imperialism (and even many of their tactics, though not all) in World War 2 were very similar to what they were in World War 1. It’s also true that in World War 1 Germany overran Belgium and occupied part of France. In fact, it is difficult to conceive of a war, especially among imperialists, where you only fight on your own territory, or where if when you win a battle on foreign territory, you refuse to occupy it. When you’re fighting a war, you fight it to win, and especially if you’re fighting from the side of and with the interests and policies of the imperialists you of course overrun other countries. The argument that Lenin made in relation to World War 1 precisely applies to World War 2. He said, in opposition to the social-chauvinists of that time, if Paris or St. Petersburg were to be occupied by the “enemy” troops, i.e., Germany in both cases, would that change the nature of the war? Absolutely not.18 He didn’t just mean if they came across one inch of French or Russian territory and thereby literally made an invasion; he meant a serious invasion and actual occupation, and he pointed out in any case that invasions are inevitable in almost every war. And that’s basically what I was just saying: this doesn’t change the nature of the war; it doesn’t change what the war is an extension of, what it grew out of.
So, in essence, these various arguments in defense of the antifascist united front line were more or less flimsy rationalizations for a policy which sought first of all to subordinate the world revolutionary movement to the state interests and the national interests of defending what had already been achieved in the Soviet Union; and second, this was inevitably accompanied by serious deviations from, distortions of, Marxism-Leninism, materialist dialectics, and in particular the Leninist line on the defense of the fatherland in imperialist war. Along with that, as far as it was put forward and was taken seriously and taken up as any kind of a strategic orientation and tactical guideline for the parties that were part of the Communist International, it led them into the swamp of reformism and capitulation to the bourgeoisie. In the Dimitrov report, for example, it is said openly at one point that the principal contradiction now, or the question on the agenda now, is not the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie versus the dictatorship of the proletariat, but bourgeois democracy versus fascism. And this is the strategic orientation that’s put forward in that report and it’s linked up with the whole international line of the Soviet Union in aligning itself and other forces in a coalition with the Western imperialists, which were the states where the fascist form of dictatorship had not been implemented. But this was the kind of strategic orientation that was given: the fight now is to preserve or restore bourgeois democracy.
The report goes through a certain progression (or retrogression) even within itself. It starts off, picking up from “Left-Wing” Communism, talking about the need to find the transitional forms that can constitute the approach up to the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Now that’s what Dimitrov’s report says is the question, at the beginning. It notes that in “Left-Wing” Communism Lenin stresses that there are transitional stages between “normal times” and revolutionary eruptions, even if these transitional stages are telescoped and brief in duration. Lenin says that you have to learn how to apply, especially in those times, the kind of tactics that bring over the broadest masses; it’s no longer sufficient just to influence the broad masses and to have the advanced class-conscious proletariat with you, you have to figure out how to win over even backward masses. Well, it is announced at the beginning of the Dimitrov report that it is going to speak to this, that it is going to take up that question in the concrete conditions of the mid-’30s and the development toward imperialist war and in the midst of the Depression and so on. But by the end it’s gone through a series of changes itself so that it ends up arguing that the essential question is bourgeois democracy.
I think it’s important to see here the link between this and the line of the book by R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution. Dutt puts forward the viewpoint—and this was the viewpoint of the international communist movement even though Dutt gives a particularly crude expression to it —that the bourgeoisie is no longer capable of carrying out the historical mission of the bourgeois revolution. In other words, it’s no longer capable of developing the productive forces, it’s no longer capable of upholding democracy, nor of upholding the interests of the nation. Therefore, the argument goes, it falls on the proletariat to do all these things. But Dutt’s is a “left” version of this line. Because what he says is that the only way to do all of these things is to have a proletarian revolution. He does not say there are some good bourgeoisies and bad bourgeoisies or some that are fascist and some that are not going to adopt fascism. He says fascism is the inevitable product of imperialism—continuing the “general crisis” theory and carrying it to another extreme by saying that not only is capitalism, once it has reached imperialism, and especially once we’ve had the October Revolution, going on a straight-line decline downward, but now it’s reached the point where fascism will be adopted, if not today then tomorrow, by all the bourgeoisies of all the imperialist countries because that’s where the decline of imperialism is inevitably leading them: they have to take up fascism and revert to barbarism and so on and so forth. The only way out of all this is the proletarian revolution. That’s why the contradiction presented in the Dutt book is not bourgeois democracy versus fascism, but communism versus barbarism. That’s the contradiction that Dutt stresses over and over again: it’s either going to be barbarism under fascism or much better machines under communism. I mean that’s basically the view of communism that’s presented—it is definitely technique in command and technique central. It’s almost as if a graph, an engineering graph, were presented, where the Soviet Union and socialism is going up with technique and development of the productive forces, while capitalism and imperialism is going down; one’s heading toward the bright communist future of marvelous machines and the other is heading toward barbarism and reversion to primitive production under conditions of enslavement. This is the way it is presented with Dutt.
Well, when that sort of “left” economism, a “left” expression of mechanical materialism, was abandoned because the results from it were not successful, and particularly in Germany the desired result did not occur, then the same basic assumptions underpinning it were maintained, not broken with, but now it was given an openly rightist interpretation, openly reformist, openly seeking alliance with sections, democratic sections, of the bourgeoisie and with democratic bourgeois countries. That is, the same arguments were maintained that even in this era, the question was still one of carrying forward the traditions of the bourgeois revolution and of bourgeois society, of defending the nation and upholding democratic liberties, along with developing the productive forces and especially production technique, of course. But now it was said that there were certain sections of the bourgeoisie who would split off from the fascist section and were willing to enter into an alliance to uphold these things. Rather than the argument being that the only thing to do was to have proletarian revolution to avoid barbarism, the argument was that we should unite with those sections of the bourgeoisie. In the Dimitrov report it’s done through a sort of bourgeois logic; you’re led up to it because first of all it says we have to unite with a lot of masses. Then it says, yes of course these masses are under the influence of, and at the present time form a social base for, bourgeois forces but we still have to unite with them. Then by the end it says pretty openly that you have to unite with sections of the bourgeoisie, those who are willing to preserve democracy, willing to uphold the interests of the nation and, you know, are against barbarism and retrogression. So the “left” form of this, all the “left” trappings, were dropped and it came out in its openly rightist, openly reformist version, which was that an alliance with the social democrats was now everything and nothing was possible without that, rather than the previous, mirror-opposite error. Previously it was held that until the social democrats are isolated, defeated and smashed, nothing is possible. So they became the main target. Then it was argued that until and unless we unite with them—always with the rationalization that we’re going to get to their social base—but until we unite with them, nothing is possible. From either the “left” or the openly rightist direction, this was a strategy for capitulating to social democracy, to the bourgeoisie, for upholding reformism, and frankly for social chauvinism. To the degree that it was followed—and to a large degree it was—it’s not surprising that this prepared much of the ground for the complete and total degeneration of the great bulk of the parties in the international communist movement after (or during and after) the war, and that by the time Khrushchev came to power, overwhelmingly (though certainly not entirely) what was left was deadweight socialists who had become respectable (to paraphrase a description by Upton Sinclair cited by Lenin in the article “British Pacifism and the British Dislike for Theory”).19 That’s largely what you had around when Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union, but the ground for this was prepared over a long time, including in a concentrated way in this united front against fascism line.
Now, if we’re not going to be dogmatists and not going to be mechanical formalists, we have to recognize that there was actually something new and extremely important in World War 2 as compared to World War 1: there was a socialist state. There was not at the beginning and for the great bulk of World War 1. There was, of course, a new socialist state at the outcome of World War 1. But that was precisely something that resulted from the whole upheaval that came in connection with World War 1 and through World War 1 and was not something which was a condition entering into the war or approaching it. So the existence of such a state going into World War 2 introduces another element into the situation, and the question of defending a socialist country is not something to be taken lightly. In other words, even if we view such a state as above all a base area for the world revolution, that doesn’t mean that we therefore say, “who cares,” that we give up base areas lightly. No, of course we can’t have the approach of lightly giving up what’s been gained. We’d give it up, as Lenin was willing to do, on the basis that we would win something more—or at least have a real chance of doing that, even if we couldn’t be assured of it, at least that there’s a real chance of it. It’s for failure to have that kind of orientation that we can and should and must criticize the leaders of the Soviet Union and the Comintern, in connection with World War 2 in particular. But we can’t criticize people for recognizing that there was a new contradiction, namely, the contradiction between the socialist state and the imperialist world, that entered in a significant way into the picture. The problem of how to handle that contradiction was not correctly approached and not correctly resolved. But of course you obviously couldn’t correctly approach and correctly resolve it if you ignored it either. The criticism that has to be made must be directed precisely to the fact that when the opportunities for advance were shaping up to be the greatest—when another one of these “moments,” as Lenin talked about, whose “significance is felt for decades to come,”20 one of these world historic conjunctures was approaching—at precisely that time the leaders of the Soviet Union and the Comintern sounded the retreat in the form of subordinating the world revolution to the interests of defending the Soviet Union, rather than the other way around.
Actually, there were two problems: one, this line was taken and two, it wasn’t openly said what it was. In other words, if they had come out and openly said, “Look, we’re going to make everybody make adjustments in their struggle and enter into a certain amount of agreements with their own bourgeoisie because we’ve got to defend the Soviet Union at all costs,” well that would have been wrong, but at least everybody could have evaluated what was really being said, instead of all of this rationalization and convolution that was wrapped around it to try to pretty it up and disguise in fact what was being said. If they had come right out and said that, at least that would have provided the basis for people to struggle against it in a better way. In order to struggle against it, it was necessary first to penetrate to the essence of what was actually being said. And unfortunately, that was not done in most cases. It could not be done, and today as well the correct stand cannot be taken by superficial methods and with a blithe and blasé attitude—“well, you know, it’s obvious.”
For example, in our Central Committee back in 1976 we had a big struggle over this question of revolutionary defeatism, or rather we tried to have a big struggle: we had this Menshevik-type group festering within our ranks and they didn’t want to struggle over it. Of course they’ve come out now openly as social-chauvinist since splitting from our party. But even then we tried to draw out some of these questions. Because at that time—this was before the coup in China, China was still a socialist country—we said, look there’s the question of defense of China and there’s the question of the overall struggle against imperialism in a new world war. Now how are we going to handle all this, how are we going to do better than was done last time, if, as is very likely, we are confronted with a new world war where all these elements are involved. So at one point, just as a way of evading the question, one of these Mensheviks comes out with a “left” summation and says, “well, what’s the big deal? The bourgeoisie will declare war, and we’ll apply a revolutionary defeatist stand, we’ll turn the imperialist war into civil war. Let’s move the agenda.” Well you see, as we have pointed out before, it’s very clear where they wanted to move their agenda to. They wanted to dismiss the complexity of the question because they really wanted to be social-chauvinists.
What I think comes out here is that a superficial approach to the problem can land you through the back door, if you will, into the camp of social chauvinism anyway, if you don’t really examine the complexity of the question, and then determine how to handle the different contradictions and their interrelationship. You may have—as that Menshevik did not in fact, but you might actually have—good intentions to be a revolutionary defeatist and still not be able to do it. I am raising this not because the question of defending a socialist country is right upon us now. You know, a member of our Central Committee once said, after the coup in China, “well, war is approaching and we don’t have a socialist country to defend, thank god.” But you see that was a sarcastic comment, a sort of consciously provocative and deliberately one-sided way of summing up the past experience of the international communist movement. The comrade went on to say that actually, of course, that’s not really the question because we can still make the same errors in other forms and of course it would be better if we really did have a socialist country to defend. The point is to learn how to handle this contradiction in a more correct way. This is not simply a matter of saying from an ideological standpoint, “we should not be afraid to lose what we’ve gained or else we can’t win more.” That’s sort of a rock-bottom ideological stand for a communist, that you have to fight against a tendency to become conservative on the basis of having won certain victories. This even applied to Kautsky and the German Social Democratic Party when they were out of power, and of course it applies all the more when you’re in power. But even when you’re not in power, on a more reduced scale, in a more limited way, if you achieve certain kinds of things (even on a much reduced scale from what the German Social Democratic Party had going into World War 1) these can be turned into capital. So, there is the question of the ideological stand, yes—that if you’re afraid to lose what you’ve already gained, the irony is that you’ll eventually lose it anyway and you certainly won’t win more—but there’s also the question of methodology and the question of concrete content and political line that goes along with that: how do you handle the contradiction between doing everything possible to defend what you’ve gained while not raising that above the further advance of the world revolution in an overall sense? How do you correctly subordinate defending what’s been won to the further advance of the world revolution, to winning more of the world?
This problem and the importance of summing up all of this should be gone into deeply and all-sidedly in its own right, but it assumes special importance now because we are approaching one of these situations where, to use the phrase, things are going to be going up for grabs, not just in particular countries but in the world as a whole. Lenin once commented about wars that for all their horror they do strip away a lot of the litter and reveal the real mainsprings of the class struggle and also reveal what’s outdated and obsolete in society and in institutions. He also pointed out that this can also happen with lesser crises to a certain extent, for example Poland and the imposition of martial law there is a striking current example of this. The real relationships do become very clear: it’s you do this or you’re dead. The fundamental truth that Mao made about where political power comes from becomes very stark and very real because the guns of one class or another are directly enforcing that political power. And in another situation, if you’re living in an area where one army comes through one day and another army comes through another day (and the middle classes change the pictures of leaders on their wall, from one side then the other, as happened in the Russian Revolution—I was reading the novel How the Steel Was Tempered, and sometimes the “respectable citizens” got the wrong picture, they had Lenin’s picture up when the white guard troops would come in, whoops!)—then the real class relations and the nature of different class forces tend to become very starkly revealed and you can see what Lenin talked about, fissures and cracks in society through which the seething discontent of the masses can erupt. It’s like Lenin pointed out, the ruling classes rule not just by brute force, but also by the force of habit, by the dead weight of tradition and so on. Well when this begins to get thrown up in the air—if, for example, one day it’s somebody speaking French that’s dictating to you, and the next day somebody speaking Russian, somebody speaking English, and so on—it begins to break through all this. First it can be seen that the authority of all the governments is clearly resting right at the end of the cannon and the gun, resting on the tanks and missiles and so on. And if all that is shifting and changing, this is precisely very favorable for the proletariat.
But it takes a Marxist-Leninist outlook, not just an ideological stand but methodology and a political line consistent with that, to grasp what’s favorable about that and to see beyond the very real horrors and difficulties of it. Similarly, to correctly handle the contradiction between defending what’s been gained at any point and using such a tumultuous situation to advance the overall world revolution—using the socialist country as a base area while seeking to defend it, so long as that does not in fact come into antagonism with further advancing the world revolution—takes a consistent application of Marxism-Leninism. And I say “come into antagonism” because it’s inevitable that it will come into contradiction with it. This is a point that we have to drive home over and over again. One of the worst errors made by the leadership of the Comintern and the Soviet Union was that they put forward that there was no contradiction involved between defending what had already been gained, that is the Soviet Union in particular, and advancing the world revolution. They said that these were identical—not in the dialectical sense of a unity of opposites, but that they were one and the same. Well, even if the correct line is applied, overwhelmingly and consistently, there’s still a very real contradiction which can become very acute. Now we can sum up and have to sum up that this was mishandled by the international communist movement in a very serious way in the approach to and during World War 2 and particularly in the line of the united front against fascism. But as important as that is and as much as that is part of the theoretical arsenal that is necessary to carry out destruction of opportunist lines and the construction of a more correct line, that still doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to concretely analyze this question more deeply in terms of how it actually develops at different stages, and it certainly does not eliminate the contradiction that’s going to be with us during this whole long period of transition and struggle from the bourgeois epoch to the epoch of world communism. By this I mean the overall phenomenon (contradiction) that we’re going to win victories and we’re going to make breakthroughs but we will not go straight forward to communism, there will be not only twists and turns but reversals and setbacks, and things will proceed in spiral-like motion, there will be times when consolidation and preparation for the next upheaval is what must be emphasized, and times when risking a lot to make major new breakthroughs, that are not usually possible, must be the orientation—and, again, the rub is that these are exactly the times of greatest danger to the defense of what has already been won, in particular, socialist states.
With this in mind, let’s turn to the policy of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party when confronted with the intensification of this contradiction in the early and mid-1970s. I think that the correct way to understand what was happening in terms of international lines in China in the early ’70s is to view it as an extension and continuation of basically two things. First, it was a continuation of the general kind of line that had been applied in the Chinese Revolution itself and in particular during the anti-Japanese war phase, when among a number of imperialist powers that were objectively in contradiction to China, that were objectively oppressing China, one of them was targeted as the main enemy and a united front was formed even with forces dependent upon and ultimately representing other imperialist powers. While that was overall a correct policy and approach for the revolution in China in the conditions in which it occurred, and, specifically for the anti-Japanese war and more generally for carrying forward the new-democratic revolution in China, it was incorrect to try to extend the same kind of approach onto a world scale and make it a basis for a world alignment and a world strategy against the Soviet Union in the international conditions of the 1970s. Secondly, I think the Chinese policy was also a continuation—rather than a rupture which should have been made—with some of the erroneous lines and policies that I was just dissecting a bit, the Comintern policy and Soviet strategy during and in relation to World War 2. And to some degree the Chinese drew this connection explicitly, or very strongly implied it. Articles were printed in the Peking Review and other publications about the victories of the great antifascist war and how this advanced the overall development of socialism in the world. It was very clear that the analogy was being very strongly suggested that the same kind of strategy should be applied, with the Soviet Union playing an analogous role to the fascist powers at the time of World War 2.
Now I think among the various leaders and the different class forces in the leadership in China, there was on the one hand fairly broad agreement around this policy, but on the other hand within that very sharp and even antagonistic differences existed. In this regard it is very relevant to recall Henry Kissinger’s description of negotiations with Zhou Enlai on the one hand, and on the other hand Mao’s indirect but very forceful political intervention in that process, insisting that the agreements be placed in the context of an overall presentation of the world situation and with the clear statement of fundamental differences.21 To summarize it, I think that Mao was in a certain kind of unity with the forces generally represented by Zhou Enlai around the policy of seeking a broad united front against Soviet social-imperialism, including with U.S. imperialism and those forces allied with and dependent on it. And Mao saw this as a long-range strategic orientation, not just a short-term, very immediate tactical maneuver to head off a danger—which was a very real danger—of Soviet attack on China in the early ’70s (as we know, the Soviets were actually making concrete plans to attack at least Chinese nuclear installations and maybe grab some of China in the north in the late ’60s and into the early ’70s). But I think the policy was not simply a short-term tactical maneuver to deal with that very real danger; it was a longer-term strategic orientation that for the next stage of things—and Mao was very clear, he saw them moving toward world war—it was the focus for the international movement and the form through which it should carry out the struggle. On the other hand, I think Mao sought to apply again what he had applied in the anti-Japanese united front and during the course of World War 2—the policy of independence and initiative within the united front. In other words, what Mao did break with and had to break with—or there would almost certainly have been no Chinese Revolution at all at that time—was the attempt on the part of the Comintern (and Stalin) to get the revolutionary forces in China and the Communist Party in particular to enter into a united front with Chiang Kai-shek and with Western imperialism, U.S. and British in particular, in a subordinate position, that is, to basically roll up their independent banner, give up their independent political and military stand and forces and become a subordinate part of the Kuomintang government and forces. This would have meant, in reality, to capitulate to the imperialism with which they were in a united front against Japan, as represented particularly by Chiang Kai-shek. This was in fact the policy that was pushed from the Soviet Union. Mao himself said as much in a number of places22 and it also can be pretty well established independently of that. I think there’s not much doubt of it. And Mao was prepared to wage the same struggle on these same terms, more or less, in the context of an anti-Soviet united front in the present historical period (not that it’s exactly a replica of the anti-Japanese war, but more or less on the same terms). Mao was prepared to and did wage such a struggle. I think this came out clearly in the negotiations with Kissinger and the Zhou Enlai stand on the one hand (which was more or less analogous to the line of capitulation to and subordination to U.S. imperialism during the anti-Japanese united front), and Mao’s approach on the other hand—once again fighting and refusing to do that, insisting that this is still imperialism, these are still forces that, in a long-term strategic sense, have to be overthrown and eliminated from the world and therefore even though we have to now enter into a certain alliance with them, we’re not going to subordinate ourselves to them. This, again, was a continuation on Mao’s part of the struggle that he had to wage and did wage in order for there to be a successful Chinese Revolution in the first place.
The whole battle in the ’70s, the whole struggle against the right-deviationist wind, against the forces more or less marshaled by Zhou Enlai and by Deng Xiaoping—even though there were sharp contradictions between them, they nevertheless sort of coalesced into one camp in opposition to revolution in the ’70s—this whole struggle cannot be separated from the international context and the question of international line and in particular from the battle that Mao was waging against capitulation within that broad policy of the united front against the Soviet Union. In other words, I think that a lot of the analogies that were made about capitulation—for example, some of the historical analogies about the struggle between the Legalists and the Confucianists in ancient China—apply both to the people who wanted to capitulate to the Soviet Union and to the people who wanted to capitulate to the West in the name of fighting the main enemy, that is the Soviet Union. Both tendencies were there. It’s clear to me that Mao and those with him were very much aware of and waged a fierce struggle around the question of capitulation, from either direction.
The irony involved in all this comes out if you remember the second visit of Nixon to China when he was no longer president, which was preceded and arranged by a visit of his daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower. At the end of 1975 she went to China and met with Mao, sort of paving the way for Nixon to come back. And then she went back to the U.S. and did an interview, it was with McCall’s magazine I think (I don’t know if everybody is familiar with that, but it’s sort of like one of these women’s fashion-type magazines), about her discussions with Chairman Mao and the thing that she kept coming back to was how he was all the time talking about class struggle, class struggle was everywhere and so on. He seemed completely preoccupied with this, with the class struggle. This is at the end of 1975. I think there you see concentrated, very sharply, the way in which Mao’s line and policy divided very sharply into two, in sort of an ironic way, because, on the one hand here he’s completely and correctly preoccupied with the class struggle even when talking to this personage and on the other hand he is talking to her about class struggle and it ends up in McCall’s magazine. The reason he’s talking to her is because this class struggle is taking place within a certain arena, it’s taking place within a certain framework of seeking a united front against the Soviet Union, which even brings you into an arrangement with U.S. imperialism and some of its spokesmen and leaders, whether in or out of office at the time. This encapsulates in a certain way the contradictory character of Mao’s approach and the particular way in which this divided sharply into two: the class struggle was being waged not just over the very sharp domestic issues, on whether or not to reverse the verdicts of the Cultural Revolution in the various spheres of society, but that class struggle also had a dimension relating to the question of capitulation to forces of imperialism, and the problem of revisionism was seen by the revolutionaries as intimately bound up with that question of capitulation. Yet this was all taking place in the context of seeking a broad anti-Soviet united front including the U.S. as well as other imperialist and reactionary forces. The line of Mao and his headquarters emphasized that if the revisionists came to power and if they were able to implement a revisionist line inside China, that would inevitably be part and parcel of, and would strengthen the basis for, capitulation to imperialism. Only by waging the class struggle against them and carrying forward on the gains that were made through the Cultural Revolution could the revolution continue in China itself, but also—and in an overall sense more important than that in the present situation—this was the only means that a line of capitulation to foreign imperialism could be prevented from winning out within the broad united front that was being entered into with one bloc of imperialists to go against the main enemy, the Soviet social-imperialists.
This was their approach, and I think again it divides very sharply into two. On the one hand as compared to the Zhou Enlai forces and the others who were (objectively and, many of them, subjectively) for capitulation to imperialism, this shows that Mao and the others were still maintaining a revolutionary orientation and seeking to prevent the destruction of the Chinese Revolution, were seeking to promote its continuing advance and to prevent capitulation to imperialism. But, on the other hand, although that was their general orientation and that was their attempt, ironically the line and policy which they were seeking to carry out worked against that very anti-revisionist, anti-capitulationist struggle that they were attempting to wage. In other words, to put it bluntly, they were waging it on the wrong grounds and on the wrong terms. That is not to say that had they waged it on better grounds and better terms they would have necessarily won. I think that is both a pragmatic viewpoint and also one which goes along with a nationalist orientation of thinking that these questions are mainly conditioned and determined within the country of China and not in terms of what’s happening in the world as a whole. It’s possible that they could have won, and it’s certainly true that had they had a better understanding of how the struggle in China fit into the overall world struggle and handled that contradiction more correctly, this would have strengthened them considerably. It would have strengthened them considerably and perhaps it could have made the difference in whether they won or lost, but it’s also very probable that it would not have and that the uphill battle being waged by the revolutionary forces would have been lost in the short run anyway, because there was a tremendous battle both in terms of conditions in China itself and in the world to keep going on the socialist road inside China. Neither victory nor defeat was inevitable, but I think that a certain conjuncture of forces that came together at that time—not in the same concentrated sort of way as is now occurring, but in a certain, more limited way in the early ’70s—made it very difficult to carry forward a revolutionary line inside China. It goes back to the point I stressed in another presentation: even when you’re in power you don’t always have the broad masses with you politically, if you’re maintaining a revolutionary line.
This raises a very important point: among the Marxist-Leninist forces that did arise in relationship to China and were specifically inspired by the Cultural Revolution and the broad dissemination of Mao Tsetung Thought and so on, a real dividing line has been whether or not people upheld the so-called “Gang of Four” (of course two of these four have now capitulated but the role of the Four as a leading core in the struggles against Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, et al., must still be upheld). Because those groups that did not uphold them and adopted instead this line of “well, they lost therefore they must have been wrong,” or “the main reason they lost must have been their mistakes,” and so on, those forces have degenerated and have either disappeared from the scene or should have. This is an important question in its own right, and even in one sense it’s sort of an aside to the main point here which is that Mao and his comrades, beyond what mistakes they may have made, were waging the struggle under conditions which were objectively very difficult because even when you’re in power you don’t always have the masses, specifically the majority of the masses, with you politically. Now it is true that when you’re in power, a certain force of tradition and of going along with the status quo on the part of broad masses may pass over to you, so to speak. In other words, where the masses before would more or less go along with who was in authority and would repeat what was acceptable, to the benefit of the bourgeoisie, there are certain ways in which, when the proletarian forces and Marxist-Leninists are in power and leadership, some of that passes over to them. Whatever the prevailing norms and winds are, there’s a large section of the masses, who even—or especially, rather—in periods when there is not a revolutionary upsurge, will go along with that, will accept it; it’s sort of the daily routine and people who are not advanced are not the ones to lead struggles against the daily routine, by definition. It is a very important point to sum up that this “going along” is not the same thing as supporting the revolution. If revolutionaries are in leadership, or in power, and people follow them, it’s very dangerous to think that this is the same thing as people following you on a revolutionary basis. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the Four (or Mao, of course). I think that they (and Mao even more) were pretty aware of this phenomenon, but it’s an important thing to sum up more broadly and more deeply.
Let’s just put it bluntly. I think what occurred, what happened in China and to the masses who were part of the upsurge there in the late ’60s, is not that much different and is not separated from what happened in the world as a whole. There was a certain kind of upsurge which was centered in the national liberation struggles in the “third world,” a certain kind of revolutionary upsurge, and a certain kind of expectation of which, for example, Long Live the Victory of People’s War23 is an expression—the kind of expectation that accompanied that upsurge, namely that these struggles would batter and weaken and perhaps even destroy U.S. imperialism (consume it in the fire of these struggles and tear it apart piece by piece and other lively imagery that was used). That was sort of the expectation, whether spoken or unspoken at the time, that this wave of struggle would engulf and perhaps even destroy U.S. imperialism and there was the vague notion, consciously or unconsciously, that this would be the end of imperialism, or at least that the struggle would continue to advance wave upon wave, to use the slogan that was popular at the time. This did not happen for a number of reasons which have to do again with the process—the motion through contradiction—of the fundamental contradiction underlying this process on a world scale and the various particular contradictions and their expression and their interrelationship at that stage. To be more concrete, there was a shift in the position, role, and actions of the Soviet Union, of the U.S., and of other forces in the world from the late ’60s into the ’70s, and particularly by the mid-’70s. And just as many people were demoralized, disappointed, disoriented and many fell away in large parts of the world—and we’re all familiar with that phenomenon—I think without question the same thing occurred within China itself.
To put it another way, if you were a worker or peasant in China, when there’s an upsurge in China, the Cultural Revolution, and when the Vietnamese people are waging a heroic struggle against U.S. imperialism against all odds and when there is an upsurge of national liberation struggles in many parts of the world, maybe you’ll much more readily say, you know, “who gives a fuck about all these consumer goods, I’ll go without this and that because I want to be part of the world revolution; I’ll work an extra two hours to supply rice or ammunition or whatever for Vietnam,” and so on. Not only the more or less hardcore of advanced forces, but much broader masses took this kind of stand—again there were some who went along with the tide, but there were much broader masses genuinely swept up into that kind of upsurge. But then when you enter the early ’70s and the Soviets are clearly gaining the upper hand in terms of their influence within the Vietnamese party and the leadership of the struggle there, when there are growing setbacks, disappointments, and defeats and shifts in many of the struggles in other parts of the world, when the Soviet Union shifts its position and a lot of its tactics, when the U.S. pulls back and regroups and so on, then as part of all that it becomes clear that this upsurge in the world and including within China can’t go straight forward. And then there’s a lot stronger basis for the line the revisionists put out in China, that we’ve got to bend everything toward defending ourselves against the Soviet Union, we’ve got to get modernized, etc., etc. Even the crudest expressions of this line, of holding up a lot of the material benefits that exist in the West, now has more allure and attraction for a lot of the forces who are not the most advanced but who were genuinely swept up in the revolutionary upsurge. Maybe conditions were a lot more favorable to be a self-sacrificing revolutionary internationalist in the late ’60s and into the early ’70s than by the time of the mid-’70s. We’ve all witnessed and experienced this phenomenon and even felt this pull in our own experience. And it’s not that much different just because the proletariat holds state power, if we understand how contradictory and complex that phenomenon is—the proletariat holding state power and the economy being socialist is full of, and is conditioned by, great contradiction.
So, that’s by way of saying two things: had the revolutionaries fought on a better terrain and had a more correct understanding of some of these questions, they would not necessarily have won anyway—they wouldn’t necessarily have lost but they would not necessarily have won these last major battles, or the ones that proved to be the last battles in this round in China; and second, even in order to carry out a more correct line in China would have been extremely difficult. It wouldn’t have been as easy as just sitting around a table and formulating the correct line, though by that I’m not saying the efforts to sit around a table and struggle out a correct line are unimportant. Quite the contrary. They are extremely important. But there’s also the material world these lines have to be carried out in and there’s real social classes and social forces and social bases for different lines. And to win out with an internationalist line that had an essentially correct understanding and programme and policy on the relationship between defending China and advancing the world revolution would not have been easy. Now that’s no reason not to fight for such a line, because as Lenin said, since when did Marxist-Leninists ever base their policies and their principles on whether or not it’s easy to implement them, and on whether or not they have large or small numbers at any given time.24 In fact, from a strategic standpoint, and even in more immediate terms, the movement internationally would be further advanced had such a correct line been formulated and fought for—a position that said in essence, “look, we’re not going to have a united front with one group of imperialists against another (even a united front where we keep in mind that they are still imperialists and where we fight against capitulation); instead, we’re going to seek another way of dealing with the situation and even if, because of our own situation, we enter into certain limited agreements and arrangements with some imperialists and reactionary states, we are not going to make that a strategy for the international proletariat.”
From my point of view, I don’t really think it’s necessarily wrong to enter into such agreements and arrangements as such, but that really should not be imposed on the international movement as a strategy; besides, I don’t see why it’s necessary to have Haile Selassie and Marcos and all the other assorted pimps and puppets run over to China. I mean if you have the master, you don’t need all the puppets. Even from the point of view of China’s relations and arrangements, if you want to deal with the U.S. bloc, just have the U.S. bloc over there and a few other imperialists; you don’t have to parade a lackey-a-week before the people, which is more or less what was happening. But here’s the more basic problem: if we have a contradiction between defending and advancing what we’ve got—speaking from the point of view of the international proletariat—and really trying to do that in the best way possible, while at the same time subordinating that in an overall sense to advancing the world revolution as a whole, how can it be (and this has generally been the tendency) that everybody else in the world has to adjust and make sacrifices and compromises—I’m not talking about sacrifices that are involved in the struggle, I’m talking about compromises and adjustments in line—and yet the socialist state doesn’t make compromises and adjustments that might limit its defense capabilities but would be better for the world movement as a whole? In other words, why should it be that China enters into all these agreements and arrangements and then basically calls on Marxist-Leninists all over the world to adjust their tactics and policy and strategy accordingly? Why shouldn’t it be the case that China as a socialist state, even if it has to enter into certain agreements, arrangements, etc., with certain imperialists and reactionary states for the needs of its own defense, should consciously restrict and subordinate those to the interests of advancing the world revolution and take more risks than it would if it only considered its own defense, in order not to compromise the fundamental principles and the concrete opportunities for the advance of the world revolution? Now that’s very difficult to do. It’s much harder to do than to say. But it’s got to be the guiding principle.
Unfortunately, in the experience of the Soviet Union and again even in the experience of China, that is not the way that question was approached, even by the people with the revolutionary line, with the best line and in an overall sense a correct line. Instead they fell—or were pulled by circumstances and social classes and forces and their influences—into, or toward, a line that said, in essence, that everybody else had to do the bending. Now, of course, if there is a contradiction and you are going to try to handle it correctly, there is going to be a certain amount of bending both ways, but the main bending should be done by the socialist state, because it is after all a subordinate part of the overall world revolution. And if that meant that, for example, in the short run China had to lose, or risk losing, a part of its territory in order not to disorient the whole international movement, then it should do that. Not because we should take this lightly—“who cares?”—but precisely because you’re looking toward one of these conjunctures sharpening up in the world and heightening and bringing together these contradictions. Mao and the revolutionaries clearly saw that coming; it’s not that they didn’t recognize that in a general sense. But then you also have to recognize that it’s precisely in those circumstances that revolutionary opportunities are heightened, that revolutionary possibilities are facilitated and that revolutionary situations may suddenly emerge, including where it may not have appeared possible previously. Certainly no one in 1911 would have predicted the Russian Revolution—despite 1905, no one would have predicted the Russian Revolution—of February, let alone October 1917.
To take a more recent example, no one in 1975 would have predicted the revolution in Iran in 1978-79. Now it’s possible, looking back, to see what were the particular contradictions that underlay that development and how they sharpened and led up to that revolution—it’s not mysterious. Yet these things are not always evident very far in advance. But precisely with this in mind, suppose that China had not carried out the policy it did, suppose instead the line that was fought for and that won out there was essentially of the kind we’re talking about, of making certain agreements and arrangements but keeping that subordinate to the overall advance of the world movement, not making it an international line and policy and in fact even curbing and restricting the degree to which these arrangements were made in order not to compromise and in fact to further the preparation for, as Lenin said, really great, really revolutionary days. Suppose that had been the policy, so that instead of wining and dining with the Shah and everything else—and then ending up with the revisionist coup de grace, Hua Guofeng’s hopping into helicopters with the Shah a couple of months before he was overthrown (and it was Hua’s just deserts to be able to and to have to play that role)—what if instead a more correct line had been fought for and perhaps had triumphed in China, specifically a more correct line on the international situation, and then something like the Iranian revolution had occurred. Think of where the proletarian forces inside Iran would be. Not that they should depend on China for their strength, but they certainly would have been strengthened. Instead, they were severely weakened by the line China carried out. Because China didn’t just have certain agreements with the Shah: unfortunately they translated and broadcast in Farsi lots of lavish praise of the Shah and his “progressive programs.” These are objective facts.
It’s also a fact that the Soviet revisionists and their followers, who were responsible for setting up the masses for massacre in Chile, come out smelling like a rose, whereas all the Maoist forces in the world have had to bear the burden of what China did in relation to Chile. Now that’s partly because of bourgeois machinations on the part of the pro-Soviet forces—and because the Soviet Union remains a world power that can exert great influence on that basis—but it’s also true that if there had been a clear line in opposition to the Soviet revisionist pole, and specifically if China had not been into having a united front with all the Pinochets, all the Shahs and U.S. imperialism on top of it all, if the revolutionary forces had fought for the kind of line we’ve been talking about, then a much better revolutionary legacy would have been left, not just in Chile (or Iran) but internationally, even if the revolutionary forces in China had still been defeated. It was very inspiring what happened in the trial of the Four—as far as the two who remained firm in their revolutionary stand are concerned (Chiang Ching and Chang Chun-chiao)—it was very inspiring and it was a great assistance to the revolutionary movement internationally, but it would have been even greater assistance still if these line questions we’ve been focusing on had been fought out more correctly from the side of the revolutionaries.
Essentially the problem with the line they did adopt is that you cannot take the experience and the policy of the Chinese Revolution, in one phase of it—that is in the new-democratic phase and in particular a sub-phase of that, the anti-Japanese war—and more or less directly extend that on a world scale, in present conditions, so that China’s role is made analogous to the communist forces and their base areas in the anti-Japanese war, the Western imperialists are substituted for Chiang Kai-shek and the Soviet Union for Japan. Now a fundamental reason you can’t do that is precisely that one country is a subordinate part of the overall process going on in the world as a whole. What may be, at least in the main and overwhelmingly, correct in one particular country, if elevated to the level of a world policy, becomes wrong. It doesn’t automatically become wrong, but it may be wrong, and in this case was wrong.
For example, during the anti-Japanese united front, Mao was very clear and said so clearly, that when the communists united with Chiang Kai-shek they were ultimately uniting with, or having a certain kind of alliance with, Western imperialist powers—in particular he mentioned Britain and the U.S., on whom Chiang Kai-shek was dependent. He even made the point that Chiang Kai-shek wouldn’t break up the united front unless British and U.S. imperialism told him to because he was their lackey.25 So it isn’t that he was either unclear about or hid the fact that, in making this distinction and forming a certain kind of united front, it was a question of making distinctions among the imperialists. In an article of Mao’s I want to discuss a little bit, “On Policy,” he said it was necessary to make a distinction between Japanese imperialism and its allies on the one hand and British and U.S. imperialism on the other; and between the British and U.S. imperialism of today and the British imperialism of the past when they favored a “Munich policy in the Far East” and so on and so forth.26 So he openly advocated making such distinctions. Now, in terms of the struggle in China, okay. As a tactical orientation and even a basis for a united front policy for a certain stage this was correct—not just because in a narrow and pragmatic sense they won so they must have been right, but this did in fact lead to the overall advance of the Chinese Revolution and the strengthening of the Marxist-Leninist forces, not to their weakening. It constituted, as Mao put it once, preparation for the final victory of the Chinese Revolution, because that was mainly handled correctly, and it was not an incorrect policy to make those kinds of distinctions, if you were looking at the situation and the struggle in China itself at that point and figuring out how to make certain policies and tactics for that. But even at that very time (the ’30s and ’40s), if you were to expand that onto a world scale and say the international proletariat should make distinctions among the imperialists, that is, ally with some to oppose the others, that would have been an incorrect line for the international communist movement (as was the case with the overall antifascist united front line in relation to World War 2). Even if that kind of approach was correct for the struggle in China, it represents an incorrect line if it is expanded and extended onto a world scale and made the guiding line and policy, the orientation, for the international proletariat.
In India, for example, it might have been correct to single out British imperialism at that very same time as Japan was singled out in China; in India it might well have been correct to focus on British imperialism and even make certain tactical adjustments and arrangements with forces that might have been more favorable to Japanese imperialism. But, you see, that was not allowed. If you tried to do that, even in Latin America in World War 2—in Latin America(!)—if you focused on U.S. imperialism as the main enemy, you were a Nazi, a profascist and so on. I mean that’s how bad it got. But as soon as you have said that in China they could single out Japan, while maybe in India they should single out the other side (British imperialism and its allies) right away you’ve broken out of the frame of reference of saying that the whole world struggle should single out one enemy, and you’ve made it much more what it should be, that within the different countries you can make certain tactical adjustments and maneuvers and shifts, but you can’t make those the basis of a world policy by mechanical or direct extension.
This leads us back to the more general question of what should be the overall orientation for the international proletariat. I think in general our orientation should be more or less what I read earlier from Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism. I’ll come back to this in concluding, but in general the content of what we should be about is to seek a world front of revolutionary struggle against imperialism consisting of, in a basic sense, the unity between the proletarian revolutionary forces in the advanced countries and the revolutionary national liberation struggles against imperialism (as the first stage but a stage that cannot be skipped) in the colonial and dependent countries. That is the basic strategic orientation that should guide our overall approach. It should be a front against imperialism and the imperialist system. However, it has been argued, and used for incorrect purposes—it is a truth that has been misused—that there are particularities to the struggle at any given time and it’s necessary also to take those into account in formulating more concrete policies. The problem, as I just alluded to, is that this has generally been made the basis for saying that we should single out one imperialist bloc or the other, because at the concrete stage it is more dangerous or more of an enemy than the other.
Here I want to return to that essay of Mao’s, “On Policy,” because while, again, the orientation and policy set forward there in 1940 were important and generally correct for China, an attempt to extend that onto a world scale as an international strategy would not necessarily be correct at all. I remember in Peking Review, for example, I think in 1972, there was an article entitled something like “On Studying Chairman Mao’s ‘On Policy’”; what was very clearly being put forward was that we’re going to apply this line to the world struggle now. And that’s where it began to turn into its opposite and where certain things which were correct in the circumstances where Mao wrote them were beginning to be projected as general guidelines for the international movement. In fact they are even sort of set forward in that way in “On Policy,” but that becomes much more of a problem and was more fully developed in this whole period of working for an anti-Soviet united front in the 1970s. In this regard the formulation that I think should be specifically referred to is what Mao calls “the same principle” that guides all their tactics: “to make use of contradictions, win over the many, oppose the few, and crush our enemies one by one.”27 Again, as for how they approached the united front against Japan in particular in the stage of struggle then, this was not wrong and in fact it was important and guided the advance of the revolution through and beyond that stage; but to make a general principle out of this I don’t think is correct.
For example, let’s take the principle that’s at the heart of this: making use of contradictions and defeating your enemies one by one. Well it seems to me that the way that that has to be correctly understood is that’s a policy dictated by necessity. Even where it’s correct, it’s something that’s dictated by necessity and by the actual (this is a phrase that has a revisionist application but also can have a correct one), the actual relationship of forces at the given time, if that’s understood in terms of its motion and development and not as something fixed and frozen. If because of the relationship of forces at a given moment you face the necessity of making use of contradictions among your enemies in order to defeat them one by one, okay, that may be quite correct. But if that’s made a general principle, then it automatically becomes an argument, for example, against Lenin’s approach to World War 1. Lenin repeatedly insisted—and it sort of almost sounds like he’s mocking the misapplication of this one-by-one principle—that he refused to answer whether the victory of this or that imperialist bloc in this present war is better for the international proletariat; we can only say that they are both worse.28 Now you see, that sounds like Lenin is being completely undialectical. It almost sounds like he’s mocking this very approach of making a principle out of the approach of defeating your enemies one by one—or more specifically the attempt to apply this as a strategy on a world scale. In World War 1, for the international proletariat as a whole, it was most definitely not correct to single out one enemy and try to direct all the efforts toward defeating that enemy and then deal with the next enemy down the road and so on; instead, depending on exactly where you find yourself, you should direct your spearhead mainly against the immediate ruling class, but internationally you should work for the defeat and overthrow of all imperialism and reaction—that was the line Lenin fought for and implemented. In other words, Lenin was very clear that internationalism meant that the proletariat in Russia sought to take advantage of the war and the weakening of the ruling class there to overthrow Russian imperialism and the Russian bourgeoisie, and at the same time the proletariat in Germany should be led to do the same with the German bourgeoisie, the English proletariat with the English bourgeoisie and so on, rather than all of them singling out one imperialist power (or bloc) and directing all their efforts against it.
I think that not only was Lenin’s approach correct as a specific policy in relation to World War 1 but it is correct as a general strategic orientation for the international proletariat. Now Lenin certainly didn’t ignore tactical considerations within that. For example, he thought it was quite correct for the Irish to take advantage of the weakening of England to fight mainly against England, even to make certain deals with or purchases from Germany and so on, involving munitions, etc. He didn’t criticize that at all. He thought it was correct for them to do that. However, if they had made a principle out of it and said because of the needs of Ireland everybody should unite against England, well then Lenin would have thought that had gone too far, had turned things into their opposites—and he would have been correct. Similarly, Lenin himself wasn’t called a German agent for absolutely no reason. I mean he did make certain arrangements with Germany about how to get back into Russia and so on and so forth. He was not a German agent but he did know how to make use of contradictions. The point is he did not develop that into a whole line, strategy and policy of singling out and defeating our enemies one by one on an international scale. Precisely the earlier example I gave of a policy of fighting mainly Japan in China while next door in India fighting mainly against British imperialism, this, to me, begins to indicate the more correct approach. It begins to show that it’s not correct as any kind of strategic principle, especially on a world level, to single out one enemy and defeat it, and then move on to the next one.
I put it another time in terms of street fighting, like if you come upon a situation where you are confronted by five people who are ready to jump on you, and you make an assessment and say I can’t deal with all five of these so I better make use of some contradictions here and single out one or two and deal with them and try to neutralize the others or even get them on my side temporarily, well maybe you have to do that. But it might be possible to sum up the situation and say, now look, I can deal with all five of them right now, and there’s nothing good about any of them, so I’m just going to wipe them out and so much the better for everybody else as well as myself. Now it’s possible that the situation could present itself one way or the other, and in one case one policy would be correct and in the other case another policy would be correct. In fact that did in a certain way happen in the Chinese Revolution where at different times they did single out one imperialist bloc. For example, after World War 2 they mainly fought U.S. imperialism but that did not involve entering into an alliance with other imperialists because the basis for that didn’t really exist. Because of the character of the U.S. bloc at that time it wasn’t even realistic. The point is that this is a question of necessity and freedom, and the dialectical relationship between them. It is not a question of an overall principle or policy that you have to defeat your enemies one by one. If, for example, the socialist camp had really been consolidated and strengthened and developed as a socialist camp in the 1950s and after, I think analysis would show that it was very likely that the imperialists would have launched a war against that socialist camp sometime probably in the 1960s. They would have very likely had the necessity to do that. Well, maybe it would have been correct for that socialist camp to try to split the imperialists, and maybe it would have been better to say, “okay, ‘Tis the final conflict,’ and let’s get it on,” you know. “You want to attack the socialist camp, good—it’s about time we had this showdown and when this is through there won’t be much of imperialism left in the world.” I’m not willing to say that the latter would not have been the more correct policy. It would depend on an analysis of the situation. But certainly you can’t say it’s a principle that, faced with that situation, a socialist camp, if it’s proceeding from the interests of the international proletariat, should definitely divide the enemy camp and fight its enemies one by one.
Now to move to the present situation, I think that as an overall principle there is this question of the world front of revolutionary struggle made up of two basic streams. In other words, the world revolutionary struggle is not uniform. It is not everywhere in the world the proletariat fighting against the bourgeoisie, or even, as I just suggested, the masses of people fighting the same imperialism or the same bourgeoisie everywhere in the world. There are different conditions in different countries, different particularities, different tactical necessity; this applies not only in different countries but in different stages within countries as well. But there are at the same time two main streams of the world revolutionary movement in this era: the proletarian-socialist revolution in the advanced countries and the anti-imperialist democratic (or new-democratic) struggle in the colonial and the dependent countries. This latter, new-democratic, struggle, again, has its own particularities in different countries but overall forms a general stream of the world revolutionary movement—and where the proletariat is able, because of the conditions in the particular country and internationally, to win leadership (which is not guaranteed but is a possibility), the struggle becomes not only a general part of the world revolutionary movement against imperialism but is able to advance to socialism in the given country. So in an overall sense this anti-imperialist struggle in the colonial countries is part of the general world front of revolutionary struggle against imperialism, and further, where the proletariat is, able to win leadership it is able to carry it forward to the socialist stage and it becomes more directly and immediately part of the proletarian-socialist revolution in the world.
Now that’s our general, overall orientation. What should be our particular orientation to the international struggle, what should be our strategic and tactical approach in the present situation concretely? This has to be viewed in terms of its opposite, that is, in terms of incorrect notions of what it should be. Before addressing that directly, I think it’s important to discuss, and criticize, the idea that our strategic orientation should be a united front not against the Soviet Union alone (or the U.S. alone) but against the two superpowers. This is a line that is raised by various forces, including Marxist-Leninists who are strongly opposed to both Soviet and Chinese revisionism and their schemes for lining up forces with the one or the other imperialist superpower. More specifically, this united front against the two superpowers line is often put forward as the correct application of Mao’s policies and principles today, in opposition to the Chinese revisionist “three worlds theory.” It is argued that what’s wrong with the “three worlds theory” is that it does seek to ally with one bloc of imperialists against another and that what we need instead is a united front against both superpowers. This line agrees that all the imperialists are the same in nature, but points out the role that they play in the world today is not the same and argues that therefore we should seek to divide the two superpowers off and target them as the main focus of our struggle. And it’s true that in the world today, even in relationship to the two imperialist blocs, the role played by all the imperialists is not equal. In particular, there is a qualitatively different role—not a qualitatively different nature, but a qualitatively different role—played in practice by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as compared with the other imperialist states, in relationship to world events and in relationship to their respective blocs. However, when the attempt is made on that basis to say that we should single the U.S. and the Soviet Union out and make them the object of a united front of struggle worldwide, it seems to me that two things happen there that indicate that this is incorrect.
One, the logic of that position will lead you first of all toward saying that the other imperialists are not really enemies. Otherwise, there’s not real practical and concrete meaning to saying that you should single out these two superpowers as the main enemies and as the main target of the struggle. Because if you’re going to try to build a united front against the two superpowers, then why not unite forces as broadly as possible? And if you’re going to single out the two superpowers, if you’re going to try to apply the method that Mao applied—well, he did unite with people that he certainly recognized were reactionary in nature, such as Chiang Kai-shek and U.S. and British imperialism, on the basis precisely of singling out Japanese imperialism as the main enemy. Again, I don’t think he was wrong in that situation, but there’s a certain logic and a certain consistency to such an approach and, in the world situation today, once you’ve said that the two superpowers are the main enemies, then to maintain that consistency you should seek to unite with the lesser imperialists, at least seek the kind of limited unity as Mao had with Chiang Kai-shek against Japan. The Chinese communists didn’t really concretely unite very much with Chiang Kai-shek; in fact, they fought him a lot of the time, but the united front against Japan policy meant that they no longer sought to overthrow him and they sought to avoid antagonistic confrontations with Chiang Kai-shek’s forces. Even when he initiated or provoked such confrontations, they tried to stop it and keep it from developing further. So the analogy there to me would be that as part of directing the largest number of forces against the two superpowers you would actually hold back and not try to develop the struggle toward overthrowing lesser imperialists and reactionary forces in the world in order not to break up the broadest possible unity against the two superpowers. Here I think it can be seen how this approach is wrong and how in all the lesser capitalist and imperialist countries it would lead you into a social-chauvinist stand sooner or later—a stand of uniting with the bourgeoisie. It would play right into the hands of the bourgeoisies of Europe, for example, who are precisely portraying their own need, their own need to go to war to redivide the world as something being imposed on them by the actions of the two superpowers—willingly or unwillingly, you would play right into their hands and strengthen social chauvinism, and chauvinism without its socialist cover.
Secondly, it seems to me the very logic of this united front against the two superpowers line would sooner or later lead you to singling out only one of the superpowers as the main enemy. Because once you are going to start saying let’s divide the enemy, then why stop with just singling out the two superpowers? The law of contradiction tells you that those two superpowers are in contradiction and they can’t be absolutely even either, therefore you should single out one or the other as the main enemy—this logic will lead right back to the same position that you started out saying you disagreed with, if you take this sort of road. Lenin, I believe, is more in line with materialist dialectics when he says that from the point of view of the international proletariat we say the victory of either side is worse, and that both imperialist coalitions are worse. In other words there is nothing to choose between the imperialist blocs and there is in fact—not only as a general abstract principle but in today’s concrete reality—no basis and no correctness to seeking to put to the side, to neutralize or to lessen the struggle against any of the imperialist states or any of the reactionary forces dependent on them. Now that doesn’t mean that in a particular country you might not direct the struggle more against one or the other imperialist, or even make use of certain contradictions, as has been done. But it means on a world scale and as an overall strategy for the international proletariat the enemy remains imperialism and reactionary forces dependent on it and not just a couple of the imperialists, despite the fact that today the two superpowers do actually play a different role than the other imperialists; that fact is something to be taken into account tactically but it should not result in their being singled out as the main target and enemy of the revolution.
Sometimes in arguing for this kind of line it is said, yes, but look, the bourgeoisie seeks to divide the proletariat, why should the proletariat not seek to divide the bourgeoisie? Why should we not seek to divide and thereby weaken the enemy? It seems to me that there are two things that can be said about this, and they relate to the same basic point. First of all, there is no such thing as THE bourgeoisie, in the sense implied in that kind of argument. Especially if you’re talking about the world as a whole, that’s a very mistaken and metaphysical and idealist notion, that there’s such a thing as THE bourgeoisie. That’s a basic point which is revealed precisely by Marxist-Leninist political economy and also in particular by the whole understanding of the compelling force of anarchy in capitalist accumulation. And particularly if you’re talking about the international level, there is no such thing as THE bourgeoisie which has one unified headquarters and one unified interest, otherwise how would you understand why they would go to world war against each other? It would make no sense or would make it a question of Kautskyite analysis, of mistaken policies or subjectivity on the part of the imperialists rather than the compelling force of anarchy and its particular expression in terms of the contradiction between nationally-founded capital which, however, can only accumulate internationally and therefore comes into contradiction, even antagonism, with other nationally-founded capitals, especially in the era of imperialism. Different groups and blocs and in particular different states of national capital, of finance capital, repeatedly come into violent collision with each other, needing to go to war to redivide the world. So there is no such thing as THE bourgeoisie which seeks in a unified way to carry out policies. That doesn’t mean that one group of imperialists never comes to the support of the other or that all (or virtually all of the imperialists never unite together against the proletariat—they did in the Russian Revolution, at certain particular times, but if it was always possible for them to do that then there could have been no Russian Revolution in the first place. One of the main reasons cited by Lenin, and also Stalin, why they could make a break through the imperialist front in Russia was precisely because the imperialists were so divided and couldn’t all unite to try to crush the Russian Revolution until it was too little too late at the end of World War 1.
That gets us to a second point—which is, if you want to talk about dividing the bourgeoisie, we could hardly ask for them to be more divided than they are right now on an international plane. I mean they are lining up in two blocs to go to war with each other which, while it does involve very real horrors—even the preparations for such a war and certainly the actuality of it involve real horrors—would also bring closer, if not bring about entirely at least bring closer, a horrible end to this system and the beginning of a whole new era, as Lenin once put it. It would certainly further that if the opportunities were seized on. It wouldn’t by itself do it, but it would heighten the opportunities for that. Further, as far as dividing the bourgeoisie, the proletariat doesn’t have the freedom in any significant way to do that. It can, where it holds state power, by certain tactical measures and maneuvers increase certain divisions, make use of and perhaps deepen certain divisions that do exist among the imperialists, that is a fact. However, the main error in the international communist movement in relation to this has been to overestimate and exaggerate the degree to which that can be done and to fall into serious errors on the basis of that.
For example, a line put out repeatedly in relation to World War 2—and it goes along with this line that there was a socialist country that could lead the antifascist united front—is the notion that if there hadn’t been the weight of the Soviet Union and the mass pressure that was rallied by the forces supporting the Soviet Union, somehow U.S. imperialism and British imperialism wouldn’t have really gone at it with German and Japanese imperialism, that the masses in the Soviet Union and those supporting it had to push these imperialists to really wage a war. Well, to a very limited and secondary degree such efforts may have some influence. But fundamentally it’s not really necessary for the proletariat to tell the imperialists what their interests are and try to get them to fight for their own interests. Not just in principle or abstractly but very concretely in World War 2 the imperialists were compelled to go to war with each other; they also, it’s true, adopted certain specific tactics as to how they wanted to go about that. A socialist country and a strong international movement may be able to affect some of that in a secondary way, tactically, and that may be important in certain aspects, but to think that in any basic way or as a principal aspect of things you can affect the way in which the relations among the imperialists find expression is a very serious error and leads you in the direction of becoming a tail upon the bourgeoisie. In other words, U.S. imperialism fought Japanese imperialism the way it did in World War 2 largely because of the conflict of objective imperialist interests. Tactical considerations, military strategy, all of that—diplomacy, politics—all of it entered into it, nothing was preordained, but objective, and ultimately economic, interests were much more fundamental as a driving force than anything done in the diplomatic arena or on the international scale tactically by the Soviet Union and the Communist International.
So really the divisions among the bourgeoisie are much more caused by the basic nature of the capitalist system itself and particularly the compelling force of anarchy and the expressions that assumes in the era of imperialism. And at the present time, very concretely, they are very sharply divided. This stands out in opposition, for example, to fifteen or twenty years ago (which is where Enver Hoxha wants to put us back to) when, if you want to take the relationship between the U.S. and its bloc and the Soviet Union and its bloc (in say, the early ’60s), the main thing about them was that they were united, even while they were divided and contending, they were united in opposition to revolution and in opposition to the oppressed masses and their struggles in the world. To put it another way, collusion was principal over contention between them. That was true at that point, even though there were differences between them, even though there was contention, even though they were seeking spheres of influence in opposition to each other. But today, the opposite is the case. Contention is clearly principal over collusion and the principal aspect of the relationship between the U.S. and its bloc on the one side and the Soviet Union and its bloc on the other is not the ways in which here and there they come into unity in opposition to revolutionary struggles and the masses, but the ways in which they are clashing and in fact moving toward an all-out confrontation with each other. And this in fact provides a very favorable potential. It heightens and is a part of—or certainly can be turned into—an advantage for the proletarian revolution if it’s recognized and seized on. It’s not accidental, as I said, that the Russian Revolution occurred in the context that it did—specifically antagonistic divisions among the imperialists, world war. Lenin and Stalin both insisted on that. Had the imperialists not been at war with each other, had they been in a position to all gang up on the Russian Revolution, they could almost certainly have strangled it in the cradle so to speak. By the time they got around to trying to do something, it was too little too late at that point and they weren’t able to prevent its consolidation, though they tried to a certain degree. So I think that arguments of this kind, which base a whole policy orientation on the notion of dividing an already divided international bourgeoisie, do not correctly grasp reality. They are not based thoroughly enough on, and in serious ways depart from, materialist dialectics and a real understanding of what the real driving and motive forces are and what in fact their concrete expression is and what the actual possibilities and potential are in the present situation.
And I think that in opposition to this, the correct strategy that we should adopt is one which is founded first of all on the overall understanding of what the two main streams of the revolutionary movement are and what the common enemy is on a world scale, which is the imperialist system and finance capital. In other words, to focus on a crucial point and dividing line: all countries in the world, as a general phenomenon, are dominated by finance capital, but there’s a handful of countries (and their bourgeoisies) that control it and a majority of countries where the bourgeoisie there (or you could say the country as such) does not control it. Another way of putting this is that in the world today there’s ultimately only two forces that can rule and shape society. It’s either going to be finance capital or it’s going to be the proletariat in power advancing the revolution and building and developing it as a base area for the world revolution. Now that’s ultimately or in the final analysis—it’s important to understand that phrase “in the final analysis,” because that does not mean that the immediate stage of struggle in most parts of the world is immediately a struggle for socialist revolution. Because precisely the domination of finance capital in most of the countries where it’s not locally controlled reinforces and accentuates the kind of backwardness and disarticulation that is characteristic in the “third world” and makes both necessary and possible the waging of an anti-imperialist struggle with a democratic element too—generally an anti-feudal, but in any case a significant democratic aspect—which constitutes the first stage in general of that revolution and prepares, and is a necessary preparation for, the socialist stage as the sequel. Nevertheless these are two more or less (because nothing is absolute, but two more or less) distinct stages.
It’s important to say that this is not absolute because, again, the international arena and the development of the contradictions on a world scale are more determining in a given country than what exists in that country by itself. If Germany had had a successful proletarian revolution at the same time as the October Revolution in Russia, the whole approach to the peasantry in Russia would have been different. Not that they should have then adopted Trotsky’s policies, and said “okay now we can shoot all the peasantry” or whatever—that is, declare it all in the enemy camp—but they would have been able to deal with the peasantry differently. They might have been able to move faster to collectivize and in the process of collectivizing agriculture they’d have had a stronger material base to do that in a way that wouldn’t drive the peasantry into opposition; there’s a certain amount of speculation but I think there’s also a certain reality there. Or if, for example, at the time socialist China was facing imperialist encirclement from both directions (both blocs) there had been a successful revolution in Iran and/or say perhaps even in one of the less powerful imperialist countries, that would certainly have had a significant effect on the class struggle and on policy on every level inside China. So you can say that there is an overall character to the world revolution in which there are two different types of revolution in the two different types of countries—those where finance capital is locally controlled, if you will, and those where it’s not, and correspondingly, those where the immediate stage is proletarian-socialist revolution and those where there needs to be and can be a broader united front of anti-imperialist and democratic struggle as a preparation for the socialist sequel. That is a general phenomenon and a general principle that we have to grasp and apply, but at the same time it should not be treated absolutely because there is interpenetration between different situations and struggles and also it is the development of things on a world scale that is the most decisive thing in determining all this.
Well, with all that in mind and looking at the concrete developments of today, at the actual situation and the alignment of forces, it seems to me that there are certain tactical considerations that are important. One of them is the fact that you do have a particular role played by these two major imperialist powers, these two superpowers which do, in the role they play, stand out in some ways differently than the other imperialist powers. Now, it’s important to underline that these other imperialists out of their own necessity and precisely out of their actual relationships are driven toward war to redivide the world. For example, let’s take the Western imperialists, with their actual relationship with the rest of the U.S. bloc, with the relationships between that bloc as a whole and the “third world,” between that bloc and the Soviet bloc, and given the actual concrete situation and motion of things, all of them have—it has different expressions of course in the different cases—but all of them have a compelling need for a redivision of the world. None of these Western imperialist states (and Japan is included here too) is capable of extricating itself from the situation that it’s in and reshaping things in a way that could give it a new lease on life—as for example occurred after World War 2 in a partial and limited but nevertheless real way—none of them can achieve that except through a redivision of the world. Even though the different imperialist states have different roles and different relationships within the different blocs and in the confrontation between the blocs, in relationship to the “third world” and so on—for all of them it is true that without a redivision none of them is capable of a new lease on life. Each of them needs and is compelled and driven toward this redivision.
At the same time, in terms of the actual motion towards war, and in terms of the way things are actually developing—specifically in the formulation of policy, the actual moves to line up the allies, and so on—it is true that these two superpowers play particular roles. First of all and most importantly they have a particular role and in a certain sense and an important sense a qualitatively different role with relationship to the two respective blocs. They are the actual heads of these blocs, they are the main forces pulling them together, and for both of them—this is very sharp, for example, for U.S. imperialism—a part of the particular thing driving them to war is precisely the difficulty they have in keeping their bloc together. That’s not to say that the others all want to go their independent ways on a peaceful road. But there are so many conflicting imperialist interests, even though each and all need redivision, there are so many conflicting interests, it’s hard to hold this bloc together. If you look at the Middle East: Camp David…good-bye Sadat…hello U.S. AWACS to Saudi Arabia, etc. It’s very complicated to hold that whole thing together. Then you’ve got this whole antiwar movement going on in Western Europe and the U.S. imperialists especially need Reagan to be a cowboy tough guy right now to unleash their social base in the U.S. and help cast the mold of desired relations internationally precisely as preparation for war. But on the other hand that sort of stuff that he does has a lot of harmful consequences in all the allied countries because they don’t want to hear about how the nukes are going to fly over Europe and so on and so forth; even though these Western European imperialists need to go to war they have their own particular interests and necessity. All this is another factor which from the point of view of U.S. imperialism in particular drives it to go to war even sooner because it’s not like all these problems are going to go away or become more mitigated.
The Soviets from their own side obviously have a different role to play in holding that bloc together than any of the other revisionist bourgeoisies in the bloc, even the East German or Czechoslovakian bourgeoisies which rule over fairly developed and advanced countries. And the Soviet bloc has its own particularities, including among them—and this is an argument against Kautskyism actually—that some of the more industrially developed countries in the Soviet bloc actually send industrial goods to the Soviet Union in exchange for agricultural goods, which is not your classic Kautskyite view of imperialism—you know Kautsky said that imperialism is the domination of the backward agrarian countries by the advanced industrial countries. Well, actually and in certain limited and partial ways, there is sort of the reverse of that in the Soviet bloc; this has to do with the whole history and development of that bloc but it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s imperialist as a bloc and that its interests are imperialist. It is, however, an illustration or reflection of the fact that the Soviet Union plays a particular role in that bloc.
So the particular roles of the two superpowers is a tactical consideration that has to be taken into account. How? Not by singling the two superpowers out as the main enemy or the main focus of our struggle, as the target of our struggle to the exclusion of the others, but by educating the proletariat as to the specific role of these two superpowers, as well as the nature and role of the other imperialists; and as an important part of this making clear to the masses that in the course of their struggle—this is a point stressed in the Basic Principles document—it is very likely, before you can win complete victory in revolution in almost every country in the world you’re going to have to deal in one way or the other with the fact that these two superpowers are not only the main forces in terms of the leaders of the respective imperialist blocs and in the shaping together of these blocs, but they are also the main bastions of reaction, separately or even on some occasions together, in seeking to oppose and to suppress revolution. You can see that, for example, in struggles which aren’t even yet consciously revolutionary, in Poland, or in other parts of the world. In the complex course of actually carrying out a revolution and advancing it particularly to the socialist stage in the present circumstances, it is very unlikely that you will be able to do that in any country or in any significant situation without having to deal in one form or the other with the force brought to bear by the one or the other (or sometimes both) of these two superpowers, seeking to suppress such a revolution. Even, for example, in Western Europe, where the main target and the immediate target should be the domestic bourgeoisie and not the two superpowers, that doesn’t change the fact that you will almost certainly have to deal with these superpowers during the course of the twists and turns of a revolutionary struggle in those countries. So that’s a tactical but important consideration that has to be part of our understanding and included in our strategic thinking at this point.
More generally, however, it’s also true that precisely in approaching things from the world scale, we have to be at one and the same time seeking to make the greatest advances in building the revolutionary movement and preparing for the development of a revolutionary situation in all countries, as a general principle—with the recognition that revolutionary situations can emerge and sharpen without much warning and seemingly unexpectedly. But at any given point, it also has to be our tactical orientation to be alert precisely by viewing things from the international plane and in the world arena as our starting point, be alert to particular situations which at any given point become concentration points of world contradictions and potential weak links, potential points where we can make a breakthrough, as the international proletariat, and where therefore the attention and the energy of the proletariat internationally should be especially concentrated at the given point. Vietnam was an example of that 10 years ago or so. In a different way so is Poland under the present circumstances. In short, we have to maximize our gains in relation to such concentration points that have clearly emerged and at the same time we have to be actively moving toward and preparing to make revolutionary breakthroughs wherever the situation might sharpen up, because these weak links are not pre-ordained and not something which can occur only once; they are precisely things which can shift the focus of contradictions, and the breaking point, if you will, of contradictions can shift and we have to be alert to this.
This brings me to the last point. Or rather, it is reinforcing from another direction the central point: that it is only by proceeding from the world arena that you can possibly carry out a strategy for making the greatest advances possible at any given time. This is why our party has increasingly emphasized that while we are trying to do everything possible to make revolution in the U.S. and to seize on a revolutionary opportunity, if as is possible—and we say possible, not certain, but possible—it does develop over the next period of years in the U.S., whether or not that happens, we see even that in an overall sense as a subordinate part of what our responsibilities are. Overall, while particularly concentrating in the U.S., since that’s where our party is, we’re trying to do everything we can to advance that worldwide struggle, and that’s not just a platitude or even just a general principle—it means concretely examining things on a world scale to see where are these concentration points and potential breaking points. And it means bending our work and our struggle toward helping to seize on such opportunities and generally to advance the worldwide struggle even if in the short run it might bring certain added difficulties for the revolutionary work in the particular country we’re in. What all that brings up very immediately is that any given party in any given country is still limited in how it can affect that and what it can do. Precisely what this points to is the need for an international organization of the proletariat and particularly of its communist vanguard—because you’re not going to unite the whole international proletariat as one mass, but you can unite its vanguard. And there is a need, despite all the negative experience which should be summed up even more deeply, there is a need for a communist international. There is a need for a communist international which draws from the positive and negative experiences of the past and which bases itself on the understanding that ideological and political line is decisive and is the cornerstone for developing and furthering, giving expression organizationally to, the unity of the international proletariat, specifically its vanguard forces. It seems to me that the communist international is, if you will, the logical organizational expression of all the analysis and all the political and strategic thinking that I’ve been presenting up to this point. It’s the logical expression of the fact that the development of things on a world scale and in the world arena is decisive and that you have to be able to take advantage of and seize to the maximum concentration points and breaking points even while carrying out all-around work in general in all countries and preparing for possible revolutionary breakthroughs wherever the opportunity might emerge.
It is true that there have been many negative experiences, the domination by more developed parties over less developed parties, by larger parties over smaller parties, by parties in power as opposed to parties out of power—all of this sort of thing has been real enough. But first of all, we can see that it’s not solved by not having an international. The experience—specifically the negative aspect of the experience—of the Communist Party of China proves that you can have all that without having a communist international, and in fact have less chance of struggling against it. I’m not passing judgment specifically on, in fact I don’t even understand fully, what the approach of the Chinese party was to the question of an international, in, for example, the ’60s when they broke from the Soviet revisionists. I know that there certainly was a lot of complications in that, such as the fact that the Chinese were trying to win over the intermediate parties, like the Vietnamese, and perhaps they felt to force the issue of this international or that international might have hurt such efforts. I don’t know if that was their thinking and I’m not prepared to say whether such thinking would have been correct. It needs to be looked into and summed up more deeply, but as a general principle and especially in today’s concrete reality, there is not only a general but I would say an urgent need, not to try to bring it into being immediately, but to work concretely and step by step toward the creation of a new and a revolutionary communist international—one that learns from the past, both the positive and negative experience. All these things like “father parties” interfering in the internal affairs of other parties and so on—when raised as arguments against an international—can be rather politely dismissed as bullshit. Those things are questions of line as well. If we’re really internationalists, if we really understand the importance of proceeding from the world arena and the interests of the world revolution above all, then there is a question of methods involved, and how we struggle with each other; there is a question of our epistemology, our theory of knowledge, and what we think the relationship between practice and theory, and perceptual and rational knowledge, is; there are all those questions of methodology that are also questions of line and have to be struggled out. But essentially the question is communists coming together in the most organized way to give the most powerful expression to formulating and carrying out the lines and policies to advance the struggle on a world scale and with concentration on particular key points at any given time in the world struggle.
Line will always remain decisive, both in the creation of these things, and in their future—of an international and its future development and role. That was true in the First International, it was true in the Second International, it was true in the Third, and it will be true in the new international which needs to be built. So I think that the whole understanding that has been presented here, the whole grasp of the decisiveness of the world arena and what internationalism really means - that it’s not just something extended from one country, or the proletariat of one country to another, but it’s the foundation and starting point for the proletariat—not only has to lead in terms of our guiding line, ideologically and politically, but also in terms of organized expression: it has to be our guiding line organizationally as well. This suggests and demands certain objectives and certain goals in terms of the creation, the step by step motion toward the creation of a communist international, precisely in order to meet, particularly right now, the heightening opportunities and the very real challenges that there are. I think all of us share a profound sense of frustration or restlessness at the fact that the subjective factor is lagging very sharply behind the development of the objective situation and the possibilities, the prospects that are on the horizon. And to meet them is going to require not just a tremendous effort in general, but is going to require making leaps on the ideological, the political and also the organizational level. To really be able to act in a sort of a telescoped way, or to use that phrase, to come from behind, to really seize these opportunities is going to require the combined effort and struggle of the Marxist-Leninist forces on an international level, and in an organized way on the international level.
This refers to the RCP’s Second Programme, published in the mid-1980’s.
This has been referred to consistently in major publications of our party over the past several years, including the New Programme and New Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. For a thorough exposition of this see America in Decline: An Analysis of the Developments Toward War and Revolution, in the U.S. and Worldwide, in the 1980s (Chicago: Banner Press, 1984). by Raymond Lotta with Frank Shannon.
See V.I. Lenin, “Critical Remarks on the National Question,” Collected Works (LCW) (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977). Vol. 20, p. 27.
I am referring to this as Connolly’s viewpoint on the basis of an account I have heard of the differences between Lenin and Connolly over this, but beyond the question of particular representatives of this tendency it is a fact that it has exerted a powerful influence and in an overall sense has been dominant within the revolutionary movement generally and the international communist movement particularly for a number of decades.
There are statements by Mao (and by the Communist Party of China when it was under his leadership) that do argue that the world outlook of communists is internationalism and not nationalism—a point that was made in the polemics against the Soviet revisionists (see for example A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the Internationa1 Communist Movement, also known as the “25-Point Letter” [Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1963] point 9). But taking the body of Mao’s writings and speeches as a whole, it is fair to say that he did not recognize the contradiction between being an internationalist and at the same time attempting to be the representative of the highest interests of the nation.
See “An Open Letter to Boris Souvarine,” LCW, Vol. 23, pp. 195-204.
Georgi Dimitrov, United Front Against Fascism (New York: New Century, 1945). speeches delivered at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International (July 25-August 20, 1935).
J.V. Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1975). Chapter 3: “Theory,” p. 27.
Ibid., Chapter 6: “The National Question,” p. 77.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977). pp. 44-45.
Our translation of a letter from the Comintern Executive Committee to the Communist Party of France in 1939.
See Stalin, “On the Draft Constitution of the USSR” (Nov. 25, 1936). in Problems of Leninism (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1976). pp. 795-834.
See Lotta, America in Decline, p. 209, note 65.
Actually the question of leadership is bogus anyway in these opportunists’ thinking, because why can’t it be argued that China as a socialist country could also play that role of leadership, so why attack Mao’s policies of anti-Soviet united front and uphold Stalin’s anti-German (-fascist) united front?
See Lenin, “The War Programme of the Proletarian Revolution,” in Lenin on War and Peace, Three Articles (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1966), pp. 58-72; see also LCW, Vol. 23, pp. 77-87.
Of course, when we say Europeans we mean imperialists (or people living in imperialist countries) in general, including Japan, certainly the United States, and the Soviet Union too.
See “A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism,” LCW, Vol. 23, especially pp. 33-34.
See “British Pacifism and the British Dislike for Theory,” LCW, Vol. 21, p. 264.
The Collapse of the Second International, LCW, Vol. 21, p. 254.
See Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1979). Chapter 19: “The Journey to Peking,” especially pp. 781-82.
See, for example, “Talks at the Chengtu Conference, March 1958—(a) Talk of 10 March,” in ed. Stuart Schram, Chairman Mao Talks to the People (New York: Pantheon, 1974). pp. 96-103.
See Lin Piao, Long Live the Victory of People’s War! (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1966).
See, for example, “An Open Letter to Boris Souvarine,” LCW, Vol. 23, pp. 195-204.
See, for example, Mao Tsetung, On Protracted War, Selected Works (MSW) (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1967). Vol. 2, pp. 113-194, especially p. 130.
See “On Policy,” MSW, Vol. 2, pp. 441-49, especially p. 443.
Ibid., pp. 443-44.
See, for example, “Under a False Flag,” LCW, Vol. 21, pp. 137-57.