The Mexican Left 1938 On the national question
In International Review, no.10 (June/August 1977), we began publication of the texts of the Mexican Communist Left. As we proposed, we are continuing this work (after some delay, it is true, although this was contrary to our wishes) with the publication in the last IR, no.19, of the text on ‘Nationalizations’, in which the Mexican Left vigorously denounced this mystification, which is used chiefly by the so-called workers’ parties to shamelessly defeat the working class, binding it more firmly to the defense of capitalism. Today, as yesterday, nationalization remains the platform of these parties, and the acceleration of the development towards state capitalism is always presented by them as the proletarian alternative to the crisis of capitalism. And, just like yesterday, the Trotskyists and the other leftists continue, on this question as on so many others, to fall into line, to act as very devoted servants of capital.
The two texts we are publishing now are, to the best of our knowledge, the last this group published, in their magazine Comunismo, no.2, December 1938. The violent hostility of all the forces of the bourgeoisie, left and right; the Stalinist-style campaign of public denunciation by the Mexican section of the IVth International of the militants and the group as ‘provocateurs’, ‘agents of Hitler and Stalin’; the repression (see their ‘Appeal’ in IR, no.10) handed out by the left government; and above all, the storms of the evermore rapidly approaching war -- all these, along with the weak forces of the Mexican Left and its extreme youth, meant it could not long resist such a coalition of enemy forces. The Marxist Workers’ Group of Mexico disappeared in the turmoil of 1939. But, in the short two years of its existence the Mexican left communist group made an effective contribution to the defense of fundamental communist positions. Its place, and its contribution, in the darkest hours of the international revolutionary movement, should not remain unrecognized by new generations.
The first text is a vital example of how revolutionaries in an underdeveloped country defend class positions, and denounce all the lies of a ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie. A good example, not only in contrast to the Trotskyist support of Cardenas, but also against the Bordigists of today, who can find nothing better than to criticize the ‘weaknesses’ of the left government of Allende as regards Pinochet, reproaching him for his hesitations, and giving him, after the event, edifying advice on the question of ‘revolutionary violence’. We should also recall the apologies made by the Bordigists for the exemplary ‘revolutionary terror’ of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. It is towards them, too, that the conclusion of the article of the Mexican left is addressed. Denouncing the lie of ‘social revolution’ lauded by the revolutionary National Party (the governmental party), the Marxist Workers’ Group proclaimed:
“What a glorious ‘social’ vision: to establish in this country the peace of the cemetery, and call it a ‘classless society’ ... as these generals understand it.”
The second text is an analytical study of the Theses of the Second Congress of the Communist International on the national and colonial questions. It is absolutely inevitable that any communist grouping disengaging itself from the long course of the degeneration and final betrayal of the IIIrd International will have to not only denounce the Stalinist counter-revolution, but also undertake a detailed critique of the work of the Communist International, from its first years, from the glorious times of Lenin. Like the Italian and Belgian fractions of the International Communist Left, the Mexican left could not simply be satisfied with a flat apology for all that came from Lenin, as the Trotskyists did, nor as the Bordigists do today. The Mexican left would have the greatest difficulty in recognizing the Bordigists as the continuation of Bilan, since they have regressed on so many questions, that they now look like a variant of Trotskyism.
Just as revolutionaries on the outbreak of World War I could not content themselves with a simple denunciation of the betrayal of the IInd International, but had to submit the whole of its development and history to a critical examination, so the left communists could not and should not have been content with a characterization of the Stalinist counter-revolution but had to seek to lay bare its roots, not the least of which lay in the immaturity of the thought and organization of the communists movement itself. Stalinism did not fall from the sky, nor did it arise from a void. And if it is absurd to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so it is absurd to condemn the Communist International because Stalinism developed and triumphed from within it (see, for example, the ‘modern’, oh-so-severe judges like the PIC and the Gauche Internationaliste in France). But it is no less absurd to pretend that the dirty bathwater was always absolutely pure and limpidly clear and to present the history of the Communist International as divided into two neat periods, the first when it was pure, revolutionary, spotless, without weakness, until sharply interrupted by the explosion of the counter-revolution. These images of a happy paradise and a horrible hell, with no link between them, have nothing to do with a real movement, such as the history of the communist movement, where continuity flows through profound splits and where future ruptures have their seeds in the process of this continuity.
Only this inexorable critical examination, this constant self-criticism, allows the revolutionary movement of our class to overcome the weaknesses and the immaturity of yesterday, to correct the errors of the past, and create the possibility of raising itself to fulfill its historic tasks, of evolving its positions through its experience.
It is not surprising that the Mexican left placed the examination of the national question at the heart of its preoccupations. Alongside the questions of the historic period of decadence and its implications, trade unions, electoral questions, the question of fascism and anti-fascism, the national question is one of those which have contained the most ambiguities, allowing for opportunist interpretations, and lending strength to all kinds of dubious currents.
In the first part of this text the Mexican left, recalling the first and second paragraphs of the second Thesis, endeavors to show how the Trotskyists and other ‘anti-imperialists’ shamelessly distort the principled position developed in the Theses of the Second Congress. It defends the internationalist principle as a gain of the communist movement, and denounces any alteration of it as a regression towards nationalist, bourgeois positions. The Mexican left then proposes to make a critique of the inadequacies and ambiguities still contained in the Theses of the Communist International, most notably in the third point of the second paragraph. The first two points in this paragraph clearly put the accent on the fundamental separation between the class interests of the exploited, and the mystifying bourgeois concept of the so-called national interest, common to all classes. The third point is much more vague, a simple description of the extreme exploitation of the majority of the underdeveloped countries by a minority of countries where capitalism is highly developed, and draws no conclusion other than the statement that this is “characteristic of the epoch of finance capital and imperialism”.
What flows from this statement? For the centrist majority of the International, around Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, it followed that in certain circumstances, and more particularly in a revolutionary period, the proletariat concentrated in the most developed capitalist countries could find, in its assault on the capitalist world, support in the underdeveloped countries, which has been exposed to the oppression of the major powers. The error of such a position lays in the mechanical way it proceeds from observing the antagonism between dominant and dominated countries to affirming that this antagonism represents an irreconcilable historic opposition to the existing order. Bourgeois society is not a harmonious society, but is founded on many antagonisms: between highly developed capitalist countries and underdeveloped countries, and between developed countries themselves and between one bloc of countries and another for the domination of the world, which culminates in the period of generalized imperialist wars. The question is to understand whether these antagonisms put into question the bourgeois order, whether they offer a solution to the contradictions which are tearing it apart and leading it towards catastrophe, or whether these antagonisms are merely manifestations of the existing order, of its mode of existence?
For Marxists, only the class antagonism of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie offers a revolutionary dynamic, not only because it is the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors, but because it is the proletariat which bears within it the solution to all these antagonisms and contradictions in which society is floundering; and this solution is the establishment of a new social order, a society without classes, and without national divisions: communism. The ambiguity of this position started the Communist International on a dangerous slope. The shattering contradictions and successive setbacks which this policy led to (support for Kemal Pasha in Turkey or Chiang Kai-shek in China) only served to grease the slope, and accelerate the degeneration of the International.
From an ‘occasional possibility’ the position became a constant rule and the possibility of the proletariat finding support in the national struggles of colonial countries was transformed into unconditional support by the proletariat of national and nationalist struggles. In this way the Trotskyists ended up by participating in the imperialist war and in national defense in the name of anti-fascism, and the Bordigists, turning their backs on the concept of an international revolution, constructed a theory of geographical areas, where, for some (a minority) proletarian revolution was on the agenda, and for others (a category comprising the vast majority of countries and of the world population), ‘the anti-imperialist bourgeois-democratic revolution’ was on the agenda.
The disappearance of their magazine in 1939 impeded the Mexican left from pursuing its implacable critique of the ambiguous positions of the IIIrd International. But the first part of their study was already an important contribution to this work. It is the task of revolutionaries today to take up this critique and to continue it.
The Party of the Mexican Revolution ‘recognizes the class struggle’ to combat the proletarian revolution
One of the most characteristic features of political life today, is the fact that the bourgeoisie, in order to derail the attack of the starving and desperate masses, hypocritically and demagogically presents itself as the opposite of what it really is, ie it tries to pass as the defenders of the masses against the bourgeoisie itself. Of course, in order to succeed in such a shameless and absurd fraud, the bourgeoisie has to divide itself into two parts: one the ‘oppressor’, the other the ‘protector’, and these two factions, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ capitalists must be seen to be engaged in a ‘struggle’.
In some cases, in ‘democratic’ countries, where the dictatorship is disguised, the sector composed of ‘good’ capitalists, holds state power, and in the other, the countries with an overt dictatorship, ‘bad’ capitalists do so. In the latter case, the ‘good’ capitalists, the ‘protectors of the masses’ are in a position of ‘irreconcilable opposition’, in their own terms. But in both cases it is a question of one capitalist sector ‘defending’ the masses against another capitalist sector. The workers and poor peasants, in order to liberate themselves from the capitalist yoke, need only link their destinies to their own capitalists -- the ‘good’ ones of course, those who are disguised as their ‘friends’.
And this total surrenders to the class enemy, which naturally demands enormous sacrifices: economic, political, and even of life itself (like today in Spain and China), in order to ‘protect’ the proletarians and peasants from the other ‘reactionary’, ‘fascist’ or ‘imperialist’ capitalists, such an abandonment of struggle is ironically called ‘struggle’. In Mexico, today the tropical garden of demagogic exuberance, this is even called ‘class struggle’.
When you read the following phrases in the declaration of the ‘new’ PRM (‘Party of the Mexican Revolution and authentic representative of the workers’) and the Editorial entitled ‘On Patriotism’ in E1 Nacional, 21 April 1938, you could easily believe you were in a madhouse:
“The class struggle is recognized by the PRM and by the consensus of workers’ opinion throughout the country, as an insuperable reality, a phenomenon inherent to the capitalist system of production. We can hope for social peace only when this system has been replaced. We revolutionaries conceive of society as divided into two strata, superimposed by the force of an economic law imposed by capitalism. This conception is still valid, even if only in a transient sense. The mayan peasant is more a brother to the Finnish fisherman, living by his icy waters, than to the white landowner, son of the same soil, and protected by the same institutions, who only uses what he has in common with his serf to better rob him.”
And who is it saying these things? The true representative of the bourgeoisie, the true representative of the capitalist system, the true representative of the white owners, the irreconcilable enemy of the mayan peasants and of the Finnish fishermen, the party of the so-called ‘Mexican Revolution’!The oppressors want to lead the struggle of the oppressed
Thus the Mexican landowners ‘recognize’ the class struggle, but naturally they do not refer to the struggle between them and the oppressed masses, but to the struggle of the oppressed and exploited against the other landowners and capitalists, the ‘baddies’, the ‘fascists’. Against the latter, the ‘good’ Mexican bourgeoisie, led by the ‘democratic’ generals, struggle side by side with the workers and peasants, and not only do they participate in this ‘class struggle’, they also lead it! Of course, such a ‘class struggle’, controlled by a sector of the bourgeoisie itself, is not a struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors, but, on the contrary, is a struggle of the oppressors against the oppressed. It is the class struggle of the bourgeoisie and landowners, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ together, against the proletarians and the peasants.
The Mexican bourgeoisie ‘recognizes’ the class struggle, with the aim of distorting the struggle of the exploited against the exploiters, and using this combativity to strengthen the struggle of the exploiters against the exploited. This is the key to the confusion which today reigns among the proletariat and the peasantry in this country, and the explanation for their numerous defeats.
There is a need for a Party of the proletarian revolution!
The triumph of the ‘classist’ demagogy of the Mexican bourgeoisie can be explained by the lack of a proletarian class party in Mexico.
There does not exist, outside of our organization, any group, however small, which tries, on the basis of Marxist positions, to combat the lies of the ‘revolutionary’ bourgeoisie of this country. So the demagogy of the PRM and all their great ‘workerists’ in the government, has a clear run and can reach limits unheard of in other countries.
“Someone who only accepts the class struggle is not yet a Marxist, and can still remain within the framework of bourgeois politics and thought ... Only those who extend the recognition of the class struggle to that of the dictatorship of the proletariat are Marxists.” (Lenin, State and Revolution)
Fighting the bourgeoisie and destroying it completely through the proletarian dictatorship, is, for Marxists, for communists, the only way to ‘substitute’ for the present system one which would finally establish ‘social peace’ (to use the words of the PRM’s declaration).
The generals of the PRM and their astute ‘workerist’ advisers have, of course, an entirely different conception. For them, to substitute one system for another means simply changing its label, and naturally they can and must do these themselves. In other words, they are not concerned solely with a so-called ‘class struggle’, but with a ‘social revolution’ ... under the direction of the generals!
a glorious ‘social’ vision! To establish in this country the
peace of the cemetery, and call it a ‘classless’ society ... as
these generals understand it!
On the national and colonial questions
“Abolish the exploitation of man by man, and you have abolished the exploitation of one nation by another.” (The Communist Manifesto)
The text of the second paragraph of the Theses of the Second Congress of the Communist International on the national and colonial questions says:
“As the conscious expression of the proletarian class struggle to throw off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, and in accordance with its main task, which is the fight against bourgeois democracy and the unmasking of its lies and hypocrisy, the Communist Party should not place the main emphasis in the national question on abstract and formal principles, but in the first place on an exact evaluation of the historically given and above all economic milieu. Secondly, it should emphasize the explicit separation of the interests of the oppressed classes, of the toilers, of the exploited, from the general concept of the national interest, which means the interests of the ruling class. Thirdly, it must emphasize the equally clear division of the oppressed, dependent nations which do not enjoy equal rights from the oppressing, exploiting, privileged nations, as a counter to the bourgeois democratic lie which covers over the colonial and financial enslavement of the vast majority of the world’s population, by a tiny minority of the richest and most advanced capitalist countries, that is characteristic of the epoch of finance capital and imperialism.”
We shall analyze this paragraph point by point.The struggle against democracy
Without doubt the most significant point in this paragraph is its opening: the clear and unequivocal declaration that the primary task of the world Communist Party is not the renowned ‘defense of democracy’, about which we hear so much today from so-called ‘communists’, but, on the contrary, the struggle against democracy!
This affirmation, which was reiterated many times in other Theses of the International in the time of Lenin, although roundly denied today by the organization which still bears this name, served Lenin and his comrades as a point of departure for the study of national and colonial questions. There is no other point of departure! Those who do not accept the struggle against bourgeois democracy as a fundamental task of communists can never offer a Marxist solution to these questions.The lie of equality within the capitalist system
The first paragraph of the Theses explains in more detail what these “abstract and formal principles” are that the party of the revolutionary world proletariat must reject as a basis for its tactics on the national and colonial questions:
“An abstract or formal conception of the question of equality in general and national equality in particular is characteristic of the bourgeoisie by its very nature. Under the pretence of the equality of the human person in general, bourgeois democracy proclaims the formal legal equality of the proprietor and the proletarian, of the exploiter and the exploited, and thus deceives the oppressed classes in the highest degree. The idea of equality, which is itself a reflection of the relations of commodity production, is transformed by the bourgeoisie, under the pretext of the absolute equality of the human person, into a tool in the struggle against the abolition of classes.”
Of course, the struggle for the abolition of classes would be superfluous if, in reality, as the bourgeoisie declares, equality were possible within the present society, despite its division into classes. The truth is that not only is there no equality within the present society, but there can never be any. Therefore the Theses add at the end of the paragraph quoted: “the true significance of the demand for equality lies only in the demand for the abolition of classes” and again, paragraph four speaks of: “... victory over capitalism, without which the destruction of national oppression and equality is impossible.”
In other words, the affirmation of the existence of equality, or at least the possibility of its existence, within the present society, tends to preserve exploitation and the oppression of classes and nations. The demand for equality, on the basis of the abolition of classes, tends towards the opposite goal: the destruction of present day society and the construction of a new classless society. The first is the chosen weapon of all reformists in their service of the counter-revolution. The second is the demand of a proletariat conscious of its class interests, the demand of the party of the revolutionary world proletariat.The proletariat has no national interests
In accord with the 2nd part of the Thesis quoted, the world Communist Party has to reject “the general concept of so-called national interests” because these do not nor cannot exist when all nations are divided into classes, with conflicting and irreconcilable interests, so that those who speak of ‘national interests’ either consciously or unconsciously defend the interests of the dominant classes. The affirmation that ‘national interests’ exist, means interests common to all the members of the nation, and is based precisely on this supposed “formal legal equality of the proprietor and the proletarian, of the exploiter and the exploited” hypocritically proclaimed by these very owners and exploiters. In the way indicated by Marx and Engels we must fight the lie that, for example, ‘all Mexicans’ are equal and have common interests and therefore a common fatherland to defend. The fatherland isn’t theirs. The workers, as the Communist Manifesto, with its absolute clarity, asserted a hundred years ago, have no fatherland. The future, which is ours, will not have different fatherlands in whose names the owners will command the dispossessed on the battlefields, but one fatherland: the human society of producers.The good neighbor of the Mexican bourgeoisie
In order to successfully struggle against the bourgeoisie and destroy this society we must reject not only the lie of the equality of men within each nation, but also the lie of the equality of nations. We must show, as the first part of the Thesis indicates, that “the enslavement of the vast majority of the population of the world, by an insignificant minority of advanced capitalist countries”'(USA, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan) is “characteristic of the epoch of finance capital and imperialism”, and that this enslavement therefore cannot disappear with a few farcical declarations against imperialism and in favor of a so-called ‘good neighbor’ policy, but only with the disappearance of capitalism itself, with its violent destruction by the world proletariat.
We can never weary of repeating this fundamental truth, not in a general or abstract way, but by concretely and daily unmasking this democratic hypocrisy which the Theses speak of. In the case of Mexico this means, precisely, unmasking the lie that an advanced, and therefore imperialist, capitalist country like the USA could be the ‘good neighbor’ of a backward country like Mexico. We must destroy the myth that the treaty which, at the present time, is being forged between the North American exploiters and the only good neighbors that they have in Mexico, the servile Mexican exploiters, means a treaty between the North American and Mexican peoples, as the exploiters of both countries would have us believe. We must insist that, on the contrary, our only good neighbors are the proletarians and all the oppressed of the US and the whole world, and with whom truly common interests unite us against all the exploiters and their respective fatherlands.The counter-revolutionary patriotism of the Stalinists and the Trotskyists
All this is recognized ‘theoretically’ by the so-called communists of the Stalinist and Trotskyist varieties, but practically they act in contradiction to it. The Stalinists of Mexico and the US, today stand in the front line of those who praise the ‘new policy’ of North American imperialism. The Trotskyists do not do this overtly, but follow the indirect method of exclusively attacking the ‘bad neighbors’ of the Mexican bourgeoisie: English, German or Japanese imperialism ...
But their struggle against fundamental positions of the Communist International of Lenin’s time goes beyond this. With a trickery characteristic of renegades, the Stalinists and Trotskyists ‘forget’ that part of the Theses quoted which speaks of the “clear separation of the interests of oppressed classes, the workers, the exploited, from the general concept of the so-called ‘national interest’ which really means the interests of the ruling class” and fix exclusively on the other part, which speaks of “the equally clear division of the oppressed, dependent nations ...from the oppressing, exploited, privileged nations”.
Trotsky, for example, does this in his attacks on our position on the Chinese war (see the Internal Bulletin, no.1, of the Internationalist Communist League of Mexico). With this method he arrives at exactly the same positions as the Stalinists: instead of showing the Chinese proletarians that their class interests are irreconcilable with the so-called ‘national interest’ (in reality the interests of the Chinese exploiters), and that they must struggle as much against their ‘compatriot’ enemies as against the invading enemy, through fraternization with the Japanese soldiers and revolutionary defeatism, instead of all this Trotsky tries to convince the exploited of China that their class interests coincide -- to a certain extent, of course -- ie on the decisive point of the defense of the so-called ‘fatherland’-- with the ‘national interests’ of their exploiters!
For Trotsky, the proletariat ‘in general’ has no fatherland. And so in ‘theory’ ('theoretically’) he remains faithful to Marxism. But in the concrete case of the proletariat of China, of Mexico, of all the oppressed and dependent countries, ie in the cases of the overwhelming majority of the countries of the world he sees no application of this fundamental law of Marxism. “Chinese patriotism is legitimate and progressive” affirms that renegade! Clearly for him and his followers so also is Mexican, Guatemalan, Argentinian, Cuban patriotism, etc.The workers have no fatherland. Not even in the oppressed countries!
For a Marxist there can be no doubt that the most essential of the three points in the Theses of the Second Congress is the second, which emphasizes the non-existence of ‘national interests’, and insists that the distinction made in the third point, between “oppressed nations” and “oppressing nations” must be understood in this light. In other words, even in the oppressed nations there are no ‘national interests’ other than those of the dominant class. The practical conclusion of this theoretical position is that the fundamental rules of communist politics must be applicable to all countries, imperialist, semi-colonial, and colonial. The struggle against patriotism, fraternization with the oppressed of all countries, including the uniformed proletarians and peasants in the armies of the imperialist countries, is one of the tenets of communist politics which can allow no exceptions.
“From the principles set forth it follows that the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial question must be based mainly on the union of the workers and toiling masses of all nations and countries in the common revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the landlords and the bourgeoisie. For only such a union can secure victory over capitalism, without which the destruction of national oppression and equality is impossible.”
The application of this cornerstone to concrete situations clearly excludes any ‘legitimate patriotism’ or ‘national defense’. In the case of the Chinese war, for example, what other application can there be of the general rule of “the common struggle of the workers and toiling masses of all nations and countries against the landlords and the bourgeoisie”, than that of fraternization between the Chinese and the Japanese soldiers in a common struggle against the Chinese and Japanese owners and capitalists, revolutionary defeatism on both sides. And where does this policy proposed by Trotsky of “participation in the military struggle under the command of Chiang Kai-shek” fit into this general rule?A change of tactics, not of principles!
In answer to us Trotsky cites the case when Marx and Engels supported the Irish war against Great Britain and that of the Poles against the Czar, although in these two national wars the leaders were mostly bourgeois, and at times, almost feudal! Trotsky, despite his great understanding, fails to understand the primordial importance of the first of the points that the Theses of the Second Congress saw as the prime key to the national question: “an exact evaluation of the historically given and above all economic milieu”.
Does our great un-Marxist historian not at least recall that communist tactics cannot be the same in the ascendant phase of capitalism (from which he has cited two examples of progressive wars) and in its phase of decomposition, the imperialist phase in which we are now living? The economic and historic circumstances have changed to such a degree since the time in which Marx and Engels supported the Irish war and that of the Poles, that it would be suicidal for the proletariat today to follow the same tactics as in that period.
Of course, these changed tactics should not nor cannot go beyond the framework of already established communist principles, whose validity events have already proved a thousand times. Far from going beyond this framework, each tactical adjustment must be a more correct, more strict application of these principles, for it is not merely new situations which oblige us to make such changes, but also historic experiences, that is to say, the study of our past errors. Only in this way can we maintain the continuity of the communist struggle, through the decomposition of the old proletarian organs and the creation of new ones.
The renegade Trotsky revises the Communist Manifesto and the Theses of the Second Congress
One of the fundamental principles which must rule all our tactics on the national question is anti-patriotism. “The workers have no fatherland”. Whoever proposes a new tactic which goes against this principle abandons Marxist guidelines and goes over to the service of the enemy.
So, the interesting thing is that this same Trotsky, who insists that the proletariat today must follow the same tactics as in the time of Marx and Engels, openly abandons the principles already set down by these two men in the Communist Manifesto. In his preface to the new edition of the Communist Manifesto published recently in South Africa this renegade openly declares: “... it is very clear that the ‘national fatherland’ which, in the advanced countries has been transformed into the worst historic fetter, still remains a relatively progressive factor in the backward countries, which are obliged to struggle for their independent existence.”
In this way the renegade Trotsky wants to put the clock back a hundred years!
(The text was not completed)