Correspondence with International Communist Union: There are no more national liberation wars

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ICC Introduction

We are publishing the platform of one of the new groups in Russia, which is moving towards the positions of the communist left. The ICU originated as the Kirov Marxist group in 1997 following a strike by teachers in that city. Initially the group attempted to work with the official Communist Party, later with various leftist groups, but more and more found that such activity was a “useless waste of time”. The current title of their paper in Russia is World Revolution.

The platform is followed by extracts from a letter we sent in response, focussing on the contradiction we see between the fundamentally internationalist approach of the ICU text and the concessions to the ideology of ‘national liberation’ that are contained within it. This is a problem for a number of the new Russian groups and we will be returning to it in other articles.

International Communist Union: Our platform

The ICU’s conception of the world and theoretical basis is Marxism.

The historical movement from primitive communism to integral communism is a process that forms the material conditions for the construction of a world communist society. The construction of such a society will lead not to the end of history but to the beginning of the conscious history of humanity.

The present capitalist mode of production is distinct from all preceding modes of production because of its worldwide, generalised character and is characterised by the exacerbation of class contradictions. At the same time capitalism forms the conditions for the construction of communism. Its development necessarily leads to the development of its contradictions and engenders, reinforces and develops the social force whose mission is the destruction of the capitalist system and the construction of communism - the proletariat. The limit of capital is capital itself.

During the course of its development modern capitalism advances more and more destructive means for solving its contradictions. Two world wars have carried off 60 million human lives. The new world war, the military blocs for which are beginning to form today, will not only bring far greater calamities, but will threaten the very existence of humanity. In this situation there is only one alternative: socialism or barbarism, the world communist revolution or the destruction of humanity.

The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first attempt by the proletariat to carry out this revolution in an epoch when the conditions for it were insufficiently mature. The October revolution of 1917 in Russia was the first step of the authentic world communist revolution towards an international revolutionary wave, which put an end to the first imperialist war. The defeat of this revolutionary wave, notably in Germany 1919-23, condemned the revolution in Russia to isolation and rapid degeneration. Stalinism became the gravedigger of the October revolution.

The statified regimes which saw the light of day under the name of ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ in the USSR, eastern Europe, China, Cuba, North Korea etc. were and remain capitalist countries, which the ruling ideology has painted with ‘marxist’ rhetoric drawn from the communist programme, the better to hide their bourgeois nature.

Where there is wage labour, there is capital.

Our principles

1. We reject any possibility of building socialist society within national boundaries. In continuity with the traditions of the communist movement, we consider that the task of the social liberation of the working class and of all the toilers is the work of the united world working class, and this solution is only possible in the context of a world proletarian revolution. Faced with the globalisation of the world capitalist economy, the working class must fight not for the narrow interests of this or that state but for the unification of the revolutionary struggle of the workers of all countries under the leadership of the international communist party. The goal of the communists’ struggle is not the well being of this or that nation and its state, but the utilisation of the productive forces created by capitalism in order to build a world classless society - communism. The creation of the conditions for communism demands the overturning of capitalist social relations based on wage labour, commodity production and national frontiers. It demands the creation of a world community whose activity will be geared towards the full satisfaction of human needs.

2. The instrument for building such a society is the worldwide dictatorship of the proletariat through which the working class will create the conditions for the withering away of classes and the state.

3. The revolutionary political organisation is the vanguard of the proletariat, the active factor in the propagation of class consciousness within the proletariat. Its role consists in organising the diverse forms of working class struggle into a unified revolutionary struggle. What distinguishes the communists is the awareness that they stand for the common class interests of the proletariat and this is expressed in their actions. They are the most consistent organised force given the necessity for the communist movement to have a truly worldwide and centralised leadership.

4. During the course of the 20th century the numerous imperialist wars which have been part of the unremitting struggle between states large and small for the conquest or maintenance of influence in the international arena have more and more brought humanity nothing but death and destruction. The working class can only respond to them through its international solidarity and the struggle against the bourgeoisie in all countries.

5. At the same time a number of revolutionary wars and national liberation struggles have made a considerable contribution to human progress, leading to the independent development of young states and developing national industry and a growing proletariat. However the process of the globalisation of the world economy has considerably changed this process. No country in the world can develop its economy on its own without integrating itself into the process of globalisation. This is why wars of liberation can no longer lead to national independence for any people, and why national liberation movements have become mere puppets of this or that imperialist grouping. In these conditions, there is more truth than ever in the principle that the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination, however just it may be, must not result in the subordination of this or that national detachment of the working class to ‘its own’ bourgeoisie. This right must be used by the revolutionary workers of the imperialist states to wage a struggle against the stifling of the small exploited nations by their own capitalism. The slogan of the working class in all nations large and small is that the main enemy is its own national capital, that victory is only possible through the unity of the workers of all nationalities.

6. All nationalist ideology, such as national ‘independence’ or ‘autonomy’, whatever the pretext - ethnic, historical, religious, etc, is a real poison for the workers. Having the aim of getting the workers to take the side of this or that faction of the bourgeoisie, it sets workers from different nations against each other, leading to their mutual extermination for the wars and ambitions of their exploiters.

7. All factions of the bourgeoisie are equally reactionary. To defend itself from revolutionary attack, the bourgeoisie always resorts to social democratic and leftist factions as the last ramparts of the state. All the so-called ‘working class’, ‘socialist’ or ‘Communist’ parties, the leftist organisations (the Trotskyists, Maoists and anarchists) constitute the left wing of the political apparatus of capital. Any tactic of ‘popular fronts’, by mixing up the interests of the proletariat with those of one or another bourgeois faction, can only serve to obstruct and deform the proletarian struggle.

8. Terrorism is in no sense a means of struggle for the working class. It is the expression of social strata that have no historical future. It always provides a favourable terrain for the manipulations of the bourgeoisie. By advocating secret actions by an insignificant minority, it stands in total contradiction with class violence, which is born out of the massive, conscious and organised actions of the proletariat.

Our historical antecedents

The positions of revolutionary organisations and their activity are the product of the past experience of the working class and the lessons drawn from it. The ICU lays claim to the consistent contributions to this cause by the Communist League of Marx and Engels (1847-1852), the three Internationals (the International Workingmen’s Association, 1864-1872, the Socialist International, 1889-1914, and the Communist International, 1919-24), as well as the left fractions which detached themselves from the Third International in 1920-30 during the course of its degeneration.

ICC reply

Dear comrades,

We are very glad to have made contact with your group and are eager to know more about its history, the discussions within it, the content of its publications, and so on. When we first saw the platform on the left-dis website it was obvious to us that we have much in common. We also salute your effort to respond to the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers from an internationalist standpoint. Concerning the platform, there seems to be a high level of agreement with a number of key positions: the perspective of socialism or barbarism, the capitalist nature of the Stalinist regimes, recognition of the proletarian character of the Russian revolution of 1917, opposition to imperialist war and all fronts with the bourgeoisie, including its left wing. What we’re less sure about is whether you agree with the ICC on the historical framework which gives substance and coherence to many of these positions: the conception that capitalism has, since 1914, been a decadent, declining social system.

To give a precise illustration of the problem we are raising: in your statement you argue against ‘fronts’ with the bourgeoisie on the grounds that all bourgeois factions are equally reactionary. And we agree. But this position has not always been valid for marxists. If capitalism today is a decadent system, i.e. one in which the social relations have become a permanent fetter on the productive forces and thus on human progress, it has, like previous forms of class exploitation, also known an ascendant period when it represented progress in relation to the previous mode of production. This is why Marx did support certain fractions of the bourgeoisie, whether the northern capitalists against the southern slaveholders in the American civil war, the Risorgimento movement in Italy for national unification against the old feudal classes, and so on. This support was based on the understanding that capitalism had not yet exhausted its historical mission and that the conditions for the world communist revolution had not yet fully matured.

Now, although you seem to recognise this latter point when you say that the Paris Commune was “the first attempt of the proletariat to bring about the revolution in an epoch in which conditions for this revolution were not quite mature”, the consequences of not having a clear and consistent view of the general historical period become explicit when you come to the national question.

In your view, national struggles have been a source of considerable progress, and the demand for national self-determination still has validity, if only for the workers of the more powerful capitalist countries in relation to the countries oppressed by their own imperialism. You then appear to argue that national struggles have lost their progressive character since the advent of “globalisation”. These statements demand a number of comments on our part.

Our position on the decadence of capitalism is not our own invention. Based on the fundamentals of the historical materialist method (in particular when Marx talks about “epochs of social revolution” in his Preface to the Critique of Political Economy), it was concretised for the majority of revolutionary marxists by the outbreak of the first world war, which showed that capitalism had already “globalised” itself to the point where it could no longer overcome its inner contradictions except through imperialist war and self-cannibalisation. This was the position of the Communist International at its founding congress, although the CI was not able to draw all the consequences for this as regards the national question: the theses of the second congress still saw a ‘revolutionary’ role of some kind for the bourgeoisie of the colonial regimes. But the left fractions of the CI were later on able to take this analysis to its conclusions, particularly following the disastrous results of the CI’s policies during the revolutionary wave of 1917-27. For the Italian left in the 1930s, for example, the experience of China in 1927 was decisive. It showed that all factions of the bourgeoisie, no matter how ‘anti-imperialist’ they claimed to be, were equally counter-revolutionary, equally compelled to massacre the proletariat when it struggled for its own interests, as in the Shanghai uprising of 1927. For the Italian left this experience proved that the theses on the national question from the second congress had to be rejected. Moreover, this was a confirmation of the correctness of Rosa Luxemburg’s views on the national question as against those of Lenin: for Luxemburg, it had already become clear during the first world war that all states were inevitably part of the world imperialist system. Supporting one nation against another always meant supporting one imperialist constellation against another, and all the national liberation wars of the 20s century have reinforced this view. What the Italian left made absolutely explicit was that this also applied to colonial bourgeoisies, to capitalist factions seeking to establish a new ‘independent’ state: they could only hope to attain their ends by subordinating themselves to the imperialist powers which had already divided up the planet. As you say in your platform, the 20th century has been one of incessant imperialist wars for the domination of the planet: for us, this is both the surest confirmation that capitalism is a senile and reactionary world order, and that all forms of ‘national’ struggle are entirely integrated into the global imperialist game.

Luxemburg also made a very rigorous critique of the slogan of ‘national self-determination’ even before the first world war, arguing that it was an illusion of bourgeois democracy in any capitalist state, it is not the ‘people’ or the ‘nation’ who are ‘self-determined’ but the capitalist class alone. Marx and Engels made no secret of the fact that when they called for national independence, it was to further and support the development of the capitalist mode of production in a period in which capitalism still had a progressive role to play. But even in the ascendant epoch the reality of capitalist class rule could not be abolished by any degree of formal ‘democracy’. In the decadent epoch, national liberation, national self-determination, national independence - these are all aspects of nationalist ideology which as you rightly say is “poison for the proletariat”.