Correspondence: National liberation is an ideology of decadent capitalism
We are publishing here an exchange of letters from a developing correspondence with a comrade from the north of England.
…. Before I respond to a few of your points I would like to say how much I enjoy reading World Revolution and International Review... I am certain that I will continue reading your publications and arguing with work colleagues for some of the ICC positions especially when it comes to the war in Iraq.
Firstly I would like to take issue with you around the position you take on the role of left wing groups that defend national liberation movements. You say in relation to these groups “Trotskyist, Maoist and ‘official’ anarchist groups that defend national liberation movements are in fact the left wing of the bourgeoisie. They do not sow ‘petit bourgeois illusions’ but defend bourgeois positions”. While I agree with your summary of the counter revolutionary consequences to workers of successful ‘national liberation’ movements, it also seems to me that the ideology and aspirations of national liberation are essentially petty bourgeois in the sense that these movements profess to offer a solution to the poverty and inequalities of capitalist societies. These solutions are always based on the premise that there is either a peaceful road to socialism in which the majority of the bourgeoisie can be won over, or alternatively the poverty and inequalities of capitalist societies can either be minimised or even abolished. While these are essentially bourgeois arguments they are the class viewpoint of the petty bourgeoisie who are continually caught between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
It also seems to me that in your reply you do not recognise the divisions that exist within the bourgeoisie between the militant elements who readily use fascist terror on the working class and the more liberal elements who are willing to use persuasion backed up where necessary by the power of the capitalist state. As Marx once said that the only thing which unites the warring band of brothers who are the bourgeoisie is their hate and fear of the working class.
I agree with you wholeheartedly on the ICC position on the decadence of capitalism and that without a proletarian revolution then there is no hope of the further development of the mode of production. In many ways the present situation is akin to the position that the aristocracy found itself in during the eighteenth century. A decadent and obsolete class which was holding back the further development of humanity. This decadence is not a moral issue, it is a scientific issue based on the contradiction between the social conditions of production and the private means of appropriating surplus value. I agree that the beginning of the end for the bourgeoisie was the first world war and continues to this day with all of the suffering that this entails. I would agree 100% on point three of your platform and say that without a successful global proletarian revolution then the future for humanity is bleak. Not only wars but an increasing splintering of society with all of the suffering this entails.
… With regards to the main point of your letter regarding the class nature of ‘leftists’ you say that, “... it also seems to me that the ideology and aspirations of national liberation are essentially petty bourgeois in the sense that these movements profess to offer a solution to the poverty and inequalities of capitalist societies. … While these are essentially bourgeois arguments, they are the class viewpoint of the petty bourgeoisie who are continually caught between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat”. To take up your first point, if we look at the history of the period of the bourgeois revolutions from the 16th to the 19th century, of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, it was precisely the bourgeoisie who led the struggles for national liberation - for unification of the national capital and freedom from domination by feudal regimes, either local or foreign. In this epoch of capitalism’s ascendancy, marxists have recognised that these struggles were historically progressive, in that they broke the chains of feudal social relations, leading to the development of the productive forces and the appearance of the proletariat. Thus, in this sense the development of capitalism was historically an advance for humanity.
What was the class viewpoint of the petty bourgeoisie at this time? First, you are correct to point out that this class is caught between the two ‘historic’ classes, and is therefore unstable. The petty bourgeoisie can’t have a stable class viewpoint because it’s a conglomeration of strata caught between the two main classes in society, and as such is constantly threatened with extinction ... It thus tends to oppose big capital with an impossible ‘ideal’ capitalism where everything is fair, or a return to a golden age that never existed. Elements from this strata were the shock troops of the bourgeois national revolutions: the yeomanry (small farmers) in the English Revolution; the sans culottes (artisans) in the French Revolution. However, they afterwards found themselves excluded from real economic and political power, or were ruined altogether by big capital. The petty bourgeoisie thus tends to oppose an ideal national liberation to the sordid reality of capitalist development. In decadence this tendency is completely integrated into the various needs of imperialist war.
Anarchism is only one political expression of petty bourgeois ideology, of radicalised elements who are about to be thrown into the working class. The early anarchists in the 1800s, such as Proudhon and his followers, who while making a positive contribution to the early stages of the workers’ movement, were against the development of industrial capitalism. For the artisans the development of mass industry was a complete disaster, and Proudhon was also hostile to the later development of the workers’ movement towards the class struggle and marxism.
In the current epoch, that of the decadence of capitalism, the defence of national liberation has become a reactionary position, because the great powers have carved up the planet amongst themselves – at the level of the economy, where any ‘new’ nations can’t compete, and at the level of imperialism, where ‘new’ nations had to fall under the tutelage of one of the major imperialist blocs. This was the case with the struggles for national liberation after WWII, which were essentially struggles between rival fractions of the bourgeoisie over which imperialist bloc to align to. While most of the membership of the leftist organisations is supplied by such petty bourgeois elements and their illusions (e.g. students), leftism itself as a political force is integrated into imperialism as a result of the adhering to the mistakes, degeneration and betrayal of the CPs, and of the capitulation of the Trotskyist opposition to the latter and to Social Democracy.
This takes us on to the second point you raised, which is interesting. You said that, “It also seems to me that in your reply you do not recognise the divisions that exist within the bourgeoisie between the militant elements who readily use fascist terror on the working class and the more liberal elements who are willing to use persuasion backed up where necessary by the power of the capitalist state.” We would like to correct any confusion you may have about this. It is clear that the bourgeoisie is not a homogenous class: it is the class of competition par excellence! But far from not recognising the different faces of the bourgeoisie we constantly point out that the most dangerous face of the bourgeoisie to the proletariat is not the ‘militant, fascist’ one, but the ‘friendly, liberal, democratic’ face.
We think you don’t yet fully appreciate that the leftists are an important part of the political apparatus of the bourgeoisie. The Social Democratic parties have tended to replace the role of the Liberal parties in the line-up of the central countries of capitalism since the First World War. This was obviously the case in the German Revolution where the SDP played the pivotal counter-revolutionary role, not the Liberals. In the UK, the Labour Party began to replace the Liberal Party after 1918. It is necessary to see that the different factions of the bourgeoisie (far-left, left, centre, right, far-right) all have a division of labour against the working class, and which one is in the frontline against the working class depends on the direction to which the historic course is pointing. The far-left is the most dangerous in a period of rising class confrontations. If we look at the history of the defeat of the German Revolution 1918-21, it was precisely the ‘democrats’ who saw to it that the soviets didn’t take power, thus halting the spread of the Russian revolution into Europe. And as you quite rightly say, it was the ‘liberals’ in the SPD who made use of the power of the capitalist state to assassinate Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, crushing the workers’ resistance and paving the way for the rise of fascism.
To sum up, the defence of national liberation is still a reactionary slogan, irrespective of whether or not it mobilises sections of the petty bourgeoisie. And in general, we think that while you say you agree with our position on the decadence of capitalism, you have not fully made the connection between decadence and the central class positions that we defend. You mentioned at the start of your letter that you only argue, “... for some of the ICC positions especially when it comes to the war in Iraq” [our emphasis]. We see the aim of this correspondence is to clarify where we stand on a whole range of questions, and we think it’s just as important to say where you don’t agree with us, and not just on the question of national liberation. It’s through this process of confrontation and clarification that we can move forward. So, what do you think of our positions on the unions, the role of the revolutionary organisation, anti-fascism, state capitalism? …