There are those who justify support for national liberation fronts by saying that any other policy must condemn the proletariat of the Third World to wait impotently until the proletariat in the advanced countries breaks the imperialist chain at its centre. Others, not wanting to sully their hands with supporting bourgeois factions, simply dismiss the revolutionary potential of the working class in the underdeveloped countries, and say that nothing can be done until there is a revolution in the advanced countries.
Both these viewpoints betray an inability to comprehend capital as a global social relation and the working class as one world class. By its own struggles the proletariat in the Third World has shown that it has no intention of passively enduring until the revolution breaks put in a major imperialist centre. While we have no intention of ‘predicting’ where the revolution will break out, there is no a priori reason why a revolutionary impetus might not begin in a Third World country or continent. Of course, the revolution could not maintain itself there for long, but, in the end, this is no less true for America than it is for Venezuela or Vietnam. It is the global nature of the crisis that opens up the possibility of the worldwide generalisation of the revolution, just as it was in 1917 when the revolutionary wave began in ‘backward’ Russia. (It is important to point out that many parts of the Third World – Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, India, Egypt, South Korea, Taiwan, etc – are characterized by important industrial centres and a highly concentrated proletariat, as was Russia on the eve of the October revolution. Even in those countries that lack significant industrial centres there is a large agricultural proletariat as well as dockers, transportation workers, construction workers, etc. who could be the basis of the revolutionary thrust. However, it is undeniable that the chances of a revolutionary impetus beginning from this second category of Third World countries are somewhat remote.)
Unquestionably the problems faced by a proletarian dictatorship in the Third World would be immense. The proletariat in such a region would be faced with the need to feed thousands of lumpenproletarians and landless peasants; it would be confronted with a peasantry attached to the idea of its own property and to subsistence agriculture; it would be threatened with immediate attack by one of the large imperialisms and probably also by their local client states. Clearly in such a situation the only way forward would be to attempt to spread the revolution as quickly as possible towards the advanced capitals, whose material resources and proletarian concentration are absolutely indispensable for the success of the revolution and the creation of socialism. Only if this outward movement is maintained will it be possible for the proletariat to defend its power in a sea of peasants and other non-proletarian strata. In all probability the workers would be forced to make various concessions to the peasants and there would be all kinds of dangers inherent in such concessions. A great deal can be learned from the (negative) experience of the Bolsheviks in this respect. Thus the workers would have to encourage collectivisation rather than the dividing up of the land, and instead of proclaiming a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ the workers would have to prevent the peasants from attempting to ‘share power’ with the proletariat. (Political representation of strata such as the peasantry would be through territorial councils, which would represent the peasants as individuals, not as a whole social class with its own soviet power.) But in any case, any measures the workers took to counterbalance unavoidable concessions could only serve to maintain the balance of forces in favour of the working class if the revolution continued to spread. There can be no solution to the problem of other social strata within a single country. Only the worldwide proletarian dictatorship can really achieve the integration of all classes into the communist association of mankind.
It is vital to understand the problems that a Third World bastion would face and to recognise the central role of the proletariat of the advanced countries. But communists must be aware of the strengths of the proletariat as well as its weaknesses. In the underdeveloped countries the proletariat may constitute a small minority of the population, but as Lenin recognized in 1919:
“The strength of the proletariat in any capitalist country is infinitely larger than its proportion in the total population. This is because the proletariat has economic command of the centre and the nervous system of the capitalist economy, and also because in the political and economic sphere, the proletariat expresses, under capitalist domination, the real interests of the vast majority of the toiling population.” (Lenin, Works, vol.16)
Moreover, the weakness and incompetence of the bourgeoisie in many backward countries may make the actual seizure of power by the working class easier than in the advanced capitalisms where the bourgeoisie is much more experienced and much better equipped to deal with civil disorder. On the global scale, the intervention of the major imperialisms against a revolution in the Third World may be delayed or obstructed by the depth of the crisis and the class struggle in the advanced capitals. The American or Russian bourgeoisie might simply be unable to mobilise ‘their’ workers against a workers’ bastion, even though the workers of the former countries had not yet taken power. In any case, the interdependent nature of the world economy makes the revolution itself no less interdependent. Workers of the advanced countries need the revolution in the backward countries just as the latter require the overthrow of the major powers. There is only one revolution.
Whether the proletarian revolution breaks out in the advanced countries or in the Third World, one thing is certain; the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship anywhere opens the phase of the worldwide civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
The world civil war does not mean that a single proletarian bastion has the ‘messianic’ task of spreading the revolution entirely on its own, of taking on the whole world bourgeoisie in a direct military confrontation. Apart from the fact that this is a strategic utopia, the impossibility of ‘exporting revolution’ by simply invading neighbouring capitalist countries was demonstrated in 1920, when the Red Army’s advance on Warsaw only succeeded in driving the Polish workers into the arms of their own bourgeoisie. A single proletarian bastion will undoubtedly have to conduct a holding operation in military terms; defending what territory it can while attempting to spread the revolution by other means.
The words ‘civil war’ mean that as soon as the question of power is concretely posed, the proletariat has begun a fight to the death with capital. And this is true not just for, the section of the proletariat that has seized power, but for the entire world class. For the proletariat of the workers’ bastion it means that their bastion cannot survive indefinitely within the world capitalist system. Either it remains an expression of the continuous revolutionary struggle of the working class, or it will, succumb at the hand of the counter-revolution, both from within and from without.
For this reason, all the efforts of the workers in their bastion must be geared to the extension of the revolution to the worldwide conquest of power by the working class. The necessary measures of socialisation that the proletariat in power in one area will take are, at this stage, fundamentally means to this end.
The principle vehicle for the extension of the revolution, the proletariat’s main weapon in the civil war, is the class consciousness of the world proletariat. It follows that the main strategy of the proletariat in power in one region is to generalise the political conditions for revolution. It must appeal to the workers of the whole world to come to its aid by making the revolution in their own countries. It must actively assist and arm revolutionary workers everywhere. It must help conduct a massive campaign of agitation and propaganda within the world class, and help provide the organisational means for communist intervention in all countries. (The greatest contribution of the Bolsheviks to the extension of the revolution was the foundation of the 3rd International.)
It is within an overall framework of political considerations that the proletariat must approach the question of the military extension of the revolution. There will certainly be military advances by the proletarian dictatorships, but these offensives will be subordinate to political criteria as well as purely military ones: the degree of revolutionary maturation in the proletariat of other countries, the strength of the bourgeoisie or of nationalist ideology, etc. Needless to say, such offensives will bear no resemblance to the barbaric methods of imperialist plunder. At all times the proletariat in arms will seek to win over the workers of other countries to the revolutionary fight; it cannot terrorize them into joining the revolution and can only reject with contempt all methods aimed at subjugating civilian populations by brute force – bombing and shelling of residential districts, mass reprisals, etc. Under no circumstances can it employ nuclear weapons or bacteriological warfare or any other nightmarish technique of mass murder concocted by decadent capitalism.
But while the proletarian power cannot attempt to incorporate countries into its jurisdiction by sheer force of arms, it cannot for that reason refrain from sending its armed detachments into this or that region out of respect for any‘national rights’, if the situation demands such action. During the period of the civil war, of the extension of the revolution, there can be no concessions to nationalism or any pretended right to national self-determination. Instead of applying the disastrous Bolshevik policy of atomising the proletariat into enclaves at the mercy of the so-called ‘oppressed’ bourgeoisie, the proletarian power will have to make every effort to unify the class by calling for each fraction of the world proletariat to rise against its own bourgeoisie and to participate in the establishment of the international power of the workers’ councils. If this or that fraction of the proletariat retains nationalist illusions these must not be strengthened by promises of national independence but fought every inch of the way. The proletarian bastion will have to give the maximum aid and encouragement to those workers who have broken from nationalism, and will in general appeal to the class interests of all the workers. Nation or class? Capitalist slavery or communist revolution? These are the only alternatives the most resolute fractions of the working class can offer to their class brothers.