Juneteenth and the Ongoing Rebellion

As the George Floyd/#BlackLivesMatter protests show no signs of slowing since late May, we have just observed Juneteenth, the national holiday of the Afro-American people celebrating the news of their legal emancipation from chattel slavery. The significance of this day, in light of their ongoing oppression in all parts of the US, and the historic betrayal of the Union of the people they ostensibly fought to liberate in the South in particular, can hardly be overstated. 

 

Generally, Juneteenth is overwhelmingly celebrated by Afro-Americans, and is largely unknown by the rest of the US. Any official acknowledgement of the day has generally been confined to Texas, which is where it originated. However, in light of recent events, Juneteenth 2020 was commemorated on a massive scale. Thousands upon thousands marched from coast to coast, union dockworkers organized by the left-wing ILWU shut down every port on the West Coast, and a bill to make Juneteenth a countrywide holiday was introduced in the Senate. In this we see the tension between the powers that be and the insurgent masses. While our rulers are forced to acknowledge Juneteenth and try to turn it around and co-op it into a whitewashed summer version of MLK Day (a day for fine speeches and mattress sales), the masses tore down Confederate statues in the heart of the South and shut down a vital point of the global economy. Once again, the gap between their boardrooms and legislative chambers and our streets and communities has been shown. They attempt to pacify, but find themselves outpaced by events. We must not let them close this gap. We must continue to push the struggle forward.

 

Our people in New York, North Carolina, and Massachusetts have been out among the masses shouting for justice for Afro-American people in the face of police violence, the continuation of historic slave patrols. Since the initial #BlackLivesMatter protests in 2013, however, there has been a quantitative and qualitative increase in the prominence and political capital of these protests. Accordingly, now is the time to begin to speak about the implications for revolutionary organization in this country.

 

#BlackLivesMatter itself is the height of popular organization which exists at present. This honor was earned first and foremost by the Afro-American people themselves, in their broad masses. Their long-deferred dream of freedom and justice now explodes in the streets, in the squares, in every single one of the fifty states. This is a crucial turning point for Black America, and an important moment for us all in our education as revolutionaries in the United States.

 

#BlackLivesMatter, as a popular campaign, like the historical Black liberation movements from which it draws so much strength and continuity, is organised around a fundamental demand for Black freedom and justice, for Black political power as the antidote to white supremacy. This latest uprising, sparked by the murder of George Floyd as an individual, but quickly drawing into it the demand for justice for the many victims of lynchings of Afro-Americans preceding and following this particular murder, is impressive for several reasons:

 

1) The rhetorical centering and practical leadership of Black women, particularly in their vocal admonishment of patriarchal Black men for ignoring the Black women victims, in particular Black trans women, murdered alongside the many Black men who have fallen victim to the unchecked racist violence of the settler-colonialist police forces and their “extra-legal” allies, from the Klan to diverse other kinds of white “vigilante” terrorists.

 

2) The increased participation of Black immigrant groups with social ties both to the Afro-American people among whom they are increasingly socialized and their home countries: from Haitians in New York chanting in their native Creole language to ululation and Islamic prayer by Somali protesters in Minneapolis, Blackness is able to simultaneously serve as the identity of the descendents of US slaves seeking historical justice “at home” and as an identity tying the Afro-American people to other Black groups resisting the dominant oppressor identity of the head of international imperialism.

3) The incredible capacity for the closing of ranks by Black revolutionaries and non-Black revolutionaries around clear demands and practical action. The momentum of this uprising has captured the attention of the entire world, providing inspiration for newfound energy in the parallel struggles against racist police violence in countries such as France and Australia.

 

Despite repeated efforts to water down the demands or control the fury of the resistant masses, ranging from the pathetic and redundant “8 Can’t Wait” campaign pushed by the usual Democratic misleadership to demands from liberals for resisters to hand over alleged provocateurs to the police while protesting the police (!), a general mood of “defund to abolish” permeates the youth of all backgrounds.

 

While certainly there have been setbacks and compromises, especially at particular protest sites, the rhetoric of Angela Davis, prominent advocate for police and prison abolition, is gaining ground in the US mainstream. This is a high water mark in a war of position with the pigs being waged by the masses themselves. The less engaged masses are beginning to learn through the breadth of this struggle the depth of the stakes. The frontline strugglers are confronting the police in flesh and blood on a scale and with a ferocity not seen in any of our lifetimes. The role of technology here cannot be understated: for all the powerful weapons technology and surveillance state advantage which the pigs hold in their hands, their bullying, trickery, their petty fascism can and is being quickly captured and disseminated for all to see, not only in this country, but around the world.

 

Here we salute in particular the valuably initiative towards a police-free autonomous zone in the Capitol Hill district of Seattle. In a city where the Black population is less than half, and the Indigenous population less than a quarter of that in Minneapolis, where the uprising started, a mostly white and frequently vacillating popular democratic movement none the less emphasizes that #BlackLivesMatter and acknowledge the infringed-upon sovereignty of the mostly Urban Indian Dxʷdəwʔabš tribe. Whatever the limitations of this moment in time and space, people’s power is emerging as a viable alternative in the imagination of the white left.

 

4) The importance of history: this great moment is showing that old historical wrongs can be brought back to the fore as causes of today. From colonialist statues in California to Confederate statues in the Black Belt South, and finding its reflection across the Atlantic in the struggle against symbols of racist British imperialism, white supremacy as a historical phenomenon is under attack by the heroic masses. While the immediate demands of the uprising relate to the defunding and abolition of the police, there is a vision emerging, particularly in the south, of a future which can overcome the toxic past of white supremacy and settler-colonialism. 

 

5) Thus we come, last but by no means least, to the great resistance in Atlanta, the so-called “Black Mecca”, and a city of great economic and social importance in the Black Belt South. Mayor Keisha Bottoms marshalled the support of some of Atlanta’s biggest celebrity rappers to scold Atlanta protesters for daring to express their outrage at outrageous oppression. Mayor Bottoms stood with APD Chief Erika Shields as she attacked protesters as “anarchists” and “terrorists”. The protesters were collectively treated as children living in a fantasy land while the compradors in this neo-liberal colony of US imperialism painted a real fantasy image of “Wakanda”.

 

But when injury followed this insult, in the murder of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta pigs in a Wendy’s, it was the people of Atlanta and not the pigs who could hold their heads high. Erika Shields resigned, and the Wendy’s burned. APD, unable to cope with the fury of the people, have been abandoning their posts. Still Mayor Bottoms stands with the pigs, throwing money at them instead of the impoverished masses who rightly expressed the outrage she so belittled.

 

It is too soon to say what the medium-to-long-term future of Atlanta resistance will be. One thing is clear, however: the rage of Black America, their righteous demand for justice and liberation, has burst through the dam. Decades of demoralization following the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the FBI destruction of movements and organizations like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense are now turning around: Black youth are standing up from Detroit to Dixie. They are bringing all of us into a new phase of struggle.

 

Who stands with the uprising?

 

The responsibility of non-Black revolutionaries and proletarians is not to replace or take over this struggle, but to support and defend it within a broad conception of the shared struggle for liberation of all people. Struggle for a New World does not write this declaration with any eye to dictating the terms of Black struggle. We affirm that their revolutionary will and leadership is self-evidently emergent. We bear witness to the fact that they produce their own theoreticians, leaders, warriors, and heroes every day.

 

On the contrary, we write this declaration to draw a line in the sand for the left at large, Black and white, Indigenous, New Afrikan, immigrant, and settler. The neo-liberal order is being shaken, and we are passing beyond a point where we can speak in platitudes of a socialism defined merely by resistance to its elected representatives.

 

Decolonization, anti-imperialism, resistance and revolution are not just words. They are concrete actions. Those who truly seek to carry out these heroic acts cannot limit ourselves to wishing for Sanders back, cannot push the heroic liberation movements of the oppressed peoples to the back of the line.

 

Going forward, the revolutionary socialist left must define itself in its overall strategy, collectively, on its commitment to upholding, defending, providing concrete solidarity to, and uniting with struggles such as the Black liberation struggle which is reemerging before the eyes of the entire world. All of those trends who seek to use the daylight hours of the protests simply to recruit a few impressionable kids to raise their organization’s online and protest profile, who suck their teeth in disapproval at a toppled statue or a burned Wendy’s, who secretly cannot wait for the uprising to die down so they can resume their preprogrammed “business as usual” paper leftism, who approach the struggles in this country with formulaic, detached, posturing leftist antics can and in fact must be kept at a distance.

 

We are certain that practical work will become more intensive for revolutionaries in the US in the coming months and years. We are living at the possible end times of the climate crisis, at a crucial turning point for the US’s position as head of international imperialism, and at a time of newfound hope for the oppressed in this country. With sober minds and careful words, we must sit down at the table with all of those revolutionary elements who share our analysis of the history and likely future of this settler-colony. History is handing us an opportunity to play a crucial role in our own liberation. We must answer by uniting in struggle and struggling in unity with all others whose practical ideology is the liberation of the people, resistance to all oppression, and exposure of all lies which stand in the way of these tasks. We must sit down in organizing coalitions as war councils, and in particular we must engage in a principled dialogue with other revolutionary socialists in such contexts so as to better organize and unite our efforts and forces.

 

The unity of the workers and oppressed peoples will form the basis for thebuilding of an organization for their liberation.

Statement on the Lynching of George Floyd and the Minneapolis Uprising

Struggle for a New World strongly condemns the brutal and inhumane police murder of George Floyd, committed by Officer Derek Chauvin, with the aid of other officers of the Minneapolis Police Department, on May 25, 2020. This on-camera murder of an Afro-American man, already handcuffed and on the ground, is only the latest in a long line of legal lynchings. We salute the ongoing popular resistance and community self-defense actions being carried out by the Afro-American people of Minneapolis and their allies. On May 26, thousands defied the restrictions of the coronavirus to peacefully protest George Floyd’s murder, only for the MPD to attempt to viciously repress them. These heroic protesters resisted the attacks of the police. This protest and resistance has continued now into the following days, and will not stop until police murders stop. While the bourgeois media engages in “both-sides” rhetoric and condemns “violent riots” and “looting” in the same breath as they cry crocodile tears over George Floyd, we recognize the legitimacy of resisting, in the words of Malcolm X, “by any means necessary” the attacks and repression of white-supremacist US imperialism, in this instance represented by the MPD.

Let us be clear: it is right to rebel. It is right for the people to storm a police station, as just happened on the night of the 28th. The police are an occupying army who must be kicked out of every Black community, every working class community, every community of the oppressed and exploited. It is right to storm the Targets and ever other store, to seize the capitalist institutions that suck the money out of us and give nothing but starvation wages (with wage theft) in return. Which side are on? Are you on the side of the people, or the pigs? There is no middle path.

This is the latest in a long-running series of lynchings. Four years ago, a MPD police officer murdered Philando Castile, an Afro-American man who was doing everything we’re told to do during an encounter with the police, after pulling him over. A similar though somewhat calmer series of protests occurred then. And before that was Keith Lamont Scott and Charlotte. And before that was Freddie Gray and Baltimore. And before that was Michael Brown and Ferguson. These are just some of the most high-profile police murders of the past few years. And before them there were countless legal lynchings, carried out by the official arms of the white-supremacist US imperialist state. These were the counterparts of the extralegal lynchings carried out by the state’s unofficial arms, the KKK and other fascist paramilitaries. Truly, cops and Klan go hand in hand. Those who wear blue shirts with badges and those who wear white robes with hoods are united in maintaining US imperialism’s control over the oppressed peoples who constitute its internal colonies. Most fundamentally, they are united in maintaining imperialist control over the chief US colony, Afro-America.

Every since its beginning, the American project has been based on Black labor. Beginning in 1619, Africans were stolen and forced to work to build up what now is the US empire, and in this historical process the Afro-American nation was created. This nation remains at the heart of US imperialism, the basis of its proletariat, and its national struggle the most consistently revolutionary struggle within the borders of the US state. Again and again, it has been demonstrated that Afro-America is the Achilles’ Heel of US imperialism. This is why they will do everything in their power to repress Minneapolis, everything in their power to repress future uprisings, and why the police will keep murdering Afro-Americans in the streets. These murders aren’t random, they are terror tactics to keep Afro-America in its chains. But we know that they won’t succeed in stopping the struggle. Consider Palestine: the Palestinian nation has been brutally repressed since the beginnings of Zionist settler-colonialism, and they currently live in one of the most repressive conditions in the world, but they still resist. Just as Palestine will be free, so to will Afro-America. No matter how many police departments go to Israel to train in the latest imperialist brutality, they will not succeed in stopping the struggle. Black Power will come. Afro-America will be free.

To the freedom fighters in Minneapolis, we say that we are with you, and that we will do all we can to aid your struggle. To our readers, we say study the history of Black resistance, get informed and in touch with the Black liberation struggle in your area, and if you can do nothing else, please donate to the official GoFundMe for George Floyd’s family and to the bail fund for those arrested in Minneapolis. There is a countrywide day of protest scheduled for May 30th. If you can, please participate. If nothing is organized in your community, organize it. Your local police department is as guilty as Minneapolis’. Stand up, fight back. Say George Floyd’s name. Say the names of them all. We mourn George Floyd’s death, and we swear we will someday avenge his murder and all those murdered by US imperialism.

Statement for International Workers’ Day 2020

Struggle for a New World sends revolutionary greetings to the working and oppressed peoples of the world on May 1st, 2020, the first International Workers’ Day of this decade.

We observe the holiday of the working class in unique conditions. For many of us, particularly in the US but also across the world, we will spend today inside our homes due to COVID-19. The big rallies and marches that have traditionally marked this day are on hold, as we all try to weather the pandemic and capitalism’s COVID crisis. Yet, today is still “the day we raise our voices loudest in our struggle against capitalism, imperialism, and fascism, and for socialism, peace, and democracy.” The class war has not been put on hold by the pandemic, but exacerbated by it.

With this in mind, we greet our comrades in every corner of the world: this year and decade have been rung in by US imperialism’s threat of imperialist war against Iran, and the burning fires which sweep across our society’s southern hemisphere twin: Australia. These are but two fitting reminders of capitalism’s threat of world-destroying war and climate crisis. And now we face this pandemic, which has impacted every corner of the world, a fitting reminder of our interconnectedness.

The Assaults of Capital

What has this meant for conditions in the US? The unbridled pursuit of profit over all else has meant that the situation here has been atrociously mishandled. There were no steps taken to prepare the general population, while those with advance knowledge lined their own pockets at our expense.

When necessary social distancing and lockdown measures were implemented, it was done without any consideration for providing for the people. How are we to even consider the paltry $1200 in TrumpBucks, when we are still expected to pay our rent, bills, and all other expenses just as regularly? And how can we pay our rent if we’ve been fired or furloughed?

Unemployment is spiking, state unemployment systems can’t keep up, and our creditors pound on our doors. Even for those of us who still have a job, the “heroic” “essential workers”, we are forced to work in unsafe conditions for paychecks that were insufficient even before, and now only make an insult out of our rhetorical “hero” status.

Even the most threatened and precarious social positions in the “best” of times have been faced with yet new indignities: the homeless are being forced to sleep in parking lots, and the imprisoned have been left to fend for themselves in the perfect conditions for the spread of disease. Afro-Americans, always especially singled out for racist harassment even among oppressed minorities, are punished for wearing face coverings which are necessary to go outside in most areas! Such is the reality of COVID-19 for the workers and oppressed.

The petty bourgeoisie is barely having a better time. Since a capitalist economy, and particularly a post-industrial service economy, is not structured to be able to withstand a temporary shutdown, what few existing public health measures that exist are being pilloried by right-wing forces in the name of “reopening the economy.” This rhetoric is supported mainly by small business owners, who lack the margins to support themselves on their own and who are not receiving necessary aid. The GOP are exposing the lie of their concern for “small business”, and indeed of a capitalism which gives a chance to “entrepreneurs”: in any crisis, the state finds its role to be the economic protection and defence of the major corporations who are the real masters of society. Every economic crisis sweeps away smaller capital in favor of big capital, hastening the trend of capitalism towards monopolization.

Resistance

In the wake of Sanders’s surrender to the Biden campaign, across the United States political radicals and working class youth in particular have rapidly distanced themselves from electoralist rhetoric and activity. Of course, legalistic and reformist actions and gains ebb and flow in the course of our struggle, and it is no surprise to revolutionary socialists that there can be no smooth reformist course to liberation, and illusions of such a course can only serve to smother radical demands to death.

However, it is equally dangerous to replace a blind reformism with a postured radicalism. Since the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, and today in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we have all seen as many reformist projects falter and fall as we have seen cynics stand on the sidelines and sagely predict the failure of everything. The first and foremost question facing us all in these times are what trends already exist which cannot so easily be co-opted and destroyed? What are the actually existing organizations of the workers and oppressed?

Earlier this year, across the border (imposed by inter-colonizer wars) in Canada, there have been renewed actions of Indigenous resistance to the colonizer state. These protests were directed at corporate lust for Indigenous land, water, and other resources, as if the genocide and occupation which was necessary for the creation of the US and Canada did not provide the colonizer ruling classes with enough control of Indigenous lives and environment. As the Indigenous strugglers, from spontaneous local committees to fully organized groups such as Red Nation, do not recognize the colonial border, we hail not only these “Canadian resistances” but the potential they show for wider and deeper cross-continent Indigenous resistance to environment degradation, economic exploitation, and continuing colonial oppression and genocide.

Just as the hunger of capital for Indigenous resources has provoked resistance from Indigenous peoples, among the most oppressed victims of this system, we call to the strugglers of the main oppressor settler nationality in the United States: Sanders did not make the Sanders campaign possible. The growing reemergence of class consciousness even here in the belly of the capitalist-imperialist beast made the Sanders campaign possible. Sanders’s surrender may be intensely demoralizing for those who donated to or took part in it, but it will not be the end.

Last year witnessed a new wave of workers’ strikes in the US, in spite of the relative political cowardice of US unions and accordant predictions that unions were an “outdated” mode of struggle by some left radicals. With deepening economic crisis at the top of the system and resultant rising unemployment and underemployment at the bottom, we are hopeful for continuing efforts to organise labor as labor, for a good old-fashioned strike. Like the struggles of the oppressed peoples, we imagine that the depth of the crisis itself will provoke this.

However, it is not enough to make predictions and watch developments from afar. Our history teaches us that subjective action is the decisive factor in every crisis. With this in mind, let us continue and intensify our call for a material and ideological struggle for the revolution and socialism. Pandemic or no pandemic, we must and will continue the struggle to “bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old” – a world in which “the international working class shall be the human race.” We invite all revolutionary and socialist minded people interested in this struggle to get in touch with us on a comradely and critical basis, so that we may unite in struggle and struggle in unity.

Long Live International Workers’ Day!

Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World – Unite!

COVID-19 and Capitalism

2EB417B5-1AAA-4F61-B7C7-CA4322AEEF85Right now, the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the US and UK are more rapid than in any other country, despite a clear head start in China, Iran, and Italy.

This is due to the flagrant mismanagement by the Trump and Johnson governments, each of them tied to the most extreme of “market freedom” economic ideologies, which as we can see in practice, means more profits at the cost of human needs.

In the US, a discussion of “reopening the economy”— as though for millions of workers forced to continue their jobs without basic protections it was “closed” in the first place— began soon after shutdowns were ordered. The idea that vulnerable people should be happy to die for the stock market was even presented in mainstream media. In the UK, the government proposed a strategy of “herd immunity” from the outset, before backtracking and instituting a lockdown.

This hyper-focus on profit at all costs and scientifically questionable “herd immunity” strategy are related. We share the analysis that “herd immunity” policies are a form of “epidemiological neoliberalism:”

“Much like the unconditional belief in the free market, herd immunity relies on the assumption that an epidemic is best overcome by leaving it unregulated. But just like neoliberalism, it results in violence against the weak and the poor: elderly and disabled people, homeless people, refugees and people with severe health conditions – many of whom are likely to also have a lower socio-economic status because of the correlation between poverty and illness. These are the people, who are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19 – especially if the healthcare system is overwhelmed and doctors have to perform triage”

It is perfectly possible to tackle an epidemic more effectively even within capitalism, as diverse East Asian countries that experienced another type of coronavirus, SARS have demonstrated. Countries which have already earned praise for this vary from formerly socialist China to its Cold War rival government in Taiwan, from Hong Kong and Macau to Singapore and Japan. But the apparently most effective control of the spread of the virus in East Asia of course appears to be Korea, as the DPRK (alongside Cuba) is the most resistant to marketization of any of the old socialist bloc countries.

Ultimately, the COVID-19 outbreak reveals to us the extreme extent to which, in our society in particular, profits are put before human needs. But ultimately, as the environmental crisis and the crisis of capital will result in ever more frantic attempts to safeguard profits, only overcoming the profit motive entirely and replacing it with a global planned economy based on human need can suffice.

Socialists in the US must be at the forefront of calling for reforms under the watchword of “people, not profits” in the short term. But we must not think that we live in times were piecemeal reforms can save all but a narrow section of us: the scale of the aforementioned systemic crises combined with new outbreaks of epidemics in the midst of refugee crisis and climate change will expose the poorest and most vulnerable around the world to more severe health risks, to new wars and oppressive biopolitics.

Time is running out to save our species which is careening towards the edge of catastrophe driven by the cult of profits. Our call for “people, not profits”, cannot just be for a solution to a healthcare crisis at home, or fracking, or any other individual symptoms of the capitalist-imperialist world system. All of these causes must be taken up with an eye to the totality of the inhuman system, and we must unite with others to build political organisations capable of leading the charge for toiling humanity to liberate ourselves, before it is too late.

Workers and oppressed peoples of the world, unite.

Feminism and Nationalism

by Muhsin Yorulmaz

In the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, most of the remaining “socialist states” have been those which came into being through the explicit form of a national liberation struggle: Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, China, and Korea, all are united by the fact that a (at the time) Marxist-Leninist party led a popular front to victory against the forces of imperialism and fascism, and continue to stand as the de facto engineers of “socialist statehood”. Because of this, many people, particularly young people without any particular theoretical training, over-identify with national liberation as the defining feature of Marxism-Leninism.

From the other side, there are those, particularly left communists and Trotskyites, who accuse our entire ideology of being nothing more than a series of nationalist commitments. If one defends the national rights of the Kurdish people, one has fallen victim to “Kurdish nationalism”. In the United States, those who continue to uphold Afro-American liberation are accused of being nothing more than “Black nationalists”. The most troubling form of this comes, not from armchair critics of “nationalism” who would never say anything that could be accused of some sort of “nationalism”, but from members of the aforementioned first group, who imagine their perspective to be broadly “anti-imperialist”, but in fact use their own, unacknowledged, uninvestigated, uncriticized nationalism to attack the basic demands for rights by other nations.

In other words, the crux of our problem, as I have stated before, is how to distinguish between being a “nationalist” for oppressed peoples and simply defending oppressed nationalities.

This distinction is important, as the nationalist places at the centre of their world a nation, ignoring its internal contradictions, an error we must be very careful not to fall into. Although I am often accused of ignoring, for example, class contradictions among nations whose bourgeoisies are not hegemonic within a given state, I do consider this quite frequently, it’s simply that, in many contexts, a more powerful nation’s bourgeoisie has forced some sections of certain nation’s bourgeoisies into a progressive historical position, however temporarily.

So, given that I have spoken about this before, and noting the title at the top, the reader may wonder: what does this have to do with feminism?

Well, to begin with, feminism is a far more powerful ideology for women than nationalism is, given the extreme machismo of nationalist ideology in general: nationalism tends to laud great men at the centre of its historical imaginary. As a bourgeois modernist ideology, nationalism tends to identify with the normative form of the nation-state, which in turn places great importance on the patriarchal family: symbolically, in “ruling families” (in the US, one can think of the President and the “First Lady” and their ideological role), and practically, in terms of how society is organized (with families as an economic unit, the household, the division of labor predicated on the market, etc.).

In capitalist society, women are generally taught to think about nations and their interrelations in terms that have been taught to them by nationalist ideologues, but they do not tend to dominate as nationalist ideologues. Men may be subject to the same ideological indoctrination as women, but they tend to identify more readily with the violent defense of “the nation”, and subordinate women as a collective national “honor” to be (sexually and physically) defended from men of other nationalities.

Most brands of feminist one encounters, however, will be quick to criticize nationalist ideology for many of these same reasons as communists might. They tend to employ a rhetoric which alienates precisely those men who are still the most indoctrinated with nationalist ideology, and yet are able to more quickly cut through nationalist ideology with women, because they ask a question so many women don’t realize they were dying to be asked: isn’t this whole society run “for men”?

A great number of Marxist-Leninists I know, including many women, often explicitly state that their approach to feminism is akin to their approach to the nationalism of oppressed nationalities: “we are not feminists, but we support women’s rights,” or “we are not feminists, but we support women’s liberation.” In fact, I personally first learned these formulas from women comrades and not from men. Many of these women make a point of proving their point in material practice by being among the fiercest strugglers for their own rights, and do so working with “bourgeois feminists”. Thus, I do not claim that there is something anti-woman about these formulas, in the abstract.

However, I claim that there is a difference in how denials of “feminism” and denials of “nationalism” are employed in practice. I claim this is the case even when the Marxist-Leninist in question is both a man and a member of an oppressor nation, and thus, theoretically, should have an equal “stake” (or lack thereof) in both questions. Why might this be?

First of all, speaking on behalf of Marxist-Leninist men, I believe we are harsher on feminists than nationalists. I think as men we have a tendency to be less conscious of chauvinistic language employed against women than chauvinistic language employed against oppressed nations. I think we are quicker to call any manifestation of women’s struggle for liberation “bourgeois feminism” than we are to call manifestations of the struggle against national oppression “bourgeois nationalism”. I think we are more conscious of the need to recruit proportionately or (even better) disproportionately many oppressed nationals to our organizations than we are to recruit women at even the most modest rates.

Worst of all, of course, when women are recruited in an appropriate number to an organization, all too often it is because some are being groomed for sex by abusive, charismatic men cadres. Relatedly, we are quicker to form national sections of a party in a multi-national state than women’s sections, even though strong women’s sections are crucial to keeping abusive men cadres in line, whereas, as I have said, I think even without oppressed nationalities sections many organizations trend more towards a reflexive opposition to direct abuse of oppressed nationalities.

This is all quite ironic, because, objectively, feminism is less dangerous to the subjectivity we are trying to build from the masses than nationalism. One can easily imagine a currently oppressed nation will be liberated from the national oppression, will gain their national rights, etc., but the struggle will end there and this new national state might have very weak dynamics of social struggle, as happened with so many countries around the world. Some nation’s proletariats, consequently, become deradicalized by the release of pressure brought about by the end of a particularly violent national oppression, and although they remain exploited and oppressed in many ways unrelated to their specific national belonging, accept the propaganda of their “own” triumphant bourgeoisie, which seeks class peace so it may dominate its “own” market.

At the risk of redirecting to the piece I published too often, I wrote about this in some detail and it was published on this website.

However, there has never been a bourgeois matriarchal state. There has never been a country whose women’s conscious subjectivity as women could be “satisfied” with a “woman-state”, because the “woman-state” is seemingly impossible under capitalism. Part of the reason for this lies in how feminism understands itself, which is indeed, not a “woman-dominated” equivalent to patriarchy (just as socialists do not imagine “the dictatorship of the proletariat” equivalent to the bourgeois state, save for “who’s in charge”), but to overcome what the patriarchy has defined gender as and create a total equality. The idea itself is quite anti-capitalist in potential, and positions most feminists firmly within “the radical left”, because capitalism itself does not allow for any kind of real equality, but only diverse layers of inequality and exploitation maintained through the force of the state itself.

The only sort of “feminists” who can imagine “their own” state are the Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Tansu Çiller brand of “feminists” who make absolutely no demands of the patriarchy save for token (and, as we have seen in Turkey since the end of the Çiller era, extremely temporary) representation of women at “the commanding heights” of symbolic state power. Just as I caution Marxist-Leninists from seeing in the most internally despised brands of “anarchist” a representative form, I would caution men from seeing in this brand of “feminism” the feminism of actually existing feminists, who number in their thousands at least in every country, and are fully capable of articulating a theoretical defense of their positions which we ought to approach much as we approach the national liberation movement.

To me, it seems obvious that just as we position ourselves on the front lines of national liberation in spite of this meaning we find ourselves allied with revolutionary nationalists, we must be unafraid to position ourselves in contexts where radical feminists dominate, and be able to recruit from within those milieus and build our own structures which strengthen and draw strength from them.

To this, some may ask, if we are “too hard on feminists”, and need to not keep them “at arm’s length” (and this is indeed my claim), why not simply follow the lead of various communist groups who proudly proclaim their organizations to be “feminist” (noting of course that many of these groups are quite insincere about both feminism and communism in practice)? As I said, precisely for the same reasons I gave for not referring to ourselves as “nationalists” of oppressed nations: There is a meaningful distinction between supporting “kinds of liberation [that we advocate as revolutionary socialists]” and centralizing the identity of a particular site of oppression as if it actually expressed the universal ideology we uphold.

We should not claim to be “against” feminists, but this label, like “nationalist” should be reserved for general currents in which our organizations can take part, can work with, can run parallel to. One can claim that “the Kurdish movement” in Turkey is “nationalist”, and we, as supporters of national liberation, should not attack them on these grounds, but it is a meaningful distinction between us: for us, Kurdistan is a particular site of the universal struggle, and not our self-definition and the limitation of our vision.

But again, it is of the utmost importance to note that because radical feminists do not in general advocate for “the woman-state”. In fact, it would make a great deal of sense to advocate a sort of “matriarchal” ideology for a future society, as a means of beating back the ideological holdover of our current patriarchal existence. But the struggle of women is generally articulated in international terms, and thanks to the universalizing power of hegemonic capitalism, it seems far more universal than any particular “left-nationalist” ideology.

When US communists (rightly) seek ties with Kurdish or Palestinian student groups or civil society organizations, they are generally overcoming to a certain extent a national division between peoples, and are accordingly doing subjective work to build an international and internationalist consciousness. But is this any less true when it comes to communists reaching out to and working with groups of women struggling “as feminists”? On the contrary, for the reasons stated, it is only more true of the radical feminists.

As it says in the Manifesto:

In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.

In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.

We must struggle in all the particular sites which reveal the totality of capitalist society’s underlying contradictions. In the final instance, we are not for the oppressed and the exploited because of the particular form of their identity, but in the first instance, they experience their oppression and exploitation through the lens of manifold identities. This mediation is where the vanguard proves itself first.

On the “Deal of the Century” and the Oslo Accords

wall

On Tuesday, January 28th, the United States announced its latest “peace plan” for the Palestinian people in a characteristic display of arrogant imperialist hubris. Like all such “peace plans” put forth by the US, the plan offered no meaningful concessions from the Israeli side. Yet the Trump administration, in typical shady salesman style, has pushed it as “the Deal of the Century”, even having the chutzpah to mock and insult the entire Palestinian people prior to their even having a chance to reject this latest non-solution.

All of this in spite of the fact that the entire conflict is the result of the Zionist state being built via settler-colonial violence against the Indigenous Palestinian population, and in spite of the fact that an apartheid state of affairs persists on their land to this day. The Palestinian people are expected to jump with joy every time the head imperialist power “offers” them “peace” in the form of total surrender to Zionist colonization, and of course are vilified for any resistance, including non-violent resistance which they are not obligated to restrain themselves to.

In response to being offered nothing again, this time without a single Palestinian representative even to serve as a fig leaf for US imperialism’s persistent support for Zionist colonization, the Palestinian Authority has reportedly overturned the 1995 Oslo Accords which serve as the legal basis for the fraudulent “peace process” which has continued ever since.

The Palestinian people have long seen that the Zionist state has no interest in accepting even the most modest peaceful and legalistic compromise which would allow the Palestinian people to live in peace and dignity alongside those that colonized them. All attempts at achieving any sort of decolonization of any part of Palestine through peaceful negotiations have proven fruitless time and again.

The Palestinian left has long affirmed these facts, and if the authorities who supposedly represent the Palestinian people have at last been forced to agree, this vindicates the left’s criticisms of the Palestinian Authority. The cancellation of the Oslo Accords would represent a bare minimum of popular representation, and the first step for the Palestinians to articulate on the world stage a vision for their place in the 21st century beyond being residents of a Bantustan.

Any remaining “peace camp” which exists in Israeli society with any real and sincere commitment to peace will certainly acknowledge this. Even if the entire Israeli Jewish population should long for peace with all of their hearts, scream for it at the top of their lungs, even face down the police demanding it at personal risk, it is a long-established fact that the Zionist authorities refuse any peace save for the peaceful surrender of any Arabs who dare resist their ongoing illegal and oppressive occupation of Palestine.

When the Israeli politician Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for his role in the Oslo Accords, the killer himself identified a conspiracy behind him the Zionist state was “afraid” to pursue those responsible. It later came that the Israeli intelligence services had a direct hand in encouraging the assassination (see Dan and Eisenberg’s “Crimes d’État: l’assassinat de Rabin, les attentats”).

In a country such as the US, where a significant portion of the population is still led to believe that Israel offers peace to the Palestinian people who reject it for no reason, it is the bare minimum duty for those interested in peace in the Middle East region to ceaselessly undermine this propaganda line with the truth of the matter: the Israeli state has never wanted or accepted the idea of real peace negotiations with the Palestinians under any circumstances. All Palestinian resistance has been resistance to a campaign which seeks to deny them their most basic rights. The fact that US imperialism arrogantly thinks it can force such an unworkable apartheid “solution” as Trump’s laughably named “Peace to Prosperity” plan is a testament to the widespread ignorance about the Palestinian struggle which persists.

All revolutionary, democratic, and pro-peace forces in the US must unconditionally condemn the Zionist project for what it is: a settler-colonial project born, like the US itself, from genocidal violence by a foreign population against the Indigenous. We must call out Israeli apartheid by name, and defend the Palestinian right to resist this apartheid just as the peoples of Azania did in the 20th century. We must work with Palestinians here and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their occupied homeland in order to expose the lies of Zionist propaganda and make possible the self-liberation of the Palestinian people, from the river to the sea.

Where Does the Revolutionary Party Stand on the State?

supremesoviet

by Muhsin Yorulmaz

In writing this piece, I’m acutely aware of my own identity as a Marxist, which starts with the assumption that to be a Marxist is to be one of the most ruthless theoretical and practical critics of “the state”, and to conceive of “the state” as an enemy which can only be defeated by revolution. In fact, in the United States, which is the focus of the website on which I’m publishing, a great number of purported “Marxists” insist that they desire no such revolutionary overturn at all. Many even mock anarchists for using just such words as the ones I chose above.

This reality, to the sincere Marxist, is evidence of the widespread nature of “revisionism” of the essential claims of Marxism, by which Marxism is distanced from revolution and transformed into a “proper” statist ideology, like social democracy.

But confusing matters when we make this claim, is the fact that since the lifetime of Marx itself, anarchist opponents took issue with Marx’s analysis of the historical emergence and likely future of the state as entity. When Marxism in practice led to the formation of new state entities and these entities could convincingly be accused of repression, ultimately even of the interests they claimed to represent (namely, a revolution which would liberate humanity from exploitation and oppression), the anarchists felt themselves vindicated that our ideology effectively produces the same results as the status quo and is accordingly not worth considering as a revolutionary alternative.

This reality, of the historical and contemporary debate between anarchists and Marxists on “the state” in the abstract and the Soviet Union (at least in its early history) in the concrete, is evidence that Marxists are indeed demarcated from anarchists on theoretical grounds that include our conception of the state.

This piece will take up this contradiction and attempt an explanation of how our sincere difference with the anarchists was transformed into a lack of difference with social democracy. The point of this, of course, is not merely to weep about a past revolution, but to rearm ourselves and reaffirm our commitment to new revolutions which will, we hope, succeed in remaking the world sufficiently to pass beyond the state. I will rearticulate the basic Marxist understanding of revolution and the state (drawing heavily on Lenin’s “the State and Revolution”), and in this context, critique our 20th century history’s approach to both: it is my claim that there are concrete limitations when state and revolution have to continue in parallel, limitations that the party was ill-prepared for, and the inevitable result was the retreat of the Soviet Union’s revolutionary commitments, and the failure even of the “anti-revisionist” trend in Albania and China.

 

Class, Revolutions, and History

To Marx, the state was not a unique force of violence unto itself. It was the outcome and part of the objectified form of class struggle, a process which extended back to the beginnings of divisions of labor and property. The fact that the state’s own actions dictate part of the direction of class struggle is not unimportant, because the ruling classes are not a series of automatons, even if the profit motive often nearly reduces them to such.

But many anarchists would agree that to imagine a “stateless” society dictated by profits and capitalism is to imagine exploitative and oppressive social relations in control, which would itself mean the (re)construction of something we might reasonably call the state. For this reason, almost the entire anarchist movement rightly mocks “anarcho-capitalism”, and a growing number of anarchists likewise regard mutualism, with its claims to “egalitarian markets”, with suspicion. The variety of anarchists with whom most of us will find ourselves in debate, discourse, and indeed, practical politics, will be those who identify with “anarcho-syndicalism”, “anarcho-communism”, or “libertarian socialism”: they are profoundly anti-capitalist and anti-market in their ideology.

In general, such anarchists generally do not consider that the difference between them and us Marxists lies in their understanding of the relationship of capital to the state. While one might encounter the odd anarchist who says that there is capital (which is a social “ill”) and the state (which is a separate social “ill”), almost all would agree that it is the demands of capital under capitalism which dictate the terms of the state’s oppression of the majority of humanity.

The division, as anarchists are only too happy to offer, is that anarchists believe that the idea of a “proletarian state”, a “socialist state”, a “lower stage of communism” where the state persists, will only serve to recreate capital and capitalism, despite pretensions to the contrary. In fact, we should note, history somewhat vindicates this position: it is an observed fact that actually existing socialism did give way to capital re-seizing power through the state and reimposing itself.

And indeed, the “anti-revisionist” will counter, the problem is not with the observation, but in its negation: how do anarchists propose to build a truly stateless society in an immediate sense, while also restructuring productive relations so as to pass beyond capitalism? As Chairman Mao said when responding to the query “Don’t you want to abolish state power?”:

“Yes, we do, but not right now; we cannot do it yet. Why? Because imperialism still exists, because domestic reaction still exists, because classes still exist in our country.”

The operative word in this quote is “cannot”. We are not “pro-state”, such that we “want” a world of states, with their repression and coercion etc., and thereby force them into the world. This position, which Mao is articulating, is similar to that articulated by Lenin in “the State and Revolution”, (itself drawing heavily on Engels). What Mao is trying to articulate, in the above quote, Mao is articulating a very orthodox Marxist position, that Marxism seeks the overthrow of the state, which is a class formation (just as we currently experience it under capitalism). Mao defends the idea of an ongoing revolutionary repression of class enemies of this revolution until the revolution triumphs in the country and across the world, at which point it will be possible for the state to be “abolished”. The “socialist state” is a transitionary form, which as Mao acknowledges elsewhere explicitly (see Li 2008, p.59), and implicitly in practice through the Cultural Revolution, is problematic because the transition can be reversed.

If, the day after the revolution, we were to not consider a “state-like” means of collectivizing self-defense, planning the economy, repressing reaction and enforcing liberating progress, it would simply mean willfully disorganizing our response to inevitable counter-revolution. Anarchists actually tend to accept that some means of overt violence would be necessary after overthrowing the bourgeois state, they simply claim that theirs would be a more generalized series of militias and councils, and not a “real” state. Of course, the very fact of “organizing” these would be perceived as “state-like” to their enemies and the outside world. In other words, the idea that organized violence in defense of the revolution would not constitute a “state” is actually very close to Engels’s claim that proletarian revolution “abolishes also the state as state”, leaving a “state” that should “wither away” by itself.

This argument, about the precise “amount” of state which is “too much state” is, to my mind, overly formulaic, and at any rate flattens the actual means by which force and coercion were used in actually existing socialism: “the socialist state” could repress reactionaries, and then, upon the apparent “interests” of the state changing, turn around and repress the masses of people, and revolutionaries upholding the line of the liberation of all poor and oppressed.

It is beneath the anarchists if they would respond to both forms of “violence” with liberal hand-wringing, and indeed most anarcho-syndicalists would not: they know as well as we do that there are justified forms of forceful intervention and reeducation, and our common work against fascism is a testament to this that any Marxist or anarchist who has left their armchair for sufficient time can call to mind.

The most crucial thing to grasp is that the state itself is a result of the class struggle, and so making it “stronger” to enforce revolutionary law can “backfire” if counter-revolution sets in. Making it “weaker” or “less state-like” or however else one wishes to approach the problem, strengthens the hand of counter-revolution to overturn this new order and return to the old, even if they have to rebuild the state machinery themselves. So the strength of the state, how “state-like” a “state-like” form of organization is, cannot rescue us from this problem: Anarchist or communist, none of us can deny that revolutions can be reversed. How does this happen?

 

Lenin’s “State and Revolution”: is the bourgeois state abolished?

Lenin summarizes the basic Marxist understanding of the state very clearly in his famous “State and Revolution”, namely that the state “is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonism objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.”

The more clever anarchists will not only agree, they will counter that this is precisely their argument against “the proletarian state”: we can say that the proletariat is in power, but the very fact of the state shows that the “abolished” bourgeois state is not entirely “gone”, because the state itself is evidence of a class society in some sense. Actually, if more anarchists had actually read Lenin’s “the State and Revolution” (which, to be fair, most of our “Leninists” also refuse to read), they would know that none other than their supposed enemy Lenin says much the same. I will quote at length from Chapter 5 of “the State and Revolution”:

Marx not only most scrupulously takes account of the inevitable inequality of men, but he also takes into account the fact that the mere conversion of the means of production into the common property of the whole society (commonly called “socialism”) does not remove the defects of distribution and the inequality of “bourgeois laws” which continues to prevail so long as products are divided “according to the amount of labor performed”. Continuing, Marx says:

“But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged, after prolonged birth pangs, from capitalist society. Law can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

And so, in the first phase of communist society (usually called socialism) “bourgeois law” is not abolished in its entirety, but only in part, only in proportion to the economic revolution so far attained, i.e., only in respect of the means of production. “Bourgeois law” recognizes them as the private property of individuals. Socialism converts them into common property. To that extent–and to that extent alone–“bourgeois law” disappears.

However, it persists as far as its other part is concerned; it persists in the capacity of regulator (determining factor) in the distribution of products and the allotment of labor among the members of society. The socialist principle, “He who does not work shall not eat”, is already realized; the other socialist principle, “An equal amount of products for an equal amount of labor”, is also already realized. But this is not yet communism, and it does not yet abolish “bourgeois law”, which gives unequal individuals, in return for unequal (really unequal) amounts of labor, equal amounts of products.

This is a “defect”, says Marx, but it is unavoidable in the first phase of communism; for if we are not to indulge in utopianism, we must not think that having overthrown capitalism people will at once learn to work for society without any rules of law. Besides, the abolition of capitalism does not immediately create the economic prerequisites for such a change.

Now, there are no other rules than those of “bourgeois law”. To this extent, therefore, there still remains the need for a state, which, while safeguarding the common ownership of the means of production, would safeguard equality in labor and in the distribution of products.

The state withers away insofar as there are no longer any capitalists, any classes, and, consequently, no class can be suppressed.

But the state has not yet completely withered away, since the still remains the safeguarding of “bourgeois law”, which sanctifies actual inequality. For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary.

In other words, the bourgeois state is “abolished”, and yet it doesn’t immediately become as nothingness: it continues to exist in partial, retreating only so far as we push it, ultimately and potentially “withering” form in or at best beneath the form of the proletarian state.

It is worth noting at this juncture that the overuse of the references to “abolition” in Marxist texts in English is something of a poor translation of the concept of “Aufhebung”, the process of “sublation” via the negation of the negation. In German, “aufheben” is to take up, remove, and/or store away something. It expresses, for Hegel and his immediate successors, the complicated process of one thing negating the other, and thus, even in possibly “replacing” it, being shaped by its interaction and process of becoming through its dialectical opposite.

Thus, when the socialist revolution negates the bourgeois state, it also takes what it has negated into itself, in preserving the state form, which is “necessary” for reasons of material Realpolitik but necessarily still contradictory because the logic of bourgeois law and order has created it. The process of transformation and change necessary to overcome the class struggle in its totality, to undergo the total social transformation to which Lenin refers, is a much longer process, requiring the society itself to change (as Lenin emphasizes in great detail in Chapter 5, as quoted above and discussed in more detail in the source text).

Lenin is quite clear that

there remains for a time not only bourgeois law, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie! […] But in fact, remnants of the old, surviving in the new, confront us in life at every step, both in nature and in society. And Marx did not arbitrarily insert a scrap of “bourgeois” law into communism, but indicated what is economically and politically inevitable in a society emerging out of the womb of capitalism.

We know that the “inevitable” “defect” of bourgeois statehood or something like it surviving under and through the dictatorship of the proletariat can be used to “excuse” “market socialism”. This text is not a fig leaf for economic similarity between socialism and capitalism (which is another subject of great importance), but rather a thorough criticism and discussion of the practical possibilities of revolutionary statecraft. Lenin’s writings (including the above much-quoted “State and Revolution” to some extent) are filled with attacks on those who attempt to reduce socialism and Marxism to mere state-centric reforms on capitalism, and the basic Marxist understanding of economics stands against the idea of “market socialism”.

The argument being made here is not one against seeing a difference between the pre- and post-revolutionary orders, but rather a warning that the revolution contains within itself the possibility of its own failure. It is a most revolutionary and self-critical text, nothing in common with those who wave their hands at all criticisms of anything deemed “actually existing socialism” by stating that “socialism isn’t full communism” (as if this means it need not demonstrate a difference with capitalism!). Indeed, and this will figure into the remainder of my argument, the lack of grasping of the role of the state and the danger it represents allowed for easier counter-revolution in those states with the most meaningful economic claims to being actually existing socialism.

The fact that socialism must be defined by economic criteria and not merely by the approach to the state is one that is dealt with in criminally little detail in this piece, which chooses to focus on this question of the state for reasons of current discourse and historical analysis. None the less, the interested reader is directed to pedagogically sound introductory texts such as Bertell Ollman’s treatise “Marx’s Vision of Communism”, and, one should hope, for a more thoroughly economic understanding, Marx’s “Capital”, particularly the first volume.

But leaving these crucial questions aside for another time, let us assume that communist parties in power were familiar with the economic tasks (broad and specific) at hand and were armed with sufficient theoretical knowledge of economics to “fill in the blanks” of practice. If we really understand the state as a reflection of class struggle, and really consider, as Lenin did, that the party is itself a “vanguard” of this struggle, we ought to have something to say about how these “proletarian states” descended to the level of bourgeois statehood and accepted capitalist restoration: was it not the ruling party of the Soviet Union which voted to dissolve itself? Where did this process begin?

 

The 1924 Soviet Constitution in Context

The objective context for the Russian Revolution’s eventual reversal is to be found in the imperialist world system: following Russia’s exit from the inter-imperialist First World War, the recuperated Soviet forces attempted to spread the revolution westward, with the defeat in Poland being the first signal that, world revolutionary aspirations or not, the Soviet Union would be constrained by the power which capital as a global economic force had amassed, and had to, on some level, accept the system of states that existed in the world. Relatively “normal” international relations gradually set in and eventually the nascent Soviet republics formally declared a union, culminating in the Soviet Constitution of 1924. To some left communists, this was the beginning of the end of “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat”, and the beginning of surrender to stagnation and statist status quoism.

Note, in defense of the left communists from the usual misrepresentation of their positions by amateur “Marxist-Leninists” on the internet, that the left communists absolutely upheld the idea of an organized system constructed on the dictatorial power of and representing the proletariat, and generally they defend the revolutionary credentials of the October Revolution at least until the early 1920s. Their position was not at all that Lenin was too “dictatorial”, but rather that the Soviet system was unable to sustain its own revolution.

The 1924 constitution is condemned by some left communists not because it is a constitution, but because the historical context in which the constitution was written made it a constitution of acceptance of the retreat that the material conditions imposed on the Soviet Union. It was the legal manifestation of the revolution’s “retreat”, which many left communists would claim this was “inevitable” given these conditions, and their criticism is of the party and theory of the Marxist-Leninists, and not of a state which they would claim anyway was the outcome of these factors.

I note the left communist position, although I disagree with it because I consider socialist construction was ongoing for several decades, but it is important to understand that we need some criterion for determining if a revolutionary process has reversed and has given birth to its own counter-revolution. And the state itself is where we find the ultimate proof: does the state, whose very existence is the result of a certain stage of class struggle, reflect the political power of the proletariat, struggling to overcome the material contradictions which make any “state” (as we understand the word) necessary?

If our only criterion for an ongoing revolutionary process and socialist construction is that a red-colored flag is still flying and a party with the word “communist” in its name is still in power, we could conceivably imagine a party, in power thanks to a much-beloved heritage, maintaining its formal identity as “communist” and keeping the word “socialism” in the constitution but completely accepting the capitalist world-system in its domestic and foreign policies, which of course, has no value to us at all. If our criteria for socialist revolution cannot necessarily exclude and overcome capitalism, we have a valueless theory of revolution indeed.

By contrast, the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists tend to emphasize the formal declaration of the end of the dictatorship of the proletariat during the Khrushchev era. Khrushchev did not posit that this was because the state was withering away, but that the Soviet Union had somehow maintained its statehood and also transcended class struggle (!), and now represented a government of all classes: in other words, the same reformist social democratic claim torn apart by Lenin in the very first section of “the State and Revolution”, and also accepted by defenders of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (who are themselves at best social democrats anyway, their pretensions aside). Lenin and the left communists absolutely agree this is a flagrant revision of the revolutionary essence of Marxism.

And surely this formal ideal change resulted in some essential material changes to the economic and political system, which again, are worth rehashing in a more specifically economic piece, which is important given the ongoing relevance of a line of demarcation between the anti-revisionist trend and the scourge of the useless revisionist “communist parties” around the world who defend Eurocommunism and Dengism and every other sort of social democracy dressed up as Marxism, all the while abandoning the revolutionary economic and political tasks of Marxism both before and after the revolution.

But here I wish to deflect attacks on the 1924 constitution by the left communists by turning to a more controversial assertion within my own, anti-revisionist milieu: the constitution which enabled Khrushchevite revisionism, which represented a weakness in the party and state approach already in place, was the Stalin-era 1936 constitution.

 

What is the relationship between party and state? – the 1936 constitution

I do not wish the section that follows to be understood purely in terms of my claiming that the early Stalin era (up until 1936) was “good” and then thereafter revisionism set in and the Soviet Union and the Bolshevik Party became “bad”. On the contrary, the reason for my interest in the 1936 constitution began with my frustration at an overly simplistic account of revisionism as having been made possible by the death of Comrade Stalin: it would not be much less of a “great man theory” to ascribe to the single moment of the 1936 constitution the entire directional change, the entire reemergence of capitalist productive relations, all retreats from revolutionary tasks, and all abandonment of the Marxist method, than it would be to ascribe all these same errors, flaws, or trends to the moment of Comrade Stalin’s death, or the moment of the “Secret Speech”, etc.

The era of the 1936 constitution was also the era where Gramsci and Dimitrov’s lines were vindicated in the anti-fascist struggle. The era of the 1936 constitution was the era of the victory of the Chinese and Albanian parties in their own struggles which would serve as the brightest hopes for a continued revolutionary practice for decades, against the undermining efforts by the Soviet Union (although the Chinese party’s ultimate direction served to undermine anti-imperialism and anti-fascism even more than the Soviet party). And of course, in economic terms, I continue to uphold the claim that socialist construction was continuously brought to higher heights during the late Stalin era.

So why am I criticizing the 1936 constitution? Because of what it implies for the Soviet Union as state and the Bolshevik Party as party, whose difference was obscured by this document. Unlike its predecessor, it reconstituted political power in a single “Supreme Soviet” which began to resemble the parliament of any other state while, at the same time, the constitution’s enshrining of the party blurred the line between party and state, creating the now infamous party-state. This, I claim, was the theoretical-political blueprint for the state of inertia which plagued Soviet-backed states which were constructed, and lies at the root of why so many of the state remnants of 20th century socialism seem so difficult to rescue today.

I have already restated the idea that “the socialist state” is, by virtue of being a state, already and always a potential site for the reemergence of capitalism, since capitalism defends itself by means of the state, and since states are themselves the manifestation of the dominance of a given class in the course of ongoing class struggle. The 1936 constitution did not introduce any of these problems, nor can it be blamed for exacerbating them: the dynamics which would render the Soviet Union more state than socialist, more stagnant than revolutionary, even if they became more apparent in the 1950s, were already in motion before 1936.

If we understand that the state is going to exist, we certainly cannot stand aloof from it and regard it as irrelevant. But on the other hand, if we understand that people make revolution, that it is the party’s task to lead the people, we should not mix up statecraft with the role of the party. And the 1936 constitution confuses these, not only by the new inclusion of the party as part of the constitution of the state, but further by declaring that the party “representing the leading core of all organizations of the working people, both public and state“.

 

The party, the state, and the masses

The Supreme Soviet as institution is often raised as the “central” problem here by Trotskyites, so as to lay all the blame at Comrade Stalin’s feet, rather than the process which led to the Supreme Soviet. Remember that left communists would identify in the Congress of Soviets as they actually existed before the 1936 constitution a similar trend, the material and ideological basis for the 1936 constitution and the Supreme Soviet. The horizons of revolutionary imagination represented in the party had been pulling back, and the Supreme Soviet was only a qualitative turning point in this process. The party had already begun and would continue to identify itself more and more with the state as such.

Let me be clear that mine is not the usual liberal complaints about multi-party democracy: I consider that the dictatorship of the proletariat must be a revolutionary stage, a ruthless stage when it comes to exercising authority over and repressing the forces of reaction. As Chairman Mao put it:

All the experience the Chinese people have accumulated through several decades teaches us to enforce the people’s democratic dictatorship, that is, to deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have that right.

But the party stands at the vanguard of consciousness building for the organized proletariat struggling to seize power. The special role of vanguard is necessarily reserved for a minority because, if a general consciousness were achieved of the totality of class struggle, the need for a vanguard would disappear (because, quite simply, the need for organization as we know it would “wither away”). The party’s task of which they must be acutely conscious is, at every stage of the revolution, to identify the contradictions among the masses which will hinder or aid in raising their consciousness to push the revolution forward.

The state, by contrast, does not represent a minority of conscious militants, professional revolutionaries, nor even the “unconscious” proletariat: the state is the material border of the class struggle at a given moment. To be conscious of this border is to be aware of the need to cross it, and the party’s task is to be the most conscious actor. Even to the extent that a socialist state, a proletarian state, is “progressive”, it is so only in so far as it holds down reaction and counter-revolution, defending the progress that the popular masses have already achieved in the class struggle.

Even the most perfect and ideal proletarian state is the compromise which history and material reality have imposed on the oppressed masses, who are actually struggling to liberate themselves from the state, quoting Lenin again:

Only now can we fully appreciate the correctness of Engels’ remarks mercilessly ridiculing the absurdity of combining the words “freedom” and “state”. So long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.

The party, by contrast, while it seeks to unite the proletariat and drive them forward, even in so far as it seeks to build structures, including whatever compromise state the advanced section of the working classes create in the process of revolution, does not exist because of this state. Rather it exists, separately from but in a similar way to the state, because the class struggle is ongoing.

The party seeks to bring the proletarian state into and indeed out of existence. The party cannot tie its fate up with the state: the state is necessarily a step behind the proletariat, as the state has been constituted based on a particular stage of revolutionary development. If the revolution continues to march forward, each particular stage must be overcome, so for a party to be revolutionary is for a party to question the state which it has itself had such a strong hand in building. The party is therefore meant to be a step ahead of the proletariat at large, seeing the contradictions in this stage of development which serve as the basis for potential further forward march by the revolution and the proletariat which leads the revolution.

There must be a mediation between the party and the state, they cannot be immediately understood as equivalent, because there is a dialectical tension between them, just as exists between the state and masses, or the party and the masses. The party’s own role in leading the revolution is entirely conditional on its identification with the masses in general and the advanced section of the proletariat in particular, and not with the state.

Why is there so little criticism among Marxist-Leninists of the merging of party and state even before the open revisionist reversals of the mid-20th century? Surely the fear of admitting that Comrade Stalin adopted a mistaken approach which played a role in a loss of revolutionary momentum cannot alone explain this: there are many Marxist-Leninists willing to criticize the adoption of Bukharin’s “Third Period” thesis. Perhaps Freire was right that many people simply wish to turn the revolution into their own “personal” revolution, where they are head of a state more than the masses are in power; perhaps Lenin and Marx’s exhortations to seize state power were read as a magic formula, and like a cargo cult, certain “Marxists” cling to the idea of the “socialist state” even when it is nowhere to be found; perhaps others think questions like these are too pedestrian to commit to writing in the form of a polemic, and that surely everyone understands Lenin without our having to release another article which quotes “the State and Revolution”.

Whatever the reason, I consider it supremely unhelpful to explaining the idea of and even working towards the reality of proletarian revolution that we do not discuss more how the party ultimately became co-equivalent with the state. Because the two have different roles, one of them still trapped in the old society, the other beckoning the masses towards the new society, it is possible (and as we have seen from the actual history, the general trend)  that the progressive party, so enamored with the tasks of statecraft and the idea that it is in “control” of this state, begins to not merely accept as conjecturally necessary, but essentially identify with the state form.

The state is a remnant of the old society and a form which can only exist because the all-too-reversible revolutionary process is still underway. An identification with it, in moments of economic, political, and social crisis–which are all too likely given the enormous power of the forces of local reaction and international capital, imperialism, and fascism–can transform not only the state, but those who identify with it, into tools of reaction and restoration.

The proletarian state may be different in how we conceive of it and how it operates than the bourgeois state, but it is still a state, and as Lenin emphasized, it is still “economically and politically inevitable” that it still contain within itself “the bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie”. There would actually be no cause for abandoning hope at such junctures, if a ruthlessly critical party existed able to take a step back from the work of which it is so proud, through its revolutionary engagement with the experiences, needs, and contradictions of the revolutionary masses, rally itself to resume the work of changing the world.

Consider the New Economic Policy, which was put in place in the very years of the retreat leading up to the 1924 constitution, only for the party under Stalin to successfully reverse this policy and resume a revolutionary course through the five-year plans. I am not suggesting that no problems existed between 1930 and 1936, or that the Soviet Union became a “counter-revolutionary” structure in 1936. Simply that we see that a retreat, acknowledged by Lenin and Stalin, could be reversed during a certain period: this was because even though the state had entered a known inertia, the party still had the “fight” left in it to take on its own state.

Tragically, after the 1936 constitution, the party which years before had such a dynamic relationship with the state and masses, became increasingly “dizzy with success”. The bureaucratization which set in, like the New Economic Policy and the 1924 constitution before it, was very likely inevitable on a state level: they reflected the reality of class struggle at that point. Admitting this and combating it, imagining the continuation of class struggle and its being raised to still higher heights, however, was entirely within the realm of possibility for the party. There is good reason why Comrade Stalin identified “[t]he communist bureaucrat” as “the most dangerous type of bureaucrat”:

Why? Because he masks his bureaucracy with the title of Party member.

I hope the attentive reader sees the connection between this trend and the importance of actively separating the party from the state in our minds.

 

Conclusion: the 1936 Constitution and anti-revisionism

The anti-revisionist trend posits a certain praxis which is a direct response to the end result of the above trend. In China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and in Albania, the Cultural and Ideological Revolution, both served as proof of a will to revitalize the revolutionary struggle against regression within socialism itself. This will, and this practice, had, in my view, a common heritage which made their successes the height of post-Stalin Marxism-Leninism, and their failure a testament to the limitations of party-states modeled (to a great extent) on the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union.

I do not wish to further lengthen this already long theoretical piece by digging up sources and quotes about the Albanian and the Chinese experiences, which anyway, cannot be denied to have both ultimately failed. I wish rather to state that, while obviously both experiences made a protracted and correct attack against the inertia of state bureaucracy which had seeped into the party, they were both undermined by an understanding of party and state which was already largely fused, inevitably for reasons of ideological heritage (both states were built after and in the image of the 1936 Soviet constitution) and material reality (the division of the socialist camp and the surrender to capitalism-imperialism brought about by various factors including the party-state structure).

Mao did not have an independent party structure to organize against the state: he was forced, by the sort of party he inherited from the Soviet direction of travel, to treat the party and the state as one and the same as an enemy, the “headquarters” to be “bombarded”. When he was forced into retreat, he had no structure to retreat to but the party-which-was-the-state. Whatever our criticisms of Mao in the 1970s, the best case scenario would have been silence, as there was no time in the short years leading up to his death to “rally the troops” when all the organized structures were unified against the “excesses” of the Cultural Revolution. Had the party been a vanguard organ which saw its destiny as separate from that of the state, perhaps things could have been otherwise. But the two had become too intertwined even before the Cultural Revolution, as was also the case in Albania, which too ultimately fell to economic encirclement.

At crucial junctures like the Cultural Revolution, the revolutionary party must not only be willing to break with business as usual: it should be a wake-up call to the party, of the dynamic contradictions among and power which springs from the revolutionary masses. But since the mid-20th century trend was towards party-states, it is a testament to the will of those elements of the party around Mao Zedong and Enver Hoxha that they were able to challenge the direction of the socialist states in general, towards counter-revolution.

When it comes to articulating an anti-revisionism which can explain the failings of both China and Albania, we must also be able to explain their common source. The heritage of the Soviet Union must be subjected, like everything else existing, to a ruthless criticism. This is not an attempt to discard this heritage, or distance ourselves from it. On the contrary, we can only be so remorseless and cruel in our criticisms among our comrades, because we must understand we are actually delivering a self-criticism in appropriating this heritage.

The basis of our analysis must be the weaponry of the Marxist logical method and the Leninist vanguard party which made revolutions like the October Revolution possible, and I must emphasize lest there has been any confusion that we are so concerned with these revolutions because we appropriate and identify with them. However, I hope it is crystal clear to all readers that the state does not figure into our weapons as conscious communists. Rather, it is one of our battlegrounds.

 

Recommended reading:
–Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Programme”
–Lenin’s “the State and Revolution”

 

Hands Off Iran! US Imperialism Out Of Iraq!

We condemn the U.S. assassination of General Qasem Soleimani and PMU commander Abu Mehdi al Muhendis in Baghdad. The targeting of senior military officials in this way is a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a brazen act of war against Iran. As the United States approaches an election year, Trump is using this act of aggression to consolidate his support— just as Bill Clinton bombed Iraq during his impeachment, and George Bush launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after losing the popular vote in the 2000 election.

We cannot understand this escalation without understanding how the people of both Iraq and Iran have suffered violence, repression, and economic deprivation for decades because of U.S. attacks and intervention. From overthrowing an elected Iranian government and installing a monarchy in order to maintain Western economic interests in the country and arming Saddam Hussein and defending his atrocities throughout the Iran-Iraq war, to the years of devastating sanctions imposed on both countries, to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, U.S. actions have already lead to the deaths and suffering of millions. A new war in both countries would devastate the lives of millions more, at a time when people are still rebuilding from the aftermath of previous conflicts, and while popular movements in both countries face repression for making demands of their own governments.

Within the United States, war with Iran will lead to greater surveillance and criminalization of already-targeted Muslim and immigrant communities, just as previous wars in the region have. Police in large American cities including Los Angeles and Boston have already issued threats, asking people to report supposed ‘suspicious activity.’

It is our responsibility to stand with the working and oppressed people of Iraq and Iran, oppose any attempts to start a new war, and support an end to U.S. military involvement in the region.

National Liberation and Nation-States

by Muhsin Yorulmaz

“The National Question” has been debated among communists for well over 150 years. This is because the nascent socialist movement was born into a capitalist world of nation-states; and the nation-state had itself emerged with capitalism. To Marx and Engels, this new form of state was a reflection of a stage of social development, of the bourgeoisie reshaping society not on the basis of a particular ruling bloodline or theological basis, but primarily on the basis of common social interaction, as a whole society. In the first instance, this is a progressive process: “Modern nationalities are thus the creations of the oppressed classes”, writes Engels in his analysis of the transition from feudal statelets to nascent modern capitalist nation-states.

It is not only from the perspective of economic development or at the stage of capitalist construction that Engels defended national rights, but also as a precondition for socialist revolution:

Without restoring autonomy and unity to each nation, it will be impossible to achieve the international union of the proletariat, or the peaceful and intelligent co-operation of these nations toward common aims.”
–Preface to the 1893 Italian edition of the Communist Manifesto, 1893

Taking a few lines of Engels out of context, it would be easy to reimagine Marxism as nothing but perpetual support for bourgeois nationalism of each and every nation, an ideology which poses no threat to capitalism itself. But it must not be forgotten that Marx and Engels were revolutionaries who actively organized against the bourgeois nationalist states of their day: they did not defend these bourgeois nationalisms beyond their ability to achieve said “autonomy and unity” for a given nation (that is, to overcome oppression by another nationalism), and to carry forward bourgeois domination of the feudal oppressor classes (that is, to overcome oppression by backwards, pre-capitalist and pre-nationalist ideologies).

After these conditions are met, the bourgeois state and its nationalism are to be understood as instruments of oppression and exploitation like any other ideology which conceals the contradictions between oppressor and oppressed classes. The communist perspective is always, at all stages of history, to turn popular social processes into weapons against the oppressor classes and their states. Thus, the struggle for a a modern democracy is progressive until a certain point of solidification. At this point, the limitations of liberal democracy become clear, and the social struggle is increasingly reduced to one between capital and labor, the apparent “final” struggle of class society. Because the new capitalist state is a weapon in the hands of capital, a new collection of “oppressed classes” find themselves in conflict with it. But who are these classes? Are they always and only the proletariat? Can the bourgeoisie be an oppressed class under capitalist rule? Here we come to the essence of why we speak of “the national question”.

The individual capitalist does not “want to” share their control of productive relations, and the capitalist class as a whole likewise jealously guard their privileges. Their desire to dominate as much of the market as possible leads the individual capitalist into competition with other capitalists, and leads the ruling classes of one society into conflict with other societies, leading to national oppression. The national formations which are held down by the power of the bourgeois state take on the same quality of being “oppressed” which the bourgeoisie as a whole did under feudal social relations. The oppressed nations in their entirety seem to play a progressive role, a weapon not only for their own society, but against the oppression of the capitalist state.

Thus was it that Marx and Engels noted the importance of the national struggle in Ireland and the anti-colonial struggle in India, in spite of the advanced development of the English proletariat in productive and social terms relative to other working classes around the world. Thus did it come to be that the Marxist watchword was “no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations”.

But what precisely is meant by this, and what is our explicit goal? If national oppression means that any oppressed nationality’s class struggle is held back, that the “stage” of socialist revolution cannot yet be reached, do we simply advocate a struggle for a particular set of national borders which will allow for the “pure” class conflict to emerge afterwards?

In practice, this has been impossible to achieve on a universal scale: national liberation struggles are rendered more difficult precisely because of the strength of imperialism as an economic world-system. Even “victorious” national liberation struggles may be arrested at the moment of victory, such that the movement forward to socialist revolution may be indefinitely postponed in the eyes of the masses themselves by the very real fact of imperialist attempts to indirectly or directly dominate a nominally independent country.

Further, the class interests of the bourgeoisies of different nationalities mean that they come into conflict with each other: which of the major 20th century national liberation movements have arrived at their expected end? True, Vietnam was able to drive out imperialist occupiers, only to invite them back to counterbalance economic domination by other imperialist powers. True, the PLO was able to fight the Israeli state to the negotiating table, only to have a single killing by Zionist fanatics— the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin– turn the negotiating table into the farcical site of Zionist domination, with no single meaningful concession to the oppressed Palestinian people since. Even in many of the countries which threw off the colonial yoke of yesteryear, such as Sri Lanka, who freed themselves from the British, national conflicts between the local peoples remain intractable.

These national questions seem effectively endless, lurching from conflict to conflict much as capitalism lurches from crisis to crisis. Far from bourgeois nationalist ideology providing us with resolutions to the national question, the old nationalist conflicts which the liberal bourgeois media has spent decades trying to convince us were resolved (in Ireland, in the United States, in Turkey and Kurdistan), are returning, more relevant than ever, as the crisis deepens.

Proletariat and bourgeoisie in oppressed nations

As materialists observing the facts such as they have been simplistically laid out above, we might naively conclude that Marx and Engels were mistaken: that the struggle for national liberation, anti-colonial struggles, all manner of struggle which is not proletarian revolution as such, all of these things represent a dead end, and are not progressive. Capitalism has universalized itself long since, and appeals to “nationhood” as even a component of political analysis amount to nationalism, a covering up of the essential universal conflict between bourgeoisie and proletarian.

However, it is a known fact about the world that the national divisions which exist and come to constitute nation-states cause real, material conflict which results in wars, deportations, in short: the suffering of the poor. The imperialist world-system means that the exploitation of a Pakistani worker is clearly greater than that experienced by an equivalent white worker in the United States. A Pashtun in this same country faces a military violence imposed by the same United States, and relative ambivalence towards their plight by the ruling classes not only because they are poor, but because other poor Pakistanis may be turned against them on the grounds of the social division between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.

Such contradictions among different kinds of exploited and oppressed, different sections of the proletariat, take many forms: such as those which are gendered, racialized, etc. All of these contradictions must be taken up, criticized, and overcome through concrete social struggle. But due to the particular political-social power of nationhood specifically under capitalism, the highest level of politics takes on a national form, and this fact cannot be brushed aside, if we wish to intervene and change the world.

Taking a bird’s eye view of the historical process of nationalism will allow our analysis to become clearer: robbed of political power, the nationalist bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation today appears weak under the subjugation of more powerful nations, particularly the great imperialist powers. Upon achieving power and controlling a nation-state in the capitalist world system, that subjugation is felt as economic or even military pressure, and the exploitative logic of capital dictates that the same nationalist bourgeoisie, once in power, becomes openly reactionary in its political program.

The contradiction between the known shortcomings of nationalism as an ideology and the actual national form of oppression and exploitation experienced by the proletarian masses cannot be resolved by a choice between nationalism and an abstractly anti-nationalist socialism, but only sublated in concrete proletarian internationalism. The great Marxist theoretician Vladimir Lenin wrote so extensively on the nuances of a proletarian internationalist approach to the national question that these writings alone constitute a substantial body of work covering a broad period and diverse particular conflicts.

To briefly summarize, however, the proletarian internationalist perspective which Lenin outlines is to oppose all national oppression and privilege, and concretely fight for equal rights under all circumstances. This puts us in the same camp as the nationalists of oppressed nations when they fight for democratic rights, and against them when they fight for their own bourgeois privileges. It is an ideology based neither on numerical majority nor on states and political power as it already exists, but based on recognition of the equal status of every particular national identity in reflecting some universal human experience.

Thus if every nation is equal, the common interest of the proletarians of all countries is less an aspiration and more a practical basis for common struggle. In seeking this unity, the proletarians of oppressor nations show the level of development of their internationalist consciousness by “suicidally” defending the national interests of their class brethren of the oppressed nations against their “own” oppressor nation bourgeoisie. The far-sighted oppressed national proletarians, likewise, do not merely follow their “own” bourgeoisie into nationalist struggle, but strengthen this nationalist struggle by identification with their class brethren among other oppressed peoples.

Settler-colonialism and nation-building in the United States

Turning to the United States, the oppressor nation is the white settler-colonist nation which dominates the country, the Yankee nation which was “born as slave-masters and settler-colonisers”. Both in its current state, and historically, it is not difficult to see why the proletariat of the Yankee nation did not automatically stand together with the Indigenous nations, for example: though they are divided from their “own” bourgeoisie on class grounds, they had no reason to identify with the victims of developing US imperialism because they were at no point struggling for recognition of their democratic national rights. From the beginning, white Yankee men were able to gain tremendous privileges by aiding in the genocide of Indigenous peoples, whose resistance was not relatable for them.

It is with this in mind that J. Sakai made claims about a “mythology of the white proletariat”: obviously there are objectively speaking white workers who earn their wages in a proletarian fashion under US capitalism. But only when they attack the nationalist project of their “own” bourgeoisie does a Yankee proletariat worthy of the name emerge as a political class, a conscious subjectivity.

The labeling of the United States as a “settler-colony” by birth and in its ongoing operational logic to this day evokes rather shrill and unwarranted reactions from many white communists in the United States: “If this is a settler-colony in need of decolonization, will you be demanding the deportation of all white people back to Europe?” “How can the Indigenous nationalities ‘decolonize’ without ‘oppressing’ settlers?” This reaction, the fear of “white genocide”, implicitly reveals a still-lingering identification with the ideology of the ruling classes. Opposition to the liberation of groups that are a threat to the political order of capital in their “own” country is usually excused by labeling the national movements of these oppressed people as “bourgeois” (though we cannot deny that all national movements have some bourgeois element, because the bourgeoisie is part of the whole nation and indeed the part that coemerges with the nation as category). In practice, however, it is tragically obvious that such “leftists” are seeking a “left” defense for their “own” bourgeoisie— the hegemonic class in the most powerful imperialist country on Earth!

The Yankee bourgeoisie really did deport Indigenous peoples en masse from their own lands, in addition to creating a new Afro-American nation by forcibly importing and enslaving untold numbers of Africans. These crimes are not hypothetical excesses, but the real violent foundation of the political and economic order in the United States. While dreaming up all the possible ways that anti-colonial resistance could “go wrong”, how much does the white left in the United States really understand the immense violence that was necessary to construct and is still necessary to maintain the dominance of a nation founded and dominated by European settlers on the continent?

“If violence began this very evening and oppression had never existed on the earth, perhaps the slogans of non-violence might end the quarrel. But if the whole regime, even your non-violent ideas, are conditioned by a thousand-year-old oppression, your passivity serves only to place you in the rank of the oppressors.”
–Jean-Paul Sartre, Introduction to Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”

But, of course, chest-beating anti-imperialism does little to actually bring white communists into agreement about what is to be done. They are implicitly asking what national liberation for the victims of US imperialism “at home” will concretely look like, and this question is a legitimate one.

That is to say, although giving up the fight for the liberation of oppressed peoples––Indigenous peoples in the “lower 48”, the New African people and their land, the “Alaska Native” peoples who are divided from their co-nationals by the colonial border with Canada, the island colony of Hawai’i, etc.––would mean objectively defending the real oppression of these peoples by Yankee imperialism (and is therefore reactionary)… despite this, we should––after declaring our unconditional support and comradely defense of the anti-colonial struggles of these peoples––confess that a new bourgeois state built in the names of these people could indeed reproduce new forms of national oppression, including of other oppressed peoples: for example, one can easily imagine a liberated New Africa wherein the Indigenous peoples of the continent are still denied their land and national rights, no longer by white settlers, but by a now-free nation of New Africans. If we are not merely nationalists for currently oppressed nations, but revolutionary communists, surely we have something to say about this?

Let us return to the idea that the nation emerges as the bourgeoisie, initially itself an oppressed class, rises in prominence. It thus appears as the “natural” leader of the national liberation struggle in cases of colonized peoples. The proletariat of such colonized nations finds itself in a difficult position: like the proletariat of the oppressor nation and the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, their struggle is against the ruling classes of the oppressor nation. However, unlike the oppressor nation bourgeoisie, this seems to place the proletariat of the oppressed nation in an alliance with the bourgeoisie.

How can the oppressed nation proletariat, and how can internationalists interested in their liberation, chart an independent course through the struggle for national liberation? How can we truly overcome nationalism and arrive at a real proletarian internationalism?

Self-determination and proletarian internationalism in the US

So far I have danced around the question of what self-determination will actually look like for Afro-Americans and Indigenous peoples in the US, which is at present a rather “hot” issue on the radical left. Let us then turn to concrete examples: suppose that some or the other oppressed nation in the United States were able to muster enough force to be able to exercise its right to self-determination and enter into sincere negotiations with the members of other nationalities affected by this exercise. That is to say, explicitly, if the Hawai’ian people were to demand their national rights and call for a vote on secession for their territory (which, being a set of islands, is fairly easy to demarcate). Let us further suppose that this Hawai’ian liberation movement were able to gather enough popular support and accordingly pressure through whatever means necessary for their political will to be heard.

Given the fact that the Hawai’ian people, however they are conceived of, are victims of colonialism without significant capital behind them facing a state which is still the premiere imperialist power on Earth, such a struggle would be a long and difficult one, including likely both legal and illegal methods, messy alliances, and complex organization. But at the moment of forcing the US state to a stalemate, it would be able to negotiate with the diverse groups in Hawai’i who might not accept Hawai’ian nationality about the terms of their rights as minority nationalities. The process of this struggle over a territory more or less pre-determined by geography would likely involve discussions about what Hawai’ian nationality would look like and what this national movement’s understanding of minority rights would be, among others.

In the “mainland” US, however, the land claims of oppressed nations would appear more complicated: first by past violated treaties between various Indigenous nations and the US; secondly by overlapping land claims between Indigenous peoples; and thirdly by questions such as the larger non-Indigenous nationalities— first and foremost the oppressor Yankee nation and the oppressed Afro-American nation. For the Afro-American nation, their land claims have the disadvantage of having never been accepted in US law, and therefore not being able to appeal to international law even in the realm of theoretical debate.

This last example, of the Afro-American people’s claim to land in New Afrika, has the unique position of being a significant national claim of the size expected for a settler nation, such as the French in Canada, given that they are a non-Indigenous group that is none the less similarly oppressed to the Indigenous (that is, Afro-American land claims are similar to those of the French Canadians, in spite of the fact that the former are subjected to harsh colonial oppression and not mere dispreferential treatment as the latter are). The land claimed for the national liberation of this internal colonized people accordingly includes traditional Indigenous land as well. How is this question to be dealt with, before we even touch upon the question of what will happen to white settler society in the land affected?

In fact, both the Afro-American people and the Indigenous have made rather clear their willingness to negotiate with representatives of other oppressed nationalities to arrive at a mutually satisfactory arrangement in the liberation of the land to which they have meaningful historical connections.

Why might not the Afro-American national liberation project place any emphasis on a similar arrangement with the Yankee nation? Quite simply, because the current arrangement is the one in which the Yankee nation already has control of effectively all of the land, all political and cultural and economic power. In short, negotiations at the point of Yankee rifles were concluded long ago, resulting in all other nationalities in the United States have already made maximal concessions, as the abandonment of the Afro-American people following the failure of Reconstruction, and the subsequent joint war by northern and southern capital against the Indigenous, resulting in genocide and broken treaty after broken treaty, can attest.

In fact, such a decolonial project would share much with that of other former colonies around the world, where deals between various victims of colonialism might go wrong, but the former colonizers were largely disregarded because they had no interest in negotiations from the beginning, since their maximal privilege was the starting point against which the colonized were revolting. The fear harbored by the former oppressors of revenge by the former oppressed resulted around the world, including in the US, in fascist gangs guarding their privileges jealously. This, and not the “excessive” nationalism of the colonized, is the real threat to peace between peoples. Neutralization of such reactionary threats, like the forcing of the colonizing state to a stalemate, is the precondition for peaceful and democratic discussion of the possibility of “reverse oppression” and the safeguarding of the minority rights of the former dominant group— provided, of course, that in the new society, the former colonizers actually lose enough of their privileges that this can even be a meaningful possibility.

The limits of nationalism and national liberation

If it should occur that an oppressed nation in the US should achieve its liberation and so strip white settler society of its privileges, including economic influence and physical force, that the rights of white settlers as white settlers could in fact be violated, the white settlers would merely find themselves in the same position as the other minorities in a given territory. Let us suppose that the Republic of Lakotah were realized, the Lakota people reclaimed their stolen land, and were able to form a state which allowed them to develop their culture. like any other nation-state.

Let us further suppose that the white population in this territory were to consider itself a settler nation within this nation-state, and accept to live at peace in this arrangement, with the numerical support of whatever percentage of non-Lakota (whether settlers or not). Perhaps the local population would begin to adopt the Lakota language more and more, and acculturation and assimilation might hypothetically reduce the remaining population identified with white settler culture to a minority over time.

Again, this proposed scenario is less oppressive than the real reality which the Lakota people have experienced since they were subjected to invasion, genocide, and colonization. But, if this new state is indeed yet another normative nation-state in a world of nation-states, it is a fact we should acknowledge that potentially minorities in the territory may feel put upon by the Lakota language and culture, and therefore could potentially come into conflict with the state and apparently experience oppression by a Lakota ruling class.

The current apparent diplomatic stance between the Afro-American and Indigenous peoples mentioned above reflects something of an anomaly: the peoples in question have not yet dealt with the practical reality of dividing between their ruling classes the profits of capitalism in the territory in question without Yankee domination. The conceding of land to another oppressed people could still serve the interests of the national bourgeoisie in so far as it serves as a kind of deal-making aimed towards gaining any of the land and profits that both want from their common colonial oppressor.

But once this victory is achieved, the foundation for a normative bourgeois-nation state of these oppressed nations will be laid. If the revolution goes no further than liberating the land, it will certainly be a great step forward for the liberation of an oppressed people from harsh colonial rule, the crushing of their culture, the thorough subjugation of their toiling classes among the workers of a given country, etc. But it can easily be transformed into a Bantustan dominated by imperialism, or even as a “fully” independent country impoverished by imperialist blockade, one in which the ruling classes fight ever more jealously for whatever profits they can squeeze out, thus necessitating a new “local” national oppression of whatever minorities to safeguard the interests of the new ruling classes.

In this case, the difference between settler society and colonized societies would matter less— which is not to say it would not matter at all. An independent Québec would almost certainly, under current conditions, continue to harshly oppress the Indigenous in its borders, and a liberated Indigenous nation in North America would could easily find itself under the sway of no longer anti-colonial but simply everyday nationalism by which the national bourgeoisie would use any tools at its disposal, including national oppression of whatever minorities, to ensure that it received the maximal benefit of its own territory. Demands for national rights by minorities in such a context would go unheeded because of the class interests of those in power, as such demands are now.

The spreading of revolutionary anti-colonial struggle across a broader geography would alleviate some of these problems, by bringing more parity between peoples over a vast geography with an interdependent market, and weakening the imperialist blockade or subordination which would currently be so easy to imagine. But the nations of Europe (or the western part of the Eurasian continent, per your preference) presently have such a relationship, and they too find themselves— particularly in moments such as the current economic crisis— in struggle over nation-based economic domination, competing with one another for allies and markets in the region and abroad, and finding “local” national enemies in the form of immigrants or peoples who have yet to achieve a nation-state of their own.

The persistence of inequality between national groups under diverse particular circumstances shares as its common thread the problem of capitalist ruling classes competing in a capitalist market in a capitalist world-system. It is the task of the revolutionary proletariat, the first class in history which does not seek to exploit but which is only exploited, the first underclass in history which has a global and universal reflection, that is truly an international class, to push the revolution beyond the limits of nationalism, which has no apparent end under capitalism. The proletariat can and it seems must take part in the struggle for national liberation, but must due so out of a commitment to a true proletarian internationalism, and will seek to push forward these particular nationalist struggles beyond their limits such that that conscious political will as the political class of proletariat is able to overcome the bourgeois national consciousness with which it finds immediate common cause against imperialism.

To create a society where rights are not curtailed based on an exploitative logic requires questioning and struggling against the nation-state which right now appears the horizon of the liberationist imagination of so many oppressed peoples around the world. It requires bringing down the entire capitalist order which created the nation-state so that in practice, all people, regardless of identity or numerical minority or majority, can enjoy truly equal rights as part of a united humanity.

Recommended reading: “The National Question in Turkey” by İbrahim Kaypakkaya

Lights for Liberty – Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC

On Friday, July 12, thousands of people participated in over 750 events around the country (and around the world) to protest the racist, inhumane, and fascistic US border regime, specifically the policies of the Trump administration. Two such events, in Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC were attended by Struggle for a New World writers.

Raleigh, NC

One of over 20 events statewide, the Raleigh Lights for Liberty protest was organized by the Carolina Peace Center, and held across from the state legislative building. Attended by around 200 people, the protest consisted of a moment of silence, a candlelight vigil (many candles were repeatedly snuffed out by the wind), the reading of the names of those who have died, and several speeches and chants.

D_T95DfWkAIC0fHphoto taken by Spectrum News RDU

Speeches were made by protest organizer Faisal Khan, head of the Carolina Peace Center, as well as Reverend Edgar Millan, a local pastor and chair of the Hispanic/Latino Committee of the North Carolina Council of the United Methodist Church. Besides these speeches, a middle school age son of immigrants, a local immigration lawyer, a local pediatrician, a local psychiatrist, and an 18- year-old member of local synagogue Temple Beth Or spoke. Each speaker spoke from their particular backgrounds, with the middle schooler speaking of his fears for the future and how he dreamed of a world where families like his aren’t used as political bargaining chips, and the paediatrician reading part of the report made by a doctor who visited the camps and reaffirming that these camps are state-sanctioned child abuse.

Every speaker diagnosed a common problem and prescribed a common cure. The problem is the racist policies of the Trump administration and the Republican Party, and the cure is calling your congressperson and voting for the Democrats. Mr. Khan ended his concluding speech by encouraging the crowd to vote in November, and said that next year things would be different. The official message was that we must “Make America Humane Again,” as was written on a sign propped up in front of the microphone. Those who lead the protests are unwilling and unable to articulate the fact that America has never been humane, that what is happening at the border is the product of the system and its twin parties, and that voting blue will not solve this. The speakers urged us not to let the situation be normalized. But in 2021, with a Democratic president, the odds are good that many protesters will return to their normality while the border regime grinds on under more acceptable liberal leadership.

Washington, DC

Hundreds of people attended the rally in front of the White House in Washington, DC, which was sponsored by a variety of immigrant rights organizations, LGBT organizations, and faith-based organizations. An even wider array of activist groups and organizations were in attendance. The speakers included immigrant activists from a variety of countries targeted by US policy, faith leaders, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers, and a lawyer who had worked to expose the conditions in the camps.

IMG_0826

All of the speakers called on the crowd to take further action, to oppose all manifestations of racism and xenophobia, and to refuse to become complacent. Many discussed the violence they had personally experienced at the hands of the U.S. immigration system, both as they crossed the border and after. Others discussed how they, as citizens, had acted in solidarity with more vulnerable communities.

IMG_0832

There were two speakers whose presence was surprising. A former White House staffer spoke, discussing her own family’s experience coming to the United States as refugees from Sri Lanka. She contrasting the Trump administration negatively with the Obama administration, under which she had worked, and led the crowd in a chant of “USA” that was picked up with enthusiasm.

Congresswoman Nora Torres, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala as a child, also spoke, directing anger against Trump and calling on the crowd in both English and Spanish to continue to organize. Torres had voted in late June to appropriate $5.4 billion in so-called “emergency funding” for the border, which she and other supporters claimed would only be used for humanitarian purposes. Since that vote, ICE has opened three new detention centers, and jailed migrants remain in the same horrific conditions.

IMG_0820

Conclusion

A recurring theme, common in protest signs and echoed even by the speakers who decried the role of US imperialism in Latin America and systemic white supremacy in this crisis, was that the current situation at the border is some kind of deviation from supposed “American ideals”.

On the one hand, this is positive in so far as it shows that the furious opposition to the very existence of these camps is a popular sentiment extending far into the liberal center of US politics. The large crowds responded with resounding support to calls for continued organizing against them. However, efforts towards such organizing will be weakened and ultimately fall short of any effective change if they cannot emphasize that this crisis is fundamentally the result of the state’s own “American ideals”.

If such large numbers of people are willing to stand publicly against the camps, it should be made clear to them that the Democratic Party is as responsible for what has happened there as the Republican Party, and that a true response must go beyond stating opposition to a particular Trump administration policy, which could easily be continued into a Democratic administration, as US imperialism’s “War on Terror” was from the Bush to the Obama era.

The calls for more action and organizing are absolutely correct and must be embraced and carried forward in practice. We must continue to stand in solidarity with migrants and all oppressed peoples, shoulder to shoulder in a popular front against rising fascism. But our message must be clear: the problem is systemic, and so too must be the solutions.

Close the camps, free them all!