Spartacist English edition No. 65
The Struggle Against the Chauvinist Hydra
Document of the Seventh International Conference of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)
[Translated from French]
The purpose of this conference is to re-establish a Leninist framework on the national question in the International Communist League and to break with the Great Power chauvinism that has marked certain aspects of the politics and functioning of the International. A fight in Canada that began in the fall of 2016 revealed that since its inception, the Canadian section had an Anglo-chauvinist, assimilationist program for Quebec. This struggle generated strong opposition from an Anglophone layer of historic International Executive Committee cadres who were the source of the line on the national question in Canada and elsewhere. Particularly since the fall of the Soviet Union, part of the international leadership has adapted to U.S. imperialism, mimicking attitudes of dominance toward the neocolonial countries under its boot. The purpose of this conference is to effect a fusion with the Québécois comrades and elect a new international leadership that will implement a sharp break with the politics of oppressor chauvinism.
As soon as they founded our tendency, Jim Robertson and Geoff White sought its international extension. But in 1974, as the “Declaration for the Organizing of an International Trotskyist Tendency” was being signed (see Spartacist [English edition] No. 23, Spring 1977), a number of American cadres embraced an anti-Leninist position on the national question. This perversion of Leninism was both facilitated and exacerbated by the preponderance of the American section in the International. This line was established in opposition to comrade Robertson: already in 1976, he proposed calling for Quebec independence, a proposal that was unanimously rejected. This conference is committed to re-establishing revolutionary Leninism and fighting to reforge the Fourth International.
Because of the intense upheavals brought about by this fight in the International, this conference effectively has an emergency character, although, formally, it has been regularly convened. This document is therefore focused on the essential conclusions of the past several months, rather than on important changes in the world political situation, which is characterized by the rise of right-wing populist forces in many countries, the election of Trump in the U.S., growing interimperialist rivalries and the possibility of major military conflicts, notably with the deformed workers states. The overriding question for our organization is how to rearm ourselves programmatically and forge a new leadership that will be able to take on these new developments. Fundamentally, we are faced with the central question of the workers movement: revolutionary leadership.
II. For the Forging of an International Leninist Leadership
“On the basis of a long historical experience, it can be written down as a law that revolutionary cadres, who revolt against their social environment and organize parties to lead a revolution, can—if the revolution is too long delayed—themselves degenerate under the continuing influences and pressures of this same environment....
“But the same historical experience also shows that there are exceptions to this law too. The exceptions are the Marxists who remain Marxists, the revolutionists who remain faithful to the banner. The basic ideas of Marxism, upon which alone a revolutionary party can be constructed, are continuous in their application and have been for a hundred years. The ideas of Marxism, which create revolutionary parties, are stronger than the parties they create, and never fail to survive their downfall. They never fail to find representatives in the old organizations to lead the work of reconstruction.”
— James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1962)
It’s precisely the task of reconstructing the ICL that this conference is facing. In order to truly break with Anglo-chauvinism in the party, it is necessary to reclaim our own programmatic continuity on the national question, i.e., the positions developed by Marx and Lenin. Through this fight, we seek to reassert the revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist program of Lenin’s Third International, codified in the first four Congresses of the Communist International (Comintern, or CI).
Forging a true International, already a difficult task after the Bolsheviks took power, became an ever-greater challenge for the proletarian vanguard with the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the CI. Trotsky was never able to effectively consolidate an international collective, due to his extremely difficult objective situation in exile, a lack of material resources and the murder of Trotskyist cadres. After Trotsky’s death, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) [led by James P. Cannon] was the section best situated to take on the leadership of the Fourth International. Rather than stepping up to the challenge and taking the leadership of the International, the American Trotskyists withdrew into isolation, without it being truly imposed on them. Comrade Robertson remarked in 1974:
“So Cannon backed off, and we’re stuck with the job. He stuck us with it doubly. Because he was a lot better than we are—and when I say ‘he’ I mean not only Cannon personally but the immediate working crew that made up the ‘Cannon regime’....
“Well there was a Cannon regime, and they were doing the best they could. But they didn’t accept the international challenge, and yet it is an obligation. Yes, if you know that you don’t know anything, go patiently, quietly, perseveringly; struggle with the greatest patience and attention for international collaborators. We have to go that way, not back off and wait in national isolation for somebody else to come forward and say, ‘I can do it,’ and then we say, ‘all right; we’ll give you our authority.’ We have to persist; we have to intervene.”
— “James P. Cannon Memorial Meeting,” Spartacist (English edition) No. 38-39, Summer 1986
Drawing critical lessons from the SWP, from the inception of our tendency, our founding cadres actively sought to break out of their isolation in the U.S. They understood that such isolation would inevitably lead to deformations. Being an internationalist demands a very high level of consciousness: it is necessary to understand the pressures associated with one’s social and national origins in order to fight them. The backwardness of the working class as well as the strength of U.S. imperialism are powerful pressures that operate on the SL/U.S. Comrade Robertson fought relentlessly to develop the consciousness among Anglophone comrades of the importance of learning other languages and getting experience outside their national terrain. In fact, he long sought to move our international center from New York to Paris but never succeeded, due to the lack of resources in the French section. Despite all his efforts, part of the American leadership developed a chauvinist, anti-internationalist line, opposing national liberation struggles in multinational states. This line caused us incalculable damage, greatly limiting our ability to extend internationally, especially in non-Anglophone oppressed nations. There was a sharp contrast between our approach in places where comrade Robertson was actively involved in the work, such as the British Isles and Ceylon, where we had a Leninist position, and places where he had very little involvement, such as Canada or Spain, where our line was openly chauvinist.
The Trotskyist position on the Soviet Union was a central programmatic reference point for our tendency. The fall of the USSR marked a key turning point in history and also for the internal life of our organization. This event came after years of working-class retreat in the West, and these objective developments coincided with comrade Robertson, the main architect of our internationalist politics, leaving the center. These accumulated factors led a layer of cadres to become deeply disoriented and to call into question our revolutionary purpose. The loss of a revolutionary proletarian compass led successive party regimes to seek shortcuts through a series of opportunist campaigns. Up until 2008, successive regimes proved themselves unable to provide true Leninist, internationalist leadership to the ICL. Already expressed in our chauvinist line, our adaptation to the pressures of American society was magnified by this opportunism, which is always an adaptation to a national terrain.
During this period, the Leninist conception of party building was thus largely subordinated to opportunism and an adaptation to American imperialism. There was resistance to integrating non-Anglophone cadres into an effective international leadership collective, as well as hostility to building strong national sections. The International Secretariat had a tendency to utilize the sections outside the U.S. as satellites in the service of opportunist campaigns, as during the “Great Leap Forward” and the Mumia campaign. The drift away from building a vanguard party had an impact on the treatment of comrades most oppressed by society: they were generally neither seen nor trained as Marxist cadres and leaders of the International. Rather, they were developed as “good” activists and used as foot soldiers in “rank-and-file” work. Thus, bourgeois social relations were reflected within the party and tended to reinforce the oppression felt by these comrades.
Our practice in the last decades is in sharp contrast with the attempted fusion with Edmund Samarakkody’s group (“Agreement on Unification of the Revolutionary Workers Party [RWP] of Sri Lanka with the International Spartacist Tendency,” 20 June 1979):
“(2) real, full, frequent, regular participation in IEC meetings by those senior RWP cadre elected to the IEC;
“(3) a capable bilingual (Sinhala-English) cadre from the RWP to be stationed in the international centre and, if a senior cadre, to be a member of the international secretariat;
“(4) an international representative, member of the IEC, to sit on the RWP Central Committee, or if not on the IEC, to play a consultative role in the RWP;
“(5) to encourage travel and participation in the political working life of other sections by members of the RWP and, correspondingly, extended visits to Sri Lanka by members of other sections.”
It’s on this model that the conference is fusing with the Québécois comrades.
Despite all the weaknesses our organization may have had, when confronted with the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracies in the DDR [East Germany] and the USSR, we did our revolutionary duty. At that crucial time in history, our tendency fought tooth and nail against capitalist restoration and for political revolution. Moreover, beginning in the period of glasnost and into the post-Soviet period, we managed to make important contributions to our continuity, such as the publication of two books with Cannon’s writings and the Prometheus Research Series publications. Likewise, we were able to extend the conclusions of the first four Congresses of the CI to the questions of executive office in capitalist states and the constituent assembly [see Spartacist (English edition) No. 61, Spring 2009, and No. 63, Winter 2012-13].
The leadership elected by this conference should be based on the comrades who have been central to this fight, especially comrades from Mexico, Greece, South Africa and the Québécois comrades. An extension of the changes that the IEC should undergo is the reorganization of the I.S. by integrating comrades from Mexico and Quebec. With the crisis in the British section, the new IEC will have the task of rebuilding a center in Europe based on the most conscious comrades there. A necessary task to carry out is to give IEC consultative member status to comrades who are historic leaders of our tendency but who can no longer be as active in the party leadership. The new IEC needs their experience but, at the same time, as the example of Admiral Rickover [finally forced to retire at the age of 82] shows, we’d better not take the risk of sinking the submarine.
Building a real international collective requires strong national leaderships. It must be founded on a common political basis, and built through the establishment of personal ties: it’s necessary to get to know one’s collaborators through common work. A new axis of international collaboration started to be forged during the fight in Canada. This collective grew larger as the fight took on an international dimension, and it has crystallized with the drafting of this conference document. Building an International across different countries requires considerable material resources. As this fight shows, financial contributions from our supporters are essential to the existence of the ICL. One advantage for our tendency relative to the situation that Trotsky or Cannon faced is that we currently have sufficient resources at our disposal to ensure a certain stability and international extension.
Our party is at a decisive moment in its history. A leadership guided by comrade Coelho and motivated by our program, the recruitment of the Montreal comrades, as well as the fact that comrade Robertson still upholds our continuity—these factors have allowed us to wage a fight that has profoundly shaken our International. This fight gives us an opportunity to succeed where the SWP failed and to regenerate as a party. It gives us a chance to break decisively with oppressor chauvinism, thus laying the basis for a mainly non-Anglophone, truly internationalist organization. As comrade Robertson wrote to the IEC in November 1995:
“INTERNATIONALISM IS A DEAD LETTER IF...!
“With half a moment’s thought it is obvious that the question of language capacity is a necessary prerequisite to move in the world at large. Yet this consideration is often omitted from formal calculation....
“Without the language capacity to bridge the gulfs between the people of the world we are not merely lost, we are non-starters.
“For a Welders’ and Bilinguals’ Government!”
III. Theoretical Framework for Chauvinism
Deformations of Marx, Engels and Lenin in Workers Vanguard
The theoretical justification for our chauvinist program on the national question is codified in two articles: “The National Question in the Marxist Movement 1848-1914” (Workers Vanguard Nos. 123 and 125, 3 and 17 September 1976), written by comrade Seymour, and “Lenin vs. Luxemburg on the National Question” (WV No. 150, 25 March 1977). Until the present fight broke out in the International, these articles served as a point of reference on the national question for many cadres. This conference repudiates these articles in order to put the party back on a Leninist programmatic footing—i.e., as champions of the fight against national oppression.
Comrade Robertson noted: “What is it that shapes theory? The appetites of men shape out their intervention” (“Conversations with Wohlforth,” Marxist Bulletin No. 3, Part IV). He remarked:
“You often talk about ‘theory’ and ‘method’ but are weak in definition. In order to deal with Marxist method it is necessary to understand it, not merely to refer to it—‘theory’ by itself is an empty word. Theory is a sufficient simplification of reality that it can be shoved into our heads and give us an active understanding as participants of what is going on—that is, what we hold in our heads is also a factor. Program generates theory. What are decisive are programmatic questions.”
Thus, the original presentation published in the article in WV Nos. 123 and 125 was given in August 1976, a few weeks after the discussion on air traffic control in Canada, which established the basis for the racist article opposing the just struggle for language rights in Quebec (see “Dispute Over Bilingual Air Traffic Control Rocks Canada,” WV No. 119 [23 July 1976] and Spartacist Canada No. 8 [September 1976]). As comrade Robertson noted in a “Letter on 1976” (30 November 2016):
“There is a reason why the Canadian comrades at the time picked the Air Traffic Controllers strike to write what they did. There was a national upsurge in Quebec and the then TLC chose to write on the one excess that they could find in that political upsurge. The comrades should have hailed the upsurge while also noting the one question which fell outside the legitimate and praiseworthy liberationary political movement.”
The appetite that shaped our intervention at that time was defined by a capitulation to dominant Anglo-North American pressures. In fact, the WV Nos. 123 and 125 article is a polemic against the liberation of Quebec from the jackboot of Anglophone oppression, a perspective also found in our approach to other national questions (witness the equal sign drawn in the article between the oppressed and oppressor peoples in Lebanon). The theoretical framework developed by these two articles is very far from the experience of the Russian Revolution, which demonstrated in life that the national question can be a motor force for revolutionary struggle.
The article in WV Nos. 123 and 125 defends the preposterous thesis that “there is no Marxist program for the national question as such,” rejecting in fact the Marxist program for the liberation of oppressed nations. The article can pass off this sleight of hand only by grossly deforming the political positions of Marx and Engels. First, it falsely argues that “Marx and Engels developed a program which amounted to the national, if not physical, genocide of the western and southern Slavs in the interests of the democratic or progressive peoples.” Marx and Engels’ approach to the Slavs was not based on racial prejudice. Their approach can only be understood in the framework of their vision of a European-wide revolution. The South Slavs played a reactionary role in the crushing of the revolutions of 1848-49 as foot soldiers for the reactionary great powers of that epoch (Prussia, the Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Lenin supported Marx and Engels’ position:
“From that time  until Marx’s death, and even later, until 1890, when there was a danger that tsarism, allied with France, would wage a reactionary war against a non-imperialist and nationally independent Germany, Engels stood first and foremost for a struggle against tsarism. It was for this reason, and exclusively for this reason, that Marx and Engels were opposed to the national movement of the Czechs and South Slavs. A simple reference to what Marx and Engels wrote in 1848 and 1849 will prove to anyone who is interested in Marxism in real earnest and not merely for the purpose of brushing Marxism aside, that Marx and Engels at that time drew a clear and definite distinction between ‘whole reactionary nations’ serving as ‘Russian outposts’ in Europe, and ‘revolutionary nations’, namely, the Germans, Poles and Magyars. This is a fact. And it was indicated at the time with incontrovertible truth: in 1848 revolutionary nations fought for liberty, whose principal enemy was tsarism, whereas the Czechs, etc., were in fact reactionary nations, and outposts of tsarism.”
— “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up” (July 1916)
Comrade Seymour’s article ignores the evolution of Marx and Engels’ thinking on national liberation struggles when, in fact, their reasoning had been greatly influenced by national struggles in India (Sepoy Mutiny, 1857) and Ireland (Fenian Uprising, 1867) and others. Experience had taught them that far from dissipating with the development of capitalism, the national question became even more explosive, thus becoming a possible lever for revolution. The WV article ignores this development in defense of an oppressor-chauvinist framework. For example, Irish liberation is presented as a motor force uniquely for the English revolution. In fact, Marx and Engels fought for the independence of Ireland as an end in itself, and they were closely associated politically with the Fenians. Marx wrote to Engels (30 November 1867):
“What the Irish need is:
“1. Self-government and independence from England.
“2. Agrarian revolution. With the best will in the world the English cannot do this for them, but they can give them the legal means to do it for themselves.
“3. Protective tariffs against England. From 1783-1801 every branch of industry in Ireland flourished. By suppressing the protective tariffs which the Irish parliament had established, the Union destroyed all industrial life in Ireland.”
Marx and Engels’ orientation toward the struggles of the Irish working people reflected their conception at the time that the people in Ireland “are more revolutionary and more exasperated than in England” (“The General Council to the Federal Council of Romance Switzerland,” 1 January 1870). They vigorously fought to organize an Irish section of the First International and to defend the Fenians within the English working class.
Lenin explained that in Marx’s time, the pre-imperialist period, “the main thing was to fight ‘against tsarism’ (and against certain small-nation movements that it was using for undemocratic ends), and for the greater revolutionary peoples of the West.” Lenin went further, explaining that in the epoch of imperialism:
“Tsarism has manifestly and indisputably ceased to be the chief mainstay of reaction, first, because it is supported by international finance capital, particularly French, and, secondly, because of 1905.... The system now is a handful of imperialist ‘Great’ Powers (five or six in number), each oppressing other nations.... Today, the socialist proletariat, split into chauvinists, ‘social-imperialists’, on the one hand, and revolutionaries, on the other, is confronted by an alliance of tsarist imperialism and advanced capitalist, European, imperialism, which is based on their common oppression of a number of nations.”
— “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up”
Contrary to what the WV articles claim, there does indeed exist a defined Marxist program on the national question, which is the Bolshevik program developed by Lenin between late 1912 and 1916:
“Complete equality of rights for all nations; the right of nations to self-determination; the unity of the workers of all nations—such is the national programme that Marxism, the experience of the whole world, and the experience of Russia, teach the workers.”
— “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (February-May 1914)
We reject the claim in these articles that the national question has “a much more conjunctural character historically, and is much more determined by changing empirical circumstances.” When the world changes substantially, the Marxist program must also change in order to address reality; this does not mean that the program is “conjunctural,” but rather that it is necessary to consider “the concrete change in the application of the same socialist principles” (Lenin). Regarding the program on the national question, Marx, Engels and Lenin all shared the same elementary socialist principle that “no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.”
The article in WV Nos. 123 and 125 defends the thesis, which is correct in itself, that there are no “reactionary” and “progressive” peoples, but it wields this to blur the difference between oppressed and oppressor nations. As in that article, in “Lenin vs. Luxemburg on the National Question” (WV No. 150) the authority of Marx, Engels and Lenin is misused to defend a position of indifference to the fight for national liberation:
“The absence of sustained proletarian revolutionary struggles in the advanced capitalist countries and the continued hegemony in them of the reformist parties have led to widespread support for petty-bourgeois nationalism within the left. Groups like the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Angolan MPLA, Irish Republican Army and Basque ETA are viewed by many leftists, including would-be Marxists, as among the vanguard of the revolutionary forces of our day.
“As part of the international Spartacist tendency’s struggle against the nationalist deviations rampant in the contemporary left, we published last year a two-part article analyzing the evolution of the Marxist position on the national question, from the 1848 concept of ‘progressive nations’ to the Leninist principle of the ‘right of self-determination’.”
While it is correct to combat the left’s opportunism and tailism of petty-bourgeois nationalist forces, to use this as a cover for denigrating the just aspirations of a people who want to separate from a nation that forcibly retains them put us on the wrong side of the line between a revolutionary organization and a social-chauvinist one. These articles never expressed any solidarity with national liberation struggles, much less with the right of oppressed nations to break free from their national oppression. This constituted a total rejection of internationalism.
The article in WV Nos. 123 and 125 introduced a false dichotomy between the simple “advocacy of independence” (Lenin) and its “realization in fact” (Marx): “For Lenin, the question of whether independence would be realized or not was not a fundamental question, it was secondary.” This false counterposition served as a cover for our outright opposition to independence for Quebec, thus fundamentally denying the right of self-determination. This clearly goes against Lenin’s writings on the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin and the separation of Norway in 1905:
“This example [of Norway] virtually proves that it is the bounden duty of class-conscious workers to conduct systematic propaganda and prepare the ground for the settlement of conflicts that may arise over the secession of nations, not in the ‘Russian way’, but only in the way they were settled in 1905 between Norway and Sweden.”
—“The Right of Nations to Self-Determination”
So much for Lenin’s supposed indifference to the question of independence.
Lenin waged a struggle against the advocates of imperialist economism, including the Polish social democrats who argued that “self-determination is impossible under capitalism and superfluous under socialism” (“A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism,” 1916). The article in WV Nos. 123 and 125 undermines Lenin’s principled polemics against Luxemburg, claiming falsely that like Luxemburg “he was opposed to federalism, and favored limited regional autonomy for minority nations in a unitary state” (our emphasis). Further, the article advocates the assimilation of the oppressed nations by the oppressors under imperialist capitalism: “While championing the equality of languages and related democratic rights, we work for the gradual, organic assimilation of the various nationalities making up the working class.”
The article on “Lenin vs. Luxemburg on the National Question” implies that the right of self-determination does not apply after proletarian revolution: “The right of nations to self-determination, as any other bourgeois-democratic right, can only be superseded when proletarian class rule and its democracy supersede bourgeois democracy.” This was not Lenin’s position but that of his adversaries like Bukharin and Pyatakov who advocated “proletarian self-determination.” This position was defeated in the debate in 1919 over the Russian party program, when the question was concretely posed under Soviet power. This program not only asserted that “the colonial and other nations which are oppressed, or whose rights are restricted, must be completely liberated and granted the right to secede” but also emphasized that “the workers of those nations which under capitalism were oppressor nations must take exceptional care not to hurt the national sentiments of the oppressed nations…and must not only promote the actual equality, but also the development of the language and literature of the working people of the formerly oppressed nations so as to remove all traces of distrust and alienation inherited from the epoch of capitalism” (“Draft Programme of the R.C.P.[B.]”). Lenin’s last struggle was waged against the Great Russian chauvinist bullying of the Georgian communists by Stalin and Ordzhonikidze.
Lenin insisted that national divisions would only completely disappear in the communist future:
“By transforming capitalism into socialism the proletariat creates the possibility of abolishing national oppression; the possibility becomes reality ‘only’—‘only’!—with the establishment of full democracy in all spheres, including the delineation of state frontiers in accordance with the ‘sympathies’ of the population, including complete freedom to secede. And this, in turn, will serve as a basis for developing the practical elimination of even the slightest national friction and the least national mistrust, for an accelerated drawing together and fusion of nations that will be completed when the state withers away.”
— “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up”
Finally, the article “Lenin vs. Luxemburg on the National Question” falsely asserts about Luxemburg: “She rejected the right of self-determination and any other general principle.” Luxemburg and Lenin both vigorously demanded that the imperialists get out of the colonies, but Lenin insisted that the right of self-determination also applied to Europe. The question was clearly posed by Lenin in a polemic against Luxemburg on the national question: “Is it right to contrast ‘Europe’ with the colonies in the present question?” Lenin’s answer was a resounding “no” (“The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up”). Willfully ignoring Lenin’s insistence that it was equally necessary to combat national oppression in Europe was of a piece with the flagrant manifestations of chauvinism in the ICL. This was particularly evident when it came to applying self-determination to oppressed white people in economically advanced countries of North America and Europe: Quebec, Catalonia, the Basque Country.
Capitulation to the New Left
While claiming to polemicize against the New Left’s capitulation to petty-bourgeois nationalism, the two WV articles from 1976 and 1977 were in fact in line with the New Left’s distortions and slanders of Marxism. At the time, it was common currency in this milieu to say that Marx and Engels were genocidal racists and German and European great-power chauvinists. Yet to the extent that comrade Seymour admitted that Marx and Engels had a program on the national question, it is the program of Deutschland über alles:
“From 1848 onward, Marx and Engels were often accused by their opponents within the left of being German chauvinists. They denied that, arguing that their position on the unification of Germany was objective, and that it did not reflect subjective nationalist prejudice.... However, it was only in 1870 that they got a chance to prove demonstrably that they were not German chauvinists.”
— WV No. 123
Marx’s position on Polish emancipation is reduced to creating “a democratic buffer against tsarist Russia,” while Prussia was busy redrawing its borders on the Ostfront. In fact, Marx saw Polish reunification as the motor force for redrawing those borders at the expense of the Hohenzollerns as well as the Habsburgs and Romanovs. As Marx and Engels told a meeting commemorating the 12th anniversary of the Polish uprising of 1863-64:
“The partition of Poland is the mortar binding together the three great military despotisms: Russia, Prussia and Austria. Only the reconstitution of Poland can break this bond and thus remove the greatest obstacle to the social emancipation of the peoples of Europe.”
— “For Poland” (24 March 1875)
To try to justify the portrayal of Marx and Engels as German revanchists, the two-part article attributes to them an objectivist conception of the 1848 revolution. The article tries to reduce the defeat of the revolution to a simple question of “objective economic backwardness”:
“As a result of the defeat of radical democracy in the revolutions of 1848, Marx substantially modified his program. He blamed the defeat of radical democracy and the proletarian vanguard on objective economic backwardness, not only in Germany and Austria, but also in France. Therefore, classic post-1848 Marxism placed a heavy programmatic emphasis on creating the objective conditions which would enable the proletariat to take power.”
In fact, Marx and Engels held the bourgeoisie and its petty-bourgeois allies responsible for the defeat of the 1848 revolution. In their “Address of the Central Authority to the League” (March 1850), they said:
“Brothers! We told you as early as 1848 that the German liberal bourgeois would soon come to power and would immediately turn their newly acquired power against the workers. You have seen how this has been fulfilled. In fact, it was the bourgeois who, immediately after the March movement of 1848, took possession of the state power and used this power in order at once to force the workers, their allies in the struggle, back into their former oppressed position.”
Marx and Engels insisted that the workers had to maintain their own class interests by fighting on the basis of class independence against the bourgeoisie and its petty-bourgeois auxiliaries:
“If the German workers are not able to attain power and achieve their own class interests without completely going through a lengthy revolutionary development, they at least know for a certainty this time that the first act of this approaching revolutionary drama will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will be very much accelerated by it.
“But they themselves must do the utmost for their final victory by making it clear to themselves what their class interests are, by taking up their position as an independent party as soon as possible and by not allowing themselves to be misled for a single moment by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeois into refraining from the independent organisation of the party of the proletariat. Their battle cry must be: The Revolution in Permanence.”
Fundamentally, our chauvinist programmatic framework on the national question meant a program of forcible assimilation of oppressed nations. This program was embodied in our defense of privileges for oppressor-nation languages and in our opposition to the language laws in Quebec and Catalonia. This conference reaffirms that the equality of languages lies in the struggle against privileges for the dominant language.
We fight for the independence of Quebec. Absent independence, our organization should have supported the language laws in Quebec (as in Catalonia, where the situation is qualitatively similar), because they constitute defensive measures essential to the very existence of the oppressed nation. Despite it having a quality of compromise vis-à-vis the fight for independence, we should have supported this partial expression of self-determination, in defense of the French language in Quebec. The struggle against privileges for the English language in Quebec is an extension of Lenin’s struggle for the equality of languages:
“The national programme of working-class democracy is: absolutely no privileges for any one nation or any one language; the solution of the problem of the political self-determination of nations, that is, their separation as states by completely free, democratic methods; the promulgation of a law for the whole state by virtue of which any measure (Zemstvo, urban or communal, etc., etc.) introducing any privilege of any kind for one of the nations and militating against the equality of nations or the rights of a national minority, shall be declared illegal and ineffective, and any citizen of the state shall have the right to demand that such a measure be annulled as unconstitutional, and that those who attempt to put it into effect be punished.”
— “Liberals and Democrats on the Language Question” (September 1913)
Since the French were defeated on the Plains of Abraham , English has been imposed on Quebec with assimilation as the explicit goal. Formally, Law 101 establishes French as the only official language of government, services and large companies. It decrees that all children in Quebec must go to French-language schools—except for Anglophones from Quebec and…all the other provinces. In fact, Anglophone privileges have never been affected: many hospitals and the elite McGill University are still English-speaking, English remains the language du business, numerous services and shops speak to clients in English only. In short, it is possible to spend one’s entire life...en anglais! Despite Law 101, English remains the language of domination and oppression in Quebec.
The French-English division of Quebec’s school system sparked justified struggles in defense of the French language in the 1960s and 1970s. Due to the deplorable status of the French language, immigrants preferred to have their children educated in the privileged language, English, in order to give them a better shot at upward social mobility. The language of education was the most controversial question at the time, because French speakers understood that they would become a minority in their own province if immigrants did not integrate into French-speaking society. The defense of an education system permitting immigrants “free choice” of English or French as the language of education for their children is, in Quebec, a defense of the privileged language: English.
The Anglo-Canadian elite had a conscious policy of bringing to Quebec a steady stream of non-Francophone immigrants in order to submerge the Francophone population in a sea of Anglophones. Just as we are opposed to the call to “open the borders,” we oppose this reactionary policy that contravenes the right to self-determination. We are in favor of immigrants in Quebec integrating through learning the French language. As with English in the United States, we demand free, quality bilingual programs as a rational method to help immigrant students make their transition from their mother tongue to French. Immigrants who leave their country to settle permanently in a more advanced country generally accept the reality of assimilating into that society, if they are allowed. The nature of this population is not the same as an oppressed nation in a multinational state, because immigrants do not constitute a nation. Oppressed nations striving to exist as distinct nations struggle against assimilation. This is the framework in which we must apply the Leninist program for the equality of languages.
When the Canadian bourgeoisie imposes bilingualism, it does not seek to “save” French and defend the equality of languages (as it was presented in Spartacist Canada); rather, it is forcing the English language on French speakers. With this policy, Francophones are expected to speak English, but for Anglophones bilingualism stops at “pickle jars.” We oppose “official” bilingualism in Quebec, which is a tool for the forcible assimilation of the Quebec nation. For similar reasons, Lenin was opposed to forcing national minorities to learn the Russian language. Down with Trudeau-ite “multiculturalism”!
To defend its opposition to Law 101, Spartacist Canada deformed Lenin, turning him into a champion of Trudeau-ite bilingualism, i.e., a champion of national and linguistic oppression. Here is one of the classic quotations used by SC to denounce this defensive legislation:
“That is why Russian Marxists say that there must be no compulsory official language, that the population must be provided with schools where teaching will be carried on in all the local languages, that a fundamental law must be introduced in the constitution declaring invalid all privileges of any one nation and all violations of the rights of national minorities.”
— “Is a Compulsory Official Language Needed?” (January 1914)
In the passage above, Lenin reasserts his opposition to forcibly imposing an official language—Russian, the language of the oppressor. This is very clearly shown in the following passage:
“What does a compulsory official language mean? In practice, it means that the language of the Great Russians, who are a minority of the population of Russia, is imposed upon all the rest of the population of Russia. In every school the teaching of the official language must be obligatory. All official correspondence must be conducted in the official language, not in the language of the local population.”
It’s upside-down world for SC: the Russian language in the tsarist empire is compared to the French language in Montreal. The language of the oppressed becomes the language of the oppressors!
Claiming to oppose “force” by any state in general, in reality our program defended the linguistic oppression of the Québécois by the Canadian state. In Spartacist Canada No. 2 (November-December 1975) we wrote:
“The only qualification Lenin adds is that such assimilation of nations must not be ‘founded on force or privilege....’
“This principle applies to all areas of social life. The recognition of both French and English as co-equal languages at the workplace and at school, with provision to service immigrants who speak neither French nor English, must be struggled for under capitalism and ultimately realized under a workers government.”
In 1975, SC called for Québécois workers to fight for the English of the same bosses that were screaming in their faces to “speak white”! At the same time, it was out of the question that the Québécois fight to defend their own existence with Law 101. For SC, the “problem” was that the Québécois used the “force” of Law 101 to prevent the English from exercising their “right” to oppress. For his part, Lenin supported the use of force by the oppressed to defend their existence:
“By a ‘defensive’ war socialists have always understood a ‘just’ war in this particular sense (Wilhelm Liebknecht once expressed himself precisely in this way). It is only in this sense that socialists have always regarded wars ‘for the defence of the fatherland’, or ‘defensive’ wars, as legitimate, progressive and just. For example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, these would be ‘just’, and ‘defensive’ wars, irrespective of who would be the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory ‘Great’ Powers.”
— Socialism and War (1915)
IV. The Fight in Canada
The International Conference endorses the programmatic conclusions of the historic conference of the Trotskyist League (TL) of November as well as of its Central Committee (CC) Plenum of December 2016. These fights marked a break with the Anglo-chauvinist politics that characterized the section, and they laid the basis for an authentically Leninist approach to the national question in Quebec. From 1975 to 1995, the section had an assimilationist, Anglo-chauvinist program. The conference repudiates all the articles on Quebec that were produced before 1995, which openly defend the oppression of Quebec by Canada. At the very moment when struggles against national oppression were fueling working-class struggle, we polemicized against our opponents, denouncing their slogans calling for an independent Quebec under socialism as reactionary, utopian and a capitulation to nationalism. We advocate independence whether under capitalism or in a workers state. Our perspective is to unleash the revolutionary potential of the national liberation struggles in Quebec: For a workers republic of Quebec!
The Montreal comrades were right to oppose the 1976 article on air traffic control. As they emphasized in their 24 October 2016 document:
“This article was written for English-Canadian workers and feeds Maple Leaf chauvinism instead of fighting it. The whole framework of the article capitulates to anti-Québécois tendencies in the labor movement and mocks the just struggle of the Québécois to be able to work in French.”
At the same time, this correct opposition to the article must be separated from the question of the language of air traffic control. On the basis of air safety, the CALPA [Canadian Airline Pilots Association] and CATCA [Canadian Air Traffic Control Association] strikes were supportable. For us as the vanguard, the essential point is that there be one language of the air. The most appropriate language for air traffic control would be (Mexican) Spanish. Its pronunciation and grammar are consistent, and it is written as it is pronounced, making it relatively easy to learn. Furthermore, Spanish is used throughout the Americas and in Spain, giving it a significant geographic range. In short, it is a world language.
The only consistently Marxist position was to support independence for Quebec from the moment it was oppressed by another nation, that is, starting with the conquest of 1759. Calling for the independence of Quebec as of 1995 marked a qualitative improvement of our program on the national question. Nevertheless, this line change had a centrist character since it remained within the framework of Anglo-chauvinism. This was the crucial question that the fight in Canada brought to light.
This conference rejects the calls for a “North American socialist revolution” and “For socialist revolution from the Yukon to the Yucatán.” These slogans erase the national distinctions between Quebec, English-speaking North America and Mexico. In our press, these slogans were continually used in an assimilationist way, presenting integration of the Québécois into the rest of America as the only way to ensure their national emancipation.
After its nominal line change of 1995, the TL continued to capitulate to the pressures of Canadian bourgeois society, in particular to Trudeauism and its ideology of “multiculturalism,” and minimized the strategic importance of the national question. For instance, our only Québécois comrade was marginalized and suspected of nationalism. The work in Montreal was not a priority for the section and was for a long time centered on Anglophone campuses. Establishing a French-language newspaper that would enable us to effectively intervene in Québécois society had never been seriously undertaken, and there was no perspective in the section for comrades to learn French. The old leadership opposed defending the Québécois who were specifically targeted for repression during the demonstrations against the G20 summit in 2010.
It is in spite of its capitulation to Anglo-chauvinism that the party was able to recruit a group of Québécois cadres in 2014. Rather than the acquisition of this nucleus being considered a crucial fusion for the TL—making possible the founding of a binational revolutionary party, with the perspective of having two parties in two states—these comrades were treated as a youth group and the “third local” of English Canada. The Montreal comrades were smothered by mindless administrative details and sterile activism rather than being used for their obvious political capacities. Given the historic oppression of the Quebec nation within Canada, the TL must aspire to be composed of 70 percent Québécois and people of minority origin. In fact, the Québécois comrades emerged as among the most conscious elements in this political fight and are the core of the new leadership of the Canadian section.
VI. International Secretariat
Since the fall of the USSR, the politics and functioning of the I.S. have been deformed by adaptation to American imperialism. Comrade Robertson once compared this behavior to Zinoviev’s “General Staff of the World Revolution.” An already arrogant and pretentious concept when Zinoviev embraced it in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, in the context of our International it was an open expression of Anglo-American exceptionalism. The I.S.’s agents sent to Mexico, Greece, Quebec and South Africa generally acted in a patronizing way, as though they were on a “civilizing” mission. The haughty posture adopted by these comrades did not centrally come from their personal weaknesses, but from political adaptation to imperialist arrogance. In the course of many opportunist campaigns, the I.S. substituted administrative hypertrophy for conscious Bolshevik work. As comrades from our Greek section stressed (March 2017): “This brings to light a completely wrong political perception which is encapsulated in ‘Rules Define the Program’ instead of what should be ‘Program Defines the Rules’.” The cadres from oppressed nations, recruited to internationalism, tended to internalize their own oppression and accept that framework, lest they be labeled as nationalists. Our revolutionary continuity runs from Lenin to Trotsky, from Cannon to comrade Robertson, and thus through the U.S. This bestowed authority on Anglo-American comrades that was sometimes illegitimate and unmerited. The conference repudiates these anti-internationalist politics. A Trotskyist international worthy of the name cannot be built on such a basis. These abuses will no longer be tolerated.
VIII. The Ligue Trotskyste de France: The Hexagon and Chauvinism
The chauvinist, made-in-the-USA program on the national question found fertile ground in our French section. In its propaganda, the Ligue trotskyste de France (LTF) repeated the lie that France is one and indivisible, writing numerous articles that defended the integrity of the Hexagon and presented national liberation struggles as reactionary. Before 1998, the LTF’s position was to deny the existence of oppressed nations in France by invoking the myth that the French Revolution had resolved the national question. They wrote: “In France, the Great Revolution bolstered the rule of the bourgeoisie over the old feudal provinces under the Jacobin banner of the nation, one and indivisible” (“Gestapo-Style Raid in the Basque Country,” le Bolchévik No. 78, November-December 1987).
In 1997, spurred by comrades in New York and Britain (it was easier to denounce French chauvinism from there), the LTF partially corrected this line on the Basque Country. But far from championing national minorities in France, the section never really broke from the framework of French chauvinism. National questions were treated with indifference, which was fundamentally a cover for hostility to changing any borders of the Hexagon. After 1998, the LTF continued to publish articles that openly opposed independence for Corsica, the Basque Country and Guadeloupe. At the same time, they presented the fate of these nations as largely dependent on the French proletariat, denying the possibility that struggle against national oppression could serve as a motor force for domestic revolutions.
The LTF deemed the Basque and Catalan national questions to be essentially Spanish questions. In fact, the Basque and Catalan national questions are the LTF’s national questions. Instead of helping the International advance a Leninist program on these issues, the LTF continually obstructed this work. In this fight, the French leadership has addressed these problems in a hasty and superficial way instead of undertaking a serious Marxist study of their national questions. This process has led only to introducing more deviations and confusion into the discussion. One sign of the section’s national narrowness is its isolation from the rest of the International. Except for the main leader of the section, the French comrades have very little intersection with the rest of the ICL. The leadership of the French section must consciously encourage its members to travel outside France on a regular basis.
The Basque Country and Catalonia
There is a single Basque nation and a single Catalan nation, both of which are divided and oppressed by two capitalist states. The differences in how nationalist sentiments are expressed in the northern and southern provinces of the Basque Country and Catalonia reflect the differences in capitalist development in Spain and France.
In Spain, the Catalans and the republican Basques played a vanguard role in the Spanish Revolution of the 1930s. After its defeat, the influx of tens of thousands of refugees reinvigorated national vitality in the northern part of these nations in France. Under Franco, all languages except Castilian were outlawed, and this was embodied in the slogan “one nation, great and free.” The autonomy statutes enacted by the Republic in 1932 were abolished. The Franco regime carried out harsh and punitive repression against oppressed nations, symbolized by the 1937 carpet bombing of the Basque city of Guernica by the Nazis at Franco’s behest. As a result of this repression, after Franco died in 1975 the struggles of the oppressed nations were mainly expressed along national lines, in contrast to those of the 1930s, when the working classes of these same nations fought directly for power.
The Spanish constitution of 1978 maintained the rule of the Bourbon monarchy in Spain, which was restored by the grace and favor of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. The restoration of the monarchy was essential to stabilize the central Castilian state and retain the oppressed nations within Spain by force. In order to stabilize the Spanish state, Catalonia and the Basque Country—along with other regions—were granted greater autonomy. This contrasts with “glorious” republican France (“the country of the rights of man”), where to this day the oppressed nations have no linguistic or legal rights. Especially in the Basque Country, the population faces as much repression as in Spain. Due to the historical weakness of the Castilian bourgeoisie relative to the Basque and Catalan bourgeoisies, the defeat of the Spanish Revolution and the resulting Franco dictatorship, the motor force of pro-independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country comes from the regions forcibly retained within Spain. Thus, the fate of the provinces forcibly retained within France strongly depends on what will happen on the Spanish side of the border. We call for the independence of the Basque Country and Catalonia, in the North and the South. If the Basque or Catalan regions of Spain obtained independence, it is likely that the regions in France would want to join them. If they wanted to remain part of France, we would defend their right to thus exercise their self-determination.
Jan Norden, editor of Workers Vanguard at the time, was centrally responsible for our line in opposition to national liberation struggles in Catalonia and the Basque Country on the Spanish side. For its part, the LTF is centrally responsible for our chauvinist line on the Basque Country and Catalonia on the French side. In the years around Franco’s death, Spain was shaken by significant workers struggles, leading to a social radicalization. While the struggle against national oppression played a central role in these mobilizations, WV, which regularly commented on these events, completely ignored this question. This silence had to be conscious and shows hostility to the fate of nations oppressed by the Spanish state. We launched a vicious polemic in defense of the oppression of Catalonia the first time we commented on this question in 1979.
This conference repudiates the article “Spanish LCR Pays Homage to Catalan Bourgeois Nationalism” (WV No. 233, 8 June 1979). This article is a gross capitulation to Castilian and French chauvinism and is a perversion of Leninism on the national question. We cite a polemic by Lenin against “cultural national autonomy,” and we outrageously use his arguments to oppose regional autonomy and independence, i.e., secession:
“As Leninists have always held, recognizing the right of self-determination is quite distinct from calling for its implementation, i.e., independence. And Spain is one of the most striking examples where communists would struggle doggedly to maintain working-class unity within the framework of the present state.”
This grotesque article is a loyalty oath in defense of the unity of Spain. WV acted as water boys for the bourgeoisie and the monarchy in the struggle against the national liberation of the Catalans and Basques.
The article also asserts that:
“The Basque and Catalan regions, while suffering discrimination (linguistic prohibitions, distribution of state services, repression) at the hand of the Francoist state apparatus, were the most developed regions in the country, containing the core of Spanish industry. Were they to separate, the two largest, best organized, most combative sectors of the proletariat would be subtracted, greatly weakening the workers movement in the rest of Spain and representing a considerable defeat for the European proletarian revolution.” (emphasis in original)
In fact, independence for Catalonia and the Basque Country would have been a step forward for the workers movement in Europe. This is all the more true today, when the breakup of Spain would profoundly destabilize the European Union, a reactionary imperialist bloc.
The problem with the way the LTF has approached the Basque and Catalan questions can be summed up in the following statement by a Basque nationalist: “There is not a Basque problem in France but a French problem in the Pays Basque.... The struggle of the Pays Basque will endure as long as there are Basques” (James E. Jacob, Hills of Conflict: Basque Nationalism in France [Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1994]). In 1987, at the same time that the French state was fiercely repressing the Basques, the LTF published an article that mainly attacked their demands for national rights. We wrote: “Indeed, while there is no national question in the French Basque Country, the military siege by [police ministers] Pasqua-Pandraud could well lead to one being created!” (“Gestapo-Style Raid in the Basque Country”). The article continues with a polemic against a “united, socialist Euskadi” and asserts that “self-determination is out of the question for the Basque region.” The forcible assimilation of the Basques in France is presented as a gain of the French Revolution.
These problems were only very partially corrected in 1998, when the LTF recognized the right of self-determination for the Basques in France. The International and the LTF repudiated the former political line, but in a dishonest way that covered up the full scope of the chauvinism of the 1987 article. However, we never reviewed our opposition to independence for the Basque Country nor for any other nation retained in the Hexagon.
When the question of independence for Catalonia was raised in 2014, the LTF decided not to take a position in favor of it. When the recent fight broke out in the International, the LTF did not undertake a review of its approach but instead rushed to produce a draft with a line comparable to the pre-1998 position. In a letter to the LTF, comrade Sacramento asserted:
“Your draft fundamentally equates the nationalism of the oppressed with the nationalism of the oppressors, misquoting Lenin to Salomonically denounce ‘aggressive bourgeois nationalism.’ You chose to emphasize that you are for independence of Basques and Catalans ‘in Spain,’ while somewhere in the next paragraph you barely mention that on the other side of the border we support ‘their right to join an independent Basque Country.’ In this formulation, you don’t mention explicitly their right to secede from France, regardless of what their co-nationals may do on the southern side of the border. And, as always, you found a way to ignore the Catalans in France.”
In 2014, the IEC adopted a line, against initial objections from the LTF, in favor of independence for the Basque Country and Catalonia. This change represented a qualitative improvement in our program. Nevertheless, this was done without making a complete break from the weaknesses of our former methodology: the aspirations of the oppressed for national liberation were still considered to be an obstacle to working-class struggle that we needed to “get off the agenda.” We are for independence—in the here and now—and we consciously fight to lead the struggle for national liberation toward socialist revolution. Our program is for workers republics in Catalonia and in the Basque Country.
To this day, our main argument for independence for the Basque Country and Catalonia has been that this would foster unity with the Castilian working class. In regard to Catalonia, our call for independence was based on an empirical and conjunctural assessment in the context of the 2014 referendum. The Basques and the Catalans have resisted assimilation for hundreds of years, thus expressing their desire to exist as nations. Another weakness in our recent articles is that they fail to explicitly call for the abolition of the monarchy. The fight for independence also means putting an end to this Francoist excrescence. Down with the monarchy!
Corsica has resisted assimilation by France for over 200 years. In March 2017, the LTF took a position for the independence of Corsica. That said, the way the section dealt with this question up until then reeked of chauvinist prejudice. For example, an article that the LTF recently repudiated stated:
“Furthermore, underdeveloped Corsica is subjected to the backward rule of the clans—true parasites who live off the semi-official misappropriation of subsidies from the central state and who maintain themselves through cronyism reminiscent of Sicily. Everyone knows where the notorious ‘territorial continuity allocation envelope’ goes: to fatten up the clans who adorn themselves with the mantle of left radicals, RPR [Rassemblement pour la République—a right-wing party] and other ‘bonapartists’ who keep the island in a state of lucrative backwardness with state support.”
— “Corsica: Strike Defies the Government,” le Bolchévik (LB) No. 92, April 1989
This statement echoes every backward, commonplace anti-Corsican prejudice in France and shows contempt for the legitimate national aspirations of the Corsican people. The article also stated: “While there is no ‘Corsican nation’ today, there is nevertheless a Corsican national problem.” This plagiarizes the bourgeoisie almost word for word: “There is not a Corsican problem, there are problems in Corsica” (Valéry Giscard d’Estaing).
More recently, in the article “Yvan Colonna, Victim of Police Frame-Up, Is Innocent—Free Him Now!” (LB No. 197, September 2011), the LTF took a de facto position against Corsican independence by stating:
“We are opposed to the nationalist vision and program, whose fundamental ambition is to consolidate a capitalist regime in a national framework. In the eyes of the petty-bourgeois nationalists, the entire dominant nation is considered the enemy. This perspective always leads to acts of indiscriminate violence against the workers of the dominant nation.”
This statement is not only a chauvinist defense of the unity of France, it is also completely false. The LTF comrades must seriously study the national question in Corsica.
Our starting point with regard to Belgium must be opposition to the artificial unity of this country. In reality, the Flemish and the Walloons never freely consented to uniting their nations within a single state. The current federal structure is an obstacle to complete self-determination of the Flemish and the Walloons, both of whom are trapped in an oppressive state. The bourgeoisie has repeatedly exploited national tensions in its own interests and to divide the workers movement. We call for the breakup of Belgium and for the right of self-determination for both the Flemish and the Walloons. The German-speaking minority should also be able to decide its own fate. The breakup of Belgium goes hand in hand with the struggle against the imperialist institutions that artificially maintain the unity of the country—the monarchy, NATO and the European Union. Our perspective is building a binational party, with the aim of building two workers parties, sections of the International.
In 1995, comrade Robertson gave the example of the national question in Belgium to motivate reviewing our line on independence for Quebec. While the LTF has tried to deal with this question in the past but delayed resolving it programmatically, the I.S. was largely indifferent to it. In August 2016, the LTF CC passed a motion recommending to the I.S. that we call for independence for Flanders. This line was essentially motivated using our old methodology, i.e., in order to “remove the question from the agenda,” and by an empiricist framework. The comrades who subsequently worked on this question and on the first draft of this conference document all more or less shared a wrong framework, viewing it through the prism of Quebec and Canada and looking for “which nation was oppressing the other.” The historic oppression of the Flemish is undeniable, but relations between the two nations changed qualitatively from the 1960s onward. Furthermore, to call for the independence of Flanders implies that Wallonia remains in a certain sense the “real” Belgium, whereas in fact the unity of the country is itself an artificial construct. A historical approach is necessary to understand the particulars of Belgium.
The evolution from a feudal to a capitalist system of the territories that make up present-day Belgium occurred almost exclusively under foreign rule. While the Protestant-dominated northern provinces of the Netherlands formally acquired independence in 1648, the still-Catholic southern provinces (which form present-day Belgium) continued to be ruled by the Habsburgs of Spain until 1700, followed by the Habsburgs of Austria from 1713. In 1789, these provinces experienced a first abortive revolution, the Brabançon Revolution. Shortly thereafter, they were forcibly annexed by France. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the fate of these provinces was discussed among the Coalition powers led by Britain. Subsequently, the king of the Netherlands took advantage of the return of Napoleon and the state of war in 1815 to occupy their territory militarily. An agreement between the European powers assembled at the Congress of Vienna allowed the king of the Netherlands to claim these provinces—regardless of their will—as part of his kingdom. Britain saw it as a way of forming a “buffer state” between France and other European powers. It was not until 1830 that the population of these provinces, under the influence of the July Revolution in France, had their “own” bourgeois-type revolution led by Francophones, which can be considered a partial expression of self-determination.
Modern-day Belgium is essentially the product of politics and compromises between the Great Powers of the time. The possibility of partitioning the territory between Britain, France and Prussia was seriously looked at in 1830; but at the time, Britain was the biggest European power and there was no way it was going to let France annex this territory. At the same time, Britain wished to avoid a new European war and France was absolutely opposed to Britain getting its hands on the slightest bit of land on the continent. The option chosen at the London Conference was therefore to create an independent state (in practice, as a British “client-state”). Threatened on the one hand by the Netherlands and on the other hand with being annexed and torn up between France, Britain and Prussia, the Flemish and the Walloons therefore never really chose to unite their nations; they were forced to do so by historical circumstances.
Moreover, in 1830 the Flemish and Walloon nations were not yet fully developed. In Flanders, the language was very inconsistent and fragmented into several dialects, there were marked differences between the main cities, and the elite of noble or bourgeois origin were French-speaking. In these conditions, the forced amalgamation of these two nations necessarily came at the expense of the Flemish nation. As early as 1840, the Flemish put forward linguistic demands to counter the Francophone elite’s policy of assimilation. The Flemish workers and peasants were subject to a double oppression, both economic and national, while being relegated to the bottom of the social ladder. Only after the 1870s did the Flemish begin to obtain formal recognition of some of their linguistic rights in the legal domain and in education; furthermore, a Dutch version of the constitution was only recognized in 1967. After the Second World War, however, the relative situation of the two nations changed, and this became qualitative beginning in the 1960s. Starting in the 1950s, a significant amount of capital shifted from the South to the North, and decaying Walloon industries were replaced by more modern ones in Flemish territory: the decline of coal mining and heavy industry (mainly centered in Wallonia) corresponded with the growth of the oil industry and related sectors such as petrochemicals, auto and steel, which developed near the port of Antwerp and on the Flemish coast.
The historical development of the national question in Belgium shows that the “unity” of this country is artificial and is not based on the free choice of the nations it contains. The dynamics between the great European powers of the time, and the fact that the Belgian Revolution of 1830 led to a ruling Francophone bourgeoisie taking power, historically precluded the possibility of a free association of these two nations. Today, the Flemish are in a favorable economic position, but the unitary framework of Belgium is oppressive for both nations, neither of which is able to fully self-determine. With the economic ascendancy of the Flemish, the country simultaneously pursued a policy of linguistic and cultural “autonomization” in subsequent decades, to such an extent that today, in fact, Flemings and Walloons consider each other to be foreigners within the same state. Faced with this contradictory situation where the national question sharply divides the country but the fate of both nations is unclear, our answer is simple: Separate!
The influence of Britain in particular, and to a lesser extent France, over the creation of the country is reflected in the type of constitutional monarchy that was established in 1830. The British chose a close relative of the crown, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who then married the daughter of the “king of the French,” Louis-Philippe. Not only does the monarchy act as a rallying point for reactionary forces, especially in a revolutionary situation, but it is also one of the pillars that artificially maintain the oppressive unity of Belgium today. The separation of Belgium would likely simultaneously overthrow this relic of feudalism, and our line for the breakup of the country must be coupled with: Down with the monarchy!
Brussels is a French-speaking enclave in Flemish territory. The city was majority Flemish-speaking when Belgium was formed and its francization is a result of the assimilationist policies of the Francophone bourgeoisie. Today, Dutch-speakers are only a very small minority in the Brussels-Capital region. A significant portion of the city is immigrant-derived and another significant portion works for, or in connection with, the European Union. The fact is that Brussels and the surrounding area currently have their own regional government and a population distinct from that of the rest of Flanders. It is hard to predict what will happen to Brussels if the country is broken up, and several possibilities are conceivable. As the LTF CC correctly asserted in August 2016, the population should be able to freely choose what happens to the region, though this will be influenced by the way in which the breakup of the country takes place.
The national question in Belgium, as well as the fate of Brussels, is closely linked to the imperialist institutions on the ground. NATO and the European Commission both set up their headquarters in the capital, and the imperialists fear the instability that a breakup of Belgium would create. The EU, in particular, plays a leading role in maintaining national oppression among its member states. Independence for Catalonia, the Basque Country, Scotland or for the Flemish and Walloons would challenge the very existence of the EU, which fears that the borders of its member states may be redrawn. Thus, in the case of Belgium, it is all the more unlikely that the breakup of the country would take place absent a movement against the EU. We say: Flanders and Wallonia, out of the European Union! European Union, out of Brussels! Our wavering on this question is not unconnected to other problems of accommodating the EU that have been fought out in our organization.
Adaptation to the European Union
The EU is a consortium of capitalist states whose purpose is to maximize the exploitation of the working class and enforce the economic domination and subjugation by the imperialist powers, centrally Germany, of poorer countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, including through imposition of its financial instrument, the common currency of the euro. The EU is designed to increase the European imperialists’ competitiveness against their rivals in the U.S. and Japan. Latter-day Kautskyite fantasies of a “supranational,” “social” Europe notwithstanding, the EU is an unstable formation subject to continual tensions arising from the disparate national interests of the European imperialists, which constantly threaten to tear it apart. As Lenin taught us:
“From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism—i.e., the export of capital and the division of the world by the ‘advanced’ and ‘civilised’ colonial powers—a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary....
“Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists...but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America.”
— “On the Slogan for a United States of Europe” (August 1915)
Only unity on a socialist basis, accomplished by proletarian revolution and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, can institute rational worldwide economic development without exploitation. For the Socialist United States of Europe!
The EU is a deadly enemy of national rights, as the Greek masses have witnessed through the strangulation of their national sovereignty. The EU is determined to keep the current European borders intact. [German chancellor Angela] Merkel herself made that clear in 2015 when she proclaimed that if Catalonia separates from Spain, it will automatically be out of the EU. Maintaining the national oppression of Catalonia is vital to the interests of the European imperialists, because independence would inspire other oppressed nations and could trigger a domino effect that would call into question the territorial “integrity” of France, Belgium, etc. Moreover, the struggle for national liberation could very well lead to an explosion of class struggle within the Spanish state and beyond.
The problems we have had with the European Union over the years are not unrelated to the current struggle in the party. There have been political adaptations to the EU, which at bottom reflect a view of this imperialist mafia as a “progressive” force. Already in 2011, comrade Robertson expressed concern that comrades viewed our opposition to the EU as hypothetical. Although we continued to formally oppose the EU, the point that a common currency without a common state is not viable disappeared from our articles. When the EU appeared to be flourishing, prior to the great economic crisis that began in 2008, we bent to it, whereas it is relatively easy to oppose it now, since opposition to the EU is more popular. However, our opposition to the EU—in the concrete—has been challenged several times since 2008. Already in late 2011 and early 2012, there were objections in the International to the simple statement of fact that “the example of Argentina shows graphically that Greece might be much better off if it defaulted and left the euro zone, reinstating its own currency” (WV No. 992, 9 December 2011).
The document of the Sixth Conference of the ICL (2010) asserted that the Communist Party of Greece “promotes a chauvinist framework opposing the EU and IMF on the basis that they interfere with Greece’s national sovereignty.” This is wrong. In our subsequent propaganda, we correctly opposed the EU (that is, Germany) trampling on Greece’s national sovereignty. In fact, the EU and the IMF do more than “interfere”—Greece today has less national sovereignty than neocolonial Mexico! National sovereignty ultimately means the right of the government of a given country to make decisions about its own domestic policies—not least control over its own currency! Some comrades do not understand the link between self-determination for nations oppressed by imperialism and the concrete defense of their national sovereignty. We are not indifferent to imperialist or oppressor nations trampling the national sovereignty of weaker ones. For example, Espartaco No. 36 (September 2012) raised the correct slogan: “FBI, DEA and all U.S. military and police agencies out of Mexico!”
There has been constant confusion since a February 2012 I.S. discussion on our approach to the exit from the EU of individual member states. The original motion proposed for that meeting read: “We are for all member states out of the EU/euro: the breakup of the single currency and of the EU itself ought to be a major goal of the working classes throughout Europe, as part of the perspective of a Socialist United States of Europe.” During the meeting, this part of the motion was criticized on the false basis that calling for the exit of any specific member state was akin to making a demand on a bourgeois government. At the time of the 2015 Greek referendum, certain leading comrades used this argument to oppose raising “Greece out of the EU.” There was, nevertheless, a real problem with that part of the original I.S. motion because it did not take into account the difference between Germany, the real power in Europe, and the other member states, nor the differences between imperialist countries in the EU and those EU countries they oppress.
The question should be addressed in the following general framework: first and foremost, we are for the shattering of the European Union from an internationalist starting point. That said, since its breakup is currently being posed through the exit of individual member states, we cannot be neutral when the question arises. There is no formula over when or how to raise the call for a member country to leave the European Union. That depends on the country in question as well as on the concrete circumstances. Before the proposal for a referendum in Britain, the call “Britain out of the EU” could have only been perceived as nationalist: for a stronger, imperialist England “liberated” from Germany. In contrast, the call for Greece out of the European Union can widely be understood in that country as opposition to the oppression of Greece at the hands of the European Union and Germany. In any case, such calls should be placed in the more general framework of our program for the breakup of the European Union, putting forward a class axis.
In 2015, we had two waves of liberalism expressed in the call for “open borders.” In May, the two front-page articles WV wrote in collaboration with European comrades and the I.S. were pulled after three leading comrades objected to the line taken on the refugee crises in Europe and Southeast Asia. The article on Europe called for full citizenship rights for all “refugees seeking asylum” while the one on Southeast Asia declared: “The Rohingyan refugees must be allowed to settle wherever they want.” In May 2015, the SL/U.S. Political Bureau described the problem, stating that these articles had “bourgeois-liberal politics and a reactionary utopian ‘open the borders’ line.” A few months later, we had a second wave of liberalism expressed in comrades wanting to take a position against the Dublin III agreement, which allows governments to decide where refugee applications are processed, i.e., which country will detain and/or deport the refugees. This position partook of the social-democratic framework of a “social” Europe and bought into the liberal myth of “open borders” between states that have signed the Schengen agreement. As we recently wrote in a polemic against the Internationalist Group (IG), which peddles these illusions:
“As communists, we do not look to the good graces of the very authors of this devastation to provide refuge for their victims. Our purpose is to forge internationalist revolutionary workers parties that can lead the world proletariat in the struggle to smash this system of brutal exploitation, racial and colonial/neocolonial oppression and war.”
— WV No. 1109, 7 April 2017
The Spartacist League/Britain
The current fight brought to light the Spartacist League/Britain (SL/B)’s opportunist trajectory over the past few years of adaptation to Labourite social-chauvinism and corresponding softness toward the EU. An egregious example of this capitulation is in Workers Hammer No. 237 (Winter 2016-2017), where the SL/B made a retrospective amnesty of Jeremy Corbyn’s line against Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum. It also prettified Corbyn by omitting the fact that he is against Scotland’s right to independence, just like the previous Unionist Labour leadership. Corbyn’s position on independence, along with his pro-remain line on the EU, has helped push Scottish workers into the arms of the bourgeois Scottish National Party. Moreover, his opposition to Brexit pushed English workers toward the UK Independence Party. The SL/B did not correctly carry out the tactic of critical support to Corbyn in the 2016 leadership contest: the purpose of critical support is not a Corbynite Labour Party but to set the base against the top as part of forging a revolutionary vanguard (Leninist) party. Instead, semi-covertly, the SL/B became inactive, moving rapidly to the right on principled programmatic questions.
At some point after 2010, the SL/B surreptitiously dropped the demand for British troops out of Northern Ireland. The dropping of this demand that has been central to our opposition to British imperialism since before the section was founded was not codified in a CC meeting nor reported to the I.S. The 1998 imperialist “peace” fraud was premised on the British Army staying in Northern Ireland. That we dropped this line amounted to a denial that the Catholic population continued to be subject to direct British state repression and bought into the chauvinist lie that the “United Kingdom” has a legitimate claim to Northern Ireland. This conference reaffirms the “Theses on Ireland,” notably the following point:
“2. An essential element of our program is the demand for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of the British army. British imperialism has brought centuries of exploitation, oppression and bloodshed to the island. No good can come of the British presence; the existing tie between Northern Ireland and the British state can only be oppressive to the Irish Catholic population, an obstacle to a proletarian class mobilisation and solution. We place no preconditions on this demand for the immediate withdrawal of all British military forces or lessen its categorical quality by suggesting ‘steps’ toward its fulfillment (such as simply demanding that the army should withdraw to its barracks or from working-class districts).”
— Spartacist (English edition) No. 24, Autumn 1977
The Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands
The German section has for some time had a policy of never translating articles into Turkish, supposedly because all Turkish immigrants are bilingual. This is not only false but also shows disdain for the large Turkish immigrant (and immigrant-derived) population in Germany. Furthermore, Turkish-language translations would be a statement of internationalism and solidarity with this oppressed population and could find their way to Turkey, not least when published on our website. We note that the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (SpAD) has already taken measures to rectify this situation.
The SpAD comrades must re-establish a closer relationship with the International and seek to travel outside Germany.
Our International Declaration of Principles and “Agreement for Common Work Between Greek Comrades and the ICL (FI)” (Spartacist [English edition] No. 59, Spring 2006) treat Cyprus as a situation of interpenetrated peoples (Greeks and Turks), in which only socialist revolution can resolve the national question. For example, the “Agreement for Common Work” states:
“Our fight is for a proletarian solution to the national question, which of necessity requires the revolutionary overthrow of the nationalist bourgeoisies in Nicosia/Lefkosa, Athens and Ankara.”
This perspective is not appropriate for addressing the question of Cyprus. Today, the Republic of Cyprus (south) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are in effect two separate states, with an overwhelming majority of Greeks in the south and an overwhelming majority of Turks in the north. The erstwhile interpenetrated Greek and Turkish populations were torn apart in 1974, when the Greek military junta attempted to annex Cyprus through a coup led by right-wing officers on the island. This provoked an invasion by the Turkish army in response, followed by the separation of the two peoples and the formation of two separate states as the end result.
Nationalist tensions between the Turkish and Greek peoples were intensified and crystallized largely because of the British imperialists. The latter maintained their colonial domination in Cyprus through bloody repression and used the Turkish minority to impose their historic strategy of “divide and rule.” By granting some minor privileges to one people against the other, the British sought to prevent the kind of common struggles that had previously taken place against colonial oppression. We demand the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of the British troops and UN troops from the island. The real power on the island was initially Britain, and after WWII it became the U.S. These powers continue to fuel chauvinism on the island, which is also pushed by the Greek and Turkish bourgeoisies.
In the present context, our program for the democratic right of self-determination for the Greek and Turkish Cypriots is expressed by recognizing that it is legitimate for the Greek side to join Greece and for the Turkish side to join Turkey. It is also legitimate for the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots to form their own small independent states separate from their “mother country,” if they so desire. Implementing any of these solutions would not deny the right of self-determination for either nation. That said, further discussion and research on the situation are necessary.
XI. For Permanent Revolution in Colonial Countries!
In its article “French Caribbean Colonies Shaken by General Strikes” (LB No. 187, March 2009, reprinted in WV No. 937, 22 May 2009), the LTF launched into a defense of French imperialism, arguing:
“While in France the task of a revolutionary party is to rally the working class to the side of the West Indians in struggle, in Guadeloupe and Martinique the key task is to break the hold of nationalist false consciousness. Under imperialism, nations are not equal, and while we defend the right to an independent Guadeloupe under capitalism, independence could only drive the standard of living of the poor further down.”
According to this article, the sentiment for national liberation is “nationalist false consciousness” that must be crushed. The LTF opposed independence on the basis that French imperialism is beneficial to the island’s population! Moreover, the liberation of Guadeloupe and Martinique is presented as being dependent on the French labor movement, as though the local workers did not have the strength to fight for their own liberation. This is totally counterposed to the perspective of permanent revolution. As Trotsky noted in the Transitional Program (1938) with regard to colonial and semicolonial countries:
“Backward countries are part of a world dominated by imperialism. Their development, therefore, has a combined character: the most primitive economic forms are combined with the last word in capitalist technique and culture. In like manner are defined the political strivings of the proletariat of backward countries: the struggle for the most elementary achievements of national independence and bourgeois democracy is combined with the socialist struggle against world imperialism.”
The island of Puerto Rico has been devastated by economic crisis, a direct consequence of colonial domination. It is in fact bankrupt, with a debt of more than $70 billion imposed by hedge funds and other financial institutions. This enormous debt is being used by the U.S. imperialists to strangle the Puerto Rican workers. The colonial overlords in Washington have imposed a “Financial Oversight and Management Board” that is demanding that the Puerto Rican government cut $3.2 billion from its budget by 2021. We oppose the imposition of this board, which has taken control of the Puerto Rican economy and placed the island’s elected government further under the control of the imperialists. We call for canceling the debt—a demand that was controversial in the party in the past but that expresses in an elementary way our opposition to the colonial oppression of the island.
Since 1898, Puerto Rico has been held in colonial servitude by the U.S. imperialists. Even today, the minimal political rights and paltry federal assistance granted to Puerto Ricans are but a thin veneer for colonial exploitation. Furthermore, it is not sovereign and is therefore unable to devalue its currency. U.S. law prohibits any change in Puerto Rico’s colonial status without approval of the U.S. Congress—a blatant denial of the right of self-determination of the Puerto Rican people. The main response to poverty is massive migration. The island now has a population of 3.5 million, compared to five million Puerto Ricans who live in the United States.
In the context of the current fight, it has become clear that we have had problems with our line on Puerto Rico as established over the years in WV. This conference upholds the line on Puerto Rico as formulated by comrade Robertson in 1998:
“What we want is very clear. Because we want to fight racial chauvinism in the mainland and nationalism in the island, we strongly advocate independence, but we advocate it aware that the population is profoundly ambivalent. Therefore, our central thrust is the right of self-determination. While we do indeed have a position of self-determination, from here; from within Puerto Rico, it should be the struggle for workers power. The decision should be made by the victorious workers, depending on the circumstances in the world and the Caribbean at that time, as to how they will exercise their working-class self-determination. I think that that’s very simple, actually.”
This formulation codifies our anti-colonial stance from the U.S., the sentiment of the Puerto Rican population and our perspective for permanent revolution as applied to Puerto Rico, i.e., the possibility that national struggles in Puerto Rico could also be a lever for socialist revolution on the island and the creation of a Puerto Rican workers republic.
The November 1998 SL/U.S. CC Plenum where comrade Robertson gave that talk voted a motion that was in the spirit of this formulation and stated: “That from the standpoint of communists, we would favor the independence of Puerto Rico…but given the evident and justified contradictions of Puerto Ricans on the question we do not advocate that independence be forced on them.” However, the article “For the Right of Independence for Puerto Rico!” (WV No. 704, 8 January 1999), which was mandated by that Plenum, is contradictory. On the one hand, the article does present the central content of comrade Robertson’s comments and the motion voted at the CC Plenum. On the other, it reflects the false methodology of “taking the national question off the agenda.”
For years after the initial 1999 article, the SL/U.S. distorted the line voted at the November 1998 Plenum. In 1999, a leading comrade denounced our line as “convoluted” and confused. As a matter of fact, it was this same comrade who “convoluted” comrade Robertson’s clear and cutting anti-imperialist position into one of ambivalence toward colonialism. As a result, until 2010, WV had completely disappeared the argument that, from the standpoint of revolutionaries in the U.S., we favor Puerto Rican independence! This meant a position of neutrality, calling only for the “right” of self-determination. After this “corrective,” an article in the year 2000 (“U.S. Out of Vieques!” WV No. 736, 19 May 2000) states:
“We demand the right of independence for Puerto Rico. At the same time, we stress that the only solution to the colonial oppression of Puerto Rico is the overthrow of capitalist rule from the island to right here in the U.S.... But the Puerto Rican nationalists seek to derail proletarian struggle through false and dangerous unity between Puerto Rican labor and the local bourgeoisie. At best, they call for some form of neocolonial ‘independence’.”
This line, published in our American newspaper, is the opposite of that upheld by comrade Robertson a year and a half earlier. What is true is that the imperialist oppression of Puerto Rico—and of the entire Third World—can only be destroyed through socialist revolution and its international extension. However, it is false that colonial oppression can’t be ended short of socialist revolution. And denouncing the possibility of Puerto Rican independence under capitalism as “neocolonial independence” is to deny Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination, i.e., it’s chauvinist.
Whether we use the term “advocate” or (would) “favor” independence, the central point is that colonialism is counterposed to the interests of the proletariat—all colonial subjects should be free! This programmatic starting point is not defined by the sentiment of the Puerto Rican population but by our opposition to imperialism. We should express this in our propaganda as well as acknowledging that the Puerto Rican population is understandably ambivalent about independence. On the one hand, people on the island have a very strong sense of nationhood. Puerto Rico has a long history of anti-colonial struggle, which the U.S. imperialists have brutally suppressed, including by murdering and incarcerating independentistas. At the same time, many Puerto Ricans are fearful of losing the ability to live and work on the mainland and of sinking to the same level of poverty as their independent Caribbean neighbors. Hence, as Leninists we do not seek to impose our point of view on them and insist that they separate; instead, we emphasize the right of self-determination.
In accordance with this understanding, it is wrong that the article in WV No. 1075 (2 October 2015) implicitly negates our defense of the right of Puerto Ricans to choose statehood in the United States. We argued:
“Meanwhile, statehood, or direct annexation to the U.S., would aggravate racist nativist hostility toward Puerto Ricans. It would also accelerate the tendency of English to replace Spanish on the island, ultimately threatening the national identity of the Puerto Rican people.”
These two arguments directly oppose the right of Puerto Ricans to freely decide on annexation. Even though the sentiment for statehood is the result of economic blackmail by the U.S., it’s a right that we also defend.
Our propaganda on Puerto Rico was rarely translated into Spanish. Henceforth, the American section of the ICL must systematically translate these articles.
XII. True Chauvinist Continuity
The Internationalist Group
The hysterical denunciations of the IG, which slanders the ICL as “chauvinist” and even racist, reflect the liberal hypocrisy of these social democrats who capitulate to their own imperialism: They defend the EU; refuse to recognize Catalonia’s right to independence; want to keep Quebec in a North American “federation”; treat their Mexican section like a neocolony; refuse to take a consistent side against American imperialism and its lackeys in Syria; create illusions in the Democratic Party and “sanctuary cities” and want to impose independence on the Puerto Ricans “whether they like it or not.”
When he was editor of WV, Jan Norden—today líder máximo of the IG—was one of the comrades centrally responsible for our chauvinist deviations on the national question. He continues to implement them in his current propaganda and in the treatment of his Mexican section. Norden did not even let his Mexican comrades write their Spanish-language newspaper, El Internacionalista, which used to be their most frequent publication and which is written in New York. (They’ve barely put out nine issues of their Mexican paper in 21 years!) While they pose as the most militant defenders of Latino immigrants in the United States, the composition of their editorial board, which does not have a single Latino member, shows the true face of the IG: #IGEdBrdSoWhite.
The IG is opposed to the breakup of the imperialist EU, denouncing Brexit, for example. Their line on Greece is even more grotesque, arguing that, short of socialist revolution, Greece should remain under the yoke of the EU and of the German Viertes Reich. As the IG wrote: “To call for Greece to exit the EU and drop the euro in favor of the drachma is…a bourgeois nationalist demand” (“Greece on the Razor’s Edge,” The Internationalist, December 2010). Along the same lines, the IG in Mexico seems to have given up the call “Down With NAFTA!”, which has not been seen in their press for years.
Regarding Catalonia, the IG openly opposes independence, arguing that Catalonia is “the richest part of Spain” and independence would “mean separating off one of the most militant sections of the working class.” They lyingly assert: “Much if not most of the industrial workers do not speak Catalan” (The Internationalist, Summer 2015). According to them, it would be the independence of Catalonia that would “discriminate” against the Spaniards. Thus, the IG acts as a tool of the Castilian bourgeoisie and monarchy.
The IG’s position to “open the borders” and “fight the right”—in particular its enthusing over the Democratic Party’s fraud of “sanctuary cities”—attributes a progressive character to its “own” American imperialists and their European counterparts. For the IG, the suffering of the Syrian refugees is but a hypocritical cover for their social-imperialist line. As for Syria, the IG has refused to take a consistent Leninist position that a military defeat for Washington, even at the hands of the Islamic State cutthroats, would coincide with the interests of the international working class. While constantly shifting position without acknowledging it, these squirming centrists have acted as apologists for Washington’s local proxies, such as the Kurdish nationalists of the YPG/PYD.
True to its centrism, the Internationalist Group calls for the independence of Quebec, a legacy Norden ripped off from us. However, they set limits to this “independence”: “The League for the Fourth International fights for the independence of Quebec in the framework of a federation of workers states of North America” (The Internationalist, May 2012). In other words: no independence under capitalism, and no independent workers republic of Quebec either. Furthermore, while the IG argues like Good King Solomon against all national privileges in its few articles in French about Quebec, they oppose Law 101 in Quebec, which amounts to defending the forced assimilation of the Québécois.
As for Puerto Rico, the IG is for independence whether the Puerto Rican masses “like it or not,” as Norden wrote when he was editor of WV. Such contempt by the IG for the national will of the Puerto Ricans goes hand in hand with its patronizing pro-imperialist politics. Thus for the IG, imperialist white Americans can decide the fate of Puerto Ricans without any concern for their national will.
In its polemic “Spartacist League: Land Surveyor Socialists” (The Internationalist, January 2017), the IG accuses us of chauvinism against Native Americans for our position on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that as Marxists we neither oppose nor support, because we do not advise the bourgeoisie on its economic policy. The IG, in contrast, equates the defense of Native Americans with the support of all their demands regarding ancestral lands, arguing that it would be reasonable to demand that all of the land mentioned in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty be returned to them—which is both a liberal and a reactionary utopian position of return to the land, a line embracing anti-pipeline environmentalism and native traditionalism (which are currently in a bloc). This is also a denial of the colonial history of North America, which brutally destroyed and replaced the pre-existing aboriginal society with a capitalist economy.
We recognize that it is impossible to return to the past before the destruction of the tribal societies, which came about through centuries of unspeakable violence, of ripped-up treaties and of land seizures. As Engels wrote in an 1893 letter:
“But history is about the most cruel of all goddesses, and she leads her triumphal car over heaps of corpses, not only in war, but also in ‘peaceful’ economic development. And we men and women are unfortunately so stupid that we never can pluck up courage to a real progress unless urged to it by sufferings that seem almost out of proportion.”
Workers revolution is necessary to break the racist American capitalist system and provide the material basis necessary to redress the poverty of the indigenous people and other oppressed populations. A workers government will offer the indigenous population the choice between voluntary integration in an egalitarian society or, to the extent possible, to have autonomy for those who so desire.
The Bolshevik Tendency
Our propaganda on Quebec considerably improved after 1995. However, as the Montreal comrades’ motion at the Canadian conference of November 2016 stated: “From 1975 to 1995, the section did not have a Leninist program on the national question.” This heritage of Anglo-chauvinism is proudly defended by the “Bolshevik Tendency” (BT), a dubious organization that is obsessed with the grotesque lie that we have a “leadership cult” around Jim Robertson. This group was formed by renegades from our organization and is led by the sociopath Bill Logan, who played a prominent role in the elaboration of our Anglo-chauvinist program on Quebec, and Tom Riley, who revels in defending such chauvinism. In 1999, the BT published a pamphlet (Marxism & the Quebec National Question) laying claim to our pre-1995 position on Quebec. They can have it! This group, which often reflects the worst defects of our organization, represents the genuine continuity of our Anglo-chauvinist line. In fact, a key weakness of our polemics against the BT post-1995 was the refusal to admit that this program was truly their heritage, by creating a false distinction between our pre-1995 line and theirs. To have done otherwise would have forced us to recognize the Anglo-chauvinist character of our politics at the time.
The BT is blatantly reactionary in defending the unity of the Canadian state. Their accusations that our line in favor of independence amounts to a Menshevik-Stalinist position of “two-stage revolution” are but a very thin cover for the fact that, by the BT’s logic, any call for independence for an oppressed nation amounts to a betrayal. In fact, it is the Anglo-chauvinist BT that embraces the racist English-speaking bourgeoisie and defends class collaboration.
Despite our formally correct position on independence, our arguments claiming that this would “get the national question off the agenda” in order to struggle for the “North American socialist revolution” implied that we were for independence only under capitalism. This left us open to the dishonest arguments of the BT. Now, after this fight and our line change on language laws, these charlatans will doubtless accuse us of capitulating to Quebec nationalism. As for us, we will be happy to give Logan, Riley & Co. conniptions when we polemicize against them, arguing in favor of a Quebec workers republic!
The Agrarian Question
This conference welcomes one comrade’s criticisms regarding the agrarian question in Colombia in WV No. 1105 (10 February 2017). In neocolonial countries, this question is central to the concrete application of permanent revolution, and it also touches on the national question. In Colombia, the large landowners possess more than 50 percent of the productive land, while poor peasants, who make up 75 percent of landowners, hold only about 10 percent. This cries out for an agrarian revolution, but our article is disdainful of the peasant question.
The peasant question is complex and differs from one country to another; it must be considered concretely in each case. What is programmatically appropriate in Mexico is not necessarily so in Colombia. We are not in a position at this time to take a position on the questions that are posed. It is necessary to pay more attention to this question in the International and to continue the discussion.