Wednesday, 20 October 2021

WHAT DISTINGUISHES OUR PARTY: The political continuity which goes from Marx to Lenin, to the foundation of the Communist Party of Italy (Livorno, 1921); the struggle of the Communist Left against the degeneration of the Communist International, against the theory of „socialism in one country“, against the Stalinist counter-revolution; the rejection of the Popular Fronts and the Resistance Blocs; the difficult task of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and organization in close interrelationship with the working class, against all personal and electoral politics.

Marxism and the national issue

The aim of this work 

A series of articles was published in Il Programma Comunista from no.1/1998 onwards with the  intention of sketching out the coordinates that should regulate and direct the Party’s action concerning the “national issue”. From the beginning of the Nineties onwards, this “issue” seemed to have re-emerged emphatically on the international chessboard, particularly with respect to an inter-imperialist dispute (accelerated by the crisis of capitalism), which had been taking shape since the collapse of the balance of powers emerging from the bloodbath of the second world war (and consolidated over more than forty years in the shadow of combined Russian-American dominion).
In fact, the “national issue” re-emerged, and still continues to survive, basically as a powerful tool for the manipulation of the masses: for precisely this reason it was important to insist once again on fixing some fundamental points of doctrine, at a moment in history when the cry of “self-determination of peoples” was once more becoming a tool in the hands of various imperialist brigands in the context of the new conflicts opening up from the Balkans to Central Asia. A basic function of the Party’s work is, in fact, to constantly guide the international movement, regardless of contingent circumstances and the Party’s real influence, so that the lessons of yesterday and today can take concrete shape in the genetic inheritance of a working class that is still disarmed and disoriented by a bourgeois and inter-class ideology and by the counter-revolutionary action of false workers’ organisations – a working class that will not be able to fight again at a historical level, as a class in itself, until it is decisively influenced by Marxist theory and organised quite independently of the parties and trade unions responding to the necessity of maintaining bourgeois class supremacy and of a now rotten mode of production.
In proposing once more the extensive summary of a report given at the General Party Meeting in 1995, we attempted to retrace the various battles (and the resulting, successive, adjustments to doctrine) that the Party had had to deal with since its very beginnings.  And after emphasising how, ever since the position assumed by Marx and Engels on “democratic pan-Slavism”, the correct approach to the “national issue” had been considered a testing ground for militant revolutionaries (since it reduced the correct assimilation of the materialistic method and revolutionary theory to its essence), these adjustments of doctrine and these battles had allowed us to examine certain situations that the Party’s work regarded or might regard, with a view to resolving them correctly.  Unfortunately there were too many imprecisions and ambiguities in this text - of no help in pursuing the aim - so that it has now become necessary to return to the issue, to avoid the happy illusion that everything has already been said and written and that it is therefore sufficient to open this or that little book at the right page in order to find a miraculous solution to the problems that the workers’ Party will find itself up against in practice during its work.

The reference points

Marxism has always evaluated the “national issue” not in an abstract manner or according to moral judgements or statements of principle, but strictly in connection to all the other aspects of the revolutionary Party’s programme and strategy. It has grounded the “issue” on its theory of the State and defined the national settlement as being linked to the formation of a territorial market characterised by one and the same positive right. Our own formulation of the national issue is centred on the identification of distinctive characteristics of national unity in determined historical-geographical situations and not on abstract biological criteria: Marxism has always affirmed and highlighted the political nature of the self-determination formula and that its nature is subject to conditions, always pointing out that its historical value should be understood in relation to the development process of the international communist revolution and the unification of the international proletariat: this means that self-determination in the revolutionary programme of the proletariat has always been conceived of as subordinate to and aiming at the promotion of conditions for favouring the development of international revolution. Consequently, the refusal of any concession to so-called “practical” (and equally metaphysical) claims, which in practice make the proletariat subordinate to bourgeois politics;  consequently, too, a full awareness that the problem of self determination is not one of tactical alliances, but of the dialectical realisation of international working-class unity in the struggle – the unity of the proletariat, pursued by means of opposite tasks (for the proletariat of the oppressors and that of the oppressed countries), linked as tools for the superior unity of  the international movement.
In the Marxist view, the evaluation of support for national movements and for the fight for political independence always depends on the nature of these movements and struggles and their repercussions on the conditions for promoting the unification process of the international proletarian movement and the advance of overall conditions for the development of world revolution.  In other words, when considering the issue in question, it is necessary to avoid relapsing into a meta-historical perspective, which is, in fact, quite foreign to the programme of the international working-class movement’s objectives and incompatible with the need for its development and struggle to overthrow capitalism.  In defining the existence, if any, of “national issues”, reference has always been made to the birth of the “nations” as a gradual historical element (in relation to the end of feudal economy and society) and the repercussions of the “national struggles” on the fight to destroy the capitalist production mode, and never to the so-called “nationality principle” which capital itself has erased and which has always been a tool in the hands of the imperialist diplomatic circles with an interest in it and of the power politics of the bourgeois states. And so, as Lenin always repeated, working-class support for the bourgeois armed fight for independence and the “national issue” could only take place in a certain direction and in certain, precise historical conditions and without getting confused with bourgeois politics, to ensure better conditions for the class struggle. And support for national movements cannot derive from a-priori considerations (the national issue is not a basic premise of the working class programme, unlike that of the bourgeoisie), but only from evaluations strictly connected and subordinate to historical revolutionary facts and the outcomes of the proletarian revolution.
The nation state is a product of bourgeois development. In the progressive phase of capitalism, when the break with all the political forms of the feudal system becomes a vital condition for the victory and consolidation of the new mode of production, its needs impose a national State as the classical form of modern state. The characteristic of this state is that it is a true capitalist machine and the political organ, par excellence, of the ruling bourgeoisie; however, its classical form does not entail the existence of pure national states which include only certain specified nationalities (entire nations). Due to the extension of the capitalist mode of production, the national State – as well as extending its functions as a tool serving capitalist accumulation and its conservation – is destined to pursue its growth, even to the detriment of other competing States.  Moreover, the modern national State cannot be considered “eternal” or “natural”, as it is considered, instead, by dominant bourgeois ideology, since it is none other than a political form of class domination, an expression of the bases and economic necessities of the laws of capitalist development. By creating a world market, the development of capitalism in itself, together with the trend followed by national movements and the constitution of national States, lays the basis for overcoming national limits, which will only be fully possible in a communist society:  the process of capitalist concentration, which imperialism exalts in all its aspects (such as the trend towards growth and the intensification of tension between nations), cannot, in fact, pacifically remove the national basis on which the existence and the development of capitalism rest. It becomes clear that capitalism or a régime dominated by capitalism is unable to provide a lasting solution to the controversies connected to the “national issues” and to the political oppression of national or ethnic minorities. The Marxist Party approaches and analyses the “national issue” from a class perspective:  every national fight has thus always been supported in a transitory sense only, in so far as it was a matter of a progressive struggle, functional to developing the unity of the international working class movement, creating the objective bases for its victory against the opposite class: as a momentary phase in the permanent revolution (see The Communist Manifesto of 1848 and the Address of the Communist League of 1850). This has always necessitated the absolute organisational independence of the Party, as is well demonstrated by the history of the international working-class movement up to the second imperialist conflict and the ceaseless fight of revolutionary currents to rebuild the entire monolithic structure of the programme for the emancipation of the proletariat in the face of all petit bourgeois and opportunist deviations:  it is, indeed, a constant duty of the class Party to continue offering (or rather to recover) the class these principles and programmatic guidelines, even when their transfer into immediate action may appear to be a long way away.

The necessity for a proper method of work

A necessary premise – and one characteristic of the Marxist method – in order to approach the issue we are dealing with and to define the real area of certain national struggles, is to establish and limit the geographical area involved, on the basis of the action taken by the various bourgeoisies to complete the transformation of the socio-economic balance in a capitalist direction: an action which may prove more or less consequential according to the period and the historical conditions in which it takes place and which can, within certain limits, be measured by using the thermometer of the class struggle sparked off by the relations between all the classes (which Engels, in various articles and letters, closely links to the historical development and morphogenesis of peoples). In turn, these relations take shape not on the scale of individual countries photographed at a precise moment, but on the scale of vast geographical areas considered in the long term (and not only with reference to single events) and in relation to the other areas interacting with them.  
This means that, rather than speaking of “geographical areas”, it is always better to speak of “geo-historical fields”. In any case, the “national issue” can only be posed as a specific issue related to the proletarian movement in the revolutionary phase of capitalism, when the bourgeoisie launches its assault on power, to conclude its work of social and economic transformation. Instead, in a phase of already mature capitalism, any “national programme” of a workers’ party that advocates a perfected representative system in the bourgeois state or its economic base, constitutes a programme of “class collaboration” and “defence of the homeland”. For these reasons Marxism has always marked out these two successive phases of capitalism by geographical areas. #  
Following this method in the analysis of the bourgeois revolutionary cycle in Europe between 1789 and 1871, for example, it has been possible to show that the phenomenon of the delimitation and unification of this area was determined by virtue of a general alignment of the forces emerging from the impact between all classes in an international context which, at the time, saw in the Czars’ Empire, to the east, the bulwark of feudal reaction and thus the natural antagonist of development in a modern, i.e. bourgeois, sense for the whole area under consideration. In this phase the need to overthrow the Russia of the Czars determined the Marxist evaluation of whether or not to support the national wars that were developing and the movements on which they were based.  In the other three distinct areas with specific characteristics that can be defined by applying the same method of analysis of historical development (Latin America, Black Africa and the Asian Area, the latter including a geo-historical field ranging from Eastern Asia to the Middle East), the phenomenon of unification was determined historically in successive waves and always through enormous class clashes. The Russian revolution of 1905, which was victorious in 1917 and then lost momentum with the failure of revolution in the more advanced capitalist countries (with disastrous consequences for the revolutionary uprisings of the Chinese proletariat and peasants, in the bloody defeat of 1927), was accompanied by the reawakening of Asia and the simultaneous development of the imperialist policies of the great powers. The withdrawal of revolutionary positions, determined by the failure to unify with the struggles in capitalist Europe led the Communist International to submit to the Russian state and then to the theorising of “socialism in a single country”, functional to young Russian capitalism’s material need for power: and the latter was, consequently, very soon absorbed by the fight for inter-imperialist share-outs and the necessary power politics, by which every bourgeois State defended its own position on the world market.  
This set off the process that has dragged on until the present, of the most devastating wave of degeneration in the international workers’ movement, summed up by us in the term “Stalinist counter-revolution” – a counter-revolution that at the time was unable even to favour the movements that were then in the phase of gestation in the East and in Africa, thus completely upsetting the tactics of the permanent revolution, to the point of delivering up the Chinese Communist Party to the bourgeois Kuomintang from a formal and organisational point of view, too.  After the defeat, the national-revolutionary movement in the Asian area will not, in fact, regain its vigour, always starting out from the epicentre in China, until the second post-war period, spreading from there to India, Indo-China and Indonesia, over the period that we have defined “phase of anti-colonial uprisings”.  

Geo-historical fields and development phases of national movements

Having established the notions of “historical cycle of capitalism” and “geo-historical areas”, there remains the problem of the delimitation of the phases of this cycle in a determined area, which we solve by using the same method already described:  i.e. taking into account the fact that the great historical processes following on one another in the areas under consideration can only be determined by the outbreak of events such as wars and revolutions. The national uprisings of 1848 which characterised the phase of the outbreak of bourgeois revolution in the heart of western Europe and, instead, closed once and for all the bourgeois revolutionary age in France, arose out of a serious economic crisis and out of the spread in France of an authentic class war. The saga of the Paris Commune of 1871, which sealed the closure of the democratic-bourgeois revolutionary cycle in western Europe, arose, in turn, out of another war:  the Franco-Prussian war. German unification itself, which took place in the way least hoped for by Marx and Engels, and which was nonetheless a historically progressive event for the development of the entire area of Central Europe, was the result of the initiative of the German military spirit, which corresponded to the need for German capital to expand. In the same way, the Russian revolution of 1917, which closed the age of the “double revolutions” in eastern Europe and a part of Asia, followed the revolutionary events of 1905 and arose out of the severe crisis of the capitalist production system, which inevitably resulted in the First World War, and from the disintegration of the Zarist empire, accelerated by the military and social upheavals produced by the outcome of the war. It was in the years following the 1905 Russian revolution, with the revolts of the Asian peoples in India, Persia, China and the Middle East, that the “re-awakening of Asia” occurred and from this historical moment onwards that the “national issue” becomes closely connected and binds itself to the “colonial issue” and to the relationship between the working-class struggles in the imperialist cities and the battles of the people in colonial and semi-colonial countries.
    Successive national settlements, including the Chinese national settlement of 1949, arose in connection with the enormous difficulties in which traditional English colonial imperialism found itself and, subordinate to this, that of the French after the end of the second imperial war, because of the radical modifications of inter-imperialist balance it had involved, raising the United States of America to the position of leading world power. The historical result of the national struggles that took place in Asia and Africa in the second post-war period should nevertheless be pointed to as a decisive factor for the final victory of the proletarian class war. Although in these areas the local bourgeoisies were reactionary from their very beginnings, and incapable of being consistent, often relying on the support of the strongest of the imperial powers, which had considerable interests in the areas, on several occasions they were obliged to turn to the help of the “masses” to destroy the semi-feudal structures that most hindered the work of “national” capital and to obtain a territorial arrangement that created better conditions for the process of accumulation to take place and for placing the national economy on the world market.
    In such situations, mainly characteristic of the Asian area, despite having profited from the inter-imperialist contradictions and therefore entered, at least in an initial phase, into the orbit of Russian imperialism in order to better resist the American variety, and despite having adhered immediately to the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy duly decorated with socialist slogans, the local bourgeoisie nevertheless concluded a true bourgeois revolution. Elsewhere, for example in the African area, it was often the imperialist centres themselves that directly piloted national independence, in order to gain a better position in the increasingly keen competition between world imperialist powers. The national bourgeoisie then set itself the objective of throwing off the yolk of foreign domination to obtain a political independence that was certainly not – nor could be – the illusory economic independence it talked about (the exception being those states, like China and India, that could count on a vast domestic market and a numerous population that would allow for a place on the world market gained from a position of power), but served as a basis for the intensive development of production forces (first and foremost heavy industry, as appropriate for any capitalist society) and a solid and centralised state apparatus. But the progress of these national movements could not be truly consistent and, above all, could not respond to the basic demands of the peoples’ movements that supported them (and whose peasant origins were clearly prevalent):  in other words, to agricultural reform, sacrificed halfway down the path –or even earlier – due to the necessity of guaranteeing the goodwill of the remains of the old oligarchy for its anti-proletarian function. Moreover, the national movements of the second post-war period could not help but be subordinated to the world bourgeoisie’s need to isolate the fires that might break out and end up by scorching the trigger points of imperialism, whilst the local bourgeoisies’ extreme fear of relying on powerful mass action obliged the national movements to put themselves in the hands of the foreign imperialist centres, whether Russian, Chinese or American.

The current situation

Compared to the post-war phase of the national liberation struggles in the Asian and African areas ending before the last quarter of the XX century, the present-day situation is quite different, and is the result of the conclusion of the cycle of bourgeois revolution throughout the planet. Today, when so-called “national” struggles and wars occur in certain areas, even if they are sometimes based on real national conflicts and oppression, they must nevertheless be recognised and generally proclaimed a reflection of the fight between the various imperialist powers for the division of the world’s raw materials and for the conquest of strategic frontier posts in view of the generalised warfare to come, as is happening, for example in the Horn of Africa but also in Central Asia and the Middle East. Imperialism naturally waves the banner of the “self-determination of peoples”, whenever this is in its interests and thus even when the term “national oppression” is pure mystification and any claim to self-determination merely a trap into which the proletariat is lured.  This is what happens, for example, when nationalistic feelings flare up as a result of the artificial re-kindling by imperialism and local capitalist circles of old contrasts that have long died down;  or when certain populations, although victims of real and historically-documented oppression by more economically developed nationalities, are not actually authentic nations but pseudo-nations. 
These circumstances were fully evident in the case of the ex-Yugoslavia and the Balkan area in general. Here, in fact, on the one hand there is clearly a close connection between the new flare-up of nationalism amongst the various Slav populations and the pressure from various imperialist powers (German, French, Russian and US) for the commercial and strategic control of the region.  The peoples that imperialism has hurled one against the other in the Balkans are anything but nations, i.e. human communities that share a common territory, speak the same language and have the same customs. The Serbs, Croats and Muslims of Bosnia do not each possess their own territory, in view of the fact that their villages are a “mimetic mixture”; moreover, the linguistic and cultural differences are almost inexistent or in any case insignificant (in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia, etc. Serbo-Croat is spoken). In this case, with the exception of the Serbs, they are, indeed, what Engels defined “peoples without a history”, that have taken shape more as a reserve of the counter-revolution than through any autonomous national and independence movement #. In fact, on this occasion, it was the United States that loudly proclaimed the “peoples’ right to self-determination”, in order to justify its own military intervention. Lastly, we must not forget the relationship that links these artificial nationalist “flare-ups” to the local bourgeoisie’s anti-proletarian strategy: it is no coincidence that opposing ethnic cleansing operations were undertaken by Zagreb, as by Belgrade and Sarajevo and subsequently also by the Kossovs, whether Albanians or Serbs, after the massive class explosion recorded in 1986 of the miners’ and workers’ fights of all the different Yugoslav peoples. Nationalism, with all the show of atrocities and horror that delighted the opposing war propagandas, was actually also the bourgeois response to the risk of the great class conflict spreading on a broad scale: a response – we must understand – that the bourgeoisie does not “create” or “draw up around a table”, but that is generated by the contradictions of bourgeois development and that can therefore be used by the bourgeoisies of this or that country, to their own advantage. Thus, when faced with the recent, orchestrated degeneration of the so-called “national” conflicts into open military clashes, our Party’s slogan was (and necessarily so) that of defeatism, the appeal for fraternity between the proletarian troops belonging to opposing military factions, the refusal of any involvement in the partisan fighting and, on both sides, of any dishonest and reactionary claim to “self-determination” and national independence.  The same applies to the irredentist attitudes that periodically and artificially recur in border territories, with their alternating national oppressions. Instead, it is clear that the bourgeois revolution always leaves behind it a jumble of unresolved “national issues”, which can survive in this form even in the most advanced capitalist areas.
Following this necessary premise, it appears quite evident that the national revolutions occurring in Asia and Africa in the second post-war period and directed in anything but a radical and coherent way by the national bourgeoisies, obliged to establish themselves as national states and then come to an agreement with imperialism to carve out a sphere of privileged influence in their own areas, not only bring with them a wake of unsolved national issues, but also end up by aggravating them.  
It is the social mechanism of capitalism itself that creates the divisions between nations and nationalities which the various bourgeoisies, or fractions of them, are then able to utilise for their own ends when a crisis takes  place in this mode of production (as a necessity for maintaining the bourgeoisie as the ruling class): the previously mentioned oppressed nationalities totally lack  the necessary material bases for shaking off the double yolk of centralism from within and imperial pressure from outside. In these circumstances an interference arises between the aspirations of the oppressed nationalities and the demands of imperialism, or rather of the different, competing imperialisms: thus the unsolved and putrefying national issues are transformed and turn into open sores of an intercontinental nature which the inter-imperialist conflicts tend to keep raw, so that independence movements, if not entire peoples, can be manoeuvred for their own ends.  A people, Engels reminded us, must be considered in terms of the analysis of its historical development and not in terms of a “snapshot” or contingent situation. Today we can say that history has pronounced judgements and defined the limits and constraints within which specific national aspirations can move. 
The Communist Party is the only political force whose body of doctrine possesses the method for directing the proletariat on this ground, too, and therefore for solving these “issues” once and for all, as they dissolve in the fight to overthrow the political dominion of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois mode of production. In this perspective the key lies in the social struggles of the proletariat in the fortresses of the world bourgeoisie, in other words where the decisive battles are fought for the overthrow of capitalism, because it is here that the bases for a superior mode of production are located, along with the main political barriers that defend capitalism. It is to these proletarian struggles in the Western strongholds of capitalism that the working classes of outlying places must link their own battles, avoiding entrapment in the nationalism of their respective bourgeoisies. The working class in the imperialist cities cannot and must not become an accomplice of its own bourgeoisie, slipping into a chauvinist position and perpetrating the national oppression (even at the level of the most elementary bourgeois rights) of their class brothers. In fact, this complicity or indifference would become a material obstacle on the path towards the international unity of the proletariat and, therefore, an actual hindrance to the process of revolutionary development worldwide. Lenin reminded us that only “the proletariat is against all privilege, all exclusion” # of a national type. Thus the proletariat cannot be indifferent to national oppression, where this occurs. To sum up, it is necessary to repeat that the further away we move from the age of the first victorious affirmation of the bourgeoisie in the XVII and XVIII centuries, the more energy the particular national characteristics of that revolutionary stage lose and the more the radical nature of its origins necessarily tends to fade: with time, and progressively, the entire surrounding environment is determined by capitalist production relations and local capitalism no longer arises from a gradual process of transformation of the old ways of production but from the impulse and the dictatorial pressure exercised by masses of ultra-modern financial capital that needs to increase in value. All this whilst the bourgeoisie is increasingly terrorised by the growth of the working class and any move it makes towards independent organisation. It can be seen, then, that the capitalist development that took place in the ex-colonies during the second half of the XXth century, proceeded by forced stages, due to a process of proletarian transformation that was even more massive, brutal and violent that that experienced by the countries of old capitalism.  All this in relation to the rapid and disastrous collapse of small-scale artisan production, replaced not only by medium-sized industries but also by large industrial complexes (chemicals, textiles, steel, engineering, as happened, for example, throughout the Middle East). Moreover, agricultural reforms introduced into the area, however timid they were with respect to the representatives of the old, semi-feudal caste (which the local bourgeoisie preferred to buy out, rather than openly combat), nevertheless managed in most cases, and in a short time, to do away with forms of agricultural production and ownership that no longer corresponded to the needs of world capitalism.  In the ex-colonies, there was therefore a brutal re-structuring of ownership and large portions of agricultural terrain were taken from the big landowners and rented, sold or ceded according to the right of custom to the peasants, whether organised into co-operatives (as in Chiapas) or not.   
The implications of these economic transformations have been enormous: thanks to them, these countries have seen the development of a young, numerous and extremely concentrated proletariat. The further development of national bourgeois revolutions after the “incandescent reawakening of the coloured peoples” witnessed just after the second imperial conflict was as sluggish on the political terrain as it was impetuous and violent on the economic one, preparing the best conditions for witnessing a second, incandescent reawakening in the future, no longer of peoples but of the coloured proletariat.
For all these reasons it is essential now to regain the correct Marxist orientation on the “national issue”, both for the metropolitan and for the “outlying” proletariat. To climb back from the abyss into which it has fallen and regain its historical task, the world proletariat will be obliged, both today and in the future, to scramble up the dangerous, winding paths of the endless unsolved national settlements scattered like landmines across the globe. In fact, despite basing its revolution historically on the premise of the fight for national independence, the bourgeoisie does not necessarily manage to achieve an organic settlement of national issues, both because of the irrepressible tendency of capital to expand, and because its very nationalist “practicalism” leads it to formulate its national claims unconditionally, with the result that new national oppressions arise or those that seemed to be neatly filed away by history are re-fuelled and crop up again, thus generating, in an apparently unending cycle, a true wasps’ nest of national controversies that are eternally open, unsolved and in a state of degradation, from which other bourgeois classes will then draw new inspiration and new pretexts for setting off inter-class movements. All these problems constitute, in practice, a formidable material obstacle to the affirmation of working-class internationalism and to the unfolding of the unified struggle of the proletariat of all countries, against the world bourgeoisie, rallying to safeguard and maintain its own class domination.  Moreover, these are certainly not problems that are destined to fade with the continuing pattern of capitalist development, which tends to unify the word’s markets: it would indeed be an illusion and a fairytale to imagine that, because of the economic and political concentration it gives rise to, imperialism is capable of offering us the final substantial solution to these problems, smoothly presenting us with the unity of the working class beyond national boundaries! Imperialism aggravates clashes between states and thus coalitions of nations against other nations: thus it also exasperates and does not alleviate, through conflicts between states, issues linked to national oppression, especially in border areas: “The ideology of national European and general liberation is replaced by another, entailing the expansion of modern civilisation [which] finally takes on the form of the claims in one or another imperialist state of frontier provinces, disputed in key points: Alsace-Lorraine, Venezia-Giulia, the Danzig region, Sudetenland, the Balkans” #. Only during the actual course of its fight against capitalism will the proletariat directly experience the insubstantial and reactionary nature of the principle of nationality, increasingly confirmed by material facts.
Today the party’s directive to the international proletariat on the terrain of the “national issue” can only be, first and foremost, to resist any call to arms for the independence of the nation, at any place in the world where it may be launched and to unmask any alliance with other classes that may be proposed for this purpose. This, and this alone, is the political consequence that must be drawn from the balance of the post-war conclusion of national and anti-colonial struggles. It follows that the workers’ movement must also defeat once and for all the democraticism and “third-worldism” from which it still suffers, concealing itself beneath the banner of a high-sounding and clownish “anti-imperialism” which acts as a fig leaf for politics intending to stabilise the national capital of the weaker capitalist states.
Even if there have been historical moments in which the internationalism of the proletarian movement admitted the possibility of taking up a position on the terrain of national defence, today the working class, in oppressed nations, too, can no longer take up the national banner that its own bourgeoisie has allowed to fall. Instead, it is the exclusive task and duty of the proletariat of the oppressors to demand the end of any form of national oppression and discrimination that its own bourgeoisie exercises towards other nations. And not because the proletariat of the oppressors’ countries should imagine that, by putting pressure on its own bourgeoisie, it will be possible to obtain a definitive and complete solution to the “national issue”, or of any other issue, regarding either the exercise of democratic rights or the material conditions of the working class;  nor because it has embraced the cause of the national independence of the people oppressed by its bourgeoisie, but because it has embraced the cause of defeatism and internationalism and is drawing all the necessary conclusions. Indeed, it is only by breaking off any form of class solidarity with its own bourgeoisie (even that which implicitly corresponds to some sort of “indifference” towards the national issue) that the proletariat will manage – as well as relieving the tremendous pressure exerted by imperialism on the proletariat of the oppressed nations (which gives an air of justification to the cross-class block advocated and practised in them) – to smooth the way for real fraternity with it in the joint struggle against world capitalism:  thus against all the capitalist States, whether large or small.
In other words, the proletariat must clearly understand that the final solution to the “national issue” and thus the fate of oppressed peoples is and remains tied to the outcome of its revolutionary anti-capitalist struggle worldwide.  In particular, the working classes of oppressed nations must seek unity with the proletariat of the imperialist cities and oppose claims for independence, fighting today to defend their material standard of living;  whilst the proletariat of the countries at the centre of world capitalism and the nations of the oppressors must take action against their own bourgeoisie in order to put a stop to any form of national or racial oppression, which in practice becomes a powerful material obstacle to the unity of the international proletariat.
As usual, let us leave the last word to our texts: “What remains to be understood is the formula of left-wing Marxists at that time and in those countries:  the self determination of peoples in a precise shared territory. This formula proclaims the rights and equality of nations and this, as we have shown on several occasions, referring to texts by Marx and Lenin, has no sense in our theory.  It is the political significance that must be understood. […] To declare that the nation has the right to decide its own destiny and that no-one has the right to impose on it from outside is a propagandistic and rather literary formulation, not founded on the doctrine of Marxist determinism.  However, the sense is clear: it condemns any assumptions of legitimacy, any repressions of uprising, any expedient that, in the case of unavoidable clashes arising from national independence and separatist movements, tends to link two degenerations of the workers’ movement: one tolerable in certain historical phases [now over throughout the world, Ed.], which is solidarity with the revolt of the bourgeoisie and working classes;  the other defeatist and reactionary, i.e. the solidarity of socialists with the State of the dominant nationality in maintaining that things can be settled legally and therefore would be repressed any attempt of taking up arms” #.
To sum up: “Marx was revolutionary in 1848 [the European theatre of double revolutions, Ed.] when he affirmed that in Poland support was being given to the workers’ party that wanted the liberation of the Zars”, whilst “the followers of Bauer-Springer were traitors in supporting the 1914 Austro-Hungarian war [the age of the double revolutions having closed in Europe after 1871, Ed.] against the Slav revolt,” because they should, instead, have broken their ties with Viennese chauvinism and defended the Serbs’ right to self determination. Whereas, dialectically speaking, “good Marxists and revolutionaries were the Serb socialists who decided to oppose the war” of national liberation in 1914. There is no trace of contradiction between the defence of Serb self determination by the Austrian socialists and the refusal of the national war of independence by the Serb socialists.

The cases of the Balkans, of Kurdistan, and of Palestine

Let us now try to see what tactical application might derive from the general theoretical coordinates previously established, by referring to a few of the “critical” situations on the international chessboard.  This is of no slight importance, since they are “difficult problems relating to tactics that, here more than anywhere else, balance on a razor’s edge and at every new step there is the risk of losing the bearings of the Marxist interpretation of historical facts and the behaviour of revolutionary communists when faced with them.”# Commenting on the interpretation given by the the Communist International’s IInd Congress (1920) of the “national and colonial issue” and denying the alleged divergences – advanced by the usual “fashionable scholars and intellectuals” – between ourselves and the Bolsheviks on this question, as on the peasant issue, we wrote that “we agreed and agree without reserve on the general attitude to the problem,” whilst always bearing in mind the need to tend towards “a complete settlement, able to mark out the safest possible path in a field where difficulties must never be forgotten, just as they must never be avoided”#.
    Returning to the question of how pertinent the term self determination is today, in a historical situation where the cycle of the “double revolutions” is over for good, we must now investigate and consider where, how, and within which limits this formula can still be advanced by the Party, having accepted that it is exclusively a question of the dialectical realisation of international working-class unity in the class war against capitalism. As well as not being scientific, there is nothing in common with Marxism in an approach – typical of the “revolutionary of the pen and the drawing room” – based on the assumption that everything has already been decided and that only on this basis do we possess the keys for solving the complex problems that capitalism, in its contradictory development, poses for the workers’ movement.
    As regards the issue of national settlements in the area of the Danube and the Balkans, it should be remembered once again that this was dealt with by Marx and Engels by examining first and foremost – about halfway through the XIXth century – the material conditions that had determined the revolutionary or counter-revolutionary role of the Slav peoples in Europe’s revolutionary process, thus also analysing the dynamics by which the Slav peoples could become a support, and not an obstacle, to the more generalised revolutionary movement in Europe. The international policy of the working class at that time was concentrated – as has been said – both on combating the pillars of counter revolution in Zarist Russia - the reserve of Asian barbarism – and the main capitalist power, England, which – out of fear that the revolution might spread – did not hesitate to ally with Russia (as demonstrated by the handling of the Crimean war and as revealed by Marx in his studies of  Anglo-Russian diplomatic intrigues). If pan-Slavism had represented a tool in the hands of the Russians, moving the different Slav nationalities against the revolutionary movement in Europe, highlighting the counter-revolutionary role of the southern Slavs (with the exception of Serbia and Poland) and their national claims, at this turning point in history the tactics of the Revolutionary Party towards the national movements of the Slav peoples can be defined. The main attention is always focused on strengthening the conditions favouring the revolutionary process, directing all efforts developing historically from social movement to these ends.  In this perspective, Engels once more, in the article previously quoted (“What will happen to European Turkey”, 1853), argues that the constitution of a powerful Balkan-Danubian state functioning as a bulwark against Russia and Turkey would represent the solution to the “eastern issue” that would be most favourable to the revolutionary movement in general #.  
    This message from Marx and Engels, after witnessing the failure of the national claims advanced  by the Slav bourgeoisie at the time of the Balkan wars of 1912-13, was clear (and distinctly defined as the position of the Marxist Party) in Trotsky’s words: “It is not national differences but the dispersion into many States that weighs on the Balkans like a curse. The customs barriers break them down into separate parts. The intrigues of the capitalist powers intertwine with the bloody intrigues of the Balkan dynasties. If these conditions persist, the Balkan peninsula will continue to be a vase of Pandora.” And again: “The only way out of the chaos of the nations, States and bloody confusion of the Balkans is the unity of all the peoples of the peninsula in a single political entity, on the basis of the national independence of its constituent parts” #. A position that is taken up again by the Communist International, which considered the possibility of including it in the overall scheme of the international working-class revolution #. Quite the opposite of this, to suggest the slogan of self determination today for Kosovs, Croats or Bosnians would mean ending up in the quicksands of the most obtuse nationalism.
    Another two cases that our Party has tackled in the last few decades – with some oscillations and uncertainties – regard Kurdistan (particularly the area of eastern Anatolia, where Turkey is involved, as the main pillar of American imperialism in the strategic control of Europe and Asia) and Palestine. In the Arab world, including the oil-producing countries of the Middle East, national unity and political centralisation (which would have swept away the artificial boundaries drawn up, during the various share-outs to the advantage of the imperialist brigands and the archaic and semi-feudal tribal structures on which the various régimes in the area rest) could only take place in two ways:  from above (Bismarck-style), through the decisive military intervention of a strong State, which would inevitably have set in movement the disinherited Arab masses; or from below, following an initiative developing out of spontaneous action by the masses themselves. The second option having been concluded at an early stage, the impossibility of following the first path, or terror of its consequences, initially produced  incoherent and feeble attempts at unification through agreements between States and subsequently, since the Middle East is a strategic area for raw materials for power supplies, a consolidation of national States, almost all of which literally fictitious, which survive as a result of a difficult balancing act between the support of American imperialism and the call of religious fundamentalism.
    The “Kurdistan issue” seemed to us to differ from that of the Arab Middle East, since it involved – to a great extent – a fully capitalist State like Turkey, where national oppression of the Kurds (at the level of the most basic bourgeois rights) undoubtedly made the class fraternization of the Turkish and Kurdish proletariat difficult, as seemed to emerge from the dynamics of the trade union struggles in the suburbs of Turkish cities in the ‘Nineties. It therefore became necessary to evaluate, and if necessary demonstrate, whether the domination – both economic and political – of the Turkish bourgeoisie were based on the oppression of the Kurds, in other words if the economic basis of Turkish domination were based on land-owning, in view of the orographic importance of Eastern Anatolia, and thus if it were possible to apply Marx’s and Engels’ indications regarding the Irish issue to this case. In other words, the Party had to verify whether Marx’s and Engels’ tactical approach and indications for the Balkans was valid, or else the approach relating to the Irish issue, if it was found that the strength of the Turkish bourgeoisie was based on the oppression of the Kurds and that a hypothetical separation from the Kurds would weaken the Americans’ strategic control of the area. Meanwhile, in the case of Kurdistan, our Party had to urge the Kurdish proletariat not to become trapped in the blind alley of the fight for national independence, denouncing it openly as a distraction from the anti-capitalist struggle, and launch the idea not of raising the banner of self determination but that of the class struggle against the entire bourgeoisie of the region, in order to avoid falling into the traps of the different factions of the Kurdish bourgeoisie and their double-crossing self interest. The real risk was that of remaining prisoners of the attempt to speculate on a possible dismemberment of Iraq, in order to secure – with the blessing of US imperialism – a “mini-state”, limited to Iraqi Kurdistan, where rich and important oil resources are concentrated: thus, an entity totally subjected to imperialist forces far more powerful than those at present dominating the Kurdish population.
Communists cannot, in fact, be unconditionally in favour of an independent Kurdistan in abstract terms: the context of reference is always the overall picture of the international revolution and the actual, decisive conditions that can favour its development, perhaps through a break with the inter-imperialist status quo. The Party pursues and urges the international unity of the working class and thus rallying the Kurdish, Turkish, Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi proletariat in the fight against their respective bourgeoisies until all the States in the region are destroyed. However, in order to remove the obstacles to this joint battle, communists must persuade the Turkish, Iranian, Syrian, etc. proletariat to fight any form of discrimination or persecution to the detriment of the Kurds and thus to take action for the defeat of their own bourgeoisie, even – and this was the conclusion of the evaluation – by approving the self determination of the Kurdish people towards a possible national separation, if this represented the lever for removing material conditions hindering the unity of the working class. Supporting a people’s right to separate, if it so wishes, does not mean approving fragmentation, of States or of the proletariat, neither does it mean that this solution is considered to be a historically feasible event. It merely means encouraging the proletariat of the oppressors’ States to disassociate entirely from their ruling class and, at the same time, snatching a formidable weapon from the Kurdish bourgeoisie – that of the presumed chauvinism of the Turkish, Iranian etc. proletariat, of their joint responsibility in the ferocious repression of the Kurdish people – thanks to which they still keep their own proletariat under their control. It means aiding the fight of the Kurdish proletariat against their own bourgeoisie and favouring their free association with their Turkish etc. class brothers, with whom they share the same condition, suffering from the lack of bourgeois rights that causes them greater hardship, worse material conditions and the more or less conscious hatred of the proletariat in the nations oppressing them (wherever they work, at home or as emigrants) in an area of strategic importance for the outcome of the international revolution.
    According to our previous definition of the issue, this was a transitory and contingent solution resulting in the weakening of the strategical lynchpin in American control apparatus in the area:  a solution that could remain valid until the time, which we hoped would come as soon as possible, when the Kurdish proletariat would break off all ties with its historically condemned nationalism. At this stage there would no longer be any need to encourage the Turkish, Iraqi, Iranian etc. proletariat to support the Kurds’ right to self determination. In this sense, the approach formulated by  Marx and Engels to the Irish question could be taken into consideration (and possibly applied). This did not contradict our theoretical approach: the Party was well aware that, being a situation that is included amongst the phenomena of the imperialist age, although not typical of it (and Marxism has demonstrated that a historical period includes typical and untypical aspects), a shift in the development pattern of the revolutionary process, speeding it up and favouring the international working-class movement, could also lead beyond this tactical approach. As Lenin wrote: “The socialdemocrats [communists, Ed.]  in the dominating nations must claim freedom of secession for oppressed nations, because otherwise recognition of the equal rights of nations and international working-class solidarity would, in practice, be empty words, mere hypocrisy. And the socialdemocrats [idem, Ed.] in the oppressed nations must consider as a cornerstone the unity and fusion of the working class of oppressed peoples with the working class in the dominating nations, since otherwise these socialdemocrats [idem, Ed.] will involuntarily become the allies of one or another of the national bourgeoisies […] Marx demanded the separation of Ireland from England, ‘even if, after the separation, it might be necessary to agree to federation,’ and he demanded it not from the point of view of the petit-bourgeois Utopia of pacific capitalism, nor for reasons of ‘justice towards Ireland’, but with a view to the interests of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat in the dominating nation, i.e. England, against capitalism […] The internationalism of the English proletariat would have been hypocrisy, if the English proletariat had not demanded Ireland’s secession […] From the viewpoint of Parabellum [pseudonym of Radek, a critic of the cry for self determination, Ed.] Marx was leading an ‘illusory fight’ when he supported Ireland’s claim to secession. But in practice this claim was the only one to be  consistent with a revolutionary programme, to correspond to internationalism, to defend centralism in a non-imperialist sense.”# 
For Marxists, the decisive element as regards the national issue is the creation of a situation that is more favourable to the overall development of the proletariat’s class struggle. This is what Marx, Engels and Lenin teach us. In Marx’s and Engels’ analysis the Polish and Irish issues are two “international issues”. The former was considered an integral and inseparable part of the German issue: Polish independence – in view of Poland’s role as a hinge between West and East – was considered vital for Germany to free itself of the alliance with the Czars and thus France to succeed in freeing itself from the empire. As regards the latter, Irish independence was the lever for putting an end to the “impotence” of the English working class –an impotence of which it was the “secret”.  The favourable attitude towards Polish and Irish independence lasted in Marx and Engels even after 1871, the date when we accept that national wars are no longer the “typical” phenomenon of the western European area. The appropriateness for the Party to launch the battle cry of self determination – and thus the political secession of a nation – is thus always linked to the creation of conditions that are most favourable to the world revolution, and which include the weakening of the most powerful imperialism and the removal of factors that separate different factions of the proletarian class within a national context (which, moreover, in the case of Turkey, appears from the very beginning, due to a delayed bourgeois revolution, as a nationally heterogeneous State).
On these bases, we evaluated the usefulness of the self determination formula in the case of Turkish Kurdistan. Today the course of events leads us to reconsider the way of approaching the issue, now increasingly limited to Turkey itself. The self-determination formula – in the absence of an intransigent mass movement supporting the independence of the Kurdish regions – runs the risk of becoming deviant, always remembering that it is the duty of the Turkish proletariat to use all means of ending the oppression of Kurdish proletarians (justified by the difference in nationality), if it does not wish to become accomplices in the infamy of its own bourgeoisie, which, moreover, has never been particularly delicate with its own proletariat.
As to the “Palestinian issue”, it should first be remembered that the State of Israel represents a state entity artificially created by American imperialism to act as a counter-revolutionary police force throughout the Middle East and that its very constitution contains the material and physical source of the Palestinians’ national oppression, as well as representing the material confirmation of how inconsequential the Palestinian and Arab bourgeoisie has been ever since this historical event.  Israel has been an essential lever for the capitalist transformation of the Middle East; and the Palestinians have been the victims of unusually violent national persecution and oppression, deprived of their land and thus radically transformed into proletariat and dispersed throughout the area (a material element that constitutes a powerful basis for gathering together the proletariat under the banner of its international programme for fighting capitalism). Israel’s special feature is that it comes into being as a colonising State, which is a characteristic that in no way derives from its religious nature (all the States in the region share this aspect), but from the fact that its economy depends heavily on enormous foreign financing, partly deriving directly from the United States and partly imposed by the latter country on Germany with the pretext of the Holocaust.  
Instead, what must be firmly denied are the false consequences that have sometimes been inferred from this correct premise in the past, i.e. the battle cry of the “destruction of the State of Israel” as the shape that the consequence of Palestinian self determination would take and develop. Today, this battle cry risks becoming an openly nationalist objective devoid of any basis in an area now completely bourgeois, like the Middle East, despite the persistence of Jewish privileges and the consequent oppression and persecution of the Palestinians – aspects that have been tolerated for too long by the western proletariat, paralysed by the crumbs of material privileges that have fallen from the banqueting table of the imperialist predators and ensnared by the cross-class ideology preached by the false workers’ parties. Up to the present, the result produced by the course of inter-imperialist contradictions with regard to the “Palestinian issue” consists in a Palestinian Bantustan-state which the Israeli bourgeoisie first put up with and then endorsed. In this situation, the Palestinian proletariat has already experienced the real consequences of the long-desired “national independence”, limited and partial as it is.  From this derives the need for the class Party to claim, on behalf of the Palestinian proletariat, not “national defence” but the possibility of returning between Israeli borders with rights (and thus also salaries and other conditions) that are completely equal to those of the Israelis: this would mean the end of Jewish privileges and the material forms of national oppression of the Palestinians. In this case, it is a question of guaranteeing within the state of Israel itself equal material rights for the Arab proletariat. Only on this condition will the Arab working class be able to recognise the Israeli proletariat as their natural ally in the future, or – better – as their class brothers.
However, a correct evaluation of the present situation and consequent action by the Party cannot ignore the central role of an analysis of the balance of power in the area. In fact, this balance must be our starting point, rather than repeating simple, empty statements of intent, which are fine for putting our conscience to rest but cannot represent the scientific basis for the Party’s present and future action. Today, it can be considered that a class-oriented revolutionary path in Israel and throughout the Middle East can only be the result of a catastrophic military defeat of the State of Israel, whose strength lies mainly outside the country and derives mostly from foreign financing and military aid.

To sum up very briefly, the following elements must be considered:

a) the State of Israel is the launching pad for all projections of American power in the area. Up to now Europe and Japan have profited from this situation and have participated in the financing of what is an authentic mercenary State;

b) given that the Israeli proletariat is extremely various (Hebrews, Arab-Israelis, immigrants from south-east Asia, from eastern Europe, from Africa, from Latin America…), the class collaboration and chauvinism of the salaried workers of Jewish origin are rooted not in the religious element but in the fact that they constitute a “working-class aristocracy” with their own special characteristics and privileges, linked to the specific nature and role of the State of Israel: i.e., they are wage workers for whom – because of material conditions – solidarity with the State of Israel comes before any, even vague, class identity or membership;

c) defeat of the Israelis’ internal front is only possible in the case of a general collapse of the State.  It may come economically with the termination of free financing by the imperialist Trilateral (but already a stop to European aid could pose great economic problems for the Zionist State and its American protector) # or politically, through a military defeat.
    In the present situation this defeat is inconceivable. Only a revolutionary process that shook Europe, unifying and centralising it under a revolutionary dictatorship, could set off economic, political and military dynamics leading to this result.  Without this condition, the dispersed and desperate forces of the Palestinian proletariat and the disinherited Arab masses, were they to be persuaded to fight, are of no military value, though politically they would be of considerable significance:  in fact, to paraphrase what Marx says about revolution (“the first result of revolution is the revolution itself”), it could be argued that the first victory of the Palestinian proletarian struggle is the battle of the Palestinian proletariat itself.  In this context, the cycle of purely national struggles and movements for Palestine and for the whole of the Middle East is thus finally devoid of any historical perspective. Therefore the Party can do no more than indicate a single solution to the Palestinian proletarian masses, one that also contains the possibility of cutting through the knot of national oppression and discrimination: that of establishing themselves on the ground of an open class struggle against all the rapacious bourgeoisies of the region, in defence of their material living and working conditions, a struggle capable of bringing together in a single front working classes of mixed nationalities, to be sealed by the open, anti-capitalist fight of  the proletariat in the imperialist cities #. 


In a text of ours written in 1924 for discussion at the Vth Congress of the Communist International and entitled “Communism and the national issue”, a most important warning was given: “Certain simple formulas are vital for our Party’s agitation and propaganda and in all cases these  imply less danger than an excess of elasticity and open-mindedness. But these formulas must be points of arrival and results, not points of departure for an investigation of the issues, such as have to be dealt with by the Party’s highest organs of criticism and deliberation, in order to make these conclusions available to the mass of militants in clear and explicit terms”#.
    In connection with the “national issue”, two fundamental errors must be avoided. The first is of a petit-bourgeois nature and basically consists in the unconditional defence of the “nationality principle” (whilst we make the – bourgeois – “right” to self determination subordinate to requirements for the development of the international revolutionary movement). The second is of an indifferentist-mechanical nature, which, by identifying the issue with that of the “double revolution”, or identifying and confusing the economic and political aspect of the liberation of oppressed nations,  ignores the material obstacles that arise on the path of the international unity of the proletariat and thus falls back (Luxemburg-style) into an idealistic vision of the revolutionary process – or, worse (in Serrati and Graziadei-style), into the jingoistic (chauvinistic) spirit typical of the working-class aristocracy, criticised by Lenin in his intervention at the IInd Congress of the Communist International (1920) #.
    A possible “political” oppression should not be confused with economic oppression: the latter cannot be eliminated in a bourgeois context and can also apply to States that are formally independent. On the other hand, no form of annexation carried out by capitalist States through wars or military invasion and occupation can be traced back to “political” oppression. The term “national oppression” stands for all forms of discrimination, so that a part of the population (and thus the proletariat, too) suffers in the end from worse material conditions, just because they are of a different nationality. “No privilege for any nation or any language! Not the slightest oppression or the slightest injustice towards a national minority!”: these are Lenin’s words #. Here we are in the field of “political democracy” (whose claims, as Lenin again reminds us, can always be achieved only in an incomplete and deform manner in the imperialist age) and certainly the evolution of capitalism has robbed these phenomena of relevance (and volume) of space, compared to Lenin’s times; but the political need for the free and fraternal union of the international proletariat imposes – once again in Lenin’s words – the ample use of conflicts that also arise on this terrain. The attitude of the proletariat in the imperialist cities and the countries of the oppressors becomes fundamental:  if proletarian solidarity is not to become a rhetorical and empty slogan, it must put a radical end to any support for the action of its own bourgeoisie. Not by chance Lenin, when drawing up these directives, reminds us – unlike the “Proudhon” attitude which in the name of the social revolution denied the need for a fight against national oppression – of Marx’s demands and emphasises their internationalist significance, i.e. their close connection to the internationalist interests and spirit of the working-class movement #. With the formula of the “opposite and dialectic instructions” to the proletariat in the countries of the oppressors and the oppressed, in which our self-determination formula can find its development, Lenin codifies and formalises the theoretical indications of Marx-Engels on the Irish question (in a fully capitalist area). 
    Every theory, as we have always emphasised and practised, proceeds through formulation and subsequent adjustments in the light of historical experience up to the present. This also held true for the “revolutionary defeatism” formula which, at the time, Lenin and left-wing elements had to defend with teeth and claws from those who objected that it favoured the bourgeoisie, albeit in a different country. For the international proletarian movement no solution to any question must be placed above class interests and those of their struggle, both of which are international.
The following points are the result of this:

  1. The present-day context, typical of the current imperialistic phase, is that – demonstrated by Lenin – of the war “of economic claims between the various big capitalist States in sharing out world resources for production, especially of the colonies in the less advanced continents #.
  2. The Party’s objective is to remove all conditions that act as a material barrier to the international unity of the proletariat and, in any case, to reaffirm this necessity as a programme.
  3. Any claim regarding the advisability of national secession must always be evaluated and conditioned by reference to the need to promote the revolutionary process, and subordinated to this, in the awareness that economic and democratic transformations of any type cannot be totally achieved until the bourgeoisie and its rule is abolished,  always bearing in mind the “historical relativity and class content of all claims for political democracy, including self determination”#
  4. Throughout the world, the end has come for any hypothesis of “double revolution”, which might suggest the proletariat sharing objectives or alliances, even of a temporary nature, with its own national bourgeoisie.
  5. Nonetheless, the need may exist, at certain times and in certain areas, to pursue the advance of international working-class unity through opposite, though inter-connected, objectives to those in the oppressor and the oppressed nation: the former has the task of carrying out defeatist action towards its own bourgeoisie, no longer collaborating jointly in the oppression of another people and allowing the possibility – if the conditions of the revolutionary struggle demand this – of constituting a politically independent nation; the latter, strengthened by the attitude of the proletariat in the ruling nation, must refuse any alliance with its own bourgeoisie and tend towards unity with the proletariat of the oppressor. The tactical directives of the Party in the present historical situation, which place on the agenda a purely proletarian revolution worldwide, consist in encouraging workers in the oppressed nation to break off ties with the nationalism of their own bourgeoisie and at the same time call the workers in the dominant nation to defend the oppressed nation’s right to self determination, as a material lever for shattering the bases of cross-class solidarity in the midst of the oppressed peoples. All this on certain well-defined conditions, which consist in the fact of a) the actual existence of national oppression and not an artificial opposition of populations manoeuvred by imperialism or a situation connected to a transitory foreign military occupation during the course of hostile operations (as is the case in Iraq, today); b) authentic nations being involved and not “peoples without history”, in the sense intended by Engels of peoples “lacking elementary historical, geographical, political and industrial conditions of independence and vitality” #; c) the persistence of national oppression constitutes an objective hindrance to the unification of the international proletariat and the class struggle, since it is due to this oppression that the proletariat of the oppressed nation is still subject to the nationalist propaganda of its own bourgeoisie.
        This is the significance that Marxism gives to the formula of self determination, a term that Lenin himself realised was imperfect, but which we shall have to continue using until a better one is found. Faced with accusations of “dualistic propaganda”, Lenin’s reply to Piatakov-Kievski is valid:  we cannot ask the workers of dominant nations the same as we ask the workers of oppressed nations #.
        It could be objected, after having repeated that Lenin – polemising with Luxemburg, Piatakov-Kievski and others – highlighted the political aspects of the oppression and referred exclusively to them, that, if the revolution is purely proletarian throughout the world, the classical thesis of Lenin is outdated, given also the irreversible failure of the bourgeoisie and those of peoples that failed to acquire a national status at the time. We reply that the development of capitalism may well have produced this consequence, particularly after a phase of acceleration of the revolutionary process in the centres of world imperialism:  however – as already explained earlier – the observation that the era of the double revolutions is over does not automatically lead to the elimination of situations that still linger on, in which the proletariat’s refusal of solidarity with its own bourgeoisie and defeatist strategy towards it must not result in recognition of the right to secession, if this is a tool for achieving the free and total unity of the proletariat and if this situation does not become an obstacle to the international development of the anti-capitalist revolution #.
  6. Contrary to any third-worldist and petit-bourgeois deformation, it should be reiterated that the political guidance of the proletariat - an international class - can only be located, deterministically, in the areas that constitute the epicentre of capital’s domination and thus of the decisive class struggles between proletariat and bourgeoisie, quite apart from what may be the initial engine of the revolutionary process (more probably on the outskirts, in the weaker links in the chain, than at the heart of the bourgeois system) and the contribution made to it by the proletariat of all countries.
  7. All this does not entail a mechanistic view of the revolutionary process:  social revolution can only be a long period of battles and cannot help involving all classes and “impure” movements, with all their prejudices and backwardness, since the imperialist age is merely the final phase of capitalism and thus based on the foundations of capitalism and its laws of unequal development.

1. See: “The confluence of the great contributions by revolutionary struggles in modern countries in a single internationalist historical doctrine. Reports linked to the Party Meetings in Marseille and Florence (July and November 1964)” in Raccolta delle Riunioni Generali di Partito, vol. 13, Ed. Il Programma Communista, p. 23.

2. F. Engels, What will happen in European Turkey (1853) in Marx-Engels, Complete Works, Vol. XII, pp. 32-36.  See also:  Letter to E. Bernstein (22/2/1882) on the Slav national movement and the interests of the European porletariat, published in the volume Les marxistes et la quéstion nationale,ed. Maspéro, p. 101. 
3. Lenin, On the Right of Nations to Self-determination (1914) in Lenin, Complete Works, Vol. 20, p. 390.  See also Lenin, On the Question of National Policy (1914). 
4. Struttura economica e sociale della Russia d’oggi, Ed. Il Programma Comunista, p. 160.
5. Patria Economica? (1951), reproduced in the Appendix to I fattori di razza e nazione nella teoria marxista, Iskra Edizioni 1976, pp. 153-4 (the next quotation is on p. 154 of the same text). 
6. Storia della Sinistra Comunista, vol. 2,Ed. Il Programma Comunista, p. 640.
7. Storia della Sinistra Comunista, op cit., p.641.

8. F.Engels, op cit., p. 36.
9. L.Trotsky: The Balkan Wars and The Balkan Issue and Socialdemocracy  in Le guerre balcaniche, ed. Lotta Comunista, respectively pages 33 and 59.
10. From the Manifesto of  the Balkan-Danubian Communist Federation (1920): “The unification of these peoples is only possible in the context of a Soviet Balkan-Danubian federal republic.”  See: M.P. Canapa, L’expérience soviétique et le problème national dans le monde, 1920-1939, Paris 1981. The Balkan Communist Federation, and then the Balkan-Danubian, was constituted in January 1920, as a tool of the Communist International for coordinating and unifying the work of the Balkan communist parties on the national issue. After its first Conference, the previously quoted Manifesto was drawn up, addressing “the working classes of the Balkan-Danubian countries” (5/3/1920).
11. Lenin: “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self Determination” (1915), in Lenin Complete Works, Vol. 21, pp. 374-375.
12. In Marxist doctrine the State is the organ by which a social class dominates. To call the State of Israel “Zionist” does not detract from this function but merely brings out a further “constitutional” characteristic of the Israeli State’s beginnings.  For Marxism the special nature of  Judaism does not derive from racial factors but from the history of the Jewish people, and Lenin (see: “The Position of the Bund in the Party”, Complete Works, Vol. 7, pp. 86-97) comments that “the idea of Jewish nationality is of a clearly reactionary  character” and “it is contrary to the interests of the Jewish proletariat, because it arouses in them, directly or in more devious ways, a state of mind that is hostile to assimilation”.  It is also implicitly true that after the foundation of the State of Israel, particular interests of the bourgeois Israeli State also begin to arise, but this does not alter the fact that it finds all the strength necessary to resist and expand from support coming from abroad and from the functions it carries out in the area.
13. “The Palestinian Issue and the International Workers’ Movement”, Il Programma comunista, no. 9/2000.
14. “Communism and the National Issue”, Prometeo, June 1924.
15. See our Storia della Sinistra Comunista, Vol. 2, pp. 629-642.
16. Lenin: “The Working Class and the national Issue”, in  Complete Works, Vol. 19, pp. 74-75.
17. Lenin, “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self Determination”, Complete Works, Vol. 22, pp. 147-160.
18. I fattori di razza e nazione nella teoria marxista, op. cit. p.120.

19. Lenin: “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self Determination”, op. cit., p.160.
20. F. Engels: “Democratic Pan-Slavism”, in Marx-Engels, Complete Works, Vol. VIII, pp. 364-381.
21. Lenin: “On a Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economy,” in Complete Works, vol. 23, p. 53.

22. It is not a question of incongruence or of unclear positions.  As confirmation of this, it should be observed that Lenin himself in “Theses on the National Issue” places the emphasis simultaneously on the following aspects (Thesis 4): “If socialdemocracy [i.e. the communists, Ed.] recognises the right of self determination for all nationalities, this definitely does not mean that it renounces an independent evaluation of the appropriateness, in each single case, of secession by one country or the other.  On the contrary, the socialdemocrats must give a precise, independent judgement, taking into account both the conditions for the development of capitalism and the oppression of the proletariat of different nations by the combined bourgeoisie of all nationalities and the general tasks of democracy, and, first and foremost, the interests of the proleteriat’s class struggle for socialism […]. Socialdemocracy must therefore do its utmost to warn the proletariat and working classes of all nationalities against the obvious trap of their bourgeoisie’s  nationalist slogans […] the worker who places political unity with the bourgeoisie of his own nation before complete unity with the proletariat of all nations thus acts against his own interests, against the interests of socialism and of democracy” (Lenin, Complete Works, Vol. 19, pp. 220-227).

International Communist Party

(International Papers - Cahiers Internationalistes - Il Programma Comunista)


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