Nationalism against the working class
The bourgeoisie has maintained its class rule in the last fifty years by engaging in a permanent counter-revolution, an unending attack on the working class. All the mass organizations of’ the class in the ascendant epoch (unions, parties, etc) have been integrated into capitalism and serve as obstacles to the proletarian struggle. The bourgeoisie has engaged in grandiose projects of mystification to hold back the development of class consciousness, from television and the tabloid press in the West, to mass rallies and propaganda campaigns in the East. When the working class has resisted these attacks, the bourgeoisie has flung at the class all the forms and forces of repression in its arsenal: riot police, bomber squads, specialists in’ torture, forced labour camps, etc. And whenever the permanent crisis of capital has appeared like an open wound at the heart of the system, the bourgeoisie has sacrificed millions of proletarians in imperialist wars.
The bourgeoisie’s attacks on the class become more and more vicious wherever the crisis is at its most intense. Then the capitalists have no choice except to increase exploitation at the point of production, physically repress the resistance of the class, and, if they can march it off to war. In the backward regions of capitalism the permanent crisis has, throughout this epoch, been less amenable to the palliatives which have allowed the bourgeoisie in the advanced capitals to moderate its attack on the working class. In these regions the proletariat has suffered almost without any let—up the kind of exploitation and brutalization which capital in the more industrialized countries dares to resort to only in moments of profound crisis. The reality of working class existence in the Third World has refuted Lenin’s idea that national liberation movements would provide a framework for the establishment of ‘bourgeois democratic’ regimes which would allow the working class to organize its own independent movement. Nowhere in this epoch can capital permit the working class to organize an independent movement, and least of all in the countries of the so—called ‘national democratic revolutions’.
The economic weakness of the backward countries gives the bourgeoisie there no choice but to attempt to extract the maximum of surplus value from the working class (and with the low organic composition of capital in such regions this usually takes its ‘absolute’ form). As soon as the ‘national liberation’ forces come to power, their energies are transferred from the battlefield to the ‘battle for production’. Almost invariably, the national liberation fronts extend the tendencies towards state capitalism which are already deeply entrenched in their economies. The instigation of wide— scale nationalizations has the dual purpose of shoring up a shaky national capital on the world market, and of serving as a basis for populist and ‘socialist’ rhetoric with which the new regime may hope to persuade the workers to work themselves ‘into the ground for ‘their’ national economy. In fact, these regimes can offer the working class little more than ideological consolations of this kind. As the leader of Frelimo cautioned the Mozambique working class shortly after Frelimo came to power: “Freedom means work and an end to laziness.” From the factories of North Korea to the sugar plantations of Cuba the message is the same. The ideology of ‘building socialism’ is used to mask the most ferocious, primitive forms of capitalist exploitation, forms pioneered decades ago in Stalinist Russia: piece work, obligatory overtime, militarization of production, the complete integration of the ‘workers’’ organizations into the state. As long as there are Third Worldists, liberals, and leftists, there will be those who enthuse about the ‘heroic spirit of self—sacrifice’ in the ‘socialist’ countries of the Third World. The admiration many bourgeois scribblers and politicians have for these regimes is essentially a class admiration for the ability of mystifications such as Maoism, Castroism, or Nyerere’s ‘African Socialism’ to help convince workers to identify with their exploiters. The bourgeoisie of the advanced countries is in desperate need of some equivalent ideology today.
But bourgeois admirers of these regimes are not able to see that, despite these mystifications, the working class is not integrated anywhere, and that the class struggle continues unabated in the most ‘progressive’ of Third World regimes. The recent waves of class struggle in China are eloquent testimony to this. Always behind the socialist verbiage of ‘voluntary’ sacrifice there lurks the ever—present threat of military—police repression. Thus to their definition of freedom Frelimo added that there would be no room for strikes in the new social order in Mozambique.
In the nineteenth century the bourgeois revolution almost invariably led to the setting up of more or less democratic regimes which gave the workers the right to organize themselves. There is no more decisive proof of the impossibility of bourgeois revolutions today than the political character of national liberation regimes. They are inevitably organized with the explicit purpose of preventing, and if necessary, smashing by brute force, any signs of autonomous working class struggle. Most of them are single party police states which proscribe the right to strike. Their prisons are full of dissenters. Many of them have a distinguished record of putting down working class uprisings in blood. We have mentioned Ho’s valuable contribution to the smashing of the Saigon workers’ Commune; we should also recall Mao’s dispatching of the’ Peoples’ Liberation Army to ‘restore order’ after workers’ strikes, semi—insurrections, and similar ‘ultra—left adventures’ provoked by the so— called Cultural Revolution. Then we should remember the striking miners shot by Allende in Chile, or by the ‘progressive’ military junta in Peru. The list is practically inexhaustible. Peasants have also fared poorly under the tender auspices of these regimes. Even before the cities have fallen to them, the ‘national liberation armies’ impose their rule on the peasants of the rural districts, terrorize them, tax them, mobilize them as cannon fodder. The panic— stricken flight of peasants in the face of the Vietcong advances in March 1975, long after the Americans had stopped bombing Vietcong controlled regions, shows how empty is the promise of the Third Worldists that ‘national liberation’ brings true happiness to the peasants,. After the seizure of the government by the national liberation forces, peasants have continued to suffer. The peasants who revolted against Ho Chi Minh’s collectivisations in 1956 were crushed by the regime; while in China, peasants who are mobilized for the construction of dams, bridges, etc, are subjected to the most acute intensification of exploitation by the state. (The enforced destruction of the peasantry in the Third World recapitulates in a particularly violent fashion what has taken place more gradually in the metropoles.)
Most of these national liberation regimes also continue to perpetrate oppression against national minorities. In independent black African regimes, Asian minorities are oppressed. In Sudan, a leftist Arab regime oppresses the blacks. The Social Democratic/Stalinist/Trotskyist government in Ceylon deprives the Tamils of all civil rights while ruthlessly exploiting them on the tea estates. And the Polish bourgeoisie (despite Lenin’s prescriptions) continues to persecute those Jews whom the regime has not already kicked Out! Indeed, the programme of most national liberation fronts ‘often carries the intention of replacing one form of national oppression with another. The Zionist programme implicitly or explicitly provided for the expulsion of the Palestinian Arabs; while the programme of the Palestinian national movement, by demanding a state where Muslims, Jews, and Christians can live in harmony as religious groups, indirectly announced its intention to suppress Israeli—Jewish nationality and replace it with a Palestinian Arab state. Similarly in Ireland, the programme of the IRA can only transform the Protestants into an oppressed national—religious minority.
It could not be otherwise. Since all national liberation programmes are capitalist, they cannot serve to eliminate the basis of national oppression, which is none other than capitalism itself.
But to return to the specific position of the workers under such regimes, we may say that the greatest assault that the national liberation fronts can mount on the working class is precisely the national liberation war itself. Because of global imperialist rivalries and the chronic nature of the historic crisis in the Third World, the bourgeoisie of these regions is continually pushed into imperialist squabbles with and adventures against their local rivals. Since 1914 there has hardly been a moment when at least one part of the under—developed world has not been plunged into war.
National liberation wars are a necessity for the minor imperialisms of the Third World if they are to survive on the world market. Competition is especially fierce in these areas because global domination by the advanced capitals forces the weaker capitals to try to scramble ahead of each other to carve out a niche in the world market. But for the working class, these wars bring even greater rates of exploitation, more explicit militarization, and above all, slaughter and destruction on a huge scale. Millions of workers have been killed in these wars in this century, gaining nothing except an exchange of one exploiter for another. As with all national wars, national liberation struggles have served to muzzle the class struggle, to divide the ranks of the proletariat, and to impede the maturation of communist consciousness. And since the only overall movement of capitalism in decay is towards world imperialist conflagrations on a bigger and bigger scale, local national struggles serve as testing—grounds for future world conflicts which could put an end to all possibilities of socialism.
In the decadent epoch of capitalism, communists must assert unambiguously that all forms of nationalism are reactionary to the core. While few would deny the reactionary nature of the traditional nationalism of the big imperialisms — Ku Klux Klan patriotism, Jingoism, Nazism, ‘Great Russian’ chauvinism, etc — the so—called ‘nationalism of the oppressed’ is no less pernicious for the working class. It is with this ‘progressive’ nationalism that the bourgeoisie of the former colonies attempts to integrate the working class and to persuade it to produce more and more surplus value for the fatherland. It is to the tune of national liberation and anti—imperialist rallying—cries that the workers of these countries are mobilized for inter—imperialist wars. The working class has one interest today: to unify itself on a world scale for the communist revolution. Any ideology that attempts to divide the working class along racial, sexual, or national lines is counter—revolutionary, no matter how much it talks of socialism, liberation, or revolution.
If capitalism in crisis succeeds in imposing its solution -of world war on the working class, it will undoubtedly march the workers off to a final round of barbarism under the banners of nationalism in one form or another. Nationalism thus appears today as the anti—thesis of the proletariat, as the negation of humanity, the potential ideological vehicle for its obliteration.