Why I did not stand for the National Anthem

[The following post was written and published in late 2009, by Adhiraj Bose in the earlier New Wave blog when New Wave Bolshevik Leninist was united with its Delhi section. The sentiments presented here are still relevant now.]

This day the 15th of August has a significance unparalleled for Indians. This supposedly is the day of India’s independence. When I woke up this morning my mother turned on the television and there was on my screen the national anthem being played as the national flag was being unfurled. Both my parents stood up to pay their respects. The initial kneejerk reaction from me was to do the same. But just before I was about to stand a thought gripped my mind. In India today, 80% of her citizens live on $2 a day barely able to scrape a living under the adverse conditions of a world financial crisis. At least 60 % of the country’s population who are directly dependant on agriculture will have to deal with drought as 1/4th of India is being declared as hit by drought.

The people of Bihar and Bengal have yet to ameliorate the disastrous impacts of cyclone Alia and the massive floods last year. As I pondered upon these issues plaguing our country I wondered as to how these men and children of India would celebrate the day of independence. What would they say when we tell them “you are free, now celebrate your freedom”, what would India’s common man say ? “freedom ?!! What freedom ? The drought has made sure crops would fail this year and I have yet to repay my debt to the village money lender ! My entire life is in his hands and you say I am free ? No I am not free !” . “Freedom ?!! What freedom ? My lands were taken away by the state and sold off to a corporate who set up his factory there. I have received compensation but how far would that go ? My livelihood has been taken from me and you say that I am free ? No I am not free !” . ” Freedom ?!! What freedom ? We live under the shadow of terror from the state which purports to give us freedom !! Freedom ! yes perhaps for those who kill our sons and rape our daughters with impunity you can say they have freedom ! But me the commoner who merely searches for decent work and security ! To talk of freedom ? No I am not free ! “. ” Freedom ?!! What freedom pray can a man have with barely 200 rupees at the end of the day ? I live in a chawl where there is barely any space to live with a family of 5. I have a wife and two children to support and work for 8 hours a day in a factory that hardly provides for any security ! With such conditions what man can be free ? and you say I am free ? no I am not free !”.

Indeed what freedom has this day brought us ? Yes there are the two great bourgeois freedoms we have , The freedom to own property and the farcical freedom to “vote”. The freedom to own property has guaranteed less freedom to the masses and more freedom to the exploiting capitalists to deprive entire populations of this very right. The freedom to vote ? Vote for whom ? and for what ? 300 out of 543 members in the parliament are multi millionaires. That great “sacred institution of bourgeois democracy” has been literally bought out by the Indian bourgeoisie. And what will our supposedly “chosen” leaders do with our votes ? But of course uncompromisingly serve the interests of the class they represent the great Indian bourgeoisie. Hence people continue to lose land , get deprived of their livelihoods, continue to live under poverty and we are told to celebrate our freedom !!! Do 47% of India’s malnutrition affected people have even enough energy to stand let alone stand to respect the national anthem ? And while my countrymen starve what right do I have to stand and respect such “freedom” ? On this day I chose to sit .To stand for the anthem of such false partial freedoms would be insult to the starving millions who can barely afford a morsel of rice to suffice their hunger. I will reserve my respect for the forgotten martyrs who fought for a freedom that was far better than this nightmare.

I will keep forever in my heart respect for the martyred comrades of the BLPI , of Bhagat Singh and countless unknown martyrs who fought and died for the cause of Socialist revolution. I will reserve my stand for the day when our national anthem stops singing the praise of this illusory freedom and would sing instead for the glory of a socialist revolution. Until then I won’t vote, nor act as a cheerleader to the Indian bourgeois and stand for its false freedom. Until the day of revolution I fight for the real freedom. The freedom of the masses. The freedom from Capitalism!

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Report on the situation in Bangladesh

-Tamzid Ahmed

After relentless pressure from the masses, the bourgeois courts were finally compelled to pass the death sentence on accused war criminal Sayedee . After the passage of the sentence, the people were in a celebratory mood, and Shahbag movement welcomed the verdict which was hailed as being a people’s verdict. Against this the forces of reaction led by Jamaat i Islami unleashed their wave of assaults. They claimed that Saydee was innocent and the trial was fabricated. In opposition to the verdict the party called a nationwide ‘hartal’ for two days . During that period a wave of retributive violence was unleashed against minorities and internet activists from the Shahbag movement. The violence was politically motivated and targeted the perceived support base for the present shahbag movement. The bulk of the violence took place in Shatkhira, Shirajgonj, Coxsbazar, Chitattagong shatkania, neelphamari and in the rural reaches near these cities. Nearly a hundred people were killed by the reactionary militias and in crossfire by the police.

The Jamaat is stronger in the countryside than it is in the cities where it’s base consists mostly of petty bourgeois and lumpen elements. In the countryside it has some following among poor and illiterate peasants who are more easily drawn to the islamist ideology. Soon after the trial some sections of the rural population were brainwashed into thinking that Sayedee was seen in the moon! Ironically, many believed this rumour after seeing photo shopped pictures ofSayedee on the moon and started to think of him as a godman! However, the majority of the country was against the Jamaat’s destructive actions, and there were many cases as was seen in Sylhet of villagers defending the property of hindu and buddhist minorities against the islami foes. Popular defenses here were more consistent than the state forces in securing the lives of the minorities under threat from the jamaatis. Opposition to the Jamaat’s actions included some religiousclerics/mullahs who declared Jamaat shibir to be unislamic.

The Awami league of course has shown both cowardice and inconsistency in dealing with fascistic forces in Bangladesh, and are no doubt soft on these criminal parties. But the Shahbag movement and the popular defense against violence thereafter, have shown how to deal with these forces. A very strong ground is being made in the present scenario which can lead to the abolition of islam as a state religion and the adoption of a secular constitution which was present in Bangladesh before 1975. The expulsion of the islami parties which have acted as an extension of the US-Saudi imperialist matrix has begun !

On the question of the united front tactic

In short the policy of united front-ism is one of ‘march separately but strike together’ . This in itself does not however, explain the various possible variations of the united front depending on the objective strength of forces involved. In principle the party of the working class creates united fronts where there is a need for joint interventions around shared interests. The most notable example of a united front at work was the united front of the Bolsheviks with the menshevik government to save the provincial government of Kerensky from Kornilov’s reaction.

In this instance, the party engaged in united front retained it’s own independent organizational existence even while siding with hostile forces. The overarching importance of the most urgent democratic tasks was realized which formed the basis for a united front. It was to save the february revolution that the Bolsheviks made an alliance with Kerensky against Kornilov, all the while knowing the reactionary nature of both forces involved. But it was the necessity for such a united front that compelled the formation of the united front tactic, one where the bolsheviks could fight off the forces of reaction.

A Bolshevist united front and Stalinist popular front :

The foremost consideration for any successful united front is the independence of the revolutionary force with the parties it is in a united front with. This is contrasted with the policy of a popular front where class compromise is sought around an opportunistic premise for advancing the organizational interest at hand. Stalinism presents before the working class the prospect of certain defeat through the popular front where it’s power is diluted into that of the national bourgeoisie. When Lenin joined hands with the government of Kerensky, the Bolsheviks did not dissolve themselves into the government, nor dilute their revolutionary programme for the sake of the alliance. It was over a particular agenda of defeating the reaction led by Kornilov that the cooperation was forged. However, when Stalin and the troika had ordered the Chinese communists to align with Chiang Kai Shek in the revolutionary upsurge of the mid-1920s, they dissolved themselves for sake of keeping that alliance intact.

It must be born in mind that numerical or organizational dimensions were secondary to the success of the united front. The Bolsheviks were in an inferior position of power in relation to their respective allies when they engaged in the united front. However, the reactionary regime was on the verge of collapse under pressure of war. Most importantly, the regime was fast losing or had already lost mass support. At the same time, the forces of revolution were gaining influence. In such a situation revolutionary help extended to bourgeois-democratic reactionaries ( like Kerensky ) would be like using a rope to hold up a dying man!

The successes of these actions have important lessons for us today when revolutionary bolsheviks seek to engage in a united front.

Few basic principles :

Before any united front is undertaken two key questions must be asked :

a) For what is there a need for a united front ? What benefits will it bring ?

b) What is the strength of our own forces ?

The answer to the first question will lay the ground for forging any united front with other organizations whether we agree on fundamental questions of theory or not. The answer to the second will help us understand how to approach the united front and how deeply we should commit our resources to it. Only once a clear understanding is reached by balancing between both these questions, can a revolutionary organization approach a united front with a firm footing. A united front based on light and weak foundations will end in a failure.

Once the basic questions have been answered, the next question must be that of particulars of engagement. :

a) Whom do we align with ?

b) To what extent to we align ?

Of course, it is impossible to answer these two questions without first answering the basic questions of the united front. In chapter 4 of the Communist Manifesto Marx laid the foundation for such an alliance as support for democratic struggles world over. For this purpose the communists would be willing to align with any force that is fighting for a democratic revolution. In saying this however, Marx never compromised the need for maintaining an independent character of the communist movement. This brings us to the second question on the extent of our engagement. That again depends primarily on two factors :

a) The class character of our allies

b) Our own objective(organizational) and subjective(theoretical) strength.

An important third factor in this of course would be the objective we intend to achieve through this united front. The nature of intervention whether it’s military or civil in nature, or whether we intend to in future to merge with a group if there are fundamental programmatic agreements, or whether we intend to wage a defensive struggle where the entire interests of the class are under jeopardy ( as would be with the case of a fascist threat ) . Each instance will come with its own imperatives and will determine the tactics of the united front in action.

Flexibility in tactics :

One of the hallmarks of Leninist thought has been the flexibility of its tactics in class struggle. Lenin characterized class war as a war fundamentally more complex than any other war hitherto fought, and not without reason. From this conclusion, he states in his work on guerrilla warfare that Marxists must be open to the use of the most varied tactics as the situation demands. Thus, revolutionaries must be prepared to go underground when faced with a emergency situation. When democratic organizing becomes impossible it is naive to retain any pretense of absolute internal democracy, a centralized organization with strict discipline becomes indispensable.

Such a flexibility must be shown in approaching the question of the united front as well. The working masses will not always possess revolutionary consciousness. Right up until the decisive eruption of revolution, we will be dealing with a population which albeit rebellious and militant may continue to harbor every possible illusion in the machinations of the bourgeois state. In such a situation revolutionaries must refrain from a sectarian attitude towards the organizations of the class. While sharply criticizing every opportunistic step which they may take to harm the interests of the class, the revolutionary force must be ready to work with these organizations whenever and wherever the interests of the class struggle are involved.

Here we are faced with a dialectical question. How to retain independence in perspective, discipline and organization while engaging in work with organizations whose character is decidedly non-revolutionary ? The whole success or failure of the united front for the revolutionary party is contingent on this question being answered correctly. There are no black and white alternatives given beforehand, since the issue is one of balance between forces involved.

Variations of the united front :

We may either enter a united front with a similar organization or express unity in action. This choice depends much on whom we plan on aligning with. The difference between these two variations can be demonstrated using the example of our tactics towards the forces involved in the Afghan war and our tasks in that country.

The foremost task of the present Afghan struggle much like China at the time of the Japanese invasion rested on the expulsion of the imperialist forces attempting to subjugate and exploit that country’s resources. The problem we face in pursuing this overarching goal, is that we will be sharing our battles with the most vile, most corrupt and reactionary of armies in the Afghan Taliban. Their agenda is to establish a repressive islamic state, which would perhaps in the long run make just as bad an agreement with world imperialism as the present quisling Karzai government. But the core tasks of bolsheviks is not to speculate idly on what possible future may befall Afghanistan, the core task is to understand the democratic tasks to fight for and chart the road for the socialist revolution in South Asia.

It is as obvious as daylight that there cannot be even the remotest of agreements with the Taliban on long term agenda. Given the chance, they would be as committed to the evisceration of the revolutionary party as the imperialists. However, our first commitment is towards fighting for the liberation of Afghanistan from the ongoing imperialist occupation. For this we are fighting the same enemy as the Taliban. Here we call for unity in action with the Taliban on the point of agreement over the fight against foreign imperialism. Our troops in the field would coordinate their attacks against ISAF troops and proxy Afghan National Army troops with the troops of the Taliban. However, we keep not only our own discipline in fighting, but retain our own propaganda, our own programmatic agenda for the future of Afghanistan as well as our long term hostility towards the idea of theocracy.

Of course, given the reality of our peripheral existence in the world and undoubtedly in Afghanistan, it would be next to impossible to build such an alliance even one only restricted to ‘unity in action’. Our actions must therefore, be oriented towards propaganda activities primarily and the cornerstone of this is the attack on imperialism. We would thus continue to work on the united front principle and express a ‘unity in action’ with the Taliban. At the same time, we warn the Afghan people of the dangers of allowing the Taliban to lead the anti-imperial struggle and condemn any agreement they make with any imperial force.

The same principles may not apply when and if we engage in a united front effort with an organization who share fundamental agreements in regard to programme. If we unite with organizations of the working class, with whom differences are of a peripheral nature but agreements are fundamental *( if we agree on the Socialist revolution and its path ), incidental differences on tactics and strategies to combat imperialism are secondary in nature. Here we engage in joint work with a view towards possible merger of forces over a common party building agenda on the basis of a programme for revolution. This would be a deep united front which may go beyond simply working together around single issues.

Conclusion:

The united front tactic gives a Bolshevik-Leninist force its power. Despite smaller numbers and organizational weakness, we can multiply our forces in conjunction with the resources of another force in conducting our intervention. Using this approach we retain our own discipline and our own political character and use the power of bolshevik theory to build our strength in the class struggle. Care must be taken however, that we never weaken the effort by compromising our stance even and especially with respect to those we align with. Our alignments with deeply hostile forces which are against our ideals are necessarily only be temporary and issue-specific. Once a front with such forces has accomplished its core objectives, we must be prepared with our own organizational strength to fight against them and stake our own claim to power.

Understanding 1947 (part 1)

The formation of India and Pakistan in 1947 is a crucial question for the Indian left. Few historical questions are as pertinent, and at the same time few are as divisive. The formation of the Indian republic raises a number of questions which concern the very foundations of capitalism in India and in that context turn a searchlight on the true historical character of the transfer of power which took place on the 15th of August 1947.

Some questions central to our understanding of the events preceding and taking place at the point of the transfer of power on 15th of August 1947 are :

a) Was India’s independence in 1947 a revolutionary event?
b) Were the events of 1947 and the year immediately preceding it ‘peaceful’? And was the independence struggle as a whole ‘peaceful’?
c) How did the transfer of power affect the development of capitalism in India and Pakistan? Did they both subsequently fall to foreign imperialism? If so why so? If not why not?

I will tackle these questions in sequence.

a) Was India’s independence in 1947 a revolutionary event?

Let us first understand what we mean by ‘revolution’. Real socio-economic revolutions that change the face of history only take place when an old worldwide mode of production has outlived itself. That is to say a mode of production affecting human society as a whole – like slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. When the foundations of such a system become wholly rotten, and when the precursors of a new mode of production are emerging ever stronger, revolutions break out that sweep away the ruins of the old system and usher in new societies based on the new forces of production and new relations between the people working with them.

Revolutions are an outburst of social energy channelling the creative forces of the new system to break the chains of the old mode of production, like slavery or serfdom. They are opposed in a life-and-death struggle by the decaying, destructive forces of the old system which seek to prolong its life. In short, a true social-historical revolution can only be an epoch-making change in economy and society bringing with it the change of one mode of production into another. A deep historical revolution of this kind is not simply a regime change from one kind of government to another be it democratic or dictatorial. Even the bloodiest rebellions or coups d’état fall short of this historical significance if they produce no change in the underlying mode of production. Fascist regimes still operate on a bourgeois capitalist economic basis, so Nazi Germany was no revolutionary creation. A true revolution is a process which overthrows the economic and political dominance of the old ruling class and replaces it with the rule of the formerly oppressed class – as happened when the slave-owning rulers of the ancient Roman Empire were ousted during the rise of feudal Europe, and the feudal rulers of old Europe were thrown aside in bourgeois revolutions such as those in England in 1649 and France in 1789.

For instance, in bourgeois revolutions, the ruling class of feudal lords were overthrown by the political mobilization of the oppressed proto-bourgeois serfs and traders. In their place the bourgeois class seized power and wielded it through its political representatives, be it the New Model Army in England or the Jacobins in France. These revolutions were the midwives of history and opened the way for the capitalist transformation of European society. Frequently however, the aftershocks of these world-shaking revolutionary events only involved the transfer of power from one group of special interests to another in the new ruling class. This is most certainly evident if we compare the so-called Glorious Revolution of England in 1688 to Cromwell’s revolution some decades earlier. The Stuart monarchy restored by parliament in 1660 was turfed out unceremoniously for wanting its pre-Cromwellian power back, and was replaced by a new, tame bourgeois monarchy imported from Holland.

As the revolutionary Soviet economist Eugene Preobrazhensky wrote in The New Economics in 1926, the bourgeoisie did not come to be the ruling class without first creating the economic pre-conditions for its power. For centuries, the bourgeoisie were city traders and bankers subordinate to the feudal elite, but over time they grew stronger and began to undermine the economic independence of the aristocrats, who were ultimately unable to prevent the bourgeoisie from directly claiming power. Parliament was its preferred mechanism for rule in place of aristocratic or absolute despotism. This gradual piecemeal trajectory of the bourgeoisie’s rise to power influenced the character of its revolutions, which were essentially national and became more and more cowardly with time – looking over their shoulders in fear at their ostensible allies in the working class and poor peasantry. There were clear limits to the Liberty, Equality and Fraternity they were prepared to introduce, and compromise with the defeated aristocracy to hold down the workers and poor people of town and country became the norm. Thus we see even today that the UK which was the first country to undergo a bourgeois revolution continues to harbour a monarchy which is a relic of its pre-capitalist past and constantly reminds us of the limits of capitalism’s ability to effect profound social transformations.

The socialist revolution presents a striking contrast to the bourgeois revolutions of old. Where the bourgeois revolutions open the way for the transformation of society along capitalist lines, the socialist revolution opens the way for the transformation of society towards the communist mode of production, in which those who work and produce the wealth also own the means of producing it, and associate freely and equally to plan and distribute this production. The two kinds of revolution are similar in that a socialist revolution the current ruling class i.e the bourgeoisie in capitalist society, is overthrown by the oppressed class in capitalist society, i.e the proletariat.

The economic basis for the existence and organization of the proletariat is not created by the proletariat but by its class enemy, the bourgeoisie. Large scale mass production and monopoly capital lays the foundation for the unification and political organization of the proletariat on a national and international scale, as well as for a future socialist economy. What the proletariat does create of its own, is its own independent political organs and the organs of power with which to overthrow the bourgeois in power. Imperialism is clinging on to outworn and unmanageable social relations in an age of transition to socialism, making the imperialist epoch a period of crisis, war and revolution. The global contradiction of the instruments of socialism existing, yet not being in the hands of working people in power, gives the socialist revolution an unprecedented social explosivity and the economic stakes involved are unparalleled, and makes the political tasks of the proletariat that much more complex. All this gives our revolution a much clearer political and social character than the bourgeois revolutions preceding it. There can be no compromise between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie like there was a compromise between the monarchy and the republican bourgeoisie in England.

In the 20th century however, we have witnessed a peculiar development brought about by the historic twist of a bourgeoisie incapable of consummating the bourgeois-democratic transformation of society. In Russia these contradictions were resolved by the socialist revolution which carried out the bourgeois-democratic transformation of Russian society in its march to complete the socialist transformation. While we insist that this is the case, we must be very clear that much of the bourgeois-democratic transformation involved in this process was stopped or reversed by the Stalinist counter-revolution in the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin and the Stalinist bureaucracy’s takeover of the state.

Since the emergence of imperialism in the late 1800s, however, we have witnessed a twist in this historical development of the forces of social production. Conditions in the world economy have contrasted so starkly with conditions in individual countries that bourgeoisies in backward countries have not been able to bring about a bourgeois-democratic transformation of their society at the national level. In Russia these contradictions were resolved by the socialist revolution which implemented historically necessary bourgeois-democratic reforms in Russian society as an integral part of its drive to carry out the socialist transformation. The extremely contradictory character of this process means that although this conclusion is inescapable if we are to understand the phenomenon of the Soviet Union, it is far from self-evident, and we must be very clear that much of the progressive bourgeois-democratic content of the transformation of society was stopped or reversed by the Stalinist counter-revolution in the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin and the Stalinist bureaucracy’s takeover of the state.

The problem of understanding the challenges posed to the working class and its peasant allies by the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to bring about necessary democratic change was resolved by Leon Trotsky when he formulated the theory of Permanent Revolution in 1936. The theory makes it clear that the economic and political domination of the world by imperialism means that the bourgeoisie has lost its revolutionary potential and will never again be capable of leading let alone consummating a bourgeois-democratic revolution.

The implications of this conclusion are huge. It means that fundamental political, economic and social change will never ever be achieved by any political force under the leadership of a bourgeois political formation. Any working class party claiming otherwise is deceiving the class and leading it to inevitable failure, as did Stalinist Communist parties backing the leadership of bourgeois forces in Popular Fronts. This was demonstrated to catastrophic effect in China in the 1920s, where the Chinese CP supported the leadership of the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-Shek, and by the similarly suicidal policies of the Communist party in Indonesia in the mid-1960s.

Since the second world war there has been almost universal left-wing backing for bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nationalist leaderships in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist liberation struggles, and in complete accordance with the theory of Permanent Revolution the vast majority of these movements have led to little more than career opportunities for these leaderships coupled with continued poverty and oppression for the working class and peasant masses. The degeneration of these non-proletarian leaderships and their opportunist and superficial socialist masks has been sometimes slow and gradual, but always complete and counter-revolutionary. Two powerful examples of disastrous betrayals lauded as successes by left-wing forces refusing to accept the perspective of the Permanent Revolution are Nicaragua and most particularly South Africa. Just how criminally betrayed the working masses in South Africa have been by the bourgeois leadership of the ANC, including the fake saint Nelson Mandela, was illustrated just last month on 16 August 2012 by the Marikana massacre. Over 34 demonstrating miners were shot dead in cold blood, most of them in the back. This slaughter continues the tradition of bloody class repression in South Africa, and is the black bourgeoisie’s own Sharpeville massacre.

In the light of these developments, the historical tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution clearly fall upon the working class and its peasant allies, who are compelled to embrace the bourgeois revolution as part of the socialist revolution. The two historical transformations thus move together in sync rather than as two distinct processes. At the same time, however, the specific tasks of the combined revolution in each country vary widely since the social and economic preconditions are different from context to context.

In the context of pre-independent India i.e the time of the Empire of India, the over arching
objective of the Indian struggle was to achieve independence from British rule. Along with this, the prime social objective would have to be the abolition of monarchism in the princely states and a radical redistribution of land under the slogan of land to the tiller. Furthermore, a bourgeois-democratic revolution would aim to abolish all social impediments to capitalist accumulation and development, such as caste divisions and landlordism. So the question of whether 1947 constituted a revolutionary transformation of Indian society basically boils down to the question of whether these necessary aims of the bourgeois revolution were achieved.

The transfer of power from the British Monarchy to the Indian parliament began on 15 August when the rule of the monarch ended and India came under the leadership of the governor general. This was accompanied by the partition of the Indian sub-continent between the Indian republic and the republic of Pakistan. Alongside these two large divisions there existed a series of princely states with six of the largest states asserting their independence from both Pakistan and India. These six states were Balochistan, Kashmir, Tripura, Junagadh, Travancore and Hyderabad. Four of these six states were annexed to India, while Balochistan was annexed to Pakistan and Kashmir is still being contested.

Abolition of Monarchy and self-rule

The transfer of power mandated that the princely states had the choice of either acceding to India or Pakistan — asserting their independence was not an alternative. The formal completion of the transfer of power occurred on 26 January 1950 with the abolition of the post of governor general and with it the complete withdrawal of the rule of the British Monarchy. In parallel with this development was the absorption of approximately 500 princely states into the Indian republic along with the abolition of their respective monarchies. In compensation for abdicating their powers to India however, they were granted privy purses. The princely states which sought to make a stand against either India or Pakistan were crushed, and Hyderabad, Kashmir and Balochistan were made an example of what would happen to monarchs trying to stake their independence. The privy purse concessions were eventually abolished by Indira Gandhi in the 70s.

Abolition of landlordism and land reform

The social changes effected after 1947 included the complete abolition of absentee landlordism and of zamindari in India, along with a distorted and incoherent effort at land reform. Although they were incoherent and distorted, however, the land reforms did pave the way for the penetration of bourgeois land laws into the countryside and the large-scale destruction of petty production there. In this way they initiated the present proletarianization-led development of Indian capitalism, in which tens of millions of small independent farmers are driven into debt and destitution, lose their property (i.e. become proletarianized, owning nothing but their power of labour), and are forced to migrate into the slums of the bloated cities and join the reserve army of the unemployed. This process is universally but falsely referred to as ‘urbanization’, a term that completely conceals the historical class dynamics of what is taking place.

Economic independence

Later on, the nationalization of leading banks under the pretext of ‘social control’ and the ‘Indianization’ of foreign owned companies ensured the security of nascent Indian capital against the forces of foreign capital and gave local capital a dominant role within the territories of the Indian republic. All of these changes took place in the first 3 decades after 1947 and under the political leadership of the Congress party which was the preferred political choice for the Indian bourgeoisie.

Given these changes, it seems that the Indian bourgeoisie through its foremost political representative the Indian Congress party was able to achieve most of its natural bourgeois goals. But such a view only scratches the surface of things without regard to the forces working under the surface.

Beneath the surface

Apologists of the Indian bourgeoisie argue for the ‘strength’ and ‘civility’ of these ‘gradual and peaceful’ changes, and put India on a pedestal as an inspiring example for other countries. Equally superficial apologists on the left try to use India’s historical successes, such as the successful eviction of the British and the social and political transformations that secured some basic bourgeois-democratic needs, to debunk the theory of Permanent Revolution. These views are not only unhistorical, but are outright reactionary and a million miles from the struggles of the oppressed masses, the working class and the poor peasantry against capitalism and imperialism.

All the progressive social transformations which have taken place in India from 1900 to the present have been achieved by the force of class struggle both within India and outside it. The Congress party for its part, was not formed with the aim of liberating India from colonial bondage but simply to act as a steam valve and mediator between the struggling Indian masses and the British imperialists. Up to the first world war their methods never moved beyond prayer and petition against the British. Only later do we see an economically burgeoning Indian bourgeoisie becoming bold enough to demand Tanganyika in East Africa as an exclusive colony under its administration. Along with this, we see the emergence of an organized proletariat in India along with large scale mass production, and the social impact of the Russian revolution which brought about profound changes in land relations and provided the inspiration for democratic struggles world wide.

The rising tide of class struggle forced the Indian Congress party to take a much more radical stance against the British, kicked forward by the actions of revolutionary communists like Bhagat Singh. The radicalization of peasant struggles and the emergence of a strong working class movement saw the growth of the Indian Communist party (CPI) and later on the emergence of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India (BLPI) which peaked in 1946. All of this compelled the British safety valve which was the Congress party to orient itself much more towards the masses so that the Indian bourgeoisie and its British patrons would not be harmed in their propertied interests. Simultaneously however, the strengthening Indian bourgeoisie also demanded their pound of flesh from the British. The British were willing to grant any concession to the Indian bourgeoisie and its political representative the Congress party because of its formidable ability to pacify the Indian working class and peasantry. For its own part the Congress party, which cared chiefly for landed interests in India, didn’t hesitate to hijack the power of the peasant and proletarian struggles emerging in India to pressurize the British. The unsurpassed pacifier Gandhi was the supreme manifestation of this parasitical politics (as the other saintly Congress hero, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, has been in our own period).

Despite their best efforts the Congress party could not hold back the rising tide of class struggle which at its core demanded the immediate and realization of the overarching objectives of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, namely:

1)national liberation from colonial rule,
2)comprehensive land reform,
3)the eradication of landlordism, and
4)the abolition of the princely states and their monarchies.

Three major upsurges helped pave the way for the accomplishment of these goals between 1940 and 1947. The first of these was the Quit India movement which mobilized the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie primarily in Northern and Eastern India, in which large tracts of land were forcibly appropriated by the landless and poor farmers from the clutches of the rural elite. Following this was the formation of the Indian National Army by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the student led mobilizations in Bengal, which attacked the militarist foundations of the British empire. Finally, the peak of class struggle saw the naval uprising in 1946 in all major ports of the Indian empire, with a mass mobilization of workers, students and peasants across the sub-continent.

By this time, the British had lost the loyalty of the Congress party and the Indian bourgeoisie it represented, which had grown bold enough to go on its own. The Congress party for its part was on the verge of losing the support it among the peasants and students that Gandhi and his protege Nehru had so painstakingly built up. Although practically all bourgeois political formations in India sided with the British against the mutiny, it was only the Congress party actively colluded with the British in crushing the uprising in Bombay. Of course this ‘service’ would not come free.

The Congress however, were more afraid of a prospect which worried the British imperialists as much as it did them. What if the Indian masses were to rise up and expropriate the capitalist system itself? What if a socialist revolution accompanied the inevitable democratic revolution? The entire Asian continent would become non-capitalist if expropriations in China were followed by the once-Imperial Indian subcontinent.

The theory of Permanent Revolution has been confirmed time and again when bourgeois democratic revolutions have gone hand in hand with the socialist revolution in the absence of a revolutionary bourgeoisie. However, in the post world war period we have witnessed the peculiar development of deformed and deflected revolutions. This in itself is not beyond the understanding of revolutionary Marxism. Lenin in Two tactics of Social Democracy had foreseen the possibility of such a deformed revolution occurring in Russia, should the forces of the revolutionary working class and peasantry be inadequate to secure a complete victory over capitalism. In context of the permanent revolution this would imply that a Socialist revolution though initiated in the mould of a bourgeois-democratic revolution, would be halted midway by a compromise with reactionary elements in society preventing its further transition from the democratic to the Socialist level. Either that or, a healthy socialist revolution would be deformed by absence of worker’s democracy and the whole revolutionary process would become subjected to the rigid control of a counter-revolutionary bureaucratic clique ruling from the top.

Thus, depending on the objective situation a Socialist revolution may take place and yet be deformed. The result of such a deformed revolution would be a compromise with reactionary elements which would leave important democratic needs of the bourgeois revolution unsatisfied. However, even a deformed revolution would achieve some progressive goals and blunt the edge of the socialist revolution. A similar kind of situation holds in China, where a successful yet deformed socialist revolution leaves many of the fundamental needs of the socialist revolution unsatisfied, but still presents a formidable obstacle to the full counter-revolutionary world programme of imperialism.

In India’s case, the indigenous bourgeoisie was faced with a working class on the cusp of a revolutionary mobilization and its erstwhile British Imperialist protectors in retreat, and had to compromise with reaction to both stifle the revolution and ensure the very survival of India as a capitalist state. Likewise, the forces of British imperialism felt directly threatened by the rising tide of revolution across Asia and were ready to defend the social system of capitalism in the world’s largest continent at any price. Having lost their political hold over India, the British were forced to salvage whatever they could to preserve the remnants of an imperialist economic presence in the continent. So the two leading forces of reaction, the British and the Congress, schemed with minor bourgeois leaders like Jinnah of the Muslim League to bring about a partition of the sub-continent. This would constituted a deep enough compromise with the objective of complete anti-colonial emancipation to destroy the revolutionary process unfolding in the sub-continent and in Asia and to preserve their respective positions. This despicably divisive compromise created the republic of India and the republic of Pakistan at an untold cost in human suffering and backwardness for more than half a century to come. And into the bargain they blessed 500 or so princely states and their rotten monarchies, like so many pieces of dung scattered over the marble floor of a shopping mall.

The Indian bourgeoisie was more adept at securing its interests than its less capable counterparts in the chopped up political botchery of Pakistan. Following the withdrawal of British rule, most of the princely states were absorbed into the Indian republic and their monarchies abolished. This was because the Indian bourgeoisie was feeling the strength of the masses and felt compelled to make a series of concessions to the working class and peasantry in the form of industrial welfare, the nationalization of core industries, and the abolition of landlordism and of the monarchies in the princely states.

However, the core demands of a democratic revolution either remained untouched or were implemented in a deformed manner. Thus, land reforms were implemented but in a zigzag and piecemeal way leaving most of the peasant population destitute and pauperized while encouraging the fragmentation of land holding, a development which created one of the principal sources of primitive capitalist accumulation in the Indian republic. At the same time, independent India gave rise to a new land-owning bourgeoisie who made the most of the penetration of capitalist land laws into the countryside to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor peasantry. For the same reason, caste divisions were allowed to persist, notwithstanding their formal abolition in the Constitution. Thus, the Indian bourgeoisie left pre-capitalist fetters in place where they served its political goal of keeping power, while it removed them where it felt they hobbled its own freedom of movement. As was the case with the annexation of Goa.

To sum up, we must emphasize very strongly once more that the social and political strength which enabled the Indian bourgeoisie to complete certain elementary tasks of the bourgeois revolution was not its own. The strength surging through modern India does not belong to the bourgeoisie, which falsely lays claim to it, but to the bourgeoisie’s bitterest enemy the working class and its ally the poor peasantry.

In Pakistan, deliberately truncated at birth, some partial concessions were made to the peasantry in East Bengal (renamed East Pakistan after 1947) in the form of the abolition of Zamindari. Bourgeois-democratic reform stopped here, however. A powerful and influential semi-feudal elite was alarmed at the rapid progress India made in abolishing feudal relics, and huddled around the military institution in that country. The anachronistic and medieval leadership of the country found shelter under the auspices of a rising US imperialism, just like Saudi Arabia, and joined CENTCOM after the Kashmir war. This empowered the pre-capitalist elite and stunted the development of the capitalists of Pakistan as they took over less capital from the British than their Indian counterparts, and were correspondingly less powerful. After partition most of the industrialized and resource-rich provinces lay in India as did most of Britain’s military industries and Imperial infrastructure. India inherited naval power, which Pakistan did not have. All of these factors worked to cripple Pakistan, whose semi-feudal elite were horrified by the class struggle taking place worldwide and did whatever they could get away with to remain in power. The Pakistani bourgeoisie tagged along as willing running dogs to this militarist class of rulers, while acting as a safety valve to vent out peasant and petty bourgeois frustration from time to time. India simply exacerbated Pakistan’s hopeless situation and sped its absorption into British and American imperialism. This is still the case today. The mechanism of Partition continues to operate, with all its devastating consequences for the working people of the subcontinent.

It is now clear what the dynamics of 1947 truly were. The revolutionary process in India was born and grew not because of the bourgeoisie but in spite of it. The bourgeoisie was forced to take up a radical position and come closer to the line of revolution simply to save its own skin. This was an act of betrayal in which they had the fullest connivance of British imperialism acting behind the scenes to destroy the Indian revolution, and in a larger context to stop the Asian revolution from reaching India. The Indian bourgeoisie usurped power from the poor peasants and workers it pretended to represent, and has since then been wielding power with their manufactured consent. But to manufacture and keep this consent they had to make concessions. These led to some of the major changes demanded by the bourgeois revolution, but also prevented a complete combined revolution. At the same time a huge portion of the Indian subcontinent in Pakistan was thrown open to foreign imperialism and left perennially hostage to semi-feudal relics from the past. In other words, Indian independence in 1947 appears in many ways to be a deformed Socialist revolution, stunted at the democratic level. It has allowed the Indian bourgeoisie to become obscenely rich, and to bask in wealth and power nationally and internationally, while the masses of South Asia who create all its wealth languish in desperate poverty and crushing backwardness.

Contradictions of the Libyan revolution and parallels with Bangladesh 1971


Introduction:

The events in Libya today have posed to the Bolshevik Leninist Left have posed a most complex set of questions. The uprising inLibya, coupled with its unique position in the African continent and the Arab world, and the fact of a civil war breaking out only exacerbate the intensity of the situation. One of the defining features of any sound Bolshevik Leninist analysis is that it bases itself on the very fundamentals of Marxism never deviating from the principled positions which it enshrines. Part of this is harboring a historical perspective of struggle based on an analysis of class conflict. Understanding the class forces inLibyaand viewing the present civil war and the imperialist intervention from this viewpoint would be indispensable. So far the left has been conspicuous by the absence of these perspectives in understanding the situation inLibya. One of the angles hitherto explored has been to seek out comparable historical parallels. Whilst still missing from an analysis focusing on the national contradictions of Libya itself, this may still serve to sharpen a class understanding from an international and historic perspective.

Historicalparallels: –

Before continuing with which historic parallels are being compared to the Libyan situation let’s briefly describe the situation inLibyaas it stands. The uprising inLibyabegan in the early part of the year along with the protests and uprisings inEgypt,Tunisia,SyriaandAlgeria. It was part of a pan Arabic movement spanning two continents with its aftershocks being felt in the Balkans right at the heart of Europe (there were widespread protests in Albania shortly after the Tunisian uprising).Egypt and Tunisia saw the fall of the autocracies in power and opened up a new phase of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. The Libyan regime was by far the most difficult to overcome and remains so till date. The Libyan struggle began with urban uprisings concentrated mostly in the Eastern part of the country which challenged the rule of the Gaddafi regime. The Arab revolution was accelerated with the events in Egypt which reached a climax with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Libya was not going to be alienated from these and consequently the struggle in Libya intensified, with the intensification of the “peaceful” protests in the western urban centers culminating in the present civil war situation after Gaddafi’s crackdown. Throughout the period of struggle till date what was most evident was the absence of revolutionary leadership which could develop a strong anti-imperialist perspective and consistently struggle for a revolutionaryLibya. Not only that but there was hardly the presence of any non-revolutionary progressive forces either which was present in Egypt and is now emerging as the decisive leading force in the revolution in Egypt today.  These adverse factors coupled with the fact of a civil war situation and a region wide revolutionary wave, meant that the deficit in leadership would only be exacerbated. These adverse factors have resulted in the mantle of leadership being donned by defecting sectors of Gaddafi’s regime. These are sections of the Libyan bourgeois who have quite obviously fallen out of  favor with Gaddafi and are overtly keen on developing closer relationship with world imperialism. It should be noted that amongst the leaders of the TNC (the Transitional National Council set up as a parallel rebel held government inLibya) is Gaddafi’s eldest sons who was the pioneer ofLibya’s pro-imperialist reforms. Thus, what began as a popular revolt against the regime became hijacked by the reactionary forces of a section of the Libyan bourgeoisie organized in the TNC and actively backed by imperialism from Europe and theUSA. Whilst the participation of the imperialists at the initial stages were peripheral strictly speaking, it soon changed to direct and active intervention beginning with the entry of British special forces on Libyan soil with the objective of “aiding” the rebels. Events soon spilled over to what became an inter-imperialist competition over Libya with China, India, Russia and Brazil voting against the UN resolution on the no-fly zone and the NATO ‘humanitarian’ intervention. Within Libya the leadership of the TNC only kept on showing its reactionary character which by now was openly welcoming the imperialist intervention. This was done in stark contradiction to the wishes of the people ofLibyathemselves who were very clear on maintaining their independence from imperialism. (This was evident from banners being raised inTripoliand other liberated cities). Events thereafter have only seen the intensification of the imperialist backed offensive on Libya and progressively greater participation of the NATO forces as well as that of theUSA. As of now it seems from reports that the ‘rebels’ backed now by the NATO are winning the civil war against Gaddafi with cities after cities falling to rebel forces. In addition to that an interesting pattern is emerging with the imperial forces wanting greater control over the cities which fall to rebel hands. The actions of the NATO in Misrata point to this direction. Thus, we see a progressive change in the situation in Libya beginning from the months of urban uprisings, its subsequent crackdown by the regime forces, the recourse of the rebellion to arms, the subsequent constrictions faced by the rebel forces leading to capitulation by their bourgeois leadership, the eventual entry of western imperialist forces (complemented by the near simultaneous exit of sub-imperial powers from the scene), and ending in the present malaise where decisive power is under threat of falling completely into imperialist hands.

In short the course of the Libyan revolution hitherto is summarized by the chain of events aforementioned. Let’s now, compare it with the parallels that being dealt with as of now. Most of us in the Bolshevik Leninist left would immediately liken the task of constructing a defeatist position in re imperialism as well as Gaddafi going by Lenin’s tactics in relation to Kerensky. Indeed this was the first parallel that has been weighed in against the realities ofLibya. But how far is this applicable? Let’s consider the following:

a) The defense of the Kerensky regime by the Bolsheviks in Russia was done considering the fact of a successful democratic revolution overturning the Czarist regime. Should Kornilov have been allowed to win against the government; the gains of the democratic revolution would have been undone, thereby destroying the possibility of a further advance towards a socialist revolution. To use this parallel to defend Gaddafi against the imperialist attack I feel is preposterous. Firstly, unlike Russia in February, the Libyan proletariat has yet to see the success of a revolution to even that of Egyptian levels. Secondly, the prime forces of reaction inLibya’s case are those of NATO and the EU imperialists which are external and not internal as was the case with Kornilov in Russia which represented a national threat emerging from within Russia.

b) The defense of Kerensky was objectively speaking a military defense of the democratic bourgeois regime which was formed from the February revolution. It was never an unconditional defense of the regime per se . In Libyawe see a nation threatened by imperialist invasion and imperialist occupation which demands revolutionaries to unconditionally defend the independent non-imperialist regime. Unconditional defense but never should it be uncritical. On the contrary we are duty bound to be critical in our defense of national struggles especially in situations like Libyawhere we are faced with a counter revolutionary force in the leadership of the defense of the nation-state, in Libyanamely that of Gaddafi and his forces. There are going to be obvious differences between the military defense of Kerensky and the much wider anti-imperialist defencism applying to a semi colonial nation resisting imperialism. Here a more fitting parallel that can be drawn is with that of Trotsky’s defense of Haille Selassie against that of Italian Imperialism (Not Fascism. The distinction has value here but that maybe highlighted in a different context).

As discussed, the parallel between the Libyan situation and that of Ethiopiain the 1930s still has some relevance. It holds relevance to the extent that Ethiopiawas a country in the periphery of capitalism resisting an imperialist invasion. Haille Selassie was the king of Ethiopiaruling by ‘divine sanction’. In every manner of speaking the rule was reactionary in nature. Despite that Trotsky upheld the commitment towards the defense of oppressed nations in the face of an imperialist threat which is characteristic of Bolshevik political praxis. Most in defense of Gaddafi in Libyatoday in the Bolshevik Leninist left would swear by this example, defending the national sovereignty of semi colonial nations against an imperialist offensive. However, there are many hidden dangers of taking up this precedent without scrutiny of the objective realities facing us in any particular situation. In Libya’s case the first question arises in the comparison with Haille Selassie. To what extent can we consider Gaddafi, the harbinger of “Islamic socialism” and the Libya’s 2nd anti-imperialist revolution (against the proxy monarchy of 1961) comparable to Haille Selassie, the theocratic ruler ofEthiopia? Both led the struggle to resist imperialist aggression, but that is where the similarities end. The second and more pressing question which arises here centers on the fact that the imperialists inLibya aren’t in the actual process of occupation ofLibya unlike what the Italians were engaged with inEthiopia in 1935. When there is indeed no actual occupation of Libyan land, no direct threat from the imperialists themselves, where we indeed see the imperialists functioning as an ancillary to the much more immediately visible force of the rebel trans national council, how can we draw the same tactics of defencism which apply to the situation of direct imperialist aggression (Ethiopia) to that of indirect imperialist intervention (Libya)? What is important for us to consider in both cases, is how the masses in both situations would relate to the respective situations. We can’t put the same set of demands and transitional slogans in both cases. Even more complex is the fact of the nature of the regime of Gaddafi inLibya which must be taken into consideration. When considering all these factors it becomes quite clearly evident that comparisons withEthiopia and defending Haille Selassie become impressionistic at best and treacherously misleading at worst. On this point we may move to right off a comparison between Libya and China on similar grounds, since yet again we are dealing with regimes which are of a different nature and a situation with several fundamentally different dynamics, not to mention the active presence of Stalinism as a political force with mass support. No such force exists inLibya today in the same degree of power. There is however, a lot of international support for Gaddafi from the Castroist camp and the subjective element of Chinese Stalinism/Maoism might as well be tacitly present from China’s end, but notwithstanding this the active role of Stalinism in determining the course of Libyan events presently is marginal to say the least.

Another comparison which was both historically and geographically closer to that ofLibyawas put forward in the example ofIran. However, there are hardly any immediately noticeable comparisons one can draw from that apart from hypothetical situations which involve a similar imperialist intervention in Iran. But in the absence of such a situation actually happening or have happened it is indeed difficult to draw a proper comparison. Nevertheless the general viewpoint of defencism applying to a nation in the periphery of Capitalism like Iran in the face of an imperialist intervention would still hold.

The Bangladesh parallel: –

One of the least explored parallels in the ongoing discussions onLibyais that of the Bangladesh Liberation war of 1971, this despite the striking similarity of events in the two. In view of how little is known about this formative event in the national and political history of billion-strong working class, peasantry and rural poor of South Asia, it’s worth examining in some detail.

The Bangladesh Liberation war was the bloodiest and most deep-reaching chapter in the post-independence history of the Indian sub-continent, and by far the largest war ever fought in the 20th century inIndia. Simultaneously, it was a tragic betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of the masses of Bengal. A betrayal and defeat imposed upon a magnificent victory. The events preceding the war itself were no less dramatic.

The present nation-state of Bangladesh was preceded by the province of East Pakistanwhich was the province of East Bengal since the first partition of Bengal in 1905. Abloody war of independence began in 1971 which led to the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan.  However, the events of 1971 in East Bengalshould more correctly be viewed as a culmination of the democratic struggles which preceded it in the decades of the 50s and 60s. The first big mass mobilizations occurred in 1954 around the compulsory introduction of Urdu as the state language in Pakistan, both in its eastern and western wing. The Bengali masses, who were the majority of what was called East Pakistan took to this move by the Pakistani state bitterly, primarily because the language of the majority of the people in the province was Bengali and few knew or understood Urdu which is primarily spoken in Punjab and other western provinces of Pakistan. It must be noted that the same period saw the emergence of the first military dictatorship in Pakistan in 1958, partly as a reaction to the defeats incurred by the Pakistan army in its war with India over Kashmir. The bourgeoisie of Pakistan felt threatened by a decidedly superior military to its east, and quite naturally took to the support and shelter of the US and UK as a counter to India. At the same time the threat of the working class and peasantry began to emerge from the struggle going on in the East. The forces of Western imperialism supported the regime and its clampdown on the democratic struggles. The launching of the language movement in East Pakistan became the forerunner to the later democratic struggles which would arise inPakistanconcluding in the massive struggles in the late 60s. This struggle succeeded and opened up a whole new chapter of class struggle in Bengal and the sub-continent.

At the same time that East Bengal arose in revolt against the Pakistani state, the peasantry inWest Bengal arose in struggle demanding land reforms. Both struggles were brutally crushed down by the state machinery in both countries. In the coming decades the political interactions between the avante garde radicalized petty bourgeois of West Bengal in Calcutta would come more and more in contact with a new generation of revolutionists in East Pakistan based from Dhaka. The Naxalite movement which began with the Naxalbari insurrection in1964 inWest Bengal gave a new impetus to peasant struggles all over the sub-continent and inspired similar insurrectionary movements in East Bengal. By this time the whole of the sub-continent was undergoing a wave of class struggles and in particular heightened militancy from the working class. The stunning victories of the anti-US Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968 started another wave of class struggles world over, a wave which reached the borders of the sub-continent and in particular Pakistan. By this time the relation between the eastern and western provinces of Pakistan had soured beyond repair. The calamity caused by the Bhola Cyclone of 1969 and the apathetic reaction of the Pakistani state to the sufferings of the masses there was the last straw. In addition to this an emergent Communist movement was seen throughout Pakistan and the sub-continent which posed a dire threat to the bourgeoisie of India and Pakistan.

The two most popular parties in East Pakistan were the Communist Party led by Moni Singh and the National Awami Party led by the left wing populist leader Maulana Bhasani. At the time of the national elections inPakistanthe majority of the population and the largest component of the parliament was the province of East Pakistan. Notwithstanding this, the Pakistani state decided to deliberately crush the aspirations of the masses of the province and continue to disenfranchise them. The conflict between the representatives of East andWest Pakistanbecame evident in western leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s opposition to the candidature of Sheik Mujibur Rahman in the east. For the bourgeoisie in Pakistan, the province of East Pakistanwas nothing more than an exploitable reserve for raw material. One of the chief money-spinners to emerge in Pakistan was the textile and jute industry which was based on the resources available in East Pakistan. The factories however were located mostly inWest Pakistan. The experiences of the democratic struggles of the past in addition to the economic realities of East Pakistanwould culminate in 1971 leading to its independence.

The national elections ofPakistantook place in 1969 and the two most popular parties i.e. the Communist party and the NAP of Bhasani decided to boycott polls. This opened the way for the Awami League party of Mujibur Rahman. Once the counting began, it became evident that the Awami League would win the majority of seats in the assembly. Using the usual undemocratic method of a bourgeois democracy in crisis, the Pakistani establishment reacted to this electoral victory by declaring a state of emergency and making way for a military dictatorship under General Yahya Khan. In addition the defeats thePakistanarmy suffered at the hands of the Indian army and mounting military expenditures pushedPakistanto the brink of a socio-economic crisis. Almost immediately after the military coup, the state made a bloody retaliatory clampdown on the people of East Pakistan. Operation Searchlight was carried out to ‘restore order’ by attacking the ‘anti-national forces’ operating out of Dhaka, the most important city in East Pakistan. It is estimated that 5,000-35,000 people either died or disappeared during the course of the operation, which was specifically targeted the most advanced elements of East Pakistani society. The mass persecution of rebellious forces in East Pakistan spread into the countryside. This instigated an armed revolt from the masses.

The first forces to respond were the Maoist rebels in the countryside.  Siraj Shikder was the Maoist leader inEast Pakistan. The course of the national liberation struggle simultaneously saw a split in the Maoist movement in the sub-continent as the People’s Republic of China sided with the Pakistani state as part of their strategy to containIndia. Nevertheless, the Maoist forces in East Pakistan remained focused on the goal of national liberation of Bangladesh, and continued to resist the assault of the Pakistani army inEast Pakistan. By the middle of 1971 the rebel army had made it almost impossible for the Pakistani establishment to continue any semblance of authority. The leadership of the Awami League fled into India and set up a parallel government with the active backing of the Indian state. The Communist Party of India gave support to the rebels in East Pakistan as well as aid in handling the massive flow of war refugees who were fleeing into the Indian state ofWest Bengal. Whilst India was initially reluctant to intervene directly in the war, the continuous flow of refugees burdened the state ofWest Bengal. This situation in juxtaposition to the ever-growing instability in eastern India influenced the subsequent decision of the Indian state to intervene militarily in the conflict in East Pakistan. By the middle of 1971 Indiawas actively aiding and fuelling the rebellion inEast Pakistan, and helped in the creation of the Mukti Bahini which became the main military machinery of the rebels.

The military intervention of Indiain the conflict was a logical culmination of events. This was an early instance of the modern pretext of “humanitarian intervention” to cover aggressive expansionism. All-out military intervention took place only at the fag end of the war in December 3rd 1971. This was a final blow to the teetering Pakistani army and led to the surrender of 91,000 Pakistani soldiers, which was the largest surrender of any force since the 2nd world war. Dhaka was placed under the command of the Indian military for a time and the nascent armed forces ofBangladesh became an arm of the Indian state. Whilst the losses to the Indian armed forces were light compared to the Pakistani side and the Bengali militia army, the Pakistani crackdown had resulted in the deaths of up to 3 million Bengali civilians. The military intervention ofIndia achieved several goals at one strike. On the one hand, it was a massive display of Indian military power on a regional level – “shock and awe” – whilst on the other;  it created a proxy regime of the Indian state on its eastern frontier. The victory of the rebels over Pakistan and the independence of Bangladesh opened a vital corridor for India to penetrate into South East Asia, and consolidate its hold over north easternIndia. It enhanced India’s prestige on an international level and concretized the emerging alliance with the Soviet Union. For the people of Bangladesh, it meant the super-imposition of the Indian bourgeoisie’s own puppet government in complete conflict with the socialistic aspirations of the people ofBangladesh. The victory of liberation soon turned sour as the new government headed by Mujib turned into a one party state giving the Awami League an authoritarian control of the country.

It was however deemed a National government and was joined by the Communist Party and the National Awami Party. The Communist party’s cadre was continually persecuted by the new regime which also unleashed a wave of repression against leftist forces inBangladesh. The highlight of this dark period was the killing of 4 activists who supportedVietnamin police fire and the killing of the Maoist leader Siraj Shikder. To add to the woes of the nascent government, a crippling famine took place inBangladeshwhich led to a million deaths. The famine was the last straw and led to the collapse of the Mujib government and subsequently to his assassination by a section of the Bangladesh Army. A military coup led by general Zia ul Haq followed a failed attempt by the left wing military leader lieutenant Abu Taher and his party the Jatiya Samajtantrik Party to capture power. The events following 1971 sealed the fate of the country and destroyed the socialist struggle which was emerging from the democratic struggles there. Tendencies towards a socialist revolution had already begun to show during the course of events in the run up to all-out war in 1971 with organs of dual power emerging in East Pakistan and Karachi in 1969. After the famine of 1974 another wave of mass upheavals rocked Bangladesh culminating in a general strike in 1975 thanks in good part to the activities of Siraj Shikder in the countryside. He was assassinated soon after the failed uprising of 1975. The dictatorship of General Zia Ul Haq followed this, and thereafter another military dictatorship by General Ershad.

Some conclusions:

From the above overview of the events of the Bangladesh liberation struggle we may draw some conclusions regarding the present struggle in Libya.

1) The national liberation of Bangladesh began as a just democratic struggle which tended towards a socialist revolution. Following the foreign intervention (byIndia) a comprador bourgeoisie was allowed to hijack the entire process and ultimately undermine and destroy the struggle for a revolutionaryBangladesh. In Libya at present, such a process of imperialist sponsored hijacking is underway which threatens to derail the revolutions not only inLibyaitself but in North Africa andWest Asia.

2)  The Bangladesh liberation war saw a wide split in the left globally along the lines drawn between Maoism and Soviet-based Stalinism. But with this question was clubbed the question of defencism and defeat. Though the aspects of defeatism and defencism were more peripheral in relation to the question of national liberation, it is most definitely emerging as a central question in case of the present Libyan struggle. Libya like Pakistanis a highly stratified society composed of various tribal factions with dramatically varying degrees of loyalty to the Gaddafi regime. While the geographic difficulties aren’t as overarching for Libya as they were for Pakistan(whose eastern and western provinces were separated by over2000 milesofIndian Territory), the stratification of Libyan society would necessarily prove problematic. As of now the most problematic question before the left is in relation to calling for the defense or the defeat of Gaddafi. To be fair, Gaddafi and the old Libyan state cannot be compared to that of Pakistan. Among other things, the Libyan state in its present form emerged from struggles against imperialist oppression, whilst Pakistan itself was a product of imperialism and for much of its life has been a carrier of imperialism regionally and beyond. Deciding whether to call for the defeat of Pakistan in its war against the justified national liberation struggle of the Bengali people would not have been a very difficult question in that context, notwithstanding the direct intervention of India. However, when it comes to the defense of Libya against imperialist attacks by the EU and NATO, a whole historical question is brought to the fore which of necessity must include the past struggles of Libya against imperialism in which Gaddafi played a role of critical importance. From this would emerge a fairer more balanced characterization of the present struggle. The defense of the independent state of Libya against the forces of imperialism as such cannot, in my opinion be extended to the defense of the regime headed by Colonel Gaddafi. If that were so, why not defend Pakistan to the point of opposing the national liberation of Bangladesh?

3) It is a fact that during the 1971 war India also used military force against the western wing of Pakistan. Recently exposed documents reveal that Indira Gandhi had detailed plans for the complete annexation of Pakistan and held back only after the warnings of the Soviet premier who was under pressure from US president Nixon! To draw a parallel between this situation and that of Libya, we would stand opposed to the Indian aggression againstPakistanin the west which was directed towards securing Indian ambitions of imperialism. We would also stand against the Indian intervention in the eastern flank of Pakistan and oppose the treaties between India and the new regime inBangladeshwhich sought to subjectBangladeshto Indian interests. Similarly, in Libya we stand against the imperialist intervention of the EU and NATO. We are steadfastly opposed to this attempt to hijack and derail the struggles of the Arab peoples. But that should not stop us from identifying these struggles from a historical point of view as a democratic struggle against Gaddafi’s authoritarian regime. The regime has by now clearly lost all its progressive features. The struggle as it stands in Libya is inextricably linked with the processes which emerged inEgyptmonths earlier which tend towards a socialist revolution. To deny the validity of the present democratic struggle in Libya is to deny its potential evolution into a socialist struggle. As of now the two greatest enemies of the revolution inLibyaare the imperialist camp and its proxy Trans National Council. But this does not change the chief content of the struggle against the Gaddafi regime. Just as the chief content of the struggle in East Pakistan was for the liberation of Bangladesh.

Should we revolutionaries dissociate ourselves from the fundamental content of a struggle our chances of securing the leadership of the masses would be zilch! The course of the struggle of the Libyan masses determines our position in the revolutionary struggle, which is nothing less than a struggle with the forces of the compradors of the TNC and the petty bourgeois leadership of Gaddafi for the leadership of the Libyan masses. Our struggle inLibyalike everywhere else is the struggle for revolutionary leadership. And by virtue of historic necessity, it forces us to align ourselves with the struggle to overthrow the Gaddafi regime which has been and remains the overarching goal of the ongoing Libyan revolution. In Bangladesh the struggle for liberation was achieved in success despite the fact of the Indian intervention, and despite the fact of the subservience of the bourgeois forces toIndia. The realization of an independent Bengali nation overthrowing the oppression of the Pakistani state was great progressive achievement of the people which would have naturally transcended further, but was held back. The same forces which led the liberation struggle ultimately ended up betraying it. The same would be expected from the forces which now lead the TNC  in Libya and would behave no differently. The Libyan masses however, are not so easy to tame, more so owing to the fragmented nature of Libyan society and inter-tribal rivalries. The Libyan masses must brace themselves now for a new round of struggles once; Gaddafi is defeated, to the new imperialist proxies which lead the Trans National Council.

Our differences with the Delhi comrades on the Kashmir issue

[ The text herein was printed in our 1st edition of the regular edition newsletter available locally. This is a part of our continuing open debates on Kashmir and the national question. We welcome the statement by the Delhi New Wave group on Kashmir as an important initiative to get the debate on this issue under way (the link to the text of the Delhi section is : http://new-wave-nw.blogspot.com/2010/11/resolution-on-present-situation-in.html ). We don’t fully agree with their statement and hope we have stated our position clearly enough to carry forward the discussion in and between the New Wave groups in a productive and comradely fashion. This document was published after 2 months of serious discussions and research on the Kashmir question and the question of National Liberation. We welcome any feedback on our texts on Kashmir and on the newsletter itself. ]

The National Question has been the subject of one of the most heated debates within the New wave. Recently, the debate sharpened with the Kashmir struggle as its focal point. On the 31st of October 2010, the Delhi section came out with a resolution on Kashmir which opposed the liberation movement of Kashmir on various grounds. We were opposed to this resolution and dissented by bringing out our own statement on Kashmir on the 6th of December. Our position was to unconditionally support the Kashmiri people in their struggle against the oppression of the Indian state.The National Question itself has always been a contentious issue for the left internationally. The National Question was developed and sharpened by Lenin and Trotsky in the early half of the twentieth century. Before them they had the rich experience of the Russian revolution where the National Question was posed14in the most complex manner. This is not to say that Lenin and Trotsky didn‘t face opposition. Among the spectrum of opposition to the Bolshevik Leninist Position was the sectarian approach towards National Liberation criticized harshly by Trotsky in his polemic on the Ukrainian question. We see many similarities between the position held by the sectarian wing of the 4th international at the time and the present position of the Delhi section.

We would like to specify the areas of disagreement with the Delhi comrades over the National Question.The following issues on the general idea of self determination:

1) The alleged dichotomy between right to self determination and secession:Lenin and Trotsky were very clear on this question and in this context the question of supporting and not supporting the fight of oppressed nationalities. For Lenin and Trotsky, the national question was of immense importance and was treated with the greatest sympathy and support towards oppressed nationalities. The question of the right of self determination was never divorced in the abstract from its realization even in the ultimate form of secession. The actual attitude of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky is shown their treatment of the oppressed nationalities around Russia. Lenin supported the right to self determination ―up to secession‖. The comrades of the Delhi section however, opine the two may be separated and that the right to self determination may be supported without supporting secession even when the majority of the populace are decisively in favour of secession which today is the case in Kashmir. In our opinion it is meaningless and disingenuous not to support secession in actual practice when claiming to support it in words.

2) Position of the National Question in the wider historical Socialist Struggle:There is a reason why revolutionaries support the national struggles notwithstanding the obvious disadvantages in the formation of small nation-states. National liberation represents an unfinished task of the bourgeois democratic revolution and as it stands is of immense strategic importance for the revolution both on a national basis as well as on a global basis. For the success of the revolution it is of decisive importance to gain the support of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie. Whilst the revolution we aim at is emphatically a socialist revolution establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, bourgeois democratic goals nevertheless get entwined in this struggle where they are yet unresolved. Self determination for oppressed groups is one such key bourgeois democratic goal which in our epoch falls upon the shoulders of the proletariat for its resolution.For the success of the Socialist revolution it is imperative we secure the support of the non-proletarian classes of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie. Support for the national struggle is as much a strategic/tactical question here as a question of principle. ―A country that oppresses can never itself be free‖. As long as the comrades of the Delhi section do not take the living dynamics of the historical class struggle into account, they are inevitably caught in an abstract view of the proletariat and consequently fail to understand the importance of National Struggles.

3) Confusing understanding of the socio-political forces in Kashmir and their roles:Whilst the above two areas of disagreement refer to more general and deep rooted differences of understanding over the national question, a more specific disagreement is over the understanding of classes and parties and their role in Kashmir. Firstly, confusion is created in the vague presentation of who or what precisely constitutes the ―Big Bourgeoisie‖ and where and how foreign capital comes in. To justify the confusion an abstract picture of an ―Asian game‖ is created in which Kashmir is a mere pawn.Weaker still is the exposition of the role of the Indian bourgeois and its oppressive role in Kashmir. The traditional Bolshevik treatment of an oppressor nation is the harshest possible condemnation of its oppression of weaker nations. The resolution not only fails to condemn the oppressive role of the Indian bourgeois in Kashmir — it fails to even mention the Indian bourgeoisie as the foremost oppressor in Kashmir. What is implicit in the whole resolution though not mentioned overtly is an implied condemnation of the whole struggle for freedom in favour of defending the interests of the Indian bourgeois. Such a stance is dangerously close to Dominant Nation Chauvinism. We share the disgust and anger of Lenin and Trotsky at Dominant Nation Chauvinism – here in the form of Indian chauvinism – and sharply criticize even the slightest hint of it. For this reason we are astonished that the resolution of the Delhi section fails to condemn the Indian bourgeoisie in the harshest terms.Finally, and this is very important for our own concrete intervention in the struggle in Kashmir, the confusions arising from the resolution are compounded by the absence of demands and the total lack of the transitional perspective essential to a Bolshevik Leninist approach.

Statement on the Kashmir struggle

Statement on the Kashmir struggle:

Recent development in Kashmir, particularly in the past 4-5 years have brought back the Kashmir question to the fore and posed it sharper than ever. Beginning with the protests surrounding the Shopian Double Murder case and the landmark State Transport Corporations Strikes which garnered the support of hundreds of thousands of workers, we are witnessing a heightened tension in the valley as the masses advance further and further towards self determination. Counter posed to this advance is the increased suppression of dissent at the hands of the Indian state. The past 6 months have seen over a hundred Kashmiri youth falling victim to indiscriminate firing by the security forces stationed in the valley. These acts were committed with the intent of curbing peaceful protests in the valley against Indian occupation. In the light of these events we express unconditional support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self determination.

For the self determination of Kashmir! :

The occupation of Kashmir has been brutal, treacherous and unjust. The democratic aspirations of the people of Kashmir have been continuously denied by the Indian ruling class time and again. The democratic aspirations of the Kashmiri people which began in the form of pro democracy movements pitted against the repressive and reactionary monarchy in Kashmir has today resurfaced against an equally oppressive rule at the hands of India. In 1948 in the aftermath of the first Indo-Pak war, it was agreed by UN mandate that Kashmiris would be allowed a plebiscite to decide accession to either India or Pakistan in a democratic manner. Notwithstanding repeated false promises from Nehru to hold such a plebiscite, the accession of Kashmir into India at the hands of the Maharaja was accepted as the valid instrument of accession without regard to the aspirations of the Kashmiri people themselves. Farce elections were made the norm in Kashmir in which the central government would conduct “tailor made” rigged elections to keep their prized proxy the National Conference in power in the state and through them exercise its own influence. Repeatedly, the NC proved itself to be an instrument of the Indian ruling classes serving the needs of occupation of the Kashmir. The question of a plebiscite still hangs on in the air retaining its validity as Kashmir’s self determination stands unresolved. However, over time the original demand for plebiscite has lots some of its relevance owing to changes both nationally and internationally. For the fulfillment of the aspirations of the Kashmiri people towards self determination it is imperative a plebiscite be held to decide whether the Kashmiri people want secession or not. However, for this a new instrument of plebiscite must be charted out taking into consideration the renewed aspirations of the Kashmiri people which aims beyond accession to either India or Pakistan.

Out with the troops! :

The presence of the occupational troops in Kashmir is the main foundation upon which the Indian state establishes its control over Kashmir. The fallout of the continued occupation is felt by the Kashmiri people on a daily basis who are subjected to repeated harassment and abuse at the hands of the Indian occupational force. Terror, murder and torture have become routine affairs for the Kashmiri people. The death toll of the occupation has already reached around 100000 in the last 20 years with thousands more if the years preceding the insurgency be considered. Forced disappearances, rape, torture are some of the many methods used by the security forces in the region to maintain its hold in Kashmir. In the light of the above it is imperative that there be a total troop withdrawal from Kashmir as well as an abolition of the authoritarian laws like AFSPA which shield the troops from any legal action after human rights abuses. Additionally we demand that the strategically vital affair of defense and security be left to the prerogative of the Kashmiri people themselves and not to the hands of the Indian state to decide for them. Additionally we demand that all those who have fallen victims to the excesses of security forces, be compensated adequately and a trial be held for those responsible for perpetrating such crimes against humanity.

Down with the Indian proxy! :

Since the start of the occupation of Kashmir, the Kashmiri bourgeois and their chief Political formation the National Conference have played the most treacherous role in the region paving the way for continued Indian occupation of Kashmir and courting silence at the indiscriminate human rights violations being perpetrated by the security forces stationed there. The National Conference exists in Kashmir solely under warrant from its supreme leaders stationed in Delhi under the Indian national Congress and its Bonapartist leadership. Its primary function is not towards the masses of peasants, workers and petty bourgeois of Kashmir but towards the interests of the Indian bourgeoisie dictating its policies via its main political instrument the Congress and legislative power based in Delhi. The National Conference is in essence the main enemy of the Kashmiri people within Kashmir.

Abolish the Indus Water Treaty! For a New Water Sharing agreement!

During the Great Game between Russia and England for control over Asia a series of unequal treaties were meted out with China which gave effective control of huge regions of China to either Russian or British hands. The Indus water Treaty is like these unequal treaties in history giving the Indian bourgeois effective control over waters flowing into the Punjab river basin and effective control over Kashmiri waters thereby affecting Kashmir and Pakistan. The net effect of the treaty is drainage of wealth from Kashmir to India and a deliberate constriction of Kashmir’s potential for infrastructural development.

We demand that negotiations be started with the Indian state to abolish this unequal treaty and a new treaty be drafted of water sharing taking into consideration the needs of the Kashmiri people and by extension fulfilling the needs of all the people of the Punjab basin! The independence of Kashmir would open up a whole new avenue for the formation of a just water sharing treaty which would cater to the needs of both the Kashmiri people as well as the Pakistani people thereby nullifying the negative effects of the treaty and making it easier to irrigate the whole basin, control the occurrence of floods and make good any damage they cause.

For an independent Constituent Assembly! :

The demand for a Constituent assembly is a basic demand for any oppressed nation struggling for independence. In the present legal set up the Kashmiri national assembly has an existence which is essentially constricted by myriad legal obligations imposed by the Indian state. Add to this legal complexity, the political stranglehold held by the Congress in Kashmir working through its allies, the National Conference, the independence of the legislative body gets reduced to a mere farce. This cannot possibly be a valid realization of the democratic aspirations of the Kashmiri people and it is imperative that the Constituent assembly be freed of its constraints to legislate in all matters relating to Kashmir. The present Legislative Assembly created by the consent of the Indian ruling class would never act in the interests of the Kashmiri people and as it is would continue to remain under constraints imposed by the mother body in India. We therefore, demand the formation of a new Constituent Assembly formed by the peasants and workers of Kashmir which would work first and foremost towards securing the self determination of the Kashmiri people and independence from India Thereafter, moving towards the full expropriation of all large landed estates and estates of the big Kashmiri bourgeois families and large Indian owned estates without Compensation and nationalization of resources. Whilst, the constituent assembly may be an instrument to attain independence, to ensure freedom it is imperative that the Kashmiri people have control over the life blood of Kashmir, its resources!

For a United Kashmir!

The creation of an independent united Kashmiri republic would then be free to decide its relations with nations bordering it as it deems fit. The slogan of Azaadi must therefore, stand for independence from India as well as Pakistan and China! Simultaneously, we appeal to the Kashmiri people not to have any false illusions on the vague promises of western imperialism. Any promise of support by western powers is necessarily contradictory and hypocritical and must be treated with suspicion. The fact that Obama appealed to India to “resolve” the Kashmir issue was enough to show that they are interested only in maintaining the status quo of occupation. The Indian state would be more than happy to effect such a communal division as it weakens and isolates the Kashmir struggle belittling it to the communal forte of a section of Kashmiri society against another. For the struggle for self determination to succeed it is imperative that it be carried out as a united struggle embracing each and every section of Kashmiri society and overcome communal divisions imposed by the occupation. Whilst, the most important immediate demand for the Kashmiri people is independence from Indian occupation, such freedom would be only half won without freedom from Capitalism as a whole. The Kashmiri struggle therefore needs to progress uninterruptedly from a democratic one to a socialist one. Aiming as its ultimate goal a Socialist Kashmir!United we stand and divided we fall. This is the principle for any successful movement and for any nation to be successful. The question of self determination of Kashmir isn’t the exclusive resolve of the people of Southern Kashmir under Indian occupation but of the whole of Kashmir and all Kashmiri people including those in Northern Kashmir ( under Pakistani occupation ) as well as Ladakh ( under joint occupation of China and India ) . For The new Kashmir which would emerge from the freedom movement, division among communal lines would mean death and re occupation. Indeed should the new Kashmir be divided communally between Hindu (South), Muslim (North and Central) and Buddhist (East) it will open up the possibility of a re occupation of Kashmir by India, Pakistan and China. The sacrifices of the Kashmiri people would have gone to waste replacing one oppressor with another. Furthermore, fuelling communal hatred in the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people only adds to the division of an already divided society.

Lenin on the national question

As a continuation of our series of documents on the question of national self determination we are publishing Three significant writings of Lenin on the national question.

The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.) APRIL 24–29, 1917

Resolution on the National Question

The policy of national oppression, inherited from the autocracy and monarchy; is maintained by the landowners, capitalists, and petty bourgeoisie in order to protect their class privileges and to cause disunity among the workers of the various nationalities. Modern imperialism, which increases the tendency to subjugate weaker nations, is a new factor intensifying national oppression.

The elimination of national oppression, if at all achievable in capitalist society, is possible only under a consistently democratic republican system and state administration that guarantee complete equality for all nations and languages.

The right of all the nations forming part of Russia freely to secede and form independent states must be recognised. To deny them this right, or to fail to take measures guaranteeing its practical realisation, is equivalent to supporting a policy of seizure or annexation. Only the recognition by the proletariat of the right of nations to secede can ensure complete solidarity among the workers of the various nations and help to bring the nations closer together on truly democratic lines.

The conflict which has arisen at the present time between Finland and the Russian Provisional Government strikingly demonstrates that denial of the right to free secession leads to a direct continuation of the policy of tsarism.

The right of nations freely to secede must not be confused with the advisability of secession by a given nation at a given moment. The party of the proletariat must decide the latter question quite independently in each particular case, having regard to the interests of social development as a whole and the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat for socialism.

The Party demands broad regional autonomy, the abolition of supervision from above, the abolition of a compulsory official language, and the fixing of the boundaries of the self-governing and autonomous regions in accordance with the economic and social conditions, the national composition of the population, and so forth, as assessed by the local population itself.

The party of the proletariat emphatically rejects what is known as “national cultural autonomy”, under which education, etc., is removed from the control of the state and put in the control of some kind of national diets. National cultural autonomy artificially divides the workers living in one locality, and even working in the same industrial enterprise, according to their various “national cultures”; in other words, it strengthens the ties between the workers and the bourgeois culture of their nations, whereas the aim of the Social-Democrats is to develop the international culture of the world proletariat.

The party demands that a fundamental law be embodied in the constitution annulling all privileges enjoyed by any one nation and all infringements of the rights of national minorities.

The interests of the working class demand that the workers of all nationalities in Russia should have common proletarian organisations: political, trade union, co-operative educational institutions, and so forth. Only the merging of the workers of the various nationalities into such common organisations will make it possible for the proletariat to wage a successful struggle against international Capital and bourgeois nationalism.

The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.)

APRIL 24–29, 1917

Speech on the National Question April 29 (May 12)

Beginning from 1903, when our Party adopted its programme, we have been encountering violent opposition on the part of the Polish comrades. If you study the Minutes of the Second Congress you will see that they were using the same arguments then that they are using now, and that the Polish Social-Democrats walked out from that Congress because they held that recognition of the right of nations to self-determination was unacceptable to them. Ever since then we have been coming up against the same question. Though imperialism already existed in 1903, the Polish Social-Democrats made no mention of it in their arguments. They are making the same strange and monstrous error now as they were then. These people want to put our Party’s stand on a par with that of the chauvinists.

Owing to long oppression by Russia, Poland’s policy is a wholly nationalist one, and the whole Polish nation is obsessed with one idea—revenge on the Muscovites. No one has oppressed the Poles more than the Russian people, who served in the hands of the tsars as the executioner of Polish freedom. In no nation does hatred of Russia sit so deep as with the Poles; no nation dislikes Russia so intensely as the Poles. As a result we have a strange thing. Because of the Polish bourgeoisie, Poland has become an obstacle to the socialist movement. The whole world could go to the devil so long as Poland was free. Of course, this way of putting the question is a mockery of internationalism. Of course, Poland is now a victim of violence, but for the Polish nationalists to count on Russia liberating Poland—that would be treason to the International. The Polish nationalists have  so imbued the Polish people with their views that this is how the situation is regarded in Poland.

The Polish Social-Democratic comrades have rendered a great historic service by advancing the slogan of internationalism and declaring that the fraternal union of the proletariat of all countries is of supreme importance to them and that they will never go to war for the liberation of Poland. This is to their credit, and this is why we have always regarded only these Polish Social-Democrats as socialists. The others are patriots, Polish Plekhanovs. But this peculiar position, when, in order to safeguard socialism, people were forced to struggle against a rabid and morbid nationalism, has produced a strange state of affairs: comrades come to us saying that we must give up the idea of Poland’s freedom, her right to secession.

Why should we Great Russians, who have been oppressing more nations than any other people, deny the right to secession for Poland, Ukraine, or Finland? We are asked to become chauvinists, because by doing so we would make the position of Social-Democrats in Poland less difficult. We do not pretend to seek to liberate Poland, because the Polish people live between two states that are capable of fighting. Instead of telling the Polish workers that only those Social-Democrats are real democrats who maintain that the Polish people ought to be free, since there is no place for chauvinists in a socialist party, the Polish Social-Democrats argue that, just because they find the union with Russian workers advantageous, they are opposed to Poland’s secession. They have a perfect right to do so. But people don’t want to understand that to strengthen internationalism you do not have to repeat the same words. What you have to do is to stress, in Russia, the freedom of secession for oppressed nations and, in Poland, their freedom to unite. Freedom to unite implies freedom to secede. We Russians must emphasise freedom to secede, while the Poles must emphasise freedom to unite.

We notice here a number of sophisms involving a complete renunciation of Marxism. Comrade Pyatakov’s stand repeats that of Rosa Luxemburg….[1] (Holland is an example.)  This is how Comrade Pyatakov reasons, and this is how he refutes himself, for in theory he denies freedom of secession, but to the people he says that anyone opposingfreedom of secession is not a socialist. Comrade Pyatakov has been saying things here that are hopelessly muddled.In Western Europe most countries settled their national questions long ago. It is Western Europe that isreferred when it is said that the national question has been settled. Comrade Pyatakov, however, puts this where itdoes notbelong—to Eastern Europe, and we find ourselves in a ridiculous position.

Just think of the dreadful mess that results! Finland is right next door to us. Comrade Pyatakov has no definite answer for Finland and gets all mixed up. In yesterday’sRabochaya Gazeta you read that the movement for separation is growing in Finland. Finns arriving here tell us that separatism is growing there because the Cadets refuse to grant the country complete autonomy. A crisis is approaching there, dissatisfaction with Governor-General Rodichev is rife, but Rabochaya Gazeta writes that the Finns should wait for the Constituent Assembly, because an agreement will there be reached between Finland and Russia. What do they mean by agreement? The Finns must declare that they are entitled to decide their destiny in their own way, and any Great Russian who denies this right is a chauvinist. It would be another thing if we said to the Finnish worker: Decide what is best for yourself….

Comrade Pyatakov simply rejects our slogan, saying that it means giving no slogan for the socialist revolution, but he himself gives no appropriate slogan. The method of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” is all muddled up. We have not succeeded in publishing the article in which I called this view “Imperialist Economism”.[3] What does the “method” of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” mean? We maintain that the state is necessary, and a state presupposes frontiers. The state, of course, may hold a bourgeois government, but we need the Soviets. But even Soviets are confronted with the question of frontiers. What does “Down with frontiers”  mean? It is the beginning of anarchy….The “method” of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” is simply a mess. When the time is ripe for socialist revolution, when it finally occurs, it will spread to other countries. We shall help it along, but in what manner, we do not know. “The method of socialist revolution” is just a meaningless phrase. We stand for the settlement of problems which the bourgeois revolution has left unsolved. Our attitude to the separatist movement is indifferent, neutral. If Finland, Poland or Ukraine secede from Russia, there is nothing bad in that. What is wrong with it? Anyone who says that is a chauvinist. One must be mad to continue Tsar Nicholas’s policy. Didn’t Norway secede from Sweden? Alexander I and Napoleon once bartered nations, the tsars once traded Poland. Are we to continue this policy of the tsars? This is repudiation of the tactics of internationalism, this is chauvinism at its worst. What is wrong with Finland seceding? After the secession of Norway from Sweden mutual trust increased between the two peoples, between the proletariat of these countries. The Swedish landowners wanted to start a war, but the Swedish workers refused to be drawn into such a war.

All the Finns want now is autonomy. We are for Finland receiving complete freedom, because then there will be greater trust in Russian democracy and the Finns will not separate. While Mr. Rodichev goes to Finland to haggle over autonomy, our Finnish comrades come here and say, “We want autonomy.” But what they get is a broadside, and the answer: “Wait for the Constituent Assembly.” But we say: “Any Russian socialist who denies Finland freedom is a chauvinist.”

We say that frontiers are determined by the will of the [local] population. Russia, don’t you dare fight over Kurland! Germany, get your armies out of Kurland! That is how we solve the secession problem. The proletariat cannot use force, because it must not prevent the peoples from obtaining their freedom. Only when the socialist revolution has become a reality, and not a method, will the slogan “Down with frontiers” be a correct slogan. Then we shall say: Comrades, come to us….

War is a different matter entirely. If need be, we shall not draw the line at a revolutionary war. We are not pacifists….  When we have Milyukov sitting here and sending Rodichev to Finland to shamefully haggle with the Finnish people,we say to the Russian people: Don’t you dare coerce Finland; no nation can be free that oppresses other nations. In the resolution concerning Borgbjerg we say: Withdraw your troops and let the nation settle the question itself. But, if the Soviet takes over power tomorrow, that will not be a “method of socialist revolution”, and we shall then say: Germany, get your troops out of Poland, and Russia, get your troops out of Armenia. If we did otherwise we should be deceiving people.

Comrade Dzerzhinsky tells us that in his oppressed Poland everybody is a chauvinist. But not a single Pole has said a word about Finland or Ukraine. We have been arguing over this so much since 1903 that it is becoming difficult to talk about it. Do as you please….Anyone who does not accept this point of view is an annexationist and a chauvinist. We are for a fraternal union of all nations. If there is a Ukrainian republic and a Russian republic, there will be closer contact and greater trust between the two. If the Ukrainians see that we have a Soviet republic, they will not secede, but if we have a Milyukov republic, they will. When Comrade Pyatakov said in self-contradiction that he is against the forcible retention of nations within the frontiers, he actually recognised the right of nations to self-determination. We certainly do not want the peasant in Khiva to live under the Khan of Khiva. By developing our revolution we shall influence the oppressed people. Propaganda among the oppressed mass must follow only this line.

Any Russian socialist who does not recognise Finland’s and Ukraine’s right to freedom will degenerate into a chauvinist. And no sophisms or references to his “method” will ever help him to justify himself.

Critical Remarks on the National Question

 


 

5. THE EQUALITY OF NATIONS AND THE RIGHTS OF NATIONAL MINORITIES

When they discuss the national question, opportunists in Russia are given to citing the example of Austria. In my article in Severnaya Pravda which the opportunists have attacked (Mr. Semkovsky in Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta and Mr. Liebman in Zeit), I asserted that, insofar as that is at all possible under capitalism, there was only one solution of the national question, viz., through consistent democracy. In proof of this, I referred, among other things, to Switzerland.

This has not been to the liking of the two opportunists mentioned above, who are trying to refute it or belittle its significance. Kautsky, we are told, said that Switzerland is an exception; Switzerland, if you please, has a special kind of decentralisation, a special history, special geographical conditions, unique distribution of a population that speak different languages, etc., etc.

All these are nothing more than attempts to evade the issue. To be sure, Switzerland is an exception in that she is not a single-nation state. But Austria and Russia are also exceptions (or are backward, as Kautsky adds). To be sure, it was only her special, unique historical and social conditions that ensured Switzerland greater democracy than most of her European neighbours.

But where does all this come in, if we are speaking of the model to be adopted? In the whole world, under present-day conditions, countries in which any particular institution has been founded on consistent democratic principles are the exception. Does this prevent us, in our programme, from upholding consistent democracy in all institutions?

Switzerland’s special features lie in her history, her geographical and other conditions. Russia’s special features lie in the strength of her proletariat, which has no precedent in the epoch of bourgeois revolutions, and in her shocking general backwardness, which objectively necessitates an exceptionally rapid and resolute advance, under the threat of all sorts of drawbacks and reverses.

We are evolving a national programme from the proletarian standpoint; since when has it been recommended that the worst examples, rather than the best, be taken as a model?

At all events, does it not remain an indisputable and undisputed fact that national peace under capitalism has been achieved (insofar as it is achievable) exclusively in countries where consistent democracy prevails?

Since this is indisputable, the opportunists’ persistent references to Austria instead of Switzerland are nothing but a typical Cadet device, for the Cadets always copy the worst European constitutions rather than the best.

In Switzerland there are three official languages, but bills submitted to a referendum are printed in five languages, that is to say, in two Romansh dialects, in addition to the three official languages. According to the 1900 census, these two dialects are spoken by 38,651 out of the 3,315,443 inhabitants of Switzerland, i.e., by a little over one per cent. In the army, commissioned and non-commissioned officers “are given the fullest freedom to speak to the men in their native language”. In the cantons of Graub\”unden and Wallis (each with a population of a little over a hundred thousand) both dialects enjoy complete equality.

The question is: should we advocate and support this, the living experience of an advanced country, or borrow from the Austrians inventions like “extra-territorial autonomy”, which have not yet been tried out anywhere in the world (and not yet been adopted by the Austrians themselves)?

To advocate this invention is to advocate the division of school education according to nationality, and that is a downright harmful idea. The experience of Switzerland  proves, however, that the greatest (relative) degree of national peace can be, and has been, ensured in practice where you have, a consistent (again relative) democracy throughout the state.

In Switzerland,” say people who have studied this question, “there is no national question in the East-European sense of the term. The very phrase (national, question) is unknown there….” “Switzerland left the struggle between nationalities a long way behind, in 1797–1803.”[3]

This means that the epoch of the great French Revolution, which provided the most democratic solution of the current problems of the transition from feudalism to capitalism,succeeded incidentally, en passant, in “solving” the national question.

Let the Semkovskys, Liebmans, and other opportunists now fry to assert that this “exclusively Swiss” solution is inapplicable to any uyezd or even part of an uyezd in Russia, where out of a population of only 200,000 forty thousand speak two dialects and want to have complete equality of language in their area!

Advocacy of complete equality of nations and languages distinguishes only the consistently democratic elements in each nation (i. e., only the proletarians), and unites them, not according to nationality, but in a profound and earnest desire to improve the entire system of state. On the contrary, advocacy of “cultural-national autonomy”, despite the pious wishes of individuals and groups, divides the nations and in fact draws the workers and the bourgeoisie of any one nation closer together (the adoption of this “cultural-national autonomy” by all the Jewish bourgeois parties).

Guaranteeing the rights of a national minority is inseparably linked up with the principle of complete equality. In my article in Severnaya Pravda this principle was ex pressed in almost the same terms as in the later, official and more accurate decision of the conference of Marxists. That decision demands “the incorporation in the constitution of a fundamental law which shall declare null and void all privileges enjoyed by any one nation and all infringements of the rights of a national minority”.

Mr. Liebman tries to ridicule this formula and asks: “Who knows what the rights of a national minority are?” Do these rights, he wants to know, include the right of the minority to have “its own programme” for the national schools? How large must the national minority be to have the right to have its own judges, officials, and schools with instruction in its own language? Mr. Liebman wants it to be inferred from these questions that a “positive” national programme is essential.

Actually, these questions clearly show what reactionary ideas our Bundist tries to smuggle through under cover of a dispute on supposedly minor details and particulars.

Its own programme” in its national schools!… Marxists, my dear nationalist-socialist, have a general school programme which demands, for example, an absolutely secular school. As far as Marxists are concerned, no departure from this general programme is anywhere or at any time permissible in a democratic state (the question of introducing any “local” subjects, languages, and so forth into it being decided by the local inhabitants). However, from the principle of “taking educational affairs out of the hands of the state” and placing them under the control of the nations, it ensues that we, the workers, must allow the “nations” in our democratic state to spend the people’s money on clerical schools! Without being aware of the fact, Mr. Liebman has clearly demonstrated the reactionary nature of “cultural-national autonomy”!

How large must a national minority be?” This is not defined even in the Austrian programme, of which the Bundists are enamoured. It says (more briefly and less clearly than our programme does): “The rights of the national minorities are protected by a special law to he passed by the Imperial Parliament” (§4 of the Br\”unn programme).

Why has nobody asked the Austrian Social-Democrats the question: what exactly is that law, and exactly which rights and of which minority is it to protect?

That is because all sensible people understand that it is inappropriate and impossible to define particulars in a programme. A programme lays down only fundamental principles. In this case the fundamental principle is implied with the Austrians, and directly expressed in the decision of the  latest conference of Russian Marxists. That principle is: no national privileges and no national inequality.

Let us take a concrete example to make the point clear to the Bundist. According to the school census of January 18, 1911, St. Petersburg elementary schools under the Ministry of Public “Education” were attended by 48,076 pupils. Of these, 396, i. e., less than one per cent, were Jews. The other figures are: Rumanian pupils—2, Georgians—1, Armenians—3, etc.[6] Is it possible to draw up a “positive” national programme that will cover this diversity of relationships and conditions? (And St. Petersburg is, of course, far from being the city with the most mixed population in Russia.) Even such specialists in national “subtleties” as the Bundists would hardly be able to draw up such a programme.

And yet, if the constitution of the country contained a fundamental law rendering null and void every measure that infringed the rights of a minority, any citizen would be able to demand the rescinding of orders prohibiting, for example, the hiring, at state expense, of special teachers of Hebrew, Jewish history, and the like, or the provision of state-owned premises for lectures for Jewish, Armenian, or Rumanian children, or even for the one Georgian child. At all events, it is by no means impossible to meet, on the basis of equality, all the reasonable and just wishes of the national minorities, and nobody will say that advocacy of equality is harmful. On the other hand, it would certainly be harmful to advocate division of schools according to nationality, to advocate, for example, special schools for Jewish children in St. Petersburg, and it would be utterly impossible to set up national schools for every national minority, for one, two or three children.

Furthermore, it is impossible, in any country-wide law, to define how large a national minority must be to be entitled to special schools, or to special teachers for supplementary subjects, etc.

On the other hand, a country-wide law establishing equality can be worked out in detail and developed through special regulations and the decisions of regional Diets, and town, Zemstvo, village commune and other authorities.

Trotsky on the Ukrainian question

In the light of the resurgence of national liberation movements throughout the world and in particular in the Indian sub-continent we believe that the present set of articles of Trotsky dealing with the question of Ukrainian independence from Soviet Russia act as a guiding framework for shaping our approaches towards national liberation movements in our time.

Leon Trotsky

Problem of the Ukraine

(April 1939)

The Ukrainian question, which many governments and many “socialists” and even “communists” have tried to forget or to relegate to the deep strongbox of history, has once again been placed on the order of the day and this time with redoubled force. The latest aggravatiqn of the Ukrainian question is most intimately bound up with the degeneration of the Soviet Union and of the Comintern, the successes of fascism and the approach of the next imperialist war. Crucified by four states, the Ukraine now occupies in the fate of Europe the same position that was once occupied by Poland; with this difference – that world relations are now infinitely more tense and the tempos of development accelerated. The Ukrainian question is destined in the immediate future to play an enormous, role in the life of Europe. It was not for nothing that Hitler so noisily raised the question of creating a “Greater Ukraine,” and likewise it was not for nothing that he dropped this question with such stealthy haste.* * *

A Question That Must Not Be Ignored

The Second International, expressing the interests of the labor bureaucracy and aristocracy of the imperialist states, completely ignored the Ukrainian question. Even its left wing did not pay the necessary attention to it. Suffice it to recall that Rosa Luxemburg, for all her brilliant intellect and genuinely revolutionary spirit, found it possible to declare that the Ukrainian question was the invention of a handful of intellectuals. This position left a deep imprint even upon the Polish Communist Party. The Ukrainian question was looked upon by the official leaders of the Polish section of the Comintern as an obstacle rather than a revolutionary problem. Hence the constant opportunist attempts to shy away from this question, to suppress it, to pass over it in silence, or to postpone it to an indefinite future.

The Bolshevik party, not without difficulty arid only gradually under the constant pressure of Lenin, was able to acquire a correct approach to the Ukrainian question. The right to self-determination, that is, to separation, was extended by Lenin equally to the Poles and to the Ukrainians. He did not recognize aristocratic nations. Every inclination to evade or postpone the problem of an oppressed nationality he regarded as a manifestation of Great Russian chauvinism.

After the conquest of power, a serious struggle took place in the party over the solving of the numerous national problems inherited from old Czarist Russia. In his capacity as People’s Commissar of Nationalities, Stalin invariably represented the most centralist and bureaucratic tendency. This evinced itself especially on the question of Georgia and on the question of the Ukraine. The correspondence dealing with these matters has remained unpublished to this day. We hope to publish a section of it – the very small section which is at our disposal. Every line of Lenin’s letters and proposals vibrates with an urge to accede as far as possible to those nationalities that have been oppressed in the past. In the proposals and declarations of Stalin, on the contrary, the tendency toward bureaucratic centralism was invariably pronounced. In order to guarantee “administrative needs,” i.e., the interests of the bureaucracy, the most legitimate claims of the oppressed nationalities were declared a manifestation of petty-bourgeois nationalism. All these symptoms could be observed as early as 1922-23. Since that time they have developed monstrously and have led to outright strangulation of any kind of independent national development of the peoples of the USSR.

The Bolshevik Conception of Soviet Ukraine

In the conception of the old Bolshevik party Soviet Ukraine was destined to become a powerful axis around which the other sections of the Ukrainian people would unite. It is indisputable that in the first period of its existence Soviet Ukraine exerted a mighty attractive force, in national respects as well, and aroused to struggle the workers, peasants, and revolutionary intelligentsia of Western Ukraine enslaved by Poland. But during the years of Thermidorian reaction, the position of Soviet Ukraine and together with it the posing of the Ukrainian question as a whole changed sharply. The more profound the hopes aroused, the keener was the disillusionment. The bureaucracy strangled and plundered the people within Great Russia, too. But in the Ukraine matters were further complicated by the massacre of national hopes. Nowhere did restrictions, purges, repressions and in general all forms of bureaucratic hooliganism assume such murderous sweep as they did in the Ukraine in the struggle against the powerful, deeply-rooted longings of the Ukrainian masses for greater freedom and independence. To the totalitarian bureaucracy, Soviet Ukraine became an administrative division of an economic unit and a military base of the USSR. To be sure, the Stalin bureaucracy erects statues to Shevchenko but only in order more thoroughly to crush the Ukrainian people under their weight and to force it to chant paeans in the language of Kobzar to the rapist clique in the Kremlin.

Toward the sections of the Ukraine now outside its frontiers, the Kremlin’s attitude today is the same as it is toward all oppressed nationalities, all colonies, and semi-colonies, i.e., small change in its international combinations with imperialist governments. At the recent 18th Congress of the “Communist Party,” Manuilsky, one of the most revolting renegades of Ukrainian communism, quite openly explained that not only the USSR but also the Comintern (the “gyp-joint,” according to Stalin’s formulation) refused to demand the emancipation of oppressed peoples whenever their oppressors are not the enemies of the ruling Moscow clique. India is nowadays being defended by Stalin, Dimitrov and Manuilsky against – Japan, but not against England. Western Ukraine they are ready to cede forever to Poland in exchange for a diplomatic agreement which appears profitable at the present time to the bureaucrats of the Kremlin. It is a far cry from the days when they went no further than episodic combinations in their politics.

Stalin, Hitler and the Ukraine

Not a trace remains of the former confidence and sympathy of the Western Ukrainian masses for the Kremlin. Since the latest murderous “purge” in the Ukraine no one in the West wants to become part of the Kremlin satrapy which continues to bear the name of Soviet Ukraine. The worker and peasant masses in the Western Ukraine, in Bukovina, in the Carpatho-Ukraine are in a state of confusion: Where to turn? What to demand? This situation naturally shifts the leadership to the most reactionary Ukrainian cliques who express their “nationalism” by seeking to sell the Ukrainian people to one imperialism or an-’ other in return for a promise of fictitious independence. Upon this tragic confusion Hitler bases his policy in the Ukrainian question. At one time we said: but for Stalin (i.e., but for the fatal policy of the Comintern in Germany) there would have been no Hitler. To this can now be added: but for the rape of Soviet Ukraine by the Stalinist bureaucracy there would be no Hitlerite Ukrainian policy.

We shall not pause here to analyze the motives that impelled Hitler to discard, for the time being at least, the slogan of a Greater Ukraine. These motives must be sought in the fraudulent combinations of German imperialism on the one hand and on the other in the fear of conjuring up an evil spirit whom it might be difficult to exorcize. Hitler gave Carpatho-Ukraine as a grft to the Hungarian butchers. This was done, if not with Moscow’s open approval then in any case with confidence that approval would be forthcoming. It is as if Hitler had said to Stalin: “If I were preparing to attack Soviet Ukraine tomorrow I should have kept Carpatho-Ukraine in my own hands.” In reply, Stalin at the 18th Party Cpngress openly came to Hitler’s defense against the slanders of the “Western Democracies.” Hitler intends to attack the Ukraine? Nothing of the sort! Fight with Hitler? Not the slightest reason for it. Stalin is obviously interpreting the handing over of Carpatho-Ukraine to Hungary as an act of peace.

For a Free, Independent Soviet Ukraine!

This means that sections of the Ukrainian people have become so much small change for the Kremlin in its international calculations. The Fourth International must clearly understand the enormous importance of the Ukrainian question in the fate not only of Southeastern and Eastern Europe but also of Europe as a whole. We are dealing with a people that has proved its viability, that is numerically equal to the population of France and occupies an exceptionally rich territory which, moreover, is of the highest strategical importance. The question of the fate of the Ukraine has been posed in its full scope. A clear and definite slogan is necessary that corresponds to the new situation. In my opinion there can be at the present time only one such slogan: A united, free and independent workers’ and peasants’ Soviet Ukraine.

This program is in irreconcilable contradiction first of all with the interests of the three imperialist powers, Poland, Rumania, and Hungary. Only hopeless pacifist blockheads are capable of thinking that the emancipation and unification of the Ukraine can be achieved by peaceful diplomatic means, by referendums, by decisions of the League of Nations, etc. In no way superior to them of course are those “nationalists” who propose to solve the Ukrainian question by entering the service of one imperialism against another. Hitler gave an invaluable lesson to those adventurers by tossing (for how long?) Carpatho-Ukraine to the Hungarians who immediately slaughtered not a few trusting Ukrainians. Insofar as the issue depends upon the military strength of the imperialist states, the victory of one grouping or another can signify only a new dismemberment and a still more brutal subjugation of the Ukrainian people, The program of independence for the Ukraine in the epoch of imperialism is directly and indissolubly bound up with the program of the proletarian revolution. It would be criminal to entertain any illusions on this score.

Soviet Constitution Admits Right of Self-Determination

But the independence of a United Ukraine would mean the separation of Soviet Ukraine from the USSR, the “friends” of the Kremlin will exclaim in chorus. What is so terrible about that? – we reply. The fervid worship of state boundaries is alien to us. We do not hold the position of a “united and indivisible” whole. After all, even the constitution of the USSR acknowledges the right of its component federated peoples to self-determination, that is, to separation. Thus, not even the incumbent Kremlin oligarchy dares to deny this principle. To be sure it remains only on paper. The slightest attempt to raise the question of an independent Ukraine openly would mean immediate execution on the charge of treason. But it is precisely this despicable equivocation, it is precisely this ruthless hounding of all free national thought that has led the toiling masses of the Ukraine, to an even greater degree than the masses of Great Russia, to look upon the rule of the Kremlin as monstrously oppressive. In the face of such an internal situation it is naturally impossible even to talk of Western Ukraine Voluntarily joining the USSR as it is at present constituted. Consequently, the unification of the Ukraine presupposes freeing the so-called Soviet Ukraine from the Stalinist boot. In this matter, too, the Bonapartist clique will reap what it has sown.

But wouldn’t this mean the military weakening of the USSR? – the “friends” of the Kremlin will howl in horror. We reply that the weakening of the USSR is caused by those ever-growing centrifugal tendencies generated by the Bonapartist dictatorship. In the event of war the hatred of the masses for the ruling clique can lead to the collapse of all the social conquests of October. The source of defeatist moods is in the Kremlin. An independent Soviet Ukraine, on the other hand, would become, if only by virtue df its own interests, a mighty southwestern bulwark of the USSR. The sooner the present Bonapartist caste is undermined, upset, crushed and swept away, the firmer the defense of the Soviet Republic will become and the more certain its socialist future.

Against Imperialism and Moscow Bonapartism

Naturally an independent workers’ and peasants’ Ukraine might subsequently join the Soviet Federation; but voluntarily, on conditions which it itself considers acceptable, which in turn presupposes a revolutionary regeneration of the USSR. The genuine emancipation of the Ukrainian people is inconceivable without a revolution or a series of revolutions in the West which must lead in the end to the creation of the Soviet United States of Europe. An independent Ukraine could and “undoubtedly will join this federation as an equal member. The proletarian revolution in Europe, in turn, would not leave one stone standing of the revolting structure of Stalinist Bonapartism. In that case the closest union of the Soviet United States of Europe and the regenerated USSR would be inevitable and would present infinite advantages for the European and Asiatic continents, including of course the Ukraine too. But here we are shifting to questions of second and third order. The question of first order is the revolutionary guarantee of I the unity and- independence of a workers’ and peasants’ Ukraine in the struggle against imperialist on the one hand, and against Moscow Bonapartism on the other.

The Ukraine is especially rich and experienced in false paths of struggle for national emancipation. Here everything has been tried: the petty-bourgeois Rada, and Skoropadski, and Petlura, and “alliance” with the Hohenzollerns and combinations with the Entente. After all these experiments, only political cadavers can continue to place hope in arty one of the fractions of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie as the leader of the national struggle for emancipation. The Ukrainian proletariat alone is capable not only of solving the task – which is revolutionary in its very essence – but also of taking the initiative for its solution. The proletariat and only the proletariat can rally around itself the peasant masses and the genuinely revolutionary national intelligentsia.

At the beginning of the last imperialist war the Ukrainians, Melenevski (“Basok”) and Skoropis-Yeltukhovski, attempted to place the Ukrainian liberation movement under the wing of the Hohenzollern general, Ludendorff. They covered themselves in so doing with left phrases. With one kick the revolutionary Marxists booted these people out. That is how revolutionists must continue to behave in the future. The impending war will create a favorable atmosphere for all sorts of adventurers, miracle-hunters and seekers of the golden fleece. These gentlemen, who especially love to warm their hands in the vicinity of the national question, must not be allowed within artillery range of the labor movement. Not the slightest compromise with imperialism, either fascist or democratic! Not the slightest concession to the Ukrainian nationalists, either clerical-reactionary or liberal-pacifist! No “People’s Fronts”! The complete independence of the proletarian party as the vanguard of the toilers!

For an International Discussion

This appears to me the correct policy in the Ukrainian question. I speak here personally and in my own name. The question must be opened up to international discussion. The foremost place in this discussion must beldng to the Ukrainian revolutionary Marxists. We shall listen with the greatest attention to their voices. But they had better make haste. There is little time left for preparation!

April 22, 1939

Leon Trotsky

Independence of the Ukraine

and Sectarian Muddleheads

(July 1939)

Original 1949 introduction by Fourth International

Leon Trotsky’s article, The Problem of the Ukraine, which we re-published in the November Fourth International, aroused widespread interest and discussion in revolutionary circles at the time of its appearance in May 1939. However, the only open opposition to Trotsky’s slogan of independence for the Ukraine came from the small sectarian Oehler group. Despite the political insignificance of this group, Trotsky seized the opportunity to further clarify his position His reply, first published in the Socialist Appeal, September 15th and 17th, 1939, proved to be a permanent contribution to the Marxist analysis of the national question. It sheds considerable light on the present-day relationship between the Great-Russian Soviet bureaucracy and the countries of Eastern Europe.


In one of the tiny, sectarian publications which appear in America and which thrive upon the crumbs from the table of the Fourth International, and repay with blackest ingratitude, I chanced across an article devoted to the Ukrainian problem. What confusion! The author sectarian is, of course, opposed to the slogan of an independent Soviet Ukraine. He is for the world revolution and for socialism—“root and branch.” He accuses us of ignoring the interests of the USSR and of retreating from the concept of the permanent revolution. He indicts us as centrists. The critic is very severe, almost implacable. Unfortunately—he understands nothing at all (the name of this tiny publication, The Marxist, rings rather ironically). But his incapacity to understand assumes such finished, almost classical forms as can enable us better and more fully to clarify the question.

Our critic takes as his point of departure the following position “If the workers in the Soviet Ukraine overthrow Stalinism and re-establish a genuine workers’ state, shall they separate from the rest of the Soviet Union? No.” And so forth and so on. “If the workers overthrow Stalinism” … then we shall be able to see more clearly what to do. But Stalinism must first be overthrown. And in order to achieve this, one must not shut one’s eyes to the growth of separatist tendencies in the Ukraine, but rather give them a correct political expression.

Pat Formulas Don’t Solve Concrete Tasks

“Not turning our backs on the Soviet Union,’’, continues the author, “but its regeneration and reestablishmerit as a mighty citadel of world revolution—that is the road of Marxism.” The actual trend of the development of the masses, in this instance, of the nationally oppressed masses, is replaced by our sage with speculations as to the ’best possible roads of development. With this method, but with far greater logic, one might say, “Not defending a degenerated Soviet Union is our task, but the victorious world revolution which will transform the whole world into a World Soviet Union,” etc. Such aphorisms come cheap.

The critic repeats several times my statement to the effect that the fate of an independent Ukraine is indissolubly bound up with the world proletarian revolution. From this general perspective, ABC for a Marxist, he contrives however to make a recipe of temporizing passivity and national nihilism. The triumph of the proletarian revolution on a world scale is the end-product of multiple movements, campaigns and battles, and not at all a ready-made precondition for solving all questions automatically. Only a direct and bold posing of the Ukrainian question in the given concrete circumstances will facilitate the rallying of petty-bourgeois and peasant masses around the proletariat, just as in Russia in 1917.

True enough, our author might object that in Russia prior to October it was the bourgeois revolution that unfolded, whereas today we have the socialist revolution already behind us. A demand which might have been progressive in 1917 is nowadays reactionary. Such reasoning, wholly in the spirit of bureaucrats and sectarians, is false from beginning to end.

Democratic Tasks Tied to Socialist Aims

The right of national self-determination is, of course, a democratic and not a socialist principle. But genuinely democratic principles are supported and realized in our era only by the revolutionary proletariat; it is for this very reason that they interlace with socialist tasks. The resolute struggle of the Bolshevik party for the right of self-determination of oppressed nationalities in Russia facilitated in the extreme the conquest of power by the proletariat. It was as if the proletarian revolution had sucked in the democratic problems, above all, the agrarian and national problems, giving to the Russian Revolution a combined character. The proletariat was already undertaking socialist tasks but it could not immediately raise to this level the peasantry and the oppressed nations (themselves predominantly peasant) who were absorbed with solving their democratic tasks.

Hence flowed the historically inescapable compromises the agrarian as well as the national sphere. Despite the economic advantages of large-scale agriculture, the Soviet government was compelled to divide up large estates. Only several years later was the government able to pass to collective farming and then it immediately leaped too far ahead and found itself compelled, a few years later, to make concessions to the peasants in the shape of private landholdings which in many places tend to devour the collective farms. The next stages of this contradictory process have not yet been resolved.

Has Stalin Convinced the Ukrainian Masses?

The need for compromise, or rather for a number of compromises, similarly arises in the field of the national question, whose paths are no more rectilinear than the paths of the agrarian revolution. The federated structure of the Soviet-Republic represents a compromise between the centralist requirements of planned economy and the de~ centralist requirements of the development of nations oppressed in the past. Having constructed a workers’ state on the compromise principle of a federation, the Bolshevik party wrote into the constitution the right of nations to complete separation, indicating thereby that the party did not at all consider the national question as solved once and for all.

The author of the critical article argues that the party leaders hoped “to convince the masses to stay within the framework of the Federated Soviet Republic.” This is correct, if the word “convince” is taken not in the sense of logical arguments but in the sense of passing through the experiences of economic, political and cultural collaboration. Abstract agitation iif favor of centralism does not of itself’ carry great weight. As has already been said, the federation was a necessary, departure from centralism. It must also be added that the very composition of the federation is by no means given beforehand once and for all. Depending on objective coilditions, a federation may develop toward greater centralism, or on the contrary, toward greater independence of its national component parts. Politically it is not at all a question of whether it is advantageous ’in general” for various nationalities to live together within the framework of a single state, but rather it is a question of whether or not a particular nationality has, on the basis of her own experience, found it advantageous to adhere to a given state.

In other words: Which of the two tendencies in the given circumstances gains the ascendancy in the corn~ promise regime of a federation—the centrifugal or the centripetal? Or to put it even more concretely: Have Stalin and his Ukrainian satraps succeeded in convincing the Ukrainian masses of the superiority of Moscow’s centralism over Ukrainian independence or have they failed? This question is of decisive importance. Yet our author does not even suspect its existence.

Do the Ukrainians Desire Separation?

Do the broad masses of the Ukrainian people wish to separate from the USSR? It might at first sight appear difficult to answer this question, inasmuch as the Ukrainian people, like all other peoples of the USSR, are deprived of any opportunity to express their will. But the very genesis of the totalitarian regime and its ever more brutal intensification, especially in the Ukraine, are proof that the real will of the Ukrainian masses is irreconcilably hostile to the Soviet bureaucracy. There is no lack of evidence that one of the primary sources of this hostility is the suppression of Ukrainian independence. The nationalist tendencies in the Ukraine erupted violently in 1917-19. The Borotba party expressed these tendencies in the left wing. The most important indication of the success of the Leninist policy in the Ukraine was the fusion of the Ukrainian Bolshevik party with the organization of the Borotbists.

In the course of the next decade, however, an actual break occurred with the Borotba group, whose leaders were subjected to persecution. The old Bolshevik, Skrypnik, a pure-blooded Stalinist, was driven to suicide in 1933 for his allegedly, excessive patronage of nationalist tendencies. The actual “organizer” of this suicide was the Stalinist emissary, Postyshev, who thereupon remained in the Ukraine as the representative of the centralist policy. Presently, however, Postyshev himself fell in disgrace. These facts are profoundly symptomatic, for they reveal how much force there is behind the pressure of the nationalist opposition on the bureaucracy. Nowhere did the purges and repressions assume such a savage and mass character as they did in the Ukraine.

Significant Attitudes of Ukrainians Abroad

Of enormous political importance is the sharp turn away from the Soviet Union of Ukrainian democratic elements outside the Soviet Union. When the Ukrainian problem became aggravated early this year, communist voices were not heard at all; but the voices of the Ukrainian clericals and National-Socialists were loud enough. This means that the proletarian vanguard has let the Ukrainian national movement slip out of its hands and that this movement has progressed far on the road of separatism. Lastly, very indicative also are the moods among the Ukrainian émigrés in the North American continent. In Canada, for instance, where the Ukrainians compose the bulk of the Communist Party, there began in 1933, as I am informed by a prominent participant in the movement, a marked exodus of Ukrainian workers and farmers from communism, falling either into passivity or nationalism of various hues. In their totality, these symptoms and facts incontestably testify, to the growing strength of separatist tendencies among the Ukrainian masses.

This is the basic fact underlying the whole problem. It shows that despite the giant step forward taken by the October Revolution in the domain of national relations, the isolated proletarian revolution in a backward country proved incapable of solving the national question, especially the Ukrainian question which is, in its very, essence, international in chracter. The Thermidorian reaction, crowned by the Bonapartist bureaucracy, has thrown the toiling masses far back in the national sphere as well. The great masses of the Ukrainian people are dissatisfied with their national fate and wish to change it drastically. ii is this fact that the revolutionary politician must, in contrast to the bureaucrat and the sectarian, take as his point of departure.

Sectarian Arguments Like Those of Stalinists

If our critic were capable of thinking politically, he would have surmised without much difficulty the arguments of the Stalinists against the slogan of an independent Ukraine: “It negates the position of the defense of the Soviet Union”; “disrupts the unity of the revolutionary masses”; “serves not the interests of revolution but those cf imperialism.” In other words, the Stalinists would repeat all the three argUments of our author. They will unfailingly do so on the morrow.

The Kremlin bureaucracy, tells the Soviet woman: Inasmuch as there is socialismin our country, you must be happy and you must give up abortions (or suffer the penalty). To the Ukrainian they say: Inasmuch as the socialist revolution has solved the national question, it is your duty to be happy in the USSR and to renounce all thought of separation (or face the firing squad).

What does a revolutionist say to the woman? “You will decide yourself whether you want a child: I will defend your right to abortion against the Kremlin police.” To the Ukrainian people he says: “Of importance to me is your attitude toward your national destiny and not the ‘socialistic’ sophistries of the Kremlin police; I will support your struggle for independence with all my might!”

The sectarian, as so often happens, finds himself siding with the police, covering up the status quo, that is, police violence, by sterile speculation on the superiority cf the socialist unification of nations as against their remaining divided. Assuredly, the separation of the Ukraine is a liability as compared with a voluntary and equalitarian socialist feDeration; but it will be an unquestionable asset as compared with the bureaucratic strangulation of the Ukrainian people. In order to draw together more closely and honestly, it is sometimes necessary first to separate. Lenin often used to cite the fact that the relations between the Norwegian and Swedish workers improved and became closer after the disruption of the compulsory unification of Sweden and Norway.

Ukraine Independence Revolutionary Slogan

We must proceed from facts and not ideal norms. The Thermidorian reaction in the USSR, the defeat of a number of revolutions, the victories of fascism – which is carving the map of Europe in its own fashion – must be paid for in genuine currency in all spheres, including that of the Ukrainian question. Were we to ignore the new situation created as a result of defeats, were we to pretend that nothing extraordinary has occurred, and were we to counterpose to unpleasant facts familiar abstractions, then we could very well surrender to reaction the remaining chances for vengeance in the more or less immediate future.

Our author interprets the slogan of an independent Ukraine as follows: “First the Soviet Ukraine must be freed from the rest of the Soviet Union, then we will have the proletarian revolution and unification of the rest of the Ukraine.” But how can there be a separation without first a revolution? The author is caught in a vicious circle, and the slogan of an independent Ukraine together with Trotsky’s “faulty logic” is hopelessly discredited. In point of fact this peculiar logic – “first” and “then” – is only a striking example of scholastic thinking. Our hapless critic has no inkling of the fact that historical processes may occur not “first” and “then” but run parallel tc each other, exert influence upon each other, speed or retard each other; and that the task of revolutionary politics consists precisely in speeding up the mutual action and reaction of progressive processes. The barb of the slogan of an independent Ukraine is aimed directly against the Moscow bureaucracy and enables the proletarian vanguard to rally the peasant masses. On the other hand, the same slogan opens up for the proletarian party the opportunity of playing a leading role in the national Ukrainian movementin Poland, Rumania and Hungary. Both of these political processes will drive the revolutionary movement forward and increase the specific weight of the proletarian vanguard.

My statement to the effect that workers and peasants of Western Ukraine (Poland) do not want fo join the Soviet Union, as it is now constituted, and that this fact is an additional argument in favor of an independent Ukraine, is parried by our sage with the assertion that even if they desired, they could not join the Soviet Union because they could do so only “after the proletarian revolution in Western Ukraine” (obviously Poland). In other words: Today the separation of the Ukraine is impossible, and after the revolution triumphs, it would be reactionary. An old and familiar refrain!

Luxemburg, Bukharin, Piatakov and many others used this very same argument against the program of national self-determination: Under capitalism it is utopian; under socialism, reactionary. The argument is false to the core because it ignores the epoch of the social revolution and its tasks. To be sure, under the domination of imperialism a genuine stable and reliable independence of the small and intermediate nations is impossible. It is equally true that under fully developed socialism, that is to say, with the progressive withering away of the state, the question of national boundaries will fall away. But between these two moments – the present day and complete socialism – intervene those decades in the course of which we are preparing to realize our program. The slogan of an independent Soviet Ukraine is of paramount importance for mobilizing the masses and for educating them in the transitional period.

What the Sectarian Ignores

The sectarian simply ignores the fact that the national struggle, one of the most labyrinthine and complex but at the same time extremely important forms of the class struggle, cannot be suspended by bare references to the future world revolution. With their eyes turned away from the USSR, and failing to receive support and leadership from the international proletariat, the petty-bourgeois and even working-class masses of Western Ukraine are falling victim to reactionary demagogy. Similar processes are undoubtedly also taking place in the Soviet Ukraine, only it is more difficult to lay them bare. The slogan of an independent Ukraine advanced in time by the proletarian vanguard will lead to the unavoidable stratification of the petty bourgeoisie and render it easier for its lower tiers to ally themselves with the proletariat. Only thus is it possible to prepare the proletarian revolution.

How to Clear the Road

“If the workers carry, through a succesful revolution in Western Ukraine …,” persists our author, “should our strategy, then he to demand that the Soviet Ukraine separate and join its western section? Just the opposite.” This assertion plumbs to the bottom the depth of “our strategy.” Again we hear the same melody: “If the workers carry through The sectarian is satisfied with logical deduction from a victorious revolution supposedly already, achieved. But for a revolutionist the nub of the question lies precisely in how to clear a road to the revolution, how to render an approach to revolution easier for the masses, how to draw the revolution closer, how, to assure its triumph. “If the workers carry through …” a victorious revolution, verything will of course be fine. But just now there is no victorious revolution; instead there is victorious reaction.

To find the bridge from reaction to revolution—that is the task. This is the import, by the way, of our entire program of transitional demands (The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International). Small wonder that the sectarians of all shadings fail to understand its meaning. They, operate by means of abstractions—an abstraction of imperialism and an abstraction of the socialist revolution. The question of the transition from real imperialism to real revolution; the question of how to mobilize the masses in the given historical situation for the conquest of power remains for these sterile wiseacres a book sealed with seven seals.

Superficial Reasoning

Piling one dire accusation indiscriminately on top of another, our critic declares that the slogan of an independent Ukraine serves the interests of the imperialists (!) and the Stalinists (!!) because it “completely negates the position of the defense of the Soviet Union.” It is impossible to understand just why, the “interests of the Stalinists” are dragged in. But let its confine ourselves to the question of the defense of the USSR. This defense could he menaced by an independent Ukraine only if the latter were hostile not only to the bureaucracy but also to the USSR. However, given such a premise (obviously false), how can a socialist demand that a hostile Ukraine be retained within the framework of the USSR? Or does the question involve only the period of the national revolution?

Yet our critic apparently recognized the inevitability of a political revolution against the Bonapartist bureaucracy. Meanwhile this revolution; like every revolution, will undoubtedly present a certain danger from the standpoint o defense. What to do? Had our critic really thought out the problem, he would have replied that such a danger is an inescapable historical risk which cannot be evaded, for under the rule of the Bonapartist bureaucracy the USSR is doomed. The very same reasoning equally and wholly applies to the revolutionary national uprising which represents nothing else but a single segment of the political revolution.

Independence and the Plan

It is noteworthy that the most serious argument against independence does not even enter the mind of our critic. The economy of the Soviet Ukraine enters integrally into this plan. The separation of the Ukraine threatens to break down the plan and to lower the productive forces. But this argument, too, is not decisive. An economic plan is not the holy of holies. If national sections within the federation, despite the unified plan, are pulling in opposite directions, it means that the plan does not satisfy them. A plan is the handiwork of men. It can be reconstructed in accordance with new boundaries. In so far as the plan is advantageous for the Ukraine she will herself desire and know how to reach the necessary economic agreement with the Soviet Union, just as she will be able to conclude the necessary military alliance.

Moreover, it is impermissible to forget that the plunder and arbitrary rule of the bureaucracy constitute an important integral part of the current economic plan, and exact a heavy toll from the Ukraine. The plan must he drastically revised first and foremost from this standpoint. The outlived ruling caste is systematically destroying the country’s economy, the army and its culture; it is annihilating the flower of the population and preparing the ground for a catastrophe. The heritage of the revolution can be saved only by an overturn. The bolder and more resolute is the policy of the proletarian vanguard on the national question among others, all the more successful will be the revolutionary overturn, all the lower its overhead expenses.

The Critic’s Ideal Variant

The slogan of an independent Ukraine does not signify that the Ukraine will remain forever isolated, but only this, that she will again determine for herself and of her own free will the question of her interrelations with other sections of the Soviet Union and her western neighbors. Let us take an ideal variant most favorable for our critic. The revolution occurs simultaneously in all parts of the Soviet Union. The bureaucratic octopus is strangled and swept aside. The Constituent Congress of the Soviets is on the order of the day.

The Ukraine expresses a desire to determine anew her relations with the USSR. Even our critic, let us hope, will be ready to extend her this right. But in order freely to determine her relations with other Soviet republics, in order to possess the right of saying yes or no, the Ukraine must return to herself complete freedom of action, at least for the duration of this Constituent period. There is no other name for this than state independence.

Now let us further suppose that the revolution simultaneously embraces also Poland. Rumania and Hungary. All sections of the Ukrainian people become free and enter into negotiations to join the Soviet Ukraine. At the same time they all express the desire to have their say on the question of the interrelations between a unified Ukraine and the Soviet Union, with Soviet Poland, etc. It is self-evident that to decide all these questions it will be necsary to convene the Constituent Congress of Unified Ukraine. But a “Constituent” Congress signifies nothing else but the Congress of an independent state which prepares anew to determine its own domestic regime as well as its international position.

The Road to Unity

There is every reason to assume that in the event of the triumph of the world revolution the tendencies toward unity will immediately acquire enormous force, and that all Soviet republics will find the suitable forms of ties and collaboration. This goal will be achieved only provided the old ahd compulsory ties, and in consequence old boundaries, are completely destroyed; only provided each of the contracting parties is completely independent. To speed and facilitate this process, to make possible a genuine brotherhood of the peoples in the future, the advanced workers of Great Russia must even now understand the causes for Ukrainian separatism, as well as the latent power and historical lawfulness behind it, and they must without any reservation declare to the Ukrainian people that they are ready to support with all their might the slogan of an independent Soviet Ukraine in a joint struggle against the autocratic bureaucracy and against imperialism.

The petty-bourgeois Ukrainian nationalists consider correct the slogan of an independent Ukraine. But they object to the correlation of this slogan with the proletarian revolution. They want an independent democratic Ukraine and not a Soviet Ukraine. It is unnecessary to enter here into a detailed analysis of this question because it touches not Ukraine alone but rather the general evaluation of our epoch, which we have analyzed many times. We shall outline only the most important aspects.

Democracy is degenerating and perishing even in its metropolitan centers. Only the wealthiest colonial empires or especially privileged bourgeois countries are still able to maintain nowadays a regime of democracy, and even there it is obviously on the downgrade. There is not the slightest basis for hoping that the comparatively impoverished and backward Ukraine will be able to establish and maintain a regime of democracy. Indeed the very independence of the Ukraine would not be long-lived in an imperialist environment. The example of Czechoslovakia is eloquent enough. As long as the laws of imperialism prevail, the fate of small and intermediate nations will remain unstable and unreliable. Imperialism can be overthrown only by the proletarian revolution.

The main section of the Ukrainian nation is represented by present-day Soviet Ukraine. A powerful and purely Ukrainian proletariat has been created there by the development of industry. It is they who are destined to be the leaders of the Ukrainian people in all their future struggles. The Ukrainian proletariat wishes to free itself from the clutches of the bureaucracy. The slogan of a democratic Ukraine is historically belated. The only thing it is good for is perhaps to console bourgeois intellectuals. It will not unite the masses. And without the masses, the emancipation and unification of the Ukraine is impossible.

The Charge of Centrism

Our severe critic flings at us the term “centrism” at every opportunity. According to him, the entire article was written so as to expose the glaring example of our “centrism.” But he does not make even a single attempt to demonstrate wherein precisely consists the “centrism” of the slogan of an independent Soviet Ukraine. Assuredly, that is no easy task.

Centrism is the name applied to that policy which is opportunist in substance and which seeks to appeur as revolutionary in form. Opportunism consists in a passive adaptation to the ruling class and its regime, to that which already exists, including, of course, the state boundaries. Centrism shares completely this fundamental trait of opportunism, but in adapting itself to the dissatisfied workers, centrism veils it by means of radical commentaries.

If we proceed from this scientific definition, it will appear that the position, of our hapless critic is in part and in whole centrist. He takes as a starting point the specific (accidental—from the standpoint of rational and revolutionary politics) boundaries which cut nations into segments, as if this were something immutable. The world revolution, which is for him not living reality but the incantation of a witch-doctor, must unequivocally accept these boundaries as its point of departure.

He is not at all concerned with the centrifugal nationalist tendencies which may flow either into the channels of reaction or the channel of revolution. They violate his lazy administrative blueprint constructed on the model of “first” and “then.” He shies away from the struggle for national independence against bureaucratic strangulation and takes refuge in speculations on the superiorities of socialist unity. In other words, his politics—if scholastic commentaries on other people’s politics may be called politics—bear the worst traits of centrism.

The sectarian is an opportunist who stands in fear of himself. In sectarianism, opportunism (centrism) remains unfolded in its initial stages, like a delicate bud. Presently the bud unfolds, one-third, one-half, and sometimes more. Then we have the peculiar combination of sectarianism and centrism (Vereecken); of sectarianism and low-grade opportunism (Sneevliet). But on occasion the bud shrivels away, without unfolding (Oehler). If I am not mistaken, Oehler is the editor of The Marxist.

July 30, 1939