Part III




7. The Third International and the National Question




Because of the betrayal of the Second International it was necessary to build a new one, not to repair and rebuild it. Following the Bolshevik revolution it was possible to form a new International - the Communist. The first congress of the Third International that took place in 1919 came with a communist programmatic fundament elaborated by Trotsky. Overly optimistically the manifesto declared: “Thus the colonial question in its fullest extent has been placed on the agenda, not only on the order papers of the diplomats in congress in Paris, but also in the colonies themselves. Wilson’s program, at its best, is meant only to change the commercial label of colonial slavery. The emancipation of the colonies is possible only in conjunction with the emancipation of the metropolitan working class. The workers and peasants not only of Annam, Algiers, and Bengal, but also of Persia and Armenia, will gain their opportunity of independent existence only when the workers of England and France have overthrown Lloyd George and Clemenceau and taken State power into their own hands. Even now the struggle in the more developed colonies is more than the struggle for national liberation; it is assuming an explicitly social character. If capitalist Europe forcibly dragged the backward sections of the world into the capitalist whirlpool, then socialist Europe will come to the aid of liberated colonies with its technology, its organization, its spiritual forces, in order to facilitate their transition to a planned and organized socialist economy.” [36]


The second congress of the Third International dealt with two aspects of the national question: 1. the difference between the oppressed and oppressor nations; 2. support only for national movements fighting imperialism. Lenin reported:


First, what is the cardinal idea underlying our theses? It is the distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations. Unlike the Second International and bourgeois democracy, we emphasise this distinction. In this age of imperialism, it is particularly important for the proletariat and the Communist International to establish the concrete economic facts and to proceed from concrete realities, not from abstract postulates, in all colonial and national problems.”[ …]


Third, it is important to emphasize the question of the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. This is a question that has given rise to certain differences. We have discussed whether it would be right or wrong, in principle and in theory, to state that the Communist International and the Communist parties must support the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. As a result of our discussion, we have arrived at the unanimous decision to speak of the national-revolutionary movement rather than of the “bourgeois-democratic” movement.


It is beyond doubt that any national movement can only be a bourgeois-democratic movement, since the overwhelming mass of the population in the backward countries consist of peasants who represent bourgeois-capitalist relationships. It would be utopian to believe that proletarian parties in these backward countries, if indeed they can emerge in them, can pursue communist tactics and a communist policy, without establishing definite relations with the peasant movement and without giving it effective support.


However, the objections have been raised that, if we speak of the bourgeois-democratic movement, we shall be obliterating all distinctions between the reformist and the revolutionary movements. Yet that distinction has been very clearly revealed of late in the backward and colonial countries, since the imperialist bourgeoisie is doing everything in its power to implant a reformist movement among the oppressed nations too.


There has been a certain rapprochement between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often—perhaps even in most cases—the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, while it does support the national movement, is in full accord with the imperialist bourgeoisie, i.e., joins forces with it against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes.


This was irrefutably proved in the commission, and we decided that the only correct attitude was to take this distinction into account and, in nearly all cases, substitute the term “national-revolutionary” for the term “bourgeois-democratic”. The significance of this change is that we, as Communists, should and will support bourgeois-liberation movements in the colonies only when they are genuinely revolutionary, and when their exponents do not hinder our work of educating and organising in a revolutionary spirit the peasantry and the masses of the exploited.


If these conditions do not exist, the Communists in these countries must combat the reformist bourgeoisie, to whom the heroes of the Second International also belong. Reformist parties already exist in the colonial countries, and in some cases their spokesmen call themselves Social-Democrats and socialists. The distinction I have referred to has been made in all the theses with the result, I think, that our view is now formulated much more precisely.” [37]


The fourth congress of the Communist International elaborated the Anti-Imperialist United Front. Among other things it stated: “In the Moslem countries, the national movement is guided in its early stages by the religious-political slogans of the pan-Islamic movement, and this gives the Great-Power diplomats and officials the opportunity to exploit the prejudices and ignorance of the broad masses and turn them against the national movement (British imperialism dabbles in pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism and plans to transfer the Caliphate to India; French imperialism pretends to “Moslem sympathies”). However, as the national liberation movements grow and mature, the religious-political slogans of pan-Islamism will be replaced by political demands. This is borne out by the recent struggle in Turkey to remove temporal power from the Caliphate. The basic aim shared by all the national revolutionary movements is to bring about national unity and achieve state independence. The actual realisation of this aim depends on the extent to which the national movement in any particular country can break all links with reactionary feudal elements, embody in its programme popular social demands and so win the support of the broad working masses.


The Communist International, though well aware that in different historical circumstances fighters for national political independence can be very different kinds of people, gives its support to any national revolutionary movement against imperialism. However, it still remains convinced that the oppressed masses can only be led to victory by a consistent revolutionary line that is designed to draw the broadest masses into active struggle and that constitutes a complete break with all who support conciliation with imperialism in the interests of their own class rule. The bonds that link the indigenous bourgeoisie with the feudal-reactionary elements allow the imperialists to disorganise the mass movement by exploiting to the full feudal anarchy, the rivalry of different leaders, races and tribes, the antagonism between town and country, and the struggle between castes and national-religious sects (China, Persia, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia).[…] The refusal of Communists in the colonies to take part in the fight against imperialist tyranny, on the pretext of their supposed ‘defence’ of independent class interests, is the worst kind of opportunism and can only discredit the proletarian revolution in the East. No less harmful, it must also be recognised, is the attempt to remain aloof from the struggle for the immediate everyday demands of the working class in the interests of ‘national unity’ or ‘civil peace’ with the bourgeois democrats. A dual task faces the Communist and workers’ parties of the colonial and semi-colonial countries: on the one hand, they are fighting for a more radical answer to the demands of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, directed towards the winning of national political independence; on the other hand, they are organising the masses of workers and peasants to fight for their own class interests, making good use of all the contradictions in the nationalist bourgeois-democratic camp. By putting forward social demands, Communists will stimulate and release revolutionary energy which can find no outlet in liberal bourgeois demands. The working class of the colonies and semi-colonies must be firmly convinced that it is only the overall intensification of the struggle against Great-Power imperialist oppression that can promote it to revolutionary leadership. On the other hand, it is only the political and economic organisation and the political education of the working class and the semi-proletarian layers that can increase the revolutionary scope of the anti-imperialist struggle.” [38]


What does it mean to support the struggle of an oppressed nation? Is it sufficient to write about it? Or even to organize or participate in a demonstration? This depends on the size and the influence of the revolutionary organization.


On September 11th 1924, l’humanité the French Communist newspaper published a telegram sent by Pierre Sémard, General Secretary of the Parti communiste français (PCF) and Jacques Doriot, leader of the Federation des jeunesses communistes, to the leader of the Republic of the Rif, Muhammad bin ‘abd al-Karim al-Khattabi. It read:


We hope that after the definitive victory over Spanish imperialism, it [the Republic] will continue, with the French and European proletariat, the struggle against all imperialists, including the French [français y compris], until the complete liberation of Morocco’s soil.”

‘Abd al-Karim’s forces’ destroyed a force of a 30,000-strong Spanish soldiers in the early summer of 1921 and was followed by more victories, that led to the establishment of the republic by early 1923. By April 1925 the republic of the Rif led by an Islamist faced imperialist France. The PCF’s line at the outbreak of hostilities being:


Fraternisation between French soldiers; not a man or woman in France for the war in Morocco; peace in the Rif; total evacuation of France from Morocco.’


Working with the Confédération générale du Travail unitaire (CGTU), the PCF organized a 15,000-strong protest against the war on May 16th in Paris, and over the spring and early summer of 1925 encouraged the crews of half a dozen cruisers to mutiny (100 sailors were sentenced in courts in late July). Between May and October there were over 250 meetings against the war across France, all building towards the 12th October 24-hour strike, involving 500,000 workers, albeit few of those involved in day-to-day mechanics of war. [39]











8. Stalinism and the National Question




The Stalinists reversed Lenin’s revolutionary internationalist policies with Russian chauvinism inside and outside the Soviet Union. Under Stalin the role of the Communist parties was to carry out the policies of the Soviet Bureaucracy and this bureaucracy was moving more and more to the right. In the Soviet Union they oppressed the weaker nations like the Ukrainians, the Asians, small nations like the Tatars and used Anti-Semitism during the Stalinists war on the left-wing opposition. The Stalinists also persecuted Islam.


The Stalinist policy ruined the Chinese revolution and party in 1925-7 by subordinating the Chinese Communist party to the nationalists in China. By 1935, the Stalinists became counter revolutionary reformists when in France the PCF supported the popular front government of Leon Blum – a coalition of the social democratic party and a section of the capitalist class. This popular front government continued the colonial oppression the nations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Syria and Lebanon. This government ended in the victory of the counter revolution led by Marshal Philippe Pétain. The same policies led to the victory of Franco in Spain because, among other things, the Republican government oppressed the Moroccans which enabled France to recruit Moroccan soldiers against the Republic. At the end of the war the Soviet Stalinists betrayed the Greek working class revolution and returned France and Italy to the capitalist class. It blocked the revolution in Vietnam, and tried to block it in Algeria. They blocked the revolution in France in 1968. They grubbed Eastern Europe after the war, supported the Zionist in the 1948 war and supplied them with weapons that were used to expel the Palestinians. In Cuba they initially supported Batista that served US imperialism. They supported Al Sisi military coup in Egypt in 2013 and Assad in Syria.











9. Trotsky and the Fourth International on the National Question




Trotsky and the Trotskyists defended the Soviet Union when it was a deformed workers state, not only against imperialism but even when it clashed with a semi-colony which, at the time, acted in the service of imperialism.


In 1929 there were clashes between the reactionary government of Chiang Kai-shek that defeated the Chinese revolution, and served the imperialists against the Soviet Union over the Chinese Eastern Railroad. Trotsky took the position that in a case of a war, the revolutionary opposition would side with the workers’ state, even though it was going through degeneration, against a reactionary government of a semi-colony in the service of imperialism.


Trotsky wrote: “The army of Chiang Kai-shek was victorious in 1925-27 [against the warlords] thanks to the revolutionary upsurge of the masses. In turning against them, the army has forfeited its chief source of strength. As a purely military organization, Chiang Kai-shek’s army is extremely weak. Chiang Kai-shek cannot help but realize that the Soviet government is well aware of the weakness of his army. It is unthinkable that Chiang Kai-shek could wage a war against the Red Army without the aid of other powers. It is more accurate to say that Chiang Kai-shek would wage war only if his army were merely the auxiliary detachment to the forces of another power. I do not believe that at this time such a combination is very likely, especially in light of the Soviet government’s sincere desire, as indicated above, to settle problems by peaceful means…. It goes without saying that in the event that war is imposed on the Soviet people, the Opposition will devote itself fully to the cause of defending the October Revolution.” [40]


However, when the Chinese nationalists fought against Japan, an imperialist state, Trotsky defended China. He wrote to Diago Rivera:


“…The duty of all the workers’ organizations of China was to participate actively and in the front lines of the present war against Japan, without abandoning, for a single moment, their own program and independent activity. But that is “social patriotism!” the Eiffelites cry. It is capitulation to Chiang Kai-shek! It is the abandonment of the principle of the class struggle! Bolshevism preached revolutionary defeatism in the imperialist war. Now, the war in Spain and the Sino-Japanese War are both imperialist wars. “Our position on the war in China is the same. The only salvation of the workers and peasants of China is to struggle independently against the two armies, against the Chinese army in the same manner as against the Japanese army.” These four lines, taken from an Eiffelite document of September 10, 1937, suffice entirely for us to say: we are concerned here with either real traitors or complete imbeciles. But imbecility, raised to this degree, is equal to treason.” [41]


Trotsky stood with India against Britain, despite bring ruled by a “socialist” government: “What an instructive historical lesson it is that the Indian revolution, even in its present stage, when it has not yet broken loose from the treacherous leadership of the national bourgeoisie, is being crushed by the “socialist” government of MacDonald. The bloody repressions of these scoundrels of the Second International who promise to introduce socialism peacefully in their own home countries represent so far that small deposit which British Imperialism brings in today on its future accounting in India. The sweet social democratic deliberations about reconciling the interests of bourgeois England with democratic India are a necessary supplement to the bloody repressions of MacDonald, who is of course ready, between executions, for the thousand and first commission of reconciliation.” [42]


In 1936 Trotsky defended Ethiopia under the Emperor Haile Selassie against Italian imperialism under Mussolini. He wrote:” Maxton and the others opine that the Italo-Ethiopian war is “a conflict between two rival dictators.” To these politicians it appears that this fact relieves the proletariat of the duty of making a choice between two dictators. They thus define the character of the war by the political form of the state, in the course of which they themselves regard this political form in a quite superficial and purely descriptive manner, without taking into consideration the social foundations of both “dictatorships.” A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history; for example, Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, etc. On the other hand, right in the midst of the English democracy Lloyd George exercised a highly reactionary dictatorship during the war. Should a dictator place himself at the head of the next uprising of the Indian people in order to smash the British yoke – would Maxton then refuse this dictator his support? Yes or no? If not, why does he refuse his support to the Ethiopian “dictator” who is attempting to cast off the Italian yoke? If Mussolini triumphs, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this.” [43]


The middle class reformists and centrists who refused to defend the semi-colonies because of their reactionary leadership, attack Trotsky’s method of defending the semi-colonies when they are led by reactionaries while they fight imperialism, have the same argument that the ILP, led by Maxton, had in 1936. For example, Joseph Green, a leading member of the pseudo-revolutionary group that publishes Communist Voice wrote in 2015: “Selassie was one of the absolute rulers of the Ethiopian Empire; he was Regent from 1916 to 1930, and Emperor from 1930 to 1974. Trotsky was right to back Ethiopia against Italian invasion and occupation during the latter 1930s, but wrong to prettify Selassie’s absolutism and wrong to regard Ethiopia as a blank slate, without significant internal struggles. On April 22, 1936, Trotsky wrote that workers faced “making a choice between two dictators”, either Mussolini or Haile Selassie. He didn’t look towards the victory of the Ethiopian people, but the “victory of the Negus”; “Negus” referred to Haile Selassie, and Trotsky was saying something like “victory of his royal majesty”. Trotsky held that “the victory of the Negus... would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples.” [44]











10. The Fourth International on the National Question after Trotsky




The Fourth International that was reunited after WWII held centrist positions on different issues. The political programs of some of the centrists who call themselves Trotskyites on the question of the socialist revolution in Palestine are rooted in the positions of the Fourth International (FI) and of the Shachtmanite split of 1940.


The FI was already making a centrist failure in 1941, conducted by the SWP during the Minneapolis trial in October, when Cannon expressed concessions to defensiveness and social patriotism. Although the Fourth International followed by and large a revolutionary course during WWII, its degeneration developed later on to an extreme.


This degeneration process towards centrism became strongly apparent – in addition to the shameful failure in the Israel-Palestine War in 1948 – in the “Open Letter” to Tito and the political support to Mao Zedong, while denouncing the Chinese Trotskyists in 1948. The position of others who call themselves Trotskyists is influenced by the Shachtmanites who stood to the right of the FI. [45]


The FI did not take a position on the war of 1948 when it broke out. This by itself is a symptom of degeneration. It took months before the FI came up with a political position and it was wrong. Clearly as a fast degenerating organization, an organization transforming into a centrist organization, it was already unable to examine the war from the perspective of the revolutionary international working class. It defended the right of self-determination of the Israelis though it opposed the partition and it took the position of revolutionary defeatism both for Israel and the Arab states.


In the real world it is impossible to support the right of self-determination for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. One has to choose a side either for the settler colonialists or for the oppressed colonized Palestinians. To support the right of self-determination means to support the right to set up a state. A Zionist state even in parts of Palestine could be formed only by the stealing of Palestinian lands.


Not only this, but any Zionist state with a majority of Jews would have had to expel most Palestinians from the Zionist territory. This was clear already in 1937 with the recommendation of Peel Commission calling for the partition plan that at the same time called for the removal of a quarter of a million Palestinians. Those who support today the existence of Israel oppose the full right of return of the Palestinian refugees whom Israel expelled in 1947-48.


The Shachtmanites, who split from the FI in 1940, elaborated their position on the emerging Zionist state in their theoretical journal New International (which they appropriated after the split with the Fourth International in 1940). They supported the right of self-determination for Israel and opposed the Arab states in the war. The FI on the other hand, opposed the partition and took the position of revolutionary defeat for the Zionists and the Arab states.


Hal Draper, a Shachtmanite, wrote in July 1948 in the New International, which by then was already a right-wing centrist organ, that it would be better if the partition plan was rejected. However since it was not rejected, Draper continues, it is necessary to defend Israel’s right to exist as a reflection of the principle of the right of self-determination to all nations. In light of this right it is necessary to defend Israel against the reactionary Arab states that want to prevent the implementation of this right.


The united front tactic in semi-colonies can include a common action with bourgeois parties against imperialism and its servants on condition that the revolutionary party maintains the freedom to carry their own banner, propaganda and mobilize the workers and the oppressed. It does not include a vote for a bourgeois party that can win the elections, nor participation in a government with the bourgeoisie. It includes the defence of an elected government against a military coup. Voting for a bourgeois party that can be elected to government or participate in a coalition government with the bourgeoisie is class collaboration that block the revolution and lead to the defeat of the revolution. When a bourgeois party takes power it is necessary to mobilize the workers and the oppressed against it.


One of the worst betrayals of the FI was the capitulation of the POR, the Bolivian section of the Fourth International that had mass influence, to bourgeois nationalism. During the Bolivian revolution in 1952, they joined the popular front led by the MNR (Revolutionary National Movement), and accepted posts in the bourgeois’ governmental apparatus; Guillermo Lora, leader of the party, was appointed to the Stabilization Office; Moller, another leader of the POR, was a director of the Workers’ Savings Bank, controlled by Juan Lechin, a member of the Cabinet; Allayo Mercado, another POR leader, was a member of the Agrarian Commission.


This betrayal was known by the political leadership of the FI. The Trotskyist Transitional Program in the section dealing with semi-colonies states: ‘It is impossible merely to reject the democratic program; it is imperative that in the struggle the masses outgrow it. The slogan for a National (or Constituent) Assembly preserves its full force for such countries as China or India. This slogan must be indissolubly tied up with the problem of national liberation and agrarian reform. As a primary step, the workers must be armed with this democratic program. Only they will be able to summon and unite the farmers. On the basis of the revolutionary democratic program, it is necessary to oppose the workers to the “national” bourgeoisie. Then, at a certain stage in the mobilization of the masses under the slogans of revolutionary democracy, soviets can and should arise. Their historical role in each given period, particularly their relation to the National Assembly, will be determined by the political level of the proletariat, the bond between them and the peasantry, and the character of the proletarian party policies. Sooner or later, the soviets should overthrow bourgeois democracy. Only they are capable of bringing the democratic revolution to a conclusion and likewise opening an era of socialist revolution.’


Instead of a political revolutionary struggle against the bourgeois government by mobilizing the workers and the poor peasants first on the basis of revolutionary democratic demands and then for a workers revolution, the politics of the POR was class collaboration that blocked the revolution and ended in a bloody defeat. It is one thing to use the Leninist tactic of a united front even with nationalists against imperialism and another thing to join their government.


History has shown that popular fronts and class collaborations that arise in a revolutionary situation can lead only to defeat. In June 1936, the working class of France could take power. The strike breaking policy of the Popular Front, the betrayals of the Socialist and Communist leaders, led to the defeat. Defeat for the workers' movement, defeat of the Popular Front itself and then the victory fascism. In 1940 the Nazis were already in Paris.


The same happened in Spain. Those centrists who would argue that the anti-imperialist united front in the semi-colonies means that workers parties should join a bourgeois government, ignored the result in Indonesia of Sukarano and the fate of Allende in Chile. These centrists show that they have not learned anything from the defeat of the revolution in China in 1925-1927 when the Communist Party of China under Stalin’s directions turned the united front tactic to a strategy that leads to the Menshevik two stages theory - first an historical stage of supporting the national bourgeoisie and only in the second historical stage, a socialist revolution. This notion guarantees that the socialist revolution will be blocked.


The capitulation of a section of the LSSP to bourgeois nationalism of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, in 1964, is yet another proof. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) the section of the International Secretary joined the ruling coalition led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike.


The LSSP accepted three cabinet positions with LSSP leader N.M. Perera in the post of finance minister. The majority of delegates in the national congress were in favor of Perera’s resolution to join the ruling coalition. A minority of 159 delegates opposed the motion and split to form the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Revolutionary) or LSSP (R). This government, after demoralizing the masses, was defeated in the 1965 elections.


In Egypt, during the Arab Spring beginning in 2011, the Revolutionary Socialists, affiliated with the British SWP, instead of fighting for a workers’ revolutionary party to lead a socialist revolution, joined the program of the liberal block. Then, it called to vote for Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, during the presidential elections in 2012 and then supported the military coup of Al Sisi on 3 July 2013. When confronted, they lied and denied that they support the military coup. Today they hide their actual positions during the coup. However at the time they took the following position: “What happened on June 30 was, without the slightest doubt, the historic beginning of a new wave of the Egyptian revolution, the largest wave since January 2011. (…) What has happened in Egypt is the height of democracy, a revolution of millions to directly topple the ruler.” (Statement by the Revolutionary Socialists organisation in Egypt: Four days that shook the world, July 4, 2013,


They also stated in another declaration: “But the stubbornness, stupidity and criminality of the US-backed Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Badie, its General Guide, open the terrifying horizons of civil war. This can only be stopped by millions coming into the squares and streets to protect their revolution. They must abort the US-Brotherhood plan to portray the Egyptian Revolution as a military coup. The popular uprising of 30 June threw the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, and its plan is now clear. The Brotherhood is seeking to take over the squares in order to project an image of false popularity for the president who was removed by the uprising. It may even be aiming to negotiate his return to power with the support of the US and other imperialist powers in order to accomplish what Mursi promised to do for them in Syria and the region. Leaving the squares to Mursi and his supporters today is the biggest danger that faces the revolution.” (Statement from the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt: Victory to the 30 June revolution: Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt, 6 July 2013).” [46]


By contrast, the RCIT’s position on Egypt was: “The RCIT does not support in any way the politics of this party. Quite the opposite, the RCIT supported the mass protests against the Morsi government on 30th June and before. These protests were progressive because the workers and poor fought for bread and democratic freedom against the bourgeois-democratically elected Morsi government. However, the military coup created a completely new situation. The army command takeover was thoroughly counter-revolutionary albeit it claimed to be related to the 30th June demonstration. In fact this claim was nothing but a figleaf for the army command, the imperialists and the fulool (remnant of the Mubarak regime) to take power directly in their hands and to start an anti-democratic rollback.


The RCIT sharply condemns those leftists in Egypt and internationally who objectively helped the reactionary military regime in their counterrevolutionary plans by whitewashing their coup d’état on 3rd July as an “advance for the revolution” or even a “Second Egyptian Revolution”. The centrist Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt and their international co-thinkers of the SWP(UK) and the ISO(USA) or the IMT of Alan Woods are examples for this shameful betrayal. They are a warning example for the workers vanguard that political organizations lacking a revolutionary method in program and politics will inevitable end on the side of the counterrevolution.” [47]