Political events of the last twenty-five years have shown that the revolutionary movements born in the 1960s still believe that white people (i.e. the US oppressor nation) are the answer to the problems of the oppressed nations. The decline of these old movements has also shown that these beliefs lead to bitter defeats, both militarily and politically. This view that white people are the answer to the problems of the oppressed nations is neo-colonial and Eurocentric, and is one of the main forms of false internationalism.
On a world scale, neo-colonialism as a stage of imperialism has proven to be very dangerous because of its flexibility and powers of camouflage as compared to colonialism. Even people who are opposed to imperialism can get misdirected by neo-colonial influences.
So there are not misunderstandings, right at the beginning we want to take the time to spell out what certain key concepts are. Neo-colonialism (literally “new colonialism”) is a more sophisticated, disguised form of the classic capitalist colonialism. Originally, the European capitalist nations and their settler off-shoots (“u.s.a.,” Canada, Northern Ireland, etc.) militarily seized oppressed nations, which they ruled and looted as national property. However, to deflect anti-colonial revolutions the imperialist powers found it expedient to grant “flag independence” to the new governments representing the oppressed nation petty-bourgeoisie.
So Kenya before independence in 1960 was an outright British Crown Colony, where the economy was owned by major European corporations and settler plantation owners, and where political dissent and rebelliousness were brutally put down by Britain’s puppet “native police”. Today, Kenya is a British neo-colony, governed by a well-paid Afrikan elite who are in alliance with imperialism against their own people. The same European and U.S. corporations and the same settler planters dominate the economy, while the same puppet troops repress the masses. So the “flag independence” is democratic only in outward form, a change of faces, but in essence the Kenyan neo-colony is still a nation oppressed by another nation (and by imperialism as a system).
Implicit in everything we say is the communist understanding that the imperialist stage of capitalist development is characterized by the complete division of the world into oppressor and oppressed nations. By the start of the 20th century, the imperialist powers of Europe, the “u.s.a.” and Japan had divided among themselves claim to every square inch of the earth’s surface. Every person was supposed to be owned by one imperialist nation or another. While today we generally think of oppressed nations as Third World or non-European, there have been numerous exceptions—Ireland (oppressed by Britain), the Basque (oppressed by Spain), Albania (oppressed by Italy), and so on.
Neo-colonialism uses a facade of democracy (“native rule”, “one man one vote”, etc.) to conceal continued domination. This need not take the form of independence, but can also take the form of phony citizenship in the oppressor nation. French imperialism gave “democracy” to its small New Caledonian colony in the Pacific, for example, by annexing it into France. All Kanak people, the true inhabitants, were involuntarily given paper French citizenship with “voting rights”. Of course, even in Kanaky elections the garrison of French settlers on the island outvotes the Kanak “minority”, while assassinating or imprisoning those who get too militant. New Caledonia is a “democratic” neo-colony, in the same way as Puerto Rico or New Afrika. New Afrika was originally a colony of chattel slaves, but was converted to a neo-colony in 1865 when New Afrikan colonial subjects were involuntarily given phony U.S. citizenship as a pretense of democracy, a substitute for independence as a nation.
While neo-colonialism is a phenomenon of imperialism, that does not mean that only the capitalism class practices it. Neo-colonialism is a part of the general relations between oppressor nations and oppressed nations. Often noble sentiments and concerns are twisted or exploited, in the same was that “democracy” or “voting rights” are used to deny real democracy through independence. For example, in 1985 one of the major events in the U.S. was the popularity of aid to Afrika campaigns. While preventing starvation in drought areas is humanitarian, the campaigns were also clearly neo-colonial propaganda. The implicit message was always put out that Afrikans are too savage and too stupid to feed themselves, so that their survival depends on white people. It is our point that in many ways neo-colonialism has pervaded relations between revolutionary movements in the U.S. Empire, however masked by lofty words like “solidarity” and “internationalism”.
There is a relationship between neo-colonialism and class, just as there is between false internationalism and class. Genuine proletarian internationalism between revolutionaries of different nations is based on our class stand. We recognize that the oppressed and exploited masses of the world, led by the proletariat as the most modern and revolutionary class, not only have common interests but are remaking the world through socialist revolution. False internationalism is a pretense of this, in the same way that neo-colonialism is the pretense of true independence. When we think about it, examples are easy to find.
In the late 1960s Euro-Amerikan radicals and liberals raised tens of thousands of dollars, walked picket lines in front of courthouses, and helped make a big public issue of the defense trials of Black Panther Party leaders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Newton and Seale were projected by the media and the white Left as the most revolutionary leadership of the New Afrikan movement. Was that campaign an example of genuine internationalism? No. Many Euro-Amerikan students may have been subjectively sincere in a desire for internationalism, but objectively what took place was the reverse. Because at the same time that the Euro-Amerikan Left was promoting Huey and Bobby, they were also ignoring—and thus implicitly condoning—imperialism counter-insurgency against real revolutionary nationalists, such as Fred Ahmed Evans in Cleveland or the Republic of New Afrika 11 in Mississippi. In other words, no solidarity with those explicitly fighting for New Afrikan independence. What passed for “solidarity” was really a settler Left attempt to once again pick Black leaders more suitable to them. Not internationalism but false internationalism.
While false internationalism involves deception, it is more than a trick. It is a class alliance between petty-bourgeois and lumpen opportunist elements from both oppressor and oppressed nations. Misleadership and continued dependency on the oppressor nation is promoted, against the interests of the oppressed. And the collaboration is concealed under the label of revolutionary “solidarity” or internationalism.
At this point we want to break down the class question. Classes are social groupings of people that occupy a common role in economic production and distribution, and therefore share a common way of life, a common position in society, common political interests and common social goals. In general we recognize four main world classes, two of the laboring classes and two of the non-laboring classes: the bourgeoisie (capitalists), petty-bourgeoisie (small business owners, managers, intellectuals and other privileged middle-persons), proletariat (workers), and peasantry (small farmers). We say “in general” because in each nation the actual class situation reflects that nation’s own particular historical development.
It is necessary to keep in mind that class structure can be very different from nation to nation. It is not true that every nation has the same classes, based on the European 19th century model of Marx and Engels’ day. For example, although the New Afrikan nation has a very large proletariat and a small petty-bourgeoisie, it has no bourgeoisie. There is a New Afrikan pseudo-bourgeoisie, made up of a handful of individual millionaires, car dealers, entertainers, politicians, funeral home owners, etc. That is, while there are individual New Afrikans who are wealthy or own businesses, they do not make up a real capitalist class of their own. The reason for this is that the position and role of the capitalist class in the New Afrikan oppressed nation is taken up by the U.S. oppressor nation bourgeoisie. The handful of wealthy New Afrikan pseudo-bourgeoisie, while they can buy stocks, sports cars and yachts, do not employ the New Afrikan proletariat, do not own any significant capital, and do not control in any way the economic activities of their own nation. All that is done by the settler bourgeoisie. In other words, the pseudo-bourgeoisie are wealthy individually, but do not own their nation’s means of production and distribution (steel mills, airlines, chemical plants, utilities, etc.) So the class structure itself has been shaped by the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nation.
Conversely, on the other side of the same national contradiction, there are many individual Euro-Amerikan workers but they do not make up a genuine proletariat. That is, settler workers are a non-exploited labor aristocracy, with a privileged lifestyle far, far above the levels of the world proletariat. They might be called a pseudo-proletariat, in that individual settlers do work in factories and mines, but as a group they do not perform the role of a proletariat. Settler workers neither support their society by their labor, nor is their exploitation the source of the surplus value (or profit) that sustains the U.S. bourgeoisie. The life-giving role of the proletariat in the U.S. Empire is relegated to the proletariats of the oppressed nations, which is why “nations become almost as classes” under imperialism. The shrinking number of settler workers actually live as part of the lower petty-bourgeoisie, and have no separate political existence. Classes in the U.S. Empire themselves reflect the primary contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations.
The petty-bourgeoisie (literally “little bourgeoisie”) is an in-between class, that neither owns the means of production and commands society, as the bourgeoisie does, nor sustains society by its labor as the proletariat does. Nor can this class successfully make revolution itself. Politically the petty-bourgeoisie is a vacillating and intermediary class, shifting its position back and forth between imperialism and socialism. Like other classes it is divided into sectors. There are, for instance, social and political differences between the small retail-shop owning sector and the intellectuals. Yet, there is even more in common.
There was a tendency in the ‘60s movements to glorify the petty-bourgeoisie (and the lumpen). Some folks even said that in the New Afrikan nation the intellectuals (teachers, lawyers, doctors, college students, etc.) were national revolutionary as a whole. When we examine the political careers of people from this class, however, we can see that while some committed class suicide within the Revolution, many other Black intellectuals, whatever their rhetoric, only had the ultimate goal of “equality” with their settler class-mates—foundation grants, professorships, government positions, neo-colonial reforms that benefited them as a privileged sector.
The main political ally of the petty-bourgeoisie in the the old ‘60s-’70s movements were the lumpen (lumpen-proletariat). There has been much confusion about the class or semi-class. Classically, the lumpen have been described as the “rag-tag” grouping of individuals uprooted and dislocated from the main classes, and who consequently no longer have any relationship at all to productive society.
The lumpen have many different origins. In pre-Nazi Germany many of the lumpen came from the bankrupted petty-bourgeoisie while others came from the peasantry and lower proletariat. Their primary political expression was in the paramilitary “Brown Shirts” (Sturmabteilung or Storm Troopers) of the Nazi Party, and they were the class base for the “radical” wing of that party (which sought to terrorize and rule over both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat). After the “Brown Shirts” were purged in a 1934 bloodbath by Hitler, many of the lumpen survivors became exiles from Germany. In that stage the ex-Storm Troopers became the main element in the Ernst Thaelmann Brigade, the German Communist Party unit that fought in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists. We can see that the lumpen should not be carelessly characterized without social investigation in the individual case.
In the 1960s-1970s movements within the U.S. Empire the lumpen were glorified, sometimes to the point of proclaiming them as the leading or even the only revolutionary class. This was widespread. A misunderstanding was pushed which falsely identified the lumpen as the poorest and unemployed. As we shall see, this was no an accident. Most of the folks whom the old movements called lumpen were really from the bottom, most-oppressed layer of the proletariat.
In general under capitalism roughly 50% of the proletariat are unemployed, forming the reserve army of the unemployed. This was true in England in 1848 and Watts in 1985. Mass unemployment is a normal, fixed situation for much of the real proletariat (unlike the Euro-Amerikan labor aristocracy). Capitalism needs the reserve army of the unemployed to give them more choice in hiring workers, to help push down wages and maintain competition for scarce jobs, and to be there ready-at-hand when economic expansion creates an instant need for more labor. Marx referred to them as the proletariat’s “Lazarus-layers”, after the Biblical character revived from the dead by Jesus. In the same way the bourgeoisie, when it needs more labor, suddenly revives the “Lazarus-layers” into economic life. That millions must there live lives of desperation, lives fragmented with chaos and cut short by the conditions of the streets, is only a regular feature of capitalist “civilization”. So the poor and unemployed are not per se the lumpen, although lumpen may be poor and unemployed.
What characterized the lumpen as a class or semi-class is their individualistic separation from both the class and society they came from. They have no loyalty to the oppressed, although they may hate the oppressor. To merely be poor and unemployed still leaves one within the working classes, but to be lumpen is to see your life as preying on the working classes. The individualism, political vacillation and subjectivity that characterize the petty-bourgeoisie are only more so for the lumpen, although we can see how these classes can work hand-in-hand with each other.
The political rootlessness of the lumpen is one of their main attributes. In pre-Revolutionary China some former peasants, forced off their lands and hence out of the farming communities they came from, took part in anti-landlord rebellions and formed secret societies for mutual self-protection. But in most cases these initially righteous secret societies—the Triad society, the Green Band, the Big Sword Society, and many others—quickly evolved into armed gangs preying on the people, and then became mercenary gangs doing the dirty work for the imperialists.
It was only in militarily beating the mercenary gangs and puppet army units, both mainly lumpen, that the Chinese Red Army could remold lumpen, proletarianizing them as part of the Revolution. We can see this rootlessness and alienation from their people in the careers of lumpen who were former leading figures in the ‘60s Black Movement, but who turned to drug dealing, petty hustling or fronting for the C.I.A. once things got difficult. The street force or what was called the lumpen was a mixture of classes, with lumpen elements within a primarily proletarian mass.
It is not a question of the lumpen being “good” or “bad”. Many lumpen fighters, as everyone knows, played a militant role in the revolutionary movements. But to falsely glorify the class as such is to undermine the necessary understanding that the Revolution requires lumpen to transform themselves, to become proletarian. No lumpen can successfully serve their people without committing class suicide. In Revolutionary China the Red Army gladly recruited lumpen bandits or mercenaries, but systematically assisted them to adopt a proletarian outlook—in putting collective interests first, in learning scientific military practice, in doing productive work instead of living off of others, and in serving the oppressed. When the 1960s-1970s movements here mistakenly glorified the lumpen and glorified criminality as such, they were rejecting the task of helping the lumpen become true fighters for the people. False praise just covered up for slighting the legitimate political needs of these rads.
As a class or semi-class the lumpen in the old 1960s-1970s movements became pawns in neo-colonial alliances with the white Left. That is, the politically active Black lumpen, Puerto Rican lumpen, and so on, were allied to the Euro-Amerikan petty-bourgeoisie.
This produced distortions and set-backs for the oppressed nations. In 1969-70 some groupings within the Euro-Amerikan New Left, most notably the National Office of S.D.S. (Students for a Democratic Society), began promoting a Chicago youth gang as the leading Puerto Rican revolutionary organization in the U.S. An alliance was formed, with S.D.S. activists providing political guidance. This gang, the Young Lords, made and impressive sight when they turned up in berets and jackets at radical demonstrations, on occasions hundreds strong. The Young Lords’ early actions, such as building takeovers to protest gentrification, won them respect and much publicity.
But while they were being heavily promoted by the white Left, internally the youth gang was becoming preoccupied with heroin use. The top leaders, then public figures in Chicago supposedly representing Puerto Rican independence and socialism, were themselves slaves to their drug habit. And in the community too many gang members were abusing people while committing petty crimes to support heroin addiction. Soon the “Organization” just fell apart. In retrospect, the Young Lords (who initially inspired but were separate from the Young Lords Party in New York) as a revolutionary leadership were the artificial creation of the petty-bourgeois white Left and the imperialist media, out of an alliance with the lumpen elements leading oppressed youth. False theories glorifying the lumpen as the most revolutionary class were no accident, emanating from the radical Euro-Amerikan petty-bourgeoisie and the like-minded class-mates in the petty-bourgeoisies of the oppressed nations.
We are in the transition period between the old revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the new movements that are coming into being. The remnants of the old movements, unable to face their crippling weaknesses, try to hold things together by denying the reality of defeats. Their practice has been reduced to repeating what hasn’t worked before, over and over. Now, the two-line struggle between socialism and neo-colonialism is manifested in the struggle to find and overturn the sources of those defeats.
False internationalism had been a factor in the leadership crisis within the revolutionary movements. This can be seen just in the effect of maintaining the idea that white people are the answer to the problems of the oppressed nations. We maintain that this backwards idea had a strangle-hold on the old revolutionary movements.
Simultaneously, the inevitable corollary to that idea also became dominant: that the U.S. oppressor nation Left could avoid the difficult challenges within its own non-revolutionary society by becoming political parasites on the oppressed nations. “Allies” is a noble word that has, like “democracy” and other fine words before it, taken on a sour taste in Babylon.
There is a direct connection between the defeats suffered by the old 1960s-1970s movements on the one hand, and neo-colonial relationships that have existed between revolutionaries of the oppressor and oppressed nations on the other hand. It is necessary to understand this connection scientifically.
Also, it is true that genuine internationalism is invaluable for us, and that anything that undermines this must be viewed as a danger. We are fighting in the continental U.S. Empire, the “prison-house of nations”, a very center of world imperialism crowded with nations and peoples. Alliances between revolutionaries and movements of different nations are not only positive, but are in practice inevitable. Therefore, these alliances must be consciously built in a correct way, in both word and deed.
This study sums up experiences from the development of the 20th century communist movement: that is, of world communism in the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution. It deals with both past and present. In the first half of the study examples of revolutionary alliances both false and genuine are examined. To start with, we see how Finland, a small oppressed nation, played a key role in the overthrow of the Czarist Empire. The genuine alliance between the Finnish nation and the Bolsheviks enabled that young party to survive and build the armed struggle from 1900 onwards.
Following the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in the new Soviet state built the Communist International, the most ambitious experiment in international alliances we have yet seen. Out of this, for reasons we shall explain, came episodes of false internationalism that severely tried the first generation of oppressed nation (colonial) communists: the China-U.S.S.R. alliance in the 1920s-1930s; the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) relationship with Asian nationalities in that same period; finally, the role of the CPUSA’s Black cadres in the 1935 New Afrikan solidarity movement with Ethiopia.
While it is sometimes hard to study earlier revolutionary experiences, these struggles prove that false internationalism is not a brand new problem nor one unique to the “u.s.a.” It is especially useful to see the full meaning of national movements succeeding or failing to overcome false internationalism. The seriousness of what is at stake should impress itself on us. Armies, parties and entire national movements suffered setbacks and in cases complete defeats. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The second half of our study deals with false internationalism in the U.S. Empire during the 1960s-1970s. It particularly examines the relationship between the New Afrikan National Liberation Movement and the Euro-Amerikan New Left on the terrain of armed struggle, the highest and most decisive form of struggle.
This study is not in itself a new, higher level in our understanding of the world. But is is more evidence that we need to reach for such a new stage. Recent crisis not only in movements within the U.S. Empire, but within world socialism is pushing us relentlessly to change. Cabral’s accurate prediction of “neo-socialism” as a higher form of neo-colonialism in Afrika, the Capitalist Road in China, are just cases in point. Imperialism can no longer hold power, but we have no been able to always build socialist power. Imperialism loses but then sometimes retakes countries. Confusion about communism in the U.S. Empire mirrors and is part of the world two-line struggle in peoples’ movements between socialism and neo-colonialism.
This is a time when changes are taking shape that will eventually shatter this Empire and break up the “u.s.a.” itself. Our basic understand of the “u.s.a.” is that it is an illegitimate nation. This was summed up in Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat, which is the historical-materialist analysis of the Euro-Amerikan masses:
“We all know that the ‘United States’ is an oppressor nation; that is, a nation that oppresses other nations. This is a characteristic that the U.S. shares with other imperialist powers. What is specific, is particular about the U.S. oppressor nation is that it is an illegitimate nation.
“What pretends to be one continental nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific is really a Euro-Amerikan settler empire, built on colonially oppressed nations and peoples whose very existence has been forcibly submerged. But the colonial crime, the criminals, the victims, and the stolen lands and labor still exist. The many Indian nations, the Afrikan nation in the South, Puerto Rico, the northern half of Mexico, Asian Hawaii—all are now considered the lands of Euro-Amerikan settlers. The true citizens of this U.S. Empire are the European invaders and their descendants. So that the ‘United States’ is in reality not one, but many nations (oppressor and oppressed).
“We see the recognition of Amerika as a ‘prison-house of nations’ as the beginning—no more, no less—of the difference between revisionist and communist politics here. We hold that once this outward shell of integration into a single, white-dominated ‘U.S.A.’ is cracked open—to reveal the colonial oppression and anti-colonial struggle within—then the correct path to a communist understanding of the U.S. Empire is begun.
“We hold that settlerism is the historic instrument created by the European ruling classes to safeguard their colonial conquests with entire, imported populations of European invaders. In return for special privileges and a small share of the colonial loot these settler became the loyal, live-in garrison troops of Empire...”
The primary contradiction within the U.S. Empire is between imperialism and the oppressed nations. National and class contradictions, which are not completely separate but interrelated, continue to grow sharper within the U.S. Empire. Indeed, the ebbing of the ‘60s protest movements could not stop or even slow the growth of national contradictions.