[Marxism] Did Cannon have a "liquidationist" position on theBlackquestion in the U.S.?

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Wed Mar 1 19:05:09 MST 2006

Ben Courtice writes, "The definition of a nation I'm going by is the
Lenin/Stalin one (endorsed, subsequently, by Trotsky) which Norm Dixon
puts like this in Links magazine no. 13:" and he proceeds to quote
Stalin's famous definition.

It is undoubtedly true that Stalin's pamphlet reflected the views the
Bolsheviks at the time, and in reality, of much of the international
current that Lenin called "revolutionary social democracy." 

But I believe a reading of Stalin's pamphlet shows that it was a rigid
and formalistic presentation of the question, and, at any rate, one that
is today solely of historical interest, very much circumscribed to the
European experience before World War I, dealing with it inadequately
even then, with dubious politics for those days and with no political
value for today.

I'm not really very concerned with the right "definition" of the term
"nation." That Blacks don't fit the classic definition of "nation" only
means the classic definition is inadequate. This idea that somehow we're
going to definitionally negate the reality that Blacks are a separate
and distinct people is quite arbitrary.

But the analysis he presents and the politics that flow from it are much
more important than his definitions.

Stalin says national movements are proper of the epoch of rising
capitalisms. They are always bourgeois movements, in essence, disputes
bourgeoisies for a given market. He OVERLOOKS that what he is describing
is a struggle between two nationalisms, that which he ascribes to the
"rising" bourgeoisie and the one he does not see, because he himself was
infected with it to some degree, the nationalism of the bourgeoisie that
has already RISEN. 

He says even when other classes are drawn into national movements, "In
its essence it is always a bourgeois struggle, one that is to the
advantage and profit mainly of the bourgeoisie." 

He says, sure we're for self-determination, but that mostly as a way of
trying to win workers AWAY from nationalism, which is always bourgeois.
And here he means the nationalism of the subjugated nation, for the
nationalism of the subjugating nation for him does not exist. What does
exist is a "policy of national oppression," which passes over into "a
'system' of inciting nations against each other, to a 'system' of
massacres and pogroms." And he adds, "'Divide and rule' – such is the
purpose of the policy of incitement."

But the truth is that much more than "divide and rule," was involved,
and the policy was and remains inciting OPPRESSOR nations against
OPPRESSED nations. The tsarists weren't inciting Jewish pogroms against
Russians. And by this way of formulating the question "inciting nations
against each other" what he's doing is putting an equal signs between
the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed.

Stalin's pamphlet is completely BLIND to the nationalism of the
oppressor. Consider this passage:

"But the unity of a nation diminishes not only as a result of migration.
It diminishes also from internal causes, owing to the growing acuteness
of the class struggle. In the early stages of capitalism one can still
speak of a 'common culture' of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But
as large-scale industry develops and the class struggle becomes more and
more acute, this 'common culture' begins to melt away. One cannot
seriously speak of the 'common culture' of a nation when employers and
workers of one and the same nation cease to understand each other. What
'common destiny' can there be when the bourgeoisie thirsts for war, and
the proletariat declares 'war on war'?"

Stalin's article is dated January 1913. In August, 1914, it was seen
that all his claims that there was no "common culture" in the already
developed, capitalist nations between the working class and ruling class
were false. European social democracy's leaders, with a few honorable
exceptions, rallied each to the defense of "their own" fatherland. There
was no 'war on war' but rather abject capitulation to the bourgeois
nationalism of the main powers, which Stalin never even mentions.

Why was Stalin unable to see it? Because at that time neither he nor the
rest of the Bolsheviks understood imperialism, whose central
characteristic is the division of the world between a handful of
exploiting, oppressor nations and a big majority of exploited and
oppressed nations, colonies, and peoples.

For Stalin, "national oppression" was mainly a *policy* deployed to
divide the working class. Just as he did not see the nationalism of the
oppressor he also didn't see the privileges of the oppressor nation, nor
the super-exploitation of the oppressed. 

How mistaken Stalin was is shown by him summary of his political
approach: "The fate of a national movement, which is essentially a
bourgeois movement, is naturally bound up with the fate of the
bourgeoisie. The final disappearance of a national movement is possible
only with the downfall of the bourgeoisie. Only under the reign of
socialism can peace be fully established. But even within the framework
of capitalism it is possible to reduce the national struggle to a
minimum, to undermine it at the root, to render it as harmless as
possible to the proletariat. This is borne out, for example, by
Switzerland and America. It requires that the country should be
democratized and the nations be given the opportunity of free

What does this say? That Stalin and his friends DIDN'T GET IT. THEY HAD
NO CLUE. No greater proof of it can there be that "America," the
blood-drenched white-supremacist European colonial settler regime bnased
on  stealing half of Mexico, on the genocide against the Indians, on the
enslavement and lynching of Blacks, is held up as an example of national

Fortunately when the cluetrain made its stop in August of 1914, Lenin
did take delivery. All this utopian poppycock about reducing the
national struggle to a minimum, undermining it at the root, rendering it
harmless were rejected by Lenin and the policy of trying to win the
workers of oppressed nations AWAY from the national movements was
replaced by a policy of wholehearted, unconditional support to the
national movements of oppressed peoples against imperialism, the enemy
of all humanity, of organizing the workers of the oppressed nations to
vie with the bourgeoisie for leadership of the national movements of
oppressed peoples, and of educating the workers of the oppressor nations
in their internationalist duty to aid those struggle against "their own"

I want to add one more thing, which is that the politics outlined in the
Stalin pamphlet were *not* the policies of Marx and Engels. Quite the

For example, Stalin denounces "the segregation of the workers according
to nationality." 

But in 1872, when the Irish workers within England were called to task
before the General Council of the First International for forming
separate Irish branches, and a motion was put that this violated the
rules of the International, Engels rose to their defense basing his
approach on what Lenin also eventually come to see as central, the
difference between the nationalism of the oppressor and the nationalism
of the oppressed:

'Citizen Engels said the real purpose of the motion, stripped of all
hypocrisy, was to bring the Irish sections into subjection to the
British Federal Council [of the International), a thing to which the
Irish sections would never consent, and which the Council had neither
the right nor the power to impose upon them... The Irish formed a
distinct nationality of their own, and the fact that [they] used the
English language could not deprive them of their rights... Citizen Hales
had spoken of the relations of England and Ireland being of the most
idyllic nature... but the case was quite different. There was the fact
of seven centuries of English conquest and oppression of Ireland, and so
long as that oppression existed, it would be an insult to Irish working
men to ask them to submit to a British Federal Council. [The motion] was
asking the conquered people to forget their nationality and submit to
their conquerers. It was not Internationalism, but simply prating
submission. If the promoters of the motion were so brimful of the truly
international spirit, let them prove it by removing the seat of the
British Federal Council to Dublin and submit to a Council of Irishmen.
In a case like that of the Irish, true Internationalism must necessarily
be based upon a distinct national organization, and they were under the
necessity to state in... their rules that their first and most pressing
duty as Irishmen was to establish their own national independence...'.

I will read Norm's piece and Malik's responses, I just wanted to point
out for now that Stalin's pamphlet is not just completely outdated, it
wasn't very good politics even back then. 

One more thought. In talking about the nationalism of the oppressed
TODAY, any definition that doesn't have imperialism and imperialist
oppression and exploitation at the center of it is suspect.


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