Proletarian Internationalism: A Duty For All Revolutionaries

Fighters of the Mackenzie-Papineau brigades, organized by the Communist Party of Canada to train their members in armed struggle and contribute in the international effort to defeat the fascists in Spain.
Fighters of the Mackenzie-Papineau brigades, organized by the Communist Party of Canada to train their members in armed struggle and contribute in the international effort to defeat the fascists in Spain.

Statement of Revolutionary Initiative

Since the earliest days, proletarian internationalism has been a central pillar of the international communist movement.  Communists carry a line among the people that workers have no homeland, that national borders do not determine a community of interest.  The common interests of all workers is based on our class and all workers, regardless of their nation, have a common interest in the  struggle against capitalism and for a socialist future.

However, various counter-revolutionary ideologies, such as revisionism, petty bourgeois nationalism and cultural nationalism have attempted to obscure this basic truth.  They have in various ways hindered the development of internationalism amongst the working class and worked to prop up the imperialist ruling class.  As a collective operating in an imperialist country founded on settler colonialism, it is essential that Revolutionary Initiative understand its role in the international movement and work effectively to propagate internationalism amongst the working class and its allies.

This document will attempt to increase our understanding on this central element of revolutionary struggle by analysing how proletarian internationalism has been practised throughout the history of the International Communist Movement, the special duties for revolutionaries operating in imperialist countries, and the principles and priorities for the Canadian movement in particular.

History and Development of Proletarian Internationalism

Proletarian internationalism is best summed up in the concluding slogan of the Communist Manifesto: “Workers of all countries, unite!”  Proletarian internationalism is the reciprocal help between all revolutionary peoples to promote the development of world revolution and defeat of imperialism.  While respecting the independence of other revolutionary movements, this form of internationalism opposes narrow nationalism and narrow patriotism, which is blind to class contradictions.

The examples of the three Communist Internationals and how proletarian internationalism was interpreted during these periods are crucial to our understanding of this concept and how to practice it.  The Internationals were important instruments to promote proletarian ideology, create genuine Communist Parties, and support revolutionary movements, especially the fledgling Soviet republic and other anti-fascist and anti-colonial movements.  They were also important forums for the exchange of experience and debates on questions in order to help advance revolutionary theory and practice.  However, the Comintern became an instrument that attempted to direct struggle in one part of the world from another part.  This error was fatal for more than a few comrades who lost their lives carrying out erroneous lines, such as in China before the rise of Mao.  In some cases, as with Canada, the line of the Comintern was distorted by local revisionist forces to implement a liquidationist line from which the Party never recovered.

The first multilateral forum for proletarian internationalism was established with the founding of the First International.  At the time, proletarian ideology was still in the process of formation and much of the proletarian movement was driven by utopian  socialism, anarchism, and other petty bourgeois ideologies.  Marx and Engels were the first to develop a genuinely proletarian ideology, one that was based on a scientific understanding of socialism and class struggle.  They used the First International to promote their ideas to the proletariat of Europe and around the world.

The Second International was formed in 1882, with Engels playing a prominent role.  By the 1900s, Marxism was the dominant ideology in the working class movement.  However, the rise of Marxism was closely followed by the rise of classical revisionism.  Important “Marxists” such as Bernstein sold out the proletarian movement and joined the bourgeois state in the name of “peaceful evolution” as the path to socialism.  Kautsky at first defended Marxism but eventually joined the ranks of the revisionists, voting in favour of the war budgets of World War I and defending colonialism.  These and other betrayals marked the death of the Second International.

With a backdrop of the Second International supporting the war efforts of their national bourgeoisie and/or feudal monarchs and attempting to convince millions of workers to go to their deaths in the interests of the “fatherland”, Lenin and other genuine Marxists such as Rosa Luxembourg launched a relentless ideological struggle against their national-chauvinist positions.  Lenin argued that a new international group was needed to coordinate the movement, that it was necessary to:

“create a really centralised and really leading centre capable of directing the international tactics of the revolutionary proletariat in its struggle for a world Soviet republic. It should be clearly realised that such a leading centre can never be built up on stereotyped, mechanically equated, and identical tactical rules of struggle. As long as national and state distinctions exist among peoples and countries—and these will continue to exist for a very long time to come, even after the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established on a world-wide scale—the unity of the international tactics of the communist working-class movement in all countries demands, not the elimination of variety of the suppression of national distinctions (which is a pipe dream at present), but an application of the fundamental principles of communism (Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat), which will correctly modify these principles in certain particulars, correctly adapt and apply them to national and national-state distinctions.”  (Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder)

The success of the Russian Revolution created a new revolutionary centre by proving the strength of revolutionary Marxism and gave the international proletariat the resources and liberated territory capable of hosting a new International.  The Third Communist International (Comintern) provided a platform for the reorientation of the Communist movement and for the development of genuine proletarian internationalism.  Two of the initial and primary tasks of the Comintern was to rebuild genuine Communist Parties across the world and to defend he newly founded Soviet republic, which faced aggression from the capitalist nations.

Lenin, in writing the admission requirements for the Comintern, fiercely advocated for a form of central democracy within the International.
“All decisions of the Communist International’s congresses and of its Executive Committee are binding on all affiliated parties. Operating in conditions of acute civil war, the Communist International must be far more centralised than the Second International was. It stands to reason, however, that in every aspect of their work the Communist International and its Executive Committee must take into account the diversity of conditions in which the respective parties have to fight and work, and adopt decisions binding on all parties only on matters in which such decisions are possible.” (Lenin, Terms of Admission into Communist International)

Moreover, it is clear that Communists understood that while centralism was an important factor, there was also the necessity to understand that Communist Parties must pay heed to their specific conditions in determining lines and tactics.

While the Comintern played a positive role in reorienting the ICM, the problems associated with applying democratic centralism to a multilateral body gradually became more and more apparent.  During the early years, the emphasis on international unity and discipline were necessary in order to drag the International Communist Movement out of the cesspool of revisionism and to consolidate genuinely revolutionary Communist Parties.  However, during the 1930s and WWII the situation became increasingly complex, such that it became impossible for individual Parties to find the solutions to their problems by taking direction from a multilateral body.  The Comintern recognized this situation and dissolved itself in 1943.

“The entire course of events for the past quarter of a century, as well as the accumulated experiences of the Communist International, have convincingly proved that the organizational form of uniting the workers as chosen be the First Congress of the Communist International, which corresponded to the needs of the initial period of rebirth of the labor movement, more and more outlived itself in proportion to the growth of this movement and increasing complexity of problems in each country, and that this form even became a hindrance to the further strengthening of the national workers’ parties.” (Executive Committee of the Comintern, Dissolution of the Communist International)

The experience of the Communist Party of China illustrates this problem.  Prior to the seventh congress of the International in 1935, the International tried to intervene in and direct the CPC with disastrous results.  The Comintern had pushed a strategic line that was inappropriate for the semi-colonial semi-feudal conditions present in China, with the result that tens of thousands of Communists were killed by reactionary forces.  It was not until the rise of Mao Zedong that the correct strategy was applied, often in defiance of the recommendations Comintern.

Speaking about the International upon its liquidation in 1943, Mao stated that the need for such a body had passed:

“What is needed now is the strengthening of the national Communist Party of each country, and we no longer need this international leading centre… The internal situation in each country and the relations between the different countries are more complicated than they have been in the past and are changing more rapidly. It is no longer possible for a unified international organization to adapt itself to these extremely complicated and rapidly changing circumstances. Correct leadership must grow out of a detailed analysis of these conditions, and this makes it even more necessary for the Communist Party of each country to undertake this itself.” (Mao, The Comintern Has Long Ceased to Meddle in Our Internal Affairs)

After the rise of modern revisionism led by Khrushchev and especially with the start of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, China emerged as a new revolutionary centre but of a new type.  While the Maoists engaged in vigorous struggle against modern revisionism on the international level, they did not believe it was possible or desirable to have a single revolutionary centre to give direction to the various Parties of the world.  Permanent delegations from Parties from all over the world were hosted in Beijing, but rather than establish a democratic centralist multilateral body, the CPC pushed the principal of equality of all Parties, regardless of their size, regardless of if they held state power or not.  Any multilateral resolutions were to be based on voluntary consensus, with Parties being free to not sign if deemed to be unacceptable or sign with reservations noted.  The Maoists realized that democratic centralism is not appropriate for a multilateral body, as it will inevitably result either in splitting the movement whenever differences emerged or the imposition of a line that was contrary to the democratic will of the members of a national Party.  While international discussion, coordination and cooperation is still important for the development of the world wide revolutionary struggle, the terms under which these take place must take into account these post-Comintern principles.

Proletarian Internationalism in Imperialist Countries

The Comintern grew out of the experience of Marxist parties taking reactionary, opportunist positions regarding the mass slaughter of millions of people during World War I so as to sustain the economies of the ruling class at that time.  It is critical then to understand the reasons behind the rise of opportunism and the correctness of Lenin’s position on the work of Communists within imperialist countries.  Lenin made it clear that comrades working in the heart of imperialism had special duties:

“Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie possess colonies and oppress other nations must pursue a most well-defined and clear-cut policy in respect of colonies and oppressed nations. Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its “own” country, must support—in deed, not merely in word—every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.” (Lenin, Terms of Admission into Communist International)

To combat opportunism and reaction within our movements, it is necessary to constantly struggle against nationalist tendencies and lines within movements in imperialist countries.  As noted by Lenin, “social-chauvinism is consummated opportunism”, which is a serious problem in our context due to the dominance of labour aristocratic organizations.

Carrying out a nationalist line for revolutionaries in imperialist countries is unacceptable and dangerous, as history has demonstrated time and time again as it will inevitably result in the betrayal of the revolution.  We must constantly improve our methods of carrying out internationalist work in an effective way towards building a genuine mass based anti-imperialist movement.

Priorities and Directions For Our Movement

Given the historical lessons of the International Communist Movement, we can extract certain priorities and specific tasks for our movement.

1 – Mutual support and respect between people’s movements.

As with our work amongst the people of Canada, we have a duty to be humble in our practice and respectful in our approach towards comrades from other movements.  Certainly, this does not mean that we should not analyse particular struggles and weaknesses and offer criticisms as needed.  The size of a given Party cannot be taken as proof that it has the correct line.  Smaller Parties with a correct line can expand rapidly, while larger Parties may adopt an incorrect line and wither away.  However it should be clear that all relations are conducted in the spirit of learning from and supporting the development of other movements.

We must also defend the anti-imperialist movements in Latin America, Palestine and other regions where there are heroic battles being waged for national liberation.  Just as Marx supported the Afghan monarchy against the British and Mao expressed his support for anti-imperialist movements in Africa and Latin America without requiring a unity along Marxist-Leninist lines, neither should we be so myopic as to discard important struggles against imperialism because we do not have ideological unity.  We should promote those struggles and defend the right of national liberation and self-determination to the masses and seek unity on an anti-imperialist basis.

We should also seek to relate to the Maoist forces within those movements, with whom we can achieve a higher level of unity.

2 – Promote advanced and especially exemplary struggles with different kinds of support based on different kinds of unity.

As revolutionaries, we have a duty to support the people’s struggle everywhere.  It is essential to the healthy development of our movement within an imperialist country.  However, as Marxist-Leninist-Maoists we also have a duty to further support and uphold the struggles of the most advanced movements where our comrades have attained successes so that further breakthroughs can be attained.  History has shown that every breakthrough has been followed by a wave of advance for the entire global revolutionary movement.  As Che Guevara said “A victory against imperialism by anyone is a victory for everyone.”  Every victory serves to expose and weaken imperialism internationally.

An exemplary movement is defined by the following features: proletarian leadership and ideology, a strategic orientation towards socialism and communism, and being the vanguard of a revolutionary movement.  In the current world situation, the revolutionary movements and struggles most in need of our support are in the Philippines, Nepal, and India.  We must promote their victories among the masses, defend their gains against imperialist attack, and expose their movements to the people in Canada.

3 – Internationalism must be a part of all work.

Our internationalism has to become ingrained in all aspects of our work.  It should not be relegated to something that is done only at the Party to Party level.  It must be part of our propaganda, education and work at every level.  All workers must come to know each other as comrades in struggle, regardless of their nationality.  Proletarian internationalism must be practised in every level of relationship: Party to Party, sector to sector, and people to people.
Along these lines, it is also important to build solidarity between peoples organizations in different countries as a way of strengthening ties and bonds between people in struggle through common campaigns or any other form of building unity.

4 – Expose Canadian imperialism at every turn.

Canada is an imperialist country and the state represents the interests of the ruling class of Canada: the imperialist bourgeoisie.  Canadian imperialism extends its dominance militarily, through active participation in aggressive military operations and coalitions (occupation of Afghanistan and Haiti, ‘peacekeeping’ in the Balkans and other regions, training of foreign reactionary police and military forces, membership in NATO, NORAD, etc.) and through international financial organizations and inter-imperialist cooperative bodies (WTO, IMF, G8 etc.).  Canadian monopolies are active in all corners of the World, exploiting people and land wantonly and actively repressing resistance.  Canadian firms work with the Canadian state, local reactionaries, and NGOs to recruit migrant labour and to pacify and repress the people in the semi-colonial countries.

Canada is not participating in these areas due to coercion by other imperialists or the misguided notions of this or that politician.  We must actively expose the Canadian state as an imperial power and Canadian monopoly capitalism as imperialism.  Canadian imperialists act in their own interest and against the interests of the working class and its allies, both at home and abroad.  We must combat, in deed, not only  imperialist military interventions but also its other aspects, such as its work through international trade, NGOs, agencies, foreign relations and diplomacy.

5 – Combat bourgeois nationalism and national chauvinism within the working class and its allies.

There is a strong tendency within the leftist groups in Canada to appeal to nationalism and to paint the Canadian state as essentially good, but misled or dominated by American imperialism.  These elements push for subsidies to the bourgeoisie and react negatively to discussions about sovereignty for the Aboriginal peoples.  In Canada there can be no progressive or revolutionary nationalism as our social and economic system is imperialist and the general political line of the revolution is socialism and communism.

These tendencies are destructive to our goal of creating a revolutionary movement that works with and supports other revolutionary movements around the world.  This form of nationalism serves to separate the interests of workers here with workers elsewhere in the world and objectively strengthens the imperialist bourgeoisie.  We must not only work to support national liberation struggles abroad, but also work to support self-determination for the Aboriginal peoples.  We must also look to promote Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology and organization amongst the ranks of the Aboriginal peoples.
In all of this, we must remember to beware of ultra-leftism and sectarianism when carrying out our work amongst the people.  Building an anti-imperialist revolutionary movement will be a gradual process based on consolidating the most advanced, winning over the majority, and isolating the reactionaries.  This will take place in every arena of struggle, including within yellow working class organizations and reactionary institutions.

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