Revolution #225, February 27, 2011
Discussion on the CONSTITUTION for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
Reply to Letter on the Section "Minority and Formerly Oppressed Nationalities"
We thank you for writing Revolution about the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). This letter appeared in #224, as "Prisoners Debate the Section ‘Minority and Formerly Oppressed Nationalities.'"
You raise a number of criticisms and concerns. The heart of the criticism is contained in your statements "it should be the right of all [oppressed nationalities] to self determination" and "any way I look at it, I see you can't allow African Americans the right to secede but not Mexican-Americans or Native Americans. I see no reason why RCP could not have gone across the board with Blacks, Mexicans, and Natives having equality in determining their future."
Here we want to answer these and related points.
I. What Our Point of Departure is in Combating National Oppression
The Preamble to the Constitution states:
The New Socialist Republic in North America is a multi-national and multi-lingual state, which is based on the principle of equality between different nationalities and cultures and has as one of its essential objectives fully overcoming national oppression and inequality, which was such a fundamental part of the imperialist USA throughout its history. Only on the basis of these principles and objectives can divisions among humanity by country and nation be finally overcome and surpassed and a world community of freely associating human beings be brought into being. This orientation is also embodied in the various institutions of the state and in the functioning of the government in the New Socialist Republic in North America.
This passage is vitally important, and your letter gives us a chance to explore its meaning and to sharpen up why we disagree with the thrust of your argument. We hope this stirs more dialogue and debate.
A way to start is this. The aim of communist revolution is not to create as many independent national republics as possible. The aim of socialist-communist revolution is to abolish the division of society into different classes…to overcome all inequality and oppressive relations between different peoples and nations…and ultimately to move beyond the fragmentation of the Earth's peoples into separate nations.
There is both a material basis and a great necessity to achieve this "world community of freely associating human beings." Let's get into this.
The material basis lies in the fact that human society has reached a certain threshold. The productive forces—tools and machinery, technology, transport and infrastructure, as well as people themselves with their knowledge and capabilities—have developed to a level that now makes it possible to put an end to all exploitation, to overcome material scarcity, and to allow for the all-around development of society and the individuals who make it up.
These productive forces are highly socialized: they can only be utilized by vast numbers and networks of people, interconnected with each other and working together to produce what is used by people throughout society. These productive forces are also highly globalized: think about auto assembly or computer manufacture, the production of parts, the sources of raw materials, the transport of goods, and so forth. The labor of hundreds, even thousands, of people, from distant and different parts of the planet, can (and typically does) go into a single product.
But these productive forces are privately controlled by the capitalist class. The wage-laborers who are the backbone of this socialized production—the proletarians who own no property other than their capacity to work and who must work for capital in order to survive—are exploited for capitalist profit. This system of capitalist ownership and production for profit leads to immense suffering and deprivation for the great mass of humanity; it leads to destructive competition, rivalries, and economic crises; it leads to the devastation of the ecosystems of the planet.
And in its imperialist stage, capitalism results in the systematic plunder and oppression of entire nations and peoples by a relative handful of "great powers," with wars of conquest and domination against those peoples and wars of division and redivision among the imperialist powers.
The proletariat is the class that represents cooperative labor and efforts. It is an international class, and the proletarian revolution is an international revolution to bring about a radically different and profoundly liberating way of utilizing productive forces and organizing society: on the basis of social cooperation and common social ownership. This revolution institutes new relations that make it possible to utilize highly socialized and highly globalized productive forces in a rational way on an international scale—for the benefit of world humanity and to enable humanity to truly become caretakers of the planet.
But we face a great challenge. The world proletarian revolution proceeds unevenly: socialist revolutions will not take hold in all of the world at once, or over a short time span. This presents an acute contradiction that Bob Avakian's new synthesis speaks to.
On the one hand, in those countries or regions where revolutions do take place, it will be necessary to consolidate power and to build and defend socialism in a world in which imperialism will still be dominant for some time. On the other hand, any new socialist state must be developed first and foremost as a base area of the world revolution. But, and Avakian's new synthesis also addresses this, the material-social reality of a relatively independent socialist state will exert conservatizing pulls on the new society to look at the world "from that country on out" and to place its interests above the larger interests of humanity—and this will provide soil for new capitalist forces seeking to restore the bourgeois order. And this will be the case very far into the transition to a world of freely associating human beings.
Further, in the final analysis, the problems confronting world humanity and the challenges of meeting the environmental emergency and protecting and preserving the planet's ecosystems cannot be fundamentally solved within a nation-state framework, even if the entire planet were made up of socialist states determined in intent to advance along the socialist road. This emphasizes from another angle why our goal is not to create as many independent republics as we can.
But this does not mean that overcoming inequality between nations is unimportant—far from it! It is a major task and necessity of the transition to communism. Given the existing state of the world, we will not be able to achieve a world community of freely associating human beings without waging deepgoing revolutionary struggle and transformation to overcome the division of the globe into oppressor and oppressed nations; to combat national inequality in all its manifestations; and through this whole process to forge the voluntary union of nations, peoples, and nationalities.
II. A Society-Wide Approach to Uprooting National Oppression
The oppression of whole peoples—Native Americans, Black people, Mexican-Americans, and other minority nationalities—is foundational to the history and development of what is today the United States. Overcoming the legacy of the oppression and injustice perpetrated by the old order requires a multipronged struggle and would be a crucial task of the new revolutionary power. It would require a society-wide orientation for overcoming national oppression.
This includes policies of combating discrimination in all spheres of society, and waging society-wide struggle against the ideology of racism. It includes upholding the equality of languages and cultures and promoting diversity of cultures in all spheres—conducting education around the histories and cultures of these oppressed nationalities among all peoples. The new socialist state will promote integration on the basis of equality in workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools, bringing people of different nationalities into closer contact with each other. There are still other dimensions. For example, the Constitution sets forth policies for overcoming uneven regional development that reinforces national oppression (as in the rural areas of the Southwest) and for giving social-economic priority to "raising up those on the bottom" of society.
Another aspect of this societal approach to uprooting national oppression is providing the opportunity for oppressed nationalities, including African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Native Americans, to live in areas of significant concentration of that nationality and to exercise self-government in autonomous regions. This would take place within the overall territory and legal-economic framework of the New Socialist Republic. (The Constitution also makes provisions to form autonomous areas in cities with significant concentrations of particular oppressed nationalities.) The Constitution sets out the principle that "autonomous regions not only have the necessary territories but also the resources that will enable a real flourishing of these peoples." At the same time, nobody from an oppressed nationality would have to live in such an area and different oppressed peoples may or may not choose to exercise the option to set up such areas.
The Constitution upholds the right of self-determination, up to and including secession, for African-Americans. Many people will join the revolution out of a desire to liberate their own peoples. This will be an important strand and element of the struggle for power and to remake society—and our revolution must give powerful expression to that. The Constitution takes account of the fact that the demand for a separate state for Black people has an historical basis (more on this in a moment) and may gain ground and be raised by different forces and sections within the African-American population.
The right of minority nationalities to form autonomous regions and the right of self-determination for Black people are inscribed in the Constitution. But rights are not requirements. Whether these rights will be exercised will be decided through careful deliberation—and the provisions for exercising these rights, if people so desire, are treated with great seriousness and in considerable detail in the Constitution.
In your letter, you refer to "the Leninist principle of oppressed nationalities to self-determination." But the right of oppressed nations to secede and form an independent state, though it was one critical aspect, was not the totality of the Leninist approach. The Soviet revolution that came to power in 1917 under Lenin's leadership developed a variety of solutions for eradicating national oppression.
The Soviet revolution created the world's first multi-national state system based on equality of nationalities. The right of self-determination for the former oppressed nations of the old tsarist empire was recognized. In the cases of minority nationalities which were not nations (and we will return to that distinction shortly), autonomous regions or areas were established, and considerable resources were devoted towards their economic, social, and cultural development. Party leaders and government, school, and enterprise administrators were trained from among the former oppressed nationalities. Russians, who had been the dominant nationality and whose language had been imposed on people before the revolution, were encouraged to learn non-Russian languages—as part of the larger struggle against what was called "great nation Russian chauvinism." Native cultures and languages flourished (the state even helped create written alphabets for languages that previously had none). In short, the attack on national oppression took many different forms.
To return to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic of North America (Draft Proposal), the ensemble of measures set forth in it—and the whole orientation embodied in it—opens up a vision of a whole different kind of society. The framework in this Constitution builds on the revolutions of the past, but it goes beyond what's previously been achieved. In the new society the struggle against national oppression will be ongoing, proceeding through waves, and it will be a site and source of tremendous ferment and vitality...part of keeping the entire society on the revolutionary road.
III. More on the Particular Features of National Oppression in the Current U.S. and the Approach of the Constitution
In your letter, you also argue that the right of self-determination applies to all oppressed nationalities. But this right applies to oppressed nations, which have the basis to form independent states—and not all oppressed nationalities have developed into nations.
Whether a community of people is a nation is something that can only be determined according to objective criteria. A nation is a community of people formed on the basis of a common territory, common language, common economic life, and common culture. Historically, the emergence of nations has been linked to the spread of commodity production, the rise of bourgeois classes, and growth of capitalist markets over definable territories.
Of particular relevance to this discussion: the processes welding a people into a nation result in an economic and social interconnectedness that provides the material basis, a cohesiveness, to establish an independent nation-state. Lacking a material basis, the right of self-determination is not meaningful.
African-Americans were forged into a nation through a distinct historical process. This process began in the period of enslavement and took a leap following the Civil War. Stripped of their rights and denied land after the reversal of Reconstruction, Black people were transformed in their great majority into semi-feudal sharecroppers. On the foundation of an oppressive plantation-industrial system, a common economic life and a process of class differentiation gradually took shape among Black people in a common territory, within the southern part of the United States.
In the 20th century, the situation of Black people underwent further development, when in great numbers they were transformed from peasants into urbanized proletarians subjected to new forms of national oppression. A great migration, in two waves, took place from South to North, but there remains a large concentration of Black people in the South.
The common experience of oppression, and the fact that African-Americans had been welded into a grouping of people with all the basic characteristics of a nation in the South, underpins the right of self-determination. There exists a material-social and historical basis for the creation of an independent African-American state.
But the right to form an independent state is not presented in the Constitution as the highest goal or the solution to the oppression of Black people. It is posed as one possible pathway, a right people would have. The Constitution also poses that actually undertaking secession would be a very consequential and momentous decision. For this reason, provisions are made to allow such a decision to be made voluntarily and with the kind of deliberation required.
Now if we turn to the situation of the Native American peoples, their historical development is different from that of the African-American people. The various Indian peoples have their own common histories, as well as common linguistic and cultural bonds. The federal "reservation" system functioned to keep the Indian peoples in an enforced state of dependency. Internal economic development (on the reservations) was blocked and class differentiation was held back. As a result of these and other historical and social factors, the Indian peoples did not develop into a distinct nation or nations, in the scientific sense. Their historical development does not provide the basis to form viable, separate nation states.
Yet Native Americans have suffered, and continue to suffer, savage oppression. Their rights as peoples have been brutally violated: rights to land and resources, to the preservation and development of distinct cultures, and to equal participation in society as a whole. The Constitution speaks to this. It upholds the right of autonomy for the Indian peoples as part of the larger societal effort to overcome the scars of oppression and injustice perpetrated by the old system.
To say that the right of self-determination applies to African-American people but not to all oppressed nationalities is not to say that one people's oppression is "worse" than another's, or that one deserves "more" than another. It is to say that specific historical and socioeconomic factors have shaped the development of different oppressed nationalities. And the socialist state must take account of these particularities in order to develop appropriate policies and effective measures to overcome national oppression and establish the most favorable conditions for the voluntary union of nationalities.
But these particular policies flow from the same common imperative of overcoming inequality and digging up the roots of national and all oppression. And these policies serve the common long-term struggle to revolutionize and move society towards that "world community of freely associating human beings."
In your letter, you also argue that the Constitution is wrong in not providing the same decision-making mechanisms for establishing a separate state in parts of the Southwest that apply to the African-American people—and, thus, equality is being compromised. We want to speak to this.
The Constitution anticipates a complex situation in the Southwest region of what is today the United States. It highlights major variables: "the nature of the society and government, and the level and character of revolutionary struggle in Mexico" and "the actual extent of territory which has been liberated through the revolution" that led to the creation of the New Socialist Republic in North America.
To this it adds: "At the same time, the necessary consideration shall be given to the situation in the world as a whole, in determining how to proceed with regard to this region. In this overall context, and also taking into account the sentiments and the aspirations of the people in the region, in particular those of Mexican origin and descent, the question of whether to return at least parts of this region to Mexico, and/or whether there should be established, within parts of this region, a country that is separate from both Mexico and the New Socialist Republic in North America, shall be taken up by the government of the New Socialist Republic in North America" (emphasis only in this reply).
This would be a situation where many complicated and interweaving factors would be in play, and all kinds of unforeseen circumstances. The Constitution is emphasizing that the new socialist government would have the responsibility to scientifically assess and sort things out, again "taking into account," as the Constitution says, "the sentiments and the aspirations of the people in the region, in particular those of Mexican origin and descent." In doing so, it must be guided by principles of proletarian internationalism (what will most advance the world revolution) and the commitment to redress the historical oppression of the Mexican-American people. On this basis, the socialist government would develop specific policies and appropriate mechanisms of popular review and decision-making.
IV. Acting as a Communist Vanguard
In your letter, you state that the Party's position on Mexican-Americans reflects "that Mexicans must not be a major voting bloc in the RCP because it's difficult to see such a vital issue as self-determination not being vital enough to correct."
This is wrong. A genuine communist party, its leadership and membership, does not approach issues on the basis of "my nationality first." Were it to do so, such a party would be communist only in name and degenerate into a hodgepodge of competing interest groups, each "looking out for its own." We are proceeding from the needs of world humanity…that is what guides us.
Communism is an international movement whose goal is to emancipate all of humanity. The socialist society we strive to build, and whose principles and structures are set forth in the Constitution, must function first and foremost as a base area for the advance of the world revolution towards communism. If we were to put the interests of this or that nationality, or even the entire population of the country, above the larger interests of the world revolution—we would no longer be a vanguard leading people to radically remake society and the world to get rid of all forms of exploitation and oppression and all enslaving ideas and traditions. We would be stopping short of that, ultimately becoming an obstacle to the realization of that goal, clinging to narrow and particular interest.
Further, we are materialist in our basic approach—we analyze the world as it is, scientifically ascertaining the underlying dynamics and motive forces that give rise to the phenomena in the world. In short, we dig into material reality, scientifically, to grasp why things are the way they are, and how they can change, in a way that can actually open the pathway to where humanity can go, and the only positive resolution to the problems it confronts—communism.
Now in making revolution and in building the new socialist society, many people will be proceeding from the standpoint of overcoming the oppression of their nationality. The hand of unity must be held out to these people and we must join together and learn from each other in struggling to overcome national oppression. This will be critically important to the whole of society. But the solid core of the leadership of the new society must proceed from nothing less than the emancipation of all of humanity and base itself on the science of communism.
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