Response to Joe Sims’ Open Letter, “Patriotism, the national question and the Leninist tradition”
By the Southern California Young Communist League
In reading the lengthy response authored by a member of the CPUSA national staff Joe Sims, newly appointed Party and Social Media Coordinator, to the article written and published by the Southern California Young Communist League (SoCal YCL) titled “No Room for Patriotism in Capitalism-Imperialism-Colonialism” published on July 4, 2014, we have agreed to address the key points made by comrade Sims.
Comrade Sims originally emailed selected members of the SoCal YCL and CC’d selected CPUSA members. Later on, he edited his response for publication on the CPUSA’s website on Aug.25, 2014.
We see the main points from comrade Sims’ original open letter as follows: 1.) U.S. working-class multi-ethnic patriotism is good and necessary, 2.) echoing W.E.B. DuBois’ argument, toward the end of his life, that people of African descent in the U.S. do not constitute a nation nor have a cohesive cultural unity, 3.) the continued use of “violent” symbolism and imagery by the SoCal YCL, and 4.) that we are promoting divergent views to the CPUSA platform/program and must stop.
Before going into the meat of these issues and our political disagreements, we have to say the following: We have nothing but love for our comrades in the CPUSA, from the rank-and-file due-paying members, new and old, to the staff in national and regional leadership, which includes comrade Sims. We have always understood ourselves as not only belonging to a family of activists actively engaging in fighting for just reforms and wide variety of social justice issues, but that we also belong to an historic and international communist movement.
But comrade Sims is correct. We do have a difference of opinions and political views. However, is this enough to resort to meeting with representatives of the national committee of the CPUSA (which they repeatedly call for), and publishing a public statement against our positions? We think not.
The SoCal YCL has not once ever drafted an open letter to any standing member of the CPUSA, from local or national positions. Where we have had difference of opinions, we have respected our elders. Nothing we have actively organized around has been hostile to the CPUSA. In spite of our difference between national and local officers, we have never resorted to publicly calling out our fraternal organization and comrades.
What comrade Sims did is the opposite of what we have consistently done: exercised professionalism, comradeship and a respect for different opinions.
Ironically, what comrade Sims accuses us of doing is what he himself is guilty of doing; of utilizing an organizational platform to pitch a divergent or personal view that seeks to divide or challenge a group’s political line (us, the youth from Southern California).
But why? If what we believe is wrong, why not just keep to personal correspondence? Certain members of the SoCal YCL did engage with comrade Sims on Facebook briefly. Why not continue in this fashion?
Comrade Sims accuses certain SoCal YCL members of taking advantage of the SoCal YCL website and authority in perpetuating ideological breaks from the CPUSA. We say no; we’ve only been acting as communists, as Marxists-Leninists who uphold the tradition of supporting oppressed nations right to self-determination and liberation, which Lenin as well as others, clearly wrote about. But national liberation has now become something that comrade Sims believes is not fitting with his “Marxism-Leninism.”
But let us address the core four main points we wish to address.
Patriotism within the U.S.: ‘What is it Good for? Absolutely Nothing!
Firstly, comrade Sims correctly lists several diverse class and democratic struggles in the U.S. that fought and won many reforms, from the women suffrage movement, from labor organizing, strikes, the Scottsboro defense, the International Brigades in Spain, and so on.
Yes, the U.S. has a great history of social justice. It has to. Wherever there is oppression and injustice, communists and other people of conscience have an obligation to organize and fight for justice, however they can, wherever they can.
None of that contradicts our initial premise in our July 4 article on the wrongness of upholding U.S. patriotism for oppressed people within the U.S. Furthermore, to hold up patriotism and U.S. flag as a symbol that can be won back, appropriated, by the multi-ethnic working class is far too simplistic and negates all the nuances of conflicts within the U.S. as a settler-colonialist imperialist power.
Comrade Sims goes on to assume and quote us out of context that we are of the mindset that white people are generally the ones to blame as “chief perpetrators” for most of the injustices in the U.S.
“We have long held that racism and genocide was a disaster for all, including white people. We have contended further that the chief perpetrator is the ruling class - not “white men and to a lesser extent white women” in general. In addition, we have maintained that the struggle against these evils is in the self interest of all working people including white workers who have a particular responsibility in combating it.”
We agree with comrade Sims in this point. The enemy is not white people. It’s the ruling class. But nowhere in any of our articles, statements or position work have we made an analysis contrary to that.
However, what comes off as strange and insensitive is in saying that the genocide was also a disaster for white people. It’s as if to say that the indigenous genocide was not enough in and of itself to condone.
And what of the U.S. flag?
Let us speak clearly: the U.S. flag is a symbol of settler-colonialism, of imperialism, of slavery, of racism, of sexism, of global conquest; although great reformist battles have been won under that flag, it is beyond salvageable.
For example, if we were living in Nazi Germany where scores of people are being oppressed and killed, even if we had comfortable jobs and lives, making a decent living, would we unite with the broad population of Nazi Germany for the sake of forming a “peoples’ coalition?” Of course not. It is uncalled for, untimely, incorrect. We would aim to tear down those fascists in power, to aid those who suffer the most under the fascist boot of Nazi Germany to liberate themselves and free the country from the fascists, as did the Russians under Stalin, as did the resistance movements in France, Germany and other fascist occupied territories.
Additionally, would we recapture the Swastika (although its origins are found in Buddhist and native cultures) and make it our own, saying that it actually stands for all the good of Germany (and not the bad) and its broad working class? Absolutely not. Some symbols are so stained by blood that they deserve to only be buried.
Secondly, comrade Sims says that the American working class ought to utilize U.S. patriotism in their favor as a bastion of class and country solidarity. But what this essentially does is call for a hurried race to embrace assimilation and integration into a white supremacist capitalist system without the needed analysis and strategy of dismantling its structures.
Surely comrade Sims and others don’t claim to live in a post-racial society.
In order to properly combat racism, one must study colonialism and white supremacy. In doing so, the history of America lays bare the historical injustices that probably don’t bear repeating; genocide, conquest, colonization and imperialism.
The SoCal YCL still holds firmly onto the argument that the U.S. is comprised of oppressed nations, oppressed nationalities, as well as exploited workers and other marginalized people.
We must not forget what Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others have written and analyzed before our time on international proletarian solidarity, but also of colonialism.
Not only is it understandable for colonized people to burn the flag of their colonizer and denounce their oppressive existence, it’s correct.
If communists celebrated the national liberation movements of Nicaragua, El Salvador, South Africa, Ghana, Haiti and other formerly colonized nations, why then should our support stop for the people of African descent, a people removed from the African continent, and the indigenous people of this continent?
As Lenin described Czarist Russia as a “prison of peoples” in “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” one cannot but help to see the similarities of Czarist Russia and the U.S.:
“Russia is a prison of peoples, not only because of the military-feudal character of tsarism and not only because the Great-Russian bourgeoisie support tsarism, but also because the Polish, etc., bourgeoisie have sacrificed the freedom of nations and democracy in general for the interests of capitalist expansion. The Russian proletariat cannot march at the head of the people towards a victorious democratic revolution (which is its immediate task), or fight alongside its brothers, the proletarians of Europe, for a socialist revolution, without immediately demanding, fully and [unreservedly], for all nations oppressed by tsarism, the freedom to secede from Russia. This we demand, not independently of our revolutionary struggle for socialism, but because this struggle will remain a hollow phrase if it is not linked up with a revolutionary approach to all questions of democracy, including the national question. We demand freedom of self-determination, i.e., independence, i.e., freedom of secession for the oppressed nations, not because we have dreamt of splitting up the country economically, or of the ideal of small states, but, on the contrary, because we want large states and the closer unity and even fusion of nations, only on a truly democratic, truly internationalist basis, which is inconceivable without the freedom to secede. Just as Marx, in 1869, demanded the separation of Ireland, not for a split between Ireland and Britain, but for a subsequent free union between them, not so as to secure “justice for Ireland”, but in the interests of the revolutionary struggle of the British proletariat, we in the same way consider the refusal of Russian socialists to demand freedom of self-determination for nations, in the sense we have indicated above, to be a direct betrayal of democracy, internationalism and socialism.”
But specifically on the issue of U.S., as a nation made up of multiple nations, what of U.S. patriotism?
Again, we reaffirm our commitment to, as Lenin also calls for, for all oppressed and colonized peoples to fight for independence. Lenin would not have, and did not, call on oppressed people within Russia to raise the banner of Russia.
Patriotism in the U.S. has only a couple of uses. One use is to uncritically mask the history of the U.S. and mistakenly, with a broad stroke, seek to homogenize all working people in the U.S. This is not reality. This is wishful thinking. Class division indeed make up the U.S., and all countries of the developed and conquered world, but there exists colonization, still; and our task is to fight side-by-side in aiding these people to liberate themselves, even if it means within the U.S. The other use of U.S. patriotism is to build the ideological and broad-base support for imperialism.
The SoCal YCL has called for and continue to call for a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-nation, multi-gender and diverse coalition to aid one another’s movements, especially liberatory movements. Once again, we do not view this as contradictory to Marxism or Marxism-Leninism.
When comrade Sims mentioned that the SoCal YCL should know better because of all the YCL and Party schools we have attended, we answer that although we appreciate being part of all these learning experiences, we didn’t learn about U.S. colonization, national liberation, the self-determination of nations and of the complicated and historical legacy of racism in the U.S.
And so as communists and avid Marxist students, we took it upon ourselves to continue our learning, in theory and practice. It was in reading Lenin and the National Question that made it clear that places like Russia, Canada, the U.S. and in a lot of developed or developing countries there exists multiple nations. We see Chicanos/Natives as an example of an oppressed nation; we also see people of African descent, as people forced on to U.S. territory and developing a nation predominantly in the south (the Black Belt) as a means of survival and adaptability. The call made by early black nationalists such as Marcus Garvey of a return to Africa or at the very least of Black autonomy echoes with reason, even if ignited by desperation and survivability.
But comrade Sims says that the inevitable march of history within the U.S. is moving in a direction of people of color becoming the majority:
“Even the demographics shows this: by 2050 people of color will be in the majority. Will this majority cast off not only their right to citizenship but also to the untold wealth stolen from their labor not only by the racist wage differential but also sub-prime swindles and wage theft? Clearly movement is not in this direction.”
Unfortunately, history and the nature of white supremacy, show us that an oppressed people integrated, assimilated, will still be oppressed. The guardians of capital and the white supremacist structures and institutions of the U.S. will allow people of color representation, namely the election of Obama and other affluent people of color into positions of power. This does not mean that representation, or a majority alone, will automatically lead to a homogeneous movement for a consensus of social change.
Each of us, as colonized and oppressed people, have several major battles to overcome - one of which is fighting against internalized colonization. We are so thoroughly colonized that fellow oppressed people actually take part in the perpetual domination, oppression and exploitation, whether in government, law enforcement, the criminal justice system or the military industrial complex. But capitalism, and its pitting of people against each other with limited economic and social mobility opportunities, is the engine that drives this contradiction. Colonization is the fuel.
W.E.B. DuBois and the Black Nation Thesis (Again)
Comrade Sims uses a quote from W.E.B. DuBois’ 1953 article published in Paul Robeson’s magazine, Freedom, republished in Political Affairs in Feb. 13, 20017, in which DuBois refutes the black nation thesis by saying that due to primarily two factors, 1.) the Great Migration and 2.) a lack of cultural unity, that people of African descent in the U.S. do not constitute a nation.
Firstly, we have to point out that DuBois was not always of the opinion that people of African descent in the U.S. do not belong to a nation; this was only later adopted by DuBois toward the latter part of his life.
In 1934, W.E.B. DuBois delivered his resignation speech to the very group he help to found, the NAACP, titled, “A Negro Nation within a Nation,” in which he explains early on the survivalist reasoning for Black autonomy (for the Negro nation):
“It may be said that this matter of a nation within a nation has already been partially accomplished in the organization of the Negro church, the Negro school and the Negro retail business, and despite all the justly due criticism, the result has been astonishing. The great majority of American Negroes are divided not only for religious but for a large number of social purposes into self-supporting economic units, self-governed, self-directed. The greatest difficulty is that these organizations have no logical and reasonable standards and do not attract the fines, most vigorous and best educated Negroes. When all these things are taken into consideration it becomes clearer to more and more American Negroes that, through voluntary and increased segregation, by careful autonomy and planned economic organization, they may build so strong and efficient a unit that twelve million men can no longer be refused fellowship and equality in the United States.”
On this question, that of the national question, it’s important to understand diasporas and mass migration. And, yes, the much of the black nation is dispersed within the U.S. We only take this position, this analysis, because we see hundreds of people of African descent being killed (Ezell Ford, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Dante Parker, and so on), discriminated against and systematically annihilated in this multi-ethnic country just as DuBois and countless other intellectuals and leaders also have. If the masses of African descent were to reclaim their own nation within the u.s. territory, it is in their right. And, frankly, it’s understandable. It appears as if since 1619, since the arrival of the stolen people of African to Jamestown, it’s been nothing but a prolonged and normalized genocide for people of African descent.
On the question of oppressor nation and oppressed nation, it should not be disregarded as outdated, outmoded or incorrect. Contemporary groups, scholars, activists and community members continue to uphold the analysis that people of African descent within the North American territory (Canada, U.S. and Mexico) constitute a colonized people, while certainly not bound to chattel slavery, nonetheless appearing to still struggle with a colonized reality. The African people were violently torn from their continent, displaced throughout the world, including the U.S. Although dispersed, no one can argue that they cease to be African. Rather, there was a concentrated, vicious and super-profit-motivated attempt in destroying the African nation.
To this day, several groups and organizations still lay claim to the black nation thesis. One such group is the African People’s Socialist Party and its Revolutionary National Democratic Program (RNDP), which states:
“The RNDP recognizes that the primary, most dynamic contradiction in the world today is the contradiction between oppressed and oppressor nations. It understands that the United States of North America and its citizens constitute an oppressor nation state that holds a substantial sector of the African population as part of a colonially oppressed nation. As a colonized people inside the U.S. since the time of enslavement, African people long for total liberation and the ability to join humanity as a free nation, equal among other free peoples of the world.”
Additionally, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement shares commonalities with this thesis and approach:
“The United States of America, as both a state and a criminal enterprise, has proven time and time again throughout its entire 238-year history that where Black people are concerned, genocide is the order of the day. The mass extrajudicial killings of Blacks aren’t just the result of rogue police officers and crazed racist vigilantes; it is a state sponsored program of containment designed to keep the Black nation in a position of subservience and subjugation to the White settler colonial nation.
The United States Government and the vast reactionary sector of the settler colonial nation who’s [sic] interests it was designed to represent, has been engaged in a war on Afrikan people from the time of its inception to the present day. The United States Government continues to lose legitimacy through its actions against our people. Through its refusal to address the ongoing human rights violations against the Black Nation the United States has shown itself to be the perpetual facilitator of the suffering of the Black Nation.”
When the claim is made, as was done by comrade Sims, that one of the major criteria left out in constituting a nation by people of African descent in the U.S. is that of territory, we only have to look to the first European settler-colonialists in what was later called Provincetown, Massachusetts (but the Wampanoag Nation simply called it their home, their territory prior to 1616). No one can say that the European settler-colonialists did not form a nation, one which still exists today. We call it the United States of America. But this nation was built upon several nations, all of which are indigenous.
Tragically, nations can be built upon already-established nations.
Why, then, do people, in particular radical activists (even a wide variety of Marxists), claim that people of African descent don’t constitute a nation because a lack of common territory. White settlers spread everywhere, and in some areas they barely exist in population, but yet we still say they constitute a nation. The issue of territory tied to the definition of a nation is of course accurate, but it is one of the many damages leftover from colonization. Nations exist free from colonized borders. Therefore, people of common language, territory, economic life and common psychological make-up (as defined in Stalin’s “Marxism and the National Question”) can very well exist atop other nations - as is the case for the U.S.
Utilizing the logic of the European settler-colonialist nation existing, still, in the U.S., one can’t but help use the same logic to fulfill the criteria and defense of the existence of the Black nation.
Revolutionary Symbolism as “Violent” (Again)
One of the points made by comrade Sims has actually been made by other CPUSA members in local and national leadership against the usage of certain symbols, language, pictures and culture by the SoCal YCL.
We have been accused of romanticizing violence, of decontextualizing revolutionary movements, of glorifying armed struggle, of even placing it as the “highest form of struggle.”
As was mentioned in an earlier article, titled “White Chauvinism or Marxism-Leninism?” published on the SoCal YCL website, in which a member’s article for the 30th National Party Convention was denied due to a perceived violation of the guidelines (which we, in fact, did not violate):
“Need we remind comrades that the history of Latin America is a history of violence. With is long history of capitalist abuses and military dictatorships, our people cannot deny the working class men and women militants that died in the direct struggle for national liberation and working class emancipation from imperialism. To deny us our history and dismiss it as irrelevant to the present-day consciousness of American workers is not only racist, but smacks of American Exceptionalism. Especially when the fastest growing members of the working class are of Latin American descent (in Los Angeles Latin Americans are the majority).”
The history of revolutionary movements worldwide, but in particular in the indigenous territory of Latin America, by indigenous revolutionaries, was not violent; it was liberatory resistance.
But, let us suspend this reality and embark in the logic that upholding revolutionary symbolism of past struggles is damaging or violent, then what’s to stop that logic from defending the argument against taking down all the Che posters that comrades post up on their office or dorm walls? What of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez? What of Farabundo Martí, Augusto Sandino, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Harriet Tubman with her rifle, Nat Turner, Huey P. Newton, Malcolm X and countless other black and brown brothers and sisters who gave their lives for freedom and the liberation of their people?
Surely, the CPUSA would not have the arrogance to disregard this as ultraleftism.
And what of the forever-tarnished-and-feared hammer and sickle? Do we, then, open up a debate on burying its usage since people associate murder and repression with it? Of course not. Imperialist history is against us, against communist revolutionaries. We cannot, should not, organize from a political platform of accommodation. We are supposed to be marginalized. Our ideas are supposed to be nearly illegal. We want revolution. The status quo cannot allow that to go uncheck.
Naturally, to be a communist in the U.S. is to strike up almost all contradictions. It is to exist as a challenge to U.S. capitalism and cultural hegemony. And we accept that task.
On Divergent Views from the Party
Lastly, comrade Sims has made the point that we are not only YCL members but some of us in the SoCal YCL are also CPUSA members. This is true. He goes on to say that we are acting as representatives of the CPUSA, and in publishing articles contradictory to the CPUSA political line, we are acting hostile to Party unity.
To this we say that we have not once utilized Party platforms, online or offline, to spread information that would be harmful or hurtful to the Party. We have only utilized SoCal YCL platforms, intentionally so. We, once again, do not hold any hard feelings to the CPUSA organization or its organs of communication. We act, as is our right to do so, independently, from the CPUSA. We act with autonomy yet a comradely shared approach in building young revolutionaries within the U.S. This, historically, has been the purpose of the YCL; to build a revolutionary political line and develop Marxist cadre to inherit the revolutionary communist movement. We don’t work against this.
We are only acting as communists, as Marxists, as Marxists-Leninists, and respectfully without inciting attacks on fellow comrades. Several Party members, unfortunately, on the other hand, are guilty of making personal attacks or hostile and condescending attacks to members of the SoCal YCL or as a whole.
In spite of almost-constant attacks by CPUSA members, both locally and nationally, on our Young Communist League chapter in Southern California, we have acted with restraint and professionalism. We do not seek to fan the flames of sectarianism, as many before us are guilty of doing. No, we wish to build young communist leaders to inherit the revolution. We are urgent in this.
Lastly, we once again urge our comrades in the Party to please respect our autonomy and independence as a Young Communist League chapter who has not been guilty of anything other than exploring and defending our own autonomous political opinions. Allow us the right to exist as a cohesive youth group whose aim and purpose is not contradictory to the Party or the international communist movement.
The SoCal YCL will continue its task in building a youth cadre, both in theory and in practice, with a focus on national liberation, with an intentional effort in building with communities of color, with a strategy for proletarian revolution.
The Southern California Young Communist League