No room for patriotism in capitalism-imperialism-colonialism
By the Southern California Young Communist League
Every year people in the United States come together to celebrate the Fourth of July, this country’s independence from British rule, this country’s white men—and to a lesser extent white women—independence from British rule, this country’s occupying white patriarchal settler-colonialist independence from British rule. The indigenous people of this territory were not asked as to whether they considered their land under British control, but they found out quite immediately with the full weight of history what that would mean for their people later on.
Many authors of non-European descent have eloquently posed the critique and question of American independence: what about people of African descent, what of the immigrants from vast Asia and the islands of the Pacific and of course what of the indigenous people of the Americas?
Arguably perhaps one of the best responses from a person of color to American patriotism, in speaking specifically on the issue of this country’s independence, Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852, delivered the historical speech to the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
And while scholars, critics and patriots are quick to say that Douglass’ speech, which highlighted the criminal hypocrisy of a nation supposedly founded on the values of justice and liberty which has committed genocide and chattel slavery (among other crimes which we shall address later on), he defends the potential idea of the U.S. Constitution as a “glorious liberty document.”
Notwithstanding, yes, the Constitution can be a source of great liberty and freedoms. But, like most things under Western power structures, they are monopolized by a special class of men, of traditionally white, property-owning, cisgender, heterosexual men.
In the speech Douglass writes:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
For the complete speech, you can read it here.
As politically conscious and active people in the United States it might appear that we are in a difficult position, to say the least. But as communists, as Marxists-Leninists, as anti-imperialists, studying Lenin’s work on imperialism laid out in Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, with a guiding analysis of world division and domination by competing powers, we find ground, we find our tasks, in our agreement with his thesis.
Nonetheless, the most powerful imperialist nation in the world is the U.S. So what does that mean for us, for our strategy and analyses, for the ones inside the belly of the beast?
Oppressor and oppressed nations
First and foremost it is important to start off with the distinction of oppressed and oppressor nations. Simply stated, as all Marxists should be in agreement with but are probably not (which we blame on strong tendencies of revisionism, reformism and American Exceptionalism), as all the great Marxist theoreticians from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others have argued, the more developed nations, operating with an ever-searching quest for raw materials, natural resources and forms of increasing profit (the natural extension of which is the view of inhabitants/workers of oppressed nations as the very raw material from the standpoint of a capitalist either in the oppressor nation or as part of the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation).
Secondly, the world is divided further-still into several alliances of power with competing fellow oppressor nations. Several nation-states and alliances come into conflict with competing interests, and have always done so (See WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, etc.). Much of the world’s wars and military conflicts are born from this (See: Syria, the Middle East and Africa).
And while workers and exploited people inhabit all nations of the world, those belonging to oppressor nations are at an advantage in many facets to those in oppressed nations. If this sounds rudimentary or boringly basic, we apologize. But this all bears repeating when tackling the question of patriotism and nationalism—which the main purpose of this written piece is to examine this and we will come back to it shortly.
Now, the U.S. is distinct in its nation-statehood for its nature in being an oppressor nation with oppressed nations within it, such as African Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Mexicans/Chicana/os, Puerto Ricans, other people of Latin American descent (which really just means indigenous/native people of non-U.S. territory) and indigenous people to both the territory of the U.S. and also below its border.
While to a narrow-minded Marxist, probably of European descent engulfed with white chauvinism, this may seem daunting, annoying, distracting, divisive or flat-out wrong. But it is not. The tasks of communists, of Marxist-Leninists, is to understand national oppression, in other words the national question.
As pointed out in an article titled “Imperialism and the Integration of Oppressed Nations: Some Comments” published in anti-imperialism.com by Klaas V., the distinct and systemic oppression faced by oppressed people, people of color, is tantamount to new age genocide. And, so, the tasks of revolutionaries in the U.S. is to understand and stand against colonization as the preliminary step in the struggle for liberation.
“The task of communists in regards to oppressed nations is assisting them in their liberation, forming an independent political force, exposing comprador bourgeois elements as agents of finance capital, and lead the united front against imperialism. Remembering Lenin’s advice, communists must actively support the right of nations to self-determination as a transit point to the overturning of imperialism globally.”
But what of self-determination “of an oppressor nation? Can, or should, communists and other revolutionaries in the U.S. support U.S. patriotism, “nationalism?”
Different circumstances for patriotism
Lenin himself, then later on echoed and further developed by Stalin, Mao and others, proclaimed the difference between nationalism of oppressed nations and oppressor nations. In this distinction, Lenin made it clear that there is a priority which has to be given of the proletariat of oppressed nations above the oppressor nations, that of which the proletariat of the oppressed nation must see that proletarian internationalism guides the right for oppressed nations to be able to forge their own path.
Here in Lenin’s 1922 essay, “The Question of Nationalities or “Autonomisation,” he explains the dichotomy and inherit privilege of oppressor nations over oppressed nations:
That is why internationalism on the part of oppressors or “great” nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice. Anybody who does not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question, he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view.
Mao added to this cannon of communist philosophy on national liberation and patriotism by denouncing “narrow patriotism” and “narrow nationalism,” understanding that all countries and nations, oppressed and oppressor, have a tendency to embrace patriotism. But, Mao says in his writings on “Patriotism and Internationalism,” “In the fight for complete liberation the oppressed people rely first of all on their own struggle and then, and only then, on international assistance. The people who have triumphed in their own revolution should help those still struggling for liberation. This is our internationalist duty.”
And, so, we are not proud to be “American,” which is a white European title used to describe assimilated groups within the U.S. Furthermore, as we have argued, we are entitled to this resentment as some of the most oppressed, directly affected people of this oppressive nation-state have the right to be.
While all of us living in the U.S. benefit from Third World exploitation, although none so more than white U.S. citizens, most immediately as consumers, in our analysis we make the distinction between those in power in this country and those under its social-democratic boot.
Some of us in the Southern California Young Communist League met with comrades from the Cuban YCL once upon a time who said that they don’t hate the U.S. They stand and fight against the U.S. ruling forces and the government that protects these interest. They, being well-learned Marxist-Leninists, understand that our government and country is not a representative democracy but an imperialist oligarchy, as widely made known by a Princeton study.
Should U.S. communists be patriotic?
Now the question comes down to: can we as communists of oppressed nations within the U.S. hold up U.S. patriotism, while it’s the world’s “greatest” oppressor nation?
The answer is a resounding, unequivocal no.
We hold up the fight for national liberation of every single oppressed nation within the U.S. Communists of color, which is of belonging to oppressed nations, shouldn’t be patriotic for the U.S.
The argument of patriotism and nationalism in oppressed nations is a different argument in places like Cuba, Vietnam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, India, countries in Africa and all places throughout the world where indigenous peoples fight against invasion, occupation and imperialism. This of course includes the U.S.
Patriotism for the U.S. as the world’s leading oppressor nation is irreconcilable with promoting proletarian internationalism.
We say to oppressed people within the U.S., to all people of color, to all communists of color, to communists belonging to and fighting for oppressed nations, refuse to participate in the celebration of U.S. Independence Day. Renounce all forms of U.S. patriotism! Denounce imperialist military! Fight against cultural hegemony, capitalism, white supremacy and the legacies of colonialism and neocolonialism! Power to all oppressed nations in the U.S! Power to all national liberation movements, in and outside of the U.S!
May each Fourth of July only remind us of the colonization of this continent and the genocide of the indigenous people and enslavement of the African people, and may that embolden us to act with the privilege, with the revolutionary and historic task, of living in the First World and rallying forces of the Third World to fight for their own, our own, liberation.