of the war in Iraq and the quick collapse of Hussein’s regime
bear testimony to a law of history. In the imperialist epoch, the
bourgeoisie is no longer able to carry national and democratic tasks,
such as independence and national self-determination, to the end.
As Trotsky stated, ‘the national bourgeoisie in the semicolonies,
given its belated emergence and its structural weakness in the face
of the proletariat and the exploited layers of society, has just
reached a level of development that enables it to serve an imperialist
paymaster as opposed to another. It is not in a position to launch
any serious struggle against imperialist domination altogether and
for genuine national liberation because of its fear of unleashing
a mass movement of the toilers at home, which might in turn threaten
its very social position.’ (On National Liberation, Editorial
Pluma) This iron law presides over those wars between a semicolonial
nation and the imperialist powers, in which the bourgeoisie of the
oppressed country is unable to take those military and political
measures leading to the defeat of imperialism.
The record of the twentieth century is full of examples along those
lines, both before and after World War II, at a time when bourgeois
nationalism was on the rise, as well as during its phase of decline
in the last few decades.
Thus, at the time of the main war between China, the biggest and
most disputed semicolonial nation back then, and Japanese imperialism
in the 1930s, the Chinese nationalistic leader, Chiang Kai-shek
refused to wage and all-out people’s war underpinned by the
agrarian revolution. By force of circumstance, he went to war against
Japan, with a reactionary policy that relied on the oppression of
its own workers and peasants, and sought a compromise with a rival
strand of imperialism, the United States, which was fighting against
Japanese imperialism for control of the Pacific basin.
After World War II, one of the main figures of bourgeois nationalism,
the Egyptian president, Nasser, relied on the United States against
France and Great Britain. The former was trying to drive the latter
out of their former spheres of influence in the Middle East. His
victory in the clash that followed the outright nationalization
of the Suez Canal was due to the veto imposed by US imperialism
in the United Nations, which bogged down the war overtures of the
old colonialist powers.
When the bourgeoisie in the semicolonies is unable to gain the support
of any power and a military clash with imperialism ensues, they
just give up the battle, as has been the case in the last few decades.
During the Malvinas war, the hated pro-imperialist dictatorial regime
in Argentina that had wiped out thousands of working-class and popular
militants, which was then leading the war, did not even implement
any serious measures cutting into Britain’s economic interests
in our country, let alone stop paying off the external debt. They
clang to the ludicrous hope that the United States would side with
them in return for their due services –their aid to fight
the rebellions in Central America-, or else sought a negotiation
at the United Nations. Thus, they were completely helpless in the
face of the British Navy advance supported by US satellites and
the military intelligence furnished by Pinochet’s dictatorship.
The attempt at recovering the Malvinas islands turned out to be
sheer adventurism –beyond the just nature of the enterprise-,
and the lack of military preparations was proof positive of that.
This revealed the real agenda: the Argentine military dictatorship
did not want to challenge imperialism through and through; instead
they tried to engineer a self-preservation maneuver that backfired
miserably. In spite of the demise of the dictatorial regime, the
military victory of the British reinforced the chains holding down
During the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s regime, after having
being driven out of Kuwait by American troops, managed to hold on
to power, and immediately proceeded to launch a ferocious attack
to crush the uprising of the Shiites in the south and the Kurds
in the north.
Quite recently, during the war in Afghanistan, the reactionary Taliban
regime, deeply hated by its own people and completely isolated,
was unable to rally the whole country, to which it controlled by
means of terror and a brutal theocratic dictatorship, and was just
blown away by the imperialist attack.
All these examples prove that the bourgeoisie in the semicolonies,
even when they are under attack of imperialism, choose to surrender
the nation rather than unleash social forces that might challenge
their class rule.
All this experience points to the proletariat as the only class
in a position to unify and give the lead to the whole exploited
layers in a battle against imperialism right to the end, as a first
move in a revolutionary and internationalist strategy.
When an imperialist country clashes with a semicolonial one in a
shooting war, that strategy dictates that we revolutionaries side
with the military camp of the oppressed nation. From that trench,
we raise a program combining the tasks of national liberation with
the method and the aims of proletarian revolution. In this way,
we try to wrestle the lead of the war away from the hands of the
rotten bourgeois leadership, which sooner than later will lead to
capitulation, bringing about crushing national defeats that fuel
Instead, all populist-minded parties mistake the just defense of
the oppressed nation with support for its contingent leaders. This
confusion can lead to very awkward conclusions, like the ones we
read in a recent article put out by a prestigious intellectual,
James Petras. He went as far as claiming that Hussein was ‘arming
the people’, and that ‘far from being a war criminal,
he is committed to fighting against genocide; from being a US proxy
against Iran, he has become the leader of a revival of the Pan-Arab
movement which seeks to bring down the pro-US corrupt regimes in
the Middle East’. (Rebelión, April 10). The desertion
of Saddam Hussein’s army has given the lie to these bombastic
claims. The political strategy of populism, which always trusts
the lead of the fight to the bourgeoisie, is a criminal betrayal
for labor and the peasants in the oppressed nations, because it
leads to crushing defeats of the national liberation movements.
The debacle of the Iraqi regime, as well as the historical examples
mentioned above, has once again confirmed that all national revolutions
in semicolonial nations can only succeed if they are lead by the
proletariat in close cooperation with the working class in the advanced
Those peoples oppressing other ones cannot emancipate themselves
When there is national oppression within a semicolonial country
under attack, the reluctance of the bourgeoisie to give the right
to national self-determination to the oppressed minorities there,
pushes them in the direction of imperialism, and they become the
spearhead of the imperialist offensive.
This occurred in the wars raging in the former Yugoslavia in the
1990s, in which the United States intervened under a ‘humanitarian’
pretext –i.e., halting the ethnic cleansing unleashed by the
Serbian chauvinistic leader, Milosevic, against the Bosnians first,
and the Kosovars later on. The nationalistic-minded leaders of the
Kosovo Liberation Army sided with NATO’s military camp.
This was tragically repeated in Iraq, when the Kurd militiamen joined
with the invading troops, aiding in the military offensive sweeping
through the north of the country.
The duty of the revolutionary proletariat is to win over the oppressed
minorities as key allies, by raising the right to self-determination
of those peoples audaciously. This should include the right to separation,
if they wish to do so, as the only way of challenging imperialism
with a united front of the oppressed.
National victories led by guerrilla and peasant leaderships
In some exceptional historical circumstances, even populist and
Stalinist leaderships in backward countries that were at the head
of mass movements of national liberation, were forced to go beyond
their own program, breaking away with the bourgeoisie. For example,
during the war of national liberation in Algeria - back then a French
colony- the National Liberation Front led the people’s resistance,
achieving independence in 1962 after a bloody fight against the
occupation army. However, they failed to take bold steps towards
the social transformation of the country, contenting themselves
with a token independence. But this proved to be fatal, and in spite
of the massive victory accomplished, Algeria became a semi-colony
of its old French colonial master.
In the course of the national liberation of Vietnam, in a battle
against the French first, and the Americans later on, the Stalinist
leadership around Ho Chi Minh was forced to break the agreement
it had reached with the bourgeoisie, which had led to the foundation
of the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam. Confronted with the
vicious imperialist warfare, he seized upon the banner of land for
the peasants, thus sparking off a mass guerrilla movement that achieved
unification of the north and the south for the sake of the common
struggle against US imperialism. The antiwar movement, first and
foremost in the United States, hailed that heroic resistance waged
by the Vietnamese people, and this contributed to the defeat of
imperialism in 1975. The US was then forced to withdraw its troops,
after a 15 year-long carnage.
But the perspective of the petty bourgeois leaderships, be them
populist or Stalinist-minded, writes off the strategy of an internationalist
working-class revolution. This meant that the defeat of imperialism
came with a high price attached: millions of lives and many years
of war were wasted, and the workers and the oppressed across the
world were unable to profit from it through and through. Therefore,
the first military defeat inflicted upon the United States ever
did not become a strategic victory to further social revolution
worldwide. After some years of instability, US imperialism managed
to regain forces and launched the neoliberal offensive under the
auspices of Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher. The victory of socialist
revolution in Vietnam was contained within the national frontiers
due to the perspective raised by its leadership and its adaptation
to the peaceful coexistence sponsored by Stalinism. It was this
that prevented this national victory from becoming a platform for
socialist revolution worldwide.
That is why the only realistic strategy is to develop the revolutionary
unity of the proletariat in the imperialist countries with oppressed
workers and peoples of the world, with the aim of unifying the only
social force capable of defeating imperialism altogether and of
laying the foundations of a socialist society.