by Claudia Cinatti


The course 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 the country.
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 sheer demoralization.
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 countries.


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.