National Independence Struggles


National Independence Struggles
reprinted from the Weekly People
February 12, 1977

National Independence Struggles

Several considerations make the time ripe for a review of the tide of national independence struggles in the third world and their significance for workers in the U.S.

First, and perhaps most important, is the rapidly accelerating pace of events in southern Africa. The inevitable collapse of the Geneva Conference on Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) has been followed by stepped-up preparations for armed struggle against the racist regime of Ian Smith. In Namibia, a neocolonialist formula designed to exclude the main nationalist organization, SWAPO, is likewise doomed to failure. And in South Africa, what may prove the most protracted and potentially explosive fight against white supremacist rule continues to unfold.

At the same time, there are a number of countries which have moved one stage beyond the independence struggles now under way in those nhree African countries. In the past two years, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Angola and several others have emerged from wars of national liberation. To varying degrees, they have consolidated their victories and begun building a new society.

At this juncture, both the historic importance and the limitations of the independence struggles may be summed up, especially as they relate to the struggle for socialism in the U.S. Of equal interest, if less practical import, to U.S. workers, is the character of the societies emerging from these struggles.

The situation in the three southern African countries is much the same as the earlier struggles in Indochina and the Portuguese colonies. In each, a nationalist stuggle for independence is being waged against neocolonial regimes backed by Western imperialism and particularly the U.S.

In this regard, the main concern of socialists is to help workers in the U.S. see the developing struggles for what they are, oppose the imperialist designs of the U.S. ruling class and its government, and foster international solidarity with the exploited African classes.

As in Indochina and the former Portuguese colonies, the current regimes in the three African countries could scarcely survive without U.S. backing. American capitalists have billions in investments, cheap labor pools and raw material sources to protect, and they are intent on preventing independence or restricting it to neocolonialist dimensions which preserve Western domination of the area's political economy.

U.S. workers, on the other hand, have no stake at all in the white racist regimes. In fact, workers in the U.S. only stand to gain if the U.S. empire suffers another setback and the imperialist sphere of American capital's influence were to shrink again.

In the underdeveloped world, the struggles of oppressed classes against U.S. imperialism often take a limited nationalist form, but they are part of the international class struggle nevertheless. Moreover, the experiences of the U.S. in the sixties and Portugal in the seventies bared a direct link between anti-imperialist struggles in the "backward" countries, and class conflict in the developed ones.

To be sure, the African independence struggles are not at this point a fight for socialism. Nor will they alone topple U.S. capitalism or even bring the full social emancipation of the African classes who must wage them. Perhaps it would not be as necessary to constantly stress these points were it not for the dangers of "third worldism." Too often, national liberation struggles have been romanticized, or portrayed as proletarian revolutions led by Marxist-Leninist vanguards or, worst of all, offered as models for the U.S. working class to follow.

National independence is the immediate historic objective of the oppressed classes in southern Africa. To accomplish it thoroughly (which means also to avoid exchanging the domination of one foreign power for another) will move history forward. It will accelerate the material development of the proletariat, which as yet remains a small fraction of the population in each of these countries.

But as the independent nations in Indochina and Africa have already shown, the emerging societies remain class-divided ones. They arise "from the J20th century equivalent of the national democratic revolutions of earlier periods, and are largely modeled on the Sino-Soviet countries with state-run economies. The underdeveloped proletariat does not rule, but a "united front," combining elements from different classes increasingly dominated by state and Party bureaucrats, does. No less than previous ruling classes will it hesitate to suppress challenges to its domination whatever their source.

This is not socialism, although since neither the proletarian consciousness nor productive forces required for socialism exist, this should hardly come as a surprise. And those who present such societies as socialist models for the developed proletariat should be exposed as the aspiring state bureaucrats they are. But within the historical context of the third world, such independence struggles represent concrete steps forward. And to the degree that the masses of workers and peasants are mobilized in the struggle, enter political life and consolidate themselves as classes conscious of and capable of asserting their interests, the progress will be that much greater. As the contradictions of the new societies develop, there will undoubtedly be further class struggles, including those directed against the elements now coming to power.

But for the qualitative leap beyond this stage to socialism, much will depend on events in the advanced capitalist nations. "United action of the leading civilized countries at least," declared the Communist Manifesto, "is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat." This premise remains essentially true today.

As Frederick Engels wrote in 1882, "Once Europe is reorganized, and North America, that will furnish such colossal power and such an example that the semi-civilized countries will of themselves follow in their wake; economic needs, if anything, will see to that. But as to what social and political phases these countries will then have to pass through before they likewise arrive at socialist organization, I think we today can advance only rather idle hypotheses. One thing alone is certain: the victorious proletariat can force no blessings of any kind upon any foreign nation without undermining its own victory by so doing...." (Letter to Kautsky, Sept. 12.)

History has rearranged this prognosis somewhat. Some of the "social and political phases" referred to may have appeared even prior to the success of the socialist revolution in the capitalist countries. But though the decisive battles for socialism are still to be won, socialism remains, as Engels suggests, the common ultimate objective of the international class struggle, whatever its present level of development.

-- S.K.