Many in the Marxist tradition are confused by the question: Should we support the National Liberation Movements in undeveloped countries?
To answer this question, we must go to find the essence of a national liberation movement, to know whose profit it stands for, and to know whether it helps implement democratic revolutionary socialism or not.
First, what is a "national liberation" movement? Literally, the national liberation movement is the movement that tries to liberate a nation which is a vassal from its overlord. Now here comes the question. Most of the time, it is a completely capitalist state colonizing an undeveloped country, so the national liberation revolution in an undeveloped country is a struggle against the capitalist class of the colonizing power. So why will the people in an undeveloped colony try to struggle against their alien capitalist bosses? That is a historical question.
To solve a historical question, we need to go back to history. In history, there were many struggles in colonies against their alien capitalist bosses. According to their class characteristic, anti-colonial struggles can be basically divided into three categories:
1) Feudal struggle, led by feudal aristocrats, as in the Sepoy Mutiny (1857-1858) in India, the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1872) and the Boxer Rebellion(1898-1901) in China;
2) Capitalist struggle, led by bourgeoisie, a.k.a. capitalists, as in Spanish American wars of independence(1808-1833) ;
- Worker-peasant struggle led by social liberals or by those calling themselves socialists or communists, as in the New Democratic Revolution (1919-1949) in China.
Now let us analyse these three kinds of national liberation struggle one by one.
Feudal Anti-colonial Struggle.
Let's take East Asia as an example. The Chinese Emperor, feudal aristocrats and bureaucrats wanted to drive foreign colonists – I Ren (means Barbarian) - out of their Celestial Empire, while the Shogun in Japan wanted to keep Shogunate government away from Nanban (Barbarians from the South). This kind of struggle has never entirely gone away; it still remains even in some countries whose capitalist mode of production is highly developed. For example, in China, there are many Jingshen Dizhu Jieji, which means "Spiritual Landlord", who are trying to restore the feudal culture. In short, feudal anti-colonial struggles were not and never will be on behalf of a progressive mode of production. And of course, such struggles won't help capitalism grow in such colonial states. Even in an extreme situation – that the landlord class becomes the new capitalist class and develops the capitalist mode of production – that will still be slower to develop capitalism and let the working class grow. Therefore, such kind of struggle shouldn't be supported by our proletarian socialists.
Capitalist Anti-Colonial Struggle,
which, since the capitalist mode of production was introduced by the colonial power, is the main kind of anti-colonialism struggle nowadays. In the colonial country, this mode of production begins to grow. At the same time, a bourgeoisie emerges out of the landlord class, old aristocrats, bureaucrats, and traders.. After that, the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the semi-colonial-semi-feudal society system becomes more and more intensified. The bourgeoisie in the colonial vassal is angry both with the feudal system which was originally inherent in the colonies and with the colonial system which was brought in by the colonial power. The reason why they are angry is simple: both of these systems stand in the way of exploitation and making money, obstructing them from finishing the primitive accumulation of capital. In fact, even in their colonial power, the bourgeois revolution was also caused by this.
However, it is the twenty-first century now, the time of Oliver Cromwell, George Washington, and Napoleon Bonaparte has passed. At that time, those bourgeois revolutionists only needed to defeat feudal landlords in their country, and sometimes an alliance of foreign feudal landlords' union (as in France at the time of the revolution). After that, all they needed was a policy help capitalism grow, and try to capture colonies.
But today, the bourgeoisie in colonies and semi-colonies are not so lucky. Not only do they need to defeat the feudal landlords (if colonialism has not already smashed them yet), they also need to defeat their class brothers – the capitalist class of the colonial power. What's more, with the highly developed world market of today, it is not only this capitalist class that is the enemy of the colonial bourgeoisie but capitalist classes all over the world.
For example, factories all over the world need rubber from the tropics, no matter whether the state has a colony there or not. If they have one, they will plunder from it directly; if not, they will have to buy from those colonial powers that control the rubber production area. When the bourgeoisie seize power from the colonial state in a rubber-producing colony, they soon find that they can never compete with the other rubber-producing colonies that are controlled by colonial powers. But why are the colonial powers able to sell the rubber so cheap? It's because they have the advantage of scale and information, and they can easily exploit workers in the colonies. It is harder for the bourgeoisie in colonies to get more information from the world market and pay less wages to workers, because they don't have enough capital. Compared with transnational capitals, the bourgeoisie in colonies is not worth a word. To finish the primitive accumulation of capital the bourgeoisie in colonies would have to increase the price of rubber. This would prevent them from competing with other rubber exporting countries, even in an extreme situation – where this colony controls half of the world rubber production – the capitalist class all over the world will unite to smash this independent rubber-exporting country for increasing the rubber price on the world market, which means that industrial capitalists in other states whose industries rely on rubber make less money - a.k.a. extract less surplus value. To the capitalist class all over the world, every cent exploited from the workers counts.
Back to the topic of whether national liberation helps implement of democratic revolutionary socialism. As we said above, anti-colonialist struggles which are led by bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisies in colonies and semi-colonies just stand for their profit and completing the primitive accumulation of capital. To do this, they will use all kinds of ways to exploit working class to get more surplus value, and at the same time kowtow to the former colonial power and various other world powers, selling the sovereignty of the nation in exchange for some guarantee of independence that can be abolished anytime.
The bourgeois state is the tool of capitalist exploitation. Capitalists all over the world use this tool to guard their private property and the right of exploitation. In the developed countries, or the ex-colonial power of these independent ex-colonies, exploitation is limited because of the workers' struggles of the past, and because those states had colonies. But in colonies, there is no 8-hour working day or any Social Insurance Act, and there are also no "kind capitalists". Capitalists in former colonies have such high costs that, when they finally get the right to exploit their working-class fellow citizens, how could they be kind while they have competitors both domestic and foreign? They will try their best to use the police, gendarmes, the army, tear gas and machine guns to repress the resistance of the working class, to guard their right of exploitation and "enjoy life".
What's more, if the bourgeoisie in a former colony keeps their state isolated from the world market, this will only lead to the stagnation of the capitalist economy in their country; and if they don't do that, it is just using a local whip to whip the local worker. And moreover, considering the poor and weak capital of local capitalists, letting local capitalists, instead of transnational capital, develop the capitalist mode of production in the former colonies only slows down its pace of development, in other words, slows down the pace of development of capitalism, which means a decrease in the speed of expanding the size of the working class. And we all know that it is the working class that carries out the socialist revolution, so fewer workers mean a later revolution and a later socialist society. So that there is no reason for us socialists to support the capitalist struggle either.
Worker-peasant anti-colonial struggle with some "socialist" content.
Now here comes the most controversial part. Was Mao Zedong a socialist? Was Fidel Castro a socialist? Was Abdullah Öcalan a socialist? In my personal opinion, they were revolutionists but not working toward real socialism. When a worker-peasant struggle is launched and is successful in a semi-colony or colony, mostly it was because the bourgeoisie there was too weak and incompetent. In that circumstance, there will be social liberals even calling themselves socialists to take the lead in a revolution. Such a revolution is a bourgeois revolution but led by elements from the petty-bourgeoisie, working class or peasant class. It will use some promises of social reform to appeal to some progressive petty-bourgeois and workers to join the revolution, but will also use some state capitalist slogans to attract the reactionary petty-bourgeois, peasant, handicraftsman, and even the landlords and local bourgeois. What slogan you use, what friends will you have? China has fallen into a bureaucratic capitalist police state after 1976, while before that it was a state capitalist country. The National Assembly of People's Power in Cuba has just passed a new constitutional amendment which allows the existence of private property. Economically, socialism means collective social ownership of means of production, and equal access for all to the products.
This kind of anti-colonialism leads either to ordinary capitalism or to keeping a state isolated from the world market. However, without the success of the revolution in the centre of the world market – the United States of America, the European Union and China – keeping a state away from the world market will only make it waste much resources on trying to substitute for foreign capitalists. In the twentieth century, the Soviet Union and the first Chinese Peoples' Republic helped such struggles in many countries, which made it possible for some of those revolutionary states to keep themselves from being overthrown. However, after the Kremlin stopped helping its red pets in Asia and Africa, and Beijing took the capitalist policy of Reform and Openness, these rebel capitalist states quickly collapsed. As the first "Socialist" (but in fact state capitalist) state, the Soviet Union adopted Joseph Stalin's rapid industrialization policy to remedy the drawbacks of keeping Russia away from the world market completely or at least partially. However, during the Great Depression, the Soviet Union imported a great number of machines from the Western Europe, and recruited thousands of engineers and technicians from the United States. During the World War II, though the Soviet Union was the biggest industrial state in Europe by size, and the second biggest in the world, it still accepted Lend-lease Act aid to reinforce its military industrial production. That meant that even Stalin could not prevent being influenced by the world market while constructing his "socialist" but in fact state capitalist state.
So, should we support anti-colonialist national liberation movements? The first standard is whether it helps achieve democratic revolutionary socialism while the second standard is whether it can help develop the capitalist mode of production, help to expand the scale of working class to prepare for a socialist future. If Nahuatl-believing chieftains from Aztec were ruling Europe, we might need to support the struggle of the European bourgeoisie against the Aztec colonists, as this would help develop the capitalist mode of production. Sadly, in reality, to liberate a colony or semi-colony from its colonial power seems only to help the local bourgeoisie to seize power in the local economy and politics. Therefore, no national liberation movements should be supported by us socialists. It is like saying: "If the pig can fly, then I will ride a pig flying in the sky." However, there are no flying pigs in the world. Therefore, flying on a pig is not feasible. The slogan of national liberation is a deceitful and misleading lie of the petty-bourgeoisie. Just as Rosa Luxemburg said, "the famous 'right of self-determination of nations' is nothing but hollow, petty-bourgeois phraseology and humbug. "(Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, Chapter 3 The Nationalities Question)
Marcus Popilius Capito