Should Communists ally with revolutionary nationalism? The Comintern and Asia 1919-25 (Part 2)

Riddell, John

Publisher:  Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal
Date Written:  28/01/2018
Year Published:  2018  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX22535

But how would the proposed alliance of workers' and national uprisings be effected? This strategic issue was addressed in the Comintern’s Second Congress, held in Moscow 9 July-7 August 1920.



The discussion was shaped by the arrival of M.N. Roy, a 33-year-old exiled revolutionary from India with a formed concept of anti-imperialist strategy that differed significantly from that of Lenin. The nub of the disagreement was Roy's skepticism, based on Indian experience, regarding the prospects for a viable alliance with bourgeois nationalist forces. The Bolsheviks, under tsarism, had been dismissive of the revolutionary potential of Russian capitalists, but did not extend this judgment to the entire colonial bourgeoisie, who seemingly had something to gain from national independence.

Roy and Lenin had extensive discussions, in which each modified his theses to accommodate suggestions of the other. The two sets of theses were then presented jointly to a panel of delegates ("commission"), reported into the Congress, and overwhelmingly adopted. Lenin reported to the congress that the commission, in response to Roy's objections, had altered its description of the proposed alliance, substituting the term "national-revolutionary" for the term "bourgeois-democratic." Lenin continued:

The significance of this change is that we, as Communists, should and will support bourgeois liberation movements in the colonies only when they are genuinely revolutionary, and when their exponents do not hinder our work of educating and organizing in a revolutionary spirit the peasantry and the masses of the exploited. If these conditions do not exist, the Communists in these countries must combat the reformist bourgeoisie.

Lenin explained that this definition would not apply to the bourgeoisie of the oppressed country if, while supporting the national movement, it joined with the imperialist bourgeoisie against "all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes," as is "very often" the case.

It has been objected that this terminological change fails to resolve a very real political dilemma. "The bourgeois liberation movement that does not fear the arousal of the 'mass of the exploited' is not to be found in the twentieth century," writes Duncan Halles. A genuinely revolutionary nationalist movement, adds Claudín, is as hard to find as a "white blackbird."

In fact, Lenin, in his report, applied the term "bourgeois-democratic" very broadly, including the peasants, "who represent bourgeois-capitalist relations." Moreover, there certainly are instances in which revolutionary-nationalist movements, as Lenin defines them, have been victorious, as for example in Cuba.
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