14 September 2009

Origin of the National Democratic Revolution

[CU for Tuesday, 15 September 2009]

The Hammer and Sickle emblem of the communists, invented in 1917, is symbolic of a class alliance between two distinct classes: proletarian workers; and peasants.

Peasants often work hard and they are often poor, but they are not the same as the working proletariat of the towns. Nor are they the same as the rural proletariat. So the hammer and the sickle are not two equal things. They represent two different things, allied.

Practical politics is always a matter of alliance, and in different circumstances, different alliances are called for. Communists commonly regard an alliance between workers and peasants as normal. But rightly or wrongly, proletarian parties have in the past attempted class alliances with the bourgeoisie (against feudalism or against colonialism) and at least one instance, even with the aristocracy (against the bourgeoisie).

Alliances are normal and necessary, in order to isolate and thereby to defeat an adversary, and equally, to avoid being isolated and defeated by the adversary. Therefore, the question of the appropriate alliances in the anti-colonial and anti-Imperialist struggle was bound to arise.

Exactly when the term National Democratic Revolution (NDR) was coined, we do not know. But the origin of the specific type of class alliance that is referred to by the term National Democratic Revolution can be precisely located in the Second Congress of the Communist International (2CCI), in the discussion on the National & Colonial Question, reported by V. I. Lenin on 26 July 1920 (click on the link below).

The founding Congress of the Communist International (“Comintern”) took place a little more than a year after the October 1917 Russian Revolution, in March, 1919. The First International had been disbanded after the fall of the Paris Commune. The Second International fell apart in 1914, when most of the Social-Democratic workers’ parties backed their bourgeois masters in the war between Imperialist powers. The communists, led by Lenin, had held out against that betrayal. After the revolutionary victory in Russia they lost very little time before constructing a new International. The Third, Communist International was naturally and explicitly anti-Imperial and anti-colonial.

In his report to the 2CCI on the National & Colonial Question, Lenin says: We have discussed whether it would be right or wrong, in principle and in theory, to state that the Communist International and the Communist parties must support the bourgeois-democratic movement in backward countries. As a result of our discussion, we have arrived at the unanimous decision to speak of the national-revolutionary movement rather than of the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ movement. It is beyond doubt that any national movement can only be a bourgeois-democratic movement, since the overwhelming mass of the population in the backward countries consist of peasants who represent bourgeois-capitalist relationships… However, the objections have been raised that, if we speak of the bourgeois-democratic movement, we shall be obliterating all distinctions between the reformist and the revolutionary movements. Yet that distinction has been very clearly revealed of late in the backward and colonial countries…

Here we find all the makings of the NDR, including the name, even if it is not quite in its present-day order. Lenin calls it “national-revolutionary”, but he makes it very clear that he is talking of a class alliance with anti-colonial, anti-Imperialist elements of the national bourgeoisie in colonial countries. It is very instructive to read what he says.

The 2CCI was followed within two months by the famous “Congress of the Peoples of the East”, in Baku, in the southern part of the Soviet Union [Picture: delegates to the Congress of the Peoples of the East. Its manifesto (click the link below) makes very clear the strategic confrontation that existed following the end of hostilities, and the effective and menacing British Imperial victory, as they saw it.

This was the first international congress of oppressed nations against colonialism. It effectively launched the anti-colonial struggle on a new basis that began to bear fruit less than thirty years later in the late 1940s, with the independence of India and the victory of the communist revolutionaries in China.

Let us not forget that although the Soviet Union is no more, yet the profound change in the entire world that is the consequence of the anti-colonial movement for independence and sovereignty of nations is still with us, in the form of nearly 200 nations, most of which did not exist, as such, at the time of the 2CCI and the Congress of the Peoples of the East.

For one example of how quickly it took hold, and how close to our home this movement quickly came, the Red Trade Union International (Profintern) of the Comintern, founded one year after the 2CCI, in 1921, had by 1930 organised (in Berlin) an International Conference of Negro Workers that included Jomo Kenyatta and Moses Kotane, as well as W. Thibedi and Albert Nzula.

We should also not forget to mention the founding of the Communist Party of South Africa under the auspices of the Comintern in 1921 in this connection.

Another example of the swift, strong effect of the Russian Revolution and the Comintern on South Africa is the Black Republic Thesis, and all that went with it, which we will come to in the next part of this NDR Generic Course.

The third item linked below is by Antonio Gramsci. It is an account of the “Southern (Italian) Question” in a time that corresponds to the early years of the Comintern. It is included here so as to provide more diverse reading about the shifting class alliances that exist in all sorts of situations. The situation of Southern Italy was not very much different from a colony at that time – colonised by the northern Italians. A South African may well recognise some of the political factors that are described by Gramsci in this essay.

Click on these links:

Report on National & Colonial Question, 2CCI, Lenin (1983 words)

Manifesto, Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East (4383 words)

Some Aspects of the Southern Question, Gramsci (9675 words)


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