… [W]hat is most important, that which constitutes the very gist, the living soul, of Marxism—is a concrete analysis of a concrete situation
— Vladimir Lenin
One of the first of many objections brought up by ultra-leftists when a Marxist-Leninist expresses critical support for the Syrian government against “rebels” backed by imperialist states, is that the Syrian government is a bourgeois nationalist government and thus undeserving of support from communists in any and all cases. This argument rests mainly on one premise: communists should never side with the bourgeoisie. Why? Because communists are opposed to capitalists so siding with them in any situation is antithetical to the goals of communists. This is the reasoning behind this argument.
But this argument fails to analyze situations in their changing conditions. It fails to understand that the bourgeoisie can, given certain circumstances, act as a progressive force. It also ignores the fact that communists have allied with unlikely forces over certain conflicts specifically because they analyzed those specific conditions in their specific context rather than sticking to the unwavering dogma that the bourgeoisie as a class is always “bad” and “evil.”
The fact that a class that is reactionary in one context can be progressive in another context is not an unpopular or even contested opinion among Marxists. For example, the French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution. It toppled the aristocracy and spelled the death of feudalism and ushered in capitalism. The bourgeoisie in that case acted not only as a progressive but as a revolutionary class because they were fighting against a dying mode of production and a dying class. The step from feudalism to capitalism was a step ahead.
But the French Revolution took place in the late 1700s before the existence of a proletariat to speak of, so let us jump a bit ahead to the mid-1800s. In 1848, Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto:
In France, the Communists ally with the Social-Democrats against the conservative and radical bourgeoisie, reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position in regard to phases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution …
In Germany, they fight with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty bourgeoisie.
It’s evident that even after the proletariat existed as a class, communists of that era understood that allying with the bourgeoisie in certain situations doesn’t mean one is abandoning the goals of communism, since no where in these struggles did they forget the class antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Why did Marx side with the bourgeoisie against the absolute monarchy? Because it is easier to organize the workers under the “freedoms” given by a bourgeois democratic republic than it is under an absolute monarchy.
Let’s now look at the actions and demands of the Russian communists during the revolutionary period. Before the overthrow of the monarchy, the Bolsheviks struggled against the monarchy alongside various liberal and petty-bourgeois parties in Russia while also criticizing them for their opportunist and liberal democratic positions. Even after the monarchy was overthrown in February of 1917, the Bolsheviks did not immediately call for the overthrow of the provisional government. Lenin wrote in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder:
… [T]he Bolsheviks began their victorious struggle against the parliamentary and (in fact) bourgeois republic and against the Mensheviks in a very cautious manner, and the preparations they made for it were by no means simple.
At the beginning of the period mentioned, we did not call for the overthrow of the government but explained that it was impossible to overthrow it without first changing the composition and the temper of the Soviets. We did not proclaim a boycott of the bourgeois parliament, the Constituent Assembly, but said—and following the April (1917) Conference of our Party began to state officially in the name of the Party—that a bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly would be better than a bourgeois republic without a Constituent Assembly, but that a “workers’ and peasants’ ” republic, a Soviet republic, would be better than any bourgeois-democratic, parliamentary republic. Without such thorough, circumspect and long preparations, we could not have achieved victory in October 1917, or have consolidated that victory.
Should the Bolsheviks be accused of collaborating with the bourgeoisie during the period from February to October because they supported the establishment of a bourgeois democratic republic? Should they be accused of being traitors because they did not immediately call for the overthrow of the provisional government? It is obvious in hindsight that their methods and plans were correct given the Bolshevik victory over the social democratic, petty bourgeois, and liberal democrats in October and the subsequent establishment of the first proletarian state yet one cannot help but think that ultra-leftists would have opposed the Bolsheviks on the ground that they were “supporting” a bourgeois government.
In Lenin’s 1915 pamphlet Socialism and War, Lenin elaborates further on the connection between the class struggle and war in their various forms. “But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists and of the Anarchists,” he continued, “… we Marxists differ from both the pacifists and the Anarchists in that we deem it necessary historically to study each war separately.” He wrote:
In history there have been numerous wars which, in spite of all the horrors, atrocities, distress and suffering that inevitably accompany all wars, were progressive, i.e., benefited the development of mankind by helping to destroy the exceptionally harmful and reactionary institutions.
Lenin continued, explaining what constituted a “just” war according to socialists. Writing that only under certain circumstances can we speak of “wars for the defense of the fatherland” as being just and progressive.
… If tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be “just”, “defensive” wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every Socialist would sympathise with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slaveowning, predatory “great” powers.
Stalin also wrote and explained in details in The Foundations of Leninism (1924) that the revolutionary character of national movement does not presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in it.
The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican programme of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement.
The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism; whereas the struggle waged by such “desperate” democrats and “Socialists,” “revolutionaries” and republicans as, for example, Kerensky and Tsereteli, Renaudel and Scheidemann, Chernov and Dan, Henderson and Clynes, during the imperialist war was a reactionary struggle, for its results was the embellishment, the strengthening, the victory, of imperialism.
For the same reasons, the struggle that the Egyptians merchants and bourgeois intellectuals are waging for the independence of Egypt is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the bourgeois origin and bourgeois title of the leaders of Egyptian national movement, despite the fact that they are opposed to socialism; whereas the struggle that the British “Labour” Government is waging to preserve Egypt’s dependent position is for the same reason a reactionary struggle, despite the proletarian origin and the proletarian title of the members of the government, despite the fact that they are “for” socialism. There is no need to mention the national movement in other, larger, colonial and dependent countries, such as India and China, every step of which along the road to liberation, even if it runs counter to the demands of formal democracy, is a steam-hammer blow at imperialism, i.e., is undoubtedly a revolutionary step.
Disintegrating and weakening imperialism, which is one of the primary contradictions of modern capitalism, is a revolutionary step even if the class behind this disintegration of imperialism is the bourgeoisie of a particular nation.
Trotsky repeated the same thing in an interview in 1938.
I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semi-fascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be?
I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat.
Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy.
One can find Rosa Luxemburg, the beloved communist of the “libertarian Marxists,” performing a similar dialectical analysis in The Junius Pamphlet (The War and the Workers), the likes of which analysis is nowhere to be seen in the analysis of “Luxemburgists” or ultra-leftists who reduce her to an anarchist.
It’s evident then that anti-imperialist or national liberation struggle is rooted deeply within Marxism. Successful communist revolutionaries throughout the centuries—and Trotsky, too—have the same view on this struggle as those who currently support various bourgeois nationalist governments against the imperialist bourgeoisie. Any socialist or “Marxist” who allies with the imperialist bourgeoisie must find themselves with the likes of the opportunists of the Second International or the social democrats—not with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, or Luxemburg.