graphic credit: Shenby (they/she) @leftaesthetic
Recently, a debate over appealing to “American patriotism” as a tactic for revolutionary organizing in the home base of imperialism was revived. Historically an ideological tool of the ruling class, patriotism has been used to mobilize the American working class to support imperialist wars, racism, and settler colonialism. American socialists from platforms with strong audiences, such as MidwesternMarx, have proposed that appealing to this patriotism, by rebranding it for the lofty goals of establishing socialism in the United States, is necessary for a socialist revolution [1, 2].
The two major reactions to this seemingly harmless tactic include those who have a negative gut reaction to wielding anything symbolic of US imperialism (not enough of an argument in my opinion) and those who recognize that appeals to national patriotism have been used across the world for successful organizing.
Unfortunately, debates over these questions, unlike in the past, have recently taken a postmodernist form where the ideological tool of patriotism can morph class position without fundamental changes in the economic base, and out-of-context quotes from past revolutionaries are used to validate either position. For example, RT broadcaster and socialist media personality, Caleb Maulpin, cites Mao’s appeal to patriotism  without recognizing that Mao writes from the position of fostering nationalism for protracted anti-colonial struggle against imperialism in post-revolutionary China. Ideas cannot be copy-pasted across time and space because analyses held by past revolutionaries may not always represent the current situation. However, their insights over their own time provide us with a framework for analyzing our own situation. This framework is the science of dialectical materialism.
I believe that the question of “American patriotism” is a surface-level mystification of deeper and more long-standing questions central to communist organizing within the United States. These questions address the role and importance of Africans in America, otherwise referred to as the Black proletariat, and the relationship of settler-colonialism to the white proletariat within a broader anti-imperialist struggle. Even the “Land Back” campaign has been questioned by right-deviationist American communists. Rather than debating the morality and applicability of American patriotism, or the interpretation of words and ideas of our victorious revolutionary ancestors, there are more relevant questions to be explored: What currently is the greatest barrier between socialism and imperialism (capitalism in its advanced globalized stage)? How can hegemony be shifted from imperialism to socialism on the global scale? What are the particularities of and the relationships between proletariat of imperialist nations and the Global South? To start, we must understand the principal contradiction.
US Imperialism is the Principle Contradiction
A principle contradiction affects all other contradictions. For example, Mao highlighted the principal contradiction in pre-revolutionary China to be Japanese imperialism. The struggle between the Chinese communist peasant masses and the national bourgeoisie movement of the reactionary Kuomintang became secondary, or dependent, to Japan’s threat over Chinese national sovereignty. In another example, during the height of inter-imperialist rivalry, World War II, the principal contradiction was between the Allied and Axis Powers. The results of this contradiction shaped all other contradictions, such as those between the proletariat and bourgeoisie in countries with ongoing socialist struggle, and between bourgeoisie democracy and fascism across the advanced capitalist states. Once this contradiction dissolved, a new principal contradiction emerged for a short time, between US imperialism and the socialist bloc. This contradiction affected decolonial movements across the world .
Today, the principal contradiction is between the representative states of the bourgeoisie of transnational monopolies and countries of the Global South. To emphasize, this contradiction is between nation-states. This international bourgeoisie class is primarily empowered by the “Triad,” composed of the United States (the dominant leading power), Europe, and Japan. This principal contradiction affects all other contradictions, such as the ones between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the Global South’s own bourgeoisie, proletariat and their respective national bourgeoisie, the United States and other members of the triad, and most importantly, the contradiction between rapidly accumulating capital through imperialism and keeping stability within the imperialist nation-states.
The imperialist system of the US-led Triad cannot survive without managing its own internal contradictions, otherwise, the secondary contradictions in relation to the principal contradiction. Of these, a major contradiction is between the potential emergence of a revolutionary proletariat within the imperialist states and maintaining a healthy alliance between imperialist bourgeoisie and other classes of their respective imperialist countries. These alliances are held up through a fragile combination of ideological propaganda and processes such as welfare and other labor concessions. These concessions include, among others, the elimination of child labor, the upward mobility of women, access to financial capital for some segments, and increased wages when contextualized to workers in the Global South.
The internal contradiction of imperialism managing its own proletariat is relevant to which direction power shifts in the principal contradiction between the imperialist states and the Global South. If the imperialist proletariat were to challenge their own imperialist states from the inside, the grip of the imperialist states over the Global South would weaken. In reverse, the imperialists’ grip over the Global South can be strengthened by managing internal problems. For example, the imperialists will promise concessions and manipulate the American working class into supporting foreign intervention and attacking workers of domestic colonies, both which happen over racial lines.
Domestic colonies are a second major internal contradiction specific to the United States. Settler colonialism is ongoing and thus there exist colonized nations within the borders of the US. Second, the so-called Black proletariat must be considered its own colonized nation, as the most advanced revolutionary Pan-African leaders have theorized many times over. I discuss this further in a later section.
I don’t speak as a Democrat. Or a Republican. Nor an American. I speak as a victim of America’s so-called democracy.. We see America through the eyes of someone who has been the victim of Americanism. We don’t see any American dream. We’ve experienced only the American nightmare.Malcolm X
The contradiction of internalized colonies takes the form of struggle between the imperialist US state isolating these groups through violence, while at the same time, attempting to integrate them through liberal institutions of diversity and inclusion. The US state’s concessions to workers generally tend to target people of its own nation first and foremost: settlers, descendants of settlers, and immigrants from “welcomed” nationalities. These differences in concessions range from housing to education, and more. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a “racial line” in play. Africans in America, Indigenous nations, and refugees of imperialism, especially from Latin America reap any benefits last. Further, anytime the American working class’s alliance with imperialism is mobilized, generally through capitalist media campaigns, it is these groups who are framed as the enemies first.
At the same time, the “diversity and inclusion” project seeks to integrate select members of these distinct nations into the American identity. For example, the Biden administration appointed an Indigenous woman as secretary of the Department of Interior, the very part of the state that was designed to manage Westward Expansion ! The purpose of this liberal process is to dampen the contradiction between the US empire and its internal colonies by seeking to stamp an American identity onto people of internal colonies by integrating some of their individuals. If that is the case, antagonizing these contradictions furthers the process of weakening the US empire’s power.
A Two-Pronged Approach Against US Imperialism
Like any contradiction, the principal contradiction of US imperialism has two aspects: (1) the internal aspect, otherwise, its domestic maintenance over internal colonies and alliances between national classes and (2) the external aspect, otherwise, its economic control over the Global South and the international struggle for socialism. The internal and external aspects are not isolated phenomena, but are rather, deeply linked. Holding a positive position over each aspect, and thus dominance over the global proletariat, requires massive organization from the imperialists through the use of clever tactics. To antagonize the external aspect of the primary contradiction against the favor of the imperialists, there is incentive for the Global South to develop mutual cooperation between itself for economic development (after conscious underdevelopment by the imperialists ), and to de-link from reliance on the imperialist economy completely [7, 8]. The Communist Party of China is currently leading the way in strengthening the fight over this contradiction through projects such as a Belt and Road Initiative .
The internal aspect of the primary contradiction is the United States’ legacy itself. The US was given its foundation by accelerating its political economy through settler colonialism over Indigenous land, the mass genocide of the people living on it, and the forced extraction of peoples from Africa for the purposes implementing slave labor. These processes, and their child-processes, are still ongoing and function as US imperialism’s own Achilles heel.
It is the duty of the American communists to help accelerate the primary internal contradictions of the US, specifically, the anti-colonial struggles of African and Indigenous peoples. These movements should be revived and strengthened, both for the benefit of these people, and for weakening US imperialism, affecting the cause of the international proletariat overall. Communism is for all people but building it requires dealing with the real contradictions in place now. Building socialism in this present moment may not be for all present proletariat, especially those with deep alliances with imperialism. For example, is it just for Israeli workers to establish socialism on occupied Palestinian land? While Israeli workers may wage anti-capitalist struggle, Palestinians have to wage anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggle simultaneously, in which Israeli settlers are as much an enemy as the systems of capitalism.
Being honest about the variety of class relationships within a historical conjuncture is important. This was the basis of the Chinese communists’ alliance with national reactionaries against an external Japanese imperialism and its “encircle the cities” idea. Lin Biao described the Chinese peasantry as “subjected to the threefold oppression and exploitation of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism,” and “eager for resistance against Japan for revolution.” He went on to say that “it was essential to rely mainly on the peasants if the people’s war was to be won” . It was clear that the most revolutionary force was the peasantry and organization had to focus on them, even if it meant leading them against the industrial city proletariat, many of whom had incentive to side with the reactionary Kuomintang in the Chinese civil war.
The lesson here, as some dogmatists would put it, is not to copy-paste this tactic and “encircle” the cities of the US. This is dogmatism and anti-Marxist. The lesson is that there are sometimes exploitable segments within the contradictions of the working classes and these contradictions can be used to advance the struggle for the international proletarian revolution, otherwise, the end of US imperialism. It is idealism to believe that in any given moment, the entirety of the working class can always be united for one purpose. A Marxist organizer starts in areas that can most effectively affect change on the principal contradiction, in this case, US imperialism. Weakening and destabilization of US imperialism creates the conditions for a further unified proletarian struggle.
American Communists and Black Liberation
The question of the “Black proletariat” has been under debate since earliest iterations of the American communist movement. Robin D. G. Kelley documents an extensive history of this and I primarily draw from his work  in this section. The Socialist Labor Party (SLP), established in 1876, organized to quell the white working class’ perceived competition with the newly liberated African slaves-turned proletariat. However, this contradiction was not understood to be an important one. For example, Daniel De Leon, leader in the SLP and co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World, wrote “there was no such thing as a race or ‘Negro question’ […] there was only a social, a labor question […] so far as the Socialist and labor movements were concerned.” In 1901, the Socialist Party of America, backed by the Second International, held the same position on the “Negro Question.”
It was not until the following decade, over the backdrop of the Bolshevik revolution and development of the theory of imperialism as a higher stage of capitalism, did Black socialist thought sharpen thanks to the direction of W.E.B Du Bois, Hubert Harrison, and Claude McKay. Du Bois centered the Black proletariat as central to the success of socialism in the United States and introduced an anti-imperialist analysis to the theories underlying Black liberation struggles. As socialists of the advanced capitalist states dropped their internationalism for nationalist participation in World War I, Harrison, in the vein of Lenin, called for the white Western proletariat to rebel against their own nations.
After years of organizing in the shadows of white American communists, Lenin invited Black radicals to speak with authority at the Comintern. McKay, among various others, traveled to the Soviet Union as a delegate and spoke on Black nationalism, an idea that Lenin had already put forward in his groundbreaking “Theses on the National and Colonial Questions.” There he called for communists to support national liberation struggles. Lenin cited “American Negros” as an oppressed and dependent nation alongside the likes of Ireland, China, and Korea. This was in stark contrast with the Workers Party of America (later named the Communist Party of USA), who held the view that “the interests of the Negro worker are identical with those of the white” and that black nationalism was “a weapon of reaction for the defeat and further enslavement of both [blacks] and their white brother workers.”
Unfortunately, the Land Back campaign, an Indigenous movement for the restoration of treaty rights and sovereign political control over their own occupied territories, has also been demonized by American “Patriot” communists, citing antagonism to communist organizing. There seems to be a fear that Land Back will lead to the development of violent Indigenous ethno-states which will displace American workers in mass. Firstly, I think this is a projection of settler-colonialism’s own violence. More importantly, anti-colonial struggle will always be violent to an extent. The encroaching and violent bordertowns which surround Indigenous reservations and perpetuate vigilante murder and missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) must be a site of contestation. Secondly, abolishing private property is not about abolishing personal belongings and ripping every American family of their homes. A nation is only free when it has power and power is obtained by controlling the means of production – land that always belonged to Indigenous people. Bill Gates, for example, owns 242,000 acres of farmland . Land Back can easily start here. Right of self determination explicitly means political and economic sovereignty, and thus, requires land reforms and redistribution of private property back to sovereign Indigenous nations for economic development.
In our time, many segments of workers in the imperialist core are in a clear alliance with the ruling class, even if it is against their overall interest. This alliance becomes shakier by the day due to the deteriorating economic stability of imperialism. Changes in the primary contradiction affect the secondary contradiction. Until the alliance between imperialists and workers in the imperialist core is broken or a new nature of imperialist rule is established, it is important to exploit the weaknesses of the contradictions at hand. Appealing to the morality of a working class which has allied itself with imperialists is not a viable solution. In fact, appealing to American patriotism is the opposite of antagonizing the internal contradiction of US imperialism – it dampens it. Colonized people have a negative and complex relationship to US patriotism, as they do not reap the fruits of imperialism in the same manner as other segments of the working class. Given that, it is clear that an anti-US sentiment needs to be fomented, and frankly revitalized from suppression, across colonized people within the imperialist core.
Firstly, the effort must be directed solely towards freeing and mobilising black minds. There must be no performances to impress whites, for those whites who find themselves beside us in the firing line will be there for reasons far more profound than their exposure to African history.Walter Rodney
In drawing links between colonized peoples within and outside of the United States, can there be a two-pronged approach against US imperialism. All communists should aid the internal decolonial movements and fight the [information and literal] war against the Global South’s sovereign development. In times of wars of aggression, a revolutionary defeatism must be adopted and the loss of US imperialism promoted . An appeal to patriotism must be made, however, this patriotism must be of African nationalism, Indigenous sovereignty, and victory across the Global South. A revived internal anti-colonial struggle will be a deathblow to US imperialism and the conditions for socialist revolution among American workers will be created.
- Tim Russo, Socialism worldwide needs American patriotism, MidwesternMarx – https://www.midwesternmarx.com/articles/socialism-worldwide-needs-american-patriotism-by-tim-russo
- Edgar Smith, On American patriotism, MidwesternMarx – https://www.midwesternmarx.com/articles/on-american-patriotism-by-edward-liger-smith
- Caleb Maulpin, Real patriotism requires socialism, Youtube – https://youtu.be/Glryn9gvE5k
- Torkil Lauesen, The Principal Contradiction, Kersplebedeb
- Peoples Anti-Colonial Press, Deb Haaland: Diversifying the established imperialist order, Monthly Review Online – https://mronline.org/2021/08/16/deb-haaland-diversifying-the-established-imperialist-order/
- Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Verso
- Kim Il Sung, For the Development of the Non-Aligned Movement, Selected Works – https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-il-sung/1986/06/20.htm
- Deng Xiaoping, Promote the Friendship Between China and India and Increase South-South Cooperation, Deng Xiaoping Works – https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/deng-xiaoping/1982/33.htm
- Qiao Collective, Connecting the Dots: Iran, China, and the Challenge to U.S. Hegemony, Qiao Collective – https://www.qiaocollective.com/en/articles/iran-china-challenge
- Lin Biao, Long Live the Victory of People’s War! – https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/lin-biao/1965/09/peoples_war/ch03.htm
- Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Penguin
- Kate Duffy, “Bill Gates is America’s biggest owner of private farmland, and his 242,000 acres could be split in his divorce,” Insider – https://www.businessinsider.com/bill-gates-land-portfolio-biggest-private-farmland-owner-in-america-2021-1
- V. I. Lenin, The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War, Lenin Collected Works – https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/jul/26.htm