On Third World Struggles
What does national liberation mean for workers and peasants? The imperialist powers speak of the right of peoples to self-determination, and this phrase is adopted by the parties striving for power in colonial and semicolonial countries. We propose to banish the word people from our vocabulary: it implies an equality of right between the exploiting classes and the exploited masses. Who self-determines whom in the new national peasant states? In countries within the Western sphere of influence, national independence hands power over to the local bourgeoisie, which exploits the proletariat, and to the landowning class, which exploits the peasantry; in countries within the so-called Communist bloc, the state-capitalist bureaucracy exploits proletariat and peasantry alike. For workers and peasants, national liberation means nothing more than a change of masters.
Needless to say, in countries like India, where imperialism has handed power over to the local bourgeoisie, peasants die of hunger or live on the verge of starvation, at the mercy of greedy landowners. In countries where immense peasant uprisings have brought Communist parties to power, bureaucratic-military states have emerged that have introduced agrarian reform for their own ends: they abolish land ownership, eliminate the landowning classes, and redistribute land to the peasants in order to secure their support during the initial phase of their rule; but once state capitalism is established, the superexploitation of the peasants forms the basis of primitive accumulation for industrialization.
We live in an era of permanent war. The major powers confront each other, either directly or through the states under their dominion, and, as in the past, they each lay the responsibility on the other side.
Whatever the country, the victims are always the workers and peasants. A people that oppresses another people is itself oppressed. We have no country to defend, even if that country claims to be communist. For all the exploited, the struggle for self-emancipation means the duty to fight against their own exploiters, and war is nothing other than the most extreme form of that exploitation. The peace or war promoted by our masters, be they bourgeois, landowners, generals or Communist bureaucrats, is no concern of ours. We have no interest in the defense of the Free World or the defense of a workers’ and peasants’ government. No matter where we live, we must struggle directly against those who send us to slaughter by refusing to manufacture or to bear arms; and that struggle is an integral part of our struggle for self-emancipation, across all borders.
“Sur la réforme agraire” originally appeared in Cahiers de discussion sur le Socialisme de conseils #8 (Paris, April 1968). This translation by Ken Knabb is from Ngo Van’s book In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary (AK Press, 2010).