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The following is based on a motion by comrade Maxine adopted at the International Conference.

From mass protests against the U.S. imperialists’ implementation of PROMESA [colonialist financial oversight board] to the fight against privatization of electricity and water, devastating hurricanes, the pandemic and the resurgence of the independentista movement, the Puerto Rican masses are in desperate need of a communist leadership armed with an anti-imperialist program and committed to the fight for independence and socialism.

However, the ICL’s program since 1993 has rejected the very fight for Puerto Rican independence. The justification for this was laid out in a 1998 presentation by comrade Jim Robertson:

“Because we want to fight racial chauvinism in the mainland and nationalism in the island, we strongly advocate independence, but we advocate it aware that the population is profoundly ambivalent. Therefore, our central thrust is the right of self-determination. While we do indeed have a position of self-determination, from here [the U.S.]; from within Puerto Rico, it should be the struggle for workers power. The decision should be made by the victorious workers, depending on the circumstances in the world and the Caribbean at that time, as to how they will exercise their working-class self-determination.”

—Quoted in “The Struggle Against the Chauvinist Hydra,” Spartacist (English edition) No. 65,
Summer 2017

Let’s get one thing straight. The Puerto Rican working class and oppressed masses want independence, but they do not want to be impoverished. This is why the Boricua masses do not vote in favor of independence—not because they’re “ambivalent” about independence but because they rightly see the nationalist call for independence under capitalism as further economic immiseration under the same masters. Instead of providing an answer to this real fear, we seized on it as an excuse to drop the fight for independence.

Communists champion independence for Puerto Rico because it is an oppressed colony and we are against national oppression, not because our starting point is “to fight racial chauvinism in the mainland and nationalism in the island.” Condition eight of the “Conditions of Admission Into the Communist International” states:

“In countries whose bourgeoisies possess colonies and oppress other nations, it is necessary that the parties have an especially clear and well-defined position on the question of colonies and oppressed nations. Every party wishing to belong to the Communist International is obligated to expose the tricks of ‘its own’ imperialists in the colonies, to support every liberation movement in the colonies not only in words but in deeds, to demand that the imperialists of its country be driven out of these colonies, to instill in the hearts of the workers of its country a truly fraternal attitude toward the laboring people in the colonies and toward the oppressed nations, and to conduct systematic agitation among its country’s troops against all oppression of colonial peoples.”

The ICL’s 2017 International Conference document corrected the rejection of Puerto Rican independence in our press and claimed that the fight for independence was a motor force for revolution. At the same time, it claimed that the formulation by comrade Robertson quoted above “codifies our anti-colonial stance from the U.S.…and our perspective for permanent revolution as applied to Puerto Rico.”

This was both a centrist obfuscation and a deformation of permanent revolution. While Robertson’s presentation states that we “advocate independence,” it doesn’t advocate fighting for independence. A key argument of ours has been that “as Leninists we do not seek to impose our point of view on them [Puerto Ricans] and insist that they separate,” and thus “we emphasize the right of self-determination.” This falsely establishes the “sentiment of the population” as the basis on which to intervene into the Puerto Rican workers movement instead of principled opposition to imperialist oppression.

Robertson’s 1998 report is not an application of permanent revolution. It argues that as opposed to the U.S., where we insist on self-determination for Puerto Rico, on the island itself we should insist on “workers power.” This counterposes the democratic task to the need for socialist revolution when both struggles are intertwined. Combining the struggle for national emancipation and the struggle for socialism is the only way to put forward permanent revolution for Puerto Rico. It is also the only way to break through the imperialist blackmail that threatens even greater devastation if Puerto Rico were to achieve independence. In contrast, separating the two struggles betrays the national aspirations of the masses, renounces the anti-imperialist struggle and cedes leadership of the independence movement to the nationalists.

The fight for independence is a motor force for revolution in Puerto Rico and is a potential spark for revolution in the whole region. The revolutionary overthrow of U.S. imperialism requires joint struggle between the American proletariat and the Puerto Rican masses that extends to the rest of the Caribbean. Does this mean that we should call on the island’s proletariat to passively wait for the revolution in the U.S. to take place? No. The struggle for national emancipation can and must grow over into a socialist revolution and continue without interruption. It’s on this basis that we fight for permanent revolution in Boriquen and for a socialist federation of the Caribbean.

Instead of arguing for revolutionary unity based on the struggle to overthrow U.S. imperialism, the ICL advocated unity based on liberal internationalism, establishing that the main task for American workers was to “fight racial chauvinism in the mainland.” The vanguard of the proletariat will unite the working class not by moral preaching but by leading the working class in common struggle against imperialism. It must show how the American proletariat fighting in its own defense is one side of the struggle, and the Puerto Rican masses along with the rest of the people of Latin America struggling for their emancipation is another side. As both struggles persist, they will show these workers that an objective alliance exists between them based on ending U.S. imperialist tyranny. As Trotsky wrote:

“The sooner the American proletarian vanguard in North, Central, and South America understands the necessity for a closer revolutionary collaboration in the struggle against the common enemy, the more tangible and fruitful that alliance will be. To clarify, illustrate, and organize that struggle —herein lies one of the most important tasks of the Fourth International.”

—“Ignorance Is Not a Revolutionary Instrument” (January 1939)