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From direct action to organization, lessons from Canada’s Line 9 sit-ins

Protests, marches and direct actions are vitally important, but to win our goals we need to build mass, democratic political organizations.

by Umair Muhammad

Umair Muhammad is the author of Confronting Injustice: Social Activism in the Age of Individualism

On July 14 a dozen or so activists staged an occupation of a worksite in Toronto associated with Enbridge’s Line 9, an oil pipeline that runs across the Province of Ontario. Double the number of activists, including some from the July 14 occupation, disrupted work at another pipeline site outside of Cambridge, Ontario on July 17 and 18. Read more…

Growing up with the Korean War: A memoir of 1950-51

The account that follows attempts to portray the Korean War as experienced by a young boy and by his father, R. Gerald Riddell, a Canadian diplomat. It does not attempt to draw a balance sheet of Canadian foreign policy in that period. It is followed by a tribute to R.G. Riddell written in 1951.JR

By John Riddell. Recently I happened upon a recording of a speech by my father, Gerry Riddell, given in the United Nations in 1949. It was an antique one-sided vinyl pressing, 78 RPM, and it had been waiting more than half a century to be played. I cranked up my ancient gramophone, let down the needle, and adjusted the speed until my father’s tenor voice was on pitch. Read more…

The forgotten Fifth Comintern Congress: Bridge between Lenin and Stalin

The first four congresses (1919-1922) of the Communist International (Comintern) have won attention as events shaped by Lenin and his policies; the sixth congress (1928) is famous as the event marking the triumph of Stalinism. But the fifth congress of the Communist International (1924) is a largely forgotten event in revolutionary history.

A new study by Joel Geier examines the Fifth Congress, claiming that it has a distinctive character, bearing the imprint of the Comintern’s president at that time, Grigorii Zinoviev. I am posting here the segment of Joel’s article that takes up the congress’s ultra-left turn on the united front question. For the full article, including source notes, see “Zinoviev and the Degeneration of Communism.” Read more…

A Lars Lih bibliography

Lars T. Lih is among the most respected and widely read historians of Russian and revolutionary history. He has kindly provided the following record of his publications since 1986. Most of his web publications are grouped below under “Online Articles”; most of them are described on this website at Lars Lih Online and More Lars Lih Online – JR Read more…

‘National struggles by oppressed peoples are generally progressive’

The following comments by Eric Blanc first appeared in Kasama Project; they reply to a contribution by Mike Ely. For other items in this discussion, see Eric Blanc’s “National liberation and Bolshevism reexamined” and other comments (“Constituent Assembly” and “Five Views“).

By Eric Blanc. 1) First of all, I’d like to thank Kasama for reposting the article and I really appreciate Mike Ely’s comments, which merit serious reflection. While I agree with some of the political points Mike makes, I think his overall argument is based on two false premises: the first is that my analysis assumes that “every oppressed nationality needs and wants a separate nation state;” the second is that the Bolsheviks never changed their position on the national question. Read more…

National liberation: Some problems with Eric Blanc’s analysis

The following comments by Mike Ely on Eric Blanc’s “National liberation and Bolshevism reexamined: A view from the borderlands” first appeared in Kasama Project. See also Eric Blanc’s rejoinder and other comments (“Constituent Assembly” and “Five Views“).

By Mike Ely. There is value in opening up a deeper discussion of nationality, national liberation and strategies for revolution in multinational states. Having said that, there are some problems with Eric Blanc’s approach and analysis. First, he seems to assume that every oppressed nationality needs and wants a separate nation state – that independence is the natural and necessary accompaniment of liberation. And he assumes that the separatist and pro-nationalist forces (somehow) speak FOR those nationalities. Why is that? Read more…

Fumble and late recovery: The Comintern response to Italian fascism

By John Riddell. In a comment on this website, Jara Handala raised a number of questions regarding the evolution of the Comintern’s position on fascism, a topic touched on in my article Weighing the Legacy of Lenin’s Comintern. I do not know of any full treatment of this topic in English. I am therefore providing the summary account prepared for the introduction to my book on the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, Toward the United Front (Haymarket Books). This draft (Copyright © 2011, 2014 John Riddell) differs slightly from the final text in the book.

The rise of Italian Fascism

The debates of the Third Comintern Congress reflected wide agreement among most delegates on united front policy. By contrast, the discussion of fascism in Italy lacked coherence. An abrupt shift, near the close of the congress, produced a final decision that, while limited in scope, was rapidly and fruitfully elaborated after the congress closed. Judging from the congress record, this shift resulted from insistent urging by front-line delegates. Read more…

Five views on ‘National Liberation and Bolshevism’: A response

By John Riddell. Eric Blanc’s essay, “National Liberation and Bolshevism Reexamined: A View From The Borderlands,” is “a stimulating and insightful essay” that will “inspire and inform reconsideration of questions long thought settled,” writes Richard Fidler. While I cannot confirm every aspect of Blanc’s analysis, I do strongly agree with Fidler’s assessment.

The worth of this essay is evident in the questions it has provoked in five comments on this website. Read more…

The constituent assembly and the national question: Response to Eric Blanc

The following contribution was written in reply to “National liberation and Bolshevism reexamined: A view from the borderlands” published on this website.

By Richard Fidler. A stimulating and insightful essay. Along with the promised monograph, it will inspire and inform reconsideration of questions long thought settled by some of us.

Blanc focuses on the pre-1914 positions and makes a compelling argument. But he adds that Lenin and his comrades “lagged behind the non-Russian Marxists on this crucial issue [anti-colonial Marxism] well into the Civil War….” One question worth reconsideration, perhaps, is the Bolshevik decision in 1918 to dissolve the elected Constituent Assembly. Read more…

National liberation and Bolshevism reexamined: A view from the borderlands

Translations

By Eric Blanc. (Eric Blanc is an activist and historian based in Oakland, California.) A view from the Czarist empire’s borderlands obliges us to rethink many long-held assumptions about the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, as well as the development of Marxist approaches to national liberation, peasant struggle, permanent revolution, and the emancipation of women.

The following paper analyzes the socialist debates on the national question up through 1914. I argue that an effective strategy of anti-colonial Marxism was first put forward by the borderland socialists, not the Bolsheviks. Lenin and his comrades lagged behind the non-Russian Marxists on this crucial issue well into the Civil War—and this political weakness helps explain the Bolshevik failure to build roots among dominated peoples. Read more…

Breaking a path for the sixties radicalization

Review of Ernest Tate’s ‘Revolutionary Activism

By John Riddell. “A police cruiser with two uniformed officers pulled up alongside me,” recalls Ernest Tate in his newly published memoir, Revolutionary Activism. “They jumped out and asked me for identification. I gave it to them. ‘What’s in your suitcase?’ Dirty underwear, I said. ‘Open it,” they ordered. I told them it was none of their business. They almost went berserk…”

To learn how this story ends, you’ll just have to read Revolutionary Activism, or at least the first of its two volumes, dealing with Canada 1955-65. And the suitcase saga, which wrote a page in the history of civil liberties in Toronto, is only one of many gripping adventures found in Tate’s account of socialist activism in Canada in the years before the radical upsurge of the late 1960s. (For a review by Ernie’s longtime collaborator, Richard Fidler, see http://lifeonleft.blogspot.ca/2014/06/learning-from-our-history-ernie-tates.html.) Read more…

Weighing the legacy of Lenin’s Comintern

In reply to Paul Kellogg’s review of ‘Toward the United Front’

By John Riddell. Paul Kellogg’s review in Socialist Studies of my edition of the Communist International’s 1922 world congress raises two probing questions regarding the legacy of the Communist International (Comintern) in Lenin’s time.[1] First, he questions a long-held conception that the Bolshevik leaders initiated all the Comintern’s major steps in policy development. Second, he challenges the belief that the Lenin-era International represents a model or template for program and strategy in our time.

Kellogg, an experienced and respected Marxist activist based in Canada, is right on the first point. On the second, he takes a correct initial step but needs to engage with the substance of the Comintern’s strategic heritage.

Read more…

‘Confronting Injustice: Social Activism in the Age of Individualism’

Review by John Riddell. A new and outstanding book by Umair Muhammad, Confronting Injustice: Social Activism in the Age of Individualism, presents a strong case for the necessity of socialism to counter the impending calamity of global warming.

Muhammad, an MA student at York University in Toronto, ends his 174-page text by quoting anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin: “The bold thought first, and the bold deed will not fail to follow.” Confronting Injustice is indeed bold in exposing all the market-based evasions and half-measures urged upon those seeking to end environmental destruction. Read more…

Revolutionaries in a time of retreat

Review of ‘Toward the United Front’

By Ted M. McTaggart.When the Communist International was founded in March 1919, the world was in a time of revolutionary ferment. Three and a half years after the capitulation to imperialist jingoism by the leaders of the Second International, the Russian Revolution had given a new impetus to the left wing of the international socialist movement, as the Bolsheviks demonstrated a revolutionary means to end imperialist war.

Following the Russian example, revolutionary workers of several other European countries formed soviets, or councils of workers’ deputies as organs of working-class power, but despite some fleeting successes — Soviet republics were briefly established in Bavaria and Hungary — state repression and cooptation by reformist elements demonstrated the need for coordinated revolutionary leadership. Read more…

Revolution at the crossroads: Reading the Comintern’s Fourth Congress

By Jennifer Roesch. Review of Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, Haymarket Books, 2012. Reprinted from International Socialist Review #89.

“We are all fond of prophesying the future course of the revolution. But the fact is that the only thing we can predict is that our prophecies will not hit the mark. The revolution will very likely take place in quite another manner than we imagine.” — Gregory Zinoviev

“But we must take advantage of every moment of respite from fighting, from war, to study and to study from scratch.” — Vladimir Lenin Read more…

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