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How socialists of Lenin’s time responded to colonialism

This text was first presented at the Ideas Left Outside conference on Elbow Lake, Ontario, August 2, 2014.

Manabendra Nath Roy

Manabendra Nath Roy

By John Riddell. As the nineteenth century neared its close, revolutionary socialists were hostile to the world’s imperial powers and to their colonial empires, which then encircled the globe. They foresaw the overthrow of colonialism as a by-product of socialist revolution in the industrialized capitalist countries.

They had little knowledge, however, of the anti-colonial freedom movements that began to emerge at that time. It was not until the Russian revolution of 1917 that an alliance was forged between revolutionary socialism and the colonial freedom movement.

This talk aims to give a quick sketch of how this process took place, focusing on the congresses of the world socialist movement.[1] Read more…

When Karl Liebknecht said ‘no’ to world war

100 years ago today: A historic call gives new impetus to socialist antiwar currents.

Karl Liebknecht

Karl Liebknecht

By John Riddell. During the first four months of the First World War, no statement from German socialists appeared denouncing the war. Government repression and the bonds of Social Democratic Party discipline prevented antiwar voices, such as those of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, from gaining a hearing.

This changed 100 years ago today—on December 2, 1914. Liebknecht took a bold stand against the slaughter as the first deputy to vote in the German parliament (Reichstag) against allocating funds for war spending. His protest resounded across Europe and gave new hope and energy to socialist antiwar currents.

Liebknecht’s explanation of his vote (below) was circulated across Germany as the first of the underground circulars later titled Spartacus. His statement was amplified in his May 1915 underground article “The Main Enemy Is at Home,” the final portion of which is translated here. His March 1916 speech, “Turn Your Weapons against the Common Foe,” piercing through the hostile uproar of government supporters, raised a call for revolution. All three of these short statements are translated below; they are followed by a note on sources. Read more…

Following up on Luxemburg and ‘socialism or barbarism’

Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg

By Ian Angus. My article, The origin of Rosa Luxemburg’s slogan ‘socialism or barbarism’, was published online by on this website on October 21, and in Climate & Capitalism the following day. Dozens of other sites have linked to it, and several, including MRzine and Links, have reposted it.  The UK magazine Socialist Review recommended it in its “Best of the Web” column. It has been discussed on blogs and Facebook, and it has been translated into Korean and Spanish.

In just one month, it has become one of my most widely read articles.

I really didn’t expect such a response to my proposed solution to “a small puzzle in socialist history.” I underestimated the number of people who have wondered where Red Rosa actually found the sentence she attributed to Friedrich Engels. Read more…

The Fourth Comintern Congress: ‘A way to claim victory’

Introduction to Greek edition of Fourth Congress debates and theses

Here is a translation of the introduction by Antonis Davanellos to The United Front: Debates and Theses of the Third International’s Fourth Congress. The text is followed by an explanatory comment by International Socialist Review, which is publishing Davanellos’s article in its next issue. Footnotes are by ISR. See also Greek socialists publish Fourth Comintern Congress debate on united front. – JR

By Antonis Davanellos. In the context of the deep crisis of world capitalism, where any way forward shaped by the ruling classes represents some version of barbarism, we need to look back at our history and traditions.

Antonis Davanellos

Antonis Davanellos

There are important analogies between the times we are living in and the period during which the Fourth Congress of the Third Communist International (Comintern) was organized. That period (1922) was defined by the persistence of capitalist crisis internationally, the retreat of the revolutionary wave unleashed by the October Revolution, the retreat of the generalized will of the working class to smash through the barriers of capitalism, the birth of reactionary and extremely dangerous political currents (fascism, Nazism, warmongering, and nationalism). Read more…

Intra Vires (Within Our Jurisdiction)

A city bylaw can protect us from hazardous oil

Toxic oil routes through Toronto

Toxic oil routes through Toronto

By John Riddell, with thanks to the many Toronto-area ecological activists who reviewed and edited this text. Download in leaflet format from: Intra Vires (Within Our Jurisdiction).

On August 28, 2014, Toronto City Council voted overwhelmingly to ask pipeline company Enbridge Inc. not to pump dangerous tar sands oil (diluted bitumen) across the city. Enbridge ignored City Council’s request.

Enbridge’s troubled Line 9 project, running across the top of the city near Finch Ave., poses an urgent threat to the health of Toronto residents. Read more…

100 years ago: Two calls to struggle against the world war

By John Riddell. Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, 100 years ago, two Russian socialist leaders, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, published antiwar manifestos that greatly influenced the international socialist response to the conflict.

Lenin’s appeal, “The Tasks of Revolutionary Social Democracy in the European War,” republished below, was adopted by a meeting of exiled members of the Russian socialism’s Bolshevik current in Bern, Switzerland, in early September 1914. (The term Social Democracy then was used to designate for the socialist movement as a whole.) Trotsky’s text, “The Revolutionary Epoch,” also below, was written in October, as part of his pamphlet War and the International. It was published in Golos, a Paris daily newspaper edited by the Menshevik Julius Martov, starting in November 1914.

Initially, both texts reached only a limited audience. Even so, their publication was a major event for the socialist movement that had been devastated by the outbreak of war in August. The socialist International had collapsed ignominiously that month, as its major parties–Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, and Great Britain–pledged support to their national ruling classes in prosecuting the murderous conflict. Read more…

The origin of Rosa Luxemburg’s slogan ‘socialism or barbarism’

A mystery solved: Ian Angus traces an important socialist slogan to its unexpected source

Translation into Korean and Spanish

By Ian Angus. I think I have solved a small puzzle in socialist history.

Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg

Climate & Capitalism’s tagline, “Ecosocialism or barbarism: There is no third way,” is based on the slogan, “Socialism or Barbarism,” which Rosa Luxemburg raised to such great effect during World War I and the subsequent German revolution, and which has been adopted by many socialists since then.

The puzzle is: where did the concept come from? Luxemburg’s own account doesn’t hold water, and neither do the attempts of left-wing scholars to explain (or explain away) the confusion in her explanation. Read more…

Naomi Klein: ‘Only mass social movements can save us’

Klein-This-Changes-EverythingA review of  This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
by Naomi Klein (Alfred A Knopf, 2014)

By John Riddell. Despite endless conferences, treaties and solemn promises, greenhouse gas emissions have risen 61% since 1990, and the rate of increase is accelerating. As Naomi Klein tells us in her new book, This Changes Everything, we are now experiencing an “early twenty-first century emissions explosion.”

The reason for this ominous failure, she shows, is that the present capitalist profit system itself is incompatible with climate and environmental stability. Our only hope is the rise of mass movements with the combined goals of saving the environment and achieving social justice.

This Changes Everything is a rich resource of fact and argument: it’s a book that every climate justice activist should read, use and share. Read more…

How Bolivia is leading the global fight against climate disaster

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia

By Richard Fidler: October 6, 2014 — Bolivia goes to the polls next Sunday, October 12, in the country’s third national election since the victory of Evo Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) in December 2005 and the second since the adoption of its radically new constitution in 2009. The MAS list, led by President Morales and his Vice-Presidential running mate Álvaro García Linera, is far ahead in the opinion polling over four opposition slates, all to the right of the MAS.

Although Bolivia’s “process of change,” its “democratic and cultural revolution” as García Linera terms it, is still in its early stages, the country’s developmental process has already attracted considerable interest — and some controversy — internationally, not least because of its government’s role as a leading critic of global climate change, which it forthrightly attributes to the effects and the logic inherent to the capitalist mode of production. Read more…

Greek socialists publish Fourth Comintern Congress debate on united front

Poster for Athens book launch

Poster for Athens book launch

By John Riddell. Three hundred socialists from many political currents met in Athens on September 23 to welcome the publication in Greek of a 156-page book of documents on workers’ unity from the early Communist International.

The book, The United Front – Discussions and Decisions of the Fourth Congress of the Third International, edited by Antonis Davanellos, was published by RedFront. The Fourth Congress debates and decisions were translated from Toward the United Front, edited by John Riddell and published by Brill (hardcover) and Haymarket Books (softcover). Read more…

Cuban palm trees under Vancouver’s Lions Gate

A memoir of the 1960s Fair Play for Cuba Committees in Western Canada by Felipe Stuart Courneyeur.

Cuba FlagThe attached article portrays a historic encounter between a layer of socialist activists in the Western Canadian labour movement and the Cuban revolution – a creative collaboration that took shape in the Fair Play for Cuba Committees of that region.

The story is told by Felipe Stuart Courneyeur, a central figure in the events that he describes and still, as a militant in Nicaragua’s Sandinista movement, an active partisan of revolutionary Cuba. Felipe provides a unique portrait of the scores of working class activists who identified with Cuba and became its tireless champions in the Canadian and Québécois socialist and labour movement.

Below is the table of contents and a portion of the first chapter. The complete text, fully formatted, is available in the this PDF:

Cuban Palm Trees under Vancouver’s Lions Gate’

Read more…

Defying the democrats: Marxists and the lost labor party of 1923

1919 U.S. Labor Party convention, detail

1919 U.S. Labor Party convention, detail

By Eric Blanc (eblanc17 [at] Discussions on how to break working people from the hold of the Democratic Party have acquired a new immediacy as a result of the recent electoral victories of independent working-class candidates in Seattle, Washington, and Lorraine, Ohio, as well as the campaign for Chicago union leader Karen Lewis to run as an independent for mayor. Those interested in promoting independent politics today may benefit from studying the rich experience of the labor party movement of the early 1920s.

During the wave of radicalization following World War One and the October Revolution of 1917, initiatives to build a Labor Party based on the trade unions blossomed throughout the United States. These developments provoked sharp debates over strategy among Marxists. Should revolutionary socialists fight for the formation of a national Labor Party? Could such an approach be linked to the project of building a revolutionary party to overthrow capitalism? And how should cross-class “Third Party” movements be approached? Read more…

Marta Harnecker: New paths require a new culture on the left

A Bolivarian vision of socialist democracy

Marta Harnecker

Marta Harnecker

This speech was given by Marta Harnecker on August 15, 2014, in accepting the 2013 Liberator’s Prize for Critical Thought, awarded for her book, A World to Build: New Paths towards Twenty-first Century Socialism. Translated by Federico Fuentes. Subheads have been added. First published in Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal. – JR

By Marta Harnecker.  I completed this book one month after the physical disappearance of President Hugo Chávez, without whose intervention in Latin America this book could not have been written. Many of the ideas I raise in it are related in one way or another to the Bolivarian leader, to his ideas and actions, within Venezuela and at the regional and global level. Nobody can deny that there is a huge difference between the Latin America that Chávez inherited and the Latin America he has left for us today. Read more…

The Gaza slaughter: Not in my name

Suzanne Weiss at a Toronto rally of 25,000, July 26, 2014

Suzanne Weiss at a Toronto rally of 25,000, July 26, 2014

Suzanne Weiss is a Holocaust survivor and Palestine solidarity activist based in Toronto. Here, she comments on the stand taken by anti-Zionist Jews against Israel’s massacres in Gaza – and on the real history of the Nazi Holocaust and the resistance to it. First published in Socialist Worker.

By Suzanne Weiss. I am proud to join more than 250 Jewish Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors in condemning “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza” and “the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Our statement of solidarity calls for “an immediate end to the siege against and the blockade of Gaza” and a “full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.”

We believe that “never again,” the often-repeated lesson of Hitler’s Holocaust, “must mean never again for anyone!” – especially the Palestinians. Read more…

‘All Power to the Soviets’: Biography of a slogan, by Lars T. Lih

“All power to the Soviets!” is surely one of the most famous slogans in revolutionary history. It is right up there with “Egalité, liberté, fraternité” as a symbol of an entire revolutionary epoch. I would like to examine this slogan in its original context of Russia in 1917, in order to see why it arose, where it came from, and to what extent it was carried out in practice.[1]

'All Power to the Soviets'

‘All Power to the Soviets’

Our slogan consists of three words: вся власть советам, vsya vlast’ sovetam. “Vsya” = “all,” “vlast’” = “power”, and “sovetam” = “to the soviets”. The Russian word “sovet” simply means “advice,” and, from that, “council.” By now, of course, we are very used to the Russian word, because it evokes the specific set of meanings arising out of the revolutionary experience of 1917. Read more…


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