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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 Ntavanellos, 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…

Profile of a socialist government

…from discussion at the Ideas Left Out conference, August 1-4, 2014

By John Riddell. Quick now, describe the nature of a socialist government in three minutes!

Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre

Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre

I took on this task at a weekend vacation conference held August 1-4 by Ideas Left Out, a Toronto-based socialist discussion circle. The conference, which took place in a forest setting north of Kingston, included two panels of “micro-talks,” each made up of nine three-minute mini-lectures on a common theme. My panel was called “visioning socialism,” and here is what I said: Read more…

Responding to capitalist global disaster: 1914 and today

The following talk was delivered to the Socialism 2014 conference in Chicago, June 28, 2014. It has been edited for publication in International Socialist Review. See also my article “Capitalism’s First World War and the Battle Against It in Socialist Worker.

By John Riddell. On this day one hundred years ago, a Bosnian nationalist assassinated the crown prince of Austria-Hungary, setting in motion a chain of events that led a month later to the outbreak of the First World War. The war shattered the world socialist movement and unleashed an overwhelming social catastrophe in Europe, killing seventeen million soldiers and civilians. The resulting revolutionary struggles brought the war to an abrupt end in 1918, while toppling the continent’s three great empires and bringing workers and peasants to power in Russia. The war also contributed to a global rise of anti-colonial struggles.

What does this unique cataclysm mean for us today? It is useful to compare World War 1 with the dangers posed today by climate change and environmental collapse. Read more…

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…


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