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Review: An essential resource on communism’s early years

John Riddell (ed.), To The Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921, Brill, Leiden & Boston, 2015, x + 1299 pp.

By Ian Birchall. The years following the Russian Revolution of 1917 were a high-point of working-class struggle and organisation. The first four congresses of the Communist International – those attended by Lenin (and from which Stalin was notably absent) remain a point of reference for many on the left. And yet it is only now that we are able to get a full picture of what occurred at those four congresses.

John Riddell has produced the complete proceedings of the Third Congress (1921) to join his previous volumes on the First, Second and Fourth Congresses.[1] Riddell and his team of collaborators have produced a work of a high standard of scholarship, with the translation carefully checked against sources in several languages. Read more…

1915: The youth challenge to war

Willi Münzenberg, 1920

Willi Münzenberg, 1920

100 years ago today: An international meeting of youth representatives adopted a ringing manifesto against the First World War.

By John Riddell. On April 7, 1915, a meeting of youth representatives in Bern, Switzerland, adopted a ringing manifesto against the war then raging in Europe and relaunched the international socialist youth movement on an antiwar platform.

The Socialist Youth International, formed in 1907, had campaigned actively against militarism. But when the war broke out, its bureau ceased functioning, and fraternal ties among its member organizations were broken off. The initiative to rebuild the International came from socialist youth in neutral Switzerland, neutral Italy and also in Stuttgart–the home of Clara Zetkin and a stronghold of antiwar forces in the German Social Democracy.

Youth leagues with a total membership of 34,000 were represented at the Bern meeting, with delegates representing Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Bulgaria and Russia. Read more…

1915: Socialist women unite against war

100 years ago today: The first international socialist conference against World War 1

By John Riddell. Eight months into the First World War, socialist women united across the battle-lines in adopting the first international socialist appeal to stop the war.

Their statement, translated below, ended, “Down with capitalism, which sacrifices untold millions to the wealth and power of the propertied! Down with the war! Forward to socialism!”

The 29 conference delegates came from Russia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and Britain. They met March 26-28, 1915, in the People’s House of Bern in neutral Switzerland. Read more…

Quebec’s long struggle to build a democratic left party

The following comprehensive and insightful interview with a long-time Quebec socialist activist was translated by Richard Fidler and first posted on his blog, Life on the Left. Reposted by permission. — JR

Paul Cliche

Paul Cliche

Introduction by Richard Fidler. There is probably no one more qualified to describe the 60-year struggle in Quebec to build a democratic and progressive left party than Paul Cliche. As a journalist and union activist, Cliche (who will be 80 years old in May of this year) was at various times a member of the Parti social-démocratique (PSD), the Parti socialiste du Québec (PSQ), the Front d’action politique (FRAP), and is currently a prominent member of Québec solidaire (QS).

In the following interview, Paul Cliche presents his analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each of these experiences, and discusses in particular detail the lengthy process that led to the founding of Québec solidaire, which currently has three members elected to the Quebec National Assembly.[1] Read more…

The Comintern’s workers’ government debate (1): Introduction

By John Riddell. Efforts by working people to gain governmental power in our new century, as most recently in Greece, have drawn attention to the Communist International’s historic discussion on this issue at its Fourth World Congress in Moscow in 1922. Published here are all significant comments on this issue from the congress record, plus the segment of its Theses on Tactics taking up this question, and my commentary setting the historical context. Delegates’ comments on this point were spread over many congress sessions and are made available here in one place for the first time in any language. Read more…

The Comintern workers’ government debate (2): Delegate speeches

These excerpts are also published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings and Resolutions of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (TUF), edited by John Riddell, Haymarket Books 2012. They are published here for the first time as a single text. Excerpts are copyright © John Riddell 2011. For other excerpts see workers’ government debate home page. Read more…

The Comintern workers’ government debate (3): Resolution

This text is also published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings and Resolutions of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, edited by John Riddell, Haymarket Books 2012, pp. 1159-62. It makes up section 11 of the congress’s “Theses on Tactics.” The relationship of this text to other published versions of the resolution is explained in footnote 6. Copyright © John Riddell 2011. For other excerpts see Workers’ government debate home page.

As a general propagandistic slogan, the workers’ government (or workers’ and peasants’ government) can be used almost everywhere. As an immediate political slogan, however, the workers’ government is most important in countries where bourgeois society is particularly unstable, where the relationship of forces between the workers’ parties and the bourgeoisie places the question of government on the agenda as a practical problem requiring immediate solution. In these countries, the slogan of the workers’ government flows unavoidably from the entire united front tactic. Read more…

The Comintern workers’ government debate (4): Background

The Comintern workers’ government debate (4): Background

This text is also published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings and Resolutions of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (TUF), edited by John Riddell, Haymarket Books 2012, pp. 22-27. The excerpt is copyright © John Riddell 2011. The text is followed here by a “Who’s Who” of participants in the congress debate on the workers’ government. For other excerpts, see Workers’ government debate home page. Read more…

Finland 1906: The revolutionary roots of women’s suffrage — an International Women’s Day tribute

Spanish translation available in ‘Sin Permiso

By Eric Blanc. In 1906, Finland became the world’s first nation to grant full female suffrage.[1] This watershed achievement for women was won by Finnish socialists during the revolutionary upheaval that swept the Czarist empire to which Finland belonged.

Yet this important history has been overlooked by both academics and activists. Abraham Ascher’s standard work on the 1905 revolution in Czarist Russia, for instance, completely omits any mention of Finnish suffrage and argues that “the efforts of women to achieve equality bore few concrete results during the revolution.”[2] In the few non-Finnish books that address the 1906 victory, the role of the socialist movement is generally marginalized: David Kirby writes that suffrage “was conceded virtually without a struggle” and Barbara Evans Clements portrays mainstream feminists like Alexandra Gripenberg as the suffrage battle’s main protagonists.[3]

The granting of universal suffrage owes far more to the class struggle than these works would suggest. Building off my recent research in Helsinki and new studies by Finnish feminists, in this article I trace the revolutionary roots of the suffrage victory, with a focus on the autonomous activities of the League of Working Women.[4] Read more…

ALBA after ten years

By John Riddell. The following talk was given at a celebration of ALBA in Toronto, 21 February 2015 (see below). Today we celebrate a decade of achievement of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA). For ten years ALBA has stood on the world stage as a defender of peace, solidarity, and popular sovereignty.

ALBABefore ALBA, Cuba stood alone for many years against the U.S.-led empire. But through ALBA, an alliance of countries, with wide influence and many friends among governments and peoples, now challenges imperialism on a range of issues. While representing only a few small and poor countries, ALBA exercises great moral authority and carries weight in world affairs. ALBA is the most effective international alliance based on solidarity in modern history. Read more…

Greek socialist highlights Comintern’s contribution to ‘left government’ project

By John Riddell. In a February 7 video address to a U.S. audience, Greek socialist Antonis Davanellos underlined the role that discussions at a nearly century-old debate in the Communist International played in the thinking of many socialists in his country on the struggle for a Left government.

Antonis Davanellos

Antonis Davanellos

Davanellos, a member of the Internationalist Workers’ Left (DEA), is also the editor of a Greek-language edition of the workers’ government discussion in the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (1922).

Davanellos says that my English-language edition of this congress, available from Haymarket Books, made this record available to socialists in Greece:

“It is very important that our political current has a transitional strategy and tactics. We are starting from the real conditions of the working class movement and trying to put forward concrete steps to make gains and increase the confidence of workers.

Greek 4WC cover 2“I want to take this opportunity to again thank Haymarket Books for its help in publishing a book in Greek on the Fourth Congress of the Communist International [Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922]. We thought that with our relationship to SYRIZA, we were opening up a new path for socialists, but with these documents, we realized that the path was begun some years ago. To introduce these ideas in a book for the Greek left was a big help for us.” Read more…

How front-line parties took the lead in Lenin’s Comintern

By John Riddell. The article posted here analyzes the leading role played by German, Italian, and other parties outside Soviet Russia in shaping the decisions of the Communist International’s Fourth Congress, held in Moscow in November-December 1922.

A much-condensed version of this text was first published here in 2011 under the title “The Comintern in 1922: The periphery pushes back” and proved to be one of the most popular items on this blog. The full version posted here presents the factual material on which the previous article was based. The present text is based on the introduction to Toward the United Front, my edition of the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, published in 2011. Read more…

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…


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