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Lenin’s strategic continuity: 1905 through 1917 and beyond

Bolshevik “rearming” in April 1917 consists simply of “genuinely understanding the Bolsheviks 1905 analysis, written by Lenin, and applying it to the new conditions and advance of the class struggle by 1917,” writes U.S.-based socialist Geoff Mirelowitz. He responds here to a number of posts in the ongoing “Bolsheviks in 1917” discussion on this website, listed at “The Bolsheviks in 1917: Index to a Debate.”

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V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky (centre)

By Geoff Mirelowitz. John Riddell is hosting a discussion on this blog that reflects differing points of view on the history of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Up until now, it has been widely agreed that upon his return to Russia from exile in March 1917, Lenin headed a political “rearming” of the Bolshevik Party that ultimately led to the victory of the October Revolution. As I understand this discussion, Eric Blanc and Lars Lih have challenged that view. Read more…

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Did Trotsky retreat from viewing USSR as a workers’ state?

Trotsky Stalin Dzer burial 1926-4

Trotsky and Stalin at the funeral of Felix Dzerzhinski, 1926. From left: Mikhail Kalinin, Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, Joseph Stalin.

Reassessing Trotsky’s biography of Stalin – Part 2

See also Part 1: Did Bolshevism lead to Stalinism

The new edition of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin, edited by Alan Woods, enables us to test a second hypothesis suggested by the 1946 Malamuth edition of this book: that Trotsky, in his final months, was retreating from his long-held contention that the Soviet Union, even under Stalin’s totalitarian dictatorship, remained a workers’ state.[1]

My own conclusion, having read Trotsky’s text as a whole, is that his comments on the Soviet Union and its ruling layer are consistent with his previous position, particularly regarding its character as a “bureaucratic caste” rather than a new “ruling class.” I see no shift in approach. But my opinion is hardly conclusive, and we must try other lines of inquiry. Read more…

Reassessing Leon Trotsky’s biography of Stalin

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Leon Trotsky at work on his biography of Stalin

Part 1: Did Bolshevism lead to Stalinism?

Coming soon: Part 2: Did Trotsky view Stalin’s elite as a new ruling class? 

By John Riddell. The new edition of Leon Trotsky’s biography of Joseph Stalin, published in 2016 by Wellred Books, is a significant contribution to our understanding of  Trotsky’s thinking in the last years before his assassination in August 1940.[1]

This handsome and lavishly illustrated 890-page volume, carefully prepared by Alan Woods and a team of collaborators, presents all the texts collected by Trotsky for his never-completed study, Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence.

This book also stands as a tribute to Trotsky’s personal courage and historical integrity in pressing ahead with such an ambitious and difficult study even as Stalin mobilized the resources of the Soviet state to kill witnesses, suppress evidence, and unleash his lethal plots to do away with his biographer. Read more…

How the Russian Revolution Reshaped the U.S. Socialist Movement

By Todd Chretien. Todd Chretien is a long-time member of the International Socialist Organization, a frequent contributor to SocialistWorker.org and the editor of Eyewitnesses to the Russian Revolution (Haymarket Books, 2017).

Russia has been in the news lately, more than anyone might have expected a year ago, raising concerns over foreign interference in U.S. politics to its highest pitch since the end of the Cold War more than a quarter century ago. Yet for all the fascination with a potential Trump-Putin connection among Democratic Party elite and the mainstream media, the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution has hardly figured in their discussion. In fact, if there is one thing upon which Trump, Putin, and their liberal detractors all agree it is that the political legacy of 1917 constitutes a threat to each and of them.

This essay challenges the notion that Bolshevik influence in the United States constituted “foreign interference,” as liberals and conservatives at the time and after contended. This basic charge helped justify and fuel an on-again/off-again Red Scare for much of the twentieth century. The truth is that by 1917 economic and political conditions had produced a diverse and vibrant mass socialist movement in the United States, one that stood squarely in the context of the Second International. Read more…

The Russian Revolution and the Global South

English version of the Spanish text in “Américo XXI, Desde Venezuela para todo el continente” (http://americaxxi.com.ve/), a magazine edited by Luis Bilbao and published in Venezuela.

By John Riddell. In 1917, the mass slaughter of World War 1 weighed on working people like a nightmare.

Then, in November, word spread that the working people of Russia had assumed governmental power. “It was like a bolt from the blue when the news came … of the establishing of the Soviet Government,” Canadian revolutionist Malcolm Bruce later recalled. “There was a great uplift amongst the working class.” The socialist educator Charlie Lestor told him, “Malcolm, this is it! This is the beginning of the world revolution.”[1]

And so it was. Read more…

The Character of the Russian Revolution: Trotsky 1917 vs. Trotsky 1924

Part 6 of the series, ‘All Power to the Soviets!’

See also appendix: “The Character of the Russian Revolution,” by Leon Trotsky (1917). For links to previous parts of the series, see bottom of this post. See also “Index to the 1917 debate.”

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Lev (Leon) Trotsky

By Lars T. Lih, October 2017: In April 1917, Georgii Plekhanov—an elder statesman of Russian Social Democracy, but by now isolated on the extreme “defensist” end of the socialist spectrum—wrote a couple of articles that by an unexpected and surprising route became the basis of today’s “rearming” narrative about the Bolsheviks during the revolution. In these articles, Plekhanov made the following assertions:

  1. In his April Theses, Lenin proclaimed the socialist character of the Russian revolution.
  2. In so doing, Lenin overlooked the backward nature of Russian society.
  3. Lenin’s new position was an open break with the Marxist orthodoxy that he himself preached earlier.
  4. Proclaiming the socialist character of the Russian revolution is logically necessary for anyone who supports transferring the vlast (sovereign political authority) to the soviets.
  5. Recognizing the bourgeois-democratic nature of the revolution logically mandates support for the Provisional Government.

These five assertions are completely uncontroversial orthodoxy for the majority of academic and activist writers about the Russian revolution. Oddly enough, however, Lenin himself immediately denied every single assertion. Read more…

Trotsky (1917): The Character of the Russian Revolution

The following text by Lev Trotsky appears as an appendix to “The Character of the Russian Revolution: Trotsky 1917 vs. Trotsky 1924,” Part 6 of Lars Lih’s series, “All Power to the Soviets!” It was first published in August 1917 as Part 5 of Trotsky’s pamphlet, “What Next.”

The liberal and SR-Menshevik politicians and scribes are much concerned over the question of the sociological significance of the Russian Revolution. Is it a bourgeois revolution or some other kind of revolution? At first glance, this interest in theoretical issues may appear somewhat surprising. The liberals have nothing to gain by revealing the class interests behind “their” revolution. And as for the petty bourgeois “socialists,” in general their political activity is not guided by theoretical analysis, but rather by “common sense”, that is, the pseudonym for mediocrity and lack of principle. And, as a matter of fact, all this Miliukov-Dan [Kadet and Menshevik leaders respectively] pontification—originally inspired by Plekhanov—about the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution contains not a single grain of real theory. Read more…

Paul Le Blanc: Re-Arming the Party: Bolsheviks and Socialist Revolution in 1917

A widely published historian of Marxism and the workers’ movement, Paul Le Blanc has just published October Song: Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy 1917-1924. Links to related articles by Eric Blanc, Lars Lih, and others are listed at The Bolsheviks in 1917: Index to a Debate. – JR

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Trotsky, Lenin, and Kamenev in discussion, 1920

By Paul Le Blanc. A valuable contribution to scholarship on Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 has – through iconoclastic overstatement – been transformed into an odd and misleading conceptualization by two scholars whom I greatly respect and consider to be friends. Lars Lih, whose massive contribution Lenin Rediscovered has rightly enhanced his reputation among Lenin scholars, several years ago initiated the line of thought under consideration here, and he has gone on to develop and argue hard for it. He has been joined recently by an important younger scholar, Eric Blanc, whose most recent contribution – “Did the Bolsheviks Advocate Socialist Revolution in 1917?” – will be the focal-point of the present contribution.[1] Read more…

Did the Bolsheviks Advocate Socialist Revolution in 1917?

“The historiographical consensus [on this question] is factually inaccurate and has distorted our understanding of Bolshevism in 1917.”

For a Spanish text see Viento Sur. See also “The Bolsheviks in 1917: Index to a Debate” and “List of Articles by Eric Blanc.”

By Eric Blanc. A critical engagement with the past remains an indispensable instrument for critically confronting the present. Yet one hundred years after the Russian Revolution, much of our understanding of 1917 and the Bolshevik party remains clouded by accumulated myths and received ideas. Not least of these is the claim that V.I. Lenin radically overhauled Bolshevik politics in April 1917 by convincing the party to fight for a socialist, instead of bourgeois-democratic, revolution. Read more…

The Bolsheviks in 1917: Index to a Debate

The following are the contributions published so far in an ongoing discussion initiated by Lars Lih and Eric Blanc.
Read more…

30th commemoration of the assassination of Thomas Sankara

The following invitation has been circulated by the Toronto Chapter of GRILA, Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa.

Which way forward for Africa and the Caribbean? Toronto, 14 October 2017, 6:30 p.m., 777 Bathurst St.

Sankara GRILAThomas Sankara, Pan-African revolutionary and former President of Burkina Faso (1983-1987) had a vision for the sustained and dignified progress of his country, the “land of the incorruptible.”

During his short period of rule in Burkina Faso, the country saw an unprecedented participation of the population towards a collective goal of self-sustained development.

The former Burkina Faso head-of-state gave new hope to millions of voiceless Africans (both in Africa and in the Diaspora) weary of watching a ceaseless parade of self-enriching robber barons, who pillage the coffers of their respective states. Thomas Sankara is widely recognized and celebrated in Africa and the world over as a champion of fundamental change who fought to liberate Africa from the control of international financial institutions, deepening poverty, war, and the pillage of its resources. Read more…

Third Comintern Congress: ‘Richness, intricacy and critical thinking’

By Brigitte Studer, Institute of History, University of Bern, Switzerland

John Riddell (ed.): To the Masses. Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2015. 1299 pp. (Historical Materialism Book Series. 91). ISBN 978-9-00428-802-7.

This voluminous book is the latest part of a wide-ranging enterprise undertaken by John Riddell to publish the proceedings of the first four congresses of the Communist International, that is, the congresses held in Lenin’s lifetime.1 This volume includes the plenary discussions and resolutions of the Third Congress that took place in Moscow from 22 June to 12 July 1921, with more than 600 delegates from 55 countries.

It is the congress that inaugurated a new political orientation of international communism which was later termed the “united front” tactic. It is also the congress that broadened the scope of communist activity. Several sessions were dedicated to the mobilisation and organisation of women and the youth, and to the tasks and tactics of communists in trade unions and cooperatives. Read more…

Quebec independence a key to building the left in Canada

By Richard Fidler

Richard Fidler is a socialist and activist based in Ottawa. The following article first appeared on his blog, Life on the Left. —JR

Introduction: The 2017 edition of the Université populaire (the People’s University), meeting in Montréal August 17-19, included a panel of speakers from Quebec and English Canada on the possibilities for building a convergence of left forces in both nations.

It was chaired and introduced by Andrea Levy, a Montréal-based editor of Canadian Dimension, and included André Frappier, a former president of the Montréal postal workers and now a leader of Québec solidaire; Kevin Skerrett, a leading activist in Solidarity Ottawa; Corvin Russell, a Toronto solidarity activist and recently co-author with Andrea Levy of an excellent paper, “Mapping the Canadian Left: Sovereignty and Solidarity in the 21st Century;[1] and myself. I am a member of both Solidarity Ottawa and Québec solidaire. Read more…

Thomas Sankara and national liberation

Internationalism and popular democracy in Burkina Faso, 1983-87

Sankara Poster

By John Riddell: David Crawford Jones’s article on Thomas Sankara, posted earlier this week on this blog , is a perceptive and eloquent tribute to the achievements of Burkina Faso’s revolution under Sankara’s presidency (1983-87).

Yet the text by Jones also criticizes this West African revolution for what he considers to be a fundamental error in strategy, concluding that Sankara represented an oppressive if benevolent Stalinism.

The tension between these two judgments, Jones suggests, arises from two counterposed assessments of Third World revolutionaries like Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh either as “great revolutionaries in the tradition of Vladimir Lenin” or as “ruling class tyrants whose revolutions have nothing to do with socialism.” His own view, he says, lies “in between these two adversarial positions.”

Read more…

Exhuming Thomas Sankara: Anti-Imperialism in Burkina Faso, 1983-87

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Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, 1983-87

An abridged version of the following text was presented on Sunday, July 9, 2017, to the Socialism 2017 conference in Chicago. See also response by John Riddell and comment by David Crawford Jones

By David Crawford Jones. On May 25, 2015, on a warm Monday morning on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, a large crowd gathered outside the gates to Dagnoen Cemetery, located in an especially destitute neighborhood in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Police, wearing bullet-proof vests with the French word gendarme planted on the back, blocked the crowd’s access to the cemetery grounds. Yet still the mass of people pushed forward, hoping to get even a small glimpse of the shovels piercing the parched earth, robbed of moisture by the steady advance of the Sahara Desert through this landlocked West Africa nation.

Their view of the operation was blocked by the police, by the burnt orange rocks blazing in the sun, and by the few shrubs that ringed the outskirts of Ouagadougou’s most forsaken burying ground. Nonetheless, the crowd knew that its presence was imperative, reflecting both the solemnity of the occasion, as the shovels reached into the earth to pull up a vital piece of the nation’s revolutionary past, as well as the distrust that the masses felt for a government that had long sought to conceal the national legacy of struggle and resistance against corruption, imperialism, and neocolonialism. Read more…