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Majorities, minorities, and revolutionary tactics: A review of To the Masses

To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921. Edited by John Riddell. Haymarket Books, 2015, 1,299 pages, $55

The following review by Jennifer Roesch first appeared in issue #101 of International Socialist Review and is reprinted by permission. In addition to her extensive discussion of the Third Congress proceedings, Jennifer Roesch offers an original interpretation of the congress’s outcome. – JR

By Jennifer Roesch. With the publication of To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921, John Riddell has translated the entire proceedings of the first four congresses of the Comintern.1 These four congresses embody the experiences and debates of the revolutionary period that opened with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and closed with the final defeat of the German Revolution in 1923.

Zetkin

Clara Zetkin

The attempt to bring the revolutionary forces together into a single world party with national detachments that could generalize strategies and tactics and lead the struggle against world capitalism was always, in Clara Zetkin’s words, a “wager.” (789) Under the pressure of revolutionary events, the Comintern faced a tangle of challenges. The Bolsheviks were the only party in the Comintern that had carried out a successful revolution. As a result, it enjoyed enormous prestige and naturally took a leading role in the development of the Comintern. Meanwhile, many of the new revolutionary parties, most notably the German, were built rapidly out of the wreckage of the German Social Democratic Party (SDP) betrayals and lacked cohesion. It was a project beset by difficulties from its outset and was ultimately unsuccessful. Read more…

Liebknecht 1916: ‘Down with the war; down with the government!’

Liebknecht

     Karl Liebknecht

One hundred years ago, on June 28, 1916, 55,000 metalworkers in Berlin went on strike to protest the sentencing of Karl Liebknecht to 2½ years in prison. It was Germany’s first mass protest strike of World War 1. Liebknecht received mass support in Germany and beyond as the first German socialist to have voted against parliamentary allocations to pay for the government war spending.

He had been arrested at an illegal May Day demonstration organized by the Spartacist League, just after calling out, “Down with the war! Down with the government!” Two days after his arrest, Liebknecht explained the goals of the May Day demonstration and the Spartacist League in the following statement at his trial. Read more…

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Trudeau climate plan challenged at Toronto ‘town halls’

The first two public consultations on climate action organized by Canada’s national government in Toronto gave strong support to the demands of the People’s Climate Plan (PCP), an alternative to federal climate-related proposals. The PCP’s proposals are listed below.

Hundreds of people packed the room at a climate consultation in Toronto on June 17, 2016. Source: 350.org.

The two concepts most frequently voiced at the gatherings, held June 17 and June 24, were support for Indigenous rights and opposition to further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. Participants listened attentively to the government’s presentations but offered no congratulations for its initial proposals.

At a related Toronto consultation on June 15 on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, also held by the federal government, was met by sharp and near-unanimous opposition from an audience of several hundred. If ratified, the deal would place further legal barriers in the path of meaningful climate action.

The People’s Climate Plan is a tool to promote public engagement with these government initiatives and formulation of an alternative. Judging by the first two Toronto consultations, it provides a useful starting point. Read more…

Ian Angus on the climate crisis: ‘We are NOT all in this together’

Ian Angus, editor of Climate & Capitalism, recently completed a three-week tour of Australia, organized by the Socialist Alliance and Links to introduce his new book, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. He presented the following talk, which draws on material in Chapter 11 of his book, at forums in Perth, Adelaide, Hobart, Brisbane, and Newcastle.

By Ian AngusEvery two years, the leaders of the world’s richest countries assemble for UN Climate negotiations, and deliberately sabotage any effort to slow climate change. After one of those betrayals, in Copenhagen in 2009, activists from hundreds of African organizations eloquently expressed their outrage in the African Climate Justice Manifesto:

Africa stands on the frontline of climate change. Across our continent, in villages, in towns, on coastlines and deep in the heart of Africa, people battle daily with a growing climate crisis. Our rivers run dry. Our crops turn to dust. Seasons shift and change. The effects of climate change are reflected in the expectant eyes of hungry children, and in the lengthening footsteps of women carrying water. Read more…

Toronto Teach-In Poses Climate Justice Alternative

by John Riddell. The People’s Climate Plan Teach-in, held in Toronto June 4, took great strides forward in presenting a forceful alternative to the inadequate and deceptive National Climate Strategy proposals of Canada’s federal government.

In the opening sessioPeople's Climate Plan Logon, five leading climate activists presented a coherent, unified climate justice strategy, proposing effective action to save the world from climate disaster interlocked with practical measures to assist working people and the poor who are the first victims of global warming.  Displayed in the meeting, held in the University of Toronto, were the banners:  “Pipelines = Climate Change”; “Stop Line 9”; and (in French) “Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground.”

After lunch, the more than 100 participants split up into training groups of half a dozen to develop skills for effective intervention in the “public consultation” meetings the Trudeau government proposes to hold over the coming three months. Read more…

Workers Party: No Simple Formula for Success

By Todd Chretien. Many thanks to Eric Blanc for translating this very useful piece by Kautsky (“Sects or Class Parties”) and providing a provocative introduction.

I find myself agreeing with his broadest generalizations; namely, that

“Experience over the past decades would seem to demonstrate that while non-Marxist broad parties cannot effectively transcend capitalism, projects of building Marxist parties will likely flounder if they are divorced from wider efforts to promote a mass political representation of and for the working-class majority.”

This is a useful starting point even if “seem to demonstrate” and “will likely flounder” leave a lot of wiggle room.

Read more…

Karl Kautsky and labor parties: a memoir of Canada

By John Riddell. Karl Kautsky’s 1909 article “Sects or class parties,” posted here on Eric Blanc’s suggestion, awakened my memories of what I heard and learned when I encountered the Marxist movement in Canada in the late 1950s. I do not recall any mention of Kautsky’s article then, but Kautsky’s line of argument was part of the teachings of Marxism in Canada, as I received them.

Katusky’s entire exposition of how the workers’ movement evolved in a different way in “Anglo-Saxon countries,” as opposed to Continental Europe, figured in the oral tradition recounted to me then. Read more…

Lars Lih responds to: ‘Did Kautsky advocate ‘Leninism’’?

I’m glad that Eric Blanc was inspired to make Kautsky’s article “Party, class, and Marxism: Did Kautsky advocate ‘Leninism’” better known. Eric’s introductory comments are certainly cogent – I especially liked the bit at the end about not condescending to these people. My comments below are some rather random musings on the issues brought up by the article, especially when put in the longer historical context that Eric brings out.

Is Kautsky’s article something innovative, something unexpected, or is it just an entirely predictable application of Kautsky’s basic view of the party expressed in earlier, more foundational writings? My answer is definitely: a predictable application. Read more…

Party, class, and Marxism: Did Kautsky advocate ‘Leninism’?

By Eric Blanc. (Eric Blanc is an activist and historian based in Oakland, California. For the text of the Kautsky article discussed here, see “Karl Kautsky: Sects or class parties”. A Spanish translation of Eric’s article has appear in Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal.)

Karl Kautsky

Karl Kautsky

The question of broad parties has been heatedly debated by socialists in recent years. Many have argued that “Leninism” should be discarded in favor of wider formations such as Syriza, Podemos, the British Labour Party, the Greens, etc. Others have rejected participating in such structures, on the “Leninist” grounds that building independent revolutionary Marxist parties remains the strategic organizational task for socialists.

Intertwined with this debate has been a serious reassessment of “Leninism” itself. Particularly following the publication of Lars Lih’s monumental Lenin Rediscovered, big questions are being asked: Did Lenin break in theory and/or practice with the “orthodox” strategy articulated by Marxist theoretician Karl Kautsky? Were the Bolsheviks, in other words, a “party of a new type”? Read more…

Karl Kautsky: ‘Sects or class parties’

By Karl Kautsky. The following article, first published in Neue Zeit in April 1909 (vol. 27, second part, no. 27 ), is republished from Marxists Internet Archive. Some paragraphing has been added and some typographic errors corrected. It is published in conjunction with a commentary by Eric Blanc: “Party, class, and Marxism: Did Kautsky advocate ‘Leninism’?

1. Marx and the political problems of the trade unions

In his observations regarding the unity of the working class (Neue Zeit, vol. 27, first part, no. 24 (March 12, 1909), Comrade Radek attacks a Belgian comrade as well as our friend, [Max] Beer, but I am probably not far from the truth when I assume that he has me too in view with regard to the resolution admitting the British Labour Party to the International, which I proposed at the last meeting of the International Socialist Bureau. This resolution was accepted, but it appeared to some of my political friends to be something of a heresy to my principles. I consequently willingly use this opportunity of stating my grounds for this resolution in greater detail than was possible at Brussels. Read more…

The Kiental Manifesto: Socialists against war, 1916

100 years ago this week

The second appeal against the First World War by the socialist Zimmerwald Movement. Also published in socialistworker.org. The Kiental Manifesto is published as part of a series (“100 years ago”) documenting the socialist response to World War 1.

By John Riddell. One hundred years ago this week, socialist opponents of the First World War gathered in Kiental, Switzerland, issued an appeal calling on working people to “use every means possible to bring a rapid end to the human slaughter.” The appeal, known as the “Kiental Manifesto,” appears here for the first time online in English. Read more…

The path to power: ‘Let’s commit to the long haul’

The following discussion of strategy for social change, by Umair Muhammad, was first published under the title “An Altered Position,” as an afterword to the second edition of his book Confronting Injustice: Social Activism in the Age of Individualism.

Umair launchBy Umair Muhammad. During the summer of 2014 I became involved in an anti-pipeline campaign in Toronto. Part of the campaign against the oil pipeline involved occupying worksites. I myself was able to take part in two such occupations. The first occupation resulted in a one-day stoppage of work. The second stopped work for at least two days and resulted in work equipment being carried offsite. The occupations were in part meant to serve as precursors for larger actions to come, allowing the activists involved to build links and gain experience. Read more…

‘To the Masses’ – ‘A vibrant and healthy political debate’

V.I. Lenin in 1920, drawing by Isaak Brodsky

V.I. Lenin in 1920, drawing by Isaak Brodsky

By Mark Ugolini. Thanks to John Riddell and Mike Taber for the huge effort over many years that has brought us To the Masses and the other wonderful books that make up their series on the Communist International in Lenin’s time. Now in print is nearly the entire documentary record of the first four historic congresses, rich in lessons for the entire working-class movement.

I finished reading To the Masses recently, and what an interesting journey it was. In some ways it reads like a good novel, telling the fascinating story of the central political struggle of the Third Congress. The appendices are excellent, and I followed John’s advice to read them as they are referenced in the main body of the book.  I found myself frequently flipping between the chapters and the Appendices. This helped me follow the political debate, and allowed a fuller appreciation of the unfolding story. Read more…

‘To the Masses’ – ‘Great confusion and contradictory impulses’

CI TowerA review of “To The Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921,” edited and translated by John Riddell, Haymarket, 2016, 1299 pages, US$55 softcover. Reprinted with permission from Against the Current 180, January-February 2016.

By Ted McTaggart. In late June 1921, the Third Congress of the Communist International convened amidst great confusion and contradictory impulses within the international workers’ movement.

Soviet Russia had just emerged victorious from a protracted civil war against imperialist-sponsored forces of reaction. In the wake of this victory, however, the Communist Party had introduced the New Economic Policy, granting limited concessions to foreign capitalists and reintroducing elements of a capitalist economy into the workers’ state. The Communist government had also been forced to violently suppress an armed uprising by sailors at Kronstadt (once a bulwark of support for the October revolution) who had rallied around the call for “soviets without Communists.” Read more…

Anti-Imperial Marxism: Borderland Socialists and the Evolution of Bolshevism on National Liberation

By Eric Blanc. First published in International Socialist Review, #100, Spring 2016. Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2016 Eric Blanc.

Introduction: Given the importance Marxists place on the fight against racial and national oppression, it is surprising that relatively little attention has been paid to the socialists of imperial Russia’s borderlands. Most of the inhabitants of the Tsarist empire were non-Russian (Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Finns, Latvians, Georgians, Muslims, etc.), as were most revolutionaries. Yet academic and activist historiography has distorted our understanding of the socialist movement’s overall development by narrowly focusing on Central Russia.

1900 przed n6 cover

Cover of Przedświt (“Dawn”), the theoretical journal of the Polish Socialist Party.

This article examines some of the major debates on the national question between borderland and Russian Marxists before the 1905 revolution. In the empire’s periphery – notably Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, the Caucasus, and Ukraine – non-Russian Marxist parties sought to tie national liberation to a class struggle orientation. Most advocated a united revolutionary movement on the basis of national autonomy or federalism.

In this early period, both V.I. Lenin and the Iskra current to which he belonged were less sympathetic to national aspirations than has usually been assumed. Iskra’s push for working-class unity was undermined by the limitations of its stance on the national question. Many of the positions later championed by Lenin and the Communist International were in these years opposed by Iskra and advocated by non-Russian socialists. Read more…

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