Skip to content

UN Office calls for probe into human rights in Kashmir

Violence, threats of war mount in divided territory

Kashmir-Map-altBy John Riddell. A conference in Mississauga July 7, convened by the Kashmir Welfare Society, marked the first organized response in Canada to a United Nations report calling for an investigation of human rights violations in this divided South Asian territory.

More than 200 participants adopted a resolution calling on the government of India to withdraw troops from Kashmir (full name: Jammu and Kashmir) in order to permit an “enabling environment” for implementation of the UN’s resolutions calling for a plebiscite to determine the territory’s future. Read more…


The League Against Imperialism (1927-37): An early attempt at global anti-colonial unity

The following talk, given on 20 May 2018, was one of a hundred panels at the Montreal conference “The Great Transition: Preparing a World Beyond Capitalism.” The conference attracted more than 1,500 participants. The talk was given in French; what follows is a translation. It formed part of a panel, “The Dawn of Our Liberation,” which also included talks by Aziz Fall, Ameth Lô, and Daria Dyakonova.

By John Riddell: The League Against Imperialism was launched in Brussels in 1927 with the goal of forging unity between colonized peoples and workers in the colonizing countries. Initiated by a wing of the Communist International, it was the first attempt to structure international anti-colonial unity. This brief presentation will focus on its origins and the causes of its decline. Read more…

New Comintern volume presents debates on United Front, fascism

Cover Brill
The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922–1923

A further volume has been published in the 35-year effort to make available to new generations the record of the Communist International (Comintern) in Lenin’s time. “The Communist Movement at a Crossroads” presents the world movement’s main discussions of the united front policy and resistance to the rise of fascism.

The 796-page book, edited by Mike Taber and translated by John Riddell, has just been released by the Historical Materialism Book Series, and is now available in a library edition in hardback from Brill. A less-expensive paperback edition will be published next year by Haymarket Books. Read more…

Paul Le Blanc: Democratic centralism in the Communist International

Le Blanc

Paul Le Blanc

According to Paul Le Blanc, the Communist International in Lenin’s time strove to achieve a balanced synthesis of internal democracy and unity in action. Responding to the “dismissive characterizations” of Italian Marxist Antonio Negri, Le Blanc analyzes the Comintern’s 1922 “Theses on Organization,” which were drafted with input from Lenin. This text has often been misinterpreted as providing a foundation for the Comintern’s later bureaucratization.

The text reproduced here is the final section of Le Blanc’s “Lenin Studies: Method and Organisation,” (Historical Materialism 25:4, 2017, pp. 105-38), which takes up Negri’s Factory of Strategy: 33 Lessons on Lenin. The list of bibliographic references below relates to Le Blanc’s article as a whole. Excerpt reposted with permission. Read more…

Iranian Canadian Congress: ‘Canada must defend the Iran Nuclear Deal’

By John Riddell. The following statement by the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) and nine other signatories calls on the Justin Trudeau government to “defend the Iran Nuclear Deal as an important victory for international diplomacy, peace and non-proliferation.” The ICC is Canada’s largest organization of Iranian Canadians.

The joint statement, issued May 10, 2018, is a step toward unity of all forces in Canada that oppose war and support national sovereignty, regardless of their views on Iran’s internal political order.

Elsewhere, the ICC has opposed Canada’s economic sanctions on Iran and called on Trudeau to restore diplomatic relations with Iran. Read more…

The Comintern’s 1922 initiative for global Black liberation

Excerpt from proceedings of the Communist International’s Fourth Congress, 1922

In November 1922, two Black Communists of the African Black Brotherhood, a revolutionary organization based in the U.S., introduced the first resolution on global Black liberation ever adopted by a Marxist organization. Here are the speeches of the two delegates, Otto Huiswoud and Claude McKay, along with draft and final texts of the resolution and comments by another delegate from the U.S., Rose Pastor Stokes. These texts are also found in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, published by Haymarket Books, pp. 800-811, 947-50. Biographies of the speakers follow the text. Read more…

The Communist International: Its present-day relevance

Comintern pamphlet-2

A pamphlet treatment of this topic published in 2008

Here’s a talk I gave to The Capitalism Workshop in Toronto, April 18, 2018. The Workshop organizers insisted on an emphasis on contemporary relevance, and that is what distinguishes this text from my previous account of my Comintern work (35 Years of Comintern Publishing).

By John Riddell: Thirty-five years ago I undertook to translate and publish the record of the Communist International in Lenin’s lifetime, covering the preparatory years from 1907 to its foundation in 1919 and through 1923. Ten books totalling 7,000 pages are published or in preparation. This has been a team effort of more than 100 collaborators in several continents backed up with a broad community of readers, critics, and supporters.

During its first years, the project was sponsored by a U.S. Marxist group, the Socialist Workers Party. After publication of six books, work broke off. In 2008, I resumed the series as an independent venture, publishing through the Historical Materialism Book Series and Haymarket Books. Read more…

‘We demand the publication of the secret treaties’: Biography of a sister slogan

Seventh and concluding part of Lars Lih’s series, ‘All Power to the Soviets!’

See also appendix: “March 1917 Editorials on the War by Kamenev and Stalin.” For links to previous parts of the series, see bottom of this postSee also “Index to the 1917 debate.”

By Lars T. Lih: On March 4, 1917 (using the old Russian calendar), Paul Miliukov, the Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government newly installed by the February revolution, sent a telegram around to Russian embassies abroad. He told them what Allied governments wanted to hear: the new post-tsarist government intended to fully honor the treaties between them and Russia. In Miliukov’s mind, in fact, the whole point of the revolution was to be able to carry out the obligations imposed by the treaties more effectively. Yet, in his rush to reassure the Allies, Miliukov planted a time bomb—for himself personally and, a few months later, for the Provisional Government. Read more…

March 1917 editorials on the war by Kamenev and Stalin

Appendix to ‘We demand the publication of the secret treaties’: Biography of a sister slogan, part 7 of ‘All power to the Soviets,’ a series by Lars T. Lih. Ellipses in Stalin’s text are found in the Russian original. See also “Index to the 1917 debate.”

1. Kamenev, ‘Without secret diplomacy

Pravda, March 15, 1917

The war goes on, the Great Russian Revolution has not cut it off. And no one has any hopes that it will end tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. The soldiers, peasants and workers of Russia, going off to war at the call of the overthrown tsar and spilling blood under his banners, have liberated themselves, and the tsarist banners have been replaced by the red banners of the revolution. But the war will continue, since the German army is not following the example of the Russian army and still follows the orders of its emperor, which greedily aim at booty on the fields of death. Read more…

Andreas Malm on climate crisis, hunger, and revolution

Does the 1917 uprising in Russia prefigure the possible impact of climate crisis?

By John Riddell: In the following text, an excerpt from “Revolutionary Strategy in a Warming World,” eco-socialist writer Andeas Malm projects how the catastrophic effects of unchecked climate crisis may launch the world’s most vulnerable societies into revolutionary upheaval. Malm draws parallels with the effects of food emergency in Syria (2011) and Russia (1917), basing the latter analysis on a pathbreaking volume by Lars T. Lih.

The entire text of Malm’s article is available in Climate and Capitalism; it also appears in Rethinking Revolution, Socialist Register 2017.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to associate climate change with revolution,” Malm writes. “If the planetary order upon which all societies are built starts breaking down, how can they possibly remain stable?” Read more…

A life for socialism: Bea Bryant (1922-2016)

Marxist activist and community organizer

Bea Bryant at Ban the Bomb demo-2

Bea Bryant at anti-war march in the 1960s

By John Riddell: Half a century ago, the highpoint of my schedule as a socialist organizer in Toronto was the monthly hour-long drive up Bayview Avenue for an evening with Bea Bryant and her partner George in their Richmond Hill home. Their solidarity work in that sleepy and conservative suburb was the most innovative and instructive I had ever seen.

Memories of those stirring events faded with the years. Bea’s passing two years ago was not widely reported among Toronto socialists. This account, drawing on my memories and an 1999 interview, is an initial step toward compiling her political biography.

Making the Vietnam war personal

Back in the late 1960s, Bea was the sparkplug of the Richmond Hill Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Bea had met this lively collection of campaigners for the most part in varied community activity in her teachers’ union, the New Democratic Party, and Cuba solidarity. Opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam was widespread in those days, but it was not easy to persuade working people in Bea’s community to move into action, given that Canada was not directly involved in the fighting. Read more…

35 years of Comintern publishing: A balance sheet

The following text is a much expanded and updated version of a talk that I gave in 2013, under the title “Toward the United Front: Translations for the Twenty-First Century.” For a list of my related online articles on the Communist International, see “Lenin’s Comintern Revisited: Index.” –JR

LSRIBy John Riddell: In June 1983, after returning home from my shift in a machine shop in Brampton, Ontario, I received a visit from two leaders of the New York-based socialist publisher Pathfinder Press, Mary-Alice Waters and Barry Sheppard. They asked me to head up a full-time project to translate, edit, and publish the record of world revolutionary movement in Lenin’s time – principally, the record of major Communist International (Comintern) gatherings from 1919 to 1923. Pathfinder would commit substantial resources for this work, they said, over a period of a decade or more.

I objected that I had no background in academic research and publishing. Waters and Sheppard countered that given my grasp of history in that period, my knowledge of the three main translation languages, and my experience as a socialist activist attempting to implement the Comintern’s ideas, I was the obvious choice.

I accepted the challenge and took charge of the project. It has taken a good deal more than a decade. Along the way, Pathfinder has been replaced as publisher by Historical Materialism Book Series and Haymarket Books. Nine documentary books have now gone to press, totaling 6,500 pages, and another is in preparation. (See list of volumes below.) More than 100 collaborators have helped in various ways to produce them. Read more…

Rosa Luxemburg, national liberation, and the defeated Polish revolution

Part 3 of ‘Rosa Luxemburg and Polish socialism (1893-1919)’

The following piece is an edited excerpt from ‘The Rosa Luxemburg Myth: A Critique of Luxemburg’s Politics in Poland (1893–1919)’, published in Historical Materialism 2018, 26, 1: 1-34. Click here for subscriptions to Historical Materialism. See also:

Rosa_Luxemburg pic

Rosa Luxemburg

By Eric Blanc. This article challenges widespread uncritical portrayals of Rosa Luxemburg. By examining the politics and practices of Luxemburg and her SDKPiL party regarding the national question in Poland, I show that their commitment to proletarian emancipation was undermined by sectarian and doctrinaire tendencies that contributed to the defeat of the Polish Revolution of 1918–19. I argue that the Polish Socialist Party, Luxemburg’s main political rival, posed a viable Marxist alternative for Poland’s revolutionary movement. Read more…

Rosa Luxemburg and the revolutionary party revisited

Part 2 of ‘Rosa Luxemburg and Polish socialism (1893-1919)’

Rosa Luxemburg picBy Eric Blanc. The following text is an edited excerpt from ‘The Rosa Luxemburg Myth: A Critique of Luxemburg’s Politics in Poland (1893–1919)’, published in Historical Materialism (2018, 26, 1: 1-34.) Click here for subscriptions to Historical Materialism. See also “Part 1: Rosa Luxemburg’s Bloc with the SPD Bureaucracy.”

This article re-examines Rosa Luxemburg’s approach to the party question by analysing the overlooked experience of her political intervention and organisation in Poland. In particular, I challenge the myth that Rosa Luxemburg advocated a ‘party of the whole class’, ‘spontaneism’ or consistent party democracy. The perspectives and practices of her party – the  Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) – demonstrate that there were no steady strategic differences between Luxemburg and V.I. Lenin on the role of a revolutionary party. In practice, the most consequential divergence between their parties was that the Bolsheviks, unlike the SDKPiL, became more effective in mass workers’ struggles during and following the 1905 revolution.

The party and spontaneity

One of the most important political strengths of Luxemburg and her party was undoubtedly their emphasis on working-class action. It was largely due to the SDKPiL’s tireless agitation among working people that it gained a popular base during 1905–6. Moreover, Luxemburg’s famous 1906 pamphlet on the mass strike posed a clear alternative to European Social Democracy’s prevailing prioritisation of organisation and education over action. Arguing that the 1905 revolution pointed the way forward for the workers’ movement across Europe and the world, Luxemburg articulated three inter-related theses: Read more…

Newly published speeches by Lenin, Trotsky, and Béla Kun

PA76An exchange on ultraleftism at the 1921 Comintern Third Congress

To read the speeches go to:
** Leon Trotsky, ‘Clear-headed revolutionary thinking is needed’
** Béla Kun, ‘The French Communists are guilty of opportunist conduct’
** V.I. Lenin, ‘Trotsky was a thousand times right’

The three speeches posted here constituted a turning point in efforts at the Communist International’s Third Congress, held in 1921, to reorient the movement away from adventurist leftism and toward the mass movements of working people. They were delivered June 16-17 at a pre-conference session of the Comintern’s Executive Committee. Read more…