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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…

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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.”

Trotsky c1917

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. For a French text, see Inprecor.fr. 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…

‘A basic question’: Lenin glosses the April Theses

Part 5 of the series ‘All Power to the Soviets!’

See also appendix: “Lenin refutes a misreading of the April Theses.” For links to previous parts of the series, see bottom of this post.

Lenin A

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

By Lars T. Lih: In April 1917, Lenin was churning out articles for Pravda at an alarming rate. One such article is “A Basic Question,” written on April 20 and published the next day. This article later made its way into Lenin’s collected works, where it is easily available today. It is in no way a hidden or undiscovered document—and yet, in the context of a new look at the events of spring 1917, “A Basic Question” becomes a remarkable and revealing document. I have therefore newly translated it and provided a commentary.

Officially, this article is a rejoinder to a critique of the April Theses by Georgy Plekhanov that was published on April 20 (a translation of Plekhanov’s article will be found in the Appendix). In reality, Lenin is less interested in refuting Plekhanov than in reassuring Bolshevik praktiki (the mid-level activists who did the hands-on “practical” work of the party). Sergei Bagdatev was a Bolshevik praktik who was also an ardent advocate of soviet power; in Part 4 of this series, we heard him express his misgivings that some aspects of Lenin’s April Theses might hamper the drive to establish soviet power. His underlying worry was about the class basis of the ongoing revolution: was Lenin really saying that we don’t need the peasant as an ally, as implied by the April Theses and various other comments? In “A Basic Question,” Lenin emphatically responded to this worry: no, that isn’t what I meant—that isn’t what I meant at all. Read more…

Lenin refutes a misreading of the April Theses

The following exchange between Plekhanov and Lenin in April 1917 appears as an appendix to “’A basic question’: Lenin glosses the April Theses,” by Lars T. Lih.

1. Plekhanov, “To the Students” (from Edinstvo, 17 April 1917)

To the Association [artel] of Socialist Students, in answer to an invitation for a rally celebrating the First of May. Read more…

Tactics, strategy, and the ‘united front’

A response to Mario C. Plaza’s “How Lenin uses the term “tactics,” plus his subsequent comment.

By John Riddell. In his stimulating contribution, “How Lenin uses the term “tactics,” Mario C. Plaza arrives at the conclusion:

Lenin normally uses the term “tactics” (not strategy) in a broad sense that includes what we now normally call strategy.

Mario’s careful reading of Lenin has led him to the view regarding the use of the word tactics that I myself reached in translating documents of the early Communist International (Comintern).

The question is not purely terminological; it can have implications for practical work. It is relevant, for example, to the Marxist position on seeking a “united front” of working people against capitalist attacks. Read more…

‘Workers and soldiers: Everything is working in our favor’

‘1917: The view from the streets’ – leaflets of the Russian Revolution #16-17.

Soldiers sack b hq

Pro-government soldiers seize, wreck Bolshevik headquarters.

One hundred years ago this week, the Bolsheviks responded to the ‘July Days’ setback by calling on working people to ignore provocations and expose rightist slanders.

This is the last of the “View from the Streets” series. See “Afterword” by Barbara Allen, below.

The July demonstrations subsided quickly due to the Provisional Government’s success in painting the Bolsheviks as German-sponsored saboteurs of the Russian war effort; an upsurge in violence associated with the demonstrations; and news that loyal troops were on their way to Petrograd. The government quickly shut down Pravda, evicted the Bolsheviks from their party headquarters, and arrested many of their leaders. Lenin escaped arrest by going underground and fleeing in disguise to Finland. The two documents below represent the Bolsheviks’ responses to the rapidly developing situation.

Selection, translation, and annotation by Barbara Allen. Read more…