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Toward a global strategic framework: The Comintern and Asia 1919-25 (Part 1)

MN Roy young

Manabendra Nath Roy

By John Riddell. The revolutionary activists who founded the Communist International (Comintern) in 1919 had little contact with movements for national and colonial liberation outside Russia. Nonetheless, only a year later, in July 1920, the Comintern adopted a far-reaching strategy for national and social revolution in dependent countries, later termed the anti-imperialist united front.


See also Part 2: “Should Communists Ally with Revolutionary Nationalism?
Part 3: Fruits and perils of the ‘bloc within’


This policy was adopted much earlier than the analogous united-front approach in the industrialized capitalist powers of the West. Moreover, the quest for unity in oppressed countries of Asia and Africa was pursued with persistence, while the united front in Europe was applied by fits and starts. Read more…

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Lenin’s Comintern revisited: Index

PA76Articles by John Riddell, 2007-2018

The texts listed below will be included in a forthcoming collection of my writings, whose working title, is “Lenin”s Comintern Revisited: Studies in Global Revolutionary Politics.” Other materials for this book will be posted during 2018 as they become available, with the goal of completing the manuscript by year-end.

I will be glad to receive your suggestions, objections, and criticisms, which you may post as comments to the website page. — JR

Comintern as a whole

Colonial and national freedom

Democratic centralism

Women and the Comintern

Germany

The Soviet republic

Workers’ and farmers’ government

United Front, strategy

Translators and global workers unity

Goals and techniques in the Comintern era

The following memo, dating from 1999, describes how the work of translators contributed to building international solidarity in the era of the Russian revolution.

It was written for the information of those translating conferences of the socialist movement in Canada and is published here for the first time. 

Book references are to volumes on the Communist International that were published by Pathfinder Press and are still in print; for details, see below. Read more…

‘Heated debate and tumult’: The Comintern’s 1921 congress

Umair

Umair Muhammad

To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921, edited and translated by John Riddell. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016. $50.00. Pp. x, 1299.

By Umair Muhammad. From June 22 to July 11, 1921, the Communist International (Comintern) convened its Third Congress in Moscow. Hundreds of delegates, representing groups and political parties affiliated with the Comintern from 55 countries, were in attendance. To the Masses, edited and translated by John Riddell, makes the full proceedings of the Third Congress available to the English-speaking world for the first time. Read more…

Antonio Gramsci, the united front, and geopolitics of strategy

Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci

Background note by John Riddell: The following text by Rjurik Davidson forms Part Two of Rjurik’s four-part study, “Between Como and Confinement: Gramsci’s Early Leninism.” It represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the evolution of Antonio Gramsci’s approach to united working-class action in the period preceding his imprisonment in 1926.

In late 1922, the majority of the Italian Socialist Party expelled its right-wing reformist wing and proposed fusion with the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) and the Communist or Third International (Comintern). The fusion was opposed by PCI leadership, headed by Amadeo Bordiga, but upheld by the Comintern World Congress in December.

Bordiga promised to apply the world congress decision, although some Comintern leaders later charged him with dragging his feet. A Socialist Party referendum then narrowly rejected fusion. Subsequently, the wing of the SP that continued to press for fusion was known as the Terzini. Read more…

Toronto socialism in the 1940s: A reminiscence

GOLDSTEIN, Allan

Allan Goldstein

Allan Goldstein, a lifelong friend of the socialist movement, died in Toronto December 6, 2017, at the age of 88. Some years ago, he granted me an interview on his memories of the socialist movement in which he was active in his teenage years. I have transcribed it from cassette tape and provided some explanatory details in footnotes. — John Riddell

Allan Goldstein: When I encountered the socialist movement, I was in Harbord Collegiate and was interested in politics. Upstairs of where I lived on Grey St. there was a couple, the Midaniks; the husband, Bill, supported the CCF [Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, predecessor of the New Democratic Party]. His brother [J.Sydney Midanik] was also a CCFer, ran for the CCF at one point, and became a trustee and later the chairman of the Board of Education. I was impressed by what Midanik said about the CCF and politics in general. Read more…

Clara Zetkin and the struggle against fascism

 

Zetkin-ISR

Clara Zetkin

By Mike Taber and John Riddell.

The following article is the introduction to a newly published collection Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win by the German Marxist Clara Zetkin (Haymarket Books, 2017), 131 pp. The text is reprinted with permission from International Socialist Review.

Seldom has there been a word more bandied about, yet less understood, than fascism. For many, the fascist label is simply an insult, directed against particularly repellent and reactionary individuals or movements. It’s also customarily used as a political description of right-wing military dictatorships.

The term took on new significance during the 2016 US presidential election, in which the ultimate victor Donald Trump was routinely compared to Benito Mussolini and other fascist leaders. “Fascist comparisons are not new in American politics,” stated an article in the May 28, 2016, New York Times. “But with Mr. Trump, such comparisons have gone beyond the fringe and entered mainstream conversation both in the United States and abroad.”


Take 50% OFF all Haymarket Books through Tuesday, January 2nd!  Get a FREE Ebook bundled with every book purchase! Sale price: Zetkin, Fighting Fascism, US$5.98.


Read more…

‘All Power to the Soviets’ – A slogan that launched a revolution

Vlast sovetam-2

‘All power to the soviets of workers, soldiers, and peasants,…’

The following talk was presented by video to meetings organized by Socialist Alliance in Australia on 7 November 2017. The 30-minute video is available here

By John Riddell. Tonight we’re going to revisit the Russian revolution by telling the story of a slogan that shaped its outcome, “All power to the soviets.” Before beginning, I want to acknowledge my debt to recent historical writing on this period by Lars Lih, Eric Blanc, China Miéville, and Paul Le Blanc. Thanks also to Doug Williams, my videographer, and Lars for originating the idea of tracing the “biography” of this slogan.

And so let us go back to Russia a little more than 100 years ago, to a gray and hungry Petrograd still locked in winter, where people’s hearts were suddenly full of hope.

On 27 February 1917, the ancient Russian empire of the Tsars collapsed, toppled by an uprising of workers and soldiers in its capital, Petrograd. Across the city, the rebel masses sealed off the last remnants of police resistance while celebrating their newly won freedom. Meanwhile, two small groups of worried politicians gathered at opposite ends of the sprawling Tauride Palace, seat of the Duma or parliament. Read more…

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.”

Lenin-and-Trotsky-2

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…

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

Trotsky views MS

Leon Trotsky at work on his biography of Stalin

Part 1: Did Bolshevism lead to Stalinism?

See also 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.”

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…