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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…

Leon Trotsky: ‘Clear-headed revolutionary thinking is needed’

Trotsky c1917

Leon Trotsky

Newly published speeches by Lenin, Trotsky, and Béla Kun, part 1

See also:

** Béla Kun, “The French Communists are guilty of opportunist conduct”
** V,I. Lenin, “Trotsky was a thousand times right”
** “Newly published speeches by Lenin, Trotsky, and Béla Kun”

Leon Trotsky gave the speech on 16 June 1921 to the Communist International Executive Committee plenum held to prepare the International’s Third Congress, which opened six days later. Trotsky replied to the two initial speakers in this session, Edy Reiland (1896-1967) of Luxemburg and Maurice Laporte (1901-87) of France, both of whom criticized what they considered to be opportunist errors of the Communist Party of France. Read more…

Béla Kun: ‘The French Communists are guilty of opportunist conduct’


Béla Kun

Newly published speeches by Lenin, Trotsky, and Béla Kun, part 2

See also:

** Leon Trotsky, “Clear-headed revolutionary thinking is needed”
** V.I. Lenin, “Trotsky was a thousand times right”
** “Newly published speeches by Lenin, Trotsky, and Béla Kun”

Béla Kun, an exiled leader of the Hungarian communist movement and a leader of the Comintern Executive Committee, spoke immediately after Trotsky. Kun, who was known for his “leftist’ views, had come under criticism for his role in the March Action, an unsuccessful general strike called by the German Communist Party in March 1921. For explanation of the term ‘Turkestaner,’ see endnote 1. Read more…

V.I. Lenin: ‘Trotsky was a thousand times right’


V.I. Lenin, 1920

Newly published speeches by Lenin, Trotsky, and Béla Kun, part 3

See also:

Lenin’s speech, given 17 June 1921 at the Communist International’s Third Congress, followed remarks by Trotsky on ultra-leftist errors within the French Communist movement and a response by Hungarian Communist Béla Kun.

The speech posted below is absent from editions of his Collected Works, presumably because his expression of strong support for the views of Leon Trotsky offended the anti-Trotskyist editors of these collections.

Read more…

Rosa Luxemburg’s bloc with the SPD bureaucracy

Part 1 of ‘Rosa Luxemburg and Polish socialism (1893-1919)’

By 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.

Spanish translation available in “Sin Permiso

Rosa Luxemburg-2

Rosa Luxemburg


Rosa Luxemburg’s contributions to the revolutionary movement and the development of Marxism are undeniably important. Yet many writers today uncritically romanticise Luxemburg as a humanistic, undogmatic, and democratic alternative to Social Democracy, Leninism, and/or Stalinism. Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, for example, argues that Luxemburg ‘inaugurated the heritage of an alternative understanding of Marxism with a revolutionary humanist face, as distinct from liberalism, social democratic revisionism as well as Stalinist authoritarianism. It is through the lens of Rosa Luxemburg that it is possible to understand what went wrong with Soviet socialism and how we can reposition our understanding of socialism in the twenty-first century.’[1] Read more…

Protests in Iran: The international dimension

Fifth fleet

U.S. Fifth Fleet is based 200 km. from Iran’s seacoast.

By John Riddell: The four articles on social protests in Iran published on January 2 and 9 in Socialist Project’s online blog, The Bullet, offer little on-the-spot news but raise major issues of political analysis that deserve attention. In particularly, the articles do not link progressive struggles by worker and social movements within the country to issues raised by the external threats against Iran.

For the Bullet articles, see:

I have been a partisan of the national and social liberation process in Iran for half a century, but always from afar. I lack close knowledge of conditions in Iran and cannot judgment on workers’ and social struggles there. Still, I am concerned regarding the four Bullet articles’ treatment of external threats. Read more…

Fruits and perils of the ‘bloc within’

Part 3 of ‘The Comintern and Asia 1919-25’

See also
Part 1, Toward a global anti-imperialist strategy
Part 2,  Should Communists ally with revolutionary nationalists?


Chen Duxiu

By John Riddell. The most advanced experience of Communist alliance with national revolutionists occurred in Indonesia (Dutch East Indies) prior to the Baku Congress. However, it was not mentioned at the congress, even though one of its architects – the Dutch Communist Maring (Henk Sneevliet) – was present in the hall. Maring had been a leader for many years of revolutionary socialist Dutch settlers in Indonesia, who had achieved the remarkable feat of transforming their group into one predominantly indigenous in leadership, membership, and programmatic orientation. The key to success had been a close alliance with a mass national-revolutionary organization of the type described by the Second Congress, called Sarekat Islam.

Their tactic, which they called a “bloc within,” involved building a Communist fraction within the Islamic organization both by sending comrades into the movement and recruiting from its ranks. The bloc with Sarekat Islam, which started up before the Comintern was formed, had resulted in consolidation of a small but viable Communist party in Indonesia.[1] Read more…

Should Communists ally with revolutionary nationalism?

Part 2 of ‘The Comintern and Asia 1919-25’

See also Part 1, Toward a global anti-imperialist strategy.
Part 3, Fruits and perils of the ‘bloc within’


Turar Ryskulov (1894-1938)

By John Riddell. As described in part 1 of this series, the Comintern leadership concluded at the end of 1919 that “[T]he civil war of the working people against the imperialists and exploiters in all the advanced countries is beginning to be combined with national wars against international imperialism.”[1]

But how would the proposed alliance of workers’ and national uprisings be effected? This strategic issue was addressed in the Comintern’s Second Congress, held in Moscow 9 July-7 August 1920. The civil war was now won, and Soviet troops were advancing into Poland. Despite the continuing blockade, 218 delegates attended the congress, including 33 representing groups in 12 countries and peoples in Asia. Although most of these groups were no more than small nuclei, Lenin, in his opening report, stressed the significance of their presence in the first truly global congress of world socialism. The congress, he said, was taking the first steps toward union in struggle of the revolutionary proletarians with the masses of countries representing 70% of the world’s population who “find it impossible to live under the conditions that ‘advanced’ and civilized capitalism wishes to impose on them.”[2] Read more…

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…

Index: Lenin’s Comintern revisited

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


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.

For Spanish translation see La Izquierda Diario.

Read more…

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


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


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…