The Bolshevik faction and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

In a recent debate between, Lars T Lih, Paul Le Blanc, and Pham Binh(1) there is agreement  that, it was not the formal aim of Lenin to proclaim the birth of the Bolshevik Party in 1912 in Prague at  the conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Nor was it the formal aim of Lenin to create a separate Bolshevik Party. Again the debate clarified, that in 1912 there was not the birth of a party of a new type, free of opportunism, but the birth of a myth of such a party. Yet for all  practical purposes, the RSDLP that emerged from Prague, in 1912, was a Bolshevik Party, in all but name.

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permanent revolution in the andes?

David Broder reviews S. Sándor John’s history of Bolivian Trotskyism

It is commonplace for western leftists to reduce Bolivia to a mere appendage of developments in Venezuela and Cuba. Yet it is in Bolivia itself that there is the strongest movement from below of any country in the Americas. Despite its relative economic underdevelopment and the small size of its working class, the rich heritage of class struggle in the country is the envy of most of the rest of the world.

Moreover, Bolivia is unique for its political culture. This has been shaped by the failure of Stalinism and classical social democracy to sink roots; significant indigenous and peasant movements; it is the only country apart from Sri Lanka and Vietnam where Trotskyism has found mass influence.

S. Sándor John’s book Bolivia’s Radical Tradition is a history of Bolivian Trotskyism written by a member of a Trotskyist organisation in the USA, the Internationalist Group. It offers a valuable insight into a much-ignored history, and is also important in what it tells us about Trotskyist politics more generally. Continue reading “permanent revolution in the andes?”

a revolution in retreat

Adam Ford reviews The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24. Soviet workers and the new communist elite, by Simon Pirani, Routledge, 2008.

“I cannot be that sort of idealist communist who believes in the new God That They Call The State, bows before the bureaucracy that is so far from the working people, and waits for communism from the hands of pen-pushers and officials as though it was the kingdom of heaven.” – excerpt from the resignation letter of a Bolshevik Party member

Within what is usually labelled ‘the left’, your answer to the question ‘When did the Russian revolution go wrong?’ is a kind of touchstone. Each organisation seems to have its own One True Answer, and giving the wrong response at the wrong meeting can earn you the kind of scorn that the very religious reserve for those whose beliefs differ ever so slightly from theirs. Cue many weary Life of Brian jokes. Continue reading “a revolution in retreat”

is a “workers’ government” a capitalist government?

David Broder looks at the similarities between the ‘workers’ government’ slogan and the cross-class strategy of the Popular Front

The recent history of struggle for communism, or even progressive social change, is not a happy one. While the last decade has seen struggles from which we can take some cause for inspiration, such as social movements in Latin America, general strikes in France and Greece and, even in Britain, the early days of the movement against the war in Iraq, our movement has struggled to offload the burden of the defeats it suffered in the 1980s. There is a crisis of confidence in the possibility of an alternative to capitalism, when every revolution in the twentieth century was defeated.

Given this long-term picture of repeated defeats, it is remarkable how Britain’s socialist groups are fixated with the general election which will take place in a few months time: already we see the calls for ‘guarded’ and ‘critical’ support for the Labour Party, for fear of ‘letting in the Tories’. Just one year after the greatest capitalist crisis for eight decades, we see the spectre of revolutionaries who only ask themselves which party of capital is ‘least-worst’: the short-term tactical consideration comes to shape their whole perspectives. But we will never be able to present an alternative pole of attraction, and make up for long-term historic defeats, if we allow the electoral calendar and the electoral prospects of right-wing social democrats to determine our short-term priorities. We should after all dispel, rather than propagate, mainstream politics’ understanding that you should vote for the least bad politician on offer (Labour’s main argument for the election…), based as it is on an assumption that working people cannot change anything ourselves.

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workers in uniform: class struggle and world war II

David Broder looks at the activities of the European workers’ movement in World War II and the actions of activists who tried to help  German soldiers organise on a communist basis

The last week has seen much media coverage of the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, largely devoted to nostalgia and a hefty chunk of British (and Polish) nationalism. What is rarely commented on is the dynamics of political struggle within the countries participating in the bloodbath, and less still the activity of the workers’ movement, which did not in fact purely and simply support the Allies, and had to resist authoritarian measures imposed to varying degrees by each state enforcing wartime control measures.

While some of the struggles that took place had an immediate and significant effect on the outcome of the war, others which totally failed are equally worth remembering. While popular culture venerates Nazis-turned-good, as in the 2008 Tom Cruise film Valkyrie which depicts the 20th July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler by aristocratic militarists who had lost faith in their Führer, less well-known are the stories of those who fought Nazism from start to finish, from a position of far less power, severe privations and heavy repression. How many people know that the first action in defiance of the Holocaust was nothing to do with the Allies (who infamously refused to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz and did little to stop it), but a two-day general strike started by communist dockworkers and tramdrivers in response to raids of Jewish homes in Amsterdam in February 1941?

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saturday’s russian revolution day school in london

12-5pm, Saturday 29th August, at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street, London

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In 1917 the Councils of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, soviets, took power proclaiming a workers’ and peasants’ republic in Russia. In the aftermath of the First World War revolutions established Soviet republics in Ukraine, Hungary, Bavaria and Slovakia in 1919. A new Communist International was founded to unite the international struggle to overthrow capitalism and establish a communist society. By 1921 the revolution was in retreat, a process which culminated in the triumph of counter-revolution and Stalinist totalitarianism.

The legacy of the revolutions remain with us to this day, but what does it mean for communists seeking to create a new society in the 21st century? Is it our tradition; were these revolutions a dead end never to be repeated; or does it assist us with a perspective for today? The Commune is holding a summer school to discuss these questions and others. Continue reading “saturday’s russian revolution day school in london”

the “molly maguires” and the communist party of the usa: political repression in a free country

by Hal Smith

At the rise and decline of the American labor movement, the media and courts saw demons among the working people: “Molly Maguires” and Communists. Who were these radical “conspirators,” and what was their “crime?” Theirs is the transatlantic story of militant workers, and the law as their masters wield it.

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The Molly Maguires began as a group of Irish Catholic peasants who resisted British landlords. Since Britain yoked Ireland in the 1600’s, the Irish served as peasants on semi-feudal British estates. In the 1840’s, the Great Hunger devastated Ireland, while Britain exported its food. Landlords evicted starving peasants, whose poverty forced them into the worst mines of America and England. Among the Irish immigrants were nationalist revolutionaries like Fenians and “Mollies.” Continue reading “the “molly maguires” and the communist party of the usa: political repression in a free country”