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.
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?”
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”
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.
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?
12-5pm, Saturday 29th August, at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street, London
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”
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.
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”
The phrase, bending the stick, is often used to describe Lenin‘s organisational method. Lenin bent the stick or used exaggeration in order to grab attention. The single-minded focus on what really mattered. For many Leninist’s, he might have bent the stick too far in some circumstances, but he always bent it back or corrected his mistake in the long run. This was the infallible Lenin who embodied the actuality of the revolution. Even so, a twisted stick can distort reality. Also, the bent stick analogy is also used to suggest continuity where inconsistency exists. Continue reading “Stick bending and the infallible Lenin”
by Ernie Haberkern
In the early 1960s when I joined the socialist movement I was attracted to the “Third Camp” anti-Stalinist tendency in the American movement. One of the first books I read was Memoirs of a Revolutionary which had recently been translated into English by Peter Sedgwick. The author was Victor Serge a widely respected victim of Stalin’s purges, one of the few who survived to tell the tale. He also had a reputation as a “libertarian” among those on the American left who saw in the American IWW and the French Syndicalists the representatives of the “anti-authoritarian” tendency in the movement.
In describing the political situation in the early twenties in Russia Serge in Memoirs makes the following remarkable statement.
“… as long as the economic system remained intolerable for nine-tenths or so of the population, there could be no question of recognizing freedom of speech for any Tom, Dick, or Harry, whether in the Soviets or elsewhere. … we knew that the Party had been invaded by careerist, adventurist and mercenary elements who came over in swarms to the side that had the power. Within the Party the sole remedy to this evil had to be, and in fact was, the discreet dictatorship of the old, honest, and incorruptible members, in other words the Old Guard.” (Serge, Memoirs 188-119) Continue reading “le rétif: the secret life of victor serge”
by Allan Armstrong
How many people today, even on what remains of the Left, publicly and confidently declare their support for ‘Communism’? Take just three British organisations, which claim to be key parts of the revolutionary Left – the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Nowhere in their What We Stand For columns is there any mention of communism. If these comrades are communists they are ‘closet communists’.
Looking tentatively out from their closets, with doors slightly ajar, they might whisper to those within hearing distance, that ‘Communism’ is nothing to get het-up about really. ‘Communism’ can be safely relegated to a distant future. The real task is “to build socialism”. If they make any reference at all to communism, it is confined to in-house events or theoretical journals and has about as much purchase on their everyday politics as ‘Clause 4 Socialism’ had for the reformist Left who led the old British Labour Party. If Marx hadn’t called himself a communist for most of his life and hadn’t entitled his best-known work, The Communist Manifesto, most of the British revolutionary Left would probably prefer to jettison the term altogether. Continue reading “why we need a new human emancipatory communism”
Dave Spencer situates the end of the CMP in the context of the British Left – and reflects on some of his experiences of communism from below, and bureaucracy from above, since the early ’60s
New Interventions has published two accounts of the demise of the Campaign for a Marxist Party by two comrades who were centrally involved and were in the minority who opposed the closure – Phil Sharpe and Steve Freeman. Both take an admirably serious look at the political differences within the CMP and how these developed. However, in my opinion they both let the CPGB off the hook. In my view the main reason the CMP was closed down was the sectarian and bureaucratic centralist methods used by the CPGB. There was never any fraternal discussion of political differences. The CPGB deliberately misrepresented the views of those they considered rivals and carried out a policy of gossip and character assassination among their members and contacts and in the Weekly Worker. On the CMP website they encouraged the use of personal abuse — not amongst themselves of course but targeted on minorities or individuals they thought were not winnable to their organisation. Phil Sharpe and Steve Freeman were in particular recipients of this method. Continue reading “the closure of the campaign for a marxist party”
by Solomon Anker
April 9th saw the Presidential Election in Algeria. The final result was an expected easy victory (90%) for the current President Boutiflika, in a country where he and his strong links to the military dominate the country’s political elites. Calling Boutiflika a dictator would be a bit harsh: however calling Algeria’s elections fully free would also not be totally true, but for the left-wing the results and the state of Algerian politics is quite interesting.
The election came 7 years after the end of the Algerian civil war which saw over 100,000 killed in a brutal conflict between government forces and Islamist militias. For the British media, Algeria is just another Muslim or African country in crisis and few people take any interest except for the marginal Western interests such as terrorist attacks linked to Al Qaeda or issues of immigration.
intro by Chris Kane
One of the most common forms of sectarian socialism today is the myriad of Trotskyist organisations based on the model of undemocratic centralism. They claim the origin of their ideas not so much in Marx but Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky came to be identified as one of the foremost opponents of Stalinism, but as opposed to bringing about a recomposition of the communist movement, Trotskyism compounded the crisis of Marxism. The legacy of Trotsky today is one of constant fragmentation and sectarian vanguardism, whose adherents often cut themselves off from practical service to the labour movement by their antics. How did this come about? The following critical analysis of Trotsky is by Raya Dunayevskaya, the American Marxist who originated in Ukraine. In 1937 she moved to Mexico to work with Trotsky, serving as his Russian language secretary. Her closeness to Trotsky did not prevent her questioning his ideas – she later wrote: “Out of the Spanish Civil War there emerged a new kind of revolutionary who posed questions, not against Stalinism, but against Trotskyism, indeed against all established Marxists”. After the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact she broke from Trotsky over his continued belief Stalin’s USSR was a ‘workers state’ and developed a theory of state-capitalism. Later she developed a Marxist Humanist current in the USA, supported by Harry McShane in Scotland. One of her most important books was Philosophy and Revolution, published in 1973 which contains a powerful critique of Leon Trotsky as a theoretician – this is republished below. Continue reading “philosophy and revolution”
On the weekend of 7th-8th February a new far-left party was formed in France, as 700 delegates representing 9,100 members held the first congress of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. It was created at the instigation of the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and its semi-autonomous youth wing Jeunesses Communistes Révolutionnaires; the ex-Lutte Ouvrière minority faction l’Étincelle; a few other small groups, and thousands of previously unaffiliated individuals, many of them partisans of the anti-capitalist movements of the last decade. The moves coincide with the 29th January national strike day, and ongoing general strikes in the French-owned islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
The new party initiative, coming off the back of the LCR’s 1.5 million votes in the 2007 presidential race, has roused significant interest in the French media, and its election candidate Olivier Besancenot has become somewhat of a celebrity. It might be said that the NPA is the revolutionary group in Europe with the strongest hearing, repeatedly winning double-digit support in the polls, and its increased size, relative internal democracy and ‘openness’ as well as its radicalism and uncompromising hostility towards the idea of coalition government with the Parti Socialiste are to be welcomed.
But this rapid growth and the thrusting of one leading figure into the media spotlight creates significant political concerns as well as the positives of increased publicity. The LCR and its sister organisations around the world only a few years ago advocated ‘broad parties’ refusing to dilineate between reform and revolution, in a few cases disastrously supporting social-democrat governments who sold out their supporters. With Besancenot’s rhetoric about his heroes – from Che Guevara to Leon Trotsky – the mix of state-interventionist ideas and talk of workers’ self-management, and a largely politically ‘new’ membership, the precise character of the NPA is all to play for, and here we publish the translation of an interesting NPA article responding to critiques by the right-wing weekly Challenges, which highlights some of these contradictions. Continue reading “the nouveau parti anticapitaliste’s take on the crisis”