‘uncaptive minds’ day school on the russian revolution

The historical experience of the Russian Revolution and revolutions in Eastern Europe – our tradition, dead-end or a perspective for today?

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.

12-5pm, Saturday 29th August, at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street, London. Continue reading “‘uncaptive minds’ day school on the russian revolution”

twenty years after the ‘collapse of communism’: forum this thursday

The Commune’s 25th June London forum: click here for leaflet

Polish Poster 2

Twenty years ago a revolutionary wave on the scale of 1848 and 1919 swept across Eastern Europe and the USSR. It brought down the state-socialist regimes which called themselves “communist”. Western capitalism declared the “collapse of communism” and some spoke of the “end of history” with a new era of liberal democracy. Instead the era of neo-liberal globalisation brought a new phase of war and recessions: in Eastern Europe the optimism of 1989 gave way to economic shock-therapy and widespread impoverishment, while in the former USSR the old elite has been replaced by the rule of exploitative oligarchs. Continue reading “twenty years after the ‘collapse of communism’: forum this thursday”

twenty years after the ‘collapse of communism’: june 25th forum

click here for leaflet

Twenty years ago a revolutionary wave on the scale of 1848 and 1919 swept across Eastern Europe and the USSR. It brought down the state-socialist regimes which called themselves “communist”. Western capitalism declared the “collapse of communism” and some spoke of the “end of history” with a new era of liberal democracy. Instead the era of neo-liberal globalisation brought a new phase of war and recessions: in Eastern Europe the optimism of 1989 gave way to economic shock-therapy and widespread impoverishment, while in the former USSR the old elite has been replaced by the rule of exploitative oligarchs.

What happened to the radical ideals of the freedom movements of workers and intellectuals which challenged the old regimes, which called for workers self-management, and end to all forms of oppression and alienation, which opposed the ruling bureaucracy and the restoration of capitalism? The legacy of totalitarian “communism” still hangs over us all; amidst the worse crisis of capitalism in decades there remains a real crisis of confidence in a viable alternative to this system.

Did communism really collapse? Can we develop a vision of an emancipatory communism in the 21st century? On Thursday June 25th The Commune is hosting a forum in London to address these questions. Continue reading “twenty years after the ‘collapse of communism’: june 25th forum”

le rétif: the secret life of victor serge

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”

hal draper’s “independent socialism: a perspective for the left”

The following pamphlet was published in 1964 as an outline of the ideas of the Independent Socialist Committees in the USA, which involved such figures as Hal Draper who represented the left trend which emerged from the old Workers’ Party.  Along with a group in Chicago led by Kim Moody and comrades in New York they formed a national organisation which later became the International Socialists.  They sought to preserve the idea of the third camp of independent working class politics.

Chris Kane

There are many pamphlets and books explaining the general idea of socialism; this is not another one. For present purposes and for the sake of argument, we are assuming you know what the socialist idea is: the idea that the ability of human beings to live like men should not be dependent on the making of private profit; that the community of men can operate our economic institutions under social control rather than under the autocracy of moneyed overlords; that democracy can apply as much to the way we make a living as to the way we make a government, by putting the factories and plants under collective control. Continue reading “hal draper’s “independent socialism: a perspective for the left””

obituary of brian pearce

by Terry Brotherstone, from The Guardian

Brian Pearce, who has died aged 93, was one of the most acute scholars of Russian history and British communism never to have held an academic post. Of the historians who broke with the Communist party of Great Britain (CPGB) after the Khrushchev “secret speech” and the suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, he was the most insistent on the need for historical analysis of the party’s record.

A prodigious translator from both Russian and French, Pearce won the Scott-Moncrieff prize three times – in 1976 for Marcel Liebman’s Leninism Under Lenin, in 1980 for Roland Mousnier’s The Institutions of French Monarchy Under Absolutism, and in 1991 for Paul Veyne’s Bread and Circuses. Literary translation was his main source of income after he stopped working for the CPGB, for which he did various journalistic, cultural relations and translation jobs after leaving the civil service in 1950.

Expelled from the party in 1957, he had continued to work as a teacher of English at the Soviet Embassy, but the next year Harry Pollitt, the CPGB’s former general secretary, saw him there. “Soon my pupils … very embarrassed, made excuses for terminating their lessons,” Pearce recalled. Continue reading “obituary of brian pearce”

manifesto of the workers’ group of the russian communist party

We publish below extracts from the Manifesto of the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks).  This current of opposition in the RKP (b) was led by Gavril Ilyich Myasnikov, a Russian metalworker from the Urals, who was a veteran Bolshevik activist who participated in the 1905 and 1917 revolutions. Myasnikov was a Left Communist in 1918, opposed to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. He was dissatisfied with elements of Russian ommunist Party policy and increasing bureaucratisation but had disagreed with the Workers Opposition in 1920-21 in their call for unions to manage the economy.  Instead, in a 1921 manifesto, Myasnikov called for “producers’ soviets” to administer industry and for freedom of the press for all workers.  Leaders of the Workers’ Opposition Alexander Shlyapnikov and Sergei Medvedev feared that Myasnikov’s proposals would give too much power to peasants. Despite their disagreements, however, they supported Myasnikov’s right to voice criticisms of Party policy. Along with former members of the Workers’ Opposition, Myasnikov signed the “Letter of the Twenty-Two” to the Comintern in 1922, protesting the Russian Communist Party leaders’ suppression of dissent. Continue reading “manifesto of the workers’ group of the russian communist party”

revolutionary strategy: reply by mike macnair

on friday 29th david broder posted a review of revolutionary strategy, a new book by the cpgb’s mike macnair. this provoked more than seventy comments, and mike himself has written a response, which we reproduce here. Continue reading “revolutionary strategy: reply by mike macnair”

revolutionary strategy

david broder reviews revolutionary strategy, a new book by the cpgb’s mike macnair

There is much of value in any serious attempt to talk about the tasks of the left today, and what exactly the purpose of its existence is: Mike Macnair’s new book, which carries the subtitle “Marxism and the challenge of left unity” is certainly this. The left sects are crying out for some ideas and some definition for their project: what we have at the moment is a maelstrom of sectarian and internally undemocratic groups, with philistine hostility towards discussion and utter disdain for ideas other than those quoted from the holy texts of Lenin and Trotsky. Continue reading “revolutionary strategy”

more new content in ‘ideas’

today we have added to the ‘ideas‘ section of the website…

the solidarity group’s pamphlet on the 1871 paris commune. this compares trotsky and tales’ insistence that the communards failed because of their lack of a party unfavourably to karl marx’s civil war in france, which makes no such argument; and furthermore celebrates this great display of working class insurgency from below.

we also feature an article by david broder on the organisation of education under capitalism and the alienation of students, and an essay by chris ford on the relevance of the theory of state capitalism in today’s globalised capitalist economy.

the website is now accessible at www.thecommune.co.uk as well as the wordpress address.

new content in ‘ideas’

we have added more content to the ‘ideas‘ section of the commune.

first off is a piece on self-management in the struggle for socialism by michel raptis – also known as michel pablo and at one time a leading member of the trotskyist international secretariat of the fourth international – who in the late 1960s and early 1970s turned his focus towards workers’ self-management.

tamás krausz describes the struggle for workers’ self-management in action with his article on the workers’ councils in hungary in 1956, where workers mounted a revolution against the stalinist bureaucracy and tried to take power, only to be crushed by russian tanks.

then we reproduce kevin anderson’s essay on lenin’s engagement with hegelian philosophy during world war one, and his little-read hegel notebooks.

and in state capitalism or bureaucratic collectivism? chris ford introduces the debate in the united states workers’ party over the class character of the soviet union, and we republish speeches by raya dunayevskaya and max shachtman.

czechoslovakia ’68: what ‘socialism’? what ‘human face’?

The Prague Spring of 1968 and the subsequent Russian invasion naturally enough provoked comments and analyses from both left and right. That an event of great significance had taken place was not in question. But people differed in their views as to what exactly was important about what had happened. Continue reading “czechoslovakia ’68: what ‘socialism’? what ‘human face’?”

czechoslovakia ’68: the workers’ councils

by petr cerny

before the invasion the workers were suspicious of the imposed workers’ councils. after the invasion they became symbolic of the advances made. the question of the councils also became mixed up with the defence of the leadership and its policies. at the same time, some workers began to realise that the councils could be changed from what officialdom wanted them to be into something more approaching organs of workers’ power. at this time there were 46 councils functioning. another 140 were in their preparatory stages. however, all of this was unfortunately clouded by the question of defending the dubcek leadership. Continue reading “czechoslovakia ’68: the workers’ councils”

czechoslovakia ’68: fidel castro against the revolution

forty years ago this week russian tanks rolled into prague after the workers of czechoslovakia rose up against stalinism and established their own workers’ councils as organs of self-goverment. the cuban bureaucracy condemned the uprising, and its caudillo fidel castro made two speeches on august 23rd and 24th attacking the “counter-revolutionary” movement in czechoslovakia and supporting the ussr’s invasion. to the embarrassment of the “mandelite” fourth international, which to this day venerates che guevara (who died in 1967), the cuban regime put itself firmly in the camp of russian imperialism and bureaucratic power. Continue reading “czechoslovakia ’68: fidel castro against the revolution”