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Paul Le Blanc: Organising for 21st century socialism -- Reflections on the history and future of Leninism

The following was presented by Paul Le Blanc to the "Organising for 21st century socialism" seminar in Sydney on June 8, 2013. The seminar was organised by the Socialist Alliance. Le Blanc also addressed meetings in Wollongong, Melbourne and Adelaide. Photo by Alex Bainbridge. A video of the presentation can be viewed at http://links.org.au/node/3396.

More by Paul Le Blanc can be found HERE.

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By Paul Le Blanc

In the first portion of these remarks I want to explain, first of all, why Leninism is worth talking about not only for understanding some of what happened in history, but also for helping change the world in the here-and-now of the early twenty-first century. I want to explain what I mean by the term Leninism, then touch on several historical controversies that may shed light on how to make use of this tradition in our ongoing political work. In the second portion of my remarks, I will offer thoughts on ways to apply and contribute to the Leninist tradition in our practical efforts for the coming period.

Leninism’s meaning and value

Paul Le Blanc: Leninism for now

[More articles by Paul Le Blanc can be found HERE.]

By Paul Le Blanc

[This is a talk presented in London on May 31, 2013, at the Dangerous Ideas for Dangerous Times gathering.]

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- How can we move from capitalism’s violent oppressiveness to the economic democracy, the genuine freedom, the socialism that we desire? This question was central to the life and work of V.I. Lenin. In exploring that, I want to pin my remarks around quotations from Georg Lukács, plus an old US Trotskyist, Lenin himself, and a couple of young British activists.

Rediscovering Lenin

"Speech by Lenin at a Rally of Workers", by Isaak Israelovitch Brodsky (1929).

By Phil Gasper

April 2013 – International Socialist Review #88, submitted to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal by the author -- Lenin led a successful workers’ revolution, but are his ideas about organisation still relevant today? Does it make any sense to identify oneself as a Leninist in the 21st century?

One of the side effects of the continuing serious crisis of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain has been a renewed debate around this question. I don’t intend to go into the details of the turmoil in the SWP here—suffice it to say that after the serious mishandling of a rape accusation against a leading member and the party leadership’s attempts to end discussion of the matter, some of its outside critics on the left have taken the opportunity to declare the Leninist model of party organisation dead.

Lars Lih on the fortunes of a formula: From ‘DEMOCRATIC centralism’ to ‘democratic CENTRALISM’

Lenin A

For more by (or about) Lars Lih, click HERE. For more discussion on forms of revolutionary organisation, click HERE.

By Lars Lih

April 14, 2013 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com -- Vladimir Nevsky (1876-1937) lived the life (in the words of an autobiographical sketch written in the 1920s) of an “ordinary party worker”, a professional, in the Bolshevik underground. Joining the party in 1897, he was a mid-level Bolshevik praktik who played a visible role in 1917 conducting party work in the army. Like so many others in his generation, he was arrested in the mid-thirties and executed in 1937.

Paul Le Blanc: Leninism and organisation today

[For more on revolutionary organisation, click HERE. For more discussion on Leninism, click HERE and HERE. More articles by Paul Le Blanc can be found HERE.]

By Paul Le Blanc

March 14, 2013 -- Socialist Worker (USA), posted at Links Internarional Journal of Socialist Renewal at the author's suggestion and with his permission -- I appreciate the comradely spirit of Joaquín Bustelo's contribution to the discussion ("There's no universal model of Leninism"). The issues he raises are important--from the standpoint of revolutionary politics and also from the standpoint of revolutionary history. It is possible to be wrong on one and right on the other, although I will argue that my old comrade is partly wrong on one (politics) and entirely wrong on the other (history).

‘Toward the United Front’: Recovering revolutionary memory for 21st century socialism (+ video)

 Part 1.

February 16, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal – On February 3, 120 socialists took part in a Toronto meeting to celebrate publication of Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, available in paperback from Haymarket Books. This 1300-page volume is the seventh book of documents on the world revolutionary movement in Lenin’s time edited by John Riddell. Riddell’s address to the Toronto meeting, below, explains the purpose of the book and the publishing project. The video of the event, filmed by Left Streamed, begins above and continues below. It was moderated by Abbie Bakan, with additional commentary by David McNally, Greg Albo, Suzanne Weiss and Paul Kellogg.

Paul Le Blanc: Leninism is unfinished

February 1, 2013 -- The crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has stirred a sharp debate among party members about the allegations of sexual harassment and rape at the centre of the crisis and about how a revolutionary organisation deals with disputes and disagreements among its members and leaders. In response to an article titled "Is Leninism Finished" by SWP leader Alex Callinicos, Paul Le Blanc, author of numerous books, including Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, published the following comment on the website of the newspaper of the US International Socialist Organization.

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[For more on the British SWP, click HERE. For more on revolutionary organisation, click HERE. for more discussion on Leninism, click HERE and HERE. More articles by Paul Le Blanc can be found HERE.]

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By Paul Le Blanc

Britain: Socialist Workers Party members debate 'Leninism', party democracy (updated Feb. 3)

The first document below was produced by opposition members of British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) (authors listed at its conclusion, the best known include Richard Seymour, Neil Davidson and China Miéville). The SWP is the dominant party within the International Socialist Tendency, with affiliates around the world. The SWP is presently in the midst of a major dispute over inner-party democracy. The article is a reply to SWP leader Alex Callinicos' recent article, "Is Leninism finished?"

Following that are two articles by Tom Walker, a former Socialist Worker journalist who resigned from the SWP during the current dispute.

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Forgotten legacies of Bolshevism on revolutionary organisation

"Iskra. It is often argued that the early period of the organisation of Iskra resembled the small, highly homogenous and monolithic cadre grouping that today is promoted as the sine qua non of revolutionary organisation, but if one looks at the original concept of the Iskra editorial board, we can see it promoted debate among a plurality of tendencies."

[Click HERE for more discussion on revolutionary organisation.]

Paul Le Blanc: International conference in China on Lenin’s thought

Paul Le Blanc presents the keynote address to the international conference on “Lenin’s thought in the 21st century: interpretation and its value”, held October 20-22, 2012.

[Read more by (and about) Paul Le Blanc HERE and more on Lenin HERE.]

By Paul Le Blanc

John Riddell: What would Lenin's Comintern have made of SYRIZA? The Comintern as a school of socialist strategy

[For more articles by John Riddell, click HERE; for more on SYRIZA, click HERE; for more on the Communist International, click HERE.]

By John Riddell

September 3, 2012 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In his review of my edition of the Communist International’s Fourth Congress (1922),[1] Ian Birchall warns against a “scriptural approach” to the Comintern record, but also affirms that studying it “can be of great value”. Where can this value be found? A controversy among Marxists over this year’s elections in Greece points our way to an answer.

Paul Le Blanc: The great Lenin debate -- history and politics

Lenin "favoured an organisation that functioned like a democratic, cohesive, activist collectivity".

[Read more by (and about) Paul Le Blanc HERE;more by (and about) Lars Lih HERE; and more on Lenin HERE. The Pham Binh-Paul Le Blanc- Lars Lih debate can be found HERE.]

By Paul Le Blanc

[A talk resented at the Communist Party of Great Britain’s Communist University, London, August 20-26, 2012.]

September 1, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The deepening of global crises, the intensification of popular protest and insurgency, and the spread of revolutionary possibilities have been generating renewed interest in Marxism and, along with that, a renewal of Marxism. A key figure in the Marxist tradition – and in the renewal – is the person who was central in the first revolution to be led by revolutionary Marxists: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

John Riddell: Toward the United Front -- the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (audio)

June 28, 2012 -- A talk presented by John Riddell to the US International Socialist Organization's Socialism 2012 gathering in Chicago, on June 28, 2012. The recording is also available at Wearemany.org, where it first appeared.

Click HERE for more articles on the history of the Communist International.

Read more articles by John Riddell HERE.

How anarchists, syndicalists, socialists and IWW militants were drawn to Bolshevism: four case studies

William Dudley (Big Bill) Haywood, US labour movement leader, marching with strikers in Lowell, Massachusetts, circa 1912.

Read more on the IWW, Gramsci and Victor Serge.

By Doug Enaa Greene

“The unity of thought and action gave Bolshevism its original power; without entering into doctrinal questions we can define Bolshevism as a movement to the left of socialism -- which brought it closer to anarchism -- inspired by the will to achieve the revolution immediately.”[1]

These words of Victor Serge sum up a whole new wave of thinking that came over many anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, and socialists with the onset of the Russian Revolution. Many anarchists, syndicalists, and socialists who had been hostile to the practices of organized socialist parties for decades found themselves drawn to the example of the Bolshevik Revolution and joined the emerging Communist Parties, providing them with valuable cadres. One of these men was Victor Serge, a Russian exile most noted for his later work as a novelist. Another was Bill Haywood, an American trade unionist active in both the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World. A third was James P. Cannon, another trade union militant in the USA. A fourth was Antonio Gramsci, an Italian journalist and political activist.

Review: Invaluable history, important lessons from Barry Sheppard

Malik Miah.
The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume I: The Sixties, a Political Memoir by Barry Sheppard, Resistance Books (Sydney), 2005, 354 pages.

The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume II: Interregnum, Decline and Collapse, 1973-1988, a Political Memoir by Barry Sheppard, Resistance Books (London), 2012, 345 pages.

[For more discussion of the US SWP, click HERE.]

By Malik Miah

Lars Lih: Bolshevism and revolutionary social democracy

Lenin.

By Lars Lih

June 7, 2012 -- Weekly Worker -- Lenin’s pamphlet "Leftwing" communism -- his last work of more-than-article size -- was written in spring 1920 in order to be distributed to the delegates of the 2nd Congress of the Communist International, or Comintern. The message that Lenin intended to send cannot be understood apart from the particular circumstances of this event.

Comintern was founded in spring 1919, a time of great enthusiasm and hope about the possibility of soviet-style revolutions sweeping across Europe. Exuberantly confident predictions were made by Lenin and Grigorii Zinoviev that the 2nd Congress of the new international would be a gathering not just of parties, but of new soviet republics. Accordingly, little attention was given to the party as such. As Trotsky put it later, the hope was that “a chaotic, spontaneous [elemental or stikhiinyi] assault” would mount in “ever-rising waves, that in this process the awareness of the leading layers of the working class would become clarified, and that in this way the proletariat would attain state power in the course of one or two years”.[1]

Lars Lih: How Lenin's party became (Bolshevik)

By Lars T. Lih

May 17, 2012 -- Weekly Worker -- Did Lenin seek to exclude Mensheviks from Russia's revolutionary organisation in order to forge a "party of a new type"?

From 1898 on, there existed a political party called the Rossiiskaia sotsial-demokraticheskaia rabochaia partiia (RSDRP), or Russian Social Democratic Worker Party. Rossiiskaia means “Russian” in the sense of citizens of the Russian state, as opposed to russkaia, which refers to ethnic Russians. Of course, the party title made no reference to either of its two later factions, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

At its 7th Congress in March 1918, this party officially changed its name to Rossiiskaia kommunisticheskaia partiia (bol’shevikov) or RKP(B). The party now referred to itself as "Bolshevik", even if only in parentheses. The question arises: did the party ever have an intermediate title such as RSDRP(B) -- for example, during the period from April 1917 to March 1918?

No. The label "RSDRP(B)" was occasionally used informally in 1917 (for reasons to be discussed later), along with other improvised labels. Nevertheless, a party with the name "RSDRP(B)" never existed.

Paul Le Blanc responds to Lars Lih: Bolshevism and party building – convergence and questions


[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Lenin.]

By Paul Le Blanc

May 5, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Revolutionary upheavals are made possible by the coming together of a number of diverse factors, one of which is the organisation, accumulation of experience and proliferating influence of conscious revolutionaries.

“Did the Bolshevik Party become the leading party of the Russian proletariat, and hence the Russian nation, by chance?”, asked Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci in 1924. A brilliant and knowledgeable analyst, he answered his own question: “The selection process lasted thirty years; it was extremely arduous; it often assumed what appeared to be the strangest and most absurd forms.” He added that the process involved “struggles of factions and small groups; ... it meant splits and fusions ...” (Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings 1921-1926: 210).

Gramsci in 1923: notes on the crucial year for his Leninism

More articles on Gramsci at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

By Jonathan Strauss

April 14, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Among those who are sympathetic to the views of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), two views have developed about the significance of his political theorising.

One is that Gramsci -- a leader of the Turin workers’ movement in the years at and immediately after the end of World War I, a founding member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and later the PCI secretary from 1923 until his jailing by the fascists in 1926, and author of the Prison Notebooks -- was “of the early-1920s Lenin-Trotsky stripe” (Thomas 2010). Beyond upholding these Marxists’ common revolutionary commitment, however, this view proceeds from a partial reading not so much of Gramsci as of Lenin, and especially on a particular understanding of his What Is to Be Done? (1902), which in turn prevents a more profound understanding of Gramsci’s relationship with Lenin’s thought.

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