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By Lars T. Lih
In place of an introduction
February 25, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website — The following essay was written in 2011 for circulation among colleagues. I have decided to publish it unchanged in 2017 for two main reasons. First and foremost, the essay explains and documents the views of Lenin, the Russian Bolshevik Alexander Bogdanov, and Karl Kautsky on a crucial issue: the proper relations between workers and intellectuals within Social Democracy. It therefore serves as an extension of my earlier attack on the “textbook interpretation” of Lenin’s views.
Reviewed by Doug Enaa Greene
October 1917 – Workers in Power.
Paul Le Blanc, Ernest Mandel, David Mandel, François Vercammen, and contemporary texts by Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Leon Trotsky.
Edited by Fred Leplat and Alex de Jong
London: Merlin Press, the IIRE and Resistance Books, 2016. 256 pages
By Jason Devine
January 11, 2017 –– Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal –– Marxism was born through a critical appropriation of Hegel’s method and a radical break with the philosophy of Young Hegelianism. With this, Marx declared that philosophy was over. As he wrote to Ferdinand Lassalle in regards to the Hegelian dialectic, “This dialectic is, to be sure, the ultimate word in philosophy and hence there is all the more need to divest it of the mystical aura given it by Hegel.” Even more explicitly, Engels wrote in an early introduction to his Anti-Dühring: “The Hegelian system was the last and consummate form of philosophy, in so far as the latter is presented as a special science superior to every other. All philosophy collapsed with this system.” Hence, any attempts to revive philosophy i.e. a specific form of ideology, could only be a step backwards from the advance made by Marx and Engels, could only ever be a reactionary project. If carried out within Marxism it can only mean a reversion back to pre-Marxist times, to pre-scientific views in the study of society. Dialectical materialism as the philosophy of Marxism is exactly such a reactionary turn. In fact, dialectical materialism, the ruling philosophy in the USSR, a philosophy which, in whole or in part, countless Marxist-Leninist parties, groups, and sects claim adherence to today, was essentially the product of Georgi Plekhanov. However, Plekhanov’s philosophy of dialectical materialism was not and is not synonymous with Marx’s method, with scientific socialism. Rather, the former can be more correctly described as neo-Young Hegelian.
By Doug Enaa Greene
December 30, 2016 –– Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from International Socialist Review with the author’s permission –– Antonio Labriola, if he is known today at all, is remembered as a minor Marxist theorist in the Second International, overshadowed by such well known figures as Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, or Eduard Bernstein. Sometimes Labriola will be mentioned as a formative influence on the Marxism of Antonio Gramsci and Leon Trotsky. Yet Labriola deserves to be known and studied based on his own merits. He provided a critique of Second International orthodox Marxism, arguing that it divorced theory and practice, engaged in sterile, dogmatic systematization, and held to an economically deterministic form of Marxism. Labriola revived Marxism as an open philosophy of praxis, that is, as a critical and revolutionary method. He did not take for granted the inevitability of historical progress, but argued that it was necessary for socialists to intervene actively in shaping it.
By Doug Enaa Greene
To my friend and comrade Francesca.
November 6, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — “What side of the barricades are you on?” This phrase expresses the poignant meaning that the term barricades has in the revolutionary lexicon. Barricades represent a line of demarcation in the class war between the exploiters and the exploited. To stand with the exploited on the barricades is to pick a side, it is an action of solidarity with one's comrades, and shows that one is read to sacrifice their life for the cause. Although barricades dominated the insurrectionary movements during the nineteenth century, as time passed the barricade was found wanting as a effective tactic to topple the state, especially as the forces of order redesigned cities to prevent uprisings and revolutionaries pursued legal channels for political advance. When revolutionary opportunities came following the Russian Revolution, the barricade was relegated to the background in favor of more sophisticated approaches to insurrection.
By Eric Blanc
October 14, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from John Riddell’s blog with permission — This article reexamines the perspectives on the state and revolution advocated by the early Karl Kautsky and revolutionary social democrats across the Tsarist Empire. Contrary to a common misconception, these “orthodox” Marxists rejected the possibility of a peaceful and gradualist utilization of the capitalist state for socialist transformation. I show that Second International “orthodoxy” proved to be a sufficiently radical political foundation for the Bolsheviks and Finnish socialists to lead the Twentieth century’s first anti-capitalist seizures of power.
By Michael A. Lebowitz
October 11, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Monthly Review — Often the best way to begin to understand something is to consider what it is not. Socialism for the twenty-first century is not a society in which people sell their ability to work and are directed from above by others whose goal is profits rather than the satisfaction of human needs. It is not a society where the owners of the means of production benefit by dividing workers and communities in order to drive down wages and intensify work—i.e., gain by increasing exploitation. Socialism for the twenty-first century, in short, is not capitalism.
By Doug Enaa Greene
July 28, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — When the names of Russian Marxism are remembered, those of Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin figure as leading lights. However, these figures built upon the pioneering work of Georgi Plekhanov. Plekhanov almost single-handedly introduced Marxism into the Russian Empire and popularized it for a generation of socialist militants. However, Plekhanov's Marxism was seriously flawed in a number of ways and he was not up to the challenge of revolutionary politics. It fell to the generation who came after him to carry the struggle forward to victory. Yet Plekhanov's limitations do not take away from his contributions as a pioneer, something always recognized by his Marxist pupils.
[Original article in English here]
By Eric Blanc
June 3, 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal traducido para Sin Permiso por G. Buster -- En los últimos años, los socialistas han discutido encarnizadamente sobre la cuestión de los llamados “partidos amplios”. Muchos han defendido que hay que desechar el modelo "leninista" en favor de formaciones más amplias, como Syriza, Podemos, el Partido Laborista británico, los Verdes, etc. Otros han rechazado participar en este tipo de organizaciones, con el argumento "leninista" de que la construcción de partidos marxistas revolucionarios independientes sigue siendo la tarea de organización estratégica de los socialistas.
Entrelazado con este debate ha habido una seria reevaluación del propio "leninismo". En particular, después de la publicación del monumental Lenin Rediscovered de Lars T. Lih, se han abierto algunas grandes interrogantes: ¿Rompió Lenin en la teoría y / o práctica con la estrategia "ortodoxa" articulada por el teórico marxista Karl Kautsky? ¿Fueron los bolcheviques, en otras palabras, un "partido de nuevo tipo"?
By Douglas Enaa Greene
June 1, 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Rosa Luxemburg once said that Bolshevism is nothing more than the “mechanical transposition of the organizational principles of Blanquism into the mass movement of the socialist working class.” Many leftists, both now and a century ago, share Luxemburg's position that Leninism is elitist and/or Blanquism. Yet all of these judgments are far off the mark. For Lenin, Blanquism was something that the communist movement needed to overcome if they wanted to win a successful socialist revolution. Leninism is not simply Blanquism or Jacobinism adapted to Russian conditions, but the development of a Marxist mode of politics that draws clear revolutionary lessons from the defeat of the Paris Commune. The central operator of the Leninist mode of politics is a revolutionary vanguard party devoted to the emancipation of the oppressed workers and peasants. However, there remains a grain of truth in the accusation that Leninism is Blanquist, since “Blanquism” is a label used by social democrats and revisionists to condemn the revolutionary essence of Marxism
By Eric Blanc
May 25, 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from JohnRiddell.wordpress.com -- The question of broad parties has been heatedly debated by socialists in recent years. Many have argued that “Leninism” should be discarded in favor of wider formations such as Syriza, Podemos, the British Labour Party, the Greens, etc. Others have rejected participating in such structures, on the “Leninist” grounds that building independent revolutionary Marxist parties remains the strategic organizational task for socialists.
Intertwined with this debate has been a serious reassessment of “Leninism” itself. Particularly following the publication of Lars Lih’s monumental Lenin Rediscovered, big questions are being asked: Did Lenin break in theory and/or practice with the “orthodox” strategy articulated by Marxist theoretician Karl Kautsky? Were the Bolsheviks, in other words, a “party of a new type”?
Reviewed by Barry Healy
Paul Le Blanc
Reaktion Books, 2015, 224 pp., $39.99
Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy
Thomas M. Twiss
Brill, 2014, 502 pp., $205.00
January 25, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Leon Trotsky was one of the central leaders of the Russian Revolution. As the organiser and Commissar of the Red Army that saved the Soviet power and leading light of the struggle against Stalinism, he is surely one of the great heroic — and tragic — figures of the Twentieth Century.
Taken together these two books provide an insight into the major theoretical dilemma that emerged from the Russian experience: how a successful revolution could degenerate into a parody of workers’ democracy to the point of becoming a murderous dictatorship.
Because Trotsky’s revolutionary integrity remained untarnished after his murder in 1940 at the hands of a Stalinist assassin it is easy to fall into a deification of his work — something that competing Trotskyist sects have delighted in doing.
Paul Le Blanc steers clear of those rocks in his very fine, short biography. He demonstrates a very clear-eyed and measured approach, combined with an unqualified opposition to Stalinist tyranny.
By Doug Enaa Greene
August 5, 2015 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- We live in an era where too much of the left, both in the USA and abroad, remains stuck to old orthodoxies and failed strategies. Marxism is reduced to holy writ and rote, devoid of any ability to either interpret or change the world.
In order to win, the left desperately needs to break away from past habits and recover the ability to raise questions anew by using Marxist methodology to formulate strategy. In this endeavour, there are a number of thinkers we can profitably learn from; one of whom is Nicos Poulantzas. Despite the limitations and contradictions within Poulantzas' methods, he was not afraid to ask the right questions and to develop new strategies.
To that end, it is worth looking at Poulantzas' work in three areas: the state, class and the transition to socialism.
Lars Lih: The ironic triumph of ‘old Bolshevism’ -- the ‘April debates’ and their impact on Bolshevik strategy
June 1, 2015 --Johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Lars T. Lih challenges a commonly held view of the Russian Bolshevik party's conduct during the Russian Revolution of 1917, stressing the continuity between the Bolsheviks’ positions before World War I and those advanced during the revolutionary upheaval.
The text is based on a talk Lih gave in 2010 and recently revised. Following the text is a note on other places where Lih’s views on this topic are available – John Riddell.
* * *
By Lars T. Lih
By John Riddell
May 5, 2015 -- JohnRiddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In 1921, a time of declining mass struggles, the Communist International (Comintern) was thrown off course by insistent demands at every level of the organisation for the young movement to launch confrontational actions, even if Communists must fight almost alone. In mid-1921, the Comintern’s Third Congress turned decisively away from this policy. Under the slogan, “To the masses”, it adopted, on Lenin’s insistence, the strategy of unifying working people in struggle that was codified six months later as the “united front”.
To The Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921
edited and translated by John Riddell
Brill, Leiden & Boston, 2015
1299 pages, €399.00
April 12, 2015 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The following review by British socialist historian Ian Birchall introduces a major addition to our knowledge of the revolutionary movement of Lenin's time: John Riddell's To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921. Birchall's review is scheduled for publication in Revolutionary History, a journal with 43 published volumes.
The review is published here with kind permission of Revolutionary History and Ian Birchall. Riddell's latest volume, available only in Brill's library format at the moment, will be published in a popular, more inexpensive edition by Haymarket Books in February 2016.
* * *
Review by Ian Birchall
Pravda editor Lev Kamenev.
Article by Lars Lih, introduction by John Riddell
April 22, 2015 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Did the Bolsheviks, as has often been argued, set aside their pre-1914 strategy in April 1917 on Lenin’s insistence? Recent studies by Lars Lih criticise this thesis, maintaining that the actual course followed by the Bolsheviks in 1917 was close to that of pre-war “Old Bolshevism”.
In the following article, Lih tests his conclusion by examining the editorial course of the Bolsheviks’ main newspaper, Pravda, soon after the February revolution and before Lenin’s return to Russia.
Lih’s text is followed by both a translation and the original Russian text of a March 1917 Pravda editorial by Lev Kamenev, and by a note on further reading.
By John Riddell
March 17, 2015 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Efforts by working people to gain governmental power in our new century, most recently in Greece, have drawn attention to the Communist International’s historic discussion on this issue at its Fourth World Congress in Moscow in 1922.
Here are links to all significant comments on this issue from the congress record, plus the segment of its Theses on Tactics taking up this question, and my commentary setting the historical context. Delegates’ comments on this point were spread over many congress sessions and are made available in one place for the first time in any language.
Review by Paul Le Blanc
March 10, 2015 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This edition of Tamás Krausz’s study of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is compelling and imposing in more than one way. It is not, strictly speaking, an intellectual biography. So much is offered in this remarkable volume, however, that many readers will not complain that they are not actually treated to a chronological narrative tracing the evolution of Lenin’s thought.
Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography
By Tamás Krausz
New York: Monthly Review Books, 2015
Review by Doug Enaa Greene