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Lenin

Un debate de actualidad: Gobierno de trabajadores y transición al socialismo

Por John Riddell

Fecha de publicación: 01/02/12  -- America XXI -- El concepto de gobierno de los trabajadores es el hijo torpe de la joven Internacional Comunista.  La idea que expresa es fundamental para el marxismo: los trabajadores deben luchar para tomar el poder político. Sin embargo, en los comienzos de la Comintern, se unió a una perspectiva entonces discutible para los marxistas: que los trabajadores pudieran formar un gobierno que funcione inicialmente en un Estado capitalista aún existente.

Como comenta el marxista francés Daniel Bensaid, “la fórmula algebraica del ‘gobierno de los trabajadores’ ha dado lugar a lo largo del tiempo a las interpretaciones más diversas, y a menudo contradictorias” [1].

Veamos qué luz puede arrojar sobre esta cuestión el registro del Congreso Mundial de la Comintern de 1922, publicado recientemente en inglés [2]. Esta fue la reunión que celebró la discusión más extensa de la Comintern acerca de la cuestión del gobierno de los trabajadores, y que adoptó su posición inicial.

Five points in response to Pham Binh

By Paul Le Blanc

"The creation of healthy, democratic and cohesive revolutionary organisations on the Leninist model is both possible and necessary, in my opinion."

February 1, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- I am sorry that Pham Binh has chosen to respond in the way that he has to my criticism of his article ("Mangling the party: Tony Cliff's Lenin"). I will make only a few comments here to help clear up misunderstandings.

1. My critical comment about Pham’s article not providing us with anything useful for those engaged in today’s struggles was not a judgment about him as a person or about all things that he may have written about the Occupy movement or anything else. A substantial review article having to do with building the revolutionary party, however, should contain (in my opinion) something of value for those of us who are committed to such things.

Paul Le Blanc’s defence of Tony Cliff’s ‘Building the Party’ – Pham Binh replies

By Pham Binh

[Read Paul le Blanc's response HERE.]

January 31, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- When I discovered that Paul Le Blanc had responded to my review of Tony Cliff’s Building the Party I was hoping for the scholarly and thorough approach he used in writing his book Lenin and the Revolutionary Party. What I found was quite the opposite.

Le Blanc begins his response by claiming that my book review’s “obvious purpose is to persuade the reader that Tony Cliff’s book is little more than a mass of ‘egregious misrepresentations’ and ‘has so many gross factual and political errors that it is useless as a historical study of Lenin’s actions and thoughts.’ This is a demolition job. It doesn’t offer much that we can use and build on as we face the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

I drew my conclusions about Cliff’s book only after I closely studied what Lenin said and did and compared it to what Cliff claimed Lenin said and did. The more I studied, the more striking the divergences became.

Revolutionary method in the study of Lenin – A response to Pham Binh

[For more discussion about Lenin, click HERE.]

By Paul Le Blanc

[Read Pham Binh's reply HERE.]

January 31, 2012 – Submitted to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Amid a continuing crisis of capitalism, the renaissance of Lenin studies – what I once referred to as “Lenin’s return” – continues. Aspects of this find reflection in new books, new articles, symposiums and debates as we attempt to clarify the actuality of Lenin’s thought and example, and (for some of us) their relevance for the situations we face.

Lenin and the Bolshevik Party: A reply to Tony Cliff and the International Socialists (1996)

By Bruce Landau

Introduction

Published in 2002 by Resistance Books, first published 1996 -- There is no more pressing task for revolutionary Marxists today than the construction of a party capable of leading the proletariat's struggle against world capitalism. But as the record of the past decades has shown, building such a party requires more than good intentions. It requires a scientific understanding of the relationship between the proletariat and its class-conscious vanguard. No one understood that relationship better than Vladimir Ilyich Lenin; he proved that by building the strongest, most flexible, and most successful workers' party in history -- the Bolshevik Party.

Mangling the party: Tony Cliff’s Lenin

[For more discussion on how socialists organise, click HERE.]

By Pham Binh

January 24, 2012 – Submitted to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Tony Cliff's Lenin: Building the Party published in 1975 was the first book-length political biography of Lenin written by a Marxist. As a result, it shaped the approach of subsequent investigations by academics like Lars T. Lih as well as the thinking of thousands of socialists in groups like the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP, founded by Cliff), the US International Socialist Organization and Paul Le Blanc, author of Lenin and the Revolutionary Party and former member of the US SWP (no relation to Cliff's group).

Cliff begins his biography by debunking the USSR’s official state religion of Lenin-worship that “endowed [Lenin] with superhuman attributes”. Yet throughout the book Cliff refers to these “superhuman attributes”:

Lenin adapted himself perfectly to the needs of industrial agitation.

Workers’ governments and socialist strategy — a discussion

"The FSLN government in Nicaragua immediately after the fall of the Somoza dictatorship may qualify as a workers' government" -- David Camfield.

January 17, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- A discussion is taking place at John Riddell's website on the demand for a workers' government and issues raised in the article by Riddell, "A ‘workers’ government’ as a step toward socialism". Below are article-length responses from David Camfield and Nathan Rao, a comment by Tim K, and a response by John Riddell.

Workers’ governments and the crisis of politics

By David Camfield, an editor of New Socialist Webzine

January 10, 2012 -- John Riddell is right that, “The Comintern’s decisions on governmental policy were rooted in a political environment that no longer exists.”

'Leaps Leaps Leaps': Lenin and politics

By Daniel Bensaid

From “International Socialism” n° 95, July 2002 -- Hannah Arendt was worried that politics might disappear completely from the world. The century had seen such disasters that the question of whether ‘politics still has any meaning at all’ had become unavoidable”. The issues at stake in these fears were eminently practical: ‘The lack of meaning in which the whole of politics has ended up is confirmed by the dead end into which specific political questions are flocking.’ (1)

For her, totalitarianism was the form taken by this disappearance which she feared. Today we are confronted with a different form of the danger: totalitarianism, the human face of market tyranny. Here politics finds itself crushed between the order of the financial markets - which is made to seem natural - and the moralising prescriptions of ventriloquist capitalism. The end of politics and the end of history then coincide in the infernal repetition of the eternity of the commodity, in which echo the toneless voices of Fukuyama and Furet: ‘The idea of another society has become almost impossible to conceive of, and no one in the world today is offering any advice on the subject. Here we are, condemned to live in the world as it is.’ (2) This is worse than melancholy, it is despair, as Blanqui might have said, this eternity of mankind through the Dow Jones and the FT 100.

Road maps, dead ends and the search for fresh ground -- How can we build the socialist movement in the 21st century?

[For more discussion on how socialists organise, click HERE.]

By Dan DiMaggio

December 2010 -- Cultural Logic, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Dan DiMaggio's permission -- For the past seven-plus years I have devoted much of my life to effort to build a socialist movement in the United States. As a member of one of the many tiny socialist groups on the US left, I have organised dozens of anti-war, labour solidarity, immigrant rights and other rallies and campaigns. I have toured the country to speak at college campuses about socialism. I have set up numerous study groups and conferences and written and edited hundreds of articles for socialist publications. Most people might say, “Dan, you’re crazy if you think that socialism can be achieved in a country like the United States!” But despite the challenges, I hope to continue doing this for the next 50 or so years.

A ‘workers’ government’ as a step toward socialism

Soviet poster dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution and Fourth Congress of the Communist International.

By John Riddell

January 1, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, for more articles by John Riddell, go to http://johnriddell.wordpress.com -- The concept of a workers’ government is the awkward child of the early Communist International. The thought it expresses is central to Marxism: that workers must strive to take political power. But in the early Comintern, it was attached to a perspective that was contentious for Marxists then and is so now: that workers can form a government that functions initially within a still-existing capitalist state.

As French Marxist Daniel Bensaid commented, “The algebraic formula of a ‘workers’ government’ has given rise over time to the most varied and often contradictory interpretations.”[1]

Let us see what light can be shed on this question by the record of the Comintern’s 1922 World Congress, recently published in English.[2] This was the gathering that held the Comintern’s most extensive discussion of the workers’ government question and adopted its initial position.

The Comintern in 1922: the periphery pushes back

Communist Party of Germany (KPD) member Paul Levi played a leading role in several debates.

By John Riddell

December 4, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, for more articles by John Riddell, go to http://johnriddell.wordpress.com -- Until recently, I shared a widely held opinion that the Bolshevik Party of Russia towered above other members of the early Communist International as a source of fruitful political initiatives. However, my work in preparing the English edition of the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, held at the end of 1922, led me to modify this view.(1) On a number of weighty strategic issues before the congress, front-line parties, especially the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), played a decisive role in revising executive committee proposals and shaping the Congress’s outcome.]

When I translated the first page of this congress, I was not far distant from the view of Tony Cliff, who, referring to the 1921–22 period, referred to the “extreme comparative backwardness of communist leaders outside Russia”. They had an “uncritical attitude towards the Russian party”, which stood as “a giant among dwarfs”, Cliff stated.(2)

Communist history debated at ‘Historical Materialism’ London conference

By John Riddell

November 25, 2011 -- http://johnriddell.wordpress.com --The eighth annual conference of Historical Materialism, sponsored by the journal of the same name, held in London November 10–13 , 2011, featured a coordinated stream of papers on the history of the world Marxist movement during the era of the Communist International (Comintern) (1919-43). The 38 presentations in this stream reflected vigorous activity in this field, while also pointing up some research challenges for historians of the workers’ movement.

The conference as a whole marked an important expansion of this event, with some 750 registered participants and more than 400 presentations.

Centre and periphery

Is democracy the enemy? A reply to Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek addresses Occupy Wall Street.

By Louis Proyect

October 31, 2011 --  The Unrepentant Marxist, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- Although the content of Slavoj Žižek’s post in the London Review of Books blog ("Democracy is the enemy") is not so nearly as bad as the title, it still betrays the same kind of misunderstanding of the relationship between democracy and socialism that I addressed in my critique of “The Idea of Communism” conference held a couple of weeks ago in New York City [that featured Žižek:

How socialists work to win mass support

By Dave Holmes

[The following talk was presented at the Socialist Ideas Conference organised by the Australian Socialist Alliance and Resistance, Melbourne, September 3, 2011. It first appeared at Dave Holmes' Arguing for Socialism and is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]

* * *

Will the level of popular and working-class struggle rise significantly in the coming years? How can we overcome or neutralise the deadly effect of ruling-class propaganda on the minds of so many ordinary people? Can left-wing forces rally significant support and lead big struggles? How do we work towards this goal?

Bible sects like the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons go door to door preaching their message. Their success depends on the scope of the effort: How many people can they mobilise and how many doors can they knock on? It also depends on the general level of social distress and alienation in society, on the number of people searching for solace and comfort.

Socialists obviously don't reject propaganda, we are putting it out all the time, but our strategy is — and must be if we are serious — fundamentally based on something else.

On the meaning of ‘popular front’

The Bolivarian movement led by Hugo Chávez contains bourgeois forces and has been the scene of repeated struggles between popular and bureaucratic wings. But far from subordinating workers to bourgeois leadership, it has served as the instrument to mobilise the masses in struggles that have won significant gains.

By John Riddell

August 8, 2011 -- also availabe at johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links international Journal of Socialist Renewal with John Riddell's permission -- In a comment posted July 16 to my article “Honduras Accord: A Gain for Ottawa?” Todd Gordon warns against the danger of “popular-front style organization” and a “popular front electoralist strategy” (see his comment below this article). Socialists often use the term “popular front” or “people’s front” as a form of condemnation. But what exactly does the term mean, and how does apply it to poor, oppressed countries like Honduras?

Nationality’s role in social liberation: the Soviet legacy

Painting slogans for the Congress of the Peoples of the East, September 1920, Baku. Photo from IISG.

By John Riddell

July 21, 2011 -- http://johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- Just under a century ago, the newly founded Soviet republic embarked on the world’s first concerted attempt to unite diverse nations in a federation that acknowledged the right to self-determination and encouraged the development of national culture, consciousness and governmental structures. Previous major national-democratic revolutions – in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States – had been made in the name of a hegemonic nation and had assimilated, marginalised or crushed rival nationalities. The early Soviet regime, by contrast, sought to encourage, rather than deny, internal national distinctiveness.

Lenin and revolutionary organisation today: An exchange

Introduction

Anyone familiar with the socialist movement in the industrialized countries today must be struck by the huge gap between what’s needed — mass socialist parties with deep roots in the working class — and the reality — small groups of socialists with little influence. The following exchange contains a searching discussion of these issues between the noted Marxist scholar Paul Le Blanc and John Riddell.

The exchange opens with an article by Le Blanc and continues with an exchange between Riddell and Le Blanc. The discussion was first published in Socialist Voice in June 2008 and later appeared on John Riddell's website (with more comments).

About the authors

Paul Le Blanc, a former member of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, has been a long-time anti-war, anti-racist, activist in Pittsburgh. He teaches History at La Roche College. He is author of Marx, Lenin, and the Revolutionary Experience (Routledge 2006).

Paul Le Blanc: Marxism and organisation

By Paul Le Blanc

This presentation was given at the Chicago educational conference of the US International Socialist Organization, Socialism 2011, on the July 2-3, 2011, weekend. The text first appeared at Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières.

* * *

It is always worth examining the question of Marxism and organisation because, if we would like to be organised Marxists who effectively struggle for socialism, we have a responsibility to know what we are about -- and such knowledge is deepened by ongoing examination. There are scholarly reasons for going over such ground, but for activists the primary purpose is to improve our ability to help change the world. There are three basic ideas to be elaborated on here: 1) there must be a coming together of socialism and the working class if either is to have a positive future; 2) those of us who think like that need to work together hard and effectively -- which means we need to be part of a serious organisation; and 3) socialist organisations must be a democratic/disciplined force in actual workers’ struggles -- that is the path to socialism. In what follows I will elaborate on this.

Lenin and us: Into the past, back to the future

Cover of Lars Lih's latest book, Lenin (London: Reaktion Books, 2011).

By Paul Le Blanc

June 14, 2011 -- Europe Solidare Sans Frontieres -- I will never forget, as the 20th century trudged through its final decade, a once-close comrade telling me and others that developments of our time had consigned the Leninist conception of the party to “the dustbin of history”. Yet its dusty tracks may be something we will discover as we make our way into the near future. Polemical sparks spraying out from those engaged in the vibrant renewal of Lenin scholarship suggest that it still has life.

In 2008 – while on a Left Forum panel entitled “Lenin’s Return”, and in surveying the recent proliferation of works on Lenin at that time, including Lars Lih’s huge and important book Lenin Rediscovered – I said:

The Communist Women’s International (1921-26)

"Emancipated woman -- build up socialism." Poster by Strakhov-Braslavskij A. I., 1926.

By John Riddell

June 12, 2011 -- The following working paper was presented to the Toronto conference of Historical Materialism on May 16, 2010. It first appeared on John Riddell's blog and is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission.

* * *

When we celebrate International Women’s Day, we often refer to its origins in US labour struggles early last century. Less often mentioned, however, how it was relaunched and popularised in the 1920s by the Communist Women’s International. Moreover, this movement itself has been almost forgotten, as have most of its central leaders.

The Communist Women’s International was founded by a world gathering of communist women in 1921, which elected a leadership, the International Women’s Secretariat, reporting to the executive of the Communist International, or Comintern. It also initiated the formation of women’s commissions in national parties, which coordinated work by women’s bodies on a branch level, and called periodic international conferences of Communist women.

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