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John Riddell

New voices and new views on revolutionary history

By John Riddell

May 28, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/johnriddell.wordpress.com -- Some familiar issues were addressed with originality and new vigour at the Historical Materialism conference in Toronto on May 11–13. Attendance at the three sessions on revolutionary history, organised by Abigail Bakan (Queen’s University), ranged between 30 and 75 of the 400 conference participants.

Given that eight of 11 presentations had a European focus, the discussions were opened fittingly by Montreal scholar Daria Dyakonova with a paper on a little-studied aspect of revolutionary history here in Canada: the birth of communism in Quebec.

The pioneers of this movement faced objective obstacles, including severe repression and formidable opposition by the Catholic Church. In addition, Dyakonova explained, “after Lenin and especially after 1929”, the Canadian Communist Party’s “policies were determined from Moscow”. The line dictated by the leadership of the Communist International (Comintern) was “often at odds with national or local needs”.

How revolutionaries of Lenin’s time resisted austerity

Towards the end of 1921, an attempt was made to shift the burden of debt to the working class through higher sales taxes. The German Communist Party opposed this, demanding instead an increase in the tax on wealth and the seizure of assets.

Introduction by John Riddell

April 26, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/johnriddell.wordpress.com -- Economic collapse drives workers into hunger and destitution. Foreign powers extort huge payments, forcing the national economy toward bankruptcy. The government forces workers to pay the costs of capitalist crisis.

This description of Greece in 2012 applies equally to Germany in 1921.

How should a workers’ party respond to such a breakdown? The proposals of the German Communist Party (KPD) included a simple approach to fiscal policy: tax those who own the country’s productive wealth.

The KPD was then a member of the Communist International, whose leadership included V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Gregory Zinoviev.

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.

Decisión desconocida sobre gobiernos de los trabajadores

Foto
Asamblea obrera en la fábrica rusa Putilov, 1905.

[In English at http://links.org.au/node/2451.]

Por John Riddell

Fecha de publicación: 01/02/12 -- America XXI -- La discusión en idioma inglés de la Internacional Comunista de 1922, sobre el llamado a crear gobiernos de los trabajadores, se ha basado en un anteproyecto que fue alterado de manera significativa antes de su aprobación. Aquí, tomado de la primera traducción al inglés, está el texto enmendado que el Congreso realmente adoptó.

El llamado a crear un gobierno de los trabajadores surgió a partir de las luchas de los trabajadores alemanes en 1920, como modo de plantear la necesidad de un poder de los trabajadores, en un contexto en el que no existían estructuras alternativas, como congresos revolucionarios o soviets.

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.”

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

How Clara Zetkin helps us understand Evo Morales

 

Clara Zetkin.

By John Riddell

September 18, 2011 -- First posted at johnriddell.wordpress.com, it appears at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Is Bolivia “a case of a workers’ government in the sense the early Comintern/Clara Zetkin meant it?” The question comes from Pham Binh in a comment at johnriddell.wordpress.com. In my view, the “workers’ government” concept is certainly relevant but must be used with caution.

My article “Clara Zetkin’s Struggle for the United Front” states:

Black liberation and the Communist International

Claude McKay.

By John Riddell

September 11, 2011 -- This article also appears at http://johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with John Riddell's permission -- The influence of the Communist International was decisive in the early 1920s in winning a generation of black revolutionaries to Marxism. On this the historians agree. But what did this influence consist of, and how was it exerted?

The Comintern’s unknown decision on workers’ governments

"Workers of the World, Unite!", by Gustavs Klucis. Produced for the 1922 Fourth Congress of the Communist International.

By John Riddell

August 14, 2011 -- Also available at johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with John Riddell's permission -- English-language discussion of the Communist International’s 1922 call for workers’ governments has been based on a preliminary draft that was significantly altered before its adoption. Below, probably for the first time in English, is the amended text that the 1922 congress actually adopted.

The call for a workers’ government emerged from German workers’ struggles in 1920 as a way of posing the need for workers’ power in a context where no alternative structure of revolutionary councils, or soviets, yet existed.

When a right-wing coup in March 1920 was countered by an insurrectionary general strike of German workers, the head of the Social Democratic unions, Carl Legien, proposed to resolve the crisis through creation of a government of workers’ parties and trade unions.

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).

Honduras resistance launches political party; Political statement of the FARP; Cartagena Accord debated

By Felipe Stuart Cournoyer and John Riddell

July 11, 2011 -- johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- A national assembly of the resistance, uniting more than 1500 delegates from across Honduras, voted on June 26 to launch a new political party, the Frente Amplio de Resistencia Popular (Broad Front of Popular Resistance, FARP).

The assembly was convened by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (National People’s Resistance Front, FNRP), the main coordinating body of popular struggle since a right-wing coup overthrew the democratically elected government of President Manuel Zelaya two years ago, on June 28, 2009.

The new party is to function as an arm of the Resistance Front in the political-electoral arena and will contest the 2013 presidential elections.

The delegates met under large suspended banners displaying the images of ALBA presidents—Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Raúl Castro (Cuba) and Evo Morales (Bolivia), alongside those of Francisco Morazán, Simón Bolívar, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Honduras was illegitimately removed from the ALBA alliance by the coup regime established in 2009.

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.

Honduras: Agreement signed for democratic rights

By Felipe Stuart Cournoyer and John Riddell

May 24, 2011 -- http://johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- On May 22, Hondura's president Porfirio Lobo Sosa and former president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales signed an agreement 'For National Reconciliation and the Consolidation of the Democratic System in the Republic of Honduras".

Lobo was elected in November 2009 in a rigged vote organised by the regime installed through the June 28, 2009, military coup that overthrew Zelaya. The majority of Latin American and Caribbean nations refused to recognise the legitimacy of the Lobo government, despite the strong support it received from the United States and Canada.

The present agreement, finalised in Cartagena, Colombia, also bears the signatures of Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuela's foreign minister Nicolás Maduro (on behalf of President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías) as witnesses.

This agreement opens the door to significant changes in the Central American political landscape and to the re-entry of Honduras into the Organization of American States (OAS) and SICA (Central American Integration System).

Progress in Bolivia: A reply to Jeff Webber

Bolivia's president Evo Morales addresses a press conference during theWorld People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, April 2010.

[See also "Debate on Bolivia: Government, social movements and revolution". For more article on Bolivia, click HERE.]

By John Riddell

May 5, 2011 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Six years after Bolivians elected their first Indigenous-led government, their ongoing struggle for national and social liberation remains a subject of debate and disagreement among socialists around the world.

Montreal conference rallies support for rights of nature

By John Riddell

April 23, 2011 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Bolivia marked Earth Day (April 22) this year by formulating the Law of Mother Earth, which—when adopted—will establish 11 new rights for nature, including the right not to be polluted and the right to continue vital cycles free from human interference.

On April 20, the United Nations General Assembly debated a proposal introduced by Bolivia, with support of other South American countries, to adopt a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature. The proposed global treaty says that “Mother Earth has the right to exist, persist, and to continue the vital cycles … that sustain all human beings”.

Meanwhile, Canada’s political and media establishment have organised an election campaign in which the world’s ecological crisis is barely mentioned.

Canada: How can we aid Libya’s freedom movement?

Libyan Canadian shouts down with Gaddafi slogans outside Calgary City Hall, February 22, 2011. Photo by Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald.

By John Riddell

February 28, 2011 -- Socialist Voice -- The brutal massacres of civilians in Libya at the order of the country’s dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, have shocked the world. His air force has carried out air strikes against unarmed civilians. On February 25, Qaddafi followers aimed murderous fire on anti-government protests in his last stronghold, Tripoli. The government declares its intention of reconquering the country in civil war.

What can those in Canada do to end the killings?

On February 26, the United Nations Security Council voted for sanctions against the Libyan regime, including an arms embargo and  the freezing of assets of Qaddafi and his family. These measures are hardly more than cosmetic, serving to polish up great-power credentials.

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