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John Riddell: What would Lenin's Comintern have made of SYRIZA? The Comintern as a school of socialist strategy
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), 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.
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.
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.”
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.
Zinoviev and Martov: Head to Head in Halle
Edited by Ben Lewis and Lars T. Lih,
London: November Publications, 2011, pp. 229 
Review by John Riddell
June 22, 2012 -- Johnriddell.wordpress.com/Weekly Worker, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- The Thrilla in Halle! A ringside seat, just for you, as Gregory Zinoviev (in the red trunks) and Julius Martov (his are pale pink) duke it out before delegates of the 700,000-member Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). The stakes: should the USPD join the Communist International (Comintern)? Here at last, after 92 years, the full text of their historic speeches to the October 1920 USPD congress in Halle, Germany, translated and edited by Ben Lewis and Lars Lih.
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”.
Portrait of Lenin by Isaac Israelovich Brodskii, 1924.
By Paul Le Blanc
April 17, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- How odd it would be, one century after the fact, to hear the following over the air waves: NEWS FLASH! THE BOLSHEVIKS BECAME A POLITICAL PARTY IN 1912! In fact, it was the opposite “news” that flashed across a little corner of the internet’s far-left end. A young activist in the US socialist movement, Pham Binh, making positive reference to the outstanding contributions of historian Lars Lih in challenging myths regarding Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s revolutionary organisational perspectives, advanced his own challenging re-interpretation of Lenin’s thought and practice, claiming to have exploded “the myth that the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks separated into two parties in 1912.”
March 1, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Fifty key figures on the left including Ian Angus, John Riddell, Patrick Bond, Paul Le Blanc, China Miéville, Ken Loach, Lindsey German, Alex Callinicos, Suzi Weissman, Michael Yates and Immanuel Ness have backed Pluto Press' Get Political! campaign urging activists fighting for the 99% to draw inspiration from the lives and writings of the giants of 20th century political change, including VI Lenin.
Below is Bryan Palmer's review of the new collection of Lenin's writings, edited by Paul Le Blanc. It is posted with Palmer's permission. For full details on the Get Political! campaign, go to www.getpoliticalnow.com.
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Lenin: Revolution, Democracy, Socialism
By Paul Le Blanc,
London: Pluto Press, 2008
Reviewed by Bryan D. Palmer
By Doug Lorimer
Doug Lorimer is a member of the National Executive of the DSP. This article is based on a report adopted by the 14th National Conference of the DSP, held in Sydney, January 2-6, 1992.
©Resistance Books 1997; first published 1992, second (revised) edition 1997
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.
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)
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.
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).
By Scott McLemee
July 8, 2011 -- Inside Higher Ed, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- Every so often, one scholar will assess another’s book so harshly that it becomes legendary. The most durable example must be A.E. Housman, whose anti-blurbs retain their sting after a century and more. Housman is best-known for the verse in his collection A Shropeshire Lad (1896). But classicists still remember his often pointed reviews of other philologists’ editions of ancient poetry, and can sometimes quote snippets from memory.
“When I first open an edition of Persius,” he writes in one of them, “I turn to VI 51 to see if the editor knows what part of speech adeo is. I regret to say that Mr. Summers thinks it is a verb.” Or consider the following line, which kills two dons with one stone: “I imagine that Mr. Buechler, when he first perused Mr. Sidhaus’s edition of the Aetna, must have felt something like Sin when she gave birth to Death.”
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.
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:
"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.
May Day in St Petersburg, 1917.
By Didier Limon, translated, edited and introduced by Keith Rosenthal
December 22, 2010 -- This phenomenal, historical and analytical study by Didier Limon -- which first appeared in Autogestion: études, débats, documents, cahier no. 4, pp. 65-111 (Paris, December 1967) -- has, until now, not been translated into English. This is a shame on many levels for it stands nearly peerless in its meticulous treatment of the specific subject it takes up. That is, the debates and discussions surrounding the implementation of workers’ control of production within the first months after the October revolution of 1917 in Russia.
Film by John Rainford and Peter Ewer
April 24, 2015 -- Green Left TV/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- As the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC's ill-fated Gallipoli campaign approaches, this timely short film (above) cuts through the myth making, and shows with damning facts how lives were used as fodder as strategic and tactical blunders led to the slaughter of so many.
It reveals the context behind the Gallipoli campaign - a war fought because the world had been cut up into colonies by the major powers who were now battling for the spoils.
The film shows exactly why the terrible ANZAC Cove campaign should never be forgotten — and the crimes of the warmongers responsible never forgiven.
* * *
German workers strike against the war, January 1918.
December 7, 2010 -- November 8, 1917, the day after the victory of Bolshevik-led Russian Revolution, the first foreign policy decision of the revolutionary government was the "Decree on Peace", written by Lenin and adopted on that day by the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. It proposed an end to the carnage of World War I on the basis of a "just, democratic peace". It declared the abolition of existing secret treaties and promised that all future treaties would be negotiated "openly in full view of the whole people".
«Ο Οκτώβρης και η Εποχή μας», πρόλογος-εισαγωγή-επιμέλεια: Χρήστος Κεφαλής, εκδ. Τόπος, Αθήνα 2010, σελ. 599, 25 €.
Η Οκτωβριανή Επανάσταση υπήρξε ένα ορόσημο του 20ού αιώνα. Οι συζητήσεις και οι διαμάχες που υποκίνησε ήταν οξείες και καθολικές, μη αφήνοντας ανεπηρέαστη καμιά σφαίρα. Όχι λιγότερο σημαντικές ήταν οι μετέπειτα εξελίξεις, από την άνοδο του Στάλιν στη δεκαετία του 1920 ως τη διάλυση της ΕΣΣΔ.
By Suzi Weissman
[This paper was presented at a conference in Nottingham, England, in 2009. It is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Suzi Weissman’s permission. See also "Victor Serge: `dishonest authoritarian', `anti-worker anarchist' or revolutionary Bolshevik?"]