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Russian Revolution

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.

`Lenin and workers' control', by Didier Limon (1967)

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.

Australia & New Zealand: The imperialist reality behind ANZAC myth (updated 2015)

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.

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Lenin and Trotsky on Wikileaks (well, sort of)

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»

«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.

Workers in the Russian and Cuban revolutions

Fidel Castro addresses a huge crowd in front of the presidential palace in Havana, Cuba, in 1959. 

By Chris Slee

October 4, 2010 -- This is a response to "Cuba: Stalinism isn't socialism", by John Passant, a prominent member of Socialist Alternative in Australia.

John Passant writes:

One of Marx’s unique and profound contributions to socialism is his idea that the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class. This is the very reason Cuba isn’t socialist... Castro took power, but the working class as the working class played no role whatsoever in the overthrow of Batista. In fact they ignored Fidel’s call for a general strike in 1958.

In reality the working class played a key role in the Cuban Revolution, through general strikes, mass demonstrations and by taking over their workplaces. For details, see my pamphlet Cuba: How the workers and peasants made the revolution.

Passant mentions the failed general strike of April 1958, but ignores the successful general strike of January 1959. According to historian Hugh Thomas:

Why Marxists oppose terrorism

[This is the slightly edited text of a talk presented to the Democratic Socialist Perspective and Resistance educational conference in Sydney in January 2002. Dave Holmes is now a leader of the Socialist Alliance in Melbourne. This and other writings are also available at Dave Holmes' blog, Arguing for Socialism.]

By Dave Holmes

I'd like to begin with a juxtaposition of two events — one which took place relatively recently and the other a long time before.

Clara Zetkin’s struggle for the united front

Clara Zetkin (left) with Rosa Luxemburg.

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Listen to John Riddell present a workshop on Clara Zetkin at the US International Socialist Organization's Socialism 2009 conference in Chicago:

Nadezhda Krupskaya, a revolutionary fighter, feminist and pioneer of socialist education

Krupskaya spent a good deal of her later years attempting to disseminate through the means available to her the legacy of Lenin. Thus she wrote and published her famous Reminiscences of Lenin.

By Graham Milner

March 7, 2010 -- Born into a family of radical Russian gentry in 1869, Nedezhda (which from Russian translates as "Hope") Konstantinovna Krupskaya became, with her partner V.I. Lenin, a founder and central leader of the organisation of revolutionaries that led the Russian working class to power in October 1917 -- the Bolshevik Party (majority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party).

Alexandra Kollontai: International Women's Day -- a militant celebration

To mark International Women's Day 2010, Links International Journal of Socilalist Renewal reproduces Alexandra Kollontai's classic history and explanation of this important anniversary. Thanks to the Marxist Internet Archive (MIA) for making this and other writings by Kollontai available. Notes by MIA.

* * *

By Alexandra Kollontai

Mezhdunarodnyi den' rabotnitz, Moscow 1920 -- Women's Day or Working Women's Day is a day of international solidarity, and a day for reviewing the strength and organisation of proletarian women.

Lars T. Lih's contribution to a Leninism for the 21st century

Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done? In Context
By Lars T. Lih, Haymarket Books, Chicago 2008, 840 pages

Review by Barry Healy

If a spectre haunted 19th century Europe, as Marx said of the embryonic communist movement, then the name of Lenin was no ghost for the 20th century bourgeoisie, it was a terrifying reality.

For the capitalists, with Leninism the communist phantom came howling out of the underworld, beginning with the 1917 Russian Revolution, sweeping whole continents clean of capitalist rule. Millions of human beings found their life’s purpose in learning from and extending into their own national contexts the ideas of Lenin.

Epic intellectual – and sometimes bitter, physical – conflicts have been waged over the meaning of Lenin’s ideas. Among leftists, the Trotskyists in particular, to their ever-lasting credit, argued for a revolutionary, liberationist reading of Lenin, in defiance of Stalin’s bureaucratic evisceration, often at the cost of their lives.

Slavoj Zizek’s failed encounter with Leninism

Click HERE for more on žižek.

By Paul Kellogg

The Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj žižek – most centrally in his Revolution At The Gates – has made it his business to reintroduce the Russian Marxist Vladimir Lenin to a new generation of activists. This in itself is a worthwhile project. Most believe that in building a new left we have to “leave the Leninist legacy behind” and greet any attempt to resurrect Lenin with “sarcastic laughter ... Doesn’t Lenin stand precisely for the failure to put Marxism into practice, for the big catastrophe which left its mark on the whole twentieth-century world politics, for the Real Socialist experiment which culminated in an economically inefficient dictatorship?”.[i]

Rosa Luxemburg and Marxist politics

Graphic by Julia Casimira.

By Graham Milner

Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919) is one of the greatest figures ever produced by the international socialist movement. Her contribution, as theorist and activist, deserves to be recognised and celebrated by the newer generations of socialist activists who have become involved in the movement in recent decades. Those of us who have been involved in the socialist left for rather longer may also benefit from a critical review of the achievements of this great woman.

Interest in Rosa Luxemburg among historians, political scientists and activists alike has increased considerably since the radicalisation of the 1960s and early 1970s brought with it a re-evaluation of the long-buried revolutionary tradition in the world socialist movement.[1] The questioning of the reformist and Stalinist orthodoxies dominant on the left in the 1950s and 1960s, which accompanied this radicalisation process, made essential a reassessment of those socialist theorists and activists who fitted into neither of these categories.

`Second assassination' of Trotsky -- Paul Le Blanc reviews Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky

Review by Paul Le Blanc

Trotsky: A Biography
By Robert Service
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009
600 pages

December 25, 2009 -- ESSF -- Robert Service has written, to great acclaim, a new biography of Leon Trotsky. “Trotsky moved like a bright comet across the political sky,” Service tells us. Along with Lenin and other leaders of the Russian Revolution associated with the Bolshevik – soon renamed Communist – party, “he first came to global attention in 1917. … He lived a life full of drama played out with the world as his stage. The October Revolution changed the course of history, and Trotsky had a prominent role in the transformation. … There is no denying Trotsky’s exceptional qualities. He was an outstanding speaker, organizer and leader.” (1, 3)

Lenin's place in history

By Graham Milner

Lenin stands out as one of the unquestionably great personalities of 20th century history. Yet such has been the impact of this man on the course of history in this century that his life and ideas have often become the subject of either the most vicious distortion or the most abject and craven cult-worship.

Lenin is said to have requested that no great fuss be made in commemorating his death, and that no personality cult be allowed to develop around him.[1] Lenin recognised that tendency that turns the most revolutionary figures, after their deaths, into harmless icons -- to be worshipped, while their ideas are ignored.[2] He had seen Marx's legacy treated in this way by leading ``Marxists'' in the Second International, and had spent most of the latter part (and a good deal of the former part) of his political life fighting the disastrous consequences of this tendency for the socialist movement.

Lenin's ``successors'' in the Kremlin repeated the errors of Second International's Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky. Each May Day parade in Moscow, the Soviet hierarchs stood atop Lenin's mausoleum, like pygmies. The greater were Lenin's praises sung, the wider grew the gap between the practice and the prattle of the Soviet bureaucrats. On the other side of the Cold War divide, distortion and denigration called the tune.

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