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Russian Revolution

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.

Tom Keneally's `The People's Train': Steaming along the tracks of revolution

The People's Train
By Tom Keneally,
Vintage Books, 2009

Review by Phil Shannon

October 10, 2009 -- When Artem Samsurov first came to Brisbane in 1911, the Russian exile noted that the poor did not eat horse meat like they did in his native country and he wondered whether this did indeed make it true that Australia was a “working man’s paradise”? A diet that was no stranger, however, to rabbit, and bread and lard, suggested otherwise.

Tom Keneally’s latest novel, The People’s Train, follows the political and romantic adventures of Samsurov, a fictional character closely based on Fedor (``Artem'') Sergeyev, a Bolshevik who escaped from exile in Siberia after the crushing of the 1905 revolution in Russia and who was a political activist in Brisbane for six years. [See the Australian Dictionary of Biography's entry for Fedor``Artem'' Sergeyev below this review.]

In regular trouble with the Red-persecuting Queensland police, Sergeyev returned to Russia in 1917 in time to be elected to the central committee of the Bolshevik Party and play a leading role in the Russian Revolution.

Victor Serge: `dishonest authoritarian', `anti-worker anarchist' or revolutionary Bolshevik?

[The following exchanges were first published in the US socialist magazine Against the Current. They have been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission. Susan Weissman is the author of Victor Serge: The Course is set on Hope and editor of The Ideas of Victor Serge and Victor Serge: Russia Twenty Years After. She is a member of the editorial boards of Against the Current and Critique. The first essay is adapted from a section of a paper she delivered at a July 2008 conference on Trotsky’s legacy and first appeared in Against the Current, issue 136, September-October 2008. Following that is a response from Ernie Haberkern and reply by Susan Weissman. Some of Victor Serge's writings are available at the Marxists Internet Archive and at Resistance Books.]

By Susan Weissman

Versailles vs Comintern: two visions of world peace

Lenin addresses the opening of the second congress of the Communist International.

By Barry Healy

June 28, 2009, was the anniversary of the two bookends of World War I, in which it is estimated more than 15 million people died. On that date in 1914 Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and, five years later, in 1919, 90 years ago this year, the Versailles Treaty was signed in Paris.

The first war in which the capacity of modern industry to deploy, feed, arm and dismember people was so hideously demonstrated, WWI was experienced by its victims as the "war to end all wars". Unfortunately, it proved not to be.

Out of the ashes of the conflict two competing visions of world peace arose: Versailles and the revolutionary and democratic alternative represented by the Communist International (Comintern) emanating from the 1917 Russian Revolution.

US President Woodrow Wilson swept into the treaty negotiations declaring: “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Over six months of intense horsetrading at Versailles a new imperialist order was hammered out, resulting in many of the conflicts that followed.

Pamphlet: Comrades in arms: Women in the Russian Revolution

To mark International Women's Day, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal is publishing an excerpt from Resistance Books' Comrades in arms: Women in the Russian Revolution, by Kathy Fairfax, and making available the entire pamphlet to download in PDF format (see below).

By Kathy Fairfax

The popular image of the Russian Revolution is of a revolution made by men. Ask the person in the street to name a figure from the Russian Revolution and most could come up with Lenin, Stalin, maybe Trotsky. A few might have heard of Zinoviev, Kamenev or Bukharin. But how many would name Kollontai, Armand or Krupskaya? How many know of the women who helped make revolution in Russia? How many know about the thousands of female Bolsheviks who marched through the streets of Petrograd in 1917 or shouted revolutionary speeches to cheering crowds or wrote and distributed pamphlets calling for revolution? In fact, women revolutionaries inspired the working class the world over and inaugurated a new era in world history.

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Free pamphlet: Revolutionaries and parliament: The Bolshevik experience

By Maurice Sibelle

One of the greatest obstacles to winning working people to the perspective of a socialist revolution is the widespread and deeply ingrained illusion — inculcated in their minds day-in and day-out by the capitalist rulers — that through the institutions of bourgeois democracy, particularly parliament, working people can defend and advance their interests.

Historical experience has shown that socialists cannot destroy this widely held illusion simply by presenting arguments against it. On the contrary, the working masses can only be convinced that parliament is an instrument of capitalist rule when this argument is backed up by their own experience. That is, the masses of working people will have to go through the practical experience of struggles in which they can test the limits that the parliamentary system places on their activity before they can be convinced of the necessity of overthrowing this system and replacing it with genuinely democratic political institutions — a centralised system of elected committees or councils of working people’s delegates like the Russian soviets of workers’ deputies that emerged in the 1905 revolution and again in 1917.

Between 1912-14, the Russian Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin were able to use the tsarist parliament — the Duma — to help build a revolutionary workers’ movement. This experience provides possibly the richest period for lessons in revolutionary parliamentarism. It was a vital period in the history of the Bolshevik Party. The work done in this period laid the ground work for the rapid changes that occurred in 1917 and the eventual victory of the October Revolution.

Lenin on liquidationism

By Chris Slee

January 2007 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In recent years there have been a number of cases where revolutionary Marxist parties have initiated or participated in attempts at building broad socialist parties. Examples include the Scottish Socialist Party; the Socialist Alliance and later Respect in England; the Socialist Alliance in Australia; Papernas in Indonesia; participation in the Party of Communist Refoundation in Italy; and the New Anti-Capitalist Party initiated by the Revolutionary Communist League (Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire) in France.

Sometimes Marxist groups that participate in such broad formations are accused of "liquidationism". This was a term used by Lenin to refer to the policy of certain members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party who wished to dissolve ("liquidate") the RSDLP after the crushing of the 1905 revolution.

Women and the Russian Revolution: `Our task is to make politics available to every working woman'

By Lisa Macdonald

The following is the Introduction to On the Emancipation of Women, a collection of the key articles and speeches on women’s liberation by Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin, published by Resistance Books. On the Emancipation of Women is available online at http://www.resistancebooks.com.

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The persistence of gender inequality in the most advanced capitalist societies, with the most complete bourgeois democracy in which women have full formal equality, has put paid to the idea that women's liberation is possible within the framework of capitalism, even in its "healthiest" periods of expansion. Today, in a period of global capitalist stagnation and crisis, as the "gender gap" widens and women, especially in the Third World, bear the brunt of the capitalist class's neo-liberal offensive against the working class as a whole, the correctness of the Marxist analysis of women's oppression as a cornerstone of class society and its revolutionary approach to achieving women's liberation is clearer than ever before.

Slideshow: Stalinism -- How did the Russian Revolution degenerate and was it inevitable?

Nationalism, revolution and war in the Caucasus

By Tony Iltis

August 27, 2008 -- Since the European Union-brokered ceasefire brought the shooting war between Georgia and Russia to an end on August 12, there has been a war of words between Russia and the West. One point of contention is the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia-proper (that is, Georgia excluding the de facto independent territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia), in particular the towns of Gori, Zugdidi and Senaki and the port of Poti.

The war began with Georgia’s August 7 attack on the territory of South Ossetia. Russia responded with a military assault that first drove Georgian troops out of South Ossetia, then continued to advance within Georgia-proper.

Russia agreed to withdraw when it signed the ceasefire and has since indicated that it is doing so — but slowly, and not before systematically destroying Georgia’s military capacity.

A bigger difference, based on competing interpretations of what is and isn’t Georgian territory, is Russia’s stated intention to maintain a beefed-up peacekeeping presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

¿La Unión Soviética, estado sin partido?

Reseña crítica de Alex Miller

El siglo soviético
por Moshe Lewin
Verso 2005
416 páginas

Los medios comerciales y las élites intelectuales capitalistas han promulgado un estereotipo sobre la Unión Soviética: una línea ideológica directa y sin interrupciones lleva del bolchevismo de la revolución de 1917 al totalitarismo del período stalinista (1920-1953), pasa por el período post-stalinista desde 1953 y termina en el colapso del régimen soviético en 1991. Normalmente, se esgrime el estereotipo contra el bolchevismo, y en realidad contra cualquier forma de marxismo revolucionario: se usa el estancamiento y la declinación post-stalinistas, así como las masacres y purgas del período stalinista, para elaborar una reducción al absurdo de las aspiraciones originales de la revolución de 1917.

The Soviet Union: a no-party state?

Review by Alex Miller

The Soviet Century
By Moshe Lewin
Verso 2005
416 pages

Our history: John Reed’s `Ten days that shook the world’

Ten Days That Shook The World
By John Reed
Penguin Books 351 pages
Paperback

Review by Alex Miller

Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four: Critiques of Stalinism `from the left’?

Review by Alex Miller

This essay is the result of a re-reading of George Orwell’s two most famous novels. Both Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four have acquired the status of textbooks, and are routinely used in schools to demonstrate to children the inherent dangers of social revolution. It is time for a reappraisal.

The ``Centenary Edition’’ of George Orwell’s Animal Farm contains a preface written by Orwell for the first edition (Secker and Warburg, 1945) but never published, together with a preface that he wrote specially for a translation for displaced Ukrainians living under British and US administration after World War II.

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New pamphlet: Comintern: Revolutionary Internationalism in Lenin's Time

[The following is the introduction to a new pamphlet, Comintern: Revolutionary Internationalism in Lenin's Time, produced by the Canadian Socialist Voice collective. The full text is available at http://www.socialistvoice.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/comintern-riddell.pdf]

Armando Hart on the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution

November 7, 2007, was the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Here Armando Hart Dávalos, one of the historic leaders of the Cuban Revolution, assesses the 1917 Russian Revolution in the light of historic experience. In a commentary of obvious timelessness for Cuba’s own revolutionary people and leadership, he argues that the pressures of the imperialist blockade were not the decisive causes of the fall of the Russian Revolution, but rather errors made within the country by its own leadership and institutions. Essential reading for Cubans, and for everyone who

The Russian Revolution and national freedom

By John Riddell

When Bolivian President Evo Morales formally opened his country's constituent assembly on August 6, 2006, he highlighted the aspirations of Bolivia's indigenous majority as the central challenge before the gathering. The convening of the assembly, he said, represented a ``historic moment to refound our dearly beloved homeland Bolivia''. When Bolivia was created, in 1825-26, ``the originary indigenous movements'' who had fought for independence ``were excluded'' and subsequently discriminated against and looked down upon. But the ``great day has arrived today ... for the originary indigenous peoples''.[1]

During the preceding weeks, indigenous organisations had proposed sweeping measures to assure their rights, including guarantees for their languages, autonomy for indigenous regions and respect for indigenous culture and political traditions.

This movement extends far beyond Bolivia. Massive struggles based on indigenous peoples have shaken Ecuador and Peru, and the reverberations are felt across the western hemisphere. Measures to empower indigenous minorities are among the most prestigious achievements of the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela.

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