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revolutionary organisation

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.

Read more on the IWW, Gramsci and Victor Serge.

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.”[1]

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.

Lars Lih: Bolshevism and revolutionary social democracy

Lenin.

By Lars Lih

June 7, 2012 -- Weekly Worker -- Lenin’s pamphlet "Leftwing" communism -- his last work of more-than-article size -- was written in spring 1920 in order to be distributed to the delegates of the 2nd Congress of the Communist International, or Comintern. The message that Lenin intended to send cannot be understood apart from the particular circumstances of this event.

Comintern was founded in spring 1919, a time of great enthusiasm and hope about the possibility of soviet-style revolutions sweeping across Europe. Exuberantly confident predictions were made by Lenin and Grigorii Zinoviev that the 2nd Congress of the new international would be a gathering not just of parties, but of new soviet republics. Accordingly, little attention was given to the party as such. As Trotsky put it later, the hope was that “a chaotic, spontaneous [elemental or stikhiinyi] assault” would mount in “ever-rising waves, that in this process the awareness of the leading layers of the working class would become clarified, and that in this way the proletariat would attain state power in the course of one or two years”.[1]

Lars Lih: How Lenin's party became (Bolshevik)

By Lars T. Lih

May 17, 2012 -- Weekly Worker -- Did Lenin seek to exclude Mensheviks from Russia's revolutionary organisation in order to forge a "party of a new type"?

From 1898 on, there existed a political party called the Rossiiskaia sotsial-demokraticheskaia rabochaia partiia (RSDRP), or Russian Social Democratic Worker Party. Rossiiskaia means “Russian” in the sense of citizens of the Russian state, as opposed to russkaia, which refers to ethnic Russians. Of course, the party title made no reference to either of its two later factions, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.

At its 7th Congress in March 1918, this party officially changed its name to Rossiiskaia kommunisticheskaia partiia (bol’shevikov) or RKP(B). The party now referred to itself as "Bolshevik", even if only in parentheses. The question arises: did the party ever have an intermediate title such as RSDRP(B) -- for example, during the period from April 1917 to March 1918?

No. The label "RSDRP(B)" was occasionally used informally in 1917 (for reasons to be discussed later), along with other improvised labels. Nevertheless, a party with the name "RSDRP(B)" never existed.

Paul Le Blanc responds to Lars Lih: Bolshevism and party building – convergence and questions


[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Lenin.]

By Paul Le Blanc

May 5, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Revolutionary upheavals are made possible by the coming together of a number of diverse factors, one of which is the organisation, accumulation of experience and proliferating influence of conscious revolutionaries.

“Did the Bolshevik Party become the leading party of the Russian proletariat, and hence the Russian nation, by chance?”, asked Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci in 1924. A brilliant and knowledgeable analyst, he answered his own question: “The selection process lasted thirty years; it was extremely arduous; it often assumed what appeared to be the strangest and most absurd forms.” He added that the process involved “struggles of factions and small groups; ... it meant splits and fusions ...” (Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings 1921-1926: 210).

Peter Camejo: Against sectarianism -- the evolution of the Socialist Workers Party, 1978-1983

AGAINST SECTARIANISM

The Evolution of the Socialist Workers Party 1978-1983

by Pedro (Peter) Camejo

During the years 1978-1983, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of the United States has been making sharp shifts in its policies, political positions, methods of work and internal norms. These shifts reflect an effort by the leadership of the SWP to develop an orientation in the post anti-Vietnam war movement period. Some important steps forward have been taken by the SWP. Two important shifts, which reflect fundamentally positive steps, have been the decision to colonize industry and to recognize the revolutionary proletarian character of the Cuban Communist Party, the FSLN in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada.

Along with these positive steps, however, there has been a hardening of increasingly sectarian positions which threaten to undermine the positive aspects of the two points mentioned above. This document is a review of the increasingly sectarian positions developed by the SWP in the last five years. Why this is happening is beyond the scope of this document, although it is clearly related to the years of isolation from the broader workers' movement. The development of hardened sectarian political views has occurred quite frequently in groups which have developed within the world Trotskyist current. While the causes of the sectarianism of the SWP are undoubtedly related to these broader questions, this document takes up each political question at its face value, independent of broader judgments.

Paul Le Blanc: The birth of the Bolshevik party in 1912

Portrait of Lenin by Isaac Israelovich Brodskii, 1924.

[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Lenin.] 

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.”[1]

Paul Le Blanc: 1912 and 2012

[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Lenin.]

By Paul Le Blanc

April 5, 2012 -- Weekly Worker, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- I would like to respond to two problematical contentions advanced by Pham Binh in his article ‘Wanting to get Lenin wrong’ (Weekly Worker, March 29, 2012). One of these contentions is about my motivation for disagreeing with his interpretation of Lenin’s thought, and the other has to do with a historical question -- when the Bolsheviks became a separate party. This is part of an extended debate having to do with history and politics (Lenin and the Bolsheviks; tasks facing socialists today). My own contributions touching on these questions can be found at http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/579.

The Lenin wars: Over a Cliff with Lars Lih

Nadezhda Krupskaya and Lenin with journalist Lincoln Eure in the Kremlin, February 1920.

[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Tony Cliff's Lenin.]

By Paul Le Blanc

February 19, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- There has been a competing set of political agendas underlying the recently initiated historical debate over how to understand Lenin and the Bolsheviks. From the standpoint of revolutionary socialism, this aspect of the debate is hardly cause for dismay. As activists we are appropriately attempting to get a handle on “what is to be done”. This does not absolve us of the responsibility to get the history right. But for Marxists the point is not simply to understand history, but also make use of such understanding to help change the world.

Paul Le Blanc: Revolutionary organisation and the ‘Occupy moment’

Occupy Pittsburgh, October 15, 2011.

[For more discussion on revolutionary organisation, click HERE. Articles on left unity can be found HERE. The Occupy movement is discussed HERE.]

By Paul Le Blanc

February 16, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The Occupy movement has been having a profound impact on the socialist left in the United States. I want to share some information on this, focusing on my own experience, and relate it to broader issues of Marxism and organisation that I have been engaged with for some time.

United States: Another socialist left is possible -- a reply to Paul D’Amato

[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Tony Cliff's Lenin. For more discussion on revolutionary organisation, click HERE. Articles on left unity can be found HERE.]

By Pham Binh

February 10, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The first response to my “Occupy and the tasks of socialists” piece to be written by a leading member of an US socialist organisation is emblematic of what is wrong with the US socialist left.

I am referring to “The mangling of Tony Cliff”, written by Paul D’Amato, International Socialist Organization (ISO) member and managing editor of the International Socialist Review. He responds to my Tasks piece in his reply to a book review I did, writing:

Paul D’Amato: The mangling of Tony Cliff

Boris Kustodiev's 1920 painting "Bolshevik".

[Click HERE to follow the debate on Tony Cliff's Lenin. For more discussion on Lenin, click HERE. For more discussion on revolutionary organisation, click HERE.]

By Paul D’Amato

February 4, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Pham Binh’s criticism of the late British Marxist Tony Cliff’s Lenin: Building the Party (“Mangling the Party”), published in the Australian journal Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, is substantially wrong on many points; but its chief defect is that it is a hatchet job.

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.

United States: #Occupy activists and the Democratic Party -- a debate

For more on the #Occupy movement, click here.

By Dave Duhalde and Dan La Botz

December 4, 2011 -- Against the Current -- Below is a debate between David Duhalde of the Democratic Socialists of America and Dan La Botz of Solidarity that was first published on the website Talking Union.

Where is the beef? An open letter to Dan La Botz on DSA and the Democrats

Dear Dan,

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