A century ago, from 2nd — 6th March 1919, 52 delegates, more than 40 from various political organisations outside Russia, met in Moscow.
During those five days the meeting became the First Congress of the Third International1 , also known as the Communist International, abbreviated to Comintern. That event marked a key point in the development of revolutionary proletarian organisation.
The Congress took place at the moment in history where the proletariat had made its biggest challenge, before or since, to the capitalist order.
The Revolutionary Wave
Two statements by Lenin sum up the essence of the revolutionary optimism which flowed through the five day Congress. In a phonograph recording made later in March he encapsulated the vision of the Third International. “Today, the workers who have remained loyal to the cause of throwing off the yoke of capital call themselves ‘Communists.’ ... soon we shall see the victory of communism throughout the world; we shall see the foundation of the World Federative Republic of Soviets.”2
In his article on The Third International and its Place in History published in April, 1919 the revolutionary wave was concisely described. “A new era in world history has begun. Mankind3 is throwing off the last form of slavery: capitalist, or wage, slavery. By emancipating himself from slavery, man is for the first time advancing to real freedom.”4
In Russia, the Soviets had taken power in November 1917. By March 1919 they maintained their control in those areas of Russia that they had been forced to successfully defend militarily. However, it is crystal clear from the contributions during the Congress that working class power in Russia was seen by all the participants as only a temporary step in the establishment of worldwide socialism. In 1919 revolutionaries had good cause to believe that the process was moving towards a successful outcome.
Strikes and mutinies had brought an end to the slaughter of the First World War. The Kaiser had been removed from power in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed. In many parts of Europe and beyond, Councils of Workers and sometimes Soldiers and Sailors had appeared, at least partly mirroring the Russian Soviets. Germany was seen by all as the crucial next step in the world Revolution. Although we can now see the disastrous long-term consequences of the ill-prepared "Spartakist uprising" which had been bloodily beaten in January, Councils still existed and working class combativity remained high.
In the weeks after the Congress the working class struggle continued to gain victories. The May issue of Communist International summarised, "The Third International already has as its members three Soviet republics — in Hungary, Russia and Bavaria."5 In their May Day Manifesto, the Comintern declared "The flames of proletarian revolution are spreading all over Europe. It is invincible ... The last hour of our oppressors has struck ... in 1919 the great Communist International was born. In 1920 the great International Soviet Republic will come to birth."
Points of Clarity
The Congress's vision reflected the reality of the incredibly sharp and undisguised class struggles that were taking place. A century later the inheritors of the Congress exist in an epoch where revolutionary consciousness has been all but buried and the combativity of our class is at a far lower level. Yet, for present-day Communists the texts of the Congress contain many points which provide remarkably clear insights that are often distorted by erstwhile "Leninists".
It is worth highlighting three such examples.
We have already touched on the core shared understanding regarding the necessary international nature of the proletarian revolution. The earlier quote from Lenin about the "World Federative Republic of Soviets" is clear evidence. Similarly the quote from the Comintern magazine looking towards "the great International Soviet Republic". Ideas such as "Socialism in One Country" are totally alien to any of the discussions that take place. Lest there be any doubt, it is worth repeating the final declaration from the Platform adopted by the meeting. The last section is entitled "The Road to Victory" and is clear that victory means a communist world: "Long live the international republic of proletarian councils."6
Secondly, time and again, we have to confront the grotesque political contortions of capitalism's left-wing whose followers act as cheerleaders for all manner of inter-capitalist disputes. In particular, they will, literally and metaphorically, wave the flag for small national states and would-be states. Such positions stem from the confused and increasingly counter-revolutionary policies of the Comintern from 1921 onwards. They have nothing in common with the proletarian internationalism of the First Congress. There socialists had built on lessons from the minority who had struggled against the "Great War" and strands such as the Zimmerwald Left7 who had argued to turn the imperialist war into civil war.
In the words of Boris Reinstein, of the U.S. Socialist Labor Party8 ; "... in our century there can be no wars that are not rooted in capitalist competition ... the proletariat not only does not have the duty, it does not even have the right to support its government, even in so-called defensive wars. There is only one war that the proletariat is duty-bound to support, and that is social war, the social revolution."9
A third distortion, spread by both friends and foes of the proletarian revolution, is that the final aim of Communists is a proletarian state. In 1919, as struggles raged, revolutionaries had not lost sight of the future of humanity in a stateless world. At the Congress, Lenin presented Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Thesis 20 includes the formulation, "... soviet or proletarian democracy ... by enlisting the mass organizations of working people in constant and unfailing participation in the management of the state, it immediately begins to prepare the complete withering away of any state."10
This wording was not accidental nor an attempt to mislead. Later that year, leading Russian Communists, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, wrote The ABC of Communism, a core "training manual" for revolutionary cadres. There they wrote "as soon as they [remnants of the exploiters] have been trained to work and have become workers like everyone else, the pressure upon them will be relaxed and the dictatorship of the proletariat will gradually disappear". Also "... we must never cease to make it perfectly clear that the extension of rights will ultimately be given, and will be given all the sooner, in proportion as there comes a speedier end to the attempts made by the exploiters to overthrow communism. In this manner the proletarian State will gradually die out, and will undergo transformation into a Stateless communist society, wherein the division into classes will have completely disappeared."11
An Imperfect Process
The Congress, in common with any moment in the history of class struggle, was and could only be, in today's language, "work in progress". The fact that the revolutionaries had no International Party in place at the start of the struggles undoubtedly hampered their ability to guide the process towards a successful final onslaught against the bourgeois order.
The Second Congress, held a year later, was more representative of the forces that had rallied to, and were taking steps to organise as a result of, the revolutionary wave. It also has to be recognised that by 1920 the tide had begun to turn against the revolution and the start of the future degeneration of the Comintern was evident.
At the founding Congress the absence of an effective revolutionary party had already shown its effect in Gemany. There the revolutionary elements in the Spartakusbund had, until the last days of 1918, refused to draw a clear line between themselves and initially the social patriotic SPD and then the vacillating USPD. The representative of the newly founded KPD (German Communist Party) at the Congress was Max Albert (aka Friedrich Eberlein). Albert presented the same indecisive attitude at the Congress, arguing that it was premature to declare the Third International. It was only with the arrival of delegates during the course of the five days that the prevarication was overcome.
Attendance was also unavoidably restricted to those who were able to be present in Moscow while the wars waged by the White armies and their imperialist backers still raged and the area controlled by the Soviets endured a blockade imposed by the imperialist powers. This partly accounts for the absence of delegates from areas where significant class struggles were taking place such as Italy or Spain.
It is also indisputable that the selection of those attending the Conference reflected the state of flux amongst revolutionaries. In many of the national territories, both those present at the Congress and those that were not, the process of organisational definition was far from complete. Many Communists who supported the revolutionary wave were still organising as fractions and tendencies within a range of organisations. For example, the US SLP that Reinstein was notionally delegated from would split with only part of its left wing joining the Third International. In contrast, the two representatives from Switzerland represented different fractions. Platten was listed as representing the opposition within the Swiss Social Democratic Party while Leonie Kascher was delegated from the Swiss Communist Group.
Despite the early stage of development of the territorial organisations, the Congress was able to agree on initial points of political definition. Point 4 of the Platform adopted by the Congress made clear the necessary separation between Communists and the other strands that had existed in the former Second International. A section of the meeting was devoted to analysis of a conference held in Bern the previous month. At that meeting the social patriots who had sided with the national bourgeoisies gathered to breathe life into the corpse of the Second International.
The opening words of the congress session were spoken by the Swiss revolutionary, Fritz Platten. Referring to the bureau of the Second International, Platten makes clear "As socialists with a revolutionary communist perspective we understood very clearly that we could not tolerate any further relations with such people ... For us the Second International is dead."12
Zinoviev was the second speaker in that session who again made the position clear: "... the Second International became a tool of the international bourgeoisie ... we must found a Third International. ...The Yellow International of Bern and the Red International that we founded yesterday are now locked in single combat."13
If the Congress was absolutely clear about the Parties of the Yellow International, the approach to the other key reformist element, the Trade Unions, was treated with a great deal more caution and less clarity. Albert presented the decision to not refer to the Trade Unions in the platform. That decision was explained on the basis that national variations did not allow a unified approach. He cited a spectrum of examples. These ranged from the situation in Russia, where Trade Unions had allied themselves with Soviet Power to the situation in Germany, where "... the unions have been completely shoved aside and ... all economic struggles are being waged without the unions and indeed against them."14
Point 4 of the Platform also reflected the reality that elements such as many IWW members in North America had rallied to the banner of Communist revolution. It stated "... a bloc is needed with the forces in the revolutionary workers' movement who, although not part of the Socialist Party, now for the most part support the proletarian dictatorship in the form of council power. Certain forces in the syndicalist movement are an example of this."15
During the next two years revolutionaries regrouped to form Communist Parties in many national territories. Tragically, however, by the end of that process and the Third Congress in 1921, the revolutionary wave was clearly ebbing. By that stage there were already pressures on Communist Parties to act as local agents for the Russian state rather than advocates of working class independence and international revolution.
Worldwide Proletarian Struggle
The documents of the First Congress are permeated with hope for a Communist world. As the meeting assembled, the revolutionary wave was creating Soviet republics in the heart of Europe. The delegates were not yet fully aware of the class struggles that were erupting elsewhere in the world. In summary, for "the plutocratic press and plutocratic politicians ... it appeared as a gigantic upseething of the Abyss which had carried the frontiers of the Bolshevik revolution to Milan, Barcelona, Glasgow, Belfast, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Winnipeg, Buenos Aires and Sydney, as well as to Berlin, Munich, Vienna and Budapest."16
The quote from Mitchell shows that the Congress was meeting at a historic juncture. Significant sections of the proletariat were fighting for their own interests and in so doing revealed that these go well beyond national boundaries. In such circumstances, there was ample justification for not only a hope, but indeed an expectation that the destruction of world capitalism was imminent.
A Crucial Congress
In 1848 the industrial proletariat was still in its infancy with a significant presence in only limited areas of the world. Anticipating the revolutionary upsurge of that year, Marx and Engels described the emerging revolutionary potential for the proletariat to become capitalism's grave diggers. That is the significance of the declaration that "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism", the opening words of the Communist Manifesto. In reality, the revolutions of that year resulted in the increased control of the bourgeoisie which enabled capitalism to develop more freely in its existing heartlands and better prepare to extend to the rest of the world. That outcome in no way devalues the Manifesto as the starting point for those committed to the proletarian revolution.
There are certain parallels with the declarations of the 1919 Congress. They emerged from the living experience and struggles of the class, both reflecting and influencing their course. The defeat of the revolutionary struggles has come at an enormous cost to generations of proletarians, the vast majority of humanity.
Despite its imperfections, very largely unavoidable, the 1919 Congress is the starting point for revolutionary praxis today.
The revolutionary wave was arguably at its peak around March 1919 and the next few months. Sadly, the power of capital, with the essential support of the reformist "Social Democratic" parties, reasserted itself outside the RSFSR. Left isolated, with its productive capacity shattered, war and famine rampant and many of the best Communists dead, capitalism rapidly reasserted itself within the territory of RSFSR/Soviet Union.17
100 Years Later
The Stalinist and Trotskyist defenders of the Soviet Union's state capitalist system and the mainstream "free market" propagandists both pretend that the horrors of exploitation, alienation and oppression in the Soviet Union and its satellites flowed directly from the revolutionary struggles that gave birth to the Comintern. The documents of the First Congress prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the reality was far different.
The 1919 Congress took place against a backdrop of major sections of the working class challenging the entirety of the capitalist system. These were truly "Days of Hope".18 We now know that the victorious struggles which promised an imminent Communist future were short lived. By the mid 1920s the revolutionary wave had entirely ebbed away. Soviets existed in name only and official Communist parties had transformed into support mechanisms for the Soviet Union where capitalist restoration was proceeding inexorably with the party/state becoming the lead agent in generating and benefiting from state capitalism.
In Revolutionary Perspectives 9 we published the grimly prescient writings of Karl Radek published in April 1918. "If the Russian revolution is crushed by the bourgeois counter-revolution, it will be reborn from its ashes like the Phoenix; but if it loses its socialist character, and by this disappoints the working masses, this blow will have ten times more terrible consequences for the future of the Russian and international revolution."
Radek's forecast has been fully confirmed. The resurgence of capitalism in Russia and its survival in every other part of the world has produced a century of unprecedented wars and human made disasters. In 2019 we see a situation where capitalism has been in systemic crisis for the last half century and has imposed famine, unbearable hardships and "wars without end" on whole areas of the world. The drive to restore profitability and the inter-capitalist rivalry at the heart of the system point towards even more devastating ecological destruction coupled with the horrors of global warfare.
The horrific consequences of imperialism cannot be willed away. As capitalism drags humanity closer and closer to destruction the warning in the Communist Manifesto becomes more and more valid. The motor force of history since the most primitive times has been the struggle between classes. The prognosis is stark, struggles between classes, such as that between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat end "either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes."19
The alternative of "Socialism or Barbarism" has never been plainer.
Compared to 1919, our class's response to the horrors of capitalism is sporadic and isolated. Communists, the most class conscious protagonists of class struggle, refuse to become passive observers of capitalist horrors.
The Internationalist Communist Tendency continues the patient but crucial work of regrouping forces to help lay the basis for the future International Party. We are not that Party, but we are for that Party. We appeal to those who share our perspective to work with us.
We salute the spirit of the 1919 Congress. Not passively as academics, but recognising the need of the working class to forge a tool to liberate itself. Without hesitation, we call on fellow Internationalists to join us on the road:
Towards the Future International!
References to contemporary documents are from Founding The Communist International - Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress: March 1919 (Anchor Foundation, 1987). The abbreviation FTCI has been used in these footnotes.
- 1The International Workingmen's [sic] Association (later referred to as the First International) was founded in 1864 and effectively collapsed in 1872 when the Anarchist element, led by Bakunin, split from those maintaining a Marxist approach. The Second International was formed in 1889. Both revolutionary and reformist tendencies were present throughout its history. That situation and the International itself shattered in August 1914 when the long established reformist practices resulted in the large majority of the national sections siding with national states at the start of the First World War.
- 2Lenin, The Third, Communist International, (FTCI, p.316)
- 3The then customary use of "man or mankind" for "humanity" is reflected in the language used at the Congress. That use of language inherited from capitalism should not overshadow the work carried out by prominent early Communists such as Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai to support the twin tasks of involving masses of proletarian women in the new Communist movement and also ensuring that the needs of women were central to the agenda of revolution. A brief summary of that struggle is reflected in the Congress's Resolution, moved by Kollontai, on the Need to Draw Women Workers into the Struggle for Socialism (FTCI, p.250)
- 4Lenin, The Third International and its Place in History, (FTCI, p.33)
- 5Both quotes in this paragraph are taken from p.189 of 1919 Red Mirage, David Mitchell, Jonathan Cape, 1970
- 6FTCI, p.248
- 7In 1915 an international conference against the war was held in Zimmerwald, Switzerland. At that meeting the Zimmerwald Left developed as a continuing tendency committed to revolutionary opposition, destroying the imperialist war effort by "civil war" i.e. revolution. Founders of the Zimmerwald Left included Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek and Platten.
- 8The Socialist Labor Party in the USA was a revolutionary organisation founded in 1876. It supported class struggle and stood apart from the creeping adaptations to capitalism by the Second International. It was part of the socialist opposition to the First World War. Its best known propagandist was Daniel De Leon.
- 9FTCI, p.140
- 10FTCI, p.157-8
- 11ABC of Communism, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky ed. E.H Carr, (Pelican Classics, 1969) pp.221-222
- 12FTCI, p.185
- 13FTCI, p.198
- 14FTCI, pp.144-5
- 15FTCI, p.247
- 16Mitchell, p.137
- 17The territory was previously known as the Russian Soviet Republic or the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. With the loss of its proletarian essence, it was reorganised into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922.
- 18"Days of Hope" was the title of a TV series broadcast in Britain in 1975. It was directed by the British leftist, Ken Loach, tracking the history of a working class family in Britain from 1916 to 1926.
- 19The Communist Manifesto, K Marx and F Engels (Pelican, 1967) p.79
This is against libertarian
This is against libertarian communism and should not be on here.
jondwhite, Well the 'ABC of
jondwhite, Well the 'ABC of Communism' was recommended to me in my youthful membership of the spgb - an organisation which relied heavily on Kautsky and other of the early 2nd International Marxists for it's theoretical inspiration and even put in a good word for Lenin in his and other Bolsheviks opposition to the first World War. I'm not a fan of Lenin but you need to judge Lenin and the Bolsheviks in their historical context as part of a flawed Social Democratic political tendency. The ICT/CWO's retrospective defense of the 3rd International in it's brief early existence is open to criticism as a misplaced attempt to find some historical continuity with their own present day promotion of the future 'International Party' with some important 'lessons learned' from the subsequent counter revolutionary role of both the Russian 'Communist' Party and the 3rd International, but that doesn't make everything in this text incorrect from a broader communist perspective than that of the spgb. Make a proper detailed criticism of the text or don't bother.
Spikymike wrote: Make a
This. It's also quite hypocritical for jondwhite to pose as the gatekeeper of "libertarian communism" while at the same time subscribing to an impossibilist, electoral, perspective...
Yet that "electoral
Yet that "electoral perspective" was also prescribed by Lenin & the Comintern for affiliating communist parties. This article is a whitewash insofar as it ignores the reformism advocated by Lenin & the Comintern - ie, that CPs should support parliamentarism and 'their' Labour parties - policies opposed from the start by Sylvia Pankhurst & Guy Aldred in the UK and others elsewhere. The article cites a few ultra-radical abstract phrases that were at complete odds with the practice and intentions of many participants - and which were the subject of heated debate. It ignores that dispute and portrays the speedy degeneration of Comintern as merely a tragic force of circumstance. Rather than the glorious flowering painted by the article it might be seen rather as the beginning of Bolshevik opportunism and counter-revolution worldwide. These articles deal with disagreement between Lenin/Comintern policy prescribed for UK communists and anti-parliamentarians such as Pankhurst, Whitehead etc;
Insofar as the article is just a leninist apologist/revisionist view of history it does seem a bit pointless to host such things here - even if it is presented under the guise of a supposedly more lib com friendly, critical & radical left communist angle. Ironic to see on a libertarian communist site an article that actually airbrushes from history the more libertarian communist elements who criticised Comintern reformism.
Red Marriott, the Terms of
Red Marriott, the Terms of Admission into Communist International, aka 21 Conditions for affiliating Communist Parties, were only adopted at the Second Congress. They specifically reject working with reformist parties (like Labour):
"7. It is the duty of parties wishing to belong to the Communist International to recognise the need for a complete and absolute break with reformism and “Centrist” policy, and to conduct propaganda among the party membership for that break. Without this, a consistent communist policy is impossible." (Comintern, 1920)
And where they do mention parliamentary factions, it states these should serve "revolutionary propaganda and agitation" and be purged of "unreliable elements", "reformists" and "centrists” (see points 2 and 11). So hardly an "electoral perspective", but the Second Congress did open the way for a further slip into parliamentarism later on. Here is what the article actually says regarding the Second Congress:
"The Second Congress, held a year later, was more representative of the forces that had rallied to, and were taking steps to organise as a result of, the revolutionary wave. It also has to be recognised that by 1920 the tide had begun to turn against the revolution and the start of the future degeneration of the Comintern was evident."
That last sentence says it well I think.
Onto Lenin. In 1919, the year of the First Congress, Lenin had the following to say to Pankhurst:
"What if in a certain country those who are Communists by their convictions and their readiness to carry on revolutionary work, sincere partisans of Soviet power (the “Soviet system”, as non-Russians sometimes call it), cannot unite owing to disagreement over participation in Parliament? I should consider such disagreement immaterial at present, since the struggle for Soviet power is the political struggle of the proletariat in its highest, most class-conscious, most revolutionary form. It is better to be with the revolutionary workers when they are mistaken over some partial or secondary question than with the “official” socialists or Social-Democrats, if the latter are not sincere, firm revolutionaries, and are unwilling or unable to conduct revolutionary work among the working masses, but pursue correct tactics in regard to that partial question. And the question of parliamentarism is now a partial, secondary question." (Lenin, 1919)
So while he personally advocated "revolutionary parliamentarism" (using parliament as a tribune to denounce capitalism), he saw his disagreement with the abstentionists as "immaterial", a "secondary question". A year later, in time for the Second Congress, he did change his mind:
"It is likewise quite obvious—and the foregoing arguments bear this out—that the advocacy, even if with reservations, by the Dutch and the other “Lefts” of refusal to participate in parliaments is fundamentally wrong and detrimental to the cause of the revolutionary proletariat. [...] Criticism—the most keen, ruthless and uncompromising criticism—should be directed, not against parliamentarianism or parliamentary activities, but against those leaders who are unable—and still more against those who are unwilling—to utilise parliamentary elections and the parliamentary rostrum in a revolutionary and communist manner." (Lenin, 1920)
Despite this however, the 21 Conditions did not attack the abstentionists (only the "reformists" and "centrists”). It wasn't really until the Third Congress that "revolutionary parliamentarism" became compulsory (although there were still tendencies challenging that). But even then, a distinction should be made between "revolutionary parliamentarism" and a purely "electoral perspective".
Quote: But even then, a
Really? So which does the ICT practice? Leftist parties (though not the invariant SPGB) still use Lenin's views to justify their electoral perspective as a tactic for revolutionary goals.
The quotes from Lenin confirm my previous comments. Whether you agree with that view or not, it's clearly misleading and self-serving to omit from history that whole dispute; you say "the 1919 Congress is the starting point for revolutionary praxis today" yet gloss over the most "revolutionary praxis" of that era to try to perpetuate the myth of The Great Lenin and his Heroic Party.
The article says: ICT/CWO
The article says:
But Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder, was written April 1920: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/index.htm
Open Letter to Comrade Lenin was also written in 1920, although not published until 1921 in Workers Dreadnought: https://www.marxists.org/archive/gorter/1920/open-letter/index.htm
Are we talking about only the 'official' policies adopted at congress, ignoring the de-facto leadership of the comintern's very clear demands to support the Labour Party electorally (albeit as an independent force, I guess 'vote labour with no illusions') in 1920, or was that a good idea at the time?
Red Marriott wrote: Really?
The ICT is anti-parliamentarian.
That doesn't mean we conflate revolutionary parliamentarism with electoralism. They are not the same (even if we would disagree with both).
Yes. But most leftists have also slipped from revolutionary parliamentarism to straight up electoralism.
What was Lenin saying in 1920?
1. That "the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that." (Lenin, 1920)
2. That by calling workers to "vote for Henderson and against Lloyd George, [workers] will certainly give me a hearing. And I shall be able to explain in a popular manner, not only why the Soviets are better than a parliament and why the dictatorship of the proletariat is better than the dictatorship of Churchill (disguised with the signboard of bourgeois “democracy”), but also that, with my vote, I want to support Henderson in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man—that the impending establishment of a government of the Hendersons will prove that I am right, will bring the masses over to my side, and will hasten the political death of the Hendersons and the Snowdens just as was the case with their kindred spirits in Russia and Germany." (Lenin, 1920)
So in his 1920 approach you can already see the political manoeuvring that would become prevalent at the Third and Fourth Congresses and open up the way for opportunism. Through such manoeuvring many Trotskyists have eventually ended up as Labour Party cheerleaders. But that's not what Lenin was saying in 1919, when he upheld the view that "it would be sheer nonsense to think that the most profound revolution in human history, the first case in the world of power being transferred from the exploiting minority to the exploited majority, could take place within the time-worn framework of the old, bourgeois, parliamentary democracy." (Lenin, 1919)
The problem is that just like the so-called "Leninists" a lot of anarchists have built up this spectre of a monolithic and unchanging practice of Lenin, the Bolsheviks and of the Comintern. There is a difference even between 1919 and 1920. Let alone between 1919 and 1921. In order to understand the process of degeneration - of how the Comintern, from clearly agitating for a "World Federative Republic of Soviets", ended up becoming a tool of the Russian state - you got to tease out these differences. Dismissing Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the Comintern as "reformists", and as if all three were simply one and the same, does the opposite.
Quote: The problem is that
That’s cos the anarchists and non-leninist communists are generally more materialist in their analysis of these events than the self-proclaimed ‘historical-materialist’ Marxists. Rather than analyse merely by conference statements, Lenin’s pamphlets and other bureaucratese, they analyse what was actually happening within the concrete social relations of the time. There we see a consistent process of state-formation, Cheka repression, concentration of power within a party elite, banning of dissent both within and outside the Party, repression of workers strikes, Kronstadt etc. That is a more materialist analysis than your cherry-picking abstract phrases that never translated into reality.
Red Marriott wrote: There we
All of these developments happened within the borders of the RSFSR. Left Communists do not dismiss these - in fact, they were some of the first ones to analyse and criticise them (see for example the articles from the 1918 journal Kommunist that we are in the process of translating).
What is completely missing from your analysis is the international situation (the ebbing of the revolutionary wave by 1921, post-war capitalist reconstruction) and the material situation within the RSFSR (war and famine). Of course these are not convenient, because it seems you'd rather blame everything on the "reformism" of "Bolshevism" than look at the balance of class forces across the globe in years 1917-27.
Or, as the article puts it....
"Left isolated, with its productive capacity shattered, war and famine rampant and many of the best Communists dead, capitalism rapidly reasserted itself within the territory of RSFSR/Soviet Union. [...] By the mid 1920s the revolutionary wave had entirely ebbed away. Soviets existed in name only and official Communist parties had transformed into support mechanisms for the Soviet Union where capitalist restoration was proceeding inexorably with the party/state becoming the lead agent in generating and benefiting from state capitalism."
But then certain of the
But then certain of the inherited ideas and organisational practices of Lenin and the Bolshevik tendency within Social Democracy were perhaps more likely to result in the promotion of 'the Party' and it's apparatus over independent working class organisation and activity in such 'unfavourable' objective circumstances than others?
Situations will always be
Situations will always be 'unfavourable' for revolutions – that would equally true if, eg, autonomous soviets & workers committees had successfully defended themselves against Bolshevik domination or if the Makhnovist movement had done the same. But what is crucial to making revolution is the social relations one tries to create within it. As Spikymike notes the Bolsheviks imported wholesale the Kautskyist statist, hierarchical conceptions & practice that had been forged in decades of clandestinity and which defined their relationship to the working class and rest of society.
You appear to be saying ‘yes, we admit Lenin’s demanding that communists tail-end the Labour Party as a supposed consciousness-raising exercise to enlighten the proles was reformist but it was, alas, forced on him by international conditions’. But it didn’t force those reformist views on Pankhurst, Aldred, Whitehead etc who, with much more clarity and firsthand knowledge, argued against Lenin’s counter-revolutionary reformist orders.
This article serves only to try to legitimate and preserve in aspic the supposed purity of the Bolshevik ancestry/pedigree left communists are absurdly obsessed with protecting. Its deliberate omissions and evasions are far more revealing than the article itself.
Certain leftovers from the
Certain leftovers from the Second International did not help, I agree with that Spikymike. But ultimately it was the failure of the revolution to spread that gave birth to the monster that was the Soviet Union. All the communists at the time knew that with no revolution in other parts of the world the soviet experiment was gonna fail one way or another. "In Russia, the problem could only be posed. It could not be solved in Russia." Even if the Bolsheviks had pitch perfect politics, that would still have happened. Because socialism in one country is impossible.
Red Marriott, you are incorrect. The ebbing of the revolutionary wave did change the views of Pankhurst, Aldred and Whitehead. By the 1930s Pankhurst was a supporter of Haile Selassie and a Labourist, Aldred was standing in local elections and engaging in popular frontism, Whitehead simply became a fascist.
If, as you say, the original sin in Lenin, which pre-determined his political development, was "Kautskyism", then what was it in Pankhurst, Aldred and Whitehead? What was it that made them into monarchists, fascists and electoralists? Where did they inherit their "statist, hierarchical conceptions & practice" from?
Nothing like a bit of
Nothing like a bit of historical revisionism:
Bakunin was expelled by a rigged conference organised by Marx and Engels. The bulk of the membership were federalists (proto-syndicalists) and so the "Marxist" rump died a death because all the active sections left in protest at Marx's imposing "a Marxist approach" -- which was, let us not forget, creating political parties using electioneering as their main tactic. And as predicted by Bakunin, this became reformist -- as the Second International proved beyond doubt.
The soviet regime was by then a party dictatorship -- and had been for at least six months. At least Zinoiviev at second congress was more honest:
Which raises the question, why is this glorification of a conference held by the rulers of a state-capitalist party-dictatorship on a libertarian communist web-site?
Dyjbas wrote: Certain
So there is the failure of the revolution to spread in 1918, and there is also the failure of the revolution to spread in 1920. Lenin's attempt to impose parliamentary activity and tail-end the Labour Party in 1920 was obviously going to contribute to the 'failure of the revolution to spread' too, the KPD/KAPD split, the failure to support the Munich uprising etc..
By the mid-1930s Stalin was supplying Mussolini to support Italy's colonial war against Ethiopia - this geopolitical decision was closely related to the decision to support Weimar Germany with arms and supplies as early as 1920. You had people like CLR James organising against the Italian invasion in the 1930s London, without supporting Selassie, but Pankhurst's shift wasn't purely due to the failure of the revolutionary wave - it was initially an example of a (not properly internationalist) anti-war position. Lenin's Right to the Self-Determination of Nations, written in 1914, not 1920, has been used to justify similar positions for the last century, for everyone from Selassie to Mengistu.
Ahhh conditional support.
On the USSR and Mussolini: https://libcom.org/library/soviet-appeasement-collective-security-italo-ethiopian-war-1935-1936
I'm not going to defend the
I'm not going to defend the right of nations to self-determination, the dictatorship of the party, tactical manoeuvres, or stuff like the Treaty of Rapallo. These were features of the aforementioned degeneration of Soviet Russia and the Comintern (some forced by objective circumstances, some a result of political errors, some both). Listing off all these features is not particularly enlightening because I'm well aware of these as I'm sure are most of the people reading this.
The fundamental questions here really is whether one considers the formation of the Third International a key point in the development of revolutionary proletarian organisation (which doesn't mean taking it as a model to reproduce - but a lesson to learn from), or completely dismisses it as counter-revolutionary from the get go (which it seems is the position of Red Marriott, Mike Harman and Anarcho).
Different communist tendencies were expelled or left the Comintern at different points and for different reasons. For Pankhurst for example, the Comintern became an instrument of counter-revolution from the Second Congress (1920) onward. The KAPD left after the Third Congress (1921). It took longer for the Comintern to get rid of the Italian Left Communists (who had a majority in the PCd'I until 1924 and fought against degeneration from within the Comintern) - they were expelled in 1926. All these groups and individuals, despite eventually coming up against what the Comintern became, at one point did see it as a positive reference point towards world revolution.
While the article doesn't draw a clear cut off point (degeneration was a process after all), it does state (and I am repeating myself now) that already "by 1920 the tide had begun to turn against the revolution and the start of the future degeneration of the Comintern was evident" and that from 1921 onwards the Comintern adopted "confused and increasingly counter-revolutionary policies [which had] nothing in common with the proletarian internationalism of the First Congress ."
Dyjbas wrote: I'm not going
Interesting trying to blame Lenin's Right to Nations of Self-Determination on the degeneration of Soviet Russia when it was written in 1914. In it he specifically argues that the working class should give conditional support to the national bourgeois. If we look at either the development of capitalism in Russia or China since, or the role taken by national bourgeois post-war (often joining forces with the colonial state to crush the local working class, before and after independence, such as in Kenya), and the support that Leninists have given for these 'leaders' over the past century, there is a direct line to many of these positions from this document, including the straw man he makes of Rosa's position.
Mike, I'm well aware that his
Mike, I'm well aware that his theory of national self-determination predates 1917 - it was one of those leftovers from the Second International days which then came to play a negative role when it was adopted by the Third International (with much resistance from the Left).
Mm while I'm not entirely
Mm while I'm not entirely against this sort of thing being up on libcom I do think there should be some sort of introductory sentence noting that a) the account is partial b) not a libertarian communist perspective. Ideally I'd add c) has been repeatedly debunked in large part by the likes of Maurice Brinton, but obv that's a bigger job than just C&P with a quick intro.
Libcom's got a broad scope of what's in its library but articles revising history to, for example, write out the already increasingly suspicious attitude of anarchist groups such as FAUD and ignoring libertarian analysis in order to present 1919 as some sort of pre-snake revolutionary Eden should have such glaring shortcomings flagged.
It's clearly indicated that
It's clearly indicated that this is the blog of the ICT. And Brinton's book doesn't talk about the Comintern, so I'm not sure what exactly does it debunk here?
No offence but most casual
No offence but most casual readers won't read that bio or necessarily be clear on why ICT's such an anomaly on Libcom even if they do. Honestly I don't get why the admins gave you this space because it actively confuses what the site is about to have you using it, and I think if you were being a little more ethical rather than having your heads turned by the opportunities of a big platform you'd not have asked to be hosted on a libertarian-communist website in the first place, but nm.
I cite Brinton because he charts the mendacious approach, manipulative tactics and nasty ideological roots that characterised Leninism from the get go. His writing on the 1917-19 period makes it clear there was a direction of travel which was already fucking things up from well before the Comintern and debunks any idea that the gathering itself was entirely on the level. A view which was ably supported by Brinton and Goldman's reports on their experiences the following year, and underlined by the wholesale abandoning of the project by anarchists in favour of the IWMA by 1922.
Rob, if I remember right, we
Rob, if I remember right, we didn't ask to have a blog on libcom - we were approached by the libcom collective to set one up.
It's pretty clear this is an ICT blog. It says so at the top ("Internationalist Communist Tendency's blog") it says so in the info box on the right ("Blog of the Internationalist Communist Tendency"), it's in the tags, and it says so in the "posted by" bit. Don't know how much clearer you can get.
The Brinton text deserves a more in-depth response which I'm not gonna provide here. As a side note however, Bolsheviks and Workers' Control was proofread by a founding member of the CWO (who was then in Solidarity). The other text, Spartakism to National Bolshevism, linked here by Mike, was actually written by a founding member of the CWO (who, again, was then in Solidarity). So it's not like we're not familiar with these arguments....
Dyjbas wrote: Red Marriott,
I’m not talking about the ebbing aftermath, I’m talking about the debates occurring during the time that the Bolsheviks described as the eve of the world revolution and which is the article’s subject. During which Lenin was already prescribing reformist tactics and was correctly argued against by Pankhurst & co – who retained in that moment their radical view while Lenin & co didn’t. Which makes your vague explanation of greater historical forces excusing Lenin’s lapse unconvincing and imply a mechanical determinism denying agency to Lenin. What happened to Pankhurst & co in the following decades is a quite different question and I wouldn’t deny that they all were affected by receding revolutionary hopes over the decades.
.. which you apparently agree with;
While Lenin was a consistent statist and hierarch Aldred retained for decades a revolutionary outlook – unlike Lenin, he didn’t start spouting parliamentarism in 1920 during a revolutionary era at the first whiff of ‘unfavourable circumstances’. Iirc Pankhurst became an exiled pan-African nationalist or similar in later years. Whitehead was for decades a loyal Stalinist CP bureaucrat, so retaining his own warped conception of revolutionary optimism until cynicism with Stalinism led him into the Labour party and fascism in old age. Your question is really only a rhetorical diversion but one could suggest that each case is particular; of course a neat mechanical historical causation of an overarching History is ideologically tidier and more convenient but not always very useful.
For Pankhurst – after her activist life in the East End her growing distance from working class life probably had as much to do with it; marrying and running a tea shop in Epping Forest, then emigrating. Aldred remained a revolutionary for decades, increasingly obscure, in old age led into opportunist alliances with dubious funders. Whitehead, disillusioned with the cynical hypocrisy and manipulations of Stalinist bureaucracy, the Purges etc. The later lifestyles of bourgeois radical, marginalised impoverished activist & pamphleteer and Party bureaucrat probably created a distance for all three from working class life.
Other anti-parliamentarian critics of Lenin – eg, Pannekoek & Gorter - remained more politically consistent till their deaths. So such diversity doesn’t support your attempted defence of Lenin’s reformism. Why was Lenin unable at the crucial moment – the moment his Party believed was the brink of global revolution - to avoid lapsing into the worst reformism? That the international situation became less favourable may account for his choice but it doesn’t excuse, justify or even really explain it as you imply it does. It’s a mystical rather than materialist view.
But people are not mere puppets of an overarching determinist History, they have some agency and make varied choices. On the one hand Lenin & the Party are portrayed as the most clear sighted vanguard of 1917-1919, seizing History by the throat – but come 1920 they are helpless dupes of this same History. Plenty of critics of Bolshevism retained a revolutionary view during that period and Lenin argued against them; nobody was helpless before the tide of history – except, perhaps Lenin’s Cheka victims. But even one of those victims, Party veteran Miasnikov, http://libcom.org/tags/gavriii-llich-miasnikov still retained a revolutionary stance even as the Party set the Cheka dogs on him, jailed & exiled him – merely for daring to speak criticism to the Party from 1920. So to try to excuse Lenin as a victim of History is unconvincing and an insult to those who really did, for varying periods of time (all far longer than Lenin & co), retain a “revolutionary praxis” against the reformism, diktats and repression of the Bolsheviks. And as MH suggests above, the Bolshevik counter-revolution in policy & practice could only encourage the ebbing of the revolutionary wave. Genuine “revolutionary praxis” had to quickly oppose Bolshevism and it did; this article airbrushes that praxis for an idealised left-comm family pedigree to satisfy its obsession with its political bloodlines.
The bog-standard left-comm crap about the ‘sad historical tragedy of unfavourable circumstances’ as supposed ‘explanation’ for increasing Bolshevik repression & reformism is pathetic. After over 100 years, your Bolshevik apologetics and deceitful historical airbrushing echoes on the ideological terrain the counter-revolution begun by the Bolsheviks.
Perhaps the only good reason for its presence here is the critical shredding this lousy article has deservedly attracted. But its proper resting place should be in the dustbin of history.
Red, you're being a bit
Red, you're being a bit dishonest because all the individuals you draw on - Pankhurst, Aldred, Whitehead, Pannekoek, Gorter, Miasnikov - were in or around the Comintern. They all recognised it as a a key point in the development of revolutionary proletarian organisation - especially at the time of the First Congress.
With the exception of Aldred, they were not anarchists. They were Left Communists and for the most part, during the revolutionary wave, vehemently disagreed with anarchism.
So I'm afraid if you wanna put Left Communism into the dustbin of history, you gotta put your heroes there too.
Quote: These were features of
How was the right of nations to self-determination a "degeneration" of the USSR and Comintern? It was something Marx and Engels talked about, and Lenin put emphasis on during his entire militancy.
Quote: Red, you're being a
Another rhetorical diversion; yes, they initially saw it as "a key point" but revised their opinions quite quickly after encountering the reality and seeing its development. Pankhurst & Whitehead stopped being revolutionaries - but the rest all developed explicit critiques of Comintern policy, Bolshevism & Lenin. So who's being dishonest?
If you don't have better arguments than such feeble remarks, stop now. But you are mistaking a criticism of a poor article for a blanket condemnation of all left-communism; that may say more about your way of thinking than mine.
They "revised their opinions
They "revised their opinions quite quickly after encountering the reality and seeing its development" - isn't the development the point? It's clear to me the article is saying 'started well, ended badly'. And Lenin and Trotsky's policies were among the things that made things go badly, but so were the actual material conditions existing in the world.
The question then is was it worth the attempt, as Pankhurst, Gorter and the rest believed, or was it not worth the bother?
If the question is 'why was Lenin wrong when other people managed to be right?' then I'd say that the Bolsheviks fusing themselves with the Russian state made it extremely difficult for the Bolsheviks to remain on a proletarian basis. Becoming managers of Russian national capital made them much more likely to privilege the short-term interests of the Russian state (and Russian national capital) over the world revolution. That isn't a problem Gorter or Pankhurst had to deal with. And it shouldn't need to be a problem, but it's one of the 'Second International' failings of the Bolsheviks in my view that they thought that it was a reasonable thing that they became a 'state party'. That isn't how the (majority of the) Communist Left now sees the relationship between the organisation of revolutionaries and the councils.
When the ComIntern was founded (2nd March 1919, new style), it was less than two years since the beginning of the Russian revolution (International Working Women's Day, 8th March 1917, new style). That's not a lot of time to adapt and work out the best way forward. We have massive clarity with hindsight and can see where a lot of wrong decisions were made, a lot of long wrong tactics formulated, a lot of opportunities missed and a lot of wrong conceptions promulgated. This article isn't saying 'the ComIntern was founded and afterwards everything is great'. It talks about 'increasingly confused and counter-revolutionary policies' and how there came to be 'pressures on Communist Parties to act as local agents for the Russian state rather than advocates of working class independence and international revolution'. I'll say again, this process of rapid degeneration was a result both of the failure of the world revolution and the policy decisions of the Bolsheviks. But those policy-decisions were themselves conditioned by the failure of the world revolution. Had the revolution successfully spread to Germany then the world, then the 'right of nations to self-determination' would have been consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs, no matter what Lenin wrote in 1914, and arguments about whether the Labour Party should have been supported 'as the rope supports the hangman' would be moot.
But the revolution didn't spread; and that is what caused the degeneration of the ComIntern, the material conditions not 'bad ideas'.
The Bolsheviks should never have fused themselves with the state - surely we all agree on that? Having fused themselves with the state, they acted in a conservative manner - again, surely we agree there? Furthermore, the ComIntern became a tool of Russian foreign policy rather than world revolution - again, that is surely uncontroversial?
Left Comms would see these as being consequences of both the material conditions (isolated revolution leads to identification with the state as a proletarian bastion) and a lack of understanding about the role of the organisation of revolutionaries (fusion with state leads to abandonment of class terrain in favour of managing national capital and 'foreign policy' concerns).
Where I think we would be more generous to the Bolsheviks than most Anarchists would be is in saying that the Bolsheviks were making up their policy on the spot. Yes, Luxemburg was right about national self-determination and Lenin was wrong. The ICT and the ICC both support Luxemburg not Lenin on the rights of nations. Yes Gorter was right about the tactics Lenin advising for western Europe not being correct. The ICT and the ICC both have positions like Gorter's (and Bordiga's) not Lenin's. But this doesn't mean Lenin, or the Bolsheviks, or the ComIntern were wrong about everything. In 1919, the revolution in Russia had begun to degenerate and internationally, the moment had probably been lost for a successful revolution in Germany but the last few months of 1918 and the first few months of 1919 arguably mark the turning point. The world revolution had reached its highest point and was starting to fail. It produced some of the clearest and most revolutionary politics the world has ever seen, but as it peaked and started to flow backwards, all the mistakes and backward conceptions and compromises and failures to pick out the best path forward came to dominate both in Russia and in the ComIntern. Not that the failures were caused by these wrong conceptions, except in tangential ways. I think that the failure of the revolution in Germany, for example, has more to do with failures by Luxemburg and the German Lefts than failures by Lenin and Trotsky. Again the fact that Luxemburg was (in my opinion) 'wrong' on organisation doesn't mean she wasn't 'right' on national self-determination. The two aren't causally linked.
Well this has gone on far longer than I intended so I think I should stop there.
To be generous I'd say that
To be generous I'd say that some of our communist political tendencies have taken a lot longer than others to learn some of the lessons of the failure of the revolutionary wave referred to here (both objective and subjective) and seem still unable to let go of their past political heroes, placing more emphasis on claims to historical continuity than is justified today.... And since the UK Solidarity group was mentioned I recall that arguments about Lenin were still ongoing long after the departure of their Marxist critics as here: https://libcom.org/library/fresh-look-lenin-andy-brown
Good post slothjabber. Red
Good post slothjabber.
Red, you do realise that our tendency, and Left Communism in general, developed out of the critique of Comintern policy, Bolshevism and Lenin right? A bunch of the material hosted on libcom about the Communist Left in Italy, Germany, Russia, Britain and Poland was written, translated and unearthed by us.
You seem to be ascribing positions to us which we don't actually uphold. Yes, unlike most anarchists, we don't dismiss the Comintern and the Bolsheviks as counter-revolutionary from the get go, but that doesn't mean we parrot and defend their every twist and turn either, and we do make it clear that it degenerated into a tool of counter-revolution. It means we critique where the Bolsheviks and the Comintern went wrong but also point out where they were right. At their best, Pankhurst, Aldred, Whitehead, Pannekoek, Gorter and Miasnikov did the same.
Because in the context of the imperialist epoch, national self-determination means the subordination of the proletariat to the national bourgeoisie. "In the era of the unleashing of this imperialism, national wars are no longer possible. National interests serve only as the pretext for putting the laboring masses of the people under the domination of their mortal enemy, imperialism." (Luxemburg, 1915)
The standpoint of Luxemurg is
The standpoint of Luxemurg is literately irrelevant to what I'm trying to say, it does not change if Lenin believed in the rights of nations to self-determination or not. He criticized Luxemburgs line way before the October Revolution and the formation of Comintern, so how was it a product of a "degeneration"? I'm not trying to argue if Lenin or Luxemburg was correct, I am saying that someone is pushing a false narrative on Lenin and the Comintern.
The point was I think that
The point was I think that the adoption of Lenin's wrong ideas was a consequence of the degeneration of the world revolution and therefore one of the negative influences the Bolsheviks had on the ComIntern. Not that Lenin came to that position because of the degeneration of the revolution.
He came to that position because of an incomplete break with the politics of the previous epoch, when there was an argument for national self-determination, that Marx elaborated in regard to the possibility of Ireland breaking from Britain and Poland from Russia, for example.
But that is in the context of the 19th Century not the 20th. If the task of the working class is not to fight for reforms inside capitalism but to destroy it, then national self-determination doesn't come into it. There is no national road to socialism. Lenin couldn't see in this instance that what may have been correct in 1870 was not correct in 1919.
Slothjabber got it. Look at
Slothjabber got it. Look at Turkey 1921 or China 1927 if you want to see the consequences of the Comintern's adoption of Lenin's ideas on national self-determination, of allying with the national bourgeoisie in the imperialist epoch.
Yes, slothjabber, I can agree
Yes, slothjabber, I can agree with much of what you posted on the previous page but that is considerably more critical of Bolshevism than the article is. But then if there was such an speedy degeneration of the Comintern all it really boils down to is an obvious conclusion that ‘in principle it’s good to hold international meetings at high points of class struggle and revolution’. No one here has ever denied that.
Yes, I know all that. I even put some articles about/by left communists in libcom library some years ago; http://libcom.org/library/left-wing-communism-britain-1917-21an-infantile-disorder-bob-jones
But I see your partial critique of Bolshevism as late and insufficient, as previously explained.
slothjabber wrote: He came
Lenin's position is not the same as Marx's though.
Marx's position is fairly clear here:
If we try to boil down Marx's main argument:
1. There was massive antagonism between English and Irish workers in the UK.
2. Irish workers had been impoverished by continued English colonial rule in Ireland
3. For there to be a social revolution in England, there needed to be proper solidarity between English workers and Irish workers against the English ruling class in Ireland rather than chauvinist support or indifference to colonial rule.
What Marx very specifically does not talk about there, is Irish workers siding with the Irish national bourgeois. Maybe he says that elsewhere, I'm sure someone else can find it if they're motivated. It seems quite possible for Marx to take that position, as he did supporting the North in the American Civil War, but in both cases the positions are based on what might increase working class solidarity, not Lenin's geopolitical opportunism and formalistic assertions.
Similarly, Spanish workers in the 1930s should have consistently supported the end of Spain's colonial domination over Morocco - had they done so, it's possible the Moors would have joined them in 1936-39, or at least sat it out instead of fighting for Franco.
Or British workers should have supported the end of British colonial control of Kenya (and Bahrain, and Jamaica, and everywhere else). Possibly if they'd done so in Kenya it would have been harder for the UK to break the massive strike wave in 1945-1950, put hundreds of thousands in concentration camps in the '50s, or send marines to crush a mutiny on behalf of Kenyatta under independence.
This is basic international working class solidarity, it does not tell anyone to line up with the new national bourgeois.
Lenin even admits this point in the pamphlet, although he claims Marx advocated for a cross class alliance later which seems uncited:
Should also add that Rosa is not against 'self-determination' in the colloquial sense of people being able to determine their own lives - she simply says this is not possible within the framework of capitalism. This nevertheless does not indicate either support or indifference to colonialism in the slightest - again this is clear when you read what she actually said rather than Lenin's response to it. i.e. I don't Rosa's position that national self-determination would be a sham (something that foreshadowed 'neo-colonial' independence half a century later) means that she wouldn't support opposition to the colonial state or national militaries in the slightest - something that is often attributed to people who 'oppose national self-determination', not really the position.
But what are mass strikes with mass meetings of thousands of people, self-organisation against state violence such as pass laws, strikes which face massacres by police, blockades and strike action against militarism? I'd personally say they comprise part of the task of the working class (even if not explicitly communist), both pure self-defence/international solidarity and opening up the possibility for the struggle to be extended.
slothjabber wrote: They
The vast majority of communists in the UK, Netherlands or Germany did not have first hand information on what was going on in Russia, second hand information was provided by Lenin/The Bolsheviks, the local bourgeois press, and I'm not sure who else.
So the impression of the revolution in 1917-1919 from outside Russia, and the reality of what was going on in Russia, would have been very different. This is why Emma Goldman's book is called 'My Disillusionment in Russia', nor 'Confirmation of my suspicions in Russia'.
Therefore while I think it makes sense to be strict with the chronology of the positions Lenin took both to Russia and internationally, people internationally were operating on partial information weeks, months, or years out of date - they might have been around at the time, but they had a lot less information than we do now.
Mike Harman wrote: ... This
I'd regard all of this as working class self-organisation; 'nationalism', or even the 'rights of nations to self-determination' doesn't come into it. Nationalism is allying with a bourgeoisie that speaks your language against workers who don't. Making common cause with workers who speak your language, against a bourgeoisie that also speaks your language, is not 'nationalism'. Even less so making common cause with workers who don't speak your language against a bourgeoisie that does.
Red Marriott wrote: But I see
I think early signs of the degeneration were already visible by spring of 1918 and by 1921 the process of counter-revolution definitely begins. Is that too late? What do you think?
Bolsheviks tried to make the best of a bad situation. They knew that without world revolution, Soviet Russia was doomed. And after the revolution, each year of isolation brought them closer to doom.
While I agree that by the 1920s that's how the principle of self-determination came to be applied, Lenin originally formulated his theory in the context of the nations oppressed by the Russian Empire. For him the "Russian Socialists who fail to demand freedom of secession for Finland, Poland, the Ukraine, etc., etc.—are behaving like chauvinists, like lackeys of the blood-and-mud-stained imperialist monarchies and the imperialist bourgeoisie." (Lenin, 1916)
In other words, it was a tactical question. For Lenin, denying self-determination meant strengthening Russian chauvinism. Whereas for Luxemburg, accepting self-determination meant strengthening Polish nationalism.
Dyjbas wrote: While I agree
Except once again, this is in 1914:
This is nothing to do with colonial oppression or international working class solidarity that might immediately precipitate a revolution, it's to do with bourgeois modernisation under a national leadership.
Apart from anything else, the big problem here for Lenin, is that he sees colonies of the Imperialist countries as 'pre-capitalist' whereas colonisation had already brought those countries into the world capitalist system - usually via various forms of plantation forced or semi-free labour for cash crop export (sugar in the Caribbean, cotton in America, coffee in East Africa, rubber in Malaya). This is something that Marx had already noted in Capital, but which Lenin overlooks.
slothjabber wrote: I'd
OK me too, I think that trying to get pass laws revoked, or a mass strike for shorter hours or a pay rise, can be reasonably described as fighting for reforms - although we can distinguish these from reformism as such by calling them 'fighting for concessions' maybe.
So in that case would you consider Marx's remarks on Ireland - at least the ones I quoted, to be an expression of international working class solidarity rather than support for the 'rights of nations to self-determination'? There is plenty of Marx's international political opinions to disagree with (the French need a smashing or whatever), but I prefer to disagree with what he actually said, or note inconsistencies, as opposed to Lenin who misquotes him to make a completely different point.
The point being of course that if we think Marx mostly formulated British-Irish solidarity as a call for working class solidarity, then it provides an example of an early alternative framework for anti-colonial solidarity from that of 'the right of nations to self-determination'.
Mike Harman wrote: Except
But as it says in the article by Lenin that I linked to, "the difference between the revolutionary Social-Democrats of Russia and the Polish Social-Democrats on the question of self-determination came to the surface as early as 1903." I.e. a long time before 1914.
As a side note, you can trace the opposition of the Polish Social-Democrats to national liberation all the way back to the 1880s. See e.g. this and this.
Dyjbas wrote: Mike Harman
The problem is that you (and Lenin) are conflating opposition to colonialism from workers in the colonialist/imperialist state, with support for the nationalist bourgeois in the colonised state, and calling both of these 'support for national liberation'. This is the rhetorical sleight of hand that Lenin uses to attack Rosa Luxemburg's position, and which forms much of the basis of Leninist support for national bourgeois right up until today. However you can see in the sections I quoted, that he somewhat admits that Marx took the 'oppose colonialism' position, not the 'support national bourgeois' one.
So it is not the case that Marx was correct in 1870 and Lenin was wrong in 1914 with identical positions, but that Marx and Lenin had different positions which Lenin pretends are the same to dishonestly attack Luxemburg.
If we can admit that Marx's position was not the same as Lenin, and whether it's perfect or not, it does point towards an anti-colonial internationalist solidarity, as opposed to a reactionary nationalist anti-imperialism, then we can ask to what extent does Marx's framework for understanding this question (primarily from the standpoint of the solidarity or lack of it between geographically/nationally stratified groups of workers) provides an alternative to Lenin's, rather than simply being 'of a different time'.
Mike Harman wrote: The
I don't. There is a difference between opposition to national oppression and support for the national bourgeoisie.
I disagree with the so called "Leninist" support for national liberation. I think Luxemburg was on the right track.
What do you mean by "anti-colonial internationalist solidarity"? Like with "anti-imperialism", "anti-colonialism" is often code word for support for the national bourgeoisie.
slothjabber wrote: I'll say
i think the idea that the revolution failed because it failed to spread is massively flawed, if the revolution had spread in the same from as in did in russia, the centralising tendencies would have still been there, the councils would have still been under the control of parties not the workers, the party that took power would have still sort to crush other organisations on the left, because those where things that happened from the start of the revolution, and if that form of revolution succeed across the world we'd still be in need of another one
Yes, if it had we would. But
Yes, if it had we would.
But why would it? Are workers incapable of revolting without bureaucrats telling them how?
Radicalgraffiti, for one, had
Radicalgraffiti, for one, had the revolution been successful in Germany (which is what everyone was hoping for) the political makeup of the Comintern would have been different. In fact, the First Congress was originally to take place either in Berlin or in the Netherlands, but with the crushing of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919, that plan had to be changed.
We can play "what-ifs" with history but had the revolution spread, it would not have spread in exactly the same way as in did in Russia (because the material conditions and the political forces involved were different in different countries). With successful revolutions in more than one country though, the Comintern would not have been so easily transformed into a tool of the Russian party and eventually the Russian state.
You are confusing the final outcome with a process of degeneration. The working class in Russia was in control of the soviets (it gradually lost it over the course of the Civil War), the Bolsheviks did work together with the Left SRs, Menshevik-Internationalists, Maximalists and various anarchists (relations with some of these groups only broke around spring 1918, after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk).
Dyjbas wrote: What do you
I gave specific examples above, which I don't believe you've responded to, here they are again:
Ok, but all you've said there
Ok, but all you've said there is that
That's all well and good, but it doesn't answer the question of what this support should have looked like. For many so called anti-colonialists it did mean supporting (mostly by words, sometimes by deeds) the rising national bourgeoisie. Whereas internationalists affirm that "the main enemy is at home" and that no support should be given to the bourgeoisie anywhere.
i don't think i am
this came up before recently in fact i replied to you that time too
unless you have a better source, that also contradicts the one you cited last time then i think the evidence shows the workers were never in control of the 1917 soviets, from the start decisions were made by executive committees etc, obviously it got worse over time, but most of the problems were there form the start
this also why i don't think if the revolution had spread that would have solved every thing, cause a lot of wat was wrong wasn't about how isolated russia was or what resources where available
Radicalgraffiti, I responded
Radicalgraffiti, I responded to that very comment of yours on that thread (which you did not reply to).
Objecting to the existence of executive committees for bodies comprising hundreds, if not thousands, of workers is a bit ridiculous. You might as well object to strike committees as "authoritarian" too.
you do understand what anarchist means right? i guess not
i agree with Mike Harman's responses on the other thread, i didn't really see the point in repeating them
Dyjbas wrote: That's all
In Kenya the rising national bourgeoisie on the part of Kenyatta was trying to call off strikes in the 1940s and supporting a nominally non-racist pass law rather than its abolition. The British absolutely misunderstood him when they arrested him, when in fact he was from the start happy to manage Kenya on behalf of the British. He was an unpopular figure until his arrest and imprisonment.
The other significant proto-bourgeois faction in Kenya were the Chiefs, who were loyalists already integrated into the colonial state, they assisted the British with forced labour in the inter-war and WWII years, then during the State of Emergency in running concentration camps. After the State of Emergency Kenyatta helped to put down the last KLFA guerrillas just before and after independence and called in British troops to put down a mutiny.
For another example we could talk about the Saigon Commune: https://libcom.org/history/articles/saigon-commune-1945
The idea that the national bourgeois supports anti-colonial movements up and until independence, then crushes them, is itself a Leninist myth that does not apply in a large number of cases. All the way back to Haiti you have Toussaint attempting to negotiate with Napoleon to run Haiti as a plantation state (based on wage labour instead of slavery but still based on export of cash crops), maintaining trade with France, putting down plantation insurrections and acting militarily against the maroons.
Amazing, I've been an admin on an internationalist website for nearly 15 years and I've never heard this! What would we do without the internationalist fraction of the communist left indeed!
In the case of Spain, the Spanish state was in control of Morocco, supporting the continued colonisation of Morocco was supporting the 'main enemy'. In Kenya the British state was in control. In Spain I think there was quite a lot of division over this question. In the UK as far as I've been able to tell there was complete indifference.
'Support' at the basic level can simply be publishing articles detailing what's happening to the extent possible, supporting working class organisation against both the British state and the emergent local ruling class. Surely you believe this is possible without giving support to the local bourgeois? Is supporting strikes and uprisings in Iran support for MEK?
Much more concretely (to give a hypothetical example for Kenya) would be things like blacking Kenyan goods from arriving in British ports or attempting to disrupt military recruitment/distribution lines. This all seems quite basic and I'm not sure why it's necessary to point it out unless you're really entirely incapable of discussing in good faith.
Mike, it does need pointing
Mike, it does need pointing out, because, like I said above, people mean different things by "anti-colonialism" (to bring it back to the previous discussion, see for example Pankhurst and her support for Haile Selassie...). I agree with this:
Although I would say working class self-organisation (so not trade unions or modern social-democratic parties, which purport to be examples of working class organisation but ultimately act against the class).
In any case, as it stands this discussion has already been derailed enough from what the topic of the article actually is...
Politically, as an
Politically, as an anarcho-syndicalist, I find this basically just bad politics.
That said, it has been a generally interesting conversation to follow.
Dyjbas wrote: Mike, it does
The problem is though that to get any acknowledgement of you about international solidarity with working class self-organisation takes about 15 replies, where your main response is to point out that lots of people conflate anti-colonial with support for national bourgeois.
We should be able to do better than accepting Leninist framing of things, then purely rejecting their conclusions, but not the flawed analysis and ahistorical approach that accompanies both the initial framing and the conclusions. Or in other words there needs to be more than a reflexive anti-Leninism/anti-nationalism in order for there to be actual communist internationalism.
Given the comintern was the biggest single promoter of supporting national bourgeois during the 20th century, beginning with the 'national liberation' of Germany as early as 1920-23 (against the German working class) I don't think it's too far off the topic of the thread.
I think I've made it pretty
I think I've made it pretty clear that international working class self-organisation is absolutely key. So does the article - it also criticises the Comintern for its support for national liberation, in contrast to the internationalism of its First Congress.
Leninistgirl, there is no
Leninistgirl, there is no false narrative here but there is in your mind a confusion between Lenin and the organisations he was in. Lenin certainly held the view that the the right of self-determination should be supported but initially this was because of his opposition to Russian nationalism ("Great Russian chauvinism") BUT he was not supported by all Bolsheviks (Piatakov, Bosch and Bukharin especially) and the right of self-determination was not part of the Bolshevik programme in October (something Rosa Luxemburg did not understand since she blamed the Bolshevik policy of self-determination for the loss of Finland and Ukraine (when in fact the Bolsheviks simply were in no position to defend those territories). Lenin's instructions over Georgia were also ignored by Stalin who re-annexed the territory. However in the Comintern Lenin revived the slogan but this time on an international level (meaning support for "anti-colonial" bourgeois forces). His position was attacked by M N Roy and Sultanzadeh in the Comintern meetings but this policy prevailed and was to have murderous consequences for the proletariat in Turkey, China and elsewhere who were mowed down by bourgeois forces which had been supported by the Comintern.