Lenin Rediscovered

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DekuScrub3's picture
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Mar 10 2015 23:38
Lenin Rediscovered

I'm about a third of the way through this 800 page book, and I've got to say I'm not at all floored like I was led to believe I would be. Maybe you have to have been deep into Trotskyism for it to have that kind of impact?

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Mar 11 2015 00:03

There was never much to be discovered in Lenin in the first place.

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Mar 11 2015 03:26

Has anyone got this in electronic form?

Devrim

Cleishbotham
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Mar 13 2015 16:36

Just bought it for £38 (yes I know!) as it was previously way beyond that (over £100 I saw). It is worth it (and I am not half way yet). It is seriously researched and gives the lie to all those who have not studied the period but still claim that "What is to be Done?" was the blueprint for Bolshevism and/or the party dictatorship later. I particularly like the way he dissects how bourgeois frauds like Bertram Wolfe distorted the picture derived from it (by making up quotes no less) and gave us what was the usually accepted version as it was when I were a lad. Hope it stays this good.

Anarcho
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Mar 14 2015 15:13

just to clarify:

Quote:
I particularly like the way he dissects how bourgeois frauds like Bertram Wolfe distorted the picture derived from it (by making up quotes no less) and gave us what was the usually accepted version as it was when I were a lad. Hope it stays this good.

Given that Marx made up and changed quotes by Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy, does that make him a "bourgeois fraud"? Or is distorting people's ideas okay when Marxists do it?

In terms of What is to Be Done?, it is a constant source of embarrassment for Leninists and so you get over the years a few trying to suggest that he did not actually mean what he so obviously did mean. That fraud Hal Draper tried it -- and failed (see H.5.4 Did Lenin abandon vanguardism?).

In terms of

Quote:
Lenin Rediscovered

, if I remember correctly it is the same sort of thing as Draper -- so Lenin is portrayed as your typical Marxist Social Democrat, quoting Kautsky's position. Which is true, of course. Lenin's position was orthodox Second International Marxism -- that is why it is authoritarian! In terms of Kautsky, the reason why we don't equate him with dictatorial state capitalism is because he refused to consistently and logically apply his own ideas -- unlike Lenin, who did.

So any defence of Lenin which proclaims him as a orthodox Social Democrat completely misses the point -- the problem is that he was one and that it was authoritarian. Lenin was not expounding anything in terms of the role of the party which the Mensheviks disagreed with, for example.

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Mar 14 2015 17:58

The problem is that most Leninists don't read things like What Is To Be Done as documents that existed in a historical context but as basically instruction manuals for how to organize today. Lars Lih does a good job putting Lenin in his historical context, which gives a new lens to understand Lenin different from the myth of various Leninists.

Now, if you think Lenin was an evil dictator dedicated to enslaving the workers then you probably won't see much of interest in Lih's work. But if you're like me and think he was a guy who did some very good things as well as some very bad things that should be read not as a basis for an ideology but as one of many 2nd international marxists grappling with the problems of theory and practice in their time then you'll find Lih very refreshing.

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Mar 14 2015 19:56

I don't think Lenin was 'evil' - just a big-head, who believed he knew better than anyone else and felt entitled to act on this delusion - just like all authoritarians. Even if, (sigh) in the 'transition period' mass murder was necessary.

donald parkinson #6

'But if you're like me and think he was a guy who did some very good things as well as some very bad things...'

OK, what very good things?

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Mar 14 2015 20:03

"Now, if you think Lenin was an evil dictator dedicated to enslaving the workers..." - donald parkinson

This is just a pure caricature of everyone (anarchist or marxist) that have critiqued Lenin.

^which has sort of become a standard line among those Marxists who insist on everybody revisiting or rediscovering the "greatness" of Lenin.

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Mar 14 2015 21:32

Edit: nvm, don't want to get involved

Baritz
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Mar 15 2015 09:32

Here's a much shorter version from the horse's mouth - Lih's, that is, not Lenin libcom arrow for bullet points)

http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/videos/lenin-rediscovered-what-is-to-be-done...

Cleishbotham
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Mar 15 2015 09:34

Endorse Donald's comment above and the importance of Lih is that he puts WITBD in its historical context. Lenin referred to it as no longer relevant in 1907 and that was the last time he ever referred to it. The point is not justify or criticise here but understand. As I have said before on these boards Lenin was profoundly affected by his historical circumstances which altered his thinking. 1914 was probably the most significant of these in terms of his revolutionary contribution but equally being Chairman of Sovnarkom took him down the road to counter-revolution. Anarcho is right in seeing that the last vestiges of social democracy in Bolshevism explain how it came to lead the revolution to state capitalism but he would be a lot more convincing if he adopted a less ahistorical approach (i.e. the roots is to be found in WITBD) and ceased to justify the bourgeois historians of the October revolution. Lih does us a service since for most people who don't spend their lives studying these things bourgeois history defines the way in which we look at the past even when we are not aware of it.

Thanks Baritz for the reference.

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Mar 15 2015 16:02

Lih's work is extraordinarily important. It helps you to see how out understanding about important historical organizations can be easily formed by simplistic reductions made by ignorant people. So Lenin quoted a sentence from the most respected marxist of Europe in 1902 in an inter-party struggle and this suppose to magically explain what happened in 1921 in Kronstadt? From Gilles Dauve to Richard Pipes this is the shocking explanation... Lih definitely demolishes this view. It is not that Lenin was vanguardist and hence he wanted a dictatorship all along. It is not that his personal "wrong" view about the concept of class consciousness led to the creation of a "wrong" socialism.

If you want a shorter but more overarching presentation of Lih's discussion on Lenin you should read this:

http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/display.asp?ISB=9781861897930&m=37&ds=Cri...

The main problem with Lih's analysis is he overemphasize Lenin's Kautskyism and does not want to see that Lenin as all bolsheviks started to change their attitude towards the traditional social democracy starting from 1905. The 1905 revolution and the following mass strike debate in early 1910s created the faction in the international social democratic movement that Pannekoek, Luxemburg, Lenin and their comrades belonged. They may have preserved the essence but rejected gradually the tactics of the Kautskyian center. This part of the story is absent in Lih, but his works on Lenin are still some of the best achievements of the historiography on socialist thought.

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Mar 15 2015 16:12

it's the Trots who claim that after 1905 Lenin rejected WITBD (which is untrue). I think ICT used to 'defend' WITBD against ICC (eg pointing out the circumstance that many workers were still illiterate).

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Mar 15 2015 16:14

so like DekuScrub said, it's against the dominant trot/left view

petey
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Mar 15 2015 17:21
mikail firtinaci wrote:

If you want a shorter but more overarching presentation of Lih's discussion on Lenin you should read this:

comes up "No matching search results"
i like shorter presentations, so mikail can you check the link?

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Mar 15 2015 17:42

Petey, the link is to the shorter biography, Lenin, which can be downloaded in PDF and MOBI here:

http://gen.lib.rus.ec/search.php?req=lars+t+lih+lenin&lg_topic=libgen&op...

I haven't read it yet, though.

petey
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Mar 15 2015 19:20

thanks so much jura.

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Mar 15 2015 20:56

Lenin Rediscovered is much more interesting than the shorter biography.

As others have said it's about rediscovering the historical context. I think Lih must spend at least as much time quoting other activists, including leading Mensheviks, second-tier Bolsheviks, and economists. And I think anyone who reads it would agree that he is fairly generous in his presentation of everybody's ideas, not just the ones that ally with Lenin's.

He's also good at demolishing what he calls the "textbook" history which claims that WITBD was fundamental to Lenin's thought and foundational for the so-called "party of a new type", as well as the clearest expression of Lenin's so-called "worry about workers". This is in fact the standard Trotskyist interpretation as well, contrary to what some here would have you believe.

Cleishbotham
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Mar 16 2015 09:00

Noa

Have you read Lih? You make a bold statement that he did not reject WITBD yet Lenin himself said in 1907 it belonged to another era (i.e. before 1905). Also the argument between us and the ICC re WITBD was over how class consciousness developed not about who developed it so you have also "misremembered" that too. We seem to now all agree on that issue if we have understood what ICC comrades have said to us recently. The ICT rejects Lenin's view of the need for professional revolutionaries (or "revolutionaries by trade" in Lih's corrected translation) in WITBD but then so did Lenin after the Russian Constitution of 1906 meant that a semi-legal kind of organisation could exist and thus a mass following could be built without so great a need for clandestinity (I think Lenin was a bit over optimistic here (as the Okhrana's arrests showed) but I think that is also one of Lih's points too).

Like Oliver Twister's summary. Lih demonstrates clearly that the party of a new type idea only springs up after the 1912 split becomes definitive (at least in ideological terms).

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Mar 16 2015 14:33

WW letter

Ben Lewis wrote:
Outside what?
I would like to make a few points in response to Carl Simmons’ defence of Peter Taaffe (Letters, February 27) - in particular his assertions regarding what Lars T Lih deems one of the “scandalous passages” from Lenin’s What is to be done?: namely, that “the working class, exclusively by its own efforts is able to develop only trade union consciousness … socialist consciousness is introduced into the proletarian struggle from without”.

Firstly, when comrade Simmons wonders whether this passage (or indeed others) could be “misused by Stalinist bureaucrats, political sects and self-important academics alike”, he - perhaps unwittingly - alludes to the exact problem that we on the left encounter when seeking to grapple with the history of our movement. What aspect of Marxism was not, for example, “misused” by the Stalinist school of falsification? An overlapping consensus has emerged between comrade Simmons’s “Stalinist bureaucrats” and “self-important academics”. Worse, however, is that those like comrade Taaffe, who claim to be guardians of the Bolshevik flame, are more than happy to repeat and give credence to some of these very same myths. So it is with the passage in question here. Lenin is portrayed as holding the workers in disdain and being fearful of their self-activity.

Yet this is the realm of mythology. I would highly recommend that comrade Simmons and other readers take a look at Lih’s Lenin rediscovered on this score. Lars argues that, in Lenin’s assessment, economism does not primarily entail “activities associated with trade unions”, but rather “the ideology that urges workers to limit themselves to trade unions” (my emphasis): ie, one of the very approaches that Lenin was seeking to combat in WITBD. The anti-economism of Lenin’s “from without” comment is perhaps what makes it so controversial on today’s left.

The relationship between Marxism and the workers’ movement is nicely summarised in the CPGB’s Draft programme: “The working class is the only consistently revolutionary section of society. Without owning any of the means of production of society, it has nothing to lose but its chains. Of course, left to itself, left to spontaneity, it is riven with sectionalism and exists merely as a slave class, capable of being economically militant, even insurrectionary, but not hegemonic. What makes it a hegemonic class is unity around the communist programme.”

Did Lenin “bend the stick too far”? For Taaffe, Lenin said so “in his own words”. I scotched this by quoting Lenin from the Second Congress of the RSDLP in 1903, where he argued that “to make the stick straight it was necessary to bend the stick in the other direction” - for Lenin, sticks bent “by any kind of opportunism” always need straightening. Yet for comrade Simmons, this quote is somehow “an admission on Lenin’s part that some of his formulations in What is to be done? were one-sided and went too far.” How come? Lenin admits no such thing. Sure, following Menshevik criticism of the same passage in 1907, Lenin argued that WITBD was a “polemical correction of ‘economism’ and to consider its content outside this task of the book is incorrect”, but how is this an “admission” that “the author of WITBD himself subsequently acknowledged the biased nature, and therewith the erroneousness, of his theory” , as Trotsky put it in a quote cited by comrade Simmons? Surely Lenin is merely attempting to contextualise the polemic. As should we.

Comrade Simmons points out that “Trotsky and others at the time” certainly thought that Lenin later admitted he had been wrong on this question. This is hardly surprising. After all, subsequent to the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party’s Second Congress there was what Lih calls “the constant and obsessive personal vilification of Lenin”. Trotsky weighed into this argument on the side of the Mensheviks. Yet there is an ironic twist to this episode: as Lars outlines in great detail, at this point the Mensheviks (including Trotsky) held a conception of the party and working class consciousness that was actually much closer to the elitist approach that has anachronistically been ascribed to Lenin.

Maybe because of his role in these factional battles, the Trotsky of 1940 offers a retrospective account that - not least thanks to Lars’s work - has been shown to be simply incompatible with those of the time.

I made the same point btw, on this thread: http://libcom.org/forums/theory/lenins-what-be-done-analysis-28072012?pa...

jojo
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Mar 19 2015 09:11

I am so sorry that this thread seems to have come to an end. For me it is (was) one of the most interesting and important threads I have found on libcom. Lenin, like him or not, is a most vital topic for discussion for communists today. His achievements and mistakes have such a lot to teach us as we approach the next revolutionary wave, or disappear in the quagmire of decay, which ever arrives first.

Unfortunately I can't afford to buy the book and anyway am not much given to reading anymore. But the posts here are so absorbing in themselves, including the hint that the ICT and the ICC may have resolved something not actually explained; and the calm sensible comradely way in which posters have dealt with those who passionately want Lenin to be finally denounced and put down because of what he said in WITBD or the Kronstadt disaster, or his and the Bolshevik's calamitous seizure of power. These are enormously vital issues for the working class today, as it tries to find its feet, and it will be even more necessary in the future that we have a proper rational understanding of what happened in Russia 1927-21 and Lenin's role in it all.

I would love to hear more of what comrades think about the re-discovery of Lenin, and his serious reevaluation.

Dekuscrub3 - you started this thread so why did you suddenly say you don't want to be involved anymore?

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Mar 20 2015 22:20

Well,my devalued 2 cents worth: Wouldn't it be more important, since the Russian Revolution, has significance as, an only as, part of the international class struggle against capitalism, to look at how Lenin and the Bolsheviks responded, reacted, intervened in those international struggles?

Lenin reconsidered? Irrelevant. But the 3rd International reconsidered-- from its inception? Think that might tell us more important things about the role of Bolshevism in power. That's the question right? Bolshevism in power?

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Mar 20 2015 23:18

S. Artesian,

Lih's work is just important because of what you wrote; because it helps us understand bolsheviks after 1917 and in their battle against the WWI. So far most historians and contemporaries ( be they leftist, cold-warrior, anarchist etc) assumed that a few sentences that Lenin quoted in a pamphlet that he wrote in 1902 could explain the emergence of Stalinist repression and state capitalism. This is such a Scheisse argument that it is neither historically serious, nor politically legitimate. Lih's intervention opens the way for a reinterpretation, for a more meaningful understanding of bolshevism for revolutionaries and not simply trivial and antiquarian.

jojo
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Mar 21 2015 02:40

It might be difficult to consider the Third International without taking into account the role of leadership in the communist revolution (and particularly in the first revolutionary wave). The Bolsheviks, and Lenin in particular, always presented as the leader by the bourgeoisie, took charge of the 3rd. International on the basis of what they achieved in Russia and became almost inevitably its leadership. Most other participants in the International accepted automatically this leadership (the idea of "leadership" being something inherited from the 2nd International and something always regarded as essential to the bourgeois way of thinking) and while it's easier now for us to see "leadership" as contrary to the proletarian mode of thought this wasn't necessarily the case then.

It was the left communists in the International who began to question what Bolshevism had done, and what it's mistakes were;.and left communism which began to appreciate the role and function of class consciousness as the essential leading force of proletarian struggle. Left communists also began seriously to reconsider the function of the communist party - not as "leader" but as the bearer of an advanced consciousness to be further developed and disseminated through out the class. ("Disseminated" is not the correct word. It suggests the Lenin of WITBD. Class consciousness itself may spread in a mysterious way as workers who had always thought that working as wage laborers was all there is to life, suddenly realise, wake up, "twig" and intuit that another world is possible. In short attain access to a realm of thinking generated by an activated consciousness rather than a mind-numbing ideology. This is an effect generated largely by
solidarity.)

Artesian is right. We have a great deal to learn from a consideration of the Bolshevik's in power.

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Mar 21 2015 05:19

jojo,

2 points about the comintern;

1) Comintern was not a creation of the Bolsheviks. The idea of a new third international was already around in the air throughout the WW1. A small but significant German, Dutch, Scandinavian, American and Russian radical group was organized around the left zimmerwald and it was advocating a Third intern. before 1919. Among those were future left communists like Gorter, Pannekoek etc. who always backed the Bolsheviks and Bolsheviks backed them in the disputes inside the Second International since at least 1910.

2) Comintern did not automatically accept the Russian leadership. The problem was something similar to what Bolsheviks were living through in Russia at the time. People who really did not know much about the differences btw the second and the third internationals flocked into the comintern. Russian leadership -in my opinion- thought this was OK because they expected a rapid revolution which would magically resolve all their problems. Western leaders of the Comintern like Gorter and Pannekoek rejected this accelerationism, in vain of course. However, left communists did not reject the idea of "leadership". They had axes to grind with the official and degenerate second international "leaders" who were more bureaucrats than charismatic leaders that actually led people in politics. This type of leadership they rejected, but they embraced the idea of an international, disciplined party with a real collective life and will to lead through example and insurgency.

jojo
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Mar 21 2015 09:10

Thank you mikail for your informative post. For myself, I am poor on facts, but value them none the less.

Yes I know the concept of "leadership" is open to different understandings. The grasp of it that you put forwards - elaborated by Pannekoek and Gorter - is excellent but runs contrary to the commonly held view. There's nothing wrong with that of course. The whole idea of communism, as understood by left communists and some anarchists too, also runs contrary to the dominant view of it today, which is that it equates to State Capitalism.

The new proletarian understanding of leadership "the idea of an international disciplined party with a real collective life" and which "will lead through example and insurgency" is not easy to take on board, though fundamentally correct. The majority of folk just expect "leaders" to tell them what to do, bourgeois style, and impose what they the leaders want anyway. Isn't this what people wrongly think the Bolsheviks did? However, I do have some trouble with leadership "through example and insurgency". I'm not sure I know what you mean.

I had imagined the Party as more of an international centre of intelligence about the progress of the revolution world wide, plus analysis and warnings of the latest destructive moves of the bourgeoisie.

To this would be added the essential contribution of the party, the avant-garde, of a revolutionary dynamic dedicated to and participating in the realm of emerging and constantly developing class consciousness. This emerging consciousness of a new way of life will need to be constantly elaborated so that more and more workers can be turned on, join in and contribute to the expanding awareness and thus to the success of the revolution.

The party, the avant garde, will be as yeast to the dough. Essential to good bread, to class consciousness, but not separate.

Dannny
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Mar 21 2015 09:10

Any recommended reading on the early history of the Comintern? Cheers

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Mar 21 2015 09:56

Jojo,

I agree with you about the role of revolutionaries and consciousness and how the Dutch&German lefts saw it. I think my comment exaggerated "leading by example" a bit. This was a phrase Gorter used in his "reply to Lenin" as far as I remembered it.

Danny,

I don't think there is any good historical work in English on the early Comintern. On the origins of the comintern the best work is still Gankin&Fisher's "Bolsheviks and the World War". It was published in 1941 by the anti-communist Hoover institute. However, the authors did an excellent job for their time. Second there is Craig Nation's "War on War". It is ok but focuses too much on Lenin and not even the whole Bolshevik Party.

These are about the origins of the comintern and about the Comintern itself one of the most recent books is Kevin McDermott's "Comintern". It is "scholarly" and it synthesizes the most mainstream views and "balances" them with the recent archival research. In that sense -if you ask me- it is to a certain extent useless and absolutely boring. A fun reading is Victor Serge's "Memoirs of a Revolutionary". There are interesting chapters on the Comintern in it. Since Serge himself worked in the Comintern I think it is reliable, but I also have to say that his comments are too sketchy. A classic example of cold war literature on the Comintern is Lazitch-Drchakovitch's "Lenin and the Comintern". Everybody who is interested in the 3rd International should read this just to see how much of our thinking is still influenced by the cold-war. Otherwise it is actually not a bad book. It is informative but just one sided.

Finally anybody who has time should also definitely see the books that John Riddell has edited and compiled. For the last couple of decades he put a good work into editing the congresses and early documents on the Comintern. It is definitely worthwhile to read his work too.

Dannny
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Mar 21 2015 10:23

Interesting mikail, thanks. Have you read Borkenau's World Communism?

Dannny
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Mar 21 2015 11:23
Dannny wrote:
Have you read Borkenau's World Communism?

Pdf here: http://www.germanvictims.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/World_Communism-...

Looks like it could be interesting. I'm not an expert but it seems to me that there have been several interesting books on Russia and Bolshevism since the collapse of the Soviet Union, based on research in the archives. I really like Rabinowitch's series of books. Considering that it's taken him decades to write three books on an 18 month period in one Russian city I suppose that to come up with something comparable on the Comintern's early years would take forever and imply a command of several languages as well as a lot of travelling around. All the same I agree with the posters above that any steps approaching a general history of the Comintern's early years would be really useful and interesting.

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Mar 21 2015 14:50

Dannny,

Yes Borkenau is a classic, but I only skimmed through it. The main problem about the historiography on the Comintern is that compared to the history writing on the Bolshevik party there are far fewer works on it and most of the existing ones are too nationally focused in their methodologies for an international organization. Many studies only aim to show the development of the bolshevik domination in the international hence they ignore the the initial period. For instance, in 1920 Comintern established a provisional Amsterdam Bureau and Gorter, Pannekoek, Roland-Holst, Wijnkoop and Rutgers were assigned as the organizers of this. The AB was tasked with coordinating the organization of the North American and Western European sections of the new international. It also organized a congress in 1920 -which was probably the first legitimate congress of the comintern. Later the struggle between the German CPs Zentrale (led by Levi and Zetkin) and the Amsterdam Bureau ended up with the dismantling of this Bureau. Historiography dismissed this crucial and interesting moment for nationalist and teleological reasons. For instance E. H. Carr, the famous historian of the Bolshevik Party almost completely ignores that in his History of the USSR, Borkenau does not even mention AB etc. Now the archives are more accessible but there are still scarce in depth studies of this early episode.

As you said it is extremely difficult to study this subject for various reasons (technical difficulties, necessary language skills, etc). But the most important problem is political. With the emergence of social history in 1960s-1980s the concept of "leadership" was starkly and bluntly counterpoised to the "masses". Social historians, in their attempts to overcome the problems of previous history writing dismissed socialists and communists instead focusing on the histories of "rank-and-file" working class activities in localities or in their daily lives. After 1980s with the post-structuralist criticisms being more pronounced in the field, academy and in the wider left generally, this time even class lost its popularity as a subject. Another problem is the fascination with violence and terror. Even the archives are more accessible today, many historians strangely prefer studying the Stalinist repression, show trials, purges and etc; all the bloody stuff. These are important but I think this general fascination and concentration on 1930s-1940s reflects a deeper sense of cynicism-nihilism that is prevalent today, because anti-communism alone cannot explain this trend. There is a general distrust towards organized and disciplined radical political activity. It is scary how for many people patient organizing looks dangerous as if it only breeds "totalitarianism".