Lenin Rediscovered

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Joined: 28-08-08
Mar 21 2015 16:11

I have found most of your comments on this thread very enlightening Mikail but can I just point out that Borkenau's premises in writing "World Communism"(my copy cost 23 shillings brand new in April 1970!) are exactly the opposite of what Lih tells us. For him Bolshevism was a product of Russian backwardness not a part of an international proletarian movement (which as S Artesian rightly says above is the main interest for us today), The Comintern is just a cover of "unviersalism" for Russian "particularism" according to him Borkenau was a "communist" until the Spanish Civil War (his The Spanish Cockpit reveals his disillusionment with Stalinism for very good reasons) and then became a repentant communism warning the capitalist West of its dangers (he was writing as the Nazi-Soviet pact was about to be signed but his book only became standard reading after the Cold War began with a 1961 introduction by the reactionary French historian Raymond Aron). Kevin McDermott's book is boring mainly because he is not really equipped to write (except linguistically) it as he is specialist in Czech history with no real interest in the politics (which is perhaps why he co-wrote it with his Trotskyist brother-in-law Jerry Agnew). As you said there is no decent history of the Comintern (Duncan Hallas is the Cliffite standard so as you'd expect it just tries to repeat the "Lenin was right" mantra (and especially against genuine revolutionaries). Factually Jane Degras and Lazitch and Drakovitch's partial documentary offeriings are about as good as you can get,

I would also disagree with your assertion that the Comintern was not a Bolshevik product. Sure the idea was universal (we've even found graffitti in the local prison by gaoled socialists in World War One calling for "Three Cheers for the International") but given the failure of the German revolution it had to be held in Moscow and it existed long before most places had a real communist party. It very early became the adjunct of the Russian Foreign Ministry and its interference in the affairs of other parties after 1920-1 set back the cause of communism at a time when the class movement was in retreat. Borkenau's polemic about its dishonest dealings is not far wrong on a factual level.. Anyway sorry to butt in - I still have not finished reading Lars Lih which is where we came in!

mikail firtinaci's picture
mikail firtinaci
Joined: 16-12-06
Mar 21 2015 19:37


Thanks for the comment about Borkenau. No doubt you are right about him.

About Comintern being a Bolshevik product; well Bolsheviks had organizational and financial advantages in 1919. They could secure funds and a (relatively) safe organizational center for the new International. However, in my view their strength in the organization's early period is grossly exaggerated. First let's consider the numbers; it is usually taken as a fact that compared to all radical leftists bolsheviks had a numerical strength. Well it is true in 1919 that the party was far bigger than the other left-radicals around the world. But don't forget that others were also growing with the affect that the revolution had in other countries. And if you think about the situation of the Bolsheviks just 2 years before the revolution, before 1917 February they were not much different than the others in terms of numbers.

Historians usually give 20.000 as a number for the Bolshevik party membership for the period btw 1914-1917. What does this mean though? Shlyapnikov, who was the main (sometimes the single!) organizer of the party contacts btw Russia and Switzerland (and elsewhere) and carried out the smuggling activity tells in his biography that sometimes even in Petrograd he could not find anybody to help him distribute the literature in Russia. Yes, the party had still influence among the workers but its militants were few and organization was in constant crisis for every sort of problems imaginable. Compared to that 200 SDP (party of the radicals - I am not sure about the numbers it could even be more than that) members in Netherlands (in a country with a population of 5.5 millions compared to that of Russia which was about 160 millions at the time) was not a small number.

Furthermore, the real strength of the Bolshevik party, its still active core militants were mostly in exile in Europe. So the party was much of a European party already before 1917, with strong ties in the Dutch, German, American and Scandinavian movements. In fact it is fair to talk about an already existing network of radical left militants around the world, who translated each others works, joined for anti-war activity whenever possible and supported each other in factional disputes. Comintern already existed in practice during the war, due to the collapse of the 2nd international and due to the imposed necessity and urgency to join forces that the left-radical internationalists had felt.

Going back to the Comintern; yes there was a strong Bolshevik influence in it. However, this was only indirect. The real organizing activity especially during the civil war was carried out jointly by Spartakists and the Dutch/German Radicals in Europe and even in the US. If you ask me it is actually the struggle between those two instead of Moscow's pressure that marked the early history of Comintern. Let's take the case of the LC split. Paul Levi kicked out the german radicals (who later formed the KAPD) from the party. This happened against Lenin's will but the Spartakist Zentrale was resilient.

Ultimately Bolsheviks main strength, i.e. the funds they could secure and technical skills, proved destructive than constructive for the international and caused much problem for themselves. This is another story though.