Living Marxism

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Reclaiming Marx at 200

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Marx 200

Karl Marx at 200 returns to his home town Trier in 2018 courtesy of China

1 – “I am not a Marxist”

A famous dead white man indulges us by coming back from the grave on his 200th birthday for a bit of celebrity haunting. Why? Should we be impressed when the interest in Marx is on the rise among academics, students and journalists? Not only in the liberal bourgeois press such as the Guardian, or The Daily Blog, in myriad ‘left’ journals, like Jacobin, but also in the US colleges where The Communist Manifesto is the most read book in college libraries. Not only that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has held an official celebration and funded a statue of Marx erected in Trier, Germany, his home town, upsetting some of the locals.

Yet if Marx was alive today, I don’t doubt that he would react much as he did shortly before his death in 1883. “Just as Marx used to say, commenting on the French “Marxists” of the late [18]70s: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.”  This rebuff was the last of many times that Marx castigated various “self-proclaimed” Marxists for misrepresenting his ideas in their attempts to ‘improve’ or ‘update’ them. Let’s see why Marx found this necessary. But to do that we have to reclaim Marx from the grave robbers.

Any evaluation of Marx cannot be left to the superficial idea that “Marx was right” without setting out what it means to be “right”. It means knowing how he used the scientific method to understand capitalism and how he applied this knowledge in a program for revolutionary communism. His dispute with the French “Marxists” in 1883 was over their practical demand for wage increases, without making it clear that the struggle for higher wages must lead to the overthrow of the wage-system itself. Class struggle was not about adjusting to capitalist exploitation but developing the class consciousness needed to overthrow capitalism and arrive at communism. But how do we decide who was right on this and other questions?

To know who was, and is right today, the evaluation of Marx 200 years after his birth needs to be based on how well his ideas have been tested in practice and proven correct or not, rather than the ideas of ‘self-proclaimed’ Marxists, no matter how well intentioned. Here I am not dealing with anti-communists, hostile to Marxism. We can leave the aversion to Marx of people like Ana Stankovic to stew in its own juice.

We should also make passing reference to life President Xi Jinping whose celebration of Marx is grotesquely contradicted by ‘socialist’ China’s restoration of capitalism and rapid rise as the world’s second biggest economy and chief rival of US imperialism. Such blatant caricatures of Marxism are so grotesque as to be already headed for the dustbin of history.

More dangerous is the social/liberal left that pays its respects to Marx’s life work only to disarm him and inoculate workers against his revolutionary message. But most dangerous are the self-proclaimed Marxists of all shades, Stalinist, Maoist and fake Trotskyist, who drag his name in the mud rendering him a common liberal. How do we decide between Marx and anti-Marx? One example: the Anti-Capitalist blog does a good job deconstructing Yanis Varoufakis’ Introduction to a new issue of the Communist Manifesto which covers Marx with faint praise while trying to bury him -Yanis to Karl, with love.

Marxism vs pseudo Marxism

Marx considered himself to be a scientist whose critical ideas had to be put into practice by the class struggle to test and develop them. It was the class struggle that would prove his, rather than his political rivals and opponents, right or wrong. Remember the 11th thesis of the Theses of Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world… the point, however, is to change it.:

Marx’s critical theory of capitalism was of an historically limited form of society based on the exploitation of labour that must sooner or later exhaust its potential to develop the forces of production (using labour to increase productivity) as they were in contradiction with the social relations of production (capitalist ownership of the means of production). This would ultimately destroy the forces of production including throwing living labour out of work and necessitating a proletarian revolution to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism.

To activate his theory a program of action was necessary to represent and advance the interests of the proletariat. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 was the result. Here Marx and Engels described the overthrow of bourgeois rule by the revolutionary proletariat which would open the road to communism. Marx and Engels saw the Communist Party not as substituting for the proletariat, but as part of the proletariat, embodying the program and separated from other workers’ parties only by its program advancing the historical and international interests of the proletariat.

The first major test of Marx’s program came in 1871 with the Paris Commune when the working people of Paris rose up against the bourgeois government after the defeat of the Emperor Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon’s great-nephew) by the Prussians. Already by that time Marx was convinced that the proletariat has succeeded the bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class.  The failure of the 1848 attempts by European bourgeois classes to make their “French” revolution against their ‘ancient regimes’ collapsed in embarrassing deals with the feudal ruling classes.

This default on the part of the European bourgeoisie left the proletariat with the responsibility for completing the task of developing the forces of production in the name of socialism. For the first time Marx spoke of ‘the permanent revolution’ signifying that the proletariat had to step onto the stage of history and take over the task of the reactional bourgeoisie of completing the bourgeois revolution and creating the conditions for socialism. But how to do this: reform or revolution? It was the Paris Commune of 1871 that put the Marxist program and the various reformist programs to the test with a bloody ruling class vengeance.

The lessons of the Commune were clear. First, disproving the reformists it was proof that the bourgeois state had to be overthrown by proletarian armed force or it would physically wipe out all working-class opposition. Second, disproving the anarchists, the overthrow of the bourgeois state had to be replaced by an armed workers’ state to defend the revolution. The Marxist program was amended in the light of these lessons but the defeat of the Commune ushered in a period of capitalist reaction. The First international collapsed after bitter in-fighting with Bukharin and the anarchists. And Marx had to fight the retreat of ‘Marxists’ back to reformism, most notably at Gotha in Germany in 1875.

Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program” was an angry attack on those who followed Lassalle’s “falsification” of the Communist Manifesto. But it was largely futile and the Marxist party was only revived when the Second International was founded in 1889. Engels carried forward the defence of the program until his death in 1895. Then the task of defending and developing the program became that of the next generation of Marxists – in particular, Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky to name the most important. We can judge whether Marx would have disavowed or accepted these new leaders as worthy of real Marxism starting with their position on the lessons of the Commune, and then what they did to apply the theory and practice of Marxism in the 20th century.


2 – Marxism after Marx

For Marx, even the best theory, without the Party testing it in the class struggle, was worthless dogma. The fusing of theory and practice demands a program that is tested by the Communist Party in the class struggle. In his lifetime, the revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871 were the most important practical tests that produced lessons requiring revisions of the program. By 1850, the proletariat had succeeded the now reactionary bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class. The bourgeois revolution could be advanced only by the proletarian revolution – the permanent revolution.

The Commune put this to the test. Its defeat strengthened the bourgeois counter-revolution and the impact of reformism on the workers’ movement. It proved that the bourgeois state had to be smashed and replaced by a workers’ state. Failure to learn these lessons frustrated Marx and his Critique of the Gotha Program in 1875 was a declaration of his Marxism against those who revised it by succumbing to bourgeois reforms.

His statement made a few months before his death in 1883, that if the reformists called themselves Marxist then he “was not a Marxist”, leaves no doubt as to what his Marxism was right up to the end. His friend and political collaborator, Engels, continued the fight to defend Marx’s Marxism from all sides in the struggle to keep it alive in the face of the opportunist, reformist tendencies in the Second International.

Engels, friend and collaborator

After Marx’s death, Engels, his lifelong collaborator continued the fight to resolve this crisis. He was faithful to Marx’s Marxism, completing and publishing three of the unfinished volumes of Capital (Vols 2,3 and Theories of Surplus Value), in which Marx had fleshed out the foundations of his scientific theory so they could be understood and applied in practice to developing the Communist program. The importance of publishing these 3 volumes were that they demonstrated Marx’s method of moving from the abstract to the concrete.

Moving from the Vol 1. analysis of value which was ‘abstracted’ from the struggle over wages, prices and profits etc., Marx in Vol 2, showed how the production of value underlay the struggle over the distribution of value between Labour and Capital; and on to Vol 3 to show how crises that appeared on the surface of capitalist society as unstable ‘chaos’, were determined by the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (LTPRF). Engel’s major contribution was therefore to show how falling profits and not falling wages explained the ‘chaos’ of capitalism. Not only did this show that workers wage demands did not cause crises, rather it exposed the fact that capital could not exploit workers sufficiently to prevent recurring crises.

Therefore, workers had to understand Marx to recognize that capitalist crises could not be overcome; capitalism itself had to be overthrown. His determination to make Marxism comprehensible to ordinary workers, has seen him belittled as a ‘populariser’ of Marx. Yet Marx himself would have done much the same had he lived, as shown by his pride in the reception of the serialized Volume 1 in the French Edition making it accessible to workers.

To illustrate this point, after their critique of the Gotha Program, Marx and Engels intervened in the debate against Herr Duhring, a minor academic who launched a reformist socialist program, attacking Marx among others. Engels’ book Anti-Duhring, serialized in 1877/78, was as a response to this attack. It explodes Duhring’s “bumptious pseudo-science” as “sublime nonsense”. Marx contributed the chapter “From the Critical History” in which he takes his opponent apart as an “ignorant plagiarist”.

Engels’ pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, published in 1880 was a re-write of some sections of Anti-Duhring “suitable for immediate popular propaganda”. Marx clearly approved of these joint efforts since he wrote the Introduction to the French Edition praising it as “…an introduction to scientific socialism”. It proved very popular, selling 20,000 of the four German editions despite being banned under the Anti-Socialist Law, and was translated into 10 languages.

After Marx’s death Engels continued to intervene as the authority on Marx’s work in the debates that took place in the Second International.  First, his Postscript to a new edition of Marx’s The Civil War in France (1891) restated the lessons of the Commune. Second, his Foreword’ to the first publication of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, (1891) aimed at the German Social Democratic Party leadership which tried to suppress the publication of Marx’s Critique because it exposed their break from Marxism.  Third, Engels’ work popularised and defended Capital Vol 3 to explain crises, imperialism, colonialism, ‘bourgeois workers’, and the material roots of ‘social chauvinism’ in the Second International.

When Engels published Capital Vol 3 in 1894 it was clear that the imperialism in the 1880s was the result of crises cause by the LTRPF forcing the export of capital to restore profits. This accounted for super-profits extracted from the colonies that raised living standards for the working class, creating a privileged labour aristocracy made up of “bourgeois workers” as Engels called them.

Colonial super-profits explained the material roots of the labour bureaucracy and social democracy – the political expression of a layer relatively privileged worker-officials in the trade unions and in parliament.  Lenin labelled the labour aristocracy as “social chauvinist” and “social imperialist”, promoting “parliamentary socialism at home and imperialism abroad”.  Clearly, it was colonial super-profits that paid for ‘democracy’ in the imperialist countries.

These interventions were to lay the foundations for the next generation of Marxists whose task was to in effect to write Marx’s last three planned volumes – on The State, Foreign Trade, and the World Market and Crises – which accounted for the uneven and crisis-ridden expansion of world capitalism. They explain why the 2nd International degenerated into opportunism after Gotha and evolved into a reformist party with a bourgeois program. This opportunism was to lay the ground for what was to be the second crisis of Marxism, the betrayal of the proletariat by the majority of the Second International leadership on August 4, 1914.

Love Marxism, Love Leninism

After the death of Engels in 1895, the task of keeping Marxism alive fell to the next generation born in the late 19th century – notably Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg. To do that they had to develop Marxist theory as a guide to the class struggle in the new epoch of imperialism recognized at its outset by Marx and Engels. Marxism can only live when it is tested as a program of action by a Marxist party immersed in the struggles of the day. So, those who took over the leadership of the movement from Marx and Engels have to be evaluated as leaders who were capable of this task.

As mentioned above, we first need to assess their agreement with Marx and Engels on the major challenges to Marxism in their time – the Commune, and the Gotha Program.  Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg took a Marxist stand on these questions, and condemned the anti-Marxist position of Kautsky and others who opposed the Communards’ taking up arms to overthrow of the French regime, in favour of parliamentary compromises. However, it is notable that their critique of Kautsky did not become urgent until the shock betrayal of the 2nd International in 1914.

This betrayal proved beyond doubt that even the most revolutionary Marxists were taken by surprise by the power of the labour bureaucracy in the imperialist countries that sided with its own ruling classes calling on workers to pay for the war and give their lives fighting worker against worker. In their defence, the three leaders were in exile in Europe, in the US, or in jail, and isolated from the European sections of the International.

The death of Marx had created the first crisis in Marxism; the betrayal of the 2nd International was a second crisis that nearly claimed the life of Marxism itself. Joining with the exploiting class to kill one’s fellow workers was a total rejection of Marxism. It was putting bourgeois national chauvinism ahead of international working-class solidarity. It was junking every lesson learned in the history of class struggles, that declare to the world that the proletariat and bourgeoisie have nothing in common. There could be no argument to justify going to war in the interests of the bourgeoisie. There was only one course open to save Marxism and that was to declare the 2nd International dead and begin the task of building a new one.

Zimmerwald Left

Those on the anti-war left of the International met at Zimmerwald. The majority opposed the war but took a subjective, pacifist line in voting against the evils of war while voting to pay for it, in the Reichstag.  They were now reformists having succumbed to social imperialism – the view that imperialism abroad could be reformed by parliamentary socialism at home. The minority, the Zimmerwald Left, around Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, argued to turn imperialist war into class war in which workers would refuse to fight one another and turn their guns on their own ruling class. The 2nd International was pronounced dead and a commitment to building a new, third, international made by Russia emigres of the RSDWP. They all agreed that the betrayal of Social Democracy resulted from the creation of labour aristocracies (Engels’ ‘bourgeois workers’) bought off by colonial super-profits to promote social chauvinism at home in support of imperialist war. What to do?

The “three L’s” called for workers to mutiny and organise armed uprisings against the ruling classes in every imperialist country. Trotsky did not think that workers were ready for armed insurrection and called for workers to refuse to fight for their ruling classes. They disagreed on other aspects of Marxism too. Luxemburg and Trotsky, from right and left positions, rejected the Bolshevik Party as substituting for the proletariat.

Trotsky on the right saw the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks as unnecessary. He was known as a ‘conciliationist’ for advocating a united party. Yet at the same time Trotsky agreed with Lenin in rejecting the Menshevik two-stage theory –  that the bourgeois revolution had to be completed by a class alliance with the bourgeoisie, before the socialist revolution was possible in Russia.  They both agreed with Marx, that since 1850 the bourgeoisie was now a reactionary class. Therefore, the bourgeois revolution against the Tsar would have to be led by the proletariat as the revolutionary class, drawing in all other oppressed classes (poor peasants etc), and completed as the socialist revolution i.e., the uninterrupted, or permanent revolution.

Luxemburg from the left objected to Bolshevik democratic centralism as substituting for the spontaneous revolutionary consciousness of the masses. But from the right, however, her underconsumptionist theory of capitalist crisis ignored Marx’s law of “the tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall” (LTRPF) in Capital Vol 3. Since for her, falling profits was caused by underconsumption due to low wages, the spontaneous struggle for higher wages would bring about revolutionary class consciousness and the overthrow of capitalism.

Therefore, on the central question of the Party, both in their own way took one-sided views of democratic centralism against Lenin’s dialectical position which saw the party as the revolutionary vanguard leading the revolution. For him the Party was the subjective class conscious factor in the revolution, not spontaneous “trade union” consciousness – a barrier to revolutionary consciousness that must be overcome by the Party. Nor can the Party be united around a broad program that represents an objective, inevitable march from reform to revolution, without the subjective vanguard party intervening to signal the advances and retreats.

Not until the Russian revolution proved them wrong did Trotsky and Luxemburg come around to Lenin’s position. Trotsky joined Lenin in July 1917 and became one of the main leaders of the Russian revolution. Luxemburg withdrew her objection to the Bolshevik type party and belatedly formed the German Communist Party (KPD), but was betrayed by Social Democracy in 1919 and assassinated by fascist thugs, cutting short the life of a true revolutionary, and contributing to the defeat of the German Revolution.

The October Revolutions in Russia and Germany

Lenin, as the leading revolutionary Marxist, advanced Marxism, against all backsliding comrades (Trotsky as conciliator; Luxemburg as spontaneist and underconsumptionist) and hostile class enemies (Social Democracy), by re-asserting its premises, re-reading Hegel, re-affirming the dialectical method, and applying the theory of Capital Vol 2 and 3 to analyse the ‘concrete’ conditions in Russia (he read Marx on Sismondi to expose the petty bourgeois program of the Narodniks). He developed the theory of crisis in Vol 3 to explain the state of the world economy embedded in imperialism and war (Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism); the reactionary role of Social Democracy and Kautsky’s vacillating centrism (Renegade Kautsky etc); the class character of the State (State and Revolution); and applied it to a transitional program put into practice by the democratic centralist Bolshevik Party.

Lenin embodied Marx in fusing theory and practice in the democratic centralist party in which objective and subjective reality was united in practice. He used Marx’s dialectic method to defeat the objectivists and subjectivists whose role was to rely on old idealist formulae instead of the ‘art’ of revolution.  He routed the objectivists who treated the proletariat as a passive rather than active participant in revolution. Naturally, petty bourgeois upstarts substituted for the ‘backward’ proletariat in deciding when the workers would be ready for revolution. Lenin also denounced the subjectivists (anarchists and left communists) who argued that spontaneous proletarian class consciousness was sufficient to make the revolution, and that democratic centralism must necessarily lead to the Party substituting itself for workers democracy and opening the road to counter-revolution.

It follows that without Lenin in the leadership of a democratic centralist party there would have been no socialist revolution in Russia. It would have collapsed into objectivism or subjectivism; nor would Marxism have survived as a living political force on the powerful legacy of the Russian Revolution. In February 1917, the Bolshevik leadership was tied to the old dogma of Plekhanov etc., that Russia must have a bourgeois revolution to prepare the conditions for socialism. This was based on a doctrinaire application of Marx’s slogan that capitalism cannot be overthrown until it has completed its historic task and is no longer capable of developing the forces of production. Yet after 1850 Marx said that the bourgeoisie was no longer the historically revolutionary class and had to be overthrown by the proletariat as the new revolutionary class. So, if the pre-conditions for socialism still had to be created, that could only be done by the proletariat!

When it came to the concrete conditions in Russia this dogma was clearly out of touch with reality. The bourgeoisie was not strong enough to overthrow the Tsar and complete the bourgeois revolution. It was women textile workers that began the strikes in February that led to the overthrow of the Tsar. Only the industrial workers, combined with the poor peasants and soldiers could advance the revolution by overthrowing capitalism. Lenin challenged the doctrinaire leadership by going to the Bolshevik masses and convincing them that a socialist revolution was necessary to complete the bourgeois revolution especially in backward Russia now subordinated to French and British imperialism and fighting a war against German imperialism. In Russia 1917, the same mistake that saw the German bourgeoisie join forces with the feudal Junkers in 1848, had to be avoided at all costs. So like Marx in 1850, Lenin was affirming the validity of permanent revolution as the only way to take the bourgeois revolution forward to socialism in one continuous movement.

Permanent revolution was also put to the test by the failure of the German revolution. The first uprising in 1919 failed because of the Menshevik SPD formed a government with the ‘democratic’, ‘progressive’, but still warmongering, bourgeoisie. Then in 1921 the Communist Party (KPD) took part in a premature putsch that was easily suppressed. By 1923 a revolutionary situation had returned. The KPD was better prepared, but its leadership vacillated and failed to grasp the situation and prepare for insurrection on time, so the moment was lost. Having failed to make the revolution, the responsibility for the rise of fascism in Germany then became that of the KPD leadership, mainly because it had not learned the lessons of the Bolshevik revolution and built a strong, democratic-centralist party in time.

Left Opposition and Fourth International

With the failure of the German revolution, the most important condition for the success of the Russian revolution disappeared. The industrialization of the Soviet Union was setback by the backwardness and war devastation of both industry and agriculture. The Bolsheviks were forced to keep the revolution alive in an isolated, under-developed country without international support. The only way out was to fight for a democratic-centralized plan for industry and agriculture to develop the forces of production and survive until revolutions succeeded in Europe or Asia. For the Bolsheviks there was never the possibility of socialism being built in one country surrounded by global capitalism.

After the death of Lenin in 1924, the battle to claim his legacy was the key to the life and death struggle between the growing bureaucratization of the party and state apparatus under Stalin that appealed to the petty bourgeoisie and surviving bourgeoisie,  and the Left Opposition led by Trotsky, which insisted that workers’ democratic control of the soviets and of the Party regime were pre-conditions for planning production in industry and agriculture, allowing the forces of production to grow, reducing necessary labour-time, and making the building of socialism possible.

The record of the Bolshevik-Leninists from 1923 to 1933 was of a life and death struggle to challenge the Stalinists regimes break from ‘Leninism’ as it subordinated world revolution to popular fronts with the bourgeoisie around a Menshevik program for ‘national roads’ to socialism in defence of ‘socialism in one country.’ From the final betrayal of the German Revolution in 1923, to the Chinese Revolution, 1924/1927, the challenge of the LO was met with mounting repression, exile and execution of its militants. Among them was Trotsky expelled and exiled in 1927 until his assassination by Stalin’s agent in 1940.

The Left Opposition became an International Left Opposition (ILO) as an internal opposition inside the Comintern. It fought to restore workers democracy against the bureaucratic regime until 1933 when Stalin’s policy to appease fascism in Germany helped the Nazi’s come to power. This betrayal of the international communism was of the same order as the 4th of August 1914 had been for the 2nd International and forced the ILO to declare the Comintern dead, and call for the building of a new, Fourth, International.

From 1933 the ILO became the Bolshevik-Leninist tendency committed to building a new revolutionary international to take the leadership of the world revolution, fighting for political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and for socialist revolutions based on workers’ and peasants’ soviet governments everywhere. The Fourth International was formed in 1938 based upon a Transitional Program keeping the legacy of Marxism and Leninism alive, and dedicated to the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union, the political revolution and the international revolution.

Conclusion: The Short 20th Century

For Marxism after Marx, it is the onset of the epoch of imperialism that explains the inevitability of recurring crises, revolutions, counter-revolutions and wars. Arising out of WW1 the rise and fall of the Russian revolution became the ultimate test of the power of revolutionary Marxism. The British historian Eric Hobsbawn, talks of the “Short 20th Century” from the Russian revolution of 1917 to the restoration of capitalism in 1991, as shaping the fate of the modern world. Indeed, there is some truth in this. The October revolution proved that Marxism could keep the 19th century theory of Marx alive in the form of a revolution led by a Marxist party. Its success proved that a dying capitalism could be replaced by a socialist revolution. But was the rise of Stalinism to power the end of the road for Marxism?

No. The degeneration of the revolution also vindicated the living Marxism of the ILO. Neither the revolution nor the counter-revolution can be understood except as a partial and incomplete advance of the permanent revolution Marx spoke of in 1850. The proletariat made the revolution along with the poor peasants, against the counter-revolution of world capitalism and the united exploiting classes. While we can talk about the Russian revolution succumbing to counter-revolution as the culmination of the Short 20th century, it is only part of the larger historic dynamic of permanent revolution from the mid-19th century to today, and beyond.

For Marx permanent revolution did not mean only that the working class must to lead the exploited and oppressed classes to the revolution against all the exploiting and oppressing classes. It meant that the revolution could not be realized fully without the victory of the international revolution, and finally without the victory of world socialism and the prospect of a future communist, classless, and stateless, society. Not until then, will the Manifesto of the Communist Party and permanent revolution end up in the museum of class struggle. Until then, it is the task of Marxists to continue the fight for permanent revolution.


3 – Marx Today

Has Marxism survived Marx’s death and those who followed him claiming to be Marxists? Part one showed that Marx took exception to the term “Marxism” as not representing his views. Part Two argued that Lenin took responsibility for defending and developing Marxism within the second generation of Marxists. In the concluding part we ask: who would Marx recognise as Marxists today? To answer this question, it is necessary first to reprise the essentials of Marx and Lenin’s thinking as the litmus test of those who claim to be a Marxist today.

The legacy of Marx and Lenin

Marx’s method was to abstract from the surface appearances of capital as commodity exchange, to the essence of the commodity. In Vol 1 he dealt with the production of value as commodities, and in Vol 2, the circulation of commodities between production and consumption. By Vol 3 he was actually constructing a working model by introducing competition between capitalists to advance labour productivity which led in turn to the relative rise of constant capital, the LTRPT and recurring crises. Of course, Marx planned to write three further volumes on the State, Foreign Trade and World Market, to reconstitute the ‘concrete’ reality of ‘everyday life’. He was not fussed about failing to draft these volumes as others could apply the method and theory, complete the analysis, and explain the ‘many determinations’ of surface appearances as ‘actual’, and the basis for revolutionary practice.

Not only that, while he was producing Capital, he wrote many articles on the contemporary class struggle, notably India, the US, and the Civil War in France, in which class relations were exposed in their ‘many determinations’ e.g. the Commune, testing and requiring changes in the Communist program (e.g. smash the state). In that sense Capital was clearly a C19th work of social science where Marx not only developed his theory but saw it tested it in practice. The logic was: method (dialectics) > theory/program (Marxism) > practice (the Communist Party). It is clear that the objective of Marxism is to form an international communist party, grounded in democratic centralism, that develops the theory by applying it as a program to lead the organized class struggle to overthrow capitalism and impose the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.

Entering the C20th Lenin was the main continuator of Marx’s project. He studied Hegel to fully understand Marx’s dialectical method. He needed to explain the rise of imperialist nations and the implications for Marxist theory. Nor did he have to start from scratch to develop Marx’s theory. For example, he was not the first to argue that capitalism had made a transition from its competitive stage to one of state monopoly capitalism in the late C19th. Marx and Engels had laid the foundations.

Capitalism as an historic mode of production was progressive only so long as it developed the forces of production. The Vol 3 theory of crisis as one of falling profits explained why the export of capital was necessary to restore profits and why rival national capitals would be driven to the partition the world economy leading to the destruction of the forces of production.

Lenin took Marx’s theory in Vol 3 and condensed the contents of the unwritten volumes in his theory of Imperialism – the highest stage of capitalism. Only socialism could develop the forces of production beyond capitalism in its decline.  In particular, Lenin applied Marx’s theory of rent to the concrete political task of explaining how state-backed monopolies could extract super profits, manipulating the market and partially suppressing competition by diplomatic, political and military means. It was the theory of imperialism that allowed the main features of the highest stage of monopoly capital in the early C20th to be understood as the basis for the program of the Russian communists drawn into a major imperialist crisis and war.

So, we have the legacy of Marx in the C19th and that of his successor Lenin in the C20th to lay the foundations for C21st Marxism facing the terminal crises of the economy and climate change. Let’s see what Marxism today looks like. Again, we use the criteria of the continuation and development of the fundamental lessons of Marx and C20th Marxists as the basis for judging who stands for Marx today. Let’s evaluate these developments on the basis of fulfilling the demands of Marxist method, theory and practice.

On Dialectical Method

Marx took Hegel’s dialectical method and stood it on its feet. Instead of historical development enacting the will of God (idealism) it was the result of class struggle “the motor of history” (materialism). Here we have the unity of opposites, capital as a social relation between labour and capital, causing the contradiction between the social relations and the forces of production. In turn this contradiction drove the proletariat as the revolutionary subject to transcend that contradiction by means of social revolution. In place of Hegel’s idealist worship of God as the ‘subject’ of history, dialectics grounded in material life was the method of the revolutionary subject, the proletariat. Hence the term dialectical materialism.

In 1908, Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, defended Marx’s materialism against a current of Russian Marxism influenced by Machism, that rejected Marx’ premise that there existed a material reality independent of thought. Bogdanov and others retreated back toward Kant claiming that the premise of a material world was about an ‘unknown nothingness’ and was therefore ‘metaphysical’ or idealist. Lenin rubbished this, labelling it ‘empirio-criticism’ and a break from the ‘historical materialism’ of Marx and Engels. He argued that ‘being’ is not the product of ‘consciousness’ but the reverse.

“Materialism in general recognises objectively real being (matter) as independent of the consciousness, sensation, experience etc., of humanity. Historical materialism recognises social being as independent of the social consciousness of humanity. In both cases consciousness is only the reflection 0f being, at best an approximately true (adequate, perfectly exact) reflection of it. From this Marxist philosophy, which is cast from a single piece of steel, you cannot eliminate one basic premise, one essential part, without departing from the objective truth, without falling a prey to bourgeois-reactionary falsehood. (M&EC, Chapter 6, p 326).

Lenin concludes his polemic against empirio-criticism:

“The genius of Marx and Engels lies precisely in the fact that during a very long period nearly half a century, they developed materialism, further advanced one fundamental trend in philosophy, did not rest content with repeating epistemological problems that had already been solved, but consistently applied – and showed how to apply – this same materialism in the sphere of the social sciences, mercilessly brushing aside as rubbish all nonsense, pretentious hotchpotch, the innumerable attempts to ‘discover’ a ‘new’ line in philosophy, to invent a ‘new’ trend and so forth. The verbal nature of such attempts, the scholastic play with the new philosophical ‘isms’, the clogging of the issue by pretentious devices, the inability to comprehend and clearly present the struggle between the two fundamental epistemological trends – this is what Marx and Engels persistently tracked down and fought against throughout their activity.”  (M&E-C, 336)

Lenin’s philosophical critique of empirio-criticism established a firm dialectical materialist foundation for Russian Marxism and the method of the program of the Bolshevik party. However, it was the betrayal of the 2nd International in August 1914 that drove Lenin to an intensive study of Hegel to understand the philosophical basis of the opportunism of the international’s historical betrayal and provide the grounding for a new revolutionary international. The results were his ‘Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic’, included in Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, written between mid- 1914 and 1916.

He summarised dialectics as follows:

“Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical – under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, – why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another.” (Bk 1, 109)

“(1) Ordinary imagination grasps difference and contradiction, but not the transition from one to the other, this however is the most important.

2) Intelligence and understanding. Intelligence grasps contradiction, enunciates it, brings things into relation with one another, allows the “concept to show through the contradiction,” but does not express the concept of things and their relations.

(3) Thinking reason (understanding) sharpens the blunt difference of variety, the mere manifold of imagination, into essential difference, into opposition. Only when raised to the peak of contradiction, do the manifold entities become active and lively in relation to one another – they receive/acquire that negativity which is the inherent pulsation of self-movement and vitality.” (Bk 2, 143)

“If I am not mistaken, there is much mysticism and empty pedantry in these conclusions of Hegel, but the basic idea is one of genius: that of the universal, all-sided vital connection of everything with everything and the reflection of this connection – Hegel materialistically turned upside down – human concepts, which must likewise be hewn, treated, flexible, mobile, relative, mutually connected, united in opposites, in order to embrace the world. Continuation of the work of Hegel and Marx must consist in the dialectical elaboration of the history of human thought, science and technique.” (Bk 2, 146)

Lenin took this “dialectical elaboration” to new heights. The retreat from Marxism to empiricism in the 2nd International was explained at the level of method. Empiricism took surface appearances as reality and suppressed the contradictions that drove the class struggle. ‘Evolutionary socialism’, or Menshevism, was the result. Workers must collaborate with the bourgeoisie and use the state to legislate for socialism. Against this attack on Marxism, Lenin’s critique of Plekhanov, Kautsky, the role of the state, of the Mensheviks, and so on, ‘elaborated’ the theory/practice of the Bolshevik Party.

Therefore, there can be no question that Lenin and Marx were in complete agreement in their conception of the revolutionary party as the ‘vanguard’ developing class ‘consciousness’ in understanding and embracing the world as a contradictory ‘unity of opposites’. Armed with this Marxist program and practice, Bolshevism and the 3rd International until Lenin’s death in 1924 represented the highest expression of Marxism. Dialectical materialism enabled the party to create a program that was tested in practice culminating in a successful revolution.

Bolshevism vs Menshevism

Only correct method can lead to correct program and practice. Who can claim to follow Marx and Lenin on dialectics? Very few, including self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninists and Trotskyists. First among equals, Trotsky was critical in defending this continuity. The Lessons of October and the History of the Russian Revolution, condenses Bolshevism as living Marxism. After the death of Lenin and with the revival of Menshevism in the bureaucratic dictatorship of Stalin, the struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition kept dialectics alive until its defeat with the exile of Trotsky in 1927 and the death of other leading communists. From that point on the International Left Opposition survived as ‘Bolshevik-Leninists’ fighting the degenerating 3rd International under Stalin.

But method and theory do not amount to more than ideas unless united with revolutionary practice in a healthy communist international. Trotsky’s Bolshevik/Leninists fought to restore workers democracy in the USSR and in the Comintern until 1933 when Stalin’s policy of voting with the Nazi’s against the ‘social fascists’ (social democracy) in Germany helped bring Hitler to power.

For the Bolshevik/Leninists this amounted to a clear betrayal of the international proletariat as complete as August 1914. Trotsky immediately broke with the Comintern and called for a new revolutionary international which led to the foundation of the 4th International in 1938. Its Transitional Program is the most developed expression of Bolshevik/Leninism that survived Trotsky’s assassination by Stalin in 1940. Embodying dialectics, the transitional method of raising demands mobilised workers to fight for what they need immediately, so that they learned from their experience that class struggle must go all the way to socialist revolution to transcend the contradiction between labour and capital.

But the 4th International failed to materialize into a revolutionary international after the war capable of advancing the interests of the revolutionary proletariat – backsliding into ‘Pabloism’ under a petty bourgeois leadership adapting to Stalinism as a modern form of the old one-sided evolutionary Menshevism. Maoism was another expression of modern Menshevism as it was based on Stalin’s theory of ‘bloc of four classes’ – the popular front of workers, peasants, ‘progressive’ bourgeois and petty bourgeois, to strangle the proletariat.

Meanwhile most ‘Western Marxists’ in the C20th judged Bolshevism as an aberration if not abomination. And of course, they junked dialectics. Why? Because dialectics is the method of the revolutionary proletariat that requires an organized vanguard party to advance its class interests in socialist revolution. Against dialectics the method of Mensheviks is that of bourgeois logic – idealism, and its twin, empiricism. This creates a reactionary theory/program and the anti-Marxist substitution of the petty bourgeois for the proletariat as the historical agency of socialist revolution.

Menshevism and Western Marxism

Most of what passes for Marxism today is one or other form of Menshevism that goes back to the Paris Commune of 1871 and Gotha 1875. The subordination of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie in the name of the evolutionary socialism that led to the successive betrayals of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Internationals. Kautsky was a left-Menshevik, as was the majority of the ‘old’ Bolshevik leadership. Lenin split the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP) party to combat Menshevism and those who compromised with it (e.g. Trotsky for a period).

The split was necessary because Menshevism replaced the proletarian party with the petty bourgeois intelligentsia as the agent of revolutionary change (Marx’s ‘petty bourgeois socialism’). Mensheviks were against the October Revolution.  They conspired with imperialism to defeat the Revolution. Western, or Euro-Marxism is the direct descendant of Menshevism committed to the ‘failure’ of Bolshevism, and the retreat to the ‘half-way’ house of parliamentary socialism

C20th ‘Western Marxism’ is enlisted to the counter-revolution by suppressing dialectics and reviving evolutionary socialism. Lukacs defended Lenin and the revolution only to succumb to Stalin and the bureaucratization of the revolution. Gramsci defended Stalinism and the ‘long march through the institutions’ of the ‘Eurocommunist’ batch of Mensheviks. The Frankfurters from Adorno to Marcuse abandoned the proletariat for ‘revolutionary’ petty bourgeois intellectuals i.e. students. Why? because they substituted the contradiction between labour and capital as a living class struggle for the ‘contradiction’ between an abstract ‘nature’ and capitalist society. Sartre found the young ‘humanist’ Marx and ignored the late ‘determinist’ Marx. Althusser rejected the ‘humanist’ young Marx for the Marx of Capital, and the class struggle for ‘theoretical’ struggle. All broke with dialectics to end up in the camp of the Mensheviks.

So, what are we left with? Who is Marx, and what is Marxism, 200 years on? Our objective is to reclaim Marx at 200. What do we keep, what do we junk?

Academic and Post-Marxism

If we look at the self-proclaimed Marxists today what do they stand for, Marxism, or Post-Marxism?  Post-Marxists invariable revert to pre-Marxist doctrines to ‘improve’ on Marx. Remember Marx’s critique of the Gotha Program – ‘why revert’? he demanded. Academic Marxists reply ‘why not’. As a result, they revive the idealist reactions to Marxism of Marx and Lenin’s time for consumption today. Take Zizek’s return to the great ‘master’ (Lenin) to serve the Menshevik project. “To repeat Lenin is to repeat not what Lenin DID, but what he FAILED TO DO, his MISSED opportunities.” Zizek writes off the Party as made up of political elitists ‘outside’ the class struggle. And Lenin, repeated, ‘channels’ Zizek and becomes the substitute for the Party deciding what the revolutionary masses should do or not do.

Add the hybrids like Derrida who ‘repeat’ social democracy out of strange liaisons with post-structuralism and Marxism where social determination is outlawed. This born-again ‘Marxism’ rejects the proletariat as the historic gravedigger of capitalism for the idealist re-construction of the idealist ‘great leader’, the Young Marx, or the messianic Lenin who can inspire the masses to spontaneous world-historic events.

Academic Marxism is the factory that produces and reproduces modern Menshevism, cutting and pasting Marx and Lenin accordingly. For example, David Harvey has a reputation for reproducing Capital faithfully, yet rejects Marx’s theory of crisis for a surreptitious Keynesian underconsumption theory that can be corrected by parliamentary socialism. Even Michael Roberts who staunchly defends Marx crisis theory based on Capital 3 against Harvey, cannot in practice apply value theory to the real world when he fails to grasp the significance of the law of value in restoring state capitalism/imperialism in China for the global class struggle.

However, beyond the academy where Marxism is mostly far removed from the everyday politics, some celebrity ‘Marxists’ are attempting to bridge that gap with a call to return to communism as a real social movement. Let’s take the French Maoist Alain Badiou who argues that  today the Marxism we must build is a ‘communist movement’ as if that is distinct from the ‘Communist Party’. In his view, the ‘party-state’ has proven to be a barrier to communism, and is part of the failure of socialist revolutions. Therefore, the ‘communist movement’ must act to check the ‘communist party’ degenerating into the party-state. But is the ‘communist movement’ outside the Party capable of ‘checking’ and ‘correcting’ the democratic centralism of the ‘communist party’?

Is this the “new beginning for Marxism? No! Revolution is not possible without democratic centralism that unites all communists in the vanguard party. The problem of the failure of key 20th century revolutions in Russia and China to build socialism, let alone communism, cannot be overcome today by a ‘communist movement’ separate from the ‘communist party’. Why? Because since 1850 any proletarian political ‘movement’ itself is only possible as the result of the vanguard party fusing theory and practice in the  proletarian dictatorship of the workers’ state.  Only this realisation can spark a “ new beginning for Marxism”.

In sum, Western Marxism (and its Eastern Maoist analogue) is counter-revolutionary along with all other Menshevik and fake Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyist tendencies claiming to be followers of Marx. There is a failure of revolutionary leadership when the masses wallow in the swamp of social-imperialism, social democracy, crypto-Stalinism and ‘red-brown’ politics. The counter-revolution is not confined to the ‘West’ – the euphemism for imperialism – as the permanent counter-revolution to the international permanent revolution. The short C20th is a retreat from Marx that parallels and conspires with counter-revolution. The early C21st is a retreat from the 20th in toto and marks its lowest point yet – the bitter fruit of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and before long the DPRK.

The ‘crisis of leadership’ that Trotsky spoke of in the 1930s persists today and until such time as new generations of Marxists take up the true legacy of Marx and Lenin and build a new Communist International capable of leading the workers of the world to socialist revolution to end capitalist destruction and climate collapse, and to build a future communist society.



Written by raved

December 21, 2018 at 12:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

For a New Zimmerwald

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On August 4, 1914, the First World War broke out. The Second International had an official policy of opposing the war. But this collapsed under the pressure of wartime hysteria and with a few brave exceptions, broke up with each section voting for workers to go to war to kill other workers. The remaining revolutionary forces regrouped at Zimmerwald in Switzerland in 1915 to take a stand against the war, calling for workers to turn their guns on their own ruling classes. [See Lenin’s ‘Socialism and War’] The ‘left’ at Zimmerwald were to be the core of the revolutionaries who went on to make the Russian revolution and build the 3rd Communist International. In a three-part article, we argue that we are living through a similar period were the left is not prepared to fight the drive to war. We call for the rallying of left forces in a new Zimmerwald to build a revolutionary opposition to new imperialist wars. Part one deals with the years before the conference at Zimmerwald in 1915.

[All page references are to ‘Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years.’-see endnote].

Many communist and revolutionary socialist forces around the world recognise that with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the victory of imperialism in the late 1980’s the workers of the world experienced an historic defeat. Yet, this defeat was not one that smashed all the past gains of workers won over the previous centuries. Nor could this victory postpone for long the onset of a more serious world recession that would once more see the workers and poor peasants mobilised in defence of their hard-won gains, and imperialism embark on a drive to war to revive its falling profits. The onset of the current world recession and the drive to war that began with the Gulf War in 1990 has vindicated this perspective. We are now facing a period of worsening crisis and polarisation of classes world-wide, that pits workers revolution against imperialist counter-revolution. The time has arrived once more for the surviving communist forces to rise up again against imperialist war to overthrow capitalism and build of a socialist world.

The situation resembles the crisis facing humanity with the onset of the first imperialist war in 1914. Workers in every country are being rallied by their bosses behind the national flag to go to war against ‘evil’ in whatever guise the ruling class says. We need to mobilise our forces in the same way that the communist fighters did against the first war at Zimmerwald in 1915 and Kienthal in 1916. Here they broke with the rotten International of Social Democracy and raised the cry for workers to shoot their bosses and not each other. In taking this stand they rallied around them the forces that would make the Russian Revolution and become the new Communist International, the 3rd international.

Zimmerwald, a town in Switzerland gave its name to a conference held in Sept 1915 to rally all the anti-war forces, pacifists, defencists, and the Bolsheviks. The majority refused to break with the 2nd International, while the Zimmerwald ‘Left’ called for “civil war not civil peace” and the overthrow of capitalism. The ‘Left’ position was rejected at Zimmerwald. By the end of 1916 the Left split from the majority so it could rally those sections of workers who were beginning to resist the war to its revolutionary program. The broad Zimmerwald movement was anti-war, but not anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist. It was still heavily influenced by chauvinism and pacifism. Why then did the Bolsheviks remain in it for more than a year? Did they, while they were inside, and while they were outside, adopt the best tactics to win workers over to the revolutionary position? These questions are important because a New Zimmerwald movement must avoid making the mistakes of the First. Before addressing these questions, what took the anti-war movement more than a year to unite at Zimmerwald? What were they doing in the years immediately before the outbreak of war and the year following?

Pre-Zimmerwald: Stuttgart 1907

The 2nd International didn’t suddenly jump on the nationalist bandwagon in August 1914. It had been moving in that direction for years. At the Stuttgart Congress of 1907 a sizable minority argued for a ‘socialist’ colonisation policy; i.e. that colonisation was necessary to advance human civilisation provided the method of colonisation was not exploitative! Bernstein (the famous German socialist) said “The colonies are there; we must come to terms with that. Socialists too should acknowledge the need for civilised peoples to act somewhat like guardians of the uncivilised”. (LSNI: 10). That made the imperialist countries out to be ‘civilised’! If they were bad imperialists and mistreated the colonies or immigrants, they could be made into ‘good’ imperialists, or even cease to be imperialist, with the correct ‘socialist’ colonial policy! Even though his ‘social imperialist’ tendency was outvoted, it showed that the rot was setting in. What was the material cause of this rot? Lenin was onto it.

Lenin commented:

“This vote on the colonial question is of very great importance. First, it strikingly showed up socialist opportunism, which succumbs to bourgeois blandishments. Secondly, it revealed a negative feature in the European labour movement, one that can do no little harm to the proletarian cause, and for that reason should receive serious attention. Marx frequently quoted a very significant saying by Sismondi. The proletarians of the ancient world, this saying runs, lived at the expense of society; while modern society lives at the expense of the proletarians…However, as the result of the extensive colonial policy, the European proletariat partly finds itself in a position when it is not its own labour, but the labour of the practically enslaved natives in the colonies, that maintains the whole society. In certain countries this provides the material and economic basis for infecting the proletariat with colonial chauvinism.” (39).

On the question of war, the Stuttgart Congress debated four resolutions, two of which called for workers actions against war to include strikes and insurrections (one as the last resort); while two called vaguely for “appropriate measures” or “intervention”. Two extreme tendencies opposed each other. One tendency [Bebel] saw imperialist war as ‘militarism’ that could be resisted by socialists, first by voting against it, but if necessary going to war against ‘militarism’ to defend the ‘workers father land’. That meant that workers in every country would be dragooned to fight in ‘defensive’ wars to defend ‘their’ fatherland. The other tendency talked of stopping wars by uniting workers across national frontiers to refuse to fight imperialist wars. “Our class -that is our fatherland” [Herve] (LSRI: 27). Herve said of the German Social Democratic Party (and its ‘workers’ fatherland’): “…you have now become an electoral and accounting machine, a party of cash registers and parliamentary seats. You want to conquer the world with ballots. But I ask you: When the German soldiers are sent off to re-establish the throne of the Russian Tsar [this was two years after the 1905 revolution] when Prussia and France attack the proletarians, what will you do? …the whole of German Social Democracy has now become Bourgeois. Today Bebel went over to the revisionists when he told us: “Proletarians of all countries, murder each other”. (28)

Lenin commented on the anti-militarism debates criticising Herve as a ‘semi-anarchist’ who did not see that war was necessary to capitalism and stopping wars could only be achieved by ‘replacing capitalism with socialism’.

“However, underlying all these semi-anarchistic absurdities of Herveism there was one sound and practical purpose: to spur the socialist movement so that it will not be restricted to parliamentary methods of struggle alone, so that the masses will realise the need for revolutionary action in connection with the crises which war inevitably involves, so that, lastly, a more lively understanding of international labour solidarity and the falsity of bourgeois patriotism will be spread among the masses.” (41)

In the middle of these two extremes but leaning towards Bebel, was Jaures who argued that socialism could reform the imperialists and prevent war by means of an international arbitration court, but if push came to shove, strikes and insurrection would be necessary. He saw war as an extension of the class war which up to then had been managed successfully by the big socialist parties. In reality, Jaures believed that negotiations would suffice and make militant actions unnecessary. In the middle also, but leaning away from Bebel was Rosa Luxemburg who spoke of the recent Russian Revolution and the need for workers to use the general strike against war not only to end war, but to “hasten the overthrow of class rule in general”. She moved an amendment along these lines which she drafted (along with Lenin and Martov of the Russian Social Democrats) which was incorporated into the final draft.

The Resolution was a compromise. On the one hand ‘militarism’ was bad policy, on the other, militarism was vital to the survival of capitalism. These were clearly two very different views of imperialist militarism! But Lenin regarded the result as good. The left got in its view of militarism as necessary for capitalism to survive and for the struggle against war to be also a struggle against capitalism. He was pleased that the resolution spelled out the methods that social democracy would use, and could not be misinterpreted by the reformist Vollmar or by the semi-anarchist Herve. (42) However, despite the amendments from the revolutionary left which strengthened the Stuttgart resolution on War and Militarism, it was clear that a growing element in of the international viewed capitalism, imperialism and militarism as reformable by social democracy. Herve characterised the German element around Bebel as “bourgeois”, “satisfied” and “well fed”.

Lenin’s view was that the material benefits of colonialism created an “aristocracy of labour” in the imperialist countries.

Thus, the move away from proletarian internationalism towards the socialist fatherland was the result of the success of the movement in legislating for reforms. But these reforms were paid for by the imperialist super-profits extracted from the colonies, and the ‘socialist’ adaptation to super-profits took the form of ‘social imperialism” or: “social chauvinism” -i.e. the civilising socialism of the ballot. Lenin summed up rather optimistically that despite the sharp contrast between the “opportunist and revolutionary wings” … “the work done at Stuttgart will greatly promote the unity of tactics and unity of revolutionary struggle of the proletarians of all countries”.

Nine years later, when the Second International has collapsed in the face of the war, Zinoviev commented that at Stuttgart the coming war was clearly seen on the horizon and it was understood that it would be the life and death test of the International. Yet the opportunists had already “won the upper hand”. “Bebel, Jaures, Branting, Vandervelde, Vollmar, and Vaillant all spoke about “the nation” and “the fatherland” in terms which the social patriots of all countries now find it easy to justify their “new” tactics…Only one speech delivered at Stuttgart differed….in principle – Rosa Luxemburg’s. This speech provided, although not yet in a fully finished form, the basis of the revolutionary Marxist position”. (44)

Zinoviev tried to explain how a resolution that embodied such contradictory positions could be agreed to. The opportunist majority stood for “defence of the fatherland” yet they agreed to the revolutionary amendments. On the one hand they could not openly take a position in defence of the ‘revolutionary father land’ when everyone knew the war would be between bloody imperialist ‘fatherlands’. Second, the revolutionary amendments on strikes and insurrections was “watered-down” by lawyers to avoid the German SD being prosecuted (47). The result was less than Lenin wrote at the time, a congress in the “spirit of revolutionary Marxism”, but more a compromise congress in which the revolutionary left was indulged by an opportunist majority who did not need to proclaim their revisionism openly because they had the material means (voting and bookkeeping) to decide the issue in reality. So the scene was set for further retreats in the years between 1907 and 1914.

The years 1907-1914

The next international Congress was at Copenhagen in 1910. The international became more divided on how to respond to the coming war. Commenting on the German Party Congress at Magdeburg in September 1910 Lenin put his finger on the reason for the failure to take a strong internationalist stand on the war. He recognises that the socialists in Germany have been sucked into a legal apparatus and were unsure how to break with bourgeois legality (parliamentarism).

“The chief feature of this peculiar pre-revolutionary situation consists in the fact that the coming revolution must inevitably be incomparably more profound, more radical, drawing far broader masses into a more difficult, stubborn and prolonged struggle than all previous revolutions. Yet at the same time this pre-revolutionary situation is marked by the greater (in comparison with anything hitherto) domination of legality, which has become an obstacle to those who introduced it…The era of utilising the legality created by the bourgeoisie is giving way to an era of tremendous revolutionary battles, and these battles, in effect, will be the destruction of all bourgeois legality, the whole bourgeois system…” (67)

The Copenhagen resolution against militarism echoed the Stuttgart resolution. It called on workers to use all measures available to stop war, but it stopped well short of the internationalist position that workers should turn imperialist war into a civil war. During the Copenhagen Congress Lenin tried to rally the left wing without success. Rosa Luxemburg wrote a critique of the ‘Peace Utopias’ evident in the resolution. She ridiculed the utopia that imperialists could make peace as flying in the face of imperialist economic expansion and rivalry.

“Arms limitation and curbing militarism are not part of international capitalism’s further development. In fact, they could result only from the stagnation of capitalist development…Only those who think that class antagonisms can be softened and be blunted, and that capitalist economic anarchy can be contained, can think it possible that these international conflicts can subside, ease, or dissolve. For the international antagonisms of the capitalist states are only the complement of class antagonisms, and world political anarchy is but the reverse side of the anarchic system of capitalist production. Only together can they grow and only together can they be overcome. “A little peace and order” is, therefore, impossible, a petty-bourgeois utopia, as much so in the capitalist world market as in world politics, in the limitation of crises as in the limitation of armaments.” (71)

A confrontation between German and French troops in Morocco in July 1911 showed Rosa Luxemburg to be correct. Hermann Molkenbuhr of the SPD executive claimed that the German government had provoked the crisis to “divert attention from the domestic situation and create a mood favourable to them in the Reichstag elections”. He argued that this ruse would fail as ‘pro-French’ industrial capitalists would stop the war as it was against their interests to go to war.

Luxemburg responded attacking the concept that different national imperialist rivalries that surfaced in Morocco could be stopped by a common interest among German and French firms to ‘share’ colonial booty. She summed up Molkenbuhr’s argument:

“Leave it to the grandees of the steel monopolies to order a halt to the German action in Morocco at the appropriate moment. As for us, we will pay as little attention as possible to the entire affair, since we have other business to attend to, namely the Reichstag elections…It is best not to rely on the commitment to peace of any particular capitalist clique, but on the resistance of the enlightened masses as a force for peace…Above all we must carry out socialist education in the Reichstag elections. This cannot be accomplished, however, if we aim our criticism exclusively at Germany’s internal political conditions, and fail to portray the overall international context – capital’s deepening domination over all parts of the world, the obvious anarchy everywhere you look, and the prominent role of colonialism and world power politics in this process. We must not fashion our electoral agitation as some simplistic political primer cut down to a couple of catchy slogans, but as the Socialist world view in its all-encompassing totality and diversity.” (77).

At this time there broke out in the German party a debate on the nature of imperialism. Was it doomed to go to war by its very nature, or was war a sort of aberration, even an accident, that could be corrected by socialist peace policies? On the left was Pannekoek, Radek and others, on the Right was Kautsky, Hesse, Bernstein and others. The left was defending the existing position while the right was looking for a parliamentary road to socialism by arguing that modern imperialism had investments in every country so could not afford to go to war. Kautsky theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ expressed this clearly.

Pannekoek neatly summed up the revisionists’ views:

“We often hear talk of imperialism as a sort of mental derangement of the bourgeoisie…Bernstein speaks of a spiritual epidemic. But we should not conceive of it in such an un-Marxist manner, as if it were an accident.”

Lensch also had some ripe words:

“Comrades! How did the international arms build-up which we have witnessed these last ten years come about? Is it really just a case of international misunderstanding? That would mean that world history had made mistake, as it were: that a capitalism without resort to force, without colonies and fleets is also feasible. No doubt that is true, but only in a vacuum! Perhaps in your imagination or on paper, you can conceive of a capitalism without violence. But we deal with the real capitalism here on earth. Our task cannot be to correct World History’s homework, and say, “Dear World History, here is your work back! Its swarming with mistakes. I marked them all in red. In the future I expect better work from you.” (80).

In October 1912 the International was put to the test by the outbreak of war in the Balkans. Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria attacked Turkey which was defeated and forced to withdraw from its European possessions. Then Serbia, Greece and Romania turned against Bulgaria. What was the role of international socialists in this war? All the various socialist parties took a stand against the war. In Bulgaria a Socialist parliamentarian was assaulted when he spoke out against the war. Yet in each country this opposition got more popular as the death and destruction affected the people. The international correctly saw the Balkan wars as a forerunner of imperialist war. Both sides in the war were pawns of imperialism so the war had to be opposed and stopped by revolutionary means.

An emergency congress was held at Basel November 24-25 1912. The Basel Manifesto began by quoting the earlier Stuttgart and Copenhagen resolutions against war including ‘civil war’, but again refrained from calling on workers to use the methods of ‘strikes and insurrections’ to stop the war.

While the war in the Balkans did not see any wavering from the official line, in the German party the centre and right began to grow in influence as it was put under pressure to vote for money to expand the military. In March 1913 the SDP deputies (MP’s) voted for a huge increase in military spending. The measure needed the SPD support to pass, so the government tried to win its support by introducing an income tax rather than a flat tax that would hit the poor hard. After a sharp debate the majority abandoned the principle ‘not one man, not one penny for war’ and voted for the Bill. At the Party’s Jena Conference in 1913 the leftist position calling for a mass strike in the event of war was outvoted 142 to 333 in favour of the rightist position against the general strike.

Again, Rosa Luxemburg sounded the warning that this capitulation to social chauvinism would lead to disaster with the outbreak of war.

“What will happen if war breaks out and we can do nothing more to avert it? The question will then arise whether the costs should be covered by indirect or direct taxes, and you will then logically support the approval of war credits…the position will lead us onto a slippery slope where there is no way to stop. Let our resolution therefore put an end to such cheating on principles by proclaiming, “So far and no further!” (94)

Jena was the last Congress of the united SDP. The SDP was now split into three factions, Left, Right, and Centre.


[2] The Collapse of the International

 This is the second part of an article that examines the history of the Zimmerwald movement against imperialist war in 1915, in preparation for a ‘new Zimmerwald’ today to oppose the drive to imperialist war. The first part showed that in the years after 1907 the Second International while formally anti-imperialist became rotten at the core with a rightward opportunist movement rooted in the labor bureaucracy. This set the scene for the historic betrayal of August 4, 1914. In this second part we take the story further to show how the revolutionary left was vigorous in challenging the ‘pacifist’ and centrist opposition to the war, notably Liebknecht’s famous vote against war credits, but failed to see the urgency of organizing a strong anti-imperialist war movement.

August 4, 1914.

The outbreak of war saw the rotten centre of the International exposed in a massive betrayal. Despite many dire warnings, this event was still a huge shock for the ‘left’. Rosa Luxemburg co-founder of the new revolutionary journal Die Internationale wrote in the leading article in the first issue “The Reconstruction of the International”:

“On August 4, 1914 German Social Democracy abdicated politically; at the same time the Socialist International collapsed. Every attempt to deny these facts or go gloss them over, regardless of its motive, in reality serves only to perpetuate the disastrous self-deception of the Socialist parties and the internal sickness that led to their collapse.” (183) “A body of four million strong allowed a handful of parliamentarians to turn it around in twenty-four hours and harness it to a wagon going in a direction opposite to its aim in life…Marx, Engels, and Lassalle; Liebknecht, Bebel and Singer trained the German proletariat so that Hindenburg could lead it” (186)

Luxemburg, Trotsky and Lenin all drew the conclusion that this betrayal did not call into question either Marxism or the revolution. It was the result of alien class forces and the ‘internal sicknesses’ of the party. They all called for the reconstruction of a new International to replace the collapsed Second. However, almost immediately differences emerged on how to fight the war. Trotsky said that workers had to stop the war to preserve their power and so use their arms to fight for the United States of Europe. But how? Mobilize for peace? “Neither victory or defeat” was his slogan. [155] Lenin argued that workers must oppose the war by calling for the defeat of their own country. It was necessary to turn imperialist war into civil war by turning their weapons on their own bourgeoisie. [156] Trotsky criticized the Bolsheviks for their defeatism in Russia as unrealistic. It is “an uncalled for and absolutely unjustified concession to the political methodology of social-patriotism, which would replace the revolutionary struggle against the war and the conditions causing it, with an orientation – highly arbitrary in the present conditions – towards the lesser evil”. Trotsky wants to avoid defeats as they “disorganize the whole of social life, and above all else the working class”. [165]

Lenin responded that this was typical of Trotsky’s “high-flown” phrases with which he “justifies opportunism”. He criticised Trotsky for calling for peace without any means of linking this to revolution i.e. defeatism. “‘A revolutionary struggle against the war’ is merely an empty and meaningless exclamation, something at which the heroes of the Second International excel, unless it means revolutionary action against one’s own government even in wartime.” [166]. Lenin accused Trotsky of ‘opportunism’ because Trotsky assumed that the call for the defeat of Russia must mean the victory of Germany. The ‘lesser evil’ means that Russian workers will see the victory of Germany as preferable to the victory of the Tsar. And Trotsky is not prepared to swim against this stream of social-patriotism. But, said Lenin the 2nd International position was clear:

“In all the imperialist countries the proletariat now desire the defeat of its own government”. So, in rejecting the call for workers in all countries to defeat their governments, and adopting the position that one nation must win, it is Trotsky that adapts to the “political methodology of social-patriotism” [167].

Trotsky was moving toward Kautsky’s fatalist view that neither revolutions nor international solidarity between workers of different countries is possible in an imperialist war. That’s why the call for ‘peace’ is substituted for ‘defeatism’ because it does not challenge social-patriotism. It means in effect “neither victory nor defeat”.  This is a paraphrase of the “defence of the fatherland” slogan because it is a ‘class truce’. The working class is neither for nor against the war policy of its ruling class which also claims to be ‘against defeat’. [168] So the class struggle is suspended for the duration of the war. That is why the Italian government threatened its social democrats with ‘treason’ if it called a general strike. This is why the Tsarist government charged Russia’s social-democrats with ‘high treason’.

For Lenin:

“A proletarian cannot deal a class blow at his government or hold out (in fact) a hand to his brother, the proletarian of the ‘foreign country’, without contributing to the defeat, to the disintegration of his ‘own’ imperialist ‘Great Power’” [169]. “…Those who stand for the “neither-victory-nor-defeat” slogan are in fact on the side of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, for they do not believe in the possibility of international revolutionary action by the working class against their own governments, and do not wish to help develop such action, which, though undoubtedly difficult, is the only task worthy of a proletarian, the only socialist task. It is the proletariat in the most backward of the belligerent Great Powers which, through the medium of their party, have had to adopt – especially in the view of the shameful treachery of the German and French Social-Democrats – revolutionary tactics that are quite unfeasible unless they ‘contribute to the defeat’ of their own government, but which alone lead to a European revolution, to the permanent peace of socialism, to the liberation of humanity from the horrors, misery, savagery and brutality now prevailing.” [170]

In Germany it was some months before the revolutionary left was able to mobilize opposition to the leadership’s betrayal. Small meetings in working class branches supported the minority opposition to war credits but also criticized the minority for upholding party discipline and voting with the war credits majority in the Reichstag. In Stuttgart on September 21, a meeting of SPD elected leaders condemned the war credits stand by 81 to 3. Liebknecht responded:

“You are quite right for criticizing me. Even if alone, I should have called out my “No!” in the Reichstag and so informed the whole world that the talk of unanimity of the Reichstag and the German people is a lie”. [173]

In November in the Berlin suburb of Niederbarnim local left wingers also took a stand against the war credits: “Had the Social Democratic faction done its duty on August 4, the external form of the organization would probably have been destroyed, but the spirit would have remained…then the German working class would have carried out its historic mission.” Their conclusion was to build a new party and begin underground work.

“The Main Enemy is at Home”: Liebknecht and the Spartacists

On December 2, 1914 Karl Liebknecht took his historic stand and cast the sole vote against war appropriations. [174] In a declaration, “Explanation of War Credits Vote”, distributed as an illegal leaflet he explained his political stand. In the leaflet, Liebknecht said he refused to vote for war credits because the war “is an imperialist war, fought for the capitalist domination of the world market and for the political domination of important territories for settlement of industrial and finance capital’” [175]

Liebknecht was drafted into the army on 7 February 1915. Rosa Luxemburg was arrested and jailed on 18 February. Despite the repression, the left SDs formed an underground opposition to imperialist war in the factories and working-class areas, known as the ‘Spartacists’ – the name of the leader of a slave rebellion against the Roman empire. Their main slogan became “The Main Enemy is at Home”!

But it was the Russian revolutionaries who spelled out what revolutionary defeatism meant.

“Who is it that threatens the Russian people? Who should we combat? They say it is the Germans…But it is the landlords, the factory owners, the big proprietors and merchants who steal from us; it is the police, the tsar, and his hangers-on who rob us. And when we have had enough of this robbery, and call a strike to protect our interests, then the police, the soldiers, and the Cossacks who are unleashed upon us…Now they try to mislead us and make us believe that our enemy is “the Germans” whom we have never seen… But will we Russian workers be so stupid as to take these lying phrases seriously? No! If we must sacrifice our lives, we will do it for our own cause. They put guns in our hands. Good. We will use these guns to fight for better living conditions for the Russian working class.” [178]

Revolutionary defeatism got a practical endorsement during Christmas 1914, when British, French and German soldiers fraternized at the front. The British and German troops even organized their own 48-hour truce! Lenin wrote that this proved workers could unite against their own bosses. The military high commands worried that it might spread rapidly ordered that fraternization was high treason punishable by death. Lenin wrote (in The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated) that if the opportunists had devoted their efforts to calling on workers to fraternize for peace instead of backing their bosses war efforts and accepting ministerial jobs, then the spontaneous fraternization of Christmas 1914 might spread on into the new year and beyond. The real issue came down to what cause should workers die for.

“There is only one practical issue – victory or defeat for one’s country – Kautsky, lackey of the opportunists, has written…Indeed, if one were to forget socialism and the class struggle, that would be the truth. However, if one does not lose sight of socialism, that is untrue. Then there is another practical issue: should we perish as blind and helpless slaves, in a war between slaveholders, or should we fall in the “attempts at fraternization” between slaves, with the aim of casting off slavery? Such, in reality, is the “practical” issue.” [179]

Kautsky and ‘ultra-imperialism’

Meanwhile, Kautsky was working overtime trying to invent new twists in Marxist theory that would justify workers not having to fight anybody in principle. His theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ was revamped to claim that imperialist war was old fashioned and that the class interests of the bosses were now so enmeshed in each other’s stock markets that fighting imperialist wars was bad for business. “Every far-sighted capitalist today [with the benefit of Kautsky’s lesson on where their class interests lay] must call on his fellows: capitalists of all countries unite!” [180] Kautsky is saying: imperialists wake up! Why are you fighting among yourselves when the real danger is posed by the colonial and semi-colonial countries, and by your own socialist movements? You are ruining yourselves unnecessarily. Stop the war in your own interests. Peace brings prosperity! This was the old opportunist line from the pre-war Congresses of appealing to the bosses’ self-interest but now revived to provide ‘official Marxist’ legitimacy to the opportunists.

Kautsky and Co got the savaging they deserved from the revolutionaries. In a new theoretical journal, Die International, launched on April 14 1915 to combat this falsification of Marxism and to advance the creation of a new revolutionary leadership, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the devastatingly brilliant ‘The Reconstruction of the International’:

“Kautsky, the representative of the so-called Marxist Centre – politically speaking, the theoretician of the ‘swamp’ – made a sincere contribution to the party’s present collapse. Many years ago, he degraded theory to the role of obliging hand-maiden to the official practice of the party establishment. Already he has thought up an opportune new theory to justify and whitewash the collapse”.[184] “…Official theory, whose organ is Die Neue Zeit, [The New Times!] misuses Marxism any way it pleases to serve the party officials’ current domestic requirements and to justify their day-to-day dealings…The world historic call of the Communist Manifesto has been substantially enriched and, as corrected by Kautsky, now reads: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite in peacetime and cut each other’s throats in wartime!” “According to historical materialism, as Marx laid it out, all of previously recorded history is the history of class struggle. According to Kautsky’s revision of materialism, that must be amended to read: ‘except in time of war’.” [187]

Luxemburg goes for Kautsky’s throat:

“A moments reflection shows that Kautsky’s theory of historical materialism…does not leave a single stone of Marxist theory standing. According to Marx neither the class struggle nor war fall from the sky, but rather arise out of deep-seated social and economic causes. Thus neither of the two can periodically disappear unless their causes also vanish into thin air.” “…Wars in the present historical period result from the competing interests of rival groups of capitalists and from capitalism’s need to expand. But these two driving forces do not operate only when the cannon’s roar, but also in peacetime, when they prepare and make inevitable the outbreak of new wars. War is indeed, as Kautsky is fond of quoting from Clausewitz, only ‘continuation of politics by other means.’ And it is precisely the imperialist stage of capitalist domination whose arms race has made peace illusory, by declaring what is in essence the dictatorship of militarism and permanent war.” [188]

On the dangers of ‘official Marxism’ Luxemburg says this:

“All attempts to make Marxism conform to the present transitory decrepitude of Socialist practice, to prostitute it to the level of a mercenary apologist for social imperialism, are in themselves more dangerous than all the blatant and shrill excesses of the nationalist confusion in the ranks of the party. Such attempts tend not only to conceal the real causes of the International’s profound failure, but also to discard the lessons from this experience necessary for its future construction.” [192]

Writing for the Russian Bolshevik journal Kommunist, in September 1915, Lenin also takes Kautsky apart in “The Collapse of the Second International”. First Lenin refutes Kautsky’s complaint that the revolutionary situation that was expected at the Basle Congress did not occur with the outbreak of war because governments got stronger and workers weaker. Lenin shows that the war did create a revolutionary situation which he famously defined in this article. A revolutionary situation exists ‘objectively’ when the ruling classes find it impossible to rule ‘in the old way’; when the ‘lower classes do not want to live in the old way’, and when workers are drawn into independent action. To which he adds the necessary ‘subjective’ changes to workers consciousness –the “ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government” [194]. Thus, the prediction of the pre-war Basle Manifesto is “fully confirmed” says Lenin:

“[even]…those who fear revolution – petty bourgeois Christian parsons, the General Staffs and millionaires’ newspapers – are compelled to admit that symptoms of a revolutionary situation exist in Europe…To deny this truth, directly or indirectly, or to ignore it, as Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co have done, means telling a big lie, deceiving the working class, and serving the bourgeoisie”. [196]

So rather than take advantage of a revolutionary situation to ‘hasten’ the downfall of capitalism as demanded in the Basle Resolution, Kautsky and Co take refuge in the ‘big lie’ that no such crisis exists. Hence Kautsky rejects the charge that the leadership of the SD betrayed the masses. He caricatures the left SD position as calling for a ‘revolution within 24 hours’ which was impossible. Lenin counters that revolutions are not ‘made’ but develop within objective conditions and the betrayal of the leadership was a massive setback to that development. Kautsky justifies his position by trying to make the crisis dissolve into thin air as a ‘mistaken’ policy option that can be turned into peace by appealing to ruling class interests. Thus, the conditions were not ripe for revolution because the ruling class had not come to an impasse where it could not ‘rule in the old way’ but could instead opt for peace rather than war.

Lenin responds:

“The most subtle theory of social-chauvinism, one that has been most skillfully touched up to look scientific and international, is the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ advanced by Kautsky…This theory boils down, and can only boil down, to the following: Kautsky is exploiting the hope for a new peaceful era of capitalism so as to justify the adhesion of the opportunists and the official Social-Democratic parties to the bourgeoisie, and their rejection of revolutionary i.e. proletarian, tactics in the present stormy era…[198] “…Let us recall what the passage from the previous and “peaceful” period of capitalism to the present and imperialist period has been based on: free competition has yielded to monopolist capitalist combines, and the world has been partitioned. Both of these facts (and factors) are obviously of world-wide significance: Free Trade and peaceful competition were possible and necessary as long as capital was in a position to enlarge its colonies without hindrance, and seize unoccupied land in Africa, etc., and as long as the concentration of capital was still weak and no monopolist concerns existed i.e. concerns of a magnitude permitting domination of an entire branch of industry. The appearance and growth of such monopolist concerns (has this process been stopped in Britain or America? Not even Kautsky will dare deny that the war has accelerated and intensified it) have rendered the free competition of former times impossible; they have cut the ground from under its feet, while the partition of the world compels the capitalists to go over form peaceful expansion to an armed struggle for the repartitioning of colonies and spheres of influence.” [199]

Both Luxemburg and Lenin proved that Kautsky’s ‘official Marxism’ rejected the laws of capitalist development and the operation of the market, leaving “no stone” of Marxist theory overturned. Rather imperialism by its nature was inevitably forced to war. That war created the objective factors necessary for a revolutionary situation but the old leadership had betrayed the Basle resolution and failed to lead a revolutionary opposition to the war. It needed to be replaced urgently by a new leadership that could exploit the revolutionary crisis and turn imperialist war into civil war. The time was overdue to regroup the left SD forces and begin the process of building a new Third International. It was necessary to unite the left forces and prepare for a anti-war conference. The question arises why did the ‘left’ leave the initiative to the ‘centre’ to convene the first anti-war conference at Zimmerwald in September 1915, one year after the war had begun. Why did it take the ‘left’ so long to re-organize?

Towards the Zimmerwald “Left”

The bourgeoisie understood that imperialist war created a revolutionary crisis and passed tough repressive measures against workers and the ‘left’ in general. The anti-war movement was driven underground and many of their leaders and cadres were imprisoned. To implement the Basle resolution and the call to turn imperialist war into civil war, the left needed to build a new international. Why didn’t the left initiate an antiwar conference?  Two pre-conferences were held during this period; an International conference of Women met in Bern, March 26-28, and an Internationalist Youth Conference during April 1915. But no call arose out of either of these for a full-blown anti-war conference. In May 1915, the Italians tried to get the ISB to hold an antiwar conference. This was rejected, so the Italians decided to convene a conference without the ISB. A Preliminary Conference met on July 11 in Bern. Invitations were sent to the official ISB national leaderships! Kautsky among others declined. Zinoviev reported on the Preliminary Conference. He was obviously surprised to find that the organizers had invited only representatives of the official ISB parties “Where are the genuine lefts of the International?”, he asked.


[3] The Zimmerwald Left and Lessons for Today

How and when did the split which formed the Zimmerwald Left in 1915 take place? Why was this the important step to building a new international? What are the lessons to be learned today as US imperialism steps up its war drive? With the end of the Soviet Bloc most of the Western left has reverted to a Menshevik position of putting faith in the completion of the bourgeois revolution. They have given up on any belief that the working class is the revolutionary class and substituted the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. Those who adapt to democratic imperialism, Stalinists, centrists, and social democrats avoid fighting their own ruling class! They turn their backs on revolutionary Marxism, Leninism, and Bolshevism. As the contradictions of imperialism intensify these Menshevik currents form a counter-revolutionary barrier to the leftward movement of workers and poor peasants. That is why we need a New Zimmerwald, a new Bolshevik left, and a new Communist International.

During the first year of the war the pressure from the left for an international conference to unite those prepared to break with the social chauvinists and pacifists was sabotaged by the right and centre. The preliminary conference in Bern on July 11 1915 was dominated by the right and centre and rejected Zinoviev’s motions for revolutionary mass actions against the war. When the Zimmerwald Conference was finally held, September 5-8, 8 delegates including the Polish, Russian delegates met beforehand and formed the ‘Zimmerwald left’. They were Lenin and Zinoviev (Bolsheviks), Berzin (Latvian social democrats), Radek (Polish-Lithuanian opposition), Borchardt (for Lichenstrahlen in Germany), Hoglund and Nerman (Swedish and Norwegian left), and Platten (Switzerland). Trotsky was among several others who attended this meeting but did not endorse the left’s position.

Liebknecht writing a letter from prison greets the delegates and calls for a “settling of accounts with the deserters and turncoats of the International”. He urges the delegates to fight an international class war and to break with false appeals to national and party unity. He concludes:

“The new international will arise on the ruins of the old. It can only arise on these ruins, on new and firmer foundations. Friends – socialists from all countries – you must lay the foundation stone today for the future structure. Pass irreconcilable judgement upon the false socialists…Long live the future peace among peoples! Long live internationalist, people-liberating, and revolutionary!”

The formation of the ‘Zimmerwald left’ was the decisive step in the break with the old international. Lenin and Radek had drafted resolutions to put to the conference. Radek’s was adopted but Lenin’s references to support for colonial wars and calling for ‘defeat of one’s own country’ were omitted. Yet Radek’s draft was still strong. The war is characterised as an imperialist war. The causes of war could only be overcome by socialist revolution in the leading countries. The majority of the socialist international had gone over to the social patriotism of their national bourgeoisies. The ‘centre’ current of pacifists such as Kautsky was more dangerous than the open patriots because it misled and confused the more advanced workers. The left must struggle against social patriotism with every method at its disposal – rejection of war credits, propaganda against the war, demonstrations, fraternalization in the trenches, strikes etc. Quoting Liebknecht’s letter, Radek concludes: “Civil war, not ‘civil peace’ is out slogan” (299).

The debates at Zimmerwald centred around the question of ‘civil peace’ versus ‘civil war’. Most delegates were for ‘peace’ because they said workers were demoralised, confused and needed further preparation before they could turn the war into a ‘civil war’. Those against ‘civil peace’ also included Trotsky who opposed to pacifism ‘class struggle and ‘social revolution’. Chernov the Russian socialist revolutionary said that the “struggle for peace exclusively” must be extended to the “struggle for social revolution”. Radek’s resolution that put the case for ‘civil war’ was voted down 19 to 12 and did not become part of the final manifesto. Trotsky and Roland-Holst, Chernov and Natanson voted with the Zimmerwald 8.

 Zimmerwald Manifesto

The Zimmerwald Manifesto addresses the Proletarians of Europe:

“one thing is certain: the war that has produced this chaos is the product of imperialism…economically backward or politically weak nations are thereby subjugated by the great powers, who, in this war, are seeking to remake the world map with blood and iron, in accord with their exploiting interests…In the course of the war, its driving forces are revealed in all their vileness…The capitalists of all countries who are coining the gold of war profits out of the blood shed by the people, assert that the war is for defence of the fatherland, for democracy and the liberation of oppressed nations…thus the war reveals the naked figure of modern capitalism which has become irreconcilable not only with the interests of the masses of workers, not only with the requirements of historical development, but also with the elementary conditions of human existence…this situation that faces us, threatening the entire future of Europe and humanity, cannot and must not be tolerated any longer without action. “…Proletarians! Since the outbreak of the war you have placed your energy, your courage, your endurance at the service of the ruling classes. Now you must stand up for your own cause, for the sacred aims of socialism, for the emancipation of the oppressed nations as well as of the enslaved classes, by means of irreconcilable class struggle”.

“Class struggle”? What does this mean? Socialists in the countries at war are told to take up “this task”. What is this? “peace among the people”. Compared with real task of turning the imperialist war into civil war this is a pious platitude. (320) Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, Nerman, Hoglund and Winter of the Zimmerwald left produced a statement protesting the omission of any “characterisation of opportunism” as the main cause of the capitulation to war, and any clear presentation of “methods of struggle against the war”. But they agreed to vote for the Manifesto as a “call to struggle, and because we want to march forward in this struggle arm in arm with the other sections of the International”.

The Zimmerwald Left was aware of the need to use the left position to break with the right and centre to form a new international. Lenin and the others (excluding Trotsky) saw that a split was necessary. Radek called the betrayal of the opportunists a de facto split. The failure to prepare for a new international quickly was to set the scene for later defeats. This is most obvious in Lenin’s critique of the Spartacists for not taking a firm independent line against the centrists in Germany.

The main lesson from Zimmerwald was that the left needed to strike out on an independent course (collaborating where possible at Zimmerwald etc) to win over the most advanced workers, with both a critique of opportunism and the revolutionary mobilisation against the ruling class. Radek put this forcefully in his report on the conference:

“It may be a long-time before the masses, bled white by the war recover and renew the struggle. We can shorten this time, however by explaining to the most conscious workers why the International collapsed, how they have to struggle, for what goals they must appeal to other workers, and how they must organise the struggle under conditions of military rule. The more difficult the situation the clearer must be the politics of socialism. It is never too early to tell the workers their true situation”. (339)

Lenin’s critique of Luxemburg and Trotsky

Lenin critiqued Luxemburg and the German Spartacists for following the Zimmerwald Manifesto in toning down their critique of opportunism and failing to break from the centrists and create an independent party. He was responding to Luxemburg’s famous ‘Junius Pamphlet’.

“The chief defect in Junius pamphlet…is its silence about the connection between social chauvinism …and opportunism. This is wrong from the standpoint of theory, for it is impossible to account for the ‘betrayal’ [of the 2nd international without linking it up with opportunism as a trend with a long history behind it, the history of the whole Second International. ..It is also a mistake from the practical political standpoint, for it is impossible either to understand the ‘crisis of social democracy’ or overcome it, without clarifying the meaning and the role of two trends, the openly opportunist trend…and the tacitly opportunist trend…A very great defect in revolutionary Marxism in Germany as a whole is its lack of a compact illegal organisation that would systematically pursue its own line and educate the masses in the spirit of the new tasks; such an organisation would have to take a definite stand on opportunism and Kautskyism.” (436).

Lenin also criticises Luxemburg for not understanding that a civil war against the bourgeoisie was necessary.

“In saying that the class struggle is the best means of defence against invasion, Junius applies Marxist dialectics only half way…Marxist dialectics call for a concrete analysis of each specific historical situation…Class struggle…is too general and therefore inadequate in the present specific case. Civil war against the bourgeoisie is also a form of class struggle, and only this form of class struggle would have saved Europe…from invasion” (443)

Lenin explains these defects in Luxemburg’s position materially as due to the ‘environment’ of German social democracy and the fear of the leftists to follow “their revolutionary slogans to their logical conclusions”. As a result, Luxemburg pulls back to “something like a Menshevik ‘theory of stages’ of first defending a republic and then to the next stage – socialist revolution”. “But this shortcoming is not Junius’ personal failing, but the result of the weakness of all the German leftists, who have become entangled in the vile net of Kautskyite hypocrisy, pedantry and “friendliness” for the opportunists.”

Trotsky’s role in all this was confusionist. He had illusions in winning of the ‘centre’. He talked of Kautsky moving left. He confused the necessary subjective task of winning the most advanced workers (Radek’s point) with the objective backward consciousness of workers. This misled him into trying to influence the party leaders of the centre like Kautsky who had “authority” with the masses. Hence his mechanical schematic view that workers had to stop fighting themselves before they would fight their own bourgeoisies. This was true but undialectical. Trotsky was proved wrong. When the German soldiers and sailors mutinied in 1918 they fulfilled the first part of Trotsky’s schema. But instead of turning their guns against the bourgeoisie, they were talked into exchanging their guns for votes in a German Republic. In Russia, the first revolution in February against the Tsar did not succumb to the bourgeoisie. The armed workers retained their guns, defeated the counter-revolution and went on to make the socialist revolution.

What was the lesson from Zimmerwald? Lenin expressed it very well. Imperialist wars can be won by workers only by means of a socialist revolution. Wars open up revolutionary crises and the revolutionary leadership must clearly take the lead from the right and centre of the party. The right goes further to the right and drags the centre with it. Failure to break from the centre was the fate of the German Spartacists. The lack of as Bolshevik party in Germany was the vital factor that allowed the counter-revolution to succeed. The defeat of the German revolution was ultimately to bring the defeat of the Russian revolution in 1991.

 We need a new Bolshevik International

Menshevism allows the possibility of a ‘peaceful’ evolutionary transition to socialism and so sees bourgeois democracy as a shell for workers democracy. But In times of war capitalism doesn’t want workers votes it want their blood. Revolutionaries have to counter that by building independent workers organs that do not rely on bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie counterposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat. That’s why we were against bourgeois democracy in the former Degenerate Workers States (DWS). As Trotsky said bourgeois democracy could only be counter-revolutionary in a DWS.

Today the remains of the 2nd International are even more openly social imperialist. Socialism has virtually disappeared inside imperialism. The new imperialism promotes western values of democracy and human rights as the means of ‘civilising’ the colonial and semi-colonial world. The remains of the 3rd international have become 2nd internationalists in the imperialist world, In the ‘3rd world’ they are for the patriotic popular front to complete the bourgeois revolution in the former workers states and in the semi-colonies. This means counterposing the international civil society of Porto Alegre to the rogue institutions of globalisation such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO etc. Both of these currents endorse the right of imperialism to intervene in oppressed states to remove local dictators and facilitate ‘democratic’ regimes. They are against the armed struggle of colonial and semi-colonial peoples to do it themselves.

The degenerate Trotskyists are joining forces with these betrayers to revise the permanent revolution and promote the democratic stage as a necessary preparation for the socialist stage. But this is a grotesque deformation of the theory of permanent revolution that says that the democratic stage can be completed only by socialism. That is, the struggle right now is for socialism during which the incomplete democratic tasks will be completed.

Zimmerwald teaches us the importance of the fundamental distinction between the methods of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks explained by Lenin in What is to be Done, and then proven decisively i the massive betrayal in imperialist war. The Mensheviks wanted peace first, that is an end to military imperialism by peaceful imperialism. This was so because it was the institutions of bourgeois democracy, parliament, pressured by the masses that would enact peace. The Bolsheviks, dominating the Zimmerwald Left, saw the need to activate the working masses directly to stop the war by turning the imperialist war into a ‘civil war’.

Thus, the Bolsheviks called for the struggle for socialism as the only way to stop the imperialist war. They knew that this struggle would transform workers from a backward, defensive consciousness, in awe of the bosses’ parliament, into a revolutionary force capable of socialist revolution. Today, under conditions of growing crisis and drive to imperialist war on the part of US imperialism, revolutionaries have this same task. We need a New Zimmerwald. We have to reject the Menshevik program of counterposing bourgeois democracy to US imperialism in the Porto Alegre, anti-globalising, sense. We have to break from the politics of the popular front and internationally from the Menshevik international. We have to rebuild a new Bolshevik International now!


Originally published in in Class Struggle, journal of the Communist Workers Group of New Zealand/Aotearoa, 2002; and reprinted in Communist Worker, June 2008.

Part two

Part Three

All page references are to Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years. Edited by John Riddell. Monad Press, New York, 1984.  Not online.

Lenin’s “Socialism and War” pamphlet

The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated

The Collapse of the Second International




Written by raved

October 3, 2018 at 10:34 am

War Crimes for Idiots: The New Zealand SAS and the War on Terror

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Situations Vacant

SAS3 Part of the NZ SAS squad walking away from a firefight in Kabul, June 2011

17 years after 9/11 and the official launch of the War on Terror (WOT) NZ finds itself facing for the first time the undeniable proof that it was recruited by the US (“for us or against us”) as mercenaries in the US campaign to avenge itself against ‘Islamic Terrorism’. The occasion is not any actual current events in the WOT in Afghanistan, but the publication of the book Hit and Run by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson documenting Operation Burnham, the revenge raid against the killers of SAS Lieutenant O’Donnell led by the NZ SAS on two villages in the Tirgiran valley during the dead of night on March 22, 2010. The title of the book might have been ‘Hunt and Kill’ as that more accurately describes the nature of the SAS mission between 2002…

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Written by raved

February 10, 2018 at 9:25 pm

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Review of China Mieville’s: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

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Commenting on the many works on the Russian Revolution, China Mieville describes his book as: “… a short introduction for those curious about an astonishing story, eager to be caught up in the revolution’s rhythms. Because here it is precisely as a story that I have tried to tell it.”  This captures the purpose but also the vivacity of the book which is like a beautifully written film-script told by invoking the living flesh and blood individuals and life and death events that made 1917 such a world-historic year 100 years ago. Mieville tells the ‘strange story’ well but leaves himself open to criticism that he blames the Bolsheviks for ‘mistakes and crimes’ (such as the ‘one party state’, War Communism, censorship, ‘one-person management’, and Kronstadt). Not as necessary means to an end (desiderata), but the result of ‘weakness’. That these ‘failures and crimes’ were explained at the time as a consequence of the counter-revolution is not properly addressed, leaving the book somewhat lacking as a guide to revolution today. Nonetheless, for those who are wanting an inspiring, page-turning account of the most important event in human history, October is it.



No Halfway House

The story begins with a prehistory of the years before 1917 as the struggles against reactionary Tsarism test the various revolutionary currents. In particular, for the Bolsheviks who reject the standard Eurocentric Marxist dogma that after the Tsar would come the rule of Russian capitalists. It is the experience of the 1905 revolution that convinces the Bolsheviks (the majority of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party) to break with the Menshevik (minority) line that the bourgeoisie must lead the fight against the Tsar.

The Bolsheviks, by contrast, contend that in the context of pusillanimous liberalism, the working class itself must lead the revolution, in alliance not with those liberals but with the peasantry, taking power, in what Lenin has called a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.

The book then weaves a story of the development of the revolution, month by month, from the opening February Revolution to the closing October Insurrection. February ends the Tsarist rule as when 100,000s of women and men strike in their factories, joined by mutinous and sailors, to take to the streets demanding ‘bread’ and ‘peace’. “This is not a mutiny, comrade admiral, shouted one sailor. “This is a revolution.” The power vacuum is filled by a desperate scramble in the Duma (Tsarist ‘parliament’) to create a “Provisional Committee” for a Bourgeois Parliament, and by a “Temporary Committee” for a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. Hence the arrival of “dual power” shared by the bourgeoisie in the Provisional Government and the workers in the Soviet!

The revolution can now go nowhere other than forward to victory, or back to defeat. There is no ‘half-way house’. In the months that follow, the struggle for power zig-zags between both classes as the bourgeoisie resist the call for “All Power to the Soviets”. In March, the workers and soldiers have the power but not the leadership to use it effectively. The Bolsheviks are caught off guard. Even Lenin in Switzerland worried he might not live to see the revolution. Workers and soldiers spontaneously demand the formation of a ‘provisional revolutionary government’ along the lines of Lenin’s slogan for a Workers’ Government to carry through the bourgeois revolution.

But the leading Bolsheviks in Russia are not ready for power and prefer that the Soviets support the bourgeois provisional government provided it meets a list of democratic demands. This was the Menshevik position. Soviets would force the Provisional Government to ‘take power’ and go to a Constituent Assembly or bourgeois parliament. Only the soldiers, rejecting the ongoing war, resist handing over their armed power to the bourgeoisie without a fight and demand that the Soviets, not the bourgeoisie, should control the army! Trotsky later refers to this ‘Order No 1 as “a charter of freedom for the revolutionary army”. The Soviets, even the Bolshevik leadership, are lagging behind the revolutionary masses.

The question of the Bolshevik failure of leadership is raised dramatically by Lenin from exile. In early March, he writes a series of “Letters from Afar” proving that despite his absence he was in touch with the masses. These letters re-affirm old positions, most urgently against ‘defence of the fatherland’, as the Provisional Government continues the war. Some Bolsheviks think that the bourgeois republic should defend itself from German imperialism. Lenin points out that ‘revolutionary defencism’ is a crime. Russian imperialism, aligned to French and British imperialism, is engaged in an inter-imperialist war. More ‘shocking’ is Lenin’s total rejection of any support for the bourgeois Government which is on the side of imperialism against the revolutionary masses. The ‘first stage of the revolution will not be its last’. The workers must take power in order to complete the bourgeois revolution. The anti-war mood grows and soldiers are chaffing under the weak Bolshevik policy in the Soviets ‘conciliating’ with the bourgeois-imperialist Provisional Government.

Meanwhile Stalin, Kamenev etc arrive in Petrograd and take-over Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper. On March 15, they condemn the slogan, ‘Down with war’, and argue,

Our slogan is to bring pressure to bear on the Provisional Government so as to compel it to make, without fail, openly and before the eyes of world democracy, and attempt to induce all the warring countries to initiate immediate negotiations to end the world war. Till then let everyone remain at his post.

In case there is any doubt, “post” means, “answering bullet with bullet and shell with shell.”

March ends with another sort of bombshell. Lenin arrives in Petrograd with his famous ‘April Theses’. The Bolshevik ‘old guard’ is lagging behind the revolutionary masses and has to be straightened out. The scenario, of Lenin meeting the welcoming crowds at the Finland Station, is well told. Lenin stuns the conciliating Bolshevik leaders.

What Lenin demanded was continual revolution. He spoke briefly to those present. Scorned ‘watchfulness’ as a position on the Provisional Government. He denounced the Soviet’s ‘revolutionary defencism’ as an instrument of the bourgeoisie. He raged at the lack of Bolshevik ‘discipline’. His comrades listened in stricken silence.

The next day Lenin intervenes at a Bolshevik-Menshevik meeting to discuss unity. He presents his 10-point ‘April Theses’.

Lenin’s April Theses

In summary, Lenin says that:

…for now, the order of the day was to explain the imperative of a struggle to take power from the government, and to replace any parliamentary republic with a ‘Republic of Soviets’.

Mieville vividly describes the reactions all round. Shock, horror, bewilderment, anger, among the leaders, who write off Lenin’s ‘personal opinions’ as ‘anarchism’, ‘schematism’, ‘Blanquism’. They reject Lenin’s new line that the bourgeois revolution can only be completed by going on to the socialist revolution. But when Lenin takes his Theses to the mass meetings of the rank and file workers, soldiers and peasants, his program resonates with the revolutionary masses. They know that the revolution has to be completed, or suffer the counter-revolution. It is socialism or death. Lenin is accused of swallowing Trotsky’s permanent revolution, which, though not mentioned by Mieville, Lenin has defended as far back as 1905.

Between the minimum and the maximum program (of the Social Democrats) a revolutionary continuity is established. It is not a question of a single “blow”, or of a single day or month, but of a whole historical epoch. It would be absurd to try to fix its duration in advance.

The masses are on the march whatever the Bolsheviks say, so Lenin is in fact, marching in step with the masses by fixing the duration of the ‘historical epoch’ in advance, from February to the socialist insurrection. The timing depending on the Bolsheviks winning the majority of workers, soldiers (peasants in uniform) and poor peasants in the Soviet. To prepare for the insurrection the Bolsheviks must gain a majority in the Soviets against the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SR: the big peasant-socialist party). Despite the bankruptcy of the Provisional Government, and the growing anger of the ranks, the Soviets, under their Menshevik and SR majority continue to collaborate with the prime minister, Kerensky. From May to as long as it takes, the task of those who back Lenin, is to prepare for power, by continually checking the balance of forces so as to judge when the time is ripe for the insurrection.

May and June were months when the impatient masses, particularly the soldiers, wanted to flex their arms and stage demonstrations against the Government. In June, responding to pressure from below, the Bolsheviks boycott the Soviet rally for the Constituent Assembly to ‘finish’ the bourgeois revolution. Instead they ‘test the water’ by organizing protests demanding the end of the Provisional Government.  The result is as huge rally behind banners calling for “Peace! Land! Bread!”.

Sunday’s demonstration, wrote Gorky’s paper, Novaya zhizn, revealed the complete triumph of Bolshevism among the Petersburg Proletariat.

The Bolsheviks then try to restrain further armed demonstrations which the Soviets vow to squash, until they have won the majority in the soviets.

July brings a more serious test of the balance of dual power. Mass protests and street fighting lead to a clamp-down by the Government. The Bolshevik leadership was in jail (notably Trotsky) or in hiding (Lenin in Finland). From July to September, Lenin along with Trotsky in the leadership, continually assess the balance of power to decide the timing of the insurrection. First, in August, the counter-revolutionary coup of General Kornilov is defeated by the revolutionary masses. September sees Lenin in exile constantly badgering the Bolshevik leadership to boycott the ‘compromisers’ attempts to steer the revolution back to the Constituent Assembly and ‘bourgeois democracy’ – the fateful halfway house. Finally, in October the Bolsheviks win a majority of the Soviets and under the ‘legal’ cover of the impending Second Congress of Soviets on the 20th, plan the insurrection. As Trotsky says in Lessons of October, it is the refusal of the Petrograd Garrison to obey Kerensky’s order to go to the front on the 10th of October that kicks-off the armed insurrection, and sets the scene for the “ultimate fate of state power”.


Insurrection builds over weeks, days and hours 

Picking up the Mieville’s story in the month October, the pace of the revolution speeds up, and events are counted in weeks, then days, and finally, approaching the 25th and the Second Congress of Soviets, hours. As Trotsky says of that time: events are “measured not by the long yardstick of politics, but the short yardstick of war.”  The Bolsheviks always judge events in terms of the impact of class struggle on a revolutionary situation. Events rush forward and come to a climax as they are forced to a head-to-head of the two classes in a fight to the death. Dual power now reaches a stalemate and can only be broken by proletarian revolution or bourgeois counter-revolution.

As the climax builds during October, events are driven by the approaching war and the militancy of the masses, impatient for peace, land and bread. The Bolshevik Central Committee (CC) fails to keep pace with the masses, while the Mensheviks and SRs scheme to draw the Soviets into a Pre-Parliament as a precursor to the Constituent Assembly. Meanwhile, chaos reigned as the Germans threaten Petrograd and the counter-revolution builds. Lenin in hiding, fumes at the inaction. It is time for deeds not words. On September 29 comes what Mieville calls the “bombshell.” Lenin sends a ‘declaration of war’ to the Bolshevik Central Committee and tenders his resignation from the CC.

In view of the fact that the CC has even left unanswered the persistent demands I have been making for such a policy [take power now!] ever since the beginning of the Democratic Conference, in view of the fact that the central organ [Pravda] is deleting from my articles all references to such glaring errors on the part of the Bolsheviks…I am compelled to regard this as a subtle hint that I should keep my mouth shut, and as a proposal for me to retire. I am compelled to tender my resignation from the Central Committee, which I hereby do, reserving for myself freedom to campaign among the rank and file of the party at the Party Congress.

No response. On October 1 Lenin sends another message, this time including the Executives of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. He weighs up the situation. The peasants and workers are rising up, there are mutinies in the German ranks, while growing support for the Bolsheviks gives them a mandate. Therefore, the postponement of the insurrection to the 2nd Congress of Soviets is “positively criminal”. The Moscow and Petrograd committees get the message despite the efforts of the CC. They do not endorse Lenin’s demand for immediate insurrection, though in Petrograd, they agree to take action to strengthen the Bolsheviks military preparations.

While the CC is determined to risk waiting for the 2nd Congress they are being pressured by the Bolshevik ranks to boycott the Pre-parliament as a counter-revolutionary threat to the insurrection. This mass pressure is inflamed on 7 October by the order of Kerensky’s Chief of Staff, General Polkovnikov, to transfer a large part of the Petrograd garrison to the front, now fast approaching the city. That night the Pre-Parliament re-convenes. On the previous day the Bolshevik CC had voted for a boycott. Trotsky stands up to make an “emergency” statement. “Petrograd is in danger, All power to the Soviets. All land to the people!” In the commotion that followed, 53 Bolsheviks rose as one and walked out.  That same night, Lenin returned to Petrograd.

Military Revolutionary Committee formed

October 9, the Petrograd Soviet meets. The Menshevik Broido moves to prepare for the garrison to transfer to the front as a compromise with the Provisional Government. Trotsky responds with a damning rejection of compromise. “Down with Kerensky”, for immediate peace and soviet power, calling on the garrison to prepare for battle against both Germans and the Kornilovites. When the motion is put to a packed plenum of workers’ and soldiers’ delegates Trotsky prevails and the Soviet gives its blessing to the formation of the Military Revolutionary Committee to prepare for the insurrection. Mieville says that Trotsky later refers to this decision as the ‘silent’ revolution. But Trotsky is more forthcoming in Lessons of October:

From the moment when we, as the Petrograd Soviet invalidated Kerensky’s order transferring two-thirds of the garrison to the front, we actually entered a state of armed insurrection. Lenin who was not in Petrograd, could not appraise the full significance of this fact. So far as I remember there is no mention of it in all his letters during this period. Yet the outcome of the insurrection of 25 October was at least three-quarters settled, if not more, the moment that we opposed the transfer of the Petrograd garrison; created the MRC (16 October); appointed out own commissars in all army divisions and institutions; and thereby completely isolated not only the general staff of the Petrograd zone, but also the Government. [Italics ours]

As of 9 October, however, the majority of Petrograd Bolsheviks are not persuaded that the insurrection should happen before the 2nd Congress. And the CC is in two minds. The next night, 10th October, the CC meets, and Lenin makes his first appearance in Petrograd since July. He argues passionately for immediate insurrection; the peasants and workers are ready and waiting for the Bolsheviks to lead them; the counter-revolution is imminent. Lenin’s resolution: “recognizing that an armed uprising is inevitable and the time fully ripe, the CC instructs all party organisations to be guided accordingly and to consider and decide all practical questions from this viewpoint”, is passed. But no date for the insurrection is set.

The CC’s decision is communicated to Bolshevik workers and soldiers who enthusiastically back the preparation for insurrection. A full session of the Petrograd Soviet on 16 October is convened to confirm the formation of the MRC. Trotsky defends it against angry charges from the Menshevik Broido, that the MRC was a Bolshevik ruse to seize power. Trotsky declares the MRC is an organ of the Soviet, not the Bolsheviks, created to prepare the defence of the revolution from the counter-revolution. The MRC is confirmed by the Soviet.

But the Bolshevik ranks are not yet convinced that an immediate insurrection would prevail. At a Petrograd Committee meeting of delegates from the city, doubts and fears that the revolutionary ranks were not ready come from the Bolshevik Military Organization – a hotbed of militant soldiers and sailors. The meeting votes down an immediate insurrection 11 to 8. In view of this news, the CC is urgently reconvened on the same day. Again, Lenin demands immediate insurrection; the masses are not unready but waiting; they trust the Bolsheviks and demand action not words! The usual objections were raised, all effectively claiming that the workers are not ready. Lenin did not insist on a timeline, while Zinoviev held out for the 2nd Congress (which had been postponed from the 20th to the 25th). Lenin won, 19 for, 4 abstentions and 2 (Kamenev and Zinoviev) against.

Though Lenin had used the threat to resign from the CC and go to the ranks these were an essential aspect of internal party democracy. When Kamenev tenders his resignation from the CC, unlike Lenin, he does not raise his opposition inside the wider party. He breaks party discipline and publishes the CC decision to prepare for revolution in Gorky’s newspaper the next day (17 October):

At the present the instigation of an armed uprising before and independent of the Soviet Congress would be an impermissible and even fatal step for the proletariat and the revolution.

Lenin reacts angrily: “a shocking, damaging transgression of party discipline” and demanded Kamenev’s resignation. The moderates and right of the party leadership fall into line. Larin and Riazanov attack the CC line as “premature”. Stalin objects to Kamenev’s resignation and resigns himself from the editorial board. All these threats of resignation are ignored or rejected by the CC. Chudnovsky reports that the Bolsheviks have no support base on the Southern Front. A meeting of 200 soldier delegates opposes coming out, as does the Peter and Paul Fortress. Stalin exclaims, “our whole position is contradictory!”

In reality the party leadership is split only over the question of timing; whether the urgency of the revolution is outweighed by the ‘legal’ cover of waiting for the 2nd Congress. The real contradiction is that of antagonistic class interests. Those for insurrection (Bolsheviks and Left SRS) represent the proletariat and the poor peasants whom they know are ready and waiting for the right time. Those who want to delay the insurrection on the basis that the ‘workers are not ready’ do so in the hope of winning support in the Soviet for the Constituent Assembly. They (Mensheviks and SRs) represent the utopia of a bourgeois socialist democracy (half way house).

MRC turns words into action

Lenin finds the way to resolve Stalin’s “contradiction” when, on his return to Petrograd, he realizes that the MRC representing the majority of the Soviet, is actually a front for the Bolshevik CC, and the key to the insurrection. It is taking responsibility for organizing and preparing for the seizure of power. While ‘defending’ Petrograd, it is upping the momentum for an insurrection sooner rather than later. On the 20 October the CC endorses the MRC and instructs “all Bolshevik organisations [to] become part of the revolutionary center organized by the Soviet.”

On 21st October, Trotsky opens the MRC Garrison conference. He wins support for a declaration calling on the 2nd Congress to ‘take power’. The Don Cossacks cancel the next day’s procession to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the liberation of Moscow from Napoleon’s occupation and declare that they would oppose the ‘counter-revolution’. At midnight, a MRC delegation meets Polkovnikov and asserts its right to veto Headquarters orders. He refuses – “we won’t recognize your Commissars”. In the early hours of the 2nd the garrison acclaims a MRC resolution to take full responsibility for the defence of Petrograd. “Long live the Garrison!”

Next day, the 22nd, is Petrograd Soviet Day. At mass meetings throughout the city, Bolshevik speakers rally support. Sukhanov reports that Trotsky’s speech: “Petrograd is in danger, workers and soldiers must defend the city”, generates a “mood bordering on ecstasy.”  Meanwhile, the counter-revolution is also building. Polkovnikov orders troops from the Northern front to the city. Kerensky goes for the kill demanding that the MRC reverses its declaration of power “Long Live the Garrison” or face suppression.

23rd October. The MRC appoints its Commissars and declares a veto over all military orders. MRC delegates go to Peter and Paul to win its support. A debate between the Commander, SRs and Mensheviks vs the Bolsheviks goes on from 12 noon to 8pm, changing venues to the Modern Circus, the scene of Trotsky’s most famous 1905 speeches. Finally, a vote is taken on the dance floor; for the MRC move to the left; those against, move to the right. Overwhelming victory! Or is it? Are the soldiers too far ahead of the Soviet leadership and even the ‘moderate’ Bolsheviks who are holding out against jumping immediately from the bourgeois to the socialist revolution? Later that night a pre-congress meeting of Petrograd delegates to the 2nd Congress endorses the MRC role in defence of the Congress. But Menshevik and other delegates demand that the MRC withdraw its “veto” of Headquarters orders, or, be derecognized by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet! The MRC “reverses its declaration” of veto power!! But these are only words, roll on the action.

Early hours of 24th October. As Mieville puts it: “The MRC had blinked. Kerensky struck.”  But a “strange army” of cadets, members of the Women’s Death Battalion, horse artillery, assorted Cossacks, bicycle units and war wounded, is was the best he can offer. The Bolsheviks are aroused from sleep by Trotsky’s call to arms, “Kerensky is on the offensive!” The CC decides to answer attack with counter-attack. The pretext is the clownish smashing of the Bolshevik press by the ‘strange army’ (along with two right-wing presses!) which Trotsky seizes on to justify an armed response “because the Soviet…cannot tolerate suppression of the free word”. But this is a counter-demonstration only, proportionate to Kerensky’s panic jab. Later that day, Trotsky, speaking to the Bolshevik delegates gathering for the 2nd Congress, re-affirms that there will be no insurrection ahead of the Congress, for there is no need to arrest the Government when it is falling itself. “This is defence, comrades. This is defence.”

Meanwhile, Kerensky’s collapsing regime retreats to the Winter Palace. It is surrounded by the guns of the revolution waiting for the order to fire. On the afternoon of the 24th, Headquarters orders all bridges closed except for the Palace Bridge. But by the evening two of the main bridges are back in the hands of the revolution, along with the telegraph office. Yet just down the road on the Nevsky Prospect, middle class burghers promenade unaware a new world in birth. The dual power is wobbling. Lenin is still pushing hard to tip the balance toward immediate revolution. “We must not wait! We may lose everything! …The Government is tottering. It must be given the death blow at all costs.” In whose name? “Let the MRC do it”, he writes in an urgent message.

But the MRC, though controlled by the Bolsheviks, is a Soviet institution and that is not yet controlled by the Bolsheviks. The question of insurrection can be solved only by force of arms on the streets. The Mensheviks and SRs in the moribund Pre-Parliament try to compromise with Kerensky. A ‘Committee of Public Safety’ is formed to remove Kerensky and move toward the CA. At the same time the Left SRs and Bolsheviks are in the streets taking power in easy steps and meeting little resistance. The Pre-parliament’s compromising words dissolve like hot air when armed sailors from Helsingfors take the Telegraph Agency. Then around 9 pm the Pavlovsky Regiment barricades the Troitsky Bridge, and the MRC Commissar in charge, Osvald Dennis incredulously ignores the MRC command to pull down the barricade.

Insurrection Day

Lenin can stand it no longer. He takes off for the Smolny to play an active part in the revolution. He enters around midnight disguised in a wig with his face bandaged, both of which he has to remove before being recognized. But words still try to smother actions in the Soviet. In the All-Russian Executive Committee, the Mensheviks take up the Pre-parliament proposal for a Committee of Public Safety route to the CA.  The Left SRs and the Menshevik-Internationists push for a Soviet Government comprising a socialist coalition (themselves). But now the Reds are also on the move. The urgency of events and Lenin’s constant demands, are forcing the MRC onto the offensive.

Around 2 am, MRC Commissar Dennis is ordered to reinforce the barricade he has refused to remove, and extend that barricade to the grounds of the Winter Palace.  MRC Commissar Faerman leads a party to take the electric power station and cut-off supply to Government buildings. Commissar Kadlubovsky’s squad take the post office. The Sixth Engineers take the Nikolaevsky Station behind the Winter Palace. At 3.30 am the cruiser Aurora appears in the Neva near the Nikolaevsky Bridge just south of the Palace. The Garrison is on alert and more armed Reds are heading for Petrograd from Kronstadt and Finland.

Dawn on the 25th. Revolutionary guards meet no resistance in taking the Engineers’ Palace, the Petrograd State Bank, the main telephone exchange, and in freeing prisoners from the jails. Later that morning the Kronstadt revolutionary sailors set off in a squadron of destroyers and patrol boats decked with the banners of revolution. In the Smolny Lenin hastily drafts a proclamation in the name of the MRC:

To the Citizens of Russia. The Provisional Government has been overthrown. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison. The cause for which the people have struggled – the immediate proposal of a democratic peace, the elimination of the landlord estates, workers’ control over production, the creation of a soviet government – the triumph of this cause has been assured. Long live the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ revolution!

11 am. As the proclamation is being pasted up all over the city, Kerensky devoid of any military backing, wangles a US embassy car to flee the city.

Mid-day. The Pre-parliament, beloved by the compromisers as the road to the CA, is put out of its misery by revolutionary guards who enter the Mariinsky Palace and order the deputies out onto the street. The Kronstadt forces arrive and the Admiralty and its high command is stormed. By noon the deadline set for taking the Winter Palace is passed. The next deadline 2pm, the scheduled opening of the 2nd Congress is also missed. But the delegates already assembled demand to know what is being done in the Soviet’s name.

At 2.35 pm Trotsky opens an emergency session of the Petrograd Soviet: “On behalf of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I declare that the Provisional Government no longer exists”. Big cheers. More cheers when Lenin appears briefly: “Long live the world socialist revolution!” he exclaims before departing.

The dual power situation has been resolved, but for the task of tidying-up the Ministers of the Kerensky Government. More useless deadlines come and go – 3,4, 6pm. Lenin sends off a barrage of notes to the MRC demanding they finish the job. Without waiting for the order, at 6.15pm, Commissar Blagonravov of the Peter and Paul fortress delivers an ultimatum to the Winter Palace. He gives them 20 mins to surrender or suffer shelling from the Fortress and the Aurora. It turns out that the Peter and Paul guns are deemed unworkable. By 8pm most of the troops defending the Winter Palace are fading away and journalists, like John Reed, and all and sundry, can enter the Palace at will. It is not until 9.40pm that Blagonravov organizes a signal to the Aurora to fire. A resounding blank sets off a long boom.

2nd Congress Opens

The Congress delegates will not suffer further delays. Around 11pm the Second Congress of Soviets is officially opened in the Assembly Hall of the Smolny. While the revolution is being decided on the streets by Red Guards, the Congress continues its class war within. Of a total of 670 delegates, 300 are Bolsheviks; 193 SRs (most of which are Left SRs); 68 Mensheviks and 14 Menshevik-Internationalists. Without the left SRs the Bolsheviks do not have a majority. The Menshevik Dan speaking for the outgoing presidium, immediately attacks the insurrection in the name of the Soviet. A new presidium reflecting the new composition of delegates is elected. 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Left SRs. The Mensheviks refuse to take up their 3 positions. The 1 M-I position is left empty -pending events.  Then from offstage another boom sounds, this time from Peter and Paul, starting  a barrage of live shells and the “endgame” at the Winter Palace.

At the Smolny the Soviet indulges in some theatre of the absurd. Against the sound of gunfire, the Menshevik-Internationalist Martov, calls for a ‘ceasefire’ and a ‘cross-party, united, socialist, government! Who will be in this ‘cross-party’ popular-front SUG? Mensheviks and SRs only? Then the Left SRs and Bolsheviks endorse Martov’s motion. Why not, if victory is imminent, merely waiting on the arrest of the Govt Ministers? The victory of the revolution will determine who is in the Soviet Government. Support for the motion is unanimous. Then as the guns boom on, reality intrudes upon the theatre.

The Duma [parliament] is split between the pro-Government Kadets, Mensheviks, and Right SRs marching to defend the Winter Palace, and the Bolsheviks and Left SRs marching to join the Soviet. In the Smolny the Mensheviks in the Congress arouse themselves.

A criminal political venture has been going on behind the back of the All-Russian Congress … The Mensheviks and SRs repudiate all that is going on here, and stubbornly resist all attempts to seize the government.

When they hear of the Duma decision from the arriving Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks and SRs call for the Soviet to join the march to the Winter Palace. The left mocks and condemns them. They then act on their words and leave the Soviet and the fate of the SUG to the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. Now there is a true Soviet majority of workers, soldiers and poor peasants.

Then Martov (leader of the M-I) who has stayed behind, criticizes the Bolsheviks for anticipating the vote of Congress and moves again for his half-way house SUG. Trotsky responds:

A rising of the masses of the people requires no justification. What has happened is an insurrection, and not a conspiracy. We hardened the revolutionary energy of the Petersburg workers and soldiers. We openly forged the will of the masses for and insurrection, and not a conspiracy. The masses of the people followed our banner and our insurrection was victorious. And now we are told: renounce your victory, make concessions, compromise. With whom? I ask: with who ought we to compromise? With those wretched groups which have left us or who are making this proposal? But after all we’ve had a full view of them. No one in Russia is with them any longer. A compromise is supposed to be made, as between two equal sides, by the millions of workers and peasants represented by this congress, whom they are ready, not for the first time or the last, to barter away as the bourgeoisie sees fit. No, here no compromise is possible. To those who have left and to those who tell us to do this we must say: you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out. Go where you ought to go: into the dustbin of history!

Martov, amid overwhelming applause and cheering, utters a curse, “one day you will understand the crime in which you are taking part”, and leaves in search of his dustbin. The Left SRs are not yet ready to join the other SRs in their dustbin. But when they try to revive Martov’s ‘compromise’ proposal arguing that the Bolsheviks do not represent the majority of the peasantry nor the army, they come up against the Bolshevik majority in the Soviet. The Bolshevik reply is brief and pointed: how do you compromise with those who walked out of the Soviet?

2am, 26th October. The Winter Palace, the dustbin of Tsarism and now of the Provisional Government, falls over itself. The Bolshevik Antonov leads the MRC Red Guards to arrest the remaining few members of the Kerensky cabinet, then escorts them to the safety of confinement in the Peter and Paul. The news reaches the Soviet at 3am. An anti-climax, compounded by the continued comic opera of the semi-exiled M-I’s reviving their pathetic demand for a SUG to include the ‘compromisers’. The fitting finale of the Second Congress is being orchestrated by Lenin from elsewhere in the Smolny. He drafts a resolution declaring victory to the Revolutionary Government:

“To all Workers and Peasants”. The revolution will deliver peace, land, bread and national self-determination. But not unless all attempts at armed counter-revolution are defeated. “Soldiers, Workers, Employees! The fate of the revolution and democratic peace is in your hands!” At 5am the resolution becomes the ‘will’ of the Soviet and the dawn breaks to welcome a new Government, the first workers’ state, and a new society. Yet all remain precarious until the counter-revolution is defeated.


Epilogue: After October

The October insurrection was not the end of the story but the beginning. For Lenin the insurrection was the easy part; building socialism was the hard task. At the victorious Second Congress, late on the 26th, Lenin declares: “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.” The first steps are to nationalize the land and stop the war. “But” says Mieville:

the war is not ended, and the order that will be constructed is anything but socialist. Instead the months and years that follow will see the revolution embattled, assailed, isolated, ossified, broken. We know where this is going: purges, gulags, starvation, mass murder. October is still ground zero for arguments about fundamental, radical social change. Its degradation was not a given, was not written in the stars.

Mieville doesn’t go far beyond October to assess the historic impact of the revolution and its fate, other than to rehearse the main reservations about its success.

The story of the hopes, struggles, strains and defeats that follow 1917 has been told begore and will be again. That story, and above all the questions arising from it – the urgencies of change, or how change is possible, of the dangers that will beset it – stretch vastly beyond us. These last pages can only offer a fleeting glance.

Here Mieville’s strength as a story teller comes undone as he rehearses a familiar list of arguments but without a full balance sheet of all the forces that determined the outcome of the revolution. True, ‘lessons’ are beyond the brief of the ‘story’ of October, but since it ventures forth in that direction, we need to critique its shortcomings, to re-affirm the ‘lessons’ we take from October for today.

Did the Bolsheviks hijack the revolution to create a one-party state?

Mieville is concerned about the ‘hard-line’ that the Bolsheviks should form a ‘one-party’ state.

The pro-coalition All-Russian Executive Committee of the Union of Railway Workers demands a government of all socialist groups. Neither Lenin nor Trotsky, both hard-line on the question, attend the resulting conference: those Bolsheviks who do – Kamenev, Zinoviev and Milyutin – agree that a socialist coalition is the best chance for survival.

Why are Lenin and Trotsky “hard-line” on this question? ‘Socialism’ since Marx’s time is not unique to the proletariat. Bourgeois and petty bourgeois ‘socialism’ is not the same as proletarian ‘socialism’. It depends which class benefits from that ‘socialism’. The Bolsheviks were the only party representing the vanguard of the proletariat. The Mensheviks represented moderate workers and petty bourgeois whose internationalism fell well short of a proletarian revolution to overthrow the Provisional Government and stop the war.

Mieville chides the Left Mensheviks for walking out of the Soviets and handing the majority to the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. He says:

The Left Mensheviks, committed anti-war internationalists, have a case to answer, with their walkout in October 1917. Coming straight after the congress voted for coalition, this decision shocked and upset even some of those who went along with it. ‘I was thunderstruck,’ said Sukhanov, of an action he never ceased to regret. ‘No one contested the legality of the congress… [This action] meant a formal break with the masses and the revolution.

Mieville is misleading himself and his readers if he thinks that the Left Mensheviks who stood for a ‘socialist coalition’ in the Constituent Assembly could complete the bourgeois revolution and win peace, land and bread in the face of imperialist war and threat of invasion. At the first test, they could not even fight to defend their majority in the Soviet, and walked out at the critical point, “isolating themselves from the masses and the Revolution”. They wrote themselves off as a revolutionary force. Their better members became Bolsheviks. Their worst became enemies of the revolution.

The closest the Soviet Government came to being a ‘socialist coalition’ was in early 1918. In January the Left SRs (who had split with the Right SRs) joined with the Bolsheviks in the new Soviet Government. This was a socialist coalition of poor peasants, soldiers and workers. Together they closed down the CA dominated by the SRs representing petty bourgeois peasants who opposed the revolution. That is why Lenin asked the Cossacks to close down the CA to test their support for the revolution. Then in March the Left SRs resigned from the government because they opposed signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. They wanted to continue the ‘revolutionary war’ to defend the new workers and peasants state.

Why did the Left SRs and the Bolsheviks fall out of this treaty? Representing poor peasants and soldiers, the Left SRs were exposed to the reactionary position of the peasantry in general whose world view was limited to private land ownership. The Left SRs saw fighting Germany as the necessary defence of their national class interests. ‘Peace’, land and bread could only be defended by victory over the imperialist invader. On the other hand, the proletariat (workers who are active in class struggle) and the vanguard Party which represents its universal and historic class interests (a la Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto) do not see the revolution in national isolation. The defence of the new workers state had to be subordinated to the interests of the international proletariat.

For until the world socialist revolution breaks out, until it embraces several countries and is strong enough to overcome international imperialism, it is the direct duty of the socialists who have conquered in one country (especially a backward one) not to accept battle against the giants of imperialism. Their duty is to try to avoid battle, to wait until the conflicts between the imperialists weaken them even more, and bring the revolution in other countries even nearer. Lenin in “Left-wing” Childishness, May, 1918.

The Bolsheviks were divided (what’s new?) with some siding with the Left SRs. Lenin and Trotsky argued for a negotiated peace to stop the destruction of Russians resources needed to build socialism. The ‘revolutionary war’ would lead to the destruction of the revolution. Trotsky argued for peace negotiations to gain time to allow workers and soldiers in the warring imperialist countries to strike and mutiny and make their own revolutions. Critical time was needed to build Bolshevik parties in these countries to win workers from the treacherous social democrats and Kautsky’s centrist United Socialists.  Ultimately, the Bolshevik leadership approached the question of peace as reducing the impact of the war on the ability of Soviet Russia to extend the revolution internationally. But in the event this effort fell short of the end of the war by some months and the German invasion of the Ukraine forced the Soviet Government to sign the Treaty on March 3rd.

The civil war followed immediately in May and the Left SRs then turned on the Bolsheviks over peasant resistance to state requisitions to feed the revolution. Was deserting the revolution rather than feeding it justified? In July the Left SRs assassinate several leading Bolsheviks and in August make an attempt on the life of Lenin. There was no prospect of restoring a ‘socialist coalition’ across the clear class line now drawn between those who fought to defend the revolution and those who sided with the counter-revolutionary attack on the Bolsheviks.

At every point where the fate of the revolution is in the balance the Bolsheviks prove themselves able to mobilise the masses to defend the revolution. Those who claim to represent workers but who turn their backs on the revolution cannot then whine that they were ‘hijacked’ by a one-party Bolshevik state.

The question of whether an isolated, backward, soviet Russia could have avoided ‘state capitalism’ is answered by Lenin well before the revolution. Replying to the charges in the Left Communist journal Kommunist in May, 1918, that the Bolsheviks are betraying the revolution by going back to ‘state capitalism’, Lenin writes:

It has not occurred to them [Left Communists] that state capitalism would be a step forward as compared with the present state of affairs in our Soviet Republic … It is not state capitalism that is at war with socialism, but the petty bourgeoisie plus private capitalism fighting together against both state capitalism and socialism. The petty bourgeoisie oppose every kind of state interference, accounting and control, whether it be state capitalist or state socialist. “Left-Wing” Childishness

In order to make the ‘transition’ from capitalism and socialism Russia needs state capitalism to develop the forces of production to prepare for socialism. This requires state ‘interference’ – hiring capitalist owners, appointing ‘one-man’ managers etc to direct production in industry. Then after the failure of the German revolution, it was necessary to ‘retreat’ to the NEP. The peasants dream of becoming rich had to be harnessed to increase productivity on the land to feed the industrial workers who were building socialism. Without ‘peace’ there was no possibility of developing the land – nationalised by the revolution – and providing ‘bread’. Hence ‘war communism’ was part of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ necessary to mobilise the forces of production to defend the revolution. Without it, the new workers and peasants’ state would have been further decimated by war and starved into submission.

Was Russia ready for revolution?

Was the revolution “historically necessary”? Mieville says that by October 1918 the Mensheviks come around to this position. In fact, it was only a few ‘internationalist’ Mensheviks wanting to rejoin the Soviet Government to fight the civil war and influence the outcome. Their object was to increase the pressure on the Bolsheviks from within to steer the revolution back to the bourgeois Constituent Assembly.

Meanwhile, the majority of Mensheviks remained hostile to the Government and sided openly with the imperialist counter-revolution. They claimed that the Bolsheviks had hijacked the bourgeois revolution by excluding all non-Bolshevik parties from the Soviet government. They fought on the side of the Whites in the Civil War 1918-1920. When in 1921 the Kronstadt garrison rebelled against the Bolsheviks and declared for the Constituent Assembly –  without the Bolsheviks – they were on the side of the rebels. Clearly, the Mensheviks were hostile to the bourgeois revolution ‘going over’ immediately to socialist revolution (permanent revolution) and sought to replace the Soviet Government with the Constituent Assembly (halfway house).

Did Lenin think the socialist revolution was ‘historically necessary’? Of course. Without Soviet power the bourgeois revolution would have fallen to the counter-revolution. But Mieville states wrongly that: “Lenin startlingly claims as ‘incontrovertible’ that Russia had not been ‘ready for revolution’”.

In fact, Lenin is not referring to ‘revolution’ but ‘socialism’. Lenin is stating that Russia is ready for socialist revolution, because the bourgeoisie are too weak to overcome the fact that “the objective premises for socialism do not exist in our country”. He actually says:

The development of the productive forces of Russia has not attained the level that makes socialism possible. All the heroes of the Second International, including, of course Sukhanov, beat the drums about this proposition. They keep harping on this incontrovertible proposition in a thousand different keys, and think that it is the decisive criterion of our revolution. (emphasis ours) Our Revolution, 1923.

Here, Lenin is merely repeating the position that the Bolsheviks have held for a decade. The overthrow of the Tsar would bring the bourgeoisie to power, but they would be incapable of completing the bourgeois revolution to create the conditions for socialism. This was the historic task of the proletariat. The Mensheviks refused to accept that the bourgeoisie could not play this role and would inevitably acted as a prop for this counter-revolutionary class. This explains their class-collaboration with the bourgeoisie to ‘push it leftwards’.

The Bolsheviks, however, knew that the bourgeois revolution must be completed by the working class by means of the proletarian revolution (land reform, national self-determination, peace).  From as early as 1905, despite other differences, Lenin (uninterrupted revolution) and Trotsky (permanent revolution) understood this continuous revolution to be necessary. How long this transition would take (‘a whole historic epoch’) would be decided by the class struggle under the specific concrete conditions. The proletariat would take over the historic role of the bourgeoisie, and leading the peasantry would set up a ‘democratic dictatorship’. However, after the February revolution, the Bolshevik leadership in Russia, notably Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev, interpreted this to mean the proletariat leading the bourgeoisie in a ‘socialist coalition’ in the Provisional Government.

Lenin’s return in April junked any compromise between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (which also included capitalist peasants). This would be a treacherous popular front with the class enemy that was too weak to rule except in alliance with the Tsarist restorationists and foreign imperialism.  It was necessary that the proletariat, leading the poor peasants, would take power from the craven bourgeoisie, declare peace, and force-march the development of state capitalism. April’s slogan “All power to the soviets” became October’s, “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.”

Misreading Lenin

As if the ‘uninterrupted’ or ‘permanent’ revolution was not part of the Bolshevik program for over a decade, Mieville interprets Lenin’s clear explanation of this necessary act as a subjective adventure in a ‘hopeless situation’.

He [Lenin] wonders pugnaciously, however, whether a people ‘influenced by the hopelessness of the situation’ could be blamed for ‘fling[ing] itself into a struggle that would offer it as least some chance of securing conditions for the further development of civilization that were somewhat unusual’.

Mieville agrees that:

Russia had no choice but to act, on the chance that in so doing they might alter the very parameters of the situation. That things might thereby improve. The party’s shift after Lenin’s death, from that plaintive, embattled sense that there had been little alternative but to strive in imperfect conditions, to the hope of Socialism in One Country, is a baleful result of recasting necessity as virtue.

This interpretation misreads history seriously. The Bolshevik’s program did not leave things to “chance” or “hope”. As Marxists they understood what they were up against and the prospects for success. They were on the side of history against all those who sought to destroy the revolution internally and externally. If they failed to ‘construct the socialist order’, it was not because of anything that the Bolsheviks did, or failed to do, despite many errors and mistakes as Lenin always acknowledged. It was because the enemies of the proletariat in the working class and petty bourgeois conspired with the bourgeoisie and the surviving feudal ruling class to smash the European revolutions that could have rescued the ‘embattled’ Russian Revolution.

Here’s the full passage Mieville cites from Our Revolution above:

But what if the situation, which drew Russia into the imperialist war that involved every more or less influential West-European country and made her a witness of the eve of the revolution maturing or partly already begun in the East, gave rise to circumstances that put Russia and her development in a position which enabled us to achieve precisely that combination of a “peasant war” with the working-class movement suggested in 1856 by no less a Marxist than Marx himself as a possible prospect for Prussia?

What if the complete hopelessness of the situation, by stimulating the efforts of workers and peasants tenfold, offered us the opportunity to create the fundamental requisites of civilization in a different way from that of the West-European countries? Has that altered the basic relations between the basic classes of all the countries that are being, or have been, drawn into the general course of world history?

If a definite level of culture is required for the building of socialism (although nobody can say just what that definite “level of culture” is, for it differs in every West-European country), why cannot we begin by first achieving the prerequisites for that definite level of culture in a revolutionary way, and then, with the aid of the workers’ and peasants’ government and the Soviet system, proceed to overtake other nations? (emphasis ours).

Here Lenin, in replying to the Menshevik Sukhanov, is directing his remarks to all the “petty bourgeois democrats” who are stuck in the old dogma that Russia is “not yet ripe for socialism”. There is nothing ‘plaintive’, or unexpected, about the prospect of having a proletarian revolution in Russia to advance the ‘culture’ of Europe where the revolution has been aborted by the treacherous betrayal of social democracy. It could have been taken directly from Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto where they argue that communists represent both the historic and international interests of the proletariat. If the Bolsheviks were ‘embattled’ this was following an imperialist invasion and occupation of parts of Russia during the civil war which laid waste to large tracts of the country. Meanwhile, the ‘cultured’ European petty bourgeois democrats, and their Russian counterparts, taking advantage of their bourgeois freedoms, did nothing, or actively conspired against the revolution as ‘premature’.

Talking of ‘civilization’ and ‘culture’ Lenin means that capitalism and its culture is the high point of civilization – so far. But this culture is ‘ruling class culture’ which will inevitably destroy the gains of capitalist civilization unless overthrown and replaced by a ‘proletarian culture’. The proletarian culture represents its class interests and is expressed scientifically by the Marxist method – dialectics. Lenin rips into the petty bourgeois democrats. They are ‘faint-hearted pedants’, have failed to understand ‘revolutionary dialectics’, are ‘cowardly reformists’, and cannot understand that the West-European path of development is not the only road to revolution. They refuse to understand that backward countries dominated by the European ruling classes do not have the luxury of realizing socialism unless they declare independence from imperialism and from social-imperialist fake socialists!

You say that civilization is necessary for the building of socialism. Very good. But why could we not first create such prerequisites of civilization in our country as the expulsion of the landowners and the Russian capitalists, and then start moving towards socialism? Where, in what books, have you read that such variations of the customary sequence of events are impermissible or impossible? Napoleon, I think, wrote: “On s’engage et puis…on voit.” Freely rendered this means: “First engage in a serious battle and then see what happens.” Well, we did first engage in a serious battle in October 1917, and then saw such details of development (from the standpoint of world history they were certainly details) as the Brest Peace, New Economic Policy, and so forth. And now there can be no doubt that in the main we have been victorious. (emphasis ours) Our Revolution.


Conclusion: October Today

At the time Lenin wrote Our Revolution, in January 1923, the situation was difficult but not ‘hopeless’. Capitalism in its imperialist ‘final stage’ had exhausted its ‘historic mission’ to prepare the way for socialism and was destroying the forces of production including the lives of millions of workers. The war had mobilized armed workers in the struggle to re-partition the world but this had created the objective conditions for proletarian revolution. All that was needed to turn this revolutionary situation into victorious revolution was the class-conscious proletariat and a vanguard party to lead it. The German revolution had been betrayed by social democracy, yet failed ultimately because there was no Bolshevik-type mass party capable of leading it to victory. The result was that the European proletariat was now confronted with a rising fascist movement.

The Russian Revolution had survived the civil war but at a huge cost. The revolutionary proletariat was weakened, Lenin was on his sickbed, and Stalin was moving to concentrate power in the bureaucracy. But there was not the slightest suggestion that Lenin was viewing the situation in Russia as more than a ‘tactical retreat’ (NEP) necessary to construct the socialist order, nor his view of the upwards trajectory of the international revolution. Towards the end of his life, Lenin began to turn to the East for new revolutions that would follow Russia’s lead. In his ‘Last Will and Testament’ he called on Trotsky to remove Stalin and the bureaucracy from power and re-arm the revolution in the cause of international revolution.

Against all his detractors who paint Lenin as an authoritarian, or even ‘dictator’, who substitutes his ‘will’ for that of the proletariat, the party even, Trotsky, in Lessons of October, sums up Lenin’s role in forcing the pace of revolution with his constant interventions, particular the letters from exile he bombards the CC with:

All these letters, every sentence of which was forged on the anvil of revolution, are of exceptional value in that they serve both to characterize Lenin and to provide an estimate of the situation at the time. The basic and all-pervasive thought expressed in them is – anger, protest, and indignation against a fatalistic, temporizing, social democratic, Menshevik attitude to revolution, as if the latter were an endless film … When things have reached the point of armed insurrection, events are to be measured not by the long yardstick of politics, but b6 the short yardstick of war. To lose several weeks, several days, and sometimes a single day, is tantamount under certain conditions to the surrender of the revolution, to capitulation. Had Lenin not sounded the alarm, had there not been all this pressure and criticism on his part, had it not been for his intense and passionate revolutionary mistrust, the party would probably have failed to align its front at the decisive moment, for the opposition among the party leaders was very strong, and the staff plays a major role in all wars, including civil wars. (Our emphasis)

Mieville’s ‘strange story’ is well told, but his interpretation of events is limited by his inclination to attribute “failures and crimes” to the Bolsheviks (and in particular Lenin) who took responsibility for that revolution, rather than those global players who worked to destroy it, and sought to excuse their own marginal or counter-revolutionary role. Yet as we have argued here, the Bolsheviks could not be ‘blamed’ for the ‘one-party’ state without putting bourgeois democracy ahead of proletarian democracy. For that ‘one party’ was the only one that represented the ‘historical’ and ‘international’ interests of the revolutionary class – the proletariat.

The construction of socialism in Russia always depended on a victorious German revolution, betrayed by the petty bourgeois ‘culture’ of social-democracy in league with fascists. ‘State capitalism’ was not a betrayal of the revolution but a Marxist grasp on the reality that a Workers State in a backward country must take advantage of the latest technical developments of capitalist production to create the pre-conditions for socialism. The Bolsheviks were not to blame for the mistakes and shortcomings of the revolution. We put that blame where it belongs, on the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois counter-revolutionaries.

Without the Bolsheviks, and without Lenin, there would have been no socialist revolution. Russia would have become a semi-colony of France and Britain, and there would be no ‘lessons of the October’ to inspire and guide revolutionaries for another century towards the only solution for the survival of civilization, the international socialist revolution. The main lesson that we must take from October, today, is to promote Marxism and build the Bolshevik party and program as our guide in making that global revolution.

Written by raved

October 23, 2017 at 7:10 am

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Grupo de Trabalhadores Revolucionários

“Os comunistas desdenham de ocultar suas visões e objetivos. Eles abertamente declaram que seus objetivos só podem ser alcançados pelo derrubamento à força das condições sociais existentes. Que a classe dominante trema perante a Revolução Comunista! O proletariado nada tem a perder além de suas correntes. Tem um mundo a ganhar.” Manifesto Comunista

Lenin ou Kautsky?

Hoje nós vivenciamos um retrocesso/recuo massivo do Leninismo na esquerda. Sob o ataque vindo da crise mundial, a classe trabalhadora e os oprimidos movem-se para a esquerda em oposição aos seus efeitos – austeridade, precarização, desemprego massivo e repressão política – lançando-se a Primavera Árabe, manifestações, ocupações e lutas armadas contra os ditadores burgueses. As massas estão famintas por ideias de como desafiar e vencer o capitalismo. Mas ainda não há um partido revolucionário de massas para tanto. A esquerda revolucionária move-se no sentido de apresentar essa direção.

No entanto, essa esquerda tem medo…

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Written by raved

August 9, 2017 at 2:16 am

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John Mulgan: A Modern Greek Tragedy

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Situations Vacant

Review of Vincent O’Sullivan’s

Long Journey to the Border: A Life of John Mulgan

Penguin Books 2003

John Mulgan


John Mulgan has a big name in New Zealand. He is portrayed in the literary culture and even the popular culture as a national hero. His reputation is larger than life because of the ‘mystery’ of his death, an irony given that he must have viewed his suicide without sentimentality.

His only novel ‘Man Alone’ has been a set text in schools and universities for decades. Its hero, Johnson, stands for basic values such as toughness, self-reliance, and the independence of the ‘common man’ of action and few words. That title is taken from Hemingway’s To Have and To Have Not: “a man alone ain’t got no fucking chance”. For Mulgan it means that human freedom and democracy has to be grounded in the individual self-reliance and resilience of agricultural communities…

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Written by raved

May 6, 2017 at 2:16 am

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Hands Off Aleppo: Victory to the Syrian Revolution!

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While the breaking of the siege of Aleppo is a victory for the revolution, its fate is up in the air because its defence has been weakened by Operation Euphrates Shield which has diverted troops away from its defence. Aleppo is at risk because parts of the FSA (Free Syrian Army) have been redirected to support Turkey’s intervention in the North which has the backing so far of both Russia and U.S. Now the proposed ceasefire is designed to isolate and smash the revolution in Aleppo.

The primary objective of the U.S. and Russia is to destroy the Syrian revolution which is a force for reviving the Arab Revolution. The war against Islamic State is a mere pretext to destroy the FSA fighters and the YPG fighters and stopping them from creating Arab, Kurd and Turkmen autonomous regions in the North. That, not a tame bourgeois Kurdistan at the beckoning of both the U.S. and Russia, is what the Turkish bourgeoisie fears.

We can see the current developments in the North and the South as evidence that elements of the FSA leadership are selling out the revolutionary fighters in the hope of forming a bourgeois Sunni state that emerges from a repartition of Syria by the Great Powers. It will be a major setback for the revolution if the FSA ranks fall for this class collaboration with U.S. and Russia to divide and rule Syria.

The only way to defeat the imperialists and all their stooges is for the FSA ranks and YPG (Kurd Peoples’ Protection Units) ranks to throw out their bourgeois commanders and unite their democratic forces to build a revolutionary workers’ federation that allows for ethnic and religious freedom. To back such a front, internationalist workers need to fight their imperialist rulers at home!

Ethnic Cleansing for Partition

In the South the rebel leadership has agreed to evacuating Darayya and transferring the population to Idlib which is under rebel control. The leadership claims its hands were forced as Assad demanded the fighters leave or he would target the civilians.

By itself it could be seen as a tactical withdrawal from an impossible situation. There have been previous evacuations and further evacuations are demanded by Assad. The UN is now backing the plan to create a rebel free territory from Damascus to the sea. We can see the logic behind these deals to remove rebel control from the South to form a geographic area ruled by the existing regime.

In the North the U.S. and Russia have backed the intervention of Turkey to fight ISIS and YPG alongside FSA factions. The U.S. however opposes Turkey’s intervention extending to ethnically cleanse Kurds from Syria (East of the Euphrates). The interests of Turkey and the U.S. will collide here. Turkey wants the military allies of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) to be expelled from Syria, whereas the U.S. wants the Syrian Kurds (YPG led-Syrian Democratic Front-SDF) to form part of a Kurdistan client state in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey is the wild card here because its main interest is to prevent any Kurd nation that could lead to secession of the predominantly Kurdish regions of South East Turkey. This interest it shares with Russia and China and their local proxies, Iran and Iraq. Turkey is already offside with the U.S. because Erdogan blames it for supporting the coup attempt. So either the U.S. is prepared to give up its plan to create a larger Kurdistan, or Turkey is going to move away from the U.S. and NATO further into the arms of Russia and China.

From the standpoint of the revolution any capitulation to any imperialist power is a serious setback. The FSA has long been pulled in the direction of using its militias as bargaining chips to negotiate a peace. We have opposed all these negotiations as futile and defended those in the FSA leadership that reject any deal with the Assad regime. Now we hear that in the South rebels who refuse to give in to Assad are being ordered to stop fighting and evacuate. At the same time FSA elements are collaborating with Turkey against the SDF.

Our position is that the FSA is in danger of compromising with imperialism while fighting alongside Turkey to defeat the US backed SDF which has recently attacked FSA positions in an attempt to create an autonomous Kurdish state in Northern Syria. We have always supported Kurdish national rights but not as part of a deal with imperialism to attack the Syrian revolution as we saw when the SDF joined Assad’s siege of Aleppo. However, if the FSA response is part of a military bloc with Turkey and Russia against the U.S. backed SDF then revolutionaries cannot be part of this imperialist military bloc any more than we can support an imperialist ceasefire.

Unlike most of the fake anti-imperialists in the West, we do not see the role of the U.S. bloc and Russia/China bloc in the Syrian revolutionary war as progressive on either side. To understand why the two imperialist blocs are fighting in Syria we need to understand its significance as a geopolitical hotspot contested by both blocs.

Syria: Geopolitical Hotspot

Against much of the left, we regard Russia and China as imperialist powers that have formed a bloc with a number of semi-colonies such as Brazil, India and South Africa. This bloc also includes Iran and the current Iraqi regime. While often labelled ‘emerging’ powers, in our view Russia and China have emerged in the last 20 years as new imperialist powers. As such they dominate and oppress the semi-colonies in their bloc just as the U.S. bloc includes a number of imperialist powers that dominate and oppress the semi-colonies in their bloc.

The U.S./NATO bloc includes all the European imperialist powers in its ‘coalition’ to “defeat ISIS”. It also includes its local allies, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Despite much speculation that the US includes Iran, Turkey and Egypt it its bloc, the truth is that Iran is closely linked to the Russia/China bloc. Turkey has been denied entry to the EU and is currently on a course towards the Russia/China bloc. Egypt, long a U.S. client state, is under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi negotiating a free-trade pact between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union, comprising Russia and several ex-Soviet states.

The Russia/China bloc has strengthened during the period of the war. The U.S. position was originally to remove Assad and find a ‘democratic’ alternative but it held back from active intervention along the lines of Libya. However, the resistance to Assad refused to capitulate to a new pro-U.S. leadership and has fought Assad to a standstill.

The two main facts about the resistance are that first, it is not significantly funded by the U.S. or its proxies. They are Syrian fighters many of whom defected from the Syrian army, not foreign ‘terrorists’. The ‘terrorists’ are the Assad regime and all the foreign mercenaries from Hezbollah to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Moreover, the U.S. blocked the provision of Surface to Air Missiles (SAMS) to the rebels fearing a revolution that would not stop at overthrowing Assad but spark an armed Arab uprising from Tunisia to Bahrain to kick out imperialism and its dictators.

Second, the resistance has become strengthened by Islamic currents such as al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) designated by Russia and the U.S. as ‘terrorists’ because they want an ‘Islamic State’. Yet this is a state defined by Fateh al-Sham as a non-sectarian Islamic republic. It is because the revolution is an authentically Syrian national democratic revolution against imperialism that it continues to win popular support and control large areas of the country refusing to sign a cease-fire deal that would allow Assad to stay in power.

That is why in mid 2015 Russia intervened militarily to break the back of the popular revolution in defence of its Syrian ally, and the U.S. has been forced to collaborate with it against both the ISIS and against the revolution. Unlike the Russians who have their own troops on the ground, plus major foreign forces such as Hezbollah, the Iranian national guards, and the Iraqi Shiite militias to name the most important, the U.S. bloc has few troops on the ground other than the proxy PYG led SDF. The Russian bloc has seized the advantage and stolen a march on the US bloc forcing it to collaborate in a fight that benefits Russia and its allies but poses big risks for the US bloc.

The U.S. has already acquiesced in a deal with Iran and accepts Iran’s control of the Iraqi regime. The U.S. has now publicly accepted that Assad can stay for now. But this agreement lasts only so long as the two parties can agree on who is a “terrorist”. As we have seen the current collaboration between the two blocs to defeat all “terrorists” may breakdown over the question of whether or not the Kurds are defined as “terrorists”. Russia has changed its position from regarding the Kurds as allies of Assad, to that of ‘terrorists’. The big question is will the U.S. pull back from its goal of a Kurd nation in Syria and Iraq, or pursue it in a trade off for the partition of Syria and Iraq to rewrite the Sykes/Picot ‘agreement’ with a new Kerry/Lavrov ‘agreement’ to repartition the Middle East between the two imperialist blocs?

For those ‘Trotskyists’ who reject the position that Russia and China are imperialists we ask how do they explain the role of Russia in the Syrian war? Is Putin no more than Obama’s “hitman”. To argue as the FLTI does that Russia is a sub-imperialist power (a state that is more than a semi-colony but less then imperialist), along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, cannot account for the advances made against US interests in the Middle East which favour Russia. Can a sub-imperialist Russia advance its bloc’s interests in the region (boosting Iran in Iraq and Syria, pulling Turkey away from NATO towards Russia, with China joining in training Assad’s troops, and India affirming the legitimacy of Assad’s regime) without significantly limiting US hegemony as a rival imperialist power?

For real Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyists, this can only mean that the rivalry between the two big imperialist blocs today is a continuation of the ‘Great Game’ between Britain and Russia for control of Eurasia before the First Imperialist War of 1914-1918. If the imperialists are allowed to win, to smash the Syrian and Arab revolutions and force a re-partition of the Middle East along the Kerry-Lavrov proposals, then this will be a defeat for the world revolution as a result of more bloody wars and even a Third (and last) World War.

Epoch, Crisis, War and Revolution

The geopolitical stakes are high in Syria because the success of the revolution represents a victory for the Arab and World revolution. Alternatively if the revolution is defeated by imperialism and its client states, this would be a major setback for the Arab and World revolution. Of course for that to happen it must be over the dead body of the Syrian Revolution. This forces all those who profess to be revolutionaries to come out in defence of the Syrian Revolution and provide material aid on all four major fronts:

· (1) recognising that the regime is fascist and must be overthrown and not appeased by fake imperialist deals including ceasefires and/or the partition of Syria;

· (2) opposing the bourgeois factions masquerading as the FSA leadership against the revolution and replacing this leadership with those fighters committed to defeating Assad and all the imperialist interventions in Syria;

· (3) fighting the jihadists who want to usurp the national rights of Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds to form a reactionary bourgeois Islamic State;

· (4) exposing and defeating the fake left that sides directly or indirectly with the Assad regime and/or with Russian imperialism as defending ‘democracy’ against ‘terrorism’.

There is no question that for revolutionaries the fate of the Syrian Revolution is a fundamental test of their politics and program. What is at stake is the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Those who claim to be Trotskyists have to step up and put their program to the test so workers can recognise who are revolutionaries and who are treacherous enemies of the revolution. Who is for or against Permanent Revolution? What do we mean by permanent revolution?

The short definition of Permanent Revolution is that the bourgeois democratic revolution cannot be completed except as a socialist revolution. Hence the bourgeois democratic revolution does not represent a stage necessary to prepare for socialism. The national democratic revolution becomes a continuous, uninterrupted, and hence permanent revolution until it becomes an international socialist revolution.

How do Trotskyists advance the national democratic revolution (Arab Revolution) by means of Permanent Revolution? We base ourselves on the transitional method (dialectics) and the Transitional Program (Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International). Without an internationalist Trotskyist Leninist party there is no revolutionary leadership and no testing of revolutionary theory in the struggle. This situation was summed up by Trotsky in the 1930s as the “crisis of revolutionary leadership”! Today this crisis is that of the failure of the 4th International to build a revolutionary international party.

What we prize is the legacy of Bolshevism, Leninism and Trotskyism, embodied in Trotsky’s method and program up to 1940. We begin with our understanding that we are still living in the epoch of imperialism, the epoch of crises, wars and revolutions. Capitalism is objectively overripe for revolution, lacking only a class conscious proletariat to lead the socialist revolution to victory.

Today after successive crises, wars and revolutions in the 20th century which marked capitalism’s continuing decline, all previous revolutions have succumbed to counter-revolution due to the crisis of leadership. We face a current situation in which global capitalism faces its terminal crisis. Unless we build a new communist international first, this crisis will mean the end not only of capitalism but also of human civilisation.

In response to this crisis the Arab Spring in 2011 represented the refusal of the Arab masses to pay for capitalism’s terminal crisis. The reopening of the national democratic revolution in MENA included the Syrian uprising and the five year long revolutionary war. The Syrian revolutionary war is the advance guard of the Arab Revolution. That is why we insist that it is a definitive test of all those who claim to lead workers to socialist revolution.

This revolution exposes all those self-proclaimed Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyists who fail this test and objectively end up in the trenches of the class enemy. They can be categorised roughly into two groups. Those who support Assad as an anti-imperialist when he is a stooge of both U.S. and Russian imperialism, and those who reject Assad as anti-imperialist but fall into the Menshevik dogma that Arab workers as not ready for socialism and must fighting alongside the national bourgeoisie to complete the national democratic revolution to prepare the conditions for socialist revolution.

In the first group are the Blind Assadists who regard the workers as ‘not ready’ for even the struggle for bourgeois democracy because they have been replaced by imperialist backed jihadists. They blatantly deny the existence of a popular national revolution in Syria. The most influential are those who say that the ‘rebels’ are no different to the ‘jihadists’ funded by U.S. proxies, Saudia Arabia, Turkey, etc. Hence they draw the conclusion that the Assad regime is waging a just anti-imperialist war against US imperialist proxies. These Blind Assadists include the cryptostalinist RT socialists who back ‘anti-imperialist’ Russia defending the Assad regime against the US-backed ‘rebels’.

In the second category are the Unconscious Assadists; those who recognise and support the Syrian revolution but do not see the working class as capable of socialist revolution without first exhausting the limits of bourgeois democracy. This grouping includes Mensheviks, Maoists and Trotskyist centrists, though their positions are far from identical. The Menshevik/Maoist view is that in the epoch of imperialist decay the bourgeois national democratic revolution must be completed before socialist revolution is possible. A good example is the US organisation Communist Voice.

Joseph Green of Communist Voice rails against Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution as denigrating the struggle for bourgeois democracy. Yet Trotsky did not reject bourgeois democratic demands such as the right to national self-determination, merely by rebranding them ‘transitional demands’. He rejected the Menshevik division between the ‘minimum’ and ‘maximum’ program as substituting a pre-ordained stageism for the dialectics of workers taking the fight for immediate democratic demands that would be met inevitably by imperialist repression, all the way to the socialist insurrection. We will see below whether it is Leon Trotsky or Joseph Green who is right in the case of the Syrian Revolution.

For Permanent Revolution!

Our task is to expose those who reject or revise Permanent Revolution. For us there can be no stage in the national democratic revolution where fighting for bourgeois democracy dictates in advance the defence of bourgeois parliament. For the proletariat, the defence of bourgeois democracy is justified only when it advances the socialist revolution. Whether or not workers defend bourgeois parliament is a tactical question that depends on the balance of class forces, that is, the advance or retreat of the revolution.

Where the revolution is thrown back or has been defeated as in China in 1927 the retreat to bourgeois parliament becomes a tactic to rally the proletarian forces to prevent the closing of the road to revolution. When the revolution is advancing or where the proletariat has not been defeated, as in the Russian Revolution in 1917, Permanent Revolution requires the raising of revolutionary demands of workers power, insurrection and the overthrow of the bourgeois state including the disbanding of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly.

In Syria after 5 years of civil war where the armed revolution is in control of large parts of Syria, the revolution has not been defeated. Against all that U.S. and Russian imperialism and their proxies can throw at it, the revolution survives. Do we call for a peace deal with imperialism to partition Syria that betrays that revolution? No! Already the revolution has built new institutions based on popular democracy to administer the territory it occupies.

In other words here is the Permanent Revolution in the flesh. To defend the immediate bourgeois rights to live and of freedom of expression, workers, poor farmers, street vendors etc., have created workers rights through their armed struggle against “democratic” imperialism and their Syrian dictator Assad!

These are not institutions of bourgeois democracy but of workers’ democracy. They are the result of proto workers communes that if joined up would be the basis for an embryonic workers’ state. We do not defend the gains made, or respect the loss of life in the revolution so far, by retreating to even the most advanced bourgeois democracy, the ‘constituent assembly’. In Syria voting for bourgeois rights has been replaced by taking them arms in hand against the bombs and mercenaries of self-proclaimed ‘democratic’ imperialism. That is why our program in Syria is not for a Constituent Assembly but armed workers soviets everywhere!

The situation is critical. Aleppo is our Paris Commune. But we cannot win if the revolution is co-opted by one or other imperialism and their client states in the region. At the moment part of the FSA leadership is collaborating with Turkey while the YPG leadership is collaborating with the U.S. These rebel forces have been co-opted by Turkey under agreement of both Russia and the U.S. to remove the IS and the YPG from northern Syria. The planned outcome is a divided Syria along the lines of Russia/Assad/Iran aligned regime in the West and U.S./Jordan/Saudi aligned regime in the East.

The survival of the Syrian revolution for 5 years has forced the hand of both imperialist blocs to engage in a new redivision of MENA that reflects the geopolitical confrontation between the two rival blocs. While they are currently collaborating in smashing both the Arab and Kurd revolutions by dividing them and buying off their leaderships, these popular revolutions can defeat both imperialism and its client dictators by turning the tables in the war.

To do this we have to fight the Arab and Kurd national revolutions as one workers’ revolution. This is about class not nation. Turkey is carrying the can for U.S. and Russia to divide and defeat the workers’ revolution and create stable pro-imperialist statelets ruled by their bourgeois clients. There can be no victorious bourgeois national revolution anymore unless it is a permanent or socialist revolution. And socialist revolution in one country cannot survive unless it is international.

That is why the Arab and Kurd national revolutions cannot succeed unless the workers and peasants who do the fighting split decisively from their treacherous bourgeois and petty bourgeois class leaders and join forces with workers and peasants of the whole MENA. It is necessary for the ranks of the rebels to throw out the FSA and YPG leaders who are collaborating with the U.S. and Russia. It is necessary for Iraqi, Egyptian, Palestinian, Kurd, and Iranian workers and peasants to take the lead in their own national revolutions against imperialism, and turn them into victorious socialist revolutions.

They must reject the partition of Syria, Kurdistan and Iraq along sectarian lines, and fight for unity along working class lines. We must appeal to Turkish workers to reject Erdogan’s deals with Russia and the U.S. and join forces with the Arab and Kurd masses. We must oppose a new Sykes/Picot in the form of a Kerry/Lavrov deal and fight for a victorious Arab revolution hand in hand with a Kurd Revolution. If the FSA and PYG stopped fighting one another over who controls north Syria and formed a revolutionary bloc, they could unite not only all Arabs in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but the whole of MENA against the deals being made by Russia and the U.S. to divide and defeat these two revolutions.

We want a permanent revolution in which the Arab workers and peasants unite across the whole of MENA to form non-sectarian, democratic, socialist republics in a socialist federation with the Kurd and Iranian revolutions.

Workers internationally must join this revolution, not only in MENA but also in their own countries. We have to fight on the four fronts internationally. Since it is clear that the Syrian and Kurd revolutions would have already succeeded without the intervention of imperialism and its client dictators, our main task, especially in the imperialist countries, is to defeat imperialism at home! The U.S./NATO bloc would be immobilised by militant working class opposition to imperialism at home. Russia and China would be immobilised by their own workers and peasants rising up to overthrow their imperialist regimes.

The world is on the brink of disaster. Facing its terminal crisis, capitalism can only survive by killing workers everywhere and destroying the ecosphere. For workers to survive, capitalism must die. Workers can do this only by organising internationally across the defunct borders of the bourgeois nation state; by arming themselves to defend their class against capitalist counter-revolution; by using their armed class power to overthrow and replace dying capitalism with a new socialist system.

This revolution has begun in Syria. We are at the crossroads; take the right fork and the revolution will be defeated and make the demise of our species that much harder to stop, take the left fork, it becomes a call to arms for workers everywhere to fight for socialism and the survival of our species.