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Socialism

Socialism

  • Fantastic march for our NHS

    Protestor at 'Our NHS' demonstration on 4 March. Photo: Jim Aindow

    A huge 'Our NHS' demonstration was passionately addressed by Jeremy Corbyn. He must be a part of the movement for change, argues Lindsey German

  • Revolution remembered

    August Nimtz speaks at Revolution: Russia 1917 - 100 years on. Photo: Jim Aindow

    Event commemorating the Russian Revolution, linking it to today's struggles, was big success for revolutionary left, reports Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

  • Lenin's State and Revolution

    Lenin by Andy Warhol

    The Revolution 1917 event is this Saturday 25th Feb at Rich Mix London. Lenin's State and Revolution offers crucial insights to those campaigning to change the world 100 years later, explains Paul Vernell

  • Arthur Ransome on the Russian Revolution

    Arthur Ransome. Photo: Hugh Lupton

    Arthur Ransome wrote the pamphlet, The Truth About Russia, in Moscow in 1918 to win international support for the Revolution. Introduction by Judy Cox

  • Socialists and mass protest: thoughts on the Women's Marches

    Women's march on London, 2017. Photo: Jim Aindow

    How should socialists orient to mass protests?

  • Red Rosa. A graphic biography of Rosa Luxemburg

    Cover of Red Rosa

    Kate Evans’ graphic biography, Red Rosa, is an entertaining, innovative and perceptive account of Rosa Luxemburg, finds Elaine Graham-Leigh

  • Debating revolution today: Leon Trotsky in the 21st century

    Leon Trotsky in 1918. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    Vladimir Unkovski-Korica looks at the legacy of Trotsky and ‘Trotskyism’ today. This is an adapted version of a speech given at Counterfire conference which took place on 3rd and 4th December 2016.

  • The Candidate: the summer coup - extract

    The Candidate by Trevor Nuns. Photo: OR Books

    In an extract from The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path to Power, Alex Nunns describes a dramatic day in the attempted coup against Corbyn

  • 10 points about Trump

    US President Donald Trump. Photo: Wikipedia

    We must fight for an alternative to barbarism, argues Lindsey German

  • The October Revolution

    'The Bolshevik' by Boris Kustodiev, 1920. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    As the centennial of the Russian Revolution approaches, Vladimir Unkovski-Korica looks at the events of the October Revolution

  • Remembering Gerry Jones

    Gerry Jones.

    A tribute remembering Gerry Jones: trade unionist, organiser and socialist, who constantly fought for fairness, writes Penny Hicks

  • Rosa Luxemburg: reform or revolution?

    rosa luxemburg

    The life of the influential revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg provides inspiration and lessons for today, writes Judy Cox

  • Crowds and Party

    crowds and party

    Jodi Dean in Crowds and Party boldly reasserts the need for socialist organisation, as a necessary antidote to neoliberal individualism, finds Lindsey German

  • Corbyn: how to play the media

    Des Freedman considers the pitfalls of delivering a socialist message on a hostile media terrain

  • A Hidden History Of The Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerillas' Victory

    cushion cuba

    When is a revolution socialist? Recent books on Cuba show the importance of revolutionary organisation for the working class, argues Dominic Alexander

  • Crisis of reformism: Corbyn, Sanders and the left

    Jeremy Corbyn is greeted by supporters at the 'International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia'. Photo: Jeremy Corbyn

    The re-election of Corbyn is key, but an increase in the level of class struggle is critical to lasting success, argues Lindsey German

  • Corbyn up against the establishment

    Jeremy Corbyn addressing crowds outside Parliament. Photo: John Mcdonnell

    Alex Snowdon takes a look at the current conjecture in relation to the Labour leadership contest, and the questions facing the wider movement

  • No time for faint hearts

    Corbyn's victory speech at Labour Party conference, 16 September 2015. Photo: YouTube

    We have got this far by being radical, argues Chris Nineham, and now is not the time to moderate the message

  • The fight is on - help us hit our campaign target

    We need your help to finance the resistance

  • To stop the far right we must oppose the EU

    Ioannis Lagos, Greek MP and member of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn

    Kevin Ovenden argues for an internationalist approach to the European crisis in the second half of a two-part series on the European question

  • Socialism… Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation

    socialism seriously

    Danny Katch's Socialism...Seriously is an entertaining and witty introduction to socialism, finds Ralph Graham-Leigh

  • Against Capitalist Education

    Cover of Against Capitalist Education

    Against Capitalist Education is a striking call for education to be freed of the straightjacket of the capitalist market, finds Phil Armstrong

  • Parliament and people power: the left and the movements after the demonstration

    Westminster Bridge at five to six. Source: Wikipedia

    As the Tories' trauma continues, Chris Nineham sketches out a strategy for radical change

  • Where have all the flowers gone?

    Land of Hope and Fury - CD

    Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football reviews the new wave of rebel music

  • The Conquest of Bread

    Kropotkin the conquest of bread

    Kropotkin’s classic, The Conquest of Bread, reveals problems of radical politics and organisation that remain vital today, argues Dominic Alexander

  • Europe and socialist strategy

    Protesters against austerity outside Syntagma Square.

    Kevin Ovenden examines the various politics strategies on offer from the European left

  • Paul Robeson: erased from history - podcast

    Born in 1898, Paul Robeson was an activist, athlete, actor and singer. Source: Wikimedia

    Portraying Paul Robeson on the 40th anniversary of his death, actor Tayo Aluko talks to us about this prodigiously talented singer, actor and socialist

  • Feeling the Bern: can Sanders beat Clinton?

    Bernie Sanders on the True Cost of War

    In challenging the corporatist and status quoist politics of Clinton, Sanders has become an electoral lightning rod for the movements, argues Sean Ledwith

  • Where next, after Syriza? A view from the left in South-Eastern Europe

    Protests in Romania in 1989

    Vladimir Unkovski-Korica analyses some of the challenges faced by activists trying to re-build the radical left in the Balkans and Eastern Europe since 1989

  • Rosa Luxemburg on parliament and political power - key texts

    Portrait of Rosa Luxemburg. Source: Wikimedia

    Vladimir Unkovski-Korica introduces a chapter from Reform or Revolution by Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg as part of our 'key texts' series

  • The Sanders surge: Occupy hits the ballot box

    Bernie Sanders speaking

    The Iowan Democrat caucus photo finish reveals a major fault line in the US political consensus, reports Mark Dee Smith

  • Is Marxism still relevant? Key texts

    Karl Marx

    The 'S' word is back. Here Chris Nineham introduces a brilliant short defence of Marxism by Tony Cliff as part of our 'key texts' series

  • Podemos comeback has broken the Spanish deadlock

    Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos. Source: Wikimedia

    The result of the Spanish election is a major breakthrough for the left in Spain and beyond

  • The necessary gravedigger

    Socialism is back on the agenda as an alternative social model in Lebowitz's Socialist Imperative, but we cannot do without the revolutionary party, argues Kit Klarenberg

  • Jez we did! A landslide for hope

    Corbyn's election represents a decisive rejection of Blairism, a vote against austerity and against war, and a vote for peace and justice. The possibilities opened up now are immense

  • The end of Blairism: Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party and the left

    Jeremy Corbyn

    New Labour orthodoxies, dominant in the Labour Party for at least two decades, are crumbling writes Alex Snowdon

  • Classic texts 2: a summary of Lenin's 'Left-Wing' Communism - an infantile disorder

    Warhol Lenin

    The question for Lenin was: do you stand on the side lines, or engage in joint activity, including electoral activity, in order to break the hold of those who were fudging the issue of reform and revolution?

  • The principles of liberation: how Lenin rescued Marx

    Reconstructing Lenin

    Chris Nineham reviews 'Reconstructing Lenin. An intellectual biography' by Tamas Krausz

  • Lenin and the Labour Party - lessons for today?

    Wahol Lenin

    As Jeremy Corbyn's campaign for Labour leader gains seemingly unstoppable momentum, John Rees looks at some of the debates on the left at the time of the formation of the Labour Party

  • Labour and socialism: six of the best

    Labour poster

    The runaway success of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for the Labour leadership is focusing the attention of the left on the Labour Party's history and prospects in a way not seen for a generation. John Rees provides a guide to essential reading

  • What's behind the Corbyn surge and why it matters

    Jeremy Corbyn

    As underdog becomes front-runner Chris Nineham looks at the factors behind the Corbyn surge

  • South Africa after Marikana: an interview with Trevor Ngwane

    Democratic Left Front supporters on a Black Lives Matter protest organised by the United Front on 18 March 2015

    South African socialist and anti-apartheid activist Trevor Ngwane is interviewed by Susan Newman

  • How Labour lost and how the Left can win: Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones and Lindsey German | Dangerous Times 2015

    Video from the session 'How Labour lost and how the Left can win' at Dangerous Times Festival 2015. Produced by Paul Hanes

  • Social Democracy, Mass Movements and Revolution: John Rees at Dangerous Times 2015

    John Rees speaking at Dangerous Times Festival 2015. Video by Paul Hanes

  • Why Marx's Manifesto is still a revolutionary bestseller

    Karl Marx

    The new Penguin edition of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto was an immediate bestseller. It’s even on sale in Tesco’s. Katherine Connelly explains why this book should be on your shopping list

  • Radical: what’s in a word?

    People’s Assembly

    No solution can be really radical that attempts to avoid, diminish or circumvent the direct participation of the masses argues John Rees

  • Corbyn is in the leadership race – don't just celebrate, organise!

    Jeremy Corbyn

    Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign gives us all an opportunity to profile socialist ideas and rebuild popular left organisation on the ground argues Chris Nineham

  • Jeremy Corbyn or Blairism Mark 2: a turning point for the Labour left?

    The fate of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership bid should mark a turning point for the Labour left writes Lindsey German

  • E. P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left: Essays and Polemics

    Book cover

    Enduring problems of class, class consciousness and political organisation are illuminated in this important new collection of E. P. Thompson’s essays, finds Dominic Alexander

  • What makes a movement?

    Change comes from mass action by working people - and as the movement grows, socialist organisation in the movement needs to grow too writes Chris Nineham

  • Revolutionising reformism

    It will be up to the radicals and revolutionaries to make the case for an effective, modern reformism - a minimum set of demands, as a prelude to further radicalization - argues James Meadway

  • 1945 - 2015 Whatever happened to the politics of hope?

    Days of hope

    Few outside of Scotland would claim to have been inspired by the General Election campaign, Mark Perryman previews a post-election seminar which will ask why?

  • Why one Guardian writer should be heading to Tesco’s this May Day

    The Guardian May Day article misrepresents Marx and detracts from the critical lessons learned from his life and work argues Susan Newman

  • Marx for Today

    Buy online: an essential and accessible summary of the foundations of Marx’s thought

  • Eyes on the prize: the election and beyond

    The consensus at the centre of British politics is being prised open - and with this comes an opportunity to build a mass, radical left across this island

  • Revolution in a day: an introduction to the theory and practice of radical change | London 18 April

    A radical day school providing an essential introduction to the theory and practice of radical change

  • The Benn Heresy

    Book Cover

    Alan Freeman’s classic analysis of Tony Benn and his role in the labour movement is sympathetic but critical, and remains highly relevant, argues James Doran

  • Greek election: by their infomercials, ye shall know them

    Kevin Ovenden looks at the party election broadcasts and what they say about the parties in his sixth dispatch from Greece

  • Dispatches from hope: a primer on the Greek election

    Syriza - Greek for hope

    The fight is on for an alternative to neoliberalism. In the first of a regular series of reports from Greece, Kevin Ovenden explains the significance of this month's Greek general election

  • Unfinished Leninism: The Rise and Return of a Revolutionary Doctrine

    Unfinished Leninism

    Leninism, so frequently misunderstood, is shown to be of vital relevance for contemporary politics in Paul Le Blanc, Unfinished Leninism, argues Alex Snowdon

  • Movements can make history - but revolutions don’t just happen

    Book Cover

    Chris Nineham argues that two new Marxist books about social movements reflect a common tendency to downplay the conscious, organised element in the way change happens

  • Venezuela: revolution and progress versus reaction and empire

    Venezuela

    The choice in Venezuela is stark; social progress versus extreme reaction and US intervention. We should be clear which side we are on argues Matt Willgress

  • Capitalism and social democracy in crisis: an interview with John Bellamy Foster

    Climate march

    Following the fantastic global demonstrations for action on climate change a few weeks ago, which saw hundreds of thousands protest around the world, we republish this interview between Bill Blackwater and Marxist ecologist John Bellamy Foster

  • Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work

    Green Capitalism

    The urgency of action on climate change is undeniable, but Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work, shows clearly why capitalism is the problem, argues Marienna Pope-Weidemann

  • A breath of fresh air

    Hope

    Mark Perryman reviews an exceptionally strong list of autumn political reading

  • PolyluxMarx: An Illustrated Workbook for Studying Marx’s Capital

    PolyluxMarx

    PolyluxMarx is an innovative and valuable introduction to Marx’s Capital, finds Sean Ledwith, despite a few disagreements in method and theory

  • An Impatient Life: A Memoir

    An Impatient Life

    Daniel Bensaïd’s memoir of a life as a socialist in France provides an engaging account of a revolutionary life during the 1960s and after, finds William Booth

  • Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire

    Sylvia Pankhurst Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire

    The importance and coherence of Sylvia Pankhurst’s lifelong activism is revealed by Katherine Connelly’s grasp of her political commitments, making this book an important new account her life

  • The ABC of Socialism: becoming a socialist

    The first chapter of our recently republished book 'The ABC of Socialism' by John Rees

  • The ABC of Socialism

    Book cover

    John Rees introduces a new reprint of his popular book in the preface reproduced here

  • Alternatives to austerity: The ABC of socialism

    John Rees

    John Rees talks at the Dangerous Times Festival 2014

  • The second world war: A Marxist analysis

    Chris Bambery

    Chris Bambery at Dangerous Times festival, Rich Mix, East London, 1 June 2014

  • Socialism and war: the war against war

    Image by Peter Kennard

    In the final part of 'Socialism and War' John Rees argues that the only war that can end war is the class war

  • Socialism and war: socialists and war

    Tony Benn opposing war in 2003. Photograph: PA

    In the third part of 'Socialism and War' John Rees argues that we should oppose our own imperialist governments and their wars

  • Socialism and war: Labour and war

    kennardphillipps, Photo Op

    In the second part of 'Socialism and War' John Rees looks at the record of the Labour Party and imperialism

  • Socialism and war: capitalism and war

    Banksy: Napalm

    In the first part of 'Socialism and War' John Rees looks at capitalism and war

  • The Scottish Lenin: the life and legacy of John Maclean

    John Maclean's name remains a byword for radical socialism - he left a lasting impression on the social history of Glasgow and Scotland writes Sean Leadwith

  • Clara Zetkin: oppression, class, and socialism

    Clara ZetkinLindsey German responds to John Riddell's article, 'Clara Zetkin in the Lion’s Den'

  • Towards a Marxist critique of ‘privilege theory’

    MarxistA contribution by Tad Tietze to an ongoing debate on Marxism and 'privilege theory' originally published on the US Socialist Worker website. Tad blogs at Left Flank

  • Marx on Gender and the Family: A critical study

    Heather Brown’s Marx on Gender shows the importance of Marx’s writing on the issue, while offering some perspectives to be criticised, argues Lindsey German

  • Video: what do Marxists say about feminism? Kate Connelly

    Feminist fistFeminism remains a source of debate on the left. What do women's liberation and socialism have in common, and what keeps them apart? Kate Connelly looks at a sometimes difficult history and assesses where oppression comes from

  • Video: Terry Eagleton: why Marx was right

    Terry Eagleton - Dangerous Ideas for Dangerous TimesEconomic catastrophe has put Marx back on the agenda. Was he right all along? Terry Eagleton makes the case in this video of his talk at Dangerous Ideas for Dangerous Times

  • Leninism for Dangerous Times

    LeninWhat can we learn from Lenin about how we organise to transform society? Paul Le Blanc provides some answers in this text of his talk presented at Dangerous Ideas for Dangerous Times, 31 May 2013

  • Video: 'A Marxist History of the World: From Neanderthals to Neoliberals'

    Neil FaulknerFrom the dawn of humanity to the greatest crisis to confront the human race, Neil Faulkner introduces his new book. Video by Fourmanfilms

  • A Marxist History of The World: From Neanderthals to Neoliberals

    This analysis of human history from hominids to the current Great Recession combines the insights of earlier Marxist historians with radical new ideas about the historical process

  • Introduction to Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder

    LeninMarx 101 is a series of meetings to introduce the Marxist classics to activists in the twenty first century. Elaine Graham Leigh concludes the present series with a look at Lenin's Left-Wing Communism

  • Introduction to Lenin’s State and Revolution

    Lenin and the stateMarx 101 is a series of meetings and resources designed to introduce the Marxist classics to activists in the twenty first century. Neil Faulkner begins the series with a look at the Marxist theory of the state

  • A Marxist History of the World: Making the future

    Cave painting hands and spanish protestHistorian Neil Faulkner concludes A Marxist History of the World by looking at what that history can tell us about the possibility for radical social change

  • A Marxist History of the World part 106: The Second Great Depression

    The Great Depression then and nowFour years after the beginning of the crisis, the neoliberal elite is trapped by the contradictions of the system on which its wealth depends, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 105: The 2008 Crash: from bubble to black hole

    The financial crisis represents the end of an era in which greed and casino-madness had been given free rein by market deregulation and rising debt

  • A Marxist History of the World part 104: 2001: 9/11, the War on Terror, and the New Imperialism

    The Al-Qaida terror attacks allowed the great powers to justify new imperialist wars to safeguard the interests of global capital, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 103: 1989: the fall of Stalinism

    The revolutions of 1989 represent great victories for mass action, but they were limited in effect, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 102: What is neoliberalism?

    The ‘free-market’ theory provides a pseudo-scientific justification for the greed and poverty endemic to the system, and the main beneficiaries are the global mega-corporations of neoliberal capitalism

  • Marx for Today - review

    A new collection of essays helps to rediscover the real Marx, and defends him against recent critics, but questions of strategy remain, argues Tom Whittaker

  • A Marxist History of the World part 101: The Long Recession

    By the early 1970s, the levers of state economic management had stopped working and the world economy entered a long period of stagnation

  • A Marxist History of the World part 100:1968-1975: the workers’ revolt

    As the crisis of capitalism spread around the world, the working class took centre stage – but the revolt did not result in successful revolution anywhere, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 99: 1968 - the long sleep ends

    The long sleep of the post-war period was brought to an end in 1968, as revolts erupted across the developed world, writes Neil Faulkner

  • An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital

    Michael Heinrich’s newly translated introduction to Capital is lucid and succinct in outlining Marx’s revolutionary economics

  • A Marxist History of the World part 98: The Vietnam War

    Neil Faulkner explains how an army of peasant guerrillas managed to defeat US imperialism in a full-scale war

  • Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary’s Life

    Trotsky’s eventful life is a natural story for biographers, but the key thing is to engage with his real politics rather than textbook caricature, argues Peter Stauber

  • A Marxist History of the World part 97: Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution

    The reforms that Fidel Castro introduced after the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship were real, but they were bestowed from above and straitjacketed by poverty, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 96:1956: Hungary and Suez

    1956 was a year of war, revolution, and disillusionment – a year after which nothing could ever be quite the same again, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 95: Oil, Zionism, and Western Imperialism

    British support for the Zionist movement led to the foundation of Israel in 1948. In conjunction with US imperialism, the Israeli state is an enduring source of oppression in the Middle East

  • A Marxist History of the World part 94: End of Empire?

    In spite of the imperialist powers' attempts to cling on to their colonies, formal empire was finished by the late 1970s. But this was not the end of imperialism, writes Neil Faulkner

  • The real Lenin

    Lars Lih’s recent biography of Lenin overturns textbook distortions and gets us back to the real Lenin that is needed for the movement, argues Alistair Stephens

  • A Marxist History of the World part 93: Maoist China

    After the revolution of 1949, the Chinese Communists resorted to state capitalism to force the country’s industrialisation. The consequences were disastrous, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 92: The Great Boom

    In the first three decades after the war, the world economy experienced unprecedented growth rates and falling unemployment. But the boom rested on unstable foundations, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 91: The Cold War

    The Second World War had created a world divided between two imperialist blocs. Their nuclear arsenals acted as a ‘deterrent’, but rivalry and suspicion meant that war was never far away

  • Trotsky: Writings in Exile

    Alex Snowdon recommends a collection of Trotsky’s that gives access to some of the best Marxist writing on a wide range of subjects

  • A Marxist History of the World part 90: The Second World War: resistance

    Large parts of Occupied Europe were liberated by local resistance movements. But the potential for a revolutionary transformation was smothered at birth, writes Neil Faulkner

  • Winning the argument for revolution: Trotsky and the Transitional Programme

    TrotskyChris Bambery discusses Trotsky's attempts to use transitional demands to relate socialist ideas to the real world

  • A Marxist History of the World part 89: 1941-1945: barbarism in a world gone mad

    The Second World War was characterised by primeval savagery. Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Militarist Japan waged war with unprecedented brutality, but the ‘democracies’ also committed terrible war crimes

  • A Marxist History of the World part 88: The Second World War

    With the great powers fighting to defend their empires, the Second World War would re-divide the world between competing blocs of capitalists, writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 87: The Causes of the Second World War

    As Hitler sought to expand Germany's sphere of influence in Europe, Britain's policy of appeasement reflected the interests of the British ruling classes – until German power became overwhelming

  • A Marxist History of the World part 86: The Spanish Civil War

    In 1936, after General Franco had led an unsuccessful coup against a democratically elected government, revolution swept across Spain. Neil Faulkner explains why the workers were ultimately defeated

  • A Marxist History of the World part 85: June 1936: the French general strike and factory occupations

    In the mid-1930s French workers launched a wave of strikes and occupations. Neil Faulkner explains how the Stalinised Communist Party worked to contain this resistance

  • A Marxist History of the World part 84: State Capitalism in Russia

    By the end of the 1920s, Stalin's party-state apparatus had become the dominant force in Russian society. A bureaucratic ruling class treated all forms of dissent and resistance as crimes against the state

  • A Marxist History of the World part 83: 1933: the Nazi seizure of power

    By the early 1930s, the German ruling class was determined to use the Nazis to make the world safe for German capital. But the fascist victory was not inevitable – it resulted from a failure of revolutionary leadership

  • A Marxist History of the World part 82: The Hungry Thirties

    Beginning with the Wall Street Crash in 1929, the world economy entered the Great Depression. The misguided policies that world leaders pursued ensured that millions of lives were torn apart.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 81: The Roaring Twenties

    Ford's 1912 Model T carAlthough the 'American Dream' became a reality for millions in the 1920s, it was built on shaky grounds - the huge speculative bubble that was building up on Wall Street was waiting to collapse

  • Gramsci’s Leninism

    Antonio GramsciChris Walsh explores Antonio Gramsci as a Leninist, the originality of his thinking and the relevance of Gramsci today

  • Why reading Marx's Das Kapital still matters

    The cover of Mike Wayne's new book: Marx's Das Kapital for beginnersMike Wayne discusses his new book: Marx's Das Kapital for beginners and why reading Marx is still relevant today

  • A Marxist History of the World part 80: Stalinism: the bitter fruit of revolutionary defeat

    StalinNeil Faulkner looks at the time when the Bolshevik regime turned in on itself and morphed into a mockery of its socialist ideals.

  • Sofka: The princess who became a communist

    Sofka Dolgorouky smiles in a photograph unearthed in Britain’s MI5 archivesTansy Hoskins reviews the play Sofka based on the biography of the Red Princess; Sofka Dolgorouky

  • A Marxist History of the World part 79: Revolt in the Colonies

    The anti-colonial revolts of the early 20th century were inspired by radical ideas, but, as the examples of Ireland, India and Mexico show, history exacts a heavy price for political timidity.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 78: The First Chinese Revolution

    In 1927, the Chinese nationalists smashed the country's first working-class revolutionary movement – a defeat that would shape the whole subsequent history of China.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 77: World Revolution

    In the five years after the First World War, revolutionary contagion spread around the world. It showed the extraordinary possibilities that arise when the masses become active in making their own history.

  • Trotsky’s ‘French Turn’: Lessons from crisis and radicalisation in Europe’s past

    How should revolutionaries relate to the new Left rising up across Europe? Chris Bambery argues lessons can be learned from the approach Leon Trotsky took to this question in the mid-1930s

  • A Marxist History of the World part 76: Italy’s ‘Two Red Years’

    Fourth EstateLike Germany, Italy was on the brink of revolution in the summer of 1920, after the strains of imperialist war had levered open deep fractures in an unstable social order.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 75: The German Revolution

    At the end of the First World War, the epicentre of revolution moved from Petrograd to Berlin. Why did the German communists fail where the Bolsheviks had succeded?

  • A Marxist History of the World part 74: 1918: how the war ended

    After four years of carnage, the First World War finally came to an end when the Central Powers collapsed and revolution spread to Germany, writes Neil Faulkner.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 73: 1917: the October Insurrection

    The October revolution was an expression of the democratic will of millions of workers, soldiers, sailors, and peasants writes Neil Faulkner

  • A Marxist History of the World part 72: February to October: the rhythms of revolution

    armed revolutionary troopsThe situation of 'dual power' that emerged after the overthrow of the Tsar in February 1917 was marked by a series of major political crises.

  • Dangerous Video: The Impossible Communism

    Impossible communismCommunism has a bad name. Its either authoritarian or a crazy utopia which can never work. Jonathon Shafi discusses whether communism is an impossible dream or a model of cooperation.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 71: Dual power: the mechanics of revolution

    Lenin arrivesThe centuries old Russian monarchy was overthrown in a matter of days in February 1917. Neil Faulkner looks at the months of turmoil that followed

  • A Marxist History of the World part 70: 1917: the February Revolution

    Women protestAs WWI turned into a protracted, bloody struggle the initial enthusiasm gave way to growing class tensions which exploded first in Russia's February Revolution.

  • An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln

    Robin Blackburn offers an exciting new perspective on Marx's interpretation of the American Civil War that puts the question of slavery back at its heart, argues Katherine Connelly.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 69: The First World War

    TankNeil Faulkner looks at how capitalism plunged humanity into an abyss of carnage, destruction, and waste without precedent, as mass production methods produced industrialised slaughter.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 68: 1914: descent into barbarism

    FleetIn the summer of 1914 capitalism tipped humanity into an abyss of barbarism that would leave millions dead. Neil Faulkner looks at the First World War.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 67: Reform or Revolution?

    Rosa LuxemburgThe world Socialist movement was blown apart as its members supported the First World War. Neil Faulkner looks at how the question of reform or revolution lay behind the split.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 66: The Ottoman Empire and the 1908 ‘Young Turk’ Revolution

    Neil Faulkner looks at how the revolution that began in Turkey in 1908 initiated a process that would transform the middle east over the following two decades.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 65: The 1905 Revolution: Russia’s great dress rehearsal

    TrotskyNeil Faulkner looks at how the Russian Revolution of 1905 helped Leon Trotsky formulate an answer to the century-old riddle of Russian history: what form must the revolution take in order to be victorious.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 64: What is Imperialism?

    carving up chinaNeil Faulkner looks at how the growth of giant monopolies and the fusing of industrial, bank, and state capital created global competition - and the roots of World War I.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 63: The Rape of China

    Taiping rebellionNeil Faulkner looks at the impact of western imperialism's repeated and bloody attempts to control the wealth of China

  • A Marxist History of the World part 62: The Scramble for Africa

    Cecil RhodesThe imperial competition to control Africa spawned a predatory colonialism of mines, plantations, and machine-guns and propelled humanity towards industrialised world war writes Neil Faulkner.

  • How does history work? Marx 101 video and notes

    Marx 101Neil Faulkner provides an overview of the main terms and concepts plus basic reading material for his Marx 101 session on the Marxist theory of history.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 61: The Long Depression, 1873-1896

    Trafalgar Sq riotNeil Faulkner writes about the The Long Depression – an unprecedented economic slump which started the countdown to the First World War.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 60: The Paris Commune: the face of proletarian revolution

    Louise MichelThe Franco-Prussian war produced the first proletarian revolution in history, and showed to the world for the first time what a workers’ state looks like.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 59: The Franco-Prussian War

    BismarkIn this week's chapter of the Marxist History series Neil Faulkner looks at how Germany’s ruling elite brought about a bourgeois revolution ‘from above’.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 58: The Meiji Restoration

    MeijiAn event which would shape the history of the Far East until 1945, Japan’s bourgeois revolution ‘from above’ is explored by Neil Faulkner in this week's Marxist History.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 57: The American Civil War

    Black US troopsOne hundred and fifty years ago North America saw the start of a revolutionary war fought between rival systems and opposing political ideologies. Neil Faulkner looks at The American Civil War.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 56: The Indian Mutiny

    indian famine victimsThe Indian Mutiny was the subcontinent’s first war of independence, with Indians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds fighting side-by-side despite the divide and rule fostered by the British.

  • Party and class: lessons from the birth of British Communism

    Minority Movement coverHow socialists relate to the working class has always been a source of tension within the socialist tradition. Chris Bambery suggests that the early years of British Communism provide lessons that are still very relevant to debates today.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 55: The Making of the Working Class

    Last of the Clan by Thomas FaedThe development of capitalism entails two complementary processes. The first, explored in MHW 54, is competitive capital accumulation. The second, explored here, is the making – and continual re-making – of the working class.

  • Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time

    The recent monumental biography of Tony Cliff, one of the great post-war Marxist organisers and theorists, is a highly readable and valuable account of the man’s long life in the movement, and will be a permanent classic.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 54: What is Capitalism?

    In this critical chapter of his world history, Neil Faulkner explores capitalism and what it means from the Industrial Revolution to the present day.

  • David Harvey: History versus theory, a commentary on Marx's method in Capital

    David HarveyVideo of Marxist historian David Harvey speaking in London on November 11 in an event organised by The Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize Committee, in conjunction with Historical Materialism.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 53: What is Marxism?

    In his latest instalment, Neil Faulkner explores the complex history of Marxism - and how capitalism produced its own gravediggers.

  • Why Marx was Right - Terry Eagleton Marxist Critic and Author

    www.counterfire.org
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  • A Marxist History of the World part 52: The 1848 Revolutions

    Cavaignac's soldiers fight their way into eastern Paris in the June Days counter-revolutionEven when progress is reversed, some hard-won gains are permanent. Neil Faulkner examines how the counter-revolution in 1848 failed to entirely turn the clock back.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 51: the origins of the Labour Movement

    Capitalism's industrial revolution gave birth to its own gravediggers, argues Neil Faulkner as he examines the rise and fall of Chartism.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 50: The Industrial Revolution

    Frederick Engels was sent to Manchester, centre of the Industrial Revolution, to dispel his radicalism. Instead it made him the revolutionary he is remembered as today, Neil Faulkner explains.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 49: The French Revolution - Themidor, Directory and Napoleon

    In his third chapter on the French Revolution, Neil Faulkner discusses the contradictions of bourgeois revolution - but celebrates the gains it won.

  • A Marxist History of the World Part 48: The French Revolution - The Jacobin Dictatorship

    In his latest instalment, Neil Faulkner explores the rise of the Jacobin dictatorship and the ever-present threat of counter-revolution in 18th Century France.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 47: The French Revolution - Storming of the Bastille

    In the latest of his series on the Marxist understanding of history, Neil Faulkner explores revolution and counter-revolution in 18th-Century France.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 46: The American Revolution

    In 1764, Americans thought of themselves as British subjects of King George III. By 1788, they would, by their own decisions and actions, have made themselves the free citizens of a new republic forged in revolution and war.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 45: The Enlightenment

    What gave the Enlightenment its subversive, politically corrosive character was its critique of institutions and practices which appeared comparatively irrational in the light of modern thinking, argues Neil Faulkner.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 44: Wars of empire

    British RedcoatsThe English Revolution transformed Britain into a capitalist economy engaging in geopolitical competition. Neil Faulkner looks at how Britain became the dominant global superpower of the 19th Century.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 43: Colonies, slavery, and racism

    Capitalist contradictions were most evident in the 18th century, when the wealth of the merchant-capitalist class of Britain’s port-cities was contrasted with the untold human misery of the slaves, ramping up the historical significance of racist ideology.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 42: The Army, the Levellers, and the Commonwealth

    Neil Faulkner looks at how even the most radical bourgeois forces, if they are to preserve their property and status, must break the momentum of the movement that has brought them to power.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 41: 1640-1645: revolution and war in England

    Oliver cromwellThe attempt to impose Absolutism by Charles I led to a revolutionary civil war in which the King would be executed - Neil Faulkner looks at the English Civil War.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 40: The causes of the English Revolution

    Charles INeil Faulkner looks at the how the unresolved contradictions in English society and the attempt to establish Continental-style absolutism led to the execution of the king, and the establishment of a bourgeois republic.

  • Radical democracy, popular power and 21st century socialism

    I found this talk by David McNally fascinating. McNally is professor of politics at York University in Toronto and author of Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism (2005).

    McNally talks especially about social upheavals in Bolivia (1999-2000), Oaxaca in Mexico (2006) and Tunisia and Egypt (2011). These case studies raise important questions, more generally, about the shape of the modern working class, forms of resistance to neoliberalism, and attempts at radical democracy. I found his comments on the relationship between social movements and trade unions particularly thought-provoking.

    It complements Chris Bambery's recent article in discussing changing patterns in working class composition and the nature of anti-capitalist resistance.


    Radical Democracy & Popular Power: Thinking About New Socialisms for the 21st Century from CSRCproject on Vimeo.


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  • A Marxist History of the World part 39: The Thirty Years War

    Cardinal RichelieuBetween 1618 and 1648 Germany was wrecked by insecurity, depopulation, disruption to trade, the destruction of property, and military plundering. Neil Faulkner looks at The Thirty Years War.

  • Moving toward socialism in Bolivia? Podcast by Jeff Webber

    The actions of militant social movements in Bolivia have been heartening. But what if Morales represents not a break from neoliberalism, but a reconfigured version of it? Jeff Webber analyses the trajectory of social movements toward the ballot box.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 38: The Dutch Revolution

    William of OrangeFor more than 40 years, with wildly fluctuating fortunes, the Dutch Revolution of 1566-1609 took the form of a protracted popular war of national defence against the Spanish Empire.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 37: The Counter-Reformation

    Philip IINeil Faulkner looks at how the Reformation was followed by a counter-revolutionary response which involved a dogmatic reassertion of Catholic orthodoxy: the Counter-Reformation.

  • Lenin and us: building revolutionary organisation today

    I recently published a series of posts restating the case for revolutionary organisation. The article below is a slightly edited version of those posts, merged into a single text (with some video of Tony Cliff - speaking on Lenin and the revolutionary party - as an extra). It's nearly 4000 words, so I recommend you make yourself a cuppa and find a comfy seat before starting.  

    This article aims to answer two questions. First, why build a revolutionary socialist organisation? Second, what is required to build such an organisation?

    There are many left-wing and radical activists who take a dim view of ‘Leninism’. This is often influenced by caricatured versions of what Lenin thought, wrote and did in relation to political organisation, or by negative experiences of groups which claim to be in the Leninist tradition.

    I want to clarify the Leninist tradition's relevance to the current challenges of strategy and organisation. The specific focus is therefore the need for an organisation of revolutionary socialists. This is at the heart of debates about how socialists fight to change the world.



    Class consciousness and revolutionary organisation

    Capitalist society is full of contradictions. It is, for example, a society in which the ugly reality of poverty and inequality contradicts the enchanting rhetoric of fairness, equal opportunities and social mobility.

    There are contradictions at the heart of how the system works. Although a system of competition, capitalism depends upon people co-operating with each other to do the work necessary for it to function. Capitalism expands and transcends boundaries, yet nation states remain important for the ruling class. We live in an increasingly interconnected world, yet divisions of nationalism, racism and so on remain.

    One of the most important contradictions concerns the ideas we have about the world and ourselves. Marxists argue that society is divided into classes - a ruling class, which is a tiny minority, and a working class, which is the vast majority. It is in the interests of the great majority of people to make a revolution against a wealthy, powerful ruling class, seize control of the economy, and create a society based on radically different priorities.

    Karl Marx insisted that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class. Fundamental social change - moving from capitalist barbarism to a free socialist society - cannot be delivered from above. Working people must free themselves.

    There's a contradiction, though, between our material interests and the fact that - most of the time, in most places - we seem to be a long way from socialist revolution. There is a contradiction between Marx's self-emancipation of the working class and another of Marx's observations - that the ruling ideas in any age are the ideas of the ruling class.

    The ruling class control the media, education system and other means of spreading their views, ensuring their ideas come to be seen as a kind of 'common sense'. Yet it is never, thankfully, as simple as that. Antonio Gramsci, the Italian revolutionary, referred to 'good sense' co-existing alongside this 'common sense'. He meant that ideas more in line with workers' material interests, and opposed to capitalist ideology, were also part of working class consciousness.

    There exists a mix of different ideas and worldviews inside the working class. It's also true that an individual can have a set of complex, contradictory set of ideas inside their head. They may (for example) be implacably opposed to public sector cuts but support the maintenance of the royal family, despite the monarchy being an institution that legitimises class privilege and inequality.

    Consciousness is contradictory. It is uneven. This provides the starting point for discussing strategy and organisation for changing the world.

    Reformism is, in normal circumstances, dominant inside the working class movement. This finds organised expression in the Labour Party, which is a reaction to the unambiguously ruling class politics of the Tories but also reflects the uneven consciousness of the working class. Some things are rejected; others are accepted.

    The Labour Party seeks to unite a broad spectrum of opinion within a single organisation. It also aims to reconcile opposition to many aspects of capitalism with that very system. Lenin called Labour a "capitalist workers' party" because it appeals to workers and largely reflects their ideas, but is nonetheless dedicated to managing capitalism and working within its constraints.

    Reformism isn't just about big social democratic parties like Labour. It is rooted in contradictory, uneven consciousness, and can find different expressions. When a new protest movement develops there are those who want to work within safe, established channels, or who insist on polite lobbying over direct confrontation. There will be those who seek compromise and negotiation, or who soften their demands.

    Revolutionary organisations take a different approach. A revolutionary organisation seeks to bind together those in a small (often tiny) minority who consistently reject capitalist ideas and have a revolutionary socialist outlook. This organised revolutionary minority is characterised by clarity and agreement on political ideas, by consistency in rejecting the contradictory positions generally held by reformist parties.

    This does not, however, mean rejecting the vast majority of working class people who look to the reformist organisations as an alternative to the ruling class and its political representatives. Revolutionaries relate to broader layers and work together in joint political and campaigning activity, in trade union struggles, and so on. Revolutionaries fight for reforms alongside those influenced by reformist ideas.

    Those who characterise revolutionary groups as elitist or sectarian miss this vital element in what it means to be a revolutionary: not separating yourself off, to retain 'purity' of revolutionary commitment, but rather getting stuck into the struggle, being in the thick of it.

    Revolutionary organisations can decay when they weaken their politics and make compromises with dominant ideas. But they can also decay when they retreat into inglorious sectarian isolation, standing aloof from the partial but important resistance to the system involving non-revolutionaries.

    Revolutionary organisations can seem marginal most of the time, but in a revolutionary situation - and, as 2011 is demonstrating, these do happen - they can become critically important. An organisation built in advance, with roots in the wider working class, can play a decisive role when there is mass resistance and confrontations with the old order.



    Revolutionaries, movements and class

    Lenin argued that revolutionaries must be more than merely good activists in a particular sphere, e.g. solid trade unionists fighting for better pay, but should be 'tribunes of the people' championing a range of causes, linking them together, and challenging exploitation and injustice wherever it may be.

    Every issue, every campaign, every act of resistance, is interconnected. Highlighting these connections, relentlessly promoting solidarity, forging links between groups - these are crucial tasks for revolutionaries. A revolutionary organisation, furthermore, is about (as Marx wrote) generalising from the historical and international experience of the working class.

    It is the memory of that class struggle. But more than that: events are never a simple repetition of history, so theoretical distillation of experience (not just the reciting of it) is essential. It is probably too grand to refer to a revolutionary group as a "university of the working class", but at least in microcosm that's precisely what it is.

    There are two constant tasks for any revolutionary organisation: to organise and to educate. These two processes inform each other. The world is constantly changing, so the lessons to be derived from our 'historical and international experience' are always evolving.

    Each new situation must be analysed in its own right, though the analytical tools and intellectual framework may be inherited. What matters is what Lenin called the concrete analysis of the concrete situation.

    Stale dogma is no guide to action. Marxist theory guiding concrete analysis is, however, invaluable in plotting next steps, in answering the "what is to be done" question. Constant interaction between theory and practice is essential.

    What about the interaction between revolutionaries and wider movements of resistance? A sectarian stands apart from partial struggles - such struggles don't go far enough, or involvement in them requires 'diluting' political purity. The opposite is also a danger: becoming absorbed in specific struggles without any bigger picture of the need to smash capitalism altogether and build a different kind of society.

    The alternative is to do two things simultaneously. The two interconnected poles of revolutionary organisation are political independence and participation in the broader class struggle. This is the basis of Leninism.

    It means building a politically independent organisation, grouping together those who are committed to socialism from below, while taking part in movements, campaigns and trade unions in their efforts to defend existing conditions from attack or win specific reforms.

    Revolutionaries' attitude to the unions can only be understood in this framework. It would be sectarian for a socialist group to distance itself from union organisation, which is vital for protecting workers against the ravages of an exploitative, profit-hungry system. Socialists take unions very seriously, and help build them, precisely because they bring together large numbers of working class people and - when they move into action - boost the confidence of our side to resist.

    Anything which increases working class combativity is important. Anything which wins even small reforms, especially if it is through workers' own activity, is a boost. Victories, however minor, provide hope and act as a spur to further action.

    Revolutionaries also recognise the limits of unions. They can win reforms but not end the system that breeds inequality, oppression and injustice. The same applies to all sorts of campaigns and protest movements. It is therefore necessary to maintain political and organisational independence.

    This recognition of two fixed, mutually reinforcing, poles - political and organisational independence combined with participation in broad-based struggles - is the starting point for developing any kind of united front strategy, i.e. working with reformists in coalitions and campaigns across a range of issues. A united front approach is the way out of the twin dangers of sectarianism and opportunism.

    The word 'vanguard', a military term meaning those in the front of the struggle or battle, is much-derided. Its use by the Leninist tradition is often viewed, perhaps understandably, as elitist.

    But what can loosely be termed a vanguard is inevitable in capitalist society. If there is uneven consciousness, with the vast majority of working class people (in non-revolutionary times) partially accepting dominant ideas, a small minority which rejects capitalist ideas becomes an ideological vanguard.

    If the working class is uneven in how it resists the system, a practical vanguard will be formed. This is true whether or not they are gathered together in an organisation. Lenin's point is that it makes sense for these anti-capitalists - those who are ideologically and practically consistent in opposing the system - to form an organisation.

    Georg Lukacs wrote a short book on Lenin in the 1920s. He explained how this vanguard must constantly interact with the larger class. It must not cut itself off. Lukacs referred to how a revolutionary organisation must be 'always a step in front of the struggling masses... but only one step in front so that it always remains leader of their struggle.'

    Lukacs stressed the combination of principle and flexibility, the latter being essential because the tempo and shape of struggle inevitably change. Revolutionaries' strategies, tactics and forms of organisation must inevitably change alongside changes in the course of resistance. He put it strongly: 'all dogmatism in theory and all sclerosis in organisation are disastrous for the party.' Strategy, tactics and organisation must be changeable.



    What is democratic centralism?

    The principles of democratic centralism are simple. An organisation needs democratic structures such as an elected leadership, annual delegate conferences and regular opportunities for thorough discussion of policies, tactics and so on. Leadership at every level must be accountable to the broader membership.

    Furthermore, what is agreed through democratic decision-making should then be implemented in practice. There should be an internal culture of free and open discussion, in which criticism and disagreement are respected. All voices are heard and valued.

    Most of this is widely accepted - not just in revolutionary organisations - as important for a group to function democratically. Similarly, 'centralism' is far from being exclusively the preserve of the revolutionary socialist tradition. It means that an organisation needs to co-ordinate and prioritise its resources (time, money etc), which requires centralised mechanisms. If decisions which have been made democratically and collectively are to be implemented there has to some centralism.

    For example, a trade union has democratic structures but in order to implement decisions it is necessary to appoint full-time officers, hire office space, produce resources which can then be distributed widely, and so on. These things can be regarded as 'centralism'.

    What is the alternative? If we take the issue of resources, the alternative is that each branch has to produce materials themselves, which is wasteful and leads to huge duplicating of effort. It makes sense to pool our resources - the time and skills we can offer - to be as effective as possible.

    Take a revolutionary organisation like Counterfire, the hub of which is our website. Our elected editorial board (EB) oversees the website and all other national organisational matters. A number of us are specifically responsible for running the site. We are accountable to the wider EB and in turn the organisation's membership. We have regular all-members meetings, so if people are unhappy with aspects of the website or want to make changes they will soon let us know!

    The website - like all other aspects of our work at national level - is therefore an example of democratic centralism in action. In Lenin's time, selling socialist newspapers provided the infrastructure for building the Bolshevik Party - paper sellers created networks of activists and supporters, in factories and communities, through sales of their newspapers. It was a very dynamic kind of democratic centralism.

    But there are three further points worth making to understand what we mean by democratic centralism in the revolutionary tradition, as distinct from reformist parties, unions and broad-based campaigns.

    Firstly, a revolutionary group lays huge stress on self-activity. In the Labour Party, and even more so in trade unions, the great majority of members are inactive or have a very low level of activity. In Labour it's a thin layer of activists who do almost everything, but in most revolutionary organisations a higher proportion of members will be active - and many of them will devote a great deal of their spare time to politics.

    Local branches will be run by dedicated lay activists, with most members actively involved in some way. Routine discussion and democratic decision-making are essential for such an activist organisation to function effectively.

    This is as true at local level as it is at national level. The initiative and dynamism of grassroots members is the driving force. Local members should not 'wait for instructions', but take a lead in their own locality, based on their local knowledge and expertise. This doesn't guarantee a democratic culture, but it certainly helps.

    A second issue to consider is the relationship between local and national levels, which is different in the revolutionary and reformist traditions. In the Labour Party, leadership bodies will tend to have an ambivalent attitude to local initiative and democracy: they want activists to operate as a stage army for election canvassing and leafleting, but that's about it.

    Labour leaders want to manage the system, not overthrow it, and operate within narrow parliamentary constraints. They are politically to the right of many Labour members and are preoccupied with the 'centre ground' of politics.

    This political tension between leading members and grassroots members does not exist inside a revolutionary organisation. On the contrary: national leadership bodies will want maximum democratic participation from the full membership. The structural reasons for why Labour and trade union leaders are vulnerable to compromise aren't present in a revolutionary group.

    For example, union leaders typically earn far more than their members (which can distance them from members' experiences), but that won't be the case in a revolutionary organisation. Labour MPs are professional politicians, but in a revolutionary organisation it's likely that lay members, i.e. those with normal jobs (or students, unemployed etc), will have leading roles far more than in a reformist party.

    Thirdly, it is necessary to consider the specific nature and tasks of a revolutionary organisation, as distinct from a broad-based party or campaign. A group like Counterfire has a high level of political agreement: there won't be total agreement on all issues among all members, but there's still a large degree of political homogeneity.

    The Labour Party, trade unions and campaigns like Stop the War and Coalition of Resistance are rather different. While they may have agreed national policies, they are far more politically heterogeneous. A consequence is that they are likely to adopt looser structures. Take the Green Party, which is a fairly broad church. It allows a fair amount of local autonomy, with local branches given more scope than you will find in most socialist organisations.

    This is a consequence of being a different kind of organisation. Counterfire, for example, has distinctive politics and stands in a particular left-wing tradition. For it to be politically effective, local groups need to carry positions which have been agreed via the national organisation's democratic structures. It would be politically weaker if local groups could simply make up their own positions on issues. There's an important degree of centralism involved here, though it is centralism rooted in a highly democratic culture.

    Let's return to the starting point in this section: the necessity of democracy. Lenin referred to the combination of 'freedom to criticise and unity of action'. Freedom of criticism is essential. No member should feel inhibited from expressing their views in meetings, conferences and discussions. Open, tolerant discussion and debate are the lifeblood of an organisation.

    There may be instances of public criticism being inappropriate - if this undermines the organisation's 'unity in action' - but limiting that on occasions doesn't inhibit an organisation's internal democratic culture. The bottom line is that a revolutionary socialist organisation must be effective in action, which requires some version of the kind of democratic centralism I have outlined here.


    Seizing the key link

    A revolutionary organisation combines principle and flexibility. The politics remains consistent over time: marxist ideas, at the core of which is the self-emancipation of the working class, provide continuity and root practical activity in a general political understanding of the world.

    Tactics are informed by changing political circumstances, however, as well as unchanging principles. Recall how Lenin insisted on a concrete analysis of a concrete situation - not the unthinking repetition of dogma. This concrete analysis in turn shapes choices of strategy and tactics at any given historical moment.

    Specific tactics are formulated in that larger context: a political analysis of the whole of society, historical and international experience, and a strategic understanding of how to transform society.

    Some critics of the Leninist tradition accuse revolutionary organisations of 'opportunism' because of this tactical flexibility, when in fact consistent political principle anchors tactical twists and turns in a larger political project. The same critics claim Leninism is fundamentalist dogma, so it's perhaps worth taking their words with a pinch of salt.

    A number of practical points follow this understanding. It becomes obvious that at any given time there must be a clear grasp of priorities. Resources must be allocated according to an organisation's democratically agreed priorities, which evolve over time (and sometimes alter dramatically).

    Priorities are influenced by analysis of the balance of forces in the struggle between classes: where there are weak points in their side, where breakthroughs are possible, where we are strongest and can be most effective. Small acts have to be seen as interconnected with much bigger struggles.

    Lenin wrote:

    'Every question 'runs in a vicious circle' because political life as a whole is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and taking as firm grip as we can of the link that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that most of all guarantees its possessor the possession of the whole chain of events.'

    Occasionally there are events of great significance for revolutionaries, underpinning their political priorities over a fairly long term period. The terrorist atrocities of 11 September 2001, and the response of US imperialism, triggered a sharp re-orientation by many revolutionary socialists. Anti-imperialism became politically central and the priority was to build a broad, active anti-war movement. This rested upon prior analysis of imperialism in the modern world, but in practice a major shift in prioritising was needed.

    Around September 2008, with the financial crash, the challenge of organising a response to the crisis of neoliberalism became especially crucial. Neoliberalism and US imperialism were, and are, both in crisis. September 2001 and September 2008 - the commencement of the 'war on terror' and a new economic crisis - are the defining events of this political period.

    We can add important factors like the restructuring of the working class, the rise of Islamophobia and so on to this picture. Since May 2010 the neoliberal crisis has found more concrete forms in British politics too: a programme of mass austerity imposed by a Tory-led government.

    In 2011 a further development has become vital for socialists everywhere: the Arab Spring, and its impact on imperialism and the dynamics of global politics. These contexts shape what we as revolutionaries do and, often in tiny ways, how we prioritise out tasks.

    This all means it is necessary to, in Lenin's phrase, 'bend the stick' towards a particular priority at any given moment. It's not the case that all issues and tasks are equal. For a socialist organisation to be effective, there must be prioritising - which means 'bending the stick' to a course of action that can bring decisive breakthroughs.

    Tony Cliff, in 'Building the Party' (his book about Lenin and the Bolsheviks), wrote:

    'In real life the law of uneven development dominates. One aspect of the movement is decisive at any particular time. The key obstacle to advance may be a lack of party cadres, or, on the contrary, the conservatism of the party cadres may cause them to lag behind the advanced section of the class.'

    This explains why not only political priorities but methods of organising can change, sometimes sharply change, at different times in a revolutionary organisation's development. What works at one stage may later become an obstacle to progress. Lenin's ideas, not to mention his record in leading the Bolshevik Party, thus remain invaluable guides for building a living, breathing and fighting organisation of socialists today.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 36: The Reformation

    Martin LutherThe Reformation after 1521 tore apart church and state. Neil Faulkner looks at how the new social forces formed inside late medieval Europe helped undermine the thousand year domination of the Roman Catholic Church.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 35: The new colonialism

    Santa MariaThe Portuguese and Spanish overseas empires founded at the beginning of the 16th century were soon followed by Dutch, English, and French empires. Neil Faulkner looks at how the transformation of the world by European colonialism began.

  • Lunacharsky on Lenin: reading, writing... and cats

    Lenin (without cat)
    This blog is named after Anatoly Lunacharsky, who ran the education ministry in Russia's revolutionary government after 1917. At our recent May Day event in Newcastle I bought his book 'Revolutionary Silhouettes' from a left-wing bookstall. I've previously read some of it online, but having the book is much better.

    The book, published in English in 1967 but written in 1919, is a series of profiles of Russian revolutionaries. The chapters on Lenin and Trotsky are worth reading. Here's a bit of Lunacharsky on Lenin, plus an appropriate video clip:

    'In his private life, too, Lenin loves the sort of fun which is unassuming, direct, simple and rumbustious. His favourites are children and cats; sometimes he can play with them for hours on end.

    Lenin also brings the same wholesome, life-enhancing quality to his work. I cannot say from personal experience that Lenin is hard-working; as it happens I have never seen him immersed in a book or bent over his desk. He writes his articles without the least effort and in a single draft free of all mistakes or revisions. He can do this at any moment of the day, usually in the morning after getting up, but he can do it equally well in the evening when he has returned from an exhausting day, or at any other time.

    Recently his reading, with the possible exception of a short interval spent abroad during the period of reaction, has been fragmentary rather than extensive, but from every book, from every single page that he reads Lenin draws something new, stores away some essential idea which he will later employ as a weapon. He is not particularly stimulated by ideas that are cognate with his own thought, but rather by those that conflict with his. The ardent polemicist is always alive in him.'




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  • A Marxist History of the World part 34: The new monarchies

    Ivan the TerribleNeil Faulkner looks at how the transition from feudalism to capitalism introduced a new model of unified states, centralised government, royal armies, internal repression and national-dynastic wars.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 33: The class struggle in medieval Europe

    Assasination of Watt TylerDespite dominating western Europe in the 11th century by the 14th century Feudalism was faced with a crisis that generated a wave of revolutionary struggle. Neil Faulkner looks at the causes and outcomes.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 32: Lord, burgher, and peasant in medieval Europe

    A medieval heavy plough Feudalism is often portrayed as a stagnant system where little changed over centuries. The reality was a system that was more dynamic and productive than anything before it argues Neil Faulkner.

  • Lenin's 'The State and Revolution'

    This is my introduction to Counterfire's re-publishing of chapter 1 from Lenin's classic 'The State and Revolution' (1917)...

    It is impossible to ignore the question of the state. Recently this has been brought to the fore by three particular developments.

    Firstly, the revolutionary uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and popular rebellions across the Arab world, have focused attention on the role of the capitalist state: police, army, security apparatus etc. Mass movements have faced the formidable challenge of violent state repression and the obstacles posed by the existing state, prompting debate about what approach to take to different state institutions.

    Secondly, while Western parliamentary democracies like Britain are in many ways different from most of the Arab regimes, the politics of policing has been a hot topic since the student protest movement emerged last November. Many newer activists and demonstrators have had their first experience of repressive policing, prompting questions about the role of supposedly 'neutral' institutions like the police.

    Thirdly, Western military intervention in Libya has prompted discussion about whether powerful capitalist states are acting for benevolent reasons - or are their actions bound to be an expression of imperialist self-interest? Answering this question has to rest upon an understanding of the state and its functions.

    Lenin, writing 'The State and Revolution' in 1917, was prompted to devote time to the issue of the state by the exciting and rapidly developing events in Russia at the time. In February 1917 the autocratic Tsarist regime had been overthrown, but - when Lenin was writing his short book - the successful workers' revolution of October 1917 was still in the future. Understanding the state, its role, and how it can be confronted, was a politically urgent issue.

    'The State and Revolution' is subtitled 'The marxist theory of the state and the tasks of the proletariat in the revolution'. Chapter one, 'Class society and the state', is re-published below. It quotes heavily from Engels, the close collaborator of Karl Marx and author of the influential 'The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State'.

    Lenin is first and foremost summarising what Marx and Engels, the founding figures of the marxist tradition, had written on the state. He also updates this with some observations on then contemporary left-wing debates about the issue.

    At the core of marxist understanding, explains Lenin, is recognition that the capitalist nation state appears 'neutral' - above class and political differences - but is in fact an indispensable instrument of class rule. It gains its legitimacy from the appearance of neutrality, but this disguises its real role and purpose. Society is divided into classes, the interests of which are in conflict with each other. Lenin quotes Engels:

    'It became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of 'order'; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state.'

    Lenin explains the state's relationship to capitalist society as a whole, as well as establishing the state's defining features. This is re-capping the ideas of Marx and Engels. But he also comments on the state's development in relation to the growth of imperialism in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Since Engels' later writings:

    ''rivalry in conquest' has taken a gigantic stride, all the more because by the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century the world had been completely divide up among these 'rivals in conquest', i.e. among the predatory Great Powers.'

    Lenin then notes that World War One, still ongoing as he wrote, was the culmination of this process of competition between major capitalist states for 'domination of the world' and 'division of the spoils'.

    Lenin also, in this opening chapter, addresses the question of how the exisiting state can be overthrown by the working class, and what will take its place. It is therefore a useful and concise summary of some of the most important and theoretically distinctive ideas in the marxist tradition.

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  • Marx at the Margins: A pioneer of anti-colonialism

    Chris Nineham reviews Marx at the Margins, which reveals Marx and Engels as pioneers in the struggle against colonialism and racism.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 31: Crusade and Jihad

    SaladinThe Crusades lasted 200 years and represented the most extreme expression of the futile violence inherent in western feudalism - a murderous attack on the Middle East by western feudal thugs under the banner of religion.

  • Lenin: Class Society and the State

    Lenin mugshotThe violent centralised nature of the modern political state has been on display recently both on the streets of Arab cities and Britain. How should socialists view the state? Do we need a state at all? Alex Snowden introduces Lenin's classic book The State and Revolution.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 30: The rise of western feudalism

    Battle of ManzikertFollowing the collapse of the Roman Empire Western Europe became a politically fragmented region of warring states from which a radically new social, military, and political order developed.

  • A few words about Marx

    Marx famously wrote that philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it. He provided powerful analysis and critique, but also wanted to guide political action.

    On Tuesday we’ll be discussing Marx and the revolutionary tradition at our Counterfire meeting in Newcastle. I thought I’d challenge myself to summarise Marx’s ideas in as few words as possible - so here’s around 800 words on the ABC of Marxism.

    Capitalism now dominates the world. It emerged from the 1500s or 1600s onwards in northern Europe, and represented a new kind of society. It is one based on a division into two main classes: ruling class (a tiny minority) and working class (the great majority in modern industrial societies).

    Workers need to work in order to survive, as the ruling class owns and controls the means of production. It is exploitation of the vast majority by a tiny minority. This division into classes is a key feature of capitalism.

    Another key feature of capitalist society is competition. Different companies or businesses compete with each other. Profit comes before all else - there is a race to the bottom in workers’ pay and conditions as competing employers chase maximum profit at the expense of those who do the work.

    This also means there is little planning in the economy - instead there is the anarchy of the market. So, the key features of capitalism economically are the division into classes (inequality, exploitation) and competition (pursuit of profit, market anarchy).

    The ruling class also owns the means of ‘mental production’ - it controls education, media, etc. The ruling ideas of any age, as Marx said, are the ideas of the ruling class. Economic control brings ideological domination, whether directly (for example by owning newspapers) or indirectly (through the state reflecting dominant interests).

    But that doesn't mean capitalist ideas dominate completely and no resistance is possible. Alternative ideas circulate. The dominant ideas clash with people's lived experiences: people revolt and fight back, perhaps because they are forced to by necessity, or they see a drop in living standards due to a crisis in the system, or in response to injustice. The ruling class doesn't have it all its own way.

    The system grows and expands. It colonises new areas of society and new lands. Imperialism in its modern form emerges from capitalism - rival national capitalisms fight for greater power, land and wealth.

    War is thus endemic to capitalism. So are racism, nationalism and all the other divisions and prejudices that divide working class people against each other, therefore weakening the working class and strengthening our rulers' power.

    But the system's huge expansion since 1848 - a year of revolution in Europe, and the year Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto - means capitalism is now a truly global system, with a global working class capable of resistance.

    The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and revolts in other Arab countries, are revolts against capitalist neoliberal policies as well as struggles for democracy. The system is unstable, crisis-ridden and generates revolt. We have seen many revolutions, uprisings and general strikes - plus a mass of action on a lower scale - in response to global capitalism.

    Socialism is the political expression of the working class resisting the system, and organising a response. There are different strands in socialist thought - there are a number of variants of socialism from above (reformism) and socialism from below (revolution).

    Marx was a revolutionary. We build revolutionary organisations today - in the context of wider movements and struggles - in his tradition. This revolutionary tradition is founded on Marx’s conviction that the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class. We have to liberate ourselves, through collective resistance.

    Reformism reflects workers' desire for protection against many elements of the system, and their contradictory ideas. But it ultimately offers no solution because we have to change society ourselves, not rely on others, and it can only modify the worst excesses of capitalism not overturn the system entirely and create a different society.

    Transforming society is only possible if we seize control of the means of production, i.e. if we control our workplaces and the resources our economy depends upon, as well as political institutions, to create a truly democratic and equal society. That is the beginnings of socialism.

    If the ruling class retains economic control then poverty and inequality remain. The current wave of revolutions and popular uprisings in the Middle East and Africa indicate how people, exploited for generations, can move swiftly into action. They show what is possible through mass action, how people can overcome divisions and unite.

    But it is ultimately necessary to extend revolution to the economic sphere: the working class, as the majority in society, must take control of our shared resources. Socialism is co-operation in place of competition, bringing equality where there was inequality. We can create - through the collective mass action of the great majority in society - the potential for realising justice and liberation for the whole of humanity.

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  • Luxemburg, Lenin and how socialists should organise: reply to Rowbotham

    Sheila Rowbotham has a disappointingly poor article on Rosa Luxemburg in today's Guardian. Damning with faint praise, she displays surprisingly little grasp of Luxemburg's ideas, lapsing into misunderstanding and tittle tattle.

    The piece is prompted by the publication of 'The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg' (newly translated by George Shriver), which Rowbotham uses to wrongly portray the Polish-German revolutionary, active in Marxist politics from the late 1880s until her assassination in 1919, as anti-Leninist.

    Luxemburg was a leading figure in Germany's radical left for two decades, at a time when the country was undoubtedly the centre and dominant player in the European left and workers' movement.

    She wrote widely, including 'Reform or Revolution' (1900) and 'The mass strike' (1906), both important contributions to the Marxist tradition of socialism from below. They analysed the rise of reformist currents and mass trade unions, assessing the significance of these developments for the struggle for socialism.

    Rowbotham is concerned, however, with rescuing Luxemburg from the revolutionary Marxists. She claims:

    'My generation of left-libertarians did indeed hail Luxemburg's defiance of Lenin's "night-watchman spirit". Against his emphasis on the centralised party, many of us were drawn to Luxemburg's conviction that workers' action brought new social and political understandings.'

    Later  - much later, after some quite irrelevant gossip - in the review she contradicts this:

    'The Communist party would retrospectively label her as an advocate of a naive spontaneity. But while she saw action as generating a transformed consciousness, her letters testify to her belief in the need for revolutionary organisation too.'

    Confused? Many readers won't have the stamina to get that far into the article, so their overriding impression will be formed by the earlier reference to Luxemburg as a bravely libertarian beacon of anti-Leninism.  

    But it is wrong. Both Lenin and Luxemburg were revolutionaries; both recognised the need for socialist organisation in some form; both rejected 'naive spontaneity' while nonetheless seeing 'action as generating a transformed consciousness'; both had 'conviction that workers' action brought new social and political understandings.'

    There were differences between Lenin and Luxemburg, which were ultimately secondary to the big questions on which they agreed. But to juxtapose them as Rowbotham does is profoundly dishonest.

    The two great revolutionaries shared an understanding that spontaneity alone is insufficient for advancing working class struggle, even (or especially) at times of dramatic revolutionary upheaval. Organisation is key. Let's not forget that Luxemburg belonged to socialist parties throughout her life.

    Lenin, though, had a sharper grasp than Luxemburg of the need for independent revolutionary organisation. In this he was vindicated by the Bolsheviks' role in 1917's Russian Revolution. A revolutionary organisation built in advance of the revolutionary upheaval - rooted in broader working class resistance and organisation - was indispensable to leading the revolutionary events of autumn 1917.

    Germany, which had a revolutionary situation the following year, suffered in large part because there was no independently organised alternative to the Social Democratic Party - Luxemburg had spent many years, before World War One, as a leading activist and theorist on the left of that party.

    Rowbotham also fails to acknowledge that Luxemburg, in her last two years, moved closer to Lenin's views on political organisation. It is as if her ideas were entirely static - she serves as a constant 'libertarian' antidote to the unspecified defects of a supposedly unchanging Leninist party model.

    There is in fact no single model of organisation for revolutionaries. Lenin never suggested there was - his Bolshevik Party evolved enormously in all aspects of organisation, adapting to changing circumstances. But it is nevertheless possible to derive some key points from the experiences of revolutionaries in the years leading up to and after 1917.

    An independent organisation needs a combination of principled commitment to revolutionary socialist ideas and tactical flexibility. While its political tradition may be a running thread, there will be twists and turns in precise forms of organisation, specific tactics, etc. Political and organisational independence doesn't mean isolation or elitism. It is complemented by active, constant involvement in larger organisations, e.g. trade unions, protest movements, and resistance.

    It is strange that Rowbotham fails to note the differing outcomes between Russia and Germany. She would find it extremely difficult to claim Luxemburg's caution about establishing revolutionary organisation was vindicated by the events of 1917/18 (or the following few years in Germany). The defeat of Germany's revolutionary movement paved the way for the rise of Nazism.

    She relies, in fact, on the erroneous assumption that Leninism led inexorably to Stalininsm, with the seeds of the latter in the (get ready to spit the word) 'centralised' party associated with Lenin. In fact Stalinism was a violent break with the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky; the bloated Soviet bureaucracy had nothing in common with the vibrant democratic centralism of the Bolsheviks.

    Rowbotham writes: 'Luxemburg's criticism of Marxism as dogma and her stress on consciousness exerted an influence on the women's liberation movement which emerged in the late 60s and early 70s.'


    Where is the evidence that Luxemburg perceived Marxism as dogmatic? She rightly criticised overly dogmatic and inflexible versions of Marxism, but that makes her a serious and genuine Marxist - just like Lenin, Trotsky and indeed Marx himself - not a critic of Marxism. I can't help thinking Rowbotham is, a little too conveniently, rationalising her own move away from Marxism over 30 years ago.

    Marx had a deep understanding, further enriched in the 20th century by Lukacs and others, of the role of consciousness - how it is formed and how it can be transformed in the course of revolutionary action. One of Lenin's great contributions to Marxism was precisely his grasp of the kind of political organisation needed to help transform consciousness and achieve social change.

    Rowbotham's reference to the women's liberation movement is misguided too. Any 1970s feminist citing Luxemburg as the basis for 'consciousness raising', i.e. the then-fashionable retreat from mass political action into intellectual navel-gazing - would be doing her a great disservice. She had a superior understanding of the unity of theory and practice, of ideas and action.  
    Today's revolutionaries can gain by learning from both Luxemburg and Lenin. We won't be helped by bizarre mis-readings of Rosa Luxemburg as someone defined by her supposed anti-Leninism and spurning of organisation.

    In Egypt, for example, the left now faces the huge challenge of building organisation capable of taking the revolution forward. Lenin and Luxemburg alike can be their guides.  
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  • A Marxist History of the World part 29: The peculiarity of Europe

    Why Europe? Why was it that the second great transformation in human existence - the development of capitalism and industrial society - was pioneered on the western edge of the Eurasian land-mass?

  • The cycles and arrows of time: A Marxist History of the World part 28

    Bark ArtIn Part 9 of A Marxist History of the World, we paused to discuss ‘how history works’. It would be useful to pause again to review some general lessons of the history of the ancient and medieval civilisations we have looked at since.

  • Don't blame Leninism

    Phil BC has posted this commentary in the wake of Tommy Sheridan being sentenced to three years in jail. He generalises from this particular case into a broader critique of Leninist organisation:

    'But what I find most disturbing is the frenzied attacks by those who reside in England and have absolutely no connection to the trial whatsoever. This hatred - for that is what it is - by members of nominally Trotskyist outfits closely resembles what you'd expect from a cult. When Scientologists are criticised, no one is surprised they intimidate and denounce opponents. That is, after all, what cults are all about. But for socialists to ape this behaviour? It speaks volumes of the fundamentally unhealthy organisational practices of self-described Leninist groups.

    Democratic centralism - a principle of organisation Lenin thought appropriate to mass parties, not tiny groups of a couple of thousand - tends not to be exercised around action, but rather is a principle for regulating the boundaries of permissible thought. Freedom of discussion becomes circumscribed discussion. Unity in action is, in practice, unity behind the positions formulated by the opaque and unaccountable executive/central committee. This is no recipe for generating critically minded working class politicians and Marxist cadre. But it does create a small following happy to swallow it all and regurgitate it when occasion demands. Such as when one of their key allies gets in a spot of bother with the law.

    If there are political lessons to be drawn from this episode, they have to centre on the far left's culture, on its promotion of and slavishness toward charismatic leaders, its pronounced tendency toward group think, and its inability to handle disputes in anything but a mature fashion. If some good is to come from the tragic and shameful waste of Tommy Sheridan's fate, a thorough rethink of all this would be it.'
     
    Below is my hurried reply, which I've posted as a comment on Phil's blog. I haven't changed a single word or punctuation mark in this version, so it's very rough - and obviously doesn't cover the issues comprehensively (feel free to comment here, though it might be better to do so on Phil's original post):  
     
    'Whatever people may make of Sheridan and his behaviour, it is wrong and regrettable that he's been jailed. Perjury, like many non-violent offences, isn't one that should lead to even a brief imprisonment, never mind 3 years.

    While I sympathise with much of what you write - including your balanced criticism of actions by people on both sides of the dispute on the Scottish far left - I don't think this is a symptom of something rotten about Leninist organisations. It can reasonably be argued there are severe problems with much of the actually existing far left in the UK as a whole, but that shouldn't be generalised into blaming democratic centralism or Leninism.

    One of the issues here is that the far left remains small and weak. There's a tendency to convince ourselves we're not, but that's the way it is. There's a number of good reasons for it - and its an international phenomenon - but it causes difficulties.

    Isolation can breed in-fighting, a lack of perspective on reality, etc. Defeats and weakness breed recriminations, blame, demoralisation etc. In many ways the various current or recent problems - from the SSP and Respect splits to the spat inside NSSN - are symptomatic of a far left that is weak, small, isolated and which has struggled to make breakthroughs.

    They are also mostly influenced by political and strategic misjudgements. Just as it is also possible to make good judgements. But they aren't somehow inherent in a particular form of organisation or strand of politics. You will always be able to find counter-examples and exceptions, and remember that the SSP was for a period successful (how is that explained if you adopt a universalising view like that above?).

    Also, the different sections of the far left don't all subscribe to a single model of organisation anyway, making generalisations impossible. The SSP was never a classic Leninist organisation - it was an alliance of existing groups combined with some independents, in which one group (the former Militant) was dominant for a long while. Respect was a different kind of formation again.

    Even within one Leninist organisation there are sometimes radical changes over time - the SWP of recent years is hugely different from the IS (its forerunner) of the 1960s.

    As for 'cult of leadership' theories... I always treat these with great distrust. Even where there's some truth in this being relevant, it is only one factor among many (and you still need to explain what's given rise to that tendency - it is definitely not innate). Yes, it is to some extent relevant in Sheridan's case, but an explanation is needed of WHY that's happened (and also of why there's been such vitriolic denunciation of him by his former allies).

    But this really isn't some major recurring theme. Healy - yes, obviously. Galloway - to some extent there was a problem, during the Respect crisis, of many people being too uncritical of him. Beyond that I'm struggling for examples.

    Genuinely democratic centralist organisations are profoundly democratic, with high levels of participation and active membership. In this they are distinct from Labour and other social-democratic parties, which are more passive and tend to have a hollowed out democracy, with leaders treating members as a mere 'stage army'. When things go wrong it is because of particular problems of politics or orientation.

    As someone formerly expelled by a Leninist party, I might be expected to share some people's indignation at 'democratic centralism'. But I don't. I was always clear about 2 things in my own case: 1. the political problems came first, and the degeneration in internal culture came after, 2. the recourse to vilification, disciplinary procedures etc was a symptom of deviating from authentic democratic centralism, rather than an expression of it.

    That's probably enough!'

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  • A Marxist History of the World part 27: New World Empires: Maya, Aztec, and Inca

    Inca gold ornamentThe early civilisations of the Americas were limited by geography - in only two areas did urban revolution occur and civilisations develop: in parts of Mesoamerica, and in the Central Andes.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 26: Africa: cattle-herders, iron-masters, and trading states

    Nok terracotta headNeil Faulkner looks at the early civilisations in Africa and how geography ensured the continent would develop differently from Eurasia.

  • Carnival of Socialism: debating the way forward

    As I'm publishing this on the first day of a new year, I've chosen 'Debating the way forward' as the theme for my turn at compiling the Carnival of Socialism round-up of left-wing blog posts.

    Everything here was posted online during the last two weeks of 2010; most of it concerns strategy and tactics for the left, the students or the anti-cuts movement once everyone gets back to business in January.

    Amongst lefties the major online debate over Christmas was prompted by Laurie Penny's Christmas Eve offering at Comment is Free. Laurie wrote:

    'The young people of Britain do not need leaders, and the new wave of activists has no interest in the ideological bureaucracy of the old left. Their energy and creativity is disseminated via networks rather than organisations, and many young people have neither the time nor the inclination to wait for any political party to decide what direction they should take. The Liberal Democrats represented the last hope that parliamentary democracy might have something to offer the young, and that hope has been exquisitely betrayed - no wonder, then, that the new movements have responded by rejecting the old order entirely.'

    Her article covered a range of contested issues - concerning the student movement and its relationship to the unions, Labour Party and the far left - so there was more than enough for other bloggers to get their teeth into.

    It triggered an impressive range of responses. As well as a CiF reply from Alex Callinicos, and Laurie's rejoinder to it at The Staggers, responses included those from Lenin's Tomb, Latte Labour,Dave Osler andyours truly. Simon at Latte Labour wrote:

    'Class solidarity is necessary. But without concrete expressions, class solidarity is just a pious wish. That solidarity must be lived out. We saw some of that at the recent occupations. It was great hearing tube-workers talking in occupied university spaces. But not all solidarity can have the immediacy and the excitement of these occasions. There is a need for the more hum-drum, patient, working with existing organisations, drawing on their accumulated wisdom, and building on the contacts they have with the class, particularly as organised in trade unions. Integral to this is learning about the diverse cultural realities which supply the backdrop for peoples' lives.'

    There were further interesting contributions - all of them adding something to the mix - from Though Cowards Flinch, The Great Unrest and Harpymarx. Even US-based blogger Louis Proyect chipped in with a contribution. Louise, aka Harpymarx, suggested organisation is important but some fresh thinking is required about what forms it takes:

    'Twitter and Facebook cannot on their own create the political legitimacy and effectiveness that proper political organsition can. Organisaton does not equate to either the SWP or to Labourism in either old or new variants. In fact not to pay attention to how you organise surrenders ground to either/both the old style democratic-centralism or the corrupt party machine of the LP. You need the kinds of organisations that can act as political transmission belts: the most obvious current example being the LRC (Labour representation Committee). We need organisations that can quickly provide political and pracitical support to strikes and other forms of resistance as well as challenging the LP establishment in more traditional forms of politics. You have to fight on all fronts.'

    This kind of debate can all seem rather fractious, but I don't think it is. The tone has mostly, if not entirely, been respectful and comradely (despite Laurie herself lapsing into un-comradely language about the SWP in her original piece). There's also been a great deal of related discussion, including from many of the same voices, on Twitter, but in my view that has generated more heat than light. It is on the blogs where thoughtful socialists with something to say have been able to develop their ideas, not limited to 140 characters at a time.

    New Left Project helpfully brought together contributions from four student activists on the tactics of the student movement. The site's 'round table' involved Elly Badcock, David Wearing, Sophie Burge and Guy Aitchison, whose contribution takes the form of a critical response to parts of James Meadway's extended analysis, 'Where next for the student revolt?', at Counterfire. James, in a very lengthy and wide-ranging article, had written:

    'The failure of the NUS nationally has left students with little choice but to establish alternative structures and centres of organisation. Some have claimed that the ubiquity of social media like Twitter and Facebook makes the question of leadership irrelevant. It is now possible to organise major demonstrations, as we saw on 24 November, on the basis of a single Facebook posting. We do not, runs the argument, need centralisation.

    These new tools are absolutely critical to successful activism. But in a world in which everyone can organise a demonstration through Facebook, it is absolutely vital that not everyone does so. A cacophony of different initiatives, all reduced on-screen to equal validity, would disintegrate the movement. (As we have seen with the fake demonstration on 20 December, some are actively attempting to produce that result.) Social media has increased - not diminished - the need for a credible, central voice for the student movement.'

    Guy Aitchison, writing from a broadly autonomist perspective, is concerned about any notion of centralism:

    'How, for example, would a new central body be constituted? What authority would it have and in whose name would it speak? The danger we face is of creating a new tier of leaders who, however well-intentioned, seek to manage the movement and end up sapping it of its power, radicalism and creativity. They would come under intense institutional pressure to police the movement from within and dilute its aims - indeed, this is why the Met, the mainstream media and the political establishment have been craving for “leaders” to point the finger at.

    We need to recognise that the student movement’s openness and pluralism is a political strength. Without it, it won’t succeed in bringing in the larger public. It would be a tragedy to now descend into ideological fetishism or for different factions of the far left to move in and try and appropriate the anger and energy to grow themselves at the expense of the wider cause. But this is the risk we run with centralised top-down structures.'

    One of the issues that keeps cropping up is the role of social media: how important Facebook, Twitter etc are for today's activists, how these tools fit in with other forms of activism or organisation. Some grand claims have been made, for example by Left Foot Forward and Laurie Penny.

    More sober perspectives have been offered by Joss Hands, in a New Left Project interview, and also by Phil at A Very Public Sociologist. In a post titled 'The revolution will not be tweeted' he celebrates the benefits of new social media, but also comments:

    'You cannot get away from the awkward reality that this burgeoning radicalisation-by-internet is very much tolerated by the powers that be. Twitter is as capitalist as McDonalds. Facebook is fundamentally the same beast as Microsoft. Your internet connection is owned by a private company. The political economy of the social media world is indistinguishable in kind from any other marketplace, and as such each firm has material and political interests over and above the continued flow of users that pour through their services.'

    Various blogs have engaged with questions around what the anti-cuts movement can do in 2011. Some of this was prompted by Unite leader Len McCluskey's call for a 'broad strike movement' to confront the cuts, for example The Third Estate refuted The Guardian's criticisms of McCluskey's strike call. River's Edge posted this interesting contribution to debate about the role of Labour councillors, while Left Futures shared a useful summary of the tax justice alternative to austerity.

    Finally, a few miscellaneous items which don't fit with my theme, but which deserve attention. Political Scrapbook rounds up 10 good political music videos of 2010, Lancaster UAF exposes the ugly truth about Jim Dowson, Reading the Maps starts with Davros and takes it from there, and Charlie Pottins pays tribute to Jayaben Desai, who uttered these immortal words:

    "What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. In a zoo, there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager."


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  • A Marxist History of the World part 25: Chinese History’s Revolving Door

    ConfuciusNeil Faulkner examines China's imperial history, where for two millennia political revolution did not lead to social transformation, but simply to the replacement of one dynasty by another.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 24: Hindus, Buddhists, and the Gupta Empire

    BuddhaMore than half a millennium separated the fall of India’s Mauryan Empire in the late 3rd century BCE (before the common era) from the rise of the Gupta Empire in the early 4th century CE (common era). Economic and social change during the interval altered the foundations of imperialism.

  • A Marxist History of the World part 23: The Abbasid Revolution

    IBronze Chess Piece of the Caliph Harun al-Rashidslam created a single overarching allegiance throughout the Arab-ruled world yet the Middle East came to be a divided region of weak and unpopular states. Neil Faulkner looks at the conflicts that lay behind this process.

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