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Revolution

Revolution

  • The British state and The City - part 3

    Thatcher reviewing her troops. Photo: Wikipedia

    The third in a three-part series, in which Chris Bambery takes a look at the intertwined history of the state and the City of London

  • Must revolution always mean catastrophe?

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    Neither Cromwell, nor Robespierre, nor Lenin, could become an icon or avatar for the reactionary regimes they helped to overthrow, but Stalin was different argues Bill Bowring

  • 1905: The 1917 Revolution's dress rehearsal

    Barricades erected by police in Moscow during the Russian Revolution of 1905. Photo: Wikipedia

    The Russian Revolution of 1917 was led by a working class who, in 1905, had already tasted their own power and experienced bitter defeat

  • The British state and The City - part 2

    British 20 pound notes. Photo: Pixabay

    The second in a three-part series, in which Chris Bambery takes a look at the intertwined history of the state and the City of London

  • Alexandra Kollontai's appeal to the women of the working class

    Alexandra Kollontai. Photo: Wikipedia

    A leading member of the Russian socialist movement, in 1917 Kollontai published this appeal in the Bolshevik’s women’s paper Rabotnitsa

  • 'A marvellous adventure' - John Reed‘s Ten Days that Shook the World

    john reed

    John Reed’s remarkable eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution is introduced by Judy Cox

  • The British state and The City - part 1

    John Stuttard, Lord Mayor of the City of London, 2006 / 07. Photo: Wikipedia

    The first in a three-part series, in which Chris Bambery takes a look at the intertwined history of the state and the City of London

  • Imperialist rivalries and the First World War - the world of the Russian Revolution:

    World War I Russian infantry in 1917. Source: Wikimedia

    The causes of the First World War and Russian Revolution can be located in the imperialist tensions of world capitalism argues Dominic Alexander

  • Trotsky's introduction to the Russian Revolution

    Trotsky in Mexico, 1940. Photo: Wikipedia

    Trotsky's introduction to his history of the Russian Revolution gives us an insight into how unexpected the revolution was

  • Revolution - Russia 1917: One Hundred Years On - event

    On 25 February, Counterfire is hosting an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, taking a closer look at the key questions of the period

  • Christmas 1641: 'the maddest Christmas that I ever saw'

    The Putney Debates. Photo: Royal Holloway, University of London

    John Rees depicts one of the great popular mobilisations of the English Revolution, described by one eye-witness as ‘the maddest Christmas that ever I saw’

  • Revolution: Russia 1917 one hundred years on - trailer

    Photo: Tom Lock Griffiths

    A first look at our event coming up next year, celebrating the anniversary of the Russian Revolution

  • 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.

  • Leveller! A political insult for all ages

    john lilburne

    John Rees, author of the new book The Leveller Revolution, looks at the contemporary relevance of the Levellers

  • Fidel Castro: Cuba‘s revolutionary leader

    fidel castro

    Tariq Ali on the revolutionary process in Cuba, in which Castro played a central part

  • The Leveller Revolution: Radical Political Organisation in England 1640-1650

    rees levellers

    John Rees, The Leveller Revolution makes a powerful case that Leveller organisation during the English Revolution was essential to its success, finds Dominic Alexander

  • 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

  • Year One of the Russian Revolution

    Cover of Victor Serge, Year one of the Russian Revolution

    Victor Serge’s contemporary account is a critical but essential defence of the Bolsheviks’ efforts to save the gains of the revolution, argues Richard Allday

  • The Leveller Revolution: John Rees on the Jeremy Vine show

    John Rees' book 'The Leveller Revolution' is out on 2 November. Photo: Verso

    Listen to John Rees dicussing his new book on The Levellers, on the Jeremy Vine show

  • 1956: Hungary's lost revolution

    Protesters marching in Budapest on 25 October 1956. Photo: Wikipedia

    The 21st century anti-capitalist movement owes a debt to the heroic and inspiring working-class uprisings in Hungary 60 years ago, argues Sean Ledwith

  • Ched Evans rape case: back to women on trial?

    Ched Evans coming off the field, October 2010. Photo: Flickr/ Jon Candy

    The issue of rape cannot be separated from a society that commodifies women and sexuality, and demeans both men and women, argues Judy Cox

  • Transforming the past: Walter Scott and the historical novel

    A plaque from 1932 commemorates the poet and novelist being granted freedom of the burgh in 1799. Photo: Kim Traynor

    Chris Bambery celebrates the novels of Walter Scott, which provide a unique insight into the emergence of the modern world 

  • Corbyn: momentum meets vertigo

    hitchcock vertigo

    The ideas of the great Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács offer insights into Labour‘s recent quandaries, finds David Moyles

  • 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

  • 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

  • Dangerous Times Festival 2016: an opportunity that mustn’t be missed

    With the Tories in turmoil and the political landscape in flux, the movement and the left need to come together to discuss next steps

  • The Communist Manifesto - key texts

    Karl Marx and Frederich Engels in lego form

    The Communist Manifesto is a pamphlet that refuses to die. As incendiary as the day it was published, Paul Vernell unpacks this founding document

  • Irish Freedom: the 1916 Easter Uprising - documentary

    Source: Islam Channel

    This two-part documentary with Chris Bambery examines the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland, and how it shaped the world we live in today

  • Rosa Luxemburg’s The Mass Strike - key texts

    rosa luxemburg

    Rosa Luxemburg argued that the majority of people would be won to socialism through struggle, writes Paul Vernell in this introduction to The Mass Strike

  • How the Easter Rising changed the world

    A crowd gathers at the Mansion House in Dublin in the days before the truce in July 1921. Photo: Wikipedia

    In the final part of our series, Chris Bambery argues that the Easter Rising relaunched the struggle for independence in Ireland and inspired national liberation movements globally

  • 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

  • Trotsky on 'gradualness' - key texts

    British soldiers in the First World War.

    Trotsky's polemic against gradualness shows Britain's history has been shaped by conflict and revolution. This 'key text' is introduced by Alex Snowdon

  • Eisenstein’s revolution in film

    Costume designs, 1922

    A new exhibition showcases the great revolutionary filmmaker's avant-garde films as well as sketches, his designs for the theatre and memorabilia

  • Keep Lukács' work alive

    Georg Lukács

    Hungarian writer and revolutionary Georg Lukács contribution to Marxist philosophy was unparalleled. His archives must be kept open and his work remembered

  • A revolt against Empire: the 1916 Easter Rising

    easter rising

    In the second part of our 3-part series on the struggle for Irish independence, Chris Bambery looks at the uprising of Easter Monday 1916

  • Trotsky on the United Front - key texts

    leon trotsky

    Trotsky's brilliant polemic on the united front, introduced by Vladimir Unkovski-Korica in our 'key texts' series

  • 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

  • Home Rule and the roots of the Easter Rising

    Irish Home Rule band

    As the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising approaches, Counterfire is running a new 3-part series by Chris Bambery on the struggle for Irish independence

  • 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

  • Remembering the Egyptian Revolution - podcast

    Demonstrators take over Tahrir Square | Source: Wikipedia

    Five years after the fall of Mubarak, Yasmin Dahnoun speaks to John Rees about the revolution, and counter-revolution that followed

  • Conference 2016 Resolutions

    Resolutions passed for Counterfire National Conference 2016

  • Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future

    Book Cover

    Can technology on its own bring about a better society, as Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism suggests, or do we need revolutionary politics, asks Sean Ledwith

  • Zimmerwald 1915: A new socialist resistance against war

    'War and Corpses'

    John Riddell on how a small gathering held in Switzerland 100 years ago, on September 5-8, 1915, marked a turning point in the world socialist movement

  • Lenin and the art of revolution - John Rees and James Meadway | Dangerous Times 2015

    Video from the session 'Lenin and the art of revolution ' 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

  • Ten reasons why the story of Magna Carta is about rebellion

    Sealing Magna Carta

    Unfortunately for David Cameron, the real lesson of the Magna Carta story is that only a determined mass movement can win political and social equality

  • The steam and the piston box: is autonomism an alternative?

    Operai

    Sean Ledwith looks at the origins and the limitations of autonomism

  • Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow

    Race to revolution

    The interwoven history of racism and liberation in Cuba and the United States in Race to Revolution illuminates a new historical narrative, argues William Booth

  • Ten demonstrations that changed the world

    Mass protest

    As the 20 June demo approaches, it’s worth remembering that mass marches have been crucial to all the most important struggles - Chris Nineham looks at ten of them

  • 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

  • Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune

    Book Cover

    Communal Luxury is an effective account of the 1871 Paris Commune, and how understanding it aids our struggle for freedom within a decaying capitalism, argues John Westmoreland

  • 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

  • A People’s History of the French Revolution

    Book Cover

    Eric Hazan’s A People’s History of the French Revolution is an attempt to provide a new narrative, but fails to show the importance of the revolution, argues William Alderson

  • Marx for Today

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

  • Dangerous Times 2015 brochure out now

    The Dangerous Times 2015 brochure is now available to download and view online

  • 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

  • Stopping climate change: what do we mean by system change?

    To address climate change, many people agree we have to change the system. But what does ‘changing the system’ mean, and how can we do it?

  • Podcast: the Levellers and John Lilburne

    A podcast by Londonist Out Loud discussing the Levellers with John Rees

  • 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

  • Gramsci the revolutionary, in his own words

    Book Cover

    Gramsci is claimed by many different left currents, but a new volume of his letters shows his commitment to revolutionary politics pursued through united mass action, argues Chris Nineham

  • Soviet theatre – the revolution in theatre design

    Mechanical Set

    The exhibition showcases 150 designs for Russian theatre from 1913-33 from a range of well-known artists, such as Malevich, Tatlin, Popova, Rodchenko Stepanova and Exter

  • Greece: every cook is debating

    The battle lines in Athens today are about more than the conventional politics of who will form a government, its policies and prospects, but of the transformation of politics itself

  • Syriza: the Greek road to socialism?

    Supporters at a Syriza election rally in Athens in May 2014. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

    Europe's neoliberal elite are alarmed at the prospect of a Syriza government - the left needs to be equally clear about the possibilities and limitations writes Sean Ledwith

  • Not much peace, plenty of ill will, a good seasonal read needed please

    Stealing all transmissions

    Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football offers his top ten books to buy to make somebody’s Christmas

  • Is Russell Brand right, do we need a revolution?

    Russell Brand

    It's rare that a celebrity champions progressive causes let alone calls for all-out revolution. But is Russell Brand right?

  • Burkina Faso: the West's armed puppets broken by the masses

    Protesters pose with a police shield outside the parliament in Ouagadougou on October 30, 2014. Photo: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

    The uprising of the masses in Burkina Faso proves western arms and support doesn't guranatee unrestrained tyrannical control writes Explo Nani-Kofi

  • Pan-African solidarity statement with the Burkinabe people

    Protesters

    Following the popular uprising in Burkina Faso this solidarity statement with the Burkinabe people has been released and signed by 21 African organisations

  • 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

  • Organising tomorrow's revolution today

    Image: Police on the Climate Camp protest 2009 and Lenin as a student revolutionary

    Alex Snowdon provides some answers to the question ‘why build revolutionary organisation today?’

  • 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

  • Berlin: the wall that came down and the walls that went up

    Berlin Wall

    John Rees was reporting from Berlin 25 years ago as the demonstrations which brought down the Stalinist dictatorship reached their peak. Here he reflects on the consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall

  • Ukraine's uprising against Nato, neoliberals and oligarchs - an interview with Boris Kagarlitsky

    A woman rides on the back of a truck holding a pitchfork and a flag of Novorossia (Newrussia, a union between the "Donetsk People's Republic and "Lugansk People's Republic) on August 24, 2014 in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Max Vertov

    Despite the ceasefire the crisis in Ukraine is far from resolved. Feyzi Ismail talks to Russian Marxist and dissident Boris Kagarlitsky about the background to the current situation

  • 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

  • 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

  • Revolution in the 21st century

    Comedian Russell Brand’s recent Newsnight interview has prompted discussion about revolution and social change. What is a revolution, and is it possible for us today?

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Gramsci’s Leninism

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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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.

  • 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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  • Egypt’s people make history: dictators tremble around the world

    For many Egyptians this is the greatest day of their lives. For the whole world, the Egyptian revolution will go down in history as an extraordinary example of people power.

  • 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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  • Socialism from below: Trotsky's revolutionary life

    Leon Trotsky died on 21 August 1940, killed by a Stalinist agent. In 1917 he had been second only to Lenin as a leading figure in the Russian revolutionary movement. In October 1917 he was the main organiser of the insurrection which enabled the Russian working class to overthrow the state.

    Trotsky was tremendously talented and had many strengths. He wrote, with outstanding perception, across a wide range of topics; he was a powerful orator, important marxist theoretician and immensely capable political organiser. Trotsky also demonstrated great personal commitment and courage in his continued defiance of Stalin, suffering expulsion from his party, exile from his country and the killings of several of his family before finally being assassinated himself.

    He adhered to his revolutionary socialist ideas and principles to the end, despite being personally persecuted and politically marginalised, and dedicated himself to keeping alive the authentic tradition of socialism from below and internationalism. He was helped in this by his gift for brilliant clarity of political analysis, and also his fidelity to the ideas which had guided him and his fellow revolutionaries in more favourable times.

    Read the rest of my brief introduction to Trotsky (plus an excellent chapter, on the insurrection of October 1917, from his 'Lessons of October') HERE.

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  • Trotsky: The Lessons of October | 70th Anniversary

    On the 70th anniversary of the death of Leon Trotsky, a leading figure in the 1917 Russian revolution, Alex Snowdon introduces a key chapter from the radical book "The Lessons of October".

  • Lukacs after Leninism

    LucaksGeorg Lukacs was arguably the most important Marxist political philosopher since Marx. His theoretical work is a vital reference point in the 20th century revolutionary tradition.

  • Counterforum: Lenin & Lukacs

    Lukacs Video from this month's Counterforum which examined the role of two leading Marxist revolutionaries.

  • Lenin's theory of political organisation | Elaine Graham-Leigh | Counterforum 19 June

  • Leon Trotsky on the United Front - 1922

    Leon Trotsky in SiberiaText of a speech delivered by Trotsky to French Communists during the debates in the Communist International on the question of the united front.

  • Lukács, Lenin, the vanguard party and the working class

    V.I.LeninIt is the Russian Revolution and its achievements that gives Lenin his place in history. But it is also the degradation of the original revolutionary spirit under Stalinism that largely accounts for Lenin's poor reputation, even on the left.

  • Cyberspace Lenin: Update on Clare Solomons deletion from facebook

    I set up new fb profile and this has also been disabled. So has
    Mutiny's. This is now more than a coincidence or glitch.

    I was asked to enter security words to prove I am a human and here is
    what I was provided with:

  • Sadism, Nazis and Swedish Trotskyism

    Girl with the Dragon Tattoo clipWhat connects these three things? The answer is Stieg Larsson's novel 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'. The film version opens in UK cinemas this Friday.

  • Leninism in the 21st century-welcome to Counterfire

    Well, now the lack of stuff on this blog is explained...we have all been busy beavering away behind the scenes with a brand new project. More details on how to get involved on the front page-sign up for our weekly bulletin which will provide details of how to register for the sight, how to send in articles, videos, photo's etc.

    We look forward to working with you in this brand new way.

    I shamelessly copied the blurb from our news editor's blog The Sauce because, in true internet fashion, we operate on a creative commons licence :-) Thanks Brendan!

    News and theory publication Counterfire was launched today with a plethora of reports and essays focusing on the crisis in capitalism, imperialism and war and popular culture.

    The website is being launched on International Women's Day with a 60 strong team including an investigations team, an industrial unit, arts reviews and peer reviewed publications.



    Lindsey German, author of Material Girls, Women, Sex and Work and convenor of Stop the War said: “We live in a world of growing conflict, crisis and inequality and Counterfire is a much needed new voice calling for fundamental change.”

    Adrian Cousins, editor of the new site, said: “Counterfire includes snappy news articles alongside expert analysis of the most important issues today with original design, photography and video. There is a blog aggregate so those interested in the movements know where to come.”

    John Rees, broadcaster and author, said: “The journalism and analysis on Counterfire will provide a welcome alternative to the discredited and failing policies of the political elite.”

    Elly Badcock, women's officer at SOAS and women's editor, said: “It's fantastic that on the 100th International Women's Day this powerful new site which uses the latest technology is providing a platform for the new feminism of the 21st Century.”



    The site features daily news from the movements including articles on protests, petitions and campaigns alongside theory analysing the economy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and campaigns against the BNP and the English Defence League.

    The site is available at counterfire.org with news being fed through twitter at www.twitter.com/counterfire with a video feed at youtube.com/counterfire. Articles on the site can be reproduced with permission and attribution.

    Launch articles on the site include:

    The Feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, with video from Saturday's packed meeting at Housmans bookshop by Lindsey German and Nina Power

    Report from Joe Glenton's court martial, from the organiser of the Stop the War protest

    An examination of Gramsci's relevance today

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