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Zhang Tailei: ‘Thunderstorm’ of China’s Revolution

Zhang Tailei

The following short biography of an early Chinese Communist was first published in Friends of Socialist China with the following introduction.

In this paper, presented at the Fifteenth Forum of the World Association for Political Economy (WAPE), held 18-19 December 2021 at the Shanghai International Studies University and online, John Riddell introduces the life of an early pioneer and martyr of the Chinese revolution, honoured in his own country, but who deserves to be better known internationally.

John, a lifelong socialist activist, is the founding editor of the Comintern Publishing Project and probably the foremost contemporary scholar of the early Communist International (Comintern) working in the English language. He has translated and edited numerous volumes of Comintern proceedings. We are grateful to him for making his paper available to us. – Friends of Socialist China.

By John Riddell: To understand the rise of China, it is helpful to get acquainted with the life and work of lesser-known figures who contributed to the liberation struggle. Such an activist is Zhang Tailei (1898–1927), whom I learned of while translating the proceedings of a global Communist congress held in 1921.[1] Read more…

The ‘German October’ of 1923: A Failed Bid for Workers’ Power

The text that follows will be included in a new collection, Lenin’s Comintern Revisited, scheduled for publication in 2022.

Hyperinflation: A trillion-mark banknote in Germany, 1923

By John Riddell: On 11 January 1923, France and Belgium sent their armies to occupy the Ruhr region, the industrial heartland of Germany. The invaders’ stated goal was to extract the reparations payments imposed on Germany in the 1919 Versailles treaty that ended World War I.

The French-Belgian occupation pushed Germany into a political and economic crisis that deepened as the year progressed, propelling the German working class toward revolutionary action.

In October 1923, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) launched an insurrectionary bid for power – an attempt to repeat the Bolshevik victory of October 1917 that became known to historians as the “German October.” The failure of this attempt led to widespread dismay in the KPD, an outcome that helped tip the Comintern as a whole into a process of retreat and decline.[1] Read more…

Reform or Revolution? The Lessons of Chile

The following article first appeared on World-Outlook.com, a website for online political analysis and interpretation of events. It is a contribution to a debate on the lessons of previous revolutions that was begun with articles by Eric Blanc and Mike Taber. Both earlier articles appeared on this website and were reprinted on World-Outlook.com in two parts: see part 1 and part 2.

By Geoff Mirelowitz: September 11, 2021, marked the 48th anniversary of the 1973 bloody military coup, backed by Washington, which overthrew the elected Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) government led by Salvador Allende in Chile.

On September 12, Jacobin, a magazine that describes itself as “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture,” published an interview by Mia Dragnic with Tomás Moulian titled, “Salvador Allende Was Overthrown Because His Government Showed Chile Could Be Transformed.” Moulian is a sociologist today. According to Jacobin, he was “one of the leading militants of the Popular Unitary Action Movement (MAPU Obrero Campesino), a left-wing party that played a key role in Allende’s Popular Unity government,” and a “pre-candidate for the Communist Party in the 2005 presidential election.”

Eric Blanc’s article, “Socialists Should Take the Right Lessons from the Russian Revolution,” also originally appeared in Jacobin in July.

At first glance, these two articles may seem unrelated. Blanc does not discuss the defeat in Chile and Moulian’s interview does not refer to Blanc’s article. However, both pose the same issues: How can a fight be led to end the evils of capitalism and transform society to open the road to socialism? Is a genuine revolution led by the working class necessary to achieve this?

“The central task, and the key political dilemma,” Blanc argues, “is how to fight for transformative reforms that strengthen and unite the working class, especially in ways that open up, rather than close off, avenues for further organizing workers to overcome capitalist domination.” Read more…

China Sets Target of ‘Common Prosperity’

Effort for Social Equality Arouses Concern on Wall Street

By John Riddell: Addressing the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee on 17 August  2021, Xi Jinping, president of the Chinese People’s Republic, stressed the need for “common prosperity” as a fundamental requirement of socialism.[1] The Central Committee responded by calling on high-income individuals and businesses to “give back more to society.”[2]

Big-businesses media in the West have reacted to this development with expressions of concern. “The End of a ‘Gilded Age’: China is Bringing Business to Heel,” declared A New York Times headline. “Where once executives had a green light to grow at any cost,” the Times continued, “officials now want to dictate which industries boom, which ones bust.”[3]

From a capitalist viewpoint, it’s a troubling prospect. A study by the Brookings Institute, a U.S.-based corporate brain trust, warned darkly that the “common prosperity” policy could lead to a possible $1 trillion wipe-out of Chinese corporate market values.[4] In fact, stock markets in the People’s Republic of have remained stable. Read more…

Krestintern: The Comintern’s Troubled Peasant International

Part 9 of a nine-part series on auxiliary organizations of the Communist International.

Launched in  1923 in Moscow, the Peasant International, or Krestintern, was at least in organizational terms perhaps the least successful of the auxiliary bodies built by the Communist International (Comintern).

Within two years of its foundation, attention to the Peasant International “visibly languished,” according to historian E.H. Carr. Although the structure survived until 1939, its only “effective and durable creation,” Carr states, “was the International Agrarian Institute in Moscow.”[1]

Nonetheless, Krestintern was an expression of a historic breakthrough by Marxism in charting a path to unity of working people in the factories and on the land.

Revolutionary peasant movements played a decisive role in twentieth-century anti-capitalist revolutions, notably in China, Vietnam, and Cuba. Moreover, in recent decades, the most effective global alliance of exploited working people has been the peasant-based La Via Campesina.[2]

Read more…

The Red Sports International (1921–1937)

Harnessing Recreation to the Revolution

Part 8 of a nine-part series on auxiliary organizations of the Communist International

By John Riddell: On 23 June 1921, a gathering of about 20 Communists in Moscow founded an international association to unify “revolutionary proletarian sports and gymnastics organizations … into support centers for the proletariat in its class struggle.”[1]

Merging sports and class struggle on a global scale? A tall order, to be sure. But the 1921 Moscow initiative rested on two solid pillars: the traditions of the prewar Second International and the achievements of the young Soviet republic.

The Moscow consultation on sports brought together delegates from eight countries who happened to be attending the Third World Congress of the Communist International then in session. However, the initiative came not from the Comintern but from Nikolai Podvoisky, head of the Soviet Council for Physical Culture, an agency charged with preparing Soviet youth for military conscription.[2] 

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Comintern Engagement in the Global Cooperative Movement

Defending Unity in a Reformist-Led International

Part Seven of a nine-part series on auxiliary organizations of the Communist International.

By John Riddell: Among the Communist International’s “auxiliary” work areas, the workers’ cooperatives were unique in terms of the Communists’ focus on working through a mainstream, reformist-dominated movement. The Comintern made no attempt to form a separate International of revolutionary-led cooperatives.

This self-limiting policy may help explain why Communist involvement in cooperatives received relatively little attention either in the Comintern at that time or in subsequent historical writing.

Then and now, cooperatives have made up a vast and heterogeneous category of commercial and social enterprises. The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) defines a cooperative as an “autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.”

In such a cooperative enterprise, capitalists play no role – at least, not directly.

Read more…

‘International Manifesto Group’ Founded

A Report on the Manifesto’s 5 September Launch

The newly formed group International Manifesto Group, convened by Radhika Desai, unites socialists on six continents. The text of the group’s declaration: “From Pluripolarity to Socialism: A Manifesto,” is available at the International Manifesto Group website, along with a listing of its more than 200 signatories and videos of its past public meetings. The manifesto remains open for further signatories. The following account of its founding event was written by Charles McKelvey. The final section of his text expresses his personal assessment of the text. His article is excerpted with thanks from his blog, “Knowledge, Ideology, and Real Socialism in Our Times.”–John Riddell


By Charles McKelvey: The International Manifesto Group, a world-wide group of concerned activists and scholars, launched its recently released manifesto, “Through Pluripolarity to Socialism,” in a zoom event on 5 September 2021. More than 120 persons from around the world participated in the three-hour event, which consisted of ten minutes presentations by invited guests.

The event was convened by Radhika Desai, a professor in Canada. She explained that the group was formed shortly after the pandemic started. It was clear to the participants that humanity is in a moment of crisis, which implies both dangers and opportunities. In focusing on what ought to be done, the group decided to propose a manifesto, which has gone through various drafts and is now finalized.

Read more…

Trotsky, Krupskaya, and the Bolshevik Tradition

By Paul Le Blanc:[1] This discussion of Trotsky’s relationship to Lenin’s Bolshevik organization will be based on reflections of Nadezhda Krupskaya, one of the founders and central figures of the Bolshevik tradition, for three decades a close comrade and companion of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who led the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The life and ideas of Leon Trotsky are well known, and they will be touched on in the main portion of this presentation. But before coming to that, I want to focus additional attention on Nadezhda Krupskaya.[2]


Based in Pittsburgh, Paul Le Blanc is an educator, historian, and longtime socialist activist.  His newest book — ‘Revolutionary Collective: Comrades, Critics and Dynamics in the Struggle for Socialism’ — will be published by Haymarket Books later this year. See also Paul Le Blanc’s webinar presentation on Krupskaya and Trotsky, which includes with my own comment on Trotsky’s later collaboration with U.S. socialists.


Impressions and Reality

A diminished notion of who she was is common. We can see it in the attitude of a young Bolshevik intellectual of 1904 who later became an older Menshevik intellectual, Nikolay Valentinov. Recalling many years later his relations with Lenin and Krupskaya (in his book Encounters with Lenin), he conveyed his thoughts of that time in nine words: “Lenin interests me very much, Krupskaya not at all.”[3]

Nadezhda Krupskaya

One aspect of Krupskaya’s mediocre intellect, according to Valentinov, was reflected in what he viewed as her revolutionary platitudes. “I winced,” he writes, “every time Krupskaya enunciated, with a special stress and in the tone of a school mistress, such truisms as ‘the Russian worker lives badly,’ ‘our peasants have no rights,’ or ‘the autocracy is the enemy of the people.’” Of course, there was a flip-side: such truisms – free from interesting intellectual embellishments that might have interested him – were inseparable from her daily consciousness, animating the life she had chosen to live.[4]

Valentinov had little patience for such stuff. “Lenin was the only subject I cared to discuss with Krupskaya,” he tells us. “I respected her, but I thought that intellectually she was a very commonplace person. There was nothing striking or distinctive about her.” In saying this, he seemed to be missing the central role she was playing in coordinating communications and organizational work within the network of Bolshevik activists inside and outside of Russia. It may be that the essential byways involving such practical matters meant much less to him than the more interesting avenues of polemics and theorizing. He goes on to share these revealing comments: “There were undoubtedly hundreds of women revolutionaries like her: she belonged to the category of unfeminine women among them, I should say.… Lepeshinsky maintained that Krupskaya had been very beautiful during her Siberian exile, some five years earlier. Somehow, I did not believe this.…”[5]

Read more…

What Are the ‘Right Lessons’ for Socialists?

A Reply to Eric Blanc

By Mike Taber: Eric Blanc is a serious and dedicated socialist historian and activist who doesn’t hesitate to jump into the fray and take positions he knows are controversial. Such an attitude is commendable, even if I disagree with his conclusions. His latest article, “Socialists Should Take the Right Lessons from the Russian Revolution” — published in Jacobin and reprinted on John Riddell’s website — is no exception and merits careful examination.

In his article Blanc aims to set the record straight on V. I. Lenin and the Russian Revolution, and to demolish the “myth of Bolshevik exceptionalism,” which he asserts is “wrong for our own time.” Instead, he seeks to establish the “right lessons” socialists should take from the history of the fight for “socialist transformation.”

I believe the conclusions Blanc draws are flawed, and that the “right lessons” he points to will lead socialists in the wrong direction.

Above all, Blanc asserts that the central strategic objective of the socialist movement is to fight not for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism but for “transformative reforms,” a struggle he envisions will be conducted largely through electoral and parliamentary means. In this he departs radically from the entire tradition of the socialist movement going back to Marx and Engels — including the perspective of the early Karl Kautsky that Blanc associates himself with.

Read more…

Socialists Should Take the Right Lessons from the Russian Revolution

The following article was first published in ‘Jacobin’ and is reposted by permission. Eric develops here themes discussed more fully in his new book, Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire (1882–1917). A list of related posts by on this website is appended to the article. A comment on this article by Mike Taber will be posted here on August 16, 2021.

By Eric Blanc: Socialists have rightly taken inspiration from the Russian Revolution for generations, but many of the lessons drawn from it are wrong for our own time. To make change today, we need to take democratic socialism seriously as a theory and practice.

Palace Square in Moscow, May 1, 1917

Radicals have lived under the political shadow of the Russian Revolution for more than a hundred years. Inspired by the example of 1917, generation after generation of socialists sought to learn and implement what they took to be the core political lessons of the Bolsheviks.

Though millions of activists gave everything to this project and played important roles in winning gains for working people across the world, Leninist parties have never come close to making their own revolution in advanced capitalist democracy. The tragedy of the Bolsheviks’ inspiring example was not only that they so quickly succumbed to the horrors of Stalinism, but that they over-projected a revolutionary approach ill-suited for parliamentary contexts.

Read more…

International Red Aid 1922–1937

Uniting to Defend Class War Prisoners

MOPR: International Red Aid

By John Riddell: As rightist repression against jailed worker revolutionaries spread across Europe in the 1920s, the Communist International initiated a united-front international defense effort, whose influence soon extended far beyond the limits of the Communist movement.

The initiative came from Polish Communists seeking to aid compatriots jailed or forced into exile in the Soviet republic. Initially, the goal was to raise funds within Soviet Russia; the prestigious Society of Old Bolsheviks offered to help these efforts.

In December 1922, the Comintern’s Fourth Congress adopted an appeal to all member parties to: “Take the initiative … to organise material and moral assistance to vanguard fighters for the cause of communism who are locked in prison, forced into exile, or for any reason excluded against their will from our fighting ranks.” (See text of resolution, below.) The campaign bore the name International Organization for Aid to Revolutionaries and was usually referred to as MOPR (its Russian acronym) or International Red Aid.

Read more…

Socialist Participation in Capitalist Governments

A Debate in the Second International, 1900–1904

Introductory Note by Mike Taber

Should socialists accept positions as ministers in capitalist governments? What stance should they take toward bourgeois parties?  These questions, which remain the subject of debate today, have aroused heated controversies in the socialist movement for over 120 years. The Second (or “Socialist”) International, formed in 1889, took up this question at its congresses in 1900 and 1904.

Karl Kautsky (1854-1938)

An examination of these debates is now possible through the lens of the resolutions adopted at Second International congresses. All of these resolutions are now available in the just-published book, Under the Socialist Banner: Resolutions of the Second International, 1889-1912, on sale for $11.37 from Haymarket books.

The debate on socialist participation in bourgeois governments was sparked by the so-called Millerand Affair in France. Alexandre Millerand was a member of the Independent Socialist group in the French parliament. In June 1899 he accepted a position in the capitalist government as minister of commerce. This move led to a wide-ranging exchange of views in the working-class movement, given that socialists had always rejected accepting posts in capitalist governments.

Karl Kautsky, the Second International’s generally acknowledged authority on Marxism, presented a resolution to the 1900 Paris Congress that condemned socialist participation in capitalist governments under “normal” circumstances, but left the door open to it under “exceptional” ones. “If in some special instance the political situation necessitates this dangerous expedient,” Kautsky’s resolution stated, “that is a question of tactics and not of principle.” Counterposed to the Kautsky resolution was one put forward by Jules Guesde and Enrico Ferri, opposing such participation under all circumstances.

A long debate on this question took place in a congreess commission and on the floor of the congress itself. At the debate’s conclusion, the Kautsky resolution received 29 votes, against 9 for the Guesde-Ferri resolution. Nevertheless, the ambiguities of the Kautsky resolution, and the dissatisfaction these engendered, meant that the question would inevitably come up again. It did so at the next international congress in 1904, held in Amsterdam.

Read more…

New Book on Second International’s Marxist Years

Comments by Socialist Historians

Haymarket Books has just published ‘Under the Socialist Banner: Resolutions of the Second International, 1889-1912’. Edited by Mike Taber, this book is the first collection ever assembled in English of all the resolutions adopted by the Second International during its Marxist Years.

Despite weaknesses and contradictions that led to the Second International’s collapse in 1914, its resolutions during these years remain a resource for those studying the socialist movement ‘s history and objectives. Many of the topics dealt with – war and militarism, immigration, trade unions and labor legislation, women ‘s rights, colonialism, socialist strategy and tactics – remain just as relevant today.

Order now from Haymarket Books, 206 pages, special offer, 40% price reduction, US$11.37.

Amsterdam Congress of Second International, 1904

Jean-Numa Ducange

‘Texts that still question us today’

 “Under the Socialist Banner is a fundamental work for understanding the history of the international workers’ movement: it presents with talent essential texts which still question us today. Mike Taber’s introduction gives context of the elaboration of the main resolutions of the international congresses (especially those concerning peace between peoples). These texts are the foundations of socialist conceptions that have recently regained momentum in the political life of several countries, notably the United States. It is essential to read them to understand a major episode of emancipation.”

— Jean-Numa Ducange, author of Jules Guesde: The Birth of Socialism and Marxism in France


Read more…

A Bold New Dimension of Socialist History

Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire (1882-1917), by Eric Blanc

Eric Blanc’s new book, Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire (1882-1917) re-examines the development of revolutionary politics in Russia from an empire-wide perspective. By expanding our geographic scope to include the imperial borderlands, the Eric’s book challenges long-held assumptions about the development of Marxist approaches to state power, working-class revolution, tactics in the labour movement, and party organisation.

Eric Blanc’s views on the character of socialist revolution were the subject of an extensive debate on this website in 2019. For a list of relevant articles see “The Democratic Character of Socialist Revolution.”

The library edition of Eric’s Revolutionary Social Democracy was published on 17 June 2021 by Brill, Historical Materialism Book Series, 2019. A paperback edition from Haymarket Books will appear early next year.

Published here are the first two sections of the introduction to Eric Blanc’s path-breaking study. Sign up here for a 40% discount on the paperback edition. These texts are copyright © 2021 Eric Blanc and are reposted with permission.

To read the Table of Contents or purchase the hardcover library edition, click here.


Revolutionary Social Democracy: Introduction

By Eric Blanc: Activists for well over a century have debated what, if anything, from Russia’s revolutionary experience should be emulated by socialists abroad. During this same period, historians have plumbed the depths of Moscow’s archives, while sociologists have systematically compared the 1905 and 1917 upheavals with other revolutions. Yet the vast majority of these contributions share a common flaw: they have looked only at central Russia, instead of the empire as a whole.

The Russian Revolution was far less Russian than has often been assumed. Most inhabitants of imperial Russia were from dominated national groups – Ukrainians, Poles, Finns, Latvians, Jews, Muslims, and Georgians, among others. The same was true for most Marxists within the empire. But since these non-Russian socialist parties have been ignored or marginalised, the hegemonic accounts of revolutionary Russia remain at best one-sided and at worst deeply misleading.

Read more…