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Next Steps for Comintern Publication Project

November 20, 2020

By Mike Taber: The publication project on the Communist International (Comintern) under Lenin was begun in 1983 by Pathfinder Press, under the general editorship of John Riddell. Fifteen years after Pathfinder discontinued work on the project in the early 1990s, it was restarted by John Riddell with vital publishing assistance from the Historical Materialism Book Series and Haymarket Books. In 2018 I took over from John the task of overall project coordinator, although John remains both an active collaborator and the project’s senior adviser.

First Congress, Communist Women’s Movement, Moscow, 1920

Project Framework

1. Its volumes are directed toward workers, youth, and activists in the fight for social change. This affects everything about them – from the contents to the type of annotation required.  While these books will rightly be valued and utilized by historians and specialists, they are not its target audience.

2. We’ve sought to present the Communist International under Lenin in its own words, letting it speak for itself. In the process, we aim to show the early Comintern as a living mass movement. In the pages of these books one can see how the Comintern in Lenin’s time was able to correct errors and keep moving forward – although sometimes by fits and starts and with strengths and weaknesses, like all real mass movements.

Most of the volumes consist of the proceedings of congresses and conferences. Those reading these books can follow the back-and-forth, the polemics and debates, the evolution of positions and the way they’re justified.  We want readers to feel as if they themselves are sitting at the delegates’ table, thinking about what’s going on around them in real time, as they consider the various alternative positions put forward. 

3. The project has always been a collective effort, based around volunteer work by numerous collaborators. Since 2008, work has proceeded without institutional support. While occasionally we’ve needed to pay for a few translations, the foundation of the project is volunteer labor by those committed to the project and its aims. Over the course of these four decades, there have been literally hundreds of volunteers and collaborators around the world. These dedicated individuals have helped obtain or copy materials, as well as helping in translation, research, annotation, and many other areas. Such an approach is one of the reasons the project has been able to survive for four decades.

4. The project has adopted an inclusive and nonsectarian approach, encouraging participation by collaborators from all political tendencies. These books are tools and resources that can be utilized by every political current in the workers’ and socialist movement.

Published Volumes

Books published in the series so far are listed below.

* Published by Pathfinder Press, edited by John Riddell:

Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International: Documents, 1907-1916: The Preparatory Years (1984).

The German Revolution and the Debate on Soviet Power: Documents, 1918-1919: Preparing the Founding Congress (1986).

Founding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress, March 1919 (1987).

Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!: Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress of the Communist International, 1920, (in two volumes) (1991).

To See the Dawn! Baku, 1920: First Congress of the Peoples of the East (1993).

* Published by the Historical Materialism Book Series (Brill in hardback, Haymarket in paperback):

Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (2011, 2012), edited by John Riddell.

To the Masses! Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (2015, 2016), edited by John Riddell.

The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922-1923 (2018, 2019), edited by Mike Taber.

In addition to the above titles, the project has also generated or helped inspire several additional works. The most recent ones are:

Liberate the Colonies: Communism and Colonial Freedom, 1917-1924. Edited by John Riddell, Vijay Prashad, Nazeef Mollah (New Delhi LeftWord Books, 2019; available online).

Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win. Edited by Mike Taber and John Riddell (Haymarket, 2017).

Alliance of Adversaries: The Congress of the Toilers of the Far East [1922]. Edited by John Sexton (Haymarket, 2019).

Upcoming Volumes

But we’re not finished yet!  The following are three upcoming volumes in the series, each involving Comintern auxiliary organizations:

1. The Communist Women’s Movement, 1920-1922

The manuscript for this book, edited by Mike Taber and Daria Dyakonova, was submitted in early September, with an anticipated publication date in late 2021 for the hardback edition.

The Communist Women’s Movement (CWM), virtually unknown today, was the world’s first international revolutionary organisation of women. Formed in 1920, the CWM in its early years was a vibrant and creative force, led by outstanding figures such as Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai, and Inessa Armand. It mapped out a programme for women’s emancipation; participated in struggles around abortion rights, equal pay for equal work, motherhood and childcare, and women’s suffrage; and worked to advance women’s participation in the Communist movement.

This volume will include the proceedings and resolutions of the first two international conferences of the CWM in 1920 and 1921. The first of these was published only in Russian and has been translated for this book; the proceedings of the second conference, however, have never been published before, and will appear in our volume for the first time in any language, based on stenographic transcripts obtained in the Comintern archives in Moscow by co-editor Daria Dyakonova. The book will also include reports and resolutions of other CWM conferences, as well as a section on the Communist Women’s Movement around the world.

2. The Founding of the Red Trade Union International: Proceedings and Resolutions of the First Congress, 1921

The Red International of Labor Unions (RILU) – also known as the Profintern – was an effort to build a revolutionary class-struggle wing of the world trade-union movement, organizationally independent but linked to the Communist International. Its goal was to create an alternative pole of attraction to the reformist and bureaucratic International Federation of Trade Unions based in Amsterdam, all the while maintaining trade-union unity within each country.

The RILU’s establishment in 1921 was largely an effort to draw in revolutionary syndicalists, an important current in the international labor movement at the time. Many syndicalists were attracted to the example of the Russian Revolution and attended the RILU founding congress in Moscow – the IWW in the United States and major syndicalist organizations in France, Spain, Italy, and other countries. Much of the congress involved a debate with these forces over various questions.

Important discussions occurred at the congress on trade union tasks and tactics, industrial vs. craft organization, the relationship between trade unions and political parties, participation in large and bureaucratically run unions, the role of women in the trade unions, workers’ control, factory committees, unemployment, and other topics. Much of this discussion bears study with regard to issues facing workers today and building a class-struggle wing of the labor movement. The report on workers’ control, for example, provides one of the clearest and most concrete available expositions on the question.

The volume is being edited by Mike Taber, with a key role played by long-time project stalwart, Bob Schwarz. In addition, many other volunteers have already assisted in various stages of preparing this book – retyping, proofreading, copying, library research, and translating. Valuable advice and suggestions have come from Reiner Tosstorff, author of the definitive history of the RILU.[1] As a complement to Tosstorff’s masterful work, our volume will help tell the story of this long-underappreciated component of the international trade-union movement.

3. The Communist Youth International

We have begun initial work on yet another volume in the series, involving the Communist Youth International (CYI). Among the contents of this book will be the proceedings and resolutions of early CYI congresses.

It’s unfortunate that today, as a new generation of young people is entering political struggle and coming to socialism, the very idea of a revolutionary youth organization has largely been forgotten. But the political importance of such a movement could be seen in the years before and after the Russian Revolution – just as it could during the youth radicalization of the 1960s and 1970s. For this reason, the rich political lessons found in the experience of the early Communist Youth International needs to be studied.

We are now assembling materials for the CYI volume. Due to library restrictions caused by the pandemic, this is difficult at present. But we’ve nevertheless been making progress. Important help has come from Nathaniel Flakin in Germany, who has himself written on the CYI and will be working on the new book. Also helping will be ongoing project collaborator Daria Dyakonova, whose PhD dissertation was on the Communist youth movement in Canada.

In addition to the above three titles, the following two additional volumes related to the Comintern will be appearing:

* Under the Socialist Banner: Resolutions of the Second International, 1889-1912, edited by Mike Taber, to be published by Haymarket in spring 2021. The Second International was the immediate predecessor of the Third, Communist International. 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, as well as to fully appreciate where the Comintern came from. This book is the first English-language collection ever assembled of all the resolutions adopted by congresses of the Second International in its Marxist years.

* John Riddell is assembling a book of his writings on the Communist International done over the last number of years. The volume, tentatively titled Lenin’s Comintern Revisited: Studies in Global Revolutionary Politics, will discuss what can be learned from the early Comintern and its importance for today.

Continued Support Needed

While our plans may be ambitious, we’re confident that with the support and collaboration of comrades, colleagues, friends, and volunteers, we’ll be able to bring them all to fruition.

As we proceed with the work, we’ll undoubtedly need assistance on various tasks – whether it be typing, proofreading, translating, library copying and research, etc. As these specific needs come up, calls for volunteers will be issued. Stay tuned!

As for now, we very much would like to get feedback and hear your comments, opinions, and suggestions on any aspect of the project.
Write mikestaber [at] yahoo [dot] com.

[1]. Reiner Tosstorff, The Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) 1920-1937 (Brill 2016, Haymarket 2017).

One Comment
  1. John Smith permalink

    A magnificent achievement, with more to come to light our way!

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