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New Book on Second International’s Marxist Years

July 5, 2021

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

Lars Lih

‘A must-read for those interested in the Marxist tradition’

“I wonder if even Mike Taber is fully aware of what he has accomplished by the magnificent job of research and editing needed to put together this collection of authoritative statements by the international congresses of the Second International (1889-1912). Penned by the sharpest Marxist minds of their generation, these resolutions show us a consistent outlook applied to the manifold crises and challenges of two crucial decades. 

There is no better source for understanding the outlook of ‘revolutionary Social Democracy’ to which Lenin swore allegiance his entire career. Lenin did not repudiate these resolutions as half-hearted, fatalist, mechanistic, and all the other insults hurled at the Second International these days. Rather, his aim was to put these resolutions into practice, and he founded the Third International to do just that. A must-read for anyone interested in the Marxist tradition.”

— Lars Lih, author of Lenin Rediscovered

Brigitte Studer

‘Fills an astonishing gap in social history’

 “Mike Taber’s meticulously edited volume collecting together the resolutions adopted at the congresses of the Second International prior to its collapse in 1914 fills an astonishing gap in social history, and more particularly in the history of socialist internationalism. This corpus of documents, some of them now made available for the first time in English, reveals the range of themes discussed by the Second International, highlighting the importance of its legacy.

From the political empowerment of the dispossessed to the eight hour day, social security and the tactic of the general strike, from women’s emancipation to colonialism and immigration, there are not many of the key questions of progressive politics today on which these men and women did not leave their mark. Later movements would be able to build on their shortcomings and their ultimate failure. The book will be essential reading for everyone working on the history of the labour movement, on liberation movements, and on feminism in the 20th and 21st centuries.”

— Brigitte Studer, author of The Transnational World of the Cominternians

Peter Hudis

‘A window into a political cauldron’

 “The Second International, which played a pivotal role in socialist politics between 1889 and 1914, was the political and ideological cauldron in which many of the leading figures in early twentieth Marxism first developed their political and theoretical perspectives—such as Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg, Martov, Pannekoek, and so many others. While the literature on the Second International is vast, this is the first time the resolutions at its international congresses are available in English—providing a vital window into its response to such issues as the general strike, the birth of anti-colonial movements, women’s emancipation, and the question of militarism.”

— Peter Hudis, general editor, The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg

Eric Blanc

‘An invaluable resource for radicals today’

 “Under the Socialist Banner is an invaluable resource for the new generation of radicals today who are looking to revive the socialist movement’s best traditions. A must read for anybody looking to understand the politics and promise of the Second International.”

— Eric Blanc, author of Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire, 1882-1917

Paul LeBlanc

‘Insights into problems of global capitalist reality’

 “An invaluable resource for studying the past and thinking about the future, this splendid volume provides insights into the problems of global capitalist reality that have relevance for our own time.”

— Paul LeBlanc, author of “Lenin and the Revolutionary Party”

Daniel Gaido

‘The forgotten art of building mass socialist parties’

“At a time when the most pressing task of left-wing activists worldwide is to master the forgotten art of building mass socialist parties of the working class, there could hardly be a more timely contribution than this collection of all the resolutions adopted by the Second International, from its first congress held in Paris in 1889 to its ninth and last congress held in Basel in 1912, whose ‘Manifesto on War and Militarism’ was added by Lenin as an appendix to his book Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.”

— Daniel Gaido, author of The Formative Period of American Capitalism

Sean Larson

‘Could not be more timely’

“The legacy of the Second International runs like a red thread through the live debates of the revived socialist movement today – sometimes hidden, sometimes explicit, but always shaping how new socialists are thinking about politics and strategy. Until now, these debates have had very few reference points to the historical actors who undertook the rebuilding of Marx’s International over one hundred years ago. Now, finally, the resolutions of the once great Socialist International in its heyday have been made not only available as a collection, but accessibly contextualized by Mike Taber in this volume. Engaging with the history, debates, and politics in this book will sharpen the minds of a new generation of socialists. It could not be more timely!”

— Sean Larson, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Second International”

John Riddell

‘A sparkling portrayal of working-class thought and action’

“Mike Taber’s Under the Socialist Banner gives us a sparkling portrayal of working-class thought and action at the dawn of the twentieth century. Collected resolutions of international socialist gatherings convey the quest of working peosple for democracy, peace, gender equality, and global wellbeing.”

— John Riddell, longtime general editor, The Communist International in Lenin’s Time

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Anne McShane

‘Crucial to a long overdue reassessment’

Mike Taber’s latest book is crucial to a long overdue reassessment of the legacy of the Second International.  By bringing together all the resolutions agreed by congresses, as well as some defeated motions, over a period of 23 years, he gives us an unprecedented insight into this extraordinary international movement. The resolutions speak for themselves. They evidence the strength of Marxism within its ranks; the fact that, as Taber argues in the period 1889-1912, the International “was in its adopted resolutions, an irreconcilable revolutionary opponent of the capitalist system”. They also evidence the issues of significance for socialists in that period; including the fight for an 8-hour day, universal suffrage, confronting colonialism and militarism, and the relationship of women’s emancipation to the socialist project.

The International’s policies on migration were particularly innovative.  The majority resolution at the Stuttgart congress of 1907 set out detailed guidelines to unionise and protect migrants. The aim was to incorporate all newcomers as equals into the workers’ movement of the country of migration. The congress also agreed policies to protect migrants against abuse by transportation companies who fed them lies, charged extortionate sums and subjected them to inhumane and filthy conditions on long voyages on ‘coffin ships’. We also see the opposition, in the form of the US Socialist Party raising a call for restrictions, as Taber usefully includes the defeated SP opposition document.

There are introductions to each congress, a history of how the resolutions came about, the arguments which took place before congress, and a short political history of the individual movers. These details are very beneficial in providing context, bringing these events and their participants to life, and making the debates accessible to even someone new to this history.

Mike Taber’s book is a vital resource which will hopefully be a trigger for a stimulating and informed debate on this history.

— Anne McShane, historian of the Soviet women’s movement

One Comment
  1. What a great collection of endorsements. I would have ordered the book in any case, but now I will do so right away.

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