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Clara Zetkin: Years of stubborn resistance, 1928–33

Zetkin’s defense of the United Front, Part 2

See also Part 1, “Honored but Silenced,” 1924–28. Appended to this text is a portion of Zetkin’s historic speech to the German Reichstag on August 30, 1932, which presents a final summary of her views on workers’ unity against fascism. The text that follows first appeared in Clara Zetkin, Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win, ed. Mike Taber and John Riddell, Haymarket Books, 2017.

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Clara Zetkin

By John Riddell: Following Stalin’s expulsion of Zetkin’s co-thinkers in the German Communist Party (KPD) in 1928, the internal dispute in the Russian Communist leadership escalated toward Joseph Stalin’s open break with Nikolai Bukharin several months later. Bukharin’s faction was crushed; Bukharin and other leading “right oppositionists” capitulated, admitting their supposed errors. Expelled supporters of Bukharin in Germany organized a new movement, which took the name Communist Party of Germany (Opposition), or KPD(O).

Privately, Zetkin wrote bitterly of the Comintern’s transformation into a mechanism that “sucks in Russian-language directives on one side and shoots them out, translated into various languages, on the other.”[1] Yet she still believed that Communists must work to reform the International, as did her friends in the KPD(O) and also the now-exiled Leon Trotsky and his comrades in the International Left Opposition. Read more…

Clara Zetkin’s defense of the united front

Part 1: Honored but silenced, 1924–28

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Clara Zetkin in the 1920s

By John RiddellAn internationally respected revolutionary leader since the 1880s and a close collaborator of Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) became part of the newly formed Communist International (Comintern) in 1919. In 1921, she joined with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Leon Trotsky in helping to win the Comintern to an effort to unify working people and their organizations in joint struggle against the evils of capitalism. This policy was termed the “united front.” (See “Clara Zetkin’s Struggle for the United Front”.)

Two years later, the German Communist leader applied this policy to the challenge of unity against fascism in a report adopted by the Comintern. (See Zetkin, “The Struggle Against Fascism” and “Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and Win“.) Read more…

Revolutionary strategy and the electoral road

A rejoinder to Eric Blanc

By Mike Taber: It should be apparent that my exchange with Eric Blanc (See part 1, part 2, part 3) involves more than different historical appreciations. In the background are clear differences over how to evaluate politics in general, as well as what perspective socialists and revolutionaries should adopt today. But to conduct a fruitful discussion of these points of debate, questions need to be presented clearly and assessed accurately.

I won’t try here to take up all of Blanc’s arguments, but I do hope to point to some questions that can facilitate broader discussion, hopefully outside the narrow framework of this polemical exchange.

The danger of nebulous language

What is a “democratic socialist transformation”? Read more…

The democratic road to socialism: A reply to Mike Taber

breadandrosesBy Eric Blanc: I wrote my piece on Marxist theorist Karl Kautsky’s pre-1910 strategy on the democratic road to socialism in the hopes of helping socialists today sharpen our political strategy. Moving beyond various unfounded assumptions about working-class politics and history — particularly regarding the generalizability of the October 1917 model for capitalist democracies — is a good starting point for critically thinking about the specific challenges facing us today and in the coming years.

I was excited to read Mike Taber’s response to my article, since I am a big fan of his historical work. Though his contribution distorts some of my arguments and misrepresents key historical facts, I appreciate his contribution and I hope that responding to it will help clarify the political and historical stakes of this debate. Here are my responses to what I see as the main problems with his piece. Read more…

Kautsky, Lenin, and the transition to socialism: A reply to Eric Blanc by Mike Taber

Mike Taber’s article below responds to Eric Blanc’s text “Why Kautsky was right and why you should care.” 

Eric Blanc is a talented Marxist historian and activist, with a reputation for questioning accepted wisdom. While one may not always agree with all of his conclusions, Eric’s works generally have a refreshing quality that can only be welcomed. (See articles by Eric Blanc on this website.)

That freshness, however, is not in evidence in his latest article, “Why Kautsky Was Right (and Why You Should Care)” published in Jacobin.[1] Read more…

Why Kautsky was right (and why you should care)

by Eric Blanc

The article that follows first appeared in Jacobin, and is reprinted by permission of the author. The text is followed by references to related articles by Eric Blanc.

Kautsky for Blanc

Karl Kautsky (1854-1938)

Karl Kautsky’s vision for winning democratic socialism is more radical, and more relevant, than most leftists care to admit.

With the recent upsurge in democratic socialism in the United States and the United Kingdom, a new generation of radicals is searching for a viable strategy to overcome capitalism. So it’s not surprising that a debate has broken out over the relevance of Karl Kautsky, the world’s preeminent Marxist theorist from the late 1880s through 1914. Read more…

‘The status of women is a question for all socialists’

Interview on ‘The Communist Women’s Movement 1920-22’

8 March 2019: As we mark International Women’s Day (8 March), and the centenary of the establishment of the Communist International (March 1919), Estelle Cooch interviews Daria Dyakonova and Mike Taber about their project on the history of the Communist Women’s Movement (1920-22). The text is reprinted with permission from rs-21 (Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century). Subheadings have been added.

Estelle Cooch: The fund drive for your forthcoming book The Communist Women’s Movement, 1920-22 received an overwhelming response. Can you tell us a bit about the idea for the project came about and some of the challenges of undertaking such extensive archival research?

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Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai at the 1921 conference of Communist women

Mike Taber: The original idea for the book was simply to continue the 36-year effort to publish the record of the Communist International (Comintern) under Lenin. Led by John Riddell – who remains an active collaborator on this book – the effort has already led to the publication of eight large volumes. With this ninth volume on the Communist Women’s Movement (CWM), we’ve begun to take up the Comintern’s auxiliary organizations. As we’ve worked on the book, however, we’ve come to see how valuable it is on a number of levels. Read more…

Heroic wager: The decision to form the Communist International

100 years ago today, on March 4, 1919

This post is Part 2 of a reader’s guide to the proceedings of the Comintern’s founding congress. See also Part 1, “How the Comintern Was Founded.”

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‘Workers of all Countries, Unite’: Delegates at March 1919 Congress

By John Riddell: Each of the early Comintern gatherings unfolded in a surprising way, but the founding congress was unique in its unpredictability. After an initial decision to postpone forming the new movement, the delegates changed course abruptly during the third day of debate and launched the Communist International.

This decision is the outstanding event in the 1919 congress, whose entire proceedings and related documents are available in a fully annotated edition from Pathfinder.


1WCFounding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress: March 1919, ed. John Riddell, New York: Pathfinder, 2012 (1987).[1] See also Part 1 of this study.


As of the projected opening day of the congress in Moscow, March 1, only two delegates had managed to break through the imperialist blockade against the Soviet republic and reach the site of deliberations. Both these delegates held that it was too soon to launch the new International, and one – Hugo Eberlein from Germany – was categorical in his opposition. Read more…

100 Years Ago – How the Comintern was founded

An introduction to the founding congress and its proceedings: First of two parts. (See Part 2)

1WCBy John Riddell: One hundred years ago, revolutionary socialists from more than two dozen countries launched a global movement, the Communist International (Comintern).

The complete record of their March 2-6 congress in Moscow was published by Pathfinder in 1987 under my editorship in Founding the Communist International. It has recently been made available for US$35 in a handsomely redesigned new printing,[1] which includes my original introduction and the entire text from the 1987 edition.

However, as yet nothing from this edition is available online.[2] My present two-part commentary aims to provide an online guide to the Pathfinder edition and encourage its use. Many points in my present text are developed more fully in my introduction to the Pathfinder edition.[3] Read more…

50 years ago: The rise of Black Power in Canada

January 29, 1969: Montreal students occupy computer lab to protest campus racism

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Student meeting just before occupation; Kennedy Frederick speaking

By John Riddell: January 29 this year marks half a century since Black students at Sir George Williams University in Montreal led a bold occupation of the campus computer centre.

Their two-week action marked the dramatic arrival in Canada of Black Power, a term used to describe the militant mass struggle for Black freedom that shook the United States during the 1960s.

The occupation also triggered sharp government repression: a violent police assault on February 11 that broke up the occupation, causing an estimated $2 million in damages to the computer centre. Criminal charges were then laid against activists while an extended Canada-wide and international campaign mobilized in their defense. Read more…

Comintern appeal for funds goes over the top

‘A project of utmost importance’

By Mike Taber: The fund drive appeal for The Communist Women’s Movement, 1920-1922 has received an overwhelming response.

The new volume will tell the story of how the Communist Women’s Movement (CWM), under the leadership of Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai, and others, set out to build something new in history: an international movement to fight for women’s emancipation and to draw masses of women into the worldwide revolutionary struggle.

At the heart of this 750-page volume will be the proceedings and resolutions of the CWM’s 1920 and 1921 international conferences. Most of the material has never appeared in English, with much of it never published in any language. The book will be co-edited by Mike Taber and Daria Dyakonova, Read more…

Paul Le Blanc’s ‘October Song’: Criticism and response

Bolsheviks cover 2Paul Le Blanc’s October Song: Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy, an innovative appraisal of Russia’s 1917 revolution and its results, has provoked both praise and controversy. My review on this website was answered in an extensive comment by Pittsburgh-based socialist Marty Boyers. Paul Le Blanc, in turn, contributed a response to Marty’s criticisms. Both Marty and Paul’s comments are reprinted below, with the authors’ permission.—JR

1. Hostile pressures: The key factor in Soviet decline

By Marty Boyers: Paul Le Blanc’s book October Song has much to recommend it. As John Riddell explains in his comments, it reviews a great deal of English-language available material on the Russian Revolution, especially eyewitness accounts from its earliest years, presenting several different sides of many issues.

However, in surveying the various sources, Le Blanc often fails to differentiate enough between the good and the bad. He also does not give enough value to the fact that, inevitably, the first successful proletarian revolution involved a lot of invention, disorder, and reconfiguration. Read more…

Cuba 1959-2019: Six decades of the Revolution

Cuba FlagSixty years ago today, the Cuban revolution triumphed in Havana, completing its victory across the island. The butcher Batista and his henchmen were driven from the country, and the Cuban people set about creating a new revolutionary future.

The ongoing vitality, creativity, and internationalism of the Cuban process stands alone in the history of revolutions. On this occasion we are publishing appreciations of Cuba by two prominent defenders of Cuba, Barry Weisleder and Felipe Stuart Courneyeur. – JR


Read more…

The roots of Fascism and the seeds for its defeat

Zetkin bookA review of  ‘Fighting Fascism’ by Clara Zetkin

By Elizabeth Schulte: With the rise of the right internationally, there has never been a more pressing need for clarity about the roots of fascism, its history, and why and how it can be defeated. Among the clearest thinkers on this subject is German socialist Clara Zetkin, whose writing on the topic has been republished thanks to the work of Mike Taber, John Riddell and Haymarket Books.

Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win brings to today’s audience Zetkin’s important insights on the character of fascism, its relationship to capitalism, and the most effective way for the socialist movement to defeat it. Read more…

Comintern project publishing appeal

A letter from John Riddell and Mike Taber

Dear friends,

Please join us in raising funds for the ninth installment of books in the Comintern publishing series The Communist Women’s Movement, 1920-1922. To help raise $3,000 in special editorial costs, go to

https://www.gofundme.com/comintern-book-on-women

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Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai at the 1921 conference of Communist women

Begun in 1983, the Comintern publication project has aimed to present the Communist International under Lenin in its own words. To this end, the proceedings and resolutions of the first four Comintern congresses have been published, as well as preparatory volumes and other material. This past June the eighth volume was published: The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922-1923.

We are now working on the next volume: The Communist Women’s Movement 1920-1922. This volume will tell the story of how the Communist Women’s Movement, under the leadership of Clara Zetkin and others, set out to build something new in history: an international movement to fight for women’s emancipation and to draw women into the worldwide revolutionary struggle. The volume will be co-edited by Mike Taber and Daria Dyakonova.

At the heart of the book will be the proceedings and resolutions of the Communist Women’s Movement’s 1920 and 1921 international conferences, which have never before appeared in English. The full proceedings of the 1921 meeting, never published in any language, were unearthed for this volume during a trip to the Comintern archives in Moscow. The $3,000 needed for editorial expenses relate above all to this archival work in Moscow. Read more…