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RWL/LOR: Explaining a failed fusion

The Revolutionary Workers League of Canada/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière (1977-1990): Part 2

For Part 1 of this article, see RWL/LOR: Inquest into a failed socialist fusion

By John Riddell. During the 1980s and 1990s, as neoliberal reaction tightened its grip, left-socialist activists in Canada fell into disillusion and inactivity. The traditional Communist Party broke apart; the main Maoist organizations vanished entirely. Was it this decline on the Left that doomed the Revolutionary Workers League/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière experiment?

The facts tell a different story. Without any doubt the broader socialist movement was in decline. Yet these were the very years in which the International Socialists (IS) emerged in Canada as a dynamic and influential far-left organization. Working people mobilized on many occasions, on both union and international issues (see “The Days of Action,” below). Internationally, the far-left group most similar to the RWL/LOR in size and historical roots, the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia, has maintained its vigour and influence to this day, despite an equally challenging political environment. (The historic DSP now forms the core of a broader formation, Socialist Alliance.) Read more…

RWL: Inquest into a failed socialist fusion

The Revolutionary Workers League/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière of Canada (1977-1990), Part 1

For Part 2 of this article, see “The RWL/LOR: Explaining a failed fusion.”

By John Riddell: Forty years ago, four significant far-left groups in Canada came together to form the Revolutionary Workers League/Ligue Ouvrière Révolutionnaire (RWL/LOR). At the time the RWL/LOR showed promise of becoming the dominant political group in the country to the left of the New Democratic Party. However, the fusion ended badly – in splits, the loss to socialism of most of the participating activists, and the withering away of the RWL/LOR itself.

Bernard Rioux has published an outstanding account of this experience as viewed from Quebec. Apart from that, little has been written on the RWL/LOR. A recent comment to this blog by Robert McMaster recalls inadequacies of leadership in this experience. In the hopes of encouraging further comment on this half-forgotten experience, I will review some basic facts, present my impressions, and consider the lessons. Read more…

‘October Song’ – A challenging portrayal of the Russian Revolution

Russia Oct SongReview of Paul Le Blanc, October Song: Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy, 1917-1924, Chicago: Haymarket, 2017, 479 pp., US$19.56.

By John Riddell. Amid a flock of volumes marking the Russian revolution’s centenary last year, Paul Le Blanc’s October Song is set apart by its unique method. Working from English-language sources, Le Blanc offers us an anthology of assessments and viewpoints on the revolution with “a strong inclination to privilege older things” – that is, testimony and opinions from its early years.

The result is a kaleidoscope of observations, some by respected historians and many by unknown or forgotten voices, which, taken together, constitute a far-ranging debate over the meaning of these world-shaking events. Read more…

The dawn of our liberation: The early days of the International Communist Women’s Movement

If women’s liberation is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without women’s liberation.’ — Inessa Armand[1]

Women's rally c1917-2

Women in Russian revolution rally for freedom and equal rights

By Daria Dyakonova. “On July 30, [1920] in the evening, slender columns of women workers wearing red kerchiefs and holding banners make their way to the Bolshoi Theater from remote districts and outskirts of Moscow. The slogans on the banners run: ‘Through the dictatorship of the proletariat in all countries to the full emancipation of women.’

“A chorus of women’s voices singing the International is heard in the streets of Moscow. Moscow proletarian women are joyfully marching to the opening of the First International Conference of Communist Women at the Bolshoi Theater. Foreign visitors are also joining in. Read more…

In memory of Fred Feldman

Including: A guide to Fred’s online writings

A video of a New York discussion held in memory of Fred Feldman is now available on You Tube. Thanks to Dayne Goodman for passing on the URL. 

Fred Feldman young

Fred Feldman in 1972. Photo by Walter Lippmann.

By John Riddell: Fred Feldman, a widely respected socialist activist and long-time leader of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, died August 25, 2018. An accomplished and influential writer, Fred had fallen silent in recent years due to ill health. Fortunately, most of his texts are online and easily accessible. A guide to his writings is provided below.

Fred was raised in Philadelphia. Back in the early sixties, as a student activist, he was often arrested during the Maryland Freedom Rides for Black human rights.  In 1964, Fred supported the Socialists Workers Party (SWP) presidential campaign against L.B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater. He soon joined the SWP. He wrote voluminously for SWP publications, mostly on international issues, and served for many years as a full-time volunteer on the staff of its publications and of Intercontinental Press/Inprecor. Read more…

Trudeau government acknowledges Nazi genocide against Roma

The following article was first published at


Romani Flag

By Suzanne Berliner Weiss: More then 50 people of all ages joined in Toronto August 2, 2018, in an international day of remembrance and recognition of the Romani Holocaust (Porajmos) in Europe.

They heard Arif Virani, federal member of parliament for Toronto High Park-Parkdale, read a statement issued that day by Justin Trudeau’s government which said, in part:

On Romani Genocide Remembrance Day, we honour the memory of over 500,000 Romani who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in Europe. This genocide and the unspeakable violence inflicted on the Romani people are not widely known by the public, making them the ignored victims of WWII. Read more…

The Sankara experience (1983-87): A model for our future  

Sankara lives!burkinabe-protesters-with-sankara-placards

Sankara lives! Popular uprising in Burkina Faso, 2014, ousts leader of coup against Sankara

For Part 1 of this article, see ‘The long march to post-capitalist transition: Pan-Africanist perspectives

By Ameth Lô: During the period following the national liberation movements, the revolution in Burkina Faso stands out as the most relevant case of an attempt to break away from the colonial/capitalist system. This revolution drew its strength from both its anti-imperialist orientation and its deeply pan-Africanist inspiration.

Burkina Faso is a small country of the West-African Sahel, characterized by extreme poverty. It is wedged into a region often afflicted by periods of drought that drive its population to emigrate into Ivory Coast and other countries. For many years Burkina Faso was witness to political upheavals caused by the fierce struggles among elite layers for control over the state apparatus and the personal enrichment that this brings. Read more…

The long march to post-capitalist transition: Pan-Africanist perspectives

africa-general-resourcesBy Ameth Lô: The centenary of the October 1917 Russian revolution, a world-shaking historic event, was the occasion for celebration throughout the world. Many diverse interpretations are advanced as to its success in achieving a radical transformation of society, in terms both of its history and its overall impact. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this event altered forever the course of history.

For Black peoples, this revolution arrived just over a century after the victory in Haiti in 1804. That event was the first massive and successful revolt of Black slaves, and an important step toward the long-overdue abolition of slavery worldwide. Read more…

How did socialists respond to the advent of fascism?


Hitler and Mussolini, 1938

The following talk was given on 21 July 2018 to a two-day seminar at York University entitled “Historical perspectives on united fronts against fascism and the far right.”

By John Riddell: The framework for our panel this morning is “Unity against the Right: A historical approach.”

There are in fact many histories of such united resistance, each with its own lineage. We could talk of how Louis Riel united Métis, First Nations, and many colonial settlers to battle for democracy and aboriginal rights. Or of how women debated how to find allies in their liberation struggle and the trade-off with partnerships with the sectors of the elite or of the subaltern masses. But I will not speak of this. I will also set aside the struggle of colonized peoples for unity against imperialism, so central to the socialist movement of the last century.

My topic relates to the origin of Fascism. It was born in Europe as an expression of the ideology of European supremacy, and my focus will thus necessarily be European as well. I’m going to speak of events of Italy a century ago, not simply because of their objective importance but because they carry great weight in our political memory and imagination. Read more…

UN Office calls for probe into human rights in Kashmir

Violence, threats of war mount in divided territory

Kashmir-Map-altBy John Riddell. A conference in Mississauga July 7, convened by the Kashmir Welfare Society, marked the first organized response in Canada to a United Nations report calling for an investigation of human rights violations in this divided South Asian territory.

More than 200 participants adopted a resolution calling on the government of India to withdraw troops from Kashmir (full name: Jammu and Kashmir) in order to permit an “enabling environment” for implementation of the UN’s resolutions calling for a plebiscite to determine the territory’s future. Read more…

The League Against Imperialism (1927-37): An early attempt at global anti-colonial unity

The following talk, given on 20 May 2018, was one of a hundred panels at the Montreal conference “The Great Transition: Preparing a World Beyond Capitalism.” The conference attracted more than 1,500 participants. The talk was given in French; what follows is a translation. It formed part of a panel, “The Dawn of Our Liberation,” which also included talks by Aziz Fall, Ameth Lô, and Daria Dyakonova.

By John Riddell: The League Against Imperialism was launched in Brussels in 1927 with the goal of forging unity between colonized peoples and workers in the colonizing countries. Initiated by a wing of the Communist International, it was the first attempt to structure international anti-colonial unity. This brief presentation will focus on its origins and the causes of its decline. Read more…

New Comintern volume presents debates on United Front, fascism

Cover Brill
The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922–1923

A further volume has been published in the 35-year effort to make available to new generations the record of the Communist International (Comintern) in Lenin’s time. “The Communist Movement at a Crossroads” presents the world movement’s main discussions of the united front policy and resistance to the rise of fascism.

The 796-page book, edited by Mike Taber and translated by John Riddell, has just been released by the Historical Materialism Book Series, and is now available in a library edition in hardback from Brill. A less-expensive paperback edition will be published next year by Haymarket Books. Read more…

Paul Le Blanc: Democratic centralism in the Communist International

Le Blanc

Paul Le Blanc

According to Paul Le Blanc, the Communist International in Lenin’s time strove to achieve a balanced synthesis of internal democracy and unity in action. Responding to the “dismissive characterizations” of Italian Marxist Antonio Negri, Le Blanc analyzes the Comintern’s 1922 “Theses on Organization,” which were drafted with input from Lenin. This text has often been misinterpreted as providing a foundation for the Comintern’s later bureaucratization.

The text reproduced here is the final section of Le Blanc’s “Lenin Studies: Method and Organisation,” (Historical Materialism 25:4, 2017, pp. 105-38), which takes up Negri’s Factory of Strategy: 33 Lessons on Lenin. The list of bibliographic references below relates to Le Blanc’s article as a whole. Excerpt reposted with permission. Read more…

Iranian Canadian Congress: ‘Canada must defend the Iran Nuclear Deal’

By John Riddell. The following statement by the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) and nine other signatories calls on the Justin Trudeau government to “defend the Iran Nuclear Deal as an important victory for international diplomacy, peace and non-proliferation.” The ICC is Canada’s largest organization of Iranian Canadians.

The joint statement, issued May 10, 2018, is a step toward unity of all forces in Canada that oppose war and support national sovereignty, regardless of their views on Iran’s internal political order.

Elsewhere, the ICC has opposed Canada’s economic sanctions on Iran and called on Trudeau to restore diplomatic relations with Iran. Read more…

The Comintern’s 1922 initiative for global Black liberation

Excerpt from proceedings of the Communist International’s Fourth Congress, 1922

In November 1922, two Black Communists of the African Black Brotherhood, a revolutionary organization based in the U.S., introduced the first resolution on global Black liberation ever adopted by a Marxist organization. Here are the speeches of the two delegates, Otto Huiswoud and Claude McKay, along with draft and final texts of the resolution and comments by another delegate from the U.S., Rose Pastor Stokes. These texts are also found in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, published by Haymarket Books, pp. 800-811, 947-50. Biographies of the speakers follow the text. Read more…