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Toward a United Front Against Fascism

How Socialists Resist Rightist Coups: Part 2

See also Part 1: “How Socialists Resist Rightist Coups: The Kornilov and Kapp Putschesand Part 3: “1920: German Workers Foil a Rightist Putsch” 

By 1920, The working-class movement urgently needed to find a road to effective resistance to such rightist threats, including when these assaults took the form of a military coup replacing one capitalist government with another.

The initiative for united working-class action came from the Communists in Germany (see “The Origins of United Front Policy”). On 8 January 1921 the KPD addressed an open letter to all other major workers’ organizations, proposing common action around nine demands, representing goals that the entire workers’ movement held in common. The first two goals set the tone: wage struggles on behalf of all workers and increased pensions. One of the demands addressed the threat from far-right enemies of the Weimar Republic:

7. Disarmament and dissolution of armed bourgeois detachments and formation of workers’ self-defence organisations.[i]

Conceptually, the Open Letter was in one sense a return to the spirit of the Erfurt Program rejected by Rosa Luxemburg in December 1918. It offered a “minimum program” of immediate goals to be set alongside the revolutionary objective of overthrowing capitalist rule and establishing a government of workers’ councils. But the Open Letter posed the action program in a novel way – as a platform for an alliance of all major workers’ organizations.

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1920: German Workers Foil a Rightist Putsch

General Strike Sent Rebel Generals Running

(See also Part 1: “How Socialists Resist Rightist Coups
Part 2: “Toward a United Front Against Fascism.”)

By John Riddell: The strongest workers’ upsurge in Europe in the early years after the Russian revolution took place in March 1920, when 12 million workers in Germany rallied in a giant strike against a right-wing military coup.

During the months following the German revolution of November 1918, which swept away the country’s monarchs and ended World War 1, militant workers there had suffered a stinging defeat at the hands of murderous monarchist and proto-fascist militias, known as “Freikorps.”

The right-wing assault had been organized by none other than the leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which then led Germany’s government. The SPD’s betrayal cast a deep shadow over hopes for united workers’ resistance. Yet despite this stinging defeat, the workers of Germany soon rallied in renewed struggles.

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When Social Democracy and Communism Acted Together

The 1926 German Referendum to Expropriate the Nobility

Could Hitler’s rise to power in Germany have been blocked by common action by Social Democracy and Communism? On one occasion, in 1926, such a working alliance came briefly into existence. As German historian Marcel Bois demonstrates, the results were dramatic.

The following text is excerpted from “‘March Separately, But Strike Together!’ The Communist Party’s United Front Policy in the Weimar Republic,” by Marcel Bois, in Historical Materialism, 28.3 2020, pp. 148–52. Translation by Darren Roso. Reposted by permission.

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By Marcel Bois: The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) first coined the united front policy in 1921, representing a promising effort to bolster Communist influence in the workers’ movement of that country. … [T]he KPD recruited large numbers of new members and significantly improved its electoral returns as a result. Despite this success, however, the party only pursued the united front policy in two phases (1921–3 and 1926)…. [T]he KPD bid farewell to the united front as ‘Stalinisation’ began to set in during the Weimar Republic’s final years – with lethal consequences, as its abandonment decisively abetted the victory of German fascism.[1]

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National-Revolutionary Movements and the Comintern

The Congress of the Toilers of the Far East (1922)

Alliance of Adversaries: The Congress of the Toilers of the Far East, edited by John Sexton. Historical Materialism Book Series (Brill, 2018; Haymarket Books, 2019). 369 pages. $28.00 in paperback (currently available from Haymarket at the special price of $16.80 at:

Book review by Mike Taber. This important book contains the proceedings of the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East, organized by the Communist International (Comintern).  That meeting, held in Moscow and Petrograd in January-February 1922 – attended by delegations from China, Korea, Mongolia, the short-lived Far Eastern Republic, and Japan, as well as individual delegates from India and the Dutch East Indies – was a complement to another congress that had taken place a year and a half earlier: the First Congress of the Peoples of the East held in Baku in August-September 1920.

The record of the Baku congress can be found in To See the Dawn, a book published in 1993 by Pathfinder Press and edited by John Riddell.[1] The new book, edited by John Sexton, should be seen as a companion volume to it.

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A Strategic Perspective for Uniting Ecosocialists in Quebec

‘Révolution écosocialiste’: Basis of Unity

Newly formed ‘Révolution écosocialiste’ organization proposes a green, ecosocialist and democratic program for building a mass movement in the 21st century.

Introduction by Richard Fidler: Ecosocialist activists in Quebec have formed a new organization, Révolution écosocialiste (RE). The following English translation of the group’s Basis of Unity is taken from Climate & Capitalism.

Interviewed by the magazine Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme, Benoit Renaud explained that he and the other signatories felt that an earlier networking group, the Réseau écosocialiste founded in 2013, was no longer the activist organization they had originally envisaged, and instead functioned as little more than a “talk shop” (lieu d’échange).

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Next Steps for Comintern Publication Project

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.

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How Democratic Centralism Was Applied

Part 2 of ‘Party Organization in Lenin’s Comintern’

See Part 1: Shaping a Policy

Clara Zetkin, 1920

By John Riddell: The Comintern’s 1921 organizational theses, discussed in Part 1 of this study, were next mentioned in a world congress by Lenin himself, in his address to the Fourth World Congress in 1922. At the end of what was to be his last speech to the world movement, he expressed concern regarding the resolution. Although “prepared to subscribe to every one of its fifty or more points,” Lenin said, the resolution was “too Russian” and incomprehensible to non-Russian Communists. “Everything in it is based on the Russian experience”; non-Russians “will not understand it” and “cannot carry it out.” Lenin said. “The most important thing for all of us, Russian and non-Russian comrades alike,” is to take time to study.[1]

Only Clara Zetkin spoke to his remarks. Highlighting Lenin’s remark “that we all have much to learn,” Zetkin interpreted this as an appeal for patience. Declaring that “to win time is to win everything,” Zetkin added a characteristically elegant quotation from the German poet Goethe: “Time is my estate, and time my field to plough.”[2]

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Party Organization in Lenin’s Comintern

Part 1: Defining Democratic Centralism

See also Part 2: Applying Democratic Centralism

Lenin at Third World Congress, where organizational theses on party organization were adopted.

By John Riddell: Many socialist groups today seek to shape their organizational principles in the spirit of “democratic centralism” identified with V.I. Lenin. Yet as historian Lars Lih has demonstrated (“Fortunes of a Formula” and “Further Fortunes of a Formula”), Lenin himself used the term only occasionally, and then with widely varying emphasis. The formula’s meaning for socialists today is in fact derived mainly from its application by the Communist International (Comintern) in Lenin’s lifetime and under his guidance (1919–23).

This article will examine how this principle was expressed in the internal functioning of the Comintern’s national parties and also in their relationship to the Comintern’s leadership, the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI).

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The 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality

How a mass march relaunched women’s struggle for liberation in the US. An interview by Nancy Rosenstock with Ruthann Miller, reposted with permission from

Women’s March in New York, August 26, 1970.


In August 1970, campaigners for women’s liberation mounted a huge demonstration that recharged feminism in the US. Ruthann Miller, the protest coordinator, was a socialist activist. She talks here to Nancy Rosenstock about the march, and the need to combine feminist and socialist politics.

The Strike for Equality put forward three main demands: free abortion on demand — no forced sterilization; free, community-controlled 24-hour childcare centers; and equal opportunities in jobs and education.

The Women’s Strike for Equality in August 1970 was a landmark in the development of second-wave feminism. On August 26, 50,000 women marched down New York City’s Fifth Avenue, defying the efforts of the police to confine them to the sidewalk as they mounted the largest feminist demonstration that the United States had seen.

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Bolivia: The People Defeat the Coup

The following article is reposted with thanks from Richard Fidler’s Life on the Left. First published in ‘Green Left Weekly,’ October 22, 2020.

By Federico Fuentes*: Bolivians have overwhelmingly voted the left-wing Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) back into office in a resounding reversal of last year’s coup.

With almost 90% of the October 18 vote counted, MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce has won with 54.5%, thumping his nearest rival, Carlos Mesa (29.26%).

Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca, Bolivia’s newly elected President and Vice-President

Arce even managed to win more votes than former MAS president Evo Morales did in the October 2019 elections. While Morales won that election, opposition protests against supposed fraud culminated in a police-military coup that forced him into exile just weeks later.

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Quebec’s October Crisis, 1970

What Today’s Left Learned from Ottawa’s Turn to Repression

Reposted with permission from Life on the Left.

By Richard Fidler: Fifty years ago this month the federal government, invoking the War Measures Act – its first use in peacetime – occupied Quebec with 12,000 troops, arrested without a warrant almost 500 citizens, and carried out 36,000 police searches of homes, organizations and publications.

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50 Years Ago: When Canada Suspended Civil Liberties

Recollections of Montreal Under the War Measures Act

By John Riddell: It was October 16, 1970, fifty years ago today. Turning on CBC radio over breakfast that day, I was startled to learn that the War Measures Act had been decreed across the entire country. The Canadian equivalent of martial law, War Measures were invoked on the excuse that the country faced an “apprehended insurrection.”

Montreal, October 1970

During that night, hundreds in Quebec had been arrested. Secretly. No charges. No phone call. No right to a lawyer or court hearing. All civil liberties were suspended. Quebec was under military occupation. A few hours later, television news started showing photos of soldiers in battledress armed with assault rifles and of tanks in the streets of downtown Montreal.

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‘A Fascinating Volume Offering Many Treasures’

Daniel Gaido’s review of The Communist Movement at a Crossroads

The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922–1923, edited by Mike Taber. Trans. John Riddell. Historical Materialism Book Series. Chicago: Haymarket, 2019. $50. Pp. 808.

By Daniel Gaido: Taber and Riddell have published the minutes of the three Enlarged Plenums of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) held while Lenin was still alive, between February 1922 and June 1923.

A Monumental Edition

This volume is part of Riddell’s monumental edition of the proceedings of the first Four Congresses of “The Communist International in Lenin’s Time,” held between 1919 and 1922. It also includes a volume of documents from “the preparatory years” (1907–1916) before the foundation of the International, a documentary collection on the German revolution of 1918–1919, and a third volume with the minutes of the Congress of the Peoples of the East held in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1920.

The complete series so far include eight books in nine volumes, to which a ninth book will be added entitled The Communist Women’s Movement, 1920–1922:
1. Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International: Documents, 1907-1916: The Preparatory Years, New York: Pathfinder, 1984, 604 pp.
2. The German Revolution and the Debate on Soviet Power: Documents, 1918-1919: Preparing the Founding Congress, New York: Pathfinder, 1986, 687 pp .
3. Founding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress, March 1919, New York: Pathfinder, 1987, 503 pp.
4. Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress of the Communist International, 1920, Volume 1: New York: Pathfinder, 1991, 632 pp.
Volume 2: New York: Pathfinder, 1991, 592 pp.
5. To See the Dawn! Baku, 1920: First Congress of the Peoples of the East, New York: Pathfinder, 1993, 368 pp.
6. To the Masses! Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921, Leiden: Brill, 2015; Chicago: Haymarket, 2016, 1,299 pp.
7. Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, Leiden: Brill, 2011; Chicago: Haymarket, 2015, 1,310 pp.
8. The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922-1923, Leiden: Brill, 2018; Chicago: Haymarket, 2019. 796 pp.

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The Baku Congress of 1920 Sounded the Call for the End of Empire

The following centennial appreciation of the September 1920 Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East first appeared in Jacobin, and is reprinted with permission.

By John Riddell: A century ago this month, the new Soviet government summoned anti-colonial revolutionaries from across Asia to a gathering in Baku. The Baku Congress proved to be a watershed in the fight against European colonial domination and the rise of the Global South.

In Baku, Azerbaijan, one hundred years ago this month, an unprecedented assembly of anti-colonial activists proclaimed the advent of a global struggle for colonial freedom. About 2,050 participants, drawn from thirty-seven mostly Asian and Muslim peoples, approved the call for a “holy war” for the liberation of peoples of the East in September 1920.

Even today, decades after most colonies achieved at least formal sovereignty, the call of Baku resonates in a world shaken by rising struggles against racism and white supremacy.

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Soviet Russia, Zhenotdel, and Women’s Emancipation, 1919-1930

Just how much progress was made in the fight for equality? Anne McShane focuses in particular on Central Asia. See also Part 2 of this study, Zhenotdel: Clubs, Cooperatives, and the Hujum.

Introduction by Mike Taber: Anne McShane is a Marxist activist from Britain and Ireland who writes regularly for Weekly Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). McShane has developed these views in more detail in her PhD thesis, “Bringing the Revolution to the Women of the East: The Zhenotdel Experience in Soviet Central Asia through the Lens of Kommunistka.” McShane has begun work to edit her thesis up into a book.

The 2017 article below, which we are running in two parts, is reposted with permission from Weekly Worker.

Discussion of these questions has practical importance for the struggle for women’s liberation today. The Russian Revolution of 1917, and the early years of the Soviet Republic, blazed a revolutionary path for achieving women’s full rights and equality in society. By focusing on Soviet Central Asia, McShane enables readers to get a new appreciation of the profound impact of the Russian Revolution on this question.

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