Left Socialist Revolutionaries

Left Socialist Revolutionaries

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In 1917 the Socialist Revolutionaries split between those who supported the Provisional Government and the Bolsheviks who favoured a communist revolution. Those like Maria Spirdonova and Mikhail Kalinin who supported the revolution became known as Left Socialist Revolutionists (LSR)

After the October Revolution the LSR joined the in a coalition government with the Bolsheviks. However, the LSR left the government over their disagreement with Lenin over the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, the lack of freedom for trade unionists and the abandonment of the policy of workers' control of factories.

After the February Revolution, a former member of the SR, Alexander Kerensky, was appointed as Minister of Justice. Later, Victor Chernov entered the cabinet as Minister of Agriculture and Kerensky became prime minister.

The party strongly opposed the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution. In the elections held for the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917, the SR won 20,900,000 votes (58 per cent), whereas the Bolsheviks won only 9,023,963 votes (25 per cent).

In 1918 the Soviet government closed down the Constituent Assembly and banned the SR and other anti-Bolshevik parties. On 10th July the Soviet Commander at Simbirsk, a member of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, attempted to lead a uprising but it was soon defeated by the Red Army.

In July, 1918, the veteran revolutionary, Maria Spirdonova, led a LSR anti-Bolshevik rising. She was soon arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in Siberia.

Some SRs now resorted to individual acts of terrorism. On 30th August, 1918, Vladimir Lenin was shot by Dora Kaplan and soon afterwards Moisei Uritsky, Commissar for Internal Affairs in the Northern Region, was assassinated by another supporter of the SR.

Next day the Congress met again. The Left S.R. delegates turned up. They had come to stage another violent onslaught on the Bolsheviks and the Government, the last, as it turned out, before they adopted other methods. The business of the morning was a report by the Chairman, Sverdlov, on the activities of the Government. He described in some detail the methods now being adopted to secure food from the villages in North and Central Russia. Committees of Poor Peasants had been formed in the villages to obtain food deliveries from the more well-to-do peasants.

"Leave it to the free peasants to form their own communes inspired with revolutionary enthusiasm,' cried Marie Spiridonova, that Valkyrie of the Russian Revolution. Pale, and with a savage look on her face, she proceeded to deliver an absolute Philippic against the Soviet Government and all its works. One realized now that, if this romantic revolutionary enthusiasm from the past could not be tamed, the Revolution would go down in chaos. When Spiridonova sat down, roars of applause came from the whole Left SR membership, the Bolsheviks sitting silent. Then the Left S.R.s all rose and left the Congress, this time for good. Sverdlov then adjourned the Congress till the afternoon.

The Revolution with extraordinary consistency brings to its logical end every one of its stages, mercilessly exposing the stupidity and credulity of those who use tactics unsuitable for a given situation. The Left S.R.s have committed political suicide by striking against revolutionary Realpolitik, just as the Mensheviks and Right S.R.s committed suicide last summer, by clinging to their coalition with the middle-classes long after the necessity for such a coalition had disappeared. Henceforth we. Bolsheviks, the spokesmen of the advance guard of the proletariate, must bear the sole burden of the Revolution.

Ettore Cinnella - The tragedy of the Russian Revolution: promise and default of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries in 1918.

The unpublished minutes of the three congresses held by the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (PLSR) in 1918 are the main source of this article. Its starting point is the crisis the old Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR) suffered during the fall of 1917 and the rise of the Left SRs.

Though the Left SRs actually agreed with the Bolsheviks on the crucial questions of land and peace, they were mistrustful of the way in which the Council of People's Commissars governed. Between November 1917 and the first months of 1918, the countryside was the scene of the crucial battle for the survival and consolidation of the new power. The PLSR played a very important role in making available the institutional tools for reorganizing land ownership (land socialization). Their activity during this period was fruitful because it answered the deepest aspirations of the rural world. But the Left SRs were enthusiastic and intransigent internationalists and indeed this dream so blinded them that they lost sight of more urgent tasks. How can we explain the collapse of a party so strongly rooted in the countryside as was the PLSR? It can be ascribed to the murder of Mirbach and the party's quixotic quest for intemationalim. However, there is another important reason: the erratic and contradictory response of the Populist left to the introduction of the kombedy (committees of village poors).

Socialist Revolutionaries

The Socialist Revolutionaries were the most influential group in Russia up to 1917.

Various groups had the title ‘Socialist Revolutionary’ but they combined in 1900 to form one Socialist Revolutionary Party with its headquarters in Karpov. The Socialist Revolutionaries developed out of the Narodniks and with this developments came a support for acts of terrorism. After 1900, Gershuni and Azef took the lead in developing the terrorist element with the Socialist Revolutionaries. Though Azef was a police agent, the Socialist Revolutionaries took part in many assassinations.

The Socialist Revolutionaries played little part in the 1905 Revolution. In December 1905, the Socialist Revolutionaries held their first formal congress in Finland and came up with their Four Points:

1) Russia needed an armed uprising.

2) Russia needed a federal republic.

3) All private estates were to be expropriated.

4) Terror could be used to advance the cause of the Socialist Revolutionaries if it was sanctioned by the highest authority within the Socialist Revolutionaries.

The Socialist Revolutionaries took no part in the elections for the Duma in 1906. In the next election, they got 36 seats. When the Second Duma dissolved, they took no part in the elections for the third Duma.

In March 1917, when the first revolution took place, the Socialist Revolutionaries were in a strong position. The army looked to them for help in the nation’s time of crisis. However, this was the Socialist Revolutionaries high spot. After the March Revolution, the Socialist Revolutionaries never had so much power – and Lenin was not going to allow them the regain their old power.

During the era of the Provisional Government under Kerensky, the Socialist Revolutionaries tried to court a stronger relationship with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In this they failed and in 1919, the party even proposed an overthrow of Lenin – on paper a farcical belief, but in the reality of the Russian Civil War, a possibility. Such plans came to nothing.

Why did the Socialist Revolutionaries fail?

They first failed to gain the support of the peasants – the largest social group in Russia. Also the party’s hierarchy was also divided by belief. Some wanted a greater input into terrorism while others wanted a move towards Marxism. As a party, the Socialist Revolutionaries never became an organised group as they had off shoots at nearly every level – beliefs, campaigns etc. One of the biggest factors in explaining why the Socialist Revolutionaries failed to developed was the simple fact that they could not decide as a party on how to move Russia on. Should they use violence? Political rhetoric? A combination?

In November 1917, the actions taken by the Bolsheviks left the Socialist Revolutionaries bereft of any political credibility. They had failed to absorb the political significance of 1917 and in November 1917, Lenin was not in a position where he had to bargain for support with the Socialist Revolutionaries.

In January 1918, the Socialist Revolutionaries meekly disbanded after a meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Lenin held all the political aces and by now the Socialist Revolutionaries held none.

Though the beliefs of the Socialist Revolutionaries might have been popular, their grass roots support was weak. After November 1917, the Socialist Revolutionaries were doomed to history.

Race to the Center

When neoliberalism became the order of the day, social democracies succumbed to its appeal. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party and the Workers’ Socialist Party of Spain (PSOE), among others, embraced the Third Way and implemented austerity policies demanded by capital. They morphed from alleged champions of workers’ interests into agents of finance capital and neoliberalism.

A scan-through of the parties that today make up the Socialist International feels like a flip-book horror story: François Hollande’s French Socialist Party, Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI in Mexico, the UCR in Argentina—now in government, in coalition with President Mauricio Macri’s PRO Party. The DSA in the United States continues to be a full member of the Socialist International.

Social democracies were not the only parties that moved to the center. In the late 70s, Communist Parties in Europe–particularly the Spanish, Italian and French CPs–broke ties with the Soviet Union and officially shed the “dictatorship of the proletariat” from their program, although they had long given up any prospects of a socialist revolution. This movement, dubbed Eurocommunism, embraced parliamentarianism as the path to socialism in advanced countries. In practice, they abandoned both the perspective and the fight for socialism.

Ettore Cinnella - The tragedy of the Russian Revolution: promise and default of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries in 1918.

The unpublished minutes of the three congresses held by the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (PLSR) in 1918 are the main source of this article. Its starting point is the crisis the old Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR) suffered during the fall of 1917 and the rise of the Left SRs.

Though the Left SRs actually agreed with the Bolsheviks on the crucial questions of land and peace, they were mistrustful of the way in which the Council of People's Commissars governed. Between November 1917 and the first months of 1918, the countryside was the scene of the crucial battle for the survival and consolidation of the new power. The PLSR played a very important role in making available the institutional tools for reorganizing land ownership (land socialization). Their activity during this period was fruitful because it answered the deepest aspirations of the rural world. But the Left SRs were enthusiastic and intransigent internationalists and indeed this dream so blinded them that they lost sight of more urgent tasks. How can we explain the collapse of a party so strongly rooted in the countryside as was the PLSR? It can be ascribed to the murder of Mirbach and the party's quixotic quest for intemationalim. However, there is another important reason: the erratic and contradictory response of the Populist left to the introduction of the kombedy (committees of village poors).

A Brief History of the American Left

"Promising indeed," Eugene Debs wrote in September l900, "is the outlook for Socialism in the United States. The very contemplation of the prospect is a wellspring of inspiration." Debs, a gifted and militant leader of America’s railroad workers, seemed to have been granted a prophetic gift. When he ran for President in 1900 as the candidate of the newly unified socialist movement, he attracted a mere one hundred thousand votes. As the Socialist Party’s standard-bearer twelve years later, he won nearly a million votes, some 6 percent of the total. In some states, such as Oklahoma, Washington, and California, the Socialist share of the vote climbed into the double digits. Over the same twelve-year period, the Socialist Party expanded its membership from 10,000 to nearly 120,000. Twelve hundred of these Socialists were elected to public office across the United States, including mayors from Flint, Butte, and Berkeley.

Socialists were influential in the leadership of some major American Federation of Labor (AFL) unions, as well as in independent unions such as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. Socialist and non-Socialist radicals in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) pioneered in the organization of unions among immigrant workers in mass production industries in cities like Lawrence and Patterson, and among migrant workers in the lumber camps and mining towns of the far west. While the Socialist Party was not immune to the racism endemic in turn of-the-century America, Socialists were among the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The ideas of the Socialist movement attracted a growing following on college campuses, in church groups, and in the settlement house and women’s movements. The key to the Socialist Party’s success in the 1910s was unity in diversity. Its members disagreed with each other on some issues (whether, for example, to put their main emphasis on electoral or union organizing), but for a while the common goal of democratic socialism seemed more important than tactical or ideological differences.

In the long run, Debs’s optimism proved misplaced. The year 1912 was the high-water mark of Socialist strength. The party fell on hard times with the coming of the First World War. Pre-existing internal tensions were exacerbated by debates over the party’s attitude towards American involvement in the war, followed by debates over whether (or how best) to support the Russian Revolution. Official repression of antiwar dissent led to the imprisonment of Debs and dozens of other Socialist leaders, while Socialist legislators were expelled from public office and the Socialist press was banned from the mails. As a Communist Party on the Russian model split from the Socialist Party, and the IWW went into a sharp decline, the radical movement in general slipped into the doldrums in the 1920s.

With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, however, faith in American capitalism went into a tail-spin, and the fortunes of the radical movement revived. Despite the deep divisions that beset the left, radicals from a number of different groups — Socialists, Communists, and Trotskyists among them — played a central role in the struggles of the unemployed to win adequate relief in the early 1930s, and in the vast expansion of industrial unionism through the organization of the new Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) in the later 1930s. Socialists helped to organize Detroit autoworkers and southern sharecroppers Communists were influential in drives to organize the auto, steel, electrical, and longshore industries, among others.

While neither Socialists nor Communists were able to replicate the electoral successes of the Debsian era, the Socialists were able to attract a million votes for Norman Thomas, their Presidential candidate in 1932. Running in the Democratic primary, the Socialist novelist Upton Sinclair captured the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in California in 1934. And during the "Popular Front" era of the later 1930s, when Communists sought to build a broad-based American movement not so explicitly tied to the Soviet model, the Communists developed a considerable political base and measure of influence within the Democratic Party in such states as Washington, Minnesota, and California, and in the American Labor Party in New York. The Thirties did not usher in "the Revolution," contrary to the expectations of many at the start of the decade. Nevertheless, much had changed for the better in American politics in the space of a few years. While Franklin Roosevelt’s administration was never the hotbed of radicalism it was portrayed as in right-wing propaganda, it is certainly true that radicals helped play midwife at the birth of the liberal-labor "New Deal coalition" that would shape the contours of Democratic Party politics over the next three decades.

Radicals were not, however, in a position to take independent advantage of the new political possibilities opening before them. The Socialist Party finished the decade once again in disarray, wounded by an internal factional battle with Trotskyists (with whom they shared little beyond a hatred of Stalinism), and divided over the question of whether they should abandon their long-standing refusal to back Democratic Party candidates. The Communist Party, though nominally more "revolutionary" than the Socialists, had proven tactically more flexible, and its tacit alliance with Roosevelt had helped it to grow to perhaps as many as 75,000 members by 1938 (with another 20,000 in the Young Communist League). After a bruising few years when its international guide, Stalin, was allied with Hitler, the American Communist Party seemed to emerge triumphant during the years of the "Grand Alliance," when the United States and the Soviet Union were allied against fascism and it was possible to be both "patriotic" and "pro-Soviet." But with the onset of the Cold War in 1945, radicalism of any sort was again suspect, and the Communists came under particularly ferocious attack.

By the mid-1950s, dozens of Communist Party leaders had been imprisoned under the Smith Act, while thousands of rank and file Communists were harassed by the FBI, dragged before Congressional investigating committees, denied passports, and in many instances fired from their jobs. Several of the most unscrupulous men in postwar American political life, including Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, built their careers on the shrewd manipulation of anticommunist hysteria. In the end, the Communist Party was able to survive McCarthyism. What finally led to its demise as the most important force on the left was its own internal disagreements, brought to a head in 1956 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of his now safely-dead predecessor Stalin. This "de-Stalinization crisis" led many American Communists to question not only their previous unquestioning support of Soviet policies, but also the undemocratic nature of Soviet-style socialism and the authoritarian nature of their own movement. Most of these dissenters left the party after 1956.

Even as the Communist Party disintegrated in the mid-1950s, a new wave of radical activism began to take shape. This time, however, it would not be the traditional socialist parties of the left that would lead the way, nor would the organization of the industrial working class be the main concern of the new radicals. Starting with the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and accelerating with the sit-in movement launched by black students in Greensboro and a dozen other southern cities in 1960, movements emerged that were destined to change the U.S. political landscape. White students, inspired by the example of their black counterparts in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), were drawn into civil rights protests, and from there into a wide range of movements for peace, university reform, and social change. Many joined a new campus group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which became the main organizational vehicle for what was beginning to be called the "new left".

A series of developments in mid-decade — including John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the murder of civil rights activists in the South, and the mounting escalation of the Vietnam war — spurred the growth of the new left, while tarnishing the optimism of the early 1960s. Over the years in which the war in Vietnam raged on, a loose coalition of radical activists developed the broadest and most diverse antiwar movement in American history. It was, to be sure, a turbulent and in many ways a tragic era. Some student protesters, in despair over bringing the war to an end (and sometimes egged on by government agents), turned to selfdefeating violent street confrontations and even to bombings. But it should also be remembered that, by the end of the 1960s, antiwar sentiment had spread from elite Ivy League universities to working-class community colleges and high schools, and that groups like the Vietnam Veterans Against the War were playing an increasingly prominent role in antiwar demonstrations. The general cultural and political ferment of the decade also gave rise to a revived feminist movement and a new gay liberation movement.

At the end of the 1960s the left again faltered. If the old left Socialists and Communists had been too wedded to the "New Deal coalition" of urban ethnics and industrial workers to respond adequately to the new black, youth, and women’s insurgencies, nevertheless those new constituencies alone could not build a stable base for a mass new left. Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 hastened the demise of the civil rights movement, while SNCC and SDS collapsed from sectarian excesses. The antiwar movement held on into the early 1970s but, by the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, had lost most of its momentum. And not only was the left collapsing, but this time the New Deal coalition itself — the mass base for American liberalism — was showing signs of increasing instability, as Richard Nixon’s victories in 1968 and 1972 indicated. This liberal weakness became progressively clearer as Nixon’s fall in the Watergate scandal led, not to a revival of the New Deal coalition, but to a long-term revival of radical conservatism in the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan.

From the beginning of this long period of deepening conservatism in the early 1970s, several groups continued to uphold the traditions of the American left. Two in particular sought to recreate the broad and tolerant spirit of the Debsian Socialist Party, while absorbing also the new lessons, causes, and constituencies over which the left had stumbled in the intervening decades. The Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) had been founded by Michael Harrington out of some fragments of the old Socialist Party. DSOC continued to operate, in the old Socialist or Communist manner, as the left-wing of the New Deal coalition, clearly now not as a separate political party but as an explicitly socialist force within the Democratic Party and the labor movement. It met with some success in attracting young activists disenchanted with the Democratic Party’s drift and seeking ways to galvanize the ailing party coalition. DSOC also drew to its banner a number of well-known public figures, such as Machinists’ Union leader William Winpisinger, feminist Gloria Steinem, gay rights activist Harry Britt, actor Ed Asner, and California Congressman Ron Dellums, the first avowed socialist in Congress since World War Two.

The New American Movement (NAM) emerged at about the same time, more from the new left than from the old, though it counted in its number some former Communists who had left their party after 1956. NAM, true to these new left origins, was more skeptical about the long-term future of the New Deal coalition, and accordingly devoted its energies more than did DSOC to the new movements of the 1960s, especially feminism, gay and lesbian liberation, and local community organizing.

But neither NAM nor DSOC saw their heritages and organizing areas as mutually exclusive, and by the early 1980s — especially considering the weakness of the American left — came to see themselves as complementary, completing a formal merger in 1983. The merged organization, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), for the first time since the First World War brought together the various splinters of left opinion in America: former Socialists and Communists, former old leftists and new leftists, and many who had never been leftists at all. The decades of disunion had taken their toll. The hundreds of thousands of Debs’s day had dwindled to mere thousands. But a new beginning now seems possible in the 1990s As the old Cold War polarities break down, DSA has an opportunity to demonstrate that the history of the American left had reached a turning-point, not an end.

Maurice Isserman teaches history at Hamilton College. A DSAer, he is author of If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and Birth of the New and co-author of Dorothy Healey Remembers: A Life in the American Communist Party.

This year is the 50 th anniversary of the publication of Juliet Mitchell’s pamphlet “Women: The Longest Revolution.” Written just three years after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Mitchell’s work garnered nowhere near the notoriety of Friedan’s. It was, nonetheless, as important. Around August 26, 2016 — the 96th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution granting women in the United States the vote — we reflect on the contribution of Juliet Mitchell to our understanding of the struggle for women’s liberation and socialist feminism.

Though the term “socialist feminist” did not appear in print until some six years later, “Women: The Longest Revolution” set the stage for a dramatic reworking and refocusing of what had been called by many leftists (and is today) “The Woman Question.”

Mitchell recounts the development of Marxist thought on the situation of women in society. From Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884 English edition, 1902) to August Bebel’s Woman and Socialism (1879 English edition,1910), the Left has considered the issue of the status of women purely in economic terms, while feminists had typically framed it as a function of legal rights. Mitchell quotes Engels from Origin thus:

If inability to work is the cause of her inferior status, ability to work will bring her liberation:

. . . the emancipation of women and their equality with men are impossible and must remain so as long as women are excluded from socially productive work and restricted to housework, which is private. The emancipation of women becomes possible only when women are enabled to take part in production on a large, social scale, and when domestic duties require their attention only to a minor degree.

Philosopher Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949 English edition, 1953) is described by Mitchell as the greatest single contribution to the subject of women’s oppression to that time, but, she notes, “interestingly socialism as such emerges as a curiously contingent solution at the end of the work, in a muffled epilogue.” *

Mitchell takes a great leap in proposing that the oppression of women must be seen as coming from a matrix of origins: production, reproduction, socialization of children and sexuality. She describes how advances in one of these areas are offset by losses in another. Thus women’s liberation can only be achieved by fighting on all fronts.

Mitchell’s work was a focus of discussion in the British Left (Mitchell’s home) but became known in the United States largely because of the work of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (CWLU). In 1971, one of the chapters of CWLU (called The Midwives of the Revolution) proposed a strategic approach to organizational program based on Mitchell’s work.

Their proposal, “Some Thoughts on Program,” argued “for a program and strategy which emphasizes struggle on many different levels, none of which is a clear priority over the others, and none of which is adequate without the development of the others.”

To illustrate this idea of a multidimensional, multifaceted program to struggle against the oppression of women, the Midwives credited Mitchell and said that they

conceived of making a visual chart. Along one side are the four major roles into which women are placed in American society – roles which oppress us. First is our role in production (as surplus, menial, malleable labor force domestic workers and keepers of the work force) second is reproduction (being responsible for the reproduction of the race) third is sexuality and fourth is our role as socializers of children.

Those are Mitchell’s four categories of the sources of oppression. The Midwives recognized that an understanding of women’s oppression must be coupled with a strategy to fight that oppression, and so they added dimensions of struggle (service, education, direct action) to complete the chart, drawing upon André Gorz’s Strategy for Labor (1964 English edition 1967).

Underscoring the conviction of early CWLU activists of the intersection of multiple systems of oppression, the Midwives’ paper recognized:

[T]his is just a two dimensional chart. It helps us look at different types of program necessary to organize around women’s oppression as women. But it is clear that women are not only oppressed as women, but are also part of all other oppressed groups within this society (e.g., blacks, workers, students, gay people). Because of women’s interrelatedness to all of society we must have a view of program which says that our oppression as women cannot be separated from the oppression of all other groups. That means that our movement must work on program which struggles against all kinds of oppression and must respond specifically to the ways the oppression of these groups affects women in them.

This paper and what came to be called the “Mitchell chart” were very influential in the CWLU. (An example showing some of the programs of CWLU is included here.)

Discussion of the strategic program proposal in “Some Thoughts on Program” took place at the second CWLU conference in April 1971. A lively debate resulted in the adoption of the chart as a tool for CWLU planning and strategy. In the course of the debate, the strategic areas were changed to reflect the outward oriented work of the organization: direct action, education, service. Throughout the remainder of CWLU’s existence, the Mitchell chart guided the organization’s work.

Two lessons from Juliet Mitchell’s work and from its use by CWLU stand out:

The interaction between theory and practice is crucial if we’re going to advance our agenda. It is not, of course, always easy. Simply becoming conversant in Marxist theory will win us only a few supporters, but trying to understand what that theory means, and how we can put it into practice, will. As Marx wrote in “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845), “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

A chart may seem like a rather prosaic way to proceed, but sometimes a simple chart can help determine what important issues/organizing/outreach might be missing from our work. And it might be able to help us focus our limited resources on the most important areas. Today’s Mitchell chart would look different from that of fifty years ago – it might very well have more dimensions than that first effort. It would be informed by what we’ve learned in the past decades.

Bringing about a socialist revolution is about more than just overthrowing capitalism. While identity politics and democratic socialism may not simply run in parallel, we ignore at our own risk identity politics/intersectionality/or whatever is the correct phrase today. We need to understand and fight against oppression in whatever arenas it occurs. Organizing like that of Black Lives Matter or the Dreamers or against sexual assault on campus shows us that, important as they are, support for minimum wage and unions is not enough. It shows us as well that intersectionality is not just about privilege but about the fight against the institutions, the system of oppression.

Juliet Mitchell’s “Women: The Longest Revolution” gave us an important starting point for understanding the connection between socialism and feminism. Through Mitchell and Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and current thinkers and activists like historian Linda Gordon, we can chart the next steps in that longest revolution. The gains of the last fifty years provide a solid base for the next phase as the revolution continues.

*The version available online (“Women: The Longest Revolution”) is actually an excerpt from Mitchell’s later work, “Women’s Estate” published in 1971. This is similar to the original, but not identical.

Christine R. Riddiough serves as a vice chair of DSA and was a member of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.


94 responses to “Socialist Platform Statement of Aims and Principles”

I agree 100% I have also tried to sign up and participate but have not found much support in my area and the person representing our area (Ashford) I think has not contacted me. – I am in Sevenoaks please can I join officially and help where ever I can. 99% In Unity.

I think it’s true to say that you can’tjoin LU formally right now, but very soon the National Coordinating Group will be setting up a formal membership, which will entitle you to go attend the founding (party) conference in November, and vote as a founding member. |Others can correct me if I I’ve got this wrong. You can also become a subscriber on this website for a small monthly donation.

As to being involved locally, I write from Medway, and coincedentally, we are holding our monthly Left Unity Medway meeting tonight, at the Nucleus Arts Centre cafe, 272 High St, Chatham, 7.30pm. If you can travel that far, I’m sure you would be welcome to attend.

I’ve just noticed you can now become a founding member of LU. See box at top right of this page.
Apologies for confusion.

The usual Trotskyist stuff. Listen, if you’re serious about building a broad Left alternative, you’ll keep these fantasists well in the background.

Hopefully other comments/criticisms will be of a more fraternal type than yours Emanuele.

Calling people ‘fantasists’ where you disagree is not the way to build a broad party of any type.

Yes but what’s the point its all been said before. Emmanuelle has it and I’m also with Bobby T below.

Actually it was Trotsky who developed the ideas of the transitional programme and the broad united front. This, however, is ultra leftist posturing which would turn LU into another dead end.

There’s much I agree with in here, but also some things I disagree with. I therefore favour the broader base of the Left Party platform. While the LP platform is lighter on specifics, I think it’s not the place of platforms to provide these, they should come from the policy commissions.

Would be interested in reading what you disagree with Salman but glad that you agree with most.

I’m doubtful about the pledge not to enter into coalition with capitalist parties. I’m assuming (correct me if I’m wrong) this platform would see the Greens as a capitalist party, while I think of them as allies.

I’m also not convinced on the working wage for elected representatives. While I don’t want to see rampant salary increases for MPs while the rest of the country sees their wages squeezed, I do support paying MPs a decent salary. I think this is a necessary safeguard against them making money on the side through corporate interests.

Overall, while I am a socialist and support many of the aims of this platform and will doubtless work with many of its signatories to push for socialist policies within Left Unity, I do not believe what we are fundamentally lacking in this country is a revolutionary socialist party. There are plenty of those out there, some are working within LU. I don’t think LU needs to replicate that. What we don’t have in this country is a broad left party to represent wide sections of working class communities disenfranchised by mainstream politics. I would prefer to see LU fill that vacuum and move from that starting point.

The term ‘capitalism’ should not be tossed around so crudely, the meaning is not so precise as to build policy statements around it in that way. The line of thinking here entirely misses the fundamental point that what we’ve had for the last 40 years is an intensification of a variety of capitalism that revolves around an unstable money supply issued in the form of debt. And many would want to object to the term capitalism, supplanting it with neo-feudalism, predatory capitalism or suchlike, in order to make the point that markets are artificially biased towards those who control the money supply.
When you begin by stating the aim to do away with capitalism you are immediately labelled an idiot by those who interpret this as meaning you want extreme government control over markets, which many would argue is at the root of the problems we face now, i.e. that the government is artificially propping up the financial sector by socialising their losses.

Salman I agree with you and agree with much of the Socialist Platform but I consider the base of the Left Party platform to be not ‘broad’ enough.
So I am looking for Collaborators to work on developing a People United Platform. The Draft Text of the People United Platform was published on the Facebook Page of Left Unity as a note on July 12th. I am now seeking others in LU who agree to add their names to it to enable it publication on this website when we get 10 signatories.

People United Platform Statement.
12 July 2013 at 11:27
The Name of Our Party is “PEOPLE UNITED “.

Our party campaigns for Fairness, fights for Justice and demands Respect.

Any individual whose normal place of residence is in the Country of England and who shares the aims and objectives of PEOPLE UNITED can become a member. Any group of 5 or more members in a geographical area can form a branch of PEOPLE UNITED. Our goal is the establishment of branches that mirror Parliamentary Constituencies.

To win popular mass support for the creation of a Green and Pleasant Socialist Republic in England.

Our Primary Objectives are:

To Encourage and respect the self organisation and empowerment of all sections of society in England who are exploited, oppressed, alienated and marginalised by the reality of life under capitalism

To Work with those in the neighbouring countries of Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Ireland who are struggling for social and environmental justice.

To Work with those across Europe and Internationally who are struggling for social and environmental justice.

To Establish the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

To Participate in Local and Parliamentary Elections in order to popularise the Aims and Objectives of PEOPLE UNITED.

To Ensure that members of PEOPLE UNITED who win elected office are accountable to their electorate via developing new forms of direct participatory democracy including the right of recall.

To Secure by reform of existing institutions of or via the creation of new structures a new society based upon PEOPLE’S POWER.

The linguistic roots of the word Democracy comes from two Greek words – Demos, meaning peoples and Kratos meaning power. Therefore our Party not only advocates Peoples Power as a political objective for the whole of society but it functions as a living example of Peoples Power at every organisational level.

The way our Democracy works in practice is based upon the result or outcome of Votes.

Every member of our party is encouraged and will be empowered to actively participate in internal discussions. Every member of our party is encouraged and will be empowered to contribute their thoughts, feelings and ideas as part of a genuine collective.

At all levels of our Party Decisions shall be made on the basis that a Majority of Votes for any given proposal has been achieved. Once a Decision has been made our Party encourages and will empower all members of our party to take collective ownership of decisions made and to implement them in practice.

Our Party seeks to encourage and empower all people in society to become active participants in collective action to make positive changes in our world. All members of our Party are encouraged and will be empowered to act as champions of the oppressed. Together we act and via our action we inspire other to join the struggle for Peoples Power.

Our Party recognises the fractured, atomised and individualistic culture dominant in capitalist society ferments social conflict. Our Party encourages and will empower all members to resolve conflicts via open democratic discussion. Our Party encourages and will empower all members to respect each other and value cultural diversity. Our Party will establish a Dispute Resolution Committee elected by National Conference. The Dispute Resolution Committee will encourage and empower any member who has a grievance to come forward seeking to resolve any dispute via an open fair and transparent process.

I am slightly disappointed that any political party, especially a socialist type, trying to start up in the United Kingdom seems to wish to limit itself to residents of England, a name which came from the anglos of the Anglo-Saxon tribes from Germany. Possibly a slight re-looking at your wording would do no harm, I am Scots born and living their but would not like to think that because if this I would be dis-enfranchised by U.K. based Socialist group.

I too have little to disagree with this statement, although it has little or nothing to say about the environmental crisis. Of course revolutionary socialists want to overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with a socialist, democratic and internationalist society. But there are already several revolutionary organisations you could join which have similar or identical programmes – the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, etc. if you agree with this platform. The problem is that most of these groups are tiny, have no resonance with the rest of the working class and have failed to build themselves in the face of the current twin capitalist crises of the economy and the environment.

The point about Left Unity is that it recognises we have to start from where we are not where we wish we were! The vast majority of the working class, while opposed to the austerity being imposed and looking for answers are not convinced of the need to overthrow the system even as they reject the rightward move of the Labour Party. ‘Patient talking’ with them will not convince them in the short term and programmes like this will probably make them run a mile.

So we need to build a broad party, which can relate to all those fighting austerity, a class struggle party, in touch with ordinary peoples’ lives. As Marx said people make their own history but not in circumstances of their own choosing! Like much in politics it would be better if we didn’t have to start from here, but here is where we are!

We have noted that capitalism damages the environment. We kept the platform as short as possible as we know the commissions and branches will be formulating and deciding on policy in areas such as the environment.

I think when people say that Labour has moved to the right it is always important to clarify that statement. Yes Labour has abandoned its traditional base but this is not just a political move but primarily result of changes within capitalism itself. Labour’s traditional base has been fractured, diminished and eroded because of the neo-liberal offensive of the last 30 years.

The point about there are several revolutionary parties does not match reality. The Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party are small agitational groups not parties. So there is a desperate need for a real party of the working class that does not just fight the current assaults but links those battles to a different kind of society. So I agree that we must start where we are, the difference we have is that I believe socialists should have the confidence to make the links.

Jane’s is more or less the point I wanted to make. If Left Unity accepts the Socialist Platform, the danger is that it will turn Left Unity into another (very small) socialist group with a well-defined set of beliefs. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but there are hundreds of those groups to choose from already (and, let’s be honest, nothing to be gained from uniting them). If we go down that road, we should be prepared for the probable result, which will be to stay small, to attract nothing but hostility from those we’re already working with in campaigns because people resent being told what they should think, and then we’ll all turn inwards and start attacking each other over differences in doctrine as there will be nothing better to do.

By accepting instead the Left Party platform, or something like it, we’ll have instead a broad statement of left/socialist intent that people can rally around, and a party in embryo that we can all be involved in building – as an ongoing process, not something defined precisely at the beginning. As we build, all these arguments about what socialism means and what we want and so on and so on will still go on, of course, but with the important difference that the debates will actually mean something because we won’t be talking to ourselves, or evangelically bothering people who are quite happy with their own ideas thank you very much, but instead engaging in a discussion among people involved in a common project with the same basic interest in working for its success. Let’s not forget, as someone pointed out today on another thread, that there are a lot of people in Left Unity (maybe most?) who are NOT in fact already a member of a small left group, and will almost certainly head for the door if we are turned into one.

The Left Party platform was criticised because it was something everyone who thinks of themselves as basically left or socialist can agree with. Well, exactly, that’s the whole point! It can therefore be a basis for uniting, not just the small left groups (a pointless exercise), but all those who already are or who could easily be won to a left outlook (an exercise that couldn’t be more urgent). If we could achieve that (a big ask), well, then we might be in a position to get somewhere. Maybe, who knows, even to socialism!

I think Stuart has hit the nail on the head here.

Getting involved in a common project in everyones interest in order to build the party is a laudable idea. I think of the Bedroom tax or save lewisham Hospital… and the victories possible.

But, Stuart, i dont understand this quote from your post:

‘As we build, all these arguments about what socialism means and what we want and so on and so on will still go on, of course, but with the important difference that the debates will actually mean something because we won’t be talking to ourselves, or evangelically bothering people who are quite happy with their own ideas thank you very much.’

In what way will the debate about socialism go on, and mean something, if we are neither talking to ourselves nor to people involved in the project who have their own ideas thank you very much!? who will we be debating with?

When we have rolled back one assault ( eg saving a hospital) will we not want to explain why we we will have to keep getting up early to defend ourselves against fresh assaults–more closures–and to discuss why for the capitalist class this is inherent in their prioritising profit and competition and that thereby we have to help all ourselves understand and combat more efficiently for a different society with different priorities? Or we remain in Groundhog Day as the work camps set in.

Jane Kelly & Stuart petty well sum up my thoughts on this.

Stuart, your points are crucial, and need to be much examined.

I am with Jane on this. Whilst anyone is free to choose their own name for their platform (within reason) it is a shame though somehow inevitable that one group has decided to claim monopoly on the term ‘socialism’, the better, presumably, to issue denunciations of others who do not see the true path. OK, so maybe that won’t be everyone’s intention, but it is a clear danger.

My main question to the Socialist Platform is “How do you see this working out comrades?” What NEW forces do you see this pulling in if it is adopted? Who is it going to appeal to beyond people who’ve already joined SWP, SP, WP, SR, TUSC? What’s in it to appeal to the people putting themselves on the line in Balcombe, people fighting workfare, Uncut people, and indeed anyone whose current main political activity is just trying stop their local library closing? These are the people LU needs to be reaching out to, the people to whom revolutionaries can then start to relate. If it’s just a slightly larger version of a pub conversation about Marxist principles, count me out.

Hmm isn’t that what happened 100 years ago?, Still exists, called the Labour Party….but because it didn’t stand for the abolition of capitalism,It became a tool and apologst for capitalism

This isn’t a “Socialist” Platform, it’s s Trotskyist platform.

Why do you say the Soviet Union “wasn’t socialist”? This is a deliberately provocative statement because you make no mention of it in your accompanying article. So much for wanting to give clarity through the discussion and debate you say you want!

The achievements of the Soviet Union were immense, in terms of education, literacy, culture, science, technology, etc. The victory of the Red Army in bringing the Second World War to an end inspired millions across the planet to overthrow colonialism, thereby reaffirming the 1917 Russian revolution.

Their socialist economy was viable up until the 1980’s, despite the real and inevitable difficulties that building a totally new society from scratch. It did did not collapse. It was liquidated by the revisionist mind-rot of Gorbachevism, which itself was the logical outcome of Stalinism’s retreat from Lenin’s revolutionary perspective into pacifist peaceful roads to socialism.

You make no mention of the need to build and argue for a revolutionary perspective in order to understand the world and guide the working class. Without a revolution, how do you propose to achieve “the socialist transformation of society”? More “stop the war – stop austerity” popular pressure? But that’s just what the Left Party Platform say, the only difference is that you want to slap a “socialist” label on it.

How are going to defend your “socialist” state if, by some miracle, your transformation of society takes place without a revolution? The lesson of Chile is that only a proletarian dictatorship will defend the workers state from constant imperialist intrigue. But that would be “undemocratic”. So what would you do.

Or do expect every country to have a revolution at the same time, since you clearly don’t accept Lenin’s understanding socialism can be built and defended in one country until the rest of the world is one over to socialism.

And what about the real world? What about Egypt? What do you say to the working class there now that your “democracy” illusions have helped to set the scene for a fascist counter-revolutionary coup.

I was concerned about the acceptance of “platforms” as it lets factionalism in by the back door. This seems to be the danger here.

I don’t think we’re going to get very far defending the Soviet Union. I would prefer to defend the NHS.

I love this guy – you really couldn’t make it up. Revolutionary questions definitely have more force when three question marks are used.

Your article of 1st August 2013 on the subject of the Socialist Platform betrays a woeful ignorance of the history of the Soviet Union, of Lenin and of Leninism, and of Trotskyism.

You state that the authors of the Socialist Platform do not accept “Lenin’s understanding socialism can be built and defended in one country until the rest of the world is won over to the socialism.”

It is a very good job they do not accept your attribution of Lenin’s acceptance of the possibility of “building and defending Socialism in one country” BECAUSE LENIN NEVER FOR A MOMENT ARGUED FOR THAT POSITION AT ANY STAGE OF HIS POLITICAL LIFE.

The ridiculous, patently unsocialist, and non-Marxist doctrine of “Socialism in One Country” was concocted AFTER LENIN’S UNTIMELY DEATH IN 1924 by mass murderer Stalin, and his cronies to provide an ideological smokescreen for their total abandonment of the internationalist outlook that imbued the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Lenin and Trotsky, the co-leaders of the October Revolution of 1917, saw it as the opening shot in a process of WORLD revolution and they gave concrete expression to that revolutionary perspective by founding the Third International in 1919.

Neither Lenin nor Trotsky conceived that it was possible to build and defend “Socialism in One Country,” especially not in a backward, overwhelmingly peasant country like Russia was in 1917. The Bolsheviks counted on the Revolution spreading to the advanced countries of Europe and to the USA so that Socialist regimes in those countries might come to the aid of backward Russia, and help raise the economic, technological, and cultural level of the country in the process of building Socialism on a WORLDWIDE basis.

The failure of the revolution to spread to the advanced capitalist countries – which was explained in no small measure by the criminal errors and political misleadership of Stalin and his henchmen – accelerated and strengthened the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet regime, a degeneration that Lenin himself foresaw and tried to prevent as shown by his suppressed Testament in which he called for Stalin to be removed from his post as General Secretary of the Bolshevik, i.e., Communist Party.

Trotsky likewise foresaw, analysed, and sought to prevent the bureaucratic degeration of the Soviet Republic he helped to found and defended as the leader and organiser of the Red Army in the Civil War of 1918-21. He gave his life in fighting against the Stalinist betrayers and “gravediggers” of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Stalinist regimes which did indeed collapse like so many Houses of Cards all over the Soviet bloc from 1989 onwards did so because they were wholly undemocratic, unsocialist, and corrupt. The peoples of those countries were absolutely correct in wanting to get rid of their corrupt military/police dictatorships. The tragedy is that their understandable desire to throw off these totalitarian regimes did not find expression in a revolutionary Bolshevik Party, i.e., a party like the one Lenin and Trotsky led to power in 1917.

Socialism CANNOT be built and defended in one country, not even in an advanced capitalist country. Socialism is a worldwide process and will not be complete until it has conquered worldwide. I think you need to study the writings of Lenin, Trotsky, Marx, and Engels more attentively because nowhere in THEIR works will you find any support or evidence for Stalin’s opportunistic and utterly non-Marxist hybrid “theory” of Socialism in One Country.

It is precisely because Stalinism is the absolute negation of everything Lenin, Trotsky, and the other Bolshevik founders of the Soviet state stood for that Stalin went from a political campaign against Trotsky and the genuine representatives of Bolshevism to a campaign of physical annihilation beginning with the infamous Moscow Trials and Purges of the 1930s.

The coming to power of Hitler in 1933 without a shot being fired to oppose him was in no small measure due to the Stalinists’ insane policy of opposing a United Front with the Social Democratic Party. Likewise, the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39 was drowned in blood thanks to the criminal counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinist GPU, and its agents on the ground in Spain.

It can truly be said that the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism was a decisive contributory political factor in the rise of Nazism and the outbreak of the Second World War.

You rightly draw attention to the heroic role of the Red Army and the Soviet people in turning back the tide of Nazism after the invasion of the country in 1941. But you skate over the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939-41, and Stalin’s massacre of the cream of the Red Army Officers in the run-up to the invasion, which undoubtedly contributed to the deep incursions into Soviet territory made by the Nazi armies in 1941.

The Soviet people paid an incredibly high price – 20 million dead to say nothing of those wounded and maimed for life – for the preservation of the country from Nazism, but this was most certainly IN SPITE OF, rather than BECAUSE OF, the police state regime of Stalin.

Long live internationalism! Long live Socialism! Death to Stalinism, a cancer within the system of the worldwide workers movement!

So how are your views going to impress themselves on people struggling against the bedroom tax, sanctions, evictions, workfare, poverty wages, indebtedness, soup kitchens, zero hours contracts, privatisation of NHS and other public services for greed rather than need,Housing crisis, benefit cuts…

The Socialist platform is pretty good but I go with Stuart’s comments and reservations. However we do have to have that converstation about not being afraid of using the work ‘socialism’ or challenging the notion that captitalism can ever have a ‘human face’. If we are to be on the side of all who are exploited and oppressed then we have to be clear the word ‘people’ does not include the 1% and their allies. Nothing wrong with a good dose of deciding whose side we are on which of necessity will exclude the ruling class and the system they uphold and control.

Who could disagree with any of this except perhaps a detail here and there. It’s a where we stand type statement which is all well and good but it is not what we need. We need a programme/manifesto for the transition to socialism such that when someone asks you what you intend to do about unemployment, banks, wages, as well as fascists, Europe, public spending, welfare etc. you can answer them concretely and not just with a splurge of propaganda. Having not read it fully I doubt there is anything in it I would strongly oppose and it should have no problem getting past but so what. In a couple of weeks I’ll offer the Manifesto Group’s proposed resolution and programme for this site and others.

I don’t think this statement was aiming to produce a manifesto, nor should it. I don’t think that’s within the remit of these platforms. A manifesto will emerge in early 2014 from the policy commissions process, which I’d encourage you to get involved in if you haven’t already.

Whether or not L/U is explicitly socialist, its revealing that even though the party is not yet formed, the old school socialists’ have organised themselves into a ‘platform’ and are attempting to win people over to ‘their ideas’. Nothing intrinsically wrong with arguing for ideas, etd, but many putative members will note how quickly they became organised and ready for the ‘fight’. Imo, this will always be an issue as less committed/new to left politics either just go with the flow or are just beginning to learn the ropes, its not a equal playing field.

Actually Jonno we are behind the curve. Our comrades in the Left Party Platform were organised long before we were and I think both sides have “old school scoialists” involved.

Personally I was sceptical of having platforms that could send motions in the same way as local groups, but if you can’t beat them, join one.

This is exactly the stance I want Left Unity to have. 100% support from me

Thanks. Please email [email protected] and we can add you to the list of supporters.

RE Chris
Already have done :-)

Actually I was going to add that, my point still stands, the organised left will by virtue of it being organised largely shape the debate, newcomers, those who work non-hierarchly, mavericks, will basically miss the party.

‘Personally I was sceptical of having platforms that could send motions in the same way as local groups, but if you can’t beat them, join one.’

Personally, I just don’t want to see the same old intercine warfare/politicking/one upmanship that has gone on for time immemorial in the far left groups. having said that I may join a more (left) libertarian one

Agreed. If we can’t get over such squabbles, we’ll not get anywhere.

A new section 6 on Defence has now been added to the People United Platform
it reads 𔄞. Defence

Our Party recognises that the British State and Monarchy are violent institutions and their various agencies will seek to undermine the establishment of Peoples Power in any territory over which it claims sovereignty.

Therefore our Party encourages and will empower members to defend themselves and the communities in which we live from any abuses of power by agents of the crown. We aim to create units of volunteers who will act to protect and defend our members and our communities from any threat that may be directed at us by the British State.”

In February 2018, some 30 hand-written documents of imprisoned members of the Trotskyist Left Opposition from the years 1932-1933 were found in the Verkhneuralsk prison in the Southern Urals of Russia. Most of them were written in notebooks. The documents were discovered during maintenance work under the planks of the floor in chamber No. 312 of the prison.

Only a small portion of the Trotskyist opposition’s literature that was written in the Soviet Union in this period has hitherto been known. The Stalinist secret police, the OGPU-NKVD, did its best to destroy the documents produced by the Trotskyists. Only a few of them made it across the border, where they could be published in the Bulletin of the Opposition, which was edited by Leon Trotsky, the leader of the Left Opposition, and his son Lev Sedov.

The discovery of these documents is of major historical and political significance. The contents of the three documents published so far are a powerful vindication of the decades-long struggle of the Trotskyist movement, which founded the Fourth International in 1938, against counterrevolutionary Stalinism. Their publication constitutes a major blow to the Stalinist and post-Soviet schools of falsification, which, for decades, have sought to slander, belittle and silence the Trotskyist movement.

The documents confirm that the Left Opposition, even after it was expelled from the Communist Party and thrown behind bars, remained a formidable force. As the historian Alexander Fokin, who teaches at Chelyabinsk State University and is among those working to publish these documents, noted:

In historiography, the view has been entrenched that after 1927, after the defeat of Trotsky, the Left Opposition in Russia de facto ceased to exist. But this discovery proves that even the Stalinist prison could not break these people—they organized and continued the struggle. Based on the manuscripts, it is clear that they were indeed striving to create a certain alternative program for the development of the USSR.

The Left Opposition emerged in the fall of 1923, in the last period of Lenin’s life and amid the aborted German revolution, when the growth of bureaucratism in the Soviet state and the Communist Party was already arousing opposition within the party and the working class as a whole. The backwardness of the Russian economy, the inheritance of tsarism, and the delay of the international, and especially the European, revolution strengthened conservative, nationally oriented layers in the party and state apparatus. They found their ideological justification in the theory of “socialism in one country,” which was advanced by Bukharin and Stalin in late 1924 in direct opposition to the internationalist spirit and perspective of the October Revolution of 1917.

During the period of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the mid-1920s, the Left Opposition criticized the dominant faction within the party leadership, headed by Stalin and including centrist and right-wing forces, for adapting to the petty-bourgeois and aspiring bourgeois Nepmen and to the kulaks (rich peasants), as well as for blocking proposals to accelerate industrialization and for suppressing inner-party democracy. In foreign policy, the Trotskyists condemned the increasingly opportunist line of the Comintern, which led to a series of devastating defeats of the working class, including in Great Britain and China.

In the fall of 1928, the right-wing course of the official leadership of the Bolshevik Party was replaced by an ultra-left zig zag. One of the reasons for this was a grain crisis provoked, as the opposition had foreseen, by the unwillingness of the kulaks to sell grain to the state at unfavorable prices. After a period of slow industrialization and increasing reliance on market mechanisms, the Stalinist leadership shifted to the other extreme—a chaotic and adventurist policy of super-industrialization and violent collectivization of agriculture.

As a result of the extreme sharpening of the inner-party struggle, Trotsky and Zinoviev, along with some 8,000 oppositionists, were expelled from the party at the Fifteenth Party Congress in December 1927. From this point on, the repression against the Left Oppositionists steadily rose. The penalty of exile was replaced by prison sentences, and the conditions of imprisonment grew ever more cruel. As the historian and sociologist Vadim Rogovin emphasized, “[T]he foundations of the bureaucratic-centrist political regime, which protected itself from any attempts to carry out socialist renewal, were laid in the struggle of the ruling factions against the Left Opposition.” (V. Z. Rogovin, Vlast’ i oppozitsii, Moscow: 1993, p. 118)

Along with the political prisons in Yaroslavl and Suzdal, the Verkhneuralsk Prison, whose building had been constructed in the 1910s, became a center for the incarceration of expelled dissidents, including the Bolshevik-Leninists, as the Trotskyist oppositionists called themselves.

Among the best known figures in the Verkhneuralsk political prison were the former Politburo members Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, the former head of the Gosbank (State Bank) and vice-head of the VSNKh (Highest Council of the Economy), Georgii Piatakov, the former secretary of the Comintern, Karl Radek, the former editor-in-chief of the Komsomol'skaia pravda, Aleksandr Slepkov and his friend, the writer Dmitrii Maretskii, who was the brother of Vera Maretskaia, a famous Soviet film star in the 1930s. The prisoners also included small groups of Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and representatives of other political tendencies.

A list of 117 names of imprisoned Bolshevik-Leninists, published in the Bulletin of the Opposition in March 1931, included some of the most outstanding representatives of international Trotskyism at the time: Fedor Dingelshtedt, a leading theoretician of the Left Opposition Viktor Eltsin, the editor of Trotsky’s Collected Works in Russian Man Nevelson, the husband of Leon Trotsky’s younger daughter, Nina Bronstein, and a leading oppositionist in his own right, Musia Magid, and Igor’ Poznansky, one of Trotsky’s former secretaries and among his closest collaborators.

Of perhaps the greatest significance among the published documents is the Bolshevik-Leninists’ theses on the “Fascist Coup in Germany” from April 1, 1933. (Click here to download the full Russian text.) Written just two months after Hitler was placed in power by a conspiracy at the highest echelons of the German bourgeoisie and state, it offers a sharp analysis of the origins of German fascism and the tasks facing the working class throughout Europe. The document begins by placing the rise of Nazism in the context of the crisis of world capitalism:

The state-organized counterrevolutionary coup that just occurred in Germany, the March counterrevolution, is an event of the greatest historical significance. The imperialist world war has not solved any of the contradictions of capitalist society. On the contrary, it extraordinarily intensified and deepened them, bringing them onto a higher stage… The world economic crisis has deeply shaken the foundations of capitalist society. Even an imperialist leviathan such as the USA has trembled under its blows.

The document emphasizes that the decision of German capitalism to place fascism in power signified an escalation of the counterrevolution internationally. The German bourgeoisie, the Bolshevik-Leninists argue, had decided to destroy whatever concessions it had been forced to make in the wake of the betrayed 1918/19 revolution of the German workers and sailors.

A significant portion of the document deals with the betrayal of the German Communist Party (KPD) and its historical implications. Sharply attacking the KPD for having sown illusions in the supposedly “socialist” elements of the program of National Socialism, for having oriented German workers more toward the Nazi party, for having glorified the rise of fascism as “a left radicalization of the masses,” all the while opposing a united front with workers from the Social Democratic Party, it states:

The lack of opposition of the leadership of the German Communist Party to the fascist coup is only the decisive and final link in the chain of betrayals of the world revolution that international Stalinism has committed over the prolonged period of the preceding years. This betrayal of the international revolution. will go down in history along with the date of August 4, 1914 [when the German Social Democracy approved war credits for the German government.]

. In rejecting the international permanent revolution, it [the bureaucracy] feeds the counterrevolution. The bureaucracy of the USSR has constantly cleared the way for world reaction to crush the communist movement. The USSR is isolating itself from the world proletariat just as the latter is being isolated from the proletariat of the USSR.

The Bolshevik-Leninists not only criticized the KPD for its policies. They summarized the alternative that had been provided for years through the analyses and statements of the Left Opposition, and especially Leon Trotsky, of the situation in Germany. Then they put forward bluntly the only correct policy that would have been able, if implemented by the Comintern internationally, to shift the situation and balance of forces in favor of the working class:

In light of the growing danger of a fascist coup, the revolutionary leadership of the communists was obliged to:

Strengthen day in and day out the anti-fascist front of the working class

Carefully prepare a general strike for its immediate realization in response to any attempt at a fascist coup

Carefully prepare everything possible for the arming of the workers at the moment of the assault of the c[ounter]-revolution

Mobilize the best forces of the world communist movement to help the German proletariat

Mobilize the Red Army of the USSR for the active support of an anti-fascist onslaught of the German working class

Declare openly and courageously to proletarian public opinion in Germany that it is not alone in its heroic struggle with fascism, that the proletariat of the USSR will help it crush the c[ounter]-revolution with all the resources the country has [at its disposal], including with armed forces, that have been awaiting this historical moment in full mobilizational readiness, that the Russian proletariat will fulfill its duty toward its German brothers with the same decisiveness with which the latter fulfilled theirs toward Russia in 1918.

In not even attempting to fulfill these “elementary international revolutionary responsibilities,” the Bolshevik-Leninists declared, “international Stalinism has prepared and conditioned this giant world defeat of the proletariat. In this way, it has completed its own betrayal of the revolution. In this way, the Comintern has crossed itself out from the list of revolutionary factors, having become the tail-end, the left-wing of social democracy.” [Emphasis in the original.]

The document bluntly sums up the dangers confronting the working class. “The internal and external contradictions will push the government of fascist Germany on the path toward external aggression, and on the historical plane, against the USSR, for there is and can be no other way for the prolonged consolidation of the counterrevolution but through war.”

However, the Nazi regime would last not decades, but years, the Bolshevik-Leninists predicted, and the working class would enter into revolutionary struggles, including in Germany itself:

The German working class constitutes half of the country. We are living in an epoch of wars and revolutions, when the political experience of the masses grows quickly, when all processes of social life are moving at sevenfold speed, when classes cannot remain for a long time in a state of confusion or passivity, no matter how cruel the defeats they had suffered.

The world revolution is entering into one of its most dramatic phases. To explain this to the workers of the entire world, to mobilize the workers, to make sure that the working class understands the causes that have led to this phase, that it understands that the victory of the proletariat is impossible under the Stalinist regime, not just here [in the Soviet Union], but that it is also made more difficult in Europe, that international Stalinism is one of the decisive barriers that the working class needs to crush in order to overcome the giant wave of world reaction—this is our primary task. And we are obliged to fulfill it with all the possibilities and in all forms that we have at hand.

The theses were signed by 30 imprisoned Trotskyists, including: Dingel’shtedt F., Kariakin M., Papirmeister P., Shinberg B., Novikov P., Abramskii A., Portnoi M., Bodrov M., Papirmeister Ya., Fel’dman, Nevel’son M., Kessel’, Borzenko, Blokh, Kugelev, Kozhevnikov N., Zaraikin, Papirmeister S., El’tsin V. B., Danilovich L., Khugaev K., Brontman, Vashakidze, Gogelashvili, Topuriia, Efremov, Shiptal’nik, Sasorov, Kholmenkin, Shvyrov.

The document is, in every respect, extraordinary. Cut off from the International Left Opposition and imprisoned, the Soviet Trotskyists offered an analysis that on all critical points completely coincided with that of Trotsky, adding aspects and emphases that are important for a comprehensive historical assessment of 1933. While not yet calling for the Fourth International—a call Trotsky himself would issue only later that year—there is no question that, judging by this document, the leading Soviet Trotskyists would have supported and contributed to the building of the Fourth International. Moreover, distribution of such documents in Europe and especially in Germany, amid the total collapse of the old leaderships, would have had a huge impact on the consciousness of thousands if not millions of workers.

The published documents so far are only a tenth of what has been found. Among the discovered manuscripts are several notebooks under the common title: “The crisis of the revolution and the tasks of the proletariat.” Other documents bear titles such as: “A unified or ambiguous revolution?” “On the results of the discussion on permanent revolution,” “The theory of permanent revolution and the theory of socialism in one country,” “On the theoretical foundation of the Leninist opposition and Stalinist national-socialism,” “Basic questions of the economy and policy of the transitional period,” “Theses on economic policy (for a general and collective discussion).”

These documents underline, illustrate and, in some sense, concretize the scale of the historical crime that the Stalinist bureaucracy committed in first isolating these cadres from the Soviet and international proletariat and then murdering them in the political genocide of the Great Terror. It is precisely because the Stalinist bureaucracy recognized that their political line resonated with the living experiences of the working class internationally and clearly articulated its historical and political tasks that it repressed them with historically unprecedented ferocity.

Starting in 1933, the oppositionists were carried off to labor camps, and by the end of 1936 they were virtually all in the two most awful places—the camps of Kolyma in Eastern Siberia and the camps of Vorkuta near the Polar circle in the very north of the Urals.

Here many died of hunger, disease or forced labor, or were executed. Fearing that an upsurge of the working class internationally would benefit the Trotskyist movement, the Stalinist bureaucracy moved to escalate its repressions and launched the Great Terror, in which no less than 20,000 to 30,000 Soviet Trotskyists and hundreds of thousands or even millions of Communists and socialist intellectuals were killed. Virtually all of those from the Verkhneuralsk political isolator were among those murdered.

There is no question that the cadre that was destroyed by Stalin would have played a central role in leading the revolutionary movements against fascism that erupted within the European working class both on the eve of World War II and in the early 1940s. The mass terror of Stalinism against the Trotskyist and communist movement, soon abetted by the horrendous murder rampage of Nazism, provided the conditions under which these movements could be manipulated politically and brought under the control of Stalinism.

These documents powerfully vindicate the Trotskyist struggle against the counterrevolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy. Every element of their analysis was confirmed by events. No one, having read these documents, can argue that the Left Opposition was an insignificant political force in the Soviet Union. Every line in these documents is imbued with revolutionary optimism, tenacity and foresight, and a proud, hardened fighting spirit.

The Trotskyist movement was and has always been, as the Bolshevik-Leninists emphasized, first and foremost an international tendency. This is why, whatever the horrendous crimes of Stalin and whatever the extraordinary losses the Trotskyist movement had to suffer, it could not be either defeated or destroyed as a political tendency.

The Fourth International was founded in 1938 in Paris amid the greatest wave of counter-revolutionary terror in world history. It was, as David North put it in The Russian Revolution and the Unfinished Twentieth Century, Trotsky’s victory over Stalin. In the end, it was the Stalinist bureaucracies, their mass parties and apparatuses, that ingloriously collapsed in 1989-91, while the Trotskyist movement, the International Committee of the Fourth International, has proceeded to build what is now the most widely read socialist website on the Internet, the World Socialist Web Site.

Significantly, the discovery of these documents was broadly covered in the Russian media, with leading news outlets, including the business daily Kommersant and the Komsomol'skaia Pravda reporting on it. Kommersant, one of the most widely read newspapers in Russia (as of 2013, it had a daily circulation of between 120,000 and 130,000) printed two of the documents in full in its online edition (the first two discussed in this article) and interviewed a series of historians about them.

There is a profound sense in Russian society that this historical material and the questions it raises are important, not just for archivists, but from a contemporary political standpoint. Hundreds and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people in Russia will have read these documents by now. Many of them will be impressed by the degree of historical and political clarity, sharpness and foresight the Trotskyists evinced in them.

We urge the readers of these documents to contact the World Socialist Web Site and discuss these questions with us. The International Committee of the Fourth International represents the sole continuation of the heroic struggle of the Soviet and international Left Opposition. It has fought over decades to defend the Trotskyist perspective of international socialism and its analysis of the counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism, which these documents so powerfully illustrate.

Earlier this year, the ICFI published the Russian translation of David North’s In Defense of Leon Trotsky, which constitutes a major contribution to an understanding of the basic historical and political issues that were bound with the Stalinist betrayal of the October Revolution, the struggle for Trotskyism and the post-Soviet school of historical falsification.

Buy this book and help us distribute it as widely as possible! Contact us if you are interested in working with us on these historical questions on a principled basis!

Watch the video: Μήνυμα αλληλεγγύης της Επαναστατικής Αριστεράς IR στο λαό της Καταλονίας


  1. Majinn

    Incredible sentence, I like it :)

  2. Lethe

    I think you have misled.

  3. Wadanhyll

    Quite right! This is a great idea. I am ready to support you.

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