Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pierre Broue's The German Revolution

An advertisement I'm afraid, but given this blog has paid tribute to revolutionary historian Pierre Broue in the past, one we are happy to make.

'Now available from Haymarket Books in paperback in English for the first time!

The German Revolution, 1917-1923 (Historical Materialism Book Series, Vol. 5)

by Pierre Broue้

with Introduction by Eric D. Weitz

Edited by Ian Birchall and Brian Pearce

"Germany 1917-1923 was the scene of the greatest working class revolutionary upsurge ever in an advanced capitalist country. With the old order disintegrating under the hammer blows of military defeat and economic collapse, parties and groupuscules, trade unions and factory committees, battled employers, the government, and paramilitaries to inaugurate a new proletarian order. In his monumental classic, Pierre Brou้ follows the revolutionary process from the standpoint of the revolutionaries and their multiple organizations, strewn across Europe and Russia, as they struggled to impose conceptual order on the unprecedented cataclysms unfolding before them, to frame strategies and tactics, and to win over the mass movements, in intense competition with their communist, socialist, and anarchist rivals. Brou้ enables us to feel that we are actually living through these epoch-making events, not just by virtue of his brilliant narrative, but, even more so, through his ongoing analysis and critique of the revolutionaries' intra-party debates, sectarian maneuvers, and all too often catastrophic decisions. As an introduction to revolutionary theory and practice, for then and for now, this book is in a class by itself."
--Robert Brenner, Professor and Director, UCLA Center for Social Theory and Comparative History

"Broue้ does full justice to the importance of his subject. This is a work conceived on an epic scale, comprising 900 pages of carefully researched text, plus a chronological table and biographical notes. The editors are particularly to be congratulated for giving up to date English references for Brou้'s original Russian and German sources wherever these were available... Brou้'s magnificent work is imbued with the spirit of this moment."
--International Socialism Journal

A magisterial, definitive account of the upheavals in Germany in the wake of the Russian revolution. Brou้ meticulously reconstitutes six decisive years, 1917-23, of social struggles in Germany. The consequences of the defeat of the German revolution had profound consequences for the world.

Pierre Broué (1926–2005) was for many years professor of contemporary history at the Institut d'études politiques in Grenoble. A world renowned specialist of the communist and international workers' movements, he is the founder of the Cahiers Léon Trotsky, editor of Leon Trotsky's writings in French, and the author of many books, including Revolution and the Civil War in Spain (with Etienne Témime, 1961), Le Parti bolchévique. Histoire du Parti communiste de l'URSS (1963), Les Procès de Moscou (1965), La Question chinoise dans l'Internationale communiste (1965), Le Printemps des peoples commence à Prague (1969), La Révolution espagnole (1972), L'Assassinat de Trotsky (1980), Trotsky (1988), Staline et la Révolution. Le cas espagnol (1993), Rakovsky ou la Révolution dans tous les pays (1996), Histoire de l'Internationale communiste, 1919-1943 (1997), and Communistes contre Staline. Massacre d'une generation (2003).

Publisher: Haymarket Books
Subject: History
ISBN: 1931859329
Trade Paper: 6 x 9, 980 pages
Price: $50.00

Distributed in: Canada & the United States
Pub Date: :05/01/2006

Available in the United Kingdom from Merlin Books
http://www.merlinpress.co.uk/acatalog/ THE_GERMAN_REVOLUTION__1917_1923.html

Hardcover edition available from Brill:

About the Historical Materialism Book Series:

Series editors: Paul Blackledge (Leeds), S้ebastien Budgen (Paris), Michael Krไtke (Amsterdam), Stathis Kouvelakis (London), Marcel van der Linden (Amsterdam), China Mi้eville (London), Paul Reynolds (Lancashire), Peter Thomas (Amsterdam).

More than ten years after the disappearance of Marxism as a (supposed) state ideology, a need for a serious and long-term book publishing programme on Marxism has risen. Subjected to the whims of fashion, most contemporary publishers have abandoned any of the systematic production of Marxist theoretical work that they may have indulged in during the 1970s and early 1980s. The Historical Materialism Book Series addresses this great gap with original monographs, translated texts and reprints of "classics."'

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At 2:23 am, Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Thank you for the plug. What an important period, for any Marxist.

At 8:44 am, Anonymous Nathaniel said...

I like that my first awareness of this edition was from an irate post on the Marxism list by Louis Proyect concerning the hardcover's US$169 price (seems to be even higher based on your link - US$178). This led to a discussion, naturally, of the price of academic books, especially "left" academic books.

At 4:45 pm, Blogger DJN said...

Yeah, that's a bullshit price. That's what I'd expect from an admin-owned campus bookstore.

At 11:20 am, Blogger FraVernero said...

Well, one has to believe in good public libraries... You´ll probably find it somewhere over there, boys. For a spaniard, down here, abebooks is the only hope.
The German Revolution... here is a very interesting topic with debatable lessons to be learned.
One of the most obvious might be its showing how easily party leadirships and bureaucrats are corrupted by a long term of reformist political practice; Despite its theoretically marxist stance, german Socialdemocracy had long before 1917 accepted the Kaiserrreich and a revisionist framework of opperations. 1914eens treason only confirmed that. But deluded SPD followers continued to trust their party, and only slowly learned the truth by the 'hard way': their leaders were undoing the revolution they had brought, and throwing proto-nazi Freikorps to murder the workers and their expectations.
Question is (I think Mandel talked a lot about this in one of his books) that party bureaucracies, wether reformist or stalinist, tend to bust revolutions nearly as much as overt counterrevolutionaries.
Nevertheless, we don´t seem to have much of a choice, do we? A Revolution may be realized without them (much like the German one was to a great degree a spontaneous uprising), but they hardly can be maintained or defended without an efficient and commited revolutionary party with clear and ruthless goals. And with all the dangers an all-powerful revolutionary party -and its cadres and bureaucrats- implies.
Any thread helping us escape the Minotaur´s Labyrinth?

At 4:01 pm, Blogger DJN said...

Well, there can be a revolutionary party that is neither Stalinist or like the SPD (revolutionary in theory, reformist in practice).

The initial revolution is indeed largely spontaneous as the cases of Germany, and Russia demonstrate. Given this, a revolutionray socialist party must be strongly rooted in the working class and have the necessary level of experience if the argument for moving beyond dual power is to be achieved. Germany, with the Spartacist League and the KPD of early 1919, provides the example of how a small revolutionary party without the necessary experience or roots in the class can fail to win the argument for the establishment of full workers power. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, won the argument and succeeded (for a few years).

And a crucial sidenote - it is not the party that is the organ of working class power, but the workers' council. The case of the SPD and Stalinist CPs is that the party (specifically the leadership) is where power resides. Just felt like the last paragraph of yours was hinting otherwise, but I might be wrong.

At 11:52 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12:11 pm, Blogger FraVernero said...

Tsk, tsk... ponography makes its way in spite of word verification...

Now we are reaching a hot spot, djn (no puns intended with the playmates).
Question is if a party is 'strongly rooted' and 'with experience', it has to have a great deal of history and work within a non-revolutionary framework. And despite whatever revolutionary ideals and ideology it had for a start, practical, 'everyday' politics tend to win the day in its growing militants. A reformist framework with little conquests has a great ability to zapp the strength of a party´s revolutionary goals in a direct proportion to the weight it is gaining in the official, legal framework it moves. And power is a strongly addictive drug. The more you have, the harder to rennounce to it...
The peculiar conditions of prerrevolutionary Russia (the fact that absolutely no viable reformist politics were possible under an autoritarian, absolutist tyranny) helped to neutralize the danger that mined western socialdemocratic parties. Even in Russia, though, half of Socialdemocracy (cfs. the Mensheviks)still sided with the bourgeois revolution.
How to safe-keep a revolutionary party in the west is then a mistery to me (specially bearing in mind the other danger, that of turning into a sectarian, dogmatic, autocomplacent and truth-filled sect totally apart from the everyday world of politics).
We could discuss about worker´s councils also, but I´m afraid I´m being prolific. If you people feel like it, next entry should tackle it.


At 5:16 am, Blogger DJN said...

fraverno: I think your post has confirmed the suspicions I outlined at the end of my last post. Let me elaborate.

I think you're confusing the party with the manner in which working class power is exercised (ie: the workers' council). Firstly, the party does not initiate the revolution - the working class does. You imply that the party carries out the revolution because you claim that "everyday politics" dull the revolutionaries of the party. Roots in the class, experience, and a healthy understanding of Marxist theory and practice will provide the tools necessary for the party to engage in the revolution which has happened not of its own doing - just like February 1917. The task of the revolutionary party, at least in the history of working class revolutions, is to argue and fight for the completion of the revolution: the end of dual power, the spreading of the revolution and the ruthless suppression of the capitalist class and its auxiliaries - just like October 1917. In short, the revolutionary party does not initiate revolution, but uses its Marxist "tools", roots and experience to argue within the working class to carry the revolution forward to its logical conclusion, which is the establishment of working class power in the form of workers councils. The party is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

As for power being an addictive drug, I again think you are assuming the party is the organ of working class power during and following a socialist revolution. The experience of the Soviet Union has unfortunately made this seem the case, even among many who believe that the Russian Revolution was indeed a workers revolution for at least a few years. We must remember that for a short period, the Soviet Republic was not a one-party state, but a multi-party state. Unfortunately, every party but the Bolsheviks fought for the interests of the workers and peasants. The Mensheviks lost support among the masses after the summer of 1917 for supporting parliament over the workers councils, and for supporting the continuation of imperialist war. The Left Social Revolutionaries ended up supporting the October Revolution but still supported the war and thus quickly fell out with the working class that wanted an end to war (there is more to it that than that, but that's the gist of it). This happened to leave the Bolsheviks as the only party with any support in the new workers state. Hence the confusion of a single party being the expression of working class power. Real working class power lies in workers councils, not a party and its structure, as it did for a few short years following October 1917.

In the future, we may witness a socialist revolution where several different revolutionary parties, in cooperation, press for complete workers power, thus resulting in a republic of workers councils with multiple parties representing the revolutionary interests of the same class. It would probably be a case of more cooperation than competition if these parties are indeed revolutionary. With workers councils, power lies with the workers, and not the party. It then becomes impossible for the scenario you posit to occur (ie: the holding on of power by a single party). Only where the revolution is isolated, where only one party represents the interests of the workers, and where the working class is physically decimated - as in the case of Russia - could the party organization become the power.

I hope I haven't dragged on too much. And I hope the above doesn't sound too stuffy!

At 2:26 pm, Blogger FraVernero said...

Back Again! Hope we aren´t boring the other to death...
We are in a bit of a confusion, I perceive. If you look carefully at what I´ve written, djn, you´ll see that in no place do I state that a revolutionary party initiates a revolution. Revolutions are unpredictable (at least to a degree) and brought about by the masses. The question is how to advance it after it has happened, when nearly everybody (the losers of the old regime and the reformists) is trying to put things 'back on course' and to 'stop it right now in its present moment and goals'.
We can talk about the russian case but mind you: since 1917 there have been quite a few revolutions, and none of them has ended up in a real socialist council democracy. I´m afraid soviet Russia was only briefly somithing like a true s.c. democracy. I´m not blaming them: the political situation wasn´t easy, and some choices were taken which would only became obnoxious when they became the norm: dogmatism, persecution of all disidency, party and bureacratic control... But let as be realistic; Rosa Luxemburg is quite precise (too precise) when annalysing the soviet republics limitations.
We may assume that most revolutions have been isolated and will remain so (therefore, not being a priori the best testing grounds). Emergency situations and Civil Wars naturally provoke excepcional situations in which rights and freedoms are suspended. But suspensions are taken at a cost. Sometimes, they might be inevitable to upkeep the socialist character of a revolution (if Kroshtadt´s program of free elections to the soviets had been carried out, do you think a bolshevik mayority would have been the result?).
On the other hand, and while competing with internatinal capitalism, any legal opposition parties will probably be funded and infiltratesd by reformist counterrevolutionary elements... There are no easy answers to problems I fear.
Let us hope the future is better than the past. We don´t seem to have any good examples to look up to today, allthough to my knoledge, the Bolivarian Republic is doing a great job in Venezuela...

At 9:49 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Cheers for the comments people.

If people want a cheaper explanation of the German revolution, then Chris Harman's 'The Lost Revolution' is excellent. See also Victor Serge's 'Eyewitness to the German revolution'.

Fraverno - you seem to be sort of suggesting that revolutionary Marxist politics (unless developed under the condition of dictatorship) is doomed to end up with either bureaucratic social democratic parties (as with the SDF - and indeed most western Communist Parties after WWII) or irrelevant sectarian sects (as with some sections of the Trotskyist movement).

Actually, this is to fall into a (mis)conception of Leninism, which in its theory and practice under Lenin himself was anything but being about an all-knowing Party bringing 'knowledge' to the working class 'from without' (as the caricature of Lenin's What is to be done? (WITBD) has it).

In fact, a new study of Lenin's WITBD by Lars Lih is reviewed in the latest International Socialism journal by Paul Blackledge:


It shows that Lenin was concerned in WITBD above all with building an organisation that could match the tasks being set for socialists by the Russian working class - and that the need for a revolutionary party emerges from the needs of the class struggle itself (the fact that class consciousness is always uneven). The vision of revolutionary organisation that Lenin stemmed from his faith in democracy - and his belief that any worker had the potential to run society far better than any bourgeois politician, that as he would put it later, 'every cook can govern.'

At 9:45 pm, Blogger DJN said...

Snowball - I think you summed up in a couple of sentences what my brain was trying to grasp over several posts. Dammit!

I have a copy of the Lost Revolution sitting on my shelf, but I have yet to get past the first chapter. It was probably not the best choice for the second book I bought after joining the IS (the first being State Capitalism in Russia which was an enlightening but tough first read).

I have yet to read Paul Blackledge's piece, but I found Megan Trudell's "Hidden History of US Radicalism" fantastic. It is the type of concise, detailed but accessible history that we can't have enough of (we have hardly any of it in Canada). Meshing it with the debates outlined by Thomas Frank makes it very relevant, since it is the most popular recent attempt to understand contradictory consciousness in the American working class (it went #1 in America and Canada). Makes me wonder why it was published in Britain instead of over here. A good review of the book was made by the American ISO's magazine, found here - it is also quite prescient in its criticisms of Frank, now that South Dakota has outlawed abortion (something Frank said the Right couldn't win).

For me at least, ISJ 111 is the best issue I've read (although I only started with #99).


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