Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Rise and Fall of the Comintern

Vladimir Tatlin's Tower - intended as a monument to the Third Communist International but never completed

With the British Labour Party in conference this weekend in Brighton to discuss how best they can preside over the tricky business of managing capitalism in economic crisis while also trying to desperately avoid facing the reality of their own political crisis, now is as good a time as any to remind people of the first serious attempt by socialists to build an alternative to the historic betrayals and failings of Social Democracy - above all support for slaughter of the First World War in 1914 - the Communist International (1919-43). In his introduction to The Comintern (1985), Duncan Hallas noted a short one volume work of history like his was necessary given there were so few decent works already from a revolutionary Marxist perspective on the matter, and the two that did exist were out of print and almost impossible to get hold of (rather like Tony Cliff's Lenin vol. 3, which also discussed the limitations of the early Comintern even in Lenin's lifetime - but is sadly still not yet online). Those two pioneering efforts World Revolution (1937) by the Trinidadian C.L.R. James and The Rise and Fall of the Comintern (1947) by the Sri Lankan Leslie Goonewardene from Sri Lanka writing under the pseudonym K. Tilak - are now online, and both built on Trotsky's writings, particularly The Third International After Lenin (1928). Since 1985, and particularly since the opening of the Soviet archives after 1991, there have been a profusion of academic works on this topic and journals like Revolutionary History have also played an important role. In terms of the early history of the Communist International, mention should also be made of John Liddell's volumes on The Communist International in Lenin's Time, while his short readable pamphlet Comintern: Revolutionary Internationalism in Lenin's Time - originally a series of columns written for Socialist Worker - is available as a PDF file here.

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At 2:54 am, Anonymous Grim and Dim said...

The best and fullest account of the Comintern is Broue's Histoire de l'Internationale Communiste. I understand there are plans to produce this in English, though how long it will take I don't know.
Also worth saying that the origins of the favourable-but-critical approach to the Comintern are with some of the activists who were involved in the early years. In particular Rosmer's Lenin's Moscow (out of print, but there must be second hand copies around), and Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary (of which the first full unabridged translation will appear in the not too distant future. [Serge took the minutes at one of the Comintern Congresses, but had to cut Lenin's speech on Bela Kun because there was so much abuse in it.]


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