Part I of a critique of Doug Lorimer’s article, The Bolshevik Party and “Zinovievism”: Comments on a Caricature of Leninism, in Links (No. 24, pp. 96-112), and a few suggestions as to what an organisation drawing the useful lessons of Lenin’s activity, experience and writings, might look like in modern conditions. How we might get there from the present situation of a proliferation of Marxist sects.
“It is true that prior to the October Revolution Lenin had agitated for [a] strictly disciplined party of professional revolutionaries as the condition sine qua non for the conquest and maintenance of power. Nevertheless, throughout his career, including the five years of his active life after the victory of October, Lenin never managed to organize such a “monolithic” party. Nor was it ever more than a pious wish with him which he constantly violated. Bolshevism, born of polemics and factionalism, flourished throughout the twenty years of its Leninist period on arguments and dissensions. It was only after Lenin’s death, after Stalin’s ruthless police measures had strangled the Bolshevik party, after the red colour of pulsing life had been drained from its veins, that it assumed the rigidity of a mummified corpse …”
L. Trotsky, Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-35, Writings on Lenin, Dialectics and Evolutionism, Philip Pomper and Yuri Felshtinsky, pp. 27-28. This book, by Pomper and Felshtinsky, is a very important piece of original scholarly research. The two editors have done a very systematic job of collating Trotsky’s notes from 1933-35, which are in the Trotsky papers at Harvard University. These notes particularly relate to matters of philosophy and natural science, and to Trotsky’s attitude to Lenin during the period when he was preparing to write a major biography of Lenin, which unfortunately never happened. The notes from Trotsky’s papers give considerable insight into Trotsky’s thinking about events in which he had been an important participant.
The day before the conference, we arranged a meeting of the active workers of the Helsingfors Committee, at which we decided on the general plan for conducting the conference and also on the agenda. It was decided to propose S.A. Garin as chairman of the conference, as he was the most prominent and best known figure in Helsingfors. But as Garin could not be present at the conference all the time, it was decided to put the general guidance of the conference in my hands by electing me as deputy chairman.
In the Committee, there were two points of view on the question of the political situation, one more moderate, approaching the point of view of Comrade Kamenev at that time, and the other more revolutionary, based on the famous thesis published by Lenin immediately on his arrival from abroad. The representative of the first point of view was Kirill Orlov, and of the second, Antipov. In order to deal with all sides of this most important point of the agenda, it was decided to have both points of view submitted, and let these two speakers deal with the question.
The conference opened the next day in the hall of the house of the Governor-General. A large number of delegates was present. There were representatives from almost every ship stationed in Helsingfors. There were also many guests among whom was the figure now well known to me — the notorious Khilyani [Khilyani was a Menshevik]. However, this time he discreetly kept in the background.
A. Ilyin-Genevsky, From February to October, pp. 41-42. (Published in English in the Soviet Union, c.1926)
The above observation by Trotsky in the mid-1930s, in which he draws harsh lessons from the development of Stalinism, is in sharp conflict with the lessons drawn by Doug Lorimer in Links, 24. Ilyin-Genevsky’s account of the relatively public Helsingfors conference of the military supporters of the Bolshevik Party adds further weight to Trotsky’s case. That was the party that led the revolution in all its turbulent, contradictory development.
The discussion of Marxist organisation is not exactly new territory. Nevertheless, on a world scale we are now in a position to illuminate general theories of “Leninism” from the common practices and experiences of dozens of “Leninist” groups, organisations and parties. This historical record stretches from the time of the first codification of “Leninist” doctrine, essentially by Zinoviev in the early to mid-1920s, through its counter-revolutionary Stalinist perversion, to the experience of various modern “Leninist” sects, up to the present. It’s a singular tribute to the revolutionary memory of Lenin and Trotsky, and lesser, but still important, revolutionaries such as James P. Cannon and Zinoviev, that across the planet, militants of organisations large and small, and numerous individuals, should be discussing their organisational ideas and political perspectives with intense enthusiasm.
Throughout this document I refer to a phenomenon that I choose to describe as Big-L “Leninism”, which is a way of approaching Lenin that I reject. What I mean by this is the approach common to both the Stalinists and many non-Stalinist revolutionary socialist groups, of reducing Lenin’s ideas to a schema involving a tendentious and excessively textual reading of Lenin, with little attention to historical context, changing circumstances and Lenin’s real political practice. Big-L Leninism is, in my view, a menace to a proper use of Lenin’s unique and important political heritage.
Louis Proyect and Zinoviev
The first thing that attracted my attention on the US-based Marxism List (Marxmail) was Louis Proyect’s extended pieces on Leninism and Zinovievism, particularly Lenin in Context. One of the participants printed multiple copies of a number of these articles for people attending a seminar we held on the History of Australian Trotskyism in June 2002. I was also, relatively recently, interested by a lengthy article produced by the Spartacists, revisiting the question of the German Revolution of 1918-1923 in a critical way. It’s also worth noting the book Trotsky and the Origins of Trotskyism which throws some light on these questions, reprinting articles by Alfred Rosmer and others (Francis Boutle, London, 2002). At this point, I read in to the record, so to speak, Louis Proyect’s articles on “Zinovevism” and the German 1923 Marzaktion on Marxmail. I don’t agree with them completely, but I agree with about 95 per cent, and it’s hard to get a fix on the issues without reading them. I also read into the record two articles by Mick Armstrong, Sandra Bloodworth and Marc Newman, published together as Lenin and the Party, Debunking the Myths, by Socialist Alternative.
In general, I agree with the way the question of Leninism and Marxist organisation is presented in these two documents, although I’m cautious about Socialist Alternative’s practice. I’m not going to cover most of the territory in the articles with which I generally agree, but will assume most of those points in my take on this discussion.
We owe Doug Lorimer and the DSP Leadership some gratitude, in that Lorimer (despite the crudeness, literalism and narrowness of his presentation) has codified as doctrine the point of view that permeates most “Leninist” sects on these questions in a summary and relatively accessible way. On that side of the argument, also, is the pamphlet by Bruce Landau, the then leader of a tiny “Leninist” sect in the US (reprinted in Australia by the DSP), and the classic statement of “Leninism”, Zinoviev’s collection of lectures, The History of the Bolshevik Party (selections). On that side of the argument also, is James P. Cannon’s The Struggle for a Proletarian Party and his History of American Trotskyism as well as Joseph Hansen’s nasty little polemic against “The Abern Clique”, also reprinted in Australia by the DSP leadership to give some credence to their Cannonist “team leadership” schema.
Intermediate overviews of Leninism between these two broad positions are contained in the books by Marcel Liebman (Leninism under Lenin), Paul LeBlanc and Neil Harding. A more hostile but very useful take is Robert Service’s recent biography of Lenin.
I have several preoccupations about the question of Leninism that have not been addressed comprehensively so far in this discussion. The first issue is historical context. The real, living and breathing Lenin, the Lenin who was at the heart of the development of the Bolshevik current in the Russian labour movement, and then sadly, for a only very brief moment, the communist movement on a world scale, was primarily a revolutionary preoccupied in the first instance with overthrowing Czarism, with the socialist revolution in Russia, and flowing out of that, with the possibility of a world socialist revolution.
For Lenin, organisational questions were usually secondary to the revolutionary objective, and when they became primary they usually only did so in the context of the revolutionary objective. Lenin’s organisational proposals and formulas changed, evolved, and were even reversed on a number of occasions, depending on revolutionary necessities. He never completed an utterly finished theory of the party. His failure to elaborate a final, detailed, general scheme of party organisation, was clearly based on his deep-rooted Marxist caution against elaborating schemas for all places and all times.
Lenin tried to draw out the generally applicable features of the Russian experience of party building, but he was often cautious about going too far in this. Witness his well known statement regarding the 1921 Comintern Resolution being “too Russian”. The problem, for Lenin, was how to train the cadres of the Comintern in the dynamic, dialectical, Marxist spirit that had animated the construction of the Bolshevik movement. The difficulty involved in this process was accentuated by the uneven understanding of these questions, even in the ranks of the Bolshevik organisation itself.
Unfortunately, Lenin was cut off in his political prime in the midst of being brutally made aware of all the tendencies to bureaucratisation built into the Russian situation, and also being made aware of what Rakovsky later described, from the Stalinist Isolator in which he had been imprisoned, as “the professional dangers of power”.
The death of Lenin, in the midst of these developments in Russia and in the Comintern was one of the greatest political disasters of the twentieth century. The Russian masses have paid in blood and pain ever since, for the fact that Lenin was replaced by Stalin at the centre of a highly centralised political set-up in the Soviet Union.
Two other sections from Pomper’s book give an insight into Trotsky’s views circa 1933-35:
The writer here is Trotsky and he is referring to the “Epigones”, Stalin and Zinoviev, and their creation and crude misuse of the Lenin cult. Trotsky’s words here are also relevant to Lorimer’s approach to Lenin.
“Lenin had no predecessors, or else they were pushed aside into the deepest shadows. In addition, Lenin’s own intellectual life ceases to be a process of development. It has no stages, crises, sharp breaks, mistakes, and corrections. Lenin’s life consists of automatic expositions and applications ‘of Bolshevism’s fundamental positions.’ “Epigonism signifies a suspension of intellectual growth. The historiography of epigonism extends this stagnation to the past as well. Once Leninism had appeared upon the earth it remained unchanging.” L. Trotsky, Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935: Writings on Lenin, Dialectics and Evolutionism, p. 21.
Then Pomper writes:
“Whenever Trotsky justified Lenin’s organisational centralism, he tended to invoke one of Lenin’s own bits of folk wisdom: If the twig is bent, then in order to set things straight one has to bend it even farther in the other direction. The Russian revolutionary movement had suffered from organisational disunity, diffuseness, and vulnerability to infiltration by police. Lenin had tried to fashion a secure underground party. But he had never intended to establish a monolithic centralism. Rather, he had sought political equilibrium.”
Pomper quotes Trotsky:
“Ultimately, despite the greatest difficulties … upheavals … waverings to one side or the other, the Party sustained a necessary equilibrium of elements of both democracy and centralism. The best proof of this equilibrium is the historical fact that the Party absorbed the proletarian vanguard, that this vanguard through democratic mass organisations, such as trade unions, and then soviets, was able to pull after it an entire class and even more – an entire nation of working people. This mighty historical exploit would have been impossible without a combination of the broadest democracy, which allows the expression of the feelings and thoughts of the broadest masses, with centralism — which assures firm leadership. The destruction of this equilibrium was not the logical result of Lenin’s organisational principles, but the political result of a change in the correlation of party and class. The party degenerated socially – became an organisation of the bureaucracy. An exaggerated centralism became essential for its self-defence. Revolutionary centralism became bureaucratic centralism; the apparatus, which in its resolution of internal conflicts cannot and does not dare to appeal to the masses, was forced to set up a court of higher appeal above itself. Thus bureaucratic centralism inevitably leads to personal dictatorship.” L. Trotsky, Trotsky’s Notebooks, pp. 32-33.
Zinoviev invented “Leninism” in about 1925, at the height of his power as an “Epigone”
It was left to the “Epigones”, particularly Zinoviev, at the apex of his brief moment of power, to codify “Leninism” as a method of organisation. Zinoviev did this by drawing out all the authoritarian elements in the practice of the Bolsheviks at different moments and playing down the element of conflict and open discussion in Bolshevik history.
This authoritarian rewriting of history was aided by one of Lenin’s real political mistakes – the ban on factions in the party. The impulse to centralisation in the Russian state and party, driven by the weakness of the Russian working class after the world and civil wars and the economic crisis gripping Russian society, taken together with that country’s economic and cultural backwardness, was accelerated by this political mistake.
This drive to bureaucratic centralisation reinforced the authoritarian trend in Zinoviev’s concept of Leninism. As part of the ruling bloc within the party-state apparatus and as president of the Comintern, Zinoviev had both the means and the interests to promote a highly centralist account of Lenin’s alleged theory of the party.
The Comintern’s 21 Conditions and their historical context
Lorimer treats the fifth congress of the Comintern, at which the authoritarian structural changes in the Comintern and the Communist Parties were pushed through, as if this were a sudden change that fell from the sky. In fact, an earlier contributor to this centralising process was another of Lenin’s mistakes: the adaptation to Zinoviev over the Marzaktion in Germany, as Lenin emphasised the centralisation of the Comintern over the errors of the Marzaktion.
A process was at work, which included some political mistakes by Lenin. He later implicitly came to recognise those political mistakes, without spelling them out too explicitly, when it was probably too late. These questions are covered very cogently by Tony Cliff (Lenin, Vol. 4, pp. 110-120).
“If the Third Congress resolution on the Marzaktion was a compromise, and an unsatisfactory one at that, it was partly because of Paul Levi’s public attack on the KPD, and also because of his insinuation against the ECCI. But the main reason was the strength of the ultralefts in the Comintern and Lenin’s and Trotsky’s fear of a split in the KPD and the Comintern.
“The resolution on the Marzaktion was a very dangerous precedent: a cover-up for the highest leaders – Zinoviev, Bukharin and Radek – instead of an honest accounting. The prestige of the leadership was protected at the expense of Marx’s watchword: the Communists never hide the truth from the working class. The manoeuvres of Zinoviev, the about-turn of Radek and the stupidities of Bela Kun were covered up.
The fact that the motions dealing with the Marzaktion were adopted unanimously was a bad omen.”
It became traditional within the Trotskyist movement to take, as the point of departure of classic Bolshevism, the first four congresses of the Communist International and the 21 Conditions for admission to the Comintern, and to swear by them as holy writ.
This became the basis the Trotskyist movement taking over, almost wholesale, Zinoviev’s (and Lorimer’s) formulaic version of what they call “Leninism”. This wasn’t so bad, as far as it went. The first four congresses sure beat the hell out of the counter-revolutionary Stalinist perversions that came later. However, the master gravedigger of the revolution, Stalin, took over and used most of Zinoviev’s formulaic version of Leninism as part of the Stalinisation of the Communist movement in the period of defeats and the ebb of the world revolution in the mid and late 1920s.
As Stalin consolidated his power, he took the notion of centralisation of the communist movement to an even more extreme level and rewrote the history of the Bolshevik movement, yet again. This created the classic Stalinist falsification that the early Bolshevik party was an organisation that functioned similarly to Stalin’s barbaric regime. Stalin’s books On the Opposition (Moscow, 1927), The Problems of Leninism (Moscow, 1928), and the later book which he ghost-wrote, The Short History of the CPSU(B) (Moscow, 1939) contain much of this material.
The spirit that animated the first congresses of the Comintern, and Lenin’s and Trotsky’s interventions in them (including on organisational matters), was driven, at the first three congresses by the imminent possibility of revolution in Western Europe and, at the fourth congress, by the notion that although revolutionary prospects had ebbed, the forward march to world revolution would be speedily renewed.
There is also an underlying assumption that the Russian Bolsheviks, with all their revolutionary experience and the power of the Soviet state behind them, would be at the centre of this revolutionary process. These considerations underlay the intense emphasis on centralisation.
This was a moment of painful contradiction and transition: the moment when Lenin and some other Bolshevik leaders were just becoming sharply aware of powerful tendencies to bureaucratisation developing in the soviet state – Rakovsky’s “professional dangers of power”.
The contradictory demands of this moment caused Lenin to see the ban on factions in the Russian party as a necessity, but on the floor of the conference to disagree with those who wanted to make it permanent. It is well known now that in this last period of his conscious life Lenin was intensely preoccupied with problems of bureaucratisation in the Russian Revolution. His concern was implicit in his agonised words that “we are guilty before the working class”, at the time of the conflict with Stalin over the latter’s chauvinist attitude to non-Russian nationalities.
The whole history of the conflict in the Soviet Party and the development of the Left Opposition, and later of the Zinoviev opposition, underlies the way different groups of Bolsheviks came to a realisation of these problems at different times. Zinoviev, for instance, played a major role in creating the myth of “Leninism”, but after he lost power he admitted to Trotsky that the whole idea had been a bit of a beat-up. Zinoviev’s consciousness of the dangers of the bureaucratisation to which he had contributed, developed, unhappily, after he lost power to Stalin. Zinoviev’s History of the Bolshevik Party, and his little iconographic memoir of Lenin, come from the earlier period of his role as the confident “Epigone”, who feels secure in his grasp on power.
Basing himself on Zinoviev’s book, which he nowhere acknowledges, but clearly permeates his whole approach, Lorimer presents the formalisation of rules restraining public debate in the Bolshevik movement as an organic growth out of the history of the Bolshevik party, and as something made necessary by the lessons, drawn by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, from the collapse of the Second International (when its sections supported their various national governments in 1914). This is certainly the way it was initially presented by Lenin, as he “bent the stick” in characteristic fashion.
Then came the equally disastrous collapse of the Communist International into Stalinism, partly under the weight of its centralised rules and norms. Lenin’s agitated afterthought that the ban on factions should not be permanent, and his general observations on the direction of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet state, in his final conflict with Stalin, make it clear that Lenin was conscious of the dangers of bureaucratisation and over-centralisation.
Had Lenin lived, the whole spirit of his previous political activities suggest that he would have dramatically “bent the stick” back in the direction of inner-party democracy. He was a ruthless and effective politician and he would hardly have failed to draw dramatic practical conclusions from previous errors, to which he had himself contributed. Lenin was no stranger to extremely sharp, but necessary, reversals.
Lorimer’s implication that Lenin’s authoritarian stance at the moment of the crisis in the Russian Revolution, which brought about the NEP and the ban on factions, is, so to speak, the last word on the question, is also the stance of Zinoviev and later Stalin. This rhetorical misuse of what they claim was Lenin’s political practice was a valuable weapon for the “Epigones” in accelerating the Stalinisation of the Russian Revolution.
This view, however, contradicts all our knowledge of Lenin’s previous behaviour and preoccupations. Lenin fought desperately in the last months of his life to reverse the bureaucratisation process. Everything about his political practice underlines that, for him, the political essence was always more important than formal rules, even ones he had had a hand in designing himself. Lorimer’s approach is heavily influenced by the ideology of Epigonism, which so rapidly developed in the mid-1920s in the Soviet Union and the communist movement.
Trotsky and the Left Opposition concluded quite early that the ban on factions had been a mistake, as Rakovsky points out, in his Professional Dangers of Power.
Lorimer seems completely oblivious to any of these considerations, and he certainly makes no serious attempt to refer to the extensive literature that raises a number of these issues.
Doug Lorimer’s version of “Leninism” is rigidly authoritarian from start to finish. His main concern in the Links article is to prove that classical Leninism involved Lenin opposing open discussion in the party outside severely restricted limits. Lorimer presents this approach as an absolutely necessary norm of socialist organisation. He has a complementary proposition that “Leninism” requires very deep political homogeneity in the organisation. He presents these ideas as a kind of essence of Leninism.
It’s striking that Lorimer does not take the opportunity presented by this discussion about Leninism to advance any view of what Leninist organisations might do in the material world. His presentation is entirely negative, and totally focused on the thing that, in his view, “Leninist” organisations should not do. The main thing they should not do is have the far reaching semi-public tactical discussions and conflicts that were a feature of the Russian socialist movement up to the moment of the ban on factions.
“Leninism”, for Lorimer, is a negative, disciplinary business, not a lively, developing, partly agitation construction. In this presentation he doesn’t take the opportunity to talk about the rich tactical lessons drawn by Lenin at the second congress, embodied in Left Wing Communism. This pamphlet contains, in fact, the real essence of Leninism, insofar as there is one – not the negative, centralising, organisational formulations common to Lorimer and Zinoviev. Lorimer is only interested in Left Wing Communism from the angle of justifying homogeneity in his organisation.
Implicit in Lorimer’s article, although it isn’t clearly spelled out, is the other major DSP leadership shibboleth — “team leadership” — which the DSP leadership takes almost literally from Cannon and the US SWP, particularly in its later degeneration under the leadership of Joseph Hansen and Jack Barnes.
Lorimer’s selective presentation of Lenin. Lorimer presents us with “Leninism” as the essence of socialism in much the same way as Humphrey McQueen presents Coca-Cola as the essence of capitalism
The question is: why does Lorimer single out these aspects so instrumentally as his essence of Leninism (Lorimer’s essence of Leninism approach is reminiscent of Humphrey McQueen’s jocular but serious argument that Coca-Cola is the “essence of Capitalism”).
The obvious answer is that this kind of approach is at the heart of the political life of the DSP as a sect. A bit of a discussion of how this works, currently and historically, in the DSP is useful here, because the DSP example is replicated again and again all over the world in Marxist groups. The organisations of the Lambertists, the Lutte Ouvrier group, the IST, the US SWP, the CWI, the old Healy organisations and their current progeny, the Spartacists, many organisations in the Morenist current, and many organisations of the Usec-FI (although the LCR seems to be an exception) all share
this essential organisational model to a greater or lesser degree.
They face each other off in various countries with an authoritarian and apolitical emphasis on discipline and regime. They pretty well all pay lip service to an organisational formula that theoretically allows factions in the organisation, but they surround it with many constraints of a formal and informal kind. These retraints preclude any kind of real and deep-going political confrontation and discussion in socialist organisation that have this kind of regime.
The overemphasis on “leadership”, and particularly on “team leadership”, tends to make any political discussion that takes place internal to the leadership, and thereby retards the political development of both members of the leadership and the rank and file in these organisations. It also makes changes in leadership, initiated from below, almost impossible.
The current internal situation in the DSP
The DSP has for the last two and a half years been involved in setting up the Socialist Alliance, a new “multi-tendency” formation in which it has effective political hegemony. While it has invested considerable effort into this enterprise, the DSP itself has slowly declined in membership but has drawn back into limited political activity some ex-members of the DSP and other groups, who have formed a caucus of ostensible independents with the blessing and organisational support of the DSP.
The DSP has pressed forward against the opposition of the next-largest group, the ISO, and the seven other smaller groups that make up the Alliance, to make the DSP’s paper, Green Left Weekly, the official organ of the Alliance. At the level of the Alliance, a certain amount of public discussion takes place, but in the DSP, where the effective political decisions about the future of the Alliance are actually made, the political discussion takes place within the framework of the severe limits placed on political discussion by Doug Lorimer’s version of big-L “Leninism”.
In the past couple of week, a further minor crisis has developed in the Socialist Alliance. The members of the independent caucus closest to the DSP have proposed a structural change to the Alliance with a new tier of leadership, a kind of council, which would have the effect of further sidelining the smaller affiliates. Several other members of the independent caucus have revolted over this proposal, ascribing it to DSP manipulation. This dispute is currently unresolved.
The upheaval in Resistance
A few months ago, a discussion erupted in the DSP youth organisation, Resistance, in which a significant group, including some members of the DSP, put forward, and vigorously argued for, the idea that Resistance ought to follow the path of the Alliance and become a multi-tendency organisation, opening itself up to other socialist-minded youth.
The DSP leadership came down like the proverbial ton of bricks on this initiative, and mobilised DSP leadership loyalists to resoundingly defeat this opposition group. After that, DSP organisational discipline was invoked to remove at least one of the oppositional DSP members from activity in Resistance, and youth activity in general, in a punitive way.
At the Christmas-New Year DSP conference, where the future of Resistance and the future of the Socialist Alliance were discussed and decided on, those members of the Resistance opposition who weren’t delegates to the conference were prevented from addressing the conference on the Resistance question.
In addition to this, the Resistance opposition was ambushed, in the sense that their inquiries about what the official report on Resistance might contain, were met with the leadership story that nothing very dramatic would be in the report. In fact, the report contained a sweeping attack on the Resistance opposition, to which the oppositionists had very little possibility of preparing a serious answer.
People with experience in big-L “Leninist” groups will be familiar with this sort of practice. In the course of this whole debate in Resistance, the young supporters of the DSP leadership used a number of respectful quotes from Doug Lorimer, John Percy and James P. Cannon to try to demonstrate that the propositions of the Resistance opposition were incompatible with “Leninism”.
This kind of organisational and political set up is the heart of what Lorimer defends in his Links article. The purpose of Lorimer’s learned exposition of what he claims were Lenin’s unchangeable views, and what he infers was Lenin’s practice, is actually a super-instrumental attempt to justify the current regime in a smallish sect, in a comparatively stable capitalist country. That’s the way this kind of authoritarian interpretation of Leninism is usually used, and those kinds of circumstances usually drive this kind of interpretation.
Lorimer’s approach to Lenin is very similar to the evangelical Christian approach to the Bible
One feature of Doug Lorimer’s article is his overly literal, pretentious and narrow treatment of the topic. This goes with the territory, so to speak. In his presentation he almost entirely relies on texts from Lenin, and he downplays history and context.
He thus crudifies and simplifies not to several enormous questions. He makes no attempt to address the substantial literature about these questions. In essence, Lorimer’s article is an exercise in textual exegesis of the sort chronically used by evangelical Christians, who treat the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as the revealed word of their god, all of it inspired despite the obvious contradictions and limitations in the text.
This rigid, evangelical approach to the Bible is always entirely internally referential to the text, and always tries to explain away apparent contradictions as mere matters of interpretation of the infallible text. Lorimer’s evangelical method is a particularly dangerous way to approach Lenin.
Some of Lenin’s contradictory writings on different questions can be reconciled by reference to different circumstances without too much trouble. Many others don’t need to be reconciled, because Lenin’s positions on many questions changed dramatically a number of times. This is no disrespect to Lenin, because one of the most serious features of his political practice was its flexible and experimental character, which combined innovation, dictated by a certain Jacobin urgency about overthrowing the Tsarist state and the international bourgeoisie, with a thorough and serious grounding in classical Marxism.
Within that framework, Lenin was an ingenious, restless revolutionary figure, not too worried by apparent inconsistencies, but usually willing eventually to recognise his mistakes, although he wasn’t given to breast-beating about past errors. He tended to move on, and encouraged others to do the same.
Lorimer shows little obvious knowledge, or at least much interest, in the rather wide literature about the real Lenin and the real Leninism. At the end of this article, I attach a list of books and documents which are relevant to this discussion, of which very few are mentioned by Lorimer.
Lorimer’s primary purpose in his article is to draw the necessary authoritarian conclusions to justify the stultifying political practice of the current DSP leadership apparatus in its organisation. He appears to be relatively uninterested in the political content of the political disputes he describes. In his treatment of the March Action, in which the later Stalinisation of the Comintern was prefigured, Lorimer is beside himself with excitement because he thinks he can prove that the disciplinary aspect of the question was more important to Lenin than the ultraleftism of Zinoviev’s Comintern leadership, which imposed an erroneous line on the Germany Communist Party. For an accurate overview of the issues in the March Action controversy, Lorimer is of little use. He quotes Lenin’s response to Clara Zetkin, on matters of discipline, but he doesn’t explain what Zetkin said to Lenin, which was:
“In my opinion, the case of Levi is not just a problem of discipline, it is in the first place essentially a political problem. It can only be correctly judged and evaluated in the context of the whole political situation, and this is why I think that it can only be dealt with properly in the framework of our discussion of the tactics of the Communist Party and in particular in the framework of discussion on the March action … If Paul Levi must be severely punished for his criticism of the March action and for the mistake that he undoubtedly committed at that time, what punishment is merited by those who made the mistakes themselves? The putschism that we denounce did not consist of the masses in struggle … It was in the members of the Zentrale [Central Committee] who led the masses into struggle in this way. …
“It remains a fact … that representatives of the ECCI indeed bear a large share of the responsibility for the way in which the Marzaktion was conducted, [and] that representatives of the Executive are largely responsible for the wrong slogans, the wrong political attitude of the party, or, more correctly, of the Zentrale.”
Tony Cliff is a better guide to the Marzaktion and Levi than Lorimer
For a rounded and careful account of these events, Tony Cliff’s book, Lenin, (Vol. 4, pp. 110-120) is useful. Cliff’s conclusion, which is extremely persuasive, is that Lenin’s acquiescence in the exclusion of core leaders of the KPD (notably Levi) was a mistake, and an accommodation to Zinoviev and the Comintern leadership in the interests of preserving a common
face to the world.
Cliff’s conclusion is that this contributed to the authoritarian pre-Stalinist degeneration of the Comintern. It’s pretty clear that the my-party-right-or-wrong position, on which Lorimer verges in his article, was in practice a part of the preconditions for the later Stalinisation of the communist movement.
Lorimer skates over the fact that the ban on factions at the later CPSU conference was an enormous political mistake that contributed to a process of political degeneration and ultimately to Stalinisation. He presents the monolithic clause in the Bolshevisation resolution at the fifth Comintern congress as a mistake, but one that seems to fall from the sky.
Lenin’s mistake in supporting this move to ban factions was dictated by his anxiety to avoid a split in the party, and to some extent on his expectation, common to all the Bolsheviks, of a rapid expansion of the World Revolution, which he clearly believed, would act as a corrective to authoritarian centralisation.
He became more conscious of the enormous dangers inherent in this drive to centralisation a little later, when he was terminally ill, but by that time it was too late for him to reverse the process. However, he did launch a vigorous assault on Stalin as the living expression of these bureaucratic dangers.
The pity was that Trotsky failed to take up and carry this struggle against Stalin, begun by Lenin, forward to a major fight in the party, at that stage. This was a political error on Trotsky’s part, partly dictated by his consciousness of his lesser authority among the old Bolsheviks in the party. Trotsky had enormous prestige among the Russian masses, but the Bolshevik Old Guard tended to treat him with a certain suspicion.
Doug Lorimer’s semi-Stalinist propositon about alpha and beta Bolsheviks
Lorimer’s attitude to historical events and important Russian Revolutionary personalities, is crude, summary and insulting. He refers to Riazanov and Lozovsky as “beta-Bolsheviks”, obviously because they had both come out of Trotsky’s Interdistrict organisation (the Mezhrayontzi), but he says nothing about their subsequent fate.
Riazanov was imprisoned by Stalin and died in exile in Saratov. Lozovsky was murdered in the last anti-Semitic witchcraft trial in Moscow in 1952 (the trial of the “Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee”). Riazanov was a trade union activist and scholar, biographer and archivist of Marx and Engels, and Lozovsky a long-standing revolutionary trade unionist. Ilyin-Genevsky’s sketch of an organiser of the Interdistrict organisation (in From February to October) is illuminating about the blurring of lines between Bolsheviks, Mezhrayonetzi, Borot’bists (Ukrainian Left Socialist Revolutionaries) and other socialist groups and individuals, indeed all the healthy elements that were rallying to the cause of the socialist revolution at this time. Beta-Bolsheviks indeed.
“… we did not only meet enemies in the printing plant. A friend of ours, S.M. Uritsky, came once a week to get out his Mezhrayonets periodical called the Internationalist. Uritsky at that time was a Mezhrayonet organiser. I well recall his short stocky figure set on crooked legs, gaining his table with a slight limp, adjusting his pince-nez every minute, his chubby hands clutching a batch of proof sheets. He would climb on an exceedingly uncomfortable stool near the table. His head would sink between his shoulders and, armed with a pencil, he would begin to read and scrawl on the proofs which lay before him. His whole figure radiated warmth and comfort. Later when I became better acquainted with him, I learnt to value his happy and frank nature, his simplicity and affability, especially to his comrades at work.” [The, by then, leading Bolshevik, Solomon Uritsky was later assassinated by reactionaries in Petrograd in 1919.]
The whole history of the Interdistrict Organisation and its absorption into the Bolshevik Party works against the facile Lorimer alpha-beta Bolshevik version of historical events.
The issue that Lorimer cites, the suppression of bourgeois newspapers, requires a more careful consideration than the summary treatment that Lorimer gives it. In the 1980s, Ernest Mandel and Nahuel Moreno conducted a vigorous debate, which was published as a printed book in English by the Morenists in Columbia, and was also published in the USec internal bulletin.
This debate was a vigorous conflict over, and careful reconsideration of, the issues involved in the notion of the dicatatorship of the proletariat. The suppression in Russia of, not just the bourgeois newspapers, but also the Menshevik, Left and Right Socialist Revolutionary and Anarchist newspapers, is an extremely complex and problematic question. Lorimer’s contemptuous dismissal of Riazanov’s and Lozovsky’s reservations about the question reveals a deeply authoritarian bent on his part.
The magazine Links, itself has been the main vehicle for a desultory political discussion between the DSP leadership, and various Marxist groups overseas, particularly some in Asia. The revolutionary groups in Asia associated with Links are very serious formations. Nevertheless, many of them are of Stalinist background, and organisations with this kind of political lineage usually carry over a very authoritarian notion of the structural features of “Leninism”. It’s at the level of a rather authoritarian conception of the party that the DSP’s collaboration with most of these overseas ex-Stalinist and Stalinist groupings has proceeded.
All the leaderships of sub-Leninist groups, who want to set in stone their control of their own organisation, and their own pretensions to be an exclusive proletarian leadership, tend to single out of the history of the Bolshevik movement a number of the features codified by Zinoviev in the mid-1920s as the essence of big-L Leninism. We have, however, now the benefit of hindsight. It is quite clear that it is exactly the features that these leaderships tend to single out, as the main necessary features of Marxist organisation, that became a central part of the Stalinisation of the communist movement in the 1920s.
The 21 Conditions reviewed in the year 2004
The early Trotskyist movement took as a point of departure the validity of the First Four Congresses of the Communist International and the 21 Conditions for admission to the Comintern. Even this approach is problematic. A number of the 21 Conditions were clearly predicated on constructing a combat organisation with the almost immediate expectation of an impending revolutionary situation and the working-class seizure of power in a number of countries. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out that way. The revolutionary opportunities were lost or defeated, and the revolutionary crisis eventually dissipated.
Many of the 21 Conditions are no longer relevant to immediate tasks facing small socialist groups in conditions of relative capitalist stability. How many of these sub-Leninist groups actually conduct agitation in the army, for instance? There have been several agitations in armies in the last 30 years, but they have always been in the context of opposition to specific imperialist wars, such as those in Vietnam and Iraq, and a general formula about agitation in the army isn’t of much use.
Similarly, the stress in the 21 conditions on centralisation and homogenisation of the parties was a feature of a complex situation, in which, the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union were manoeuvring and battling to hold on to power in very adverse circumstances, and preparing, they thought, for the seizure of power in Germany, and possibly France and even Britain.
The 21 conditions, particularly their heavily centralist aspect, were built around the idea that the Comintern leadership was a kind of general staff of the world revolution that could give very direct, even day-to-day leadership to the revolutionary upheavals in various countries. This was always a slightly metaphysical, overly formal notion. In practice, it contributed to the Stalinisation of the Comintern. It also contributed to major disasters such as the Marzaktion, and the later defeat of the German revolutionary upsurge in 1923.
The 21 Conditions are thoroughly impregnated with the notion of the Comintern leadership as the “general staff of the world revolution”. In an early re-evaluation of this issue, when they broke with the USec in 1984, the DSP leadership, made the sound point that, if that notion had ever had any validity, it certainly had been superseded by events, and there was now no national centre that could play this role in any meaningful way, certainly not with any of the authority and practical revolutionary experience of the Bolsheviks.
Nevertheless, having wisely put the linchpin of the structure aside as a central feature of revolutionary politics, the DSP leadership still hangs on to the over-centralist aspects of the 21 Conditions, particularly the aspects that reinforce extremely bureaucratic and centralised regimes in individual socialist organisations in many countries. The overly centralist structure of the 21 Conditions is an anachronism in vastly changed world conditions. In the new circumstances prevailing today in the world, entrenching leaderships of small, self-satisfied, rather eclectic socialist sects behind a wall of powerfully centralist structural arrangements only has the effect of turning the leadership of each organisation into a self-interested small oligarchy.
Despite the language that he sometimes used, Lenin’s political practice was experimental and provisional, and he generally, even in his most centralising moments, left a bit of an escape clause. The classic example of this was when, on the floor of the Soviet Communist Party Congress, his supporters wanted to make the ban on factions permanent. He successfully argued against this on the grounds that the extreme circumstances, which in his view made the ban conjuncturally necessary, might change.
Classic Bolshevism had a number of libertarian, anti-centralising aspects. The leading cadres of the Bolshevik Party all over Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution, were to some extent the hastily assembled group of revolutionaries who rallied to the idea of the socialist revolution, and it included people who had been in different parties and groups, such as the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists, and quite a few who had moved in and out of Bolshevism at various times.
It is fiction to view these people, as Zinoviev does, in his highly problematic History of the Bolshevik Party, as an homogenous and disciplined army awaiting
orders from an infallible central committee. These real revolutionaries came into the Bolshevik movement with experiences, ideas and divergent political traditions, and Lenin wasn’t particularly concerned initially about disciplinary questions, so much as whether the new recruits were willing to participate in animating the revolutionary process.
The over-emphasis on centralisation was a tragic by-product of the civil war, which also produced the very damaging phenomenon of war communism. The books of Victor Serge, Alfred Rosmer and the revolutionary classic Ten Days That Shook The World, by the US socialist journalist John Reed, are a much better guide to the realities of Bolshevism than Zinoviev’s self-interested book.
Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder
Lorimer has not always been so unaware of a number of these considerations as he now appears to be. In 1999, the DSP’s Resistance Library performed the very useful publishing task of reprinting Lenin’s Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, with a number of the appendices and pieces of supplementary material distributed to the Second Comintern Congress.
Lorimer’s introduction to this edition of Left Wing Communism is intelligent, workmanlike and useful. He draws attention to the dialectical aspect of Lenin’s document, and his intervention at the Congress, and he stresses the two poles of this intervention:
- firstly to harden up the mass communist parties that had emerged in France and Italy, and the majority of the Independents in Germany, against the old Second International opportunism, which was deeply ingrained in those mass parties. The Communist Parties in France and Italy had been formed by the adhesion of the majority of the old Socialist Parties to the Comintern, and the German Communist Party had vastly increased in size and influence by the adherence of the majority of the Independent Socialists to the Comintern at the time of the Halle conference. Along with the mass influence of these parties had come the deeply embedded opportunism of pre-war Social Democracy, which the Comintern was trying to correct while not losing the mass influence.
- secondly to try to mould the new forces of young revolutionaries, and older syndicalist opponents of Second International reformism into a new, more flexible, working-class-oriented communist movement. The central aspects of this second pole were Lenin’s defence of serious revolutionaries participating in bourgeois parliaments, of participation in existing mass trade unions (which many, as Lenin put it, mainly young ultralefts, disputed), and in countries where communists were a distinct minority, what became known as the united front strategy, towards the bigger social-democratic formations. The complexity and dialectical opposites involved in pursuing these two processes at once were a bit hard for the Congress delegates to absorb at one sitting, so to speak. The authoritarian and centralising thrust that the Bolshevik leadership initiated at this Congress stemmed, obviously, in Lenin’s mind, from the need to make both kinds of changes very rapidly, owing to the fast-developing revolutionary situation in Europe. In this process, misgivings about the possible dangers of centralisation were set aside for the moment, but resurfaced in Lenin’s subsequent remarks about the “too-Russian” quality of the Comintern’s decisions on organisational matters. This over-centralisation in the party turned out to be, in hindsight, an example of Lenin “bending the stick” too far.
Lenin’s theory of imperialism and the “labour aristocracy”
Lenin’s major intervention at the Second Congress of the Comintern was directed at moulding the young Communist Parties and the Comintern in the strategic directions already discussed. Some of Lenin’s ideological underpinnings included a fairly detailed exposition of his “theory of imperialism” and a lengthy discussion of the “labour aristocracy” in imperialist countries.
There has been much subsequent debate and dispute about the details of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, and the associated question of “labour aristocracies”. A number of Marxists, and some bourgeois critics, have pointed to flaws in Lenin’s specific “theory” of imperialism and/or at limitations in his theory of “labour aristocracies” (as the primary basis of reformism in the labour movement).
Tony Cliff is a critic of these two concepts (in the latter case most importantly in his book The Labour Party, A Marxist History), but there are a number of others. A.J. Polan, an anti-Leninist, libertarian critic of Leninism, in his book, Lenin and the End of Politics, offers a coherent critique of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, and the notes contain a brief summary of the literature on the arguments about Lenin’s theory of imperialism and the associated question of the “labour aristocracy”. (I don’t agree with many of Polan’s other criticisms of Lenin, but the section on the theory of imperialism is very useful.)
Also of interest is a DSP document from the early 1980s, The Struggle for Socialism in the Imperialist Epoch, which in passing makes some observations on the “labour aristocracy” question that reflect a different standpoint from that now advanced by the DSP leadership. Peter Boyle of the DSP and myself have been conducting a protracted argument on these broad questions for a year or so now, and pointers to my contributions in this debate are on Ozleft.
This argument is important because, in my view totally instrumentally, the DSP leadership has seized upon Lenin’s theory of imperialism and views on “labour aristocracies”, including their problematic aspects, out of all reasonable proportion, as another shibboleth to justify a sectarian approach to the labour movement. In the course of doing that, they’ve turned these two theories of Lenin into a kind of supra-historical big-L Leninism, which the heretic and sinner shouldn’t dare to question. Big-L Leninism is, ideologically speaking, a thoroughgoing menace to serious Marxist analysis.
It is worth noting that, despite Lenin using these theories as part of the ideological background to Left-Wing Communism, the actual tactics he proposed for the working-class movement included serious communist fraction work in all the organisations of the working class. In practice, in particular, this was true in the organisations dominated by the “labour aristocracy”, and was buttressed by a united-front approach directed at mass Social Democratic organisations, including implicitly, fraction work.
The “aristocracy of labour” thesis and the “Leninist” theory of imperialism weren’t the central strategic axis of the tactics adopted by the Comintern in its Leninist-Trotskyist phase – the united front was. Boyle’s idea that the “aristocracy of labour” thesis was the primary axis of the tactics adopted by the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s is a delusion. The “aristocracy of labour” thesis had more the character of a certain rhetorical flourish, a bit overstated by Lenin, to help persuade the ultralefts to adopt realistic tactics in the workers’ movement.
The “labour aristocracy” theory did not emerge as the central strategic category until later, when Stalin and Bukharin were turning the face of the Comintern to a frontal assault on what they came to term “social-fascism”, ie reformism. Overstating the importance of the idea of the “aristocracy of labour” and developing it into the notion of “social fascism” was one of the primary aspects of the Stalinist degeneration of the Comintern. See Brian Pearce’s important article on the British Communist Party and the Labor Left.
Lorimer’s article is based almost entirely on Cannon’s and Zinoviev’s narrative
Lorimer’s version places a heavy emphasis on the alleged need to keep strategic and political conflicts internal to the party, and by implication, even to the leadership. Lorimer, and those like him in the leadership of sub-Leninist groups, relies heavily on the peculiar Cannonist tradition of the US SWP, which refines the Zinoviev notion even further.
Drawing out inferences from Cannon’s The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, and his egocentric History of American Trotskyism, a notion — a cult really — of “team leadership” is developed. The rules, conventions and traditions of the Australian DSP embody several intrinsic features. The primary feature is elaborate constraints on political discussion inside the party, even in normal times.
The convention, rigidly enforced, is that every serious political difference has to be kept private, unless those with differences go through a fairly elaborate process of forming a faction within the organisation. The DSP, in the tradition of the American SWP, is extremely explicit about this, but in practice, all sub-Leninist formations are pretty much the same in this respect, even, in Australia, the somewhat healthier ones such as Socialist Alternative.
Public expressions of political differences are subject to extreme moral pressure in the organisation, which usually takes the form of the conventional tripwire: if you disagree with the leadership, form a faction, and of course, forming a faction is “war in the party”, in the words of Cannon. In the history of the Australian DSP, the formation of a faction has almost always led to a split, or the expulsion of the minority from the DSP, on some organisational pretext. The practice of the Bolsheviks as they groped their way towards the socialist revolution was quite different to this. The net effect of these traditions and conventions (and in the case of the Cannonists, such as the US SWP and the Australian DSP, the rules), is to make it effectively impossible for a serious change in political direction or political culture to come from the rank-and-file of the organisation.
The effect that this set-up has had on the selection of leaderships is poisonous. Rather than leaderships being elected for a combination of theoretical and ideological development, ability, agitational capacity, and incorporating elements of conflict and contradiction, leaderships are selected by nominating commissions, according to conformity to the existing leadership, and the, usually eclectic, full program of the group.
This tends to breed out the skills required for mass agitation and leadership, as well as political innovation and alternative strategic views. In practice, additions to leaderships in sub-Leninist groups are selected for their existing or potential conformity to the existing leaderships, rather than for their agitational or theoretical qualities.
James P. Cannon’s role in the development of authoritariam organisational practices in the socialist movement
James P. Cannon was a courageous and pivotal figure in the development of the world revolutionary movement. He was a workers’ leader with a very wide experience, many political skills and deep commitment to the socialist revolution. Over a long life he never reconciled himself to the ruling class. All his writings, even his most curious and triumphalist work, the History of American Trotskyism, are useful parts of the education of any serious scientific socialist.
His most reflective book, The First Ten Years of American Communism, is the most useful of his books. Pretty well all Cannon’s works are in print, between Pathfinder Press and the Spartacist League’s Prometheus Research Library, which has done some important publishing work, reprinting early Cannon works.
The redoubtable Canadian Marxist historian, Bryan Palmer, is said to be writing a major political biography of Cannon, and the sooner that appears the better. In the interim, the best thing written about Cannon is the section on Cannon in Tim Wohlforth’s book, The Struggle for Marxism in the United States.
Cannon’s organisational conceptions were taken over largely from the Zinoviev period of the Comintern. They were rather authoritarian and had fairly drastic consequences on occasion.
In the 1940 dispute in the US-SWP Trotsky was extremely cautious about the summary way in which Cannon brought the dispute to a sharp organisational solution (a split, which gave birth to the Workers Party). It is clear that Trotsky would have preferred a continuation of the discussion, and the avoidance of a premature split.
That split turned out to not be the world-historic political division that it is treated as in Cannonist mythology. The Workers Party turned out to be a rather effective revolutionary organisation during the Second World War and played a powerful role in unions and industry from a principled, internationalist standpoint. Many of the young middle-class supporters of the Shachtman faction developed into very serious revolutionary trade unionists during the war.
As late as 1947 unsuccessful reunification negotiations took place between the Workers Party and the SWP. The Workers Party only began to shift to the right dramatically about 1949. Two useful sources on the Workers Party, are Peter Drucker’s book on Shachtman and Harvey Swados’s interesting novel, Standing Fast.
One of the rather painful ironies of Marxist political experience is that towards the end of his life, Cannon became alarmed at the organisational degeneration
of the US-SWP, the form of which was an even more ruthless limitation of factional rights by the Hansen-Barnes leadership in the 1960s. Cannon even wrote a document Don’t Strangle the Party, which is in the collection of Cannon’s writings published by the DSP in Australia, and the DSP leadership would do well to study that small document carefully.
Fire ants and bees
In a polemical document some months ago I made the comparison of the competition between the Marxist groups, as similar to the competition between ant and bee colonies with a slightly different genetic mix, which compete for similar environments. The analogy caused a certain amount of wry amusement.
If you take, in Australia, the IS, the Socialist Alternative, the Militant Group (now the Socialist Party), the DSP, the Communist Party, the Spartacist League and some other of the small groups, they all share this emphasis in their internal regimes on the special role of the leadership. Usually, there is constant pressure to homogenise the rank-and-file around the political line and the whole eclectic political culture of the particular group, even in the smallest details.
Bukharin, in a speech to Moscow Party members in 1923, mentioned on page 159 of Tony Cliff’s Lenin Vol 4, made an observation that is still relevant to the internal situation in most modern Marxist semi-sects, such as the DSP.
“As a rule the voting takes place according to a definite pattern. They come into the meeting and ask: ‘Is anyone opposed?’ And since everyone is more or less afraid to voice dissent, the individual who was appointed becomes secretary of the cell bureau … in the majority of cases the elections in our party organizations have in fact been transformed into a mockery of elections, because the voting takes place not only without preliminary discussion, but, again, according to the formula, ‘Is anyone opposed?’ And since it is considered bad form for anyone to speak against the ‘leadership’, the matter is automatically settled. This is what elections are like in the local cells.
“Let us now speak of our party meetings. How are they conducted? I myself have taken the floor at numerous meetings in Moscow and I know how the so-called discussion takes place in our party organisations. Take for example the election of the meeting’s presiding committee. One of the members of the district committee presents a slate and asks: ‘Is anyone opposed?’ Nobody is opposed, and the matter is considered settled. The presiding committee is elected and the same comrade then announces that the presiding committee was elected unanimously.
- Lenin: Collected Works, 45 Volumes, plus two indexes, Progress Publishers, Moscow
- The Unknown Lenin, From the Secret Archive, Richard Pipes (Ed), Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998
- Not By Politics Alone: The Other Lenin, Tamara Deutscher (Ed), George Allen and Unwin, London, 1973
- Lenin, Vol. 1-4, Tony Cliff, Pluto Press, London, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979; Especially, Volume 4, The Bolsheviks and the World Revolution
- Impressions of Lenin, Angelica Balabanoff, Ann Arbor, 1968
- Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935: Writings on Lenin, Dialectics, and Evolutionism, Leon Trotsky (Philip Pomper and Yuri Felshtinsky, Eds), iUniverse, 1999
- Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Victor Serge, University of Iowa, 2002
- Leninism Under Lenin, Marcel Liebman, Merlin Press, London, 1975
- Leninism, Neil Harding, Duke University Press, 1996
- Lenin’s Political Thought, Theory and Practice in the Democratic and Socialist Revolution, Neil Harding, Macmillan, London, 1983
- Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, Paul Leblanc, Humanities Press, New Jersey, 1993
- Lenin and the Party, Debunking the Myths, Mick Armstrong, Sandra Bloodworth and Marc Newman, Socialist Alternative, Melbourne, 2000
- Lenin’s Last Struggle, Moshe Lewin, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1978
- History of the Bolshevik Party, Grigorii Zinoviev, New Park Publications, London, 1973
- Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, Stephen Cohen, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991
- The Ideas of Leon Trotsky, Hillel Ticktin and Michael Cox (Eds), Porcupine Press, London, 1995.
- Lenin, Robert Conquest, Fontana Modern Masters, London, 1972
- From February to October, A. Ilyin-Genevsky, Modern Books, London, c. 1926
- Portrait of Lenin: An Illustrated Biography, Nina Gourfinkel, Herder and Herder, New York, 1972
- Lenin: A Biography, Robert Service, Pan Books, London, 2002
- In the Workshop of the Revolution, I.N. Steinberg, Victor Gollancz, London, 1955
- Lenin and The End of Politics, A.J. Polan, Methuen, London, 1984
- Ten Days That Shook the World, John Reed, Penguin, 1990
- Trotsky and the Origins of Trotskyism, Alfred Rosmer, Francis Boutle, London, 2002
- The Struggle for Marxism in the United States, Tim Wohlforth, Labor Publications, New York, 1971
- The First Ten Years of American Communism, James P. Cannon, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1962 (and all Cannon’s other writings)
- Year One of the Russian Revolution, Victor Serge, Writers and Readers, New York, 1992
- Towards a New Beginning, On Another Road: The Alternative to the Micro-sect, Hal Draper,
- Moscow Under Lenin (also published as Moscow in Lenin’s Time), Alfred Rosmer, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1973
- Stalin and German Communism: A Study in the Origins of the State Party, Ruth Fischer, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1948
- A History of Bolshevism, Arthur Rosenberg, Anchor Books, New York, 1967
- International Communism in the Era of Lenin, Helmut Gruber, Anchor Books, New York, 1972
- International Communism in the Era of Stalin’s Ascendancy: Soviet Russia Masters the Comintern, Helmut Gruber, Anchor Books, New York, 1974
- Encounters with Lenin, Nikolay Valentinov, Oxford University Press, London, 1968
- A Documentary History of Communism, Robert V. Daniels, (2 vols) Vintage Books, New York, 1960
- On the Opposition, J.V. Stalin, Moscow, 1927
- Problems of Leninism, J.V. Stalin, Moscow, 1928
- The Short History of the CPSU(b), (ghost written by J.V. Stalin), Moscow, 1939
- Martov, A Political Biography of a Russian Social-Democrat, Israel Getzler, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1967
- Max Shachtman and His Left: A Socialist’s Odyssey Through the ‘American Century’, Peter Drucker, Humanity Books
- Standing Fast, Harvey Swados, Doubleday, New York, 1970
- The Labour Party, A Marxist History, Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein, Bookmarks, London, 1988
- Stalin’s Secret Pogrom, The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir Naumov (Eds), Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001
- The Making of a Workers’ Revolution: Russian Social Democracy 1891-1903, Allan K. Wildman, University of Chicago Press and the Hoover institution, 1967
- The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, The Prophet Outcast, Isaac Deutscher,
- History of the Russian Revolution, vols 1-3, Leon Trotsky
- Three Who Made a Revolution, Bertram D. Wolfe, Penguin Books, 1966
- Russia 1917, The February Revolution, George Katkov, Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1967
- Lenin: The Novel, Alan Brien, William Morrow, New York, 1987
- Lenin’s Path to Power, Bolshevism and the Destiny of Russia, George Katkov and Harold Shukman, Macdonald, London, 1971
- Germany and the Revolution in Russia, 1915-1918: Documents from the German Foreign Ministry, Z.A.B. Zeman (Ed), Oxford University Press, London, 1958
- Northern Underground, Episodes of Russian Revolutionary Transport and Communications through Scandinavia and Finland, 1863-1917, Michael Futrell, Faber and Faber, London, 1963
- The Sealed Train, Journey to Revolution, Lenin 1917, Michael Pearson, Macmillan, London, 1975
- The Merchant of Revolution, The Life of Alexander Israel Helphand (Parvus), 1867-1924, Z.A.B. Zeman and W.B. Scharlau, Oxford University Press, 1965
- The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Vols 1-3, E.H. Carr, London, 1950
- Bride of the Revolution, Krupskaya and Lenin, R. Macneal, Ann Arbor, 1972
- The Bolsheviks Come to Power, A. Rabinowitch, New York, 1976
- Lenin’s Government, Sovnarkom, 1917-1922, T.H. Rigby, Cambridge, 1979
- The Russian Revolution in Switzerland, 1914-1917, A. Senn, Madison, 1971
- The Roots of Russian Communism, David Lane, Martin Robertson, 1975
- To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson, Fontana, 1974
- The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform, Fernando Claudin, Penguin,1975
- World Communism: A History of the Communist International, Franz Borkenau, Ann Arbor Press, Michigan, 1962