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Home page > 20- ENGLISH - MATERIAL AND REVOLUTION > C L R James, World Revolution 1917-1936, The Rise and Fall of the Communist (...)

C L R James, World Revolution 1917-1936, The Rise and Fall of the Communist International

Saturday 23 August 2008, by Robert Paris

THIS BOOK IS AN INTRODUCTION TO AND SURVEY OF THE revolutionary Socialist movement since the War–the antecedents, foundation and development of the Third International–its collapse as a revolutionary force. The Bolshevik Party, and the Soviet Union which it controls, being the dominating factors in the Third International, are given extensive treatment.

The ideas on which the book are based are the fundamental ideas of Marxism. Since 1923 they have been expounded chiefly by Trotsky and a small band of collaborators. Many who sneered or ignored for years are now uncomfortably aware that inside Russia there is something vaguely called "Trotskyism," which the Soviet authorities, despite the economic successes, discover in the very highest offices in the State and in increasingly wide circles of the population. At the same time in Western Europe, statesmen and publicists, frightened at the steady rise of the revolutionary wave, join with the Stalinist regime in Russia to condemn "Trotskyism." Mr. Winston Churchill, in the Evening Standard of October 16th, 1936, unleashes a fierce diatribe against the "Trotskyists," coupled with scarcely veiled approval of the Stalinists, i.e. of the Third International. Governments and national statesmen do pot concern themselves with jesuitical differences between interpretations of Marx and Lenin. The whole future of civilization is involved. The present crisis in world affairs, the growth of Fascism, the Spanish revolution, the inevitable revolution in France, the role of Russia yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow, the constant ebb and flow of political parties and movements all over the world, these things must be seen, can only be understood at all, as part of the international revolutionary movement against Capitalism which entered a decisive stage in 1917 with the foundation of the first Workers’’ State and, two years later, the organisation of a revolutionary International. Ruhr invasion; the illness and death of Lenin and the quick victory of Stalin over Trotsky in 1923; Chang-Kai-Shek’’s northern expedition in 1926, the failure of the Shanghai Commune and the disastrous adventure of the Canton insurrection; the breakdown of the New Economic policy in 1928, the "liquidation of the kulak," and the capitulation without a blow of the powerful working-class movement of Germany before Hitler; the restoration of private property on the Russian countryside, the Popular Front in France, the murder of Zinoviev and Kamenev, the turning of guns by the Third International on the P.O.U.M. in Spain because it agitates for the Socialist revolution–all these major events of post-war history are one closely-connected whole. Seen in isolation they are a jumble. This book shows their inter-connection.

How much the book owes to the writings of Trotsky, the text can only partially show. But even with that great debt, it could never have been written at all but for the material patiently collected and annotated in France, China, America, Germany and Russia. My task has been chiefly one of selection and co-ordination. Yet in so wide and complicated a survey, differences of opinion and emphasis are bound to arise. Therefore while the book owes so much to others as to justify the use of the term "we," the ultimate responsibility must remain my own. I have called things and persons by the names I thought most fitted to characterise their political significance. Yet it is as well to remind the reader of the words of Marx: "My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can, less than any other, make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them."

I would like here to thank Harry Wicks of London and those who, in Canada, and, particularly, South Africa, read the manuscript, pointed out errors, and gave valuable advice.


January 17, 1937

Since the above was written the Radek trial has taken place. To readers of this book, however, any discussion of that or succeeding trials is unnecessary.

C. L. R. J.

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