From International Socialism, No.46, February/March 1971, p.34.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
by A. Neuberg
New Left Books 1970, 60s
First published in 1928 this is the Comintern’s official manual for insurrection and it has a foreword by Erich Wollenberg giving details of its composite authorship. The introduction by Piatnitsky is generally sensible, which, since he quotes extensively from Lenin on the necessity of a very advanced stage of political decomposition of the capitalist state as a pre-condition for an uprising, is not surprising. There then follow four case studies, in approved Staff College fashion, of Reval in 1924, Hamburg 1923, Canton 1927 and Shanghai in 1926-27. These are in effect object lessons in how not to do it and disobey practically every one of Lenin’s dictums. Reval was a thoroughly Blanquist coup which was inspired by Zinoviev in order to strengthen his position vis-à-vis Stalin. His irresponsibility had appalling results for the Estonian working-class movement. Hamburg was a farcical affair as, due to a breakdown in communications the incompetence or worse of the Brandlerite leadership of the CP, one working-class suburb of Hamburg rose under the false impression that the rest of Germany was doing the likewise. Fortunately there were few causalities except among a police battalion which unsuccessfully attacked the barricades. Canton was a desperate last throw of a revolution that had already failed with the crushing of the Shanghai proletariat, while the three risings in Shanghai itself that are described were popular front affairs no different from resistance movements in Western Europe in World War Two. The risings were fought under patriotic slogans which solidarised with Chiang-kai-shek and were supremely successful in putting Chiang in power. ‘Neuberg’ rather slur’s over the appalling massacre of Communists and militants which followed some time later as a direct result of this popular front tactic and throughout, in typical Comintern fashion, puts all the blame for every single failure on the local leadership and never on the centre in Moscow. Neuberg also seems to spend a lot of time abusing the Social democrats in almost the same tone as he refers to the fascists.
The longest single section of the book is by Tuchachevsky on the military tactics to be used in an insurrection and which is quite correctly criticised as prone to ‘militarism’ by the Comintern in the final chapter. Tuchachevsky indeed seems often to be talking about hastily levied regular forces in a civil war situation rather than working class urban insurrections and, for example, his advice on how street fighting should be conducted, though excellent for the time, sounds really quite impracticable if the masses have come onto the streets in the initial stages of a seizure of power, and indeed unnecessary as in October 1917. Much of his purely military advice is now rather out of date – though less so for street fighting than battle in other types of terrain – and the balance of forces has swung even further against insurrectionists, as regular forces nowadays are almost completely armoured and have both highly effective communications and increasingly sophisticated night-fighting equipment. Experience in eastern Europe would seem to confirm the poor chances of a rising. Politically though, the armies of at least the advanced countries of Western Europe and North America are probably a good deal more vulnerable than forty years ago as they are both more ‘civilised’ and assimilated to the general population.
Armed Insurrection has considerable interest for revolutionaries and we should be grateful to New Left Books, not least for giving us the opportunity to read some Third Period ‘theory’ and to see both how superior was the judgement and intellectual honesty of Trotsky to his contemporaries and how incantations to the soul of the dead Lenin and his writing was no guarantee that the High Priests of the Comintern had a clue as to what he was on about. In the final analysis technique must be subordinated to politics and is no substitute for them.
Last updated on 6.3.2008