Two Contemporary Reviews of World Revolution

From Fight, organ of the Marxist Group, Vol.1, No.6, May 1937

World Revolution

A Review of C.L.R. James’ book on the Rise and Fall of the Communist International

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. It is a decided advantage at a time when every politically conscious worker is being compelled to review the influence of the Russian revolution on the world’s workers movement, C.L.R. James’ book comes to hand. It is a book that every socialist should read and every revolutionary possess. (Secker and Warburg 12/6.)

Stalin, speaking at a recent meeting of the Central Committee of the Russian party, reminded his hearers that Russia was still living in a hostile world surrounded by hostile imperialist powers. This, it seems, is the outstanding contradiction of the Russian Revolution. That as yet the workers in no other country have been able to conquer power and hold it; electoral successes there have been; Labour governments have come and gone, but the sweeping changes in the property relationships introduced by the Russian October have so far been confined to the limits of the U.S.S.R. James in his book shows that there has been no absence of revolutionary situations. Since 1917 almost every country in Europe has been engulfed in revolutionary crisis. Why the proletarian revolution has failed to appear, despite the fact that the Third International was founded to give impetus and leadership to these revolutionary movements, is the subject of James’ brilliant study.

The pre-war movement of the workers is shown to have been castrated by the limited objectives given to the movement by revisionist socialism, which was then in the ascendant. The reformist conception of the steady improvement of the living standards of the workers, the identification of the workers’ movements in the different countries with the national aims and aspirations of their national bourgeoisie, led inevitably to the break up of the Second International in the crisis of 1914.

Emerging clearly from the crisis in the Socialist International was the party of Lenin, which carried on an uncompromising fight against any conception of national defence, and postulated the need to utilise the difficulties of the war situation to sharpen the class struggle, with the objective of establishing Workers’ Power. With this bold programme Lenin attracted to his side all the best currents in the International Socialist movement. With these cadres and a distinctly Internationalist Programme, Lenin in the years of Imperialist war laid the foundations of the new Third International. The subsequent history of this International has in the past received very little attention. The struggles in the different countries, the successes and failures are spread over a wide literature mostly today inaccessible. The discussions, decisions, speeches and pamphlets of the early years of the Third Communist International are now out of circulation. To circulate them today would only serve to show how far the present leaders of the Third International have travelled away from the conceptions of its founders, and reinforce the thesis of James that this movement has succumbed which it set out to cleanse the workers’ movement of, namely, National Socialism.

The importance of this book, however, lies in its exposure of the theoretical revisionism which made its appearance in Russia in the last period of Lenin’s life. The existence of an isolated Workers’ State, which remained unrelieved from Imperialist pressure; by the negative results of the post war revolutions in Western Europe, nourished the new revisionism; national exclusiveness. This in turn has had a decisive and disastrous influence on the second post war wave of revolutionary struggles.

The struggle in the Russian Communist Party around the theory of Socialism in One Country, was, until recent years, treated as an abstract disputation between two irreconcilable personalities. Hitler’s conquest of power without a defensive blow struck by the powerful German proletariat, served to shake that former conception. The new betrayals which the various Communist Parties are actively preparing on the cardinal question of war and national defence will shatter it.

The imprint this theory has left on the International movement since it was coined, is traced in the various countries by James. Those who are concerned with preparing the new generation, the cadres for as new resurgence of international socialism must do everything possible to get this book into the hands of young workers, to theoretically prepare them for the struggles ahead.

From Controversy, theoretical journal of the ILP, Vol.1, No.8, May 1937, p.37. This number contained one Stalinist and one Trotskyist review of the James book.


The great theoretical discussions which occupied the Russian Communist Party between the years 1923-27, at the time produced no echo in the English labour movement. Stalin’s theory of Socialism in a Single Country, against Trotsky’s concept of Permanent Revolution, was regarded in sufficiently wide circles as the abstraction which covered the reality of a personal struggle in the leadership for the mantle of Lenin.

The fateful events in Western Europe in recent years; Hitler’s assumption of power without a decisive blow being struck by the powerful German proletariat; the crushing of Austrian social democracy; civil war in Spain and the role of the Communist International in these events compels a revaluation of that early theoretical struggle. James’ book provides us with the first comprehensive study of the struggle within Russian Communism, and its influence on the world Communist movement.

The re-groupment of the revolutionary and socialist movement, a process which commenced during the imperialist war, and was accelerated by the October revolution, proceeded under the leadership of Lenin.

The first declarations of the Communist International declared “The national State, which in the past had given tremendous impetus to capitalist evolution, has become too narrow for the development of the productive forces.” To free the productive forces from the restrictions imposed by the national States, a new unity was necessary. This unity could be attained only by the proletarian revolution, which would unite all people in the closest economic co-operation. As a necessary preliminary step the proletariat must free itself from all those shibboleths of national unity, defence of the Fatherland, etc, which serve only to tie the working masses to the bourgeois order.

That profound internationalism of Lenin, which characterised all his writings during the war and throughout the Revolution, and which were finally concentrated in those early documents of the Communist International, is ably illustrated by James. Here is the source of those ideas which are today advanced by the Communist Party’s Left critics.

The recent speech of Stalin, which admonishes those party leaders for having forgotten such an elementary fact as the continued capitalist encirclement of the Soviet Union, indicates how far Party thought has receded from the world outlook of Lenin. This national patriotism which has reached such threatening proportions in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is an inevitable consequence of the theory of Socialism in a Single Country. Those who attempt to reconcile Lenin’s views with this nationalist theory of socialist development, will have a difficult task to answer the fifth chapter of James’ study.

Through all the later writings of Lenin, which was devoted to the problem of restoring the shattered economy of the country, there is not a trace of this revisionist theory.

The contradictions of development of an isolated Workers’ State were regarded as incapable of solution within national boundaries. The solution was sought in the international arena, by extending the base of the proletarian revolution.

It is necessary to emphasise that this approach to the problems of an isolated Workers’ State did not exclude the most careful attention to the measures for strengthening the economy of the country. This is best illustrated by the fact that the Left wing of the Russian Communist Party were the first to raise the slogan for a planned beginning.

The decisive influence which the triumph of this revisionist theory has had on the Communist International is outlined in great detail by James. The early demarcation lines which separated the Second and Third Internationals are completely effaced. Lenin’s banner, against national unity, against any concessions to national defence, for the revolutionary struggle against one’s own government, has been uprooted.

As the crisis of capitalism deepens, and a new imperialist war approaches, a growing body of socialist opinion turns for guidance to the programme which Lenin outlined for the Third International. For the first time the salient points in the history of this international are available. Around this exhaustive study and patent marshalling of materiel the controversies of the future will rage.

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Updated by ETOL: 14.2.2005