Theory History

Today is the 200th anniversary of what has gone down in history as the Peterloo Massacre. This is one date that the ruling class has little desire to remember. Even now, two centuries on, a reminder of the bloodshed and violence associated with the history of British capitalism will be uncomfortable for the establishment.

I did not believe that it was possible for the low esteem in which I hold modern academics in general, and bourgeois historians in particular, to sink any lower than it already was. But that belief was misplaced. I have just had the misfortune to watch a three-part series put out by BBC Channel Four with the title: ‘Charles I, Downfall of a King’. I now hold the intellectual qualities of our modern historians at a slightly lower level than those of Mr Bean. At least Mr Bean can be mildly amusing at times, but our self-appointed intellectuals lack even that redeeming virtue.

As the capitalist system lurches from one crisis to the next, old contradictions are re-emerging. Instability, polarisation and huge political shifts are taking place all over the world. As part of this process, unsolved national questions are erupting once more with renewed force around the globe - from Catalonia to Kurdistan to Ireland.

And it is not just on the national question that these giant shifts are taking place. The emergence of new political movements and formations, from Sanders to Corbyn to Podemos, reflect the impasse of the system and the fact that the masses - deprived of a party with a clear, revolutionary programme - are searching for a way out.

Today is 50 years since the Stonewall riots of 28 June 1969, which marked the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. Following other revolutionary events of the 1960s, the riots – described as the “hairpin drop heard ‘round the world” by the New York Mattachine newsletter – marked a shift amongst LGBT people away from individualised, small-scale activism and towards mass protest and demonstrations.

On 28 June 1969, a riot just outside the Stonewall Inn bar, located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, marked a turning point in the fight for the emancipation of LGBTQ people. That night, the bar was raided by the police, which was all too common at the time with gay bars. But this time, gay people didn’t let the police walk over them. They stood up to the NYPD in an unprecedented weekend of rioting. This courageous act transformed the movement and led to thousands of LGBTQ people coming “out of the closet, into the streets!” It is important to revisit these events and draw the main lessons for today.

Thirty years ago, the world’s largest-ever student movement was brought to a violent close by the so-called People’s Liberation Army. For about six weeks, hundreds of thousands, and at one point over a million, students, workers, Communist Party members and Beijing residents had flooded into and occupied Tiananmen Square, the same place from which forty years earlier Mao had proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

From May to August of 1934, Minneapolis was rocked by a strike that would forever change the course of U.S. labour history. This was the strike of Teamsters Local 574, a union led by Trotskyists. Many of the best techniques used by organised labour today find their origins in the Minneapolis Strike, in particular the flying picket. However, the strike's greatest conquest was in laying the foundations for industrial unionism in North America, leading to the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the following years. Above all, the Minneapolis Strike demonstrated the role played by the young forces of American Trotskyism in obtaining gains for workers.

This article, first published in Socialist Revolution (US magazine of the IMT), argues that the historical pendulum is swinging towards an eventual resurgence of the labour movement. What needs to be in place for a future revolution to succeed? What kind of organisation and programme can lead the working class to victory?

A century ago, on 2-6 March 1919, the first congress of the Third International took place in Moscow. This marked the birth of the Communist International, which became a vital school of revolutionary ideas and strategy. Rob Sewell (editor of Socialist Appeal, British journal of the IMT) looks back on this momentous event.

The Finnish Revolution is a proud chapter in the history of the international working class. Tragically, despite the tremendous energy expended by the masses, their leaders vacillated and betrayed the revolution. The forces of counterrevolution unleashed a bloodbath, which physically annihilated the flower of the working class, contributing to the encirclement and isolation of the Russian Revolution.

The so-called “February 28th Incident” (228, 二二八事件) is most remembered for the days of indiscriminate killings and repression that the Chinese bourgeois dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his KMT forces unleashed on Taiwan in 1947. Thousands of civilians were murdered in cold blood. It marked the beginning of a long-standing sentiment for Taiwanese national self-determination that permeates a large part of Taiwanese masses to this day.

It is a well-known fact that accident can play a considerable role in both history and the lives of individuals. In the course of my life I have observed many accidents and extraordinary coincidences. But I have never experienced such a unique and unforeseeable concatenation of circumstances as that which I am about to relate here.

Xie Xuehong (Hsieh Shue-hong, 謝雪紅) was a key figure in the revolutionary movement in Taiwan in the early 20th century. Despite having to fight against the tremendous barriers that a backward patriarchal society placed before an impoverished, illiterate peasant woman, she was able to found and build the Taiwanese Communist Party (TCP, 台灣共產黨).

Josh Holroyd reviews Nelson at Naples by Jonathan North, which exposes the atrocities committed by Horatio Nelson during his part in crushing the Neapolitan Revolution of 1799. The tragic events North describes, which reveal the unbridled barbarism of a reactionary old order fighting for its life, are rich with lessons for revolutionaries today.

On 22 November, at the Leon Trotsky House Museum in Mexico City, Alan Woods began his talk on the English Revolution by saying that, while postmodernists claim there are no laws in history and that it is impossible to understand, there are recurrent processes and even familiar characters across the centuries. Similar material conditions provoke historical phenomena with certain similarities.

The German Revolution of 1918 ended the First World War. During a little-known episode of the Revolution, German soldiers liberated Belgium from a brutal military occupation before the armistice of the 11 November was signed. This revolutionary movement was also crucial in pushing through a swift introduction of universal general suffrage in Belgium.

"The development of the International Left Opposition is proceeding amidst sharp crises that cast the fainthearted and the short-sighted into pessimism. In reality these crises are completely unavoidable. One has only to read the correspondence of Marx and Engels attentively, or to preoccupy oneself seriously with the history of the development of the Bolshevik Party to realise how complicated, how difficult, how full of contradictions the process of developing revolutionary cadres is."

100 years ago, on 9 May 1918, the Scottish socialist John Maclean went on trial at the Edinburgh High Court facing charges of sedition. Maclean, however, used the trial to make an impassioned defence of himself and his socialist ideas (lasting 75 minutes in total), which we publish in full here.

We publish here in English an oft-quoted text, The Sexual Revolution in Russia, by Dr. Grigory Batkis, published in German in 1925 as a contribution to the proceedings of the World League for Sexual Reform. Unable to locate an English language edition, we found a copy of the German original and had it translated by our German and Austrian comrades of the IMT.