On 18 and 19 February, 460 Marxists from across Canada, as well as international guests, met for the Montreal Marxist Winter School 2023, hosted by Fightback/La Riposte, the Canadian section of the International Marxist Tendency. This year’s event was themed around “The Revolutionary Party”, with sessions discussing the lessons of previous efforts to build a revolutionary Marxist organisation. In case you missed it, you can now watch and listen to all the talks online!
With discussions covering the history of the First International, the struggle for a workers’ party in the US, and the importance of the revolutionary press, the talks are a brilliant resource for the study of how and how not to build a revolutionary organisation.
Capitalism is hurtling ever deeper into crisis. Building the revolutionary party—the organisation that can lead the working class to victory—is more urgent than ever. If you agree, join us!
What is to be done? The Bolshevik/Menshevik split
In 1903 the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party split into two factions: the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Although they all started out ostensibly as Marxists, while the Bolsheviks would go on to lead the October Revolution, the Mensheviks would end up betraying it. Though this future was not at all apparent in 1903, the seeds of what was to come were already taking root. Alex Grant, editor of Fightback explains the causes of the split, and what lessons it has for us today.
Marx versus Bakunin: History of the First International
Marx and Engels were far from just armchair theoreticians, they played key roles in organizing and leading the International Workingmen’s Association, also known as the First International. This was the first attempt at an organization that would unite the working class across national lines, and it was full of challenges. In his talk, La Riposte socialiste editor Julien Arseneau explains Marx and Engels’ fight for theoretical and political clarity in the First International against the anarchist ideas of Bakunin and his followers, who maneuvered against the democracy of the International under the guise of fighting against Marx’s so-called authoritarianism.
The Spanish Revolution of 1936
The Spanish Revolution is one of the most tragic episodes of the 20th century class struggle. When Franco led a coup in July 1936 the working class rallied and fought courageously against the forces of fascism. At the height of the revolution, the working masses held power in revolutionary Catalonia. However, the working class lacked the genuine revolutionary party and leadership to take them forward, and their leaders instead betrayed them. Erik Demeester, editor of the Belgian newspapers Révolution and Vonk, explains the lessons we can learn from the Spanish working class’s sacrifice.
Lessons from the Indonesian Revolution
In the 1950s the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) grew to the third largest Communist Party in the world, with three million paid members and the support of ten million trade unionists and organized peasants. At the same time the Indonesian economy was failing and the division between rich and poor was growing ever sharper. The time was ripe for revolution. But tragically this explosive combination ended in the massacre of 1 million communists in 1965. Fightback activist Ted S. explains how Indonesia teaches us that mistakes in theory have dire consequences.
In defence of a revolutionary press
In 1903 Lenin wrote What Is to Be Done? a pamphlet explaining how to build a revolutionary party. In his plans, the revolutionary newspaper played a central role. Despite Lenin’s subsequent success building a party exactly as he outlined in What Is to Be Done? there are plenty on the left today who question the relevance of the revolutionary press. Don’t we live in the digital age? Doesn’t the internet make newspapers obsolete? Benoit Tanguay, from the editorial board of La Riposte socialiste, explains how Lenin’s advice has stood the test of time, and the role the revolutionary press plays for us today.
The struggle for a workers’ party in the U.S.
Millions of workers and young people in the U.S. are fed up with the two parties of the capitalist class: the Republicans and the Democrats. But in the absence of a mass labor party, voters have a limited choice between voting for one of the ruling class parties, voting for a tiny third party or simply abstaining. But why isn’t there a mass labor party in the United States? Why have past attempts to create one failed? Tom Trottier, from the editorial board of Socialist Revolution explains the lessons we can learn from history to change this situation the future.
Why did the Soviet Union collapse?
Anyone who is a socialist knows how important the question of the Soviet Union is. If the Russian Revolution was such an emancipatory event, how did it devolve into a dreadful, oppressive caricature of socialism? And if the planned economy achieved such great advances, how and why did it collapse? Jules Legendre, editor of the French paper Révolution helps us understand the forces that resulted in the collapse of the USSR and what that means for building socialism in the future.
Ted Grant and the Fourth International
The Montreal Marxist Winter School ended with a fascinating talk from Fred Weston, editor of In Defence of Marxism, about Marxist leader and theoretician Ted Grant. After the assassination of Leon Trotsky, the young and untested forces of the Fourth International found themselves rudderless. The historic capitalist upswing post-WWII was especially disorientating. Only the leadership of the RCP in Britain was able to readjust to the new situation on a world scale after 1945, thanks to the theoretical capabilities of Ted Grant. His writings on economics, war, the colonial revolution, and particularly Stalinism, were, and still remain, classics of modern Marxism.