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.

On the occasion of May Day we republish the following leaflet written by Lenin in 1904, when Russia was about to enter a period of revolutionary turmoil. In it, Lenin calls on the workers and peasants to unite, overthrow the blood-sucking aristocrats, bankers and landowners, and take full ownership of all that labour creates. The message still holds true today. Long live worker solidarity! Happy May Day!

In the bourgeois media today, Afghanistan is portrayed only in relation to Islamic fundamentalism, jihad, warlords and drug cartels. While these ills are a sad fact of life in Afghanistan today, that was not always the case. 40 years ago, a revolution almost shook the country out of its backwardness, only to be thrown back after the imperialist-backed, fundamentalist counter-revolution. To understand the current situation in the Middle East, as well as the rise of the reactionary forces, it is necessary to understand the rise and fall of the Saur revolution in Afghanistan in 1978.

The October Revolution radically changed the situation for homosexuals in Russia, as it did for women. In 1922 the first criminal code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) was passed as law. In 1918 all the old Tsarist laws were suspended and when finally, after a few years of debate, the new constitution was adopted, homosexuality or “sodomy” as it was called, was decriminalised. This was an enormous advance for homosexuals, who under the Tsar could be arrested and sentenced to years of imprisonment or sent to labour camps.

50 years ago, on 4 April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – the leader of the civil rights movement in America – was shot dead in cold blood. On that day, Dr. King was in Memphis, Tennessee, to lead a demonstration and rally in support of a three-month-long fight for trade union recognition by 1,300 local refuse collectors.

Wellred Books proudly presents the new edition of Leon Trotsky’s My Life.Since this book was first published, it has been regarded as a unique political and literary document. Written in the first year of Trotsky’s exile in Turkey, it contains the earliest authoritative account of the rise of Stalinism and the expulsion of the Left Opposition, who heroically fought for the ideas and traditions of Lenin.

We publish here a collected series of articles on the 1837-1838 Rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada (original available at Fightback). It is important that Marxists understand the place of these important events in the history of the class struggle in Canada and Quebec.

On 21 August 1940, Leon Trotsky, the great revolutionary leader of the October Revolution, died in Mexico, murdered by a Stalinist agent. We publish his autobiography with forewords by In Defence of Marxism editor, Alan Woods, and Trotsky's grandson, Esteban Volkov.

Mahatma Gandhi, the defining figure of the Indian nationalist campaign against British colonial rule in India, is known by most as an anti-imperialist, whose peaceful non-violent methods helped to overthrow British rule. This myth has been perpetuated by many. The truth, however, is that he betrayed as many as he inspired in the independence campaign, stood wholeheartedly with British imperialist interests, consolidated existing inequalities including caste, racial, and gender discrimination, and ultimately his role helped lead to the calamitous disaster of partition.

Forty-five years ago, the largest and most important strike movement in the history of Quebec took place. During this historic episode, the workers of the province stormed onto the political arena to fight against the bourgeoisie. At its peak, workers occupied the factories and mines, and the general strike movement brought the economy of the province to a halt.

Federica Montseny speaks at the historical meeting of the CNT in Barcelona on 1977, the first one after 36 years of dictatorship in Spain. Manel Armengol

Este año se cumple el 40º aniversario del que fue, sin duda, el año decisivo de la llamada Transición. En el año 1977 tuvieron lugar los asesinatos de Atocha, que elevaron la temperatura revolucionaria de la sociedad a su grado máximo, la legalización de los sindicatos y de los partidos de izquierda, entre ellos el PCE; la celebración de las elecciones semidemocráticas del 15 de junio, así como la firma de los infames Pactos de la Moncloa, que sellarían la traición a las expectativas populares despertadas a la muerte del dictador.

April 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Fought as part of the larger British-led Battle of Arras during the First World War, the battle was the first instance in which all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) fought together. The success of the unified Canadian Corps in capturing the ridge from German troops, after failed efforts to do so by British and French forces, has steadily grown in significance in recent decades to attain the status of a founding myth, in which Vimy represented Canada’s birth as a nation. This mythologized narrative obscures the true nature of an imperialist war that led to the death of millions, while furthering

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The winds of revolution are once again blowing over the African continent. From Burkina Faso to South Africa, from Burundi to Nigeria, we have seen a radicalisation of the workers and the youth and the rise of mass movements that have challenged corrupt capitalist regimes in one country after another.

Twenty years ago what was once a mighty Communist Party of nearly two million members, the Italian PCI, was dissolved and was transformed into the Democratic Party of the Left, later to become the Democratic Party. In the process the party split in two, with those opposing this change setting up the Party of Communist Refoundation. This article by Roberto Sarti of the Editorial Board of Falcemartello looks at how this came about and draws some lessons for today’s communists.

May 1968 was the greatest revolutionary general strike in history. This mighty movement took place at the height of the post-war economic upswing in capitalism. Then, as now, the bourgeois and their apologists were congratulating themselves that revolutions and class struggle were things of the past. Then came the French events of 1968, which seemed to drop like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. They took most of the Left completely by surprise, because, they had all written off the European working class as a revolutionary force.

Exposed to anti-Semitism in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then in Poland, Leopold Trepper (1904-1982), like a great many Jewish workers, saw socialism as the solution to the problem of the oppression of the Jewish people in Eastern Europe. In The Great Game, published in 1975, Trepper tells the story of his participation in a particular episode of the Second World War -- the history of the Red Orchestra – at the same time as he relates his journey as a militant to an exceptional destiny and role. This work, which is rich in analyses and illustrations about the actors and events of the historical period that it covers (from the end of the First World War to the death of

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The Spanish Civil War, which broke out in July 1936, was a struggle between the forces of revolution and counter-revolution. After the fascist victories in Italy and Germany, many saw this war as the last stand against fascism. From more than 50 countries, some 45,000 volunteers left home to fight fascism on Spanish soil. One of the most powerful images of the conflict remains Picasso's Guernica. Painted following the massive aerial bombardment of the Basque town by German and Italian nationalist allies in April 1937, it is an angry memorial to the thousands of civilian war dead.

On 17th April 1916 the Irish Citizen Army, together with the Irish Volunteers, rose up in arms against the might of the British Empire to strike a blow for Irish freedom and for the setting up of an Irish Republic. Their blow for freedom was to reverberate round the world, and preceded the first Russian Revolution by almost a year.

This book compactly sets forth the fundamentals of Marx's economic teaching in Marx's own words. After all, no one has yet been able to expound the theory of labour value better than Marx himself. The abridgement of the first volume of Capital - the foundation of Marx's entire system of economics - was made by Mr. Otto Rühle with great care and with profound understanding of his task. First to be eliminated were obsolete examples and illustrations, then quotations from writings which today are only of historic interest, polemics with writers now forgotten, and finally numerous documents - Acts of Parliament, reports of factory inspectors, and the like - which, whatever their importance

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The dictator of Indonesia, Suharto, resigned on 21 May 1998. As Alan Woods and Ted Grant wrote at the time, this bloody tyrant ruled Indonesia with a rod of iron, having come to power over the corpses of over a million people. But he was blown away like a dead leaf in the wind by a mass movement of the students and workers. This momentous event opened up a revolutionary opportunity in Asia, one that was sadly never grasped. Nevertheless, the collapse of Suharto's regime was a tremendous victory for the Indonesian masses.

At first sight it may seem that the republication of The Communist Manifesto requires an explanation. How can one justify a new edition of a book written almost 150 years ago? Yet in reality the Manifesto is the most modern of books.