Lenin’s “‘Left-Wing’ Communism”: a masterclass in revolutionary strategy – available now!

We are very proud to announce the publication of Lenin’s masterpiece ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder, by Wellred Books – the publishing house of the International Marxist Tendency. This rich text addresses the central questions of the building of a revolutionary party with Lenin’s characteristic clarity and depth. This edition contains a new introduction, written by Francesco Merli, which we publish below. Get your copy of ‘Left Wing’ Communism now!

The publication of this invaluable tool in the arsenal of communists internationally could not come at a better time. From 10-15 June, the International Marxist Tendency will be launching a new Revolutionary Communist International (RCI), on the basis of the lessons and methods of the Bolsheviks. Register now for the founding conference of the RCI.

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When we started the international revolution, we did so not because we were convinced that we could forestall its development, but because a number of circumstances compelled us to start it. We thought: either the international revolution comes to our assistance, and in that case our victory will be fully assured, or we shall do our modest revolutionary work in the conviction that even in the event of defeat we shall have served the cause of the revolution and that our experience will benefit other revolutions.[1]

These words encapsulate Lenin’s lifelong and unshakeable commitment to the idea of international proletarian revolution. What the Russian workers had begun in October 1917 by seizing power under the leadership of the Bolshevik party could only be conceived by Lenin as the beginning of the international revolution. Their victory could only be consolidated by the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism as a world system. Lenin’s firm belief that the destiny of the Russian Revolution was tied to the victory of the international socialist revolution is at the heart of the book you are about to read.

The biggest obstacle to victory was not posed by a lack of revolutionary spirit among the masses in and outside of Russia. Workers throughout the world paid painstaking attention towards what was happening in Russia. The workers’ overwhelming revolutionary energy was displayed in the German Revolution of November 1918, and again in the victorious insurrection against the Kapp putsch in March 1920. [2] In Italy, the revolutionary Biennio Rosso (the Two Red Years) was anticipated as early as March 1917 by the reaction of the Turin workers on hearing about the February Revolution in Russia. [3] The news that the workers had overthrown the tsar was greeted with “indescribable joy” and tears, as Antonio Gramsci recalled a few years later.[4] The Italian revolution culminated in the eruption of the factory councils’ movement, the April 1920 Turin general strike and the September 1920 occupation of the factories, which stopped just short of a full-blown revolution only because of the prevarications and capitulation of the leaders of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). The 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic was prematurely defeated because of the mistakes committed by the communists led by Béla Kun. A revolutionary mood was also spreading among the British and French working class, giving serious cause for concern to the imperialists. This ferment was reflected in the tumultuous growth of all the organisations of the working class, which also experienced a powerful shift to the left.

The main problem was the delay in providing a leadership for the world revolution as effective as the Bolshevik Party had been for the Russian working class: a leadership capable of leading the workers to power in one or more of the advanced capitalist countries, as a step towards the global overthrow of capitalism. This was the fundamental reason why the Communist International was founded in 1919.

The young and inexperienced forces of international communism rallied around the banner of October. Support or rejection for the Russian Revolution became the defining line for the new revolutionary vanguard emerging from the war. They reflected an unbreakable spirit and determination, but also a great deal of confusion. The ideas, tactics and methods that had been conquered by the Bolshevik party as a result of fifteen years of practical experience, political struggle and clarification, in the measure that they were known at all, were only partially understood, and often in a simplified way. The problems that the Bolsheviks faced and could resolve politically over many years, were posed anew in an extremely acute form by the rapidly developing crisis in Europe.

Lenin carefully crafted ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder as part of the political preparation for the Second Congress of the Communist International. This book is probably the most valuable contribution to revolutionary strategy and tactics ever written and retains all of its relevance today.

The subject of the book is declared very clearly. Lenin carefully examines all the most important lessons that can be drawn out of the Russian Revolution and the history of Bolshevism. He directs our attention to the relevant lessons for the political arming of communist party leaders worldwide in the fight against capitalism and imperialism. First, the strategic task of winning over the vast majority of the vanguard of the working class to communism, and uniting them into a revolutionary party. However, as this urgent task was in the process of being accomplished in many countries, the question was posed of how the communists could and should win the masses away from the influence of social democracy, reformism and opportunism – which composed the main obstacle on the road to revolution.

Lenin was very aware that the strategic task of winning the masses, without which the question of conquering power can never be posed, could never be achieved unless a political battle was waged against so-called ‘Left-wing’ communism, which he considered an ‘infantile disorder’. ‘Leftism’ – or ultra-leftism as we would refer to it – was rampant in most of the newly formed communist parties. This posed a serious threat, if not corrected, to the viability of these parties – and the International, as the leadership of the world proletarian revolution.

Imperialist war of aggression against the Soviet Republic

With the Russian October raising the hopes of millions of workers and the oppressed worldwide, a way out of the immense suffering caused by the war materialised in the form of the prospect of world proletarian revolution. Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks were conscious that war would prepare revolution throughout Europe. Trotsky’s masterly use of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations for a separate ‘peace’ with Germany as a platform for revolutionary propaganda, under the demand of a ‘peace without annexations and indemnities’, had widely reverberated among the oppressed masses around the world, and had a profound impact, especially among the German working class.

The November Revolution of 1918 in Germany was the final blow to the monarchy and to the war. The German working class had answered the call by the Russian revolutionaries to the toiling masses of the world: “Rise up to end capitalism, imperialism, poverty and war. Rise up and join us in our common struggle.” This resonated and chimed with the mood pervading among the workers in Europe and the oppressed peoples throughout the world.

The burning need to overthrow capitalism and imperialism, once and for all, was also posed in the eyes of the masses by the relentless wars of aggression against Soviet Russia. This imperialist meddling, waged by the international capitalist class, exacted an additional catastrophic toll of millions of lives lost, misery and destruction. The imperialists of the Entente, with Britain at the forefront, assembled an even broader coalition of forces with the aim of snuffing out the Soviet Republic before it could consolidate and spread. Winston Churchill, the newly nominated secretary of the British War Office in 1919, recalled decades later: “If I had been properly supported in 1919, I think we might have strangle Bolshevism in its cradle.” [5]

Spartakusaufstand Barrikaden Image public domainThe November Revolution of 1918 in Germany was the final blow to the monarchy and to the war / Image: public domain

Unfortunately for Churchill, he could not endeavour strangling Bolshevism with his own hands, but had to rely on workers in uniform that had endured the worst possible conditions during the war and had no intention of continuing putting their lives at risk at the whim of the ruling class. Most of the British soldiers were expecting to be demobilised. Harsh conditions, mistreatment, arbitrary dispatch of troops and delays in demobilisation led to many mutinies in the immediate post-war period.

The world capitalists, faced with revolution, sided openly with the darkest reaction: the counter-revolutionary tsarist White Army. The imperialists actively intervened with tens of thousands of their own troops, mobilised their allies, and provided weapons, training, money and generous supplies to the Whites, hoping to tilt the scales of the class war that was being waged by the old regime against the victorious proletarian revolution. All this to no avail. After initial successes, the Whites were pushed back and defeated over and over again.

In early 1920, the war of aggression against Soviet Russia was continuing, despite the decisive victories on the battleground against Kolchak in the east and Denikin in the south by the Red Army led by Leon Trotsky. A new bout of counter-revolutionary onslaught erupted in late April 1920, just as Lenin was putting the finishing touches to ‘Left-Wing’ Communism. Polish forces led by Józef Piłsudski attacked the Soviet Republic, invading Ukraine and occupying Kiev, together with the White forces of Symon Petliura’s Ukrainian People’s Army (UNA).

The Polish offensive was supported by Britain and France, but was met with general hostility by a large part of the Ukrainian population and lost its initial momentum after capturing Kiev. The invasion was swiftly routed by the Red Army under the command of a young officer: Mikhail Tukhachevsky. The solidarity of the international working class seriously undermined imperialist support for Poland. Dockers in London and Danzig refused to handle supplies, while Czechoslovak and German workers blocked transit through their respective countries. The British Trade Union Congress and the Labour Party threatened a general strike if British troops joined Poland in the war. Workers of all lands instinctively acted in defence of the Soviet Republic, united in a formidable force.

Military victory against the Whites was indeed a question of life and death. Nothing could be spared. All the resources of the Soviet Republic had to be concentrated in arming and supplying the Red Army. The workers and the poor peasants of Russia showed an iron will and endured unimaginable sacrifices to defend their revolution. The need to protect the revolution justified resorting to draconian measures, and the policy of ‘war communism’ was the only way of resisting, under these circumstances. However, it put the workers’ state under unbearable strain.

In spite of the extreme lack of resources, the fight for survival of the workers’ state achieved miracles. A powerful and disciplined Red Army was set up, trained and organised literally while fighting on the battlefield. However, Soviet Russia would never be able to overcome, just out of sheer force of will, the deep backwardness inherited from the tsarist regime, compounded by years of war. International solidarity by the workers proved to be vital, while foreign intervention crumbled and the Whites were pushed back. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were conscious that from every point of view, unless a revolution triumphed in one or more of the advanced countries it would be impossible for Soviet Russia to overcome that extreme backwardness on its own. With the revolution of November 1918, Germany became the key to world revolution.

Revolution in Germany

On 3 November 1918, the sailors of the German Navy mutinied in Kiel. The attempt by the regime to suppress the revolt triggered a revolutionary explosion with the formation of workers’ and soldiers’ councils throughout the Empire. These councils immediately started assuming political and military power. The monarchy collapsed like a house of cards, and the Kaiser abdicated a few days later. German imperialism had no other choice than capitulating, putting an official end to the war. What is most remarkable is that the German working class was spontaneously replicating forms of Soviet power similar to those that had emerged after the February revolution in Russia.

Unfortunately, the revolutionary forces in Germany were not as politically consolidated and organised as the Bolshevik party had been at the beginning of the revolution in Russia. They were not even close to the level of discipline and centralisation needed to take advantage of the convulsive and stormy events unleashed by the Revolution. They were also facing a much stronger reformist bureaucratic apparatus, which was fully embedded in the workers’ movement. The right-wing Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was shaken, but still strong, and had money, structures, resources and mostly retained its traditional control of the trade unions. A left-wing split from the SPD established the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPS) in April 1917. The new party had hundreds of thousands of radicalised workers in its ranks, but also a number of leaders like Karl Kautsky, who were reformists. A revolutionary wing in the USPD was emerging around the Spartacist League, whose most prominent leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were still imprisoned until after the revolution had broken out.

The war and the betrayal by the social democratic leaders, who contributed to it by supporting their own ruling classes, had heavily affected the consciousness of the new generation of revolutionaries.

Among these revolutionaries prevailed what we can consider a healthy rejection of the rotten bankruptcy of the SPD leaders and the opportunism of USPD leaders like Kautsky. However, this drove them to the false conclusion that a break was necessary, not just with these reformist leaders, but also with sections of the working class that were being rapidly radicalised by the revolution at the same time as being hesitant and unprepared to sever ties with what they considered their own organisations. The Spartacists walked out of the USPD shortly after the November Revolution, under the pressure of this mood. This split, dictated by impatience, inflicted a heavy toll. The possible fusion between the communists and a large section of the advanced elements in the USPD – which were moving towards communism – was delayed for two more decisive years

Founding of the KPD

The founding congress of the German Communist Party (KPD) was convened in Berlin on 30 December 1918. Around 100 delegates were present. The discussions displayed all the symptoms of the ‘infantile disorder’ that Lenin later described in ‘Left-Wing’ Communism. Most of the delegates were young, with a large presence of industrial workers.

One of the main discussions was around the participation in the elections for the National Constitutional Assembly, which had been called for the following 19 January. More than two-thirds of the delegates voted to boycott it, identifying participation in parliament with the conduct of the opportunists and class traitors. They took the decision despite strenuous attempts by Rosa Luxemburg, Paul Levi, and others to convince them otherwise. One of the delegates, Otto Rühle, expressed this mood in the most graphic way: “we have had enough of compromises and opportunism…”[6] The mass of the working class, however, did not share the same view and participated in unprecedented numbers in the election, with the SPD gaining 11.5 million votes and the USPD gaining 2.3 million votes, almost half of the total votes cast. An important opportunity was lost for the communists to mark their difference from the opportunists in practice and engage in mass agitation and learn how to connect mass work with the most advanced layers.

A second point of contention was the attitude towards the trade unions. The same mood of impatience drew many delegates towards the idea of abandoning the trade unions altogether, to the point that some proposed membership of the party be declared incompatible with membership of a trade union. The workers’ councils that had emerged in the revolution were considered by the ‘Lefts’ as an alternative, superior form of organisation of the class. Paul Frölich even proposed that the slogan should be ‘Get out of the unions!’ [7] A damaging decision on this question was avoided, pending further discussion, but the conflict on the approach towards the trade unions plagued the party’s internal life for at least twelve to eighteen months following this.

Rosa Luxemburg Image public domainLuxemburg and Liebknecht embraced the creation of the new party / Image: public domain

It is important to note that these positions were expressed precisely when hundreds of thousands (soon millions) of radicalised workers were joining the trade unions for the first time. Trade union membership in Germany grew fivefold, from 1.5 million in 1918 to 7.3 million by the end of 1919.

The same process was happening in many countries. Millions of previously unorganised workers were flowing into the trade unions. In Britain, trade union membership went from 4.1 million in 1914 to 6.5 million by 1918, and in the immediate post-war years by 1920, this reached 8.3 million. In Italy, the General Confederation of Labour (CGL), from its 250,000 members at the end of the war, had grown tenfold to 2,150,000. In France, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) grew from 355,000 members in 1914, to 600,000 by 1918 and then peaked at 2,000,000 in 1920.

Luxemburg and Liebknecht tried to contrast these wrong positions. They had embraced the creation of the new party, attempting to steer it in the right direction. However, in spite of their enormous personal authority, they were unable to convince the congress and ended up in a minority on key questions like the boycott of the National Assembly election. They were confident they could correct these tendencies with time, which would probably have been the case. Unfortunately, time was not on their side.

The congress also revealed that the Spartacists were very far from having conquered political homogeneity and forged the necessary discipline as an organisation. Among the Spartacists there were widely varying opinions, with radically different views on these and other important questions.

As a result, the new party was politically ill-equipped to take on the tasks forced upon them by the revolutionary crisis. In a matter of days after the congress, the newborn party was confronted with the worst possible scenario: to have to sustain an open confrontation with reaction and the state with no prior preparation. The SPD government orchestrated a provocation. This led to an attempt by the communists to resist, igniting a political strike by half a million workers and bloody fighting on the streets.

What would be remembered as the Spartacist Uprising was violently put down, with hundreds of communists killed. The assassination of Luxemburg and Liebknecht by the reactionary Freikorps was carried out with the complicity of the SPD leaders. The campaign of extrajudicial assassinations continued, with the clear intention of beheading the KPD. In March, Leo Jogiches, the veteran revolutionary who had succeeded Liebknecht at the head of the KPD, was also arrested and murdered in prison. This tragedy seriously undermined the political growth of the new party. The newborn KPD paid a dear price for these and other ultra-left mistakes, which partially compromised its ability to gain a mass base for some time.

The vanguard, the masses and the revolutionary party

What we have discussed so far, and which is the subject of Lenin’s ‘Left-Wing’ Communism, is at its core not so much the question of the attitude of the communists towards legal versus illegal methods, or the need to carry out revolutionary work within the trade unions, or the question of whether or not communists should participate in elections and use the bourgeois parliaments as a platform for revolutionary agitation. These questions have been starkly posed in every revolution, although in various different forms depending on different historical conditions. However, they are recurrent and intrinsic to the development of all revolutions. Why is this so? These questions have everything to do with a correct understanding of the role of the revolutionary vanguard, its relationship with the masses, and the role of the revolutionary party.

While the vanguard can learn from a combination of experience and political education, in which good and effective communist propaganda plays an important role, the masses learn mainly through experience. The role of the revolutionary party is to clear away obstacles to the unity of the revolutionary advanced layers and the masses, to prepare the party, the vanguard and the masses for revolution by unifying them in the course of the revolution. This can only be achieved by exposing in practice the treachery of the bourgeois liberals and the reformist leaders, and showing beyond doubt that the only way for the masses to conquer their fundamental needs is through revolutionary means.

Revolutionary tactics are the methods by which the party can accompany the masses in this hard school of practical experience, and at the same time ensure that the more advanced layers are constantly connected to the broader masses and are driving them forward, without running too far ahead of them or engaging prematurely in battle. This is precisely the scenario the Bolsheviks had to navigate in the July Days of 1917, when an orderly retreat saved the party and the vanguard from the worst consequences of a stillborn insurrection. What happened with the Spartacist uprising was a similar situation, but the consequences of a mistaken approach were disastrous. Unfortunately, it was not to be the last time.

All these tactical manoeuvres are absolutely necessary to prepare for the best alignment of forces on the battleground and win the decisive battle of the revolutionary class war. Through this process, and only through this process, are the conditions for a successful revolutionary seizure of power prepared.

An important question that is often overlooked is that Lenin insisted that such preparatory work is also necessary to establish the best conditions for consolidating revolutionary power after the revolution.

A successful insurrection breaks and dismembers the capitalist state, that is, the bodies of armed men in defence of the power and privileges of the ruling class. However, Lenin points out that the ruling class, even after being overthrown, is still stronger than the new revolutionary power. The highest degree of revolutionary discipline is necessary to secure the transition. Capitalism re-emerges constantly from small scale production and distribution forms. It is embedded in the inertia of a society where social habits and the class divisions cannot be abolished by decree. And of course, in a situation where capitalism is still the dominant force globally, it will always fight back against revolutions by any means necessary, as they did after the Russian Revolution.

Lenin explained: “Tactics must be based on a sober and strictly objective appraisal of all the class forces…” But how are we to judge whether a tactic is adequate in a particular moment, or stage of the movement? Here is how Lenin poses the question of revolutionary work in bourgeois parliaments:

Parliamentarianism is of course ‘politically obsolete’ to the Communists in Germany; but that is the whole point – we must not regard what is obsolete to us as something obsolete to a class, to the masses. Here again we find that the ‘Lefts’ do not know how to reason, do not know how to act as the party of a class, as the party of the masses. You must not sink to the level of the masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class. That is incontestable. You must tell them the bitter truth. You are duty bound to call their bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices what they are – prejudices. But at the same time you must soberly follow the actual state of the class-consciousness and preparedness of the entire class (not only of its communist vanguard), and of all the working people (not only of their advanced elements).[8]

The Bolsheviks, for example, successfully applied the tactic of boycotting the reactionary Duma in 1905, as the mass strike movement became political and turned into an uprising. In 1906, however, the same tactic was regarded by Lenin as a mistake, although a “minor and easily remediable one” and in 1907 and 1908 as a “most serious error and difficult to remedy”. [9] Why pose such a diametrically opposite evaluation of the same tactic? What differed from 1905 was that in 1906, the revolution had clearly ebbed and by 1907 it had been defeated. What made the tactic appropriate, or wrong, was not its intrinsic quality, but the concrete conditions which had changed. Under the circumstances of 1906, and even more so in 1907 and later, the Bolsheviks needed to seize every opportunity to help the revolutionary forces of the working class reorganise and retreat in the most orderly way after being defeated, which also meant participating in a reactionary Duma.

After the February 1917 revolution, the party’s main task was to win a majority of the masses to their side by patient explanation. How did the Bolsheviks achieve it?

Despite views that are today often to be met with in Europe and America, the Bolsheviks began their victorious struggle against the parliamentary and (in fact) bourgeois republic and against the Mensheviks in a very cautious manner, and the preparations they made for it were by no means simple. At the beginning of the period mentioned, we did not call for the overthrow of the government but explained that it was impossible to overthrow it without first changing the composition and the temper of the Soviets. We did not proclaim a boycott of the bourgeois parliament, the Constituent Assembly, but said – and following the April 1917 Conference of our Party began to state officially in the name of the Party – that a bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly would be better than a bourgeois republic without a Constituent Assembly, but that a “workers’ and peasants’” republic, a Soviet republic, would be better than any bourgeois-democratic, parliamentary republic. Without such thorough, circumspect and long preparations, we could not have achieved victory in October 1917, or have consolidated that victory.[10]

Growth of the Communist Parties

plakat komintern Image public domainThe general staff of the proletarian revolution had to be educated to fulfil the tasks of the day / Image: public domain

In spite of the important mistakes committed by the German ‘Lefts’, which attracted Lenin’s fierce criticism, by early 1920 the KPD had grown significantly, reaching about 350,000 members. The unresolved internal struggle, however, led to a damaging split. The ‘Left’ communists broke with the party to form the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD). A large part of the USPD, in the meantime, had further radicalised to the left, with increasing support for the Communist International within its ranks. The party had grown to 750,000 members. Lenin’s perspective and approach was confirmed when a few months later, the majority of the USPD accepted the twenty-one conditions of membership set by the Second Congress of the Comintern. The party freed itself of the opportunist right-wing faction that walked out. The majority of the USPD merged with the KPD and formed a much larger Unified German Communist Party (VKPD) in December 1920.

In France, the Socialist Party (SFIO) congress in Tours in late December 1920 saw the culmination of a prolonged battle within the party, with the majority of the delegates accepting the conditions for affiliation set by the Communist International. The French Communist Party was thus founded, after a minority reformist faction led by Leon Blum had split away.

In Italy, in the second half of 1920, we had the convergence of the communist oppositions within the PSI: the abstentionist ‘Soviet’ group led by Amadeo Bordiga and the Turin based ‘Ordine Nuovo’ group led by Antonio Gramsci. Bordiga had carried out both earlier and more consistent opposition work in the PSI, and emerged as a leading force of the Communist faction of the party, which was permeated by Bordiga’s ultra-left ideas. Gramsci and his comrades had developed a number of correct policies which had allowed them to conquer and lead the mass movement of the factory councils in Turin. To his credit, Bordiga dropped his abstentionist positions from the common platform of the Communist faction, showing a certain degree of tactical flexibility, which helped the growth of the opposition. However, Bordiga’s ultimate approach still prevailed, demanding an immediate split with the reformists and the vacillating centre of the party.

At the PSI congress in Livorno, in January 1921, the Communist faction, unable to win over the vacillating majority of the delegates from the influence of the confused ‘third internationalist’ faction – in effect a centrist current – around Giacinto Serrati, walked out of the congress and split. They moved to a different theatre to give birth to the Partito Comunista d’Italia, taking with them only one third of the delegates, while leaving behind the majority of the delegates who still supported the third internationalist faction, instead of winning them over. This is similar to what had happened in France. Another major development was in Czechoslovakia, where the Communist Party was formed a few months later by the left faction of the Social Democrats and gained a mass base.

These are a few examples of the tumultuous process leading to the formation of the communist parties. The political mistakes exposed by Lenin in ‘Left-Wing’ Communism represented an important obstacle not only for the numerical growth of the young communist parties, but they also undermined their ability to genuinely unify the revolutionary vanguard and enter into a struggle to expose in practice the treacherous role played by the reformist leaders. This struggle represented the necessary and unavoidable preparation for maximising the chance of success when the question of a revolutionary conquest of power would inevitably be posed.

In order to achieve that, the leadership of these parties needed to be trained and educated in the light of the experience and lessons of Bolshevism. The general staff of the proletarian revolution had to be educated to fulfil the tasks of the day. This was precisely the task that Lenin had set himself.

From propaganda to agitation: how to conquer the masses

Lenin acknowledges that the first phase of the formation of the Communist International, aimed at gathering the revolutionary forces around the banner of the Russian Revolution. However, he points out that by the time of writing, this task had been largely achieved. All that could be conquered by ideological struggle and clarification, and by a skilful use of propaganda, had been conquered – at least in the countries where the communist parties had reached a significant size. The task of the communist leadership was to prepare the parties and the vanguard for the next step, for what lay in front of them.

The chief thing – though, of course, far from everything – the chief thing, has already been achieved: the vanguard of the working class has been won over, has ranged itself on the side of Soviet government and against parliamentarianism, on the side of the dictatorship of the proletariat and against bourgeois democracy. All efforts and all attention should now be concentrated on the next step, which may seem – and from a certain viewpoint actually is – less fundamental, but, on the other hand, is actually closer to a practical accomplishment of the task. That step is: the search after forms of the transition or the approach to the proletarian revolution.

The proletarian vanguard has been won over ideologically. That is the main thing. Without this, not even the first step towards victory can be made. But that is still quite a long way from victory. Victory cannot be won with a vanguard alone. To throw only the vanguard into the decisive battle, before the entire class, the broad masses, have taken up a position either of direct support for the vanguard, or at least of sympathetic neutrality towards it and of precluded support for the enemy, would be, not merely foolish but criminal.[11]

Lenin continued, explaining that the fundamental way in which the masses can understand the need for a communist revolution is through bitter, practical experience:

Propaganda and agitation alone are not enough for an entire class, the broad masses of the working people, those oppressed by capital, to take up such a stand. For that, the masses must have their own political experience. Such is the fundamental law of all great revolutions, which has been confirmed with compelling force and vividness, not only in Russia but in Germany as well. To turn resolutely towards communism, it was necessary, not only for the ignorant and often illiterate masses of Russia, but also for the literate and well-educated masses of Germany, to realise from their own bitter experience the absolute impotence and spinelessness, the absolute helplessness and servility to the bourgeoisie, and the utter vileness of the government of the paladins of the Second International; they had to realise that a dictatorship of the extreme reactionaries (Kornilov in Russia; Kapp and co. in Germany) is inevitably the only alternative to a dictatorship of the proletariat.[12]

Lenin’s conclusions could not be expressed in a clearer manner. He continued:

As long as it was (and inasmuch as it still is) a question of winning the proletariat’s vanguard over to the side of communism, priority went and still goes to propaganda work; even propaganda circles, with all their parochial limitations, are useful under these conditions, and produce good results. But when it is a question of practical action by the masses, of the disposition, if one may so put it, of vast armies, of the alignment of all the class forces in a given society for the final and decisive battle, then propagandist methods alone, the mere repetition of the truths of ‘pure’ communism, are of no avail. In these circumstances, one must not count in thousands, like the propagandist belonging to a small group that has not yet given leadership to the masses; in these circumstances one must count in millions and tens of millions.[13]

The conclusion is inescapable. The party had to prove able to accompany the masses in their practical experience as a means of conquering their support. This cannot be achieved by propaganda alone and by proclaiming the truths of ‘pure’ communism. It requires the ability of the party to take advantage of the changing conditions in the battleground of the class struggle, to expose in practice and beyond any doubt the bankruptcy of the reformist leaders, while showing its own ability to lead the struggle to victory. It required the adoption of adequate tools and tactical arrangements to help the communist parties deploy, educate, train and mobilise not just thousands, but millions and tens of millions of workers.

Legal and illegal work

The material basis for the development of ‘Left’ communist tendencies, as a significant force within the vanguard, was a healthy rejection of the treacherous conduct of the reformist leaders and the opportunist adaptations by the left reformists to the bourgeois system. This is, in a certain sense, inevitable at a certain stage of development in all revolutions. It reflects the impatience of the vanguard towards the more backward sections of the masses who are trailing behind. It was magnified by the scale of the betrayal inflicted by Social Democracy on the working class during the First World War.

The ‘Lefts’, however, tended to transform this into outright opposition to any kind of participation in legal work. It is true that legal work under every bourgeois regime, even the most democratic one, is by definition limiting the scope of activity of the revolutionary party to a ‘legal’ framework set by the ruling class. This applies to participation in Parliament and elections, and even to revolutionary work in the reformist and reactionary trade unions. However, these same fields are providing the very possibility for the revolutionary vanguard to establish a strong connection with the masses. Lenin’s point was never to limit the revolutionary party’s activities only to the legal framework imposed by the ruling class (or the labour bureaucracies), but to exploit all the available venues for legal work under all circumstances, combining them with the necessary revolutionary illegal work. Above all, the main concern of the ‘Left’ communists was to rule out any kind of compromise, any kind of tactical alliance with the reformists. They considered such tactics as tantamount to betrayal. They refused to see these tactical adjustments for what they were: a method which used all the weapons available to advance the standing of the revolutionary party in the eyes of the masses.

In Lenin’s view, there is no doubt: the main enemy continues to be represented by the reformists and the social chauvinists of all sorts. In relation to the vexed question of the trade unions, for example, this struggle Lenin says:

… must be waged ruthlessly, and it must unfailingly be brought – as we brought it – to a point when all the incorrigible leaders of opportunism and social-chauvinism are completely discredited and driven out of the trade unions.[14]

The victorious revolution in Russia gave enormous authority to the newborn Communist International in the eyes of the workers in all countries. This wave of sympathy pushed many reformists and vacillating elements to apply for membership of the International to preserve their authority, without fully disposing with the methods of reformism. Lenin understood that without a break with the reformists, and with all the vacillating elements that were not prepared to break with them, it would have been impossible for the Communist parties to fully develop as revolutionary parties. That was the reason for introducing the twenty-one conditions for affiliation to the Communist International, which were adopted by the Second Congress in July – August 1920. These conditions were designed as a guarantee against the infiltration of opportunist trends in the Comintern.

RCI launch 1

One thing that distinguishes the opportunists and traitors is their opposition to any kind of illegal methods of struggle. On the other hand, the position of accepting only illegal methods of struggle, while ignoring the advantages of other methods, is pure infantilism and will inevitably limit the arsenal of weapons available to the revolutionary party.

The truth is that those parties and leaders are opportunists and traitors to the working class that are unable or unwilling […] to use illegal methods of struggle in conditions such as those which prevailed, for example, during the imperialist war of 1914-18, when the bourgeoisie of the freest democratic countries most brazenly and brutally deceived the workers, and smothered the truth about the predatory character of the war. But revolutionaries who are incapable of combining illegal forms of struggle with every form of legal struggle are poor revolutionaries indeed. [15]

Whoever is incapable of applying maximum tactical flexibility, of “combining illegal forms of struggle with every form of legal struggle”, would indeed make a poor revolutionary. The limitations of the ‘Lefts’ become crystal clear precisely when the revolutionary party needs to connect with the masses, and conquer them. In fact, at that stage, the question of tactical flexibility becomes vital.

Only one thing is lacking to enable us to march forward more confidently and firmly to victory, namely, the universal and thorough awareness of all Communists in all countries of the necessity to display the utmost flexibility in their tactics. The communist movement, which is developing magnificently, now lacks, especially in the advanced countries, this awareness and the ability to apply it in practice.[16]

The ‘united front’ tactic

The revolutionary wave that had been shaking the foundations of capitalism after the First World War led to both convulsions in all the organisations of the working class, and to the formation in several countries of Communist parties with mass roots. These were, in a few cases, stronger than their reformist counterparts, although in most cases they were weaker in numbers.

These revolutionary forces were emerging from a sharp struggle globally against the reformist leaderships of the Second International, who had betrayed and trampled on the principles of socialist internationalism they had nominally stood for, by siding with their own bourgeoisie throughout the war. The revolutionary vanguard was imbued with a rejection and hatred for these leaders and their crimes.

The crisis of bourgeois society, however, had awakened the mass of the working class and pushed previously inert layers into action. All workers’ organisations experienced a turbulent growth, with millions of workers swelling the ranks of the organisations immediately available to them, starting with the trade unions as we have seen, and Social Democracy, but with significant layers also finding their way to the syndicalist and communist organisations.

By early 1920, however, the revolutionary tide was beginning to ebb, and capitalism had not been overthrown. The spontaneous revolutionary movement of the masses and the immature forces of communism proved not to be sufficient to overthrow the bourgeoisie. The capitalists were in the process of reorganising and had managed to hold onto power by means of class war and civil war, inflicting defeats like the fall of the 1919 Soviet Republic in Hungary. In Germany, the most important country from the point of view of a world revolutionary perspective, the ruling class had survived the November 1918 revolution thanks to the help of the leaders of Social Democracy and the trade unions.

Lenin understood that revolution could never be achieved by the sheer will of the revolutionary vanguard alone. For the revolution to triumph, the most advanced layer, the vanguard, had to be organised in a disciplined manner in a revolutionary party and it needed to conquer the support of the vast majority of the working class, as a condition to conquer the leadership of the broader masses.

The way to achieve that position allows no shortcuts. The communists had to struggle for the leadership of the mass organisations of the working class like the trade unions, by purging them of the class traitors – the chauvinistic and reformist elements. They also had to win over the masses still following the reformist leadership in reformist parties that retained a mass basis. Only by achieving such a position could the revolutionary party begin the struggle for power. Only by undermining the residual influence of the old order, overcoming its social inertia, could the broader masses be won to revolution. The bid for a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state could only be launched when these conditions were met.

It is precisely in this context that the limitations of the ‘Leftist’ approach become more visible. The rejection of all forms of ‘compromise’ as a matter of principle; the rejection of any sort of temporary collaboration or pact with the reformist leaders; the refusal to work in reactionary trade unions and so on, reveal weakness, a lack of confidence, not strength. It severely limited the ability of the revolutionary party to erode and undermine the support for the reformists, thus helping the reformist retain their base.

The rejection of tactics that are designed to expose in practice the role of the reformists to the masses can only lead to sterile sectarianism. Above all, it is ineffective in fighting against what, according to the ‘Left’ communists themselves, were precisely the worst enemies: reformism and opportunism. Trotsky later pointed out how Lenin’s approach was the complete opposite of the moralistic position of the ‘Lefts’:

But Lenin had in mind a break with reformists as the inevitable consequence of a struggle against them, and not an act of salvation regardless of time and place. He required a split with the social patriots not in order to save his own soul but in order to tear the masses away from social patriotism.[17]

In ‘Left-Wing’ Communism, Lenin is already explaining the method which underpins the tactic of the united front, which would soon become one of the central points of discussion and controversy at the Third and Fourth congresses of the Comintern. The point that needed to be understood by the ranks of the new, young, and inexperienced Communist parties was that this tactic had been adopted countless times in the history of Bolshevism. It was developed as a concrete policy for establishing links and common work between the advanced Communist workers and the masses who were still under the influence of the reformist leaders, while at the same time exposing and undermining the authority of these leaders in practice.

The dialectical method of Lenin presents a stark contrast with the sterile formalism of his critics. In order to win the masses it is necessary to combine theoretical firmness with tactical and organisational flexibility. All other considerations and whining about how ‘difficult’ it may be, the ‘risks’ of contaminating one’s ‘revolutionary purity’, and so on, are completely futile and childish excuses.

If you want to help the ‘masses’ and win the sympathy and support of the ‘masses’, you should not fear difficulties or pin-pricks, chicanery, insults and persecution from the ‘leaders’ (who, being opportunists and social-chauvinists, are in most cases directly or indirectly connected with the bourgeoisie and the police), but must absolutely work wherever the masses are to be found. You must be capable of any sacrifice, of overcoming the greatest obstacles, in order to carry on agitation and propaganda systematically, perseveringly, persistently and patiently in those institutions, societies and associations – even the most reactionary – in which proletarian or semi-proletarian masses are to be found.[18]

A special mention should be made to the advice that Lenin gave to the British communists, who were affected in a particularly virulent way by all the symptoms of the ‘infantile disorder’. Lenin understood even better than the British communists themselves that Britain was heading towards a revolutionary crisis, and dedicated quite a large part of the book to explain how the British communists should prepare for it – an effort proportional to the importance he attached to such a revolutionary prospect. Lenin’s purpose was that of politically arming the vanguard which was about to form the Communist Party of Great Britain, but the question of the weakness of the communist forces compared to those of the Labour Party is clearly factored in.

I will put it more concretely. In my opinion, the British Communists should unite their four parties and groups (all very weak, and some of them very, very weak) into a single Communist Party on the basis of the principles of the Third International and of obligatory participation in parliament. The Communist Party should propose the following ‘compromise’ election agreement to the Hendersons and Snowdens: let us jointly fight against the alliance between Lloyd George and the Conservatives; let us share parliamentary seats in proportion to the number of workers’ votes polled for the Labour Party and for the Communist Party (not in elections, but in a special ballot), and let us retain complete freedom of agitation, propaganda and political activity. Of course, without this latter condition, we cannot agree to a bloc, for that would be treachery; the British Communists must demand and get complete freedom to expose the Hendersons and the Snowdens in the same way as (for fifteen years – 1903-17) the Russian Bolsheviks demanded and got it in respect of the Russian Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e. the Mensheviks.[19]

Lenin’s advice shows how tactics must be determined by concrete circumstances. The strength, level of organisation, and political capability of the revolutionary forces is to be carefully taken into account, something that is invariably lost to the sectarians in all their varieties, along with all sense of proportion.

At the time of writing ‘Left-Wing’ Communism, Lenin had not made up his mind on the question whether the British Communist Party should request affiliation to the Labour Party. This question was thoroughly debated at the Second Congress of the Comintern a few months later, where Lenin reached the conclusion that the British communists should do so, as long as they were allowed to conduct their independent political propaganda.

This shows the degree of flexibility and attention displayed by Lenin in working out a decision in relation to tactics. It is interesting to note how Lenin, in the course of numerous discussions, was successful in convincing some of the key leaders of the Left communists, such as Willie Gallacher, the leader of the Clyde Workers’ Committee in wartime Glasgow, who later recalled the impact of Lenin’s patient arguments on his political understanding.

Conditions for a victorious revolution

In ‘Left-Wing’ Communism, Lenin provides the most comprehensive and clear definition of the fundamental law of revolution. Lenin is approaching it from different points of view. It is worth quoting it at length:

The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want to live in the old way and the ‘upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph. This truth can be expressed in other words: revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters). It follows that, for a revolution to take place, it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, and politically active workers) should fully realise that revolution is necessary, and that they should be prepared to die for it; second, that the ruling classes should be going through a governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward masses into politics (symptomatic of any genuine revolution is a rapid, tenfold and even hundredfold increase in the size of the working and oppressed masses – hitherto apathetic – who are capable of waging the political struggle), weakens the government, and makes it possible for the revolutionaries to rapidly overthrow it.[20]

To this definition, which provides us with a method for a diagnosis of what a revolution is, Lenin adds a complementary definition of the strategic tasks of revolution, which, to continue with the analogy, constitutes its prognosis:

In these circumstances, we must ask ourselves, not only whether we have convinced the vanguard of the revolutionary class, but also whether the historically effective forces of all classes – positively of all the classes in a given society, without exception – are arrayed in such a way that the decisive battle is at hand – in such a way that:

  1. All the class forces hostile to us have become sufficiently entangled, are sufficiently at loggerheads with each other, have sufficiently weakened themselves in a struggle which is beyond their strength;
  2. All the vacillating and unstable, intermediate elements – the petty bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois democrats, as distinct from the bourgeoisie – have sufficiently exposed themselves in the eyes of the people, have sufficiently disgraced themselves through their practical bankruptcy;
  3. Among the proletariat, a mass sentiment favouring the most determined, bold and dedicated revolutionary action against the bourgeoisie has emerged and begun to grow vigorously. Then revolution is indeed ripe; then, indeed, if we have correctly gauged all the conditions indicated and summarised above, and if we have chosen the right moment, our victory is assured.[21]

Learning how to master society

Lenin Image public domainThe most striking feature of ‘Left-Wing’ Communism is that Lenin wrote it in light of concentrated and extremely rich direct experience / Image: public domain

The most striking feature of ‘Left-Wing’ Communism is that Lenin wrote it in light of concentrated and extremely rich direct experience, to a degree unprecedented in the revolutionary movement. The rise of Bolshevism from the formation of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to the 1905 revolution; the retreat following the defeat of the revolution facing a period of dark reaction; the revival of the class struggle abruptly interrupted by the war; the February 1917 revolution and the experience of the struggle leading the Bolsheviks to power. But above all, the book carries the invaluable lessons drawn from experiencing the transition after the Bolsheviks conquered power.

What Lenin describes – the necessary struggle to steel the party from its very rudimentary inception until it conquers the vanguard and then the masses; the social and political preparations for taking power; the way the party learns how to show in practice its ability to lead the revolutionary vanguard and the masses to victory – all the preparations and tactical arrangements aimed at forging the unity of the revolutionary masses and exploit every single division, difference and wavering in the ruling class, also determines the ability of the revolutionary party to steer society during the transition to socialism.

The central question is that the method used to conquer the masses must be constantly applied during the transition to overcome threats and obstacles, the most urgent and dangerous of which is the fierce resistance put up by the former ruling class against the newborn workers’ state, but it is also necessary to overcome the more subtle but insidious threat posed by the inertia of the old social relations.

Two and half years in power after the October Revolution taught Lenin precious lessons. The degree through which the revolutionary vanguard is trained to learn how to use all weapons at their disposal is even more crucial. The more this method is assimilated by the revolutionary vanguard in preparing for power, the less difficult the learning of how to master the whole of society once taken power. Learning effectively how to take advantage of all divisions, differences, tactics and interests in the enemy camp can spell victory or disaster even when countering the organised resistance of international capitalism. To be capable of manoeuvring and retreating orderly when necessary in order to avoid battle at unfavourable times is also crucial. The skill to study the terrain, the concrete conditions in which the battle is fought, to learn how to engage and disengage, attack and retreat in an orderly way, minimising the losses; all of these represent invaluable lessons. If we want to win the global class war against capitalism, these have to be learnt repeatedly by studying the school of revolutionary strategy and tactics that was the Communist International under Lenin

Above all, each and every revolution will provide invaluable lessons for those who are capable of learning them, and possibilities to be seized upon, provided that we have truly assimilated the lessons of the revolutionary struggle that are already available to us.

History as a whole, and the history of revolutions in particular, is always richer in content, more varied, more multiform, more lively and ingenious than is imagined by even the best parties, the most class-conscious vanguards of the most advanced classes. This can readily be understood, because even the finest of vanguards express the class-consciousness, will, passion and imagination of tens of thousands, whereas at moments of great upsurge and the exertion of all human capacities, revolutions are made by the class-consciousness, will, passion and imagination of tens of millions, spurred on by a most acute struggle of classes. Two very important practical conclusions follow from this: first, that in order to accomplish its task the revolutionary class must be able to master all forms or aspects of social activity without exception (completing after the capture of political power – sometimes at great risk and with very great danger – what it did not complete before the capture of power); second, that the revolutionary class must be prepared for the most rapid and brusque replacement of one form by another.

One will readily agree that any army which does not train to use all the weapons, all the means and methods of warfare that the enemy possesses, or may possess, is behaving in an unwise or even criminal manner. This applies to politics even more than it does to the art of war.[22]

Lenin’s method

The draft of ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder was finalised on 27 April 1920. A postscript was added by Lenin on 12 May, dealing in particular with the news of the split of the ‘Left’ Communists from the German KPD, to form the Communist Workers’ Party (KAPD). “Let that be so. At all events, a split is better than confusion…” commented Lenin in his typical fashion. He added:

Let the ‘Lefts’ put themselves to a practical test on a national and international scale. Let them try to prepare for (and then implement) the dictatorship of the proletariat, without a rigorously centralised party with iron discipline, without the ability to become masters of every sphere, every branch, and every variety of political and cultural work. Practical experience will soon teach them.[23]

Lenin had no doubt that the surge of the ‘Left’ communist trend, in many countries, in that particular moment of the revolutionary struggle, stemmed from the impatience of a part of the vanguard. He never doubted that among these ‘Lefts’ there were to be found dedicated fighters for the world revolution, and believed that the best of them could learn from experience and be reabsorbed into the ranks of the Comintern.

Lenin is not talking of the typical ossified sectarian petty-bourgeois revolutionist, standing on a pedestal and lecturing the working class about eternal truths. These types are impermeable to the experience of the class struggle and represent a grotesque caricature of the ‘Lefts’ that Lenin was trying to correct.

What Lenin is highlighting is an impatient mood that tends to develop within sections of the most advanced layers, which draws them towards a simplification of the revolutionary tasks, tactics and slogans. This reflects the level of consciousness of such a layer that does not understand the need to connect with and break through to the more backward masses, and rejects the very idea that it is necessary to do so.

Amused by the superficiality of certain objections, Lenin wryly quipped:

… the ‘Left’ Communists have a great deal to say in praise of us Bolsheviks. One sometimes feels like telling them to praise us less and to try to get a better knowledge of the Bolsheviks’ tactics.[24]

By refusing to adopt tactics that can place the revolutionary party at the head of the masses, the ‘Lefts’ render a service to the ruling class in separating the vanguard from the masses, thus exposing it to attacks, and facilitating its suppression. This could be corrected through experience and by patient explanation. In many cases this was indeed what happened. Lenin’s focus was always on drawing the lessons and finding a way to steer the party and the International in the right direction, by patiently explaining and providing the communist cadres with an understanding of the tasks posed by the concrete situation, and how to achieve them.

In line with the title of the book, Lenin believed that this was indeed an ‘infantile disorder’, from which the communist movement would recover and emerge stronger. However, the only cure against such disorder was to pursue concentrated, uncompromising clarity, even at the risk of a split.

It is important to underline Lenin’s method. At the time of a damaging split with the ‘Lefts’, Lenin was at the same time advising the forces of the Communist International to take measures preventing the split with the ‘Lefts’:

Every effort should be made to prevent the split with the ‘Lefts’ from impeding – or to see that it impedes as little as possible – the necessary amalgamation into a single party, inevitable in the near future, of all participants in the working-class movement who sincerely and conscientiously stand for Soviet government and the dictatorship of the proletariat.[25]

He warned:

Certain individuals, especially among unsuccessful aspirants to leadership, may (if they lack proletarian discipline and are not honest towards themselves) persist in their mistakes for a long time.[26]

And indeed that was the case with several of the leaders. But he continued:

However, when the time is ripe, the masses of the workers will themselves unite easily and rapidly and unite all sincere Communists to form a single party capable of establishing the Soviet system and the dictatorship of the proletariat.[27]

Lenin, facing this damaging split, was using it as a way to clarify the political questions and thus prepare the ground for the future unity of the best revolutionary forces at a higher level.

Lenin attributed enormous importance to ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder and personally revised its publication in several languages. Copies of the book were distributed (together with Leon Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism) to all delegates gathering in July 1920 for the Second Congress of the Communist International.

In a dense, concentrated, form Lenin draws out the laws of revolution, summing up the experience of Bolshevism, the only party that had proved capable of leading the working class to the conquest of power, and retain it in a fierce struggle. What lessons could be drawn from the Russian experience? What could help the communist parties in all countries to wrestle the influence still retained by the reformist organisations over sections of the masses and transform themselves into mass forces capable of conquering power?

‘Left-Wing’ Communism is one of Lenin’s finest works, addressing with his typical razor-sharp clarity the concrete and most burning questions that the revolutionary movement was facing at a time of revolutionary upheaval. However, the importance of this book is not just its historical significance. It represents for today’s communists a masterclass in revolutionary strategy and a compass on how to work out the necessary tactics corresponding to the concrete conditions and the aims of the revolutionary struggle. These are lessons that revolutionaries today can choose to ignore only at their peril.

The approach explained by Lenin retains its full validity more than 100 years later. It is the approach that the revolutionary party must adopt in order to prepare for power. It answers the question of how communists can conquer the support of the majority of the working class and the masses – the necessary precondition for attempting the successful victory of the proletarian revolution.

Today, the spectre of communism – which the capitalists believed had been exorcised after the fall of the Soviet Union – is coming back to haunt them. They are reacting hysterically by denouncing as communism everything that they regard as a threat to their system. This campaign of slanders and threats will intensify, as the capitalists are already beginning to attempt to suppress the revolutionary ferment brewing within society. In doing so, they are alerting a whole new generation of revolutionaries to the need to understand what communism really is. Lenin greeted these attempts at demonising communism by the capitalists and their paid pen-pushers and servants with both joy and scorn: “… we must salute and thank the capitalists. They are working for us.” This is as true today as it was a century ago.

Francesco Merli,


3 April 2024


[1] Lenin, ‘Report on Tactics of the RCP, Third Congress of the Communist International’, 5 July 1921, LCW, Vol. 32, pp. 479-80.

[2] On 13 March 1920, reactionary circles in the high echelons of the German Army moved to crush the social-democratic government, the Republic and the gains of the 1918 November Revolution. Their aim was to instate a military-backed autocratic government headed by Wolfgang Kapp and pave the way to the restoration of the monarchy. The German workers replied with an insurrectionary general strike. The coup collapsed and Kapp was overthrown on 17 March.

[3] The Two Red Years (Biennio Rosso) of 1919-20 saw a revolutionary upsurge of the Italian working class, with an explosive growth of the Italian Socialist Party and the trade unions, mass political strikes, the rise of the factory councils in Turin which spread throughout the country, and a vast movement of land occupations by poor peasants and agricultural workers. It culminated in the occupation of the factories in September 1920. The bourgeois order was shattered, but not overthrown, for lack of revolutionary leadership. This  paved the way for a reactionary backlash with the rise of fascism.

[4] A Gramsci, ‘The Turin factory council movement’, L’ordine nuovo, 14 March 1921.

[5] Churchill, Winston, Churchill By Himself, Public Affairs, 2008, p. 381.

[6] Riddell, John (ed.), The German Revolution, Pathfinder, 1986, p. 175.

[7] Ibid, p. 188.

[8] Lenin, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder, Wellred Books, 2024,  p. 59.

[9] Ibid, p. 30.

[10] Ibid. p. 23.

[11] Ibid, p. 99.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, p. 101.

[14] Ibid, p. 51.

[15] Ibid, p. 104.

[16] Ibid, p. 110.

[17] Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1935-36, Pathfinder, 1969, p. 156.

[18] Lenin, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder, Wellred Books, 2024, p. 52.

[19] Ibid, p. 92.

[20] Ibid, p. 91.

[21] Ibid, p. 102.

[22] Ibid, p. 103.

[23] Ibid, p. 116.

[24] Ibid, p. 60.

[25] Ibid, p. 116.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

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