Historical Materialism in Canada

In the shadow of the economic crisis in Greece, inspired by Occupy, the Arab Spring, and Quebec’s “Maple Spring”, the 2012 edition of the Historical Materialism Conference in Toronto, was a resounding success. More than 400 people attended the 80-plus panels during an intensive three-day event stretching from Friday, May 11 through Sunday, May 13.

Historical Materialism saw an important series of discussions on indigenous politics, involving eight sessions, a plenary and a Long Table discussion. There was a well-attended session on the relationship between Marxism and Feminism and several sessions on key issues in political economy. The complete program can be seen here.

Historical Materialism originated as a journal 1997. Subscription information is available here. Annual conferences associated with the journal have been happening each November in London, U.K. since 2004. This year’s (the ninth annual) will be held between November 8 and 11, 2012.

Toward the United Front

One of the highlights of the 2012 Toronto HM conference, and of last year’s HM conference in London, was the launch of John Riddell’s 1310 page Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922. At that congress, 350 delegates from 61 countries (Riddell 2012, 55) grappled with the political challenges of building a united anti-capitalist movement in the post-war era. Three panels at Historical Materialism Toronto addressed issues relevant to Riddell’s book, with 150 people in total participating in those discussions.

Riddell’s book – which was also the subject of multiple sessions at the HM conference in London in 2011 – is the seventh in an ongoing series making available the proceedings and documents relevant to the construction of an international socialist movement in the difficult years before, during and after World War One. An outline of the six earlier works is available here. Central to this project were the early congresses of the Communist International, the first being in 1919. Bringing together activists from around the world, these congresses grappled with the key political issues of the day, in very difficult circumstances.

The first congress took place while Russia suffered under a terrible blockade which fuelled civil war and caused untold suffering. This blockade – imposed on the country by Britain, France and the Allied powers from the spring of 1918 until it petered out in 1920 – began in two phases. After the October Revolution, “the allies stopped the flow of supplies to Russia”. But the full regular blockade “was established after the Brest-Litovsk treaty” (Carr 1978, 3:126). In other words, Russia was being strangled by the victorious democracies, as punishment for Russia bringing to an end the carnage of World War One on Germany’s eastern front. Blockade went along with military invasion to fuel the destructive civil war aimed at overthrowing the new Russian workers’ state. The military invasion proved futile. In February and March of 1919, there were mutinies among British, French and U.S. troops (Carr 1978, 3:127–127). By the fourth congress – the subject of Riddell’s book – the blockade had been lifted and the civil war was over. The Russian workers’ state emerged victorious – but suffered horrendous casualties.

Riddell’s translations – and his superb 59-page introduction – bring to life this 90 year-old gathering of activists. The hard cover version will be difficult to buy for many individuals, as its list price is €199 ($283). But it is an excellent volume to recommend to a library, particularly if you are associated with a university. And, a $55 paperback version will be available later this year, published by Haymarket Books in Chicago.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

Carr, Edward Hallett. 1978. A History of Soviet Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Volume Two. Vol. 3. 14 vols. Macmillan.

Riddell, John. 2012. Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

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