Strategic Lessons of Revolutionary Social Democracy

Cosmonaut Magazine

A discussion and debate on the strategic lessons to be taken from the revolutionary social democratic parties of the Second International. Panelists are Eric Blanc, Ben Lewis, and Gil Schaeffer.

While 20th Century Marxism was largely founded on the politics and philosophy produced by the Communist International (1919-1943), both academics and socialist militants have been re-evaluating the typical narrative of the prior Second International, its relation to Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution, and its relevance today. The Second International was made up of mass worker parties that largely subscribed to Marxism. Between its left flank (represented by people like Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek) and its right (symbolized by “revisionist” Eduard Bernstein plus trade union leaders like Philipp Scheidemann and Friedrich Ebert) was a center “orthodox Marxist” tendency led by the likes of Karl Kautsky, Vladimir Lenin, and others that could be called “revolutionary social democracy”. What can socialists today take from ‘revolutionary social democracy’, either as a positive or negative lesson? What does the nature of the contemporary liberal-constitutional state imply for socialist strategy, the process of the working class building a “class for itself”, and ultimately taking power in society?

Eric Blanc is author of the books Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire, 1882-1917 (Brill 2021) and Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (Verso 2019), Eric Blanc is a doctoral candidate in sociology at NYU researching public sector labor organizing, information and communications technologies, and working-class politics. His research has appeared in journals such as Politics & Society, New Labor Forum, and Labor Studies Journal as well as publications such as The Nation, The Guardian, and Jacobin.

Ben Lewis is a translator whose main area of research is the disputed legacy of ‘Second International Marxism’ and its main theoretician, Karl Kautsky. He has written many articles on this subject and translated several key German language texts from this period. Together with historian Lars T Lih, he has co-produced a book on the Halle Congress of the German USPD in 1920, Martov and Zinoviev: Head to Head in Halle. He sits on the Revolutionary History Editorial Board and on the Marxists’ Internet Archive Steering Committee. His current project, Marxism Translated, is dedicated to the translation and study of ‘lost’ classic texts of German Marxism. His most recent book is an edited translation from Haymarket titled Karl Kautsky on Democracy and Republicanism.

Gil Schaeffer was a member of Students for a Democratic Society at Princeton from 1967-1970 and of the Revolutionary Union in Oakland from 1970-1975. His paper, “You Can’t Use Weatherman to Show Which Way the Wind Blew: The Unfinished History of the New Left; Participatory Democracy, Marxism, and the Goal of a Democratic Constitution,” critically investigates the history of the New Left, and the relationship between democracy and Marxism. Other writings by Gil can be found at Cosmonaut and New Politics.



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