In Defence of Bolshevism


Book Cover "In Defence of Bolshevism" in red text above a black and white photo of Lenin
Sean Matgamna and Max Shachtman
Long book
311 pages

Max Shachtman’s Under the Banner of Marxism, the bulk of this book, should be considered one of the classic Marxist polemics. It defends the Bolsheviks, their revolution, their work to build a revolutionary socialist movement, and the continued relevance of their approach.


Max Shachtman's Under the Banner of Marxism, which forms the bulk of this book, deserves to be considered one of the classic polemics of the Marxist movement, alongside The Poverty of Philosophy, Anti-Dühring, and others. It defends the Bolsheviks, their revolution, their work to build a revolutionary socialist movement, and the continued relevance of their approach.

The British political labour movement is trying to recreate itself. During Corbyn's leadership — when this book was published — something like half a million people joined the Labour Party, and mostly because they wanted be politically active as left-wingers. Around 40,000 joined Momentum for the same reason.

Yet the legacy of previous defeats for socialism still weighed and weighs heavy. There was and remains a strong current of opinion within the broad left which suggests that re-winning a broadly left-wing Labour Party will suffice. However, the defeat Corbyn and the left-wing Labour leadership has left the British left and labour movement are even more disorientated. What has the experience of the Bolsheviks and the Bolshevik tradition have to say to them?

As the British labour movement struggles for its identity once again, what can the experiences of the Bolsheviks and their movement teach us?

The book contains also other relevant documents on the Bolshevik Revolution and texts by Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, and Hal Draper.

Table of Contents
Introduction, by Sean Matgamna: the British labour movement and Bolshevism
  • The Russian revolution
  • The Third International and the Fourth
  • The British and Russian labour movements
  • The first Thatcher
  • The left and the EU in the 1970s
  • Thatcher’s counter-revolution
  • The Benn movement
  • The political anatomy of the left in 1979-85
  • Left antisemitism
  • The left today — Sample section
  • Honour the Bolsheviks!
Part 1: Under the Banner of Marxism, by Max Shachtman.

This, the main text in this book, Under the Banner of Marxism, was a reply by Max Shachtman in 1949 to a document by a hitherto prominent comrade, Ernest Erber, announcing his withdrawal from organised revolutionary Marxist politics. Erber's document, and a letter of his from the same time, are available online. Erber had joined the Trotskyist movement in the mid-30s and was a leading figure in the Workers Party between 1940 and 1948. After resigning Erber made a career as a town planner and was only marginally active in politics, considering himself a sort of social democrat.

  • In an age of apostasy
  • Lenin and the Marxian theory of the state
  • State and revolution in the light of two experiences
  • Revolution and violence
Part 2 : The party that led the revolution.

[Where not otherwise indicated, the texts in parts 2, 3, and 4 are by Max Shachtman]

  • The party that won the victory
  • Did Bolshevism produce Stalinism?
  • The working class and socialism
  • The “mistakes” of the Bolsheviks
  • Bolshevism and gossip
  • October was a true working class revolution
Part 3: Lenin, Bolshevism, and Rosa Luxemburg

Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg

Part 4: Appendices
  • Shachtman confronts Kerensky — Labor Action
  • An anti-Bolshevik eye-witness — Hal Draper
  • What is Trotskyism?
  • Blanquism and social democracy — Rosa Luxemburg
  • Hands off Rosa Luxemburg! — Leon Trotsky
  • Trotskyism and the PSOP — Leon Trotsky
  • The class, the party and the leadership — Leon Trotsky
  • Tradition and revolutionary policy — Leon Trotsky

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