Monday, 27 January 2020

Revolutionary History - Ian Birchall (2001)

Revolutionary History
Written By: Ian Birchall
Date: January 2001
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 11: Lent 2001  

The journal Revolutionary History first appeared in 1988. Its aim, as stated in the first issue, was to ‘inform and educate’ a new generation ‘influenced by Trotskyism and its heritage in the Marxist movement’.

The history of Trotskyism can all too easily lapse into the esoteric and trivial; the story of small groups, utterly isolated from any real struggle, claiming the apostolic succession from Lenin and Trotsky; a narrative of splits, denunciations and expulsions.

But if Revolutionary History has not entirely avoided such material, its main emphasis has been elsewhere. The twentieth century has witnessed repeated disastrous defeats for the working-class movement, of which many can be attributed, in part at least, to the treacherous role of Stalinism. Revolutionary History has aimed to write back into the historical record the fact that there were small groups of courageous women and men who fought, to the best of their abilities, for an alternative strategy, one that could have brought about a different outcome.

Hence issues of Revolutionary History have concentrated on some of the major events of twentieth-century history, providing the perspective of a revolutionary left which rejected Stalinism and reformism. Thus a volume on The Spanish Civil War - The View from the Left collected a wide range of material never previously available in English that demonstrated how the Popular Front strategy led to catastrophe. It is thus an invaluable supplement to the works of Orwell, Morrow etc. Other issues have presented the standpoint of the revolutionary minority on the rise of Hitler and the Second World War. As a result the journal has made available a considerable amount of material of interest to all concerned with the history of socialism and the working-class movement in the twentieth century.

There have been five countries in which Trotskyism has played a significant role in the mainstream of the labour movement - Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Greece, Belgium and Bolivia. Special issues have been devoted to each of these, including archival material long unavailable, eye-witness accounts of major moments of struggle and critical analyses of the course of events. Other issues have been devoted to South Africa, Poland and Italy.

Revolutionary History does not confine itself to a narrow definition of Trotskyism. It has opened its pages to work by and about authentic anti-Stalinist revolutionaries, even those who have on occasion suffered the abuse of ‘orthodox‘ Trotskyists. In 1994 a special issue was devoted to the life and work of Victor Serge. This included Serge’s important 1924 pamphlet on Lenin, as well as his account of China in the 1920s and one of his late post-World War II essays (all hitherto unavailable in English). The current issue (see box on page 5) is devoted to the lives of Alfred and Marguerite Rosmer, including extracts from Alfred Rosmer’s renowned history of the labour movement in World War I, documents on the Red International of Labour Unions, and hitherto untranslated correspondence with Trotsky.

Nor has Revolutionary History confined itself to the narrowly political. A recent issue was devoted to Culture and Revolution in the Thought of Leon Trotsky, including much material never previously published in English.

Revolutionary History is edited by Al Richardson, who together with the late Sam Bornstein wrote Against the Stream and War and the International, generally recognised as authoritative historical studies of British Trotskyism. The editorial board contains representatives from various left organisations as well as veterans of the Trotskyist movement.

Revolutionary History appears roughly twice a year. Each issue has a specific theme, standing as a book in its own right. But it also contains a number of regular features: obituaries, accounts of conferences and research projects, book reviews of works published in several languages, a lively correspondence section and a bibliography of recent articles published in the mainstream and far left press relating to the history of the socialist movement.

Revolutionary History is developing a web site. This contains the full text of all the early issues of the journal now out of print, as well as an ever-growing collection of documents on the history of the revolutionary movement.

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