Discussion Group: Democracy, Self-Determination and Workers’ Control: The Political Relationship between the British Left and the Soviet Union

This term, we will focus on the relationship between Britain and the Soviet Union through the lens of politics and political thought. The immediate reaction of the British left to the Russian Revolution was one of celebration, but by the time of the establishment of the USSR in 1922 it was apparent that coming to terms with the world’s first socialist polity was no easy matter. Ambivalent towards socialism at the best of times, and indebted to a tradition which predated Marx, the Labour Party was ill at ease with the revolutionary politics of Marxist-Leninism, even as it called for Britain to resume diplomatic relations with the new communist state. The founding of the CPGB by members of the Guild Socialist and Syndicalist traditions also entailed contradictions, as precisely those socialists who championed participatory democracy and worker’s control over the ‘servile state’ were the first to profess their support for the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the Labour Party and Trade Union Congress sent delegations to Moscow, Kharkiv, the Caucasus and Baku, labour leaders produced remarkably naive and sympathetic accounts of what they gleaned from these ‘guided visits’. But they were not entirely uncritical, especially in relation to the expansionist strategy of the Soviets and the crushing of self-determination in Georgia. During this period, Soviet leaders found support for Irish republicanism to be conducive to their own global ambitions, and our group will also look at how Irish self-determination and Anglo-Irish politics were represented in the Soviet press and in Comintern sources. A small amount of reading material will be circulated to registered participants prior to the meeting.

Please follow the link to the readings: www.torch.ox.ac.uk/discussion-group-hilary-term-2022-readings.

Lunch will be provided – all welcome.