Reiner Tosstorff's book gives a detailed account of the history of the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU), founded in 1921 as a body associated with the Communist International. Whereas the Comintern organised the minority of workers belonging to revolutionary parties, the trade-unions were the mass-organisation of the class. Tosstorff traces the various organisational problems that attended the founding of the RILU, and the splits, alliances, manoeuvres, negotiations and compromises that characterised its early years. From 1924 onwards the RILU rapidly became no more than an appendage of the Comintern, echoing the errors and betrayals of the latter body. The book contains a wealth of historical detail that makes it the standard work on the question. It may also have contemporary relevance to the way in which Marxists relate to the post-Seattle generation of anti-capitalists.
Romain Ducoulombier, author of Camarades!, a study of the origins of the French Communist Party, belongs to a different ideological context to earlier authors on the subject, such as Kriegel, Wohl or Robrieux. But though Ducoulombier claims originality for his work, there is little genuinely new here. He fails to grasp the impact of the Russian Revolution on the French working class and has little understanding of the dynamics of the Communist International. He stresses the ‘asceticism’ and ‘messianism’ of the early Communist Party without giving a precise meaning to these terms. Worst of all, Ducoulombier concentrates on archival material while saying remarkably little about the French Communist Party’s actual activities, notably work in the trade unions, anti-militarism and anti-colonialism.
Paul Levi was leader of the German Communist Party in the vital years 1919 and 1920; he was subsequently expelled for his opposition to the adventurist March Action in 1921. Three recent books cast new light on this complex figure: David Fernbach’s selection of his writings, Frédéric Cyr’s biography and Paul Frölich’s memoirs. Levi was a man of great talent and courage, but his leadership style was defective; he was neither Leninist nor Luxemburgist, and his greatest weakness was his inability to relate to ultra-leftism. His limitations are revealed by a comparison with his comrade Clara Zetkin.