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Reform, Revolution, and Opportunism
Debates in the Second International, 1900–1910

An essential record from the Second International, expertly curated by Under the Socialist Banner editor Mike Taber.

At its height, the Second International (1889-1916) represented the majority of organized workers in the world, and the largest of its affiliated parties counted over a million members. Its congresses drew delegates from across the globe, and its major victories—like the eight-hour work day—have long outlasted the organization itself. 

In this important collection of debates and resolutions from the Second International, Reform, Revolution, and Opportunism captures the International’s vibrancy and gives a snapshot of its strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions. Socialist militants turned to the Second International to deliberate on how best to combat the latest deprivations and excesses of capitalism, which was stretching beyond national boundaries for the first time. These new issues and the debates about how to respond to them—surging immigration; what to say about colonialism; how to relate to burgeoning struggles for women’s rights; the drive to intern-imperialist war—remain deeply contested over a hundred years later. 

Taken together with Under the Socialist Banner, Reform Revolution, and Opportunism offers a rounded view of the Second International and its legacy, showing it to be a living, breathing movement with crucial insights for contemporary radicals.

  • “Through this engaging volume, Taber has provided a tremendous resource to the socialist movement and historians of the Second International.”

    Eric Blanc, author of Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire, 1892-1917

    “Debates in the European congresses of the Second International from 1900 to 1910 might seem a long way from the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Yet the Bolsheviks themselves self-identified very strongly as the Russian representatives of ‘revolutionary Social Democracy’ in contrast to international ‘opportunism’. They insisted that the collapse of the Second International in 1914 was (in Lenin’s words) ‘the collapse of opportunism’ – not the collapse of revolutionary Social Democracy. Mike Taber’s invaluable presentation of the clash between the two wings of the Second International on vital issues such as war, colonialism and women’s suffrage is therefore essential reading for all who seek to understand the outlook of the Bolsheviks and their revolutionary tactics in 1917.”

    —Lars T. Lih, author of Lenin Rediscovered 

    “These excerpts from the debates at some of the most important congresses of the Second International allows us to see as never before how socialists of the time responded to such crucial issues as supporting anti-colonial struggles and women’s rights while opposing militarism and restrictions on immigration—the very issues being so heatedly debated today.”

    —Peter Hudis, general editor, The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg

    “This book is a treasure chest for every socialist seeking to understand the history of their movement. Bringing together documents from 1900 to 1910, Mike Taber shows us how socialists more than a century ago analyzed and debated key questions of their time. He also shows us that these are urgent questions for our times: war and militarism; colonialism; immigration; gender rights; and strategies for working class power. Revolution, Reform, and Opportunism is an invaluable contribution to the history of the socialist movement and Taber does a superb job of illuminating the context of these debates and showing us why they matter today.”

    —David McNally, author of Blood and Money

    “Mike Taber offers clear and compelling translations of pivotal debates in the Second International around colonialism, immigration, women’s suffrage, militarism, and political tactics during the first decade of the twentieth century. The debates reflect tensions between some socialists’ racist, nationalist, and misogynistic prejudices and others’ internationalism and desire for the liberation of both working men and working women. The selections in this book illuminate the roots of the 1914 split in the Second International and are relevant to struggles in our time.” 

    —Barbara C. Allen, editor of The Workers’ Opposition in the Russian Communist Party: Documents, 1919-30

    “Many activists of today face challenges bedeviling socialists a hundred years ago: What should be the relationship between reform and revolution? To what extent should socialists adapt to existing power structures in the quest to ease the impact of multiple crises – and to what extent should they instead redouble their efforts to end the system generating such crises? Mike Taber draws together transcripts of rich and sharp debates from the mass-based Socialist International from 1900 to 1910 – a clash of analyses and proposals offering insights to those of our own time who want to change the world.”

    —Paul Le Blanc, editorial board member, The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg

    “In bringing together the key debates of the Second International in the first decade of the 20th century, Mike Taber reveals the extraordinary nature of this movement. It is a fascinating and compelling read…Some of the challenges within the Second International are still with us today. This book gives us a chance to reappraise our history and its relevance for today.”

    —Anne McShane, Historian of the Soviet Women’s Movement

    “Mike Taber provides yet another illuminating collection of documents, adroitly introduced and carefully compiled. Reform, Revolution, and Opportunism breathes contemporary life into the seemingly timeless clash of revolutionary and reformist sensibilities. Vexing matters such as war and militarism, colonialism and immigration, women's rights and strategic engagement with bourgeois states, remain contentious today. Taber skillfully shows how a mass socialist movement once vigorously debated and disagreed about how to approach these matters.”

    —Bryan D. Palmer, author of James P. Cannon and the Emergence of Trotskyism in the United States, 1928-1938

    “This book is a must-read. It provides a long-overdue wake-up call for the Marxist left, which almost universally dismisses the experience of the Second International as inherently opportunist, with the failures, betrayals and collapse of August 1914 supposedly written into this body's DNA. This book underscores just how flawed such an understanding is. The Second International was no monolithic or immutable entity sleepwalking into support for imperialist butchery, but a hotbed of factional struggle waged by the forces of ‘revolutionary social democracy’ – Russian Bolshevism included – against the opportunist cancer that eventually killed it off. As Taber shows, the leading lights of the revolutionary Marxist tradition never renounced the best aspects of the International's political legacy, but fought for its basic principles to be upheld in the face of the renegade, careerist and nationalist 'socialists' who betrayed them.”

    —Ben Lewis, Founder of Marxism Translated 

    “Over a century ago, socialists wrestled with many of the same questions and conflicts as we do today: how to understand and respond to intra-imperialist war, immigration from capitalism's periphery to core, colonialism and solidarity with and from the colonized world, women's rights and women's roles in movements for liberation. By including primary source documents as well as speeches from socialists, including Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, August Bebel, Karl Kautsky, Daniel De Leon and others, one feels the presence of live movements being made and re-made in the crucible of fiery debate and struggle. Accompanied by Taber's lucid historical context, this selection of speeches and resolutions from the heyday of early 20th century socialism to its fracturing over World War I and re-forming during the Bolshevik Revolution is a necessary read both for activists as well as scholars of these early battles against capitalism. Taber has offered 21st century socialists – if not a guide to the present – a helpful selection of examples of what earlier generations have exclaimed aloud, as in our world – still riven by war, imperialism, sexism, racism, class exploitation – the struggles and the movements for liberation must find their own answers and paths forward.”

    —Benjamin Balthaser, author of Anti-Imperialist Modernism and Dedication

    “Mike Taber has made yet another major contribution—this time by resurrecting some of the earliest socialist debates on crucial issues that continue to challenge us today. This is a fascinating read and a valuable resource for contemporary activists.”

    —Tom Twiss, author of Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy

    “The ‘experience of socialists a century ago can provide valuable lessons and examples’ for socialists today because the emergence of the revolutionary trends within the Second International before 1914 anticipated those that arose in the aftermath of the October Revolution, as expressed in the formation of the Third International, writes Mike Taber. Whether Second International debates, in fact, contain invaluable, politically relevant lessons for communist activists today – or are of purely historical interest – is itself a matter of debate. Fortunately, Taber's documentary collection will help readers decide for themselves.”

    John Marot, author of The October Revolution in Prospect and Retrospect: Interventions in Russian and Soviet History

Other books edited by Mike Taber