Histories

triangle-fireNew Centrist remembers the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in Greenwich Village, whose 98th anniversary it is.

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History is Made at Night has a wonderful post on Tina Modotti, joining “the dots between different radical and cultural scenes in the first half of the twentieth century”. Deals with the tension between her entanglements in Stalinism and the beauty of her photography. Extract:

She joined the Communist Party, and like many radicals of her generation was compromised by her links to Stalinist terror, particularly during the Spanish Revolution/Civil War where she worked alongside her lover Vittorio Vidali, a notorious henchman implicated in the death of many Poumistas, trotskyists and anarchists (including Alberto Besouchet, the first Brazilian to join the International Brigades, who disappeared after being denounced for Trotskyist sympathies – the evidence against him including an association with the Brazilian singer Elsie Houston, ex-wife of the surrealist Benjamin Peret who we have mentioned here before).
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On A Raised Beach: Not Many People Know That…


Joe Hill was, it appears, something of a dab hand at cooking Chinese meals and using chopsticks. In fact, there’s a whole chapter in Franklin Rosemont’s study Joe Hill, the IWW and the Making of a Revolutionary Working Class Counter-Culture, on what might be called the Chinese restaurant factor. This was at a time when America was in the grip of ‘Yellow Peril’ racism, none more so than that emanating from what the Wobs called the American Fakeration of Labour.

Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 11:53 am  Comments (6)  
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Poumish

Some recent blog posts on the topics close to my heart:

Micro-miscellany

News

Tribune has been saved.

From the archive of struggle, no.8

Entdinglichung has another update, including Julian Gorkin in Spanish, Pietro Secchia on  Women anti-fascist partisans in Italy, Dwight MacDonald on fascism, texts from Socialist Appeal (the Trotskyist entrists in the Socialist Party of America – including some by Albert Goldman and Ernest Erber), and Martov in French.

The site of the wonderful Kate Sharpley Library archive has also been updated. Some new stuff:

Under two dictators, Every cook can govern, and so on

Recommended:

Tendance Coatesy: Review of Under Two Dictators by Margarete Buber-Neumann.

March for Justice: CLR James’ Every Cook Can Govern

Criticism, etc: Raya Dunayevska on fascism, state capitalism and bureaucratic collectivism

Uses and abuses: George Orwell and Norman Thomas

Following Terry Glavin (linked here) and the Fat Man (linked here), Rosie Bell has a really good response to Julian Barnes’ recent NYRB George Orwell essay. Among other things, like the Fat Man she addresses his appeal to libertarians and conservatives of various sorts.

An example of the appropriation of Orwell by the right comes from this post at an American anti-Obama blog. The post is entitled “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” This, of course, is the opening passage from Orwell’s amazing novel 1984. Compelling graphics show a Soviet American flag and Obama as Big Brother. Of course, it is a serious abuse of the concept of totalitarianism to think of Obama’s mild reforms as totalitarianism: there is no similarity between what Orwell observed the Soviet dictatorship doing and what Obama is doing.

Along with another quote from Orwell is this “quote” from Norman Thomas:

thomas“The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of liberalism, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”

Norman Thomas, Socialist leader, 1944

This Thomas quote is, I am fairly sure, a fabrication. If you google it, the hits all come from right-wing sites: over 54,000 hits. Malicious editors, usually anonymous, attempt to write it into Thomas’ wikipedia article, from which it is quoted by lazy bloggers as if everything in wikipedia is a fact (e.g. Standing on Truth, Moose Tracks, DaveGJ, and (slightly more intelligently) Kempite - to list those who have added to the myth this week alone).

A query at the talk page for Thomas’ wikipedia article has a response from Jim Miller, a university librarian, suggesting that the origin is a distortion of a comment made by Upton Sinclair to Norman Thomas:

We can build evidence for the possibility, or questionability, of this by looking at other people’s efforts to find it – for example, books.google.com search: liberalism socialism “norman thomas” gets 84 hits, including Lou Cannon. Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power. PublicAffairs, 2003. ISBN: 1586480308. (F866.4.R43 C36 2003 in most academic libraries; in 979.4… or BIO section of most public libraries). On page 125, Cannon says [of Reagan] …”a favorite line was this supposed prediction of Norman Thomas…”, and “This is a suspect quotation, and Reagan gave no reference for it”. Cannon also says in a note “If Thomas said this, I have been unable to find evidence of it….”

Naturally, a thorough researcher would try to find many other such books, from people of various political bents, to build a case that such a quote is either probable, possible, or unlikely. One would think such a striking quote would make it into biographies of Thomas; try the tables of contents and indexes for “Liberalism”, etc. Even statements from social and political historians (who claim to have looked for such a quote) can help build a case for or against it.

But it IS a good example of how even a false quote can take on a life of its own, because it shows how hard it is to prove a person did NOT say something – even if a “grand champion” history reference expert DOES end up finding this particular quote somewhere in unpublished Norman Thomas correspondence.”*

The right uses this fabricated “quote” to substantiate a double lie: that American liberalism is somehow socialism in disguise, and that socialism is by definition a form of totalitarianism or tyranny. The fact that Norman Thomas was a democratic socialist, who fought hard against all forms of totalitarianism or tyranny, not least the Soviet dictatorship, is utterly lost on them. The fact that American liberalism has, at most, called for mild forms of state regulation and never for any kind of socialisation of the economy is also, of course, lost on them.

*Footnote: Thanks to Bilber and Kathy for link to hoax-sniffers Snopes who are still “undecided” on the authenticity of this quote.

From the archive of struggle, no.7

More updates from Entdinglichung:

Here are some highlights:

Projet de scannerisation de la revue Socialisme ou Barbarie:

* Socialisme ou Barbarie, No. 1, März-April 1949

Marxists Internet Archive (MIA):

* Victor Serge: The Bandits (1912)
* C.L.R. James: The Task Of Building The American Bolshevik Party (1946)
* Irwing Howe: On Comrade Johnson’s American Resolution – Or Soviets In The Sky (1946)
* Paul Mattick: Arbeitslosigkeit, Arbeitslosenfürsorge und Arbeitslosenbewegung in den Vereinigten Staaten (1936)

(more…)

Bad uses of the Spanish Civil War continued

This is a little late, but I just noticed a post at HP linking to a Guardian piece by The Nation’s London correspondent DD Guttenplan, describing his regret at not going to a anti-war demonstration because of all the unsavoury elements on the march. In it, he says:

During the Spanish civil war the American poet Archibald MacLeish was attacked by Trotskyists for his willingness to support a democratically elected Spanish government led by communists, and dependent on the Soviet Union for arms. MacLeish replied:
“The man who refuses to defend his convictions, for fear he may defend them in the wrong company, has no convictions.”

As one commenter, la mano de d10s, responds:

[a democratically elected Spanish government] which brutally massacred many workers and tried to turn back the revolution, yes.
Or because it was democratically elected, therefore it must be politically supported?
And how did this government end, exactly? With the victory of Franco?
Why? Because its politics disarmed the defence against fascism, the working class, and its defence of private property led to huge economic speculation which caused great inflation, which discontented so many of its supporters, that the fascists became more confident and more popular.
This inflation could only have been solved by expropriating those sectors’ property.*

*Liberty taken of improving the grammar slightly.

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 11:28 am  Comments (2)  
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Thoughts on Orwell

Sparked by Terry Glavin’s post linked to here, the Fat Man gives his thoughts on George Orwell.

Published in: on March 10, 2009 at 10:02 am  Comments (1)  
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Miscellany

The ghosts who refuse to die

Wonderful post by Terry Glavin on George Orwell. (And, here, the ghost of Eric Blair inhabits Will Rubbish.)

Nick Cohen on Eric Hobsbawm and the Hitler-Stalin pact.

Isaac Rubin and Paul Mattick Junior: A three part essay by PM on the financial crisis in the Brooklyn Rail (1, 2, 3), brought to us by Will. Principia Dialectica hosted the late I Rubin in London last week.

Paul Hampton on William Morris, ecology and socialism (the sixth of a series).

From the archive of struggle, no.6

Trotsky on workers’ control (posted by the AWL’s Rebbe Sean Matgamna to hold the line against The Commune and their alleged “drift towards anarchism“.)

From Entdinglichung: some early Bolshevik Max Eastman, lots of De Leon, Serge in Dutch and more.

In the new Democratiya, Susan Green of the Independent Socialist League/Workers Party from 1949 on the third camp position.

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