My obsessions

Leon Trotsky:

A good review by Andrew Coates of Patenaude and Robert Service‘s books, and a rather plodding defence of Trotsky from Service by Peter Taafe.

Ignazio Silone:

Silone on liberty. An interview with Tim Parks that touches on the “Silone question” (via The Perfect Package, see last quote). Any Persian readers reading this? Here’s some Silone in Farsi.

Albert Camus:

Coates on Camus in the Pantheon.

The Spanish Civil War:

Wilebaldo Solano on the POUM (more on this later). Review of An Anarchist’s Story: The Life of Ethel MacDonald.

Bertolt Brecht:

Excellent post by The Fat Man on a Keyboard, contra Nick Cohen on The Good Soul of Szechuan.

Kronstadt:

Finally, I am sad that I missed the New York Queer Film Festival, where I could have seen this:

Closing Night: Maggots & Men
Seeing Cary Cronenwett’s Maggots and Men, you have nothing to lose but your perceptions of gender. This utopian re-visioning of the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921, featuring film history’s first cast of over 100 transgender actors, paints an idyllic portrait of formerly pro-Soviet sailors at the Kronstadt naval garrison who rebelled against the perceived failures of the new Bolshevik state.

Two Cries of Freedom

[José Serrano: 'Soleá']

From Two Cries of Freedom: Gypsy Flamenco from the Prisons of Spain (ROIR, 1998), feat. José Serrano and Antonio “El Agujetas”.

Dedicated to Paul ‘Jock’ Palfreeman, a 23 year old Australian currently in prison in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is undergoing trial on charges of murder and attempted murder after an encounter with a gang of 16 far-right football hooligans. The gang were assaulting two Roma (Gypsy) men when Jock intervened in their defence.

More bloggery below the fold. (more…)

From the archive of struggle, no.39: Trotsky in Glasgow special feature

This week’s feature archive is the University of Glasgow’s Special Collections. Specifically, I will focus on the Leon Trotsky Virtual Exhibition. To be honest, it is not a particularly good example of an on-line exhibition in terms of informativeness (although their is a chronology of the Old Man’s life) or zip, but it has some great examples of cover art, and certainly lots of stuff I’d like to look at. Here are some features. (All hyperlinks in the text below and all text in square brackets added by me – Poumista.)

Cours nouveau
Paris: 1924
Sp Coll Trotsky F73.12Edited and translated by Boris Souvarine, this is a French translation of Novyi kurs (New course), a work which grew out of a series of articles in Pravda in December 1923. An English translation of this work did not appear until 1943.

[In this text, Trotsky criticised the bureaucratisation of the Party, the violation of democracy and the failure to develop adequate economic planning. It marked the start of an open conflict with Stalin, prior to Lenin's death. For his support for Trostky, Souvarine was removed from his official roles within the PCF in early 1924, and was expelled by the Comintern in July. I am not sure whether this publication was before his expulsion or afterwards, nor who published it.]

(more…)

Shoot them like partridges

I don’t care much for people who enjoy killing things, but I am willing to put up with hunters as long as they don’t carry their habits into private and public life. (Trotsky wired Zinoviev re the Kronstadt sailors, in revolt for the fulfillment of the promises of the Revolution, “Shoot them like partridges.” Bertrand Russell commented, “A hunter should never be allowed to lead a revolution.”)

—Kenneth Rexroth “Hemingway”, 1961

***

“You think perhaps I am a Royalist? No. If there was anybody in heaven or hell to pray to I would pray for a revolution — a red revolution everywhere.”

“You astonish me,” I said, just to say something.

“No! But there are half a dozen people in the world with whom I would like to settle accounts. One could shoot them like partridges and no questions asked. That’s what revolution would mean to me.”

“It’s a beautifully simple view,” I said.

—Joseph Conrad The Arrow of Gold, 1919

***

In a recent post, I quoted Michael Ezra thus:

In [Isaac Deutscher's] account of the Kronstadt rebellion, there is no mention of Trotsky’s famous order, “shoot them like partridges.”

In a comment, Steve Parsons writes:

I might be wrong but I think it was Zinoviev who is associated with the phrase “shoot them like p[h]easants”.

For an extensive review – a political critique but also a partial listing of some of the numerous factual inacurracies – of Service’s biography on Trotsky see David North’s ´In the service of historical falsification’

I’ve always thought it was Trotsky, but wondered if it was one of those urban myths, so present here the fruits of some of my googling. It seems it was a committee that Zinoviev chaired, although Trotsky may have had a role in its distribution. However, I think it is fair to say that Trotsky shared the sentiment.

TrotskyParade01.JPG (60177 bytes)Quick background: in February 1921, the sailors of Kronstadt in Russia, a stronghold of the revolution, raised 15 demands for greater freedom for working class people and peasants. In March, the Red Army moved to suppress the sailors, killing over 1000. Leon Trotsky, as Commissar for War, played a key role in this suppression. As did Zinoviev, by 1921 head of the Petrograd party organization, chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, and a full member of the party’s Politburo.

1. From Israel Gertzler Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy (2002, p.220):

on 4 March 4 an ‘Appeal’ by Zinoviev‘s Defence Committee of Petrograd denounced ‘all those Petrichenkos and Tu[k]ins’, meaning Kronstadt’s Revolutionary Committee, as ‘puppets who dance at the behest of Tsarist general Kozlovsky’ and ‘other notorious White Guards’, and demanded the Kronstadters’ unconditional surrender, or else ‘you will be shot down like partridges‘.

2. From The Soviet image: a hundred years of photographs from inside the TASS archives by Peter Radetsky, p.59:

Trotsky ordered leaflets airdropped over the [Kronstadt] base, informing his former comrades that if they didn’t surrender within twenty-four hours, “I’ll shoot you like pheasants.”Downtown, Buenos Aires: Viva the Kronstadt rebellion by michaelramallah.

3. Ida Mett, from “The Kronstadt Commune” (1938):

On 5th. March, the Petrograd Defence Committee issued a call to the rebels.

‘You are being told fairy tales when they tell you that Petrograd is with you or that the Ukraine supports you. These are impertinent lies. The last sailor in Petrograd abandoned you when he learned that you were led by generals like Kozlovskv. Siberia and the Ukraine support the Soviet power. Red Petrograd laughs at the miserable efforts of a handful of White Guards and Socialist Revolutionaries. You are surrounded on all sides. A few hours more will lapse and then you will he compelled to surrender. Kronstadt has neither bread nor fuel. If you insist, we will shoot you like partridges.

‘At the last minute, all those generals, the Kozlovskvs, the Bourksers, and all that riff raff, the Petrichenkos, and the Tourins will flee to Finland, to the White guards. And you, rank and file soldiers and sailors, where will you go then? Don’t believe them when they promise to feed you in Finland. Haven’t you heard what happened to Wrangel’s supporters? They were transported to Constantinople. There they are dying like flies, in their thousands, of hunger and disease. This is the fate that awaits you, unless you immediately take a grip of yourselves. Surrender Immediately! Don’t waste a minute. Collect your weapons and come over to us. Disarm and arrest your criminal leaders, and in particular the Tsarist generals. Whoever surrenders immediately will be forgiven. Surrender now.

‘Signed: The Defence Committee’.

4. Alexander Berkman, from The Kronstadt Rebellion:

smp1Trotsky had been expected to address the Petro-Soviet, and his failure to appear was interpreted by some as indicating that the seriousness of the situation was exaggerated. But during the night he arrived in Petrograd and the following morning, March 5, he issued his ultimatum to Kronstadt:

The Workers and Peasants Government has decreed that the Kronstadt and the rebellious ships must immediately submit to the authority of the Soviet Republic. Therefore I command all who have raised their hand against the Socialist fatherland to lay down their arms at once. The obdurate are to be disarmed and turned over to the Soviet authorities. The arrested Commissars and other representatives of the Government are to be liberated at once. Only those surrendering unconditionally may count on the mercy of the Soviet Republic.

Simultaneously I am issuing orders to prepare to quell the mutiny and subdue the mutineers by force of arms. Responsibility for the harm that may be suffered by the peaceful population will fall entirely upon the heads of the counter-revolutionary mutineers. This warning is final.

TROTSKY
Chairman Revolutionary Military Soviet of the Republic

KAMENEV
Commander-in-Chief

The situation looked ominous. Great military forces continuously flowed into Petrograd and its environs. Trotsky’s ultimatum was followed by a prikaz which contained the historic threat, “I’ll shoot you like pheasants”.

[Note: The same text is in Voline's The Unknown Revolution, bk.3, pt.1, ch.5, and in Berkman's The Paris Commune and Kronstadt, which notes that the threat was distributed "by a military flying machine"].

5. Daniel Bell, from “First Love and Early Sorrows” (Partisan Review, 1981):

frontpiecesome anarchist relatives, cousins of my mother, a Russian Jewish couple who lived in Mohegan Colony… took me to see Rudolf Rocker, the venerable Anarchist leader, an imposing and portly man with a large square head and imposing brush of gray hair, who then lived in the Colony… In parting, he gave me a number of Anarchist pamphlets, by Malatesta, by Kropotkin (on the Paris Commune), and in particular two pamphlets by Alexander Berkman, The Russian Tragedy and The Kronstadt Rebellion, pamphlets in English but “set up and printed for Der Syndikalist,” Berlin 1922–pamphlets That I have before me as I write (one inscribed in a large round hand, “with fraternal greetings, A.B.. “)–and he suggested that I read Berkman’s The Bolshevik Myth, the diary of his years in Russia, 1920-1922, a copy of which I soon found, and still have.

Every radical generation, it is said, has its Kronstadt. For some it was the Moscow Trials, for others the Nazi-Soviet Pact, for still others Hungary (The Raik Trial or 1956), Czechoslovakia (the defenestration of Masaryk in 1948 or the Prague Spring of 1968), the Gulag, Cambodia, Poland (and there will be more to come). My Kronstadt was Kronstadt.

… I wish it were possible to reprint in full the twelve pages of Berkman’s diary in Petrograd, from the end of February through mid-March 1921, for no bare summary can convey the immediacy, tension and drama as the sailors from the First and Second squadrons of the Baltic Fleet at Kronstadt, the men from the naval base at Petrograd who had catalyzed the October days in 1917, now appealed, following the spontaneous strikes of workers in Petrograd and Moscow, for the establishment of freedom of speech and press “for workers and peasants, for Anarchist and Left Socialist parties,” for the liberation of “all political prisoners of Socialist parties,” to “equalize The rations of all who work,” etc.

For Trotsky, who was Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Soviet, This was mvatezh, or mutiny. He demanded That the sailors surrender or “I’ll shoot you like pheasants.” The last three entries of Berkman’s diaries tell of the sorry end:

March 7. –Distant mumbling reaches my ears as I cross the Nevsky. It sounds again, stronger and nearer, as if rolling towards me. All at once I realize that artillery is being fired. It is 6 A.M. Kronstadt has been attacked! ….

March 17.–Kronstadt has fallen today.

Thousands of sailors and workers lie dead in its streets. Summary execution of prisoners and hostages continues.

March 18.7-The victors are celebrating the anniversary of the Commune of 1871. Trotsky and Zinoviev denounce Thiers and Gallifet for The slaughter of the Paris rebels.

6. Victor Serge, from“Kronstadt ’21″, originally published in Dwight and Nancy MacDonald’s politics (1945):

The Political Bureau finally made up its mind to enter into negoiations with Kronstadt, lay down an ultimatum, and, as a last resort, attack the fortress and the ice-bound battleships. As it turned out, no negotiations ever took place. But an ultimatum, couched in revolting language, appeared on the billboards over the signature of Lenin and Trotsky: ‘Surrender or be shot like rabbits!’. Trotsky, limiting his activities to the Political Bureau, kept away from Petrograd.

7. John G Wright, of the American SWP, in New International (1938):

In his recent comments on Kronstadt, Victor Serge concedes that the Bolsheviks once confronted with the mutiny had no other recourse except to crush it. In this he demarcates himself from the assorted varieties of Anarcho-Menshevism. But the substance of his contribution to the discussion is to lament over the experiences of history instead of seeking to understand them as a Marxist. Serge insists that it would have been “easy” to forestall the mutiny – if only the Central Committee had not sent Kalinin to talk to the sailors! Once the mutiny flared, it would have been “easy” to avoid the worst – if only Berkman had talked to the sailors! To adopt such an approach to the Kronstadt events is to take the superficial viewpoint: “Ah, if history had only spared us Kronstadt!” It can and does lead only to eclecticism and to the loss of all political perspectives.

8. Emma Goldman, from “Trotsky Protests Too Much” (1938):

Victor Serge is now out of the hospitable shores of the workers’ “fatherland.” I therefore do not consider it a breach of faith when I say that if Victor Serge made this statement charged to him by John G. Wright, he is merely not telling the truth. Victor Serge was one of the French Communist Section who was as much distressed and horrified over the impending butchery decided upon by Leon Trotsky to “shoot the sailors as pheasants” as Alexander Berkman, myself and many other revolutionists. He used to spend every free hour in our room running up and down, tearing his hair, clenching his fists in indignation and repeating that “something must be done, something must be done, to stop the frightful massacre.” When he was asked why he, as a party member, did not raise his voice in protest in the party session, his reply was that that would not help the sailors and would mark him for the Cheka and even silent disappearance. The only excuse for Victor Serge at the time was a young wife and a small baby. But for him to state now, after seventeen years, that “the Bolsheviki once confronted with the mutiny had no other recourse except to crush it,” is, to say the least, inexcusable. Victor Serge knows as well as I do that there was no mutiny in Kronstadt, that the sailors actually did not use their arms in any shape or form until the bombardment of Kronstadt began. He also knows that neither the arrested Communist Commissars nor any other Communists were touched by the sailors. I therefore call upon Victor Serge to come out with the truth. That he was able to continue in Russia under the comradely régime of Lenin, Trotsky and all the other unfortunates who have been recently murdered, conscious of all the horrors that are going on, is his affair, but I cannot keep silent in the face of the charge against him as saying that the Bolsheviki were justified in crushing the sailors.

Leon Trotsky is sarcastic about the accusation that he had shot 1,500 sailors. No, he did not do the bloody job himself. He entrusted Tuchachevsky, his lieutenant, to shoot the sailors “like pheasants” as he had threatened. Tuchachevsky carried out the order to the last degree. The numbers ran into legions, and those who remained after the ceaseless attack of Bolshevist artillery, were placed under the care of Dibenko, famous for his humanity and his justice.

Tuchachevsky and Dibenko, the heroes and saviours of the dictatorship! History seems to have its own way of meting out justice. [Tukhachevsky and Dibenko were executed by Stalin in 1937.]

[serge]9. Gabriel and Dany Cohn-Bendit, from Obsolete Communism, the Left-Wing Alternative (1968):

Every attempt to settle matters peacefully was rejected out of hand by the government; Trotsky ordered his troops ‘to shoot the Kronstadt “rebels” down like partridges’, and entrusted the task to Toukhatchevsky, a military expert taken over from the Old Regime.

10. Ian Birchall, from “Victor Serge: Hero or Witness?” (1998):

Serge’s position on Kronstadt is fairly clear (see the extensive treatment in The Serge-Trotsky Papers). At the time, although profoundly unhappy, he decided to accept the suppression of the revolt as necessary. Later, in the 1930s, when he was trying to explain why the revolution had degenerated, he came to see Kronstadt as one of the key stages. This led to a sharp exchange of views with Trotsky, which became perhaps unnecessarily polarised.

11. Cajo Brendel, from “Kronstadt: Proletarian Spin-Off of the Russian Revolution” (1971):

The Kronstadt Rebellion destroyed a social myth: the myth that in the Bolshevik state, power lay in the hands of the workers. Because this myth was inseparably linked to the entire Bolshevik ideology (and still is today), because in Kronstadt a modest beginning of a true workers’ democracy was made, the Kronstadt Rebellion was a deadly danger for the Bolsheviks in their position of power. Not only the military strength of Kronstadt – that at the time of the rebellion was very much impaired by the frozen gulf – but also the demystifying effect of the rebellion threatened Bolshevik rule – a threat that was even stronger than any that could have been posed by the intervention armies of Deniken, Kolchak, Judenitch, or Wrangel.

For this reason the Bolshevik leaders were from their own perspective or better, as a consequence of their social position (which naturally influenced their perspective) – forced to destroy the Kronstadt Rebellion without hesitation. While the rebels were – as Trotsky had threatened being ‘shot like pheasants’, the Bolshevik leadership characterized the Rebellion in their own press as a counterrevolution. Since that time this swindle has been zealously promoted and stubbornly maintained by Trotskyists and Stalinists.

This is what a pheasant looks like. This is what a partridge looks like. This is what the Red Army looked like.

Related reading: Steve Parsons on Robert Service’s A History of Twentieth Century Russia; The Truth About Kronstadt.

One more for Chris Harman

To add to the obits mentioned here, one from Splintered Sunrise.

Added: In the new Socialist Review: Chris Harman looks back at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the continued relevence of the theory of state capitalism.

Below the fold, Harman’s writings at the Marxist Internet Archive, via Entdinglichung:

(more…)

Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 10:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Books

This new book, Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver looks interesting.

Kingsolver doesn’t appear to suffer from writer’s block and she certainly hasn’t been twiddling her thumbs. Her understanding of Mexico and Spanish in The Lacuna are exemplary, and she must have researched deeply into the lives of Kahlo, Rivera, and Leon “Lev” Trotsky during the time he was one of Kahlo’s lovers. She doesn’t distort them into flawless heroes. They’re iconic figures, but portrayed warts and all: love affairs and self-obsession and revolutionary contradictions on all sides.

I haven’t yet read this review by Tariq Ali of Patenaude’s Stalin’s Nemesis and Robert Service’s Trotsky: A Biography. If anyone reads it, tell me if I should bother.

In this 1934 Diego Rivera mural, "Man, Controller of the Universe," Leon Trotsky makes an appearance.
In this 1934 Diego Rivera mural, “Man, Controller of the Universe,” Leon Trotsky makes an appearance. (more…)

Democratic Green Stalinist?

I don’t tend to use this site for real time political polemics (see here for a rare example), However, I followed the recommendation from Socialist Unity for the new issue of Democratic Green Socialist‘s new special 1989 issue. And I found most of the issue taken up with caveated apologies for Stalinism, with nostalgia for Uncle Joe. The issue shows that, even in 2009, Stalinophilia remains a persistent problem on the left. For example, Anne Edmonds says the DDR and the Stasi weren’t all that bad, Luke Ivory says “defend October” (a Stalinophiliac trope), John Wight laments the passing of the USSR, Andy Newman says there was good as well as bad in the DDR. Kevin Williamson‘s excellent article, “Freedom is a Noble Thing”, is a shining exception, and Graham Jepps’ brief review of Victor Serge’s The Case of Comrade Tuleyev is good too. Here’s Williamson:

[...] The collapse of the Berlin Wall was another such occasion best swept under the leftist carpet.  All over the world million rightly celebrated whilst many on the Marxist left grumbled privately among themselves.  Instead of raising a glass of cheer to the overthrow of the totalitarian regimes of Easter Europe they rued what might have been and predicted gloom and doom “under capitalism” for those who lived in the former Communist Bloc countries.

Many on the left still harken back nostalgically to a time when supposedly progressive leftist regimes created repressive obscenities like the Cheka (December 1917) and the Stasi (1950).  How could such a state of confusion exist?  What do secret police and surveillance and repression of political opponents have to do with progressive politics? Are universal suffrage and free elections not the foundations stones of democratic progress?

How could the left have become so blasé about democracy?  Lest we forget Chartists and Suffragettes had given their liberty, and even their lives, to prise universal suffrage from the grasp of a privileged elite.  It is on their traditions and gains the modern progressive leftist stands.  Only an obsolete antideluvian left would be as politically disorientated as to utilise the methods and ideology of revolutionary movements which took place in pre-democratic eras.
[...]

For the progressive left the concepts of freedom and democracy need to be positioned at the centre of everything.  The real challenge is to find new innovative ways to extend and deepen democracy into every area of life – economic and social – rather than undermine it through a contemptuous attitude towards its current failings.  It’s a challenge that will sort out the liberationist wheat from the authoritarian chaff.

P.S. To further avoid sectarianism, here are a couple of recommendations from the back issue: John Wight on James Connolly, Willie Duncan on Barca FC, and Stewart Hunter on the Spanish Civil War.

UPDATE: For the antidote, read this wonderful short post about 1989 at Facing The War.

UPDATE 2: From the new Socialist Review: Mark L Thomas, Mike Haynes and Colin Barker look at the tumultuous events of 1989 that brought down the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and Russia, and the impact of market capitalism which replaced them. Chris Harman looks back at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the continued relevence of the theory of state capitalism.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 2:33 pm  Comments (13)  
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Trot notes

European Trotskyists respond to the anniversary of World War II: An interesting feature on the World Socialist Website, with contributions from Françoise Thull, Barbara Slaughter, Julie Hyland, and David North.

Obituaries for Chris Harman: Michael Rosen, Andrew Coates, Jim Denham, Histomatist. Histomatist rounds up other obituaries from SWPers, but these are the most interesting to my mind. Histomatist contrasts Harman’s erudition to his low status among academo-Marxists, a very important point, as the Marxism of the ivory tower becomes ever more divorced from Marxism as a movement. Coates suprised me by positioning Harman as important in the libertarian heritage of the IS within the SWP, which can be contrasted to Denham’s portrayal of Harman the greatest betrayer of the IS’s third campism. (Added: another from The Commune.)

In the tradition of Marceau Pivert and Tom Paine: Andrew Coates on laïcité.

Misusing the word Stalinism: Tory fool Graham Warner.

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 11:28 am  Comments (1)  
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London event: 50 years of Housman’s

This event is on Wednesday night:

RAHN Radical History of North East London: Housman’s Bookshop 50 Years Young Wednesday 11 November at 8 pm

at The Postman’s Office, the North London Community House. Its address is 22 Moorefield Road, London N17.

More details, including a mini history of the bookshop, here.

Note: other recent notes on recent radical history: Memories of the Wapping Dispute, The London Workers Group, London Greenpeace, UK Anti-Poll Tax movement, Defeating the poll tax in Haringey, Anarchism in Haringey 1980-2000, Tottenham Claimants in the 1980s.

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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From the archive of struggle no.38: YIVO special feature

Today’s feature archive is YIVO. Founded in 1925 in Vilna as the Yiddish Scientific Institute, YIVO was the national research institute and archive of Yiddishland. Salvaged from the ruins of European Jewry in 1940, YIVO was re-founded in New York, where it now as an excellent archival collection, and some cool digital collections.

Here are some of the extraordinary materials you will find. Click on the objects to see them in their contexts.

When these streets heard Yiddish:


Bek, a Yiddish translation of The Call of the Wild by Jack London, published by the Kultur Lige (Jewish Workers Cultural Association) in Kiev, 1925.

Union of Jewish Writers and Journalists of Warsaw membership card of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904–1991)

An appeal to vote for the Bund in the municipal elections (Vilna, date unknown)

May Day demonstration jointly organized by the Jewish Socialist Bund and Poalei-Zion Left (Warsaw, 1936).

Poster for the socialist organization Zionist Tseirei Zion: “The Land of Israel for the People of Israel!” (Vilna, date unknown).

“Join the Tsukunft” recruitment poster for the Bundist youth organization (Warsaw, 1936).
Yiddish music:
The Bundist song, Di Shvue sound (“The Oath”)… penned in 1902 by S. An-ski (Shlomo Zanvil Rapoport), the Russian Jewish writer. This Yiddish song, whose melody source also is unknown, exhorts Jews to unite, and to commit themselves body and soul to the defeat of the Russian Tsar and of capitalism… [The partisan song Zog nit keyn mol ] sound

In Love and In Struggle: The Musical Legacy Of The Labor Bund:

Text: David Edelshtat (1866-1892)
Sung by Adrienne Cooper

Edelshtadt’s Arbeter-froyen addresses women in its protest of the hardships of factory work. The song sounds a call to oppressed women workers to join the labor movement in its fight for justice and equality. Published in the New York newspaper Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labor) in 1891, it was also sung by striking workers in Russia and Poland.

Text: Szmerke Kaczerginski (1908-1954)
Music: Basya Rubin (n.d.)~
h Children’s Chorus, The New Yiddish Chorale, and the Workmen’s Circle Chorus

Vilna poet and partisan Szmerke Kaczerginski wrote this stirring march song for the youth movement in the Vilna ghetto. Many of the young people who took part in the ghetto’s active resistance movement later also became combatants in the partisan units that fought the Nazis in the forests.

Here and Now: The Vision of the Jewish Labor Bund in Interwar Poland:

Members of the Tsukunft Self-Defense Group carry the Socialist flag on May Day, Warsaw. 1930s.

Kalman Reisen, socialist and Yiddishist:

Chicago 1912 – Outdoor portrait of the Jewish Socialist Self-Education Club — Includes Abraham Reisen
The Power of Persuasion: Jewish Posters from Prewar Poland:
“Jewish Woman‚ Vote for the Women’s Slate, Slate Number 3.”

***

From the archive of struggle no.38:

Tendance Coatesy:

* Chris Harman: extracts from “Party and Class” (1969), “The  Prophet and the Proletariat” (1994), “Spontaneity, Strategy, Politics” (2004) – makes the interesting case that Harman’s political legacy is the libertarian streak in the IS/SWP tradition, the element that is worth valuing and preserving. Chris Harman died last week. RIP.

World Socialist Website:

* Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter: “Overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy! Build workers’ councils in East Germany!”, October 18, 1989 (Parts I, II, III).

International Communist League:

*Socialist Workers League: “War Is Here—What Now?” (September 1939)

The rest are via Entdinglichung, with some annotation.

Archive.org:

* Leon Trotsky: The Bolsheviki and world peace (1918). [For an authoritative text version of this, as The War and the International, go to MIA. The introduction is by Lincoln Steffens, a muckracking journalist associated with the Progressive Party who became a Communist fellow traveller after a visit to the Soviet Union in 1919 with the Swede Karl Kilbom. I believe he later embraced Mussolini. This book, published by a mainstream American publisher, shows the extent to which Trotsky was considered a great hero of the revolution world-wide; he was the object of cult-like reverence, a figure of great romance in the West.]

* Bertram Wolfe: Marx and America (1934). [Wolfe was a founder-member of the CPUSA and active in the Comintern. He was close to the majority faction of the CPUSA around CE Ruthenberg and Jay Lovestone, who fought against the Foster-Cannon faction, a leftist minority. By 1934, however, he was an oppositionist, part of Lovestone's Independent Communist Labor League in America and the Communist Party Opposition internationally. Wolfe was the Lovestonite's chief theorist, and argued for "American exceptionalism". In this erudite pamphlet, he makes the argument by drawing on Marx's scattered writings about the US, showing that America posed a special case for the communist movement.]

* International Communist Opposition (ICO): International Class Struggle, Spring 1937. [The ICO, often known as the "Right" Opposition, initially had a pretty robust organisation. Zinoviev, a "Rightist", had been the chair of the Comintern from its founding until 1926, but Nikolai Bukharin, the chair until the end of the Second Period in 1928, was the real leader after Lenin's death. Bukharin was the intellectual hero of most of the ICO leadership, and it was Bukharin's fall from grace under Stalin that prompted the break of the ICO from the mainstream. ICO leaders were therefore already well networked internationally, and able to hit the ground running organisationally, in contrast to the much slower moving "Left" Opposition. However, the ICO tended to lack a mass base in the labour movement, although there were some exceptions to this (the Lovestone-Wolfe group had a strong base in the Yiddish sections of the ILGWU; Steffens' erstwhile friend Kilbom's Communist Party of Sweden was pretty big; in Spain the BOC (one of the POUM's predecessors, was important). This, along with the right-ward drift of many of their key thinkers, was probably the main reason they atrophied by WWII.

This is the ICO's American journal, vol. 1, no.3, and it includes a fraternally critical letter to the POUM from the bureau of the ICO; a piece on the CIO by George F Miles, the Lovestonites' labour expert; "D. Swift" on proletarian novels, particularly contemptuous of James T Farrell; an account of the German CPO's underground existence under Hitler; a critical account of Leon Blum's Popular Front in France; and a cruel attack on Jean Juares as a prototype of the Popular Front policy. No. 1 and No. 2 are also on-line at archive.org, but I haven't looked at them yet.]

* Leon Trotsky on labor party: stenographic report of discussion held in 1938 with leaders of the Socialist Workers Party (1968). [A long introduction by Fred Meuhler and Tim Wohlforth draws on Engels and Lenin to argue for an American Labor Party. Then a transcript of Trotsky's conversation in Mexico with James Cannon, Max Shachtman and Vincent Dunne. By 1938, the Right Opposition were in decline globally, and the Left Opposition was on the rise. However, it is interesting that the American SWP, which was led precisely by James Cannon, Lovestone and Wolfe's rival in the early CPUSA, had come around to a version of the "American exceptionalism" thesis, and were now calling for an American Labor Party.]

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History is Made at Night

“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to come to your revolution” – (Not actually said by) Emma Goldman.*

The great blog History is Made at Night, which narrates alternative histories by excavating stories of the revolutions made in the nighttime, is on a real roll at the moment. Here are two examples.

We Must Refuse Boredom


Georges Bataille, The Sacred Conspiracy, 1936

Marx and the Mazurka?: Dancing with the First International

Did Marx dance a Palermo Polka?

And here’s something HiM@N would like:

Shekar Hanim – Tchakidji: Anatolian Greek outlaw music.

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*What Emma Goldman actually said: (more…)

Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 6:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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Tristes tropiques

Levi Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss has died, aged 101.

Lévi-Strauss fled Vichy France in 1940, having been dismissed from his job due to Vichy racial laws. The New School for Social Research in New York, a reconstituted version of the Frankfurt school set up to rescue German refugee intellectuals, found a job for him, and the Rockefeller Foundation had a programme to rescue European scientists and thinkers. He made his way to Marseilles, and set sail for freedom in March 1941.

Other passengers on the boat, the Captain Paul-Lemerle, were Victor Serge, Andre Breton and Anna Seghers. The three of them were among the anti-fascists rescued by the great Varian Fry, a story told in his colleague Mary Jayne Gold’s Crossroads Marseilles 1940 (1980, now out of print) and more recently Rosemary Sullivan’s Villa Air-Bel (2006 HarperCollins).

Seghers was a German Communist writer. She had fled Nazi Germany for France, and was active in the exiled German writers union, which met at the Cafe Mephisto on Boulevarde St-Germain. Seghers had slipped across the line from German-occupied France to Vichy France the same month that Walter Benjamin took his life after being turned back from Spain in his bid to get to New York.

She had played a major role in the Congress for the Defence of Culture, held in Paris in 1935. At the Congress, Henri Poulaille, a French anarchist writer and editor, Magdelana Pa, a French Trotskyist, and Gaetano Salvemini, an Italian socialist, raised the question of Victor Serge’s incarceration in the Soviet gulag. (Serge was exiled in Orenberg at that time, the subject of his book Midnight in the Century.) Seghers, disgracefully, said this was a distraction: “When a house is burning, you can’t stop to help someone with a splinter in their finger.” It is not recorded, as far as I know, what conversation they had on the Captain Paul-Lemerle.

The Captain Paul-Lemerle, which had been built in 1921, landed in Martinique and then in Puerto Rico. At the latter, Lévi-Strauss had document trouble, and the Americans almost stopped him from proceeding. The fortunage intervention of another anthropologist, Jacques Soustelle, who happened to be PR in the service of De Gaulle’s Free French, rescued him. Levi Strauss went on to New York, where he was known as Claude L. Strauss, to avoid confusion with the popular jeans. Once the war was over, he worked as cultural counsellor of the French Embassy in Washington, before moving back to France in 1948. The first, very short, version of his wonderful memoir, Tristes Tropiques, was published in Encounter, the CIA-sponsored journal of the anti-Stalinist left.

Serge’s journey was not straightforward. He went to

Mexico (on a visa granted by President Cardenas hiniself), via Martinique (where he was detained in a camp for a month), Ciudad Trujillo and Havana. He reached Mexico in September 1941, and was immediately the object of violent articles, threats (to his life) from local and refugee Stalinists. (Jean Riére)

Seghors also went on to Mexico. Her anti-fascist novel, The Seventh Cross, which she had written in France, was published in English in New York and in German in Mexico. It has been serialised by a Soviet journal, International Literature, but the serialisation abrubtly halted with the Hitler-Stalin pact, when anti-fascism was no longer a Stalinist cause. Her Transit Visa, published in 1944, was a fictionalised account of the escape from France of the anti-fascist intellectuals, and the complex choreography of accidedents, lucky breaks and dishonesties by which they were able to obtain visas – “The Battle of the Visas” was Serge’s phrase for this.

Breton spent time in Martinique, then went on to New York.  He returned to France in 1946, and was active in radical politics until his death.

Added: Pierre Bourdieu on Levi-Strauss.

Leon Trotsky drinking Mexican coffee

Robert Service on Trotsky again: Service was on the weekend’s The Forum on the BBC World Service. The Service bit starts at 27 minutes. I don’t like Service’s analysis, although he is partly right. Service is right about Trotsky’s personality: cold, prim, glacial, disdainful, arrogant, self-centred. But Service basically says Trotsky and Stalin are “blood brothers”, that Trotsky was as ruthless as Stalin, who in turn was as much a “man of ideas” as Trotsky. This is surely not right, despite Trotsky’s faults. However, Service is right that Trotsky would have suppressed the peasants to achieve industrialisation, less brutally than Stalin but nonetheless harshly.

One interesting point Service makes is that other Russian exiles were making similar analyses of Soviet Russia, and have been forgotten. (He doesn’t name names, but Victor Serge, Ante Ciliga, Boris Souvarine, Voline, the exiled Mensheviks André Liebich writes about in From the Other Shore, and so on.) Service suggests that it was because Trotsky was a great writer and subsequently a great martyr that he became so important. I think this is true, but the third factor, both Trotsky’s strength and his flaw, his hubris perhaps, was that he was a great factionalist, with a sense of himself as a leader of a movement, something that was untrue of the other, more modest key figures of the anti-Stalinist left. Anyway, I still prefer Hitchens’ version. Lots more here.

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Heroes: Josef Frantisek. Marek Edelman, Steve Cohen and Mercedes Sosa. John Saville. Bongani Mkhungo.

Villains: Nat Hentoff.

George Orwell: His lessons for combating antisemitism today.

Histories: The Communist Party in the French resistance. New York elections: from honourable Jewish socialists to odious Marxoid cults. The end of the left’s Cuba romance? The state of Bund historiography [pdf]. The Labour Party and the Battle of Cable Street.

Book reviews: Platypus on Communist Chicago. Colin Waugh’s Plebs. Geoffrey Foote on Paul Flewers’ New Civilisation. Andrew Coates on Flewers and two other books on Communism.

Interviews: Nick Cohen in Black Flag.

The Kaminski affair: Bob has a good round-up (scroll to “Strange alliances”).

Marxist theory: Louis Proyect on John Molyneux on party democracy. Playtpus on Karl Korsch. David Black (Hobgoblin London) on philosophy and revolution.

Un-Marxist theory: Irving Howe “Class and sociology” 1957, plus replies by Lewis Coser and Dennis Wrong.

If sharks were people: From Brecht’s Tales from the Calendar.

Consumerism: Buy Zapatatista coffee! And buy the new edition of Zapata of Mexico. And buy The Workers’ Next Step. And The Insurrectionists by Bill Fishman.

From the archive of struggle no.37

In previous issues, I have featured the Labadie Collection, the Holt Labor Library, and other American archives. Today, we turn to Ireland.

The MultiText Project in History is an innovative educational project, brought to you by the History Department, University College Cork. It is the largest and most ambitious project undertaken by any university to provide resources for students of Modern Irish History at all levels: University students, the general reader, and second-level students. The project aims to publish a minimum of 12 books, each dealing with a separate period of Irish history. Each book contains accounts of key personalities, concepts, and detailed elucidations of some case studies in the period.

Among the project’s galleries are one on James Connolly and one on James Larkin, and a case study of the 1913 strike and lockout in Dublin . Here are some of the features:

Farewell dinner for Connolly, New York, 1910.
Farewell dinner for Connolly, New York, 1910.
Farewell dinner on the occasion of Connolly’s departure from New York to return to Dublin, 14 July 1910.
Election leaflet in Yiddish.
Election leaflet in Yiddish.
Election leaflet in Yiddish in support of James Connolly in his campaign for election to Dublin Corporation for the Wood Quay Ward in 1902.
Moscow3
Larkin in Moscow as representative of the Workers’ Union of Ireland at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern.

Rising from the East

MONDAY UPDATE: LINK FIXED!

The East End today and yesterday.

Bonus links: David Rosenberg’s East End Walks. David R’s East End walks blog. Jewish Socialists Group.

Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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