Talking heads

[Note, today, 20 December, is Sidney Hook's birthday.]

Bayard Rustin vs Malcolm X, on black nationalism and Islam

Sidney Hook on liberalism, socialism and social democracy

Leon Trotsky on the Moscow trials

Emma Goldman on returning to the United States

EP Thompson on “society” for historians and for anthropologists

Raya Dunayevkaya on being a radical

Ralph Miliband: democrat and anti-fascist

Ralph Miliband

Ralph Miliband

The Daily Mail has been in the  news for its attacks on Ralph Miliband as “the man who hated Britain“. This continues a long tradition of smearing “Red” Ed Miliband by association with his father’s politics (here, for instance, in 2010, they make a big deal of the fact that his elderly cousin, who he may not even have met, had some vague connection to Joseph Stalin half a century ago). I don’t normally comment on topical events on this blog, but this seemed kind of worth looking at.

Was Miliband anti-British?

The sole piece of evidence presented by the Mail of Miliband Sr’s “hatred of Britain” is a diary entry he wrote when he was 17. I pity my son, if he ever becomes a public figure and the Mail finds what I wrote in my diaries as a teenager… I would much rather trust his son’s memories to know anything about what the mature man actually felt about the land that gave him refuge when he fled genocide – and the land for which he served in the armed forces.

HMS Godetia, manned by the Section Belge, Belgian Section of the British Royal Navy, during World War Two. Source: Wikipedia

Ralph Miliband fought for Britain in the war against fascism. According to his Independent obit:

The three missing years to which he refers were spent in service as a naval rating in the Belgian section of the Royal Navy. Aware of the fact that many of his Belgian comrades were engaged in the war against Fascism and traumatised by the absence of his mother and sister, he had volunteered, using Laski’s influence to override the bureaucracy. He served on a number of destroyers and warships, helping to intercept German radio messages. He rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer and was greatly amused on one occasion when his new commanding officer informed him how he had been rated by a viscount who had commanded the ship on which he had previously served: ‘Miliband is stupid, but always remains cheerful.’

However, I’m fairly sure that despite his lack of British nationality at this point, he served in the mainstream Royal Navy and not in the Section Belge (RNSB). The latter operated corvettes (such as the one picture above) and minesweepers, while Miliband served on destroyers and warships.

Was Miliband a Communist Fellow Traveller?

Harold Laski

The Mail article makes a good deal of Harold Laski‘s influence on Ralph Miliband:

At the London School of Economics, he was taught and heavily influenced by the extremist Left-winger Harold Laski, who said the use of violence was legitimate in British elections.

I see Laski, although far from “an extreme Left-winger”, as a broadly pernicious figure in British political history, and as something of a Fellow Traveller. But it is important to be clear about timing. Laski was broadly committed to a liberal, reformist, parliamentary social democracy until the early 1930s, and was close to the right-wing Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald. (Aside; MacDonald’s previous government in 1924 was brought down partly as a result of the Mail‘s publication of the forged Zinoviev letter, alleging Soviet interference with British politics – first in a long-line of dishonest anti-communist smears directed at Labour from the paper.)

Only in the 1930s, during the tumultuous years of the Depression, did Laski start to flirt with a pro-Soviet position, and come to believe that the overthrow of capitalism might not happen peacefully. Even in this period, I am fairly certain, he never said “the use of violence was legitimate in British elections”, as the Mail claims.

During 1931-1937 Laski was a key figure in the Popular Frontist movement in British politics, influenced by Laski’s friend Leon Blum in France. This movement, including Stafford Cripps and focused around the small middle-class Socialist League, as well as the more broad-based Left Book Club, sought rapprochement between the Labour movement and Communism, with the priority of defeating fascism. This movement was largely rejected both by the working class mainstream of the Labour Party and by the uncompromising anti-Stalinists of the Independent Labour Party, and Laski skunked back to Labour in 1937, increasingly settling in on the soft left of the party.

After the war, Laski did continue to argue for a more positive attitude towards Britain’s war-time Soviet allies and against the Atlanticist Cold War consensus in the Labour Party, but he no longer endorsed Communism as a viable political movement in Britain. It was this later Laski who would influence the young Ralph Miliband, who studied under him at the LSE briefly during the war and then again after his demobilisation. This more mellow Laski encouraged Miliband to think for himself and question Marxist orthodoxy.

Was Miliband a Communist?

Ralph Miliband has been described as a “Stalinist”, which is a complete travesty considering his consistent opposition to the Soviet model of socialism from above. Back in Poland, Ralph Miliband’s father had been a Bundist, a fiercely anti-Stalinist Jewish socialist movement. As a youngster in Belgium he joined the Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, which was affiliated to the British Independent Labour Party, and again anti-Stalinist.

Eric Hobsbawm, on-off family friend

He was never a member or supporter of the Communist Party; he was sympathetic to Tito’s Yugoslavia in the immediate post-war years, when it broke with the Stalinist bloc; and by the the 1950s when the New Left was starting to emerge from the shadow of orthodox Communism he was a fully fledged anti-Stalinist. The Soviet crushing of democratic socialism in Hungary in 1956 and then in Czechoslovakia in 1968 repelled him deeply. In this period, as the Mail notes, he was friendly with the Stalinist Eric Hobsbawm, another refugee from fascism and ex-serviceman (in the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Educational Corps), but, as the Mail passes over quickly, on this issue Miliband was sharply at odds with his friend. Here he is in 1968:

The invasion of Czechoslovakia show very well that this oppressive and authoritarian Russian socialism has nothing in common with the socialism that we demand,and we must state this very loudly, even at the risk of seeming to be anti-soviet and to echo bourgeois propaganda … And then, there is also this question of ‘bourgeois liberties’ … which, I am persuaded, we must put at the top of our programme. Or rather, denounce them as insufficient and to be extended by socialism. Nothing will work if it is possible and plausible to suggest that we want to abolish them. And that is one of the reasons why the democratization of ‘revolutionary’ parties is essential… The internal life of a revolutionary party must prefigure the society which it wants to establish – by its mode of existence, and its way of being and acting. While this is not the case, I don’t see any reason to want to see the current parties take power: they are quite simply not morally ready to assume the construction of a socialist society.

His anti-Stalinism was less robust than, for example EP Thompson‘s became or that of the International Socialists, and there is a still a lingering presence of the Laski-ite fellow traveller in his sense that “seeming to be anti-soviet” might be a bad thing, but he was always clear that Soviet “socialism” was oppressive and cruel.

The only quotation the Mail comes up with in relation to Miliband’s attitude to the Soviet Union was this:

Mikhail Gorbachev’s dismantling of Soviet socialism and the worker state should have shocked Miliband, but he managed to find an argument welcoming it.

He proclaimed that the Cold War had always been a useful ‘bogey’ for the Right, and that, ‘the success of Mikhail Gorbachev in democratising Soviet society . . . would deprive conservative forces of one of their most effective weapons’.

In fact, of course, that’s evidence of pretty much nothing: Gorbachev’s reforms were heartily welcomed by all who thought that the Soviet Union constituted “actually existing socialism” while condemning its authoritarianism. Here’s Miliband in 1990:

In recent years, Mikhail Gorbachev has sought with great eloquence to define the kind of internationalism which the world requires today, and has done so in terms of universal values and aspirations, beyond boundaries of nations, classes and creeds – values and aspirations relating to peace, disarmament, the protection of the environment, and so on. These are indeed universal values, and socialists obviously subscribe to them.

…the collapse of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe (and its likely collapse elsewhere) clearly constitutes a great strengthening of the hope nurtured by conservative forces that the world might be shaped (or re-shaped) in an image acceptable to them. There is now a very good chance that some Communist countries at least will move towards the restoration of capitalism: some of them are already well advanced on that road…

Such celebration and proclamation is, however, rather premature. Soviet-type Communism, with the centrally planned command economy and the monopolistic one-party political system, is out or on the way out, and will not be resurrected. But the notion that this is the end of socialist striving and eventual socialist advances leaves a vital fact out of account. This is that, despite the current apotheosis of capitalism, it has resolved none of the problems which give sustenance to socialist aspirations and struggles. Given the inherent and ineradicable failings of capitalism, there is no reason to doubt that the striving for radical alternatives will continue.

Miliband was wrong to see that the Soviet regime ever (except perhaps briefly in the last two months of 1917) represented any kind of hopeful alternative to Western market capitalism, but he was always a sharp critic of its oppressiveness.

And what about the Daily Mail?

The Mail article mentions Miliband’s “immigrant” status (they don’t use the more accurate word “refugee”) a few times:

This was the immigrant boy whose first act in Britain was to discard his name Adolphe because of its associations with Hitler, and become Ralph, and who helped his father earn a living rescuing furniture from bombed houses in the Blitz.

This will be no surprise for those of us familiar with the Mail’s fiercely anti-immigrant – and arguably xenophobic – politics. Only last year they said that the “only responsible vote” in the French elections was not for the Thatcherite Sarkozy, but the fascist Marine Le Pen! One of the by-products of this kerfuffle is to remind people that right up to the war, the Mail (under the father of the current proprietor, Viscount Rothermere), was consistently pro-fascist:

Lord Rothermere was a friend of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, and directed the Mail’s editorial stance towards them in the 1930s.[32][33]Rothermere’s 1933 leader “Youth Triumphant” praised the new Nazi regime’s accomplishments, and was subsequently used as propaganda by them.[34] In it, Rothermere predicted that “The minor misdeeds of individual Nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany”. Journalist John Simpson, in a book on journalism, suggested that Rothermere was referring to the violence against Jews and Communists rather than the detention of political prisoners.[35]

Rothermere and the Mail were also editorially sympathetic to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists.[36] Rothermere wrote an article entitled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in January 1934, praising Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine”.[37] This support ended after violence at a BUF rally in Kensington Olympia later that year.[38]

Here are some examples:


Rothermere, as late as 1939, wrote to Hilter congratulating him on invading Prague, and urged him to march on Romania.

Further reading

Centrist Marxism

English: Heading of an ILP letter

The material on centrist Marxism was removed from the Wikipedia article on Centrism, so I have created a new article on the former. It is very much a work in progress, so anyone reading this who is a Wikipedia editor, please work on it. It started like this:

Centrism has a specific meaning within the Marxist movement, referring to a position between a revolutionary and reformist position. For instance, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) was seen as centrist because they oscillated between advocating reaching a socialist economy through reforms and advocating revolution. The members of the so-called Two-and-a-half and Three-and-a-half Internationals, who could not choose between the reformism of the social democrat Second International and the revolutionary politics of the Communist Third International, are exemplary of centrism in this sense; instances are the Spanish Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), ILP and Poale Zion.

Revolutionary Marxists often describe centrism in this sense as opportunistic, since it argues for a revolution at some point in the future but urges reformist practices in the mean time; Libertarian socialists and anarchists view any reformism as political opportunism because they view reformism as incapable of effecting structural changes to social organization.[1]

The term “Centrism” also denotes positions held by some of the Bolsheviks during the 1920s. In this context, “Centrism” refers to a position between the Right Opposition (which supported the New Economic Policy and friendly relations with capitalist countries) and the Left Opposition (which supported an immediate transition to a socialist economy and world revolution). By the end of the 1920s, the two opposing factions had been defeated by Joseph Stalin who eventually gained enough support from members of the factions through the application of various ideas formed by the factions’ various leaders. (i.e. Leon TrotskyNikolai Bukharin, etc.)

(more…)

Books/Obituaries

Stuart at New Appeal to Reason posts his books of 2011. Here are some of them. Note: the numbers are messed up here, but it seems too fiddly to change. Sorry. Read the original.

  1.  John Nichols, The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism
    Nichols has written a persuasive case that socialism is as American as apple pie.  From the forgotten radical economics of founding father Thomas Paine and the utopian socialists who founded the Republican Party to Victor Berger, the socialist Congressman from Milwaukee, who opposed WWI to Michael Harrington it is a great read.
    The subtitle is a little misleading.  Nichols leaves out some important topics that even a short history should contain: the Populist movement of the 1890s and the most successful Socialist Party of the Debs era–the Oklahoma socialists, discussed brilliantly in Jim Bissett’s Agrarian Socialism in America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920.
  2. Joe Burns, Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America
    Carl Finamore reviewed it on Talking Union
    a valuable contribution to resurrecting fundamental lessons from the neglected history of American labor.
    As the title suggests and as he emphasized to me, “the only way we can revive the labor movement is to revive a strike based on the traditional tactics of the labor movement.”But he doesn’t stop there. The author reviews for the reader the full range of tactics and strategy during the exciting, turbulent and often violent history of American labor.Refreshingly, he also provides critical assessments normally avoided by labor analysts of a whole series of union tactics that have grown enormously popular over the last several decades.
  3. Louisa Thomas Conscience Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family–a Test of Will and Faith in World War I Even though I’ve read two biographies of Norman Thomas, this book by Thomas’s great-granddaughter greatly added to my knowledge and appreciation of Thomas.

    Alan Riding’s review in the New York Times seems on the mark

    Louisa Thomas, who never knew her great-­grandfather, might well have chosen to write his biography as a way of meeting him. Instead, in her first book, “Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War I,” she has been far more daring. In fact, the lengthy subtitle is a bit misleading. Yes, Norman and his brother Evan were pacifists and their brothers Ralph and Arthur joined the Army. And yes, Evan was jailed as a conscientious objector and Ralph was wounded in the trenches. Yet the thrust of this enthralling book lies with its title: through the experience of her forebears, Thomas examines how conscience fares when society considers it subversive.

    At issue is not Norman Thomas’s socialism: it barely enters the picture because he joined the Socialist Party only a month before the end of the war. Instead, we are shown the “making” of a socialist, formed not by Marx but by the Bible.

    Also recommended is Mark Johnson’s review and interview of Louisa Thomas on the Fellowship of Reconciliation blog.

     
  4. Bruce Watson, Freedom Summer
  5. Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice  

    Two outstanding books on critical episodes in the civil rights movement: the 1961 Freedom Rides to confront the segregation of interstate bus terminals and the 1964 Freedom Summer to register  African Americans in Mississippi.  Watson is the author of an excellent book on Sacco and Vanzetti (which I have read) and one on the 1912 Bread and Roses strike. Aresensault’s book is a long one, but there  is an abridged version and a DVD of the PBS documentary based on it.

    9.   Philip Dray, There is Power in the Union

    I bought this at the bookstore at the 2011 Netroots nation and found that it lives up to its subtitle “Epic Story of Labor in America.” It is now out in paperback.    There are other recent general  histories of US labor (Mel Dubofsky’s Labor in America: A History and Nelson Lichtenstein’s 2003 State of the Union: A Century of American Labor, A.B. Chitty’s 2002 From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend, and the 2007 two-volume Who Built America).  They might be preferred by academics or labor studies professionals, but for the general reader, union activist, or occupier, There is Power in the Union is highly recommended.
    10. Barbara Clark Smith The Freedoms We Lost:Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America

    This is an eye-opening study of the real-life freedoms in revolutionary America. In a post on the History News Network, Smith brings out the huge differences between today’s Tea Party and the original. If you find that post  intriguing, you might want to check out the book.

And here are two obituaries of two we lost in 2011, from Criticism etc:

Daniel Bell, 1919-2011

Now largely forgotten, Bell was once an influential intellectual and sociologist from the milieu of those who have come to be known as the New York Intellectuals. He editedThe New Leader, the organ of the right-wing of American  social democracy, during World War II and went on to receive a PhD in sociology from Columbia University. He taught for many years at Harvard. Raya Dunayevskaya often cited his The End of Ideology (1960) as the quintessence of the false intellectual representation of the official capitalist society of the age of state capitalism, while the revolts of the time, among them Hungary and the colonial world, represented the negation of that falsification of reality. Bell contributed to  the development of the school of thought of neoconservatism, so-called, (he helped launch the journal Public Interest with William Kristol), although he did not move as far to right as many of his cohort.

• • •

Lana Peters (also known as Svetlana Alliluyeva), 1926-2011

An almost ghost-like figure from another time, Stalin’s daughter lived a peripatetic life after defecting from the USSR during the early years of the Brezhnev era. She authored several memoirs, including Twenty Letters to a Friend and Only One Year. Alliluyeva’s mother was Stalin’s second wife, Nadezhda Aliluyeva, who committed suicide in 1932. Svetlana Alliluyeva married a member of the Frank Lloyd Wright-Olgivanna Wright circle, William Peters, and had a daughter with him. Although Alliluyeva had harshly criticized the USSR after her emigration, she returned there briefly in the 1980s, but once again left it behind for England and the United States. She died in Wisconsin. The New York Times obituary features several photographs, including one of her as a child in her Young Pioneers uniform.

Orwell, Tribune, etc

Today’s links come from what are almost certainly the best three British socialist blogs, Shiraz Socialist, Tendance Coatesy, and Paul Anderson’s Gauche.

SURVIVAL PLAN AGREED FOR TRIBUNE

Tribune editor Chris McLaughlin has just sent me this:

Staff, management and the National Union of Journalists have agreed a last-minute plan to stave off closure of Tribune. At the end of talks ending Friday evening, it was agreed that the title should become a co-operative. Publisher Kevin McGrath has offered to take on historical debts and release the title “debt free” and told the meeting that he would do everything possible to help the success of the transfer to a co-operative. Terms are to be drafted in time for a full meeting of the Tribune staff, which has to approve the deal, on Monday.

This is good news, but it’s going to take a serious recapitalisation of the paper, a great deal of work and a measure of luck to rescue it. Circulation is down to 1,200, which isn’t a sustainable level. To get it back to 5,000, which is roughly what it needs to be to generate the sales and advertising income to employ journalists and production staff, it will have to spend a lot on promotion (and do it intelligently).

I don’t buy the argument that a democratic left weekly that generates most of its income from selling printed copies is doomed to fail. Tribune‘s core political stance – socialist, egalitarian, democratic, libertarian – remains as relevant as ever, and it is less marginalised in Labour politics than at any time since the early 1990s. And if it concentrates its efforts on direct debit subscription sales rather than desperately trying to break into newsagents, it has at least a decent chance of re-establishing itself commercially. Subs-based print periodicals can thrive in the internet age, particularly those with a niche market – witness the London Review of Books and Prospect.

But it is going to need money. I’ve no idea what target for funds the paper will announce next week, but I think that something like £500,000 is what’s required. That’s rather more than I’ve got in my piggy bank, but it’s not much more than the price of a semi in Neasden – and it’s not beyond reach. If 200 people stump up £1,000 and 400 put in £500, there’s £400,000 in the kitty, which would be quite enough to make a decent start on reviving the old lady.

WHY TRIBUNE MATTERS

 Paul recalls a 1988 column:

DIG DEEP, DEAR READER, DIG DEEP
Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 22 January 1988

[...] But for all its faults, Tribune has been a vital part of the British left’s political culture — and as such a vital part of Britain’s culture.

Being part of some British political tradition does not, in itself, guarantee the usefulness of an institution: look at the House of Lords, the monarchy and much more besides. That Tribune has in the past had a role does not necessarily mean that it has one now. I believe it does have one, and that’s not simply because my job is on the line.

Tribune is the only open forum for debate among supporters of the British Labour Party and the Labour-sympathetic left. All the arguments of the British democratic left take place in its pages. Unlike others, the paper is not afraid to give space to unfashionable opinion. On the assumption that a democratic, discursive movement of the left is necessary for the left to have any success, Tribune is utterly essential.

Orwell in Tribune

Orwell in Tribune: ‘As I Please’ and other writings 1943-47 edited by Paul Anderson (Methuen, £14.99)
Orwell and Marxism:The political and cultural thinking of George Orwell by Philip Bounds (I. B. Tauris. £52.50)

By Richard VintenTimes Literary Supplement (Aug 2009)

More than any other British author of the twentieth century, George Orwell has escaped from his own time.[...]

The articles he wrote for Tribune between 1943 and 1947 are gathered into a single volume with an excellent introduction by Paul Anderson.[...] publication of the Tribune articles is useful because Orwell wrote for the paper at a time when he was writing Animal Farm and thinking about Nineteen Eighty-Four. His article on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, a book which is sometimes seen as a model for Nineteen Eighty-Four, appeared in January 1946, though any reader of the Tribune articles will conclude that Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution was a more important influence on Orwell’s thinking.

For most of this time, large parts of the British Left, including some of the other writers for Tribune, were pro-Soviet. More importantly, support for the Soviet alliance was part of the official policy of both Britain and the United States. In short, Orwell’s most famous books need to be understood against the backdrop of Yalta rather than that of, say, the Berlin airlift. The Tribune articles show how intermittent anti-Americanism, suspicion of the British ruling classes and distaste for the realpolitik of the great powers were blended with a personal dislike of Stalinism. Orwell repeatedly drew attention to facts about the Soviet Union that were inconvenient to the Western Allies; he wrote, for example, about the mass rape of women in Vienna by Russian soldiers. An article of September 1944 about the Warsaw Uprising is particularly striking; in it he asked why the British intelligentsia were so “dishonestly uncritical” of Soviet policy, but he also suggested that Western governments were moving towards a peace settlement that would hand much of Europe to Stalin.

If the Tribune articles tell us mainly about Orwell after 1943, Philip Bounds sets him against the fast-changing political backdrop to his whole writing career. In the mid 1930s, the Communist International turned away from “class against class” tactics to encourage Popular Front alliances of anti-Fascist forces. This position changed with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, then changed again with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. These gyrations produced odd consequences in Britain, a country in which there was not a large Communist party (though there were some significant figures who, as Orwell put it, believed in the Russian “mythos” ) and in which the most important leaders of the Labour Party were not tempted by an anti-Fascist alliance with the Communists. The Popular Front was supported by an odd coalition that ranged from Stafford Cripps to the Duchess of Atholl.

Orwell opposed the Popular Front, or, at least, he was rude about its English supporters. During the Spanish Civil War he fought with the non-Stalinist POUM rather than the International Brigade (joined by most Communists). He reversed his position overnight in 1939: he claimed to have dreamt of war and then come downstairs to see the newspaper reports of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. He supported the war against Hitler and became an eloquent defender of patriotism though he also thought, at least in 1940 and 1941, that the British war effort might be combined with a revolutionary transformation of British society. His position was sometimes close to that of Trotskyists and he quoted the Trotskyite slogan “the war and the revolution are inseparable” with approval in 1941. Orwell’s interest in Trotsky, however, seems to have been rooted in a sympathy for outsiders and in the sense that, to quote his friend Malcolm Muggeridge, “Trotsky blows the gaff” on the Soviet Union. Orwell did not believe that Russia would necessarily have been less repressive if ruled by Trotsky rather than Stalin. He was not much interested in Marxist theory and his remark, apropos of T. S. Eliot, that Anglo-Catholicism was the “ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism”, was probably designed to annoy Trotskyites as much as Anglo-Catholics.

Bounds covers all of Orwell’s writing – the early autobiographical novels and exercises in fictionalized autobiography as well as the better-known works – and tries to trace the themes that run through them all. In particular, he argues that, for all of his anti-Soviet talk, Orwell was influenced by Communist or fellow-travelling writers. This influence was masked by his general cussedness and by a capacity for annexing the ideas of authors he had once denounced; for example, he wrote a savage review of The Novel Today (1936) by the Communist Philip Henderson. However, Orwell’s remarks about modernism in his essay “Inside the Whale” (1940) seem to owe something to Henderson’s assault on literature that avoids “the urgent problems of the moment”. Orwell even transports the same rather laboured joke from Punch – about the young man who tells his aunt “My dear, one doesn’t write about anything; one just writes” – from his 1936 review to his 1940 essay. The changes in Communist strategy made Orwell’s relations with its cultural commentators all the more complicated. Sometimes he seemed to draw on ideas expressed by Communist writers during the “class against class”
period to attack the Popular Front, and then to draw on the Popular Front’s discovery of national culture to attack Communists after the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. [READ THE REST]

Christopher Hitchens, Acknowledging the Legislators.

Christopher Hitchens has the gift of  making you want to listen. Simon Hoggart, he recalls in conversation  after theMunk Debate, once suggested that he should write as  he spoke. This advice he has followed. The collection of republished  pieces in Arguably shows this trait in every page. Keeping a  few furlongs ahead of the reading public with his table-talk about  the giants of English and American Literature, World and National  Politics, History, Totalitarianism, Wine, Song and Women, he pauses,  at it were, to fire shots at a variety of seated ducks. Diagnosed  with cancer, and conscious of his mortality, he does not just grab  attention: he is good company. [READ THE REST]

Pete Carter “airbrushed from history” by Morning Star

“Despite differences between sections of the left, what unites us in our struggles is the collective wish for a better world for working class people” - Gerry Kelly

Pete Carter, building workers’ union organizer, former Communist Party youth leader, Communist Party industrial organizer, and (later in life)  a committed environmentalist, will be cremated today.

Pete Carter

The Guardian published an obituary.

The Morning Star hasn’t even mentioned his passing.

Gerry Kelly – a former IS’er  who doesn’t share Carter’s politics – expresses his disgust at the Morning Star‘s sectarianism :

I was a shop steward on Woodgate Valley B in 1971-2 and worked with Mick Shilvock there. Pete, Shilvock, Phil Beyer and me struggled together in Brum to kill the lump and organise the building workers.

Pete was the best working class orator I ever heard and was a great organiser. We had a couple of years in Birmingham in which we fought a desperate struggle, acheived some great victories and also had some laughs. Pete was an inventive class warrior and we carried out some stunts that publicised our cause and made us laugh as well. [READ THE REST]

Today in 1956: Nye Bevan

Great speeches of the 20th century: Aneurin Bevan

From the Guardian’s “great speeches” series: Nye Bevan: Weapons for squalid and trivial ends, December 5, 1956

Aneurin Bevan: Great speeches of the 20th century Weapons for squalid and trivial ends
This is an edited version of the speech delivered to the House of Commons on December 5 1956.
Read the full speech

Listen to Bevan’s speech
Hear Bevan deliver a blistering address about the Suez Crisis at a rally held in Trafalgar Square on November 4 1956 (5mins 16s).
· Courtesy of the BBC

Tam Dalyell The greatest Commons performance
Tam Dalyell: It was not only loyal Bevanites who judged Nye’s tour de force as the greatest of speeches; it was also opponents and victims.

From the Guardian archives:

Mr Bevan indicts the ‘synthetic villains’
December 6 1956: Mr Selwyn Lloyd was bound to seem pedestrian beside Mr Bevan. He was unfortunate to be drawn against Labour’s brilliant swordsman in the opening round of the two-day contest on Suez.

Today in 1892: Back to the Future

From IISG:

First edition News from nowhere 1890 callnr. E 1780/2

William Morris’ utopian novel News from Nowhere or An Epoch of Rest starts with six friends at the Socialist League having a ‘brisk discussion about what would happen on the day of the Revolution’. One of the friends went home, awaked in the future, and described a communist society. After his return from the future, he states: ‘and if others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream.’ On 22 November 1892 this book was completed by the Kelmscott Press, Morris’ own publishing house which he had started in 1891. 300 copies, decorated with a woodcut of Morris’ summer house Kelmscott Manor, were printed. But to Morris’ grief, this was not the first edition of his own book. After the text had been published in chapters in Commonweal, the organ of the Socialist League, it was almost immediately published in America in 1890, without his special permission. Here is the title page of this first American edition.

See also:

•  William Morris papers

Related Articles [auto-generated]

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Miliband and Labour

Two great bits of Milibandism from Shiraz Socialist and Entdinglichung.

Published in: on October 1, 2010 at 12:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

More catching up

This was meant to be in my last round-up: Don’t blame Bevan, a robust defence of Nye against the Kinnockite scum.

The author, Carl, also has a piece on Christopher Hitchens and prayer and Andrew Coates has a long and very good review of Christopher Hitchens’ Hitch 22. This provokes quite a long comment thread, involving our comrades Mick Hall and Mike Ezra, who recounts the debate in a post at Harry’s Place entitled A Debate with the Indecent Left. The Coatesy comment thread, unlike more or less any at Harry’s Place, is well worth reading.

Meanwhile, as Carl informs me, a furore has raged in the pokier corners of the leftiesphere about said Place, specifically the association with it of one Terry FitzPatrick, street-fighting man, veteran anti-racist and, erm, bon viveur, recently arrested for racism in relation to statements made to Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote and Lee Jasper, black liberation tsar. (When I lived in Brixton, Jasper’s names featured prominently in local graffiti, which described him as a police informer, on which I will not pass comment). Here‘s Andrew again, but more relevant are posts by Richard Seymour, Lee Jasper and especially this series at Socialist Unity: 1, 2, 3, 4. Here are the charges against Fitz, to which he is pleading not guilty. I won’t weigh in on this debate (although the links to HP posts in the following paragraphs will show that I am not chopping them out of my on-line life) except to note that Woolley and Jasper’s faith in bourgeois law as a tool to punish alleged racists is rather in contradiction to their disregard for due process in making a big deal of this before the court rules – in contrast, say, to Paul Stott, an anarchist who prefers not to upset the legal proceedings.

Some unrelated things: Lucha, lucha, lucha! (Mexican wrestling superhero activist comics). Diane Abbott is the real (Ralph) Miliband. The sins of the grandchildren (obliquely Milibandist and related to this). Ron Radosh on the hubris of Peter Beinart and the politics of Father Coughlin and on Howard Zinn’s FBI files. Alan Milburn’s Trotskyist past. The miracle of News Line.

Umissable: John Sweeney’s World Service documentary on Stalin’s “useful idiots“.

Jimmy Reid: Last of the great Clyde-built liners slips off; Jimmy Reid addresses supporters of the sit-in in 1971; YouTube Remembering a comrade: Jimmy Reid. A great round-up of obituaries at Socialist Unity (featuring Joan McAlpine, Paul Corby from Labour Uncut, Councillor Terry Kelly, Mick Hall and Johanna Baxter from Labour List), to which we can add Francis Sedgemore and John McTernan in the Daily Telegraph.

Marxist theory: AVPS on Gramsci, internal class divisions and the party; Alex Snowdon on the united front; Duncan Hallas on the united front; Tony McKenna on Lukacs and class consciousness; David Mitchell on autonomism versus democratic centralism; Permanent Revolution say it’s all Lenin’s fault.

History notes: Chris Nineham on Harold Isaac on the Chinese revolution; Summit Sarkar on a Marxian history of India; Poplar 1921; Peterloo 1819; Carry On Barcelona 1937; the British Library and the Czech Legion; Anarcho-philately;

From the archives: Socialist Standard 1924The Blackshirt 1935; International Socialism 1975 (Hallas on the Comintern and the united front); Workers Power 1980Socialist Worker Review 1990 (Callinicos reviews Tariq Ali).

To add to the blogroll if they’re not already there: Divergenta, Reifying the leftIn praise of small things, Enchanted Alphabet (via Airforce Amazons, in praise of the mantilla).


Ken Coates

Ken CoatesI once wrote this about Ken Coates:

The pacifist tradition that Baker and Kurlansky inherit is not an ignoble tradition. In the UK, its home was, for many decades, the Independent Labour Party. I have a lot of respect for the ILP and its heritage. Ken Coates is the contemporary figure who probably most represents the political tradition of the ILP. Over the years I’ve been influenced considerably by Ken Coates, his humanist socialism, his advocacy for workers’ control, his sense of industrial democracy as an extension of the republican liberties fought for by the likes of Tom Paine. However, in his little magazine, The Spokesman, I have long noted an unpleasant drift towards sloppy conspirationist thought, anti-American hysteria, a “New World Order” mentality. Habibi at Harry’s Place nails this trend, and shows how it spills over into very unpleasant antisemitic territory.

I still hold to that opinion, and was saddened to read about his death on the 27 June. Ken Coates was one of the most thoughtful of British socialists, and one of the most activist of its theorists. His work on workers’ control is indispensable. This came out of his own proletarian experiences, out of an engagement with the experiments in self-management in Tito’s Yugoslavia (the cause of his 1948 break with Stalinism) and then out of Michael Raptis’ development of the Titoist model within the context of Trotskyism.

At the same time, I think that the dark side of Pabloism – its excessive enthusiasm for a Second Campist kind of national self-determination, which led it into supporting some authoritarian “anti-imperialist” regimes – also coloured his thinking. This element came to the fore in his later years, when geopolitics rather than class struggle became his central concern at The Spokesman. (See, for instance, this rabbit’s eye view of his use of Christian antisemitism in his late rhetoric.)

'The dirty war in Mr Wilson. Or how he stopped worrying about Vietnam and learned to love the dollar', 1966Among the groups Coates passed through, after the Communist Party, were the Revolutionary Socialist League, the International Group, forerunner of the International Marxist Group, the the Institute for Workers’ Control, the International Socialists (he was one of the journal editors in the 1960s, its greatest period, although I am not sure if he was ever a member), the Labour Party (several times, including a fair few expulsions), the Independent Labour Network and the  North Derbyshire Socialist Alliance.

Please read Andrew Coates’ eulogy to this great man. Andrew has other links too: Guardian Obituary Here – letters about it here, Independent Here, Blog Three Score Years and Ten Here, Five Leaves Blog Here. Also: Socialist Unity.

Below the fold, some treasures from the archive: (more…)

On this day 1937: death of Carlo Rosselli

725.jpgParis, 9 June, 1937: Assassination of Carlo Rosselli.Rosselli, an Italian socialist, had been in exile in Paris since 1929, where he was the main figure in the movement Guistizia e Liberta. Here is the next part of his story, as told by Stanislao G. Pugliese:

Several days after the attempted coup d’etat of 18 July 1936 in Spain, various members of Giustizia e Liberta met in the offices of the journal on Rue Val-de-Grace in Paris. Rosselli proposed quick and decisive intervention against fascism in Spain; here was the opportunity to transform anti-fascism from a negative, passive idea into a positive, active force. Unfortunately, the reform socialists were hesitant and the communists were awaiting word from Moscow on how to proceed. Only the maximalist socialists and the anarchists agreed with Rosselli’s demand for a volunteer force to leave immediately for Spain. For the next ten months until his assassination, Rosselli fought a battle on two fronts: against Franco and his followers, and trying to convince the supporters of the Spanish Republic that this was not just a civil war to defend the Republic, but the first scene in the last act of the drama of European fascism. Rosselli saw the Spanish Civil War as the first real opportunity to combat fascism on equal terms, on the field of battle, with the only element understood by fascism – force.

With his arrival in Barcelona during the first week in August 1936 noted by the police,4 Rosselli was received by a contingent of FAI (Federacion Anarquista Iberica) and introduced to members of the CNT (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo) and POUM (Partito Obrero de Unificacion Marxista). He wrote back to his English-born wife, Marion, that for now, ‘it was not a real or modern war, but rather a slow siege’.5 Managing to hammer together an accord with the regional government of Catalonia, he created an Italian anti-fascist column of volunteers. Members of Giustizia e Liberta joined with Italian anarchists to create the ‘Ascaso’ Column.6 Together, Rosselli and the republican Mario Angeloni shared command of this first group of 130 Italian volunteers, of whom approximately 70-80 were anarchists, 20 were members of Giustizia e Liberta, and the remainder either socialists, communists or republicans.7 After a week, Rosselli returned to Paris where he tried to persuade the other anti-fascists to volunteer in Spain. By the end of the month he was back in Spain, on the Aragon front. [...]

(more…)

Marxism is the gateway to a revolutionary socialism which is thoroughly democratic and a democratic socialism which is thoroughly revolutionary

Phyllis Jacobson remembered – from New Appeal to Reason:

There are a number of remembrances of Phyllis Jacobson who played a leading role in the the creation and sustenance of New Politics, one of the most important journals of the American democratic left. Bogdan Denitch, Barry Finger, Sam Farber and others.

New Politics had two lives–from 1961 to 1975 and from 1986 to the present. It occupies a space to the left of Dissent (and to my left) and  has always been a valuable and thought provoking journal.

Joanne Landy and Steve Shalom write

“The Jacobsons did not want an editorial board of clones. They welcomed board members from a range of left perspectives that supported the basic orientation of New Politics: standing “in opposition to all forms of imperialism,” “uncompromising in its defense of feminism and affirmative action,” and above all insisting “on the centrality of democracy to socialism and on the need to rely on mass movements from below for progressive social transformation.”

If that sounds like the kind of thing you might be intersted in, check out New Politics. And if you like what you see, subsribe.

At Arguing the World: Alan Johnson on Zizek part 2 (extract below the fold); Ben Gidley on left antisemitism; Nicolaus Mills on Ivan Dee.

Ron Radosh defends Elena Kagan.

Oliver Kamm on Paul Hirst in his Communist days (provoked by Alex Massie on a Stalinist optimist).

A miscellany from The New Centrist. (more…)

From the archive of struggle no.48

“I am not a champion of lost causes, but of causes not yet won.” – Norman Thomas

Norman Thomas: a vignette

This vignette of Norman Thomas appeared on Wikipedia, although unfortunately it is not encyclopedic and so has no place there. So, for the sake of posterity, and without any claim about its authenticity, I paste it here:

Norman Thomas was a family friend, I saw him every year in my youth at my godfather’s Christmas Party in NYC. In 1953 I wasn’t there and he asked my mother where I was. It was a formal time, she said Jonathan has matriculated at Princeton. He said “you know, Mrs. Murphy, I’m a Socialist – but I’m awfully glad I went to Princeton”. At another time he said that he had never changed his views, and that many of the things he advocated were in Mr. Eisenhauer’s platform.

Finally, may I add, that I sang with the Princeton Tigertones for his Fiftieth Princeton Reunion in 1955. There were but a couple of dozen of them there, but all shed a tear as we sang the old college songs of their time. Our eyes got a bit damp also. At my Fiftieth we had nearly 300, and that reflects the change of life span that has come about since his graduation – and that is in part because of men like him who dedicated themselves to promoting justice.

Mr. Thomas was a gentleman of convictions, and consistency. This writer is a conservative who doesn’t agree with all the views of Mr. Thomas – but who has the greatest respect for the man. He sought justice for all as a principle, he had no personal agenda for power. I often picture that gentle man in my thoughts, even though I’m in opposition to his politics. We shared a goal, but differed on the means to it – I wish he were here now so I could argue with him (gently), I was too young do do so when I knew him.

Snippets:

*Mark Twain on the French revolution (1898)

*Eugene Debs on immigration (1910)

*Mark Ruffalo channels Eugene Debs on war.

*May Day Song and Dance – Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1939)

New publications on radical history:

Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution by Nestor Ivanovich Makhno (Black Cat Press):

Nestor Makhno (1888-1934) was a peasant anarcho-communist who organized an experiment in anarchist values in practice in southeast Ukraine during the Russian Revolution and Civil War.
This is the second volume of his memoirs, originally published in France in 1936 and published in English here for the first time.

Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution describes Makhno’s odyssey through revolutionary Russia in the spring of 1918. Driven from his Ukrainian village by a German invasion, he wandered through a nation torn by civil war, encountered various remarkable personalities, and survived hair-raising adventures.
This volume has interested historians mainly because of Makhno’s account of his interview with Lenin, but it also contains much valuable eye-witness information about a period of Soviet history which was later almost completely rewritten in officially sanctioned accounts.
The book (214 pp.) includes the original preface and notes by Makno’s sometime colleague Vsevolod Volin together with photos, maps, glossary, explanatory notes, appendix, etc. English translation and editing by Malcolm Archibald..

Avtonom #31:

A Russian libertarian communist journal. From the English summary:

Page 56: Notes without a celebration. Pyotr Ryabov commemorates KAS (Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists) in occasion of 20th anniversary of the important but short-lived organisation, which once united vast majority
of all anarchists in the former Soviet Union.
Page 60: Thimbles of the history. Interview of historician Valery Stolov on controversial presidential commission against “falsification of history”, which echoes Soviet-era politics of politicization of historical science.

The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid:

Newish from the Kate Sharpley Library, and reviewed here.

Karl Marx: a Bibliographic and Political Biography:

Frank Thomas Walker’s magnum opus finally published. (H/t Snowball.) Excerpt 2, tantalisingly, is on Bakunin.

From the archive of struggle:

Nestor Makhno archive:

A major rehaul, with new texts in Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, English, French, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Macedonian, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian. English highlights:
*Vyacheslav Azarov: The Kronstadt Revolt – the Gulyai-Pole Connection
*Emma Goldman: Living my life (extracts)
*Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit: The Makhno Movement and Opposition within the Party
*Workers Solidarity: Leah Feldman
*Nick Heath: Piotr Arshinov; 1921: The Maslakov mutiny and the Makhnovists on the Don; Kobets: The Makhnovist playwright.
*Leon Trotsky: Secret Order No.96/s

Robert Graham:

*Errico Malatesta: Anarchy (1891)/Part II.

Anarkismo:

*Black Flag/El Compita (1982): El Movimiento Anarquista en Corea
[ALSO READ THIS INTERVIEW ON THE STORY OF ANARCHISM IN KOREA]

Michael Foot again

http://www.toimg.net/managed/images/10034073/w200/image.jpgI assembled my post for Michael Foot rather hastily yesterday. Here is another attempt. Yesterday, the thought I had was that Foot is remembered today for his 1980s leadership of the Labour Party and the incident of the donkey jacket [sic] at the Cenotaph, and for walking a dog on Hampstead Heath. I wanted to remind people that he was also an important figure in the earlier, complex and contradictory, history of democratic socialism in Britain, with his involvement in the final period of the Independent Labour Party as it tried to stear a course between left social democratic Stalinist fellow travelling and independent, anti-totalitarian democratic socialism – and, later, as that current entered the official Labour Party, Cold War Atlanticist anti-Communist social democracy.

Here are some more recent tributes: (more…)

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 10:48 am  Comments (8)  
Tags: ,

Michael Foot

Read:

The Tribune obituary, by Geoffrey Goodman.

Arthur Marwick “Leading the Labour Party”: A review of Michael Foot: A Portrait by Simon Hoggart and David Leigh.

Some snips from other sources, about some aspects of Foot’s life less remembered now.

(more…)

Needed: a new left

Harry Barnes reflects on the 50th anniversary of New Left Review.

Previous post here.

Published in: on February 27, 2010 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Democratiya

I don’t know if it’s been there for a while, but I just noticed that Dissent has an archive of really nicely pdfed back issues of Democratiya. Here are some gems:

(more…)

From the archive of struggle, no.36: radical America

Last week, I featured the Holt Labor Library. Today, I feature a few different American radical history archives with smaller on-line exhibitions. Other stuff below the fold. Browse the whole series here.

The George Meany Memorial Archives

“The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) established the George Meany Memorial Archives in 1980 to honor the memory of George Meany, its first president, and to provide a program to preserve its historical records and make them available for research. In 1987 the archives moved from the AFL-CIO headquarters to the forty-seven acre campus of the George Meany Center for Labor Studies (now the National Labor College) in Silver Spring, Maryland, an educational institution for labor officers, representatives, and staff of AFL-CIO affiliates.”

On-line exhibit: A. Philip Randolph, 1889-1979.

Illinois Labor History Society

“The Illinois Labor History Society (ILHS) was formed on August 5, 1969 in the office of the late Joseph M. Jacobs, attorney for the Chicago Teachers Union, Meatcutters, and other labor organizations. The mission of the ILHS was set forth: It shall be the Purpose of the Illinois Labor History Society to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois Region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present.”

On-line exhibit: Labor Union Hall of Fame.

Indiana State University Debs Collection

The Debs Collection has an absolutely enormous amount of Eugene Debs material. The photos and videos are of particular interest. This is apparently the only known video of Debs.

Inkworks Press Archive

Inkworks is a leftie print co-op in the Bay area. Their poster archive includes many treasures dating from 1974 onwards. Earlier material includes cool posters for UFW salsa benefits, Chilean folk music gigs, Cinco de Mayo fiestas, Pablo Neruda woodcuts, and lots more. A little bit on a Stalinist/Second Campist/Third Worldist tip, but beautiful.

LARC

The Labor Archives and Research Center in San Francisco: “Few regions can rival the rich, lively labor history of the San Francisco Bay Area. This history is preserved in primary source and vintage history materials at the Labor Archives and Research Center (LARC). Founded in 1985 by trade union leaders, historians, labor activists and university administrators, the Labor Archives is a unit of the J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University.”

Two on-line exhibitions: Look for the Union Label: A Celebration of Union Logos and Emblems and Cultivating Creativity: The Arts and the Farm Workers’ Movement During the 1960s and 1970s. The first is just lots of labels, badges and such like. The second is awesome, with sections on the Farm Workers Logo, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Theater, Songs and Poems, El Malcriado (the UFW paper), Posters, Drawings and Murals, Photography and Cesar Chavez as Icon.

Brandeis Special Collections

The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections house the gems of Brandeis University’s library. They have a blog with monthly spotlights on the collection. July featured the Radical Pamphlets collection, but unfortunately it seems totally dominated by the CPUSA and its fronts. June was the Léon Lipschutz collection of Dreyfusiana and French Judaica. The Hall-Hoag Collection of Extremist Literature in the United States includes far right material and also the likes of the Weather Underground. The Sacco and Venzetti collections are a highlight.

(more…)

Marek Edelman

I learn from Entdinglichung that Marek Edelman has passed away. Here is how wikipedia describes him:

During World War II, he was one of the founders of the Jewish Combat Organization. He took part in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and became its leader following the death of Mordechaj Anielewicz. He also took part in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. When he died on the 2nd of October 2009 he was the last surviving leader of the Ghetto Uprising.[2][3]

After the war he remained in Poland and became a noted cardiologist. From the 1970s he collaborated with the Workers’ Defence Committee and other political groups opposing Poland’s Communist regime. As a member of Solidarity, he took part in the Polish Round Table Talks of 1989. Following the peaceful transformations of 1989, he was a member of various centrist parties. He also authored books documenting the history of wartime resistance against the German Nazi occupation.

I am gratified that, unlike the normal situation when one of my heroes dies, there are many obituaries of him already. Here are some: Moshe Arens, Nick Lowles, History is Made at Night, Tim Collard, MJ Rosenberg, the Tomb, Charlie Pottins, ZWord, Contested Terrain Jew on this, Rislu, Third Estate, Anne Frank’s Drumkit, Socialist Unity, the JC, Telegraph, Yossie Melman, NYT… and the US State Department.

Added: Read this comment by Michael Ezra, on Zionists and Bundists in resistance to the Nazis – kind of relevant to this post too.

Added 2: Another appreciation from David Rosenberg.

From the archive: Commentary debates Edelman in 1987 (via). Hannah Krall’s conversations with Edelman in 1977.

Poumishly

Anti-Stalinism

Eugene Debs: war resistor. Ilse Mattick: a great woman. Leni Jungclas: A great woman. Stieg Larsson: The Trot Who Played with Fire. Dwight MacDonald: Partisan Middlebrow. Barroso v Cohn-Bendit: debating European politics. George Orwell: poet of the everyday. Martin Simecka: dissident legacy. Added: Alas, poor Trotsky (against Justin Raimondo).

Stalinism

All that pink: Nancy Astor and Bernard Shaw with Uncle Joe. Stalin nostalgia. Fauxialism, in Venezuelan, Chinese and British varieties. Russia, Poland and the history wars.

More on Irving Kristol

Hendrik Hertzberg, Cas Muddle, Dave Osler.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 211 other followers