Farewell Marina Ginestà

With thanks to Rob Palk.

From the RHP blog:

Marina Ginestà of the Juventudes Comunistas, aged 17, overlooking Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.

Marina Ginestà, aged 17, overlooking Barcelona from Hotel Colón. She worked as a translator for a Soviet journalist of Pravda during the Spanish Civil War. She was a member of Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (Socialist Youth), the youth organization mainly directed by Partido Comunista de España (PCE, Communist Party of Spain). Despite her initial involvement she quickly grew disillusioned with the path that the Stalinists were taking. Marina remained a militant throughout the rest of the war and was drawn to other groups at that time such as the anti-Stalinist P.O.U.M (which George Orwell was a member of) and the Anarchist C.N.T. This photographs was taken by Juan Guzman (who was born Hans Gutmann in Germany before going to Spain where he photographed the International Brigades). Date of the photo: July 21, 1936.

Marina did not know about the photo until 2006, although the iconic image was printed and circulated everywhere, serving as cover for the book “Thirteen Red Roses’ by Carlos Fonseca, and was also along with dozens of other photographs in the book “Unpublished images of the Civil War” (2002) with introduction by G. Stanley Payne.

She was identified by Garcia Bilbao who read the memoirs of Soviet correspondent of Pravda Mikhail Koltsov, with whom the young girl appears in another photo. Garcia Bilbao found that Jinesta Marina, with J, which was identified by Guzman in the caption was actually Marina Ginesta, an exile who lived in Paris translating French texts.

Marina Ginesta, the iconic girl of the Spanish Civil War, died January 6, 2014 in Paris, aged 94.

The rifle she is carrying is M1916 Spanish Mauser. It was manufactured at famous Oviedo factory in Spain for the Spanish Army.

Marina Ginesta, 2008Marina Ginesta, 2008

Colored Version

Here is a little more, from Publico, badly translated by me: (more…)

Monday music: for Jams

It’s been a long while since I did this, but I was moved to hear of the death of my friend Shaun Downey, also known as blogger Jams O’Donnell of The Poor Mouth. Read an obituary here. The first of these songs are Bebo Valdés, the wonderful Cuban pianist who died on the same day as Shaun. I don’t know if Shaun liked his music, but I think he probably would. The other songs are songs that I know he did like.

Bebo Valdés: Diane

Bebo Valdés & Diego El Cigala: Veinte Anos

Mari Boine: Cuovgi Liekkas

Mor Karbasi: La Pluma

Rajna: Epidauros

Mindful of the fact that neglected blogs are so easily hacked and stolen, I plan to re-post, with attribution, Jams’ series of extraordinary posts on the great Red Cushing, over the next couple of weeks.

Music Mondays: Woody Guthrie at 100

[This post is cross-posted from Bob's Beats]

Saturday would have been Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday (thanks to Carl for blogging about this already). Woody Guthrie is one of my favourite singers, and surely one of the greatest ever songwriters as well as a great American radical. As a wordsmith, he is up there with Bob Dylan (whose whole oeuvre is un-imaginable without Guthrie’s influence), with John Steinbeck or Kenneth Patchen.

My mother brought me up on Woody, and I believe her parents brought her up on him. I’ve passed him on to my sons, who sing songs like “Pretty Boy Floyd” and the Car Song.

A number of blogs have featured nice tributes to him: my comrade Jim Denham at Shiraz Socialist, Ernie at 27 Leggies, and Boyhowdy at Cover Lay Down. That last one is covers, of which Jeffrey Foucault’s “Philadelphia Lawyer“, John McCutcheon’ “1913 Massacre“, Pierce Pettis’ “Pastures Of Plenty” and Slaid Cleaves‘ “This Morning I Am Born Again” are particularly good. Beck is not up there with them, but is surprisingly good.

I’ve written a fair amount on Woody before, at BobFromBrockley and Poumista. Here’s some links: “Folk music”, folk music, trad jazz, and the trad left; This Land Is Our Land; Good and bad versions of Deportees; Our Humanly Race; Stalinist songs of the Spanish Civil War (scroll down); Jesus Christ; We Shall Be Free; Vigilante Man; Hobo’s Lullaby.

Like Jim, I have reservations about a hagiographic approach to Woody Guthrie, who was at the very least a close fellow traveller of the Communist Party at a time when the Stalinist regime was committing some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century. (Jim recommends Scott Borchert’s very interesting “Woody Guthrie: Redder than Remembered” from Monthly Review.) But that does not diminish him as an artist in my eyes.

I’ve had a hard time choosing which song to accompany with post with, but I think “Jesus Christ”, which Carl’s post featured, is the right one:

Published in: on July 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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Monday music: New York mining disaster 1941

In memory of Robin Gibbs, and suggested by Entdinglichung, the Bee Gees

Brilliant lyrics. According to Wikipedia:

The song recounts the story of a miner trapped in a cave-in. He is sharing a photo of his wife with a colleague (“Mr. Jones”) while they hopelessly wait to be rescued. According to the liner notes for their box-set Tales from the Brothers Gibb (1990), this song was inspired by the 1966 Aberfan mining disaster in Wales. The song’s lyrics do not contain the song’s title.[1] However, some copies were pressed with the title “New York Mining Disaster 1941 (Have You Seen My Wife, Mr. Jones?)”, as the bracketed subtitle does appear in the lyrics of the song. In the second and third verses, the lyrical lines get slower and slower, as to indicate that life is about to expire for the miners.

There are stodgy stodgy, dreary covers by The Levellers and Martin Carthy, and a much better a cappella version by Chumbawamba: (more…)

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 3:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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75 years ago: Homage to Catalonia (and Orwell’s hotel tips)

…They had taken my rifle away again, and there seemed to be nothing that one could usefully do. Another Englishman and myself decided to go back to the Hotel Continental. There was a lot of firing in the distance, but seemingly none in the Ramblas. On the way up we looked in at the food-market. A very few stalls had opened; they were besieged by a crowd of people from the working-class quarters south of the Ramblas. Just as we got there, there was a heavy crash of rifle-fire outside, some panes of glass in the roof were shivered, and the crowd went flying for the back exits. A few stalls remained open, however; we managed to get a cup of coffee each and buy a wedge of goat’s-milk cheese which I tucked in beside my bombs. A few days later I was very glad of that cheese.

At the street-corner where I had seen the Anarchists begin firing the day before a barricade was now standing. The man behind it (I was on the other side of the street) shouted to me to be careful. The Civil Guards in the church tower were firing indiscriminately at everyone who passed. I paused and then crossed the opening at a run; sure enough, a bullet cracked past me, uncomfortably close. When I neared the P.O.U.M. Executive Building, still on the other side of the road, there were fresh shouts of warning from some Shock Troopers standing in the doorway—shouts which, at the moment, I did not understand. There were trees and a newspaper kiosk between myself and the building (streets of this type in Spain have a broad walk running down the middle), and I could not see what they were pointing at. I went up to the Continental, made sure that all was well, washed my face, and then went back to the P.O.U.M. Executive Building (it was about a hundred yards down the street) to ask for orders. By this time the roar of rifle and machine-gun fire from various directions was almost comparable to the din of a battle. I had just found Kopp and was asking him what we were supposed to do when there was a series of appalling crashes down below. The din was so loud that I made sure someone must be firing at us with a field-gun. Actually it was only hand-grenades, which make double their usual noise when they burst among stone buildings. …

 

Dave Spencer’s left

Read this obituary for a comrade, Dave Spencer, at Shiraz Socialist. And read his own political memoir too, taking us from the Young Socialists and Gerry Healey’s Socialist Labour League to Tony Cliff, the IS and the shop stewards, to the Labour Party and beyond.

He is also commemorated here in The Commune, along with a couple of incisive letters on left unity.

Published in: on May 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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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.

Hitchens

Cross-post: an extract from a longer piece at Bob From Brockley: On reading obituaries of Christopher Hitchens

I’ve barely started going through the flood of obituaries and memories of Christopher Hitchens. I started writing my own, but it seems a little surplus to requirement. Kellie provides the definitive list of links (as well as Hitchens commenting on totalitarianism, in light of the departure of the North Korean dictator), and a good first point of call is Vanity Fair. Rosie sums up the rest: “The tributes are pouring in, the reminiscences, the summings ups, the paying off of old scores. The famous, the obscure, the mandarin and the meanest of spirits are all having their say. I’ve read a few of their pieces and liked David Frum’s best of all for its warmth and this final paragraph from Jacob Weisberg.” Terry Glavin’s, of course, is especially lovely, as is George Szirtes’. And, although it feels strange to say it, given how little regard I’ve had for Peter Hitchens up to now, his lovely brotherly obituary in the Mail is probably the single thing most worth reading.

Francis Sedgemore comments on the throwaway nature of many of the obits, and in a highly recommended short post shows how journalism has changed for the worst since Hitchens entered the trade. Francis is right, and most of the ones I’ve read have irritated me more than anything else.[...]

Drink-Soaked Popinjay

I think this post at Harry’s Place best captures what Hitchens meant in the last decade or so to people like me, who groped for “an anti-Islamist, anti-Saddam, pro-democracy left” in the new world order opened up by 9/11, as we watched our former comrades on the left go deeper and deeper into the abyss of isolationist, anti-American, anti-democratic “anti-imperialism” and its alliance with various forms of right-wing politics, an alliance we could not have imagined a few years before. As the author says, Hitchens was an inspiration for the early noughties trans-Atlantic political blogging explosion (that I was one of the later, smaller tremors), due to the strange synchronicity between the availability of Web 2.0 as a platform and the locking out of morally decent people from the old platforms of the mainstream left.

This point is made too when Francis describes Hitchens as a “fellow drink-soaked popinjay”, taking up as a badge of pride the wonderful term of abuse coined by the eloquent George Galloway, which of course was the name of the collective blog Francis was part of a few years back, which defined the range of anti-totalitarian radicalism so well.

I’m not sure what the connection is between the drink-soaked thing and the anti-totalitarianism, but there is one: totalitarianism is based on the suppression or deferral of human desires and pleasures. Marx, a spendthrift, hard-drinking bon viveur beloved by small children, would have been unable to live under the regimes he gave his name to, while Chomsky’s priggish hatred of sport, music or anything fun illuminates why his brand of libertarianism is ultimately actually authoritarian. Hence the contempt from the puritans Ian Leslie callsthin-lipped disapprovers”.

Here’s Nick Cohen, who famously turned up splendidly drunk to denounce the right-wingers honoured with a prize named after George Orwell (a truly libertarian socialist, as well as a man who liked to smoke and drink), on the BBC’s mean-spirited obituary:

[It was delivered by its media correspondent, Nick Higham, a ferrety cultural bureaucrat who has never written a sentence anyone has remembered. He assured the nation that Hitchens was an “alcoholic”. Hitchens could certainly knock it back. But [if] he were a true alcoholic he… would he have been loved, for addicts are too selfish to love. Something else the BBC broadcast inadvertently explained was why the world feels a more welcoming place for the tyrannical and the censorious without him.

Francis Wheen makes a more important point: “Even when he reached for another late-night whisky, his perception remained unerringly sober.” And Michael Weiss: “Friendship was his only real ideology.”

Former Trotskyist Bushite

Leninists (not least those of bourgeois origin, i.e. most of them) would no doubt call the imperative to not speak ill of the dead a form of “bourgeois morality” to be dispensed with. Of course, they’re right, and Hitchens would agree with them: Kim Jong-il’s passing does not exempt him from derision and hatred, and nor would that of, say, Ahmadinejad or Kissinger (example: Hitchens the day after Jerry Falwell died). But I was irritated by the petty-ness of some of the vindictive lightweights coming out to kick Hitchens’ corpse and of some of the Leninist inquisitors coming out to confirm his ex-communication from the sect.

The reliably appalling Guardian paleo-conservative Simon Jenkins come out with one of the standard lines: writes: “The identikit Trot of our early friendship had became a rabid Bushite defending the Iraq war”. It’s worth noting that his Trotskyism was of a very particular sort: he was inducted into the International Socialists (the forerunner of the current, dreadful SWP) by Peter Sedgwick, in its most heterodox, intellectually vibrant period, a time when its publications were open to several non-party members, and when it was as much in thrall to the anti-Leninist Rosa Luxemburg as it was to Trotsky. (Hitchens, in turn, helped induct Alex Callinicos into the party of which he is now a leading member and Callinicos has written a nice and surprisingly generous obit for the Socialist Worker.) The IS did an important job, in a period when the left dominated by the authoritarian Third Worldist fantasies epitomised by Tariq Ali’s IMG, of retrieving a libertarian, democratic tradition within Marxism, the tradition of William Morris, Hal Draper, Victor Serge, CLR James, Sylvia Pankhurst, Max Shachtman and George Orwell. Arguably, it is this anti-Stalinist left that has been the model for the anti-totalitarianism of the so-called decent left, especially its more left-wing varieties.

HP retorts against Jenkins: “Although he was a Marxist to the end and certainly a Trotskyist for many years, I find it hard to imagine Hitchens as ‘identikit’ in any way. And, of course, he certainly never became a ‘rabid Bushite’. I’ll get to the Bushite bit later, but want to amplify the point about Marxism. Here’s Michael Weiss: “Well unto the toppling of Saddam, the only time I heard Hitch use the word “conservative” in a laudatory fashion was when it preceded the word “Marxist.””[...]

Traitor

The hatred of Hitchens from the Seymours is the hatred of the cult-member for the apostate. He betrayed the left, and it can’t forgive him. Most of them frame Hitchens’ right-ward turn as literally selling out, as exchanging correct thought for the yankee dollar. As David Aaronovitch puts it:

Typical was this, written in May last year, from the high-table revolutionary Terry Eagleton in the New Statesman, claiming that “those who, like Christopher Hitchens, detest a cliché turn into one of the dreariest types of them all: the revolutionary hothead who learns how to stop worrying about imperialism and love… Paul Wolfowitz”. In other words, he was the lean young man corrupted by proximity to power and need for money, and turned into the fat shill of the people’s enemy.*#

Smarter critics understand Hitchens’ turn in the context of the religious structure of leftist thought. Andrew Coates’ review of the book explores the issue of Hitchens’ relationship with the faith of leftism, and faith is exactly the right term. Leftism is a religion, and Hitchens’ boring obsession with religions in general must be connected to his own relationship to the leftist faith. A more interesting analysis of his apostasy was written up by Guy Rundle in the Spiked Review of Books a year of two ago (h/t AC). Worth noting that Spiked’s origins are also in the IS of that era: its guru Frank Furedi left “in 1975 on issues that remain obscure to all concerned”. Like other escapees from the Tony Cliff cult, Furedi’s RCP also eventually became apostates for the left, right-wing libertarians who make Hitchens’ alleged Bushism look like orthodox Trotskyism. Rundle suggests that Hitchens

took from the IS/SWP’s oppositionality, not a mode of doing politics, but a form of political moralising that rapidly becomes a tiresome and inecessant [sic] judgement on the taking and wielding of power itself. Thus in the early Oxford Union years we continually encounter revolutionaries, activists, writers and so on held to be bursting with brilliance, only to be tagged with the premonitory phrase about the thugs, monsters or moral failures they became. Overwhelmingly this is because they took the power they were campaigning for, and having done so, had to make some grisly choices. But for Hitchens, the result is an endlessly repeated political Fall, in which oppositionality becomes a series of impossible standards.

Perhaps this says less about Hitchens than it does about Spiked’s cringeful adoration of power in the form of the Conservative party (for Rundle, Hitchens reached his “low point” when he slagged off Matthew Parrish for being… a Conservative!) and their pose of oppositionality to the “liberal elite”. But it rings true on one level.

However, the notion that Hitchens abandoned the left is simplistic. First, it ignore the fact that in some ways he was always a dissident within the left. In Hitch-22, he describes the double life he led in his early IS days, when by night he dined, drank and fucked with the most decadent dredges of the ruling class in Oxford, and later his early (limited) enthusiasm for Margaret Thatcher. His support for Solidarity and other Eastern Bloc rebels was shared with the rest of the anti-Stalinist left (including, I think, the SWP). His support for Western intervention in the 1990s also presaged his post-9/11 position. As Aaronovitch puts it:

Rwanda provided the embers, Bosnia the fire. Any internationalist, any progressive, any leftwinger would want to intervene to try to prevent such horrors – and not just because they were horrible either, but because they made the world worse for everyone.*

And the idea of Hitchens as turncoat also ignores the continuity in his leftism after 9/11. Not just the obvious points that he continued his crusade against Kissinger and Mother Teresa, against the moral majority dominant strand of American conservatism, and so on, and pretty sharp criticisms of Bush, as well as his attacks on his friend Martin Amis’ ignorant anti-communism in Koba the Dread and his championing of Trotsky on Radio 4. But more fundamentally that his opposition to Ba’athism and to Islamism was rooted in left-wing values not conservative ones. In short, the caricature of Hitchens is, again quoting Aaronovitch, “a self-comforting lozenge that the lazy intellectual Left sucks on to make its pain and doubts go away.”

What the meme reveals is the extent to which the Iraq war, even more than Israel, has acted as a cultural code, a shibboleth, for the self-definition of a left that has lost its moral compass as it has abandoned its core constituency and core values. Aaronovitch again: “When the Iraq war finally began in the spring of 2003 after almost a year of argument, it became clear that many on the Left now regarded being against the war as the test of belief, as the essential membership card for comradeship.” Perhaps now, as the last American troops withdraw from Iraq, the left has the opportunity to let go of its obsession and move on. But probably not…


Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Music Mondays: Montserrat Figueras

Montserrat Figueras, the great Catalan soprano, died in Cerdanyola del Vallès on 23 November, after a long struggle with cancer. Here are two wonderful songs, via Entdinglichung. The first is Hespèrion XX, her ensemble, singing a gorgeous Sephardic Jewish song.

The second, recorded in 1988, is “El Cant de la Sibil·la“, the song of the Sybil, “a liturgical drama and a Gregorian chant, the lyrics of which compose a prophecy describing the Apocalypse, which has been performed at some churches of Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain) and L’Alguer or Alghero (Sardinia, Italy) in Catalan language on Christmas Eve nearly uninterrruptedly since medieval times… The Song of the Sibyl was almost totally abandoned throughout Europe after the Council of Trent (held in 25 sessions from 1545 to 1563) declared its performance was forbidden. Nevertheless, it was restored on Mallorca as soon as in 1575.” Interestingly, the great leftist musicologist Alan Lomax recorded a fragment of a version during his Balearic fieldtrip of 1952, in the Franco years. Franco of course suppressed Catalan language, and Figueras and her husband Jordi Savall lived in exile in Switzerland until after Spain democratisation in the 1980s. The decision of Hesperion XX, formed in 1974, to record Catalan songs (and to recover the repressed memory of Jewish Iberia) was thus an act of defiance against the Francoist regime.

These songs are part of an on-going series on Catalan music. Previously, I have featured Jordi Barre, Pau Casals, Isaac Albinez, Enrique Granados, and Enrique Morente.

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]

Stephen Schwartz remembers Jorge Semprun

Jorge Semprún Maura, political activist and writer, born 10 December 1923; died 7 June 2011)

How shall we remember Jorge Semprún, the writer and political figure who died on June 7, just before the seventy-fifth anniversary of the event that, more than any other, including his imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, would define his life? I refer to the approach of July 17, 2011, which will mark the date in 1936 when Francisco Franco and his cohort of military officers rose against the second Spanish Republic. The ensuing three-year “Spanish civil war,” as most refer to it, and the distinct but coterminous “Spanish Revolution,” in the idiom of others, affected numerous prominent intellectuals, as well as millions of ordinary people in the twentieth century, many of who were much younger than Semprún and shared few of his direct experiences. [READ THE REST]

Image: Jorge Semprún (2010) Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

More from Ron Radosh.

Patrick Leigh Fermor 1915-2011

Christopher Hitchens’ wonderful farewell salute to a great man. Extract:

One of Leigh Fermor’s colleagues, another distinguished classicist named Montague Woodhouse, once told me that Greek villagers urged him to strike the hardest possible blows against the Nazis, so as to make the inevitable reprisals worthwhile. He lived up to this by demolishing the Gorgapotamos viaduct in 1942, wrecking Nazi communications. But the brutality of the combat doesn’t negate that moment of civilized gallantry at Mount Ida, where the idea of culture over barbarism also scored a brief triumph. (Woodhouse went on to become a Conservative politician and active Cold Warrior, but while fighting Hitler he was quite happy to work with Communist and nationalist fighters, and he wrote in his memoirs that “the only bearable war is a war of national liberation.”)

What a cast of literally classic characters this league of gentleman comprised. Bernard Knox went with poet John Cornford to fight for the Spanish Republic, was later parachuted into France and Italy to arrange the covert demolition and sabotage of Vichy and Mussolini, and, after the war, set up the Center for Hellenic Studies at Yale. Nicholas Hammond, who had walked rifle in hand over the mountains of Epirus and Macedonia, later suggested from his study of the terrain that those seeking the burial treasure of Philip of Macedon might consider digging at Vergina. (He was right.) Some of the brotherhood was very much to the left: Basil Davidson helped organize Tito’s red partisans in Bosnia, and after the war he went to work with the African rebels who fought against fascist Portugal’s dirty empire. Frank Thompson, brother of the British Marxist historian Edward Thompson, was liaison officer to the resistance in Bulgaria before being betrayed and executed. Others were more ambivalent: Sir Fitzroy Maclean was a Tory aristocrat but helped persuade Churchill that Tito’s forces in Yugoslavia were harder fighters than the monarchists when it came to killing Nazis. On the more traditional side of British derring-do, Billy McLean and Julian Amery emerged from the guerrilla resistance in Albania with a lively hatred of Communism and later took part in several quixotic attempts to “roll back” the Iron Curtain. Col. David Smiley saw irregular action in almost every theater, and in the 1960s and 1970s he organized the almost unique defeat of a Communist insurgency in Oman.

Now the bugle has sounded for the last and perhaps the most Byronic of this astonishing generation.

Lots more from The Greatest Living Englishman website. Here is Erik Bruns:

Many will remember the TV show This is Your Life. Greek television had their own version, and in 1972 it was Paddy’s turn to be embarrassed and surprised by meeting again people that he had come across in his life. His surprise and clear delight at meeting with the ‘Abduction Gang’ of Cretan Andartes is clear. The ‘senior’ partisans, Manoli and George (see picture left) are the first two guests, and they seem barely changed.

The highlight must be when the presenter introduces a slightly frail General Heinrich Kreipe. Paddy is delighted to see him again, and immediately starts to talk to the General in German saying how good it is to see him after all these years. (more…)

From the archive of struggle

First, a couple of quick links: Gene on the German radicals in nineteenth century America who helped liberate the slaves. Review of a new edition of Vasily Grossman writings.

From the archive of struggle

*POUM: The General Policy of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification, 3 September 1936
*Raya Dunayevskaya: New Turn To The “Popular Front” [1955]; International Women’s Day and Iran [1979/80]
*Paul MattickLa gestion ouvrière/La gestión obrera [1967]
*Victor SergeThe Old Man [SV] [ 1942]
*The Communist Party of France during the Resistance Archive: Join the Party of the Executed!, 25 August 1944
*The Workers World newspaper. The complete 1919 run of this Left-Wing Socialist pre-Communist Party journal had 35 issues, all of which have been digitized into PDF format by the Riazanov Library for placement on the MIA. Variously edited by both Earl Browder and James P. Cannon, The Workers World, published out of Kansas City, was one of the many left wing SP periodicals inspired by and firmly supporting the Russian Revolution, and (like many other such left wing SP periodicals) ended as those involved in it left the SP to organize the new Communist Party of America and Communist Labor Party, and develop new periodicals for those organizations.
*Natalia Sedova: 1940 – Bagaimana itu Terjadi [How it Happened, Indonesian]

Anarchist documents on Poland, 1980-82:
*Poland on the Edge: Revolution or reform? by Various Authors (Fifth Estate, December 31, 1980)
*Poland: Triumphs and Defeats (Fifth Estate, Vol. 15, No. 2, (Whole number 303), October 20, 1980)
*Two articles on Poland by Various Authors (Howard Besser and Terry Downs: Gdansk: an eye-witness account/The betrayal begins, Freedom, London, vol. 41 no. 18, September 13, 1980)
*It’s Us They’re Shooting In Warsaw / Under the Polish Volcano (December, 1981) (London, June 1982)
*El Salvador and Poland: Two Paths to Revolution (Strike! August/September 1981, page 11)
*Poland: Communique of the Emmanuel Goldstein Group (Warszawa, 16 June, 1983)
*The Summer Strikes in Poland, 1980 (Echanges et Mouvement, Number 23, November, 1980)
*Poland, 1982 (Collective Inventions, 1982)
*Address to the Proletarians of Poland by The Scoffer (1980, The Scoffer/Le Frondeur, France)
*Poland 1980: Won’t Get Fooled Again / Meet the New Boss by Joey Stalin (North American Anarchist, October-November, 1980)
*Who are the Workers in Polish Solidarity and what do they want? by Andrzej Tymowski (Commonwork Pamphlets, 1982)
*Poland: Return of the Anarchists by Brian Amesly (Strike!, February 25, 1983)

Unsung heroes of struggle:

*John Alan/Allen Willis: Marxist-humanist and fighter for black freedom (1916-2011)
*Vicki Scarlett; librarian, socialist, feminist, yoga teacher and campaigner for social justice (1934-2011)
*John Watson: soldier and decent man
*Ann Blair: tenant activist
*Alice Beer: Quaker, potter, poet
*Peter Owen: trade unionist

Raymond Challinor

I have been meaning to write my obituary for Raymond Challinor. See Shiraz Socialist for more. Guardian obituary by Stan Newens, hereSocialist Worker obituary by John Charlton, here

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jayaben Desai: the hero of Grunwick

Obituary from Shiraz Socialist.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Companero Roma Marquez Santo presente

Very sad to hear from Alan Warren that Roma Marquez Santo has passed away.

This morning (29th December, 2010), Roma Marquez Santo, miliciano of the Columna Lenin and teniente of the Ejercito Popular passed away peacefully in Barcelona at the age of 94.[...] (more…)

Music Mondays: Enrique Morente

In Orihuela, his town and mine, Ramon Sije, whom I loved so much, has been taken from me like a flash of lightening.

I want to be the crying gardener of the earth
you occupy and nourish,
comrade of my soul, all too soon.

Feeding the rains, the snail-shells
and organs, my grief without purpose
gives your heart to feed

to the desolate poppies.

The great Enrique Morente is dead. He was one of the giants of Spanish flamenco, born in the slums of the Albacin, Granada’s old gitano quarter in the shadow the Alhambra. His second album, Homenaje flamenco a Miguel Hernández, was inspired by the working class Valencian anti-fascist poet Miguel Hernández, who died of consumption in Franco’s prisons while in his early thirties. Just making this record, was an act of defiance against the aging dictator and an auger of the re-birth of democracy later in the decade.

Morente was deeply rooted in the ancient vernacular culture of flamenco, the underground soul music which had been suppressed under the dictatorship  in favour of a plastic tourist kitsch version, and, with Cameron de la Isla and others, brought this rebel music out of the shadows in the dying years of the fascist regime. Later, however, he earned the disapproval of the increasingly conservative flamenco purists by his increasingly innovative work, such as collaborations with Maghrebi artists and thrash punk bands.

Here is one of his Miguel Hernández songs, “Elegía a Ramón Sijé”. Ramón Sijé was a Catholic poet and very close friend of Hernández, who died very young. The opening words in English are at the start of this post; the whole text can be found here.

Here is Morente in 1981, singing a granaína, one of the song forms of his Albacin ghetto youth.

Here he is with Lagartija Nick performing Lorca’s “Ciudad sin sueño” from the 1995 Lorca/Leonard Cohen tribute Omega.

The pairing of Garcia Lorca and Cohen is sort of obvious, given Leonard Cohen’s debt to the poet, but the musical setting is highly original. Here is “First We Take Manhattan”:

Finally, here is a more schmaltzy but still lovely version of the elegy to Ramón Sijé, by JM Serrat. Serrat is a Catalan singer and songwriter of Morente’s generation. His defiance of Franco came in 1968 when he was selected to represent Spain in the Eurovision song contest, but insisted on singing in Spanish and was replaced and his records banned.

In 1969, Serrat released Com ho fa el vent, a tribute to Antonio Machado, the Republican poet who died in 1938 fleeing Franco’s Spain. (His death is one of the stories told in Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, which I may write about some time.) Serrat was soon exiled from Spain, but because he chose to sing in Spanish, he was condemned by the Catalan nationalists. “I sing better in the language they forbid me”, he said.

Claude Lefort dies

I just saw at Tendance C the sad news that that Claude Lefort has died. Over the years, Lefort as meant a lot to me, so I will write something more when I have more time.

Published in: on October 11, 2010 at 4:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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José Antonio Labordeta (1935 – 2010)

Another fine life lost.

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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Mourning and celebration

Georges Fontenis, 1920–2010, RIP

The Mexican revolution, 1910-2010 [interview with Adolfo Gilly on the Zapatistas]

Victor Jara, 1932-1973

Hopefully, more on all of these when I have time.

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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