On this day 100 years ago: Bonnot Gang executions

From the Modern School:
April, 21, 1913 –Andre Soudy and Raymond Callemin, members of the anarchist Bonnot Gang, were executed. Callemin had started the individualist paper “L’anarchie” withVictor Serge. The Bonnot Gang was a band of French anarchists (plus Serge, who was Russian) who tried to fund their movement through robberies in 1911-1912. The Bonnot Gang was unique, not only for their politics, but for their innovative use of technology, too. They were among the first to use cars and automatic rifles to help them steal, technology that even the French police were not using. While many of the gang members were sentenced to death, Serge got five years and eventually  went on to participate in (and survive) the Barcelona and Soviet uprisings. Later, while living in exile, Serge wrote The Birth of Our Power. (From the Daily Bleed and Wikipedia)
Published in: on March 21, 2013 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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Blogging Victor Serge

Victor Serge seems to be becoming more and more prominent these days, which I welcome. It’s partly because his novel The Case of Comrade Tulayev features on various lists of books to read before you die and NYRB have added Memoirs of a Revolutionary to their library of his books in their Classics series, with an intro by the wonderful historian Adam Hochschild. I think it is also fair to say that Christopher Hitchens’ championing of him has played a role, Hitchens having come to Serge in his youthful International Socialist days, before their Leninist turn. In 2003 he wrote:

After Dostoyevsky and slightly before Arthur Koestler, but contemporary with Orwell and Kafka and somewhat anticipating Solzhenitsyn, there was Victor Serge. His novels and poems and memoirs, most of them directed at the exposure of Stalinism, were mainly composed in jail or on the run. Some of the manuscripts were confiscated or destroyed by the Soviet secret police; in the matter of poetry Serge was able to outwit them by rewriting from memory the verses he had composed in the Orenburg camp, deep in the Ural Mountain section of the Gulag Archipelago.

Serge features in Hitchens’ posthumous Arguably: as one of the “intellectual misfits…ground to powder between the upper and nether millstones of Stalin and Hitler”, dying in “penurious exile in Mexico”.

Far less well known than Hitchens, Richard Greeman deserves credit for keeping the Serge legacy alive too. You can listen to his “Conscience of a Revolution” broadcast here.

Here is some recent Serge-blogging:

  • James Bloodworth nominates him as an intellectual hero.
  • Adam David Morton starts what looks like an excellent series on his novels.
  • Orwell mentions him in his 1942 diary:  The Communists in Mexico are again chasing Victor Serge and other Trotskyist refugees who got there from France, urging their expulsion, etc., etc. Just the same tactics as in Spain. Horrible depressed to see these ancient intrigues coming up again, not so much because they are morally disgusting as from the reflection; for 20 years the Comintern has used these methods and the Comintern has always and everywhere been defeated by the Fascists; therefore we, being tied to them in a species of alliance, shall be defeated with them.
  • More negatively: A Churl attacks Susan Sontag’s introduction to Serge’s The Case of Comrade Tulayev (from the same NYRB series mentioned above). The petty, mean-spirited, Stalinoid post is mainly worth reading for his quotations from Sontag, which I reproduce below the fold.

Image above via War and Peace, from whom I also took the Hitchens quote.

***

Sontag:

It was the climate of opinion that made the courageous Romanian-born writer Panaït Istrati (1884-1935) consider withdrawing his truthful report on a sixteen-month stay in the Soviet Union in 1927-1928, Vers une autre flamme (Towards Another Flame), at the behest of the powerful French literary patron, Romain Rolland, which, when he did publish it, was rejected by all his former friends and supporters in the literary world; and that led André Malraux in his capacity as editor at Gallimard to turn down the adversarial biography of Stalin by the Russian-born Boris Souvarine (1895-1984; real name: Boris Lifchitz) as inimical to the cause of the Spanish Republic.[…]

And there was more: a memoir of the anarchist movement in pre-First World War France, a novel about the Russian Revolution, a short book of poems, and a historical chronicle of Year II of the Revolution, all confiscated when Serge was finally allowed to leave the USSR in 1936, as the consequence of his having applied to Glavlit, the literary censor, for an exit permit for his manuscripts – these have never been recovered – as well as a great deal of safely archived but still unpublished material.[…]

Kurt Landau

Newly published at M.I.A. A useful text on POUM history.

Pierre Broué: Kurt Landau

Also known as Agricola, Wolf Bertram, and Spectator

(1988)


From Revolutionary HistoryVol. 9 No. 4, 2008, pp. 229–236.
From Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français, partie 4, 1914–1939, t. 33, Paris 1988, pp. 203–205.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


Born on 29 January 1903 in Vienna (Austria); disappeared in Barcelona (Spain), September 1937. Member of the Austrian Communist Party, then of various Left Opposition groups in Vienna, Berlin and Paris. Member of the POUM in 1936.

The son of a prosperous Viennese wine merchant, Kurt Landau had a Bohemian student youth similar to that of many young people from the Jewish intelligentsia in the imperial capitals: but it is also said that he attempted various circus jobs and for a time was a lion tamer at the Hagenbeck Circus. In 1921 this educated and cultured adolescent joined the new-born Austrian Communist Party, already shaken by fierce factional struggles and in 1922 became leader (Leiter) of the Warring district (Bezirk) in Vienna. Early in 1923 he supported the left-wing criticisms made by the Italian Bordiga [1] of the new line of the International, which was described as “opportunist”. In 1924, still in Vienna, he made the acquaintance of Victor Serge, who was part of a group of Comintern emissaries and who worked on its press bulletin Inprekorr[2] It seems that Serge gave him the first solid items of information about the factional struggle in the USSR. The same year Landau took charge of the CP agitprop department and became an editor of its main publication, Die Rote Fahne (Red Flag), with responsibility for cultural matters. In the discussion on culture he adopted the arguments developed by Trotsky against “proletarian culture”. (more…)

On a roll, no.4

An incredibly slow moving series, highlighting, in reverse alphabetical order, some of the links on my blogroll.

Work of the Negative

This is a Marxist-Humanist blog by  Franklin Dmitryev, follower of Raya Dunayevskaya involved in the News and Letters posse. It mixes material on on-going anti-capitalist struggles from the US and the rest of the world, with theoretical material on Marxist-Humanism, by Dunayevkaya, Dmitriyev and others, for instance on eco-socialism.

Women’s History Month

This is a British feminist history resource, with a blog (mainly news about events) and resources (a TimelineLesson plansProfiles of women in historyUK women’s firsts10 things you didn’t know were invented by a womenWalks and
Links). There is stuff on women and activism including Labour women. Lots of useful stuff, and especially recommended for teachers.

Weimar: Art and Modernity

This blog is mainly huge numbers of fascinating images, mainly today with twentieth century German modernism. There is lots on Brecht, a little on Walter Benjamin, dada and on surrealism (from where I took the image below). And a very fine blogroll.

 Gregorio Prieto Muñoz, Lupanar de Pompeya, 1928

Voltairine de Cleyre: the Exquisite Rebel

Voltairine de Cleyre was an American anarchist born in 1866. She was close to the Wobblies but believed in an “anarchism without adjectives.” De Cleyre was based 1889 to 1910 in Philadelphia, where she lived among poor Jewish immigrants, and where sympathy for anarchist beliefs was common. There, she taught English and music, and she learned to speak and write in Yiddish. This nice-looking site has her biography, texts, links to lots of resources elsewhere, and (unlike most of the pages below) is regularly updated.

Victor Serge net

This is a site about the great Russian/Belgian revolutionary Victor Serge. Although full of great material, it is not well put together, and hard to navigate. There is a list of Serge’s novels; reproductions of some of his wonderful but less well known poems, mainly written while he was in exile in Orenburg; biographical material; images, including paintings by his son Vlady; information on the Victor Serge Foundation in Montpelier. I think the site is a production of Richard Greeman, world’s foremost Serge scholar.

Vlady

And this is a site about Serge’s son Vlady, an artist, who died in 2005. Vlady was based in his adult life in Cuernavaca in Mexico, producing extraordinary muralsdrawings and and paintings. The site includes writings, biographical materials and art.

Varian Fry Foundation Project/Varian Fry Institute

Varian Fry was the man who saved the lives of Victor Serge and Vlady Kibalchich. With co-conspirators  Miriam Davenport and Mary Jayne Gold at the Villa Air-Bel near Marseilles, his Emergency Rescue Committee helped smuggle artists, dissidents and others out of Nazi-occupied Europe into Spain, Portugal and North Africa, and on to America and the Caribbean. The Varian Fry Foundation site tells his story, with  biographical notes by Annette Riley Fry, material on the recognition of his heroism, and links to lots of web resources. The Varian Fry Institute is a division of the Chambon Foundation in LA, which celebrates those who saved the lives of French Jews. The Institute is working on a documentary on Fry by Pierre Sauvage. The site has material on Fry’s American colleagues and on Sauvage’s other activities. The framework of this site is noble American righteous gentiles; I prefer the more political take of the Foundation. Neither do justice to Fry’s French colleagues, for which I recommend Rosemary Sullivan‘s Villa Air-Beli, which gives a prominent place to Serge and also to Andre Breton. Further reading: A Tribute to Varian Fry from Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project; online biography by Barry Gewen.

Back some time for the letter T.

On a roll, no.2

Continuing where we left off here

Three blogs

A Very Public Sociologist

A blog by a Political Education Officer of a Labour Party branch, a former member of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, resident in the darkest Potteries, whose PhD was on British Trotskyism. Both a deservedly popular and pleasantly generous blogger, one of Phil’s regular features is listing some new blogs on the (mainly British) left. Also worth reading for his long, thoughtful posts on Marxist theory, often taking their lead from Gramsci.

Tragic Life Stories

Also from the British left, but a very different corner of it. An extremely infrequently updated blog that  focuses more or less exclusively on the sort of left sectariana that fascinates trainspottery types like me, from the perspective of Communist Students, a loosely affiliated section of the CPGB. Get the dirt on the Communist Party of Britain, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and other sects.

Totalitarianism Today

A fascinating blog, which I don’t visit often enough. Good-looking, intelligent, erudite. Read about Alexander Blok and the internet, Octave Mirbeau on the voters’ strike, the non-friendship between Golda Meir and Hannah Arendt, and lots more. Check out some of the names from a daunting list of intellectual kin:  Dwight MacdonaldCzeslaw MiloszIsaac Bashevis SingerIsaiah BerlinNicolae IorgaRandolph BourneRaymond AronSimone WeilVaclav HavelVoltairine de CleyreWalter Benjamin.

Tony Cliff: A World to Win

A hagiographic blog created by a true believer over three months in 2009. Tony Cliff, the heterodox Trotskyist leader who came to Britain shortly after WWII, broke with the official movement over his (correct) belief that the Soviet Union was state capitalist and not a deformed workers’ state, and went on to lead “the smallest mass party in history”, the IS, later the SWP. Many of his twists and turns, particularly after around 1980, were emphatically in the wrong direction, but Cliff was one of the (few) towering geniuses of post-Trotsky Trotskyism. This site is a great work of “citizen scholarship”, both archiving and providing very informative introductions and contextualisations to Cliff’s political developments.

Three Way Fight

This blog is the platform for a North American political tendency, primarily inspired by Don Hamerquist, a veteran of the American New Left and specifically of the Sojourner Truth OrganizationThis post by Mike S, one of the key members of the tendency, sums up their position, i.e. that revolutionary forces are engaged in a fight with capitalism, but also with reactionary forms of anti-capitalism. For related reading, check this post at Gathering Forces. The blog is very interesting, but I wish they would put a bit more work into it!

Three non-blogs

Young Democratic Socialists

This is the site of the youth arm of Democratic Socialists of America. My politics draw on four or five distinct political traditions, including anarchism, left communism, centrist Marxism, Trotskyism, and democratic socialism. That last tradition is the tradition of Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, Irving Howe and Bayard Rustin – the tradition of Democratic Socialists of America. From the label on the tin:

Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet the needs of all, not to merely make profits for a select few. Democratic Socialism is a philosophy based on empowerment, liberty, democracy, and feminism, where community well being and individual development are the metrics of success.  We advocate for stronger public goods like universal healthcare and free higher education in addition to more democracy in the work place.  Our method is one of empowering communities and engaging in the politics of the possible while being guided by our ideals.

I don’t really have anything else to say about these guys.

Victor Serge Papers

Victor Serge, you may have noticed, is one of my heroes. He stands at the intersection of all of the traditions mentioned above. This is the website of his papers at Yale University.

The Victor Serge Papers contain correspondence; writings; immigration and identification documents for Serge and his wife, Liouba; death masks of Serge and of Leon Trotsky; and various materials concerning Serge (including correspondence, clippings, and photocopies of writings) that were collected by his son, Vlady Kibalchich. The correspondence includes letters between Serge and his wife, son, and other relatives; a few letters between third parties; letters between Serge and his friends and colleagues, including André Breton, Michael Fraenkel, André Gide, Julián Gorkin, Daniel Guérin, Lucien Laurat, Dwight Macdonald, Jean Malaquais, Marcel Martinet, Magdeleine Marx (Paz), Emmanuel Mounier, Natalii︠a︡ Ivanovna Trot︠s︡kai︠a︡, Leon Trotsky, Leon Werth, and Maurice Wullens; and letters between Serge and publishing companies, journals, and organizations, including The New Leader and Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista.
The writings include holograph and typescript notes and drafts for Serge’s articles, books (including “L’Affaire Toulaév”, “Les Derniers temps”, and “Mémoires d’un révolutionnaire”, among others) and poems. There are also several notebooks, including two daybooks for 1936.

Victor Serge Internet Archive

And this is the Serge section of the wonderful Marxist Internet Archive, the current contents of which are below the fold. (more…)

On this day: 22 June 1937 – Andres Nin murdered

I read this post from Rustbelt Radical last year, a few months after it was posted, and it moved me greatly. Rather than link to it then, I thought it would be good to save it for the anniversary this year. It is Victor Serge’s tribute to a great man and his indictment of Stalinism.

A Spanish Spectre

andreu NIN y Solano

The memory of Stalinism in the collective mind is often focused on the gray tower bloc and the gulag, on the cult of personality and the official lie.  Stalinism’s perfidy was not limited, however, to razor wire on the Siberian steppe or to the assassination chamber of a spattered Moscow basement.  On this day in 1937 in the midst of the Spanish Civil War Andrès Nin, a leading member of the Workers Party of Marxist Unity (POUM), was murdered by Stalinists.

Stalinism’s raison d’être, like all bureaucracies, was the defense of itself and the greatest threat to it came from the working class it claimed to lead.  Perhaps nowhere was that threat greater than in the Spain of the 1930s.  Nin was a partisan of workers’ power, of workers’ democracy- ideas fatal to Stalinism.  He was murdered along with thousands of others in the name of “anti-fascist unity”; that is unity between the Stalinists and the ghosts of the liberal Spanish bourgeoisie.  The fascists won and ruled Spain for the next 40 years.  Never forgive, never forget.

poum copia (more…)

Shoot them like partridges

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

—Kenneth Rexroth “Hemingway”, 1961

***

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

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

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

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

—Joseph Conrad The Arrow of Gold, 1919

***

In a recent post, I quoted Michael Ezra thus:

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

In a comment, Steve Parsons writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Signed: The Defence Committee’.

4. Alexander Berkman, from The Kronstadt Rebellion:

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

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

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

TROTSKY
Chairman Revolutionary Military Soviet of the Republic

KAMENEV
Commander-in-Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 17.–Kronstadt has fallen today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the archive of struggle, no.33

A quick one, extracted from Entdinglichung. Victor Serge, Marceau Pivert and others from La Bataille Socialiste, mostly in French. Socialisme ou Barbarie from 1949, in French. Various Trotskyists from the Marxist Internet Archive, mostly in English. Previous edition here. Next edition will be an anarchist special. (more…)

Anti-Stalinism/Hitchery/Bloggery

Anti-Stalinism

Anne Applebaum on the KGB in America. Enty on John Saville. The secret life of Victor Serge.

The Hitch

Christopher Hitchens on Abraham Lincoln’s centenary. Hitchens on Hemingway’s libido. Hitchens on Edward Upward. Hitchens on Karl Marx.

Bloggery

This blog – The Fatal Paradox – is new to me. I found it via Phil and will be visiting again! (Phil: “one of those blogs that defy easy categorisation. Hailing from New Zealand, it offers commentary on history, art and theory with a slight Spanish tinge to proceedings. Well worth checking out.”) We have Moriscos, Un chien andalou, Juan Goytisolo on Genet, Pablo Neruda: what more could one want?

Another blog new to me is Workers Self Management, an blog. Includes a bit of english history to be proud of, and a link to a WSA article on solidarity unionism that talks about the landless movement in Brazil and Spain in the 1930s.

In the Mexican suitcase

Robert Capa’s “Mexican” Suitcase.  photo © Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Gerda Taro, Air Raid Victim in the Morgue, Valencia, 1937.

Highbrow

Lowbrow

Folkish

Churchillian

Activist

Obituary

Orwell’s legacy, cont.

Fat Man on a Keyboard on Dave Renton on Richard Seymour on the “pro-war left” and the legacy of George Orwell, CLR James and Victor Serge.

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 2:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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