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.[...]

A few pints

Drinking: The perfect pubA tax on the drinking classes. Absent friend. Double Johnny Walker Blacks.

Arguing: Morning Star’s “fellow feeling” with Cameron on EURichard Gott on the Falklands. Socialism and democracy. Michael Foot the extremist. Anarchism and syndicalism.

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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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]

The Hitch on Marx and Nello

Here’s Richard King on Christopher Hitchens:

For Hitchens, who still considers himself a Marxist, it isn’t what you think that matters – it’s how you think. One of the finest pieces in Arguably is on the early journalism of Karl Marx. Here is the writer on the fact that Marx wrote some articles for the New York Tribune: ”If you are looking for an irony of history, you will find it not in the fact that Marx was underpaid by an American newspaper, but in the fact that he and Engels considered Russia the great bastion of reaction and America the great potential nurse of liberty and equality.”

The keyword here is ”irony”, by which Hitchens means not mere coincidence but that quality of contradiction and incongruity that has the power to capsize the ”official” narrative. Marx himself deployed irony in this way and so Hitchens is paying him an implicit compliment by identifying this aspect of his thinking. And, of course, in doing so he shows that a respect for the American ideal is congruent with the most radical philosophical elements. Not bad for a sentence of about 50 words.

Like Marx, Hitchens is steeped in literature. Indeed, he is the finest example we have of that vanishing breed: the political man of letters. Like George Orwell, he knows that a feeling for language is an invaluable tool when seeking to expose and counter the totalitarian world view. As he puts it in a piece on C.L.R.James, the Trinidadian Marxist historian: ”One notices time and again that [he] is moved to anger by the sheer ugliness and euphemism of the enemy’s prose style. His training in English literature was as useful to him as his apprenticeship in dialectics.”

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/political-man-of-letters-20110908-1jya9.html#ixzz1Y88nwpj7

Published in: on September 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Two round-ups

Democratic left round-up

Some good reads from blogs and websites on the democratic left, at Stuart’s place. Includes:

Marc Cooper blasts  the “worst of both worlds” in Cuba.

Right Wing Watch notes “Historians Agree: David Barton Is No Historian

Christopher Hitchens reviews the letters of Rosa Luxemburg More evidence that those who think Hitch has become a rightist are, to put it gently, wrong.

The week in links

A round-up by my companero Martin. Includes:

Another great column from Hitch (long may he flourish): reviewing Rosa  Luxemburg’s letters, and musing on how different history might have been, had her vision of socialism won out against the Leninist version. And on the subject of insurrectionary leftists, Julie Burchill is in blistering form, attacking the ‘Toytown Trots’ who think smashing shop windows is a revolutionary act, as well as the use of similar bullying tactics against Ahava for selling Israeli goods, so that ‘ we have now seen the first forced closure of a Jewish shop for QUITE A LONG TIME – give yourself a pat on the back for carrying on Hitler’s work so well, gang!’

Published in: on May 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Poumiseration

Top recommendation: Martin in the Martins: Chile: mine rescue stirs memories.

A rather tedious series of articles at the snappy-looking World Socialist Website relate to some meetings held by the German Socialist Equality Party (Partei für Soziale Gleichheit, PSG), Mehring Publications and the International Students for Social Equality (ISSE), on the occasion (close enough anyway) of Trotsky’s assassination by Stalinist agents. This post introduces them; this post is about a talk by American historian Alexander Rabinowitch on his new book The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Bolshevik Rule in Petrograd; and here is International Committee of the Fourth International tsar David North‘s speech Seventy years since the assassination of Leon Trotsky”. Here, on a different note, is Trotsky turning in his grave in 1989.

Slack Bastard has a funky new design featuring nuns with guns. One great recent article is on Benson ka-Ngqentsu, Brian Bunting District Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), who recently released a statement condemning the Abahlali baseMjondolo organisation and claiming that ‘blockading public roads’ — one of the tactics employed by the organisation — is ‘anarchy and reactionary’. The article goes on to an excellent harsh analysis of South African Stalinism.

In another post, he republishes “Hitler’s Ghost” by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair June 1996. This is a great piece of writing, taking on both Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and his Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust and the evil Holocaust denialist David Irving. Meanwhile, Roland posts a YouTube of Hitchens in top form, tragically hairless due to chemo, debating his brother.

Meanwhile, the Gabber has an exclusive from Jairus Banaji, the veteran Indian Marxist (ex-IS), on the ironies of Indian Maoism. Highly recommended historical and critical account of the Naxalite movement.

More left sectariana: Bob from Brockley’s memoir of recruitment to the Spartacist League prompts some other great memories of teenage sect behaviour. And, via Phil, we have the best blog ever, that of the RNCPGB(ML) – Revolutionary New Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). A must visit, for all fans of Michael Jackson or North Korea.

Vaultology: Operation Icepick, 1976; “Death to the generals!” Socialist Worker, 1979Vietnam Workers’ Party, 1953Jews Against the Vietnam War, ca.1970.

Quick links: No Israel boycott for Pete Seeger. Peter the Painter and his footballing legacy. Chetniks and Jews.

More links from Roland. I’ve also taken the image above from his place.

Poumulator

Five (5) pesos. Mexican Revolution. Álvaro Obregón

Image via Wikipedia

Blog posts:

Vincente Navarro: Salvador Dali, Fascist

Lauryn Oates: Hitchens Had it Right Then, and Now

Bernard-Henri Levy: Yes We Can (Save Sakineh)

Bob from Brockley: A tourist on the left

Michael Lebowitz: The spectre of barbarism, and its alternative

Next year county: Viva Mexico!

Theory and history:

Andrew Cheeseman: Two souls of socialism

Barry Biddulph: The red Jacobins

David Adam: Marx and Bakunin

Sheila Cohen: Syndicalism for the 21st century

Martine Bourne: Potere opero

Obituaries:

Tom Behan (see also this review of his book on working class resistance to Mussolini)

Edmund Kovacs

Barbara Zeluck

Ron Silber

More highlights from Against the Current, mainly on the Mexican revolution, below the fold.

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Noted in passing

First, more on the complicated argument between Andrew Coates and Michael Ezra reported here: Triangulating Bobism 1: Harryism and indecency. Takes in Hitchens, the Slaughter faction of the WRP, various issues around the IMG, the decent left, and various other topics.

Two from Bob’s archive which I forgot to link to here: Sylvia Pankhurst and the House of Lords and Folk Marxism and American political culture.

More Ralph Milibandism: Hilary Wainwright. (John McDonnell also has a tribute to Ralph Miliband in the Aug/Sept issue of Red Pepper, but this is not on-line.)

My new favourite blog: Criticism, etc. See, e.g. Andre Breton on Haiti.

A new blog for the blogroll: For Worker’s Power, which so far is a collection of texts by Maurice Brinton, including his 1975-6 Portuguese diary (1, 2) and a polemic with Big Flame.

More bloggeryDan Katz, and then Jim Denham, the latter on useful idiots and George Galloway. // More Shirazism: Frank Kermode, funky covers and the canon. // Hans Kundnani on the new left and the neocons. // Damon Linker on Podhoretz and the neocons. // Arthur Koestler: Jeremy Treglown’s review, insulting Jill Craigie; Jane Purvis defends her; Treglown responds. // James Holmes on James P Cannon and Cannonism. // Jacopedia on Garzon’s suspension and the remembering of the Spanish civil war. // Engage reports on Mike Luft’s walk across the Pyrenees for refugees, re-walking the route of the refugees from Franco. // George Orwell defines the borders of art and propaganda. // Three from Phil Dickens: Communism and the state; anarcho-syndicalism; charity and mutual aid. // Gerda Tara: 1, 2. // Guernica in 3D and in print. // Martin in Portugal.

New at M.I.A. on Kronstadt [h/t Ent.]:
* Anton Pannekoek: Carta a Sylvia Pankhurst (1922)
Kronstadt Izvestia 1-14 (1921)
* Victor Serge: Kronstadt ’21 (1945)
* Ida Mett: The Kronstadt Commune (1938)
* Maurice Brinton: Preface to Ida Mett’s „The Kronstadt Commune“ (1967)
* Ante Ciliga: The Kronstadt Revolt (1938)
* Alexander Berkman: The Kronstadt Rebellion (1922)

An event next week in Derry:

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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).


Catching up belatedly

Welcome back to the sphere On A Raised Beach, whose un-explained departure caused some concern. La Brigada has been reading Vasily Grossman.

Thanks to Mikey E, my most devoted fan, for the huge amount of traffic I got from Harryistas when he re-posted my material on the Stalinist victims of the anti-Stalinist SWP’s Stalinist practices.

More Harryism: Armin Rosen on Ian Buruma comparing Christopher Hitchens to the Marxist supporters of Japan in WWII.

Left Harryism: Raincoat Optimism on Hugo Chavez.

Totally un-related: The State as a Social Relationship: Gustav Landauer Revived – Dov Neuman of Jewdas interviews Gabriel Kuhn. More on this some other time. Maybe.

Also totally un-related: Coatesy on Koestler and Coatesy on Vincere.

To add to the blogroll: In the hands of the many.

I need quite a bit of time to catch up with: Arthur Bough.

Published in: on August 6, 2010 at 11:50 am  Comments (4)  
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Poumaloola

Can’t make an omelette without…: From the vaults of the Manchester Guardian, Beatrice Webb, the ultimate Stalinist fellow traveller, and her hatred for the working class.

The First war on terror: via @ndy:

The first war on terror Laura Miller Salon.com June 20, 2010: Miller reviews “A new history of bomb-throwing anarchists and conniving intelligence agents in the 1800s”; it is “chillingly familiar”. Three months earlier, so did Stuart Christie (The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret AgentsThe Guardian, March 27, 2010). I think The Slow Burning Fuse: The lost history of the British Anarchists by John Quail is neat, while the Kate Sharpley Library continues to find bodies buried beneath the mounds of bourgeois history. The International Campaign Against Anarchist Terrorism, 1880-1930s (Richard Bach Jensen) provides some historical context for the antics of the anarcholocos

Book reviews: Andrew Coates on Callinicos’ Bonfire of Illusions and Perry Anderson New Old World. And from Phil Dickens via @ndy:

Adam Form has excellent reviews of both The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and Simon Pirani’s The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24. The latter offering historical context on the Russian revolution which ties in nicely with my Property is Theft post on Communism and the State.

Hitch 22: Ian Buruma in NYRB, Carlo Strenger, BJ Bethel and the Hitch himself on Christopher Hitchens.

Franco and the Nazis: Modernity on the even darker side of Spain’s dictator.

A patriotic left: Michael Kazin on loving one’s country (2002), from the Dissent archive via Arguing the World’s 4th July post.

Gnome Chomksy: the latest Chomskyiana from Bob’s gnomic series.

Marxism 2010: on Alex Callinicos’s week case for the triumph of historical materialism, and a dissection of what might have happened at this year’s SWP sh’bang, whose last day is today. (Possibly more on this in a future post.)

French Stalinism: I have already linked to this piece by Andrew Coates on the new leader of the French Communist Party, but I did so very flippantly and want to re-link with a recommendation to read it. The post comes from a solidly anti-Stalinist perspective, but also shows something of the grandeur of some elements of the French Stalinist tradition, as well as explaining a little about the complexity of the PCF’s internal politics.

The passion of Arthur Koestler: Roger Boylan on a complicated man.

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 3:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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Poumlier

One of the better defences of Leon Trotsky from Robert Service that I’ve seen: by Hillel Ticktin in the Weekly Worker. There’s also an interview with Ticktin, one of Britain’s smartest Trotskyists, in the same issue, as a celebration of Critique‘s 50th issue.

Via Histomatist: A new website dedicated to the socialist novelist Edward Upward (1903-2009) has been launched by one of his grandsons here.

Our comrade Michael Ezra remember’s the glory days of Militant, and gives us a late Valentine’s day classic from the vaults of Tribune.

Talking of Tribune, I missed la Brigada’s mini-series on the late Michael FootEnd Of An EraFootnotePublic Speaking.

From International Perspectives, a left communist view of the “Bolivarian revolution” (posted for “nice“).

From the Christopher Hitchens archive: several videos of him talking about George Orwell, and articles on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and on his pal Francis Wheen’s biography of Das Kapital by Marx.

Poumed

At the head of everything is God, the Lord of Heaven.
Everyone knows that.
Then comes Prince Torlonia, lord of the earth.
Then come Prince Torlonia’s guards.
Then come Prince Torlonia’s guards’ dogs.
Then, nothing at all.
Then, nothing at all.
Then, nothing at all.
Then come the peasants. And that’s all.

~ Ignazio Silone, Fontamara (1931). (via @ndy)

Debates and arguments: David Cesarani, Marek Edelman and Michal Kaminski - click the link from Engage, then return to read the comment thread.

From the magazine rack: 1989 Timothy Garton Ash (NYRB); What Is to Be Learned? Thinking about 1989 Mitchell Cohen (Dissent); The Memory That Will Not Die: Exhuming the Spanish Civil War Julius Purcell (Boston Review); 100 Years of Servitude: Gabriel García Márquez’s Infatuation With Castro and Other Dictators Enrique Krauze (New Republic); Terry Teachout on the Congress for Cultural Freedom (Commentary).

Book reviews: John Gray on Robert Service’s Trotsky; Jonathan Yardley on Kati Marton’s Enemies of the People; DG Myers on two Lionel Trilling biographies; Colm Toibin on Sheila Rowbotham’s Edward Carpenter.

Some Irving Kristol obits I missed: Christopher Hitchens, David Brooks, Myron MagnetEric Alterman , Michael Lind, Justin Vaïsse, Kevin Mattson, Seth Lipsky, John Guardiano, Christopher DeMuth, Mary Eberstadt, Joseph Epstein, Danny Finkelstein.

Archival: Walter Lacquer on Why the Shah fell (1979).

Memetic

Two memes channeled by my comrade Bob: the five word meme, and the academic bestsellers meme. Here are some snippets.

Words

Bob on Anti-fascism

antifascismAnti-fascism is at the core of my political being. The first political activism I was involved in, as a 15 year old, was action against the NF. Almost everything else about my politics has changed, but that has remained constant. What has changed, of course, is fascism. The classic Nazi-style fascism of the NF is no longer much of an issue (although extreme right violence remains a threat in the US and UK, and classic neo-Nazis are a major issue in parts of Central and Eastern Europe). The two mutations of fascism that are most important to combat now are, first, the rising forms of Euro-nationalist populism that are predicated on a generalised anti-immigrant racism as well as anti-Muslim racism, a movement that has been growing electorally across Western Europe, and, second, the rising forms of Islamist fascism which have had such a destructive effect on so many parts of the world.

History is Made at Night on Surrealism

trotsky-780584When I first got interested in politics I was greatly attracted to Dada, Surrealism and the Situationists, initially through second hand accounts in books like Richard Neville’s Play Power, Jeff Nuttal’s Bomb Culture and indeed Gordon Carr’s The Angry Brigade. The emphasis on play, festival and the imagination still resonates with me, but I would question the notion of desire as an unproblematic engine of radical change. Desire is surely formed amidst the psychic swamp of present social conditions and I would no longer advise everybody to take their desires for reality – sadly I have seen far too much of the impoverished desires of men in particular. Just look through your spam emails.

Martin in the Margins on Saramago

SaramagoI used to say that the veteran Portuguese writer was my favourite novelist, until I remembered that I’ve only ever finished one of his books. However, that book – The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis – ranks as one of the best (if not the best) works of fiction that I’ve ever read. In this phantasmagoric exploration of Lisbon, Saramago’s usual quirky and meandering prose is held in check by an intriguing plot and aborbing sense of place – not the case in the other novels of his that I’ve tried. When I first read the book some fifteen or twenty years ago, its author’s politics – he’s a lifelong Communist – were an added enticement to me. That was before my own disillusionment with ‘democratic centralism’, and before I discovered that Saramago’s involvement in the Portuguese revolution, far from being heroic, revealed the Stalinist tendencies of his (and his party’s) politics. Not to mention my disappointment that a writer capable of such great prose and historical imagination could make such foolish, naive and offensive comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, as he did notoriously on a trip to the West Bank. A shining illustration, then, that creative genius and political stupidity can and often do co-exist.

The Social Republic on Chartism
One has to be awe of the millions who marched, organised and campaigned for the Charter. They did so in times of great and cruel distress, in a time before telegrams or mass railways, when the main traditional bases of such a cause were in near terminal decline. The General Unions had been broken in the most part, the old clubs of the Radicals were dying. You have to remember too that the Political Unions of the 1830s, seeking a similar political solution, had been a cynical con, carried on the masses who had given them a power to threaten the system.One under researched element of the movement, only touched upon by the culturalists, is that the Whig reforming state had erupted into areas of life untouched by the previous ‘Old Corruption’. Be it the poorhouse, exclusion from borough and parish government or the moves against popular ‘messy’ festivals, these ‘innovations’ aligned with a general and crippling crisis in the economy created a nomic crisis for the poor. As the church failed to keep up with the explosion in urban population and relief without the gulag conditions of the workhouse disappeared, the Charter was transformed.

In its political demands were a longing for a more equitable and less ruthless past and a brighter and ‘progressive’ future. Within the carnival of the movement, the realisation of the moral power of the crowd and the rhetoric, we can detect a attempt to break out of a time of misery into a meaningful time of hope and change. The movement that pushed self-education and self awareness, probably doing more for mass literacy that anything till the public schools of 1870, could create experiments in collective living, in ground upwards politics. Blessed with the belief in the moral case for the charter, the movement was able to become a transformative revitalisation movement. As a reaction to the crisis of modernity, such a formation is common. However, this mass movement, unlike Fascism or Bolshevik Communism, had no cult of struggle, of dying or killing. It’s internal discussions over Moral versus Physical power showed a remarkable maure level of understanding on the dangers of volence to the cause and the subsequent corruption of their ends.

This maturity, noted by Marx, combined with its moral power and willingness to openly discuss and challenge show a sparkling precedent for the left. How one could see Hamas or the CCP ‘progressive’ after learning of the ragged millions joyfully declaring their liberty and their rights is beyond my fuzzy headed imagination.

The New Centrist on Avrich
The historian of the U.S. and European (esp. Russian) anarchist movements. I had the opportunity to hear him speak a couple of times and he was an inspiration to me and my work. Attended his funeral in 2006 and remember his daughters talking about him taking them to a cemetery in Russia to locate the graves of Kropotkin and I think Bakunin as well but I could be wrong about Bakunin.

Books

Henry on E.P. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class

A classic, which reads more like a novel than a piece of academic history, rescuing organizers, sectaries, pamphleteers and gutter journalists – from the enormous condescension of posterity. Moving, smart, and wonderfully written.

Bob on CLR James The Black Jacobins

This makes a nice companion to Thompson. As Peter Linebaugh has written, while Thompson was writing in the shadow of the Soviet tanks in Budapest, James was writing against the Communist murder of non-CP anti-Franco partisans in Spain. The Black Jacobins tells the story of the Haitian revolution, showing how slave struggles in the colonies helped drive the great revolutionary moment of 1776-1792, unveiling a different dimension to the emergence of the great values of liberty, democracy and rights which triumphed in the French and American revolutions.

Brigada Flores Magon on The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, Jonathan Rose

I have to declare an interest as my paternal grandfather, an iron-moulder who had been disabled aged 19, as a private in Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard, in the Kaiserschlacht of Spring 1918, was as good an autodidact as you’d find outside the Jura Federation and this book is very largely about the autodidact tradition among the British working classes, taking in the WEA and other helping hands as it goes along. I have read it at least three times since I bought it in 2002 and return to it again and again for encouragement. It is written in a thoroughly professional way but full of what can only be called love for the matter and manner of lifelong learning. Anyone involved in education must read this book.

More books

Moving on from memes, but kind of related to the book issue, a post from the Raincoat Optimist about writing drunk, touching on the brothers Hitchens, Nick Cohen at the Orwell Prize, and the “old culture” of the pub.

Finally on books, Contested Terrain notes three new publications of note, of which this one caught my eye:

A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement
By Jame Horrox

Against the backdrop of the early development of Palestinian-Jewish and Israeli society, James Horrox explores the history of the kibbutz movement: intentional communities based on cooperative social principles, deeply egalitarian and anarchist in their organisation.

“The defining influence of anarchist currents in the early kibbutz movement has been one of official Zionist historiography’s best-kept secrets…It is against this background of induced collective amnesia that A Living Revolution makes its vital contribution. James Horrox has drawn on archival research, interviews and political analysis to thread together the story of a period all but gone from living memory, presenting it for the first time to an English-reading audience. These pages bring to life the most radical and passionate voices that shaped the second and third waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine, and also encounter those contemporary projects working to revive the spirit of the kibbutz as it was intended to be, despite, and because of, their predecessors’ fate.” —Uri Gordon, from the foreword

“A brilliant study of anarchism in the kibbutz movement, particularly regarding economy and polity. Revealing the roots and processes of the influx of anarchist ideas and practices into the early Jewish labour movement, assessing the actual kibbutz practice and seeing the kibbutzim as both a model way to live and a set of experiments to learn from, Horrox gives this history the meticulous attention it deserves. A Living Revolution is comprehensive, caring and even passionate, but also critical. Horrox’s study is an exemplary undertaking we can learn much from.”—Michael Albert, editor Znet and Z Magazine.

More from Horrox at Zeek.

One more thing

Because I haven’t found a better post to put this in, read this excellent account of Gramsci’s relevance today, at Left Luggage.

Christopher Hitchens and Robert Service talk Trotsky

From National Review Online’s Uncommon Knowledge TV show. Each episode is around 6 minutes. Pretty good from the superficial listen I’ve had.

Trotsky with Hitchens and Service 1: Christopher Hitchens and Robert Service introduce Leon Trotsky, “one of the half-dozen outstanding Marxist revolutionaries.”(Background stuff. Skip it if you are among the initiated.)

Trotsky with Hitchens and Service 2: the defeat and exile of Leon Trotsky.

Trotsky with Hitchens and Service 3: What if Trotsky, rather than Stalin, attained control of the Soviet Union?

Trotsky with Hitchens and Service 4: Christopher Hitchens and Robert Service talk about Trotsky’s “moral moments.” (On anti-fascism and the 1930s)

Trotsky with Hitchens and Service 5: Trotsky today – scrutinizing the modern romantic view of Leon Trotsky.

(Twitter version: The Hitchens/Service series: 1: http://ow.ly/jygc, 2: http://ow.ly/jygo, 3: http://ow.ly/jyhv, 4: http://ow.ly/jyhO, 5: http://ow.ly/jyhW. “Christopher Hitchens is a journalist and author. His most recent book is God Is Not Great. Robert Service is a historian who has published major biographies of Lenin and Stalin. His most recent book, Comrades!, is study of communism as a worldwide movement. His upcoming work, Trotsky, will be published in November 2009.”)

ADDED: Lesley Chamberlain “Twilight in Mexico” in WSJ on Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary by Bertrand M. Patenaude (published in the UK as Stalin’s Nemesis, which I blogged about here, when it was Radio 4’s Book of the Week. More from Bookhugger, Ardmayle, The Tablet. More later today about the current Book of the Week, which also has a Trotskyist theme. ).

Leszek Kolakowski

First and second hand links to appreciations of Leszek Kolakowski, some for the first time, some the second time around.

Via Terry Glavin: “A free mind, no longer among us: Leszek Kolakowski. Nick Cohen remembers him here, and the other day, Christopher Hitchens eulogized him here. From the great Yank heartland, Stuart posts an essay from Kolakowski’s Modernity on Endless Trial, here.”

Via Martin in the Margins: Norm defends Marx against Oliver’s Kolakowski-inspired dismissal of his legacy. Michael Weiss gives his own take on the Polish philosopher’s spat with E.P.Thompson.”

[Here, by the way, is a pdf of Kolakowski's reply to Thompson, via a post at History Today, which also mentions Ignacio Silone.]

Earlier, at the start of Martin’s own nice appreciation: “There’s a terrific guest post by Andrew Murphy over at Harry’s Place, about Leszek Kolakowski, who died last Friday. Andrew links to Christopher Hitchens’ thoughts on the great Polish thinker, which you can find here. I also recommend this post by The New Centrist, who in turn links to this fascinating conversation between Kolakowski and Danny Postel (whose work I recommended here).”

From Jonathan Todd: “Top stuff from Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian today, which alerted me to the death of a great man, Leszek Kolakowski, whose description of social democracy was one that Denis Healeymuch liked and which I do too:  “An obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy”. It concisely presents social democracy as it is: a creed not just for our times but for all times.”

Reading the Maps: “Leszek Kolakowski liked to talk of Marxism and socialism as dogmatisms that had beem made obsolescent by the history of the late twentieth century. He was inclined to see anyone interested in Marx and in socialist politics as a quixotic anarchronism. In truth, though, it was Kolakowski who had become an anachronism with the end of the Cold War. Like the Stalinists he had so often condemned, he had adopted a worldview which relied upon an interpretation of Marx and Marxist history that was ballasted by the Cold War, rather than by facts. When the Cold War ended, and Marx was released from the rival simplifications of Stalinists and right-wingers, Kolakowski found himself with nothing interesting to say. Perhaps he should have listened more carefully to his old friend Thompson.” READ THE REST.

Ragbag: “Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski died on Friday. The Telegraph’s obit is good, capturing his influence as well as his attractively sceptical and mordant approach to life. I think he was one of the heroes of the twentieth century. I went to a seminar he gave in All Souls College once, on communism, about fifteen years ago. I left liking the man very much – as dry as talc but with a warm wit that revealed itself in asides made whilst sipping black coffee – but also with a feeling of disappointment: I hadn’t heard anything new or revelatory.” READ THE REST, including comment on Hitch and religion.

The Israeli water engineer: “In 1972 I had to spend a night in Posadas, Misiones, Argentina so I bought a bottle of red wine and a book in a second hand shop. The book was a collection of essays, among them “What are philosophers paid for?” which explored the issue why a Communist regime maintained philosophers and what he – Kolakowski – was being paid for. The Communist regime maintained that everyone had to do productive work – no parasitic intermediary luftgescheftn permited – and everyone had to produce something tangible for society. Why, then, were philosophers like himself being allowed to do “nothing”? His conclusion was that Marxist philosophers satisfied a basic necessity of the Communist regime: the theoretical, intellectual infrastructure (justification?) of the regime. READ THE REST.

Leiter Reports: “Rather than a younger version of Herbert Marcuse (who at the time used to raise his fist and intone “Power to the people!” when he lectured), Kolakowski was an urbane ironist of immense cultivation.” READ THE REST.

UD: “Leszek Kolakowski’s death reminds us that Terry Eagleton‘s recent attack on the atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins is only the latest instance of a curious but now familiar trajectory, in which a left thinker in his or her latter days (think of Christopher Lasch among Americans, and, among the British, Gillian Rose) embraces, if not the truth of religion, the validity and endurance and even inescapability of its cultural power.” READ THE REST.

Steven Hayward: “In my forthcoming Reagan book I quote Kolakowski’s prescient prediction made in May 1983 (two years before Gorbachev and his wrecking crew arrived in the Kremlin): “We can imagine that the Soviet rulers, under the combined pressure of self-inflicted economic disasters and social tensions, will accept, however grudgingly, a genuine verifiable international disarmament plan and concentrate their efforts on a large-scale economic recovery, which they cannot achieve without a number of social and political reforms. This might conceivably usher in a process of gradual and non-explosive disintegration of the empire.” In that same article he anticipated the “velvet revolution” of 1989: “Certainly in Poland or Czechoslovakia (or in Hungary) Communism would fall apart within days without the Soviet threat.” “

More:

Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 1:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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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

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