Centrist Marxism

English: Heading of an ILP letter

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

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

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

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

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From the archive of struggle no.44

I have fallen behind on this task, not having done it for about 6 weeks. Below the fold are basically my personal choices from Entdinglichung’s Sozialistika series.

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From the archive of struggle no.38: YIVO special feature

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

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

When these streets heard Yiddish:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kalman Reisen, socialist and Yiddishist:

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

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From the archive of struggle no.38:

Tendance Coatesy:

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

World Socialist Website:

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

International Communist League:

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

The rest are via Entdinglichung, with some annotation.

Archive.org:

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

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

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

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

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

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