Je suis marxiste

“Quote me as saying I was mis-quoted.” – Groucho Marx

Welcome to 2013 at Poumista. Here’s a taster of some stuff I’ve been reading lately.

Bloggery

Norman Geras: Long overdue justice for Victor Jara; War memory: what is it good for?

David Osler: Two Milibands on the monarchy.

Book reviews

David Osler: Maonomics by Loretta Napoleoni; Bash the Rich by Ian Bone.

From the archive of struggle

At radicalarchive.org:

*Murray Bookchin: Anarchism vs Syndicalism (1992)
*Murray Bookchin: using x-rays for hair removal and fitting children’s shoes (1962)

Espace contre ciment:

*Rudolf Rocker: Seid aktive Nichtwähler! (1924)

At David Osler’s blog:

*Duncan Hallas: Cult Becomes a Cropper (1985) [on Healy's WRP, but eerily relevant to the current enjoyable crisis of the British SWP]

War, and class war

Photo from my current favourite blog, Bertram Online.

Libya

An individual, a group, a party, or a class that “objectively” picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive. - Leon Trotsky The Balkan Wars 1912-1913 (Sydney: Pathfinder Press, 1980), pp.292-293.

So starts Sean Matgamna, in his recent intervention on intervention.

David Osler is also very interesting on Libya and the ortho-left, responding to Eamonn McCann  in Socialist Worker.

More surprisingly, Gilbert Achcar agrees with Matgamna. Jim writes:

Gilbert Achcar, a member of the mainstream (“Pabloite“) Fourth International, refuses to scab on the Libyan revolutionaries… other “revolutionaries” aren’t happy

Here’s what Gilbert says [...] writing in International Viewpoint

Barry Finger comments on Achcar and “anti-imperialism”, here.

The Orwell Prize

I have no doubt George Orwell would have taken the same line as Matgamna and Achcar. I have little doubt he would not have been pleased with many of the recent Orwell Prize for blogging long listees. I suspect he would agree with HarpyMarx‘s assessment that “Orwell Prize blogger longlist, with 1 or 2 exceptions, is just full of media privileged luvvies or journos who should b in journo section!”

I think Orwell would not have been upset about Sunder Katwaler‘s or Cath Elliot’s longlistings (he would have liked Katwala on cricket I think, and taken up cudgels for Cath against the Morning Star). He would have been pleased about David Osler’s (second?) longlisting.

And he would have been OK with Paul Mason’s (second?) longlisting. Mason writes:

Getting myself longlisted yet again for the Orwell Prize (and good luck to all the real bloggers who don’t have a mainstream media pension, salary and self-censorship training to fall back on)… made me ask: what single bit of Orwell’s writing I would recommend to somebody starting a blog, or studying journalism?

Actually it’s Inside The Whale, where Orwell takes apart the literary industry of the late 1930s, concluding that of 5,000 novels published, 4,999 were “tripe”. He does this sandwiched between two lengthy eulogies to a book that, at the time of writing, was banned – and banned in the 1930s meant impounded at Dover and burned, to be found only in the secret cupboards of anarchists and wierdos.

The book in question is Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller – a strange choice of book to praise for a man who’d just come back from the Spanish Civil War and who, with the Dunkirk fiasco, believed Britain was entering a “revolutionary period”.

Musing on this very point, Orwell concluded that Miller had probably founded a new school of writing with this one book, and its successor Black Spring:

“In Miller’s case it is not so much a question of exploring the mechanisms of the mind as of owning up to everyday facts and everyday emotions. For the truth is that many ordinary people, perhaps an actual majority, do speak and behave in just the way that is recorded here. [...]

Orwell sensed that at some point people would start writing about ordinary life in ordinary language, dramatising the ordinary, peeling back layer upon layer of literary finesse, pretension, writing-school prose, irony etc.

The blog is the logical outcome.

And like the novels of 1940, the vast majority of blogs are mediocre, “tripe” as Orwell might have said. But they are mostly attempts at honesty – whether literary or non-fictional.

I give you two excerpts, both from fellow longlisters, writing about the same recent event: (more…)

al-Poum

GeorgeOrwell

Image via Wikipedia

Following on from Mikey’s post here about socialist commandments, here are a couple with titles inspired by socialist hymns: Arise ye workers from your slumbers (about the SWP front, the Right to Work campaign – even the name should be anathema to real communists) and On tyrants only we’ll make war! (about the Stop the War left’s hypocrisy about tyrants).

Talking of tyrants, David Osler has a very good piece on whether clerical fascists can turn social democrats (thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood), which cites an excellent piece on the Middle East from Tony Cliff in 1946, which I think I recently linked to.

And talking of Cliff’s International Socialists, I didn’t know Lord Macdonald of Tradeston was an ex-member, until reading this piece by comrade Osler, whose title references one of my favourite Lenin paraphrase. Unrelated, here’s comrade Osler on Japanese Maoism.

In the most surprising places… Tess Lewis in the Wall Street Journal on Victor Serge. Opening para:

‘No poison is more deadly than power!” The Russian anarchists’ slogan is the perfect motto for the life of the writer and revolutionary Victor Serge (1890- 1947). A life-long man of the radical left, he saw almost all his friends, heroes and enemies destroyed by the poison of Soviet communism and spent his life exposing the psychosis of absolute power. Yet even in his darkest hour—isolated and destitute in Mexico City in 1943, surviving on donations from friends, unable to get his writing published in more than a few small journals, his wife driven insane by the persecution of the Soviet secret police—Serge never lost his faith in the ideals of socialism

DJ Taylor on Mubarak and the Neds, citing George Orwell:

Monitoring last week’s news from Tahrir Square, it was impossible not to be reminded of an essay George Orwell published in an obscure monthly magazine called The Adelphi shortly before the start of the Second World War.

The piece seldom gets reprinted these days, doubtless due to its somewhat bracing title: Not Counting Niggers. In it, Orwell makes the, by now unexceptionable, point that in a prosperous country left-wing politics is always partly humbug, because a thorough-going reconstruction of society would lead to a drop in living standards, which no politician of any party is ever prepared to countenance. He also points out – this was in 1939 when the Empire’s working-class population included several hundred million Indian labourers – that Britain’s standard of living was linked to the exploitation of people earning a few pence a day and dying before they were 40.

Fast-forward 72 years and a very similar piece of moral sleight-of-hand applies to our relationship with the autocracies of the Middle East.

A new blog to me: Work Resumed on the Tower, “a blog focused [on] popular culture, literature, and politics from a radical, anti-capitalist perspective.” I very much recommend a recent post: In Defense of (a slightly more modest) Marxism.

Taming the Trots: Anarchism’s Sisyphean Task: Rachel at Northern Voices on a misery of sharing the left with the likes of Linda Taafe.

A note on the post-Gerry Healey Workers Revolutionary Party, from Marko Attila Hoare, with which I thoroughly concur, having been close to this faction at that time and being almost exactly the same age as Marko:

The members of the WRP (‘Workers Press’) with whom I collaborated in Workers Aid were among the bravest, most principled and most committed fighters for social justice and political liberation that I have ever met. When the Bosnian genocide was at its height and when much of the rest of the Western left was either sitting on the sidelines or actively sympathising with the perpetrators, these people built the Workers Aid movement to bring aid to, and show solidarity with, the people of the Bosnian city of Tuzla. This was an industrial city with a proud left-wing and working-class history, whose own miners had supported the British miners’ strike in the 1980s and whose citizens maintained a social democratic administration in power throughout the Bosnian war. Members of the WRP/WP and other supporters of Workers Aid – sometimes risking their own lives as they guided their convoy of rickety lorries along the broken roads of a country at war and through sniper zones – built a movement of solidarity between British and European trade unionists and Bosnian trade unionists that defied the ethnic cleansers and their Western backers.

That is the WRP with which I worked in the 1990s, and to whose newspaper I contributed. Although I have since mostly lost touch with them, I remember with particular respect and fondness Bob Myers, Dot Gibson, Charlie Pottins, Bronwen Handyside, Cliff Slaughter, the late Geoff Pilling and others, some of whose names I don’t recall. It was an honour to have worked with them and to have contributed to their newspaper, and though I suspect they might not approve of my subsequent political evolution, I would do so again. So no, I don’t find my past association with them ‘embarrassing’ (I have advertised my former involvement with Workers Aid in the ‘About’ section of my blog since the day it was launched); they represented what was best in the British left. For someone like Daniel Davies, whose sole political activity seems to consist of running a blog devoted to smearing and rubbishing other left-wingers, the same cannot be said.

(more…)

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