Talking heads

[Note, today, 20 December, is Sidney Hook's birthday.]

Bayard Rustin vs Malcolm X, on black nationalism and Islam

Sidney Hook on liberalism, socialism and social democracy

Leon Trotsky on the Moscow trials

Emma Goldman on returning to the United States

EP Thompson on “society” for historians and for anthropologists

Raya Dunayevkaya on being a radical

Talking History

Reificationofpersonsandthings posts a wonderful video of EP Thompson and CLR James talking history in (presumably) the mid-1980s. I can’t find much information about this film, apparently released in 2007 in Ipswich, Suffolk by Concord Media.

According to Amazon,

This classic filmed conversation between two radical historians covers many issues: from the threat of nuclear war to the significance of the Solidarity movement in Poland, the independence struggle in Zimbabwe and the overthrow of the Shah in Iran. Do these movements offer encouragement to those suffering repression in other parts of the world? What does the future hold for India and the black African states? The film illustrated with archive footage and music is provided by Spartacus R.

Spartacus R died two years ago. He was the bassist in the great Osibisa. Here is his MySpace page.

Update: Histomatist has also posted it.

Update 2: Principia Dialectica on EP Thompson and George Lichtheim on William Morris.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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From the archive: special features

Recently discovered, via a Greek radical history website that made me wish I spoke Greek. Plus, at the bottom, some things from Histomatist and other bloggers.

Sidney Fournier: obituary

Download the article here.

— From the Evening Post, 8th July, 1913

Wyatt E. Jones: watchmaker and anarchist

Reason in Revolt

Sample:

  • Cresciani, Gianfranco, ‘Italian anti-fascism in Australia, 1922-45′, in Wheelwright, E.L. & Buckley, K. (ed.), Essays in the political economy of Australian capitalism, volume three, 1978 edn, vol. 3, Australia & New Zealand Book Company, Brookvale, 1978, pp. 86-101. [  |  | Details... ]
  • Gibson, Ralph, ‘Struggle against war and fascism’, in My years in the Communist Party, International Bookshop, Melbourne, 1966. [  |  | Details... ]
  • Manton, Joyce, ‘War can be prevented’, in The centenary prepares war, Melbourne University Council Against War, Melbourne, 1934. [  |  | Details... ]
  • Smith, Bernard, ‘The realisms of war’, in Noel Counihan: artist and revolutionary, 1993 edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne & New York, pp. 180-97. [ Details... ]
  • Smith, Bernard, ‘The fascist mentality in Australian art and criticism 1946′, in The critic as advocate selected essays 1941-1988, 1989 edn, Oxford University Press Australia, Melbourne, 1989, pp. 44-51. [ Details... ]

The Faber Fantin Research Project Site

This is a portrait of Francesco Giovanni Fantin [1901-42] pictured just before he left Italy as an antifascist emigre in 1924. Note the foulard which was an anarchist dress symbol. Since 1985 I have been researching the biography of Fantin, an important Italo Australian anarchist activist who was assassinated by fascist conspirators whilst interned as an enemy alien at Loveday in the SA Riverland, 16 November 1942. This website contains previously unpublished photographs, supplied by friends and relatives of Fantin, and interpretative argument by me about Fantin’s life and times. Fantin is presented as a significant figure in the history of political heterodoxy, emigration and multicultural diversification which were beginning to assume historical proportions in Italo-Australian relations during his lifetime. This then is the larger than life story of a grass roots activist who explored democratic notions of citizenship resolved `to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’. It should be of interest to all interested in the history of democracy and Italo-Australian social and political history, whether they share Fantin’s anarchism, or, like myself, only his socialism.

From Histomatist

New work: Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time

Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time
by Ian Birchall

Hardback £25 9781905192793/Paperback £16.99 9781905192809
Tony Cliff came to political consciousness in the darkest period of the 20th century and spent his life developing revolutionary Marxism against Stalinism. From his early days as a revolutionary in British-occupied Palestine, through years of obscurity and isolation in London and Dublin to the high points of struggle in post-war Britain, Cliff worked to restore lost ideas and traditions, fan flames of resistance and develop our understanding of a system in constant change. Ian Birchall’s lovingly crafted book is the culmination of years of work, drawing on interviews with over 100 people who knew Cliff and painstaking research in archives around the country. It is a majestic example of political biography at its best.
Available direct from Bookmarks Bookshop from 30 June 2011, and nationwide from October – see here. Ian will be launching his biography at Marxism 2011, and describes some of his experience of researching Cliff’s life here.

New study of EP Thompson

I have just finished reading The Crisis of Theory: EP Thompson, the New Left, and Postwar British Politics a highly readable new study by Scott Hamilton of Reading the Maps fame. I can happily and heartily recommend it to readers of Histomat as a fine companion volume to Thompson’s The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (1978). Hamilton’s work comes with what now reads as a rather poignant recommendation from the late socialist historian and EP Thompson’s partner, Dorothy Thompson, and overall I found it a fascinating introduction to Thompson the thinker and writer – someone who I didn’t know before now was given cricket lessons by Nehru while a boy. Personally would have liked a little more on Thompson the great Marxist historian, but I am aware that would have probably meant a different book – and in any case, myself and Hamilton had a little debate about Thompson and Marxist historiography about five years ago – a debate I am not sure either of us feel the compulsion to return to just now. Many congratulations anyway to Scott on the publication of his homageto EPT.

Owen Hatherley on Marx, Eagleton, Lenin and Lih

 As [Eagleton] acknowledges, our age of no-strings-attached state handouts to banks and punitive cuts to social services has embraced a form of capitalism so grotesque that it resembles the caricatures of the most leaden Soviet satirists. Eagleton presents his book as the fruit of “a single, striking thought: what if all the objections to Marx’s thought are mistaken?” In order to demonstrate this, each of the chapters of this erudite yet breezy (occasionally too breezy) tract begins with a series of assertions about Marx and Marxism, which Eagleton then proceeds to debunk, one by one.

From Hatherley’s review of Eagleton’s Why Marx was Right and Lih’s Lenin. Personally I disagree very slightly with Hatherley’s conclusion, at the end of his discussion of Lih’s biography of Lenin: Yet what really endures here is the sense that, for Lenin, a revolutionary leader has a duty to lead the working class into revolution, and all the theory in the world won’t help if the political and economic conditions are missing. Lenin believed that the first world war offered a real chance to destroy capitalism, and when – in 1919, as revolution briefly engulfed Europe – he seemed to be proved right, he felt vindicated, even relieved. He learned his mistake, and died deeply troubled by it.Yet Lenin was not ‘mistaken’ when the world revolution failed to triumph outside of Russia post First World War – the conditions did exist for the successful socialist revolution in Europe – not least in Germany which underwent two revolutionary situations in 1918 and then again in 1923. Lenin knew that making the revolution in Russia was a gamble, but, he wagered, it was right to make that gamble – a gamble after all that was critical to ending the bloodshed of the First World War and, everything taken into account did demonstrate the possibilities for socialist revolution in the 20th century.

As Rosa Luxemburg noted,‘Everything that a party could offer of courage, revolutionary farsightedness, and consistency in a historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky, and the other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary honor and capacity which the Social Democracy of the West lacked were represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was also the salvation of the honour of international socialism.’

From Tendence Coatesy

Louise Michel

I recently saw the film Louise-Michel.

It’s a bit, so-so (I went for the name- see below).

The film begins with a coffin being jammed in a Crematorium while the Internationale plays. A textile factory, in Picardy, is delocalised. The boss leaves the women workers in the lurch. Rather than go for a nude Calender, or take up stripping, they decide to hire a killer to bump him. Louise (Yolande Moreau),  finds one, a man transsexual. Louise turns out to be man.

The comedy, such as it is, takes place the surreal Picardy environment, a decaying Communist bastion, with co-ops and council housing falling apart. The only real laughs are in the search for the ultimate boss responsible for the closure. This takes the pair, Louise and her pro ((Bouli Lanners) to a posh gala dinner, Brussels ( with , nonantes and septantes  said every other sentence, and finally to Jersey where a much appreciated bloodbath of the bourgeoisie ensues.(Here.)

The only really good scene in Louise-Michel – and still a bit Little Britain in its humour – is when the duo pass by and visit the farm where Louise had shot a bank-manager out to forfeit her indebted property. It’s now an organic bed-and-breakfast heaven, with fair-trade coffee, bio bogs, hand-woven degradable carpets,  spring water showers, crystal therapy breakfasts, and recycled air -in the dull flat Picardy mud.

Anyway, apart from the chance of seeing Siné in the flesh – in a walk-on part –  I wouldn’t recommend the film.

But at the end there is a quote on the screen from the real-life Louise Michel.

Now she is someone the English-speaking left should get to know.

“Michel became highly admired by French workers and revolutionaries, particularly for her association with theParis Commune. From after her death until 1916, a demonstration was held every year at her tomb at Levallois-Perret.

A legendary figure of the labour movement, Michel had the ability to incite crowds to act. Frequently, the language used to describe her is that reserved for saints and heretics; she is often referred to as “Bonne Louise” (Good Louise) or the “Vierge rouge” (red Virgin). For better or worse, Michel seems to have fascinated her contemporaries. This woman, educated and cultured, intelligent without being shy and retiring, and lacking the beauty of certain demimondaines and other women of loose morals who populated the period before the Belle Epoque, was surrounded by many male celebrities. They were often her steadfast friends, until the end of her life, or more frequently to the end of theirs. For a period when women still had essentially no rights, she was in many respects an exception.”

L’œillet rouge.

If were to go to the black cemetery

Brothers, throw on your sister,
As a final hope,
Some red ‘carnations’ in bloom.
In the final days of Empire,
When the people were awakening,
It was your smile red carnation
which told us that all was being reborn.
Today, go blossom in the shadow of the black and sad prisons.
Go, bloom near the somber captive,
And tell him/her truly that we love him/her.
Tell that through fleeting time
Everything belongs to the future
That the livid-browed conqueror
can die more surely than the conquered.

The Paris Commune is not dead

There is a very well expressed article by Nick Rogers in the latest Weekly Worker on the 140th Anniversary of the Paris Commune – Here.

He concludes,

The historical experience of the Paris Commune teaches us a threefold lesson.

First, the key role of political leadership and programme. The Commune clearly lacked coherent political leadership. It did not even have a clear idea of what it sought to achieve. This was partly a question of political ideology, but it was also an expression of the lack of any working class party to speak of. In Paris (and in the other cities of France, where during this period several communes of only a few days’ duration were declared) there were political traditions, clubs and conspiratorial groupings. Lacking from the political firmament was any party seeking to democratically represent the interests of the whole class.

The International came closest and was subsequently blamed by the French government for the uprising. It banned the International in France and wrote to governments around Europe urging them to take the same action. But the Proudhonist majority in the French section held to a theoretical position that rejected political action (and trade unionism, for that matter). It was not ready to lead a workers’ revolution.

Second, the spontaneity of the working class is capable of great feats. What was achieved in Paris during April and May 1871 by the citizens of the city retains the capacity to inspire. Local initiatives proliferated. Right up to the last week a mood of festival prevailed. It is not the role of a political party to subsume or subdue such initiative, but to provide a focal point for directing the working class’s capacity for political and organisational creativity in an agreed direction.

Third, a workers’ revolution transforms the political and constitutional landscape or it is not a revolution. That is why communists raise democratic and republican demands. It is a lesson most of the present-day ‘revolutionary’ left has forgotten. The rediscovery of Kautsky “when he was a Marxist” can help hammer home that lesson.

This is a crystal-clear summary of the Commune’s enduring political meaning.

Also read:

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.

Ashes, teabags, etcb

Leon Trotsky’s ashes stolen and baked into cookies.* Will as George Orwell, part 2. The battle of ideas in Cuba. Nestor Makhno and the Anarchist Black Cross. Maps on EP Thompson on William Morris. And on the last days of Max Jacobs (a propos of fascist desecrations at Drancy).Tony Allen at Speaker’s Corner. Theodore Dalrymple on the word “so”.

*UPDATE from Roland.

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