New York Yiddish anarchists in Mexico

I have been been reading lately about Jack Abrams. His basic life story is told by Nick Heath at Libcom, and he is a minor character in The Gentle General: Rose Pesotta Anarchist and Labor Organizer by Elaine Leeder. He was born in Russia in 1883, went to America in 1906, worked (like many key anarchist activists of the period) as a bookbinder, became a trade union militant and anarcho-syndicalist.  With about a group which included his partner Mary Abrams and Mollie Steimer, he edited the underground newspaper Frayhayt (Freedom), from an apartment at 5 East 104th Street in East Harlem. The most dramatic and well-known part of his story came in 1918, as told here by Nick Heath:

He was the author of two leaflets calling for a general strike against the US intervention of spring –summer 1918 against the Russian Revolution. These called for a social revolution in the United States. The paper was folded up tightly and posted in mailboxes around New York and the leaflets each had a print run of 5,000. The federal and local authorities began to be on the lookout for the authors of this propaganda. He was arrested on the 24th August 1918 along with Jacob Schwartz. The two were beaten with fists and blackjacks on the way to the police station. There further beatings were dished out. The arrest of the Frayhayt group signaled the start of massive repression of the anarchist movement in the United States. The Abrams case as it became known was a was a landmark in the suppression of civil liberties in the USA. Schwartz died in October due to the severe beatings he had received, although the authorities put it down to Spanish influenza…

On October 25th 1918 Jack , together with Sam Lipman and Hyman Lachowsky, was sentenced to 20 years hard labor and fined $ 1000 on charges of “anti-American activities.”, whilst Mollie Steimer received fifteen years and a $500 fine… In mid-1919 was filed an appeal, and in the meantime Jack and the others were released.

Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas was one of the people active in the campaign that led to this release. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, but was notable for the dissenting opinion of Oliver Wendell Holmes (joined by  Louis Brandeis):

we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threatened immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.

The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. “That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.

Anyway, the group tried to escape to Mexico but got waylaid and some went to Russia, where (ironically, considering the defence of the revolution had got them locked up) they witnessed the deepening repression of the Bolshevik state, and before long were deported from there too. Eventually, in 1926, Mary and Jack Abrams wound up in Mexico, in Cuernavaca, not far from Mexico City, where he joined a group of Spanish anarchist exiles, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom).

Creative Commons License. Photo from the Triangle Fire Open Archive. Contributed by David Bellel. Circa 1930s. Photo shows Mary Abrams, a shirtwaist fire survivor, with her husband Jack Abrams, Rose Pesotta, Senya Fleshin and Mollie Steimer. The picture was taken in Mexico in the late 1930s where the group lived in exile (except for Pesotta) as a result of the Palmer Raids of 1919. At that time Mary was part of the anarchist Frayhayt group. Mary passed away in 1978. Source: Jewish Women’s Archive.

Steimer’s route to Mexico was even more complex, also via Russia, where she was imprisoned by the GPU (forerunner of the KGB), to Berlin, from which she fled when Hitler came to power, to France, where she was again interned in  Camp Gurs as a German. (She must have been there, May-June 1940, at the same time as Hannah Arendt. I wonder if they met?) Then to Vichy – according to Wikipedia “Steimer was aided principally by May Picqueray (1893-1983), the militant anarchist editor of Le Refractaire, who had previously assisted the couple by protesting their imprisonment in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1923.”

And finally to Mexico City, where her and Fleshin had a photo studio, SEMOHere‘s two of their 1952 photo of the opera singer Maria Callas:

 

And here’s Fleshin at his trade:

Senya Fleshin

They retired to Cuernavaca in 1963.

Ron Radosh, the red diaper baby turned anti-Communist, was a nephew of Jack Abrams, and in his memoir Commies he writes:

My first remembrance of the many visits we made to Mexico City is from 1945, when I was nine. As others were gathering in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II, we saw the giant parade that wound through downtown Mexico City. Abrams took me to the major sites and to children’s films, willingly spending hours with me while my parents went off to experience Mexico’s revolutionary culture. In a later visit, either 1949 or 1950, Abrams, who had learned from my parents that I had already begun to circulate in the orbit of New York’s young Communist movement, did his best to warn me about the ethics and true nature of Stalin’s regime.

As we all walked through the streets of beautiful Cuernavaca (now a famous tourist resort), my parents spotted the painter David Alfaro Siqueras, one of the founders of the Mexican muralist school. The famed artist approached Abrams to say hello, and much to my shock, Abrams refused to shake his hand and exchange greetings. “I don’t talk to murderers,” he shouted at Siqueras, and turned and walked away. When he had calmed down, Abrams told me about Siqueras’s role in the attempted murder of Leon Trotsky at his estate in the Coyocan suburb of Mexico City, when the painter led a group of machine-gun-toting raiders in a failed effort to kill the exiled Bolshevik.

Abrams often socialized and became friends with other exiles, despite occasionally severe political differences. He was a regular guest at Trotsky’s walled-in compound, where the two played chess and argued about Bolshevism. After his death, Trotsky’s widow presented Abrams a set of Trotsky’s favorite Mexican-made dishware as a remembrance of their solidarity and friendship—a gift which Abrams later passed on to my parents. Often in later years, I would serve cake to my Stalinist friends on these plates, and after they admired the beauty of the design and craftsmanship, I would tell them whose dishes they were eating from, and watch them turn pale.

Abrams also befriended the great painter Diego Rivera, who spent his years moving from Bolshevism to Trotskyism and back to official Soviet Communism. Despite these twists and turns, and probably because at critical moments Rivera had opposed Stalin, Abrams maintained the relationship. Once, he took me to meet the artist and watch him paint the murals—some of the last he was to create—in the Del Prado Hotel in the main part of the city. In later years, the hotel would cover the murals with curtains because of embarrassment about their anti-Catholic and revolutionary themes. Rivera gave Abrams some of his paintings, one of which Abrams gave to my parents. My mother kept it in her New York City apartment.

Abrams gave the twelve year old Radosh a copy of Franz Borkenau‘s The Spanish Cockpit, presenting the anti-Stalinist view of the Spanish revolution and civil war.

Further reading: Abrams, Jack. J. Aybrams-bukh dos lebn un shafn fun an eygnartike perzenlikhkayt. [Jack Abrams Book, The Life And Works Of A Peculiar Personality] Mexico City: Centro Cultural Israelita de Mexico, 1956. 329pp [via YAB] If anyone has this, and wants to write a guest post based on it, please get in touch!

Books/Obituaries

Stuart at New Appeal to Reason posts his books of 2011. Here are some of them. Note: the numbers are messed up here, but it seems too fiddly to change. Sorry. Read the original.

  1.  John Nichols, The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism
    Nichols has written a persuasive case that socialism is as American as apple pie.  From the forgotten radical economics of founding father Thomas Paine and the utopian socialists who founded the Republican Party to Victor Berger, the socialist Congressman from Milwaukee, who opposed WWI to Michael Harrington it is a great read.
    The subtitle is a little misleading.  Nichols leaves out some important topics that even a short history should contain: the Populist movement of the 1890s and the most successful Socialist Party of the Debs era–the Oklahoma socialists, discussed brilliantly in Jim Bissett’s Agrarian Socialism in America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920.
  2. Joe Burns, Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America
    Carl Finamore reviewed it on Talking Union
    a valuable contribution to resurrecting fundamental lessons from the neglected history of American labor.
    As the title suggests and as he emphasized to me, “the only way we can revive the labor movement is to revive a strike based on the traditional tactics of the labor movement.”But he doesn’t stop there. The author reviews for the reader the full range of tactics and strategy during the exciting, turbulent and often violent history of American labor.Refreshingly, he also provides critical assessments normally avoided by labor analysts of a whole series of union tactics that have grown enormously popular over the last several decades.
  3. Louisa Thomas Conscience Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family–a Test of Will and Faith in World War I Even though I’ve read two biographies of Norman Thomas, this book by Thomas’s great-granddaughter greatly added to my knowledge and appreciation of Thomas.

    Alan Riding’s review in the New York Times seems on the mark

    Louisa Thomas, who never knew her great-­grandfather, might well have chosen to write his biography as a way of meeting him. Instead, in her first book, “Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War I,” she has been far more daring. In fact, the lengthy subtitle is a bit misleading. Yes, Norman and his brother Evan were pacifists and their brothers Ralph and Arthur joined the Army. And yes, Evan was jailed as a conscientious objector and Ralph was wounded in the trenches. Yet the thrust of this enthralling book lies with its title: through the experience of her forebears, Thomas examines how conscience fares when society considers it subversive.

    At issue is not Norman Thomas’s socialism: it barely enters the picture because he joined the Socialist Party only a month before the end of the war. Instead, we are shown the “making” of a socialist, formed not by Marx but by the Bible.

    Also recommended is Mark Johnson’s review and interview of Louisa Thomas on the Fellowship of Reconciliation blog.

     
  4. Bruce Watson, Freedom Summer
  5. Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice  

    Two outstanding books on critical episodes in the civil rights movement: the 1961 Freedom Rides to confront the segregation of interstate bus terminals and the 1964 Freedom Summer to register  African Americans in Mississippi.  Watson is the author of an excellent book on Sacco and Vanzetti (which I have read) and one on the 1912 Bread and Roses strike. Aresensault’s book is a long one, but there  is an abridged version and a DVD of the PBS documentary based on it.

    9.   Philip Dray, There is Power in the Union

    I bought this at the bookstore at the 2011 Netroots nation and found that it lives up to its subtitle “Epic Story of Labor in America.” It is now out in paperback.    There are other recent general  histories of US labor (Mel Dubofsky’s Labor in America: A History and Nelson Lichtenstein’s 2003 State of the Union: A Century of American Labor, A.B. Chitty’s 2002 From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend, and the 2007 two-volume Who Built America).  They might be preferred by academics or labor studies professionals, but for the general reader, union activist, or occupier, There is Power in the Union is highly recommended.
    10. Barbara Clark Smith The Freedoms We Lost:Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America

    This is an eye-opening study of the real-life freedoms in revolutionary America. In a post on the History News Network, Smith brings out the huge differences between today’s Tea Party and the original. If you find that post  intriguing, you might want to check out the book.

And here are two obituaries of two we lost in 2011, from Criticism etc:

Daniel Bell, 1919-2011

Now largely forgotten, Bell was once an influential intellectual and sociologist from the milieu of those who have come to be known as the New York Intellectuals. He editedThe New Leader, the organ of the right-wing of American  social democracy, during World War II and went on to receive a PhD in sociology from Columbia University. He taught for many years at Harvard. Raya Dunayevskaya often cited his The End of Ideology (1960) as the quintessence of the false intellectual representation of the official capitalist society of the age of state capitalism, while the revolts of the time, among them Hungary and the colonial world, represented the negation of that falsification of reality. Bell contributed to  the development of the school of thought of neoconservatism, so-called, (he helped launch the journal Public Interest with William Kristol), although he did not move as far to right as many of his cohort.

• • •

Lana Peters (also known as Svetlana Alliluyeva), 1926-2011

An almost ghost-like figure from another time, Stalin’s daughter lived a peripatetic life after defecting from the USSR during the early years of the Brezhnev era. She authored several memoirs, including Twenty Letters to a Friend and Only One Year. Alliluyeva’s mother was Stalin’s second wife, Nadezhda Aliluyeva, who committed suicide in 1932. Svetlana Alliluyeva married a member of the Frank Lloyd Wright-Olgivanna Wright circle, William Peters, and had a daughter with him. Although Alliluyeva had harshly criticized the USSR after her emigration, she returned there briefly in the 1980s, but once again left it behind for England and the United States. She died in Wisconsin. The New York Times obituary features several photographs, including one of her as a child in her Young Pioneers uniform.

From the archive of struggle: student activism in the 1930s

Young People's Socialist League

Image via Wikipedia

This is another post highlighting on-line historical materials. This week, we feature two interesting on-line exhibitions on 1930s student activism in the USA. CUNY‘s Virtual New York City is a fantastic local history resource. It includes an exhibit on the struggle for free speech at CCNY. The exhibit’s perspective is basically a Stalinist fellow travelling one, in my view, but it is interesting and well put together, and has some material about the student arm of Norman Thomas‘ Socialist Party. This is from the Student Rebels section:

The Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID) is the student section of the League for Industrial Democracy, which can be traced to the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, founded in 1905 by CCNY graduate and popular writer/activist Upton Sinclair. Here, SLID members demonstrate to encourage office workers to support their union during the summer of 1935 in NYC’s garment district.

The Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) is the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party. Its main rival on campus is the Young Communist League. This flyer advertises an anti-war meeting in Harlem.

There is also a brief mention and some nice engravings of the famous “alcoves” at CCNY. Alcove no.1 was the anti-Stalinist alcove, home to Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, Daniel Bell and Irving Howe.

The New Deal Network is a web of US educational sites on the 1930s. Among its sections is one on student activism in the period. SLID features again here, with, for example, twenty-one autobiographical essays from the 1935 Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID) Summer Leadership Institute, from the Joseph P. Lash Papers at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Libary.

Arguing the WorldApt.11D on Alcove no.1; Irving Kristol’s alcove memories; orgtheory on Arguing the World; Robert Schrank’s alcove memories.

From the archive of struggle

From last week’s feast at Entdinglichung: (more…)

From the archive of struggle no.48

“I am not a champion of lost causes, but of causes not yet won.” – Norman Thomas

Norman Thomas: a vignette

This vignette of Norman Thomas appeared on Wikipedia, although unfortunately it is not encyclopedic and so has no place there. So, for the sake of posterity, and without any claim about its authenticity, I paste it here:

Norman Thomas was a family friend, I saw him every year in my youth at my godfather’s Christmas Party in NYC. In 1953 I wasn’t there and he asked my mother where I was. It was a formal time, she said Jonathan has matriculated at Princeton. He said “you know, Mrs. Murphy, I’m a Socialist – but I’m awfully glad I went to Princeton”. At another time he said that he had never changed his views, and that many of the things he advocated were in Mr. Eisenhauer’s platform.

Finally, may I add, that I sang with the Princeton Tigertones for his Fiftieth Princeton Reunion in 1955. There were but a couple of dozen of them there, but all shed a tear as we sang the old college songs of their time. Our eyes got a bit damp also. At my Fiftieth we had nearly 300, and that reflects the change of life span that has come about since his graduation – and that is in part because of men like him who dedicated themselves to promoting justice.

Mr. Thomas was a gentleman of convictions, and consistency. This writer is a conservative who doesn’t agree with all the views of Mr. Thomas – but who has the greatest respect for the man. He sought justice for all as a principle, he had no personal agenda for power. I often picture that gentle man in my thoughts, even though I’m in opposition to his politics. We shared a goal, but differed on the means to it – I wish he were here now so I could argue with him (gently), I was too young do do so when I knew him.

Snippets:

*Mark Twain on the French revolution (1898)

*Eugene Debs on immigration (1910)

*Mark Ruffalo channels Eugene Debs on war.

*May Day Song and Dance – Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1939)

New publications on radical history:

Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution by Nestor Ivanovich Makhno (Black Cat Press):

Nestor Makhno (1888-1934) was a peasant anarcho-communist who organized an experiment in anarchist values in practice in southeast Ukraine during the Russian Revolution and Civil War.
This is the second volume of his memoirs, originally published in France in 1936 and published in English here for the first time.

Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution describes Makhno’s odyssey through revolutionary Russia in the spring of 1918. Driven from his Ukrainian village by a German invasion, he wandered through a nation torn by civil war, encountered various remarkable personalities, and survived hair-raising adventures.
This volume has interested historians mainly because of Makhno’s account of his interview with Lenin, but it also contains much valuable eye-witness information about a period of Soviet history which was later almost completely rewritten in officially sanctioned accounts.
The book (214 pp.) includes the original preface and notes by Makno’s sometime colleague Vsevolod Volin together with photos, maps, glossary, explanatory notes, appendix, etc. English translation and editing by Malcolm Archibald..

Avtonom #31:

A Russian libertarian communist journal. From the English summary:

Page 56: Notes without a celebration. Pyotr Ryabov commemorates KAS (Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists) in occasion of 20th anniversary of the important but short-lived organisation, which once united vast majority
of all anarchists in the former Soviet Union.
Page 60: Thimbles of the history. Interview of historician Valery Stolov on controversial presidential commission against “falsification of history”, which echoes Soviet-era politics of politicization of historical science.

The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid:

Newish from the Kate Sharpley Library, and reviewed here.

Karl Marx: a Bibliographic and Political Biography:

Frank Thomas Walker’s magnum opus finally published. (H/t Snowball.) Excerpt 2, tantalisingly, is on Bakunin.

From the archive of struggle:

Nestor Makhno archive:

A major rehaul, with new texts in Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, English, French, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Macedonian, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian. English highlights:
*Vyacheslav Azarov: The Kronstadt Revolt – the Gulyai-Pole Connection
*Emma Goldman: Living my life (extracts)
*Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit: The Makhno Movement and Opposition within the Party
*Workers Solidarity: Leah Feldman
*Nick Heath: Piotr Arshinov; 1921: The Maslakov mutiny and the Makhnovists on the Don; Kobets: The Makhnovist playwright.
*Leon Trotsky: Secret Order No.96/s

Robert Graham:

*Errico Malatesta: Anarchy (1891)/Part II.

Anarkismo:

*Black Flag/El Compita (1982): El Movimiento Anarquista en Corea
[ALSO READ THIS INTERVIEW ON THE STORY OF ANARCHISM IN KOREA]

From the archive of struggle, no.30

Above the fold: American democratic socialists from archive.org and Russian anarchists from Libcom. Below the fold: links purloined from Ent, from assorted renegade Marxists and Third Campists. Browse the whole series here.

Archive.org:

*1905 Average Paid Membership by States, Socialist Party of America.
*Ticket of the Socialist Party of Texas, 1906.
*Socialist Party of America campaign book (1908).
*Report of the Socialist Party of the United States to the International Congress at Copenhagen, 1910 – Hillquit, Morris,; 1869-1933; Berger, Victor L.,; 1860-1929; Barnes, J. Mahlon.
*Armenian Revolutionary Federation Report in Socialist International Congress 1910.
*Report of the Hungarian Socialist Federation to the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America, May 1913.
*Patterson, Joseph Medill. The notebook of a neutral (1916).
*The congress of the labour and socialist international. (1920)
*National Convention. Socialist Labor Party. Reports, Resolutions, Platform, etc. (1921)
*Norman Thomas Socialist Party 1928 election platform.
*Proceedings of the 1962 National Convention of the Socialist Party [of America] (1962)
*Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation. Socialist platform 1960.

Libcom:

Budanov Avraam ( 1886? – 1928?1929?).

A short biography of Avraam Budanov, who fought with the Makhnovists and continued an underground struggle after the defeat of the movement.

Vdovichenko, Trofim Yakovlevich (1889-1921)

A short biography of Trofim Vdovichenko, gifted guerilla commander and one of the most heroic figures of the Makhnovist movement

Trofim Vdovichenko was born into a family of poor peasants in Novospasovka in the Ukraine. He received a primary education. From 1910 he was a member of the Novospasovka group of anarchist-communists, alongside Viktor Belash ,Vassily Kurilenko, Luca Bondarets, Filipp Goncharenko, Vladimir Protsenko and Fomenko who also all had leading roles in the Makhnovist movement later on.

(more…)

From the archive of struggle, no.29

This week, as a response to a visit from Julie Herrara, I am delighted to add the Labadie Collection to my blogroll, and to feature it here. Below the fold, much more, including Maurice Brinton, the 1946 RAF mutiny, and much more. Browse the whole series here.

The Joseph A. Labadie Collection, as its website describes it, is the oldest research collection of radical history in the United States, documenting a wide variety of international social protest movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is named for anarchist and labor organizer Joseph Antoine Labadie (1850-1933).

The website of the Colletion has a number of on-line exhibitions:  Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan: A Legacy for the Masses, Radical Responses to the Great Depression, Joseph Ishill and the Authors and Artists of the Oriole Press, The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 1968, Anarchist Images: Posters from the Labadie Collection.

Here are some of the treasures. Click on them to find yourself in the exhibition:

Among those I’ve featured here are the poster for a CNT speaker in New York, a Yiddish poster advertising Rudolf Rocker speaking about Spain, material relating to Norman Thomas and his Socialist Party, a magazine of the Marxist Workers League, and a novel by James Farrell.

(more…)

From the archive of struggle, no.28

Acknowledgments, as always, to Comrade E. Mostly English above the fold, other languages below. Browse the whole series here.

La Bataille Socialiste:

* Socialist Party of the US “Justice Triumphs in Spain” (1938)

Norman Thomas at Archive.org:

*Why I am a socialist – Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968. A pamphlet from the leading American socialist in the midst of the Great Depression HX15.
*What’s the matter with New York; a national problem – Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968
*Justice triumphs in Spain! : a letter about the trial of the P.O.U.M. – Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968. Allen, Devere,; 1891-1955. The US socialist party weighs in on the trial of the POUM leaders in Republican Spain JN8395.O27
*Democracy and Japanese Americans [pdf]. New York: Post War World Council, 1942.

Irish Labour and Working Class History:

*Robert Jackson Alexander, ‘Ireland’, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985 (1991)

Tendance Coatesy:

* Ken Coates “A Note on Workers’ Control”

LibCom:

* The Red Menace: Review: Anti-Parliamentary Communism in Britain, 1917-1945 (1989)
* Nick Heath: Anarchists who turned to the Bolsheviks
* Nick Heath: Jacob Abrams, Jacob aka Jack Abrams (1883 – 1953)
* The Communist Left in Germany 1918-1921 (1976)
* Walter Benjamin: The life of students (1915)
* James Goldwasser: Ret Marut: The Early B. Traven (1993)

Workers Liberty:

* Julius Jacobson: Reflections on Fascism and Communism (1983)

Dublin Opinion:

* John Goodwillie: Family Tree of the Irish Left (1983)
* John Goodwillie: Glossary of the Left in Ireland, 1960 to 1983 (1983)

Marxist Internet Archive:

Added to the Maurice Brinton Internet Archive:
*For Workers’ Power, 1965
*Review: What is Class Consciousness?, 1972
*Review: Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis, 1972
*The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control, 1970
*Socialism Reaffirmed, 1960
*Factory Committees and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, 1975

Added to the Barta Archive:
*Letter From Bucharest to Trotsky, May 1936

Added to the Tony Cliff Archive:
*Trotsky: 3. Fighting the rising Stalinist bureaucracy 1923-1927 (1991) (Volume 3 of Cliff’s political biography of Trotsky)
*Trotsky: 4. The darker the night the brighter the star 1927-1940 (1993) (Fourth and final volume of Cliff’s political biography of Trotsky)

The Anarchist Library:

*“Life in Revolutionary Barcelona” by Manolo Gonzalez
*“Beer and Revolution: Some Aspects of German Anarchist Culture in New York, 1880-1900” by Tom Goyens (2009)
*“Chavistas open fire, injure eight protestors in Caracas” by Peter Gelderloos (2007)
*“Dreams, Demands, and the Pragmatic Pitfall: The Barcelona Bus Drivers Strike” by Peter Gelderloos (2009)
*“Anti-patriotism” by Han Ryner (1934)

(more…)

Everything in the world archived

I have only recently discovered the infinite joy of the Internet Archive, archive.org. Here are a few examples:

Audio:

George Sossenko is an 88-year old veteran of the Spanish Civil War. At the age of 16, he left his home in France to fight against Franco’s fascists with the anarchists of the Durruti column. A dedicated, life-long anarchist, George is still an active organizer as he travels and gives lectures on this important period in revolutionary history. Here, looking back from 2008, he talks about the lessons of the war.

A lovely “chill out” version of the Spanish anarchist classic “A las barricadashere. No information on singer or trumpeter.

Here, the dull, ponderous and vastly over-rated Stalinist Paul Robeson sings the classic “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” to a Scottish miners’ benefit after the war.

Vastly superior is this, Harry McClintock (aka Haywire Mac, of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” fame) singing his Wobbly anthem “Hallelujah! I’m A Bum” in 1926.

Video:

The Archive of the Anonymous Narrated Image curates here some ordinary people’s family photos from the Spanish Civil War.

Books:

Here, via the National Yiddish Book Center is a reproduction of Rudolf Rocker’s memoirs in Yiddish, published in Argentina in the 1970s.

Here are the proceedings of the 1966 Socialist Party USA convention. Delegates included Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, David McReynolds, Joshua Murachivik, Max Shachtman and Erich Fromm.

[From the archive of struggle, no.15]

Uses and abuses: George Orwell and Norman Thomas

Following Terry Glavin (linked here) and the Fat Man (linked here), Rosie Bell has a really good response to Julian Barnes’ recent NYRB George Orwell essay. Among other things, like the Fat Man she addresses his appeal to libertarians and conservatives of various sorts.

An example of the appropriation of Orwell by the right comes from this post at an American anti-Obama blog. The post is entitled “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” This, of course, is the opening passage from Orwell’s amazing novel 1984. Compelling graphics show a Soviet American flag and Obama as Big Brother. Of course, it is a serious abuse of the concept of totalitarianism to think of Obama’s mild reforms as totalitarianism: there is no similarity between what Orwell observed the Soviet dictatorship doing and what Obama is doing.

Along with another quote from Orwell is this “quote” from Norman Thomas:

thomas“The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of liberalism, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”

Norman Thomas, Socialist leader, 1944

This Thomas quote is, I am fairly sure, a fabrication. If you google it, the hits all come from right-wing sites: over 54,000 hits. Malicious editors, usually anonymous, attempt to write it into Thomas’ wikipedia article, from which it is quoted by lazy bloggers as if everything in wikipedia is a fact (e.g. Standing on Truth, Moose Tracks, DaveGJ, and (slightly more intelligently) Kempite - to list those who have added to the myth this week alone).

A query at the talk page for Thomas’ wikipedia article has a response from Jim Miller, a university librarian, suggesting that the origin is a distortion of a comment made by Upton Sinclair to Norman Thomas:

We can build evidence for the possibility, or questionability, of this by looking at other people’s efforts to find it – for example, books.google.com search: liberalism socialism “norman thomas” gets 84 hits, including Lou Cannon. Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power. PublicAffairs, 2003. ISBN: 1586480308. (F866.4.R43 C36 2003 in most academic libraries; in 979.4… or BIO section of most public libraries). On page 125, Cannon says [of Reagan] …”a favorite line was this supposed prediction of Norman Thomas…”, and “This is a suspect quotation, and Reagan gave no reference for it”. Cannon also says in a note “If Thomas said this, I have been unable to find evidence of it….”

Naturally, a thorough researcher would try to find many other such books, from people of various political bents, to build a case that such a quote is either probable, possible, or unlikely. One would think such a striking quote would make it into biographies of Thomas; try the tables of contents and indexes for “Liberalism”, etc. Even statements from social and political historians (who claim to have looked for such a quote) can help build a case for or against it.

But it IS a good example of how even a false quote can take on a life of its own, because it shows how hard it is to prove a person did NOT say something – even if a “grand champion” history reference expert DOES end up finding this particular quote somewhere in unpublished Norman Thomas correspondence.”*

The right uses this fabricated “quote” to substantiate a double lie: that American liberalism is somehow socialism in disguise, and that socialism is by definition a form of totalitarianism or tyranny. The fact that Norman Thomas was a democratic socialist, who fought hard against all forms of totalitarianism or tyranny, not least the Soviet dictatorship, is utterly lost on them. The fact that American liberalism has, at most, called for mild forms of state regulation and never for any kind of socialisation of the economy is also, of course, lost on them.

*Footnote: Thanks to Bilber and Kathy for link to hoax-sniffers Snopes who are still “undecided” on the authenticity of this quote.

Change is gonna come

Max Shachtman

And, from the comments thread, a link to an mp3 of Max debating Norman Thomas from the 1950s.

Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 5:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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