Miscellany

Criticism etc

I have added a rss feed for Criticism etc down at the bottom right, as I find myself wanting to re-post almost everything there. Here are some recent items.

Retrospective Review: Paul Buhle’s Marxism in the United States

Marxism in the United States: Remapping the History of the American Left by Paul Buhle Verso, 1991 (revised edition; original edition 1987)

Buhle’s book undertakes the formidable task of presenting a concise history of the experience of American Marxism, from its arrival with the German émigrés of 1848 to the Ronald Reagan era. He is strongest in his interpretation of the often contention-fraught relationship between the radicalism of the native-born socialists and that of the many immigrant communities that played such an important role in the history of the U.S. nineteenth and early twentieth-century left. Buhle’s signal concern is culture, specifically popular culture, and it tends to subsume almost all other elements here, including philosophical debates (admittedly, not a strong point in American Marxism). The survey of classroom Marxist debates in the book’s final chapter hasn’t aged well, although, as far as academic prominence goes, Buhle was certainly vindicated in the focus he placed on Frederic JamesonCriticism &c. highly recommends.

The Digital MEGA

The latest issue of Socialism and Democracy includes an update on the progress of the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe project, the international scholarly effort to publish all of the works of Marx in the languages in which they were written. The author, Gerd Callesen, is a Danish librarian and editorial participant in the project. While the expensive volumes in the series are not intended for use by the average person interested in Marx (and shrinking academic library budgets mean that few students may even have a chance to use them), some volumes in the series are being made freely available on the web. Criticism &c. provides here an excerpt from the article focusing on the MEGA’s digital portion and some concluding paragraphs on the future of the project.

An Excerpt from Charles Denby’s Indignant Heart

Libcom.org has made available three chapters from Indignant Heart: a Black Worker’s Journal by Charles Denby. Denby, an African-American auto worker and revolutionary, was a member of the Johnson-Forest Tendency and became one of the founding members of News and Letters Committees in 1955. Indignant Heart (the title comes from a quote by Abolitionist Wendall Phillips) was originally published by the JFT in 1952 and attributed to the pseudonym Matthew Ward. Denby, whose real name was Simon Owens, greatly expanded the book in a new edition published by South End Press in 1978. Wayne State University Press published this edition in 1989 with an introduction by William H. Harris, an historian of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

The chapters selected by Libcom are the final three from the 1952 edition. Note the episode in Chapter 15 in which Denby—at a public meeting—asks novelist and CP member Howard Fast, “What is the relationship of the Russian workers to production?”

Another Comment on Charles Denby’s Indignant Heart

Among the chapters of Indignant Heart recently made available by Libcom, Chapter 16 (“The Trotskyist Party”) is extremely important for its depiction of the strong current of racism that pervaded the Marxist parties, an under-acknowledged aspect of the history of the U.S. left. It’s not possible to discern any difference between the attitudes Denby faced every day from S.W.P. members and the racism prevalent in the larger society of the time. On the theoretical level, Denby exposes the fact that the Trotskyists did not even have an official party position on question of racial oppression in U.S. society. The unidentified speaker at the 1948 convention was, of course, C.L.R. James (the Johnson-Forest Tendency had rejoined the S.W.P. the previous year). The resolution put forth at the convention, the Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Question in the U.S., was published in Fourth International in December 1948 (under the byline J. Meyer). A revised version adopted by the party in 1950 (“Negro Liberation Through Revolutionary Socialism“) appears in Fourth International, May-June 1950. Both texts are available in the Marxists Internet Archive.

A preview excerpt from the Wayne State University edition of Indignant Heart is available at Google Books.

Also:

Both Libcom (see above) and the AWL have published some material relating to Victor Serge recently. The former has published his Year 1 of the revolution. In the latter, Paul Hampton wrote on Victor Serge and Kronstadt in January, with replies by Martyn Hudson and others, followed by Martyn Hudson again, followed by the publication of a first and second instalment of Karl Radek’s view. Meanwhile, Serge’s great memoirs are due to be re-published in April:

Memoirs of a Revolutionary
By Victor Serge
Translated by Peter Sedgwick
April 2012

Victor Serge is one of the great men of the twentieth century, anarchist, revolutionary, agitator, theoretician, historian of his times, and a fearless truthteller. Here Serge describes his upbringing in Belgium, the child of a family of exiled Russian revolutionary intellectuals, his early life as an activist, his time in a French prison, the active role he played in the Russian Revolution, as well his growing dismay at the Revolutionary regime’s ever more repressive and murderous character. Expelled from the Soviet Union, Serge went to Paris, and barely escaped the Nazis to find a final refuge in Mexico. Memoirs of a Revolutionary describes a thrilling life on the frontlines of history and includes brilliant portraits of politicians from Trotsky and Lenin to Stalin and of major writers like Alexander Blok and Andrey Bely. Above all, it captures the sensibility of Serge himself, that of a courageous and singularly appealing advocate of human liberation who remained undaunted in the most trying of times.

Peter Sedgwick’s fine translation of Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary was cut by a fifth when it was first published in 1963. This new edition is the first in English to present the entirety of Serge’s book.

Read Richard Greeman here on the current dissent in Russia. James B on the Falklands or the Malvinas. And finally: Ron Radosh on Oliver Stone’s Stalinist history of America.

Leon Trotksy

If our generation happens to be too weak to establish socialism over the earth, we will hand the spotless banner down to our children. The struggle which is in the offing transcends by far the importance of individuals, factions, and parties. It is the struggle for the future of all mankind. It will be severe. It will be lengthy. Whoever seeks physical comfort and spiritual calm, let him step aside. In time of reaction it is more convenient to lean on the bureaucracy than on the truth. But all those for whom the word socialism is not a hollow sound but the content of their moral life – forward! Neither threats, nor persecutions, nor violations can stop us! Be it even over our bleaching bones, the truth will triumph! We will blaze the trail for it. It will conquer! Under all the severe blows of fate, I shall be happy, as in the best days of my youth! Because, my friends, the highest human happiness is not the exploitation of the present but the preparation of the future. – Leon Trotsky “I stake my life” 1937 (to the Dewey Commission – see video below)

I managed to totally miss the 70th anniversary of Leon Trotsky’s death last week, even though it has been on mind to post about it, having just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s superb The Lacuna.

George Orwell noted this in his diary on the 22nd:

The Beaverbrook press, compared with the headlines I saw on other papers, seems to be playing down the suggestion that Trotsky’s murder was carried out by the G.P.U[1]. In fact today’s Evening Standard, with several separate items about Trotsky, didn’t mention this suggestion. No doubt they still have their eye on Russia and want to placate the Russians at all costs, in spite of Low’s cartoons[2]. But under this there may lie a much subtler manoeuvre. The men responsible for the Standard’s present pro-Russian policy are no doubt shrewd enough to know that a Popular Front “line” is not really the way to secure a Russian alliance. But they also know that the mass of leftish opinion in England still takes it for granted that a full anti-fascist policy is the way to line up Russia on our side. To crack up Russia is therefore a way of pushing public opinion leftward. It is curious that I always attribute these devious motives to other people, being anything but cunning myself and finding it hard to use indirect methods even when I see the need for them.

Rustbelt Radical published one of Trotsky’s most moving pieces of writing, “It was they who killed him“, his obituary for his son Leon Sedov, murdered by the  GPU in late 1938.

Also read: Daisy Valera: Trotsky as taught in Castro’s Cuba; Robert S Wistrich: Trotsky’s Jewish question; Liam Mac on Russia TVPermanent Revolution: on the assassination; Alex Snowdon: The Lessons of Trotsky; Ted Sprague: another assassination attempt; Libertarian communist criticisms of TrotskyCultureWares: the icon’s aftermath (from which most this post’s images are stolen, in an act of proletarian expropriation, apart from the one of the stamp, which is from here).

On this day, 1921: The Kronstadt Programme

On February 28 1921, in response to the growing authoritarianism of the Bolshevik regime, the Kronstadt sailors raised their 15 demands. By March 19, the Red Army had defeated the uprising, drowning it in a sea of blood, and in doing so defeated the last hope for a genuine revolution.


The Red Army takes Kronstadt, March 1921.

Image from Locust St.

Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Nestor Makhno at 121

Nestor Makhno was born today in 1888.

Nestor Makhno

In office
January 5, 1919 – August 28, 1921

Born October 26 (November 8), 1888
Flag of Russia.svg Huliaipole, Russian Empire (today Ukraine)
Died July 6, 1934
Flag of France.svg Paris, France
Nationality Black flag.svg Free Territory
Political party Anarchist communism
Spouse(s) Agafya Kuzmenko
Children Yelena
Occupation Anarcho-communist revolutionary, painter, stagehand
Religion Atheist

For further reading, go to the Nestor Makhno Archive, and also the Kate Sharpley Library:

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. ).

On this day: 31 July 1937- NKVD operative order 00447

NKVD operative order 00447 «Об операции по репрессированию бывших кулаков, уголовников и других антисоветских элементов» (The operation for repression of former kulaks, criminals and other anti-Soviet elements) is approved by the Politburo. Originally the operation was planned for four months; the plan was for 75,950 people to be executed and an additional 193,000 to be sent to the GULAG. The operation was extended multiple times. Altogether, through the summer of 1938, at least 818,000 people were arrested and not less than 436,000 were executed.

To execute this order, NKVD troikas were created on the levels of republic, krai, and oblast. Investigation was to be performed by operative groups “in a speedy and simplified way”, the results were to be delivered to troikas for trials.

The chairman of a troika was the chief of the corresponding territorial subdivision of NKVD ( People’s Commissar of a republican NKVD, etc.). Usually a troika included the prosecutor of the republic/krai/oblast in question; if not, he was allowed to be present at the session of a troika. The third person was usually the Communist Party secretary of the corresponding regional level. The staff of these troikas were personally specified in the Order # 00447.

Protocols of a troika session were passed to the corresponding operative group for executions of sentences. Times and places of executions of death sentences were ordered to be held in secret.

The same order instructed to classify kulaks and other anti-Soviet elements into two categories: the First category of repressed was subject to death by shooting, the Second category was subject to labor camps. The order set upper quotas per territory and category. For example Byelorussian SSR was estimated to have 2,000 (1st cat.) + 10,000 (2nd cat.) = 12,000 anti-Soviet elements. It was specifically stressed that quotas were estimates and could not be exceeded without personal approval of Yezhov. But in practice this approval was easy to obtain, and eventually these initial quotas were exceeded by orders of magnitude. For example, in September 1937, the Dagestan obkom requested the increase of the First Category from 600 to 1,200; the request was granted the next day.

After this Order, the terms First/Second Category became standard abbreviations in NKVD documentation for “the highest measure of punishment” and “placing into corrective labor camps”, respectively.

The implimentation was swift. Already by August 15, 1937, 101,000 was arrested and 14,000 convicted.

Sources: 1, 2.

¶ Related: I recently found an interesting document on Archive.org: the memoirs of Valentín González, “El Campesino”, Spanish Republican guerrilla fighter who spent years in a Soviet labour camp at Vorkuta. The memoirs were written in France with the help of Poumista Julian Gorkin.

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 3:56 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

More notes

Bloggery/Anti-Stalinism: A wonderful photo of Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera and Andre Breton in Mexico. Standing with Trotsky’s victims at Kronstadt. Dovid Katz: Prague’s Declaration of Disgrace, on the purported moral equivalence between fascism and Stalinism. Michael Lind: “neoconservatism looks less like Wilsonianism than like Trotskyism-Trumanism”.

Bloggery/Orwellia: Ken McLeod on Jura, discussing surveillance. Orwell’s 1984 and the Fabians. Ken Loach locks out George Orwell. Ken Loach as the Ken Barlow of film. Better than Loach: Kevin Spacey and Homage to Catalonia. The misapprorpiation of Orwell by the free market right.

History: AWL narrates its pre-history in British Trotskyism from the 1940s to the 1960s. Socialist and anti-Stalinist songs of the 1950s by by Joe Glazer and Bill Friedland and others.

Below the fold: From the archive of struggle, no.18:  (more…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 201 other followers