Ted Grant, best or worst of a bad bunch?

Phil writes:

What can you say about the three key figures of British post-war Trotskyism? Gerry Healy was a hyperactive pseud with a penchant for thuggery, rape and doing dodgy deals with unsavoury Arab regimes. Tony Cliff was flighty, excitable and an inveterate bandwagon chaser – qualities he imparted to the Socialist Workers Party. And there is Ted Grant. Founder of the Militant Tendency and with a reputation for super seriousness, of all of Trotsky’s British progeny it was he who came closest to disturbing the sleep of the great and the good. But for all that, it’s the repulsive Healy and the Mercurial Cliff who are most often recalled and discussed among the tiny circles of people who care about such things. Poor old Ted, the longest lived and most successful of them all merits nary a mention. Perhaps not recruiting enough celebrities or future Guardian journalists has something to do with it.

READ THE REST…

Socialist Wanker

Digesting some of the material about the collapse of the British SWP. Here are some of the links that are relevant beyond UK sectariana but of interest to those interested in Marxist theory and Trotskyist history more broadly. For those interested in the gory details, go to Jim Jepps’ ever-growing link list, from which a couple of the items below are pilfered, or to Mikey’s tabloid version. Apologies this is so un-chronological, with stuff from January through to April.

Leninism, vanguardism, party democracy, activist culture:

Theorising Marxism and feminism:

Tony Cliff, founding figure of the British Int...

Tony Cliff, founding figure of the British International Socialists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “IS tradition”:

The radical movement in Britain

Historical Materialism journal:

From the archive of struggle no.75: anti-Stalinist Leninism in the 1930s (MIA special)

It’s months now since I’ve looked through the Marxist Internet Archive. Since I’ve last been there, loads of really good stuff is up. The below is just from November and December last year, and it covers a period from ca.1930 to ca.1940 which was pivotal in the development of the anti-Stalinist left.

The material here focuses on three overlapping currents in this anti-Stalinist left. The first is the POUM, the Spanish party whose name this blog’s is taken from, who fused the “left” and “right” opposition in Spain to the official Stalinist Communist party, to form a democratic mass movement of radical socialism, before being liquidated by the Stalinists in during the Spanish Civil War.

The second is the Trotskyist movement, Communism’s “left” opposition. While Trotsky supplied much of the intellectual justification for Stalin’s brutal misrule in the Soviet Union, his sharp critique of the degeneration of the Stalinist state made him a criminal in the dictatorship. His followers have formed one of the main planks of anti-Stalinist socialism globally. The material below focuses mainly on American Trotskyists, but particularly those who developed beyond the rigid and damaging orthodoxies of “official” Trotskyism.

Parallel to Trotsky’s Left Opposition, the Right Opposition called for a more democratic path to socialism, and was bitterly excluded from the Communist movement. Unlike Trotksyism, it leaves little organisational trace today, and so its history remains more deeply buried.

In the period from 1930 to 1940, these currents moved from composing a dissatisfied internal dissident streak within Stalinism, to a fully developed critical analysis of Stalinism. From 1940 to 1950, they several different interesting directions forward, some positively, others less so. Between them (along with anarchist, democratic socialist and left communist currents not represented here), they constitute a significant part of the heritage of anti-Stalinism that continues to be relevant to thinking about the task of reforging a radical movement today.

The POUM

Added to the Spanish-language Archivo Andreu Nin and English-language Andrés Nin Archive:

The Catalan Andreu (or Andres in Spanish) Nin i Pérez was a left dissident in the Communist Party, forming a left opposition group Communist Left of Spain (ICE), which merged with the Right Opposition party Bloque Obrero y Campesino, to form the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) in 1935.

Added to the new Julián Gorkin Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL): (more…)

Less than usual

Stefan Collini on Adam Kirsch on Lionel Trilling. HarpyMarx on Mandy Mudd. Dave Osler on Ian Birchall on Tony CliffChris Strafford on “21st century Marxism” the Morning Star-sponsored meeting of nationalists, anti-Semites, and homophobes. Ben Lewis on historical materialism. German material on Rudolf Rocker here and here.

Forcing people to fall in love with the colour of life

Principia Dialectica: Juan Miro: 

Still Life with Old Shoe by Juan Miro, 1937

The big show of Spanish Surrealist Juan Miro’s life’s work at London’s Tate Modern art gallery is such an exciting exhibition anyone visiting might need a stiff glass of fizzy wine in the ninth floor bar before they descend to soak up the energy on display. The exhibition is hugely popular – which leaves you with a sense of both frustration and exhileration as you walk around – too many people! But, at the same time – so many people! How exciting it is to be alive at a time when so many people are receptive to the ideas that Juan and his fellow Surrealists were engaged in helping to create and spread in the 1920s and 1930s. [READ THE REST]

Also from Principia Dialectica: A report on Marxism 2011; Doug Henwood on the irrelevance of Leninism.

The smallest mass party in the world: An interview with Ian Birchall on Tony Cliff. (And a footnote from Andrew Coates, on an appalling article on Puerto Rico.)

Music: from Super Sonido:

It’s kind of a sad thing that the Gypsy Kings had to put crossover gypsy rock on the global map. It’s not that their music is all that bad – but every time I go to a mediocre Italian restaurant, much to my chagrin, I’m subjected to their music playing in the background. I’ve even heard Bandolero blaring out of a lime green convertible Mustang once. Oh lord.

Before all that, there was a true king of this genre: Peret – the Spanish Romaní singer, guitarist and composer, who was pretty much the embassador of the Catalan Rumbasound. If you are interested in this music please do check out the articles Soul-Sides has about Peret and Los Amaya (O-dub always has the finger on the pulse). What I wanted to add was that I found this in the KRMX lot of 45′s I have. So even though Peretis Spanish, his music was still heard in Latin America, although I am not quite sure what impact it had, if any. Either way, two really solid tunes from El Rey de La Rumba Catalana. Enjoy!

1. Peret: A Mi Las Mujers, Ni Fu Ni Fa

2. Peret: Lo Mato

Published in: on July 7, 2011 at 2:01 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:

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…)

Poumismic

Egypt and Tunisia, what is to be done?

Boffy: on Bonapartism and permanent revolution.

Bob: on the carnation revolution, the jasmine revolution, and Marx’s love of flowers.

Johnny Guitar: on some of the scum (Hosni Mubarak…) allowed in the Socialist International these days, and on its belated rectification.

From the archive: Tony Cliff on the Middle East at the crossroads (1945), John Rees on the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution (1989).

Dorothy Thompson, z”l:

Entdinglichung, Sheila Rowbotham, Shiraz Socialist.

Also:

Michael Weiss: on Julian Assange as Bakunin with a MacBook.

Owen Jones, in the spirit of Keir Hardie: the left needs to watch its language.

Andrew Coates, in the spirit of Robert Tressel and Oscar Wilde: Big Society goes bang.

Nick Cohen: on disgusting old Stalinist Eric Hobsbawm and his How to Change the World.

Ron Radosh: commie Camp Kinderland still exists.

Jim Denham: on Norman Geras’ Marxism.

HiM@N: on the death of Rosie the Riveter.

Globalise the jasmine revolution: some notes from history and theory

The social revolution of the 21st century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase.

Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day – but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [cat’s wail] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the 21st century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
[Here is the rose, here dance!]

–Karl Marx The Eighteenth Brumaire of Hosni Mubarak [with two or three words changed]

Egypt was the home of the first recorded labour strike in history, a wildcat stoppage of craftsmen in the tombs of the pharoahs. Like the current unrest, it was partly a struggle over hunger.

A contemporary document recounting the first ever recorded labour strike, which occured in Deir el Medina, Ancient Egypt during the reign of Ramses III when workers did not receive their rations.

The stoppage occurred in the 12th century BC, on the 21st day of the second month in the 29th year of the reign of the pharaoh Ramses III, while Ramses was fighting a series of wars and engaging in an extensive building campaign.

The strikers were hereditary craftsmen who worked on the tombs of the pharaohs, the vast complexes that to this day draw visitors from all over the world to the Valley of the Kings.

This papyrus was written by the scribe Amennakhte at Deir el Medina. It describes the workers’ struggle, and the corruption which had spread throughout the administration.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 10
On this day the crew passed the five guard-posts of the tomb saying: “We are hungry, for 18 days have already elapsed in this month;” and they sat down at the rear of the temple of Menkheperre.

In the twentieth century, there was considerable class struggle, both rural and urban, in Egypt. This, from 1935, is from the first published article by the young Tony Cliff (Yigael Gluckstein as he was then), a teenage Trotskyist in Hashomer Hatzair in Palestine, writing in (I think) a Kibbutz Artzi journal, Ha-Mesheq Ha-Shittufi [The Cooperative Economy]:

The appalling pauperization of the masses of workers and peasants in Egypt and the exacerbation of class tensions are manifested very clearly in the spontaneous eruptions of the masses. The bitterness pent up in them erupts fruitlessly, as all these eruptions and insurrections are unplanned and are not guided by a proletarian leadership able to convert the destructive force of rebellion into the creative power of socialist construction. The recurrent eruptions of the agricultural masses are evidence of the point that Egypt’s social tension have reached, as well as of how far the objective conditions for liberation of the masses have ripened, and of the absence so far of a force that would undertake the realization of this endeavour. The outbursts of rebellion that pent up within the masses are of various degrees and kinds: from setting fire to the feudal landlord’s granary, murdering the “umara” (the local village sheikhs who are agents of the banks, the trading companies, the estate owners and the government), murdering policemen and soldiers, to attempts at an agrarian reform. For the time being, the class struggle of the masses is in its lower stages. The number of granary arson cases in 1928–29 was 5,760, in 1929–30 – 6,700, and in 1931 – 7,820. The incidence of “umara” murders in 1931 was 744, in 1932 – 711, and in 1933 – 752.

Clearly, the struggle will be long and much blood will be spilt until the toiling masses recognize the way by which alone will come the full abolition of the conditions that oppress them.

The centrality of bread and hunger to Egypt’s history of militancy continued through the 20th century. 1977 saw the “bread intifada”, uprisings against Sadat’s government. The prequel to that moment was told in 1976 by Phil Marfleet in the SWP’s International Socialism and again in IS (by Phil again?) in March 1977. The article is written in the vein of the IS’s Third Campism, its utter rejection of Stalinism and authoritarian Third Worldism – rather sad, given their courting of those things in more recent years.

***

Egypt has also been a centre of the libertarian socialist movement for as long as many parts of Europe, with Errico Malatesta being based in Alexandria for some time, and a thriving Greek and Italian anarchist workers movement, as described in this article.

A very little known chapter in the history of struggle in North Africa is the number of veterans of the Spanish Civil War who found their way to the Maghreb, including to Tunis. This article by Nick Heath is a thumbnail sketch of one such, anarchist Giuseppe Pasotti who died in Tunis in 1951.

***

One of the great dangers of the current uprisings is that bourgeois nationalism, as we used to call it, and, even worse, political Islam, will emerge as the most significant forces in the revolution, and turn on the emancipatory forces. This is an old dialectic in the class struggle in the Middle East. An article from the ortho-Trotskyist Fourth International from 1946 by J Damien (possibly the pen-name of Spanish ex-POUM militant Sebastian Garcia?) captures this very well:

What is the Moslem Brotherhood? It is the most backward organization in Egypt. It is supposed to group together about 300,000 disillusioned, very fanatical petty-bourgeois. It has no program except to overthrow the Constitution and replace it with the Koran. It has no political experience so that, for the time being, it can be maneuvered by the Court’s agents. The American and the Russian propagandists in the Middle East have shown great interest in the Moslem Brotherhood and seem to consider it as a possible winning horse. The Russians have made a fuss of their Islamic policy in their Moslem Republics. But there are no indications for the moment that the youth and the proletariat are ready to follow the MB, which is definitely too backward even for the British. Apparently the MB will be used as a sort of pending menace and instrument of blackmail in the hands of the Court’s politicians. Whether it will free itself from such hands or not is a question that cannot be answered now.

The forces of the left are in the making. Since 1940 the Socialist idea has been successfully infused into the proletariat. One advantage of the situation is that there is no such thing as a social-democratic party in Egypt. Trotskyism and Stalinism face each other without intermediate parties. Numerically the Stalinists are stronger, but extraordinary as it may seem, they are not united. There are three Stalinist movements, one of them on the verge of an open split with Stalinism (the Trotskyists have repeatedly offered the Stalinists to form a “Left Front” against the Moslem Brotherhood and the imperialists). A regrouping of the forces of the Left – one of the Stalinist groups detaching itself and collaborating with the Trotskyists – is not excluded for the near future.

The task of the Left in Egypt is immense. Its cadres are still tiny. Even if the Left is too weak to guide the Egyptian workers to victory within the next few years, it is already strong enough to shake the actual instruments of the people’s servitude; religious prejudice and political ignorance.

It is tragic that this clarity of vision from the left has failed so profoundly in the intervening years, with the cult of “national self-determination” and “anti-imperialism”, and more recently “anti-Zionism” taking its place.

***

Of interest in relation to some of the above: the SWP’s Duncan Hallas on his experiences in Egypt after WWII.

Also:

Via BfB: Egypt: Centre for Trade Union & Workers Services: The labour movement is in the heart and soul of the Egyptian revolution. Mohammed Ezzeldin on the roots of the revolutionary movement. Atef Said on Egypt’s long labour history. Juan Cole: Egypt’s class conflict. Stroppy: women of Egypt 12. Tom Streithorst: Hobbes vs Kropotkin on the streets of Cairo. Tunisia: Andrew Coates: why was Ben Ali’s party in the Socialist International?

Images via Stroppy.
Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm  Comments (9)  
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Belated

I can’t believe I missed the death of the talented singer songwriter Llasa de Sela age just 37 at the start of 2010. See Roland/Jams.

And some late additions to my Colin Ward obituaries: from Peter Marshall, author of Demanding the Impossible, from Critical Chatting, and from Robert Graham.

And one more for Michael Foot – the JC with a Jewish angle.

And two more obituaries, via Histomatist: The new issue of Socialist Review has a short article on the founder of the International Socialist TendencyTony Cliff (1917-2000) by Ian Birchall – at work on a forthcoming biography of this critically important twentieth-century revolutionary Marxist thinker. See also Sabby Sagall on the British actor and revolutionary socialist [sic] Corin Redgrave (1939-2010).

Talking of mourning (not that we’re mourning Redgrave), the New Centrist: “Pray for the twenty-nine West Virginia miners who lost their lives and their families. Then get active. Amending Joe Hill’s famous phrase, don’t only mourn, organize.”

Max Dunbar: All shall have prizes. On the Orwell Prize, Stephen Mitchelmore, Nick Cohen, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and George Orwell’s anti-pacifism. Related, did Christopher Hitchens read the SWP’s John Molyneux and blogger Snowball after reading Animal Farm?

Principia D: Eric Hobsbawm: The Marxist who never read Marx. (“Not judging by this survey of Post-war Italy, anyway. “) More on this in a future post, maybe.

From January, Kathedar Blog with two very good interrelated posts: on Alex Callinicos on imperialism and on Marx and the dialectic.

AF: Steps towards re-emergence of anarchism in Cuba. See also here.

Jamie Bartlett: Politics and the English language 2.0.

Continuing our anarchism vs Marxism discussion, these lapidary posts from Lady Poverty are well worth your time: Marx and Foucault; A note about Marx and FoucaultThe point, as it relates to Holden Caulfield and Karl Marx; Marxism vs. identity anarchism. And here, very much less to my taste, is a contribution from a Maoist: Anarchism or revolutionary Marxism? by Arindam Sen of the CPI(ML).

Also chronically belated: New Statesman: Jonathan Derbyshire interviews Terry Eagleton on nostalgia for 1970s socialism.

And some considerable time after Michael Foot’s death, this from Brian Brivati: Foot and Nye Bevan.

Wobbling around the world: a socialist belatedly discovers the IWW.

On Maoism: Richard Wolin remembers the Maoist 1960s, and Apoorvanand analyses Maoism in India, as does Dilip Simeon.

Wolin and Brivati come from Arguing The World, the now not quite brand new trans-Atlantic blog at Dissent. Here is one more from that: Alan Johnson: Žižek or Bobbio? (The blog title is familiar to me from the PBS documentary about the New York intellectuals I link to over to the right – I ought to know whose being quoted: Irving Howe?)

I meant to link to this article on William Morris discovering socialism in Iceland when it came out, then forgot, but was prompted after noticing it at Histomatist – seems kind of timelier now, as Morris would no doubt be enjoying the effects of the volcano on the global tourism and agri-industries.

Finally, how can I post these days without mentioning Hugo Chavez? This is from the Venezuelan anarchist journal El Libertario: Venezuela: the myth of “Eco-socialism of the XXI Century” The author is Professor and Researcher at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas. This contribution is the revised excerpt from a longer article appeared in Spanish in the Journal of Economics and Social Sciences (FACES-UCV) entitled “XXI Century Eco-socialism and Bolivarian Development Model: the myths of environmental sustainability and participatory democracy in Venezuela “, 2009, vol. 15, No. 1, pp.187-223 

From the archive of struggle no.47

Independent Labour Party

La Brigada with timely blast from the past: Mr Asquith versus Labourism 1895.

New Left Review

I’m not sure if I already linked to Stefan Collini’s piece in The Guardian on NLR at 50, an exceptional piece of writing in the noughties Grauniad. A piece with a similar slant, by Nikal Saval, appeared in n+1 magazine. Here’s our occasional contributor Michael Ezra reminding us of a less glorious moment in the NLR‘s history.

Ramparts

Comrade Ezra again, from David Horowitz’s old redoubt, Ramparts.

Class War

And here’s Michael again, with extracts from Bash The Rich: True-Life Confessions of an Anarchist in the UK.

Socialist Workers Party

Mark Perryman in 1995 on Tony Cliff and his cult. (Yes, Michael again.)

Herblock

On a great anti-communist cartoonist. (Not Michael.)

Below the fold: selected highlights from the Marxists Internet Archive and Entdinglichung’s Sozialistika: (more…)

From the archive of struggle no.45

In my last post in this series, I did not include anything from the Marxist Internet Archive, which has had a huge amount of interesting material added to it since I last looked. You’ll find a selection below the fold, but first some other archival links.

Via Espace contre ciment, I have found a few sites I don’t think I’ve seen before, which I have or am adding to the blogroll.

Barataria: Situationism in French from Belgium. Recently added: some picture of the Mexican revolution: Exécution d’un officier fédéral; Barricade; Armes saisies aux troupes fédérales; American Insurrectos.

Patlotch! Free texts, regularly added to, mostly French.

Les Gimenologues: On some partisans of the Spanish war, mainly in French. Recent books include:

JPEG - 56.3 ko JPEG - 31.6 ko

If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger,There’d Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats: Extraordinary blog, trawling through the visual detritus of American modernity. Here are some fragments:

They Were Collaborators #634


Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin

Seminal Image #994


La Mort en ce jardin
(Death in the Garden)
(Luis Buñuel; 1956)

This Sporting Life #16


Jesse Owens lands the Gold Medal in the long jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Ofenschlot: A German language blog which excavates the web for texts which help to explode capitalism. For English-speaking readers, this post links through to a pdf of a 1980 Marxism Today review of the important but neglected marxist economic theorist Bob Rowthorn.

From the Marxist Internet Archive: (more…)

Marxist theory 2

From The Commune:

From Workers Liberty:

Sketchy Thoughts:

Notes and Commentaries:

Links:

Marxist Theory 1 here.

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…)

Partisans and parasites

Rokhl Kafrissen on Yiddish folky Daniel Kahn. Extract:

His original songs evoke a Brechtian level of discomfort by problematizing heroes and making the grotesque sympathetic. For example, “Six Million Germans/Nakam” recounts the story of the hero of the Vilnius (known in Yiddish as Vilna) partisans, Abba Kovner, who was among the brave men and women who fought, with few weapons and terrible odds, against the Nazis and their collaborators. Less discussed is Kovner’s decision, with a group of friends, to take revenge on the Germans after the war. Calling themselves Nakam (revenge), they concocted a plan to poison German water supplies and take millions of German victims in retribution. The song, performed as an upbeat klezmer polka, jarringly juxtaposes subject and tone to bring up two of Kahn’s favorite themes, violence and revenge, and forces the listener to question the nature of heroism and justice.

Via Will, who provides some audio-visuals. Here Rokhl’s blog. Here’s Jewish Currents, where she writes. Here’s Daniel’s webpage, and his MySpace.

Also:

Ken Loach: I love many of Loach’s films. But I have started to despise the man. Why? Ask Rosie, Alex Massie, Alec or Martin.

From the archive of struggle. no.16: At the risk of descending into some kind of ever-decreasing spiral of circularity, big thanks to  entdinglichung, who thanks me in the latest in the excellent series of archival material from the history of the left. Included in this installment is more Karl Korsch from Class Against Class, Pierre Monatte in English from LBS, Sean Matgamna on Tony Cliff and the IS/SWP from back in 1969, a still anarchist Victor Serge in 1912 on banditry, and a homage to Marc Bloch, French anti-Nazi Resistance hero, by Georges Altman, founder of the “third force” socialist Rassemblement démocratique révolutionnaire.

Snippets: Dave O and Entdinglichung on the passing of Guillermo Lora, leader of Bolivia’s Partido Obrero Revolucionaria, one of the few Trotskyist organisations in history ever to gain a mass following. And Dave on why now is not the 1930s. Lefty parent in the basement of the library with Bakunin. More snippets from Roland and Bob. Soundtrack from Martin.

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