Female Revolutionaries That You Probably Didn’t Learn About In History class

For Women’s Day, by Kathleen Harris from Films for Action:

Some extracts

Nadezhda Krupskaya

Many people know Nadezhda Krupskaya simply as Vladimir Lenin’s wife, but Nadezhda was a Bolshevik revolutionary and politician in her own right. She was heavily involved in a variety of political activities, including serving as the Soviet Union’s Deputy Minister of Education from 1929 until her death in 1939, and a number of educational pursuits. Prior to the revolution, she served as secretary of the Iskra group, managing continent-wide correspondence, much of which had to be decoded. After the revolution, she dedicated her life to improving education opportunities for workers and peasants, for example by striving to make libraries available to everyone.

Nadezhda Krupskaya

Petra Herrera

During the Mexican Revolution, female soldiers known as soldaderas went into combat along with the men although they often faced abuse. One of the most well-known of the soldaderas was Petra Herrera, who disguised her gender and went by the name “Pedro Herrera”. As Pedro, she established her reputation by demonstrating exemplary leadership (and blowing up bridges) and was able to reveal her gender in time. She participated in the second battle of Torreón on May 30, 1914 along with about 400 other women, even being named by some as being deserving of full credit for the battle. Unfortunately, Pancho Villa was likely unwilling to give credit to a woman and did not promote her to General. In response, Petra left Villa’s forces and formed her own all-woman brigade.

soldaderas

Nwanyeruwa

Nwanyeruwa, an Igbo woman in Nigeria, sparked a short war that is often called the first major challenge to British authority in West Africa during the colonial period. On November 18, 1929, an argument between Nwanyeruwa and a census man named Mark Emereuwa broke out after he told her to “count her goats, sheep and people.” Understanding this to mean she would be taxed (traditionally, women were not charged taxes), she discussed the situation with the other women and protests, deemed the Women’s War, began to occur over the course of two months. About 25,000 women all over the region were involved, protesting both the looming tax changes and the unrestricted power of the Warrant Chiefs. In the end, women’s position were greatly improved, with the British dropping their tax plans, as well as the forced resignation of many Warrant Chiefs.

ABA Women

Sophie Scholl

German revolutionary Sophie Scholl was a founding member of the non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group The White Rose, which advocated for active resistance to Hitler’s regime through an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign. In February of 1943, she and other members were arrested for handing out leaflets at the University of Munich and sentenced to death by guillotine. Copies of the leaflet, retitled The Manifesto of the Students of Munich, were smuggled out of the country and millions were air-dropped over Germany by Allied forces later that year.

Sophie Scholl

Blanca Canales

Blanca Canales was a Puerto Rican Nationalist who helped organize the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. She was one of the few women in history to have led a revolt against the United States, known as the Jayuya Uprising. In 1948, a severely restricting bill known as the Gag Bill, or Law 53, was introduced that made it a crime to print, publish, sell, or exhibit any material intended to paralyze or destroy the insular government. In response, the Nationalists starting planning armed revolution. On October 30, 1950, Blanca and others took up arms which she had stored in her home and marched into the town of Jayuya, taking over the police station, burning down the post office, cutting the telephone wires, and raising the Puerto Rican flag in defiance of the Gag Law. As a result, the US President declared martial law and ordered Army and Air Force attacks on the town. The Nationalists held on for awhile, but were arrested and sentenced to life in prison after 3 days. Much of Jayuya was destroyed, and the incident was not fairly covered by US media, with the US President even saying it was “an incident between Puerto Ricans.”

Blanca Canales

Asmaa Mahfouz

Asmaa Mahfouz is a modern-day revolutionary who is credited with sparking the January 2011 uprising in Egypt through a video blog post encouraging others to join her in protest in Tahrir Square. She is considered one of the leaders of the Egyptian Revolution and is a prominent member of Egypt’s Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution.

Asmaa Mahfouz

Remembering women revolutionaries: Antoinette Konikow

This is the first in a new series of posts on under-remembered radical women. Today we focus on Antoinette F. Konikow. Konikow has a very good quality Wikipedia article, so I’ll start with that, although

Antoinette F. Buchholz Konikow (1869–1946) was an American physician, feminist, and radical political activist. Konikow is best remembered as one of the pioneers of the American birth control movement and as a founding member of the Communist Party of America, forerunner of the Communist Party, USA. Expelled from the Communist Party as a supporter of Leon Trotsky in the fall of 1928, Konikow went on to become a founder of the Communist League of America, the main Trotskyist organization in the United States. Konikow’s 1923 book, Voluntary Motherhood, is regarded as a seminal work in the history of 20th Century American feminism.

Antoinette F. Buchholz was born on November 11, 1869, in the Russian empire, the daughter of Theodor Buchholz and Rosa Kuhner Buchholz, both of whom were ethnic Jews.[1] She attended secondary school in Odessa in the Ukraine before emigrating to Zurich, Switzerland to attend the university there.[1]

She married a fellow student, Moses J. Konikow (pronounced KO-ni-koff), in Zurich in 1891.[2] While in Switzerland, Konikow joined the Emancipation of Labor group headed by Georgii Plekhanov.[3]

The Konikows subsequently came to America in 1893.[4] Antoinette attended Tufts University, near Boston, from which she graduated with honors in 1902 with a medical degree.[1] The couple had two children, Edith Rose Konikow (b. 1904) and William Morris Konikow (b. 1906) before divorcing in 1908.[1] She remained a practicing medical doctor in Boston up through the 1930s.

Political career

Antoinette Konikow was politically active from an early age, joining the Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP) in 1893 and writing and speaking on the organization’s behalf.[1] She was a delegate to the organization’s 1896 National Convention at which it determined to establish the dual union to the American Federation of Labor, the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance.[5]

Konikow also worked closely with the Boston Workman’s Circle (Yiddish: אַרבעטער־רינג, Arbeter Ring), a socialist Jewish social aid organization.[6] In order to participate in the organization, Konikow learned Yiddish, one of five languages which she learned in her lifetime.

She left the SLP in 1897 over what she believed to be the narrow and dogmatic policies of the organization.[7] Instead, Konikow cast her lot with the Social Democracy of America headed by Eugene V. Debs and Victor L. Berger, going so far as to sign a petition to the Massachusetts SLP convention inviting it to merge with the fledgling Chicago group.[8] For her trouble the May 1898 Massachusetts State Convention of the SLP saw fit to formally expel Konikow from the organization.[8]

Konikow followed Debs and Berger in an 1898 split which established the Social Democratic Party of America and in 1901 became a founding member the Socialist Party of America (SPA) when that organization was created through a merger of the Social Democratic Party and an Eastern organization by the same name composed of former SLP dissidents.

Konikow was a delegate to the SPA’s 1908 National Convention,[9] and was later instrumental in the establishment of several Socialist Sunday Schools, institutions designed to train working class children in socialist principles and ethics as an alternative to religious instruction.[1]

When the Socialist Party split at its 1919 Emergency National Convention, Konikow cast her lot with the Communist Party of America (CPA), in which the radical foreign language federations of the old SP played a large role. Konikow participated as a delegate to the founding convention of the CPA in Chicago in September 1919.[5]

Konikow was also active in the Communist Party’s “aboveground” activities in this period, serving as chair of the New England Division of the National Defense Committee, a party organization dedicated to raising funds to pay for its legal defense needs. Konikow was a delegate to the second convention of the Workers Party of America, successor to the underground Communist Party of America, held in New York City from December 24 to 26, 1922.[10] In 1924, Konikow stood as the Workers Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate from Massachusetts.[11]

Konikow was also deeply committed to the cause of birth control, a taboo topic in this era. She was a member of the Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis, one of the leading birth control organizations of the day.[1] In the mid-1920s, she and her son-in-law, Joseph Vanzler (a.k.a. John G. Wright), jointly developed an inexpensive spermicidal jelly, the formula of which she shared with officials in the Soviet Union when she visited there as a birth control specialist in 1926.[7]

An article by Sharon Smith on Marxist feminism discusses this period of her life:

Historians have focused much attention on the pioneering role in the early birth control movement of then-socialist Margaret Sanger, who later converted to a racist eugenics viewpoint.

But many other women radicals in the IWW and SP received far less acclaim yet maintained a lifetime commitment to fighting for the right of women to control their own reproductive lives. At a time when dispensing even information about contraception was illegal, these activists faced police raids and arrest as they continued their work among women.

Antoinette Konikow, a Russian revolutionary who migrated to the United States in 1893, dedicated herself to this project while remaining central to the US revolutionary socialist movement until her death in 1946. Konikow explicitly tied women’s right to control their fertility to the fight for women’s equality. As she wrote in her 1923 pamphlet, Voluntary Motherhood, “Women can never obtain real independence unless her functions of procreation are under her own control.”26 Konikow never veered from this approach, presaging themes that emerged in women’s liberation movements of the 1960s.

Konikow’s offices were raided regularly, so she kept her medical files in code to prevent police from prosecuting her patients. As socialist-feminist Diane Feeley commented, “Although the overwhelming majority of her patients were poor immigrant women, whenever Dr. Konikow was arrested, she found that bond was quickly posted by some wealthy woman, who, given Massachusetts’ repressive laws, may have had to turn to this revolutionary for help.”27

As a medical doctor, Konikow described how university training left doctors ignorant of birth control methods and therefore unable to help their women patients urgently seeking to control their fertility. In response, she authored The Physician’s Manual of Birth Control in 1931, which included not only a detailed discussion of the female anatomy but also information on what she considered the most reliable method of birth control at the time—the diaphragm and spermicidal jelly.28

Back to Wikipedia:

While in the USSR, Konikow was won over to the political ideas of Leon Trotsky, then embroiled in a bitter factional dispute with the leadership of the Russian Communist Partyheaded by Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin. From 1927, Konikow was open in her support with the program of the United Opposition of Trotsky with Grigorii Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev in the USSR.[12] This did not lead to her immediate removal from the party, however, only to the loss of her position as an instructor in the local party training school.[12]

Konikow was expelled from the Communist Party headed by Executive Secretary Jay Lovestone in November 1928 as a Trotskyist. Upon her expulsion, she formed a tiny group in Boston calling itself the Independent Communist League. This group later merged with the Communist League of America headed by James P. Cannon, Martin Abern, and Max Shachtman at the time of its formation later that same year.[13] She remained active in this movement until her death, contributing frequently to the party press on women’s issues. At the convention establishing the Socialist Workers Party in January 1938, Konikow was named an honorary member of its governing National Committee.[7]

The orthodox Trotskyists of the ICL (the Sparts), describe her expulsion from the CP:

After James P. Cannon’s faction in the CP was expelled in 1928 for supporting the Left Opposition, Konikow was summoned to appear before the CP’s Political Committee. She wrote a defiant letter to CP secretary Jay Lovestone.

This letter is published on the Marxist Internet Archive, for some reason in the archive of the SWP patriarch Cannon rather than her own rather meagre one:

Dear Comrade:

This sudden order to appear Friday noon in New York before the Political Committee is in line with your usual tricky policy. You know well that going to New York from Boston means quite an expense and that leaving my medical practice for several days involves a big financial loss. Why can’t a local committee consider my case? Because they fear the indignation of the local comrades? Or you are not sure that the local committee would act against me with the desired decision? All you want is to be able to tell the rank and file you offered me a hearing and I refused to avail myself of the opportunity. According to the latest decision of the Comintern we should have full inner party democracy and inner party criticism. Why does this not apply to the Trotsky Opposition? Because a few faked resolutions were forced through our party organization by misrepresentation and terrorism? I did work for Trotsky’s ideals and tried to arouse sentiment for the Opposition in our party, and I consider I have the full right to do so according to the party’s stand on inner party democracy. But it is useless to expect your committee to accept this viewpoint, for your leadership would not last long under rules of real democracy in our party. I consider that the party has taken an outrageously wrong standing on the Trotsky situation in Soviet Russia. This stand is a result of the servile submission to the Stalin faction.

It happens that I am one of these comrades of whom comrade Stalin in his answer to the American Trade Union Committee said, “Real Communists cannot be controlled from Moscow.” I am willing to submit to discipline if a proposition had been given free discussion where both sides were equally given a chance to express themselves. Otherwise I consider it my right and duty to oppose wrongly imposed discipline.

Your decision about me is already made up and my statement will never reach the comrades until I see to it myself. It is good that you have not the power to take away my livelihood as it is done in Soviet Russia. As to besmirching of my name before the comrades, this is to be expected.

A comrade of thirty-nine years services in the socialist cause.

Dr. A.F. Konikow

 

The Sparts again:

Lovestone in his uniquely nasty manner said after reading Konikow’s letter to the November 2 meeting of the Committee: “It is obvious from her letter that she is the worst kind of a Trotskyite, biologically as well as politically. The sooner we throw her out the better for the party.”

Due to feminists such as Konikow, the Trotskyists took up feminist positions that perhaps grated with the workerism that was their dominant tone. Her 1941 article, “Birth Control Is No Panacea, But It Deserves Labor’s Aid Against Reaction“, is on the Marxist Internet Archive. It was published in the SWP’s The Militant and shows how feminist birth control politics were articulated within and to some extent against orthodox Leninist analysis.

The Sparts also movingly write about the end of her political life:

In November 1938, there was a celebration of Konikow’s 50 years as a revolutionary Marxist. She was presented with a signed picture of Trotsky, who wrote: “We are proud, my dear Antoinette, to have you in our ranks. You are a beautiful example of energy and devotion for our youth. I embrace you with the wish: Long Live Antoinette Konikow. Yours fraternally, Leon Trotsky, Oct. 28, 1938, Coyoacán.”

I will end with two quotes from her speech at that meeting; the words still jump off the page today.

“In 1888, fifty years ago, I joined the Social Democratic Party of Russia. Life was as dark and hopeless as it may seem to many today. I was delighted to hear the words of Plekhanov at the first congress of the Second International: ‘Only the working class will lead the Russian revolution!’ But the working class of Russia was spiritually even further away from us than the workers of the United States today. If anyone had told us at that time that 15 years later a strike of one and a half million workers would almost overthrow Czarism, and that 15 years after that the Russian soldier would turn his gun not only against Czarism but against the Russian bourgeoisie, we would not have believed it. We would have laughed. But it happened—and it will happen again. Only this time it will not take 30 years.”

To the youth in the room that day, she said: “We place in your hands a banner unsoiled. Many times it was dragged into the mud. We lifted it up and lovingly cleansed it to give it to you. Under the red banner of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky, you will conquer.”

Footnotes: (more…)

From the archive of struggle, no.86

This post follows in directly from the last in the series, with a couple more texts from the U.S. Third Camp Trotskyist scene.

 

Added to the Grandizo Munis Archive:

this was published in Socialist Action in 1939:

The seizure of power in Madrid by the General Staff of the People’s Front Government was only the logical development of the role played by the military throughout the course of the civil war. A glimpse of the functioning of the Loyalist High Command is given below in an extract from an interview with Fernando Grandizo-Muniz, leader of the Spanish Bolshevik Leninists, which appeared in La Lutte Ouvrière, organ of the Fourth International in France. Muniz was held prisoner by the Negrin Government in Barcelona until a few hours before the fall of Barcelona, when he succeeded in escaping from the doomed city.

Added to the Dwight Macdonald Archive:

  • Off the Record (1939) [This was one of Dwight MacDonakd’s regular columns in the SWP’s Socialist Appeal. (MacDonald was never a member of the SWP and was at the time also editing the Partisan Review. It says that  it says something about the SWP at that time  it’s a regular column by a non-Trotskyist.) This is a witty comment on the relationship between cops and fascists, taking as its occasion the publication of an English language edition of Daniel Guerin’s Fascism and Big Business, to which MacDonald had written the introduction. Guerin was a French socialist and at this point was one of the leaders of the new Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan (PSOP – “Workers and Peasants Socialist Party”), which had links to the POUMIST and was fraternal with but distinct from the Trotskyists.]

Added to the Jack Weber (Louis Jacobs) Archive:

  • Histadrut in Its 20th Year in Palestine (1941) [I  find this very interesting because it gives a sense of how strongly this current supported Zionism at this time. Jacobs was still as SWP member, but he was close to Shachtman and would soon leave the SWP.]

 

Published in: on January 24, 2016 at 1:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Anarchism and social democracy in the First International

This book newly published in English by Merlin looks really interesting:

Social-Democracy and Anarchism in the International Workers’ Association, 1864-1877

by Rene Berthier

This book explores the conflicts that took place in the First International. Social and economic conditions varied greatly in Europe in the 1860s and 1870s. The strategies adopted by the various federations and sections of the International Workers’ Association, or IWA, reflected this diversity.

Although Marx and Engels have been seen as the leaders of the International, there were many who rejected their leadership. In September 1872 an extraordinary congress took place in Saint-Imier (Switzerland) which rejected the decisions taken at The Hague congress by Marx and his friends. A year later six IWA federations met in a regular congress in Geneva and reasserted the principle that political organising should be subordinate to workplace – economic – organisation. The great aim of the IWA was for working people to liberate themselves.

The ongoing IWA disregarded edicts of expulsion issued by the New York based General Council, at the instigation of Marx and Engels. The latter discovered they were generals without an army, isolated and at odds with the bulk of the organised labour movement.

René Berthier reviews the historiography of this conflict. Much of the ongoing IWA were inspired by Bakunin. He argued for the priority of labour solidarity. But it was not an anarchist International that was created in 1872. Anarchism was born some five years later, when Bakunin was dead. Rather, the adoption of anarchism by the remnants of the IWA marked a breach with Bakuninism.

There’s an interesting review by Dave Douglass in the Weekly Worker.

Will it be possible for those for whom Marx’s word reads like a gospel to be able to accept that, perceptive genius aside, Marx was a bureaucratic, manipulative, tendency bully and not at all a team player? Any one of us with lifetimes in the revolutionary workers’ movement will surely find such a discovery not so surprising at all; maybe they actually did not do it any better then than we do now.

…it is clear from the evidence in this book [that Marx in his First International period] foresaw something like mass social democratic parties occupying seats of office in national parliaments… Bakunin, on the other hand, like the subsequent Industrial Workers of the World, saw the need for mass industrial struggles at the heart of the productive process and centre of wage-slavery, as the workers’ industrial unions and trades societies were constructed to fight it. He thought that the struggles at work, the tasks of solidarity, the growth of class-consciousness and construction of workers’ industrial combat organisations were the way to fight capitalism in the here and now and the framework of an alternative social system of administration of wealth and power at the other end.

[Via Arieh]

From the archive of struggle, no.85

Gosh it’s a long time since I last did this.

I was browsing through the Marxist Internet Archive and noted a few recent additions.

SHACHTMANISM 1939-1944-1948

These texts all relate to American Third Camp Trotksyism. In 1939, its future leaders were still in the SWP, one grouping around Max Shachtman, another around Albert Goldman and Felix Morrow, and a third around CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya. The Workers’ Party, led by Max Shachtman, was formed in 1940 as a breakaway from the Socialist Workers Party, which Shachtman had led with James P Cannon.  The WP took a more uncompromisingly anti-Stalinist line than the SWP. By 1944, James and Dunayevskaya were in the WP, which they left with their grouping (the Johnson-Forest Tendency) to rejoin the SWP by 1948. Goldman, on the other hand, had stayed in the SWP but had joined the WP by 1948, although by the end of the year, with James T Farrell, he had left to join the far larger Socialist Party of America while Morrow did not join any party.

Added to the Felix Morrow Archive:

These texts are interesting for their strong sympathy with the Jews of Palestine, seen as victims of British imperialism, and for the linking of this issue with the struggle against fascism in Spain and beyond. They also show how Stalinist forms of anti-fascism were at best partial and argue for a more militant form of anti-fascism.

Added to the Max Shachtman Archive:

Added to the C.L.R. James Archive:

Added to the new Ernest Rice McKinney Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

MIA does not yet have a biography of Rice McKinney. This is from the University of Pittsburgh’s archive:

Born in Malden, West Virginia, in 1886, McKinney, also known under the pseudonym David Coolidge, was the son of a coal miner. At different points in his life, McKinney endeavored a variety of jobs which included becoming editor of, This Month, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier (1932), Executive Secretary of the Unemployed Citizens’ League of Allegheny County (1933), a Social Worker, and Assistant to the Director, Kingsley House. In 1916 an oral history conducted at Columbia University resulted in McKinney writing a 116 page book of memoirs published by Harvard University, The Reminiscences of Ernest Rice McKinney. The memoir deals with the development of the National Unemployed League, depression days; organizing steel workers for CIO, membership in the Workers’ Socialist Party; upgrading African Americans in industry; Working Men’s Welfare Committees; Workers Party of the United States (Trotskyist Group) and its relationship to Communist and Socialist Parties; and McKinney’s resignation from Workers Party.

Workers’ Liberty add:

McKinney had joined the Communist Party in Pittsburgh in 1920, at the age of 24, and A J Muste’s Conference for Progressive Labor Action in 1929. With the CPLA, he joined the US Trotskyists in 1933. He had sided with Shachtman and Draper when they divided from the “orthodox” Trotskyists in 1939-40 over attitudes to the USSR’s invasions of Poland and Finland. In 1950, like others around that time, and while remaining socialist-minded, he drifted away from organised politics.

Louis Proyect adds:

In 1943 CLR James submitted a resolution titled “The Historical Development of the Negroes in American Society” to the Workers Party for discussion and adoption. It was a conscious attempt to apply Lenin’s support for the self-determination of oppressed nationalities in general to the specific problem of self-determination for black America, an internal quasi-colony.

His was a minority position. Within the Workers Party, James had been derided as an ultraleftist and an eccentric. Max Schachtman, the party leader, called James a “literary man” as a put-down. The fact that James had led study circles on Hegel and Capital was another sign that James was not a real Bolshevik. The party member most hostile to James, however, was Ernest Rice McKinney. He gave James the nickname “Sportin’ Life”, after the villainous pimp in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. (Again, I tip my hat to Scott McLemee who provides this background data in his excellent introduction to “CLR James and the Negro Question”.)

Writing for the party majority, McKinney put forward the classic “black-white unity” position of American socialism directly opposed to James’s embrace of black nationalism:

“The white worker must take the lead and offensive in the struggle for the Negro’s democratic rights…The white workers are strongly organized, they have had ages of experience and they are powerful. On the other hand, no matter how great their courage and determination, the Negroes are organizationally, financially and numerically weak in comparison with the white workers, and woefully and pitifully weak in the face of present-day capitalism…”

Added to the new Andrzej Rudzienski Archive:

I’d never heard of Rudzienski and couldn’t find much about him. This is from James Robertson in Revolutionary History:

The Shachtman WP-ICL had a journalistic collaborator, apparently a Polish emigré probably resident in Chile, who wrote on Latin American affairs under the name Juan Rey or Juan Robles. When writing on East Europe he used the name Andrzej Rudzienski, which might have been his real name.

In May 1952 ‘Juan Rey’ raised the call for a workers’ government in Bolivia, criticising the FOR, official section of the Fourth International, for tailing the bourgeois nationalist Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR – Revolutionary National Movement)

Whereas this is also from RH:

a series of reports written from different parts of Latin America which appeared mainly in the Workers Party newspaper, Labor Action, with increasing regularity during the late 1940s and early 1950s over the pseudonyms of ‘Juan Robles ’and ‘Juan Rey’. Why the author saw fit to change his pen name is not at all clear, any more than his real identity. But it is almost certain that he was the Peruvian Trotskyist Emilio Adolfo Westfallen (Bestfalling), a founder of the GOM, which changed its name to the POR (Peru) in 1947, who was a supporter of Shachtman.

Added to the Natalia Sedova Trotsky Archive:

This is an attack on the Stalinist-turned-Gaullist Andre Malraux for claiming some affiliation with Trotsky. The letter from Sedova is also quite hostile to Victor Serge. It doesn’t make much sense without the context, which is supplied here by Richard Greeman:

in January 1948, a month after Serge’s death, that great confabulator André Malraux launched a macabre press campaign claiming Serge as a deathbed convert to Gaullism.[7] The sad fact is that six days before he died, Serge had sent a grossly flattering personal letter to Malraux, begging the support of de Gaulle’s once and future Minister of Culture (and Gallimard editor) to publish his novel Les Derniers temps in France.[8] Desperate to leave the political isolation and (fatally) unhealthy altitude of Mexico for Paris, Serge indulged in an uncharacteristic ruse de guerre, feigning sympathy for Malraux’s “political position” — according to Vlady, at his urging. Serge’s ruse backfired. His letter and the news of his death reached Paris simultaneously, and Malraux seized the moment by printing selected excerpts and leaking them to C.L. Sulzberger, who published them in the N.Y. Times — thus recruiting Serge’s fresh corpse into the ranks of the Western anti-Communist crusade.[9]

Aside from this letter, there is zero evidence in Serge’s writings, published and unpublished,[10] of sympathy for Gaullism or Western anti-Communism — quite the contrary.

Added to the Hal Draper Archive:

Added to the Albert Goldman Archive:

  • Partition One Thing; Aid to Jews Another (letter) (1948) [Also very interesting, setting out an argument for the rights of Jews in Israel to defend themselves against the Arabs who are seen as a reactionary force, but also against partition and for a united but democratic Palestine with minority rights.]

Added to the Irving Howe Archive:

Added to the Susan Green Archive:

As well as Sarah Green, an important activist in the Third Camp scene for a while, there are pieces by two other women: Reva Craine and Mary Bell. I don’t know anything about either – if any readers do, please leave a comment.

Added to the Stanley Plastrik Archive:

Stanley Plastrik had served as an enlisted man in the infantry in France during World War II and returned there later to earn a doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris. He later joined the faculty of the Staten Island college after teaching in high school for a time. He would later go on to co-found and edit Dissent magazine.

On This Day 2007: Death of Mary Low

This is part of her excellent obituary,  by Jim Jump, in the Independent (hyperlinks added):

Mary Low was a poet, linguist and classics teacher who, as a 24-year-old Trotskyist, vividly described the revolutionary fever that gripped Barcelona in the months following the military uprising against the Spanish Republic in July 1936. The era ended in May 1937 when the Republican authorities suppressed the city’s anarchist and dissident Communist movements.

Low’s Red Spanish Notebook: the first six months of revolution and the civil war (1937) was jointly written with her Cuban husband, the Surrealist poet Juan Breá, with a foreword by the Marxist historian and critic C.L.R. James. Her contribution consisted of 11 snapshots of mostly everyday life in those extraordinary times – when, as she reported, street barrel-organs played the “Internationale”, shoeshine boys carried an anarchist union card, waiters refused tips and notices were hung in brothels urging the clientele: “You are requested to treat the women as comrades – The Committee (by order)”.

George Orwell praised the book in a review for Time and Tide on 9 October 1937: “For several months large blocks of people believed that all men are equal and were able to act on their belief. The result was a feeling of liberation and hope that is difficult to conceive in our money-tainted atmosphere. It is here that Red Spanish Notebook is valuable . . . it shows you what human beings are like when they are trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.”

This was the scene that Low found in Barcelona’s central thoroughfare of Las Ramblas:

“Housefronts were alive with waving flags in a long avenue of dazzling red. Splashes of black or white cut through the colour from place to place. The air was filled with an intense din of loudspeakers and people were gathered in groups here and there under the trees, their faces raised towards the round discs from which the words were coming.”

She brought a perceptive outsider’s – and Anglo-Saxon – eye to convey the quirks of life in “red” Barcelona, avoiding the heavy-handed heroics of some of her contemporaries. She notes, for example, the bureaucratic culture of the politicians and functionaries of the Catalan government in contrast to the egalitarian mood on the street. She visits the deserted suburb of San Gervasio, its fountains still playing in the gardens of the locked villas where the city’s rich families once lived.

There is no pomposity or romanticisation in her account of the burial of the anarchist leader Buenaventura Durruti, killed in November 1936 leading his militia in the defence of Madrid. His funeral, attended by tens of thousands of supporters, was delayed because alterations had to be made after it was discovered that the tomb for his coffin was too small, as was the pane of glass for viewing his embalmed corpse.

Newly arrived in the Catalan capital, she was horrified to find that the siesta was still being practised. “Do you mean to say that you shut up everything and go to sleep from one till four during the revolution and civil war?” she and Breá asked one inhabitant incredulously, only to note: “He stared at us from large languid eyes as if the sun had struck us.” Equally dispiriting for her was the continuing enthusiasm of the locals for the lottery – “the eternal lottery, like a veil of illusion still preserved for Catalan eyes”.

Born in London in 1912 to Australian parents – her father was a mining engineer and her mother a former actress – Low was educated in France and Switzerland. She mixed in circles frequented by left-wing political activists and avant-garde artists in Paris, where she met Breá in 1933. Among their friends were André Breton, Paul Eluard, René Magritte and Yves Tanguy. They travelled around Europe and to Cuba, eventually making their way to Barcelona in August 1936, where General Francisco Franco’s revolt had been crushed by workers’ militias and elements of the armed services loyal to the Republic.

Like Orwell, Low and Breá joined the quasi-Trotskyist POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity). Low worked on the English-language broadcasts for the party’s radio station and helped finance, co-edit and translate its fortnightly English newsletter, The Spanish Revolution. She was also the POUM’s representative in the press office of the Catalan government.

Paul Hampton gives more detail here:

She was part of a talented group of Trotsky-influenced young people, including the surrealist poet Benjamin Peret, Kurt and Katia Landau, Hipólito and Mika Etchebehere, Lois Cusick (Orr) and Charles Orr, Pavel Thalmann and Clara (Ensner) Thalmann, Nicola Di Bartolomeo and Virginia Gervasini, Robert de Fauconnet, Erwin Wolff and Hans Freund who went to Spain to fight for working class socialism. Many paid for their courage with their lives.

Low did radio broadcasts and edited the 8-page English-language weekly newspaper, The Spanish Revolution, from its first nine issues from 21 October 1936 until 23 December 1936. She was responsible for the section “News and notes” and for translating into English articles published in the POUM’s paper, La Batalla.

She and Breá left Spain on 28 December 1936. (The following issue of The Spanish Revolution, Volume II, No1, 6 January 1937 announced her departure.) Breá had been detained twice by the Stalinists and was involved in a near fatal and suspicious car “accident”.

Jump again:

Low and Breá were married in London in September 1937, shortly before the publication [by Secker and Warburg] of Red Spanish Notebook, for which Low translated Breá’s seven chapters from Spanish into English. Following interludes in Cuba and Paris, from early 1938 the couple lived in Prague, where they had several Surrealist friends, until July 1939 when they were forced to leave in the wake of the Nazi invasion.

Low’s poetry first appeared in a joint compilation with Breá, La Saison des flûtes, published in Paris in 1939. Again displaying her skills as a linguist, the poems were written in French and, in “La Chauve-souris visite Marseille” (“The Bat Visits Marseilles”), contain the apparently self-referential lines:

Type standard de l’aventurière internationale 
cheveux roux 
regard fatale, longue 
robe blanche, accent onomatopé 
aux surprenantes ambiguïtés harmoniques.

In 1940, Low and Breá boarded a transatlantic liner in Liverpool and made their way to Cuba, where she would remain for the next 25 years. Breá, however, was already ill and died just over a year later. In 1943 in Havana Low published a selection of essays, La verdad contemporánea, on political and cultural themes which featured a foreword by the French poet Benjamin Péret, whom she had known in Paris and Barcelona. The essays were edited versions of talks which she and her late husband had given at the city’s Institute of Marxist Culture in 1936 under titles such as “The Economic Roots of Surrealism” and “Women and Love from the Perspective of Private Property”.

In 1944 Low married Armando Machado, a Trotskyist Cuban trade-union leader, with whom she would have three daughters. At the same time she acquired Cuban citizenship, keeping her dual British-Cuban nationality for the rest of her life.

More poetry collections followed: Alquimia del recuerdo (“Alchemy of Memory”) in 1946, illustrated by the Cuban-born Surrealist Wilfredo Lam, and Tres voces – Three Voices – Trois voix in Spanish, English and French in 1957, for which the Cuban artist José Mijares provided illustrations. In 1948 she also translated El rey y la reina, as The King and the Queen, by the exiled Spanish novelist Ramón Sender.

Low and Machado welcomed the 1959 Cuban revolution. She taught English and Latin at the University of Havana and both of them became leading members of the re-formed Trotskyist POR (Revolutionary Workers’ Party). However, the party soon fell out of favour with the new regime. Indeed Machado was on one occasion arrested and only freed following the personal intervention of Che Guevara. Low moved to Sydney in 1965 and in 1967 she and Machado settled in Miami. She taught Latin and classical history at some of Florida’s élite private schools, having been barred from any public-sector teaching posts on account of her background in left-wing politics. She continued her writing and poetry, which were published in In Caesar’s Shadow (1975), Alive In Spite Of – El triunfo de la vida (1981), A Voice in Three Mirrors (1984) and Where the Wolf Sings (1994).

She retired from teaching in 2000 and, until wheelchair-bound in her final year, continued to travel, regularly visiting and making new friends in Europe, with whom she enjoyed telling anecdotes from her eventful life.

JJ Plant adds, in relation to her later years:

She worked closely with the Surrealist tendency associated with Franklin Rosemont….

In October 2002 she was one of the many signatories to the Surrealist-sponsored declaration Poetry Matters: On the Media Persecution of Amiri Baraka. Her final militant act was to sign a declaration of critical historians opposing the dominant historiography that depicts the Spanish revolution simply as a struggle between fascism and anti-fascism, (exemplified by Hobsbawm among UK academics) and seeks to erase the struggle between the classes from the historical record.

Mary Low’s ashes were scattered in Cuba and in Paris.

Some further sources and image from this wonderful Cezch website:

GUILLAMÓN, Agustín. Esbozo biográfico de Juan Breá. La Bataille socialiste [webové stránky], 2010 (původně otištěno v časopise Balance, noviembe 2009, no. 34).

GUILLAMÓN, Agustín. Mary Low, poeta, trotskista y revolucionaria. La Bataille socialiste [webové stránky], 2009.

GUILLAMÓN, Agustín. Perfiles revolucionarios: Mary Low y Juan Breá. Iniciativa Socialista [webové stránky] (původně jako předmluva ke knize Mary Low a Juana Breá Cuaderno Rojo de Barcelona /Barcelona: Alikornio, 2001/).

Juan Breá. In KELLEY, Robin D. G. – ROSEMONT, Franklin (eds.). Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2009, s. 55-58.

JUMP, Jim. Mary Low. The Independent, January 30, 2007.

ROCHE, Gérard. Mary Low (1912-2007) (materiál kombinuje autorovy texty otištěné v knize Mary Low Sans retour: Poèmes et collages /Paris: Syllepse, 2000/ a v bulletinu, vydávaném Sdružením přátel Benjamina Péreta, Trois cerises et une sardine, novembre 2007, no. 21).

Věnování z publikace Juana Breá Poemas de entonces (La Habana, 1942)

Věnování B. Broukovi a Toyen z publikace Juana Breá Poemas de entonces (La Habana, 1942/1943?)

Mary Low (1912-2007) a Juan Breá (1905-1941), nedatováno

Mary Low (1912-2007) a Juan Breá (1905-1941), nedatováno

Mary Low (1912-2007), Barcelona, 1936

Mary Low (1912-2007), Barcelona, 1936

Mary Low (1912-2007), nedatováno

Mary Low (1912-2007), nedatováno

Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion (1989, obálka)

Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion (1989, obálka)

Syria and the fascism analogy

  
Three posts on the fascism/anti-fascism analogy and Syria:

Published in: on December 19, 2015 at 11:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Serge/Sontag footnote, or an excuse for defending the anti-Stalinist tradition

Victor Serge Susan Sontag

Three years ago, in a post on Victor Serge, I linked to a blogpost  by Nick at Churls Gone Wild which attacked Susan Sontag. I called Nick’s post “petty, mean-spirited, Stalinoid”. Those are quite extreme and intemperate and probably unfair words, for which I should apologise, prompted by a comment last month from the author of the post. However, I kind of think I wasn’t totally wrong. I am not a big fan of Sontag, but I have often been struck by the attacks on her from a particular leftist tradition, attacks which echo those made from the same tradition on other anti-Stalinist leftists, such as Serge, Arendt, Orwell, Shachtman and the New York intellectuals or, later, figures such as Walzer and Hitchens. I wouldn’t call these attacks Stalinist, exactly, but I don’t think Stalinoid is too wrong a word. Here’s why.  (more…)

Morris Beckman, anti-fascist hero

Cross-posted from BobFromBrockley

I was very sad to read today of the passing of Morris Beckman, a great anti-fascist, mentsh and citizen historian.Photo credit to Janette Beckman - http://www.janettebeckman.com/

Dan Carrier’s obituary of him is nicely titled “Morris Beckman fought fascism, home and away“. Here’s some of it:

WHEN Morris Beckman returned to London at the end of the Second World War, having risked his life as a radio operator on ships crossing oceans filled with U-Boats, he was disgusted to see British fascists peddling their views on the streets of Camden. Morris, who passed away this week aged 94, would not stand idly by as the far right made speeches and sold pamphlets that denied the Holocaust. Instead, he and other Jewish ex-servicemen set up the 43 Group – an organisation that fought fascists on post-war London’s streets.

Morris was born in Hackney in 1921. He had tried to join the RAF in 1939 but was turned down – instead he learned Morse code and became a radio operator on ships making the dangerous Atlantic crossings. During the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, two of his ships were torpedoed.

Morris went into the clothing trade after the war, running a menswear business until the 1970s. In the 1980s, he turned his hand to writing, documenting his life in the Merchant Navy and the 43 Group. Books included The Hackney Crucible, The Jewish Brigade: An Army With Two Masters, Flying The Red Duster and Atlantic Roulette. In his 1992 book The 43 Group, he wrote of the shock servicemen felt when they saw the doctrine they had defeated in Europe still alive in Britain.

He recalled how he was moved to act after he and his cousin Harry Rose watched a fascist rant on the corner of Star Street in Kilburn. Harry had fought with General Wingate behind Japanese lines in Burma.

“He said to me: ‘I’m going to shut that bastard up’,” recalled Morris.

“I calmed him down but we asked ourselves – what is anyone going to do about this?”

They tried lobbying MPs and using lawful means but with no success. Instead, they set about disrupting inflammatory demonstrations by fascists.

[…]

He saw his bravery as merely a twist of fate that put him in extraordinary times and he believed he acted as anyone else would do.

This is from a Guardian piece, with Beckman describing why they set up the 43 Group:

“I had been in the merchant navy, survived two torpedo attacks on the Atlantic convoys, and I came back home to Amhurst Road, Hackney to hugs and kisses. My mother went out to make some tea and my dad said, ‘ The bastards are back – Mosley and his Blackshirts’.”

“The Talmud Torah (religious school) in Dalston had its windows smashed. Jewish shops were daubed ‘PJ’ (Perish Judah). You heard, ‘We have got to get rid of the Yids’ and ‘They didn’t burn enough of them in Belsen’.”

With the Labour home secretary James Chuter Ede refusing to take action and the Jewish establishment urging peaceful protest, the demobbed Jews had had enough.

Famously, Vidal Sassoon was a member. Sandy Rashtry‘s JC obit explains why it was called the 43 Group:

43 people (38 men and five women) who formed the group at the Maccabi House sports club in Hampstead in 1946. …[By] 1947 [it] had more than 1,000 members in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle….

“We were one of the very few groups of diaspora Jews who took a stand against Jew-baiting by fighting it instead of passively accepting the situation.”

He said: “Make no mistake. Mosley was very well connected with the upper echelons of British society. If Hitler had succeeded in invading Britain, there were powerful people in double-breasted suits who would have pinned swastikas on their velvet lapels and supported the deportation of British Jews.”

Paul Stott writes:

Graeme Kennedy and Andrew French‘s Unfinished War:

Watch his 2010 talk in Bristol on the secret war against the fascists. Listen to an interview at Last Hours.



The 43 Group was published by Centerprise, which sadly closed a couple of years ago, a victim of central government cuts to local government budgets, but there is a newer edition too.

(more…)

Published in: on June 3, 2015 at 10:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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From the archive of struggle no.84: A Libcom special

The IWW since 1932 – George Pearce

Organizing “wall-to-wall”: the Independent Union of All Workers (1933-1937) – Peter Rachleff

What is “Alternative Unionism”? – Staughton Lynd

An article by Staughton Lynd about the militant unionism of the 1930s.

Wobbly driplines: strikes, stowaways & the SS Manuka

Built in 1903 and wrecked off New Zealand’s southern coast in 1929, the Manuka was a floating fragment of class society—and of class warfare. This article uses the Manuka to tell the wider story of syndicalism, transnationalism, anti-militarism, and the IWW in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“The American blindspot”: Reconstruction according to Eric Foner and W.E.B. Du Bois – Noel Ignatiev

Noel Ignatiev’s review of two books about Reconstruction, which was the period in American history where the victorious Northern federal government attempted to transform the state and society in the South.

The Spanish revolution 1931-1939 – Pierre Broué

An essay on the “political” dimension of the revolution and the years immediately preceding it in Spain during the 1930s, “the struggle of the Spanish workers and peasants for their rights and liberties, for the factories and the land, and finally, for political power”, examining not only “demonstrations, strikes, storming the prisons, militiamen clad in overalls, barricades, dinamiteros, summary executions and collectivizations” but also “contradictory exegeses, theoretical debates, polemics and personal conflicts, and battles between political machines, fractions and tendencies”, as well as the “ever-present” menace of the counterrevolution.

The search for a useable past: an interview with Paul Buhle on Radical America

An interview of Paul Buhle, the founder of the radical journal, Radical America.

Anarchist portraits – Clifford Harper

A beautiful set of 36 woodcut style portraits of anarchists by Clifford Harper, originally published as a set of picture cards by Freedom Press. If you enjoy these images please donate or buy materials from Freedom or Clifford from their websites.

Images from Radical America

Images from Radical America, a magazine associated with the New Left and published from 1967-1999.

Bakunin – Guy Aldred

A pamphlet by Scottish anarchist communist Guy Aldred on Mikhail Bakunin, the founding figure of modern anarchism, published in 1940.

Ned Kelly’s ghost: the Tottenham IWW and the Tottenham tragedy – John Patten

Red years, black years: anarchist resistance to fascism in Italy

A detailed pamphlet on the history of the Italian anarchist resistance to fascism from the 1920s to 1945 and beyond by region. First published in 1973, translated to English by Alan Hunter and published in 1989 by ASP.

Personal recollections of the anarchist past – George Cores

Cartoons and images from The Voice of the People

Art, images and cartoons from ‘The Voice of the People’, a New Orleans based newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World published from 1913-1914.

Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Canada 1944

Western Socialist 1933

This pamphlet was first published in 1910 as the Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Canada. During the ten-year period ending in 1920, five editions, totalling more than 25,000 copies, were issued. The growing insistence of members and sympathisers impels us to place the Manifesto once again in the hands of the working class. The present edition consists of 5,000 copies.

An Interview with Miguel Amorós – Cazarabet-El Sueño Igualitario

In this 2015 interview, Miguel Amorós discusses his book about Buenaventura Durruti, Durruti in the Labyrinth (2006), the controversies and enigmas surrounding the untimely and mysterious death of this charismatic figure of anarchism, and the impact of his death on the anarchosyndicalist movement in Spain during the civil war, which Amorós says was not dependent on the actions of any single individual, but that his demise demoralized the rank and file of the anarchist movement and reinforced the trend towards bureaucratization in the CNT-FAI by providing those institutions with a martyr for propaganda purposes to rally the masses behind the war and government collaboration.

The War and The Socialist Position

Socialist Standard September 1914

The text is taken from the original leaflet, THE WAR AND THE SOCIALIST POSITION, produced and printed by The Socialist Party of Great Britain. The leaflet was published for distribution to the working class until being prevented from being circulated at meetings by the capitalist State on the spurious grounds that it was considered “likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty or to interfere with the success of His Majesty’s forces by land or sea etc.” with the imposition of The Defence of the Realm Regulations enacted in November 1914.

From the Archive of Struggle no.83: Workers Liberty special

A participant’s account of the Norwegian General Strike against the occupying Nazis. From Norwegian Worker / Labor Action.
This assessment of Richard Wright, the great black American Communist, author of “Black Boy”, and “Native Son”, appeared in the New International, late in 1941, as a review of “Bright and Morning Star”. By James M. Fenwick.
This fine declaration of faith, principles and motives for socialist action was made by the great American Marxist James P Cannon as he and 15 others prepared to go to jail for their political activities.

Tasks of Communist Education (1923)

An article by Leon Trotsky, first published in a publication of the pre-Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain.
 Maybe the first big classical-Marxist statement on imperialism was by Karl Kautsky, in 1899, replying to Eduard Bernstein’s call for a “revision” of the perspective of Marx and Engels.
***
The Archive of Struggle, previous editions:

(more…)

Black Lives Matter: Documenting a century of police violence in America

The website Black & Blue: History and Current Manifestations of Policing, Violence & Resistance, which “brings together several resources about policing and violence developed by Project NIA and the Chicago PIC Teaching Collective“, has a series of pamphlets on  “Historical Moments of Policing, Violence & Resistance”. An (Abridged) History of Resisting Police Violence in Harlem (PDF) by Mariame Kaba and designed by Eric Kerl covers 1943-1964. There’s also 1937 Memorial Day Massacre (PDF) by Samuel Barnett and designed by Madeleine Arenivar, The Mississippi Papers (PDF) by Mariame Kaba and Mauricio Pineda on police violence in the South in the mid-20th century, and Chicago Red Summer 1919 (PDF) by Elizabeth Dadabo & designed by Madeleine Arenivar. The texts are fascinating and the graphics are powerful.

US SWP Zionist shock

From the Meretz USA blog. Note this is the American SWP not the British SWP, totally unrelated beasts.

Trotskyist Party Turns Pro-Zionist

Our colleague, Arieh Lebowitz, has learned over the weekend that the old Trotskyist political party, the Socialist Workers Party, has dropped its traditionally fierce anti-Zionism.  The following is a statement by an SWP candidate for the city council of Washington, D.C.  Note that it includes this explicitly pro-Zionist sentence: “We support the right of return for all Jews to move to Israel if they choose.”  It also condemns Hamas terrorism.

This calls to mind the fact that Isaac Deutscher, a follower and classic biographer of Leon Trotsky, had regretted his anti-Zionism when he reflected on what happened to Polish Jews he had advised against leaving for Palestine.  This also may remind us of the brief pro-Jewish phase of Soviet policy in its early years, and the brief pro-Zionist stance of the USSR at Israel’s birth.

Vol. 79/No. 4      February 9, 2015

DC socialist: ‘Workers
need to fight Jew-hatred!’

Recent murderous attacks on Jews in Argentina, in a kosher grocery store in France and on the street in Israel are a blow and a challenge to all working people. (more…)

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Workers Unite! The International Working Men’s Association 150 Years Later

Here’s a book review of what looks like an interesting book:

Workers Unite! The International Working Men’s Association 150 Years Later. Edited by Marcello Musto. Bloomsbury. 2014.

In the document-based collection Workers Unite! The International Working Men’s Association 150 Years Later, Marcello Musto succeeds in locating the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) or First International in its historical context while also offering pointers as to future prospects for the international socialist movement.

The book contains eighty documents charting the history of the IWMA divided between thirteen topics including official addresses as well as thematic essays on subjects as diverse as trade unions, strikes, collective ownership, internationalism, and opposition to war. The selection covers official texts and speeches, and therefore excludes journalism, published works, and letters. Each document has a brief introductory note which identifies the first date of composition and publication/delivery, and the book contains useful appendices (pp. 66-8) with a timeline of International Congresses, and (approximate) national membership figures for the IWMA. [READ THE REST]

 

Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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POUMblogging

This was recently posted at the Austrialian Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

The POUM: Those who would?

On January 3, 2015, historian Doug Enaa Greene led a discussion on the history of the POUM and the lessons to be drawn for today. It was presented to the Center of Marxist Education. His talk was based on the text below.

For more by Doug Enaa Greene, click HERE.

For generations of leftists, the most recognizable images of the Spanish Civil War is from May 1937 comes from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia of anarchist and POUMist workers defending the Telephone Exchange in Barcelona from the Communist Party. This image is said to represent the betrayal of Spain’s libertarian communist revolution by agents of Moscow. In the decades since May 1937, a great number of polemics have been exchanged on what went wrong and on many “what ifs” on how the revolution could have won in the streets of Barcelona. [READ THE REST]

Meanwhile, this is cool:

That’s a POUM wallet is displayed with volunteers’ belongings from the Spanish Civil War. It’s from a really nice post on the excellent design blog Dubdog about a visit to the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

Finally, it comes to my notice, via this blog, that George Orwell has been immortalised in a war game toy soldier:

George Orwell, POUM militia man, Spanish Civil War: Artizan (North Star) figure

As have militia men (but apparently not militia women) of the anarchist CNT:

Spanish Anarchists

Notes towards the recovery of the tradition of the British dissident left

Here are three completely (well, not completely) unrelated items from Dave Renton’s excellent “lives; running” blog.

1. What Engels’ supporters did next

This is a nice post on the dissidents in Henry Hyndman’s SDF who broke with the authoritarian social democratic cult (it’s hard not to read the SWP of the last decade or two into Renton’s description) to experiment with a more supple, democratic, libertarian socialism in the Socialist League, in particular Frederick Engels, William Morris, Tom Maguire and Eleanor Marx. The SL, for a while, included both Marxists and anarchists, and represents an important alternative possibility, a path not travelled, in the history of the left. It gave birth (along with Tom Mann, who left the SDF for the ILP) to both the centrist Independent Labour Party and the British anarchist movement.

Renton is harsh on the SL anarchists, over-emphasising their affinity for terror. He talks about the ex-SLers that went into “anarchism of the deed” without mentioning that many of them were actually crucially involved in mainstream anarchism’s turn from insurrectionist violence to syndicalism (again along with Tom Mann) and anarchist-communism. It is also interesting that the ILP, despite being to the right of the SL, maintained good contacts with anarchists on and off; Keir Hardie fought to keep anarchism within the newly formed Second International, for example, and Orwell’s connection with the anarchists represents the coming back together of the two main traditions of the Socialist League.

Finally, I think Renton is overplays the description of the ILP as bureaucratic, reformist and parliamentary. In fact, I think, the ILP kept alive the spirit of Morris – democratic, utopian, anti-parliamentary, critical – within the heart of a labour movement otherwise burdened by the twin curses of reformist social democracy and Stalinism that were the SDF’s bequest.

(If you  are interested in this, see also Frank Kitz’s Reflections, including recollections of Morris in the East End, and the late Terry Liddle on the heritage of William Morris.)

Hogsbjergcover2. A new life of CLR James

This is a notice about Christian Hogsbjerg’s new biography of Nello.

It is a compelling book, of the right length for its material (280 pages), which sheds significant light on three aspects of James’ development, first his debt to revolutionary Nelson, second the impact of cricket on his Marxism, third, his (re)discovery of Toussaint L’Ouverture.

James himself stated repeatedly that he learned his revolutionary politics among the Lancashire weavers, and in particular in the small town of Nelson, to which he travelled in 1932 as Learie Constantine’s ghost-writer. Hogsbjerg tracks down details of James’s career as a visiting member of Nelson’s second XI. He finds examples of Nelson being described as a Little Moscow in the 1920s. He locates the source of James’ copy of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution – loaned by a fellow bibliophile Fred Cartmell. He vividly portrays the almost insurrectionary 1931-2 “More Looms” cotton strike, the immediate prelude to James’ arrival in the town. And he finds notes of James’ meetings for the ILP branch in Nelson.

The post-colonial version of James is often these days separated from the Trotskyist version of James, so it is good to see them brought together here. And the story of James encountering dissident Marxism within a milltown ILP branch belies the dismissive version of the ILP in Renton’s Engels post above.

3. Love is run on fascist lines

sedge

This is a poem by Peter Sedgwick, written in 1956, the year he made the same move as William Morris, leaving the Communist Party (the inheritor of the SDF tradition) to join Tony Cliff’s Socialist Review group, as Stalin’s tanks rolled into Budapest applauded by the CPGB’s loyalists. The SR group, which became the International Socialists (IS), for a while represented something of the same spirit as Morris’ Socialist League, heavily influenced by the late ILP (the term “Neither Washington nor Moscow” was actually coined by the ILP, although the IS/SWP would claim it as their own). Sedgwick left the IS in 1976 when it became the SWP, i.e. when it took on the role of the SDF (with Cliff as its Hyndman); hindsight shows how right he was.

Anyway, read the poem.

Trotsky-Surrealism-Peret-Durruti-Brazil

One of the purposes of this blog is to join the dots in a history of the anti-Stalinist left: transnational traditions of dissident Marxism, democratic and libertarian socialism and class struggle anarchism which have actively resisted totalitarianism in all its forms. I came across this  at the blog Psychadelic Bolshevik, and I take the liberty of reproducing it here. I’ve covered a lot of this material before (click on the tags at the bottom for more), but this puts it all together well. After I pasted it in, I realised most of it is the text by Nick Heath published on libcom, to which I have added a hyperlink where the quotation starts. However, in re-reading that, I am a little confused on the different French Trotskyists twists and turns, so added a note on that. If anyone can check that and let me know if I’ve got it right, I’d be grateful.

SURREALISM, PERET AND TROTSKY (DELEGATES DELIGHTS) BY SLIM BRUNDAGE

(more…)

Mike Marqusee z”l

I was sad to hear that Mike Marqusee died before Christmas. I didn’t know him personally, but coincided with him in the Socialist Alliance and in the Social Forum movement, in both of which the democratic politics that he represented were stitched up by the Stalinist tactics of the Socialist Workers Party. I disagreed with him on lots of topics, but he was a fine writer and,  I believe, a person of integrity. The Guardian published an excellent obituary. Here’s a tribute from Pluto Press. My thoughts are with Liz, his partner.

Here are some of his articles: (more…)

Defining left libertarianism

I occasionally contribute to the editing of Wikipedia pages, including those relating to left libertarian political traditions. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of cranky libertarians involved in Wikipedia, so pages you  edit there get swiftly re-edited. For example, the page on left libertarianism insists that said ideology is some odd US free market scene:

It later became associated with free-market libertarians when Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess reached out to the New Left in the 1960s.[3] This left-wing market anarchism, which includes mutualism and Samuel Konkin III‘s agorism, appeals to left-wing concerns such as feminism, gender and sexuality,class, immigration, and environmentalism.[1] Most recently, left-libertarianism refers to mostly non-anarchist political positions associated with Hillel Steiner, Philippe Van Parijs, and Peter Vallentyne that combine self-ownership with an egalitarian approach to natural resources.[4]

I think most people I know who call themselves left libertarians, certainly in Europe, would find that description hard to recognise. Here’s an old version of a section on libertarian socialism, that got deleted recently, which seems to me roughly right:

Libertarian socialism is a political philosophy that promote a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic society without private property in the means of production. Libertarian socialism is opposed to coercive forms of social organization. It promotes free association in place of government and opposes the social relations of capitalism, such as wage labor.[note 1]

The term libertarian socialism is used by some socialists to differentiate their philosophy from state socialism.[7]

For some writers, libertarian socialism is seen as synonymous or overlapping with the terms social anarchism[8][9][10], left anarchism.[8][9][11] and even left libertarianism.[2][12]

Political philosophies commonly described as libertarian socialist include most varieties of anarchism (especially anarchist communism, anarchist collectivism, anarcho-syndicalism,[13] and mutualism[14]) as well as autonomism, Communalism, participism, libertarian Marxist philosophies such as council communism and Luxemburgism,[15] and some versions of utopian socialism[16] and individualist anarchism.[17][18][19] There have also been libertarian socialist currents in the mainstream labour and socialist movements.

[Footnotes below]

There has also been a section on green left libertarianism, again recently re-deleted. A recent version looked like this:

The Green movement has been influenced by left libertarian traditions, including by anarchism, mutualism, Georgism and [[individualist anarchism. Peter Kropotkin provided a scientific explanation of how “mutual aid” is the real basis for social organization in his Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution. New England Transcendentalism (especially Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott) and German Romanticism, the Pre-Raphaelites, and other “back to nature” movements combined with anti-war, anti-industrialism, civil liberties, and decentralization movements are all part of this tradition. In the modern period, Murray Bookchin and the Institute for Social Ecology elaborated these ideas more systematically. Bookchin was one of the main influences behind the formation of the German Green Party – the first green party to win seats in state and national parliaments.[citation needed]Modern Green Parties attempt to apply these ideas to a more pragmatic system of democratic governance as opposed to contemporary individualist or left anarchism.

Thus the Green movement, or left-facing sections of it, is often described by political scientists as left libertarian.[84] Often referred to here are European political parties, such as Ecolo and Agalev in Belgium, the German Green Party, or the Green Progressive Accord/GreenLeft in the Netherlands. Political scientists see these parties as coming out of the New Left and emphasising spontaneous self-organisation, participatory democracy, decentralisation and voluntarism, and therefore contrasting to the “traditional left”‘s top-down, bureaucratic or statist approach, hence the term “left libertarian”. Other similar non-socialist radical left political parties, such as the Italian Radicals, are often described in similar terms.[85] These parties situate themselves on the left of the political spectrum, and therefore tend to ally electorally with left parties (e.g. in the Rose in the Fist coalition in Italy), while being pro-market and strongly supporting a civil libertarian agenda, and hence are called left libertarian.

[Footnotes below]

What do you think of when you think of left libertarianism? What would you include in an article?

I think of a tradition described in David Goodway‘s book Anarchist Seeds beneath the Snow, which includes the likes of William Morris, John Cowper Powys, Alex Comfort, Herbert Read, Colin Ward and Maurice Brinton.

From William Morris to Oscar Wilde to George Orwell, left-libertarian thought has long been an important but neglected part of British cultural and political history. In Anarchist Seeds beneath the Snow, David Goodway seeks to recover and revitalize that indigenous anarchist tradition. This book succeeds as simultaneously a cultural history of left-libertarian thought in Britain and a demonstration of the applicability of that history to current politics. Goodway argues that a recovered anarchist tradition could—and should—be a touchstone for contemporary political radicals. Moving seamlessly from Aldous Huxley and Colin Ward to the war in Iraq, this challenging volume will energize leftist movements throughout the world.

Crucially, some of these people are anarchists – but not all are. Left libertarianism clearly stretches on the one side towards the anarchism of Colin Ward but also towards the democratic socialism of Orwell or the Marxism of Morris and EP Thompson, who all feature in Goodway’s book. As Bernard Crick puts it regarding Orwell: “He was an English Socialist of the classic kind, in the same mould as Michael Foot and Aneurin Bevan – left-wing, but also libertarian, egalitarian and hostile to the Communist Party.” Similarly, Thompson started off a Communist, but became sharply anti-Stalinist.

As this excellent review of Goodway’s book by Martin Heggarty describes, the title of the book comes from a novel by Ignazio Silone, which strongly influenced Colin Ward’s turn to anarchism. Silone, however, was not an anarchist, but an anti-Stalinist socialist.

We could take Goodway’s history into the 1960s and 1970s, with groups such as Big Flame and Solidarity, as described in this reading list, as well as people like Ken Coates. Moving past the 1970s, it becomes a little less clear.

That history is, of course, anglocentric, but I am sure a Francophone version of it could be written (including Victor Serge, Daniel Guerin, Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort) or an American version (including Mother Jones, Paul Goodman, Nancy and Dwight MacDonald, Murray Bookchin and Noam Chomsky). Those lists are quite white and male, and would need to be re-written to make them less so.

What do you think?

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East London Big Flame! 1970s activism and autonomy

A new fantastic resource online: an archive of East London Big Flame in the 1970s. From the Who We Were page:

We were a fluid group of about a dozen young women and men who came together in east London. We probably would have described ourselves as left libertarians. We organised in the community, in workplaces, around class, racism, women’s and men’s issues, for personal change/self-help therapy, and against bias in the media. We saw ourselves not as outside, but as part of these struggles, and saw the links between these different issues as embodying politics in everyday life.

From 1973–5 we belonged to a nationwide grouping called
‘Big Flame’ (www.bigflameuk.wordpress.com). Our projects carried on until the early 1980s, and after that we dispersed and took our ideas and values into different areas of work (teaching; architecture; psychotherapy; archaeology; local government;  film-making; writing) as well as into continuing political and community activism.

East London Big Flame   HomeHere are links to the sections: (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 11:27 am  Comments (2)  
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