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?

(more…)

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 (1)  
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Chinese Labour (1887)//Asturias (1934)

A couple of items for the Archive of Struggle, from Slack Andy.

The (Australian) Anarchists on Chinese Labor (1887)

Text at SlackBastard. Andy writes, by way of introduction:

Honesty was published from April 1887 to November 1888. It was the first anarchist newspaper in Australia, produced by the Melbourne Anarchist Club. Contributors included David Andrade, his brother Will (later well known as a radical bookseller), J.A. Andrews and Chummy Fleming. Source : Reason in Revolt.

La Revolución de Octubre 1934 (José Muñoz Congost)

Octubre-34

Andy writes:

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Asturian October 1934 revolution Exilio Libertario, a Melbourne-based group of Spanish anarchist exiles, have published in PDF format a booklet in Spanish written by compañero José Muñoz Congost.

[La Revolución de Octubre 1934 (José Muñoz Congost)]

Poumicated

I have not posted much here for ages. Here are some radical history items I’ve spotted in my recent browsing.

libcom.org launches new working class history Facebook page

Today, 30 July, anniversary of the first recorded strike in North American history, we are launching a new working class history page on Facebook to celebrate our history: people’s history.

Rosie Bell: Flippant Nihilist

I only know Alexander Cockburn as an editor of the creepy Counterpunch, and his airy dismissals  of anyone who thought Israel Shamir a dodgy piece of work.

There’s a fascinating account of him by Paul Berman.

Cockburn is reminiscent of Christopher Hitchens – the English journalist who lives in America and writes stylishly about American and international affairs. The political framework may be leftwards, the cultural references English literature, quoted with ease to point the moral and adorn the tale.[…]

Naomi Weisstein: The Chicago Women’s Liberation 
Rock Band, 1970-1973

A Memoir and Reflection on Badass 
Boffo Revolutionary Feminist MusicImage

In Chicagoland, in 1970, almost every teenage girl listened to rock. They considered it their music—hormonal, quasi-outlaw, with screaming guitars and a heavy, driving beat. But it was sooo misogynist! This wasn’t the Beatles’ playful woman-affectionate songs.

 For many years the dominant trend in scholarship on C.L.R. James has been to emphasize his cultural and literary writings. Arguably the most popular way to frame his legacy has been to situate him as a forerunner to cultural studies, post-colonial studies, and identity politics. Grant Farred, for example, has criticized “earlier modes of James studies” that addressed “debates that occupied sectarian James scholars” and welcomed “the centrality of cultural studies within James scholarship,” while Brett St. Louis has argued that the “march of identity politics and post-modernism” is “irresistible,” and that James’s work is of value precisely because it “grapples with a proto-post-marxist problematic.”

ImageDan La Botz: Ricardo Flores Magón – Mexican Anarchists and American Socialists

Claudio Lomnitz.The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón. New York: Zone Books, 2014. 594 pages. Notes. Index of Names. Photos. Hardback. $35.95.

If it were a house, Claudio Lomnitz’s The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón would be a rambling, decaying mansion with various jerrybuilt stories and wings, a ramshackle place filled with archives and artifacts, old political posters and antique typewriters, a building straddling the U.S.-Mexico border, a shared abode whose residents are an interesting and odd collection of characters, some of them lovely people, some noble, and others quite disagreeable, coming and going at all hours, sometimes reciting poetry. And don’t be surprised if, while you’re visiting, the place is raided by Furlong or Pinkerton agents, by the police or the Texas rangers who carry off some of the boarders to prison; some of whom will be gone for years at a time.

Ian Birchall: Lenin: Yes! Leninism: No?

That Lenin was an important revolutionary leader, and that his life and work repay our study today, are not in doubt. But what of “Leninism”?

Paul Le Blanc: Leninism, No?

There is a distinctive political approach and body of thought that can legitimately and constructively be termed Leninism.

Marshall BermanTodd Gitlin: Hurling the Little Streets Against the Great: Marshall Berman’s Perennial Modernism

For Marshall Berman, the street was not just the site where modernism was enacted; it was modernism incarnate. {…}

 Ingo Schmidt: Rosa Luxemburg – Economics 
for a New Socialist Project

Right-wing militias killed Rosa Luxemburg and dumped her dead body into the Landwehr Canal after the Spartacus uprising in Berlin. Social democrats and communists finished off her intellectual and political legacy by putting her on their respective pedestals. She became a principal witness against Bolshevik organizing practices for the former and was praised as a co-founder of the German Communist Party and a revolutionary martyr by the latter.

Andrew Coates: Jean Jaurès: The Anniversary of his Assassination, July 31st 1914. A Tribute.

Jaures l'Humanite

Jaurès was killed blindly, yet with reason:/‘let us have drums to beat down his great voice’. (The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy. Geoffrey Hill.)

A hundred years ago today, Jean Jaurès the leader of French socialism (SFIO, Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière), and Editor/Founder of l’Humanité were preparing an article against the coming war. Jaurès had supported the call of the Socialist International, launched by Keir Hardie and the Frenchman, Édouard Vaillant, to launch a general strike if armed fighting broke out.

By 1914 Europe was on the brink of war. At the end of July an emergency meeting of the Socialist International was held in Brussels, which endorsed a call for peace. On the 29th of July Jaurès spoke with Rosa Luxemburg, at a rally of seven thousand people against militarism and the coming confrontation at the Cirque Royal. He had already warned that fighting would lead to a catastrophe, “Quel massacre quelles ruines, quelle barbarie!” (Discours de Vaise. 25th July 1914) Now he talked of his “hatred of our chauvinists” and that we would not “give up the idea of a Franco-German rapprochement”. This looked less and less probable. Jaurès’ newspaper column (published after his death) would describe of the climate of “fear” and “anxiety” spreading across the continent.

Jaurès paused from his journalism and went to the near-by Café du Croissant to eat. At 20.45, the nationalist student Raoul Villain approached him and fired two bullets. One stuck his neck and was fatal. Villain claimed to have acted to “eliminate an enemy of the nation.”[…]

100 years after Jean Jaures’ murder, his name still inspires

Jean Juares

By Dick Nichols, Barcelona. July 31, 2014 — Green Left Weekly — When you travel through France, there’s one name that appears most in public space ― on streets, schools and metro stations. Not Jeanne d’Arc, Napoleon, or even World War II resistance leader and later president Charles de Gaulle. No, the name you can pretty safely bet you’ll find on some sign in the next sleepy village is that of Jean Jaures. Jaures was France’s most famous socialist leader and deputy, a tenacious and passionate fighter for workers’ rights and against war, anti-Semitism, clericalism and colonialism. Trying to explain his huge impact, the young Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky said in 1909: “As an orator he is incomparable and has met no comparison … it is not his rich technique nor his enormous, miraculous sounding voice nor the generous profusion of his gestures but the genius’s naivete of his enthusiasm which brings Jaures close to the masses and makes him what he is.”

One hundred years ago, on the evening of July 31, an extreme right-wing nationalist called Villain shot Jaures dead in Montmartre’s Cafe du Croissant. Jaures, accompanied by the editorial staff of l’Humanite, the socialist daily he had founded in 1904, was having dinner before finishing the next day’s edition. […]

Archive ImageKate Redburn: Unite Queer

Out in the Union, a new book by Miriam Frank, shows that unions have been crucial to the growth and success of the modern LGBT rights movement. {…}

Ian Birchall reviews Ernie Tate’s ‘Revolutionary Activism in the 1950s & 60s’

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal readers can read an excerpt HERE. To order a copy, email terryconway@tiscali.co.uk.

August 6, 2014 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Anyone who was active in Britain’s Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC) in the late 1960s will remember Ernie Tate, whose energy and enthusiasm made such a contribution. Now, 45 years later, he has published two volumes of memoirs from the 1950s and 1960s.

The first volume deals with the period 1955 to 1965. Tate was born in deep poverty in Belfast – he left school at 13 and tells us he “had never known or met anyone who had been to a secondary school, never mind university”. His only university was the revolutionary movement, and to judge by his later development it gave him a fine education.

Andrew Coates: Imperialism, Anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A Reply to Andrew Murray.

Imperialism, the Marxist historian Victor Kiernan claimed, shows itself, “in coercion exerted abroad, by one means or another, to extort profits above what simple commercial exchange can procure.” Andrew Murray begins Imperialism has Evolved since 1914, but it still Rules to World (Morning Star. 2.8.14. reproduced on 21st century Manifesto), by citing this assertion to observe that the “wars of 1914 and 1939 are the outstanding examples of what happens when that international system of extortion breaks down.” “Break-down and crisis” are as much a feature of “imperialism” as growth and slump are of capitalism. We might explain this, as a critic of Kiernan once noted, as the result of an inherent “atavistic” tendency to revert to type. […]

Portales, Suceso (1904-1999)Suceso Portales

 Martin Oppenheimer: New Light on the KKK

 Sit-ins at lunch counters by black students began in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960. Blacks had traditionally not been served there or anywhere in the South at that time. Within a week the sit-ins spread to Durham and Winston-Salem. Eleven of the first sit-ins were within 100 miles of Greensboro. After many arrests, and assaults by white hoodlums, on July 25 all Greensboro stores targeted by the sit-ins agreed to serve blacks on an equal basis.

 Alan Wald: Astonished by the present – The impatient life of Daniel Bensaïd

Daniel BenSaid

 Let us start, like Dante, in the middle. At age twenty-two, Daniel Bensaïd (1946–2010), a French-Algerian-Jewish philosophy student, vaulted eagerly onto the world stage of the international youth radicalization of 1968. His political stardom came by way of a leading role in the actions igniting the largest general strike in the history of France. At the suburban campus of the University of Paris at Nanterre, Bensaïd joined with his German-Jewish classmate Danny (“The Red”) Cohn-Bendit (b. 1945) to form the March 22nd Movement. This was a surprising partnership of anarchists, situationists, Trotskyists, and Maoists who seized an administrative building to proclaim demands addressing class discrimination and bureaucracy in the educational system. Bold for its time, the Nanterre occupation is customarily credited with detonating the chain of student strikes and protests climaxing in the sensational actions in Paris six weeks later: The May 6 demonstration of 20,000 at the Sorbonne and the May 10–11 all-night battle on the Left Bank.

Angiolillo’s vengeance

The story of Michele Angiolillo, an Italian anarchist who assassinated the repressive Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas in 1897

E. Haberkern: When the Red States Really Were Red

 The labor- and third-party movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been studied and written about extensively by academics and writers on the left. Most readers of this journal are probably familiar with much of this material. This book, however, is of particular interest today for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the author concentrates on the South and emphasizes the biracial nature of the movement.

The tragic week, Spain 1909 – Murray BookchinGeneral strike, Barcelona, 1909

A short history of the ‘Star of Peru’ Bakery Workers’ Federation (FOPEP)

Mark Kosman: World War I and 100 years of counterrevolution

accuserJohn Maclean: the accuser of capitalism

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first world war, People & Nature today publishes Accuser of Capitalism: John Maclean’s Speech from the Dock on 9 May, 1918. (Introduction here, text of speech here.) Maclean, a Scottish Marxist, was one of a small number of socialists across

Europe who denounced their governments’ participation in the war, urged workers to resist it, and hoped that it would be superceded by class war.

The Slocum massacre, 1910Descendants of some of the victims of the massacre

Sixty years ago: Death of Frida Kahlo

From On This Deity:

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

…and Frida’s reality was a lifetime of extreme physical pain and tortuous suffering, punctuated with a tempestuous emotional turbulence.

Artist Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, the daughter of Hungarian Jewish father and indigenous Mexican mother. She grew up in Mexico City at a time when Mexicans were beginning to take great pride in their native culture and traditions. Frida was proud of her pre-Columbian heritage and wore local costume, including long embroidered skirts in bright colours, big silver earrings, flowers, and jewellery from the folk tradition. Her distinctive look gave her a brand, yet averted attention from her tiny, weak, disabled body. (more…)

Eighty years ago: the death of Nestor Makhno

From On This Deity:

Today we recall the Ukrainian revolutionary leader, Nestor Makhno, who died seventy-seven years ago on this day in poverty, illness and oblivion. Fellow exiles who had watched Makhno drink and cough himself to death in the slums of Paris could scarcely believe the tragic fate that had befallen the legendary “Little Father” of Ukraine who, just fifteen years earlier, had been one of the most heroic, glamorous and indefatigable figures of the Russian civil war and the inciter of one of the few historic examples of a living anarchist society. As the leader of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, this self-educated peasant-born military genius had waged wildly creative guerrilla war against native tyrants, foreign interlopers and counter-revolutionaries. On behalf of what was always an uneasy alliance with the Red Army, Makhno’s forces had twice immobilised the seemingly unstoppable White advance in South Russia; indeed, so decisive were these against-all-odds victories that the Bolsheviks might never have won the civil war and consolidated power but for Makhno and his insurgent peasants. As the instigator, military protector and namesake of Ukraine’s simultaneous anarchist revolution – the Makhnovshchina – few have come closer than Nestor Makhno to establishing an anarchist nation. For nearly a year between 1919 and 1920, some 400 square miles of Ukraine was reorganised into an autonomous region known as the “Free Territory” in which farms and factories were collectively run and goods traded directly with collectives elsewhere. In his heyday, Nestor Makhno was an unmitigated living legend and folk hero – a real-life Robin Hood and proto-Che. But by the time of his death at the age of forty-six, so comprehensively dragged through the filthiest, shittiest mud was the name of this once unassailable revolutionary that it has yet to fully recover. So what happened? (more…)

Farewell Marina Ginestà

With thanks to Rob Palk.

From the RHP blog:

Marina Ginestà of the Juventudes Comunistas, aged 17, overlooking Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.

Marina Ginestà, aged 17, overlooking Barcelona from Hotel Colón. She worked as a translator for a Soviet journalist of Pravda during the Spanish Civil War. She was a member of Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (Socialist Youth), the youth organization mainly directed by Partido Comunista de España (PCE, Communist Party of Spain). Despite her initial involvement she quickly grew disillusioned with the path that the Stalinists were taking. Marina remained a militant throughout the rest of the war and was drawn to other groups at that time such as the anti-Stalinist P.O.U.M (which George Orwell was a member of) and the Anarchist C.N.T. This photographs was taken by Juan Guzman (who was born Hans Gutmann in Germany before going to Spain where he photographed the International Brigades). Date of the photo: July 21, 1936.

Marina did not know about the photo until 2006, although the iconic image was printed and circulated everywhere, serving as cover for the book “Thirteen Red Roses’ by Carlos Fonseca, and was also along with dozens of other photographs in the book “Unpublished images of the Civil War” (2002) with introduction by G. Stanley Payne.

She was identified by Garcia Bilbao who read the memoirs of Soviet correspondent of Pravda Mikhail Koltsov, with whom the young girl appears in another photo. Garcia Bilbao found that Jinesta Marina, with J, which was identified by Guzman in the caption was actually Marina Ginesta, an exile who lived in Paris translating French texts.

Marina Ginesta, the iconic girl of the Spanish Civil War, died January 6, 2014 in Paris, aged 94.

The rifle she is carrying is M1916 Spanish Mauser. It was manufactured at famous Oviedo factory in Spain for the Spanish Army.

Marina Ginesta, 2008Marina Ginesta, 2008

Colored Version

Here is a little more, from Publico, badly translated by me: (more…)

2013 at Poumista

The posts with most traffic in the year, with those published this year in bold

  1. Ralph Miliband: democrat and anti-fascist
  2. On this day, 1945: Eileen O’Shaughnessy died
  3. Photography: Sergio Larrain/Lewis Hine
  4. Blog recommendations, for homeless leftists
  5. Orwell turning in his grave?
  6. Jews versus Stalinists in the Spanish Civil War
  7. Amidah: Defiance
  8. Spanish Revolution and Civil War gallery
  9. Stalin in Clerkenwell Green
  10. Socialist Wanker
  11. On this day 100 years ago: Bonnot Gang executions
  12. Franco’s Spain – how many dead?
  13. Trabajadores: Spanish Civil War Archives Online
  14. Fifty years ago: the execution of Francisco Granados and Joaquin Data Martinez Delgado

Very few of my referrals this year were from blogs. Most were from search engines, with many from social media too. Top bloggy referrers were:

  1. Shiraz Socialist
  2. Tendance Coatesy
  3. Corey Ansel
  4. Hatful of History
  5. Sketchy Thoughts
  6. rooeravotr
  7. Rosie Bell
  8. Bob From Brockley
  9. For Workers Power
  10. Radical Archives

Thanks comrades.

Top search terms:

  1. Death of Trotsky
  2. Spanish Civil War
  3. George Orwell
  4. Sergio Larrain
  5. Eileen O’shaughnessy
  6. Carnation revolution
  7. Georges Kopp
  8. John Molyneux
  9. Mika Etchebéhère
  10. Andres Nin

Happy new year.

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 3:47 pm  Comments (3)  

Talking heads

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

Bayard Rustin vs Malcolm X, on black nationalism and Islam

Sidney Hook on liberalism, socialism and social democracy

Leon Trotsky on the Moscow trials

Emma Goldman on returning to the United States

EP Thompson on “society” for historians and for anthropologists

Raya Dunayevkaya on being a radical

Blog recommendations, for homeless leftists

Cross-posted from Bob From Brockley

We have reached the level of the dark times of the early Middle Ages. The need to reflect on this. The extreme difficulty of reflecting on it. — Victor Serge

Lots of the blogs I have followed for a long time seem to be slowly dying,  but there are new ones out there, and old healthy ones, and ones that are not so new but new to me. Here are a couple that have caught my eye lately. (more…)

Ralph Miliband: democrat and anti-fascist

Ralph Miliband

Ralph Miliband

The Daily Mail has been in the  news for its attacks on Ralph Miliband as “the man who hated Britain“. This continues a long tradition of smearing “Red” Ed Miliband by association with his father’s politics (here, for instance, in 2010, they make a big deal of the fact that his elderly cousin, who he may not even have met, had some vague connection to Joseph Stalin half a century ago). I don’t normally comment on topical events on this blog, but this seemed kind of worth looking at.

Was Miliband anti-British?

The sole piece of evidence presented by the Mail of Miliband Sr’s “hatred of Britain” is a diary entry he wrote when he was 17. I pity my son, if he ever becomes a public figure and the Mail finds what I wrote in my diaries as a teenager… I would much rather trust his son’s memories to know anything about what the mature man actually felt about the land that gave him refuge when he fled genocide – and the land for which he served in the armed forces.

HMS Godetia, manned by the Section Belge, Belgian Section of the British Royal Navy, during World War Two. Source: Wikipedia

Ralph Miliband fought for Britain in the war against fascism. According to his Independent obit:

The three missing years to which he refers were spent in service as a naval rating in the Belgian section of the Royal Navy. Aware of the fact that many of his Belgian comrades were engaged in the war against Fascism and traumatised by the absence of his mother and sister, he had volunteered, using Laski’s influence to override the bureaucracy. He served on a number of destroyers and warships, helping to intercept German radio messages. He rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer and was greatly amused on one occasion when his new commanding officer informed him how he had been rated by a viscount who had commanded the ship on which he had previously served: ‘Miliband is stupid, but always remains cheerful.’

However, I’m fairly sure that despite his lack of British nationality at this point, he served in the mainstream Royal Navy and not in the Section Belge (RNSB). The latter operated corvettes (such as the one picture above) and minesweepers, while Miliband served on destroyers and warships.

Was Miliband a Communist Fellow Traveller?

Harold Laski

The Mail article makes a good deal of Harold Laski‘s influence on Ralph Miliband:

At the London School of Economics, he was taught and heavily influenced by the extremist Left-winger Harold Laski, who said the use of violence was legitimate in British elections.

I see Laski, although far from “an extreme Left-winger”, as a broadly pernicious figure in British political history, and as something of a Fellow Traveller. But it is important to be clear about timing. Laski was broadly committed to a liberal, reformist, parliamentary social democracy until the early 1930s, and was close to the right-wing Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald. (Aside; MacDonald’s previous government in 1924 was brought down partly as a result of the Mail‘s publication of the forged Zinoviev letter, alleging Soviet interference with British politics – first in a long-line of dishonest anti-communist smears directed at Labour from the paper.)

Only in the 1930s, during the tumultuous years of the Depression, did Laski start to flirt with a pro-Soviet position, and come to believe that the overthrow of capitalism might not happen peacefully. Even in this period, I am fairly certain, he never said “the use of violence was legitimate in British elections”, as the Mail claims.

During 1931-1937 Laski was a key figure in the Popular Frontist movement in British politics, influenced by Laski’s friend Leon Blum in France. This movement, including Stafford Cripps and focused around the small middle-class Socialist League, as well as the more broad-based Left Book Club, sought rapprochement between the Labour movement and Communism, with the priority of defeating fascism. This movement was largely rejected both by the working class mainstream of the Labour Party and by the uncompromising anti-Stalinists of the Independent Labour Party, and Laski skunked back to Labour in 1937, increasingly settling in on the soft left of the party.

After the war, Laski did continue to argue for a more positive attitude towards Britain’s war-time Soviet allies and against the Atlanticist Cold War consensus in the Labour Party, but he no longer endorsed Communism as a viable political movement in Britain. It was this later Laski who would influence the young Ralph Miliband, who studied under him at the LSE briefly during the war and then again after his demobilisation. This more mellow Laski encouraged Miliband to think for himself and question Marxist orthodoxy.

Was Miliband a Communist?

Ralph Miliband has been described as a “Stalinist”, which is a complete travesty considering his consistent opposition to the Soviet model of socialism from above. Back in Poland, Ralph Miliband’s father had been a Bundist, a fiercely anti-Stalinist Jewish socialist movement. As a youngster in Belgium he joined the Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, which was affiliated to the British Independent Labour Party, and again anti-Stalinist.

Eric Hobsbawm, on-off family friend

He was never a member or supporter of the Communist Party; he was sympathetic to Tito’s Yugoslavia in the immediate post-war years, when it broke with the Stalinist bloc; and by the the 1950s when the New Left was starting to emerge from the shadow of orthodox Communism he was a fully fledged anti-Stalinist. The Soviet crushing of democratic socialism in Hungary in 1956 and then in Czechoslovakia in 1968 repelled him deeply. In this period, as the Mail notes, he was friendly with the Stalinist Eric Hobsbawm, another refugee from fascism and ex-serviceman (in the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Educational Corps), but, as the Mail passes over quickly, on this issue Miliband was sharply at odds with his friend. Here he is in 1968:

The invasion of Czechoslovakia show very well that this oppressive and authoritarian Russian socialism has nothing in common with the socialism that we demand,and we must state this very loudly, even at the risk of seeming to be anti-soviet and to echo bourgeois propaganda … And then, there is also this question of ‘bourgeois liberties’ … which, I am persuaded, we must put at the top of our programme. Or rather, denounce them as insufficient and to be extended by socialism. Nothing will work if it is possible and plausible to suggest that we want to abolish them. And that is one of the reasons why the democratization of ‘revolutionary’ parties is essential… The internal life of a revolutionary party must prefigure the society which it wants to establish – by its mode of existence, and its way of being and acting. While this is not the case, I don’t see any reason to want to see the current parties take power: they are quite simply not morally ready to assume the construction of a socialist society.

His anti-Stalinism was less robust than, for example EP Thompson‘s became or that of the International Socialists, and there is a still a lingering presence of the Laski-ite fellow traveller in his sense that “seeming to be anti-soviet” might be a bad thing, but he was always clear that Soviet “socialism” was oppressive and cruel.

The only quotation the Mail comes up with in relation to Miliband’s attitude to the Soviet Union was this:

Mikhail Gorbachev’s dismantling of Soviet socialism and the worker state should have shocked Miliband, but he managed to find an argument welcoming it.

He proclaimed that the Cold War had always been a useful ‘bogey’ for the Right, and that, ‘the success of Mikhail Gorbachev in democratising Soviet society . . . would deprive conservative forces of one of their most effective weapons’.

In fact, of course, that’s evidence of pretty much nothing: Gorbachev’s reforms were heartily welcomed by all who thought that the Soviet Union constituted “actually existing socialism” while condemning its authoritarianism. Here’s Miliband in 1990:

In recent years, Mikhail Gorbachev has sought with great eloquence to define the kind of internationalism which the world requires today, and has done so in terms of universal values and aspirations, beyond boundaries of nations, classes and creeds – values and aspirations relating to peace, disarmament, the protection of the environment, and so on. These are indeed universal values, and socialists obviously subscribe to them.

…the collapse of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe (and its likely collapse elsewhere) clearly constitutes a great strengthening of the hope nurtured by conservative forces that the world might be shaped (or re-shaped) in an image acceptable to them. There is now a very good chance that some Communist countries at least will move towards the restoration of capitalism: some of them are already well advanced on that road…

Such celebration and proclamation is, however, rather premature. Soviet-type Communism, with the centrally planned command economy and the monopolistic one-party political system, is out or on the way out, and will not be resurrected. But the notion that this is the end of socialist striving and eventual socialist advances leaves a vital fact out of account. This is that, despite the current apotheosis of capitalism, it has resolved none of the problems which give sustenance to socialist aspirations and struggles. Given the inherent and ineradicable failings of capitalism, there is no reason to doubt that the striving for radical alternatives will continue.

Miliband was wrong to see that the Soviet regime ever (except perhaps briefly in the last two months of 1917) represented any kind of hopeful alternative to Western market capitalism, but he was always a sharp critic of its oppressiveness.

And what about the Daily Mail?

The Mail article mentions Miliband’s “immigrant” status (they don’t use the more accurate word “refugee”) a few times:

This was the immigrant boy whose first act in Britain was to discard his name Adolphe because of its associations with Hitler, and become Ralph, and who helped his father earn a living rescuing furniture from bombed houses in the Blitz.

This will be no surprise for those of us familiar with the Mail’s fiercely anti-immigrant – and arguably xenophobic – politics. Only last year they said that the “only responsible vote” in the French elections was not for the Thatcherite Sarkozy, but the fascist Marine Le Pen! One of the by-products of this kerfuffle is to remind people that right up to the war, the Mail (under the father of the current proprietor, Viscount Rothermere), was consistently pro-fascist:

Lord Rothermere was a friend of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, and directed the Mail’s editorial stance towards them in the 1930s.[32][33]Rothermere’s 1933 leader “Youth Triumphant” praised the new Nazi regime’s accomplishments, and was subsequently used as propaganda by them.[34] In it, Rothermere predicted that “The minor misdeeds of individual Nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany”. Journalist John Simpson, in a book on journalism, suggested that Rothermere was referring to the violence against Jews and Communists rather than the detention of political prisoners.[35]

Rothermere and the Mail were also editorially sympathetic to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists.[36] Rothermere wrote an article entitled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in January 1934, praising Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine”.[37] This support ended after violence at a BUF rally in Kensington Olympia later that year.[38]

Here are some examples:


Rothermere, as late as 1939, wrote to Hilter congratulating him on invading Prague, and urged him to march on Romania.

Further reading

Comrade Picasso

This is an extremely interesting article from the New Statesman by Jonathan Vernon:

Picasso's 'Guernica' on view at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Photo: Getty
Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ on view at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Photo: Getty

One would expect a game of word association on a busy street to match many a ‘Picasso’ with ‘Guernica’. Commissioned for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, Guernica took as its subject the aerial bombardment of the eponymous Basque town. Heinkel bombers flying for General Franco had razed it to the ground across three days earlier that year. The visual language Picasso wrought from that event gave form to human suffering with unparalleled potency.

But it also gave birth to a reputation. It is with Guernica that we are introduced to the defiant pacifist, the Picasso that would stand firm during the Occupation of Paris, and join the French Communist Party (PCF) upon its Liberation. The story goes something like this: exiled from Spain, and fully aware of the threat its Falangist occupiers posed to civilisation, Picasso joined ‘le famille communiste’ and became its most distinguished voice in the struggle against fascist and capitalist tyranny alike.

The breast, at this point, is prompted to swell uncontrollably. After all, this tale boasts every trope of our most loved and recyclable yarns: the rustic warrior exiled from his homeland, the surging rebellion yearning a voice, and the depraved autocrat condemning it to silence. It telescopes Homer and Hemingway in equal measure. It is almost enough to make us forget that we are talking about a painter.

And yet the demands of history have a way of reasserting themselves. Such is the nature of research conducted by Genoveva Tusell Garcia, published earlier this year in The Burlington Magazine. Citing correspondence within the Franco government, Garcia makes an extraordinary claim. Although the regime’s prevailing attitude toward Picasso was one of hostility, certain of its members came to see an advantage in taming his reputation and sharing in his achievements. In 1957, they approached the painter to discuss the possibility of his work returning to Spanish collections, and even a retrospective.

READ THE REST

From the archive of struggle: The Newsletter

Just saw this on the great Hatful of History blog:

After last week’s post about new avenues of research for British leftist history, I just thought I’d mentioned that another resource has appeared online. The Newsletter was edited by Peter Fryer, the Daily Worker reporter who had left the Communist Party of Great Britain after the invasion of Hungary in late 1956, after his departure from the CPGB and during his brief membership in The Club. The Club was an orthodox Trotskyist entrist group run by Gerry Healy, who later formed the Socialist Labour League (which transformed in the 1970s into the Workers Revolutionary Party). The Newsletter was edited by Fryer while he was involved in The Club, but after 1958, the publication was taken over by Healy and it became an SLL publication shortly afterwards, alongside Healy’s Labour Review (which also attracted former CPGB members, such as Brian Pearce). The ‘independent’ version of The Newsletter, under Fryer’s editorship from May 1957 to December 1958, has now been digitised by Steve Drury and is available on Norman Harding’s blog Staying Red (Harding was a long-term member of the SLL/WRP), as well as on the Marxist Internet Archive’s ETOL site.

The original flyer announcing the publication of The Newsletter (April 1957). Pic from Staying Red blog.

The original flyer announcing the publication of The Newsletter (April 1957). Pic from Staying Red blog.

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…

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