My obsessions

Leon Trotsky:

A good review by Andrew Coates of Patenaude and Robert Service‘s books, and a rather plodding defence of Trotsky from Service by Peter Taafe.

Ignazio Silone:

Silone on liberty. An interview with Tim Parks that touches on the “Silone question” (via The Perfect Package, see last quote). Any Persian readers reading this? Here’s some Silone in Farsi.

Albert Camus:

Coates on Camus in the Pantheon.

The Spanish Civil War:

Wilebaldo Solano on the POUM (more on this later). Review of An Anarchist’s Story: The Life of Ethel MacDonald.

Bertolt Brecht:

Excellent post by The Fat Man on a Keyboard, contra Nick Cohen on The Good Soul of Szechuan.


Finally, I am sad that I missed the New York Queer Film Festival, where I could have seen this:

Closing Night: Maggots & Men
Seeing Cary Cronenwett’s Maggots and Men, you have nothing to lose but your perceptions of gender. This utopian re-visioning of the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921, featuring film history’s first cast of over 100 transgender actors, paints an idyllic portrait of formerly pro-Soviet sailors at the Kronstadt naval garrison who rebelled against the perceived failures of the new Bolshevik state.

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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Poumista,

    You may be interested to know that on pages 57-60 of the latest issue of Commentary (December 2009) there is a good review by Peter Savodnik of Service’s, Trotsky. I think it is well worth reading. It should be on line later today but it will probably only be available for subscribers.

  2. Thanks comrade.

  3. A pleasure. As much as I admire your site, is there any specific reason why you put the web site of the A. J. Muste Memorial Institute on your blog roll?

    This is the man who said in 1940, “If I can’t love Hitler, I can’t love at all.” (Cited by Guenter Lewy, Peace & Revolution: The Moral Crisis of American Pacifism [William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1988]p.235) He is also a man who, despite his pacifist credentials, travelled to see Ho Chi Minh In an interview conducted in 1967, Muste stated that “politically sophisticated pacifists” should distinguish “between the violence of liberation movements … and the violence imposed upon these countries by imperialist powers.” Consequently he thought pacifists should be on the side of the NLF (who were anything but pacifist) and “for the defeat of the United States in this war.” (Lewy, p.93)

    Lewy’s book is a fascinating read and if you are interested in pacifist organisations, particularly how American pacifist organisations behaved during the Vietnam War, I am sure you will enjoy this book.

  4. […] und im Download-Archiv, ansonsten sei hier noch auf weitere Lesehinweise bei Poumista und das neue Dokumentationsprojekt des IISG Amsterdam Iran: the bloody summer of 2009 […]

  5. Thanks Mike. To be honest, I am somewhat ignorant about Muste. I can’t remember why I added it to the blogroll, or where I came across it. I intend my blogroll to be, in part, a resource for those interested in labour history and radical history generally, and there are some Stalinoid sites on the list. (There are also some sites rather to my right!) I dislike pacifism, and its role in WW2 was shameful. On Vietnam, Muste was wrong to be pro-NLF. But I think he was right to be anti-US, as America was not fighting a just war in Vietnam, by any stretch. I think he is also right to say that there is violence which is less bad than other violence. The violence of the Allies against the Axis was violent, but it was justified. The violence of the Mau Mau against the British was violence, but justified.

    I’ll try and learn more about Muste though!

  6. Poumista,

    I think Lewy’s complaint is not that he is against pacifism but that American pacifists generally moved from being pacifist to accepting violence from the other side – notably in the Vietnam War. For a general attack on pacifism I think G.E.M Anscombe did it admirably in her essay, “Mr Truman’s Degree.” Whilst the purpose of this essay was to provide an argument as to why Oxford University should not award President Truman an honorary degree as a result of his decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of the Second World War, (a moral argument refuted by Robert Newman in his book, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult), her argument on pacifism as a “harmful doctrine” I think is brilliant.

    You are correct about the actions of pacifists in WWII. In the 1930’s Britain, the best known pacifist organisation was the Peace Pledge Union. David C. Lukowitz made some very insightful observations in his essay, “British Pacifists and Appeasement: The Peace Pledge Union”, published in the Journal of Contemporary History in 1974. He stated that in the summer and Autumn 1938:

    Peace News gave fairly strong support to Germany’s case. In August and September it ran a series of articles disparaging the Czech people and state, while the anonymous author of the weekly column on ’Public Affairs’ consistently took a strong line against the Czechs. He maintained that the German Government had a ’moral case’, that the boundaries of Czechoslovakia were unjust, and that the country had ignored its minority problem; he praised Hitler’s work for peace and asked for ’some appreciation of Germany’s contribution’.

    An examination of Peace News in 1939 showed Lukowitz the following:

    Sympathy for Germany’s position on Poland was expressed to some extent in the editorial columns, but even more strongly in two columns called ’The Plain Man’ and ’A Pacifist Commentary’, which by and large took the view that the Poles were too aggressive in defending their national sovereignty, that the disputed lands were probably more German than Polish, and that there was a danger that the Poles would drag Europe into a conflict over their parochial claims. There was no suggestion that perhaps the crisis was largely due to the territorial ambitions of Hitler.

    The PPU promoted “The Link”, a pro-German organisation and the Nazi backed journal, Anglo-German Review. It therefore should come as no surprise that:

    In July [1939] the Research Department of the Economic League issued a memorandum, published in the Daily Telegraph, asserting that the PPU was being used, consciously or unconsciously, as a channel for Nazi propaganda.

    At the extreme end, On August 11, 1939, News Chronicle published an interview with Stuart Morris, Chairman of the PPU where he stated:

    ’I am all for giving a great deal more away [to Hitler]. I don’t think that Mr. Chamberlain has really started yet on any serious appeasement.’

    Morris later claimed that this was in a personal capacity but at the same time claimed that PPU was was prepared to make sacrifices in order “to meet legitimate German needs.”

    Mark Gilbert added further interesting information about the Peace Pledge Union in his article, “Pacifist Attitudes to Nazi Germany, 1936-45″ published in the Journal of Contemporary History in 1992.

    Around 1938, the Peace Pledge Union, published a pamphlet entitled Warmongers. The “warmongers” were not Hitler and Mussolini but those such as Winston Churchill and Labour and Liberal MPs who were openly criticising Nazi Germany:

    Liberal and Labour members in Parliament bombard ministers with questions which can have no conceivable purpose except to irritate the Germans and provoke war fever in England. If these persons really desired peace obviously they would censor themselves. The fact that they do not convicts them of being warmongers.

    Gilbert commented that after Munich:

    Peace News persistently printed flattering accounts of life in the Third Reich by pacifists – usually unnamed – who were alleged to have recently visited Germany, or to be experts on German life and culture.

    One of these reports in June 1939 was from “R.L.W.” who had returned from Germany and said he saw:

    no scowls, but many smiles in the villages, much waving, few swastika flags, no postcards of Hitler so far as I could see, no militarism, no airplanes [sic], no searchlights and in fact no trace of the war-mindedness there is here, either outwardly or in conversation.

    Gilbert commented:

    In November 1938, [Peace News] had reported the Kristallnacht riots in a manner calculated to minimize the gravity of the pogrom unleashed by the authorities against the Jewish community in Germany. Peace News’s 26 November edition assiduously echoed the nazi press’s claims that far worse offences than the Kristallnacht events were a regular feature of British colonial rule and appealed to its readers not to be too ’unctuous’ in their judgments of Hitlerite Germany.

    Gilbert explained that the PPU printed a bunch of letters from Germans in the June 16, 1939 issue of Peace News of which some of them “contained violently anti-semitic material and material which transparently owed its origin to nazi propaganda.” Despite a handful of complaints “Pacifists appeared to find the PPU’s decision to publish antisemitic comments unsurprising.”

    By January 1941, Peace News could declare:

    National Socialism relative to any other form of society is a good thing.

    Gilbert commenced his article by stating:

    With the exception of Action, the journal of the British Union of Fascists, it is hard to think of another British newspaper which was so consistent an apologist for nazi Germany as Peace News, the PPU’s official mouthpiece.

    He had very good reason to conclude:

    It is not an exaggeration to say that between 1938 and 1943, the PPU offered the most bizarre intellectual spectacle witnessed during the second world war: an avowedly pacifist movement whose public statements, more often than not, excused, or even exalted, the most ruthless user of military force known to modern man.

  7. Thanks for this Mike. Fascinating.

    While most pacifists are benign, I have a moral objection to pacifism as such: sometimes violence is legitimate and indeed necessary.

    But the particular history of pacifism as a movement in the 1930s was especially distasteful – although I had not realised until now the scale of its pro-fascism.

    One tiny caveat. The Economic League may have been correct about the pacifists, but until 1938 (when Germany began to directly challenge British imperial/national interests) it was itslf objectively pro-fascist, with close links to the British Fascists and extremely admiring of Mussolini. This is important, because it shows how widespread soft support for fascism was across the British political spectrum in the 1930s, coming from both the pacifist movement (the spiritual ancestors of today’s Stoppers) and the Tory right (the ancestors of today’s UKIP and re-branded BNP).

  8. I know she is a pet hate of yours, but Ayn Rand wrote a very short and, in my opinion, very effective attack on pacifism:

    The necessary consequence of man’s right to life is his right to self-defense. In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. All the reasons which make the initiation of physical force an evil, make the retaliatory use of physical force a moral imperative.

    If some “pacifist” society renounced the retaliatory use of force, it would be left helplessly at the mercy of the first thug who decided to be immoral. Such a society would achieve the opposite of its intention: instead of abolishing evil, it would encourage and reward it.

  9. I agree with Rand in this instance. I also think Orwell was right in the context of WWII. But, thinking aloud, are there not situations when a “plague on both your houses” response is correct? During WWI, for example, the war aims of both sides were pointless and immoral, and hampering the war effort was a morally right thing to do. However, hampering both sides is impossible, so you have to hamper your own and hope there are hamperers on the other side too?

  10. Hi Poumista,

    There is nothing, in my mind, conceptually wrong with being against a war. Jeff McMahan, in his recently published Killing in War argues against standard Just War Theory that has held for centuries that one should accept the idea that all soldiers are morally equal. The idea that the soldier someone is fighting maybe an opponent, but like soldiers on our side is fighting a war not of their own making that they would probably rather not be fighting. He argues that if the war itself is unjust then the soldiers should simply refuse to fight in it and you can morally distinguish soldiers who are on the just side as opposed to the unjust side in a war.

    Of course it is true that both sides can be unjust in a war and we would want everyone to simply stop fighting. We do not even if have to think about countries for this. Consider McMahan’s example of gang warfare where both sides end up wanting to, and in some instances do, kill their opponents in a cycle of escalation over some dispute.

    In regard to hampering your own side, consider the example of Sophie Scholl, a German anti-war activist in WWII. Apply Orwell’s dictum: “If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.” In this regard Scholl was doing her bit for the Allies and I respect her for this. (Sadly, the Nazis executed her for treason.)

    Being against a specific war is not the same as pacifism as a moral position. Looking at the latter case, Ghandi stated:

    I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of causes.

    This means that Ghandi would not endorse a big strong person using physical force to prevent a small person being mugged by a medium sized person. The mugger therefore gets away with his crime. If we take Ghandi’s statement at face value, he would not even support physical violence by the police force to stop the mugging. It seems to me that Ghandi is rewarding tyranny.

  11. Just re-reading Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism and came across this passage, which struck me even more than when I first read it years ago, and seems relevant to the above debate:

    The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China. It is not claimed, again, that the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British. Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough. After the fall of France, the French pacifists, faced by a real choice which their English colleagues have not had to make, mostly went over to the Nazis, and in England there appears to have been some small overlap of membership between the Peace Pledge Union and the Blackshirts. Pacifist writers have written in praise of Carlyle, one of the intellectual fathers of Fascism. All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty. The mistake was made of pinning this emotion to Hitler, but it could easily be retransfered.

  12. […] I already posted on the queer historical epic, Maggots and Men, which re-imagines the Kronstadt sailors’ story […]

  13. […] continues, interestingly, about AJ Muste, which struck me as interesting, given a discussion here a while back. Not often, I imagine, that Proyect and Michael Ezra are in agreement. The Muste connection is […]

  14. […] My obsessions […]

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