Books/Obituaries

Stuart at New Appeal to Reason posts his books of 2011. Here are some of them. Note: the numbers are messed up here, but it seems too fiddly to change. Sorry. Read the original.

  1.  John Nichols, The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism
    Nichols has written a persuasive case that socialism is as American as apple pie.  From the forgotten radical economics of founding father Thomas Paine and the utopian socialists who founded the Republican Party to Victor Berger, the socialist Congressman from Milwaukee, who opposed WWI to Michael Harrington it is a great read.
    The subtitle is a little misleading.  Nichols leaves out some important topics that even a short history should contain: the Populist movement of the 1890s and the most successful Socialist Party of the Debs era–the Oklahoma socialists, discussed brilliantly in Jim Bissett’s Agrarian Socialism in America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920.
  2. Joe Burns, Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America
    Carl Finamore reviewed it on Talking Union
    a valuable contribution to resurrecting fundamental lessons from the neglected history of American labor.
    As the title suggests and as he emphasized to me, “the only way we can revive the labor movement is to revive a strike based on the traditional tactics of the labor movement.”But he doesn’t stop there. The author reviews for the reader the full range of tactics and strategy during the exciting, turbulent and often violent history of American labor.Refreshingly, he also provides critical assessments normally avoided by labor analysts of a whole series of union tactics that have grown enormously popular over the last several decades.
  3. Louisa Thomas Conscience Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family–a Test of Will and Faith in World War I Even though I’ve read two biographies of Norman Thomas, this book by Thomas’s great-granddaughter greatly added to my knowledge and appreciation of Thomas.

    Alan Riding’s review in the New York Times seems on the mark

    Louisa Thomas, who never knew her great-­grandfather, might well have chosen to write his biography as a way of meeting him. Instead, in her first book, “Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War I,” she has been far more daring. In fact, the lengthy subtitle is a bit misleading. Yes, Norman and his brother Evan were pacifists and their brothers Ralph and Arthur joined the Army. And yes, Evan was jailed as a conscientious objector and Ralph was wounded in the trenches. Yet the thrust of this enthralling book lies with its title: through the experience of her forebears, Thomas examines how conscience fares when society considers it subversive.

    At issue is not Norman Thomas’s socialism: it barely enters the picture because he joined the Socialist Party only a month before the end of the war. Instead, we are shown the “making” of a socialist, formed not by Marx but by the Bible.

    Also recommended is Mark Johnson’s review and interview of Louisa Thomas on the Fellowship of Reconciliation blog.

     
  4. Bruce Watson, Freedom Summer
  5. Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice  

    Two outstanding books on critical episodes in the civil rights movement: the 1961 Freedom Rides to confront the segregation of interstate bus terminals and the 1964 Freedom Summer to register  African Americans in Mississippi.  Watson is the author of an excellent book on Sacco and Vanzetti (which I have read) and one on the 1912 Bread and Roses strike. Aresensault’s book is a long one, but there  is an abridged version and a DVD of the PBS documentary based on it.

    9.   Philip Dray, There is Power in the Union

    I bought this at the bookstore at the 2011 Netroots nation and found that it lives up to its subtitle “Epic Story of Labor in America.” It is now out in paperback.    There are other recent general  histories of US labor (Mel Dubofsky’s Labor in America: A History and Nelson Lichtenstein’s 2003 State of the Union: A Century of American Labor, A.B. Chitty’s 2002 From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend, and the 2007 two-volume Who Built America).  They might be preferred by academics or labor studies professionals, but for the general reader, union activist, or occupier, There is Power in the Union is highly recommended.
    10. Barbara Clark Smith The Freedoms We Lost:Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America

    This is an eye-opening study of the real-life freedoms in revolutionary America. In a post on the History News Network, Smith brings out the huge differences between today’s Tea Party and the original. If you find that post  intriguing, you might want to check out the book.

And here are two obituaries of two we lost in 2011, from Criticism etc:

Daniel Bell, 1919-2011

Now largely forgotten, Bell was once an influential intellectual and sociologist from the milieu of those who have come to be known as the New York Intellectuals. He editedThe New Leader, the organ of the right-wing of American  social democracy, during World War II and went on to receive a PhD in sociology from Columbia University. He taught for many years at Harvard. Raya Dunayevskaya often cited his The End of Ideology (1960) as the quintessence of the false intellectual representation of the official capitalist society of the age of state capitalism, while the revolts of the time, among them Hungary and the colonial world, represented the negation of that falsification of reality. Bell contributed to  the development of the school of thought of neoconservatism, so-called, (he helped launch the journal Public Interest with William Kristol), although he did not move as far to right as many of his cohort.

• • •

Lana Peters (also known as Svetlana Alliluyeva), 1926-2011

An almost ghost-like figure from another time, Stalin’s daughter lived a peripatetic life after defecting from the USSR during the early years of the Brezhnev era. She authored several memoirs, including Twenty Letters to a Friend and Only One Year. Alliluyeva’s mother was Stalin’s second wife, Nadezhda Aliluyeva, who committed suicide in 1932. Svetlana Alliluyeva married a member of the Frank Lloyd Wright-Olgivanna Wright circle, William Peters, and had a daughter with him. Although Alliluyeva had harshly criticized the USSR after her emigration, she returned there briefly in the 1980s, but once again left it behind for England and the United States. She died in Wisconsin. The New York Times obituary features several photographs, including one of her as a child in her Young Pioneers uniform.

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://poumista.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/books/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. the burns book reviewed also here:
    http://jacobinmag.com/winter-2012/the-strike-and-its-enemies/
    with an echo here:
    http://libcom.org/library/strike-its-enemies

    the nichols book looks very useful, will read it.

  2. Great site . . . I have you liked to one of my web pages:
    http://psalmboxkey.com/political-philosophy/

  3. What a life this guy led…
    http://www.pbs.org/arguing/nyintellectuals_bell_2.html

    The victory of Hitler, and the quick destruction of the powerful Social Democratic movement, gave one the sense that it was, indeed, the final conflict, and each must stand in his place. Many of my comrades did join the Young Cormunist League; a few, more sophisticated, became Trotskyites. I was torn between the two.

    I spoke of this to some anarchist relatives, cousins of my mother, a Russian Jewish couple who lived in Mohegan Colony, a radical settlement 50 miles from New York, where I would spend a week or two in the summer after finishing my job in the garment district, where I used to push the heavy dress trucks through the streets and give out organizing leaflets for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. That I had become a Socialist they did not mind. That I should think of becoming a Communist or a Trotskyite horrified them. They took me to see Rudolf Rocker, the venerable Anarchist leader, an imposing and portly man with a large square head and imposing brush of gray hair, who then lived in the Colony. Rocker said simply that the Bolsheviks–I was struck at the time, and recall almost a half-century later, that he never called them Communists but Bolsheviks–had seized power in the name of the people, using Anarchist slogans such as land to the people; that the Soviets, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, were spontaneous movements which proved the truth of the Anarchist judgments, but that the Bolsheviks had taken over and destroyed the Soviets. In parting, he gave me a number of Anarchist pamphlets, by Malatesta, by Kropotkin (on the Paris Commune), and in particular two pamphlets by Alexander Berkman, The Russian Tragedy and The Kronstadt Rebellion, pamphlets in English but “set up and printed for Der Syndikalist,” Berlin 1922–pamphlets That I have before me as I write (one inscribed in a large round hand, “with fraternal greetings, A.B.. “)–and he suggested that I read Berkman’s The Bolshevik Myth, the diary of his years in Russia, 1920-1922, a copy of which I soon found, and still have.

    Every radical generation, it is said, has its Kronstadt. For some it was the Moscow Trials, for others the Nazi-Soviet Pact, for still others Hungary (The Raik Trial or 1956), Czechoslovakia (the defenestration of Masaryk in 1948 or the Prague Spring of 1968), the Gulag, Cambodia, Poland (and there will be more to come). My Kronstadt was Kronstadt.

    Alexander Berkman was a Russian-born Anarchist who had served fourteen years in prison for shooting Henry Clay Frick, the manager of the Carnegie Steel works, during the bloody strike at Homestead in 1892, and had written the beautiful and eloquent book, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist. In 1917, he and his companion, Emma Goldman, were arrested after the outbreak of the war, had served time in prison and, in 1919, were deported to Russia. Emma Goldman, in fact, had written a pamphlet, just before going to prison for two years, entitled The Truth About the Bolsheviki (sic!) in which she hailed the “libertarian plans” and the incorruptible integrity” of Lenin and Trotsky, “these great figures of the Revolution.”

    I wish it were possible to reprint in full the twelve pages of Berkman’s diary in Petrograd, from the end of February through mid-March 1921, for no bare summary can convey the immediacy, tension and drama as the sailors from the First and Second squadrons of the Baltic Fleet at Kronstadt, the men from the naval base at Petrograd who had catalyzed the October days in 1917, now appealed, following the spontaneous strikes of workers in Petrograd and Moscow, for the establishment of freedom of speech and press “for workers and peasants, for Anarchist and Left Socialist parties,” for the liberation of “all political prisoners of Socialist parties,” to “equalize The rations of all who work,” etc.

    For Trotsky, who was Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Soviet, This was mvatezh, or mutiny. He demanded That the sailors surrender or “I’ll shoot you like<pheasants." The last three entries of Berkman's diaries tell of the. sorry end:

    March 7. –Distant mumbling reaches my ears as I cross the Nevsky. It sounds again, stronger and nearer, as if rolling towards me. All at once I realize that artillery is being fired. It is 6 A.M. Kronstadt has been attacked! ….

    March 17.–Kronstadt has fallen today.

    Thousands of sailors and workers lie dead in its streets. Summary execution of prisoners and hostages continues.

    March 18.7-The victors are celebrating the anniversary of the Commune of 1871. Trotsky and Zinoviev denounce Thiers and Gallifet for The slaughter of the Paris rebels.

    I remained a Socialist and moved to the right-wing of the Party.

    The emotional shock in reading about Kronstadt was reinforced by the factual details about the Communist cooperation with the Nazis in Berlin in 1932, the dreadful theory of "social fascism," in which The Comintern proclaimed that not the Nazis, but The Social Democrats, were the primary enemies of the connunists. Added to this were the appalling scenes in February 1934, when the Socialist Party held a huge meeting in Madison Square Garden in New York to demonstrate solidarity with the Austrian Socialists (who had. risen in armed conflict against the Heimwehr of Dollfus), only to have that meeting violently disrupted by the Communists, who were literally carrying out, in action, the theory of social fascism.

    All this, and more, is history. But it is not the history of the "victors." And being the "victors" does not explain the recurrent appeal of Communism, long after The events of 'Kronstadt" were repeated again and again. The explanation–following the repeated disillusionments–has been given many times, and recently most vividly and convincingly by Jorge Semprun in The Autabicgraphy of Frederico Sanchez, the experiences of a Communist intellectual told in novelistic form. Semprun joined the Spanish Communist Party-in-exile in 1947. Had he not known of the shootmg of Anarchists in Barcelona, the violent attacks on the quasi-Trotskyist P.O.U.M., The murderous role of the French Communist leader Andre Marty in ordering the execution of "oppositionists" within the International Brigade, the sinister role of the G.P.U.? No matter. "When all is said and done," Semprun writes about his alter ego, "the day-to-day aspects of politics have always bored you; politics has interested you only as risk and as total commitment."


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: