Libertarian socialist resources

This is a list of external links from the Wikipedia article on libertarian socialism, which is currently being trimmed so these are mostly getting deleted. I am not sure if they are all live, but I thought I’d paste them here as a potentially useful resource. (more…)

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Published in: on July 3, 2017 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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.

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…)

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.

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 (2)  
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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…)

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

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

Fifty years ago: the execution of Francisco Granados and Joaquin Data Martinez Delgado

From on this deity (1910): 

Forty-seven years ago today, in 1963, two young Spanish anarchists were executed by General Franco’s obscene regime for a Passport Office bombing of which they had no knowledge, while the real perpetrators slipped quietly away. Despite the absence of any evidence of their involvement, Francisco Granados (27) and Joaquin Data Martinez Delgado (29) – both members of the anti-Franco movement called the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth – were interrogated, brutally tortured, tried behind closed doors and executed by garotte at Franco’s notorious Carabanchel Prison, and all of this in just eighteen days after having been arrested.

For many, these unfortunates were but two more victims of an unrestrained and merciless tyrant estimated to have executed almost two million non-combatants between 1939-75, during his arduous near four-decade-long reign of terror. But what separated this grotesque event from the rest of Franco’s merciless pogroms against his own people was that it took place not at the chaotic post-Civil War beginning of his ‘reign’, but twenty-four grueling years into his rule, and during this cynical tyrant’s attempt to pass off his regime as ‘respectable’ to the rest of the Western World. For, as a resurgent wave of underground resistance began –throughout 1963 – to rise up from the ashes of violent repression, General Franco openly recommenced his policy of institutionalised revenge and intent to eradicate from Spain all democrats, liberals, socialists and – above all others – his most-despised enemies from the war, the communists and anarchists. (more…)

For a Third Square!

What is the Third Square?

The Third Square (Arabic: الميدان الثالث‎) is an Egyptian political movement created by liberal, leftist and moderate Islamist activists who reject both Muslim Brotherhood and military rule following the 2013 Egyptian coup d’état.

The movement first appeared when the Egyptian defence minister, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, called for mass demonstrations on 26 July 2013 to grant his forces a “mandate” to crack down on “terrorism”,[1] which was seen as contradicting the military’s pledges to hand over power to civilians after removing Mr. Morsi and as an indication for an imminent crackdown against Islamists.[2] The announcement by General Al-Sisi was rejected by a number of political groups that had initially supported the military coup, such as the revolutionary April 6 Youth Movement,[3] the moderate Strong Egypt Party,[4] the Salafi Al-Nour Party[5] and Egyptian Human Rights groups.[6]

The Third Square movement, demonstrating in Sphinx Square, Cairo (more…)

Published in: on August 12, 2013 at 11:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Anarchism in the Eastern Mediterranean

Two interesting items:

The colour brown: de-colonising anarchism and challenging white hegemony by  in Random Shelling. Extract:

The appearance of the Egyptian Black Bloc in Cairo’s streets in January 2013 triggered gullible excitement in Western anarchist circles. Little thought was given to the Egyptian Black Bloc’s political vision – or lack thereof – tactics, or social and economic positions. For most Western anarchists, it was enough that they looked and dressed like anarchists to warrant uncritical admiration. Facebook pages of Israeli anarchists were swamped with pictures of Egyptian Black Bloc activists; skimming through the US anarchist blogosphere during that period would have given one the impression that the Black Bloc was Egypt’s first-ever encounter with anarchism and anti-authoritarianism. But as American writerJoshua Stephens notes, the jubilant reaction many Western anarchists have towards the Black Bloc raises unflattering questions concerning their obsession with form and representation, rather than content and actions. And in this regard, these anarchists are not different from the Islamists who were quick to denounce the Black Bloc as blasphemous and infidel merely because they looked like Westerners. Further, many Western anarchist reactions to the Black Bloc unmask an entrenched orientalist tendency. Their disregard of Egypt and the Middle East’s rich history of anarchism is one manifestation of this. As Egyptian anarchist, Yasser Abdullah illustrates, anarchism in Egypt dates back to the 1870’s in response to the inauguration of the Suez Canal; Italian anarchists in Alexandria took part in the First International, published an anarchist journal in 1877, and took part in the Orabi revolution of 1881; Greek and Italian anarchists also organised strikes and protests with Egyptian workers. Yet these struggles are nonchalantly shunned by those who act today as if the Black Bloc is the first truly radical group to grace Egyptian soil….

I begin by showing that colonial attitudes made the Republicans of the Spanish Revolution neglect Spanish colonialism in North Africa, leading them to focus solely on fighting fascism at home. That the Spanish Revolution continues to serve as an important reference for today’s anarchist movements, it is not surprising that similar colonial attitudes lead today’s movements to write-off centuries of anti-authoritarian struggle in Asia, Africa and the Middle East….

Exceedingly Immersed in their fight against fascism and tyranny in Spain, the [Spanish] revolutionaries ignored Spain’s colonialism, fascism and tyranny across the Mediterranean. The level of dehumanisation toward the “Other” was so high that, according to most pro-revolution narratives, the only role colonised Moroccans were given to play was one of mercenaries brought in by General Franco to crush the Popular Front. Much pro-revolution sentiment would go as far as referring to Moroccans in a racist manner. While it is difficult to argue that mutual solidarity between Spanish revolutionaries and colonised Moroccans could have changed the outcome of the War, it is also difficult to know whether this kind of solidarity was ever feasible in the first place. As the late American historian Howard Zinn puts it: “In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.” On the other hand, anarchism, in its essence, means rejecting and fighting against any form of authority and subjugation, including colonialism and occupation. To be truly anti-authoritarian, therefore, any struggle against fascism and dictatorship at home should be internationalist and cannot be separated from the struggle against fascism and tyranny abroad, in its role as a colonial power….

And Palestinian Anarchists in Conversation: Recalibrating anarchism in a colonized country, by Joshua Stephens, originally in the Lebanese magazine The Outpost. Extract:

ahmad

“I’m honestly still trying to kick the nationalist habit,” jokes activist Ahmad Nimer, as we talk outside a Ramallah cafe. Our topic of conversation seems an unlikely one: living as an anarchist in Palestine. “In a colonized country, it’s quite difficult to convince people of non-authoritarian, non-state solutions. You encounter, pretty much, a strictly anticolonial – often narrowly nationalist – mentality,” laments Nimer. Indeed, anarchists in Palestine currently have a visibility problem. Despite high-profile international and Israeli anarchist activity, there doesn’t seem to be a matching awareness of anarchism among many Palestinians themselves.

See also: anarchist tagged posts on Tahrir-ICN about Egyptian anarchists.

No Gods, no bosses, no husbands: the other half of anarchy

This article appears in Italian in Corriere della Sera’s La ventisettesima ora

Fifteen “rebellious women” of the twentieth century – But who are their heirs? by 

Fifteen fascinating and scandalous women , fifteen women rebels… largely forgotten by history. Educated women, aristocratic or workers, publishers, poets, journalists, writers, activists, who from Italy to Japan, Russia to England, Spain to Argentina choose a rough path of autonomy , siding always on with the weak and exposing the same oppression of fascism, Nazism and Communism. Denounced, arrested, imprisoned, exiled, sometimes victims of violence, in one case killed: their stories are told for the first time by Lorenzo Pezzica, historian and archivist of Milan, who, with her book Anarchists: Rebel women of the twentieth century (Shake editions, 2013) fills a void in the history of anarchism, reserved so far only for men.

Forget therefore Bakunin and Kropotkin, Malatesta and Pisacane. Here are red Emma, the Lithuanian Goldman, the only internationally known, called “the most dangerous woman in America”, pioneering feminist and champion of free love, despite being tormented by jealousy. And Virginia Bolten who only twenty years old, 1 May 1890, is the first woman speaker of the nascent labor movement in the city of Rosario, and wrote “Ni Dios, ni patron ni marido”.

Or Dora Marsden, petite and daring suffragette arrested in London in 1909, believing that it is high time for women to take control of their lives. She joined , the first feminist magazine of the 1900s, but would eventually break from movement, denouncing its hierarchical organization too . And again, Lucía Sánchez Saornil, declared lesbian, forced to go underground in Franco’s Spain, who throughout her life will try to reformulate the identity of “those who do not count.” Then, Nancy Cunard, depicted on the cover of the book, provocative dark lady and convinced anti-racist, who? rejects the English aristocracy from which committed all his energies in the Spanish revolutionary cause, and will pay its unconventional choices with loneliness and cultural existential…

Among the best stories is that of May Picqueray , French and pacifist anarcho-syndicalist, independent woman who lived by the tragedies of the twentieth century, raising her three children alone had three different companions… Not to mention, finally, the Italian: Maria Luisa Berneri, a tireless opponent of all wars in its short existence marked by the tragic death of her father Camillo, who was killed in 1937 in Barcelona by the assassins of the Comintern. And Luce Fabbri, a life spent in exile in Uruguay, recalling that totalitarian nightmare of Orwell, a  machinery of power increasingly sophisticated and oppressive that, although experienced as a painful wound, never translates [for these women] into a sense of helplessness…

Beyond their ideas, shared or not, I am struck by the determination and courage of these women perpetually wandering, uncomfortable and insubordinate, here and now they want to accomplish their dream of a better life. Women, as  Ida Fare writes in the introduction , linked by a network that truly embodies the words of the song anarchist “Our homeland is the whole world, our law is freedom.”

But who today could represent an ideal continuity with their thinking, with their willingness to transgression is difficult to find examples of disruptive approved in the current world, where it quickly becomes polluted every thrust antagonist.

The article nominates  Aliokhina Maria, the youngest member of Pussy Riot, serving two years in prison for the anti-Putin punk prayer in the Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow. Or the fierce Inna Shevchenko, leader of Femen, the movement that was born in Kiev with its clamorous protest topless which spread to, among others, the Tunisian blogger Amina.  Or Nawal El Saadawi, Egyptian activist and renowned psychiatrist, or Vandana Shiva , the Indian environmentalist, champion of biodiversity.
(more…)

New York Yiddish anarchists in Mexico

I have been been reading lately about Jack Abrams. His basic life story is told by Nick Heath at Libcom, and he is a minor character in The Gentle General: Rose Pesotta Anarchist and Labor Organizer by Elaine Leeder. He was born in Russia in 1883, went to America in 1906, worked (like many key anarchist activists of the period) as a bookbinder, became a trade union militant and anarcho-syndicalist.  With about a group which included his partner Mary Abrams and Mollie Steimer, he edited the underground newspaper Frayhayt (Freedom), from an apartment at 5 East 104th Street in East Harlem. The most dramatic and well-known part of his story came in 1918, as told here by Nick Heath:

He was the author of two leaflets calling for a general strike against the US intervention of spring –summer 1918 against the Russian Revolution. These called for a social revolution in the United States. The paper was folded up tightly and posted in mailboxes around New York and the leaflets each had a print run of 5,000. The federal and local authorities began to be on the lookout for the authors of this propaganda. He was arrested on the 24th August 1918 along with Jacob Schwartz. The two were beaten with fists and blackjacks on the way to the police station. There further beatings were dished out. The arrest of the Frayhayt group signaled the start of massive repression of the anarchist movement in the United States. The Abrams case as it became known was a was a landmark in the suppression of civil liberties in the USA. Schwartz died in October due to the severe beatings he had received, although the authorities put it down to Spanish influenza…

On October 25th 1918 Jack , together with Sam Lipman and Hyman Lachowsky, was sentenced to 20 years hard labor and fined $ 1000 on charges of “anti-American activities.”, whilst Mollie Steimer received fifteen years and a $500 fine… In mid-1919 was filed an appeal, and in the meantime Jack and the others were released.

Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas was one of the people active in the campaign that led to this release. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, but was notable for the dissenting opinion of Oliver Wendell Holmes (joined by  Louis Brandeis):

we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threatened immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.

The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. “That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.

Anyway, the group tried to escape to Mexico but got waylaid and some went to Russia, where (ironically, considering the defence of the revolution had got them locked up) they witnessed the deepening repression of the Bolshevik state, and before long were deported from there too. Eventually, in 1926, Mary and Jack Abrams wound up in Mexico, in Cuernavaca, not far from Mexico City, where he joined a group of Spanish anarchist exiles, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom).

Creative Commons License. Photo from the Triangle Fire Open Archive. Contributed by David Bellel. Circa 1930s. Photo shows Mary Abrams, a shirtwaist fire survivor, with her husband Jack Abrams, Rose Pesotta, Senya Fleshin and Mollie Steimer. The picture was taken in Mexico in the late 1930s where the group lived in exile (except for Pesotta) as a result of the Palmer Raids of 1919. At that time Mary was part of the anarchist Frayhayt group. Mary passed away in 1978. Source: Jewish Women’s Archive.

Steimer’s route to Mexico was even more complex, also via Russia, where she was imprisoned by the GPU (forerunner of the KGB), to Berlin, from which she fled when Hitler came to power, to France, where she was again interned in  Camp Gurs as a German. (She must have been there, May-June 1940, at the same time as Hannah Arendt. I wonder if they met?) Then to Vichy – according to Wikipedia “Steimer was aided principally by May Picqueray (1893-1983), the militant anarchist editor of Le Refractaire, who had previously assisted the couple by protesting their imprisonment in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1923.”

And finally to Mexico City, where her and Fleshin had a photo studio, SEMOHere‘s two of their 1952 photo of the opera singer Maria Callas:

 

And here’s Fleshin at his trade:

Senya Fleshin

They retired to Cuernavaca in 1963.

Ron Radosh, the red diaper baby turned anti-Communist, was a nephew of Jack Abrams, and in his memoir Commies he writes:

My first remembrance of the many visits we made to Mexico City is from 1945, when I was nine. As others were gathering in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II, we saw the giant parade that wound through downtown Mexico City. Abrams took me to the major sites and to children’s films, willingly spending hours with me while my parents went off to experience Mexico’s revolutionary culture. In a later visit, either 1949 or 1950, Abrams, who had learned from my parents that I had already begun to circulate in the orbit of New York’s young Communist movement, did his best to warn me about the ethics and true nature of Stalin’s regime.

As we all walked through the streets of beautiful Cuernavaca (now a famous tourist resort), my parents spotted the painter David Alfaro Siqueras, one of the founders of the Mexican muralist school. The famed artist approached Abrams to say hello, and much to my shock, Abrams refused to shake his hand and exchange greetings. “I don’t talk to murderers,” he shouted at Siqueras, and turned and walked away. When he had calmed down, Abrams told me about Siqueras’s role in the attempted murder of Leon Trotsky at his estate in the Coyocan suburb of Mexico City, when the painter led a group of machine-gun-toting raiders in a failed effort to kill the exiled Bolshevik.

Abrams often socialized and became friends with other exiles, despite occasionally severe political differences. He was a regular guest at Trotsky’s walled-in compound, where the two played chess and argued about Bolshevism. After his death, Trotsky’s widow presented Abrams a set of Trotsky’s favorite Mexican-made dishware as a remembrance of their solidarity and friendship—a gift which Abrams later passed on to my parents. Often in later years, I would serve cake to my Stalinist friends on these plates, and after they admired the beauty of the design and craftsmanship, I would tell them whose dishes they were eating from, and watch them turn pale.

Abrams also befriended the great painter Diego Rivera, who spent his years moving from Bolshevism to Trotskyism and back to official Soviet Communism. Despite these twists and turns, and probably because at critical moments Rivera had opposed Stalin, Abrams maintained the relationship. Once, he took me to meet the artist and watch him paint the murals—some of the last he was to create—in the Del Prado Hotel in the main part of the city. In later years, the hotel would cover the murals with curtains because of embarrassment about their anti-Catholic and revolutionary themes. Rivera gave Abrams some of his paintings, one of which Abrams gave to my parents. My mother kept it in her New York City apartment.

Abrams gave the twelve year old Radosh a copy of Franz Borkenau‘s The Spanish Cockpit, presenting the anti-Stalinist view of the Spanish revolution and civil war.

Further reading: Abrams, Jack. J. Aybrams-bukh dos lebn un shafn fun an eygnartike perzenlikhkayt. [Jack Abrams Book, The Life And Works Of A Peculiar Personality] Mexico City: Centro Cultural Israelita de Mexico, 1956. 329pp [via YAB] If anyone has this, and wants to write a guest post based on it, please get in touch!

EVENT: Annexation, Autonomy, or Independence? The Politics of Cuban Identity in the Émigré Communities of New York and Florida, 1840s-1890

Via 171 bus:

ElProductorEvan Daniel, Queens College, City University of New York

“Annexation, Autonomy, or Independence? The Politics of Cuban Identity in the Émigré Communities of New York and Florida, 1840s-1890s”

Thursday 18th April 2013, 2 pm – 3.30 pm

Seminar Room, Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS

Hosted by the ESRC Centre on Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS)

This seminar will explore the changing modalities of diasporic identities among émigré Cuban workers in the nineteenth century, including tensions between Creole and Peninsular orientations, and tensions between different conceptions of nationalism and internationalism in the anarchist and labour movements.

For information, please contact Ben Gidley, COMPAS ben.gidley@compas.ox.ac.uk

Directions and map at: http://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/about/how-to-find-us/

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On this day

Via the Modern School blog:

January 7, 1919 – This date marked the beginning of Argentina’s “Bloody Week” (AKA Tragic Week) in Buenos Aires. Workers (led by Italian anarchists) were demonstrating for the 8-hour work day and were fired upon by the authorities, leaving four dead and nearly 30 wounded. Clashes with the authorities on the day of the funerals left another 50 dead. A General Strike was called and strikers were attacked by trade union reformists and paramilitary groups collaborating with the police. By January 16 the strike was crushed, with as many as 700 dead and 2000 wounded, many of whom were Jewish-Russian immigrants targeted by racists and anti-Bolshevik hysteria.(From the Daily Bleed and Wikipedia)
January 7, 1939 – Tom Mooney, a labor activist wrongly convicted of murder in the San Francisco Preparedness Day bombing in July 1916, was freed after 22 ½ years in jail, granted an unconditional pardon by Governor Culbert Olson.(From the Daily Bleed)
Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 2:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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