From the archive of struggle: The Newsletter

Just saw this on the great Hatful of History blog:

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

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

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

From the archive of struggle; new at MIA

Some texts newly up at the Marxist Internet Archive. (more…)

History notes

Current affairs

Orwell’s Kilburn flat is getting a new blue plaque, which is nice. And it is Orwell Prize nomination time of year again. Phil AVPS picks his best ten posts here, and reckons Laurie Penny will get it because she is surfing the zeitgeist, a suggestion Paul in Lancashire beautifully deconstructs here. I’m not sure if I’ll nominate myself; I don’t think I managed ten decent posts in 2010.

Totally unrelated, here’s Ron Radosh on the decline of the New York intellectuals. Talking of NY intellectuals, Alfred Kazin’s journals are soon to be published.

The Accidental Anarchist: an interview with writer Bryna Kranzler.

The latest Carnival of Socialism is hosted by Luna17 here. It takes the theme of “Debating the way forward”, very necessary indeed. This is from right at the end:

Charlie Pottins pays tribute to Jayaben Desai, who uttered these immortal words:

“What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. In a zoo, there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager.”

On the 20th January we’re with Bob from Brockley and then at the beginning of Feb we’ll be with the Great Unrest.

From the archive of struggle

Mostly via Ent.. as usual.

Dublin Council of Trade UnionsIn Dublin City in 1913: Songs and Stories of the Workers of Dublin, May Day Festival, 1988. There are articles on 1913, on May Day in Dublin since 1890, a profile of Jim Larkin and James Connolly and a range of other materials of interest.

* [Leon Trotsky] Leo Trotskij: Revolutionen i Spanien och kommunisternas uppgifter (1931). In Swedish.

* National Youth Committee, Communist League of America (Opposition)Young Spartacus, Nr. 1-11 (1931-1932) // Opposition Group in the Workers (Communist) Party of America/Communist League of America (Opposition): The Militant, 1-18 1929 // Communist League of America (Opposition): The Militant, 1-34 1930 /The Militant, 1-37 1931. // * Hugo Oehler: Americas role in Germany (1933) / Communist League of America (Opposition) (CLA):  The Militant, 8. Dezember 1934. These are early texts of the Trotskyist movement in America, mainly written by James P Cannon, Max Schactman and Martin Abern. The movement went through a number of incarnations until 1940, when Shachtman and Abern, with James Burnham, left to form the Workers Party (taking Hal Draper, CLR James and the other most intelligent members of the movement).

* Karl KorschThe Passing of Marxian Orthodoxy: Bernstein-Kautsky-Luxemburg-Lenin (1937). In this dense and not particularly readable short text, Korsch argues that Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin were all essentially exemplars of a moribund orthodox Marxism which fetishised the form of the political party.

* Raya DunayevskayaEisenhower-Khrushchev Spectacular (1959). Dunayevskaya had been a member of the Shachtman/Cannon Trotskyist movement, following Shachtman in his break from Cannon’s orthodox Trotskyism in 1940, along with her close colleague CLR James. This text is from News and Letters, the magazine of Dunayevskaya’s movement from 1955 onwards, after she had split with James, favouring a stronger organisational form for the revolutionary movement than James countenanced. However, if anything hers was the stronger anti-Stalinism, as comes across in the closing words of this text: “But – just as the steel workers have refused to be cowed, although their stomach are getting pretty empty, and just as all workers, American and European and African, refuse to separate their fight for bread from that for freedom – so the workers in each country on each side of the Atlantic, will prove to be the real antagonists against these hypocritical state-capitalist leaders. Until that struggle is settled, no others can be – because all the others only lead back to the same old exploitative society.” Also new on-line: American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard [Excerpt] (1963)

* Hal DraperMarx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1962). This is from New Politics, Vol. 1, No. 4, Summer 1962. It was later, I think, expanded into his major work Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol III: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, published by Monthly Review Press. Around this time, Draper broke from Shachtman (by then leading an entrist faction in the Socialist Party) to form the Independent Socialist Club (ISC), and I think that the article bares traces of his struggle with the legacy of orthodox Trotskyism in the Shachtmanite scene.

* Brian PearceTrotsky as an Historian (1960). I think of Pearce as Britain’s Hal Draper. This from the period of his evolution from Pollit-esque Brit-Stalinism to orth0-Trot politics, writing for The Newsletter, the publication of Gerry Healy’s Trotskyist “Club“, which in 1959 became the Socialist Labour League (later the Workers Revolutionary party) – the paper edited by Pearce’s close comrade the great Peter Fryer, with whom, I think, he had left the CPGB.

*C.L.R. James: World Politics Today (1967) /  Che Guevara (1967) /  World Revolution: 1968 (1967) // Martin GlabermanUpheaval in China (1967) /  The United States and the Russian Revolution (1967) / Martin Luther King, Jr (1968)
* Martin Glaberman: Regis Debray: Revolution Without a Revolution (1968) / Indonesian Communism: The First Stage (1968) / On Balance: The French Events (1968) // George RawickToward a New History of Slavery in the U.S. (1967) / A New Nation in a New World (1967) /George Rawick: Notes on the American Working Class (1968). These are texts by three figures then involved in the journal Speak Out, monthly newsletter (edited by Glaberman) of the Facing Reality group, which evolved from the Johnson-Forest Tendency founded by James and Dunayevskaya as they moved away from the Trotskyist movement. Kent Worcester, in C.L.R. James: A Political Biography, sees this period as Facing Reality flirting with Maoism, so it is interesting to read these texts in that light.

* Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee (Abroad) (ISRAC)ISRAC, Mai 1969. According to Wikipedia, “In the late 1960s and early 1970s, supporters of Matzpen abroad published Israca (Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee Abroad). The magazine included many articles published in Matzpen. Some of Matzpen was censored and that material was republished in IsracaMoshé Machover, Eli Lobel, Haim Hanegbi and Akiva Orr were all part of the editorial board. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, supporters of the organisation and other radical left academics and activists formed another journal in the UK, Khamsin, in which they published their analyses of current events.”

* International-Communist League (I-CL)Debate on Cambodia, 1979 (1978/1979). The I-CL was the forerunner of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL).
* Alan JohnsonThe „other Trotskyists“ and Palestine (~ 1997). Here Johnson, then of the AWL, discusses the politics of Hal Draper’s movement.

Texts from libcom: (more…)

From the archive of struggle, no.35: Holt Labor Library special

In previous editions, I have featured the Labadie Collection and the Greater Manchester Collection. This week, we focus on the Holt Labor Library, with more below the fold. Browse the whole series here.

The Holt Labor Library in San Francisco has a truly exemplary website. Below are some snippets from some of its exhibitions, which are hyperlinked to their source pages.

The Bob Mattingly Button Exhibit.

[1991] Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) was formed in 1976 from a number of reform groups including Teamsters for a Democratic Contract and UPSurge. They were reacting to corruption within the union caused by leadership being too close to businesses, as well as their alleged affiliation with organized crime and the Nixon administration. Professionals Drivers’ Council (PROD) merged with TDU in 1979, bringing their lobbying and legal expertise, and new members from the East Coast and South. As a reform group within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, TDU believes in a democratic union with control resting in the membership. Their Rank and File Bill of Rights emphasizes election of union leadership, majority approval of contract votes, equality throughout the union, workplace standards and fair salaries. Over the years, several of their goals have been implemented union-wide. In 1988, Majority Rule on Contracts became part of the IBT Constitution. TDU won direct election of officers through a federal RICO lawsuit in 1989. With the election of TDU-backed Ron Carey as Teamsters president in 1991, officers’ pay was slashed and financial waste ended. The TDU was active in the successful 1997 UPS strike. They supported Tyson Foods workers in Pasco, Washington in 1999 who called a strike even without IBT support. Today they continue their reform struggle against current IBT president James Hoffa, Jr., who they blame for new corruption and a loss of union membership.

[1984] United Farm Workers (UFW) leader César Chávez called for a third boycott on California table grapes in 1984. Whereas previous UFW boycotts had been about farm worker conditions, this one called for a ban on five major pesticides used in grape fields. The UFW claimed in their 1989 film, “Wrath of Grapes,” that the chemicals caused cancer and birth defects, and that they were getting into the ground water of surrounding communities. Chávez went on a 36-day hunger strike in 1988 to promote the boycott, receiving support from many politicians and celebrities. Later that year, city leaders in San Francisco, San Jose and Alameda County joined the boycott. UFW continued its boycott after Chávez’s death in 1993, ending it in 2000 when four of the five pesticides in question had been banned and the fifth regulated.

[1996] “The long-running, low key but aggresive campaign to organize a new party anchored firmly inside the American Labor Movement, will culminate next June in Cleveland, Ohio when delegates from across the nation formally launch a grassroots, working class-based political movement.” (Labor Party Advocate, August 1995) According to the organization’s website, the founding conference attracted “1,400 delegates from hundreds of local and international unions as well as individual activists.” They adopted a 16-point program, the “Call for Economic Justice,” that “demands that everyone who wants to work have a right to a decent-paying job. As long as millions of us remain jobless or employed at jobs that pay poverty wages, all of us will suffer.” (Labor Party: FAQs. http://www.thelaborparty.org/a_faqs.html )

Holt Labor Library Audio Collection

A selection of the library’s audio collection is online in mp3 format, hosted by the Marxists Internet Archive. Currently, lectures by George Breitman, James P. Cannon, Farrell Dobbs, Tom Kerry, Ernest Mandel, Robert Langston, Larry Trainor, Evelyn Reed and Harry Ring are available, with more to be added.

There are also special features, each with lots of links, on topics such as the San Francisco General Strike of 1934 (including folk song sheet music), the late Sylvia Weinstein, Sacco and Venzetti, Joe Hill, the Lawrence textiles strike, and the United Farm Workers of America.

(more…)

John Cornford (and Brian Pearce, and Leon Trotsky, and Trotsky’s Mercedes)

From Histomatist:

Browsing George Galloway’s site this morning, as one does, the following news announcement caught my eye:

George Galloway will be with host Matthew Parris on Great Lives – a weekly biographical series where each guest talks about a person in public life who is very special to them. George has chosen the poet John Cornford who was killed, tragically young, in the Spanish Civil War. He would like you to join him for 30 minutes to discover why he finds John’s life so inspirational.
Broadcasting on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday the 18th of August at 4:30pm, then repeated on Friday the 21st at 11pm.
And also available on BBC iPlayer from 19th August.

The Communist poet John Cornford did indeed have a ‘great’ if tragically short, life – and the sacrifice of those like Cornford who gave their lives fighting fascism remains an utterly relevant inspiration for our anti-fascist struggle today. Cornford is clearly a hero for Galloway – see this characteristically short eloquent 2006 article – John Cornford and the Fight for the Spanish Republic – and his choice of a ‘Great Life’ and its timing – has to be applauded. However, one suspects that simply heralding Cornford as a ‘fighter for the Spanish Republic’ may actually miss not only some of the complexity of his politics but also downplay somewhat their revolutionary nature.

As the late great revolutionary historian Brian Pearce once noted, ‘Cornford was killed in action in December 1936, fighting with the International Brigade in Spain. His writings while in Spain suggest that, had he lived, his Marxist approach would have brought him into conflict with Stalinism.’ Pearce referred to John Cornford: A Memoir, edited by Pat Sloan (1938), which ‘consists of selections from the writings of the young man to whom the socialist movement in the universities in that period owed more than to anybody else, together with contributions by people who knew him.’ As Pearce noted,

For Cornford the struggle in Spain was ‘a revolutionary war’. ‘In Catalonia at least the overwhelming majority of the big employers went over to the fascists. Thus the question of socialism was placed on the order of the day.’ The Spanish Communist Party should ‘force recognition from the government of the social gains of the revolution’. Cornford feared that the party was ‘a little too mechanical in its application of People’s Front tactics. It is still concentrating too much on trying to neutralize the petty bourgeoisie – when by far the most urgent task is to win the anarchist workers…’

Though he had no time for anarchism, Cornford saw that the main body of militant workers in the principal industrial region of Spain, around Barcelona, were anarchists, and, being a sincere communist, that meant for him that the party’s task was first and foremost to get among those workers, establish close ties with them, and win them for Marxism. The line actually taken by the Stalinists was first to stick a label on the anarchist workers (‘uncontrollables’, the 1937 equivalent of ‘Left adventurists’), then to work up a pogrom spirit against them among the followers of the Communist Party, and finally to attack and decimate them, using an armed force recruited among former policemen and the middle class.

I do hope George Galloway’s discussion of Cornford will find time to condemn the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism in revolutionary Spain, though something tells me I shouldn’t get my hopes up too much on this score.

Speaking of Pearce, those with access to a university library might check out the latest issue of Revolutionary Russia (v. 22, no. 1 (June 2009) which carries a long obituary alongside two tributes from academic historians, and those without might check out the latest issue of Revolutionary History which also has an obituary.

I am indebted to POUMista for drawing my attention to this photo of George Orwell – another witness to the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism in Spain of course – which as POUMista notes ‘highlights the fact that Orwell, although thought of by some as a Little Englander, was fundamentally an internationalist and cosmopolitan, and in many senses a postcolonial figure.’

Finally, POUMista also drew my attention to Reading the Maps on the late Leszek Kolakowski whose passing seems to have caused no end of debate and turmoil on the blogosphere.

For a similar, slightly harsher, take on Galloway on Corford, see this old post by Bob. Bob does not like George Galloway. (For non-Scots mystified by the Brigada‘s intervention: sleekit, sook.) On Kolakowski, I think I missed Peter Ryley’s excellent “cool reflection”.

Also from Histomatist:

Sorry, a bit irrelevant I know, but I was digging through some old files and, well, speaking of Trotsky, I came across this snippet on page 28 of With Trotsky in Exile by Jean Van Heijenoort which I thought ought to be shared with Histomat readers. It’s about when Trotsky tried to learn to drive at some point during the 1920s.

Trotsky, when still in Russia, had expressed the desire to have a car and to drive. Joffe, a Soviet diplomat and friend of Trotsky, sent him from abroad a Mercedes, specially equipped with a powerful engine. Trotsky took the wheel and, after five hundred yards, went into a ditch. That was the end of the driving.

John Cornford

The Marxist Internet Archive, as I noted here, are undertaking the wonderful task of adding Brian Pearce’s regular column, Constant Reader, from the 1950s, to their great collection. A couple of items caught my eye. This is from March 1959:

John Cornford’s warning

A useful book on this subject is ‘John Cornford: A Memoir’, edited by Pat Sloan (1938). It consists of selections from the writings of the young man to whom the socialist movement in the universities in that period owed more than to anybody else, together with contributions by people who knew him.

Cornford was killed in action in December 1936, fighting with the International Brigade in Spain. His writings while in Spain suggest that, had he lived, his Marxist approach would have brought him into conflict with Stalinism.

For Cornford the struggle in Spain was ‘a revolutionary war’.

‘In Catalonia at least the overwhelming majority of the big employers went over to the fascists. Thus the question of socialism was placed on the order of the day.’

The Communist Party should ‘force recognition from the government of the social gains of the revolution’.

Cornford feared that the party was ‘a little too mechanical in its application of People’s Front tactics. It is still concentrating too much on trying to neutralize the petty bourgeoisie – when by far the most urgent task is to win the socialist workers…’

And this is from the following week:

Cornford and the anarchists

An error crept into one of my quotations from Cornford last week – an error which it is particularly worth correcting, as it weakens the point of the passage quoted.

It was not the ‘socialist’ but the ‘anarchist workers’ that Cornford thought the Spanish communists should concentrate on winning.

Though he had no time for anarchism, Cornford saw that the main body of militant workers in the principal industrial region of Spain, around Barcelona, were anarchists, and, being a sincere communist, that meant for him that the party’s task was first and foremost to get among those workers, establish close ties with them, and win them for Marxism.

The line actually taken by the Stalinists was first to stick a label on the anarchist workers (‘uncontrollables’, the 1937 equivalent of ‘Left adventurists’), then to work up a pogrom spirit against them among the followers of the Communist Party, and finally to attack and decimate them, using an armed force recruited among former policemen and the middle class.

Very relevant to what we were talking about here.

Archive special

From the archive of struggle, no.19. Non-anoraks, skip this post, and go to this one, on Obama’s taste in reading and an alternative to the Richard and Judy book club, or this one,  on early jazz and recent fado, or this one, on how blogging has re-invigorated radical history.

Steve Cohen

First of all, ArchivesHub last month highlighted the Greater Manchester Collection of Steve Cohen, lawyer and anti deportation campaigner, 1975-1996. Go here for the website, which includes links to selected websites and some excellent suggested reading.. For background on Steve Cohen, check Engage/Bob.
Image of a demo rally poster Image of a campaign poster Image of an anti deportation campaign poster

The rest

Marxist Internet Archive:

  • Added to the J. T. Murphy Archive: The Communist Party of Great Britain (1943) and The Last Great Split in World Communism (1948) [Poumista: Latter is particularly recommended. Murphy played a part in the 1926 expulsion of Trotsky from the Communist International, was expelled himself in 1932 for challenging its disasterous ultra-left Third Period politics, and reflects here on these two expulsions and on Tito’s. By the way,  Murphy’s wikipedia page badly needs editing!]
  • Added to the Rudolf Hilferding Archive: State Capitalism or Totalitarian State Economy 1940 [Poumista: This piece is also important, as a key intervention in the debate about the character of the Soviet Union. Hilferding wrote it as the Nazis boot was stamping on the face of France, not long before he was handed by the Vichy French to the Gestapo, who would murder him and take his wife Rose to Auschwitz, where she perished. His characterisation of the Stalinist system as totalitarian has considerable force.]
  • Added to the Brian Pearce Archive: Rank-and-file Movements of the Thirties, 15 November 1958 (Constant Reader) [Poumista: Pearce is another important, neglected character. Like EP Thompson, he was part of the Communist Party Historians Group, but re-thought Stalinism in the wake of Russia’s counter-revolution crushing of the Hungarian revolution 1956, getting himself expelled in 1957. A close associate of Peter Fryer, he passed with him through the orbit of Gerry Healey. This piece, I think, dates from his time with Healey’s Club, and is an important contribution to the 1950s’ revisioning of Anglo-Stalinist and labour history.]

[Beneath the fold: Spanish anarchist histories, and more besides] (more…)