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: the Spanish Civil War at Warwick, the Marxist Internet Archive, and more

It is a long time since I have done one of these posts, and my comrade Entdinglichung has been relaxing for a while, so we have not had the benefit of his services to the cause. First, some news (thanks Liz in a comments thread), from the Modern Records Centre in Warwick, in the UK:

Work is now underway on a major new project to digitise internationally significant archives relating to the Spanish Civil War.

The project will result in over 10,000 pages of archive material being made available online free of charge. Transcriptions will be available for every item, allowing researchers to search through the mass of material for key words or phrases.

It is anticipated that the project will be completed in Spring 2012.

What is being digitised?

The archive collection of the Trades Union Congress includes 45 files on different aspects of the conflict. The files contain correspondence, minutes, reports, memoranda and propaganda material produced by members of the British and Spanish governments; political groups; international, British and Spanish trade unions; pressure groups, aid organisations, and other interested parties.

In addition, we are also digitising a small number of publications from the collections of the Trotskyists Henry Sara and Hugo Dewar. These include examples of bulletins (in English and Spanish) produced by Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM).

This is great news. Those interested might also be interested in some of their other digital resources:

Examples of documents relating to the conflict in Spain are included in our online resources for the History Department module ‘Anti-fascism, Resistance and Liberation in Western Europe (HI392)’. Photographs of Basque refugees in Britain are included in our image gallery ‘North Stoneham Camp for Basque Children: Snapshots of a Volunteer’.

Below is extracted from the former, and I urge you to spend some time there:

Letter from Willy Brandt of the German Seamen's Group, Oslo, to Edo Fimmen, Secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation, 1937 Letter from Willy Brandt of the German Seamen’s Group, Oslo, to Edo Fimmen, Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, 1937Willy Brandt was Chancellor of West Germany between 1969-1974 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his attempts to improve relations between the East and West. As an active socialist and anti-fascist, Brandt (born Karl Herbert Frahm) fled to Norway in 1933 to avoid arrest by the Nazi authorities. It was then that Frahm adopted the new name that he would use for the remainder of his life. [Added, from Wikipedia: “After passing his Abitur in 1932 at Johanneum zu Lübeck, he became an apprentice at the shipbroker and ship’s agent F.H. Bertling. He joined the “Socialist Youth” in 1929 and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1930. He left the SPD to join the more left wing Socialist Workers Party (SAP), which was allied to the POUM in Spain and the Independent Labour Party in Britain. In 1933, using his connections with the port and its ships, he left Germany for Norway to escape Nazi persecution. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Willy Brandt to avoid detection by Nazi agents. In 1934, he took part in the founding of the International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organizations, and was elected to its Secretariat.” -Poumista][Included in the records of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, document reference: MSS.159/3/C/A/52]
'The Spanish Revolution', Bulletin of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), 3 February 1937 ‘The Spanish Revolution’, Bulletin of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), 3 February 1937English language bulletin published in Barcelona. This edition counters Communist or Stalinist accusations against POUM. One of the inside pages also includes a reference to a visit to the offices of the publication by “the well-known British author” Eric Blair [George Orwell].[One of a series of publications on the Spanish Civil War from the papers of Henry Sara, Trotskyist; document reference: MSS.15/3/8/255/9]
'Barcelona Bulletin', second edition, 15 May 1937 ‘Barcelona Bulletin’, second edition, 15 May 1937Anarchist news sheet describing the fighting between the Communists, and the anarchists and the Trotskyists (POUM) in Barcelona. It includes reports by Jane H. Patrick and Ethel Macdonald on events between 5-9 May.[One of a series of publications on the Spanish Civil War from the papers of Henry Sara, Trotskyist; document reference: MSS.15/3/8/243]

More archival news from the Alliance for Workers Liberty:

The archives of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and our forerunners, deposited at the library of the London School of Economics, are now catalogued and available to researchers. http://archives.lse.ac.uk/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=AWL The archives include all the documents and publications of the AWL and our forerunners except the most recent stuff, which is on this website or (in the case of more recent minutes of AWL committees) in electronic archives available to AWL members.

The rest of this post is a round-up of some of the main radical digital archive sites.

From HathiTrust:

From Robert Graham:

At the Kate Sharpley Library:

  • Iron Column by Abel Paz printedThe story of the Iron Column: militant anarchism in the Spanish Civil War by Abel Paz, a Kate Sharpley Library copublication with AK Press, is back from the printers. If you can’t wait until we get copies, AK are already selling it at: http://www.akpress.org/2011/items/storyoftheironcolumn
  • New publication: Anarchism In Galicia : Organisation, Resistance and Women in the UndergroundThe Anarchist movement in Galicia is unknown to English-language readers. These essays tells the stories of the men and women who built it, fought for it, and how they kept it alive in the face of incredible odds. ‘The FAI in Galicia’ by Eliseo Fernández gives a brief history of Galician anarchism before the foundation of the FAI (Federación Anarquista Ibérica: Iberian Anarchist Federation) in 1927. It goes on to detail the structure and activities of the FAI in Galicia, and shows how the tensions and tactical disagreements within Spanish anarchism played out at a local level, including within the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo: National Confederation of Labour). ‘Vigo 1936’ by Antón Briallos records the desperate – and ultimately unsuccessful – battle in the streets against the fascist revolt of July 1936. Full biographical details of anarchists mentioned show the roots, structure and fate of the anarchist movement in Vigo before, during and after the Spanish Civil War. ‘The Anarchist Homes of Libertarian Women’ by Carmen Blanco tells how Galicia’s anarchist women sheltered other militants and were central to attempts to rebuild the anarchist movement. This tribute reveals the extent of their involvement and the terrible price they paid. Edited and translated by Paul Sharkey. ISBN 9781873605127 Publication details and online review copy
  • July 2011 KSL Bulletin online: KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 67, July 2011 has just been posted on the site. You can get to the contents here or read the full pdf here.

At Libcom:

  • Cover of the book - published by Les nuits rougesLa « Garde rouge » raconte (“The “Red Guard” tells its story”): The centre of gravity of the workers’ committee movement in Italy in the late ’60s to late ’70s was the Milan area, and it was the committee of Magneti Marelli in the Crescenzago factory which was the most advanced expression of the committees in this region, and thus in the whole country. This book by the Italian historian Emilio Mentasti examines the whole history of the committee from its birth during the economic crisis of 1973 to its dissolution under the blows of judicial repression and industrial restructuring. Unfortunately, there is no English edition available as yet…
  • The IWW Reply to the Red Trade Union International: Executive Committee, R.I.L.U., Moscow, Russia.
  • The Left in the Detroit Labour Movement – Martin Glaberman: Martin Glaberman reviews – and contests the accuracy and honesty of – two books on the Detroit union movement: Christopher H. Johnson, Maurice Sugar: Law, Labor, and the Left in Detroit, 1912-1950(Detroit: Wayne State University Press 1988); Margaret Collingwood Nowak, Two Who Were There: A Biography of Stanley Nowak(Detroit: Wayne State University Press 1989).
  • Rediscovering Two Labor Intellectuals – Steve Early: Steve Early reviews collections of writings by Martin Glaberman and Stain Weir, while tying their experience and outlook to the emerging split within the AFL-CIO in 2004: Singlejack Solidarity. By Stan Weir. (Edited and with an afterward by George Lipsitz. Forward by Norm Diamond.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. 369 pp. $19.95, paperback; Punching Out & Other Writings. By Martin Glaberman. (Edited and introduced by Staughton Lynd.)Chicago, Ill: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 2002. 229 pp. $15 paperback.
  • Radical Unionism and the Workers’ Struggle in Spain – Ruben Vega Garcia and Carlos Perez: A piece on Spanish trade unionism since the Franco’s death. The Spanish labor movement inherited a revolutionary legacy whose most important landmarks are the general strike of 1917, the proletarian insurrection of 1934, and the zealous antifascist reaction of 1936. However, as a result of its defeat in the Spanish Civil War, the prolonged iron dictatorship profoundly disrupted the continuity of this tradition.
  • cover of Workers Against WorkWorkers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts – Michael Seidman (PDF). PDF of the complete book.
  • The Old and New in Anarchism: A Reply to Comrade Malatesta Piotr Arshinov’s 1928 reply to Errico Malatesta. In the anarchist organ Le Reveil of Geneva, in the form of a leaflet, comrade Errico Malatesta has published a critical article on the project of the Organisational Platform edited by the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad.
  • The Struggle in the Factory: History of a Royal Ordnance Factory. The History of Dalmuir R.O.F. is the history of any other war-time factory, it is the story of the workers’ struggle against the forces of capitalism aided an abetted by the fakirs of the trade unions and the Communist Party. Faced with these odds it is creditable that the workers did not succumb entirely, and that a band of them continued in opposition and endeavoured to preserve some degree of sanity throughout the welter of lies, distortions and intrigue that surrounded the worker.

At Workers Liberty:

At the Marxist Internet Archive:

Added to the POUM History Archive:

Added to the Max Shachtman Archive:

Added to the Spanish Helmut Wagner Archive:

Added to the Tony Cliff Archive:

Added to the U.S.A. History Section:

  • 24 issues of Labor Defender, the monthly journal of the International Labor Defense. Completed are the full first two years of journal, 1926 – 1927. The Labor Defenderwas an “pictorial” magazine with dozens of photographs and drawings from the best labor illustrators of that era. Articles were written and edited by, variously, Upton Sinclair, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, James P. Cannon, Max Shactman, Carloline Scollen and Eugene V. Debs.

Added to the Raya Dunayevskaya Archive:

Added to the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line new Militant Project, part of the Left Opposition Publications Digitization Project:

  • All 55 issues of The Militant for Volume VI, 1933 and all of the last year of The Militant, 1934. These additions represents the end of the Communist League of America (Opposition) era before merging with the American Workers Party (lead by A. J. Muste) that formed the new Workers Party of the U.S. which published The New Militant. This new period ended the period of being a public faction of the Communist Party of America while seeking to win that party back to what the Trotskyists of the CLA considered a genuine Leninist and revolutionary program. Both the failure of the German Communist to prevent Hitler from coming to power and the leadership of the CLA in the Minneapolis Teamster Strikes of 1934, the CLA concluded that it can have more of impact on revolutionary politics as a party in it’s own right than a faction of one they believed was playing an increasingly negative role in the workers movement in the U.S. and internationally through the Communist International.
  • All the issues of the New Militant for 1935 and 1936, its entire run, published by the newly formed Workers Party of the U.S. This brings to an end the newspaper publication efforts of the Trotskyists in the form of The Militant and then the New Militant due to their organized entry into the left-moving Socialist Party of America. After this point it is not until August of 1937 with the start of publication of Socialist Appeal do the Trotskyists again publish a weekly workers paper.

Added to the C.L.R. James Archive:

Added to the new Raymond Challinor Archive in the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL):

Added to the Alexander Shliapnikov Archive:

  • On the Eve of 1917 (1923) (Book-length memoir of his experiences in the underground both in Russia and abroad during the World War I by Alexander Shliapnikov, a Bolshevik organiser and later leader of the Workers’ Opposition)

Added to the Periodical Page:

  • The Class Struggle was a bi-monthly Marxist theoretical magazine published in New York City by the Socialist Publication Society. The SPS also published a series of pamphlets, mostly reprints from the magazine during the short period of its existence. Among the initial editors of the publication were Ludwig Lore, Marxist theoreticians Louis B. Boudin and Louis C. Fraina, the former of whom left the publication in 1918. In the third and final year of the periodical, The Class Struggleemerged as one of the primary English-language voices of the left wing factions within the American Socialist Party and its final issue was published by the nascent Communist Labor Party of America.

Added to the Murray Bookchin Internet Archive:

  • State Capitalism in Russia, 1950. Article by Murray Bookchin when he was associated with the German ex-Trotskyists of the IKD putting their view on the nature of the USSR and historical retrogression.

An addition to the Spanish-language Archivo Andreu Nin:

At Anarkismo: (more…)

From the archive of struggle no.44

I have fallen behind on this task, not having done it for about 6 weeks. Below the fold are basically my personal choices from Entdinglichung’s Sozialistika series.

(more…)