Morning Star/Daily Worker: 80 years of lies

Here.

Advertisements

Leon Trotsky drinking Mexican coffee

Robert Service on Trotsky again: Service was on the weekend’s The Forum on the BBC World Service. The Service bit starts at 27 minutes. I don’t like Service’s analysis, although he is partly right. Service is right about Trotsky’s personality: cold, prim, glacial, disdainful, arrogant, self-centred. But Service basically says Trotsky and Stalin are “blood brothers”, that Trotsky was as ruthless as Stalin, who in turn was as much a “man of ideas” as Trotsky. This is surely not right, despite Trotsky’s faults. However, Service is right that Trotsky would have suppressed the peasants to achieve industrialisation, less brutally than Stalin but nonetheless harshly.

One interesting point Service makes is that other Russian exiles were making similar analyses of Soviet Russia, and have been forgotten. (He doesn’t name names, but Victor Serge, Ante Ciliga, Boris Souvarine, Voline, the exiled Mensheviks André Liebich writes about in From the Other Shore, and so on.) Service suggests that it was because Trotsky was a great writer and subsequently a great martyr that he became so important. I think this is true, but the third factor, both Trotsky’s strength and his flaw, his hubris perhaps, was that he was a great factionalist, with a sense of himself as a leader of a movement, something that was untrue of the other, more modest key figures of the anti-Stalinist left. Anyway, I still prefer Hitchens’ version. Lots more here.

***

Heroes: Josef Frantisek. Marek Edelman, Steve Cohen and Mercedes Sosa. John Saville. Bongani Mkhungo.

Villains: Nat Hentoff.

George Orwell: His lessons for combating antisemitism today.

Histories: The Communist Party in the French resistance. New York elections: from honourable Jewish socialists to odious Marxoid cults. The end of the left’s Cuba romance? The state of Bund historiography [pdf]. The Labour Party and the Battle of Cable Street.

Book reviews: Platypus on Communist Chicago. Colin Waugh’s Plebs. Geoffrey Foote on Paul Flewers’ New Civilisation. Andrew Coates on Flewers and two other books on Communism.

Interviews: Nick Cohen in Black Flag.

The Kaminski affair: Bob has a good round-up (scroll to “Strange alliances”).

Marxist theory: Louis Proyect on John Molyneux on party democracy. Playtpus on Karl Korsch. David Black (Hobgoblin London) on philosophy and revolution.

Un-Marxist theory: Irving Howe “Class and sociology” 1957, plus replies by Lewis Coser and Dennis Wrong.

If sharks were people: From Brecht’s Tales from the Calendar.

Consumerism: Buy Zapatatista coffee! And buy the new edition of Zapata of Mexico. And buy The Workers’ Next Step. And The Insurrectionists by Bill Fishman.

From the archive of struggle no.37

In previous issues, I have featured the Labadie Collection, the Holt Labor Library, and other American archives. Today, we turn to Ireland.

The MultiText Project in History is an innovative educational project, brought to you by the History Department, University College Cork. It is the largest and most ambitious project undertaken by any university to provide resources for students of Modern Irish History at all levels: University students, the general reader, and second-level students. The project aims to publish a minimum of 12 books, each dealing with a separate period of Irish history. Each book contains accounts of key personalities, concepts, and detailed elucidations of some case studies in the period.

Among the project’s galleries are one on James Connolly and one on James Larkin, and a case study of the 1913 strike and lockout in Dublin . Here are some of the features:

Farewell dinner for Connolly, New York, 1910.
Farewell dinner for Connolly, New York, 1910.
Farewell dinner on the occasion of Connolly’s departure from New York to return to Dublin, 14 July 1910.
Election leaflet in Yiddish.
Election leaflet in Yiddish.
Election leaflet in Yiddish in support of James Connolly in his campaign for election to Dublin Corporation for the Wood Quay Ward in 1902.
Moscow3
Larkin in Moscow as representative of the Workers’ Union of Ireland at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern.

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…)

Claud Cockburn, Stalinist

Long and important post at Bob From Brockley on Patrick Cockburn of Counterpunch.

Long extract:

Claud Cockburn joined the Communist Party and covered the Spanish Civil War (as “Frank Pitcairn”) for the Daily Worker, joining the International Brigade. The Communist Party played a terrible role in Spain, of course, murdering independent socialists and anarchists. Cockburn worked closely with the Soviet agents who orchestrated both acts of violence against the anti-Stalinist left and the propaganda which whitewashed those acts – such as his friend Mikhail Koltsov (Cockburn: “I spent a great deal of my time in the company of Mikhail Koltzov, who then was foreign editor of Pravda and, more importantly still, was at that period… the confidant and mouthpiece and direct agent of Stalin himself.”). He was also friendly with British agents like Guy Burgess. (His first wife, Hope Hale Davis, went on to marry another spy, Hermann Brunck.)

George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is the best account of this. Orwell is sharply critical of the lies Cockburn told about Spain. Here is an example of one of Cockburn’s lies:

Of course, the POUM, an independent Marxist party, was not Trotskyist (Trotsky criticised it for being too anti-Soviet). Far from being pro-fascist, it was consistently active in militant anti-fascism.

Here’s anther example:

“In the past, the leaders of the POUM have frequently sought to deny their complicity as agents of a fascist cause against the People’s Front. This time they are convicted out of their own mouths as clearly as their allies, operating in the Soviet Union, who confessed to the crimes of espionage, sabotage and attempted murder against the government of the Soviet Union.”

As Kevin Keating writes,

“His reference to confessions in the Soviet Union is Claud Cockburn’s approving nod to the results of the Moscow Trials, a high point of Stalinist totalitarian delirium, where Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other leading Bolshevik bureaucrats confessed to absurd charges that they had long been agents of Hitler, the Japanese Emperor and other malefactors, and were subsequently shot.”

David Walsh at WSWS puts it even more starkly:

“Claud Cockburn’s slanders helped prepare the atmosphere in which [POUM leader Andres] Nin and others were murdered. Moreover, his articles were published in the midst of the infamous Moscow Trials. His lies played an objective role in assisting in Stalin’s mass extermination of the Soviet socialist intellectuals and workers.”

Here is how Cockburn later described his job as intellectual hatchet man for Stalin: “was what, if one were inclined to pomposity, might be called a section leader of the counterespionage department of the Spanish Republican Government dealing with Anglo-Saxon personalities.”

Alexander has seen fit to recycle his dad’s lies. On the 70th anniversary of the Spanish war (I call it the Spanish revolution; the Stalinists never use this term, as they helped crush the revolution), CounterPunch reprinted some of Claud’s writings. In “Scenes from the Spanish Civil War”. Claud Cockburn describes his meeting with the anarchist Buenaventura Durruti (misspelled Durutti by Cockburn). Cockburn writes:

“[Durruti] spoke to me in French and I realized that he was furiously angry. I banded him my credentials, supposing that this evidence of my having the capacity of correspondent of a “Red” newspaper would immediately appease him. He glanced at, them and threw them on the table and then in a low voice, vibrant with hatred, denounced the Communists and all their works. So far as he, undisputed Anarchist boss of Catalonia, was concerned, I might almost as well have been a Fascist.

The armed bodyguard standing by could not understand what he was saying but his tone told them this was an enemy. It was a time when enemies were shot quickly. I could feel the atmosphere in that kitchen becoming horribly cold. I had a clear conviction that Durutti was in the judgment seat and pronouncing sentence of death. For at that place and time, to be a member of a rival organization on the Republican side — to be ideologically at variance with the Anarchists — was, to the pure Anarchist, not very much different from being on the other side altogether.”

The bitter irony here, of course, is that it was Communists who were murdering anarchists, not the other way around… And then:

“I saw him only once again, on a snowy day in Madrid, soon after he bad brought, against bitter opposition in Barcelona, the pick of his Anarchist fighters from Catalonia to assist the defense of the Castilian capital. The day after I saw him he was shot dead in the street — on the ground that he was about to sign a comprehensive agreement with the Communists-by members of an organization called the “Friends of Durutti.”

This is a most outrageous lie. Durruti was killed in combat against fascists, not by anarchists. Abel Paz’s splendid biography of Durruti, The People Armed (badly translated from French by the great Nancy MacDonald, one of my heroes), Paz, a comrade of Durutti’s, presents accounts that suggest the incompetence and political manoeuvring of the (Communist-dominated) International Brigades for placing Durruti in the situation that got him killed. were formed in March 1937, months after Durruti’s death in November 1936, to fight for the libertarian revolution Durruti fought for, against the alliance of the anarchist leadership with the Communists in the Popular Front.

It is worth noting that the same issue of CounterPunch publishes a piece by George Galloway, eulogising another Stalinist, John Cornford. Galloway, with his typical lack of modesty and bombastic prose, writes:

“But for a bullet in the brain on the Ebro, Rupert John Cornford might have loomed as large as George Orwell in the British left-wing lexicon. Orwell would probably have informed on him to his bosses in British Intelligence. For Cornford was a Communist. Not just a Communist, but a potential leading figure of the party, then rising towards the zenith of its power as the potential nemesis of Fascism, as well as a war poet as brilliant as he is now obscure. Not bad for a man who was killed doing his internationalist duty on his 21st birthday.

John Cornford was the grandson of Charles Darwin, son of the Victorian poet Frances Cornford, and part of the golden generation of the British left who went to fight fascism in Spain. That their memory has been sullied by Orwell’s slanders, unfortunately reinforced by Ken Loach’s film Land and Freedom, and now lies largely forgotten on the Iberian peninsula by the progressives of the 21st century is the main reason why I am working on an historical novel, Heart of the heartless World at the centre of which is the tall handsome figure of John Cornford.”

More Stalinist lies.