Jews versus Stalinists in the Spanish Civil War

In the last three decades, since the publication of Albert Prago’s Jews in the international brigades in Spain in 1979 by Jewish Currents, there has been considerable interest in the massive role of Jewish fighters in the Spanish civil war. Most of them were within the orbit of the official Communist movement, which controlled and dominated the International Brigades – and also the narration of its later history.  As Gerben Zaagsma and Martin Sugarman argue, the Stalinist version of that history obscured the specifically Jewish dimension to their motivations. This Jewish dimension was retrieved in the 1970s and 1980s by Jewish radical groups like Jewish Currents in the US and Jewish Socialist in the UK. However, their important commemorative work tends to focus on the Communists of the International Brigades. Lenni  Brenner’s polemic Zionism in the Age of Dictators approached the issue from a different angle: showing that the Zionist movement had no interest in anti-fascism in Spain. However, although he also provides some interesting exceptions, his emphasis confirms the Stalinist historiography in marginalising the specifically Jewish motivations and the non-Stalinist participants.

In this blog post, I want to simply mention some of the Jewish participants in the Spanish Civil War who were also part of the anti-Stalinist movement, and specifically participants who were associated with the “Three and a Half International”, the anti-Stalinist socialist international that also included the Spanish POUM and the British ILP. The information is taken from Martin Sugarman, of AJEX, Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, and his booklet Against Fascism. I have added hyperlinks. Material in italics comes from other sources, as given at the end of the extracts. (more…)

Anti-Stalinism/Hitchery/Bloggery

Anti-Stalinism

Anne Applebaum on the KGB in America. Enty on John Saville. The secret life of Victor Serge.

The Hitch

Christopher Hitchens on Abraham Lincoln’s centenary. Hitchens on Hemingway’s libido. Hitchens on Edward Upward. Hitchens on Karl Marx.

Bloggery

This blog – The Fatal Paradox – is new to me. I found it via Phil and will be visiting again! (Phil: “one of those blogs that defy easy categorisation. Hailing from New Zealand, it offers commentary on history, art and theory with a slight Spanish tinge to proceedings. Well worth checking out.”) We have Moriscos, Un chien andalou, Juan Goytisolo on Genet, Pablo Neruda: what more could one want?

Another blog new to me is Workers Self Management, an blog. Includes a bit of english history to be proud of, and a link to a WSA article on solidarity unionism that talks about the landless movement in Brazil and Spain in the 1930s.

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.