Trotsky-Surrealism-Peret-Durruti-Brazil

One of the purposes of this blog is to join the dots in a history of the anti-Stalinist left: transnational traditions of dissident Marxism, democratic and libertarian socialism and class struggle anarchism which have actively resisted totalitarianism in all its forms. I came across this  at the blog Psychadelic Bolshevik, and I take the liberty of reproducing it here. I’ve covered a lot of this material before (click on the tags at the bottom for more), but this puts it all together well. After I pasted it in, I realised most of it is the text by Nick Heath published on libcom, to which I have added a hyperlink where the quotation starts. However, in re-reading that, I am a little confused on the different French Trotskyists twists and turns, so added a note on that. If anyone can check that and let me know if I’ve got it right, I’d be grateful.

SURREALISM, PERET AND TROTSKY (DELEGATES DELIGHTS) BY SLIM BRUNDAGE

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Sixty years ago: Death of Frida Kahlo

From On This Deity:

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

…and Frida’s reality was a lifetime of extreme physical pain and tortuous suffering, punctuated with a tempestuous emotional turbulence.

Artist Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, the daughter of Hungarian Jewish father and indigenous Mexican mother. She grew up in Mexico City at a time when Mexicans were beginning to take great pride in their native culture and traditions. Frida was proud of her pre-Columbian heritage and wore local costume, including long embroidered skirts in bright colours, big silver earrings, flowers, and jewellery from the folk tradition. Her distinctive look gave her a brand, yet averted attention from her tiny, weak, disabled body. (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!

The anti-Stalinist left: some notes from the literature. Part I: The French anti-Stalinist left

This post is the first in a short series that include extracts from the academic literature on the anti-Stalinist left. Part of the purpose of the series is to argue that there has been a strong a cohesive entity that could be called “the anti-Stalinist left”, a position I take in opposition to those who would simply say that some leftists have happened to be anti-Stalinist. Hence, it is not intended to form some kind of coherent narrative, but rather gathers together evidence from the literature for the existence of such an entity.

THE FRENCH ANTI-STALINIST LEFT

In this edition, we focus on the anti-Stalinist intellectuals associated with the surrealist movement, including Andre Breton and Georges Bataille.  (more…)

Books

This new book, Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver looks interesting.

Kingsolver doesn’t appear to suffer from writer’s block and she certainly hasn’t been twiddling her thumbs. Her understanding of Mexico and Spanish in The Lacuna are exemplary, and she must have researched deeply into the lives of Kahlo, Rivera, and Leon “Lev” Trotsky during the time he was one of Kahlo’s lovers. She doesn’t distort them into flawless heroes. They’re iconic figures, but portrayed warts and all: love affairs and self-obsession and revolutionary contradictions on all sides.

I haven’t yet read this review by Tariq Ali of Patenaude’s Stalin’s Nemesis and Robert Service’s Trotsky: A Biography. If anyone reads it, tell me if I should bother.

In this 1934 Diego Rivera mural, "Man, Controller of the Universe," Leon Trotsky makes an appearance.
In this 1934 Diego Rivera mural, “Man, Controller of the Universe,” Leon Trotsky makes an appearance. (more…)

Stalin’s nemesis

This week’s Radio 4 book of the week, Stalin’s Nemesis:

Nigel Anthony reads from Bertrand M Patenaude’s account of the exile and subsequent assassination of Leon Trotsky, who was outmanoeuvred by his great rival, Josef Stalin.

About Patenaude. Q&A with Patenaude. Review by Robert Service. Review in Socialist Review. Review by Richard Overy. review. Review in Times. Review in The Socialist.

A carpy review in The Oxonian made me want to read the book more:

The dustbunnies that Patenaude brings to light range the gamut, from real bunnies—Trotsky kept them on his Mexican patio as pets and tended to them just before his murder—to oral sex, a frank discussion of which appears in a letter that Trotsky wrote to his wife Natalia during the liaison with Frida. Why Patenaude believes that readers want to know about Trotsky’s erections, or rather lack thereof, is anyone’s guess. But blinded by the temptations of salaciousness, Patenaude forges ahead into the biographical depths, right down to the revolutionary’s anus: apparently, certain species of Mexican bacteria aggravated Trotsky’s colon, which was already irritated by colitis.

The book’s effusive details, some fascinating and others wholly unnecessary, hardly end there. For example, we learn that Trotsky briefly lived in the Bronx before returning to launch the revolution in 1917; the surrealist André Breton offended Trotsky by stealing Mexican figurines from a church the two visited together; the writer Saul Bellow sat in the hospital waiting room as Trotsky died; and the artist Diego Rivera—Frida’s husband and the guarantor of the old man’s asylum in Mexico—first appeared on Trotsky’s radar when he inserted Lenin’s face into a mural he painted at Radio City Music Hall. Ramon Mercader, the Spanish-born NKVD agent who infiltrated Trotsky’s inner circle and killed him, apparently worked as a chef at the Ritz in Barcelona.

Published in: on July 9, 2009 at 4:19 pm  Comments (4)  
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More notes

Bloggery/Anti-Stalinism: A wonderful photo of Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera and Andre Breton in Mexico. Standing with Trotsky’s victims at Kronstadt. Dovid Katz: Prague’s Declaration of Disgrace, on the purported moral equivalence between fascism and Stalinism. Michael Lind: “neoconservatism looks less like Wilsonianism than like Trotskyism-Trumanism”.

Bloggery/Orwellia: Ken McLeod on Jura, discussing surveillance. Orwell’s 1984 and the Fabians. Ken Loach locks out George Orwell. Ken Loach as the Ken Barlow of film. Better than Loach: Kevin Spacey and Homage to Catalonia. The misapprorpiation of Orwell by the free market right.

History: AWL narrates its pre-history in British Trotskyism from the 1940s to the 1960s. Socialist and anti-Stalinist songs of the 1950s by by Joe Glazer and Bill Friedland and others.

Below the fold: From the archive of struggle, no.18:  (more…)