Miscellany

Criticism etc

I have added a rss feed for Criticism etc down at the bottom right, as I find myself wanting to re-post almost everything there. Here are some recent items.

Retrospective Review: Paul Buhle’s Marxism in the United States

Marxism in the United States: Remapping the History of the American Left by Paul Buhle Verso, 1991 (revised edition; original edition 1987)

Buhle’s book undertakes the formidable task of presenting a concise history of the experience of American Marxism, from its arrival with the German émigrés of 1848 to the Ronald Reagan era. He is strongest in his interpretation of the often contention-fraught relationship between the radicalism of the native-born socialists and that of the many immigrant communities that played such an important role in the history of the U.S. nineteenth and early twentieth-century left. Buhle’s signal concern is culture, specifically popular culture, and it tends to subsume almost all other elements here, including philosophical debates (admittedly, not a strong point in American Marxism). The survey of classroom Marxist debates in the book’s final chapter hasn’t aged well, although, as far as academic prominence goes, Buhle was certainly vindicated in the focus he placed on Frederic JamesonCriticism &c. highly recommends.

The Digital MEGA

The latest issue of Socialism and Democracy includes an update on the progress of the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe project, the international scholarly effort to publish all of the works of Marx in the languages in which they were written. The author, Gerd Callesen, is a Danish librarian and editorial participant in the project. While the expensive volumes in the series are not intended for use by the average person interested in Marx (and shrinking academic library budgets mean that few students may even have a chance to use them), some volumes in the series are being made freely available on the web. Criticism &c. provides here an excerpt from the article focusing on the MEGA’s digital portion and some concluding paragraphs on the future of the project.

An Excerpt from Charles Denby’s Indignant Heart

Libcom.org has made available three chapters from Indignant Heart: a Black Worker’s Journal by Charles Denby. Denby, an African-American auto worker and revolutionary, was a member of the Johnson-Forest Tendency and became one of the founding members of News and Letters Committees in 1955. Indignant Heart (the title comes from a quote by Abolitionist Wendall Phillips) was originally published by the JFT in 1952 and attributed to the pseudonym Matthew Ward. Denby, whose real name was Simon Owens, greatly expanded the book in a new edition published by South End Press in 1978. Wayne State University Press published this edition in 1989 with an introduction by William H. Harris, an historian of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

The chapters selected by Libcom are the final three from the 1952 edition. Note the episode in Chapter 15 in which Denby—at a public meeting—asks novelist and CP member Howard Fast, “What is the relationship of the Russian workers to production?”

Another Comment on Charles Denby’s Indignant Heart

Among the chapters of Indignant Heart recently made available by Libcom, Chapter 16 (“The Trotskyist Party”) is extremely important for its depiction of the strong current of racism that pervaded the Marxist parties, an under-acknowledged aspect of the history of the U.S. left. It’s not possible to discern any difference between the attitudes Denby faced every day from S.W.P. members and the racism prevalent in the larger society of the time. On the theoretical level, Denby exposes the fact that the Trotskyists did not even have an official party position on question of racial oppression in U.S. society. The unidentified speaker at the 1948 convention was, of course, C.L.R. James (the Johnson-Forest Tendency had rejoined the S.W.P. the previous year). The resolution put forth at the convention, the Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Question in the U.S., was published in Fourth International in December 1948 (under the byline J. Meyer). A revised version adopted by the party in 1950 (“Negro Liberation Through Revolutionary Socialism“) appears in Fourth International, May-June 1950. Both texts are available in the Marxists Internet Archive.

A preview excerpt from the Wayne State University edition of Indignant Heart is available at Google Books.

Also:

Both Libcom (see above) and the AWL have published some material relating to Victor Serge recently. The former has published his Year 1 of the revolution. In the latter, Paul Hampton wrote on Victor Serge and Kronstadt in January, with replies by Martyn Hudson and others, followed by Martyn Hudson again, followed by the publication of a first and second instalment of Karl Radek’s view. Meanwhile, Serge’s great memoirs are due to be re-published in April:

Memoirs of a Revolutionary
By Victor Serge
Translated by Peter Sedgwick
April 2012

Victor Serge is one of the great men of the twentieth century, anarchist, revolutionary, agitator, theoretician, historian of his times, and a fearless truthteller. Here Serge describes his upbringing in Belgium, the child of a family of exiled Russian revolutionary intellectuals, his early life as an activist, his time in a French prison, the active role he played in the Russian Revolution, as well his growing dismay at the Revolutionary regime’s ever more repressive and murderous character. Expelled from the Soviet Union, Serge went to Paris, and barely escaped the Nazis to find a final refuge in Mexico. Memoirs of a Revolutionary describes a thrilling life on the frontlines of history and includes brilliant portraits of politicians from Trotsky and Lenin to Stalin and of major writers like Alexander Blok and Andrey Bely. Above all, it captures the sensibility of Serge himself, that of a courageous and singularly appealing advocate of human liberation who remained undaunted in the most trying of times.

Peter Sedgwick’s fine translation of Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary was cut by a fifth when it was first published in 1963. This new edition is the first in English to present the entirety of Serge’s book.

Read Richard Greeman here on the current dissent in Russia. James B on the Falklands or the Malvinas. And finally: Ron Radosh on Oliver Stone’s Stalinist history of America.

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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…)

Poumnation

Totally random edition.

Martin on the demise of one of my favourite bloggers, On a Raised Beach, and on the passing of Portuguese Stalinist novelist Jose Saramago. Here’s Irving Howe and Benjamin Kunkel on Saramago from the archives of Dissent.

Gathering Forces: State Capitalism and the Break with Trotskyism (on the Johnson-Forest Tendency in 1950).

Marko Hoare on the Miliband brothers and the New Left Review – a little insight into the aristocracy of the new left from the son of  a key British Marxist and an ex-member of Labour Party Young Socialists. Harry Barnes has a different view, and calls for more Ralphism (also at Next Left).

The World Cup and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

Le Chant des partisans: Coatesy’s homage to the Free French.

Nick Cohen  – homage to Pilar Rohala, a Catalan socialist anti-Islamist.

Interview with José Antonio Gutiérrez, Chilean platformist anarchist in exile (via At Home).

On French Stalinism yesterday and today.

Hugo Chavez revives the Doctors’ Plot.

James Connolly and John Ford.

Gramsci, class formation and class politics. (more…)

From the archive of struggle, no.33

A quick one, extracted from Entdinglichung. Victor Serge, Marceau Pivert and others from La Bataille Socialiste, mostly in French. Socialisme ou Barbarie from 1949, in French. Various Trotskyists from the Marxist Internet Archive, mostly in English. Previous edition here. Next edition will be an anarchist special. (more…)