Some things I’ve read lately

La Brigada on George Orwell:

I observed the fiftieth anniversary of Orwell’s death by re-reading Crick’s biography of the man. It is a remarkably fine achievement. This incongruous story appeals:
‘When Queen Elizabeth [the late Queen Mother], whose literary adviser was Osbert Sitwell, sent the Royal Messenger to Secker & Warburg for a copy [of Animal Farm] in November, he found them utterly sold out and had to go with horse, carriage, top hat and all, to the anarchist Freedom Bookshop, in Red Lion Square, where George Woodcock gave him a copy.’

Oliver Kamm on British Stalinists Andrew Murray and Kate Hudson:

Murray and Hudson are members of a group called the Communist Party of Britain. You’ll find that Ms Hudson’s idea of nuclear disarmament, as urged to a party gathering in 2006, is unusual, for here was the message from the platform:

‘Keith Bennett of the Korea Friendship and Solidarity Campaign said that the current crisis on the Korean peninsula had not been caused by the North Korean nuclear test.

‘”The context is one of unfinished business of a national liberation struggle against US imperialism,” he asserted.’

The national liberation struggle he has in mind is the triumph of what – since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – has no rival as the worst, most nightmarish tyranny in the world.

Murray once wrote a short book called The Communist Party of Great Britain: A Historical Analysis to 1941. It’s not dated but it was published in the mid-1990s by a short-lived group called Communist Liaison. Here’s Murray’s analysis of the Communist Party’s attitude to Stalinist terror (page 74, emphasis added):

“Over the whole period of the CPGB’s existence, its relation to the USSR has been probably the most controversial issue, both within and without the Party. The Party has clearly paid a price for its defence of the first Socialist state in the world, particularly when it has subsequently been proved that that defence was based on misinformation and misjudgments. Yet the party could only judge on the information it had, and even that had to be handled in the context of the international class struggle in which the USSR was seen as playing (and actually did play) the most important role on the side of anti-fascism, anti-imperialism and social progress. That things happened in the USSR which were inexcusable and which ultimately prejudiced Socialism’s whole prospect is today undeniable. Whether Communists in the capitalist world could or should have done more than they did is much more contentious.”

In short, Murray believes that it’s an open question whether the Communist Party would have been right to protest against the Moscow Trials and the Great Terror.

Terry Glavin on the uses and abuses of history:

My good friend Peter Ryley has composed an important protest against that similarly popular abuse of history which sets out to simplistically conflate socialism with fascism and thus elide crucial distinctions between authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Equally detestable though these tyrannies may be, there’s no excuse for falling for propaganda so silly that it will have you playing games of connect-a-dot between Naziism and liberalism.

To properly interrogate this contemporary fad, you will unavoidably encounter its evil twin, which is to say you will find yourself staring at the ugliest face of European pro-Islamofascist leftism, as noted a while back by the always interesting Anti-German Translation. Their headline sums it up well enough: The Racism of Radical Islam’s Useful Idiots.

For further and necessary proofs of Peter’s case, historical evidence is in abundance in Enzo Traverso’s The Aporias of Marxism. He notes that too many German Jews kept faith for too long in the resilience of the identity they had incorporated within German society, and they were not alone in their mistake: “The workers’ movement was no more ready to deal with the catastrophe.” There were warnings, of course, most presciently from Leon Trotsky. But they want largely unheeded, owing to eejits making a similar kind of silly “liberalism equals fascism” mistake that’s popular today. “However, in 1933, Nazism unleashed its attack on the workers’ organizations, not on the Jews. Nazi anti‑Semitism developed gradually and inexorably, passing through several stages: first discrimination and the questioning of emancipation again (1933-35); then economic depredations and the adoption of a policy of persecution (1938-41); finally extermination (1941-45). The destruction of the workers’ movement was not a gradual process: it was, in fact, one of the conditions for the consolidation of the Nazi regime.” And some people obstinately refuse to learn from the great errors of history: “Marxist literature of the interwar period tended to explain Nazi anti-Semitism as a ‘tool’ of the ruling classes, without seeing in it a new phenomenon.”

Also: Bob’s father remembers Bertrand Russell. Max Dunbar and Paul Sagar on the left and China. Eamonn McDonagh on the smearing of Jacobo Timerman. Engels Defrocked and other book reviews in the Socialist Standard. RIP Nina Fishman.