Poummm

The Road to Wigan Pier

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Paul Stott: History Retold: From Wigan Pier To The Paris Commune

Two interesting uses for Twitter and Blogging.

Seventy five years on, the people behind the Orwell Prize website have been reposting daily extracts from George Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier. The format seems to suit Orwell perfectly, and to take one example – his description of Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, is evocative to anyone who has every visited a sight out of season.

A second use of this method comes from Alex Butterworth, who is tweeting a daily update of events at the Paris Commune, reproducing the voices of the participants – shame we know how it ended!

And a third to mark 200 years on from the days when the Luddites rioted across the north and the midlands – even would you believe, in Wilmslow!

Jim D at Shiraz Socialist:

Of course, the New Statesman has form. Back in the 1930′s it refused to publish George Orwell’s writings on the Spanish Civil War for fear of offending the Comintern and their local agents. Orwell never forgave the then-editor Kingsley Martin, a supple-spined “left” power-worshipper who seems to have uncannily prefigured both Peter Wilby (editor 1998-2005) and the present incumbent Jason Cowley.

The final straw, for me,  came last week with an edition edited by upper class “wadical” Jemima Kahn, largely devoted to promoting the preening anti-semitic loon Julian Assange and other posh friends and relatives like her Tory brother Zac Goldsmith and her ex-hubby Hugh Grant. The high-spot of the issue is Jemima’s own interview with her friend  Nick Clegg , who wails, “I’m not a punchbag: I have feelings.”

Rosie Bell:

On the left there is a hero gap.  Che is dead, Castro too old, Ortega is compromised, and Chavez is a bit of a buffoon. Enter Assange to fill the space.  His appearance adds to the mystique.  He is pale, and looks slightly alien and that along with his giant computer-like brain gives him the air of someone from a science fiction world, some sister planet of Vulcan where they have not evolved pointed ears.  He came as the man of mystery and enigma.

Also:

Witty anarchists: Red Star Commando on Marxism and anarchism. Anarchist jokes.

Earnest Trotskyists: Lenin and James Connolly on the Dublin labour war of 1913. Peter Taaffe on Eric Hobsbawm. SOYMB on Chris Bambery. (OYMB not the earnest Trots – Bambery is!)

Alternative socialist traditions: Andrew Coates on GDH Cole, guild socialism and Blue Labour, and via him an interesting Guild Socialism blog, with posts on Karl Marlo and loads more.

Towards a theory of radical history: Dave Osler on generations, and the 2010 generation of radicals.

Unrelated: Dali and the Jews.

War, and class war

Photo from my current favourite blog, Bertram Online.

Libya

An individual, a group, a party, or a class that “objectively” picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive. – Leon Trotsky The Balkan Wars 1912-1913 (Sydney: Pathfinder Press, 1980), pp.292-293.

So starts Sean Matgamna, in his recent intervention on intervention.

David Osler is also very interesting on Libya and the ortho-left, responding to Eamonn McCann  in Socialist Worker.

More surprisingly, Gilbert Achcar agrees with Matgamna. Jim writes:

Gilbert Achcar, a member of the mainstream (“Pabloite“) Fourth International, refuses to scab on the Libyan revolutionaries… other “revolutionaries” aren’t happy

Here’s what Gilbert says […] writing in International Viewpoint

Barry Finger comments on Achcar and “anti-imperialism”, here.

The Orwell Prize

I have no doubt George Orwell would have taken the same line as Matgamna and Achcar. I have little doubt he would not have been pleased with many of the recent Orwell Prize for blogging long listees. I suspect he would agree with HarpyMarx‘s assessment that “Orwell Prize blogger longlist, with 1 or 2 exceptions, is just full of media privileged luvvies or journos who should b in journo section!”

I think Orwell would not have been upset about Sunder Katwaler‘s or Cath Elliot’s longlistings (he would have liked Katwala on cricket I think, and taken up cudgels for Cath against the Morning Star). He would have been pleased about David Osler’s (second?) longlisting.

And he would have been OK with Paul Mason’s (second?) longlisting. Mason writes:

Getting myself longlisted yet again for the Orwell Prize (and good luck to all the real bloggers who don’t have a mainstream media pension, salary and self-censorship training to fall back on)… made me ask: what single bit of Orwell’s writing I would recommend to somebody starting a blog, or studying journalism?

Actually it’s Inside The Whale, where Orwell takes apart the literary industry of the late 1930s, concluding that of 5,000 novels published, 4,999 were “tripe”. He does this sandwiched between two lengthy eulogies to a book that, at the time of writing, was banned – and banned in the 1930s meant impounded at Dover and burned, to be found only in the secret cupboards of anarchists and wierdos.

The book in question is Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller – a strange choice of book to praise for a man who’d just come back from the Spanish Civil War and who, with the Dunkirk fiasco, believed Britain was entering a “revolutionary period”.

Musing on this very point, Orwell concluded that Miller had probably founded a new school of writing with this one book, and its successor Black Spring:

“In Miller’s case it is not so much a question of exploring the mechanisms of the mind as of owning up to everyday facts and everyday emotions. For the truth is that many ordinary people, perhaps an actual majority, do speak and behave in just the way that is recorded here. […]

Orwell sensed that at some point people would start writing about ordinary life in ordinary language, dramatising the ordinary, peeling back layer upon layer of literary finesse, pretension, writing-school prose, irony etc.

The blog is the logical outcome.

And like the novels of 1940, the vast majority of blogs are mediocre, “tripe” as Orwell might have said. But they are mostly attempts at honesty – whether literary or non-fictional.

I give you two excerpts, both from fellow longlisters, writing about the same recent event: (more…)

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…)

Memetic

Two memes channeled by my comrade Bob: the five word meme, and the academic bestsellers meme. Here are some snippets.

Words

Bob on Anti-fascism

antifascismAnti-fascism is at the core of my political being. The first political activism I was involved in, as a 15 year old, was action against the NF. Almost everything else about my politics has changed, but that has remained constant. What has changed, of course, is fascism. The classic Nazi-style fascism of the NF is no longer much of an issue (although extreme right violence remains a threat in the US and UK, and classic neo-Nazis are a major issue in parts of Central and Eastern Europe). The two mutations of fascism that are most important to combat now are, first, the rising forms of Euro-nationalist populism that are predicated on a generalised anti-immigrant racism as well as anti-Muslim racism, a movement that has been growing electorally across Western Europe, and, second, the rising forms of Islamist fascism which have had such a destructive effect on so many parts of the world.

History is Made at Night on Surrealism

trotsky-780584When I first got interested in politics I was greatly attracted to Dada, Surrealism and the Situationists, initially through second hand accounts in books like Richard Neville’s Play Power, Jeff Nuttal’s Bomb Culture and indeed Gordon Carr’s The Angry Brigade. The emphasis on play, festival and the imagination still resonates with me, but I would question the notion of desire as an unproblematic engine of radical change. Desire is surely formed amidst the psychic swamp of present social conditions and I would no longer advise everybody to take their desires for reality – sadly I have seen far too much of the impoverished desires of men in particular. Just look through your spam emails.

Martin in the Margins on Saramago

SaramagoI used to say that the veteran Portuguese writer was my favourite novelist, until I remembered that I’ve only ever finished one of his books. However, that book – The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis – ranks as one of the best (if not the best) works of fiction that I’ve ever read. In this phantasmagoric exploration of Lisbon, Saramago’s usual quirky and meandering prose is held in check by an intriguing plot and aborbing sense of place – not the case in the other novels of his that I’ve tried. When I first read the book some fifteen or twenty years ago, its author’s politics – he’s a lifelong Communist – were an added enticement to me. That was before my own disillusionment with ‘democratic centralism’, and before I discovered that Saramago’s involvement in the Portuguese revolution, far from being heroic, revealed the Stalinist tendencies of his (and his party’s) politics. Not to mention my disappointment that a writer capable of such great prose and historical imagination could make such foolish, naive and offensive comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, as he did notoriously on a trip to the West Bank. A shining illustration, then, that creative genius and political stupidity can and often do co-exist.

The Social Republic on Chartism
One has to be awe of the millions who marched, organised and campaigned for the Charter. They did so in times of great and cruel distress, in a time before telegrams or mass railways, when the main traditional bases of such a cause were in near terminal decline. The General Unions had been broken in the most part, the old clubs of the Radicals were dying. You have to remember too that the Political Unions of the 1830s, seeking a similar political solution, had been a cynical con, carried on the masses who had given them a power to threaten the system.One under researched element of the movement, only touched upon by the culturalists, is that the Whig reforming state had erupted into areas of life untouched by the previous ‘Old Corruption’. Be it the poorhouse, exclusion from borough and parish government or the moves against popular ‘messy’ festivals, these ‘innovations’ aligned with a general and crippling crisis in the economy created a nomic crisis for the poor. As the church failed to keep up with the explosion in urban population and relief without the gulag conditions of the workhouse disappeared, the Charter was transformed.

In its political demands were a longing for a more equitable and less ruthless past and a brighter and ‘progressive’ future. Within the carnival of the movement, the realisation of the moral power of the crowd and the rhetoric, we can detect a attempt to break out of a time of misery into a meaningful time of hope and change. The movement that pushed self-education and self awareness, probably doing more for mass literacy that anything till the public schools of 1870, could create experiments in collective living, in ground upwards politics. Blessed with the belief in the moral case for the charter, the movement was able to become a transformative revitalisation movement. As a reaction to the crisis of modernity, such a formation is common. However, this mass movement, unlike Fascism or Bolshevik Communism, had no cult of struggle, of dying or killing. It’s internal discussions over Moral versus Physical power showed a remarkable maure level of understanding on the dangers of volence to the cause and the subsequent corruption of their ends.

This maturity, noted by Marx, combined with its moral power and willingness to openly discuss and challenge show a sparkling precedent for the left. How one could see Hamas or the CCP ‘progressive’ after learning of the ragged millions joyfully declaring their liberty and their rights is beyond my fuzzy headed imagination.

The New Centrist on Avrich
The historian of the U.S. and European (esp. Russian) anarchist movements. I had the opportunity to hear him speak a couple of times and he was an inspiration to me and my work. Attended his funeral in 2006 and remember his daughters talking about him taking them to a cemetery in Russia to locate the graves of Kropotkin and I think Bakunin as well but I could be wrong about Bakunin.

Books

Henry on E.P. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class

A classic, which reads more like a novel than a piece of academic history, rescuing organizers, sectaries, pamphleteers and gutter journalists – from the enormous condescension of posterity. Moving, smart, and wonderfully written.

Bob on CLR James The Black Jacobins

This makes a nice companion to Thompson. As Peter Linebaugh has written, while Thompson was writing in the shadow of the Soviet tanks in Budapest, James was writing against the Communist murder of non-CP anti-Franco partisans in Spain. The Black Jacobins tells the story of the Haitian revolution, showing how slave struggles in the colonies helped drive the great revolutionary moment of 1776-1792, unveiling a different dimension to the emergence of the great values of liberty, democracy and rights which triumphed in the French and American revolutions.

Brigada Flores Magon on The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, Jonathan Rose

I have to declare an interest as my paternal grandfather, an iron-moulder who had been disabled aged 19, as a private in Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard, in the Kaiserschlacht of Spring 1918, was as good an autodidact as you’d find outside the Jura Federation and this book is very largely about the autodidact tradition among the British working classes, taking in the WEA and other helping hands as it goes along. I have read it at least three times since I bought it in 2002 and return to it again and again for encouragement. It is written in a thoroughly professional way but full of what can only be called love for the matter and manner of lifelong learning. Anyone involved in education must read this book.

More books

Moving on from memes, but kind of related to the book issue, a post from the Raincoat Optimist about writing drunk, touching on the brothers Hitchens, Nick Cohen at the Orwell Prize, and the “old culture” of the pub.

Finally on books, Contested Terrain notes three new publications of note, of which this one caught my eye:

A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement
By Jame Horrox

Against the backdrop of the early development of Palestinian-Jewish and Israeli society, James Horrox explores the history of the kibbutz movement: intentional communities based on cooperative social principles, deeply egalitarian and anarchist in their organisation.

“The defining influence of anarchist currents in the early kibbutz movement has been one of official Zionist historiography’s best-kept secrets…It is against this background of induced collective amnesia that A Living Revolution makes its vital contribution. James Horrox has drawn on archival research, interviews and political analysis to thread together the story of a period all but gone from living memory, presenting it for the first time to an English-reading audience. These pages bring to life the most radical and passionate voices that shaped the second and third waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine, and also encounter those contemporary projects working to revive the spirit of the kibbutz as it was intended to be, despite, and because of, their predecessors’ fate.” —Uri Gordon, from the foreword

“A brilliant study of anarchism in the kibbutz movement, particularly regarding economy and polity. Revealing the roots and processes of the influx of anarchist ideas and practices into the early Jewish labour movement, assessing the actual kibbutz practice and seeing the kibbutzim as both a model way to live and a set of experiments to learn from, Horrox gives this history the meticulous attention it deserves. A Living Revolution is comprehensive, caring and even passionate, but also critical. Horrox’s study is an exemplary undertaking we can learn much from.”—Michael Albert, editor Znet and Z Magazine.

More from Horrox at Zeek.

One more thing

Because I haven’t found a better post to put this in, read this excellent account of Gramsci’s relevance today, at Left Luggage.

Notes

Orwellia: Rosie compares notes with George Orwell. Max Dunbar on why Richard Seymour should have won the Orwell Prize (not).

Iberia/Anti-fascism: Portugal’s cultural revolution 35 years on. Franco has only got one ball. Hearing Emma Goldman’s voice is justification enough for the internet. Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin.

North African diaspora/music and dance: Barcelona Maghrebi music. Dancing: for Visteon, in Spain, and in the Paris Commune.

Obituaries: On the passing of Chris Gray. On the passing of Ernest Millington: from Roy Roebuck, Graham Pointer, Around the Edges, Yorkshire Ranter, Hopi Sen.

Poumlicious

Nick Cohen takes no shit. Trotsky on religion. A Los Barricados: folk songs and other songs from On A Raised Beach. Anglo-Buddhist Combine: Maurice Brinton/Christopher Pallis. Harry Barnes’ military service: Basra, Bombs, and Books. SlackBastard’s books (including Haymarket: A Novel by Martin Duberman, Julián Casanova’s Anarchism, the Republic and Civil War in Spain: 1931–1939, Stuart Chrsitie’s We The Anarchists!: A Study Of The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927–1937, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four). Paul as Orwell. Hamas kills opponents, Clare Short turns blind eye.