From the archive: special features

Recently discovered, via a Greek radical history website that made me wish I spoke Greek. Plus, at the bottom, some things from Histomatist and other bloggers.

Sidney Fournier: obituary

Download the article here.

— From the Evening Post, 8th July, 1913

Wyatt E. Jones: watchmaker and anarchist

Reason in Revolt

Sample:

  • Cresciani, Gianfranco, ‘Italian anti-fascism in Australia, 1922-45’, in Wheelwright, E.L. & Buckley, K. (ed.), Essays in the political economy of Australian capitalism, volume three, 1978 edn, vol. 3, Australia & New Zealand Book Company, Brookvale, 1978, pp. 86-101. [  |  | Details… ]
  • Gibson, Ralph, ‘Struggle against war and fascism’, in My years in the Communist Party, International Bookshop, Melbourne, 1966. [  |  | Details… ]
  • Manton, Joyce, ‘War can be prevented’, in The centenary prepares war, Melbourne University Council Against War, Melbourne, 1934. [  |  | Details… ]
  • Smith, Bernard, ‘The realisms of war’, in Noel Counihan: artist and revolutionary, 1993 edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne & New York, pp. 180-97. [ Details… ]
  • Smith, Bernard, ‘The fascist mentality in Australian art and criticism 1946’, in The critic as advocate selected essays 1941-1988, 1989 edn, Oxford University Press Australia, Melbourne, 1989, pp. 44-51. [ Details… ]

The Faber Fantin Research Project Site

This is a portrait of Francesco Giovanni Fantin [1901-42] pictured just before he left Italy as an antifascist emigre in 1924. Note the foulard which was an anarchist dress symbol. Since 1985 I have been researching the biography of Fantin, an important Italo Australian anarchist activist who was assassinated by fascist conspirators whilst interned as an enemy alien at Loveday in the SA Riverland, 16 November 1942. This website contains previously unpublished photographs, supplied by friends and relatives of Fantin, and interpretative argument by me about Fantin’s life and times. Fantin is presented as a significant figure in the history of political heterodoxy, emigration and multicultural diversification which were beginning to assume historical proportions in Italo-Australian relations during his lifetime. This then is the larger than life story of a grass roots activist who explored democratic notions of citizenship resolved `to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’. It should be of interest to all interested in the history of democracy and Italo-Australian social and political history, whether they share Fantin’s anarchism, or, like myself, only his socialism.

From Histomatist

New work: Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time

Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time
by Ian Birchall

Hardback £25 9781905192793/Paperback £16.99 9781905192809
Tony Cliff came to political consciousness in the darkest period of the 20th century and spent his life developing revolutionary Marxism against Stalinism. From his early days as a revolutionary in British-occupied Palestine, through years of obscurity and isolation in London and Dublin to the high points of struggle in post-war Britain, Cliff worked to restore lost ideas and traditions, fan flames of resistance and develop our understanding of a system in constant change. Ian Birchall’s lovingly crafted book is the culmination of years of work, drawing on interviews with over 100 people who knew Cliff and painstaking research in archives around the country. It is a majestic example of political biography at its best.
Available direct from Bookmarks Bookshop from 30 June 2011, and nationwide from October – see here. Ian will be launching his biography at Marxism 2011, and describes some of his experience of researching Cliff’s life here.

New study of EP Thompson

I have just finished reading The Crisis of Theory: EP Thompson, the New Left, and Postwar British Politics a highly readable new study by Scott Hamilton of Reading the Maps fame. I can happily and heartily recommend it to readers of Histomat as a fine companion volume to Thompson’s The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (1978). Hamilton’s work comes with what now reads as a rather poignant recommendation from the late socialist historian and EP Thompson’s partner, Dorothy Thompson, and overall I found it a fascinating introduction to Thompson the thinker and writer – someone who I didn’t know before now was given cricket lessons by Nehru while a boy. Personally would have liked a little more on Thompson the great Marxist historian, but I am aware that would have probably meant a different book – and in any case, myself and Hamilton had a little debate about Thompson and Marxist historiography about five years ago – a debate I am not sure either of us feel the compulsion to return to just now. Many congratulations anyway to Scott on the publication of his homageto EPT.

Owen Hatherley on Marx, Eagleton, Lenin and Lih

 As [Eagleton] acknowledges, our age of no-strings-attached state handouts to banks and punitive cuts to social services has embraced a form of capitalism so grotesque that it resembles the caricatures of the most leaden Soviet satirists. Eagleton presents his book as the fruit of “a single, striking thought: what if all the objections to Marx’s thought are mistaken?” In order to demonstrate this, each of the chapters of this erudite yet breezy (occasionally too breezy) tract begins with a series of assertions about Marx and Marxism, which Eagleton then proceeds to debunk, one by one.

From Hatherley’s review of Eagleton’s Why Marx was Right and Lih’s Lenin. Personally I disagree very slightly with Hatherley’s conclusion, at the end of his discussion of Lih’s biography of Lenin: Yet what really endures here is the sense that, for Lenin, a revolutionary leader has a duty to lead the working class into revolution, and all the theory in the world won’t help if the political and economic conditions are missing. Lenin believed that the first world war offered a real chance to destroy capitalism, and when – in 1919, as revolution briefly engulfed Europe – he seemed to be proved right, he felt vindicated, even relieved. He learned his mistake, and died deeply troubled by it.Yet Lenin was not ‘mistaken’ when the world revolution failed to triumph outside of Russia post First World War – the conditions did exist for the successful socialist revolution in Europe – not least in Germany which underwent two revolutionary situations in 1918 and then again in 1923. Lenin knew that making the revolution in Russia was a gamble, but, he wagered, it was right to make that gamble – a gamble after all that was critical to ending the bloodshed of the First World War and, everything taken into account did demonstrate the possibilities for socialist revolution in the 20th century.

As Rosa Luxemburg noted,‘Everything that a party could offer of courage, revolutionary farsightedness, and consistency in a historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky, and the other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary honor and capacity which the Social Democracy of the West lacked were represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was also the salvation of the honour of international socialism.’

From Tendence Coatesy

Louise Michel

I recently saw the film Louise-Michel.

It’s a bit, soso (I went for the name- see below).

The film begins with a coffin being jammed in a Crematorium while the Internationale plays. A textile factory, in Picardy, is delocalised. The boss leaves the women workers in the lurch. Rather than go for a nude Calender, or take up stripping, they decide to hire a killer to bump him. Louise (Yolande Moreau),  finds one, a man transsexual. Louise turns out to be man.

The comedy, such as it is, takes place the surreal Picardy environment, a decaying Communist bastion, with co-ops and council housing falling apart. The only real laughs are in the search for the ultimate boss responsible for the closure. This takes the pair, Louise and her pro ((Bouli Lanners) to a posh gala dinner, Brussels ( with , nonantes and septantes  said every other sentence, and finally to Jersey where a much appreciated bloodbath of the bourgeoisie ensues.(Here.)

The only really good scene in Louise-Michel – and still a bit Little Britain in its humour – is when the duo pass by and visit the farm where Louise had shot a bank-manager out to forfeit her indebted property. It’s now an organic bed-and-breakfast heaven, with fair-trade coffee, bio bogs, hand-woven degradable carpets,  spring water showers, crystal therapy breakfasts, and recycled air -in the dull flat Picardy mud.

Anyway, apart from the chance of seeing Siné in the flesh – in a walk-on part –  I wouldn’t recommend the film.

But at the end there is a quote on the screen from the real-life Louise Michel.

Now she is someone the English-speaking left should get to know.

“Michel became highly admired by French workers and revolutionaries, particularly for her association with theParis Commune. From after her death until 1916, a demonstration was held every year at her tomb at Levallois-Perret.

A legendary figure of the labour movement, Michel had the ability to incite crowds to act. Frequently, the language used to describe her is that reserved for saints and heretics; she is often referred to as “Bonne Louise” (Good Louise) or the “Vierge rouge” (red Virgin). For better or worse, Michel seems to have fascinated her contemporaries. This woman, educated and cultured, intelligent without being shy and retiring, and lacking the beauty of certain demimondaines and other women of loose morals who populated the period before the Belle Epoque, was surrounded by many male celebrities. They were often her steadfast friends, until the end of her life, or more frequently to the end of theirs. For a period when women still had essentially no rights, she was in many respects an exception.”

L’œillet rouge.

If were to go to the black cemetery

Brothers, throw on your sister,
As a final hope,
Some red ‘carnations’ in bloom.
In the final days of Empire,
When the people were awakening,
It was your smile red carnation
which told us that all was being reborn.
Today, go blossom in the shadow of the black and sad prisons.
Go, bloom near the somber captive,
And tell him/her truly that we love him/her.
Tell that through fleeting time
Everything belongs to the future
That the livid-browed conqueror
can die more surely than the conquered.

The Paris Commune is not dead

There is a very well expressed article by Nick Rogers in the latest Weekly Worker on the 140th Anniversary of the Paris Commune – Here.

He concludes,

The historical experience of the Paris Commune teaches us a threefold lesson.

First, the key role of political leadership and programme. The Commune clearly lacked coherent political leadership. It did not even have a clear idea of what it sought to achieve. This was partly a question of political ideology, but it was also an expression of the lack of any working class party to speak of. In Paris (and in the other cities of France, where during this period several communes of only a few days’ duration were declared) there were political traditions, clubs and conspiratorial groupings. Lacking from the political firmament was any party seeking to democratically represent the interests of the whole class.

The International came closest and was subsequently blamed by the French government for the uprising. It banned the International in France and wrote to governments around Europe urging them to take the same action. But the Proudhonist majority in the French section held to a theoretical position that rejected political action (and trade unionism, for that matter). It was not ready to lead a workers’ revolution.

Second, the spontaneity of the working class is capable of great feats. What was achieved in Paris during April and May 1871 by the citizens of the city retains the capacity to inspire. Local initiatives proliferated. Right up to the last week a mood of festival prevailed. It is not the role of a political party to subsume or subdue such initiative, but to provide a focal point for directing the working class’s capacity for political and organisational creativity in an agreed direction.

Third, a workers’ revolution transforms the political and constitutional landscape or it is not a revolution. That is why communists raise democratic and republican demands. It is a lesson most of the present-day ‘revolutionary’ left has forgotten. The rediscovery of Kautsky “when he was a Marxist” can help hammer home that lesson.

This is a crystal-clear summary of the Commune’s enduring political meaning.

Also read:
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Poummm

The Road to Wigan Pier

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Anarchist notes

A few bits and bobs, not quite a full edition of my From the Archive of Struggle series.

Anarcho-syndicalists in the Mexican revolution: the Casa del Obrero Mundial

A critical account of the Mexican anarcho-syndicalist union the Casa del Obrero Mundial which took up arms against revolutionary peasants. From the Anarchist Federation, at LibCom.

The IWW and Music: Creating a Working Class Counter-Culture

This article discusses how the early IWW used music both as an organising tool and as a means of developing a sense of community among its members. It puts these activities in the context of the politics and practical activity of the IWW during this period.

KDVS Interview with Lucien van der Walt, co-author of “Black Flame”

The interview covers issues like defining anarchism, anarchism and trade unions today,  the issue of centralisation, anarchism and globalisation then and now, the Soviet Union and Communism,  the Spanish Civil War, anarchism and immigration today, the relationship between class struggle and other forms of oppression, anarchism after Seattle, and anarchism and postmodernism.

Proudhon, Marx and the Paris Commune

This update of Property is Theft! is focused on two key issues, Proudhon and Marx as well as Proudhon’s influence on the Paris Commune (which explains why it has been updated on the 18th of March!). The two are inter-related, simply because many key “Marxist” positions are first found in Proudhon’s work or date from the 1871 revolt and, ironically, simply repeat the ideas raised by the Communards who in turn found them in Proudhon…  The update involves the appendix of texts from the Commune as well as Proudhon’s 1846 letter to Marx and extracts from System of Economic Contradictions (both volume 1 and volume 2, some of the later translated for the first time).

Towards an anarchist history of the Chinese revolution

By Andrew Flood. Outside of a few events including the Long March and the Shanghai commune the development of the Chinese revolution is relatively unknown on the western left in comparison with the revolutions in Russia in 1917, Spain in 1936 or even the Paris spring of 1968. Those sections of that left influenced by or proclaiming themselves to be Maoist haven’t helped that situation much. Their histories have tended towards simple tales focusing on the role of one man and collapsed a 100-year history of revolution into the events important to him. [Italiano]

Organise! magazine anti-Poll Tax articles scanned in Issues 14-27 from 1988-1992

To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of non-payment of the Poll Tax in England & Wales (following non-registration in 1989 and solid mass non-payment in Scotland), to remember the commitment of community campaigns which helped us support each other in non-payment, and to take inspiration from the great Poll Tax Riot in London on 31th March 1990 and smaller uprisings in many local areas, we present all of the scanned in articles published in Organise! magazine over the period 1988-1992 spanning fourteen issue.