Stephen Schwartz remembers Jorge Semprun

Jorge Semprún Maura, political activist and writer, born 10 December 1923; died 7 June 2011)

How shall we remember Jorge Semprún, the writer and political figure who died on June 7, just before the seventy-fifth anniversary of the event that, more than any other, including his imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, would define his life? I refer to the approach of July 17, 2011, which will mark the date in 1936 when Francisco Franco and his cohort of military officers rose against the second Spanish Republic. The ensuing three-year “Spanish civil war,” as most refer to it, and the distinct but coterminous “Spanish Revolution,” in the idiom of others, affected numerous prominent intellectuals, as well as millions of ordinary people in the twentieth century, many of who were much younger than Semprún and shared few of his direct experiences. [READ THE REST]

Image: Jorge Semprún (2010) Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

More from Ron Radosh.

Poumastic

Distant Spanish echoes

Michael Totten interviews Stephen Schwartz of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism. (Schwartz is the co-author of one of the most important books in English on the POUM, Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism with Victor Alba.)

Your Friend in the North on the Battle for Spain.

The King’s Speech

Is a pack of lies, says Isaac Chotiner, and Christopher Hitchens, and Hitchens again.

“Progressive” [sic] politics

At BobFromBrockley:

Shiraz Socialist publish a couple of shameful articles from the vaults of News Line, the paper of Gerry Healey’s Trotskyist cult the Workers Revolutionary Party. The articles, from 1983, exhibit a particularly disgusting brand of anti-Zionist antisemitism, portraying a reactionary Zionist web that stretches from the “rich Jews” who colluded with Hitler right through to rival Trot group Socialist Organiser, a conspiracy that silences opposition by playing its “anti-Semitic trump card” – phrases that have become all too common on the left. Anyway, the articles are relevant now because they contain a defence of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi as anti-imperialist: try and swallow the words “in support of the Libyan masses under their leader Muammar Gaddafi.” And it is relevant to the “Progressive London” post because it generously quotes Ken Livingstone defending the WRP. Ken claims News Line “gives you an objective presentation of the news and political developments and supports the base struggles of the working class in industry and the community” and describes his enemies in the Labour Party as “agents of the Begin government”. I had forgotten how far back Ken goes with this “anti-imperialist” swamp. More on this sort of thing from Andrew Coates, David Osler and Michael Ezra and (from the archive) Sean Matgamna and Paul Anderson.

Also these two posts by Louis Proyect: “Qaddafi and the Left” and “Qaddafi and the Monthly Review” (re-posted at Kasama).

The new Stalinism

Darren Redstar on the new Stalinist witch-hunting of anarchists at Socialist Unity.

Pacifism: objectively pro-fascist, or objetively pro-imperialist?

Louis Proyect has a long piece attacking Gene Sharp (who I don’t know enough about to defend, although I find many of Louis’ accusations questionable). He includes this quote from the NYT:

Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the 1950s, he wrote for a publication called “Peace News” and he once worked as personal secretary to A. J. Muste, a noted labor union activist and pacifist — but he insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself as “trans-partisan.”

Louis continues, interestingly, about AJ Muste, which struck me as interesting, given a discussion here a while back. Not often, I imagine, that Proyect and Michael Ezra are in agreement.

The Muste connection is interesting. In the 1930s, Muste was the leader of a group called the Workers Party that spearheaded major labor struggles. In James P. Cannon’s “History of American Trotskyism” there is a useful discussion of Muste’s importance. When Cannon found his own Trotskyist group growing closer to Muste’s, he broached the subject of a fusion that Muste was agreeable to. The Trotskyists were at that time doing what is called “entryism” in Norman Thomas’s Socialist Party. When they were expelled, they united with Muste as the Socialist Workers Party, reflecting each group’s antecedents.

Eventually Muste abandoned Marxism and became a Christian pacifist. As a leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Muste became critical in the formation of the Vietnam antiwar coalitions that would challenge the imperialist war-makers. One crucial difference between Muste and Sharp was their chosen arena of struggle. Muste targeted his own government while Sharp saw his role as providing leadership to struggles elsewhere, particularly in the Soviet bloc countries. During the Korean War Sharp spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector. He also took part in some civil rights protests but from the 1960s onwards his emphasis has been on providing consultation to people in other countries.

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz on POUM historiography

A couple of items at Jewcy:

In furtherance of an ongoing interest in the historiography of the Spanish civil war, I note with delight that the Catalan novelist Joan Marsé, born in Barcelona in 1933, has been awarded Spain’s highest literary honor, the Cervantes Prize. While I am normally no fan of such distinctions, which are typically empty and serve to corrupt literary life (see my numerous polemics on the Nobel sweepstakes), the 2008 Cervantes for Marsé is a welcome event.

Marsé remains best known for his novel Si te dicen que caí, written while Spanish dictator Francisco Franco still lived, and translated poorly into English in 1979 as The Fallen. It deals with the fate of anarchists and militants of the Partit Obrer d’Unificacio Marxista or POUM, in which Orwell served, after the triumph of the Nationalist forces in 1939. It was made into a splendid movie by Vicente Aranda Ezquerra, a leading Catalan director – self-taught in film art – who was born in 1926 and lived through the civil war. Aranda is an unabashed sympathizer of the Spanish anarchosyndicalist movement, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and its active cadre formation, the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). Paradoxically, however, the first offering in a trilogy of his films about the Spanish war, originally titled, like the novel, Si te dicen que caí, but also released under the title Aventis, was more sympathetic to the POUM. [Read the rest]

The Cheapest Transaction

In a newsstand at Barajas Airport in Madrid, the day before I headed back to Kosovo and its echoes of the Spanish civil war, I saw a title on a table of books. It read Las víctimas de Negrín: Reinvindicación del POUM (The Victims of Negrín: Vindication of the POUM). The author was Antonio Cruz González, a Spanish labor activist and historian. [Read the rest]