Socialist Wanker

Digesting some of the material about the collapse of the British SWP. Here are some of the links that are relevant beyond UK sectariana but of interest to those interested in Marxist theory and Trotskyist history more broadly. For those interested in the gory details, go to Jim Jepps’ ever-growing link list, from which a couple of the items below are pilfered, or to Mikey’s tabloid version. Apologies this is so un-chronological, with stuff from January through to April.

Leninism, vanguardism, party democracy, activist culture:

Theorising Marxism and feminism:

Tony Cliff, founding figure of the British Int...

Tony Cliff, founding figure of the British International Socialists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “IS tradition”:

The radical movement in Britain

Historical Materialism journal:

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Belated

I can’t believe I missed the death of the talented singer songwriter Llasa de Sela age just 37 at the start of 2010. See Roland/Jams.

And some late additions to my Colin Ward obituaries: from Peter Marshall, author of Demanding the Impossible, from Critical Chatting, and from Robert Graham.

And one more for Michael Foot – the JC with a Jewish angle.

And two more obituaries, via Histomatist: The new issue of Socialist Review has a short article on the founder of the International Socialist TendencyTony Cliff (1917-2000) by Ian Birchall – at work on a forthcoming biography of this critically important twentieth-century revolutionary Marxist thinker. See also Sabby Sagall on the British actor and revolutionary socialist [sic] Corin Redgrave (1939-2010).

Talking of mourning (not that we’re mourning Redgrave), the New Centrist: “Pray for the twenty-nine West Virginia miners who lost their lives and their families. Then get active. Amending Joe Hill’s famous phrase, don’t only mourn, organize.”

Max Dunbar: All shall have prizes. On the Orwell Prize, Stephen Mitchelmore, Nick Cohen, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and George Orwell’s anti-pacifism. Related, did Christopher Hitchens read the SWP’s John Molyneux and blogger Snowball after reading Animal Farm?

Principia D: Eric Hobsbawm: The Marxist who never read Marx. (“Not judging by this survey of Post-war Italy, anyway. “) More on this in a future post, maybe.

From January, Kathedar Blog with two very good interrelated posts: on Alex Callinicos on imperialism and on Marx and the dialectic.

AF: Steps towards re-emergence of anarchism in Cuba. See also here.

Jamie Bartlett: Politics and the English language 2.0.

Continuing our anarchism vs Marxism discussion, these lapidary posts from Lady Poverty are well worth your time: Marx and Foucault; A note about Marx and FoucaultThe point, as it relates to Holden Caulfield and Karl Marx; Marxism vs. identity anarchism. And here, very much less to my taste, is a contribution from a Maoist: Anarchism or revolutionary Marxism? by Arindam Sen of the CPI(ML).

Also chronically belated: New Statesman: Jonathan Derbyshire interviews Terry Eagleton on nostalgia for 1970s socialism.

And some considerable time after Michael Foot’s death, this from Brian Brivati: Foot and Nye Bevan.

Wobbling around the world: a socialist belatedly discovers the IWW.

On Maoism: Richard Wolin remembers the Maoist 1960s, and Apoorvanand analyses Maoism in India, as does Dilip Simeon.

Wolin and Brivati come from Arguing The World, the now not quite brand new trans-Atlantic blog at Dissent. Here is one more from that: Alan Johnson: Žižek or Bobbio? (The blog title is familiar to me from the PBS documentary about the New York intellectuals I link to over to the right – I ought to know whose being quoted: Irving Howe?)

I meant to link to this article on William Morris discovering socialism in Iceland when it came out, then forgot, but was prompted after noticing it at Histomatist – seems kind of timelier now, as Morris would no doubt be enjoying the effects of the volcano on the global tourism and agri-industries.

Finally, how can I post these days without mentioning Hugo Chavez? This is from the Venezuelan anarchist journal El Libertario: Venezuela: the myth of “Eco-socialism of the XXI Century” The author is Professor and Researcher at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas. This contribution is the revised excerpt from a longer article appeared in Spanish in the Journal of Economics and Social Sciences (FACES-UCV) entitled “XXI Century Eco-socialism and Bolivarian Development Model: the myths of environmental sustainability and participatory democracy in Venezuela “, 2009, vol. 15, No. 1, pp.187-223 

Poumunk

Colin Ward

From SlackBastard:

[…] UK anarchist Colin Ward has died. His Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2004) is both very short and quite good, and his appeal as a writer was widespread, his many, generally pithy writings emphasising the practical dimensions of Anarchy in Action. (Revolution by the Book has an extract from Anarchy in Action here; AK Press is also publishing Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Reader later this year.) In addition to being the author of numerous books and pamphlets, Ward edited Anarchy zine for its first 100 issues (1961–1970), criticised by some as being reflective of anarchism’s absorption by the middle class.

OBITUARIES – 20: COLIN WARD, Paul Anderson, GAUCHE, February 17, 2010 | Colin Ward, RIP, Jesse Walker, Reason, February 17, 2010 | Colin Ward: pioneer of mutualism, Next Left, February 14, 2010 | Colin Ward Presente!, Dan Cull Weblog, February 14, 2010 | Colin Ward, Rob Ray, libcom, February 13, 2010 | Colin Ward, Ross Bradshaw, Five Leaves Blog, February 12, 2010.

See also : Anarchism in Action: Methods, Tactics, Skills, and Ideas, Second Edition (draft), Complied and Edited by Shawn Ewald.

Marxism etc

Bob versus the Moonbats: marxism necessary but not sufficient.

Some items of interest from The Commune: Beyond the party-state, beyond the big bang; El Alto, bastion of social struggles in Bolivia; Readings on the Paris Commune from Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin and the Situationists; The early Russian revolution: Laurat in wonderland (this is part 1 of a text on Lucien Laurat’s book L’Économie Soviétique: Sa Dynamique, son méchanisme, by  João Bernardo of Passa Palavra; the original in Portuguese is here, with part 2 here, presumably awaiting translation).

Half a century of the New Left Review: Coatesy has a long and fascinating critical elegy, and Entdinglichung reminds us of the 1960 edition. Michael Weiss has a different take.

Trottishness etc

The departure of Lindsey German from the British SWP is raising some interesting discussions of party democracy in the UK left blogosphere. Among the contributions are these: “When Zinoviev is in the majority he is for iron discipline, when he is in the minority he is against it“; “Once Tiberius is dead I, Sejanus, will rule as Emperor in Rome”; “It was the best times, it was the worst of times”….; United fronts or just fronts?; The examination of the conscience (or lack thereof). Odd how it brings out the erudition in bloggers with these titles.

Uncle Hugo

From SlackBastard:

And finally, um, for reasons best known to himself, but perhaps related to the recent departure of significant sections of the International Marxist Tendency, Uncle Hugo’s best mate Alan Woods has attacked Bakunin In Defence of Marxism.

The last link is worth clicking on, as it gets you an English translation of The Third Chavez by Demétrio Magnoli in O Estado de Sao Paulo, apparently “Brazil’s main bourgeois paper”. I found it quite perceptive, and Woods’ reply too tedious to bother with.

Karl Marx created the 1st International, Friedrich Engels participated in the founding of the 2nd, Lenin established the 3rd, Leon Trotsky founded the 4th and Hugo Chávez has just raised the banner of the 5th. “I take responsibility before the world, I think it is time to rally the 5th International and dare to make the call,” he said in a speech lasting five hours, at the opening session of the extraordinary congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to the applause of 772 delegates in red shirts.

The congress was held in November. Then Chavez imposed energy rationing in the country, devalued the currency and introduced a dual exchange rate, nationalized a supermarket chain, suspended cable TV broadcasts and unleashed a bloody crackdown on student protests. […]

Chavez is living his third incarnation, which is also the last. The first Chavez emerged after the failed coup of 1992, in the guise of nationalist and anti-American warlord mesmerized by the image of an imaginary Simón Bolívar. Under the influence of Argentine sociologist Norberto Ceresole, that original Chavismo flirted with anti-Semitism and dreamed of the establishment of an authoritarian, fascist-style state, which would reunify Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador in a restored Great Colombia.

A second Chávez could be discerned in outline in the spring of the first term in 1999, after the break with Ceresole, when the Leader drew close to Heinz Dieterich, a German Professor of Sociology in Mexico who came out of obscurity to formulate the concept of “socialism of the 21st century.” Chavismo reinvented itself and acquired left-wing collaborators, formed an alliance with Cuba and engaged in the project of building a state capitalism that was presented as a long transition towards a kind of socialism untainted by the Soviet legacy.

Brandishing a copy of The State and Revolution by Lenin, the Chavez of the extraordinary congress of the PSUV announced his conversion to the programme of the destruction of the “bourgeois state” and the building of a “revolutionary state.” This third Chavez was already implied in 2004, when the Leader got to know the British Trotskyist Alan Woods, and was fully manifest by the time of his defeat in the referendum of December 2007, shortly after the break with Dieterich. The PSUV is a result of Chavismo of the third period, as is also the proclamation of the 5th International.

The uses and abuses of history cont.

Bob posts on the Holocaust against the Roma and Jewish partisans in Greece, with lovely music. Chris Ford responds to Red Maria on Stepan Bandera (which I linked to here, to Will’s consternation). Graeme writes on an overlapping topic here.

Poumic

Stalinism and anti-Stalinism

At AVPS, an interesting discussion on what actually “Stalinism” is. At Coatesy’s place, Lindsey German and the Trotskyist Tradition, on democratic centralism, the SWP and Trotky’s ambiguous legacy. From Michael Ezra, some real Stalinists, those who defend North Korea.

Found via Bermuda Radical, here is Paul Kellog on Slavoj Zizek’s failed encounter with Leninism. (“The net effect of Žižek’s analysis is not to resurrect Lenin, but to resurrect Stalin – an utterly irresponsible project given the nightmare of Stalinism from which we have only just emerged. The article will offer some suggestions for a more fruitful approach to “resurrecting” the political legacy of Vladimir Lenin.”)

 

French Writer Albert Camus Smoking Cigarette on Balcony Outside His Publishing Firm Office Premium Photographic Print

Albert Camus

Lettrist discusses Camus The Stranger here. Meanwhile, an intriguing snippet from a Romanian magazine, via Eurozine:

Radu Cosasu writes that Albert Camus was “neither communist nor anti-communist”, a nuance difficult to digest for those “incapable of seeing the Left as anything but communist” (issue 310); and Sever Voinescu explains why such nuances are impossible for the moment in Romania: the country “never had an anti-communist Left; at most, and emerging just now, it has a Left that is indifferent to communism”.

Victor Serge

Not sure if I’ve already linked to this: Victor Serge: Revolution in life and literature, found via Marxist Update. Here is a snippet from a Jonathan Ree piece on JM Coetzee:

Susan Sontag would have agreed with Coetzee about the political significance of literature. The novel, as she remarks in her last, posthumous collection At the Same Time (Hamish Hamilton), exists to recall us to a sense of the interminable diversity that is the basis of what she calls “politics, the politics of democracy.” In a substantial essay on Victor Serge, she praises him for having combined political militancy with a serious engagement with the art of writing. As a mature novelist, she says, Serge was able to deploy “several different conceptions of how to narrate,” elaborating a capacious “I” as a device for “giving voice to others.” It was through his narratorial doubles that he liberated himself from what he called the “former beautiful simplicity” of the fight between capitalism and socialism, so as to produce books that were “better, wiser, more important than the person who wrote them.”

One more for Chris Harman

To add to the obits mentioned here, one from Splintered Sunrise.

Added: In the new Socialist Review: Chris Harman looks back at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the continued relevence of the theory of state capitalism.

Below the fold, Harman’s writings at the Marxist Internet Archive, via Entdinglichung:

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Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 10:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Trot notes

European Trotskyists respond to the anniversary of World War II: An interesting feature on the World Socialist Website, with contributions from Françoise Thull, Barbara Slaughter, Julie Hyland, and David North.

Obituaries for Chris Harman: Michael Rosen, Andrew Coates, Jim Denham, Histomatist. Histomatist rounds up other obituaries from SWPers, but these are the most interesting to my mind. Histomatist contrasts Harman’s erudition to his low status among academo-Marxists, a very important point, as the Marxism of the ivory tower becomes ever more divorced from Marxism as a movement. Coates suprised me by positioning Harman as important in the libertarian heritage of the IS within the SWP, which can be contrasted to Denham’s portrayal of Harman the greatest betrayer of the IS’s third campism. (Added: another from The Commune.)

In the tradition of Marceau Pivert and Tom Paine: Andrew Coates on laïcité.

Misusing the word Stalinism: Tory fool Graham Warner.

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 11:28 am  Comments (1)  
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From the archive of struggle no.38: YIVO special feature

Today’s feature archive is YIVO. Founded in 1925 in Vilna as the Yiddish Scientific Institute, YIVO was the national research institute and archive of Yiddishland. Salvaged from the ruins of European Jewry in 1940, YIVO was re-founded in New York, where it now as an excellent archival collection, and some cool digital collections.

Here are some of the extraordinary materials you will find. Click on the objects to see them in their contexts.

When these streets heard Yiddish:


Bek, a Yiddish translation of The Call of the Wild by Jack London, published by the Kultur Lige (Jewish Workers Cultural Association) in Kiev, 1925.

Union of Jewish Writers and Journalists of Warsaw membership card of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904–1991)

An appeal to vote for the Bund in the municipal elections (Vilna, date unknown)

May Day demonstration jointly organized by the Jewish Socialist Bund and Poalei-Zion Left (Warsaw, 1936).

Poster for the socialist organization Zionist Tseirei Zion: “The Land of Israel for the People of Israel!” (Vilna, date unknown).

“Join the Tsukunft” recruitment poster for the Bundist youth organization (Warsaw, 1936).
Yiddish music:
The Bundist song, Di Shvue sound (“The Oath”)… penned in 1902 by S. An-ski (Shlomo Zanvil Rapoport), the Russian Jewish writer. This Yiddish song, whose melody source also is unknown, exhorts Jews to unite, and to commit themselves body and soul to the defeat of the Russian Tsar and of capitalism… [The partisan song Zog nit keyn mol ] sound

In Love and In Struggle: The Musical Legacy Of The Labor Bund:

Text: David Edelshtat (1866-1892)
Sung by Adrienne Cooper

Edelshtadt’s Arbeter-froyen addresses women in its protest of the hardships of factory work. The song sounds a call to oppressed women workers to join the labor movement in its fight for justice and equality. Published in the New York newspaper Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labor) in 1891, it was also sung by striking workers in Russia and Poland.

Text: Szmerke Kaczerginski (1908-1954)
Music: Basya Rubin (n.d.)~
h Children’s Chorus, The New Yiddish Chorale, and the Workmen’s Circle Chorus

Vilna poet and partisan Szmerke Kaczerginski wrote this stirring march song for the youth movement in the Vilna ghetto. Many of the young people who took part in the ghetto’s active resistance movement later also became combatants in the partisan units that fought the Nazis in the forests.

Here and Now: The Vision of the Jewish Labor Bund in Interwar Poland:

Members of the Tsukunft Self-Defense Group carry the Socialist flag on May Day, Warsaw. 1930s.

Kalman Reisen, socialist and Yiddishist:

Chicago 1912 – Outdoor portrait of the Jewish Socialist Self-Education Club — Includes Abraham Reisen
The Power of Persuasion: Jewish Posters from Prewar Poland:
“Jewish Woman‚ Vote for the Women’s Slate, Slate Number 3.”

***

From the archive of struggle no.38:

Tendance Coatesy:

* Chris Harman: extracts from “Party and Class” (1969), “The  Prophet and the Proletariat” (1994), “Spontaneity, Strategy, Politics” (2004) – makes the interesting case that Harman’s political legacy is the libertarian streak in the IS/SWP tradition, the element that is worth valuing and preserving. Chris Harman died last week. RIP.

World Socialist Website:

* Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter: “Overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy! Build workers’ councils in East Germany!”, October 18, 1989 (Parts I, II, III).

International Communist League:

*Socialist Workers League: “War Is Here—What Now?” (September 1939)

The rest are via Entdinglichung, with some annotation.

Archive.org:

* Leon Trotsky: The Bolsheviki and world peace (1918). [For an authoritative text version of this, as The War and the International, go to MIA. The introduction is by Lincoln Steffens, a muckracking journalist associated with the Progressive Party who became a Communist fellow traveller after a visit to the Soviet Union in 1919 with the Swede Karl Kilbom. I believe he later embraced Mussolini. This book, published by a mainstream American publisher, shows the extent to which Trotsky was considered a great hero of the revolution world-wide; he was the object of cult-like reverence, a figure of great romance in the West.]

* Bertram Wolfe: Marx and America (1934). [Wolfe was a founder-member of the CPUSA and active in the Comintern. He was close to the majority faction of the CPUSA around CE Ruthenberg and Jay Lovestone, who fought against the Foster-Cannon faction, a leftist minority. By 1934, however, he was an oppositionist, part of Lovestone’s Independent Communist Labor League in America and the Communist Party Opposition internationally. Wolfe was the Lovestonite’s chief theorist, and argued for “American exceptionalism”. In this erudite pamphlet, he makes the argument by drawing on Marx’s scattered writings about the US, showing that America posed a special case for the communist movement.]

* International Communist Opposition (ICO): International Class Struggle, Spring 1937. [The ICO, often known as the “Right” Opposition, initially had a pretty robust organisation. Zinoviev, a “Rightist”, had been the chair of the Comintern from its founding until 1926, but Nikolai Bukharin, the chair until the end of the Second Period in 1928, was the real leader after Lenin’s death. Bukharin was the intellectual hero of most of the ICO leadership, and it was Bukharin’s fall from grace under Stalin that prompted the break of the ICO from the mainstream. ICO leaders were therefore already well networked internationally, and able to hit the ground running organisationally, in contrast to the much slower moving “Left” Opposition. However, the ICO tended to lack a mass base in the labour movement, although there were some exceptions to this (the Lovestone-Wolfe group had a strong base in the Yiddish sections of the ILGWU; Steffens’ erstwhile friend Kilbom’s Communist Party of Sweden was pretty big; in Spain the BOC (one of the POUM’s predecessors, was important). This, along with the right-ward drift of many of their key thinkers, was probably the main reason they atrophied by WWII.

This is the ICO’s American journal, vol. 1, no.3, and it includes a fraternally critical letter to the POUM from the bureau of the ICO; a piece on the CIO by George F Miles, the Lovestonites’ labour expert; “D. Swift” on proletarian novels, particularly contemptuous of James T Farrell; an account of the German CPO’s underground existence under Hitler; a critical account of Leon Blum’s Popular Front in France; and a cruel attack on Jean Juares as a prototype of the Popular Front policy. No. 1 and No. 2 are also on-line at archive.org, but I haven’t looked at them yet.]

* Leon Trotsky on labor party: stenographic report of discussion held in 1938 with leaders of the Socialist Workers Party (1968). [A long introduction by Fred Meuhler and Tim Wohlforth draws on Engels and Lenin to argue for an American Labor Party. Then a transcript of Trotsky’s conversation in Mexico with James Cannon, Max Shachtman and Vincent Dunne. By 1938, the Right Opposition were in decline globally, and the Left Opposition was on the rise. However, it is interesting that the American SWP, which was led precisely by James Cannon, Lovestone and Wolfe’s rival in the early CPUSA, had come around to a version of the “American exceptionalism” thesis, and were now calling for an American Labor Party.]

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Leon Trotsky drinking Mexican coffee

Robert Service on Trotsky again: Service was on the weekend’s The Forum on the BBC World Service. The Service bit starts at 27 minutes. I don’t like Service’s analysis, although he is partly right. Service is right about Trotsky’s personality: cold, prim, glacial, disdainful, arrogant, self-centred. But Service basically says Trotsky and Stalin are “blood brothers”, that Trotsky was as ruthless as Stalin, who in turn was as much a “man of ideas” as Trotsky. This is surely not right, despite Trotsky’s faults. However, Service is right that Trotsky would have suppressed the peasants to achieve industrialisation, less brutally than Stalin but nonetheless harshly.

One interesting point Service makes is that other Russian exiles were making similar analyses of Soviet Russia, and have been forgotten. (He doesn’t name names, but Victor Serge, Ante Ciliga, Boris Souvarine, Voline, the exiled Mensheviks André Liebich writes about in From the Other Shore, and so on.) Service suggests that it was because Trotsky was a great writer and subsequently a great martyr that he became so important. I think this is true, but the third factor, both Trotsky’s strength and his flaw, his hubris perhaps, was that he was a great factionalist, with a sense of himself as a leader of a movement, something that was untrue of the other, more modest key figures of the anti-Stalinist left. Anyway, I still prefer Hitchens’ version. Lots more here.

***

Heroes: Josef Frantisek. Marek Edelman, Steve Cohen and Mercedes Sosa. John Saville. Bongani Mkhungo.

Villains: Nat Hentoff.

George Orwell: His lessons for combating antisemitism today.

Histories: The Communist Party in the French resistance. New York elections: from honourable Jewish socialists to odious Marxoid cults. The end of the left’s Cuba romance? The state of Bund historiography [pdf]. The Labour Party and the Battle of Cable Street.

Book reviews: Platypus on Communist Chicago. Colin Waugh’s Plebs. Geoffrey Foote on Paul Flewers’ New Civilisation. Andrew Coates on Flewers and two other books on Communism.

Interviews: Nick Cohen in Black Flag.

The Kaminski affair: Bob has a good round-up (scroll to “Strange alliances”).

Marxist theory: Louis Proyect on John Molyneux on party democracy. Playtpus on Karl Korsch. David Black (Hobgoblin London) on philosophy and revolution.

Un-Marxist theory: Irving Howe “Class and sociology” 1957, plus replies by Lewis Coser and Dennis Wrong.

If sharks were people: From Brecht’s Tales from the Calendar.

Consumerism: Buy Zapatatista coffee! And buy the new edition of Zapata of Mexico. And buy The Workers’ Next Step. And The Insurrectionists by Bill Fishman.

Poumish

Some recent blog posts on the topics close to my heart: