What can you say about the three key figures of British post-war Trotskyism? Gerry Healy was a hyperactive pseud with a penchant for thuggery, rape and doing dodgy deals with unsavoury Arab regimes. Tony Cliff was flighty, excitable and an inveterate bandwagon chaser – qualities he imparted to the Socialist Workers Party. And there is Ted Grant. Founder of the Militant Tendency and with a reputation for super seriousness, of all of Trotsky’s British progeny it was he who came closest to disturbing the sleep of the great and the good. But for all that, it’s the repulsive Healy and the Mercurial Cliff who are most often recalled and discussed among the tiny circles of people who care about such things. Poor old Ted, the longest lived and most successful of them all merits nary a mention. Perhaps not recruiting enough celebrities or future Guardian journalists has something to do with it.
It’s months now since I’ve looked through the Marxist Internet Archive. Since I’ve last been there, loads of really good stuff is up. The below is just from November and December last year, and it covers a period from ca.1930 to ca.1940 which was pivotal in the development of the anti-Stalinist left.
The material here focuses on three overlapping currents in this anti-Stalinist left. The first is the POUM, the Spanish party whose name this blog’s is taken from, who fused the “left” and “right” opposition in Spain to the official Stalinist Communist party, to form a democratic mass movement of radical socialism, before being liquidated by the Stalinists in during the Spanish Civil War.
The second is the Trotskyist movement, Communism’s “left” opposition. While Trotsky supplied much of the intellectual justification for Stalin’s brutal misrule in the Soviet Union, his sharp critique of the degeneration of the Stalinist state made him a criminal in the dictatorship. His followers have formed one of the main planks of anti-Stalinist socialism globally. The material below focuses mainly on American Trotskyists, but particularly those who developed beyond the rigid and damaging orthodoxies of “official” Trotskyism.
Parallel to Trotsky’s Left Opposition, the Right Opposition called for a more democratic path to socialism, and was bitterly excluded from the Communist movement. Unlike Trotksyism, it leaves little organisational trace today, and so its history remains more deeply buried.
In the period from 1930 to 1940, these currents moved from composing a dissatisfied internal dissident streak within Stalinism, to a fully developed critical analysis of Stalinism. From 1940 to 1950, they several different interesting directions forward, some positively, others less so. Between them (along with anarchist, democratic socialist and left communist currents not represented here), they constitute a significant part of the heritage of anti-Stalinism that continues to be relevant to thinking about the task of reforging a radical movement today.
The Catalan Andreu (or Andres in Spanish) Nin i Pérez was a left dissident in the Communist Party, forming a left opposition group Communist Left of Spain (ICE), which merged with the Right Opposition party Bloque Obrero y Campesino, to form the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) in 1935.
brochure J. Posadas, La Ciencia Espacial Bro 790/2
Close encounters and flying saucers also have a place in socialist theory. The posadists (supporters of Juan Posadas) in Latin America believed this concept was a logical extension of Marxist dialectical materialism. Posadas led a group of the Trotskyist Fourth International in Argentina. He was especially interested in the Chinese and Russian space programmes, and wrote a pamphlet in 1971 called La Ciencia Espacial. He envisioned the extension of the socialist revolution to outer space. Many pamphlets by Posadas and the Posadists can be consulted in the IISH library.
Some radical history notes:
Big Flame history blog: on some other radical history projects on the web.
Democratic socialism: Happy birthday, Oscar Wilde, Fabian anarchist.
New and not so new archival material below the fold. (more…)
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.”)
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”.
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.”
Some features from the Alliance for Workers Liberty, some new, some from the archive, below the fold. I have already included some of these in my From the Archive of Struggle series, but, hey, you can’t have too much of a good thing! Also, further down, a small number of other articles, including Eric Lee on Trotsky and some recent pieces from Against the Current.
From National Review Online’s Uncommon Knowledge TV show. Each episode is around 6 minutes. Pretty good from the superficial listen I’ve had.
• Trotsky with Hitchens and Service 1: Christopher Hitchens and Robert Service introduce Leon Trotsky, “one of the half-dozen outstanding Marxist revolutionaries.”(Background stuff. Skip it if you are among the initiated.)
• Trotsky with Hitchens and Service 5: Trotsky today – scrutinizing the modern romantic view of Leon Trotsky.
(Twitter version: The Hitchens/Service series: 1: http://ow.ly/jygc, 2: http://ow.ly/jygo, 3: http://ow.ly/jyhv, 4: http://ow.ly/jyhO, 5: http://ow.ly/jyhW. “Christopher Hitchens is a journalist and author. His most recent book is God Is Not Great. Robert Service is a historian who has published major biographies of Lenin and Stalin. His most recent book, Comrades!, is study of communism as a worldwide movement. His upcoming work, Trotsky, will be published in November 2009.”)
ADDED: Lesley Chamberlain “Twilight in Mexico” in WSJ on Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary by Bertrand M. Patenaude (published in the UK as Stalin’s Nemesis, which I blogged about here, when it was Radio 4’s Book of the Week. More from Bookhugger, Ardmayle, The Tablet. More later today about the current Book of the Week, which also has a Trotskyist theme. ).
1. Hal Draper’s piece on Israel posted by angelus novus at Contested Terrain (and linked to here) has prompted a very thoughtful, intelligent response by Mira Vogel, posted at Engage and Greens Engage, two excellent British left-wing anti-racist sites.
2. Larry Gambone has a couple of recent articles of interest, most notably his dissection of the myth of Lenin’s “libertarian” State and Revolution (a myth that Draper contributed to).
3. Via Bermuda Radical (a bit Pabloite for my liking), I came across Sebastian Lamb’s critique of J Sakai and his theory of “settler” racism – useful.
5. Principia Dialectica lay into Amadeo Bordiga and his cult here.
Below the fold: From the archive of struggle, no.22