A Serge/Sontag footnote, or an excuse for defending the anti-Stalinist tradition

Victor Serge Susan Sontag

Three years ago, in a post on Victor Serge, I linked to a blogpost  by Nick at Churls Gone Wild which attacked Susan Sontag. I called Nick’s post “petty, mean-spirited, Stalinoid”. Those are quite extreme and intemperate and probably unfair words, for which I should apologise, prompted by a comment last month from the author of the post. However, I kind of think I wasn’t totally wrong. I am not a big fan of Sontag, but I have often been struck by the attacks on her from a particular leftist tradition, attacks which echo those made from the same tradition on other anti-Stalinist leftists, such as Serge, Arendt, Orwell, Shachtman and the New York intellectuals or, later, figures such as Walzer and Hitchens. I wouldn’t call these attacks Stalinist, exactly, but I don’t think Stalinoid is too wrong a word. Here’s why.  (more…)

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An antidote to Tito nostalgia

Spartacus (Fast novel)

Image via Wikipedia

 Criticism etc writes on Raya Dunayevskaya, Tito nostalgia, Howard Fast and Spain. Extract:

[…] Dunayavskaya’s passing mention of Tito’s activities in Spainduring the revolution. Tito was a seasoned Comintern functionary long before he lead the partisan war against the Germans and it is an accepted part of his biography that in the 1930s he funneled volunteers from the Balkans to Spainto serve in the International Brigades. Proof that Tito was actually in Spainduring the revolution is scant, but the novelist and recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, Howard Fast, author of Spartacus(which was made into the film starring Kirk Douglas), wrote a 1944 homage with the immortal title The Incredible Tito which places him in the country. If this is accurate, it is entirely possible that Tito participated in the Stalinist repression of the POUM and the Trotskyists (or the Bolshevik-Leninists, as they called themselves).

Fast claims in his memoir Being Red, that at the time in 1946 when he was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about his work with the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee he learned that the Josip Broz in Spain he had heard about as an employee of the Office of War Information during WWII was not the one we know as Tito, but rather another person by that name (Fast was questioned about aid that may have helped Broz escape occupied France). Criticism &c. is inclined to belive the story as Fast recorded it in 1944. Regardless, Dunayevskaya may well have been informed from sources closer to the topic than Fast was privy to.

The irony in all of this is that in their frantic search for post-WW II perspectives, the Trotskyists went strongly pro-Tito for a time afterYugoslavia’s expulsion from the Cominform.

 C etc is right in noting the Tito nostalgia that pervades the left, both neo-Pabloite Trots and fellow travelling social democrats like Tony Benn. It was one of the factors that led much of the left to find themselves on the wrong side of the Yugoslav conflicts of the 1990s, when many associated the irredentist and ultimately genocidal Serbian nationalism with the partisan cause and the Croatian, Bosnian and other resistances to it with the Ustache.

On this day in 1995: Srebrenica, a “Safe Area”

From IISG:

Srebrenica, a safe area cartoon, Peter van Straaten, 2002, Van Straaten collection, Press Museum. BG PM4/179 of 215

On 11 July 1995 the Bosnian Serbian army enters the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Thousands of Muslims seek protection in the compound of the Dutch UN peace mission. Dutchbat stands idly by while the men are separated from the women and children and taken away in buses. The Bosnian Serbs murdered more than 7000 defenseless men as the Dutch soldiers return home at the end of July amidst elaborate praise. On 10 April 2002 the NIOD (Dutch Institute for War Documentation) publishes an official research report, “Srebrenica, a ‘safe area'”. One week later Prime Minister Wim Kok, who was prime minister during the terrifying disgrace in 1995 as well, decides to resign.

See also:

•  Peter van Straaten collection in the Memory of the Netherlands

Previously: 6 April.

European histories: 1934, 1959, etc

From The Commune:

The last week has seen much media coverage of the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, largely devoted to nostalgia and a hefty chunk of British (and Polish) nationalism. What is rarely commented on is the dynamics of political struggle within the countries participating in the bloodbath, and less still the activity of the workers’ movement, which did not in fact purely and simply support the Allies, and had to resist authoritarian measures imposed to varying degrees by each state enforcing wartime control measures.

While some of the struggles that took place had an immediate and significant effect on the outcome of the war, others which totally failed are equally worth remembering. While popular culture venerates Nazis-turned-good, as in the 2008 Tom Cruise film Valkyrie which depicts the 20th July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler by aristocratic militarists who had lost faith in their Führer, less well-known are the stories of those who fought Nazism from start to finish, from a position of far less power, severe privations and heavy repression. How many people know that the first action in defiance of the Holocaust was nothing to do with the Allies (who infamously refused to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz and did little to stop it), but a two-day general strike started by communist dockworkers and tramdrivers in response to raids of Jewish homes in Amsterdam in February 1941? [READ THE REST]

From Eurozine:

The Hungarian Quarterly 195 (2009)

Two books dealing with the state security apparatus in communist Hungary emphasize the extent to which its members, from informants and their handlers up to high-ranking politicians in the Ministry of the Interior, were subordinate to the Communist Party hierarchy, writes historian and journalist Sándor Révész. This radically calls into question the common treatment of “informants” as scapegoats and shifts the focus to Party officials, many of whom became respected politicians after 1989.

“The sources show clearly that a much wider circle of people than the network of agents were responsible for the disadvantages, and even vilification, suffered by thousands of people”, writes Révész. “This makes it hardly surprising that researchers pushing for freedom of information on state surveillance find little support. The response to publications that do find their way to a wider readership is jittery, with researchers generally being accused of the very thing that is least true of them, i.e. that they are only interested in unmasking and pillorying those who were recruited into the informer network.”

After 1956, writes Révész, the covertly totalitarian Kádár regime strove for omniscience as opposed to omnipotence, which in turn entailed a new form of policing. “If a legitimate, constitutional opposition is not allowed to exist, then every activity, person and group represents a threat to national security should it carry the seeds of dissidence.” The lesson to be learned “is that no general conclusions can be drawn about the possibility of refusing to cooperate with the state security services”.

Also:

Slavenka Drakulic on Tito. Timothy Snyder on totalitarianism’s Baltic killing fields. Ben Peck on the Hitler-Stalin pact. Nada Prlja on the red bourgeoisie in Yugoslavia and the coming black communism

In other news: Lyndon LaRouche’s creeps peddle softcore Holocaust denialism – an Armenian Holocaust survivor is arrested for stopping them.

Poumahoola

Alternative presents:

Galician metal workers on the barricades. Interview with Venezuelan anarchists of El Libertario.

Tragic presents:

Antisemitism, Human Rights and Acceptable Jews in Buenos Aires.

Alternative histories:

Yugoslav “self government” by Dan Jakopovich. Otto Bauer on film. Notes on the Portuguese revolution. A little theory by Malatesta.

Iconography/iconoclasm:

Lenin’s butt remodelled. The equivalence of totalitarianisms: no Che on Polish t-shirts.

Fascism and anti-fascism:

SlackBastard writes:

Don PalabraZ is a Subversive Historian. mister word’s latest post recalls the day in 1938 Joe Louis defeated Max Schmeling for the heavy-weight boxing title. Curiously, despite being championed by a dead incestuous coprophiliac dicktator, and acting as a mouthpiece for the Nazi regime, Schmeling was:

Compassionate and Modest
…On Kristallnacht, Schmeling took an enormous risk and hid the two teenage sons of a Jewish friend in his Berlin hotel room. The boxer claimed to be sick and did not allow any visitors. When the opportunity presented itself, Schmeling smuggled the two boys out of the country. Henri Lewin, who became a Las Vegas hotelier, credits Schmeling with his life; characteristically, the modest Schmeling made no mention of this episode in his own autobiography.

Below the fold – From the archive of struggle, no.24: (more…)