Archive for the ‘Labour Movement’ Category
In the era of Wars and Revolutions. American Socialist Cartoons of the mid-twentieth century. Edited by Sean Matgamma.
“Although in some places, notably in the Untied States, Trotskyism is able to attract a fairly large number of adherents, and develop into an organised movement with a petty Fuehrer of its own, its inspiration is essentially negative. The Trotskyist is against Stalin just as the Communist is for him, and, like the majority of Communists, he wants not so much to alter the external world as to feel that the battle for prestige is gaining in his own favour.”
George Orwell. Notes on Nationalism. 1945. ( Orwell and Politics. Page 355. Penguin 2001.)
In the Era of War and Revolutions publishes American left-wing cartoons for the most part long unavailable (even on the Web). They are largely from the papers of what became the Trotskyist American Socialist Workers’ Party, and their publications, such as Labor Action, the Militant, Socialist Appeal and New Militant, although there are some from the Communist Party (US), Daily Worker.
It is immediately striking that capitalists wear top-hats, and are corpulent. while workers are muscle-bound titans. No punches are pulled. Stalinism is a horror, American capitalism is embodied in Jim Crow and Lynching, As Sean Matgamma says in the Introduction, this is “clear and stark class-struggle politics, counterposed to both capitalism and Stalinism.”.
Orwell was simply wrong to say that Trotskyists were single-minded opponents of Stalin and Orthodox Communism. There is an equal focus on capitalism, the 1930s struggles of the US labour movement, Fascism, and, as World War 2 approached, and was fought, imperialism.
It would have been useful to have outlined the political evolution of the SWP (US) and the publications in which the cartoons appeared.
Its opposition to American participation in the World War – the subject, or sub-text, of many of the designs - takes some explaining.
The SWP’s own supporters claim that (2008),
The Socialist Workers Party…… maintained the Marxist view that in the modern epoch there is no progressive wing of the capitalist class. The major industrialized capitalist rivals, dominated by finance capital—what Marxists term imperialism—are constantly driven to wars of conquest in which they try to redivide the world’s territories. The working-class vanguard, the party held, needs to explain the imperialist character of the war and why workers and farmers must oppose it, fighting instead for their own class interests worldwide.
Vanguard workers in the United States came under increasing attack as Washington sought to drum up a patriotic campaign in support of its war drive. The Smith “Gag” Act was passed in 1940, prohibiting the advocacy of “overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States.” Under this thought-control law, 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and Teamsters Local 544 in Minneapolis were railroaded to prison for their class-struggle course in the labor movement, including opposition to the imperialist war. They spent between 12 and 16 months behind bars.
Not everybody, one suspects, will have much sympathy with that stand. Apart from the wider problems it raises it stood uncomfortably close to the US ‘isolationists’ of the period.
Yet Stalinism, for all Orwell’s cavils, is something that was rightly a major issue for the American Trotskyists. In the Era reminds us that there were people on the left prepared to speak their opposition, and dramatically illustrate it in their publications. That some of the SWP became so obsessed with the Soviet Union that they became what would be later be called ‘neoconservatives’ perhaps shows the difficulty of maintaining a Thrid Camp position.
The SWP itself still exists, a small group of property developers who continue to publish Trotksy and use their other resources to back Cuba.
The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are to be congratulated for publishing this material. It deserves a place on every socialists’ bookshelf. For this Blogger, who has only a passing familarity with the American left, it is a useful reminder of its rich past.
In an era of wars and revolutions, by Carlo and others, edited by Sean Matgamna. 312 pages, £8.99. To order by post, pay £8.99 plus £1.60 postage here.
More information from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.
Note on some of the cartoonists - Laura Gray (Slobe),
From Labor Action.
Labor Action regularly published cartoons and caricatures penned by Jesse Cohen, who worked under the name Carlo, while the Militant ran graphics by Laura Slobe, whose party name was Laura Gray. Despite the new wave of public and scholarly interest in the history of comics and cartoons, neither Carlo nor Laura Gray has attracted much attention from historians of the graphic arts. Readers of this magazine might recognize Carlo’s work from the short profile we published in issue 37 (Summer 2004); now it’s Laura Gray’s turn.
Like Jesse Cohen, Laura Slobe attended high school in the 1920s, came of political age during the 1930s, and remained active on the far left after World War II. She was born in Pittsburgh, but grew up in Chicago, where she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before working for the Works Progress Administration Art Project. As a young, avant-garde artist she concentrated her efforts on painting and sculpture, which remained her lifelong passions. She joined the SWP in 1942, and her first cartoon appeared in the Militant two years later. The labor journalist Art Preis later remembered that, “From the first, her work added such a fresh, bright, satirical note to the paper that it was enthusiastically hailed by our readers everywhere.” According to another SWP writer, “The cartoon’s subject matter was on the agenda of the Militant’s staff meetings. After the staff discussed and decided what the topic would be, Gray would go home and start to draw.” In addition to serving on the staff of the Militant, Gray “worked at a series of jobs to support herself, including painting store mannequins and creating window displays for some of New York’s big department stores.” She remained the SWP’s in-house artist from 1944 until her death in 1958. Tragically, she had contracted tuberculosis in her early twenties, and had a lung removed in 1947. She died after a brief bout with pneumonia.
Weekly Worker says, economic policy is ” mishmash“.
Left Unity is encouraged, rightly in the Tendance’s view by having achieved some national resonance. 1,520 signed-up members – and 200 in the immediate run up to their Manchester Conference.
But steel-hardened cadres beware!
Peter Manson reports in the Weekly Worker.
The economics policy commission, which made up the first real business of the day, remains a mishmash of lofty aspirations and minimalist reforms. It starts by describing the effects of the global financial crisis, yet does not go on to call for the party to be committed to a campaign for an alternative society. It states: “Radical measures are necessary to ensure a transformation in the economic structure and a reversal of the damage inflicted over the last 30 years of attacks …” It calls for “an expansion of public spending in pursuit of a policy of full employment”.
…incredibly, no debate was allowed on this monstrosity of a document.
We can only be dismayed.
Except that to most people it seems a pretty good approach to take, a radical programme of structural reforms, and a positive attempt to offer an alternative to the Privatising State and Austerity.
In general Left Unity has some pretty good policies. It refused to follow the Gadarene herd into the sea of Scottish nationalism and an independent capitalist Alba. It rejected calls for ‘unity’ with groups like the SWP (which some of Left Unity’s main members recently split from acrimoniously) and the No2EU supporting Socialist Party.
It would have been interesting to see some balance-sheet of the experience of other left party initiatives, particularly a self-criticism from those who were until not so long ago part of the cabal around George Galloway’s Respect Party.
None has appeared.
Even Cde. Mason admits its policy on Europe is an excellent start,
Crouch End’s motion called for support for the statement of the European Left Party and its “refoundation of Europe on a socialist basis”. This was carried unanimously. Of course, there are big differences on what exactly is meant by that, and those around Andrew Burgin, Kate Hudson and so on who support it have very different ideas in practice on what is meant by “socialist”. But this convergence around the notion of all-Europe unity – as opposed to left nationalism – was striking.
This is a major advance for the British left.
The comrade writing in the organ of the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB accurately observes (following no doubt the judgement of Tendance Coatesy) that the motion on racism was a load of, how shall we put this politely, cack.
Cde Mason remarks,
“It was fitting that this intersectionalist motion was moved by Richard Seymour. He was urged by comrade Macnair to accept that the motion was “framed in the wrong way” and should be referred back.”
Comrade Macnair pointed out that its sectionalist/intersectionalist basis was “inconsistent with global opposition to capitalist rule”. Blacks (or women) per se cannot lead such opposition. Secondly, it saw no difference between the racism of old and today’s “nativism”. It accepted the whole multiculturalist agenda, which was driven by the bourgeoisie and sought to divide opposition from ethnic groups by upholding their separation from each other and promoting ‘community leaders’ who claimed to speak for them and helped sideline any united class response to cuts, etc.
Quite right comrade! (we are not being facetious here)
In his reply, comrade Seymour dismissed the concern about intersectionality. The various oppressed groups “intersect”. So “what’s the problem?” As for the divisive nature of multiculturalism, that seemed to pass him by. Showing just how all-pervasive are the backward ideas associated with multiculturalist intersectionality, the CP was virtually alone in calling for a referral-back: the motion was carried overwhelmingly.
The motion passed.
This alone shows something is going wrong.
Whether Left Unity will amount to a successful intervention in national politics remains very much an open question.
One larded with doubts.
We consider that initiatives like the People’s Assembly have deeper roots and can achieve more results – fighting austerity uniting trade unionists , social movements and individuals – than a new party.
But we shall leave to conclusion to Cde. Mason.
The whole day was very tiring, but it was nowhere near as frustrating as the founding conference. But, despite some success for the “extreme left”, March 29 marked another step on the road towards Left Unity becoming a broad, “moderate” party incapable of organising consistent working class opposition to capital. However, there is a lot to play for yet.
A rather different report on the Conference in Links International.
France has a new Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, from the right-wing of the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste).
Valls, who received a mere 5% in the party’s -primary’ to select a Presidential candidate , is known as a “social liberal”, with an authoritarian streak. Although he has progressive secularist views, and is a ferocious opponent of racists like Dieudonné, he has an illiberal streak. Valls is also accused of anti-Rom views amongst many other doubtful opinions.
He is one of the very few French politicians to refer to Tony Blair as an inspiration.
Valls is sometimes known as a “Sarkozy of the Left”.
Notable in his Cabinet is the President’s former partner, Ségolène Royal, nominated as Minister of Ecology. On the left of the Socialists, Benoît Hamon, remains but is now Education Minister.
The French Greens (EELV) have broken their coalition with the Parti Socailiste and do not participate in the new government.
This is their declaration (adapted),
The ecologists take note of the will of the President of the Republic to learn from the the municipal elections. In particular, they note that the President of the Republic has announced an end to dependence of our country on oil and nuclear power .
However, we would have hoped for a real shift in direction. The existing budget guidelines remain unchallenged and it does not seem probable that likely that a large-scale transition to new forms of energy use corresponding to our wishes, is taking place.
The ecologists will support the government whenever it engages on the path of progress and ecology, but will oppose any changes which do not meet green criteria,.
Despite the proposals made by Manuel Valls, the conditions within the government do not exist for Europe Ecologie Les Verts participation. We will, nevertheless, be vigilant partners of the government, to make sure that such a (energy) transition occurs.
Emmanuelle Cosse, National Secretary of the Executive Board and EELV
This move has proved unpopular with their own supporters, 93% of EELV backers do not agree with the decision. (93%). Daniel Cohn-Bendit has denounced their change in direction.
Reports indicate that the party is in the middle of a massive row about this step.
To outsiders it would seem that making the “transition” to a Green energy policy the principal basis for a break with the government is odd.
It is certainly not a major concern of the European left.
The reference to the budget is also far from clear.
Are they against austerity or not?
We would suggest that the stormy relations between Valls and the Greens have a more obvious origin.
The Green leader Cécile Duflot has clashed with the new Prime Minister when she was Housing Minister, and cordially detests him. They clashed last year over her stand in favour of decriminalising cannabis.
The French media has not been slow to accuse Duflot of making a “personal” choice for the rest of her party, though how far her influence extends to the EELV as a whole remains in doubt.
Does this have wider implications?
Are European Greens finally breaking with the politics of austerity pursued by centre-left leaders like France’s President François Hollande?
This is far from certain.
France’s Greens are proud of winning the town of Grenoble, with the backing of the Parti de Gauche of Jean-Luc Mélenchon against the Socialists who were allied with…..the Parti Communiste Français…
More information on that from the Alternatifs Grenoble, enfin « une ville pour tous ! »