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Reasons to like the Berlin wall: ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Wall’.

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 Anti-Fascist Protection Wall Says Leading CPB Member. 

Just in case you thought the Sparts were the maddest group around… from here - close to the Communist Party of Britain.

 

Amidst the storm of propaganda surrounding the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall it is worth taking a step back and reviewing the circumstances in which it came to be built.

The following is the text of a 1962 pamphlet from the German Democratic Republic.

Newspapers, radio and television report daily about Berlin and West Berlin in many languages throughout the world. They often speak or write of a state frontier, or of a wall.

It may be very difficult for you to form a valid picture from all these reports which frequently contradict each other. We want to help you to do so.

We tried to imagine what would be the considerations of a citizen of a foreign state if he wanted to gain clarity about the problems in West Berlin. And we would like to reply to these considerations.

1st CONSIDERATION. Where, exactly, is Berlin situated?

A glance at the map suffices: Berlin lies in the middle of the German Democratic Republic, exactly 180 kilometres (112.5 miles) to the east of its western frontier. A quite normal locality for the capital of a state. Only one thing is not normal at all: that a hostile, undermining policy and disruptive acts have for years been carried on from the western part of this city against the surrounding state territory. West Berlin Mayor Willi Brandt called West Berlin a “thorn in the side of the GDR.” Would you like to have a thorn in your side? We don’t either! But Brandt even proclaims quite frankly: “We want to be the disturber of the peace.”

2nd CONSIDERATION. Did the wall fall out of the sky?

No. It was the result of developments of many years standing in West Germany and West Berlin. Let us recall preceding events: In 1948 a separate currency reform was introduced in West Germany and West Berlin – the West German reactionaries thereby split Germany and even west Berlin in to two currency areas.

The West German separatist state was founded in 1949 – Bonn thereby turned the zonal border into a state frontier.

In 1954 West Germany was included in NATO – Bonn thereby converted the state frontier into the front-line between two pact systems.

The decision on the atomic armament of the West German Bundeswehr was made in 1958 – thus, Bonn continues to aggravate the situation in Germany and Berlin. Repeatedly the annexation of the GDR is proclaimed as the official aim of Bonn policy, most recently in a statement of the Adenauer Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on 11 July 1961.

Thus did the anti-national, aggressive NATO policy create the wall which today separates the two German states and also goes through the middle of Berlin. The Bonn government and the West Berlin Senate have systematically converted West Berlin into a centre of provocation from where 90 espionage organizations, the RIAS American broadcasting station in West Berlin (Radio in American Sector) and revanchist associations organize acts of sabotage against the GDR and the other socialist countries. Through our protective measures of 13 August 1961 we have only safeguarded and strengthened that frontier which was already drawn years ago and made into a dangerous front-line by the people in Bonn and West Berlin. How high and how strongly fortified a frontier must be, depends, as is common knowledge, on the kind of relations existing between the states of each side of the frontier.

3rd CONSIDERATION. Did the wall have to come?

Yes and no. We have submitted more than one hundred proposals for understanding, on the renunciation of atomic armament, and on the withdrawal of the two German states from NATO or the Warsaw Treaty. If things had gone according to our proposals the situation in Germany would not have been aggravated and, consequently, there would have been no wall. Especially since 1958 the GDR and the Soviet Union have repeatedly told the West Berlin Senate, the Bonn government, and the western powers: Be reasonable! Let us eliminate the abnormal situation in West Berlin together. Let us start negotiations. Why did Bonn and West Berlin reject these proposals? Why did they, instead, step up agitation to an unprecedented degree before 13 August? – The wall had to come because they were bringing about the danger of a conflict. Those who do not want to hear, must feel.

4th CONSIDERATION. What did the wall prevent?

We no longer wanted to stand by passively and see how doctors, engineers, and skilled workers were induced by refined methods unworthy of the dignity of man to give up their secure existence in the GDR and work in West Germany or West Berlin. These and other manipulations cost the GDR annual losses amounting to 3.5 thousand million marks.

But we prevented something much more important with the wall – West Berlin’s becoming the starting point for a military conflict. The measures we introduced in 13 August in conjunction with the Warsaw Treaty states have cooled off a number of hotheads in Bonn and West Berlin. For the first time in German history the match which was to set fire to another war was extinguished before it had fulfilled its purpose.

5th CONSIDERATION. Was peace really threatened?

Indian journalists R. K. Karanjia shall give you the answer to the question. He published a sensational report from Berlin in the biggest Indian weekly,Blitz in which the world public is warned against the West Berlin powder-keg. K. R. Karanjia wrote:

“It (the protective wall of the GDR) served the cause of world peace since it halted the advance of the German neo-Hitlerites toward the East, forced the world to recognize the reality of the division of Germany and thus supports negotiation.” (retranslated from German)

If further evidence of the aggressive intentions of the West German government is needed it is provided by the authoritative West German employers’ newspaper, the Industriekurier, which regretfully wrote, exactly 19 days after 13 August 1961: “A reunification with the Bundeswehr marching victoriously through the Brandenburg Gate to the beating of drums – such a reunification will not take place in the foreseeable future.”

Bonn heads were really haunted by ideas of such a victorious entry. That would have meant war.

6th CONSIDERATION. Who is walled in?

According to the exceedingly intelligent explanations of the West Berlin Senate we have walled ourselves in and are living in a concentration camp. But in that case why are the gentlemen so excited? Obviously, because in reality their espionage centres, their revanchist radio stations, their fascist solders’ associations, their youth poisoners, and their currency racketeers have been walled in. They are excited because we have erected the wall as an antifascist, protective wall against them.

Does something not occur to you? West Berlin Mayor Brandt wails that half of the GDR, including the workers in the enterprise militia groups, is armed. What do you think of a concentration camp whose inmates have weapons in their hands?

7th CONSIDERATION. Who breaks off human contacts?

Of course, it is bitter for many Berliners not to be able to visit each other at present. But it would be more bitter if a new war were to separate them for ever. Moreover, when the GDR was forced to introduce compulsory entry permits for West Berlin citizens on 23 August in the interests of its security we at the same time offered to open up entry permit offices in municipal railway stations in West Berlin. In fact we opened them and issued the first permits. Who closed them by force? The same Senate of that Mr. Brandt who is today shedding crocodile tears about “contacts being broken”! The GDR has maintained its offer. If we had our way Berliners could visit each other despite the wall.

8th CONSIDERATION. Does the wall threaten anyone?

Bonn propaganda describes the wall as a “monstrous evidence of the aggressiveness of world communism.” Have you ever considered it to be a sign of aggressiveness when someone builds a fence around his property?

9th CONSIDERATION. Who is aggravating the situation?

The wall? It stands there quite calmly. Former French Premier Reynaud said already on 19 August 1961, according to UPI: “The sealing-off measures of the East Berlin government did not increase, but lessened, the danger of a third world war.”

In reality, the situation is being aggravated by persons who play at being the strong man on our state frontier, who are turning West Berlin into a NATO base and daily inciting West Berliners against the GDR. Municipal railway cars are being destroyed, frontier guards attacked and brutally shot, tunnels dug for agents and bomb attacks made on the GDR’s frontier security installations. Does that serve relaxation? One must really ask why attacks on the GDR state frontier in West Berlin are not subject to court prosecution as in other states. The Brandt Senate even presents “its respects” to the provocateurs.

10th CONSIDERATION. Is the wall a gymnastic apparatus?

The wall is the state frontier of the German Democratic Republic. The state frontier of a sovereign state must be respected. That is so the world over. He who does not treat it with respect can not complain if he comes to harm. West German and West Berlin politicians demand that “the wall be removed.” We are not particularly fond of walls, either. But please consider where the actual wall runs in Germany, the wall which must be pulled down in your and our interest. It is the wall which was erected because of the fateful Bonn NATO policy. On the stones of this wall stand atomic armament, entry into NATO, revanchist demands, anti-communist incitement, non recognition of the GDR, rejection of negotiations, the front-line city of West Berlin.

So, make your contribution to the pulling down of this wall by advocating a reasonable policy of military neutrality, peaceful co-existence, normal relations between the two German states, the conclusion of a peace treaty with Germany, a demilitarized Free City of West Berlin. That is the only way to improve the situation in Berlin, to safeguard peace, a way which can, one day also lead to the reunification of Germany. The wall says to the war-mongers:

He who lives on an island should not make an enemy of the ocean.

Decide in favour of the recognition of realities. don’t join in the row over the wall. Perhaps YOU don’t want socialism. That is your affair.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Seumas Milne and the ‘Multipolar World’: Clutching at Straws.

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‘s Multipolar World. 

On parts of the left a theory has gradually developed that an emerging “multi-polar world” is the best defence against American-led imperialism.

This view, taken from academic studies of international relations, and given a political edge, is behind many apparently bizarre positions.

Such as backing Beijing, Moscow, or even Tehran ‘against’ the ‘West’.

The tiny entrist faction, Socialist Action, has taken this to mean that the left should defend countries, like China,

In a conflict between the world’s greatest imperialist power and a former colonized and dominated country the most elementary position should be clear: anyone on the side of progress and justice defends semi-colonial, emerging China against the offensive of imperialism and its allies.

It is not even necessary to believe China is a socialist country to form this conclusion. It is simply necessary to take the same principled position that the left would take if the USA and its allies were to organize an assault on any other semi-colonial country whatever the character of the economic or political system in place.

Socialist Action, 14th May 2014. Jude Woodward.

An even less influential groupuscule, the Global Revolutionary Alliance,  carries this article,

John Morgan:  I’m not certain about a return to the bipolar model anytime soon. While we have seen the rise of new powers capable of challenging American hegemony in recent years – China, India, Iran, and of course the return of Russia to the world stage – none of them are capable of matching the pervasive influence of the American economy and its culture, nor of projecting military power around the world as NATO has been doing. At the same time, we can plainly see now that America and its allies in Western Europe have already passed their economic limits, now racking up unprecedented debt, and their power is beginning to wane.

Rather than the return of a bipolar world, I think we will see the emergence of the multipolar one, as Prof. Dugin has suggested, in which several nations wield significant power but none reigns supreme above all. In order to protect their interests, stronger nations will need to forge alliances with weaker ones, and sometimes even with other strong nations. But I think the era of the superpower is rapidly coming to an end.

The Morning Star frequently gives voice to similar arguments.

In that daily reviewing a book on the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya Carlos Martinez allows himself to claim,

Thus Libya is a boon for Nato in the geostrategic context of the Project For A New American Century, the US’s desperate attempt to maintain its hegemony and prevent the emergence of a multipolar world order. 

This is a strategy of  “divide and ruin” — violating national sovereignty, creating civil wars and removing states that refuse to play ball, all in the interests of creating an unstable global political environment that only the Western powers have the military weight to control. 

It is a thread that runs through the wars in Libya and Syria, the Nato and EU-sponsored boiling pot in Ukraine, the “revolt of the rich” in Venezuela, the CIA-funded social media campaigns in Cuba and Barack Obama’s so-called Asia pivot. It’s the duty of all progressive humanity to recognise and oppose such a strategy.

Rarely however are the actual policies of the Russian Federation celebrated as a progressive side to these developments.

Nor expressed them clearly in the mainstream media.

Until, that is,  the Guardian journalist  has given them an airing in this week.

A real counterweight to US power is a global necessity is a strange ideological concoction.

Milne makes a number of sweeping claims.

He begins by blaming everything that has gone wrong in the Middle East on the US-led ‘world order’.

The results of the invasion of Iraq are certainly a major factor in the chain of events that have led to the present – multiple – crises in the region. The US and its allies bear a heavy responsibility. The invasion was wrong wrong and wrong.

But there is nothing on the politics of post-invasion Iraq, the rise of the Mahdi Army, the conflicts between Shiism and Sunnism, and a host of other developments that have flourished in the aftermath of this “shock”.

Most seriously he ignores  any internal causes for the steps beyond the traditional repression and intolerance of Islamist politics: the genocidal Isis/Islamic State. That’s as if, to give a comparison, as if Hitler could be explained in terms of the Versailles Treaty and the manoeuvres of the 1920s Great Powers.

For Milne it is not necessary to go further than geopolitics to account for the growth of an Islamist  totalitarian movement, based on ‘micro-states’ policies of ‘discipline and punish’, and killing, have their own life and own responsibilities. Why the Arab Spring has largely failed – outside of Tunisia – is another ‘non-US led’ issue.

For Milne there is one important topic: NATO (the ‘West’) is a  diabolical force that has been challenged – however partially – by Russia.

 But if the Middle Eastern maelstrom is the fruit of a US-dominated new world order, Ukraine is a result of the challenge to the unipolar world that grew out of the failure of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It was the attempt to draw divided Ukraine into the western camp by EU and US hawks after years of eastward Nato expansion that triggered the crisis, Russia’s absorption of Crimea and the uprising in the Russian-speaking Donbass region of the east.

The Ukrainian right-wing has its own responsibilities and we are far from those who put the blame on ‘Russia’ for what has happened in the country.

But Milne makes the interesting claim that the President of the Russian Federation has appealed for a global way out of such crisis .

It fell on deaf ears.

But there is little chance of the western camp responding to Putin’s call for a new system of global rules. In fact, the US showed little respect for rules during the cold war either, intervening relentlessly wherever it could. But it did have respect for power. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, that restraint disappeared. It was only the failure of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and Russia’s subsequent challenge to western expansion and intervention in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine – that provided some check to unbridled US power.

Yet they cannot stem the new multipolar system of powers.

Along with the rise of China, it has also created some space for other parts of the world to carve out their political independence, notably in Latin America. Putin’s oligarchic nationalism may not have much global appeal, but Russia’s role as a counterweight to western supremacism certainly does. Which is why much of the world has a different view of events in Ukraine from the western orthodoxy – and why China, India, Brazil and South Africa all abstained from the condemnation of Russia over Crimea at the UN earlier this year.

This has its limits, but they do not stop Milne’s claims to swell and swell.

But Moscow’s check on US military might is limited. Its economy is over-dependent on oil and gas, under-invested and now subject to disabling sanctions. Only China offers the eventual prospect of a global restraint on western unilateral power and that is still some way off. As Putin is said to have told the US vice-president, Joe Biden, Russia may not be strong enough to compete for global leadership, but could yet decide who that leader might be.

Despite the benefits of the emerging multipolar world, the danger of conflict, including large-scale wars, looks likely to grow. The public pressure that brought western troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan is going to have to get far stronger in the years to come – if that threat is not to engulf us all.

It would appear that there is something of the argument (used by New Left writers amongst others) that the old Soviet Union might be repressive and reactionary at home but by the sheer fact of its presence tilted global politics in favour of the left, bringing fear to capitalists and concessions to social democracy in its wake. More convincingly some asserted that the Kremlin’s support for national liberal movements was decisive. Less persuasively that it was its  saving grace.

Milne studiously avoids (as Shiraz points out) discussing Stalinism and its immediate aftermath.

He effectively asserts (or wishing) for something similar: that the ‘multi-polar world (Russia and China its chief among many heads) can provide £some check” to “unbridled” US power – as if Washington was a war horse needing constant restraint from….war.

How far is this shown by recent events?

Today’s Latin American left cannot have much of a debt to anything remotely resembling this, or to Putin – unless Milne can provide some evidence so far hidden from the rest of us.

Not can Russia be said to have played a role in supporting any left project or holding back the US (and more to the point, international capital) from blocking progressive policies.

China and Russia’s presence, as capitalist powers, suggests that globalisation is proceeding. It can hardly be expected that they will do anything that threatens the interests of …capitalism.

They are indeed both ‘imperialist’ in the classical Marxist sense that they export capital, and influence global politics by virtue of their economic power, not by persuasion. The conflicts they enter into are part of ‘their’ perceived interests in this respect.  Their only ‘challenge’ to neoliberalism is that their political structures are authoritarian and repressive.

Although their super-patriotism and moral conservatism (in Russia above all) appear to attract some European far-rightists and former leftists they hardly act as much of a ‘counterweight’ to a more direct menace to the left: the growth of the  populist and racist far-right in Europe – not to mention the rise of Islamist reaction in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

The existence of competing superpowers is more generally said to have been a major contributing factor to two World Wars in the Twentieth century – at least according to  Marxists.

Lenin, who is not the be-all–and-end-all on this topic, nevertheless  provided a useful  5-point definition of imperialism:

(1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life; (2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy; (3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance; (4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and (5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.

These terms are contested, and the role of political sovereign nations in a globalised world has altered, not to mention capital flows and the world division of labour.

One thing is also clear: the ‘multipolar’ model gives us little indication of how to support people’s such as the Kurds of Kobane, struggling might and main against the Islamist genociders – that is the  duty of international solidarity. 

But that does not matter for the left supporters of “multipolarism”:  Milne thinks that the “division of the world” between competing capitalist nation states is a progressive thing.

The left should, if we follow this advice, do all it can to favour the “emergence of a multipolar world order.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 31, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Goldsmith’s Student Union Rejects “Eurocentric” motion to Commemorate European Genocides.

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As student supporters of the NUS decision not to back the Kurdish struggle against Islamist genociders claim that the motion to commit them would “outsource” NUS campaigning to “MI5 and MI6″ we get the following claim,

the bottom line is that Malia promised to, and has, rewritten the motion to fully condemn ISIS

Well, it’s a claim, but her supporters seem a lot, a real lot, more concerned to “defend” Malia than to anything to defend the Kurds.

Now, this crops up.

From The Tab (October the 15th).

student politicians have rejected a motion to commemorate the Holocaust – after claims it would be “eurocentric” and “colonialist”. 

A motion was proposed at the Goldsmiths Students’ Assembly yesterday to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and victims of genocide.

Education officer Sarah El-alfy urged students to vote against the proposal, rejecting it as “eurocentric”.

….

One student added: “The motion would force people to remember things they may not want to remember.”

Another suggested she couldn’t commemorate the Holocaust because she thought the Union was explicitly “anti-Zionist”.

One of the students present said the proposal should be voted against as it would affect the Union’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The unfortunately-named President Howard Littler said after: “Someone brought up Israel-Palestine out of the blue but I made a point of information and said I didn’t want to conflate the two.”

He later audaciously added that the whole thing is just “a storm in a teacup”.

This report should be treated with extreme caution but here is the  following.

The Tab asks. 

Would you vote for or against the motion? Read it in full and have your say

Motion for the Student Union to commemorate the victims of genocide, totalitarianism and racial hatred

The Student Union recognises the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, of the other genocides, of totalitarianism and racial hatred. It further recognises that commemorating the victims of genocide, racial hatred and totalitarianism, and promoting public awareness of these crimes against humanity, is essential to sustaining and defending democratic culture and civil society, especially in the face of a resurgence of neo-fascism, racial hatred and neo-Stalinism across Europe.

The Student Union shall organise commemorative events for students and members of the public on Holocaust Memorial Day (27th of January), on the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism (23rd of August annually), on the Holodomor Genocide Memorial Day Act (4th Saturday in November, Annually) and on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day (24th April annually).

The motion fell by one vote.

The report continues.

The SU have yet to release minutes as they agree on the contents for the next meeting on 18th November.

But those attending are encouraged to live-tweet the event using the hashtag “GSUAssembly”.

One student named T. Walpole, present at the Assembly, objected: “Our union is anti-Zionist.”

They added: “This is a colonialist motion. Vote it down.

“White people should not be proposing motions to condemn genocides without a lot of thought. This does not have that thought.”

Now let’s disregard these (reported) morally cretinous comments.

The fact is that Holocaust Memorial day is not just about the Shoah,

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) is the charity which promotes and supports Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). 27 January is the day for everyone to remember the millions of people killed in the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. 27 January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

Holocaust Memorial Trust.

The trust does not include the Ukraine (Holodomor) or the Armenian genocide (Turkey).

Bu Goldsmith does not include, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

Or, something many consider a genocide,  by Pakistan and  its Islamist allies, Bangladesh in 1971.

In this light, and the complications that this could cause, and vagueness about ‘civil society’, the motion appears badly worded (Hat-tip Bob B).

But the issue of how to commemorate these mass killings, even by ‘white people’, and, by people of different political ideologies and faiths or none at all,  is obscured by something which cannot be wished away.

This is what the College’s “Education officer” tweeted,

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 12.47.38

She now comments (I checked on the Tweet), with no further explanation whatsoever,

Thanks for mass misinforming people and wrongfully framing such an important issue.
There is also the person who tweeted this,
Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 13.09.38

LGBTQ* Officer Cyd Thomlinson also said the motion was “time wasting” and called the proposer “a toddler throwing a tantrum”.

They boasted: “We did just collectively destroy his self esteem if that helps.”

Thomlinson also argued for the inclusion of the Transgender Day of Remembrance in the motion but did not propose an amendment for it.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 15.08.00

Goldsmith’s SU has a lot of answering to do.

Updates:

More including some (evasive) ‘explanations’ from the union on the Huffington Post.

And  by the Students’ Union.

On Tuesday night a Motion was voted down by a majority at Goldsmiths Students’ Union’s Students Assembly – a democratic meeting in which all students are invited to discuss and vote on issues that are important to them.

Subsequently The Tab wrote a piece entitled ‘vile SU refuse to commemorate Holocaust [sic]’. It is worth noting at this point that the article was co-authored by the proposer of the original motion, both of whose motions were voted down at the Student Assembly.

Many baseless claims are made, however the central tenet is that the Students Assembly and the Students’ Union opposed remembering the victims of the Holocaust. This is an insulting misrepresentation. We have in the past commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day and will in the future.

A nuanced discussion about how best to effectively and collectively remember these events was had at Students Assembly. Re-drafting motions and re-entering them at a later date isn’t unusual in Students’ Unions and shouldn’t be misinterpreted as opposition. Sarah El-alfy, GSU Education officer, offered to help the proposer re-draft the motion and bring it to the next Student Assembly and this reflected the positivity in the room about the motion with the ambition to strengthen it further. A motion that includes remembering the Holocaust will be brought to the next Student Assembly in November. We feel these facts have been ignored in the subsequent reporting.

We will be writing to the Editor of The Tab in due course to seek correction of many of the factual inaccuracies in the report. Seperately, The Tab, in their article misgendered one of our students. We would like to ask for this to be corrected along with the rest of the article.

Signed

Goldsmiths SU executive team

Misgendering is the least of their problems.

What about the Tweets, starting with the one by  Sarah El-alfy?

 

The Guardian: Everything that’s wrong with the Liberal Stand on Islamism.

with 9 comments

Islamism: Discipline and Punish. 

To much of the world the British daily, the Guardian is the best known English-language paper of the liberal-left.

It is important to emphasise the word ‘liberal’ (the Guardian advocated voting for the Liberal Democrats at the last election).

But the hyphen attaching the word to the ‘left’ is indissoluble.

Guardian writers, above all in the Comment in Free Section, shows the limits of what this left believes in.

The section, (run between 2001 and 2007 by former Communist Party of Great Britain member ), are, in the majority, consensus believers in a number of liberal values.

The present editor,  has stated that “Queer theory informs my politics and journalism – and made me understand Robert, my childhood alter ego.” (Here)

Some of the principles these people stand for are admirable, such as freedom of speech, promotion of diversity, human rights, gender equality, social equality, and tolerance.

Their advocacy of liberty extends to letting a range of people expressing their opinions in the paper who have very different interpretations of these ideas.

But they are heavily modified when it comes to one political and cultural  issue, the nature of Islamism.

A couple of days ago the daily published an article by George Monbiot, Why stop at Isis when we could bomb the whole Muslim world?

The author, who has previously compared European recruits to the genociders of ISIS to volunteers who defended the Spanish Republic, argues,

“Humanitarian arguments, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East.”

Let’s bomb the Muslim world – all of it – to save the lives of its people. Surely this is the only consistent moral course? Why stop at Islamic State (Isis), when the Syrian government has murdered and tortured so many? This, after all, was last year’s moral imperative. What’s changed?

Nothing, according to Monbiot, the latest US-led bombing will all end in disaster, killing, and destruction by the “destroying angels of the west”. He ends his article with the observation that politicians “scatter bombs like fairy dust.”

Monbiot now deigns to mention that the group amongst the Syrian rebels, which he compared to the Spanish Republican democrats – Isis – has its faults, “the agenda and practices of Isis are disgusting. It murders and tortures, terrorises and threatens. As Obama says, it is a “network of death”(14).

But it’s one of many networks of death.

Worse still, a western crusade appears to be exactly what it wants.

So it’s just one of many. And attacking them would make them worse.

Monbiot then fails to mention any form of physical military reaction to Isis that he could support.

Sound the alarm, run to the hills, the world is about to be flattened!

We can’t do anything at all!

Today the Guardian publishes Seamus Milne.

He begins well,

Theresa May devoted over three quarters of her speech in Birmingham to Muslims and the threat of a catch-all “Islamist extremism”.

Drawing on the tricks of Tony Blair’s invasion-prone government and Thatcher’s failed campaign against the IRA, she promised yet more anti-terror laws: this time to ban nonviolent “extremists” from television and protests, and to proscribe groups with no links to terrorism.

The package amounts to a straightforward attack on freedom of speech and democracy – in the name of the “functioning of democracy”. It would alienate Muslims from mainstream politics still further and create a new, all-purpose collection of thought crimes, allowing the authorities to ban views or activities they deem likely to cause “alarm” or “distress”.

Milne is now a defender of free speech.

He would have done well at this point to oppose something he once backed, to make causing offence to religious faiths a crime. (1)

But he doesn’t.

And, in the wider news, perhaps I missed this bit,

The justifications were straight out of the Blair playbook too: from May’s insistence that we are at war with an “ideology” and that “they” hate our values rather than our violent interventions in the Muslim world – to the claim that Isis could develop weapons of mass destruction to attack us“within a few hours’ flying time of our country”.

Yes I did miss that one, because it’s from the far-right Daily Express’s spin on the May speech….

I suppose Islamic State’s tortures, rapes, genocide and the threat to hundreds of thousands of Kurds would have merited a mention from anybody with genuine left-wing feeling.

In a sense they do get mentioned,

Like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya before it, the bombing has been sold as a response to a humanitarian catastrophe and imminent threat but already shows every sign of spreading the terror it is supposed to stop. Mission creep is already upon us, as Cameron softens the public up to join the US campaign in Syria. As in the past, the war is projected to last years, has been launched against our own mutant creation, and is fanning reverse sectarian cleansing on the ground. Revenge terror attacks at home are once again seen as almost certain.

Ah, “sold as a response to a humanitarian catastrophe”.

What Milne’s views on this catastrophe are, part from the fact that they have been “sold”,  remain in decent obscurity.

One thing sticks out: no mention of the need to back the Kurdish and other fighters on the ground battling Islamic State/Isis!

But the prize for feeble-minded analysis of Islamism must go to a piece by .

Speaking of how people treat recruits to the genociders in Australia he laments a “sudden terror panic“.  Loewenstein uses a Muslim interlocutor to express the dismay.:

“There’s a lack of context, lack of spirituality and understanding, combined with impatience. Many Isis fighters are newly converted, newly pious … these men have grown a beard in three months and they don’t give Islam time to be understood.”

He is tired of having to defend his religion against bigots who take these instant Islamists to be the authentic representation of Islam.

“Keyboard warriors often ask: “Where is the universal Muslim condemnation of terror acts?” We’re distancing ourselves, so why do you keep asking? People just aren’t listening.”

“It’s been the same narrative of apology for decades and we’re sick of it. It’s like the probation the media is trying to grant me. I want to stand back, it’s got nothing to do with me and it’s nothing to do with Islam. I don’t need to come out and prove my innocence.”

Indeed, it is remarkable that those who trumpet their religious belief, in Islam and the Qu’ran, should be called to express disapproval of those who trumpet their religious belief in Islam and the Qu’ran – Isis.

As he continues in the vein we weary.

But there is some truth in this, though “dis-empowered” – an expression now confined to ageing social workers – is not perhaps the right word.

The pressure on the Australian Muslim community is immense, a feeling of being outsiders, exacerbated by a message that they’re different and under suspicion. Many Muslim women in particular feel disempowered and not trusted by the wider, white majority. Islamophobia is now unofficial government policy and some media’s central world-view

Muslims have ample reason to be sceptical towards government and intelligence services; real journalists would investigate why. Sadly, most in the media are failing in their basic duty to question.

Islamophobia is an ageing and muddled term as well: it tries to conflate opposition to islamism with prejudice, and offers no way to distinguish them.

This will not help clear up what ‘Islam’ is.

“Islam isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Samir says. His religion, just like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and others, is complex, contradictory and open to various interpretations – but figuring that out can’t be done in an instant.

I will,  as will most readers, give up at this point….

Why does this matter?

We could say that a paper that publishes Richard Seymour is a fun journal, a good laugh, and that nobody takes the ideology in these articles seriously.

But what is striking is that not a single Guardian commentator has come close to analysing Islamism in any depth whatsoever.

That is a extreme-right-wing ideology, with a very material institutional basis, support in the pious Muslim bourgeoisie, and wider roots in the class structures of many Middle Eastern countries.

There are Marxist and other political studies which go into this in depth (Maxime RodinsonGilbert Achcar the latter’s sole contribution to the Guardian on the topic relates to ‘Holocaust denial’).

Or the rich critique of Islamism, democratic, socialist and secular,  offered by  the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan groups such as the Worker Communist parties (Mansoor Hekmat)  and other left individuals and organisations  in the Moslem world.

We could, for those interested in ‘Gender and Queer’ studies, also look at Michael Foucault’s concept of ‘micro-powers’ – intimate oppressive apparatuses that create a religious prison, in para-states and actual states.

Foucault’s Discipline and Punish  is perhaps a good starting point to the operation of the Sharia, along with Nietzsche The Genealogy of Morals. (2)

We could look at its (or rather), since Islamism is a plural formation, their patriarchal roots, and its creation of sexual apartheid.

We might even mention that every single form of Islamism is viciously oppressive towards gays.

That it is anti-democratic and ‘communitarian’ on the template of 1930s ‘organic’ far-right.

We might even consider that its religion is a load of utter cack.

But nobody in the Guardian’s comment articles says that.

Nobody.

**********

(1) “But for showing solidarity and working with Muslim organisations – whether in the anti-war movement or in campaigns against Islamophobia – leftwing groups and politicians such as the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, are now routinely damned by liberal secularists (many of whom have been keen supporters of the war in Iraq) for “betraying the enlightenment” and making common cause with “Islamofascists”, homophobes and misogynists. The pitch of these denunciations has been heightened further by the government’s plan to introduce a new criminal offence of incitement to religious hatred. This measure would extend to the most vulnerable community in the country the very modest protection already offered by race hate legislation to black people, Jews, Sikhs and all religious communities in Northern Ireland. It is not a new blasphemy law; it would not lead to a ban on Monty Python’s Life of Brian film; or rule out jokes about Ayatollah Khomeini’s contact lenses; or cover ridicule or attacks on any religion (unlike the broader Australian legislation) – but would only outlaw incitement of hatred against people because of their faith.” Guardian. December 2004

This bill was thrown up precisely because it was a new “blasphemy law”. Does Milne back its return?

(2) I am all too aware of Foucault’s morally cretinous welcome to Khomeini, What are the Iranians Dreaming About (1978). More relevant to Isis is  the way their beheadings of hostages could be compared to the violent and chaotic public torture of Robert-François Damiens analysed in Discipline and Punish (1975).

In the Era of Wars and Revolutions. American socialist cartoons of the mid-twentieth century.

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http://lawcha.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/02-April-1945-Labor-Action-Carlo.jpg

 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.

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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.

Stalin 5

Written by Andrew Coates

April 9, 2014 at 11:35 am

Trotsky and his Critics. A Review.

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TROTSKY AND HIS CRITICS

Trotsky and his Critics. Revolutionary History Volume 11. Number 1. 2013.

For the revolutionary Marxist the struggle against reformism now changes itself almost completely into struggle against centrism. ….

Before taking seriously the fine words of the centrists concerning the “dictatorship of the proletariat” it is necessary to exact from them a serious defence against Fascism, a complete break with the bourgeoisie, the systematic upbuilding of a workers’ militia, its training in a will to fight, the creation of inter-party defence centres, of anti-fascist centres, the expulsion from their ranks of parliamentarians, trade-unionists, and other traitors, of bourgeois lackeys, careerists, etc. … It is precisely on this plane that one must now deliver the principle blows at centrism

Trotsky. Two Articles on Centrism. 1934.

Trotsky, the Editors of Revolutionary History note, was no “stranger to the cut and thrust of vigorous debate.” The leader of the Red Army and the Fourth International, “never hesitated, sharply to criticise the view of his rivals and to offer fraternal criticisms of those of his comrades and to reply to his critics with considerable energy.” (Page 5) However while his own polemics are widely available, “little of the material to which he was replying or which presented a critique of his views has been published.”(Ibid)

Others have been less generous about Trotsky’s “fraternal criticisms” and his energy-filled character. “Even Trotsky’s son Lev Lyovuich Sedov noted his “lack of tolerance, hot temper, inconsistency, even rudeness, his desire to humiliate, offend and even destroy, have increased. It is not ‘personal’ it is a method and hardly good in organisation of work.”(a never-sent letter to his mother Natalia Sedova 16th April 1936). (1)

A recent, hostile, biographer has observed, “Neither in private nor in public, though, did he suffer fools gladly; indeed he did not suffer them at all. He did nothing to correct the impression of being an arrogant know-all.” One could perhaps further illuminate Trotsky’s particular “polemical demeanour” with the observation that Trotsky saw “individuals as servants to an aim, and an idea rather than personalities in their own right.”(3)

Most of the articles in Trotsky and His Critics come from those on the sharp end of Trotsky’s polemics. They testify to the frustration of those attempting to debate about ideology and real political choices with somebody whom Pierre Broué called, “a giant dominating in his thought and his experience of a quarter of a century of revolutionary struggles” – a view, shared by the Bolshevik leader, that he was at few pains to conceal. (4)

The present volume of Revolutionary History presents newly translated contributions from a variety of sources. A common thread is that the majority come from those Trotsky described as “centrist”. That is, those democratic Marxists who rejected both Stalin and the ‘Third International’, then, Comintern, leadership, and the traditional social democratic ‘Second International’ of such bodies as the German SPD, France’s SFIO, and the Labour Party.

Nobody has written a satisfactory history of these organisations. They included the Independent Labour Party, ILP, (disaffiliated from Labour in 1932), the PSOP (Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan (founded after their explusion from the French Socialist Party in 1938), the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista), formed in 1935, with many smaller groups in Germany (represented here by the IVKO, Internationale Vereinigung der Komministischen Opposition) Holland (the party best known for its leader, Henk Sneevliet, and elsewhere.There was an centrist International, The London Bureau, or  International Revolutionary Marxist Centre (1932 – 1940) which liased between these organisations.

‘Centrists’ while expressing respect for many of Trotsky’s ideas (above all his opposition to Stalinism), failed to live up to his expectations. They did not restrict their democratic demands to inner party freedom. The majority opposed Leninist “democratic centralism”. They remained wedded to Parliamentary elections. Centrists were known to be hostile to the use of terror, and recoiled from violence. They stood for what is now known as human rights. As a result Trotsky called the ILP a “miserable pacifist clique” (5) Not surprisingly the leader of the French PSOP said that the Trotskyists would only be welcome in his party if they abandoned their vicious factionalism and denigration of ‘centrists” (6)

Yet Trotsky was also the head of the Opposition. If anybody needs to be reminded of what he was opposed to and the measure in which his fight against Stalinism was justified then some of the texts, notably by John Lewis, which defend the 1936 Moscow Trials, are there to remind us of what was at stake during the “historical events” that shaped these exchanges.

Boris Souvarine.

The Letter to Leon Trotsky (1929) by Boris Souvarine is probably the most significant text in Trotsky and His Critics. Souvarine flashed like lightening on the Communist left during the 1920s. His early political career was bound up with the foundation of the French Communist Party (PCF), time on the Comintern Executive Committee and his decision to defend Trotsky. Souvarine was fiercely independent.

At the beginning of the October Revolution in 1917 Souvarine expressed the fear that Lenin’s party would establish a dictatorship over the proletariat. (7) Perhaps one should bear this in mind, In Stalin (1935) he was already far from Trotskyism. A famous postscript added in 1939 concluded,

The force of things and the behaviour of men have contradicted all Lenin’s optimistic forecasts, his hopes in a superior democracy as much as his semi-libertarian ideas expressed in the State and Revolution and other writings of the same period, at the dawn of the revolution. Nothing in the individual theses of Trotsky has stood the test any better, in particular his wordy and abstract theory of the “permanent revolution.” Lenin died too soon to write the epilogue to the miscarriage of Bolshevism. Trotsky has not availed himself of the leisure afforded by exile to make a true and conscientious examination; even his memoirs do not make the contribution to history, which one has the right to expect from such a protagonist; his articles and pamphlets vainly paraphrase a hackneyed argument without throwing light on a single problem. The miscarriage of Bolshevism in Russia is coupled with the irremediable failure of the International, and the lessons of experience go far beyond the sphere of civil war. Democratic socialism in its various forms, in the name of legitimate defence against fascism, is almost everywhere allowing itself to be led, circumvented and compromised by dictatorial communism. 

The Letter teams with thoughts, not always well organised. Leninism was “Marxism simplified”. Russia was not communist but dominated by “peasant mysticism”. Souvarine struck more directly at Trotsky by remarking that, “The opposition itself did not oppose the “divinisation of Lenin and the canonisation of his work, or even to propose burning the entombed corpse along with its mausoleum.”(Page 16) he compared Trotsky’s ‘clarity’ with a “gramophone record”: a repetitive strain of invective. “His analysis classes people as Marxist, centrist and opportunist. He shows that this schema has little historical use, “centrism serves for you to avoid appraisals.”(Page 28)

On a number of important issues Souvarine illustrates the harmful way of classifying politics in this way. Trotsky ranged communists on their line on a range of issues, political ones in Britain, economy ones in Russia and tactical ones in China. If he fails that, “you class him on that side of ‘the barricade’ where according to you are to be found the bourgeoisie, the social democracy and the ‘centre-Right Bloc’.”(Page 29)

Souvarine takes Trotsky’s Where is Britain Going? (1925) as an example. This book is essentially a lengthy polemic. It asserts, “We have shown above that the present British Parliament represent a monstrous distortion of the principles of bourgeois democracy, and that without the application of revolutionary force it will hardly be possible to archive even an honest distribution of the electoral regions in Britain, the abrogation of the monarchy and the House of Lords.”(8)

While awaiting this development Trotsky produced an account of how industrial conflicts, might end in the “strengthening of the revolutionary tendencies in the masses” and of the central role of trade unions as the “main lever of the economic transformation of country” A confident prediction that the Communist Party will take the place of the Independent Labour Party in relation to the Labour Party is marked by a complaint (with which we are already familiar) that the ILP itself is a “resurrection of centrism within the social-imperialist party” – of Labour.

The Letter observes that all this relies on “far too strict transposition of continental revolutionary processes into the British setting…”(Page 31) With the Stalinists you “both believed that the British industrial crisis was opening up revolutionary period.”(Page 31) Both were wrong. “You know as well as I do that communists do not exist in Great Britain.”(Page 32) Showing probably a greater unfamiliarly with British socialism Souvarine asserted that the British trade union left remains “disciples of Mill and Spencer.”(Page 34) There was a deeper fault. Working class reformism “is deeply rooted in the economy of capitalism, and its ideology is fed from abundant and diverse streams which you will no way uncover by crying betrayal, or choke them off by indiscriminately condemning all who contradict you by using one and the same sentence”(Page 37) The problems in Trotsky’s stand on Britain are repeated in your “position as regards the non-communist working class of every land….”(Page 35)

In short, Trotsky’s belief that he could dictate “day to day” tactics” for the left in other countries was already one of his characteristics before his expulsion from the Soviet Union gave him free-rein to do so. It can be traced to a wider tendency. In the famous debate on China, and the relations between the country’s Communists and the Kuomintang we already saw efforts, by both the Stalin-led (in fact still partially collegiate) leadership and Trotsky to “impose a Russian leadership upon a Chinese movement.”(Page 43)

One would like to have known more about the exact nature of Souvraine’s  later anti-Communism. If it bore a Cold War stamp the impression of complex, passionate and stimulating thought remains.

Spain and the POUM.

Souvarine remarked to Trotsky “anyone who contradicts it is more or less a traitor or a counter-revolutionary.”(Page 35) Few would be astonished to find themselves quickly anathematised. More unpleasant is the lingering stench from Trotsky’s efforts to tell the Spanish left what to do during the Popular Front and Civil War. He baldly declared in 1939 that, “is it not now clear that the POUM’s fear of the petty bourgeois public opinion of the Second and Third Internationals and above all of the anarchists was one of the principal causes of the collapse of the Spanish revolution?” (9) This Leyenda Negra of the cruel stupidity of the POUM   has been repeated many times since.

Wikebaldo Solano, in a more recent retrospective, tries to find excuses for Trotsky. Andreu Nin was a great friend of the leading figure of the Russian Revolution. But there were faults. Trotsky wrongly compared the French and Spanish Popular Fronts. The latter was not an “organic coalition” but an “electoral front”. Trotsky showed “total incomprehension” (Page 152) Trotsky initially greeted the 1936 victory. His latter judgements- that is his efforts to run a minuscule faction that would attack the PSOE was perhaps misjudged. But Trotsky had few real possibilities of being “informed about the Spanish revolution…”“Trotsky’s information was very deficient and always late in arriving.”(Page 155)

Ignacio Iglesias is less forgiving. Trotsky’s “illusions were basically wanting to see everywhere a repeat of the Russian October Revolution. “(Page 158) His analysis boiled down to pinning the defeat of the Republic on the lack of a Bolshevik-Leninist party in the Spanish revolution. Not even speaking Spanish he attempted to dictate policy. Above all, “Trotsky, just like Stalin, and just like Lenin before them suffered from a very serious fault, a real perversion of the spirit, in that his intolerance would turn political difference into heresy or even apostasy.”(Page 159)

Centrism’s Legacy.

There is much further interesting material, by the (later Stalinist) Mark Schmidt, on Spain. The articles by the German Opposition, and Jay Lovestone (who became a Cold Warrior) with a critical view of  Soviet Policy and World Revolution, are of interest. It would perhaps have been useful to introduce some of the debates on the ‘centrist’ that is independent anti-Stalinist left, to which we have already alluded to. Marceau Pivert is relatively unknown to an Anglophone audience, though the group he participated in, the Gauche Révolutionnaire  and subsequently the PSOP, were influential.

Pivert had a very different take on another Popular Front, the French Front Populaire, to the myths spun by Trotsky regarding the “betrayal” imminent revolution there. If his writings no longer hold many people’s attention, Pivert and his party, the PSOP, have had an enduring influence, both within the Parti Socialiste (he rejoined, post-war, its forerunner, the SFIO), and within the Front de gauche (FdG). Indeed it is hard to understand the importance of social republicanism and secularism in French left politics without him.

Stalinism.

In case we need reminding of how right Trotsky was on some issues the editors have included a text by a certain John Lewis.

Lewis was a Unitarian Minister in Ipswich during the 1930s. Extensive research (asking around) has shown that he was controversial – prone to argue with the congregation from the pulpit, and apparently a ‘Ladies Man’. Edged out, or simply moving on, Lewis went on to work for the Left Book Club, and became a leading figure in the Communist Party of Great Britain, where he edited its Modern Quarterly. An advocate of “socialist humanism” and Christian Marxist dialogue, paralleling efforts by the former French hard-line Stalinist, Roger Garaudy. Louis Althusser famously attacked him for these ideas.

Lewis’s ‘humanism’ had a distinct cast in the Stalin era. Cited by E.P.Thompson this was expressed by praise of the Soviet achievement. In 1946 he noted, that the “most cautious investigators” reveal “a respect for personality, an achievement of freedom from want an insecurity, an equality of opportunity, that has filled the Soviet people with boundless confidence and hope.”(10)

Perfectionists and the Moscow Trials. (1937) is included in Trotsky and His Critics . It is, the editors state, from “textual analysis” probably by John Lewis.

Lewis talks of social perfectionism, which means that people strive for the perfection of God. In reality Christians must have “to share in the responsibility for blunder suffering and crime.”(Page 126) He then helpfully announces, “there was neither blunder nor crime in the ruthless judgements in the Moscow trials (they) were a protective reaction against the most reckless political conspiracy that was ever directed ageist the lives and existence of a whole people; that at no previous stage in history could the treasonous acts of idealists have struck as deadly a blow to a vast population…”(Page 126)

This is the “Trotskyite idealist who is prepared to destroy Socialist reality for the sake of his perfectionist fantasies.”(Page 128) The Trotskyists could not admit that Stalin’s position was “anything but the ruin of the revolution.”(Page 127) They thus act as “if they had been right” and had “resolved to remove Stalin and his supporters from power in order to change the policy of Russia, stop industrialisation and collective farms, reverse the development towards democracy in Russia both internally and externally.”(Page 127)

As they could not win the masses to this policy of” self-destruction”, the masses had to be manoeuvred into doing so. The “apparently fortuities destruction of industrial plant was bound to undermine confidence in the government”(Ibid) These “wrecking activities of the Trotskyist ran parallel to the endeavours of the German and Japanese secret agents.”(Page 127) “Leon Trotsky…had got in touch with the German and Japanese authorities in view of an eventual war,”(Page 127)

And so it goes…

Trotsky and his Role.

Pierre Broué’s loyal biography of Trotsky dismisses those, like Isaac Deutscher, who would have preferred that after being forced out of the Soviet Union his subject had not founded the Fourth International, or to have tried to intervene in the day-to-day politics of the left in countries about which he was, at best, imperfectly informed. (11) Even had he withdrawn to a Watchtower, many of us would have been wary of such a political analyst or prophet, given Trotsky’s less than democratic record in the early years of the Soviet Union. The present texts, well-presented and explained, largely confirm this judgement.

Yet this article of John Lewis brings something to the fore: it shows what Trotsky was up against.

  1. Page 236. Victor Serge. The Course is Set on Hope. Susan Weissman. Verso 2001.
  2. Page 337 Trotsky: A Biography. Robert Service. Macmillan. 2009.
  3. Page 80. Stalin’s Nemesis. The Exile, Murder of Leon Trotsky. Bertrand M. Patenaude. Faber & Faber. 2009.
  4. Pierre Broué. Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution Fourth International, Vol. 4 no 1 April 1967.
  5. Leon Trotsky. Where is the PSOP Going? A Correspondence Between Marceau Pivert, Daniel Geurin and Leon Trotsky. 22 December 1938 March 1939.
  6. Le PSOP et le trotskysme. Marceau Pivert. Juin 36. 9th of June. 1939. “s’il abandonne les méthodes fractionnelles, le noyautage commandé de l’extérieur, les moyens de pression et de corruption ou de dénigrement systématique destiné à isoler ou à développer tel ou tel militant qualifié pour la circonstance de « centriste » en vue d’une opération analogue à la préparation d’une « citronnade », alors comme courant politique, le trotskysme peut et doit trouver place au sein du PSOP. »
  7. Les Vies de Boris Souvarine. Critique Sociale. 14 October 2008.
  8. Page 72, Where is Britain Going? Leon Trotsky Socialist Labour League. 1960.
  1. Where is the PSOP Going? Op cit.
  1. Page 318. The Poverty of Theory. E.P.Thompson. Merlin Press. 1978.
  1. Trotsky. Pierre Broué.1988

The Missing Picture: The Khmer Rouge.

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The Khmer Rouge carried out one of the worst genocides of the 20th century.

From 1975 to 1979 from  1.4 million and 2.2 million people died, with perhaps half of those deaths being due to executions, and the rest from starvation and disease.

The Missing Picture, which won the Certain Regard prize at Cannes in 2013, is a heart-rending account of the personal and political tragedies caused by their rule.

Cambodian film-maker Rithy Panh uses clay figures and newsreels to evoke the 4 year-long holocaust.

Panh dramatises his 1970s childhood through these painted clay figurines. A happy time, a Cambodia where people enjoy the normal pleasures of food, family parties, dancing and films, is brought to an end by the arrival of the black suited Khmer Rouge.  As part of the middle class (teachers) his parents, with their children, are sent to be the countryside to be “re-educated” in the new ideology.

They are reduced to the level of beasts of burden, scraping what food they can.

All except Panh die, amidst great suffering and the hectoring slogans of their masters. The author himself ends up in the hardest labour camps, for questioning the inequality of rations in ‘Democratic Kampuchea’.

In the film Panh looks for the “missing picture”, that is of Pol Pot, and his murders, and the genocide.

There is archive material of slaves labouring on pharaonic irrigation projects, of the Khmer Rouge leaders addressing their followers, with the portraits of Marx, Lenin, Lenin and Stalin behind the podium.

The film makes clear that resistance was impossible but that individuals and  families, by their simple dignity, refused to go along with the ideological terror.

The Missing Picture is a deeply affecting film.

Amongst the many images that haunt the audience is a calm statement: what were those in Paris and eleswherewho  endorsed the Khmer Rouge slogans thinking?

One might well ask.

The reality of life in ‘Democratic Kampuchea was soon known to the world, and the French in particular after the publication in 1977  of François Ponchaud’s Cambodge année zéro.

News rapidly got round about the genocide.

Not, apparently, though to Alain Badiou. He waxed ‘enthusiastic’ about the Khmer Rouge . He defended them tooth and nail against the Vietnamese  invaders who put a stop to their rule.

It was not until 2012 that the fêted philosopher and frequent contributor to New Left Review, expressed any “regrets” about this stand (Here).

People should see The Missing Picture and weep.

Including anybody tempted to admire Badiou.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm