Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘AWL

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

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 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

Andy Newman, Witchfinder General: Does He Speak for the GMB?

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Andy Newman Prepares for Work.

Socialist Unity may have bitten often more than it chew.

It has indulged in what many people consider to be red-baiting of AWL member Janine Booth. She  is now London Transport rep on the RMT’s national executive. A great fault in Andy Newman’s eyes.

Andy Newman remarks that given that the,

AWL is deeply hostile to the politics of Bob Crow, then it is hard to see how productive relations between lay members and full-time officials can be maintained, when Janine is committed to writing leaflets that undermine officials who the AWL describe as bureaucrats, and by implication break confidences (telling you what the “bureaucrat” won’t).

In other words Newman insinuates that Janine Booth will break RMT rules regarding the confidential nature of union business. This is an extremely serious charge.

He goes into make this claim,

The AWL says that their aim in RMT is to “prioritise recruiting new AWL members”. Significantly this is regarded as more important than strengthening the union. To this aim in May 2011 they set up a Tube workers’ AWL branch that caucuses around introducing their controversial politics into RMT branches.

“We have prioritised political discussion in the branch, increasing our confidence to sell the paper to more and more people. Together, we discussed, wrote and moved an amendment on Libya to last month’s regional meeting. Although we lost the vote, we impressed some people by articulating clear, distinctive and thought-out views” [AWL expands on London Underground, http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/05/04/awl-expands-london-underground  ]

Most unions in Britain have smaller and larger alliances of left, centre, or right-wing activists who stand for election. The AWL takes part in some, and, apparently in this case, organises its members who work on the Tube around their own body.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

It is no secret.

Newman was able to find the AWL statements even from darkest Wiltshire.

But wait, London Underground workers have faced a long (very long – going back to the 1980s) campaign against them. Led by the Evening Standard.

Some of the flavour of this attack – which can be called a witch-hunt – is given last year in the same paper (Here).

The three men orchestrating the RMT union’s two weeks of strike action from behind the scenes can be named today.

Steve Hedley, Brian Munro and Pat Sikorski each have a long history of battling Tube managers and leading militant campaigns.

While RMT general secretary Bob Crow is the union’s public face, he is said to be backed by an even further-Left clique of activists.

Socialist Unity seems to think that they should make their own attack on a “far-left clique of activists”.

For a GMB Branch Secretary (Wiltshire and Swindon) - Andy Newman -  to red-bait Janine Booth in her capacity as a RMT official is a very serious breach of normal  union protocol.

Put simply, officials, including lay-officials, do not publicly attack other unions, including activists in other unions.

How does this work for the GMB?

The GMB is run democratically from the centre.

To illustrate how this happens one of its principles (from the GMB Rule Book)  is that “Members or branches must not issue any addresses or circulars without getting approval from the regional council, regional committee or Central Executive Council. Also, members must not make our business known to  unauthorised organisations, unofficial journals or the print media without getting approval. “

Is this latest attack on members of other unions known to the GMB?

We doubt it, as we have great respect for the union.

We wonder how Newman squares his Web activities with his duties to his own union.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm