Posts Tagged ‘Trotskyism’
Thousands of people took part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris on Saturday despite a police ban on the rally. Scuffles broke out between a hardcore element throwing projectiles and police, who said they made around 50 arrests.
The demonstration got under way at around 3pm at Place de la République amid a tense and uncertain atmosphere after rioting erupted at a similar protest last week.
Despite a calm start to the demonstration, which had attracted upwards of 4,000 people, by 6pm police were using tear gas to disperse 200 to 300 hooded youths throwing projectiles at police. France 24
It is hard not to endorse the view of the Parti Communiste Français that the march should not have been banned.
But there remain concerns about the groups behind the demonstration.
The ‘informal collective’ is composed of (according to Le Monde) members of the l’Union générale des étudiants de Palestine (GUPS), the Mouvement des jeunes Palestiniens (PYM France), de Génération Palestine, from the Union juive française pour la paix (UJFP), du Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) and the Parti des indigènes de la République (PIR).
To this collective the struggle in Israel is ” la lutte contre colonialisme”, indeed the last fight against colonialism.
The NPA, according to the same article, is sometimes concerned by the religious slogans of some of the groups that associate with these protests, notably the pro-Hamas, Collectif du cheikh Yassine
But for the leading figure of the Collectif, , Omar Al-Soumi, ( Mouvement des jeunes Palestiniens) the essential is that,
That does not upset us, in so far as we back all resistance and the armed struggle. Diplomacy and negotiation have never led to anything.
There were a few incidents on the day (41 People arrested).
Un groupe de supporteurs du PSG de la tribune Auteuil scande des slogans de soutien à Gaza et reprend une parodie du Chant des partisans popularisée par Dieudonné («la sens-tu, qui se glisse dans ton cul»).
A group of PSG (football) supporters from the Auteil stand, shouted slogans backing Gaza, and sang Dieudonné’s parody of the Chant des partisans (do you feel ‘it’ (the cock) slipping up your arse-hole).
We’re off to the rue des Rosiers (Jewish quarter in central Paris) to beat up the Jews (in ‘verlan’), one heard.
We would not wish to exaggerate these – troubling – incidents. Little happened apart from stone-throwing and a heavy-handed police response. One could add that there are also definite problems caused by the interventions of the far-right ‘Ligue de défense juive’ (Jewish Defence League). But the fact that the incidents represent something about the people behind the march is undeniable.
Le Parti des indigènes de la République (cited as one of the organising groups) this April received favourable publicity from ‘anti-racist’ Richard Seymour (here)
Houria Bouteldja, a leading member of Le Parti des indigènes de la République is published saying, in explaining her attitude to Dieudonné,
Now, the trouble is that we are not integrationists. And integration through anti-semitism horrifies us just as much as integration though White universalism and national-chauvinism. We abhor anything that seeks to integrate us into whiteness; anti-semitism being a pure product of Europe and the West. As a decolonial movement, it is self-evident that we cannot support Dieudonné. Yet we could not condemn him in the manner of the white Left, because there is a certain dimension that has escaped the Left, but one that is clear to any indigène with a modicum of dignity.
At the same time, I feel ambivalent. I would start by saying that I love Dieudonné; that I love him as the indigènes love him; that I understand why the indigènes love him. I love him because he has done an important action in terms of dignity, of indigène pride, of Black pride: he refused to be a domestic negro. Even if he doesn’t have the right political program in his head, his attitude is one of resistance.” I now add that in the eyes of the indigènes, this is what they see in him first and foremost, rather than seeing the nature of his allies. A man standing upright. Too often were we forced to say “yes bouana, yes bouana.” When Diedonné stands up, he heals an identitarian wound. The wound that racism left, and which harms the indigènes’ personnality. Those who understand “Black is beautiful” cannot miss this dimension, and I emphasize, this particular dimension in Dieudonné.
As I’ve argued before, Left-wing apologetics for the far-Right frequently rest on an appreciation of complexities, ambiguities and nuance the rest of us apparently lack. Either Seymour has not understood what he has posted and endorsed or he has accepted the sophistry of Bouteldja’s meaningless distinction between malevolent and virtuous anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is what it is: a hatred of Jews, and whether it appears in the pages of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, Mein Kampf, the Hamas Charter, or on Richard Seymour’s Leninology blog, it is always justified in the name of the same thing: the struggle against domination, oppression and conspiratorial power.
If Seymour believes that Bouteldja’s narrow disavowal of an anti-Semitism “that seeks to integrate us into whiteness” inoculates her against charges of racism, he has missed something even more sinister and obvious: that while she demonstrates a bottomless capacity for self-pity, her solipsistic contempt for the Holocaust and its victims demonstrates a complete absence of ‘out-group’ compassion. It is in the pitilessness of this kind of chauvinism that we find the germ of fascism.
The following reply holds for those who cooperate with the Indigènes de la République
Undeterred, Seymour has accepted the challenge presented in Bouteldja’s opening four-point preamble. He has opened up his Eurocentric mind and deferred to her experience “as a colonial subject”; he has prostrated himself before the scorn she has heaped on the hypocrisies of the white, radical Western Left, of which he is a privileged representative; and he has looked her prejudices in the eye and he has not flinched. She has dared the white Left to join her on the far-Right and Richard Seymour – persuaded by her rhetoric that to do so would be an act of radical political courage – has obliged.
I’m not entirely sure what he expects to get in return. If it’s the respect of people like Houria Bouteldja, he can think again. She holds the politics of self-abasement to be beneath contempt. On this she could hardly be more clear. It is the virility of unapologetic fascists like Dieudonné M’bala M’bala that she values.
In the present context, it is undeniable (as Seymour’s Blog cited on the 18th of July) that, “certain pro-Palestinian groups, some of which supporters(sic) of Dieudonné and Alain Soral” – Holocaust deniers – exist.
How far the involvement of the indigènes contributes to isolating them may be judged from the – small – incidents cited above.
But more significantly the ideological climate is moving away from the ideas of self-important, and self-appointed, defenders of the “indigènes” ‘(‘Natives’).
Since this exchange Le Monde Diplomatique has published the important article by Vivek Chibber criticising “post-colonial studies”, L’universalisme, une arme pour la gauche. (May 2014)
It was originally published in the Socialist Register 2014, Capitalism, class and universalism: Escaping the cul-de-sac of postcolonial theory (full text here).
Chibber criticises ‘post-colonial’ critiques of the left’s ‘universalism’ and its rejection of Marxism. He points out that capitalism has become globalised , so a universal interest in social rights, “for liberty, for dignity, for basic well being” has developed. Anti “Eurocentrism” has resurrected particularism, essentialism, and the denial of any universal politics. Against this Chibber argues for “affirming two universalisms – our common humanity and the threat it to it posed by a viously universalising capitalism.” ( see also, Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital by Vivek Chibber 2013)
The Le Parti des indigènes de la République could be said to be a politicised version of “post-colonial studies.”
It seems odd that a Marxist group from the Trotskyist tradition like the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste should be so closely associated with them.
What does this imply for their engagement in the protests over Gaza?
They back the reactionary Hamas movement and other “resistance forces” uncritically and to the hilt.
No doubt informed by that special “appreciation of complexities, ambiguities and nuance the rest of us apparently lack.”
Workers Liberty (the paper of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) has just made a carefully weighed assessment of the horrendous Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Since the latest round of Israeli air bombardments of Gaza began on 8 July, around 200 Palestinians have died.
77% of have been civilians according to UN estimates. Many have been children
On 14 July, Israel ran a ground-troop operation in Gaza, and said it would expand its list of targets for bombing to include civilian institutions with suspected links to Hamas, the Islamist party which governs Gaza. Given that Hamas’s political infrastructure is substantially enmeshed with the frail Gazan state, this could include almost any target Israel chooses. Also on 14 July, Israel began a leaflet-dropping campaign instructing residents of northern Gaza to evacuate as it was preparing to widen its bombing campaign. Hamas has instructed Gazans to stay put.
On Tuesday morning 15 July, Israel announced that it had accepted a ceasefire proposal from Egypt, but Hamas hesitated, and later that day Israel was bombing again.
Gaza’s economy, always sore beset by Israeli restrictions, managed to grow nearly 15 per cent in 2011 and 7 per cent in 2012. Hamas was also boosted by the Palestinian “unity government” announced on 2 June this year, which allowed it to hope that public-sector workers in Gaza would be paid by the Palestinian Authority.
However, since a military-dominated government took over in Egypt in July 2013, ousting Muslim Brotherhood president Morsi, Egypt has shut down many of Gaza’s routes to the outside world, and unemployment in Gaza has risen. The Palestinian Authority has stalled on paying wages: public sector workers in Gaza struck over that on 26 June.
Hamas wants to put pressure on Egypt and Israel to ease their grip on Gaza. Right-wing Israeli prime minister Netanyahu wants to keep Hamas off balance, and is under pressure from a growing far right in Israel.
The current conflict grew after three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftal Frenkel, went missing on 12 June in the West Bank. Israeli forces raided thousands of homes in the West Bank, arresting 570 Palestinians and killing several (5 by one report, 10 by another) in the process. The teenagers were found dead near the Palestinian town of Hebron on 30 June.
Far-right Jewish nationalists abducted and murdered 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir on 2 July. Hamas began a barrage of rocket fire, and has now launched nearly 1,000 rockets at Israeli towns. It has also threatened to attack Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. So far, no Israelis have been killed. Israel responded by bombing Gaza.
No state, Israeli nationalists claim, should tolerate rocket barrages, however poorly aimed and ineffective, against its civilian population. That is the rational kernel to the Israeli case. But Israel’s actions go well beyond self-defence. Aerial bombardments of a densely-populated area, with an impoverished and essentially captive population, by one of the best-armed states in the world against are so disproportionate as to undermine the self-defence argument.
The Palestinians, too, have the right to defend themselves. Hamas rockets do not provide that defence.
Israel’s bombardments cannot be abstracted from Israel’s longstanding oppression of the Palestinians. Likewise, Hamas’s rockets are aimed at civilians and must be considered in the context of the social and political project of Hamas. Hamas is a clerical-fascist political party, which, despite the recent concessions to bourgeois diplomacy of some of its leaders, states its hostility to the Israeli-Jewish people even existing in historic Palestine.
Israel’s war on Hamas cannot possibly have a progressive outcome. While Israel continues settlement building in the West Bank; while it keeps the population of Gaza under semi-permanent siege; discriminates against Arabs within its own borders; and operates a regime of walls and checkpoints, it creates the conditions in which Hamas grows.
The only way out is peace. And, for peace, Israel holds all the cards. Ending the siege of Gaza, dismantling West Bank settlements, ensuring equality for Israeli-Arabs, and allowing the Palestinians their right to set up a genuinely independent state in contiguous territory alongside Israel would allow peace — and security for Israel’s people.
The hope for the future of both the Israeli and Palestinian people lies in the political potential of the Palestinian labour, women’s, and LGBT movements, and the potential of the labour movement and internationalist, anti-war left inside Israel. Those movements can provide an alternative politics for Israeli and Palestinians that cut across the nationalism and chauvinism of both sides.
That potential can be glimpsed in the demonstrations which have taken place in Israel, on 3 July and 13 July. On 3 July, thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv demanding an end to the atmosphere of incitement and vengeance following the deaths of the Israeli teenagers. On 13 July, hundreds of anti-war activists, many from the Israeli political left, demanded an end to the bombing, and faced violent reprisals from far-right nationalists.
As Yacov Ben Efrat, wrote in the left-wing Israeli magazine Challenge following the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2010:
“Solidarity between Jewish and Arab workers is the only way to overcome the cycle of bloodshed. The supreme interest of the workers on both sides of the conflict is to build a political and social alternative, egalitarian and humane, against a right-wing Zionist chauvinism and an Islamic fundamentalism that are leading both peoples into catastrophe”.
This editorial would seem to be the right framework for any serious left-wing discussion of the issues this catastrophe raises.
Update (hat-tip JV)
This is essential and very depressing reading, With the Oslo dream shattered, Israel must do the creative thinking. (Haaratz)
The Palestinians do not recognize the Jews’ right to a state, so Israel must take steps on its own to improve the atmosphere.
Podemos Tries to Build New Organisational Model.
Podemos, the Spanish radical left alliance, has created a lot of interest in Europe and further afield.
In the May European elections they got 7.97% of the vote and 5 seats.
The Izquierda Plural,(Plural Left) IP, an older left alliance, got 10.03% of the vote and 6 seats.
Podemos however presented itself in the ballot box for the first time this year, while the Izquierda Plural, notably its main component, the Izquierda Unida, has been around in various forms since the mid-1980s.
It appears that Podemos, like Syriza, is itself being taken as a possible political model for leftist groups in the rest of Europe.
Adria Porta Caballe writes on RS21 (one of the groups that left the British SWP), shortly after the above results, offering an explanation for their success
Podemos has achieved this with a different method that rejects the traditional conception of party militancy and an unconditional commitment to popular self-organisation. In particular, the last 5 months offer three examples of Podemos’ participatory nature. First, when Pablo Iglesias made the first step, he also made clear from the very beginning that he would not go further unless he was backed by at least 50,000 people. He easily achieved that number in a day, establishing a precedent of direct democracy from start.
The second and most important example of how Podemos achieved popular empowerment was the creation of so-called “Circles”, local spaces of debate and action where everybody can attend no matter his or her political affiliations. Today there are around 400 Circles spread over the Spanish State and anywhere else where its citizens have had to exile since the crisis started for economic reasons (London, Berlin, Brussels, etc). The motto “all power to the circles” represents a dose of democracy to the regime and an unprecedented tool of popular empowerment.
Finally it is also worth mentioning that Podemos is the only party in the country which used open primary elections to choose its candidates. A quick glance to the more than 50 candidates who run in the open primaries is enough evidence of what distinguishes Podemos from the rest: workers, unemployed, precarious, students, teachers… but no professional politician. No wonder that with this different method, Podemos could not reach an agreement with the traditional euro-communist party Izquierda Unida to run together in the elections. Apparently the latter was only worried about exchanging some seats in a common candidature, while Podemos was obviously demanding a much more fundamental change in the way the left approaches internal democracy.
This model has not been settled.
Nor is at all clear that they have “achieved popular empowerment”.
The French site Ensemble noted that following the elections there was a “lively” internal debate inside Podemos, opposing
some of the party’s base, who advocate greater power for the ‘circles’ in the process of decision making, and the self-styled Podemos “promoter group”, which defends a model with less power for circles and which is all open to all citizens and voters. The fundamental question, ultimately, is to define the organisational form to be taken by Podemos and the role of the circles, and that of those not enrolled in them, in the decision-making party people.
(El País – reporting this) has so far identified in this debate two sides supposedly in confrontation. On the one hand, there is the Izquierda Anticapitalista (IA, anti-capitalist Left), a political party built around the initiative since its inception and, secondly, the promoter Podemos group, headed by Iñigo Errejón, and Juan Pablo Iglesias and Carlos Monedero.
In the El País article on the 9th of June supporters of the “promoter group” are cited accusing the “base” (Iquierda Anticapitalista, IA) of wanting Podemos to be the “izquierda de Izquierda Unida” – the left of Izquierda Unida”. Pablo Iglesias’s right-hand man, Juan Carlos Monedero went so far as the accuse the IA of attempting a “coup d’état” ( “golpe de Estado”) inside the organisation – as a party within a party.
One of its supporters, Teresa Rodríguez, is said to be the “Number 2″ of Podemos.
Not surprisingly the Fourth International has published an article by that refers to this dispute suggesting that the El País report may not be entirely trustworthy (given the daily’s own political allegiance, which was, in the past, with the Spanish Socialist Party, the PSOE).
Dick Nicols in Links on the 1st of July (Spanish state: Eruption of Podemos sparks turmoil left and right) does not downplay the dispute as revealed by El País and has its own analysis of the problems facing Podemos,
According to a report in the June 9 El País, close Iglesias collaborator, fellow university lecturer and La Tuerka co-presenter Juan Carlos Monedero at one point explained the need for a closed list in these words: “The idea of the [closed] lists doesn’t seem very sensible to us, but there are people conspiring to lay hold of Podemos and we don’t feel like copping that. People with responsibilities in other parties have sent emails to sympathisers giving instructions as to what to do on June 14 [date of a national meeting of Podemos sympathisers].”
This was a reference to the Anti-capitalist Left (IA), co-founder of Podemos along with Iglesias and his supporters. In response to Monedero’s comments, which included the observation that some Podemos sympathisers wanted to convert the organisation into “the left of IU”, a June 9 statement of IA said: “Whoever sees conspiracies and coups where there is only democracy has very little faith in the intelligence of Podemos people…Only those who are afraid of democracy fear debates.”
Earlier Monedero had said: “Maybe this has to break up, maybe there are two incompatible models inside Podemos, some want to turn it into a party of delegates and into an old party…If we carry on with this line of talk, what happened with 15M could happen again—we were radically democratic and radically ineffective.”
One concern was the role in Podemos given to the maverick politician and political consultant Jorge Verstrynge, ex-leader of the post-francoist Popular Alliance and variously PSOE member, adviser to the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and the Venezuelan military, and exponent of a massive program of deportation of migrants from Spain.
Another was the decision, taken by election campaign team to incorporate a portrait sketch of Pablo Iglesias into the official Podemos ballot paper logo, on the grounds that Iglesias had much greater visibility than the name Podemos.
A third was the removal from the final Podemos election program of any specific support for the November 9 consultation in Catalonia, even though Iglesias continued to speak out for the Catalan right to decide.
The incessantly churning Spanish social networks have not been slow to comment on such choices, with Iglesias being tagged as “the little Napoleon”, and much worse. More soberly, many have pointed out that internet-driven decision-making in “new” party-movements can cohabit with “all power to the charismatic leader”, as in Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. There the leadership (basically Grillo?) decides what the options for voting by internet are, after which “the membership decides democratically”. For the recent decision as to which European parliamentary group the Five Star movement’s MEPs should join, Grillo offered his members the “choice” of Europe of Freedom and Democracy (chairman Nigel Farange of the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party), the European Conservatives and Reformists group(dominated by the British Tories) or No Grouping.
Many, on the basis of what we so far can tell, will agree with Dick Nichols’ conclusion,
Podemos will face critical questions that can’t be solved from a “people v. politicians” formula. Critical will be the concrete basis for unity with IU and left-nationalist, left-regionalist and green forces. This is particularly pressing in the Spanish state because of the disproportionality in the rigged national Spanish electoral system, which only starts to disappear after a party wins 20% of the vote. (That score wins 18% of seats, while 15% wins 10.3% of seats and 10% of the vote just 5.1% of seats.)
The consolidation of Podemos as a revolutionary-democratic movement against austerity with rigorously democratic functioning and the convergence of its advance with that of a reformed IU will surely determine the fate of the anti-capitalist struggle in the Spanish state.
But it is by no means certain that the complicated ‘on-line’ democracy and the ‘circles’ at the base of Podemos, – the one drawing to leadership power, the other away from it, will help in this.
Juncker: Flirted with Trotskyism.
The pasts of European Commissioner José Manuel Durão Barroso and the new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker have been brought up by the French Communist daily L’Humanite.
The former is well known for his youthful involvement in the extreme anti-Communist (and violent) MRPP (Movimento Reorganizativo do Partido do Proletariado).(1) Indeed he was one its leaders. This ‘Maoist’ group, which was also supported by French ‘philosopher’ Alain Badiou and his group, the Union des communistes de France marxiste-léniniste (UCFml).
In the aftermath of the ‘Carnation Revolution’ (1974 -5) the MRPP was known for its physical attacks on Communists, trade unions, democrats and the far-left.
Barroso has more recently alleged that his support for these thugs was because he saw them as the best anti-Communists around.
L’Humanité alleges they were closely bound to the CIA. For the paper, the “Top level agent of the CIA, Carlucci handled and financed the MRPP .”
Which perhaps also sheds a light on Alain Badiou’s curious reticence about his own past in backing the group.
Juncker has a youthful background marked by much less explicit political engagement on the far-left.
Rue 89 in Dix choses que vous ignorez sûrement sur Jean-Claude Juncker states,
“In an interview published in 2009 on the site of the Government of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker wanted us to believe he was a rebel before he became the aged grey man mocked by his enemies:
“At 17, as a rebel, I flirted with the IV th International. I explained to my father and my mother that their bourgeois life, meant nothing at all to me.”
The former Prime Minister of Luxembourg refers to the broad Trotskyist movement in the late 60s, of which the Nouveau parti anti-capitaliste (NPA) of Olivier Besancenot is the heir.
Juncker was not a very much of an activist: he did not leave many traces of this leftist past.”
He says that he soon grasped that this stand was misguided , although he lays claim to some enduring sympathy for the workers that he learnt from his youth amongst a steel-worker family and neighbours.
l”Humanité alleges both figures have links with the CIA.
Juncker in particular,
was forced to resign his mandate after a colourful case of espionage. Witnesses suddenly became mute,although leaks suggest that the special services of the United States, including the famous NSA, have maintained discreet links with Jean-Claude Juncker…..
There are revealing comparisons. Barroso and Juncker were both members of so-called “far left” with direct or indirect relationship with the CIA and special service organisations in the United States.
(1) Tony Cliff. Portugal at the crossroads (1975).
The biggest “revolutionary” organisation in the University, it seems to recruit sons of upper class CDS supporters. Its membership is characterised by a religious fervour. It was quite heroic under fascism, but even then spent much of its time denouncing the rest of the revolutionary left. Typically, today it runs slogans like “Long live the glorious MRPP – Arnaldo Matos (Secretary of MRPP), glorious leader of the proletariat”, etc.
It gained some influence in a few firms when the Communist Party was involved in strike-breaking – e.g. it has some influence in TAP and the TLP (telephone workers).
But its influence is restricted in Lisbon to at most five workers’ committees.
It is extremely unpopular with COPCON rank and file because of its references to them as the “new PIDE”.
Its position used to be distinct from that of the PCP ML/AOC, in that it did not openly back the Socialist Party. But the Socialist Party saw an advantage in claiming to defend the MRPP against the Communist Party. And recently the MRPP has provided a convenient weapon for the Socialist Party to use to break the hold of the Communist Party on certain unions in Lisbon (journalists, bank workers, clerks).
The MRPP sees the events in the North as a “peasant uprising against social fascism”. When the Communist Party defended its headquarters in Leiria, the MRPP spoke of it “shooting down peasants”.
There seems to be some sort of convergence here between the sons of the bourgeoisie and their parents.
That’s Not the Correct Line Comrade on the Left Unity Row.
Oh Yes it is!
The Girl who Talked to Dolphins was on BBC 4 last night.
This was a
Documentary telling the story of the most extraordinary experiment in the history of animal science. In the 1960s a powerful and charismatic scientist flooded a house. He then invited a young woman to live there full-time with a dolphin. Their intention was the ultimate in animal research – they wanted to teach the dolphin to speak English. What happened next would change all their lives. For the first time those involved in the experiment reveal the secrets of the Dolphin House.
This was great.
Trotskyism was also at the forefront of this great leap forward in interspecies communication.
Juan R Posadas, the Argentinian Trotskyist is best known for his pioneering theories on UFOs and the probable existence of higher, communist, civilisations on other planets. He rightly observed that, “These beings from other planets come to observe life down here and laugh at humans, we who fight each other over who has the most cannons, cars and wealth.”
But he did not stop there.
Fortean Times explains,
Professor Igor Charkovsky’s experiments for the Soviet Academy of Sciences on ‘water birthing’ and his work on communicating with dolphins won the admiration of Posadas, as did unattributed “plans to conceive babies in space.” Charkovsky is today a celebrity of the New Age Californian bourgeois ‘water birthing’ circuit and his forays into human–dolphin communication interfaces are continued by Alexander Yushchencko at Kharkov Polytechnic, Ukraine.
In any event, Posadas’ disciples defended his most esoteric dolphin and water birthing ideas after his death, stating that: “Posadas highlighted the full significance of experiments the Soviets are making in communicating with animals (eg. dolphins) and in space exploration… this is the plane on which Comrade Posadas lived.” They also firmly believed that Posadas’ “radiant and living thought… laid down principles to see further into the future.”
Sadly these writings seem unavailable on the Web.
We await their immediate publication!
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.