James P. Cannon: A Blood Transfusion

April 25, 2014 at 6:05 pm (Anti-Racism, class, history, James P. Cannon, posted by JD, Racism, socialism, solidarity, United States, workers)

Claiming rights as Americans

Back in March, the sometime-socialist Seymour posted this piece of far-right apologia (and rank anti-Semitism) on his blog. He has since received a resounding rebuke, and replied – characteristically- with childish, yah-boo petulance  predicated upon the idea that long words equal serious thought. If I thought it would do this buffoon any good, I’d dedicate the following elementary lesson in the socialist attitude to race, to him:

The veteran Trotskyist James P. Cannon, writing in the US Socialist Workers Party’s paper The Militant, in May 1947:

Things are not exactly what they used to be in South Carolina. The mob of 31 white men who lined the Negro Willie Earl, and admitted it with ample detail in signed statements, were put to the inconvenience of a trial in court. That is something new. But it turned out to be a very small point, for the lynchers were all triumphantly acquitted and the dead man is still dead. That’s the same old story. Lynch law is still riding high; the courtroom “trial” only added a touch of mockery.

Well, that’s one way of handling the race problem and advertising the American way of life to the benighted peoples of the world, who were looking in and listening in through the press and the radio, and it may be safely assumed that the lesson will not be lost on them.

But I have seen it done another way — here in America too — and perhaps it would be timely now to report it as a footnote to the South Carolina affair. This incident occurred at Sandstone prison during our sojourn there in the fall of 1944. I wrote about it at the time in a letter, as fully as I could in the rigidly restricted space of the one sheet of paper allowed for prison correspondence. This left room only for the bare facts, a strictly news report without amplification. But I believe the factual story speaks well enough for itself as then reported, without any additional comment.

Here is the letter:

“I have seen a triumph of medical science which was also a triumph of human solidarity here at Sandstone. When I went up to the hospital at ‘sick call’ one day to have my sore toes dressed, I immediately sensed that something was missing, something was wrong. There were no nurses in evidence; the door of the doctor’s office was locked; and the other convicts on sick call were standing in the corridor in oppressive silence. The reason soon became manifest. Through the glass door of the record office, and beyond that through the glass door of the operating room, we could see the masked doctors and nurses moving back and forth around the operating table. Not a sound reached us through the double door. Now a doctor, now a nurse, moved in and out of view, only their heads, rather their drawn faces, showing, like figures on a silent movie screen.

“The word was passed along the ‘line’ in hushed whispers: a colored man was dying. A desperate emergency operation was failing; the poor black convict’s life was slipping out of the doctor’s hands like a greased thread. But we could see that the doctors were still working, still trying, and one could sense the unspoken thought of all the men on the line; their concern, their sympathy, and in spite of everything, their hope for their comrade on the operating table.

“After what seemed an endless time, the prison pharmacist who was assisting in the operation came out through the double door into the corridor. His face was a picture of exhaustion, of defeat and despair. There would be no ‘sick call’ he said: the doctors would not be free for some time. The case of the colored man was apparently hopeless, but the doctors were going to make one final desperate effort. They were sewing up the abdominal wound on the slender, practically non-existent chance that by blood transfusions, they could keep the man alive and then build up his strength for the shock of another stage of the complicated and drawn-out operation.

“Then came a new difficulty. The sick man’s blood was hard to ‘type’. The blood of the first colored fellow-convicts who volunteered was unsuitable. But the sick Negro got the blood he needed just the same. The white convicts rose up en masse to volunteer for transfusions. I think every man in our dormitory offered to give his blood. The sick man hung between life and death for weeks; but the life-giving fluid of the white convicts, steadily transfused into his body, eventually gave the strength for a second, and successful, operation.

“I sae him line up with the rest of us for the yard count yesterday, this Negro with the blood of white men coursing through his veins, and I thought: The whites, over the centuries, have taken a lot of blood from the blacks; it is no more than right that one of them should get a little of it back.”

(NB The US Socialist Workers Party, of which Cannon was leader, has nothing to do with the UK group of the same name).  

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The most laughable, preposterous and irrelevant left-wing faction fight … ever

January 29, 2014 at 9:21 pm (Beyond parody, comedy, ex-SWP, fantasy, gloating, good honest filth, James P. Cannon, jerk, Jim D, middle class, perversity, political groups, Pornography, Racism, strange situations, surrealism, wankers)

I was going to put a question-mark at the end of that headline, but on reflection decided not to. I think we can be unequivocal about this.

When I was a callow young Trotskyist and James P. Cannon fan, older, more experienced comrades told me that Cannon’s organisation, the American SWP (no relation to the Brit group of the same name) had gone off the rails very badly in the 1950’s, when Cannon began to take a back seat and handed the reins over to lesser figures like Joseph Hansen. Evidence of this petty bourgeois degeneration, I was told, was a ludicrous faction fight over the question of women’s cosmetics that threatened to tear the SWP apart. In the end, good ol’ James P. came out of semi-retirement to bang heads together and tell Hansen and the comrades to get a grip and stop arguing about such irrelevant nonsense. Anyway, that’s how I remember being told about it.

As you can imagine, I never (until now) took the trouble to investigate the matter in any detail, but if you’re interested, quite a good account is given here, and you can even read some of the contemporaneous internal documents here, if you scroll down to No. A-23, October 1954. On the other hand, like myself when I was first told about the Great Cosmetics Faction Fight (GCFF), you may feel that life’s too short…

The point being, that I’ve always carried round in the back of my mind a vague recollection of the GCFF as a prime example of petty bourgeois leftist irrelevance, and probably the most ridiculous and laughable left-group factional dispute of all time.

Until now.

The recent row within the International Socialist Network, resulting in the resignations of some of its most prominent members, makes the SWP’s GCFF look quite down to earth and sensible. If you ever wanted an example of why serious, socialist-inclined working class people all too often regard the far left as a bunch of irrelevant, posturing tossers, this is it. Don’t ask me what it’s all about, or what “race play” is. Comrade Coatesy gives some helpful background here and here. More detail for the serious connoisseur (aka “more discerning customer” wink, wink, reaching under the counter) here and here.

I’ll simply add, for now, that this preposterous business does appear to be genuine (rather than, as some might reasonably suspect, an exercise in sitautionist performance art and/or anti-left political satire) and is also one of those rather pleasing situations in which no-one in their right mind cares who wins: both sides are unspeakably awful self-righteous jerks. Actually, the ISN majority strike me as, if anything, even worse than Seymour, Miéville and their friend “Magpie” – if that’s possible. Still, it’s hard not to endulge in just a little schadenfreude at the discomfiture of Richard “Partially Contingent” Seymour, a character who’s made a minor career out of sub-Althussarian pretentiousness and “anathematising” others on the left for their real or imagined transgressions against “intersectionality“, and now falls victim to it himself.

Those who live by intersectionality, die by intersectionality.

Or, as Seymour himself put it in his seminal postgraduate thesis  Patriarchy and the capitalist state:

“My suggestion is that as an analytic, patriarchy must be treated as one type of the more general phenomena of gender projects which in certain conjunctures form gender formations. What is a gender formation? I am drawing a direct analogy with Omi and Winant’s conception of racial formations, which comprises “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed … historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized.” This is connected “to the evolution of hegemony, the way in which society is organized and ruled,” in the sense that racial projects are linked up with wider repertoires of hegemonic practices, either enabling or disrupting the formation of broad ruling or resistant alliances. A gender formation would thus be a ’sociohistorical process’ in which gender categories are ‘created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed’ through the interplay and struggle of rival gender projects. From my perspective, this has the advantage of grasping the relational, partially contingent and partially representational nature of gendered forms of power, and providing a means by which patriarchy can indeed be grasped in relation to historical materialism.”

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Old comrades

November 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm (good people, James P. Cannon, Jim D, left, Marxism, political groups, revolution, sectarianism, Shachtman, socialism, solidarity, song, trotskyism)

I’ve just returned from a get-together with some old comrades – in a couple of cases (well, three to be exact), people I’ve known more or less since first getting involved with the serious left in the early-to-mid seventies. It dawned on me that as well as being comrades they’re some of my oldest and closest friends. And one of them, at least, I rate amongst the most admirable and principled people I’ve ever known.

I also learned a new (well, new to me) sectarian song that some readers might enjoy:

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Pro-union Jesus?

December 26, 2012 at 12:35 am (Christianity, Christmas, James P. Cannon, Jim D, trotskyism, unions, United States)

Jesus casting money lenders from the temple

Casting the money-lenders out of the temple

What follows is from The Militant, paper of the American SWP (nothing to do with the Brit organisation of the same name) of April 26, 1947*. I’m never sure about attempts to claim Jesus for the left, but this is a good effort, written with panache and brimming with righteous anger:

What Do They Know About Jesus?

By James P. Cannon

Did you see what I saw in the paper this morning? Thursday, April 17? It took the taste out of my breakfast. The Wall Street money-sharks, pressing their anti-labor drive on all fronts, now claim they have lined up God and Jesus Christ for the open shop. The New York Times reports: “Six hundred thirty-seven clergymen attached to various Protestant churches have joined in attacking the closed shop as a violation of basic teachings of the Bible, the American Council of Christian Churches, 15 Park Row, announced today.”

What do you know about that? And how do you think it happened? I wasn’t present when the deal was cooked up, but knowing whom these theological bunk-shooters serve and from whom they gets their orders, I can visualize the proceedings and tell how it happened, in essence if not in precise detail.

The top profit-hogs very probably had a meeting of their board of stategy down in Wall Street the other day and counted up the forces they had mobilized in the grand crusade to break up the unions and beat down the workers who are trying so desperately to make their wages catch up with the increasing cost of living. They checked off Congress, both the House and the Senate. They checked off the President and the courts. They checked off the daily newspapers, from one end of the country to the other, and found a 100 percent score on that front. Then they called the roll of radio commentators, and made a note to put pressure for the firing of the remaining two or three half-liberal “news analysts” on the air who are not going along 100 per cent.

On the whole their situation looked pretty good, but they had to acknowledge to themselves that public opinion is not yet responding to the union-busting program with any great enthusiasm. Then one of the union-busters — most probably one of their “idea-men” — got a bright idea. “Let’s send someone around the corner to the American Council of Christian Churches at 15 Park Row”, he said, “and tell them to start singing for their supper. Tell them to put God in the statement, and be sure to ring in Jesus Christ.”

No sooner said than done — but good. Now comes the public statement signed by 637 clerical finks who state that the closed shop (they mean the union shop) violates freedom of conscience and the Eight Commandement, “Thou shalt not steal”. They appeal to Christ on the ground that the union shop violates “the individual’s responsibility to God” and obliges Christain men to be “yoked together with unbelievers”. This, they say is wrong and not according to Jesus.

Well, I feel like saying to these strikebreaking sky-pilots what Carl Sandberg once said to an anti-labour evangelist 30 years ago: “Here you come tearing your shirt, yelling about Jesus. I want to know what in the hell you know about Jesus.” I don’t know too much myself, but if the only accounts of him we have are true, they called him “the Carpenter”; and he once took a whip and drove the money-lenders out of the temple. “Ye have made it a den of thieves”, he shouted, in white-hot anger.

And what have you done, you 637 fake-pious pulpit pounders who serve the moneyed interests against the people? You have made it a den of theives and liars too. You have the gall to represent the lowly Nazerene as a scab-herder; and to tell the Christian workers, who revere Him as the friend and associate of the publicans and sinners, of all the poor and the lowly, that they should not be “yoked together with unbelievers” in a union to protect their common interests. That’s a lie and a defamation. You’re simply trying to serve the rich against the poor, to help the rich in their campaign to break up the unions, which are the only protection the poor people have.

And don’t try to fool anybody with the statement that you are in favor of unions “properly conducted” — under open-shop conditions. We know what you mean by this mealy-mouthed formulation. Such unions, as Mr. Dooley once said, are unions which have no strikes, no dues and very few members.

And leave Jesus out of your lying propaganda, you scribes and pharisees, full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Every time you mention His name you libel Him, regardless of whether the story of His life and death be taken as literal truth or legend. The Carpenter of Nazareth has been badly misrepresented in many ways for many years, but your attempt to pass Him off as a union-buster goes just a little bit too far. It is just about the dirtiest trick that has ever been played on Jesus Christ since the crucifiction.

*Republished in ‘Notebook Of An Agitator’, Pathfinder Press, 1958 and 1973.

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Yet again on lesser-evilism

November 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm (capitalist crisis, Democratic Party, James P. Cannon, Jim D, mccarthyism, Republican Party, trotskyism, unions, United States, workers)

I spent most of yesterday in a room full of British trade unionists, all of whom would regard themselves as (to varying degrees) on the political left. To a person, every one of them that I spoke to, or overheard, expressed pleasure and relief at the US election result.

In fact, I find it inconceivable that any socialist or, indeed, liberal, wouldn’t feel that way. I do not include deranged anti-Americans of the Pilger/Counterpunch variety.

Of course, a general sense of pleasure and/or relief at the outcome need not, necessarily, be predicated  upon having advocated a vote for Obama. And there is, of course, a long-standing leftist (specifically Trotskyist) argument against advocating a vote for the US Democrats, which I’ll come on to in a moment.

But even those of us who have never had any great illusions in Obama, need to recognise what his presidency represents for Afro-Americans and other minorities (notably Hispanics), and just what a blow to their morale and self-confidence a Romney victory would have been. It is also a fact that, rightly or wrongly, the majority of unions in the US backed Obama. All reports suggest, as well,  that the mass of ordinary people outside the US, feared that a Romney victory would make the world as a whole a more dangerous place.

Now, of course, the orthodox (and not-so-orthodox) Trotskyist position has always been that the Democrats are simply a bosses’ party (in a way, for instance, that the  UK Labour Party, being a “bourgeois workers’ party”, isn’t) and so a vote for them is impermissible. Instead, we should advocate the creation of a US ‘labor party’. The great American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon (of whom I am a considerable, though not uncritical, admirer), wrote extensively on this subject, and his articles repay study. Unfortunately, they are not readily available these days.

James P Cannon

James P. Cannon

Here’s an excerpt from a 1954 article entitled “A New Declaration of Independence”.  I had better explain that Cannon regarded McCarthyism as “American fascism in incipient form.” Whether or not he was correct about that (and, indeed, whether such an analysis of the Tea Party movement would be appropriate today), is not the central issue here.

Cannon argued that:

“[T]he myopic policy of the liberals and the labor leaders is concentrated on the congessional elections next fall, and the presidential election to follow in 1956. A Democratic victory is counted on to deal a death blow to the McCarthy aberration. ‘McCarthyism is becoming a danger all right, and it begins to look like a fascist movement; but all we need is a general mobilisation at the polls to put the Democrats back in power.’ Such are the arguments we already hear from the Democratic high command, the literary liberals, the labor leaders and — skulking in the rear of the caravan, with their tails between their legs — the Stalinists.

“This would really be laughable if humor were in place where deadly serious matters are concerned. The Roosevelt New Deal, under far more favourable conditions, couldn’t find a way to hold back the economic crisis without a war. A Stevensonian version of the same policy, under worse conditions, could only be expected to fail more miserably. A Democratic victory might arrest the hitherto unobstructed march of McCarthyism while it re-forms its ranks. It might even bring a temporary moderation of the fury of the witch-hunt. But that’s all.

“The fascist movement would probably begin to grow again with the growth of the crisis. It would probably take on an even more militant character, if it is pushed out of the administration and compelled to develop as an unofficial movement. Under conditions of a serious crisis, an unofficial  fascist movement would grow all the more stormily, to the extent that the labor movement would support the Democratic administration, and depend on it to restrain the fascists by police measures.

“Such a policy, as the experience of Italy and Germany has already shown, would only paralyze the active resitance of the workers themselves, while giving the fascist gangs a virtually free reign. Moreover, by remaining tied to the Democratic administration, the labor movement would take upon itself a large part of the responsibility for the economic crisis and feed the flames of fascist demagogy around the question.

“That would be something to see: The fascists howling about the crisis, and stirring up the hungry and desperate people with the most extravagent promises, while the labor leaders defend the administration. The official labor leaders are fully capable of such idiocy, as they demonstrated in the last presidential election. But with the best will in the world to help the democratic administration, they couldn’t maintain such a position very long.

“The workers will most probably accept the recommendation of the labor leaders to seek escape from the crisis by replacing Republican rascals by Democratic scoundrels in the next election. But when the latter become officially responsible for the administration, and prove powerless to cope with the crisis, the workers will certainly draw some conclusions from their unfortunate experiences. The deeper the crisis and the more brutal the fascist aggression fed by the crisis, the more insistent will be the demand for a radical change of policy and a more adequate leadership.

From all indications, the workers’ discontent will be concentrated, at first, in the demand for a labor party of their own. This will most probably be realized. It will not yet signify the victory over fascism — not by a long shot — but it will represent the beginning of a counter-movement which will have every chance to end in victory.”

I have to say that I find most of Cannon’s case unconvincing and (ironically for an outspoken anti-Stalinist) verging upon Third Period Stalinism. Just at a factual level, I don’t think it’s accurate to dismiss the New Deal as something that could not have succeeded without a war, or to suggest such a policy in the 1950’s was doomed to “fail miserably”. Certainly, Cannon produces no evidence to back up that claim. His argument against illusions in the Democrats and the dangers of being seen to defend a Democratic administration are fair enough, but do not amount to a coherent case against even voting for the Democratic Party – any more than the danger of sewing illusions in the UK Labour Party and giving uncritical support to a Labour government, are arguments against a Labour vote.

In fact Cannon, it seems to me, fundamentally undermines his own argument by concluding that workers’ discontent with a Democratic administration at that time would result in the demand for a labor party, which “will most probably be realised.” That would seem to be an argument in favour of getting the Democrats elected, not against it.

I have quoted Cannon’s argument at some length so as not to risk the charge of having taken him out of context. And I decided to quote Cannon in the first place because his writings on the US labor movement are generally of a high standard, and because his arguments are still, essentially, the arguments put forward by serious people who oppose a Democrat vote.

(NB: “A New Declaration of Independence” was published in The Militant of April 12 1954, republished in Notebook of an Agitator, pub: Pathfinder Press 1958 & 1973)

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Chávez: what would Trotsky say?

October 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm (AWL, capitalism, censorship, democracy, economics, history, imperialism, James P. Cannon, Jim D, Marxism, stalinism, trotskyism)

The Chávez victory in Venezuela’s presidential election last week, has been greeted with unbridled enthusiasm by some on the Stalinist-influenced left, and by a quiet gnashing of teeth and subdued wailing on the right. Others have taken a more nuanced view. There can be no denying that Chávez’s social programmes have brought real benefits to the poor. But the endemic corruption amongst the Chávista ruling elite, the lack of anything remotely resembling workers’ control of industry, Chávez’s unpleasant (but all too common amongst Stalinoid populists) penchant for antisemitism and some truly foul international alliances, mean that the regime cannot be considered ‘socialist’ except in the most debased and meaningless sense of the word. It is, perhaps, social democracy sui generis. The Chávez regime is also, quite clearly, what educated Marxists call ‘Bonapartist‘ (to be precise, in the case of Chávez, “petty-bourgeois-democratic Bonapartism“).

Some Trots are very keen on Chávez, others slightly less so. Some are very critical indeed. But what would the Old Man himself have had to say? Well, we don ‘t need to speculate. Between Januay 1937 and his assassination at the hands of a Stalinist agent in August 1940, Trotsky lived in Mexico under the government of Lazaro Cárdenas - a regime very similar to that of Chávez’s. To pre-empt one obvious question about Trotsky’s generally charitable assessment of the Cárdenas regime: yes, of course, Trotsky was dependent upon the Mexican government for his survival and wasn’t about to do or say anything to piss them off. But Trotsky’s undertaking to Cárdenas not to “intervene in the domestic or foreign politics of this country” also meant that he was under no obligation to praise the regime: he could simply have stayed schtum.

As it was, Trotsky ventured some praise for the Cárdenas regime – and also some friendly criticism. But the crucial point is that he never recognises or describes the regime as ‘socialist.’ On the contrary, he writes:“it is not our state and we must be independent of the state. In this sense we are not opposed to state capitalism in Mexico; but the first thing we demand is our own representation of workers before this state. We cannot permit the leaders of the trade unions to become functionaries of the state. To attempt to conquer the state in this way is absolute idiocy. It is not possible in this manner peacefully to conquer power. It is a petty bourgeois dream…”

The article below is adapted and modified by Jim Denham, from an unattributed piece on the Workers Liberty website:

Above: Trotsky thanking the Cárdenas government (accompanied by cockerels)

Trotsky had been expelled from the USSR by Stalin in 1929, and spent the rest of his life trying to find a country which would let him live in exile. He arrived in Mexico on 9 January 1937.

Thanks to the efforts of  Mexican Trotskyists, such as the renowned artist Diego Rivera, the Cárdenas government granted Trotsky asylum on the condition that he would not interfere in Mexico’s domestic affairs. Trotsky accepted this condition, in a statement on his arrival, promising “complete and absolute non-intervention in Mexican politics and no less complete abstention from actions that might prejudice the relations between Mexico and other countries”. (Writings 1936-37 p.86)

Trotsky was forced to break with the Mexican “Trotskyist” organisation, the LCI, after six months in the country, when the Mexican Trots (the LCI) issued a manifesto calling for “direct action” against the high cost of living, implying that workers should attack shops. Coming at the time of the Moscow trials and the attacks on Trotsky by the Stalinists in Mexico, this call by the LCI was particularly stupid. After Trotsky’s intervention, the LCI dissolved itself for the remainder of 1937.

Trotsky publicly supported Cárdenas’ expropriation of the oil industry. On 23 April 1938 he wrote to the Daily Herald in Britain, pointing to the hypocrisy of the British government and defending the nationalisation of oil of the grounds of national economic development and independence. He argued that the Labour Party should set up a commission to investigate how much of the “living sap of Mexico” had been “plundered” by British capital. (Writings 1937-38 p.324)

He also criticised some of his Mexican supporters. On 15 April 1938 Trotsky wrote to his closest collaborator, the US Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon: “Galicia, in the name of the revived League [LCI], published a manifesto in which he attacked Cárdenas for his policy of compensating the expropriated capitalists, and posted this manifesto principally on the walls of the Casa del Pueblo. This is the ‘policy’ of these people.” (Writings 1937-38 p.314)

Trotsky  characterised the oil expropriation as a matter of self-determination. He wrote: “Semi-colonial Mexico is fighting for its national independence, political and economic. This is the basic meaning of the Mexican revolution at this stage… expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.” (Writings 1937-38 p.359)

He compared “this courageous and progressive measure of the Mexican government” to the work of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the United States, adding that, “if Mexico should find itself forced to sell liquid gold to fascist countries, the responsibility for this act would fall fully and completely upon the governments of the imperialist ‘democracies’.” (ibid p.360)

He summed up his attitude thus: “Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defence.”

He reiterated his support, without losing sight of the character of the Mexican government: “The international proletariat has no reason to identify its programme with the programme of the Mexican government. Revolutionists have no need of changing colour, adapting themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working class organisation of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty-bound—to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings.” (Writings 1937-38 p.361)

A particularly important article of Trotsky’s, in the light of the current situation, is one on freedom of the press, which he published in the first issue of Clave magazine (October 1938).

In the summer of 1938 a Stalinist agent within the Cárdenas regime, Lombardo Toledano, began a campaign against the reactionary press in Mexico, intent on placing it under “democratic censorship” or banning it altogether. Trotsky was unequivocal in opposing this drive. He wrote: “Both theory and historical experience testify that any restriction of democracy in bourgeois society is, in the final analysis, invariably directed against the proletariat… Consequently, any working class ‘leader’ who arms the bourgeois state with special means for controlling public opinion in general and the press in particular is, precisely, a traitor.” (Writings 1937-38 p.417)

“Even though Mexico is a semi-colonial country, it is also a bourgeois state, and in no way a workers’ state. However, even from the standpoint of the interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat, banning bourgeois newspapers or censoring them does not in the least constitute a ‘programme’, or a ‘principle’ or an ideal set up. Measures of this kind can only be a temporary, unavoidable evil…

“It is essential to wage a relentless struggle against the reactionary press. But workers cannot let the repressive fist of the bourgeois state substitute for the struggle that they must wage through their own organisations and their own press… The most effective way to combat the bourgeois press is to expand the working class press… The Mexican proletariat has to have an honest newspaper to express its needs, defend its interests, broaden its horizon, and prepare the way for the socialist revolution in Mexico.” (ibid pp.418, 419-420)

Trotsky began to write about developments in the unions in mid-1938. Before a Stalinist-organised “Pan-American Trade Union Congress” in Mexico City in September 1938, which set up the Confederation of Latin American Workers (CTAL), he wrote (in the name of Diego Rivera) to denounce Toledano’s links with Stalin. He wrote that Toledano was “a ‘pure’ politician, foreign to the working class, and pursuing his own aims”. His ambition was “to climb to the Mexican presidency on the backs of the workers” and in pursuit if that aim had “closely intertwined his fate with the fate of the Kremlin oligarchy”. (Writings 1937-38 p.426)

His attitude seems to have hardened after the CTAL conference, when Trotskyists were excluded for their politics. He was also prompted by the increased attacks on him by the Stalinist bureaucrats in the unions. After Lombardo Toledano presented a dossier to the (Stalinist) Mexican trade union congress (CTM) in 1938, it voted “unanimously” for the expulsion of Trotsky from Mexico.

Then the August 1938 issue of the CTM magazine Futuro carried an attack on him by Lombardo, accusing him of organising a general strike against Cárdenas during the oil expropriations.

Trotsky distinguished between leaders and the unions: “Toledano of course will repeat that we are ‘attacking’ the CTM. No reasonable worker will believe this rubbish. The CTM, as a mass organisation, as a mass organisation, has every right to our respect and support. But just as the democratic state is not identical with its minister at any given time, so a trade union organisation is not identical with its secretary.” (Writings 1938-9, p.22)

Other attacks followed. The Mexican Communist Party (PCM) leader Hernan Laborde accused Trotsky of having links with General Cedillo (who had led an abortive coup against the government). The Stalinist agent Lombardo also claimed that Trotsky had met with fascists during a summer holiday trip. Trotsky’s response was to offer to participate in a public investigation into Lombardo’s charges.

Trotsky also sought to galvanise an opposition to the Stalinists, drafting a statement intended for publication. It stated: “[In Mexico] the unions, unfortunately, are directly dependent on the state” and “posts in the union bureaucracy are frequently filled from the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia, attorneys, engineers etc”.

He described the way these bureaucrats gave themselves a left cover by becoming “friends of the USSR”. He described how they kept control of the unions: “they ferociously trample on workers’ democracy and stifle any voice of criticism, acting as outright gangsters towards organisations that fight for the revolutionary independence of the proletariat from the bourgeois state and from foreign imperialism.” (Writings 1938-39 p.83)

Trotsky went further in November 1938, arguing that the trade unions in Mexico were “constitutionally statified”. He told his closest collaborators that, “they incorporate the workers, the trade unions, which are already stratified. They incorporate them in the management of the railroad, the oil industry, and so on, in order to transform the trade union leadership into government representatives… In that sense, when we say ‘the control of production by the workers’, it cannot mean control of production by the stratified bureaucrats of the trade unions, but control by the workers of their own bureaucracy and to fight for the independence of the trade unions from the state.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.791)

In Mexico, more than anywhere, the struggle against the bourgeoisie and the government consists above all in freeing the trade unions from dependence on the government… the class struggle in Mexico must be directed towards winning the independence of the trade unions from the bourgeois state.”

He made it clear that revolutionaries would continue to work in the unions, even though they were partially integrated into the Mexican state. (Writings 1938-39 p.146)

He criticised the Cárdenas government’s second six-year plan in March 1939 for a participation proposal which “threatens to incorporate a bureaucratic hierarchy of the unions etc, without precise delimitation, into the bureaucratic hierarchy of the state”. He went as far as to characterise the unions as “totalitarian”. (Writings 1938-39 p.222, p.227)

This advocacy of intervention in even the most reactionary unions remained in all Trotsky’s articles until the end of his life. For example Clave carried articles in 1940 on the first congress of the STERM teachers’ union and on the 7th national council of the CTM, both characterised by little democracy.

Trotsky made few remarks on the nature of the Mexican regime in the first eighteen months of his asylum, and when he did, these were brief allusions. For example in the article on the freedom of the press in August 1938 he described Mexico’s democracy as “anaemic”.

He argued that “a semi-democratic, semi-Bonapartist state… now exists in every country in Latin America, with inclinations towards the masses”, adding that, “in these semi-Bonapartistic-democratic governments the state needs the support of the peasants and through the weight of the peasants disciplines the workers. That is more or less the situation in Mexico”. (Writings supplement 1934-40, pp.784-785)

What did Trotsky mean by Bonapartism? He had employed the concept to understand the regime in Germany before Hitler and to describe the situation in France in the mid-1930s. He summed it up succinctly in March 1935: “By Bonapartism we mean a regime in which the economically dominant class, having the qualities necessary for democratic methods of government, finds itself compelled to tolerate – in order to preserve its possessions – the uncontrolled command of a military and police apparatus over it, of a crowned ‘saviour’. This kind of situation is created in periods when the class contradictions have become particularly acute; the aim of Bonapartism is to prevent explosions.” (Writings 1934-35 pp.206-07)

In his discussion with comrades in November 1938, he explained: “We see in Mexico and the other Latin American countries that they skipped over most stages of development. It began in Mexico directly by incorporating the trade unions in the state. In Mexico we have a double domination. That is, foreign capital and the national bourgeoisie, or as Diego Rivera formulated it, a ‘sub-bourgeoisie’ – a stratum which is controlled by foreign capital and at the same time opposed to the workers; in Mexico a semi-Bonapartist regime between foreign capital and national capital, foreign capital and the workers… They create a state capitalism which has nothing to do with socialism. It is the purest form of state capitalism.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, pp.790-791)

Discussing the ruling party’s second six year plan in March 1939 (which had been endorsed by the CTM) Trotsky described how “the government defends the vital resources of the country, but at the same time it can grant industrial concessions, above all in the form of mixed corporations, i.e. enterprises in which the government participates (holding 10%, 25%, 51% of the stock, according to the circumstances) and writes into the contracts the option of buying out the rest after a certain period of time”.

Summing up he wrote: “The authors of the programme [i.e. the plan] wish to completely construct state capitalism within a period of six years. But nationalisation of existing enterprises is one thing; creating new ones is another… The country we repeat is poor. Under such conditions it would be almost suicidal to close the doors to foreign capital. To construct state capitalism, capital is necessary.” (Writings 1938-39 pp.226-227)

Trotsky never equivocated on the nature of the ruling party, including the character of the PRM (the “Mexican Revolutionary Party” created by Cárdenas). In his discussion with comrades in November 1938 he argued: “The Guomindang in China, the PRM in Mexico, and the APRA in Peru are very similar organisations. It is a people’s front in the form of a party… our organisation does not participate in the APRA, Guomindang, or PRM, that it preserves absolute freedom of action and criticism.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.785)

At the beginning of 1939, prospective candidates in the PRM resigned their posts and began to campaign for the presidency, which would take place in July 1940.

At the outset the candidates were Francisco Mujica on the “left”, Manuel Ávila Camacho in the centre and Juan Andreu Almazán on the right. The PCM and Lombardo threw their support behind Ávila Camacho, calling for “unity behind the only candidate that can defeat reaction”.

Trotsky condemned the support for Ávila Camacho offered by the CGT, and wrote: “At the present time there is no workers party, no trade union that is in the process of developing independent class politics and that is able to launch an independent candidate. Under these conditions, our only possible course of action is to limit ourselves to Marxist propaganda and to the preparation of a future independent party of the Mexican proletariat.” (Writings 1938-39 p.176)

Later he registered his attitude toward Diego Rivera, who had broken with the (Trotskyist) Fourth International and briefly supported Mujica. Trotsky wrote: “You can imagine how astonished I was when Van accidentally met the painter [Rivera], in company with Hidalgo, leaving the building of the Pro-Mujica Committee carrying bundles of pro-Mujica leaflets which they were loading into the painter’s station wagon. I believe that was the first we learned of the new turn, or the passing of the painter from ‘third period anarchism’ to ‘people’s front politics’. The poor Casa del Pueblo followed him on all these steps.” (Writings 1938-39 p.293).

Despite Mexico’s relative economic backwardness in the 1930s, Trotsky did not rule out the possibility that its workers might seize power – even before their counterparts in the US. (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.785) However he was concerned about a mechanical interpretation of permanent revolution as applied to Mexico by some of the LCI.

The Fourth International will defend… [Mexico] against imperialist intervention… But as the Mexican section of the Fourth International, it is not our state and we must be independent of the state. In this sense we are not opposed to state capitalism in Mexico; but the first thing we demand is our own representation of workers before this state. We cannot permit the leaders of the trade unions to become functionaries of the state. To attempt to conquer the state in this way is absolute idiocy. It is not possible in this manner peacefully to conquer power. It is a petty bourgeois dream…

I believe we must fight with the greatest energy this idea that the state can be seized by stealing bits of the power. It is the history of the Guomindang. In Mexico the power is in the hands of the national bourgeoisie, and we can conquer power only by conquering the majority of the workers and a great part of the peasantry, and then overthrowing the bourgeoisie. There is no other possibility.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.792, p.793).

Trotsky’s evaluation of developments in Mexico went through a series of stages and modifications, as the battle between the state and the working class was played out. In the last eighteen months of his life, in discussions with Mexican socialists, he further clarified his views on the nature of the regime and the ruling party, its relationship to the unions and on workers’ administration.

The first collaboration of note was with Francisco Zamora, a member of the editorial board of Clave who had also sat on the Dewey Commission. He was a professor of economics at the National University of Mexico and a member of the first committee of the CTM. Between October 1938 and May 1939 Zamora published a series of articles in the magazine Hoy, which contain some ideas influenced by Trotsky.

Zamora criticised the CTM and CGT leaders and pointed to how their bourgeois politics had accommodated with the Mexican state. He argued that the Mexican revolution, particularly in its agrarian relations, was unfinished. However he predicted that Ávila Camacho would not continue the work of Cárdenas, but rather destroy it.

Zamora also discussed the way the state represented the interests of the dominant class, although during periods of stalemate allowed the state “a certain momentary independence” – alluding to the idea of Bonapartism.

Around the same time Trotsky held discussions with the Mexican Marxist Octavio Fernández on the nature of the Mexican revolution. Between February and April 1939, Fernández published three articles in Clave with a wealth of statistical material dealing concretely with the Mexican social formation and in particular with the peasantry and the working class.

Fernández distinguished between the military-police form of Bonapartism of the Calles period and the “petty-bourgeois-democratic Bonapartism” of Cárdenas. He also argued that the expropriation of the oil industry was made possible by the international crisis of relations between the imperialist powers. He believed that further expropriations were unlikely as long as a bourgeois government was in power in Mexico. He nevertheless urged workers to push the nationalisations as far as possible, to press the government not to pay compensation, to set up control committees in factories and for price control committees. (León Trotsky, Escritos Latinamericanos 1999 pp.233-234)

In a later article in Clave, ‘Qué ha sido y adónde va la revolución mexicana’ (November-December 1939), Fernández warned that in Mexico, everyone was a “revolutionary” and for “the revolution”. This was because the Mexican revolution (1910-20) was “aborted”, in the sense of an unfinished bourgeois revolution – but in a country where the working class was increasingly becoming an independent factor.

Probably Trotsky’s most important discussion took place with Rodrigo García Treviño, an official at the CTM. Following the exchange, Trotsky wrote a paper on whether revolutionaries should participate in the workers’ administration established in the nationalised rail and oil industries (reprinted here). The key passage is this:

“The nationalization of railways and oil fields in Mexico has of course nothing in common with socialism. It is a measure of state capitalism in a backward country which in this way seeks to defend itself on the one hand against foreign imperialism and on the other against its own proletariat. The management of railways, oil fields, etcetera, through labor organizations has nothing in common with workers’ control over industry, for in the essence of the matter the management is effected through the labor bureaucracy which is independent of the workers, but in return, completely dependent on the bourgeois state. This measure on the part of the ruling class pursues the aim of disciplining the working class, making it more industrious in the service of the common interests of the state, which appear on the surface to merge with the interests of the working class itself. As a matter of fact, the whole task of the bourgeoisie consists in liquidating the trade unions as organs of the class struggle and substituting in their place the trade union bureaucracy as the organ of the leadership over the workers by the bourgeois state. In these conditions, the task of the revolutionary vanguard is to conduct a struggle for the complete independence of the trade unions and for the introduction of actual workers’ control over the present union bureaucracy, which has been turned into the administration of railways, oil enterprises and so on.”

García Treviño wrote an article quoting (anonymously) passages from Trotsky’s document – including on Bonapartism sui generis and the concluding emphasis on the need for a revolutionary party. He praised the workers’ administration as just as efficient as under the previous management — for example by centralising production — and rejecting the hostility of the Stalinists towards it.

But he pointed out that in the rail industry, workers had also been saddled with the old debts of the company. He criticised the form of control because it could not break out of the laws of the bourgeois economy, the firm was bankrupt and because compensation was paid. He said that although workers had a bigger say in the industries, the state remained in control and pointed out that cooperatives could be a “cruel and merciless” form of exploitation of the working class.

Trotsky was unable to add much over the next year. The world was sucked into another global war and as hostilities began, a huge faction fight took place in the Trotskyist organisation in the United States, the SWP. On top of that, the Stalinists in Mexico stepped up their attacks on Trotsky’s asylum and prepared the ground for the GPU assassins to do their work.

For example PCM leader Laborde accused Trotsky of involvement in a rail crash in its paper La Voz de Mexico in April 1939. Lombardo’s press, including Futuro magazine and the daily paper El Popular slandered him during the early months on 1940. Trotsky again proposed a public commission of investigation of the charges.

On 24 May 1940 a serious attempt was made to murder Trotsky, with the Stalinist painter David Siqueiros leading an armed assault on his house at night.

Accused of slandering the Stalinists, Trotsky offered to take the matter to court. He identified the role of the GPU, which had begun making plans to kill him from April 1939. These plans were stepped up by Vittorio Cordovilla, a Stalinist agent who arrived in Mexico in late 1939 and organised a purge of the party (including its leaders Laborde and Campa) for not prosecuting the anti-Trotsky campaign hard enough. Within months of this intervention, Trotsky’s life was ended by a Stalinist ice axe to the head.

On Trotsky’s desk at the time of his death was an unfinished manuscript from April 1940 on the trade unions, with a valuable assessment of the relationship between the state and the working class in Mexico and similar countries. Entitled Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, it once more characterised the Cárdenas regime as Bonapartist.

Trotsky also distinguished between different forms of Bonapartism, with some leaning “in a democratic direction, seeking support among workers and peasants”, while others “install a form close to military-police dictatorship”.

He criticised the nationalisation of the railways and oil fields as aimed simultaneously at foreign capital and the workers – and registered that these industries were run by the union bureaucracy for the bourgeois state.

Trotsky also repeated his assessment that the Mexican trade unions had been transformed into semi-state institutions – but maintained that Marxists still had the possibility of working inside them. But he emphasised the need for workers’ organisations to assert their own independent politics, from the state and the labour bureaucracy, and to fight for trade union democracy.

One thing is clear from comparing Mexico in the late 1930s with the situation today (especially in Venezuela), and that is that Mexico’s history anticipated present political issues of strategy and tactics in almost every case — the nationalisations, workers’ participation, coup attempts, union splits, the press, the creation of a ruling party etc, — as part of the creation of a Bonapartist regime. And in almost every case, Trotsky set out a clear position for how Marxists would navigate in these circumstances.

Of course, we cannot read off mechanically from the past what to say and do in the present. For one thing, Venezuela and Mexico today are much more industrially developed than in Trotsky’s time, and the form of domination by the US is different today than it was in the 1930s. And the Venezuelan UNT trade union federation is not today incorporated in the state but is an independent movement with some militant and longstanding rank and file forces.

But our tradition is an anchor – it demands a critical stance. Other Marxists, including Trotskyists in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, have used Trotsky’s comments to develop their analysis of the Mexican regime in terms of Bonapartism – and applied to to other cases, such as Peron in Argentina and Velasco in Peru. Events in Venezuela under Chávez should be assessed on their own terms: but much can be learned from the attitude that Trotsky took to comparable developments.

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That Chisora-Haye brawl: time to ban boxing

February 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm (capitalism, celebrity, James P. Cannon, Jim D, sport, thuggery, trotskyism)

It’s difficult to disagree with the Graun‘s boxing correspondent Kevin Mitchell when he writes  about the brawl that followed Dereck Chisora’s fight with Vitali Klitschko in Germany on Saturday:

Dereck Chisora and David Haye live in the Land Of No Consequences. It is a strange place, peopled by cosseted individuals who refuse to live by the rules the rest of us take for granted. They have for neighbours footballers, politicians, various Z-listers, singers and wannabes waiting for a next headline.

“But Chisora and Haye are different from all of those. They trade in life-threatening skills. They are trained to inflict damage and do so willingly and for lots of money. They left their innocence at the door a long time ago and they have responsibilities to themselves and each other to help preserve the little dignity professional boxing has left.

“None of that, of course, entered their tiny minds in Munich in the early hours of Sunday morning.

“When these two men-children confronted one another with violent intent in a press conference at the Olympiahalle, less than an hour after Chisora’s sanctioned brawl with Vitali Klitschko, they knew exactly what they were doing.”

Of course these two morons knew what they were doing and fully deserve whatever penalties the British Boxing Board of Control decides to impose. You’re even less inclined to sympathise with either,  on learning that in November 2010 Chisora received a suspended sentence for assaulting a former girlfriend, and has various other public-order convictions including possession of an offensive weapon. Haye surely knew this when he gate-crashed Chisora’s press conference in order to bait him.

But look at the video above and read the transcription of what was said at the press conference: it is quite clear that Bernd Boente (Klischko’s manager) and Frank Warren (Chisora’s manager) both helped provoke the confrontation. Warren even proposes a Chisora-Haye match – something that will now be all but inevitable due to public demand. For the record, I do not believe that the entire fracas was a cynical, pre-planned piece of theatre designed to boost a future Chisora v Haye bout – but that will be the effect and I doubt that Frank Warren is too upset about it.

Professional boxing has always been a “sport” for working class young men (often ethnic minorities) seeking fame and fortune: a very few achieve it, and even then, usually at a terrible price. In today’s pop-culture, characterised by over-paid footballers, X-Factor singers and famous-for-being-famous “celebrities,” the fight game probably looks more attractive than ever to poor black boys. But it remains what it always was: two men in a ring, put there by forces they don’t understand, in order to inflict brain damage on each other.

The hype and pre-and post-match theatricals are a necessary adjunct of the “sport” and Saturday’s performance was not especially unusual. Several commentators (including Kevin Mitchell) have suggested that the saintly Muhammed Ali would never have behaved in such a fashion. Oh no? What about his 1963 disruption of Sonny Liston’s victory over Floyd Patterson – a performance that in many ways presaged Haye’s on Saturday? Or his crude and cruel baiting of Patterson and also Joe Frazier, both of whom were and deeply and lastingly hurt by Ali’s taunts? (Ali’s record of hyped-up baiting and brawling is well described here).

Kevin Mitchell argues that “Boxing was not to blame for what happened in that room early on Sunday morning; Chisora, Haye and all those indulged by them were culpable.”

I beg to differ: shameful as the two main protagonists’ behaviour was, it was part-and-parcel of the fight “game” and, in fact, a lot less nasty and dangerous than what routinely happens in the ring itself. The great American Trotskyist James P. Cannon wrote powerfully and movingly about professional boxing, and his observations remain as true today as when he wrote them in 1951, in the aftermath of welter-weight Georgie Flores’ death from injuries sustained in the ring at Madison Square Garden:

“It is a commentary on the times and the social environment out of which the boxing business rises like a poisonous flower from a dunghill, that nobody came forward with the simple demand to out-law prize fighting, as it was outlawed in most states of this country up till the turn of the century. Cock-fighting is illegal; it is considered inhumane to put a couple of roosters into a pit and incite them to spur each other until one of them keels over. It is also against the law to put bulldogs into the pit to fight for a side bet. But our civilisation -which is on the march, to be sure – has not yet advanced to the point where the law and public opinion forbid men, who have nothing against each other, to fight for money and the amusement of paying spectators.  Such spectacles are part of our highly touted way of life.”

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James P. Cannon on Jesus

December 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm (Christianity, James P. Cannon, Jim D, trotskyism, unions, United States)

What follows is from The Militant, paper of  the American SWP (nothing to do with the Brit organisation of the same name)  of April 26, 1947*. I’m never sure about attempts to claim Jesus for the left, but this is a good effort, written with panache and brimming with righteous anger:

What Do They Know About Jesus?

By James P. Cannon

Did you see what I saw in the paper this morning? Thursday, April 17? It took the taste out of my breakfast. The Wall Street money-sharks, pressing their anti-labor drive on all fronts, now claim they have lined up God and Jesus Christ for the open shop. The New York Times reports: “Six hundred thirty-seven clergymen attached to various Protestant churches have joined in attacking the closed shop as a violation of basic teachings of the Bible, the American Council of Christian Churches, 15 Park Row, announced today.”

What do you know about that? And how do you think it happened? I wasn’t present when the deal was cooked up, but knowing whom these theological bunk-shooters serve and from whom they gets their orders, I can visualize the proceedings and tell how it happened, in essence if not in precise detail.

The top profit-hogs very probably had a meeting of their board of stategy down in Wall Street the other day and counted up the forces they had mobilized in the grand crusade to break up the unions and beat down the workers who are trying so desperately to make their wages catch up with the increasing cost of living. They checked off Congress, both the House and the Senate. They checked off the President and the courts. They checked off the daily  newspapers, from one end of the country to the other, and found a 100 percent score on that front. Then they called the roll of radio commentators, and made a note to put pressure for the firing  of the remaining two or three half-liberal “news analysts” on the air who are not going along 100 per cent.

On the whole their situation looked pretty good, but they had to acknowledge to themselves that public opinion is not yet responding to the union-busting program with any great enthusiasm. Then one of the union-busters — most probably one of their “idea-men” — got a bright idea.  “Let’s send someone around the corner to the American Council of Christian Churches at 15 Park Row”, he said, “and tell them to start singing for their supper. Tell them to put God in the statement, and be sure to ring in Jesus Christ.”

No sooner said than done  — but good. Now comes the public statement signed by 637 clerical finks who state that the closed shop (they mean the union shop) violates freedom of conscience and the Eight Commandement, “Thou shalt not steal”. They appeal to Christ on the ground that the union shop violates “the individual’s responsibility to God” and obliges Christain men to be “yoked together with unbelievers”. This, they say is wrong and not according to Jesus.

Well, I feel like saying to these strikebreaking sky-pilots what Carl Sandberg once said to an anti-labour evangelist 30 years ago: “Here you come tearing your shirt, yelling about Jesus. I want to know what in the hell you know about Jesus.” I don’t know too much myself, but if the only accounts of him we have are true, they called him “the Carpenter”; and he  once took a whip and drove the money-lenders out of the temple. “Ye have made it a den of thieves”, he shouted, in white-hot anger.

And what have you done, you 637 fake-pious pulpit pounders who serve the moneyed interests against the people? You have made it a den of theives and liars too. You have the gall to represent the lowly Nazerene as a scab-herder; and to tell the Christian workers, who revere Him as the friend and associate of the publicans and sinners, of all the poor and the lowly, that they should not be “yoked together with unbelievers” in a union to protect their common interests. That’s a lie and a defamation. You’re simply trying to serve the rich against the poor, to help the rich in their campaign to break up the unions, which are the only protection the poor people have.

And don’t try to fool anybody with the statement that you are in favor of unions “properly conducted” — under open-shop conditions. We know what you mean by this mealy-mouthed formulation. Such unions, as Mr. Dooley once said, are unions which have no strikes, no dues and very few members.

And leave Jesus out of your lying propaganda, you scribes and pharisees, full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Every time you mention His name you libel Him, regardless of whether the story of His life and death be taken as literal truth or legend. The Carpenter of Nazareth has been badly misrepresented in many ways for many years, but your attempt to pass Him off as a union-buster goes just a little bit too far. It is just about the dirtiest trick that has ever been played on Jesus Christ since the crucifiction.

*Republished in ‘Notebook Of An Agitator’, Pathfinder Press, 1958 and 1973.

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Smokin’ Joe Frazier: another sad victim of this “sport”

November 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm (James P. Cannon, Jim D, sport, Uncategorized, United States)

Joe Frazier beats Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1971

Above: Joe Frazier beats Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1971.
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A moving tribute at the the Guardian Sports Blog:

“Both [Frazier and Ali] were subsequently reduced to peddling their past, with contrasting success. A preserved cigarette the then Cassius Clay signed for boxing historian Hank Kaplan in the Fifth Street gym in Miami in 1961, went for $1,900 at auction many years later; some of his shorts and robes have brought bids of $40,000. At the International Boxing Hall of Fame convention in upstate New York in 2000, Frazier was charging schoolboys $50 for his autograph on a glove…

“Frazier is leaving us in reduced circumstances, a tale as familiar as it is sad and, surely, avoidable. He is embraced for the heroics that made him Smokin’ Joe, an uncomplicated fighting man, naive perhaps, but dignified and honest.”

The tragic end of ‘Smokin’ Joe’, and so many other pro boxers (including even Ali), reduced to shambling, semi-coherent shells by repeated blows to the head in the name of “sport,” should make professional boxing anathema to the left. Tragically, it doesn’t, as any reader of the Morning Star (which covers boxing in loving detail) will know.

One of the few socialists to roundly denounce this barbaric “sport” and call for its banning, was the American Trotskyist James P. Cannon. Here he is, writing (in ‘A Dead Man’s Decison’ published in the US SWP’s paper The Militant, Sept 24, 1951), in the wake of the death in the ring at Madison Square Garden, of Georgie Flores:

It is a commentary on the times and the social environment out of which the boxing business rises like a poisonous flower from a dunghill, that nobody came forward with the simple demand to out-law prize fighting, as it was outlawed in most states of this country up till the turn of the century. Cock-fighting is illegal; it is considered inhumane to put a couple of roosters into a pit and incite them to spur each other until one of them keels over. It is also against the law to put bulldogs into the pit to fight for a side bet. But our civilisation -which is on the march, to be sure – has not yet advanced to the point where the law and public opinion forbid men, who have nothing against each other, to fight for money and the amusement of paying spectators… Such spectacles are part of our highly touted way of life…

…The [safety] precautions, which are supposed to take care of everything, in reality take care of nothing. When you get inside those ropes your head is a target for self-propelled missiles known as fists, and there is no way of  making that safe. As the soldier said, when he was asked why he ran away from the front lines: “You can get hurt up there.” Blows to the head never  did anybody any good. And if anybody ever got any fun out of it, he hasn’t been heard from yet. The “sport” in prize fighting is strictly for the spectators and the managers and promoters.

The incomparable Joe Louis himself testified to this in a notable statement at a newsreeled press conference, when he renounced his title to turn promoter. A reporter asked:”‘Which do you think you like best, Joe, fighting or promoting?”

Joe, a man of few words, answered: “I like promotin’.”

“Why is that, can you explain it?”

“Sure,” said Joe. “They can’t hit you when you’re promotin’.”

Those words belong in the book of Proverbs.

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Chilean miners rescue: !ES UN MILAGRO!

October 13, 2010 at 12:55 am (James P. Cannon, Jim D, socialism, solidarity, trotskyism, workers)

“Es un Milagro!” is -quite inderstandably – the shout of friends and families of the trapped Chilean miners as rescue becomes a reality. And – yes – it is a “miracle”, but not in the supernatural sense. It’s a “miracle” only in the sense that this is what human beings, freed from the constraints of profit and the dog-eat-dog rules of capitalism, will do for each other, given the opportunity. Socialism is predicated on a belief in human solidarity and the fundamental goodness of human nature. Episodes like the Chilean miners’ rescue have borne out our faith in the capacity of ordinary working class people for human solidarity, time and time again.

The heroic efforts of the rescuers and the solidarity of the miners themselves put me in mind of the US Trotskyist James P. Cannon’s 1951 essay,To the Men Who Gave Their Skin. This was a true story gleaned from a report in the New York Herald Tribune about how the victim of a terrible industrial accident, suffering from burns over 70 percent of his body and given three days to live, was saved as a result of  fellow workers who gave skin grafts : “This was the skin that made the difference, ” wrote Cannon:“the skin of co-workers taken off their own bodies twice in 8-by-4 slabs for the benefit of another whom some of them at first didn’t even know. They merely knew that he was hurt and needed help, and they gave it.” 

The rest of Cannon’s piece could have been written today (apart, perhaps from his use of “man” and “his” throughout and his reference to William Faulkner rather than Liu Xiaobo), about the San Jose mine rescue operation:

“What better story can a man read these days for the good of his soul and his faith in the future than a true story like this: true as a factual report of something that really happened and no less true as a representation of the deep and indestructible impulse of people, given a fair chance, to cooperate with each other and to help each other unselfishly? All those who hope for a better world are bound to believe that this is the real nature of people, which will assert itself in spite of everything and become a mighty power to change the world and make it a better and fairer place for everybody.

“All the great leaders and teachers of our socialist movement have firmly held this faith in the people: and we must hold it too, if we are to be true to their heritage and worthy of the mission we have undertaken. In a time of doubt and fear this faith in people is the light to steer by. William Faulkner spoke with profound insight in his Stockholm speech, when he said: ‘Man will not only endure: he will prevail.’ For that utterance alone he deserved the Nobel prize.

“The class society of the present day, founded on fraud and deception, puts great emphasis on competition and rivalry and acquisitiveness and brutal disregard of the rights and lives of others – even mass killers are lauded as heroes: and the holy office of science is prostituted to destructive ends. But human nature as it really is at bottom, and as it will finally assert itself and prevail, speaks out for co-operation and solidarity, as the men who helped…demonstrated with the beautiful simplicity of action.

“I’ve been around and seen a lot, and I know very well that this jungle of a class society we live in is full of the tricks and dodges and angles of the self-seeking, and loaded with traps and deadfalls for the trusting. But I know, too, that this is not the whole story, or even half of it. The great majority of people everywhere want to live honestly and help each other. The friendly (Chilean rescuers) are shining examples of this majority.

“When it comes to choosing representatives of the human race as it wants to be and will be, I’ll put my chips down on the likes of these people who will give (so much time, effort and personal risk) for a friend, or for a co-worker who may not be a friend or even an acquaintance, but just a man and therefore a brother.

“They are the heralds of the future and represent its spirit, the spirit of socialist cooperation, whether they know it or not. They and others like them, harnessing their natural impulses to social goals, will do away with the social system which distorts and cripples human nature. They will change the world and make it fit for all people and all nations to live together in peace and fraternity.

“It’s coming yet for a’ that, as Robert Burns affirmed. ‘Then Man to Man, the world o’er shall brothers be for a’ that.’ And there’s going to be a great day.”

Graffiti in the Basque Country: James P. Canno... Image via Wikipedia (h/t: Poumista)

!FUERZA MINEROS!

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