August was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the murder of Leon Trotsky by an agent of the Stalinist USSR’s secret police (remembered by his grandson, here). Workers’ Liberty is publishing a second volume of documents from the movement which kept alive and developed the revolutionary socialist politics Trotsky fought for. Just before Trotsky’s death, the American Trotskyist organisation split after a dispute triggered by Stalin’s invasion of Poland. The majority was led by James P Cannon, the minority by Max Shachtman. Shachtman’s “heterodox” side, would later repudiate Trotksy’s analysis of Russia as a “degenerated workers’ state”; but that was not their view at the time of the split. Cannon’s “orthodox” side continued to hold onto the degenerated workers’ state position and from that would flow many political errors. This extract from the introduction to The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism by Sean Matgamna, puts the record of the two sides into perspective:
Above: Shachtman and Cannon, on the same side in 1934
The honest critic of the Trotskyist movement — of both the Cannon and Shachtman segments of it, which are intertwined in their history and in their politics — must remind himself and the reader that those criticised must be seen in the framework of the movement as a whole. Even those who were most mistaken most of the time were more than the sum of their mistakes, and some of them a great deal more.
The US Trotskyists, Shachtmanites and Cannonites alike, mobilised 50,000 people in New York in 1939 to stop fascists marching into Jewish neighbourhoods of that city. When some idea of the extent of the Holocaust became public, the Orthodox responded vigorously (and the Heterodox would have concurred): “Anger against Hitler and sympathy for the Jewish people are not enough. Every worker must do what he can to aid and protect the Jews from those who hunt them down. The Allied ruling classes, while making capital of Hitler’s treatment of the Jews for their war propaganda, discuss and deliberation on this question endlessly. The workers in the Allied countries must raise the demand: Give immediate refuge to the Jews… Quotas, immigration laws, visa — these must be cast aside. Open the doors of refuge to those who otherwise face extermination” (Statement of the Fourth International, The Militant, 3 April 1943).
We, the Orthodox — the writer was one of them — identified with the exploited and oppressed and sided with them and with the labour movements of which we ourselves were part; with people struggling for national independence; with the black victims of zoological racism. We took sides always with the exploited and oppressed.
To those we reached we brought the basic Marxist account of class society in history and of the capitalist society in which we live. We criticised, condemned, and organised against Stalinism. Even at the least adequate, the Orthodox Trotskyists generally put forward proposals that in sum meant a radical transformation of Stalinist society, a revolution against Stalinism. Always and everywhere the Orthodox Trotskyists fought chauvinism. When some got lost politically, as they sometimes did and do, it was usually because of a too blandly negative zeal for things that “in themselves” were good, such as anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. We mobilised political and practical support for movements of colonial revolt.
French Trotskyists, living in a world gone crazy with chauvinism of every kind, set out to win over and organise German soldiers occupying France. They produced a newspaper aimed at German worker-soldiers: some twenty French Trotskyists and German soldier sympathisers lost their lives when the Nazis suppressed it. The Orthodox Trotskyists even kept some elements of feminism alive in a world in which it was long eclipsed: Michel Pablo, in a French jail for helping the Algerians in their war of independence, applied himself to studying and writing about “the woman question”. Large numbers of people shared the view of the Trotskyists on specific questions and worked with them or in parallel to them. The Trotskyists alone presented and argued for a whole world outlook that challenged the outlook of the capitalist and Stalinist ruling classes. We embodied the great truths of Marxism in a world where they had been bricked up alive by Stalinism. We kept fundamental texts of anti-Stalinist Marxism in circulation.
Read the accounts of the day to day mistreatment of black people in the USA in the mid 20th century – Jim Crow in the South, where blacks had been slaves, segregation in the North, all-pervasive humiliations, exclusions, beatings, burnings, mob lynchings, the systematic ill-treatment of children as of grown-up black people. Work through even a little of that terrible story and you run the risk of despairing of the human race. The Trotskyists, challenging Jim Crow, championing and defending the victims of injustice, showed what they were. To have been less would have been despicable. That does not subtract from the merits of those who did what was right and necessary, when most people did not
James P Cannon and Max Shachtman, the main representatives of the two currents of Trotskyism, were, in my judgement, heroes, both of them. Cannon, when almost all of his generation of Communist International leaders had gone down to Stalinism or over to the bourgeoisie, remained what he was in his youth, a fighter for working-class emancipation.
I make no excuses for the traits and deeds of Cannon which are shown in a bad light in this volume. It is necessary to make and keep an honest history of our own movement if we are to learn from it. After Trotsky’s death Cannon found himself, and fought to remain, the central leader of the Trotskyist movement, a job which, as the Heterodox said, he was badly equipped politically to do. He did the best he could, in a world that had turned murderously hostile to the politics he worked for and the goals he fought to achieve. More than once he must have reminded himself of the old lines, “The times are out of joint/O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”. James P Cannon remained faithful to the working class and to revolutionary socialism. Such a book as his History of American Trotskyism cannot be taken as full or authoritative history, but it has value as what Gramsci called a “living book”: “not a systematic treatment, but a ‘living’ book, in which political ideology and political science are fused in the dramatic form of a ‘myth’.”
Socialists today can learn much from both Shachtman and Cannon. In his last decade (he died in 1972), Max Shachtman followed the US trade unions into conventional politics and dirty Democratic Party politicking. He took up a relationship to US capitalism paralleling that of the Cannonites to Stalinism of different sorts and at different times. Politically that was suicidal. Those who, again and again, took similar attitudes to one Stalinism or another have no right to sneer and denounce. Shachtman got lost politically at the end of the 1950s; the Cannonites got lost politically, in relation to Stalinism, twenty years earlier! When Trotsky in 1939-40, living under tremendous personal strain, reached a crossroads in his political life and fumbled and stumbled politically, Max Shachtman, who had tremendous and lasting regard for Trotsky and a strong loyalty to what he stood for, had the integrity and spirit to fight him and those who — Cannon and his comrades in the first place — were starting on a course that would warp and distort and in serious part destroy their politics in the decade ahead and long after.
The Prometheus myth has been popular amongst socialists, supplying names for organisations and newspapers. As punishment for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind, the Titan Prometheus is chained forever to a rock in the Caucasian mountains and vultures eternally rip at his liver. Shachtman picked up the proletarian fire Trotsky had for a moment fumbled with and carried it forward. Generations of mockery, obloquy, misrepresentation, and odium where it was not deserved, have been his punishment for having been right against Trotsky and Cannon.
This book is intended as a contribution to the work of those who strive to refurbish and renew the movement that in their own way both James P Cannon and Max Shachtman tried to serve, and served.
You can order a copy of the book here
By Paul Canning (also posted at the author’s blog)
Type ‘fascist Ukraine’ into Google and the first dozens of results all refer to the Ukrainian government and those forces fighting the Donbas separatists.
You will be hard pressed to find any references to the presence of fascists in Russia’s hybrid army in Ukraine. Ones like those pictured above in an astonishing piece of detective work by Dajey Petros.
Petros is a Dutch blogger who has been doing great work using similar tools to those employed by Eliot Higgins’ Bellingcat. Taking content from social media and using various tools to tell a story from it – like the story of the Russian missile which shot down the Malaysian Boeing.
Far right and fascist groups both in Russia and throughout Europe are backing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ (DPR/LPR) in word and deed. They are raising money for them, despite the sanctions. They hold mass rallies and other events. They send representatives to the Donbas to endorse the ‘Republics’. And they send Russians – and sometimes other Europeans – to join the fighting. All with the tacit approval of the Kremlin.
That approval was most sharply on display in March when Europe and Russia’s far right groups came together in a conference in St Petersberg. It was organised by the Rodina party whose leader is a Russian Deputy Prime Minister.
The event’s star was Alexei Milchakov, the leader of the ‘Rusich’ group of rebel fighters. Milchakov is infamous for photographs of him with a Nazi flag and a puppy he had allegedly killed. He has also posed in front of the dead bodies of Ukrainian soldiers.
Naming the separatist fascists
Many fascists were involved in setting up the DPR/LPR, such as Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed first ‘People’s Governor of Donetsk’. His press secretary, Aleksander Kriakov, was described by Donetsk city Chief Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski as “the most famous anti-Semite in the region.”
When separatists took over TV broadcasting towers last year they boasted that:
Here, from Sloviansk, we are inflicting a powerful information conceptual blow to the biblical matrix … to Zionist zombie broadcasting.
They then presented a lecture by former Russian Conceptual Party Unity leader Konstantin Petrov, who the European Association for Jewish Culture (EAJC) describe as a “anti-Semitic neo-pagan national-Stalinist sect.”
In March last year Josip Zisels, Chair of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities in Ukraine, noted that pro-Russian organisations’ websites “have published many anti-Semitic materials which were meant to instigate hatred against the Maidan as being allegedly inspired by the Jews.”
Former DPR Prime Minister Aleksandr Borodai was a writer for the Russian fascist newspaper Zavtra. He opened the DPR’s first foreign ‘consulate’ on the premises of the Moscow branch of the Eurasian Youth Union (EYU), the youth wing of the Eurasia Party, headed by fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. Dugin has openly called for genocide against Ukrainians.
Another prominent Russian fascist in the Donbas is Gennadiy Dubovoy, whose colleagues are shown at the top and immediately above, participating in some sort of bizarre Nazi ritual. (See lots more whacky photos.)
Participating in the ritual are several women and one is Yuli Kharlamova, a presenter on the Russian TV channel ANNA- News and an FSB (Russian security services) agent. Read the rest of this entry »
The first nuclear bomb killed 100,000 people and razed two-thirds of the city of Hiroshima
The leading American Trotskyist, James P Cannon spoke at a memorial meeting in New York for Leon Trotsky on 22 August 1945. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just taken place (August 6 and 9), and Cannon used the occasion to express his outrage at the atrocity:
What a commentary on the real nature of capitalism in its decadent phase is this, that the scientific conquest of the marvellous secret of atomic energy, which might rationally be used to lighten the burdens of all mankind, is employed first for the wholesale destruction of half a million people.
Hiroshima, the first target, had a population of 340,000 people. Nagasaki, the second target, had a population of 253,000 people. A total in the two cities of approximately 600,000 people, in cities of flimsy construction where, as reporters explain, the houses were built roof against roof. How many were killed? How many Japanese people were destroyed to celebrate the discovery of the secret of atomic energy? From all the reports we have received so far, they were nearly all killed or injured. Nearly all.
In the [New York] Times today there is a report from the Tokyo radio about Nagasaki which states that “the centre of the once thriving city has been turned into a vast devastation, with nothing left except rubble as far as the eye could see”. Photographs showing the bomb damage appeared on the front page of the Japanese newspaper Mainichi. The report says: “One of these pictures revealed a tragic scene 10 miles away from the centre of the atomic air attack”, where farm houses were either crushed down or the roofs torn asunder.
The broadcast quoted a photographer of the Yamaha Photographic Institute, who had rushed to the city immediately after the bomb hit, as having said: “Nagasaki is now a dead city, all the areas being literally razed to the ground. Only a few buildings are left, standing conspicuously from the ashes.” The photographer said that “the toll of the population was great and even the few survivors have not escaped some kind of injury.”
In two calculated blows, with two atomic bombs, American imperialism killed or injured half a million human beings. The young and the old, the child in the cradle and the aged and infirm, the newly married, the well and the sick, men, women, and children — they all had to die in two blows because of a quarrel between the imperialists of Wall Street and a similar gang in Japan.
This is how American imperialism is bringing civilisation to the Orient. What an unspeakable atrocity! What a shame has come to America, the America that once placed in New York harbour a Statue of Liberty enlightening the world. Now the world recoils in horror from her name.
One preacher quoted in the press, reminding himself of something he had once read in the Bible about the meek and gentle Jesus, said it would be useless to send missionaries to the Far East anymore. That raises a very interesting question which I am sure they will discuss among themselves. One can imagine an interesting discussion taking place in the inner circles of the House of Rockefeller and the House of Morgan, who are at one and the same time-quite by accident of course-pillars of finance and pillars of the church and supporters of missionary enterprises of various kinds.
“What shall we do with the heathens in the Orient? Shall we send missionaries to lead them to the Christian heaven or shall we send atomic bombs to blow them to hell?” There is a subject for debate, a debate on a macabre theme. But in any case, you can be sure that where American imperialism is involved, hell will get by far the greater number of the customers.
What a harvest of death capitalism has brought to the world! If the skulls of all of the victims could be brought together and piled into one pyramid, what a high mountain that would make. What a monument to the achievements of capitalism that would be, and how fitting a symbol of what capitalist imperialism really is. I believe it would lack only one thing to make it perfect. That would be a big electric sign on the pyramid of skulls, proclaiming the ironical promise of the Four Freedoms. The dead at least are free from want and free from fear…
Long ago the revolutionary Marxists said that the alternative facing humanity was either socialism or a new barbarism, that capitalism threatens to go down in ruins and drag civilisation with it. But in the light of what has been developed in this war and is projected for the future, I think we can say now that the alternative can be made even more precise: the alternative facing mankind is socialism or annihilation! It is a problem of whether capitalism is allowed to remain or whether the human race is to continue to survive on this planet.
We believe that the people of the world will waken to this frightful alternative and act in time to save themselves…
Cross-posted from Paul Canning‘s blog (17 July 2015):
|#MH17 victims of #RussiaInvadedUkraine Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin
A year ago today hundreds of Western bodies tumbled out of the sky in the middle of a European war zone.
Nobody predicted the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 but with hindsight they could have. The war in Eastern Ukraine was at a turning point. Despite a corrupt and crumbling army and 92 thrown together groups of ragtag militia, the Ukrainians were turning the tide on the rebels.
But if it was not obvious that the exact same ‘little green men’ scenario played out in Crimea was being played out in the Donbas it should have by the time that the first planes started getting shot down. The fighter jets started going down and then the high flying transport planes.
Those transport planes were being shot down by some very sophisticated weapons, ones that took a lot of coordination and a lot of training to operate. They did not, to turn around Putin’s joking phrase, from when he was still pretending that those in Crimea were ‘local volunteers’, ‘come from a shop’.
We now know thanks in large part to the work of one British man, Eliot Higgins, almost beyond all reasonable doubt, that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile system. This means a Russian crew, precisely because of the training required to operate such a system and Higgins just said that his Bellingcat team now have Russian names and have provided them to the official investigators, the Dutch Safety Board, where he is an official witness.
How could they know Russian names? Because those Russians posted the evidence themselves, on social media. After the jump watch the film by Vice News’ Simon Ostrovsky where he follows up on evidence gathered by Higgins of one Russian soldier’s presence on the Donbas battle fields. Ostrovsky finds the exact same spots where one soldier took his selfies. That soldier was from Buryatia, a Russian region whose people are Mongols. Hence the soldier got noticed in Eastern Ukraine.
After MH17 the tide turned back and the rebels with their Russian ‘volunteer professional assistants’ ensured that the war did not end last August but carried on, as it still does today, Minsk ‘peace’ or no ‘peace’.
10% of Ukraine lost, 6000 dead and over 2 million displaced.
Russia has come up with five, to date, explanations for MH17, none blaming themselves of course and some out of science fiction. One by the Defence Ministry is described by Bellingcat as Russia’s “Colin Powell moment”.
That moment when the former American Secretary of State went before the UN Security Council to argue for war on Iraq has become a poster for Russia’s lavishly funded international propaganda TV network RT. You may have seen it on the Washington Metro or on London’s Tube. But just as the West tolerates RT so does Western media have ‘balance’ and thus MH17 will remain ‘he said, she said’ until the official report comes out in three months time.
That ‘balance’ and essential fairness which underpins our Western societies is used against us by Russia. Their security services and their ‘political technocrats’ know full well that with something like MH17 they can muddy the waters enough that many in the West won’t blame Russia. They can somehow wriggle out of this.
The FSB and the Kremlin will find willing partners on both the left and the right but they will also find unwitting ones like journalists. Journalists such as one Mike Kelly writing today for the Newcastle Chronicle. (Newcastle is where two of the British victims hail from.) Kelly presents MH17 as a tale of ‘versions’ and he condemns the ‘squabbling’ over whodunnit, comparing this notion of his with the ‘quiet dignity’ of today’s memorials.
Putin could not have said it better – in fact he has said it with his talk of the politicisation of the MH17 inquiry. But just as climate change is not about ‘sides’ of equal veracity neither is MH17, to say otherwise is to damn the whole profession of investigative journalism and to sign up to the Russian propaganda meme of there being no such thing as the truth! And it is no service to the victims’ loved ones to pretend otherwise.
Tomorrow Ukraine will disappear from people’s radar but come October we know what the Dutch report will say. Not because we are arrogant but because others have done the hard work.
Even when we then have a Russian war crime spelt out in black and white I predict we will still hear the siren voice of appeasement, from the left and from the right. Business will still go on and London palaces will still be bought with corrupt money.
- Others than Higgins have of course investigated. Two are James Miller and Michael Weiss and they have a long read at the Daily Beast spelling out how come we know Russia dunnit.
Watch Simon Ostrovsky’s astonishing report tracking down one Buryat soldier to one of Russia’s remotest regions:
On the 29th anniversary of the Sebrenica massacre/genocide, we re-publish this important critique of the role of much the international left towards the Bosnian war at the time. First published by Workers Liberty, June 2011:
31 March 2003: Relatives of some of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre search rows of coffins next to freshly-dug graves for loved ones
Ratko Mladic, who commanded Serb forces during the Bosnian war of 1992-5, was arrested on 26 May in a Serbian village, and will now face a war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.
In July 1995, two of the areas which the United Nations declared “safe havens” in the midst of a fierce war were overrun by Serb forces under Mladic’s command. In Zepa, some 200 lives were killed, and the bulk of the population of 40,000 fled.
In Srebrenica, over 8,000 civilians were massacred. In classifying the massacre as an act of genocide the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia outlined what happened:
“They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”
Srebrenica was only the most infamous of the atrocities by Serb forces in the Bosnian war. Like the wars conducted by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic in Croatia in 1991-5 and in Kosova in 1999, that war was an imperialist war in the most straightforward sense: a war by a dominant power to gain control over other nations, conducted without regard to the wishes or the lives of the subject peoples.
By now Milosevic’s wars have few defenders. Although many people in Serbia mourned Mladic’s arrest, Serbia’s government is in no danger of being toppled by protest against it handing over Mladic to The Hague. In Britain, even the Morning Star has reported the arrest in a manner suggesting neutrality or approval.
At the time, though — and the scandal should be remembered, and learned from — large chunks of the left betrayed the left’s basic values of consistent democracy and freedom for oppressed nations. Some sided with Mladic and Milosevic explicitly. Others, including the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), gave them backhanded support by way of a form of pro-imperialism posing as “anti-imperialist”. They claimed there was nothing to choose between the forces in conflict within Yugoslavia. The only “imperialist” thing, to be opposed with vigour, was the police actions against Serbia which NATO took to contain the conflict, in 1995 and in 1999. Thus they presented the Serbian state as not imperialistic, but the fighter against imperialism. Read the rest of this entry »
An RAF Tornado GR4 jet at a British military base in Cyprus during the UK’s present campaign against ISIS in Iraq
How should the left respond to the possibility of air strikes against ISIS/Daesh (who cares what they’re called?) in Syria? – asks Comrade Coatesy. And, in particular, he asks, where does the Stop The War Coalition (StWC) stand?
An interesting reply comes from one John R, in a BTL comment:
“Where does the StWC stand?”
I’m assuming this is a rhetorical question, Andrew as the stance of the StWC will be opposition to any Western attack on Isis – no matter the cost to the Kurds and others.
In your article, you put two points of view which, to my mind, are contradictory.
“Another foreign intervention in Syria and Iraq is a bad idea, ethically and in terms of Realpolitik.”
… (and) …
“There is little we can do in this tumult, but we are must use all the resources we can to help our Kurdish sisters and brothers who are fighting for dear life.”
If “we” must use all our resources to help the Kurds, surely we should not rule out the possibility of air strikes?
Here is a report from the Independent (Feb 2015) –
“An important aspect of the Kurdish offensive by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) is that it is receiving air cover with US Central |Command recording 21 airstrikes in two days against Isis ground positions and vehicles. This means that the US is now cooperating militarily with the YPG…
Now for the first time there is evidence that this military cooperation between the Syrian Kurds and the US is continuing in offensive operations. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that Isis has lost 132 fighters killed in this area in Hasaka province since 21 February while only seven YPG fighters have been killed, including one foreigner. The disparity in casualties can only be explained by the extensive use of US airpower.
“This is an important development,” says veteran Syrian Kurdish leader Omar Sheikhmous. “It means that the PYD [the political arm of YPG] has reached an understanding with the US about cooperation.”
I think the crux of the matter should be what do those [who are fighting ISIS/Daesh on the ground], especially the Kurds, say they want and need to fight Isis? If they believe that British air strikes can help to beat back Isis, then good.
Who knows, though? Maybe John Rees and the StWC will come up with the kind of imaginative idea they had last year when they were calling on Hamas, the ANC and Venezuela to “arm the Kurds.” Except this time, perhaps Mr Rees will have a press conference with CAGE and Moazzam Begg to call on Al-Qaeda to help them.
By Paul Canning
An anti-war protest has taken place in the heart of Donetsk. Unsurprisingly it was not reported on Russia Today or by the Stalinists.
There has been increased fighting in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in Eastern Ukraine. This has been most notable in the Ukrainian city of Pisky, a city five kilometers from Donetsk held by Russian forces. The OSCE has criticised the shelling in contravention of the Minsk Agreement which set a demarcation line where heavy weapons were to be withdrawn.
This escalation has provoked unrest inside the self-styled ‘Donetsk Peoples Republic’ where there has been very little public protest since early 2014.
On 15th June 500 residents of the Oktyabrskoe district of Donetsk took part in a stop the war protest. The anti-war protesters demanded that the Russian forces should stop shelling and using civilian buildings as cover. shouting: “Stop the war!”, “Give us back our houses, our homes are broken!”, “Get out of here!”
This was a concern raised on numerous occasions previously including by the independent miners unions as using buildings in this way was increasing civilian casualties when counter-fire was returned. The head of the regime in Donetsk – Zalarchenko came out and met the protesters insisting the fighting would continue.
One protester said: “People were lost when we voted for the rebels, but they screwed us, simply screwed us!”
A video with English translation is available here: Donetsk Residents Stage Rare Anti-War Protest
Russian journalist Pavel Kanygin, working for Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s independent and opposition media, filmed the demonstration. A day after the anti-war rally, Kanygin was detained and beaten, and deported back to Russia. There has since been an increased military presence next to the government building where the protest took place.
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Above: female Kurdish fighters
From a BTL comment by Lamia at That Place:
Kurdish forces, having linked from east and west to take Tal Abyad and thus cut off the main ISIS supply route to Raqqa (from Turkey), are moving steadily towards the ISIS capital itself. Today they have taken a military base, Brigade 93, outside Ain Issa, which ISIS seized last summer. Reports are of ISIS forces and civilians fleeing to Raqqa itself (which is also the subject of ongoing allied air strikes). Kurdish forces are now only 30 miles from Raqqa. They also have US air support which is of course an advantage in case of ISIS attempts to counter attack on the growing Kurdish front.
The Kurdish campaign in the north of Syria has been the one clear ongoing success in recent months in the fight against ISIS. To think: the heroic Kurds at Kobani were almost written off last October by governments and media alike. Now they are pressing ISIS hard in its own heartland. It’s hard to tell what the outcome will be – even if Raqqa falls, there is still Mosul in Iraq, and ISIS have a habit of taking territory then moving out when under pressure and striking elsewhere. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they might try setting up a capital in another country entirely. But in the long term that is not a recipe for maintaining a state, keeping up recruitment or scaring your enemies into giving up without a fight.
Kurdish progress in the past couple of weeks alone has been wonderfully fast. Let us hope it is not a false dawn, and keep our fingers crossed for them and their allies.
By Alan Theasby
RIP Charles Kennedy 1959-2015
I’m not a fan, but there is a lot Labour could learn from him.
When he took the boring “centre right” LibDems by the scruff of the neck and carved out a position as an independent “radical” party to the left of New Labour (at least to appearances), the result was a massive electoral swing in 2005, and LibDems were still seen by many as “left of Labour” in 2010 (how many thousands left in disgust at their role in the Coalition?)
When the LibDems presented radical, left politics – against the Iraq War, for EMA, against tuition fees, even anti-cuts to some extent – they got lots of support.
In Scotland the SNP is posing “left” and taking advantage of Scottish Labour’s abysmal policies: cuts, attacks on Unite union, and in bed with the Tories in “Better Together” etc. No wonder they swept the board, it’s a total indictment of Blairism and the likes of Jim Murphy!
In England the Greens are taking up the mantle that the LibDems had until 2010; this has not yet translated into votes but that’s a serious posibility if Labour contimues on its current “middle of the road/neither owt nor nowt” course or moves even further rightwards.
Lots of activists & “lefties” I know have massive illusions in the SNP & Greens, and write off the Labour Party as dead. I disagree on both counts: the SNP & Greens can pose as “left” under the Tories and with a Labour Party looking to “middle England”/ the “middle classes” (etc), but I have no illusions in them; and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).
So what do others think? Given that there is not even a vaguely left candidate for Leader, will Labour become a pathetic rump – or can it recover? Meanwhile, it’s come to something, hasn’t it, when the record of a former SDP’er and leader of the Lib Dems, is much braver and more left-wing than any candidate for leader of the Labour Party?
JD adds: and, at a human level, a thought from Gaby Hinsliff in today’s Graun:
All those people getting cheap laughs on social media out of Kennedy’s last erratic performance on the BBC’s Question Time, or rejoicing in his defeat on election night, were just a visible example of a culture which not only stigmatises people with mental health problems but treats public figures – politicians or otherwise – as if they were somehow less than human. If Charles Kennedy’s death leads one or two to pause before unleashing mob scorn or fury, if it prompts an ounce more compassion for people whose lives might well be more complicated than they look – well, a fine liberal legacy that would be.
Between now and June 20th you have the opportunity to see ‘The Big No’, an exhibition of work of one by the greatest left-wing satirical artists of the 20th century: George Grosz. It’s at the London Print Studio (W10) and admission is free of charge.
Grosz was a founder of the Berlin Dadaist movement who created hundreds of drawings that savagely depicted the corruption, injustice and decadence of the Weimar republic. Along with Helmut Herzfeld (who became John Heartfield) he introduced photomontage to the mainstream. Many of his his drawings are composed like photomontages.
The drawings use superb fine-pen draftsmanship while the paintings are composed of bold brush-stokes, to convey shocking images of extremes of wealth and poverty, sexual exploitation and the broken survivors of WWI.
The Big No (named after Grosz’s autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No) features two portfolios of his drawings: Ecce Homo (Behold The Man), published in 1923 and Hintergrund (Background) from 1928. Ecce Homo was the subject of a four year legal case, with Grosz and his publisher accused of both pornography and bringing the German military into disrepute. They were acquitted, but in 1933 the Nazis had all the plates destroyed and the drawings publicly burned. We are able to see the work now because in 1959, after Grosz’s death, his widow and sons licenced a facsimile edition of the portfolio.
The Nazis denounced Grosz as a “cultural Bolshevik” and his work (together with that of fellow modernists, Jews and leftists like Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix) featured in the notorious 1937 “degenerate art” exhibition organised by the Nazis. By then Grosz had fled with his family to the US, where he remained for the rest of his life and where his son Marty became a well-known jazz guitarist.
Grosz wrote, ‘In 1916 I was discharged from military service. The Berlin to which I returned was a cold and grey city. What I saw made me loathe most of my fellow men; everything I could say has been recorded in my drawings. The busy cafés and wine-cellars merely accentuated the gloom of the dark, unheated residential districts. I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon; men playing cards on the coffins of the women they had murdered. I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands… I was each one of the characters I drew, the champagne-swilling glutton favoured by fate no less than the poor beggar standing with outstretched hands in the rain. I was split in two, just like society at large…’
This exhibition is simply unmissable. I don’t know whether or not it’s going to appear anywhere outside London, so even if you don’t live in capital, I’d recommend a special visit. And how appropriate that it’s appearing in one of the less affluent parts of London, at studio whose stated mission is to “empower people and communities through practical engagement with the visual and graphic arts.”
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