Dorothy Healey on Angela Davis and Eastern European political prisoners

The Angela Davis defense campaign had been the biggest [U.S. Communist ]Party-initiated movement of the entire decade, and it was the one occasion on which the Party was really attuned to the political mood of the younger Left. It had a big effect on the Party and brought in a number of young recruits. Indeed, whatever political credibility the Party had to draw upon from the early 1970s was largely a product of that campaign. Certainly nothing else it has done since compares with the importance of Angela’s defense campaign in terms of image and the ability to interest outsiders. Angela Davis, not Gus Hall, has been the most attractive public face the Party has had to offer. But one of the sadder aspects of the whole episode was the impact it had on Angela herself. She felt that it was the Party and the Soviet Union which saved her life. She became unwilling to consider any criticisms of those she regarded as her saviors. When she was released from prison, the first thing she did was embark upon a tour of the Soviet Union, eastern Europe, and Cuba to thank them for supporting her during the trial.

Miss Charlene Mitchell, a close friend of Angela Davis, the black militant, said today that Miss Davis would not be responding to the appeal for help from Mr. Jiri Pelikan, one of the leading figures in the “Prague Spring” now living in exile.

Miss Davis, she said, did not think that people should leave socialist countries to return to the capitalist system. This was a retrograde step, and even if such people said they were communists they were still acting in opposition to the “socialist system,” objectively speaking.

In his appeal, which was published in The Times today, Mr. Pelikan asked Miss Davis to call for the release of political prisoners in Eastern Europe as well as in capitalist countries.

Miss Mitchell, who said she was acting as a spokesperson for Miss Davis, took the line that people in Eastern Europe got into difficulties and ended in jail only if they were undermining the government. ­­­ —(Manchester) Guardian, July 29, 1972.

While Angela was on her tour and not always available to western reporters, Charlene and other Communist leaders sometimes put words in her mouth, denying that there was any political repression within the Soviet bloc. Not that Angela was willing to do anything to challenge that view. In fact, within the next few years, she accommodated herself to the stalest clichés in the Party’s outlook. She remains to the present an important public figure, able to attract larger audiences than any other Party leader. But rarely if ever in her speeches and writings today will you see evidence of the kind of fresh thinking of which she was once capable. Whether she is capable of breaking free from the Party orthodoxy is a question still to be answered.

& & &

Dorothy Ray Healey and Maurice Isserman, California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990/1993), pages 220­–21.

Jason Adams, “Nonwestern Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context” (2001)

“The future of anarchism must be appraised within a global context; any attempt to localize it is bound to yield a distorted outcome. The obstacles to anarchism are, in the main, global; only their specifics are determined by local circumstances.”
- Sam Mbah

“To the reactionists of today we are revolutionists, but to the revolutionists of tomorrow our acts will have been those of conservatives”
- Ricardo Flores Magon

 

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to help anarchist / anti-authoritarian movements active today to reconceptualize the history and theory of first-wave anarchism on the global level, and to reconsider its relevance to the continuing anarchist project. In order to truly understand the full complexity and interconnectedness of anarchism as a worldwide movement however, a specific focus on the uniqueness and agency of movements amongst the “people without history” is a deeply needed change. This is because the historiography of anarchism has focused almost entirely on these movements as they have pertained to the peoples of the West and the North, while movements amongst the peoples of the East and the South have been widely neglected. As a result, the appearance has been that anarchist movements have arisen primarily within the context of the more privileged countries. Ironically, the truth is that anarchism has primarily been a movement of the most exploited regions and peoples of the world. That most available anarchist literature does not tell this history speaks not to a necessarily malicious disregard of non-Western anarchist movements but rather to the fact that even in the context of radical publishing, centuries of engrained eurocentrism has not really been overcome. This has been changing to an extent however, as there here have been several attempts in just the past decade to re-examine this history in detail in specific non-Western countries and regions, with works such as Arif Dirlik’s Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution, Sam Mbah’s African Anarchism and Frank Fernandez’ Cuban Anarchism. It is within the footsteps of this recent tradition that this paper treads further into the relatively new ground of systematically assessing, comparing and synthesizing the findings of all of these studies combined with original investigation in order to develop a more wholly global understanding of anarchism and its history. To begin our inquiry we first must make clear what it is that is actually meant by the term “Western anarchism.” Going back to the debates within the First International, it quickly becomes apparent that this term is a misnomer, as it is actually the opposite case that is true; anarchism has always been derived more of the East / South than of the West / North. As Edward Krebs has noted “Marx (and Engels) saw Russianness in Bakunin’s ideas and behavior” while “Bakunin expressed his fears that the social revolution would become characterized by ‘pan-Germanism’ and ‘statism.’” This debate has led some to characterize it as largely between Western and Eastern versions of socialism; one marked by a fundamental commitment to order and the other marked by a fundamental commitment to freedom (1998, p. 19). So in this sense anarchism can be understood as an “Eastern” understanding of socialism, rather than as a fully Western tradition in the usual sense of the term. At the same time it should be remembered that there also developed an extremely contentious North / South split between the more highly developed nations of England and Germany and the less developed semi-peripheral nations of Spain, Italy and others. This split was based on differences of material reality but developed largely along ideological lines, with the northern Anglo-Saxon nations siding primarily with Karl Marx and the southern Latin nations siding with Mikhail Bakunin (Mbah, p. 20). So in both the East / West and the North / South sense, anarchism has often been the theory of choice for the most oppressed peoples; particularly in those societies whose primarily feudal nature writes them out of historical agency in the Marxist understanding of the world. This may explain a good deal of why anarchism became so popular throughout Latin America, and why immigrating anarchists from the Latin nations of Europe were so well received in country after country that they visited, attempting to spread the anarchist vision.

Continue reading ‘Jason Adams, “Nonwestern Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context” (2001)’

“Some Questions of Socialist Construction and of the Struggle Against Revisionism”

Some Questions of Socialist Construction and of the Struggle Against Revisionism: A C(ccp) Monster coloring book,” 2003.

Brilliant stuff. Click on link above to view as a single PDF.

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Gramsci on Lukács and the dialectic in human vs natural history

Note: One must study the position of Professor Lukács towards the philosophy of praxis. It would appear that Lukács maintains that one can speak of the dialectic only for the history of men and not for nature. He might be right and he might be wrong. If his assertion presupposes a dualism between nature and man he is wrong because he is falling into a conception of nature proper to religion and to Graeco-Christian philosophy and also to idealism which does not in reality succeed in unifying and relating man and nature to each other except verbally. But if human history should be conceived also as the history of nature (also by means of the history of science) how can the dialectic be separated from nature? Perhaps Lukács, in reaction to the baroque theories of the Popular Manual, has fallen into the opposite error, into a form of idealism.”
= = =
Antonio Gramsci, ‘The Concept of ‘Science’ section of “Problems of Marxism,” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), page 448.
The Popular Manual Gramsci is referring to is Nikolai Bukharin’s Historical Materialism.

Gabriel & Daniel Cohn-Bendit: Louis Aragon vs the Parisian students of ’68

As the students stood talking they were joined by scores of passers-by, among them Louis Aragon, that venerable bard and prophet of the Communist Party, the man who had sung paeans of praise to OGPU and Stalinism, and who had come to take his place among those who “remind me so movingly of my own youth.” A group of students recognized him and greeted him with cries of “Long live OGPU! Long live Stalin, the father of all the people!”

The Aragon episode, in itself banal and without political importance, nevertheless shows how politically aware the young demonstrators had become. They would have no truck with members of a party whose official organ, L’Humanité, had launched what could only be called a smear campaign against French youth. The revolutionary movement did not deny the importance, and even the necessity, of a dialogue with the rank and file of the Communist Party, but it did try to unmask the opportunist strategy and counterrevolutionary attitude of its leaders, including Louis Aragon, the poet laureate of the personality cult. He could not make himself heard simply because those participating in the “teach-out” knew that he had nothing in common with them. His bold assertion that he was in the Party “precisely because he was on the side of youth” merely turned him into a laughing stock. By refusing to act honestly for once in his life, and to denounce the machinations of his Party, he threw away his chance to join the student movement, and incidentally saved his leaders a great deal of embarrassment.

= = =

from Gabriel Cohn-Bendit & Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: A Left-Wing Alternative (London: Penguin, 1968/1969), pp 61-62.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: The OGPU were the secret police under Stalin.

Bakunin: the “reactionary” consequences of national liberation movements (1866)

“Today no revolution can succeed in any country if it is not at the same time both a political and a social revolution. Every exclusively political revolution – be it in defense of national independence or for internal change, or even for the establishment of a republic – that does not aim at the immediate and real political and economic emancipation of people will be a false revolution. Its objectives will be unattainable and its consequences reactionary.”

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from Mikhail Bakunin, “National Catechism,” 1866. In Bakunin on Anarchism, edited by Sam Dolgoff (Montreal: Black Rose, 1972/2002), page 99. The entire essay is online here.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: There are is shortage of workerist anarchists who wish to turn Bakunin and classical anarchism into a bottom-up version of the Marxist-Leninism that many of these workerists are strongly influenced by. One of the more outrageous claims they attempt to marshall evidence for, usually by selective quotations of Bakunin’s work on federalism, is that he supported national liberation movements (eg after his pan-Slavist period). Since Bakunin made explicit denunciations of national liberation struggles that were not also thoroughly and completely radical struggles, these writers are clearly banking on most anarchists’ ignorance of their own tradition.

Foucault on the Frankfurt School (1978)

Duccio Trombadori: With the events of ’68, another theoretical current regained strength and was confirmed as a point of reference of notable importance in youth culture. I’m speaking of the Frankfurt School: Adorno, Horkheimer, and much more than them, Marcuse, found themselves with their works at the center of student ideological debates. The struggle against repression, the anti-authoritarianism, the escape from “civilization,” the radical denial of the “system”: all these were themes that with more or less intellectual confusion were debated as watchwords by masses of youths. I’d like to know how your thought is related to that theoretical current, also because you don’t seem to have dealt with it directly.

Michel Foucault: It would be necessary to understand better why, despite the work of many of its exponents in Paris after their expulsion from German universities by the Nazis, the Frankfurt School passed by unnoticed for a long time in France. It began to be discussed with a certain intensity and frequency only in relation to the thought of Marcuse and his Freudian-Marxism. In any case, I knew little about the Frankfurt School. I had read certain texts of Horkheimer’ s dedicated to an entire ensemble of discussions whose meaning I understood with difficulty, and in which I felt a certain laxness, above all concerning the historical materials analyzed. Then I recall having read a book on penal problems and the mechanisms of punishment that had been written in the U.S.A. by Kircheimer.

At that point I realized how the Frankfurt people had tried ahead of time to assert things that I too had been working for years to sustain. This even explains a certain irritation shown by some of them who saw that in France there were experiences that were- I won’t say identical but in some ways very similar. In effect, correctness and theoretical fecundity would have asked for a much more thorough acquaintance with and study of the Frankfurt School. As far as I’m concerned, I think that the Frankfurt School set problems that are still being worked on. Among others, the effects of power that are connected to a rationality that has been historically and geographically defined in the West, starting from the sixteenth century on. The West could never have attained the economic and cultural effects that are unique to it without the exercise of that specific form of rationality. Now, how are we to separate this rationality from the mechanisms, procedures, techniques, and effects of power that determine it, which we no longer accept and which we point to as the form of oppression typical of capitalist societies, and perhaps of socialist societies too? Couldn’t it be concluded that the promise of Aufklärung (Enlightenment), of attaining freedom through the exercise of reason, has been, on the contrary, overturned within the domain of Reason itself, that it is taking more and more space away from freedom? It’s a fundamental problem that we all debate, that is common to so many, whether Communists or not. And this problem, as we know, was singled out by Horkheimer before the others; and it was the Frankfurt School that measured its relationship with Marx on the basis of this hypothesis. Wasn’t it Horkheimer who sustained that in Marx there was the idea of a society as being like an immense factory?

Duccio Trombadori: You assign great importance to this current of thought. To what do you attribute the anticipations and the results attained by the Frankfurt School that you’ve briefly summarized?

Michel Foucault: I think that the Frankfurt School had a greater likelihood of knowing and analyzing early on with exact information what was happening in the U.S.S.R. And this was within the framework of an intense and dramatic political struggle, while Nazism was digging the grave of the Weimar Republic; this was set against the background in Germany, where Marxism and theoretical reflection on Marx had a robust tradition of more than fifty years.

When I recognize all these merits of the Frankfurt School, I do so with the bad conscience of one who should have known them and studied them much earlier than was the case. Perhaps if l had read those works earlier on, I would have saved useful time, surely: I wouldn’t have needed to write some things and I would have avoided certain errors. At any rate, if I had encountered the Frankfurt School while young, I would have been seduced to the point of doing nothing else in life but the job of commenting on them. Instead, their influence on me remains retrospective, a contribution reached when I was no longer at the age of intellectual “discoveries.” And I don’t even know whether to be glad or to feel sorry about it.

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From Michel Foucault, Remarks On Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombadori, trans.  R. James Goldstein and James Cascaito (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991). Originally published in Italian in 1981, the interviews were conducted in 1978. From Section 4, “Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse: Who Is a ‘Negator of History’?,” pages 115–20.



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