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Irving Howe: Bundist Vladimir Medem on Bolshevik dictatorship

More serious were the warnings of Vladimir Medem, the Bundist leader recently come to the United States, who argued at the [Jewish Socialist] Federation’s 1921 convention that “the dictatorship of the proletariat” must necessarily degenerate into a dictatorship of the ruling party over the proletariat. Only through democracy, Medem insisted, could socialism be fulfilled.*

* In a long-forgotten article published in a 1918 issue of the Warsaw Bundist paper, Lebns-Fragen, Medem wrote: “The guns of the conscripted Bolshevik soldiers are directed not only at the bourgeoisie. They are turned against the socialist working class. The day is not far when revolutionary tribunals of the more ‘kosher’ Bolsheviks will be set up to shoot the more ‘suspect’ of their own comrades… And if today Lenin years to shoot Abramovitch [a Menshevik leader], may he not wish to shoot Trotsky tomorrow?

“A socialist government that turns to the methods of terror signs its own death warrant.”

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The debate over Bolshevism brought the Forward to a major crisis. It was not possible to keep these differences locked into the inner circles: polemical articles spilled across the pages of the paper. Opposition to [Forward founder and Bolshevik supporter Abraham] Cahan was led by Vladimir Medem, a leader of the Bund who had recently arrived from Poland and was acknowledged in all segments of the Jewish world as a figure of moral and intellectual authority. Medem launched a principled attack on the enthusiasm so many Jewish socialists were displaying for the Bolshevik dictatorship, and he was especially sharp in the polemical assaults he directed at Cahan. Neither before or since has Cahan been treated so roughly, even unceremoniously, in his own pages. Though other anti-Bolsheviks were briefly kept out of the Forward pages, Medem carried too much prestige to be treated that way. A dying man, he wrote scathingly about the Bolsheviks, attacking Lenin as a kalter gazlen (a cold-blooded thug). The worst apologists for the Bolshevik dictatorship, he wrote, are not those who deny it violating socialist or democratic ethics, but those who say, “Yes, they are doing it and it’s right.” Arguing against Cahan’s quasi-Leninist notion of a “transitional dictatorship,” Medem stated what would become the classical socialist critique of Bolshevism:

This is the same revolutionary conceit which looks upon a cluster of “conscious ones” as the heroes who represent…the wise, the adept, the leaders. … The mass is nothing but inert material to be molded. If it balks at going along peacefully, then it must be dragged along forcibly. If the truth has no effect on it, then lies must be employed.

If a reversion to the Spanish Inquisition is necessary for the realization of socialism, then we can do without such a socialism.

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Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the Eastern European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), pages 328–29, 541

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Raphael Ezekiel: “‘Theory’ on the extreme right consists basically of a single sentence”

“The [Detroit neo-Nazi] Death’s-Head Strike Group’s newsletter is a primitive collection of photocopied news articles and photos of the group in uniform; the content expresses the focus on image and action. In contrast, newspapers from the left feature closely printed columns on abstract theory. The fixation on ideas radically distinguishes the extreme left from the extreme right. ‘Theory’ on the extreme right consists basically of a single sentence: ‘There is a conspiracy.'”

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from Raphael S. Ezekiel, The Racist Mind: Portraits of American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), page 315.

Mina Graur: Rudolf Rocker debates Otto Strasser

In 1930 the FAUD [the anarcho-syndicalist Free Workers’ Union of Germany] accepted an invitation from Otto Strasser, an activist in the National Socialist Party [e.g., the Nazi party], to a series of debates. It was an interesting challenge for the syndicalists, and Fritz Kater suggested that Rocker should represent their camp. (fn90) Otto Strasser belonged to a faction within the National Socialist Party that differed in many respects from Hitler’s mainstream. Indeed, Strasser’s disagreements with Hitler led to his expulsion from the party in June 1930. After his expulsion, he founded the “Revolutionary National Socialists” organization, later known as the “Black Front.” (fn91) The debate was conducted, therefore, just before Strasser was driven out of the Nazi party.

Three meetings were arranged, each dedicated to a different topic. At the first, Rocker debated Strasser on the issue of nationalism and race, and the role they play in the shaping of history. Rocker claimed that since nationality is not known to be an inherited trait, it follows that the idea of nationality is enforced on men by their surroundings. (fn92) The second session was dedicated to the meaning of socialism. Since Strasser could not attend the meeting due to illness, his place was taken by Dr. Herbert Blank. Blank argued that the historical importance of the National Socialist Party was that it had discovered the true foundations of socialism, since what passed until then as socialism was only the Marxist interpretation. Rocker ridiculed the argument, pointing to the obvious fact that the Nazis had probably never heard of libertarian socialism and its many thinkers, who were in no way connected to Marx and his followers, and who rejected Marxism altogether. At the third debate, Rocker was replaced by Erich Mühsam at the request of Strasser, who felt threatened by Rocker’s rhetorical tactics. Rocker, however, was asked to deliver the closing remarks. Although both camps knew that the differences between them were too wide to be bridged over, and that no side was going to win new converts, the series of debates constituted an interesting experience. The debates were the only time that the anarchists aired their opinions freely in front of a Nazi audience. After the National Socialists came to power, the anarchist movement was extinguished, its members exiled, imprisoned, or sent to concentration camps.

footnotes:

90. Rocker dated the event at around 1928 or later. According to the articles in Fanal reporting the event, it occurred in 1930.
91. Allan Bullock, Hitler, A Study in Tyranny (New York: Harper, 1964), pp. 156-158.
92. Rocker, Revolutsie un Regresie, Vol. 2, p. 29. The issue is elaborated upon in Nationalism and Culture.

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from Mina Graur, An Anarchist “Rabbi”: The Life and Teachings of Rudolf Rocker (New York: St. Martins Press / Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1997), pp. 174-75.

Murray Bookchin: using x-rays for hair removal and fitting children’s shoes (1962)

To make matters worse, X-ray equipment was rapidly debased into a cosmetic agent and, finally, into a sales promotion device. It was found that X rays could cause a loss of hair (epilation), an effect that suggested lucrative possibilities. By the 1920’s many physicians, beauticians, and self-appointed “epilation specialists” had begun to treat women with radiation for the removal of “superfluous hair.” One New York physician, Dr. Albert C. Geyser, developed a “harmless” method of hair removal that involved cumulative dosages of at least 500 roentgens over a twelve-week period of radiation treatment. The method, named the “Tricho System,” was very successful, and beauticians trained by Geyser’s “Tricho Institute” began operating in many parts of the United States and Canada. It soon became evident, however, that women treated according to the “Tricho System” lost substantially more than unwanted hair. Many individuals acquired radiodermatitis (skin inflammation), severe radiation burns, festering skin ulcers, and, in time, cancer. The “Tricho” story is one of the more tragic episodes in the history of radiation. It is believed that the victims of Geyser’s system numbered in the thousands; the exact number of those who suffered latent injury and premature death will never be known.

Although radiation is no longer employed in the American beauty parlor, the use of X-ray equipment to fit shoes still lingers in a number of communities. The equipment is used mainly on the feet of children. As of 1960, the use of the shoe-fitting fluoroscope had been banned in twenty-nine states. Some of the other states regulate the use of the machine, but in a few states there are no restrictions at all. A number of local surveys cited by Schubert and Lapp have shown that the machines are often defective, giving high doses of radiation to both the child and the salesman. The Michigan Department of Health, for example, found shoe-fitting machines that emitted as many as 65 roentgens (r) a minute. A survey in Boston showed that irradiation of the foot ranged from 0.5 to 5.8 r a second. (The use of shoe-fitting fluoroscopes has been banned in Boston by state law and is regulated in Michigan.) “For a 22-second exposure, which is commonly used, the feet receive from 10 to 116 rl” Schubert and Lapp write. “Remember, too, that one child may have his feet examined many times while trying on different shoes. Similar dosage measurements have been reported by the United States Public Health Service, which states that the average dosages to the children’s feet are between 7 r and 14 r per exposure.” The amount of scattered radiation that reaches the child’s pelvic region and gonads may run as high as 0.2 roentgens for a Twenty second exposure.

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Murray Bookchin (under the pseudonym Lewis Herber), Our Synthetic Environment, chapter 6. Originally published in 1962, this text taken from Anarchy Archives.

Top Posts at www.radicalarchives.org

As a bit of a year-end wrap-up, I thought I would present the post tops at http://www.radicalarchives.org over the last two years (ie since the site has really been active):

1. Judith Butler on Hamas, Hezbollah & the Israel Lobby
2. ‘The Origins of Primitivism’ set
3. Spencer Sunshine: “Nietzsche and the Anarchists”
4. David Watson: “Against the Megamachine”
5. Hakim Bey Joins the IWW
6. New World Liberation Front (NWLF) – 1977 article
7. Kalle Lasn (Adbusters): “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?”