Showing posts with label SOVIET UNION. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SOVIET UNION. Show all posts

Monday, October 21, 2019

In Honor Of John Brown Late Of Harpers Ferry-1859- *Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-Paul Robeson's "John Brown's Body"

Click on the title to link a "YouTube" film clip of singer /communist activist Paul Robeson performing the classic American Civil War anthem, "John Brown's Body."

In this series, presented under the headline “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”, I will post some songs that I think will help us get through the “dog days” of the struggle for our communist future. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist, although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here. Markin.


Information Lyrics- John Brown's Body

The tune was originally a camp-meeting hymn Oh brothers, will you meet us on Canaan's happy shore? It evolved into this tune. In 1861 Julia Ward Howe wife of a government official, wrote a poem for Atlantic Monthly for five dollars. The magazine called it, Battle Hymn of the Republic. The music may be by William Steffe.

John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
His soul goes marching on

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

He captured Harper's Ferry with his nineteen men so true
He frightened old Virginia till she trembled
through and through
They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew
His soul is marching on

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!

His soul is marching on
John Brown died that the slave might be free,
John Brown died that the slave might be free,
John Brown died that the slave might be free,
But his soul is marching on!

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

The stars above in Heaven are looking kindly down
The stars above in Heaven are looking kindly down
The stars above in Heaven are looking kindly down
On the grave of old John Brown

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

Information and lyrics from
Best Loved Songs of the American People
See Bibliography for full information.

Midi File From
Lance Corporal Robert Kent Mattson, USMC, Memorial Page which is no longer active

Monday, June 10, 2019



Probably the most decisive political problem that revolutionaries (and out and out reformists, for that matter) have broken their teeth on over the past 150 years is the question of the class nature of the state. The number of good revolutionary opportunities that have been squandered because of illusions in the 'neutrality' of the capitalist state should make you cry. The following, taken from Workers Vanguard No. 893 25 May 2007, are excerpts from various works by V.I. Lenin who most definitely did not have any illusions in the capitalist state. The works cited below, obviously, should be read in their entirety. These are just samplers. Markin

From the Archives of Marxism

V.I. Lenin on the State

The question of the class nature of the state is a decisive dividing line between revolutionary Marxists and reformists. The understanding that the capitalist state—which at its core consists of the cops, military, prison system and courts—is the instrument for organized violence to ensure bourgeois rule over the proletariat, and that it must be smashed through socialist revolution, is elementary to Marxism. We reprint below key passages on the state from Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin's The State and Revolution (1917)—written shortly before the October Revolution—and The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918) as well as the "Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat," drafted by Lenin and adopted by the founding congress of the Communist International in March 1919.

In these works, Lenin defends the Marxist understanding of the state against Social Democratic leaders, particularly Karl Kautsky, who obfuscated and falsified Marxism in the service of parliamentary reformism. Stripping bourgeois democracy of its class character—i.e., portraying the capitalist state as representing the interests of the classless "people"—inevitably leads to political support to the capitalist class and bourgeois nationalism. The German Social Democracy graphically demonstrated this when, except for a revolutionary minority, the party supported its "own" bourgeoisie during the interimperialist First World War of 1914-18.

In his writings on the state, Lenin draws upon key works, such as Friedrich Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884) and Marx's writings on the 1871 Paris Commune. After France under the regime of Napoleon III was defeated by Prussia in 1870, a right-wing government was formed, acquiring a "democratic" sanction through the electoral support of the mass of peasant petty proprietors then the majority of the populace. When that government sent the army into Paris to disarm the predominantly working-class National Guard, the proletarian forces drove out the army. This led to the formation of the Commune, which governed the city for nearly three months before the army crushed it, slaughtering over 20,000 people. Marx and Engels described the Commune as the first historical expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
* * *

Engels elucidates the concept of the "power" which is called the state, a power which arose from society but places itself above it and alienates itself more and more from it. What does this power mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc., at their command....

A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power. But how can it be otherwise?...

Civilised society is split into antagonistic, and, moreover, irreconcilably antagonistic, classes, whose "self-acting" arming would lead to an armed struggle between them. A state arises, a special power is created, special bodies of armed men, and every revolution, by destroying the state apparatus, clearly shows us hew the ruling class strives to restore the special bodies of armed men which serve it, and how the oppressed class strives to create a new organisation of this kind* capable of serving the exploited instead of the exploiters,...

The state is a special organisation: it is an organisation of violence for the suppression of some class. What class must the proletariat suppress? Naturally, only the exploiting class, i.e., the bourgeoisie. The working people need the state only to suppress the resistance of the exploiters, and only the proletariat can direct this suppression, can carry it out. For the proletariat is the only class that is consistently revolutionary, the only class that can unite all the working and exploited people in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, in completely removing it....

The petty-bourgeois democrats, those sham socialists who replaced the class struggle by dreams of class harmony, even pictured the socialist transformation in a dreamy fashion—not as the overthrew of the rule of the exploiting class, but as the peaceful submission of the minority to the majority which has become aware of its aims. This petty-bourgeois Utopia, which is inseparable from the idea of the state being above classes, led in practice to the betrayal of the interests of the working classes, as was shown, for example, by the history of the French revolutions of 1848 and 1871, and by the experience of "socialist" participation in bourgeois Cabinets in Britain, France, Italy and other countries at the turn of the century....

The essence of Marx's theory of the state has been mastered only by those who realise that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general, not only for the proletariat which has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but also for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from "classless society," from communism, Bourgeois states are most varied in form, but their essence is the same; all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat....

To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary-constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics....

From this capitalist democracy—that is inevitably narrow and stealthily pushes aside the poor, and is therefore hypocritical and false through and through—forward development does not proceed simply, directly and smoothly, towards "greater and greater democracy," as the liberal professors and petty-bourgeois opportunists would have us believe. No, forward development, i.e., development towards communism, proceeds through the dictatorship of the proletariat, and cannot do otherwise, for the resistance of the capitalist exploiters cannot be broken by anyone else or in any other way.

And the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organisation of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists.

—The State and Revolution

Marxists have always maintained that the more developed, the "purer" democracy is, the more naked, acute, and merciless the class struggle becomes, and the "purer" the capitalist oppression and bourgeois dictatorship. The Dreyfus case in republican France, the massacre of strikers by hired bands armed by the capitalists in the free and democratic American republic—these and thousands of similar facts illustrate the truth which the bourgeoisie is vainly seeking to conceal, namely, that actually terror and bourgeois dictatorship prevail in the most democratic of republics and are openly displayed every time the exploiters think the power of capital is being shaken.

The imperialist war of 1914-18 conclusively revealed even to backward workers the true nature of bourgeois democracy, even in the freest republics, as being a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Tens of millions were killed for the sake of enriching the German or the British group of millionaires and multimillionaires, and bourgeois military dictatorships were established in the freest republics.

—"Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat"

* * *

The only "correction" Marx thought it necessary to make to the Communist Manifesto he made on the basis of the revolutionary experience of the Paris Communards.

The last preface to the new German edition of the Communist Manifesto, signed by both its authors, is dated June 24, 1872. In this preface the authors, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, say that the programme of the Communist Manifesto "has in some details become out-of-date," and they go on to say:

"...One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that 'the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes'..."

...Marx's idea is that the working class must break up, smash the "ready-made state machinery," and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.

—The State and Revolution

"We," the revolutionary Marxists, never made speeches to the people that the Kautskyites of all nations love to make, cringing before the bourgeoisie, adapting themselves to the bourgeois parliamentary system, keeping silent about the bourgeois character of modern democracy and demanding only its extension, only that it be carried to its logical conclusion.

"We" said to the bourgeoisie: You, exploiters and hypocrites, talk about democracy, while at every step you erect thousands of barriers to prevent the oppressed people from taking part in politics. We take you at your word and, in the interests of these people, demand the extension of your bourgeois democracy in order to prepare the people for revolution for the purpose of overthrowing you, the exploiters. And if you exploiters attempt to offer resistance to our proletarian revolution we shall ruthlessly suppress you; we shall deprive you of all rights; more than that, we shall not give you any bread, for in our proletarian republic the exploiters will have no rights, they will be deprived of fire and water, for we are socialists in real earnest, and not in the Scheidemann or Kautsky fashion.

—The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky

* * *

Only the soviet organization of the state can really effect the immediate breakup and total destruction of the old, i.e., bourgeois, bureaucratic and judicial machinery, which has been, and has inevitably had to be, retained under capitalism even in the most democratic republics, and which is, in actual fact, the greatest obstacle to the practical implementation of democracy for the workers and the working people generally. The Paris Commune took the first epoch-making step along this path. The soviet system has taken the second.

—"Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat"

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

*A Very Different Look At May Day On May Day- A Personal View

Click on the headline to link to a May Day website that links to the various May Day traditions in history.

Markin comment:

For those of a certain age, who came of age during the Cold War, the images of May Day evokes pictures of the latest display of Soviet weaponry and of elite military units marching in step in Red Square in Moscow before some glowering delegation from the Communist Party Politburo. Such pictures gave the usually information-starved and speculation-crazy Western Sovietologists plenty of ammunition for figuring out who was “in” and who was “out” in the internal party regime. At least until the next public display on the November 7th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution when the search for the elusive “musical chairs” would start all over again. For others, more historically- oriented, perhaps, May Day evokes the struggle for the eight hour work day and the Chicago Haymarket martyrs. Those with a more recent interest may evoke the continuing struggle for the recognition of immigrant rights. Now all of these are worthy, if highly political, views of May Day and I certainly have no quarrel with those evocations. However, just for the few minutes that it takes to write this entry I wish to evoke another, more ancient, more pagan, vision of May Day that, strangely, may dovetail with the motives behind those more political expressions put forth on this day.

I, of course, refer to the ancient roots of the holiday or rather the pre-Christian religious significance of the day as a day of renewal and of homage to the virtues of spring. Especially for those whose heritage stems from the British Isles. Under normal circumstances I would not necessarily be in a mood to reflect on this aspect of the day but a couple of things have set me to thinking about it. The first, as a result of having recently read a number of 19th century American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Puritan-etched short stories, including “The May Pole Of Merry Mount” got me thinking about that May Day pagan scenario and also about how deeply, even now, the formal Puritan ethic that frowned on such celebrations is embedded in our common cultural experiences. The second had to do with childhood reflections of our kid's version of May basket, May Day.

As to the first, whatever the “official” line is on the Puritan history here in America and in England as laid down by the likes of Professors Perry Miller and Hugh Trevor-Roper, to name a couple that come mind, I am privy to a “secret” history of the doings of the old Puritan stock. While Hawthorne’s Puritans, as he sternly portrayed them, are no friends to the fun-loving that is rather more his hang up and his way to make a quick dollar on that saga from punishment fetishists. The real “skinny” on the Puritans here and back in the old country is that they were not adverse to a little “good times”, just not in excess.

How is one to otherwise make sense of that little ménage of Pricilla and John Alden and Myles Standish? Or the real story about Tommy Wollaston’s wood fetish? Or Governor’ Winthrop’s private dope stash that he tried to pass off as tobacco (and which in any case he did not inhale). And to complete the story on the other side of the ocean, how about arch-Puritan poet and revolutionary John Milton’s open endorsement of concubinage, including, and I “reveal” this here for the first time, his own bevy of "ladies". “A Paradise within Thee, Happier Far”, indeed. For a long time the poem "Paradise Lost" was a book with seven seals. Now it all fits. And I should not fail to mention the other well-known arch-Puritan Oliver Cromwell whose well-hidden drinking problem ( he called his "tea", wink-wink) goes a long way to explaining those rash outbursts when Parliament was in session. Rump, indeed.

Okay, I am sure that the reader has had enough of my 'insight' into the rough stuff of the seamy edges of history. I will reprieve you with a final few thoughts about my own childhood relationship to this other May Day. Of course, I am something of a “homer” on this one, at least on the pre and post-Puritan English traditions since I grew up frequently passing the site of the Merry Mount May Pole (now on land used as a cemetery) at Mount Wollaston, which is a part of Quincy the town where I grew up. I knew this story as part of the Quincy town history from very early on. I am not sure whether it was through a teacher or by the local city historian, Edward Rowe Snow, but I knew all about old Tommy Wollaston and his crowd of "wild boys and girls". Sounded like fun, and it was.

On kid time May Day , as I recall, we were given little May crepe paper-lined baskets with a chocolate treat in it from one or another source, and in at least one year we danced around the Puritan-forbidden May Pole. I guess, even then, I had a secret desire that old Tommy should have won. Call me a pagan but that is the truth. But also note this, to kind of put this little “fluff” piece in perspective. Isn’t, in the final analysis, either the old pagan ritual or the newer May Pole festivity emblematic of the kind of thing that those of us who are trying to create “a newer world” aiming for. To make the world and its pleasures a common thing, for everyone. I think that I am on to something here. May Day greetings from this space.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

On The 100th Anniversary Of The Bau Haus- From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"- Planning for Collective Living in the Early Soviet Union-Architecture As a Tool of Social Transformation

Markin comment on this article:

Over the past couple of years I have placed as many still relevant social, political, literary, and cultural articles from the journal Women and Revolution as I have been able to find as a source for leftist militants to think about these questions that are not always directly related to our day to day tasks in the class struggle today. I have made some effort into trying to get as many articles about the experiences of the Soviet Union as possible because that experience is, in some senses, our only example of what could have been had things turned out a bit differently back in the early days of the Russian revolution.

A couple of general observations about the tenor of the Soviet-centered articles. First, each article starts with items and ideas that spoke to the promise of the revolution, the things that could or should have been done and that the Bolsheviks raised holy hell to try to accomplish. Second, each article notes that turning inward of the revolution and the erasing of institutions, movements, and currents that surfaced in the revolutionary period and that were slammed in the period of Stalinist degeneration of the late 1920s. Those observations should be etched in the memory or every leftist militant who wants to fight for our communist future so we do better when our chance comes.


Planning for Collective Living in the Early Soviet Union-Architecture As a Tool of Social Transformation

by Vladimir Zelinski, Women and Revolution, Spring 1976

"Despite all our emancipatory laws, woman remains now as before a domestic slave, since she is oppressed, suffocated, dulled, debased by the petty tasks of housework, which chain her to the kitchen and the nursery and cause her to dissipate her creative powers in downright barbarically unproductive, petty, unnerving, deadening, depressing labor. The true liberation of woman, true communism, will begin only where and when (under the leadership of the proletariat at the helm of the state) the mass struggle against these petty household tasks or, more correctly, their transformation en masse into large-scale socialist economy begins." —Lenin, "The Great Initiative" (1919)

The Bolshevik program for the full emancipation of women through the replacement of the oppressive family structure by alternative institutions for the socialization of domestic labor implied a radically new set of architectural priorities and tasks requiring a re¬thinking of the fundamental premises of social architecture.

In its announcement of a competition for the design of a communal dwelling in 1926 the Moscow City Soviet explained:

"It is the duty of technological innovation, the duty of the architect, to place new demands on housing and to design in so far as possible a house that will transform the so-called family hearth from a boring, confining cell that at present burdens down women in particular into a place of pleasant and carefree relaxation. A new life demands new forms.

"The worker does not desire his mother, wife or sisters tobe a nursery maid, washerwoman or cook with unlimited hours; he does not desire children to rob him and particularly their mother of the possibility of employing their free time for social labor, mental and physical pleasures "

The abolition of the private ownership of the land, which had already been accomplished, pointed the way to a successful resolution of the problems posed for home design (as well as for city planning and the service sector) in carrying out the elimination of the household oppression of women.

Under capitalism, the city planner's life is one of continual frustration as he tries, in vain, to reconcile the conflicting interests of dozens or hundreds of private property holders and land speculators who then require further appeasement in the form of tax concessions, rent subsidies, zoning variances and the like to ensure the profitability of the shoddy housing that they may (or may not) erect. The growth of cities (and their collapse) is in principle uncontrolled, and physical and aesthetic squalor the accepted norm.

One of the first acts of the new proletarian regime (14 December 1917) had been to forbid all speculation in land. In 1918 a series of laws expropriated without compensation the landed estates of the gentry as well as all city structures yielding an income above that set by the local authorities. Thus the Soviet city planner had (and in principle still has) to concern himself primarily with social values—the creation of a rationally organ¬ized, amenable urban environment on the basis of human needs.

But the country inherited by the new workers state was near total collapse. In World War I and the civil war that followed it, Russia had lost some 20 million people. The output of heavy industry was in 1920 only one seventh of what it had been in 1913; the transportation system was virtually non-functioning, while the social base with which to rebuild the country—a trained working class—had suffered extremely great losses in the civil war, since it was precisely the skilled workers who, as dedicated Bolsheviks, had volunteered for the Red Army being constructed by Trotsky. From 1917 to 1920 almost no new construction could be undertaken; the best that could be done was to redistribute to the workers the luxury apartments of the bourgeoisie in the major cities. But construction materials were in such short supply that even the existing housing could not be maintained, and foreign visitors were horrified at the deterioration of the country's entire physical plant.

It was not until 1925 that the new workers state began, albeit only partially, to overcome the circumstances of its birth, so that the architecture of the '20's divides naturally into two parts: 1920-25, a period which saw the creation of some brilliant designs but in which next to nothing was actually built; and 1925-31, when the new architects were able to commence the reconstruc¬tion of the nation's physical plant. Even so, it is estimated that no more than 10-12 communal houses were built in the entire country before Stalin's rehabilitation of the nuclear family and "Soviet motherhood" put an end to this work.

In addition to material obstacles, these revolutionary architects, proponents of a functional modern archi¬tecture, had from about 1928 onward to contend increasingly with the turn-of-the-century eclecticism promoted by the emerging bureaucracy and its sycophants in the realm of the arts. While striking modern architecture was still being erected as late as 1931 -32, this was on the basis of contracts awarded years before. The final death knell of innovative Soviet architectural design was sounded in 1932 when the bureaucracy awarded one of the surviving hacks of the old regime first prize in a competition for the symbolic structure of the country, the Palace of the Soviets Only the intervention of World War II prevented this monument to Stalin's megalomania from being visit* on the people of Moscow.

Communal Dwellings

"Are we devoting enough attention to the germs of communism that already exist in this area [of 1 liberation of women}? No and again no. Public dining halls, creches, kindergartens-these are exemplary instances of these germs, these are those simple, everyday means, free of all bombast, grandiloquence and pompous solemnity, which, however, are truly such that they can //berate woman, truly such that they can decrease and do away with her inequality v.s-a-vis man in regard to her role in social production and in public life. These means are not new, they have (like all the material prerequisites of socialism) been created by large-scale capitalism, but under capitalism they have firstly remained a rarity, secondly-and they were either hucksterish enterprises, with all bad sides of speculation, of profit-making, of deception, of falsification or else they were! a trapeze act of bourgeois charity, rightly hated and disdained by the best workers.

—Lenin, "The Great Initiative"

The communal dwellings of the '20's constituted an initial effort to translate Lenin's.demands into realty Early Soviet planners envisioned the individual  dwelling  area as a place to which residents would resort mainly for sleeping, reading "cabins" were minuscule, with only 6-9 square met floor space per person-a qualitative improvement nevertheless over the 3-4 square meters (about 6 by 7) per person that were average for apartments shared by two or more families in major Russian cities> m.the 1930's. Apart from this, the architects deliberately designed small apartments to render sharing impossible.

Like the workers clubs, the communes of the 20 were conceived as the social matrix for the new society, a culture medium out of which new social attitudes would arise by virtue of the physical and organizational shaping given to everyday life by the new architecture. It is this which, as Lenin noted, fundamentally distinguished them from seemingly similar projects in the West where there was no notion of using architecture as a means to the social transformation of man. As the Russian artist and architect El Lissitzky said: "The basic elements of our architecture belong to the social revolution and not the technological one."

And new social attitudes did arise in the new housing units, particularly among women, who benefited from them the most. While the long waiting lists for admittance to the communes reflected less a convic¬tion that they represented a higher form of social interaction than a desire for the facilities with which they were equipped—electricity, heat and running water—most women, delighted to be relieved of the brunt of household drudgery, soon concluded that private family life was intolerable. According to

People's Commissar for Social Welfare Aleksandra Kollontai:

"...where previously the women were particularly anxious to have a household of their own,, on the contrary, it is the husband who suggests that it would not be a bad idea to take a flat, have dinner at home and the wife always about—while the women, especially the growing numbers of women workers who are being drawn into the Republic's creative activities, will not even hear of a 'household of one's own.' 'Better to separate than to agree to a family life with a household and the petty family worries; now I am free to work for the Revolution, but then—then I would be fettered. No, separation would be preferable.' And the husbands have to make the best of it."

—Aleksandra Kollontai, Women's Labor in Economic Development

The architects of the time were characteristically uncompromising in their social goals. Typical of the clarity with which these goals were translated into structural realities is the exceptionally elegant 1929 design by Barshch and Vladimirov for a communal dwelling for 1,000 adults and 680 children. Housing was by age group, with a ten-story main building for adults and, perpendicular to it, a six-story wing for the younger children and a five-story one for those of school age.

In the main building, the first four floors were planned as a communal area containing a vestibule, dining hall, club and recreation rooms, while the remaining six stories were devoted to small, two-person sleeping rooms. Clearly the architects' desire was to create an environment in which nearly all activity except sleep would be social.

As for the children, the ground floor of the building for pre-schoolers was occupied by the entry and reception rooms, while the upper stories held 12 rooms for 30 children each. Adjacent to this building was one with a large, airy veranda. The building for school children falls into two parts: in the first two stories were the entry and workshops; in the upper three the classrooms and accessory rooms. Each dormitory was designed to hold 28 students and each of the eight classrooms 40.

In occupying only ten percent of the land on which it was to be erected and in resting on columns, thus elevated from the ground which it would occupy, this design has a lightness and airiness characteristic of much Russian revolutionary architecture.

Barshch and Vladimirov's design is a consistent realization of the ideals animating revolutionary architects regarding the replacement of the nuclear family by new ties of comradeship in a radical transformation of everyday life. In his book Sotsial-isticheskie Coroda (Socialist Cities), written in 1930, L. Sabsovich asserted:

"This socialist reconstruction of the way of life must be begun at once and be carried out for all working people, both in the cities and the countryside, in the course of the next five to eight years.... Every sort of transitional form is the expression of a completely unjustifiable opportun¬ism— There should be no rooms in which man and wife can live together The rooms will be used mainly for sleeping, individual recuperation and, in a few instances, individual occupations." In a roughly contemporary article in Sovremennaya Arkhitektura Sabsovich defined more clearly his view of the communist way of life:

"When life is organized on a socialist basis each worker may be regarded as a potential 'bachelor' or as a potential 'husband' or 'wife,' to the extent that today's bachelor may be tomorrow's husband and today's couple may tomorrow be separated. [Sabsovich envisaged "divorce" as being effected by a simple locking of the connecting door between two adjoining rooms.] At present many couples are living together unwillingly, compelled to do so, firstly, by the housing problem and also by the necessity of bringing up their children, even though the bond between them may be broken..,. When life is organized on a socialist basis, when the everyday necessities are being supplied by the state and the children are being collectively brought up, then these constraints will gradually disappear."

The architect V. Kuzmin, one of the leading proponents of collective housing, was even more categorical in his condemnation of the nuclear family: "The proletariat must at once set about the destruction of the family as an organ of oppression and exploitation. In the communal dwelling the family will, in my view, be a purely comradely, physiologically necessary and histori¬cally inevitable association between the working man and the working woman."

—V. Kuzmin, O rabochem zhilishchnom stroitel'stve (On Building Working-Class Dwell¬ings), Sovremennaya Arkhitektura No. 3,1928

Just how strongly entrenched the Bolshevik program was in the minds of party members is revealed by the fact that as late as 1930 Yuri Larin, in a speech before the Communist Academy, called for the elimination of individual kitchens in new apartment buildings, referring to the party's stated aim of feeding 50 percent of the population in communal restaurants. He also called for the construction of communal dwellings with attached nurseries, pointing out that in Moscow there were child-care facilities for only 50 children per 1,000 women—i.e., 1,000 potential workers—and noted the bad effect which the intolerable overcrowding was having on productivity.

Nonetheless it was inevitable that such extreme proposals should arouse opposition, and various attempts at compromise were made. Realizing that the economic backwardness of the country precluded, for the time at least, providing a conventional bourgeois apartment for every family and that those which were being built were in fact being allotted to groups of families, revolutionary architects attempted to find a solution that would both solve the housing problem and further communist consciousness.

It was soon realized that simple miniaturization of the traditional bourgeois apartment was no solution, since apartments with a living area of roughly 50 square meters were less costly to build than miniaturized versions or one-room apartments with the same bath and kitchen. Moreover, the rents of large private apartments would have placed them out of the reach of all but a few highly paid specialists, with the conse¬quence that they would have ended up occupied not by one family but by three or four, "thus creating not the framework for a new way of life but an intolerable existence for 60 percent of the population" (report of the Construction Committee of the R.F.S.R.—or "Stroikom"—1928).

In 1928 Stroikom set up aresearch and design section for the standardization of housing under the direction of Moses Ginzburg, chief editor of Sovremennaya Arkhitektura, the leading journal of Soviet architecture. After three months of labor, Stroikom reported that:

"Despite the extreme tightness of state funds, the provision of housing for millions of workers confronts us as one of our chief tasks.

"...the new types of housing must free as much as possible of the workers' time and energy for social and cultural activities, provide suitable means of relaxation, and facilitate the transition from individual housing to more collective forms."

Explaining the aims of the committee, Ginzburg added: "We consider that one of the important points that must be taken into account in building new apartments is the dialectics of human development. We can no longer compel the occupants of a particular building to live collectively, as we have attempted to do in the past, generally with negative results. We must provide for the possibility of a gradual, natural transition to communal utilization in a number of different areas. That is why we have tried to keep each unit isolated from the next, that is why we found it necessary to design the kitchen alcove as a standard element of minimum size that could be removed bodily from the apartment to permit the introduction of canteen catering at any given moment. We considered it absolutely necessary to incorporate certain features that would stimulate the transition to a socially superior mode of life, stimulate but not dictate...."

"Proletarian Culture"

One of the accusations regularly raised against the radical modernism of avantgarde Soviet architecture was its supposed absence of ties with the masses. These sleek designs, adherents of the emerging bureaucracy charged, had nothing in common with the new proletarian society, and were instead merely a slavish imitation of bourgeois fashions in the West.

The questions raised by such accusations are important. What should be the relationship between the artistic/literary intelligentsia and the proletariat? What sort of creative currents should the party promote? The answers provided by Lenin, Trotsky, Lunacharsky and Bukharin were utterly unambigous: all were united in asserting the duty of the party to intervene against openly counterrevolutionary cur¬rents in art and literature while otherwise insisting on a hands-off policy in the cultural sphere.

Lenin's own tastes in art were rather conservative; he felt little personal sympathy for the radical modernism that came into vogue in Russia after the October Revolution, and it was probably he who approved the choice of a neo-classical entry colonnade in rudimen¬tary Doric style (by ex-bourgeois and later Stalinist hacks Shchuko and Helfreich) as an entry to the Smolny Institute, where he had met the Revolutionary Military Committee that directed the October uprising. However, this is his sole reported intervention into artistic decision-making; otherwise he assumed a position of benevolent neutrality, speaking out public¬ly only when some architectural claque attempted to arrogate to itself exclusive artistic rights to "proletari¬an" or "revolutionary" art in the young workers state. Similarly, Anatoli Luncharsky, People's Commissar of Art and Education, polemicized vigorously against artistic and literary movements which he felt stood in basic contradiction to Marxism, but promoted full freedom of cultural debate.

Trotsky's position on the role of the party in the cultural sphere was identical with Lenin's. In his "Communist Policy Toward Art" Trotsky stated that, while the party must be irreconcilably opposed to overtly counterrevolutionary art, its tasks were essen¬tially:

"to help the most progressive tendencies by a critical illumination of the road, but it does not do more than that. Art must make its own way and by its own means. The Marxian methods are not the same as the artistic. The party leads the proletariat but not the historic processes of history. There are domains in which the party leads, directly and imperatively. There are domains in which it only cooperates. There are, finally, domains in which it only orients itself. The domain of art is not one in which the party is called upon to command. It can and must protect and help it, but it can only lead it indirectly—"

Trotsky, indeed, explicitly rejected the notion of "proletarian art"—first of all, because of the proletari¬at's real cultural deprivation at the time of the seizure of state power:

"The proletariat is forced to take power before it has appropriated the fundamental elements of bourgeois culture; it is forced to overthrow bourgeois society by revolutionary violence for the very reason that that society does not allow it access to culture."

—Trotsky, "What is Proletarian Culture and is it Possible?"

In addition, in the initial years of the proletarian regime (at least in backward Russia) the main tasks of the proletariat were necessarily the creation of the material conditions for general access to culture. "That is why a machine which automatically manufactures bottles is at the present time a first-rate factor in the cultural revolution," said Trotsky, "while a heroic poem is a tenth-rate factor... it is good when poets sing of the revolution and the proletariat, but a powerful turbine sings even better."

The very notion of a proletarian culture stands in contradiction to the basic tenets of Marxism:

"...there can be no question of a new culture, that is, of construction on a large historic scale during the period of dictatorship [of the proletariat]. The cultural reconstruc¬tion which will begin when the need of the iron clutch of a dictatorship unparalleled in history will have disap¬peared, will not have a class character. This seems to lead to the conclusion that there is no proletarian culture and that there never will be any and in fact there is no reason to regret this. The proletariat acquires power for the purpose of doing away with class culture and to make way for human culture. We frequently seem to forget this."

—Trotsky, op. ci't.

Trotsky also ridiculed the sort of simplistic reduction-ism which then, as now, sometimes passed for Marxist criticism. Referring to Raskolnikov, a spokesman for the Na Postu group, Trotsky said:

"In works of art he ignores that which makes them works of art. This was most vividly shown in his remarkable judgment on Dante's The Divine Comedy, which in his opinion is valuable to us just because it enables us to understand the psychology of a certain class at a certain time. To put the matter that way means simply to strike out The Divine Comedy from the realm of art Dante was, of course, the product of a certain social milieu. But Dante was a genius. He raised the experience of his epoch to a tremendous artistic height....the Italian Marxist, old Antonio Labriola, wrote something like this: 'only fools could try to interpret the text of The Divine Comedy as through it were made of the cloth that Florentine merchants provided for their customers'." —Trotsky, op. ci't.

Thus Trotsky could assert that despite "the variations in feelings and states of mind in different won't deny that Shakespeare and Byron somehow speak to your soul and mine." And when the ignorantist Lebedinsky countered that, "They will soon stop speaking," Trotsky replied that the works of Shakespeare, Byron and Pushkin would still be around "when people will stop seeking in Marx's Capital for precepts for their practical activity and Capital will have become merely a historical document, together with the program of our party."

Urbanists and Deurbanists

Russian society was in the 1920's open to a degree inconceivable to citizens of the deformed and degen¬erated workers states today. Despite the ban on party factions, the old polemical traditions of Bolshevism were very much alive, so much so that the emerging bureaucracy required over a dozen years—from the death of Lenin to the Moscow trials—to definitively quash all overt political and intellectual opposition. In the meantime, bureaucratic control was asserted gradually and piecemeal throughout the country—first in the party, where the traditions of dissent ran strongest, then in the state apparatus and last in the field of culture, where the bureaucracy had first to achieve a consciousness reflecting its usurpatory role before it could begin to pursue its unequivocally regressive artistic policies.

As the Stalinist bureaucracy hardened, it gradually developed social cohesiveness and a world outlook corresponding to its balancing between imperialism and the proletarian property forms of October. For the revolutionary architects this meant that there was less and less chance of seeing their striking projects realized, as the bureaucracy increasingly favored an "impressive" academic eclecticism. Thus the terms of architectural debate were first deformed and then became increasingly unreal, as the revolutionary architects, faced with bureaucratic control over commissions, divided into urbanists and deurbanists. While the urbanists clung to the concept of the communal dwelling, to which they gave increasingly extreme and uncompromising forms, the deurbanists abandoned this synthesis in what essentially amounted to a loss of faith in the possibility of socialist reconstruc¬tion of the country's existing physical plant, with consequent abandonment of the city in favor of a pastoral existence based of course on the latest technology—rural electrification, decentralized pro¬duction and the like.

The' chief theoretician of the deurbanists, M. Okhitovich, rejected the notion of the city and put forward the reactionary/Utopian program (prior to the achievement of enormous leaps in technology and material superabundance; i.e., socialism) of a Russia dotted with individual dwellings—lightweight struc¬tures set in unspoiled natural surroundings. "No, let us be frank," he said, "communal houses, those enor¬mous, heavy, monumental, everlasting colossi, perma¬nently encumbering the landscape, will not solve the problem of socialist resettlement." Despite his avowed desire to introduce collective facilities into his housing, it is hard to see how this could have been done in circumstances of planned isolation, while the diffusion of the population would have militated against any but the lowest-level cultural facilities being accessible to the masses. In fact, Okhitovich's scheme had social rather than architectural roots: an increasing desire to withdraw from the bureaucratically run workers state into individual isolation, to substitute a sylvan idyll for commitment to the socialist ideal.

A complementary plan called for the evacuation of Moscow and the resettlement of its population along highways radiating out from the former urban center. New construction in the capital was to be banned and the abandoned areas gradually landscaped until what was left was an irreducible administrative/cultural core
plus a sort of historical museum of artificially preserved neighborhoods and monuments characteristic of the city's past.

Needless to say, the extreme positions of the deurbanizers and the violent counterproposals of the hard-pressed collectivizing urbanizers were grist for the mill of the emerging bureaucracy and its coterie of architectural hangers-on, organized in an off-shoot of Proletkult, the Vopra (All-Russian Association of Proletarian Architects). As in other fields of creative endeavor, an appeal to supposed Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy served only to becloud the real issue: the • conscious undoing of all the October Revolution had stood for.

It is important to realize that the dispute was not simply ideological, but had a material basis in the extreme backwardness and impoverishment of Russia in the 1920's. The existing stock of housing was decaying at a frightening rate, as lack of material rendered it impossible to replace broken pipes, missing tiles and window panes. Even in 1931 the average dwelling space per person was around four square meters in Moscow: indeed housing space per person had steadily declined since the Revolution, despite the new building programs, which had barely dented the vast need. These conditions of material deprivation were, as Trotsky pointed out, one of the major causes for the rise of a parasitic bureaucracy; and the role of this emergent bureaucracy as adjudicator of the strife and allocator of what little privilege the new society could offer is as apparent in architecture and public housing as elsewhere.


The Stalinist architectural "program" for the early '30's consisted of the following points:

1. Reduce costs! The government simply decreed (1

March 1931) a reduction in building costs for new

housing from an average of 170 to 104 rubles per square


2. Widely publicized campaigns for goals never

seriously expected to be met. In 1931 the first major all-

out drive to solve the housing problem was proclaimed

"by decision of the Council of People's Commissars

and at the personal initiative of Cde. Stalin," whereby New construction in the capital was to be banned and the abandoned areas gradually landscaped until what was left was an irreducible administrative/cultural core

700,000 new dwellings were supposed to be erected for workers in the Donets and Kuznets Basins, the Urals and Karaganda before the year's end. Of course, the country lacked the infrastructure to concentrate all its resources and trained personnel in a few regions, let alone to embark on so mammoth a construction program in the limited time allotted. For workers and functionaries on the spot, trying to cope with this bureaucratically induced chaos, the result was inevita¬bly personal cynicism and disillusionment with the socialist ideals supposedly inspiring such projects.

3. Under the slogan of "radical standardization," the Stalinists instituted a return to "traditional Russian"
modes of housing, i.e., the primitive wood log house of the peasant village, the very archetype of Russian
backwardness. German architect Wilm Stein, writing from Moscow, described the abrupt turnabout in a 1931 article for Bauweit:

"Everywhere the drums are now being beaten for the 'standard building'; the leap from the new revelation of 'socialist cities' to primitive little wood dwellings, for which plans and designs are being sent out in droves by the Office for Standardization, is being sweetened by the new advantages of the wooden house being discovered daily: 'The standard houses do not require any scarce materials such as iron and cement'; 'instead of 170 rubles per square meter in stone houses the square meter in wood houses costs only 80 rubles'; as further advantages of the standard wood house a savings in man hours for construction workers, the fact that engineers and technicians are not required, the short time of construc¬tion, the freeing of the rail system from the transport of building materials, etc., etc. are being mentioned."

Stein termed the decision to shift "from the socialist communal cities and their symphonies in steel, concrete and glass to simple peasant housing in wood" a "blow to communist theory"; this decision, he notes, "was made after a long dispute among the Communists—indeed, in the midst of this dispute—by a ukase of the Central Committee of the Party on 25 March [1931]."

4. The communal dwelling and with it the socialization of household labor were abandoned as "Utopian."
Thereby the full emancipation of women was deliberately postponed to an indefinite future (even as the
Stalinist regime began to nibble away at women's full legal equality with restrictions on abortion and divorce laws and with the glorification of "Soviet mother¬hood"). At the same time, ideological attacks were mounted on revolutionary architecture.

The pretentious, neo-classic facades erected from 1930 to 1950 were generally gigantic cover-ups— literally—of internal hollowness. Having catered to and promoted the backwardness of the working class, Stalin evidently felt compelled to buttress his authority and that of the usurpatory bureaucratic regime which he represented by resorting to the outward symbols of bourgeois power. Thus the airy lightness of early post-revolutionary architecture was replaced by a squat, oppressive style that seems a fitting tribute to the dead weight of the bureaucracy resting on the soil of "socialism in one country."

Post-War Soviet Architecture

Even apart from the havoc wreaked by World War II, Soviet housing and city design would have presented a picture bleak and dreary in the extreme. While great advances were made in housing the mass of the population and repairing the damage caused by the imperialist war, the economy remained distorted by bureaucratic usurpation of workers democracy and by generalized want. The housing that was built was either of the most drab, dull barracks type or the pretentiously tricked-out spup-sugar kitsch that appealed to the petty-bourgeoisified administrative hierarchy.

After Stalin's death, the bureaucracy as a whole realized that the current "socialist realist" style in architecture was making the Soviet Union a laugh¬ingstock throughout the world and promoting the notion of Russian backwardness, and a turn was carried out, announced by the results of the competition for the Hall of the Soviets inside the Kremlin walls—a structure that makes all the proper obeisances toward the same mid-20th-century steel and glass design which inspired New York's Lincoln Center.

It is not by chance that, despite their obvious advantages and greater rationality, communes have not been erected in the more than 50 years since the Stalinist take-over in Russia. This is simply a reflection of the fact that the oppressive nuclear family can never be eliminated under the bureaucratic regimes of the deformed and degenerated workers states.

Nevertheless, present-day architectural planning and design constitute an exemplary instance of why Trotskyists couple unconditional defense of the gains of the October Revolution with a call for a political revolution that would preserve these .gains while ousting the parasitic bureaucracy. Just what are these gains, then, in the field of architecture?

First, state ownership of the land, as the basis for rational city planning unhampered by the need to adjudicate the interests of hundreds of individual landholders (with whom under capitalism the "impar¬tial" state administrators are bound by countless ties). Second, state ownership of the means of production and the planned economy, which make it possible to allocate resources on a nation-wide scale in accord with the needs of the population. While considering cost factors (as any society must do in deciding how to allocate its surplus in productive investment), Soviet planning is not based on profitability criteria but on the satisfaction of social needs on a rational, planned basis (despite the manifest and fundamental perversion of this system by the bureaucracy).

Leninism is still social dynamite, both in and outside the deformed workers states. It, and the fragility of the bureaucracy as a parasitic caste not rooted in the proletarian property forms it ineffectively defends, account for the continued validity of Trotsky's evalua¬tion of the bureaucracy as a historically ephemeral phenomenon—as a caste, not a new class. A working-class political revolution with the establishment of democratically elected Soviets would, as in Hungary in 1956, bring about a swift dissolution of the bureaucracy, much of which—as the Hungarian example demonstrated—would probably go over to the side of the workers. While prophecies should in general be avoided, it seems safe to assert that as part of the overall activization of the hitherto atomized and passive population following the political revolution, com¬munes embodying the ideals of a proletarian state governed by workers democracy would spring up, as was the case in the 1920's, but starting from an infinitely superior material base. Here, too, the liberation of women will be part of and a consequence of the self-liberation of the working class."

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

When Studs Terkel Spoke Truth To Power In A Sullen World -A Tribute From NPR’s- Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source”*World War II Up Close And Personal- Studs Terkel's "The Good War"

When Studs Terkel Spoke Truth To Power In A Sullen World -A Tribute From NPR’s Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source”

Link to Christopher Lydon's Open Source program on the late "people's  journalist" Studs Terkel 

By Si Lannon

It was probably Studs Terkel via a series of book reviews of his interviews trying to get a feel for the soul of the American from Sam Lowell that I first heard the expression “speaking truth to power.” Spoke that message to a sullen world then. Unfortunately since that time the world had not gotten less sullen. Nor has the need to speak truth to power dissipated since Studs passed from this mortal coil of a world that he did so much to give ear and eye to. The problem, the real problem is that we in America no longer produce that pied piper, that guy who will tell the tale the way it has to be told. Something about those gals and guys who waded through the Great Depression, saw firsthand in the closed South Side Chicago factories that something was desperately wrong with the way society operated and slogged through World War II and didn’t go face down in the post-war dead ass could war night spoke of grit and of a feeling that the gritty would not let you down when the deal went down. When Mister (Peabody, James Crow, Robber Baron you name it) called the bluff and you stood there naked and raw.        

Fellow Chicagoan writer Nelson Algren (he of The Man With The Golden Arm and Walk On The Wild Side) put the kind of gals and guys Studs looked around for in gritty urban sinkhole lyrical form but Studs is the guy who found the gritty unwashed masses to sing of. (It is not surprising that when Algren went into decline, wrote less lucid prose Stud grabbed him by the lapels and did a big time boost on one of his endless radio talks to let a candid world know that they missing a guy who know how to give voice to the voiceless, the people with small voices who are still getting the raw end of the deal, getting fucked over if you really want to nitty-gritty truth to power). So check this show out to see what it was like when writers and journalists went down in the mud to get to the spine of society.     

Click On Title To Link To Studs Terkel’s Web Page.

Book Review

“The Good War”: An Oral History Of World War II, Studs Terkel, Pantheon Books, 1984

Strangely, as I found out about the recent death of long time pro-working class journalist and general truth-teller "Studs" Terkel I was just beginning to read his "The Good War", about the lives and experiences of, mainly, ordinary people during World War II in America and elsewhere, for review in this space. A little comment is thus in order here before I do so. The obvious one that comes to mind is that with his passing he joins many of the icons of my youth who have now passed from the scene. Saul Bellows, Arthur Miller, Hunter Thompson, Norman Mailer, Utah Phillips to name a few. Terkel was certainly one of them, not for his rather bland old New Deal political perspective as much as a working class partisan as he might have been, but for his reportage about ordinary working people. These are my kind of people. This where I come from. He heard the particular musical cadence of their lives and wrote with some verve on the subject, especially that melody of his adopted Chicago home (Musically, Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home, Chicago" fits the bill here, right?).

One thing that I noticed immediately after reading this book is that, as is true of the majority of Terkel's interview books, he is not the dominant presence but is a rather light, if intensely interested, interloper in these stories. For better or worse the interviewees get to tell their stories, unchained. In this age of 24/7 media coverage with every half-baked journalist or wannabe interjecting his or her personality into somebody else's story this was, and is, rather refreshing. Of course this journalistic virtue does not mean that Studs did not have control over who got to tell their stories and who didn't to fit his preoccupations and sense of order. I would have been surprised, for example, if the central leadership of the Allied military efforts, like General Eisenhower, got a lot of ink here but I was not surprised that, for example, the late "premature anti-fascist" Milton Wolff, the last commander of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, got a full airing on his interesting World War II exploits.

What were Stud's preoccupations in this book? Obviously from the quotation marks around the title "The Good War" there is some question in his mind and in that of at least some of his interviewees that this now storied period was all that it was cracked up to be. One, however, gets the distinct impression that, notwithstanding that assumption, those who participated in this period, called the "greatest generation" at least in America basically saw it as a necessary war to fight, whatever else happened afterward.

I have my disagreements with the premise that was this was the greatest American generation (the Northern side in the Civil War gets my vote) and what one should have done in response to the Axis threat to the world and the defense of the Soviet Union but I too will defer political judgment and let the participants tell their stories.

And what stories are being told here? Well, certainly this book is filled with interviews of the lives, struggles and fate of the rank and file servicemen (and a few women) that fought that war. Those include the stories of soldiers from the Axis powers and the Soviet Union as well. Of course we have the trials and tribulations of those who were left behind on the home fronts, including those "Rosie The Riveters" women who went to work in the factories of America (and were later kicked out on the return of the men).

Moreover, and this marks this book as different from earlier efforts to tell the war story, we have stories of the plight and successes of blacks, including the now famous Tuskegee Airmen, in this transitional racial period that in many ways is the catalyst for the later black civil rights movement of the 1950's. It is no accident that many of the early rank and file cadres of that movement were veterans of this war. As importantly we also have stories here of the effects the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war as told by those affected.

Of course, no modern account of World War II can be complete without mention of the Holocaust (Shoah), the fates of the survivors and those who didn't as well as the impact that it had on the liberators on entering the death camps. Also necessary are the interviews concerning the grizzly fates of POW on all sides. As is, additionally, the general sense that many participants sincerely thought that this war was to be something like a war to end all wars (sound familiar?), especially in light of Hiroshima.

I was somewhat surprised by the overwhelming distinction that was drawn between the "civilized" nature of the European war and the "savagery" of the Pacific war by the participants. However, I was not surprised by the general support for the dropping of the atomic bomb expressed by the bulk of the interviewees questioned nor was I surprised by the little tidbits of information about events that occurred during the war that presaged the buildup to the anti-Soviet Cold War.

For those of us who are sons and daughters of this generation that fought the war, and who came of political age in the 1960's, this little book provides more personal information in one spot than I ever learned from my taciturn and reticent parents or from the high school history books. That, my friends, makes this any extremely necessary book for your lists if you came from an even later generation and are personally farther removed from this period. Read this book! Kudos and adieu Studs.

Friday, August 18, 2017

On The Anniversary of The Demise of the Soviet Union

On The  Anniversary of The Demise of the Soviet Union-1991


This August marks the Anniversary of an aborted coup by a segment of the Soviet bureaucracy that began the unravelling of the Soviet Union. Some anniversaries the international working class commemorates with a certain resignation that the event signals better times to come, like the Paris Commune. Some we commemorate with a burning desire for revenge, like the case of Sacco and Vanzetti. Some we gladly honor as a signpost for the future, like the Russian Revolution of 1917. This one, however, no militant leftist should think of with anything but chagrin.

If it was not apparent at the time of the coup, in the welter of ‘death of communism’ rhetoric since then, 17 years is enough to teach any honest militant that the demise of the Soviet Union has entered the books as a world historic defeat for the working class. If nothing else we have learned a very hard lesson about the value of even a degenerated workers state as a factor on our side in world politics. While no one wants to go back to the old Stalinist days, in Russia or anywhere else, damn we of the revolutionary left are in a tough spot today just at a time when we could use some help against international imperialism from even such a 'blunted' instrument. In any case, even if today I am forced to say this somewhat wistfully- Forward to new Octobers. We are, after all, even those who kick and scream about it all children of the Russian Revolution.

Monday, June 19, 2017

*On The Anniversary Of The Execution Of The Rosenbergs- E.L. Doctorow's Fictional Treatment "The Book Of Daniel" And Sidney Lumet's Film "Daniel"

*On The Anniversary Of The Execution Of The Rosenbergs- E.L. Doctorow's Fictional Treatment "The Book Of Daniel" And Sidney Lumet's Film "Daniel"


Commentary- June 2, 2009

This June marks the 56th Anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg by the American state. I have defended the Rosenbergs elsewhere in this space, including a review last year of a film documentary by Rosenberg granddaughter, Ivy Meerpol, titled "Heir To An Execution".(Check Archives). Directly below are some remarks made in additional to that review in light of a flurry of controversy around their names that surfaced in the Fall of 2008. This year I have chosen to review E.L. Doctorow's 1971 fictional treatment of some aspects of the case and the film based on the book. Needless to say I stand by my defense of this heroic radical couple. Justice still awaits in their case.


Commentary made in addition to a September 14, 2008 review of a film documentary by Rosenberg granddaughter, Ivy Meerpol, in this space.

Honor the Heroic Soviet Spies Julius Rosenberg, Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobel

In the commentary above I alluded, somewhat obliquely, to the Verona Tapes-the decoded Soviet transmissions from World War II- as an earlier American governmental source for the proposition that Julius Rosenberg was providing scientific information of some sort to the Soviet Union during that period. Recent news has highlighted the possible truth of that assertion. First the release of classified grand jury testimony in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case mentioned above. Also the assertion by convicted Rosenberg co-conspirator Morton Sobel that he passed scientific information to the Soviets during that period. More recently, in some interviews in The New York Times, the Rosenberg children (Meeropols), after having spend their adulthoods trying to build a case for their parents’ innocence have seemingly come to the position that their father, at least, was indeed working for the Soviets.

Let’s be clear here. For those who saw military defense of the Soviet Union, Stalinist warts and all, as an internationalist socialist duty until its demise in the early 1990’s the question of honoring Julius and Ethel Rosenberg has not hinged on their guilt or innocence of the charges of aiding the Soviet Union leveled by the American government. Nor has it hinged on opposition to the death penalty, although we are opposed to that barbaric punishment. The question has always been, if not openly then otherwise, the service they were in a position to provide to the first workers state. In the interest of “muddying the waters” we have never earlier proclaimed them, as we have with Kim Philby and his Cambridge cohorts, Richard Sorge or Leopold Trepper, heroic Soviet spies. Now, apparently, we can openly acknowledge our debt at last to Julius and Morton Sobel. The case remains unclear about Ethel although we honor her as a soldier of the revolution as well. Some little piece of historic justice is finally possible in their cases.

I would add here that although I had spend a fair portion of my life as a military defender of the Soviet Union and the other workers states of East Europe while they existed that, as a practical matter, that defense never got beyond the propaganda stage. Apparently, Julius Rosenberg and Morton Sobel, in their attempts to defend the interests of the Soviet Union as they saw that duty, were in a position to do more. Although the political gap that separated us was, at times drawn in the blood of our murdered comrades at the hands of the Stalinist henchman that they defended, they acted as soldiers of the revolution here. That is the why of honoring them in this space.

Finally, I have mentioned before that I have always liked the idea of Julius organizing in the 1930’s in behalf of freedom for the jailed militant labor leader Tom Mooney while at City College of New York (CCNY). As those who follow this space know the late Professor Irving Howe, the social democratic founder/editor of Dissent also was at CCNY during this period as an anti-Stalinist socialist who was won to Trotskyism, for a moment, during this same period. He, along with a fair number of others recruited from the Socialist Party milieu at CCNY dropped out of the Socialist Workers Party (the main organized Trotskyist organization in America at the time) over the question of defense of the Soviet Union when it mattered in the late 1930’s. I pose this question- When the fight for socialism is on the line who do you want with you- Julius Rosenberg or Irving Howe? To ask the question is to give the answer. The Rosenbergs and Sobel were not our people- but they were our people.


Book/ DVD Review

This review is being used for both book and DVD versions of Doctorow's work as the central points to be made in regard to both works are similar. The film starring Timothy Hutton as Daniel and directed by the acclaimed Sidney Lumet fairly closely hems to Doctorow's story line. Hutton does an excellent job as Daniel. Obviously, such dramatic moments as the attempts to run away from the state authorities by the Rosenberg children after their parents' arrest, the touching visiting scenes by the children in the prison just prior to the executions, the executions and the tragic fate of one of the children (in the book, not real life) get more attention than in the book. But that is cinematic license, and here is not overplayed.

The Book Of Daniel, E.L. Doctorow, Random House, New York, 1971

Daniel, starring Timothy Hutton, directed by Sidney Lumet, DVD release 2008

At first blush the Rosenberg Cold War Soviet espionage case of the 1950's, that ended in the execution of both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg by the American state despite a worldwide campaign to save their lives, would not appear to be a natural subject for fictional treatment. Unlike, let us say, Kim Philby and the various Cambridge spies the Rosenbergs' biographies and political profiles do not have the stuff of larger than life drama. Moreover, whatever their efforts were on behalf of the defense of the Soviet Union, as they saw it, the details do not jump out as the makings of a spy thriller. And the well-known historical novelist (`Ragtime", Loon Lake", etc.), E.L. Doctorow, does not go into any of that material. What Doctorow has attempted to mine, and I think within the parameters that he has set himself successfully so, is the effect that the political actions of the Rosenbergs had on their children at the time, on their children's futures (in state custody and later adopted privately) and on the trauma of being the "heirs to an execution" in adulthood. Add to that the biblical implications ("The Book Of Daniel") that Doctorow weaves into his story and that is more than enough material for one novel.

Naturally, the question of the fate of the children of famous (or infamous, as the case may be) is a fair subject for treatment, fictional or otherwise. There is a whole flourishing body of literature concerning this topic. What makes the Rosenberg children distinct (a boy and girl, rather than the real two boys, fictionally named Daniel and Susan Issacson here) is that they were son and daughter to parents who in the eyes of the American state and significant parts of the American population were traitors. Not a good way for young kids to develop their self-esteem. That struggle, placed in the context of the traumas over personal identification which were rift as they grew to adulthood and that helped define the 1960's the time of the action of this story, drive the main themes of the story. The interlocked questions of life in the academy (Daniel is something of a professional graduate student), life on the political streets (Susan has chosen a psychologically dangerous way to cope with her heritage by going full-bore into the left-wing political activity of the period) and coming to grips, successfully or not, with their legacies give the plot substance.

Aside from Doctorow's main themes of exploring the thorny question of the responsibility that parents have for their children, either as parents or as political people, the last part of the book where Daniel, as a coping mechanism if nothing else, begins to get "political" provides some interesting (for the time) theories about what happened in the Rosenberg case. The themes of "good Jew, bad Jew" (as shown by the large cast of Jewish characters in the trial process), the alleged inadequacies of the defense, the scarcity of government evidence (the Rosenbergs were convicted of that old stand-by "conspiracy"), the nature of the early Cold War period and the personal and political limitations of the Rosenbergs themselves get a full workout here. In the end though, as I mentioned in a commentary reviewing Rosenberg granddaughter Ivy Meerpol's film, "Heir To An Execution", concerning the personal characters of the Rosenbergs they did their duty as communists, as they saw it. For that they deserve all honor. And someday some real justice to clear their names.

Thursday, June 15, 2017





Eisenhower, Stalin, the Cold War, the Korean War, atomic bombs, atomic spies, air raid shelters, the “Red Scare”, McCarthyism and the Rosenbergs- in the mist of time these were early, if undigested terms, from my childhood. Ah, the Rosenbergs. That is what I want to write about today. Out of all of those undigested terms that name is the one that still evokes deep emotion in these old bones. For those who have forgotten, or those too young to remember, the controversy surrounding their convictions for espionage in passing information about the atomic bomb to the now defunct Soviet Union and their executions defined an essential part of the 1950’s, the hardening of the Cold War period in American history. Their controversial convictions and sentencing evoked widespread protests throughout the world. Thus, those who seek to learn the lessons of history, our working class history, and about justice American-style should take the time to carefully examine the case and come to some conclusions about it.

Frankly, I had not read, until recently when I read The Rosenberg File by Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton (originally written in 1983 with a second edition in 1997 taking advantage of the opening of some archives in the post-Soviet period), any books on the case in a long while. Thus one of my tasks is to re-read the old material, read the new post-Soviet material, and make some suggestions about what to look for in trying to understand the history of the case. This commentary will thus express my own thoughts on the Rosenbergs more than answer the questions raised by the scholarship on the case.

And what questions drive the scholarship on the case? Was their trial a frame-up in classic American-style against leftist political opponents of the Cold War and American foreign policy? Were they, individually or collectively, “master spies” at the service of the Soviet Union? Were they innocent, if misguided, progressives caught up in the turmoil of the American “red scare” of the post-World War II period? Did the government through its FBI and other security agencies, its attorneys, its judges stumble into a case which would make many reputations? Did the American Communist Party, itself under severe scrutiny and persecution, betray the Rosenbergs? Did the various international campaigns on behalf of the couple work at cross purposes with their various demands for a new trial, reduction of sentence and clemency? What kind of people were these Rosenbergs? In short, were the Rosenbergs heroic Soviet spies, martyrs, dupes or innocents? Those are the questions thoughtful readers are confronted with and I will deal with at least some of them in due course in latter blogs.

My own evolution on the case goes something like this. In my young left-liberal and social democratic days I believed, based on my reading of the trial evidence and a belief then in the basic fairness of the American justice system, that unlike Sacco and Vanzetti the Rosenbergs were guilty of the charges but as an opponent of the death penalty they should not have been executed. As I moved left, closer to Marxist politics, I still believed they were ‘guilty’. However, I came to believe that the question of guilt or innocence was beside the point and their actions on behalf of the Soviet Union made them heroes of the international working class. That, dear reader, is still my basic position.

And what is the basis of that position. At one time I was ‘in the orbit’ of the American Communist party, a fellow traveler of Stalinism, if you will. One of the criteria posed by that position was the question of defending the gains of the Russian Revolution, as I then understood it. And that meant defense of the interests of the Soviet Union. I saw the Rosenberg case as part of that same continuum, those who could actively aid the Soviet cause, by any means necessary, were kindred spirits although other than spreading pro-Soviet propaganda I personally never did anything materially to aid the Soviet Union.

Those who have read this space over last year know that I am an ardent supporter of the work of Russian Bolshevik warrior Leon Trotsky. As one should also be aware there was, and is, a river of blood, including the physical destruction of the Trotskyist Left Opposition inside the Soviet Union and elsewhere and Trotsky’s own assassination by a Stalinist agent in 1940, between those two concepts of socialist society. Nevertheless to his dying breath Trotsky defended the Soviet Union against foreign and internal counterrevolution. Thus, despite that political divide the Rosenbergs’ action, according to their lights, was not affected by my change of political orientation. Nor should it have changed.

And who were the Rosenbergs? In the headline above I called them soldiers of the revolution and I would add here, as they saw it. I think that is a fair assessment and one that I hope they would have agreed with despite our divergence political perspectives. I like the picture in my mind of Julius Rosenberg standing up for the almost forgotten labor martyr Tom Mooney in the early 1930’s at City College of New York. I also like the picture of the ‘premature’ anti-fascist Ethel Rosenberg singing in Times Square in 1936 to raise money for the Spanish Republicans when damn few others raised their heads. They made, seemingly, every mistake in the spy book. They may have not been the natural leaders of a socialist revolution in America. However, no revolution can be made without such dedicated rank and filers, who stood up when it counted. They did not cry about their fate. And they did not turn into governmental informers to save their skins. Yes, my friends, those are indeed my kindred spirits. They were not our people-but, they were our people. And they should be yours. Some day when there is a lot most justice in the world than there is now a really fitting memorial to their memory will be in order in the socialist society of the future. In the meantime- Honor the Rosenbergs-Soldiers of the Revolution.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

*Singers' Corner- Honor The Birthday Anniversary Of Paul Robeson

Singers' Corner- Honor The Birthday Anniversary Of Paul Robeson


Waterboy, where are you hiding
If you don't come right here
Gonna tell you pa on you
There ain't no hammer
That's on a this mountain
That ring like mine boy
That ring like mine

I'm gonna bust this rock boy
From here to the Macon
All the way to the jail boy
All the way to the jail

You Jack o diamond
Jack o diamond
Know you of old boy
I know you're of old
You rob-a my pocket
Rob my pocket
Silver and gold boy
Of silver and gold
There ain't no sweat boy
That's on a this mountain
That run like mine boy
That run like mine

Friday, January 13, 2017

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- Honor Julius And Ethel Rosenberg

Click on the title to link to an article from the "Socialist Worker org. Web site. This is a guest commentary on the subject

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Leibknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.

Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

Markin comment:

The names of the heroic Communist militants Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are no strangers to this space. I have mentioned this before and it bears repeating here. The Rosenbergs were not our people (hard Stalinists rather than supporters of Trotsky), but they were our people (they defended the Soviet Union in the best way they knew how, and didn't complain about it in the end).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

*Honor The Memory Of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg- Soldiers of The Revolution

Click On Title To Link To The Rosenberg Defense Fund For Children

The very recent disclosures through the release of previously classified documents of possible perjury to the grand jury by Ethel Rosenberg's brother and sister-in-law and co-defendant Morton Sobel's seeming confession that he acted as a spy on behalf of the Soviet Union during World War II have forced me to post this review earlier than I had anticipated. The comments I made below I stand by. I, however, am beginning to develop an even stronger respect for what Julius Rosenberg tried to do in defense of the Soviet Union- when it counted by someone who could do something about it. More later on these soldiers of the revolution.


Heir To An Execution, directed by Ivy Meeropol, 2004

This year marks the 55th Anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg by the American state. As I mentioned in a March 2007 review of a book on their case –they were not our people, but they were our people (meaning they doggedly adhered to the Stalinist line to the end but also upheld the defense of the Soviet Union, as they understood it, as well). Below is a DVD review of a documentary of their lives produced by one of their granddaughters who, although she does not appear to be particularly political, has as many questions about the fate of her grandparents as we militant leftists do.

The first two paragraphs are taken from that previous March 2007 review to set the stage for the kind of questions that their granddaughter, Ivy Meeropol, daughter of Julius and Ethel’s son Robert attempted to deal with on this political case although the thrust of her work was to find out how the case affected her family and their friends as much as anything else.

“Eisenhower, Stalin, the Cold War, the Korean War, atomic bombs, atomic spies, air raid shelters, the “Red Scare”, McCarthyism and the Rosenbergs- in the mist of time these were early, if undigested terms, from my childhood. Ah, the Rosenbergs. That is what I want to write about today. Out of all of those undigested terms that name is the one that still evokes deep emotion in these old bones. For those who have forgotten, or those too young to remember, the controversy surrounding their convictions for espionage in passing information about the atomic bomb to the now defunct Soviet Union and their executions defined an essential part of the 1950’s, the hardening of the Cold War period in American history. Their controversial convictions and sentencing evoked widespread protests throughout the world. Thus, those who seek to learn the lessons of history, our working class history, and about justice American-style should take the time to carefully examine the case and come to some conclusions about it….

…And what questions drive the scholarship on the case? Was their trial a frame-up in classic American-style against leftist political opponents of the Cold War and American foreign policy? Were they, individually or collectively, “master spies” at the service of the Soviet Union? Were they innocent, if misguided, progressives caught up in the turmoil of the American “red scare” of the post-World War II period? Did the government through its FBI and other security agencies, its attorneys, its judges stumble into a case which would make many reputations? Did the American Communist Party, itself under severe scrutiny and persecution, betray the Rosenbergs? Did the various international campaigns on behalf of the couple work at cross purposes with their various demands for a new trial, reduction of sentence and clemency? What kind of people were these Rosenbergs? In short, were the Rosenbergs heroic Soviet spies, martyrs, dupes or innocents? Those are the questions thoughtful readers are confronted with and I will deal with at least some of them in due course in latter commentaries.”

These same questions mentioned above stalk the viewer today after watching this very personal, and at times tearful, take on the case. Clearly the evident adduced argues more forcefully, especially in light of the Verona tapes, that the Rosenbergs did something illegal, although not what they were executed for. As clearly, as well, they were abandoned by friends and family then and it appears unto the nth generation from Ms. Meeropol’s frustrated efforts to put the picture of their lives together through some of the relatives. Moreover, the toll on the two Rosenberg (Meeropol) children (and through them their children) makes this at some level something of a life time curse.

Yet here is a picture that I have constructed that seems to me to be a little closer to the truth. I like the picture of Julius leading a march in defense of freedom for labor leader Tom Mooney at City College of New York in the early 1930’s. I like the picture of Ethel singing in Times Square for the benefit of the Spanish Republicans. I will stick with my original take on the fate of the Rosenbergs- they, in their own ways and for their own purposes, were soldiers of the revolution, and didn’t complain about it or their fates. Yes, I like that idea. Yes, that is why at the beginning of this piece I could say without hesitation that these were our people, although they were not our people. Watch this and see why and then go out and get some books on the subject.