Saturday, September 08, 2007

*Labor's Untold Story-The Strange Odyssey Of General Coxey

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Civil War general and sometime labor leader James Coxey (of the expression, old fashioned by now) of Coxey's Army.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

*Labor's Untold Story- "Labor Statesman" Samuel Gompers

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for early American Federation Of Labor (AFL)"leader" Samuel Gompers. He spent two minutes as a Marxist devotee in his youth (sound familiar?)and the rest of his life as a labor skate of the first order for which we are still paying for. Hold your nose and read. More, much more on this one later in the series.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Friday, September 07, 2007

*LEON TROTSKY ON KRONSTADT 1921-The Echos Of History

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for the Kronstadt 1921 events. This is linked here for those unfamiliar with the events that form the basic for Leon Trotsky's polemic below. I have made my political position clear in my commentary and I do not vouch for the truth of any statements made in the Wikipedia entry. Needless to say this sis a"hot button" subject of controversy between communists and anarchists.


The question of the Kronstadt sailors uprising of 1921 in Russia at the end of the Civil War period has always been controversial both within the communist movement and outside and has come to be seen as THE dividing point by most of the latter day anarchist movement. Below I have posted an article by Leon Trotsky in 1938 which puts paid to his part in the controversy.

As to this writer’s opinion in the controversy I stand with Leon Trotsky’s position as declared as late as 1938 that, all things considered, that he stood by the military decision to suppress the Kronstadt Fortress and took political responsibility for it. I believe that those who discount the importance of the Bolshevik action at that time in defense of the workers state at the tail end of the Civil War have a frivolous attitude toward the conquests of the workers movement. Although it is entirely possible today to be a good revolutionary and have an incorrect, or no, opinion on Kronstadt it is hard to see where such people would fall when the defense of current workers states comes in to operation. Additionally, Kronstadt 1921 and one Nestor Makhno have come to have iconic value for the anarchist movement against all the serious tasks confronting the international workers movement today. I would ask those thoughtful anarchists whom care about that fight is it not about time to move on?


Written: April 1938

First Published: The New International, Volume 4, No. 4 April 1938, pages 103 - 106.

Translated: By The New International

Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters

Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2003. Permission is
granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free
Documentation License

A "People's Front" of Denouncers

The campaign around Kronstadt is being carried on with undiminished vigor in certain circles. One would think that the Kronstadt revolt occurred not seventeen years ago, but only yesterday. Participating in the campaign with equal zeal and under one and the same slogan are Anarchists, Russian Mensheviks, left Social Democrats of the London Bureau, individual blunderers, Miliukov's paper, and, on occasion, the big capitalist press. A "People's Front" of its own kind!

Only yesterday I happened across the following lines in a Mexican weekly which is both reactionary Catholic and "democratic": "Trotsky ordered the shooting of 1,500 (?) Kronstadt sailors, these purest of the pure. His policy when in power differed in no way from the present policy of Stalin." As is known, the left Anarchists draw the same conclusion. When for the first time in the press I briefly answered the questions of Wendelin Thomas, member of the New York Commission of Inquiry, the Russian Mensheviks' paper immediately came to the defense of the Kronstadt sailors and ... of Wendelin Thomas. Miliukov's paper came forward in the same spirit. The Anarchists attacked me with still greater vigor. All these authorities claim that my answer was completely worthless. This unanimity is all the more remarkable since the Anarchists defend, in the symbol of Kronstadt, genuine anti-state communism; the Mensheviks, at the time of the Kronstadt uprising, stood openly for the restoration of capitalism; and Miliukov stands for capitalism even now.

How can the Kronstadt uprising cause such heartburn to Anarchists, Mensheviks, and "liberal" counterrevolutionists, all at the same time? The answer is simple: all these groupings are interested in compromising the only genuinely revolutionary current, which has never repudiated its banner, has not compromised with its enemies, and alone represents the future. It is because of this that among the belated denouncers of my Kronstadt "crime" there are so many former revolutionists or semi-revolutionists, people who have lost their program and their principles and who find it necessary to divert attention from the degradation of the Second International or the perfidy of the Spanish Anarchists. As yet, the Stalinists cannot openly join this campaign around Kronstadt but even they, of course, rub their hands with pleasure; for the blows are directed against "Trotskyism," against revolutionary Marxism, against the Fourth International!

Why in particular has this variegated fraternity seized precisely upon Kronstadt? During the years of the revolution we clashed not a few times with the Cossacks, the peasants, even with certain layers of workers (certain groups of workers from the Urals organized a volunteer regiment in the army of Kolchak!). The antagonism between the workers as consumers and the peasants as producers and sellers of bread lay, in the main, at the root of these conflicts. Under the pressure of need and deprivation, the workers themselves were episodically divided into hostile camps, depending upon stronger or weaker ties with the village. The Red Army also found itself under the influence of the countryside. During the years of the civil war it was necessary more than once to disarm discontented regiments. The introduction of the "New Economic Policy" (NEP) attenuated the friction but far from eliminated it. On the contrary, it paved the way for the rebirth of kulaks [ wealthy peasants ] and led, at the beginning of this decade, to the renewal of civil war in the village. The Kronstadt uprising was only an episode in the history of the relations between the proletarian city and the petty-bourgeois village. It is possible to understand this episode only in connection with the general course of the development of the class struggle during the revolution.

Kronstadt differed from a long series of other petty-bourgeois movements and uprisings only by its greater external effect. The problem here involved a maritime fortress under Petrograd itself. During the uprising proclamations were issued and radio broadcasts were made. The Social Revolutionaries and the Anarchists, hurrying from Petrograd, adorned the uprising with "noble" phrases and gestures. All this left traces in print. With the aid of these "documentary" materials (i.e., false labels), it is not hard to construct a legend about Kronstadt, all the more exalted since in 1917 the name Kronstadt was surrounded by a revolutionary halo. Not idly does the Mexican magazine quoted above ironically call the Kronstadt sailors the "purest of the pure."

The play upon the revolutionary authority of Kronstadt is one of the distinguishing features of this truly charlatan campaign. Anarchists, Mensheviks, liberals, reactionaries try to present the matter as if at the beginning of 1921 the Bolsheviks turned their, weapons on those very Kronstadt sailors who guaranteed the victory of the October insurrection. Here is the point of departure for all the subsequent falsehoods. Whoever wishes to unravel these lies should first of all read the article by Comrade J.G. Wright in the New International (February 1938). My problem is another one: I wish to describe the character of the Kronstadt uprising from a more general point of view.

Social and Political Groupings in Kronstadt

A revolution is "made" directly by a minority. The success of a revolution is possible, however, only where this minority finds more or less support, or at least friendly neutrality, on the part of the majority. The shift in different stages of the revolution, like the transition from revolution to counterrevolution, is directly determined by changing political relations between the minority and the majority, between the vanguard and the class.

Among the Kronstadt sailors there were three political layers: the proletarian revolutionists, some with a serious past and training; the intermediate majority, mainly peasant in origin; and finally, the reactionaries, sons of kulaks, shopkeepers, and priests. In czarist times, order on battleships and in the fortress could be maintained only so long as the officers, acting through the reactionary sections of the petty officers and sailors, subjected the broad intermediate layer to their influence or terror, thus isolating the revolutionists, mainly the machinists, the gunners, and the electricians, i.e., predominantly the city workers.

The course of the uprising on the battleship Potemkin in 1905 was based entirely on the relations among these three layers, i.e., on the struggle between proletarian and petty-bourgeois reactionary extremes for influence upon the more numerous middle peasant layer. Whoever has not understood this problem, which runs through the whole revolutionary movement in the fleet, had best be silent about the problems of the Russian revolution in general. For it was entirely, and to a great degree still is, a struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie for influence upon the peasantry. During the Soviet period the bourgeoisie has appeared principally in the guise of kulaks (i.e., the top stratum of the petty bourgeoisie), the "socialist" intelligentsia, and now in the form of the "Communist" bureaucracy. Such is the basic mechanism of the revolution in all its stages. In the fleet it assumed a more centralized, and therefore more dramatic expression.

The political composition of the Kronstadt Soviet reflected the composition of the garrison and the crews. The leadership of the Soviets as early as the summer of 1917 belonged to the Bolshevik Party, which rested on the better sections of the sailors and included in its ranks many revolutionists from the underground movement who had been liberated from the hard-labor prisons. But I seem to recall that even in the days of the October insurrection the Bolsheviks constituted less than one-half of the Kronstadt Soviet. The majority consisted of SRs and Anarchists. There were no Mensheviks at all in Kronstadt. The Menshevik Party hated Kronstadt. The official SRs, incidentally, had no better attitude toward it. The Kronstadt SRs quickly went over into opposition to Kerensky and formed one of the shock brigades of the so-called "left" SRs. They based themselves on the peasant part of the fleet and of the shore garrison. As for the Anarchists, they were the most motley group. Among them were real revolutionists, like Zhuk and Zhelezniakov, but these were the elements most closely linked to the Bolsheviks. Most of the Kronstadt "Anarchists" represented the city petty bourgeoisie and stood upon a lower revolutionary level than the SRs. The president of the soviet was a nonparty man, "sympathetic to the Anarchists," and in essence a peaceful petty clerk who had been formerly subservient to the czarist authorities and was now subservient... to the revolution. The complete absence of Mensheviks, the "left" character of the SRs, and the Anarchist hue of the petty bourgeois were due to the sharpness of the revolutionary struggle in the fleet and the dominating influence of the proletarian sections of the sailors.

Changes During the Years of Civil War

This social and political characterization of Kronstadt which, if desired, could be substantiated and illustrated by many facts and documents, is already sufficient to illuminate the upheavals which occurred in Kronstadt during the years of the civil war and as a result of which its physiognomy changed beyond recognition. Precisely about this important aspect of the question, the belated accusers say not one word, partly out of ignorance, partly out of malevolence.

Yes, Kronstadt wrote a heroic page in the history of the revolution. But the civil war began a systematic depopulation of Kronstadt and of the whole Baltic fleet. As early as the days of the October uprising, detachments of Kronstadt sailors were being sent to help Moscow. Other detachments were then sent to the Don, to the Ukraine, to requisition bread and organize the local power. It seemed at first as if Kronstadt were inexhaustible. From different fronts I sent dozens of telegrams about the mobilization of new "reliable" detachments from among the Petersburg workers and the Baltic sailors. But beginning as early as 1918, and in any case not later than 1919, the fronts began to complain that the new contingents of "Kronstadters" were unsatisfactory, exacting, undisciplined, unreliable in battle, and doing more harm than good. After the liquidation of Yudenich (in the winter of 1919), the Baltic fleet and the Kronstadt garrison were denuded of all revolutionary forces. All the elements among them that were of any use at all were thrown against Denikin in the south. If in 1917-18 the Kronstadt sailor stood considerably higher than the average level of the Red Army and formed the framework of its first detachments as well as the framework of the Soviet regime in many districts, those sailors who remained in "peaceful" Kronstadt until the beginning of 1921, not fitting in on any of the fronts of the civil war, stood by this time on a level considerably lower, in general, than the average level of the Red Army, and included a great percentage of completely demoralized elements, wearing showy bell-bottom pants and sporty haircuts.

Demoralization based on hunger and speculation had in general greatly increased by the end of the civil war. The so called "sack-carriers" (petty speculators) had become a social blight, threatening to stifle the revolution. Precisely in Kronstadt where the garrison did nothing and had everything it needed, the demoralization assumed particularly great dimensions. When conditions became very critical in hungry Petrograd the Political Bureau more than once discussed the possibility of securing an "internal loan" from Kronstadt, where a quantity of old provisions still remained. But delegates of the Petrograd workers answered: "You will get nothing from them by kindness. They speculate in cloth, coal, and bread. At present in Kronstadt every kind of riffraff has raised its head." That was the real situation. It was not like the sugar-sweet idealizations after the event.

It must further be added that former sailors from Latvia and Estonia who feared they would be sent to the front and were preparing to cross into their new bourgeois fatherlands, Latvia and Estonia, had joined the Baltic fleet as "volunteers." These elements were in essence hostile to the Soviet authority and displayed this hostility fully in the days of the Kronstadt uprising. . . . Besides these there were many thousands of Latvian workers, mainly former farm laborers, who showed unexampled heroism on all fronts of the civil war. We must not, therefore, tar the Latvian workers and the "Kronstadters" with the same brush. We must recognize social and political differences.

The Social Roots of the Uprising

The problem of a serious student consists in defining, on the basis of the objective circumstances, the social and political character of the Kronstadt mutiny and its place in the development of the revolution. Without this, "criticism" is reduced to sentimental lamentation of the pacifist kind in the spirit of Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, and their latest imitators. These gentlefolk do not have the slightest understanding of the criteria and methods of scientific research. They quote the proclamations of the insurgents like pious preachers quoting Holy Scriptures. They complain, moreover, that I do not take into consideration the "documents," i.e., the gospel of Makhno and the other apostles. To take documents "into consideration" does not mean to take them at their face value. Marx has said that it is impossible to judge either parties or peoples by what they say about themselves. The characteristics of a party are determined considerably more by its social composition, its past, its relation to different classes and strata, than by its oral and written declarations, especially during a critical moment of civil war. If, for example, we began to take as pure gold the innumerable proclamations of Negrin, Companys, Garcia Oliver, and Company, we would have to recognize these gentlemen as fervent friends of socialism. But in reality they are its perfidious enemies.

In 1917-18 the revolutionary workers led the peasant masses, not only of the fleet but of the entire country. The peasants seized and divided the land most often under the leadership of the soldiers and sailors arriving in their home districts. Requisitions of bread had only begun and were mainly from the landlords and kulaks at that. The peasants reconciled themselves to requisitions as a temporary evil. But the civil war dragged on for three years. The city gave practically nothing to the village and took almost everything from it, chiefly for the needs of war. The peasants approved of the "Bolsheviks" but became increasingly hostile to the "Communists." If in the preceding period the workers had led the peasants forward, the peasants now dragged the workers back. Only because of this change in mood could the Whites partially attract the peasants, and even the half-peasants-half-workers, of the Urals to their side. This mood, i.e., hostility to the city, nourished the movement of Makhno, who seized and looted trains marked for the factories, the plants, and the Red Army, tore up railroad tracks, shot Communists, etc. Of course, Makhno called this the Anarchist struggle with the "state." In reality, this was a struggle of the infuriated petty property owner against the proletarian dictatorship. A similar movement arose in a number of other districts, especially in Tambovsky, under the banner of "Social Revolutionaries." Finally, in different parts of the country so-called "Green" peasant detachments were active. They did not want to recognize either the Reds or the Whites and shunned the city parties. The "Greens" sometimes met the Whites and received severe blows from them, but they did not, of course, get any mercy from the Reds. Just as the petty bourgeoisie is ground economically between the millstones of big capital and the proletariat, so the peasant partisan detachments were pulverized between the Red Army and the White.

Only an entirely superficial person can see in Makhno's bands or in the Kronstadt revolt a struggle between the abstract principles of Anarchism and "state socialism." Actually these movements were convulsions of the peasant petty bourgeoisie which desired, of course, to liberate itself from capital but which at the same time did not consent to subordinate itself to the dictatorship of the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie does not know concretely what it wants, and by virtue of its position cannot know. That is why it so readily covered the confusion of its demands and hopes, now with the Anarchist banner, now with the populist, now simply with the "Green." Counterposing itself to the proletariat, it tried, flying all these banners, to turn the wheel of the revolution backwards.

The Counterrevolutionary Character of the Kronstadt Mutiny

There were, of course, no impassable bulkheads dividing the different social and political layers of Kronstadt. There were still at Kronstadt a certain number of qualified workers and technicians to take care of the machinery. But even they were identified by a method of negative selection as politically unreliable and of little use for the civil war. Some "leaders" of the uprising came from among these elements. However, this completely natural and inevitable circumstance, to which some accusers triumphantly point, does not change by one iota the anti-proletarian character of the revolt. Unless we are to deceive ourselves with pretentious slogans, false labels, etc., we shall see that the Kronstadt uprising was nothing but an armed reaction of the petty bourgeoisie against the hardships of social revolution and the severity of the proletarian dictatorship.

That was exactly the significance of the Kronstadt slogan, "Soviets without Communists," which was immediately seized upon, not only by the SRs but by the bourgeois liberals as well. As a rather farsighted representative of capital, Professor Miliukov understood that to free the Soviets from the leadership of the Bolsheviks would have meant within a short time to demolish the Soviets themselves. The experience of the Russian Soviets during the period of Menshevik and SR domination and, even more clearly, the experience of the German and Austrian Soviets under the domination of the Social Democrats, proved this. Social Revolutionary-Anarchist Soviets could serve only as a bridge from the proletarian dictatorship to capitalist restoration. They could play no other role, regardless of the "ideas" of their participants. The Kronstadt uprising thus had a counterrevolutionary character.

From the class point of view, which—without offense to the honorable eclectics— remains the basic criterion not only for politics but for history, it is extremely important to contrast the behavior of Kronstadt to that of Petrograd in those critical days. The whole leading stratum of the workers had also been drawn out of Petrograd. Hunger and cold reigned in the deserted capital, perhaps even more fiercely than in Moscow. A heroic and tragic period! All were hungry and irritable. All were dissatisfied. In the factories there was dull discontent. Underground organizers sent by the SRs and the White officers tried to link the military uprising with the movement of the discontented workers.

The Kronstadt paper wrote about barricades in Petrograd, about thousands being killed. The press of the whole world proclaimed the same thing. Actually the precise opposite occurred. The Kronstadt uprising did not attract the Petrograd workers. It repelled them. The stratification proceeded along class lines. The workers immediately felt that the Kronstadt mutineers stood on the opposite side of the barricades—and they supported the Soviet power. The political isolation of Kronstadt was the cause of its internal uncertainty and its military defeat.

The NEP and the Kronstadt Uprising

Victor Serge, who, it would seem, is trying to manufacture a sort of synthesis of anarchism, POUMism, and Marxism, has intervened very unfortunately in the polemic about Kronstadt. In his opinion, the introduction of the NEP one year earlier could have averted the Kronstadt uprising. Let us admit that. But advice like this is very easy to give after the event. It is true, as Victor Serge remembers, that I had proposed the transition to the NEP as early as 1920. But I was not at all sure in advance of its success. It was no secret to me that the remedy could prove to be more dangerous than the malady itself. When I met opposition from the leaders of the party, I did not appeal to the ranks, in order to avoid mobilizing the petty bourgeoisie against the workers. The experience of the ensuing twelve months was required to convince the party of the need for the new course. But the remarkable thing is that it was precisely the Anarchists all over the world who looked upon the NEP as ... a betrayal of communism. But now the advocates of the Anarchists denounce us for not having introduced the NEP a year earlier.

In 1921 Lenin more than once openly acknowledged that the party's obstinate defense of the methods of Military Communism had become a great mistake. But does this change matters? Whatever the immediate or remote causes of the Kronstadt rebellion, it was in its very essence a mortal danger to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Simply because it had been guilty of a political error, should the proletarian revolution really have committed suicide to punish itself?

Or perhaps it would have been sufficient to inform the Kronstadt sailors of the NEP decrees to pacify them? Illusion! The insurgents did not have a conscious program and they could not have had one because of the very nature of the petty bourgeoisie. They themselves did not clearly understand that what their fathers and brothers needed first of all was free trade. They were discontented and confused but they saw no way out. The more conscious, i.e., the rightist elements, acting behind the scenes, wanted the restoration of the bourgeois regime. But they did not say so out loud. The "left" wing wanted the liquidation of discipline, "free Soviets," and better rations. The regime of the NEP could only gradually pacify the peasant, and, after him, the discontented sections of the army and the fleet. But for this time and experience were needed.

Most puerile of all is the argument that there was no uprising, that the sailors had made no threats, that they "only" seized the fortress and the battleships. It would seem that the Bolsheviks marched with bared chests across the ice against the fortress only because of their evil characters, their inclination to provoke conflicts artificially, their hatred of the Kronstadt sailors, or their hatred of the Anarchist doctrine (about which absolutely no one, we may say in passing, bothered in those days). Is this not childish prattle? Bound neither to time nor place, the dilettante critics try (seventeen years later!) to suggest that everything would have ended in general satisfaction if only the revolution had left the insurgent sailors alone. Unfortunately, the world counterrevolution would in no case have left them alone. The logic of the struggle would have given predominance in the fortress to the extremists, that is, to the most counterrevolutionary elements. The need for supplies would have made the fortress directly dependent upon the foreign bourgeoisie and their agents, the White emigres. All the necessary preparations toward this end were already being made. Under similar circumstances only people like the Spanish Anarchists or POUMists would have waited passively, hoping for a happy outcome. The Bolsheviks, fortunately, belonged to a different school. They considered it their duty to extinguish the fire as soon as it started, thereby reducing to a minimum the number of victims.

The "Kronstadters" without a Fortress

In essence, the venerable critics are opponents of the dictatorship of the proletariat and by that token are opponents of the revolution. In this lies the whole secret. It is true that some of them recognize the revolution and the dictatorship—in words. But this does not help matters. They wish for a revolution which will not lead to dictatorship or for a dictatorship which will get along without the use of force. Of course, this would be a very "pleasant" dictatorship. It requires, however, a few trifles: an equal and, moreover, an extremely high, development of the toiling masses. But in such conditions the dictatorship would in general be unnecessary. Some Anarchists, who are really liberal pedagogues, hope that in a hundred or a thousand years the toilers will have attained so high a level of development that coercion will prove unnecessary. Naturally, if capitalism could lead to such a development, there would be no reason for overthrowing capitalism. There would be no need either for violent revolution or for the dictatorship which is an inevitable consequence of revolutionary victory. However, the decaying capitalism of our day leaves little room for humanitarian-pacifist illusions.

The working class, not to speak of the semi-proletarian masses, is not homogeneous, either socially or politically. The class struggle produces a vanguard that absorbs the best elements of the class. A revolution is possible when the vanguard is able to lead the majority of the proletariat. But this does not at all mean that the internal contradictions among the toilers disappear. At the moment of the highest peak of the revolution they are of course attenuated, but only to appear later at a new stage in all their sharpness. Such is the course of the revolution as a whole. Such was the course of Kronstadt. When parlor pinks try to mark out a different route for the October Revolution, after the event, we can only respectfully ask them to show us exactly where and when their great principles were confirmed in practice, at least partially, at least in tendency? Where are the signs that lead us to expect the triumph of these principles in the future? We shall of course never get an answer.

A revolution has its own laws. Long ago we formulated those "lessons of October" which have not only a Russian but an international significance. No one else has even tried to suggest any other "lessons." The Spanish revolution is negative confirmation of the "lessons of October." And the severe critics are silent or equivocal. The Spanish government of the "People's Front" stifles the socialist revolution and shoots revolutionists. The Anarchists participate in this government, or, when they are driven out, continue to support the executioners. And their foreign allies and lawyers occupy themselves meanwhile with a defense ... of the Kronstadt mutiny against the harsh Bolsheviks. A shameful travesty!

The present disputes around Kronstadt revolve around the same class axis as the Kronstadt uprising itself, in which the reactionary sections of the sailors tried to overthrow the proletarian dictatorship. Conscious of their impotence on the arena of present-day revolutionary politics, the petty-bourgeois blunderers and eclectics try to use the old Kronstadt episode for the struggle against the Fourth International, that is, against the party of the proletarian revolution. These latter-day "Kronstadters" will also be crushed—true, without the use of arms since, fortunately, they do not have a fortress.

Thursday, September 06, 2007




Amid all the furor and maneuvering, seemingly by every governmental agency that is even marginally connected with the conflict, over the long awaited upcoming reports by General Petreaus and Ambassador Crocker concerning the effects of the Bush ‘surge’ strategy in Iraq a little story about the real effects of the troop increases drew my attention recently (Weighing the Surge:putting troops among the people by Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post, The Boston Globe, September 5, 2007). Honestly, with all the bureaucratic paper ‘infighting’ it is hard to tell what the real military situation is on the ground. However, just as a matter of military tactics if you add 30,000 fairly well-trained troops into a situation as nebulous as Iraq and as a result force a lesser trained enemy either to drop away or lurk in hiding until the coast is clear then yes, the security situation would almost have to be better-ON THE SURFACE. And that contradiction is the real point of this commentary.

As part of the justification for his troop increase last January President Bush cited an increased need for on-going security (essentially implementation of the Petreaus Plan) especially in sectarian–torn Baghdad. Well, what the President saith, the military giveth. The recent article mentioned above , however, pointed to the soft underbelly of what the ‘real’ increased security looks like on the ground. Those familiar with the military, and even those not familiar with that organization but who know the expression “covering your ass”, know that military commanders are famous for their little pet projects that serve to rationale all their actions. Well, head honcho Petreaus and his subalterns are not a different breed in that respect.

One of the gauges of the effectiveness of the increased security ploy has been the well-published attempt ‘reopen’ the various marketplaces key to Iraqi daily life, and a favorite target of sectarian suicide bombers and others, in and around Baghdad. The story I am recounting highlighted the famous Dora market. Well, yes it is open. Before the war started in 2003 there were some 800 plus stalls and shops there. At a low point in recent times there were less than 300 open. With the heightened security of the 'surge' that number has jumped to over three hundred and plans to have over five hundred on line in the near future are in progress. By many definitions that qualifies as a success. But here is the catch. In order for a shop to qualify as open, basically, an open door is all that is necessary. If your business has no or few things to sell that does not matter the military ‘counts’ that business as ‘open’. Moreover, call me jaded but by American norms one would think that a major market, as here, would be open early and close late. Not so. A couple of hours a day qualifies for a good day. Furthermore, as an inducement to open- come hell or high water- ‘cash grants’ are generously supplied. A little suspect, but not that unusual coming from this administration.

But here is the real kicker. Those whose work in the market, own the shops and, most importantly, those American soldiers who guard the highly fortified market quoted in the story know and have expressed their opinions that this ‘success’ is less than meets the eye. This, however, does not divert the military from bringing every congressional delegation, governmental agency or NGO tourist to this showcase. The air these days is filled with the comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam. If one thinks back to that era and another project nicknamed the ‘strategic hamlet’ program (in its various guises, depending on authorship and administration in power) one will not be surprised to see that these guys are up to their old tricks. But remember in the end all those “Potemkin Villages" turned to dust when the real situation became apparent after the withdrawal of American troops. That said, we better take the advise of an unnamed soldier guarding the Dora market and ‘skedaddle’. Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal from Iraq.

Monday, September 03, 2007




In an irony that is probably wasted on both Democratic and Republican bourgeois politicians caught up in the midst of an Iraq War the justification for which the Bush Administration has declared as its objectives ‘peace, freedom, democracy’ and all kinds of other good things' the question of Kosovo rates nothing but space on the back pages, if that. For those with short political memories a few years ago that was the American-led NATO air war against Serbia in ‘support’ of the besieged Kosovo Albanians. That too was supposedly fought under the democratic banner – yet today it still has not produced the national right to self-determination for the Kosovars that it was allegedly fought for. And the Kosovars are rightly mad as hell about it. If one will recall Serbia claimed (and still claims) Kosovo as part of historic Serbia. Like many another oppressor nation it plunged its jack boot into the predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo in an attempt to ‘ethnically cleanse’ that little trouble spot. The professed goal of the American-led NATO air war, a goal that was unquestioningly supported by these same Kosovar, was to ‘stop’ the genocide. Of course in that attempt NATO tried to bomb Serbia back to the Stone Age, and came close. Now almost eight years later the province is still part of Serbia, still administered by the United Nations and defended by NATO and the Kosovars are still no closer to real independence. If the Kosovars think that they were the witting or unwitting pawns in an international con game they are, of course, right. However, there is a lesson for leftists to be learned here, as well.

Let us be clear, socialists support the democratic right to national self-determination where the basis for a nation exists not as some supra-historical advance for humankind but as a way to take the national question off the agenda and place the class question to the fore. There are thus occasions where we do not raise that demand just as on other occasions we not only support the demand but call for independence. We call, for example, today for independence for Quebec. Kosovo calls for the same slogan as well. However, during the NATO air war, as I mentioned above, the main political organization of the time- the Kosovo Liberation Front- acted as direct military agents for those same NATO forces therefore subordinating themselves to an arm of international imperialism. At that point to invoke, as many on the international left did, the Kosovars’ right to self-determination, as the rationale for supporting the war against Serbia war was incorrect. As witnessed by subsequent history that support moreover did not advance the Kosovo cause a step. An analogous situation to that of Kosovo then applies today in Kurdish Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds have voluntarily placed themselves and their militias under direct American military power and thus in Iraq we do not raise the call for the formation of an independent Kurdish state. But, as an indication of how complicated the dispersed Kurdish nation’s national self-determination question is (to speak nothing of other situations like the almost intractable Palestinian question) we certainly would today call for the right to national self-determination to a separate Kurdish state in places like Turkey and Iran. More later. But for now- Independence for Kosovo! Serbia Hands Off!




Those of us on the embattled left side of the "cultural wars" of the past forty or so years have had few enough occasions to cheer, even momentarily. Thus, the very recent decision during the week of August 28, 2007 by a state judge in Des Moines Iowa, of all places, declaring an Iowa statue banning gay marriage unconstitutional gives us a moment’s breathing space. Legally, that decision is not as good as overturning a constitutional amendment but we will take whatever we can. In the aftermath of the decision apparently every gay and lesbian couple that had not abandoned the Iowa heartland for either of the more congenial coasts and could get to Des Moines with the required $35 marriage license fee sought to do so. But alas, remember this is Iowa after all, that same judge placed a stay on his ruling thus halting the issuance of marriage licenses pending appellate action to the Iowa Supreme Court. If that court does not act one way or another, which is unlikely, then the judge’s ruling stands.

Naturally, as the presidential nomination contests heat up and focus on the early Iowa caucuses, the ramifications of this decision were immediately felt in the various presidential campaigns. On the Republican side- ‘home’ of family values where marriage means heterosexual one male, one female ones- the outrage and easy scoring points were immediate by the likes of ex-Massachusetts Governor Mitt “Flip-Flop” Romney. The more equivocal leading Democratic candidates, like Hillary and Obama, who virtually all support some form of ‘civil union’ or other less than legal marriage status as their stunted interpretation of democratic equal rights for gays and lesbians are going to feel the heat on this a little. They will try to juggle to be able to pander to the not inconsiderable gay and lesbian vote while keeping an eye on the fact that the polls (and past concrete state votes for banning gay marriage where the issue has been presented ) show that most Americans are hostile or otherwise unsupportive to gay marriage. The bourgeois Democratic party candidates may be equivocal on this issue but we of the left are not. Unfortunately, in the year 2007 it is still necessary to fight around the slogan- Equal Marriage Rights for Gays and Lesbians. That is where our fight is.




As anyone who writes a political blog probably has become aware of sometimes you get drawn into a discussion that you really do not want to get involved in. Until very, very recently I have tried NOT to draw parallels between the American experience in the Vietnam War of my youth and the Iraq War of my old age. I broke that policy slightly over the last couple of weeks in comparing the fate of Nguyen Diem in Vietnam in 1963 and the possible fate of al-Maliki today in Iraq. In Diem’s case once the Kennedy Administration got disenchanted with him coup planning began full time. Do not the tom toms out of Iraq drum that same siren song today?

Strangely, one George W. Bush, the President of the United States, had until very, very recently observed the same policy as I had of not drawing parallels with Vietnam. For his own reasons, of course. Now that his Iraq policy is clearly on the ropes he wants to invoke the supposed horrors of the ‘cut and run’ American policy in Vietnam as a reason to not 'cut and run' in Iraq. And that, dear reader, is why a couple of brief comments are in order about those parallels.

Although the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq have absolutely nothing to do with the overwhelming American military capacity to return either of those societies back to the Stone Age (as the Americans almost succeeded in doing with their various relentless bombing strategies in Vietnam) it does have everything to do with the hubris behind that assumption. Is there really a hell of a lot of different between the assumptions of one War Secretary Robert McNamara and his “Whiz Kids” in Vietnam and one War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his “Neo-Cons”? I think not. The military capacity to level cities, either Hanoi then or Fallujah now, in order to create a security zone for the government is nevertheless a house of cards. Does anyone today think that once the American troops either turns over military responsibly to the Iraqis after long-term training or straight-out withdraw that the situation will be stable? Hell, no. As in Vietnam, the forces in play are just waiting for the Americans leave in order to return. And seemingly, unlike Americans, they are patient. Know this- If the American troops stay ten more years they will wait. Moreover, one only has to take a cursory glance at the history of the Vietnam conflict to find that same phenomena. There was an apt old army expression for it- ‘the night belongs to Charlie’ (the Viet Cong). In Iraq 'the night belongs to al-Sadr' and others.

American bourgeois politicians have the seemingly willful capacity to refuse to learn the lessons of history either from the European experiences or their own. Here I will pass over the little things like Ronald Reagan's 1980's invasion of Grenada, covert support to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and the not so covert aid to the contras in Nicaragua. I will brush aside Bush Senior’s 1990's little Iraq escapade. And this writer would not dream of impinging on the liberal Clinton's (Bill) little air war against Serbia over Kosovo. Hell, nobody could learn lessons from those experiences and no bourgeois politician needed to because these were essentially walkovers. So it really is back to Vietnam if you want to see the full panoply of imperialist hubris in action. And the blowback. That is the point. The assumption is that the timetables are determined to suit American conveniences and predilections. Al-Maliki’s situation is a case in point. He has run as an inept and corrupt crony-serving operation as Diem did in Vietnam. That he is a lapdog of American imperialism is a given. However, he has to respond, as every politician must, to his base. And that base is nationalistic and patriotic, as well as sectarian, and by its own lights will do what it can to seem independent from the Americans. ‘Cut and run’ now is the beginning of wisdom in order to cut larger losses later. That is just sensible. But since we know after five long years of war that this administration is NOT sensible we had better keep fighting to build those anti-war soldier and sailor solidarity committees and get those troop transports revved up- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal from Iraq, come hell or high water.

*ANOTHER LOOK AT THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN-Professor Christopher Hill's Look At The Great English Revolution Of The 1600s

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Professor Christopher Hill.



Although both the parliamentary and royalist sides in the English Revolution, the major revolutionary event of the 17th century, quoted the Bible, particularly the newer English versions, for every purpose from an account of the Fall to the virtues of primitive communism that revolution cannot be properly understood except as a secular revolution. The first truly secular revolution of modern times. The late pre-eminent historian of the under classes of the English Revolution, Christopher Hill, has taken the myriad ideas, serious and zany, that surfaced during the period between 1640-60, the heart of the revolutionary period, and given us his take on some previously understudied and misunderstood notions that did not make the conventional history books.

As has been noted by more than one Marxist historian, including Leon Trotsky in his history of the Russian Revolution, there is sometimes a disconnect between the ideas in the air at any particular time and the way those ideas get fought out in political struggle. In this case secular ideas, or what would have passed for such to us, like the questions of the divinity of the monarch, of social, political and economic redistribution and the nature of the new society (the second coming) were expressed in familiar religious terms. That being the case there is no better guide to understanding the significance of the mass of biblically-driven literary articles and some secular documents produced in the period than Professor Hill. Here we meet up again, as we have in Hill's other numerous volumes of work, with the democratic oppositionists the Levelers; the Diggers, especially the thoughts of their leader Gerrard Winstanley, in many aspects the forerunner of a modern branch of communist thought; the Ranters, Seekers and Quakers who among them challenged every possible orthodox Christian theory and the usual cast of individual political and religious radicals like Samuel Fisher and, my personal favorite, Abiezer Coppe.

In this expansively footnoted book Mr. Hill, as he has elsewhere, connects the dramatic break up of traditional agrarian English society; the resulting vast increase of 'masterless' men not bound to traditional authority and potentially receptive to new ideas; the widespread availability of the protestant Bible brought about by the revolution in printing and thus permitting widespread distribution to the masses; the effects of the Protestant Reformation on individual responsibility; the discrediting of the theology of the divine right of kings and the concept of the man of blood exemplified by Charles I; the role of the priesthood of all believers that foreshadow a very modern concept of the validity of individual religious expression; radical interpretations of equality and primitive communism, particularly the work of the afore-mentioned Gerrard Winstanley ; the Puritan ethic and many more subjects of interests to bring to life what the common people who hitherto had barely entered the stage of history were thinking and doing.

As I have noted elsewhere a key to understanding that entry onto history's stage and that underscores the widespread discussion of many of these trends is Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army where the plebeian base, for a time anyway, had serious input into the direction that society might take. In many ways Professor Hill's book is a study of what happened when the, for lack of a better term, the Thermodorian reaction- the ebb of the revolution set in and a portion of those 'masterless' men had to deal with the consequences of defeat for the plebeian masses during the Protectorate and Restoration. I might also add that some of the ideas presented here seem very weird even for that time but some seem so advanced, especially in the case of Winstanley, that they put many a modern thinker to shame. Hell, in American society some of those Levelers and Diggers would be standing with us in the left wing of political society fighting today's 'royalists and reactionaries'. Thanks, Professor Hill.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-British Miners Fight for All the Oppressed

Click on the headline to link to a"LibCom" website entry for the British miners' strike of 1984-85. This link is provided to give some "color" to the story at the local level from a different political prospective from mine.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1985 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


British Miners Fight for All the Oppressed

The British coal miners' strike now in its eleventh month is a crucial class battle whose outcome will shape the social and political climate of the country for years to come. Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is seeking with unrestrained savagery to bludgeon and starve the miners into submission. If the miners lose, they and the whole British working class will be dealt with in the same spirit of limitless vindictiveness that Thatcher unleashed on the helpless young Argentine sailors of the Belgrano during the Falklands/Malvinas war. Thatcher personally supervised this gratuitous war crime when the ship, miles from the war zone, was dispatched to the bottom of the icy Atlantic.

But the British miners do not intend to lose. Standing alone thanks to the treachery of the Labour Party/ Trades Union Congress tops, they have held out against everything that bloody Thatcher and her cops could throw against them. They have endured thousands of arrests and countless injuries and they are still fighting. And their courageous defiance of the vicious "Iron Lady" has won to their side the most oppressed layers of
British society. The heat of sharp class struggle has tended to forge a spirit of solidarity between the miners and oppressed sectors such as blacks, Asians and Irish.

This political point was emphasized by comrade Eibhlin McDonald, a leader of the Spartacist League of Britain, during her recent visit to the U.S. We reprint below comrade Eibhlin's remarks at a public Spartacist forum in New York last November 16 (originally published in Workers Vanguard No. 367,23 November 1984) and her speech to a national internal meeting of the Spartacus Youth League (WV No. 368, 7 December 1984).

Women have played an active role in the miners' strike. Although women do not work in the British mines, being barred by law from doing so since 1942, the miners' wives have taken their place alongside their men. And they have made their presence felt since the beginning. When one week into the strike Thatcher deployed 10,000 cops in a martial law operation, Kent women beat back a police blockade at the Dartford Tunnel aimed at sealing the Kent strikers off, and went on through to join a demonstration in Leicestershire. In addition to organizing collections of food and money for the strikers' families, the women have been active strike militants. Their participation on picket lines has been especially important given the awesome scope of police attacks, where sometimes hundreds of miners are arrested in a single swoop. When 20,000 coal field women and supporters marched through London last August 11, one prominent slogan was "No surrender!" Here in the United States, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee have been campaigning to win political support among American unionists for the embattled British miners, and to raise desperately needed funds for the miners and their families. As of February 16, a total of $16,905.63 had been raised. W&R appeals to our readers to generously support this effort. Please make checks payable to: Aid to Striking British Miners'Families; mail to: Partisan Defense Committee, Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013.

I'm a member of the British section of the Spartacist tendency, and I'd like to take a few moments to describe to people particularly the British miners' strike which has been going on now for about nine months, I believe. In fact, we had a demonstration recently in London organized by the Spartacist League on the question of South Africa, where a number of miners attended. And we raised the slogan, "African Gold Miners, British Coal Miners— Same Enemy, Same Fight, Workers of the World Unite!" [Applause.] And this slogan had a really powerful resonance—one which is very deeply felt in Britain, primarily as a result of the experience of these miners after nine months on strike. Because you have to understand, two miners have been killed on picket lines; several others have died on the way to picket lines; and most recently people have been killed trying to salvage coal from rubbish tips in order to heat their homes. If you imagine what it's like to have been without money for your family for nine months—no money for food, they have no heating, t nothing like that.

However, they're pretty solid. They're not going back. Because they know that to go back means 20,000 jobs will be lost, and whole communities will be devastated. And, in fact, several thousand of them have been arrested, just simply for picketing. Thatcher has learned a few lessons from Botha's South Africa. They've recently adopted the tactic, instead of throwing people in prison—you obviously can't throw eight, nine, ten thousand miners in prison, because the prisons will overflow—so what they've started to do is to deport them within the country. People are sent off from English coal mines to the north of Scotland, and are not allowed to return home until after the strike.
So there was a certain identification with some of the stuff that was described recently in South Africa among the British miners. There is, of course, a scabbing operation, pretty well funded, we believe probably by the Vatican. Although if you listen to the news reports, then you could very easily be misled. Because as one miner told us recently in one of our meetings— according to the news reports there are now 3,500 scabs in his pit, which he finds very hard to believe, since only 500 people work there [laughter].

Now, there are two things that I want to draw out from the British miners' strike. One is that such a hard-fought class battle against the Thatcher government has inspired whole sections of the population in support for the miners. It's particularly noticeable among the black and Asian community. Something that is very new in Britain—you have a situation where miners, when they come into the city of London from their areas in order to collect money, of course the cops hound them throughout London, and arrest them for trying to collect money and so forth. They go along to a pub in the black ghetto, and the cops come into the pub— "Where are these miners?"—they want to arrest them. But the word had gone out that the cops were arriving, so of course the local people had hidden them. You know: "What miners? There are no miners here." Now, this kind of thing never would have happened before, because capitalism fosters those kind of divisions, and given that the miners union is predominantly white, this solidarity is a direct result of the struggle against Thatcher.

Another aspect of it is that women, mainly miners' wives and families, who'd come from pretty isolated communities, have in fact become political and taken on a leadership role in the strike and have organized themselves into strike committees.

And the other thing that I want to draw out of it is on the Russian question. It comes up most concretely and revolves around the question of Polish Solidarnosc', in Britain, and it's very sharply felt. Because the background to this miners' strike was in fact—the leader of the British miners, Arthur Scargill, happened to mention before a trade-union conference a year ago that Solidarnosc' was an anti-socialist organization. For this he was witchhunted and hounded by not only the capitalist class, the Tory party and so forth, but by a whole section of the trade-union leadership. And it has now become very clear, the people who were most outraged by Scargill's statement are today urging their union members to cross miners' picket lines quite openly. The leader of the Solidarnosc' movement in Poland has sent a message of solidarity... to the scabs. And so Solidarnosc is hated and despised, not just among the British miners, but among whole sections of the population. Which is actually quite a good thing, because it doesn't bode well for Thatcher's war preparations against the Soviet Union.

They do the same kind of thing there. Talking about the "evil empire" in Russia. Except that in Britain a lot of the population now doesn't believe it, because they have seen miners go off to the Soviet Union and have very nice holidays on the Black Sea, you know, for their families and so forth. And they see this on television, and say, well, this is "totalitarian Russia" really doesn't look so bad looking at it from Britain [laughter].

Now, just in conclusion. One of the things that is patently obviously missing from the situation is a revolutionary party with a policy directed to the overthrow of capitalism. Because in order to cohere together the struggle, particularly in a situation where old frameworks are breaking down within the country, to cohere and direct that struggle requires a program for the overthrow of capitalism. And that's what the existing trade-union leadership and the Labour Party in Britain doesn't have. For example, twice in the course of the miners' strike, the dockers were out on strike, and were sent back, having gained absolutely nothing. Because these leaders understand that in order to go all out and do what is necessary in order to win the strike, you must be prepared to at least play around with the question of power. And that's what they're not prepared to do.

That in a nutshell is the strategy and program that the Spartacist League has been fighting for there. Because simply in order to win this strike, it's necessary to spread it to other sections of the working class. We hope as the outcome of that kind of successful class battle that you will have the basis for building a revolutionary party. Because in Britain, in South Africa, in fact in the U.S., you can have very hard-fought class battles which may lose or in fact may be frittered away, if you're not prepared to go all the way and address the question of power, for the working class in power, like they did in Russia in 1917.

The Red Avengers [see article, page 24] is kind of a hard act to follow, but let me make one point that one comrade made in the forum in Toronto the other night: the British miners would really love the Red Avengers.

What I want to try to do is give you a flavor of the political situation in Britain, because it really is in marked contrast with Reagan's America right now. But there's something that I would like to underline, which is that the Thatcher government is in the second term of office and went in with a pretty big majority in the election in 1983, not quite as big as Reagan's. The first real opposition they ran into came from the British miners. And it's important to have the understanding and the hope that Reagan will run into the same kind of trouble, because it really does alter the political contours in the country.

You'll have noticed in the press here recently a lot of ballyhoo about a big "back-to-work" movement. And you could very easily be misled, because if you really added up the figures for people that have gone back to work then you probably would get more than is actually in the miners union, in the NUM itself. However, it is true that there has been a certain erosion within the strike recently. (Unlike what the bourgeois press tells you, it's not because of the Qaddafi connection. Miners think that it's really wonderful if they get money from anywhere, and one of them has said recently, in a meeting where someone mentioned the Qaddafi connection, "Well, you know, if we can't get money from Qaddafi, maybe we can get guns. We can use them." And it's not because of getting money from the Soviet Union—they'd love it.) But as of now, there's not much prospect of industrial struggle alongside the miners, and so they're basically now having to dig in to try and survive through the winter pretty much on their own against all the forces of the capitalist state. And that does have an effect on certain elements in the union.

Now, some of the things that are most striking about the course of the struggle. First of all, the way in which whole sections of the population who are normally deeply divided have rallied behind the miners and have seen in the miners' strike a possible solution to what they suffer under Thatcher. This is particularly true for the racially oppressed minorities. The blacks and Asians in Britain have become some of the most solid supporters of the miners. If you understand that the miners union is predominantly white, and pretty elitist in its political attitudes, for them to find allies in the black and Asian population is really quite a change in British politics. The reason for the identification is that the kind of treatment that's being dished out to the miners in the course of the strike is something that has been dished out to the black and Asian population in the inner cities in Britain for quite a long time.

And there's also the fact that the racial minorities tend to do the dirtiest, most dangerous and worst paid jobs in Britain. In actual fact British mining almost falls into that category, because you have to understand that miners or craftsmen in the British mines might take home, at the end of having worked 40 hours, less than $100 a week. And that's someone who's gone through an apprenticeship. And it's really dangerous and there's a lot of accidents. So there's that reason for identification as well.

It's also true of the Irish population. Previously if you had an IRA bombing in the mainland of Britain, regardless of what the target was, it was always followed by a wave of anti-Irish hysteria. You know, a pretty bad period. Whereas recently when the IRA bombed the hotel where a lot of Tories were staying during their conference the response was everybody cheered because one of the people who suffered most was the employment minister, Norman Tebbit. They showed these pictures on television of this guy lying under four or five floors of rubble and then being dragged out by his feet, and everybody cheered and clapped and thought it was wonderful. And someone had the response, whoever did this should be shot—for missing the target. They're really sorry they missed Thatcher.

There's also another example of the way in which the social divisions have broken down. There's an organization in London called Lesbians and Gay Men Support the Miners, and they have regular weekly meetings. Miners come along and address their meetings and express their solidarity with them, and they collect money and they give it to the miners. This is previously inconceivable in Britain.

And this seems true in other unions. There's a lot of workers in other unions who really desperately want to strike alongside the miners and to support them, but their leadership really doesn't want to take on that question.

The other thing that's really striking is on the Russian question— It's really clear that the miners' strike has done more to thwart Thatcher's war plans against the Soviet Union than all the peace demonstrations—and there have been a lot of them in Britain. You know, there's a big CND organization, you've had Greenham Common women, and so forth. And I tell you, the Greenharn Common women have become really insignificant by comparison with the miners' wives, who are out there organizing and fighting for support of the strike. And in more ways than one they really are the backbone of the strike.

The third thing is that, given that so much depends on the outcome of this strike, unless you're prepared to address the question of power, then you cannot even bring this strike to the conclusion that is possible. What I mean is that this strike could have been won several months ago. You had the dockers out on strike twice, and Britain is an island economy so the docks are pretty important. The dockers are a militant union. And you have this situation where the leadership of the trade-union movement and of the Labour Party itself are actually divided. The right wing of both the Labour Party and the trade-union bureaucracy—they're openly anti-Russian, anti-Communist; they were the people who really witchhunted [NUM leader] Arthur Scargill when he denounced Polish Solidarnosc'. And it's really clear today, they just tell their members to cross miners' picket lines, ignore the strike and don't give them any money.
On the other hand you've got the left wing of the trade-union bureaucracy and of the Labour Party that are not openly anti-Russian. But they simply will not call their members out on strike action. So you have a situation like when the dockers were out on strike, or the railwaymen. Several hundred members of the railway unions have been victimized, locked out and sent home, for refusing to handle scab coal on the trains. And their union is doing absolutely nothing to defend them, having originally instructed them to not handle the scab coal.

Now, the Labour Party. I believe that never before in its history has the Labour Party been more discredited. And this was as a result of the miners' strike. There's this character Denis Healey in the British Labour Party who's well known to have connections with the CIA and there's a clot of people around him, and we raised the slogan that this guy should be driven out of the Labour Party because the sort of dislocation that it would cause would be really interesting and would break the mold of British social democracy. And Tony Benn came here to New York and various other places and argued that well, of course, the last thing in the world the miners want is to see the Labour Party splitting right now. Well, I'll tell you this is a lie. Most of the miners could see these guys in hell, never mind driven out of the Labour Party. The general secretary of the TUC appeared in a meeting recently and the miners hung up a noose for him in the back of the room. Because you know, they have declared their open animosity to the miners' strike.

We're going to do this fund drive in the U.S. And there's a lot of miners that are really keen to come and meet the Spartacist League and the SYL in the U.S. They're really excited to come here and they desperately need the money. So I think that this will be really important for the international tendency. And it'll be important for the miners.

*Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!:An Introduction For 2007

Click On Title To Link To Site With Information About The Book Used In This Commentary. This Link Is Placed Here By The Writer Merely For Informational Purposes To Assist Those Who Wish To Get A Copy Of The Book.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

Book Review

Labor’s Untold Story, Richard O. Boyer and Herbert Morais, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers Of America (UE), New York, 1976,

As I have often noted this space is dedicated to the struggles of the American (and international) working class and their allies. Part of understanding those struggles is to know where we have been in order to have a better grasp of where we need to head in order to create a more just, socially inclined world. In my travels over the past few years I have noted, even among those who proclaim themselves progressives, radicals and revolutionaries, a woeful, and in some cases willful, lack of knowledge about the history and traditions of the American labor movement. In order to help rectify that lack I will, occasionally, post entries relating to various events, places and personalities that have helped form what was a very militant if, frustratingly, apolitical (or not purely anti-political, especially against its left-wing) labor history.

In order to provide a starting point for these snapshots in time I am using what I think is a very useful book, “Labor’s Untold Story”, Richard O. Boyer and Herbert Morais, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers Of America (UE), New York, 1976, that I can recommend to all those militants interested in getting at least a first taste of what the once mighty organized American labor movement was all about. For those unfamiliar with labor history the UE, cited here as the publisher, was a left-wing union that was split by the main labor federations during the “red scare” of the 1950’s for being “under Communist influence” and refusing to expel its Communist Party supporters. The other organization created at the time was the International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers (IBEW). The history of that split and its timing that caused a wasteful break in the struggle for a single industry-wide union that has been the goal of all thoughtful labor militants will, of course, be the subject of one of these entries at a later date.

That UE imprimatur, for this writer at least, is something of a plus but you know upfront that this is a pro-labor history. That said, this 400 page book is chock full of events, large and small, complete with very helpful footnotes giving greater detail (mercifully placed at the bottom of the page where the subject is mentioned), that helped turned the American labor movement from an atomized, motley group of conflicting racial, ethnic and political tendencies in the last part of the 19th century to something like a very powerful and somewhat self-confident organized force by the 1940’s. After that period there is a long term decline that, for the book, ends with the period of the “red scare” noted above and for the rest of us continues until today.

In any case here you will learn about the embryonic stages of the modern labor movement after the American Civil War with its urgent industrial demands to provide goods for a pent-up market war-ravaged market and creation of a transportation and information system adequate to meet those needs. Needless to say labor received short shrift in the bargain, especially at first before it was even minimally organized. The story here it should be made clear, the story anytime labor is the subject of discourse, is organized labor. The atomized working class as a whole minus this organization does not exist as a historical force. That, my friends, is a great lesson for today as well.

As such, it important to note the establishment in the 1870s of the National Labor Union and its offshoots, later the Knights of Labor and the role of its class collaborationist leaders. Also noted is the fight in the coal mines of the East and the legendary saga of the “Molly McGuires” in Pennsylvania our first well-know labor martyrs. Then the fight moves west to the lead, copper, silver and gold mines. That push west can only mean the establishment of the Western Federation of Miners, the emergence of the paragon of an American labor leader Big Bill Haywood, his frame-up for murder in 1905 and the subsequent rise of the Industrial Workers of The World. Wobblies (IWW). Along the way there are various attempts to form a workers party, the most promising, if amorphous, being the Tom Watson-led Populist Party in 1892 before the somewhat more class-based Socialist Party took hold.

Of course no political study of the American working class is complete without a big tip o f the hat to the tireless work of Eugene V. Debs, his labor organizing and his various presidential campaigns up through 1920. While today Debs’ efforts have to be seen in different way in light of the fact that our attitude toward labor militants running for executive offices in the capitalist state and his ‘soft’ attitude on the question of the political organization of the working class with an undifferentiated party of the whole class, he stands head and shoulders above most of the other political labor leaders of the day, especially that early renegade from Marxism, Samuel Gompers.

The first “red scare” (immediately after World War I) and its effect on the formation of the first American communist organizations responding to the creation of the first workers state in Russian ( and of the establishment of the internationally-oriented Communist International), the quiescent of the American labor movement in the 1920s (a position not unlike the state of the American working class today), the rise of the organized labor movement into a mass industrial organization in response to the ups and downs of the Great Depression, the ‘labor peace’ hiatus of World War II, the labor upsurge in the immediate post-World War II period and the “night of the long knives” of the anti-communist “red scare” of the 1950s brings the story up to the time of first publication of the book. As to be expected of a book that pre-dates the rise of the black civil right movement, the women’s liberation movement and the struggle for gay and lesbian rights there is much less about the role of race and gender the history of the American labor movement. Not to worry, the black, feminist and gender scholars have been hard at work rectifying those omissions. And I have been busy reviewing that work elsewhere in this space. But here is your start.

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

A Short Note On The Pro-Stalinist Perspective Of "Labor's Untold Story"


Okay, okay before I get ripped apart for being some kind of Pollyanna in my review of today’s book “Labor’s Untold Story” let me make a preemptive strike. I am, painfully, aware, that, at least back in the days when such things counted, the United Electrical Workers union was dominated by supporters of the Stalinist American Communist Party. The reason that I am painfully aware of this fact was that, back in that same day, I organized the unorganized under the auspices of that union. On more than one occasion various middle level figures in that union took me up short every time I tried to “step on the toes” (that is a quote from a real conversation, by the way) of some member of their vaunted “anti-monopolist” coalition. That coalition, my friends, was (and is for any unrepentant Stalinist still around) code for various politicos associated with the American Democratic Party. That, I hope, will tell the tale.

Notwithstanding that experience, I still think that “Labor’s Untold Story” is a very good secondary source for trying to link together the various pieces of our common American labor history. The period before World War I, that is, the period before the creation of the American Communist Party and its subsequent Stalinization, is fairly honestly covered since there is no particular political reason not to do so. The authors begin their “soft-soap” when we get to the 1920s and the Lafollette presidential campaign of 1924 and then really get a up a head of steam when discussing the role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the labor struggles of the 1930s in the interest of the Popular Front (read: the 1930s version of that “anti-monopolist” coalition mentioned above) up until about 1939.

Then, please do not forget, the authors make the ‘turn’ in the party line during the short period of the Hitler-Stalin Pact there was nothing that a good right-wing American First Committee member could not have applauded. Of course, once the Soviet Union was invaded the authors went all out in their version of defense of that country (a correct position) when World War II heated up by supporting wholesale the “no strike” pledge and assorted other anti-labor actions (incorrect positions). Then when the Cold War descended in the aftermath of the war and the “red scare” hit the unions big time they cried foul when the capitalists circled the wagons against the Soviet Union and its supporters. Yes, well I knew all that before I re-read the book and wrote the review. Still this is one of the few books which gives you, in one place, virtually every important labor issue from the post Civil War period to the 1960s (when the book ends). Be forewarned then, and get this little book and learn about our common labor history.