Saturday, March 21, 2009

*From The Pages Of "Women And Revolution"-"The Roots Of Bolshevism: The Russian Revolutionary Tradition"-A Guest Commentary

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the heroic 19th century early Russian revolutionary, Vera Figner, mentioned in the article below.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Summer/Autumn 1992 issue of "Women and Revolution" that has some historical interest for all those who wish to learn about our militant forbears. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during this Women's History Month.

The Roots Of Bolshevism:The Russian Revolutionary Tradition

W&R is pleased to present the edited transcript of a talk given by a member of our editorial board, Joseph Seymour, at an educational conference of the Spartacist League/US, held in the Bay Area on 2 May 1992.

The origins of this talk go back a few years to conversations I had with two comrades who were most directly and actively involved in seeking to build a section of the International Communist League in the Soviet Union. We talked about how wretched the present-day Russian intelligentsia was, both the pro-Wall Street self-styled "democrats" and the Stalinist self-described "patriots." Particularly disturbing was the depth of women's oppression and the pervasive¬ness of male chauvinism, not only in Soviet societyat large but even amongpeople who considered themselves communists, Leninists, would-be Trotskyists.

As we were talking, it occurred to me that the present-day Russian intelligentsia is not only profoundly alienated from Bolshevism, but from the many generations of Russian revolutionaries who preceded and culminated in Bolshevism. If the ghost of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who was the greatest Russian socialist of the pre-Marxist era—a man who had a profound influence on Lenin—could return to his old intellectual haunts in the universities and editorial offices of Russia today, he would not be able to understand how anyone who called himself a democrat could want to transform Russia along the lines of Western capitalism. For him, to be a democrat meant to be for social equality. It meant to be for the rule of the lower classes in society. The Russian revolutionaries despised the bourgeoisie, both the Russian version and the Western version.

Chernyshevsky would be even more uncomprehending about how anyone could call himself a communist and yet be a Russian nationalist, a male chauvinist and an anti-Semite. Because to be a communist meant by definition that you were an internationalist, you were an extreme partisan of women's equality and liberation, and you welcomed Jews as equals and as comrades. From the 1870s onward, Jews played a prominent role in all of the Russian radical movements, all of the wings of populism and later all wings of Marxism.

And women played a far more prominent role in the Russian revolutionary movement than they did in any other country in the world. Women like Vera Zasulich and Sofia Bardina of Land and Liberty, which was the principal populist organization, were hard, tough, dedicated revolutionaries. From the shooting of the police commandant Trepov in 1878 to the assassination of the tsarist general Luzhenovsky by Maria Spiridonova in 1906, Russian women carried out some of the most spectacular acts of terrorism. After the
Revolution of 1905 a tsarist prison official in his own way recognized the equality of women: "Experience shows that women, in terms of criminality, ability, and possession of the urge to escape, are hardly distinguishable from men."

If we could get into a time machine and go back to the world of Chernyshevsky and Land and Liberty, we would have big fights about peasant socialism and the efficacy of terrorism. But at a deeper level we would feel ourselves among comrades. So what we are trying to do is to reinstill in Russia today its own great revolutionary tradition, a tradition which has been perverted and degraded or simply forgotten after decades of Stalinist rule and the pressure of Western imperialism on the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state.

French Jacobins and Russian Decembrists

That tradition begins with the Decembrists, a group of revolutionary democratic military officers who sought to overthrow the tsarist autocracy in December 1825. But the Decembrists themselves begin with the French Revolution, which is the fountainhead of radicalism in the modern world. It is one of the ironies of history that the Russian army which the tsar sent into West Europe to crush the French Revolution in its Napoleonic phase became a transmission belt back into Russia for the ideals of that revolution. One of the Decembrists later wrote:

"During the campaigns through Germany and France our young men became acquainted with European civilization, which produced upon them the strongest impression. They were able to compare all that they had seen abroad with what confronted them at every step at home: slavery of the majority of Russians, cruel treatment of subordinates by superiors, all sorts of government abuses, and general tyranny."

So the Decembrists were a belated attempt to extend the French Revolution into Russia. One of their principal leaders had been the son of the Russian ambassador to Napoleonic France; he grew up in a milieu shot through with former Jacobin revolutionaries, among them Napo¬leon himself. Another prominent Decembrist, when he was stationed in Paris in 1815, went around to the leading intellectuals, among them Henri Saint-Simon, a pioneer
theorist of socialism. Saint-Simon attempted to convince this young Russian nobleman to introduce socialism into his homeland.

The most radical of the Decembrists, Pavel Pestel, had not personally been to France although he identified himself wholeheartedly with the French revolutionaries. But he went beyond Jacobinism. By the 1820s the ideas of socialism were beginning to gain currency among the European intelligentsia. Pestel attempted to combine a radical bourgeois-democratic revolution with elements of socialism. He proposed that the land be taken from the nobility and given to the peasants—half given to the peasants to farm privately, the other half to farm collectively so that no peasant family would go hungry. And Pestel called this the Russian Law. After the insurrection was suppressed, the tsarist authorities discovered the Russian Law among Pestel's private papers. Instead of publicizing it at his trial, they thought it was so inflammatory and attractive that they buried it in a secret archive. It did not see the light of day for almost 100 years.

An old reactionary general was on his deathbed when he heard of the Decembrist uprising, and it perplexed him. He said: before we have had uprisings of peasants who want to become noblemen; now we have an uprising of noblemen who want to become shoemakers. The Decembrists did not want to become shoemakers; they were not concerned with their future personal status. But this old reactionary understood something: that this was a movement of an elite, isolated from the peasant masses in whose interests they spoke and attempted to act. And this would be true of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia throughout the 19th century. Initially this milieu consisted mainly of the sons of noblemen, later on the sons and daughters of what was called the "middle class," the children of tsarist bureaucrats or like Chernyshevsky, of Russian Orthodox priests. It was only at the end of the century, in the mid-1890s, that the Marxist wing of the intelligentsia acquired a mass base among the rapidly growing industrial proletariat.

The Decembrists were the first revolutionary bourgeois-democratic movement in Russia. They were also the last such movement. That is, they were the last movement that attempted to overthrow the tsar in order to remodel Russian society along the lines of contemporary West Europe or North America. After that, those people who wanted to transform Russia along the lines of Western capitalism did not call themselves democrats because they were not democrats; they called themselves liberals. They did not want to overthrow the tsarist autocracy. Rather they wanted to pressure the tsarist autocracy to modernize Russia from above. Their goal was a constitutional mon¬archy in which the monarch remained strong and the constitution guaranteed the rule of the propertied classes. As Chernyshevsky put it: "The liberals absolutely refuse to allow the lower strata any preponderance in society."

The First Russian Socialist Movement

Following the suppression of the Decembrists it took another generation for a new revolutionary movement to emerge. This was the so-called Petrashevsky Circle, a group of a couple of hundred radicals around Mikhail Petrashevsky. At that time the Russian Orthodox Church was sexually segregated, and in order to show his support for the equality of women and his defiance of the state church, Petrashevsky donned women's clothing and he attended a ceremony of the church exclusive to women. However he had forgotten to shave off his beard! He was approached by a policeman who said, "Madam, I think you are a man." Petrashevsky replied, "Sir, I think you are an old woman." The policeman was so flustered, Petrashevsky made his getaway.

Whereas the Decembrists had viewed West Europe in the afterglow of the French Revolution, a generation later Petrashevsky and his comrades only saw in West Europe an arena of the horrible exploitation of the lower classes by the propertied classes. They identified with the socialist opposition to Western bourgeois society and defined their goal as the application of Western socialism to Russia. In light of everything that's happening in Russia today, it's important to emphasize that this very first Russian socialist movement was implacably opposed to Russian nationalism in all its manifestations. They of course opposed the Slavophiles, who idealized Russia before Peter the Great and counterposed the spirituality of the Russian people to the crass materialism of the bourgeois West. But Petrashevsky and his comrades also opposed radical democrats like Belinsky who argued that the progress of humanity goes through nations, not by transcending nations. Against this view they argued, "Socialism is a cosmopolitan doctrine, which stands higher than nationalities...for socialists differing nations do not exist, there are only people."

The Petrashevsky Circle was the exact contemporary of the German League of the Just, out of which came the Communist League for which Marx wrote the Com¬munist Manifesto. Like Marx, Petrashevsky and his com¬rades believed that the spectre of communism was haunt¬ing Europe. And Russia was part of Europe. They looked forward, in the near future, to a pan-European socialist revolution, predominantly proletarian in the West, predominantly peasant-based in the East. They believed that the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848 in West Europe was the beginning of that development, and they immediately wanted to get in on the act. They started discussing how they were actually going to overthrow the tsar. But before they got very far, the tsarist authorities simply crushed them. Nicholas I was panicked in his own way by the spectre of communism and moved to destroy its meager reflection among a small section of the Russian intelligentsia.

The Origins of Populism

The revolutions of 1848 and the ensuing counterrevolutions by the combined forces of bourgeois and monarchical reaction are the great historic watershed of 19th century Europe. Among other things they gave rise to Russian populism as a distinct current of European socialism. Petrashevsky and his comrades had believed that socialism would come to Russia as part of a general European revolution. That vision was defeated on the barricades in Paris, Vienna, Rome and elsewhere.

A witness to that defeat was Alexander Herzen, the founder of Russian populism. Herzen had been a radical democrat who emigrated to West Europe, and he experienced the revolutions of 1848 in France and Italy. But Herzen remained optimistic about the prospects of revolution in Russia. If Russia was going to have a revolution in advance and independently of West Europe, however, it would have to be a predominantly peasant revolution because the industrial proletariat was minute. A German conservative, Baron Haxthausen, who had visited Russia in the 1840s, wrote a book saying that Russia didn't need a socialist revolution, it already had socialism in the form of the traditional peasant commune. After 1848 Herzen accepted this premise and argued that what would require a proletarian revolution in the West could be achieved on the basis of Russian rural institutions if the society were sufficiently democratized.

It is important to emphasize that while the Russian populists saw a different path to socialism in Russia, they had the same goal as Western revolutionaries. Thus Marx was always held in extremely high regard in the Russian populist movement. One of the early under¬ground populist groups wrote to Marx in London and proposed that he represent Russia as well as Germany in the leading council of the First International. The first language into which Capital was translated was Russian. It got through the tsarist censors, who figured that a book so dry and abstract as Capital could not inspire anyone to revolutionary passion, and it became an instant best seller. At the end of his life, Herzen stated that he had always been faithful to the ideas of Saint-Simon, who had an extremely technologically advanced conception of socialism.

Herein lay the fundamental contradiction of Russian populism. The populists projected onto the peasant commune not only economic egalitarianism, but social equality at all levels—the equality of women, a libertarian conception of sexual relations, a belief in materialism and the progress of science. They believed that the tsar-worshipping, priest-ridden, wife-beating Russian peasant could be won to the outlook of a Saint-Simon or a Marx. Such an illusion could survive only as long as the populist movement was exclusively a movement of the intelligentsia. And in fact the "To the People" movement marked the beginning of the end of Russian populism.

Revolutionary populism went through four distinct phases. The first phase was ushered in by the Crimean War of 1853-55 in which Russia was defeated by England and France. This defeat sent shock waves through the Russian upper classes. Tsar Nicholas I died in 1855 (some say he committed suicide out of a sense of shame). His successor, Alexander II, appeared to be a liberal, and in the late 1850s Russia experienced the tsarist version of glasnost and perestroika. Censorship was relaxed very considerably, and the tsarist government began talking about fundamental reforms of the system of serfdom.

Initially populist intellectuals like Herzen and Chernyshevsky demanded that the tsar expropriate the landed nobility and give the land to the peasantry. Some believed that the tsarist autocracy would achieve from above what the French Revolution had achieved from below. However, it soon became clear that the legal emancipation of the serfs was going to be done in a way which perpetuated the exploitation of the peasants at the hands of the landlords and the absolutist state. In the first years after the abolition of serfdom, the economic conditions of the peasantry were actually worse than they had been. When the Emancipation Edict of 1861 was read, it provoked scattered peasant uprisings; the peasants thought it was a counterfeit document by the local bureaucrats and the landlords. The so:called Emancipation Edict marked the beginning of revolutionary populism. The intelligentsia became convinced that in order to establish peasant-based socialism they would have to overthrow the tsarist autocracy and create a democratic republic.

The "Common Cause":
Women in the Revolutionary Movement

In the 1860s the first underground revolutionary organizations came into existence. These were easily crushed. Chernyshevsky himself was imprisoned and then exiled. Yet the tsarist repression in no way suppressed the revolutionary populist movement. Over the course of the next decade, a group of perhaps two or three hundred intellectuals became a mass movement of the intelligentsia numbering thousands of activists and perhaps ten times as many sympathizers.

A three-sided political struggle developed during this period within the Russian intelligentsia who opposed the existing social and political order to some degree: the Slavophiles, the liberals, and the revolutionary populists. In this struggle the populists won hands down, and by the early 1870s Russian universities were a bastion of revolutionary populism.

Perhaps the decisive reason for the victory of populism is that they were able to mobilize the vast reserves of the women of the educated classes. This movement literally liberated thousands of women from the shackles of the patriarchal family. A woman was not legally allowed to live on her own without the permission of her parents, or her husband if she was married. To circumvent this, the fictitious marriage became a sort of standard activity within the radical movement. Some young male student would be told by a friend that he knew of a woman of advanced views who wanted to go abroad to study medicine (a woman couldn't study medicine in Russia). And they would meet for the first time in front of a church; they would go in, get married; they would come out, and he would hand her her passport, of which he had control, and say, "Now you are free to go and study medicine and do what you like."

During the 1860s the Russian revolutionary movement acquired the participation of women to a far greater degree than their counterparts in Western Europe. These women at the same time consciously rejected Western-style feminism, that is, the idea of building a separate movement predominantly of women in order to pressure the existing government to pass laws in favor of women's equality. They saw women's equality coming about through what was called the "common cause," a total social revolution in which they would participate on an equal footing with male revolutionaries. Vera Figner, who became the principal leader of the terrorist People's Will in its final phase, recounts how she and her fellow Russian radical students at the University of Zurich viewed this question:

"Generally speaking, as a group the female students abroad were not advocates of the woman question and smiled at any mention of it. We came without thought of pioneering or trying to solve the woman question. We didn't think it needed solution. It was a thing of the past; the principle of equality between men and women had been achieved in the sixties."

Now of course what Figner meant was that it had been achieved within the revolutionary movement, not in Russian society at large. The Russian populists, called "Narodniks" in their own language, were acutely aware of the terrible oppression of women. At a mass trial of populists in 1877, the tsarist prosecutors denounced them for undermining the family. Sofia Bardina replied to this:

"As far as the family is concerned...isn't it being destroyed by a social system which forces an impoverished woman to abandon herself to prostitution, and which even sanctifies this prostitution as a legal and necessary element of every civilized state? Or is it we who are destroying the family? we who are trying to root out this poverty—the major cause of all society's ill, including the erosion of the family?"

"To the People"

In the mid-1870s the populist intelligentsia who were organized in Land and Liberty, which was an all-Russian, fairly highly centralized organization of the Narodnik vanguard, made a heroic 'attempt to overthrow what Bardina called the "social system." This was the "To the People" movement. Thousands of revolutionary intellec¬tuals flocked to rural villages trying to incite the peasants to rise up in a radical democratic and social revolution. The response was not favorable. One of the leading veterans of this movement reported:

"I noticed that any sharp sallies against the Tsar or against religion made an extremely disagreeable impression on the peasants; they were just as deeply perplexed by energetic appeals for a rebellion or uprising."

When the Narodnik intellectuals said that the peasants should have the landlords' land, they got a favorable hearing. But the peasants were unwilling to defy the state to achieve this end.

While the main body of Narodnik intellectuals went to the rural villages, some remained in the cities and sought to agitate and organize among factory workers. Here they were distinctly more successful. They were able to win over some advanced workers, such as Stepan Khalturin, who joined the leadership of Land and Liberty and set up small but significant allied organizations of workers.

One of the leading populist intellectuals involved in organizing the workers was Georgi Plekhanov. Initially Plekhanov accepted what could be called the conventional populist line: factory workers are simply peasants doing seasonal vyork in the factories, which had no effect on their sympathies and ties to the rural villages. But Plekhanov's own experience caused him to question this. In 1879 he wrote:

"The question of the city worker is one of those that it may be said will be moved forward automatically by life itself, to an appropriate place, in spite of the a priori theoretical decisions of the revolutionary leaders."

The "To the People" movement, which necessarily operated quite openly, exposed the Narodniks to massive state repression. This repression, combined with the frus¬tration that the movement had not achieved its basic aim, paved the way for the last phase of revolutionary populism: the turn toward terrorism.

In 1878 Vera Zasulich heard that one of her comrades had been almost beaten to death in prison. She put on her best clothes, walked to the prison, requested that she present a petition to the head of the prison, and when she went into his office she pulled out a gun and shot him pointblank. She did not however kill him. The tsarist authorities thought this was such an open-and-shut case that instead of trying her for a political crime before a special tribunal, they tried her on an ordinary criminal charge before a jury drawn from the St. Petersburg upper classes. And she was acquitted, because the jury found this a justifiable act of moral outrage!

The acquittal had a far more shocking impact than the shooting. Count Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, expressed the views of the educated elite when he called Zasulich's acquittal "a harbinger of revolution." The populist leaders drew the same conclusion: that if even an upper-class jury will acquit an overt terrorist, then a cam¬paign of terrorism would have enormous popular support. Marx and Engels in London similarly concluded that in the particular conditions of Russia a campaign of terrorism could incite a popular revolution.

The one populist intellectual who dissented was Plekhanov, who warned that the only effect of shooting Alexander II would be to replace him with another Alexander with another digit after his name. He wanted to continue to propagandize and agitate among the rural had been in prison and then in exile for almost 20 years. The tsarist regime had sufficient respect for the effectiveness of People's Will that they did in fact free the old man of Russian socialism. But in the following years Russian populism was basically broken, not so much by the tsarist repression as by demoralization. Neither mass agitation nor terrorism had seriously affected the tsarist autocracy, which emerged if anything even more reactionary than ever.

From Populism to Marxism

The 1880s were the low point of the Russian revolutionary movement. In 1889 a student in St. Petersburg, just ten years earlier a hotbed of revolutionary activism, reported: "There were few self-sacrificing participants who completely consecrated themselves to the cause.... All wanted to finish the course as soon as possible and then to live entirely within the law." Yet just a few years later, a new generation of Russian revolutionaries would enter the scene and finish off the tsarist autocracy
once and for all.

Most accounts of the transition from populism to Marxism within the Russian intelligentsia focus exclusively on Plekhanov and his comrades. It's important, however, to place this transition in its international context. During the 1870s Russia appeared to be the one country on the verge of a radical upheaval. The bomb-throwing Russian Narodnik seemed the model of the European revolutionary. When Zasulich fled to West Europe after being acquitted for shooting Trepov, she was greeted as a heroine not only by socialists, but even by many Western liberals who hated the tsarist autocracy. Yet a decade later the Russian populist movement had almost evaporated. In 1878, the same year that People's Will was formed, the Bismarck regime in Germany passed the so-called Anti-Socialist Laws aimed at breaking the power of the German Marxist movement. The leaders, Bebel and Kautsky, were driven into exile and many activists were imprisoned. Yet unlike the Russian populists, the Marxists became the mass party of the German proletariat despite the repression. So Plekhanov's influence among a new generation of Russian revolutionaries-was not merely because of the intrinsic brilliance of his polemics against populism, but also because he was a cothinker of the strongest, most effective socialist movement in Europe.

After the split in Land and Liberty, Plekhanov attempted to establish a small propaganda group called "Total Redistribution," but the tsarist persecution was so intense that he and his comrades were forced into exile. This compelled them to rethink their basic theoretical premises and strategic perspectives, and in the early 1880s Ple¬khanov made the transition from populism to Marxism. That transition contained two basic elements, one negative, the other positive. Instead of just idealizing it, Plekhanov looked at what was happening to the peasant commune, and he saw that since the emancipation of the serfs, the collective elements of the Russian peasantry were rapidly being undermined. A new layer of rich peas¬ants, known by the insulting term kulaks, or "fists," was increasingly dominating the life of the village because they had the money. That was the negative element. The positive element is that Plekhanov generalized from his own experiences in the 1870s that there was a fundamental difference between workers and peasants, that they were not just part of the narod, the "people," and that only the workers in their mass were receptive to the socialist program. He concluded that a socialist party in Russia must be based centrally on the slowly but steadily growing proletariat.

In rejecting the conception of peasant-based socialism, Plekhanov concluded that Russia at that point in its economic development could not have a socialist transformation of any kind. He conceived a theory of what later came to be called the "two-stage revolution." In the first stage the working class, guided by the socialist intelligentsia, would lead the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy. The liberal bourgeoisie, such as ruled in the West, would then come to power. In turn the workers would gain the political freedom to build a mass proletarian party and allied trade-union movement. Plekhanov also believed that a radical democratic revolution in Russia would enormously accelerate capitalist development, thus increasing the numerical weight of the industrial proletariat and creating the objective economic conditions for a socialist revolution in the future. Thus the program of the Eman¬cipation of Labor group, formed in 1883, stated:

"Present-day Russia is suffering—as Marx once said of the West European continent—not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from insufficiency of that development.

"One of the most harmful consequences of this backward state of production was and still is the underdevelopment of the middle class, which, in our country, is incapable of taking the initiative in the struggle against absolutism. "That is why the socialist intelligentsia has been obliged to head the present-day emancipation movement, whose immediate task must be to set up free political institutions in our country...."

Plekhanov's two-stage revolutionary schema was accepted within the Marxist movement until the beginnings of the Revolution of 1905, when it was confronted, as Plekhanov would have said, "by life itself." It was then challenged in different ways by Lenin's conception of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry and Trotsky's conception of permanent revolution.

"From a Spark a Flame Shall Be Kindled"

In the first decade of its existence, the Emancipation of Labor group was a mere handful of exiles. This reflected both the apolitical mood of the Russian intelligentsia and the continuing dominance of the populists over the diminished radical movement. Slowly Plekhanov began to influence a new younger generation of Russian intellectuals, personified by Vladimir llyich Ulyanov. According to his own account, the future Lenin was an apolitical youth until 1887, when his older brother was executed for participating in one of the last populist attempts to take the tsar's life. Alexander Ulyanov's execution radicalized his younger brother, who, however, did not follow the same path in a programmatic and strategic sense. In the early 1890s the young future Lenin consciously rejected populism in all its contemporary manifestations, and consid¬ered himself a Marxist.

By the mid-1890s, revolutionary populism was a thing of the past and what passed for populism had merged with liberalism. In the 1890s the only people who were calling for a democratic republic were the Marxists, called the Social Democrats. Thus Lenin could write at this time: "All true and consistent democrats in Russia must become Social Democrats." The Russian Marxists had achieved a position in some ways comparable to the revolutionary populists of a generation earlier. They had become the dominant current among that section of the Russian intelligentsia which was fundamentally hostile to the existing social and political order. They had also acquired a small layer of advanced workers. But they had to break outside the narrow circle. This was called the transition from propaganda to agitation. Plekhanov defined propaganda as the explanation of many complex ideas to the few, and agitation as the explanation of a few basic ideas to the many.

The attempt of the Marxist propaganda circle to involve itself in agitation among the workers happened to coincide with a major strike wave. As a result they got a far more favorable hearing and greater influence among the workers than they had initially expected. Lenin, Martov and the other leaders of the movement sought to direct the workers' economic resistance to the employer toward the ultimate goal of a radical democratic revolution against the tsarist autocracy. In a popular pamphlet on factory fines written in 1895, for example, Lenin wrote:

"[The workers] will understand that the government and its officials are on the side of the factory owners, and that the laws are drawn up in such a way as to make it easier for the employer to oppress the worker."

The turn toward agitation incurred increased tsarist repression. Lenin, Martov and the other leaders of what were called the first generation of Russian Marxist "practicals"—that is, the Russian Marxists who actually organized the workers, as opposed to the older veterans like Plekhanov and Axelrod who provided the theoretical direction from exile—were arrested. The movement passed into the hands of younger people whose formative experience was their involvement in the mass strikes. They became so enthralled with increasing their influence among the workers that they decided to drop the demand for a democratic republic, which they argued was remote from the immediate concerns of the workers and was unpopular among the more backward sections who still had illusions in the tsar's benevolence.

Plekhanov denounced this tendency as "economism," which a colleague of Lenin, Potresov, defined as the Utopian notion of building an effective trade-union move¬ment under tsarist absolutism. Nonetheless in the late 1890s economism became the dominant current within Russian Social Democracy, both the underground circles in Russia and the exile organizations in West Europe.

In 1900 Lenin, Martov and Potresov were released from Siberia, where they had been sent into exile. They joined Plekhanov and his comrades in West Europe to form what was called the Iskra group. "Iskra," meaning "spark," was taken for their journal; it derived from a letter that was written 75 years earlier by the imprisoned and condemned Decembrists to their friend, the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. In justifying their actions, the Decembrists said: "From a spark a flame shall be kindled." In choosing this name the Iskra group was stating that the proletariat was and must be the heir to the tradition of revolutionary democratic struggle against the tsarist autocracy. The very name was an attack on economism.

Although Plekhanov was one of the towering figures of European socialism, it was Lenin who was the real driving force and principal organizer of the Iskra group. Its immediate goal was to wrest control of the movement from the still dominant economists. The Iskra group won rather rapidly, in part because Russian society was beginning to experience revolutionary ferment at all levels. Factory workers in large numbers spontaneously joined student strikes and protests, thereby giving the lie to the economist notion that workers would take to the streets only when their own personal livelihood was involved—a very narrow and degrading conception. The narrowness of the economist perspective was discredited even among the economists themselves.

For Lenin, the leadership of the movement was only the first step. The second and decisive step was to cohere the localized propaganda circles into a centralized party with a clearly defined program, strategic perspective and leadership. Describing the need for a such a party in his principal work of the Iskra period, What Is To Be Done?, Lenin used a metaphor from construction:

"Pray tell me, when a bricklayer lays bricks in various parts of an enormous structure, the like of which he has never seen, is it not a 'paper line' that he uses to find the correct place to lay each brick and to indicate the ultimate goal of his work as a whole.... And aren't we passing now through a period in our party life, in which we have bricks and bricklayers, but lack a guiding line visible to all?"

To establish such a guiding line and a centralized party, the Iskra group called a congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party in mid-1903. As is well known, this congress ended in a deep split between the Bolsheviks (the majority, or "hards"), led by Lenin, and the Mensheviks (the minority, called at the time the "softs"), whose principal leader was Martov. At first it appeared that the split was over narrowly organizational grounds: whether to have a highly centralized party consisting of people who are committed revolutionaries, or, as the Mensheviks wanted, a looser party open to all workers and intellectuals who actively supported the movement in some degree. However, as Russia moved toward a revolutionary crisis it became increasingly clear that the difference over the internal nature of the party was linked to differences over the course of the role it would play in the revolution, in fact differences over the revolution itself.

The Permanent Revolution

In 1904 Russia engaged in a war with Japan over which country would control the Far East. The tsarist autocracy had expected that a wave of popular patriotic solidarity would dampen the growing social discontent. Instead the defeats of the Russian army at the hands of the Japanese further undermined the tsarist autocracy. "Bloody Sunday," the January 1905 massacre of peaceful workers who were petitioning the tsar, ignited a wave of mass workers strikes, peasant uprisings and military mutinies throughout the year. The Romanov throne tottered wildly, although in the end it did not fall. However, in the early months of 1905 the demise of the autocracy seemed imminent, and therefore the various factions and tendencies of Rus¬sian Social Democracy were forced to spell out much more concretely their conceptions of the course of the revolution and its aftermath.

The Mensheviks translated Plekhanov's initially rather abstract conception of a two-stage revolution into support for the liberal wing of the Russian bourgeoisie, organized in the Constitutional Democratic party or Cadets. The last thing that the Cadets wanted was a popular insurrection to overthrow the tsar. What they aimed at was to use the turmoil from below to pressure the tsarist autocracy to create quasi-parliamentary bodies in which the propertied classes would have the dominant place. In practice the Mensheviks' adherence to a two-stage revolution, in which the first stage meant the workers were supposed to march arm in arm with the democratic bourgeoisie against tsarist reaction, turned out to be a no-stage revolution because there was no democratic bourgeoisie with which to march.

Lenin recognized that all wings of the Russian bourgeoisie were anti-democratic and anti-revolutionary, that a radical bourgeois-democratic revolution therefore would have to occur against and not in alliance with the Russian bourgeoisie. This was the core of his conception of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. He projected that a workers party, supported by the mass of the peasants, would be able to purge Russia of all the feudal-derived backwardness, the tsarist autocracy, bureaucracy and the state church. It would eliminate the oppression of nationalities as well as of the Jews and end the exploitation of the peasants by the landed nobility.

This conception was clearly influenced by the Jacobin dictatorship in the Great French Revolution. Yet the ques¬tion remained: could the proletariat replay the Jacobin dictatorship in the Russia of 1905; was it possible to take economic actions which would harm the interests of large sections of the propertied class and at the same time not economically expropriate the bourgeoisie? Lenin insisted that this was not a stable form of government, but rather "only a transient, temporary socialist aim." He argued a' the time (although he later changed his view) that in thi absence of proletarian revolutions in West Europe, a rev¬olution in Russia, no matter how radical, could not go beyond the framework of capitalist economic relations.

The person who uniquely argued arthe time that th Russian Revolution could and had to go beyond bourgeois economic relations was Leon Trotsky. Trotsky had bef one of the younger leaders of the Iskra group; in the split he initially sided with the Mensheviks. He played prominent role in the Revolution of 1905, and in the course of that revolution developed what he called the doctrine of permanent revolution, in part based on Marx's writings in the immediate aftermath of the revolutions of 1848. In a preface which he wrote in 1921 to his writings on the Revolution of 1905, Trotsky summarized the doctrine of permanent revolution:

"This rather high-flown expression defines the thought that the Russian revolution, although directly concerned with bourgeois aims, could not stop short at those aims; the revolution could not solve its immediate, bourgeois tasks except by putting the proletariat into power. And the proletariat, once having power in its hands, would not be able to remain confined within the bourgeois framework of the revolution. On the contrary, precisely in order to guarantee its victory, the proletarian vanguard in the very earliest stages of its rule would have to make extremely deep inroads not only into feudal but also into bourgeois property relations....

"The contradictions between a workers' government and an overwhelming majority of peasants in a backward country could be resolved only on an international scale, in the arena of a world proletarian revolution. Having, by virtue of historical necessity, burst the narrow bourgeois-democratic confines of the Russian revolution, the victorious proletariat would be compelled also to burst its national and state confines, that is to say, it would have to strive consciously for the Russian revolution to become the pro¬logue to a world revolution."

In 1905 the permanent revolution did not go further than the beginnings of dual power between the proletariat and the tsarist autocracy. However, Russia's defeats in the first imperialist world war broke the back of the tsarist autocracy and paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the greatest victory of the world pro¬letariat in history. Today that victory is being desperately threatened by the ascendancy of capitalist counterrevo¬lutionary forces.

But I would like to end this talk rather with a story. After the assassination of Alexander II the leadership of People's Will came into the hands of Vera Figner. It was she who negotiated with the tsarist regime for the release of Chernyshevsky, and she managed to hold together an underground group in Russia for the next two years. The police official who finally tracked her down had gained so much respect for her that he requested to kiss her hand before sending her to prison. But sent to prison she was, where she stayed for the next 22 years. She was only released in the amnesty of 1905. When she came out of prison she was a kind of Narodnik Rip Van Winkle; she could not understand or orient to the radically changed political and social conditions.

Nevertheless, she remained active within the left, where she was universally respected.
In 1917 many prominent old populists joined the counterrevolutionary camp and went into exile. Figner, the old Narodnik terrorist, faced with a fundamental choice of political loyalties, chose to stay in Soviet Russia. In the 1920s she devoted herself to writing her memoirs and to an organization called the Society of Former Political Prisoners, who were old populists who considered themselves loyal citizens of the Soviet Union. In that capacity she sought to induce populists who had emigrated to return to Soviet Russia and to serve the interests of the workers state. This eminently worthy organization was disbanded by Stalin in the early '30s.

Figner was still alive and kicking at the age of 89, living in Moscow, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. As the Wehrmacht approached Moscow, the Russian authorities turned to Figner and said, "We will move you to safety further east." She refused, saying, "I am very old. I will die soon anyway. Save your efforts for people who are living, who still have a life to give to the cause." So the last member of the famous Central Committee of the People's Will died the following year in Moscow, a heroic and self-sacrificing revolutionary right to the end, and in that sense an inspiration for us all.

*Another Small Victory On The Death Penalty Abolition Front- New Mexico Falls

Click on title to link to "Time" online coverage of the New Mexico Death Penalty abolition fight.


This week, the week of March 16, 2009, Governor Bill Richardson (you remember him from the Democratic presidential campaign trail in 2008 and as a Obama Cabinet appointment gone awry, don’t you?) signed a bill passed by the New Mexico legislature that abolished the death penalty for capital crimes in that state. New Mexico thus joins New Jersey (2007) as the second state in recent times that has overturned this barbaric practice that had previously been on its books. We will take every, even small victory, on this front that we can get our hands on. Kudos.

As a general political proposition it has become apparent that the way that the death penalty will be abolished, short of an early act of a victorious workers government, is through piecemeal legislation in the individual states. So be it. On the federal level one should expect no positive action as the vaunted “liberal’ President Barack Obama is in favor of its retention (as, to be even-handed in our scorn, were then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Massachusetts Senator John Kerry- such is the nature of big time bourgeois politics).

That leaves the United States Supreme Court. Well, let’s move on back to that first paragraph about where the locus of action is on the death penalty question-the individual states. One little note though, some of the Supremes have been making noises (especially Justice Stevens) about abolition of the death penalty as a constitutional question. Well, we have been down that road before. I recall that former Justice Blackmon came out against the death penalty and received accolades and awards far and wide, especially from his brethren in the legal community. The only problem with that tribute from this corner is that he did so AFTER he left the bench. Where was the good Justice he when he could have done something (even in a technical sense like granting stays of execution and other legal niceties) about it though? This death penalty question is a quintessential democratic issue but, once again, don’t depend on the “house” liberals to be in the forefront of its abolition. Abolish The Death Penalty Now!

*Defend Dr. George Tiller!- Free Abortion on Demand!

Click On Title To Link To May 31, 2009 Associated Press Article On The Murder Of Doctor George Tiller. Honor his memory.


Guest Commentary

March Is Women's History Month

This entry is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee. At a time when everyone is "keeping it on the low" about President Barack Obama's retro position on abortion noted in the article Doctor Tiller, a real hero of the women's rights movement (when it counts) needs serious defense.

Free Abortion on Demand!

Defend Dr. George Tiller!

After decades of intimidation and terror, courageous abortion provider Dr. George Tiller goes on trial March 16, threatened with 19 years in prison. One of the few remaining physicians providing “late-term” abortions in the U.S., Dr. Tiller and the staff of his Wichita Women’s Health Care Services have repeatedly been targeted by anti-abortion fanatics. Tiller’s clinic was bombed in 1986, and in 1993 he survived being shot several times in an assassination attempt. Tiller faces 19 misdemeanor counts of violating the state’s law requiring two doctors, without financial or legal ties to each other, to sign off on abortions done late in pregnancy (in Kansas, the arbitrary calculus of “late-term” is set at 22 weeks). Prosecutors claim that Tiller had a financial relationship with the doctor who provided a second opinion. These bogus charges are being used to railroad a courageous doctor who puts medical science and concern for his patients above his own well-being. The labor movement and all defenders of women’s rights must stand in defense of Dr. Tiller and demand: Stop the witchhunt against George Tiller! Drop the charges!

The attack on Dr. Tiller is part of a drive, by legal and extralegal means, to intimidate abortion providers and ultimately do away with women’s right to abortion. According to papers filed by Tiller’s lawyers, the district attorney obtained under false pretenses a court order directing a Wichita hotel to turn over registration records containing patients’ names. Under the pretext of investigating “child rape,” these records were then matched with medical records that Tiller was required to submit to the state, in order to discover the names of Tiller’s patients. D.A. Phill Kline, who launched the legal crusade against Tiller, was so frenzied in his campaign against abortion clinics that the state Supreme Court in December chastised him for showing “little, if any, respect” for “the rule of law” (Topeka Capital-Journal, 6 December 2008).

Nevertheless, on February 25 the judge in the criminal case against Tiller denied a defense motion to throw out prosecution evidence and refused to dismiss the case. Noting that the charges against Tiller had been filed by Kline’s successor as attorney general, a “pro-choice” Democrat, the judge ludicrously concluded that Kline’s actions “could not have tainted the investigation and prosecution of this case” (AP, 25 February).

The law being used to go after Tiller is just one of a slew of measures which have made abortion virtually inaccessible to a large number of women in this country. This is especially true for the young, working-class and poor, who already have limited access to decent health care, childcare, affordable housing or even enough food to feed their families. Today, 36 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy. Fully 34 states require one or both parents of young women under 18 to be notified and/or consent to an abortion. And 87 percent of U.S. counties—97 percent in nonmetropolitan areas—do not have an abortion provider.

Abortion is a politically explosive issue because it raises the question of the equality of women. This simple medical procedure provides women with some control over whether or not to have children. For this reason it is viewed as a threat to the institution of the family, which is a crucial prop for the system of capitalist exploitation. In order for safe and legal abortion to become a reality for working-class, minority and immigrant women, we call for free abortion on demand as part of free quality health care for all.

The increasing curtailment of the right to abortion reflects the policies of both the Democratic and Republican parties. As we wrote in “Drop the Charges Against Dr. George Tiller!” (WV No. 924, 7 November 2008):

“The reactionary demagogy of the Republicans is longstanding and obvious enough. But the fact is that there has been little ‘choice’ for poor women since Democrat Jimmy Carter (who now has become an international ‘human rights’ icon) signed into law in 1977 the Hyde Amendment eliminating Medicaid coverage for abortions. During Democrat Clinton’s eight years in office, welfare for mothers was axed, safe access to abortion was effectively gutted across much of the country, as the number of abortion providers plummeted 14 percent between 1992 and 1996, and a huge number of restrictive laws were passed.”

President Barack Obama provoked a hysterical uproar among anti-abortion bigots when he nominated as Health and Human Services Secretary Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, a “pro-choice” Democrat who sponsored an April 2007 event at the governor’s residence with Tiller and his clinic’s staff. Yet during the election campaign, Obama told the Christian magazine Relevant that he opposed mental health exceptions for “late-term” abortion bans because “I don’t think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother” (AP, 4 July 2008). In office, Obama stripped from his economic stimulus package a proposal to allow states to expand Medicaid coverage of contraception and other family planning services. Obama’s proposed 2010 budget has been hailed by liberals for setting aside $634 billion for health care, but the reality is that about half that sum would come from spending cuts in programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The attacks on abortion rights are part of a campaign of social reaction aimed at regimenting the entire population—not just women, but black people, immigrants, gays and the working class as a whole. While the anti-abortion bigots call themselves “pro-life,” they enthusiastically support the racist death penalty. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the industrialized world.

The fight for abortion rights, decent living conditions and free quality health care mandates that we build a revolutionary workers party. The working class has the social power necessary to mobilize in defense of not only women, but all the oppressed. But to exercise that power it is necessary to wage a political struggle against the labor bureaucracy that keeps working people tied to the Democratic Party. The elimination of the right to abortion would redound against all working people. As we have often underlined, democratic rights either go forward together or fall back separately. The working class is uniquely situated to bring capitalist rule to an end. For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!

Friday, March 20, 2009

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- The Grimke Sisters- Fighters For Slavery Abolition And Women's Rights

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the 19th century American radicals, Sarah And Angelina Grimke.

February Is Black History Month

March Is Women's History Month

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, 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.

Women And Revolution, Volume 29, Spring 1985

The Grimke Sisters:
Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights

By Amy Rath

"I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours." —Angelina Grimke', address to Women's Loyal League, May 1863

Angelina and Sarah Grimke' were two of the earliest fighters for black and women's rights in America. Although far from being socialists or revolutionaries, the Grimke' sisters of South Carolina were among the foremost fighters for human equality of their time, the 1830s and the tumultuous era which saw the birth of the abolitionist movement, foreshadowing the great Civil War which freed the slaves. They were also among the the first women to speak publicly on political issues. "Genteel society" objected to the fact of their public appearances—and even more to the content of their speeches. Thus the first serious, widespread discussion of women's rights in the United States was directly linked to the black question and the liberation of the slaves, questions which 25 years later would tear the nation apart in civil war.

Further, the Grimke' sisters' almost visionary commitment to the fight for the liberation of all, exemplified in Angelina's famous statement to the Women's Loyal League, stands in stark contrast not only to early abolitionist anti-women prejudices, but also to the later, shameful betrayal of black rights by feminists during the Reconstruction era. "The discussion of the rights of the slave has opened the way for the discussion of other rights," wrote Angelina to Catherine E.Beecher in 1837, "and the ultimate result will most certainly be the breaking of every yoke, the letting the oppressed of every grade and description go free,—an emancipation far more glorious than any the world has ever yet seen."

The sisters and Theodore Weld published American Slavery As It Is (1840), the most influential anti-slavery document until Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Though they had essentially retired from active politics by the time of John Brown's courageous raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, the actual opening shot of the Civil War, they deeply believed in his cause. Angelina's stirring "Address to the Soldiers of our Second Revolution" (given at the May 1863 Women's Loyal League convention) advocated massive arming of the former slaves as part of the Union Army, and remains today a remarkably radical and prescient analysis of the implications of the Civil War:

"This war is not, as the South falsely pretends, a war of races, nor of sections, nor of political parties, but a war of Principles; a war upon the working classes, whether white or black; a war against Man, the world over. In this war, the black man was the first victim, the workingman of whatever color the next; and now all who contend for the rights of labor, for free speech, free schools, free suffrage, and a free government... are driven to do battle in defense of these or to fall with them, victims of the same violence that for two centuries has held the black man a prisoner of war— The nation is in a death-struggle. It must either become one vast slaveocracy of petty tyrants, or wholly the land of the free."

Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights

On February 21,1838, hundreds of people swarmed to the great hall of the Massachusetts State Legislature. Angelina Grimke", the first woman ever to address an American legislative body, would argue for the most controversial subject of the day: the immediate abolition of slavery.

This speech—which continued over three days, despite efforts by pro-slavery forces to stop it—was the culmination of a nine months' tour by Sarah and Angelina Grimke', the first women agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), founded in 1833. While their speeches began as "parlor meetings" in private homes or church halls for women only, such was the power and growing fame of Angelina's oratory that men began to slip into the back to listen, and the Grimke' sisters became the first American women to address what were then called "promiscuous" audiences.

Uproar swept genteel society across the nation. The Grimke' sisters were breaking the rules of ladylike decorum by their "unwomanly" displays. Angelina was popularly called "Devilina"; "Fanny Wrightists!" screamed the pro-slavery press. (Fanny Wright was a Scots Utopian socialist who toured the U.S. in 1828 for abolition, public education, women's rights, the ten-hour day and "free love"; she set up an anti-slavery commune and edited a newspaper. When these projects failed, she left the country, having made little impact.) "Why are all the old hens abolitionists?" sneered the New Hampshire Patriot: "Because not being able to obtain husbands they think they may stand some chance for a negro, if they can only make amalgamation [interracial sex] fashionable."

The Congregationalist church, the descendant of the New England Puritans, issued a "Pastoral Letter" condemning the Grimke's for leaving "woman's sphere" and going against the biblical injunction, of Paul: "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Sarah answered this, and other attacks, in the brilliant Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, the first American book on the rights of women, predating Margaret Fuller's more famous work by six years.

In her arguments Sarah relied extensively on biblical sources, for to her it was important to prove that the equality of the sexes should be a Christian belief, and she wanted to show that women had the right and duty to work for the emancipation of the slave. Her concrete solutions to women's oppression were naive: for example, she suggested that husbands should content themselves with baked potatoes and milk for dinner, to give their wives time to educate themselves. She never understood that the institution of the family itself necessarily stands in the way of women's freedom. Indeed, she could not reconcile herself to the idea that divorce should be legalized. But for all these limita¬tions, Sarah's book is the pioneer American work on the subject. She was deeply interested in women workers, and polemicized against unequal wages; she attacked with great bitterness the lack of educational opportunities for women and their total lack of legal rights. "I ask no favors for my sex," she wrote, "All I ask our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy."

Many fellow abolitionists demanded that the sisters give up their arguments on women's rights, fearing that it would detract from the more important question of the hour: freedom for the slave. But Angelina pointed out that the outcry against women's public lecturing was a tool of the slaveholders: "We cannot push Abolitionism forward with all our might until we take up the stumbling block out of the road.... Can you not see the deep laid scheme of the clergy against us as lecturers?... If we surrender the right to speak in public this year, we must surrender the right to petition next year, and the right to write the year after, and so on. What then can woman do for the slave, when she herself is under the feet of man and shamed into silence?" (emphasis in original; letter to Theodore Weld and John Greenleaf Whittier, 20 August 1837).

The Making of a Southern Abolitionist

The sisters' effectiveness as abolitionist agents had to do not only with the power and sweep of their arguments, but with the fact that they were native-born eyewitnesses to Southern slavery. Yet precisely because they were gently bred daughters of one of South Carolina's most prominent slaveholding families, they had not seen the worst of it, as they themselves were quick to point out. They did not see the slave gangs on the plantations, the brutal whippings, but the "better" treatment of the house and city slaves.

Sarah was born in 1792. The invention of the cotton gin in her infancy led her father, like many others, to expand his plantation holdings and build up his slave force. He was one of the wealthiest men in Charleston, the political capital of the South, and a veteran of the Revolutionary War, a former Speaker in the state House, a judge and author. Sarah grew up with every advantage that wealth and position could offer a woman of her time. But instead of satisfying herself with embroidery, piano and a little French, she studied her brother's lessons in mathematics, history and botany, and declared her wish to become a lawyer. Her family mocked her; her father forbade her to study Latin. Perhaps influenced by her own educational frustrations as well as her childhood revulsion for the slave system, she started to teach her personal maid to read. "I took an almost malicious satisfaction in teaching my little waiting-maid at night, when she was supposed to be occupied in combing and brushing my long locks. The light was put out, the keyhold screened, and flat on our-stomachs, before the fire, with the spelling-book under our eyes, we defied the laws of South Carolina."

As an adult Sarah's aspirations to make something of her life turned in the one direction open to "respectable" women of her day and class: religion. She became a Quaker. Later she converted Angelina, 12 years her junior. Before joining her sister in Philadel¬phia, the Quakers' center, Angelina undertook a personal conversion crusade against slavery among her family and friends. In her gray Quaker dress, she started arguments at tea against the sin of holding slaves, becoming quite unpopular with Charleston's ruling elite. Inquiries were made about her sanity.

Convinced at last that there was no future in this, Angelina went north. But she could not be satisfied with the orthodox Quaker doctrine, which at that time included colonization as a "solution" to slavery. Black "Friends" were made to sit on a separate bench. In the early 1830s Angelina became interested in the growing abolitionist movement, and was horrified at the violence the free North turned against anti-slavery spokesmen. William Lloyd Garrison was barely saved from lynching at the hands of a Boston mob in 1835. Theodore Weld was repeatedly mobbed as he toured the Midwest, as were many others. Early in the decade Prudence Crandall was forced to close her school for black girls in Connecticut when the well was poisoned, doctors refused to treat the students, and finally a mob torched the school building. In 1838 a pro-slavery mob, egged on by the mayor himself, burned down Philadelphia Hall, which had been built by the abolitionists as a partial answer to their difficulty in finding places to meet. An interracial- meeting of abolitionists was in progress there at the time; two days earlier, Angelina and Weld had married, and the attendance of both blacks and whites at their wedding fueled the fury of the race-terrorists.

The abolitionists were part of a broader bourgeois radical movement, the 19th century herrs of the 18th century Enlightenment, Protestant religious ideals, and the American Revolution so dramatically unfulfilled in the "Land of the Free" where four million suffered in slavery. Although opposition to slavery was by no means as widespread in the 1830s as it was to become immediately before the Civil War, nonetheless many prominent men, such as the wealthy Tappan brothers of New York and Gerrit Smith, the biggest landowner in the North, had joined the movement by the middle of the decade. Many of the abolitionists had been part of the religious and intellectual upsurge which swept the United States after 1820. Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists were formulating their philos¬ophy. Religious revivalists such as Charles G. Finney, who converted Weld, preached temperance and that slavery was a sin against god.
Angelina became convinced that god had called her to work actively for the emancipation of the slaves. Defying the Quakers (who later expelled the sisters when Angelina and Weld married in a non-Quaker ceremony), the sisters went to New York where they participated in a conference for the training of abolitionist agents. Thus began the famous speaking tour of 1837-38.

The politics of the Grimke sisters was radical bourgeois egalitarianism profoundly rooted in religion. They believed that slavery was a sin, that as "immortal, moral beings" women and blacks were the equals of white men. They argued that slavery was contrary to the laws of god (the Bible) and of man, as put forth in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; they disagreed with Garrison's view of the Constitution as a "pro-slavery" document. Again unlike Garrison, they wrote and spoke for rights of education and property for free blacks as well, and bitterly denounced racism within the abolitionist movement. They were the integrationists of their time.

For many years, however, the sisters agreed with Garrison that slavery could be done away with peacefully by moral persuasion. They preached a boycott of slave-made goods (Angelina's wedding cake was made of "free" sugar by a free black baker). One of Angelina's first writings was "An Appeal to the Christian Women of the Southern States," widely circulated by the AASS, in which she urged Southern women to begin a petition campaign for immediate emancipation, to free their own slaves and to educate them. When copies of this pamphlet reached Charleston, the postmaster publicly burned them and the police informed the Grimke' family that if their daughter ever attempted to set foot in the city, she would be jailed and then sent back on the next ship.

The sisters were also for many years staunch pacifists, as would be expected from their Quaker background. Sarah took this to such an extreme that she denied that abolitionists had the right to arm themselves in defense against pro-slavery mobs. This became a subject of controversy in the abolitionist movement in 1837 when publisher Elijah Lovejoy was murdered in Alton, Illinois by a mob. True to her pacifist idealism, Sarah ques¬tioned his right to bear the gun with which he tried to save his life.

Splits and the Coming Storm

By the 1840s the Grimke'sisters had largely withdrawn from public activity. In part this was due to ill health Angelina suffered as a result of her pregnancies, as well as family financial problems. But much of it was probably political demoralization. In 1840the abolitionist movement split over the issues of women's rights and political action. The Garrisonian wing wanted to include women in the organization, but was opposed to abolitionists voting or running for political office, since Garrison believed the "pro-slavery" U.S. Con¬stitution should be abolished and that the North should expel the South. The other wing, represented by eminent men like the Tappan brothers, excluded women from office within the organization, was against women's rights, and wanted to orient to political work in Congress. Since they agreed with neither side in this split, the Grimke's and Weld retired to private life. In later years Angelina spoke bitterly against "organizations."

Meanwhile, however, on the left wing of the abolitionist movement there were gathering forces which saw the irrepressible and inevitable necessity for a violent assault on the slave system, to end it forever by force of arms. The brilliant black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and John Brown spearheaded this growing conviction. As we noted in our SL pamphlet, "Black History and the Class Struggle," "Douglass' political evolution was not merely from 'non-resistance' to self-defense. Contained in the 'moral suasion' line was a refusal to fight slavery politically and to the wall, by all methods. That is the importance of the Douglass-Brown relationship: together they were planning the Civil War." And it was John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 which galvanized the nation; abolitionists who the day before were pacifists took the pulpit to proclaim the necessity of a violent end to the slave system.

The Grimke' sisters and especially Theodore Weld had earlier become convinced that only war could end slavery. Sarah believed she had communed with John Brown's spirit the night before his martyrdom at the hands of Colonel Robert E. Lee, acting under command of President Buchanan. "The John Huss of the United States now stands ready... to seal his testimony with his life's blood," she wrote in her diary. Two of the executed men from the Harpers Ferry raid were buried in the commune at Raritan Bay, New Jersey, where the sisters and Weld were living at the time. The graves had to be guarded against a pro-slavery mob.

When the Civil War officially began the Grimke's did emerge briefly from private life. They were staunch Unionists, supported the draft and were critical of Lincoln for not freeing the slaves sooner. They were founding members of the Women's Loyal League. It was at a meeting of this group that Angelina made her famous statement: "I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours."

Reconstruction Betrayed: Finish the Civil War!

Following the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction, the most democratic period for blacks in U.S. history, the former abolitionist movement split again. During that period, women suffrage leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—formerly avowed abolitionists—turned their movement for women's rights into a tool of racist reaction. They organized against passage of the Fifteenth Amendment because it gave votes to blacks and not to women (the Grin-ike sisters were silent on this question, even though this disgusting racism was foreign to everything they had fought for). Stanton and Anthony worked closely with such racist Southern Democrats as James Brooks, because he purported to support women's suffrage. In a letter to the editor of the New York Standard (1865), Stanton wrote,

", as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk
into the kingdom first In fact, it is better to be the slave
of an educated white man, then of a degraded, ignorant black one."

It was Frederick Douglass who fought this racist assault. Douglass had been a fervent supporter of the infant women's rights movement, which began largely as a result of the chauvinism which women anti-slavery activists encountered from many abolitionists. At the 1869 convention of the Equal Rights Association, Douglass made a final attempt to win the suffragists from their reactionary policy:

"When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have [the same] urgency to obtain the ballot."
At this convention Douglass proposed a resolution which called the 15th Amendment the "culmination of one-half of our demands," while imploring a redou¬bling "of our energy to secure the further amendment guaranteeing the same sacred rights without limitation to sex." And for the rest of his life Douglass remained a staunch champion of women's rights.

Though the Civil War freed the slaves, it was not the fulfillment of Angelina's vision of a great, all-encompassing human emancipation. The betrayal of Reconstruction by the counterrevolutionary and triumphant capitalist reaction of the 1870s, in which the bourgeois feminists played their small and dirty part, left unfulfilled those liberating goals to which the Grimke sisters were committed. Yet Angelina's statement—"I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours"—was and is true in a way the Grimke's could not understand. Their social perspective was limited to the bourgeois order: they never identified property as the source of the oppression of both women and blacks. Indeed, as bourgeois egalitarians, the basis of their arguments was that women and blacks should have the same right to acquire property as the white man and that this would liberate them completely. As Marx noted:

"The present struggle between the South and North is, therefore, nothing but a struggle between two social systems, the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other."

—"The Civil War in the United States," Collected Works, Volume 19, 1861-64

The system of "free labor," capitalism, won out. Radical Reconstruction, enforced by military occupation, sought to impose equality of bourgeois democratic rights in the South. It was defeated by.compromise between the Northern bourgeoisie and the Southern land-owning aristocracy, thus revealing the ultimate incapacity of bourgeois radicalism to finally liberate any sector of the oppressed. This failure and betrayal of Reconstruction perpetuated the oppression of blacks as a color caste at the bottom of American capitalist society. This racial division, with whites on top of blacks, has been and continues to be the main historical obstacle to the development of political class con¬sciousness among the American proletariat. It will take a third American Revolution, led by a multiracial workers party against capitalism itself, to break the fetters of blacks, women and all the oppressed.

*The Flap Over AIG- Fight For A Workers Party

Click on title to link to the Transitional Program of The Fourth International (1938) for some ideas and slogans appropraite for today's struggle against the capitalist vultures.


Renegade Eye in commenting on an entry posted here on March 17, 2009 entitled “In “Honor Of AIG- Poster Child For Modern Capitalism” makes a good point about the easily fired up outrage over the giving of bonuses to some pretty unsavory and incompetent executives in light of AIG’s need for a federal taxpayer bailout. The mindset behind this scheme, however, to speak nothing of the general irrationality of capitalism, is only the tip of the iceberg, and not a particularly revealing one, about the nature of modern finance capitalism.

There is a deep plebeian populist streak in American history (not class, at least not in America) that periodically comes out when some egregious actions, such as AIG’s, hit a “hot” button. And, of course, there are no points to be lost by bourgeois politicians (or for that matter, Marxist working class politicians) for ganging up on a few unpopular (for the moment, where was the outrage when stocks were high and house values were rising) overpaid, underachieving Wall Street types. Easy targets, to be sure.

One should be aware though that using the “populist” card does not always accrue to the progressive side. A generation or so ago ex-Governor George Wallace of Alabama was able to gather considerable forces (and cash) for the times around opposition to so-called “pointy-headed liberals” who were allegedly trying to socially engineer society to their liking. Read: keep black and other minorities at the back of the bus. This is the audience that forms the conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh’s audience today. Some of the backlash on the home mortgage crisis has that same quality.

The question asked by these “populists": why did people (blacks and other minorities, mainly, without saying so directly for the most part) who had poor credit, no work history etc. line up hungrily to get a piece of the American dream by purchasing a home (and by the way increase the value, at the time, of the people asking the question)? From our perspective we need to cut across this with a program that deals with jobs and benefits for all, work on points that undermine class/racial/ ethnic and sexual solidarity through a workers party that fights for a workers government. That is a whole of difference from what the bourgeois politicians are feigning their outrage about.

A last point to remember as well. Echoing Renegade it is not nearly good enough to just carp about the “excesses” of capitalism but to do away with it. Every leading politician from President Barack Obama to House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank is crying foul. However, the underlying premise behind their “bailout” plans from the beginning to the present is that financial operations such as AIG are too big to fail. It would send the whole system into a tailspin. This latest crisis of capitalism very graphically brings up the key point that there are no “impossible” situations for the capitalists. They will continue to rule until they are “pushed out”. And that will not be pleasant, if history is any judge. But that is our job. As a first step we must fight under the banner of creating a workers party that fights for a workers government!

*Studs Terkel's America-The Great Racial Divide

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

The Other Great Divide-Race in Studs Terkel’s America


Race: How Blacks And White Feel About The Great American Obsession, Studs Terkel, The New Press, New York, 2004

As I have done on other occasions when I am reviewing more than one work by an author I am using some of the same comments, where they are pertinent, here as I did in earlier reviews. In this series the first Studs Terkel book reviewed was that of his “The Good War”: an Oral History of World War II".

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. As with other authors once I get started I tend to like to review several works that are relevant to see where their work goes. In the present case the review of Race: How Blacks And Whites Feel About Each is a forthright look at the state of American racial tensions a couple of decades ago although the issues raised and the fears expressed are not far from the surface of today’s racial landscape.

Moreover, the times of Obama notwithstanding, although the “code” words for the race question have changed many of the attitudes that are articulated here are hardly “shocking” to one who has had his ear to the ground down at the base of society. The most common attitude expressed by whites here- that of course they are not racially prejudiced, have nothing against blacks, even has black friends, in short, have no racial problems is belied by the refusal to live, go to school with or work with blacks. Perhaps a little surprising, at least to me, was the feeling expressed by many blacks that they did not want to live with whites, did not trust them and also feared them. That is the paradox of race in America and has been since slavery times. Anyone who paid close attention to this year’s presidential race and avoided the easy democratic and social generalizations of the mainstream pundits got hit over the head with this reality on the job, in the public schools in the neighborhood and on the streets every day. Certainly the Obama victory was a significant fact in this racially divided society. However one would be living in a fool’s paradise to think that overnight the race question had been eliminated. But enough of that except to say that we could certainly have used Studs talents to do a postscript on this book today.

One thing that I noticed immediately after reading this book, and as is true of the majority of Terkel’s interview books, is that he is not the dominant presence but is a rather light, if intensely interested, interloper in these stories. This is important in trying to get to the bottom of such a socially charged question as racial attitudes. Here, 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. He has a point he wants to make and that is that although most “ordinary” people do not make the history books they certainly make history, if not always of their own accord or to their own liking. Again, kudos and adieu Studs.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

*As We Gear Up Our Opposition To Obama's Afghan War A Song To Lift Our Spirits- Stepphenwolf's "The Monster"

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Film Clip Of Steppenhwolf Performing "Monster". Ah, Those Were The Days.

Guest Commentary/Lyrics by John Kay and others


America where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster

Hell, there is not much more that I need to say, the lyrics tell it all. Obama- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal Of U.S./Allied Troops From Afghanistan!-Markin

Words and music by John Kay, Jerry Edmonton, Nick St. Nicholas and Larry Byrom


Once the religious, the hunted and weary
Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
Came to this country to build a new vision
Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope
Like good Christians, some would burn the witches
Later some got slaves to gather riches

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

And once the ties with the crown had been broken
Westward in saddle and wagon it went
And 'til the railroad linked ocean to ocean
Many the lives which had come to an end
While we bullied, stole and bought our a homeland
We began the slaughter of the red man

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

The blue and grey they stomped it
They kicked it just like a dog
And when the war over
They stuffed it just like a hog

And though the past has it's share of injustice
Kind was the spirit in many a way
But it's protectors and friends have been sleeping
Now it's a monster and will not obey


The spirit was freedom and justice
And it's keepers seem generous and kind
It's leaders were supposed to serve the country
But now they won't pay it no mind
'Cause the people grew fat and got lazy
And now their vote is a meaningless joke
They babble about law and order
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told
Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watchin'

Our cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is stranglin' the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can't understand
We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole worlds got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner
We can't pay the cost
'Cause there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watching


America where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster

© Copyright MCA Music (BMI)
All rights for the USA controlled and administered by
MCA Corporation of America, INC

--Used with permission--

*Waist Deep In The Big Poppy Field- U.S. Out Of Afghanistan!

Click on to title to link to YouTube's film clip of Pete Seeger performing his "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy". Just remember to think Afghanistan here.

Guest Commentary

This is a song relating to Pete Seeger's World War II experience but politically applied to Vietnam. I called George Bush's (father and son) Iraq wars the Big Sandy. Obama's war in Afghanistan (along with the Big Sandy) can be called the Big Poppy Field. The names change but the hubris remains the same. In any case old Pete is on target here. Read the lyrics.

Pete Seeger Lyrics

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy Lyrics

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim."
"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"
The Captain said to him.
"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain's helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!
I'm in charge from now on."
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper
Than the place he'd once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man'll be over his head, we're
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!

*A Short Note, A Very Short Note On The 6th Anniversary Of The Bush/Obama Iraq War

Click on title to link to information about the observance of the 6th Anniversary of the Iraq War.


On this the Sixth Anniversary of the Iraq invasion I repost my entries from previous years. There is essentially nothing new to add, except to replace the name Bush with Obama in the slogan- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal of All U.S./Allied Troops from Iraq and Afghanistan!

From March 19, 2008

Today I will go to downtown Boston and participate in my nth demonstration against the Iraq War. I will have my banner, I will shout and I ....will be frustrated that in many fundamentals we (meaning here the anti-war movement) are no closer to forcing a total troop withdrawal from Iraq than 5 years ago. But, my frustration will pass. In fact it has already. I will shout to the bitter end- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal of All United States/Allied Troops and Mercenaries From Iraq and Afghanistan!

Below I have reposted, as much as it pains me, a comment I made as we approached last year’s 4th Anniversary of the Iraq War. Damn.



This will be short and sweet for four years of war without an effective extra-parliamentary (or for that matter, parliamentary) opposition in an unpopular war led by an unpopular President speaks for itself. That said, the slogan Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal from Iraq by the United States and its rapidly dwindling coalition forces retains its validity. As does the fight for a straight no vote on the war budget. And, finally, as does the validity of the desperately necessary fight to form anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees. Otherwise this time next year we will be writing about the fifth year of the war. Forward.

Monday, March 16, 2009

*In “Honor” Of AIG- Poster Child For Modern Capitalism- “A Tale Of The Ticker”

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for "Das Capital" Karl Marx's classic exposition on the inner workings of the capitalist system as it was evolving during his time. While it needs some up-dating to take into account the question of "globalization-modern version" and the enhanced role of the state the fundamentals are sound. The question, as he posed it in the late 19th century, still holds true- how to get rid of it as the way we conduct our lives on a societal basis.


On a day when even the most ardent capitalists, their ideological defenders, sundry paid private and governmental officials and assorted hangers-on are in a tizzy about the huge bonuses that are to be given, or have already been given, to the financial division of the insurance giant AIG that caused more than its share of havoc over the past year or so it seems to me more than appropriate that this little song, “A Tale Of The Ticker”, that I have culled from the CD, “Poor Man’s Heaven”, should grace this space. The CD is filled with Great Depression songs (You know that old depression way back in the day, the one that is not suppose to happen anymore under modern capitalist conditions. Somebody, apparently, forgot to read their copy of Karl Marx’s “Das Capital” at Harvard Business School, or where ever they went.). I am in the process of writing a review on the whole CD for this space at a later time. The thing that is interesting in this song, as well as many of the others songs in this compilation, is that many of them truly could have been written today, with a little updating of course. For example, on this one notice the stock market business practices that are cited. Sound familiar?

A Tale of A Ticker

By Frank Crumit and Frank O'Brien

A Tale of A Ticker , a 1929 novelty song foreshadowing the 1929 stock-market crash, has music by Frank Crumit and lyrics by Frank O'Brien.

This little pig went to market,
Where they buy and sell the stocks,
This little pig came home again,
With his system full of shocks.

I don’t understand their language,
Don’t know what it’s all about,
For a bull buys up and a bear sells down and a broker sells you out;

And here is the song they sing the whole day long;
Oh! the market’s not so good today,
Your stocks look kind of sick,
In fact they all dropped down a point time the tickers tick;

We’ll have to have more margin now,
There isn’t any doubt,
So you better dash with a load of cash,
Or we’ll have to sell you out.

The stock exchange is a funny place,
It’s the strangest place in town,
The seats cost half a million cash,
But the brokers won’t sit down.

There’s the broker the bull and bear,
It’s queer but it’s not a joke,
For you get the bull till your bank-roll’s bare
and the broker says you’re broke,

And here is the song I hear the whole day long;
Oh! The market’s not so good today,
Your stocks look kind of sick,
In fact they all dropped down a point time the tickers tick;

We’ll have to have more margin now,
There isn’t any doubt,
So you better dash with a load of cash,
Or we’ll have to sell you out.

The market simply goes to prove,
That we still have loco weeds,
For the bull buys what he doesn’t want,
And the bear sells what he needs,

I bought an elevator stock,
And thought that I did well,
And the little bears all ran down-stairs
and rang the basement bell,

And here is the song I hear the whole day long;
Oh! The market’s not so good today,
Your stocks look kind of sick,
In fact they all dropped down a point time the tickers tick;

We’ll have to have more margin now,
There isn’t any doubt,
So you better dash with a load of cash,
Or we’ll have to sell you out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

*The Intellectual Origins Of The English Revolution-Christopher Hill's View

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Francis Bacon one of the key intellectual forerunners to the English Revolution mentioned by Christopher Hill in the book reviewed below.


Intellectual Origins Of The English Revolution, Christopher Hill, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1965

The first two paragraphs here have been used elsewhere in reviews of Professor Hill's work.

"The name and work of the late British Marxist historian Christopher Hill should be fairly well known to readers of this space who follow my reviews on the subject of the 17th century English Revolution that has legitimately been described as the first one of the modern era and that has had profound repercussions, especially on the American Revolution and later events on this continent. Christopher Hill started his research in the 1930's under the tremendous influence of Karl Marx on the sociology of revolution, the actuality of the Soviet experience in Russia and world events such as the Great Depression of that period and the lead up to World War II.

Although Hill was an ardent Stalinist, seemingly to the end, his works since they were not as subjected to the conforming pressures of the Soviet political line that he adhered to are less influenced by that distorting pressure. More importantly, along the way Professor Hill almost single-handedly brought to life the under classes that formed the backbone of the plebeian efforts during that revolution. We would, surely know far less about Ranters, panters, Shakers, Quakers and fakers without the sharp eye of the good professor. All to the tune of, and in the spirit of John Milton's "Paradise Lost", except instead of trying to explain the ways of god to man the Professor tried to explain ways of our earlier plebeian brothers and sisters to us."

In "Intellectual Origins Of The English Revolution" Professor Hill takes a little different tact than we are used to from the core of his work. Previously in this space I have reviewed his works as they pertain more directly to various intellectual influences at the time of the revolution itself, most notably "The World Turned Upside Down", or as in the case of his muse John Milton and others the effects of the defeat of the ideas thrown up by that revolution. Here Hill goes back to Elizabethan and Jacobean times to round out his historical researches.

As noted above, Professor Hill used his knowledge of Marxist methodology to frame his work. A core tenet of the Marxist method is a belief in historical materialism, which is a belief that one cannot understand history and the evolution of humankind's world without putting the previous pieces of the puzzle together to understand the present. Although we make our history, as Marx pointed out; we may not always like the result. We must nevertheless push forward our understanding if there is to be progress. That is the sense that Professor Hill is trying to drive home here as he looks at three basic personalities and their contributions from the pre-revolutionary period as the forerunners to the revolution. After reading this work one has a better understanding of the forces that were striving to be "aborning" than if one solely looked within the parameters of the revolutionary period itself.

Professor Hill's starts his three studies by exploring the work of Francis Bacon and his struggle to attain a more scientific way to approach solving questions concerning the natural world and its exploitation. Although Bacon placed these efforts at the service of the English state and church as a more rational approach to the religion experience it is hard to understand the modern world without tipping one's hat to his sometimes uneven fight to establish the scientific method.

Hill then goes on to the explorer, man of the world and master in-sider politician Sir Walter Raleigh. It is again hard to understand the modern world without paying homage to the exploits of the explorers of the then known world, those who wanted to "globalize" the English state and those who went about doing that while at the same time trying to puzzle out the nature of history and politics. Lastly, the good professor argues that the work of Sir Edward Coke in codifying the English common law (sometimes bizarrely and not without self-interest) and thus the rule of law that were critical for the expansion and recognition of private property rights that were to be one of the lasting effects of the English revolution.

While one can, and I partially do, dispute the weight of the works of the men on the English Revolution that form the core of Professor Hill's argument here his argument is as always well presented and, needless to say, well documented. I would only add that a more appropriate title would be "A Few Of The Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution". Nevertheless, kudos Professor.


If John Milton was the literary muse of the English Revolution then the Diggers and their leader, Gerrard Winstanley, were the political muses.

The World Turned Upside Down

We will not worship the God they serve, a God of greed who feeds the rich while poor folk starve.
In 1649 to St. George's Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers came to show the people's
They defied the landlords, they defied the laws
They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs.
We come in peace, they said, to dig and sow
We come to work the lands in common and make the waste
ground grow

This earth divided we will make whole
So it may be a common treasury for all "**
The sin of property we do disdain
No man has any right to buy or sell the earth for private gain

By theft and murder they took the land
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command
They make the laws to chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven, or they damn us into hell

We will not worship the God they serve,
a God of greed who feeds the rich while poor folk starve
We work and eat together, we need no swords
We will not bow to masters, nor pay rent to the lords

Still we are free, though we are poor
Ye Diggers all, stand up for glory, stand up now!
From the men of property the orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers to wipe out the Diggers'

Tear down their cottages, destroy their corn
They were dispersed - only the vision lingers on
Ye poor take courage, ye rich take care
This earth was made a common treasury for everyone to share
All things in common, all people one
They came in peace - the order came to cut them down


Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung Politisch-├Âkonomische Revue 1850

England’s 17th Century Revolution
A Review of Francois Guizot’s 1850 pamphlet
Pourquoi la revolution d'Angleterre a-t-elle reussi?


Written: February 1850;
First Published: in Politisch-├ľkonomische Revue, No. 2, February 1850;


In this pamphlet, M. Guizot [1784-1874, French historian; one-time head of government] intends to prove that Louis Philippe and the politics pursued by M. Guizot should not really have been overthrown on February 24, 1848, and that only the wicked character of the French is to be blamed for the fact that the July Monarchy of 1830, after an existence of 18 troublesome years, collapsed so ignominiously and did not acquire the endurance that the English monarchy has enjoyed since 1688.

Reading this pamphlet, one realized that even the ablest men of the ancien regime, as well as men who cannot be denied certain historical talents, have become so confused by the fateful events of that February that they have lost all sense of history and, indeed, no longer understand their previous actions. Instead of gaining, from the experience of the February Revolution, some insight into the totally different historical situation and into the entirely different position that the classes occupy in society under the French Monarchy of 1830 and under the English Monarchy of 1688, M. Guizot dissolves these difference with a few moralistic phrases and asserts in conclusion that the policy overthrown on February 24 was “only one that could master the revolution, in the same way that it had controlled the state”.

Specifically formulated, the question M. Guizot sets out to answer is: Why did bourgeois society in England develop as a constitutional monarchy longer than it did in France?

Characteristic of M. Guizot’s knowledge of the course of bourgeois development in England is the following passage:

“Under George I and George II, the public spirit took a different direction: Foreign policy ceased to be the major interest; internal administration, the maintenance of peace, financial, colonial, and commercial questions, and the development and struggle for parliamentary government became the major issues occupying the government and the public.”

M. Guizot finds in the reign of William III only two points worth mentioning: the preservation of the balance of power between Parliament and crown, and the preservation of the European balance of power through the wars against Louis XIV. Under the Hanoverian dynasty, “public opinion suddenly takes a “different direction”, nobody knows how or why. Here one sees how M. Guizot superimposes the most commonplace phrases of French parliamentary debates on English history, believing he has thereby explained it. In the same way, Guizot also imagines that, as French Prime Minister, he carried on his shoulders the responsibility of preserving the proper equilibrium between Parliament and crown, as well as the European balance of power, and in reality he did nothing but huckster French society away piecemeal to the moneyed Jews of the Paris

M. Guizot does not think it worth mentioning that the struggle against Louis XIV was simply a war of competition aimed at the destruction of French naval power and commerce; nor does he mention the rule of the finance bourgeoisie through the establishment of the Bank of England under William III, nor the introduction of the public debt which then received its first sanction, nor that the manufacturing bourgeoisie received a new impetus by the consistent application of a system of protective tariffs. For Guizot, only political phrases are meaningful. He does not even mention that under Queen Anne the ruling parties could preserve themselves, as well as the constitutional monarchy, only by forcibly extending the term of Parliament to seven years, thus all but destroying any influence the people might have had on government.

Under the Hanoverian dynasty, England had already reached a stage of development where it could fight its wars of competition against France with modern means. England herself challenged France directly only in America and the East Indies, whereas on the Continent she contended herself with paying foreign sovereigns, such as Frederick II, to wage war against France. And while foreign policy assumed such a new form, M. Guizot has this to say: “Foreign policy ceased to be the major interest”, being replaced by “the maintenance of peace”. Regarding the statement that the “development and struggle for parliamentary government” became a major concern, one may recall the incidents of corruption under the Walpole Ministry, which, indeed, resemble very closely the scandals that became daily events under M. Guizot.

The fact that the English Revolution developed more successfully than the French can be attributed, according to M. Guizot, to two factors: first, that the English Revolution had a thoroughly religious character, and hence in mo way broke with all past traditions; and second, that from the very beginning it was not destructive but constructive, Parliament defending the old existing laws against encroachment by the crown.

In regard to the first point, M. Guizot seems to have forgotten that the free-thinking philosophy which makes him shudder so terribly when he sees it in the French Revolution was imported to France from no other country than England. Its father was Locke, and in Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke it had already achieved that ingenious form which later found such a brilliant development in France, We thus arrive at the strange conclusion that the same free-thinking philosophy which, according to M. Guizot, wrecked the French Revolution, was one of the most essential products of the religious English Revolution.

In regard to the second point, Guizot completely forgets that the French Revolution, equally conservative, began even more conservatively than the English. Absolutism, particularly as it finally appeared in France, was an innovation there too, and it was against this innovation that the parlements [French Diets] revolted to defend the old laws, the us et coutumes [usages and customs] of the old monarchy with its Estates General. And whereas the French Revolution was to revive the old Estates General that had quietly died since Henry IV and Louis XIV, the English Revolution, on the contrary, could show no comparable classical-conservative element.

According to M. Guizot, the main result of the English Revolution was that it made it impossible for the king to rule against the will of Parliament and the House of Commons. Thus, to him, the whole revolution consists only of this: that in the beginning both sides, crown and Parliament, overstep their bounds and go too far, until they finally find their proper equilibrium under William III and neutralize each other. M. Guizot finds it superfluous to mention that the subjection of the crown to Parliament meant subjection to the rule of a class. Nor does he think it necessary to deal with the fact that this class won the necessary power in order finally to make the crown its servant. According to him, the whole struggle between Charles I and Parliament was merely over purely political privileges. Not a word is said about why the Parliament, and the class represented in it, needed these privileges. Nor does Guizot talk about Charles I’s interference with free competition, which made England’s commerce and industry increasingly impossible; nor about the dependence on Parliament into which Charles I, in his continuous need for money, feel the more deeply the more he tried to defy it. Consequently, M. Guizot explains the revolution as being merely due to the ill will and religious fanaticism of a few troublemakers who would not rest content with moderate freedom. Guizot is just as little able to explain the interrelationship between the religious movement and the development of bourgeois society. To him, of course, the Republic [Crowmwell’s] is likewise the work of a mere handful of ambitious and malicious fanatics. Nowhere does he mention the attempts made to establish republics in Lisbon, Naples, and Messina at that time — attempts following the Dutch example, as England did.

Although M. Guizot never loses sight of the French Revolution, he does not even reach the simple conclusion that the transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy can take place only after violent struggles and passing through a republican stage, and that even then the old dynasty, having become useless, must make way for a usurpatory side line. Hence, Guizot can say only the most trivial commonplaces about the overthrow of the English Restoration monarchy. He does not even cite the most immediate causes: the fear on the part of the great new landowners, who had acquired property before the restoration of Catholicism — property robbed from the church — which they would have to change hands; the aversion of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie to Catholicism, a religion in now way suitable for its commerce; the nonchalance with which the Stuarts, for their own and their courtier’s benefit, sold all of England’s industry and commerce to the French government, that is, to the only country then in a position to offer England dangerous and often successful competition, etc. Since M. Guizot omits the most momentous points, there is nothing left for him but the highly unsatisfactory and banal narration of mere political events.

For M. Guizot, the great mystery is the conservative nature of the English Revolution, which he can ascribe only to the superior intelligence of the English, whereas in fact it can be found in the enduring alliance between the bourgeoisie and a great part of the landowners, an alliance that constitutes the major difference between it and the French Revolution, which destroyed the great landholdings with its parcelization policy. The English class of great landowners, allied with the bourgeoisie — which, incidentally, had already developed under Henry VIII — did not find itself in opposition — as did the French feudal landowners in 1789 — but rather in complete harmony with the vital requirements of the bourgeoisie. In fact, their lands were not feudal but bourgeois property. On the one hand, there were able to provide the industrial bourgeoisie with the manpower necessary for manufacturing, and on the other they were able to develop agriculture to the standards consonant with industry and commerce. Thus their common interests with the bourgeoisie, thus their alliance with it.

For Guizot, English history ends with the consolidation of the constitutional monarchy. For him, everything that follows is limited to a pleasant alternating game between Tories and Whigs, that is, to the great debate between M. Guizot and M. Thiers. In reality, however, the consolidation of the constitutional monarchy is only the beginning of the magnificent development and transformation of bourgeois society in England. Where M. Guizot sees only gentle calm and idyllic peace, in reality the most violent conflicts and the most penetrating revolutions are taking place. Under the constitutional monarchy, manufacturing at first expands to an extent hitherto unknown, only to make way for heavy industry, the steam engine, and the colossal factories. Whole classes of the population disappear, to be replaced by new ones, with new living conditions and new requirements. A new, more gigantic bourgeoisie comes into existence; while the old bourgeoisie fights with the French Revolution, the new one conquers the world market. It becomes so all-powerful that even before the Reform Bill gives it direct political power, it forces its opponents to enact legislation entirely in conformity with its interest and its needs. It wins direct representation in Parliament and uses it for the destruction of the last remnants of real power left to the landowners. It is, finally, at the present moment engaged in a thorough demolition of the beautiful codes of the English Constitution, which M. Guizot so admires.

And while M. Guizot compliments the English for the fact that the reprehensible excesses of French social life, republicanism and socialism, have not destroyed the foundations of their sanctified monarchy, the class antagonisms of English society have actually reached a height not found anywhere else, and the bourgeoisie, with its incomparable wealth and productive powers, confronts a proletariat which likewise has incomparable power and concentration. The respect that M. Guizot offers to England finally adds up to the fact that, under the protection of the constitutional monarchy, more, and more radical, elements of social revolutions have developed than in all other countries of the world together.

At the point where the threads of English history come together in a knot, when M. Guizot cannot even pretend to cut with mere political phrases, he takes refuge in religious catchwork, in God’s armed intervention. Thus, for example, the holy spirit suddenly descends on the army and prevents Cromwell from declaring himself king. Before his conscience, Guizot saves himself through God, before his profane public, he does so through his style.

In reality, not only do les rois s'en vont [the kings depart] but also les capacites de la bourgeoisie s'en vont [the capacities of the bourgeoisie disappear].