Saturday, December 28, 2013

***From The Big Muddy-Out In The Delta Saturday Night (And Sunday Morning) Night With Mississippi Fred McDowell

A YouTube film clip of legendary twelve- string country blues singer Mississippi Fred McDowell performing his classic “You Gotta Move.”

 Mississippi Delta Blues, Fred McDowell, Arhoolie Records, 1989

Recently I explained (and went mea culpa on and on about it) in a review of Elvis56 (no need for last names, right), his and our, my generation of’ 68 , break-out red scare cold war 1950s be-bop doo wop rock and roll creation time, that I listened to (and preferred) black -centered blues at that young age time. Reason: I was able via “magic” midnight airways to get a blues program, The Big Bopper Show, out of Chicago late at night, late weekend nights, on my transistor radio. (As I pointed out in that previously cited review for those too young, or those who have forgotten, look up that ancient communications transistor radio reference on Wikipedia. Basically though it was a small compact battery-driven unit that had the virtue, the very big virtue, it could be taken up into one’s bedroom, placed close to young ears and one’s parents would be blissfully unaware of the “subversion” until, well, until the big break-out came in 1956 and then they were caught flat-footed. At least at first.)

Now The Big Bopper Show (no relationship, as far as I know, to the rock performer who crashed out in a famous rock history plane crash with Buddy Holly, et. al), was mainly about rhythm and blues with the likes of Big Joe Turner and Ike Turner (pre-Tina) holding forth and about that post-World War II emerging big city, big Midwestern city, up river, up Mississippi River, black migrations to jobs and freedom, well, a little freedom anyway out of the Jim Crow South. Those electrified blues, taking country urban, were wailed by the likes of Muddy Waters (and his various famous band combinations) and Howlin’ Wolf (ditto on the bands).

However, intermingled with those genres was roots, black roots, Africa roots, Mother Earth primordial roots music, country blues, mainly from homeland Delta slave farms (pre-and post -slavery abolition) with some ‘Bama, Carolina Piedmont, Cajun swamp music mixed in. And that is where the performer under review here, Mississippi Fred McDowell, comes in, comes in almost accidentally. See the Big Bopper would play something like
Kokomo Blues or 61 Highway, serious classic blues, by various artists, electric and country, and more likely than not when twelve -string time came it was Brother McDowell whose recording was being used.

But here is the real revelation about black roots music, our Mother Africa transposed, disposed, reposed roots. In the early 1960s, after a bout with serious rock and roll (now called the classic age of rock, ouch) with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, that genre turned to dust (for a while) with the vanilla-ization (nice, huh) of rock. You know Fabian, Ricky Nelson, Booby (oops) Bobby Darren, Vee, all the Bobbys, okay. I turned away from rock and headed back to roots, or what I thought was roots, with the folk revival minute of the early 1960s (Baez-Dylan-Von Ronk-Paxton-Ochs, et. al time). Who do you think, among others, got “discovered” (really re-discovered) in that minute? Yes, Brother McDowell. And later in an effort to put paid to those discoveries when rock “discovered” it blues roots who do you think got his famous classic song “You Gotta Move” covered? Yes. By whom? The Rolling Stones. Like somebody said the roots, the roots is the toots. Let another generation “discover” that fact.
***Just One Year With You That Is All I Am Praying For- Elvis’ Break-Out 1956

Elvis 56, Elvis Presley (who else), RCA Records, 1956

I have beaten myself over the head, eaten humble pie, been flash-flayed, said ten acts of contrition, in short, confessed, confessed publicly, that when I was a know nothing pre-teenager in the 1950s be-bop, doo wop, red scare cold war rock and roll at the creation night I did not like Elvis. (Do I really need to say Presley among this crowd? Come on now there is only one Elvis when it comes right down to it). Now a lot of this was due to pure jealousy, pre-teen style, around the question of, ah, girls. Or maybe not so much girls as male vanity. No actually it was girls and my budding interest in them. And their very focused interest on Mr. Presley.

See I did not look, unlike my best friend Billy Bradley, remotely, like Elvis. I would have been very, very hard pressed, to imitate his side-burn driven hair style with my growing up blondish hair (moreover worn for saving household money sake buzz short). I would have been even more hard-pressed in my Podunk working poor neighborhood, alright, my projects neighborhood, to wear clothes even remotely as cool as Elvis’. Christ I was lucky to get cheapjack denim brothers hand-me-downs from the bargain center and off-color, off-cool color shirts. Worst, much worst when the deal came down in that first blush of school dance church dance last dance time held every once in a while to “keep us off the streets.” I was unable to swivel my hips like the “king.” And worst, although in that case not much worst, was my voice sounded like a frog from the local pond that graced one corner of our projects home.

Moreover I did not like Elvis because I did not like his songs, for the most part. See I was hung up on what I would now call that primordial Bo Diddley sound, that sound from some ancient mist dance around the fireplace to keep the wolves away and rock, rock to perdition time of our distant forbears. (I did know how to sway, hell, anybody could sway.) Even more moreover I was hung up on those black rhythm and blues guys like Big Joe Turner and Ike Turner. That was due to the fact that I was able to catch a midnight radio station, The Big Bopper Show, out of Chicago on the weekends on my transistor radio by some miracle and heard all kinds of stuff that drove me crazy. (For those too young, or those who have forgotten, look up that ancient communications transistor radio reference on Wikipedia. Basically though it was a small compact battery-driven unit that had the virtue, the very big virtue that it could be taken up into one’s bedroom, placed close to young ears and one’s parents would be blissfully unaware of the “subversion” until, well, until the big break-out came in 1956 and then they were caught flat-footed. At least at first.).

The best way to explain that musical taste difference is on the song “Shake, Rattle And Roll, Big Joe’s signature song covered by everybody, including Elvis here (and everybody since from Jerry Lee Lewis on). Elvis is just okay on that one even to fifty years later ears. Big Joe ruled and always will on that one. But here is where the “confession” part comes in and I grant Elvis his pardon. Several years ago I, by happenstance, watched Elvis in the break-out rock film (although the story line is so-so and predictable) “Jailhouse Rock.” I was mesmerized. By the gyrations, but more importantly, by the voice. Naturally, as is my wont, when I “get religion” I went out and gathered up every (early) Elvis compilation I could find, including this RCA break-out album. Big Joe might have been the max daddy of rhythm and blues but when Elvis swiveled for that little pre-military induction period in the mid-1950s, the time of my time, he was the king. Sorry for the delay, Mr. King.


In December, 1914, after months of slaughter during the First World War (it was supposed to be “The War to End all Wars”!), British and German soldiers declared an informal and spontaneous truce.  The story of their fraternization and holiday celebration is told in detail here and here.




Christmas In The Trenches VIDEO:  

The event has been immortalized in a song by folksinger JOHN MCCUTCHEON, which you can hear and watch along with contemporary illustration and a moving introduction by the performer.


The song ends with this stanza:

My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I, I've learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we're the same.


*    *    *    *

VIDEO: John Lennon – HAPPY CHRISTMAS (The War is Over) – updated for today





John Lennon

(killed on December 8, 1980)

VIDEO:   “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”



Yusuf Ibrahim (aka Cat Stevens)




VIDEO: “Peace Train”


Please help fund the Close Guantanamo NOW Tour Jan 9-17
Help make this possible:

Andy Worthington & Debra Sweet Address How & Why the U.S. has Kept this Illegal Prison Open for 12 years, and Our Responsibility to Close It.

The Bush regime filled the off-shore prison at Guantanamo Bay by rendering men seized from around the globe into indefinite captivity, employing and legally justifying a program of torture they called "enhanced interrogation." They slowly began to release prisoners for whom no case could be fabricated to justify prison, while planning to keep many forever, most of whom could not be shown to have played any role in opposing the United States.

When Barack Obama was elected, he quickly promised to close it within a year... five years ago. The illegal prison is still open, with new infrastructure added and more personnel than ever. Most people in the U.S. have no idea there are still 78 prisoners there who were cleared for release years ago; 45 of whom the President says will never be charged or released; and 30 to be put through "military commissions" trials which are designed to cover the torture inflicted on the prisoners, depriving of them rights the U.S. has claimed to cherish.

Why, as Obama says the "war on terror" is winding down, will this government not close Guantanamo? And what is our responsibility to see that it does?

Andy WorthingtonAndy Worthington @guantanamoandy, a journalist based in the U.K., has covered the prison intensely since 2006. In hundreds of articles, he's uncovered the lives of the men held without charge, and the stories the US created about them. Author of The Guantanamo Files: Stories of the 774 Men Held in Guantanamo and director of the 2009 film Outside the Law, he further developed the picture by sifting through the Guantanamo Detainee Briefs released via Wikileaks by Private Manning in 2011.

Debra SweetDebra Sweet, @DSweetWCW is the Director of The World Can't Wait, leader of years of protest of indefinite detention and torture by the United States, including a full-page ad in The New York Times in May 2013 picturing Guantanamo prisoners for the first time in those pages, and bringing together prisoners' attorneys, academics, artists, and voices of conscience to declare “Close Guantanamo NOW.”

Calendar of EventsInvite your friends via the Facebook event.

Thursday January 9: New York City 
7:00 pm: Film screening of Doctors of the Darkside  All Souls Church 1157 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan
Co-sponsored by All Souls Church, No More Guantanamos, Psychologists for Social Responsibility & Revolution Books. Andy Worthington & Debra Sweet, with Todd Pierce, former U.S. military defense attorney for Guantanamo prisoners.

Friday January 10: Washington, DC 
5:30 pm: Film screening of Doctors of the Darkside, with Andy Worthington & Debra Sweet with Todd Pierce. Festival Center, 1640 Columbia Road NW.

Saturday January 11: Washington, DC  
12 noon Close Guantanamo Now Protest at the White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Procession begins 1:00 pm; ends 2:30 pm
World Can't Wait, Witness Against Torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and National Religious Coalition Against Torture.

Monday January 13: Stanford University, Palo Alto CA 
5:30 pm: Old Union 520 Lasuen Mall, 3rd Floor Common Room 
with Andy Worthington & Debra Sweet with Jeffrey Kaye & Michael Kearns

Tuesday January 14: San Francisco 
12:00 pm: Hastings Law School 
with Andy Worthington & Debra Sweet

Tuesday January 14: Berkeley 
7:00 pm Screening of Doctors of the Darkside at  
with Andy Worthington & Debra Sweet.  Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way @ Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley CA

Wednesday January 15: Los Angeles 
11:30am: MLK Luncheon with Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace
Holman United Methodist Church 3320 W. Adams Keynote Speaker: Andy Worthington

Wednesday January 15: Los Angeles 
7:00pm: Screening of Doctors of the Darkside at Revolution Books 5726 Hollywood Boulevard 
with Andy Worthington, Debra Sweet and Jason Leopold

Thursday January 16: Orange County Peace Coalition Location 

January 17: Cal Poly Pomona 
 7:00 pm Bronco Student Center, Orion Room, 3801 W. Temple Avenue
with Andy Worthington, Debra Sweet and Dennis Loo.

Additional Speakers:

Todd Pierce is a former U.S. military defense attorney for Guantanamo prisoners.

Jeff Kaye @jeff_kaye is a psychologist active in the anti-torture movement. He works clinically with torture victims at Survivors International in San Francisco, CA. His blog is Invictus.

Michael Kearns is a retired Air Force Captain, and a former instructor on the SERE program, which teaches US military personnel to resist torture if captured by enemy forces. He is a former colleague of Bruce Jessen, who, with James Mitchell, reverse-engineered SERE techniques for use in the Bush administration's "war on terror," to Capt. Kearns' horror.

Jason Leopold is an investigative reporter covering Guantanamo, counterterrorism, national security, human rights, open government and civil liberties issues. He's been called a "FOIA Terrorist" by federal employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which included suing the FBI and forcing the agency to changes its policies .

Dennis Loo, Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona, is on the Steering Committee of World Can't Wait and writes at
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Fund the Close Guantanamo Tour Jan 9-17 - All donations towards the Indiegogo campaign for the tour are tax-deductible.
Or, make a tax-deductible donation online through our fiscal sponsor, the Alliance for Global Justice. You will see their name on your credit card receipt.
To make a tax-deductible donation by mail, make your check out to "World Can't Wait/Alliance for Global Justice" (our fiscal sponsor; you can use the abbreviation AFGJ), and mail it to us at: World Can't Wait
305 West Broadway #185
New York, NY 10013. Call (866) 973-4463 with any questions.

World Can't Wait is a project of our fiscal sponsor, the Alliance for Global Justice, a registered 501(c)3.
Donate Now

Debra Sweet, Director, The World Can't Wait

Free Chelsea Manning Now!

Update 12/29/13: Alexa O’brien discusses Chelsea’s trial at the 30C3 CCC conference in Hamburg

Yesterday journalist Alexa O’brien made a presentation at the 30C3 CCC conference in Hamburg. Watch it now on Youtube.

Amnesty International’s petition calling for the immediate release of Chelsea Manning has reached 15,000 signatures. It will be delivered in early 2014. Sign it today!
President Obama, Pardon Pvt. Manning

Because the public deserves the truth and whistle-blowers deserve protection.

We are military veterans, journalists, educators, homemakers, lawyers, students, and citizens.

We ask you to consider the facts and free US Army Pvt. Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.

As an Intelligence Analyst stationed in Iraq, Pvt. Manning had access to some of America’s dirtiest secrets—crimes such as torture, illegal surveillance, and corruption—often committed in our name.

Manning acted on conscience alone, with selfless courage and conviction, and gave these secrets to us, the public.
“I believed that if the general public had access to the information contained within the[Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy,”
Manning explained to the military court. “I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare.”
Journalists used these documents to uncover many startling truths. We learned:
Donald Rumsfeld and General Petraeus helped support torture in Iraq.
Deliberate civilian killings by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan went unpunished.
Thousands of civilian casualties were never acknowledged publicly.
Most Guantanamo detainees were innocent.
For service on behalf of an informed democracy, Manning was sentenced by military judge Colonel Denise Lind to a devastating 35 years in prison.
Government secrecy has grown exponentially during the past decade, but more secrecy does not make us safer when it fosters unaccountability.
Pvt. Manning was convicted of Espionage Act charges for providing WikiLeaks with this information, but  the prosecutors noted that they would have done the same had the information been given to The New York Times. Prosecutors did not show that enemies used this information against the US, or that the releases resulted in any casualties.
Pvt. Manning has already been punished, even in violation of military law.
She has been:
Held in confinement since May 29, 2010.
• Subjected to illegal punishment amounting to torture for nearly nine months at Quantico Marine Base, Virginia, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Article 13—facts confirmed by both the United Nation’s lead investigator on torture and military judge Col. Lind.
Denied a speedy trial in violation of UCMJ, Article 10, having been imprisoned for over three years before trial.
• Denied anything resembling a fair trial when prosecutors were allowed to change the charge sheet to match evidence presented, and enter new evidence, after closing arguments.
Pvt. Manning believed you, Mr. President, when you came into office promising the most transparent administration in history, and that you would protect whistle-blowers. We urge you to start upholding those promises, beginning with this American prisoner of conscience.
We urge you to grant Pvt. Manning’s petition for a Presidential Pardon.
FIRST& LAST NAME _____________________________________________________________
STREET ADDRESS _____________________________________________________________

CITY, STATE & ZIP _____________________________________________________________
EMAIL& PHONE _____________________________________________________________
Please return to: For more information:
Private Manning Support Network, c/o Courage to Resist, 484 Lake Park Ave #41, Oakland CA 94610


Note that this image is PVT Manning's preferred photo.

Note that this image is PVT Manning’s preferred photo.

Seven Ways To Support Freedom For Chelsea Manning- President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning Now!
 Note that this image is PVT Manning's preferred photo.
Note that this image is PVT Manning’s preferred photo.
The Struggle Continues …
Seven Ways To Support Heroic Wikileaks Whistle-Blower Chelsea  Manning
*Call (202) 685-2900- Major General Jeffery S. Buchanan is the Convening Authority for Private Manning’s  court- martial, which means that he has the authority to decrease the sentence imposed no matter what the judge handed down. Ask General Buchanan to use his authority to reduce the draconian 35 year sentence handed down by Judge Lind.
Please help us reach all these important contacts: Adrienne Combs, Deputy Officer Public Affairs (202) 685-2900
 Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, Public Affairs Officer (202) 685-4899 The Public Affairs Office fax #: 202-685-0706
Try e-mailing Maj. Gen. Buchanan at
The Public Affairs Office is required to report up the chain of command the number of calls they receive on a particular issue, so please help us flood the office with support for our heroic whistleblower today!
*Sign the public petition to President Obama – Sign online or print and share PDF petition Please sign the petition on the reverse side of this letter, “President Obama, Pardon Pvt. Manning,” and make copies to share with friends and family!
You  can also call (Comments”202-456-1111), write The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500, e-mail-(’contact/submitquestions-and comments) to demand that President Obama use his constitutional power under Article II, Section II to pardon Private Manning now.
*Start a stand -out, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, in your town square to publicize the pardon and clemency campaigns.  Contact the Private Manning SupportNetwork for help with materials and organizing tips
*Contribute to the Private  Manning Defense Fund- now that the trial has finished funds are urgently needed for pardon campaign and for future military and civilian court appeals. The hard fact of the American legal system, military of civilian, is the more funds available the better the defense, especially in political prisoner cases like Private Manning’s. The government had unlimited financial and personnel resources to prosecute Private Manning at trial. And used them as it will on any future legal proceedings. So help out with whatever you can spare. For link go to
*Write letters of solidarity to Private Manning while she is serving her sentence. She wishes to be addressed as Chelsea and have feminine pronouns used when referring to her. Private Manning’s mailing address: Bradley E. Manning, 89289, 1300 N. Warehouse Road, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-2304. You must use Bradley on the address envelope.
Private Manning cannot receive stamps or money in any form. Photos must be on copy paper. Along with “contraband,” “inflammatory material” is not allowed. Six page maximum.
*Call: (913) 758-3600-Write to:Col. Sioban Ledwith, Commander U.S. Detention Barracks 1301 N Warehouse Rd
Ft. Leavenworth KS 66027-Tell them: “Transgender rights are human rights! Respect Private Manning’s identity by acknowledging the name ‘Chelsea Manning’ whenever possible, including in mail addressed to her, and by allowing her access to appropriate medical treatment for gender dysphoria, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT).” (for more details-!/2013/11/respecting-chelseas-identity-is-this.html
Send The Following Message (Or Write Your Own) To The President In Support Of A Pardon For Private Manning

To: President Barack Obama
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

The draconian 35 years sentence handed down by a military judge, Colonel Lind, on August 21, 2013 to Private Manning (Chelsea formerly known as Bradley) has outraged many citizens including me.

Under Article II, Section II of the U.S. Constitution the President of the United States had the authority to grant pardons to those who fall under federal jurisdiction.
Some of the reasons for my request include: 

*that Private Manning  was held for nearly a year in abusive solitary confinement at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, which the UN rapporteur in his findings has called “cruel, inhuman, and degrading”

*that the media had been continually blocked from transcripts and documents related to the trial and that it has only been through the efforts of Private Manning’s supporters that any transcripts exist.

*that under the UCMJ a soldier has the right to a speedy trial and that it was unconscionable and unconstitutional to wait 3 years before starting the court martial.

*that absolutely no one was harmed by the release of documents that exposed war crimes, unnecessary secrecy and disturbing foreign policy.

*that Private Manning is a hero who did the right thing when she revealed truth about wars that had been based on lies.

I urge you to use your authority under the Constitution to right the wrongs done to Private Manning – Enough is enough!

Signature ___________________________________________________________

Print Name __________________________________________________________


City / Town/State/Zip Code_________________________________________

Note that this image is PVT Manning's preferred photo.

Note that this image is PVT Manning’s preferred photo.

From The Marxist Archives -The Revolutionary History Journal-Pierre Broue-The May Days In Barcelona 1937
...I have been interested, seriously interested, in drawing the lessons of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s since childhood. As many of the blog entries will also testify to as well, I have probably spend more time, with the exception of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Paris Commune of 1871, thinking through the problems of that struggle in Spain than any others. Why? Well, as not less than of an authority than the great Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky has pointed out, the situation in Spain during the 1930s posed the question of the creation of the second workers state point blank. In short, the Spanish working class was class conscious enough, Trotsky would argue more than the Russian working class of 1917, to carry out this task. I believed that proposition, in a much less sophisticated form than Trotsky’s, to be sure, well before I read his views on the situation. Why did it fail?

Obviously, depending on the point of view presented (or ax to grind) there are a million possible subjective and objective reasons that can be given for the failure. Some, such as the general European situation, the perfidious role of the Western democracies, the shortcomings of the various bourgeois governments are examples of situations that I had believed at one time to be the prime reasons. However, since I have come of political age, in short, have gone beyond the traditional liberal explanations for the failure in Spain I have looked elsewhere for an explanation.

That elsewhere hinged more on the role that the various working class organizations and their policies than the objective world situation or other factors that have been used to argue the impossibility of success. Again, some organizations came up short. For a long time I followed the reasoning, in a general sense at least, of Trotsky’s dictum, repeatedly argued out all through the 1930s, about the crisis of revolutionary leadership. With this proviso- for a long time, a very long time I absolved the POUM (Party Of Marxist Unification in English) and the Nin/Andrade leadership from political responsibility for the debacle, especially in Catalonia. I was more than happy to blame the Stalinists (blameworthy in the end on other grounds, without question), the vacillations of the Social Democrats (ditto the Stalinists) and the theoretical idiocies of the Anarchists. But not the POUM, after all they were the most honest revolutionaries in Spain (along with, perhaps, the Friends of Durritti). Honest I still believe they were but revolutionary in the Bolshevik sense. Hell, no.

The leading cause of that long time absolution of the POUM, initially in any case came from my reading of George Orwell’s “Homage To Catalonia”. Orwell found himself in a POUM military unit and spent much of his time in Spain before being wounded with that unit, as well around POUM organizations. Hey, they were fighting Franco, right? They had their own militias, right? That was enough for me for a while. But then the fatal mistake occurred many years ago. I read Trotsky’s work on Spain in the 1930s, “The Spanish Revolution, 1931-39, and, more importantly, the Trotsky/Nin correspondence in the appendix. No one who truly reads those documents and looks at the real POUM actions (including that left/right unification with friend Maurin to form the POUM in 1935) will ever be the same after. That is where every mistake that the POUM made becomes a veritable indictment against them.

Okay, so I got ‘religion’ on the POUM. So, as the linked article points out, why then, and now did serious leftist militants alibi this group. Well, read the article. But, bear this in mind, if those who defended the POUM and Nin/Andrade then, and now, are right that means that, subjectively they believe that Spain could not be a workers state in the 1930’s. That same subjectivity has led to their view of the Russian October revolution of 1917 as a failed experiment as well. But, my friends, such reasoning leaves only this conclusion. Outside the short-lived Paris Commune we have to go back to the revolutions of 1848 for our models of what is possible for the modern international working class to do. If that is the case then we better start thinking about a possibility that Trotsky pointed to in the 1930s- the working class may be organically incapable of ruling in its own name. As an orthodox Marxist I cringe at that notion. Better this- abandon this abject defense of the POUM and accept that, honest party that it may have been, however, in the final analysis it was a roadblock to socialist revolution in Spain



Click below to link to the Revolutionary History Journal index.

Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:

This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.

Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible. 

The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.

Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff. 

The ‘May Days’ of 1937 in Barcelona

From Revolutionary History magazine, Vol.1 No.2, Summer 1988. Used by permission.
This article first appeared in the January 1988 issue of La Verité and is translated by John Archer.

Every workers’ revolution in the twentieth century bears the characteristic mark that a situation of duality of power appears at its beginning. This is between the old organs of the state, whether rejuvenated or not, which have generally passed into the control of a government of ‘conciliators’ with the first phase, and the organs of the mass movement, organisations of struggle which have become the organs of a new power.
Our readers will know the analyses which Trotsky made on this matter in the History of the Russian Revolution, about the duality of power created by the first revolution in February 1917, between the old state, with the Provisional Government at its head, and the new workers’ state in the process of formation, that of the Soviets.
The appearance of the duality of power marks only the beginning of the struggle between them, the struggle which ends in the victory of either the revolution or the counter-revolution, through the victory of one power or the other. Study of the revolutions in the period since October 1917 reveals the decisive role of the general staffs on the side of the revolution, of their party, of the party which fights for the victory of the new power. That party has neither provoked nor engineered the revolution, any more than it can stop it, without joining the counter-revolution. The authority of the party may be widely recognised, even by a majority of the masses, but it enables it only to act as a brake on an offensive which may be premature or isolated – this was the case of the July Days of 1917 in Petrograd – or, on the contrary, to clear the way for the final assault, by helping the masses to overcome the obstacles on their road to power. This is the case of the insurrection of October 1917 in Russia.
What has been called the ‘May Days of 1937’ in Barcelona are an event of this kind, independently of the fact that the event took place within one of the two opposing camps in the course of a civil war, the Spanish Civil War. In fact, the duality of powers began in July 1936, with the victorious counter-stroke of the workers in a number of large cities, including Barcelona, against the military coup d’etat of General Franco.
In May 1937 it was the Popular Front government of the Generalidad of Catalonia – under the pressure of the Stalinists in the PSUC – which took the counter-offensive. It tried to seize a telephone exchange, which was in the hands of the militia of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT. The latter resisted, arms in hand, and the workers in Barcelona replied to the attempt by a general strike. Several days of street fighting followed in the Catalan capital.
The supporters and agents of Stalin speak of a ‘Fascist putsch’. Other elements in the Popular Front speak of a ‘tragic misunderstanding’. The Trotskyists agree on the general significance of what happened, but are divided in their appreciation of the incident itself. Trotsky believed that victory was possible and that, therefore, we have here an ‘October’ which failed, because there was no revolutionary leadership which wanted to fight to win. His comrade, the Italian Blasco (Pietro Tresso), regarded the event as ‘July Days’ ending badly for lack of a firm leadership, which could have prevented the retreat from turning into a rout.
In this month of May 1937, the atmosphere was tense. In the last days of April there had been violent incidents at Molins de Llobregat, where a PSUC leader was killed. Eight CNT militants were killed at Puigcerda in the course of an attack by armed police to recover control of the frontier for the government. On 1 May the government prohibited street demonstrations, which might provoke the outburst of workers’ anger which it feared, or might give to that anger the means to bring them together to hit back.

At the Telephonica

The explosion came on 3 May. That afternoon the Barcelona police chief, an active member of the PSUC named Eusebio Rodriguez Salas, presented himself in front of the central telephone exchange, the Telephonica, in the Square of Catalonia in Barcelona. The exchange belonged to the American Telegraph and Telephone Company; it had been seized during the revolutionary days, and was under the control of a committee and of members of the CNT militia. It is located in the heart of the Catalan capital, and what happened to it came to be a symbol for the fate of the revolution and the workers’ positions. The initiative by Rodriguez did not get a green light from the government, which had not been consulted, but it had the approval of the government’s public order adviser, who, as everyone knew, was completely devoted to the PSUC.
The police chiefs escort got into the building by surprise and disarmed the militiamen whom it caught unawares on the ground floor. The militiamen on the upper floors were warned and began to resist this unexpected attack and to fire on the attackers. Two senior police officers, members of the CNT named Asens and Eroles, were warned at once and rushed to the Telephonica to stop the shooting. They did their utmost to convince their comrades not to keep up their resistance, which, they said, would only make things worse. In response to their persuasion, the militiamen agreed to vacate the Telephonica, which remained in the hands of the police.
But the peace-making efforts of the two mediators were in vain. The sound of shots had alerted the people of Barcelona, who were in a state of extreme tension and were, in fact, expecting some move to be made, if not by the government, at any rate by the extremists of the PSUC. The news of the attack on the Telephonica spread like a trail of gunpowder. The workers went on strike in order to paralyse the advance of the counter-revolution. They erected barricades to prevent the government’s forces of repression from moving freely around. The branches of the CNT at its base, particularly its ‘defence committees’ were also there, and their members were armed.
George Orwell, in his book Homage to Catalonia, bears witness to having experienced the early hours of these ‘Days’ as acts of aggression against the working people of Barcelona, carried out by those whom he calls by their old name, the ‘Civil Guard’, former policemen who had been integrated into the new police forces which their chiefs were now throwing into attacks on the workers’ barricades in Barcelona. The Barcelona workers were led by the elements organised in the ‘control patrols’ – the last vestiges of the workers’ militias for maintaining order in the rear – and by the defence committees. They counter-attacked and came out of the workers’ districts. The battle raged in the centre of the city against the forces of order, which had their headquarters in the Karl Marx barracks of the PSUC. Their spearhead, directed towards the Ramblas, was located in the Hotel Colon, in Square of Catalonia, at the top end of the Ramblas.
Several victorious attacks were directed against the police strong-points in the Exhibition Palace and the American cinema. The Anarchists even found some tanks, which enabled them to break the encirclement of the workers’ fighting nuclei.
The leaders of the CNT maintained their policy of pacification, while at the same time they defended the militants, who, they said, were the victims of an act of aggression and of provocation. The same evening, 3 May, there was a meeting of the leaders of the CNT, the POUM and their youth organisations. One of the POUM leaders, Gorkin, declared:
Either we place ourselves at the head of this movement to destroy the enemy within, or the movement will collapse, and this enemy will destroy us.
No one denies that the situation was favourable for liquidating the undertaking and the forces of the PSUC. However, despite the enthusiasm of its youth section (Young Libertarians), the CNT maintained its waiting stance of ‘protestation’, and the POUM did not want to be isolated from it.
The fighting continued on 4 May, with sudden silences following brutal outbursts. La Batalla, the newspaper of the POUM, spoke of ‘the provocations with which the counter-revolution is testing the pulse of the ability of the working masses to resist’ and ‘the preparations for a thorough-going attack on the conquests of the revolution’. The article goes on:
But the counter-attack by the proletariat could not be more powerful. Thousands of workers have taken to the streets, arms in hand. Factories, workshops and shops have ceased work. The barricades have gone up again in every part of the city. The majority of places in Catalonia have copied the gesture of its capital. The working class is strong and will know how to crush every effort by the counter-revolution. We must live on the alert, rifle in hand. We must maintain the magnificent spirit of resistance and of struggle, which guarantees our victory. We must prevent counter-revolution from raising its head again.
The POUM journal also demanded that Rodriguez Salas be dismissed, that the decrees be annulled, that ‘public order be in the hands of the working class’ and that a workers’ revolutionary junta be formed, with the creation of ‘committees to defend the revolution in every quarter, every place and every workplace’.
All the evidence goes to show that in this article we have a policy made up on the spot. Victor Alba, the historian of the POUM, assures us that this is not what the POUM wanted to do, but only what it could do, bearing in mind that it was determined not to cut itself off from the CNT! Indeed, the leader of the CNT, Garcia Oliver, appealed on the radio for a ceasefire; he called on people not to speak any more about ‘provocations’ or to ‘go on about the dead’.
Companys, the president of the Generalidad, called for calm. He denounced the initiative of Rodriguez Salas, but he demanded that the workers must leave the streets and return to their homes before peace could be restored. The regional committee of the CNT, between two attacks by the forces of order on its premises, called for a truce and for calm. All the personalities of the ‘left’ of the Popular Front rushed to its help on the radio.

State terror

On 5 May the forces of order mounted what was nothing less than a terrorist attack. Armed groups of men in uniform arrested the Italian Anarchist, Berneri, who criticised the policy of class collaboration of his Anarchist comrades with the Popular Front. His dead body was found the next day. But, during this time, the CNT was working with the UGT (the reformist trade union federation) to issue a joint appeal for work to be resumed, explaining that the cessation of industry in ‘these moments of anti-Fascist war is equivalent to collaborating with the common enemy by weakening ourselves’.
The Friends of Durutti, an organisation of dissident Anarchists, who had opposed the absorption of the militias into the army, issued an appeal for the formation of a ‘revolutionary junta’ to include the POUM. It criticised the leaders of the CNT who called for a ceasefire, and demanded that the ‘provocateurs’ be executed. Every leading organ of the CNT repudiated this declaration and the organisation which issued it, in extremely violent terms. Barcelona was vibrating with rumours. The 29th Division, commanded by the Anarchist Jover, and the 26th, under the POUMist Rovira, were forbidden to march on the capital. In fact these commanders had thought of doing so, but were dissuaded by their organisations. Leaders of the JCI (Jeunesses Communistes Internationalistes) and the committee for defence in north Barcelona organised a column, based on officer-cadets from the military academy, to seize the central headquarters of the PSUC and of the Generalidad. It was the POUM leader, Andres Nin, who put a stop to this operation. British warships were anchoring in the roadstead.
Federica Montseny, the Minister for Health in the Popular Front government at Valencia, which was headed by Largo Caballero, protested against the fact that all the ceasefire negotiations took it for granted that the Telephonica had been taken over by the forces of order. The UGT in Catalonia decided to exclude from its ranks all those members of the POUM who did not expressly repudiate their comrades who were taking part in the insurrection!
The death of another minister, a member of the PSUC and of the UGT, named Antonio Sese, who was shot by unknown murderers as he was going to take up his appointment, perhaps gave the central government a pretext for taking public order out of the hands of the Catalan Generalidad. From that time onwards, public order was entrusted to General Pozas, a professional soldier, former head of the Civil Guard, who appears to have been linked to the PSUC by connections of a hardly political nature. There was total confusion. Both the arrival of troops sent by the Valencia government and a possible foreign intervention were expected. The new government included none of the PSUC people who had played a role in the provocation.
On 6 May the body of Berneri was found; he had been well and truly assassinated. The workers who followed the CNT were disorientated by the disorder and confusion, as well as by the appeals from their leaders. They began to desert the barricades in large numbers. The POUM, in its own way, buried the movement, with comments about ‘these three magnificent days’ and ‘this tremendous experience’. It put on record that it had been with the masses in the streets at the beginning, and observed that ‘under the repeated injunctions of their leaders, the masses have begun to withdraw from the struggle’. Yet it presented the result as being largely positive:
Beyond any doubt it [the proletariat] has won a great, partial victory. It has defeated the counter-revolutionary provocation. It has won the dismissal of all those who were directly responsible for the provocation. It has struck a serious blow at the bourgeoisie and reformism. It could have won more, much more, if those in the leadership of the organisations which stand at the head of the working class of Catalonia could have risen to the level of the masses.
On 7 May the police took over the abandoned barricades, which were to be demolished amid great publicity by girls belonging to the PSUC. The trams began to run again. Two hundred militants were freed from jail. Shots were fired at the car of Federica Montseny, the Anarchist minister. The issue of La Batalla for 8 May once again urged a return to work. At the same time, the local committee of the POUM in Barcelona sharply criticised the executive of its party, which it accused of having ‘capitulated’ in the course of those days, in the face of the counter-revolution, under the pressure of the conciliatory leaders of the CNT.
Little by little we are now uncovering the long list of revolutionary militants with whom the specialised groups in the service of Stalin settled their accounts in the course of these ‘days’ – Berneri and his friend Barbieri, Alfredo Martinez, the leader of the Libertarian Youth, and the German Trotskyist Freund, known as Moulin, who was the link between the small group of Trotskyists and the Friends of Durutti – and ‘disappeared’. This was only the beginning of the repression.

POUM nonsense

There can be no doubt that La Batalla was publishing complete nonsense on 6 May, when it presented the May Days as having turned out positively. These days were the first stage in the unfolding of a counterrevolution, the first victims of which, a few weeks later, were to be the POUM itself and, in particular, its principal leader, the old revolutionary, Andres Nin.
How can this mistaken appreciation be explained if we consider the extraordinary strength which the huge movement of the working class of Barcelona had revealed a few days, indeed a few hours, earlier?
The fresh memory of that movement hovers over the discussion which opened within the POUM in the following days, in preparation for a congress which the Stalinist repression prevented from ever being held.
We have little information about the attitude of the right wing in the POUM, apart from an editorial of 15 May in its Valencia newspaper, El Communista. This condemned the workers in Barcelona and even the leaders of the POUM on the grounds that ‘one cannot swim against the stream with impunity’ and denounced, ‘after the provocateurs’, ‘those who played their game and cleared the ground in front of them’. We also know that the POUM organisation in Sabadell issued a manifesto condemning the action of the workers in Barcelona, and that Luis Portel, a member of its executive, judged the attitude of the leadership during these May Days to have been ‘adventuristic’.
The thesis of the executive was drafted by Nin. He drew a parallel with the ‘July Days’:
In July 1917 the workers in the Russian capital took to the streets arms in hand, rising up against the policies of the democrat, Kerensky. The Bolshevik Party considered this movement to be ill-timed and dangerous. None the less, the Bolsheviks played an active part in it, placed themselves at its head, led it and guided it in such a way as to prevent it from becoming a disaster for the revolutionary proletariat.
Nin started from the provocation by the forces of the police. He declared that the workers had defended the interests of the proletariat in the streets. As to the policy of his party, he wrote:
If it had all depended on us to start things off, we would not have given the order for insurrection. The moment was not favourable for a decisive action, But the revolutionary workers, rightly indignant at the provocation of which they were the victims, flung themselves into battle, and we could not leave them to their fate. To act otherwise would have been an unpardonable betrayal.
Nin declared that the activity of the POUM aimed at ‘canalising a movement which, because it was spontaneous, had many chaotic aspects, and to avoid its transforming itself into a fruitless putsch, which would have fatal consequences for the proletariat. It was necessary to provide limited slogans for the movement.’
A third position, that of J. Rebull and of Cell 72, reproaches the leadership of the POUM for having ‘run after the events’ and having ‘once again waited on the opinion of the opportunist elements in the confederal leadership’. Their counter-theses declared:
The first results of the workers’ insurrections are a defeat for the working class and a new victory for the pseudo-democratic bourgeoisie.

Trotsky’s verdict

Trotsky devoted a number of writings to the Spanish Revolution and several times discussed the May Days. He conceded to the defenders of the policies of the POUM that there was a superficial resemblance between the movement of the masses before the July Days in Petrograd and that of May 1937 in Barcelona. However, he was concerned in particular to emphasise the deep differences between the two – according to him, the essential differences lay in the fact that in 1937 the Spanish masses had a more serious experience of their revolution than those had in Russia in 1917. Trotsky wrote:
In Spain, the May events took place not after four months, but after six years of revolution. The masses of the whole country have had a gigantic experience. A long time ago they lost the illusions of 1931, as well as the warmed-over illusions of the Popular Front. Again and again they have shown to every part of the country that they were ready to go through to the end. If the Catalan proletariat had seized power in May 1937 – as it had really seized it in July 1936 – they would have found support throughout all of Spain. The bourgeois-Stalinist reaction would not even have found two regiments with which to crush the Catalan workers. In the territory occupied by Franco not only the workers but also the peasants would have turned toward the Catalan proletariat, would have isolated the Fascist army and brought about its irresistible disintegration. It is doubtful whether under these conditions any foreign government would have risked throwing its regiments onto the burning soil of Spain. Intervention would have become materially impossible, or at least extremely dangerous.
Naturally, in every insurrection, there is an element of uncertainty and risk. But the subsequent course of events has proved that even in the case of defeat the situation of the Spanish workers would have been incomparably more favourable than now, to say nothing of the fact that the revolutionary party would have assured its future (L Trotsky, A test of ideas and individuals through the Spanish experience, The Spanish Revolution 1931-1939, New York, l973, p278-279)
In Trotsky’s opinion, it was a revolutionary party which was lacking in May 1937. This is the reason for his ferocious criticism, not merely of the Anarchists but also of the policies of the POUM, and what he calls its ‘indecision, its equivocations, its hesitations and its lack of a clear programme’, which prevented it from providing for the masses ‘the revolutionary leadership without which victory was not possible’.
Perhaps a little more light can be shed on Trotsky’s position on the insurrection, which failed in May 1937 for lack of a revolutionary party, and on his divergences with his comrade Blasco, which were never expressed in writing in a direct debate, if we look back to his preface to Volume Three of the Russian edition of his works, which we know under the title The Lessons of October.
There we find that Trotsky directed precisely the same criticisms against what he called the ‘right wing’ of the Bolshevik Party, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who opposed the insurrection which Lenin proposed, as those which he directed against the POUM in 1937 or the German Communist Party at the time of its failed insurrection in 1923:
A party which has been carrying on revolutionary agitation for a long time, tearing the proletariat little by little from the influence of the conciliators, and which, once it is lifted to the height of events by the confidence of the proletariat, begins to hesitate, to look for midday at two o’clock, to turn its back and to tack about, paralyses the activity of the masses, provokes disappointment and disorganisation among them and leads the revolution to defeat ...
He analysed the position of the ‘Old Bolsheviks’, who advanced against Lenin in April 1917 the old formula of ‘the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’, which they counterposed to that of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the struggle for Soviet power:
Their method ... consisted in exerting on the leading bourgeoisie a pressure which did not go outside the framework of the bourgeois democratic regime. If this policy had been victorious, the development of the revolution would have proceeded outside our part y, and we would have, in the end, had an insurrection of the masses of workers and peasants which was not led by the party, in other words, July Days on a vast scale, that is, a catastrophe.
It seems to us that this formula permits conclusions to be drawn about the May Days by settling at least the ambiguities which may have survived in the historic debate about the analogies with the Russian Revolution. About these ambiguities, Trotsky himself took pleasure in emphasising that he himself had not introduced them, though he was often blamed for doing so, and he made clear that, for his part, he had been very deeply convinced that ‘Spain was not Russia’, a conclusion which did not in the slightest justify the policy which led to catastrophe.
Pierre Broué