Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Fire This Time-In Honor Of James Baldwin Whose Time Has Come Again-From The Archives-   *Writer's Corner- The "Uncollected Writings" Of James Baldwin- A Guest Review

Click on the title to link to a National Public Radio segment on a review of uncollected writings by the American writer James Baldwin.

Markin comment:

The gut-wrenching, no-holds-barred, truth-telling of the real racial story in this country by James Baldwin has been highlighted in this space recently. I have re-posted one such review that speaks to the continuing validity of that voice, that "voice of the voiceless" that James Baldwin still provides a quarter of a century after his death.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

*Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-James Baldwin's "Another Country"

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for James Baldwin's Another Country

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By” and "Films To While Away The Class Struggle By"-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin

Book Review

Another Country, James Baldwin, Dial Press, New York, 1962

Recently, in a blog entry, I went on my “soap box” to speak about those now seemingly endless references, by black and white liberals alike, to the ‘good old days' of the black civil rights movement and how far the black liberation struggle has come here in America so that even one (harried and vilified) black man can be President of the United States. This sentiment is codified by the ‘post-racial’ aura (or rather, in truth, the ‘benign neglect’ aura) that surrounds the subject of race lately. By reference to the the good old days these liberals have simply appropriated the catch words of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, names, forever, associated with the high-water marks of resistance to black segregation back in the early 1960s to their own uses. Moreover, to embellish the myth they have created a Martin Luther King who apparently was nothing short of the black ‘messiah’ rather than a man made of clay, a great deal of clay, and in turn have emasculated Malcolm X, the real “truth to power” speaker on race of the era, into a harmless icon suitable for framing.

The author under review, James Baldwin, fortunately, would have none of that. He, in a less overtly inflammatory and more literary but nevertheless powerful way, was in that Malcolm X “truth to power” mode. And, my friends, some of his books, including Another Country make my case, and his case, far more eloquently than this writer ever could. Here is a man hard, hard church-brought up as only fundamentalist churches can distort a child, preacher father-raised and beaten-down for doing things, right or wrong, racially put upon incessantly whenever he stepped outside the Harlem prison-ghetto where he was sentenced yet who did not duck the hard, hard truth that native son he might be but ‘invisible’ native son was the real program for those with black skin.

Another Country is another of those multi-themed Baldwin efforts, the now familiar ones of interracial marriage, adultery, bi- and homosexuality, the blindness of white racism, and the hard, hard fact of trying to be seen while black, poor, and gay in America (and elsewhere, for that matter). The sexual and interracial scenes center on the relationships of various black and white characters of various sexual preferences who inhabit New York's 1950s bohemian Greenwich Village (with a little Left Bank, Paris vignette thrown in), or who want to. The most impressive aspect of this piece is the very strong sense that one gets that while the white characters are sympathetic to the blacks, in their own narrow way, they were clueless to the "another country" aspect of black existence. I have , repeatedly, made the point that that "invisibleness", except now in certain high profile quarters, afflicts the perceptions of whites today as well. Thus, one can well afford to read this work with that continuing premise in mind rather than read it comfortably as some pre-"post-racial" screed. Thanks, James.

The Legend-Slayer Cometh-Again-Crushing The Press Agents Hype Of The Myth Of Teenage Mutant-Marvel Comic’s “Spider Man” (2012) A Film Review

The Legend-Slayer Cometh-Again-Crushing The Press Agents Hype Of The Myth Of Teenage Mutant-Marvel Comic’s “Spider Man” (2012) A Film Review

DVD Review

By Will Bradley

You never know in the fake news legend-slaying racket when some ordinary citizen gets the royal treatment, and everything comes up roses. You also never know when fake news legends are going to rear their ugly heads as now when I have to dissect, maybe deflate, no, matter untangle, is a better word, the legend of a teenage mutant named Spider Man. I have been off helping fellow journalist Sarah Lemoyne do a wide-ranging series on B- film noirs from the 1940s and 1950s (remember the queen of the Bs Gloria Grahame and you will get an idea about what B-films were all about) which should begin publication later this year.

Since after demolishing the fake news Legend of “The Shadow,” aka Lamont Cranston, a New York playboy who while idling the daylight hours waiting for nightfall so he could hit the nightclub circuit hired for big money John Kerr who used to work for the Times but who left the business to make a ton of money hyping whoever wanted to be hyped like Cranston I had some time my hands I agreed to help Sarah doing the research and watching the movies. Then out of nowhere Greg Green who runs the show here, is the site manager, asked me to check out the strange legend and stranger doings of one Jack Reacher. No sooner had I done so then this punk kid from New York, a mere teenager reared his ugly head and wanted everybody to bow down to his prowess.

As I have mentioned before, with the seeming exception of real hero Reacher who shuns publicity, likes life “off the grid,” all these fakes get by through hiring well-paid press agents, publicity people, flak-catchers. I am not sure where the kid got the money, maybe a trust fund left by his deceased parents, by the way when not in costume his name is Peter Parker, hired Stanley Klee, yes, Stan the famous press agent who worked miracles if you like for all kinds of ordinary citizens who wanted to bask in the glow of a group of vigilantes called the Avengers, a grouping funded by a guy named Tony Stark. When I heard that name Stark as I had with Reacher initially until I found out he was the real deal I immediately became fearful that this was another “deep state” operation where anybody who question anybody about anything was doomed to the ash heap. The jury is still out on that proposition but I press on.     

Like I said in the old days legends were created usually out of whole cloth by those well-paid press agents who beat the drums for whoever was paying the tab (and expenses too). But at least they were adults, could sign a contract, had left puberty way behind. This kid, egged on by the cynical Stark who seems to be behind almost every alleged “save” of the world, couldn’t wait until he grew up, needed to show his metal early on. Here is a kid who unlike say Superman who at least changed in a telephone booth or in a men’s restroom changed into his uniform in some dumpster-filled back alley. Jesus. 

I will let my ire at even having to do this silly piece about what really were glorified high school hijinks and give you the lowdown, give you the straight stuff. I will say I had a problem though getting the story straight since Parker either changed press agents or somebody was working a scam and pretending to be Spider-Man but the story I got was that after his parents died he went crazy (after the usual period of sorrow to show he was human, a little) and tried to figure who killed his scientist father and mother. 
The old man had been trying to solve the riddle of the universe along with another scientist who used the name Connor, a one-armed bandit who craved working with two arms. They had worked for a Big Pharma operation interested in regeneration of limbs. Peter claimed to have documentation left by his father which would solve that little riddle.       
After some serious experimentation the formula actually worked, for a minute, on Connor whose missing limb came back. Too hasty though way too hasty since they had been rushed by a weirdo supervisor into production without enough testing. Connor turned into Lizard Man and this is where the legend stuff starts at least this is as far back as I can go to get the story straight. Weirdo Connor goes crazy and Peter Parker apparently finding some back alley as a dressing room becomes the knight-savior who saves Gotham once again. (By the way hasn’t Gotham been saved about seventeen time from everything from dinosaurs to weird aliens, the outer space kind okay the others are okay for our purposes. Doesn’t a place like Toledo or Peoria need of some protection). Lizard Man wants to change evolution and make humanity a lizard swamp. Naturally with the help of a young woman he, Peter, is interested in they create an antidote and everybody including Connor gets well courtesy of Big Pharma.

Baloney, pure fable, which even a guy like Stan should have known would not fly. Jesus, being saved from a lizards’ swamp by a teenage mutant looking to make the “bigs.” Are you kidding. I hope the kid didn’t pay too much to his press agent for this noise.    

Nothing to Lose But Our Chains Join the Fight for a Socialist Future! We print below a speech, abridged and edited for publication, by Spartacist League speaker Kelly Glass at the Partisan Defense Committee’s 33rd annual Holiday Appeal for Class-War Prisoners in New York City on January 26.

Workers Vanguard No. 1148
8 February 2019
Nothing to Lose But Our Chains
Join the Fight for a Socialist Future!
We print below a speech, abridged and edited for publication, by Spartacist League speaker Kelly Glass at the Partisan Defense Committee’s 33rd annual Holiday Appeal for Class-War Prisoners in New York City on January 26.
Over the last month of the government shutdown, the media would have you believe that there is a major divide between the two capitalist parties. Trump calls to “Make America Great Again,” a return to the days when black people and women supposedly knew their place, and reds were witchhunted. Meanwhile, the Democrats peddle the lie that America is already great…“Make America America again.” America’s true legacy is the genocide of the Native Americans and slavery, class exploitation and imperialism. Its legacy is stealing about half of Mexico’s territory, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Haymarket Massacre, the Japanese American internment camps, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the anti-Soviet Cold War, years of slaughtering Vietnamese workers and peasants, wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen…I could go on.
The ruling class of this country is united when it comes to plundering the oppressed peoples of the world, even if they have different ideas about how to carry out their occupations, drone attacks and domination of the Near East and beyond. If anything, the Democrats are the party of war. They are often more hawkish and more dangerous because they fool the masses into thinking this is about defending democracy and so-called human rights. When Trump announced that he was pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, Democrats raised a stink. And the Democrats, from the Clintons to Bernie Sanders, are among the most vocal promoters of the anti-China trade war and military provocations. Trump’s counterrevolutionary drive against the Chinese deformed workers state is just a continuation of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia.” The imperialists hate that they don’t have free rein, and want to turn the world’s biggest workers state into a sweatshop they can profit from. We defend China unconditionally against imperialism and counterrevolution, while fighting for a workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy.
So now it looks like the government is temporarily reopened, while negotiations over “border security” continue. Despite this recent lovers’ quarrel, both parties agree that whether you call it a wall, a fence or a hedge, strong border protection is a priority. That includes militarization, deportations and detentions. Under Obama, billions went to border enforcement, including thousands more agents and over 700 miles of fencing. The working class has a direct interest in fighting against deportations and in organizing immigrant workers into the unions with full rights. Many of the people trying to cross the border now are fleeing destitution brought about by U.S. imperialism in their home countries. Every immigrant who has made it here should have full citizenship rights.
It was pretty cheap for the Democrats to cry crocodile tears over the suffering of federal workers during the shutdown, while those in Congress and the Supreme Court judges were still getting their fat paychecks. It’s easy for the Democrats to posture as the friends of the oppressed when standing next to Republicans who openly ponder why white supremacy is offensive. During the shutdown, the main tactic of the Democrats in Congress, including the so-called progressive Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), was to prove themselves better defenders of national security by, for example, complaining that airport security agents, border patrol and prison guards were not getting paid. One of the very first votes of newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a DSAer, was to keep the Department of Homeland Security up and running. Prison guards torture inmates; cops break strikes, kill blacks and terrorize immigrants. We do not consider any of these “law and order” forces to be part of the working class. They should not be in the unions and we wouldn’t support their strikes.
But this shutdown has and will continue to be widely felt by thousands of government workers, as well as Native Americans, people relying on food stamps and government assistance, and the homeless. Here we are in the richest country in the world, and nearly 80 percent of fulltime workers live paycheck to paycheck, with tens of thousands dying every year because they lack health insurance. Every day, the capitalist rulers starve and deprive their wage slaves of basic human needs.
Is it any wonder that overworked and underpaid teachers are going on strike across the country? From West Virginia to Arizona, and most recently Los Angeles, teachers have fought back against the gutting of public education and the ongoing war against the teachers unions. It’s clear that workers want to fight. The pro-capitalist leadership of the unions holds them back by selling the lie that some progressive politician will come to their rescue. We need a new class-struggle leadership of labor. One that understands that the battle is class against class, that workers organizations must be independent of the bosses’ parties, and that the only way anything has ever been won in this country is through hard-fought struggle, not by begging politicians.
What we really need is workers power—a workers government that will seize industry and finance from the capitalists and build a planned, socialist order. For this, the workers need their own party with an internationalist, revolutionary program. This party will be, in the spirit of Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, a tribune of the people, able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, painting a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation.
My favorite slogan is actually on that sign over there—“Finish the Civil War!” Being from the South, I knew right away how powerful this slogan was. Some 150 years ago, a bloody Civil War—the Second American Revolution—successfully smashed black chattel slavery. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “It is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” Indeed. But the promise of black freedom was never fulfilled, and so black oppression continues to be the bedrock of capitalist America. It will take another earthquake, another fire to win black freedom by overthrowing capitalist rule. The fight for black liberation and the fight for socialism will not be won separately. Black workers are slated to play a leading role in the revolutionary party that the Spartacist League is committed to building.
Those who are today behind bars for struggling against racism and capitalist injustice, like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, will be honored as fighters on the road to liberation. I’d like to end with the last lines of the Communist Manifesto, written by Marx and Engels in 1847, which I encourage everyone to read and reread. “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Defend the Gains of the Cuban Revolution! (Quote of the Week)

Workers Vanguard No. 1148
8 February 2019
Defend the Gains of the Cuban Revolution!
(Quote of the Week)
Sixty years ago, in January 1959, a petty-bourgeois guerrilla movement in Cuba overthrew the Batista capitalist regime and in 1960-61 expropriated the bourgeoisie, creating a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Revolutionaries in the U.S. have a special duty to defend the Cuban Revolution against capitalist restoration and U.S. imperialism. Integral to this defense is the Trotskyist call for proletarian political revolution to establish a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism. The excerpt below is from a 1961 internal document submitted by our forebears in the Revolutionary Tendency, a minority in the now-reformist Socialist Workers Party. The SWP majority gave political support to the Castro-led Stalinist bureaucracy, rejecting the necessity of a Leninist-Trotskyist party and the centrality of the proletariat in the fight for socialist revolution.
14. The Cuban workers and peasants are today confronted with a twofold task: to defend their revolution from the attacks of the U.S. and native counterrevolutionaries, and to defeat and reverse the tendencies toward bureaucratic degeneration of the revolution. To confront this task they crucially need the establishment of workers democracy.
15. Workers democracy, for us, signifies that all state and administrative officials are elected by and responsible to the working people of city and country through representative institutions of democratic rule. The best historical models for such institutions were the Soviets of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Workers Councils of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956….
16. The full victory of every modern revolution, the Cuban revolution included, requires the emergence in a leading role of a mass revolutionary-Marxist party. The small Trotskyist groups, in Cuba and elsewhere, have a vital role as the nucleus of such parties. They can fill this role only if they continually preserve their political independence and ability to act, and if they avoid the peril of yielding to non-Marxist and non-proletarian leaderships their own ideological responsibilities and the historic mission of the working class.
— “The Cuban Revolution,” December 1961, printed in Spartacist No. 2 (July-August 1964)

Workers Vanguard No. 1148
8 February 2019
Defend the Gains of the Cuban Revolution!
(Quote of the Week)
Sixty years ago, in January 1959, a petty-bourgeois guerrilla movement in Cuba overthrew the Batista capitalist regime and in 1960-61 expropriated the bourgeoisie, creating a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Revolutionaries in the U.S. have a special duty to defend the Cuban Revolution against capitalist restoration and U.S. imperialism. Integral to this defense is the Trotskyist call for proletarian political revolution to establish a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism. The excerpt below is from a 1961 internal document submitted by our forebears in the Revolutionary Tendency, a minority in the now-reformist Socialist Workers Party. The SWP majority gave political support to the Castro-led Stalinist bureaucracy, rejecting the necessity of a Leninist-Trotskyist party and the centrality of the proletariat in the fight for socialist revolution.
14. The Cuban workers and peasants are today confronted with a twofold task: to defend their revolution from the attacks of the U.S. and native counterrevolutionaries, and to defeat and reverse the tendencies toward bureaucratic degeneration of the revolution. To confront this task they crucially need the establishment of workers democracy.
15. Workers democracy, for us, signifies that all state and administrative officials are elected by and responsible to the working people of city and country through representative institutions of democratic rule. The best historical models for such institutions were the Soviets of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Workers Councils of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956….
16. The full victory of every modern revolution, the Cuban revolution included, requires the emergence in a leading role of a mass revolutionary-Marxist party. The small Trotskyist groups, in Cuba and elsewhere, have a vital role as the nucleus of such parties. They can fill this role only if they continually preserve their political independence and ability to act, and if they avoid the peril of yielding to non-Marxist and non-proletarian leaderships their own ideological responsibilities and the historic mission of the working class.
— “The Cuban Revolution,” December 1961, printed in Spartacist No. 2 (July-August 1964)

I Accuse-Unmasking The Sherlock Holmes Legend, Part VIII-“Bumbling Down The Primrose Lane”-Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s “The Woman In Green” (1945)-A Film Review

I Accuse-Unmasking The Sherlock Holmes Legend, Part VIII-“Bumbling Down The Primrose Lane”-Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s “The Woman In Green” (1945)-A Film Review

DVD Review 

By Bruce Conan

The Woman In Green, starring Lanny Lamont (aka Basil Rathbone aka Sherlock Holmes, aka a million other aliases to be discussed below), the Fixer man (aka John Watson, MD, aka John Watkins, aka Nigel Bruce also to be discussed below), 1945   

Okay no more Mister Nice Guy, no more trying to be reasonable with these felons, miscreants, dopesters, grifters, grafters, con men, whores, pimps and murderers of the nefarious group the Baker Street Irregulars who work out of London town as far as I know but who seemingly have tentacles all over the world, or at least to the United States where they have attempted to hunt me down. Apparently they have something of a central committee, or organizing center, the notorious Kit Kat Club a known hang-out for degenerates and riff-raff of all sorts who people the tables at the place and have ever since King George III’s day. Now that my family is finally safe and beyond the reach of these craven fiends I can take off the kid gloves, can reveal what everybody knows by now and which these Irregulars fear to become public knowledge. Their idol Lanny Lamont (really their idle if you think about how little detective work he actually did once he turned over the hard dirty work to the real if corrupt coppers at Scotland Yard) aka Basil Rathbone aka Sherlock Holmes is an impostor, nothing but a parlor pink amateur sleuth that even Agatha Christie laughed at without embarrassment. Him and his buddy Doc Watson aka Doc Fixer Man were a great deal more than roommates, were the stately queens of England if you get my drift.

I have been chastised, berated, called a political Neanderthal, a homophobe and that is just the nice things by what I can only consider is a slander/libel campaign run by the Irregulars to dismiss me and my fact-driven contentions. That alone tells me I am on to something since this Irregular cohort is made up of those who are the most degenerate devotees of the Lamont legend, those who are into unspeakable blood rituals in order to sate their unholy desires (as is standard operating procedure now that I have uncovered his real identity after great efforts refuse to call him anything but his given name Lanny Lamont born in the West End slums of London to an unwed mother who attempted to abandon him at birth).

I have decided in any case to take on the legend hereafter strictly on the basis of competence, of ability to do private detection and will leave out further reference to the unholy and then scandalous relationship, the “sin that dare not speak its name” between these two, ah, roommates. That means that I will give up all the proof I directly gathered from the archival journals of the Kit Kat Club that they were members in good standing of that hell-hole nefarious operation and almost bankrupted the place with their fiendish opium habits and their unbridled unnatural lusts. So be it.   

Finding the real name, that Lanny Lamont name on the birth certificate though I cannot give up since that really is the initial lynchpin for what seemed totally wrong from the beginning about this brittle character who went by a million names (Basil Rathbone, like that moniker could be a real name be serious, Lytton Strachey, Sailor Jack when he was plying the trade among the rough waterfront sailors, Benny Worth, Harry Smyth, not Smith, and a half dozen others). Claimed to be a private detective. I looked up the International Private Detection Association membership lists and the London private detective licensing lists from the 1920s to the 1950s. No Lanny Lamont or any of the other aliases, nothing. I did find a Lanny Lamont who served time in Dartmoor Prison in the 1930s for drug trafficking, assault, carrying a concealed weapon and a raft of other minor charges. (Also made the connection of how Lanny and Fixer Man met, by the way the only other name I found on him was John Watkins, having met in Dartmoor when he was serving a long stretch for practicing medicine without a license, performing illegal abortions, selling illegal drugs, and sodomy.) The clincher though was a thorough run through all the London telephone directories for those years (a task that will be harder to do with all the singular cellphone use now and in the future).Yeah you guessed it no Lanny or any other name. Nowhere. And certainly not on Baker Street his, their last known address. An old lady had lived in his claimed residence by herself since her husband died during most of that time.                

I could go on with all the lies and deceit but I said that I would take Lanny on his own ground, take him apart as a parlor pink amateur detective that a kid like Jimmy Olson who is just starting could beat six ways to Sunday on a case and have time for lunch and a nap. Take this Women in Green case where this fraud tried to take down heroic Professor Moriarty, tried to pin the so-called ‘finger” murders on that much maligned man. First off Lanny and Fixer Man were so stoned out of their gourds for weeks at a time that they did not know thing number one about the “finger” murder spree until it had grabbed four young innocent random women in its net. Sat around swilling booze when he could have nailed somebody for the job pretty quickly even if he had to fake the evidence. Pin it naturally on a woman and just as naturally a good looking blonde who looked like she liked to get under the silky sheets without too much effort. Of course Lanny could have cared less about running that route but he just let the bodies pile up like a cord of wood until he got done with his high.

While every detective private or public, was on this case to protect womanhood if nothing else Lanny waited for the daughter of one of the guys who thought he had murdered a young woman to show up at his door. Had the tell-tale surgically sawed off finger in a box in his pocket. Five down, make it six when that guy took the fall. That woke Lanny up a little, not Fixer Man though he persisted on a landudum high until Lanny was in danger of falling of a roof and then he started crying for his man. After what seemed like six months Lanny finally had an idea-finally figured that somebody was manipulating the killers somehow-although how was a book sealed with seven seals. Then one of the guys who was sent to kill Fixer Man (it was probably a busted drug deal but the case went into cold case history and was never solved) screwed up and Lanny finally caught on. The guys were hypnotized and the “finger” in the box in their pockets was to blackmail them when they couldn’t figure out whether they had killed the young woman that belonged to the finger or not.

Naturally Lanny’s number one suspect was much put upon Professor Moriarty since they were sworn enemies since Kit Kat Club days when the good Professor “took” some guy away from Lanny according to an old-time reprobate member who remembers those battles for the young guys which were fierce. Lanny confronted the Professor but he blew Lanny off with the suggestion that he will take the Fixer Man away from him. Lanny in terror backs off. The long and short of it is that Lanny never really was able to pin the murders on the Professor who had an alibi any way that he had been in Scotland. Here is what Lanny never figured, never thought through. What about the blonde dish, what about maybe she had something to do with it. She had after all been seen right in the Pembroke Club with the last murderer where he was sucking up scotches. Not until the bodies were sky high did he take a run in that direction. And didn’t, I repeat didn’t, like any red-blooded private detective from the 1940s take a run at her under the sheets before turning her over. Let Scotland Yard take the tough collar while he pranced around in exotic drug high. Yeah, a fake and fraud. Where is Sam Spade when you need him.       

The So-Called Unmasking Of The Sherlock Holmes Legend, Part IX-Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s “Dressed To Kill” (1946)-A Film Review

The So-Called Unmasking Of The Sherlock Holmes Legend, Part IX-Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s “Dressed To Kill” (1946)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Seth Garth

Sherlock Holmes: Dressed To Kill, starring Basil Rathbone which is the well-known screen name for the actor who played Holmes in this British series, Nigel Bruce who did have his medical license suspended for a time for prescribing too many opium-laced drugs but who was given a suspended sentence and never saw the inside of Dartmoor Prison unlike the congenital thief in this film, 1946   

[I have mentioned more times than I care to remember that not everybody who starts out in the film review, film criticism if you have an academic bent and want to upscale the profession, makes it to the end. The profession eats its own, has more treachery per square inch that the denizens of academy with all their conferences and learned papers and incessant back-biting ever thought off. A professor, let’s say a professor of cinematic studies, would last about two minutes in this dog eat dog business. That is why a lot of them spent their two minutes and then headed fast to the groves of academia.

Like I was telling somebody recently in dealing with a bunch of fellow reviewers who work at this publication it was a lot easier in the old days when the studios would pass out their so-called press releases. You just rewrote from there or if you were drunk and hungover just signed your name on top either way mercifully you did not have to actually watch the stinker. Which many of them, too many to count, were. (My estimate of the ratio is that about one in ten even rates a review and that might be too high of late.)  

All this intro talk to say that something has happened to Bruce Conan, or whatever name he was using in this Sherlock Holmes debunking mania he got himself caught up in. The last review of his I had seen maybe Part Four (I think I saw that his last one was Part VIII Greg Green supplied the Part IX in the title so assume I was correct) he was using the name Danny Moriarty so it could have been any name-except his real one which I will not divulge out of fear for his safety or his wrath if he resurfaces anytime soon.    

When I say the vague “something has happened to Bruce” that is exactly what I mean. He did not show up at the Ed Board meeting last week to turn in and have his latest review worked over. Greg Green asked me to pinch-hit for him. All I know is that Bruce was setting himself a very tall task trying to bump old Sherlock Holmes down a peg or two. How many times have I, you, we uttered “elementary, my dear Watson” to some rattled-brained holy goof who was clueless about everything including which was his or her left hand. Yes, a tough task indeed. I think the job might very well have driven him over the edge, he was certainly kind of paranoid when I would ask him how his crusade was going. Didn’t want to talk about it much and although he said he trusted me what about the “others” they could be working for those “damn Irregulars” (his term). 

Before the reader goes off the deep end along with Bruce in conspiracy theory speculation I very much doubt that the crew known as the Baker Street Irregulars according to him but who I found out after a little investigation is actually called the Sherlock Holmes Preservation Society (SHPS) had anything to do with his disappearance. The SHPS is NOT a group of nefarious criminals, pimps, whores and dope fiends but well-respected Holmes (and Conan Doyle) scholars. They are very perturbed I guess would be the word that Bruce has denigrated Holmes and Watson as bullshit amateur parlor pink private detectives. Incensed that he had “outed” them from their homosexual closets, something that a spokesperson told me the Society was well aware of but was keeping private out of respect for their respective relatives and for the hard fact that it was irrelevant to their adventures in sleuthing. But that spokesperson also assured me that they would take care of Bruce in the public prints not in some dark alley like they were agents of the dastardly Professor Moriarty or like in the old days a group of Stalinist thugs. I believe them because I think now that I am armed with that information poor Bruce got caught up in something that was too big for him, something that drove him over the edge.    
That is where the treachery of the business comes into play. As some readers may know there was a big internal power struggle inside this publication last year which resulted in a dramatic change of site leadership and the addition of a watchdog Editorial Board. The new leadership wanted livelier coverage of, well, of everything from politics, culture to reviews and that after the rather lax atmosphere toward the end of the last regime’s time meant to get a bit more edgy. One form of that edgy feel I am very familiar with and may be the reason that I was assigned this review is a continuing “battle” between two reviewers here over who is more representative of the 007 James Bond cinematic character Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan. Another manifestation is old time reviewer Sam Lowell’s reported change of heart about the virtues of Bette Davis as an actress from Oscar-worthy to nothing but a repetitive same old untamed shrew and hack actress.

I think fellow film reviewer Laura Perkins was on to something when she mentioned in that Bette Davis business that the “boys” were trying to one up each other like in the old neighborhood where some of them grew up (even if not the same neighborhood the same ethos, mostly working class). What I called, not her, please, a “pissing contest.” Bruce a less stable character than the ones that I have mentioned got himself up in lather as well when he decided to pick on poor misbegotten Holmes. That unseen pressure and the yardstick that he used to declare who was a real private detective from the 1930s and 1940s got him in too deep. His standard, a good one but hardly universal, for a private eye were guys like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe two tough as nails guys who weren’t afraid to throw a punch, take a slug, take a few whiskey shots from the bottom of a hacked up desk drawer and bed an off-hand dangerous femme before hand-delivering the villains personally to the clueless public coppers. Of course the bloodless Holmes and the hapless and laughable Watson pale by comparison but that was hardly after all this time a reason to go on the warpath.          

A few examples should close this introduction out until we find out the fate of insecure and frantic Mr. Conan. He was on fairly safe grounds when he left his “critique” of Sherlock (whom he called Lanny Lamont after a while which I will get to in a minute) when he noted that the guy couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a gun, let the bodies pile up sky high before his vaunted deductive reasoning kicked in and when he let the public coppers grab the bad guys instead of handling the task himself. (Bruce went crazy and maybe rightly so when Holmes let some innocent fourteen year old girl get wasted for no reason except his own sloth.) Where he went off the track was when he started “investigating” Holmes’ background, started looking at records and such which led him into that Baker Street Irregular trap.         

First off was the not really surprising fact that Sherlock Holmes was not his real name, nor was Basil Rathbone a name he used on occasion to keep the bad guys guessing. Bruce claimed to uncover proof that the guy’s real name was Lanny Lamont who was born in the slums of the West End of London of an unwed mother who shunted him off to a charity orphanage. This is where Bruce really started breaking down. The first crack may have been his “discovery” that nobody named Holmes had ever lived on Baker Street in London. That suspicious fact led him astray though. See everybody in London knew that Holmes was an alias but also knew that his real name was Lytton Strachey, a gentleman born and bred. Bruce was so crazed to “get the goods” that he traced the trail the wrong way working on that Rathbone lead. Tough break.        

The worst thing though and here I agree with the Sherlock Holmes Preservation Society’s take on the matter even if as was obvious to even the most naïve Holmes and Watson were more than just roommates, were homosexual lovers, today gay, in a time that was socially and legally dangerous what of it. Pulling this rather cold and unattractive pair out of the closet just because they didn’t take a run as Sam did with Brigid or Phillip with some thumb-sucking Candy and a few other dishes in their professional work. Strangely as well since he admitted openly that if this was the situation today nobody, including him, would think anything of it. Would yawn it off. I know Greg Green and a couple of others were concerned with the allegations and worried about law suits from their respective estates. Worried too about image having taken early stands in favor of gay rights and self-sex marriage. Bruce can sort it out if and when he surfaces. For now here is a straight review of Sherlock Holmes: Dress to Kill without conspiracy theories and Irregular goblins.  

Willie Sutton the legendary bank robbery cowboy angel rides was often quoted as having been asked by the coppers after he was caught why he robbed banks. Easy answer when you think about it-that’s where the money is, or was before all sorts of things made bank robbing kind of old-fashioned in the brave new world of white collar fingerless crime. That same premise at one remove is where this Holmes adventure leads. Why steal bank note plates from the Chancellery of the Exchequer (Treasury in America)-that’s how to make the money. That is the logic behind a congenital thief in Dartmoor prison. (Remember neither Holmes nor Watson spent time there unlike Bruce’s contention that that was where the pair met and became lovers and partners in crime solutions.)  

That thief got them out of the jail via some three music boxes-not a bad decoy but the damn things wound up in an auction and sold to highest bidders. The race then becomes between the clueless Sherlock and the brains of the criminal enterprise that wants those boxes to unlock a secret code necessary to go into the printing business in a very profitable way with very low overhead and that criminal . Of course the idea that the villain, the brains of the operation, is a female would have had   Bruce apoplectic, would have had him beside himself when Sherlock didn’t make play number one for her before he sent her over. Like I said a private detective’s love life, of whatever preference, is not germane to the solution of the crimes. Now this Hilda who ran the operation, played by Patricia Morison really was a 1940s-style femme and Sam and Phillip would have a field day with her but she still had to go down, had to take the big step for her actions, including a fistful of murders along the. Sherlock was able to snag the last music box and keep the Bank of England from going under in a bale of counterfeit pounds. The only knock I have on Sherlock’s efforts is that as Bruce pointed out he lets the bodies pile up before he can figure stuff out. That and why the hell he has a holy goof like Watson dragging him down.          

March Is Women’s History Month-Honor Communist Leader Rosa Luxemburg- The Rose Of The Revolution

Click on the headline to link to the Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archives.

March Is Women’s History Month

Markin comment:

Usually I place the name of the martyred Polish communist revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, in her correct place of honor along with Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht when we of the leftist international working class movement honor our historic leaders each January. This year I have decided to, additionally, honor the Rose of the Revolution during Women’s History Month because, although in life she never fought on any woman-limited basis in the class struggle, right this minute we are in need, desperate need of models for today’s women and men to look to. Can there be any better choice? To ask the question is to give the answer. All honor to the memory of the Rose of the Revolution- Rosa Luxemburg.
Honor The Three L's-From The Pen Of Rosa Luxemburg- The Rose of The Revolution-The Old Mole (1917)

Rosa Luxemburg
The Old Mole
(April 1917)

First Published: Spartacus, No.5, May 1917.
Source: Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Political Writings, edited and introduced by Robert Looker.
Translated: (from the German) W.D. Graf.
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins with special thanks to Robert Looker for help with permissions.
Copyright: Random House, 1972, ISBN/ISSN: 0224005960. Printed with the permission of Random House. Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2004.

The outbreak of the Russian Revolution has broken the stalemate in the historical situation created by the continuation of the world war and the simultaneous failure of the proletarian class struggle. For three years Europe has been like a musty room, almost suffocating those living in it. Now all at once a window has been flung open, a fresh, invigorating gust of air is blowing in, and everyone in the room is breathing deeply and freely of it. In particular the ‘German liberators’ are anxiously watching the theatre of the Russian Revolution. The grudging respect of the German and Austro-Hungarian governments for the ‘cadgers and conspirators’ and the nervous tension with which our ruling classes receive every utterance by Cheidze and by the workers’ and soldiers’ soviet concerning the question of war and peace are now a tangible confirmation of the fact which only yesterday met the uncomprehending opposition of the socialists from the A.G.[1] This was the fact that the way out of the blind alley of the world war led not through diplomatic ‘agreements’ and Wilsonian messages, but solely and exclusively through the revolutionary action of the proletariat. The victors at Tannenberg and Warsaw now tremblingly await their own ‘liberation’ from the choking noose of war by the Russian proletariat, by the ‘mob in the street’!

Of course even with the greatest heroism the proletariat of one single country cannot loosen this noose. The Russian Revolution is growing of its own accord into an international problem. For the peace efforts of the Russian workers bring them into acute conflict not only with their own bourgeoisie, but also with the English, French and Italian bourgeoisie. The rumblings of the bourgeois press in all the Entente countries – The Times, Matin, Corriere della Sera, etc. – show that the capitalists of the West, these stout-hearted champions of ‘democracy’ and of the rights of the ‘small nations’, are watching, with gnashing teeth and hourly mounting rage, the advances made by the proletarian revolution that has checked the glorious era of the undivided rule of imperialism in Europe. The capitalists of the Entente now provide the strongest support for the Russian bourgeoisie against whom the Russian proletariat is revolting in its struggle for peace. In every way – diplomatically, financially, commercially – the Entente capitalists can exert the greatest pressure on Russia, and are surely doing so already. A liberal revolution? A provisional government of the bourgeoisie? How nice! These would be immediately recognized officially and welcomed as a guarantee of Russia’s military fitness, as an obedient instrument of international imperialism. But not one step further! If the Russian Revolution were to show its proletarian essence, if it were to turn logically against war and imperialism, then its cherished allies would bare their teeth and attempt to curb it by all possible means. Thus the socialist proletariat of England, France and Italy has now a bounden duty to raise the banner of revolt against war. Only through vigorous mass action in their own countries, against their own ruling classes, can they avoid openly betraying the Russian revolutionary proletariat, and prevent it bleeding to death in its unequal struggle against not only the Russian bourgeoisie, but also the Western bourgeoisie. The Entente powers’ intervention in the internal affairs of the Russian Revolution, which has already taken place, demands of the workers of these countries, as a matter of honour, that they cover the Russian Revolution by attacking the flank of their own ruling classes in order to compel them to make peace.

And now the German bourgeoisie! Torn between smiling sourly and weeping bitterly, they are watching the actions and growing power of the Russian proletariat. Lulled into habitually regarding its own working masses as merely military and political cannon fodder, the German bourgeoisie might well like to utilize the Russian proletariat to get itself out of the war as soon as possible. The hard-pressed German imperialism, which at this very moment is in extremely difficult straits both in the West and in Asia Minor, and at its wits’ end at home because of food problems, would like to extricate itself from the affair as quickly as possible and with some semblance of decorum in order to repair and arm itself calmly for further wars. Because of its proletarian-socialist tendency to peace, the Russian Revolution is intended to serve this purpose. Thus both German imperialism and the Entente powers are speculating on how they can profit by the revolution, only from opposite sides. The Western powers want to harness the wagon of imperialism to the bourgeois-liberal tendency of the revolution in order to carry on the war until the defeat of the German competitor. German imperialism would like to avail itself of the proletarian tendency of the revolution in order to extricate itself from the imminent threat of military defeat. Well, why not, gentlemen? German Social Democracy has served so excellently in masking your uncontrolled genocide as an ‘act of liberation’ against Russian Tsarism. Why shouldn’t Russian Social Democracy help free the stranded ‘liberators’ from the thorny situation of a war gone awry? The German workers helped wage war when it suited imperialism; the Russian workers are expected to make peace for the same reason.

However, Cheidze is not such an easy man to deal with as Scheidemann.[2] Despite a hasty ‘announcement’ by the Norddeutsche Allgemeine and hurriedly dispatching Scheidemann to Stockholm for ‘negotiations’, they can expect at best a kick in the pants from the Russian socialists of all shades. And as for a hastily managed ‘put-up job’, a separate peace with Russia, concluded at the eleventh hour, which the German ‘liberators’ would so like to see, and which they are hard pressed to make, the matter definitely cannot be arranged. If the Russian proletariat is to see the victory of its peaceful tendency, it must acquire an increasingly decisive overall position in the country, so that its class action grows to colossal proportions in scope, ardour, profundity and radicalism, and so that Social Democracy can either sweep along or cast aside all the still undecided classes who have been duped by bourgeois nationalism. With barely concealed horror, the German ‘liberation’ find themselves face to face with this clearly visible and inevitable, but so formidable, aspect of the peace tendency in Russia. They fear – and with good reason – that the Russian Moor, unlike his German counterpart, having done his work, will not want to ‘go’, and they fear the sparks which could fly from the neighbouring fire on to the East Prussian barns. They readily understand that only the deployment of the most extreme revolutionary energy in a comprehensive class struggle for political power in Russia is capable of effectively carrying through the struggle for peace. But at the same time they long for the good old days of Tsarism, for the ‘centuries-old faithful friendship with their Eastern neighbour’, Romanov absolutism. Tua res agitur! Your interests are at stake! This warning by a Prussian minister against the Russian Revolution endures in the soul of the German ruling classes, and the heroes of the Königsberg Trial[3] are all ‘as magnificent as the day they were born’. It would be expecting too much of the East Prussian police and military State to think it would allow a republic – and a republic freshly constructed and controlled by the revolutionary-socialist proletariat – to exist on its flank. And this East Prussian police spirit is compelled to acknowledge its secret aversion in the open market-place. The German ‘liberators’ today must publicly raise their right hands and swear that they have no intention of throttling the revolution and restoring dear pug-nosed Nicholas on the Tsarist throne! It was the Russian Revolution that forced the German ‘liberators’ to give themselves this resounding slap before the whole world. With this the Russian Revolution suddenly wiped from the slate of history the whole infamous lie which German Social Democracy and the official mythology of German militarism had lived on for three years. This is how the storm of revolution acts to cleanse, to eradicate lies, to sterilize; this is how it suddenly sweeps away with ruthless broom all the dung-heaps of official hypocrisy that have been accumulating since the outbreak of the world war and the silencing of the class struggle in Europe. The Russian Revolution tore away the mask of ‘democracy’ from the face of the Entente bourgeoisie, and from German militarism it tore away the mask of the would-be liberator from Tsarist despotism.

Nevertheless the question of peace is not quite as simple for the Russian proletariat as it would suit the purposes of Hindenburg and Bethmann to believe. The victory of the revolution, as well as its further tasks, requires more secure backing for the future. The outbreak of the revolution and the commanding position assumed by the proletariat has immediately transformed the imperialist war in Russia into that which the mendacious clap-trap of the ruling classes would have us believe it is in every country: a war of national defence. The beautiful dreams of Constantinople and the ‘national-democratic’ plans for reapportionment, which were to make the world so happy, were thrust back down the throats of Milyukov and his associates by the masses of workers and soldiers, and the slogan of national defence was put into practice. However, the Russian proletariat can end the war and make peace with a clear conscience only when their work – the achievement of the revolution and its continued unhampered progress – has been secured! They, the Russian proletariat, are today the only ones who really have to defend the cause of freedom, progress and democracy. And these things must today be preserved not only against the chicanery, the pressure and the war mania of the Entente bourgeoisie, but tomorrow above all – against the ‘fists’ of the German ‘liberators’. A semi-absolutist police and military state is not a good neighbour for a young republic shaken by internal struggles, and an imperialist soldiery schooled in blind obedience is not a good neighbour for a revolutionary proletariat which is making ready for the most intrepid class struggles of unforeseeable significance and duration.

Already the German occupation of an unfortunate ‘Independent Poland’ is a heavy blow against the Russian Revolution. The operational basis of the revolution is indeed limited when a country which was always one of the most explosive centres of the revolutionary movement, and which in 1905 marched at the head of the Russian Revolution, is completely eliminated and transformed socially into a graveyard, politically into a German barracks. Where then is the guarantee that tomorrow, when peace has been concluded, once German militarism has pried itself loose from the burden of war and resharpened its claws, it will not strike at the Russian proletariat’s flank in order to prevent the German semi-absolutist regime from being shaken?

The strangled ‘assurances’ of yesterday’s heroes of the Königsberg Trial – these are not enough to put our minds at rest. We still remember only too well the example of the Paris Commune. After all, the cat cannot leave the mouse alone. The world war has unleashed such an orgy of reaction in Germany, has revealed such a degree of militaristic omnipotence, has so stripped away the facade of greatness of the German working class as such, and has shown the foundations of so-called ‘political freedom’ in Germany to be so empty and flawed, that the prospects from this point of view have become a tragic and serious problem. The ‘danger of German militarism’ to imperialist England or France is of course humbug, war mythology, the cry of Germany’s rivals. The danger of German militarism to revolutionary, republican Russia, by contrast, is a very real fact. The Russian proletariat would be very careless politicians if they failed to ask themselves whether the German cannon-fodder that allows imperialism to lead it to the slaughterhouse on every battlefield today would not tomorrow obey the command to fight against the Russian Revolution. Of course Scheidemann, Heilmann and Lensche will already have a ‘Marxist’ theory to hand for it, and Legien and Schlicke will prepare a treaty for this slave-trade, all faithful to the patriotic tradition of the German princes who sold their native subjects as cannon-fodder abroad.

There is only one serious guarantee against these natural concerns for the future of the Russian Revolution: the awakening of the German proletariat, the attainment of a position of power by the German ‘workers and soldiers’ in their own country, a revolutionary struggle for peace by the German people. To make peace with Bethmann and Hindenburg would be a hideously difficult and hazardous enterprise with a dubious outcome. With the German ‘workers and soldiers’, peace would be concluded immediately and would rest upon solid foundations.

Thus the question of peace is in reality bound up with the unimpeded, radical development of the Russian Revolution. But the latter is in turn bound up with the parallel revolutionary struggles for peace on the part of the French, English, Italian and, especially, the German proletariat.

Will the international proletariat shift the responsibility for coming to terms with the European bourgeoisie on to the Russian workers’ shoulders, will it surrender this struggle to the imperialist mania of the English, French and Italian bourgeoisie? At the moment this is how the question of peace should really be formulated.

The conflict between the international bourgeoisie and the Russian proletariat thus reveals the dilemma of the last phase of the global situation: either world war to the verge of universal ruin or proletarian revolution – imperialism or socialism.

And here again we are confronted by our old betrayed slogans of revolution and socialism, words which we repeated a thousand times in our propaganda and which we failed to put into practice when, on the outbreak of war, the time came to give substance to them. They again presented themselves to every thinking socialist as the futile genocide dragged on. They presented themselves once more in an obviously negative form as a result of the wretched fiasco of the attempts of bourgeois pacifism at achieving a diplomatic agreement. Today we again see them in a positive light; they have become the substance of the work, the destiny and the future of the Russian Revolution. Despite betrayal, despite the universal failure of the working masses, despite the disintegration of the Socialist International, the great historical law is making headway – like a mountain stream which has been diverted from its course and has plunged into the depths, it now reappears, sparkling and gurgling, in an unexpected place.

Old mole. History, you have done your work well! At this moment the slogan, the warning cry, such as can be raised only in the great period of global change, again resounds through the International and the German proletariat. That slogan is: Imperialism or Socialism! War or Revolution! There is no third way!

[1] The Arbeitergemeinschaft, as the centrist opposition which formed the USPD was then known.

[2] In the original the author refers to the S.P.D. leader as Scheidemännchen, implying that he is an incomplete or little man, or a mannekin.

[3] The trial in 1904 of a number of German Social Democrats charged with assisting in the smuggling of revolutionary literature into Russia

*An Inside Look At The Great Passiac And Gastonia Textile Strikes Of The 1920's- Communist Organizer Vera Weisbord's View

Click on title to link to the Albert & Vera Weibord Internet Archives. These two communist organizers from the 1920's, as the archive details were intimately involved in both the Passiac and Gastonia strikes. For another, later perspective on the political evolution of this pair check out American Communist Party and American Trotskyist Party founder James P. Cannon's views in the early 1930s on the Jame P. Cannon Internet Archives.




The history of labor struggles in the United States in the 1920's, which is the most informative part of the book under review, looked a lot like the state of labor struggles today-not much, although there was then, as now a crying need to fight back against the decades old capitalist onslaught against labor. Nevertheless during the 1920’s period of labor's ebb there were a couple of important labor strikes that, as usual, involved radicals, especially members of the American Communist Party (hereafter, CP) that had emerged from the underground after the Palmer Raids and deportations of the post World War I period. Those struggles, the great Passaic, New Jersey strike of 1926 and the heroic Gastonia, North Carolina strike of 1929 detailed here by one of the key leaders, Vera Buch Weisbord, centrally involved women workers in the textile trades, then as now, some of the most hazardous, low paying and stupefying work around. Thus an added impetus for trade union militants to read this book today is to better understand the arduous task of organizing international struggles where women form the backbone of the factory labor force such as in East Asia and Mexico.

As in many such memoirs the author here has her own ax to grind, and she unfailingly names names of those who did not measure up to the eclectic political wisdom that she and her husband and political partner Albert put forth over the years when they were politically active. Thus the early part of the book concerning early Communist trade union policy is where the value of the book lies. Three critical points can be gleaned from her work; the narrowness of the early Communist trade union policy of exclusively ‘boring from within’ the established and organized labor movement; the fatally-flawed ‘dual union’ fetishism of the Stalinist ‘third period’ where Communist trade union policy was essentially to go it alone and create ‘red’ dual unions and eschew united front work; and, the question that presses on every militant today concerning the ability and advisability of doing so-called 'mass' work by small left-wing propaganda groups.

James P. Cannon, an early leader of the CP and its 'trade unionist' wing along with William Z. Foster and others, acknowledged that Albert Weisbord was an exceptional mass trade union organizer. That is high praise indeed coming from an old Wobblie who knew his trade union leaders. He was then, and later as a leader of the American Trotskyist movement, in a position to also know the limits of the Weisbords as political leaders. And there is the rub. Much of Weisbord’s achievement came as a result of his excellent work in the 1926 Passaic textile strike where he, with his future companion and wife Vera, led a hard fought effort to organize the woefully underpaid and exploited women textile workers. Weisbord, basically on his own hook, formed an independent union of the largely unorganized women textile works and led them out on one of the important strikes of the 1920's, despite constant efforts on the part of the central labor bureaucracy to sabotage those efforts as "communist" dominated. However, in order to keep the strike going as it was dying in isolation the CP agreed to remove Weisbord as central leader at the request of that bureaucracy and give the leadership to the tradition union leadership that ultimately settled the strike on very unfavorable terms.

That a communist organization would sacrifice one of its own while caving in to reactionary trade unionists is only understandable if one understands that in this the CP trade union policy, under William Z. Foster's influence, was one of ‘boring from within’ the organized trade union movement. Thus, its sell-out of its leader, and there are no other words for it, was the steep price that it paid to keep in step with the central labor bureaucracy. The fact that important and decisive sections of the American work force in the 1920's were unorganized or poorly organized and needed to be organized independently did not enter the CP’s political horizon at that time.

Another critical, if more bloody, strike occurred in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929 and there again Communists with Vera playing a key early role led the way. That an urban- based radical party could gain a hearing from rural Southern black and white workers, including a fair share of women workers, tells a hell of a lot about the times and how bad the conditions were there. For a number of reasons, including a police frame-up of the leadership of the strike, this struggle also went down to defeat. By 1929, however, the CP was knee-deep in its' third period' immediate capitalism crisis theory and did not call for the desperately needed united front work that might have saved the strike. The CP's argument at the time was a far cry from its earlier position of ‘boring with in’- now all other labor formations were inherently reformist and therefore not part of the labor movement.

As a youth doing trade union work I was for a short time impressed by 'third period' Stalinism. However, it did not take long to realize that immediate capitalist gloom and doom crisis theory is not the way to organize workers for the long haul. On a more empirical level any gains that the CP made among workers during this period, especially gaining an important small core of black workers was gained in spite of their flawed policies. A few scattered and isolated 'red' unions that, moreover, negotiated some awful contracts in order to keep influence in the unions they controlled did not make a revolutionary mass trade union movement.

As part of the internal turmoil inside the CP during the late 1920’s the Weisbords were part of an international communist right-wing Bukharin-led faction that during the process of the Stalinization of the American CP was purged by the Communist International in Moscow. Thus the pair were left in the political wilderness in America, but not for long. They were in seemingly constant and never-ending contact with groups to the CP's left and right and spent some time around James P. Cannon's Trotskyist Communist League of America (CLA) before eventually drifting into political oblivion later in the 1930's.

The central conflict with the CLA was over the question of ‘mass’ work by small communist propaganda groups. Coming off their CP experiences where they had led masses of workers under the guidance of a small mass party the Weisbords continued to seek to implement that perspective even though ‘mass’ work by a small propaganda group is usually either fake 'paper' work or tends to destroy the real goal of such a group - the cohesion of a cadre that can lead ‘real’ struggles when they come up.

Here is a case where the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Yes, the CLA wandered in the political wilderness in the early 1930's but by 1934 it was in a position to lead the great Minneapolis Teamsters strikes, which put it on the political map. The CLA then was able to gather other left non-Stalinist forces and by the end of the decade had became a small mass party, the Socialist Workers Party, with plenty of trade union supporters and a fair share of mass work. And the Weisbords? Nada. Nevertheless, read this book, even if at times you have to read between the lines, to learn more about an important part of American labor history, an important part of early Communist Party history and a chapter in the history of the women workers movement.

From The Pages Of "Women And Revolution"-"Feminism vs. Marxism: Origins of the Conflict"-From "Women and Revolution," 1974

Markin comment on the modern Women’s Liberation movement and Marxism:

There are plenty of villains, political villains, including this writer responsible for the “sectoralization” of the radical movement in the late 1960’s-early 1970s, a condition that essentially continues to this day in attenuated form (attenuated due to the smallness of the radical element in any of the so-called sectors). Sectoralization, for those unfamiliar with the term was the notion that blacks, gays, women, workers, students, whatever could only organize among their own kind, exclusively and uncritically by others, and that these sectors would somehow magically transpose their sometimes adversarial positions on revolution day. Never, in other words.

The villain part, at least in regard to the women’s liberation movement, was that many of the criticisms made in the name of feminist separation were correct, especially around rampant male chauvinism in the movement, not excluding PL/SDS or other SDS factions. Of course, most of those making these pungent criticisms eventually had not problem working with males, and comfortably found their way into the good offices of the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, as the article correctly points out, the nuclear bourgeois family (ma, pa, kids, and dog or cat, or some variation on that theme) today in America, is the central obstacle to true women’s liberation (socialization of housework, collective responsibility for childcare, greater access to higher levels in the workplace, etc.). As stated what is necessary is to recognize that victory in the class struggle by the working class will, of necessity have to address the myriad problems connected with the special oppression of women (black and other oppressed groups as well). Let’s get to it.
Workers Vanguard No. 982
10 June 2011

Feminism vs. Marxism: Origins of the Conflict

From Women and Revolution, 1974

(Young Spartacus pages)

We reprint below an article with minor corrections from the Spring 1974 issue of Women and Revolution (No. 5), which was the journal of the Spartacist League Central Committee Commission for Work Among Women from 1973 until 1996.
Contrary to an opinion still subscribed to in certain circles, modern feminism did not emerge full-grown from the fertile womb of the New Left, but is in fact an ideological offspring of the utopian egalitarianism of the early nineteenth century, which was in turn a product of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. It is noteworthy that the most original theorist of utopian socialism, Charles Fourier, was also the first advocate of women’s liberation through the replacement of the nuclear family by collective child rearing. Since utopian socialism (including its solution to the problem of the oppression of women) represented the ideals of the bourgeois-democratic revolution breaking through the barriers of private property, it was historically progressive. However, with the genesis of Marxism and the recognition that an egalitarian society can emerge only out of the rule of the working class, feminism (like other forms of utopian egalitarianism) lost its progressive aspect and became an ideology of the left wing of liberal individualism, a position which it continues to occupy to this day.

Women in the Bourgeois-Democratic Vision

Without question, the most important bourgeois-democratic work on women’s liberation was Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman written in 1792. Wollstonecraft was part of a circle of English radical democrats which included William Blake, Tom Paine and William Godwin, whose political lives came to be dominated by the French Revolution. A year before she wrote her classic on sexual equality, Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Man, a polemic against Edmund Burke’s counterrevolutionary writings. A few years after, she was to attempt a history of the French Revolution.

While informed and imbued with moral outrage as a result of her own experiences as an unmarried, middle-class woman (she worked as a school teacher and governess), Vindication is essentially an extension of the principles of the Enlightenment and French Revolution to women. The first chapter, entitled “Rights and Duties of Mankind,” sets the theoretical framework. Vindication rests heavily on analogies between the basis for the equality of women and general social equality.

For a contemporary reader, Vindication seems a highly unbalanced work. While the description of the role of women continues to be relevant, Wollstonecraft’s solutions appear pallid. Her main programmatic demand, to which she devotes the concluding chapter, is uniform education for girls and boys. Even when she wrote Vindication this was only a moderately radical proposal. In fact in the very year that Vindication was written, a similar educational program was proposed in the French Assembly. Yet generations after the establishment of coeducation and the even more radical reform of women’s suffrage, Wollstonecraft’s depiction of women’s role in society continues to ring true.

Although Wollstonecraft was one of the most radical political activists of her day (shortly after writing her classic on women’s rights, she crossed the Channel to take part in the revolutionary French government), Vindication has an unexpectedly moralizing and personalist character. Like many feminists of our day, she appeals to men to recognize the full humanity of women and to women to stop being sex objects and develop themselves. And there is the same conviction that if only men and women would really believe in these ideals and behave accordingly, then women would achieve equality.

The emphasis on individual relationships is not peculiar to Wollstonecraft, but arises from the inherent contradiction within the bourgeois-democratic approach to women’s oppression. Wollstonecraft accepted the nuclear family as the central institution of society and argued for sexual equality within that framework.

By accepting the basic role of women as mothers, Wollstonecraft accepted a division of labor in which women were necessarily economically dependent on their husbands. Therefore, women’s equality was essentially dependent on how the marriage partners treated one another. In good part, Vindication is an argument that parents and particularly fathers should raise their daughters more like their sons in order to bring out their true potential. But if fathers reject education for their daughters, there is no other recourse. Here we have the limits both of bourgeois democracy and of Wollstonecraft’s vision.

Charles Fourier and the Abolition of the Family

The status of women in the nineteenth century represented the most acute and manifest expression of the contradiction between capitalist society and its own ideals. It was this contradiction that gave birth to utopian socialism. Early in the nineteenth century it became apparent to those still committed to the ideals of the French Revolution that liberty, equality and fraternity were not compatible with private property in a competitive market economy. As the most incisive of the pioneer socialists, Charles Fourier, put it:

“Philosophy was right to vaunt liberty; it is the foremost desire of all creatures. But philosophy forgot that in civilized society liberty is illusory if the common people lack wealth. When the wage-earning classes are poor, their independence is as fragile as a house without foundations. The free man who lacks wealth immediately sinks back under the yoke of the rich.”

—Beecher and Bienvenu (Eds.), The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier

And when Fourier applied the same critical concepts to the status of women, he reached equally radical, anti-bourgeois conclusions. The importance that Fourier attributed to the condition of women is well known:

“Social progress and changes of period are brought about by virtue of the progress of women toward liberty, and social retrogression occurs as a result of a diminution in the liberty of women…. In summary, the extension of the privileges of women is the fundamental cause of all social progress.”


What is of decisive importance about Fourier’s concern for women’s oppression is that he put forth a program for the total reconstruction of society that would end the historic division of labor between men and women. In Fourier’s projected socialist community, children were raised collectively with no particular relation to their biological parents, men and women performed the same work and total sexual liberty was encouraged. (He regarded heterosexual monogamy as the extension of bourgeois property concepts to the sexual sphere.)

Fourier’s intense hostility to the patriarchal family in good part derived from his realization that it was inherently sexually repressive. In this he anticipated much of radical Freudianism. For example, he observed, “There are still many parents who allow their unmarried daughters to suffer and die for want of sexual satisfaction” (Ibid.).

Despite the fantastic nature of his projected socialist communities or “phalanxes,” Fourier’s program contained the rational core for the reorganization of society needed to liberate women. He was uniquely responsible for making the demand for the liberation of women through the abolition of the nuclear family an integral part of the socialist program which the young Marx and Engels inherited. Engels was more than willing (for example, in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific) to pay homage to the primary author of the socialist program for women’s liberation.

Utopian Egalitarianism and Women’s Liberation

While not giving the woman question the centrality it had in Fourierism, the two other major currents of early nineteenth-century socialism, Owenism and Saint-Simonism, were also unambiguously committed to sexual equality and opposed to legally enforced monogamy. The political life of the early nineteenth century was characterized by the complete interpenetration of the struggle for women’s liberation and the general struggle for an egalitarian society. Those women advocating women’s rights (no less than the men who did so) did not view this question as distinct from, much less counterposed to, the general movement for a rational social order. Those women who championed sexual equality were either socialists or radical democrats whose activity on behalf of women’s rights occupied only a fraction of their political lives. The most radical women advocates of sexual equality—the Americans Frances Wright and Margaret Fuller and the Frenchwoman Flora Tristan—all conform to this political profile.

Frances Wright began her political career as a liberal reformer with a tract in favor of the abolition of slavery. She was won to socialism by Robert Dale Owen, Robert Owen’s son, who immigrated to the U.S. to become its most important radical socialist in the 1820-30’s. Wright established an Owenite commune in Tennessee modeled on the famous one at New Harmony, Indiana. In 1828-29, she and Robert Dale Owen edited the Free Enquirer, a newspaper associated with the New York Workingman’s Party which championed universal suffrage, free public education, “free love” and birth control.

Margaret Fuller, whose Women in the Nineteenth Century was the most influential women’s rights work of her generation, was a product of New England Transcendentalism and had edited a journal with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Like Wollstonecraft, Margaret Fuller approached the woman question from the standpoint of religious radicalism (the equality of souls).

Fuller was associated with the Transcendentalist commune, Brook Farm, about the time it was transformed into a Fourierist community or “phalanx,” the year before she wrote her classic on women’s equality. Shortly after that she went to Europe and became involved in the democratic nationalist movements that were a mainspring in the revolutions of 1848. In that momentous year, she went to Italy to run a hospital for Guiseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy movement.

The most important woman socialist of the pre-1848 era was Flora Tristan. She began her revolutionary career with a tract in favor of legalized divorce, which had been outlawed in France following the reaction of 1815. (As a young woman Tristan had left her husband, an act which resulted in social ostracism and continual hardship throughout her life.) Her work on divorce led to a correspondence with the aging Fourier and a commitment to socialism. Among the most cosmopolitan of socialists, Tristan had crisscrossed the Channel playing an active role in both the Owenite and Chartist movements. Summing up her political situation in a letter to Victor Considerant, leader of the Fourierist movement after the master’s death, she wrote: “Almost the entire world is against me, men because I am demanding the emancipation of women, the propertied classes because I am demanding the emancipation of the wage earners” (Goldsmith, Seven Women Against the World).

In the 1840’s the ancient French craft unions, the compagnons, were transforming themselves into modern trade unions. This process produced an embryonic revolutionary socialist labor movement whose main leaders were Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Auguste Blanqui and Etienne Cabet. Flora Tristan was part of this nascent proletarian socialist movement. Her The Workers Union, written in 1843, was the most advanced statement of proletarian socialism up to its day. Its central theme was the need for an international workers’ organization. (Marx met Tristan while he was in Paris and was undoubtedly influenced by her work.) The concluding passage of The Workers Union affirms: “Union is power if we unite on the social and political field, on the ground of equal rights for both sexes, if we organize labor, we shall win welfare for all.”

The Workers Union devotes a section to the problems of women and its concluding passage indicates the integral role that sexual equality had in Tristan’s concept of socialism: “We have resolved to include in our Charter woman’s sacred and inalienable rights. We desire that men should give to their wives and mothers the liberty and absolute equality which they enjoy themselves.”

Flora Tristan died of typhoid in 1844 at the age of 41. Had she survived the catastrophe of 1848 and remained politically active, the history of European socialism might well have been different, for she was free of the residual Jacobinism of Blanqui and the artisan philistinism of Proudhon.

Contemporary feminists and bourgeois historians tend to label all early nineteenth-century female advocates of sexual equality feminists. This is a wholly illegitimate analysis—a projection of current categories back into a time when they are meaningless. As a delimited movement and distinctive ideology feminism did not exist in the early nineteenth century. Virtually all the advocates of full sexual equality considered this an integral part of the movement for a generally free and egalitarian society rooted in Enlightenment principles and carrying forward the American and particularly the French Revolutions. The American Owenite Frances Wright was no more a feminist than the English Owenite William Thompson, who wrote An appeal of one half the Human Race, Women, against the pretentions of the other Half, Men, to keep them in Civil and Domestic Slavery. Flora Tristan was no more a feminist than was Fourier.

In the 1840’s, a Transcendentalist radical like Margaret Fuller, a nationalist democrat like Guiseppe Mazzini and a socialist working-class organizer like Etienne Cabet could consider themselves part of a common political movement whose program was encapsulated in the slogan, “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” In its most radical expression, this movement looked forward to a single, total revolution which would simultaneously establish democracy, eliminate classes, achieve equality for women and end national oppression.

This vision was defeated on the barricades in 1848. And with that defeat, the component elements of early nineteenth-century radicalism (liberal democracy and socialism, trade unionism, women’s equality and national liberation) separated and began to compete and conflict with one another. After 1848, it seemed that bourgeois society would continue for some time and that the interests of the oppressed, be they workers, women or nations, would have to be realized within its framework. Feminism (like trade unionism and national liberation) emerged as a delimited movement with its own constituency, ideology and organization only after the great catastrophe of 1848 had temporarily dispelled the vision of a fundamentally new social order.

Marx Against Utopian Egalitarianism

It is sometimes written that Fourier regarded socialism more as a means of overcoming women’s oppression than class oppression. This is a post-Marx way of looking at politics and not how Fourier would have viewed it. He would have said that he projected a society which would satisfy human needs and that the most striking thing about it was the radical change in the role of women. As opposed to the materialist view that different political movements represent the interests of different classes, utopian socialism shared the rational idealistic conception of political motivation characteristic of the Enlightenment—i.e., that different political movements reflect different conceptions of the best possible social organization. The idealism of early socialism was probably inevitable since it was produced by those revolutionary bourgeois democrats who maintained their principles after the actual bourgeoisie had abandoned revolutionary democracy. The social base of early socialism was those petty-bourgeois radicals who had gone beyond the interests and real historic possibilities of their class. This was most true of German “True Socialism” which, in a nation with virtually no industrial workers and a conservative, traditionalist petty bourgeoisie, was purely a literary movement. It was least true of English Owenism, which had intersected the embryonic labor movement while retaining a large element of liberal philanthropism.

By the 1840’s a working-class movement had arisen in France, Belgium and England which was attracted to socialist ideas and organization. However, the relationship of the new-fledged socialist workers’ organizations to the older socialist currents, as well as to liberal democracy and the political expressions of women’s rights and national liberation, remained confused in all existing socialist theories. It was Marx who cut the Gordian knot and provided a coherent, realistic analysis of the social basis for the socialist movement within bourgeois society.

Marx asserted that the working class was the social group which would play the primary and distinctive role in establishing socialism. This was so because the working class was that social group whose interests and condition were most in harmony with a collectivist economy or, conversely, which had the least stake in the capitalist mode of production.

Marx’s appreciation of the role of the proletariat was not deduced from German philosophy, but was the result of his experience in France in the 1840’s. Socialism had manifestly polarized French society along class lines, the main base for socialism being the industrial working class, the propertied classes being implacably hostile and the petty bourgeoisie vacillating, often seeking a utopian third road.

For Marx the predominance of intellectuals in the early socialist movement was not proof that the socialist movement could be based on universal reason. Rather it was necessarily a phenomenon partly reflecting the contradictions of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and partly anticipating the new alignment of class forces: “A portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat and in particular, a portion of bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole” (Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto).

The propertied, educated classes could not be won to socialism on the basis of rational and democratic ideals even though objectively those ideals could only be realized under socialism. Along the same lines, women of the privileged class and the ruling stratum of oppressed nationalities cannot in general be won to socialism even though objectively sexual equality and national liberation can only be realized under socialism.

Closely related to the question of the class basis of the socialist movement is the question of the material conditions under which socialism can be established. Reflecting on pre-Marxist socialism in his later years, Engels quipped that the utopians believed that the reason socialism hadn’t been established before was that nobody had ever thought of it. That Engels’ witticism was only a slight exaggeration is shown by the importance of communal experiments in the early socialist movement, indicating a belief that socialism could be established under any and all conditions if a group really wanted it. The primacy of voluntarism for the early socialists again reflected the fact that their thinking was rooted in eighteenth-century, individualistic idealism which, in turn, derived from Protestantism, an earlier bourgeois ideology.

In sharp and deliberate contrast to the utopians, Marx asserted that inequality and oppression were necessary consequences of economic scarcity and attempts to eliminate them through communal escapism or political coercion were bound to fail:

“…this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historic, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced....” [emphasis in original]

—Karl Marx, The German Ideology

Marx’s assertion that inequality and oppression are historically necessary and can be overcome only through the total development of society, centering on the raising of the productive forces, represents his most fundamental break with progressive bourgeois ideology. Therefore, to this day, these concepts are the most unpalatable aspects of Marxism for those attracted to socialism from a liberal humanist outlook:

“...although at first the development of the capacities of the human species takes place at the cost of the majority of human individuals and even classes, in the end it breaks through this contradiction and coincides with the development of the individual; the higher level of individuality is thus only achieved by a historical process in which individuals are sacrificed....”

—Karl Marx, Theories of
Surplus Value

“ is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world and by employing real means,...slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, general people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. ‘Liberation’ is an historical and not a mental act, and it is brought about by historical conditions, the development of industry, commerce, agriculture, the conditions of intercourse....”

—Karl Marx, The German Ideology

It is evident that “women” can replace “individuals” and “classes” in these passages without doing damage to their meaning, since Marx regarded women’s oppression as a necessary aspect of that stage in human development associated with class society.

Marx’s programmatic differences with the utopians were encapsulated in the concept of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which he regarded as one of his few original, important contributions to socialist theory. The dictatorship of the proletariat is that period after the overthrow of the capitalist state when the working class administers society in order to create the economic and cultural conditions for socialism.

During the dictatorship of the proletariat, the restoration of capitalism remains a possibility. This is not primarily due to the machinations of die-hard reactionaries but arises rather out of the conflicts and tensions generated by the continuation of global economic scarcity.

This economic scarcity is caused not only by inadequate physical means of production. Even more importantly it derives from the inadequate and extremely uneven cultural level inherited from capitalism. Socialist superabundance presupposes an enormous raising of the cultural level of mankind. The “average” person under socialism would have the knowledge and capacity of several learned professions in contemporary society.

However, in the period immediately following the revolution, the administration of production will necessarily be largely limited to that elite trained in bourgeois society, since training their replacements will take time. Therefore, skilled specialists such as the director of an airport, chief of surgery in a hospital or head of a nuclear power station will have to be drawn from the educated, privileged classes of the old capitalist society. Although in a qualitatively diminished way, the dictatorship of the proletariat will continue to exhibit economic inequality, a hierarchic division of labor and those aspects of social oppression rooted in the cultural level inherited from bourgeois society (e.g., racist attitudes will not disappear the day after the revolution).

These general principles concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat likewise apply to the woman question. To the extent that it rests on the cultural level inherited from capitalism, certain aspects of sexual inequality and oppression will continue well into the dictatorship of the proletariat. The population cannot be totally re-educated nor can a psychological pattern instilled in men and women from infancy be fully eliminated or reversed.

The rejection of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessary transition period to socialism is the central justification for utopian egalitarianism (including radical or “socialist” feminism) in the era of Marxism.

The Battle over Protective Labor Legislation

Feminism was one of the three major extensions of utopian egalitarianism into the post-1848 era, the other two being anarchism and artisan cooperativism (Proudhonism). In fact, during the later nineteenth century radical feminism and anarchism heavily interpenetrated one another both as regards their position on the woman question and in personnel. The decisive element in common among feminism, anarchism and cooperativism was a commitment to a level of social equality and individual freedom impossible to attain not only under capitalism, but in the period following its overthrow. At a general ideological level, feminism was bourgeois individualism in conflict with the realities and limits of bourgeois society.

During their lifetimes, Marx and Engels had two notable conflicts with organized feminism—continual clashes in the context of the struggle for protective labor legislation and a short faction fight in the American section of the First International. While the question of protective labor legislation covered a great deal of ground at many levels of concreteness, the central difference between the Marxists and feminists over this issue was also the central difference between Marxism and utopian egalitarianism—i.e., the question of the primacy of the material well-being of the masses and the historical interests of the socialist movement vis-à-vis formal equality within bourgeois society.

The feminist opposition to protective labor legislation argued and continues to argue that it would mean legal inequality in the status of women and that it was partly motivated by paternalistic, male-chauvinist prejudices. Marx and Engels recognized these facts but maintained that the physical well-being of working women and the interests of the entire class in reducing the intensity of exploitation more than offset this formal and ideological inequality. Writing to Gertrud Guillaume-Schack, a German feminist who later became an anarchist, Engels stated his case:

“That the working woman needs special protection against capitalist exploitation because of her special physiological functions seems obvious to me. The English women who championed the formal right of members of their sex to permit themselves to be as thoroughly exploited by the capitalists as the men are mostly, directly or indirectly, interested in the capitalist exploitation of both sexes. I admit I am more interested in the health of the future generation than in the absolute formal equality of the sexes in the last years of the capitalist mode of production. It is my conviction that real equality of women and men can come true only when exploitation of either by capital has been abolished and private housework has been transformed into a public industry.”

—Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Letter to Guillaume-Schack of 5 July 1885

Thus Engels recognized in feminism the false consciousness of the privileged classes of women who believe that since they themselves are oppressed only as women, sexual inequality is the only significant form of oppression.

Guillaume-Schack’s conversion to anarchism was not accidental, for the anarchists also opposed protective labor legislation for women as an inconsistent, inegalitarian reform. Writing a polemic against the Italian anarchists in the early 1870’s, Marx ridiculed the “logic” that one “must not take the trouble to obtain legal prohibition of the employment of girls under 10 in factories because a stop is not thereby put to the exploitation of boys under 10”—that this was a “compromise which damages the purity of eternal principles” (quoted in Hal Draper, International Socialism, July-August 1970).

Woodhull versus Sorge in the First International

Because of the catch-all nature of the First International, the Marxist tendency had to wage major internal factional struggles against the most characteristic left currents in the various countries (e.g., trade-union reformism in Britain, Proudhon’s cooperativism in France, Lasalle’s state socialism in Germany and anarchism in Eastern and Southern Europe). It is therefore highly symptomatic that the major factional struggle within the American section centered around feminism, a variant of petty-bourgeois radicalism. In the most general sense, the importance of the Woodhull tendency reflected the greater political weight of the American liberal middle class relative to the proletariat than in European class alignments. Historically petty-bourgeois moralism has been more influential in American socialism than in virtually any other country. This was particularly pronounced in the period after the Civil War when abolitionism served as the model for native American radicalism.

The relative political backwardness of the American working class is rooted primarily in the process of its development through successive waves of immigration from different countries. This created such intense ethnic divisions that it impeded even elementary trade-union organization. In addition, many of the immigrant workers who came from peasant backgrounds were imbued with strong religious, racial and sexual prejudices and a generally low cultural level which impeded class—much less socialist—consciousness. In general the discontent of American workers was channeled by the petty bourgeoisie of the various ethnic groups into the struggle for their own place in the parliamentary-state apparatus.

The American working class’s lack of strong organization, its ethnic electoral politics and relatively backward social attitudes created a political climate in which “enlightened middle-class socialism” was bound to flourish. Not least important in this respect was the fact that the liberal middle classes were Protestant while the industrial working class was heavily Roman Catholic. Indeed, an important aspect of the Woodhull/Sorge fight was over an orientation toward Irish Catholic workers.

Victoria Woodhull was the best-known (more accurately notorious) “free love” advocate of her day, ambitious and with a gift for political showmanship. Seeing that the First International was becoming fashionable, she organized her own section of it (Section 12) along with remnants of the New Democracy, a middle-class, electoral-reformist organization, led by Samuel Foot Andrews, a former abolitionist. The Woodhullites thus entered the First International as a radical liberal faction, with an emphasis on women’s rights and an electoralist strategy.

Section 12 rapidly retranslated the principles of the First International into the language of American liberal democracy. Needless to say, it came out for total organizational federalism with each section free to pursue its own activities and line within the general principles of the International. Section 12’s political line and organizational activities (its official paper, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, preached spiritualism among other things) quickly brought it into conflict within the Marxist tendency, led by the German veteran of the 1848 Revolution, Friedrich Sorge. Section 12 was able to cause much factional trouble, not only in the U.S. but abroad, because its radical liberalism fed into the growing anarchist, electoral-reformist and federalist currents in the International. The Woodhullites were part of a rotten bloc which coalesced against the Marxist leadership of the First International in 1871-72. Woodhull enjoyed a short stay in the anarchist International in 1873 on her way to becoming a wealthy eccentric.

The immediate issue of the faction fight was the priority of women’s rights, notably suffrage, over labor issues particularly the eight-hour day. That for the Woodhullites what was involved was not a matter of programmatic emphasis, but a counterposition to proletarian socialism was made explicit after the split with Sorge: “The extension of equal citizenship to women, the world over, must precede any general change in the subsisting relation of capital and labor” [emphasis in original] (Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, 18 November 1871).

After splitting with the Sorge wing, while still claiming loyalty to the First International, Section 12 organized the Equal Rights Party in order to run Woodhull for president in 1872. The program was straight left-liberalism without any proletarian thrust. It called for “...a truly republican government which shall not only recognize but guarantee equal political and social rights to men and women, and which shall secure equal opportunities of education for all children” (Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, 20 April 1872).

The general political principles of the Woodhullites were clearly expressed in their appeal to the General Council of the First International against the Sorge wing:

“It [the object of the International] involves, first, the Political Equality and Social Freedom of men and women alike.... Social Freedom means absolute immunity from the impertinent intrusion in all affairs of exclusively personal concernment, such as religious belief, sexual relations, habits of dress, etc.” [emphasis in original]

—Documents of the First International, The General Council; Minutes 1871-72

This appeal was answered by a resolution written by Marx, which suspended Section 12. After cataloguing the organizational abuses and rotten politics, Marx concluded by reasserting the central difference between democratic egalitarianism and proletarian socialism—namely, that the end to all forms of oppression must run through the victory of the working class over capitalism. Marx called attention to past International documents:

“…relating to ‘sectarian sections’ or ‘separatist bodies pretending to accomplish special missions’ distinct from the common aim of the Association [First International], viz. to emancipate the mass of labour from its ‘economical subjection to the monopolizer of the means of labour’ which lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of social misery, mental degradation and political dependence.”


While the Marxist case against the Woodhullites centered on their electoralism, middle-class orientation and quackery, the role of “free love” in the socialist movement had a definite significance in the fight. While including personal sexual freedom in their program, the Marxists insisted on a cautious approach to this question when dealing with more backward sections of the working class. By flaunting a sexually “liberated” life-style, the Woodhullites would have created a nearly impenetrable barrier to winning over conventional and religious workers. One of the main charges that Sorge brought against Section 12 at the Hague Conference in 1872 was that its activities had made it much more difficult for the International to reach the strategically placed Irish Catholic workers.

The historic relevance of the Woodhull/Sorge faction fight is that it demonstrated, in a rather pure way, the basis of feminism in classic bourgeois-democratic principles, particularly individualism. It further demonstrated that feminist currents tend to be absorbed into liberal reformism or anarchistic petty-bourgeois radicalism, both of which invariably unite against revolutionary proletarian socialism.