Sunday, July 19, 2020

An Encore -The Son Of Dharma-With Jack Kerouac’s On The Road In Mind

An Encore -The Son Of Dharma-With Jack Kerouac’s On The Road In Mind

Jack Callahan thought he was going crazy when he thought about the matter after he had awoken from his fitful dream. Thought he was crazy for “channeling” Jack Kerouac, or rather more specifically channeling Jack’s definitive book On The Road, definite in giving him and a goodly portion of his generation that last push to go, well, go search a new world, or at least get the dust of your old town growing up off of your shoes, that had much to do with his wanderings. Got him going in search of what his late corner boy, “the Scribe,” Peter Paul Markin called the search for the Great Blue-Pink American West Night (Markin always capitalized that concept so since I too was influenced by the mad man’s dreams I will do so here). Any way you cut it seeking that new world that gave Jack his fitful dream. That  “driving him crazy” stemmed from the fact that those wanderings, that search had begun, and finished shortly thereafter, about fifty years before when he left the road after a few months for the hand of Chrissie McNamara and a settled life. Decided that like many others who went that same route he was not build for the long haul road after all.  

But maybe it is best to go back to the beginning, not the fifty years beginning, Jesus, who could remember, maybe want to remember incidents that far back, but to the night several weeks before when Jack, Frankie Riley, who had been our acknowledged corner boy leader out in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alleys from about senior year in high school in 1966 and a couple of years after when for a whole assortment of reasons, including the wanderings, the crowd went its separate ways, Jimmy Jenkins, Allan Johnson, Bart Webber, Josh Breslin, Rich Rizzo, Sam Eaton and me got together for one of our periodic “remember back in the day” get-togethers over at “Jack’s” in Cambridge a few block down Massachusetts Avenue from where Jimmy lives. We have probably done this a dozen time over the past decade or so, more recently as most of us have more time to spent at a hard night’s drinking (drinking high-shelf liquors as we always laugh about since in the old days we collectively could not have afforded one high-shelf drink and were reduced to drinking rotgut wines and seemingly just mashed whiskeys, and draino Southern Comfort, and that draino designation no lie, especially the first time you took a slug, the only way to take it, before you acquired the taste for it).

The night I am talking about though as the liquor began to take effect someone, Bart I think, mentioned that he had read in the Globe that up in Lowell they were exhibiting the teletype roll of paper that Jack Kerouac had typed the most definitive draft of his classic youth nation travel book, On The Road in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of its publication in 1957. That information stopped everybody in the group’s tracks for a moment. Partly because everybody at the table, except Rich Rizzo, had taken some version of Kerouac’s book to heart as did thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of certified members of the generation of ’68 who went wandering in that good 1960s night. But most of all because etched in everybody’s memory were thoughts of the mad monk monster bastard saint who turned us all on to the book, and to the wanderings, the late Peter Paul Markin.

Yeah, we still moan for that sainted bastard all these years later whenever something from our youths come up. It might be an anniversary, it might be all too often the passing of some iconic figure from those times, or it might be passing some place that was associated with our crowd, and with Markin. See Markin was something like a “prophet” to us, not the old time biblical long-beard and ranting guys although maybe he did think he was in that line of work, but as the herald of what he called “a fresh breeze coming across the land” early in the 1960s. Something of a nomadic “hippie” slightly before his time (including wearing his hair-pre moppet Beatles too long for working class North Adamsville tastes, especially his mother’s, who insisted on boys’ regulars and so another round was fought out to something like a stand-still then in the Markin household saga). The time of Markin’s “prophesies,” the hard-bitten Friday or Saturday night times when nothing to do and nothing to do it with he would hold forth, was however a time when we could have given a rat’s ass about some new wave forming in Markin’s mind (and that “rat’s ass” was the term of art we used on such occasions).

We would change our collective tunes later in the decade but then, and on Markin’s more sober days he would be clamoring over the same things, all we cared about was girls (or rather “getting into their pants”), getting dough for dates and walking around money (and planning small larcenies to obtain the filthy lucre), and getting a “boss” car, like a ’57 Chevy or at least a friend that had one in order to “do the do” with said girls and spend some dough at places like drive-in theaters and drive-in restaurants (mandatory if you wanted to get past square one with girls, the girls we knew, or were attracted to, in those days).           

Markin was whistling in the dark for a long time, past high school and maybe a couple of years after. He wore us down though pushing us to go up to Harvard Square in Cambridge to see guys with long hair and faded clothes and girls with long hair which looked like they had used an iron to iron it out sing, read poetry, and just hang-out. Hang out waiting for that same “fresh breeze” that Markin spent many a girl-less, dough-less, car-less Friday or Saturday night serenading us heathens about. I don’t know how many times he dragged me, and usually Bart Webber, in his trail on the late night subway to hear some latest thing in the early 1960s folk minute which I could barely stand then, and which I still grind my teeth over when I hear some associates going on and on about guys like Bob Dylan, Tom Rush and Dave Von Ronk and gals like Joan Baez, the one I heard later started the whole iron your long hair craze among seemingly rationale girls. Of course I did tolerate the music better once a couple of Cambridge girls asked me if I liked folk music one time in a coffeehouse and I said of course I did and took Markin aside to give me some names to throw at them. One girl, Lorna, I actually dated off and on for several months.

But enough of me and my youthful antics, and enough too of Markin and his wiggy ideas because this screed is about Jack Kerouac, about the effect of his major book, and why Jack Callahan of all people who among those of us corner boys from Jack Slack’s who followed Markin on the roads west left it the earliest. Left to go back to Chrissie, and eventually a car dealership, Toyota, that had him Mr. Toyota around Eastern Massachusetts (and of course Chrissie as Mrs. Toyota).

In a lot of ways Markin was only the messenger, the prodder, because when he eventually convinced us all to read the damn book at different points when we were all, all in our own ways getting wrapped up in the 1960s counter-cultural movement (and some of us the alternative political part too) we were in thrall to what adventures Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty were up to. That is why I think Jack had his dreams after the all-night discussions we had. Of course Markin came in for his fair share of comment, good and bad. But what we talked about mostly was how improbable on the face of it a poor working-class kid from the textile mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, from a staunch Roman Catholic French-Canadian heritage of those who came south to “see if the streets of America really were paved with gold” would seem an unlikely person to be involved in a movement that in many ways was the opposite of what his generation, the parents of our generation of ’68 to put the matter in perspective, born in the 1920s, coming of age in the Great Depression and slogging through World War II was searching for in the post-World War II “golden age of America.”  Add in that he also was a “jock” (no slur intended as we spent more than our fair share of time talking about sports on those girl-less, dough-less, car-less weekend nights, including Markin who had this complicated way that he figured out the top ten college football teams since they didn’t a play-off system to figure it out. Of course he was like the rest of us a Notre Dame “subway” fan), a guy who played hooky to go read books and who hung out with a bunch of corner boys just like us would be-bop part of his own generation and influence our generation enough to get some of us on the roads too. Go figure.       

So we, even Markin when he was in high flower, did not “invent” the era whole, especially in the cultural, personal ethos part, the part about skipping for a while anyway the nine to five work routine, the white house and picket fence family routine, the hold your breath nose to the grindstone routine and discovering the lure of the road and of discovering ourselves, and of the limits of our capacity to wonder. No question that elements of the generation before us, Jack Kerouac’s, the sullen West Coast hot-rodders, the perfect wave surfers, the teen-alienated rebel James Dean and wild one Marlon Brando we saw on Saturday afternoon matinee Strand Theater movie screens and above all his “beats” helped push the can down the road, especially the “beats” who along with Jack wrote to the high heavens about what they did, how they did it and what the hell it was they were running from. Yeah, gave us a road map to seek that “newer world” Markin got some of us wrapped up in later in the decade and the early part of the next.

Now the truth of the matter is that most generation of ‘68ers, us, only caught the tail-end of the “beat” scene, the end where mainstream culture and commerce made it into just another “bummer” like they have done with any movement that threatened to get out of hand. So most of us who were affected by the be-bop sound and feel of the “beats” got what we knew from reading about them. And above all, above even Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem, Howl which was a clarion call for rebellion, was Jack Kerouac who thrilled even those who did not go out in the search the great blue-pink American West night.              

Here the odd thing, Kerouac except for that short burst in the late 1940s and a couple of vagrant road trips in the 1950s before fame struck him down was almost the antithesis of what we of the generation of ’68 were striving to accomplish. As is fairly well known, or was by those who lived through the 1960s, he would eventually disown his “step-children.” Be that as it may his role, earned or not, wanted or not, as media-anointed “king of the beats” was decisive.           

But enough of the quasi-literary treatment that I have drifted into when I really wanted to tell you about what Bart Webber told me about his dream. He dreamed that he, after about sixty-five kinds of hell with his mother who wanted him to stay home and start that printing business that he had dreamed of since about third grade when he read about how his hero Benjamin Franklin had started in the business, get married to Betsy Binstock, buy a white picket fence house (a step up from the triple decker tenement where he grew up) have children, really grandchildren and have a happy if stilted life. But his mother advise fell off him like a dripping rain, hell, after-all he was caught in that 1960s moment when everything kind of got off-center and so he under the constant prodding of Markin decided to hit the road. Of course the Kerouac part came in from reading the book after about seven million drum-fire assaults by Markin pressing him to read the thing.

So there he was by himself. Markin and I were already in San Francisco so that was the story he gave his mother for going and also did not tell her that he was going  to hitchhike to save money and hell just to do it. It sounded easy in the book. So he went south little to hit Route 6 (a more easterly part of that road in upstate New York which Sal unsuccessfully started his trip on). There he met a young guy, kind of short, black hair, built like a football player who called himself Ti Jean, claimed he was French- Canadian and hailed from Nashua up in New Hampshire but had been living in Barnstable for the summer and was now heading west to see what that summer of love was all about.

Bart was ecstatic to have somebody to kind of show him the ropes, what to do and don’t do on the road to keep moving along. So they travelled together for a while, a long while first hitting New York City where Ti Jean knew a bunch of older guys, gypsy poets, sullen hipsters, con men, drifters and grifters, guys who looked like they had just come out some “beat” movie. Guys who knew what was what about Times Square, about dope, about saying adieu to the American dream of their parents to be free to do as they pleased. Good guys though who taught him a few things about the road since they said they had been on that road since the 1940s.

Ti Jean whose did not look that old said he was there with them, had blown out of Brockton after graduating high school where he had been an outstanding sprinter who could have had a scholarship if his grades had been better. Had gone to prep school in Providence to up his marks, had then been given a track scholarship to Brown, kind of blew that off when Providence seemed too provincial to him, had fled to New York one fine day where he sailed out for a while in the merchant marines to do his bit for the war effort. Hanging around New York in between sailings he met guys who were serious about reading, serious about talking about what they read, and serious about not being caught in anything but what pleased them for the moment. Some of this was self-taught, some picked up from the hipsters and hustlers.

After the war was over, still off-center about what to do about this writing bug that kept gnawing at him despite everybody, his minute wife, his love mother, his carping father telling him to get a profession writing wasn’t where any dough was, any dough for him he met this guy, a hard knocks guys who was something like a plebeian philosopher king, Ned Connelly, who was crazy to fix up cars and drive them, drive them anyway. Which was great since Ti Jean didn’t have a license, didn’t know step one about how to shift gears and hated driving although he loved riding shot-gun getting all blasted on the dope in the glove compartment and the be-bop jazz on the radio. So they tagged along together for a couple of years, zigged and zagged across the continent, hell, went to Mexico too to get that primo dope that he/they craved, got drunk as skunks more times than you could shake a stick, got laid more times than you would think by girls who you would not suspect were horny but were, worked a few short jobs picking produce in the California fields, stole when there was no work, pimped a couple of girls for a while to get a stake and had a hell of time while the “squares” were doing whatever squares do. And then he wrote some book about it, a book that was never published because there were too many squares who could not relate to what he and Ned were about. He was hoping that the kids he saw on the road, kids like Bart would keep the thing moving along as he left Bart at the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge on their last ride together.

Then Bart woke up, woke up to the fact that he stayed on the road too short a time now looking back on it. That guy Ti Jean had it right though, live fast, drink hard and let the rest of it take care of itself. Thanks Markin.               

On The 81st Anniversary Year Of The Defeat Of The Spanish Revolution- The Lessons Learned

On The 81st  Anniversary Year Of The Defeat Of The Spanish Revolution- The Lessons Learned

On The 78th Anniversary Year Of The Defeat Of The Spanish Revolution- The Lessons Learned

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

In July 1936 General Franco led a military uprising against the legally elected Popular Front government in Spain which set off three years of war, set off the Spanish Civil War, which proved to be a prelude, a “dress rehearsal” for World War II. That uprising, the initial massively popular fight against it by the leftist workers and peasants, and the ultimate victory by Franco’s forces and a forty year “night of the long knives” reign of terror in 1939 is filled with lessons for leftists today. Therefore it seems fitting to me that while we are sadly commemorating the 78th anniversary of the defeat I can pass on some lessons that others have drawn from that experience both while the events were unfolding and later. 

Leon Trotsky

The Lessons of Spain:
The Last Warning

(December 1937)

Written: 17 December 1937.
First Published: Socialist Appeal [New York], 
Vol. II No. 2, 8 January 1938, pp. 4–5 & Vol.Vol. II No. 3, 15 January 1938, pp. 4–5 & 8.
Translated: Socialist Appeal.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Matt Siegried.
Einde O’Callaghan (April 2015).
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 1999. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the 
GNU Free Documentation License.

Socialist AppealVol. II No. 2, 8 January 1938, pp. 4–5.

Menshevism and Bolshevism in Spain

All general staffs are studying closely the military operations in Ethiopia, in Spain and in the Far East in preparation for the great future war. The battles of the Spanish proletariat heat lightening flashes of the coming world revolution, should be no less attentively studied by the revolutionary staffs. Under this condition and this condition alone will the coming events not take us unawares.
Three ideologies fought – with unequal forces – in the so-called republican camp, namely, Menshevism, Bolshevism, and anarchism. As regards the bourgeois republican parties, they were without either independent ideas or independent political significance and were able to maintain themselves only by climbing on the backs of the reformists and Anarchists. Moreover, it is no exaggeration to say that the leaders of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism did everything to repudiate their doctrine and virtually reduce its significance to zero. Actually two doctrines in the so-called republican camp fought – Menshevism and Bolshevism.
According to the Socialists and Stalinists, i.e., the Mensheviks of the first and second instances, the Spanish revolution was called upon to solve only its “democratic” tasks, for which a united front with the “democratic” bourgeoisie was indispensable. From this point of view, any and all attempts of the proletariat to go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy are not only premature but also fatal. Furthermore, on the agenda stands not the revolution but the struggle against insurgent Franco.
Fascism, however, is not feudal but bourgeois reaction. A successful fight against bourgeois reaction can be waged only with the forces and methods of the proletariat revolution. Menshevism, itself a branch of bourgeois thought, does not have and cannot have any inkling of these facts.
The Bolshevik point of view, clearly expressed only by the young section of the Fourth International, takes the theory of permanent revolution as its starting point, namely, that even purely democratic problems, like the liquidation of semi-feudal land ownership, cannot be solved without the conquest of power by the proletariat; but this in turn places the socialist revolution on the agenda. Moreover, during the very first stages of the revolution, the Spanish workers themselves posed in practice not merely democratic problems but also purely socialist ones. The demand not to transgress the bounds of bourgeois democracy signifies in practice not a defense of the democratic revolution but a repudiation of it. Only through an overturn in agrarian relations could the peasantry, the great mass of the population, have been transformed into a powerful bulwark against fascism. But the landowners are intimately bound up with the commercial, industrial, and banking bourgeoisie, and the bourgeois intelligentsia that depends on them. The party of the proletariat was thus faced with a choice between going with the peasant masses or with the liberal bourgeoisie. There could be only one reason to include the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie in the same coalition at the same time: to help the bourgeoisie deceive the peasantry and thus isolate the workers. The agrarian revolution could have been accomplished only against the bourgeoisie, and therefore only through the masses of the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is no third, intermediate regime.
From the standpoint of theory, the most astonishing thing about Stalin’s Spanish policy is the utter disregard for the ABC of Leninism. After a delay of several decades – and what decades! – the Comintern has fully rehabilitated the doctrine of Menshevism. More than that, the Comintern has contrived to render this doctrine more “consistent” and by that token more absurd. In czarist Russia, on the threshold of 1905, the formula of “purely democratic revolution” had behind it, in any case, immeasurably more arguments than in 1937 in Spain. It is hardly astonishing that in modern Spain “the liberal labor policy” of Menshevism has been converted into the reactionary anti-labor policy of Stalinism. At the same time the doctrine of the Mensheviks, this caricature of Marxism, has been converted into a caricature of itself.

“Theory” of the Popular Front

It would be naive, however, to think that the politics of the Comintern in Spain stem from a theoretical “mistake”. Stalinism is not guided by Marxist Theory, or for that matter any theory at all, but by the empirical interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. In their intimate circles, the Soviet cynics mock Dimitrov’s “philosophy” of the Popular Front. But they have at their disposal for deceiving the masses large cadres of propagators of this holy formula, sincere ones and cheats, simpletons and charlatans. Louis Fischer, with his ignorance and smugness, with his provincial rationalism and congenital deafness to revolution, is the most repulsive representative of this unattractive brotherhood. “The union of progressive forces!” “The Triumph of the idea of the Popular Front!” “The assault of the Trotskyists on the unity of the anti-fascist ranks!” ... Who will believe that the Communist Manifesto was written ninety years ago?
The theoreticians of the Popular Front do not essentially go beyond the first rule of arithmetic, that is, addition: “Communists” plus Socialists plus Anarchists plus liberals add up to a total which is greater than their respective isolated numbers. Such is all their wisdom. However, arithmetic alone does not suffice here. One needs as well at least mechanics. The law of the parallelogram of forces applies to politics as well. In such a parallelogram, we know that the resultant is shorter, the more component forces diverge from each other. When political allies tend to pull in opposite directions, the resultant prove equal to zero.
A bloc of divergent political groups of the working class is sometimes completely indispensable for the solution of common practical problems. In certain historical circumstances, such a bloc is capable of attracting the oppressed petty-bourgeois masses whose interests are close to the interests of the proletariat. The joint force of such a bloc can prove far stronger than the sum of the forces of each of its component parts. On the contrary, the political alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, whose interests on basic questions in the present epoch diverge at an angle of 180 degrees, as a general rule is capable only of paralyzing the revolutionary force of the proletariat.
Civil war, in which the force of naked coercion is hardly effective, demands of its participants the spirit of supreme self-abnegation. The workers and peasants can assure victory only if they wage a struggle for their own emancipation. Under these conditions, to subordinate the proletariat to the leadership of the bourgeoisie means beforehand to assure defeat in the civil war.
These simple truths are least of all the products of pure theoretical analysis. On the contrary, they represent the unassailable deduction from the entire experience if history, beginning at least with 1848. The modern history of bourgeois society is filled with all sorts of Popular Fronts, i.e. the most diverse political combinations for the deception of the toilers. The Spanish experience is only a new and tragic link in this chain of crimes and betrayals.

Alliance with the Bourgeoisie’s Shadow

Politically most striking is the fact that the Spanish Popular Front lacked in reality even a parallelogram of forces. The bourgeoisie’s place was occupied by its shadow. Through the medium of the Stalinists, Socialists, and Anarchists, the Spanish bourgeoisie subordinated the proletariat to itself without even bothering to participate in the Popular Front. The overwhelming majority of the exploiters of all political shades openly went over to the camp of Franco. Without any theory of “permanent revolution,” the Spanish bourgeoisie understood from the outset that the revolutionary mass movement, no matter how it starts, is directed against private ownership of land and the means of production, and that it is utterly impossible to cope with this movement by democratic measures.
That is why only insignificant debris from the possessing classes remained in the republican camp: Messrs. Azaña, Companys, and the like – political attorneys of the bourgeoisie but not the bourgeoisie itself. Having staked everything on a military dictatorship, the possessing classes were able, at the same time, to make use of the political representatives of yesterday in order to paralyze, disorganize, and afterward strangle the socialist movement of the masses in “republican” territory.
Without in the slightest degree representing the Spanish bourgeoisie, the left republicans still less represented the workers and peasants. They represented no one but themselves. Thanks, however, to their allies – the Socialists, Stalinists, and Anarchists – these political phantoms played decisive role in the revolution. How? Very simply. By incarnating the principles of the “democratic revolution,” that is, the inviolability of private property.

The Stalinists in the Popular Front

The reasons of the rise of the Spanish Popular Front and its inner mechanics are perfectly clear. The task of the retired leaders of the left bourgeoisie consisted in checking the revolution of the masses and the regaining for themselves the lost confidence of the exploiters: “Why do you need Franco if we, the republicans, can do the same thing?” The interests of Azaña and Companys fully coincided at this central point with the interests of Stalin, who needed gain the confidence of the French and British bourgeoisie by proving to them in action his ability to preserve “order” against “anarchy.” Stalin needed Azaña and Companys as a cover before the workers: Stalin himself, of course, is for socialism, but one must take care not to repel the republican bourgeoisie! Azaña and Companys needed Stalin as an experienced executioner, with the authority of a revols time not at all thanks to high and mighty foreign patrons who supplied “this time not at all thanks to be dared to attack the workers.
The classic reformists of the Second International, long ago derailed by the course of the class struggle, began to feel a new tide of confidence, thanks to the support of Moscow. This support, incidentally, was not given to all reformists but only to those most reactionary. Caballero represented that face of the Socialist Party that was turned toward the workers’ aristocracy. Negrin and Prieto always looked towards the bourgeoisie. Negrin won over Caballero with the help of Moscow. The left Socialists and Anarchists, the captives of the Popular Front, tried, it is true, to save whatever could be saved of democracy. But inasmuch as they did not dare to mobilize the masses against the gendarmes of the Popular Front, their efforts at the end were reduced to plaints and wails. The Stalinists were thus in alliance with the extreme right, avowedly bourgeois wing of the Socialist Party. They directed their repressions against the left – the POUM, the Anarchists, the “left” Socialists – in other words, against the centrist groupings who reflected, even in a most remote degree, the pressure of the revolutionary masses,
This political fact, very significant in itself, provides at the same time the measure of the degeneration of the Comintern in the last few years. I once defined Stalinism as bureaucratic centrism, and events brought a series of corroborations of the correctness of this definition. But it is obviously obsolete today. The interests of the Bonapartist bureaucracy can no longer be reconciled with centrist hesitation and vacillation. In search of reconciliation with the bourgeoisie, the Stalinist clique is capable of entering into alliances only with the most conservative groupings among the international labor aristocracy. This has acted to fix definitively the counterrevolutionary character of Stalinism on the international arena.

Counter-Revolutionary Superiorities of Stalinism

This brings us right up to the solution of the enigma of how and why the Communist Party of Spain, so insignificant numerically and with a leadership so poor in caliber, proved capable of gathering into its hands all reins of power, in the face of the incomparably more powerful organizations of the Socialists and Anarchists. The usual explanation that the Stalinists simply bartered Soviet weapons for power is far too superficial. In return for munitions, Moscow received Spanish gold. According to the laws of the capitalist market, this covers everything. How then did Stalin contrive to get power in the bargain?
The customary answer is that the Soviet government, having raised its authority in the eyes of the masses by furnishing military supplies, demanded as a condition of its “collaboration” drastic measures against revolutionists and thus removed dangerous opponents from its path. All this is quite indisputable but it is only one aspect of the matter, and the least important at that.
Despite the “authority” created by Soviet shipments, the Spanish Communist Party remained a small minority and met with ever-growing hatred on the part of the workers. On the other hand, it was not enough for Moscow to set conditions; Valencia had to accede to them. This is the heart of the matter. Not only Zamora, Companys, and Negrin, but also Caballero, during his incumbency as premier, were all more or less ready to accede to the demands of Moscow. Why? Because these gentlemen themselves wished to keep the revolution within bourgeois limits. They were deathly afraid of every revolutionary onslaught of the workers.
Stalin with his munitions and with his counterrevolutionary ultimatum was a savior for all these groups. He guaranteed them, so they hoped, military victory over Franco, and at the same time, he freed them from all responsibility for the course of the revolution. They hastened to put their Socialist and Anarchist masks into the closet in the hope of making use of them again after Moscow reestablished bourgeois democracy for them. As the finishing touch to their comfort, these gentlemen could henceforth, justify their betrayal to the workers by the necessity of a military agreement with Stalin. Stalin on his part justifies his counterrevolutionary politics by the necessity of maintaining an alliance with the republican bourgeoisie.
Only from this broader point of view can we get a clear picture of the angelic toleration which such champions of justice and freedom as Azaña, Negrin, Companys, Caballero, Garcia Oliver, and others showed towards the crimes of the GPU. If they had no other choice, as they affirm, it was not at all because they had no means of paying for airplanes and tanks other than with the heads of the revolutionists and the rights of the workers, but because their own “purely democratic”, that is, anti-socialist, program could be realized by no other measures save terror. When the workers and peasants enter on the path of their revolution – when they seize factories and estates, drive out old owners, conquer power in the provinces – then the bourgeois counterrevolution – democratic, Stalinist, or fascist alike – has no other means of checking this movement except through bloody coercion, supplemented by lies and deceit. The superiority of the Stalinist clique on this road consisted in its ability to apply instantly measures that were beyond the capacity of Azaña, Companys, Negrin, and their left allies.

Stalin Confirms in His Own Way the Correctness of the Theory of Permanent Revolution

Two irreconcilable programs thus confronted each other on the territory of republican Spain. On the one hand, the program of saving at any cost private property from the proletariat, and saving as far as possible democracy from Franco; on the other hand, the program of abolishing private property through the conquest of power by the proletariat. The first program expressed the interest of capitalism through the medium of the labor aristocracy, the top petty-bourgeois circles, and especially the Soviet bureaucracy. The second program translated into the language of Marxism the tendencies of the revolutionary mass movement, not fully conscious but powerful. Unfortunately for the revolution, between the handful of Bolsheviks and the revolutionary proletariat stood counter-revolutionary wall of the Popular Front.
The policy of the Popular Front was, in its turn, not at all determined by the blackmail of Stalin as supplier of arms. There was, of course, no lack of blackmail. But the reason for the success of this blackmail was inherent in the inner conditions of the revolution itself. For six years, its social setting was the growing onslaught of the masses against the regime of semi-feudal and bourgeois property. The need of defending this property by the most extreme measures threw the bourgeoisie into Franco’s arms. The republican government had promised the bourgeoisie to defend property by “democratic” measures, but revealed, especially in July 1936, its complete bankruptcy. When the situation on the property front became even more threatening than on the military front, the democrats of all colors, including the Anarchists, bowed before Stalin; and he found no other methods, in his own arsenal than the methods of Franco.
The hounding of “Trotskyists”, POUMists, revolutionary Anarchists and left Socialists; the filthy slander; the false documents; the tortures in Stalinist prisons; the murders from ambush – without all this the bourgeois regime under the republican flag could not have lasted even two months. The GPU proved to be the master of the situation only because it defended the interests of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat more consistently than the others, i.e., with the greatest baseness and bloodthirstiness.
In the struggle against the socialist revolution, the “democratic” Kerensky at first sought support in the military dictatorship of Kornilov and later tried to enter Petrograd in the baggage train of the monarchist general Krasnov. On the other hand, the Bolsheviks were compelled, in order to carry the democratic revolution through to the end, to overthrow the government of “democratic” charlatans and babblers. In the process they put an end thereby to every kind of attempt at military (or “fascist”) dictatorship.
The Spanish revolution once again demonstrates that it is impossible to defend democracy against the methods of fascist reaction. And conversely, it is impossible to conduct a genuine struggle against fascism otherwise than through the methods of the proletarian revolution. Stalin waged war against “Trotskyism” (proletarian revolution), destroying democracy by the Bonapartist measures of the GPU. This refutes once again and once and for all the old Menshevik theory, adopted by the Comintern, in accordance with which the democratic and socialist revolutions are transformed into two independent historic chapters, separated from each other in point of time. The work of the Moscow executioners confirms in its own way the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution.

Role of the Anarchists

The Anarchists had no independent position of any kind in the Spanish revolution. All they did was waver between Bolshevism and Menshevism. More precisely, the Anarchist workers instinctively yearned to enter the Bolshevik road (July 19, 1936, and May days of 1937) while their leaders, on the contrary, with all their might drove the masses into the camp of the Popular Front, i.e., of the bourgeois regime.
The Anarchists revealed a fatal lack of understanding of the laws of the revolution and its tasks by seeking to limit themselves to their own trade unions, that is, to organizations permeated with the routine of peaceful times, and by ignoring what went on outside the framework of the trade unions, among the masses, among the political parties, and in the government apparatus. Had the Anarchists been revolutionists, they would first of all have called for the creation of soviets, which unite the representatives of all the toilers of city and country, including the most oppressed strata, who never joined the trade unions. The revolutionary workers would have naturally occupied the dominant position in these soviets. The Stalinists would have remained an insignificant minority. The proletariat would have convinced itself of its own invincible strength. The apparatus of the bourgeois state would have hung suspended in the air. One strong blow would have sufficed to pulverize this apparatus. The socialist revolution would have received a powerful impetus. The French proletariat would not for long permitted Leon Blum to blockade the proletariat revolution beyond the Pyrenees. Neither could the Moscow bureaucracy have permitted itself such a luxury. The most difficult questions would have been solved as they arose.

Socialist AppealVol.Vol. II No. 3, 15 January 1938, pp. 4–5 & 8.
Instead of this, the anarcho-syndicalists, seeking to hide from “politics” in the trade unions, turned out to be, to the great surprise of the whole world and themselves, a fifth wheel in the cart of bourgeois democracy. But not for long; a fifth wheel is superfluous. After Garcia Oliver and his cohorts helped Stalin and his henchmen to take power away from the workers, the anarchists themselves were driven out of the government of the Popular Front. Even then they found nothing better to do than jump on the victor’s bandwagon and assure him of their devotion. The fear of the petty bourgeois before the big bourgeois, of the petty bureaucrat before the big bureaucrat, they covered up with lachrymose speeches about the sanctity of the united front (between a victim and the executioners) and about the inadmissibility of every kind of dictatorship, including their own. “After all, we could have taken power in July 1936 ...” “After all, we could have taken power in May 1937...” The Anarchists begged Stalin-Negrin to recognize and reward their treachery to the revolution. A revolting picture!
In and of itself, this self-justification that “we did not seize power not because we were unable but because we did not wish to, because we were against every kind of dictatorship,” and the like, contains an irrevocable condemnation of anarchism as an utterly anti-revolutionary doctrine. To renounce the conquest of power is voluntarily to leave the power with those who wield it, the exploiters. The essence of every revolution consisted and consists in putting a new class in power, thus enabling it to realize its own program in life. It is impossible to wage war and to reject victory. It is impossible to lead the masses towards insurrection without preparing for the conquest power.
No one could have prevented the Anarchists after the conquest of power from establishing the sort of regime they deem necessary, assuming, of course, that their program is realizable. But the Anarchist leaders themselves lost faith in it. They hid from power not because they are against “every kind of dictatorship” – in actuality, grumbling and whining, they supported and still support the dictatorship of Stalin-Negrin – but because they completely lost their principles and courage, if they ever had any. They were afraid of everything: “isolation,” “involvement,” “fascism.” They were afraid of France and England. More than anything these phrasemongers feared the revolutionary masses.
The renunciation of the conquest of power inevitably throws every workers’ organization into the swamp of reformism and turns it into a toy of the bourgeoisie; it cannot be otherwise in view of the class structure of society. In opposing the goal, the conquest of power, the Anarchists could not in the end fail to oppose the means, the revolution. The leaders of the CNT and FAI not only helped the bourgeoisie hold on to the shadow of power in July 1936; they also helped it to reestablish bit by bit what it had lost at one stroke. In May 1937, they sabotaged the uprising of the workers and thereby saved the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Thus anarchism, which wished merely to be anti-political, proved in reality to be anti-revolutionary and in the more critical moments – counter-revolutionary.
The Anarchist theoreticians, who after the great test of 1931-37 continue to repeat the old reactionary nonsense about Kronstadt, and who affirm that “Stalinism is the inevitable result of Marxism and Bolshevism,” simply demonstrate by this they are forever dead for the revolution.
You say that Marxism is in itself depraved and Stalinism is its legitimate progeny? But why are we revolutionary Marxists engaged in mortal combat with Stalinism throughout the world? Why does the Stalinist gang see in Trotskyism it chief enemy? Why does every approach to our views or our methods of action (Durruti, Andres, Nin, Landau, and others) compel the Stalinist gangsters to resort to bloody reprisals. Why, on the other hand, did the leaders of Spanish anarchism serve, during the time of the Moscow and Madrid crimes of the GPU, as ministers under Caballero-Negrin, that is as servants of the bourgeoisie and Stalin? Why even now, under the pretext of fighting fascism, do the Anarchists remain voluntary captives of Stalin-Negrin, the executioners of the revolution, who have demonstrated their incapacity to fight fascism?
By hiding behind Kronstadt and Makhno, the attorneys of anarchism will deceive nobody. In the Kronstadt episode and the struggle with Makhno, we defended the proletarian from the peasant counterrevolution. The Spanish Anarchists defended and continue to defend bourgeois counterrevolution from the proletariat revolution. No sophistry will delete from the annals of history the fact that anarchism and Stalinism in the Spanish revolution were on one side of the barricades while the working masses with the revolutionary Marxists were on the other. Such is the truth which will forever remain in the consciousness of the proletariat!

Role of the POUM

The record of the POUM is not much better. In the point of theory, it tried, to be sure, to base itself on the formula of permanent revolution (that is why the Stalinists called the POUMists Trotskyists). But the revolution is not satisfied with theoretical avowals. Instead of mobilizing the masses against the reformist leaders, including the Anarchists, the POUM tried to convince these gentlemen of the superiorities of socialism over capitalism. This tuning fork gave the pitch to all the articles and speeches of the POUM leaders. In order not to quarrel with the Anarchist leaders, they did not form their own nuclei inside the CNT, and in general did not conduct any kind of work there. To avoid sharp conflicts, they did not carry on revolutionary work in the republican army. They built instead “their own” trade unions and “their own” militia, which guarded “their own” institutions or occupied “their own” section of the front.
By isolating the revolutionary vanguard from the class, the POUM rendered the vanguard impotent and left the class without leadership. Politically the POUM remained throughout far closer to the Popular Front, for whose left wing it provided the cover, than to Bolshevism. That the POUM nevertheless fell victim to bloody and base repressions was due to the failure of the Popular Front to fulfill its mission, namely to stifle the socialist revolution – except by cutting off, piece by piece, its own left flank.
Contrary to its own intentions, the POUM proved to be, in the final analysis, the chief obstacle on the road to the creation of a revolutionary party. The platonic or diplomatic partisans of the Fourth International like Sneevliet, the leader of the Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party, who demonstratively supported the POUM in its halfway measures, its indecisiveness and evasiveness, in short, in its centrism, took upon themselves the greatest responsibility. Revolution abhors centrism. Revolution exposes and annihilates centrism. In passing, the revolution discredits the friends and attorneys of centrism. That is one of the most important lessons of the Spanish revolution.

The Problem of Arming

The Socialists and Anarchists who seek to justify their capitulation to Stalin by the necessity of paying for Moscow’s weapons with principles and conscience simply lie unskillfully. Of course, many of them would have preferred to disentangle themselves without murders and frame-ups. But every goal demands corresponding means. Beginning with April 1931, that is, long before the military intervention of Moscow, the Socialists and Anarchists did everything in their power to check the proletariat revolution. Stalin taught them how to carry this work to its conclusion. They became Stalin’s criminal accomplices only because they were his political cothinkers.
Had the Anarchist leaders in the least resembled revolutionists, they would have answered the first piece of blackmail from Moscow not only by continuing the socialist offensive but also by exposing Stalin’s counterrevolutionary conditions before the world working class. They would have thus forced the Moscow bureaucracy to choose openly between the socialist revolution and the Franco dictatorship. The Thermidorean bureaucracy fears and hates revolution. But it also fears being strangled in a fascist ring. Besides, it depends on the workers. All indications are that Moscow would have been forced to supply arms, and possibly at more reasonable prices.
But the world does not revolve around Stalinist Moscow. During a year and a half of civil war, the Spanish war industry could and should have been strengthened and developed by converting a number of civilian plants to war production. This work was not carried out only because Stalin and his Spanish allies equally feared the initiative of the workers’ organizations. A strong war industry would have become a powerful instrument in the hands of the workers. The leaders of the Popular Front preferred to depend on Moscow.
It is precisely on this question that the perfidious role of the Popular Front was very strikingly revealed. It thrust upon the workers’ organizations the responsibility for the treacherous deals of the bourgeoisie of Stalin. Insofar as the Anarchists remained a minority, they could not, of course, immediately hinder the ruling bloc from assuming whatever obligations they pleased toward Moscow and the masters of Moscow: London and Paris. But without ceasing to be the best fighters on the front, they could have and should have openly dissociated themselves from the betrayals and betrayers; they could and should have explained the real situation to the masses, mobilized them against the bourgeois government, and augmented their own forces from day to day in order in the end to conquer power and with it the Moscow arms.
And what if Moscow, in the absence of a Popular Front, should have refused to give arms altogether? And what, we answer to this, if the Soviet Union did not exist altogether? Revolutions have been victorious up to this time not at all thanks to high and mighty foreign patrons who supplied them with arms. As a rule, counterrevolution enjoyed foreign patronage. Must we recall the experiences of the intervention of French, English, American, Japanese, and other armies against the Soviets? The proletariat of Russia conquered domestic reaction and foreign interventionists without military support form the outside. Revolutions succeed, in the first place, with the help of a bold social program, which gives the masses the possibility of seizing weapons that are on the territory and disorganizing the army of the enemy. The Red Army seized French, English, and American military supplies and drove the foreign expeditionary corps into the sea. Has this really been forgotten?
If at the head of the armed workers and peasants, that is, at the head of so-called republican Spain, were revolutionists and not cowardly agents of the bourgeoisie, the problem of arming would never have been paramount. The army of Franco, including the colonial Riffians and the soldiers of Mussolini, was not at all immune to revolutionary contagion. Surrounded by the conflagration of the socialist uprising, the soldiers of fascism would have proved to be an insignificant quantity. Arms and military “geniuses” were not lacking in Madrid and Barcelona; what was lacking was a revolutionary party!

Conditions for Victory

The conditions for victory of the masses in the civil war against the army exploiters are very simple in their essence.
  1. The fighters of a revolutionary army must be clearly aware of the fact that they are fighting for their full social liberation and not for the reestablishment of the old (“democratic”) forms of exploitation.
  2. The workers and peasants in the rear of the revolutionary army as well as in the rear of the enemy must know and understand the same thing.
  3. The propaganda on their own front as well as on the enemy front and in both rears must be completely permeated with the spirit of social revolution. The slogan “First victory, then reforms,” is the slogan of all oppressors and exploiters from the Biblical kings down to Stalin.
  4. Politics are determined by those classes and strata that participate in the struggle. The revolutionary masses must have a state apparatus that directly and immediately expresses their will. Only the soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies can act as such an apparatus.
  5. The revolutionary army must not only proclaim but also immediately realize in life the more pressing measures of social revolution in the provinces won by them: the expropriation of provisions, manufactured articles, and other stores on hand and the transfer of these to the needy; the redivision of shelter and housing in the interests of the toilers and especially of the families of the fighters; the expropriation of the land and agricultural inventory in the interests of the peasants; the establishment of workers’ control and soviet power in the place of the former bureaucracy.
  6. Enemies of the socialist revolution, that is, exploiting elements and their agents, even if masquerading as “democrats,” “republicans,” “Socialists,” and “Anarchists,” must be mercilessly driven out of the army.
  7. At the head of each military unit must be placed commissars possessing irreproachable authority as revolutionists and soldiers.
  8. In every military unit there must be a firmly welded nucleus of the most self-sacrificing fighters, recommended by the workers’ organizations. The members of this nucleus have but one privilege: to be first under fire.
  9. The commanding corps necessarily includes at first many alien and unreliable elements among the personnel. Their testing, retesting, and sifting must be carried through on the basis of combat experience, recommendations of commissars, and testimonials of rank-and-file fighters. Coincident with this must proceed an intense training of commanders drawn from the ranks of revolutionary workers.
  10. The strategy of civil war must combine the rules of military art with the tasks of the social revolution. Not only in propaganda but also in military operations it is necessary to take into account the social composition of the various military units of the enemy (bourgeois volunteers, mobilized peasants, or as in Franco’s case, colonial slaves); and in choosing lines of operation, it is necessary to rigorously take into consideration the social structure of the corresponding territories (industrial regions, peasant regions, revolutionary or reactionary, regions of oppressed nationalities, etc.). In brief, revolutionary policy dominates strategy.
  11. Both the revolutionary government and the executive committee of the workers and peasants must know how to win the complete confidence of the army and of the toiling population.
  12. Foreign policy must have as its main objective the awakening of the revolutionary consciousness of the workers, the exploited peasants, and oppressed nationalities of the whole world.

Stalin Guaranteed the Conditions of Defeat

The conditions for victory, as we see, are perfectly plain. In their aggregate they bear the name of the socialist revolution. Not a single one of these conditions existed in Spain. The basic reason is – the absence of a revolutionary party. Stalin tried, it is true, to transfer to the soil of Spain, the outward practices of Bolshevism: the Politburo, commissars, cells, the GPU, etc. But he emptied these forms of their social content. He renounced the Bolshevik program and with it the soviets as the necessary form for the revolutionary initiative of the masses. He placed the technique of Bolshevism at the service of bourgeois property. In his bureaucratic narrow-mindedness, he imagined that “commissars” by themselves could guarantee victory. But the commissars of private property proved capable only of guaranteeing defeat.
The Spanish proletariat displayed first-rate military qualities. In its specific gravity in the country’s economic life, in its political and cultural level, the Spanish proletariat stood on the first day of the revolution not below but above the Russian proletariat at the beginning of 1917. On the road to victory, its own organizations stood as the chief obstacles. The commanding clique of Stalinists, in accordance with their counterrevolutionary function, consisted of hirelings, careerists, declassed elements, and in general, all types of social refuse. The representatives of other labor organizations – incurable reformists, Anarchists phrasemongers, helpless centrists of the POUM – grumbled, groaned, wavered, manuevered, but in the end adapted themselves to the Stalinists. As a result of their joint activity, the camp of social revolution – workers and peasants – proved to be subordinated to the bourgeoisie, or more correctly, to its shadow. It was bled white and its character destroyed.
There was no lack of heroism on the part of the masses or courage on the part of individual revolutionists. But the masses were left to their own resources while the revolutionists remained disunited, without a program, without a plan of action. The “republican” military commanders were more concerned with crushing the social revolution than with scoring military victories. The soldiers lost confidence in their commanders, the masses in the government; the peasants stepped aside; the workers became exhausted; defeat followed defeat; demoralization grew apace. All this was not difficult to foresee from the beginning of the civil war. By setting itself the task of rescuing the capitalist regime, the Popular Front doomed itself to military defeat. By turning Bolshevism on its head, Stalin succeeded completely in fulfilling the role of gravedigger of the revolution.
It ought to be added that the Spanish experience once again demonstrates that Stalin failed completely to understand either the October Revolution or the Russian civil war. His slow moving provincial mind lagged hopelessly behind the tempestuous march of events in 1917-21. In those of his speeches and articles in 1917 where he expressed his own ideas, his later Thermidorean “doctrine” is fully implanted. In this sense, Stalin in Spain in 1937 is the continuator of Stalin of the March 1917 conference of the Bolsheviks. But in 1917 he merely feared the revolutionary workers; in 1937 he strangled them. The opportunist had become the executioner.

“Civil War in the Rear”

But, after all, victory over the governments of Caballero and Negrin would have necessitated a civil war in the rear of the republican army! – the democratic philistine exclaims with horror. As if apart from this, in republican Spain no civil war has ever existed, and at that the basest and most perfidious one – the war of the proprietors and exploiters against the workers and peasants. This uninterrupted war finds expression in the arrests and murders of revolutionists, the crushing of the mass movement, the disarming of the workers, the arming of the bourgeois police, the abandoning of workers’ detachments without arms and without help on the front, and finally, the artificial restriction of the development of war industry.
Each of these acts as a cruel blow to the front, direct military treason, dictated by the class interests of the bourgeoisie. But “democratic” philistines – including Stalinists, Socialists, and Anarchists – regard the civil war of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, even in areas most closely adjoining the front, as a natural and inescapable war, having as its tasks the safeguarding of the “unity of the Popular Front.” On the other hand, the civil war of the proletariat against the “republican” counterrevolution is, in the eyes of the same philistines, a criminal, “fascists,” Trotskyist war, disrupting ... “the unity of the anti-fascist forces.” Scores of Norman Thomases, Major Atlees, Otto Bauers, Zyromskys, Malrauxes, and such petty peddlers of lies as Duranty and Louis Fischer spread this slavish wisdom throughout our planet. Meanwhile the government of the Popular Front moves from Madrid to Valencia, from Valencia to Barcelona.
If, as the facts attest, only the socialist revolution is capable of crushing fascism, then on the other hand a successful uprising of the proletariat is conceivable only when the ruling classes are caught in the vise of the greatest difficulties. However, the democratic philistines invoke precisely these difficulties as proof of the impressibility of the proletarian uprising. Were the proletariat to wait for the democratic philistines to tell them the hour of their liberation, they would remain slaves forever. To teach workers to recognize reactionary philistines under all their masks and to despise them regardless of the mask is the first and paramount duty of a revolutionist!

The Denouement

The dictatorship of the Stalinists over the republican camp is not long-lived in its essence. Should the defeats stemming from the politics of the Popular Front once more impel the Spanish proletariat to a revolutionary assault, this time successfully, the Stalinist clique will be swept away with an iron broom. But should Stalin – as is unfortunately the likelihood – succeed in bringing the work of gravedigger of the revolution to its conclusion, he will not even in this case earn thanks. The Spanish bourgeoisie needed him as executioner, but it has no need for him at all as patron or tutor. London and Paris on the one hand, and Berlin and Rome on the other, are in its eyes considerably more solvent firms than Moscow. It is possible that Stalin himself wants to cover his traces in Spain before the final catastrophe; he thus hopes to unload the responsibility for the defeat on his closest allies. After this Litvinov will solicit Franco for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. All this we have seen more than once.
Even a complete military victory of the so-called republican army over General Franco, however, would not signify the triumph of “democracy.” The workers and peasants have twice placed bourgeois republicans and their left agents in power: in April 1931 and in February 1936. Both times the heroes of the Popular Front surrendered the victory of the people to the most reactionary and the most serious representatives of the bourgeoisie. A third victory, gained by the generals of the Popular Front, would signify their inevitable agreement with the fascist bourgeoisie on the backs of the workers and peasants. Such a regime will be nothing but a different form of military dictatorship, perhaps without a monarchy and without the open domination of the Catholic Church.
Finally, it is possible that the partial victories of the republicans will be utilized by the “disinterested” Anglo-French intermediaries in order to reconcile the fighting camps. It is not difficult to understand that in the event of such a variant the final remnants of the “democracy” will be stifled in the fraternal embrace of the generals Miaja (communist!) and Franco (fascists!). Let me repeat once again: victory will go either to the socialist revolution or to fascism.
It is not excluded, by the way, that the tragedy might at the last moment make way to farce. When the heroes of the Popular Front have to flee their last capital, they might, before embarking on steamers and airplanes, perhaps proclaim a series of “socialist” reforms in order to leave a “good memory” with the people. But nothing will avail. The workers of the world will remember with hatred and contempt the parties that ruined the heroic revolution.
The tragic experience of Spain is a terrible – perhaps final – warning before still greater events, a warning addressed to all the advanced workers of the world. “Revolutions,” Marx said, “are the locomotives of history.” They move faster than the thought of semi-revolutionary or quarter-revolutionary parties. Whoever lags behind falls under the wheels of the locomotive, and consequently – and this is the chief danger – the locomotive itself is also not infrequently wrecked.
It is necessary to think out the problem of the revolution to the end, to its ultimate concrete conclusions. It is necessary to adjust policy to the basic laws of the revolution, i.e., to the movement of the embattled classes and not the prejudices or fears of the superficial petty-bourgeois groups who call themselves “Popular” Fronts and every other kind of front. During revolution the line of least resistance is the line of greatest disaster. To fear “isolation” from the bourgeoisie is to incur isolation from the masses. Adaptation to the conservative prejudices of the labor aristocracy is betrayal of the workers and the revolution. An excess “caution” is the most baneful lack of caution. This is the chief lesson of the destruction of the most honest political organization in Spain, namely, the centrist POUM. The parties and groups of the London Bureau obviously either do not wish to draw the necessary conclusions from the last warning of history or are unable to do so. By this token they doom themselves.
By way of compensation, a new generation of revolutionists is now being educated by the lessons of the defeats. This generation has verified in action the ignominious reputation of the Second International. It has plumbed the depths of the Third International’s downfall. It has learned how to judge the Anarchists not by their words but by their deeds. It is a great inestimable school, paid for with the blood of countless fighters! The revolutionary cadres are now gathering only under the banner of the Fourth International. Born amid the roar of defeats, the Fourth International will lead the toilers to victory.

December 17, 1937

The 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution (2017) )- Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky-"Literature And Revolution"

The 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution (2017) )- Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky-"Literature And Revolution"

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

Literature and Revolution, Leon Trotsky, 1924

Trotsky once wrote that of the three great tragedies in life- hunger, sex and death- revolutionary Marxism, which was the driving force behind his life and work, mainly concerned itself with the struggle against hunger. That observation contains an essential truth about the central thrust of the Marxist tradition. However, as Trotsky demonstrates here, Marxist methodology cannot and should not be reduced to an analysis of and prescription for that single struggle. Here Trotsky takes on an aspect of the struggle for mass cultural development.

In a healthy post-capitalist society mass cultural development would be greatly expanded and encouraged. If the task of socialism were merely to vastly expand economic equality, in a sense, it would be a relativity simple task for a healthy socialist society in concert with other like-minded societies to provide general economic equality with a little tweaking after vanquishing the capitalism mode of production. What Marxism aimed for, and Trotsky defends here, is a prospect that with the end of class society and with it an end to economic and social injustice the capacity of individual human beings to reach new heights of intellectual and creative development would flourish. That is the thought that underpins Trotsky’s work here as he analyzes various trends in Russian literature in the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution of 1917. In short, Marxism is certainly not a method to be followed in order to write great literature but it does allow one to set that literature in its social context and interrelatedness.

You will find no Deconstructionist or other fashionable literary criticism here. Quite the contrary. Trotsky uses his finely tuned skill as a Marxist to great effect as he analyzes the various trends of literature as they were affected (or not affected) by the October Revolution and sniffs out what in false in some of the literary trends. Mainly, at the time of writing, the jury was still out about the prospects of many of these trends. He analyzes many of the trends that became important later in the century in world literature, like futurism and constructivism, and others- some of which have disappeared and some of which still survive.

The most important and lasting polemic which Trotsky raised here, however, was the fight against the proponents of ‘proletarian culture.’ The argument put forth by this trend maintained that since the Soviet Union was a workers' state those who wrote about working-class themes or were workers themselves should in the interest of cultural development be given special status and encouragement (read: a monopoly on the literary front). Trotsky makes short shrift of this argument by noting that, in theory at least as its turned out later, the proletarian state was only a transitional state and therefore no lasting ‘proletarian culture’ would have time to develop. Although history did not turn out to prove Trotsky correct the polemic is still relevant to any theory of mass cultural development.

One of the results of the publication of this book is that many intellectuals, particularly Western intellectuals, based some of their sympathy for Trotsky the man and fallen hero on his literary analysis and his ability to write. This was particularly true during the 1930’s here in America where those who were anti-Stalinist but were repelled by the vacuity of the Socialist Party were drawn to him. A few, like James T. Farrell (Studs Lonigan trilogy), did this mostly honorably. Most, like Dwight MacDonald and Sidney Hooks, etc. did not and simply used that temporary sympathy as a way station on their way to anti-Communism. Such is the nature of the political struggle.

A note for the politically- inclined who read this book. Trotsky wrote this book in 1923-24 at the time of Lenin’s death and later while the struggle for succession by Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev was in full swing. While Trotsky did not recognize it until later (nor did others, for that matter) this period represented the closing of the rising tide of the revolution. Hereafter, the people who ruled the Soviet Union, the purposes for which they ruled, and the manner in which they ruled changed dramatically. In short, Thermidor in the classical French revolutionary expression was victorious. Given his precarious political position why the hell was he writing a book on literary trends in post-revolutionary society at that time?

Poet's Corner- Bertolt Brecht's "To Those Born After"-In Honor Of The Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Communist International (1919)

Poet's Corner- Bertolt Brecht's "To Those Born After"-In Honor Of The Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Communist International (1919)

Markin comment:

Old Brecht may not have been from the be-bop generation but he, in his way, knew how to speak truth to power through his poetry and plays.

To Those Born After


To the cities I came in a time of disorder
That was ruled by hunger.
I sheltered with the people in a time of uproar
And then I joined in their rebellion.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

I ate my dinners between the battles,
I lay down to sleep among the murderers,
I didn't care for much for love
And for nature's beauties I had little patience.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

The city streets all led to foul swamps in my time,
My speech betrayed me to the butchers.
I could do only little
But without me those that ruled could not sleep so easily:
That's what I hoped.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

Our forces were slight and small,
Our goal lay in the far distance
Clearly in our sights,
If for me myself beyond my reaching.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.


You who will come to the surface
From the flood that's overwhelmed us and drowned us all
Must think, when you speak of our weakness in times of darkness
That you've not had to face:

Days when we were used to changing countries
More often than shoes,
Through the war of the classes despairing
That there was only injustice and no outrage.

Even so we realised
Hatred of oppression still distorts the features,
Anger at injustice still makes voices raised and ugly.
Oh we, who wished to lay for the foundations for peace and friendliness,
Could never be friendly ourselves.

And in the future when no longer
Do human beings still treat themselves as animals,
Look back on us with indulgence.

The 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution -Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-COMRADE TULA-Victor Serge-A Book Review

The 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution -Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-COMRADE TULA-Victor Serge-A Book Review

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


Generally, historical novels leave me dissatisfied as real history provides enough dramatic tension. However, every once in a while a novel comes along that illuminates a historical situation better than a history and begs for some attention. Victor Serge’s political parable falls in that category. His subject is a fictional treatment of the Great Terror highlighted by the Moscow Trials in the Soviet Union of the 1930’s. This Great Terror liquidated almost the whole generation of those who made the October Revolution of 1917 and administered the early Soviet state as well as countless other victims. Adding a personal touch, as an official journalist of the Communist International Serge knew many of that generation. The political and psychological devastation created by this catastrophe is certainly worthy of novelistic treatment. In fact it may be the only way to truly comprehend its effects. Serge is particularly well-placed to tell this story since he was a long-time member of the Trotsky-led Left Opposition in the Soviet Union and barely got out of there at the height of the Terror as a result of an international campaign of fellow writers to gain his freedom. The insights painfully learned from his experiences in the Soviet Union place his book in the first rank.

The plot line is rather simple- a disaffected Russian youth of indeterminate politics, as an act of hubris, kills a high level Soviet official in the then Stalinized Soviet Union and sets in motion a whirlwind of governmental reaction. As if to mock everything the Russian Revolution had stood until that time this youth ultimately goes free while a whole series of oppositionists of various tendencies, officials investigating the crime and other innocent, accidental figures are made to ‘confess’ or accept responsibility for the crime with their lives in the name of defending the Revolution (read Stalinist rule).

While the plot line is simple the political and personal consequences are not, especially for anyone interested in drawing the lessons of what went wrong with the Russian Revolution. The central question Serge poses is this- How can one set of Communists persecute and ultimately kill another set of Communist who it is understood by all parties stand for the defense of the same revolution? Others such as Arthur Koestler in Darkness at Noon, Andre Malraux in Man’s Fate and George Orwell in several of his books have taken up this same theme of political destruction with mixed success and ambiguous conclusions. In any case, aside from the tales of bureaucratic obfuscation in turning a simple criminal matter into a political vendetta which Serge treats masterfully, the answer does not resolve itself easily.

What Serge concludes, based I believe on his own personal trial of fire in that same period, and makes his novel more valuable than the others listed above is that one must defend ones revolutionary integrity at all costs. His personal conduct bears this out. The history of the period also bears this out not only in the Soviet Union but in Spain and elsewhere. For every Bukharin, Zinoviev or out of favor Stalinist factionalist who compromised himself or herself there were many, mainly anonymous Left Oppositionists and other such political people who did not confess, who did not abandon their political program and went to exile and death rather than capitulate. History being a cruel and, at times, arbitrary master may have not honored them yet. However, those courageous fighters need no revolutionary good conduct certificate before it, the reader of these lines, or me.

The 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution (2017)-Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky-The Spanish Revolution-1931-1939

The 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution (2017)-Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky-The Spanish Revolution-1931-1939

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

Leon Trotsky-The Spanish Revolution-1931-1939
I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War since I was a teenager. My first term paper was on this subject. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish Fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.

Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class uprisings Spain showed the most promise of success. Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky's writings on this period represent a provocative and thoughtful approach to an understanding of the causes of that failure. Moreover, with all proper historical proportions considered, his analysis has continuing value as the international working class confronts the one-sided class war being waged against it today.

The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 has been the subject of innumerable works from every possible political and military perspective possible. A fair number of such treatises, especially from those responsible for the military and political policies on the Republican side, are merely alibis for the disastrous policies that led to defeat. Trotsky's complication of articles, letters, pamphlets, etc. which make up the book reviewed here is an exception. Trotsky was actively trying to intervene in order implement a program of socialist revolution most of the active forces on the Republican side were fighting, or believed, they were fighting for. Thus, Trotsky's analysis brings a breath of fresh air to the historical debate. That in the end Trotsky could not organize the necessary cadres to carry out his program or meaningfully impact the unfolding events in Spain is one of the ultimate tragedies of that revolution. Nevertheless, Trotsky had a pretty good idea of what forces were acting as a roadblock to revolution and had a strategic conception of the road to victory.

The central question Trotsky addresses throughout the whole period under review here is the crisis of revolutionary leadership. That question entails, in short, a view that the objective conditions for the success of a socialist program for society had ripened. Nevertheless, until that time, despite several revolutionary upheavals, the international working class had not been successful anywhere except in backward Russia. Thus it is necessary to focus on what condition is missing that would assure success or at least put up a fight- witness the failure of the German Revolution in 1923). This is a continuation of an analysis that he developed in earnest in his struggle to fight the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the mid-1920's. It is a question that still remains to be resolved. The need to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution and to extend the revolution internationally was thus not a merely a theoretical question. Spain, moreover, represented a struggle where the best of the various leftist forces were in confusion about how to move forward. Those forces could have profitable heeded Trotsky's advise.

Trotsky's polemics are highlighted by the article "The Lessons of Spain-Last Warning", his definitive assessment of the Spanish situation in the wake of the defeat of the Barcelona uprising in May 1937, They center on the failure of the Party of Marxist Unification (hereafter, POUM) to provide revolutionary leadership. That party, partially created by cadre formerly associated with Trotsky in the Spanish Left Opposition, failed on virtually every count. He had no illusions about the roadblock to revolution of the policies carried out by the old-time Anarchist, Socialist and Communist Parties. Unfortunately the POUM did. Moreover, despite being the most honest revolutionary party in Spain it failed to keep up an intransigent struggle to push the revolution forward. The Trotsky - Andreas Nin (key leader of the POUM and former Left Oppositionist) correspondence in the Appendix makes that problem painfully clear.

The most compelling example of this failure - As a result of the failure of the Communist Party of Germany to oppose the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the subsequent decapitation and the defeat of the Austrian working class in 1934 the European workers especially the younger workers of the traditional Socialist Parties started to move left. Trotsky observed this situation and told his supporters to intersect that situation by entry into those parties. Nin, and later the POUM failed to do that. As a result the Socialist Party youth were recruited to the Communist Party en masse. This accretion formed the basic for its expansion as a party and key cadre of its notorious security apparatus that would after the Barcelona uprising suppress the more left-wing organizations. For more such examples of the results of the crisis of leadership in the Spanish Revolution read this book.

On The 100th Annivesary (2017)-Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-"Year One of the Russian Revolution"-Victor Serge

On The 100th Annivesary (2017)-Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-"Year One of the Russian Revolution"-Victor Serge 

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

Year One of the Russian Revolution-Victor Serge
I have read several books on subjects related to the Russian Revolution by Victor Serge and find that he is a well-informed insider on this subject although the novel rather than history writing is his stronger form of expressing his views. This book can be profitably read in conjunction with other better written left-wing interpretations of this period. Sukhanov's Notes on the Russian Revolution (for the February period), Leon Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution and John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World come to mind.

The task Serge sets himself here is to look at the dramatic and eventually fateful events of first year of the Russian Revolution. Those included the Bolshevik seizure of power, the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly and the struggle by the Bolsheviks against other left-wing tendencies in defining Soviet state policy, the fight to end Russian participation in World War I culminating in the humiliating Brest-Litovsk treaty with Germany and, most importantly, the beginnings of Civil War against the Whites. In short, he investigates all the issues that will ultimately undermine and cause the degeneration of what was the first successful socialist seizure of state power in history.

Serge's history is partisan history in the best sense of the word. It is rather silly at this late date to argue that historians must be detached from the subject of their investigations. All one asks is that a historian gets the facts for his or her analysis straight. And try to stay out of the way. Serge passes this test. Serge worked under the assumption that the strategic theory of the Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky was valid. That premise stated Russia as the weakest link in the capitalist system could act as the catalyst for revolution in the West and therefore shorten its road to socialism. The failure of that Western revolution, the subsequent hostile encirclement by the Western powers and the inevitable degeneration implicit in a revolution in an economically undeveloped country left to its own resources underlies the structure of his argument.

The Russian revolution of October 1917 was the defining event for the international labor movement during most of the 20th century. Serious militants and left -wing organizations took their stand based on their position on the so-called Russian Question. At that time the level of political class-consciousness in the international labor movement was quite high. Such consciousness does not exist today where the socialist program is seen as Utopian. However, notwithstanding the demise of the Soviet state in 1991-92 and the essential elimination of the specific Russian Question as a factor in world politics anyone who wants learn some lessons from the heroic period of the Russian Revolution will find this book an informative place to start.