Monday, 28 March 2016

A Critical Review of Trotsky, Downfall of a Revolutionary by Bertrand M. Patenaude’s -New York HarperCollins, 2009

“There’s life in the old boy Trotsky yet—but if the ice pick didn’t quite do its job killing him off, I hope I’ve managed it.”  Robert Service London, October 2009,

“Everyone has the right to be stupid on occasion, but Comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege”. Leon Trotsky

Over the last decade or so we have seen a relentless campaign to promote the death of Marxism. It is perhaps then a little surprising that over the corresponding period we have seen a plethora of biographies on the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  Over the past ten years, we have seen four English-language novels and four English-language academic books. This is not counting books produced in other languages.

Bertrand M. Patenaudes book is one of the better ones. The book, published in Britain as Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky and in the United States as Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary has been widely reviewed in both the capitalist press and various pseudo-left publications. One has sympathies with any historian who attempts a biography of Trotsky since he or she will have to with apologies to Thomas Carlyle “drag him out from under a mountain of dead dogs, a huge load of calumny and oblivion.

Patenaude a fellow at the Hoover Institution had unprecedented access to Trotskys personal papers at Harvard and of course to papers held at the Hoover archives. Even this privileged access has not prevented him from repeating a number of distortions and fabrications about Trotsky and the Russian revolution.

It is unfortunate but Patenaude’s book is not the only one to give an inaccurate and politically driven portrait of Leon Trotsky. Many of these recent books do not have even the most basic academic integrity.

Recent Historiography

The current low standard of books on Leon Trotsky has not always been the case. A significant number of historians who while not being close to Trotsky’s politics have written very good and in most cases objective books. It is not possible to examine all of them but perhaps the historian worth reading the most is E H Carr.  

Carr was one the first major historian to attempt a rehabilitation of Trotsky. His publications on the history of Soviet Russia are “monumental”. According to the Marxist writer David North, “Carr was not politically sympathetic to Trotsky, but he brilliantly summarized and analyzed the complex issues of program, policy and principle with which Trotsky grappled in a difficult and critical period of Soviet history”.

Carr was followed by the writer and historian Isaac Deutscher who had close links with Trotsky’s Fourth International. He published three biographical trilogies: The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, and The Prophet Outcast. Unlike Carr Deutscher was sympathetic to Trotsky and his ideas. Deutscher was expelled from the Polish Communist Party for Trotskyism in the 1930s.  He was a delegate to the first conference of the Fourth International. However, he disagreed with Trotsky over the founding of the Fourth International in a period of defeats and believed that the new group was too weak.  His books are still standard reading for anyone interested in the topic.

This cannot be said of the current spate of biographies? These books are in many ways a useful barometer to the growing shift to the right in academia. After all, academics do not live not in a vacuum and are subject to the many ideological pressures that rage throughout society.

It is churlish to say that every writer who produces a work on the figures of the Russian Revolution should adhere to Marxism but is it too much to ask for some objectivity or even good serious history. It is hard not to notice that most history departments have become little more than production lines for anti-Marxist books.

Many of these books are as Oscar Wilde said “hitting below the intellect”. By far the worst of these books is Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky[1]

In the preface of his book Service makes the boast that his is "the first full-length biography of Trotsky written by someone outside of Russia who is not a Trotskyist." This is simply not true. It is hard to believe that the editor of this book would have let this comment pass without checking it.

Leon Trotsky
Patenaude correctly criticizes Service’s book for its level of factual inaccuracies. Writing in the American Historical Review he says “I have counted more than four dozen [mistakes],”. he continues, “Service mixes up the names of Trotsky's sons, misidentifies the largest political group in the first Duma in 1906, botches the name of the Austrian archduke assassinated at Sarajevo, misrepresents the circumstances of Nicholas II's abdication, gets backward Trotsky's position in 1940 on the United States' entry into World War II, and gives the wrong year of death of Trotsky's widow. Service's book is completely unreliable as a reference…. At times the errors are jaw-dropping. Service believes that Bertram Wolfe was one of Trotsky's ‘acolytes’ living with him in Mexico (pp. 441, 473), that André Breton was a ‘surrealist painter’ whose ‘pictures exhibited sympathy with the plight of the working people’ (p. 453), and that Mikhail Gorbachev rehabilitated Trotsky in 1988, when in fact Trotsky was never posthumously rehabilitated by the Soviet government.”[2]

Patenaude goes on to explain how he came to review the book saying he was “initially inclined to turn down the review request”. He felt that working on the review would lead him away from other work. “Nonetheless, after checking to make sure that David North's book did not mention my own recent book on Trotsky, I accepted the invitation, fully expecting that I would add my voice to the chorus of praise for Service's biography.”

 “I wrote the review at the request of the editors of the AHR,” They asked me to review both Service's book and North's book. I did find this a little curious, because Service is a major figure in the field of Soviet history and his Trotsky has been hailed by several reviewers as the definitive biography -- so why dilute the effect by combining it with a slender, essentially self-published volume written by an avowed Trotskyist who devotes most of his pages to criticism of Service and his book?”

Bertrand M. Patenaude
Patenaude would later retract his sharp opinion of North who after all is a leading authority on Leon Trotsky and has written extensively on him. Patenaude wrote “Enter David North. David North is an American Trotskyist whose book collects his review essays of Service’s volume and of earlier biographies of Trotsky by Ian Thatcher and Geoffrey Swain. (He does not mention my 2009 book, Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary.) Given North’s Trotskyism, he might reasonably be suspected of hyperbole in his brief against Service. But a careful examination of North’s book shows his criticism of Service to be exactly what Trotsky scholar Baruch Knei-Paz, in a blurb on the back cover, says it is: ‘detailed, meticulous, well-argued and devastating.’”

North has his own deep-seated criticism of Service’s work on Trotsky. In his review, he writes that Service’s book “is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination. Service is not content to distort and falsify Trotsky’s political deeds and ideas. Frequently descending to the level of a grocery store tabloid, Service attempts to splatter filth on Trotsky’s personal life. Among his favorite devices is to refer to “rumors” about Trotsky’s intimate relations, without even bothering to identify the rumor’s source, let alone substantiate its credibility”

Swain and Thatcher

North has also been heavily critical of other biographies of Trotsky by Geoffrey Swain and Ian Thatcher. Thatcher from Leicester university produced his Trotsky in 2003 published by Routledge.

In his opinion “Thatcher and Swain belittled Deutscher for creating the “myth” of Trotsky. The Thatcher-Swain biographies set out to create a new anti-Trotsky narrative, utilizing slanders and fabrications of old Stalinist vintage in the interest of contemporary anti-communism”.

Thatcher’s Trotsky as North says is little more than character assassination. The book is also heavily pregnant with undocumented assertions. Like Service’s book both make it exceedingly difficult for the average reader to trace articles and evaluate for themselves Thatcher’s and Swain’ comments. Even something basic as footnotes are not very accurate and sometimes misleading.

Patenaude

Patenaude is not immune to this right wing shift in academia. His book despite being better than some others does sufferer from the repeating the same myths and mistakes of previous books. Patenaude’s use of sources close to Trotsky who were either hostile or had broken with his politics is not really useful and Patenaude is far too uncritical of them.
Patenaude relies a great deal on the testimonies of Trotsky's bodyguards. These are mainly from the American Trotskyist movement. Many of these people had broken with Trotskyism and should have been treated with caution.

It is clear that Patenaude is not fully acquainted with Trotsky’s writings and politics and still less so with the major political ‘social and cultural subjects tackled by Trotsky. This limitation on his part could have been rectified by quoting from writers that did.

Patenaude does portray a certain amount of sympathy for his subject which is done so from a liberal, not Marxist standpoint. He also has the annoying habit of using throw away lines such Trotsky attempted to "cloak the Bolshevik coup" and that Trotsky "helped create the first totalitarian state". Aside from not being true Patenaude does little to back up such a serious charge. His viewpoint on other struggles inside the Bolshevik party is predominantly impressionistic.

'Warts and all'

On the plus side, Patenaude’s account is important because it brings together a wide range of sources on Trotsky’s murder. Some these sources have not been available in English before. He also makes use of the personal papers of the Alexander Buchman, Albert Glotzer and the FBI and the GPU agent Joseph Hansen.

Patenaude employs a novelist type writing style. It is a shame that this style does not work when he tries to employ this method when encountering Trotsky’s revolutionary past.
The main focus of the book centers on the last decade of Trotsky's life and work. Patenaude portrayal of Trotsky’s life while 'imprisoned' in Blue House would in some instances not look out of place in cheap adult books and sometimes borders on the salacious.  Having said that he does manage to show the element of tragedy in Trotsky’s life. Barely a member of Trotsky’s family and close friends survived Stalin’s murderous clutches.

Despite having unpatrolled access to Trotsky’s archive Patenaude has nothing to say politically that has not been said before. Very little is said about Trotsky’s followers around the world. Next to nothing is written in the preparation and discussion following the publication of the Transitional Programme.

Conclusion

It is clear that Patenaude has no sympathy for the Trotskyist movement. He believes it is full of “sects” and is riddled with “splits and mergers”. Trotskyist’s will need a strong stomach if they read this book. The book is likely to gain a wide readership, but young people and workers and the general reader interested in the life and ideas of Leon Trotsky who struggled against Stalinism, fascism and capitalism, should read as much as possible of the great man himself and, at least, a few biographies from a much earlier period these should be read in conjunction with this book.


[1] Robert Service, Trotsky, A Biography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)
[2] The American Historical Review (2011) 116 (3): 900-902

Monday, 14 March 2016

1917: Before and After by Edward Hallett Carr, Macmillan,1969

“Trotsky was a hero of the revolution; He fell when the heroic age was over.” E H Carr.

This collection of articles, reviews and lectures deal predominantly with Carr’s assessment of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and its revolutionaries. To say that Carr had a contradictory attitude to the Revolution and for that matter Marxism in general would be an understatement.

The items that make up this slim volume were written before 1950 and give me a welcome opportunity for a limited survey of his work and the place it occupies in the field of Soviet studies.

The themes of the lectures are broad in scope. Ranging from figures such as Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky and literary figures such as Nikolai Chernyshevsky. Like all Carr’s work his style of writing is clear and straightforward and explains complex historical and political events in a language untainted by jargon.  

However, one major criticism of Carr’s work and perhaps the biggest charge against him is that he was only interested in writing about the victors in history. This is simply not true while he did not deal with the defeat suffered by Leon Trotsky and others on the scale of say Isaac Deutscher he did none the less deal with the defeated in a precise and not unsympathetic manner.

The first chapter The Russian Revolution; its place in History is a well-written attempt to place the revolution in its historical context. This is a solid piece of writing which is free of the usual cynicism that permeates Soviet historiography today. Carr correctly observes that the Russian revolutionaries learned the lessons from previous revolutions including the French and English bourgeois revolution.

The second chapter is a preface to a translation of the novel What Is to Be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. The novel was highly thought of by Vladimir Lenin.  One of Lenin great works What is to be Done, written in 1902 took the name of this book. He called the author a “great Russian socialist”. This a very sympathetic portrait of Chernyshevsky. The novel is highly thought of in academic circles. Joseph Frank wrote "No work in modern literature, with the possible exception of Uncle Tom's Cabin, can compete with What Is to Be Done? in its effect on human lives and its power to make history. For Chernyshevsky novel, far more than Marx's Capital, supplied the emotional dynamic that eventually went to make the Russian Revolution."[1]

Carr’s third chapter is called Red Rosa. As Carr admits it is very difficult to do justice to Luxemburg in the space of eleven pages of text. A full-length biography and then some is needed. It is clear that Luxemburg was held in high esteem amongst the Bolsheviks leaders. Lenin especially commented that “Although the eagles do swoop down and beneath the chickens fly, chickens with outspread wings never will soar amid clouds in the sky”.[2]

Carr properly designates Luxemburg as an equal of any leading Marxists of the time. She played a crucial role in the attack on Eduard Bernstein’s revision of Marxism. Her Accumulation of Capital written in 1915 was among other things an attack on Bernstein’s revisionism. Luxemburg it is true did not hold back any criticism especially of the Bolsheviks if she felt it was warranted.

The paragraph below quoted in Carr’s book has been interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on the Bolsheviks but I am not sure Carr’s reads it that way.

The essence of socialist society consists in the fact that the great laboring mass ceases to be a dominated mass, but rather, makes the entire political and economic life its own life and gives that life a conscious, free, and autonomous direction. The proletarian revolution requires no terror for its aims; it hates and despises killing. It does not need these weapons because it does not combat individuals but institutions, because it does not enter the arena with naïve illusions whose disappointment it would seek to revenge. It is not the desperate attempt of a minority to mold the world forcibly according to its ideal, but the action of the great massive millions of the people, destined to fulfill a historic mission and to transform historical necessity into reality.[3]

Carr’s fourth chapter is called The Bolshevik Utopia. This is a very misleading piece of writing, in that it gives the impression that Marxism has a utopian content. Given that Carr is usually very precise in his writing this is not a mistake or slip of the pen. Carr really did identify with this characterization of the Bolsheviks. It is a little strange given that Carr would have been familiar with the decades-long struggle the Marxist movement carried out in opposing the utopian socialists.

The Tragedy of Trotsky is by far the most interesting piece of this collection. The chapter is a multi-layer review of Isaac Deutscher’s biography of the Russian revolutionary. Carr it must be said was one of the first historians to carry out a major attempt at restoring Trotsky to his rightful place in Soviet and international history. Using sources from the soviet archives he was one of the first historians to write a detailed account of the political struggles inside the leadership of the Communist Party of the USSR 1923-24.

Carr clearly thought that there was an alternative to Stalinism in the form of Leon Trotsky and his Left Opposition. According to the Marxist writer David North “Carr was not politically sympathetic to Trotsky. But he brilliantly summarized and analyzed the complex issues of program, policy and principle with which Trotsky grappled in a difficult and critical period of Soviet history. Carr’s account made clear that Trotsky became the target of an unprincipled attack that was, in its initial stages, motivated by his rivals’ subjective considerations of personal power. While Carr found much to criticize in Trotsky’s response to the provocations of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, the historian left no doubt that he viewed Trotsky as, alongside of Lenin, the towering figure of the Bolshevik Revolution”. [4]

Carr’s Place in Soviet Historiography

Carr was part of that generation of historians although not Marxist who sought to make an objective evaluation of the October revolution and its aftermath. As one writer commented "not exactly a Marxist, but strongly impregnated with Marxist ways of thinking, applied to international affairs".

Carr, who worked under difficult circumstances throughout his career had to come to terms with the debilitating effect of Stalinism had on his field of historical study. According to Deutscher “The Stalinist state intimidated the historian, and dictated to him first the pattern into which he was expected to force events and then the ever new versions of the events themselves. At the outset the historian was subjected to this pressure mainly when he dealt with the Soviet revolution, the party strife which had preceded and which had followed it, and especially the struggles inside the Bolshevik Party. All these had to be treated in a manner justifying Stalin as the Leader of monolithic Bolshevism”.  [5]

Since Carr’s time, there has been a distinct and traceable decline in the historical study of the Russian revolution. The failure of today’s historians to produce an objective and intelligent account of the revolution has more to do with current politics than it does with just bad academic standards and this is despite having access to archives that Carr could have only dreamed of. In fact, outside the confines of the International committee of the Fourth international, there has been no historian that has bettered Carr’s work.

It is not within the realm of this review to examine the current state of soviet historiography suffice to say it is at a very low ebb. Far from being objective historical studies, many of the books appearing lately have been hagiographies and very right wing ones at that. Many of them do not even retain minimal academic standards.

One such book is Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky according to David North “Trotsky: A Biography is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination. Service is not content to distort and falsify Trotsky’s political deeds and ideas. Frequently descending to the level of a grocery store tabloid, Service attempts to splatter filth on Trotsky’s personal life. Among his favorite devices is to refer to “rumors” about Trotsky’s intimate relations, without even bothering to identify the rumor’s source, let alone substantiate its credibility”.[6]

In conclusion I am not saying Carr is without flaws and limitations. His work however will “remain a great and enduring landmark in historical writing devoted to the Bolshevik revolution. “It will take a very great historian to better his work. In today’s climate I for one am not holding my breath.

Notes

1.       Heretics and Renegades and Other Essays, Isaac Deutscher, Hamish and Hamilton, London, 1955).

2.       EH Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1921 (three volumes, London, 1950, 1952, 1953); The Interregnum, 1923-1924 (London, 1954).





[1] Joseph Frank, The Southern Review
[2] Leon Trotsky- Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg! (June 1932)
[3] Rosa Luxemburg-What Does the Spartacus League Want? (December 1918)
[4] North, David, In defence of Leon Trotsky, Mehring Books, Detroit,2015
[5] Isaac Deutscher’s, Heretics and Renegades and Other Essays (Hamish and Hamilton, London, 1955). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

[6] In The Service of Historical Falsification: A Review of Robert Service's Trotsky-David North 2009

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism-Donald Sassoon- HarperCollins UK 2008

“He raised the Italian people from the Bolshevism into which they might have sunk in 1919 to a position in Europe such as Italy had never held before”, Winston Churchill.

Whether the author consciously set out to write a book that challenges a very dangerous trend in a number of poorly written books is open to debate. These books have sought to impose a revisionist historiography that attempts to rehabilitates Benito Mussolini and mystify the rise of Italian fascism.

For Sassoon, the study of Italian fascism is not merely an exercise in historical research but has lessons for today’s political situation. To combat the growth of right-wing and fascistic forces in Italy today the past must be studied objectively and truthfully.

Modern Italian Politics

Perhaps the most marked development in politics during the Berlusconi years was the attempt to rehabilitate Mussolini and his fascist party. Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, on numerous occasions, praised the fascist “Duce” Benito Mussolini.  According to him, Mussolini had “done a great deal of good”.

Berlusconi went on to downplay Italy’s collaboration with the holocaust saying it was “not comparable to that of Germany”. He also repeated the tired lie that Mussolini was pressured by Hitler.

One of the more grotesque by-products of the whitewashing of the Italian fascist leader by Berlusconi came about when iPhone issued an app of Mussolini’s speeches. Apple was roundly condemned by a large number of Jewish groups who correctly stated that Mussolini was directly responsible for sending thousands of Jews to the death during the Holocaust. The app was subsequently pulled by Apple.

Revisionism

This political whitewashing of Mussolini and the fascists is mirrored in publishing circles by a growing number of poorly written books. At the moment, it is hard to gauge whether this revisionist whitewash is a minority, or has started to gain a foothold in academic circles.  So many of these books have appeared that one writer sees it as “a noir publishing niche”.
It would take a historian a rather long time to sift through over 100 current biographies of Mussolini to tell whether this very nasty revisionist trend has done any damage in academia. 

According to the historian R J B Bosworth, “It is true that much revisionism of the Berlusconi years is hard to take seriously. The slew of biographies and memoirs devoted to praising 'good Fascists' mostly fall well below acceptable academic standard. in devoting himself without reserve to the idea in which he believed'. But the quality of the research base of such works, and the decisions about which facts to include and which to exclude are too blatantly slanted to make much impact on scholarship.[1]

While that may be the case for academic books there is a definite trend in non-academic publications for rebranding fascism in order to fit into today’s politics. As one reviewer put it these books are not so much an attempt “at revisionism, but at restoration.”

One such book is by Nicholas Farrell[2] who has sought to overturn decades of historiography to claim that Mussolini was not really all that bad and that he took a wrong direction because of his alliance with Hitler. According to Farrell, Mussolini had "charisma" and was a "phenomenal" personality. Farrell tends to mirror Berlusconi thoughts.

It is not that difficult to challenge these falsehoods. A more objective and truthful examination of the facts would also lead us to a different picture. Mussolini’s prime goal was to create a new. “Roman Empire” around the Mediterranean Sea.

In order to achieve this goal, the Italian fascists invaded and occupied North Africa and areas of Yugoslavia. In order to justify the slaughter of Jews, Africans and Slavs the fascists classified them as “subhuman”. This discrimination was done in the defense of a “pure Italian race”. According to historian Carlo Moos, Italian racial laws were very similar to the Nazi’s and belonged to “a long-existing, general-fascist racial concept” [3]

Another book Liberal Fascism [4] is “less a work of neutral scholarship or unbiased journalism than thinly veiled historical revisionism”. Jonah Goldberg’s argument is simplistic, to say the least, it is the idea that fascism came from liberalism. A position not dissimilar to some of the “pseudo-left” writers from the Frankfurt school who put forward the perspective that fascism can be traced back to the enlightenment. However, it must be said that it is hard to take this writer seriously when he describes former presidents of the United States as fascists.
The rise of fascism

Given a limited space, Sassoon does a very competent job in explaining the rise of Italian fascism. While not a Marxist he does favor a left-wing slant to his history. The rise of fascism in Italy was a spur-of-the-moment development with significant sections of the population taking part.  Its leaders predominantly came from the rank and file fascist organization.
Despite taking a plebian character it was controlled and financed by big business. Its social composition was made up largely of the petty bourgeoisie, lumpen elements of the working class and in its latter stages, it began to draw in larger sections of the working class.

Sassoon has done some good research into the social makeup of the fascists in 1921 24-per cent rural workers; 15.5-per cent industrial workers; 14-per cent white-collar workers; 13-per cent students; 11.9-per cent small farmers; and 9- percent shopkeepers. “The proportion of students was, "a much higher proportion than any other group in the population".
Mussolini’s Rise to Power

The notion fostered by far too many right wing history books is that Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy at the end of 1922 by carrying out a heroic march on Rome. The truth revealed by Sassoon is a little less glamorous.

The majority arrived in special trains. The few that did march were hardly a fascist vanguard they were as one writer put it a “raggle-taggle bunch with hardly a modern weapon among them, and who could have been easily stopped by the army.”

Benito Mussolini and his fascists did not crush all before him rather he was invited by the aristocracy and sections of big business to form a coalition government. Once fully in power, the fascists carried out a murderous crackdown against its opponents in the working class
The Italian bourgeoisie had always fancied itself as a great power but economically this was not the case. The crisis of capitalist rule that brought the Italian fascists into government was the product was Italy's entry, in 1915, into the First World War on the side of Britain and France.

The pressure of the war merely escalated Italy’s economic and political crisis. This led to the famous post-war "Red Years" of 1919 to 1920. During these years, a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism was clearly on the cards. Sassoon’s account is very puzzlingly light on these years. Why?

To solve this crisis, the Italian bourgeoisie turned to the fascists, as the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explains “At the moment that the "normal" police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium -- the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat -- all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy”.[5]

There are two major weaknesses of the book the first being Sassoon’s complacent attitude towards the Italian Communist party’s role in the rise of fascism. Despite its being only two years old when Mussolini was given power it played a crucial role in allowing the fascists to consolidate its rule again as Trotsky said “One must admit, however, that the German Communist Party has also learned little from the Italian experience. The Italian Communist Party came into being almost simultaneously with fascism. But the same conditions of revolutionary ebb tide, which carried the fascists to power, served to deter the development of the Communist Party. It did not give itself an accounting as to the full sweep of the fascist danger; it lulled itself with revolutionary illusions; it was irreconcilably antagonistic to the policy of the united front; in short, it was stricken with all the infantile diseases. .[6]

The second major political weakness of the book is its glaring underestimation of the revolutionary nature of the working class. The Italian bourgeoisie saw very clearly the dangers of socialist revolution and turned to fascism to solve its predicament. In doing it had the collaboration of both social democracy and Stalinism.

Despite these weaknesses, I would recommend this book to anyone who is beginning a study of this important international event. I would also urge students and anyone interested in history to fascism to consult Leon Trotsky’s writing on the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy.

Notes

1.       Mussolini and The Rise of Fascism, by Donald Sassoon A timely riposte to Il Duce's wrong-headed revisionists Reviewed by Ian Thomson 2008
2.       Bosworth, R.J.B-Mussolini, Arnold, 2002
3.       Behan, Tom, The Resistible Rise of Benito Mussolini, Bookmarks, London,2003
4.       Guerin, Daniel, Fascism and Big Business, Monad Press, New York,1973





[1] R. J. B. Bosworth -  Benito Mussolini: Bad Guy on the International Block- Contemporary European History, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Feb., 2009), pp. 123-134
[2] Farrell Nicholas Mussolini: A New Life Weidenfeld, 2015
[3] Moos, Carlo: Late Italian Fascism and the Jews, 2008).
[4]  Jonah Goldberg- Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning- Penguin- 2009
[5] Leon Trotsky - What Next? vital Question for the German Proletariat, 1932
[6]Leon Trotsky - Fascism- What It Is and How to Fight It

Friday, 4 March 2016

Blog Overhaul

This month I have made the decision to finally overhaul the articles on my blog starting with the review of Donald Sassoon’s book on Italian Fascism. The political direction of the blog will not change but the purpose of the review is to bring some but not all of the articles closer to an academic rigour

It is clear in my mind that someday the articles will be published in book form or will form the basis of a new book. This will clearly not happen overnight and involves a lot of work. How this fits in with the prospect of doing an MA this year is anybody’s guess?.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Raphael Samuel and the Universities and Left Review 1957-1959

This literature review attempts to make a political and historical evaluation of Raphael Samuel’s time at the ULR (Universities and Left Review) from the theoretical standpoint of orthodox Marxism or to be more precise a historical materialist viewpoint. No such study has been made before as most of the previous historiography of the ULR has been made by historians and writers who shared similar theoretical positions to the people they were writing about.

It is encouraging that the last few years have seen an increasing interest in Samuel’s work. A television documentary looking at his interviews with East End people is being worked on. Sophie Scott-Brown is currently researching an intellectual biography called Reading the Times; Raphael Samuel and the Politics of History Production in Late Twentieth 20th Century. The book when published looks like it will be written from a post-modernist standpoint. A genre which seems still to dominate modern day history writing.

Any evaluation of Samuel must take into consideration his ‘membership’ of the New Left during his time at the ULR. The historian Michael Kenny has pointed out there are very significant “methodological problems facing those trying to interpret the history of the New Left in Britain”.

One problem cited by Kenny is the shortage of written documents of its early years. Although this is not a problem with Samuel’s time at the ULR because the archives at the Bishopsgate Institute have hardly been touched. Although one problem does present itself in the fact that there has been no fully documented history of cultural studies and no single archive.

Having said this hopefully the research being carried out by The Raphael Samuel History Centre will seek to resolve this issue. In many ways, it is a fitting tribute to the work of Samuel that the centre is promoting and encouraging participation in historical research and debate not only in his work but of others.

While sources well mined by other historian’s will be used other sources decidedly unused by other historians will be searched. These will be the three archives at the Bishopsgate, The Ruskin College Papers, The Universities and Left Review Papers and the Raphael Samuel Papers.
Early days
In November 1956, the historian Raphael Samuel sent a letter to Stuart Hall suggesting they set up a magazine called ‘New University Left’, Hall accepted the idea but the magazine was to be called Universities & Left Review. In order to gain support for the magazine which would orientate not towards the working class but to students, former CP members, fellow travelers and various other left wing radicals Samuel sent letters to these forces appealing for money and articles.

The appeal to ex-Communist Party members would have been logical since he had resigned from the party over Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956. 1956 was, without a doubt, one of the most important years in the history of the 20th century. Khrushchev, who was a willing partner in Stalin’s murderous purges of the 1930s, was forced to make a measured and very limited revelation of Stalin’s crimes in his “Secret Speech” of February 1956. The exposure of the Stalin’s crimes caused thousands of party members to leave the party virtually overnight. The CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain) also lost a large number of its high-profile historians such and E P Thompson and Christopher Hill who both left the party.

Samuel was a teenager when he joined the CP and the CPHG (Communist Party Historians Group). "Like many Communists of my time, I combined a powerful sense of apartness with a craving for recognition, alternating gestures of defiance with a desire to be ordinary and accepted as one of the crowd. If one wanted to be charitable, one might say that it was the irresolvable duality on which British Communists find themselves impaled today."[i]

Samuel had a very romantic view of his time in the CP and had a tendency to view those times through very rose tinted spectacles. His book the Lost World of Communism was devoid of any political analysis of the CP. Its betrayals are not mentioned. It is perhaps a little strange that he had a disdain for the undisciplined nature various left groups and publications but would later found one of them. Samuel missed the time when Stalinism had political control over the working class.

Samuel also seems to have been blind to the fact that there were significant disagreements inside the Communist Party over strategy and global politics. He certainly does not touch upon the struggle between Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition and Josef Stalin and stayed silent on Stalin’s murderous purges of the 1930s.

Historical Phenomenon

Samuel was part of a historical phenomenon. Born in 1934 he had a relatively comfortable childhood and was educated at a private school. During his late childhood, he would have been schooled by his mother who was in the Communist Party about the defeat of Nazi Germany, continued global economic depression and the Second World War. His teenage years would be defined by the continued rise of Stalinism, the further betrayal of the Russian revolution, and the rise to global eminence of American capitalism.

Post-1945 America began its dominance of Britain and Europe who had been bleed dry by the Second World War. America saw its role as rescuing Global capitalism. The Revolutionary struggles that broke out during this period were betrayed by a combination of Stalinism and Social Democracy.

British capitalism did not take its minor role in global events lightly. When Britain sought to exploit the situation thrown up by the Suez crisis in 1956 its military invention was sabotaged by the US. It was only able to maintain its global position by allying itself with the US albeit in a very junior position.

Aside from the odd article from non-members of the ULR the global economic and political implications of the rise of American imperialism largely passed the editors of the ULR by. Although this cannot be said of its work regarding Stalinism.

The editorial board of ULR which consisted of Stuart Hall, Gabriel Pearson, Ralph Samuel and Charles Taylor shared the view that Stalinism was the logical outcome of the Marxism. One historian Eric Hobsbawm who stayed in the CP shared that view. [ii].

The ULR’s editorial position was best summoned up by Charles Taylor: who said ‘Stalinism did not just add itself to Communism, it was not an external element deflecting the main stream of Communist development. In every real sense, it has grown out of Communism”. [iii]

This hostility towards orthodox Marxism was not shown towards the British Labour Party. In fact, the ULR’s orientation towards the Labour Party was to try and push it in a left-wing direction. To do this the Universities and Left Review published a number of documents such as ‘The Insiders’, a study of ‘the men who rule British industry’ in 1957. The ULR also published others outside the magazine who shared their view. Samuel published an article by John Hughes and Ken Alexander entitled A Socialist Wages Plan. Samuel called them the “New Left’s most influential contribution to Labour Party thought’”.

Another orientation championed by the ULR was towards the radicalisation that was taking place inside the universities and young people were the prime target of the editors.  While rejecting a revolutionary Marxist perspective they sought to attract young people to the magazine on the basis of a completely utopian socialist basis. Their uncritical absorption of the method of the Frankfurt School theorists meant in essence that Samuel and the ULR shared the same theoretical premise that the working class was not an agency for revolutionary change. They instead took on board critical theory which saw the “emphasis moved from the liberation of the working class to broader issues of individual agency”.

Labour Review and the Socialist Labour League

The ULR was not the only magazine around in 1957 that sought to gain political ground from the breakup of the Communist Party. A magazine of a completely different political caliber was founded by Gerry Healy’s the Club forerunner of the SLL (Socialist Labour League) called Labour Review.

Healy’s initial response to the ULR was friendly and he sought a dialogue with them and other New Left groups. The ULR’s hostility to Trotskyism soon became apparent. Samuel said “There has been a quite extraordinary mushrooming of inner-party groups. On the ultra-Left—the dissidence of Dissent—a dozen ‘vanguard’ parties, and as many tendencies and groups, compete for the honor of leading a non-existent revolutionary working class”. [iv]

Healy was not only rebuffed by the ULR, but E P Thompson’s New Reasoner was equally hostile towards the SLL leaving Healy to state that a “Comrade Thompson seems to have cast away all the luggage, he was equipped within the Communist Party except one soiled old suitcase labelled anti-Trotskyism”.

The knock back from the ULR did not stop the orthodox Marxists or Trotskyists in the Fourth International from doubling their efforts to gain from the crisis within the British Communist party. Healy continued to believe that Stalinism was a counter-revolutionary force. The SLL won important figures such as Cliff Slaughter, Tom Kemp, Peter Fryer and Brian Pearce out of the CP.

Pearce’s article warning of the dangers of founding the New Left Review without a thorough assimilation of the struggle waged by Leon Trotsky against Stalinism was prescient. Pearce warned of the dangers of an uncritical attitude by the ULR editors towards their past affiliation to Stalinism and their hostility towards the orthodox Marxist in the SLL.

“Nothing could be more dangerous today than a revival of the illusions which dominated that ‘old Left’. One of the chief sources of the confusion and worse in ‘new Left’ quarters, and in particular of their hostile attitude to the Socialist Labour League, is to be found in the fact that though these people have broken with Stalinism they have not undertaken a thorough analysis of what they repudiate, have not seen the connection between the apparently contradictory features of Stalinism at different times or even at one time, and so they remain unconsciously open to influence by false ideas absorbed during their period in the Stalinist camp” .[v]

History from Below

An interesting topic for a Ph.D. dissertation would be how much of Samuels academic writing or to be more precise his philosophy of history was influenced by his philosophy of politics. It is beyond dispute that his academic work can only be properly seen as part of a broader anti-communist response.

In his essay Class and Classlessness, Samuel attacks Hall over his belief that class that society was becoming a thing of the past. Hall believed that class was something only the Trotskyists talked about. However, Samuels understanding of class was not from the standpoint of an orthodox Marxist. He never saw the working class as a revolutionary class even in his days of the CP.

He did not deny that the Working class did have a radical history, though. But this view history was shaped by the politics of the Communist Party. They were radical in a historical sense hence his interest in the “people’s history” genre but not to the extent they could overthrow capitalism.

The historical genre of “People’s History” was very much a product of the Communist Party. The first example of this type of history within Britain was A.L. Morton’s People’s History of England. According to Morton the rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders he wrote about were representatives of a national revolutionary tradition.

As Ann Talbot points out “This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defense of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. [vi]
Another by-product of Samuel’s position regarding class was his work in the early development of Cultural Studies. Samuels avocation of People’s history and Cultural studies would colour his work until the day he died.

The early issues of the ULR were given over to discussing the theoretical merits of Cultural Studies, Hall and Samuel each borrowed conceptions from the Italian left-winger Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci’s notion of “cultural hegemony” was used as a guide for political activity.
Gramsci’s attack on economic determinism, his hostility towards Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution and his acceptance of the nationalist character of Stalinism was very attractive to Samuel and Hall.  As Gramsci, would say “To be sure, the line of development is toward internationalism, but the point of departure is ‘national’—and it is from this point of departure that one must begin”. [vii]

From the beginning, Cultural Studies became part of an attack on revolutionary Marxism. Samuel’s academic and political writing would seek to shift social criticism away from class and onto other social formations. Such as identity politics and the early stages of gender studies.
Hall believed that a consumer boom which the working class had bought into meant that the old outdated class based analysis could no longer be valid in this period. The wealth produced by the boom created what he termed a “people's capitalism”.

In a quite extraordinary statement Hall elaborated his position further “This journal has no political 'line' to offer: it cannot have, for it seeks to provide a forum where the different fruitful traditions of socialist discussion are free to meet in open controversy. It tries to reach beyond any narrow sectional appeal in the search for new ideas and new writers. Can we bridge the gap between the Thirties and the 'Fifties? Do new ideas, new writers and new readers in fact exist? This is the calculated risk we take. If this Review can attract serious attention and avoid the bankruptcy of labels and pigeonholes, it will have achieved the purpose for which it has been started” [viii]

Hall and Samuel’s new readers and writers would not come out of the working class but would come from pseudo-left radicals and utopian socialists. One such figure was Herbert Marcuse (1898 –1979) Marcuse welcomed the New left and especially welcomed the groups such as the ULR that adopted the new Cultural Turn.

According to Marcuse, “The New Left was concerned with the emancipation of imagination from the restraints of instrumental reason. In opposition to the alliance between realism and conformity, the forces of the New Left created the slogan: "Be realistic, demand the impossible." This is where the strong aesthetic component of the movement originated: art was seen as a productive emancipatory force, as the experience of another (and ordinarily repressed) reality[ix]

Marcuse who was a neo-utopian theoretician concurred with the figures inside the ULR that the working class should no longer be regarded as a revolutionary class. That it was apolitical, or even backward mass. Like Hall, he believed that it had been bought off by capitalism and was too closely connected to capitalist society to be revolutionary. The working class had become too consumed by the mechanisms of consumerism and the domination of the media.
Marcuse, who was a pupil of Martin Heidegger and a member of the Frankfurt School was seen as the "Father of the New Left”, went even further than Hall or Samuel in putting forward that there was a “proto-fascist syndrome in the working class”.

Marcuse also believed that “The “revolution” would not be made by the working led by a vanguard party along the lines of the Bolsheviks in 1917. Like Samuel he saw other social forces such as the intelligentsia, social fringe groups or guerrilla movements as the motor force of the revolution. The revolution would not be brought about by the class contradictions of capitalist society, but by the critical thinking of a progressive elite. The changing of attitudes towards social, culture and sexual habits would be a precursor to the successful transformation of society and the precondition for the social revolution.

Conclusion

Despite a plethora of material written about the ULR and the early New Left from a Stalinist or left radical standpoint nothing outside of few articles from the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League exists of an examination of the ULR from an orthodox Marxist standpoint. The archives held at Bishopsgate have hardly been touched and evaluated. Using these archives, I will seek to achieve a completely new understanding of Raphael Samuels early political and historical life.

Notes

[I] New Left Review, No.154 (November/December 1985), p.53.

[ii] See David North-  Leon Trotsky and the Fate of Socialism in the Twentieth Century,

[iii] C. Taylor, Socialism and the Intellectuals, Universities and Left Review 1/2, 1957.

[iv] Samuel Raphael, The Lost world of British Communism Verso 2006

[v] Some Lessons from History: The Left Review, 1934–1938(November 1959)

[vi] "These the times ... this the man": an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill-By Ann Talbot 2003

[vii] Stephen Gill: Gramsci, Historical Materialism and International Relations, Cambridge 1993

[viii] Universities & Left Review Spring 1957 Vol.1 No 1

[ix] The Failure of the New Left? * by Herbert Marcuse


Further Reading

 Internet Sources

1.                   Jacob, Clark Thurman -The Making of the First New Left - MA Thesis Indiana University 2011

2.                   W, F, P, Foks-Managerial society in the political thought of the British New Left- University of Cambridge 2013

3.                   Raphael, Samuel -British Marxist Historians 1880-1980-NLR 1/120 March-April 1980

Published Secondary Sources

1.            Bronner, Stephen Eric    Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) OUP USA 2011

2.            Deakin, Nicholas Radiant Illusion? Middle-Class Recruits to Communism in the 1930s – Eden Valley Editions 20 Oct 2011
3.             
4.            Dworkin, D, Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain: History, the New Left and the Origins of Cultural Studies (Durham, Duke University Press, 1997).

5.            Hall, S-1956: The World in Revolt Faber & Faber 2016

6.            Keucheyan, R-The Left Hemisphere: Mapping Critical Theory Today (Verso, 2014)

7.            Kenny, M The First New Left; British Intellectuals After Stalin, (London, Lawrence & Wishart,1995)

8.            Lin, Chun. The British New Left: a critical history 1957-1977. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993.)

9.            North, David - The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique (Mehring Books 2016)

10.        Smith, E and Worley, M, Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956, Manchester University Press (2014)

11.        Samuel Raphael The Lost World of British Communism – Verso Books (27 Nov. 2006)

12.        Thompson, W Setting the Agenda; Thompson, Hill and the Communist Party Historians, (Socialist History Society,2012)

13.        Thompson, W, Parker, D, Waite, M, &, Morgan, D, Historiography and the British Marxist Historians, (Socialist History 8, Pluto Press,1995)

14.        Thompson, Duncan. Pessimism of the intellect? a history of New Left Review. Monmouth: Merlin, 2007.

15.        Young, Nigel. An infantile disorder? The Crisis and decline of the New Left. 1977.