Sunday, 18 July 2021

I Come To Bury Cromwell Not Praise Him

'Cromwell was about 50% saint and about 50% serpent.'

Ronald Hutton,

Cromwell's task consisted of inflicting as shattering a blow as possible upon the absolutist monarchy, the court nobility and the semi-Catholic Church, which had been adjusted to the needs of the monarchy and the nobility. For such a blow, Cromwell, the true representative of the new class, needed the forces and passions of the masses of people.'

Leon Trotsky

'In dispersing parliament after parliament, Cromwell displayed as little reverence towards the fetish of "national" representation as in the execution of Charles I he had displayed insufficient respect for a monarchy by the grace of God. Nonetheless, it was this same Cromwell who paved the way for the parliamentarism and democracy of the two subsequent centuries. In revenge for Cromwell's execution of Charles I, Charles II swung Cromwell's corpse upon the gallows. But pre-Cromwellian society could not be re-established by any restoration. The works of Cromwell could not be liquidated by the thievish legislation of the restoration because what has been written with the sword cannot be wiped out by the pen.'

Leon Trotsky

If the historian Thomas Carlyle were alive today, he would have sent a strongly worded email to the Bristol University Professor Ronald Hutton asking why he had heaped a further dead dog on top of the great leader of the English bourgeois revolution Oliver Cromwell.

In a recent BBC History magazine article called The dark truth about Oliver Cromwell, Hutton claims that "The victor of the Civil Wars described himself as pious, honest and selfless. But, as all too many victims of his lies and malice would have attested, the reality was often more sinister".[1]

The purpose of his BBC article was not to make an objective assessment of Cromwell but has more to do with the fact that Hutton has a book on Cromwell coming out in August.[2]

The last few decades have seen a veritable production line of studies examining every facet of the main leader of the English bourgeois revolution. In the past three decades alone, he has been the subject of five full-length biographies, three studies of his career as a soldier, and a further three major collections of essays.

Hutton is a capable historian, so why would he adopt the attitude of a Sun Newspaper journalist when assessing Cromwell. One reason is that he can get away with it. It is a rare event today when a historian challenges the work of a fellow historian. History has become far too polite. Long gone are the great debates of the past. Today's historians are far too comfortable and passive.

Hutton's essay has all the hallmarks of a provocation which he knows will go unanswered. A second reason and Hutton is correct to say that so little is known about Cromwell that it is easy to make outlandish comments on his character without too much come back.

Hutton's new book on Cromwell does not appear until August of this year, but it is clear from his previous work on Cromwell that he is unlikely to produce an objective biography of Cromwell based on the previous historiography. Hutton rejects the notion that Cromwell can be best understood from this objective standpoint.

While it is hoped that Hutton's new book does place Cromwell within the complex events that are known as the English Revolution, given that his BBC History Magazine does not, I will not hold my breath.

Hutton knows he cannot just trash the memory of Cromwell. In his essay, he pays lip service to Cromwell's many attributes but adds, "all this is quite familiar to scholars of the period, but my research also revealed less attractive – and less often noticed – aspects of Cromwell's personality. One is his relentless pursuit of self-promotion. He grabbed the attention of the Long Parliament, almost as soon as it was elected, by speaking on behalf of the famous radical Puritan John Lilburne, who had been imprisoned by the royal government. Cromwell had never met the man, but that did not prevent him from using his misfortune as an opportunity to further his career".[3]

The rest of Hutton's article continues trashing Cromwell's reputation. He rehashes previous vitriolic attacks on Cromwell, saying that "Cromwell prepared his soldiers to inflict violence and retribution before the assault by quoting a biblical text which called for the cleansing of the land of idolators, declaring of Catholic images that "they that make them are like unto them" and so should be destroyed with them. His notorious massacre at the Irish town of Drogheda, later in his career, was long presaged".

Buzzing Of The Bees

Despite it going out of fashion, I still find it important to establish what the great English historian E. H Carr said was going on inside a historians head. What if any bees are buzzing around Hutton's head?

The first thing that strikes you about Hutton's work is his underestimation of the damage revisionist historians have done in their Marxist and Whig historiography attacks. In his book Debates in Stuart History, according to Mark Stoyle, "Hutton argues that the 'revisionist' wave of the late 1970 s was the product of specific developments within the culture of academic life over the previous fifteen years: citing, in particular, the expansion of higher education, which prompted a novel disposition among academics 'to establish new work by questioning received views'; the sudden availability of fresh sources; and 'the general distrust of established values which developed during the 1960s."

Stoyle says that  "Hutton's argument that revisionism was not so much a specifically right-wing attack on the left, as is sometimes claimed, but was rather a rebellion by young historians of widely differing political views against those senior academics — almost all from comfortable backgrounds, but of far-left inclinations — who represented the historical establishment. The fact that the young Turks — mostly political liberals, who 'included no Marxists or radical socialists' — were so quickly labelled as 'revisionists' by their opponents was indicative of how some senior left-wing academics saw the battle, for, as Hutton notes, the term 'revisionist' had 'commonly been employed during the … 1970 s by Marxists across the world to describe those who adulterated and betrayed true doctrine'.

What the revisionists eventually succeeded in doing was to demolish the 'socialist modernisation of the Victorian historiographical achievement' which had been crafted by historians such as Christopher Hill over the previous 30 years. But, partly because of their differences in emphasis, partly because of the sheer complexity of the picture which they had uncovered, the revisionists failed to establish a new consensus of their own".[4]

It is no accident that Stoyles praises Hutton's latest book as both seem to adopt a lot of the right-wing wing revisionists hostility to Marxist historiography. While  Hutton does note somewhat perceptively that those right-wing revisionist historians who sought to demolish Marxist historiography had nothing but hot air in which to replace it. Hutton's complacent attitude towards these historians further legitimises their anti-Marxism.

To conclude, I will review Hutton's new book at a later date. Those who want a more objective assessment of Oliver |Cromwell would do well to examine t the work of the great Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who said of Cromwell," In this way, Cromwell built not merely an army but also a party -- his army was to some extent an armed party and herein precisely lay its strength. In 1644 Cromwell's "holy" squadrons won a brilliant victory over the King's horsemen and won the nickname of "Ironsides." It is always useful for a revolution to have iron sides. On this score British workers can learn much from Cromwell".[5]

 

 

 



[1] BBC History Magazine-8 Jul 2021-Ronald Hutton.

[2] The Making of Oliver Cromwell-Ronald Hutton.

[3] BBC History Magazine-8 Jul 2021-Ronald Hutton.

[4] Debates in Stuart History by Ronald Hutton

[5] Leon Trotsky's Writings On Britain-Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/britain/ch06.htm

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Heaven: A Novel by Mieko Kawakami-Translator: Sam Bett and David Boyd-New York. Europa Editions. 2021. 192 pages.

 "Whom do I hate most among the rabble of today? The socialist rabble, the chandala apostles, who undermine the instinct, the pleasure, the worker's sense of satisfaction with his small existence—who make him envious, who teach him revenge. The source of wrong is never unequal rights but the claim of "equal" rights"—Nietzsche's The Anti-Christ, 1888

"I was always quite a philosophical child, asking odd questions and in a hurry to grow up". Mieko Kawakami

"'Progress' is a modern idea, which is to say it is a false idea."—Nietzsche's The Anti-Christ, 1888

Mieko Kawakami latest novel, excellently translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, is a brutal examination of adolescence in Japanese society. The book is drawn from her childhood in Osaka, Japan. By all accounts, it was a pretty bad experience. Her father was never home. Forced into being the main breadwinner at a tender age to support her family gave her the ability to write this "novel of ideas"  ". As Kawakami says, "I was always quite a philosophical child, asking odd questions and in a hurry to grow up".

Kawakami started to write at a very early age. She explains that "I try to write from the child's perspective—how they see the world. Coming to the realisation you are alive is such a shock. One day, we are thrown into life without warning."

In an interview with The Japan Times, Kawakami says, "I wanted to create a story that examines how religion, ethics and friendship influence human relationships," she says. "Do we live our lives under the guidance of something bigger, like spiritual or ethical beliefs, or do we live as individuals?".[1]

As Elaine Margolin perceptively writes, "Kawakami is captivated by that precious time of life when one is on the cusp of adulthood but still really a child. The author's ability to mimic the rhythmic disturbances of a teenage mind is mesmerising; she is a master of the interior voice. She instinctively grasps how one can feel silly and light one moment and be in the throes of anguish the next. In one of her earlier novels, Ms Ice Sandwich, she describes a lonely boy whose family is in disarray, finding solace by visiting a supermarket worker each day who kindly gives him an egg sandwich".[2]

The book's theme of childhood bullying is a universal one. " Kawakami explains that the nature of bullying has changed. "In the old days, there were just two places for relationships — home or school — but now, with social media, there is nowhere to hide, and the pressure is constant. Victims of bullying think the whole world knows they are being bullied. It is even crueller today with the way it can be spread."

I still remember my childhood bully. His name was Desmond Kavanagh. His reign of terror did not last too long. Unlike Kawamaki's character, who does not fight back, one person in my school had enough of Kavanagh's bullying and kicked the crap out of him. The bizarre thing is that Kavanagh tried to befriend me on Friends Reunited a few years later.

Novel of Ideas

Heaven has been described as a novel about ideas. Writing a "novel of Ideas" is a complicated business. Kawakami draws heavily on the work of philosophers like Frederich Nietzsche and Kant. A blog that she started to promote her singing career, "Critique of Pure Sadness," displayed an unhealthy fascination with Kant. Her latest book leans heavily on Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This is a very unfortunate choice, especially for such a young writer. Nietzsche's hostility towards the working class and socialism and his disdain for objective truth made him a favourite writer of the Nazi movement.

As Stefan Steinberg states, "Apologists for Nietzsche seek to distance him from the policy and activities of the Nazis. But is Nietzsche's position here so remote from Adolph Hitler's entreaty, in an internal NSDAP memo of 1922, for the: "most uncompromising and brutal determination to destroy and liquidate Marxism"? Adolph Hitler was certainly no philosopher, just as Nietzsche was not merely a political ideologue. But who can reasonably doubt that the former had little difficulty in seamlessly incorporating the latter's thoroughly backwards-looking programme of biological racism, hatred of socialism and the concept of social equality—together with his advocacy of militarism and war—into the eclectic baggage of ideas which constituted the programme of National Socialism"?.[3]

The strength of the novel is Kawamaki's examination of ideas as a way of writing a novel. As Merve Emre writes, "dreamlike expression of their fledgling ideas has an artistic value that flies in the face of critics like Northrop Frye, who believed that an "interest in ideas and theoretical statements is alien to the genius of the novel proper, where the technical problem is to dissolve all theory into personal relationships." But "Heaven" also models a rigorous and elegant process of inquiry that can transcend its pared-down fictional world. It agitates against the enduring idea that the best novels concern themselves with the singular minds and manners of people, offering no resources for the political and moral demands of "real life." The narrator's persecutor Ninomiya energetically parrots this argument".[4]

Kawakami, ability to write from a child's perspective is astonishing at times and avoids what one writer says are "puffed-up platitudes about the inherent cruelty and sympathy of children".

If I am generous, I would say that Kawakami also avoids Nietzsche's social and political pessimism and presents the world of children accurately. One major criticism is that, unlike many great Japanese writers, such as Yukio Mishima and Kazuo Ishiguro, she does not place her characters in this book in a social or political context. The reader would not know that while "Heaven" takes place in Japan, bullying is rife in Japanese society so much that classroom harassment forced a government to bring in national legislation because of a growing number of student suicides.

To conclude, Kawakami's work is well worth reading. Her fiction deals with the problems of everyday life for working-class people in Japan. That is one of the reasons behind her popularity. She examines critical social issues that permeate Japanese society. These include broken families, absent fathers and children struggling to find themselves in a increasingly cruel world. It is hoped that she does not spend too much time absorbing Nietzsche's works and instead let herself be influenced by some more healthy writers such as Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. She has a bright future, and I look forward to her next novel.

 About the Author

Mieko Kawakami is the author of the novel Breasts and Eggs, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and one of TIME's Best 10 Books of 2020. She was born in Osaka. Kawakami made her writing debut as a poet in 2006 and published her first novella, My Ego, My Teeth, and the World, in 2007. Her writing is deeply imbued with poetic qualities. Her work concentrates on the plight of women in Japanese society. Her works have been translated into many languages and are available all over the world. She has received numerous prestigious literary awards in Japan for her work, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Murasaki Shikibu Prize.



[1] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2021/05/27/books/heaven-mieko-kawakami/

[2]https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/2021/spring/heaven-novel-mieko-kawakami

[3] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/10/niet-o21.html

[4] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/06/07/a-japanese-novelists-tale-of-bullying-and-nietzsche

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Review: The 1619 Project: A Critique by Phillip W. Magness- Paperback 148 pages – April 2020-American Institute for Economic Research.

 

"History is not a morality tale. The efforts to discredit the Revolution by focusing on the alleged hypocrisy of Jefferson and other founders contribute nothing to an understanding of history. The American Revolution cannot be understood as the sum of the subjective intentions and moral limitations of those who led it. The world-historical significance of the Revolution is best understood through an examination of its objective causes and consequences".[1]

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.[2]

Emancipation Declaration

Carry On Cleo is a 1964 British Comedy. In one scene, Julius Caeser, played by Kenneth Williams, is about to be assassinated by his bodyguards. Caesar sends out his bodyguard Hengist Pod played by Kenneth Connor, to save his life. Pod is a first-class coward. Hod faces the assassins only to find that someone else has slain them all. Hod goes back to Caesar and claims the credit.[3]

Reading Phillip W. Magness's book reminds me of this scene because he seems to take too much credit for something he does not entirely deserve. His downplaying of the lead political and historical role played by the World Socialist Website in exposing the lies and falsification of the 1619 project is especially troubling.[4] In 120 pages, he makes just one mention.

Despite being a critique of the 1619 project, Magness's short book gives this wretched piece of journalism and history far too much credit. He writes, "the newspaper's initiative conveyed a serious attempt to engage the public in an intellectual exchange about the history of slavery in the United States and its lingering harms to our social fabric".[5]

Magness, it seems, had no problem with the 1619 project until a number of the essays contained in the project assert that the origins of modern-day American capitalism stemmed largely from slavery. While making some correct historical points, Magness is not concerned with the preposterous claim that the American Revolution and Civil war were fought to defend slavery but is concerned with the projects "heavily anticapitalist political perspective".Magness critique of the project is not from the left but the right.

One of the more disturbing aspects of Magness's book is his agreement with the 1619' s project attack on Abraham Lincoln. He writes that he "has devoted a significant amount of scholarly work to Lincoln's presidency. I weighed in on the arguments as presented, showing that the 1619 Project's assessment was in closer line with historical evidence that these critics neglected to consider. The essays are presented herein, and they place me in the curious position of being one of the only 1619 Project critics to also come to its defence on one of the major points of contention.[6]

The 1619 Project's and Magness's attack on Abraham Lincoln is not only wrong but reprehensible. The 1619 Project's vendetta against Lincoln has been described as his second assassination. Lincoln's attitude towards slavery was complex and contradictory. To label him a racist is simplistic and false. As David North points out, "Abraham Lincoln was an extraordinarily complex man, whose life and politics reflected the contradictions of his time. He could not, as he once stated, "escape history." Determined to save the Union, he was driven by the logic of the bloody civil war to resort to revolutionary measures. In the course of the brutal struggle, Lincoln gave expression to the revolutionary-democratic aspirations that inspired hundreds of thousands of Americans to fight and sacrifice their lives for a "new birth of freedom."[7]

In another sleight of hand, Magness attempts to equate the 1619's project of the racialization of history with all what he calls "far-left groups. He states," Broadly speaking, the political discourse around race, which comes from a very far-left perspective, has an unfortunate effect of crowding out other forms of anti-discriminatory thinking, including the individualist form. The notion of individual rights and the dignity of the human person. The notion that people should not face persecution or discrimination based on their skin colour, based on their religion, based on their ethnicity. These are all stories rooted in the rights and liberties of an individual".

In reality, he is talking about the World Socialist Website. This slander needs answering. The reader can make their mind up by reading the book The New York Times' 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History[8]. But  I would add this quote as a rebuttal to Magness's slur. As David North says, the real purveyors of race theory are not the Trotskyists of the World Socialist Website but come from the academia which comes "Under the influence of postmodernism and its offspring, "critical race theory," the doors of American universities have been flung wide open for the propagation of deeply reactionary conceptions. Racial identity has replaced social class and related economic processes as the principal and essential analytic category".

To conclude, Magness book is, on the whole, an accommodation to the right-wing and racialist politics of the 1619 project. While containing some interesting work on the origins of slavery and early capitalism, the serious reader who wants a real critique of the 1619 project should read the book, The New York Times' 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History.

  

 

 



[1] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/09/06/1619-s06.html

[2] A Transcription by the President of the United States of America:https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation/transcript.html

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Cleo

[4] wsws.org

[5] https://www.aier.org/article/the-1619-project-a-critique/

[6] https://www.capitalismmagazine.com/2020/04/books-the-1619-project-a-critique/

[7] Racial-communalist politics and the second assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Niles Niemuth, David North-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/06/25/pers-j24.html

[8] The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History-https://mehring.com/product/the-new-york-times-1619-project-and-the-racialist-falsification-of-history/


Sunday, 13 June 2021

Review: Alone in Berlin-Hans Fallada. Translated by Michael Hoffman. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2009. RRP £9.99 paperback.

"As it was, we all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone. But that does not mean that we are alone. It doesn't matter if one man fights or ten thousand; if the one man sees he has no option but to fight, then he will fight, whether he has others on his side or not," " 

Otto Quangel

"He who thinks of renouncing "physical" struggle must renounce all struggle, for the spirit does not live without the flesh."

― Leon Trotsky, Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It

Hans Fallada's excellent novel is set in Berlin of the 1940s. Despite being a fictional account of a German family, the book is based on the life of Otto and Elise Hampel.  Fallada, whose real name was Rudolf Ditzen, was born in 1893 in Greifswald, Germany.

To say he had a strange life would be an understatement. At the tender age of  18,he killed a friend in a duel and, according to James Buchan, spent "much of his career in psychiatric hospitals and drying-out clinics or in prison for thieving and embezzlement to support his morphine habit. In between, he worked on the land, wrote a couple of novels and held down jobs for a period on newspapers. Then, in 1944, he shot at his wife in a quarrel and was confined again to a psychiatric hospital."[1]

After this shocking episode in 1947, Aufbau-Verlag Jeder stirbt fuer sich allein ("Each dies only for himself") was published in Berlin. In many ways, this was a groundbreaking working work in that it was one of the first accounts of resistance to Nazi rule. Unfortunately, tragically Fallada died of a heart attack that same year.

The new English translation of Fallada's novel joins a growing number of recent books that have shown that there was a small but significant opposition to the Nazi regime. Fallada's book counters the lie that there was no opposition to Hitler and that all Germans supported the regime. As Bernd Reinhardt correctly points out, "Fallada's nuanced picture of daily life in the Third Reich shows the falsity of the thesis of Daniel Goldhagen and his supporters, holding that all Germans uniformly supported Hitler and the extermination of the Jews. The latest remake of Alone in Berlin (directed by Swiss actor Vincent Pérez) also rejects a collective guilt thesis. "I wanted to present this omnipresent fear. It was so thick you could cut it with a knife", the director said".[2]

Fallada's book has sold extremely well for a book written over half a century ago. The book's basic premise is that it follows the life of the Quangel family, who placed tiny handwritten postcards on stairs and hallways. Mr and Mrs Quangel distributed more than 200 such protest postcards in Berlin in 1940 following the death of their son at the front. This was done at a huge risk to them and their family. Anyone caught with the postcards would be executed. It is doubtful whether the English writer George Orwell knew of this book, but there are similarities between it and 1984.

According to Wikipedia, "Three months after its 2009 English release, it became a "surprise bestseller" in both the US and UK. It was listed on the official UK Top 50 for all UK publishers, a rare occurrence for such an old book. Hans Fallada's 80-year-old son, Ulrich Ditzen, a retired lawyer, told The Observer he was overwhelmed by the latest sales, "It is a phenomenon." Primo Levi said it is "the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis."[3]

It has now been translated into 30 languages. One reason for the book's success is the fact that the issues it addresses are contemporary ones. The struggle for social equality is very much a modern-day concern. With social inequality at its highest since the 1920s, many people are looking for answers to combat capitalism.

This English translation of the book appeared at the height of the new movement of far-right groups such as the National Front in France and Pegida and Alternative for Germany. State violence increasingly dominates everyday life. People need to know the history of the Quangels and other struggles against the Nazi's.

To conclude, while this an important book Fallada had no real perspective to counter fascism in Germany. He was no Marxist, and it is unclear whether he ever read Leon Trotsky on Germany because if he had, he would have probably produced a different book. As Trotsky said, "Fascism is nothing but capitalist reaction; from the point of view of the proletariat, the difference between the types of reaction is meaningless".[4]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 



[1] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/mar/07/alone-in-berlin-hans-fallada

[2] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/03/07/ber3-m07.html

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Fallada

[4] What Next? (1932)


Sunday, 6 June 2021

Review: Sophie Scholl and the White Rose by Annette Dumbach & Judd Newborn-One World publisher-ISBN-10: 1786072505.£9.99

 

"we will not be silent. We are your bad conscience" White Rose Leaflet

"Even the most dull-witted German has had his eyes opened by the terrible bloodbath, which, in the name of the freedom and honour of the German nation, they have unleashed upon Europe and unleash a new each day. The German name will remain forever tarnished unless finally the German youth stands up, pursues both revenge and atonement, smites our tormentors, and founds a new intellectual Europe. Students! The German people look to us! The responsibility is ours: just as the power of the spirit broke the Napoleonic terror in 1813, so too will it break the terror of the National Socialists in 1943."

White Rose Pamphlet

"To say to the Social Democratic workers: "Cast your leaders aside and join our 'non-party united front" means to add just one more hollow phrase to a thousand others. We must understand how to tear the workers away from their leaders in reality. But the reality today is the struggle against fascism. ... The overwhelming majority of the Social Democratic workers will fight against the fascists, but – for the present at least – only together with their organizations. This stage cannot be skipped".

Leon Trotsky-For a Workers' United Front Against Fascism (December 1931)

This book provides the reader with a very thorough and accessible introduction to the life of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement. The struggle of the Scholl family belies the common myth that there was no opposition to the Nazi's during the Second World War.

The book fails to address the reason why this opposition was so small and disparate. The fact that Hitler was able to rise to power and smash the worker's movement and the most progressive sections of the middle class was due to the betrayals of Stalinism and Social Democracy who allowed him to come to power without a shot being fired.

This history was to shape the character of the opposition to Hitler. After all, the White Rose movement was a non-violent resistance group comprised of five middle-class students at Munich University. At its heart, brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, their fellow students Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst, and their professor Kurt Huber.

Despite knowing full well that if caught, they faced instant death, they began distributing leaflets and graffiti. They were caught in 1943 by the Gestapo and, after a brief trial, executed. Sophie Magdalena Scholl was just 21 at the time of her state murder.

It is clear from the history of Scholl and the White Rose movement that it did not have a fully worked-out political agenda that drove its activities, and some of its activities against the fascist regime were dominated by their religious leanings. Scholl was heavily influenced by the theologian Augustine of Hippo. She described that her "soul was hungry".

Not everything was guided by their religious beliefs. As this statement from a White rose Pamphlet states, "Our current 'state' is the dictatorship of evil. We know that already, I hear you object, and we do not need you to reproach us for it yet again. But, I ask you, if you know that, then why don't you act? Why do you tolerate these rulers gradually robbing you, in public and in private, of one right after another, until one day nothing, absolutely nothing, remains but the machinery of the state, under the command of criminals and drunkards?"[1]They had substantial political opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.

As Tanja B. Spitzer writes, "The White Rose was a small endeavour with large consequences. Together they published and distributed six pamphlets, first typed on a typewriter, then multiplied via mimeograph. At first, they only distributed them via mail, sending them to professors, booksellers, authors, friends and others—going through phone books for addresses and hand-writing each envelope. In the end, they distributed thousands, reaching households all over Germany. Acquiring such large amounts of paper, envelopes, and stamps at a time of strict rationing without raising suspicion was problematic, but the students managed by engaging a wide-ranging network of supporters in cities and towns as far north as Hamburg and as far south as Vienna. These networks were also activated to distribute the pamphlets, attempting to trick the Gestapo into believing the White Rose had locations all across the country".[2]

They did provide a clear tactic to anyone who wanted to oppose the fascists saying "in their fifth pamphlet. "And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present 'state' in the most effective way….We cannot provide each man with the blueprint for his acts, we can only suggest them in general terms, and he alone will find the way of achieving this end: Sabotage in armament plants and war industries, sabotage at all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies, and organizations of the National Socialist Party. Obstruction of the smooth functioning of the war machine….Try to convince all your acquaintances. Of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists; of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to passive resistance!"

While it was very difficult for the group to act amid war and being hounded by the Nazi's secret police, a major weakness of the group is that it did not appeal to the one class that could bring down the hated Nazi dictatorship, and that was the German and international working class. The defeat of the German revolution because of the betrayal of Stalinism and Social Democracy had meant the class consciousness working class in Germany had been thrown back for decades.

It is doubtful that any of the White Rose movement had read any of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky works, which is a shame because even a cursory read of his work would have given the group an entirely different political outlook. As Trotsky writes "When a state turns fascist, it doesn't only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role – but it means, primarily and above all, that the workers' organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism. This was precisely the situation facing the White Rose group.

To conclude, this 75th-anniversary edition deserves a wide readership. The story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement contains an important lesson for the international working class and will inspire anyone who has a burning hatred of fascism and all forms of racism. As Sophie Scholl said, "I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best I could do for my nation. I, therefore, do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct."

 



[1] See the http://whiteroseproject.seh.ox.ac.uk/

[2] https://www.nationalww2museum.org/contributors/tanja-b-spitzer


Sunday, 23 May 2021

Review: The New York Times 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History- David North & Tom Mackaman-Mehring Books-$24.95

Both ideological and historical myths are a product of immediate class interests.  These myths may be refuted by restoring historical truth—the honest presentation of facts and tendencies of the past.—Vadim Z. Rogovin

"Tell me anyway--Maybe I can find the truth by comparing the lies."

― Leon Trotsky

This groundbreaking book adds significantly to the arsenal of Marxist works that have utilised the historical materialist method in examing complex historical questions. This collection of essays and interviews represents the most consistent and sustained attack on the New York Times 1619 Project, released in August 2019. The book's publication is a significant political and intellectual event

The 1619 project denounced two seminal events in American history: the 1776 revolution that founded the United States and the Civil War of 1861–65. In its place, the New York Times put forward a completely new revisionist narrative that stipulated that the rebellion against Britain was a counterrevolution instigated to defend slavery and that the union forces in the Civil War were led by a president, Abraham Lincoln, who was a racist.

The lead writer and Project founder Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said, "Our democracy's founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true". For this piece of deep insight, the author was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Hannah-Jones made the preposterous claim that anti-black racism "runs in the very DNA of this country".

As you would expect from a work published by Mehring books, this collection of essays and lectures is based on meticulous research. It thoroughly discredits the 1619 Project's lies and distortions.

One question to book seeks to answer is why would the Times lie. As Leon Trotsky once pointed out the that when one lies about history, it is done to conceal real social contradictions. The Times project was released amidst truly staggering levels of social inequality produced by capitalism. As one writer wrote, "These contradictions can be resolved on a progressive basis only through the methods of class struggle. Efforts to divert and sabotage that struggle by dissolving class identity into the miasma of racial identity lead inexorably in the direction of fascism".[1]

Contained in the book are interviews with the most renowned scholars and specialists in the history of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s — Gordon Wood, James M. McPherson, James Oakes, Victoria Bynum, Richard Carwardine, Clayborne Carson, Adolph Reed Jr., and Dolores Janiewski. Subjects examined are the "complex development of slavery in the New World, the American Revolution, the sectional crisis over slavery and the Civil War, the struggle for social equality in the twentieth century, and the class politics of racial identity in the present".

The most disturbing feature of the Times revisionist project was not so much what it contained, which was easily refuted, but the fact that it was left to the Trotskyist movement and the World Socialist Website(WSWS) to attack this abomination of historical falsehood. The Attack by the WSWS drew immediate media attention and very quickly seriously undermined the whole 1619 project. As one writer put it, it destroyed the Times "new historical narrative" and exposed it as a money-making venture.

In reading this book and its sustained attack on the 1619 project, it is not hard to understand why the stand taken by the WSWS and several leading Historians has altered the political and "intellectual terrain". It has destroyed the 1619 project. It has provided a textbook Marxist approach and has implemented a historical materialist method of historical investigation. One also has to admire the bravery of the historians that collaborated with the WSWS. These historians had "strong reservations about important aspects of the 1619 Project" and were "dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it." It is one thing for a Marxist to launch a polemical attack. After all, it is in their DNA. It is another for world-renowned historians to put their life's work on the line by defending historical truth.

The stand taken by the WSWS and these leading historian has encouraged others to enter the field of battle. One notable book has been Peter W Wood's book 1620. Peter.W.Wood's book is a very useful critique of the New York Times 1619 Project. It has been described as historiography of the debates over the 1619 Project. The Times basic premise is to reset American history by "asserting that all the laws, material gains, and cultural achievements of Americans are rooted in the exploitation of African-Americans".

To his credit, Woods does not buy into this absurd and dangerously wrong assumption. The book is an attempt, to sum up what critiques of the Project have written. While many of the most important historians who have written on the subject have published articles and letters opposing the Times, the political leadership in this fight against this travesty of historical study has fallen to the Trotskyist's at the World Socialist Website. While semi acknowledging this in the book, Wood's is not happy that it was the Trotskyists who first exposed this racialist and revisionist approach to American history. The fact that the Times project has been so discredited is down to the role played by the Marxists.

As the Marxist writer David North correctly points out, "As a business venture, the 1619 Project clambers on, but as an effort at historical revision, it has been, to a great extent, discredited. This outcome is owed in large measure to the intervention of the World Socialist Web Site, with the support of several distinguished and courageous historians, which exposed the 1619 Project for what it is: a combination of shoddy journalism, careless and dishonest research, and a false, politically-motivated narrative that makes racism and racial conflict the central driving forces of American history".

In his book, Wood opposes the 1619 project and offers a different starting point for modern American history, which is when the first pilgrims set foot in America in the 1620s. The political and historical study of the pilgrims is a worthwhile subject. To some degree, Wood's has a case in point, but American history has many such starting points. Most historians seem to stick with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as America's founding.

Wood's book is one of the better critiques of the 1619 project, but it does not probe the politics behind 1619. As David North points out, "The "financialisation" of the Times has proceeded alongside another critical determinant of the newspaper's selection of issues to be publicised and promoted: that is, its central role in the formulation and aggressive marketing of the policies of the Democratic Party. This process has served to obliterate the always tenuous boundary lines between objective reporting and sheer propaganda. The consequences of the Times' financial and political evolution have found a particularly reactionary expression in the 1619 Project. Led by Ms Nikole Hannah-Jones and New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein, the 1619 Project was developed to provide the Democratic Party with a historical narrative that legitimised its efforts to develop an electoral constituency based on the promotion of racial politics. Assisting the Democratic Party's decades-long efforts to disassociate itself from its identification with the social welfare liberalism of the New Deal to Great Society era, the 1619 Project, by prioritising racial conflict, marginalises, and even eliminates, class conflict as a notable factor in history and politics".[2]

Given that the Trotskyists from the WSWS have led the political and historical fight against the Times deeply right-wing and revisionist historical viewpoint, it is perhaps not surprising that the WSWS has come under sustained attack from not only conservative sources but has been attacked by several Stalinist and Pseudo left individuals and organisations.

One of the more stupid and ignorant attacks came from the predictable Louis Proyect, who wrote," Indeed, nobody has published more "Trotskyist polemics" than them, as long as you are using the term Trotskyist without regard for what Trotsky stood for. An examination of the record will place Trotsky firmly in the Project 1619 camp. When Trotsky was living in Prinkipo, an island near Istanbul, in 1933, he met with Arne Swabeck (who coincidentally was one of the talking heads in Warren Beatty's "Reds"). Swabeck asked, "How must we view the position of the American Negro: As a national minority or as a racial minority?" Trotsky's reply probably would have made both Wilentz and his friends at WSWS beet-red with fury. He urged his comrades to support self-determination for Blacks even if it antagonised white workers, who were far more radical in 1933 than they are today".[3]

Proyect has a history of right-wing attacks on the WSWS. The WSWS called him a professional liar and said, "Proyect's blog—or should we call it blather—lacks all credibility. In his dishonesty, cynicism, and debased vulgarity, he epitomises all that is politically diseased in the milieu of American pseudo-left politics. His attack on the WSWS is the work of a man who has absolutely nothing to do with the politics, principles and culture of the Marxist movement. His blog were it correctly named, would be called "The Unrepentant Liar."[4]

Further attacks on the WSWS have come from the Stalinists of the USA Communist Party who wrote, "Trotskyists have traditionally attacked mainstream Communists and others who have sought to construct centre-left coalitions to defeat the right, attacks that have aided the right. Here, North, London, and the World Socialist Review have acted to support a centre-right backlash against a new history of slavery, a kind of negative United Front with the liberal and conservative celebrators of U.S. history. The author and co-signers of the protest letter, whom they defend, would never put "bourgeois" in front of "democratic" to define the American Revolution. In my experience, they would do what they usually do—reject the work of those like the scholars of the 1619 Project who challenge conventional wisdom and by their rejection prevent the article's publication in mainstream media".[5]

This duplicity has been the trademark of the Stalinists for nearly a century. It has been exposed and refuted by the Trotskyist movement and represents a desperate attempt by the Stalinist to breathe new life into the discredited Democratic party and join forces with the various other Pseudo Left groups that have backed the Project and have attacked the WSWS.

In the past, these Pseudo left organisations would have at least paid lip service to the struggles of the working class, but now this has been replaced by an open acceptance of new forms of non working class forms of struggle. James A. Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose summarise this succinctly in this article[6] "We have moved into a new stage of history. The battles the left fought over the past half-century have largely been won. We cannot go back to focusing on miners' rights and trade unions, or on securing equal pay for women, outlawing racial discrimination, or legalising homosexuality: we have won those wars. Much of the right support these advances now too. We have new battles to fight. These include combating climate change, securing our place on the world stage and within the global economy, and fostering cohesive multiculturalism, free from moral relativism and enforced conformity. The left now finds itself pulled in many directions at once. This is the source of its profound identity crisis".One manifestation of this right-wing shift is the support by the Pseudo Left organisations of the 1619 racialist project.

Conclusion

It is hoped that The New York Times' 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History: Essays and Interviews will find a wide audience. Its essays and interviews will be of interest to all readers of American history.

It is an essential aid for all teachers and college professors, students and the general reading public to counter the Times' blatant historical falsifications. It will also be a valuable tool in the struggle of both black and white workers in their struggle against capitalism.



[1] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/06/25/pers-j24.html

[2] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/12/04/intr-d04.html

[3] https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/10/project-1619-and-its-detractors/

[4] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/06/08/proy-j08.html

[5] https://www.cpusa.org/article/the-1619-project-backlash-from-the-left/

[6] The Left is Having an Identity Crisis- https://areomagazine.com/2019/12/18/the-left-is-having-an-identity-crisis/

Monday, 10 May 2021

Comment: Philip Roth And His Dead Dogs

 "Can men write about women?" And the fool expects an answer."

Heinrich Heine

"Roth possessed a verbal brilliance and breadth probably unsurpassed by any American novelist in the postwar period. He could be enormously, subversively funny. He mocked many sacred cows and poured cold water on many national myths. His treatment of his own foibles and those of his friends and lovers were often unsparing".

David Walsh

"In some quarters, 'misogynist' is now a word used almost as laxly as was 'Communist' by the McCarthyite right in the 1950s—and for very like the same purpose."

Philip Roth

To tell the truth, is very difficult, and young people are rarely capable of it.

Leo Tolstoy

Thomas Carlyle complained once that during the writing of his study of Oliver Cromwell, he had been required to "drag out the Lord Protector from under a mountain of dead dogs". With Philip Roth being dead only two years I feel the same must be required of him.

The last two years have seen an outpouring of vitriol against Roth. This has increased with the recent release of several biographies. The most important one of these biographies is one by Blake Bailey.[1]Since I have not read this 900-page book, I will not comment on it but will later. This article is about the hysterical response from the book reviewer Leo Robson.

Although not all of the book reviews needlessly attack Roth, the majority highlight that we live in a time, according to the writer David Walsh that contains "widespread historical ignorance and cultural debasement". In Roth's case, the manufactured controversy is a product of this environment. It must be said that in the latest reviews of Bailey's biography, some preposterous things have been written accusing the novelist of misunderstanding or being hostile to women and having sexual failings.[2]

This new collection of reviews have a commonality about them. All of them seem to advocate a new form of Puritanism and want to return to a period when writers were censored and their books burnt.

As Walsh writes, "What irks a good number of the commentators is the fact that the late novelist had no use, generally speaking, for the obsession with identity politics, the brand of fraudulent and reactionary postmodern "leftism" that has proliferated on American campuses and elsewhere over the past 40 years or so. Roth treated several female academics and other such types rather roughly in his books, suggesting that behind their aggressive "feminism" lay a good number of hidden factors, including psychological insecurity, personal ambition and avarice. His instinctive hostility was entirely appropriate".[3]

Perhaps the vilest and worthless attack on Roth comes from Leo Robson, whose review of Bailey book reaches new heights of hysterics and manufactured controversy. He writes, "He reports without comment the BBC's bananas contention that Roth was 'arguably the best writer not to have won the Nobel Prize since Tolstoy', as well as the maybe even sillier claim made by Roth's friend Benjamin Taylor that his work is 'built to outlast whatever unforeseeable chances and changes await us and our descendants'. Quoting postmortem hyperbole is always a tempting recourse for the exhausted biographer bidding farewell, but by loading his epilogue with the encomia of the novelist's most ardent fans, not exactly absent from the rest of the book, Bailey dodges a far more pressing duty, to explain why Philip Roth – nostalgist, American chauvinist, spouter of 'amazingly tasteless' opinions, serial seducer of students, and, latterly and not unrelatedly, a critic of #MeToo – has outlasted the changes already upon us".

Like all critics of Roth, Robson hates the fact that Roth had the temerity to attack the #MeToo movement. David Walsh correctly attacked this movement whose ostensible aim "is to combat sexual harassment and assault, i.e., to bring about some measure of social progress. However, the repressive, regressive means resorted to—including unsubstantiated and often anonymous denunciations and sustained attacks on the presumption of innocence and due process—give the lie to the campaign's "progressive" claims. Such methods are the hallmark of an anti-democratic, authoritarian movement, and one, moreover, that deliberately seeks to divert attention from social inequality, attacks on the working class, the threat of war and the other great social and political issues of the day".

Robson does have a track record of hating Roth.His review of Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth-By Benjamin Taylor was not too flattering. His latest review of Blake Bailey's biography of Roth should have been sent back to him by the editors, and have been asked to do better.

The first thing that strikes you of Robson's article is the title which has a question mark. I am unsure if the editor at Literary Review magazine choose this or Robson himself. Either way, it is a pretty stupid thing to do because any objective criteria would show Roth to be one the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Also, the low level of Robson's article is shocking, but even more shocking is the fact that Literary Review printed in that form in the first place. Take this quote, "But even as Roth settled into the role of grumbling grand old man, he remained more than ever the entitled child, in permanent need of soothing, powerless to resist a tempting treat or keep a tantrum at bay. 'Tell him to grow up,' Nicole Kidman, who played Faunia in the film adaptation of The Human Stain, is reported to have said on learning that Roth was annoyed about a date that went awry. I mean, what is that about. It is just childish gossip. Who cares.

Robson is right about one thing that Roth was a product of his environment. The monkey finally typed a sentence. It is not Roth's fault that he grew up in the early part of the 20th century. He did not choose the conditions, but he achieved artistic greatness despite all the political handicaps he faced.

As Walsh said, "Roth grew up during the Cold War, and the limitations of American intellectual life during that epoch also helped shape him, as much as he may have cursed and even kicked against its confines".

The great Marxist writer Leon Trotsky put it even better "There would be no art without human physiology because there would be no human beings at all, but that does not mean art can simply be explained by human physiology. Between that physiology and artwork, as Marxists understand, lies a complex system of transmitting mechanisms in which there are individual, species-particular and, above all, social elements. The sexual-physiological foundation of humanity changes very slowly, its social relations more rapidly. Artists find material for their art primarily in their social environment and in alterations in the social environment. Otherwise, there would be no change in art over time, and "people would continue from generation to generation to be content with the poetry of the Bible, or of the old Greeks".[4]

To conclude, it is only fitting to end with the words by David Walsh, who has intelligently commented on Roth's work when he "wrote "I'm less and less convinced that one ought to judge an artist primarily or even substantially by the social views he or she espouses. A great many factors go into the formation of such views, many of them outside the control of the individual artist. But the artist does have responsibility for the honesty and integrity of his or her approach to life and art, for the continual reworking of themes and language or materials, for the maintenance of that level of dissatisfaction and restlessness, transmitted to a reader, that contributes to giving a work meaning and value. I am moved by Roth's efforts. Roth's best novels will endure".[5]If Mr Robson wants to reply to this article, my website is free for him to reply. I wait with bated breath.



[1] Philip Roth: The Biography Hardcover – 8 April 2021 Blake Bailey

[2] David walsh -https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/06/18/roth-j18.html

[3] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/06/18/roth-j18.html 

[4] Leon Trotsky - Culture and Socialism - 1927

[5] See Walsh’s collected writings- The Sky Between the Leaves: Film Reviews, Essays and Interviews 1992 - 2012 Paperback – 22 Nov. 2013 Mehring books