Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 31, 2018

Munsees, Monsey and Muncie

Filed under: indigenous,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 12:36 am

Monsey, NY is a town just north of New York City that is mostly Hasidic. Here you see the Neturei Karta sect celebrating Lag Bo’omer. You’ve probably heard of them. They often participate in protests against Israel, mostly because they consider the state of Israel to be contrary to Jewish religious precepts. Until the Messiah comes, there can be no Jewish state in their eyes. In addition to that, they also decry the treatment of the Palestinians who they see as victims of ethnic cleansing.

The town of Monsey derives its name from the Munsee Indians, who were part of the Lenape nation. They had a village there as well as settlements all through New York State from approximately just south of Albany all the way down to New York City. In fact, the Munsees were the ones who supposedly sold Manhattan to the Dutch for $24.

In the early 1800s, the Munsees were systematically robbed of their land in New York and eventually relocated to  Wisconsin. in much more meager circumstances.

They also resettled in Indiana, where they called their village Munsee Town. It was once  again absorbed by whites who at least gave them the courtesy of retaining the name but Anglicized it as Muncie. Muncie became immortalized as the subject of Robert and Helen Lynd’s “Middletown” that examined attitudes of people living in Muncie, the first sociological study of its kind.

The Lynds were the parents of long-time radical Staughton Lynd. Their study, according to Wikipedia, found that at least 70 percent of the population belonged to the working class. “However, labor unions had been driven out of town because the city’s elite saw them as anti-capitalist. Because of this, unemployment was seen among residents as an individual, not a social, problem.” With a study reaching such conclusions, no wonder they were investigated as Communist Party members in the 1950s.

Because of the wrongs done to them in the 1800s, the Munsees were compensated by being allowed to build a gambling casino in Sullivan County, where I grew up. They were as dominant in Sullivan County as the Sioux were in the Dakotas. Unlike the Sioux, they were farmers and mostly dispossessed of their land rather than dispossessed of their game as was the case with the Sioux.

Four years ago they decided to abandon plans to build the casino since Cuomo had authorized the building of casinos closer to New York City, thus shrinking their market.

As for the Neturei Karta, Lag Bo’omer is a holiday that nobody in my Jewish village celebrated. It is much more of a Chasidic thing with Kabbalistic implications. The Talmud states that it originated in the 12th century when a divinely-ordained plague led to the death of 24,000 rabbinical students in the month of Omer. The “lag” refers to the day when the plague was lifted. As far as I know, there is no explanation why God visited such a calamity except maybe as a Job-like test of their faith.

The holiday is marked by dancing around bonfires and the children taking rubber bows and arrows into the fields sort of like in a John Ford western. In today’s Israel, the holiday is celebrated as a symbol of Israel’s fighting spirit. Needless to say, the Neturei Karta has different ideas.

July 30, 2018

Beating the Macbook Pro at Chess

Filed under: chess — louisproyect @ 7:13 pm

Typically, I beat the Chess game on my Macbook Pro about 3 times a year but I have beaten it already 3 times this month using the same King-side attack that is based on a response to the French defense. Basically, I get both Knights lined up together on the same file that are used in combination with a pawn swarm.

This was the result of improvising rather than any thought through strategy. I have a suspicion that it is successful since it is so atypical. If I use a more predictable attack, I always lose. I should add that even after happening on this attack, it is no walk in the park. The previous 2 times using this combination, it took me over 70 moves to win. This time it took half as many. If I hadn’t gotten lackadaisical, I could have won after 25 movies.



July 29, 2018

Werner Angress’s “Stillborn Revolution: the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923” (part three)

Filed under: Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 8:35 pm

This is the third chapter from Werner Angress’s “Stillborn Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923” that deals with the March 1921 Aktion that was an ultraleft adventure sanctioned by the Comintern. When it turned out to be a disaster, Paul Levi, who had already been ousted from party leadership, wrote a blistering and public critique titled “Our Path: Against Putschism” without bothering to get the whacked-out CP leadership’s approval. This got him expelled from the CP even though Lenin plagiarized his analysis and defended it at the Third Congress Of The Communist International that met in Moscow between June 22-July 12, 1921.

Unlike Pierre Broué, whose history of the German CP in the 1920s shares the same criticisms, Angress sees the Third Congress as the first step in the Comintern’s assumption of a centralizing dynamic that prefigures Stalin’s totalitarian control. Even if Lenin and Trotsky had the authority to read the German ultraleft the riot act and set the CP’s on a more rational course, that authority served to rob the CP’s of the independence they once enjoyed. Specifically, in the case of Germany, it meant undermining the Rosa Luxemburg’s conception of how a revolutionary party should function that was defended by Paul Levi, her successor.

In my next series of excerpts, I will be dealing with another fiasco imposed on the German CP by the Comintern that led to the Fourth Congress’s “Bolshevization” turn, which in turn led to the sect formations the left has been trying with mixed results to supersede in the past 30 years or so.

THE BATTLE was over, the party counted its losses, and victors proceeded to punish the vanquished. Public opinion was bitterly hostile to the Communists, particularly because, during the last stages of the uprising, the fighting in Prussian Saxony been ferocious, and charges of atrocities were raised by both sides. On March 29 the Prussian government established special courts for the prosecution of captured agitators, and for weeks after the end of hostilities the legal mills ground out sentences which altogether amounted to an estimated 3000 years of prison and penitentiary terms for 4000 insurgents. Five years earlier, when the British under somewhat similar circumstances crushed another Easter rebellion, that of the Sinn Feiners, they executed Sir Roger Casement and fifteen other leaders, but showed marked restraint in dealing with the rank and file of the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army. In Germany, on the other hand, only two prominent leaders, Max Hoelz and Heinrich Brandler, were tried and convicted, whereas on the rank and file, who had borne the brunt of the fighting, fell most of the retribution that followed. It was therefore hardly surprising that the membership of the Communist Party, which at the beginning of the uprising had numbered about 350,000, dropped to a mere 180,443 by the summer of 1921.

As soon as the insurrection had collapsed, the Communist Party underwent a grave internal crisis, set off by Paul Levi. News of the Aktion had reached him in Vienna, on his way to Italy, and he returned at once to Germany. As he was no longer a leading official, Levi had to gather his information from friends and acquaintances who had participated in the various decisive conferences held by the party prior to and during the initial stages of the uprising. On March 29 he sent a summary of his findings to Lenin in a confidential letter in which he made it quite clear that he felt in no way responsible for what had occurred, but that he would not interfere while the uprising was in progress.

The first Central Committee meeting after the debacle was held on April 7 and 8. The new leadership failed to invite Levi, presumably because they did not care to have him state his views on their conduct of the party’s affairs. But they could not very well exclude Clara Zetkin, then in her sixties. After Brandler had given his version of the recent developments, the old lady proceeded to castigate the Zentrale for having recklessly precipitated an Aktion. She criticized the use of extreme and unrealistic political slogans which, she said, had turned the masses against the KPD. She called for an end to “revolutionary calisthenics” and for a return of concern for the interests of the masses; she concluded her speech with a motion for a vote of censure of the Zentrale’s policy and asked for a special party congress (ausserordentlicher Parteitag) in the near future to air all problems in open debate. After a brief discussion, Clara Zetkin’s motion was put to the vote and defeated 43 to 6, with three abstentions. Encouraged by this initial victory, the Zentrale introduced a resolution of its own which turned into a lengthy and involved justification of the revolutionary offensive, presenting it as the only proper revolutionary approach in the face of counterrevolutionary provocation and assault: “The overall situation . . . required . . .the sharpest class struggles; it demanded that the working class seize the revolutionary initiative . . . resolve upon independent action, and meet the counterrevolution in a powerful counterattack. . . .” In answer to Zetkin’s criticism that faulty tactics had alienated the masses, the Zentrale produced the excuse that the German workers had remained passive as a result of unemployment and Socialist demagogy. Under the circumstances the KPD could not afford lo wait until the reluctant workers took courage, and the party chose to risk defeat rather than to do nothing. The resolution, meandering on through twelve paragraphs, praised the fighting spirit displayed by the party, re-emphasized that revolution was the ultimate duty of every Communist, and consigned responsibility for defeat to the counterrevolutionaries and their Socialist lackeys. It concluded with the same tone of self-righteousness with which it began: “Therefore the Central Committee approves of the political and tactical attitude taken by the Zentrale; condemns in the strongest terms the passive and active opposition of individual comrades during the Aktion; and calls upon the Zentrale to put the organization into top fighting condition by introducing all measures required to do so. The resolution was voted upon and passed 26 to 14. A number of additional motions, dealing primarily with organizational improvements, enforcement of discipline, and the right of the Zentrale to expel any individual who was found unworthy of remaining a party member, passed equally handsomely and enhanced the triumph of the Zentrale. One of its members, Max Sievers, was deprived of hit office because he had broken party discipline during the uprising, and the Central Committee adjourned.

The failure of Clara Zetkin’s criticism prompted Paul Levi to address himself directly to the public. As soon as he was informed of the outcome of the Central Committee meeting, he sent to press a polemical pamphlet on the Aktion which he had written a few days earlier, April 3 and 4. Unser Weg was a blistering attack on the methods and errors of the Zentrale, interspersed with several oblique references to Kun and his colleagues. Levi wrote the pamphlet with a lawyer’s touch and the pathos of a thwarted lover. He had been forced to watch the party, which he had helped to found, fall into the hands of incompetents, adventurers, and misguided idealists who, within the short span of a week, had almost succeeded in thoroughly discrediting the Communist cause. All the bitterness, the disappointment, the indignation of the author were reflected in the sharp and aggressive tone of the pamphlet. Levi revealed, sometimes openly, sometimes by insinuation, that the initial plan for an uprising did not originate within the KPD; that the theory of the revolutionary offensive dominated the thinking of party leaders, thus belying the insistent use of the word “defensive”; and that provocations were employed as a means of creating mass action. At the Central Committee meeting on March 16, Frolich had said that the proposed course of action was “a complete break with the past.” Levi commented sarcastically: “It is indeed an innovation in the history of the party which Rosa Luxemburg has founded; it is a complete break with the past that the Communists should labor like juvenile male prostitutes [Achtgroschenjungen] to provoke the murder of their brothers.” But Levi reserved the highest pitch of his angry eloquence for the manner in which the Zentrale had ordered the rank and file into battle, while the leaders themselves stayed in Berlin.

“The Zentrale accelerated the action [steigerte die Aktion]. Squad upon squad rose. . . . Heroic and disdainful of death, the comrades got ready. . . . Squad upon squad prepared for the assault—as the Zentrale ordered. Squad upon squad moved up into battle—as the Zentrale ordered. Squad upon squad met with death—as the Zentrale ordered. [Fahnlein urn Fahnlein ging in den Tod—wie es die Zen-trale gebot.] Ave morituri to salutant“. This passage contained the gist of Levi’s argument: the Zentrale, acting with criminal irresponsibility, had needlessly caused the death of many of its followers. Levi demanded that the guilty ones resign from the leadership of the party.” The pamphlet was published on April 12 and caused a sensation in party circles. The Zentrale was outraged, not only because former chairman washed the party’s dirty linen in public, but also because he revealed secrets which most Communist leaders were not eager to see in print. The only ray of light was the receipt of a congratulatory message from the Communist International, dated April 6, 1921, which was printed in the Rote Fahne immediately after the appearance of Levi’s accusations. Its closing words lead: “The Communist International says to you: You acted rightly! The working class can never win victory by a single blow. You have turned a new page in the history of the German working class, prepare for new struggles. Study the lessons of your past struggles Learn from your experience. Close your ranks, strengthen your organization, legal and illegal, strengthen proletarian discipline and Communist unity in struggle . . . .

Long live the Communist proletariat of Germany!

Long live the proletarian revolution in Germany!

Long live the Communist International!”

Encouraged by the emphatic slap on the back, the Zentrale prepared to deal with Levi, whose expose made him liable to disciplinary action. But Levi did not stand alone. Many of his friends. some still in leading positions, shared his views. One of them, a former leader of the Revolutionary Shop Stewards, Richard Muller, had gone at the height of the uprising from one Berlin factory to the next in order to dissuade the metal workers from supporting the general strike. Others, too, had made no secret of their disapproval, In short, the Zentrale knew that the party faced a crisis. But most of its members, irritated by the defeat and stung to the quick by Levi’s public exposure of their actions, were eager to turn on the rebel and his supporters. On April 15, 1921, he was formally expelled from the party on the grounds that he had violated party discipline and solidarity. Upon being asked to surrender his Reichstag seat, Levi refused and appealed to the Central Committee for a hearing.

Levi’s expulsion had immediate repercussions. Eight prominent Communists sided with him by affirming their solidarity with his aims and endorsing his charges against the Zentrale. Four of the frondeurs, Clara Zetkin, Adolf Hoffmann, Ernst Daumig, and Otto Brass, were former members of the Zentrale; one, Curt Geyer, was a member of the Brandler Zentrale, and the remaining three, Heinrich Malzahn, Paul Neumann, and Eckert, were members of the party’s ReichsgewerkschaftsZentrale, a subdivision of the Zentrale in charge of union affairs. Yet the majority of the Communist leaders remained unimpressed. Neither Levi’s criticism nor the demonstrative attitude of his supporters could shake their conviction that they had done the right thing. By way of emphasis they put themselves on record when in mid-April they published a defense of the March uprising under the title Taktik and Organisation der Revolutionaren Offensive: Die Lehren der Marz Aktion.

The Central Committee held another meeting from May 3 to 5, and on May 4 invited Levi to appeal his expulsion. Since Brandler had been arrested by the police on April 18, Wilhelm Pieck presided as acting chairman. It had been Pieck’s intention to restrict the discussion of the “Case Levi” to the question of whether or not Levi had committed a breach of party discipline. To the chairman’s chagrin, Levi shifted the issue by asking whether the March uprising was justifiable or not. He answered this question in the negative and proceeded to repeat the charges which he had made earlier in his pamphlet Unser Weg. Taking issue with such terms as “offensive,” “defensive,” “transition from agitation to action,” all of which were being bandied about indiscriminately by the Zentrale, Levi pointed out that the use of these terms amounted to hairsplitting because throughout the uprising the party leadership had exhibited an offensive spirit. Only necessity had eventually transformed the Aktion into a defensive struggle. Furthermore, the party’s policy during those fatal March days had been full of irresponsible decisions, faulty judgments, inadequate preparation, and poor organization. Terrorist measures—the responsibility for which Levi ascribed, by implication, to Kun—and ill-conceived strategy had ruined the party’s hold on a district which had been one of the foremost Com. munist strongholds in Germany. In addition, the Zentrale had given no thought to public opinion and had grossly overestimated the in. fluence and strength of the KPD.

In this context Levi said: “And now, comrades, another matter . . . It is now being said that it is the duty of the vanguard to engage in an Aktion in order ‘to speed up the [coming of the] revolution,’ Let me read you the following passage: ‘The most important thing is the ideological conquest of the vanguard. Without it even the first step toward victory becomes impossible. Yet from there to the final victory is still quite a distance. One cannot win with only the vanguard. To engage the vanguard in a decisive struggle before the entire class . . . and the broad masses have taken a position by which they can either support the vanguard directly, or at least express their benevolent neutrality . . . would not be merely folly, but a crime as well.’

“The man who wrote this is fortunate that he has not yet been labeled a `Levite’; though he still has every chance to become one, He is Lenin.”

If Levi had any illusions that he could achieve a reversal of the original decision to expel him, he was disappointed. The Central Committee was unimpressed by his eloquence. Reuter-Friesland voiced his regret that Levi’s expulsion was to be based solely on his breach of discipline. Presumably he was more concerned with the heresy of Levi’s behavior, a sentiment quite in line with the fiery defense of the Aktion which Reuter-Friesland had offered at a meeting of Berlin’s KPD leaders a few days earlier. At that meeting, Levi had watched with dismay the enthusiastic reaction of the audience and had commented resignedly with a pun on a line from Schiller’s Wallenstein, “It must be night where Friesland’s [Friedland’s] stars are shining!” The night did not lift at the meeting of the Central Committee which, by a roll call vote, upheld Levi’s expulsion 36 to 7.

With the “Case Levi” apparently closed, the Central Committee got ready to deal with Levi’s supporters. On April 20 the Zentrale had notified the eight principal “Levites” that those of them holding Communist seats in the Reichstag must surrender them to the party at once. Following Levi’s example, they refused, and they persisted in their refusal when the Central Committee reiterated the order on May 4. Faced with what amounted to open rebellion, the committee resorted to a half-measure by passing a vote of censure (31 to 8) against the recalcitrant group, probably in the expectation that the matter would be taken up anyway at the Third Congress of the Communist International which was scheduled to meet in June. There remained one piece of business, a reshuffling of the Zentrale. Max Sievers had been already expelled from his post. Now Paul Wegmann and Curt Geyer joined his fate. The three openings were filled by Jakob Walcher, Emil Hollein and Hugo Eberlein, all old party hands who could be trusted to support the present Zentrale.

The first leader purge conducted by the German Communist Party war over. A renowned party member, a protege of Rosa Luxemburg, and a man who for a crucial year had occupied the highest office the KPD could bestow, had been driven from the party in disgrace. In addition, eight of Levi’s supporters faced the prospect of sharing his fate before long. It would be wrong to assume, however, that the “Right Opposition,” as the group came to be called at the Comintern Congress, had rejected Communism. Levi and his friends were still loyal adherents to the cause, and some of them, notably Clara Zetkin, remained so to their death. They were up in arms because they felt that the new Zentrale had abandoned the course which Rosa Luxemburg had laid down for the party. The Zentrale, with the full support of the left wing, indignantly denied this charge. Neither faction perceived that the fundamental issue was not whether the Levites or the Brandlerites had followed the right course, but to what extent both had failed, and what consequences this would have for the future. None of them, in fact, real-ized that the KPD had arrived at a major crossroad.

The split within the party remained unresolved during the preparations for the Third Comintern Congress. The official delegation of the KPD, all firm champions of the March action, was led by Thalheimer and Frolich. Together with the Communist youth group, it numbered thirty-three delegates. Clara Zetkin, virtually constituting a delegation of her own, went as representative of the Communist Women’s League and also acted as the unofficial spokesman of the Right Opposition. In addition, and by special request from Lenin, Heinrich Malzahn and Paul Neumann attended the congress to state the views of the opposition. As they had not received a mandate from the Zentrale to speak for the party, they had only an advisory vote, and attended to all intents and purposes as a disenfranchised grievance committee. Finally, the KAPD sent four delegates, which put the Germans, divided though they were, among themselves, in second place as far as numerical strength at the congress was concerned. But they, and everyone else, were dwarfed by the Russian delegation of seventy-four voting members.

The German delegation left for Moscow with the expectation that the Russian leaders would receive them as heroes, especially after the ECCI, on April 29, had endorsed Paul Levi’s expulsion from the party in a letter bristling with expressions of disgust and contempt for “the traitor.” They were to be disappointed. The Russians had in the meantime “reinterpreted” the March uprising. The process had been accompanied by severe factional struggles, because the debate on the uprising was only part of a more fundamental problem, the future of world revolution. Ever since the Russo-Polish War of 1920, the revolutionary wave in Europe had subsided, a development which Lenin, at least, was unwilling to ignore. During the winter of 1920-1921, when general unrest all over Russia culminated in the Kronstadt mutiny and made it abundantly clear that the Bolshevik government could strengthen its hold on the people only by giving the country a chance to recover from the civil war, Lenin decided to buy time by making concessions at home and abroad. The first of these was the introduction of the New Economic Policy, which included vigorous efforts to improve trade relations with Western capitalist countries. The German March uprising was thus completely out of tune with the trend that was developing in the fatherland of the revolution. On March 16, the day that Hörsing’s appeal was published, and the German Central Committee listened to Brandler’s variations on a theme by Kun, Russia signed a trade agreement with Great Britain. The Kronstadt mutiny was crushed on March 17, and Lenin had officially introduced N.E.P. on March 15. No wonder that Lenin was unenthusiastic about the German events, that he was hardly surprised when the uprising failed, and that he profoundly disapproved of the whole adventure.

Since the KPD was the strongest Communist party outside Russia, its fortunes and misfortunes served as a useful gauge to assess the chances for further revolutions in Europe. The recent fiasco, therefore, confirmed Lenin’s view that a temporary retreat on the revolutionary front was necessary, and he wanted to impress this view on the congress by making the German debacle a starting point for a change in over-all Comintern strategy. In order to be effective, Lenin had to secure prior unanimity among the Russian leaders, which was not easy. Trotsky and Kamenev sided with Lenin in condemning the German putsch, but Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Radek defended it. We do not know the details of these factional struggles which preceded the opening of the congress; nor do we know whether a personal report by Clara Zetkin to Lenin was made before or after the Russians had settled the matter. It is very likely, however, that Zetkin’s detailed description of what had occurred in Germany strengthened Lenin’s determination to disavow the Kun-Brandler-Thalheimer-Frolich theory of the revolutionary offensive, especially after Zetkin’s report was confirmed and elaborated by Neumann, who were likewise questioned by Lenin. Whatever the exact sequence of events may have been, by the time the congress was about to convene the Russians presented a united front on the German question. The Lenin-Trotsky faction overruled Zinoviev and Bukharin after Radek, always a flexible man, abandoned the latter, an action which netted him their angry abuse.

News of the latest official Russian position came as a shock to the German delegates. After the initial congratulatory message from the ECCI they had counted on full Comintern endorsement of their policy. Now, on the eve of the congress, they were informed that they had blundered, and that they must under no circumstances embark on a similar unprepared venture in the future. Although the Russians upheld the German party in the matter of Levi’s expulsion, Lenin let it be known that he basically agreed with Levi’s criticisms and only objected to the methods which the former party chairman had employed in making them.

“The Congress will condemn Paul Levi, will be hard on him… But his condemnation will be only on account of breach of discipline, not of his basic political principles. How could it be otherwise at the very moment when those principles will be recognized as correct? The way is open for Paul Levi to find his way back to us, if he himself does not block the road. His political future lies in his own hands!”

By the time the proceedings began, Lenin and Trotsky were assured of the unconditional, though not entirely enthusiastic, support of their Russian colleagues. They had whipped the ECCI into line and had duly warned the German delegation to prepare for some rough treatment. With these preliminaries out of the way, they could entrust the issue to the congress, confident that their views would prevail. And so they did. Despite occasional fierce verbal duels, indignant interjections, and angry charges and countercharges, an air of unreality pervaded the debates whenever the March uprising was on the agenda. The Russians had set the stage very well. Any direct references to such precarious subjects as the role of the ECCI, especially as far as the Kun mission and Zinoviev’s share in it were concerned, and the Zentrale’s attempts to create a revolutionary spirit artificially, were excluded from open debate. These topical taboos benefited the ECCI and the Bolshevik leadership, and restricted both German factions in their arguments. The critics of the uprising had to couch their charges in carefully worded insinuations, and the proponents of the revolutionary offensive could not invoke Kun, Zinoviev, or any other member of the Executive Committee in their defense. Nor does it seem a coincidence that on the Russian side the principal speakers were Radek and Trotsky rather than Zinoviev, who would have been the logical person to place the “German question” before the congress, since he was chairman of the ECCI. Zinoviev had evidently been too deeply implicated in the German imbroglio, and was moreover too reluctant a convert to the official Russian position to serve as its most suitable spokesman. His references to this explosive topic in his official report on the activities of the Executive Committee were accordingly brief and rather innocuous. He complimented the German party for having fought bravely in a struggle imposed from the outside, but when he touched upon the crucial problem of the revolutionary offensive, he skillfully spouted commonplaces with great oratorical emphasis while dodging the issue.

“Too much loose talk has been wasted on the revolutionary offensive. May God preserve us from a repetition of such foolishness…. The enemy attacked us. You need not lament about the mis-conceived offensive. Many mistakes were made, many organizational weaknesses were revealed. Our comrades in the German Zentrale have not shut their eyes to them; they want to correct their mistakes.”

After posing the rhetorical question whether the past struggle constituted a step forward or should be labeled a putsch, Zinoviev said emphatically: “The Executive is of the opinion that the March action was not a putsch. It would be ludicrous to talk of a putsch when half a million [sic] workers have fought. . . . We must clearly point out the mistakes [committed by the KPD] and learn from them. We conceal nothing, we don’t conduct . . . secret diplomacy. And we are of the opinion that, by and large, the German party need not be ashamed of this struggle, quite the contrary.”

Zinoviev delivered his report on June 25. The following five days were taken up by discussions of the report, with the Comintern bosses presiding from the bench rather than sitting in the dock. They had, moreover, used their privileged position to help formulate the “Resolution to the Report of the ECCI,” Article II of which dealt with the German question. In its relevant part it read as follows: “The Congress . . . sanctions completely the attitude of the Executive in regard to the further developments within the V.K.P.D. The Congress expresses its expectation that the Executive will apply in the future these principles of international revolutionary discipline with equal strictness.””

The resolution, including its Article II, was scheduled for a vote of adoption at the end of the discussion period. In spite of its deceptive vagueness its significance could hardly be missed. Its wording clearly expressed the right of the ECCI, retroactively as well as for the future, to interfere in the affairs of a member party. In this particular instance, the interference to be sanctioned by the congress referred to the approval by the ECCI of Paul Levi’s expulsion from the KPD. In this respect, therefore, it appeared to be intended primarily as a chastisement of the so-called Right Opposition, but at the same time the phrasing provided sufficient leeway to allow for its application to any other faction. That the resolution made no mention at all of any possible connection between the March uprising and Comintern was hardly surprising.

The discussion which preceded the vote on the first vital resolution also touched on the German insurrection, even though this topic was officially scheduled for later debate. Ostensibly the arguments centered around Paul Levi’s role, since the pending vote would determine once and for all his status as a Communist. But actually the charges and countercharges hinged on the larger question of principles and thereby constituted a continuation of the German intraparty feud, only now being fought coram populo. The high point of these preliminary skirmishes was a debate between Clara Zetkin and Ernst Reuter-Friesland, each expressing the point of view of his own faction with great frankness. Zetkin put up a spirited defense of Paul Levi. With her usual bluntness the old lady lashed out against all her opponents in the KPD and the ECCI, and even included the German police who had confiscated all her documentary ammunition. Her principal point was that both the ECCI and the apologists of the March action were trying to make Paul Levi the scapegoat for their own blunders and, while she was careful not to endorse Unser Weg, in essence she repeated many of the charges Levi had raised in his brochure. “It remains a fact . . . that representatives of the Executive bear indeed a large share of responsibility for the way in which the Marzaktion was conducted, [and] that representatives of the Executive bear a large share of responsibility for the wrong slogans, the wrong political attitude of the party, or, more correctly, of the Zentrale.” Equally outspoken was her opinion on the attitude of the Brandler Zentrale: “If Paul Levi is going to be severely punished for his criticism . . . and for mistakes which he has undeniably committed, what punishment, then, deserve those who are really guilty? The putschism against which we have raised our charges did not consist of the actions of the fighting masses . . . but was endemic in the heads of the Zentrale who led the masses in this manner into battle.”

Measured by the limited degree of free speech which prevails nowadays at Communist conferences, Zetkin’s performance was indeed daring. It must be remembered, however, that in the early twenties, before the days of Stalin, debates among Communists were still relatively unimpeded by fear of retribution. Moreover, Clara Zetkin knew that Lenin was in agreement with her on this question. For this reason she made hardly any effort to defend Levi against the charge of having broken party discipline but concentrated instead on the substance of his criticism, which coincided with her own views and Lenin’s. From the lengthy talk she had with Lenin before the congress opened, she knew that he was less concerned with crushing the right wing of the KPD than he was with labeling as harmful the principles underlying the Marzaktion. It was a foregone conclusion that once the “Case Levi” had been settled by the vote on the “Executive Report,” attention would be focused on the uprising proper, during the “Debate on Tactics.” Then the Bolshevik leaders would be free to bear down on the Brandlerite errors, since they had successfully barred any further debate on the role of the ECCI by means of the innocuously phrased “Resolution to the Report of the ECCI.”

Zetkin’s attack on the errors of the Zentrale were met by a no less fiery counterattack from Ernst Reuter-Friesland. The man who only six months later was to share Paul Levi’s fate now directed all his indignation against Levi and his supporters, notably against Clara Zetkin whom he accused of intellectual dishonesty. While admitting that the March uprising had suffered from mistakes committed by the party leadership, he made it clear that “we shall talk about these mistakes only with those comrades who fought alongside us, and not with those who systematically sabotaged the Aktion.” After a lengthy diatribe against Levi, whom he accused of having persistently undermined the reputation and influence of the ECCI ever since the Second Comintern Congress, Friesland invited Levi’s followers at the congress to take an unequivocal stand condemning him, or forfeit the right to call themselves Communists and members of the Communist International. Shortly before the vote on the “Resolution on the Report of the Executive,” Malzahn and Neumann, the two right-wing opposition delegates who had only an advisory vote, requested that a final vote on the resolution be postponed until after the full-fledged debate on the uprising. They argued that only at the conclusion of this debate could the members of the congress properly judge whether or not Levi ought to be definitely excluded from the Communist movement. Radek employed all the biting sarcasm for which he was famous to discredit the two hapless Levites, badgering them mercilessly.

When he had finished, Malzahn and Neumann asked the congress once again, this time formally, to postpone voting on the resolution until after the discussion on the March uprising. Their plea was read aloud and then ignored. Five minutes later the “Resolution on the Report of the Executive Committee of the Communist International” was adopted. The only delegation which abstained from voting on Article II was that of Yugoslavia. No one voted against, but Clara Zetkin stated publicly that the “Case Levi” had been settled “over our protest.” It was a clear-cut victory for the ECCI, though not for the Brandlerites, as they were soon to find out.

Now that the Executive had effectively removed itself from the sphere of controversy, the Bolshevik leaders felt free to encourage wide-open discussion of the March Aktion on the floor. Up to this point the debate had centered around Levi’s attitude, with special reference to his criticism of KPD and ECCI. From then on the uprising proper became the chief issue and was discussed within the framework of the “Tactics of the Communist International.” By the time this phase of the congress began, the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Russians had succeeded in noticeably narrowing the gap which divided the views of the Right Opposition from those of the Zentrale, although many important points of conflict were still unresolved.4

The vital debate on tactics was introduced by a lengthy speech by Radek, who was the first member of the ECCI to criticize the mistakes of the Zentrale publicly and in detail. But the part of his speech that dealt with the German party lacked force and conviction; his heart apparently was not in it. His introductory remarks amounted to a virtual apology to those whose mistakes he was about to discuss, and one wonders whether this unusual civility was not partly due to the realization that his own role in the March event had not been free of ambiguity.

Radek’s criticism of the March uprising included most of the major points later to be incorporated in the official theses of the congress, e.g., the need for capturing the masses prior to any revolution; the need for better party organization and discipline; and the dogma that the uprising had been a defensive action which us spirit of its failure constituted “one step forward.” He carefully concealed how many arguments he had borrowed from the opposition. Moreover, he did not mention that without the constant pressure for “greater activity” which the Executive had applied to the German party, and which culminated in the Kun mission, many of the “errors” would never have been committed in the first place. He was not challenged on these omissions, due to the “oratorical taboos” so prudently devised by the ECCI.

Although Radek’s arguments were couched in the deceptively optimistic phrases so peculiar to Marxist rhetoric, the underlying call for a strategic retreat on the revolutionary front was unmistakable. Even when read today, his sophistries sound hollow and they must have impressed his listeners in that way on the afternoon of June 30, 1921. With capitalism inevitably on the decline, he argued, Communism is moving forward to great struggles. However, the decline of capitalism does not proceed in a straight line; nor does revolution, which. has its ebb and flow. If Communists want to fight and win, they must prepare for the struggle—which does not mean that preparation and propaganda should become a substitute for action. But action lies still in the future, and in the meantime the Communists must be the bell which calls the living to battle. The watchword of universal Communism must be, “first and foremost, to the masses, with all means.” The Communists must actively prepare the masses for the eventual struggle by means of propaganda and agitation.

“Prepare yourselves and the proletariat for the [coming] struggles . . . , lead it into the struggles which history will produce. It will not be necessary to look for these struggles; they will come to us. And we shall fight the better if we prepare for them. The mistakes we make always mean a step backward, and there is no doubt that we have suffered such a setback . . . in Germany. . . . If the left comrades have made mistakes . . . during the March Aktion, then I say that these mistakes speak in favor of them [as] they demonstrate the will to fight. For this reason we were with them, their mistakes notwithstanding. But it is better to win than merely to prove that one wanted to win. And therefore, comrades, our tactical line is focused on world revolution. We see the road toward world revolution in the conquest of the great masses. These masses we want to lead into the great struggles which history has decreed for us. . . . We stand at the threshold of a historical turning point, and there is no power . . . which can save capitalism. We want to hasten its death, and this can only be done if we unify the great masses under the Communist banner. We are but the heralds, the organizers. The proletariat will bury capitalism. The proletariat will also be the hammer driving the nail into its coffin.”

Radek’s report heralded a decisive swing to the right, but, as was to be expected, this projected shift of policy was promptly challenged from the left. On the following day a speaker of the KAPD, Hempel, agreed with Radek on only one point, the impending decline of capitalism. The rest of the report he rejected, with all its implications, defending in particular the justification of the revolutionary offensive and partial actions (Teilaktionen), which must precede the all-out revolution. Since the KAPD was not affiliated with the Comintern and its delegates attended merely as guests, this first assault could be ignored by the ECCI. It was a more serious matter, however, when Ernst Reuter-Friesland requested in the name of the German delegation that the next speaker, Comrade Terracini from the Italian Communist Party, be granted a longer speaking time than was customary to justify a number of suggested amendments to the theses developed by Radek. He added that these amendments had been drafted by the German, Italian, and Austrian delegations, and that additional delegations would most probably endorse them at a later time. The request was granted.

Terracini, like the KAPD speaker before him, criticized Radck’s report from a radical point of view. He took issue with the condemnation of the theory of the offensive and charged that Radek’s critics were too pronouncedly directed against the radical left wing of the Comintern and its affiliates. As he was probably unaware of the hectic behind-the-scene struggles among the Bolsheviks which had preceded the congress, Terracini said naïvely, “Comrade Zinovicv has spoken at length in his Report on the Executive against rightist tendencies. If we now suggest amendments to the theses on tactics, we herewith merely endorse once again the arguments of Comrade Zinoviev. We do not think that Comrade Radek will raise object ion4 to our amendments.” It was not Radek who raised objections, but Lenin. In a brief speech, delivered in a mildly ironic vein which barely concealed the underlying intensity of his arguments, Lenin tore into the leftist s by ridiculing their charges and amendments. He stated bluntly that all future feuds against the so-called “centrists” within the various Communist parties would have to cease, as the real centrists (Inclining Levi) had been expelled. Violations of this injunction would be fought ruthlessly by the Comintern. He reiterated the necessity to win the masses prior to any future Communist revolution, and defended those passages in the draft which bore on this question and which had become subject to a leftist amendment.

Lenin said, “Whoever does not understand that we must conquer the majority of the working class in Europe, where nearly all proletarians are organized, is lost to the Communist movement. . . . Comrade Terracini has not understood the Russian Revolution very well. We in Russia were a small party, but we had a majority  in the workers’ and peasants’ councils throughout the country. Where do you have anything like it? We had at least half of the army, which then numbered at least ten million men. Have you the majority of the army? Show me such a country. If these intentions [to make amendments] of Comrade Terracini are supported by three delegations, then something is rotten [krank] in the International. Then we must say: Stop! Fight to the bone! [entschiedener Kampf] otherwise the Communist International is lost.”

After he had repeated in no uncertain terms that the theory of the offensive, as applied in the March uprising, was wrong, Lenin gave his definition of “the masses” as “not only the labor movement, but also the majority of the working and exploited rural population. Then he came back to intraparty feuds: “We have not only condemned the centrists, but also chased them away. Now we must turn against the other side, which we also deem dangerous. We must tell the comrades the truth in the politest possible way. Our theses are also held in a congenial and polite form, and nobody can feel hurt by our theses. We must tell them: we now have other tasks than to hunt centrists. Enough of this sport. It is already getting a little boring.”

Lenin’s unequivocal defense of the theses, and his equally unequivocal rejection of the attempts by the left to amend them, did not end the debate on tactics in general, nor on the tactics of the Marzaktion in particular. One German speaker after the other, Heckert, Reuter-Friesland, Thalheimer and Ernst (“Teddy”) Thalmann, the future idol of the German proletariat, tried to salvage as much of their point of view as was possible. Ignoring Lenin’s warning not to prolong the feud with the former Levites, the spokesmen for the Zentrale, and especially the extreme left-wingers of the German delegation, Reuter-Friesland and Thalmann, persisted in hurling charges at Zetkin, Malzahn, et al. Their bitterness increased the more they realized that they were fighting a losing battle. Their colleagues of the Right Opposition had won a significant advantage when they signed a statement that they were now willing to go along with the general interpretation which the Comintern had given to the March uprising. This left the German majority delegation in the uncomfortable position of obstructionists who held up a generally desired settlement of their intraparty feud, not to mention their reluctance to bow to the ECCI on the crucial issue of tactics

The last speaker on the question of “Tactics of the Cominlen was Trotsky. He had angered those who defended the Marzaktion on principle by an earlier report, “The World Economic Crisis and the New Tasks of the Communist International,” delivered at the beginning of the congress. In this report he had given an estimate of the worldwide economic situation and its probable effect on revolution. While predicting the inevitable collapse of capitalism in the long run, he had been outspokenly sceptical with regard to revolution in the near future: “. . . In a word, the situation now at the time of the Third Congress of the Communist International is not the same as at the time of the First and Second Congresses, for the first time we see and feel that we are not so immediately near to the goal, to the conquest of power, to the world revolution. At the time, in 1919, we said to ourselves: ‘It is a question of months. Now we say: ‘It is perhaps a question of years.'”

It was under the shadow of Trotsky’s essentially pessimist evaluation that the debates on the March action took place. The left-wingers at the congress, and not only the Germans, proved unwilling to accept his perspectives at face value. Most of them not see, or did not want to see, that the debate on the uprising essentially served as a rallying point for two opposing schools of thought concerned with the most fundamental issue confronting the Congress, namely what course the Communist movement was to take in the days ahead. Trotsky alluded to this point when he again addressed the congress, prior to Radek’s summary, to wind up the debate on the German question. After a few brief and condescending remarks directed at Thalmann, who had been the last of the enrages to defend the leftist position, Trotsky turned his attention to the essence of the March action. Many delegates, he said, had complained to him that the German delegation took up so much of the congress’ time in discussing its internal affairs. Such an impatient attitude on the part of these critics was unwarranted. The March action was the main issue under discussion. The congress had to choose between two tendencies. One was represented by Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, and himself. The other tendency was expressed by the various amendments to the theses on tactics that were soon to be submitted for a vote.

Trotsky granted the German delegation that the March action, as compared to the past history of the party, constituted a step forward, “but it does not mean that the first action, this first attempt to play an independent leading role, has proved successful.” With considerable sarcasm Trotsky then leveled his guns at the Brandlerites: “They tell us that they have learned a great deal from it [the March action] and, moreover, precisely from their own mistakes. That is what their own amendments say. . . . They state that the major merit of the March action consists precisely in this, that it provided an opportunity for clarifying the mistakes committed therein, only in order to eliminate them subsequently. Isn’t it a little too audacious to seek for special merits in this connection?”

Trotsky proceeded to expose the errors of the March action, and to enumerate the contradictory reports on the uprising which members of the German delegation had given at the congress. All these reports, he thought, served primarily to confuse and becloud the issue. “From all this one gets the impression that the members of the German delegation still approach the issue as if it had to be defended at all costs, but not studied nor analyzed. . . . I think that for your situation in Germany it is best to introduce clarity into this question. I don’t believe what Levi has said, that is, that the party will perish from it. However, the congress must say to the German workers that a mistake was committed, and that the party’s attempt to assume the leading role in a great mass movement was not a fortunate one. We must admit that this attempt was completely unsuccessful in this sense—that were it repeated, it might actually ruin this splendid party. . . . It is our duty to say clearly and precisely to the German workers that we consider this philosophy of the offensive to be the greatest danger: and in its practical application to be the greatest political crime.”

As soon as Trotsky had finished, a motion was made by the American delegation to close the debate and to let Radek give his summary. But Trotsky’s speech, in which he had expressed the attitude of the Bolshevik leaders more plainly than any of the preceding speakers, including Lenin, had stirred up the emotions of many delegates. Bela Kun rose to protest against the motion to terminate the debate: “Comrade Trotsky has just spoken for one hour against the so-called Left; he has done so in such a tone that we must absolutely [unbedingt] reply to his speech. . . . In my estimation that motion . . . is a low political trick [Schiebung] and against this, a trick I firmly protest.” But the motion was passed, and Radek made a summarizing speech which was remarkable for its conciliatory tone. When he had finished, the congress prepared to vote on whether the theses on tactics, in their existing draft form, were acceptable to the delegates in principle. If the vote was in the affirmative, the draft was to go to a committee where the final version would be worked out for subsequent approval by the congress, However, a few minutes before the vote, the left die-hards made what can only be called a demonstration against Trotsky, in the form of a “declaration.”

“The undersigned delegations, Poland, Germany, Youth International, Hungary (majority), ‘Deutschbohmen,’ and Austria declare that they will accept, in principle, the tactical theses suggested by the Russian delegation, but that they make express reservations concerning the interpretation which Trotsky has given to the theses in his speech.” Thalheimer and Kun were among the signers. The congress then voted to send the draft of the theses to the committee. The great debate on the March uprising was over.

While the congress moved to less controversial issues, such as the trade-union question, the economic question, the women question, etc., the committee which worked on the definitive version of the theses on tactics made every effort to eliminate all remaining differences between the two German factions, in order to secure unanimity in the final vote. The Russian leaders were clearly worried by the possibility of a further split within the KPD. During the debate on tactics, Zinoviev had said, “There can be only one answer: under no circumstances must there be a further split in the ranks of the German Communist Party. . . . Therefore the congress must press for an agreement.” On the surface at least such an agreement was reached. On July 9, three days before the theses on tactics were adopted, the congress passed a special “Resolution on the March Action and the Internal Situation in the V.K.P.D.,” which bore all the earmarks of compromise inasmuch as its tone was conciliatory toward the defenders of the uprising, although the congress had rejected their policy. The resolution, proposed by Zinoviev in the name of the Russian delegation, reemphasized that “The congress considers any further disintegration of forces within the VKPD, any factionalism—not to mention a split—as the greatest danger for the entire movement.” The congress, the resolution continued, expected that the Zentrale and the party majority would treat the former opposition with tolerance, and expected from the members of the opposition that they would loyally carry out the decisions reached at the Third Congress. The resolution concluded with a warning.

“The congress demands of the former opposition … the immediate cessation of any political collaboration with persons expelled from the party and the Communist International. . . .

“The congress instructs the Executive to observe carefully the further development of the German movement, and in the event of the slightest breach of discipline to take immediately the most energetic steps.”

Before the congress voted on this resolution, Malzahn presented in the name of the former opposition an alternate version. Thalheimer immediately protested because Malzahn’s version, signed by Malzahn himself, Clara Zetkin, Paul Neumann, and Paul Franken, was too vague in form and content. Zinoviev supported Thalheimer and suggested that the former opposition offer their draft as a mere declaration rather than as a formal countermotion. The suggestion was accepted, and the Russian-sponsored resolution was unanimously adopted a few minutes later.

The adoption of the theses on tactics on July 12, the final day of the congress, presented no more difficulties. They expressed with meticulous conciseness the principal tenets which the leaders had previously developed in their speeches. Although they bristled with militant expressions, the call for a retreat from an aggressive revolutionary policy was too plain to be missed. “The world revolution, that is, the downfall of capitalism . . . will require a fairly long period of revolutionary struggle,” read the first sentence of the second section. The third section began with the statement that “The most important question before the Communist International today is how to win predominating influence over the majority of the working class, and to bring its decisive strata into the struggle.” The fourth one warned that “The attempts of impatient and politically inexperienced revolutionary elements to resort to the most extreme methods . . . frustrate for a long time the genuine revolutionary preparation of the proletariat for the seizure of power.” All parties were admonished to reject “these extremely dangerous methods.”

Section seven, “The Lessons of the March Action,” was a document the tone of which was on the whole rather unenthusiastic. Perhaps its most important statement was the first sentence, with roundly asserted that “The March action was a struggle forced on the VKPD by the Government’s attack on the proletariat of Central Germany.” This statement became a Communist dogma from which no party publication has deviated since. There followed an enumeration of the mistakes committed by the party, with special emphasis on the fact that the mistake of not having clearly defined the “defensive” nature of the struggle “was aggravated by a number of party comrades who represented the offensive as the primary method of struggle. . .” Despite the errors, however, the congress was willing to grant that it considered the uprising “as a step forward.” The Russian leaders had been initially content with letting the matter stand at that, but in the process of formulating the final draft in committee had decided to elaborate on the meaning of this phrase. The uprising constituted one step forward because “it was a heroic struggle by hundreds of thousands of proletarians against the bourgeoisie,” and because the KPD, “by assuming leadership . . . showed that it was the party of the revolutionary German proletariat.” With these sparse compliments the German party had to rest satisfied. The balance of the section on the March action contained once again the look-before-you-leap sort of warning with regard to future revolutionary situations, although the congress stated explicitly that once the party had decided on action, everyone must obey and co-operate to the best of his ability. Criticism of an action was to be allowed only after the action was over, and then only within the framework of the party organization. The congress pointedly reminded all potential future critics that Levi had been expelled for having violated this basic principle of party discipline.

On that same day, July 12, 1921, the “Theses on the Communist International and the Red International of Labor Unions” were also adopted.” The gist of what the Bolsheviks envisaged in the fore-seeable future as the principal task of all Communist parties was contained in section IV: “In the forthcoming period the chief task of Communists is to work steadily . . . to win a majority of the workers in all unions . . . to win the unions for Communism by the most active participation in their day-to-day struggles. The best measure of the strength of any Communist party is the influence it really exercises over the working masses in the trade-unions. The party must learn to exercise decisive influence in the unions without subjecting them to petty control. It is the union cell, not the union as such, which is under the authority of the party.”

Here was spelled out in very practical terms the new party line which all the member organizations of the Comintern were expected to follow. They were not to engage in putsches, but were to talk softly and persuasively to their fellow proletarians in the unions and Socialist parties. Direct action had dismally failed in the German March uprising. Capitalism was dying much more slowly than had been anticipated. Finally, since the Russians needed that breathing space which the Bolshevik leaders so tenaciously pursued, and so manifestly expressed by NEP and international trade agreements, the Communist International switched its emphasis at the Third Congress from crusading to missionary work. “For the power of capital can only be broken if the idea of Communism is embodied in the stormy pressure of the great majority of the proletariat, led by mass Communist parties which must form the iron clamp holding together the fighting proletarian class. To the Masses -that is the first battle-cry of the Third Congress to the Communists of all countries!”

The congress was over. Before the German delegation left for home to devote itself to its new tasks, the Russian leaders arranged for one more meeting with both German factions. The purpose of this get-together was to confirm the “treaty of peace” that had been concluded so laboriously and, as time was to show, so superficially between the majority delegation and its Right Opposition, Harmony seemed to have been established. Significantly, Reuter-Friesland who had held many private conversations with Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks, had been won over to the newest shift in policy as expressed in the slogan “To the Masses!” Thus the Russians had every reason to be pleased with the outcome of the Third Comintern Congress.

This peace treaty marked a turning point in the development a German Communism. A distinct phase had come to a close. For when the conflict which divided the KPD after the March uprising was settled by the Russian-dominated Third World Congress, the German party unwittingly surrendered to Moscow a large share a its former independence which it was never to regain. Luxemburg’s maxim of friendly aloofness was buried for good, and its place was taken by Leninist centralization and discipline. The spirit of independence which Rosa Luxemburg had infused into the KPD had still been very pronounced during the first two Comintern congresses. The Zentrale had then felt free to weigh any advice the Bolsheviks gave, had argued with the Russian leaders from a position of strength and confidence, and in the end had made its own decisions. True, as an affiliate of the Comintern, the party had been bound by the over-all policy adopted at the first two congresses, especially by the twenty-one conditions of the Second Congress. But as long as Levi was chairman of the Zentrale, these policies had been interpreted liberally and with discretion. The Third Congress, where the intraparty feud over the March uprising became the key issue of debate, put an end to all this. The change came about for a number of reasons. In the summer of 1921 the Soviet Union, for the first time since the revolution, was in a position to exert more than a nominal influence over the Communist parties of Europe. Foreign and civil war, and Allied intervention, were past, making physical contact with the West easier, and at the same time giving Russia time to recover. Lenin was eager to utilize the relatively favorable situation to stabilize Bolshevik gains at home, and to strengthen the Communist movement abroad. As far as Lenin was concerned, the latter task could only be accomplished if the Russian Communist Party strengthened its control over the various European parties, something which he had always thought necessary and which now, for the first time, had become possible of realization. It was done at the Third Congress by tightening the bonds of organization and discipline within the Comintern. Special emphasis was placed on the authority of the ECCI over the member parties, thereby ensuring a better control over the Communist movement than had been possible in the past.

The KPD, second in strength and importance only to the Russian party, facilitated the task of the Bolsheviks in no small measure. In their effort to change the general course of Communist strategy, Lenin and Trotsky in particular made the German question a key issue at the congress, incorporated the specific lessons learned from the March uprising into the theses and resolutions, and thus turned the German disaster into a Bolshevik asset. What was more, in the process of making the March action a convenient vehicle for implementing a major shift in policy, the Russians effectively destroyed most of the still remaining sparks of independence among the KPD leadership. Both factions of the German delegation had gone to Moscow in the hope of winning approbation for their respective stands on the uprising, and they were so deeply involved in their intraparty feud that they failed to see how much their disunity benefited the Russians. Without the coarse dictatorial manner which Stalin was to employ on similar occasions in later years, Trotsky, Radek, and Zinoviev displayed excellent teamwork in their handling of the German delegates. In private talks and on the floor of the congress, both factions were subjected to unsparing criticism but with the exception of Levi no one was punished for his or her past errors. After the Russians had censored the Right opposition for having abetted Levi, they turned around and used many of Levi’s and Zetkin’s arguments to chastise the Zentrale and its left-wing supporters. When it was all over, the German delegates could not help but agree that the Kremlin knew best. So strong was the prestige and personal magnetism of the Bolshevik leaders that the Germans submitted, however reluctantly in some cases, to the demands made of them. They let themselves be maneuvered into accepting theses and resolutions which, at least in part, were distasteful to them. Clara Zetkin was honored by the congress on her sixty-fifth birthday, and the Russians scored a minor triumph when Heckert delivered the principal ovation in the name of the German delegation, and showered the old lady with good wishes. Only four days earlier he had been one of her most outspoken critics. Finally, after Lenin had persuaded both Zetkin and Reuter-Friesland of the rightness of the Russian position, the way was clear to a general reconciliation, and in the interest of the common cause both Getman factions buried their differences, at least on the surface.

Thus, as far as the KPD was concerned, the most significant result of the Third Congress was the increase of Russian influence over the affairs of the party. This was a notable achievement by Lenin and Trotsky, whose dialectical skill and singleness of purpose were not matched by the divided German leadership. The old argument tween Lenin and Luxemburg over the tactical questions of discipline and centralization had been finally won, for all practical purposes, by Lenin. The victory had been made easier by the default of the KPD, which no longer had a Luxemburg to defend its independence, and which had now lost in Levi the last strong champion of the Luxemburg tradition. The position of the Comintern had been immeasurably strengthened. Not only had the congress expressly endorsed that body’s recent interference in the affairs of member parties, notably those of the KPD, but had also voted to give it enlarged and additional powers for the future. Thus the right of the ECCI to dispatch meddling Turkestaner to the member parties remained unimpaired; this was a distinct victory over the western organizations by what Levi had sarcastically called “the mullahs of Khiva and Bokhara.”

Essentially, then, strong Russian influence over the affairs of the KPD dates from the Third Congress rather than from a later date. To be sure, it was initially neither as noticeable nor as rigid and oppressive as it was to become in Stalin’s time; yet it was there. Its foundation had been firmly laid by Lenin and his colleagues, firm enough for Stalin to build on and to make more effective. This is not to say that there was henceforth no more opposition to Russian interference in the German party. But what opposition there was never had a chance to restore the original spirit of independence, after Lenin had so successfully disposed of the Luxemburg tradition.

In March 1922 Lenin wrote: “Paul Levi now wants to get into the good graces of the bourgeoisie . . . by publishing precisely those works of Rosa Luxemburg in which she was wrong. . . . Rosa Luxemburg was mistaken on the independence of Poland; she was mistaken in 1903 in her appraisal of Menshevism; she was mistaken in July 1914. . . She was mistaken in the works she wrote in prison in 1918, especially her book on the Russian Revolution. . . . But in spite of her mistakes she was and remains for us—an eagle.” Indeed, Lenin was by then quite safe in calling her that. He did not need to add that the wings of this eagle had been securely nailed to the wall, to serve as decoration for Communist meeting-halls and party offices—and that it was a very dead eagle.


July 27, 2018

The Prairie Trilogy

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 4:54 pm


In March 2017, I reviewed Yale Strom’s documentary on Eugene V. Debs for CounterPunch, a work that looked at Red states when they were really Red. I wrote: “Indeed, the IWW and the SP reached the most oppressed members of the working class (fruit pickers, longshoremen, miners, lumberjacks) in the boondocks. Oklahoma, a state most liberals would consider particularly retrograde, was fertile territory for the radical left at the turn of the 20th century.” For those who missed Yale’s documentary at the festival last year or at its brief theater run in April of this year, the good news is that it is available now from iTunes.

And equally good news is the arrival of the Prairie Trilogy at the Metrograph Theater on Friday, July 27th. The trilogy consists of three documentaries made in 1978 by John Hanson and Rob Nilsson about the radical movement in North Dakota during the heyday of the IWW, the Socialist Party, and the Nonpartisan League (NPL). Since the radical movement in North Dakota in the early 1900s was largely made up of homesteaders, the focus is on the Nonpartisan League, a farmer’s movement motivated by the same grievances that fueled the Populist Party in the south.

Hanson and Nilsson also made a narrative film titled “Northern Lights” around the same time that depicts the formation of the NPL. It received the Caméra d’Or prize at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival for best first feature film and is probably worth tracking down based on the stunning Prairie Trilogy. Nilsson has his own credit for a documentary titled “What Happened Here” that can be seen on Fandor. SF Weekly described it as “little more than an intellectual crush on Leon Trotsky” so that should be recommendation enough. This is the sort of work you might expect from founding members of Cine Manifest, a collective that came together in 1972 as a political group making films instead of artists making political films. Their roots were in Karl Marx and Wilhelm Reich, and unabashedly so.

Continue reading

July 26, 2018

Bring back communism?

Filed under: DSA,electoral strategy,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 4:33 pm

When I reviewed Michael Lebowitz’s “The Socialist Alternative” in 2011, I found his argument that Marx considered the words socialism and communism interchangeable persuasive. While he did not rule out the use of the word communism, he certainly implied that it had drawbacks:

The term communism communicated something different when Marx wrote in the nineteenth century. Communism was the name Marx used to describe the society of free and associated producers — “an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social labour force.” But very few people think of communism that way now. In fact, people hardly think of communism as an economic system, as a way in which producers organize to produce for the needs of all! Rather, as the result of the understanding of the experiences of the last century, communism is now viewed as a political system — in particular, as a state that stands over and above society and oppresses working people.

When I was in the Socialist Workers Party, we never called ourselves communists because of its associations with the Soviet bureaucracy. After cult leader Jack Barnes decided to break with Trotskyist tradition, the word communist became ubiquitous mainly because it was the word preferred by the Cubans. As the party descended deeper into political mental illness, it began using the term worker-Bolshevik to describe party members. After hooking up with Peter Camejo in the early 80s, I repeated his warnings about sectarian appropriations of the USSR every chance I got especially on the net. For me, when a group puts up hammers and sickles or red stars on its website, or pictures of Stalin, Trotsky or Mao for that matter, I am always reminded of the words of the cop in “Cool Hand Luke”: “What we have here is a failure to communicate”.

Now that the term “democratic-socialist” has gained about the same currency as Che Guevara t-shirts or the “Kars for Kids” commercial on TV and radio, I have reached the boiling point. What does being for single-payer or against ICE have to do with socialism? Maxine Waters is identical to Bernie Sanders on these matters but described herself as a “capitalist” politician in a CNBC interview.

For that matter, what is the point of prefixing the word with “democratic”? Is the idea that you don’t want to be mistaken for one of those socialists who has good things to say about Fidel and Che? For Marx and Engels, socialism was a system based on both political and economic democracy in the sense of the Greek origins of the term. “Demo” + “cracy” = rule of the people.

After Marx’s death, Engels helped to influence the direction of the Second International that fell within the rubric of “social democracy”, a term that was interchangeable with socialist. It was only the failure of the Second International to oppose WWI that led to the formation of the Third International, or Communist International. From 1917 onwards, those who saw the USSR as a model labeled themselves communist proudly. The Trotskyists eschewed the term for the reasons alluded to above.

The problem facing the “hard left” today for lack of a better term is the ubiquity of the term “democratic-socialist” that has begun to suck all the oxygen out of the room. With many on the “hard left” attaching themselves to the Jacobin/DSA colossus like remoras to a shark, those of us who failed to be seduced by the charms of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are left out in the cold. Who are we? Where do we stand? What is our future?

I was left with such questions after reading the article “What is Millennial Socialism?” written for The American Interest by Ben Judah that consigns people like me to the dustbin of history:

“Revolution” was to a generation of socialists what Godot was to Vladimir and Estragon. Waiting for the revolution, anticipating the revolution, planning for the revolution, paralyzed a generation of socialists in Britain and America.

“We can’t sit around waiting; our chance is happening right now,” I remember my friend James Schneider told me when he co-founded Momentum to support Jeremy Corbyn. This attitude, and how prevalent it is, matters.

The idea of the revolution crippled a generation of socialist activists and intellectuals. Not anymore. Britain’s millennial socialists believe that the Labour Party can be made the vehicle for the revolution they want—breaking 1 percent financial capitalism—and they can achieve it through the ballot box.

This idea of the revolution could not be more different from the older generation. The old Left—think Perry Anderson and his New Left Review—went from believing Harold Wilson could open the path to socialism through the ballot boxes, to waiting expectantly for a May ‘68-type situation to emerge in the United Kingdom, to writing it off completely as a historic impossibility in the 1990s.

That old idea of the revolution—the massive crowds, the vanguard and the Kalashnikov chic—is so absent from millennial socialism that it’s hard to get across how important it was to the old Left. What for the new is commodified ironic Soviet kitsch was deadly serious to the founders of the New Left Review, for whom October 1917 was an inseparable part of thinking about socialism. Late-night discussions in the upstairs room at pubs in Islington about the exact moment to seize Parliament based on analysing Karl Liebknecht’s mistakes for when the ‘situation’ next comes round? That was the old 1970s Left. Go to the pub with millennial socialists and all you will hear about is party politics.

Guess what party politics is. Here’s a clue: A. O-C.

Get it? Ben Judah sees the division between dinosaurs like me and fresh-faced kids like Bhaskar Sunkara as being based on revolution versus electoralism. “Now—even more so since the success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—millennial socialist activists are convinced that the hollow establishment parties that their forerunners disdained are instruments ripe for the taking.”

I don’t know quite how to put this but the only thing I spot on the horizon as ripe for taking are the millennials who hope to take over the Democratic Party. With A. O-C wilting under pressure on Israel and Palestine, the term might even be rotten-ripe.

Just a word or two about the provenance of The American Interest and Ben Judah. The American Interest is a magazine whose executive committee is chaired by Francis Fukuyama. The editorial board includes Anne Applebaum, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Mario Vargas Llosa. As for Ben Judah, he is the son of Tim Judah at the New York Review of Books, a long-time anti-Communist hack. Only 30 years old, Ben Judah was talented enough to become a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations between 2010 and 2012. Wow. Only 22 years old and making it big-time on a policy-making body funded by George Soros. Just the kind of person qualified to put the crown on the head of the boy-prince Bhaskar Sunkara.

If you want some help understanding democratic-socialism, you might want to consult Neal Mayer’s “What is Democratic Socialism” in (where else?) Jacobin. Mayer is on the DSA’s Citywide Leadership Committee and obviously qualified to speak for the spanking New Left.

He proposes a “Democratic Road to Socialism” that is different from the one conceived by “our friends on the socialist left”, in other words the people Ben Judah describes as being into “commodified ironic Soviet kitsch”. Speaking for the DSA (and likely the Jacobin editorial board), Mayer writes: “We reject strategies that transplant paths from Russia in 1917 or Cuba in 1959 to the United States today, as if we could win socialism by storming the White House and tossing Donald Trump out on the front lawn.”

Oh, I see. Remind me not to write any more articles about winning socialism by storming the White House and tossing Donald Trump out on the front lawn.” I must have gotten such a silly idea from reading too much CLR James. I mean, for fuck’s sake, anybody writing such drivel understands about as much as Cuba in 1959 as I do about particle physics. Fidel Castro got started as a bourgeois politician just like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and only became a guerrilla after realizing that electoral politics in Cuba was a con game. Unlike most people seeking comfortable careers as professional politicians, Fidel Castro cared about the suffering of the Cuban people even if he didn’t live up to Sam Farber’s lofty standards.

Like most DSA’ers, Mayer sees work in the Democratic Party as a tactical question to be decided pragmatically:

To begin with, Sanders rose through an established party. Though political parties have suffered a profound degree of delegitimation, this has not sidelined them; their continuing economic and social impact ensure their continuing relevance. That they were nevertheless weakened gave individuals like Sanders who were not tainted with being part of the party establishment the advantage of operating inside these parties while retaining their branding as outsiders (this was also true of Corbyn in the Labour Party and Trump re the Republicans).

Had Sanders run as an independent, without the on-the-ground resources of the Democratic machine and the profile of running as a Democrat, it was highly unlikely — as he well knew — that his campaign would have had anywhere near the impact it did, just as attempts to form a left party outside the British Labour Party have generally and quickly faded. For all the discrediting of political parties, party politics remains a central site for being taken seriously. Starting a new party from scratch is something else and presents formidable difficulties.

Obviously, this is just another way of saying what Ben Judah said: “Now—even more so since the success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—millennial socialist activists are convinced that the hollow establishment parties that their forerunners disdained are instruments ripe for the taking.”

Formidable difficulties if the goal is getting elected. In 2000, Ralph Nader ran an election campaign that generated 1,182 news articles and, according to people like Todd Gitlin and Eric Alterman, cost Al Gore the election. Nader got 2,882,955 votes, or 2.74 percent of the popular vote. While not quite in the same realm as Debs’s 6 percent of the popular vote in 1912, it was on a par with all his other runs. In fact, his showing was so impressive that people like David Cobb, Ted Glick, Medea Benjamin and other Green Party leaders conspired to deprive him of ballot status in 2004 just to make sure the Democrats would not have any competition.

On top of all this, Gallup reports that sixty percent of Americans believe that a third party is needed. Some of them might be only in favor of the sort of side show that Ross Perot ran but you can be sure that millions would be open to the sort of initiative that Ralph Nader represented. As long as the Republicans and Democrats continue to play hard and soft cop respectively to the American working class, that sixty percent is likely to grow.

Nader ran the kind of campaign that Debs ran even though it was not specifically socialist. If the entire left had thrown itself into building the Green Party as the ISO had, maybe we would have ended up with a much different constellation of forces today.

Two days ago, the Huffington Post published an article by Anthea Butler titled “We Know Protests Work. So Why Aren’t We Protesting?” that rued the failure of the left to have mounted any demonstrations against Trump since the Women’s March on Inauguration Day and the protests at airports in response to the Muslim ban. To a large extent, this is the result of having a weak and disorganized left. In the best of all worlds, a Green Party could have become the hub of a radical movement in the same way it functioned in Germany until people like Joschka Fischer turned the Greens into a conventional social democratic party.

In the final analysis, holding office for revolutionaries should only be exploited as a means of challenging the capitalist system. Until the German Social Democracy turned into a reformist swamp, it saw itself as an instrument of working class defiance of capitalist business as usual. In “What is to be Done”, Lenin praised its stances on issues of the sort the left is facing today:

Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc.

That’s the kind of party we need today. In fact, the DSA could evolve into just such a party if it dropped the Dissent Magazine/Michael Harrington/Scandinavian scaffolding it rests on and forged out on its own. Who knows, maybe the failure of any of these Sanderista elected officials to make the slightest difference to our lives will speed that process along. Let’s cross our fingers.

As for the question of what to call ourselves. I’ll be damned if started calling myself a “communist”. Socialist works just fine for me. No need to prefix it with “democratic” especially since that word rings so hollow today.


July 24, 2018

Hard earned lessons in drone photography

Filed under: Catskills,Film — louisproyect @ 7:47 pm

Silver Lake in Woodridge, NY. Filmed by Jeremy Hansen of Devotive

In March, 2017, I covered a number of films being shown at the Socially Relevant Film Festival including “Ketermaya”, a really excellent film about Syrian refugees living in a camp in Ketermaya, Lebanon. It was made by Lucas Jedrzejak, an English filmmaker of Polish origins who not only created a moving film but went on to offer solidarity to the refugees including material aid. Just a week ago Lucas informed me that the film is now available on Vimeo and I want to urge you to see this powerful documentary that dispels all the propaganda about the opposition to Assad being “al-Qaeda”. The subjects of the film are mostly children and are better suited to lead the country than the blood-soaked dictator.

The film can now be rented for $5.99 on Vimeo and will barely help pay for all the expenses incurred by Lucas when he lived among the refugees in Ketermaya. Plus, it is a damned good film.

In the closing moments, you get a bird’s eye view of the camp from about 150 feet. When I saw that, I put two and two together and concluded that this was drone footage since Lucas obviously couldn’t afford a helicopter. Why couldn’t I do something like this for my Catskills documentary? Right after the film was finished, I congratulated Lucas on his work and asked him if he did the drone footage. No, he answered, but the guy who did was at the festival and he would be happy to introduce me.

That led to a conversation with Tony Kahoush, a Lebanese drone pilot who was in on the technology from its earliest days. He warned me about investing the money, time and energy into doing the drone photography myself and tried to convince me to hire him for the work. I didn’t think it was possible to come up with the money that would have made his trip from Lebanon pay off financially so I begged off.

As it happened, just around the time I saw “Ketermaya”, a new drone from DJI, a Chinese company, had come out. For only $999, you could get equipment that was getting rave reviews. New York Magazine’s Strategist column was effusive: “If you want a camera drone, this is the one to get, hands down. It’s easy enough to use that even a beginner drone pilot can fly it, but powerful enough that all but the most demanding drone photographers will get everything they need.”

Last summer I went to Central Park with my wife’s brother-in-law to give my brand-new Mavic Pro a virgin flight. I sent it off about 100 feet into the distance and then pressed the “home” key that brings it automatically back to where you are operating the controller, which resembles what you use with video games, joystick and all. The drone came straight back to us, flew directly into a tree, and came tumbling to the ground. Fortunately, nothing broke except my sense of self-confidence.

Within minutes after the crash, a Central Park SUV pulled up and the guy behind the wheel told me that you could not fly a drone in Central Park, number one, and number two they are banned throughout New York City since officials feared that they could be weaponized and used against Donald Trump.

Refusing to be discouraged, I did a little research and discovered that there were some parks that did allow drone flights—the closest being Corona Park in Queens that was near the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. All I had to do was take the subway out there and I would be good to go. So with my wife’s brother-in-law in tow, we got out at the nearest stop to Corona Park and discovered that it would be a good 45 minute walk from the train.

Once we got there, we saw that it was much smaller than Central Park—maybe about the same size as the Sheep Meadow. Even though you could fly a drone there, you had to contend with picnickers who were out in the same kind of numbers as you’d see in the Sheep Meadow. The last thing I needed was for the drone to fall out of the sky and give someone a concussion so I struggled to find a space that was remote from the crowds. Once again I sent it off into the air and pressed the “home” key and once again it crashed into a tree. (I still hadn’t learned that you had to be in an open space to used the home function.) Plus, this time there was damage and I had to send it to the factory to be repaired.

When it came back, I thought long and hard about whether it would be possible to train myself properly given the lack of a convenient space. I also decided that it would have been necessary to get some training from an experienced drone pilot even though I failed to turn one up in New York City.

So, I decided to let things sit for a while until I could figure out what would be the best approach. About a month ago, I decided to search for a Mavic Pro trainer in New York City and one turned up. I also thought it would be worth trying to find a local version of Tony Kahoush who I could pay to do the filming under my direction. Neither of these possibilities existed in the summer of 2017 but this year everything had changed.

I put out a request for a drone pilot on a new website called Droners.IO that matches employers to employees just like all the other websites that have made classified ads in print media obsolete.

I stated that I was looking for someone to do drone footage in the Catskills for a documentary about the Borscht Belt and was contacted by about 30 different pilots. I settled for a young man named Jeremy Hansen who was not only technically skilled but who also had a cinematographer’s eye. Even if I had by some miracle learned how to fly a drone, it would have been difficult if not impossible to include myself in the footage without a controller in my hand guiding the Mavic Pro. By putting myself in Jeremy’s hands, I was able to be part of the action in three critical scenes, including walking down the main street of my upstate shtetl.

I was also fortunate enough to have run into someone who was on the same wave-length as me politically and philosophically. Jeremy, who is 34, is like the millennials who voted for Bernie Sanders and anxious to see his professional life and his beliefs mesh more and more in the future. Suffice it to say that we were matched perfectly.

If you are planning on making a film yourself that uses drone footage, don’t think twice. Contact Jeremy Hansen at Devotive.

(Also, if you are interested in a refurbished Mavic Pro for a reasonable price, don’t hesitate to contact me.)


July 23, 2018

The New York City real estate/housing crisis, part 3

Filed under: housing,real estate — louisproyect @ 4:06 pm

An ongoing impromptu demonstration across the street from my high-rise building on Manhattan’s exclusive upper east side reminded me of a series of posts I started on real estate. Kaia, a tiny wine bar that featured mostly appetizers native to South Africa and that was shut down by tax collectors, has prompted its loyal customers to post statements of solidarity on its windows next to the tax collector’s scary looking red sign. In all the years I have been living in Manhattan, I have never seen such a proclamation even though bankruptcy notices are omnipresent.

I am in no position to judge the merits of the actual tax liability incurred by Kaia but I have a feeling that owner Suzaan Hauptfleisch was perhaps delaying tax payments because of the onerous rent she was paying for the tiny space of around 500 square feet, which I estimate to be about $10,000 per month. Wine bars typically are closed until around 5pm so this meant that this would require heavy traffic every night. My wife and I used to stop in at Kaia’s when it opened in 2010 but were forced to become former customers when a glass of wine began to cost at least $15. I have no idea how the regulars there could afford the place but then again one bedroom condos in the neighborhood are going for $850,000.

Hauptfleisch’s background is noteworthy as the Falung Gong free newspaper, of all places, reports.

Hauptfleisch grew up on one of the oldest farms in the Free State. Her family owned it for 250 years.

“We were people from the land,” she said. “I loved walking long distances and singing at the top of my lungs as a child.”

“We had a big farm. … I walked through corn fields to be alone and get away from it all,” she said.

Hauptfleisch grew up during apartheid. She recalled living in perpetual fear of farm killings.

“That was always a problem in the early 1990s,” she said. “People would murder entire families on white farms.”

It was uncommon for white South African farmers to be liberals during that time, but Hauptfleisch’s family was. In 1968, Hauptfleisch’s paternal grandmother Cienie Hauptfleisch founded a school on the farm for black children.

The school had one teacher, who taught at levels from first grade to ninth grade until the family lost the farm in 1993 due to financial troubles.

But during its 25 years of existence, the school produced several students who went on to higher education and became teachers, lawyers, and doctors.

“To this day, I believe we weren’t touched because of my [family’s] name,” Hauptfleisch said.

A couple of days ago, I stopped in front of Kaia’s and struck up a conversation with a woman who was not only a customer but someone who completely understood the real estate crisis in New York that besides forcing people into homelessness makes places like Kaia casualties of greedy landlords. She referred me to a story that appeared on NY One, the city’s cable TV all news network:


Artist displays Monopoly-like cards on vacant Manhattan storefronts

By Lindsey Christ  |  July 6, 2018 @10:11 PM

At the legendary corner of Bleecker and MacDougal streets, several storefronts are empty. Pasted on the windows are mysterious posters resembling oversized Monopoly cards.

“It looked like a big game between tenants and landlords and politicians, and nobody wanted to take responsibility for anything, and everybody was just trying to play this big game,” said the artist who created them.

The artist says he has placed them on 80 vacant storefronts in Manhattan over the past three weeks, a one-man protest of how rising rents are forcing many shops and stores to close. He agreed to talk to NY1 only if he appeared in disguise.

“New York as a vibrant city is losing something,” he said. “We gain nothing from storefronts that sit empty. There’s no nightlife, there’s no life there, there’s no merchandise. Nothing’s happening, and it’s a loss for all of us.”

One Monopoly card is posted on 203 Bleecker Street. Carol Walsh’s store, Native Leather, had been here 49 years until October, when she says the landlord made it impossible to stay.

“He wanted to practically double the rent for the next tenant,” she said. “And I mean, I couldn’t do it.”

NY1 recently counted more than 50 empty stores along Bleecker Street, an iconic Greenwich Village address.

Experts say it’s not just rising rents causing the wave of vacancies, but also the shift to e-commerce.

The Monopoly cards also are displayed along Broadway and Lexington Avenue, and around the Lower East Side.

The artist says he would love to make Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue versions of his Monopoly cards to paste on empty storefronts uptown, but he’s worried that area might be a little too high-profile for his unsanctioned art.

“Lots of security cameras, so maybe in the stealth of night, I’ll visit them,” he said.

He came up with the monthly rent prices on the cards from Real Estate Board of New York reports.

He says the response, online and on the street, has been overwelmingly positive.

“People really seem to fall in love with this, and they’re really understanding and getting the message, which I find fantastic.”

He says he will continue to post his Monopoly cards because in this real life game of real estate, New Yorkers continue to be losers.

I recommend a visit to the NY One website  to see the video interview with the artist that accompanies the article.

I also recommend tracking down the July issue of Harper’s that has an article titled “The Death of a Once Great City: The fall of New York and the urban crisis of affluence” by Kevin Baker that is thankfully not behind its paywall. Baker writes:

Between 2010 and 2014, Lynch writes, the rents in sixteen Manhattan retail corridors tracked by ­CBRE Group, the self-described largest commercial real estate services and investment firm in the world,

skyrocketed by a whopping 89.1 percent while total retail sales for the borough grew by only 31.9 percent, creating what the commercial brokerage firm called “an unsustainable situation for some tenants as rents surpassed what their sales growth could support.”

What’s more, this price gouging continued even as vacancies multiplied, a supposed impossibility under classical capitalist economics. The better business got, the more stores went under and were abandoned. The more storefronts went vacant, the higher rents kept going.

In some of the swankier districts of Manhattan, this can lead to the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Kanye West, or Tommy Hilfiger “popping up.” In less glamorous neighborhoods, such as my own, it’s more likely to mean the headquarters of a political campaign, or the ubiquitous Halloween costume stores that open now in mid-September. But wherever and whatever they are, the lesson is the same: everything is temporary. The whole idea of a permanent community is fading away.

For previous articles in this series, go to https://louisproyect.org/category/real-estate/.


The Rise of the Right Wing Is Not Due to the Working Class Because Workers Don’t Vote

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:30 am

via The Rise of the Right Wing Is Not Due to the Working Class Because Workers Don’t Vote

July 21, 2018

Yitzy the Pupa photographer

Filed under: Catskills,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

On Wednesday and Thursday, I was up in Sullivan County—once the home of the now mostly defunct resort hotel industry—to work with a drone pilot I had hired to capture the sights of the Catskills from above.

Of all the major hotels that were well-known in the area, there is only one that is still in business and that has the same appearance it had when it was built in 1937, namely the Raleigh Hotel. When I had been told in advance that it was now owned by Hasidim and catering to the frum (devout), I was a bit worried about being prevented from filming since these people are notoriously wary of outsiders. About a mile from the hotel, we stopped on the road to ask directions from a likely hotel guest wearing a long frock coat and a wide-brimmed hat. He told us it was right up the road and asked if he could get a lift. When he opened the door to hop into the back seat, he spotted the drone pilot’s female assistant and then said, while grinning sheepishly, “No thank you”. This came as no big surprise since there were lots of reports about Hasidic men refusing to be seated next to women on Israeli airplanes. Even when I offered to change seats with the assistant, he still said no.

Given that introduction, I suggested to the pilot to stay fairly clear of the hotel in order to avoid confrontations with hotel security. After about five minutes of filming, a car pulled up with a Hasidic driver who we figured to be part of the hotel management ready to tell us to get lost. After we explained what we were doing, he said “Great” with a big smile on his face and then asked when and where the drone shots of the hotel will be available. What a pleasant surprise!

Back in 2004, the hotel was being run by Laurie Landon, a secular Jew who took over the hotel after her father Mannie Halbert died that year at the age of 91. The NY Times described a transition that was atypical:

When she turned 18, she left the Raleigh and the so-called borscht belt behind to study fine arts at the University of Wisconsin. She then ventured farther, to California, where she studied and worked in design before returning east to live in Manhattan. Her father was left to run the 320-room hotel by himself after her mother, Nettie, died of ovarian cancer in 1971.

“The hotel replaced my mother,” she said. “It was his world. I knew he wanted to pass away here. He wore a suit and tie every day until he went into the hospital.”

Having hassle-free filming at the Raleigh was just the prelude to the next encounter with a Hasid that was even more unexpected.


Old Falls, on the Neversink River

The crew and I were at Old Falls, a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, when all of a sudden a panel truck pulled up and a young man wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a yarmulke on his head stepped out to see what we were up to.

While the pilot and his assistant prepared to fly the drone over the falls, I drew their attention to a monarch butterfly a few feet away. To our delight, we had seen a number of them when we were upstate—perhaps recovering from the massive die-off from pesticides in the 1990s. When the young man overheard us chatting about the butterfly, he dashed to his truck and brought out a digital SLR camera with a massive telephoto lens to see if he could photograph the butterfly. In fact, it was this camera:

That is one of the photos on Yitzy’s website that is devoted both to photographing the beauty of the area as well as the religious leaders of the Pupa branch of Hasidic Judaism.

Not only is he a passionate photographer, he is also into drone photography and owns a Mavic Pro just like mine. I should add that the only reason I hired a drone pilot (and a great one at that) is the impossibility of learning how to fly my own in New York City where there is a virtual ban. (Contact me if you want to buy a Mavic Pro in excellent condition.)

Right off the bat, Yitzy identified himself as a Pupa person. The Pupas are a Hasidic sect named after the town of Pápa in Hungary who were deported to Auschwitz during WWII with only a tiny number of people surviving the death camp. There are several thousand Pupas in Brooklyn where Yitzy grew up in a cloistered world that had incorporated the same customs and Yiddish language used in the 19th century in Hungary. He told me that he learned English on the street and even picked up Spanish along the way.

Yitzy and I discussed his online passions that are strictly verboten in his world. Computers, like the female assistant in the drone pilot’s back seat, are doors that open up into the world of temptation and sin. But he was not ready to forsake them since this was as much a part of his identity as the sidelocks (peyot) that he had tucked neatly behind his ears. On Friday night and Saturday, the sidelocks are unraveled and he trades his jeans and t-shirt for the same kind of clothes that the Raleigh hotel guest was wearing. Obviously, it is this sort of ceremony that retains a grip on him:

Yitzy is aware of the films on Hasidim that have cast them in a negative light such as “One of Us” (https://louisproyect.org/2017/10/19/one-of-us-jane/) even if he has not watched them. He wasn’t aware of “Menashe”, the outstanding film about a single father being told by a Hasidic court that unless he remarries, he will have to turn over his son to another family. When I described the plot to him, he had no hesitation saying that the rabbis were wrong.

I was deeply impressed with Yitzy and could understand why he would want to remain in the Hasidic world. Karl Marx once wrote that religion was the opiate of the masses but the words that surround this statement are often neglected:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

My interest in the Hasidim goes back a number of decades mostly because they are so defiantly unconcerned about how they are perceived by others. In American society, it is difficult to withstand the social pressures that turn people into commodity fetishists unless you exist within a religious cocoon like the Amish or the Hasidim.

Ilan Halevi’s “A History of the Jews: Ancient and Modern” is the definitive treatment of Jewish history that I highly recommend. His discussion of the Hasidic movement places it in the context of economic and social dislocations of 19th century Europe:

There is one area where Hasidism not only did not challenge orthodoxy, but outbid the rabbinical discourse: the crucial area of the cleavage Jews and non-Jews. The eschatological justification of difference as essential. Difference was one of the constantly recurring themes of rabbinical Judaism: Separation (havdalah) was a key concept. God separated Israel from among the Nations and this extraction was of an ontological nature:

“Like day from night, like the sacred from the profane.” Talmudic law pushed the horror of the mixing of species to the prohibiting any grafting of vegetable species. Kabbalistic literature was full of such expressions of national pride and messianic particularism. But the intellectual practice of the Mediterranean Kabbala could, through exegesis, lead to heretical questionings of this basic distinction, which cannot simply be reduced to the divine guarantee of the ethnic superiority chosen group. The rabbinical caste, indeed, was dependent on it for relations with the princely rulers and the stratum of intermediaries. The weight of this dual relationship tempered the cosmological tribalism of the Law. It had even, under the tolerant Islam of the Abbassids, allowed this tribalism to harmonize its language with the surrounding civilization, which was itself fascinated by Greek Reason.

Nothing like this, no modification of rabbinical ethnicism was at work in universe of the Hasidim: the fact was that the persecution of the community was occurring in conditions that were unique in the history of this Law. The de facto separation of the Shtetl from the surrounding society, a separation that was not only religious and social, but linguistic and spatial, found in this the theological weapons it needed to assert itself. While postponing to an indefinite future the hopes for a political messiah, Hasidism also expressed, by its outright denial of time and place, the historical subjectivism of the Shtetl which could later fuel the growth of Jewish nationalism.

The internal crisis of the Shtetl, whose roots are to be found in the crisis of Polish feudalism, was exacerbated and radically aggravated. The domain of Polish sovereignty was shrinking rapidly. A kingdom that had stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea grew smaller and smaller as around it tsarist Russia, the Hapsburg empire and the German states grew larger and larger. The Polish question became the European question and centuries-old Polish Jewry saw its territory carved up among several states Austria, which took Galicia, lightened the conditions of Jews there: but Russia, having seized the Ukraine and Byelorussia, oppressed them there, said Lenin, “more harshly than the Negroes”. The Napoleonic conquest, short as it may have been, precipitated the disintegration, inducing a general upheaval in the empires of the centre and east. Following the French occupation, the whole map of the region was transformed. The new frontier of Austria and Russia, which shared the whole of what remained of Poland in 1815, cut the Ashkenazi world in two, divided the dynasties of Hasidic rabbis, and determined new sub-problematics. The sociological unity of Ashkenazi Judaism was beginning to fracture.

This year Philip Roth died at the age of 85. Well over fifty years ago, I read his “Goodbye Columbus” that included a short story titled “Eli the Fanatic” about a secular Jew living among gentiles who is chagrined to discover that a Hasidic Jew has moved into his neighborhood. Samuel Freedman, a Columbia professor who has written about conflicts in the Jewish community in a book titled “Jew Vs Jew: The Struggle For The Soul Of American Jewry”, summarized the plot:

In 1959, very early in his literary career, Philip Roth wrote a short story entitled “Eli, the Fanatic.” At the outset of the tale, nothing is fanatical about Eli, except his desire to fit in. He has ridden a law degree and the wave of postwar prosperity from working-class Newark into a leafy suburb up the slope of the Watchung Hills—the sort of suburb, the reader understands, that had barred Jews with restrictive covenants on home sales until the revelation of the Holocaust discredited the formal structures of American anti-Semitism. Even so, Eli feels that his station there is vulnerable. So when two survivors, one of them Hasidic, open a yeshiva out of a ramshackle home in what is supposed to be a residential neighborhood, Eli fears that their oddity will undermine his fragile new niche. He instructs the men in the importance of obeying zoning laws, and, when that doesn’t work, gives the Hasid one of his own business suits so that, at the very least, the stranger won’t attract quite so many stares as he walks down Main Street. In a final plot twist, the Hasid leaves a set of his own black garb on Eli’s porch. Eli, inexplicably drawn to it, puts on the clothes, whereupon he is committed to a lunatic asylum.

Sometimes I wonder if my 50-year commitment to Marxism is as “fanatical” as Roth’s character. In a world headed to disasters of Biblical proportions, it takes a certain kind of stiff-necked resolve to adhere to beliefs that reject our affluent society that is symbolized by Donald Trump’s garish penthouse. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I admire Yitzy even though his world is so remote from mine.

July 20, 2018

Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics

Filed under: Great Britain,Labour Party,social democracy — louisproyect @ 1:43 pm


The left internationally has been stuck on the horns of a dilemma for quite some time now. When radicals take state power but fail to abolish private property, internal contradictions eventually catch up with the government and dash the hopes initially placed in it—Syriza in Greece and Chavista Venezuela being prime examples. With Cuba and North Korea as relics of the “communist” past, there are few on the left that consider them as models in the way that large parts once did fifty years ago, even more so when both hold-outs are now moving rapidly toward a Chinese-style economy. Just this week, there was news that Cuba will now recognize private property under a new constitution.

Despite such discouraging tendencies, radicalism persists mostly as a result of the assaults on living standards the capitalist system imposes. As part of an ongoing project to analyze the renaissance of social democracy in the United States, rebranded by the DSA, Jacobin and the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party as “democratic socialism”, I decided to read Richard Seymour’s “Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics”. I knew little about Corbyn except what I learned from the Guardian, The Nation and the usual leftwing websites that were as breathlessly enthusiastic as they were about the Sanders campaign.

As someone who has lauded Seymour’s books in the past, I delayed reading his 2016 Verso book because his Lacanian turn, while satisfying his own intellectual agenda, left a Freud-hater like me cold. I am happy to report that his book on Corbyn vintage is Richard Seymour and necessary reading for those grappling with the question of whether capitalism can be reformed.

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