Category Archives: Archives, History, and Historiography

Ron Radosh on Jennifer Delton: A Fresh View of Cold War America

Standard

This article by Ron Radosh is from Minding the Campus:

Teaching in the universities about the so-called McCarthy era has become an area most susceptible to politically correct and one-sided views of what the period was all about. One historian who strenuously objects to the accepted left-wing interpretation that prevails in the academy is Jennifer Delton, Chairman of the Department of History at Skidmore College.

In the March issue of The Journal of the Historical Society Delton writes:

However fiercely historians disagree about the merits of American Communism, they almost universally agree that the post-World War II Red scare signified a rightward turn in American politics. The consensus is that an exaggerated, irrational fear of communism, bolstered by a few spectacular spy cases, created an atmosphere of persecution and hysteria that was exploited and fanned by conservative opportunists such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy. This hysteria suppressed rival ideologies and curtailed the New Deal, leading to a resurgence of conservative ideas and corporate influence in government. We may add detail and nuance to this story, but this, basically, is what we tell our students and ourselves about post-World War II anti-Communism, also known as McCarthyism. It is fundamentally the same story that liberals have told since Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of being a Communist spy in 1948.

This conventional narrative of the left has been told over and over for so many years that it has all but become the established truth to most Americans. It was exemplified in a best-selling book of the late 1970’s, David Caute’s The Great Fear, and from the most quoted one from the recent past, Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. My favorite title is one written by the late Cedric Belfrage, The American Inquisition 1945-1960: A Profile of the “McCarthy Era.” In his book, Belfrage told the story of how he, an independent journalist who founded the fellow-traveling weekly The National Guardian, was hounded by the authorities and finally deported home to Britain. American concerns about Soviet espionage, he argued, were simply paranoia.

The problem with Belfrage’s account was that once the Venona files began to be released in 1995–the once top secret Soviet decrypts of communications between Moscow Center and its US agents—they revealed that Belfrage was a paid KGB operative, just as the anti-Communist liberal Sidney Hook had openly charged decades ago, and as turned KGB spy Elizabeth Bentley had privately informed the FBI in 1945. The Venona cables revealed that Belfrage had given the KGB an OSS report received by British intelligence concerning the anti-Communist Yugoslav resistance in the 1940’s as well as documents about the British government’s position during the war on opening a second front in Europe. It showed that Belfrage had offered the Soviets to establish secret contact with them if he was stationed in London.

Facts like these did not bother or budge the academic establishment. Most famously, Ellen Schrecker wrote in her book that although it is now clear many Communists in America had spied for the Soviets, they did not do any real harm to the country, and also most importantly, their motives were decent. She wrote, “As Communists, these people did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism; they were internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national boundaries. They thought they were ‘building…a better world for the masses,’ not betraying their country.”

Schrecker’s views were endorsed by former Nation publisher and editor Victor Navasky, who regularly in different articles argues that the Venona decrypts are either gossip or forgeries, irrelevant, or do not change his favored narrative that in the United States– only McCarthyism was a threat. As Navasky wrote, Venona was simply an attempt “to enlarge post-cold war intelligence gathering capability at the expense of civil liberty.” If spying indeed took place, it was “a lot of exchanges of information among people of good will, many of whom were Marxists, some of whom were Communists… and most of whom were patriots.” As for those who argue against his view, they were trying to “argue that, in effect, McCarthy and Co. were right all along.”

The lens through which McCarthyism has been seen, therefore, is one seen exclusively through the left-wing prism, which regards defense of one’s own democratic nation against a foreign foe as evil, and sees only testimony against America’s enemies as McCarthyite. What is therefore necessary is to look anew at the McCarthy era, not in the terms set by its Communist opponents, but from the perspective of examining dispassionately the nature of the entire epoch. Those who have chosen to do this, however, have been met with great opposition. A few years ago, the editors of The New York Times claimed that a new group of scholars “would like to rewrite the historical verdict on Senator McCarthy and McCarthyism.” Fearing such a development, the newspaper warned that it had to be acknowledged that it was McCarthyism more than Soviet espionage or Communist infiltration that was “a lethal threat to American democracy.”

[read it all]

Professor Delton’s article, “Rethinking Post-World War II Anticommunism” is excellent. Here is a bit:

[T]the most famous and effective anticommunist measures were carried out not by conservatives, but by liberals seeking to uphold the New Deal. It was the liberal Truman administration that chased Communists out of government agencies and prosecuted Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act. It was liberal Hollywood executives who adopted the blacklist, effectively forcing Communists out of the movie business. The labor leaders who purged Communists from their unions were, similarly, liberals. Most anticommunism—the anticommunism that mattered—was not hysterical and conservative, but, rather, a methodical and, in the end, successful attempt on the part of New Deal liberals to remove Communists from specific areas of American life, namely, the government, unions, universities and schools, and civil rights organizations. It is true that the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) helped carry out these measures, but it is a mistake to assume that J. Edgar Hoover or HUAC could have had much power without the cooperation of liberals who wanted Communists identified and driven out of their organizations.

New evidence confirming the widespread existence of Soviet agents in
the U.S. government makes the Truman administration’s attempts to purge Communists from government agencies seem rational and appropriate—even too modest, given what we now know.3 But even in those cases where espionage was not a threat—such as in unions, political organizations, and Hollywood—there were still good reasons for liberals to expel Communists. Communists were divisive and disruptive. They had the ability to cripple liberal organizations, especially at the local and state levels. Removing Communists from labor and political organizations was necessary for liberal Democrats like Hubert Humphrey, Chester Bowles, and Paul Douglas to be elected to Congress, where they supported Truman’s Keynesian economic policies, raised the minimum wage, fought for health insurance,
defended unions, taxed the rich, and laid the political groundwork for
civil rights and desegregation.

Happy 62nd Birthday, Israel! (Yom HaAtzmaut/Independence Day, 2010)

Standard

“If You Will It, It is No Dream”–Theodore (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl

Via Ynet:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a special statement for the occasion, saying, “On this Independence Day we mark two of the Jewish nation’s miracles: The miracle of revival and the miracle of building. The miracle of revival, because I an not familiar with any other nation in history that was scattered all over the world and lost control of its destiny but still managed to return to its homeland and rebuild its sovereignty there.

“The other miracle is building: What we have built in this land since the State of Israel’s inception. Israel is quickly becoming a regional economic superpower and a global technological superpower. In this world of knowledge in the 21st century our possibilities are endless: In science, medicine, technology and art. In each and every field, the forces of genius within our nation break out and create a magnificent country,” the PM’s statement read.

Netanyahu also mentioned the nation’s capital, saying, “We are not here by chance. We are here because this is our land. We’ve returned to our land, to our city – Jerusalem – because this is our land, this is our city.

Arutz Sheva has the following podcast, “Those Who Fought to Create the State of Israel

From Haaretz:

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin lit the first beacon at the ceremony, and emphasized Israel’s commitment to the unity of Jerusalem in his address.

“We will not apologize for building up Jerusalem our capital,” Rivlin said during his Independence Day speech, which focused heavily on Jerusalem and on the divisions within the city and its population.

“In an era of cultural openness, we are witnessing a dangerous process of deepening entrenchment of each group behind its four walls. This entrenchment only creates cultural and political polarization.

“Look at what Jerusalem has become in the past decade: separate neighborhoods, separate public transportation, separate shopping malls for Haredim and seculars, Arabs and Jews,” he said, referring to this separation as ghettos within the city.

“Our fear of the ‘other’ across the wall, especially in Jerusalem, whether Arab or ultra-Orthodox, goes against the Zionist spirit,” said Rivlin.

“The mentality of concrete and barbed wire; the mentality of enclosure in homogenous neighborhoods, and the mentality of escaping a dialogue with the ‘other’ is not only destructive to our social and national foundations,” said the Knesset speaker, “but also enables the rise of the very voices who today demand the division of Jerusalem.”

Rivlin also spoke of Herzl’s legacy during his Independence Day address, calling Zionism an act of courage.

“Sixty-two years after the prophecy of [Herzl’s] Altneuland was realized, we, the generations of those who established the country, know very well that Israel’s salvation did not come from prophets or from diplomats,” said Rivlin, “but from those who dared to stop dreaming and start realizing the dream; in the hands of those who stopped waiting for the establishment of Israel and made the dream a reality.”

Rivlin continued, “The Zionist act is an act of courage, executed by individuals who take a leap of faith from dreaming to action.”

Rivlin concluded by saying that Israel will retian its Zionist character and make no apologies for it.

“Make no mistake, there will be no cooperation with those who demand that we diminish the country’s Zionist identity. We will not apologize: not for conquering Katamon, Jaffa or Safed, not for freeing Hebron, and not for building Jerusalem our capital,” Rivlin said.

[AFP photo]

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Standard

Every year around this time I read articles and op-eds about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) that generally fall into two categories. On the one hand, you have leftists and revolutionaries who generally argue MLK was moving in an anti-capitalist direction before he was assassinated. The more extreme leftists claim this is precisely why he was assassinated. They also note if he was alive today, he would be siding with them in their various struggles whether environmental, economic or political. On the other hand, you have conservatives who contend that they are the rightful heirs to MLK’s legacy. They contend if King was alive today, he would take their side, especially in regards to “right to life” and other social issues.

I find most of these discussions to be less than useful. Who knows what MLK’s politics would be like if he were alive today? Yes, he was outspoken in support of the poor and labor issues but I doubt he would share the contemporary Left’s position on abortion. And what would he have thought of the increasing radicalization and fetishism of violence of the New Left? In any event, these sorts of discussions involve extreme speculation on both sides of the political spectrum.

Instead, I think it is illustrative to examine the social and political legacy of MLK. Have the changes he wanted to see in American society become reality? In many cases, they have. De jure discrimination based on race is illegal. Federal legislation was passed providing legal protection and access in the areas of transportation (thanks Irene Morgan and Rosa Parks!), voting rights, public facilities, and education. A good friend reminded me of MLK’s influence in the case of Loving v. Virginia which ended race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. And of course we have a black president. These are incredibly positive developments for a country as riven by race as the U.S.

But are there any negative elements of his legacy? I realize to even suggest this runs the risk of being labeled an apostate by liberals and conservatives alike. Yet when I examine some of the individuals and groups who claim to extend the progressive vision of MLK to the present I am incredibly disappointed.

To be absolutely clear I do not place any blame for the buffoonery of these clowns on MLK. I suspect and hope he would be disappointed by their antics as well. And I recognize there are plenty of folks who continue King’s legacy in a positive and uplifting fashion.

Enjoy this brief clip of MLK responding to the criticisms leveled against him by Malcolm X:

Remember Pearl Harbor

Standard

68 years later, we still remember…

Here is a collection of images from the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

Posters from the National Archives.

FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech

After the Day of Infamy: “Man on the Street” Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor (via the Library of Congress)

Also from the Library of Congress, Pearl Harbor Oral Histories

Irving Kristol, R.I.P.

Standard

irvkristol

[Image by Keith Myers/NYT]

The “Godfather of the Neoconservative Movement” has passed on.

Here is a bit from John Podhoretz’s post at Contentions:

The intellectual and political life of the United States over the past 60 years was affected in so many important and enduring ways by Irving Kristol that it is difficult to capture in words the extent of his powerful and positive influence. Irving, who died today at the age of 89, was the rarest of creatures—a thoroughgoing intellectual who was also a man of action. He was a maker of things, a builder of institutions, a harvester and disseminator and progenitor of ideas and the means whereby those ideas were made flesh…

The number of institutions with which he was affiliated, or started, or helped grow into major centers of learning and thinking is hard to count. There is this institution, COMMENTARY, where he began working after his release from the Army following the conclusion of the Second World War. There were two other magazines in the 1950s, the Reporter and Encounter, which he helped found and whose influence on civil discourse was profound and enduring, even legendary. There was the Public Interest, the quarterly he co-founded in 1965 with Daniel Bell and then ran with Nathan Glazer for more than 30 years, which was the wellspring of neoconservative thinking on domestic-policy issues. He helped bring a sleepy Washington think tank called the American Enterprise Institute into the forefront. And he made Basic Books into a publishing powerhouse that was, for more than 20 years, at the red-hot center of every major debate in American life.

It was through his encouragement and lobbying efforts that several foundations began providing the kind of support to thinkers and academics on the Right that other foundations and most universities afforded thinkers and academics on the Left. Through his columns in the Wall Street Journal, he instructed American businessmen on the relation between what they did and the foundational ideas of capitalism as explicated by Adam Smith, and changed many of them from sideline players in the battle over the direction of the American economy into front-line advocates.

Just an example of Irving’s approach: In 1979, as a first-year student at the University of Chicago, I started a magazine called Midway (later Counterpoint) with my friend Tod Lindberg, now the editor of Policy Review. I sent the first issue to Irving, a family friend. He called me a few days later. “Do you need money?” he said in his fascinating accent, which bore both traces of the Brooklyn of his youth and the London where he spent crucial years in his 30s. “Money?” I said. “No, we made enough from advertising to pay for it.”

“If you ever do, let me know,” he said. And a few issues later, we did. I called him, and he instructed me on the fine art of writing a grant proposal to a new foundation he had begun called the Institute for Educational Affairs. A few weeks later, he called me to report that a grant of $2,000 had been approved and, moreover, that he had used our little magazine as an example of what might be done on college campuses to encourage non-Leftist thinking among students. The board of the foundation found his pitch compelling, and it was decided that efforts should be made to encourage the creation of other publications like Counterpoint. From this seedling came a project that would, by the mid-1980s, lead to the creation of more than 50 college newspapers and magazines across the country engaged in a vital intellectual project to bring ideological diversity to campus life.

Now, if one were to measure by the nature of colleges today as opposed to 30 years ago, one would have to say this venture did not effect much change. But what came out of it were dozens of young writers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs (like Peter Thiel, the co-creator of PayPal and one of the founding editors of the Stanford Review) who have enriched American life.

So it was with Irving the mentor. There are people throughout the United States, writers and editors and academics and thinkers and speechwriters and policymakers, who owe their careers and the shape of their lives to Irving and his direct efforts on their behalf—giving them counsel, writing them letters, finding them employment. He was a human job bank.

The Heritage Foundation:

With the death of editor and scholar Irving Kristol, the conservative movement has lost another of its intellectual champions. In recent years, Irving was a Senior Fellow Emeritus with our friends over at the American Enterprise Institute. That post, though, was merely the capstone to a long career in media, publishing and academia.

Famously, of course, Irving Kristol wasn’t always a conservative, much less a “neoconservative.” He began his career as a Marxist, but from the position of a leftist was able to recognize the weaknesses of Marxism. That realization led to his gradual move to the political right.

Here’s how he once put it: “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a neo-something: a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-liberal, a neo-conservative; in religion a neo-orthodox even while I was a neo-Trotskyist and a neo-Marxist. I’m going to end up a neo-; that’s all, neo dash nothing.”

Instead, Irving ended up an influential conservative icon.

Among other jobs, he was managing editor of Commentary magazine from 1947 to 1952, executive vice president of Basic Books for eight years and professor of social thought at New York University Graduate School of Business.

Irving Kristol was an inspiration to all of us. During the early days of the conservative movement, liberals controlled academia even more completely than they do today.

Yet Kristol reminded us that ideas were more important than ideology. He gave birth to an intellectual movement that proved conservative ideas work, and he helped make conservatives into what the late  Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York called “the party of ideas.”

“A conservative,” Irving liked to say, “is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”

Robert Kagan at WaPo:

He was a truly great man, a great intellectual, and a great, patriotic servant to his country. He was also a unique inspiration, to me personally, and to untold thousands of other young people for whom he provided a model of the intellectual life well-lived. He was a deep and fierce thinker, who nevertheless delivered his thoughts in the most amiable fashion, without animus or bile. He was curious and invited others to be curious, to engage in serious dialogue on the important issues of the day. He was also a creator of communities and institutions. He occupied a unique space between the world of the mind and the world of action. Networks of thinkers, policy-makers, and politicians revolved around him — and not because he thrust himself into their midst but because his mind and character attracted them to him. To go to work for him, as I did fresh out of college almost 30 years ago, was to enter a rich and exciting intellectual universe, filled with learning and integrity and a commitment to the well-being of society. I fear such a universe may no longer exist. But the memory of what Irving Kristol created is enough to warm the soul for a lifetime.

Myron Magnet in the City Journal:

Irving Kristol, who died today at 89, was famously the godfather of neoconservatism, and he was the godfather of City Journal, too, having urged the Manhattan Institute’s then-president Bill Hammett 20 years ago to start a magazine. Ever practical and realistic, Irving knew that it wasn’t enough for conservatives to have good ideas; they also needed vehicles to communicate them. If the mainstream media—which in that pre-Internet era really had a monopoly on news and opinion—didn’t want to give conservatives a platform, there was no use complaining: we’d just have to start our own publications. Irving understood the power of ideas as well as anyone, but he also understood the power of institutions.

His own world-historically influential magazine, The Public Interest, bore Irving’s stamp of practicality and realism, indeed of realpolitik. It aimed, through its hard-headed emphasis on social-scientific data, to rise above mere theorizing and opinion into the realm of fact and proof. Ever the anti-utopian, in politics and in temperament, Irving was interested in the world as it is, not as some system wanted it to be. He’d had his youthful flirtation with left-utopianism and, disillusioned by experience, became a neoconservative—a liberal, as he defined it, who’s been mugged by reality. What he really meant, of course, was simply a liberal who’d been mugged—who’d seen that all the liberal, welfare-state ideals for the uplift of the poor, and especially the minority poor, had in the end produced a criminal underclass, exactly the opposite of the intended uplift. The good intentions counted for nothing with him and even sparked a certain dry contempt; it was the result that mattered.

For all The Public Interest’s hard-headedness, however, Irving—a New York Intellectual, after all—saw clearly the power of that very intangible reality, culture. He knew how perversely wrong Marx had been to think that economic relations mold the world, giving form even to our ideas. On the contrary, Irving understood, the ideas, beliefs, customs, virtues, even the prejudices that make up the tissue of our culture are the true shapers of reality. As he explained in his greatest essay, “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness,” which closes Two Cheers for Capitalism, Adam Smith, for all his greatness as an economist and philosopher, did not see how crucial to the functioning of markets as he described them was the Presbyterian culture of the Scotland that bred him, with its emphasis on probity, thrift, enterprise, and truthfulness. Even in the economic world, material reality is only part of the story.

The NYT:

The Public Interest writers did not take issue with the ends of the Great Society so much as with the means, the “unintended consequences” of the Democrats’ good intentions. Welfare programs, they argued, were breeding a culture of dependency; affirmative action created social divisions and did damage to its supposed beneficiaries. They placed practicality ahead of ideals. “The legitimate question to ask about any program,” Mr. Kristol said, “is, ‘Will it work?’,” and the reforms of the 1960s and ’70s, he believed, were not working.

For more than six decades, beginning in 1942, when he and other recent graduates of City College founded Enquiry: A Journal of Independent Radical Thought, his life revolved around magazines. Besides The Public Interest, Mr. Kristol published, edited and wrote for journals of opinion like Commentary, Encounter, The New Leader, The Reporter and The National Interest.

All were “little magazines,” with limited circulations, but Mr. Kristol valued the quality of his readership more than the quantity. “With a circulation of a few hundred,” he once said, “you could change the world.”

Small circles and behind-the-scenes maneuverings suited him. He never sought celebrity; in fact, he was puzzled by writers who craved it. Described by the economics writer Jude Wanniski as the “hidden hand” of the conservative movement, he avoided television and other media spotlights; he was happier consulting with a congressman like Jack Kemp about the new notion of supply-side economics and then watching with satisfaction as Mr. Kemp converted President Ronald Reagan to the theory. Mr. Kristol was a man of ideas who believed in the power of ideas, an intellectual whose fiercest battles were waged against other intellectuals.

A major theme of The Public Interest under Mr. Kristol’s leadership was the limits of social policy; he and his colleagues were skeptical about the extent to which government programs could actually produce positive change.

Neoconservatism may have begun as a dispute among liberals about the nature of the welfare state, but under Mr. Kristol it became a more encompassing perspective, what he variously called a “persuasion,” an “impulse,” a “new synthesis.” Against what he saw as the “nihilistic” onslaught of the ’60s counterculture, Mr. Kristol, in the name of neoconservatism, mounted an ever more muscular defense of capitalism, bourgeois values and the aspirations of the common man that took him increasingly to the right.

For him, neoconservatism, with its emphasis on values and ideas, had become no longer a corrective to liberal overreaching but an “integral part” of conservatism and the Republican Party, a challenge to liberalism itself, which, in his revised view, was a destructive philosophy that had lost touch with ordinary people.

But, I am a Liberal has links to a variety of obits here.

So does Poumista.

Podcast on the San Francisco General Strike (1934)

Standard

sf general strike

[I realize it is a few days after Labor Day but here is a program on the 75th anniversary of the SF General Strike from Michael Krasny’s Forum: Podcast is here. The image is from sfgeneralstrike.org]

The San Francisco General Strike
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco General Strike. The strike changed the face of organized labor in the Bay Area and throughout the United States, and had enormous impact on San Francisco city politics and culture. On this Labor Day, we present a pre-recorded broadcast assessing the legacy of the San Francisco General Strike.

Host: Michael Krasny

Guests:

  • Dick Meister, freelance writer, columnist and co-author of a history of farm labor titled “A Long Time Coming”
  • Harvey Schwartz, curator of the ILWU Oral History Collection and author of “Solidarity Stories: An Oral History of the ILWU”
  • William Issel, professor emeritus of history at San Francisco State University, visiting professor of history at Mills College and coordinator of the Bay Area Labor History Workshop

Answering Martin’s Questions Regarding Anarchism

Standard

CNT-Poster

H/t to Martin for tagging me on this. I added a question (A), How were you introduced to anarchism?

(A) How were you introduced to anarchism?

I was introduced to anarchism in my teens through the punk-rock and hardcore punk music scene. While my understanding of anarchism was neither deep nor broad, the anti-authoritarian and DIY elements really appealed to me. Here is a little classic anarcho-punk:

When I got a bit older (20s) I started reading some of the classical anarchist authors and texts after volunteering at an anarchist press that will remain nameless; “Bakunin on Anarchism” (translated by Sam Dolgoff), Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread,” Rudolf Rocker’s “Anarcho-Syndicalism,” Abel Paz’s “Durruti: The People Armed,” Murray Bookchin’s “The Spanish Anarchists” and loads of stuff by Paul Avrich including “Anarchist Portraits,” “Anarchist Voices,” “Sacco and Vanzetti,” and “The Haymarket Tragedy.”

1. What exactly do you mean by anarchism (which key ideas and thinkers are important to you)?

In its most simple formulation, libertarian socialism i.e. socialism that allows for a maximum of individual liberty. As Bakunin wrote, “Liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice and Socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”

Back in my anarchist days I moved from an anarcho-syndicalist or anarcho-communist perspective to a much more individualist or mutualist position. It’s strange that my personal progression was the inverse of the historical development of anarchism as an ideology i.e from a form of mutualism influenced by Proudhon to Bakunin’s anarcho-collectivism to Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism.

As to which key ideas and thinkers are important to me, today I have moved rather far from my anarcho-roots. But back in the day I liked Benjamin Tucker and the American individualists, Errico Malatesta (anarcho-communist), Rudolf Rocker (anarcho-syndicalist), and especially Fernando Tarrida del Mármol and Ricardo Mella who advocated what they termed anarchismo sin adjetivos (anarchism without adjectives). These two authors found that anarchists shared more in common then all their hyphenated forms seemed to indicate.

I still have a lot of affinity for Carlo Tresca, who was able to work with anarchists, the syndicalists in the IWW and more mainstream trade-unionists. Like Mella, he was a bridge-builder between a variety of different leftwing movements and political perspectives. He was also a fierce opponent of Stalinists, fascists and the mob.

But the anarchists I felt I had the most in common with were people like Dolgoff or the working-class anarchist immigrants Avrich interviewed in “Anarchist Voices”. These people were activists and not traditional intellectuals. Their stories, their families, their struggles, their language, spoke to me and I found a lot of inspiration reading about their lives.

Sadly, I have found that anarchists in the U.S. have lost much of their willingness to actively fight against totalitarian socialism. Sure, they’ll diss the commies in their newspapers and journals. But when it comes to rallies and demonstrations, the anarchists and Stalinists, Maoists and other totalitarian socialists march side-by-side. In Tresca’s day, the anarchists would be fighting these scum in the streets, factories and neighborhoods. I have written a little about this here and here.

CNT-tram

2. Does the anarchist experiment in the Spanish Republic have any relevance today (and if so what), or is the continuing fascination with it simply rose-tinted leftist nostalgia?

Allowing my remnant of anarchist influence to show through, I prefer to refer to the Spanish Revolution. The main relevance of that event is anarchists and other liberty-minded individuals should never, ever, trust the communists. Even if that means working with liberals, non-radicals and—dare I say it—other advocates of capitalism.

As to the rose-tinted nostalgia, it is incredibly strong among anarchists. As I have mentioned elsewhere, CNT militants certainly resisted Communist attempts at destroying the anarchist collectives. But, at the same time, the anarchists also implemented pro-capitalist methods themselves.

These methods including tying wages to productivity, the implementation of the piece-rate system, harsh punitive measures for slackers, even forced collectivization which most anarchists fail to admit.

As Seidman writes, “A dispassionate examination of the charges and countercharges leads to the conclusion that both anarchist and Communists were correct. The former used illegal coercion to initiate collectives, and the latter used it to destroy them.” (126) (Michael Seidman “Republic of Egos: A Social History of the Spanish Civil War“. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002).

I highly recommend Seidman’s book as he does not have an ideological axe to grind and is trying to humanize our understanding of the conflict. Seidman argues for most Spaniards, the ideological struggles mattered less than day-to-day survival. What did they do? How did they survive? These are the questions Seidman seeks to answer, not which side had the proper ideological line. For most Spaniards, consumption was the primary consideration, not class-struggle.

Where we are today, I think the example of the Mondragon Cooperatives is more relevant than the Spanish anarchist collectives.

primitivists

3. What exactly would it mean to implement anarchist ideas in a twenty-first century, globalised economy and polity – and would it even be possible or practicable?

That depends on what sort of anarchist you ask. The anarcho-primitivists have different ideas than the anarcho-insurrectionists who have different ideas than the anarcho-syndicalists who have different ideas than the anarcho-communists.

Possible, no.

Practicable, no.

In the end, anarchism is a utopian ideology. In my teens and twenties, utopianism had a lot of appeal for me. Today, I find that when utopian ideals are implemented they lead to dystopian realities. In other words, Hobbes was right. Human beings need the State in order to have what we know as civilization. That does not mean we should refrain from being vigilant against the encroachment of the State in our personal lives but we should recognize the benefits the State provides to us as individuals, families, etc.

I also think it is important to point out that some of the most important anarchist thinkers were intensely anti-Semitic. I am thinking specifically of Bakunin and Proudhon. This usually is swept under the rug by anarchists, including Jewish anarchists. Jewish Marxists do the same thing with Marx.