Friday, September 6, 2013

Lenin on the question of oppression, working class unity, and the process of engaging with the justified distrust that oppressed people feel towards those of the oppressor social group

I've been thinking a lot about the question of what it actually takes to build a truly united, multiracial, multigender, multi-all-forms-of-oppression, movement that is truly based in genuine solidarity and the collective striving toward mutual emancipation from exploitation and oppression.

It is of course an understatement to say that this is a very difficult task. This is precisely because capitalist society is so effective at dividing the working class and creating definite strata within the working class along the lines of various forms of social oppression. Black workers are invariably subjected to racist attitudes by white workers, and likewise between men and women, and so on. The distrust that exists within the minds of oppressed groups towards those of the oppressor social group -- regardless of class -- are quite real, and frankly understandable, in a strictly logical sense, because of the foregoing.

Thus, the task of establishing unity between oppressed groups as part of a larger united working class struggle for the abolition of capitalism presents very difficult challenges.

In particular, the question of building a revolutionary organization along these lines can be immensely confounding. Indeed, history is littered with social movements, revolutions, and even mass revolutionary parties which have foundered precisely on this contradiction; the contradiction between the needs of unity of the entire working class, and the immense enmity and suspicion which exists between them at present because of capitalist social relations.

Oftentimes, trust will breakdown between comrades within a group or social movement over this issue, with oppressed people feeling slighted, marginalized, or not taken sufficiently seriously.

First of all, I want to say that I actually don't think this is ultimately a matter of individuals being racist or sexist [though that certainly can and does happen on the left and even within revolutionary organizations].

I also don't think that racism or sexism or really, by definition, any form of oppression, in general -- as social constructions -- are the product of any one individual's attitudes. Rather, it is a product of the ensemble of social relations which obtain under capitalism.

Yet, the fact is that this oppression does exist, is real, and permeates virtually all of our relations within the system. Inequality exists between various strata of the working class due to this oppression -- in terms of their opportunity, livelihoods, well-beings -- which then in turn impacts oppressed people's sense of confidence and self-worth, etc., especially in relation to those strata of the working class which rest above them (not even to mention in relation to the upper classes of the dominant social group).

As I sometimes do, I decided to see what comrade V.I. Lenin may have to say on the matter. Now, I don't think that Lenin (or anyone for that matter), was an infallible genius or other such nonsense who always has the "correct" thing to say on every matter.

Nonetheless, I do think on this particular question he offers some important insights.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Article clippings on Lucy Parsons

Various articles on Lucy Parsons from the bourgeois press between 15 October 1886 and 8 March 1942.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lucy Parsons was engaged to marry Eduard Bernstein, leading German socialist, in 1888

Well this is rather interesting. Though I have never seen it mentioned in any biography of Lucy Parsons anywhere, according to this article (see image and link below) from the Chicago Daily Tribune, dated 11 December 1888, Parsons had at least temporarily been engaged to marry Eduard Bernstein, the famous German socialist.

Though Parsons only mentions her "future husband's" last name in the article (" ... a gentleman named Bernstein ... "), everything else checks out. Parsons had gone on a speaking tour in London in 1888 alongside Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, and William Morris, the British Marxist and friend of Frederick Engels. Bernstein had coincidentally also arrived in London that year, having been exiled from Germany, by way of Zurich, Switzerland. At this time, Bernstein was indeed editor of the Social Democrat -- as indicated by Parsons in the article below -- which was the leading newspaper of the German Social Democratic Party.

It seems quite likely that Parsons would have met Bernstein through William Morris, as the two men shared a common close friendship with Frederick Engels.

Among other things, I think this historical relationship is interesting because it would appear to buttress a theory of mine regarding Lucy Parsons. Namely, that her anarchism was more or less synonymous with socialism of the revolutionary, Marxist, variety. Or rather, at the very least, that she did not see a rigid bifurcation between her vision of anarchism and that of revolutionary socialism or Marxism. (For more on this, see

In 1888, Bernstein was a leading figure within the German Social Democratic Party, a close friend of Engels, and was internationally recognized as an unambiguous advocate of orthodox Marxism. [It was not until the mid-to-late 1890s that Bernstein would advance a "revisionist" (essentially reformist) version of Marxism, which he called "evolutionary socialism."]

Of course, I in no way want to advance the idea that any individual's politics can be judged exclusively by that of their spouse, partner, lover, etc. Parsons I'm sure disagreed with Bernstein on many issues regarding the politics of working class revolution. Nonetheless, it is a significant historical fact that only one year after the execution of her former husband, Albert Parsons, the internationally famous anarchist/socialist, she became engaged to one of the then-leading lights of international Marxism.

Indeed, one can see even from the very same article in question that there is no contradiction in Parsons' mind when she speaks of the revolutionary movement in England, in one breath, as advancing the "cause of Socialism", and in the next breath, as advancing "Anarchistic questions."

To read more about the life, politics, and legacy of Lucy Parsons, see

PDF of article available at

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lucy Parsons: "Anarchism, Socialism, and Sex" | Chicago Tribune, 8 March 1942

"LUCY PARSONS, BLIND ANARCHIST, BURNED TO DEATH." (1942, Mar 08). Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963). Retrieved from

"In the flat the police and firemen found a … library of 2,500 to 3,000 volumes, all devoted to anarchism, socialism, and sex. Assistant Corporation Counsel Earl Downes took charge of the books."
As it turned out, all of these books were subsequently turned over to the FBI, never again to see the light of the day. Over the years, numerous Freedom of Information requests have been made to the FBI for this material, but to no avail.

Oh lord, what I would do to get my hands on all of those books!!!

Helen Keller article from New York Times, 7 Feb. 1913, "Rich Criticised By Helen Keller in Debut as Public Lecturer" 

Blind and Deaf and Once Dumb Girl Blames Them for Poor's Condition.


Tells Big Crowd at Mont Clair, N. J., She Hopes to Help the World Get Better.

Mont Clair, N. J., Feb. 6. -- -Special.- -- Helen Keller, the famous blind and deaf and once dumb girl, made her debut as a public speaker in Mont Clair tonight, when, from the platform of the auditorium in the Hillsdale school, she delivered a lecture to an audience that numbered nearly 1,000.

Miss Keller spoke under the auspices of the Mont Clair branch of the Socialist party. She is a Socialist herself, and in her talk revealed radical political inclinations.

The large audience, particularly those in the rear, understood Miss Keller with difficulty at times, owing to the lack of emphasis in her tones, but she gave a remarkable performance, considering the handicap under which she labored.

Trying to Make World Better.

"I am going to try to make you feel that no one of us can do anything alone, that we are bound together," said Miss Keller. "I do not like this world as it is. I am trying to make it a little more as I would like to have it. Perhaps you are thinking how blind I have been. You have your eyes and you behold the sun, and yet you are more blind than I am.

"It was the hands of others that made this miracle in me. Without my teacher I should be nothing. Without you I should be nothing. We live by and for each other. We are all blind and deaf until our eyes are open to our fellow men. If we had a penetrating vision we would not endure what we see in the world today.

"The lands, the life, and the machinery belong to the few. All the work they do gains for the workers a mere livelihood. It is strange that we do not see it and that when we do we accept the conditions in blind content. We fail to understand that if the workers were adequately paid there would be no rich people.

Blames Rich for Conditions.

"The rich are willing to do everything for the poor but give them their rights. They say the workers are not thrifty enough. If the workers are not thrifty enough and do not save it is because the greatest part of what they produce goes to some one else who does the saving. It is the labor of the poor and ignorant that makes us refined and comfortable.
"I am no pessimist. The pessimist says that man was born in darkness and for death. I believe that man was intended for the light and shall not die. It is a good world and it will be much better when you help me to make it more as I want it."


Monday, July 8, 2013

Summary, Comparison, and Analysis of the Russian Constitutions of 1918, 1924, and 1936

I wanted to share a quick summary and comparison of the first three constitutions adopted by the Russian Soviet governments following the historic revolution of October 1917. Specifically, I want to draw attention to the apparent irony -- though, in actual fact, perfectly logical phenomenon -- that there is a direct correspondence between the extent to which the gains of the revolution were being undone by the Stalinist bureaucracy, on the one hand, and the re-crafting of the constitution, on the other, along increasingly "liberal" lines.

So, for instance, the 1936 constitution -- adopted at a time when Stalin's authoritarian reign of terror against the working class in general, and the original leaders and cadres of the 1917 revolution in particular [source], was at its height -- goes further than any previous constitution in reflecting the traditional liberal values often evinced in those of Western bourgeois-democratic republics, such as the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

This, of course, accords completely with the modus operandi of constitutional democracy as it has appeared in the traditional capitalist Western countries, which use lofty promises regarding the sanctity of individual rights as a veil to hide the most brutally repressive practices, such as slavery, female disenfranchisement, genocide against indigenous populations, exploitation of labor, repression of political dissidence, oppression of socially non-conforming peoples, etc.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review of "Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary"

This review first appeared in the May-June 2013 issue of the International Socialist Review.


Carolyn Ashbaugh
Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary
Haymarket Books, 2013 • 282 pages • $16

Review by Keith Rosenthal

With the republication of this long out-of-print 1976 work by Carolyn Asbaugh, Haymarket Books has provided a major boon for a new generation of radical and progressive activists. Lucy Parsons might very well be the most unsung of heroes among the pantheon of major American labor revolutionaries, such as Eugene Debs, William "Big Bill" Haywood, and Mother Jones.

As Ashbaugh informs us, Parsons was one of the first women to join the Knights of Labor in 1879 and the first woman of color to rise to prominence in the revolutionary left. She helped found the International Working People's Association, the U.S. Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and lent her efforts to the development of the U.S. Communist Party (CP). She also figured prominently in the events surrounding one of the most notorious episodes in the history of the American labor movement: the 1886-7 frame-up, trial, and execution of the Haymarket Martyrs, whose numbers included her husband, Albert Parsons.

Additionally, Parsons was one of the very first to seriously address the question of racism and the plight of Black people at the turn of the century in the pages of the socialist and anarchist press. And she was a pioneering advocate for women's rights, including unfettered access to abortion and birth control, the right to at-will divorce, to be free from rape -- marital and otherwise, and she organized domestic laborers and housewives into Working Women's Unions.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright on the Soviet Union, Stalin, and "Trotskyites" | Daily Worker, 1937

August 12, 1937, Daily Worker

The Daily Worker, the WPA, and Disability in the 1930s

Protest outside of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) headquarters in New York City, circa 1936, Daily Worker. WPA federal regulations barred disabled people from securing employment, declaring them to be "unemployable."

Article attached to the above photograph.

Notice the section of the article highlighting the prominent role played by disabled workers and activists fighting against WPA discrimination and for good-paying jobs.

For months the Daily Worker had been criticizing the fact that hundreds of thousands of workers nationwide were being cut from the ranks of the WPA workforce. They demanded that all workers be reinstated. Instead, they declared a victory after FDR declared that no further workers' jobs would be cut from the WPA.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Helen Keller with Rabindranath Thakur at a meeting of the New History Society, c. 1930, U.S.

Helen Keller was a life-long socialist, activist for disability rights, prolific author and orator, and all-around bad-ass.

Rabindranath Thakur (anglicised to Tagore) was a Bengali polymath who reshaped his region's literature and music. He became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He was a fierce anti-imperialist and an early advocate of Indian independence from British colonialism.

Description: Newspaper clipping. Helen Keller meets Indian poet and educationalist, Sir Rabindranath Tagore. Caption below photograph reads, "A sage from the Orient meets a famous woman of the Occident. Sir Rabindranath Tagore, eminent Indian poet and educationalist, conversing with Helen Keller, noted blind woman of America, on the problem of India. At the meeting of the New History Society in New York, at which Tagore gave his farewell message to American people, Miss Keller spoke in the interests of India."
Date: circa 1930
Format: newspaper clipping
Digital Identifier: AG62-3-002
Rights: Samuel P. Hayes Research Library, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA

Note: The New History Society was formed in New York City in 1929 as way of spreading the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. It was primarily an educational movement, the chief activity of which was international correspondence. The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind. It was founded by `Abdu'l-Bahá, a Persian man who spent much of his life living in Palestine. In the Bahá'í Faith, religious history is seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and the capacity of the people. These messengers have included Abrahamic figures as well as Dharmic ones - Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and others. Between 1911-13, `Abdu'l-Bahá traveled to Europe and North America to spread his faith. During his talks he proclaimed Bahá'í principles such as the unity of God, unity of the religions, oneness of humanity, equality of women and men, world peace and economic justice. He also insisted that all his meetings be open to all races.