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Book Review: Medhurst, John, “No Less Than Mystic. A History of Lenin and the Russian Revolution for a 21st Century Left.” Repeater Books, London, 2017. Second review

I found out who gifted me this lousy book, but I did not strangle him on the spot. It’s just a very old friend from 50 years ago who made a lot of money but lost track of things and made peace with the bosses. He meant well. Because another old friend of 50 years ago, who has also lost track, urged me to, I finally finished the darned thing.

My opinion of the book hasn’t changed since I first saw the cover page endorsement by armchair socialist Noam Chomsky and wrote my pre-review. https://wordpress.com/post/genelantz.org/7644

The book is anti-revolutionary and pro-idealistic-backbiting all the way through, just like Chomsky.

There are many interesting historical dates and events in there, but the interpretation is wrong from beginning to end. Medhurst seriously wants to prove that all revolutionaries in history were wrong, and that all the armchair socialists, who sat back and criticized, were right.

In the first chapters, Medhurst exposes his basic thesis: The Bolsheviks failed to create Heaven on Earth 1917-1921. The reason, as he explains for 594 pages, is not because of the desperate fight against reactionaries. Medhurst has a psychological explanation: Lenin was an egotistical monster.

The book lauds the Medhurst’s great men of armchair ideas: Bernstein, Kautsky, Martov, Orwell, and Chomsky. He might as well have added Nixon and Reagan, because their aims and effects were the same, even though their methods differed.

Medhurst’s basic thesis against Marx and Lenin gets greatly muddled as he reviews a pageant of middle-class scholars with a panoply of themes that include everything except that the workers must oppose the bosses. Examples are too many to list. Here’s just one from page 54: “Marxism had too much about the hours of work and not enough about sex and celebration.”

As one might expect, the Red Terror that Lenin unleashed takes up a considerable portion of the book. To be sure, there is one line in there somewhere that says that the White Terror from the imperialist forces was just as bad or worse. Elsewhere, there is one line that says that the American CIA has been worse than all of them. That doesn’t keep the single-minded Medhurst from raving on throughout the book about the great Mensheviks and the horrible Bolsheviks.

If one looks carefully, one can find, on page 380, two sentences that validate Lenin and condemn both Martov and Medhurst: “On 17th October Yudenich’s [white army] forces were only twenty five miles from the city [Petrograd]. On 19th October they were 9 miles away.” Despite having taken extreme measures, the Russian revolution almost lost to imperialism! The revolution barely survived.

Armchair socialists, then and now, are forever condemning revolutionaries for taking strong measures. But if they hadn’t, they would have made no progress against imperialism. Trotsky would have lost to Yudenich at Petrograd. Stalin would have lost to Hitler at Stalingrad. Castro would have lost to Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs. Alternately, if stronger measures had been taken in Chile in 1973, Allende might have prevailed over Kissinger.

–Gene Lantz

I”m on knon’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show at 9AM every Saturday. Podcasts go up on Wednesdays under name “Workers Beat Extra.” If you are curious about what I really think, chcck out my personal page.

Mao Zedong died in 1976. The other titled characters were long gone decades earlier. And yet, young “revolutionaries” of today are still spending their time and resources arguing about them instead of dealing with the awful crises at hand. As early as this Summer, a world-wide economic crisis may begin. An ice shelf may drop into the ocean and drown millions of people who live on coastlines. The Supreme Court may take away our legal right to strike. State legislatures are clamping down on all aspects of democracy. Fascism may take us into its icy grip. And young people are still arguing about Lenin, Martov, Stalin, Trotsky, and Mao!

V.I. Lenin was the pen name of the revolutionary who created a split in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in the early part of the 20th century. He insisted that revolutionaries had to recognize that the people ruling Russia, and the people ruling all nations, had to be fought and removed from power. Martov and his followers believed that no such fight was necessary, or if it was necessary, it would be wiser to put it off and wait for a more propitious time. Lenin’s group eventually took the name “communist,” while Martov’s followers continued with “social democrat.”

Lenin believed that the war against the ruling class was necessary and had to be ruthless. His followers emphasized “necessary” and Martov’s emphasized “ruthless” in their arguments over the ensuing years. Following the success of Lenin’s formulation in 1917, the split continued around the world. The Leninists believed that class war was inevitable; the Social Democrats believed in gradualism and, specifically, that they could eventually be elected to power through conventional democratic processes. There are still a few communists in America and a few more social democrats, especially since social democrat Bernie Sanders stirred the pot with more-or-less independent campaigns in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic Party primaries. Incidentally, I’m not sure what will happen with the American social democrats now that Bernie has endorsed Joe Biden for 2024. I think I can explain that.

When fascism triumphed in Germany, the social democrats blamed the communists and the communists blamed the social democrats. Each of them said that they could have united in the 1932 German elections and out-polled Hitler, and each of them says, to this day, that it’s the other’s fault. There’s a pretty good treatment of that election on Wikipedia. I think it shows that no such coalition was ever possible. The social democrats did not even run in that election. They supported General Paul Von Hindenberg in the erroneous belief that he could stop both Hitler and the communists.

When the beleaguered Soviet Union eventually collapsed, the social democrats said “we knew it all along,” and the communists said, “they lasted 7 decades against overwhelming odds!” That was 3 decades ago, and yet the arguments continue.

Stalin, Trotsky and Mao enthusiastically supported Lenin’s view. Trotsky was deported around 1928 and started his own world movement that said, basically, “Lenin was right, but Stalin ruined it.” Over the years, they even began saying that Trotsky had never supported Lenin’s ruthless Red Terror, but he did.

Stalin certainly supported the Red Terror and continued similar policies as head of the Soviet Union until he died in the early 1950s. Mao of China sincerely supported the Soviet Union until he started a split in the early 1960s. After that, he encouraged a worldwide “Maoist” movement based around the idea that “Mao Thought” was the only prescription for revolution. They were quite popular among students for a while.

About Bernie

I think Bernie Sanders was probably right to endorse Joe Biden for president in 2024. The danger of fascism is too near and too awful for anybody to deliberately split the electorate. Biden is no revolutionary and, some would say, neither is Bernie; but working families need to get past the 2024 elections without instituting fascism, and all of us should be able to agree to that.

The funny part

Ironically, all the aforementioned historical figures called themselves Marxists. Even though they argued against each other and, in some cases, even killed each other, all through history, they all claimed the same ideology. All of them claimed that they were adamantly opposed to the bosses who run things. If they really were Marxists, one would think that they would take to heart one simple sentence from the best-known work of Marx and Engels, “We communists have no interests outside those of the working class.”

It isn’t very hard to figure out the interests of the working class, both short term and long term. It wasn’t hard in the old days and is certainly not difficult today. Working families need better living standards and more democracy. Both are being threatened by the bosses who are running things. Worldwide, the bosses are slashing living standards and democracy. The process, often called “the race to the bottom,” grows more clear every day. Working families around the world, to one degree or another, are trying to fight back, but they desperately need coherent revolutionary leadership.

But the leaders are too busy arguing with one another about things that happened last century.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They post my “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts on their websight and, long term, on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, just look at my personal web site. BTW, I just posted my 4th Sci-Fi novel there.

Limited democracy, which characterizes our American political system, cannot endure another of its inherent crises. Change is coming. It will bring either furtherance of democracy or radical curtailment.

For explanatory purposes, examine the western world just prior to the great crisis of October, 1929. The people running things chose their way out of the great depression, some by radically increasing their democracy under Franklin Delano Roosevelt as chief executive; others chose to curtail democracy under Adolph Hitler.

It’s Present, not Future

The polarity between more democracy and less is underway. In Washington State, everybody can vote by mail. In Texas, the right to vote is being whittled away. In some places, abortion rights are enshrined in constitutions. In others, women have no rights at all. In some of the world’s places, gay marriage is common. In others, homosexuality carries the death penalty.

Political parties in the United States each take almost 50% of the vote. Neither more democracy nor less has triumphed, but small, quantitative changes add up historically to big, qualitative change. One more crisis will push us one way or the other.

Choose Your Crisis

As Finland and Sweden join NATO and the war in Ukraine continues, the siege of Russia is set. American oil companies, already taking over Russia’s European markets, will not be restrained from bringing nuclear war closer and closer.

In the East, America is re-establishing bases in the Philippines, training South Koreans, and strengthening ties with Taiwan. As America’s proxy war grew strength in Europe, President Biden tried to turn it toward China. Mighty navies and air forces crisscross the South China Sea. An American general predicts war with the world’s second largest economy within two years.

Sea levels and carbon in the atmosphere continue to rise. Thousands of tons of ice have already melted. Giant ice shelves hang precariously over the ocean. Storms, floods and droughts are already taking lives and threatening food production.

Bank failures within the United States terrify economists. Untamed inflation forces governments to choose between potentially disastrous monetary policies and, for them, unthinkable fiscal policies against the ruling rich. Smaller nations are joining the interlocking BRIC economies that challenge the “American Century” of domination. Reactionaries in the U.S. Congress announce their intention to bring about a worldwide financial meltdown.

The leadership that is offered has hardly any credibility. The most popular politicians capture less than 50% approval ratings. Institutions, such as the U.S. Congress, can’t get above 30%. In “democratic” America, fewer than 50% of the voting age population turns out even in the most highly publicized elections. 30% do not even register.

Choose your crisis, all of them are at hand.

A Program for More Democracy

Our choice has to be more democracy, not less. Our choice is peace; clean air and water; pro-worker economic policies; and leadership we can believe. To take the limits off our American democracy and give people say-so in international and economic affairs, which we do not have and have never had, we must organize.

Organizing is an incremental process. If we take the side of working families on every issue, if we build the organizations that win for working families on every issue, we will be ready to demand and win more democracy during the next crisis. The alternatives are unthinkable.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.ORG “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. My weekly podcasts are on their web site and “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my old personal web site

Book Review:

Robeson, Paul, “Here I Stand.” Beacon Press, Boston, 1958

I got my copy from the Dallas Library B, R653R. You may have to reserve it and then wait, as I did. I was pleased to put aside the absolutely terrible political book I was trying to read and enjoy some time with one of the greatest men ever produced by our country

It’s not a biography. It’s a statement of beliefs and a strong prescription for action on civil rights. I believe it’s a good book to read for 3 reasons:

  1. It’s very direct and clear about history in Robeson’s lifetime
  2. His prescription for the civil rights movement is valid
  3. It’s a short easy read of only 111 pages

Paul Robeson went to Spain to help the republican nationalists who were fighting fascism. It was a prelude to World War II. Robeson explains, in just a page or two, that the western powers allowed German and Italian fascists to become great military powers because they believed that Hitler and Mussolini would kill all the socialists in Europe and then in the Soviet Union. They were to be nothing more than an exterminator squad for capitalism.

Robeson recommended a great, unified civil rights movement involving all good people but led by African Americans. He had a lot of first hand experience in civil rights and knew what he was talking about. He is very convincing and his recommendations should be taken seriously today.

–genelantz  

book review: Virginia Hamilton, “Anthony Burns. The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave.” Knopf, 1988

Here’s a great book to read during Black History Month, especially while Republicans are fuming about “The 1619 Project” and trying to shut down history classes and ban books. This one is in the Dallas library and can be read on kindle, or at least it is now but it might not be if the Texas governor finds out about it.

Anthony Burns escaped slavery in 1854 and made his way to Boston. The Fugitive Slave Act was already in effect. Anthony was a practicing minister and was eager to join a local church, but they required a letter of transfer from his former church. Foolishly, Anthony wrote the letter. Later in 1854, his former master showed up with a gang of hoodlums and a lawyer to reclaim his “property.” The federal law seemed to be in conflict with Massachusetts law and apparently had not been tested. I suppose that the Dred Scott case settled the legal questions in 1855, but they weren’t completely settled when hoodlums and local officials grabbed Anthony Burns off the street.

I thought it was interesting that Burns’ pro-bono lawyer was Richard Henry Dana, famous novelist who wrote “Two Years Before the Mast.” I didn’t even know he was an abolitionist. In this book, lots of people were. At one point, according to the author, 50,000 people mobilized for and against the extradition of Anthony Burns! Also, the slaver was apparently scared he’d be lynched!

The way the book is written is interesting in itself. Instead of just recounting and embellishing the historical facts and the great suffering of the runaway slave, this author tries to get into the head of Anthony Burns. That’s the imaginary part, and it’s quite interesting, but the historical part could stand alone. There were really a lot of people involved in trying to help Burns. The period is called “Boston Riots!” Makes me proud!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM and I podcast “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud every Wednesday. If you’re curious about what I really think, check out my 2014 personal web site.

An editorial in the Washington Post says that labor’s share of GDP is 56%, an all-time low. “The key [to understanding our oddball economic situation] is what happens to wages. For all the talk of workers having so much power, union membership reached an all-time low in 2022, and wages for most workers have not been keeping up with inflation. Companies made hefty profits because they raised prices faster than their labor and other costs.” –Heather Long in WAPO

Heather Long’s opinion is quite a bit different from what we in labor normally publish about labor’s situation. Recently, for example, we pointed out the large number of new union members nationwide, but we failed to point out that our organized percentage of the overall working class is still falling, just as it has since the 1950s. To start winning, we have to do something different from what we have been doing.

I’m in the Auto Workers Union. One side of the current national election says that we must do something dramatically different no matter how scary that may sound. The other side says they’re the ones with experience who know how to run things because they have been running them absolutely since 1947. In their literature, neither side takes note of the incredibly low turnout in the national election: 11% in the first round. There are some projections that it may rise to 16% in the runoff, but I doubt it. No matter which side wins, their main problem is going to be regaining the kind of membership participation that they had before 1947.

I would like to suggest that the “something different” for the UAW and all of American labor is to take advantage of our unprecedented popularity with all workers, unionized or not unionized. Over 70% of the American people approve of labor unions while not a single Democrat or Republican person or organization can get over 45%! I think we could win a nationwide boycott or a united nationwide organizing drive or even a nationwide general strike. Should labor give change a try or should we keep on slowly circling the drain? –genelantz

I’m still on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site at http://lilleskole.us.

Book Review:

Hochschild, Adam, “American Midnight. The Great War, a Violent Peace, and America’s Great Crisis.” Mariner Books, 2022

I found a free Kindle copy through the Dallas public library’s “Libby” service. Now I wish I had a hard copy because of the facts in this history of America from 1917 to around 1924. You could call it the Red Scare. You could call it the most shameful period after the Civil War. Or you could call it a warning about today and tomorrow.

This book changed my view of the period. Previously, I thought that government had simply allowed vigilantes to run amok — arresting, assaulting, and lynching just about anybody they chose. That was bad enough. Having reach Hochschild, I now realize that government was not just standing aside, they were actually fomenting, cooperating, and leading the nastiest gangs of racists they could find. Nearly all the spying was done by government hires. The worst of the mass acts of repression came directly from government agencies.

One might think that the Justice Department would have stood for justice, but they were probably the worst perpetrators. A lot of the worst assaults were called the Palmer raids, after Attorney General Palmer. After them came, probably, the armed forces; but many government offices were in on it, including the post office! J. Edgar Hoover, notorious race baiter, union hater, and all around sociopath, made his chops in the period. We were stuck with him for another 50 years!

Near the end of the book, Hochschild tries to tote up the numbers of people killed, horsewhipped, imprisoned, deported or otherwise deprived of life and liberty, but it’s a hopeless task. Besides, he’s basically talking only of federal cases. All the nasty things that happened at state and local levels would probably have doubled or tripled the size of the book. Then there’s the non-government participation of anti-union bosses and ideologically-driven racists and nativists to consider!

The rationale for the horrors began when Woodrow “He Kept Us Out of War” Wilson was re-elected in 1916. A lot of Americans, including the growing Socialist Party and some of the members of the Industrial Workers of the World, strongly opposed the war. The repression was originally released against anybody who did not want to join the bloodfest. But why, anyone might ask, did it continue after the end of the war and well into the 1920s? The excuse used most was Bolshevism, but the targets were American working people.

There are a couple of things I would have liked to have found in this account. The Greencorn Rebellion in Southeastern Oklahoma was an early expression of anti-war feelings among sharecroppers, including whites, Blacks, and Natives. I would also have appreciated an attempt to go beyond tallying assaults, deportations, imprisonments, and murders just to find out how many workers lost their jobs during this awful period. Of all the terrible things that government and employers do to workers, the most widely applied, and thus the most effective, is to deprive us of the ability to earn a living.

Hochschild clearly condemns certain government officials. He leaves the final judgement of President Wilson open to debate. He gives some credit to “good guys” such as Emma Goldman, Kate Richards O’Hare and of course Eugene Victor Debs. He mentions Frank Little, one of the first anti-war spokespersons lynched. William Z. Foster, who worked through the whole period to try to bring the labor movement together and develop its fighting potential, remains hidden in our histories.

I have always found it interesting to speculate what might have happened in America if different leaders had headed the Socialist Party, the IWW, or the AFofL. Worldwide, the many socialists capitulated early and supported their governments in World War I. There were only two that didn’t. The other one was Russia.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. I have about 150 podcasts under the name “Workers Beat Extra” there, too. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Film Review: “In Dubious Battle,” Directed by James Franco, 1917

Movie Review

“In Dubious Battle,” directed by James Franco, 1917

Prime video still has “In Dubious Battle” for a few more days. It’s an interesting and progressive film with a strong pro-worker attitude.

Jim and Mac are farm worker organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1933. Even though the fighting Wobblies were largely crushed in most industries by the red scare during and after World War I, their Agricultural Department outlasted all their other fine efforts. Pulitzer winner John Steinbeck wrote the book around 1937 based on strikes and labor battles in California. It isn’t as well known as his “Of Mice and Men,” nor “Grapes of Wrath,” but it’s about the same people: itinerant farm workers of the Great Depression.

Mac is the old hand. He’s rather cynical as he teaches the neophyte Jim how to focus on agitating a battle to the exclusion of any other considerations. They take jobs as apple pickers in order to encourage the downtrodden workers to rise up and fight their exploiting bosses. In that regard, the film is quite inspirational and really sounds close to what really happened.

Actually, I kind of hope it isn’t what really happened, because the bosses and their hired terrorists seem to get and keep the upper hand. I watched the film with a genuine union organizer with real experience, and she had severe criticisms of the way the strike was begun and handled.

As art, though, the film is pretty good. I don’t know how the producers were able to do it, but they assembled quite an assortment of headliners in the main speaking parts. We spotted Selena Gomez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Sam Shepard, Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston. James Franco directed himself in the main role.

The result is a film that is fine for inspiration, but not for learning organizing tactics. If there were real people like Mac and Jim, they should have learned this: it is not sufficient to fight. It is also necessary to win!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9 Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Pearson, Chad E., “Capital’s Terrorists. Klansmen, Lawmen and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century.” University of North Carolina Press, 2022

Pearson brings us a new understanding of America’s terrorists. From April 9, 1865 to January 6, 2022, our terrorists were not primarily motivated by race hatred or stupidity, as we are usually told. Instead, they were instruments organized, and often physically led, by America’s employer class. Big capital used the most shameful events in all of American history to one end: keeping working families down.

Pearson starts with the Ku Klux Klan. They weren’t just random racists. They were deliberately organized and carefully led to force former slaves to work for little or nothing. They still are. Later organizations may have been called “Law and Order Leagues,” or “Citizens’ Alliances,” but they continued to use vigilantes when it suited them. Their purpose was exactly the same: making sure that working families could not successfully organize.

Even though employers could usually county on judges, local police, national guards and even the U.S. Army to side with them, they also found it expedient to organize illegal terrorist activities. That’s what the book is about.

Pearson organizes his explanation with biographical information on the main ideologues for employer terrorism. One of the worst was a newspaper owner; another was a best-selling author of fiction. Both were expert propagandists justifying all legal and extralegal means available to keep workers down.

For us in Dallas, there are some local angles to the story. Martin Irons was a great union man who was ruined and martyred by the terrorists. He called the 1885 Southwest Railroad Strike during a convention in nearby Sherman. His grave is in Bruceville, halfway to Austin, where he died in poverty.

Except for some very good analysis of the January 6 attack on the nation’s capitol, the book limits itself to the 19th century. If it were brought a few years closer to today, it might have talked about Henry Ford’s “Service Department” of goons and criminals that maimed and murdered union supporters on behalf of the company.  

There are several accounts of Harry Bennett and Henry Ford’s “Service Department” of goons, criminals and murderers. https://www.salon.com/2014/06/01/henry_fords_reign_of_terror_greed_and_murder_in_depression_era_detroit/

Another account mentions a ex-wrestler named Fats Perry in the late 1930s. https://books.google.com/books?id=MJJOl7SMWIoC&pg=PA172&lpg=PA172&dq=Fats+Perry&source=bl&ots=7WajZJonOm&sig=ACfU3U3_OvtR3dgVWul8wuROQxLia1vfBQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiK7bjN5Zz7AhV2lGoFHUs6CZQQ6AF6BAhTEAM#v=onepage&q=Fats%20Perry&f=false.

Perry and a handful of other gangsters were fired from Ford’s East Dallas assembly plant on suspicion of theft. They complained to the newly-formed National Labor Relations Board, where a young attorney named Nat Wells wrote down their testimony. They told Wells about kidnapping, tar and feathering, and whipping suspected union organizers on behalf of Ford. They indicated that they had plenty of help from local police and the Dallas Morning News. Wells wrote it all down and it became part of the United Auto Workers’ legal action against Ford Motor Company – and that played a big role in the UAW’s successful organizing drive in 1941, four years after their triumph at General Motors. Thanks to Joe Wells and Dr George Green for keeping this story in our histories.

Dr Chad Pearson teaches history at University of North Texas in Denton. I intend to interview him for my podcast as soon as I can get his contact information.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.ORG’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, you might look at my personal web site