[DEBATE] peter waterman. International Marxist Embarassment Month?

From: peter waterman
To: “debate: SA discussion list”
Cc: Virginia Vargas telefonica.net.pe
Date: Apr 12, 2005 3:20 AM
Subject: [DEBATE] : International Marxist Embarassment Month?

If we need this kind (See Below) of gushing, this kind of emoting, this kind of identification between Trotskyism/Geuvarismo and particular contemporary individuals or parties, then I really think we should abandon Marxism for Catholicism.

I expect such deification to be addresed to Karol Wojtila or Mother Teresa, not to our forebears and compañer@s.

Marx’s favourite dictum is said to have been ‘criticise everything’. This dictum must also mean ‘criticise me’. This is the only way to show respect for Marxism and Marxists.

Deification and acritical exegesis are, evidently, religious modes of thought and action.

It does occur to me, however, that there is a clear link between Trotsky, Che, Celia Hart and at least Jordi Martorell (the only one in this message with whom I have traded interpretations). This is that they belong to the species, Romantic Revolutionary.

I am, for example, a great admirer of Che and someone fascinated by him as 20th Century international revolutionary icon. I had his poster up in the 1960-70s, as did many other Communists. They saw him as a symbol of revolutionary virtue, as Soviet, Chinese and European Communism lost their previous glow. I have read two book-length biographies of him. I thought the recent movie, ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ was funny, moving and inspirational, quite free of the sycophantic mode demonstrated by Celia Hart.

Yet Che threw himself and his compañeros into a disastrous adventure in Central Africa, revealing inexcusable ignorance of conditions there. And he followed this up with an even more disastrous adventure in Bolivia, which led to the death of himself, his compañera, the Argentinean/German Tamara Bunke (Tania) and many others. There has to be a question about whether Che’s insurrectionism was not also a deathwish. Consider this:

‘Our every action is a battle cry against imperialism, and a battle hymn for the people’s unity against the great enemy of mankind: the United States of America. Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this, our battle cry, may have reached some receptive ear, that another hand may be extended to wield our weapons, and that other men be ready to intone our funeral dirge with the staccato singing of the machine guns and new battle cries of war and victory.’

This is how he himself died. But would one really recommend this today – would it make any possible sense – to a student in Amsterdam, a woman in Central America, a taxi-driver in Soweto, a worker at Rover in Longbridge, UK?

There is a German collection on ‘Che and Internationalism’ which actually reveals no single statement by him on this topic. What it rather shows is Che’s National Revolutionary Insurrectionism, which is not the same thing. It reveals him more as a 20th century Garibaldi, carrying revolutionary nationalism in his knapsack from one country to another. In the case of Bolivia, his ‘internationalism’ was taken by Bolivian Communists as a foreign(er’s) intervention into a national situation of which he had little understanding. He, of course, thought that he was relating to Bolivia’s revolutionary or potentially revolutionary peasantry – which signally failed to support him. Che’s famous ‘internationalist’ dictum was ‘Two, Three, Many New Vietnams!’. Bearing in mind 1) this glorification of military insurrectionism, and 2) that Vietnam is following the Chinese model of transition from militaristic Communism to authoritarian capitalism, it can have little relevance to contemporary struggles, having been profoundly qualified even by the Zapatistas (whose Subcommandante Marcos has a Guevarista background). This is how Marcos (himself clearly not innocent of self-glorification) expresses himself:

‘Marcos is gay in San Francisco, Black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the metro at 10pm, a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student, and, or course, a Zapatista in the mountains. Marcos is all the exploited, marginalized, oppressed minorities resisting and saying “ENOUGH” He is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak. Everything that makes power and the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable – this is Marcos’.

This is, surely, a new kind of emancipatory appeal, an Emancipatory Romanticism? Note that where Che addresses himself to ‘the people’, confronted only by US imperialism, Marcos addresses himself to people in all their variety, confronted by every kind of alienation, oppression and exploitation.

I once wrote a paper on internationalist icons, entitled ‘Saints, Sinners of Compañer@s’. The last word is the Latin American form for ‘comrade’, though different from the Latin American translation of the Communist term, ‘camarada’. [In German the difference is between the Communist term, ‘Genosse’ and the common German ‘Kamerad’.] A compañer@ carries the wide range of meanings that ‘comrade’ has in English: friend, colleague, partner. For me, in that paper, the argument was that we need to look at our historical forebears and contemporary companions-in-struggle more in such terms than in either of the (often consecutive) previous ones. A compañer@ is someone you can discuss with, laugh with and at, and argue with, rather than someone praised to the heavens (and later condemned to hell).

Since they can no longer deny this, I like to think that Marx, Rosa, Trotsky and Che would prefer to be understood critically rather than worshipped religiously, as do Celia Hart and her comrades. I leave out of this fancy of mine such authoritarian figures as Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Fidel (who has made the major mistake of not opting for respected retirement, on the model of Nyerere and Mandela, rather than becoming a Grumpy Old Revolutionary).

Peter W

Original Message —–

From: “Patrick Bond” mail.ngo.za
To: “debate: SA discussion list ”
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2005 12:45 AM
Subject: [DEBATE] : (Fwd) Che/Trotsky in Havana

(Maybe time for a Trotsky revival, if from the Durban SACP congress to Havana we hear His name flattered?)


“El Militante” and Celia at the Havana Book Fair By Celia Hart

We have been together for more than two weeks, your comrades from El Militante, Jordi Martorell, Carlos Ramirez and Carlos Rosich and my controversial self.

Life is built from little strips, and we will see how we do it, but for now I wanted to comment:

Together we posted the golden image of Trotsky next to that of Lenin, and to that of Che. Together we assisted thousands of comrades who welcomed our friend Trotsky to Cuba. Together we showed how the ideas of Marxism, fresh and clear, dominate the world, like the red colours of the binding of that blessed Communist Manifesto, that once again together we declared just baked from the furnace of History.

Together we attended the launch of several important books: the marvellous essays of Adolfo Sanchez Vazquez, where he declared that the other, better world is socialism and that it depends on us, unless we wish to have barbarism … which seems like a dreadful option, doesn’t it?

We were also together at the presentation of Alan Woods’ book, Reason in Revolt, to a full house, where we nearly, nearly, ended up singing the Internationale, with the last sentences of the Manifesto in the youthful and fiery voice of our Jordi. Jordi with messy hair who at least got us on our feet …

Also, let this be known, we were together at the presentation of Carlos Tablada’s book “Economic Thought of Ernesto Che Guevara”. There were few of us in the room, but the excellent lesson that Nestor Kohan gives every time he picks up the microphone, with “a long breath reflection”, is enough.

Nestor is that indispensable teacher for when we lose the links between Marx and America, or between rigor and passion.

If we are to study Marxism in America, let Nestor accompany us, he is our best ally. Three books: “Marx in his (Third) World”, “Towards a non colonised socialism… Ernesto Che Guevara… another world is possible”, and above all, the book launched at this edition of the Fair, “Capital … History and Method”. He shows us how an illiterate with love and patience can understand Marx.

Yes, in Argentina and America we are lucky to have that small person with brown hair and massive glasses who teaches us the path towards this greater will for something – something that is not clearly defined but so solid, something I am definitely fighting for. Nestor Kohan and Marcelo, the editor of “Nuestra America” were drinking mates next to me, sitting on the floor of the Fundacion Frederico Engels stand. There we decided together which Che it is that we so badly need.

Che was one of those most hurt by the bureaucracy in the USSR, as much so as Trotsky. Why do they set them apart so much?

I know that my Argentina will search for the springs that will make this union possible.

And the Cuban people? Our stand was overflowing with them: On one side Permanent Revolution, which sold out, and of which the daughter of the current president of the world Hugo Chavez, the beautiful Gabriela, bought half a dozen. It was the same dark edition which trembled in her father’s hands in Madrid.

And Reason in Revolt? It continued to sell after that presentation by our Jordi. And many more books, above all the documents and books that we were able to sell in our marvellous national currency.

My fellow countrymen were running to get hold of that literature which had seemed to be dead.

And in this way we have celebrated Valentines Day, filled with revolution, which is the most precise way to be happy.

My most beautiful comrades have stayed at home filling with their voices and their breath my round table. And here Cuba has gone through their lives.

This is how I want them to know Cuba! With our daily vicissitudes, but also with the smile of my youngest son, who does not think the sun can rise when “the comrades from El Militante” leave the house.

Nights spent trying to understand this or that thing, in front of a table and with our souls full of expectation, but above all a willingness to do so.

This is more or less how it all ended. It ended only to begin … isn’t revolution permanent? It was revolution that we made permanent in this Fair, by the actions of those who believe that Trotsky is inevitable in order to make it possible, and others who think that in this enterprise Che is indispensable.

Revolution or Death
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