Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodson) Social Critic 1889

Lewis Carroll, "The Mad Gardener's Song", Sylvie and Bruno. 1889.

Illustration by Harry Furniss from Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno

Poem cited today on the letters page of the Financial Times by David Jodrey, a MD reader. I was unaware of this side of Lewis Carroll. The esteemed authority Wikipedia says "the story set in Victorian Britain is a social novel, with its characters discussing various concepts and aspects of religion, society, philosophy and morality." I used to love reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass with our kids, especially the nonsense verse.

He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
a Hippopotamus:
"If this should stay to dine," he said,
"There won't be much for us!"

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Abolitionist Legacy in LaMott PA

Donald Scott Sr., Camp William Penn (Images of America: Pennsylvania). (Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008).

Recruitment poster for Camp William Penn, 1863

I live in an historic neighborhood. My township of Cheltenham PA on the northern boundary of Philadelphia was a center of abolitionist activity in the 19th century. The area was known as Chelten Hills then. It is now divided into Elkins Park, Melrose Park (my home), and LaMott. 

"Roadside" home of James and Lucretia Mott

La Mott was the site of the first and largest Union training ground for African American troops at Camp William Penn during the Civil War from 1863-1865. The land was leased to the Federal government by Edward M. Davis, who was the son-in-law of abolitionist and reformer Lucretia Mott. Lucretia and husband James retired to their son-in-law’s Chelten Hills farm in 1857 to an old farmhouse called “Roadside”. Their home was a stop on the underground railroad en route to freedom for escaped slaves. She hosted many prominent abolitionist leaders at Roadside – Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Octavius V. Catto, William Still, Robert Purvis, Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison. Even Mary Brown stayed at Roadhouse while her husband John Brown awaited trial for his raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

AME Church of LaMott

Chelten Hills was also home to Lucretia’s banker friend Jay Cooke
(1821-1905), who became known as the financier of the Civil War. Between 1862 and 1865 he sold $830 million in war bonds, at a commission of .375%. It was good politics and good business. He and Edward Davis were members of the Union League of Philadelphia (ULP), formed in 1862 “to discountenance and rebuke by moral and social influence all disloyalty to the Federal Government.” The ULP raised money to recruit troops for the Union, and sponsored five black regiments of US Colored Troops (USCT) at Camp William Penn. Before the Civil War, abolitionist sentiment was weak in Philadelphia. Abraham Lincoln received only 2000 votes out of 76,000 cast in the city in the 1860 election. The ULP converted Philadelphia to the Republican cause during the war. They even endorsed Radical Reconstruction after the war, including desegregating the streetcars.

Donald Scott Sr. has written two books about Camp William Penn -

Camp William Penn (Images of America: Pennsylvania), and Camp William Penn: 1863-1865 (2012). Scott is an English Professor at Community College of Philadelphia, and a Cheltenham resident and booster. He has assembled an amazing collection of 19th century photographs of the Camp and the township. I wish more historians made an effort to include illustrations. It adds interest and sells books. Old history books and fiction always had photographs or artwork. Maybe modern publishers will revive this tradition. It would create employment for illustrators and photographers. All that remains of Camp William Penn today is the restored front gate and main entrance on Sycamore Street. A neighborhood community group, Citizens for the Restoration of Historic LaMott, has made an on-and-off effort over the years to establish a museum and park commemorating the unique history of LaMott. The old 1910 LaMott fire station on Willow Avenue is the temporary home to archives and artifacts from Camp William Penn. Tours of the museum are by appointment only.

Camp William Penn served as the training ground for 11 regiments, 10,940 men, between July 1863 and July 1865. 1056 soldiers from Camp William Penn perished during the war. It is an ugly story, but many black soldiers and their white commanders were executed if they were captured in battle by Confederate troops. The burial ground for local US Colored Troop veterans of the Civil War is Butler Cemetery in Camden NJ at Ferry Avenue and Charles Street. I have not visited the site, but it appears to be incorporated into present-day Evergreen Cemetery on Google Maps.. There is also the African American Civil War Museum in Washington DC which documents the history of the US Colored Troops. I must investigate. After the War, some USCT veterans served as Buffalo Soldiers and fought in the Indian wars in the West.

After Camp William Penn was decommissioned, Edward Davis sold off lots and became the prime real estate developer of the new working-class neighborhood called Camptown. As a devout Hicksite Quaker, Davis sold to blacks and whites. To encourage development, Davis built a schoolhouse in 1878, and donated land for a community church in 1888, now the site of the AME Church of LaMott on Cheltenham Avenue. In 1885 the village received its first US post office and changed its name officially to LaMott in honor of their revered resident Lucretia Mott (1793-1880). In the late 19th century it became one of the early interracial communities in the nation. It remains so today. The latest arrivals to the township have been Asian-Americans in the last 40 years. The 2010 census reports the population was 56.6% White, 32.8% Black or African American, 0.2% Native American, 7.7% Asian, and 2.5% were two or more races, 3.9% of the population were of Hispanic or Latino ancestry.

African American Memorial, Washington DC

I think Lucretia Mott would be pleased. She wrote her sister in 1863, “The neighboring camp seems the absorbing interest just now. Is not this change of feeling and conduct towards this oppressed class beyond all that we could have anticipated, and marvelous in our eyes?” This from a staunch pacifist. The Civil War would finally banish chattel slavery from the US, as nonviolent efforts had failed.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Rogue Gallery of 20th Century American Anarchists

Andrew Cornell. Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the 20th Century (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016).

_____. “For a World Without Oppressors:” U.S. Anarchism from the Palmer Raids to the Sixties. Diss. New York University, 2011. 

The planet may find a way to survive the terrible insults it receives and humans may yet learn to live in societies that are equitable and just. But the fight to save the planet and find a just society must continue. Change can often come unexpectedly and rapidly (Diva Agostinelli Wieck, 2006).

Ammon Hennesy and Dorothy Day, Catholic Workerr
These are my people. I appreciate the attention Andrew Cornell has devoted to a manifestly minor current on the US left in his new history Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the 20th Century. Cornell shows the significant influence anarchists had on the early civil rights movement, the antiwar and student New Left in the 60s, and the green left and social ecology inspired by Murray Bookchin in recent years. Anarchists were also first on the Left to criticize one-party Bolshevik rule after the Russian Revolution in the 20s.

Dave Dellinger, Liberation
The last time anarchism had mass numbers was before WWI when
the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) may have had 100,000 members. The IWW was never narrowly anarchist. It was ecumenical in an anarchist way, embracing agrarian populists, Christian socialists, syndicalists, freethinkers, social democrats, and anarchists. After WWI the IWW faded. The federal government imprisoned the top leadership of the IWW for opposing the war, and many members dropped out, or became communist in the wake of the Russian Revolution. The IWW was reborn in the late 60s with New Left converts and continues its mission to build "One Big Union" to this day. Cornell does not really cover the IWW. Either he feels its history has been well documented elsewhere, or considers it moribund after WWI.

Peter Maurin, Catholic Worker
Cornell identifies three distinct currents of anarchist activity in the 20s and 30s: (1) anarcho-syndicalism, characterized by the IWW and participation in various mainstream AFL unions; (2) insurrectionists, like the Italian partisans of anarchist Luigi Galleani; and (3) bohemians who formed rural colonies, housing cooperatives, libertarian schools, theaters, and other cultural ventures. There was overlap and conflict between these tendencies, but let me describe them separately.

Sam Dolgoff, IWW
(1) The labor movement working-class anarchists were largely first generation European immigrants who brought their political affiliations with them from the Old World. Some joined the IWW, some the vigorous Jewish textile unions, some the foreign language federations. Rose Pesotta began her anarchist career in the 20s as a shop delegate in the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the secretary of the Road to Freedom Group, a member of the Anarchist Red Cross, and rose to Vice President of the ILGWU by 1934, which was disdained by doctrinaire anarchists. Italian immigrant Carlo Tresca was another ecumenical anarcho-syndicalist labor organizer during this period. He was an IWW organizer at the 1912 Lawrence MA textile strike, the 1913 Paterson NJ silk strike, and the 1916 Mesabi Range MN miners' strike.  He was editor or publisher of a string of Italian-language labor newspapers in the US. He was an outspoken anti-Fascist and anti-Stalinist in the 30s. He was assassinated in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue, NYC in 1943, perhaps by the Mafia.

Dwight and Nancy MacDonald, politics
During the 30s these class-struggle anarchists largely abstained from the popular/united front organizing during the Great Depression. The Immigration Act of 1924 had cut off the stream of Italian, Jewish, and East European radicals to the US that fed the anarchist unions and organizations. Those immigrant factory jobs were now filled by African American migrants from the South. Anarchists (also the Socialist Party) were slow to fight for civil rights and racial justice. The Communist Party (CPUSA) became the leading civil rights advocate on the Left. 

Juanita and Wally Nelson, Peacemakers
In 1932 various anarchists veterans- Sam Dolgoff, Abe and Selma Bluestein, Sidney and Clara Soloman, and others- launched an anarchist publication Vanguard: A Libertarian Communist Journal in NYC. It was a small group, but played an important role in reprinting anarchist classics and rethinking principles after the Russian Revolution. Andrew Cornell notes "the revolution in Russia fundamentally divided and reordered the American Left." The Vanguard Group gave voice to the Left critics of the Bolshevik rule. They organized study groups and forums in NYC, aided anarchist exiles and prisoners in Europe and Russia, and examined the New Deal in their journal. Soon the consuming issue for anarcho-syndicalists worldwide became the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Many of the same comrades published the Spanish Revolution newspaper during the Spanish Civil War reporting the confusing politics of the war to US readers. They also raised money for the CNT-FAI, the anarcho-syndicalist union in Spain. These groups disbanded after the defeat of Spanish Republic and the onset of WW2.

Judith Malina and Julian Beck,
Living Theatre
(2) After WW1 there remained a diehard group of revolutionary anarchists committed to the 19th century idea of propaganda of the deed, ie assassinations, bombings, insurrection, banditry, social revolution. Their inspiration was the Paris Commune in 1871. Anything short of libertarian communism was reformist and inadequate. The primary leader of this tendency was Luigi Galleani (1861-1931), an Italian immigrant and publisher. Galleani's followers (known as i Galleanisti) advocated the use of violence to eliminate tyrants and to overthrow the government. They also opposed formal political organizations and trade unions as hierarchical institutions of the old order. Among his disciples were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were probably innocent of the crime they were hung for, but guilty of revolutionary violence on other occasions. Historian Paul Avrich investigated this history in Sacco and Vanzetti: the Anarchist Background (1990).

Murray Bookchin
The insurrectionary school of anarchism finally collapsed in the 30s. Many militants were deported, and new immigration laws restricted new migrants from southern and eastern Europe. These ideas were disastrous for anarchism. The anarchist bombings and assassinations from 1880-1920 in Europe and the US discredited all varieties of anarchism, and contributed to its decline after WW1. Anarchism has never recovered from its association with the bomb throwers in the popular mind. 

David Wieck and Diva Agostinelli
(3) Emma Goldman is an example of the bohemian or cultural strain of US anarchism. She was often criticized by trade unionists for her lecture tours of salon society on topics like theater and sexuality. But she was ahead of her time addressing birth control, homosexuality, popular culture, literature, and free speech. Her publication Mother Earth was a forerunner for many political and literary journals that followed later. She was deported to Russia in 1919 during the Red Scare following WW1. She was exiled the rest of her life, except for a brief lecture tour of the US in 1934.

Bill Sutherland, Peacemakers
Anarchists also founded alternative institutions, which Cornell calls prefigurative counterinstitutions. This has always been popular among anarchists. Cornell describes several ventures: the Ferrer Modern School at Stelton NJ (1915-1953), which was a free school and colony; the Mohegan Modern School, which was a spinoff from Stelton in upstate NY; and the Sunrise Co-operative Farm Community in Alecia MI (1933-1936) which was a short-lived American Kibbutz. Joseph Cohen wrote a history of Sunrise entitled In Quest of Heaven: The Story of the Sunrise Co-operative Farm Community (1957). They should have learned from their comrades in Palestine who were more successful cooperators. Anarchists were also active in the Housing Co-op Movement in the 1920s and 1930s in NYC which was initiated by unions, Workmen's Circle, CPUSA, and SP. These buildings were pioneers of racial integration and the nascent Civil Rights movement.

Carlo Tresca and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,
Paterson NJ Silkworkers Strike
The most enduring anarchist creation from this era was the Catholic Worker Movement. It was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day, a 35 year old radical journalist and recent Catholic convert, and Peter Maurin, a 55 year old French personalist. He was inspired by French philosopher Emmanuel Mounier (1905- 1950) who advocated a communitarian alternative to liberalism and Marxism. The Catholic Workers were philosophically guided by the Christian Gospels and Peter Kropotkin's vision of a decentralized anarchist communist order. Their program was direct action: opening houses of hospitality to care for the destitute, establishing farms to encourage self-sufficiency, and promoting radical education through "roundtable discussions" and their Catholic Worker newspaper. At the height of the Depression their monthly newspaper had over 100,000 circulation. Cornell says "the Catholic Worker experiment generated more interest than all the traditional schools of anarchism combined, and it pointed the direction the movement would develop in the coming decades." The Catholic Worker Movement is still healthy today with 100 Houses of Hospitality worldwide and its lively monthly Catholic Worker newspaper (a penny a copy). I've been a reader and subscriber since the 1960s.

Russell Blackwell, IWW
With the arrival of WW2, Cornell describes the confluence of radical pacifism and anarchism. Some anarchists and Trotskyists opposed the war as imperialist, and were imprisoned. Some pacifists refused civilian service and were imprisoned as well. These political prisoners at Danbury Federal Penitentiary and others collaborated to oppose and ultimately defeat Jim Crow segregation in the Federal prisons in 1944. Outside prison pacifists and young anarchists collaborated in new literary and political journals, and new organizations. This was the birth of a new contemporary anarchism. Dwight and Nancy MacDonald's politics journal (1944-1949) published many of the future luminaries of the New Left to come, like Camus, C. Wright Mills, James Baldwin, Byard Rustin, and Paul Goodman. The Committee on Racial Equality was founded in 1942 by civil rights activists from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Later it was renamed Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). After WW2 war resisters Dave Dellinger, A. J. Muste,  David Wieck, and others formed the Committee for Nonviolent Revolution (CNVR) and later the Peacemakers in 1948 as militant direct action civil rights organizations. Fellowship for Reconciliation organized the first freedom ride in 1947 to challenge segregation on buses and trains in interstate travel. This was the beginning of the modern Civil Rights movement.

Rose Pesotta, ILGWU
The Peacemakers were my introduction to radical politics. I read Dave Dellinger's magazine Liberation (published 1956-1977) at college, and learned about a week-long workshop on nonviolence in the Missouri Ozark Mountains held by the Peacemakers in 1968. I attended and met war resisters from WW2 and the Vietnam war, as well as veteran civil rights activists. It was very inspiring, although ultimately I couldn't embrace pacifism. I did learn about the Catholic Worker Movement, Prince Peter Kropotkin, and the libertarian socialist tradition which was more to my taste. I volunteered at the CW St. Joseph House on East First Street whenever I visited friends in NYC and met other anarchist denizens of the neighborhood- the NYC IWW, the Living Theatre troupe, local Yippies and hippies. This counterpoised an appealing alternative for me to the stern Marxist-Leninist politics that was captivating the New Left in the late 60s.

Clara Solomon, Vanguard Group
There is lots of detail in Andrew Cornell's history which I enjoyed as a fellow traveler. Sometimes I am astounded by the massive literature on the history of the Left in the US. Oftentimes the subject of study are sects and groupscules of a few hundred or thousand people, or less. Nonetheless, some of these groups have had profound influence on US culture and history. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker supported the Republic during the Spanish Civil War in opposition to Rome and help create the Catholic Left. The Harlem Ashram, a multiracial intentional community formed by Union Theological Seminarians in 1940, introduced Dave Dellinger, George Hauser (FOR), and James Farmer (CORE) to Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence, later adopted by modern Civil Rights movement. The San Francisco Bay area bohemians and anarchists were also central players in the counterculture that fomented the New Left in the 50s and 60s.

As to what is next, Cornell proposes a pluralist Left including many tendencies- Marxist, anarchist, revolutionary nationalist, feminist, pacifist. This sounds right to me. Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the 20th Century presents a faithful account of our anarchist forebears. It is a rich tradition that needs further development.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Thomas Kolsky on the Turmoil in the Middle East

credit: Thomas Kolsky

Yesterday afternoon I attended Thomas A. Kolsky's talk "Destinies in Conflict: The Middle East in Turmoil" at Montgomery County Community College (MC3) in nearby Bluebell PA. Kolsky is a local goldmine of information about Middle East history, as well as the checkered story of Zionism in the US and Israel. I reviewed his magnum opus Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948 in an earlier post. He is now Emeritus Professor of History and Political Science at MC3.

Professor Kofsky intended to survey the whole history of the Middle East from the Babylonia to the present, but some earnest members in the audience wanted to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Islamic fundamentalism. I guess this is to be expected at any Middle East program today. Kolsky was good-natured about the addresses from the floor, and finally delivered his presentation. The sergeant at arms was not required. The Middle East was the cradle of civilization, so this is a very long complicated history which created the present reality. There are lots of oppressed people in the Middle East, not just the Palestinians. Military dictatorship or theocracy have been the rule since World War II in the Arab countries. Kolsky said the Arab military defeats by Israel in 1948 (the Nabka, or catastrophe), 1956, 1967, and 1973 are one cause for Islamic fundamentalism, although it began earlier in the 1920s with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. 

The most confusing crisis at the moment is Syria. As of October 2015, four million refugees have left Syria - 2 million in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon, 600,000 in Jordan, 7.6 million internally displaced, and many in Europe as well. Kolsky did not divulge his secret formula for peace in the Middle East. He did say that the violence in the Middle East is a good argument for the separation of church and state, a cherished legacy of the Enlightenment. Religion is about personal values. Politics is about winning power by whatever means necessary. Religion gets corrupted by defending the state. The state becomes regressive when it imposes religious doctrine on its citizens. Shortly after independence, most of the Arab governments were secular. That moment has passed. One might argue Israel is another religious state.

Thomas Kolsky taught at MC3 for 40 years and is now retired. He founded the "Issues and Insights" programs at the college in 1986. The programs are designed to inform the public and MC3 community on the contemporary issues and debates. Kolsky was born in the former USSR, grew up in Israel and the former Czechoslovakia, and now lives here in the US (not yet former). Beside teaching and writing, Kolsky is also a talented humorist and cartoonist. Visit his homepage for his cartoons. A sample is above.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

John Brown Lives

Louis A. DeCaro Jr.. John Brown: The Cost of Freedom. New York: International Publishers, 2007.

_____. John Brown: The Man Who Lived. Essays in Honor of the Harper's Ferry Raid Sesquicentennial 1859-2009. New York: Lulu, 2009.

_____. John Brown, Emancipator. Middletown, DE, 2012.

Robert L. Tsai. "John Brown's Constitution." Boston College Law Review Vol 51 Issue 1 (2010): 151-207.

The John Brown Society
Box 1046, Canal Street Station
New York, NY 10013

"From the night spent with John Brown in Springfield, Mass. 1847 while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful for its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man's strong impressions." Frederick Douglass

I attend the Left Forum in NYC every year hoping to learn something new. My discovery this year was the John Brown Society panel with Society Chairman Larry Lawrence, actor and playwright Norman Thomas Marshall, and historian Louis A. DeCaro Jr. The John Brown Society promotes John Brown education and scholarship, and speaks at events like the Left Forum, and John Brown Day (his birthday) at the John Brown Farm State Historical Site in Lake Placid, NY in May. Norman Thomas Marshall and director George Wolf Reily are co-authors of the one-man drama John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom, which Marshall has performed in theaters and schools for twenty years. Louis A. DeCaro Jr. is an Associate Professor at Alliance Theological Seminary in NYC, and a prolific John Brown biographer. His John Brown the Abolitionist-A Biographers Blog reports on his current scholarship, and related news. He is also the pastor of a small urban congregation in the Bronx.

John Brown 1856

John Brown is one of the most controversial religious and political figures in American history. His fortunes in the popular culture track the state of race relations in the US. During the Civil War and immediately following, Brown was a hero and martyr. Black and white Union soldiers sang The John Brown Song while marching off to war: "John Brown's body lies amouldering in the grave, His soul is marching on!" When Reconstruction waned with the Long Depression (1873-1879), Southern lost-cause historians and racists North and South recast John Brown as fanatic and failed businessman. Even civil rights activist Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949), the grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, called Brown "a principled murderer" in his influential book John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After (1909). Villard indicts Brown for killing five pro-slavery neighbors along the Pottawatomie Creek in 1856 during the bloody Kansas conflict. At mid-20th century, liberal Southern historian C. Van Woodward and psychologist Kenneth B. Clark both called Old Man John Brown mentally unstable, and the instigator of a "needless war." This is the version I learned in my white suburban high school in the 1960s. Louis A. DeCaro Jr. has a great essay The John Browns of History in his John Brown: The Man Who Lived. Essays in Honor of the Harper's Ferry Raid Sesquicentennial 1859-2009, wherein he catalogs the myriad accounts of abolitionist John Brown over the years. Historian Louis DeCaro, activist Larry Lawrence, and performer Norman Marshall are leading a revival of John Brown studies to restore Brown's complex role in American history.

Of course, John Brown was most revered by the left and African Americans. His left admirers included labor journalist John Swinton (1829-1901), socialist Eugene Debs, civil rights founder W.E.B. Du Bois, and Communist historian Herbert Aptheker. Both Du Bois and Aptheker wrote biographies of John Brown. Brown's abolitionism was inspired by religious faith, like M. L. King, not by populism or socialism which was just emerging before the Civil War. A few African American critics disdained Brown. Vincent Harding regarded Brown as paternalistic and Ralph Ellison called Brown "demonic" and "utterly impractical." But most black leaders in the late 19th and early 20th century held John Brown in high esteem. Harriet Tubman said, "When I think how he gave up his life for our people, and how he never flinched, but was brave to the end, it's clear to me that it wasn't mortal man, it was God in him (1863)."

Harriet Tubman

Louis A. DeCaro Jr. John Brown: the Cost of Freedom (2007) is a concise biography of abolitionist Brown. It includes an appendix of recently discovered Brown letters and documents, which reveal more intimately Brown's thinking and character. John Brown was born May 9, 1800 in Connecticut of abolitionist and Puritan parents. He apprenticed in his father's tannery business, and then operated his own tannery in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Later he became a cattle trader and breeder, and an authority in the sheep and wool business. He had 20 children with two wives! Eleven children survived to adulthood. His first wife Dianthe died in childbirth. He had several business failures. Somehow he and second wife Mary Ann Day (1817-1884) overcame hardship and tragedy. They raised a huge family, and later organized a social movement as well.

John Brown was always anti-slavery and active in the cause. In 1837 he took a public vow at church, "Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery." This was prompted by the murder of abolitionist journalist Elijah Lovejoy by a pro-slavery mob in southern Illinois a few days earlier. When he moved his business to Springfield, MA in 1846, he became deeply engaged with the abolitionists there. He joined the African American Stanford Street "Free Church" (aka St. John's Congregational Church) where he met the luminaries of the movement: Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison, and the literati who later bankrolled his raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859.

John Brown at Springfield League of Gileadites meeting

What is striking about John Brown is that he regarded African Americans as his equal, as brothers and sisters. This was rare in his time, even among white abolitionists. He crossed the color line. In 1850 he founded the League of Gileadites in Springfield MA , a militant interracial group in response to the Fugitive Slave Act to protect escaped slaves in the free states. According to historian Louis DeCaro Jr., John Brown was already formulating more radical plans to attack slavery ten years before the raid on Harper's Ferry. He argued that moral suasion had failed, and that compromise had failed. In reality guns, not votes, would decide the fate of slavery. As John Brown later testified in his trial for treason in 1859, the country was "on the eve of one of the greatest wars in history". If the slaveholders won, it would mark "an end of all aspirations for human freedom."

The Brown home in Springfield MA

In 1849 Brown moved his family to a black settlement in North Elba NY in the Adirondacks near Lake Placid. Wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith donated thousands of acres to freemen as an agrarian refuge from urban poverty and racism. The colony was affectionately known as "Timbucto". This was Brown's last home and the site of the John Brown Farm and Gravesite, a national historical landmark. I would like to visit the farmstead on John Brown Day. I would also like to explore the museums and St. John's Congregational Church in Springfield MA for John Brown history. Brown's Bible remains on display at the church.

Between 1855 and 1858 John Brown joined his older sons in Kansas to lead the armed defense of the free state settlers. Bleeding Kansas was the first act of the Civil War. Brown became a wanted man. He had to go underground to avoid arrest. He began organizing his fateful raid on the Harper's Ferry US Armory and Arsenal in ernest. Louis DeCaro Jr. argues Brown's plan was well conceived but badly executed. Brown's idea was to establish guerrilla resistance in the Southern mountains to attract runaway slaves, and undermine the viability of the slave economy over time. He raised money and recruits in the North as well in free black communities in Canada. He even held a constitutional convention on May 8, 1858 in Chatham, Ontario, where 34 blacks and 12 whites committed to abolish slavery, and passed the "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States." This would be the founding document of the "Appalachian State" and would govern their guerrilla republic in exile. The document included many features from the US Constitution while abolishing slavery and enfranchising women. Harriet Tubman (Brown called her "General Tubman") supported the plan, but in the end, Frederick Douglass opposed it which created a terrible rift between the old comrades.

Frederick Douglass

On Sunday morning, October 16, 1859, Brown led a solemn reading of the Provisional Constitution, and then set off with 21 men to capture the Harper's Ferry Armory with its 100,000 muskets and rifles. Remarkably, they succeeded with little bloodshed. He seized local slaveholders as hostages, and notified their slaves liberation was at hand. Unfortunately, John Brown tarried too long in Harper's Ferry. The next day he was pinned down in the Engine House by local militia, and the second day the US Marines commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived and subdued Brown's band. Brown was swiftly tried and convicted of treason by the state of Virginia and hung in public December 2, 1859. Eleven months later, Lincoln was elected President and the Civil War began.

Slavery and race are so central to US history and politics. The story of John Brown merits scrutiny. Abolitionists were a small but diligent group in antebellum America. Education and religious appeals had ended slavery in the North, but were ineffectual in the South and new territories. Compromise was not possible. When the Civil War began, Lincoln's goal was to preserve the union, not abolish slavery, which was still too difficult to contemplate. Emancipation and arming black soldiers only came after three years of brutal war. John Brown foretold these events. Evidently many white Americans are still not reconciled to a multiracial and multicultural society 150 years later - witness the current 2016 presidential contest. John Brown remains contemporary.

Louis A. DeCaro Jr. has written six books on John Brown, the most recent Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia (2015). He is probably not done yet.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Fellow Worker Sam Dolgoff (1902-1990)

Anatole Dolgoff, Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff. Chico, CA: AK Press, 2016.

Andrew Cornell, "A History of Vanguard".

But we have a glowing dream
Of how fair the world will seem
When each man can live his life secure and free;
When the earth is owned by labor
and there's joy and peace for all
In the Commonwealth of Toil that is to be.

the chorus of Ralph Chaplin's song "Commonwealth of Toil", 1923

Sam Dolgoff was an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) lifer. He discovered anarchism after being expelled from the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL, aka Yipsels) as a teen. He joined the IWW in 1922 and was an active member until his death in 1990. His son Anatole Durruti Dolgoff has written a loving portrait of Sam and the small vibrant anarchist milieu in the US during the 20th century, which also provided my political education. The title Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff is taken from Paul Berman's obituary for Sam in the Village Voice on November 13, 1990. He quotes Sam: "You always need a left. And within the left, you need a left. And within the left of the left, you need a left. And in that left, you need a left. And that left is me!" Sam was a little tipsy, but that was Sam Dolgoff. Sam remained faithful to the classic anarcho-syndicalist principles of IWW and the IWA (International Worker Association, the anarcho-syndicalist international) all his life despite the changing fashions on the left.

Sam Dolgoff was born in the shtetl of Ostrovno in present-day Belarus in 1902. His family immigrated to NYC in 1905, where he lived in the Bronx and the Manhattan Lower East Side most his life. Sam was apprenticed to a house painter at age 11, a profession he remained in his entire life ("a doctor of smearology" in Sam's words). He hated school, and in those days of child labor, had to support his family. The IWW and anarchist movement became his university, like so many working-class intellectuals on the left. He could have become professional organizer or union bureaucrat for District 9 of the Painter's Union, but instead chose to be a common worker and IWW evangelist. He would not become a boss, nor reconcile himself with AFL business unionism. Anatole Dolgoff reports that the IWW reached a maximum membership of 100,000 in 1923; by 1930 its numbers had declined to 10,000. Its last stronghold was the Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union (MTW-IWW) which represented seamen throughout the Americas 1913-1950.
Sam contributed to an unending string of anarchist publications and organizations over his lifetime: the Road to Freedom journal in NYC and the Chicago Free Society Group in the 1920s; the Vanguard group and journal in NYC in the 1930s; the Spanish Revolution monthly 1936-38; the Libertarian League and its journal Views and Comments in the 1950s; the Libertarian Book Club 1946-present; and the Libertarian Labor Review later renamed Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 1986-present.

As an independent scholar, after a long day of physical labor, he produced four well regarded books: Bakunin on Anarchy (1971), The Anarchist Collectives: Workers' Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution, 1936-1939 (1974) ; The Cuban Revolution: A Critical Perspective (1974); and Fragments: A Memoir (1986). His Cuba book criticizes Castro's repression of Cuban anarchists and dissidents, displeasing the New Left and some of his old comrades, like Dave Dellinger and David Wieck. His Spain book documents the grassroots social revolution during the Spanish Civil War. It also recounts the role of Russian GPU agents in murdering POUM leader Andres Nin, anti-Stalinist Marxists, and anarchist militants. These were Sam's comrades and friends, and he wanted the facts known. Consequently he was not romantic about the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, which was largely a Communist Party outfit. This may disturb some leftish readers.

I met Sam and his wife Esther Dolgoff in the 1970s. Our group Philadelphia Solidarity, and later Wooden Shoe Bookstore, was friendly with the NYC IWW, which included Sam and Esther, the Living Theatre troupe, and journalist Mel Most who became a good friend. We hosted a performance of the Living Theatre at the Christian Association on Penn campus in the early 1970s. 

In 1980 Esther translated Joseph J. Cohen's The Jewish Anarchist Movement in the United States: A Historical Review and Personal Reminiscence (Philadelphia: Radical Library, 1945) from Yiddish. Cohen lived in Philadelphia and was the editor of the anarchist newspaper Freie Arbeiter Stimme. The book included lots of Philadelphia radical history. We made an unsuccessful effort to publish her translation, which was a great disappointment to Esther. We were too disorganized and too broke. I sent her manuscript to the Joseph A. Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan a few years ago. We did reprint a couple chapters which I'm trying to recover. 

I always enjoyed visiting them at their cozy coop apartment on East Broadway overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge on the East River. They were always entertaining young radicals, their habit of a lifetime.

As an older person myself now, I appreciated Anatole's human account of Sam and Esther's last years. It is a dilemma we all face. Anatole and his friends organized an around-the-clock cadre to care for his parents in their last few years. When Esther died, Sam would not move, and Anatole did not want to disrupt Sam's life unnecessarily.  At this moment, an old friend of the Dolgoff's and long-time activist with the Catholic Worker, Roger O'Neill, volunteered to move in and care for Sam. There is something poetic about this. Sam was an old bohemian friend of Dorothy Day, often spoke at the Friday Night Meetings at the Catholic Worker House, and occasionally sparred with her about the authoritarian, hierarchical Catholic Church. So, the last year of his life, he was cared for by a Catholic anarchist from the Catholic Worker, who didn't care that Sam was a principled atheist. This was the informal anarchist community that surrounded Sam and Esther all their lives. The IWW and the Catholic Worker still exist; that anarchist community probably does not.

Thank you Anotole Dolgoff for this beautiful homage to your parents. Yours for OBU (One Big Union), Frank Gerould.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Zionism, Anti-Zionism, Non-Zionism, Post-Zionism in Philadelphia

Thomas A. Kolsky, Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).

_____, "The Opposition to Zionism: The American Council for Judaism Under the Leadership of Rabbi Louis Wolsey and Lessing Rosenwald", in Philadelphia Jewish Life: 1940-1985, ed. Murray Friedman (Ardmore, PA: Seth Press, 1986), pp. 81-123.

many authors, Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace (The Palestine Israel Network of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, 2011).

_____, "Diaspora Anti-Zionism", in Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora, ed. Avrum Ehrlich (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008).

Stanley Aronowitz, "On Zionism and Its Jewish Critics", Logos Journal, Summer 2004.

Banksy in Palestine

This spring 2016 I attended an 8 week course "Steadfast Hope" offered by Christian-Jewish Allies of Greater Philadelphia (CJA) about the Israel-Palestine conflict. My old friend Fran Gilmore and new friend Susan Landau were helping teach the class at the Unitarian Society of Germantown. I had stopped considering a just peace in Palestine possible. It seemed hopeless after 70+ years of conflict. Maybe if I reviewed my thinking about Israel-Palestine, I could be more hopeful. Certainly nothing will change if we resign ourselves to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. CJA is "an interfaith group of Christian, Jews, and Muslims of Greater Philadelphia who work together to build relationships to bring peace and justice in Israel-Palestine." They offer films, speakers, and workshops to religious institutions in Philadelphia to promote peace and justice in the historic Holy Land. The "Steadfast Hope" class was excellent. Unfortunately I missed the last sessions, so maybe I'll reenlist when they offer a nearby class again. It is inspiring to see so many Philadelphians working for peace in Palestine.

Studying the history of Israel-Palestine conflict reminded me of accounts I've read of Jewish opposition  to the formation of the state of Israel in Philadelphia. It turns out, the epicenter of liberal Jewish anti-Zionism was in Philadelphia during the 1940s and 1950s. Thomas A. Kolsky, Professor of History and Political Science at Montgomery County Community College, wrote Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948, which is a sympathetic history of the foremost organized Jewish opposition to a Jewish nation-state. The American Council for Judaism (ACJ) was launched on November 2, 1942 in Rabbi Louis Wolsey's office at reform Congregation Rodeph Shalom, with his friend Rabbi William H. Fineshriber of reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, and 13 other rabbis. Rodeph Shalom is located at Broad and Mt. Vernon Sts in N Philadelphia, and is the oldest Ashkenazi congregation in the New World. Keneseth Israel was then located at Broad and Columbia Sts in N Philadelphia, and is one of the largest Jewish congregations in the US. Their goal was to revitalize the spiritual roots of 19th century Reform Judaism, and oppose Jewish nationalism, ie a Jewish state in Palestine.

The first Jews in America in the 19th century were largely German. They assimilated culturally and economically, and embraced liberal Reform Judaism. Russian Jewish emigration began later after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, bringing two million new Jewish refugees to America between 1880 and 1914. Zionism, the desire for a Jewish homeland, was born of this group. It was a secular response to racial antisemitism in Europe. Most liberal and socialist Jews in the US embraced the Enlightenment faith in reason and rejected Zionism. They considered themselves citizens of the US democracy. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, one of the founder of the Reform movement, dismissed Zionist ideas as "Ziomania".  But the poorer, religiously orthodox, working class Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe did not share the same faith in Western democracy. Particularly with the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, the case for a Jewish homeland or refuge became more compelling. Reform Judaism and many Jewish organizations divided over Zionism. This is the subject of Thomas Kolsky's book. 

Keneseth Israel at Broad and Columbia Sts
Rodeph Shalom at Broad and Mt Vernon Sts

During the 1930s Reform Judaism began to accommodate Zionism. Like today, most Americans opposed increased immigration to US.Unemployment, nativist nationalism, and anti-semitism blocked any efforts to open immigration in Congress. Jewish refugees from Nazism (and other refugees, like Spanish Republicans and anarchists) had no where to go. On November 24,1942 Rabbi Stephen S. Wise announced publically the US State Department report of the mass extermination of the European Jews by the Nazis. Support for a Jewish state in Palestine became overwhelming.

Remarkably in the face of the Holocaust and bitter attacks from Zionist organizations, the ACJ began their work. The founders hired Rabbi Elmer Berger executive director in January 1943. He was a disciple of Rabbi Wolsey and the leader of the first anti-Zionist group in the US in Flint, Michigan. Anti-Zionism became Elmer Berger's (1908-1996) life work. After resigning the ACJ in 1967 after the Six Day War, he founded American Alternatives to Zionism (AJAZ), and became increasingly identified with Palestinian and Arab causes. In his book The Jewish Dilemma: The Case Against Zionist Nationalism (1945), Elmer Berger presented the ACJ views: (1) Jews are a religious group, not a race or nationality; (2) All inhabitants of Palestine must enjoy equal rights - no exclusively Jewish state; (3) Repatriation and normalization of the lives of the Jews after WWII. 

The ACJ argued Jews constituted a minority population in Palestine, and had no right to impose their rule on the territory and the indigenous people, regardless of American public opinion or UN mandate. They also argued a Jewish state was bad for Jews in Arab countries, and the West. Jews would become a political lobby with divided loyalties outside Israel. Judaism as a religion would became corrupted in defense of a secular nation-state.

The lay  leader of ACJ was Lessing J. Rosenwald, President of the American Council of Judaism 1943-1955. Rosenwald was the retired Chairman of the Board of Sears Roebuck and Company, a Philadelphia philanthropist, art collector, and congregant of Rabbi Fineshriber's Keneseth Israel. His home in suburban Philadelphia, the Alverthorpe Manor, was donated to Abington Township, and is now the Abington Art Center. Rosenwald and the ACJ were serious players in the debates over partition in Palestine and the subsequent state of Israel declared May 14, 1948. They met with Roosevelt, Truman, the US State Department, and testified in Congress and the UN. The fortunes of a Jewish state were uncertain. Kolsky notes, "Roosevelt's skilled evasiveness regarding Palestine has led some historians to suggest that had he survived until 1948 a Jewish state might not have come into existence." Truman was ambivalent.

After Israeli independence, the ACJ redirected its mission to Jewish philanthropy, aiding displaced persons from WWII, and advocating equal rights for all citizens in Israel. Many anti-Zionist reconciled with the new reality of the Israeli state. Zionism took many manifestations. In On Zionism and Its Jewish Critics Stanley Aronowitz suggests four broad Jewish perspectives on Israel: (1) Uncritical support of the settler state with limits on Palestinian rights and a welfare state underwritten by US dollars. (2) A  right wing vision of Arab ethnic cleansing first articulated by Vladimir Jabotinsky which is now ascendant. (3) A socialist Zionist vision of a secular binational state inspired by Ber Borochov's book The National Question and the Class Struggle (1905). (4) Non-Zionist or post-Zionist cosmopolitan, internationalist vision of Israel which informs most contemporary peace activists in Israel and the West.

Thomas Kolsky's history is fascinating because the legitimacy of Israel remains in question today, after 70 years. The Zionists won in 1948, but the debate is not over. Many of the problems the ACJ had forseen have come to pass: Israel is financially dependent on the US; Jewish communities have exited the Arab countries; non-Jews are second class citizens in Israel; and the Palestine-Israel conflict is unceasing. Israel is a garrison state- not what it hoped for. Some sort of reconciliation or compromise between Palestine and Israel must be found, which failed to happen in 1940s. Surely neither side wants more war. Perhaps left and liberal circles in the US, Israel and Palestine will lead the way. 

This is a mission for Superman.

Peace in Palestine

Monday, May 30, 2016

An Incomplete Bibliography of the Phila Left Book Club

Phila Left Book circa 1995

I have been a member of a socialist reading group for the last 25 years in Philadelphia, which we just call Phila Left Book. We meet once a month in a cafe or restaurant for two hours, and discuss the book or articles of the day. Currently we meet at Manakeesh Cafe and Bakery at 4420 Walnut St in West Philadelphia. We started with four old friends. Our numbers have fluctuated between 5 and 15 over the years. We do not have a political litmus test for members. The books and topics we select reflect the interests of the members. We challenge each others politics and experiences. It is more congenial than graduate school - no papers to write. My continuing socialist education has largely come from our readings and discussion in these years. I haven't affiliated with any left organization since the 1980s, but I feel very attached to my Left Book comrades. I've made new friends. It is also a social support group for us left malcontents. We share our life milestones, medical crises, political activities. We've had two members die during these years which brought us closer together. It is not all politics.

I've assembled a list of books we've read, as best I can remember. I'm sorry we didn't keep a record of our reading. So here is our booklist in random order:

Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program (1875).

Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010).

Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015).

Anton Pannekoek, Worker's Councils (1947).

C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955).

Simone Zelitch, Waveland (2015).

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Revolution (2011).

Jack London, The Iron Heel (1908).

Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks, It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (2000).

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010).

Michael A. Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (2006).

Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class (2011).

Albert Soboul, A Short History of the French Revolution 1789-1799 (1977).

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848).

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014).

Paul Mattick Jr., Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011).

Maurice Brinton, Paris: May 1968 (1968).

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938).

Michael Heinrich, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital (2012).

Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origins of Capitalism (1999).

Max Shachtman, Race and Revolution (2003).

Antonio A. Santucci, Antonio Gramsci (2010).

David McNally, Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique (1993).

Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini, Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present (2011).

Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (2015).

Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).

Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State (1884).

Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (1964).

Peter Singer, Hegel: A Very Short Introduction (2001).

Joseph Stalin, The Economic Problems Of Socialism in the USSR (1952).