US "Bordigists"?

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fnbrilll
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Sep 20 2014 01:58
US "Bordigists"?

I've been investigating the history of the US Faction/Federation of the Left Communist International aka the US Bordigists. They seem to have started off as a Italian Emigre group in late 1920s, picked up a split of Engish speaking Americans from the Oehlerites in the late 1930s and wound up in the 1950s. In the 1940-50s they published an English language magazine titled "International Bulletin" renamed "Internationalist" in 1949. In his history of the Bordigist Current, Phillipe Bourrinet mentions a second group in Philadelphia.

Some left communists I met also said the grouping may have continued into the 1970s. The writer Jean Malaquais, a Bordigist in Europe, was living in New York in the 1950s and would meet in the Bronx with them, sometimes bringing his US sponsor/advocate Norman Mailer.

Anyone have anymore information or leads?

fnbrilll
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Sep 20 2014 03:50

An issue of their publication available here:

https://archive.org/details/InternationalBulletin

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OliverTwister
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Sep 20 2014 04:01

I'd heard somewhere - maybe in Hal Draper - that a three comrades had left the SWP to set up a bordigist group in New York in the 1930s. First time I've ever seen any result of that. Cheers.

fnbrilll
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Sep 20 2014 04:46

Hadn't thought about checking Draper. Thanks for the heads up OT.

There was a grouping of 8+ Italians in 1920s. They provided the protection against Stalinist thugs for Cannon's first Trotskyist open meeting in New York City.

The NYC Faction of Bordigists made some inroads to the post-Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers League (Oehlerites) sometime in the late 1930s, taking a number of English speakers from the RWL's NYC branch.

Also they took the RWL's Mexican section, who had been subject to a great deal of thuggery by the Trotskyists! Go figure!

The main mover of the Mexican Bordigists, Paul Eifell was a former KAPD in exile. His real name was Paul Kirchoff was an anthropologist of some fame, who defined the term Mesoamerica.

A number of the Mexican group of Left Communist International are available of the ICC's site here

fnbrilll
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Sep 21 2014 21:24

Another issue of their publication up on archive.org

https://archive.org/details/LCIInternationalBulletinJan1949

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Alf
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Sep 21 2014 23:13

I came across this paragraph in a huge tome called International Trotskyism by Robert J Alexander, 1991, Duke University Press:
"Others who broke away from the Oehelrites to form small groups included Dave Atkins, who joined forces with a group of Italian-Americans who were followers of Amadeo Bordiga; and Karl Mienov, who maintained that the Spanish Civil War was an imperialist struggle on both sides. The Atkins group continued for some time after world war II" ( p783)

It would be interesting to know how this group related to the Italian Fraction in the 30s. After the war, it looks like they identified with the groups connected to the Partito Comunista Internazionalista formed in Italy in 1943 (these groups were in Belgium and France). Malaquais on the other hand had been a member or associate of the Gauche Communiste de France around Marc Chirik, who was a close friend of Malaquais.

I was not aware that the American group had played a role in the formation of the Mexican 'Marxist Workers Group' whose texts Bilan published in the 30s. Where is your information for this?

'Left Communist International' is a misnomer: both before and after the war the term was the International Communist Left.

Good luck with the research. The 'International Bulletin' reproduced in the archive is difficult to decipher, but I'll give it a go.

fnbrilll
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Sep 21 2014 23:51

The Americans participated in the "Italian Left" and had articles in the internal bulletin and Bilan during the 1930s.

The Americans used the term Left Communist International, which is why I did too.

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Sep 22 2014 04:07

As I mentioned to you privately, check out the writings of Pierre Lanneret. His book Internationalists in France During the Second World War also contains an autobiography about how he was part of the Bordigist group "la Fraction Française de la Gauche Communiste" in France in the late 1940s.

He emigrated to Canada in 1951, then to San Francisco in 1958. He was around the Hal Draper I.S. group until co-founding World to Win in 1976. He died in 1993. There are still people around who worked with Pierre, so I'll give you their contact info privately.

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Entdinglichung
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Sep 22 2014 08:51

the group around George Spiro/Marlen which broke away from Oehler dedicated some space to polemicize with Bordigism (their main target were the different types of US Trotskyism), e.g. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/in-defense-bolshevism/v13... (pp. 36-42) ... much of Spiro's stuff has recently made available on MIA: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/in-defense-bolshevism/ind... ... may be interesting for comrades who are interested in styles of sectarian polemics

fnbrilll
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Sep 22 2014 09:06

Yes, I've been collecting all the articles I've found on ETOL. I may just put them up in a combined PDF later today. The only interesting one from the Marlen group is from 1950 (I think) that basically is Marlen calling the US Bordigists "Stalinists" and the US Fraction telling Marlen - "talk to you later got better things to do."

Marlen's paper is interesting in it's sectariana. Can understand where Chomsky got his chops.

Thanks for pointing these out Entdinglichung.

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Sep 22 2014 09:13

later during the sixties, Marlen/Spiro "discovered" that Marxism was evil from the very beginning more of his stuff here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leninist_League_%28US%29#Publications ... if Marlen would still be alive, he would be the most-hated troll here and on RevLeft

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Sep 22 2014 09:21

they also got mentioned in this funny piece by Shachtman: http://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/1938/12/footnote.htm

Quote:
Not falling into the above-described category, but first to separate from us were three Italian followers of Bordiga, since constituted as the New York group of the “Italian Left Fraction of Communism.” Like their separation from us, their subsequent existence has been quiet, dignified, passive, fruitless and unruffled either by the departure of an old adherent or the acquisition of a new one. Score: no hits, no runs, no errors.

and on Marlen:

Quote:
Second Oehlerite split-off (Series II) is the Leninist League, also formed at the beginning of the year. It is lead by George Marlen and is unique also in other respects. While definitely anti-gynaicocratic, and taking no formal position on exogamy or endogamy, it is based fundamentally on the primitive gens in so far as one must be a blood relation of the immediate family, or at least related to it by marriage, in order to qualify for membership. This has the unfortunate effect of somewhat reducing the arena for recruitment, but it does guarantee against contamination. Marlen is so exhausted by his literary efforts to prove that Trotsky is an agent of Stalinism, that he is able to do nothing else. His cool, balanced judgement is sampled by what he says of Field: “The LRWP is an enemy of the international working class. It is a sabotaging agency in the struggle of exposure and destruction of the Stalinist reaction.” Oehler, Stamm, Mienov, Smith, Jones, and Robinson – all are contemptuously and severely dismissed as “left Trotskyists.” Reminding one irresistibly of the story of the monkey and the elephant is the report current that Marlen is writing a book that will annihilate Trotsky politically. Sic itur ad astra! Or, freely translated, that’s as good a way as any of getting into the headlines.

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Sep 22 2014 13:00

The first quote from Schachtman above is the one I'd been thinking about when I mentioned Draper.

fnbrilll
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Sep 22 2014 14:38

I loathe that shachtman piece, inaccurate and unfair throughout. Part of the reason I'm trying to work on the Bordigists' history, because they don't deserve to be written off like that.

Shachtman and Cannon were really evil in their underhanded dealings with other groups.

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Sep 22 2014 20:47
fnbrilll wrote:
Shachtman and Cannon were really evil in their underhanded dealings with other groups.

As I also mentioned before, read Not Without Love: Memoirs by Constance Webb, who was CLR James' second wife (his first was a short-lived one to Juanita Young in Trinidad). They met in the SWP and the ugliest account in her book is how party life is corrosive to people's integrity (especially their underhanded dealings within their own group), as shown when Cannon paid a visit to Webb and tried to convince her to break up with James. The reason? Because party members weren't ready for a black-white marriage. Pretty fucked up, huh? And according to Webb, James was a womanizer too. And his misdeeds were covered up by the party, who enabled his access to young cadre, as did his later comrades in J-F. The lesson being that self-sacrifice for the party allows apparatchiks certain perks. Again, pretty fucked up!

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klas batalo
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Sep 22 2014 19:21

whoa...thanks for that

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Sep 22 2014 22:50

I need to state upfront that I respect the intellectual ideas of CLR James greatly and they had a strong influence on my own political development. But I never agreed with him, nor with the main thrust of Johnson-Forest, in following the good Lenin (you know, the one who "bit the Hegelian apple" by reading Science of Logic in Zurich in 1916).

Also, I suggest reading Grace Lee Boggs' Living for Change: An Autobiography. Here you can read an account of how right after she married Jimmy Boggs, Marty Glaberman loaned them his car so that they could take a honeymoon, CLR James had been trying to dissuade their marriage for the same reason Cannon did with Webb and himself. Which is straight-up hypocritical.

A lot of U.S. working class history has been sanitized and I think fnbrill's attempt to clarify the history of ultra-left groups maligned by Trotskyists is crucial.

fnbrilll
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Sep 23 2014 02:43

Briefly touching on Hieronymous' comments.

I have always appreciated Cannon for what I felt was his strategy. Even if you don't agree with the politics contained (I don't), the entire story of building the Trotskyist movement from 3 isolated people is rather heroic.

What can be gleaned from that narrative, if anything? The more I've read, the more I've realized that Cannon's story is more of a myth. Like his sometime sidekick Max Shachtman did (link above) it's easy to laugh and simply dismiss the smaller fringe groups.

For Cannon and Shachtman, the Oehlerites were an easy target. Sectarians! didn't want t get their hands dirty! But the reality is that the Oehlerites were a majority of the Trotskyists in that time newly expanded American Workers' Party (a fusion of the Trotskyists with Mustie's Workers' Party). The Oehlerites were experienced in workplace politics, etc. Most importantly their disapperance is a lesson we can use. They disappeared because they thought WW2 would bring with it wartime repression. To maintain some organization for after the war, they dispersed their membership and weren't able to put it back again. Not an unreasonable tactic, but an invaluable lesson what not to do. By simply dismissing the RWL and other groups, Cannon denies us all potentially valuable history.

It would be the same as saying there is no use to read Cannon because he was forced from power in the SWP in 1952. Leaving him to his drunken memories and attempts to break up interracial couples. Ditto, no need to read Shachtman's Workers' Party and their push for wildcat strikes in ww2 because in the 1960s became a cold war social democrat.

syndicalist
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Sep 23 2014 03:54
Quote:
have always appreciated Cannon for what I felt was his strategy.

Which strategy in particular?

The SWP (and before) which pretty strict adherents to Lenin's "Infantile Leftism"
In particular:

Quote:
Should Revolutionaries Work in Reactionary Trade Unions?

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch06.htm

fnbrilll
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Sep 23 2014 04:02

You know me Syndicalist. all of it

tongue

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Entdinglichung
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Sep 23 2014 09:14

the SWP (US) was always regarded to be internally authoritarian (e.g. limitting discussions and factional rights to pre-conference periods, expelling minorities), culturally odd and pretty stiff by their European comrades in the USFI, especially many who joined USFI sections during or after the late sixties who got into contacted with SWPers admitted, that they wouldn't join them when moving to the US ... the SWP up to 1972 had a policy of not allowing their members to be non-straight, female members were expelled for breastfeeding at party meetings (while e.g. Dutch or Canadian USFI members were involved in organising nurse-ins) and the dress code of SWP-members "on duty" had (and still has) striking similarities with the stuff worn by Mormon missionaries ... the cultural stuff may partly be due to post-1939 anti-intellectualism and workerism which Cannon laid out in his The struggle for a proletarian party where he disses all the "petty-bourgeois intellectuals" who left the SWP during the 1939/40 split

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Alf
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Sep 23 2014 14:51

Some very interesting material sent by fnbrill prompted me to go back to our book on the Italian left and there it indeed explains that Eiffels had been a member of the RWL who had broken from it over Spain around the positions of the Italian Fraction.

syndicalist
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Sep 23 2014 18:34

Aside from Schatman's trajectory, the WP, ISL ISC groups are interesting and informative.

fnbrilll
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Sep 23 2014 18:48

I agree syndicalist, I think you're reading too much into my comments. All i meant was there are lessons to be learned from many groups, even though you disagree with them.

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Sep 23 2014 20:43
fnbrilll wrote:
I agree syndicalist, I think you're reading too much into my comments. All i meant was there are lessons to be learned from many groups, even though you disagree with them.

Case in point: Bryan Palmer's James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928, while in many ways a flawed hagiography, does have more insightful accounts of Vincent St. John's militancy and integrity than anything else I've ever read.

Here's a choice gem:

James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left wrote:
The Saint lived his ideas and methods. He radiated sincereity and integrity, and unselfishness free from taint or ostentation. The air was clear in his presence. (p. 58)

fnbrilll
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Sep 26 2014 07:45

Another publication, this time a debate between the US Fraction and the Oehlerite Revolutionary Workers League. It seems as this was the discussion that led to Pro-Bordigist splits in the RWL both with it's Mexican supporters as well as English language supporters.

https://archive.org/details/LCIvsRWL

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Sep 26 2014 08:16
fnbrilll wrote:
Most importantly their disapperance is a lesson we can use. They disappeared because they thought WW2 would bring with it wartime repression. To maintain some organization for after the war, they dispersed their membership and weren't able to put it back again. Not an unreasonable tactic, but an invaluable lesson what not to do.

http://icl-fi.org/english/wv/984/carl-obit.html

Quote:
Carl moved to New York, where he was needed to build the party’s “activist library.” En route, he interviewed Hugo Oehler, an important Communist Party (CP) trade-union organizer who was won to the Left Opposition following the expulsion of James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, from the CP. Carl Lichtenstein is, to the best of our knowledge, the only researcher to record an interview with Hugo Oehler. Carl recalled, “He had I guess what you would call a security fetish.” Carl looked for the man reading the New York Times in the Denver, Colorado, public library and followed him to a public park, where they discussed the early years of American Trotskyism. Their discussion was covered by traffic noise and occasional squawking by Lee, six months old, sitting on Carl’s knee.

fnbrilll
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Sep 26 2014 13:29

Entdinglichung:

Yes, i had read that report too.

I first heard about the RWL's WW2 dispersal in Sid Len's Autobiography, The Unrepentant Radical. Lens was the public face for the RWL during WW2. Given that the US Government had already imprisoned the SWP's leadership, as well as the Criminal Syndicalism laws still on the books and the banning of the RWL's publications from US mails, it wasn't a totally crazy choice. "Being paranoid doesn't mean they're still not out to get you."

Leo
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Oct 15 2014 19:02

The interview with Oehler reminded me of the old United Toilers group, the "home-grown" left wing faction in the United States which came directly out of the American Party. Here's what wiki says about this group (which as far as I can remember sounds pretty similar to what Draper wrote about them): "A small minority however would not rejoin the party and remained underground. It sent "Sullivan", Alfred S. Edwards, to the 4th Comintern congress that December to harangue the delegates about the "Menshevik" leadership of the American party and even the right wing tendencies in the Comintern itself. In James P. Cannon's memoir, The History of America Trotskyism, he mentions finding the group still active in 1929. They still used the old conspiratorial methods such as secret meetings and pseudonyms; one member even recognized Cannon, and started to address him as "Comrade Cook", his party name from years earlier. He in turn recognized their leader as "Sullivan" from the old days. By this time the group was headquartered in Boston and had a branch in Cleveland. They were willing to join the Trotskyists if they were going to be an underground organization. Writing in his memoir in 1944, Cannon guessed "I suppose they are still underground.""

In any case, I find it very annoying that it is very difficult to find out more about these groups.

fnbrilll
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Oct 15 2014 23:37

American Faction of Communist Left (Bordigists) Material on-line:

https://archive.org/search.php?query=creator%3A%22American+Fraction+Left...

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Entdinglichung
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Oct 15 2014 21:19

more online stuff from the early UTA: http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/workerschallenge/index.htm