Thursday, 28 August 2014

Forgetting E. P. Thompson (3 February 1924 - 28 August 1993)

E. P. Thomson died 11 years ago today. He was a theorist for the Communist Party of Great Britain, the founder of the Communist Party's Historians Group, and a Marxist historian, biographer, journalist, essayist, and campaigner.

Edward Palmer Thompson was born in Oxford on 3 February 1924 and was the son of Edward John Thompson, a writer and poet. Young Edward's parents were Methodist missionaries. Educated at The Dragon School in Oxford and Kingswood School in Bath, Thompson left school in 1941 to fight in World War II, in which he served in a tank unit in the Italian campaign, taking part in the final battle for Cassino. After the war, he enrolled at Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge.

Up until that point, this young man was following a normal course in life. Unfortunately, the University of Cambridge was, at this time, a cesspit of Communism, which included an infestation of pro-Soviet spies, who would later become known as the Cambridge Five.[1] It was while studying here that Thompson joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. And didn't stop here: in 1946, along with Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm, Rodney Hilton, Dona Torr, George Rudé, and others, he formed the Communist Party's Historians Group. Hill had spent ten months in Stalin's Soviet Union in 1935, and his application to be the Chair of History at Keele University had been turned down due to his Communist Party affiliations. Hobsbawm was an apologist for Stalin.[2] Hilton forced the Mediæval peasant through the grinder of Marxian theory. Dona Torr, a founding member of the CPGB, had been involved the latter's propaganda mill. Rudé came from a conservative background, but had fallen in love with Stalin's USSR and returned an ardent Communist, which would soon ensure he was excluded from British universities. Not satisfied with that, Thompson also launched a journal, Past and Present, which engaged in revisionist history, Marxian style.

Thompson's first major work was a biography of William Morris. Published in 1955, his purpose was to deflect criticism of the CPGB's status as Moscow's yes-men in Britain by drawing attention to the domestic roots of Marxism on the island. He strained to emphasise Morris' radical and socialist politics, something that had embarrassed and been downplayed by earlier writers. The biography was largely ignored. Thompson, however, partially rewrote it and the second edition, published more than twenty years later, received some attention, for by then Antonio Gramsci's 'march through the institutions' was well under way.

Like other Communists of the period, Thompson felt the pangs of conscience when, in 1956, Nikita Khrushev's 'secret speech' to the 20th Congress of the Communisty Party (CPGB) revealed that the party leadership had long been aware of Stalin's crimes. He and John Saville launched a dissident publication within the CPGB, The Reasoner, of which they only managed three quarterly issues before they leaving the party altogether in disgust at the organisation's equivocal response to the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

But his soul-searching lacked sufficient scope for an abjuration of Marxism: with Saville, he soon created a new publication, the New Reasoner. Thinking that the solution to Marxism's many problems was even more Marxism, this time he sought to offer alternative interpretations of Marxism to those offered by the CPGB and the Trotskyists, as well as to the socialism of the Labour Party. This journal became an organ of the New Left.

The New Reasoner didn't 'reason' for very long: after three years, it merged in 1960 with the Universities and New Left Review, a youth-oriented pacifist Cold War publication that argued against opposition to communism and for nuclear disarmament. The resulting political jounral was New Left Review, and its editor Stuart Hall, a young man from Jamaica who'd had his mind warped by Freud, Marx, and Lenin while still an at university. The magazine brought together former CPGB members, Labour Party radicals, and assorted egalitarians. On the platform at launch were novelists Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch, a former CPGB member who awakened to the awfulness of Marxism in later life.

This arrangement was short-lived, however, for Hall left and Thompson fell out with the clique surrounding the new editor, Perry Anderson, whom he castigated repeatedly in ensuing years. Thompson hated Anderson's reliance on Continental philosophers, seemingly forgetting that Marx was from Germany.

In 1963 Thompson saw the publication of his most influential work, The Making of the English Working Class. Now, Thompson was a talented writer and this book represents his methodology of 'history from below'. In particular, he pays attention to the largely forgotten Jacobin movement in England, specifically the London Corresponding Society. However, it has been pointed out that it is also an egregious example of ideology trumping fact: he projects the beliefs of the radical working class reformers onto the whole of the working class, forgetting about what Geoffrey Best called the 'Church and King', 'flag-saluting, foreigner-hating, peer-respecting side of the plebeian mind'; vastly exaggerates attendance numbers at radical meetings;[3] overestimates the success of the second part of The Rights of Man, by the traitor Thomas Paine, not mentioning that he was outsold ten-to-one by Hannah More's anti-Jacobin Cheap Repository Tracts,[4] and that, next to Guy Fawkes, Paine is the most burnt-in-effigy figure in English history;[5] claims the Volunteer Corps was only popular with the propertied classes, when after 1796 it was largely made up of workmen, with officers drawn from the clerks and foremen;[6] and changes his tune depending on his prejudices, on the one hand claiming a desire to rescue the working class from a perception of passive victimhood when it suits his politics, but on the other painting them exactly as passive victims when he lambasts Methodist Sunday schools to gratify his atheism, describing these working class institutions as 'psychic exploitation' (1991: 411), 'psychological atrocities' and 'religious terrorism' (414-415). Fifty years on, the book remains in university reading lists.

Thompson next jumped onto Saville's new vehicle, the Socialist Register, which the latter co-founded in 1964 with Ralph Miliband, 'the man who hated Britain',[7] according to the Daily Mail, and father of Ed, the current leader of the Labour Party. And it wasn't long before Ed's predecessor, Harold Wilson, disappointed everyone on the Left for not being far enough to the Left, even though he had decriminalised gay sex, abolished capital punishment, introduced the Race Relations Act 1965, outlawed corporal punishment in prisons, enacted suspended sentences, created the Community Relations Commission (endowing it with £300,000 for propaganda and similar purposes), and used the tax system to take money from the middle class to give it to the poor. In response, Thomposon, Raymond Williams (a former CPGB propagandist), and others responded with the May Day Manifesto in 1967. Their conferences dissipated in endless hair-splitting by tedious gas-bags, however, and naïve middle class student activists, who were rather looking for a legitimisation of vandalising urges, were bored. The same applied to the industrial workers, whose bellies needed actual food, not just a diet of Marxist theory.[8] Meanwhile, the capitalists at Penguin cashed in by publishing the Manifesto in book form. Those guys never miss a trick.

During the 1970s, Thompson engaged in polemics. Firstly, he flounced off Warwick University when it was found—during a student sit-in—that the administration kept track of the students and academic staffs political views (unsurprising, given that Thompson had been a Stalinist for ten years) and had ties to local industry. Secondly, he fired off a book-length diatribe, evidently without reflection, since it was scribbled down in two weeks and published while events were still in progress. After this, he made a career as a trans-Atlantic visiting lecturer, and turned to free-lance writing. New Society, Socialist Register, and historical journals accepted his contributions. The New Society deserves a mention here: its founder and editor was Timothy Raison, who would later become Conservative MP for Aylesbury and serve twice as minister under Margaret Thatcher. The magazine was allegedly non-partisan and refused to endorse any political party, yet liberals perceived it as 'centre-Left' and Raison's successor, Paul Baker, the one who accepted Thompson's contributions, enjoyed the approval of Eric Hobsbawm, the obdurate Stalinist. So much for a neutral point of view.

Still with a taste for invective, in 1974, and completely unprovoked, he attacked Leszek Kołakowski in a bizarre 100-page open letter, published in the Socialist Register,[9] which began

Dear Leszek Kolakowski,

First, I must introduce myself, since this is an unusual kind of letter.

You don't know me, but I know you well. This must be familiar enou"g h to a man with an international reputation. He must often be beset with the importunities of strangers.

But my claim is more insistent and vulgar than that. I am the stranger who walks into the house, slaps you on the back, sits down at your ;able, and jests about your youthful escapades, on the pretext of a claim to distant relationship of which you know nothing. I am, in political terms, your mother's brother's stepson. I am an impossible and presumptuous guest, and an uninvited one—you may even suspect that I am an impostor—but the courtesies of kinship disallow you from throwing me from your house.

Thrown in were all manner of personal grievances and oximoronic statements like 'the most human face of communism'.

Not missing a beat, Kołakowski ripped him a new one in a highly amusing reply of just 1/5 the length, published in the following issue.[10] He pointed out that Thompson refused to analyse words, deliberately confouding issues with terminological hybrids; that Thompson used double standards, depending on what suited his politics; and that he was averse to facts when they were embarrassing or inconvenient—all Leftist clichés. He also pointed out that Franco's Spain gave vastly more freedom than any socialist country (except perhaps Yugoslavia). Kołakowski knew what he was talking about: though by then an opponent of Communism, he'd once been a Communist himself, until he'd visited the USSR and seen the reality. He'd also been to Spain twice. His experience lent added authority to his monumental three-volume work, Main Currents of Marxism (1976 - 1978), in which he would argue that Stalinism and totalitarianism were not deviations, but followed logically from Marx. Even Tony Judt, who'd began as a Marxist Zionist, considered Kołakowski's rejoinder so devastating as to conclude that 'no one who reads it will ever take E. P. Thompson seriously again'.

That really shut him up as far as Kołakowski was concerned, for Thompson dared not challenge him again, and for the following issue wrote about a Marxist poet instead.[11] All the same, the unrepentant Communist stood uncorrected, and in 1978 he launched a 303-page attack on Louis Althusser, a psychopath and former Stalinist who would end up murdering his wife and getting locked up in mental ward—in other words, a much weaker opponent. Thompson disliked Althusser's structuralist Marxism, and in the book (Poverty of Theory: An Orrery of Errors) called him and his followers 'Geschichtenscheissenschlopff, unhistorical shit'. Althusser didn't bother to reply, so it was left to his old enemy from the New Left Review, Perry Anderson, to try to shut him up again with a 218-page riposte.

Not all of Thompson's work consisted of revisionism or polemics. One meritorious work was Writing by Candlelight (1980), in which he criticises state suppression of dissident voices. Of course, his criticisms are coming from the Left, and he wrote during Jim Callaghan's premiership, which he, amazingly, deemed authoritarian and conservative, considering the BBC a paid-for instrument of conservatism, but what he said applies just as well to dissidents on the Right. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, so there is something to be learnt here.

As the Thatcher era dawned, Thompson's became obsessed with nuclear war and got involved with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Now, of course no one wants a thermonuclear holocaust, particularly anyone who has seen films like Threads (1984) or The Day After (1983), but this man wanted the United Kingdom—nay, the whole of Europe—to disarm unilaterally while Leonid Brezhnev and Ronald Reagan had their fingers on the Red Button. Combined, these gentlemen had 21,000 nuclear warheads at their disposal, adding up to 8.2 teratons of radioactive devastation. One would think that this would make any thought of unilateral disarmament somewhat preposterous, since it's unlikely there would've been anything left after a nuclear exchange of that size. Yet, Thompson was not averse to turning a negative into a positive, and he pumped out no less than three volumes of articles and essays on this topic alone. Thus, comrade Thompson cashed in on a fashionable trend, thanks to—his words—that 'old bitch, consumer capitalism'.

Exhausted from the polemics and the activism, Thompson moved to calmer pastures, and tried his hand at fiction. If only he'd stuck with it! An attempt at aping Jonathan Swift, at least he got good reviews without irritating anyone.

E. P. ThompsonThompson died on 28 August 1993, aged 69, but looking twenty years older. As with the portrait of Dorian Gray, an ugly ideology had left its mark.


[1] See Jonathan Bowden, "The Cambridge Cell at Cambridge University", published on Wermod and Wermod: Part 1, Part 2.

[2] David Evanier, "Stalin's cheerleader". The Weekly Standard. 19 May 2003.

[3] Referring to the meeting of the London Corresponding Society's meeting of 26 October 1795, at Copenhagen Fields, Islington, London, Thomson writes 'The claim that 100,000 to 150,000 attended cannot be dismissed' (157). Yet, other accounts refute this. In Britain in the Early Nineteenth Century, A. D. Harvey quotes a visitor, who later wronte, 'In the course of the day many thousands were doubtless in the field; but never at one time.--I was there between 2 & 3 & I don't believe there were 500 in the field, & I saw it at the fullest time as far as I can understand' (82). And in Stress and Stability in Late-Nineteenth Century Britain, I. R. Christie writes that the meeting was a small crowd, and that "[t]he idea that there was any mass support in London for the London Corresponding Society may be consigned to oblivion" (5o).

[4] Hannah More also wrote a rebuttal to Paine's The Rights of Man, titled Village Politics (1792).

[5] Robert Dozier, For King, Constitution and Country: The English Loyalists and the French Revolution (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983) 91.

[6] Chris Evans, Revolution Debate: Britain in the 1790s. (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006) 62.

[7] Geoffrey Levy, "The man who hated Britain: Red Ed's pledge to bring back socialism is a homage to his Marxist father. So what did Miliband Snr really believe in? The answer should disturb everyone who loves this country", Daily Mail. 27 September 2013. Web. Retrieved 27 August 2014.

[8] 'The May Day Manifesto', An Emotional Involvement: Chronicles of the student occupation of Liverpool University Senate House, March 1970. Web. Accessed 25 August 2014.

[9] E. P. Thompson, 'Open Letter to Leszek Kołakowski', Socialist Register 10 (1973).

[10] Leszek Kołakowski, 'My Correct Views on Everything', Socialist Register 11 (1974).

[11] E. P. Thompson, 'Caudwell', Socialist Register 12 (1975).

Forgetting Shulamith Firestone (7 January 1945 - 28 August 2012)

Shulamith Firestone was found dead two years ago today. A key figure in the break out of radical Second-Wave Feminism during the 1960s and 70s, she was a founding member of the New York Radical Women, Redstockings, and the New York Radical Feminists. Though it transpired afterwards that she suffered from a severe mental illness, her evil work, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970), is still taken seriously today.

Shulamith Firestone was born Shulamith Bath Shmuel Ben Ari Feuerstein from Orthodox Jewish parents living in Ottawa, Canada. After moving to the United States, her parents Americanised her surname while she was still a child. Raised in Kansas City and St Louis, she attended the Yavneh Rabbinical College of Telshe, in Wickliffe, Ohio, a leading Haredi institution of Torah study. She then attended Washington University in St Louis, wherefrom she transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There, after the requisite ovesters (semester is patriarchal), she obtained a BFA in painting. Though Firestone has gone down in herstory (history is also patriarchal) as a radical feminist, she saw herself primarily as an artist.

During her final year as an art student, a cinéma vérité documentary was made about her. Made in 1967, the documentary ended up collecting dust in a vault, unseen, but it was discovered many years later by postmodern feminist film-maker Elisabeth Subrin, who in 1997 made a revisionistic frame-by-frame re-shoot of the original, save for her erasing the latter's male narrator (patriarchal, again) and replacing it with her own voice. The film won awards, but no one seems to have watched it except the judges at the film festivals where it was screened, and no one at the IMDB has bothered to give it even one star out of ten. In the Chicago Reader, a declining alternative weekly for 'hip' singles in their 20s, disappointed Jonathan Rosenbaum gave it a lukewarm review. Firestone objected to the film and in 2012 Subrin pulled it from circulation.

After art school, Firestone moved to New York, intending to become an artist and writer. Unfortunately, we are made to understand that she found the art world cliquey and staffed by perverts—what we may imagine a politically Leftist underworld (not unlike Hollywood) in which women advanced in exchange for 'special' favours. In response, and together with other radical feminists—Robin Morgan, Carol Hanisch, and Chude Pamela Allen, all co-ethnics—she co-founded in October 1967 the New York Radical Women. For their intellectual ammunition, they drew from the ideas of the New Left, about whose titular founder we ran a profile not long ago. Aparently, like her associates, loud and opinionated gorgons, she was fed up with ideas of traditional womanhood and the fact that the Civil Rights and the anti-Vietnam War movements were male-dominated.

Around this time, Firestone attended the National Conference for New Politics, of which was, thankfully, only held once. Together with Civil Rights' activist Jo Freeman, she led a female caucus, only to be thoroughly patronised by the event's director, William F. Pepper,[1] who dismissed them as hysterical and irrelevant. This only served to galvanise Firestone.

The New York Radical Women protested the 1968 edition of Miss America (admittedly, a silly pageant, nowadays parading dieting women with sixpacks), in what was the first major demonstration of the so-called 'Women's Liberation Movement'. They came with mops, pots and pans, Playboy magazines, false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, and brassieres, intending a conflagration, but had to content themselves with just throwing them in the bin, after health and safety concerns were expressed to them. They claimed these items were 'instruments of female torture'. Never mind that the high heeled shoe, for example, was invented by Catherine de' Medici,[2] the most powerful woman in France for 30 years until her death in 1589, and an enthusiastic patron of the arts. Too much time reading Marx and Freud, too little time educating themselves in history, obviously.

The NYRW lasted 16 months before disintegrating in acrimony. Political feminists, like Robin Morgan, member of the anarcho-communist Youth International Movement along with sociopathic manic-depressive and petty criminal Abbie Hoffmann,[3] went on to found Women's International Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.)—a very appropriate name indeed. Her comrades in bra-burning included Naomi Jaffe, who went on to join the terrorist organisation Weather Underground. In turn, radical feminists, like Firestone, founded Redstockings. The latter took its name from 'bluestocking', a pejorative term for intellectual women, derived from Elizabeth Montagu's 18th-century literary group, the Blue Stockings Society. 'Red' was substituted for 'blue' in deference to the group's association with the revolutionary Left. Firestone's co-founding comrade was Ellen Willis, whose critiques of authoritarianism relied on the theories of Wilhelm Reich, a convicted quack and UFOlogist, and on Freudian psychoanalysis, a pseudo-science.[4] Such was the seriousness of this group that Firestone viewed a 'smile boycott' as the ideal protest.

Firestone left Redstockings within a few months, and, together with Anne Koedt, author of The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm (1970), founded the New York Radical Feminists. The NYRF was driven by a conspiracy theory, according to which men consciously subordinated women to boost their egos. The group was a propaganda mill.

During this entire period and beyond it, Firestone edited Notes from the First Year (1968), Notes from the Second Year (1970) and, with Koedt, Notes from the Third Year (1971). She also saw publication of her one and only book of feminist theory, The Dialectic of Sex.

Now, radical feminism gave birth to a litter of poisonous texts at this time, and this one of them. Firmly rooted in the Freudo-Marxian scholastic tradition, Firestone argued that the oppression of women had its origins in biology, which then provided a model for racial and socio-economic domination. She viewed pregnacy and childbirth as 'barbaric', and advocated destroying the nuclear family and using technology to separate them from sex and child-rearing. Her utopian vision was cybernetically incubated children who didn't know their parents and were raised by communes of random volunteers. This text set the tone for future efforts by radical feminists to 'liberate' women from womanhood.

Aside from what are we to make of this weird self-hatred, one has to ask oneself how anybody could think that a single woman of 25, living in New York City, firmly within an tightly-knit ethnic milieu of angry feminist spinsters, knew anything at all about motherhood and child-rearing. On what basis was it thought that hers was an authoritative 'solution' to these 'problems'?

Fortunately, by the time the screed appeared, Firestone had become less politically active. By the mid 1970s, she had faded from view. And subsequently almost no one heard anything more until the late 1990s, when she resurfaced with a new book, Airless Spaces.

It turns out that Firestone suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. A recluse because of her illness, she lived in poverty in a book-lined single-bedroom unit,[4] going in and out of mental institutions. Airless Spaces is a fictionalised account of her life as a regular mental patient. The book is short, but a sad and harrowing read. And though obscure, it is of much greater merit than the alleged 'magnum opus' of feminist theory, for it uncovers the grim reality of individuals whose struggles are known to very few.

Shortly after, Firestone retreated back into seclusion. She didn't keep in touch with anyone, and only one person—described as 'openly lesbian'—was trusted to visit her occasionally.[5] It appears that for a while she worked on a science fiction novel, but decided to throw away the manuscript, claiming that she had showed it to a reader and been told she had plagiarised the reader's idea.[6] She survived on state benefits and possibly with financial assistance from her family.

On 28 August 2012, her neighbour found her lifeless body on the floor of her apartment, having died more than a week earlier.[7]

From this perspective, it seems clear that the The Dialectic of Sex, rather than a serious theoretical work, as many feminists insist on treating it, needs to be reclassified as a work of literature, perhaps a work of science fiction in the guise of a tract, more within Hans Prinzhorn's discipline than within the purview of a university's Women's Studies department. To do otherwise is pure evil. Not that mental illness is sufficient reason to discount a person's intellectual work: Cesare Lombroso showed in1891 that many a man of genius has been afflicted by one or more psychopathological conditions, and not because of that are they necessarily less meritorious. We must make our assessments on a case-by-case basis. And, when it comes to radical feminism, much of it is driven by plain and simple hatred of men. This becomes apparent when we examine the lives of some of the leading radical feminists. Valerie Solanas came from a profoundly dysfunctional home; she also suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and ended up shooting Andy Warhol, for which she was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. In her iconic The S.C.U.M. Manifesto she wrote, 'To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo'. (Incidentally, she appears in Airless Spaces, homeless and begging in order to eat.) Andrea Dworkin became a radical feminist after being severely abused by her first husband, Cornelius Dirk de Bruin, a fellow radical activist involved in the Vietnam War protest movement. Mary Daly had no real experiences with men, being a lesbian ( 'I don't think about men. I really don’t care about them'.) And Phyllis Chesler cites her experiences in the early 1960s with her Afghani husband in Kabul as inspiring her to become an ardent feminist. As was the custom for foreign wives in Afghanistan, she was required to surrender her US passport to the authorities and lived a virtual prisoner at her in-laws’ polygamous household.

Indeed, it's telling that Firestone asked for The Dialecting of Sex to be taken out of print not long after a new edition came out, but was happy for Airless Spaces to remain available.

Firestone's case must, therefore, be treated with compassion. Indeed, it is a tragedy that she had her mind poisoned by Freudo-Marxian and radical feminist ideas in the first place, because traditional womanhood may have at least yielded a more financially comfortable existence with the support of a loving spouse. Ironically, such a context could have offered better opportunities for her to pursue her artistic endeavours, and even, perhaps, to go off her medication for periods while working on projects (Firestone reported that the anti-psychotics dulled her mind). Firestone was, in reality, a victim, and radical feminism led to the only possible outcome: isolation. The scorn should be directed at the politicised gender hustlers who promote and pass as serious theory ideas that are literally insane in order to spread hatred in their bogus war of the sexes. Their militancy is called 'the loony Left' for a reason.


[1] William F. Pepper is nowadays associated with conspiracy theories, including the 9/11 Truth movement.

[2] David C. Saidoff, Stuart C. Apfel, The Healthy Body Handbook: A Total Guide to the Prevention and Treatment of Sports Injuries (New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004)

[3] Kerry Bolton, The Psychotic Left (London: Black House Publishing, 2013) 168 - 173.

[4] Kevin MacDonald, 'Freud's Follies', Skeptic, 4(3), 94–99.

[5] 'Shulamith Firestone, wrote best-seller, 67', The Villager. 30 August 2012. Web. Retrieved 27 August 2014.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jennifer Baumgardner, 'On Firestone, Part 2', n + 1 magazine. 26 September 2012. Web. Retrieved 27 August 2012.

[8] The source is the obituary on the The Villager, reference in note [4] above. An anonymous commenter, claiming to having been Firestone's neighbour, corrected what she claimed to have been inaccuracies in the obituary, which stated that it was the landlord who found the body, alerted by odour, and that the Firestone had been dead for about a week. The commenter claimed there was no odour and that she'd been alerted by a rent check that hadn't left the crack on her door since 1 August. We will leave it for the reader to decide.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Forgetting Leon Trotsky (7 November 1879 - 21 August 1940)

Leon Trotsky died 74 years ago today. He was a Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet commissar, first leader of the Red Army, and founder of the Fourth International. Trotskyism, his theory of Marxim, involved support for a vanguard party of the working class, proletarian internationalism, the need for 'permanent revolution', and advocacy of a United Front of revolutionaries and workers throughout the world opposing capitalism and fascism.

He was born Leiba Davidovich Bronstein on 7 November 1879. He was one of eight children. His parents, David Leontyevich Bronstein (1847–1922) and Anna Bronstein (1850–1910) were wealthy, middle-class Jewish farmers, based in Yanovka, which is now in southern Ukraine.

David was not an observant Jew, and what he desire most was for his son not to be disadvantaged educationally, as he'd been. To this purpose he was content to send Leiba to a Christian school. At the age of 9, he was sent to Odessa, where he was enrolled in a German school, St Paul's Realschule. The city, founded by Catherine the Great, had been a free port between for nearly 40 years, which had turned into a seething stew of ethnicities, nationalities, and religions—an environment that may have influenced his outlook. As a student, Leiba was bright, hard-working, and dependable. He lived with his cousin Moshe Shpentser and his wife Fanni. Moshe taught him urbanity and politeness. David was proud of his son and was keen to keep him on the straight path: an older son, Alexander, had done nowhere near as well in school, and had yet managed to become a doctor. Leiba showed both the intelligence and the ambition to really make something of himself.

While still 15 years of age, Bronstein moved to Nikolaev, bent on becoming a mathematician. This was against his father's wishes, who thought a career in engineering would be more lucrative; yet, the wilful adolescent paid no attention. He associated himself with rationalism and progress. Now, if he had stuck to the integration exercises and the slide rule, history may have been different, but, unfortunately, after a couple of years, he fell in with a rotten crowd, grew bored of mathematics, and was permanently set on the wrong path. This, much to the distress of his father, who'd broken his back in the fields to pay for his education.

As is always the case, it happened by chance: at the Nikolaev Realschule, where he was enrolled, he came across Vyacheslav Shvigovski, who had an intellectual older brother in his late 20s, Franz. No longer under the watchful gaze of the Shpentsers, he Bronstein was free to do as he liked. And got to know this Franz. Now both he and the younger sibling subscribed to revolutionary ideas and were tolerant of Marxism. They had a circle of friends very interested in politics, and they met for discussions in Franz's garden. This circle of friends included Alexandra Sokolovskaya, an 'obdurate' Marxist.[1] Leiba joined this circle and became acquainted with their literature. Not only that, but he found he enjoyed this free-wheeling, urban, intellectual atmosphere much better than the cramping one of the Bronstein family. He adopted a Russian name Lëva (diminutive of Lev) and became a narodnik (revolutionary populist).

After a while, discussion was no longer enough; the group decided they wanted action. Bronstein threw himself into revolutionary agitprop with relish, and was soon making a name for himself in the city, littering the streets with pamphlets and proclamations, spewing socialist ideas among naive students and industrial workers.

Naturally, this could not end well, and by the beginning of 1898, he had been arrested and imprisoned. In fact, they'd been under surveillance for a while—the Tsar's government wasn't stupid. Transferred from one prison to the next , he ended up in Moscow, where he met other convicts with revolutionary ideas, heard about Lenin, and read his book, The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Our chap had already been introduced to Marxism three years earlier, and Alexandra, no wilting lilly, had been gaining ground on him, despite his being an intellectual bully, though he'd still had enough sense then to resist the poison. Alas, no more: influenced by criminals and Lenin's diatribe, he finally succumbed and became a full-on Marxist. Within two months of his incarceration, the newly formed Russian Social Democratic Labour Party held its first congress, following which Bronshtein identified himself as a member.

During the two-year wait for his trial, Bronstein and now fellow jailbird Alexandra fell in love. A Jewish chaplain wedded them in 1900. The timing was contrived to keep them together, because Bronstein was then sentenced and had he not already married the girl, he would have had to enjoy his four years' exile in Siberia not only freezing but also celibate.

For the next two years, Bronshtein studied the Marxist classics. He could have studied philosophy, and learnt the love of wisdom; instead, he learnt to recognise the party currents. One faction was not bothered about changing the government, and cared only about better conditions for the workers; the other wanted to overthrow the monarchy and thought it essential to have a well-organised and disciplined revolutionary party. Well, guess which side this fellow chose? Of course, Bronstein sided with the worst of the lot and began writing for their propaganda organ, Vostochnoe obozrenie. He also got involved with the rash of 'democratic organisations' along the Trans-Siberian railway, churning out hand-written leaflets and proclamations.

Then, having just fathered two girls, he decided to run off, abandoning his wife and the two tiny babies in the wilds of Siberia to fend off as best they could in the approaching winter. He later claimed that Alexandra supported his decision, but this was bunk.[2] The great man craved the world stage, and he wasn't going to let a family get in the way. Bronshtein went ahead, hiding in a wagonful of hay. Alexandra saw out the rest of her sentence, but by then Bronshtein, the ungrateful scoundrel, had taken a new lover in Paris—Natalya Sedov—and the marriage ended in divorce. The girls were shifted to other relatives, and Alexandra would many years later be swallowed up by the Great Terror, ending her days in Siberia while Trotsky sunned himself in Mexico City, merely because she'd once been married to this man.

It was at this juncture that Bronshtein changed his name, taking 'Trotsky' from a jailer he'd known in Odessa. From Siberia he'd gone to London, where he'd joined the editors of Iskra, of which he'd became an assiduous contributor. This got Lenin's attention and, seeing promise in the 23-year-old escaped convict, he used him a pawn in his political manoeuvrings to wrest control of the publication from the 'old guard' within the editorial board, led by the founder of Russian Marxism, Georgy Plekhanov. (Lenin led the 'new guard', together with Julius Martov).

Communist politics were a dirty and messy affair, however, and it was not long before Trotsky turned against his mentor. After years of arrests, convictions, and internal confusion, in 1903 the RSDLP managed to cobble together a second party congress, which met first in Brussels but which, unwelcomed by the Belgian police, was then forced to scurry into a smokey meeting room at the English Club in Charlotte Street in Bloomsbury. Supporters of Iskra, which constituted 60% of the delegates, bickered about points in the programme and fell out over wording and definitions of membership. All wanted clandestinity. But Lenin wanted a party of professional hardcore revolutionaries, while Martov wanted a loose membership. The vote favoured Martov, but some then changed their minds and stormed out, leaving Lenin in the majority, supported by Plekhanov, who would subsequently flog him with criticisms. Accordingly, the Iskraists split into Bolsheviks (majoritarian faction) and Menshevik (minoritarian faction). Martov submitted to this designation, and Trotsky went with him, which led Lenin to denounce him as a 'Judas', a 'scoundrel', and a 'swine'.

But the following year Trotsky also changed his mind and left the Mensheviks. By the Summer, sick of the factionalising and the changing of sides at the drop of a hat, he relocated to Munich, where he met Alexander Parvus (born Israel Lazarevich Helphand, or Gelfand), a Marxist theoretician who'd been derailed as a teen by the socialist ideas of Alexander Herzen, an ideological forerunner to the Narodniki. Parvus had revived Marx's idea of the 'permanent revolution' and told a very attentive Trotsky his views on it.

The year 1905 began with unrest in Saint Petersburg. A factory strike became a general strike, which ended with a march to the Tsar's Winter Palace on 9 January. Led by Georgi Gapon, an Orthodox priest of peasant stock who'd become involved with factory workers, the march aimed at having the Tsar proclaim universal civil rights. It was peaceful, and Gapon's union was legal, but the atmosphere was tense and the Palace guards fired on them, killing hundreds of individuals. This became known as Bloody Sunday.

Seeing an opportunity, Trotsky slipped back into Russia, where he quickly set to work pumping out propaganda, mixing indiscriminately with Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The latter he laboured to radicalise, but they had been infiltrated by the secret police and Trotsky was forced to flee all the way to rural Finland. There, he took Parvus' idea of 'permanent revolution' and ran with it, resulting in articles that were later collected and two volumes, 1905 and Permanent Revolution.

It then came Moscow's turn to be paralysed by strikes. As before, it began with one factory and spread elsewhere: within two weeks, the initial walk-out at the Sytin Print Works had spread to typesetters throughout Moscow and Saint Petersburg and from there to the Moscow-Kazan Railway. And, as before, seeing an opportunity, Trotsky slipped back into Russia, where he again set to work pumping out propaganda. With Parvus, he took over the Russian Gazette and boosted its circulation from 30,000 to 500,000 copies. Trotsky also joined the Saint Petersburg Soviet, of which he became vice-chairman and then chairman after the arrest of its leader. A capable orator, he even began eclipsing Lenin politically. However, the good times were not to last, for by December he was arrested and incarcerated on charges of supporting armed rebellion, and by October 1906 he was duly tried and convicted. His sentence: exile in Sibera.

But on this occasion Trotsky didn't even make it to the region; he escaped while on route and returned to London, in time to attend the RSDLP congress, by now on its fifth iteration. He then removed himself to Vienna, where, besides participating in the activities of both the Austrian and the German Social Democratic parties, he befriended Adolph Joffe, a Russian émigré who'd also had his mind poisoned by social democratic ideas while still in school. Together they launched Pravda, ostensibly a bi-weekly newspaper, which was then smuggled into Russia—when it appeared, that is, because Trotsky couldn't keep it regular, and managed only five issues in the first year. The fact is that from the paper's inception in October 1908, Trotsky had to count his pennies to keep it going, and was forced to go begging to the Central Russian Committee for money. He eventually succeeded in making it a party-funded central organ, wriggling past Lenin's requirement to have a Bolshevik as co-editor through nepotism: he installed his brother-in-law in this position. The relative, however, resigned acrimoniously and Trotsky just about managed keep the paper in existence until April 1912, when it finally went bust.

That same month, however, Lenin's Bolsheviks started their own paper, calling it also Pravda. Trotsky was incensed at the usurpation, and wrote an angry letter denouncing Lenin. It was intercepted by the police and they filed it for future use. Later, Trotsky's communist enemies contrived to dig it up in order to embarrass him.

Now, if Trotsky was bad, Lenin was even worse, because one of the disagreements the former and the Mensheviks had with Lenin was the Bolshevik policy of funding their party through armed robberies. The 5th Congress had shown enough of a conscience to ban this practice, but the Bolsheviks didn't care, and Lenin had his opponents expelled from the party. Trotsky tried to reunite the party in Vienna, but failed.

Still in Vienna, while a young Adolf Hitler eked out an existence as a labourer and bohemian water colourist, Trotsky kept pouring out agitprop for various Russian and Ukrainian newspapers, under cover of various pseudonyms. While a correspondent in the Balkans to cover the war there, he became friends with Christian Rakovsky, who later proved useful to him, for he would become a leading Soviet politician and an ally within the Soviet Communist Party, until Stalin got of him. He was back in Vienna in 1913, but the Great War broke out the following year, and, with Austria-Hungary fighting against the Russian Empire, Trotsky, facing arrest as a Russian émigré, fled to neutral Switzerland.

The war completely realigned the RSDLP. Now Lenin, Trotsky, and Martov were on the same side, opposing the war. Trotsky spent some of his time writing a book against the war (The War and the International), and he then went to France as a war correspondent for Kievskaya Mysl. In Paris, he began editing yet another newspaper, Nashe Slovo, initially with Martov, who soon became disgruntled as paper moved even further to the Left. Trotsky also attended a congress of anti-war socialists. Not long after this, the French authorities decided they'd had enough, and deported Trotsky to Spain. Spain, however, didn't want him, and quickly passed him on to the United States, a number of whose powerful financiers were already funding the Bolsheviks. Trotsky arrived in New York in January 1917 and took residence in the Bronx.

And he wasted no time: he wrote articles for a local Russian-language socialist newspaper and for a Yiddish daily, and used his oratory to agitate Russian émigrés. Officially, he lived on $15 a week.

In March 1917, which was still February in Russia, since they still used the Julian calendar, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, giving way to the Russian Provisional Government. Trotsky set sail back to Russia, where he arrived with some vicissitudes in May. He supported the Bolsheviks and joined the Mezhraiontsky, a regional social democratic organisation based in Saint Petersburg, and became a leader. By August he was once more under arrest, but, foolishly, he was let loose after only 40 days. By October (Julian calendar) the Bolsheviks had stormed the Winter Palace and by the end of the year, with the Bolsheviks firmly in power, Trotsky was second only to Lenin.

Lenin wanted to pull out of the war, so Trotsky was made Commissar of Foreign Affairs and sent to negotiate with the Germans. Again, there were divisions. Left Communists wanted no peace with a capitalist country, and the whole of Europe under the Soviet claw. Lenin worried that the inherited Russian military was falling apart, and he realised that the newly formed Red Army, which was puny and consisted of ill-trained peasants, was a bad joke, particularly after having their bottoms kicked by the disciplined German army; his main concern was to hold on to power. Therefore, he advocated signing a peace treaty with capitalist Germany in the event of an ultimatum, although he was willing to stall as much as possible. Trotsky also recognised the uselessness of the Red Army, but he was against a treaty, thinking it would be a blow to Soviet morale and prestige. Eventually, face was saved by the usual means: subjecting the matter to a vote, thereby dispersing responsibility. And as the Bolshevik Central Committee voted in favour of a peace treaty, the latter was duly signed and Trotsky saw no option but to resign.

(Peace treaty or not, Germany would lose the war, and the aforementioned Hitler, now a soldier in the German army, would learn of it while recovering from blindness following a mustard gas attack. He would blame treason on the home front at the hand of Marxist agitators, and this soon would set him on a collision course with Bolshevism.)

By the time of his resignation, Trotsky had already formed a Supreme Military Council, to address the Red Army situation, and within days he was appointed People's Commissar of Army and Navy Affairs, and chairman of the aforementioned council. In full control of the army, Trotsky was answerable only to the Communist Party leadership. He took harsh measures: forced conscription, party-controlled blocking squads, compulsory obedience, officers chosen by the leadership, and political commissars. Of course, the death penalty was essential: soldiers had to face possible death at the front, and certain death at the rear.

Russia was now in a state of civil war, so Lenin appointed a Politburo, consisting of five members, two of which were Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, the 'man of steel'. Trotsky sent Stalin off to Tsartsyn, where, with new allies, Stalin imposed his will on the army, challenging many of Trotsky's decisions. The Man of Steel organised mass killings of counter-revolutionaries, the torching of villages, and public executions of deserters and renegades as traitors.

Trotsky was vain, arrogant, prickly, egotistic, and overbearing, and as a leader he routinely stepped on toes and elbowed people aside, not bothering to apologise, so it's unsurprising that before long his leadership came under attack. Stalin, to whose camp went many of those whom Trotsky had offended and annoyed, encouraged the criticisms with gusto. The situation came to a head and Stalin was already pressuring Lenin to fire Trotsky, but when the latter anticipated this by tendering his resignation, it was refused, so he survived for the time being.

By 1920, the final year of the Russian Civil War, Trotsky wanted to focus on rebuilding the economy, but Lenin was fixated on War Communism, and put Trotsky in charge of militarising railways while allowing him to keep control of the Red Army. The Polish-Russian War then broke out, and Trotsky thought the army was too exhausted to do anything other than sign a peace treaty as quickly as possible, but Lenin's demonic thirst for blood had not quite been slaked yet. If fact, as far as he was concerned he was only getting started, and thought to switch from 'defensive' war (against imperialism) to 'offensive' war. But the offensive on Warsaw was botched up by Stalin because he ignored Trotsky's orders, so in the end the latter got his way.

Nevertheless, there was to be no peace for this restless man, for next came a wrangle over trade unions, which split the Communist Party, pitting Trotsky against Lenin. The latter accused his opponent of 'bureaucratically nagging the trade unions'. By 1921, it was Lenin's victory and he switfly claimed his scalps, which included several Trotsky supporters (they were summarily dismissed). Lenin said that Trotsky was 'in love with organization', but that in working politics 'he has not got a clue'. Indeed, Trotsky was a loner, a scribbler, and a poor team mate; certainly not a professional revolutionary.

In 1922 Trotsky was still second to Lenin, but when the leader's health went steeply downhill, Stalin, now Central Committee general secretary plotted with two others to ensure Trotsky wouldn't get a bite at the cherry. They formed a troika and began by nominating Trotsky for secondary jobs, in the expectation that he would indignantly refuse and they could then use that as an excuse to get rid of him. Speculation also circulated as to whether blackout-prone Trotsky was an epileptic. Lenin got wind of this and thought it idiocy, for he viewed Trotsky as an asset; however, debilitated by a succession of strokes, his manoeuvrings failed to prosper. The fiendish Stalin had been, in the meantime, using his power of appointment to staff the Central Committee with his lackeys, undermining also his partners in the troika. With the latter he had Trotsky's ally, Christian Rakovsky reassinged to London; regional party secretaries who protested were also reasigned, scattered throughout the Soviet Union. Moreover, Trotsky's recommendations for intra-party democracy, which received a standing ovation at the XIIth Party Congress, were ignored. Meanwhile, Stalin's relationship with Lenin, which had been deteriorating, eventually broke down when the Man of Steel rudely insulted the leader's wife. Yet, it was all the same to him, because by this time he was in control and not going anywhere.

Trotsky retained all his positions and it was publicly maintained that there was no question of removing him, but Stalin succeeded in gradually having him cut off from the decision-making process.

Trotsky, who'd been ill, travelled to a resort in Abkhazia in order to recover. While there, Lenin died at last. Trotsky, upon learning of it, began to make his way back, but in a telegram came via the Cheka telling him that the funeral would be on Saturday that week; too early for him to make it back on time, he thought, given that his outbound journey had been slowed down by snow. In the end, the funeral was held on the Sunday, which led Trotsky to speculate he'd been deceived so as to damage his chances of succeeding Lenin, but he never found out what really happened. Stalin, who was of course devious, made sure Trotsky received the utmost care and attemtion, stressing his physical security was paramount.

Dissatisfaction within the party caused the Left Opposition to take shape. Naturally, Trotsky was on the sinister side, foul of the Man of Steel. His attempts at conciliation fell on deaf ears, and Stalin ensured Lenin's testament, which would have favoured Trotsky, was defused. Stalin also ensured references to Trotsky's 'mistakes' were constantly made. Politburo meetings became theatrical performances, going through the motions with all decisions agreed in advance. And when Trotsky published Lessons from October, a polemical essay about the revolution, the troika denounced him on multiple fronts. Moreover, while Trotsky fell ill again, rendering him unable to respond, his enemies wasted no time, straining every sinew to discredit him—an easy task. Eventually, they succeeded in shredding even his military reputation, forcing him to resign as Commissar of Army and Naval Affairs. He kept his politburo post (though on probation) and escaped being chucked out of the Communist Party altogether, thanks to Stalin's tactical game. All the same, Trotsky began 1925 unemployed.

A few months later, Trotsky was given three new positions, but (according to him) interference and sabotage instigated by Stalin led him to resign two. Meanwhile, as the young and angry Ayn Rand—whose family driven into poverty by the communists—was making her way across the Atlantic, en route to New York, Stalin finally got rid of his troika allies, Zinoviev and Kamenev, having no further use for them, and these formed the New Opposition. Trotsky initially refused to get involved, but over time the out-manoeuvred ones wheedled their way into his good books, and with him formed the United Opposition. Bear in mind that Zinoviev had not too long before demanded that Trotsky be chucked out of the Communist Party—that's the sort of hypocrisy we're dealing with here.

But if they thought they would get anything past Stalin, they had another thing coming. Stalin ratcheted up the harassment, and by the XVth Party Conference, Trotsky faced catcalls, mockery, and constant interruptions. This was followed by mass expulsions, arrests, and exiling of opposition members. Many caved in and renounced all opposition. Trotsky stood firm, but his supporters gradually buckled in too, and would eventually vanish in the Great Terror. He would eventually lose all his posts, and not only be expelled from the Communist Party, but also expelled from the the Soviet Union altogether. Stalin thoroughly owned him.

Trotsky found himself in Turkey, where he stayed four years. The Radical politician, Édouard Daladier, who in 1933 was enjoying his first brief stint as Prime Minister of France, offered him assylum in France. But two years later, Daladier's successor told him to get lost. Some damage had already been done, however, for Trotsky got involved with French communists; founded the Fourth International, spurred by the triumph of Hitler's party in Germany; and even had enough leisure to read French novels, all of which he despised.

Trotsky then went to Norway, then under a Labour government. But Stalin was not quite done with Trotsky yet, and, having organised show trials in which Trotsky was linked to an assassination plot, conspiracies, and various crimes, had him found guilty and sentenced to death in absentia. The Norwegian government realised the value of staying in Stalin's good graces, so they quickly removed him to a remote region and placed him under house arrest.

Fortunately for him, former tax collector and jailkeeper Lázaro Cárdenas, the President of Mexico, needed to keep the support of the left and the labour unions to hold on to power and keep his agrarian reform independent from American capitalism, so he welcomed Trotsky. The latter would have preferred emigrating to the United States, but the latter wouldn't hear of it.[3] So Mexico it was. Cárdenas, having obtained Trotsky's assurance that he would not meddle in Mexican politics, arranged for a train to bring him to Mexico City.

By now, in poor physical condition and unemployed, there was nothing left for him but to write for popular appeal. One was Their Morality and Ours (1938), in which this vain old man ridiculed his many young critics without engaging their arguments. His books didn't produce enough money, however, so he gave lectures and began charging for interviews—he demanded $1000 to speak to the Baltimore Sun, for example, except that he was no longer anyone important. He also sold copies of his old political correspondence for quick cash. All the while he was kept under close surveillance: the Mexican government watched him round the clock; the Mexican Communist Party did the same, and send reports about him to Moscow; and the United States' government, who'd barred him permanently from living there, also kept a file on him. Still, he worked closely with American communists, sought to organise the Fourth International, and even found time to have an affair with Frida Kehro, a young painter, right under Natalya's nose.

Trotsky spent the 1930s seeing Hitler rise with impotence, so when World War II broke out, he hoped it would destroy Europe's political stability and instigate a 'proletarian revolution'. But he was out of touch, increasingly erratic, intellectually rigid, and completely irrelevant, save to his starry-eyed admirers.

Over in Moscow, Stalin had further in store for Trotsky, and arranged for his assassination. An armed raid on Trotsky's home was the first attempt, led by a secret police agent and locally recruited assassins. The attack was seen off by his guards. But The second attempt succeeded. Ramón Mercader had began visiting Trotsky, posing as a sympathiser. One day, on 20 August 1940, while they were alone in Trotsky's study and the old man was seated at his desk, glancing at an article written by Mercader and preparing to opine on it as he'd agreed, Mercader walked behind him and, gripping the mountaineer's ice-axe hidden under a raincoat, whipped it out and delivered a tremendous blow to the head. Mercader's ice-axe penetrated three inches into Trotsky's head, but it was delivered with the wide end and was not severely fatal. A piteous cry alerted the guards and these burst in and quickly beat the assailant unconscious. Trotsky was taken to hospital, where he survived more than a whole day still, before he finally died.

Trotsky caused enormous harm during his sixty years of life. Without him there would have been no October Revolution. Without him there would have been no Communist victory in the Russian Civil War. Nor would, consequently, Europe have ended up in the grip of Communism for half a century. And without him, there would have been no Fourth International. Or Trotskyists. He failed at much, but when he succeeded, he changed history for the worse. On his conscience—not that he had one in any functioning state—should be tens of millions of dead, including artists, doctors, and intellectuals.

If there was ever a place for Trotsky's soul it was burning in Gehenna, along with all the other rubbish; purifying it will probably take eternity.


[1] Robert Service, Trotsky: A Biography (London: Macmillan, 2009) 44.

[2] Ibid 67.

[3] Ibid 427.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Remembering H. P. Lovecraft (20 August 1890 - 15 March 1937)

H. P. Lovecraft was born 124 years ago today. Though obscure and increasingly impoverished in his lifetime, he has since been recognised as one of the most influential writers of supernatural horror fiction in the 20th century.

Lovecraft was born in 1890, into a conservative upper middle class family, in Providence, Rhode Island. His father, Winfield, was a travelling salesman, employed by Gorham & Co., Silversmiths, and his mother, Sarah, could trace her ancestry back to the arrival of George Phillips to Massachusetts in 1630. His parents married in their thirties.

The young Lovecraft was talented, intellectually curious, and precocious, able to recite poetry by age two, and to read by age three. Growing up at a time when school was not compulsory, Lovecraft would not be enrolled in one until he was eight years of age and his attendance would be sporadic, possibly due to a nervous complaint and / or psychosomatic condition. But he was well ahead of his coevals in any event, having been exposed, and thereafter enjoyed ready access, to the best of classical and English literature. From Lovecraft’s perspective, this meant 17th and early 18th century prose and poetry, and, indeed, so steeped was he in the canonical literature from this period that he regarded its style of writing not only the finest ever achieved, but, for him, the norm. In the process, he also absorbed some of the archaic tastes and sensibilities permeating this literature, which would subsequently be reflected in his writing, speech, and attitudes, fundamentally aristocratic and at odds with the 20th century. What is more, Lovecraft was never denied anything he may have needed in the pursuit of his intellectual development, be it a chemistry set, a telescope, or printing equipment, so he became knowledgeable enough on these topics, and particularly his passion, astronomy, to contribute articles to a local publication from an early age. He also regularly produced—while still in infancy—his own amateur scientific journals. Thus, from early on, Lovecraft, a somewhat lonely boy with a charmed boyhood, was committed to a life entirely of the mind.

With such beginnings, it would appear to a casual observer that Lovecraft was well-equipped to become a success in life. But, instead, in adulthood he experienced ever-worsening poverty, squalor, and, though well known for a period within the specialised milieu of amateur publishing, growing professional obscurity. That his legacy has endured owes—besides to the intrinsic value of his works—perhaps in a not insignificant measure to his having been a prodigous correspondent: it has been estimated that throughout the course of his life Lovecraft may have written as many as 100,000 letters (only about 20,000 of which survive), and these were not hastily penned missives, as can be seen in the many excerpts herein presented, but thoughtful communications, sometimes of up to 30 pages in length, which are works of literatue in themselves.

In examining his overall trajectory, we can identify a number of negative vectors early on. The loss of his father, who, following a psychotic episode and permanent committal to a local hospital, suffering from what his biographer, S. T. Joshi, presumes to have been syphilis, meant that, from 1893, Lovecraft passed into the care of his mother, aunts, and his maternal grandfather. Whipple van Buren Phillips, a wealthy businessman, proved a positive influence, but died in 1904, and, his estate being poorly managed, this eventually forced the family to downsize. This badly affected the young Lovecraft, to the point that he briefly contemplated suicide. He was eventually dissuaded by his own intellectual curiosity and love of learning.

In 1908, just prior to his high school graduation, Lovecraft suffered a nervous breakdown. Joshi speculates that failure to master higher mathematics may have been a factor, since Lovecraft’s ambition was to become a professional astronomer. (Failure to master meant not getting straight As, but, among the As, a few A-s and Bs.) Whatever its cause, the breakdown prevented Lovecraft from obtaining his diploma, a fact he would later conceal or minimise. Lovecraft then went into seclusion—hikikomori, as it would be called today—in which condition he remained for five years, mostly reading and writing poetry. Joshi expresses alarm at the sheer volume of reading undertaken by Lovecraft during this period, a large portion of it consisting of magazines.

Lovecraft’s re-emergence owes to his irritation with a pulp author, Fred Jackson, whose stories in Argosy magazine he found maudlin, mediocre, and irritating. His letter was published in the magazine, whereby it detonated an opinionated debate. When Lovecraft’s expressed view led to attacks, he responded in lofty and witty verse, thus instigating a months-long war—in archaic rhyme—in the letters’ page. This got him noticed by the president of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), Edward F. Daas, who invited Lovecraft to join. This inaugurated Lovecraft’s amateur career, which led to his return to fiction—something he had dabbled in years before—and, by 1919, to his first commerically published work. During his early years in amateurdom, Lovecraft would also produce his own literary journal, The Conservative, a publication that truly lived up to its name and that has only recently been reprinted by Arktos in unabridged form.

Throughout this period Lovecraft continued to live with his mother, who sustained them both off an ever-shrinking inheritance. Trapped between the expectations of her class and dwindling resources, she grew progressively more neurotic and unstable. She already had an unheathily close, love-hate, relationship with her son, and Joshi records that she considered her son’s visage too ugly for public view. By 1919, suffering from hysteria and clinical depression, she would be committed to hospital, where she would remain for the rest of her days. Mother and son stayed close correspondents, but she was a perennial source of worry. Thus, when Sarah died in 1921, initial grief led to a sense of liberation, and an improvement in Lovecraft’s general health—though he, at this time a tall man of nearly 200 lbs, always regarded himself as ailing.

Yet there were further turns to the worst ahead. In 1921, at a convention for amateur journalists in Boston, Lovecraft met Sonia Green, an assimilated 38-year-old Ukrainian Jew from New York, whom he would marry in 1924. Interestingly, Lovecraft only told his aunt after the fact, writing to her from New York, where he had by then already taken residence at Sonia’s apartment.

Joshi notes that at this time Lovecraft’s prospects appeared to be improving: Sonia earned a good living at a hat shop in Fifth Avenue, and Lovecraft’s professional writing career was taking off. Lovecraft, then in a decadent phase, was also enthralled by the city, where he had a number of amateur friends. However, Sonia lost her job almost immediately when the shop went bankrupt. This forced Lovecraft for the first time to find regular employment, but without qualifications, work experience, nor, apparently, marketable skills, he was unable to find a position. The consequent financial difficulties impacted on Sonia’s health, who entered a sanatorium for a period of recovery. Eventually, she would find a job in Cleveland, leaving Lovecraft to live on his own, in a tiny apartment, in Brooklyn Heights (then Red Hook), back then a seedy neighbourhood. Sonia sent him an allowance, which permitted him to cover his rent and minimal expenses, but otherwise Lovecraft lived in poverty, stretching as far as possible a minuscule fare of unheated beans, bread, and cheese.

This was, however, genteel poverty. When, on one occasion, Lovecraft’s apartment was burglarised, he was left with only the clothes on his back (while he slept, the thieves gained access to his closet and stole all his suits). His reaction says much about Lovecraft: first priority for him was to get four new replacements: light and dark, winter and summer—no easy task, given his slender wallet. A gentleman may be poor, but he must still dress like a gentleman! The ensuing hunt for suitable attire taxed Lovecraft’s ingenuity, and ignited his frustration at the shoddy quality of modern suits (Lovecraft’s original suits had been made in happier times). Eventually, he succeeded, with minimal compromise.

Seething with immigrants of all descriptions, crowded, and filthy, Lovecraft came to despise New York, recognising it as an emblem of modern degeneration (remember: he already thought this in 1925!). This negative opinion does not sit well with some, and Lovecraft has been put through the wringer for failing to appreciate the city’s vibrancy as well as for his enamourment with Anglo-Saxondom, his fierce resistance to racial egalitarianism, and his rejection of the multicultural society. In Joshi’s estimation, Lovecraft ought to have considered Franz Boas’ research, which was beginning to transform anthropology at this time; Joshi views this as contrary to Lovecraft’s rigorous scientific outlook—in other words, as Lovecraft having been blinded by prejudice. However, this overlooks the fact that there were different strands of opinion in anthropology at this time: this was the Progressive Era, when the American eugenics movement was at its height, enjoying institutional legitimacy, famous proponents (e.g. John Harvey Kellogg), and backing from the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Institution, and the the Harriman estate. Boas’ findings were politically motivated and not universally accepted, and he had by no means proven his case. (Worse still, since then there have been accusations of scientific fraud.) It would, therefore, seem that Lovecraft was entirely consequent with his aristocratic and scientific worldview.

Lovecraft would eventually return to Providence, thus marking the beginning of the most productive phase of his career. By this time his marriage to Sonia was essentially over; a final attempt was made, but Lovecraft’s aunts rejected the idea of Sonia setting up shop in Providence, regarding her—or rather, the idea of a businesswoman—as somewhat declassé. The Lovecrafts would in time agree on an amicable divorce (though, in the end, and to Sonia’s shock later on, he never signed the decree).

Despite his peaking productivity, Lovecraft’s economic prospects continued to decline. His stories became longer and more complex, and it became increasingly difficult to place them. Farnsworth Wright, Weird Tales’ capricious editor, repeatedly rejected them, though sometimes he would accept some after a period, after lobbying or intercession by one of Lovecraft’s correspondents. His seminal essay on horror fiction, Supernatural Horror in Literature, completed at this time, appeared haphazardly and incompletely in tiny amateur publications, and would never appear in its final, revised, complete form during his lifetime. Therefore, Lovecraft, now living in semi-squalor with his aunt in cramped accommodation, was increasingly forced to survive through charging for “revisions,” which, given the amount of hands-on editing and re-writing involved, was for the most part tantamount to ghostwriting. Lovecraft was too much of a gentleman, too generous for his own good, and charged very modest fees. We must remember, however, that Lovecraft, in this same modest spirit, saw himself as a hack.

All the same, through extreme frugality and resourcefulness, Lovecraft still managed to travel yearly around New England, mainly as an antiquary. This resulted in extensive travelogues, written in 18th-century prose, replete with archaisms and therefore neither publishable nor intended for publication. Some have criticised Lovecraft for expending excessive energy on correspondence and unpublishable travelogues, rather than writing fiction, but Joshi has argued that this was Lovecraft’s life, not his critics’—who are they to tell him, posthumously, what he ought to have done?

The Great Depression forced Lovecraft to reconsider some of his earlier positions, and in consequence he embraced FDR’s New Deal, although he may have misunderstood the nature of the program. Because of this Lovecraft has been described as a “moderate socialist,” but Lovecraft instinctively sympathised with fascism and Hitler’s movement, and would remain firmly opposed to Communism. In fact, Lovecraft’s conception of socialism was entirely elitist. From his perspective, the culture-bearing stratum of a civilisation should not, in an ideal world, be shackled by the need to waste time and energy on trivial tasks, out of the need to earn a living: the production of high culture is often incompatible with commercial goals, so, in his view, it demands freedom from economic activity. And this implied some sort of patronage, in the manner that kings, popes, or wealthy aristocrats or businessmen provided to artists in the past. In other words, a portion of the nation’s wealth should be channelled into things of lasting value—and, therefore, into seeing to it that the very few individuals capable of producing them are in a position to do so. Lovecraft conceived this as socialism because he saw it as the task of the best to better the rest, and high art and intellection played an important rôle in that endeavour.

By 1936, Lovecraft, already in constant pain, was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He would die a few months later, on 15 March 1937.

Last year Wermod and Wermod published an annotated edition of H. P. Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature, which is available from the Wermod and Wermod shop, from Counter-Currents, from Amazon (UK), and from Amazon (US), and from Waterstones. The best—and cheapest—places to get it is directly from Wermod and Wermod (if you live in the United Kingdom) or from Counter-Currents.


By H. P. Lovecraft:

About H. P. Lovecraft:


  • Very extensive. See here.

Further Reading:

  • S. T. Joshi, I Am Providence (New York: Hippocampus Press: 2010).
  • S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West (Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1990).
  • S. T. Joshi, A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft. (Rockville, MD: Wildside Press, December 1996).

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Fran Fullenwider

Concerning the last item in my previous blog:

Fran Fullenwider was born in Harlingen, Texas on 16 November 1945. We can deduce German ancestry, though the Anglicised surname, which in Fran's case was a source of amusement, must originally have been Fullenwieder (literally: refill).

In the 1950s she moved permanently to the United Kingdom. As a child, she performed horse stunts in films. Later she studied at the New York University film school and also graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Fullenwider’s physique would pre-determine her acting career: at 5ft 2in and 110 kg, she would be chosen primarily for character or comedy roles. Initially, like most young girls, and with Twiggy all the rage, she dreamt of a svelte figure, but by the age of 21 she realised this was pointless and decided to let it rip.

Accordingly, from the 1970s she was affiliated with UGLY, the alternative modelling agency in London—this agency is said to specialise in freaks, but you will not find as many as you'd think: a cursory glance at the female models shows some are far from one, being simply a bit heavier than the skin-and-bones, semi-androgynous Hollywood norm. The story is told—by a representative of the company, according to a blogger—that Fullenwider came in looking for a job as a secretary, but that since the office was designed for some much smaller, she was offered to join as a model instead. She did well, and landed roles in both film and television. Her first television credits were a role as Angela Daniels in the episode "Any Complaints?" (1973) of Doctor in Change and a role as 1st Girl in the Pub in the episode "Golden Boy" (1975) of Sweeney. Her first film credits included The Mutations (1974), L’ispettore Regan (TV series, 1975), Una sera c’incontrammo (1975), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), during the production of which she angered Jim Sharman by having a coughing fit.

By 1975 she was auditioning for Federico Fellini, with whom, she would become friends. Godfrey Hamilton, who shared a house with her at a NW6 address in London during this period, tells the story:

one day in the mid-1970s she was called for an interview with Fellini, who was in London looking to cast Casanova, and when Fran returned home from the meeting she reported that – intriguingly – she had *shared* the audition/interview with Marianne Faithfull (“in a really naff frock.”) Fran was quite saddened that the Great Man had wanted Marianne to tell him all about that infamous o/d in Sydney- why had she, how had she, where was she at the time what was she thinking and feeling,… Fran thought it all a little demeaning (to Marianne) and felt Faithfull had been unnecessarily hassled.

Fellini didn’t choose Fullenwider, but, as I mentioned in my previous blog, the Italian director would express a desire to use her in some future film. Unfortunately, he died in 1993, before the right project came along.

More roles followed all the same, including The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), L’affittacamere (1976), and Melodrammore (1977), plus two appearances in the TV series, The Basil Brush Show (1975  - 1978): one in the episode date 27 December 1975 and one three years alter in "Basil Brush's Magical Christmas". Fullenwider also participated in one of the first Miss Alternative World pageants. Her stage name is said to have been 'Miss Southern Comfort'.

By the late 1970s Fullenwider was getting plenty of attention. The magazines made much of her dimensions and the fact that she had no interest in reducing them. One magazine even added 200 lbs to her real weight, which would, over time, reach 286lbs (BMI: 52.3)—some say even higher. Hamilton has quoted Fullenwider as saying, in relation to her name, 'I kinda grew into it'. The fact is, however, that there was no shortage of male interest and she was deluged with fan mail and even marriage proposals.

Next she was cast as a Buxom Beauty in The Monster Club (1980), with Vincent Price in the lead role.

Book dealer Callum James, who also houseshared with Fullenwider (for six years and with the aforementioned Hamilton), tells that

[w]hen she was approached to appear in Monster Club her stipulation was “a fee of $1500, a ‘Special Guest Star’ credit, and a limo to and from the studio.” The studio, in response, said yes to all her requests.

After this, her roles became fewer. She appeared in an episode of Wurzel Gummidge, a British children’s TV series, also in 1980, as well as in an episode of Angels, another TV series, and in three films: the Nutcracker (1983), Al limite, non glielo dico (1984), and Eat the Rich (1987).

With fees in the order of $1500, one has to wonder about Fullenwider’s funding, but a blog quotes correspondence from a fan who may supply an answer, although how reliable it is, I cannot say; writing in September 2008, he stated:

I'm a law student at Baylor University, in Waco TX. We were talking about probate today, and our prof. read us an old Texas newspaper article about, of all people, Fran Fullenwider!! Apparently, Ms. FnW inherited millions from a wealthy TX aunt she never met, while living in England. The article described Fran as an "Italian moviestar and romantic lead", and said that she was 5'2" tall and weighted [sic] 220 lbs. Just thought it was funny to hear about her in an otherwise boring class.

In 1993 Fullenwider would be cast as Emer Trueba in The House of Spirits, a film based on Isabel Allende’s eponymous novel. She would share credits with major Hollywood stars, including Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, and Antonio Banderas. Yet, the film, which cost $40,000,000, made a huge loss and fell into obscurity.

Her final role would be as Countess in the episode "The Oval Portrait" of Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a 13-episode British TV series based on the collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe first published in 1908. Fullenwider’s career thus ended in the Horror genre, the same way it had begun. Overall, she was more popular in Italy, where she played romantic comedy roles, than in the English-speaking world, and this is reflected by the fact that she has a page only in the Italian-language Wikipedia.

Until her death, Fullenwider resided at 26D Randolph Crescent, London, W9. She passed away at Princes Grace Hospital on 2 May 1997, aged 51. The cause of death was cardiac arrest and gastrointestinal bleeding.

It will be noted that, other than her death, address, and film credits, the publicly known details of Fullenwider's life are all anecdotal. And the personal information comes from postings in various amateur blogs dedicated to horror films, hardly reliable sources—indeed, I had to excavate the nethermost depths of the internet to find it, encountering all manner of freaks and weirdos in the process. I suppose this only "adds to the fauna and the flora", as Jonathan Bowden used to say.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Navigations in Popular Culture - Part 1

The second season of American Horror Story is set in a lunatic asylum, where just one song is offered to inmates for purposes of recreation. The song is left playing in the common room over and over again, all day long, and inmates are forbidden to stop it or prevent it from playing; indeed, doing so results in punishment (the asylum is run with an iron hand by a cruel nun, played by Jessica Lange). If the inmates were not crazy before being committed, they were surely driven crazy once they were, if only from having their psyches ceaselessly pounded by a song that, on top of it, consists of two melodies repeated without variation from beginning to end.

The song in question is "Dominique", by Sœur Sourire, from the album The Singing Nun. The singing nun was Jeanine Deckers (1933 - 1985), a Belgian nun of the Dominican Order, who was both the composer and performer. The single, "Dominque", released by Philips Records, and proved an international hit, outselling Elvis Presley during its tenure in the chart. Deckers recorded the album at the encouragement of her superiors, who had noticed her songs were very popular at the convent and with visitors, and thought it would be a good source of revenue.

Deckers gained nothing but sorrow from "Dominique". The royalties (at least $100,000) went straight into the convent's bank account. Her second album was ignored. And her relations with her superiors deteriorated to the point that she was forced out of the convent. She carried on as a lay Dominican, but she was prevented by Philips from using her stage names (both Soeur Sourire and The Singing Nun), which hampered her musical career, as, obviously, without them no one knew who she was.

Subsequently, the government came looking for a cut, and issued her with a $63,000 tax bill. She argued that the proceeds of her music had gone to the convent, but the convent denied any liability since she was no longer with them and, besides, they couldn't pay. Deckers thus spent the remainder of her years in serious financial trouble. In 1982 she attempted to solve them with a synth-pop version of "Dominique", but her efforts proved in vain. Three years later, citing her financial worries, she committed suicide by lacing alcohol with an overdose of barbiturates.

The synth-pop version of "Dominique" can be watched in YouTube, where a user has supplied video taken from Federico Fellini's film, Roma (1972). The scenes depict a runway show with models in religious garb. Among these there are two clad as Daughters of Charity, complete with oversized cornettes, whose extremities are made to flap as wings as the "nuns" make their way through the runway.

Now, the cornette had been already been phased out eight years earlier, on 20 September 1964, when the Daughters of Charity, a 45,000-strong society for apostolic life founded by Saint Vincent de Paul, were ordered to don a reformed habit, an act that was 13 years in the making and involved a measured and detailed consultation. The original habit, with its distinctive cornette, had been in use since the society's foundation in the 17th century. The Daughters of Charity worked in the field and were not required to remain cloistered; the choice of headdress was aimed at having these nuns look like middle-class women.

Fellini was friends with Fran Fullenwider, an American actress, originally from Texas, who made a career in Italian comedy, but who had roles in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), and The House of Spirits (1993). I met her in 1994 and saw her a couple of times. By that time she had grown very large and had difficulty going down a flight of stairs. She invited me to join her and a couple of friends of hers for lunch at The Groucho Club, a private members club oriented towards publishing media, arts, and entertainment personnel. Needless to say I felt like a fish out of water there, even though I am a publisher, an artist, and a musician, but Fullenwider was kind and engaging company. Fullenwider told that Fellini desired to use her in a film, but death overtook him before a suitable project passed through his desk (he'd died the year before).

After that I never saw Fullenwider again, though it appears she left this world three years later. I only found out many years after the event, when a morbid blogger put her death certificate online.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Forgetting Theodor Adorno (11 September 1903 - 6 August 1969)

Theodor Adorno died 45 years ago today. He was a sociologist, cultural critic, musicologist, and a leading member of the Frankfurt School. He is associated with critiques of modern society, fascism, anti-Semitism, and the culture industry, and 64 years on he still taken seriously by Left-wing academics in Western universities. His writings strongly influenced the development of the New Left.

Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund—also called Theodor Ludwig Adorno-Wiesengrund, Theodor Ludwig Adorno-Wellington, and Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno—was born on 11 September 1903, son of a singer and a wine merchant. His mother was a Corsican, and professed Catholicism; his father was an assimilated Jew who had converted to Protestantism. Said to have been a child prodigy, he enjoyed playing Beethoven on the piano aged 12. He also excelled in school, gratuading at the top of his class. Unfortunately, he was quickly led astray, for he had not even yet obtained his diploma when György Lucáks and Ernst Bloch poisoned his mind with their Marxist theories.

Adorno's hatred for German nationalism was like a reflex, and he was bitter at how promptly Germany's intelligentsia—including Max Weber, Max Scheler, Georg Simmel, and Siegfried Kracauer—pronounced itself in support of the Great War. His disillusionment was echoed by Jewish intellectuals who would later become Adorno's collaborators: Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, and Ernst Bloch.

Through his father's links with the Karplus family, who owned a factory in Berlin, Adorno met his future wife, Margaret, known as "Gretel". She facilitated valuable contacts from her intellectual circle, which included Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht, and Marcuse. He, however, would not put a wedding ring on her finger for fourteen years.

In keeping with this intellectual proclivities, Adorno's musical tastes were firmly with the classical avantgarde: he attended performances by Schönberg, Schreker, Stravinsky, Bartók, Busoni, Delius, and Hindemith. While still in school, he went to study composition at the Hoch Conservatory, where he took private lessons with Bernhard Sekles and Eduard Jung.

By this time he'd made friends with Kracauer, and the two would read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, an experience that profoundly impacted the young man. The two would then move on to Hegel and Kierkegaard as Adorno began his higher education at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. During this period, Adorno would start publishing concert reviews and his own musical compositions for relevant journals. Not an easy man to please, however, he would both support the avantgarde and grumble about the deficiencies of musical modernity. In particular, he took exception to Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, which he dubbed "a dismal Bohemian prank". Schönberg, on the other hand, would be his idol and around the time he completed his doctorate (on Edmund Husserl), in the Summer of 1924, he impurtuned Alban Berg, Schönberg's disciple and collaborator, after a performance. By this time he had already met Max Horkheimer, a self-described communist, who in turn introduced him to Friedrich Pollock, another communist.

On the back of his chat with Berg, Adorno quickly wormed himself into the Second Viennese School circle. Moving to Vienna, he took atonal lessons with his new friend, and made new ones, including the by then former commissar of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, György Lucáks, who had developed Leninist ideas and navigated the outermost fringes of the Left.

Adorno then travelled for a while, before returning to Frankfurt and hunkering down for his Habilitation. In 1927 he presented it to Cornelius, who had also been his doctoral supervisor, but the latter found Adorno a copycat and sent him packing. In addition to carbon-copying Cornelius, Adorno had spoken of the pseudoscientific theories of Sigmund Freud as a "sharp weapon" against the deification of organic nature. We can see where this was going.

Undeterred, Adorno threw himself into music. He succeeded in having one of his pieces performed in Berlin. He also became active in the editorial committee of Musikblätter des Anbruch, and decided to use the publication as a battering ram against Pfitzner and Strauss. So fervid a proponent of radical modernism was he, that even Hindemith, Stravinsky, and the whole dodecaphonic project now seemed tame. Music had to be exploded completely.

But Adorno once again changed his mind and made his philosophical pursuits top priority. Soon he was working on a new, renegade Habilitation, away from academic supervision. His friends, Professor Paul Tillich, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Siegfried Kracauer backed the outlaw, however, and, on their word, the University of Frankfurt awared Adorno the venia legendi in 1931.

By this time, Horkheimer had assumed the directorship of the Institute of Social Research, which attracted a number of rather odd individuals, including Leo Löwenthal, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse—the so-called "Frankfurt School". Adorno fell in with that lot very quickly, and, while still not officially a member, he accepted an invitation to speak. He, however, was a difficult man even at the best of times, and he horrified his audience by directly contradicting Horkheimer's programme, mapped out a year earlier. Nevertheless, he managed to get several of his essays published in the group's journal, where he growled about contemporary music and vituperated against Jazz. His work was steeped in Marxist terminology, and, after a while, Adorno abandoned any pretense to a neutral sociology, opting instead for ideology.

Before long, however, the National Socialists were in power, and Horkheimer's Marxist and mostly Jewish-led group came under suspicion. The Institute's offices were searched by the criminal police, and Adorno's house was ransacked as well. Adorno's right to teach was revoked, and his membership application in the Reich Chamber of Literature summarily denied. The government's view was that frequent involvement in subversive activities, including communism and other radical movements, made Jews a threat to Germany. His path thus blocked, Adorno chose exile.

Unable to transfer his Habilitation to the University of Vienna, Adorno settled in Britain, where he Academic Assistance Council helped him register as a mature student at Merton College. Relations with Horkheimer, by then in New York, were strained, and the Institute's journal rejected several of his essays, on one of which he'd laboured for years. Eventually, upon seeing Horkeimer's book of aphorisms, he copied the idea and wrote his own. This would later be published as Minima Moralia, which can be read online for free.

After four years in Britian, Horkheimer wheedled for Adorno a position at the Princeton Radio Project, under the leadership of Paul Lazarsfeld. Adorno grabbed the opportunity and travelled to New Jersey. Lazarsfeld, however, had been trained in mathematics, and was eager to get additional funding for his operations. This relied on being able to produce quantifiable results with a practical, commercial application. Adorno, on the other hand, disdained quantitative research, and sought to conduct his studies on the sociology of broadcast music his own way, using subjective methods and theory. After two years heading the music division and labouring on studies and essays, Lazarsfeld thought it best not to mention Adorno's work in his renewed funding application (the first one had been turned down). Lazarsfeld groaned at Adorno's prose style and complained about his "lack of discipline in . . . presentation". In view of this, Horkheimer found Adorno a permanent place at the Institute.

Adorno followed Horkheimer to California, where they joined other émigrés. There, these fellows worked jointly in a revisionist history of the Enlightenment, which would take them six years to publish in book form as Dialectic of Enlightenment. The text a blackly pessimistic Marxian reflection, marred by Freudian psychanalysis and a needlessly frustrating prose style, argues that the Enlightenment simply resulted in new systems of domination.

By this time, Horkheimer, along with Adorno, had for some time been preoccupied with authoritarianism, fascism, and anti-Semitism, having both written on this topic. Wagner, Nietzsche, and Hitler, published in 1947, was Adorno's first volley.

With funding from Nevitt Sandford's Public Opinion Group and the American Jewish Committee, Adorno was put in charge of a study of the so-called "authoritarian personality", which resulted in an eponymous book published in 1950. As may be imagined, study was biased, methodologically flawed, and pseudoscientific (it relied on Freudian psychoanalysis, for starters[1]); its conclusions, fixed in advance, were strained and counter-intuitive. Kevin MacDonald points out that hierarchical harmony and traditional family life, was treated as fascistic, while dysfunction was treated as healthy. Nevertheless, it was widely promoted, to the point that it is still stocked by university libraries and included in curricular reading lists, where it is treated as a serious work.

As would other work on anti-Semitism coming from the Institute, Adorno's has been criticised by MacDonald as being tendentious and one-sided, in that it refuses to examine inter-ethnic conflicts of interests as a source of inter-ethnic hostility; anti-Semitism is regarded simplistically as a form of insanity or psychic dysfunction, whereas its causes, he argues, are multifaceted.

Adorno loved American egalitarianism and openness, but hated American culture, so he gladly returned to Germany in 1949, but not before penning a few atonal compositions. If life is too short, suffice it to say that Adorno's music simply aped Schönberg's and they are rarely if ever performed. If only he'd stuck to music!

Yet, if The Authoritarian Personality was noxious, it was not until Adorno had installed himself as a professor at Frankurt University, as well as a guru in the repatriated Institute, that he really began to swing the intellectual wrecking ball against the country of his birth. His devoted wife, a trained chemist with a formidable brain, who had run a company before the war and given him access to elite intellectual circles in the first place, was given secretarial duties.

Despite the ruins and the homicidal American efforts to denazify and impose American-style liberalism[2], Adorno detected Nazism everywhere in Germany, insisting, even twenty years after the end of the war and the death or execution of all the top Nazis, that it still survived under the surface, wherefrom it could break out again at any moment. Therefore, from the 1950s onwards he set about systematically to demolish traditional German culture through critical sociology and philosophy. The German mind had to be completely destroyed and remade, "emancipated" or averruncated from the past, in line with the Freudo-Marxian principles of Critical Theory. Two influential essays would be published: The Meaning of Working through the Past (1959) and Education after Auschwitz (1966). Adorno, who said that after Auschwitz there could be no poetry, was rebuked for exploiting Auschwitz in service of his "absolute negativity".

Various tetchy essays harrumphing about mass culture would also appear during the 1950s, and a full-length treatment would follow in the 1960s. These make a few valid—albeit trivial—observations, arguing that capitalism uses industrially produced, low quality mass culture to pacify, dumb-down, and keep the populace under its thumb. Some modern theoreticians have criticised this analysis as simplistic and no longer pay them any attention. Besides, Henry Ford, the American industrialist, had already advanced a comparable argument nearly three decades earlier, so it was nothing new; Adorno's was simply a more elaborate effort in the Freudo-Marxian idiom.[3]

By this time, his friend, the former Commissar Lukács, didn't think much of him either, dismissing him and Horkheimer as having fallen into a trap of bourgeois idealism. In a 1962 preface to his The Theory of the Novel, he would write:
A considerable part of the leading German intelligentsia, including Adorno, have taken up residence in the ‘Grand Hotel Abyss’ which I described in connection with my critique of Schopenhauer as ‘a beautiful hotel, equipped with every comfort, on the edge of an abyss, of nothingness, of absurdity. And the daily contemplation of the abyss between excellent meals or artistic entertainments, can only heighten the enjoyment of the subtle comforts offered.’ (Die Zerstörung der Vernunft, Neuwied 1962, p. 219).

During this period, Adorno also became a public intellectual, scribbling for the press, opining on the radio, and pontificating in panel discussions. In 1958 he also assumed command of the Institute, which he had been co-directing for some time. He even cultivated contacts with Suhrkamp Verlag, Hermann Hesse's publisher, and not only threw his weight around to get his chums' work into print, but this vain Frankfurter, whose writing native German speakers already found turgid and sludgelike, also convinced them to publish some of his own.[4] Besides influencing New Left, his demoralising ideas laid the foundations for political correctness in Germany and elsewhere.

This frantic activity was not without consequences, however, and by the late 1960s his attacks on "authoritarianism" came back to bite his fundament. Any illusions he may have had of ending his days as a bourgeois academic, subverting culture peacefully as theoretician from the safety of his office or the classroom, were violently shattered by the 1968 student revolts, fuelled by Marxian theories and anti-authoritarian ideas. He found his lectures disrupted and, on one occasion, at a lecture about the dialects of the object and the subject, standing at a lectern, surrounded by three female bare-breasted student protesters scattering petals over his pate. The blackboard behind him accused him of complicity with capitalism. His loss of authority was complete, and, after fleeing the venue, he was forced to cancel all his seminars but one. Poetic justice at last.

By the Summer of 1969, these shenanigans had worn the bald man down, and he retired to Zermatt, a mountaineering and ski resort in the Swiss Alps. Alasa, rather than health, he found a heart attack. The man who'd made a career out of destruction died on the anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic blast.


[1] Cf. Kevin MacDonald, "Freud's Follies", Skeptic, 4(3), 94–99. Reprinted in The Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience, Michael Shermer (Ed.). ABC-CLIO, December 2002.

[2] Cf. Savitri Devi, Gold in the Furnace: Reflections on Post-War Germany (Atlanta, GA: Savitri Devi Archive, 2008).

[3] Both Adorno and Ford complained about low quality mass produced culture, and both saw it being used by a controlling elite as a method for shaping general attitudes. The difference is that Ford's writing was crude and moralistic, and that bogeyman for him was not capitalism generally but Jewish capitalists. See: "Jewish Supremacy in Motion Picture World" The International Jew vol 2 (Dearborn, MI: Dearborn Publishing Co., 1921), and "Jewish Jazz Becomes Our National Music", The International Jew vol 3 (Dearborn, MI: Dearborn Publishing Co., 1921).

[4] Specifically: Walter Benjamin's Berlin Childhood around 1900; Siegfried Kracauer's writings, and his own Minima Moralia (1951).