[Marxism] Theodor Bergmann autobiography
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 29 15:55:52 MST 2016
Theodor Bergmann, a German revolutionary who supported Rosa Luxemburg
and Paul Levi, wrote a 45 page autobiography on his 100th anniversary if
the Google translate was accurate. It is amazing that he is still alive
and going strong.
I heard him speak at the Brecht Forum in March 2000 as I reported to the
Marxism list back then.
I have the highest regard for Theodor Bergmann, the 84 year old editor
of the Hamburg-based magazine "Sozialismus," who spoke last night at the
Brecht Forum on "The German Anti-Nazi Left". Three years ago the
magazine entered into a fraternal relationship with Monthly Review,
which is edited by Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff, themselves well-known
and respected old-timers. Not that I have anything against young
radicals, but men and women in their 80s who are still going strong
deserve our special respect.
"Sozialismus" was also the first serious journal to print something I
wrote, namely my puckish report on the last Rethinking Marxism
conference, titled "Wissen-shaftskriege" (Science Wars). It told the
story of how female Marxist graduate students from India nearly drove a
terminally long-winded Etienne Balibar from the stage and how during the
aftermath of the protest conference organizers tried to root out a
Sokalite conspiracy that presumably was responsible. (There was no such
Bergmann was a member of the youth group of the Left Communists in the
1920s, a party that Cochranite Erwin Baur's mother belonged to as well.
In an interview I conducted with him recently, Erwin explained that it
was natural for him to end up in the American Trotskyist movement in the
1930s because as he was growing up talk around the dinner table focused
on the evils of the capitalist system and the inadequacy of the mass
Communist Parties. Erwin, a life-long UAW militant and currently a
member of Solidarity, is the same age as Theodor and another example of
how to stand up to the system over the long haul.
The German Left Communists were a split from the party led by August
Thalheimer and Heinrich Brandler. They, along with Paul Levi, were the
ideological heirs of Rosa Luxemburg and usually showed better judgement
than the Comintern during the 1920s. For example, Paul Levi proposed a
united front between Communists and Socialists long before Hitler was a
major factor in German politics. When the Comintern instructed the
German Communists to instead follow a sectarian line, Levi took his
opposition public. For this he was expelled, the first in a series of
talented revolutionaries driven from the party. Their sin was in
believing that German Marxism alone was responsible for the fate of the
German working class in the final analysis.
In the article "Rosa Luxemburg's Political Heir: An Appreciation of Paul
Levi" that appeared in the Nov.-Dec. 1999 New Left Review, author David
Fernbach cites a January 1921 letter from Levi to the German party on
the seriousness of the problems in dealing with the Comintern:
"[I]f the Communist International functions in Western Europe in terms
of admission and expulsion like a recoiling cannon.., then we will
experience the heaviest setback.. . [Our Russian] comrades did not
clearly realize that splits in a mass party with a different
intellectual structure than, for example, that of the illegal party..
cannot be carried out on the basis of resolutions, but only on the basis
of political experience."
January 1921? This was before the Comintern supposedly went downhill?
Clearly the best thing for the German working class would have been if
the Comintern had left it alone or at least treated it in the respectful
manner that Fidel Castro treats other socialists today rather than
trying to browbeat them into blind loyalty.
The other major ideological influence on the Left Communists was
Bukharin, who is the subject of one of Theodor Bergmann's many books.
There are two dominant interpretations of Bukharin today, one--based on
Stephen Cohen's biography--is that of a liberalizing bureaucrat who
anticipated Gorbachev. The other, part of Trotskyist orthodoxy, is that
of Bukharin as friend of rich peasants. To reduce Bukharin to this
formula would be the same as characterizing Trotsky only as the Russian
revolutionary who "underestimated the peasantry."
John Bellamy Foster's brilliant new "Marx's Ecology" reveals another
side of Bukharin: an ecosocialist who continued in the vein established
by Marx in his examination of the problem of soil fertility. He singles
out this paragraph from Bukharin's "Historical Materialism," which
describes the 'metabolic' process that unites nature and society, a
theme that is present in Volume Three of Capital. This metabolic force,
according to Bukharin:
"is the fundamental relation between environment and system, between
'external conditions' and human society... The metabolism between man
and nature consists, as we have seen, in the transfer of material energy
from external nature to society.... Thus, the interrelation between
society and nature is a process of social reproduction. In this process,
society applies its human labor energy and obtains a certain quantity of
energy from nature ('nature’s material,' in the words of Marx). The
balance between expenditures and receipts is here obviously the decisive
element for the growth of society. If what is obtained exceeds the loss
by labor, important consequences obviously follow for society, which
vary with the amount of this excess."
Bukharin's interest in such problems must surely have influenced
Bergmann's decision to develop a career as an agricultural economist.
For many years he was attached to the Institute of Agricultural Policy
and Market Research, University of Hohenheim. He began his academic
career rather late in life and did not publish his first monograph until
he was fifty. Although most of his work focuses on the problems of
productivity on the farm, it is clear that--like Bukharin--he always
understood the ecological implications based on the evidence of this
passage from his "Mechanization and Agricultural Development" (1984):
"The new farm technology has manifold ecological effects. Deeper and
faster soil cultivation, intensified rotation accelerate mobilisation
and drain of nutrients, parch the soil, strengthen the deterioration and
drying up of the soil and increase - in case of strong rainfalls - the
danger of erosion. Heavy machines may compact the soil. Irrigation can
cause erosion, crusting and salination. Some experts fear
over-fertilisation, excessive utilisation of mineral fertilisers and
pesticides, which might later harm the quality of underground water."
Before he became an academic, Bergmann spent years in exile doing
whatever work was available to allow him to write on behalf of
socialism. In years spent in places as far afield as Palestine and
Czechoslovakia, he was a farmer, miner and Hebrew teacher.
His dedication to building a revivified left is impressive. A recent
project has been the publication of a book devoted to "heretical
Communists" such as the kind that took inspiration from Rosa Luxemburg
in Germany. As I was leaving the Brecht Forum, he mentioned to me that
he had plans to work on a follow-up book which would examine Paul Levi,
José Carlos Mariátegui and others. I smiled at him and said that Levi
and Mariátegui both had problems with the Comintern. And, when you
really get down to it, both shared a commitment to the idea that Marxist
parties can only be built out of an engagement with the class struggle
in the native terrain.
Most of Theodor Bergmann's books are only available in the German
language, including a study of Rosa Luxemburg. I urge comrades to seek
out his work, whether in German or in English. And for those of you
living in Germany, Sozialismus is especially recommended.
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