Gregor Benton on the proletarian Esperanto movement

I vaguely recall the name Gregor Benton from somewhere; I assume he surfaced somewhere in my erstwhile study of the history of Trotskyism. I see that he is a specialist on China and that he has published on Chinese Trotskyism, Maoism, and Chinese communism overall.

I am familiar with Jacobin magazine. In a country where the very name of Marx is taboo, Jacobin is the most widely known Marxist magazine in the country, "widely" being a relative term but at least not totally invisible among the intellectual reading public. Many years ago, when the magazine was still in gestation, at least one person involved in it was interested in interviewing me on C.L.R. James, but this never materialized.

Nobody in the USA, on the left or otherwise, cares about Esperanto, so I was quite surprised when this article surfaced in Jacobin and by which author:

"Communism in Words" by Gregor Benton

"A brief history of Esperanto, the language intimately tied to the common destiny of the working class."

I can imagine the horror of many American Esperantists to see Esperanto associated with communism in this way, though there are some who have mentioned the proletarian Esperanto movement as an historical phenomenon. Benton's father, who fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, defended Esperanto to comrades who dismissed it, using the phrase "communism in words" (which I have never seen anywhere else). Gregor himself learned Esperanto and delivered a euology to his father in Esperanto for the Catalan Esperanto Association.

This is a very good article, with a good historical overview and an objective assessment, advocating Esperanto in a realistic way without hype and cultism, and even with his particular interest as a man of the left.

Benton provides a capsule summary of Zamenhof and of the Esperanto movement's history and present status, then launches into the history of the proletarian Esperanto movement and the hostility engendered in reaction to the various causes that embraced Esperanto. Benton mentions the leading international organization, Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (World Anationalist Association, "SAT" for short), its erstwhile collaboration with the USSR, the eventual Stalinist break with SAT, and the breakaway pro-Moscow Internacio de Proletaj Esperantistoj (International of Proletarian Esperantists).

Benton then covers the persecution of Esperantists by the Nazis and the Stalin regime and its eventual satellite regimes. (Esperanto had a significant presence before the Great Purges. I do not recall the Communist International ever endorsing Esperanto''s rival Ido, though I do remember Ido was part of the mix.) With de-Stalinization, the Esperanto movement was revived in the Soviet bloc, and its association there with the "peace movement" was a vehicle for Esperanto to thrive.

Benton also outlines the history of Esperanto in China, its early association with anarchism and communism. He mentions also the Japanese woman Hasegawa Teru (known by the Esperanto pseudonym "Verda Majo" = Green May) who was to join with the Chinese against Japanese aggression. In Maoist China, Esperanto was initially suppressed, then tolerated, then later, even while under suspicion during the Cultural Revolution, was widely used by the regime for Maoist propaganda. The Esperanto movement thrived in the post-Mao era, but its strength has vacillated.

Finally, Benton tackles the future prospects of Esperanto, with respect to the global changes that have transpired since its early days and what this means for the role and fate of the language -- in recent decades the effects of the fall of the Soviet bloc, the decreased reliance on traditional Esperantist membership organizations, and the rise of online communication. Esperanto thrives in the digital age, and the values it represents are as relevant as ever.

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