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Voices from Socialism 2006

June 30, 2006 | Page 7

HERE, SW prints excerpts from a few of the nearly 100 meetings that took place over the course of Socialism 2006 in New York City.

Toufic Haddad: The Future of Palestine
Bill Keach: Marx's Critique of Other Socialisms
Shujaa Graham: George Jackson and the Attica Uprising
Alejandro Bodart: Latin America on Fire
Joel Geier: The American Economy Today
Alan Maass: The Russian Revolution of 1917

The Future of Palestine

TOUFIC HADDAD is co-editor of a forthcoming book on the Palestinian Intifada and former editor of the journal Between the Lines.

WHEN HAMAS won the election in January 2006, Israel, the United States and the European Union were horrified with the result. They didn't expect it at all.

A top Israeli commentator by the name of Amir Oren said, "The Bush administration made a serious blunder and allowed Hamas to take part in the elections, on the basis of a complacent supposition that Hamas would not win--a mistake that has left the Israeli-Palestinian process completely stuck.

You can listen to sound files of a selection of meetings from Socialism 2006 and view photos of the event at the Traprock Peace Center Web site.

"The immediate question on the agenda of Bush and Olmert is whether and when to take action to topple the Hamas government. The reply of the Israeli defense establishment is 'yes' and 'not yet.' The political and economic siege of Palestine in the Hamas era has flabbergasted Ismail Haniyeh [the prime minister in the Hamas government] and his colleagues, who had believed that the international community would accept their rules and blast large breaches in the wall around them.

"The defense establishment prefers to give Hamas more time to decide whether to go the route of moderation, as the PLO did, or to stick to its guns."

So Israel wants to see what it can get out of this. It would prefer at this stage to defeat Hamas politically if it can. And it wants to do that by adding pressure on the ground, which will cause the difficulties to grow and force Hamas to choose what it will be.

This is what Israel's doing today. It is accelerating the number of extrajudicial assassinations that are taking place. It says that within a year, the apartheid wall will be finished. It openly announced that the Jordan Valley will be completely closed to Palestinians and will be annexed and given up.

Within the month of June alone, 47 people have been killed in extrajudicial assassination attacks. Since March 2006, 5,100 shells have been launched at the Gaza Strip, and Israel says explicitly that the range between where the shells are lobbed and Palestinian population concentrations will be reduced now from 300 meters to 100 meters. Of course, it is not an accident that we're seeing in just the last two weeks a precipitous rise in the number of people who have been killed.

This is in addition to the international blockade that we've witnessed, which is stopping all bank and money transfers, not only from the Israel and the United States, but also Arab banks.

Today, the World Food Organization estimates that 50 percent are malnourished in the Gaza Strip. And we're witnessing a situation where the Israelis are trying to incite either a civil war on the one hand or a situation where they will have to go in themselves to do the work for themselves.

This is the situation. Will Israel take the approach of pushing ahead with a civil war and encouraging some kind of popular putsch against Hamas? Or will Hamas need to be militarily defeated?

Already, it seems that they are coming to the determination that they will have to do it militarily. They want to fundamentally transform the nature of what the Palestinian resistance can do.

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Marx's Critique of Other Socialisms

BILL KEACH is a professor of English at Brown University and a well-known author on 18th and 19th century British poetry and literature. Most recently, he edited a new edition of Leon Trotsky's Literature and Revolution, published by Haymarket Books.

KARL MARX criticized other socialisms in the name of revolutionary working class self-liberation from below. These are the important points that I think constitute the positive foundation for Marx's socialism.

First of all, moral outrage against capitalism and compassion for the oppressed isn't enough. Everywhere in this discussion in the Communist Manifesto and other places in Marx where he makes this kind of critique of other socialists of his day, that principle comes out.

Second, socialism has to be grounded in a historically based material analysis of the real social forces and conditions of political power--sources and conditions produced by the contradictions of the capitalist system itself.

Third, the working class isn't just a passive object, and it can't be the beneficiary of socialism. It has to be the subject--the active, self-determining agent of fighting for socialism and creating a new socialist society.

Fourth, socialism can't be achieved through reforming the existing state, as many of the other people proclaiming themselves socialists held. The capitalist state has to be overthrown and replaced by a new kind of state altogether, created through the democratic self-activity of workers.

These seem to me to be the positive vantage points from which Marx began to engage with other socialists of his day, criticizing them at every stage where he feels that their ideas are either just complete nonsense, or they make just enough of a kind of sense to mislead workers.

At the same time, even as he engages in this kind of fierce, principled criticism of his socialist contemporaries, Marx was always very quick to recognize any kind of positive contribution their criticism of capitalism makes. As he says at many points, the criticisms of the utopian socialists constitute part of the broader cultural political ferment, out of which the possibility of a serious revolutionary socialist alternative can be forged.

I can't think of any part of Marx's writing that has more relevance for us today, in rebuilding a serious left in this country. We have to see both sides of Marx's engagement--both the critical side and the willingness to recognize the force of the criticism of your adversaries, as long as it contributes in some ways to the broader liberation of the working class.

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George Jackson and the Attica Uprising

SHUJAA GRAHAM spent 12 years behind bars in California--several on death row--before he was exonerated and freed. He is a former member of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and a current board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

PEOPLE TALK about George Jackson as being a violent person, but look at George's history--all the cases in which he was accused, and he was acquitted in all of them.

In 1971, when they killed George, they locked us all down. It affected the entire prison system, because an outspoken critic of the prison system had been killed. There was many of us associated in an organized way, and it was then--after they had killed off so many of our leaders, and I had been in the background for so long--that I realized it was time for me to step up and carry it on.

A lot of us became political, and we left that criminal mentality behind and became totally committed. We studied--it was demanded of us even when we were in isolation.

For four years, I never saw the daylight, but you came on our tier, and there were 27 of us on that tier, and we had exercise programs and study programs where there couldn't be any talking. We were struggling in case we got out one day, so we would be prepared to carry the struggle on. We saw this not just as a prison movement but a part of a greater and noble cause.

We have to continue to stand up to expose this brutality. And if we don't stop it, they'll continue and continue and continue. So we have to continue to organize ourselves. These are the things and principles that I learned in the movement.

If I encourage any of you to be anything, be men and women of conviction. Because when everything else fails us, you're going to have to depend on those convictions. We have an awesome responsibility, but we can do it if we continue to struggle like we struggled in prison.

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Latin America on Fire

ALEJANDRO BODART is a leading member of the Socialist Workers Movement in Argentina.

AT THE end of the 1990s, in many countries in Latin America, the standard of living had fallen further than under the military dictatorships [of the 1970s and 1980s]. The military didn't have the confidence to carry out such measures.

In Argentina, in the crisis of 2001, people's bank accounts were frozen--a massive expropriation. The old parties of Latin America were culpable for this crisis, and it led to a severe reaction. There were many insurrections in Latin America--in Ecuador, in Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela.

The key to this problem wasn't only economic, but political. In my country, the slogan was "kick them all out"--the senators, deputies, judges. In the case of Argentina, the crisis created tremendous social movements--including the unemployed workers, who occupied factories that had shut down in order to produce. But in no country was the revolutionary left able to form an alternative.

The fruit of this was the resurgence of center-left currents, who formed governments based on a minimum program of what was being demanded by the masses in the mobilizations.

These governments are not all the same. A government that's come to power as the fruit of the process of mobilizations isn't the same as one that has taken power only through an electoral process.

In the case of Brazil, the Workers Party rapidly took a neoliberal course. In Venezuela, the Chávez government has confronted imperialism when the oligarchy tried to carry out a coup, which the people defeated in the streets. In Bolivia, as in Venezuela, the government has in its hands great wealth of petroleum and natural gas, which strengthens them against imperialism and gives them greater freedom of action.

The Chávez government, however, still entrusts the mineral wealth to transnational corporations. In Bolivia, the government of Evo Morales has done the minimum necessary. But in no case has there been the total expropriation of the natural resources and the businesses involved.

These are not anti-capitalist governments. "Socialism for the 21st Century," for example, as proposed by Chávez, is very important for dialogue in the mass movement--that socialism of the 21st century must be distinct from Stalinism.

But this is really calling for a "mixed economy," and the experience of the world shows that there's no possibility of a mixed economy that benefits workers and the people. It's a transition in which the big multinational corporations win out.

There is a challenge: In the coming years, a strong revolutionary alternative has to be built.

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The American Economy Today

JOEL GEIER is associate editor of the International Socialist Review.

THERE WERE three aspects to the stimulus of the U.S. economy. One, interest rates were cut to 1 percent three years ago. Two, there was a tax cut for the rich--a trillion dollars, justified on the basis that they would reinvest it. That's capital's explanation of why we have such a wonderful recovery.

The third thing was deficit financing. By the end of the 1990s, the United States government was running a surplus--$250 billion was in the budget, and it was expected to grow. The Bush administration shifted to deficit financing through tax cuts and increases in military spending. They went from a $250 billion surplus to a $450 billion deficit.

This is an enormous amount of stimulus--it produced a recovery. For the last four years, growth in this country has been approximately 4.5 percent per year.

But the truth of the matter is that this is the weakest recovery in the postwar period. Investment is half of what it was in the 1960s and less than it was in the '70s, '80s and '90s.

Jobs? In the last recovery, jobs were created at a rate of 180,000 per month. It was called the joyless recovery, the jobless recovery. Now, job creation is at 80,000 per month. Wages have been essentially stagnant. Adjusted for inflation, they've been cut in four of the last five years. Family income has gone down.

It is a weak recovery--and an extraordinary recovery for capital. The rate of profit has gone up by 55 percent in the last four years. There is no postwar business cycle that has generated so large a growth in profit for so long a period of time. Profits last year were $1.4 trillion in the U.S. economy. The rate of profit was higher, except for 1997, than any year since the 1960s.

And the banks did even better. The rate of profit is higher than it was in the postwar boom years. It is higher than it has been since the 1920s. This is an enormous gain to finance capital.

The rate of profit is higher than any place in the world. But there is an enormous gap between the rate of profit and capital spending.

In this boom, there are 10 percent less factories in the recovery than there were at the time of the recession. Manufacturing corporations are putting 20 percent less in investment than they did before the bust. General Motors and Ford are almost bankrupt in the boom--never mind what will happen in the bust.

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The Russian Revolution of 1917

ALAN MAASS is the editor of Socialist Worker and author of The Case for Socialism, published by Haymarket Books.

THE INSTINCT of workers in the cities--and now the soldiers who had come over to the side of the revolution--to unite against any threat to the revolution and to the workers' councils was decisive in the final stages of 1917. This was especially true about the defeat of the Kornilov coup at the end of August.

Kornilov was a right-wing general who was appointed commander in chief in mid-July by the Provisional Government, and following this, there were a series of attempts to reestablish order among the soldiers and sailors in and around the capital. The moderate socialists like Kerensky who led the Provisional Government collaborated completely with Kornilov, but Kornilov came to believe that Kerensky would never succeed in regaining his authority.

So he turned to the iron fist. He planned a military offensive directed at Petrograd, with the intention of dispersing the soviets and smashing left-wing organizations.

In the end, though, Kornilov's forces never even made it to Petrograd, because of the immediate and unorganized response--or to be more precise, a highly organized, but not centrally directed response. Spontaneous action by organizations of workers and soldiers at every level created a multi-dimensional defense of the city--from a network of trenches and barricades; to provisions made for maintaining vital services; to even squads of agitators sent out to harangue the soldiers, which succeeded in getting some of Kornilov's toughest troops to stop their advance.

There are incredible stories from this period. For example, the weapons factories of Petrograd would send newly made artillery pieces directly to the outskirts of the city--workers accompanied the weapons, and would test fire and adjust them on the spot.

As Alexander Rabinowitch, author of The Bolsheviks Come to Power, wrote: Rabinowitch: "The decisive moments of the Kornilov emergency occurred so quickly that effective coordination of the campaign against the right, even in the Petrograd area, proved impossible. It was also unnecessary. Spurred by the news of Kornilov's attack, all political organizations to the left of the Kadets, every labor organization of any import, and solider and sailor committees at all levels immediately rose to fight against Kornilov.

"It would be difficult to find, in recent history, a more powerful, effective display of largely spontaneous and unified mass political action."

This is certainly the opposite of the view that the 1917 revolution was a coup, plotted out by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

But it's important also to remember the point made by Leon Trotsky in his telling of the story of the revolution--that no action, no matter how unplanned, is ever entirely spontaneous. Many of those key individuals who took the initiative to begin the defense of Petrograd were Bolsheviks--and lying behind their actions were years of experience as socialists and leaders of working class struggles.

Thus, the ultimate tribute to Lenin and the years he devoted to building the Bolshevik Party so that it would be a party of leaders, rooted in every struggle, is that though Lenin was in hiding and days behind the times in learning about the Kornilov threat, when his urgent letters finally arrived in Petrograd, the Bolsheviks had responded exactly as he recommended.

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