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Voices of Socialism 2007

June 22, 2007 | Pages 9 to 12

Socialist Worker prints brief excerpts from a few of the nearly 100 discussions held at Socialism 2007.

Margarita Klein | Grassroots Strategies for Defending Immigrant Rights
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor | Black Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution
Gonzalo Gómez | Hugo Chávez and the Debate About 21st Century Socialism
Todd Chretien | Lenin's Theory of the Vanguard Party
Garett Reppenhagen | Iraq: The Soldiers' Rebellion
Jenna Woloshyn | The Origin of Gay Oppression
Elizabeth Schulte | May Day: Haymarket and the Fight for the Eight-Hour Day

Grassroots Strategies for Defending Immigrant Rights

MARGARITA KLEIN is staff director for the Chicago and regional Midwest council of UNITE HERE, and a leader in the Chicago's March 10 Coalition for immigrant rights.

WE PUT millions of people in the streets, didn't we? All around the country, for two years in a row. And what happened? We still have all these laws in Congress that are not a solution--not even a slight solution. And the "no match" Social Security letters are a part of this.

What else to read

Haymarket Books is distributing audio CDs of all of the nearly 100 meetings at Socialism 2007. For a full list of meeting topics, see the schedule at the Socialism 2007 Web site. To order CDs of any of the talks, or for more information, call Haymarket at 773-583-7884 or e-mail [email protected].

You can also watch several presentations from Socialism 2007 by:

John Pilger

Jeremy Scahill


What I'm trying to say is that we have to approach the citizens of this country: white, African American, Asian--whatever color or gender, it doesn't matter. We have to create a movement with other workers, in the same workplaces with these Latino workers who are undocumented--the victims of the "no match" letters who work side by side with citizens of this country that are also being affected.

Because when we negotiate union contracts, believe me, low wages are also going to apply to them as well, not just the persons who the no-match letters are going to affect. Every worker in this country is affected by these no-match letters--by this state of fear and by this state of uncertainty in their jobs. It keeps everybody's wages and everybody's benefits down.

That is the bottom line. We can talk about the technicalities, and believe me, I don't understand many of them. But that is the truth that we are dealing with.

So our job is to go and educate those people--that's what we're trying to do. We hold forums in every workplace that we can, in every state that we represent. We're trying to talk to those workers and say, "You know what? This fight is a workers' fight. It's not about the undocumented or Mexicans or whatever. It's a workers' fight." That's the way we should focus.

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Black Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR is a frequent contributor to the International Socialist Review.

THE RECONSTRUCTION era beginning at the end of the Civil War and ending in 1877 was a pitched battle and an attempt to impose a radical democracy on the South--through the electoral empowerment of former slaves, and the construction of a civil society and a bourgeois state imposed on a formerly agrarian society that had been ruled by a small slave-owning oligarchy.

The Civil War and the battle for Reconstruction after its end are important for several reasons.

The first is the revolutionary struggle of slaves themselves--along with tens of thousands of white soldiers who fought in by far the bloodiest war of the 19th century--for liberation from slavery. This is an important story of ordinary people's struggle and human triumph.

Second, the end of slavery led directly to a showdown between labor and capital that would give birth to the American labor movement and offer for the first time an opportunity for steps toward a unified labor movement. The albatross of slavery removed from the necks of Black and white workers created the objective conditions for the collaboration of those workers for the first time in the history of this country.

That was immediately obvious in the period right after Reconstruction--there was a huge movement for the eight-hour day, and upsurge in the labor movement and labor battles like what's known as the great labor uprising of 1877.

So Reconstruction stands out as a period worth looking at--in order to understand both the potential of uniting the struggles of former slaves and poor whites across the South, and the reverberations that this would continue to have in the North as well.

It's also instructive about the limits of bourgeois democracy and the extreme measures with which capital will go for profits at the expense of justice, equality and liberty.

The central questions governing Reconstruction at the end of the war were: What would become of the emancipated slaves. What kind of society would replace the old? Who would control the land and who would control labor? In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, these were all open questions.

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Hugo Chávez and the Debate About 21st Century Socialism

GONZALO GÓMEZ is a veteran socialist activist in Venezuela and member of the National Association of Free and Alternative Media.

THERE HAVE been a lot of questions about Chávez's call to create the PSUV--the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela.

We can predict that the PSUV might actually end up being a multi-class party--a reformist party, if you will--but it will be made up in its majority of workers, from grassroots organizations and from the people.

The discussion about creating the party gives us a space to influence sectors of the masses. We think it's a risky tactic to enter this discussion, but we think it's worth it. Groups and organizations that have similar views on the role of the bureaucracy and on the need for a class party have joined together to wrestle for positions inside the PSUV.

In the UNT labor federation, there are six currents--the largest is the class struggle current led by Orlando Chirino. We come from the fight to break away from the CTV--the old corrupt union federation.

Now the fight is for the independence of the labor movement from the state. The government in Venezuela has always attempted to exercise some control in the popular movements or the labor movements, but at the end of the day, they need us in order to fight efforts by imperialism to overthrow the government.

Factory occupations have happened in the context of sabotage by business owners--people who just take their money out of the country or create artificial scarcity in order to destabilize the government.

We don't make an abstract call for workers to occupy all factories, but when we see the opportunity for a factory to be taken over by the workers, we push for that.

About the possibility of an invasion: An invasion would be the most extreme possibility. But there are other attempts to get rid of the Chávez government, such as the promotion of a coup, destabilization through Plan Colombia, the creation of separatist or secessionist movements in Venezuela, as in the case of the state of Zulia, which is controlled by an opposition governor. There is also infiltration of the government with bourgeois or bureaucratic influence.

An invasion would be the last effort, but we can't discard that they might take that route if the process in Venezuela keeps moving to the left.

We invite you to come to Venezuela, where people will welcome you with open arms, so you can learn about the process that is taking place, and so that we can learn the lessons of the struggle in the U.S.

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Lenin's Theory of the Vanguard Party

TODD CHRETIEN is a member of the International Socialist Organization and the 2006 Green Party candidate for Senate in California against Dianne Feinstein.

WHEN IT comes to the battle of ideas in people's minds, it's not just the experiences of individual people--it matters what political parties and political leaders do. And this, really, is the crux of Lenin's theory of the vanguard party.

By vanguard, he simply meant that you bring all those people together who agree with those basic premises of the revolutionary party--and even more broadly, people who are generally anti-imperialist, pro-working class and anti-racist--and you organize them so that they can influence other people.

Because the working class not only responds to events, but it also responds to the media, it also responds to other political parties, it also responds to other political leaders. So if their side is going to be trying to pull people to the right--to pull people back into supporting the war or opposing a union--then our side has to figure out how to most effectively organize ourselves to pull people the other way, toward solidarity and toward peace.

That really is the role of the vanguard party. People sometimes get nervous about the term vanguard, but if you think about it, vanguard just means people who are out front--on the front line of the struggle, a committed minority of activists.

It's a term that's made scary by Stalinism and by capitalism, but when Lenin used it, he simply meant that you need the people who already agree with these ideas and want to change the world to get together--and they need to then act according and act effectively.

But once you do that, it has to be kept in mind that it's not the party that makes the revolution on behalf of the working class. The party is part of the working class--that part of the class that argues with the rest of the class that the only way to get rid of capitalism is for us to do it ourselves.

Every political movement has started with the vanguard. From Spartacus and the slave rebellion in ancient Rome; to the American Revolution and the American Civil War; to the freedom struggle in South Africa; to the anti-colonial struggle in India; to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in the U.S.; and today, with the growing immigrant rights movement.

Nothing ever starts evenly. You always have a minority of people who first organize themselves and try to affect change. And simply put, that is what a vanguard is.

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Iraq: The Soldiers' Rebellion

GARETT REPPENHAGEN is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, and who is now the chair of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

IT WAS a nervous time in early 2005. Now, we've got some very courageous members who openly advertise that they are Iraq Veterans Against the War members, hold positions in chapters and throw it on the Internet. But then, man, I was scared to death.

I was blogging anonymously, and everything was very quiet. There was no Iraq Veterans Against the War when I first started speaking out.

I didn't have a history--there was no Sir! No Sir! being passed around. Flower of the Dragon was my Sir! No Sir! If you've never read this book, it's amazing. It goes through one journalist's experience during the Vietnam War. It opened my eyes and I realized that there was more history to the military--a soldiers' rebellion that I had no idea about.

I joined the military for economic reasons. I had no desire to eventually come speak at a socialist organization about GI resistance to a war when I joined one month before September 11. I had no idea where that would take me.

It's my experience in the military in Iraq that drove to where I am today. I was far from an activist. I was a little punk rocker, standing around at keggers and talking shit about the government. I'm the son of a Vietnam veteran. My father died when I was 13 of exposure to Agent Orange.

I was very naïve about things. I became a cavalry scout and eventually a sniper, and served in Iraq for a year around the Diyala province. It was strange times.

It takes courage to face your peers in the military, the structure, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is a justice system with an agenda to continue a war. That makes it a very unfair system.

So when you're talking about soldiers rebelling, there's a huge sacrifice there. It takes a lot of support, and it takes money for legal battles. There's a soldier out there without a job, without a home, on the lam, running and not knowing where to go.

It also takes inspiration. They have to know that there's people out there who support them and who are going to accept them, because they're abandoning all their friends who are in the military--all the people that they feel loyalties to. On the other side, they might have some family and a couple old friends, but a lot of them lose touch.

We need a solution. And that solution is reducing the military manpower by any means, so the war can no longer continue.

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The Origin of Gay Oppression

JENNA WOLOSHYN is a member of the International Socialist Organization.

THE ELIMINATION of anti-homosexuality laws by the Russian Revolution of 1917 is a testament to the Marxist dedication to the liberation of all oppressed people.

Decades before the first successful socialist revolution, Frederick Engels had written about what he called the curious fact that a "phenomenon common to all times of great agitation [is] that the traditional bonds of sexual relations, like all other fetters, are shaken off." Indeed, in the immediate years after the Russian Revolution, people experimented with new sexual relationships.

Oppression plays a primary role of maintaining the rule of the minority ruling class over the majority working class. The ruling class can hold power and gain more wealth only if they rob workers of the fruits of their labor--which means, to quote Sharon Smith, "When the ruling class is most successful, those groups that suffer the most discrimination are also the most despised."

This is because workers can hold what Marx called "false consciousness"--beliefs that are actually contrary to their own interests. Workers are homophobic not because they benefit from gay oppression, but because the ruling class works hard to reinforce stereotypes and divisions.

The working class has no interest in oppression. In fact, it lowers the standards of the entire working class and weakens our ability to fight back. But the conditions during a period of low class-consciousness say nothing of the revolutionary potential of the working class.

Because workers are constantly put in a position of increased production, dangerous working conditions and decreased wages and benefits, they're forced to fight back, and to fight collectively. When workers have to strike and walk a picket line, the class nature of society is clarified, which causes a shift in ideas about sexism, racist and homophobia.

The position on gay marriage taken by many Massachusetts unions, which passed resolutions in support, shows this potential. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, Service Employees International Union Locals 509 and 2020, Massachusetts Nurses Association, National Association of Government Employees, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1505 and Massachusetts United Auto Workers union all passed resolutions defending gay marriage.

The UAW political caucus wrote, "Our union has taken this position in order to protect the civil rights of our members. Ending marriage discrimination is also a critical union issue."

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May Day: Haymarket and the Fight for the Eight-Hour Day

ELIZABETH SCHULTE is a staff writer and Books and Entertainment editor for Socialist Worker.

DURING THE 1880s came a great economic expansion in the U.S. The number of factory workers doubled during this time, with some 5.25 million immigrants coming to the U.S. to work in these factories.

Many of them brought with them radical politics. During this boom, there was the sense that capital could afford to hire more workers and decrease the hours they had to work each week. So--thought socialists, anarchists and other radicals--the time was ripe to demand the eight-hour day.

The demand captured the imagination of tens of thousands. Workers were being radicalized by the transformation of work--by the new reality of drudgery working behind the machine.

Radical ideas were also fueled by the events of 1871--first, the Paris Commune, when French workers took power for a short time. It inspired workers in the U.S. and also terrified the U.S. ruling class.

The same year in Chicago, another radicalizing event took place--the Great Fire. While no one in the city escaped the ravages of fire, not everyone made out as well in the recovery. Afterward, Mayor Joseph Medill tried to enact "fireproof reform" to prevent the building of the kind of inexpensive wooden homes that had contributed to the fire spreading. These, of course, were the only kinds of homes that workers in the city could afford to build.

It was also exposed that money collected by the Chicago Aid and Relief Society, which was supposed to help poor people who had lost their homes, was being invested by the city fathers. Huge meetings were called to protest this outrage.

Chicago led the way nationally in the eight-hour demand. According to radical historian Sidney Lens, by May 1, 1886, 45,000 workers--35,000 of them in the packinghouses--had won a shorter workday.

Workers supported the movement by buying "Eight-hour" shoes and "Eight-hour" tobacco. They sang the "Eight-Hour Song":

We want to feel the sunshine;
We want to smell the flowers;
We're sure that God has willed it.
And we mean to have eight hours.

We're summoning our forces from
Shipyard, shop and mill;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest,
Eight hours for what we will."

For many radicals, the "what you will" was the important point--time for workers to take part in political life, time to debate and discuss ideas, time to make contributions about how society would be run.

Within a day after May 1, some 65,000 to 80,000 people in Chicago were walking picket lines.

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