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Socialism: Revolution in the Air | July 1-4 | Chicago

THE SOCIALISM 2011 conference that will be held in Chicago on July 1-4 couldn't have a more appropriate slogan than "Revolution in the Air." It isn't half over, but 2011 is already certain to go down in history as a time of revolution and resistance.

From the beginning of the year, North Africa and the Middle East have been swept by a wave of uprisings against dictatorship and oppression. Two tyrants, in power for decades thanks to the backing of the U.S. government, have fallen. Other regimes have tried to quell rebellion with savage violence--but even against the odds, the resistance continues to rise up, from Syria to Yemen to Algeria and more.

Last month, the Arab Spring spread to Spain, where masses of people said enough to unemployment and austerity, and occupied central plazas in imitation of Cairo's Tahrir Square demonstrations. Greece, too, has been the site of renewed strikes and protests.

In the U.S., the Republicans' triumphalism after last November's election victory faced a fast and furious response in Wisconsin when unionists, students, activists and others took over the Capitol in Madison in protest of Gov. Scott Walker's reactionary, union-busting legislation. For the first time in years, we got a glimpse of the power of the U.S. working class--and the potential of the many small struggles and political movements that often pass without much notice to come together in a united fightback.

Of course, none of these struggles--from Egypt and Tunisia to Madrid and Madison--have marched forward easily and unchallenged.

In Wisconsin, Walker defied the mass mobilizations and month-long Capitol occupation to ram through his anti-union law--and since then, union leaders and Democratic officeholders have succeeded in turning the movement away from protest and direct action and toward negotiations and elections.

Even in Egypt, the future of the revolution is being fought for week by week--with the forces of the old order trying to divert the rebellion against dictatorship into religious conflicts and scapegoating, while the left attempts to build up its forces for the battles ahead.

Across the Middle East, the tyrants have learned that their only hope is to unleash terrible repression. And the U.S., whose domination of the region was shaken by the fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak, is reasserting its power in an effort to reign in the Arab Spring--most obviously, with the not-so-humanitarian assault on Libya aimed at establishing a pro-Western regime in the heart of the region.

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THE REBELLIONS of 2011 show the potential for a radical alternative to the status quo to take hold--including in places, like the Middle East or the American Midwest, that weren't exactly considered ripe for left-wing politics. But taking the next steps in building that alternative will require a stronger left and a revitalized international socialist movement.

That's where events like Socialism 2011 come in. The conference, held in Chicago on July 1-4 and cosponsored by SocialistWorker.org, will be a forum for activists and political people to come together and discuss the urgent questions we face today--and learn what the socialist tradition and the history of the working-class movement can teach us about the answers.

One question on everyone's minds, of course, is the future of the Arab revolutions. Two witnesses to Egypt's uprising, Ahmed Shawki and Mostafa Omar--whose on-the-ground reports and analysis appeared here at SocialistWorker.org--will lead sessions on what set the stage for the revolution against Mubarak, and what the future holds.

They'll be joined by Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald, one of today's most outspoken critics of the U.S. military machine and its violence and repression abroad and at home. Greenwald will speak on the war on civil liberties in the U.S.--with a special focus on how that war has continued from Bush to Obama.

Where is the struggle in Wisconsin headed? Two leading voices from the newly formed activist coalition Wisconsin Resists, Eric Cobb and Sam Jordan, will discuss the future of the fight in FitzWalkerstan.

There'll be a lot more discussion of the working-class struggle in the U.S.--the challenges our movement faces and how we can start to meet them. SocialistWorker.org's Lee Sustar will outline the scale of the ruling-class offensive in a session on "Crisis and Class Struggle in the Age of Austerity." For a discussion of the role of socialists in labor struggles, you'll want to hear Larry Bradshaw on "Marxism and the Trade Unions."

2011 has also seen the stirrings of a new women's movement, determined to challenge the right wing's lies about women's reproductive rights and the victim-blaming and violence of a sexist society. Elizabeth Schulte and Rachel Cohen, two writers you'll know from this website, will lead sessions on "A Woman's Place Is in the Revolution" and "Raunch Culture: The New Sexism."

The struggle for Palestine has reached a new scale, with huge nonviolent protests last month at Israel's borders to mark the anniversary of the Nakba in 1948 and a new effort by international solidarity activists to break the siege of Gaza, set for later this month. Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti will travel from the West Bank to speak on the subject of his new book Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. There will be many more meetings on this crucial subject for the left--for example, author and activist Sherry Wolf will dismantle "The Myths of Zionism."

Today's struggles and movements are part of a rich history of resistance. One of the most iconic images of our movement's past is John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising the Black Power fist salute at the 1968 Olympics. Carlos, whose new memoir will be introduced at Socialism, is joining Nation sports columnist and author Dave Zirin to talk "Sports and Resistance." Zirin will also screen the film based on his most recent book Not Just a Game.

There's a lot more history to learn about at Socialism. Sharon Smith, author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States, will speak on "Mass Strikes in U.S. History." And there's Paul D'Amato, author of The Meaning of Marxism, taking up the fate of the 1917 Russian Revolution--how its best-known leaders Lenin and Trotsky fought to stop Joseph Stalin from coming to power and presiding over the dismantling of the first real experiment in workers' power.

Those looking to discuss Marxist theory can look forward to Bill Keach's presentation on Marx's theory of historical materialism, or Jen Roesch's explanation of the Marxist concept of base and superstructure, or a two-part session on Marx's Capital led by Petrino DiLeo and Hadas Thier.

Those are just a few of the more than 100 meetings planned for Socialism. But Socialism is always about more than the speakers, as great as they are. It's an opportunity for activists from around the country to meet and compare experiences, inside the sessions and outside them. It's a chance for socialists to discuss the questions where we disagree, and to better understand how to put forward the ideas we all agree on.

These are all critical parts of rebuilding the left and the socialist movement as we prepare for the next steps in the struggle for the future.

You can find out more at the Socialism 2011 website. We hope readers of SocialistWorker.org will join us in Chicago--this event can't be missed.