Agitate, Educate, Occupy
Socialism 2012 promises to be bigger than ever--and is not to be missed.
FROM THE Arab Spring in early 2011, to the rebellions in the squares and plazas of Europe, to the rejection of austerity at the ballot box this spring in Greece and France--the neoliberal policies that seek to solve the economic crisis on the backs of workers and the poor have ignited a new spirit of resistance.
In the U.S., 2011 began with Wisconsin workers and students occupying the Capitol in Madison against a Republican assault on our unions. Half a year later, the Occupy movement drew a line between the wealthy 1 percent who rule and the rest of us--a message that resonated with tens of thousands of people who joined occupations and protests, and even larger numbers who were inspired by the possibility of a political alternative.
Also last fall, the U.S.--a society steeped in racism--saw the emergence of an antiracist struggle in opposition to the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, and then even more explosively after the murder of Trayvon Martin by a racist vigilante in Florida.
But of course, none of the struggles are finished. There's much more organizing to be done, and many more discussions and debates ahead about what will make the resistance stronger.
Socialism 2012, an annual conference co-sponsored by SocialistWorker.org, set for Chicago on June 28-July 1, will be a much-needed opportunity to bring together the activists involved in all these struggles--to learn from one another and strategize about the next steps.
Few platforms exist that bring together people from the frontlines of so many different battles taking place today--from socialists in Greece to the Occupiers in the U.S., from teachers union activists fighting for public schools to leaders in the opposition to Israel's apartheid. Socialism 2012 will bring together all these resisters and more--people involved in struggles large and small.
Socialism 2012 is also the place to learn about the working-class history and Marxist theory that can inform our struggles of today and help rebuild a revolutionary socialist alternative in the U.S. We have a role to play in reviving our rich and hidden history of working-class resistance, and bringing Marxism--a theory that not only explains how capitalism works, but offers an alternative to it--back into the struggle.
Ideas and organization matter, and Socialism 2012 aims to help bring socialist politics to a growing number of people.
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FROM THE surface appearance, many of the recent struggles seem to have come out of nowhere. At the start of 2011, no one would have predicted that Hosni Mubarak would fall in a matter of a couple months--or that a mass movement, often led by youth, would revive radical traditions with the occupations of public spaces in Spain and Greece.
In the U.S., on a smaller scale, we've seen the potential for sudden outbreaks of resistance. Occupy Wall Street began in Zuccotti Park, but its opposition to corporate greed at the expense of working-class living standards spread Occupy, in one form or another, to cities across the country. Likewise, the outpouring of support for Trayvon Martin and his family's fight for justice brought out tens of thousands in cities North and South to stand up against racism.
But the ingredients for revolt existed long before the revolts themselves. There was the anger of workers at lowered living standards, attacks on social spending, police brutality and racism brewing just below the surface. And it's also true that before each of these big waves of protest, there were networks of people organizing and building for the resistance to come.
In Egypt, the years of organizing that came before 2011 were essential to the downfall of the dictator. The small strikes and protests, and the patient day-to-day work of building networks and organizations, didn't make the front page of the New York Times, but they helped prepare the way for the big battles to come.
The thing that I really got from the conference is that there are so many socialists and activists involved in a wide variety of struggles--many, many struggles all around this country. If you look at them from the inside, they might look small. But if you look at the bigger picture, these struggles are incredibly important, whether they win or lose. Every single struggle in the U.S. really is a stepping stone toward developing consciousness and organization.
The other thing that I noticed is the tremendous amount of commitment from those socialists and activists on a daily basis. A commitment, not only to fight those small struggles, but to prepare for a bigger battle to change the whole system. We've also had many, many small struggles in Egypt--and sometimes, people didn't know where these struggles would go. But ultimately, every single struggle they fought over the years made a difference in January and February 2011.
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THIS YEAR'S Socialism conference will feature the activists, unionists, authors and journalists who are part of building this new resistance. From Greece, Antonis Davanellos--a leading member of the Internationalist Workers Left, one of the organizations that founded the Coalition of the Radical Left which achieved a stunning-second-place finish in Greece's elections with a program for repudiating the country's debt payments--will speak on Greek revolt.
Speaking on Occupy is independent journalist and author Arun Gupta, the founding editor of The Indypendent newspaper. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will speak on the campaign for imprisoned Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, and Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald will give a presentation on challenging the U.S. surveillance state.
An evening panel on "The fight against the New Jim Crow" will feature family members and activists who are standing up to oppose the racist justice system, including SocialistWorker.org columnist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor among them. Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, will speak alongside other activists on the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel's apartheid.
The struggle by teachers to protect public schools and their unions will be the topic of several meetings on education by rank-and-file teacher-activists. Also among the meetings to take up strategies for unionists is the topic of "A shop-floor view of the end of the American Dream," with Gregg Shotwell, author of Autoworkers Under the Gun, and Dan Lane, a veteran of the 1990s Staley struggle.
Other featured speakers include Boots Riley of the Coup speaking on music and struggle; Sharon Smith, author of Women and Socialism, on Marxism and women's liberation; award-winning novelist China Miéville on "Guilty pleasures: Art and politics"; Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, who will speak on their invaluable book about Black autoworkers, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying; and radical sports columnist Dave Zirin on violence in pro sports.
Several talks will look at the history of anti-racist struggle and the roots of oppression: including "Why we can't wait: Martin Luther King and the struggle for justice" with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty's Marlene Martin; and "The Black revolution on campus" with historian Martha Biondi.
Marxism and the revolutionary socialist tradition will be at the center of the conference. An Introduction to Socialism and Marxism series includes meetings on "Why the working class?" "How the 1 percent rules: Class, power and the state" and "The ABCs of Marxist economics." International Socialist Review editor Ahmed Shawki will speak on "Lenin's Lenin's Left Wing Communism," part of the Marxist Classics series that also includes "Rosa Luxemburg's Reform or Revolution," presented by author Paul LeBlanc.
Socialism 2012 will be a place to debate different strategies to make our movements and struggles stronger. Look for talks on "Precariat, proletariat, working class: The debate on class and the precariat" and "Anarchism: A critical history," "What kind of party do we need to build?" and "Can we prefigure the future in the movements of today?"
Dozens more talks covering the economic crisis, U.S. imperialism, the struggle for LBGT equality, the environment, Chicano politics, culture and art, and more are listed in full on the website.
There is a significant audience for socialist ideas. In addition to those who have taken part in these wide and varied struggles, there are more who been influenced by them--who can start to see not only the crimes of capitalism but the potential for something better.
If recent struggles have shown anything, it's that rebuilding a revolutionary socialist alternative in the U.S. is an urgent task, and one worth working toward. Socialism 2012 is part of the process of learning our radical history, traditions and theory for the struggles to come.