We’ve got another chance at Socialism

August 17, 2018

If you couldn’t make it to the Socialism 2018 conference in Chicago last month, we’re very sorry for you, because it was an amazing four days packed full of political discussions. But even if you made it to the conference, chances are high — with up to a dozen discussions going in each time slot — that you couldn’t get to every session you wanted to hear. The audio website WeAreMany.org has come to the rescue with sound files you can play or download of almost all the presentations from the long weekend. Below are some excerpts to pique your interest in another chance at Socialism.

Black Lives Matter at School | Jesse Hagopian

Professor Noliwe Rooks wrote an important book called Cutting School. In the book she coins a term called “segrenomics” — segregated and unequal forms education that have provided an opportunity for business to make a profit form selling schools...

She writes, “In the fall of 2000, a financial industry publication, the Journal of Private Equity, published an article entitled “Investment Opportunities in Education: Making a profit while making a difference.” The article tracked the upsurge in Wall Street interest in education during the previous decade, saying that that private investments had increased from $2.5 million in 1990 to $4 billion in 2000.

A discussion at the Socialism 2018 conference in Chicago
A discussion at the Socialism 2018 conference in Chicago (Luke Pickrell)

They wrote in the Business Insider: “Although education is a huge part of the economy, it wasn’t much of a business. But as the millennium dawns, the private sector is poised to play a much larger role, fueled by the explosion in the money available to education start-ups. That drive towards privatization is driving much of this segrenomics agenda.

What I want to talk to you about is how the segrenomics agenda is leading to the capturing and caging of Black and Brown youth in this country. I want to explain that school-to-prison pipeline. Then I want to talk about the rise of a new movement that is sweeping this country: the Black Lives Matter at schools movement, how it got started, what its goals are and how we can grow it.

Then I want to talk about how we can overthrow segrenomics, and build a new school system and a new society.

Marxism, Colonialism and Revolution | Pranav Jani

WE HAVE a very small and narrow topic today: Marxism, colonialism and revolution. But actually, I can give you a very quick way to think about my whole talk.

One of the first Indian words that comes into the English language is the word “loot.” It’s from the Hindustani word “lut,” which means to steal, to rob, to plunder. And why shouldn’t that be one of the first words, right? Because that’s what they did to India. They stole, they robbed, they plundered.

You think Britain went to India because it was a poor country? No, it was a rich country. It was poor after they got there.

So the first part of this talk about colonialism is about looting. And the anti-colonialism part is about getting that loot back: What you took from us, we’re going to take it back.

I have two bigger goals in this talk, though. The first is how Marxism gives a framework for thinking about colonialism in relationship to capitalism. For us as Marxists, settler colonialism, trans-Atlantic slavery, chattel slavery, the colonization of Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean — these are all parts of the same process: the emergence of capitalism and its continuation and spread, such that it saturates the entire globe.

That’s one part that I want to convey in the talk. The second goal is Marx’s framework for anti-colonialism and how it relates to socialist revolution. We are for anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-racist struggle in any epoch. We are for it even though we are internationalists and those often take the form of nationalism. But we never confuse national liberation struggles for socialist revolution.

Your Free Time Isn’t Free: Social Reproduction, Social Isolation, and the Marxist Theory of Alienation | Jessie Muldoon

I started thinking about the connection between alienation and social reproduction a few years ago. I was looking at some old labor posters, and came across a poster for the eight-hour day. It’s got a panel that says, “Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for what we will.”

And I thought at the time, “eight hours for what we will” — yeah right. Even with an eight-hour day, which many of us don’t have, that eight hours for what we will has not been achieved....

Most in the working class don’t have nearly the amount of free time we need, and the cost of free time can be quite high. We spend our free time recovering from work, running errands, taking care of family, taking care of pets, cleaning, shopping, planning, organizing, sweeping, putting things away, looking for things, driving kids around, fixing things, looking for more things, putting more things away, going to the doctor, going to the dentist.

The remaining time, and there may well be no remaining time, you may try going bowling, see some music, go out to eat or whatever. But all of those things cost money, and many of them are prohibitively expensive — I’m always shocked at how expensive bowling is.

So your free time isn’t free on a couple of levels. It isn’t free in the sense of availability. Most of our non-work time is consumed by activities that get us back to work or school the next day. And it’s certainly not free in the financial sense.

What Do Socialists Say about White Privilege? | Khury Petersen-Smith and brian bean

Privilege is usually described in what is absent for white people: i.e., white parents don’t have to talk with their children about being wary of police or live in fear of the police themselves; white people don’t face discrimination in housing or in jobs, and the list goes on.

But this lack of racist features of life, when taken together, produce a different lived reality for white people — this is what I believe people refer to when they say “white privilege,” generally speaking.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that, in many ways, Black people live in a different country than white people — one with its own legal regimes, economic reality, level of social crisis, etc. Just as I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that undocumented people, or families with mixed statuses regarding migration, live in a different country from those of us who are U.S. citizens.

It’s also the case that a kind of confidence or arrogance that only seems to exist among white people is attributed to “white privilege” — as is a lack of awareness about the toll of racism and its impacts on people of color, as well as an outright active racism on the part of some white people...

So why this talk? One reason is that there are questions that arise from the application of privilege as a framework. Does the umbrella of “white privilege” explain the range of behaviors of white people in relation to people of color — from passive benefit that white people get from racism, just from living in the U.S., to active use of racism to attack people of color?

There is the question of white privilege and class — and in particular, do working class white people benefit from racism? Or to flesh that out — and I think many people are raising this question in the context of a growing anti-racism and growing anti-capitalism — if capitalism hurts the entire working class, and racism helps uphold capitalism, do working-class white people, who would benefit from the end of capitalism, also benefit from one of its central components — racism. Because there’s a contradiction there, obviously.

Year One of the Russian Revolution | Elizabeth Terzakis

On October 25, 1917, according to the calendar that was in use at that time, the Bolshevik Party led an insurrection that removed the ineffective, unpopular and counterrevolutionary Provisional Government from power — and transferred all power to the soviets. These were workers’ councils and peasants’ councils and soldiers’ councils.

This represents the first and only time in world history that working class people have attempted to rule in their own interests, making it the most important day in working class history — which might make you wonder: why is the ISO one of the few organizations that celebrates it.

The answer is simple: Because the revolution represents the first and only time the working class had taken power, capitalists all over the world have a vested interest in erasing and distorting this history.

Raise your hand if you have heard any of these common misconceptions about the Russian revolution:

Number one: The Russian Revolution was a coup, accomplished by a tiny group of conspirators.

Number two: The Russian Revolution destroyed the Russian economy and led to starvation and mass suffering.

Number three: The political philosophy of its leadership, particularly Lenin, produced the rise of Stalin and made it so that, like all revolutions that attempt to end hunger and want, and achieve freedom and equality, it instead led to greater repression and violence.

Number four: The Russian Revolution was a mistake. It should never have been tried.

Obviously, if these things are true, we might still want to study the Russian Revolution mostly to see what not to do. But we wouldn’t be looking to it as a shining example of what working class people can accomplish when they’re united, organized and committed to achieving socialism. But that is exactly how I think we should see it.

The History and Politics of Trans Liberation | Fainan Lakha and Katie Feyh

In presenting this history, I want you all to think of it as an organizers’ talk: As a series of historical points that help us contextualize the principles we should have, as well as the contradictions we have to navigate in our fight for a society free from oppression.

Some questions I think will come up for us are — and these are very general, but you’ll see how they are concrete later: What are the issues that most affect trans communities? What kinds of reforms should we fight for? How should we understand the moment today referred to by Time magazine as the “trans tipping point”?

All the political questions I discuss today are multisided, and so what I’m trying to do is unpack how things are good and bad, how they are complicated and how they have to be understood in a contextual way.

I want to begin with a point about gender today, because it’s clear that the mainstream of American society has seen a shift. What we’re witnessing today is not just the realization of a truth about gender that’s already been there. People aren’t just coming out and saying what they’ve repressed their whole lives (although repression is certainly a part of it).

Instead, what we are seeing is a process of change — of the development and transformation of gender as a human social practice in real time — new forms of gender that have the potential to mean greater freedom.

Slavery and Capitalism | Brian Jones

THERE IS something more latent in our society than discussed, which is the possibility of making it in our society as an individual, and that being freedom, a kind of financial freedom.

Versus a kind of collective freedom that we could achieve through struggle, through organizing, through solidarity, which is not obvious to everybody, and is not always on the agenda, and is not always there and accessible to people, and is part of what we’re fighting for and trying to put out there.

Understanding the ferocity and violence and brutality of American slavery and capitalism is a more honest picture of American history, and one that is really needed. Anybody shocked by the horrors of slavery should also be shocked by the horrors of capitalism in our present society.

What people described as an “irrepressible conflict” in the past between slave owners and industrial capitalists — between the lords of the lash and the lords of the loom — today, I think we should describe as an “irrepressible conflict” between capital and the labor.

The Trumps of the world fear this harsher, more honest look at American history because peering into the past and looking at the relationship between capitalism and slavery has radical implications for the present. But we, who know that there is still a transformation yet to come, have nothing to fear from this history, and have everything to gain.

Further Reading

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