Intro to Socialism
The world today is in a mess. Look at your neighborhood and look at the world.
We are facing the worst economic depression since the 1930s. Everyday we see more war, more budget cuts, and more environmental destruction. The rich get richer and the poor poorer. The following facts speak for themselves:
- 2.5 billion people survive on less than $2 a day.
- More than $800 billion are spent on the military every year.
- The private assets of the 200 richest people in the world are more than the combined incomes of the poorest 2.4 billion.
In the United States, one in four children lives in poverty. More than 47 million people have no health care coverage. And the average CEO makes 1,000 times more than the workers in their companies. And now with the current financial meltdown millions of people are losing their jobs and homes. (All the statistics in this article can be found at http://www.globalissues.org.)
Those in power would like us to think that all this suffering is inevitable because of “human nature.” We are told again and again that there is no alternative to the status quo — socialism is dead, revolution is utopian. Conservative historian Francis Fukuyama proclaimed “the end of history” after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and concluded that capitalism constituted “the final form of human government.”
But is humanity really condemned to live under this violent and irrational system forever? We don’t think so. An alternative does exist and is worth fighting for. History has not ended — it has barely even begun.
What is Capitalism?
The main factor pushing our society toward revolution is the irrationality of the capitalist system. Look at the huge gap in this society between the tremendous potential for providing for human needs and the existing reality.
Take the question of hunger. According to the government, 1 out of 10 people — and about 1 out of 6 children — in the U.S. are currently going hungry. Things are even worse worldwide, with 854 million people going hungry, 2 million more than last year. Every day, about 30,000 children die from hunger-related causes — one child every three seconds.
So is there just “not enough to go around”?
In reality, the opposite is true. The Institute for Food Development and Policy explains: “Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world’s food supply. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide — enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most ‘hungry countries’ have enough food for all their people right now.”
Jean Ziegler, the Special Reporter on the Right to Food of the United Nations, rightly concluded: “Hunger is the principal cause of death on the planet. Every child who dies of hunger in today’s world has been murdered.”
If you had a say in running society, you’d probably argue: “Let’s just give the extra food to the people who need it.” It’s common sense, right?
But capitalism is not based on common sense — it’s based on making profits. It’s a system where the means of production (the factories, the land, the mines, etc.) are not owned or controlled by society as a whole. Instead, they are owned by a tiny fraction of the population: the capitalists.
Goods are not produced to satisfy human needs, they are produced to make profits for those on top. Because there is no profit to be made in providing food to poor people, millions are just left to starve.
It is an upside-down system. President Obama bails out the Wall St. bankers responsible for the current financial mess and billions are spent on prisons and war, while our public schools and hospitals crumble. Few science-fiction writers of the past could have imagined a more warped society.
How Has Capitalism Evolved?
Capitalism wasn’t always reactionary. Capitalism in its ascendant stage, from the 16th century to the early 20th century, was overall a progressive factor for humanity — despite the exploitation and racism that it generated. This new system smashed feudal backwardness, revolutionized technology and the productive forces, and industrialized many countries in Europe.
The basic economic contradictions of the system — such as the phenomenon that too many goods are produced for workers of a given country to buy back (overproduction) — could be overcome as long as capitalism was expanding geographically, spreading like a virus throughout the world, selling its surplus goods to colonies throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
But the earth is only so big. By 1914 there were no new major markets to conquer and the major capitalist countries — England, France, the United States, and Germany — were obliged to fight each other for control over the existing markets and colonies.
World War I, one of bloodiest and most barbaric chapters in human history, showed that capitalism had entered its final stage: senile imperialism, in which profits are made principally through destruction, not production.
Flash forward to today. Can anybody deny that the crisis begun in 1914 has only gotten worse? Isn’t the current “financial meltdown” really the crisis of the capitalist system itself?
The system’s crisis is so deep today that the capitalists can only keep their companies profitable by tearing down all of the gains won by the oppressed through past struggles. Look at any country of the world and you’ll see that the corporations, their institutions (IMF, World Bank, European Union, WTO, Mercosur, etc.) and the political forces subordinated to them are on a desperate offensive to get rid of public services, labor and democratic rights, health care, public education, Social Security, and independent workers´ organizations. This is the reality behind the rhetoric of “globalization.”
This offensive is threatening the very existence of whole nations. Here are a few examples. Through war, U.S. imperialism has destroyed the infrastructure, productive capabilities, and public services of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia. Through privatization, deregulation, and the “foreign debt,” imperialism has decimated dozens of countries in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.
Look at the chaos and devastation imposed on the African continent — 3,000 people die every day from AIDS, only 1% of AIDS patients are treated, only 1 in 3 children complete school, and half the population lives on less than one dollar per day.
This is the future that the capitalist system has in store for every country of world — unless it is overthrown. Are we exaggerating? Not at all. Look at New Orleans and you’ll see that this devastation has already reached the shores of the United States.
Here’s the bottom line: We have the technology and resources to provide decent lives for all of humanity, yet more people are currently starving and sick than ever before in human history.
The famous American author Jack London concluded, “In the face of the fact that modern man lives more wretchedly than the caveman, and that humanity’s producing power is a thousand times greater than that of the caveman, no other conclusion is possible than that the capitalist class has mismanaged. Your management is to be taken away from you. This is the revolution.”
Can Capitalism Be “Humanized”?
Many people ask us, “Ok, I agree there are many problems today. But can’t we make the system more fair by supporting fair trade, working together with socially responsible business owners, and making our lifestyles more sustainable?”
Let’s look at the facts. To stay competitive in the market, all corporations (regardless of how humanitarian their owners might be) are forced to maximize profits by lowering wages, cutting benefits, evading environmental controls and other regulations, and moving their businesses to countries where it is easier to do so.
The U.N.’s Jean Ziegler observed that all corporations “must be predators, otherwise they will get devoured by the competition.” Just as cancer cannot be cured with a band-aid, this “race toward the bottom” cannot be ended by any governmental reform or by asking the capitalists to abide by humanitarian “codes of conduct” — which are primarily publicity ploys and means to co-opt and integrate opposition, while business continues as usual.
“Fair trade” capitalism — or a “solidarity economy” based on co-operatives — will never replace down-and-dirty capitalism for the following reason: Companies that don’t focus on profit-making inevitably fall behind the competition and are obliged to either merge with a profitable company or go out of business. Experience shows that it is impossible to create islands of socialism in a sea of capitalism.
In this context, it should come as no surprise that the main proponents of “humanizing capitalism” — non-profits (NGOs) and the Social Forums — are funded primarily by the institutions of imperialism, such as the Ford Foundation and the World Bank.
What if we elect a progressive government to power? Unfortunately, real power today lies in institutions that are free of the influence of the popular vote. The people do not elect the heads of the military, the police chiefs, the administrators of the top government departments, or the judges. We do not elect the leaders of the institutions which, more and more, dictate economic and social policies to governments throughout the world: the World Bank, the IMF, etc.
So when the people elect an administration that refuses to play by the rules of the ruling class, the capitalists are forced to discard their democratic façade and use their economic influence and the unelected institutions of the state (primarily the military) to destabilize and overthrow the elected bodies.
One glaring example of this phenomenon took place in 1973, when a self-proclaimed socialist, Salvador Allende, was elected president of Chile. When Allende began to nationalize the copper industry (which was owned by U.S. corporations) and when he took steps toward providing land for the landless, a wing of the Chilean ruling class banded together with the military and the CIA, staged a coup, killed Allende, assassinated thousands of workers and peasants, and brought the dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. More recently, similar attacks have taken place against the democratically elected governments in Venezuela and Bolivia.
What is the Working Class?
Wage earners — called the “gravediggers of capitalism” by Karl Marx for their capacity to overturn the system that relies on them — make up well over 75% of the population in the United States. Workers survive by selling their labor to the capitalists, in exchange for a wage.
Workers and bosses cannot “work together” in harmony because their interests are 100% opposed. Every extra dollar you make as a wage slave is one dollar less in profit your boss receives. As the saying goes, “Our dreams are their nightmares.”
Calling for the exploited to find “common cause” with their exploiters is not only utopian, it’s also reactionary in practice because it means pushing for workers to dissolve the only instruments they have to defend their specific interests — their class organizations, particularly their labor unions.
The economy and all of society would grind to a screeching halt without the labor of working people.
Workers — black, white, and immigrant; men and women; blue-collar and white-collar — can shut down any city in a matter of minutes just by folding their arms. We run the schools, the fields, the stores, the factories, the offices, transportation; we are the soldiers in the military; and we produce and distribute food, gas, light, heat — everything. That’s real power. Even the White House itself is dependent on its janitors, secretaries, cooks, and clerks.
As the famous union song “Solidarity Forever” explains, “Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel would turn!” Recently, in December 2005, more than 20,000 transit workers struck in New York City and effectively shut down much of the city. And that was only a glimpse of our potential power.
Many years earlier, on July 16, 1877, a spontaneous strike of workers protesting a wage cut in Martinsburg, West Virginia, sparked what within days became a country-wide insurrection, which came to be known as “The Great Rebellion.” Historian Jeremy Brecher explains: “Strikers seized and closed the nation’s most important industry, the railroads, and crowds defeated or won over first the police, then the state militias and some cases even the federal troops. General strikes brought work to a standstill in a dozen major cities, and strikers took over authority in communities across the nation.”
Who Rules the United States?
A ruling class exists in our country. We’re talking about a really tiny amount of people, about 60,000 at most. This is no conspiracy theory. You can easily read about these folks in magazines like Forbes and Fortune 500. Michael Zweig — a State University of New York professor who researched the U.S. class structure — notes that “the entire U.S. ruling class could easily be seated in Yankee Stadium, which holds 57,000 people.”
If you look at any major institution in our country — the government, the schools, the corporations, the army — you’ll see that they are all structured pretty much the same way: a pyramid from the top going down. At the very top of these institutions you almost always have the most influential capitalists, the members of the ruling class.
“Never before in the history of humanity has so much power been concentrated into the hands of so few people,” concludes Jean Ziegler. During the year 2007, the wealth of the richest 0.13% people in the world rose by 8.2% — meaning that this tiny minority now controls 25% of the world’s wealth!
In the past, ruling classes were proud of their role. They’d wear crowns and fancy robes, and when they walked around town ordinary people would stand to the side, and say to themselves, “Hey, there’s one of our ruling class!” They don’t do that today. The CEO of Chevron would never run a T.V. commercial saying, “Hey all, please remember to work harder so that my buddies who own everything can get richer. Thanks!”
Instead, they tell us — through the television, the newspapers, the schools — that most people are “middle class”, “if you work hard you can make it,” the government is “by the people and for the people”, “revolution is impossible” — and therefore we should “work within the system.”
One of the most dangerous and prevalent illusions hammered into our heads is racism. Racism — like sexism and homophobia — pits workers against each other to keep them from uniting against their real enemy: the bosses. White workers are turned against Blacks. Native-born workers are told immigrants are “stealing their jobs.” It’s an age-old strategy of divide and conquer. It’s also an effective way to super-exploit entire segments of the working class — resulting, for example, in Black people having double the poverty rates of whites.
In the United States — a country built on the ideology of white supremacy and the subjugation of Black people and other oppressed nationalities — the fight against racism and all forms of oppression is at the core of the fight for social justice.
Are the Democrats a “Lesser Evil”?
Elections under our two-party system are a game of “heads we lose, tails they win” because big business funds and controls both the Republicans and the Democrats. The two parties have differences, but (behind the rhetoric) these are disputes over how to best defend the interests of the ruling rich. They debate how many troops should occupy Iraq and how many miles of wall should be built on the border to keep out “illegals.” The idea that the U.S. has no right to be in Iraq or that no human being is illegal never even enters the debate.
A central obstacle on the road to social change in the United States is the subordination of the leaderships of the labor, anti-war, Black, and immigrant rights’ movements to the Democratic Party, which uses populist rhetoric to co-opt, disorient, and demobilize the biggest threats to corporate rule — independent mass struggles.
Ever since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the huge anti-war protests of millions, key forces such as United For Peace and Justice, Moveon.org and many union bureaucrats, have subordinated the anti-war movement to a focus on electing Democrats. The result? Every two years, activists of the peace movement are swept out of the streets to waste huge amounts of money and energy to elect politicians who talk about ending the war, but who loyally continue to support it. And now Obama is expanding the war in Afghanistan and he refuses to bring back all the troops from Iraq.
But what about the “left-wing” Democrats? These politicians have no control over party policy, but are used like a carrot to keep working people inside the Democratic Party, to keep them from organizing independently. Dennis Kucinich openly explained his reasons for running for the presidential nomination in 2004: “The Democratic Party created third parties by running to the middle. What I’m trying to do is to go back to the big tent so that everyone who felt alienated could come back through my candidacy.”
The Democratic Party is a graveyard for social movements. The populist rebellion of the 1890s, the explosive labor struggles of the 1930s, and the civil rights and Black Power struggles of the 1960s and ’70s all fell apart when the Democrats successfully co-opted the leaderships of these movements.
We in Socialist Organizer argue for a clean break with the twin parties of the bosses and we fight for the creation of a mass independent Labor Party based on the trade unions and all the organizations of the oppressed — a party of and for the working class majority.
How Do Mass Movements Happen?
Some people claim that American workers are “bought off by the system” — that they don’t rebel because they are “too well off,” and that therefore “things have to get worse before they get better.”
In reality, the majority of workers in the United States have seen their living conditions steadily deteriorate since 1973. Working people struggle every day to make ends meet and live in constant fear that their family will be thrown into the streets if they lose their job or get sick. The fact is that the United States has the highest poverty and inequality rates of any industrialized nation and as high an infant mortality rate as Malaysia. And with the current economic crisis, all this is getting worse.
But bad living conditions don’t automatically lead to struggle. If that were the case, then the whole continent of Africa would be in a permanent state of rebellion.
In reality, a central obstacle toward collective resistance is the widespread illusion of powerlessness promoted by the bosses and their lackeys in the mass movements. All too often we activists are told, “I support your cause and I’d go to your protest, but it won’t make a difference anyhow!” This pervasive sense of powerlessness is why we cannot radicalize the American people by ourselves. Go buy a bull-horn, stand on a busy street-corner, shout about the need for revolution and see how many people you convince.
Most people will reject the case for radical change as “utopian” until they experience the empowering force of collective resistance. That is why fightbacks around immediate demands — for example, against budget cuts or the ICE raids and deportations — are so important. These struggles rapidly transform ordinary people, give them a sense of their strength, and force them to start shedding their illusions.
Farrell Dobbs was a young, Republican-voting worker who became a union leader and Marxist through his life-changing experience the historic 1934 Minneapolis truck-drivers’ strike. In his book about the strike, Teamsters Rebellion, he noted:
“Wise-guys of the day spoke about the ‘passivity’ of the working class, never understanding that the seeming docility of the workers at a given times is a relative thing. If workers are more or less holding their own in daily life and expecting that they can get ahead slowly, they won’t tend to radicalize. Things are different when they are losing ground and the future looks precarious to them. Then a change begins to occur in their attitude, which is not always immediately apparent. The tinder of discontent begins to pile up. Any spark can light, and once lit, the fire can spread rapidly.”
The new immigrants rights’ movement is a perfect example of this explosive process. Years went by with barely a peep from immigrants — so the whole world was taken by surprise when millions poured into the streets in the spring of 2006.
Most participants entered the movement with little political clarity. Many thought that the Democrats were their allies — until they saw the Democrats refuse to call for an end to the ICE raids. Many thought the police existed to “fight crime and protect communities” — until they saw the L.A. cops brutally attack peaceful protestors on May 1, 2007. Similarly, both the strengths and weaknesses of the movement demonstrated in practice the need for more unity among workers of different nationalities. And most important, these experiences revealed to millions their collective power. The sleeping giant has begun to wake up.
What is the Relationship Between Reform and Revolution?
Today — under capitalism in its final stage of decay — any reform that could meaningfully raise the living standards of the majority inevitably reaches beyond the narrow limits of the system. Not one of the principal demands of the existing mass movements can be fully satisfied under capitalism. In this context, the fight to defend past reforms and win new ones is inextricably tied to the fight for to overthrow the system as a whole.
Independent mass fightbacks — no matter how limited the initial demands — are the first step of revolution, the bridge toward higher levels of consciousness and organization, because ordinary people learn in the fire of struggle.
These life-changing experiences can rapidly burn political illusions to the ground. Take the example of Martin Luther King Jr., who became a radical after bitter experience pushed him to drop his initial moderate perspective. Here’s a typical quote from him in 1968, right before his assassination: “The Black revolution is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws — racism, poverty, militarism and materialism. It is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”
Struggles of one sector of the oppressed also inspire other struggles. Confidence and hope are contagious. That’s why years, even decades, can go by with few major protests, but when a mass movement does arise, it hits society like a bolt of lightning — and tends to spread like wildfire throughout the working class and throughout the country.
This has happened time and time again in this country’s history. Look at how the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s fueled the Black Power and antiwar movements — which in turn fueled and fed off of the explosive fightbacks of women, Chicanos, gays, and rank-and-file workers from 1968 to 1973.
What Does a Revolution Look Like?
Revolutions are the climax and result of the whole preceding period of sharpening social crisis and deepening mass mobilizations. In this sense, revolutions are like earthquakes — which occur at the inescapable moment when years of friction built up between colliding landmasses reaches a breaking point and must be released.
When society’s crisis reaches its boiling point, millions of ordinary people with no previous experience in politics explode onto the political stage, in search of a solution to their most urgent needs. This — not a conspiracy of armed radicals — is what we mean when we talk about revolution.
Leon Trotsky — who together with V.I. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, led the Russian workers to power in October 1917, around the demands of “Bread, Land, and Peace!” — noted:
“The most unquestionable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state — be it monarchical or democratic — elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business — kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime. The history of a revolution is first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of the rulership over their own destiny.”
When the vast majority mobilizes in its own name, the old illusion of powerlessness is definitively shattered. The ruling class is pushed onto the defensive and becomes paralyzed by crisis. The euphoric feeling that “anything is possible” fills the air. To quote V.I. Lenin, revolutions “are festivals of the oppressed.”
During periods of revolutionary crisis, general strikes — labor strikes of all the workers of a city or even the whole country — can definitively demonstrate the earth-shaking power of the working class to run society on its own. For example, during the San Francisco general strike of 1934, communal dining halls run by the strike committee fed the whole city.
The old divisions imposed on the majority can be torn down in these history-making moments. Workers and youth of different sexes, backgrounds, nationalities, and political traditions unite in struggle. In the words of Karl Marx, “Revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overturning it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”
This unprecedented wave of resistance requires a new type of organization to channel the struggle — workers’ councils. These mass institutions of grassroots democracy — where all representatives are directly elected and instantly recallable by their peers in the workplaces — are instruments of struggle and, potentially, organs of a new power. During the great upheavals of the last century these organizations arose under different names — most famously, they were called soviets (Russia 1905 and 1917), factory councils (Italy 1920), workers’ councils (Germany 1918, Hungary 1956), Asamblea Popular (Bolivia 1971 and 2005), cordones industriales (Chile 1973), and shoras (Iran 1979).
The emergence of workers’ councils opens a stormy situation of dual power — where the capitalist state exists side by side with the councils, embryos of a new workers’ government. Obviously, this situation cannot last forever. Either the people will put all power into the hands of the councils or the old regime will wait out the crisis and then re-impose its rule.
But won’t the government use the army and police to crush any revolution? The army is made up of the poor and in times of revolutionary crisis, rank-and-file mutinies within the armed forces are common. Would you shoot your friends and family members who are fighting for social change?
In 1971, American Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr. lamented, “Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, and dispirited where not near-mutinous. Conditions exist among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the collapse of the Czarist armies in 1916 and 1917.”
By winning over the ranks of the army, workers and the oppressed can come to power peacefully. The monumental task of rebuilding society on a free and democratic basis would begin and a brilliant new chapter in human history would unfold.
Is a Revolutionary Socialist Party Necessary?
History shows that without the help of a sufficiently influential revolutionary socialist party, workers can rock capitalism back on its heels, but cannot knock it out.
The masses storm onto the political stage with a definite sense that “things must change,” but without a clear perspective on how this change can be accomplished. This poses an obvious problem, because revolutionary situations cannot last for long — no more than a few days, weeks or months at most. There is little time for experimenting or learning by trial and error. If the workers fail to strike when the iron is hot, demoralization will seep in and the counter-revolution will take the initiative.
This is why a revolutionary socialist party — which acts as the workers’ collective memory by passing on the lessons learned through past struggles — is needed. Trying to fight for revolution without the benefit of these lessons is like hiking at night without a map or a flashlight and hoping you will eventually make it to your destination.
In the same way that steam needs a piston to be effectively channeled, the mass upsurges of the oppressed can only result in victory when a revolutionary party exists that can effectively provide a realistic plan toward taking power and can help the people overcome all the obstacles in their path.
As we mentioned earlier, the most important obstacles are the bought-off “left-wing” leaders and organizations that promote class-collaboration. These representatives of the bosses within our movement are the folks who today dissolve our struggles and independent organizations into the Democratic Party and who tomorrow, during a revolutionary crisis, will preach “moderation” and try to put a brake on the upsurge by pushing for “alliances” with our exploiters.
In times of mass upheaval, when the capitalists and their direct representatives are largely discredited in the eyes of the masses, these “reformist” leaderships are the only hope to preserve the system. The defeats of dozens of revolutions last century rest largely on their shoulders. Leon Trotsky concluded, “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership.”
Is Socialism Against Human Nature?
Some argue that even if a revolution did take place, it would soon degenerate — like in Russia — because socialism is against “human nature.”
We socialists don’t deny that many people today are greedy or selfish. That doesn’t mean, however, that these are inborn traits. They are the by-products of an inequitable distribution of wealth and are reinforced by the capitalist-controlled media and educational system.
Capitalism wasn’t created by “natural greed”: capitalism makes greed seem natural. The idea that people are naturally greedy is similar to the idea, popular during feudalism, that “some are born to rule, and some are born to be ruled.” Every ruling class wants people to think its rule is eternal and natural.
But capitalism is far from eternal. For most of human history, there were no classes, and we lived communally in small bands, dividing up the work and the wealth in the interest of everyone. Indeed, various classless societies — such as the !Kung people in Namibia and Botswana — still exist today. “Human nature” isn’t different in these cultures — the structure of society is.
Furthermore, modern science has shattered the myth that human biology makes a society based on solidarity impossible. The famous biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote: “Why imagine that specific genes for aggression or spite have any importance when we know that the brain’s enormous flexibility permits us to be aggressive or peaceful, dominant or submissive, spiteful or generous? Violence, sexism and general nastiness are biological since they represent one subset of a possible range of behaviors. But peacefulness, equality and kindness are just as biological—and we may see their influence increase if we can create social structures that permit them to flourish.”
Under capitalism, humanity is like a plant trying to flower in a dark cellar— we don’t get much of a chance to develop our potential. But, if we were raised in the soil of a different society, isn’t it obvious that we would change? In a socialist society where there is an abundance of goods, what would be the point in hoarding or stealing?
Don’t Revolutions Lead to Dictatorships? Look at Russia…
Socialism does not mean “making everybody the same.” It does not mean totalitarianism. It does not mean “the end of freedom.” These are myths. Socialism means the expansion of democracy in all aspects of society.
But society can only reach this stage by ending economic scarcity. In economically backward countries like Russia, China or Cuba, the economic preconditions for building a socialist society simply did not exist. Socialism cannot be built within the borders of one country — especially not a poor, peasant country.
Why then did V.I Lenin, Leon Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party lead the Russian workers to power in October 1917? The answer is simple. They saw themselves as “the advanced outpost of the world revolution” and sought to spread the revolution internationally.
In fact, a massive revolutionary wave did sweep over Europe and the world after 1917, but the workers’ revolutions in Germany, Italy, and Hungary were crushed and drowned in blood, due to the absence of revolutionary parties able to lead the struggle to victory. By 1921, starvation, poverty, and unemployment ravaged Russia — due to an imperialist-funded civil war, the armed invasion of 14 countries, and a full economic blockade.
The tremendous scarcity of essentials like food and clothing led some government functionaries to begin to siphon off goods for themselves. In order to secure its privileged position, this emerging bureaucracy, led by Joseph Stalin, had to eliminate all organs of democracy in the party and the government. Stalin’s first victims were those socialists of the “Left Opposition” led by Leon Trotsky, who fought (as had V.I. Lenin in the last months of his life) to return the revolution to its democratic roots and the newly formed Third International to its internationalist program. The Fourth International grew out of this heroic struggle.
Here’s the point: If you understand the socio-economic roots of Stalinism, then you can see why what happened in Russia wouldn’t necessarily happen in the United States, the richest, most technologically advanced country in the world.
What Is Socialist Organizer and What Are We Fighting For?
Socialist Organizer is the U.S. section of the Fourth International, an international organization of workers and youth in 45 countries that stands in the revolutionary socialist traditions of Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, and Leon Trotsky.
We participate in all struggles for progressive social change, mobilize for the unity and independence of working people, the oppressed, and their organizations, and always try to point the way forward in the struggle.
We fight for socialism, for the expropriation of the major means of production. We fight for a society where the people, organized into grassroots multi-party councils, would decide all major economic, political, and cultural questions. Democratic rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association would become realities for all.
Production would finally be put toward providing for human needs. Vast resources would be allocated to provide for everybody’s basic human needs, to eradicate illnesses such as AIDS, and to take measures to save the environment by constructing mass public transportation and harnessing reusable energy sources, to mention just two proposals. The real history of humanity would begin.
Is this utopian? Not at all. The resources already exist to provide for the basic needs of all humans on this planet. The United Nations itself estimated that the cost for all “developing” countries of “achieving and maintaining universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all, reproductive care for all women, adequate food for all, and safe water and sanitation for all is roughly $40 billion a year… This is less than 4% of the combined wealth of the 225 richest people.”
Jack London brilliantly described socialism as follows: “In such a day incentive would be finer and nobler than the incentive of today, which is the incentive of the stomach. On the contrary, the people would be impelled to action as boys and girls at games, as artists painting canvases, as inventors, as scientists, as poets serving humanity by singing. The spiritual, intellectual, and artistic uplift in such a society would be tremendous. All the human world would surge upward in a mighty wave.”
The fate of humanity is at stake. In the 21st century, revolutionary situations are going to arise at home and abroad because capitalism is a self-destructing system that can only create more misery, more hunger, and more war.
But will the upcoming revolutions meet the same tragic fate as most of those in the 20th century? Will society go forward to socialism or backwards to chaos and collapse? The answer largely depends on if we can build the revolutionary organization we need in time. It depends on people like you.