MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 1

International Socialist Review, Summer 1997

Notes of the Quarter

Arming a new generation of Marxists

From International Socialist Review, Issue 1, Summer 1997.
Copied with thanks from the ISR Archive
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

The need for socialist ideas is greater today than in decades – and so is the potential for rebuilding a socialist movement. That, in essence, is the reason we are launching this, the first issue of International Socialist Review.

The mainstream consensus among the defenders of capitalism is that socialism has collapsed and the free market has won. But look at what the “triumph” of the market really means. Millions of lives are being sacrificed on the altar of profit. Throughout the world, governments committed to the “best business climate” are busily hacking away at workers’ wages and the social safety net.

War and ethnic rivalry escalate as rulers in the Balkans, Africa and elsewhere play the card of racism and national hatred to shore up their sagging power.

In the U.S., more money is spent on prisons than on schools, and the bipartisan attack on welfare, Medicaid and Social Security will put hundreds of thousands of children and elderly, immigrant and native-born, into the streets.

The lack of an alternative and a sense of desperation has produced an opening for the far right. In France, for example, Jean-Marie LePen, leader of the fascist National Front, won 15 percent of the 1995 presidential vote.

But the same conditions that have opened the door to the growth of the far right are also pushing workers into struggle. Over the last several years we have seen the reemergence of mass strikes in France, Germany, Canada, South Korea and elsewhere.

The situation today is reminiscent of the conditions that prompted Karl Marx to pen the Communist Manifesto in 1848. These are conditions that will produce future struggles – that will far surpass those of the 1960s.

But though the conditions are ripe for change, the ideas are lacking. The ideas of Marx, Trotsky, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg – the self-emancipation of the working class must be the conscious, revolutionary act of workers themselves – have been buried under the dead weight of Stalinism and reformism. Socialism came to be seen as something brought from above by elected officials or all-seeing bureaucrats, as something that replaced one kind of tyranny with another.

The collapse of Stalinism, the dismal record of social democratic and labor parties in Europe and elsewhere, and the horrible contradictions of world capitalism open the door to reclaiming the legacy of genuine Marxism. But much of the left that looked to China, Russia and Eastern Europe as somehow alternatives do not see it that way – they are depressed rather than exultant. The result is that they can no longer imagine creating a viable alternative to capitalism. Most look to the Democratic Party, even as Clinton happily slashes away at social programs. Many have even become supporters of so-called humanitarian U.S. or U.N. military intervention. And many write off ordinary workers as incapable of changing society. The best we can hope for now – so the argument goes – is some form of humanized capitalism.

But a humanized capitalism is a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing as “humanitarian intervention” by the U.S. military, a Democratic Party committed to the needs of minorities and the working class, or a CEO committed to a better quality of life for ordinary workers. These are not blemishes, but core features of capitalism.

Today, large numbers of people are beginning to question the priorities of the system, and they are asking questions that need answers. Why do so many starve? Why are politicians cutting social services? What is behind the scapegoating of minorities and immigrants? How can the labor movement fight back? How can we reverse the attack on women’s rights? What’s behind the crisis in Russia? Can Blacks and whites unite? The International Socialist Review aims to take on these kinds of questions.

There is a massive political vacuum in U.S. politics on the left. This in part explains the gap between workers’ growing anger and their still lack of confidence to challenge the bipartisan attack on their wages, conditions and social services.

In the U.S. the history of the socialist and working-class movement is one of mass explosion, often followed by defeats which often severed the continuity from one phase of the struggle to the next. The result has been that with each upturn of struggle the lessons of the past had to be relearned. The most devastating defeat – that of the McCarthyite witchhunts of the 1950s – drove socialist ideas out of the labor movement. Revolutionaries had barely begun to rebuild that tradition in the heat of the struggles of the 1960s before the onset of economic crisis in the mid-1970s, and the start of the movement’s decline cut that process short.

The tasks outlined for revolutionaries by the British socialist Duncan Hallas in 1971 remain an eloquent statement for socialists today: “The events of the last 40 years largely isolated the revolutionary socialist tradition from the working classes of the West. The first problem is to reintegrate them.”

The Review aims to arm a new generation of Marxists with the lessons of past struggles as well as the theoretical means to tackle new ones. It will stake out an argument that the working class is key to transforming society; that revolution, not piecemeal reforms, is the only way to eliminate the profit system; that only an international struggle of workers, which challenges all forms of sexual, racial and national oppression, can ever hope to win; and finally, that socialists must built an organization, rooted in the day-to-day struggles of workers themselves, to overthrow capitalism and build society anew.

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