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Socialism can never surrender its commitment to democracy.

10 Nov

Socialism can never surrender its commitment to democracy

 

The Centennial of the Russian Revolution

November 7, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and the establishment of the world’s first socialist state. To commemorate the occasion, People’s World presents a series of articles providing wide-angled assessments of the revolution’s legacy, the Soviet Union and world communist movement which were born out of it, and the revolution’s relevance to radical politics today. Other articles in the series can be read here

November 8, 2017 2:02 PM CST  BY JOHN BACHTELL

 

The October Revolution took place 100 years ago, on November 7, 1917. Even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, the revolution which gave birth to it reverberates still as one of the greatest history-changing events of the 20th century.

Millions of Russian workers and peasants engaged in an act of self-emancipation. Everything that followed provides those seeking a modern 21st century socialism a wealth of lessons, from both its achievements and mistakes.

The October Revolution occurred in a stormy and desperate time of barbaric world war, poverty, hunger, and insurrection. The demands propelling it were simple: peace, land, and bread.

It marked the beginning of the world’s first great socialist experiment, the first break with the system of global capitalism. Millions of ordinary working men and women were charting the unknown. They carried no blueprints and tried building socialism in conditions not of their choosing. From its inception, the Soviet Union’s path was shaped by the harshest of circumstances: the legacy of feudalism, theocracy, and a violent and repressive autocratic state.

It inherited a Russia that was the “prison house of nations,” a brutal oppressor and exploiter of other nationalities and peoples. It was a land characterized by oppression of women, anti-Semitic pogroms, and repression of Islam. The industrial working class was tiny and the level of industrial development low. Illiteracy was the norm for millions, and there was little civil society, and only hollow supposedly democratic institutions.

Without pause, the Soviet Union was forced to rebuild from the devastation of World War I while defending itself against hostile encirclement and invasion by capitalist powers, including the United States. Many U.S. working people showed their solidarity for the Soviet Union and protested the U.S. intervention, even though they lacked the political power to prevent the attacks.

 

 

The inspirations and the setbacks of the early decades

Against incredible odds, the revolution inspired hope and unleashed creative energy. Millions of workers and peasants threw themselves into building a new society. Under the leadership of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the Soviet Union adopted the most advanced democratic constitution the world had yet seen. It represented a government led by workers and peasants, established new democratic forms, equality for women and formerly oppressed nationalities, and basic rights to healthcare, education, and housing were enshrined. It declared the people the stewards of the nation’s vast natural resources.

Once the revolution was defended and after initial policy mistakes, the Soviet Union embarked on construction of a mixed economy guided by the New Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP was a policy that fit the actual state of development facing Russia, not an imagined or abstract one. It legalized multiple forms of property ownership, including private property, particularly of small landholdings, and foreign investment. The policy acknowledged that building socialism would be a protracted process; even after a socialist revolution, class society with all its restraints and inequities would be a feature of socialist construction for years to come.

Had Lenin lived, perhaps history would have turned out differently. But he died prematurely in 1924 and once Stalin assumed leadership, the NEP was scrapped in favor of forced expropriation of agricultural lands, collectivization, the centralization of power, and near total state ownership of industry.

With the threat of fascism rising in Germany, and its military machine aimed squarely at obliterating the world’s first socialist oriented state, the Soviet Union was forced into accelerated development. Under Stalin, this forced march was combined with fear of enemies, foreign and internal, real and increasingly invented. Political differences were viewed as political threats, and a culture of uniformity prevailed. Authoritarianism led to the enshrinement in the constitution of the Communist Party as the sole governing body and the development of a cult of personality around Stalin.

The campaign of fear reached its peak with the years of terror in 1937-38, when untold numbers of socialist patriots were executed and imprisoned, including substantial parts of the military general staff and Communist Party leadership.

Despite the terror of the ’30s, the now industrialized Soviet Union played the decisive role in the defeat of fascism in World War II. But the Soviet people bore an incalculable burden: Twenty-two million died and most of the country’s industrial and agricultural infrastructure, cities, villages, and farms lay in ruins.

Before it could rebuild itself from the rubble of World War II, the Soviet Union was forced to divert vast resources to the Cold War nuclear arms race with the United States and heightened competition with global capitalism.

The barrage of assaults of the first few decades of the new nation’s existence comprised an almost impossible set of circumstances for the world’s first socialist experiment. Every aspect of its development and its political and cultural life were impacted. The desperate and underdeveloped conditions and resulting chaos were fertile ground for the rise of Stalin and all subsequent crimes, imprisonments, and executions.

 

 

Moving on from Stalin

The Soviet Union may have survived Stalin, but it paid a price. The image of socialism and communism and the claim to democratic and moral authority suffered immeasurably. Marxism, as a creative body of thought, became stultified and dogmatic. This legacy, which seemed to contradict socialism’s democratic and humanitarian ideals, and the inability to fully overcome it, were also important factors in why socialism ultimately collapsed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc.

Despite all these negatives, the Soviet people could boast of vast achievements: modern industrial production that rivaled the U.S.; the ability to feed, clothe, and house its people; high-level scientific and technological development; universal literacy and access to health care and education; developed arts, sports, and culture; and formal social and economic equality for women and formerly oppressed minorities.

It provided immense aid to national liberation and anti-colonial movements, including Vietnam, Cuba, and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. It assisted developing nations, funded modern infrastructure projects, and educated countless scientists, engineers, and other personnel around the world.

The Soviet Union and socialist-oriented states acted as a global counterweight to U.S. imperialism. It was the Soviet Union that took the first steps to end the Cold War arms race by unilaterally announcing a moratorium on nuclear testing and deep reductions in military personnel and weapons in the 1980s.

Competing with an economic system where exploitation was outlawed, and people came before corporate profits, capitalist countries around the world, including the U.S. capitalist class, were forced to make concessions to workers’ demands. Similarly, to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy, concessions were made on issues of racial equality.

Even with all the gains, there were, not surprisingly, many mistakes made in this period, too. They included wrong assessments of the level of socialist development that had been attained, premature egalitarianism, wage leveling, the declaration that national equality had been achieved, the persistence of Great Russian chauvinism, the inability to transition to economic and political decentralization, and the despoiling of the environment.

The Soviet Union never sufficiently developed genuine grassroots forms of democracy and instead relied on administrative methods. Pluralism of political parties and movements was never permitted. Religious faith was stigmatized and church properties confiscated. Suppression of dissent substituted for the messy battle of ideas and the give-and-take of democratic civil society. The importance of the latter is particularly obvious in our day, given rise of the internet and social media. The information revolution demands engagement rather than directives, something the Soviet system would have trouble dealing with.

The Soviet Union was unable to decisively break with this economic and political model, which, when combined with negative external factors facing the country, brought on a period of crisis in the 1970s and ’80s. In response, the Communist Party leadership eventually launched a program of reforms on the prompting of Mikhail Gorbachev. These reforms were, at least at first, aimed at deepening socialist democracy, including at the workplace, permitting an independent media, demilitarization, and restructuring the economy.

Against the background of these needed reforms, however, Soviet leaders were deeply divided, weakened, and paralyzed—including within the Communist Party. By this point, the bureaucracy had become too entrenched, careerism too rampant, the centralized model too embedded, resistance to change too deep, and resentment toward the CPSU too widespread.

Demilitarization of the economy stalled, and other reforms, including a looser federation of Soviet republics, spun out of control. Gorbachev’s downgrading class struggle and the haphazard way that reforms—including workers’ self-management, state enterprise autonomy, and the institution of market mechanisms—were introduced was disarming and confusing. Out of the chaos, pro-capitalist and nationalist forces and corrupt elements like Boris Yeltsin eventually gained the upper hand.

In 1991, after 74 years, the Soviet Union collapsed. Its death represented an immense tragedy and loss to humanity, gave a boost to global reaction, war, anti-socialism, and U.S. imperialist aggression.

Above all, it represented a colossal loss to the Soviet people. Out of its collapse rose a class of oligarchs who enriched themselves by stealing the vast wealth created by the Soviet people and by restoring exploitation. Today, the Russian people live in impoverishment and under repressive authoritarian rule.

 

 

Learning from the Soviet experience

What lessons can be learned?

People, including revolutionaries, make mistakes. But they can be corrected, including by carrying out needed reforms, if revolutionary movements, including their leaderships, promote the capacity for sober self-reflection and flexibility and avoid dogma.

People build socialism under conditions not of their choosing. Socialist revolutions take place under very different conditions shaped by a nation’s history, level of class and socialist consciousness and unity, material development, and store of resources. There are no eternal models for either the path to achieving working class political power or for the development of socialism.

U.S. socialism will be based on our political and historical realities, the high level of cultural and material development achieved in our country, and our long history of struggle for expanding democratic rights. It will be able to take into account the hard-won lessons of the world’s working class and people.

It will be shaped by the conscious activity of the multi-racial American people to expand economic and political democracy; overcome social, racial, and gender inequity; achieve a better, more secure, humane life and creative work; pursue a sustainable path of development; and demilitarize the economy and society.

Socialism in the United States can be achieved peacefully and democratically through the electoral arena. Its achievement will be a protracted process encompassing many stages. It will not occur through the barrel of a gun. In fact, Frederick Engels suggested as much in the late 1880s with the winning of the universal franchise. “The day of the storming of the barricades is over,” he said.

A mass movement of the overwhelming majority of the American people who are conscious of the need for socialism and working class political power can and must compel the capitalist class to accept a path chosen by the majority and restrict its ability to resist or use violence.

Central to all of this, of course, is the struggle for democracy, the extension of political and economic rights, and the growing engagement and conscious participation of a majority of working people in political activity and civil society.

One hundreds years later, the flame lit by the October Revolution burns bright. It is our task to honestly analyze it and learn the lessons of both its achievements and its shortcomings for the socialism of the future.

 

 

November 8, 2017 2:02 PM CST  BY JOHN BACHTELL ….John Bachtell is national chair of the Communist Party USA. Previously he was Illinois organizer for the party, and is active in labor, peace and justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio and currently lives in Chicago.

 

The “Rigged Capitalist System” holds no future for the 99% a Revolution does – Left Wing & Progressive Books & Blogs – fah451bks.wordpress.com

 

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The real History; Juana Azurduy de Padilla; Bolivian guerrilla fighter who fought against the Spanish rule in South America. International day of women’s rights

5 Mar

 

Juana Azurduy de Padilla was a Bolivian guerilla fighter who fought against the Spanish rule in South America. It was this day in 1816 that she along with 200 Indian women on horseback, defeated the Spanish troops in Bolivia.

Juana Azurduy Llanos (July 12, 1780 or 1781 – May 25, 1862) was a South American guerrilla military leader.

She was born on July 12, 1780 or 1781 in the town of Chuquisaca, Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (now Sucre, Bolivia). She was Mestizo by ethnicity, meaning she was half Spanish and half indigenous. “Her mother married into a family of property” meaning she married into a more wealthy family. Her father, however, was killed by Spaniards, and the killer apparently got away without any repercussions. She grew up in Chuquisaca and at the age of 12 joined a convent to become a nun. She was then expelled at the age of 17 because she rebelled too often. She married Manuel Ascencio Padilla in 1805, a man who shared her love of the indigenous populations in Bolivia. She spoke Spanish and two South American languages: Quechua and Aymara. Juana Azurduy was born in Toroca, a town located in the Municipality of Potosí in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (present-day town of Ravelo, Potosí Department, Bolivia) on July 12, 1780. Her parents were Don Matías Azurduy, a rich white owner of many properties and Doña Eulalia Bermudes, a chola from Chuquisaca.

Upon their return they raised an army and joined in the fighting in the area. She fought a guerrilla style war against the Spanish from 1809 to 1825. On March 8, 1816, her forces temporarily captured the Cerro Rico of Potosí, the main source of Spanish silver, also leading a cavalry charge that resulted in the capture of the enemy standard. For these actions she was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on August 16, 1816, by Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, the Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata at Buenos Aires. However, Shortly after Juana, who was expecting her fifth child, during a battle in November 1816, she was injured and her husband was killed while trying to save her, The body of her husband was hanged by the realists in the village of Laguna, and Juana found herself in a desperate situation: single, pregnant and with realistic armies effectively controlling the territory. After giving birth to a girl, she joined the guerrillas Martin Miguel de Guemes , which operated in northern Alto Peru. On the death of this leader guerrillas north dissolved, and Juana she was forced to malvivir in the region of Salta. at which she led a counterattack to recover the body of her husband. When the Spanish eventually counter-attacked in 1818, she fled with some of her soldiers to Northern Argentina where she continued to fight under the command of the Argentinean governor/guerrilla leader, General Martín Miguel de Güemes. She was appointed to the position of commander of patriotic Northern Army of the Revolutionary Government of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. With this army she was able to establish an insurrection zone, until the Spanish forces withdrew from the area. She was so determined to the cause that she actually fought while she was pregnant, at one point, giving birth to her daughter, then returned to the fight soon after. At the highest point of her control, she commanded an army with an estimated strength of 6,000 men. After her military career was over she returned to Sucre (Chuquisaca), where she died on May 25, 1862. Throughout all the conflicts she lost her four sons and her husband, yet she continued to perform her duties until she retired and later died.

 

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At the time of her death, she was forgotten and in poverty, but was remembered as a hero only a century later. She was awarded the rank of general of the Argentine Army in 2009. She also has “The National Programme for Women’s Rights and Participation” of Argentina is also named after her.

A 25-ton, 52-foot-high statue of Azurduy was created in Buenos Aires and unveiled July 15, 2015. It was commissioned by Bolivian president Evo Morales, and placed in the space where a statue of Columbus has stood. As of December 2015, months after its inauguration, it shows weathering damage.

A bas relief sculpture of Juana Azurduy was on display as part of an outdoor exhibition of famous Latin Americans on the grounds of the Pan American Union Building in Washington, DC in Spring 2014. Juana Azurduy is also the subject of a children’s cartoon designed to promote knowledge of Argentine history.

 

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It’s not just racial tension; It’s White Supremacist Capitalist Imperialist Patriarchy! #BecomeUngovernable.

Paul Robeson’s songs and deeds light the way for the fight against Trump;  #BecomeUngovernable

24 Feb

The great American radical showed how ordinary people mattered more than stars – a lesson today’s celebrities could do with learning.

These are strange times for popular music and politics. On the one hand, the opposition to Donald Trump now extends so deeply into the entertainment industry that the president struggled to find any real talent willing to play his inauguration.

On the other hand, it’s by no means clear what difference most anti-Trump interventions by musicians actually make. After all, during the election, the galaxy of A-listers backing Hillary Clinton spectacularly failed to generate either turnout or votes, with some pundits even suggesting the campaign’s reliance on celebrity power legitimised Trump’s claim to fighting “liberal elites”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of music and the uses of fame over the last few years, as I’ve worked on my book No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson.

The son of an escaped slave, Paul Robeson graduated Phi Beta Kappa on a scholarship from Rutgers before studying law at Columbia university. He was arguably the greatest footballer of his generation (some say of all time); he played basketball professionally and was seriously tipped as a heavyweight contender to fight Jack Dempsey. He was handsome and impossibly charismatic, spellbinding, prize-winning orator, who could sing in over 20 languages, including Russian, Chinese, Yiddish and a number of African tongues.

Robeson launched his vocal career in the mid-1920s with reinterpretations of spirituals, the “sorrow songs” of the American plantations. The spirituals expressed the misery of slavery through biblical themes but their innate ambiguity also allowed Robeson to voice the preoccupations of the Harlem Renaissance.

For instance, Go Down, Moses celebrated the release of the Israelites from bondage. But when Robeson sang “let my people go”, his audience understood the challenge to all present-day pharaohs.

Likewise, the exquisite Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child emerged out of the familial separations of slavery. Robeson’s rendition, however, also spoke to the experience of the Great Migration, the process in which African Americans left their homes to flee north for jobs and an escape from racist violence.

 

 

In 1930, Robeson played Othello in London. At that time, the part was always given to a white actor in dark makeup on the more-or-less explicit basis that a black man could not convey the deep humanity of Elizabethan tragedy.

Robeson’s critical and popular triumph not only reshaped Shakespearean theatre, it also struck a blow against the assumptions underpinning Jim Crow America.

You can hear Robeson explaining and performing the final monologue from Othello in this concert recording:

Though Robeson became a huge Hollywood star (in films such as Show Boat, Sanders of the River, The Proud Valley and so on), he consistently struggled to find parts worthy of his talents.

As a musician, he enjoyed more freedom. Critics urged him to embrace a traditional operatic or classical repertoire, but his deepening political commitments led him to identify as a folk singer, assiduously learning languages to perform the songs of different cultures in their original form.

“The artist must take sides,” he announced. “He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

That declaration was made in the context of the Spanish civil war, a conflict that Robeson, like many others, recognised as the last opportunity to prevent the advance of fascism. He travelled to the Spanish front line in support of the International Brigades, a multiracial, anti-fascist army based on volunteers drawn from almost every country in the world.

In besieged Madrid, the desperate Republicans quite literally deployed Robeson’s music as a weapon, rigging up loudspeakers so that his bass baritone carried to the fascist trenches.

But it was probably in America in the 1940s that Robeson used his celebrity most effectively, in a prolonged campaign against segregation that predated the more famous boycotts of the civil rights era.

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For instance, in a concert in Kansas City, Robeson stopped singing when he realised that, contrary to what he’d been promised, his audience was divided along racial lines. When the booking agent apologized, the victory spurred a broader campaign against discrimination in the state. As the historian Gerald Horne says, “Robeson was a kind of Pied Piper of anti-Jim Crow, journeying from city to city inspiring fellow crusaders.”

In the 1930s, Robeson had visited Moscow and the apparent absence of anti-black feeling amazed him. For the rest of his life, he remained an enthusiastic supporter of the Soviet dictatorship, backing the regime even as news of Stalinist atrocities spread.

Not surprisingly, during the cold war, red baiters in the US increasingly targeted him.

By 1952, Robeson had become, in Pete Seeger’s words, “the most blacklisted performer in America”. The FBI intimidated promoters to deny him venues while radio stations refused to play his records, which were no longer available in the shops. He couldn’t sing at a commercial hall, no producer would put him on stage, and his movie career had long since come to an end. Worse still, the state department denied him a passport, trapping him inside the US.

The destruction of Robeson’s reputation dates from that period, a time when attending a Robeson concert became a suspicious act and sporting records were surreptitiously revised to disguise his past achievements.

Many other figures smeared during McCarthyism – Albert Einstein, Langston Hughes, Charlie Chaplin, WEB Du Bois, etc – have been subsequently rehabilitated. Robeson’s ongoing obscurity stems from his obstinate refusal to recant or back down.

“I am a radical,” he insisted, “and I am going to stay one until my people get free to walk the Earth.”

Called before the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956, he was asked why, given his beliefs, he remained in the United States.

“Because my father was a slave,” he replied. “And my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear”’

When he won his passport back in 1958, he embarked on a worldwide tour. You can glimpse something of Robeson’s effectiveness as a political singer in the film that survives from his visit to Australia.

 

 

Famously, Robeson gave the first ever recital at the Sydney Opera House – a concert delivered to the trade unionists constructing the building.

In that performance, Robeson sang Ol’ Man River, his best-known track.

The song – from the musical Show Boat – was composed with Robeson in mind by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, as a conscious imitation of the spirituals. Robeson initially thought the role of Joe in Show Boat to be demeaning – before changing his mind and then utterly dominating both the stage show and the subsequent movie.

In their original form, the lyrics spoke of phlegmatic African American resignation to misery and oppression.

Ah gits weary

An’ sick of tryin’

Ah’m tired of livin’

An’ skeered of dyin’,

But ol’ man river,

He jes’ keeps rolling’ along.

In Sydney, Robeson sang instead:

But I keeps laffin’

Instead of cryin’

I must keep fightin’

Until I’m dyin’

When he mouthed the word “laffin’’’, his lip curled in scorn; at “fightin’”, he punched his fist in the air, making clear to the listening unionists that he had in mind their shared enemies: the employers and politicians for whom an uneducated labourer in Sydney was no better than a black man in Tennessee.

The song now suggested that what was inescapable was not resignation but human dignity – the desire for freedom that persisted, and would prevail, like the mighty river itself.

In 1960, construction workers were not respectable. Concert halls did not cater to labourers, whom few considered deserving of fine music or sophisticated entertainments.

So, with the gesture at Bennelong Point, by transforming – if only for a lunch hour – their worksite into the musical venue it would eventually become, Robeson made a statement characteristic of his life and career.

You aren’t, he said to them, simply tools for others; you’re not beasts, suitable only for hoisting and carrying, even if that’s the role you’ve been allotted. You’re entitled to culture, to music and art and all of life’s good things – and one day you shall have them.

According to some accounts, by the end of the performance, men in the crowd were silently weeping.

What made Robeson’s interventions so powerful?

First, and most obviously, he was an extraordinarily gifted artist, over and above his politics. When the critic Peter Deier described Robeson as “the most talented person of the 20th century”, he wasn’t exaggerating.

Second, though Robeson had no compunction about using his fame, he was committed to a politics of social change from below. He didn’t simply urge his fans to donate to a charity or check their personal privilege. On the contrary, he assured them that they themselves had power – and they should use it.

Thus, in 1938, he explained to a journalist how ordinary people mattered more than stars:

During one of my films I was struck by this very forcibly. There was everybody on the set, lights burning, director waiting, head of the company had just come on to the set with some big financial backer to see how things were going – and what happened? Everything stopped. Why? Because the electricians had decided it was time to go and eat, they just put out the lights and went and ate. That’s my moral to your readers.

Third, Robeson persistently sought to connect disparate issues and link varied oppressions, in a manner that’s rare today.

For instance, his film The Proud Valley is based on a comparison that Robeson often made between Welsh mining towns and African American communities.

Likewise, on his Sydney trip, he insisted on meeting with Indigenous activists – and then, in his public appearances (such as in the clip below), raised Australia’s brutal history in the context of the anti-colonial struggles taking place everywhere at that time.

 

 

 

 

Fourth, when Robeson urged his audience to become active, he could often direct them to groups and campaigns through which that activism might be made meaningful. The Opera House concert, for instance, was arranged by trade unionists – and, as a result, Robeson’s performance gave a direct spur to workplace organisation.

That’s an obvious difference between Robeson’s era and the context in which artists are speaking out against Trump in 2017.

In the United States, as in Australia, the trade unions and the radical movements to which Robeson oriented during the latter half of his career have either declined or disappeared, leaving something of an organisational void for grassroots activism.

Under those circumstances, it’s easy for musicians and other celebrities to see themselves as the sole agents for change – and then engage in the sort of self-congratulatory posturing that helps Trump more than it hurts him.

At the same time, significant campaigns do exist, and they’ve been given new impetus by Trump’s victory. The Black Lives Matter movement, in particular, was both reflected in, and reinforced by, hip-hop music in particular – and it’s not surprising that rappers have so far produced some of the best musical responses to the Trump presidency.

As many people have noted, in 2017, we’re entering uncharted political waters. But that doesn’t mean we can’t draw on the resources of the past. As the cultural resistance grows, it’s worth looking back on the giant legacy of Paul Robeson. No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson by Jeff Sparrow is published in Australia by Scribe

Source: Paul Robeson’s songs and deeds light the way for the fight against Trump | Jeff Sparrow | Music | The Guardian

 

 

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