[OPE-L] Red Butterflies Flap Their Wings

From: dlaibman@JJAY.CUNY.EDU
Date: Fri Jan 20 2006 - 09:11:05 EST

Dear OPE comrades,
   I produced this little flight of fancy as part of the "Editorial 
Perspectives" section in *Science & Society*, Vol. 70, No. 1, January 
2006 (just out).  If not optimism of the will, at least optimisism of 
the imagination.  What have we got to lose??
   In solidarity,
David Laibman, Editor, S&S


        Those of you who are coming of age in the early 21st century 
need to know your world’s recent history, so you can build upon it and 
meet the new challenges facing you.  Here is a thumbnail sketch.
        As you of course know, the October Revolution in 1917, born of 
the carnage of the Great War, ushered in a new post-capitalist era -- 
the defining transition of our time.  Surrounded by enemies determined 
to crush it and saddled with centuries-old cultural and technological 
backwardness, the Soviet Union nevertheless held its ground.  The 
Soviet Premier, V. I. Lenin, lived until 1933, when he died at the age 
of 63.  In the late 1920s he formulated a comprehensive vision for 
socialist construction in insufficient conditions, with two main 
pillars: first, the absolute importance of harnessing the religious 
feelings and consciousness of the vast majority of peasants and workers 
to the socialist project, and isolating the authoritarian upper levels 
of the Church hierarchy; second, placing ground-level mobilization and 
a culture of critical debate and controversy at the core of socialist 
        The first of these led to the famous Red Priests movement in 
the USSR, which captured the imagination of people in many parts of the 
world and led to a Christian‒Marxist dialog in Western Europe, the USA 
and Latin America, as well as the  massive jami’a allah wa ijtamiya 
(“Society of God and Socialism”) movement in the Islamic world.  The 
second was embodied in many aspects of early socialist construction, 
including direct election of enterprise managers, team councils in both 
industry and agriculture, continuous referenda and systems of 
negotiated coordination in the political sphere, and the use of 
television (first introduced in the USSR in the 1930s) for ongoing 
debate and mandate formation in the preparation of annual and five-year 
plans.  The result was both rapid industrialization and social 
transformation.  While there were of course pressures from the old 
authoritarian traditions ‒‒ one Georgian Party leader, J.  V. 
Dugashvili, tried to take control and turn the country in a 
bureaucratic and repressive direction, but his bid for power was 
thwarted ‒‒ the Soviet commitment to a participatory and critical 
process kept socialist development dynamic and constructive.  The 
favorable intellectual environment and principled financial support for 
research led many of the world’s scientists and intellectuals, among 
them Albert Einstein, Norbert Weiner, Wassily Leontief and Marie Curie, 
to emigrate to the USSR, where they formed Akademgorodok, the Siberian 
Science City in Novosibirsk.  This center of learning became the cradle 
of major scientific advances and gave rise to the information 
technology revolution of the 1940s and 1950s (about which more below).
        All this, in turn, fired the imagination of working people 
around the world.  Although some sections of the socialist left in the 
West had early misgivings and threatened to divide the working-class 
movement, the most influential socialist leaders, such as Norman Thomas 
in the USA, convinced their followers to pursue the socialist 
commitment to individual liberty while supporting socialism in power.  
The Socialist Party and the Workers (Communist) Party -- the latter 
having been formed out of the Communist Labor Party and the Communist 
Party of America in 1925 -- merged in 1928 to form the Peoples 
Communist Party USA, an organization that became a mass movement and 
embraced a diversity of socialist positions, from A. J. Muste and W. A. 
Domingo to William Z. Foster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and James P. 
Cannon.  Similar formations appeared in Western Europe and in the 
southern hemisphere.
        In October 1929 the stock markets of the advanced capitalist 
countries crashed, ushering in what came to be called the Great 
Depression.  The massive chaos and suffering caused by this general 
capitalist crisis of overproduction brought working-class forces into 
power in several countries, and close to power in the major capitalist 
centers.  Fascist movements, which demagogically turned people’s anger 
and fear against ethnic and religious minorities and inflamed national 
passions, had taken power in Italy and in some central European 
countries.  When Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he 
encountered widespread opposition.  Anti-Semitic atrocities, especially 
the Krystalnacht rampage of the Nazi stormtroopers, forced the Nazis to 
call an election in 1938.  A Social Democratic‒Communist coalition 
contested the election, and supported by massive street demonstrations 
won power and forced the Nazis to retreat ‒‒ although not without 
ushering in a period of violent rebellion, the German Civil War.
        In the United States and Western Europe, the depression 
triggered powerful political forces pressing for major relief and 
reform.  In the USA, this took shape as President Franklin Roosevelt’s 
New Deal.  Forced to retreat, the capitalist ruling classes sought 
refuge in the only form of state intervention ultimately acceptable to 
them: military spending.  Seeking to demonize the Soviet Union for this 
purpose, they unleashed a massive disinformation drive, but popular 
support for the USSR stood in the way, and the people’s movement pushed 
the New Deal forward, toward a point of qualitative transformation.  
Similar developments occurred throughout Europe.  In Spain, a 
Republican electoral victory in 1936 spurred a fascist backlash and 
civil war; however, with German and Italian fascism in crisis and about 
to be deposed, external military support for Generalissimo Franco was 
limited, and the Spanish Republicans, with the aid of international 
volunteers from many countries, were able to prevail.  Dolores 
Ibarruri, “Las Pasionaria,” was elected President of the Spanish 
Peoples Republic in 1939.
        In 1940, the Baltic States ‒‒ Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia ‒‒ 
together with Finland and Sweden, voted to join the USSR.  There was, 
however, strong internal opposition in these countries, based mainly on 
historically rooted national and cultural identities.  In what 
subsequently came to be seen as a watershed display of socialist 
principle, the Soviet government rejected the application, and instead 
urged the countries involved to form their own federation.  Thus the 
Alliance of Northern European Socialist Republics (ANESR) was born.  In 
the meantime, a low-intensity Civil War had been raging in China for 
several years.  Without significant Western support, the Chinese 
Nationalists, under Chiang Kai-Shek, held their ground until 1941, when 
the Communists took power.  The federal principle increasingly took 
shape worldwide, and within a few years developments elsewhere in Asia 
brought about the South East Asian Socialist Alliance, consisting of 
Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillippines.  
SEASA, ANESR, USSR and People’s China held prolonged talks, and agreed 
to form a global international agency, which came to be called the 
United Nations (UN).  To emphasize the intent to make this a truly 
worldwide deliberative body, the founding convention was held in San 
Francisco in 1945, over the opposition of powerful ruling class forces 
in the United States but with the nominal support of the U. S. 
government and true enthusiastic support from labor and community-based 
popular movements there.
        In the United States, capitalism, buttressed by similar forces 
retreating and regrouping from Europe and Asia, held onto power, but 
not without granting major concessions in the form of New Deal‒type 
programs.  The battle for the actual social content of these programs 
defined the political process at mid-century.  The various agencies of 
the New Deal were progressively merged into two umbrella organizations ‒
‒ the Agency for Social Production (ASP) and the Industrial Recovery 
Administration (IRA).  These eventually merged into the (conveniently 
acronymed) ASP-IRA.  The drive for vertical trade union organization 
crystallized into the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which came 
to recognize the need to incorporate community and neighborhood forms 
of working-class organization as well, thus becoming the Congress of 
Workers’ Organizations (CWO).  The old American Federation of Labor 
withered and eventually disappeared, holding its last convention in 
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1949.
        The embattled capitalist classes sought breathing space by 
uniting with every manner of precapitalist oligarchy and despotism, in 
all countries.  Their base in the United States was in the south, where 
racism and segregation kept an elite in power with historical links to 
slavery.  Under pressure from a region-wide anti-racist popular front, 
led by Benjamin Davis, William Patterson and (later) Dr. Martin Luther 
King, the worldwide reactionary “southern strategy” took form, as 
capitalist elites formed alliances with landowners, latifundists, 
oligarchs and dictators in South America, parts of Africa and Asia -- 
what came to be called the Second World.  In the second half of the 
20th century, the capitalist‒agrarian axis was able to find material 
bases in some strata within the Second World, and from there to launch 
a series of wars and conflicts, with the United Nations trying to 
contain aggression and lend support to popular resistance.  A 
particular focus has been on the Islamic countries, especially in the 
Middle East and Central Asia, where the dangers of “Second Worldism” 
and reversion to precapitalist fanaticism and terror have loomed 
large.  These struggles continue today.
        The South African Communist Party became a major force in the 
African National Congress, which by 1952 was able to overcome the 
apartheid regime, unify a number of countries under the banner of the 
Southern African Peoples Union (SAPU).  Nelson Mandela, a charismatic 
young leader who had been imprisoned briefly by the apartheid regime, 
was freed by popular pressure and became the first President of the new 
Southern African Peoples Republic (SAPR).  He was installed in an 
inspiring ceremony that was televised worldwide; this was held in 
Johannesburg in July 1963, with the father of the Pan-African Movement, 
Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, on the platform with him, just weeks before Du 
Bois’ death at age 95.
        The most recent breakaway from Second World domination has been 
the formation of the United States of Central America, a union of 
Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Chiapas region of Mexico, and 
Cuba.  The latter country had a popular revolution and socialist 
transition beginning in 1959, and the Second World axis had long sought 
to strangle that revolution, but without success.
        So today, the sphere of cooperation among socialist countries 
and federations is slowly growing, amid considerable debate about the 
proper balance between coordination and autonomy, between common social 
goals and the enormous diversity of conditions, including those 
involving earlier forms of property, income distribution, and so on.  
As the new millennium commences, the process is advancing, although not 
without major resistance and sabotage from the Second World powers.  
Some of these powers have threatened to get ahold of thermonuclear 
technology to deploy a massive bomb -- a weapon of mass destruction -- 
but so far, with the vigilance of the peoples of the United Nations and 
socialist federations, this threat has not been realized.
        One key goal at present is to maintain the base for massive 
popular support for the Socialist Federations/UN.   This requires firm 
and increasing confidence that the material living standards of the 
most advanced socialist countries can be achieved throughout the world 
by a leveling-up process, within the constraints imposed by planetary 
resources.  This is by no means certain, but there are two factors that 
permit us a cautious optimism.  First, industrial development in the 
progressive countries (the “First World”) has increased the scope of 
the Demographic Transition ‒‒ the falloff of population growth as 
people come to believe in and share the socio-political contract 
guaranteeing medical, survivor and general retirement support 
throughout an individual’s lifetime.  While population pressure 
continues, mainly in the Second World, with continued social progress 
scientists now project that world population will stabilize at six 
billion around the year 2015.
        Second, the information technology revolution, centered at 
Akademgorodok but subsequently spread around the world, continues to 
open up new vistas for democratic planning and coordination.  The 
conflict between local autonomy and macro stability will never 
disappear, but it is increasingly possible to use Internets and 
Intranets to coordinate diverse production and creative activities, 
without bottlenecks, cycles, waste, polarization, bureaucratism, and 
the other evils long associated with either spontaneous capitalist 
market coordination, or authoritarian planning from the center.  The 
new culture of participatory socialism was the subject of a major 
symposium in one of the world’s leading theoretical journals, Science & 
Society; this was called “Horizons of Democratic Mathematics,” and 
appeared as the journal’s 75th anniversary issue (Vol. 75, No. 1, 
January 2010; press run 200,000 copies).
        So while capitalist power and exploitation have not yet been 
uprooted everywhere in the world, there is good reason to hope that 
this final dispensation will occur in the not-too-distant future.  Your 
generation, then, will be able to take major new steps in pursuit of a 
principled, egalitarian and democratic society that promotes unlimited 
human development, both material and spiritual, within the natural 
resource constraints of Planet Earth.


        Hey, we are entitled to dream, aren’t we?

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