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 David Laibman, Editor, S&S www.scienceandsociety.com ======================================================================== =========== RED BUTTERFLIES FLAP THEIR WINGS: A PARALLEL TWENTIETH CENTURY 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 development. 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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