Born on this Date in 1871
“Those who do not move do not notice their chains.”
These remarks were originally intended to be shared at a film screening to mark the centenary. As that event has been cancelled, I decided to share them here.
On International Women’s Day of 1917 the women textile workers of Petrograd went on strike. They wanted food for their families and an end to the war. Tens of thousands joined them in the streets, and a week later the Russian Tsarist monarchy was no more.
This set into motion eight months of continued struggle, which culminated in the first worker’s state in the history of the world. On October 25th, 1917 (which is November 7th on our current Gregorian Calendar) the Bolsheviks, along with the left wing members of the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary parties, having gained a majority in the Congress of Soviets, took power from the final iteration of a provisional government that had stumbled through numerous reconstitutions and attempts to consolidate power since February. The people wanted “peace, land and bread” and the provisional government had failed to deliver.
It was the only revolution in human history that occurred in accordance with a popular democratic vote.
One-hundred years have passed. Why should we still care about the October Revolution?
I’d just like to share a few quotes that I think sum things up pretty well.
The first is from Victor Serge, who was an anarchist who returned to Russia from exile after the revolutions, and joined the Bolsheviks.
“The essential gain of that day, of those years, is the fact that for the first time in history the workers were able to achieve total victory, sustain it, take control of all the levers of command of society, both the economic and the political, get the machine working, and, under the worst conditions, reorganize, despite unbelievable difficulties, all of production on a collective basis. This is what remains and will remain; this is what makes the Russian October shine behind us like a flame that nothing can tarnish.”
There’s also a passage from China Miéville’s excellent history October that’s worth reading. He writes first about the horrors that came under Stalin, and then observes that those who count themselves on the side of the revolution must engage with the failures and crimes that followed in its wake. But he goes on to say:
“It is not for nostalgia’s sake that the strange story of the first socialist revolution in history deserves celebration. The standard of October declares that things changed once, and they might do so again.
“October, for an instant, brings a new kind of power. Fleetingly, there is a shift towards workers’ control of production and the rights of peasants to the land. Equal rights for men and women in work and in marriage, the right to divorce, maternity support. The decriminalisation of homosexuality, 100 years ago. Moves towards national self-determination. Free and universal education, the expansion of literacy. And with literacy comes a cultural explosion, a thirst to learn, the mushrooming of universities and lecture series and adult schools. And though those moments are snuffed out, reversed, become bleak jokes and memories all too soon, it might have been otherwise.
“Twilight, even remembered twilight, is better than no light at all.”
I find it worthwhile to study these events not only to draw inspiration from them, but also in order to better understand what ultimately went wrong, and how we, in our time, might get it right.
And I think it’s particularly important for my countrymen to learn about the great American radicals who were involved in the events of 1917. It’s a history that has been suppressed and hidden and stolen from us, but from them we can learn that fomenting communist revolution is as American as apple pie.
John Reed was an American journalist and political activist who witnessed the revolution first hand on the streets of Petrograd. His masterpiece Ten Days That Shook The World was, at the time of publication, the definitive account of the Russian Revolution. I think that it captures the essence, not only of that moment, but of the revolutionary impulse that is still with us today.
Just at the door of the station stood two soldiers with rifles and bayonets fixed. They were surrounded by about a hundred business men, Government officials and students, who attacked them with passionate argument and epithet. The soldiers were uncomfortable and hurt, like children unjustly scolded.
A tall young man with a supercilious expression, dressed in the uniform of a student, was leading the attack.
“You realise, I presume,” he said insolently, “that by taking up arms against your brothers you are making your-selves the tools of murderers and traitors?”
“Now brother,”answered the soldier earnestly, “you don’t understand. There are two classes, don’t you see, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. We——”
“Oh, I know that silly talk!” broke in the student rudely. “A bunch of ignorant peasants like you hear somebody bawling a few catch-words. You don’t understand what they mean. You just echo them like a lot of parrots.” The crowd laughed. “I’m a Marxian student. And I tell you that this isn’t Socialism you are fighting for. It’s just plain pro-German anarchy!”
“Oh, yes, I know,” answered the soldier, with sweat dripping from his brow. “You are an educated man, that is easy to see, and I am only a simple man. But it seems to me——”
“I suppose,” interrupted the other contemptuously, “that you believe Lenin is a real friend of the proletariat?”
“Yes, I do,” answered the soldier, suffering.
“Well, my friend, do you know that Lenin was sent through Germany in a closed car? Do you know that Lenin took money from the Germans?”
“Well, I don’t know much about that,” answered the soldier stubbornly, “but it seems to me that what he says is what I want to hear, and all the simple men like me. Now there are two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat——”
“You are a fool! Why, my friend, I spent two years in Schlüsselburg for revolutionary activity, when you were still shooting down revolutionists and singing ‘God Save the Tsar!’ My name is Vasili Georgevitch Panyin. Didn’t you ever hear of me?”
“I’m sorry to say I never did,” answered the soldier with humility. “But then, I am not an educated man. You are probably a great hero.”
“I am,” said the student with conviction. “And I am opposed to the Bolsheviki, who are destroying our Russia, our free Revolution. Now how do you account for that?”
The soldier scratched his head. “I can’t account for it at all,” he said, grimacing with the pain of his intellectual processes. “To me it seems perfectly simple—but then, I’m not well educated. It seems like there are only two classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie——”
“There you go again with your silly formula!” cried the student.
“——only two classes,” went on the soldier, doggedly.
“And whoever isn’t on one side is on the other…”
Though a century has passed since the events of 1917, the world remains much the same. This is why the experience of those days is still relevant, and worth our consideration. As long as the struggle between a greedy, callous ruling class and a weary, beleaguered working class continues, we shall have recourse to study, to remember and to celebrate Red October.
Thanks to Allison Shapiro of the Daily Journal for her interest, and for presenting an accurate picture of who we are and what we’re trying to do.
Whether it left you thrilled or heartbroken, most of us agree the 2016 presidential election had a profound effect on our political landscape. Here, in Kankakee County, Jacobin Reading Group for the South Suburbs meets to discuss articles from Jacobin, the leading magazine of the far left, and to talk about what comes next.
On the second episode of the Religion and Socialism Podcast, Reverend Jean Darling interviews Laura Barrett, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice Network.
Thanks to Bob Roman and Tom Broderick of Chicago DSA for recording the interview.
I’m thankful to Chris Maisano for crafting together this statement on electoral strategy for the American Left, and I’m proud to have added my signature to the statement, along with 74 other DSA comrades.
But if we want to move beyond the cycle of mobilization and retreat that dominates left electoral activity in the US, we have no choice but to build our own political formations, as difficult as that will be. They will have to do what all parties do – run candidates for office, particularly in states and localities where competition between Democrats and Republicans is low. Considering the many institutional barriers to effective independent politics, they will also have to launch fights to change ballot access laws and other measures aimed at maintaining the two-party duopoly.
Read the full statement here: Give The People What They Want: DSA Members on 2016 and Beyond – Democratic Socialists of America
The National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America released bullet points of the organization’s 2016 electoral strategy a few weeks ago. They ask that DSA members who don’t agree “articulate these points as the organization’s perspective and then indicate where the individual member disagrees.”
You can read all of their points for yourself at the link included below. I have to say that I am deeply disturbed by what I interpret to be their (at least tacit) encouragement of strategic voting and organizing for the Democratic Party ticket.
…DSA will work with the emerging labor, immigrant, and anti-racist-led “Dump Trump” movement. For this reason, we do not endorse the #BernieOrBust tactic, though we understand the sentiment behind it. Our perspective can best be summarized as: “Dump the Racist Trump: Build the Left from the Grassroots Up.”
Although I certainly agree that a Trump Presidency would be a disaster, I also believe that a Clinton Presidency would be a disaster. The NPC’s strategy does call for turning a critical eye toward Clinton should she win, but placing emphasis on opposition to Trump alone during the campaign is a mistake, in my opinion. Socialists ought to take a principled stand to oppose both Trump and Clinton between now and November.
My own efforts will be in support of the Green Party candidacy of Dr. Jill Stein. It’s way past time to break with the Democratic Party and build a true party of the people.
I hold no illusions that someone other than Trump or Clinton shall prevail in 2016, but I cannot in good conscience lend my support nor my vote to someone I consider to be an enemy of working people. In the words of the great Eugene V. Debs, “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”
I am thankful that the NPC anticipated and explicitly allowed for dissent within our ranks, and am certainly thankful that they didn’t endorse Clinton. This is one of those times, though, when I wonder whether I’m a member of the right organization.
Read the DSA Strategy Points Here: Talking Points for DSA’s Electoral Work between May and November 2016 – Democratic Socialists of America
★ ★ ★
Here are a few more relevant links.
This is why a Clinton Presidency cannot defeat Trump.
This is why I broke with the Democrats, and quit voting for the “lesser evil.”
This is why I voted Green in 2012. I’ve since joined the Green Party and am actively working for Jill Stein’s campaign.
I would have you make up your minds that there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves. You do not need the capitalist. He could not exist an instant without you. You would just begin to live without him. You do everything and he has everything; and some of you imagine that if it were not for him, you would have no work. As a matter of fact, he does not employ you at all; you employ him to take from you what you produce, and he faithfully sticks to his task. If you can stand it, he can: and if you don’t change this relation, I am sure he won’t. You make the automobile, he rides in it. If it were not for you, he would walk; and if it were not for him, you would ride.
– Eugene V. Debs
In this second article in our series explaining socialism to kids, we take a look at a key concept for many socialists, particularly Marxists. What is “the working class?”
You’ve probably heard the words “working class” being used on the news lately. Especially during an election year, people will talk a lot about “working class voters.” Or sometimes you’ll hear them say something about a “working class neighborhood.”
Here in the United States, people think of the working class as folks who do factory work. Or sometimes they mean someone who works in a job that doesn’t pay very much, or one that doesn’t require a lot of education, or maybe one that involves a lot of hard physical work.
There’s another meaning of “working class” though, that’s really important to socialists. Socialists believe that this special classification of people are the ones who can transform society and lead the world to freedom and equality.
Who is the working class?
In order to make the things that we need for our lives, two things are required. They are labor power and the “means of production.” Labor power is the ability of a worker to do something. It could be making a sandwich or driving a school bus or writing computer code, or anything else that workers do. The “means of production” is everything the worker needs in order to do the job. In a sandwich shop, means of production would be things like the building, the ingredients, the cash register, tables and chairs – everything needed in order to prepare and sell and serve the meal so the customer can eat it.
Under our capitalist economic system, a pretty small percentage of people own these means of production. They are called owners, or bosses or “the ruling class.” All of the rest of us, who don’t own the means of production and must sell our labor power to the bosses so we can earn money to live, are in the working class.
It doesn’t matter what type of work a person does, or how much money she makes. If she doesn’t control the means of production, she is part of the working class.
Why is the working class important to socialists?
Working class people can have it pretty rough. We have to show up when the owners want us to show up. We have to do what we’re told. If we don’t, we might be fired from the job and not have money to buy the things we need in order to live. For a lot of workers, it’s a struggle every day to keep our jobs and earn enough to survive. It’s especially hard for people with limited education and skills, for single parents, or for anyone with extra challenges in their lives. Lots of times people have to choose between taking care of important things at home, and doing what they have to do to keep their jobs.
It seems like the bosses sort of have us in a bad situation. Since they own the means of production, they can order us around and we pretty much have to do what they say. Some owners (or the managers they hire) are nice people, and try to treat their workers with kindness and respect. Still, the worker always knows that he has to do what the boss says or he might lose the job.
So, how can a group of people like the working class, who seem so powerless, be the ones to transform society? If we have to do what the bosses say, how can we possibly lead anyone to a better world? It’s because the working class has a secret super power. The power is called solidarity.
Although an individual worker may be powerless to defy the owners, when workers stand together in solidarity, they can change the world. The ruling (owning) class is so small, that they can’t possibly do the work themselves. Without the workers, no work gets done.
When workers decide together to stay off the job until their demands are met, it’s called “going on strike.”
Think of your favorite sandwich shop. If all of the workers decided not to show up to work, there would be nobody there to make the meals, to clean the tables, or to take the orders.
Or think about an owner of a bus company. She would be sitting alone in a parking lot full of empty busses if the drivers decided not to come to work. Without the working class, everything in society stops.
So when workers stand together in solidarity, they can show the bosses that it’s really the workers who have all the power – in the workplace and in society. But it’s only when they stand together as one that this becomes the truth.
What can solidarity do?
When workers join unions, and stand in solidarity together to make demands, they can get the bosses to pay attention and give in. In fact, before the struggles of unions in the early 1900s, people sometimes had to work fourteen hours a day or more, six or seven days a week. Workers formed unions and went on strike to demand an eight-hour work day. Later, they demanded higher wages, and benefits, such as vacations and health insurance and days off when they’re sick. These things that so many of us enjoy and take for granted today were not given by the owners simply because they wanted to be nice. They were won by the workers who stuck together and demanded them.
Workers can demand and win things like better hours, better working conditions and higher wages for their own jobs. But they can also work in solidarity to make a better society for everyone. Unions have fought for things like an end to child labor, laws regulating workplace safety, a minimum wage for all workers (even ones not in unions), Social Security benefits for retired workers, and so much more.
Working Class Solidarity for a Better World
For socialists, the goal is a society where we do away with the ruling class owners altogether. In a socialist society, the workers would control the means of production, and would share in all the decisions about what to produce and how the work should be done. There wouldn’t be an owner to boss people around. We would rule ourselves in fairness and equality. We would do this because we’re all in the same boat. In the words of the Wobblies (a union that started more than a hundred years ago) “an injury to one is an injury to all.” We would all stand up together in solidarity for a just and equal share of society’s bounty and an equal say in society’s decisions.
So yes, my dear. We are a working class family, and proud of it. It’s up to us to always show our solidarity with other workers, and to fight together with them for a better life for all of us.
In the words of the famous socialist and philosopher Karl Marx “Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!”
If you’re one of the millions who have been invigorated by the Bernie Sanders campaign and want to join the ongoing political revolution, this May 7th forum on movement building beyond the election is for you. We’ll discuss the significance of the Sanders campaign, the meaning of democratic socialism, and strategies for confronting exploitation and inequality at the state and national level. We’ll also offer skills training on coalition building and grassroots organizing. Together, we’ll plan ways to channel the renewed interest in democratic socialism toward a sustainable movement for political transformation. There’s never been a more exciting or vital time to work for change.
The forum is co-sponsored by the Alliance for Community Services, Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, National Nurses United, and Progressive Democrats of America.
There’s more information on this Facebook event page.
In May of 1949, one of the greatest minds on the planet, renowned physicist Albert Einstein, wrote an essay for the inaugural issue of The Monthly Review. In it, he outlines the crisis facing human society and enumerates some of the evils that are part and parcel of the capitalist mode of production. He then turns to discuss the solution.
I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.
Read the full essay: Why Socialism?