A Socialist International women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910 launched International Women’s Day globally in 1911. Trotskyist parties, including the predecessor organization of Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste in the Canadian state, re-launched the modern IWD in 1978. For good reason.
Women’s oppression is rooted in the capitalist system. As with heterosexism, racism, environmental destruction and war, capitalism profits from discrimination, dispossession and plunder.
Over forty people braved severe cold to make their way to the Socialist Action public forum on Cuba held at OISE U of Toronto on February 20, featuring Cuba’s Consul General Javier Domokos Ruiz and this writer.
A lively discussion with audience members explored issues of Washington-Havana diplomatic relations, economic reform in Cuba, fair trade, socialist democracy, Canadian foreign policy, the Harper government’s expanded police powers bill, ISIS, and the imperial wars of intervention in the Mid-East and Asia.
The 100th anniversary of the great imperialist slaughter known as World War 1 takes place this year. With 37 million casualties, over 16 million dead, and 20 million wounded, it was one of the bloodiest chapters of history.
In the coming months the bourgeois press and historians will write about the causes and will give all the answers except the correct one, which is that the war was the logical outcome of capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit, regardless of the consequences. The more honest bourgeois historians might say that nationalism, imperialism, and militarism caused the war, but these are merely effects of capitalism’s drive to “accumulate, accumulate, accumulate.” War has proven an excellent tool in the endless quest to accumulate.
Prior to World War I, bourgeois apologists were pointing to the 100 years of relative “peace” that the rise of capitalism had brought—the last major European war had been the Napoleonic war, approximately 100 years earlier. But peace “at home” was bought with blood in the colonies and the mass murder of indigenous peoples throughout North America.
Capitalism was promising that everyone’s living standards would gradually rise without the ugly business of revolutions. Even many Marxist parties, including the largest—the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany—accepted this gradualist approach and reserved talk of workers’ control and a socialist economy for speeches at May Day parades and party rallies.
But beneath the surface, the internal contradictions inherent in capitalism continued to play out. What Marxists call “the crisis of overproduction” left many countries worried about opening new markets abroad because their own markets were saturated—hence the need to expand through imperialism and carve up the world into colonies. Germany got a late start and was busy scrambling for a foothold in Africa. There were diplomatic incidents in Morocco, adding to the tensions in Europe.
Competition with other colonial powers requires a military, support for which is won by fanning the flames of nationalism, which can get out of hand. Germany was building up its navy, to rival Great Britain on the high seas. And Tsarist Russia had its eyes on the Balkans and the rotting Ottoman Empire, specifically Turkey.
Prior to World War I, a massive arms race took place, and all the European countries were armed to the teeth—but there was no “peace through strength.” At the same time, socialist parties were gaining steam, and labor unrest was growing. One British officer summed up the situation: “A good big war just now might do a lot of good in killing Socialist nonsense and would probably put a stop to all this labor unrest.”
War has served capitalism well. The capitalists use militarism, national patriotism, and imperialism to distract people from the core exploitation that is the capitalist system. War takes peoples’ minds off the exploitation of the bosses and class conflict and focuses them instead on hating some “other”—the citizens of another capitalist state. The last phrase in the Communist Manifesto begins “workers of the world unite.” It is not “workers of the world, first help your capitalists slaughter other workers and then unite.” The SPD in Germany discarded this most basic tenet of Marxism—internationalism. The working class must not fight the working class of other countries but the ruling class of their own country.
V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky saw through the capitalist smokescreen and opposed the war throughout. When a comrade said to Lenin, “war is terrible” he replied, “Yes, it is terrible, terribly profitable.” The Bolshevik slogan “land, bread, and peace” and their continuous opposition to the war helped propel them to power.
But when a movement like the Bolsheviks in Russia rises up and questions the irrational nature of the capitalist war-making system, the capitalists will do everything in their power to quash or deform it. The capitalists will never forgive the Bolsheviks for publishing their secret treaties, pointing out the undemocratic nature of their governments and the stupidity of the slaughter that was occurring in World War I. Despite the Bolsheviks’ offering very favorable treaty terms to the capitalist nations, their governments insisted on trying to crush the Bolshevik revolution with an invasion force from at least 14 countries, material and financial support for the White armies, and blockades and sabotage of the devastated Russian economy.
In our time as well, capitalist governments, media, and bourgeois intellectuals continue to disparage and dismiss the Russian Revolution and communist ideals as if the inevitable outcome must be brutal dictatorship. If they were being honest, they would observe the more intimate and direct connections between capitalism, militarism, and war.
Capitalist dogma likewise lauds the maximization of private profits. Bourgeois economists repeatedly state, without any proof, that capitalism is the most rational and effective system for distributing “scarce” resources. If we assume (as economists love to do) that the system is wonderful and that war is terrible, defenders of capitalism are left with the unenviable task of explaining all the capitalist wars. They tie themselves in knots blaming such elements as human nature, misunderstandings, miscommunication, or the assassination of some worthless monarch.
The paradox that cannot be resolved is that capitalism requires an entire society to accept as its goal the maximization of profit by a few powerful individuals. While this outcome might make sense for the powerful individuals, it is illogical for society as a whole. Militarism and war become the method for solving this contradiction.
Capitalists do not want to pay the price for research and development; they only want the profits that result. Through the military budget (the U.S. spent $518 billion on the Pentagon in 2013), these costs are socialized. This massive distortion of spending priorities away from what “rational” people would collectively choose—tackling the climate crisis, producing clean energy, health care for all, education for all, eradicating poverty—cannot be accomplished in the presence of true democracy. Therefore, we have fake democracy and a population made irrational with fear of some mysterious other rather than the true enemy. The inevitable outcome is perpetual war.
History never repeats itself exactly, but the world today looks much like it did prior to World War I. China, the United States, and Europe are carving up Africa—AGAIN. The United States is scrambling to build military bases across the continent to bolster its ability to exploit the mineral and oil riches. But Canada, Europe and China are also interested in the vast wealth, making Africa a staging ground for a new round of imperial competition. The United States backs one repressive regime after another (Saudi Arabia, a medieval monarchy with vast oil reserves, being a shining example) to advance its own imperialist ends.
Recent and continuing revelations by Edward Snowden point to just how low the United States will sink to gain an upper hand over its competitors. Inter-imperialist squabbles are everywhere. Japan and China (and the U.S.) are engaged in territorial disputes over islands. A European financial crisis brought on by capitalist speculation threatens to tear Europe apart. The U.S. continues to flex its military muscle from Syria to Yemen to North Korea, needlessly provoking the citizens who would have no interest in hostilities.
Capitalist expansion will continue to inflame these underlying tensions until the people of the world unite to fight the only war worth fighting, the class war, and for the only goal worth fighting for — socialism.
Warmest solidarity greetings from Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action socialiste for World Pride 2014. While we justifiably celebrate the growth of queer liberation internationally, and its victories and gains, let’s remember that there are vast areas of our world where things are actually getting worse, notably some African countries and now-capitalist Russia.
Queer members of SA/LAS participated in the planning committee for the February 6 rally and march in Toronto against the Putin regime’s anti-gay law. Our speaker at the rally noted that the early Soviet Republic was the first state in the world to decriminalize homosexuality and abortion. Sadly these gains were reversed in the 1930’s with the consolidation in power of the privileged, self-serving party-state bureaucracy headed by Joseph Stalin and his murderous security apparatus — of which Vladimir Putin is a direct descendant. While acknowledging its repressive past on queer issues, it is no accident that today, among “less developed” countries, revolutionary Cuba leads the way.
In Canada and Quebec, we have made significant gains through decades of struggle, but there is far to go. Look at Ontario. Last year the furor over Blue Jays baseball player Yunel Escobar’s anti-gay slur demonstrated an increased awareness of homophobia. This increased awareness has several sources. At its heart is the determined struggle by queer rights activists and their allies resulting in victories on two fronts. The passage of “Toby’s Law” mandated inclusion in the Human Rights Code of gender identity and gender expression. The Accepting Schools Act addressed the issue of anti-gay bullying in the schools, particularly in Catholic schools.
However, a federal law regarding transgender rights remains stalled in the non-elected Senate. And reactionary Catholic school boards continue to stall and obstruct the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA’s). As with all human rights “protections”, enforcement is key. We call on all human rights supporters to demand dissolution of Catholic schools into a single, secular school system. Not only would this advance the interests of LGBT students and other minorities. It would save up to $1 billion a year that could be better spent in classrooms.
The scandalous rise of homelessness is another issue that particularly affects queer communities and other minorities. We demand that Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal provincial government, and municipal governments, provide safe spaces for all the homeless, especially street kids, among whom queer youth are heavily over-represented. Lives are at stake.
The health system is another issue. The government’s priority is ever more cuts and privatization (including the notorious P3’s) while the system remains largely unresponsive to the needs of LGBT people and other minorities. We have to stop this.
While our struggle on these issues and many other fronts continues, we also need to look at what kind of society we want, and what we actually have. Queer rights will never be safely ensconced in the capitalist system. “Divide and rule” remains the practice of the tiny, obscenely rich minority who call the shots in the economy and the state. The massive income inequality gap continues to grow, and won’t be reversed until we take mass action.
Bay Street governments have done, and will do nothing to address this, despite uttering hypocritical “anti-poverty” mantras. The present provincial government does not even support a liveable minimum wage. It has offered only miniscule increases in the abysmally low “welfare” rates, while pretending to prepare people for jobs that don’t exist.
In a socialist society housing, food, education (at all levels!) and healthcare will be human rights, as they are today in Cuba, despite the U.S. blockade and very limited resources. Public ownership and workers’ democratic control of the commanding heights of the economy are essential for production to be for human needs, not for private profit. We invite you to join us in this fight.
Members and supporters celebrated the 20th anniversary of Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste with an international educational conference and a party convention held May 23-25, 2014 at the University of Toronto.
The conference theme ‘Capitalism is Organized Crime’ echoed across the agenda. The topics were Capitalism Damns the Environment (with speakers Malu Baumgarten, Toronto Socialist Action; and Robbie Mahood, member of SA/LAS and Quebec Solidaire in Montreal),Scandals, Repression and Corporate Dictatorship (with Barry Weisleder, federal secretary, Socialist Action – Canada; Jaime Gonzalez, LUS (Socialist Unity League) – Mexico; and Chris Hutchinson — Socialist Action USA, Connecticut), Science: For Profit, or for People? (with special guest speaker Cliff Conner. He is the author of “A Peoples’ History of Science”, and teaches history at the City University of New York Graduate Center), When Labour Won (with Julius Arscott, SA Toronto; Chris Hutchinson, SA U.S.A.; and Robbie Mahood),Is Inequality Inevitable?(with Claudia Espinoza, President of USGE Local 00079 (Public Service Alliance of Canada) and an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers;Kaylie Tiessen from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; and John Orrett, member Toronto Professional Firefighters’ Association and SA Thornhill), and finally, What Would Socialism Look Like?(with special guest speaker Cliff Conner, historian and co-author of the new book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA”).
Over fifty people attended one or more of the conference sessions, all of which exhibited a high quality of presentations, and a high degree of audience participation.
A large display of books, booklets, posters and buttons near the meeting entrance was a hub of activity. Folks purchased over $500 in literature and other items.
During the conference two participants asked to join Socialist Action — in addition to the six people who joined SA in the month preceding the Toronto conference.
At the SA/LAS convention held on the Sunday, members adopted a plan of action and a budget, welcomed new members, and elected a bi-national leadership body.
The unanimously adopted central priorities of SA/LAS for the coming year include:
1. Participation in the campaign to elect an NDP government in Ontario – while honestly explaining our criticisms of the policies, tactics and undemocratic methods of the Horwath leadership, leading up to the Ontario NDP Convention in November 2014. To prepare the party left wing for the convention, we urge the Socialist Caucus to hold an Ontario conference in early September.
2. Continuing efforts to oppose the cuts to postal services, and to resist the general ruling class drive towards more austerity, autocratic governance, surveillance of the population, and police repression. We believe that defence of the CUPW and home mail delivery, with sufficient broad backing and mass action tactics, could be the key to removing the unpopular Harper government.
3. Working with the environmental movement to oppose Line 9, to oppose new pipeline contruction, to demand a rapid shift to green energy generation through public ownership and workers’ control of the resource sector, and to support indigenous peoples’ struggles for self-government and protection of the environment.
4. Stepping up efforts to build, together with others, a cross-union, class struggle tendency in the labour movement. At the Peoples’ Social Forum in Ottawa, August 21-24, where it is expected that 20,000 people will attend demonstrations and forums, SA/LAS will host a workshop on questions of strategy and tactics for the workers’ movement. At the Social Forum labour activists may gather to launch a radical cross-union left opposition, which SA aims to actively build.
5. Intervening in the Toronto municipal election, leading up to the vote on October 27. Armed with the new SA booklet ‘Dump Rob Ford, For a Labour City Hall’, our aim is to shift the focus from the bizarre antics of Mayor Rob Ford towards a serious political discussion on the need for a Workers’ Agenda. We want particularly to engage grassroots labour and NDP activists in such a discussion.