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Tag Archive - socialism

What is a Revolution?

 By Neil Davidson 

Celebrations at Tahrir Square following the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, 2011. Source: telegraph.co.uk 

When asked to define revolution, socialists often quote a famous statement by Leon Trotsky: "The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events." That was certainly true of the Russian Revolution which Trotsky was discussing and it would also be true for any future socialist revolutions; but as a general description it is far too restrictive. It would, for example, exclude most of the great bourgeois revolutions with the exception of the English, the French and a handful of others. 


Socialism from Below

In the following piece British socialist Dan Swain builds on Hal Draper's classic discussion in the essay "The Two Souls of Socialism" of socialism from below vs socialism from above and shows its relevance to the contemporary period. We are republishing this article because we think it makes a useful contribution. But we also think it is important to note that the article does not address lessons learned since the 1960s about the importance of anti-oppression struggles in creating conditions for democracy within social movements. This is perhaps reflective of broader political weaknesses on the contemporary left. We believe it is critical to be attentive to the ways in which racism, sexism and heterosexism structure power relations within society - including within movement organizing - and limits the discussion around what it means to practice the politics of socialism from below today. Socialists need to actively promote anti-oppression politics - anti-racist queer feminist socialism from below!

- NSW editors


Building an Infrastructure of Dissent

By Matthew Brett

Review of Alan Sears, The Next New Left: A History of the Future (Fernwood Publishing, 2013)


Why socialists need feminism

By David Camfield

The relationship between socialism and feminism has been getting more attention in online discussions recently. This is both for good reasons -- such as the article by Sharon Smith of the International Socialist Organization in the US that looks critically at how the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, which greatly influenced the ISO's politics, has dealt with feminism -- and bad, above all the current crisis in the SWP set off by the disgraceful way that allegations of rape by a leading member were handled.

The idea that socialists should be feminists too is uncontroversial to many revolutionary socialists. But why socialism needs feminism is still worth spelling out.

Every society in the world today is shaped by the oppression of women on the basis of their gender (patriarchy/sexism). There are, of course, importance differences in what form this oppression takes because gender relations are always interwoven with class, race, sexuality and other social relations, which vary (for example, patriarchy in Canada isn't identical to patriarchy in Cuba).

Around the world, women taking action to challenge sexism commonly (thought not always) identify themselves as feminists. If we define feminism in its widest sense as opposition to sexism -- which is what it means in everyday speech today -- it should be obvious why socialists should be feminists.

However, some socialists who are dedicated supporters of women's liberation don't consider themselves feminists. As Smith notes, some Marxists including some in her own political current haven't "understood the need to defend feminism, and to appreciate the enormous accomplishments of the women's movement, even after the 1960s era gave way to the backlash" against feminism and other movements of oppressed people.

But some socialists who have defended and appreciated feminism and been active in struggles against gender oppression have still insisted that socialism doesn't need feminism and so they're not feminists (this is what I was taught in my early years as a socialist, in the late 1980s as a member of the International Socialists -- some of whose members had the kind of really sectarian anti-feminist stance that Smith criticizes). Why?

The best case for this position is that revolutionary socialist politics are deeply committed to liberation from all forms of oppression, including gender oppression, and therefore don't need feminism. This often goes along with the belief that socialist-feminism is flawed because it advocates both united working-class struggle against exploitation and all forms of oppression (seen as the correct orientation) and autonomous (women-only) organizing against patriarchy. Women-only organizing is seen as undermining working-class politics because it allegedly means cross-class politics that don't recognize that the interests of working-class women aren't the same as those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

But even at its best this "socialist, not feminist" approach won't do. Its claim that because socialism is about universal human emancipation it doesn't need feminism evades a real problem: actually-existing socialist organizing and politics aren't the ideal that these socialists talk about. They exist within patriarchal societies. As a result, the actions and thinking of socialists will inevitably be limited and deformed by the patriarchal gender relations that we're committed to uprooting. So socialists need to develop our politics by learning from the actually-existing struggle against patriarchy (as well as learning from history). To do this we need feminism.

It's feminists who are shedding light on how women are oppressed and grappling with how to challenge various manifestations of oppression, from violence against women including sexual assault to eating disorders to how families, workplaces, schools and other institutions pressure women to conduct themselves in particular ways to sexism in contemporary science and many more. Not all feminists equally, of course. Feminist politics range from revolutionary socialist-feminism all the way to pro-imperialist liberalism, and there are lively debates within feminism.

But it's feminists who are on the cutting edge of whatever progress is being made in understanding and fighting patriarchy. Socialists should be part of that action. Socialists need to learn from the best feminisms (both socialist-feminism and others) to deepen our understanding of oppression and how to fight for liberation. The "socialist, not feminist" approach is a barrier to doing this.

"Socialist, not feminist" politics downplay the reality that patriarchy has its own dynamics. These aren't separate from capitalism and class, but they can't be reduced to them either. Marx's theory of capitalism has been developed by Marxist-feminism to explain why specific features of the system perpetuate gender oppression.This is extremely important. However, it doesn't fully explain patriarchy. To do that we also need to draw on -- and develop -- feminist theory in a historical and materialist way.

Socialist opposition to combining mixed-gender and autonomous women's organizing is a mistake. Far from detracting from united working-class struggles, women-only organizing can be an effective tactic for making them possible. In patriarchal societies, mixed-gender organizing is never a level playing field for women. Organizing independently can help women to identify and tackle sexism in mixed-gender activism and make mixed-gender organizing more anti-sexist. It can be a way for women to take initiatives without having to wait for men to catch up with them. And there's no reason that it inevitably sacrifices the interests of working-class women to those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

Another problem with the "socialist, not feminist" approach is that it tends to promote a culture among socialists in which sexism isn't challenged as vigorously as it needs to be. To the extent that it insulates socialists from feminism, it makes it easier for socialist men to avoid dealing with tough questions about our own behaviour. Insulation from feminism can also make it harder for socialist women to challenge sexism among socialists.

Socialists worthy of the name are committed to universal human emancipation. But there's a big difference between proclaiming a commitment and making it real. To make our politics more truly what we say we want them to be, socialists need feminism. We should be feminist socialists, and proud of it.

David Camfield is one of the editors of New Socialist Webzine.

 


Lenin Reconsidered

By Charlie Post

Review of Lars T. Lih, Lenin (London: Reaktion Press, 2011)

Few historical figures on the international revolutionary left have been the subject of as much historical myth-making as Lenin.


"It is Not Enough to Be Anti-Capitalist": Quebec Socialist Declaration

The Front d'action socialiste (Socialist Action Front) is an organization of socialist activists launched publically in Montreal on May 1, 2014. We are publishing an English translation of its founding declaration as a small contribution to strengthening much-needed links between socialists in Canada and those in Quebec and because we find its non-sectarian emphasis on building movements and its revolutionary humility admirable - NSW


Queering Anti-Capitalist Organizing

By Alan Sears

These are challenging times for the anti-capitalist left. Despite the enormous attacks being waged in the name of austerity, there is little in the way of sustained resistance in the streets, workplaces, neighbourhoods or schools. The Left's limited resources are being strained to the limits in struggles to organize against the tide.


Notes Towards a Socialism for the Times

Alan Sears's "Notes Towards a Socialism for the Times" is a very good article to get people interested in socialism, or to reinvigorate the passion of those already knowledgeable on the topic. It strives to explain what socialism from below is, how it fell by the wayside and why we need it back.


A Letter About Trotskyism

This is the third in a series of letters by one of the editors of NS Webzine. The first two are here and here.

Dear A,

You asked me if the people who publish this webzine are Trotskyists. Speaking only for myself here, I don't consider myself a Trotskyist. I think the best of Trotskyism can contribute to the kind of socialist politics that's needed today, but that we need to go beyond Trotskyism. Let me try to explain.


Strategies to Stop Climate Change

By Gene McGuckin

On December 3, the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group put on an event, "Strategies to Fight Climate Change." We are republishing the speech by VEG member Gene McGuckin. A report on the event and links to videos of all the speakers' talks is online here -- NSW


Queering Socialism: An Interview with Alan Sears

We are republishing an interview with Alan Sears, who frequently writes for New Socialist Webzine, by Andrew Sernatinger and Tessa Echeverria, who are socialists in Madison, Wisconsin. The text first appeared on the New Politics site and the interview was originally broadcast on their Black Sheep Podcast -- NSW


When Soldiers Lay Down Their Arms

By Mike Gonzalez

In every revolutionary crisis the state will slip off the velvet glove to reveal the iron fist underneath; that is the nature of the beast, as Lenin reminded us. Armies are there to serve the capitalist order, whether their activity is described as "peacekeeping," "national security" or simply the maintenance of public order.


Letter to an Anarchist Activist

This is the second in a series of letters by one of the editors of the NS Webzine.


Memoirs of a Vietnamese Revolutionary

By Greg Sharzer

Review of Ngo Van, In The Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary (AK Press, 2010).


Beyond the Double Standard: Towards a Real Liberation Politics

By Cinzia Arruzza

A few months ago on the New York subway I saw the most incredible poster, a picture of a crying baby of colour with the words, "Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars each year". While I was still recovering from the shock, I saw a similar poster of a little Black girl: "Honestly Mom… chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?"


Socialism from Below and Indigenous Resurgence: Reclaiming Traditions

By DL Simmons

With the indigenous activists of Idle No More and Defenders of the Land calling to make the summer of 2013 "Sovereignty Summer" -- a "campaign of coordinated non-violent direct actions to promote Aboriginal rights and environmental protection in alliance with non-native supporters" -- it's a good time to look at the relationship between indigenous struggle and radical politics. With this in mind, we are glad to publish a revised and updated version of a piece that originally appeared in the special Indigenous Resurgence issue of New Socialist in 2006.

During the peak of the Red Power movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many newly radicalizing indigenous people became interested in exploring various theories of revolution and socialist organization.


Workers in the Global North: A Labour Aristocracy?

Review of Zak Cope, Divided World, Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism (Kersplebedeb, 2012)

By Charlie Post

A specter has haunted anti-capitalist radicals and revolutionaries for more than 150 years—the specter of working class reformism and conservatism in the global North of the capitalist world economy. Why have those who Marx called the “grave-diggers of capitalism,” the wage-earning majority of the industrialized societies, embraced politics that either seek to “balance” the interests of capital and labour (reformism) or blame other workers for falling living standards and working conditions (conservatism)? 


The Courage of the Present

By Alain Badiou

We reproduce this recent essay by the French radical philosopher Alain Badiou because of its thoughts about the times in which we’re living and about the “communist hypothesis,” which are not just relevant to people in France. As always, signed articles on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or publisher (in particular, New Socialist does not share Badiou’s belief that the USSR, Mao’s China and similar societies were socialist) -NS


Moving Forward After the Elections in Greece Part II – Building a Working Class Alternative

Kokkino

This is Part II of Kokkino's statement after the June elections in Greece, revised and slightly abridged from the version published in International Viewpoint. Kokkino is a revolutionary socialist organization in Greece, which has been in the throes of a major debt crisis since 2009.

Kokkino is part of the broader Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which is the main force against the austerity measures being imposed on Greece by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a condition of a proposed bailout. SYRIZA's anti-bailout stance resulted in a dramatic growth in its popular support in the run-up to the recent elections - from just under 5% of electoral votes in May to 27% in June.

Part I of this statement offers an analysis of the election's political outcome. The final sections, reprinted here, focus on strategic questions for the radical left in Greece. Although the context is quite different, there is much to be learned from the experience of major social mobilization in Greece since the eruption of the debt crisis. - New Socialist 


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