A-Z of Socialism

Z is for Zhenotdel

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When thousands of women workers went on strike on International Women's Day in Petrograd, Russia, in 1917 they had ignored advice from Bolshevik party leaders to "keep cool".

Once they were on the streets the Bolsheviks went all out to build their struggle. Leon Trotsky would later write, "Women's Day passed successfully, with enthusiasm and without victims. But what it concealed in itself no one had guessed even by nightfall." For that day's action was the trigger for the Russian revolution that was to transform the lives of millions.

Y is for Young Hegelians

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Marxism was born of a synthesis of the most advanced aspects of bourgeois social theory: English political economy, French socialism and German classical philosophy.

In retrospect the first two elements of this seem obvious enough.

Among the political economists, Adam Smith had shown that labour was the essence of value, while David Ricardo, despite being on the opposite side of the barricades, had pointed to the rationality of working class struggle.

Meanwhile, the socialist workers who Karl Marx met in Paris were living proof of an alternative to the egoistic individualism assumed to be natural by the economists.

X is for Xenophobia

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Xenophobia - literally fear and loathing of "the alien", "the stranger", "the foreigner" - has enjoyed a long if inglorious past, not least in Britain.

Across Europe today, and indeed internationally, xenophobic anxieties about "foreign invasion" through migration retain all the political potency they had over 100 years ago, remaining a phenomenon that unscrupulously cynical bourgeois politicians continue to try and harness in order to attain or maintain political power.

W is for workers

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As economic crisis, war and poverty sweep the globe many people rightly feel that capitalism is failing us. For anyone wanting to challenge the system the question of who has the power to bring about change in society becomes crucial.

There are many different groups of people suffering in the world and many divisions that exist in society. Why do revolutionary socialists talk about the working class in particular being the key to transforming society?

Discussion about class becomes confused by academics using superficialities to try to define class. For them you can be described as working class based on the contents of your fridge, where you shop, or even what kind of accent you have.

V is for Violence

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I would guess that most socialists are instinctively anti-violence. We hate almost all of its manifestations from war all the way through to bullying. Many of us came to socialist politics via anti-war movements or struggles against various forms of oppression.

Yet, as any readers of this magazine will know, its editorial line is one that supports the revolutionary transformation of society, which looks to events like the French and Russian Revolutions and inspirational movements in human history.

Furthermore, Socialist Review has supported many struggles for national liberation - struggles that usually involve armed resistance.

Is this not a contradiction?

U is for united front

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In 1919 the Communist International was born. Throughout Europe and beyond new Communist Parties were founded, generally by splits in mass reformist parties. As anyone who has been through a split knows, the process left behind enormous political and personal bitterness. Yet within a couple of years the Communist International was urging its members to form united fronts with the reformist parties.

Many Communists were confused. Why should they unite with those they had so recently denounced as traitors? The reason was simple. The revolutionary wave had subsided, and the employers were on the offensive, trying to restore their profit levels. A defensive strategy meant the involvement of the broadest possible movement. As the Comintern's manifesto of January 1922 put it, "No worker, whether communist or social-democratic or syndicalist, or even a member of the Christian or liberal trade unions, wants his wages further reduced. None wants to work longer hours.

T is for Trotsky

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In a world dominated by capitalist crisis and war the life and writings of Leon Trotsky can offer socialists some pointers on the way forward.

Trotsky was central to leading two revolutions in Russia - the 1905 Revolution, which was crushed by Russia's brutal Tsar, and the victorious 1917 Revolution which ushered in for a brief time the most liberated and radical society we have yet seen. He was the key organiser of the insurrection through which the revolution took power in October 1917. He also defended the fledgling new society leading the revolutionary Red Army to victory against more than a dozen invading armies.

S is for state capitalism

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As global capitalism flounders, the world's governments are scrambling to use state action to try to stop the rot and bail out the system. After two decades of being told that the market works best, the state is back.

The reason for this is not some grand theory. It is pragmatic. The crisis is showing that states not only need to set the rules for capitalism to work but must also be major players. For socialists this creates a dilemma. If the choice is between bankruptcy and state support we obviously call for state support and nationalisation. No firm should go under, no job be lost because of the lunacy of the system. But we need more than this. And we should be under no illusion that the state is a socialist force.

R is for Revolution

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"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!" English poet William Wordsworth's reaction to the fall of the Bastille in 1789 conveys the exhilaration of those precious moments when the masses overthrow an old society and build a fresh one.

Such events must be distinguished from superficial change. Under capitalism there is a constant turnover of rulers, technology, family structures and ideas. The microchip has superceded the spinning jenny; Barack Obama follows George Bush; even the banks are nationalised - but capitalism continues. Revolution means change at the most fundamental level. States are transformed, ruling classes are replaced by new ones, production and distribution are radically altered. Nothing stays the same.

Q is for quantity and quality

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How is it that history makes an unexpected leap forward?

Take the sudden onset of the economic crisis. We were told this could never happen again, but banks are failing, the financial system is in turmoil and a recession is opening up beneath our feet.

The recession is hardly the only example in recent years of a sharp disruption to the flow of events. The 9/11 attacks and their consequences were utterly unforeseen, and marked a turning point after which many important things in the world were never the same again.

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