Socialism

Fidel Castro, Cuba and socialism

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The death of Castro, long time leader of Cuba, last November provoked a polarised response. The establishment denounced him as a dictator who ruined Cuba, while some on the left celebrated him unquestioningly. Andy Brown argues that socialists must retain their critical faculties.

Fidel Castro’s death at the end of last year has provoked two basic reactions. One is the bitter and utterly hypocritical version of the right. Donald Trump said, “Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

We on the left need take no lessons from those whose practice and associates are perfect illustrations, in the past and the present, at home and across the world (in Latin America especially), of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.

Can we build a sustainable society?

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There is an assumption that Marx and Engels's vision of communism sees the natural world as an inexhaustible collection of resources. Martin Empson argues that they sought a profound change in how humans relate to nature, flowing from the democratic and collective organisation of labour.

This month will see major worldwide protests demanding action on climate change. As world leaders meet in Paris they have a chance to plan the massive reduction of emissions to keep world temperatures below the 2 degrees threshold. Time is now tight, and the action would need to be quick and drastic.

Can socialist planning work?

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  • There is intense planning under capitalism, but it is done to maximise profit
  • Planning under socialism would be driven from the bottom up based on mass participation and democracy

    For many people the words socialist and planning in the same sentence will conjure up images of Stalinist horror: brutal five year plans, inefficiency and waste.

    Yet at a time of deep, protracted economic crisis many are questioning whether capitalism is the best way of organising society. Alternatives are being discussed.

  • 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.

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