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Passing the Torch

The baby-boom generation is ending its lap in the human race, and the Fridays-for-future generation is beginning its run. Generational shifts of power are symbolized by the image of passing the torch, but now what the older has to pass on to the younger seems not a torch but a time bomb, a legacy of crises. Industrial production without responsibility has placed the environment in a situation where entire species are experiencing extinction. The economic system increasingly sees a growing gap in wealth and income between the poor to the rich.

To find a way out of the disaster, we need to look at how we got into it, the historical context. The economic and social system of capitalism shapes our times and shapes us. It is a system based on power, the ability of one group to dominate another – the owner of industry dominate workers, the owners of land dominate the renters, the rich countries dominate poor countries. The political system, even with the window-dressing of parliamentary democracy, is designed to keep participation to a minimum and to protect this system of dominance from change. To understand the effects of this, let’s review a bit of history.

At the beginning of the 20th century Britain and France were the dominant powers, controlling colonies in Africa and Asia from which they extracted great wealth. Germany was becoming more powerful and also wanted colonies, but Britain and France were determined to keep them out. The United States of America had long warned, through the Monroe Doctrine, that the western hemisphere was for it's own and that European powers must stay out; it wanted it's own imperialism. With France, Britain, and Russia on one side, and Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey on the other a conflict arose that led to the First World War in which Germany was crushed.

During that time, people in the colonies and other poor countries were rebelling, trying to throw off domination. This movement was most advanced in Imperial Russia, an archaic and backward state that was barely exiting feudalism and absolute monarchy. As the front-line advanced to the industrial centers, soviets (councils) of workers and soldiers rebelled against Tsardom and then the provisional government of the Constituent Assembly which supported continuing the war.

The revolution was led by the Bolsheviks, the majority faction of the the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), which would eventually become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). As a Marxist organization, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Bolsheviks promised "All power to the Soviets". In the chaos of the First World War, the Russian workers succeeded in overthrowing the existing government in what was an almost bloodless revolution of 7-8 November, 1917 (October in the old calendar, hence "October Revolution"), and began to create a socialist nation.

After the revolution however, the capitalist and Imperial powers tried to re-assert power and crush the revolution through a civil war, with invaders from Czechoslavakia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, France, and others. Faced with this military conflict, along sabotage, and economic warfare, and rebellions even from some Soviets (e.g., Petrograd), the Bolsheviks became less democratic, to the point of banning internal factions. The Russian Civil War weakened the revolution and following Lenin's death, Stalin exploited the opportunity to seize dictatorial control of what was now the Soviet Union.

Stalin distorted the democratic principles of Marx and the promises of Soviet power of Lenin into an oppressive, totalitarian regime, that permitted little discussion causing the deaths of millions of political opponents, including nearly all of the original Bolshevik revolutionaries. Rapid industrialization and forced collectivization led to widespread famines (e.g., Soviet famine of 1932-33) killing tens of millions more. The Stalinist model was, however, successful at acquiring and holding power and shaped the behavior and policies of the communist parties to this day of China, Vietnam, Cuba and others in this dictatorial form. The promise of a true democratic socialism no longer existed and still doesn’t.

During and after the war, the revolutionary spirit spread to Germany. To squelch it, the German capitalists, nationalists, and reactionaries helped Hitler, a fanatical anti-communist and anti-Semite, seize control and become a dictator. He led Germany into the Second World War and murdered six million Jews plus other minorities. The Soviet Union, whilst run by the dictatorship of Stalinism, was able to harness the popular support for socialism and make use of its collective strength to defeat the fascists.

The Jewish Holocaust set off a chain of ongoing tragedies. It led to the formation of Israel, which Britain and the USA supported primarily so they could have a base in the Mideast close to the energy reserves. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs were pushed off their land, and they were outraged at being forced to pay for the crimes of the Germans. This generated violent Muslim fundamentalism and an ongoing war to get their homeland back. Due to global Muslim solidarity and their cultural need to avenge dishonor, their resistance has now spread worldwide. The West has responded with massive violence from Libya to the Philippines to stamp it out and maintain their access to the resources. US-NATO attacks on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and much of Africa have killed millions but have succeeded only in generating determined hatred in the survivors.

Ironically, the USA is fighting for oil, but the world’s single largest user of oil is the US military which is doing the fighting. The United States and China are the top largest consumers of oil in the world, totaling 17.2 million and 14.2 million barrels per day; one of those countries seems intent on using military force to secure oil; the other, with greater strength, uses diplomacy and trade. However, all this use contributes to the growing environmental disasters. Our poor planet is reeling under human assault. Our drive for consumption is reaching the point where we are consuming ourselves. The world is trapped in a ghastly dilemma.

That’s the bad news, but here’s the good news. The cause of these calamities is a lack of commonwealth in capitalism and a lack of democracy in state socialism. But history shows us that such systems can be overthrown. The way to build a new society, dedicated to the principles of a social commonwealth and democracy, comes from many sources, especially from the liberal, socialist, and anarchist traditions. This author has found that the political party that has the best understanding of these principles is the Freedom Socialist Party: It offers a torch of knowledge worth passing on to the next generation.

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