Someone once told me that the perpetual motion machine is a good idea that just never worked. I don't blame this person for making such an absurd statement since he knew little about science anyway.
I could not help but think about this statement when I went with several members of TFP Student Action to the International Socialist Organization's (ISO) conference held at George Washington University on March 9th. The perpetual motion excuse prevailed: "Socialism is a great idea, it's just never been correctly implemented."
I went to this conference to get an idea about what the Socialists were up to and where they were heading. The conference was titled: "A World of War and Poverty: Socialism is the Alternative!"
TFP Student Action had campaigned against this conference a few days earlier with the statement "Ten Questions for the International Socialist Organization". As we took our seats, the first thing we noticed was one of the fliers circulated among the comrades. One veteran socialist tried to calm down the others by saying: "Don't worry about that. It's from a fanatical right wing organization here at GW."
The meeting rooms were plastered with posters showing Bush exploiting poor countries, making war, and destroying the environment. There were, of course, the stereotypical socialist posters saying "Fight for Socialism" and "Workers of the World, Unite and Fight."
Lee Sustar, a reporter for the Socialist Worker, gave the first meeting titled: "Marxism in the 21st Century." Oddly enough, he said little about the topic. We heard all about the terrible American capitalist system. He ranted and raved about how Shrub (his nickname for President Bush) declared war on poor innocent civilians in Afghanistan. He decried his tax cut program for the rich. Not even former President Clinton fared well since his welfare reform cut aid for thousands of poor people across the country.
Lee continued his tirade against the American "tyrannical" system of the white collar over the blue collar division of labor. The ideal seemed to be the European unionized workers who get more time off than their American counterparts. The American unions do not aggressively fight management and are therefore not nearly as effective in creating equality between workers and owners.
Though Cuba was not mentioned, the old Soviet Union was amply praised. Lenin was a hero, and the first years of the Soviet Union were years of socialist promise and fulfillment. Things were pretty well until that counterrevolutionary (sic!) Joseph Stalin appeared and diverted the great socialist paradigm away from its once unselfish and noble goal – the freedom of the proletariat.
The most interesting thing that came to light in this conference was the importance ISO gives to subjects not directly related to the economy but to various forms of egalitarianism. Socialists do not recognized the accidental inequalities give variety and spice to our existence. All must be dealt with on equal terms. Instead of social harmony, everyone must be in constant class struggle with those who "oppress" them. Thus, the ISO wants to make all aware of their oppression: feminists, homosexuals, workers, minorities, and women. Willing or not, all are put on the socialist equality bandwagon. The theme of gender and racial equality, for example, was carried on even in the workshop titled: "Fighting Back: Layoffs and Labor." Instead of talking about layoffs, they focused on discrimination.
In a more traditionally socialist approach, violence was the unofficial theme of the "What is next for the Global Justice Movement?" workshop. We learned that revolutionaries practiced "force" and oppressive governments and their agents practiced "violence." Applying this to a concrete circumstance, the Colombian guerrilla movement, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples Army (FARC-EP), is the agent using force at the service of Colombian workers, while the government employs violence to kill union activists. America – the "evil empire" – aids the Colombian government simply to control Colombia's oil line.
Since no one at this meeting had the answers to the ten questions posed by TFP Student Action, let me at least help with the sixth question: "Could it be that the ISO lacks real issues?" My answer is a categorical yes. Everything they had to say about economics had already been said by their former comrades many times over. Nothing new there. As far as gender issues, there are plenty of feminists who speak for themselves. One cannot help but ask "Where is the ISO headed?" I would say nowhere fast. They no longer have the novelty or appeal they once had.