The International Socialist Union held a meeting on campus Wednesday entitled “Capitalism Isn’t Working: Build the Socialist Alternative” to spread its message and open its doors to the Stanford community. The organizers sought new members and a dialog about socialism’s role in both domestic and foreign affairs. They certainly achieved the latter, and a clipboard full of names suggests success on the first goal as well.
The event was reminiscent of Occupy Stanford meetings in both audience and structure. Many of Occupy Stanford’s leaders and members attended and contributed, as well as ISO members from Palo Alto and San Francisco. The meeting also followed an open discussion format putting raised hands on a queue to speak.
A Stanford student began the meeting with a rallying speech tracing oppression against Palestinians, racism and climate change to American capitalism. The speech denounced capitalism as the root of manyperceived injustices within and propagated by the United States.
When the floor opened to all attendees, socialism as an ideology and practice entered the spotlight as well. A freshman’s question about socialism’s apparent failure in Soviet Russia, Communist China and Cuba elicited a discussion which ultimately concurred that true socialism has never been implemented and that the Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917 was the only true socialist uprising.
Another discussion covered the Arab Spring revolts and their legacy. One member in the audience lamented that Egyptians had rooted out one oppressor only for another to take power. “Can we really say Egypt is better off?” she asked. The group took a universally optimistic stance on these revolutions, listing increased freedom of the press and legalization of unions as crucial victories.
“People in Egypt are talking, they believe they can change things and don’t want their friends to have died for no reason. You can’t put a dollar value on that,” one Stanford alumni noted.
The discussion about Egypt also sparked hope for similar revolutions in America. “I would love to see what’s happening in the Middle East here in the U.S.” The more senior ISO members assured the audience that mass strikes, protest, and the generalization of high profile struggles remain the best methods for implementing change. “Socialism is not won through an election and brought down from on high,” one ISO member declared. The discussion also acknowledged differences in Socialist ideologies ranging from Marxist purists to the ISO, which holds that Marx “got quite a few things right, but not everything.”
Donni Wang, who helped organized Occupy Stanford, said “I want to see us on the left be self-critical.”
The most potentially contentious remark challenged came from another freshman, who stated, “I’m not being exploited [here at Stanford]. People who are making a decent income, are they being exploited?”
In response, a student member of the ISO cited environment crises and “the construction of an individual identity – that we’re not all connected, that these crises and oppressions won’t affect us” as forms of universal exploitation. Another ISO representative claimed “the New Jim Crow” is a widespread oppression that hurts communities as a whole. “The New Jim Crow”, a rapidly growing rally call among left-wing organizations, refers to the mass incarceration of African-American men in the United States primarily under the banner of the war on drugs. Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book of that name has quickly become core literature to the ISO.
Though the discussion remained dominated by comments such as “this society is unjust” and claims that “racism and sexism won’t end until capitalism does”, one ISO representative stressed his idea that “we have to put forward an alternative”.
Rhetoric about solving oppression was scarce, as ending comments complained that “austerity has won the day, whether Barack Obama the millionaire or Mitt Romney the billionaire wins the election.” The socialist group certainly succeeded in gathering followers by decrying the system, but like every political group, it faces the challenge of fixing the problems it criticizes.