Philosophy department brings Socialist Action to MCTC


Professor Matthew Palombo from the philosophy department said it was important to bring Socialist Action to MCTC. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka

Socialist Action held conferences at MCTC on Friday, Nov. 3 and Saturday, Nov. 4 in T Building and in the library.

The event was titled “Taking Theory to the Streets” and was co-sponsored by the philosophy department at MCTC.

Socialist Action is a Trotskyist political party in the United States. Trotskyism is a theory of Marxism that was advocated by Leon Trotsky, a Marxist revolutionary and prominent figure of the 1917 October Revolution. Jeff Mackler, the national secretary of Socialist Action, came to speak at the opening reception on Friday.

“I’m about to make a problematic statement, and there will be time for questions afterwards, but I believe that the Russian Revolution was the most important event in human history,” Mackler said in his opening.

Mackler went on to recount the history of the Russian Revolution, which took place in October of 1917.

Mackler was the keynote speaker and retold the story of the Russian revolution and why he felt it was the most important event in human history. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka

“You have to fight to win. Risk everything to win everything,” he said, referencing the conviction felt by those revolutionaries.

Mackler was a confident speaker, explaining that the recent injustices perpetrated by our police forces and judicial systems are unacceptable and suggesting a new course of action be taken. He said that we live in a “sick society,” one that is centered very much on war and profit and very little on the well-being of all people.

“To date, the U.S. has been in some 700 wars…,” Mackler said. “War is good for business, and the weapons of war are only profitable if they are used.”

He also sought to explain the differences between socialism and Stalinism.

“Stalinism is the product of world imperialist systems on Soviet Russia. Stalin sought ‘peaceful co-existence,'” Mackler said.

He claims Stalinism is fundamentally conflicted to socialist theory, which seeks to abolish capitalism, not exist in tandem.

He also highlighted his perspective of the dichotomous political parties in the U.S.

“Democratic and Republican parties alike are parties that are ultimately for the 1 percent. They are for capitalism,” Mackler said.

He ended the evening with a call-to-action.

“All the slaughter of the world is due to the minority/bourgeois class fearing the uprising of the majority/working class… People are angry and there is a contradiction between that anger and its expression, but the gap is closing,” Mackler said. “We must do what the Bolsheviks did and aim for the needs of the majority, and keep your promises to the people!”

Other speakers included Carl Saks, who lectured on the topic of eco-socialism. Saks, a soft-spoken Wisconsinite, sought to draw attention to the ecological harm that results from capitalist systems.

“The ecological crisis is nothing but a manifestation of the deep systemic crisis of capitalism,” he said. “The key argument of eco-socialism is that capitalism is the cause of the ecological crisis.”

“Marx and Engels, who collaborated on ‘Capital’ and ‘The Communist Manifesto’ were among the first ecologists[…] They viewed the world as a whole greater than the sum of it’s parts, produced and reproduced by continuous change,” Saks said.

He made efforts to highlight many of the ecological principles that had parallels in the works of early communist authors, especially their identification of the well-being of our environment with our own survival.

Karen Schraufnagel was the main organizer for the vent, and wanted to emphasize the role of a "united front" in the activities of Socialist Action. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka

Karen Schraufnagel, the Twin Cities branch organizer for Socialist Action, was the principle organizer for the event.

“We have been trying to present the foundation of Marxist theory, but the title of the conference is ‘Socialists in Action: Taking Theory to the Streets’ so we need to be both theoretically grounded, but also connected to struggle,” Schraufnagel said.

Schraufnagel wanted to emphasize the role of a “united front” in the activities of Socialist Action.

“We gather together [with other organizations] around the things that we share and believe in in common, we make a common set of demands, and we don’t require that people share any more than those common demands,” she said.

Schraufnagel cited her work with the movement for net neutrality, mentioning that the party had worked with a broad array of sometime conflicting organizations, including the National Rifle Association, in the pursuit of that goal.

Matthew Palombo, a professor in the philosophy department, explained why the philosophy department chose to co-sponsor Socialist Action. He cites the work of Schraufnagel as the cornerstone to the relationship between Socialist Action and MCTC.

Schraufnagel is also a community organizer, and active with the Somali community in her activism against the War on Terror.

“It began as a conversation about how students sometimes don’t get the opportunities to learn about the ideas and the philosophy behind social movements, and we were discussing Socialist Action as one group,” she said.

Through those conversations Schraufnagel suggested a conference to educate MCTC students. The idea was brought to the philosophy department, who approved it as a way for students and the community to be educated on socialist theory.

MCTC students and members of the community attended 'Taking Theory to the Streets' which was co-sponsored by the philosophy department. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka

Capitalism differs from socialism in that capitalism is an economic system and ideology that is oriented with private ownership of production and profit, where socialism is oriented with social ownership of production and a more democratic process of how to use the profits gained from said production.

“I would say more people would be comfortable with saying they are critical of capitalism, but when approached with socialism, people become wary,” Palombo said. “A lot of times, socialism is associated with Stalinism, or people think it will make everyone lazy. And then, a lot of people think Bernie Sanders is a socialist. What does that mean? There are a lot of myths, fictions, assumptions and stereotypes around socialism. Part of the work of philosophy is to bring out the truth.”

Bringing Socialist Action to MCTC was a way to open a space for conversation and understanding of the ideas of socialism, and for “people to understand what this philosophy is actually saying,” Palombo said. “There’s a recognition that there’s a lot of anger, and frustration and there are a lot of victims of capitalism. But then, as soon as socialism is talked about, there isn’t a resource there. You just have the mythology.”

There was plenty of socialist, Marxist and communist literature available for purchase for those who attended the event. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka