HOPE

The Carnival of Socialism no.51 is up at Bob From Brockley. The theme is pessimism and optimism

Ken McLeod is also reflecting on that theme:

Jim Cannon’s socialist hope

Speaking of optimism, here’s the peroration of a speech that James P. Cannon, an American socialist, made in 1953.

All will be artists. All will be workers and students, builders and creators. All will be free and equal. Human solidarity will encircle the globe and conquer it and subordinate it to the uses of man.

That, my friends, is not an idle speculation. That is the realistic perspective of our great movement. We ourselves are not privileged to live in the socialist society of the future, which Jack London, in his far-reaching aspiration, called the Golden Future. It is our destiny, here and now, to live in the time of the decay and death agony of capitalism. It is our task to wade through the blood and filth of this outmoded, dying system. Our mission is to clear it away. That is our struggle, our law of life.

We cannot be citizens of the socialist future, except by anticipation. But it is precisely this anticipation, this vision of the future, that fits us for our role as soldiers of the revolution, soldiers of the liberation war of humanity. And that, I think, is the highest privilege today, the occupation most worthy of a civilised man. No matter whether we personally see the dawn of socialism or not, no matter what our personal fate may be, the cause for which we fight has social evolution on its side and is therefore invincible. It will conquer and bring all mankind a new day.

It is enough for us, I think, if we do our part to hasten on the day. That’s what we’re here for. That’s all the incentive we need. And the confidence that we are right and that our cause will prevail, is all the reward we need. That’s what the socialist poet, William Morris, had in mind, when he called us to

Join in the only battle
wherein no man can fail
for whoso fadeth and dieth
yet his deeds shall still prevail.

Cannon’s deeds have prevailed all right. You may never have heard of him, but the world we live in would be noticeably different if Cannon had never lived, or had made different choices. Ignazio Silone once said that the final conflict would be between the communists and the ex-communists. One less-than-final but still significant conflict today, that over the left’s response to war, is between those who work and think along the lines that Cannon laid down and those – the inheritors, whether they know it or not, of Shachtman on the one hand and of Stalinism on the other – who don’t. Without Cannon, there wouldn’t be an antiwar movement. There would be a ‘peace’ movement, begging the warmakers to see sense. There would be a ‘Decent left’, cheering the warmakers on. And that – give or take a few fringe intransigents – would be that.*

How did Cannon acquire the confidence that the cause for which he fought had ‘social evolution’ on its side? As a youth he walked into a meeting to hear a lecture on ‘Marx and Darwin’. That lecture, and further study, convinced him ‘theoretically – and that is the firmest conviction there is’ that capitalism is inseparable from crises and wars, that the great majority of working people would sooner or later be compelled to move into action against these crises and wars, and that they would establish as capitalism’s successor system one of global co-operation for abundance, peace, and freedom. ‘The victory of Socialist America is already written in the stars.’

Nothing that has happened since his death in 1974 would have surprised him if he’d lived to see it, or disillusioned him. He had no illusions. Cannon’s theoretical conviction allowed him to face unflinchingly the terrible realities of the 20th Century: World War, the rise of Stalinism, the Depression, the Yezhovschina, the Second World War, the Holocaust, the atomic bombings, the Stalinist labour camps, the Cold War and the colonial wars. Unlike some, he faced and fought them all while they happened, in real time. He never gave an inch.

We’re all so much more sophisticated now.

*Poumista postscript: as a bit of a Silonian/Shachtmanite, I don’t agree with this bit of what Ken says!

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Published in: on January 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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