Midwest Conference: Uniting to Rebuild the Socialist Mov’t.

by David Jones / November 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

MINNEAPOLIS—“‘Youth radicalization’ is not the kind of phrase that gets tossed around on the average American kitchen table,” said Adam Ritscher, organizer for Lake Superior Socialist Action. “I know my family never talked about the American youth radicalization.”

But, said Ritscher, a self-described Midwestern farm boy, “More and more young people are turning to radical, anti-capitalist politics, including Marxism.”

Ritscher, at 28 a 10-year veteran of the socialist movement, knows what he’s talking about. Over the last decade he has helped to win an impressive number of young people in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin to socialist activity.

A sizeable and enthusiastic contingent car-pooled down from that region (including people from Duluth, Minn., and Ashland and Superior, Wis.) to attend a Midwest Socialist Educational Conference over the weekend of Oct. 1-2 in Minneapolis.

As the last speaker at the conference, Ritscher summarized recent experiences and new opportunities for building the socialist movement for a better world, as increasing numbers of young people are seeking answers to the social crisis they confront in all aspects of their lives—from war, jobs, education, and health care to environmental degradation and disaster.

The conference was a joint project of Youth for Socialist Action, Socialist Action (SA), and Labor Standard (LS), a web-based labor socialist journal. Following a similarly successful conference in July in Hartford, Conn., the joint actions marked a deepening convergence of SA and LS, two longstanding Trotskyist tendencies, which was stimulated by new youthful
recruitment as well as by practical collaboration on several projects over the past 18 months.

One sign of the burgeoning partnership was the recent application by six veteran union and socialist activists in Kansas City and Minneapolis/St. Paul for membership in Socialist Action, a decision that was finalized at the conference.

Ritscher’s presentation on the new youth radicalization was part of the conference’s final, and
in many ways, most significant panel, “For A Better, World: the New Socialist Generation.” Other participants were Rebecca Doran, reporting on work on abortion-clinic defense in San Francisco; Mark Ostapiak, reporting on the recently concluded World Youth Festival held in Caracas, and Jeni Johnson, relating experiences with Militant Madonnas, a socialist-feminist discussion group organized by Youth for Socialist Action members in Superior, Wis. The session was capably chaired by Jen Viele, also a young socialist activist from Superior, who had earlier aroused the sympathy of the conference when her meticulously prepared documentary film on Youth for Socialist Action could not be shown, due to technical difficulties.

The conference took place on a beautiful Minnesota fall weekend and was fortunate to have the use of a well-equipped Minneapolis union hall to accommodate the plenary sessions, meals, and informal discussion. Book sales were brisk and augmented by a wide selection of radical books from the Mayday Bookstore, a longstanding Minneapolis locus for radical
literature and discussion.

One of the highlights of the literature displays was a new edition of “American City,” a classic 1937 account of the Minneapolis Teamster strikes by Charles Rumford Walker, just republished by University Minnesota Press.

Some 60-70 people attended the conference, with a majority composed of young socialist activists. They came from cities such as Omaha, Salt Lake City, and Seattle, as well as from Socialist Action units in San Francisco, New York City, Hartford, and Duluth/Superior. Other participants came from Arizona, Missouri, Mexico, and Canada. The oldest participant, a Labor Standard supporter in his late seventies, traveled from Alabama.

The conference began Saturday morning with two excellent presentations on Marxism and the galloping global environmental crisis. Peter Rachleff, a well-known Twin Cities labor activist and labor historian, started things off with a summary of the basic elements of Karl Marx’s analysis of the capitalist economy and the underlying dynamics playing themselves out in the present era with devastating consequences for jobs and the environment.

Christine Frank presented an extensive review of the Katrina catastrophe and the deteriorating Gulf Coast environment, accompanied by visual images. Frank, along with several others, is the author of a just published SA/Labor Standard pamphlet, “Hurricane Katrina, The Crime and The Tragedy.”

Saturday’s afternoon session was devoted to a detailed analysis of the current state of U.S. labor by David Jones and Bill Onasch. Jones opened his remarks by referring to two remarkable landmark battles against concessions, the 1985-86 strike by UFCW Local P-9
against the Hormel Co. and the ongoing strike by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) against Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines, both occurring primarily in the state of Minnesota.

Jones presented a detailed analysis of the 30-year anti-labor offensive that began in the mid-1970s, and is accelerating with drastic consequences today. In both the P-9 and AFMA strikes, although separated by some 20 years, the union bureaucracy reacted with hostility to these militant challenges to their dead-end surrender to the employers’ concessionary

Onasch reviewed some of the basic theses on trade-union struggles developed by American socialists in the past, with special reference to the founding documents of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International, especially the fundamental thesis developed by Leon Trotsky and leading collaborators in the U.S. in 1938 known as the “Transitional Program.”

Saturday evening, a well-attended public forum heard a number of speakers address the current state of the U.S. antiwar movement, with special reference to the massive antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., the previous weekend.

Members of Socialist Action, Labor Standard, and others had initiated over the previous months a successful call for unified action on the part of the two major antiwar coalitions, countering the looming threat of competing actions in Washington on Sept. 24.

One of the key initiators of the unity proposal, longtime Minnesota antiwar organizer Alan Dale, presented a cogent analysis of the present state of the movement and the need for an authoritative mass-action-oriented national coalition. Hartford Socialist Action leaders Christine Gauvreau and Maria Hernandez reported on successful efforts in building Connecticut antiwar actions and pioneering antiwar work in the Latino community over the last year.

American Postal Workers Union leader Greg Poferl related his experiences as an antiwar trade unionist and U.S. Army veteran, culminating in a federal prison sentence imposed as a result of his participations in protests at the Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga.

Sunday morning’s session was devoted to an examination by Socialist Action International Editor Gerry Foley and Mexican socialist leader Jaime Gonzalez of recent revolutionary developments in Latin America, including the revival of socialist perspectives under the Hugo
Chavez regime in Venezuela, and the reexamination of Trotsky’s ideas by Chavez and others, including in particular, Cuban journalist Celia Hart.

At the conclusion of the conference, those who were able to do so took part in a tour of sites related to the historic 1934 socialist-led Minneapolis Teamster strikes.

Conference participants left for home, enriched by discussion, information, and personal interaction, and inspired by new socialist revolutionaries who have come forward from the ranks of youth and are looking forward to new opportunities to build the movement.

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