Alan Maass, the editor of Socialist Worker, the publication of the International Socialist Organization, spoke in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall last night.
Maass began his speech by quoting the activist filmmaker Michael Moore, who said, in an Oscar acceptance speech, “We live in fictional times.”
Maass said he feels that this quote very accurately describes our society, which is filled with intentional and unintentional lies from government and media.
Speaking about Iraq, Maass told the audience that the Bush administration had originally used the removal of weapons of mass destruction as reasoning for the war. He said he feels this to be particularly ridiculous because the United States has the largest collection of these weapons. He said that the United States’ power over the Iraq government, which he termed “veto power,” prevented democracy in Iraq.
Iraq will only be the beginning of the reimposing of U.S. power worldwide, Maass fears. He spoke about a redrawing of the map of the Middle East by the U.S. government, discussing the economics of these changes. Maass then quoted a former U.S. marine who said that military action served to help big businesses and Wall Street.
“[Military action] is not about peace and justice … it’s about economics, about money, about power,” Maass said.
Maass then focused on hunger around the world. He used two paper clips as a visual aid to demonstrate wealth distribution in the U.S. A normal paper clip standing vertically, about one inch tall, represented a minimum wage worker making $11,000 a year. By straightening out the other paper clip, Maass symbolized the average income of an American family. On the same scale, the worth of Bill Gates would be a 75-mile-long paper clip. On a worldwide scale, the poorest three billion people have the same worth as the richest 225.
“We live in a society that’s organized to keep the rich rich and the poor poor,” Maass said.
Maass then briefly touched on other issues central to the ISO. He said that six million children under the age of five die each year from malnutrition, not because there isn’t enough food but because it is not distributed to the very poor. He criticized the U.S. health care system and school system as failing in a similar manner.
“We live in a society not organized to give everyone bear necessities but run by profit and power,” Maass said.
In his version of a socialist Utopia, there would be enough for everyone and each person could control their own lives. Constant discussion about equality would also be important.
Maass finished his speech with a brief history of successful socialist movements, talking about the masses of workers who went on strike to fight for an eight-hour workday. He also spoke of organizers who brought about change in “apartheid” Southern states, telling of a little known protest of 26,000 youths for integrated schools at the Lincoln Memorial in 1959. The late 1950s are considered a lull in the movement, according to Maass.
“Even in quiet times, there is a spirit of resistance,” Maass said.
After the speech, there was a discussion by the audience. Afterward, students were able to speak more informally with Maass at Collegetown Bagels.
The early discussion revolved around moving from capitalism to socialism.
“Why can’t we have a revolution of ideas [instead of politics] and create a social-capitalism,” suggested Devon Harrigan ’07.
Other topics included further discussion on the wealth and contribution to technology of Gates and other major computer producers.
“The taxpayers have been paying for the research … The profits are now going to private corporations,” said Brian Kwoba ’04.
Generally the comments of the crowd were in support of Maass’ speech, elucidating points that were of special interest to the audience member.
“Capitalism is a barrier to technology because of patent laws,” said Max Aubain ’07.
The conversation often reverted back to whether capitalism and socialism are a dichotomy or not, and whether reforms could be made within the existing system or revolution was needed for socialism.
“We should never stop at reform … If you don’t change the fundamental structure, things will be rolled back,” Kwoba said, using examples of restrictions on abortion laws and social security.
Originally from Chicago, Maass became involved in politics while in college at Northwestern. He first joined the ISO there, where he was active in anti-war and anti-racism movements. Maass wrote a book entitled The Case for Socialism.
Maass feels that socialism brings all the struggles for justice together and finds socialist grassroots movements all over the world to be the most fulfilling element of politics.
“[It’s great] seeing what ordinary people can do together,” Maass told The Sun.
The event was organized by the Ithaca-Cornell branch of the ISO.
Archived article by Rebecca Shoval
Sun Staff Writer