The International Youth and Students for Social Equality hosted David North, national chairman of the Socialist Equality Party, Tuesday evening for a lecture on the global history of socialism, discussing what he perceived to be the corruption of the ideology’s true intent on the left and the need for a worldwide socialist revolution. An audience of approximately 50 University of Michigan students and members of the Ann Arbor community gathered in Angell Hall to listen to North and Niles Niemuth, the Socialist Equality Party’s candidate for Congress in Michigan’s 12th District.
North is currently on a speaking tour celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of the socialist organization “Fourth International” by Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
In his lecture, North urged a better historical awareness among students to contextualize contemporary events taking place in the world and allow for a better understanding of socialism, which he argued has been corrupted by the modern left.
“A fundamental problem … facing many students today is they seem to orient themselves in the absence of adequate historical knowledge,” North said.
The culprits of this lack of knowledge among youth, in North’s view, are the educational institutions in which they are taught.
“There is an utterly reactionary climate that prevails in many of the humanities departments of many universities, such as the University of Michigan,” North said. “The prevailing philosophy is postmodernism, which … is culled from the basement of bourgeois thought. It is the most backward, reactionary and dishonest of all approaches to the study or consideration of the past.”
North also criticized the affirmative action policies of many universities, which he portrayed as “quota systems.” He said the systems facilitate competition among students and divide society while competing for access to higher education. The Supreme Court upheld the state of Michigan’s ban on affirmative action policies in 2014, claiming the U.S. Constitution does not give the judicial branch the power to decide whether race can be used as a fact in the admissions process without voter input.
“Students are forced to compete for a limited number of positions, with applications asking for race and ethnicity … We know that quota systems are being set up,” North said. “There is no way a quota system can ever be fair.”
North posited these campus issues have much to do with the economic standing of professors. He said these wages for professors make the educators unable to understand the problems of students.
“If you’re a tenured professor … your wealth is in the top 10 percent and probably closer to the top 5 percent,” North said.
As a response, North encouraged students to challenge this status quo both at the University and nationwide by engaging with socialist theory.
“I think as young people are drawn into social struggle they will come to recognize the incompatibility of what is presented on campuses from genuine revolutionary scientific theory,” North said.
North’s criticisms also targeted organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America and contemporary figures on the American left, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He said his criticisms stemmed from their insufficient opposition to American foreign policy, as well as their focus on identity politics.
“A socialist who preaches national defense is a petty bourgeois reactionary at the service of the king capitalism,” North said. “When Bernie Sanders goes around defending America (and) praising Trump for defending America’s borders, he exposes himself as a petty bourgeois charlatan and reactionary.”
North decried the inadequacy of today’s leftist parties in promoting a worldwide socialist revolution, claiming the parties veer from campaign promises once elected.
LSA freshman Noah Streng said he found the event interesting and said engaging with socialist theory has changed his worldview since arriving at the University.
“I wish more people would have come out to come see it,” Streng said. “I started … learning about socialism a lot more since I got to college, and it’s really changed my perspective on the world pretty much upside down.”
Michael Solovey, an organizer for the event and IYSSE chair at Eastern Michigan University, said he was satisfied with the turnout.
“We always have at our meetings people who walk out, but it gets to be fewer and fewer as time goes on,” Solovey said. “More and more people are staying till the very end. So I think that we’re going to be holding more and more meetings going forward.”