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Socialism 2013 - reflecting a thirst to resist and the search for ideas
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, editor of the Socialist
Socialism 2013 was a powerful tonic for everyone who participated, those new to struggle, and veterans of the socialist and labour movement.
Taking place over the weekend 2nd and 3rd November and organised by the Socialist Party, it was a weekend that comprised two large inspiring rallies and dozens of lively discussion sessions and forums.
As Sarah Wrack, an editor on the Socialist paper, said when chairing Saturday's 'Rally for Socialism': "There's no doubt that just below the surface there's a seething anger being felt by a lot of people - a thirst to resist what's being done to us and to begin to fight for something different".
Socialism 2013 reflected that thirst to resist but also a growing eagerness for ideas and analysis to explain the on-going capitalist crisis and events as they unfold in society, as well as discussion on how we can achieve a socialist alternative.
Giving the keynote speech at Saturday's rally, Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe looked reality in the eye and said that two events - the setback for Unite the Union at Grangemouth and the debacle around Falkirk Labour Party - "indicate the dilemma that confronts the labour movement". Peter added that the union will live to fight another day.
But mobilising all the powers of the working class could have defeated Grangemouth boss Ratcliffe, "one of the haves as well as the have-yachts". "Do you think," asked Peter, "that this pipsqueak Ratcliffe would have been prepared to implement his conspiracy against the unions and workforce if the TUC had carried out the decisions of last year's TUC Congress and organised a 24-hour general strike on a national scale?
"This would have massively changed the relationship of forces between the capitalists, their government and working people." He reminded us that trade unions still have six million members.
Peter also made the case for the building of a new mass political voice for the working class. A survey found that 70% of the population in the US demand a new party to provide an alternative to the two parties of big business.
No doubt a similar number would support it here, if they were asked, especially given the role Labour played in triggering the attack on the union at Grangemouth.
Answering the lies of the Con-Dems and their echo-chamber in the big business-owned press, Peter declared Tory Chancellor George Osborne's claims nothing but a fake economic recovery.
It is located mostly in the pockets of the bosses who cream off any benefits for themselves.
What's more capitalism can only offer a terrible future for the young. In Greece 65% of young people are unemployed and Spain is not far behind and one quarter of the world's young people is unemployed, or has no job or training.
Peter explained that while there can be setbacks and difficulties the working class and the 99% of humanity have no choice but to struggle for an alternative.
He explained that the necessary period of learning will be considerably shortened by the building of a mass party, and a mass international.
With revolutionary optimism Peter bid us "go forward to a new socialist world, based on love, solidarity, regard for others and great abundance, that will allow the development of all the powers of humanity, both individual and collective."
Three trade union general secretaries came to address the rally. RMT transport union leader Bob Crow pointed out one of the many contradictions under capitalism - when privatised utility companies demand higher charges the owners of big business pay up. But when it comes to workers looking for wage increases the answer's no.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service union set out a programme that the working class could unite around to fight austerity, including no cuts to jobs and pay, nationalising the banks (which he reminded us was official TUC policy) and ending privatisation.
Given that the Socialist Party has been a leading voice in the call for a 24-hour general strike Mark's report that all the unions in dispute are due to meet to discuss coordinated action went down a storm.
Fighting back works
General secretary of the postal workers' union CWU Billy Hayes said he was often asked why he, as a Labour Party member, bothered to attend a Socialist Party event.
He explained that when CWU members protested against the privatisation of Royal Mail at the Stock Exchange it was Socialist Party members who gave them support.
One of the two Southampton Labour councillors who rebelled and voted against the cuts, Keith Morrell, spoke about their successful campaign to get a local swimming pool re-opened.
His story showed very clearly that fighting back works. Keith also reported that he and Don Thomas had joined the Socialist Party in the course of this battle but that "it felt like coming home".
A welcome but unscheduled appearance was made by City Link worker Kev. The workforce is striking against zero-hour contracts and pay cuts of up to £5,000.
Kev was in the audience but Sarah invited him to address the rally and she pledged that the Socialist Party would lend its full support to City Link workers.
Socialist Students had brought solidarity to the picket lines of Higher Education workers two days before.
Huge applause met Ian Pattison's energetic report of this show of solidarity between students and workers and between the generations.
But, Ian said, the most important thing Socialist Students does is to raise the idea of a socialist alternative.
Judy Beishon from the Socialist Party executive committee made the appeal for much-needed finance to fund the running of the organisation.
She quipped that, while the rich donate £50,000 to the Tories and get the chance to dine with them, most working class people, if they had £50,000 would rather pay to get away from the likes of Cameron.
The enthusiasm to fund a party that fights the Tories was shown in the magnificent collection of £19,140.
A further £26,500 was donated by the Unison Four from money Unison was forced to pay after the right-wing leadership was defeated in its vicious witch hunt.
Before the final speaker a short film clip about the workers' struggles in South Africa (SA) was shown, including the miners' strike but also the mowing down of striking miners at Marikana in August 2012 by SA police. No matter how many times you see that footage it never fails to shock.
Standing to prolonged applause in a loud show of international solidarity Mametlwe Sebei described the situation which has followed that "mighty, bloody and brutal" miners' strike.
He spoke about the foundation of the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) and how it is growing in every area and among all sections of the working class.
Next year's SA elections are said to bring the most important challenge to the now out and out pro-capitalist ANC since they won power in 1994 because the Marikana massacre and now the building of the WASP mean that consciousness has changed dramatically and the working class is starting to see that it needs to determine its own destiny.
Closing the rally Sarah said: "If you've spent years being angry at government after government, tonight has surely shown that now is the time to turn that anger into action and join the fight for a socialist alternative to cuts and crisis." Dozens who attended are now considering joining the Socialist Party.
We hope that the readers of this report take up Sarah's suggestion too: join the socialist fightback!
Video of Saturday rally at Socialism 2013
Video of Socialism 2013 Saturday Rally
Fantastic discussion on 'USA, can socialist ideas be built in the belly of the beast'. It's clear from this discussion that they can and they are!
John Cosgrove, Liverpool
A fantastic weekend, full of fantastic discussion, the highlight of which was meeting Sebei from the DSM in South Africa.
One of the most important aspects of 'Socialism 2013' was that it's not just the usual bog standard outline of how awful the cuts are and how they impact. We get this day in and day out. What Socialism 2013 gives us is hope that we can fight and what's more, a clear strategy to do so. Brilliant weekend with truly inspiring speakers who have been battle tested. My only regret was that I couldn't go to all the sessions!
A little bit spoilt for choice in terms of the range of workshops, it would be good to have access to some of the notes and slides used in the workshops we were unable to attend, but the attended workshops were insightful, engaging and motivational.
The contributions were also just as valuable. The conference is great for gaging the movement in the global context, and I can't recommend it enough.
Rayne Jennings, Kent
Sunday - final rally
"Socialists don't stand aside and wait for developments. We fight for them."
Now is a complicated time. Five years into the Great Recession, we talk about a 'lull' in the movement.
Yet there is more work to do than ever. There are tectonic contradictions between a bullied, restive working class, and our absentee leadership in industrial and political life.
The Socialist Party's annual forum for education and debate, Socialism, exists to sound out burning questions such as this.
And the 2013 closing rally was a clarion blast amid the white noise of cant, cynicism and despair. It focussed on the need for a new mass workers' party.
Speaking first was Dave Nellist. A former Labour MP and supporter of Militant, forerunner of the Socialist. Dave was expelled from Labour for his Marxist principles. His scorn for what Labour has become is searing.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is still in its early days, and getting some low results in "difficult terrain".
Dave remarked that, despite having had councillors elected under the TUSC banner, the only national coverage TUSC has had is two minutes and 14 seconds with Andrew Neil in 2010! To try to force the media's hand we need 625 candidates in 2013. We have a third lined up already. Dave Nellist wants you for TUSC.
Speaking next was Paulo Eduardo Gomes, a city councillor from Brazil. A member of the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL), Paulo spoke about his break from the Workers Party (PT), Brazil's equivalent of Labour.
The PT's leader is "more loved by bankers than any other president of Brazil"! Like many in Britain and around the world, Paulo concluded that the old workers' parties were no longer vehicles for socialists.
PSOL is far from perfect, but gives us a glimpse of what a new workers' party can gain.
Rob Williams, chair of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) tackled Grangemouth. This was clearly a setback for the trade union movement and an encouragement to "every little despot" to launch attacks on workers. But it is far from the last word.
Naysayers suggest class struggle is dead. Thousands of furious young teachers, posties, firefighters, lecturers, probation officers, and bakers might say otherwise.
The call for a 24-hour general strike, bringing struggles together, is more relevant than ever.
Precious rations of hope
Speaking last was Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party. Hannah remarked that the working class has "entered this epoch unprepared".
Defeats, as well as successes, are inevitable, but nonetheless, the fightback is heroic.
A clear programme and strategy will speed progress and increase the chance of victory. Already our members are leading and winning key battles.
On the basis of growth, as seen in South Africa, we can move from being an important factor to the decisive one, in Britain and the world.
Summing up, Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, editor of the Socialist and chair of the rally, thanked the organisers, especially Lenny Shail.
She then read from a Counterpunch article on our US sister party. Our hugely popular election campaigns are "precious rations of hope... in a time of gathering darkness".
This fight is our fight, and it's only just beginning.
- Subscribe to the Socialist.
- Stand for TUSC.
- And join the Socialist Party.
Audio (mp3) of the Sunday rally
Video: Causes of Capitalist Crisis: Peter Taaffe
Audio recording of Causes of Capitalist Crisis: Peter Taaffe
Enjoyed myself immensely. Impressive organisation - exactly what I would expect.
Councillor Keith Morrell, Southampton
Keith Morrell on joining the Socialist Party: "it feels like coming home" - I felt exactly the same.
Serena Cheung, Brighton
The weekend totally lived up to expectations. I attended outstanding debates on feminism, art and revolution, and the Fourth International. No less than three trade union general secretaries at Saturday's rally - can they knock some heads together on that blinking TUC general council so we get the general strike we desperately need? All this plus great 'craic' with other Salford comrades. Magic.
Paul Gerrard, Salford
I've had lots of very positive feedback from people who attended from Southern region. Seven of them agreed to join the Socialist Party.
Nick Chaffey, Southern region
I had a great weekend at Socialism 2013. There were some really good sessions, proper informative and food for thought. It has added more books to my constantly growing to-read list. The rally pumped me up for standing outside in the cold for another hopefully busy autumn. And not forgetting the laughs we had.
Mark Best, Coventry
Hearing the opinions of members from so many different areas was challenging and stimulating but also helped clarify the logic and humanity behind socialism.
Ben Coppage, York
There was a good format with a balance between different subjects. I found the 'bite-size' chunks of education really helpful. It's very compact, with venues all close to each other. There was a good chance to discuss and no expectation of vast knowledge on your behalf so discussions can take place on an equal level.
Martin Conway, Salford
The sessions were absolutely fantastic and very informative, helping to build my understanding of how we can have an alternative to capitalism. The contributions from new and older comrades led to encouraging and lively discussions showing how socialism can transform society. Both rallies were the boost we needed to charge us up for the months ahead - bring on the TUSC 2014 election challenge!
Robert McArdle, Coventry
The session 'what would a socialist society look like?' really gave me an insight into the specific benefits a socialist society would offer.
Ben Dixon, Leeds
I was very impressed with the turnout to the session on Marxist economics and also hearing from my friends that were able to go to other introduction sessions, such as dialectical materialism - their rooms were packed too! Just goes to show that we want to learn more and debate on the classic and basic ideas of Marxism as well as current affairs and campaigns.
Amalia Loizidou, London
Best session of Socialism 2013, 2012 and 2011: Robin Clapp's 'an introduction to Marxist Economics'. His clear and down-to-earth approach and well-prepared introduction, followed by prompt emailing of his notes with advice on further reading and an invitation to contact him with any questions, has inspired me to go and learn more about a subject that I've always felt reluctant to tackle. Thanks Robin - I'll be in touch!
Helen Gadsby, Leicester
The session 'will there be a general strike?' was a serious, sober discussion about where we are and what socialists and active trade unionists need to do to empower working class people and let them realise the strength they have when they take action. A strategy which combines building militant unions in the workplace with putting maximum pressure on the trade union leaders is vital.
Paul Couchman, North Surrey
I enjoyed an excellent discussion about art and revolution. Manny Thain introduced the discussion, particularly talking about Russia and weaving between the build-up, the revolution and the Stalinist aftermath with how this was reflected with developing new innovative forms of art before then stifling it. Following this there were lots of contributions broadening the discussion into music and comedy as well as raising questions. I'll be taking the discussion back to Bristol Socialist Party, as well as looking forward to more articles, ideas and questions on this issue in the Socialist, Socialism Today and future meetings.
Sheila Caffrey, Bristol
I chose the sessions I attended - 'what is the role and relevance of a revolutionary party today?', '40 years on: Pinochet's bloody coup in Chile - what lessons are there for today' and 'what conclusions should we draw from Miliband's Clause IV moment?' specifically because I have questions about them and want to develop my knowledge and understanding.
Paul Wheelhouse, Dewsbury
At the session 'what would a socialist society be like?' there was a fantastic attendance of 65 people - 15 had to sit on the floor! However nothing stopped them from listening to the brilliant and thought provoking speech by Judy Beishon which unleashed a fantastic discussion from the floor.
Sajith Attepuram, Hatfield
The most interesting thing I learned over the weekend was that since May this year there have been 26 byelections in which Labour has polled less than 100 votes or less than 10%. In Nuneaton we are about to start a byelection campaign because a sitting Labour councillor hasn't turned up to any meetings since he was elected, so these figures are even more fuel to the argument TUSC is making that Labour is not and cannot be a vehicle for working class representation.
Pete Playdon, Nuneaton
First impressions is the passion that bowled me over. The day before I had attended the CLASS conference, a Labour thinktank, where I was treated to very slick 'McPolitics' presentation of selected topics, no feedback asked or desired; we were an audience to their cleverness. It was only the union leaders that gave the day the contrast I needed to realise what it all lacked. In the Friends meeting hall [the Sunday rally of Socialism 2013], among people I felt comfortable with, I saw feeling, fury, determination - the same things I felt about our current political situation, being expressed in solutions. Everything that was lacking the day before. Inspired I went home on the tube, brain thinking of ways to raise funds, to make policies, to mobilise these passionate believers. TUSC is politics completely in touch.
The whole weekend was fantastic and a great learning experience for me as a new member. My personal highlight though was definitely the inspirational and moving speech made by Sebei at the Saturday night rally.
Shona McLean, Socialist Party Dundee.
Parts of these reports and comments were first posted on the Socialist Party website on 4 November 2013 and may vary from the version subsequently printed in the Socialist. Also some feedback comments have been included that have been received since the Socialist was printed.