Socialism 2015 was the Socialist Party’s best Socialism weekend yet. That is because the discussion was the most focussed, the most serious, and the most crucial.
This relates to the debates in the working class movement being at a higher level. Following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader there is an increased willingness and confidence to fight austerity.
Up to 1,000 working class fighters, socialists, trade union militants and young people discussed and debated, hammering out clarification on analysis and tussling with questions of tactics and tasks in the 38 workshops and forums and in the two massive rallies, not to mention in the bars afterwards.
The £30,000 raised in the rally Fighting Fund appeal is an indicator of the readiness of Socialist Party members and supporters to take up the challenges that face us. Socialist Books received over £2,000 from book sales, reflecting the determination to arm ourselves with socialist ideas.
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Socialism 2015 organiser
Saturday evening rally
The richest 1% of the world’s population owns as much wealth as the poorest 55%. Chairing the Saturday rally of Socialism 2015, Claire Laker-Mansfield, a Socialist Party executive committee member, declared that given facts like this, “we live in an extreme society, run by extremists.”
The packed rally listened intently to fighting speakers giving a serious analysis of the current situation. A running theme was, as Claire described it, the “political earthquake” of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory and its role in putting the ideas of socialism back on the agenda.
Helen Pattison, from London Youth Fight Austerity, pointed out that establishment politicians and their press can’t understand why young people have flocked to the rallies of “grey haired socialist” Jeremy Corbyn and similarly Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in the US.
But she explained that it’s not the age of the figures involved but how the ideas they put forward resonate and relate to the real experience of young people. “When I’m asked why I’m a socialist I say ‘capitalism has only ever let me down’.”
Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the PCS civil servants’ union, began by explaining the key role played by Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party, in the mass struggles against the Thatcher government. The leadership of Militant in the struggle of Liverpool City Council and the movement against the poll tax is a big part of why there is such an attack on ‘Trotskyists’ by the Labour right-wing now, just as there was at the time.
Chris spoke about the Tories’ anti-union laws and the need for sustained, coordinated trade union action. “They attack the trade unions because they fear the enormous latent strength – which is a fact every union serious about a fight should recognise.”
Suzanne Muna, a member of the Socialist Party and of the executive of Unite the Union, explained the potential role of socialists in the trade unions. “It can feel like you’re a lone voice, but sometimes one voice is enough.” She recounted the debate that had taken place in Unite about who to back in the Labour leadership election.
Suzanne and other Socialist Party members had been lobbying for Unite to disaffiliate from the Labour Party in order to back candidates standing against attacks on members’ jobs and conditions by Labour politicians. “We didn’t get disaffiliation but the campaign bore different fruit” she said, in acting as a lever on the leadership of the union to back Jeremy Corbyn rather than Andy Burnham.
A very good finance appeal took place at the meeting, introduced by London Socialist Party regional secretary Paula Mitchell. Earlier in the meeting Claire had read out a statement of solidarity from recently re-elected socialist Seattle City Councillor Kshama Sawant and the meeting rapturously returned solidarity and congratulations to Kshama and her party, Socialist Alternative.
Paula reported that Socialist Alternative had raised a fantastic $500,000 for the election campaign from thousands of working class supporters. She said: “There is a different tradition in the US of donating money to political parties, but we all need to set ourselves the task of creating new traditions here.”
Other international developments formed another dominant theme of the rally. Jawad Ahmad, Pakistani singer and activist in the International Youth and Workers Movement, described his own journey towards socialist ideas.
He said he saw the suffering and inequality around him and looked for a reason. “I read all sorts of books but it wasn’t until I started interacting with the working class that I found the answer.”
He finished by saying: “In the words of Shakespeare, ‘to be, or not to be – a socialist – that is the question … I hope and believe humanity’s answer will be yes.”
Paul Murphy, Anti-Austerity Alliance TD (MP) for Dublin South West and member of the Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) described the outrageous action being taken against protesters involved in the mass movement against water charges in Ireland. Paul is one of 18 activists being prosecuted for ‘false imprisonment’ (a charge with the maximum sentence of life in prison) of the deputy prime minister – who is a Labour Party member – by conducting a sit-down protest which delayed her car by two hours.
This is part of a whole host of examples of political policing which have exposed to the majority of working class people the potential role of the police and state to protect the interests of the rich. But as Paul said, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and the Socialist Party will use the trial to put austerity and the lies of the Irish Labour Party on trial. “Instead of jailing our ideas, they will give us an unprecedented platform for those ideas.”
The final speaker was Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe, who brought the discussion back to the debates that are taking place about Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, the way forward and socialists’ role in that.
Peter said: “We are prepared to join the Labour Party. But are Jeremy Corbyn and others prepared to confront the right?” Serious preparation for such a confrontation is what is necessary but as he pointed out: “While the right are preparing for civil war, the left talk about peaceful coexistence.”
Peter called for the Labour Party to return to its roots as a federal organisation. “If Stella Creasy can be a member of the Co-op Party and in the Labour Party, what is the problem with the Socialist Party being incorporated?”
Peter argued that it’s vital for socialists to be honest about what needs to be done to make Corbyn’s challenge a success and ensure that the programme he has raised is carried through. Summing up the mood of the rally, and in many ways the whole weekend, he appealed: “Let us grab all opportunities with both hands.”
[NB, the members of trade union executives mentioned above were speaking in a personal capacity]
Organise, strike, resist
Socialism 2015 took place in historic times. The new political situation has given activists renewed confidence and this was reflected in the closing rally.
Every statement emphasised the need to support and defend Jeremy Corbyn from the dagger-throwing right wingers in the Labour Party, who are out to smash him and the ideas of socialism.
As Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party, said: “The best form off assistance to Corbyn is not simply cheerleading – that would be a dereliction of duty.” Socialists must offer a warning that no compromise will reconcile the Labour right to Corbynism, as well as a strategy and programme for Corbyn’s success.
Dave Nellist, chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition said that we must put demands on every Labour councillor who is prepared to vote for a cuts budget, to get behind the anti-austerity policies of their leader and refuse to implement Tory cuts. Those individuals who oppose Corbyn’s anti-austerity call should be challenged in every way possible – including, if necessary, electorally.
Socialist Party member Roger Bannister made this point when outlining his campaign in the Unison general secretary election: “I don’t mind having a fund that gives money to Corbyn, but money should only go to those candidates who back the union, our policies and our members … not a penny to those councillors who vote for the same austerity policies as the Tories and Lib Dems.”
These sentiments were echoed by Peter Pinkney, president of the RMT transport union, who reported that the RMT would continue to support candidates against Labour right wingers and cuts-imposing councillors.
Peter roused the audience by calling for a mass movement against the government’s trade union bill and re-affirmed his union’s support for a 24-hour general strike. To rapturous applause, he said: “We need to go back to our workplaces, unions and trades councils, and demand a general strike.”
A warning to the movement came from Andreas Payiatsos from Xekinima (CWI Greece) when outlining the capitulation of the Syriza party. He emphasised the need to have a clear socialist programme that understands the nature of capitalism and the ruling class.
The rally laid out the tasks for the time ahead – to get out there and build a movement with the strength to defeat this government and the ideas to change the world.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 November 2015 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.