Socialism 2007: Inspired by past victories
Socialism 2007 – Rally, photo Paul Mattsson
Preparing for future struggles
THE SOCIALISM 2007 weekend on 17-18 November was everything it was billed as and more. During the event, around 900 workers and young people crammed out meeting room after meeting room to discuss revolutionary anniversaries, current campaigns and the ideas that act as the backbone to these struggles. The articles below comment on the main features of Socialism 2007.
Socialism 2007 – Brian Caton, POA general secretary, photo Paul Mattsson
“WE’LL FIGHT again and again until we get back our rights,” declared Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) at the Rally for Socialism on 17 November.
Between 700 and 800 packed into the rally to listen to workers and trade union leaders expressing their defiance of New Labour’s relentless diet of cuts, privatisation and pay restraint.
Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary, reports
Socialism 2007 – Mel Mills, photo Paul Mattsson
Mel Mills, from Huddersfield Save Our Services, vividly described how she and other parents had organised a campaign which successfully stopped the closure of two local nurseries, declaring: “We are ordinary working-class people and we’ve shown them we’re not going to be trodden on. We’re street fighters and we know how to throw a punch.”
Socialism 2007 – Remploy steward, photo Paul Mattsson
A postal worker from Burslem, Stoke, spoke about her anger at the deal being proposed by the Communication Workers Union leadership and the ongoing struggle of the twelve victimised Burslem postal workers.
A shop steward for the Remploy factory in Barking told of their battle to stop New Labour closing 28 Remploy factories. In disgust he declared, “I’ve got more socialism in my little toe than Gordon Brown’s got.”
Socialism 2007 – Sadiq, photo Paul Mattsson
Sadiq Abakar spoke about his struggle against deportation to Darfur; where his life would be seriously endangered.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil servants’ union (PCS), said the PCS had had four successful national strike ballots in the last three years – with the latest having the highest percentage in favour of action. He contrasted this with other trade unions and emphasised that the fight for united public-sector strike action on pay had to go on because the potential for it was greater than ever before.
Socialism 2007 Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, photo Paul Mattsson
However, he added that while the PCS would rather that others fought alongside it, “if necessary they would fight alone”. He paid tribute to the “pivotal role” of the eleven members of the PCS executive who are Socialist Party members, in making the PCS a fighting union.
The other central theme of the rally was the need for the trade unions to break the link with Labour and to begin to build a mass political alternative to what Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party called “the identikit politicians” – the establishment pro-big business parties.
Socialism 2007 – Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, photo Paul Mattsson
Peter pointed out that the leadership of the postal workers’ union have given £500,000 of their members’ money to New Labour in the last year; while the government has backed to the hilt Royal Mail management’s campaign to smash the union.
All three trade union general secretaries who spoke explained why they were proud that their unions didn’t give money to New Labour. Brian Caton put it succinctly: “My union doesn’t fund New Labour and if I get my way it never bloody will. Those unions funding New Labour are giving money for the government to kick us to bits.”
Socialism 2007 – Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, photo Paul Mattsson
However, all three also agreed that we don’t want non-political trade unionism. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), explained how his union were proud to have socialism inscribed on the first page of their rule book.
Mark Serwotka reported that government ministers taunt the trade union leaders, declaring ‘what choice have you got? – the Tories would be worse than us, you have to support us’ and that the only effective answer was to begin to build a political alternative. He correctly emphasised that, if it was to be successful, the organised working class would have a critical role to play in building a new formation. He also referred to the recent split in Respect and raised the importance of unity.
Peter Taaffe explained that the building of a mass party of the working class was a crucial task for socialists. He reported on his recent visit to Brazil and described how P-SoL – the Party for Socialism and Liberty in Brazil – had become an important point of reference for working-class struggle. He emphasised that the Socialist Party in England and Wales also wants unity, but not the kind of supposed unity that prevents open discussion and debate. A new party would be successful if it was based on class struggle and had an open, democratic approach.
Socialism 2007 – Rally, photo Paul Mattsson
The rally’s final theme was the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. A fantastic film was shown of revolutionary movements from 1917 to today. Peter spoke inspiringly about the lessons for today and the struggle for socialism in the 21st century.
Thirst for Marxist ideas
THROUGHOUT THE weekend, young people in particular showed a noticeable thirst for ideas. All the sessions on Marxist theory and philosophy, the tools we use to analyse the situation that faces us and guide us in our campaigning, were packed out and full of lively discussion.
Sessions on revolutionary history were well attended. 32 came to a discussion on the 1925-1927 Chinese revolution, for example, while 25 took part in a rich discussion on the life and legacy of Che Guevara.
People were inspired by the heroic struggles of the past, while the lessons of those struggles help us develop our ideas and approach to work today. A session on campaigning to defend the NHS, for instance, brought together health workers and campaigners from across the country.
They wanted to deal with the question of how to develop an effective fight-back against the government’s attempts to claw away the gains of the past.
Socialism 2007 played host to a number of debates where members of the Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers’ International laid out their analysis clearly alongside other currents within the labour movement.
The Rally for Socialism on Saturday evening saw between 700 and 800 people packed into Friends Meeting House to hear left trade union general secretaries, rank and file workers engaged in struggle and international speakers outline the ills of the capitalist system and discuss the fight back against it.
In the rally, the colour film footage of the Russian revolution of 1917 brought Lenin, Trotsky and the countless anonymous heroes of the victorious struggle to overthrow feudalism and capitalism to the big screen.
The 1917 revolution was a theme running throughout the weekend. Socialism 2007 celebrated the 90th anniversary of that event in the best way possible – in a successful political school which commemorated that victory but also discussed the many lessons of it and the rich history of the rest of the workers’ movement.
The participants were arming themselves with the ideas necessary to win in the huge struggles that the contradictions of the capitalist system will inevitably throw up.
Socialism 2007 marked itself out from other events organised in today’s labour movement, not just by offering an effective critique of modern neo-liberal capitalism, but in giving a clear programme for socialist change.
Those attending were inspired and headed back home ready to re-double their efforts in campaigning and building support for socialism.
If you weren’t there, you missed out – make sure you get to Socialism 2008!
Learning the lessons of 1917 revolution
ONE OF the closing rallies, celebrating the Russian revolution, had the theme of ‘looking forwards’, and how we can build for socialism today. Speakers spoke of the magnificent victory of the working class and peasantry in Russia in 1917, the shining example of the Bolsheviks and the lessons to be learned from them and those they inspired.
Celebrating the Russian revolution’s 90th anniversary in no way implies support for the monstrous dictatorships that came into being after the revolution was isolated. Instead we support those who struggled against Stalinism and we celebrate their heroic example.
Socialism 2007 – Anne Engelhardt SAV Germany, photo Paul Mattsson
Anne Engelhardt, originally from the former East Germany (GDR), spoke of the legacy of the Stalinist regime that ruled the GDR, and capitalism’s effect now. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, people were told they were getting freedom. In reality, the only ‘free’ thing was the market, with privatisation, the collapse of living standards, and lower average wages in the East of Germany than in the West.
Sascha Stanicic, from the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Germany (SAV), spoke about the importance of an internationalist outlook. The Russian revolution’s leaders recognised that genuine socialism could not be built in one country.
Lenin hailed the overthrow of Tsarism in February 1917 with the rallying call “long live the world socialist revolution!”. He saw the Russian revolution’s fate as tied up with that of revolutionary movements worldwide, and especially in Europe.
The Russian revolution gave a big push forwards for Germany’s revolutionary movement. Sascha recounted the working class’s heroism, and that of leaders such as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in a long period of revolutionary movements in Germany between 1918 and 1923.
If the working class had come to power in Germany and the revolution had spread to other countries, we would be free from the problems of capitalism and be reaping the benefits of a socialist world, based on involving everyone in the running of society and maximising their potential.
Unfortunately, there was no party in Germany at that time with an experienced enough leadership to organise and channel the energies of the revolutionary working class.
Socialism 2007 – Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary, photo Paul Mattsson
Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary, said that the need for socialism now is greater than 90 years ago. Two billion people today live without access to clean water, but this could be paid for three times over by the amount the US government has spent on invading and occupying Iraq.
But to bring about socialism, we need to relearn the lessons of the Russian revolution, buried under an avalanche of both capitalist and Stalinist propaganda, especially distorted since the fall of the USSR.
When Russia was a genuine workers’ state immediately after the revolution, the right to recall representatives, rotation of officials and a cap on wages were promoted to prevent the growth of a bureaucracy. Trotsky and the Left Opposition later defended these, and other democratic measures, in their struggle against Stalin. Trotsky, one of the Russian revolution’s leaders, wrote the History of the Russian Revolution, which Hannah encouraged people to read.
In the twentieth century, workers and the oppressed masses had struggles against capitalism and exploitation again and again. However, the parties that claimed to represent them failed to fight for and build genuine socialism. It is vital to learn from the Russian revolution, especially the lessons of the Bolsheviks, their democracy in discussing ideas and their unity in action.
The fight for a new mass workers’ party
THE OTHER closing rally, on building the shop stewards’ movement and the fight for a new mass workers’ party had several guest speakers.
Socialism 2007 – Alessandra Lacerda SR Brazil , photo Paul Mattsson
Alessandra Lacerda from Socialismo Revolucionario (SR – the Socialist Party’s counterpart in Brazil) described how Lula’s PT Brazilian government’s first term of office had been dominated by privatisation and other neo-liberal policies.
These attacks fed workers’ disillusionment with the PT and, in 2003-2004, this led to the creation of a new, broad left party – PSOL (party of socialism and liberty). PSOL immediately enjoyed wide support with its presidential candidate Eloisa Helena winning seven million votes in 2006.
Lula’s second term saw an upturn in workers’ struggles, mostly political strikes against the government. However, there are many difficulties within PSOL over its policies and orientation. SR is working with other lefts within PSOL to defend the party’s socialist programme and to fight against political opportunism and ‘electoralism’.
One of the 12 victimised postal workers in Burslem, Stoke on Trent spoke, saying they had been targeted by a bullying Royal Mail management. This was because they stood up for a victimised colleague and for fighting to defend hard-won workplace rights. He urged the audience to support them and get union branches to donate to the hardship fund.
Bill Mullins at Socialist Party conference 2007, photo Paul Mattsson
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party trade union organiser and a co-organiser of the recently formed National Shop Stewards Network, argued that re-building effective shop-floor trade union organisation and fighting for working-class political representation in the form of a new mass workers’ party, are inextricably linked.
Workers fighting attacks on jobs, pay and conditions will inevitably draw political conclusions. Without their own political voice it would be like fighting with one arm tied behind their back. Bill said that without pressure from trade unions at rank and file level, the formation of a new workers’ party wouldn’t happen.
Dave Nellist at Socialist Party congress, photo Paul Mattsson
The final speaker was Coventry Socialist Party councillor and chair of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, Dave Nellist.
Dave reiterated the case for a new workers’ party, citing the marginalisation of the left in New Labour, the haemorrhaging of Labour’s members and working-class voters since 1997 and the convergence of all three main political parties in Britain who promote a capitalist agenda.
Dave addressed the question of how a new workers’ party will come about. “It wouldn’t be by simply bolting together the existing socialist forces in Britain but by orientating to new forces merging from working-class struggle, with the assistance of socialists.” It is also incumbent upon left wing trade union leaders to assist this process by signing up to such a project, disaffiliating from New Labour, and taking political initiatives at elections.
Dave said that “today’s generation is living in a more unsafe, more environmentally threatened, more unequal world. We have to build an independent, socialist voice to begin to solve these problems.”
Revolutionary greetings from Russia
Denis Yukhnovich, a member of the CIS section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), was invited to speak at the Socialism 2007 Russian Revolution rally. However, the British Embassy would not issue him a visa to travel. Denis sent greetings to the rally:
“Comrades, I am sorry I cannot be with you to celebrate the Russian revolution. The visa system reflects the reality of globalisation.
Russian oligarchs who in the nineties robbed the Russian people through fraud, theft and privatisation, killing anyone who stands in their way, are allowed to travel freely and are even given political asylum in Britain. Yet ordinary people face humiliating checks and questioning if they want to visit Britain for a few days.
This week the British Embassy has introduced ‘biometric’ finger printing for all people wanting to visit. The visa system is inherently racist, and because I am from Belarus I was told I was subject to even more checks than if I had been just Russian.
Because I am a socialist opponent of the Lukashenko dictatorship the embassy has blocked my travel. If I had been a pro-capitalist opponent I would have been offered grants and projects to ‘help develop democracy’. To apply for a visa, even though I didn’t receive it, I had to pay £63. Nearly £20 goes to the private agency that, as a result of outsourcing, now processes all visa applications for the embassy.
In 1917 when the soviets, led by the Bolsheviks, took power in Russia, they withdrew Russian soldiers from world war one, removed the need to use passports to travel in Russia and gave foreigners the same rights as Russians. Independence was granted to Finland and Armenia. Russian troops were withdrawn from Persia. Discrimination on race, ethnic or religious grounds was made illegal. Workers’ control of industry was introduced alongside the eight hour day. Women and youth were given the right to vote at 18.
What a contrast to today’s capitalist world where the exploitation of working people of all nationalities is growing.
On 16 November we received information that Ainur Kurmanov, a leading CWI member in Kazakhstan, has again been imprisoned for campaigning in defence of poor residents who are being evicted from their homes in Almata to make way for new business centres and elite leisure centres.
Despite the attempts of the British government to stop international solidarity, we know that our comrades in Britain will send their support to Ainur.
Please accept greetings from the Russian section of the CWI. We will continue the fight started by the Russian working class in 1917, led by Lenin and Trotsky, to establish a genuine free and democratic socialist society. We are strengthened in the knowledge that we are not struggling alone.
Down with the capitalism of wars, poverty, ecological catastrophe and racism. Long live the ideas of the October revolution.”
Appeal raises over £20,000
The finance appeal at Socialism 2007 raised £20,420 to help fund the work of the Socialist Party, with a share going towards the Committee for a Workers’ International.
The appeal was made during the Rally for Socialism by Socialist Party health campaigner Lois Austin. She said that the Socialist Party was an organisation built from the financial sacrifices of working-class people. Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems are all big business parties who receive funding from the millionaires and billionaires.
Lois said how Socialist Party members, as well as paying regular membership subs, often donate extra money they receive, including inheritance money, to the party. There were two donations of £2,000, one made by a party member from Wales and another by Dave Richards from Brighton. Andrew Price, a member of the UCU lecturers’ union national executive, donated £1,000.
Labour does not just get money from the fat cats though. Unison is one of the trade unions that still gives millions of pounds of its members’ money to Labour.
One person who has benefited from this relationship though is Karen Jennings, Unison’s national secretary for health. For barely raising a finger of protest at Labour’s destruction of the NHS, Karen has been rewarded with selection as Labour candidate for the Hornsey and Wood Green seat in the next general election.
For the 3 November national NHS demonstration, Unison published leaflets stating ‘I love the NHS’ while the NHS was being eyed up by 14 companies that put profits before human lives.
The Socialist Party, however, made placards and printed thousands of leaflets and posters for the demo with a clear message of opposing cuts, closures and privatisation in our health service. To fund this, donations from party members and supporters, along with money collected from public campaigning, were essential.
Some Socialist Party branches collected money from their members to give big donations at the rally. Huddersfield branch pledged £1,310, Stevenage £1,170 and Walthamstow £1,100. Wales Socialist Party members put together £1,115.
The Socialist Party also values small donations from young people, students, low-paid workers and the unemployed, whether it is £25, £10 or £5. A pensioner from Hackney donated half of their winter fuel allowance. Shropshire branch raised £300 from selling new Socialist Party badges, with another £140 pledged in donations.
If you have made a pledge and are yet to pay your donation, or you were unable to attend the Rally for Socialism and would like to make a contribution, please send your payment before Friday 14 December.
Please send cheques to Socialism 2007 finance appeal, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. Pay by card at www.socialistparty.org.uk/donate (please label this as a Socialism 2007 donation under ‘comments’) or by phoning 020 8988 8777.