Socialism 2000: An Inspiring Weekend

WELL OVER 300 people attended Socialism 2000, the Socialist Party’s annual educational weekend of discussion and debate.

Highlights included a rally on the legacy of Leon Trotsky’s ideas, 60 years after his murder by a hired assassin of Stalin. Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe and Mark Golozinin, a Russian Trotskyist who has researched formerly secret documents on Trotsky’s Left Opposition’s struggle against the rise of Stalinism, spoke.

Peter explained how Trotsky could be considered the biggest martyr of working-class struggle. Trotsky’s ideas, like his theory of permanent revolution, were still a powerful tool in understanding events around the world in the 21st century, which would help working-class people moving into struggle achieve a socialist transformation of society.

Our generation of revolutionary socialists would build a memorial to Trotsky, not through a stone statue but through workers overthrowing capitalism and establishing a democratic socialist society.

Mark Golozinin pointed out how new material coming out of secret Soviet archives since the collapse of Stalinism showed how heroic the Trotskyists in the Soviet Union had been.

The first rally heard Michael Davies and Raphael Rowe, two of the M25 Three. These men were wrongly imprisoned for a crime they did not commit and were released earlier this year on appeal.

The second rally heard Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, former Labour Party National Executive member Liz Davies and Chris Bambery, national secretary of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) debate how should the Left organise to provide an electoral alternative to New Labour.

Seminars on Serbia, the Middle East and one on genetics were especially well attended.

Participants after the final rally described the whole event as “inspiring” and “refreshing”. Equally refreshing was the £1,300 was raised for the Socialist Party’s fighting fund after an appeal by Elaine Brunskill.

How the left should challenge New Labour

A MAJOR debate at Socialism 2000 was on whether there is a need for a new mass workers’ party and how could the Left organise to provide an electoral alternative to New Labour.

The Socialist Party has advocated for some time the need for a new mass working class party. Part of the debate has centred around developments in the National Network of Socialist Alliances (NSA), which Socialist Party members have been active in for five years.

Recently the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) made a significant strategic change and joined the socialist alliances. But their push for the NSA to have a more centralised party structure, rather than the federal organisation it has been until now, has provoked much controversy in NSA ranks.

OPENING THE debate, Socialist Party councillor DAVE NELLIST said that the Labour Party was founded in 1900 as a federal association of trade unions and socialist societies. Only 18 years later did it become an individual membership party, at the Leeds 1918 conference which was heavily influenced by the impact of the October 1917 Russian Revolution.

Dave said Labour had shown with its attack on single parents, pensioners and other that it was now the party of the millionaires and even billionaires like David Sainsbury. That’s why trade unions are increasingly questioning their links with Labour.

Dave showed how the anger with New Labour has seen Socialist Party members and other socialists elected. In recent years, the Socialist Party in England and Wales had stood in over 200 local seats, averaged 8.5% of the vote and had four councillors elected.

But, Dave added, this wasn’t just a protest vote but in areas like his in Coventry, it was because the Socialist Party was seen as viable, fighting alternative by working-class people.

Dave said that the NSA represented a significant first step towards achieving an electoral alternative to New Labour and possibly even a new workers’ party. To build such a party he said it had to appeal to wider layers of the working class than just those involved in existing Left organisations. But this would only be achieved, he felt, if there was a spirit of openness and inclusiveness. Dave said many NSA activists felt this was an approach the SWP had not adopted up till now. He said he hoped Chris Bambery would clarify this matter and also why the SWP were now placing such stress on working in the socialist alliances after years of rejecting electoral politics.

LIZ DAVIES, a former member of the Labour Party national executive, said yes New Labour was a big business party. Now, trade unions and big business contributed 30% each of Labour’s finances – a big shift in big businesses’ influence and a diminishing of the trade unions’ role.

Liz argued that Labour Party conference was now more of a trade fair and over £2 million was raised from corporate sponsorship of this year’s event for Labour Party funds.

The working class now faces a real crisis of representation, said Liz. New Labour does not represent even the views of most members of its own party she added, and some Labour members privately admitted to her that they have stopped voting Labour.

She had been impressed by the socialist results in London, Coventry and Scotland.

Socialists both inside and outside the Labour Party, she concluded, were looking with interest at the development of the socialist alliances.

CHRIS BAMBERY from the SWP said these were exciting times for socialists with the disintegration of the Labour Party and the development of a global anti-capitalist movement.

Socialists must draw inspiration from these events he said and added that revolution in Serbia and the Spirit of Seattle were on a different, higher level to the mass movements in Eastern Europe in 1989 or even the Portuguese revolution in 1974.

The twentieth century had been a litany of wars and revolutions and a battle in the workers’ movement between reform and revolution and that is the fundamental issue socialists still need to address. He concluded the SWP believe there has to be a new workers’ party but it has to be a revolutionary party of significant size.

IN THE debate from the floor there were contributions from four Socialist Party members, two SWP members and a Labour Party member.

Replying to the debate, Chris Bambery admitted it was unfortunate that the SWP had not had a tradition of joint work. In the upcoming Falkirk West by-election, he said the SWP will not sell Socialist Worker but will only distribute Scottish Socialist Party material.

Liz Davies said that events inside the Labour Party led her to conclude there is a need for an electoral alternative to New Labour and we have to find new ways of working together.

Dave Nellist argued there had been many important, inspirational struggles after 1974 throughout the 1980s and 1990s like Liverpool, the miners and the anti-poll tax struggle, two of them led by Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party. Dave concluded that recent events represented the first beginnings and even bigger movements would develop in future. He concluded that in this context the development of the socialist alliances at this stage were as a forum to prepare for such future developments.