Socialist Worker

Socialists have vital role to play in the movement

The annual conference of the Socialist Workers Party took place last weekend against the backdrop of the post workers' strike, the anti-war movement and growing demand for a political alternative to New Labour

Issue No. 1876

THE OPENING debate was introduced by Chris Bambery, the national organiser of the Socialist Workers Party.

He explained that the movement is at a turning point and stressed that there is a clash of old and new forces in society:

'The old is Michael Howard and Tony Blair. The new is the stop the war mobilisation, the post strike and last week's magnificent meeting in London with George Galloway.

'One of the two has to make a decisive breakthrough at the expense of the other.

'What happens in the post dispute and over Bush's visit to London will be decisive, and the elections are coming up fast with a real political challenge to Blair.

'The odds on our side for making a breakthrough have shortened dramatically. The existence of rank and file organisation and socialist organisation is on a scale we have not seen for many moons.

'We can win a whole generation to class politics and collective power like in 1968.' Chris argued that there are three key issues-the anti-war movement, the revival in workers' struggle and the feeling around an electoral challenge to New Labour.

'We cannot choose to stress one over the rest. All three together can make that breakthrough,' he said.

He likened this to cogs in a machine. Small cogs of organised socialists can move larger networks of activists and they can move the mass forces of the anti-war movement.

'The SWP by itself cannot fill the yawning political vacuum opening at the heart of British politics. But we can be part of shaping those movements.

'Socialist Worker is vital-it's the little cog,' he said. Socialist Worker editor Chris Harman picked up on this theme in the next session of conference.

'In general we are moving forward. But it is when an army moves forward that the weaknesses in some areas can emerge, which must be dealt with.

'For us there are several crucial elements. One is ideas, the second is strategy and tactics-knowing when, where and how to move decisively. The third is organisation.

'If socialists don't have organisation they are in trouble. You see it in history when you look at struggles from Italy and Germany in the 1920s, to Ireland in the 1960s or the problems after the rebellion in Bolivia today.

'If you don't have an organised core of socialists you have no capacity to shape what the wider networks do, and how those networks shape the whole struggle.

'Using the analogy of the three cogs, the truth is that it's no good if you have the big cog and the middle cog unless you also have the little cog.

'In lots of ways today the little cog is the weakest link. Unless we give a lot of attention to the little cog, our own organisation and how it functions, we will have problems.

'Our organisation needs to be directed outwards, reaching into the movement, but it needs to be organised.

'It means ideas, the Marxist forums, but also branch meetings in every area where comrades come together to discuss strategy, tactics, how to organise.

'Central to that organising has to be Socialist Worker. If you don't get the paper you don't know what is going on. It is the communication link. Far too many members don't get the paper. It has to be in the hands of every member and seller on Wednesday, or Thursday morning at the latest.

'This is not just so members can read and consume it. It is a tool to go out and use, sell and influence people with.

'But if members don't get the paper on a Wednesday or Thursday morning they are not going to be able to use it in that way.

'In every branch we have to have meetings in the week between the Marxist forums. And in every branch we have to have one person who is responsible for getting the paper distributed, someone who is obsessed with ensuring that happens.

'In the party today we have to fight to establish these structures if we are to play a role in shaping the movements. We want to create a network of networks, where the connections, the links, are made between the different movements.

'But to do that effectively means we have to pay some serious attention to our own networks, the party and the paper.'

Over 30 delegates spoke in the debate that followed these introductions, bringing their own experiences of building in different areas and industries to the conference. Debates on racism, anti-capitalism and students also took place. Socialist Worker will include further reports next week.

The ideas of Karl Marx are alive and kicking

A NUMBER of delegates spoke about their experiences building socialist organisation during the opening sessions.

A delegate who works in a call centre spoke about how she has made a difference in her workplace.

'It's awful where I work. The ideas of Marx and factory working did not die in the 19th century-they are living again.

'Workers are getting sacked for taking days off ill and they are being disciplined for not reaching their targets. That makes people very angry.

'We have continual discussions about why we have to work so hard and why they don't want to pay us a decent wage.

'People say they are not political, but then go on and talk about all these things.

'They just don't know how political they are.

'I told one person I get my ideas and arguments from Socialist Worker, and he bought one. And six people have joined the union.'

Robin Burett from Manchester University said, 'We started out with a vision of how we wanted to build a network in our university.

'That means we ensure Socialist Worker is available on a Wednesday each week. I sit for half an hour in the canteen providing bundles of papers for people.

'We distribute the paper to between 30 and 40 people each week and a similar number are sold on our sales.

'This means we have great networks of paper buyers in the halls of residences.

'Now we can turn that into the core of a Stop Bush network of activists.' Huw Williams from South Wales said, 'Our Marxist forums have played a significant role in helping to group around us new people excited by politics.

'Picking the right title, one that relates to key arguments in the movement, is key. One of our best forums was on 'Why sexism sells'.

'We can recruit people quickly and we need to give them ideas as well as activity. We have had great forums on things like Cuba and Venezuela because our new members are so full of ideas and arguments.'

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Article information

Sat 8 Nov 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1876
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