Socialist Workers Party Conference
Global fury at capitalism
HUNDREDS OF delegates from Socialist Workers Party branches across Britain attended its annual conference in London last weekend. Speakers stressed two key issues in the debates-the growing movement against capitalism that has sparked protests across the world, and the need to build Socialist Alliances in Britain as an alternative to New Labour.
Branches have to campaign
SOCIALIST WORKER editor Chris Harman opened the conference with an assessment of the situation facing socialists:
"WE HAVE to understand two central features of the world today. One is the continuing instability across the world. The year began with Ecuador's president fleeing in the face of an uprising. More recently, there's the classic song "The Revolution will not be Televised"-well, it was on TV in Serbia!
Across the Andean region in South America, in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, there are upheavals. In Nigeria, South Africa and Argentina we have seen general strikes. The instability exists everywhere-in South Korea, in the US. It can increase massively in the next two or three years. But there is a second, new element in the situation. From Seattle to Prague we have seen the emergence of a new generation, a mix of old and young people, a radical anti-capitalist minority worldwide.
It contrasts sharply with the 1980s and much of the 1990s when ideas dominated that you couldn't fight to change the world. This means the potential audience for revolutionaries has grown enormously. In many ways it is better than in the 1960s. People are starting from a more developed understanding that the system as a whole is responsible for the things they are fighting.
The demonstrations are important because they are a symbol of something much deeper, a minority that exists in every workplace and in every college in the world. There were of course upheavals in the 1980s and 1990s. But there were not the left forces to give these a focus.
We are not saying that all explosions today are anti-capitalist. But within all such explosions there is an anti-capitalist minority. The key question for the world in the next few years is, does this anti-capitalist minority develop and give direction to struggles? The challenge for socialists is to connect and interact with the anti-capitalist minority, and fight to develop it into a revolutionary current. I was lucky enough to attend the 1,000-strong World Development Movement meeting in London recently.
We have to find ways of carrying our message to that audience, and we have to understand that we are small compared to that audience. We also have to understand there is an intersection between that audience and people becoming disillusioned with New Labour. The two groups are not the same, but among the people disillusioned with New Labour there are people who were inspired by Seattle.
We have to make the connections between the anti-capitalist minority and the disillusionment with New Labour. The anti-capitalist minority can learn from the history and struggles of the working class movement, and the working class movement can be inspired by the spirit of Seattle. Britain is not immune from the global instability. We have to wage a fight on two fronts, but they are not completely separate.
One is relating to that disillusionment with New Labour. A key way we will do that is by uniting with wider forces to build Socialist Alliances locally to mount electoral challenges to New Labour.
But we also have to do much more to tap into the anti-capitalist minority. When we do we must not start with the assumption that the questions and issues will be those on our agenda. It means working within the movement to develop our ideas.
We have to be patient. Sometimes it means sitting with people for hours. It can take weeks, months, of working alongside someone and discussing with them. Instability will hit Britain, but the worst thing we could do is wait for the "big bang". We have to relate to the situation now."
Branches have to campaign
CHRIS BAMBERY began the discussion on district committees and the need for campaigning branches: "Just as the political situation has changed, our branches and organisations need to change. We need to act with a sense of audacity. Campaigning branches need to find groups of people to work alongside like the 1,000 people who attended the World Development meeting, those involved in defending council housing and pensioners' groups. Districts need to have a rolling strategy of united front activities which those on the SWP district committees can give a lead to."
Such activities should include international events like the demonstrations in Prague and Nice as well as local activities, Chris argued.
He also stressed the importance of debating political ideas, with regular public meetings and educationals. The weekly branch meeting was an opportunity to assess how the party's influence was growing, he said. Simon from Gateshead said, "We have done consistent work around the asylum seekers issue. This meant we could hold a well attended meeting. It is important to be systematic and rooted in such campaigns."
Matt from Edinburgh said, "We took part in several protests against the Israeli army murdering Palestinians. These successful district initiatives have to be taken up by the branches." A delegate from Bromley said the party should make a special effort to involve young people, and that 16 to 18 year olds would transform the branches for the better.
Uniting in action to push forward
LINDSEY GERMAN introduced the session on building "united front" activity with other groups.
She said, "There is a deep crisis of Labourism. Across Europe there are social democratic and Labour-type parties in office. These governments are carrying out constant attacks, which is leading to political polarisation. People who are disillusioned are looking to more radical forms of politics. A gap is opening up which means the party has to organise in a different way. There are a lot of 'Old Labour' people willing to unite with us on issues like defending council housing, pensioners and the welfare state. We have to get stuck into united front activity but at the same time build a bigger, stronger, more rooted party that can give a lead and shape the movement."
Speakers from the floor spoke about their experiences building such united activity. John from Portsmouth said that after the media and politicians' witch-hunt of refugees, "the SWP reacting quickly and with clarity made a difference in shifting the political climate. We were able to have the biggest political meeting in Portsmouth in a number of years because we worked with people in the peace movement, the World Development Movement and trade unions."
Ben, a Sheffield delegate, said, "Around seven people organised against a demolition in the Shirecliffe area. Five hundred people lobbied the council. The leading member of that campaign has joined the Socialist Alliance."
Donny from Edinburgh said, "We organised a meeting on Palestine and 150 people, mostly young Asians, came. Our analysis of imperialism and Zionism won applause." Muriel, a pensioner from Crawley, added, "Our pensioners' group has grown from 12 to 250 members in the last two years, and we got coaches to the pensioners' demonstration last week."
Alan from London said, "New Labour's failures mean large numbers of Labour Party members are willing to work with us and organise against their own party. The Defend Council Housing campaign has got support from the UCATT builders' union, Labour MPs, UNISON and tenants associations."
FRATERNAL greetings to the conference came from socialist organisations in France, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Zimbabwe, Austria, the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary and Turkey.
SWP members can get a full record of conference from their branches.