Working class power has forced its way onto the centre stage as strikes burst out in France in recent weeks.
But at the same time governments ruthlessly implement austerity, and racist and even Nazi forces are growing in parts of Europe.
This was the context for a meeting in Birmingham last Thursday which debated if workers have the power to change society.
Around 120 Labour Party members, revolutionary socialists and trade unionists came from across the West Midlands.
It was part of a series of “Is Socialism Possible?” meetings organised by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
Meetings of over 100 in Manchester and Sheffield took place earlier in the month and two meetings in London are set to take place next week.
Before the meeting started, Labour Party members John and Elliot spoke to Socialist Worker about why they had come. “We’re here to figure out the answer to the question on the poster”, said Elliot.
Speakers from the platform argued that the working class has power.
Charlie Kimber, editor of Socialist Worker, urged the crowd to look towards France.
Some 36 hours before the meeting the CGT union leader had sent a letter to every French newspaper demanding it was published. Only the left wing L’Humanite newspaper ran it.
Charlie said, “This morning, only one newspaper appeared in France, L’Humanite. All the rest the printers stopped producing.”
UCU union members were out on strike on the day of the meeting. Elio, a university worker, argued that ordinary people in Britain have the collective power to fight back and win.
He said, “The latest government plan for education means the end of the profession as we know it and we desperately need to fight it.”
Megan Parsons, a junior doctor, argued that their strikes have transformed the way the junior doctors see the world and themselves.
She said, “One year ago I don’t think anyone thought we’d see junior doctors’ strikes or that doctors would be outside parliament chanting, ‘Tories out!’”
After the meeting, PCS union member Shazia Rock told Socialist Worker, “The bankers that put the country into the position it’s in need to be held to account.
“We’ve had people in my area that have taken their own life due to the financial attacks. The Tory government has got a lot to answer for.”
A Labour Party member was one of those who joined the SWP after the meeting. “Everything the SWP does, organising demos, going to picket lines, holding meetings makes a huge difference”, she said.
“I thought it was time I pinned my colours to the mast.”
Which side are EU on?
If Jeremy Corbyn put forward the left wing case for leaving the European Union (EU), it would undermine the Brexit campaign’s gutter racism.
It would boost the likelihood of Lexit becoming the dominant force calling for leaving the EU.
Labour Party member Rob argued that the party leadership should take a more principled position. “If the Labour Party had a position to Leave then I think they would garner a lot of support”, he said.
However, he added, “If David Cameron’s toppled if we vote Leave, then we’ll be left with Boris.”
But Anona argued that a strong Lexit campaign would weaken the Tory right.
“It would help to mobilise the left and we might actually be in a position to push the Tory government out,” she said.
The SWP’s Judith Orr said, “If Cameron loses the EU referendum he won’t last 30 seconds.
“We need to make the most of these opportunities.”
Socialists need to fight for a left wing exit.
Organising in the era of Jeremy Corbyn
Labour members who attended the meeting all supported Jeremy Corbyn.
But they had different analyses about his chances for delivering on the hopes people have for his leadership.
“I joined the Labour party because of Jeremy Corbyn”, said John.
“I thought there was a real chance for a social movement. I hope the wave of support that got him in doesn’t wear off.”
This follows claims by shadow chancellor John McDonnell that he wants to transform Labour into a social movement.
A former Labour member argued that members “feel inspired by Corbyn, and have become political but are also frustrated with the system.”
“We should be staying in Labour and trying to change it from within”, said Labour member Rob.
But Anona disagreed, arguing that Corbyn has given in to the Labour right over too much. “The more he compromises, the more he’s pushed by the right and the less he’s going to be able to implement,” she said.
How do we beat our rulers?
People debated what kind of change is possible and how it can be won.
One new SWP member said, “We have to work with people who support Jeremy Corbyn and pull them to the left.
“The more people get involved in the revolutionary party, the bigger difference it can make.”
Labour member John argued that revolutionary socialism is not realistic. He added that “the government seem to be ignoring protests more and more.”
But Anona said, “By joining protests and doing that kind of activity we can push parliament to actually do things.”
Rob disagreed, “We need all countries to rise up against capitalism. They can’t do it alone.”
Organisations that argue for revolutionary politics are essential to win socialism.
The Egyptian revolution provides a stark example of the need for a revolutionary organisation, argued the SWP’s Judith Orr.
The Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists’ small size meant their influence was limited. “The regime swept back and crushed the revolutionary movement”, she said.
“The state is built for one thing—to defend the wealth of the tiny minority.”
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