THE SCALE, politics and militancy of the anti-war movement colour everything that happens now. Two million people marched against the war on 15 February and, even after the fighting had finished, over 200,000 marched on 12 April. Events of that sort redefine politics and pose new opportunities and challenges to socialists.
They make possible initiatives that previously were unthinkable – if socialists have the boldness to grasp them. The central slogan of the day’s discussion was ‘No turning back’. The anti-war movement may have begun as a single-issue movement. But the core of activists have grown over into wider questions. These include the role of imperialism and global corporate power but also social injustice in Britain, racism and the threat from the BNP.
Many people also want to be part of the discussions about how to build a political alternative to New Labour. In every area we should explore the possibilities this has thrown up. We should also be thinking about candidates for the European elections and the London elections in June next year.
Everything we do needs to be relaunched in the context of these new realities. As the elections recently showed, there is a huge pool of people who feel disenfranchised by the way all the traditional parties behave. For a long time the level of class struggle has been low. But there are signs of the potential for important battles. The firefighters have been forced into reconsidering strikes.
There are already important struggles going on over London weighting. There is the exciting possibility of a strike by London postal workers driven entirely by pressure from below.
Teachers are gearing up for a campaign against the SATs tests. We have to bring the energy and confidence of the anti-war and the anti-capitalist movement to the workplaces. We also have to get the social weight of the organised labour and trade union movement behind attempts to set up a socialist alternative to Blair. The same goes for building a unified fight against the BNP Nazis.
While seeing the big picture and looking outwards, we also have to give attention to the sales and distribution of Socialist Worker. It is no good creating networks of buyers around, say, the firefighters’ strike or the school students’ strikes if we then abandon them a few weeks later. That would pull apart those networks.
The strategic and tactical discussions that SWP members need to have will only happen if there are vibrant branches in every area. Such branches have been set up very successfully in some areas. Now the best experience needs to be generalised to more places, especially in the big cities. The best local Marxist forums have brought together activists from inside and outside the SWP to discuss key political questions. We need more of them. Marxism 2003 flows naturally from such forums.
This year it will be a different event to previous years. People know that the SWP has been centrally involved in the Stop the War Coalition, in defending George Galloway, in building for the protest in Evian and in seeking an alternative to Labour.
It will not be just a party event. It can bring together the most political sections of the movement to discuss the politics we need.
‘THERE are extraordinary opportunities for us in the aftermath of the huge anti-war demonstrations,’ said film-maker and socialist Ken Loach. He was speaking at the 300-strong Socialist Alliance annual conference in London last Saturday.
The possibilities opening up for a challenge to New Labour have already been reflected in the successes that the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party enjoyed in the local elections on 1 May. The Scottish Socialist Party got six MSPs while the Socialist Alliance got their first elected councillor.
‘If we are to have a broader movement we need a simple, principled programme – opposition to the occupation of Iraq and to the privatisation of public services,’ argued Ken Loach.
‘Our movement needs to spring out of the Stop the War Coalition.’ Michael Lavalette was elected as a Socialist Alliance councillor in Preston. ‘People in the anti-war movement began discussing standing after they met our local Labour MP and he just told them they didn’t represent anybody,’ he explained to the conference.
‘One of the imams in the local mosque argued that people should support me, even though the Labour candidate was a Muslim. ‘Once it became clear I was in with a shout, large numbers of white workers and Labour Party members came over and campaigned for us.’
Heather Cox told the conference about Socialist Alliance election successes in Telford in the west Midlands: ‘We got 14 percent in one ward where we have never stood before. The key was the support from members of the local Stop the War Coalition.’
Sue Wild from Barnsley reported, ‘I got over 17 percent of the vote. Lots of Labour activists refused to give out their party’s leaflets. But we had more people out leafleting than ever before because people from the Stop the War Coalition helped.’
Alan Thornett, a national executive member of the Socialist Alliance, proposed a key motion relaunching the Socialist Alliance as part of a coalition of broader left wing forces.
He argued for the need to campaign now and to focus on the European Parliament, Greater London Assembly and council elections which will all take place on 10 June next year.
‘We need to take new initiatives to begin discussions with anti-war activists, including those from the Muslim community, trade unionists, Labour Party members who have torn up their cards, and organisations still outside the Alliance. With no preconditions, no set agenda, we need to expand our forces,’ he argued Nick Wrack supported this strategy, arguing, ‘The Socialist Alliance has to take a qualitative turn outwards. There is a crisis of political representation both electorally and between elections.’
John Rees from the national executive of the Alliance told Socialist Worker, ‘It is now possible to go to the RMT and FBU unions, to the Muslim community and to activists from the Stop the War Coalition and form a common platform.In every area people can reach out to new forces and work with them.’
SOME 60 members of the SWP spoke at the Party Council. One contribution that summed up what many felt came from Lewisham delegate Moira Nolan. ‘Many activists in the anti-war movement make the links between being anti-war and other issues, and they have a profound respect for the role that the SWP has played in the Stop the War Coalition.
‘In Lewisham, we have been central to building a big anti-war movement with mass meetings of 700 in January and over 250 last week. Activists should be equally proud of our role and our politics and reach out to those people. It is a mistake to ignore the potential for many of these activists to support or join the Socialist Alliance and thereby to transform the project to build a socialist alternative to New Labour. We also need to ensure that new SWP members are really involved in our organisation – their involvement will strengthen everything we do.
‘Getting Socialist Worker to them every week should be a priority in the coming weeks.’
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