400 people attended the “Socialism Days 2004” organised by Socialist Alternative (SAV). It was an opportunity to discuss, debate, exchange ideas and put forward a programme for the struggle against a system that provides nothing but a grim future for workers, youth and poor masses across the globe. International visitors came from Nigeria, France, Austria, Belgium, Poland England, Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland. In the course of the weekend, five people have agreed to join SAV while more are still considering it and want to continue the discussion.
20 different workshops and debates had been organised to discuss the relevance of socialist ideas today, to explain how Marxist theory can be applied to understanding the problems that exist in today’s society, to debate the role and tasks of the trade unions in the struggle against social cuts but also to debate the present situation US imperialism is facing in Iraq and the position socialists should take in relation to the resistance in Iraq.
Next to the excellent debates and discussions, a socialist sight seeing tour was organised on a sunny Sunday morning which introduced people to the Berlin of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, two of the most prominent members of the German workers’ movement.
However, the central issues debated at the weekend focused around the question and approach towards a possible new left party in Germany and on how to advance the resistance against social cuts, cuts in wages and the increase in working hours.
While SAV members genuinely welcomed the proposal to set up a new party to the left of the SPD, they also argued the need for it to have open and democratic structures. Given the existing skepticism towards politicians and political parties, it is vital that a new party proves that it lives for the people and not off the people. SAV members also explained that a new party needs to be a fighting and campaigning organisation and should adopt a socialist programme. This is not, as they explained, a minor or academic question. They used the example of the PDS (Party for Democratic Socialism) to indicate that a party which accepts the logic of capitalism, finds itself carrying through and even proposing social cuts once they are in office.
Tony Mulhearn, one of the guest speakers, underlined this point. He was one of the leaders of the Labour council in Liverpool in 1983-1987 that, under the leadership of the Militant Tendency (forerunner of the today’s Socialist Party in England and Wales), fought back against government cutbacks. With a clear socialist programme and strategy this council built council houses, improved services and went into direct confrontation with the national Thatcher government by demanding it funded its budget. Their determination enabled them to win the trust of the working class people in Liverpool who marched in their thousands to defend the policy of the council and achieving the highest ever Labour votes in the city’s history.
Unfortunately, Helge Meves who spoke as a representative of the “Electoral Alternative 2006”, one of the initiatives which is considering setting up a new party, rejects the idea of a socialist programme. He described this possible new party as a political arm of the social movement instead of it being an integral part of the movement. While agreeing that campaigning work is vital to bring about change, he did not advocate the idea of recruiting and involving thousands of people to that new party. Instead he was defending a more top down approach.
Segun Sango, the general secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement in Nigeria, spoke about the increasingly difficult situation which workers, young people and the poor masses are facing in Nigeria. 5 years into so-called civil rule have not allowed the masses to gain substantial democratic rights or an improvement in living standards. Mass riggings of elections are a frequent occurrence in Nigeria. The severe economic crisis gives way to increased ethnic and religious clashes but as Segun pointed out, there are also other trends developing in Nigerian society. A massive 8 day general strike has brought the country to a halt in July 2003. Unity of the working class and the poor masses in Nigeria is essential in preventing Nigeria from falling into barbarism. Nigeria will have a socialist future, where its population is in control over the huge natural resources of the country, or none at all. This is how Segun summed up the prospect for the Nigerian population. His visit to Germany was part of a European tour to build support for an international Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights in Nigeria (CDWRN) which aims to run campaigns supporting workers and youth in Nigeria. Different trade unionists from Berlin have agreed to support the campaign.
A financial appeal raised an impressive €3,400, €1,000 were donated towards CDWRN.
SAV has played an important role in initiating and supporting the struggle against Schröder’s vicious Agenda 2010 which according to Lucy Redler, a member of SAV’s National Committee, should be renamed Agenda 1910 because it aims to turn the clock backwards for the German working class. SAV was vital in initiating the first 100,000 strong national demonstration on November 1 from below against Agenda 2010. But also on a local level, SAV has been involved in igniting protests.
Katharina Seewald, leader of the DGB (trade union federation) in the North Hessen region, gave credit to the work SAV members have been conducting. She said “You are really great. Without your involvement, a lot of the protests in Kassel would not have been possible”. She also criticised the national trade union leadership for not stepping up the protests after the 500,000 strong demonstrations on April 3. Instead, the leadership wants to start a petition campaign in the work places. This doesn’t match the need for urgent action to fight back the brutal attacks on unemployment benefits which are meant to be implemented in January 2005.
The mood amongst the participants at the final rally was very enthusiastic even though a lot of participants faced long journeys to go back home from Berlin. Christine Lehnert who chaired the last meeting was very confident that the current venue will be too small to hold next years “Socialism Days”. It was obvious that trade union comrades, school students, students, working comrades, unemployed comrades, longstanding and younger members benefited greatly from the various discussions and debates. It gave them new energy for their work in the branches and for the upcoming local election campaigns which hold the possibility of winning the first SAV councillors in Rostock (June), Aachen (September) and maybe Cologne (September).