Britain: ‘Socialism 2007’ weekend of discussions and debates

Inspired by past victories – Preparing for future struggles

The Socialism 2007 weekend on 17-18 November was everything it was billed as and more. During the event, around 900 workers and young people crammed out meeting room after meeting room to discuss revolutionary anniversaries, current campaigns and the ideas that act as the backbone to these struggles. The articles below comment on the main features of Socialism 2007.

’Socialism 2007’ weekend of discussions and debates

“WE’LL FIGHT again and again until we get back our rights,” declared Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) at the Rally for Socialism on 17 November. Between 700 and 800 packed into the rally to listen to workers and trade union leaders expressing their defiance of New Labour’s relentless diet of cuts, privatisation and pay restraint.

Mel Mills, from Huddersfield Save Our Services, vividly described how she and other parents had organised a campaign which successfully stopped the closure of two local nurseries, declaring: “We are ordinary working-class people and we’ve shown them we’re not going to be trodden on. We’re street fighters and we know how to throw a punch.”

A postal worker from Burslem, Stoke, spoke about her anger at the deal being proposed by the Communication Workers Union leadership and the ongoing struggle of the twelve victimised Burslem postal workers.

A shop steward for the Remploy factory in Barking told of their battle to stop New Labour closing 28 Remploy factories. In disgust he declared, “I’ve got more socialism in my little toe than Gordon Brown’s got.”

Sadiq Abakar spoke about his struggle against deportation to Darfur; where his life would be seriously endangered.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil servants’ union (PCS), said the PCS had had four successful national strike ballots in the last three years – with the latest having the highest percentage in favour of action. He contrasted this with other trade unions and emphasised that the fight for united public-sector strike action on pay had to go on because the potential for it was greater than ever before.

However, he added that while the PCS would rather that others fought alongside it, “if necessary they would fight alone”. He paid tribute to the “pivotal role” of the eleven members of the PCS executive who are Socialist Party members, in making the PCS a fighting union.

The other central theme of the rally was the need for the trade unions to break the link with Labour and to begin to build a mass political alternative to what Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party called “the identikit politicians” – the establishment pro-big business parties.

Peter pointed out that the leadership of the postal workers’ union have given £500,000 of their members’ money to New Labour in the last year; while the government has backed to the hilt Royal Mail management’s campaign to smash the union.

All three trade union general secretaries who spoke explained why they were proud that their unions didn’t give money to New Labour. Brian Caton put it succinctly: “My union doesn’t fund New Labour and if I get my way it never bloody will. Those unions funding New Labour are giving money for the government to kick us to bits.”

However, all three also agreed that we don’t want non-political trade unionism. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), explained how his union were proud to have socialism inscribed on the first page of their rule book.

Mark Serwotka reported that government ministers taunt the trade union leaders, declaring ‘what choice have you got? – the Tories would be worse than us, you have to support us’ and that the only effective answer was to begin to build a political alternative. He correctly emphasised that, if it was to be successful, the organised working class would have a critical role to play in building a new formation. He also referred to the recent split in Respect and raised the importance of unity.

Peter Taaffe explained that the building of a mass party of the working class was a crucial task for socialists. He reported on his recent visit to Brazil and described how P-SoL – the Party for Socialism and Liberty in Brazil – had become an important point of reference for working-class struggle. He emphasised that the Socialist Party in England and Wales also wants unity, but not the kind of supposed unity that prevents open discussion and debate. A new party would be successful if it was based on class struggle and had an open, democratic approach.

The rally’s final theme was the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. A fantastic film was shown of revolutionary movements from 1917 to today. Peter spoke inspiringly about the lessons for today and the struggle for socialism in the 21st century.

Thirst for Marxist ideas

THROUGHOUT THE weekend, young people in particular showed a noticeable thirst for ideas.

Greg Maughan

All the sessions on Marxist theory and philosophy, the tools we use to analyse the situation that faces us and guide us in our campaigning, were packed out and full of lively discussion.

Sessions on revolutionary history were well attended. 32 came to a discussion on the 1925-1927 Chinese revolution, for example, while 25 took part in a rich discussion on the life and legacy of Che Guevara.

People were inspired by the heroic struggles of the past, while the lessons of those struggles help us develop our ideas and approach to work today. A session on campaigning to defend the NHS, for instance, brought together health workers and campaigners from across the country.

They wanted to deal with the question of how to develop an effective fight-back against the government’s attempts to claw away the gains of the past.

Socialism 2007 played host to a number of debates where members of the Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers’ International laid out their analysis clearly alongside other currents within the labour movement.

The Rally for Socialism on Saturday evening saw between 700 and 800 people packed into Friends Meeting House to hear left trade union general secretaries, rank and file workers engaged in struggle and international speakers outline the ills of the capitalist system and discuss the fight back against it.

In the rally, the colour film footage of the Russian revolution of 1917 brought Lenin, Trotsky and the countless anonymous heroes of the victorious struggle to overthrow feudalism and capitalism to the big screen.

The 1917 revolution was a theme running throughout the weekend. Socialism 2007 celebrated the 90th anniversary of that event in the best way possible – in a successful political school which commemorated that victory but also discussed the many lessons of it and the rich history of the rest of the workers’ movement.

The participants were arming themselves with the ideas necessary to win in the huge struggles that the contradictions of the capitalist system will inevitably throw up.

Socialism 2007 marked itself out from other events organised in today’s labour movement, not just by offering an effective critique of modern neo-liberal capitalism, but in giving a clear programme for socialist change.

Those attending were inspired and headed back home ready to re-double their efforts in campaigning and building support for socialism.

If you weren’t there, you missed out – make sure you get to Socialism 2008!

Learning the lessons of 1917 revolution

ONE OF the closing rallies, celebrating the Russian revolution, had the theme of ‘looking forwards’, and how we can build for socialism today.

Ben Robinson

Speakers spoke of the magnificent victory of the working class and peasantry in Russia in 1917, the shining example of the Bolsheviks and the lessons to be learned from them and those they inspired.

Celebrating the Russian revolution’s 90th anniversary in no way implies support for the monstrous dictatorships that came into being after the revolution was isolated. Instead we support those who struggled against Stalinism and we celebrate their heroic example.

Anne Engelhardt, originally from the former East Germany (GDR), spoke of the legacy of the Stalinist regime that ruled the GDR, and capitalism’s effect now. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, people were told they were getting freedom. In reality, the only ‘free’ thing was the market, with privatisation, the collapse of living standards, and lower average wages in the East of Germany than in the West.

Sascha Stanicic, from the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Germany (SAV), spoke about the importance of an internationalist outlook. The Russian revolution’s leaders recognised that genuine socialism could not be built in one country.

Lenin hailed the overthrow of Tsarism in February 1917 with the rallying call “long live the world socialist revolution!”. He saw the Russian revolution’s fate as tied up with that of revolutionary movements worldwide, and especially in Europe.

The Russian revolution gave a big push forwards for Germany’s revolutionary movement. Sascha recounted the working class’s heroism, and that of leaders such as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in a long period of revolutionary movements in Germany between 1918 and 1923.

If the working class had come to power in Germany and the revolution had spread to other countries, we would be free from the problems of capitalism and be reaping the benefits of a socialist world, based on involving everyone in the running of society and maximising their potential.

Unfortunately, there was no party in Germany at that time with an experienced enough leadership to organise and channel the energies of the revolutionary working class.

Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary, said that the need for socialism now is greater than 90 years ago. Two billion people today live without access to clean water, but this could be paid for three times over by the amount the US government has spent on invading and occupying Iraq.

But to bring about socialism, we need to relearn the lessons of the Russian revolution, buried under an avalanche of both capitalist and Stalinist propaganda, especially distorted since the fall of the USSR.

When Russia was a genuine workers’ state immediately after the revolution, the right to recall representatives, rotation of officials and a cap on wages were promoted to prevent the growth of a bureaucracy. Trotsky and the Left Opposition later defended these, and other democratic measures, in their struggle against Stalin. Trotsky, one of the Russian revolution’s leaders, wrote the History of the Russian Revolution, which Hannah encouraged people to read.

In the twentieth century, workers and the oppressed masses had struggles against capitalism and exploitation again and again. However, the parties that claimed to represent them failed to fight for and build genuine socialism. It is vital to learn from the Russian revolution, especially the lessons of the Bolsheviks, their democracy in discussing ideas and their unity in action.

The fight for a new mass workers’ party

THE OTHER closing rally, on building the shop stewards’ movement and the fight for a new mass workers’ party had several guest speakers.

Dave Carr

Alessandra Lacerda from Socialismo Revolucionario (SR – the Socialist Party’s counterpart in Brazil) described how Lula’s PT Brazilian government’s first term of office had been dominated by privatisation and other neo-liberal policies.

These attacks fed workers’ disillusionment with the PT and, in 2003-2004, this led to the creation of a new, broad left party – PSOL (party of socialism and liberty). PSOL immediately enjoyed wide support with its presidential candidate Eloisa Helena winning seven million votes in 2006.

Lula’s second term saw an upturn in workers’ struggles, mostly political strikes against the government. However, there are many difficulties within PSOL over its policies and orientation. SR is working with other lefts within PSOL to defend the party’s socialist programme and to fight against political opportunism and ‘electoralism’.

One of the 12 victimised postal workers in Burslem, Stoke on Trent spoke, saying they had been targeted by a bullying Royal Mail management. This was because they stood up for a victimised colleague and for fighting to defend hard-won workplace rights. He urged the audience to support them and get union branches to donate to the hardship fund.

Bill Mullins, Socialist Party trade union organiser and a co-organiser of the recently formed National Shop Stewards Network, argued that re-building effective shop-floor trade union organisation and fighting for working-class political representation in the form of a new mass workers’ party, are inextricably linked.

Workers fighting attacks on jobs, pay and conditions will inevitably draw political conclusions. Without their own political voice it would be like fighting with one arm tied behind their back. Bill said that without pressure from trade unions at rank and file level, the formation of a new workers’ party wouldn’t happen.

The final speaker was Coventry Socialist Party councillor and chair of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, Dave Nellist.

Dave reiterated the case for a new workers’ party, citing the marginalisation of the left in New Labour, the haemorrhaging of Labour’s members and working-class voters since 1997 and the convergence of all three main political parties in Britain who promote a capitalist agenda.

Dave addressed the question of how a new workers’ party will come about. “It wouldn’t be by simply bolting together the existing socialist forces in Britain but by orientating to new forces merging from working-class struggle, with the assistance of socialists.” It is also incumbent upon left wing trade union leaders to assist this process by signing up to such a project, disaffiliating from New Labour, and taking political initiatives at elections.

Dave said that “today’s generation is living in a more unsafe, more environmentally threatened, more unequal world. We have to build an independent, socialist voice to begin to solve these problems.”

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