‘Socialism 2020’: Growing search for ideas to change the world

Hugo Pierre, a candidate in Unison's general secretary election, speaking at Socialism 2020, 21st November 2020 (Photo: Josh Ashker)

‘Socialism 2020 ‘ – Marxist discussion and debate over four days, hosted by the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales) – broke previous records on ticket sales, in the response to the finance appeal to fund the fight of socialism, in the number of workshops and in the participation in the discussion on ideas to change the world. Although the rallies and workshops addressing the unprecedented political, economic, environmental and health crises had to be online, only, people left feeling like they had been in real discussions with real people about a real way forward.

Socialism 2020 brought together over 1,000 participants to take part in 38 zoom workshops over a period of four days, discussing themes of “After Corbyn”, “Smash Racism”, Trotskyism, Marxism, and more. This year’s record attendance, with around 200 people who were yet to join the Socialist Party buying tickets, is a reflection of the huge appetite for socialist ideas as the solution to capitalist crisis.

Here we print edited extracts from speeches at the main rally on Saturday 21 November which was live-streamed on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Hannah Sell, General Secretary of the Socialist Party:

The bosses have seen the Covid crisis as an opportunity to go on the offensive, to ‘fire and re-hire’ on worse terms and conditions. Twelve million adults are struggling to pay their bills, and unemployment is soaring. We are heading towards an 11% contraction in the economy in 2020, the greatest in 300 years. The government is already making it clear that it is the working class that will be expected to pay for the aftermath of this crisis, starting with a public sector pay freeze.

Worldwide we are already seeing a series of tremendous movements – in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, Thailand, Belarus, Poland, Nigeria – gigantic protest movements have shaken society.

Of course, they all have different characteristics, but they also have features in common. In all of them young people have been to the fore, they have united different sections of the working class across ethnic and racial divisions, and they have shown enormous courage. And they have been fuelled by the economic impoverishment of the working class and young people.

An essential part of the role of our party, the Socialist Party, is not just to support movements, but to point towards how they can win.

We said from the start, that Corbyn becoming Labour leader did not make Labour a workers’ party. Rather it had created two parties in one. There was still a pro-capitalist, privatising, warmongering party that dominated the Parliamentary Labour Party and the machine, and a potential anti-austerity party in formation around Corbyn.

We welcomed that potential party, and we campaigned at every stage for what was necessary to win the battle against the pro-capitalist right. We take no pleasure whatsoever in the fact that our warnings have been proved correct – that retreat and compromise don’t work; that the party right, and behind them the capitalist class, would only be satisfied with the annihilation of Corbynism, with driving it into the dirt.

A council of war

So there now has to be an urgent discussion on how we can fight to solve the crisis of working-class political representation. That’s why we’ve raised that the left union leaders should initiate a mass conference, a council of war, to bring together all of those who want to fight for a mass workers’ party.

It is vital that this not only includes those inside Labour, but also the left unaffiliated unions, the Socialist Party and other socialist organisations. It should be opened up to the many tens of thousands who are now flooding out of the Labour Party as individuals. And it is not just individuals. The Bakers’ union is now launching a consultation on whether or not it should continue to be affiliated.

There are those that say the best way forward is to stay and fight. In our view, if you are serious about that fight, you want to bring the people who are outside into the fight as well.

Whether or not the workers’ movement does what is necessary, whether or not the left acts at this point, the current, not very stable, but seeming surface stability in politics, is going to shatter.

Tories in crisis

The Tories are in a serious crisis. Starmer is waiting in the wings burnishing his credentials, how he would be a more reliable representative of capitalist interests than Johnson. It is not impossible that the crisis at the top of the Tories could lead to Starmer being drawn into government one way or another, long before the next scheduled general election.

It is vital that industrial militancy also has a political arm, and this is the other side of the question of the need for a new mass workers’ party. One of the employers that have ‘fired and rehired’ is Tower Hamlets Labour council. The workers there are doing all they can to fight industrially, but they would also be strengthened by being able to stand candidates against their Labour council at the ballot box.

Similarly, if London Mayor Sadiq Khan continues on his current path of not standing up to the Tories, presiding over attacks on the pay, jobs and conditions of London’s transport workers, then an important aspect of the fightback by the RMT, Unite and other unions, could be standing against him at the ballot box.

Unite had already cut its affiliation fees before all this blew up as a means of trying to put pressure on Starmer. Some left affiliated unions are now threatening to withhold money from next May’s Labour local election campaigns.

We would say that’s positive, but why don’t you take one step further and allow your local branches to take the decision that they can stand candidates, if they want to, in local elections against Labour councils where they are implementing cuts? If Labour councils follow what the Tories want, they will be implementing cuts worse than anything we have ever seen, and a chance to combat them at the ballot box would be very effective.

That’s why we proposed to other participants in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), most importantly the RMT, the transport workers’ union, that we restart electoral activity in next May’s local elections. So that even if the steps we want are not taken by other forces, TUSC can act as a banner for as many trade unionists, Black Lives Matter activists, community campaigners as possible. To come together and stand in defence of local services, jobs, pay and conditions (see also p9).

A socialist programme

There are different forces involved in TUSC, it’s a coalition, we are united in an opposition to austerity and cuts. In the Socialist Party, we go further than that. It is our view, along with growing numbers of others, that capitalism itself means endless austerity, cuts and environmental degradation – it doesn’t work. That is why we put forward a socialist programme because it is the way forward for humanity.

That is why we call for the taking of the major corporations and banks out of private hands in order to harness all the science, technique, human ingenuity and talent that exist,  to develop a socialist planned economy. That is the only way to prevent environmental catastrophe and to meet the needs humankind. It can’t just be done from the top by a government, it requires an active movement of the working class.

Even the capitalists themselves realise their system is in crisis, that it offers no future for the next generation.  And that is why we are entering an era of mass revolt, of revolution, of enormous struggle. There will be opportunities in the era we are entering into, to build a mass force, capable of leading a movement that can bring an end to capitalism and begin to build a new socialist order.

If you agree, join us in that struggle.

Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party Political Secretary:

The future prospect for this system is that there is no light at the end of a very dark tunnel. This is the reflection of the stagnation, at best, of world capitalism, there are not real reserves on which it can call.

There is a colossal mountain of problems which could overwhelmingly engulf working people and society. Struggle and mass resistance, whether we demand it or not, is inevitable amongst working people. We have to resist, but we have to go further than that, we have to raise the necessity of an alternative economic and social system. Socialism, a planned economy, that could begin to solve the problems of working people.

All the elements are there to bring together the resources, of the workplace and also of the enormous ingenuity of the working class in Britain and worldwide. But only if we abolish this dysfunctional system. You cannot proceed to progress on the basis of the perpetuation of the old system that has failed the working class.

We are entering an explosive period in which the faults of capitalism can be laid even more bare to the mass of the working class. That’s why there is an interest in this event now. We must go further and make an appeal to every worker, to every young person in particular with their lives before them. That we offer a programme, a policy, a perspective for the working class and the labour movement itself.

There is no lifeline on the horizon for capitalism, it will stagger from one crisis to another. One thing is certain, they intend that the mass of the population, the working class, will pay for this crisis.

Hugo Pierre, Socialist Party member and Unison trade union NEC member (in a personal capacity):

Just imagine if the most powerful trade unions were led by socialists this year.

Would we have closed down for the first few months of the pandemic? Or would we have put together a trade union national action plan for production of PPE under democratic workers’ control, firstly renationalising companies like NHS Logistics to determine demand, regulate production and quality, and ensure distribution?

We would have not just posed this as a serious alternative, but would’ve organised trade union members in the NHS and those privatised companies, to demand emergency powers be used to bring this about.

A socialist leader of Unison, the largest trade union, would have demanded an end to the private care catastrophe, by calling for the provision and staffing of care homes to be brought into the public sector under democratic workers’ control of joint local authority and health boards.

A socialist leadership of the major trade unions would demand testing and tracing be put into the hands of local joint health and local authority boards, democratically accountable. That would recruit an army of workers trained in the best tracking techniques to reach 100% of those in contact with infected people.

A socialist leadership of the main trade unions would have demanded 100% pay for all furloughed workers and those asked to isolate. It would have demanded emergency funding for schools to deliver a mix of online and in-class education. It would have been at the forefront of a claim for a 15% pay rise for all NHS staff.

Howard Beckett, Unite assistant general secretary and Labour NEC member in a personal capacity:

This week we have had an announcement that 5.5 million public sectors workers can expect a pay freeze. Again, workers told that they must pay for this crisis. And where is the voice of Labour? Where are our arguments that it is time to tackle the Tories and talk of nationalising those businesses?

We have a Labour leadership determined to trounce Corbynism. Determined to make a stamp that they are a new leadership and in doing so have created a civil war within the Labour Party that sees the attempt to exit Corbynism, and, in doing so, exit socialism itself from the Party.

Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate in the US presidential election:

The Democrats offered no real programme for working people. So the tasks for the Socialists and the working class in this country are we need a mass party of the people, we need to go back to the grassroots.

Bea Gardner, Socialist Students Activist:

The representatives of capitalism want us to pay for the Covid crisis with our lives and livelihoods. They have shown that they cannot maintain their system, while at the same time providing us with the basic things we need including jobs, homes and education… We are part of the same struggle… Together we can stand as a mighty force able to win vital and necessary concessions for our class, but alongside this, in the course of our fightback, now more than ever we need to raise the banner of socialism.

Socialism appeal raises a record £50,145.80

This year the Socialist Party set a target to raise £25,000 during our annual Socialism financial appeal. Despite the fact that many workers face pay cuts on furlough and job losses, we achieved double that target! What an indication of the political confidence in socialist ideas.

Isai Priya, from the Socialist Party’s national committee, introduced the finance appeal: “We in the Socialist Party have unshakeable confidence in the working class and the party is and will continue to be, built on the huge sacrifice of our members both financially and with their time.”

The Socialism 2019 appeal raised a very impressive £43,000. That included a generous £12,000 donation. This year no one individual was able to give more than £2,000 – showing that we have raised more this year from many more people donating to fund the fight to change the world.

Pledges can be redeemed by visiting socialistparty.org.uk

 

 

 

 

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