Britain: ‘Socialism 2023’ – winning workers and youth to the anti-capitalist struggle

Socialism 2023 was a weekend attended by hundreds of people who want to change the world. Many have been involved in the strike wave. Many found out about the event on the anti-war demos – or were prompted to look for opportunities to discuss socialist ideas by the horror of the war, the climate catastrophe, and the cost-of-living crisis.

When she spoke at the main Saturday rally, socialist ex-MP Emma Dent Coad expressed delight at the opportunity to speak to an audience containing so many young faces.

Socialism 2023, like the Socialist Party, was populated by both youth and experience. Together, over 700 attendees grappled in the workshops with all the complicated questions that confront us: how a Palestinian state can be achieved; how Africa can break the chains of imperialism; how Marxists work in the trade unions; the fight for women’s rights, for trans rights, and against racism; how we fight for socialism, a society run democratically in the interests of all rather than for the profits of a few; and much, much more.

The agenda had been drastically adjusted at short notice to allow those attending to participate in the Gaza demonstration. Nonetheless Socialism still included 28 workshops, a book launch, three closing rallies, a free crèche, a social, as well as the main Saturday night rally.

This was the biggest Socialism weekend since 2020, when the pandemic meant only an online event was possible. But more importantly, it showed how the Socialist Party is winning new layers of workers and young people and is growing in strength. Socialism revealed that we are developing party organisers who strive to apply Marxism to all the complexities thrown up by the struggle for united workers’ action against the bosses and their system.

The theme of the main rally was ‘Capitalism means war and crisis’. But this was not an event that merely announced itself as revolutionary, nor one that only described the horror of war, climate catastrophe and poverty, much as there is to say on all of that.

An essential part of the role of Marxists is to argue for the next steps needed to take the movement forward.

As Socialist Party general secretary Hannah Sell summarised it, this was an event “to address how we take the struggle for socialism forward”.

The test for the support for these ideas can be measured – in cold, hard finance. Swansea branch secretary Linda Thraves introduced the fighting fund appeal, starting with the slaughter in Gaza and the anti-war movement.

“Capitalism”, she said, “you take heed! The millions of people protesting are not just rejecting war and its devastation. They believe they must act together to stop this horror… In the Socialist Party, we are always confident and optimistic that the working class, with the correct leadership and programme, can successfully fight back and overcome the attacks…But we also get frustrated when we get overwhelmed by numbers. We can have the best ideas in the world but we need the resources to get the ideas out.” We need more!

And the audience agreed! This year’s target of £35,000, £10,000 higher than last year’s target, was smashed. £44,565.75 was raised.

Chairing the rally was Bristol North Socialist Party member Sheila

Caffrey, a candidate for the vice-president of the National Education Union. In the context of the working class being “loud, proud and back in Britain,” Sheila is offering a necessary socialist lead – starting with our party’s confidence in NEU members to fight back against Tory attacks when such a lead is given.

Fighting union leaders

This theme was continued by the opening speaker, Marion Lloyd, candidate for general secretary of civil service union PCS, another militant in the necessary struggle to transform the trade unions into fighting organisations of the working class. Socialist Party member Marion argued that the trade unions must be at the heart of the movement against war, as well as all the attacks on workers’ rights.

A union with a fighting socialist leadership could have influence across the trade unions. Back in 2011 PCS had that. In the battle against the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition attacks on pensions, PCS won support for the call for a 24-hour general strike. That kind of leadership is urgently needed today in developing the response to the Tories’ anti-strike, anti-union legislation.

Marion thanked the hundreds of socialists in the PCS and beyond campaigning for her election. What she offers is a leadership willing to send a clear message to Keir Starmer as well as the Tories. As she said Starmer’s objections to even backing a ceasefire are an indictment of the Labour Party – but also a reason to fight for and to build an alternative party based on the needs of working people.

Sheila had to explain that unfortunately Garfield Hylton, a striking Amazon worker from Coventry, had sent apologies as he was unable to get to London due to railway disruption. Garfield has played an important part in the unionisation drive, taking on Amazon billionaire boss Jeff Bezos.

Mila Hughes, a young worker, then spoke on behalf of Young Socialists Against War. She made the point that, “for most young people, all we’ve witnessed is an endless economic crisis. People born in 2007 are now 16 – and on the streets protesting.”

“Young Socialists and the Socialist Party are launching our call to further build school and college walkouts and that includes actively engaging and discussing what we need to fight for, getting organised, building for the protests to kick all the Tories out and replace the rotten system of capitalism”.

Young people at the Socialism weekend took leaflets away raising the ideas that Mila outlined and will now organise distributing them at schools and colleges in their areas.

Next up was Emma Dent Coad, barred from standing for Starmer’s Labour despite the backing of Unite the Union, and is standing in Kensington against Starmer’s Labour.

Emma said that the best answer to the attacks, lies, and slander is presenting the socialist alternative. She correctly said: “The Tories are finished – if David Cameron is going to save them, they’re so done!”. She has not been cowed by the false claim that standing against Labour risks a Tory victory. Even the Tories don’t expect that.

“There’s a big void waiting for us to fill it”, she said. Her appeal was to “support any socialists and independents in your area” because “we’re going to get in there and really mess up Labour and scrutinise them properly, and they won’t like it.”

Tony Saunois is the secretary of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), the world socialist organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated. A third of the fighting fund appeal is pledged to help build the CWI. Tony spoke of the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as well as the “social and economic wars, with bombs raining down on the working class and poor”.

“The global billionaires accumulate $27bn every day while one in ten of the world’s population go hungry. Even in the richest countries the young generation can only look forward to a future that is far worse than that of previous generations.” Tony also rightly spoke of how this is expressed in the environmental catastrophe. “The 1% produce more carbon emissions than 66% of the rest of us.”

In the absence of a clear lead from the workers’ and socialist movement so far, a cry of despair is expressed in the threat of Trump returning, in the election wins for right-wing candidates in Argentina and the Netherlands, and in the rioting in Dublin. Tony rightly pointed to the “need for new parties of the working class in all countries that can challenge the system and offer a new way forward”. He said: “The need for the building of a mass socialist alternative is greater than ever.”

Fighting for socialism

What this task means in 2023 was addressed by Hannah in her speech closing the rally. Fighting for socialism starts with an assessment of where we are, what are the balance of forces between the working class and the capitalist class, and then, what do we do now?

“Over the last eighteen months we have seen – or rather begun to see – the potential power of our class, the working-class majority in this society, in the biggest wave of strike action for over three decades. We have seen in the last few weeks the power of our movement against the onslaught in Gaza”… including “Cruella Braverman out on her ear. That a was a victory for our movement.”

For the other side, Hannah spoke of the fears of the capitalist class internationally. They fear escalation into a regional war in the Middle East, “but above all they fear another Arab Spring”. Hannah explained to younger audience members that that referred to the mass movements that overthrew dictatorships in Arab and North African countries in 2011.

Addressing the question of how we take the movement forward today includes the sober learning of lessons of previous movements. Back in 2011, “those potential victories were not consolidated. The old order rolled back… ultimately those revolutions were defeated because the working class did not have their own parties with a programme for the socialist transformation of society.”

“But,” Hannah explained, “the capitalists, the elites, are terrified that they might not be so lucky next time”. We fight to realise those fears!

Hannah explained that there is no solution to the hell on offer on the basis of capitalism. “Capitalism will never deliver a genuine state for the Palestinians”. But capitalism can be overthrown. She invited us to “imagine if we had democratically elected workers’ governments in the Middle East, that had taken the corporations and banks into public ownership” – that could lay the basis for organising society to meet the needs of all, including democratic rights.

The fight for that starts in what was being outlined in the rally. Here in Britain, millions of us will be glad to see the back of the Tories. “Thirteen million people don’t get enough to eat. Yet, even according to government figures, the energy companies made £170 billion in ‘excess profits’ over the last two years.”

But Starmer, “the man set to replace Sunak, ordered his MPs and councillors not to protest for Palestine, and not go on workers’ picket lines. It tells you all you need to know about how he will behave in government…Every pledge Labour made in the Corbyn – and Dent Coad – period to improve the lives of working-class people has been ditched. Mass council house building, abolishing tuition fees, nationalising rail, mail, energy, the green new deal – all gone, thrown out along with Jeremy Corbyn himself.”

“Instead we have ‘ironclad fiscal responsibility’ or – as it otherwise known – doing the bidding of the capitalist class and the international finance markets.” And, Hannah warned, the dire economic situation means that will be more brutal than under Tony Blair’s New Labour Mark One.

That’s because Starmer will come to power with the capitalist system he defends in crisis, a potential new global recession, an NHS on its knees, 26 councils or more facing bankruptcy, and a working class that has suffered the worst fall in real wages since the second world war.

But, Hannah explained, this isn’t because there is ‘no money’ as they’d have us believe. “In the midst of our misery, the top 100 companies in Britain paid £79 billion in dividends to shareholders last year.” But… “the working class will be the ones expected to pay for the crisis of the capitalist system, with only the most minor concessions given to try and show Labour is different.”

One of the tasks of socialists in Britain today is to prepare for this, even when it might be complicated. Hannah warned that some of the union leaders – probably a majority of them – will argue that we can’t take action against this government – because it’s ‘our’ Labour government. And there can be, temporarily, a feeling that we have got to give them a chance – at least they’re not the Tories. “But that mood will be shallow, and it won’t prevent struggle for long when Starmer doesn’t deliver.”

Significantly, the working class and young people have learned the value of fighting back. We can see new movements develop on a whole range of issues. We can also see strikes, on an even-bigger scale than we have yet seen.

As Sheila said in opening, teachers, especially young teachers, now know that they do not have to just accept derisory pay offers – they can fight and win more! Thousands of workers have also begun to realise that to build the movement they need to become reps, as thousands of teachers have done, and need to be active between strikes.

“That’s partly why it’s possible there could be a further wave of mass strikes before the general election, particularly if the new minimum service legislation is used against a union or group of workers. Then the whole movement will need to come to their aid,” Hannah said.

Hannah pointed to the ceasefire vote. The Scottish National Party (SNP) is not a party of the working class, but if it hadn’t, for its own reasons, moved a vote on a ceasefire, Labour MPs would not have been put on the spot. We need workers’ MPs who do that, on war, to oppose anti-union laws, and on every issue.

That is why the  Socialist Party is working to build the strongest-possible stand in the general election, including co-hosting a convention on 3 February next year initiated by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to bring all those who want a working-class challenge at the general election.

That vital preparation must also include discussing what programme we fight for. Unite the Union is running a good campaign for the nationalisation of energy. We would say that the energy profiteers should not get a penny – that compensation should be paid only on the basis of proven need.

But Starmer’s not going to do any of that. That requires the working class having a political voice – it’s about the fight for a mass workers’ party, for a workers’ government.

Such a government should not just nationalise energy! “All the giant corporations and banks that dominate the economy should be nationalised, so that we can begin to build a democratic socialist planned economy, harnessing the huge resources created by capitalism to meet the needs of all and carry out a real socialist green transition.”

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