Socialist Alternative

Revolutionary Ideas Festival: another major step forward for Socialist Alternative

The weekend of 28th and 29th November saw Socialist Alternative hold its first ever public weekend event with the online Revolutionary Ideas: Festival of Resistance and Socialism. This marked another step forward for the development of our organisation, which has only been in existence for little more than 1 year. 

Originally intended as an ‘in person’ event, Covid-19 meant that we had to hold it online. Whilst this brought some challenges, 200 people attended for all or part of the weekend. 

In line with our revolutionary internationalist perspective, we welcomed International Socialist Alternative members from across the globe who took part in the rallies and sessions, along with international guests from India and Indonesia. 

There was an array of meetings on a wide number of topics which showed the breadth of discussion, the eagerness to discuss the fightback against the Tories and the capitalist system and also to learn from the history of the socialist and workers’ movement. 

Socialist history

The weekend kicked off with three historical sessions – the Russian and Cuban revolutions and the central role of the working class in the fight for socialist change; the revolutionary history of the struggle for black liberation; and mass unemployment and the fascist threat: lessons from the 1930s. For us as Marxists it is critical that we look at previous movements for socialist change – to draw out the lessons and inspiration for the struggles that are taking place.   

Fighting back – mapping out a way forward for the working class

Saturday afternoon looked at contemporary issues facing socialists and how we can develop the fightback. These were on the US-China inter-imperialist rivalry: A new cold war?; After the US election: where now for the American working class; How can the climate strikes win?; The looming housing crisis: fighting evictions and high rents and Covid-19 and Economic crises – fighting back in the workplace and trade unions.

These sessions were enthusiastically engaged in by participants in order to understand what is going on in the world, share experiences and chart a way forward. 

Saturday rally – Crisis and Revolt: a world to win

Arguably the highlight of the Saturday event was our Crisis and Revolt: a world to win rally chaired by Yaara Cliff from North London Socialist Alternative, which had a truly internationalist feel.

Participants were treated to an opening video, created by members Jessica and Lloyd, outlining the work that Socialist Alternative has been involved in during our first year of existence. This was very warmly received. 

We welcomed a number of speakers from across the world – Ginger Jentzen from Socialist Alternative in the US who spoke about the situation following the election and the growth in popularity of socialist ideas. Jaco talked about the attacks on democratic rights in Hong Kong and the role of socialists in the mass movement. 

We were also joined by an ISA comrade from Belarus who reported on the huge movement against Lukashenko and the development of our forces there. Anna, a member in Scotland who is originally from Russia, had an update on the outrageous attacks on socialist feminist activists who had been arrested following protests against domestic violence. 

Jacqui Berry, an ICU nurse and member of the UNISON NEC (personal capacity) spoke about the Covid crisis and its roots in the capitalist system, as well as the reality of the situation for health workers during Covid-19. 

Mike Forster from the Political Committee, who joined one of our predecessor organisations – Militant (the Marxist tendency at that time working in the Labour Party) in 1972, spoke about the need for global socialist change, urging attendees to join International Socialist Alternative if they were not already members, and for us to redouble our efforts to build our organisation.

Revolutionary Finance

Since forming Socialist Alternative we have taken a very serious approach to financing our work. Ideas are key, but we need money to help us develop the resources we need to take full advantage of the political situation where more and more people are getting interested in socialist and Marxist ideas. Miranda Hallett-Pullen, a member of Socialist Alternative in Plymouth introduced the Finance Appeal. 

She explained how we need money for things like posters, leaflets, travel costs for our organisers to visit branches in news areas, to ensure we can produce our Socialist Alternative newspaper and much more. As reported in issue 11 of our paper, we have just republished Marxism in our Time by Leon Trotsky, with a new introduction which will help arm our members with the ideas to build the socialist movement.

Miranda explained how she is a part of the new branch in the South West and how we are developing our work there – similarly to other new areas in Scotland where we are laying the foundations for the growth of Socialist Alternative. 

The response from attendees was electric. Through the weekend we had pledges for an incredible £8720 – and this figure is still rising! It broke the target of £5000 and included donations big and small – all of which are vital to fund the fight for socialism. 

This is even more impressive when you consider that many of our members had made very large contributions to a record breaking ISA Financial Appeal at our Virtual Marxist University during the summer where over 200,000 euros was raised. If you would like to donate to our Fighting Fund collection click here

The fight against special oppression

Sunday morning was focussed on special oppression under capitalism and the socialist approach to these issues. There were sessions on trans liberation, the fight for black lives, socialist feminism and the national questions in Scotland and Israel-Palestine. In these inspiring discussions many references were made to the skilful and bold work that ISA members are carrying out, intervening with a Marxist approach, winning people to socialist ideas. 

Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement

The final block of discussions on Sunday afternoon looked at Marxist theory and these proved very popular! For Socialist Alternative, developing our understanding of Marxist ideas is central to building a successful socialist organisation. We take seriously what Lenin said in ‘What is to be Done?’ where he wrote ‘without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.’ 

Sessions included Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution; the modern working class and Marxist economic theory; and dialectical materialism. The many questions and points that were raised in the discussions reflected the thirst for ideas and the desire for participants to develop everyone’s political understanding. A number of Socialist Alternative branches will be setting up reading groups around the subjects discussed to help increase our understanding of these revolutionary ideas.

A special discussion on the developments around Starmer’s refusal to give Jeremy Corbyn the Labour whip was also added to the weekend to discuss what this means for political representation and the way forward for socialists. 

Closing an inspirational weekend of socialist discussion

Attendees came together for the final rally. Chaired by Sofia Wiking from Leicester Socialist Alternative, ‘Fighting for a ‘new normal’ for workers and young people’ was a fitting end to an outstanding event. 

First up was Max Toynbee, a teacher and workplace rep for the National Education Union (NEU – personal capacity) who reported on the situation facing education workers and parents and outlined what sort of fightback is needed. 

Fred Ray, an apprentice from Leicester and member of Socialist Alternative, railed against the government’s attempts to divide working class people and blame the youth and BAME people for Covid. Socialists fight against any attempts to divide working class people and seek to organise people around a socialist programme. 

Jackie Grunsell, a GP from the North West spoke about the crisis in the health service and the need to build a movement to put health before profit. Health workers have been at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many losing their lives. This highlights the need for socialist change.

We were then proud to welcome Ruth Coppinger, from the Irish section of International Socialist Alternative. Ruth had been a TD (MP) in the Irish Parliament for 6 years and had used parliament as a platform to develop and speak on behalf of workers and the oppressed. She reported on the heroic struggle of the Debenhams workers who are fighting back – with the crisis in retail here in the UK, it is vital lessons are drawn from this battle. We don’t accept that workers should pay the price for the crisis of capitalism.

Matt Hirst from Huddersfield centered his comments on the climate crisis and the need for system change. Although protests have in general scaled back around the issue of the climate during the lockdowns, this issue is not going away. Capitalism is the root cause of this crisis, in its relentless drive for profits at the expense of the planet. As Matt said it’s a choice between ‘socialist revolution or mass extinction’.

Our final speaker to round off the weekend was Tom Barker of the Socialist Alternative National Committee who explained that although we are a new organisation, being just one year old, we stand on the strong traditions of the Trotskyist movement going back to the founding of the Militant in the mid-1960s, and the founders of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels. He urged everyone to get active with Socialist Alternative and join the fight for a socialist world. As Tom said ‘Socialism is the only vaccine for this sick system that we live in.’

Forwards to socialist revolution

This was an excellent weekend – with 60 different members chairing, introducing or replying to the discussions. It reflected the enthusiasm and determination to build our organisation, whether members who have spent decades in the Marxist movement or those that have joined in the last few weeks. 

In the stormy period opening up, here and across the world, Socialist Alternative and International Socialist Alternative are building an internationalist and revolutionary socialist organisation that can rid the planet of capitalism and bring about a socialist future. 

If you are not already a member, we urge you to join us!

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We have received the following comments from attendees:

“The Revolutionary Ideas Festival was a fantastic chance to explore ideas, meet like minded comrades from the organisation all over the world. The Saturday night rally in particular was a great experience, and the historical commission was extremely informative. Can’t wait for 2021!

Morgan, Brighton

“Listening to the experiences of others at #RevIdeas2020 has reminded me of our collective strength.

Many are facing challenges during these difficult times and the role of militant active unions can be a force for good, especially when employers seek to attack us.

During the session on “fighting back in the workplace”, there were many positive examples of victories when workers exercised their collective power. This just proves we CAN win when we join together and fightback!”

Rob, Coventry

I think the online festival was really well organised and advertised. All of the sessions were run really well and all of the leaders/members created a really friendly atmosphere that made me feel comfortable enough to contribute despite not being a member yet. The Saturday night session was amazing with all of the foreign speakers and was definitely the highlight for me. My only bit of advice would be to have a list on your website/social media of all of the branches so people thinking of joining know how far they’d have to travel to get involved.

Ruby, Wiltshire 

A great, really informative lead off by David on dialectical materialism. Really helped me to understand the theory in relation to everyday life. A very successful day, by all accounts. Big thanks to those who organised it, to the great speakers and to everyone who wants to make the world a better, safer, fairer place for all.

Rose, Cumbria

I really enjoyed the Revolutionary Ideas Festival last weekend. I was mainly a listener during the event, absorbing all the information presented by the more comrades nationally and internationally. Their passion to fight for a better future is very inspiring, at least for me. Hearing the heroic efforts that comrades put in to unite the oppressed and challenge the capitalist system, at times even risking persecution, is definitely a highlight.

Zi, Coventry

The Revolutionary Ideas Festival was overall an extremely enjoyable event. All the speakers were engaging and uplifting and the contributions during the discussions that followed were very informative. On Saturday I attended the workshops “The history of the black liberation” and “Fighting back in the workplace & Trade unions”. The key point that I will take away from them is that racism was created by a capitalist system to divide and conquer the working class. Policies have to be anti-racist in order to be socialist. Therefore, the fight against racism has to start with the fight against capitalism. 

For our movement to be effective we need an international movement with the work of the union at its core. The unions are where the grassroot work is done and workers can mobilise to control the decisions made in the workplace. On Sunday the workshops “The fight for black lives today” and “How the modern working class fit into Marx’s economic theory” highlighted the need to unite the fight against all forms of oppression in order to topple the capitalist system. 

The modern working class has changed and encapsulates more of what was previously called ‘white collar’ workers. There is a need to develop a new working-class consciousness to mobilise the workforce and fight for a socialist world. It’s been amazing. I’ve learned so much.

Karen, West Yorkshire

What an inspirational event Revolutionary Ideas was. I was blown away by the number of young people that wanted to get into the discussions and share their experiences. I really  enjoyed hearing the views of non-members who really added to this amazing event by contributing and questioning the speakers. A truly democratic event which shows the possibilities that a socialism will offer society.  I cant wait for next year!

Clive, Rugby

When Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader of the Labour Party many working class people including myself felt a new Socialist dawn had broken. Our hopes and aspirations were raised for a just and fair society .

However, the attacks by the Blairites in the Labour Party and reactionary forces from outside the LP proved to bring about an insurmountable barrier to a Socialist Government.

This outcome had also been guaranteed by the weak leadership of Corbyn himself and his commitment to Parliamentary reformist politics.

The aspirations of the working class had been dashed and it is perhaps no surprise that Johnsons Tory party romped to victory in last years General election.

On taking part in the Revolutionary Ideas Festival this weekend and joining a number of workshops it is apparent to me that Global Capitalism requires for its defeat Global solutions led by a Global movement.  

The LP for me had a chance to deliver real societal change and failed. That is why I am no longer a member and would like to join and work with comrades in Socialist Alternative to work towards a world free of fear , exploitation and an impending climate catastrophe. 

Cath, Manchester

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