ISA World School 2022: Building the forces of Marxism in a new age of disorder￼
We are confronted with the deepest crisis of the capitalist system in its history, characterized by climate crisis, imperialist conflict, famine and economic chaos. A new era of global instability and disorder has led to a resurgent far-right in certain corners of the world, alongside attacks on bodily autonomy and basic rights for women for LGBTQ+ people. The July heatwave has claimed the lives of thousands across the world. All that young people have ever known is a world on the brink of disaster.
At the same time, all of these features can and have acted as a spur towards a deepening radicalisation and rejection of the system. International Socialist Alternative’s mission is to connect with this mood and draw it towards protest, strikes and struggle for an alternative to the capitalist system.
We put in practice a unique Marxist approach to winning victories for workers, poor and the oppressed through struggle, which has placed our still-small forces on the map. We organized a hundreds-strong contingent on the November 2021 COP26 protests in Glasgow under the slogan “Our climate crisis = their profits: Strike back against capitalism!” During the UN Stockholm+50 conference in June, we organized an ISA bloc connecting the climate struggle to anti-capitalist struggle, drawing widespread support from youth.
More recently, in the US, Socialist Alternative has been central to the struggle for abortion rights, as announced in the recent victory to make Seattle a ‘sanctuary city’ for those seeking access to reproductive care. Seattle city councilmember and ISA member Kshama Sawant spearheaded this process. In Sweden, our organisation Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna led the campaign to bring an end to the Swedish government’s ‘market rents’ law. This was a struggle which ultimately brought the Swedish government down for the first time in the country’s history!
In today’s era it is doubly important to discuss and draw key lessons from these experiences in the struggle for socialism. This is why we met for our 2022 ISA World Cadre School — a 6-day event of political education and debate. Over 250 members from every continent of the world met, participating in dozens of commissions on a huge variety of political and practical topics. The week was rounded up by a plenary session on “Building ISA in the Age of Disorder”.
Consciousness, leadership and organisation
Sarah Wrack from ISA in England, Wales and Scotland began the discussions by pointing attention to the words from the ISA International Committee’s recent building resolution:
“The general ideas of revolutionary socialism swim with, rather than against, the stream among big layers of especially young people today”.
Events in Sri Lanka, as well as the mass revolts in Myanmar, Chile, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Sudan, over the last three years of ISA’s existence have only confirmed this further. However, as much as struggle and resistance is bound to take place on the basis of crisis-ridden capitalism, the fight to change the system will not be successful ‘spontaneously’. It will have to be consciously and boldly organised.
From the role of conservative and bureaucratic union leadrships who curtail the action of the union rank and file, to the role of liberal and NGO misleadership which have time and time again betrayed heroic struggles of working class and oppressed people, history demonstrates to us that the task of overthrowing capitalism and instituting a socialist planned economy will only be constructed on the basis of having built a combative political alternative, ultimately expressed in a worldwide organisation committed to socialist change. This is a task which is not only necessary, but possible. Great strides forward can be made today if we fight for it.
The capitalist class is determined, experienced and willing to do anything it can to push back against our partial victories. Unprecedented crackdowns on democratic rights are the order of the day across much of the world. This has been seen in China, where the draconian ‘zero covid’ policies of the CCP dictatorship are to be used as a means of totalitarian social control. After a wave of protest on the streets of Moscow, Putin’s state forces have gone on the offensive, arresting activists in the thousands. The school heard how ISA has mounted global campaigns, such as the Solidarity Against Repression in China and Hong Kong initiative, as well as the campaign in May of this year to free Russian anti-war activist Dzavhid Mamedov.
Building a new generation of cadres
Among a new generation, many express an unprecedented rejection of the system, along with its institutions and ideas. The climate crisis has bred a feeling of a living catastrophe that the ruling class is unwilling to even fully acknowledge let alone address.
This anti-system and even anti-capitalist wave of ideas among young people has the potential to spill into huge explosions. Yet the idea of the need to get organised is still not fully understood by most. . This only makes it doubly important for ISA to build alongside these layers in struggle, drawing the most politically conscious workers and youth alongside us to raise the need for sustained and democratically-organised movements.
This is why our discussions through the week focussed on the need to turn ourselves from members into ‘cadres’. This word, meaning ‘frame’ in French, is the term we use to describe active members of ISA who not only believe that a socialist world is possible, but are ready to commit ourselves to fighting for it. This means not only protesting, striking, campaigning and demonstrating, but also educating ourselves in Marxist ideas and history to better guide us as we intervene into movements.
“There is no substitute for the paper in our party building work.” — Robert Bielecki (ISA Sweden)
To do this, the School reiterated the essential importance of our publications in what we do. The bi-weekly World to Win ISA podcast is essential for the education of our membership and supporters. But this also means continuing to place special priority on producing our sections’ papers, magazines and other physical publications. We labeled this year for ISA the “Year of the Paper”.
Comrades in attendance from Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolução (ISA in Brazil) were honoured to announce the republication of their paper Ofensiva Socialista as the comrades recover from the impact from Bolsonaro’s genocidal response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Comrades from chinaworker.info (ISA in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) reported on how their regular magazine, Socialist, is produced and sold in 4 languages. Lenin’s famous saying that the revolutionary paper acts like the “scaffolding built around a building under construction” becomes doubly true for these comrades fighting under the most dangerous conditions of repression.
Important steps forward have also been taken towards internationalising our publications, with the publication of a new issue of the Socialist World journal. Yasmim Alves from ISA Brazil reported on the publication of the latest issue of the new Latin American ISA journal, America Latina Socialista.
One of the most striking features of this recent ISA school was in its optimism and boldness when it comes to building. However this did not prevent serious discussion on the challenges involved. One of the sessions in the morning was devoted to 4 hours of discussion on the topic of ‘consolidation’ of new members.
This is about not only the question of how we not only recruit a new generation of socialists to the revolutionary party, but maintain their membership and build up a generation of future fighters. Comrades reiterated the need for a combination of patient political discussions, with the use of “Introduction to Marxism” packs produced by various sections.
Uri Bar-shalom Agmon from Socialist Struggle (ISA in Israel-Palestine) reported on the section having undergone rapid growth over this period of upheaval in Middle Eastern society. This includes an average recruitment age of 23, with the basis for new branches across the region.
In Mexico, from having only one member in 2019, we today have an young, vibrant and growing section, with a total of three regularly meeting branches. This School boasted the largest delegation from Latin America in the history of our organization. Comrades from Chile and Argentina were also in attendance. Comrades heard reports of fresh work with new members, supporters, contacts and sympathizers from as far and wide as India, France, Myanmar, Croatia, Georgia, Romania, Portugal and Colombia.
Unfortunately however, not all comrades from our sections were able to attend. Due to the racist border regimes of the capitalist state, our comrades from many of these countries — particularly those in the neocolonial world (including Nigeria, Tunisia and Ivory Coast) were denied VISAs and blocked from attending in person. Brutal authoritarian crackdowns prevented our Russian comrades from attending in person.
These challenges will not stop ISA from expanding! As economic crisis deepens, it will be the people of the neocolonial world who will be made to suffer most under the heel of imperialism. This will act as a spur to seismic revolt. As Tino Gwenyaya from the Workers and Socialist Party (ISA South Africa) pointed out: “Africa is a continent full of Sri Lankas in waiting”. As such it was agreed that comrades across the African continent would meet, discuss and cooperate in their work far more regularly, in order to deepen and expand our forces to prepare for the stormy period ahead.
Socialist feminist struggle key to building
A key theme in this year’s building discussions was on the centrality of the struggle against all forms of oppression to our perspectives for building ISA. The initiatives and fighting campaign work our international has initiated over the last period has attracted the interest of a newly-radicalising layer of young (often women, trans and non-binary) people, beginning to connect the struggle against oppression with the struggle for an alternative to the capitalist system which breeds it.
In the US, through our bold lead on the Roe v. Wade demonstrations, our comrades have sold over 6,000 papers, raised $34,394 in donations and made a total of 130 recruits since June.
A number of our sections — Ireland, Germany, Austria, Poland and Mexico — have launched the socialist feminist banner Rosa, in order to build the socialist feminist wing of the feminist movement. Plans were announced by comrades in Brazil to launch their own socialist feminist banner, while comrades across the international deepen their work in this vital area of struggle. In 2020, ISA launched Rosa — International Socialist Feminists to help with this process.
Multiple commissions were organised to outline our unique, working class approach to struggle against oppression and exploitation, in contrast to bourgeois and petit-bourgeois strands within the movement who fail to connect the struggle against gender oppression with a united working class movement to challenge the capitalist system. Topics included were “The struggle for abortion rights: Lessons from the US and internationally”, “Socialist feminist work in the neocolonial world”, “The struggle for trans rights” as well as “Zetkin, Kollontai, the first wave of feminism and the approach of revolutionary Marxism”.
A unique feature of ISA is the way in which we connect the struggles against all forms of oppression to the struggles of the working class to transform society. The struggle of the working class is the key axis on which the fight for socialist change hinges. This is because of the huge social and economic weight that this class, which produces the wealth of society sits on top of. This is why we used this School to share experiences of victories, defeats and struggles for the workers movement in our various countries.
US comrades reported on the unprecedented unionisation drives at Amazon and Starbucks. Though only embracing a minority of workplaces at this stage, they have acted as a lightning rod across the US workers’ movement. Socialist Alternative has intervened across the country to assist in driving this process forward, putting forward our programme for militant rank and file action and clear demands to win victories. We have set our sights on empowering the rank and file against the conservative and bureaucratic approach of many of the US union leaderships.
Multiple commissions on union and workplace work in particular sectors (health, public sector, hospitality, industry and more) were held. We organized sessions both on turning our forces towards the workplace while also drawing from the examples of our comrades in Unite Hospitality Northern Ireland in “organizing the unorganized”.
There are already many other examples of our still-small forces using our profile within the movement to embolden rank-and-file workers and activists in the union to escalate and coordinate their struggles. To read more on this, click here.
As Eric Byl from the ISA International Executive mentioned when summing up the discussions at the end of the week, this complicated period also carries within it the germ of new class battles. The period of neoliberal globalisation has ground to a halt. US and Chinese imperialism have scrambled to re-divide the world. Regional blocs are being formed at a rapid and accelerating pace. This will mean a sharpening of protectionist, nationalist and authoritarian measures from capitalist states. In this context, it becomes doubly necessary to organize our forces across borders, to organize joint action and cross-border strikes where possible. It was thus agreed that our comrades in the unions would meet and discuss far more regularly going forward.
The ideas of the future
After decades of being fed the lie that the ideas of Marxism represent the past, these vibrant and dynamic discussions on building ISA reaffirm that these are the ideas of the future.
The willingness to make financial sacrifices from our members and supporters was on show in our finance appeal. In spite of an historic worldwide cost of living crisis, so far over €66,000 was raised, with thousands more yet to come in. Now we will move forward in arranging democratic discussions on our perspectives and tasks in building in the run-up to ISA’s 2023 World Congress.
Only a mass movement of the workers, exploited and oppressed of the world in struggle will provide a way out of this rotten capitalist system. But events also clearly demonstrate how a well-organized world party of socialist revolution will be need to direct these struggles towards the alternative socialist system we require most urgently.