Coming just seven months since our last Congress, over 75 Socialist Alternative members descended on Manchester to attend our 2022 conference on 23 and 24 March. This included visitors from our sister organisations in Ireland, France and the US, all part of International Socialist Alternative.
Of the attendees, nine were attending their first ever congress having joined Socialist Alternative in the last few months, and the room felt very youthful, giving the weekend a very lively and engaging feel. Over half of the attendees spoke during the weekend, showing the high level of participation and helping to make for a politically engaging discussion.
Building from COP26 protests
At our congress last September, we were outlining our plans to send 300 International Socialist Alternative members to Scotland to participate and intervene in the massive COP26 protests last November. These were a fantastic success for our organisation, with our lively and energetic socialist bloc being easily the most vibrant and loudest section of the protest, gaining press coverage around the world, from the New York Times to Chinese press.
The preparatory work we had conducted in the run up to COP26 really paid off, with many new people joining Socialist Alternative in Scotland during this period, and drawing a further circle of people around us, keen to learn more about socialism as the only answer to the ongoing climate crisis. This success in new members joining Socialist Alternative was represented in the youthful delegation of four members from our Scotland branch, half of whom were attending their first ever congress. But our work on the climate does not stop there, with plans to send a delegation to Stockholm to the Climate+50 conference in June to continue raising the ideas of socialism with young climate strikers. Could you help and donate to send young climate activists to the protests? All donations will make a huge difference and help to cover the costs of travel.
All of the political discussions were rich, with both of our first two discussions running over significantly with so many delegates and visitors wanting to participate. We opened by discussing world perspectives. Capitalism continues to face crisis with an emphasis on it entering an “age of disorder”, with Covid still wreaking havoc across many parts of the world, and the economic bounceback many bourgeois economists were hailing already turning into its opposite. Indeed, the economic situation has swung the other way, with inflation skyrocketing to its highest level in the US since 1981 and across Europe in the last 30 years. A period of stagflation, with little to no economic growth, is now likely, with the real prospect of sharp recessions ahead.
The inter-imperialist tensions of the “New Cold War” between the US and China is now increasingly becoming a ‘hot war’, with the invasion by Russia of Ukraine. This was a large part of the discussions, not just for the impact it has on the imperialist rivalries, but more importantly the impact it has on working-class consciousness amid the huge cost of living crisis, exacerbated by the war and its disruptive impact on global supply chain disruptions. This brings with it the prospect of mass revolts being triggered by shortages of food and other basic necessities, such as the mass protests that have already been seen in the recent period from Sudan and Egypt to Peru. Many comparisons were drawn with the increase of food prices in 2011 which led to the “Arab Spring” protests, seeing several despotic leaders across North Africa and the Middle East being overthrown. While events never repeat themselves in the exact same manner, we anticipate mass movements around the world that members of our international organisation will seek to participate and intervene in.
On the eve of the French Presidential elections, this was also a focus of the discussions, with the anticipation that Macron would win over Le Pen. Introducing the discussion on World Perspectives, Tom Crean from the International Executive explained that ISA agrees with many young French protestors who reject being given a choice between “cholera and the plague”. Karen Parney, who spoke in the discussion, also pointed to the need for a ‘third round on the streets’ and raised the question of the Legislative elections to be held in June. It is clear Le Pen will be seeking to reorganise her forces to mount a challenge in these elections, which will also offer a new opportunity for Melenchon’s left project to make gains.
As socialists, it is our duty to not only oppose Le Pen, but also Macron, whose brutal attacks on workers’ rights and attempts to ‘mainstream’ anti-Muslim racism have helped create the conditions in which the far-right can make gains.
We also discussed the likely impact of the US mid-term elections, and the very real possibility that Biden would lose control of both the House and the Senate, and the implications this would bring amid attacks on women and LGBTQ+ people in the US. These attacks include the ban on abortions in Texas which goes alongside the challenge to Roe v Wade and the passing of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. A series of victories for the Republicans in the mid-terms would see Trump supporters, who now control many aspects of the Republican Party, feeling emboldened to make further attacks.
Cost of living crisis
Many of the themes discussed in the World Perspectives session continued into the discussion on Britain. Themes included the cost of living crisis causing chaos for working-class families up and down the country and the impact of the war in Ukraine exacerbating this, with rising food and fuel costs. The looming threat of a recession and the current lack of economic growth – just 0.3% in February – were also discussed. While the cost of living increases, our pay does not.
We have seen the Tory government take an increasingly right-populist stance, with attacks on oppressed groups – the announcement of the “processing facility” for refugees in Rwanda and the refusal to stop conversion therapy for transgender people being just the latest in a series of reactionary new policies. Johnson’s position as prime minister has been granted a temporary reprieve by the war in Ukraine. At the beginning of the year it looked like the vultures were out to pick his bones over the revelations of Partygate. When the war broke out, Johnson opportunistically thought that this was his “Falklands” moment and tried to portray the UK as “leading the fight against Russia”, when in reality it is a third rate world power at best. However, with Partygate once again rearing its head, this reminds us that this is a government with a Prime Minister and Chancellor who, for the first time in capitalist Britain’s history, have both been fined for breaking the law. More importantly, it brings back the agony they have caused thousands of people who were not able to see their family, friends or loved ones, even when they lay sick or dying, while top Tories were having drinks and nibbles in the garden of Number 10.
Members from Scotland reported in the discussion on how Nicola Sturgeon has adopted a hawkish stance over Ukraine, including flirting with the idea of supporting a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Such an approach would of course be a direct step towards escalating the war and the unimagined horror that this could create. At the same time, Sturgeon has quietly put the referendum for Scottish independence onto the back-burner. This is a move that will likely create space for other more ‘hardline’ pro-independence groups, as well as for the development of socialist forces that can push forward with demands with a call for an independent, socialist Scotland, as part of a free and voluntary socialist federation of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. Our growing forces in Scotland are more determined than ever to get out onto the streets, workplaces and campuses to raise our socialist banner and ideas.
Since our last congress, we have seen attack after attack on workers from the capitalist class. From attacks on wages as we have seen in Coventry in the HGV bin workers’ dispute, to simply fire (and not rehire) at P&O, the discussions had a focus on how to fight back through trade union action. Contributions also touched on the UCU university lecturers’ disputes, the CHEP dispute in Manchester which at the time of congress saw workers set to accept a much improved offer, and the bus workers’ strikes across the country. It is only when workers stand together as a collective that we have the power to fight back and win against the bosses.
The protest called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) against the cost of living crisis on 18 June is significant as being the first national demonstration to be called by this body since 2018. While at the moment it is unclear how successfully this will be built for, given the TUC’s right-wing leadership, the potential is huge. Socialist Alternative will be making this protest a priority – seeking to put forward successful tactics and a strategy forward on how to win workers’ demands.
Our congresses are organised not just to help deepen our political understanding of events, but also to discuss and agree the approach we must take to building our organisation. This question took up a majority of the second day of discussion, with a review of our successes in growth and consolidation since our last congress. We also discussed the steps we believe should be taken next to help develop the understanding of our newest members of Marxist ideas and how to further grow our branches.
A big focus has been on young people – of the members who joined us since our last congress, nearly 90% are under the age of 30. This shows that many of those most radical and hungry for change are young workers and students who have been part of “generation crisis” since the 2007/2008 crash. It is clear that these are the forces we should orientate to, and many of our student members talked about the work being carried out on campuses. To give one example, a student member at UCL described how the Student Socialist Alternative group there had helped campaign to win a referendum of the student body on overturning the initial lack of support from the Students’ Union towards striking UCU members at University College London.
None of the work that we carry out would be possible without the financial means to do so, and national treasurer Caroline Vincent reported back on how we have performed in the last year, with thousands of papers, international theoretical journals, pamphlets and books sold since our last congress. Socialist Alternative members understand that finance is the lifeblood of a revolutionary organisation. We have no big business or millionaire backers – we rely on the sacrifices our members, supporters and the wider working class and youth make to help us continue and grow our work. This was showcased by the excellent finance appeal led by Aidan Morrison from Scotland along with Daisy Bradford from Leicester, which saw an amount of over £5,000 raised as one-off donations at congress. Over £700 was raised by branches selling food, merchandise, and particularly books, which highlights the thirst for Marxist theory and practice from our members.
We are confident in our ideas and that we will grow in the period ahead. Be part of our struggle for a socialist society and join Socialist Alternative!