By Daisy Bradford
From 25-27 March, members of Socialist Alternative met in North London to conduct our third National Congress. For many of those attending, this was the first national congress they had ever attended. Over three days, elected delegates from branches, as far and wide as from Glasgow to London, to Manchester and Liverpool and elsewhere engaged in democratic discussion about our priorities and perspectives for the coming year.
Global capitalism in decay
Starting off our Congress, we began with a lively discussion on World Perspectives, where we were joined by comrades from our sister sections in the US, Austria, Ireland and China/Hong Kong/Taiwan. Opening up the Congress, Sonja Grusch and Tom Crean from International Socialist Alternative laid out the global situation confronting socialists and the working class today.
Globally, we have seen a rise in nationalism amongst capitalist states and a sharpening of international conflicts, with the horrific and bloody inter-imperialist war in Ukraine as its latest expression. The intensification of the New Cold War, driven by sharpening imperialist tensions between the US and China, creates dire economic consequences. This only serves to underline the utter inhumanity of the capitalist system and the urgent need to build a socialist alternative.
Side by side with imperialist war is the ongoing crisis of the climate. As the events around the earthquake in Syria/Kurdistan/Turkey reveal, disasters caused by climate breakdown create the same conditions as war: death, displacement and the destruction of land and homes.
While this breeds suffering and misery, the conditions of capitalism worldwide also breed resistance. The congress noted the tremendous resistance on show from workers and the oppressed, organising and waging mass movements around the world. This spanned from the revolutionary movement against the regime in Iran, to the mass strikes currently convulsing the streets of France, where millions of working class people are moving into action against the proposed extension to the pension age. ISA has been intervening boldly with a call for indefinite strike action and a break with Macron’s austerity policies.
Reports were also heard back from ISA’s most recent World Congress, which took place in Belgium in January-February. ISA is working to expand its forces, beyond the already dozens of countries we are based in, to build a genuine world party of revolutionary socialist change.
This included an historic vote to recognise our organisation in Mexico as an official section of our international. In 2020, our forces in Mexico began with only one active ISA member in the country. Today, Alternative Socialista now stands at 29 members and is growing.
Reports were also given of our inspiring work being done in new areas, from the setting up of a new working group on work in Iran, to building our forces in Romania, India, France, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and beyond.
Delegates followed this with a thorough discussion on the stormy period for working class struggle opening up in Britain.
Despite promises of a ‘recovery’, the current economic crisis in this country shows no sign of receding. Britain’s ruling class is weak, a shadow of its former ‘glory’ at the top of a declining second-rate imperialist power.
We are at a watershed moment, with a strike wave of historic proportions. While some delegates reported on the poor deals being put forward by the Tories and unfortunately accepted by some union leaders, the strikes still remain a deep thorn in the side of the Tory government. We discussed the best methods and programme to maintain this energy and motivate the working class to keep fighting in this new era of reasserted class politics.
The Tory party is in crisis, resorting to ‘culture wars’ against refugees and trans people, which is done for no other reason than to divide working class people and shore up their right-wing base.
As attendees noted, this carries the potential for the ugly expressions of far-right activity. Racist and far-right groups have already cynically used the issues of housing and the cost of living crisis to mount protests outside hotels housing refugees. However, more and more will join the dots, recognising the need for a united struggle to stop deportations, to end the war on refugees, as well as for the public housing and services which working class people all need. Taking part in this fight with a socialist perspective will be key to breaking the divide and rule agenda of the Tories.
Delegates also discussed the likely election of a Starmer-led Labour government. Despite having won election on the basis of mirroring Corbyn’s popular policies in 2019, he has since utterly betrayed those promises, adopting a mix of pro-big business politics and tagging to the right. Starmerism offers no real alternative to the decade-long chaos of Tory ‘leadership’.
Working class people in Britain have discovered that our strength lies in strike action and fighting back where we have our power – in the workplaces and on the streets. Hundreds of thousands have learnt that when you fight, you can win.
Given that a Starmer has made clear he would not stand by workers in struggle as Prime Minister, delegates agreed that the situation will become ripe for calls for building a new party for working class people – which workers in struggle, climate activists and all those fighting oppression can channel their struggles through and fight for socialist change.
Socialist feminism is a major aspect of ISA’s revolutionary work, at the international, national and local level. Attendees reported on the impressive and bold work as Socialist Feminist Alternative which has been carried out across England, Wales and Scotland on International Women’s Day – 8 March. This day has distinct revolutionary roots. Originally called International Working Women’s Day and founded by socialists, Socialist Alternative branches across the section campaigned to re-politicise this historic date and reclaim its radical roots.
We organised “speak out stalls” and protests in a big number of our branches, and boldly intervened into IWD events in our towns and cities, where we campaigned in solidarity with the uprising in Iran, as well as fighting gender violence and the toxic reactionary ideas of viral misogynists like Andrew Tate.
Transphobia has now become a central plank in the establishment’s reactionary culture war campaign. When this led to the brutal murder and tragic loss of Brianna Ghey, we rallied in solidarity with trans people at vigils held in cities across Britain and Ireland. We linked this to the need for workers’ action against the whole culture war agenda of the Tories, as well as mass demonstration and protest to stamp out transphobia. In Scotland, our members have mobilised in defense of gender-affirming health care and services against the attacks of the transphobic right, in regular demonstrations to defend the Sandyford Clinic.
In mid-March, the first international conference of ROSA – ISA’s socialist feminist campaign – took place in Vienna. This conference played a vital role in marking us out as genuine Marxist fighters for the liberation of women and gender non-conforming people.
Building the forces of revolutionary socialism
Rounding up this year’s congress were a series of crucial discussions on building Socialist Alternative. This involved a number of workshops on topics around political education and practical organisation, which helped every comrade present to develop skills which can be shared with our branches and strengthen our organisation.
Young people and students in Britain have known nothing but austerity. Our lives are overshadowed by the climate crisis. There is a growing section of this demographic who are drawn to socialist ideas. It is under this backdrop that we discussed the need to push the work of Student Socialist Alternative to the fore. We have set a goal to have five official Student Socialist Alternative societies on campuses across England, Wales and Scotland, and regular work at the universities and colleges elsewhere.
We have played a leading role in a number of high profile campaigns in the unions, with the recent election of Socialist Alternative member James Kerr to the Executive of the National Education Union. Our members in the unions have fought for policies of bold struggle over pay, workload and conditions, alongside the calls for coordination, broadening, escalating and politicising our workplace disputes.
There are tremendous opportunities to build the forces of revolutionary socialism throughout the 2020s. If this congress is any indication, Socialist Alternative is prepared to enthusiastically seize these opportunities!