About 90 people attended the first day of the conference, with Simon Hannah introducing the organisation. He urged unity in the face of struggles facing the working class on climate change, the continued neoliberal attacks on working people, and the growth of the far-right globally. There were two sessions, the first to discuss the international political situation and the second on Britain.
Introducing the International Situation paper, Phil Hearse pointed out that six years ago the discussion would have focused on austerity, but now the situation has developed. The Trump government and the events of 6th January at the Capitol confirmed the Creeping Fascism thesis, with polarisation to the right but important fightbacks from the left. The last years showed, especially with the pandemic, the continuing and deepening crisis around environmental degradation and global warming.
The Trump government and the events of 6th January at the Capitol confirmed the Creeping Fascism thesis, with polarisation to the right but important fightbacks from the left.
But there is a fightback – in Latin America, the Middle East (where the stirrings of a second Arab spring show tremendous potential) and India with an enormous farmers’ strike. Democratic struggles are central from Hong Kong, to Poland and Ecuador. In Britain, the Stanstead 15 are part of that democratic fight – the attempts to delegitimise struggles through security policies and the growing threat of the Global Police State. Often the figure you see most on the news is the riot police.
Polls consistently show that young people especially identify with socialism. But everywhere a broad left alternative emerges that look like they could take power, they come under a coordinated attack from the allies of the bourgeoisie. The ‘anyone but Corbyn’ campaign in Britain by the political establishment and the media, and the methods of the Democrat Party in the USA to defeat Sanders’ fight for the Presidential nomination, show the left will be fought tooth and nail. However, our alternatives need a revolutionary core, inspired by Marxism, or they will be derailed.
Ana Cristina Carvalhaes from the Insurgencia current in the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) in Brazil confirmed this analysis, adding more on the convergence of the ecological crisis, the crisis of the capitalist system, the crisis of the legitimacy of global governance and the political struggle between the US imperialists and new forces such as China. New technologies, such as drone assassins, has shifted the terrain of military operations. The rise of surveillance capitalism in China means that each resident gets a ‘citizen score’ based on behaviour and political views.
As the growing competition between China and the US propels more of these attacks on our humanity, it has reached global proportions and will increasingly come to dominate world politics over the next years.
In this context, the rise of the far-right (with increasingly fascistic traits) is a dangerous trend. It is an important alteration in the political paradigm of the ruling class. Trump’s defeat in the US is a setback for these forces, but it is debatable how much that will shift the balance internationally. Certainly in Brazil, where people struggle under Bolsonaro, the left is relieved that Trump is gone!
the rise of the far-right (with increasingly fascistic traits) is a dangerous trend. It is an important alteration in the political paradigm of the ruling class. Trump’s defeat in the US is a setback for these forces, but it is debatable how much that will shift the balance internationally.
Nonetheless, 2019 was a year of great mobilisations of pro-democratic and anti-neoliberal protests, even riots, in 32 countries. While these are not struggles to take power and are not necessarily linked, they are important; especially when it comes to the mobilisation of youth and women. These struggles from below are increasing, even if the victories are always partial. They raise the question of an alternative (or its absence) in the minds of new generations.
We need to take initiatives to help the convergence of struggles, to set up organisations from below, to embolden internationalism. Syriza, Podemos, Sanders and Corbyn show the importance of being involved in struggles to raise anti-systemic left politics.
Gilbert Achcar, an author and academic specialising in the Middle East, was the last platform speaker in this session. He argued that we are facing two pandemics. One is well researched – COVID. But there is a second global pandemic, the far right, which to some extent culminated in the election of Donald Trump.
Now it’s a global force; Bolsonaro and Trump are two of its faces, but the neo-fascist Modi in India, Duterte in the Philippines, Orbán in Hungary, and far-right governments in Russia and Egypt are examples too. The threat posed by Le Pen in France is serious. Even in Sweden, where you would not expect to see a strong fascist movement, a strong far-right is emerging. It is clear that the 2015 migrant crisis boosted the far right. Desperate people looking for asylum and sanctuary were used as a political football by the EU establishment, and demagogic populists took advantage.
There is a historical precedent – the interwar years of the 20th century. Like today, there was a growth of fascism, in the global north primarily, but now under conditions of globalisation we have the far-right creeping (sometimes exploding) across the global south too. The neoliberal changes from the 1980s onwards have meant that life is now more precarious, and this is the basis for the growth of reactionary identity movements. While no one here believes that the Soviet Union was a model of socialism to follow, its collapse massively discredited the idea of socialism.
Gilbert argued that the younger generations are allergic to some of the old forms of organising, and for good reason. The term ‘party’ is no longer in fashion for many, and very bureaucratic forms of top-down organisation are deeply unpopular.
Gilbert described how he was an eyewitness to the recent Sudanese revolution, which relied on networks and social media.
Instead, the new movements are leaderless. Gilbert described how he was an eyewitness to the recent Sudanese revolution, which relied on networks and social media. The left has to be careful how it communicates and speaks to the younger generation to not appear dogmatic.
Speakers from the floor introduced other perspectives. Rowan Fortune raised how the internet has abetted the far right, seen in the cultures that developed on YouTube and message boards. Reactionaries colonised these spaces, and the internet’s architecture worsened the problem. David Kellaway warned of being too schematic about the ‘collapse of the liberal centre’; a Keynesian politics might be used to ameliorate capitalism’s problems. A healthy socialist current, he added, cannot be sucked into the ‘campist’ politics, uncritically boosting regimes that are ostensibly anti-western imperialism. Socialists should oppose imperialist interventions, but it is wrong to ignore the question of democracy.
Jamie Anker talked about organising young people through cultural events, such as the possibility of a revolutionary dance movement. While Mike Picken argues that we need mass pressure on a global scale to press governments to take action over climate change, which is now a matter of survival or death. The grounding of global aviation might impact the COP protests in Glasgow this November so that a decentralised global movement could emerge in the place of one enormous demonstration?
Nadia Hajal asked about the mechanisms for organising labour during neoliberalism and the informality of workplaces? She questioned the idea that the youth are more radical, arguing that it was too much of a generalisation because a class analysis shows that radicalisation is more concentrated among middle-class youth. The working-class youth are faced with a question of survival and basic needs. And in India, the movement against Modi is cross-generational.
Mark Findlay urged caution about which youth subcultures to engage, as some were more radical and political than others. Terry Conway spoke about the struggles of the oppressed, in particular women, fighting not only around their own demands but leading struggles for democracy such as in Chile. Jude Roberts noted that the strength of existing movements was found in pluralism. Beyond a broad anti-capitalist politics, the A*C.R are advocating for a range of views to help reach out to different people, stressing the solidarity of mutual struggles.
Speaking about the rise of the far-right, Paul Swift stressed the challenge of racism. You cannot understand the far right’s strength unless you see it as an extension of the existing racism from governments and mainstream politics. The racism, warmongering and nationalism of governments such as Blair’s fuelled far-right movements, and the neoliberal politics tearing up working-class communities added fuel to the fire.
Ana Christina summed up by talking about the recent attack on a black trans councillor in Brazil by the far-right, and the importance of solidarity.
The second session was Britain after Corbyn – what next for socialists? Joseph Healy from the chair introduced three speakers, starting with Simon Hannah (speaking on behalf of the A*C.R steering committee).
Simon looked at the momentous events of the last decade; the austerity agenda, the Scottish and Brexit referendums, the rise of the populist right, climate change exploding onto the political agenda and the unexpected rise (and fall) of the Labour left. The decade closed with a global pandemic and Britain suffering the highest death rate in the world. Boris Johnson’s government, despite its failures, still dominates parliamentary politics. Its concerns are populist and nationalist, but this does not mean that they will just follow the previous Tory austerity agenda, they have implemented some Keynesian policies.
The A*C.R is a plural, multi-tendency organisation because the response needs to be broad to unify diverse currents and concerns; that is why being in the Labour Party is not required for A*C.R membership.
The A*C.R is a plural, multi-tendency organisation because the response needs to be broad to unify diverse currents and concerns; that is why being in the Labour Party is not required for A*C.R membership. Starmer’s leadership has taken the party rapidly to the centre-right to win-over Tory voters, a repeat of the days of Neil Kinnock. It is hard to envision another left takeover soon. Still, it remains a place of significant struggle. A*C.R offers another space, potentially more fruitful, alongside other organisations and movements that need to work together.
Movements often emerge in waves, reflecting social contradictions. For example, Coronavirus has been a challenge to socialist organisation (especially in terms of public campaigning). Upcoming struggles that will likely emerge from this situation include unemployment. In such a context, to be a part of the renewal of the left A*CR needs a clear politics while tolerating differences.
Seema Syeda spoke next. As one of the authors of Creeping Fascism, she observed that its predictions have unfortunately been borne out. In the context of the crisis that both propelled and was deepened by the far right, the left has three key requirements: to be internationalist, anti-racist, and less hierarchical.
We need to reject the idea that the working class is inherently patriotic. Many major corporations exist outside the nationalist framing but this frame is conducive to the capitalist class (and the right) in dividing workers. Anti-racism is at the core of socialist organising today.
We need to foster working-class internationalism, where the left is too often weak. Nationalism on the left resulted in the Brexit capitulation, creating a space for racism.
We need to foster working-class internationalism, where the left is too often weak. Nationalism on the left resulted in the Brexit capitulation, creating a space for racism. If we look at Biden and Starmer, we see that they have few answers to the rise of fascism in either the US or the UK. And the UK itself is now disintegrating, so our tethering to such nationalism is unlikely to remain even possible for much longer.
The left needs a reckoning on race. Much left analysis of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, for example, contrasts class struggle with those of Black people. This gets the argument backwards; the left has betrayed Black and other ethnic minority workers (Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race gives examples). There has been a downplaying of how much racism played into the Brexit vote. We need to call out racism.
Only grassroots organisation can challenge it, and if you look at the Labour Party under the left, there was a move from such approaches in the early days, towards a more hierarchical, undemocratic model. Activists themselves must take leadership roles, rather than relying on a celebrity leadership culture.
Next, Michael Chessum discussed the legacy of Corbynism and Brexit. Brexit was an imperial nostalgia project reshaping our economy. We now have a tariff-free system, but every divergence (for example, through environmental or labour law deregulation) could result in tariffs – and a cycle of anti-EU posturing from politicians. Free ports and free trade zones in British towns are also possible, in a race to the bottom motivated by international competition. Partly in consequence of Brexit, there are also more secessionist movements arguing for breaking up the UK.
The left is hamstrung by its defeat (including by Starmer’s triangulations), but also by the legacy of Corbyn’s triangulations on Brexit (which made him appear more establishment). The left suffers from a red wall mania just like the right of the party, and pursuing a reactionary projection of older voters in the North has made it harder to place internationalism and migrant rights high on the agenda. Against this, Another Europe Is Possible (AEIP) is fighting for a statutory right to pay and mass movements of resistance. The climate movement and BLM type movements need to be politicised to change post-Brexit Britain.
The left suffers from a red wall mania just like the right of the party, and pursuing a reactionary projection of older voters in the North has made it harder to place internationalism and migrant rights high on the agenda.
The left must ask itself, are we going to campaign to rejoin? Corbyn’s legacy got people thrown into activity, but it had deeper problems than just Brexit. Labourism is a cheerleading, top-down politics of triangulation, and some new activists have been moved by it to the right, while others remain a part of a loyalty cult for the revival of Corbynism. Most have followed neither of these courses, but unless they are engaged in something new, their energy will evaporate. A*CR needs to be a space for them.
From the floor, Jamie Anker reflected back to the German SPD and Rosa Luxemburg to emphasise building outside of Labour, as left-wing parties become too embedded in status quo reformism. Do we need to create new political forces? Terry Conway emphasised the changing role of the nation-state itself, the issues of the Irish border being exemplary. We require horizontal links across borders, and cannot assume we know better than activists elsewhere. If we look at mutual aid, migrant organisation, women’s historic movements, they build on lessons from struggles and debates around the world.
The left does not just fail to tackle racism, argued Richard Farnos, but ignores and belittles peoples’ lives and struggles. The way ‘identify politics’ is used as an insult is indicative. Being gay and working class is a form of class politics. To counteract this problem, we need structures where members without a lot of time can still contribute. Patrick Scott spoke about how the Corbyn movement was undone when it made internationalism secondary. Nobody under-30 is going to be attracted to Starmer’s Labour, which means the centre of gravity will be focused outside of the party.
Simon Francis asked about the spike of recruitment to unions in the recent Covid period, in big and small unions, as well as in the gig economy. Teaching English as a foreign language workers through the Independent Worker’s Union of Great Britain is an example. Ian Parker took up the link between internationalism and working-class diversity. We should not idealise the working class. Moreover, A*CR needs to support comrades in the Labour Party, in Left Unity, the Green Party, and Fourth International.
Under Corbyn there were very low levels of activism in Labour, Daniel Jeffrey observed, while factional disputes dominated activity. When Momentum rejected membership from outside the party, the focus narrowed inward. We need to build practical struggles, even if we do stay in Labour. Dave Hill welcomed the renewal A*CR represents. Corbyn was the big chance, but it failed and is now being rapidly dismantled in a process more aggressive than the expulsion of militants in the 80s, even as it remains a site of important struggle. Chris Jones stressed that we need to win people to an understanding that capitalism will not fade on its own. We need to be revolutionary ecosocialists.
Reflecting on the contributions, Seema underscored the importance for any revolutionary organisation to reach out to groups in other countries from the outset (such as Marxists in India). By linking struggles, pressure can be placed on governments and companies. The left winning nationally does not result in socialism. While we need to deal with nationalism, the far-right has been funded by international capital, and the internet plays a vital role in far-right extremism across the world.
Seema underscored the importance for any revolutionary organisation to reach out to groups in other countries from the outset (such as Marxists in India). By linking struggles, pressure can be placed on governments and companies.
Michael added that we need a notion of solidarity that is meaningful. We need a uniquely Marxist way of framing oppression, one that rejects liberal identity politics. Labour is a site of struggle and the left’s current strategy sucks the life out of what we are trying to achieve. The question needs to be a strategic one, and it is vital that A*CR succeeds.
Simon summarised the meeting. A*CR is new, and cannot cover every issue. It must consolidate, even though the situation is urgent in light of the threat of the far-right and U.N Climate scientists warning that 2030 is a tipping point for climate change. On Labour, none of the contradictions of the party was resolved during Corbyn’s leadership. The PLP and councillors remain largely on the right, the unions operate without a well-organised rank and file or genuine grassroots networks, s tied down by the anti-union laws. No serious democratic reforms were enacted.
The A*C.R needs to avoid sectarianism and unite with forces and groups around issues as they arise.
The A*C.R needs to avoid sectarianism and unite with forces and groups around issues as they arise. One of its key tasks is to contribute positively to the culture war, in particular, the discussion around class and the rights of the oppressed to self-organise. The working class is not like a blood type, economically left and socially conservative. This is a reactionary narrative that divides workers; it is inherently anti-socialist. At its best, the working class is internationalist, anti-racist and multicultural. The working class will always suffer most from reactionary policies.
The second day of the conference was a members-only event for amending and adopting documents: on the international situation, on Britain, ‘what we stand for’ and a preliminary constitution. As A*CR is a unity project we put forward shorter papers and general perspectives. A debate on the situation in Britain counterposed amendments concerning the nature of potential future struggles and the extent to which the Labour Party would be a useful arena for socialists. An amendment to the What We Stand For inserted the specific right for self-ID for trans people, which was agreed unanimously with some abstentions.
We organised a number of smaller groups – a women’s caucus and then sessions on ecosocialism on Zero Covid and on trade unions to plan our activities.
The conference was a positive start for the A*C.R, but there is still much to do! We will be moving to a new website, issuing a book, System Crash, and releasing accessible pamphlets about socialist politics. Comrades are organising in the Zero Covid campaign and collaborating with migrant’s rights groups to look at what we can do after the lockdown ends. We are putting on a series of interesting meetings to discuss our ideas and exchange with other activists.
We hope that we can contribute to a healthy rejuvenation of the left in the wake of the demise of Corbynism and the search for new strategies and ideas. If you want to join A*C.R or speak to us for more information then please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org