One hundred and eighty people attended Ideas for Freedom (IFF), the weekend of socialist discussion hosted by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty on 9-11 July in London. In the context of a Tory government committed to a vicious offensive against working-class living standards, rights and organisation, the school was lively, combining sharp theoretical debate with preparation for class struggle in the stormy period ahead.
IFF opened on the Friday night with a showing of Kala Tara, a film which tells the story of the Asian Youth Movement (AYM) — a radical, secular, left-influenced movement of Asian youth which fought racism, police brutality and the far right, and supported workers’ struggles, in the 1970s and 80s.
The discussion which followed focused on the political strengths and limitations of the AYM, why its model of politics has since given way to right-wing religious and communal politics among many Asian youth and how these issues relate to struggles against racism and religious reaction in Muslim-majority communities today.
We hope to work with other socialists, including left-wing, secular activists in the Bengali community, to organise a showing of the film in East London in the near future.
A large part of the weekend was dedicated to discussions on how we fight the coalition government and the bosses’ offensive.
The opening plenary on Saturday was about the Tories’ planned assault on what is left of comprehensive education and how we can oppose it (see the coverage on page 9).
Later in the day, Pat Murphy of the National Union of Teachers executive and Paul Holmes, left candidate for general secretary of Unison, began a useful discussion on how we get our labour movement fit to win this fight and others like it. And on Sunday young union activists Ruth Cashman (Unison) and Becky Crocker (RMT) led a packed workshop on “being a revolutionary at work”, attended by a good mix of experienced trade unionists and young workers and students.
Throughout the event there were caucuses for comrades in various trade unions and industries. A women’s caucus was held on Sunday lunchtime.
Workers’ Liberty prides itself on promoting a culture of debate — not only through the democracy of our own organisation, but with other currents and activists on the left. In contrast to the sterile sermonising and pseudo-debates of events like the SWP’s Marxism, Ideas for Freedom was characterised by thoughtful and lively discussion — and by a number of formal debates.
Unfortunately, Compass withdrew from our planned debate on “Progressive or class politics?” at short notice; we hope to revive this plan at a meeting in the autumn. But we did debate Heiko Khoo of KarlMarx.net (recently expelled from the Socialist Appeal tendency) on the nature of Stalinism and the meaning of “Trotskyism” today; Pete Willsman of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Labour national executive committee on socialists’ attitude to the Labour Party; and Workers Power on Israel-Palestine. All these debates were useful, highlighting what is distinctive about Workers’ Liberty’s politics on questions such as national conflicts, Stalinism and orientation to the broad labour movement.
Introductions to Marxism
We continued our tradition of organising a number of “Introduction to Marxism” sessions.
Comrades delivered introductory workshops on Marxists’ understanding of fascism; Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” and the left’s misuses of it; whether revolutionary workers need a Marxist party; and Engels on the origins of women’s oppression. New and young comrades in particular were very positive about these sessions.
Other sessions included the AWL’s Martin Thomas and Alfred Saad-Filho, Marxist economist, discussing the economics of the crisis; Janine Booth on the Poplar council rebellion; Elaine Jones on women in the Russian revolution; Jill Mountford’s presentation on the politics of protest songs; Dave Elliott, expert on the Lucas Plan, and Workers’ Climate Action activist Stuart Jordan on working-class environmentalism; Becky Shah of the Equality Trust on why inequality is growing.
After a speech from Sean Matgamna on how we can get ready for the class war which the Tories have already launched, and further discussion, we closed Ideas for Freedom by singing the Internationale.
Building the AWL
We feel the event was a success. Attendance was up from last year. £1,575 was raised by our collection. (And thanks to Colin for the raffle of his paintings, which raised £55!) Four people joined the AWL, and many more expressed an interest in discussing joining; a relatively large number will now start working with us.
Ideas for Freedom is a showcase for Workers’ Liberty as a tendency which is pretty much unique on the British left — a rational, democratic, clear-thinking Marxist organisation, committed to independent working-class politics, to vigour in debate and to a non-sectarian approach to other socialists and to the broad labour movement. Despite our modest size, we believe that strengthening our organisation is essential to helping the working class win the battles that lie ahead. If you enjoyed the event, or are sorry you missed it, please consider working with us and, if you’re convinced, becoming an AWL member.