Above: protest for Breonna Taylor, London, 12 July 2020. Photo: Tawanda Musendo
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The Black Lives Matter protesters, still on the streets eight weeks after the killing of George Floyd, are a new wave of young leftists.
As we said back in Solidarity 551, they deserve "more than the hurried reforms now offered here and there in the USA. Reforms can stick, deepen, become a lever for more, but only through the work of a movement which works and educates week by week, year after year".
Young people on the protests are sympathetic to the idea that we need an ongoing movement, and even to the idea that the movement must be socialist, working for an all-round social levelling-up, not just for specialist reforms. But what are the first steps now, starting from here, to get there?
All the big changes won in capitalist societies have essentially been won by labour-movement mobilisation (sometimes "translated" from countries where they've been won to others where they're implemented to pre-empt mobilisation).
Yet the broad labour movement is not yet fit to give individual young leftists the tools they need to build long-term. There are no other big campaigns or organisations ready-made, or constructible at will, to do that either.
The best way we can help build bigger ongoing movements is to recruit new young leftists to the socialist organisations which will work as pioneers in the rebuilding.
Historically, the big trade union movements in most countries developed only after the pioneer work of small socialist groups, and by the cross-fertilisation of that pioneer work with unpredictable broader groundswells. So also it will be with the rebuilding in the years to come.
We must seize the chances given by the lull in the pandemic in Britain, which has allowed the BLM protests and the re-emergence of strikes as in Tower Hamlets.
And quickly. The lull may be short. We must also gear ourselves up for effective continued operation in case of new lockdowns. The official report on pandemic prospects issued on 14 July expects a resurgence of the virus from September-October, maybe mild but also maybe "greater than that seen in the spring".
The labour movement has partly been "locked down" since March, and so far is responding poorly to the flood of job cuts. But some unions have seen increases in membership, in numbers of reps, and activity at workplace level. "Key workers" feel more confident and can become more assertive.
The Tories have lost credit. As of 14 July, local Labour Parties are again allowed to meet and debate motions, if only online.
Socialists can start again on our staple activities: street stalls, putting motions in meetings, street protests, supporting industrial disputes, in-person meetings (legal again in England, up to a size of 30, from 4 July).
We need to do that to make visible and accessible to the new young leftists, "at first sight", what organised socialists do and what they can do too.
Full lockdown made that accessibility difficult. It worsened difficulties which have developed over recent decades of low direct working-class struggle.
Over those decades, the "model" of left, or leftish, politics most visible to young leftists has become something different from what it had been since the very beginnings of "left politics".
NGOs [Non-Governmental Organisations] or NGO-type activity have become the model. The visible options have become either just to get on e-lists and social media networks, sign e-petitions, and occasionally turn up to protests; or, if more energetic, to get an office job for a leftish NGO, for a think-tank, or on the staff of a trade union.
The socialist alternative, of becoming pioneers in workplaces, in unions, on the streets, and working daily to "make socialists" and organise them by one-to-one advocacy, has been less visible, sometimes not even understood.
But without that alternative, we cannot build a movement with the power in the workplaces and in communities to change society. The rise of NGOs since the 1980s has been a (softening) complement to neoliberalism, not a rallying of forces to defeat it.
Our message to the labour movement, and to ourselves, for the next couple of months, is: remobilise. Use the lull to get on to the streets and to meet in person. Learning from the lessons of the last four months, develop ways to maintain visibility and accessibility for your activity even in the event of new lockdowns.
And to the BLM protesters; to the pro-Corbyn young people to whom Young Labour and Labour Students never offered democratic and activist avenues, and whom the big unions have failed to help organise in their workplaces; to the climate protesters; to the young people who joined anti-Brexit protests, our message is: join us in building the socialist pioneer force which can make the labour movement and the working class a force for social revolution.