Socialism 2005: Campaign for a New Workers Party Launched

Phil Burton-Cartledge

 

The Socialist Party’s annual ‘Socialism’ event took place over November 12 and 13 at University London Union and Friends Meeting House. This being the first time I had attended the event I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be a chance for comrades to engage in debate, or would the event come straight out of the Weekly Worker’s nightmares, with only sanctioned speakers dominating the proceedings backed up by an array of full timers making sure members towed the line? Thankfully the former was the case: for me Socialism 2005 was an excellent event.

The first session I made was the packed debate between Julie Beishon (SP executive) and Derek Wall of the Green Party. I think a good deal of comrades were surprised by the near unanimity of opinion between the two speakers: I know one young comrade from Stoke I travelled down with was very disappointed Derek Wall didn’t turn out to be the type of Green quite happy to cosy up with LibDem and Tory councillors! That is not to say there were no differences expressed in the session: the main bone of contention for most SP contributors centred on why Derek Wall (as a Marxist)
remained in the Greens given its at best questionable record in local government. He replied that unlike much of the left the Green’s commitment to a participatory democratic model of party building provides an atmosphere where his brand of Marxism is  not so much tolerated, but actively encouraged by the intellectual culture this structure sustains. Wall also took the opportunity to encourage the audience to pay more attention to the ecological issues addressed by Marx and Engels via his recent book and that of John Bellamy Foster, though comrade Beishon added the latter should come with a health warning for his sceptical assessment of Trotsky’s legacy.

 

An impressive rally

Moving on to the rally, there was no doubt the SP managed to organise a very impressive event. There were probably in excess of 700 in attendance and were treated to rousing and moving speeches from party comrades and guest speakers from the Jean Charles de Menezes family campaign and the Gate Gourmet workers. Of political note were the contributions from Mark Serwotka, Matt Wrack, and Peter Taaffe. Serwotka spoke about the need for a political alternative without explicitly saying he was for a new worker's party: probably out of deference to his close relationship with Respect. Matt Wrack was similar, but again only touched on an alternative to Labour in the vaguest terms. It was left to the SP’s general secretary to openly make the case for a new worker’s party. Comrade Taaffe’s speech drew on the arguments made many times in both The Socialist and Socialism Today, stating the conditions for such a party were not just ripe, but rotten ripe. It was therefore the responsibility of socialists in this period to fight for this as an immediate aim, and the reason why the SP was throwing its influence behind a campaign aimed to draw in layers of politically conscious but disenfranchised workers. Given the character of the event, this speech was extremely well received. Lastly the meeting was wound up by an announcement that in response to the evening’s financial appeal the party had raised £28,000!

Retiring to the pub afterwards I trod an uneasy line between schmoozing with various comrades from the UK Left Network discussion list and being scandalised by the outrageous London beer prices. Sadly the weekend’s visitors from the CPGB, IBT Workers Fight, and Spartacist League couldn't be arsed to come and engage in drunken polemic with SP members and supporters. But on reflection, that’s perhaps a blessing in disguise.

The other session I made was the Q & A session on women's liberation. Unsurprisingly the preponderance of men over women at Socialism as a whole was not reflected at this meeting. The discussion looked at women’s oppression around the globe, with emphasis on sexism and violence against women in Britain today. Some comrades with children talked about the ways they were discriminated against as mothers in regards to the workplace and welfare provision. Another comrade from Oxford described how her union bars routinely accepted sexually exploitative advertising and even promoted it via "Golf pros and tennis hoes" nights. The SP's ‘Socialist women’ group convenor (I forget her name) discussed how International Socialist Resistance had led a successful campaign against similar campus-based sexism in Sweden. Hopefully ISR comrades here will initiate something similar.

 

Where now from here?

The weekend wrapped up with two closing rallies: one for young workers and students, and the other on the new worker’s party campaign. The audience heard from a member of the CWI’s French section on recent events, and sacked bus worker Andy Beadle on the situation in his depot. The rest of the platform  called for comrades in and out the party to seize the initiative and recruit union, community, and anti-war activists to the perspective of a new party, and get them to add their names to the campaign statement. A website is not yet online at the time of writing a website, but the campaign can be emailed at info@cnwp.org.uk and you can read the statement here

Overall the weekend was a showcase for an SP that has apparently overcome the difficulties that had beset it in recent years. That the number of attendees was around double those of last year adds weight to the anecdotal evidence of the party undergoing something of a renaissance. There was a palpable sense of renewed confidence in the air, and more than one comrade I spoke with felt Socialism 2005 marked the turning of a corner.

But the launch of the Campaign for a New Workers Party was the main story. Inevitably some will be sceptical of yet another unity initiative coming after a decade of effort, but in this case I do believe there are several reasons for being cautiously optimistic about the CNWP. In the first place there is political continuity: given the length of time the SP has argued for this and the number of activists attracted to its ranks on the basis of its position on a new party, it is exceedingly unlikely the campaign will be sacrificed for its short term interests (whatever they may be). Secondly and mindful of its experience with the Socialist Alliance, the SP is proposing a federal structure designed to prevent swamping by any one tendency; and appear attractive to a plurality of trade unionists, anti-war and community activists as well as the 57 varieties. In the immediate term this is likely to have a deep resonance in the left alienated by Respect: the key test is whether the project is able to reach substantially beyond this milieu. I for one will be working toward this aim, and I hope other readers will do too.