At the beginning of this month comrades
from up and down the country met in London for the National Conference of the
Socialist Appeal, the British group supporting the International Marxist
|Alan Woods addresses the conference|
"I think comrades who have been around
for some time will agree with me, there’s a new feel to this conference. We have
a good mixture of young comrades and not so young comrades… differences of
opinion, that’s fine – free discussion and democratic debate is the oxygen of the
movement we require to keep us on our toes and to systematically raise the
political level", said Alan Woods, who was asked to speak to sum up the
"The mood of this conference, I don’t
think it’s an accident, I think it reflects the stage through which we are
passing, there’s a new mood developing within the working class, in the youth,
in society, in the bottom most layers of society there’s a ferment".
The British Marxist tendency met last year
as the economic crisis had begun to affect British capitalism. This year the
system in Britain and internationally shows no sign of emerging from the
recession it has plunged into, overshadowing the bourgeoisies’ celebrations of
the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin wall, which they saw as the ‘final
victory’ of capitalism.
On the first day of conference Rob Sewell
led off on British perspectives. This year the Confederation of British
Industry, the bosses union, predicts that between 3 and 4 million will be
unemployed by the end of the year. The myth of Thatcher’s’ ‘property owning
democracy’ has been exploded by the collapse of the housing market.
|Rob Sewell leads off on British perspectives|
The hatred of the banking system throughout
society has been taken up by the press to sell papers. Headlines like ‘Scumbag
Millionaire’ sum up the prevailing mood, in particular reference to Fred
Goodwin who has presided over the biggest collapse in corporate history at the Royal
Bank of Scotland. Goodwin draws £700,000 a year from his £16m pension pot at
the age of 52 when 20,000 workers in RBS are fearful of losing their jobs.
In industry the anger that was recorded at redundancies
at the BMW plant at Cowley on a workers’ phone, and subsequently shown in the
news on TV and internet, is further demonstration of a growing militancy in the
British labour movement, which is in part directed at the impotent trade union
officials who can become an obstacle to the workers who are prepared to fight
for their jobs.
However the union movement has broken
through. This has already confirmed the tendency’s perspectives; where the
trade union leadership acts as a brake on the class, rank-and-file trade union
militancy can explode onto the scene, as was the case with the Lindsey oil
refinery dispute .
We have also seen the first factory
occupation in Britain to come out of the crisis, in Dundee, where the workers
at the PRISME packaging plant chose to occupy the plant and continue production
rather than lay down and accept the fate the bosses had in store for them.
|Socialist Appeal National Conference 2009|
Comrade Steve Brown from Tyneside, in contact
with the PRISME workers, proposed the following statement be sent to Dundee,
which was accepted by conference:
National Conference of Socialist Appeal extends its hand of solidarity to the
workers of the Dundee packaging plant in their occupation of the factory. Your
example is an inspiration to all those faced with unemployment and poverty in
the face of ruthless capitalism. Continue your occupation until you get what
you want, and extend your campaign into the community and the labour movement.
The call for public ownership must go into every corner of Britain and the
world. We salute you!"
Comrade Patrick Orr from|
Socialist Appeal in Edinburgh
In face of the economic crisis and the huge
amounts of public money thrown at the banking system, government austerity in spending
is the real prospect for the future in Britain. Talks are of £20bn cuts in
public spending every year for the next 5 years. Public debt will not return to
pre-crisis levels for the next 20 years, say the bourgeois economists. This
means a period quite unlike the last past credit-fuelled boom unfolding, with
attacks against pay and conditions being on the order of the day until 2030s.
Steve Jones from East London speaking from
the floor said that "Gordon Brown must be congratulated in his attempts to
abolish boom and bust. He’s abolished boom!" In the next year we are
likely to see the Tories back in power, as New Labour has been shown to be
absolutely incompetent in dealing with the crisis.
"For the working class, when there is
a defeat on the political front what happens? They shift towards the industrial
plane. It’s always been the case for the last sixty, seventy years that swing
between one and the other. Industrial militancy will be flaring up – the unions
will be transformed and that will feed into the Labour Party… and there will be
figures in the party who will want to capitalise on this radicalisation, and
will feed it – they will feed the radicalisation, the radicalisation will feed them…
it’ll be a catalyst if you like of this growing mood", said Rob Sewell.
This is a new period that the working class
has entered into. The attacks on the workers that have occurred already this
year, and their response to these attacks, anticipates titanic struggles in the
years to come. It is the task of the Marxist tendency to measure up to this.
"Trotsky often explained", Rob concluded,
"that correct ideas, in and of themselves, are not sufficient – we need
the necessary forces, and that’s the question we need to resolve ourselves.
There is an apt quote from Shakespeare ‘there is a tide in the affairs of men,
when taken at the flood leads on to fortune. We must take the current when it
serves, or lose our ventures’."
|Comrades Rachel Gibbs and Bill Landles|
The weekend was full of lively discussion
and reports on the work of the tendency. It was also attended by possibly the
oldest and youngest members of the IMT, Bill Landles, who became a comrade when
he joined the Revolutionary Communist Party in the apprentices’ strike in 1944,
and Rachel Gibbs of the Edinburgh School Students Union, who at 15 was born
well after the fall of Stalinism in 1989.
Bill made a contribution to the discussion
where he said "we, in one sense, are a very fortunate set of people in
here, in that for the first time in history, after primitive communism, after
feudalism, after capitalism, we are the first people in the history of the
human race that now can see the future of socialism. There is no question about
that. And we have a tremendous advantage over capitalism, in that for a hundred
years, two hundred years, we have understood the failings of capitalism, we
know exactly what it is, we know who we’re fighting, and therefore in this
battle we have tremendous advantages. But the main advantage is the fact that
the people sitting here are the first generation who will go into this battle,
armed with the ideas of Marxism, with the ability and the courage, not just to
lead the British working class, but the rest of the world towards socialism.
Now they’ve talked about the green shoots of capitalism returning, those shoots
will only grow bitter fruit for the working class. There’s no need to be
despondent because we will be privileged to be able to rise up and lead the
world working class towards socialism. There is no question about that. And I
will not need to go on with all the experienced comrades here to explain what
that means. But that is firmly my belief, and even at my age, I still intend to
be alive to see socialism."
On the Sunday Jerry Hicks, the left candidate
for post of general secretary in the Amicus section of UNITE, having the night
before recorded a second place finish with 25% of the vote , addressed the
Conference to give his thanks for the tendency’s support in his campaign. This
was a challenge to Simpson and the bureaucracy, and also a warning to the
ruling class that there is a fundamental change going on in the unions.
|Jerry Hicks of UNITE addresses the National Conference|
"If you listen very, very carefully
you will hear three sounds right now", said Jerry. "You will hear a
flood of water. That’s the flood of tears of the right wing hitting the floors
in offices across the country. The next noise you’ll hear is a huge exhale – a
sigh of relief! That’s Gordon Brown and the Labour Party who squeaked through
yesterday. But the greatest sound you will hear right now is the third sound –
and that’s this bell, ringing in their ears! That’s the alarm bell – and it’s
going to continue to ring. I am so pleased that you’ve given me this
opportunity during your conference to give you, from me personally, the thanks
that you have given this campaign for general secretary." At which point
Jerry received a standing ovation from Conference.
On Sunday time was given to the
organisational tasks of the tendency and how we can convert the perspectives we
have, based on the ideas of Marxism, into concrete gains in the fight for the working
class that can offer an alternative to the current nightmare of capitalist
recession. That is the fight for socialism.
In closing the conference Alan Woods first
remarked on the visit of Jerry Hicks when he said "What a marvellous
speech by Jerry. The fact that this man, who’s a workers’ leader, the leader of
the left in the main proletarian union in Great Britain comes to our conference
and thanks us for our assistance, and by the way we have Des Heemskerk to thank
for that, a marvellous worker comrade. Surely that indicates something…
Sometimes we underestimate the impact even a small force like ours can make in
this great labour movement in Britain and what’s happening in Amicus indicates
He went on to say:
"There’s a great English poet,
Wordsworth, who when he was young was inspired by the French Revolution. He
wrote a marvellous line in his great poem ‘The Prelude’, which you will
’twas in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven’
"What a marvellous expression of the
the mood of a young man who’s seen the revolution with his own eyes. You know
we are very fortunate to live in the period in which we live. This is an epoch
of fundamental change, it’s the biggest crisis of capitalism certainly since
the 1930s – we had this discussion yesterday, I will not belabour the point –
it’s a fundamental change, and it’s happening now! Not in the future, this is
no longer a perspective. It’s a privilege to be alive at this moment in history."
|Singing the Internationale|
The conference finished with a rousing
rendition of the Red Flag and the singing of the Internationale. Comrades left
in high spirits determined to build the forces of Marxism throughout Britain,
as our part in the fight for socialism internationally.
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