Struggle, internationalism and socialism, these ideas - and how powerful they can be in action, electrified the magnificent rallies and workshops of the Socialism 2016 weekend.
Around 1,000 working class fighters, socialists and people who are socialist-curious, trade union militants and students participated. All the central questions of how we build a wall of resistance against Trump, austerity and capitalism were addressed.
New attenders were blown away by the energy and seriousness of the Socialist Party. Experienced members drew confidence from the new ranks filling out the party.
The £26,314 raised in the rally fighting fund appeal is an indicator of how inspired those who attended are to take up the challenges to fight for socialist change.
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Socialism 2016 organiser
Saturday night rally: ‘The centre cannot hold’
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” - WB Yeats during an earlier revolutionary time. Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Party national youth and student organiser, chose these words to open 2016’s exceptional Rally for Socialism.
Stood in front of a giant’s fist in five colours, stamped with the words ‘Resist Trump’, Claire explained: “Trump’s rise is a symptom of the profound failure of the capitalist system.”
“There are those who argue the left should enter a period of political mourning and despair. Here, we say: don’t mourn. Organise.”
Darletta Scruggs of Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Party’s co-thinkers in the United States, reported huge openness to our ideas. They have already led mass protests.
“In the US, for decades, the word ‘socialism’ has been used as a taboo word, it has been stigmatised. But for a socialist organisation of 900 members to make a call and mobilise 40,000 people shows the correctness of socialist ideas.”
“Within 27 hours we had 400 online applicants singing up to join our organisation.”
Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe asked “why is it that a misogynist, a racist bigot, a representative of big business par excellence, was allowed to come to power? The simple answer is that his opponent Hillary Clinton stood for more of the same.”
Peter noted the overwhelming majority of “the real working class and youth were behind Bernie Sanders.” And Sanders’ failure has an urgent warning for us. “Don’t compromise with the right.”
The Socialist Party wants to play a full part in fighting to claim Labour for the working class. But if Labour does not readmit us, “that’s not a tragedy.”
When 18 million people refused to pay Thatcher’s hated poll tax, bringing down the policy and ending her career, who organised them? “It wasn’t the Labour leaders. It wasn’t the general council of the TUC. It was Militant,” the forerunner of the Socialist Party.
And there have been important victories recently too.
Two million school students struck in Spain in October against attacks on education, led by militant socialists in Izquierda Revolucionaria. In two months, they have recruited over 3,000 more students to the student union they play a leading role in.
Juan Ignacio Ramos, Izquierda Revolucionaria general secretary, reported: “We have built active groups of the student union in more than 500 secondary schools, in more than 90 universities.”
Izquierda Revolucionaria was once part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, along with the Socialist Party. “24 years ago, our paths separated in a painful split.”
Hoarse at times with passion, and waving his fist defiantly, Juan declared: “Now we are retying the knot of the common history which unites our organisations!”
A thundering cheer burst out as we took to our feet. There was uproarious applause and chanting of “¡El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!”
Residents of the Butterfields estate in east London saved their homes. Anna Palumbo was one of them. “I’m here tonight to testify that if you fight, you have a chance to win.”
“We faced intimidation and bullying. But we decided to fight. We decided not to budge.”
“Our amazing Linda and Nancy Taaffe - with other amazing members of the Socialist Party - organised us, led our marches, raised our voices to the media. They wiped out our tears when we lost our hope.”
“And we won.” Another ringing standing ovation accompanied more tears.
Public sector union PCS defeated a mortal threat this year. Chris Baugh, PCS assistant general secretary and Socialist Party member, read from an HM Revenue and Customs management document.
Instead of taking on tax dodgers, it proposed “to achieve the complete degradation of PCS’s organising capability.” The government tried to choke the union by stopping members paying dues directly from their wages.
In response, the PCS re-recruited 152,000 of the 160,000 members the government had de facto removed from the union. They beat the Tories!
Sean Hoyle, president of militant transport union RMT, is still fighting a vital battle. Rail bosses “want to scrap safety-critical guards to ‘save’ £20 billion - wrong phrase - to collect £20 billion to hand to privateers.”
Socialist Party executive committee member Judy Beishon reported that pharmaceutical company “GlaxoSmithKline made £1 billion from the collapse of sterling. And what did they do? They immediately announced massive dividends. They give to their class. Tonight, you have the opportunity to give to yours.”
This financial appeal raised tens of thousands. The Butterfields tenants gave £100.
Sean said: “Rule number one in our ‘Bible’ [RMT rule book] is that we must ‘strive to replace the capitalist system with a socialist order’.”
“It has never been more necessary to spread the ideas of socialism,” said Peter.
Darletta concluded: “Let’s build a society our children can be proud of. We have the opportunity to win. And I say: let’s get free, family!”
Sunday rally: Organising the resistance
East London Socialist Party
“Politics has been turned upside down.” Irish MP Paul Murphy, in the midst of fighting outrageous charges of false imprisonment, summed up Socialism 2016 perfectly when speaking at the ‘Organising the resistance’ rally which closed an inspiring weekend of discussion and debate. Paul could go to jail next year as the Irish state attempts to find him guilty of spurious charges relating to a peaceful sit-down protest in Jobstown, Dublin, in 2014 against the hated and now defeated water charges in Ireland. Paul said: “We will make them rue the day they came after us and our trial will be class struggle in the courtroom.”
Resistance ran through the rally as Isai Priya of Tamil Solidarity kicked off by detailing not only the plight of and attacks on refugees, but the fightback: “We have only got any rights because we have fought for them.”
She was followed by Zoe Brunswick, a medical student from Manchester, who has been fighting on two fronts - standing alongside the heroic junior doctors in their battle and fighting against attacks on students. She urged support for both the 19 November student demonstration and the national NHS protest on 4 March 2017.
Nancy Taaffe, a Socialist Party activist speaking about the ‘We won’t move’ housing campaign which campaigned alongside the Butterfields tenants, said they’re victory was down to organising, mobilising and resisting the threats intended to make them move.
Socialist Party deputy general secretary Hannah Sell closed the weekend with describing the role the Socialist Party can play as capitalist crisis continues and anger grows: “A century ago workers realised that progressive capitalism doesn’t exist and formed the Labour Party. The working class will enter struggle and will draw socialist conclusions.” Hannah described our role in the fight to support Jeremy Corbyn, as the hundreds of thousands of people who have entered struggle to support him is a real opportunity to build a party of the working class.
Michael Crick debates Militant’s history with Peter Taaffe
The debate between Michael Crick, well known Channel 4 journalist and the author of the book ‘Militant’, and Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, generated great interest. 120 attended and 100 were locked out, unable to get in the room.
Peter began by quoting from Michael’s comments on the BBC Radio 4 programme. The thing about Militant was that they were “brilliantly organised, brilliant orators. They plan things, know what they’re doing and they keep at it. They’re committed, they put the hours in, they go to meetings night after night after night and they commit huge amounts of their own personal income and their lives”!
Peter then suggested, tongue in cheek, that in view of the highly complementary remarks on Militant, perhaps Michael would consider joining the Socialist Party! However, Peter showed that the real purpose of Michael’s book was to strengthen the hand of Labour’s right wing in their attack on Militant in the 1980s. The republication of this book now had the same purpose.
Michael responded by attacking us for allegedly acting in an underhand fashion for not admitting that we were organised. Peter countered that we never denied we were organised but our real crime was that we were better organised than the right. Moreover, Michael admitted that he had acted in an underhand fashion by sending agents into our ranks to secretly record what was said at meetings of Militant.
A very robust debate followed, which Michael said he enjoyed. You can judge the merits of both sides when the video of this discussion is carried on the Socialist Party website soon.
What participants thought:
I can’t stop thinking about Socialism 2016. It was the first time I attended and I was so impressed with the passion, strategy, knowledge and awareness of people's situation which was expressed by all the speakers and the response from members.
Organising such an event is a tall order and there was nothing that was left out - truly brilliant. I became a member of the Socialist Party straight away.
Marian O'Brien, new member, west London
I was hugely impressed by all of the speakers at the rallies and the enthusiasm and passion shown by the large crowds. It was really uplifting and inspiring to see so many people who are dedicated to driving real social change in one place and these rallies had a real ‘rock concert’ atmosphere. Roll on Socialism 2017!
James Hinchcliffe, Manchester
The Saturday night rally was best for a long time. It’s great to celebrate victories like Butterfields, hear about the work of our comrades in US and their immediate bold response to Trump's election. It was heartening to retie the knot with Spanish comrades and wonderful to see so many talented and dedicated young comrades. Our younger visitors thought the crèche was great - like being on holiday!
Heather Rawling, Leicester
Socialism 2016 was one of the best events I've ever attended. It was very inspiring to hear activists from around Britain and the world! I was particularly moved by the heroic Butterfields housing campaigners who spoke about their victory. And as a disabled member I had the chance to discuss disability issues in times of austerity.
Amalia, Tower Hamlets, east London
As a fairly new member of the Socialist Party this was my first Socialism weekend and I was certainly very impressed. It was excellent to be part of a vibrant celebration of socialist thought and to listen to and interact with a wide range of people and opinion. The highlight for me was Saturday’s discussion around TUSC and our relationship with the Labour Party, with Dave Nellist, TUSC national chair, and RMT President Sean Hoyle as speakers.
Greg Price, Manchester
As this was my first Socialism event, I didn't really know what to expect. The discussions taught me a lot and opened my mind to new ideas. The passion and motivation of speakers surrounding their chosen topics was heart-warming and it was amazing to see such meaningful and civilised discussion between comrades. I started the weekend with doubts about joining the Socialist Party but due to the welcoming atmosphere and a sincere desire by all comrades to engage in politics and to genuinely take action in changing the problematic world we live in, I see now that there is no other party that shares the same viewpoints and ideas as me and so have been swayed to join.
Wajiya, west Midlands
Attending Socialism 2016 has been a truly inspiring experience for me. At a time when capitalism is only capable of offering us cuts, austerity, unemployment and a future of misery for the majority, the programme and ideas of revolutionary Marxism are proving to be tremendously relevant, as a way out of the problems faced by youth and the working class. Socialism 2016 has given me a deeper understanding of the methods and traditions of Militant. See you again at Socialism 2017!
Alberto Fernández, Izquierda Revolucionaria and Stoke Socialist Party
What a weekend of lively debate and fun. The sessions I attended were informative and interesting and there’s never a dull moment at Socialism!
Sally Griffiths, Salford
We have the ideas, drive and passion to do something significant to the world. I am beyond inspired to help our people and be educated through our daily struggle.
Rebecca Storey, Northumbria University
As a new member it has been a great place to get a better understanding of the party and socialism as a whole. After Donald Trump's election I needed something to lift the gloom and this weekend has done just that. A valuable experience with the added benefit of being thoroughly enjoyable.
Sean Laws, South Tyne and Wear