Motion on AWL branch-building

Submitted by martin on 4 November, 2003 - 4:29

1) We need to turn the AWL more towards face-to-face political activity.
2) Events like the European Social Forum and the Iraq war protests show the development of a new milieu of radicalised young people.

3) The limited revival of trade unionism is important, not so much because it will let anyone quickly recruit large numbers of established trade unionists to revolutionary Marxist activism, as for the possibilities it gives of expanding our trade union work and for convincing radicals that an orientation to the working class and the labour movement makes sense.

4) Our rate of recruitment since our conference in March has been much slower than the aim we set ourselves. The revolutionary left in general has not recruited enormously. In part this reflects problems built in to the nature of the new radicalisation.

5) Because of the perceived weakness of the workers' movement, and because of the fact that socialist political culture has to be rebuilt from the ground up following the collapse of Stalinism, the radicalisation is notably diffuse, atomised, multifarious. It is not the case, as it would have been in the 1960s or '70s, that any serious young radical wanting to get serious will immediately see the question they face as one of which strand of organised worker-socialist-oriented activism to adhere to. They see a vaster and more bewildering set of questions. They cannot be addressed just by finding this or that set of meetings and intervening to debate other left currents.

6) The Iraq protests were massive. Many young people made political advances during the mobilisations. But relatively few of them were immediately recruitable to the Marxist left. There was no large left-wing youth movement (of the type that the Labour youth movement, or youth CND, once were) in which they could become active on a variety of levels and discuss and learn at their own pace. They grew up in a time of low working-class industrial struggle. They are missing the central lesson that could turn them into Marxists: the potential of working-class struggle. They can learn. But it requires special efforts.

7) Structural problems may make it impossible to quickly condense the new radicalisation into a big worker-
socialist party. They do not stop us making a lot more young recruits - so long as we can orient and activate ourselves more appropriately.

8) No Sweat provides an "easy" entry into politics for young people radicalised in the recent protests. The main message that involvement with No Sweat can bring to them is precisely the central role of the working class. No Sweat therefore provides an excellent means by which to draw in young people without too many political
preconditions and work and discuss with them.

9) Branches should build No Sweat groups as usually their main collective, public activity. All comrades can and should be actively involved in this at one level or another. It should involve not only discussion meetings and motions to trade-union branches, but regular public campaigning and protest activity of a sort accessible to young radicals without any great political preconditions.

10) To consolidate some of the most serious young people attracted to such No Sweat groups as committed No Sweat activists, and recruit a significant number of them to the AWL, it is necessary that the AWL branches operate as alert, active, cohesive collectives, with consistent public activities accessible to new recruits (paper sales, industrial bulletin distributions, etc).

11) Every branch meeting should include a "political report" (current developments, and consequences for our activity) and "business" (including some accounting for decisions of the last meeting, and activities since that meeting) as indispensable core items. Even open meetings primarily devoted to discussion or debate on some less-immediate question should include short "current-politics" and "business" sessions.

12) Every branch must elect an organiser with whom the buck stops; every NC member who is not a branch organiser must take responsibility for helping their local branch organiser. But the organisation and monitoring of comrades' activity should be done primarily through branch meetings, thus developing a sense of collective responsibility. It should not be primarily a personal transaction between branch organisers and individual members.

13) For their public or open meetings branches should look to staging debates with other groups, and developing new comrades as speakers, rather than exclusively relying on the same circle of established AWL speakers delivering setpiece speeches.

14) We should use the new No Sweat pamphlet for basic political discussions with young contacts. We should publish a new basic "We Stand for Workers' Liberty" pamphlet, oriented to young people who want to check us out.

15) Our literature has to include debate with the other avowedly-Marxist currents. Our members and sympathisers cannot act as a coherent force without some flow of written explanation of what we propose as distinct from (and it is sometimes very distinct from) other currents on the left; new people are not going to join us just on the basis of activism, without checking out how our ideas compare with those other left currents. We must also find ways to talk with young radicals who are not familiar with the points of reference we share with other avowedly-Marxist currents, and work with them without lecturing and ultimatums. It is a difficult combination. We have to train ourselves to be able both to discuss patiently and accessibly with new young radicals who may have no idea what the word "socialism" means, and to argue our ideas boldly against the SWP, for example, in the many arenas where we will meet them (and, often, the young radicals).

16) No amount of literature-production, or general campaigning, or even organisation of meetings, will bring recruits unless we are also geared up to do the work of face-to-face discussion with interested contacts. Branches should focus their "contact work" on organising their activity, and training their comrades, to make the winning of new contacts a central concern in all activity. We should educate our members in the idea that their first political job is to "radiate" - to find contacts and points of political dialogue wherever they go. Every activity (stall, participation in a protest or meeting) should be approached and audited in the expectation of getting new contacts from it.

17) Of course, much activity involves "ancillary" work with small committees and so on, where few new contacts can be gained. Of course, we should not discard such work. But if it squeezes out broader activity, then the means has consumed the end.

18) We should see "contacts" not just as those people who already more or less agree with us, but as anyone willing to discuss with us seriously about "big politics". Every person we come across in political activity should be approached with a view to finding some area of common interest from which we can develop common activities and discussions.

19) Each branch should also maintain, and keep constantly updated, a large list of people regularly emailed or mailed about meetings and activities, and a smaller list of people regularly phoned to discuss what's going on politically and offer invitations to upcoming meetings and activities. (This regular phoning-round is most efficiently done as an assigned priority of one particular branch member). The administrative side of contact work must however be seen as secondary and ancillary to the political side, the primary means of which is face-to-face discussions.

20) Email is a very valuable means of communicating information quickly, cheaply and easily to those who want to get that information. All comrades should read their email and use email to send reports and information. But email is not a means of organising. It cannot be a substitute for face-to-face talking (or even for the fallback, phone-to-phone talking).

21) Branches should therefore develop plans based on the following points:
a) Building a local No Sweat group as a collective, public, accessible, consistent activity. Making sure that every comrade is involved in this activity in one way or another.
b) Holding regular branch meetings, with "political report" and "business" sessions.
c) Holding monthly public or open meetings.
d) Regular discussions of contact work centred around (i) gaining new contacts from activities; (ii) purposeful discussion with contacts interested enough to discuss. Branches should also organise appropriate backup in the way of email lists, mailing lists, and regular phone-rounds.
e) Doing regular public stalls or sales, and using petitions on them. Making sure that every comrade is involved in this activity in one way or another.
f) Getting out more. The people we need to recruit are generally not to be found in our usual round of meetings.