Around 100 people attended the Counterfire conference in London on Saturday 7 May. Although this turnout was smaller than I had been led to expect, the event was staged in a very slick, professional way. I arrived 20 minutes late but was directed and greeted by several people before I entered, and given a glossy leaflet urging me to join Counterfire.
I think the event was aimed at, and to some extent attracted, young people without fully formed politics. This would be fine were it not for the appalling version of 'socialist' politics on offer from these shysters. Meaningless platitudes and buzzwords ('resistance', 'link the struggles') were common, while discussion of socialism and the working class were almost entirely absent, especially from younger Counterfire members who display a terrifying lack of even the most basic Marxist education.
Chris Bambery, not yet a member of Counterfire but bringing fraternal greetings from the newly formed ISG, gave the most political speech in the opening session, speaking as if addressing an internal gathering of ex-SWP people. He began with a declaration that he wanted an end to 'the sectarian party building and syndicalist politics that have harmed our movement'.
All well and good, if somewhat hypocritical, you might think- but it became clear that his criticism of the SWP's syndicalism is that it is too political! Bambery laid out very openly his belief that a narrow focus on the labour movement should be rejected by socialists in favour of supporting anyone 'resisting' whoever they are, saying the SWP has been at its best when it did this, for example supporting national liberation struggles without asking about every dot and comma people's politics in advance.
Given the pushing of Stop the War as a model of every sort of organising by more or less every Counterfire speaker throughout the day, it seems obvious where this orientation will lead them to- supporting the likes of Qaddafi and other tyrants around the world.
On international issues, Bambery can hardly have meant to criticise the SWP for not being 'broad' enough in its support for all manner of hideous people with whom real Marxists would have not a single dot or comma of sympathy. However it became clear that when it comes to their focus on the labour movement and the organised working class, he and Counterfire have difference not only with the SWP but with any sort of Marxism.
Bambery played down the importance of June 30th; questioned how important workers' struggles have been in the resistance to cuts in Europe since the crisis began, and made disparaging remarks about how most of the country's shop stewards are old, tired and doing casework instead of fighting cuts and organising precarious workers and students.
Of course it is true that the labour movement is in a bad way. It is extremely dishonest for socialists to claim to be unsectarian and then to suggest to the young, politically naive people around them that there is some short cut to rebuilding and democratising the actually existing labour movement, as it is only through labour movement focused anti-cuts groups emerging and drawing in wider forces from other struggles that the working class stands a chance of defeating the government's austerity programme.
The lionising of Stop the War that went on at the conference, combined with the focus on anti-cuts 'resistance' as the immediate focus for activists, suggests that Counterfire will attempt to build their front (Coalition of Resistance) and themselves. They will do so by miseducating young people in a bastardised 'socialism' and making alliances with hideous tyrants, Islamists and other bourgeois forces at every opportunity. Sound familiar?