Changing ideas, changing politics

Submitted by AWL on 27 July, 2016 - 1:14 Author: Michael Elms

On 7-10 July, Workers’ Liberty held our annual Ideas for Freedom event in central London. Over 200 people came to learn about socialist politics, discuss the central theme of the event, — changes in the Labour Party over the last year — and find out more about Workers’ Liberty, after hearing about us in the media, or encountering our activists on demonstrations, at Labour party meetings, on the doorstep, and in workplaces.

Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, Workers’ Liberty has been fully involved in the burgeoning mass movement around Labour. In this year’s Ideas for Freedom event, we wanted to give activists and leftwingers a deeper look at what is at stake in the current struggles in the Labour Party: to put what is going on in historical perspective, and to think in greater detail about what the movement should aspire to become. Above all, we wanted to restate our central argument which conditions and inspires everything else we do: the case for socialism and a workers’ government. And we wanted the event to be fun!

The weekend kicked off on the Thursday night with a walking tour around Bow in East London, following in the footsteps of Minnie Lansbury, a working-class socialist leader of the suffragette movement, and the rebel Poplar Council, whose resistance to central government cuts saw her jailed. On the walk, author and London Underground worker Janine Booth talked about Minnie’s work as a Communist member of the Labour Party, and how her revolutionary views inspired the fights she led in East London to improve the lives of local people.

On Friday night, special advisor to Tony Blair, John McTernan, came to debate Momentum steering committee member Jill Mountford on the future of the Labour Party. McTernan outlined the Blairite mantra that “any Labour government is better than the alternative” — a stance which, in his view, justified any level of capitulation to right-wing “common sense”. Mountford countered that breaking out of the big-business consensus in politics and fighting for a workers’ government was essential to undoing the abuses of Thatcherism, which Tony Blair largely upheld.

The workshops and debates on Saturday and Sunday took in a range of issues. Professor Danny Dorling spoke on inequality and its impact on public health; Labour “moderate” Luke Akehurst debated Workers’ Liberty on Trident renewal; Peter Tatchell spoke on the fight for LGBT recognition in Labour; and we heard historical talks on the Easter Rising, the General Strike, and the revolutionary German Social-Democratic movement — and discussed how all of these events should inform and inspire the work of socialists today.

Activists and academics also took on the question of disability and neurological diversity, with sessions addressed by Disabled People Against Cuts activist Paula Peters, and a debate on Marxism and Autism. A session on the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was followed by an organising meeting to promote the Shahrokh Zamani Action Committee — a campaign of solidarity with the underground Iranian labour movement. We hosted panel debates on leftwing anti-semitism and the role of religion in leftwing politics.

The event saw several particularly large sessions to debate the way forward for the labour movement and the left: a panel on the future of the Labour Party addressed by activists including Ian Hodson, General Secretary of the Bakers’ Union; and a debate on how to reshape the left in the context of the Brexit vote and the wave of racist hatred that swelled in its aftermath. Socialist politics is about activism and organising: but at the end of the day, it comes down to changing ideas, and creating a layer of activists who are able to act as “permanent persuaders”, educators, and keepers of working-class political memory in the broader movement.

Ideas for Freedom is an attempt to achieve that, through debate, discussion, and education. We look forward to working together in future with all those who attended.

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