By Duncan Morrison
More than 160 activists gathered for Workers’ Liberty’s annual Ideas for Freedom summer school, 21–22 June. The event gathers socialists to discuss both contemporary and historical issues.
Saturday began with a discussion on Iraq and Iran after the Gulf war, led by Clive Bradley from Workers’ Liberty and Maryam from Workers’ Left Unity Iran. It’s parallel was a contentious session on anti-Semitism and the left, addressed by the Guardian journalist Linda Grant. Whilst the vast majority of people in the audience accepted Linda’s assessment of the worrying cross-over between the left’s shrill “anti-Zionism” and anti-Semitism, a minority refused to see any potential anti-Semitism on the left.
Jewish comrades discussed the corollary of the left’s “anti-Zionism”: the increasing difficulty of promoting left-wing politics in Jewish communities.
A militant from the RMT on the Underground discussed the lessons of the union’s struggle against the Public Private Partnership and also drew lessons from the recent firefighters’ dispute. Many comrades stressed the need to fight for rank-and-file organisations in the unions, and the limitations of the “awkward squad” of union leaders.
Alan Johnson discussed how socialists should relate to the new anarchist movements. Describing these movements as “anarchism-lite”, and arguing that they are not fundamentally ideologically linked to the old anarchism, he claimed that they had much in common with revolutionary socialists and that we should focus more work in the new movements. How open to discussion are these new movements and what, if anything, they could teach us, was the focus of the discussion after Alan’s lead-off.
Saturday evening saw Yann Moulier Boutang, editor of the Paris magazine Multitudes, and Martin Thomas debate “Empire After Baghdad”. Sean Matgamna from Workers’ Liberty debated Jack Conrad from the Communist Party of Great Britain about Afghanistan.
Jack claimed that the CPGB had changed its mind and that Sean was failing to see this. Sean argued that the CPGB do not openly account for the changes, and that, under the sheen of their new politics, much of the Stalinism remains, as demonstrated by their clinging to the assertion that the April [Saur] 1978 coup in Afghanistan was a real revolution.
Sunday began with a session devoted to the current debate in Workers’ Liberty on the issue of the unions’ political funds. This was followed by a session discussing the future of the Socialist Alliance, featuring Pete Radcliff from Workers’ Liberty, Angela Paton from the Scottish Socialist Party, and Matthew Caygill, an independent in the Socialist Alliance. Comrades’ assessments varied, but most seemed alarmed by the turn the Alliance has taken since its last conference.
Other sessions over the weekend included Norman Geras on “Mutual indifference and moral solidarity”, equality legislation and the workplace, Brazil under Lula, the Tobin Tax, fast food, George Orwell, the workers’ government slogan, the British mandate in Palestine, British Trotskyists in the Second World War, united fronts vs. popular fronts, and the Web. In the final plenary, Jean Lane emphasised Workers’ Liberty’s continuing commitment to challenging the shibboleths of the left. She argued that through discussion and debate we would find the right answers. Ideas for Freedom was a part of that ongoing process.