One of the most positively transformative events in my life was joining the AWL in January 2016. Although I had long considered myself a socialist of some form or other, when I first encountered the AWL in the autumn of 2015, my politics were very ill-defined.
Years of seeing Labour under Blair, Brown, and Miliband had made me view the left as a lost cause in British politics, to the point that I was sceptical of even attempting activism. This is why, to my shame, I distanced myself at age 18 from the then-ongoing 2010 student protests. I had simply become so resigned to the fact that capitalism in the neoliberal era has subsumed everything in human life that I could no longer see the point of mounting resistance.
Moreover, as a Venezuelan, I have often felt extremely alienated from much of the British left because of its shamefully apologist attitude towards the Chavista movement. I have spent my entire life being all too familiar with Chávez and Maduro’s authoritarian tendencies. My own uncle was beaten and blacklisted by the police while striking. As such, you can imagine how I’ve felt putting up with British leftists constantly telling me how grateful I should be for the “Bolivarian Revolution”!
Everything changed in 2015. I returned to the UK from the US in time for the Labour leadership election. Seeing the increasingly palpable chance of Jeremy Corbyn becoming the new Labour leader, I joined the Party and cast my vote. After Corbyn’s victory, I committed myself to fight for socialism within the Party’s channels. For the first time in years, I felt that a genuine socialist could become Prime Minister!
Nevertheless, even then my socialism was deeply confused. I saw the reason for Marx’s focus on class struggle, yet the decades of defeats suffered by the labour movement left me susceptible to newer calls on the left to seek different terrains on which to fight for socialism. Popular movements, social media networks, automation technologies — basically all the places where what I have come to term the “Verso Left” tries to find substitutes for a class-conscious proletariat! Similarly, I often found myself fluctuating between an evolutionary and a revolutionary socialism.
Through student activism, primarily around tuition fees, I discovered the AWL in October 2015. As well as acquiring vital practical skills as an activist — mobilising for a demonstration, running a stall, planning an action, etc — I returned to Lenin, Engels, and other Marxist thinkers with newfound appreciation. I also learned about the tradition of the Third Camp, which allowed me to articulate my resolutely anti-Stalinist understanding of socialism in a new and exciting way.
Since the AWL is one of the few far left groups that is sharply critical of Chavismo and refuses to hold up Venezuela as “actually existing socialism” (or in transition towards it), my gravitation to the AWL was rather natural. The real internal obstacle I had to overcome was my intuitive unease over joining a group with explicitly revolutionary aims.
I overcame that unease for two reasons. First, I came to accept that the inevitable ruling class backlash against even Parliamentary socialism makes it impossible to defeat capitalism through reform. Second, I realised that, if I wanted the kind of Third Camp, class struggle, and internationalist views I liked hearing in the AWL to succeed in the broader labour movement, then I needed to have the discipline and organisation to fight for them in the Labour Party, the unions, and the student movement.
Nearly three years later, I am thankful for having made my leap of faith and joined! With the AWL, I have developed richer perspectives on anti-imperialism, antisemitism, and many other topics.
From campus occupations to conference interventions, it’s been quite the wild ride, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!