A short history of Counterfire and introduction to our basic principles
On International Women’s Day 2010 we launched a new political organisation called Counterfire. Its first publication was A Feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, written by Lindsey German, the convenor of Stop the War Coalition, in collaboration with activist and author Nina Power.
A lot has happened since then. We took as our starting point the idea that a left-wing organisation must be an integral part of the struggles of working people and the mass movements that have characterised resistance to capitalism in the last decade and more. Too much of the far left is keen to differentiate itself ideologically and organisationally from mass activity, and is shrinking not growing, obsessed with its own internal debates.
Counterfire set out on a different path, eliminating unnecessary barriers between our socialist politics and the thousands of activists being drawn into opposition to austerity and war.
We sought to sustain the anti-war movement. And we have helped to do so right up and through the success of stopping Cameron bombarding Syria with cruise missiles. We have contributed to launching the No Glory campaign to combat the Tories’ official ‘celebration’ of World War One due next year.
We were at the heart of the student movement when it exploded in 2010 and Counterfire’s Clare Solomon, then president of the University of London Union, was one of its most effective spokespeople.
Counterfire was also a key component in launching the Coalition of Resistance and, through that coalition, the People’s Assembly, which has become the undisputed, essential vehicle for a united resistance to austerity. Even the TUC recognised the effectiveness of bringing anti-cuts activists and the unions together when it voted to support the Assembly after the 4,500-strong founding conference in June. Indeed there are now more than 80 People’s Assemblies across the country, from Pontypridd to Kings Lynn, and from Glasgow to Brighton. Counterfire members were centrally involved in establishing the People’s Assembly, both nationally and locally.
In the unions our supporters have been fighting to make action by teachers and college lecturers as effective as it can be. Our Unite members were standing shoulder to shoulder with the electricians in their signal battle with construction bosses. A Counterfire member, lorry driver Richard Allday, won his election to the Unite executive joining Bryan Simpson from our sister organisation in Scotland.
But Counterfire is about ideas as well as action. Our website set a new benchmark in the online presentation of socialist ideas, combining written material with video reporting, attracting a readership magnified by the early adoption of a social media strategy. Our analysis of austerity from Counterfire editor Ady Cousins and New Economics Foundation senior economist James Meadway has been second to none. Our accounts of the Arab Revolutions and of imperialism in the Middle East have been reproduced on websites around the globe, from Russia to Spain, from Greece to Chile.
But we’ve never restricted ourselves to an online presence. Our frequent free broadsheet given out at protests and meetings across the country has been much emulated by other left-wing organisations and campaigns. After all, when mainstream, paid-for tabloids are declining while free papers like the Metro are widely read, we reasoned, why doesn’t the left develop its own free-sheet strategy. It’s worked so well we are now planning to produce it more frequently and with more pages.
Neither have we neglected the development of radical ideas. We’ve been at the heart of the most successful new left-wing festival in recent years - the Dangerous Ideas festival - which has brought hundreds of new activists into closer contact with the left. And we’ve worked closely at these festivals with Tariq Ali, Jeremy Corbyn MP, the Guardian’s Seumas Milne, Owen Jones, Tony Benn and many others to make sure that the full vitality of left ideas can be presented to the widest audience.
Counterfire members have produced the largest body of new Marxist theory available from any left organisation in Britain in the last few years. This ranges from the widely read Strategy and Tactics, a statement of Counterfire’s aims, through books such as Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs, Timelines: a political history of the modern world, The People Demand: a short history of the Arab Revolutions, to the best-selling A People’s History of London. We have also contributed the best account of the 2010 student rebellion for Verso’s Springtime.
In the last few months Counterfire members have published How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women, The People v. Tony Blair, and the book of the enormously popular Counterfire series, A Marxist History of the World, which is now being enlarged for its Spanish edition. That was part of an ongoing collaboration with Pluto Press. A new book on radical suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, by Counterfire’s Kate Connelly, has just been published by Pluto to widespread acclaim.
In the pipeline are a book on class and another on anti-capitalism and fashion. We believe all this makes Counterfire the most outward looking, dynamic and thoughtful organisation on the left.
We are growing – join us
More articles from this author
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