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Resolutions passed at Counterfire Conference 2019

Resolution 1, Brexit, austerity and the crisis of the British state

 

Conference notes:

1Britain faces its biggest political crisis for decades.

2Its immediate, current expression is the chaos around Brexit, but its sources are deeper. The combination of decades of free market policies, a series of unpopular wars, the banking crisis and the austerity that followed have created a deep problem of legitimacy for the British state.

3This is expressing itself in a number of forms, including opposition to the EU, continuing support for Corbyn, as well as a limited but significant growth in far right sentiment and organisation.

Conference believes:

1This situation presents big challenges to the left but also big opportunities.

2A ‘People's Brexit’ approach to the question of the EU is an important component of a left strategy but not sufficient. Opposing racism is important but not enough in itself. We need to be giving expression to the widespread discontent created by years of anti-working class policies pursued by successive neoliberal governments.

3Mass mobilisation is vital to try and ensure that the left can take advantage of the crisis, force the wider political issues on to the agenda and give support to the serious left in Labour.

Conference resolves:

1To help to promote and strengthen the People's Assembly via the Britain is Broken campaign in every area.

2To widen the campaign for A People's Brexit by helping to host forums across the country.

3To work to strengthen a radical left that is clear and confident via our publications, online and off and through regular events in as many areas as possible.

 

Resolution 2, The crisis of Labourism

 

Conference notes:

1The scale of Corbynism, measured numerically by the hundreds of thousands of new recruits to Labour, and its ascendency between his election as leader of the Labour Party in 2015 and the General Election of 2017. This election saw close to 13 million people vote a Labour programme, proposing a significant break from neoliberalism and this has made a serious political impact upon the left.

2The problems faced by the British economy; a lack of investment and consequent low levels of productivity; a weak manufacturing base and an overreliance on a deregulated financial sector; a historically powerful Treasury that is wedded to a constraining fiscal orthodoxy. This poses a major challenge to any incoming Labour government.

3That there has been a recent turn away from Corbyn, to a considerable extent due to the campaign for a second referendum that has been largely dominated by Blairites and neoliberal centrists, but which has exerted a significant pull on the sections of the Corbynite left. That this recent turn away from Corbyn was reflected in the relatively low numbers demonstrating in London on January for Corbyn’s key political demand of a general election.

4The increasing domestication of Labour’s radical agenda and the changing stance of Corbynism as it moves from insurgency to incumbency; this has been notable in the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism in full by Momentum and in the reluctance to oppose the Tories over regressive tax changes.

Conference believes:

1In socialism from below that is based upon the self-activity of those who are exploited under capitalism and seeks to wrest economic and political power away from the capitalist class and state. That this differs considerably from the left of the Labour Party who support many radical policies but are ultimately wedded to parliamentarianism and the British state.

2That, the above point notwithstanding, it is essential that we take a non-sectarian attitude to Corbynism and that we continue to support Corbyn against his opponents both on the Labour right and on the ‘soft’ left.

3That we wish to see the Corbyn project go as far as it can as this is likely to create both conditions more favourable for an increase in support for our vision of socialism from below, and to open up a bigger audience for strategic discussion as to how we get there.

Conference resolves:

1To push for a general election and campaign for the election of a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

2To promote our vision of socialism from below through engagement with and constructive criticism of Labour’s policies and through extra-parliamentary activity on our streets, in our trade union branches and our communities.

 

Resolution 3, Stepping up Counterfire’s perspective on climate change

 

Conference notes:

1That the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report this year that we have only twelve years in which to stop catastrophic climate change has underlined the urgency of significant, immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

2That capitalism as a system is inherently destructive of the environment and capitalist production will continue to generate metabolic rifts as inevitable results of how it functions. The actions required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are, however, possible within capitalism and can be demanded from a government committed to public spending rather than austerity.

3That climate change is a class issue, with the worst effects being felt by those who have done least to cause them and are least able to ameliorate them.

4That the high profile achieved recently by Extinction Rebellion shows that there is a potential pool of support for climate change campaigning, but that this is not matched by the development of strategic or specific demands, nor necessarily by a desire to work with other mass campaigns, such as those against austerity.

5That the threat of catastrophic climate change can be used as a justification for austerity and attacks on living standards, as seen in France with the now-withdrawn fuel tax increase proposed by the Macron government on the grounds that it was necessary to discourage fuel use so as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

6That there is therefore a danger that the issue of climate change will develop in a divisive way, both within the movement and in society more generally.

Conference believes:

1That climate change is a systemic problem and the most promising ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will therefore come from infrastructure changes led by the state, not changes to individual behaviour.

2That measures focusing on individual behaviour, such as the Green Party’s recent suggestion of a meat tax to discourage consumption, are at best likely to be ineffective and at worst represent attacks on working-class consumption.

3That creating green infrastructure would not only provide the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions but has the potential to create decent, sustainable jobs and genuine regeneration, particularly outside of London and the south-east.

4That the various examples of French gilets jaunes protestors joining with protestors against climate change demonstrate the possibilities for practical unity between anti-austerity and anti-climate change campaigning.

Conference resolves:

1To develop specific measures which a Corbyn government could implement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including but not limited to:

  • The creation of a national, publicly-owned renewable grid linking small and large-scale renewable energy generation.
  • The development of a nationalised green public transport system for the entire country, not just large cities.
  • The development of sustainable infrastructure for transport of goods.

2To continue to ensure that climate change issues are at the heart of anti-austerity campaigning.

3To reach out to climate change activists in the movement and work with them on wider campaigning against austerity.

4To raise the profile of climate change issues within the organisation by encouraging members to read and write on them and groups to put on climate change-related meetings.

 

Resolution 4, Trump and imperialism

 

Conference notes:

1The Cost of War report, produced by Brown University’s Watson Institute, which shows that the US spent four times more than official estimates on war, just under six trillion dollars on since 2001.

2Continued project of maintaining American military presence globally. Despite tactical withdrawal from Syria, we are still witness to military engagement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the world. Unflinching support for Saudi Arabia, and its revolting war in Yemen. Escalating tensions with Iran. Deployment of troops to the Mexican border to prevent immigration in a further sop to a right wing Republican base.

3Increasing belligerence towards China as an underlying strategic priority, as seen with the US-China trade war, reflecting American fears that China is emerging not just as a major economic but also military threat.

4Within that, Trump’s unilateralism: from threatening nuclear war with North Korea in early 2018, to scrapping the nuclear deal with Iran and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia later in the year. Implicit threats to pull out of NATO.

5Support for the global far right, especially in the US’s backyard, Latin America. The victory in highly dubious presidential elections of extreme right-winger Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the continent’s largest state, and the attempted coup against the democratically elected Maduro government in Venezuela.

6Erosion of the mainstream ‘extreme centre’ in the US not just to the right but also to the left in the form of supporters of Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Socialists of America. The potential for a domestic challenge to the US.

7The 250,000 plus on the anti-Trump demonstration in summer 2018 in London, marking continued success in anti-imperialist mobilisation in the UK, a key ally of the US.

Conference believes:

1That Trump represents a new and dangerous phase of American decline, increasing the prospect of damaging proxy wars, economic trade wars, covert intervention against sovereign states, support for the far right and inter-imperialist rivalries.

2That the apparent military withdrawal from Syria, which led to the resignation of Defence Secretary James Mattis, reflects merely a tactical retreat in the face of failure in Syria and domestic war-weariness.

3That Trump’s confrontational style and unilateralism makes it difficult for his agenda to attain hegemonic status in the US or its allied imperialist countries, opening up spaces for anti-imperialist voices from below.

4That the London protest against Trump in July encouraged anti-imperialist forces around the world to resist US imperialism.

5That the UK-US special relationship is a weak link in the imperialist chain, but also an unpopular policy in the UK.

6That the Stop the War Coalition has played a vital role in maintaining popular pressure that has hindered the UK’s ability to act as a reliable partner for the US.

7That the Stop the War Coalition is a critical united front in maintaining left positions more broadly in the UK, as it has implications for the struggles against racism, for civil liberties and for a new foreign policy agenda.

Conference resolves:

1To continue to prioritise the work of the Stop the War Coalition, and oppose intervention in Iran and Venezuela.

2To participate in, and strengthen, anti-war activity in every area where we have members, with public meetings, cultural events, street stalls etc.

3To ensure widespread support for anti-war activities from others including the Labour left, the Muslim community and trade unions.

4To maintain a visible anti-imperialist component of analysis on Counterfire website and our publications.

 

Resolution 5, Building Counterfire

 

Conference notes:

1The deepening crisis in British society and beyond has led to a return of socialist ideas and provides an opening for the notion of socialism from below.

2There is a growing left in the movements and around the Corbyn project that understands the general dynamics of the situation, is critical of the Labour right and wants to see a more radical approach.

3In particular, there is a growing audience for socialist ideas and analysis in the universities and colleges.

Conference believes:

1Counterfire is in a good position to provide some leadership and clarity to a growing number of activists in this situation. Our influence in mobilising for a general election has proved this.

2Political clarity is at a premium. We need to continue our ongoing analysis of the situation but also develop and popularize a broader Marxist understanding of the crisis.

3Political ideas and organization go hand in hand. As well as increasing the profile of our online output and using the paper more widely we need to have more meetings and events in as many localities as possible.

Conference resolves:

1To focus on relating systematically to the Corbyn milieu as well as building the movements.

2To expand geographically by increasing the number of places where we regularly put on meetings.

3To focus in every area on starting to build the movements and the left in the universities and colleges.

4To launch a subs drive for an extra £500 per month to help pay for expansion.

 

Resolution 6, Tackling racism and the far right

 

Conference notes:

1The growth of far right street activity since the collapse in support for UKIP that followed the 2016 EU referendum, most significantly under the banner of the Democratic Football Lads Alliance.

2The mutating forms of far right activity, with free speech and child sexual abuse especially prominent in their rhetoric and the rise of ‘Tommy Robinson’ as a figurehead with widespread support.

3The radicalising of Ukip, which has increasingly become closer to the traditional model of a far right party, and the splits and tensions this has caused in its ranks.

4The international context of growing far right electoral and street formations in many European countries, stronger international links between organisations, increased funding associated with figures like Steve Bannon, and the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency in legitimising racism.

5The marked increase in far right violence, intimidation and harassment, much of it directed towards the left, in recent months.

1The far right continues to have limitations and unevenness, but is nonetheless experiencing growth in mobilising capacity, coordination and impact.

2The far right feeds off state-led and official racism, domestically and internationally, with Islamophobia as the dominant form of racism but emboldening other forms of racism and prejudice as well.

3Fascist organisations and networks are combining racism with attacks on democracy, the left and the labour movement, in keeping with fascist traditions.

4The far right has the potential to grow further, especially if there is a ‘second referendum’ and it receives backing from the Labour Party.

5There have been important and successful examples of anti-fascist mobilisation at national and local levels, most notably through Stand up to Racism, though this needs to be escalated and broadened.

6Anti-fascist campaigning must be broad-based, united and politically focused, with substantial labour movement participation.

7The anti-fascist movement requires national coordination and locally-rooted grassroots activity reinforcing each other, aiming to build a coordinated network of broad community coalitions in every area.

8While broad labour movement participation is crucial, we recognise that the electoralist pressures on the Labour Party mean that it can be slow and conservative in responding to far right threats and the radical left therefore has a central role to play in initiating, organising and sustaining activity.

Conference resolves:

1To build the Stand up to Racism national demonstration on 16 March.

2To participate in, and strengthen, local anti-racist and anti-fascist coalitions in every area where we have members, with counter-demonstrations complemented by public meetings, cultural events, street stalls etc.

3To actively support moves towards developing a stronger national movement with an orientation on the Labour left, the Muslim community and trade unions.

4To link anti-fascist activity and arguments with wider anti-racist politics and with building a more powerful left.

 

Resolution 7, Marxism and the alternatives

 

Conference notes:

1That there are different approaches to understanding why society is unjust and the reasons for the existence of exploitation and oppression. This is a moment in which Marxist analysis is of especial importance. Marxism provides a uniquely insightful and integrated way of approaching the kind of multilevel crisis we are witnessing.

2That mainstream discourse assumes that the key divisions are biological (as part of ‘human nature’) or cultural. Thus, it downplays or ignores the central social divisions of class.

3That this effectively locates the origin of inequalities and oppression in individual ideas and behaviour.

4That identity politics follows this understanding of the roots of oppression and exploitation to come to an individualistic and idealistic view of social relations.

5That intersectionality theory attempts to analyse the interrelationships between different oppressions, but does so on the basis of registering different types of oppression rather than providing an overall understanding of where they come from. This means it does not provide a systemic understanding of oppression. In some forms, it can become simply a table of privileges for individuals to calculate people’s privilege score.

6That the popularity of intersectionality theory in particular nevertheless shows that there is an interest out there in a holistic explanation of oppression and inequality.

Conference believes:

1That ideas are historically created and are subject to social transformation. This means that historical materialism is a necessary framework for understanding change.

2That Marx’s theoretical approach enables an understanding of the relationship between class, sex and race in a historical nexus, and an understanding of the way capitalist society can most effectively be challenged. It shows that liberation has to come from an understanding of the social forces and relations of production.

3That a materialist understanding of exploitation and oppression is gained through the unity of theory and practical action. It is therefore through building movements of practical solidarity as well as proposing socialist ideas within them that ideas can be changed.

Conference resolves:

1To develop theory that brings people to action in solidarity across divisions in the class.

2To encourage all branches to hold regular theory meetings and to ensure that these are accessible for more inexperienced members and relate to current activist priorities.

3To continue to develop a culture of informed Marxist debate to which all members can feel able to contribute, on the website, in meetings and in the wider movement.

 

Resolution 8, Counterfire media

 

Conference notes:

1Counterfire, since its inception in 2010, has placed great importance on the potential of the organisation’s website to function as an organising tool.

2That since 2010 Counterfire has diversified its use of media tools: we email our readers Lindsey German’s weekly bulletin; we have now produced 31 editions of our monthly newspaper; and we have recently begun a monthly podcast.

3That in 2018 we launched a successful Counterfire Media fundraiser appeal for £10,000 to improve and increase our media output.

4Counterfire’s media has a consistently good reputation in the social movements: see point 3 above and also the notably popularity of our newspaper on demonstrations.

5That 2019 is a year of many historical anniversaries linked to questions of revolution and resistance (Rosa Luxemburg’s murder, Peterloo, 1919 in Britain, the Amritsar Massacre being some examples).

Conference believes:

1That outside of Counterfire there is a paucity of left-wing media that is able to analyse critically the dynamics within the Corbyn Project and intervene at decisive political moments.

2That much of our good reputation amongst activists engaged in the social movements and enthused by Corbynism is due to our commitment to publishing and disseminating prominent, popular and principled pieces that consciously seek to intervene at decisive political moments (e.g. defending a People’s Brexit, countering the anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn, critique of idealism of identity politics – all among our most popular articles in 2018).

3That such online interventions have reflected and reinforced the approach the organisation takes in its activity more widely.

4That our media remains a central organising tool of the organisation.

Conference resolves:

1To continue developing Counterfire’s media as a means of critically analysing the Corbyn Project and intervening to defend, strengthen and deepen the potential for radical change which it represents.

2To continue actively seeking contributions to our media from the best leading activists around Corbyn and the social movements in order for Counterfire to function as a forum for these crucial discussions and interventions.

3To develop more content by, for example, commissioning more (weekly/monthly) series from regular writers.

4To produce more filmed content.

5To use the anniversaries of this year to increase and develop our content on socialist history and theory.

6To share our content widely on social media and (with the paper) on the streets.

7To make efforts to turn our readers into writers and filmmakers.