Counterfire's second national conference brought together members from around the country to discuss what the left needs to do. It showed significant growth in Counterfire, and committed the organisation to building resistance to austerity and war in 2013
Crisis, war, united fronts
The first session, introduced by James Meadway and Lindsey German, highlighted the class-nature of Osborne's economic proposals, and explained how they would fail even on their own terms. For all the rhetoric about a change of course, the Coalition government is likely to accelerate the policies that have created the crisis in the first place: focusing on the financial sector, ploughing money into airports and roads whilst hacking away at the welfare state: benefits, the NHS and other public services. The City of London and the financial sector is one of the few remaining sources of strength for British capitalism and is central to ruling class strategy.
The global economic crisis, with southern europe at its epicentre, is becoming increasingly intractable and is feeding in to an imperialist crisis as a new phase of the war on terror has opened up in North Africa with the French invasion of Mali.
Lindsey German stressed the need to build a broad alliance of forces to oppose both austerity and war. The recent Gaza protests demonstrated that big anti-war mobilisations are still possible and all t necessary as the war on terror is being re-invigorated once more by the western powers.
The discussion explored these themes further, and focussed on the challenges and opportunities for building political movements against austerity and war, while organising the revolutionaries together politically as a socialist pole within the movement.
The upcoming 10 year international anti-war anniversary conference and the Peoples Assembly were highlighted as the two key events of the next six months.
Motion on Education
A motion was moved calling for Counterfire to set up a committee within the organisation to develop an education manifesto and undertake exploratory work for a campaign to counter Michael Gove's rightwing education agenda. The motion was passed by a majority.
What is Counterfire?
Chris Nineham, argued that Counterfire needs to grow urgently and to strengthen its organisation. The 25,000-strong march to save Lewisham hospital on the day of conference showed that there is no lack of anger in British society. He argued that the role of a revolutionary organisation is to overcome the unevenness that exists naturally under capitalism and unite together then most radical activists who agree that the system as a whole has to be transformed. He argued that revolutionaries first job is to help generate a strategy for the movement whil working working with those beyond the ranks of the far left. This requires revolutionaries to organise together at the same time as they work in the movements.
In the discussion the general feeling was that we had a big chance to grow, that we need to develop a plan for every group and individual in the organisation, we need to recruit widely but also set up new groups in a number of places urgently.
Mya Pope-Weiderman introduced a discussion about student work. Student report-backs discussed successful initiatives taken at universities including SOAS, UEA and Sheffield Hallam and others including the occupation of SOAS during the Israeli attack on Gaza at the end of 2012, called after Counterfire members helped initiate a packed Urgent General Meeting (UGM) calling for the action.UEA members reported their last cf meeting had 20 people at it.
Some student members explained that they felt there needed to be more consultation between the organisation's leadership and its student members and it was agreed more student caucuses woould be held. In the debate that followed it seemed clear that the strengthening of Counterfire's infrastructure was necessary to provide support to students and the wider membership and to provide regular forums for political discussion.
There was a range of views expressed about how best to increase membership. The sheer political level of many activists in the movement creates big possibilities, but also some difficu with recruitment. There was agreement that there is a real thirst for radical ideas as millions consider themselves to be on the left and nearly two million on the far left. We should see the issue of recruitment not priimarily as converting people in to socialists but as convincing those who are anti-system of the need to organise together politically.
During both sessions a number of activists reported how Counterfire organisation had helped to renew the movements. Sanum Ghaffoor reported great results in Luton, where two Counterfire members were central to initiating the We Are Luton campaign anti EDL campaign, a big CoR sponsored anti-austerity rally and the start of a Stop the War campaign in the city. A number of speakers reported on the growing strength of the movements on Tyneside, also partly the product of strong Counterfire organsiation.
Conference agreed to set the size of the Steering Committee (SC) to twenty places. The SC helps implement the organisation's political perspectives between Conference and National Meetings.
Nineteen people put themselves forward for SC and conference voted unanimously to accept all nominations.
Neil Faulkner announced the upcoming publication of a series of books by Counterfire authors including Lindsey German on Women and War, Neil himself on A Marxist History of the World, Chris Nineham on the anti-war movement, a book on suffragette Sylvia Pankurst by Catherine Connelly, Tansy Hoskins on the fashion industry, Chris Bambery on the Second World War and Elaine Graham-Leigh on food and climate change. He also reported the success on the success of Marx 101 educational series and suggested they should be replicated outside of London. The publications can be used for wider propaganda work alongside work in the movements.
Clare Solomon gave a report of the successful launch of Firebox cafe last October, which has held a string of successful meetings including book launches hosted by Verso Books, meetings of the World Development Movement and events with high profile leftwing speakers including Tariq Ali, Frances O'Grady and Tony Benn. The cafe aims to be a space for the left to come together to debate, discuss and organise. It also provides office space for Counterfire.
It was announced that a stand up comedy fundraiser would be held on 1st May at Bloomsbury theatre with Stewart Lee, Mark Thomas, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez and others.
The discussion focused on using Firebox to build the left and the movements against war and austerity as well as strengthening Counterfire.
People's Assembly and perspectives
Richard Alday stressed the need to build the soon-to-be-launched 'People's Assembly Against Austerity' initiative set up by Unite the Union, RMT, CWU, Tony Benn, Owen Jones and others, held in Westminster Central Hall which seats over 2000. He argued that Unite members were pushing at an open door in terms of building the Assembly and holding meetings and rallys promoting it.
John Rees outlined a perspective for 2013 which included the upcoming Stop the War conference marking ten years since the global march against the Iraq war; building the People's Assembly in a serious way; and at the same time winning the best activists to revolutionary politics through our meetings, website and publications.
The perspective also included a new series of Marx 101, the next round of which will focus on women's liberation, as well as a series of Firebox meetings including a day school on the Scramble for Africa, a Firebox Festival over the summer.
The central element to what we do has to be building the People's Assembly. If it is one half trade unions and one half community campaigns this would represent a leap forward for the anti austerity movement in Britain.
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