More than 50 people gathered in the Newtown Community and Cultural Centre in Wellington on May 31 and June 1 for the annual conference of the socialist organisation Fightback.
The sessions were filled with lively and respectful debate across a number of different perspectives within the left on national and international issues.
Fightback 2013 featured speakers from Fightback, the International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa), the Socialist Party of Australia, and the Australian Socialist Alliance.
The first panel session “Global context: Crisis, Imperialism, Fightback” set the tone for the conference — all speakers noting that the global capitalist system is still deeply in crisis and that the working class is being made to pay for it.
Discussion centred on the resistance to austerity in Europe and the rise of left parties such as SYRIZA.
Another key theme was the state of the Australian and New Zealand economies now that the Australian mining boom seems to be waning.
The closing panel session “Building an anti-capitalist movement in Australasia” debated the implications of the crisis of capitalism, neoliberal austerity, and the end of the Australian mining boom for socialist work in the movements.
Speakers agreed that a dual strategy was necessary, one that built up a core of well-trained and conscious socialist activists, at the same time as reaching out and developing the layers of people coming into the struggle and the structures for strong, durable campaigns.
One of the most striking elements of the conference was the depth with which Fightback have been grappling with key issues concerning the socialist left today.
In the session “Ecosocialism or barbarism”, Daphne Lawless argued that the concept of ecosocialism is critical to Marxists today.
Ecosocialism, Lawless said, puts environmental politics at the heart of the socialist vision, and aims to put socialism at the heart of the environmental movement.
Rather than simply a slogan or redundant phrase, Lawless said that “as with the term socialist feminism, ecosocialism is a question of emphasis and of organisation”.
Against more “productivist” ideas of socialism found in the 20th century, which put quantity of production over quality of life, the idea of ecosocialism is “multi-dimensional” and “holistic” and deals with the complete picture of the experiences of life under capitalism.
Jared Philips discussed the changing position of Fightback towards the issue of Maori liberation. Fightback has been deeply involved in the Mana Party, led by prominent Maori activist Hone Harawira, and recognised the need for a more nuanced and open position to the issue.
For instance, Phillips said that socialists must recognise that Maori corporatism is now a reality equating to approximately 8% of the national economy and a genuine socialist programme needs to reflect that. Marxists can’t idealistically deny the role of Maori corporation.
Marika Pratley led the session on “Marxism, feminism and gender liberation”, arguing that socialists need to take seriously the question of feminism in theory and day-to-day work.
She argued that socialists should see the oppression of women as related to class oppression but not completely reducible to it, and that socialists should be actively involved in the feminist movement.
There was also discussion on how socialists can put feminism to work in practice within their organisations.
Another key aspect to the conference was the importance placed on work in the trade unions.
There was debate over the exact strategy for work in trade unions in New Zealand. However, there was agreement that while the trade union movement is largely on the defensive in New Zealand and Australia, socialists should be involved in the trade unions to raise class-consciousness and put forward a class struggle perspective.
On the final evening, conference attendees leafleted a number of McDonald's stores in Wellington in support of a Unite union-run campaign for better pay and conditions for McDonald's workers.