New red-green electoral alliances, a turn to ecosocialism and a deepening of the US International Socialist Organization's rethink on feminism were key features of its well-attended Socialism 2014 conference in Chicago.
The gap between rich and poor in the US is large and growing. It has sparked a popular campaign for a minimum wage of US$15 an hour for low-paid workers, and in defence of jobs of teachers and other social service providers.
A growing number of trade union leaders are running as part of left and independent election tickets, just as many endorsed the successful Seattle's council campaign of socialist Kshama Sawant.
International assessments and rethinks
There was also a sobre re-assessment of the military coup in Egypt. This was informed by the first-hand experiences of four Egyptian guest speakers, who frankly admitted “we got it wrong” not to have called June 30 the counter-revolutionary military coup that it was.
The Egyptian comrades reflected that the “Neither Muslim Brotherhood nor the military” slogan was pretty useless in the context and that socialists need to put forward real solutions to the economic and social crisis and less abstract revolutionary sloganeering.
They were now trying to cohere left unity and coalitions with broader forces to try to pose concrete solutions.
Greek socialist Antonis Davanellos, a member of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and its Left Platform, said socialists should support the election of a SYRIZA government.
SYRIZA, he told the conference, was "different to other left centrist groups in Europe". Its origin was in an action coalition that built trust and solidarity between the non-sectarian revolutionary left, the left part of the Eurocommunists, a few who broke from Greek Communist Party (KKE) plus some real centrists who were in Synapismos.
Synaspispos had about 10,000 members and the revolutionary left had 3000 all together.
Davanellos said that SYRIZA was the only party to oppose military intervention against protests in Greece in 2008. SYRIZA lost votes after that but this stand laid the basis to gain ground in the four years later when its support grew from 4% to 17%, while the KKE stayed at 8%.
"Two clear messages did this: We need unity in action of the left, We need a government of the people."
SYRIZA is committed to refusing to make Greece's punishing debt repayment to Euro banks if it is elected, meaning socialists in Greece need to prepare for the mass fightback that would be required in response to the bankers' retaliation.
Davanellos added that socialists should not abstain when there is a such a prospect of the left being elected to government, even within a capitalist state.
Meanwhile, the capitalist media is trying to pressure SYRIZA to adopt a more social democratic line and to "go into a united front with lots of small groups of social democrats".
"We think there is a danger of Tsipras becoming more social democratic using the alliance with these groups as an excuse. "
There was a majority opposition to this course from a majority in the SYRIZA central committee though the media has been trying to force Tsipras to say they will “expel the Trotskyists”.
Large and youthful attendance
There were about 1450 registrations over the conference and many of the attendees were under 30. This was up on Socialism 2013's 1120 registrations.
There was a rich and educational program of talks, films and performances. The structure of the conference was four-to-five sessions a day, each packed with between eight-10 well-attended simultaneous workshops. These were well-prepared, well-facilitated and included lively and open discussion.
Apart from members of some other socialist groups, there were members and leaders of the Green Party and some anarchists. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and Green Party New York state candidate for governor Howie Hawkins attended the conference. There were also international guests from Canada, Britain, France, Portugal, Greece, Egypt and Australia.
There were only three plenary sessions during the conference. The best-attended featured Amy Goodman, host of progressive radio and TV program Democracy Now, on the importance of dissident and independent journalism.
Goodman said: “Those who care about war and peace, those who are concerned about the growing disparity between rich and poor, those who are concerned about the environment, about climate change, about the fate of the planet, are not a 'fringe minority'.
“Not even a 'silent majority' but a silenced majority. Silenced by the corporate media which is why we have to take it back.”
Goodman said journalism was under siege and she highlighted the treatment of journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, who has published NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks.
She said the US government “has more information on individuals than ever before in history and its becoming increasingly secretive”. This is why, Goodman added, we need an independent journalism that “acts as the Fourth Estate and not for the state”.
The Green Party in the US ― which is relatively weak and more left-wing than previously ― is part of a new push for red-green-independent union election tickets. The ISO's support for such alliances builds on past campaigns, such as its work with the late Peter Camejo on the 2004 Ralph Nader-Camejo US presidential campaign.
ISO members speak very positively of this collaboration and credit it with shaping their approach to elections.
The ISO is supporting the broad socialist campaign for local council in Chicago by Mexican-born activist Jorge Mujica.
In New York, the ISO's Brian Jones is Hawkins' running partner for the race, running for lieutenant governor.
Hawkins, who has been attacked as an “unreconstructed socialist” by the corporate media, told the conference that the only part of the charge he objected to was “unreconstructed”.
The Hawkins-Jones ticket comes up against hated neoliberal Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Jones told the conference that he had spent the last 20 years of his life as a socialist but most of that time had wanted nothing to do with elections.
"But there is a world of difference between understanding that elections won't change the system and recognising that socialists need to take the fight against the system wherever there was an opening to take up that fight. An election campaign like this can build the movement and mobilise the forces that have the power to change the system."
Stein enthusiastically described these election campaigns as “the beginning of a red-green alliance”. She said it had a non-electoral expression in the ISO's growing involvement in climate and pipelines campaigns.
In particular, one of the priority campaigns of the ISO is to build a System Change Not Climate Change climate convergence in New York on September 19 to 21.
Stein said that “history was changing people's minds” and that a recent Gallup poll showed that 60% of voters in the US wanted to vote for a party other than the Republicans or Democrats, the two parties of big business.
The NY climate convergence will coincide with the next United Nations summit on climate change. There will be a mass march and possibly an attempt to blockade the summit to lock the leaders in until they agree to real action to address climate change.
“System Change Not Climate Change” T-shirts were popular. This is clearly a campaign that the ISO's ranks and periphery are enthusiastic.
The ISO's turn towards feminism began publicly in Socialism 2013 with sharp presentations embracing feminism by ISO national organiser Sharon Smith and Abbie Bakan, a former leader of the Canadian ISO. This turn will soon be articulated in a new book by Smith to be published by Haymarket Books.
This turn has deepened since then the group organising with study circles in local branches around Lise Vogel's book Marxism and the Oppression of Women. This is an important break from a workerist outlook of the IST and a re-evaluation of the importance of reproductive labour (mostly unpaid domestic work by women in the family).
The turn to feminism is also popular in the ISO ranks and this is driving the rethinking further.
[Peter Boyle attended the conference on behalf of the Socialist Alliance in Australia. A few more photos of the conference are below.]
Independent socialist candidate for local government in Chicago, Jorge Mujica, addressing Socialism 2014. Photo by Peter Boyle.
Howie Hawkins, Greens Party candidate for NYC Governor candidate. Photo by Peter Boyle.
There were 1450 registered participants at the Socialism 2104 conference. Photo by Peter Boyle.
Antonis Davanellos, a member of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and its Left Platform, told the conference that socialists should support the election of a SYRIZA government. Photo by Peter Boyle.
Younger comrades made up a good proportion of the Socialism 2104 conference participants. Here they are showing their solidarity with the victims of repression by the Egyptian military regime. Photo by Peter Boyle.
Brian Jones, a ISO member standing as New York City Lt Governor candidate on a Greens Party ticket headed by Howie Hawkins. Photo by Peter Boyle.