An account of the recent Coalition of Resistance conference with a footnote on the Education Activists Network
Coalition of Resistance Conference
Saturday November 27
Bidborough St, London WC1H 9AU
AF members round the country have been active in anti-cuts groups and in the student movement against the fee rises and education cuts. When we heard about this conference, we decided to attend as we are always looking for ways to collaborate with others.
The agenda for the day looked interesting, a number of speakers followed by a series of workshops then finishing with a plenary session with voting on a set of motions put to the conference.
The day was very well attended, there were around 1300 people present. The opening speeches were very inspiring, if predictable. However, early on in the day we began to have our doubts about the event.
The first thing that worried us was when we were told, before the day got under way, that there was a self-elected committee responsible for standing orders and the like. We are all in favour of events being well organised, but we wonder why people attending had not been told this would happen in advance. Was this to be another stitch up by left wing parties trying to present themselves as the true “voice of the people”?
It soon became clear that we were unlikely to be hearing anything very new. The speakers were all either trade union leaders, MPs or representatives of the left. Over the course of 90 minutes of speeches we repeatedly heard calls to build the TUC demonstration next March, to call on unions to “organise a general strike” and attempts to put the blame for the cuts at the door of the Liberal Democrats.
We are firmly in favour of industrial action to fight the cuts, indeed we think it is a vital part of our class's armoury. However, our experience of previous union behaviour is that they will call for the odd token one day action, they'll stop workers fighting with each other in solidarity and will generally do everything possible to sabotage real struggle. We would argue for the need to build industrial struggle from workplace to workplace, rather than relying on leaders to do it for us.
With occupations going on in universities round the country, with people becoming increasingly angry about the cuts and becoming more prepared to take action over them, it seems stupid to make everyone wait till next March for a TUC led walk from one part of London to another. The left love events like that because they enable them to sell loads of papers and recruit more members to their organisations. The experience of the huge anti-Iraq War demonstrations should tell us all that they achieve little else – other than to demoralise those who take part.
Blaming the Lib Dems is easy. It's sometimes fun. It's nice to see the bastards squirm. But it misses the point that this crisis was not caused by them or the bankers and that all three main parties support a programme of cuts. It essentially lets the Tories and Labour off the hook. For that reason, although we will happily try to make their lives hell, we will never try to base a whole strategy on getting rid of their MPs.
We stayed for the education workshop. Sadly, it wasn't a workshop – it was another rally. Speaker after speaker talked about the student demonstrations and occupations. Unfortunately it soon became clear that each one, including those from the floor, was there to represent some party or other. Workers Power and Counterfire were much in evidence at this point. They presented essentially the same analysis of events. It seemed that the day had another, hidden agenda, which was to pull one over on the SWP, who were notable by their absence inside.
The afternoon workshop on the NHS was no better, though significantly more liberal.
Then came the final session, billed as: Voting, Elections and Closing Plenary. This started by the organisers telling everyone that Tony Benn had agreed to be the President of the CoR. Everyone stood up and applauded and the deal was done. There were no nominations and no discussion. We then were told that a self selected steering committee had been set up, with 132 members. This was everyone who had put their names forward during the day. We would suspect that this body will prove so unwieldy that it will need to select an executive committee which will comprise members of the different parties present. We were told that we would not be able to discuss any of the motions that had been put forward, instead these would all be dealt with by the steering committee. Finally we had to listen to yet more speeches. The final one was from John Rees, the ex-SWP leader and now in charge of Counterfire. He is undoubtedly a brilliant orator, but he said nothing that hadn't been said earlier. So, there was no Voting, No Elections and no discussion during the Plenary! There will not be another conference for nine months and in the meantime, as we said above, it is most likely that an executive committee will run the show.
So what was behind the event. We'd guess that there were a number of hidden agendas on the day. One was an attempt to outflank the SWP and establish an alternate pole of left wing opposition to it. This went hand in hand with the desire to promote Counterfire as that alternative. Interestingly, its two leading members, Lindsey German and John Rees, were clearly running the day. They even went so far as to bill themselves as members of CoR on the programme. Odd considering that it didn't actually exist until the end of the day. We would imagine that they will end up as its key spokespeople.
Another agenda showed just how close is the relationship between these people and the Labour Left. The rousing reception given to Bob Crow RMT, John McDonnell MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Tony Benn stand testimony to this. These people are not stupid. They know a good thing when they see one. In this case they realise that here is a possible campaign that will lend credibility to their pretence of being a real alternative to the present government. It will provide the foot soldiers needed to get Labour elected again. In this scenario is it Labour using CoR or CoR using Labour?
And what will the CoR actually do. Well, organise the standard A-to-B marches, which may or may not be large. This will repeat the mistakes of Stop the War and foster disenchantment and demobilisation, with no perspective to develop a really effective movement based on direct action. Undoubtedly too, the CoR will call for industrial action, but this will be within the limits set by the “left” union leaders who attended the conference. In other words limited and token strikes and other forms of industrial action.
It's obvious that we are going to have to work with people influenced by the CoR in our fight against the state's austerity programme. When we do so we will have to be prepared for devious manipulation, radical rhetoric and attempts to derail working people's anger and fightback.
The Education Activists Network
One of us had earlier attended the packed meeting of the Education Activists Network at Kings College in London on November 15th. The EAN is a front for the SWP with some input from Counterfire members like the “left” NUS bureaucrat Clare Solomon. There were many students present and what was interesting were the calls for the removal of the NUS leader Aaron Porter . This was countered by Clare Solomon who made the excuse that Porter has done much to mobilise the November 10th demonstration! She was backed up by other NUS leaders like Mark Bergfeld of the NUS executive and a member of the SWP . Whilst the majority of speeches were extremely radical and defended the actions at Millbank, my eyes began to glaze over with the umpteenth radical speech with no effective actions offered. Indeed, it became clear that many of the speakers from the floor had been selected in advance and represented the views of the SWP in the main. So a little different from the CoR conference where meetings were addressed from the podium, but with the same result.
The EAN declared that it had taken the decision to mobilise outside the LibDem HQ. This decision was not taken by the newly elected EAN executive, who had never met, but by an undisclosed group of people, who had announced this event at a press conference BEFORE the meeting! Of course this led to the big kettle where thousands were surrounded and kept in the freezing cold for many hours.
The EAN, the CoR , and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (a front for another Trot group the AWL) are all leftist rackets who are huffing and puffing and wheezing in an effort to place themselves at the head of the new movement. In the weeks and months to come, we must be aware of their attempts to capture and demobilise this movement.
Knightrose and Battlescarred