Socialist Alternative

Report from Socialist Alternative’s First Ever National Summer Camp

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This Memorial Day weekend, Socialist Alternative hosted its first National Summer Camp in Minnesota’s St. Croix State Park. The camp drew nearly one hundred members from over a dozen branches around the United States and was the largest gathering in the organization’s history. Many came from SA’s newest branches: Mobile, Alabama; Tampa Bay, Florida; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was an inspiring example of the growing energy and openness to socialist ideas and proof of the opportunities to build Socialist Alternative and expand the Marxist movement in the United States.

The first discussion centered on international politics. Bart Vandersteen spoke for the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), representing socialist organizations in 34 countries and on every continent. Bart reported on the devastating austerity measures being carried out in Southern Europe and the powerful mass movements that have erupted in response. These struggles have shaken the ruling class but have not yet posed a clear alternative to the destructive policies of the European Union and capitalism itself.

“If successful revolutions were the result of sheer energy and effort, the Greek working class would have overthrown capitalism a half-dozen times already,” said Bryan Koulouris of the Boston branch. Greece has been rocked by more than twenty general strikes in this period, and the Greek population is thoroughly disillusioned with the pro-austerity ruling class parties, PASOK and New Democracy. SYRIZA, a broad left-wing party has challenged the capitalist narrative of austerity, scoring historic electoral results.

Members spoke of the instability of new left-wing parties like SYRIZA, which could rise and fall quickly in the political turmoil. SYRIZA has failed to articulate an alternative to the crisis facing Greece, and its future is uncertain. In such a political vacuum, the neo-fascist party Golden Dawn is also gaining ground on a platform of nationalism, xenophobia, and racism.

The ongoing crisis is spreading to other countries in Europe, where austerity and recession have had a profound effect on both living standards and consciousness. Italy and Spain are quickly falling prey to record rates of unemployment, especially among youth, who distrust mainstream political parties and classic trade unions, which have been discredited by the crisis. In Spain, many young people are simply leaving the country in hopes of better opportunities elsewhere. In Portugal, workers and youth are taking the streets, singing revolutionary songs and relearning their country’s revolutionary history. In Cyprus, a tiny economy’s banking collapse sparked a regional crisis.

In the midst of the global economic crisis – capitalism’s ongoing failure to meet the needs of ordinary people – is the looming threat of environmental catastrophe. Jess Spear from Seattle spoke about the dramatic effects of global warming and environmental degradation, the result of capitalist production being based on fossil fuels. Some geologists have now declared that the world has entered a new geological era, the “Anthropocene,” meaning that human beings are now the driving force behind environmental change. Many social orders have fallen because of environmental mismanagement, and profit-driven capitalism seems unable to avoid catastrophe. In order for human society to advance, economic production must be planned in an environmentally sustainable way, meeting both the material needs of humanity and the needs of the environment.

During a rally, different branches spoke of their work and campaigns. Grace McGee from Mobile, Alabama, and Christian Brooks from St. Petersburg, Florida, talked about the rapid development of branches and the opportunities for the socialist movement in the South. Eljeer Hawkins from Harlem, New York, described the work of the New York branch and new initiatives to build among people of color. Ginger Jentzen of Minneapolis, Minnesota, spoke of Occupy Homes MN and its newest project, the Eviction Free Zone. Marty Harrison of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, described the branch’s leap from two members to eight in less than a year and the decisive role of socialists in rebuilding a fighting labor movement.

One entire afternoon was devoted to defining and discussing the role of an organization like Socialist Alternative. Many on the left argue that forming groups of conscious revolutionaries who debate strategy, analyze events, and coordinate action together is a dated formula from a bygone era that has no use in today’s world. The discussion drew out how the current political situation actually highlights the importance of building distinctly Marxist organizations alongside working to build broader mass movements.

Finally, we grappled with the transitional program, a method used by Trotsky and the Fourth International to build a bridge between contemporary struggles and the need for socialist revolution. Lifelong members of Socialist Alternative sat alongside people who joined the day before, discussing how socialists use a transitional approach to social movements, electoral politics, trade unions, and revolutionary situations.

The weekend also hosted nearly 20 workshops on issues ranging from immigration and Marxist feminism to German history and anarchism. There was also a People of Color Caucus meeting and a financial appeal for our South African cothinkers, as well as numerous sing-a-longs and sporting events.

All in all, Socialist Alternative’s National Summer Camp will mark a turning point in the organization.

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