Socialist Alternative’s Socialism conference, held at the University of Sydney over the weekend 18-20 August, attracted more than 500 participants.
In the wake of the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the toppling of Confederate statues and sizeable anti-fascist mobilisations in the United States, hundreds packed out the opening night panel on “Racism and resistance in the Trump Era”. Headlining the panel was Haley Pessin, Black Lives Matter activist and member of the International Socialist Organization, who travelled from New York to speak at the conference.
Pessin said of the far right resurgence: “It is not just a phenomenon of the US alone. It has been an international polarisation where we’ve seen the rise of the right … and we’ve also seen the rise of the left but not on the level of organisation that is necessary. That is the cause and the call that we have everywhere in the world today”.
The opening session also heard from National Union of Students LGBTI officer Chris Di Pasquale, who spoke on the challenges and opportunities presented by the urgent campaign for a Yes vote for marriage equality.
Discussions on developments in the United States continued throughout the conference, with sessions on “The struggle for socialism in the United States” again presented by Pessin and a discussion on “Six months of the Trump presidency” introduced by Red Flag editor Corey Oakley.
There were sessions concerned with the political polarisation internationally, including “From Blair to Corbyn: the rebirth of social democracy?” and “Catalyst or cure? The role of the centre in the rise of the populist right”. Escalating military tensions between the United States and China also brought large turnouts for the sessions on “Making sense of a multi-polar world: understanding imperialism today” and “Can the United Nations be a force for global peace?”
As with previous years, the conference was an opportunity for those new to socialist politics to get an introduction to key ideas in the “Marxism 101” stream. Topics included “Does the working class even exist any more?”, gender and sexuality, the roots of racism and “individual vs. collective action”. With the exception of the opening and closing panels, the session on the history of the Russian revolution was the largest at the conference, drawing more than 150 people.
The conference also featured a number of special panel discussions: “How to rebuild the union movement: case studies from the past”, “30 years on from the Palestinian intifada” and “Class struggle and women’s liberation”. More than 130 people attended a vibrant panel discussion on refugee rights with Rebecca Barrigos and former Nauru social worker, whistleblower and author Mark Isaacs.
The Socialism conference has become an annual highlight on Sydney’s political calendar and will return in 2018.