Turning rebellion into revolution: Socialism 2020 conference in Perth

Socialist Alternative’s Socialism 2020 conference in Perth over the weekend of 26-27 September, attracted more than 160 participants. The conference grappled with the overlapping political, social, economic and climate crises.

Capitalist classes around the world are willing to sacrifice workers and the oppressed to COVID-19 to keep profits flowing. The climate crisis is wreaking havoc, as historic wildfires, orange skies and smoke become a part of the new normal. While healthcare workers fight the pandemic in underfunded hospitals, militarised police brutalise protesters, murder people of colour and defend the far right. These issues were introduced in our opening panel—featuring Perth-based socialists Lian Jenvey, Nick Brown and Erin Russell—and continued across sessions on the rise of authoritarianism, police abolition, and pandemics and capitalism.

These conditions are producing death and destruction. But they’re also creating mass resistance, from Lebanon and Belarus to the centre of global capitalism, the United States.

We heard from radicals on the frontlines of this resistance. At the closing panel on Sunday, Khury Petersen-Smith, a Boston-based socialist, discussed heroic resistance across the US to racist police violence. Petersen-Smith celebrated the mass defiance, and highlighted the transformative process happening in every neighbourhood in which people are organising resistance and discussing the police, racism and capitalism.

Activists from the last major upsurge in global struggle, the 1960s and 1970s, addressed the conference. Gumbainggir radical Gary Foley spoke about the electrifying Black Power movement in Australia, which he was central to. US socialist Joel Geier—who was part of the Freedom rides and Berkeley Free Speech movement—spoke about the wave of struggled during the “long sixties” (1960-75). He gave an insider’s account of how the process of mass struggle radicalised a generation    and far-left organisations mushroomed in size.

The discussions about resistance around the world today and throughout history aimed to guide our approach to organising in Australia today. Police racism, state repression, inequality and exploitation are central to Australian capitalism. These injustices need to be opposed here, and radicals need to be organised. As Geier concluded: “Our job is to build something now to prepare for the ongoing radicalisations. You've got to decide for your whole life, what side are you on?”

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