Building socialism: Political education for the many
The Labour Left’s annual political education extravaganza, The World Transformed, is back with a bang in 2019. For the fourth consecutive year, the festival is taking place alongside Labour Conference – this year in Brighton – from Saturday 21st to Tuesday 24th September. Its recently launched program of events is a barometer for the unremitting curiosity and ambition of Corbynism’s grassroots.
The words ‘political education’ are tossed around a lot these days. Especially on the Labour Left. Four years into Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, the honeymoon period is over and the practical realities of building socialism in the UK are stark. On the one hand, the strategic challenges of winning a Corbyn-led Labour government are not disappearing. Under constant siege by the Labour Right, the media and the political establishment, Corbynism must innovate creative solutions to build support and win power.
A strategy to build socialism through the Labour Party from within the heart of neoliberal capitalism was always going to laden with political contradictions. Many of those also remain unresolved: What does the movement do about crime & policing? What is an internationalist foreign policy post-Brexit? What does an anti-racist and anti-fascist labour movement look like? Meanwhile, Labour’s response to the great political challenges of the day, including climate breakdown and the constitutional crisis of Brexit, are incomplete or unconvincing.
The World Transformed takes on all of these challenges and more. In keeping with the times, climate justice a strong strand of this year’s festival. Labour for a Green New Deal will be hosting a session on building a radical climate movement and another on ‘visioning a Green New Deal in your local area’. There will also be space to explore the internationalist potential of the Green New Deal with Danielle Rowley MP and prepare for the COP26 climate negotiations, taking place in Glasgow in 2020.
Strands on policing, anti-fascism, work & unions, migrants’ rights, feminism, housing, internationalism and beyond are this year moving beyond the panel-discussion and audience format. With greater participation, sessions will create the space to draw on the collective intelligence of the movement to develop the radical ideas that will drive Corbynism forward. TWT’s ambition in this regard is underlined by their experiment in forming a ‘manifesto for the movement’ which will be launched on the final day with speakers including John McDonnell MP and Ed Miliband MP.
Taking TWT to the grassroots
This political education cannot just happen once a year though. And it certainly can’t happen just for those who can make Labour Conference. Local editions of TWT have sprung up across the country modelling the festival for a local area. In places like Birmingham and Bristol, these have been huge multi-day events drawing hundreds of people covering a range of issues. In Oxford, the one-day event had a narrower focus on the Green New Deal and delving deep into its key questions.
The Labour grassroots has been innovating political education outside of the TWT model too. Members of Oxford & District Labour Party recently organised a Summer School: one event a week throughout August. The sessions’ themes were: What is the Labour Party for?; Fighting racism & building socialism; Why is my rent so high and wages so low?; and Labour and the Social Industry. These events acted as a cross-factional space for members to understand each others’ perspectives and learn from the rich experience in the local party. Spaces like this would be welcome across the country where local Labour parties can be overcome with factional dispute and political contestation. It’s useful to occasionally remember we’re all in the same party for a reason.
In the first session of the Oxford & District Labour Summer School, one participant argued for the importance of cooperatives in prefiguring larger institutions like the NHS. We should draw inspiration from this in our ambitions for socialist political education for the many. To build an educated, skilled and confident grassroots to the extent we need, its vital that we maximise reach by scaling the work of TWT and others through the labour movement’s institutions.
Labour should support every local party to host political schools drawing inspiration from the methods and political ambition of TWT. These would benefit existing members while providing an accessible entry point for supporters to get more involved. Labour may have over half a million members, but to win every single one of us need the skills, knowledge and confidence that political education for the many can provide.
Header image credit: Oxford Labour Party