The Labour Party's fringe festival has become a shared institution for the global Left, Husna Rizvi reports.
This year, at the Labour Party’s fringe festival ‘The World Transformed’, we saw a deeper treatment of the ideas that would make a genuine Left political programme possible – all in the heart of what Owen Jones kept calling ‘the People’s Socialist Republic of Liverpool’.
Creative ideas, as opposed to the catch-all term ‘neoliberalism’, took the centre-stage. We heard dissections of how to build and sustain a radical and movement-led media, thoughtful conversations about new modes of politics like Barcelona’s municipalism, and Kurdish militant feminism.
But most important, there was a feeling of restored intellectual confidence on the Left again, anger about austerity replaced by the solutions needed to repair its damage. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had just announced a radical new proposal for the Meidner Plan – a policy that would enable workers to share in the ownership of the companies they work for.
Morale was high – while conference delegates in suits and lanyards were debating the technicalities of a Brexit motion across the road in the main Labour Conference, we were ‘decolonizing our yoga practice’, picking up tips on how to intervene and disrupt the arms trade, and listening to the likes of Jean-Luc Mélenchon saying that a socialism without respect for biodiversity is no socialism at all.
Queues tailed around Liverpool’s streets to hear Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech. He opened by talking about a vigil he’d just attended for the victims of the war on Yemen. Concern for internationalism is making a comeback, in Labour circles at least.
‘This is the first time, maybe in history, that a party leader in Britain has centred their politics around anti-imperialism,’ said our co-editor Yohann Koshy at the opening of our panel on Labour’s foreign policy.
Corbyn’s keynote confirmed as much. The World Transformed has, over the years, morphed from a hub for young activists mobilized primarily around electoral campaigns to a genuine shared institution for the global Left.
In particular, transatlantic links are now becoming apparent. Last weekend marked the relaunch of Tribune, a publication originally set up by Nye Bevan – founder of the National Health Service – that went defunct in the noughties and was rebooted with the support of American magazine Jacobin.
According to Tribune's editor Ronan Burtenshaw, the publication was launched because ‘we [the Left] haven’t been strong enough. We believe the Left media needs to grow, needs to be better, and needs to make those cases for socialist politics and a socialist society even more clearly.’
New institutions aside, TWT attendees posed some of the most interesting political questions of the weekend. At a talk called Empire 2.0, an attendee asked: ‘What can those in the development sector do to resist predatory aid policies that under-develop third world countries?’ The question itself demonstrates a genuine and popular concern not just to avoid complicity in ‘the West being bad’ but to go beyond armchair critique to collective action.
With events like Acid Corbynism (a 60’s inspired dance movement) and Ed Milliband’s Pub Quiz being held at the same festival, this year’s event was marked by effective intergenerational organising. Young Labour activist Hasan Patel, aged 15, spoke at a Young Person’s Question Time urging other young people in the audience to get involved in politics.
He spoke alongside Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen and successor to the late Jo Cox, murdered in 2016. She spoke frankly to children in the room about the effect of Far-Right white supremacy on British politics.
It was a bold moment - one that would be hard to imagine happening before the Brexit referendum – an MP speaking openly about white supremacy to a room full of 13 year olds.
British mainstream politics would do well to learn lessons from this distinctly Liverpudlian honest approach to organizing. With this new resurgence of ideas and renewed confidence in the Left’s economic argument, The World Transformed has built a real possibility, even an inevitability, that change is coming.