The Socialist Network – Bratislava Conference Report

Conference ReportThe Socialist Network last week concluded its 2014 Conference. The Conference was held from 3-5th of October in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia in Eastern Europe. Participating in the conference were comrades from Slovakia, Germany, Sweden, Cyprus, Pakistan, Turkey, Britain and Ireland. Thanks to all who organised the conference and contributed to its proceedings. Below is a brief summary of the Conference by our Web Editor. Video and audio recordings and photos will be made available shortly.

Friday
World Economy
The opening session of the Conference was on the World Economy. The discussion was introduced by British socialist economist Mick Brooks, author of ?Capitalist crisis ? theory and practice? who spoke about the reasons for the 2007-8 crisis and analysed why the recovery was so weak. An excellent discussion ensued which can be listened to when we put up our audio recordings online.

The Developing World – China
The afternoon session was on China and was introduced by Heiko Khoo, a frequent contributor to China?s leading news website. The timing of the session was most fortunate given the mass pro-democracy demonstrations that were taking place in Hong Kong. These were naturally a central focus of Heiko?s contribution which comparing it directly to the experience of the pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe in 1989, a movement which Heiko had actively participated in, caused him to conclude that despite the progressive nature of the democratic demands of the demonstrators in Hong Kong, the underlying momentum of the pro-democracy momentum if successful would lead it into a capitalist counter-revolution. For this reason he was convinced that the leadership in Bejing would not give in to the demonstrators? demands. Nor did he think that the bourgeois democratic demands of the Hong Kong movement, which were partly a result of its peculiar history as an ex-British colony, would find a great echo in the rest of China. Not just because of the media blackout there, but more importantly because of the perceived ongoing success of the Chinese Communist Party in building China?s economy and society. Heiko?s speech sparked off a lively discussion which enriched the Network?s position on China on which we will be carrying details in coming weeks on our website.

Evening
In the evening the comrades were taken on a walking tour of the old city of Bratislava. This ended with an excellent meal where we were also joined by Kamil, a Palestinian comrade based in Slovakia.

Saturday
Socialists and the Mass Organisations
The second day of our Bratislava Conference was devoted to the subject of ?Socialists and the Mass Organisations? with a special focus on the situation facing the Left in Europe. The session was introduced by our Website Editor, Pat Byrne, who outlined the main ideas contained in our recent document ?Socialists and the Mass Organisations?. We have a video recording of Pat?s contribution which will be posted on our website in due course.

Pat?s introduction was followed by a speech from Jimmy Dignam in Ireland (an audio recording of which will be made available). Jimmy and a group of other Irish comrades recently left the CWI and are now active in the Workers Party. Jimmy spoke about the economic and political crisis in Ireland and some of the mistakes that have been made by the Left there, and what conclusions he and his comrades have drawn from this. Contributions then followed from Germany, UK, Cyprus and elsewhere on the situation in their countries.

The afternoon session was kicked off by Manzoor from the Revolutionary Struggle group in Pakistan who spoke on the relevance of the Network?s document to their work within the Pakistan People?s Party (PPP), as well as to the campaigning that they are leading in the trade union movement against the massive privatisation programme of the reactionary Sharif government. He raised a number of important issues that flow from the Network?s document on the mass organisations, not least about the issue of secrecy and how socialists should work in a Party like the PPP. Jonathan responded with his experience of the CWI in Sweden and the lessons that they had learned that secrecy was a self-defeating course. He strongly recommended that the Revolutionary Struggle comrades should start to develop themselves as an open socialist tendency inside the PPP and present themselves as the real voice of the Party.

Amendments to the Network?s ?Socialists and the Mass Organisations? document
It had been intended that the afternoon session would concentrate on discussing and deciding on the many amendments that had been sent in to the Network?s document. However, the general discussion on the subject and the response to Manzoor?s speech meant that no time was left to deal with the proposed amendments. It was therefore agreed that in the next day?s final organisation session that we would elect a drafting commission to consider the amendments further.

Evening
In the evening the comrades participated in what turned out to be a ?restaurant crawl? as we attempted to find a place that served typical Slovakian proletarian food. After lots of walking we eventually located a suitable place which was very reminiscent of Slovakia?s stalinist era. Tim remarked that the difficulty we experienced in finding a place open or prepared to serve you was very much like the old days when Slovakia was in the Soviet Bloc.

Sunday
The Socialist Manifesto ? The State
The last day of the Conference opened with a discussion on the issue of ?The State? which was introduced by Jonathan Clyne, The Socialist Network?s Coordinator. Jonathan posed a number of important questions and there was a very interesting discussion in the conference on how socialists should approach the modern capitalist state and what we should propose to transform or replace it. An audio recording of the session will be made available on our website.

Network Organisation
In the afternoon session the Conference got down to the job of looking at the various aspects of the Network?s organisation. Given that the Network is only two years old there are lots of things still to do in order to develop it into a political force that is capable of making a difference. To that end the Conference took some significant steps forward.

Finance: Stefan from Sweden gave a comprehensive report on the Network?s income and expenditure over the last year. Comrades were happy to hear that the finances of the Network have now stabilised. From a continuous monthly deficit at last year?s conference the Network is now running a small monthly surplus although we continue to owe a debt to the Treasurer and are paying the part-time Web Editor considerably less than our original target salary. It was agreed to repay some of the Treasurer?s debt on a one-off basis and thereafter at a rate of ?30 per month. At next year?s conference, the web editor?s salary position will be revisited in the light of the future financial position.

Membership: Based on the Treasurer?s report we now have three national affiliated groups (Socialist Expression in Cyprus, Revolutionary Struggle in Pakistan and The Socialist Network in Sweden) plus a number of individual members in various countries. This was recognised as a small improvement on last year but not at all representative of our wide circle of contacts and the influence that we are starting to have. It was agreed that we needed to launch a membership drive to recruit more national groups and individual members, and in the discussion various examples were given of the possibilities that exist for this. Recruitment material is ready to send out to groups and contacts as is the design for a membership newsletter. The key was to elect a Membership Officer to chase up this task. We also need to facilitate visits to various countries to establish closer relations with various groups and individuals.

Website & Facebook: Pat from Turkey reported briefly on the Website and the Facebook pages which he had been appointed to edit earlier in the year. He appealed for more comrades to write reports and articles for the website and the Facebook page and to start to treat it as their voice. He suggested that we still needed some improvements to the layout of the website and asked for authority to purchase a better template for around $25. Jonathan felt that we should defer this as we had bad experiences in the past when trying to change things. Comrades seemed generally satisfied that the website and Facebook pages were running reasonably well although more material would be very welcome. Jonas felt that we needed a more focused approach to the material on our public Facebook page. Pat mentioned that we also needed someone to help promote the website.

Election of Officers: Jonathan announced that because of his postgraduate studies that he wasn?t finding time to carry out his duties as Coordinator as he would like, and announced that he would be standing down. Jonas Ryber from Sweden was nominated in his stead. Stefan was nominated and agreed to continue as Treasurer. Pat was nominated and agreed to continue as Web Editor. Tim from Portugal was nominated as the Membership Officer.
The election of a team of four active officers is undoubtedly a big step forward for The Network and should allow us to put our work for the coming year on a stronger footing.

Next Network Conference: Pat indicated that he was willing to organise the next Network Conference in Antalya on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey where he lives. The comrades from Pakistan and Cyprus supported this proposed location which would make it much easier for them to attend in person. Pat also suggested that instead of the more frequent conferences of the past we should settle on just one a year and fix a regular month for this as it would make conference organisation that much easier. Accordingly he proposed that we hold the next conference in October 2015. This was generally accepted. After some discussion it was agreed that we hold the next Conference in Antalya from the 23-25th October 2015 but that the date could be changed if a major emergency necessitated it.

Interim Online Conference: The Pakistani comrades had drawn up an important serious of political questions which they wanted the Network to discuss. It was agreed that the use of online communication through Google Hangouts had been a notable success with an ability to handle many participants from different countries including speakers, and with no breakdown during the conference. In view of this Jonathan proposed that we have an online conference in January to discuss the questions posed by the Pakistani comrades. In advance of this he requested that they submit a proper English translation of them which could then be the subject of discussion at several meetings of the Coordinating Committee as well as various articles on our website and Facebook pages.

Drafting Commission: It was agreed to appoint a drafting commission to look through the many amendments that had been submitted to our Network document ?Socialists and the Mass Organisations? which had not been considered due to lack of time. The drafting Commission will include the Officers plus Martin from Sweden and Frank from Germany.

Conference Close
The Conference finished at 4pm and Tim was congratulated on the choice of guesthouse which had provided us with excellent accommodation, food and conference facilities.

Conference Celebration
Comrades then moved down to Lubica?s home where she furnished us with a delicious dinner of Slovakian foods washed down with lots of local wine and spirits.

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