Michael Chessum reports on a week of politics, self-organisation and glorious sunshine.
The 32nd Fourth International Youth Summer Camp took place between the 27th July and the 2nd August near Antwerp, Belgium. More than 300 young socialists took part, including a roughly 20-strong British delegation. Our delegation was drawn half from student and recent student activists from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and half from young Left Unity activists. Given that this was the first time Britain had sent a substantial delegation in a number of years, our presence was widely remarked upon by other participants, and we found ourselves in demand for inter-delegation meetings.
Attending the camp, you felt an undeniable connection to a living and relevant political tradition: many sections of the International were (via broad fronts) in or around power of one sort or another, and everyone was engaged in struggle. The logistics of the camp, too, were impressive: an army of volunteers, many of them former youth participants, kept people fed and the camp running, while a rota system shared out tasks such as bar shifts and cleaning. Coming from a place (the British left) which loves to laugh at itself, the camp provided a good antidote to defeatism and constant self-deprecation.
Each day was themed – on youth, the environment, feminism, LGBTQI liberation, and racism and fascism – with the final day being allocated to debates and more practical discussion. Days began with a lecture introducing the topic, and were followed by a slot for inter-delegation meetings – perhaps the most interesting part of the camp, during which delegations would meet each other and give short presentations on their national situation and exchange ideas (and occasionally argue)about strategy. After lunch, a series of workshops ran, and in the evening there would be a plenary with speakers from a number of different countries. ‘Commissions’– effectively planning meetings for various events and protests – also operated each day, along with occasional LGBTQI and Women’s spaces.
The British delegation ran workshops on a variety of topics including precarious workers, housing, the 2011 riots and institutional racism, fracking, and democratic centralism; and gave plenary speeches on fracking and on the centrality of women’s liberation in socialist struggle, drawing on recent failures in the SWP and the Socialist Party.
As well as the formal sessions and educationals, the camp provided a space for debate within and between different sections of the International. The situation in Greece split the camp: a majority of the sections supporting a continued fight within Syriza against the leadership, while a minority – including, significantly, the Greek section itself – maintain, and to some extent or another have always maintained, a level of hostility to the Syriza project. These differences were examined and re-examined by the camp’s reaction to the conviction and imprisonment of three activists, one of them a member of the Greek section, Okde Spartacus, and a veteran of the camp, for their participation in anti-memorandum protests in July. After some negotiation, a solidarity statement was agreed by a consensus across the delegations.
What the differences over Greece really represented was the intrusion into the camp of perhaps the most pressing strategic difference in the Fourth International: between broad left-wing alliances and tighter revolutionary and anticapitalist groupings. These differences reared their head again, refracted slightly through the perennial lens of debates about internal democracy, when the NPA (France) distributed a leaflet on behalf of a recently expelled faction of Anticapitalistas (Spain), who had broken with the section and argued (as far as one could work out from the leaflet) for a harder line against the Podemos leadership. The Spanish were not amused, and at various points people shouted at each other, walked out of sessions and argued – but still, somehow, the atmosphere of the camp, and even the rooms in which the clashes occurred, retained a comradely spirit.
Overall, the spirit of the camp reflected the situation facing the left across Europe: although we are by and large still advancing, the broad alliances of Syriza and Podemos which have given such hope to the radical left are facing a moment of crisis. How we should react to these, and what the outcomes will be, is all open to debate.
Next year’s camp is being organised by Anticapitalistas, Socialist Resistance’s sister organisation in the Spanish state and the major left current in Podemos. If you broadly agree with the politics of The Fourth International and Socialist Resistance, and are interested in coming, contact email@example.com to receive information.
Read another report of the camp at International Viewpoint