In July 2017, close to four hundred young socialists from seventeen countries met at the 34th International Youth Camp in Otranto, southern Italy. It took days of gruelling travel by rail and by road, a night in Ensemble’s Paris office, numerous service stations and a couple of wrong turns before the nine activists from the British state arrived. By the time we reached the camp, we were exhausted, but seven days later we departed energised.
At the camp, tents nestled among olive trees while cicadas sang beneath a blue sky, uninterrupted. Fresh, home-made Italian food was served every day, most days entirely vegan, made with organic products sourced locally or from the fuorimercato (“outside the market”) network. Everything was self-organised: the food cooked by volunteers, many of whom came from Rimaflow, an occupied, worker-organised factory in Milan; delegations took shifts of bar work, cleaning and security; and the LGBTIQ and women’s parties were organised by the autonomous LGBTIQ and women’s spaces.
It was an idyllic location, but also very appropriate: the region of Puglia, which forms Italy’s southern heel and is one of the country’s poorest regions, has been a site of struggle against the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). On the first night we heard how the TAP threatens to wreak environmental havoc, both locally and globally, and is being met with resistance from the local community, with support from Communia Network.
The programme was divided into six themes, one day set aside for each theme: struggles of the youth and the oppressed; migration, racism and imperialism; feminism; queer politics; ecology; and strategy. On each day there was an educational (for an excellent example see last year’s ecology educational here), a range of workshops, meetings in the LGBTIQ and women’s spaces, and time for inter-delegation meetings.
In spite of the kalimotxo—a dangerously drinkable Basque cocktail of cola and red wine—the camp was a refreshing, sobering experience. Inter-delegation meetings and informal evening conversation usually turned at some point to discussion of Corbyn and the Labour Party. Members of all delegations challenged us to defend our membership of the Labour Party and our support for Corbyn. It effectively punctuated the buzz surrounding the Corbyn project, prompting me to reflect critically on my involvement. It was also a welcome break from the mudslinging criticism we have grown accustomed to receiving from the Right in Britain.
Brexit was another hot topic, particularly with the Danish delegation, who adamantly argued that we should have joined the left-wing exit campaign. Though we remained unconvinced, their arguments led to interesting discussions with our Scottish comrades about Brexit’s implications for Scottish independence and the north of Ireland. We led a workshop which allowed us to dig deeper into the debate, with participants from the Danish, Polish and Portuguese delegations.
The workshops were productive and thought-provoking. One workshop on building student organisations, facilitated by members of the NPA (France) and Communia Network (Italy), gave the opportunity for delegates from Brazil, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland to share experiences from their own students’ unions. It was pleasantly surprising to see that our situations had many things in common, and the possibility of setting up a permanent commission on students’ unions—and, hopefully, coordinating transnational action—is now being explored.
Two other workshops were especially noteworthy: one on campism, led by a member of the Belgian delegation, was a timely intervention into debates on the Left about Russian imperialism in the Middle East and Ukraine, as well as many people on the Left’s uncritical support for authoritarian opponents of US imperialism. The other was led by comrades from Denmark, on the uneven distribution of risk. It introduced a useful conceptual framework for discussing a range of issues, from Standing Rock, to Grenfell, to earthquakes, to contraception: what all these have in common is that it is demonstrably riskier to be a woman, to be working-class, and to be non-white.
There are few opportunities for young socialists—from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland—to meet, discuss, socialise and share experiences with others from around the world. As one such opportunity, the International Youth Camp is very valuable. Young socialists in Britain should make the most of it.