After almost four decades, the annual Socialism Conference has established itself as a critical and unique esource on the U.S. Left. One of the only events that brings together people from all over the country for sustained, intentional Left political debate and discussion. The four days of Socialism represents the confluence of the lessons and inspiration of radical history and politics with the activists and movements changing our world right now. The Tempest Collective is honored to be one of the endorsers of the conference and because of the change to a September date, we want to make sure Socialism 2022 is part of everyone’s plans. Here we present three comrades – Phil Gasper, Haley Pessin, Natalia Tylim – offering their reminiscences and motivations. We hope to see you in Chicago!
When I joined the socialist movement in 2006, the annual Socialism Conference became the cornerstone of my year. There is nothing that can duplicate taking the time for a full weekend to take stock, collectively with activists from around the country and the world, of the state of class struggle and the tasks for the year ahead.
The last conference before the pandemic hit with full force was in the summer of 2019. At the time, the people of Hong Kong were in full rebellion in defense of sovereignty. The rollout of the Brexit referendum was being negotiated. Jair Bolsonaro was being confronted by feminists in the streets of Brazil with chants of “Ele Não.” In the United States, it was year three of Trump’s presidency—and the socialist movement was growing, specifically Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which was quickly becoming a base of operation for socialists of all stripes and outlooks. DSA was seeing some electoral breakthroughs on the local level, leading to fresh and new debates about socialist electoral strategy. For many, these electoral conversations were built around a hope, arguably elevated to a strategy, that Bernie Sanders would be the Democratic Party nominee against Trump in 2020 and catapult the developing socialsit movement into a new historical moment.
The year 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. The Left is in a much more difficult place with a Joe Biden administration now overseeing the multiple-headed crises we face. I keep coming back to the energy and sense of possibility that was so infectious in the socialist movement when Trump was president. And it keeps bringing me back to the same issue—that political training, spaces to debate both the short-term expressions and long-term dynamics of the period we are in, combined with the building up of independent, grassroots, democratic infrastructures of the socialist Left is not a step that we can skip. Often this means starting with one-on-one conversations and with basic political education.
This might pale in comparison to hearing socialism discussed on national television, or seeing how many people in polls seem to agree with socialist demands. But in the absence of a ground game, we cannot build a stronger force capable of using elections, strikes, protests, and campaigns to win our demands.
The truth is, our side hasn’t won a whole lot these last couple of years. Life is getting harder. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the #MeToo moment, the fundamental importance of abortion access are all examples of how deep the sentiment lies for transformative change, and yet how challenging it has been to create ongoing organizations of activists to navigate the highs, lows, and cooptation machines together.
The strike wave we saw under Covid, and the inspiring proliferation of new organizing that followed, is a beautiful example of the types of active participation that are possible right now. And those, too, exist on the same political terrain. How we learn as a socialist movement to build the organizations, spaces, institutions, and unions that this moment demands is an urgent question we must answer.
The Socialism Conference is the best space we have to develop these discussions. Already, I’m in conversation with rank-and-file labor activists about getting together to talk about a socialist perspective for the labor movement. I’m talking to international feminists who are trying to figure out if they can attend in order to discuss strategies for defending abortion rights with a U.S. audience. And, of course, we are trying to bring together revolutionaries who see ourselves as part of a broader socialist movement, but also remain fully convinced of the need to be organized with others around the starting point that revolution is necessary to develop a strategic outlook that is concrete in its application and wholistic in its scope.
There is no substitute for in-person debates, discussions, and organizing. The conference is the most important space for vaccinated and masked socialists to gather to work through the challenging questions this moment has posed for us organizationally and politically.
I had been attending the Socialism Conference in Chicago for more than ten years prior to the pandemic, and I am so happy that it’s back!
This year, I’m especially excited to get to hear from activists organizing to defend abortion rights in the post-Roe era, and to think through how we can develop new networks that can fight for a socialist feminist future.
Most conferences tend to focus either on activism or history, but Socialism brings these important discussions together.
Whether you are new to socialist ideas or a seasoned organizer, the conference is a unique place to meet and learn from leaders in struggle. At past conferences, I’ve been able to attend sessions alongside people who’ve made invaluable contributions to the Left, like John Carlos (who raised the Black Power fist at the 1968 Olympics) and members of the Combahee River Collective (the group of Black socialist feminist lesbians who organized in the 1970s). Some of the most powerful sessions I’ve attended featured teachers from the strike wave in 2018 and family members of police brutality victims organizing for justice.
I’m grateful that the conference organizers have made a point to provide virtual sessions for those who can’t attend in person, but there’s a lot you need to be there to experience. I often get as much out of conversations I have with people I meet in between sessions as I do from the workshops. And since socialism is a project of social transformation, this is an especially exciting place to find others who are committed to tackling every problem capitalism throws at us, whether that’s fighting racism, organizing our workplaces, or taking action to stop climate change, and much more.
It is also more important than ever that activists take the time to gather with other socialists from all over the country and around the world to discuss the serious challenges we’re up against. The pandemic has been both a galvanizing and isolating experience, with strikes and mass protests happening alongside serious setbacks that none of us can navigate alone.
The Socialism Conference offers a unique opportunity to rebuild and form new connections with like-minded people who are thinking about and organizing around these issues, and who also recognize the need for transformative change and radical action. So, get registered and come find your comrades! We’ve got work to do.
It’s been more than three years since the last in-person Socialism Conference, so I’m really looking forward to this one. I’ve been attending since the conference first began and each time, I have learned an amazing amount, made new political friends, and left inspired and motivated to continue organizing.
Some highlights from past conferences include Egyptian revolutionaries talking about their role in the Tahrir Square uprising that overthrew the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship. Incredible panels of educators and students after the Chicago teachers strike and then the red-state revolt of 2018. Donna Murch on the history of the Black Panther Party. Members of the Combahee River Collective talking about the Black feminist tradition. Anand Gopal with first-hand reports of the situation in Afghanistan and Syria. But also the many great sessions that provide introductions to basic Marxist and socialist ideas.
Socialism is a gathering of activists. There are meetings on contemporary issues, theory, history, debates on the Left, culture, and a lot more. What makes it so valuable is that the issues are not discussed in an academic or abstract way, but from the point of view of people who not only want to change the world but are actively involved in trying to do that.
In the past there have also been a large number of international guests with reports and lessons from struggles in their own countries. There’s also great entertainment and plenty of time for informal discussion outside the meetings.
I don’t think anything can replace in-person gatherings. Zoom events have their place and have been indispensable over the past couple of years, but they don’t allow you to continue the discussion after the meeting or do the kind of networking that is possible at an event like Socialism. And you don’t get the atmosphere of being in a room with several hundred other people listening to speakers who have been involved in some of the major struggles taking place in the US and around the world.
I realize that not everyone is in a position to come to a gathering of this kind right now. But if you are healthy and vaccinated, I would definitely encourage you to consider it.
The last few years have been tough on almost everyone, so the inspiration and motivation are particularly needed now.
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