Thousands of anti-war campaigners, trade union activists, students and others will be heading to central London next month for what will be this year’s largest meeting of the radical left in Britain.
Marxism 2007 takes place from Thursday 5 July to Monday 9 July, and will encompass debates, discussions, seminars and cultural events around a host of political topics.
The Marxism festival has been organised and hosted by the Socialist Workers Party for many years now and has become an annual fixture in the calendar of many activists.
This year the event will be broader than ever, with a focus on working through key questions that face the left after Tony Blair has finally been driven from office and replaced by his New Labour colleague and rival Gordon Brown.
Brown’s succession to power comes at a crucial time. Discontent among working people – especially those in the public sector – at pay freezes, job cuts and privatisation is reaching a fever pitch.
One of the key strands in Marxism this year involves bringing together left wing trade union leaders with the wider movement to discuss how that anger can be channelled into a serious challenge to Brown’s neoliberal agenda.
A session on Saturday afternoon will see Billy Hayes, general secretary of the postal and telecom workers’ CWU union, speaking alongside the journalist Paul Mason on the shape of the working class today.
In another meeting that day, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, will join Matt Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union, and left wing Labour MP John McDonnell to discuss how to build a fighting trade union movement.
The class struggles in Britain today take place in and are shaped by the global context of wars and imperialism – especially in the Middle East.
Marxism will see an unprecedented number of speakers from the Middle East giving first hand accounts of resistance to US domination of the region.
These include Hassan Jumaa Awad, leader of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions that recently defied military threats and arrest warrants to win a strike against the US-backed Iraqi government.
The festival’s opening rally on Thursday evening will include Kamal Khalil of Egypt’s Kifaya opposition movement. It has become a central component of anti-imperialist democracy movements in a country that has been rocked by a wave of strikes and peasant protests in recent months.
On Sunday Kamal Khalil will join Lebanese socialist Bassem Chit and other Middle Eastern activists at a session on building resistance that aims to bring a flavour of the Cairo Conference to London.
The annual Cairo Conference has been instrumental in bringing together socialist and Muslim activists from across the Middle East to form a united front against imperialism and neoliberalism in the region.
While the big themes of war and the struggle to promote people’s needs over profits will dominate Marxism, the sheer scale of the festival – over 180 meetings and events over five days – means there’s plenty of space to discuss wider ideological issues.
The struggle against racism in all its different forms will occupy a central place during the event.
Speakers include the acclaimed anti-racist academic and writer Paul Gilroy, who will dissect New Labour’s assault on multiculturalism. This is part of a series of meetings looking at racism in British society 200 years on from the abolition of the slave trade.
Guardian journalist Gary Younge will talk about racism in the US since the civil rights era, while anti-racist activists Claudia Webbe and Dean Ryan will debate the impact of “gun culture” on black and white young people in Britain today.
The atmosphere of racism whipped up in the wake of the “war on terror” has given room for the fascist British National Party to breathe. Billy Bragg and Martin Smith from Love Music Hate Racism will debate how best to halt the growth of the fascists.
Marxism will also provide a forum for Respect activists to debate with the wider movement about political representation for the radical left in the post-Blair era.
George Galloway MP, John Rees and Respect councillors Michael Lavalette and Ray Holmes will discuss Respect’s strategy in the run-up to next year’s London mayor and assembly elections.
Lindsey German, Respect’s candidate for London mayor, will be speaking about “the other London” as well as launching her new book Material Girls: Women, Men and Work. Other sessions on women’s rights include Jill Liddington speaking about her book Rebel Girls: Their Fight for the Vote.
A host of other meetings will discuss topics ranging from climate change, Latin America in revolt, debt and the global economy, through to the relationship between Marxism and genetics.
Theory and practice
Running throughout this year’s Marxism will be a series of meetings designed for activists and campaigners looking to deepen their understanding of the world – and how to change it.
An introductory course on the Marxist method covers topics such as alienation, historical materialism and the dialectic – the cornerstone of Karl Marx’s philosophical method.
A course on Marx’s Capital outlines the basics of the book, while Alex Callinicos speaks on how Marx’s analysis applies to capitalism in the 21st century.
These meetings are complemented by a series of sessions on understanding contemporary capitalism, covering topics such as financial markets, China’s position in the world economy and the role of debt in today’s economy.
The high point of workers’ struggles came in 1917 in Russia. These momentous events will be the focus of a series of debates that will look at how the Russian Revolution was won – and why it eventually failed.
Plus there’s a host of meetings looking at the lives and works of key Marxist writers, such as Walter Benjamin, Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci – as well as critical assessments of other radical thinkers such as Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault.
We’re coming to Marxism to join the debate
“I’m looking forward to the sessions on the Middle East – I follow what’s going on there on the news – along with other stuff I’m interested in.
“I heard about the event through a friend. I really don’t know what to expect. I’ve never been in that sort of environment before with so many people I agree with politically.
“So I’m interested to hear what people have to say.”
Sabin Koch, student at Hackney Free and Parochial school in east London
“Marxism will be a chance to look at all the big issues that we face.
“I have never been before and I’m looking forward to hearing some leading speakers and having discussions that we don’t normally get to have.
“There’s a big group of us coming from Glasgow university.
“I think the anti-imperialist movements have opened a lot of people’s eyes. We also need a forum to debate where we go as a movement after Tony Blair.
“People know that Blair is a liar and a warmonger, but there is a danger that they see the war as just Blair’s policies, not those of his government.
“We need to talk about where we go from here in organising resistance.
“This means not just opposition to the war, but over public sector pay and other issues.”
Brian Christopher, Glasgow university student
“It’s an event for all ages. I’ve just turned 59 and am six years off retirement.
“This year, for the first time, my daughter has been asking if I am going to Marxism and saying she wants to come.
“We have had a lot of debates over the years.
“In a way I think the event is a link across generations – a place we can all get together to argue about how to win a better future.”
Bus worker, East Sussex
Make sure you’re part of the festival – call 020 7819 1190 to book a ticket or book online at » www.marxismfestival.org.uk