The global revolt against our rulers infused the Marxism 2011 festival in central London last weekend. It lifted the atmosphere, debates and the size—with over 4,500 people attending.
It was the largest Marxism—the annual festival hosted by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)—in over a decade.
The event brought together striking workers in Britain with activists from Egypt, Greece and other countries, who are at the forefront of fighting for change.
Last year’s student revolt in Britain and the revolutions in the Middle East also inspired the mood.
A rousing rally opened the festival on Thursday evening of last week—the day hundreds of thousands of workers had struck against the Tories.
The presence of strikers and their supporters, fresh from picket lines and protests, meant a fighting spirit filled the hall.
People rose to cheer Kamal Abu Aita, the founder of Egypt’s tax collectors’ union, as he stood to speak (below).
“Greetings from the Egyptian people and the revolution,” he told the rally. “We knew there was an alternative—a globalisation of the people who make things in society against the globalisation of the system.
“The smell of freedom from the Egyptian revolution is something leaders the world over need to take notice of.
“Your strike shows that workers will not pay the bill for the economic crisis—those who made it will pay.”
Thousands of people then packed into almost 200 meetings over the next four days, debating every aspect of Marxist politics.
Many rooms were filled to capacity. Huge queues formed for Terry Eagleton’s meeting on the Communist Manifesto on Saturday with hundreds unable to get in.
Meetings on Frantz Fanon, chaos and science, Greece and the Eurozone crisis, and Tony Cliff, the founder of the SWP, were jam packed.
Leading trade unionists—including Billy Hayes of the CWU, Steve Hart of Unite and Kevin Courtney of the NUT—came to debate the next stage of the fight against the Tories.
Left wing theorists—like Tariq Ali, Peter Thomas, Ben Fine, Esther Leslie, Paul Gilroy and John Bellamy Foster—discussed imperialism, economics, art and other subjects.
Writers Nina Power, Laurie Penny and Socialist Worker editor Judith Orr debated how to win women’s liberation.
Sameh Naguib from the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists, writer Haifa Zangana and Sami Ramadani told of the impact of the Arab Spring.
Jim Swire, the father of one of the Lockerbie bombing victims, spoke to a large crowd alongside civil rights lawyer Gareth Peirce on the miscarriage of justice in that case.
There were also courses and meetings that laid out the basis of socialist ideas, such as how Marxist economics works, what makes a revolution and what kind of party we need.
Across the event, there was an exchange of ideas and experiences as audience members asked questions and made contributions.
Rachel, a student from UCL, said, “It’s nice to hear different views at the meetings. They’re not all, ‘Think this, do this.’
“The meetings on Egypt were good. It’s strange how different it is for them and us. But we’re all trying to change the world. It makes you think a lot about the bigger picture. I met lots of people to have interesting debates with.”
Njoki Wamai, a student from Kenya studying at King’s College London, said, “I loved the meeting on class and class consciousness. It connected with things I’ve found hard to understand about Kenya, like how to deal with the fact that so many workers don’t organise as workers because they dream of becoming part of the elite. It has been a learning experience.”
This was the first Marxism festival for many attendees, and they experienced it alongside hundreds who hadn’t missed the event since they first became involved in socialist politics.
A number of people who hadn’t been to Marxism for a few years came again, angered by the attacks working people face and inspired by the fightback.
This year’s Marxism was the first to take place at University College London. The fact that it was all taking place on one site added to the festival feeling.
It brought everyone together in the large Quad, the university’s main square, especially in the meal breaks and evening.
The Bookmarks bookshop took over the large cloisters room, and a smaller room too, making it central to the event.
At the closing rally on Monday, Sameh Naguib from Egypt spoke about the ongoing struggle against the regime there. “This is a historical moment of extraordinary significance,” he said. “History doesn’t keep giving us chances like this. We have to take that chance now.
“We have to take the battle to the end. The revolution continues, and we will not stop until workers have taken over the entire system in Egypt.”
PCS activist Marianne Owens spoke alongside Caroline Holding from UK Uncut—one of the 145 activists who face charges for occupying the Fortnum & Mason department store on 26 March.
Charlie Kimber from the SWP wrapped up the rally. “The resistance is coming here too,” he said. “But we have to be organised to fight back and defeat the cuts. We have to be ready for it. We have to be pushing for strikes and resistance.
“And we need stronger socialist organisation at the centre of all that, fighting for a revolutionary socialist future.”
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