This year’s Marxism festival in central London was the biggest and busiest for over a decade. Over 5,000 people came to hear speakers and take part in the debates and discussions on a huge variety of political topics.
The tone was set by a packed opening rally at Friends House that heard Greek socialist Maria Stylou give a gripping account of struggles in Greece against austerity. The crisis in the eurozone and the resistance to cuts remained a key theme throughout the event.
The Middle East was another key focus. Egyptian revolutionaries Hossam el-Hamalawy and Gigi Ibrahim spoke about the events since last year’s ousting of dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Gigi urged people in Britain to follow the example of the Egyptian struggle. “Britain isn’t so special—the revolution can happen here as well,” she said.
Several panels and debates also looked back on and celebrated the 50th anniversary of Algeria winning independence from France.
Socialists came from all over the world, including sizable groups from Denmark and Spain, and from across Africa.
Marxism this year coincided with London hosting the World Pride celebration of LGBT culture, which was reflected in several sessions focused on LGBT liberation.
Haneen Maikey spoke on the sexual politics of the Middle East, Laura Miles discussed trans history, while socialist author Owen Jones joined Hannah Dee and Noel Halifax to discuss the battle for LGBT rights today.
Sessions on women’s liberation were also popular. Judith Orr discussed the relationship between Marxism and feminism with Estelle Hart, and Sara Bennett examined sexism and sexual liberation today.
Many regular participants at Marxism commented on how young the event was. There were large continents of college and university students radicalised by recent protests and by the anti-police riots last August (see below).
There was also an increased interest in theoretical issues. Sessions on Marxism and philosophy were well attended as were sessions on Marx’s method in Capital featuring David Harvey and Alex Callinicos.
But all these discussions took place with the backdrop of struggle in Britain against the government’s cuts programmes and attacks on public sector pensions and pay.
SWP industrial organiser Martin Smith looked forward to a “hot autumn” of struggle coming up. This includes the 20 October TUC anti-cuts demo, the 21 November student demonstration and strikes by teachers, civil service workers and transport workers.
These events would fuse together struggles that had previously tended to remained separate. “We can shut this country down—and we can shut Cameron up,” he said.
Marxism ended with a closing rally at Friends Meeting House featuring African socialist Mani Tanoh, student protester Alfie Meadows and PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.
Serwotka told the rally, “In fighting back we have to support every struggle from the smallest community campaign to the largest industrial action. We need to be on every picket line, in every occupation, on every demonstration.”
Discussing the urban rebellion
With so many young people attending the festival it was unsurprising that last year’s riots were a major point of discussion.
The topic was covered in a variety of meetings, many of which were packed to overflowing. Kaz, a teenager from east London, dismissed the idea that the rebellions were characterised by mindless violence.
“We are constantly judged by the way we look, what we own and even what we smell like. But we’re denied any means of getting the stuff they want us to buy. Is it any surprise that some people just took them?” he said to applause.
Realising that he was among friends, he concluded, “It’s great to finally be with people who share my point of view.”
At another meeting people discussed how the riots were a response to police racism and growing social inequality.
Guardian journalist Gary Younge declared, “Power concedes nothing without a demand—it never did and it never will,” echoing the words of the great anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass.
One parent shocked the meeting with the story of how police had repeatedly detained his son after he had sought their help after being attacked by a gang.
Everyone agreed that the causes of last year’s riots had not gone away and that the anger which burned on the streets could easily return.
A fresh perspective on world
Participants at Marxism spoke to Socialist Worker about their experience of the event. Shaheena Khan is a teacher and an member of the NUT union
“I met Socialist Workers Party members at my union conference who told me about Marxism,” she said. “I definitely want to come more regularly now.
“The most interesting talk I went to on Saturday was on a people’s history of the Second World War. It gave a fresh perspective on the topic that you don’t hear anywhere else.”
James Karpinski is a student who was at Marxism for the first time. “It was the best festival I’ve ever been to,” he said.
“I heard about it through the SWP student group at the University of East London. The Egyptian meetings were incredible—hearing from the revolutionaries everything they’d been through.”
Catarina Principe had travelled to the event from Oporto in Portugal. “I’ve heard a lot of inspirational stories from the movement all around the world to take back home,” she said.