Over 800 people joined a lively opening rally of Marxism Festival 2018 in Friends Meeting House, central London, on Thursday night. It marked the beginning of a four-day political festival hosted by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
Marxism 2018 takes place against the backdrop of growing interest in socialist politics in Britain—but also the renewed threat of the far right.
Shen Batmaz, who led the first McDonald’s strike in British history, kicked off the evening with a rallying cry that workers can change the world. “We’re standing up against global corporations that run the world,” she said.
“I refuse to sit and wait for one man in the Labour Party to change it for us—I refuse to be told we can’t change it for ourselves.”
Fighting the Tories' racist offensive against migrants will be a major theme at Marxism 2018. Eleanor Peterson got a standing ovation when she slammed Theresa May’s government for the way it had treated her and other Windrush Generation migrants.
“Theresa May’s government need to be held accountable,” she said.
“This generation came here after the Second World War and built the NHS, which wouldn’t exist if it not for the sweat of the Windrush workers.”
Outrage at the threat of deportation facing migrants like Eleanor forced home secretary Amber Rudd to resign. But their treatment was no accident—it was an integral part to the Tories’ wider assault against migrants, refugees and Muslims.
Latifa Abouchakra is an NEU teachers’ union member who stood up to right wing attempts to ban woman and girls wearing the hijab in schools. “With the white working class, they’re told the reason they’re short of money is because the muslims and the immigrants are here,” she said.
“But the white working class, Muslims, migrants—we’re all the victims of the white establishment.”
A big feature of Marxism 2018 is international delegations—from Austria to Ireland to Ghana—who’ve come to contribute to debates about how to take the fight forward.
Siomha Hennessy, an Irish abortion rights activist, spoke about the inspiring vote to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish constitution. She said, “Young women were mobilising in their tens of thousands—and when we finally got a referendum we were ready.
And Mary Smith from People Before Profit in Ireland added, “It blows out of the water the idea that progress is something that happens in a gradual way.
“We hope our sisters and our comrades will take heart from our victory.”
The opening rally came on the same day at the 70th birthday of the founding of the NHS.
Dave is a one of the NHS strikers from Wigan—who are on the frontline of the fight against privatisation. “It’s a mockery of the NHS,” he said. “And it’s not just happening in Wigan—it’s happening everywhere and it’s an infection.
“It’s a war—and we need to stop it before it catches any further.”
All of these injustices and struggles flow from the fact that we live in capitalist society where the rich rule the world and exploit the poor. The murder at Grenfell Tower sums it up.
Moyra Samuels, a Justice4Grenfell campaigner, said, Grenfell holds a mirror to our society. It demonstrated the kind of society we’re living in, and now is not the time to avert our gaze.
“We know who’s responsible—it’s capitalism we need to blame, it’s a neoliberal system that puts profit before people."
Weyman Bennett, an anti-racist and leading member of the SWP, said, "The most powerful weapon of our rulers is the idea you can’t resist anything.
"We’re told we’ve got no choice. But this is our university—this is how we organise.
'Socialists can lead the struggle and change society—Marxism is about connecting the power of our class with the power of how we fight”