The Marxism 2018 festival, hosted by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), took place last week in a context of deepening political polarisation across the world.
Meetings grappled with how the collapse of mainstream politics has fuelled the rise of the far right—but has also created opportunities for the radical left.
At a meeting on the Windrush scandal and “Britishness”, anti-racist activist Weyman Bennett argued that “a crisis of the extreme centre” has led mainstream politicians to turn on migrants, refugees and Muslims.
Latifa Abouchakra an NEU teachers’ union member, told the opening rally, “With the white working class, they’re told the reason they’re short of money is because the Muslims and the immigrants are here.”
In a meeting on Donald Trump’s trade wars, Alex Callinicos said Trump represented a response that is not wedded to neoliberalism. He warned that the far right have taken the opportunity to grow from Trump’s policies.
A lively debate over the racist US president’s politics sprang up at a panel meeting on the resistance to Trump.
US Marxist John Bellamy Foster argued that Trump was a “neo-fascist”—which he contended was different to “traditional” fascism.
He pointed out that Trump’s support comes from the same social base as does fascists’—the middle classes.
However, people pointed out that neither Trump nor the Republican Party is aligned to a street movement, as is the case with fascist parties. All attending agreed that the need to confront the fascists on the streets was of paramount importance.
Other discussions focused on how the left can use the political crisis to build an alternative.
In a meeting on revolutionary politics in the era of Corbyn, Socialist Worker editor Charlie Kimber said, “In a time of polarisation, the right remains in most places stronger than the left.
“There is a massive sense of urgency, but it is possible to throw off attacks.” One Labour Party member said there was “a lot of debate and argument going on in the Labour Party” about what a Corbyn-led government should do.
He added that shadow chancellor John McDonnell was “preparing and strategising” for an assault on the government by big business.
The discussion continued in a debate between SWP industrial organiser Mark L Thomas and author, Momentum member and activist Mark Perryman.
Perryman said that Corbyn victory would be a “break with the neoliberal consensus” and that “the next general election will be one of historic proportions.”
He said that’s why the most important thing was to canvas to make sure Labour could win in key marginal seats at the next election.
But Thomas said mass struggle outside would be crucial to beat off the onslaught on Corbyn if Labour got elected.
He warned that the logic of electoralism could lead the Labour left to prioritise elections instead of building that crucial resistance now.
Fighting against oppression
Fighting oppression was a central theme in many of the discussions.
At a meeting on fighting sexism and the system, young women spoke about the difficulties of tackling sexual harassment in schools.
And in a meeting about Islamophobia and child abuse, social worker Bea Kay argued, “Child abuse is about our material conditions, and our material conditions are getting worse.”
Bea looked at the racist response to the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham. And she said banning young women wearing the hijab at school is a safeguarding issue.
Education workers spoke out, saying, “The Prevent agenda is giving ammunition to the far right by whipping up racism.”
Speakers at the opening and closing rallies included Siomha Hennessy, Mary Smith and Tina MacVeigh who were all involved in campaign for the recent victory on abortion rights in Ireland.
Tina pointed to new struggles ahead—such as on pay inequality, unemployment and sexist legislation.
She said, “On the back of this we have to push forward the fight for real change for our economic, social and cultural needs.”
Windrush Generation migrant Eleanor Peterson and Janet Alder, sister of Christopher Alder who died in police custody, also spoke.
‘I refuse to sit and wait’
Debates and discussions also looked at how to build resistance in the workplaces.
The opening rally heard from Wigan hospital striker Dave and Shen Batmaz, who was one of the leaders of the first McDonald’s strike in British history.
Shen kicked off the evening with a rallying cry that workers can change the world.
“I refuse to sit and wait for one man in the Labour Party to change it for us,” she said.
“I refuse to be told we can’t change it for ourselves.”
Bfawu union national president Ian Hodson joined a debate on Labour and the unions on Friday evening. Hodson stressed the need to fight now, not just wait for a Labour government.
“As important as it is to have a Labour leader who recognises socialism, it’s the movement we have to build,” he said.
Other speakers included Karen Reissmann, an SWP member on the Unison union national executive (pc), and Sean Vernell an SWP member on the UCU union national executive.
Karen said that activists should use the Wigan hospital workers’ result to build struggles in their own workplaces.
“The only way to beat them is to be confrontational,” she said.
Voices from Marxism
“When I came to Marxism, I didn’t know what to expect, but this is like my university.
“You meet inspiring and amazing people. It’s like a new energy has been put inside me.”
Mandy Buckley, Birmingham care worker
“It’s the second time I’ve been to Marxism. It’s a place where you can understand the politics of Marxism and why the world is how it is.
“You also learn about how the working class can rise up and how we can change the world.”
Joshua Agbo, activist from Cambridge
“Marxism is a good way to meet new people and come across new ideas. I enjoyed the meeting on fighting sexism.
“I’ve loved being here because everyone gets a chance to have a say.”
Isabel Ringrose, student in York