Thousands of campaigners came together in east London last weekend to discuss how to change the world. Marxism Festival 2019 took place as far right groups gain influence and mainstream parties face crisis.
Student Khai said that Marxism “tells the truth that the establishment don’t want us to hear”. Extinction Rebellion member Joseph described it as a “great weekend and fantastic opportunity”.
“We need to bring people round to ideas that matter,” he said. “We all need to take action to save our planet.”
The climate crisis was a major theme as was Brexit, the Labour Party and the fight against racism. School climate strikers, Extinction Rebellion activists and others discussed what kind of action can be taken to stop climate catastrophe.
Author Ian Angus described the fight for the planet as “the most important struggle of our time”. “Capitalism has driven us to a crisis point,” he said. “If ‘business as usual’ continues, major ecological collapse is not possible, but probable.”
Suspended Labour MP Chris Williamson was warmly welcomed as he spoke to over 700 people in a meeting on Corbynism and the future of politics.
Other meetings ranged from discussing Karl Marx’s Capital to knife crime, drugs and gangs. A panel of artists spoke at a meeting on the demonisation of drill and grime music.
Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign spoke at a meeting debating the usefulness of inquiries and inquests in fights for justice. She warned against people in justice campaigns being “co-opted by the state”. “It’s so important we look to each other and stay strong,” she said.
Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean died in police custody, spoke at a meeting on institutional racism and also at the festival’s closing rally.
In a meeting on trans resistance and socialism, author Laura Miles argued for an understanding of gender identity as existing on a spectrum. In another session Alex Callinicos and Costas Lapavitsas put forward the left case against the European Union.
Marxism this year saw far more workshops than in previous events. These saw people break up into group discussions. SWP member Jasmine led off a wide-ranging discussion on what socialism would look like.
She said, “Movements are challenging the way the system is being organised and raising ideas about how society can be run.”
One Labour member asked what we could do about working class people who have right wing ideas. A student asked how revolutionary socialists could tackle the police and military.
Marxism is an international festival that attracts people from different political backgrounds. An attendee from South Korea said she was “drawn to Marxism because it opens up debates about solidarity and action”.
A session on how trade unions can fight austerity saw some discussion on whether national strikes are possible. Activists argued that the 50 percent turnout requirement in strike ballots can be overcome.
PCS union member Candy said, “We’ve got to win an argument that we can fight nationally. Rebuilding organisation in our workplaces is the key.”
A key message from Marxism was that union members must fight to take action on 20 September, the day of a global climate strike.
Michael Bradley from the SWP told the opening rally, “The school students have been an absolute inspiration.
“But if you’re waiting for someone to repeal the trade union laws before you can take action, that’s a joke.”
‘The festival made me want to be politically organised’
“This is the first time I’ve been to Marxism. There are all these topics covered, but I’m particularly interested in unions and how we might organise workers who traditionally are not active.
“We’re all waiting to see what happens with Brexit and whether there will be another general election.
“I would like to see Jeremy Corbyn elected, but we need to be clearer about how that’s going to happen.”
“This is the first Marxism Festival I’ve been to, and I’ve just joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
“I see myself as naturally a socialist, but I had never considered becoming organised. I got involved in politics through anti-racism, then seeing how involved the SWP was made me come.
“It’s been good to see how many people are involved outside of my area and the wide range of ideas.
“Karl Marx provides a really good criticism of capitalism, which is a cause of climate change.
“So it makes sense for me as a climate activist to learn about capitalism. I’ve really liked how there have been people from all sorts of backgrounds here. It’s inspiring.”
“I came to Marxism because I think the most important thing is engaging the youth. We all want a Jeremy Corbyn government. I feel more solidarity here than in some other places.”
“I like how we’ve been encouraged to discuss things with strangers. If you’re coming here on your own it helps you branch out.
“I came here because I wanted to get a more robust understanding. I feel like I’ve done that.”
“The session on race, class and identity was really excellent. My experiences of racism when I first arrived in Britain mirror what the speaker was saying.
“There is a need for unity against the right, which is on the rise at the moment.
“I enjoyed the session on Why do Schools Fail Black Children?
Everyone in the room was very passionate and had ideas about what to do to combat the problem.”