This year’s Marxism festival, held in central London from 6-10 July and hosted by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), was by common consent one of the largest and most vibrant for many years. Some 4,100 activists – including 1,700 students and school students – gathered to discuss and debate a huge range of political issues. Many of those there had been active in the wider movements against war and neo-liberalism, but were attending Marxism for the first time. Below we print a selection of their voices
Nick Wilkinson, Leicester
This was my first Marxism, and my first impression of the event was surprise at the sheer number of people who turned up on the opening day.
The speakers at the opening rally – particularly Roland Denis, the Venezuelan activist and former minister, and the Iraqi trade unionist Hassan Jumaa – spoke with so much conviction and passion that everyone was really fired up.
I tried to choose a mix of different types of meetings during the event, as I wanted to fill gaps in my own knowledge of Marxist theories, as well as learn about current events in Latin America and debates about the way forward.
Chris Nineham’s meeting on What’s Gone Wrong With The Media? and Istvan Meszaros on Alienation And Contemporary Capitalism really helped to put abstract theories in a form relevant to my everyday life.
Sunday was the most important day for me politically. The first event was Tony Benn speaking on Planning For The Future. Benn speaks at Marxism every year and he started off by paying tribute to the SWP.
The rest of his speech, however, was a vigorous defence of reformist politics and conventional parliamentary democracy. I’m not sure what else I expected, but I was disappointed – Benn had been an idol of mine for so long and I found myself disagreeing with most of what he was saying.
In stark contrast, the next meeting I went to was something far more uplifting. Mario Nain delivered a clear and passionate demand for revolution, from someone who had experienced the bloody reaction of the ruling class to half-finished reformist politics in 1970s Chile.
This was the first meeting I made a contribution at. I thought it was a shame that more newer members and non-members didn’t make contributions at the other meetings I had been to. At times experienced comrades seemed to dominate.
Many of the meetings I went to filled up and people had to be turned away, but some of the smaller, less popular meetings were still really important.
At a meeting on the Paris Commune I found out more and gained a greater understanding of its importance to Marxist thinking than I had from anything I had read before.
Not everything was perfect – the hot weather spoiled some meetings in rooms without proper ventilation, and there was confusion over some of the directions and locations. But the organisation of the event was mostly excellent – I’ll be back next year.
Naomi Jones, Kent
This is the first time I have come for the whole of Marxism, but it definitely won’t be the last. In terms of the quality of the meetings as well as the general atmosphere, it is a totally inspirational event. The creche enabled me to participate to an extent which is not always possible the rest of the year.
The wide range of meetings has meant I've been able to find out more about subjects which interest me, and are often related to my studies.
A meeting with Alex Callinicos gave me a fascinating insight into Marx’s method and has made me want to read Das Kapital (one day...). The feedback and contributions made by comrades in response to speakers are often particularly interesting.
Listening to other students discussing logic and the dialectic, I felt I had come somewhere where real issues were being taken up for serious consideration. The main differences from university being that everyone could take part, and the purpose was the possibility of radical changes in thought, rather than the preservation of the accepted academic ‘norms’ which restrict change.
However, some of the most interesting meetings I have attended were those which I wouldnt have bothered with but for the popularity of some of the speakers. Listening to a council worker talking about about how New Labour's 'respect' agenda is stealing our youth made me think about a really important subject which I might not otherwise have considered, and the speaker's experiences and analysis brought the topic home.
But as inspirational and informative as the meetings have been, it is as much the way the organisation and ethos of Marxism which should convince everyone that another world is possible.
Gaontebale Mokgosi, from Botswana was one of the many international visitors to the event
This event has been a wonderful experience which will help us carry forward the African struggle. Botswana is presented as a model of shining progress in Africa, but the reality is very different.
As workers we face harsh anti-union laws. Only our own strength and organisation is able to give rights to workers.
The economy is dominated by diamond mining under the Debswana company, a partnership between De Beers and the government.
In 2005 there was a significant strike and 461 workers were sacked. The court case dealing with these sackings takes place in September and the International Socialists of Botswana are pushing hard for solidarity with these comrades.
Privatisation is also a big issue as the government is moving to sell off telecoms, water and electricity. The union leaders are protesting – but protesting that the process is taking place too slowly!
We are trying to provide an alternative for rank and file workers who want to fight what is a very unpopular policy.
We have also taken up the case of the Basarwa (Bushmen), an issue which I know you have covered as well in Socialist Worker.
Our support for the Basarwa has shattered the myth that it is only Western aid agencies who support these people. This is a basic issue of democracy.
We are hoping to attend the World Social Forum in Kenya in January and any assistance from the movement to achieve this would be very welcome.
Student, School of Oriental and African Studies
Some People question the usefulness of events such as Marxism where people gather to discuss and debate topics that most in the audience will agree upon.
It would be a fair assumption to say that the majority of the people I have met at the event this year are in accordance with the basic outlook of the organisations and campaigns at the heart of the festival.
However general agreement upon a given issue, such as war or imperialism or poverty or women’s liberation, serves initially to bring together people of different political inclinations onto one platform, but can only propel a movement so far.
In order for real progress to be made, broad concurrence must be focused and developed into strong political stances and decisive strategies for raising awareness and challenging the status quo.
This is the aim of Marxism 2006 – and to this end I have found it an enlightening and invaluable experience. It allowed me to garner increased knowledge and critical analysis on the issues that matter most to me.
Gareth Peirce, the human rights lawyer who represents many Guantanamo Bay detainees, explained how trial without jury has become a staple of the British government’s dealings with terror suspects. Cases have been moved from the criminal court to the Special Immigration Appeals Court, where there is no jury.
Judith Orr deconstructed society’s obsession with sex and “raunch culture”.
She detailed how this arose from the sexual freedom achieved by the women’s liberation movement being commodified by a capitalist system that seeks to take everything that matters to society, process it, strip it of all its worth, and sell it back to us.
This leads to working class men and women being imprisoned into attitudes of inadequacy and a mass inferiority complex.
John Rees, Respect’s national secretary, invoked the importance of the trade unions and their support for the anti-war movement.
He stated plainly that if Respect is to succeed it must come to replace Labour as the party that all trade unions are affiliated to.
Steve Blair, West London
it will be a few weeks yet before I’ve assimilated everything from Marxism. My initial reaction has been a mixture of emotions – a rollercoaster of information, encouragement and inspiration.
Many of the speakers have told me stuff I didn’t know, some have challenged my own views and others have given me hope.
I was really impressed with the speakers from the developing world who are engaged in struggles – sometimes life and death struggles – in their own countries and who make the connection between their own situation and what’s going on in the wider world.
I was also moved by Rose Gentle’s account of Military Families Against the War, and how she is helping to coordinate opposition to the war, not only from families of servicemen, but from the soldiers themselves. What she has done must have taken great courage and personal commitment.
Bernadette McAliskey’s talk on the civil rights movement in Ireland gave a clear and powerful picture of those times and how they relate to today.
But the strongest overall impression from this weekend has been meeting with so many people, from so many different backgrounds, all engaged in the same fight.
The biggest tribute I can pay to this event is that it has motivated me to join the SWP and be active in that fight myself.
Jade Walmsley, Preston
This was my first ever festival and I couldn't have chosen a better one. The opening rally was a really powerful way to kick off and set the mood for the whole weekend. Hassan Juma and Oliur Rahman were the most inspirational speakers I've ever heard.
Friday's line up was great and I couldn't decide what to see (thankfully they're available on CD) I loved Amy Leather’s talk on Wal-Mart and global food production. She discussed some very important points that needed to be said. As a nation we're oblivious to what we eat.
Planning for the Future (Tony Benn) followed by What's next for Respect (John Rees and George Galloway) were amazing, it was a great opportunity and was very thought provoking. The contributions from the floor were brilliant.
One of the highlights of the weekend was staying in the community centre, meeting new people and seing parts of London I would never of seen.
In all, it was a great weekend and I would recommend it to anyone.
Jonathan Shafi, Glasgow
This was my first time at Marxism and it has underlined the need to fight for a better world. The impressive aspect of the event was the variety of meetings on offer and the different ideas they generated.
I went to meetings as wide ranging as the role of China in the world, inequality in Britain, multi-culturalism and how trade unions are organising in Iraq. Other meetings helped to tie topics together using marxist theory to explain the world we live in.
Importantly, this event was not just about talking, but about starting to mobilise for events
One of the questions I came out of Marxism with was what do socialists mean, in a practical sense, by equality? And does equality mean an inevitable constraint on freedom? I don’t think that capitalism can offer human freedom. Also, what alternatives can be theorised to replace capitalist society?
Pete Ramand, Glasgow
The first thing that struck me when I arrived at Marxism was the sheer number of socialists in one place. Echoes of “the workers united will never be defeated” still resonate in my head from the opening rally and it certainly set the mood for the following four days.
Fantastic meetings on subjects ranging from alienation and contemporary capitalism (with the legend that is Istvan Meszaros) to Mozart—overture to revolution were both inspirational and informative, and in the case of Moazzam Begg and Winston Silcott talking about their experiences, ver emotional.
There aren't many things that I would miss a world cup final for, but a brilliant meeting on Hamas and Palestine with Simon Assaf was well worth it.
Mark Oughton, Preston
For personal and occupational reasons my activism has been on hiatus for 18 months of so, therefore I am using Marxism to fill gaps in my knowledge and get back up to speed with the movement.
Its good to see that the movement still has its momentum and I was glad to learn of the upcoming trade union conference at the opening rally as it is a major step forward in creating an alternative to the Labour Party.
I have learned of the many ongoing international struggles during the past few days. As a media worker I have mainly attended relevant meetings. I especially enjoyed the discussions in Ben Dickenson’s meeting on Hollywood and Yvonne Ridley’s meeting on embedding the media.
Mark Steel had me in stitches. “Theatre in revolt” was highly enjoyable and its good to see people like Charlotte Westenra spreading the word about Agusto Boal’s amazing work in legislative theatre.
The Rebel's guide talks were ace. Mike Gonzalez brought tears to my eyes, which flowed freely after one comrade's contribution about the struggle of the Marxists in Iran.
Marxism has reminded me how important he SWP is as the core of a mass movement.
Heather Humphreys, London
As a first-timer at Marxism, the most essential part for me was the culture of discussion that it fosters. A dialogue between anyone and everyone is encouraged, not only in the actual meetings, where audience contributions can bring in some of the most interesting or vital ideas, but also through the stalls outside and the great range being sold in the Bookmarks bookshop room.
Marxism has given me more confidence to argue my position and put my ideas forward and has made me realise, even more strongly than before, the importance of putting the theoretical ideas I have heard discussed into practice.
Rachel Shaw (aged 7)
I would like to say how much I enjoyed the creche at Marxism.
But could my friend who accidently took my toy house get in touch.
Many thanks [messages to SW office will be forwarded]