THE SPIRIT of the international movement against war and capitalism surged through the Marxism 2003 event in London last week. There were thousands of trade unionists and activists present from all over Britain, and hundreds from other parts of the world.
There were many more young people present than at previous Marxisms. This reflected the vital role students and school students have played in the last year. The size of the event, comparable with anything in the past, is remarkable, as it had to be built in only a few weeks because of the necessity of concentrating on anti-war and other mobilisations. The opening rally of Marxism brought together some leading figures in the anti-capitalist movement from Africa, India, the Middle East and Europe.
Over 1,000 people crammed into Friends Meeting House to take part in the rally. Their exuberant anti-capitalist chants and singing of revolutionary songs raised the roof before the speakers even began their passionate indictment of capitalism and war.
Ashraf El-Bayoumi was imprisoned by the Egyptian state for his part in the anti-war movement. He told the rally, ‘The US administration is not just exploiting people in Latin America and the Middle East. It is also exploiting people in the US. Look at the extent of racism, exploitation and homelessness. ‘I feel we know one another even though we have never met because our struggle is a common one.’ Ashraf is urging everyone to send delegations to the second Cairo conference in October. Trevor Ngwane from South Africa told the rally, ‘The vibrancy here reminds me of the World Social Forums I have been able to attend.’
Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party told the rally of their success in getting six MSPs elected. Meena Menon from Bombay said, ‘We need more mobilisations with a developing political edge – events like Marxism can help provide that. If we have the right political strategy, there is nothing on earth that can stop us.’ Chris Bambery of the Socialist Workers Party said, ‘The millions who marched against war are the reason that everyone is now saying Blair is finished. The question now is what the alternative is. There has to be something better than Gordon Brown.’
Fausto Bertinotti of Rifondazione Comunista in Italy added his vision for deepening and strengthening the magnificent global anti-war movement. He said, ‘To be a leftist is to be an anti-capitalist, not just in word but in deed.’ They all gave testimony to the new possibilities opening up for unity among those fighting back against capitalism across the world. The audience repeatedly erupted with cheers and applause. The sense of unity of purpose and boundless enthusiasm set the tone for the weekend of debates and discussions.
Discussing the way forward
GEORGE GALLOWAY and John Rees introduced a key debate on the prospects for the left. George Galloway congratulated the Marxism organisers for creating a ‘festival of comradeship’. Both he and John Rees emphasised the urgent need to construct an alternative to Tony Blair for the hundreds of thousands of anti-war activists who are looking for a new political home.
This theme was taken up in the discussion. Paul Holborow argued, ‘Tens of thousands are demanding that we put forward a serious alternative. To those who think we can reclaim Labour, I say two words – Peter Hain. In 1980 Hain said he could use the movement that campaigned for Tony Benn to be deputy party leader to recapture the party for the left. Look at Hain now.’
Nick Wrack, chair of the Socialist Alliance, said, ‘A Labour Party member I know told me about Labour Party ward meetings called to reselect the local MP, Harriet Harman. One voted to reselect her by three votes to two. The other was a tie at two votes each way. This shows the party is moribund.’
Firefighter Linda Smith told the meeting, ‘2,000 firefighters in Strathclyde were asked if they voted Labour in the last election – 78 percent said yes. They were asked if they planned to vote Labour in the next election – 2 percent said yes.’
Lindsey German stressed, ‘We are at a historic turning point, which is also a great challenge to us. There are thousands who agree with almost everything we say but will still vote Labour. We are not turning our backs on all the good people who still look to Labour. Labour’s failure to deliver has led to the biggest crisis of Labourism we have ever seen. We want to build the broadest possible alliances.’
Another important meeting was introduced by Chris Harman, the editor of Socialist Worker. He stressed the importance of building networks of activists around Socialist Worker. There is a huge audience for the ideas put forward in Socialist Worker. Supporters must organise to reach and involve people in buying the paper, selling the paper and writing for the paper.
Throughout the weekend of Marxism there was a feeling of a growing commitment to continue the spirit of debate in Marxist forums that the Socialist Workers Party organises across the country.
THIS YEAR’S Marxism surpassed everyone’s expectations in its size and atmosphere. Overflowing rallies heard from leading figures in the movement. Debates on imperialism and the Middle East were central to the event. Many people were inspired by a rousing anti-war rally introduced by Lindsey German, Andrew Murray and George Galloway.
But there was a thirst for ideas on a whole range of diverse topics. Hundreds of people crammed into meetings on subjects like ‘Michelangelo and human liberation’ and ‘John Coltrane: jazz, racism and resistance’. Others followed courses on subjects like Marxist economics and philosophy. In one single slot on Saturday morning a huge meeting of around 1,000 heard Alex Callinicos speak on ‘The future of anti-capitalism’.
At the same time 250 heard Fausto Bertinotti speak on the class struggle in Italy today, 400 heard a meeting on ancient Rome, 380 listened to a meeting on Gramsci, 150 discussed why recessions happen, 100 came to ‘How British imperialism created Iraq’, and hundreds more went to meetings on ‘Is all scientific advance progressive?’, ‘Is human nature a barrier to socialism?’ and Russia in 1917.
In another sign of the level of commitment to new ideas, Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, reported its highest ever sales at Marxism. These were boosted when 1,000 people heard a fascinating and very funny talk by comedian and broadcaster Mark Steel talk on his new book, Vive La Revolution, about the French Revolution.
The Waterstone’s bookshop near Marxism even tried to cash in by having a special display of left wing books under the banner ‘Offers for Marxism 2003’.
GRAHAM, A striking electrician from Manchester, said, ‘I was invited here by Socialist Worker supporters who came down to our picket line. I am more than grateful I came. It is a steep learning curve for me. I am a good socialist at home with what I do in the union, but the meetings here give you a different slant on things. I liked George Galloway because he doesn’t pull his punches, and the meeting on the unions’ political fund was important. We have had a great response from people here, donating money and finding out about our strike. For the first two weeks on strike you just hang about, but then you realise you have to get organised, and Marxism has helped that. We are going to send the organisers a thank you letter for all the support we have got here.’
Kaylee Walker, a 13 year old school student from Sheffield, said, ‘Marxism is a really good experience. I have been to meetings, enjoyed the speakers and felt able to contribute.
‘I have been to meetings on things like racism and the end of empire. The speakers put things across really well, and these are such important issues. And last night I went to one on jazz, which was about where music comes from. There are so many things I didn’t know, and now I want to find out more about them.’
Syed Bakhari from west London told Socialist Worker, ‘Marxism is brilliant and informative. It is only the third day and I feel I have learnt so much already. The atmosphere here is brilliant. It makes you so confident. I have felt able to make a contribution in the school students’ course which I have been following.’
Bernard Polley, a printer, added, ‘I am here on the anti-war ticket and this is a superb event. I want to have lots of bodies so I can be in all the meetings at the time.I went to Pat Stack’s meeting on Ireland. I am half-Irish, and it was really, really good. This event is a superb education. I buy Socialist Worker every week and it is full of information, and this event just adds to it. I am thinking of joining the Socialist Workers Party.’
Hawwa is a student at Leyton Sixth Form College, where she led a walkout against the war. She told Socialist Worker, ‘At Marxism there is a chance for people to challenge the speakers and put their own point of view. No one knows each other but the atmosphere is really collective and friendly. I loved Tony Benn – he really knows his stuff. And I went to some meetings on violence and social change – it was so good to see young people getting up to speak. And the meetings on crime and guns were spot on. Again, it was nice to see so many black people speaking out.’
David Norman, a student from south London, said, ‘I went to a meeting on racism and fascism which was really good. I always had a lot of time for the Anti Nazi League and I have gone with them leafleting. The speaker was talking about making sure all the anti-racist groups stuck together – it doesn’t matter what banner we fight under as long as we get rid of the BNP. People were talking about fighting together rather than fighting each other. Growing up in a society where sometimes you have to suppress these ideas it’s great to come here, where you can talk about exactly what you believe in. Marxism is a very empowering event.’
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