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Marxism 2008: Debating the struggle for a better world

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Around 4,100 people from across Britain and the world came to this year’s Marxism festival held in central London last weekend.
Issue 2109
Zimbabwean socialist Mike Sambo addresses the opening rally of the Marxism 2008 festival (Pic: Socialist Worker)
Zimbabwean socialist Mike Sambo addresses the opening rally of the Marxism 2008 festival (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Around 4,100 people from across Britain and the world came to this year’s Marxism festival held in central London last weekend.

The atmosphere was serious and dedicated, with a mood of determination to understand the crises of war and capitalism now engulfing the globe.

There were significant numbers of people at the event who had not been to Marxism before. Henrique Sanchez is an activist from Sao Paolo with Brazil’s P-Sol radical left party.

“This is the first time I’ve been to Marxism and I’m very impressed by the number of young people and international activists that are here,” he told Socialist Worker.

“The festival has brought together many different kinds of issues, from environmental struggles to trade unions. It asks how to organise ourselves against this world of oppression and exploitation – and how to struggle effectively for our emancipation.”

A major theme running through the event was the intertwined issues of racism, fascism and the neoliberal assault on public services and working class living standards.

An angry yet inspiring session on the real tradition of working class solidarity saw trade unionists and campaigners condemn the stereotyped depictions of a resentful and racist “white working class”.

They pointed instead to unity between different groups of workers as the key to fighting racism and building the resistance to neoliberalism.

Activists cited concrete examples from around Britain of how migrant workers could be organised by trade unions, and how racists could be isolated and driven out of the labour movement.

Clara Osagiede is a cleaner on the London Underground and secretary of the RMT union’s cleaners grade. She visited Marxism and spoke about her experiences helping to lead a strike by cleaners – most of whom are migrant workers – to win decent pay on the tube.

“I really enjoyed myself listening to some great speeches,” she told Socialist Worker. “I liked the sessions about the unions coming together and uniting in the struggle for social reform.”


She was particularly struck by hearing of the experiences of council workers in Birmingham who recently went on strike over pay.

“I hope I have a chance to meet up with them and learn some more. I was really impressed with how they went for it.”

International political developments were high on the agenda throughout Marxism. Hossam el-Hamalawy, the Egyptian journalist, activist and blogger, electrified the opening rally with his account of the new strike wave in Egypt.

Tariq Ali spoke on Afghanistan, Pakistan and US imperial strategy. The meeting heard calls for a major European-wide protest at Nato’s 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg, France, next spring.

A packed meeting on the radical left in Europe saw Alan Krivine of France’s Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire discuss the way forward with Alex Callinicos from the Socialist Workers Party and Volkhard Mosler from Germany’s new left wing party, Die Linke.

The alarming events in Italy – which has seen a collapse of the radical left combined with the pogroms against Gypsies and Romas organised by the Lega Nord and other far right forces – were discussed by Cinzia Arruzza, Alberto Toscano and Tom Behan.

Africa was also high on the agenda, with socialist activists from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana discussing their experience of organising resistance to neoliberalism, imperialism and dictatorship in the continent.

Sessions on the economy proved particularly popular this year as activists grappled with the ongoing “credit crunch” and the serious threat of it ushering in a global recession.

Economists from both the Marxist and Keynesian traditions put forward their analyses of the crisis and debated their political implications, including Chris Harman, Larry Elliot, Graham Turner, Sam Ashman and Costas Lapavitsas.

All aspects of environmental politics were also prominent throughout Marxism. Jonathan Neale launched his new book on climate change, Stop Global Warming – Change The World, while John Bellamy Foster talked about a revolutionary solution to ecological crisis.

A series of forums on women’s liberation represented the renewed interest in these issues across broad swathes of the radical movement.

Judith Orr and Zoe Williams discussed the rise of “raunch culture”, while Lindsey German, Sally Hunt and Melissa Benn assessed 40 years of the women’s liberation movement.

The ongoing campaigns to defend abortion rights in Britain against attacks from the right were discussed by Wendy Savage, Elane Heffernan and Farah Reza.


Several meetings saw debates on theoretical and historical points of contention. Lars T Lih and John Molyneux debated the continuities and breaks in Lenin’s political development during the early years of the 20th century.

Guardian columnist Gary Younge discussed the effect of Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy on US politics. He vividly outlined the contradiction between hopes and disappointments associated with the Obama campaign.

This was followed by a debate on the floor that focused on the thorny question of whether, and how, the radical left could relate to Obama’s supporters without capitulating to Obama’s right wing politics.

For many people the highlight was hearing from someone who inspired millions of people around the world in the 1960s. David Hilliard, chief of staff of the Black Panther Party, spoke about his experiences during that tumultuous time.

The event closed on Monday afternoon with a rally featuring South African activist Trevor Ngwane and Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union.

The closing rally was followed by a successful Cultures of Resistance gig that evening featuring Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Neville Staple Band, Jerry Dammers, Michael Rosen and Bashy, which attracted around 1,000 people.

Marxism meetings are recorded and can be bought from Bookmarks »

Many meetings from previous events can be heard at »

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