By Alistair Farrow
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Marxism Festival 2017 – debating how to fight for socialism

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Issue 2562
The final rally at Marxism Festival 2017
The final rally at Marxism Festival 2017 (Pic: Dave Gilchrist)

Around 2,500 people took part in Marxism Festival 2017 in central London from Thursday to Sunday last week.

It was a chance for socialists to make sense of the seismic political shifts of the past year.

Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning general election result, the Grenfell Tower fire, the Tories’ crisis, and the danger of Donald Trump and the right all shaped the festival.

But meetings also ranged from climate change to science fiction, philosophy, African politics and mental health.

The arguments about where next for the left after the election took place in a series of packed meetings.

One speaker said, “If we’re part of the working class movement and the struggle for socialism we have the right to be involved in the debate about the way forward.”

Labour Party members at the conference also took part in the debates. Others had left Labour. Aiden, a student, told Socialist Worker, “I joined Labour and thought that it was the way forward.

“But I left Labour because the coup against Corbyn showed the limits of the party.”

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg speaking at Marxism

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg speaking at Marxism (Pic: Dave Gilchrist)

Mark L Thomas from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) central committee spoke at a meeting on Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party and the fight for socialism.

He said the general election had “struck a blow at the whole neoliberal settlement”, but warned that the Labour right were already manoeuvring.


A series of meetings focused on how to translate the political mood around Corbyn’s manifesto into the trade unions.

Discussions ranged from building national fights against the public sector pay cap to the struggle for a £10 an hour minimum wage.

The Grenfell Tower fire has dramatically transformed the political terrain. Survivor Joe Delaney spoke at the opening rally.

In meeting after meeting people debated how to get justice. Barrister Michael Mansfield QC, who’s been part of numerous justice campaigns, said, “The way forward is to stand as a collective.”

People from justice campaigns came to Marxism and talked about their struggles.

Author and one of the Bradford 12 Tariq Mehmood argued that “you can’t do anything without a whole set of principled people organising”.

The family of Edson Da Costa, who died after being arrested in east London, spoke at both the opening and closing rallies.

Ginario Da Costa, father of Edson Da Costa, speaking at Marxism

Ginario Da Costa, father of Edson Da Costa, speaking at Marxism

Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign also spoke at the festival.

At a meeting on Islamophobia and sexism one student from London said that racist attacks had made her family afraid of attending night-time prayers.

But the student vowed, “They are not going to stop us going about our lives and they are not going to stop us practising our religion.”

Meetings about the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution and its legacy were prominent throughout the festival.

Naima Omar, a student in the SWP, said the revolutionary socialist tradition showed how to uproot Islamophobia.

“The Russian Revolution involved Muslims and Muslim women,” she said.

Resisting Donald Trump

People at Marxism debated the crisis facing the global capitalist order.

Alex Callinicos, International Socialism journal editor, said that Donald Trump’s presidency means a range of dangerous developments.

But he explained it has also caused further disruption for the world’s ruling classes.

French president Emmanuel Macron is held up as the saviour of liberal capitalism against the likes of Trump.

Macron wants to push through neoliberal reforms. “But he has to do it on the smoking ruins of the two main parties,” argued one contributor.

“I think he’s standing on shaky ground.”

Christine Buchholz, Die Linke MP from Germany, arrived from the demonstration against the G20 in Hamburg.

“I’m very proud that despite a week of huge repression we managed to put 80,000 people on the streets,” she said.

Greek socialist Maria Styllou argued that the opportunities and challenges revolutionaries have faced in Greece are now generalising across Europe.

Irish TD Richard Boyd-Barrett said, “The socialist transformation of society is back on the agenda. These are very exciting times.”

Panos Garganas, editor of Socialist Worker’s Greek sister newspaper, described the latest austerity programme squeezing workers and the poor in Greece.

Contributors at his meeting said the Syriza government reinforced the arguments for socialist organisation centred outside parliament.

My Marxism 

Yasmin, cousin of Edson Da Costa, who died after being stopped by police

“Speaking at the opening rally was a really good experience.

“I was nervous at first, but as soon as I got there I felt like I was at home with my family. The support was 1,000 times more than I expected.

“Now I want to find out about other campaigns for justice.”

Muhammad Ali, university student

“What I liked most was the respectful way people with different views are disagreed with.

“My favourite meeting was the one on fighting Donald Trump.

“Opposing him is one of the most important things to do at the moment.”

Sadia, London school student

“The atmosphere has been so welcoming—and I like the ideas and the discussions too.

“I’ve never been before but I heard about it because I’m part of Stand Up To Racism.

“The best meetings I’ve been to so far were on Islamophobia and the roots of terrorism.”

Ian Angus, socialist author and activist

“It’s refreshing to be at a Marxist event that features climate change so prominently.

“It’s an opportunity to meet people and talk to them about what they are doing.”


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