Sunday, 10 July 2011

Marxism 2011 - What is Marxism?

Marxism is a festival, much like any other, except that it is based on political ideas. It is organized by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and takes place in the centre of London, in the UCL campus. It lasts five days, and it brings together thousands of socialist-minded people to discuss the ideas of Marx and other political thinkers of the socialist tradition.
Its purpose, I believe, is two fold: on the one hand, the festival acts to inform people on Marxist theory, and therefore keeps the tradition alive. This is important. Marxist ideas have withered out of the public discourse, and the texts are really inaccessible to a modern audience.
On the other hand, the festival helps people reframe current events within Marxist theory, so that they can understand better the “what”, the “how”, and the “why”. I am always surprised by the extent to which today’s events can be explained by something Marx wrote in 1867. I am also equally surprised by how much things change when “his” approach is used even in today’s “modern” world: the answer to changing the world always comes back to industrial action, of one for or another.

Marxism is organized much like a scientific conference. People show up at the University campus at 10 in the morning and get ready for a day of lectures on different topics. There are around 10 different topics to choose from on each given time slot, which means that too often there’s more than one lecture you want to attend and you are forced to prioritize. During the lectures, a speaker talks about the topic for approximately 35 minutes. After that, they open the microphone for contributions by the public, and people go to the front and talk for about 3 minutes. The lectures and the contributions are recorded, and are then sold at the end of the festival and/or posted online. A most fantastic collection of lectures is available on the website Resistance MP3. This is the distilled essence of the Marxism festival, and it's invaluable if you want to familiarise yourself with Marxist ideas.

This was my second year at Marxism. This year’s Marxism had a distinctive flavour. Marxism 2010 was based on the idea that “OMG, the cuts are coming and we must stop them because otherwise DOOM!”. Marxism 2011 had a bit more stuff to go over. There are the cuts, of course, dreadful on every front and they were covered in detail by the speakers and the public. There were plenty of references to the “Arab Spring” which was held as a victory for revolutionary forces everywhere. This Marxism had speakers from Egypt, Spain, Greece and Ireland. And last but not least, there was the Grand Strike of J30. Marxism actually started on June the 30th, and the trade union movement was whipped into a frenzy about the power of the Unions and the Strikes. I can't say I share that sentiment.

These are the basics of Marxism. I'll try to follow this up with what was actually discussed and what I think about the whole thing. If you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to ask.

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