As the General Election approaches, there is little enthusiasm amongst ordinary people for any of the main parties and the programme of austerity that they share. Meanwhile, the mood amongst the ruling class worldwide is one of deep pessimism, as the global economy splutters and stagnates and the Establishment lurches from one scandal to another.
In contrast, the mood amongst the Marxists is one of revolutionary optimism – optimism about the radicalisation taking place in society and the mass movement breaking out across the world, as workers and youth look for an alternative to the permanent crisis of capitalism.
This mood of revolutionary enthusiasm and optimism was on display in abundance over the weekend of 10-12th April, as around 140 comrades from across the UK gathered for the 2015 annual conference for supporters of Socialist Appeal – the British section of the International Marxist Tendency – which was this year hosted by the SOAS Marxist Society. Throughout the weekend’s discussions and reports, a clear picture was formulated of the fundamental change in consciousness that is developing everywhere, with speaker after speaker providing concrete examples and figures demonstrating the anger, ferment, and questioning that now exists within society. And, as was emphasised in many of the contributions, Britain is not immune from this process.
A world in crisis
The conference began with a discussion on the crisis of capitalism and the perspectives for world revolution, with Fred Weston – editor of the In Defence of Marxism website – introducing the session to a packed audience. Fred discussed the background to the crisis and explained how in trying to delay the crisis for the past few decades, the capitalists had created an even bigger crisis in the present. For years, credit was used to artificially maintain demand and keep the economy going; but now all this credit has turned into an enormous burden of debt, which is weighing down on the global economy and preventing any possibility of a genuine recovery. The result is a perspective for years and decades of stagnation, further crisis, and deep austerity and attacks against the working class.
In particular, Fred emphasised the turbulence of the period we are living in – a point emphasised by Alan Woods, who stressed that we are living in the most turbulent period of history – an epoch of sharp turns and sudden changes, with volatility at every level. Whilst history can provide us with some guide to future events, therefore, we are in uncharted waters, with new phenomena and developments opening up before us. A concrete example of this was given by Arturo Zoffman Rodriguez, President of the Oxford Marxist Society and founder of the Oxford Podemos circle, who spoke about the rise of Podemos in Spain – a party which did not exist around 18 months ago, but which now has the potential to win the elections in Spain later this year, as people look for an alternative to austerity and corruption.
Other speakers highlighted the global geo-political and social instability that now exists everywhere, discussing the crises in the Ukraine, the Middle East, and elsewhere, which are emerging as a result of the decline of US imperialism and the more assertive stance of regional imperialist powers, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China. It is US imperialism, Fred stressed, that has created Frankenstein’s monsters such as ISIS, in their attempts to maintain power by fomenting sectarian and nationalist divisions.
political earthquake, the tremors of which will be felt for years to come. Notably, as Rob highlighted, the pro-independence campaign in the referendum became a rallying point for thousands of disaffected workers and youth in Scotland, who saw it as an opportunity to voice an anti-Tory, anti-austerity, anti-Establishment sentiment.The discussion on the world situation provided the backdrop for Saturday’s discussion on the political situation in Britain. Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, introduced the discussion, focussing on the main political development in Britain over the past 12 months: the referendum in Scotland. The referendum, Rob stressed, was a
Significantly, even Labour where implicated in this anti-Westminster mood, after years of complacency and neglect by the Blairite Labour leaders. As a result, the Labour Party faces the prospect of near-annihilation north of the border in the upcoming election at the hands of the SNP, who have surged in numbers on the basis of posing as an anti-austerity party, to the left of Labour. The political landscape has been dramatically altered. As a result, we are faced with the most unpredictable general election in British history. One thing is for certain, however: whatever government is formed, it will be an extremely unstable government of crisis from day one, forced to carry out cuts without any popular support. The perspective of volatility, therefore, applies as equally to Britain as anywhere else in the world.
Speakers from Scotland emphasised in the discussion the nature of the YES vote in Scotland, and how this was little to with nationalism, but everything to do with a hatred of the mainstream parties and their programme of austerity. The task for Marxists in Scotland now, therefore, is to emphasise what is needed: a real independence for the Scottish people – an independence from capitalism, with the foundation of a Socialist Scotland, as part of a Socialist Federation of Britain and a United Socialist States of Europe.
Other contributions explained how this mood of anger in society is not confined to Scotland, but exists everywhere across the British Isles and beyond. The support for public ownership; the popularity of figures such as Russell Brand; the rise of the Green Party on the basis of anti-austerity measures: all of these demonstrate the mood of radicalisation that exists throughout Britain. We cannot say for certain how political developments will pan out; but it is clear that big events are on the horizon, which the Marxists can – and must – play a role in by arguing the case for a revolutionary socialist alternative.
Building the forces of Marxism
Saturday ended with a financial collection to support the work of Socialist Appeal and the fight for Marxist ideas in Britain. Adam Booth – editor of www.socialist.net – introduced the collection, emphasising how Socialist Appeal has no big business donors or rich backers, but instead relies on the revolutionary financial sacrifice of our readers and supporters. Alongside generous one-off donations, therefore, Adam stressed the need also for regular contributions and why, therefore, we are launching the Socialist Appeal Supporters Club campaign, in order to raise the funds needed to take on more full time staff, move to a fortnightly paper, establish further Marxist societies in universities across the country, and help build the forces of Marxism.
In response to this financial appeal, an amazing £8,000 was collected for the fighting fund, with particularly generous donations from supporters of Socialist Appeal in Peterborough, Sheffield, Newcastle, Coventry, Worcester, Bristol, Glasgow, and London. In addition, dozens of attendees pledged extremely generous regular monthly donations to help support the work of Socialist Appeal.
Following the financial collection, a brief session was held for sellers of the Socialist Appeal newspaper, and the day was wrapped up with a revolutionary social, in which comrades from across the country got to mix together over a drink and share their experiences of fighting for Marxist ideas in their areas.
Sunday began where Saturday ended, with a report by Daniel Morley from the editorial board of Socialist Appeal on the work of the Marxists in Britain. Daniel discussed the excellent growth of support for and influence of Marxist ideas in Britain, as reflected by the rapid growth of the Marxist Student Federation, the large presence of Marxist Students on the TUC demo last year, and the massive attendance at the 2014 International Marxist School in London.
Daniel’s report was supplemented by contributions from young comrades across the country, who talked about the success of the Marxist societies in their areas and the enthusiasm in workplaces for the Socialist Appeal paper and its ideas. All of the contributions yet again demonstrated the revolutionary enthusiasm and optimism that exists amongst the Marxists, particularly amongst the new generation of students and youth who have been introduced to the revolutionary ideas of Marxism, highlighting that the Marxists are no longer swimming against the tide, but are putting forward ideas that are increasingly finding an echo within society.
Jorge Martin of the International Marxist Tendency then provided a report on the work of the Marxists across the world, explaining how the success of the Marxists in Britain is not an exception, but part of a general trend. From Nigeria and Pakistan, to Venezuela and Mexico; from Greece and Spain, to the USA and Sweden: everywhere the forces of Marxism are on the rise, and revolutionary ideas are gaining an interest amongst an ever-increasing number of radicalised workers and youth.
Alan Woods closed the conference, highlighting again the mood of optimism that exists amongst the Marxists, in contrast to the deep, dark pessimism that exists amongst the ruling class. This pessimism, Alan explained, permeates throughout society in every period of social decay and decline, when the current system is unable to take humanity forwards. Just as today there are worries about the destruction of the planet, so in the past – during the collapse of the Roman Empire or the disintegration of feudalism – there were fears of the end of the world. Wars, terrorism, riots, and environmental crisis: all of these are symptoms of the senile decay of capitalism; and at the same time the birth pangs of a new society trying to be born.
Our task, Alan explained, is to prepare for the revolutionary events that are coming, and to intervene in those movements taking place across the world already; to sharpen our ideas – our most precious weapons – and equip ourselves with the necessary confidence to argue for the revolutionary transformation of society, in Britain and internationally.
We publish here also a letter from a young attendee to the conference from the Cambridge Marxists, which provides an excellent example of the revolutionary enthusiasm felt by all at the conference:
It was an honour to take place in the Socialist Appeal National Conference 2015. This was my fourth conference, and each year I am blown away by the steps forward taken by the Marxists in Britain, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It is a pleasure to hear comrades from all over the country clearly analyse the impasse of the capitalist system and the tasks lying on our shoulders.
I first became active with Socialist Appeal when I was a 16 year old school student. Since then, our support has grown exponentially. A new layer of youth, of which I am one, have been won to the banner of genuine Marxism, and thoroughly educated in the ideas expressed in this paper. Even in the darkest moments of reaction, the science of Marxism gives us hope.
We will never water down our ideas. We will never apologise for our Marxism and for our revolutionary zeal. It is not we who must apologise. We live in a world of poverty amidst plenty. Thousands starve every day, yet we produce enough food for 10bn people. Homes lie empty and people lie homeless. The 85 richest people in the world have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50%, most of whom struggle to subsist on a meagre £1.50 a day. It is the capitalists, not the Marxists, who ought to apologise! And we will not accept their apology!