From 28-30 June, Socialist Appeal, in conjunction with the UCLU Marxist Society, hosted the 3rd Marxist Summer School, with over 100 attending during the course of the weekend.
The aim of the school was to discuss the key contributions to Marxist theory made by Ted Grant, the leading Marxist theoretician and activist since the death of Trotsky, and founder of the Militant Tendency and Socialist Appeal. Each of the sessions covered one of Ted’s main ideas. Such was Ted’s ability to apply and develop theory that all the main aspects of Marxist ideas - economics, the state, philosophy and all the major events in the latter half of the twentieth century - were covered.
The school kicked off on Friday evening, with Fred Weston - editor of www.marxist.com - leading a discussion on world perspectives. Ted Grant always emphasised that Marxism and the working class are fundamentally international. We cannot start with the parts taken separately, for each nation and labour movement are determined by the world economy first and foremost. Fred explained that this tenet of Marxism is more clear now than ever before. He outlined how in almost all countries we see the same process - attacks on living standards, privatisation and restrictions on workers’ rights, profound economic and political instability and excessive debt, and especially attacks on the youth. For this reason, Fred emphasised that Marxists must find a road to the increasingly radicalised youth the world over.
Saturday began with sessions running in parallel throughout the day, with a plenary session at the end on ‘Lenin and Trotsky: What they really stood for’, given by Alan Woods of the International Marxist Tendency.
In the morning, Marie Frederiksen from Socialistisk Standpunkt in Denmark, led off on the Rise and Fall of the Communist International. She emphasised the extremely sharp distinction between what the Comintern originally represented under Lenin and Trotsky - a tool for world revolution - to what it became for Stalin - the direct opposite, a tool for subordinating revolution to Moscow’s narrow interests. She encouraged comrades to read Ted Grant’s Rise and Fall of the Communist International for more analysis on this topic.
At the same time Adam Booth led off on Keynesianism and the Postwar Boom, reflecting on Ted Grant’s unique and sober headed analysis of the postwar boom and its inevitable collapse. Adam outlined the various factors behind the postwar boom, but also explained - as Ted had done in his article “Will There Be a Slump?” - how all of these factors eventually turned into their opposite, leading to the crisis of the 1970s and paving the way for today’s deep crisis of capitalism.
After lunch, Jorge Martin spoke on Stalinism and the Marxist Theory of the State, basing his talk on Ted Grant’s decisive rebuttal of Stalinism’s apparent relationship to genuine Marxism and to the erroneous theory of ‘state capitalism’.
At the same time, John Pickard, spoke on the findings from his new book, ‘Behind the Myths: the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam’. John is an expert on the historical and archaeological subject matter and has done a great service to Historical Materialism by elucidating the real origins of such ‘untouchable’ subjects as the major world religions, stripping away the confusion that has been created by millenias of propaganda and historical revisionism. The talk was fascinating and we would strongly recommend readers to buy his book.
Following that there were another two sessions. One was on the Colonial Revolutions - the revolutions in ex-colonial countries such as Egypt, China, Vietnam, Cuba etc. after WWII. We would point readers to Ted Grant’s classic work on this topic, which represents the only Marxist work not to be confused by these ground shaking historical events. The other session was on the rise and fall of the Militant Tendency - the most successful Trotskyist movement since the Left Opposition itself, having at one point three MPs whilst also leading Liverpool Council and the Anti-Poll Tax campaign. We would point readers to this article for more information on this important aspect of the history of the movement.
Alan Woods then gave a stirring account of the real ideas that Lenin and Trotsky stood for in the plenary session. The sharp, bloody dividing line between Lenin and the Bolsheviks and Stalin’s regime was made clear, as was the emergence of Bolshevism as a tendency from the struggle to understand the nature of the coming Russian Revolution. The short book by Alan Woods and Ted Grant on this very topic is highly recommended. A vibrant debate then followed, with questions as to how we apply the Bolshevik’s method of democratic and honest debate in order to both build the Marxist tendency and to clarify its thinking.
Following this, the sizeable number of student comrades attending the school met to discuss the launching of the Marxist Student Federation, which will link all the existing Marxist societies at universities into a visible national tendency in the student movement. The aim is to put this work on a more organised, political footing and to broaden the appeal of Marxist ideas in the wider student and youth movement. The meeting agreed to the launch, to have a founding conference in early 2014, and to form a steering committee in the meantime composed of the existing society presidents. Please get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved and in setting up a Marxist society on your campus.
We then held a social with comrades discussing, amongst other things, the day’s topics in more detail. The atmosphere in the social and school as a whole was extremely friendly, open and positive. There seems to be an understanding of the value of focusing on the main theoretical problems for our movement and looking to the future with optimism, as opposed to the cynicism and inward-looking feeling one often finds in the organised far left.
On Sunday, the sessions covered “Marxist philosophy and science”, “Marxism and the Labour Party”, “the Fourth International" and “Russia: from Revolution to Counter-revolution”, again emphasising the diverse range of topics that Ted Grant contributed towards in terms of developing Marxist theory.
The weekend was ended with a rousing speech from Alan Woods on the need to focus on educating wider and wider layers of youth in the ideas and traditions of Marxism, for revolutionary events are taking place with increasing rapidity.
The 3rd Marxist Summer School reflected the significant growth that Socialist Appeal and the Marxist societies have undergone over the past few years. The quality of discussion was extremely high, the mood very confident. This is a sign of the potential for Marxist ideas in the movement: a vital necessity at this turbulent time of crisis and revolution. The Marxist Student Federation will grow rapidly in influence and members, and conquer positions in the movement. We look forward to future Marxist schools, which will reflect these coming successes and will be bigger and better still.