Thursday, 1 July 2010

Marxism 2010: A Revolutionary Reminiscence

Seven years ago I attended the Socialist Workers Party’s educational conference Marxism with fellow Eyes on Power contributor Tom. Neither Tom nor I were members of the SWP, but we had worked closely with them as part of the Stop the War Coalition in Hull. We attended their meetings because we enjoyed the debate and were both students of Marxism and socialism – but we were wary of their “text book” politics and tendency to jump on bandwagons.

I remember feeling consumed with youthful optimism on my journey down to Marxism - thinking it would be full of like-minded individuals engaged in frank, open and constructive debate. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and I remember being overwhelmed on arrival by the multifarious groups of Marxists, neo-Marxists and other leftists peddling their party papers – the SWP, The Spartacists, The Socialist Party, The Socialist Labour Party, The Communist Party of Great Britain, The New Communist Party of Great Britain, The Workers’ Revolutionary Party. It was like a Monty Python sketch – I was just waiting to receive a leaflet from the People’s Front of Judea. As I wrote in my diary at the time, it was “a physical manifestation of the division and infighting which has dominated and ultimately undermined the history of socialist politics in Britain”. All parties equally passionate, but all claiming to have the correct interpretation of Marx.

Inside, I learnt a lot from the seminars I attended – on the Paris Commune, the Vietnam War and the united front (oh the irony) – but I do recall the sectarian ways of the left spilling out into discussions too. All points which reflected the SWP party line would be met with cheering, but any alternative explanation or less radical suggestion would be met with stony silence. It wasn’t really the debate I had anticipated but, then again, I was a naive seventeen year-old. A seventeen year-old who was even accused of being a Stalinist for suggesting the Bolshevik Revolution wasn’t a mass movement! Incidentally, this makes most historians who’ve ever written about the Russian Revolution Stalinists too, so I'm not in bad company. . . apart from Stalin, that is.

But it wasn’t all frustration and infuriation. The last person we saw speak was the wonderful and inspirational Tony Benn. He spoke about parliamentary socialism, about solidarity, and about forgetting differences to pursue common calls for the greater good. Tom and I loved it – but the majority of the crowd preached “one solution revolution”. It was about that time that I realised Marxism was a glorified recruitment event. It worked. The only problem is I joined Tony Benn in the Labour Party instead.

When I left Marxism 2003, I vowed to return one day. Now, seven years later, Tom, Pete and I return for Marxism 2010. Let’s see if anything’s changed . . .

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