Monday, 9 July 2012

Marxism Festival 2012 Highlights

We’ve been going to the annual Marxism Festival for nearly ten years and this year – with over 5000 attendees – was definitely the biggest we’ve been to. Whether it’s a result of austerity at home, a weak Labour opposition, organic movements like Occupy or Anonymous, the Arab Spring, the rise of the left in Greece or the continuing growth of progressive movements in Latin America, the left is growing and we should be encouraged by the fact Marxism is enjoying a Renaissance. Whatever you think about the SWP – and we’ve certainly disagreed a lot with them in the past – they deserve credit for organising the event which remains the biggest celebration of socialist ideas in Britain.

Here are just a few of our highlights from this year’s festival.  

A No Nonsense Guide to Equality, Danny Dorling

In a special session launching his new book, A No Nonsense Guide to Equality, Human Geographer Danny Dorling provided a powerful and engaging overview of why greater equality is good for us all – even the super rich. The talk was rich with empirical evidence and compelling statistics and placed the growing trend towards inequality within a historical context.

Dorling’s book differs to the monumental Spirit Level because more focus is placed on discovering an alternative. He investigated countries that have mapped out an alternative to savage austerity and looked at key ways we can restore levels of greater equality.

Perhaps most shockingly of all, Dorling demonstrated that – for the first time – the amount that the United States (that infamous beacon for socialism) spends on public services as a proportion of GDP is set to overtake the UK in 2015. This helps show how enthusiastically the government have adopted slash-and-burn neo-liberalism – but Dorling’s book helps arm the movement with a positive framework for a genuine alternative.

Hacktivism & Anonymous: A Marxist analysis, Kieran Crowe

This was a good overview of the relatively recent rise to prominence of hacking groups such as Anonymous and Lulzsec. Crowe attempted to relate their (often anti-corporate and anti-oppression) actions from a traditional leftist standpoint which gave the lecture a nice twist. The bulk of the talk was an interesting historical overview of 'hacktivist' targets such as Scientologists, the Iranian government and immoral US companies and the methods used to attack them (including the interesting cross-over from online to physical protests). Paired with a genuinely inquisitive, forward-looking and positive welcoming of the potential political role activist hackers can play, this made for a refreshing talk.

With the increasingly aggressive measures being imposed against people who infringe copyright and frequent attempts to curb internet freedom it was interesting, and probably quite realistic, to hear the speaker conclude that it was 'hard to imagine any future left wing movement without a hacking element.'

The press, power & the phone-hacking scandal, Nick Davies

Nick Davies – the man who helped break the phone-hacking scandal – provided a witty and withering analysis of the modern media. Based on his peerless study, Flat Earth News, Davies outlined how big business and corporations have tightened their grip on popular media since the Wapping dispute of the 1980s smashed the trade unions.

Through a mixture of emotive anecdotes and robust factual evidence, Davies urged the left to move away from its traditional view that powerful media moguls set the political agenda through personal diktat and advertising pressure. As Davies declared, “Replace Rupert Murdoch with Rupert the Bear and everything would be exactly the same”. 

Instead, a corporate culture emerged as a result of ingrained fear combined with the strangulation of the journalistic profession. The defeat of the unions undermined working conditions meaning that fewer and fewer journalists have to produce more and more copy. This means journalists no longer have time to check their stories or produce original research. A study commissioned by Davies found that 12% of news stories originate from independent research by a journalist; 8% of stories have an unknown origin and a whopping 80% come from news agencies or public relation companies – all of which go unverified by journalists. This effectively means that 80% of news is created, manufactured and distorted by corporate interests.

Dear Mr Gove, Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen began his talk in inimitable style by reading what was essentially a Twitter-poem decrying the education reforms being pursued by Michael Gove and the Conservatives. Following this Rosen got more serious and gave fascinating insights into the methods and motivations being employed by the government to transform education in this country. Arguably the most worrying of these was the link between Gove and Rupert Murdoch which could see the media proprietor and his corporate ilk setting up privately-owned schools throughout Britain.

In addition to the cosy Tory-corporate relationship in the education sector (among others), Rosen also highlighted the distorted and out-dated curriculum models Gove is introducing to our schools. The discussion that followed contained many illuminating comments from people who work in various parts of the education sector from teachers to HR. Unsurprisingly the unifying theme of both the talk and discussion was a disdain for Gove's regressive reforms and an encouraging sense that the education unions and - equally importantly - parents were not willing to sit back and take what would be a hugely negative blow for our education system and equality in the this country in general.

Class politics in austerity Britain, Owen Jones

Owen Jones was the last speaker we saw at this year's Marxism and was a great way to end the festival. He easily made it into our highlights for inspiration and sheer clarity of message. Jones focused on how class warfare is alive and well under the coalition government and gave concrete, practical suggestions as to how working class people can resist the onslaught of unfair cuts they are facing. This included linking the different sections of society under attack to help create a united front, 'telling stories' (as in creating a narrative, not making things up like the right-wing press) that people will relate and respond to and using the combined power of unions to organise industrial action and hold the Labour Party to its original purpose of representing working class people. Throughout his lecture Jones managed to be not only pragmatic and reasoned but above all inspirational.

You can read our thoughts on previous Marxism Festivals here and here

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