An extremely successful academic year for the Marxist societies was brought to a close with an equally successful weekend of inspiring discussions at REVOLUTION 2015, organised by Socialist Appeal and hosted by the UCLU Marxist society between 26-28th June. Over 80 students and youth participated over the weekend, contributing enthusiastically in the debates and discussions about the revolutionary ideas of Marxism.
The weekend began on the afternoon of Friday 26th June, with a “Lenin walk” around London. With the sun shining warmly overhead, an intrepid group of young revolutionaries was guided around the streets of Kings Cross, Bloomsbury, and Clerkenwell, by Rob Sewell, Editor of Socialist Appeal, visiting the locations where V.I. Lenin and other revolutionary Russian exiles lived, met, and worked in London. Rob used these landmarks to piece together a rich tapestry about the history of Lenin and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the pre-cursor to the Bolshevik Party that led the October Revolution of 1917. The tour ended with a celebratory glass of vodka and a drink in one of Lenin’s favourite pubs, putting attendees in a revolutionary spirit for the rest of the weekend!
REVOLUTION 2015 continued on the Friday evening with a talk by Rob Sewell on “the Political Earthquakes in Britain”. Rob explained the background to developments in Britain, discussing the long-term decline of British capitalism, which has led to a sharpening of inequality and a tremendous political and social instability. The Establishment is lurching from scandal to scandal, enveloping the politicians, press, and police. Above all, the results of the Scottish referendum and the subsequent rise of the SNP have been an enormous tremor across the landscape of British politics, which will have impacts for years to come.
The election of a Tory majority government, meanwhile, Rob explained, has served to jolt the movement into a new phase of heightened activity, with radical spontaneous demos taking place over the past six weeks, culminating in the marvellous movement of over 250,000 people in London on 20th June. An explosive situation is developing in Britain, Rob stressed, and it is the task of the Marxists to rise to the occasion and explain the need for a revolutionary change in society.
Stalinism, Socialism, and Communism
On Saturday morning, parallel sessions ran on The Revolution Betrayed: Stalinism and the Soviet Union and What is Money?.
Sam Ashton introduced the discussion on Stalinism and Soviet Union, held to mark the release of a new edition of Leon Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed – a classic Marxist text, in which the great Russian revolutionary analyses the material conditions of economic backwardness and isolation that led to the degeneration of the Soviet state into a totalitarian bureaucracy.
Sam adeptly outlined Trotsky’s analysis, providing a strong rebuke to those who try to equate Bolshevism with Stalinism by demonstrating the material reasons for the rise of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. Ultimately, a planned economy requires the democratic involvement of the working class in order to function; but this could not be achieved in Russia after the Civil War, which destroyed the economy, since workers and peasants were forced to actually increase the length of the working day.
The root of the problem, Trotsky (and Sam) explained, was the low level of productivity in Russia – a problem that could only be overcome by spreading the revolutionary internationally to the advanced capitalist countries. The situation today, various comrades commented, is much more favourable: even the ex-colonial countries such as China and Brazil possess an enormous level of technology in the field of production; and, meanwhile, the prospect of international revolution has never been more conceivable, with mass movements breaking out in all countries against the impacts of the capitalist crisis.
In the other Saturday morning session, Adam Booth lead-off on What is Money?, outlining the historical evolution of money, which arose out of the needs of trade and commerce as class society emerged and people began exchanging the products of their labour. Adam took the audience on a whirlwind tour, using the subject of money to explore concepts such as the labour theory of value, the source of profit, the causes of capitalist crisis, credit and the banking system, international trade, modern monetary policy, and the problems facing the crisis-ridden capitalist system today.
The “root of all evil”, Adam explained, is not money, but the capitalist system and the anarchy of the market. Even in the early days of a socialist society, Adam stressed, money would still exist – as long as there are goods and services produced for exchange on the market, rather than as part of a common plan of production, there will be a need for money. Only by expanding the planned economy across all sectors – and internationally – and creating a worldwide communist society will money finally be able to wither away once and for all.
Reason in Revolt
On the Saturday afternoon, parallel sessions again ran, this time with Alan Woods speaking on Marxist philosophy and science and Arturo Rodriguez speaking on the rise of Podemos.
Alan outlined why, 20 years ago, he and Ted Grant chose to write a book about the relevance of Marxist philosophy in the field of modern science. Marxists, Alan explained, have always followed developments in all fields of human endeavour, including science, art, and culture – as demonstrated by Engel’s writings on the Dialectics of Nature, or Trotsky’s pieces on art and revolution. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union – and the accompanying full-scale ideological attack that was launched by the ruling class internationally against the ideas of Marxism and socialism – there was a desperate need to defend the fundamentals of Marxism, and the prepare the ideological ground upon which future revolutionary forces could be built. In this respect, Alan stressed, the launch of Reason in Revolt two decades ago, was an extremely valuable step forward for the Marxist movement.
Alan’s talk and the ensuing discussion explored the basic tenets of dialectical materialism – the philosophy of Marxism – and how these general laws of change and motion can be seen in all sorts of natural process and phenomena today, from evolution and earthquakes to quantum mechanics and chaos theory. Today, it was stressed, private ownership over technology, wealth, and ideas themselves, stands as an enormous barrier in the way of the development of not only science, but culture and art also. Only by abolishing competition, private ownership, and the artificial scarcity that capitalism creates can we allow human creativity in all its forms to fully flourish and reach its true potential.
At the same time, Arturo Rodriguez, founder of the Oxford Podemos circle, outlined the rise of the (relatively) new radical left party in Spain. Arturo explained the revolutionary traditions of the Spanish working class, from the war against Franco in the 1930s to the end of the dictatorship in the late 1970s. These traditions have never gone away, but have now re-emerged on an even higher level as a result of the crisis of capitalism, generating the enormous movements of the indignados, the miners, anti-eviction protests, and general strikes, that have been seen in Spain over the past few years.
It is these mass movements and struggle, Arturo stressed, that are the necessary background to understanding the incredible emergence and rise of Podemos over the past 18 months. It is a party that represents the political expression of years of class struggles, and its recent successes at the regional elections in Spain demonstrate that a mass of workers and youth are looking for a radical political solution to the endless crisis that capitalism has brought.
The lightning pace of events in Greece
The political sessions ended on Saturday with a plenary on the situation in Greece. Unfortunately, due to the rapidly developing situation in Greece, our guest speaker Orestis Doulos – a member of the SYRIZA Central Committee and of the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA – was unable to be present. However, the audience was treated to a video speech by Orestis, who outlined the background to the crisis in Greece, explaining that this was not particular to Greece, or even the Eurozone, but is a reflection of capitalism breaking at its weakest link due to a worldwide crisis of the system.
Jorge Martin of the International Marxist Tendency then outlined the more recent developments in Greece, emphasising that the situation was approaching a crisis point. With a deadlock between the Troika and the SYRIZA-led government (and now with Greece missing its repayment deadline to the IMF), Tsipras has called a referendum on whether or not to accept the blackmail and outrageous demands of the creditors. In short, it is crunch time for Greece.
Jorge explained how there would be a mass movement behind the NO vote for the referendum – due to take place on Sunday 5th July – as it would be seen as a chance for ordinary people to stand up against the Troika and the dictatorship of bankers that they represent. Such a prediction has subsequently been demonstrated on the streets of Athens, where tens of thousands mobilised on Monday to reject the Troika’s proposals and in support of “OXI”.
The lightning pace of events in Greece was reflected by contributions from the floor during the meeting, which updated the audience on the latest twists and turns as they emerged in real time. Speaker after speaker spoke passionately, stressing the fact that there was no way out for Greece within the confines of capitalism. Inside or outside of the Euro, there will still be austerity as long as the wealth in society and big business remain in private hands. The options facing Greek workers and youth are socialism or barbarism.
A collection was held, with over £400 raised towards the work of the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA and the International Marxist Tendency; and more was raised later at the evening social later, as comrades gathered over drinks to discuss further the ideas raised over the course of the day.
The ideas of Trotsky: 75 years on
This year marks the 75 anniversary of the death of Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated on 21st August 1940 in his home of exile in Mexico. To commemorate the life of this great historical revolutionary, Alan Woods spoke on the Sunday morning about Trotsky’s life and ideas. Joe from the Kings College London Marxist society gave this report of the session:
“REVOLUTION 2015 was a thoroughly successful event, characterised by an extremely high level of political discussion and enthusiastic participation by attendees. Sunday’s session on the life and ideas on Leon Trotsky, introduced by Alan Woods, was a particular highlight. Alan deftly guided his audience through Trotsky’s remarkable life story, from his introduction to Marxist thought, to his instrumental role in the Russian Revolution and Civil War, ending with the decade-long exile that produced some of his defining works.
“The subsequent discussion involved contributions from both experienced comrades and newcomers alike, and covered such diverse topics as Trotsky’s early revolutionary life, the defeat of the Left Opposition by the Stalinist bureaucracy, and the ideological significance of the Permanent Revolution – one of Trotsky’s most notable contributions to Marxist theory.”
In a parallel session, Daniel Morley introduced a discussion on Marxism and Anarchism, exploring the theoretical differences between these two strands of revolutionary thought. In doing so, Daniel gave a Marxist analysis of the State, explaining its historical origins and its role within class society and modern day capitalism. By understanding the material reasons behind the development of the State, and by learning the lessons from various revolutionary struggles, Daniel explained, we can see how the capitalist state can – and must – be replaced by a workers’ state, which will then wither away as the new socialist society develops.
Class society and climate crisis
In the final parallel sessions of the weekend, Stella Christou –an anthropologist and member of the UCLU Marxist society – spoke about the rise of class society, providing a historical and materialist analysis of how we came to live in a world of exploiters and exploited; of oppressors and oppressed. Such inequalities and exploitation did not always exist, Stella explained, but were associated with society reaching a certain level of economic development, at which point it became possible for a minority to live off the labour of others. Before this point, due to the necessity created by scarcity, humans had lived in “primitive communism”, where the tools, resources, and products in society were communally owned and shared.
Today, Marxists call for a return to common ownership over the productive forces in society, by abolishing capitalism and replacing it with a democratic plan of production. But this new communist society will be on a far higher level than the primitive communism of early humanity. On the basis of modern technology and culture, with a rationally and internationally planned economy and a superabundance of goods to meet our needs, humankind will be able to – in the words of Engels – “ascend from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom”.
At the same time, a discussion took place on the urgent need for such a revolutionary transformation of society, with Shahrar Ali – Deputy Leader of the Green Party – and Adam Booth leading a debate about the crisis of climate change facing humanity. Both speakers gave an analysis of the unsustainable way in which our economy is run at the moment, as well as outlining the radical changes that would need to take place in order to address and avert the dangers of the climate crisis.
A lively discussion followed, with many contributions from the audience stressing how it is ultimately the anarchy and competition of capitalism – driven by an endless pursuit of profits – that is responsible for the environmental crises that we see today. As Adam summarised, socialism will not automatically be “green”; but it is only by taking the enormous wealth and technology – that capitalism has created – out of private hands and placing it under a rational plan of production that we will be able to begin addressing the imminent environmental issues that surround us today. As long as the barrier of private ownership remains, we will never be able to implement the changes that are needed to solve the question of climate change.
The system is broken; we need a revolution!
Alan Woods gave the closing remarks to the weekend’s discussions, emphasising the manifold ways in which the entire system is broken. From the endless series of scandals in the Establishment; to the multitude of small wars and terrorist attacks; and the seemingly permanent economic slump and austerity: all of these, Alan explained, were signs that capitalism was dying, and that a new society is trying to be born. It is the role of Marxists, Alan stressed, to act as the midwife of history and make this birthing process as smooth as possible. As we see today, in the absence of a revolutionary leadership, the struggle for a genuine alternative to austerity will be long and drawn out, with many birthing pains along the way.
Nevertheless, Alan stated, we can see that people everywhere are learning from events and are searching for ideas that explain the cause of these problems and offer a way out. It is clear from the mass movements taking place across the world that workers and youth are looking for a radical alternative. Only the revolutionary ideas of Marxism offer such a guide to action.