As the global capitalist system lurches from one crisis to the next, it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify a single genuine optimist within the ranks of the ruling class.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause chaos throughout the world. The mighty machine of US imperialism has suffered a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan. And in Britain, while the Tories indulge in jingoistic adventurism, the working class faces shortages and austerity.
Meanwhile, at the time of writing, world leaders are gathering at COP26 in Glasgow to haggle over emissions targets, while the threat of ecological catastrophe mounts.
The widespread pessimism that engulfs the capitalist class at present contrasts sharply with the exhilarating mood of revolutionary optimism on display at Revolution Festival 2021.
Last weekend, from 29-31 October, over 600 activists gathered in London to discuss the importance of Marxist theory, and the need for a revolutionary alternative to the bankrupt capitalist system.
With a notably youthful and dynamic attendance, this incredible and inspiring event represents a major landmark for the building of the forces of Marxism, in Britain and internationally. As Lenin famously remarked: he who has the youth has the future!
On Friday evening, the queue outside Friends House stretched down Euston Road as comrades waited excitedly to gain entry to the first session of the weekend.
Attendees travelled from as far as Cornwall and Aberdeen – as well as from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and France – for the first in-person Revolution Festival in two years.
“It’s good to be back,” remarked Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, as he opened Friday’s rally with a discussion about the crises and class struggles in Britain.
As Rob outlined, British capitalism is under the grip of its worst crisis for over 300 years. Despite the Tories’ delusional pledge that Brexit would herald a glorious return to the days of Rule Britannia, the reality is that they will deliver only cuts and austerity, as the working class is presented with the bill for the money spent by the government to prop up the system during the pandemic.
“It’s going to create a social explosion in Britain,” Rob explained. Workers have suffered and sacrificed during successive lockdowns, and they are now ready to demand their fair share of the promised recovery. Widespread strikes are therefore on the horizon, as we enter a new period of the class struggle in Britain.
During this session, comrades also heard impassioned reports from the frontlines of the labour and student movements.
One especially revealing intervention came from a junior doctor in the NHS, who gave a poignant and impassioned account of the abject conditions faced by healthcare workers, whose struggles are met with condescending and tokenistic gestures from the government and hospital executives.
The room rose to a standing ovation as the young comrade called for the expropriation of the banks and monopolies to secure a fully funded NHS; and the replacement of unaccountable, self-serving bureaucrats with democratic workers’ control of the healthcare system.
From Lenin to Latin America
The festival continued with an exciting array of discussions throughout Saturday and Sunday, with each session presenting comrades with a tough choice between five excellent simultaneous discussions.
Talks covered ongoing struggles from Palestine to Latin America, as well as important episodes from revolutionary history, such as the Paris Commune and the life and ideas of Lenin.
Saturday morning’s session on Afghanistan, for example, provided vital historical background to the recent disastrous withdrawal by US imperialism.
Jorge Martín, a regular contributor to In Defence of Marxism, detailed how decades of imperialist meddling have sown chaos and tragedy in a country with a proud revolutionary tradition. This is a tradition that must be revived to throw off the yoke of reactionary barbarism and foreign domination.
The weekend also demonstrated a profound and widespread interest in revolutionary theory.
Introductory sessions on economics, history, and philosophy, for example, helped to educate a new layer of activists in the fundamentals of Marxism.
Over the course of the festival, meanwhile, there were half-a-dozen sessions related to philosophy – part of a global campaign launched by the International Marxist Tendency to stress the need for genuinely revolutionary ideas in guiding the movements that are erupting across the world today.
The strong attendance and high level of discussion at these sessions – covering the Marxist view on dialectics, materialism, morality, and postmodernism – demonstrated that the study of philosophy is far from an obscure and irrelevant academic pursuit. Rather, it is of vital importance and interest to activists, with workers and youth looking for ideas that can provide a real understanding and way forward for the struggle against exploitation and oppression.
This culminated on Saturday evening with the launch of Alan Woods’ new book The History of Philosophy: A Marxist Perspective – a landmark publication from Wellred Books.
In a broad and far-reaching address, Alan demonstrated the importance of a strong grasp of philosophy for anyone who wants to understand the world – and to fight to change it.
“We are publishing this book to allow you to conquer these ideas for yourselves,” Alan explained.
Revolutionary theory – of which philosophy is a fundamental part – is the most important weapon in the arsenal of any Marxist. As Alan emphasised, quoting Lenin: Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.
The study of Marxist philosophy and of theory is therefore an endeavour that must be pursued by all those who wish to commit themselves to the cause of socialist revolution.
Determination and sacrifice
In addition to the fantastic quality of the political discussions throughout the weekend, this year’s festival also demonstrated the determination and enthusiasm for building a fighting revolutionary organisation based on the firm foundations of Marxist ideas.
Following the conclusion of Alan’s remarks on Saturday evening, the room remained packed out for a discussion on the importance of revolutionary finance – including a collection to raise funds for building the forces of Marxism, in Britain and internationally.
Socialist Appeal activists from across the country had already raised tens of thousands of pounds in the weeks before the event. But comrades in the room set an inspirational example by donating a further £16,000 during the session, bringing the total to £66,000.
A further £4,500 was raised throughout the weekend through the sale of books and other educational material – again reiterating the thirst for theory that exists. A further £2,500 was raised through the sale of merchandise.
Forces of Marxism
This spirit of revolutionary sacrifice demonstrates the wholehearted commitment amongst comrades to the most important historical task of our time: laying the foundation for the construction of a mass Marxist force – one that can play a decisive role in the revolutionary events that impend.
This is an urgent task. As Rob remarked on Friday night: “If we had five or ten thousand Marxists in 2015, the Corbyn movement would have been fundamentally different.”
Titanic battles lie ahead for the working class in Britain and internationally. A leadership must be built that is worthy of these mass movements.
Those who attended Revolution Festival 2021 received an invaluable education in Marxist ideas – the only set of ideas that have the power to radically transform our world.
And as Marx himself stated: ideas can become a material force when they have gripped the minds of the masses.
The next steps are clear, therefore. We must carry these ideas into the struggles taking place – industrially, politically, and on the streets – and build a revolutionary force around them.
We call on workers and youth to join us in this task.