Marxist Winter School 2014: a Leap Forward for the Marxists in Britain

Over 200 attendees from across the UK and Europe met in London over the weekend of October 31 – November 2 to take part in the highly successful and incredibly inspiring Marxist Winter School 2014, organised by the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) and hosted by the UCLU and SOAS Marxist societies.

With energy and enthusiasm in abundance, this was the most successful weekend school organised by the IMT in Britain yet. The high attendance—and equally high political level—on display is a testament to the growing success of the Marxist Student Federation and the IMT, and marks a qualitative leap forward for the Marxists in Britain and internationally.

150 years of international socialism

The weekend’s events began on the Friday with a “Marx walk” around London, with Rob Sewell—editor of Socialist Appeal—providing a dynamic tour of the sights and venues where Marx and Engels conducted their political activity whilst living in Britain. Blessed with warm and sunny weather, over 60 people followed Rob around the streets of Soho as he gave a historical account of the lives of Marx and Engels, explaining their vital political mission: to outline the ideas of scientific socialism and establish an international organisation based on these principles.

The tour ended at 18 Greek Street, the location where Marx and Engels met regularly along with the rest of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA). Crowding into the upstairs of what is now just another bar, around 80 people squeezed into every available space to eagerly listen to Alan Woods—editor of In Defence of Marxism—speak about the history of the IWA, also known as the First International, which was founded by Marx and Engels 150 years ago. Alan explained the relevance of the First International for today, when – as at the time of Marx and Engels—the working class needs an international revolutionary organization to fight for socialism.

Following Alan’s talk, attendees moved onto SOAS for a special revolutionary Halloween social—entitled “A Spectre is Haunting Europe”! The social provided an excellent end to the first day’s activities and was a fantastic opportunity for young revolutionaries—predominantly from the various Marxist societies across the country—to meet and discuss with one-another.

What will socialism look like?

The main sessions began on Saturday 1st November with parallel talks on What Will Socialism Look Like?—introduced by Ben Gliniecki, the national organizer of the Marxist Student Federation—and Mind, Matter, and Materialism – introduced by Daniel Morley of the Socialist Appeal Editorial Board. Both sessions saw high attendances of around 70-80 people, with excellent discussions covering a wide range of issues.

Harry and Imogen from the Bristol Marxist society provided this report from the discussion on What Will Socialism Look Like?:

Comrade Ben Gliniecki gave an engaging and well-researched lead-off on the question of what socialism might look like. He began by addressing the inefficiencies of capitalism’s use of the productive forces, and then covered various possibilities relating to a socialist society, including: the reduction of the working week; increasing employment; efficiency of work and innovation by removing duplication of work; economic planning; and the development of a proletarian democracy.

One of the most memorable examples given was the irony of banks rejecting capitalist competition in favour of group economic planning in the 2012 interest fixing scandal.

The discussion that followed Ben’s introduction was lively, with contributions from comrades from several different countries. Many excellent examples of the efficiency of a socialist workplace were given, such as the case of the Cipla-Interfibra factory complex in Brazil, which was occupied by workers in 2003: in just three years, the working week was lowered from forty-five hours to thirty, with no loss of pay or productivity.

The question of incentivizing a socialist workforce was also discussed at length, with speakers explaining that capitalism offers no incentive for most workers other than the threat of not being able to support themselves. In Ben’s response to the discussion, the suggestion of less time in work and increased participation in the running of the workplace as just a few powerful incentives that socialism has to offer was met with strong approval from the entire room.

Everyone left the talk with a clear sense of what a socialist future might look like and strength of conviction in striving to create one.

In the session on Mind, Matter, and Materialism, Daniel provided a Marxist analysis on the question of consciousness and life, explaining the development of the mind from the perspective of dialectical materialism. Contributions elaborated on Daniel’s introduction, providing concrete examples of how consciousness is formed and changed by society and events.

A world in crisis

After lunch, the talks and discussions continued with sessions on The Life and Ideas of Friedrich Engels and Global Crisis and Revolution—Which Way Forward for Socialists?

Rob Sewell provided the introduction on Engels, explaining the vital role that Engels played in developing the ideas of scientific socialism, both during and after Marx’s life. Contributions from the floor emphasized the collaborative partnership that existed between Marx and Engels on all questions, particularly in relation to the philosophical basis of Marxism: dialectical materialism.

Fred Weston, editor of, introduced the session on Global Crisis and Revolution, drawing attention to the recent revolutionary events breaking out in Burkina Faso, and putting these within the context of a whole world crisis, from the Middle East to Ukraine. Claudia from the Glasgow Marxists provided this report of the discussion:

In this session, the political and social situation on a global scale was analysed and discussed. A growing political instability is arising all around the world, and evidence of that may be clearly found in Italy, Spain, Greece, or any number of other places.

Fred explained how, on the 25th of October, there was a massive demonstration in Italy, one of the biggest of the last decades. Around one million workers and students gathered together in order to show how fed up they are with unfair policies, massive unemployment and cuts on the public spending. The leaders of the CGIL and FIOM trade unions, Camusso and Landini, together with a rising majority of Italians, are now calling for a radical change.

People are starting to move towards left-wing parties, as demonstrated by the rise of PODEMOS in Spain or SYRIZA in Greece. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA, triumphed in the recent European election, winning the majority of seats in Greece. The unprecedented electoral turnout for the Scottish independence referendum is yet another sign that people are looking for change and a break from the status quo.

Capitalism is in a permanent crisis – a crisis which is ingrained in its own structure and which can only be solved through the socialist transformation of society. Socialist ideas are today, more than ever, a vital weapon in fighting for an end to the barbarism that a senile and decaying capitalistic society has brought.

25 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall

2014 marks the 25th anniversary since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which marked the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union. To commemorate this anniversary, around 130 people crowded into UCL to hear Alan Woods—author of Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution—provide a thorough analysis on the history of Russia, from revolution to counter-revolution. Alan explained the conditions that gave rise to the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and discussed how this same bureaucracy acted as a cancer that eventually suffocated the planned economy, leading to the collapse of the USSR.

Contributions from the floor expanded on Alan’s analysis, explaining the material causes for Stalinism—the isolation and low-level of development of the early Russian worker’s state – and pointing out the mistaken theoretical positions that the bureaucracy took, which only served to further weaken the success of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, as was emphasized in the discussion, the planned economy planned a remarkable role in developing science, technology, and culture in Russia, and the 1917 October Revolution today still provides an inspiring example of the oppressed fighting back against their oppressors…and winning!

Prior to Alan’s talk, Fred Weston of the International Marxist Tendency gave a financial appeal for donations to help with building the forces of Marxism internationally, explaining the important and vital work that the IMT is doing in developing a Marxist organisation across the world. Fred’s appeal was well received, with over £2000 being raised in donations from the audience.

The Saturday of the school ended with another fun and friendly revolutionary social, with young comrades showing that they have just as much enthusiasm for dancing as they do for their revolutionary activities!

Crisis in the Middle East

The weekend’s sessions continued on Sunday morning with two parallel talks: the first on the Political History of the Middle East, introduced by John Pickard, author of Behind the Myths: the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; the second on the current situation in Mexico, with Jorge Martin—International Secretary for the Hands Off Venezuela campaign – providing a detailed explanation about the background to these latest events, where 43 students have been kidnapped. Attendees of the session on Mexico showed their solidarity by holding up photos of the 43 kidnapped students

Mattin, from the SOAS Marxist society, provided this report of the discussion on the Middle East:

John Pickard spoke about the political history of the Middle East – a topic of extreme relevance to understanding events today in the region, as demonstrated by the high turnout. In his lead-off he stressed that, despite the current image of a region of turmoil and failed states, the Middle East has proud revolutionary traditions. In particular, John highlighted the progressive nature of mid-20th century politics in the form of Communism, Nasserism, and Baʿathism, which, despite having shortcomings in leadership and theoretical perspective, were all manifestations of the popular will for social justice and equality.

This was then contrasted to the constantly reactionary role played by imperialism in the region: it was pointed out that, from the divide and rule tactics employed by imperialist powers in the mandate system to the invasion of Iraq, imperialist powers like USA, Britain and France have fostered sectarianism as a means to divide the masses.

John then devoted significant attention to the question of Israel, pointing out that the solution to the crisis requires a class perspective that counters the options provided by nationalism and imperialism: namely, the working class of Israel and Palestine to unite and fight against the oppression and exploitation of capitalism. In addition, he criticised the terrorism of the PLO in the 1960s and 70s, as well as the corrupted and capitalist nature of the present Palestinian Authority, arguing that the Palestinian masses have achieved more independently through the intifadas.

The discussion then opened up to the floor. Here the question of Islam and Islamism was raised. Comrades pointed out that Islam itself is for the majority a personal belief system, often to help deal with hardship; Islamism, on the other hand, has consistently played a reactionary role and has been funded by capitalism to help divert the class struggle, such as the backing by the United States given to the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1940s and 1950s, and to the Mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 1980s, or even the funds coming from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to assist and arm groups like ISIS and Al-Nusra more recently.

More comrades referenced the revolutionary history of the region. For example one spoke of the early radicalism of the Baʿathists in Iraq before the party degenerated. Another talked about the massive waves of revolutionary movements in the early 20th century, such as in Iran 1906-11, Egypt 1919, Iraq 1920, Syria 1927 and Palestine 1936-9. These were all fundamentally fought along class lines as a result of acute crises in the objective conditions, especially because of combined and uneven development and the nature of the region’s integration in the capitalist world market. Far from sectarianism being integral to the region, the masses moved to fight for social demands like land and bread, and did so under a common banner.

Thus, very apparent was the importance of correct leadership. As pointed out, Communist parties in countries like Iran and Iraq betrayed the working class because of their connection to Stalinism and the mistaken theories of two-stage revolution and socialism in one country. Where capitalism was attacked, such as by Nasser in Egypt, or even abolished, like in Syria under the Baʿthists, the struggle was not extended internationally or completely for the implementation of socialism, resulting ultimately in failure.

Despite the right objective conditions for revolutionary upheaval and the historical strength of leftism in the region, there has not been a revolutionary organisation with the correct ideas to demonstrate the necessity of socialism – a problem made even more apparent by the direction taken by the Arab revolutions.

The need for revolutionary ideas

The final sessions of the weekend consisted of discussions on the Crisis in Modern Science – with a lead-off by Adam Booth, editor of—and on the Revolutionary Ideas of Rosa Luxemburg—with Marie Frederiksen of the Danish Marxists speaking.

Marie provided a fantastic introduction to the life and ideas of Luxemburg, outlining not only her contributions on the question of Marxist theory, but also her leading role in the work of the German Marxists and the Third International.

Adam spoke about the history of science, outlining how it develops dialectically – that is, through revolutions in thought, as explained by Thomas Kuhn in his famous essay on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Examples were given of major turning points in scientific ideas, and the limitations of dominant scientific ideas – both in terms of the classical paradigm for the dynamics of motion outlined by Isaac Newton, and in relation to the current scientific theories of Quantum Mechanics and modern “Big Bang” Cosmology.

One student from the Oxford Marxists provided this report of the discussion:

“Adam Booth led a discussion on the Crisis of Modern Science, emphasising both the theoretical limitations and practical difficulties that face science today under capitalism.

“A number of examples were given of how idealistic thinking have pervaded modern science, and of how a dialectical materialist approach would lead to scientific advancement.

“Comrades intervened with their experiences as science students, commenting on the impact that the commodification of universities has had. Rather than being taught to engage deeply with the subject matter, undergraduate students are taught an attitude of ‘shut up and calculate’, while postgraduate students are simply being exploited as cheap labour.”

In particular, Adam used examples from the natural world to demonstrate the validity of the ideas of dialectics, which Engels described as providing the general laws of motion for nature, society, and thought. A number of science students contributed in the discussion, pointing out how a limited philosophical outlook is, along with the capitalist system itself, holding back modern scientific research.

Building the revolutionary party

Before the final plenary, all attendees gathered to vote on two statements of solidarity: the first, for those fighting against fascism in Ukraine, to mark the anniversary of the Odessa massacre; the second, in support of the Marxists in Pakistan, who are facing continued attacks from reactionary forces who threaten their lives. Comrades were strongly encouraged to raise these issues in their local Marxist societies and trade union branches, in order to gain concrete solidarity from workers and students internationally.

The weekend ended with a rousing speech from Rob Sewell, who emphasized the need to take turn these ideas—the revolutionary ideas of Marxism—into a material force that can change society. For this reason, Rob stressed the need to build the revolutionary party, in Britain and internationally, and implored on those present who had not already done so to join the IMT. His call was taken up, and many revolutionary youth stated what an inspiration the weekend’s events had been.

Following energetic renditions of the Internationale and Bandiera Rossa, comrades left the Winter School extremely enthused and eager to go out and fight for socialism. Without doubt, the Marxist Winter School 2014 marks another important flag in this struggle for a better world.

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