Revisiting Marxism 2023: The SWP Rebuilds its Ranks

After a multi-year hiatus, veteran socialist activist Derek Perry returned to Marxism 2023, a massive four-day festival of socialist ideas organised by the Socialist Workers Party in London.

Robin handing out the new ACR newspaper at Marxism 2023
Robin at Marxism 2023

Robin and I attended Marxism 2023 for one day only on Friday 30 June. The event began on 29 June and lasted for four days, closing on Sunday 2 July. I first attended Marxism in 1978 and continued to do so until the 1990s. I have always been impressed by the organisation and presentation of the event and the high standard of the debates and workshops. Speakers advertised included Jeremy Corbyn, Noam Chomsky, David Harvey, and Ken Loach. As well as these venerable old white men, also appearing were Muzan Alneel from Sudan, Soweto Kinch, Judith Orr, and Sukhdev Reel, amongst many other activists.

This year was reported to be its most successful for many years, with over 4,000 tickets sold. SOAS and the University of London campuses were certainly crowded. Presented as a ‘festival of socialist ideas’ and with stewards in magenta t-shirts, it was designed to attract students and young people, the SWP’s traditional recruiting ground. There were recruiters at every doorway, waving membership forms.

“Presented as a ‘festival of socialist ideas’ and with stewards in magenta t-shirts, it was designed to attract students and young people, the SWP’s traditional recruiting ground. There were recruiters at every doorway, waving membership forms.”

Cover of Alex Callinicos 'The New Age of Catastrophe'

I had already bought Alex Callinicos’s book, The New Age of Catastrophe, a few weeks earlier. Unsurprisingly, it featured in several talks. My day started with History or Catastrophe: Georg Lukacs or Walter Benjamin, preparing us for Callinicos in the afternoon. Later in the morning, Judy Cox explained Why Trotsky matters today.

I wanted to ask a question about the SWP and the Fourth International, but my turn never came. The SWP continues to celebrate the Fourth International, as in this article:

However, I assume that their view continues to be that the FI is history and is irrelevant for today.

In the afternoon, I went to Alex Callinicos’s talk on Gramsci and the art of revolution. Again, this was an opportunity to discuss his new book, which is apparently becoming the SWP’s ‘world view’. I expect that it will contribute to the SWP’s approach in the future to issues such as climate change, anti-war activity, the rise of the right, and the likelihood of mass movements across the globe.

My final talk was on Leninism and revolution in the 21st century. This was a not-so-subtle introduction to the need for a revolutionary party today, the implication being to join the SWP to build it.

These were just tasters of the 110 talks, debates, workshops, and book launches during the weekend. It was possible to follow courses or themes such as Socialism 101, an introduction to the basic ideas. A random selection of other themes included Black Marxism, Russia in 1917, Anti-fascism, Class struggle, and more.

Apart from theory, there was a culture tent with multiple book launches and talks on poetry, film, etc. Bookmarks had brought the entire stock from their bookshop just down the road, as well as multiple copies of new releases. There was a walking tour of ‘Radical Bloomsbury’. There were stalls from campaigns and activist groups.

A few years ago, hundreds of members of the SWP left following controversy over the handling of rape allegations. The new, young membership will be unaware of that history. This event shows that the organisation wants to put that behind them and rebuild its membership and its influence on the left.

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