Marxism 2022: Fighting the system, rebuilding the left

29 April 2022
Jess Lenehan

“Fighting the System, Rebuilding the Left” was the theme of Socialist Alternative’s 2022 Marxism Festival. The event is usually held in Melbourne, but this year was spread across Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Around 1,000 people attended across the five cities.

A number of sessions were devoted to understanding the most pressing issues of our time. These included discussions about the state of the world economy, increasing military tensions, the Ukraine war, the politics of the pandemic and the threat of climate catastrophe. The conference highlighted both the destructive chaos of modern capitalism and the glimmers of resistance that arise in response.

Special guests included Tristan Dutchin, an Amazon worker who in April this year helped establish the first independent union in an Amazon warehouse in the US, Bashana Abeywardane, a Sri Lankan journalist forced into exile, and a panel of refugees—including Lavanya Thavaraja, Betelhem Tibebu Zeleke, Abdul Nouri and Thanush Selverasa, who was recently released from Melbourne’s Park Hotel detention prison—talking about their struggle for safety.

In Sydney, a panel including nurses, teachers and university staff shared stories of recent union organising and strike action, while in Brisbane, Priya De and Sam Watson Junior from the recently-formed Campaign Against Racism and Fascism discussed strategies to take on the far right.

Radical history was another major theme. The legendary Aboriginal activist Dr Gary Foley spoke in Melbourne about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and its founding 50 years ago, which remains one of the most significant events in the struggle for Aboriginal rights in Australia. Socialist historian and writer Janey Stone spoke on radical Jewish history, and Gregor Benton, a professor at Cardiff University, spoke on the subject of a book he edited, Prophets Unarmed: Chinese Trotskyists in Revolution, War, Jail, and the Return from Limbo.

For those new to Marxist theory, there were sessions about the modern working class, reform vs. revolution and the need for socialism to end oppression. Sessions devoted to classic texts of Marxism, such as Clara Zetkin’s Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win and Rosa Luxemburg’s The Mass Strike, also featured.

The Victorian Socialists’ electoral campaign was a particular focus in Melbourne, with Cooper candidate Kath Larkin, and Victorian Senate candidate Aran Mylvaganam speaking at the opening night rally. In a federal election that offers so little, the Victorian Socialists represents a chance to campaign for a radical left alternative to the status quo, and many Marxism participants from around the country will be travelling to Melbourne in the coming weeks to be part of the campaign.

Marxism is organised by revolutionaries. It brings together radicals, activists, theorists and socialists of all stripes to learn from each other and strengthen our commitment to the fight for a better world. “We’re surrounded by examples of the horrors of capitalism”, Marxism organiser Sarah Garnham said, “but we hope that Marxism showcases the resistance that is always out there, the struggles and victories”.

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