Marxism 2017 conference draws more than 1,000 attendees

19 April 2017
Tom Bramble

Socialist Alternative hosted the Marxism 2017 conference in Melbourne over the Easter weekend, drawing together radicals and activists from around Australia and the world. More than 1,200 tickets were sold and it was standing room only at some of the meetings.

Several hundred people heard Lebanese socialist Farah Kobaissy and Australian activist and blogger Michael Karadjis speak on “Syria: resistance and revolution”. Nearly 300 turned up on the following day to listen to Khury Petersen-Smith, an African-American socialist from Boston, and Jerome Small, Socialist Alternative’s industrial organiser, make the case for “Why you should be a socialist”.

Khury also spoke on “Democrats: lesser evil or just evil?” on Friday morning, while fellow US socialist, Haley Pessin held a session on “Black Lives Matter and the fight against racism in the US”. Guest speaker Dipankar Bhattacharya presented “Class rebellion in India today”.

The immediacy of our common cause was spelled out by Farah at the closing session of the conference:

“In this very moment of great darkness, an opportunity offers itself. We live in a moment of great polarisation and people are looking for radical solutions … These solutions can easily be put forward by the far right in the form of increased war and militarisation and division or they can come from the revolutionary left.

“In 2005, I recall we were selling in the streets of Beirut our newspaper. The cover of the newspaper read, ‘There is no alternative but revolution’. People greeted us with outright derision and treated us as dreamers. Six years later, in 2011, the revolution became a reality and changed our entire existence. Revolution became the ordinary word on everybody’s tongue.”

Hong Kong labour organiser Rena Lau spoke on Saturday night about the exploitation and oppression suffered by Chinese workers, but also their determination to resist. Greek socialist Christos Stavrakakis presented “Greece after the storm” about the situation facing the working class and the left a decade into the onset of economic depression and sharp political polarisation between left and right.

Although immigration minister Peter Dutton cancelled the visa of Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi, attendees had the opportunity to hear about his struggle in the film Thank God it’s Friday, which documents the weekly protests against the building of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Several Egyptian socialists who had been invited to the conference were also refused visas. Socialist Alternative member Simone White, a regular visitor to Egypt, addressed the closing session on Sunday night, outlining the struggle for justice and the tremendous repression Egyptian activists face at the hands of the Sisi government. Sisi is backed fully by the US and Australian governments who see the military regime as an important ally in the Western domination of the Middle East.

The half dozen Marxism 101 sessions aimed at explaining the basics of Marxist politics each attracted more than 100 people, with lively discussion and Q&A from the overwhelmingly young attendees. Other sessions were grouped around particular themes, including philosophy and theory; class struggle in Asia, the Marxist history of ideas; art, culture and literature; and workplace organising today.

As part of the Middle East stream, Corey Oakley spoke on “Syria, imperialism and the left”, dealing with the recent bellicose rhetoric and action by president Trump in Afghanistan, Syria and East Asia. Corey argued that, far from ushering in a new era of US isolationism, Trump’s “America First” agenda is a war doctrine for the US, driven by the president’s need to garner support at home and to reassert US hegemony in the face of the rise of China. The end of the unipolar world, Corey argued, will usher in more conflict and instability.

More than 100 came to Vashti Kenway’s session, “Trump, fascism and the alt-right”. Similar numbers heard Indigenous socialist Gavin Stanbrook speak on “Aboriginal riots from Redfern to Kalgoorlie”. The task for anti-racists around the world was spelled out by Petersen-Smith at the closing session on Sunday night:

“Our vision goes well beyond confronting the far right whenever they raise their head. For us, it’s a matter of mobilising the working class not only to bury the right wing, bury racism, but also to end the conditions that produce this and the kind of desperation that is the breeding ground for far right racism.”

On the cultural front, the conference included an exhibition of paintings depicting Syrian refugees and their stories, curated by Miream Salameh, herself a refugee from Syria. There were murals depicting the battle against Trump in the US by local artists Sam Wallman, Van Rudd and Slimone, and a reading of a new play, Them, by Melbourne playwright Samah Sabawi, about the situation facing refugees.

Socialist Alternative would like to thank all those who participated in the conference.

If you missed out on Marxism 2017 but are keen to experience something similar before it comes around again next year (29 March to 1 April 2018), book your ticket now for the Socialism conference which will be held in Sydney from 18-20 August. Program and details are available at

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