The Marxism 2018 conference in Melbourne, organised by Socialist Alternative, drew a record attendance of almost 1,200 over the Easter weekend. Many of the more than 100 scheduled sessions were full houses.
The conference attracted people from across Australia and New Zealand. Speakers flew in from the US, Ireland, Turkey, Spain and the Philippines to discuss the struggles for justice taking place in their countries.
Highlights included a Friday night plenary, “The international fight against the far right”. Speakers emphasised the importance of mobilising against the far right, politically and on the streets; the threat will not disappear by ignoring it.
Immediately before the plenary, Palestinian American activist Huwaida Arraf addressed a big crowd. Her stories about the injustices faced by Palestinians could not have come at a more timely moment as Israel launched its latest massacre of peaceful Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip in the days beforehand.
The conference also heard from Tamil speakers about the struggle for justice in both Sri Lanka and Australia, where they suffer repression from both governments. About 30 Tamils from the local community in Melbourne joined the session.
One of the most moving sessions involved presentations by migrant farm workers, who spoke of the gross abuse they suffer at the hands of shonky migration agents and labour contractors: shoddy accommodation, unpaid wages, rampant casualisation and false promises about wages and conditions of employment.
But, it was made clear, those ultimately responsible are not just two-bit crooks but Australia’s Department of Immigration and the big supermarkets, the buyers of the farm produce. The farm workers, helped by the National Union of Workers, are standing up for their rights, even at the real risk of dismissal, signing up their fellow workers to the union and making real gains.
The conference also included dozens of sessions on everything from Marxist philosophy and economic theory to the student and worker struggles of 1968. The Marxism 101 sessions, which introduce socialist politics, were among the most popular, an overwhelmingly young audience filling the meeting rooms.
The conference closed on the night of Easter Sunday, with a panel on the need for resistance to a world made in the interests of the rich and powerful. Becca Bor, a US socialist now based in Ireland, drew a big cheer when she said:
“We have to rebel, we have no choice. Conferences like these re-energise us as we prepare to go back to our workplaces, our schools and our communities to organise, to fight. We deserve to live in a world that is fit to live in.”
As the final session wrapped up, attendees rose to their feet for a rousing chorus of the workers’ anthem the “Internationale” and, probably for the first time at any left wing conference in Australia, John Denver’s “Take me home, country roads” – a gesture to the fight by teachers in West Virginia who have shown how workers in Trump’s USA can strike and win.
Thanks to our international speakers, to all those who registered and contributed to this annual highlight of the left calendar in Australia.
If you missed the Marxism conference, Socialist Alternative is also hosting the Socialism conference in Sydney, which will take place from 31 August to 2 September.
For more information and to buy tickets, go to www.socialismsydney.com.