Marxism 2017: Day 2

An account of Day 2 at Marxism 2017.


Welcome to the next post in my series about Marxism 2017. The event finished with the Closing Rally last night, after which I travelled back to King’s Lynn. I have quite a few more posts to do before this series finishes however. 


I was staying in a room in a University hall of residence about a 15 minute walk from the event, which suited me very well. I set off at about 9:20AM (the first meeting session started at 10AM, and I wanted to be early because the meeting I had chosen was likely to be very well attended. I arrived at Student Central at about 9:30 and took the stairs to the third floor as the meeting was scheduled for the Upper Hall (I am old enough to have attended meetings there when it was still called the Badminton Court). 


This was a splendid way to start the day. There was some very entertaining stuff, with serious purpose. The events of June 8th showed everyone who was not already aware that there are limitations to the power of the media – our mass media were universal in predicting (and in most cases wanting) a huge majority for Theresa May and the SelfConservatives and of course she ended up with no majority, dickering with the foul bigots of the DUP to hang on to the power. Of course she is now so desperate that she is asking Labour for ideas (Jeremy Corbyn’s response: “I’ll give you a copy of our manifesto”). Here are some photographs to help tell the story:

UCL building
This building caught my eye as I walked past on my way to the event.
Posters on the way up.


Upper Hall
The Upper Hall at 9:30AM


The view through one of the the Upper Hall windows
Food stand
A food stall (London prices are beyond my means – I was not a cjustomer)
Rose window
Rose window

big screen, UHBasketter

Sarah Ensor + Simon Basketter
Chair Sarah (one of the speakers at the meeting on Biodiversity and Species Extinction) and speaker Simon Basketter.
Sarah Ensor opens the meeting
Sarah introduces the meeting
Simon Basketter starts his talk
Simon speaking, careful not obstruct the screen.

FN1FN2Basketter at the micGraph1Graph2Broken NewsGraph3TrustGraph4Rogers + HammersteinLukacs


I will be giving this meeting a full post to itself in due course – it deserves it, and I have asked the speaker to email me all her slides, including those she did not get to use because of the importance I attach to this subject. For the moment here are a few pictures:

A display on the main staircase at Student Central.

Tomas Tengely-Evans and Beth Greenhill (speaker)Four humoursBimaristansBeth GreenhillMarx at the asylumVygotskyAusterity Ailments

service maps



Following the lunch break (picnics are something of a tradition at Marxism festivals, and I participated in the Norwich and East Anglia picnic) I headed to room 3E for this meeting. I would have preferred this talk to have been assigned a bigger room because the topic is so important. It was well attended, as it should have been. There were many outstanding contributions, including from those fighting against fracking (a particularly destructive method of extracting fossil fuels from shale). A woman who was born in Australia and whose father works in mining talked about her arguments with him and how she explains that she does not want people in mining to be jobless – she wants them to have jobs helping the environment, such as developing renewable energy sources etc. Here are some pictures:

PlatformBook displayRent controls now!big screen


Gerry Carroll is one of two members of People Before Profit elected to the Stormont Assembly in the days when that body still functioned. The other was Eamonn McCann. One of Stormont’s less charming features is a register that requires you to state whether you are Nationalist or Unionist – McCann and Carroll both wrote the single word Socialist in this space. People Before Profit are a cross-border organisation and they also boast three members of the Dail (the Irish Republic’s parliament), two of whom, Richard Boyd Barrett and Brid Smith were also at Marxism 2017. Gerry Carroll won his seat in West Belfast – Gerry Adams’ stamping ground. For an avowed non-sectarian to win in the very heartland of Sinn Fein is particularly remarkable. Carroll talked about both his success and that in the Republic. In the Republic much of the radicalism developed around the attempted imposition of water charges (yes – in Europe’s wettest country), but also of course the Republic became the first country in the world to vote in favour of equal marriage. 

After Carroll finished his inspiring speech various people in the audience talked further about some of the points he raised, filling out the picture. Here are some pictures…

Jasmine (chair)Capital 150Jasmine and GerryChair and speakerJasmine at the micGerry giving his opening speech


After the second long break of the day it was back up to floor 3, this time room 3B for me. This meeting dealt with one of the more persistent accusations flung at the left (note, until the mid 1990s Socialist Worker retained its masthead stating “Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism”). Nielsen set out the counter arguments excellently. Stalinism was a product of the isolation of the Russian Revolution – it did not spread elsewhere as the revolutionaries hoped, and it was separated from the revolutionary movement by a river of blood. Most of the old Bolshevik leadership who were alive when Stalin took power died at his hands. Here are some pictures:

Paddy Nielsen ready for his talkPlatformBook displayChair introduces meetingPaddy speakingPaddy in action


Marxism 3: Saturday

An account of the Saturday at Marxism, with lots of pictures.


First the big news – I am writing this on my own computer. Second, for this post, the third in my series on Marxism 2016 (see here and here) I will not be writing about all the meetings I attended on the Saturday, but rather setting out a brief framework of the day before concentrating on two meetings in particular.


I had my usual smooth journey in. Here is my plan for the day:


Thus, my selected meetings were: Engels and the origins of women’s oppression (Celia Hutchinson) in room 728, Precarity: minority condition or majority experience? (Kevin Doogan) in the Elvin Hall, The Anthropocene and the global economic crisis (John Bellamy Foster) in the Galleon Suite room A Royal National Hotel), After the elections: Ireland’s new politics? (Brid Smith and Richard Boyd Barrett), in the Galleon Suite room C Royal National Hotel) and The gene editing revolution – its promise and potential perils (John Parrington), Room 728.

It so happened that the two meetings in the above  list that were in the Royal national Hotel were the only two that I attended there and were back to back. Regular readers will recall that the entrances to the Institute of Education building are on levels 3 and 4. Room 728 as its name suggests is on level 7, while the Elvin Hall is on level 1. There are lifts, but I am not keen on lifts and I also recognized that there were others at the event whose need for lift access is greater than my own, so this program involved a lot of stairs.

The first two meetings featured one late change – Kevin Doogan had to withdraw and was replaced as speaker by Joseph Choonara. Here are some photographs…


After the usual picnic lunch it was time for…


The Royal National Hotel is separated from the Institute of Education by the width of a street (albeit a central London street with all that that entails). Observation of the timetable will lead you to note that Galleon A and Galleon C but no Galleon B. This is because the Galleon Suite is divided by means of temporary partitions which are not soundproof (I have been attending incarnations of this festival since 1995, and can attest to this, as it was not always taken account of), so Galleon B (the middle of a three way partition) was used as a kind of anteroom to the other two parts of the suite, simultaneously serving as a sound-break between them. My first port of call in this building was Galleon C for…


The basic thesis behind this talk is that the scale of human impact on our climate has already been such that we are no longer in the Holocene, the period which began about 10,000 years ago, but in the Anthropocene, the start of which is still not agreed on, with estimates of the exact point spanning the 19th century.

The term Anthropocene is not as new as you might think, having been used in the 1920s by Alexei Pavlov. What this terminology implies is that human influence (anthropo- is a Greek prefix meaning human) on the earth has become so great that human history is now driving geological history.

The speaker (and we were lucky enough to have noted author John Bellamy Foster in that role) presented a huge amount of data explaining the thinking, and left himself without enough time to explain what we should be doing about this situation. While I found this meeting interesting and sobering I was somewhat disappointed by this aspect of it.

The platform with no speakers


Abstract art at the RNH
The platform just before the start of the meeting.




I had been looking forward to this one since hearing Brid Smith speak at the opening rally (I already knew how good Richard Boyd Barrett was from previous years) and I was not to be disappointed. Richard Boyd Barrett (now in his second term as TD for Dun Laoghaire) and Brid Smith are both members of the Irish Dail as part of the People Not Profits coalition.

Before looking at Ireland’s new politics, a brief summary of Ireland’s old politics. For virtually the whole history of the Republic of Ireland the government of the country had swung between two right-wing conservative parties,  Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, depending on which of them the Labour Party in that country chose to prop up.

So what is different now? Well both of the main parties have suffered heavy electoral losses, and one election after its best ever showing the Labour party is down to seven seats. People Before Profit has six seats, and four others are held by socialists who are not members of that coalition (this would be equivalent to having 40-50 radical left MPs at Westminster).

Ireland was forced by the EU to bail out toxic banks at a cost of 68 billion, which was clawed back by inflicting cuts on the weakest in society. Then, the EU decided it had not gone far enough in immiserating Ireland and demanded that the Irish government levy a water charge. This provoked a huge backlash, including a 250,000 strong demonstration in Dublin (equivalent, given the two countries populations to 4-5 million in London), and there is simply no way that the water charge will be made to stick.

It is not just in the Republic that things are changing rapidly (the Irish Socialist Workers Party is a cross-border organisation). There are now two People Before Profit coalition members sitting in the Stormont Parliament (Eamonn McCann and Gerry Carroll), the first two people in Stormont not be signed up as either nationalist or loyalist but as socialists pure and simple,and as part of the campaigning that brought this about they managed to have a meeting in the Shankill Road, attended by 50 people – even the most entrenched sectarianism can be broken through.


The two speakers and chair Emma Davis on the platform
A second picture of the platform taken moments before the start of the meeting


After the evening picnic it was time for the final meeting of the day. John Parrington gave an excellent introduction after which there was a variety of contributions from the floor. I was pleased to see Steve Silberman’s book Neurotribes (surely destined to become the standard work on autism) on display at this meeting. The homeward journey was uneventful as expected.

This one is a bit blurred – a consequence of being on an escalator travelling at London Underground standard speed of 145 feet per minute.