Marxism 5: The Final Day

The conclusion to my series of posts about Marxism 2016.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to my fifth post in this series about Marxism 2016. Since Marxism adopted its current format of running from Thursday afternoon through to Monday afternoon in 2005 (before that it used run from a Friday evening to the afternoon of the following Friday) the Monday morning has usually been the quietest time of the event, before the closing rally finishes things with a flourish.

GETTING THERE AND THE PLAN

I wished to arrive early at the event so as to have time to deposit my main bag in the left luggage room for the morning and then prepare for the day. I was accompanied on this last journey in from Walthamstow to the Institute of Education by the other person who had been a guest in the house I was staying at, and who I had discovered was also autistic. We left in good time and had a very smooth journey to the event.

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THE MORNING MEETINGS

My first meeting, Lewis Nielsen on What Would a Revolution Look Like? down in the drama studio was interesting, and well worth attending. The second meeting, Camilla Royle on How Big Pharma stops us making progress in Nunn Hall was excellent. As well as stuff from Bad Pharma (Ben Goldacre’s classic) she mentioned the Martin Skhreli case. This meeting was a worthy lead up to the closing rally, due to start at 2PM in the Logan Hall.

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Lewis Nielsen ready for his meeting.
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Camilla Royle ready for action in Nunn Hall.

THE FINAL RALLY

The Final Rally was quite simply magnificent. After several prominent campaigners, including a trainee nurse and a junior doctor, the last two speeches were by Richard Boyd Barrett TD and Michael Bradley. I left during the applause at the end of Michael’s speech, wishing to retrieve my bag and leave the building reasonably swiftly. This meant that I missed the singing of the Internationale.

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Some of the team, in their red t-shirts.

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Sarah who helped organize the event chaired the final rally.
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Our firs speaker, a trainee nurse talking about what is being done to people in her position.

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Junior doctor Megan Parsons addresses the final rally.
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Richard Boyd Barrett TD seeks to inspire by showing how Irish politics has changed out of all recognition since he joined the Irish SWP in 1989
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Mike Bradley making the final speech of Marxism 2016.

HOMEWARD BOUND

My departure during the applause for Mike Bradley enabled me to make a swift exit from the building, which had the extra benefit that I got to King’s Cross station at 15:37, so was able to travel back on the 15:44, which I had not expected.

Marxism 4: Sunday

My account of the Sunday at Marxism 2016.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to my fourth post about Marxism 2016 (see here, here and here), focussing on Sunday. Like the previous post, this one will be formatted slightly differently from my usual Marxism posts, again because I wish to focus on two particular meetings.

GETTING THERE AND THE DAY’S PLAN

It being Sunday I was even more generous than usual in allowing for transport problems. In keeping with Sutcliffe’s Second Law of Travelling by Public Transport I therefore had my best journey of the week.

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A sculpture outside Euston station.

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A neoclassical folly, Euston Road

To help explain both my schedule for the day and the rest of this post here is the timetable for Sunday, with my choices marked…

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What I am going to do now is write briefly about meetings 1,2 and 5 before covering the two disability meetings in a bit more detail.

MEETINGS 1, 2 AND 5

My first meeting, Kate Hurford on White supremacy and the creation of “race” – where does racism come from? took place in Clarke Hall, which is on level three of the institute. The speaker was not well but still managed to deliver a very good introduction after which there was a lively debate.

For the second meeting I had chosen Shahrar Ali on How left is green politics? Although I am grateful that both he and Natalie Bennett were speaking at this event, and regret that a timetable clash prevented me from hearing Natalie speak I felt that there were important questions not dealt with, such as the roles of greens in office in various parts of the world (like the Aussie green party doing deals with the Liberal National Party, that country’s equivalent of the Tories). However, this caveat aside I enjoyed this meeting, and have no regrets about attending.

I will be covering meetings 3 and 4 in the next section. Meeting 5, for which I had chosen religion was an interesting meeting.

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Kate Hurford and the chair just before the start of their meeting

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Shahrar Ali and the chair of his meeting.
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Anna Gluckstein (right as you look) and the chair of her meeting on religion.

TWO MEETINGS ABOUT DISABILITY

Both of these two meetings, the first a panel meeting and the second the official launch of Roddy Slorach’s book “A Very Capitalist Condition” were excellent and in their different ways inspiring.

The first meeting started with a number of speakers talking about what they are doing, and about various campaigns before then being opened up for discussion.

Roddy’s meeting (we have previously shared a platform at a public meeting in Norwich) began with him introducing ideas that are contained within his book, which I have since read and enjoyed.

I suffered a double frustration because I had carefully planned contributions for both meetings (there are as yet no meetings at Marxism focussing specifically on autism, although this year the Silberman book was on display – if anyone involved in the organisation the event is reading this please take this as a hint) and did not get to make either although I indicated clearly on both occasions.

AN OUTLINE OF THE UNMADE CONTRIBUTIONS

I had planned two different but linked contributions, each tailored to the specific meeting in question. For the first meeting, which focussed exclusively on campaigns My contribution would have covered the following:

  • A full introduction mentioning my role at NAS West Norfolk and the fact that I am #actuallyautistic and giving details of this blog
  • A skate through some of NAS West Norfolk’s activities including a brief mention of the Positive Autism Awareness Conference and the upcoming launch of adult activities and the inaugural Autism Awareness Cup.
  • Finishing with an account of the campaign around the Fermoy unit and our role in it, emphasisng that the Fermoy remains open.

For Roddy’s meeting I would again have given a full introduction before going on to cover:

  • The envisaged but not yet fully realized sequence of: Awareness – Understanding – Acceptance.
  • Emphasised that autism is a condition not a disorder – it is not a malfunctiion, it is a different operating system .
  • Might have produced the line ‘nothing about us without us’
  • Planned to finish by emphasising that different is not a synonym for lesser.

I finish this section by re-emphasising that these were two excellent meetings.

THE LAST EVENING

I stayed fairly late after the end of the final meeting, and was delighted to make the acquaintance of several people involved in disability activism during this period.

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Marxism 3: Saturday

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

INTRODUCTION

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.

GETTING THERE AND THE PLAN

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

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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…

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After the usual picnic lunch it was time for…

A VISIT TO THE ROYAL NATIONAL HOTEL

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 ANTHROPOCENE AND THE GLOBAL ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

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.

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The platform with no speakers

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

PICTURES FROM GALLEON B IN BETWEEN MEETINGS

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IRELAND’S NEW POLITICS?

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.

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

BACK TO THE INSTITUTE

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.

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

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Marxism 2: Friday

An account of the second day of Marxism 2016, with plenty of photos.

INTRODUCTION

This is my second post about the wonderful event that was Marxism 2016. This time I will be covering the events of Friday.

GETTING THERE

Although the first post in this series featured a shot of Walthamstow Central station the quickest way to get from the house at which I was staying to the event was by bus to Blackhorse Road station and then tube to Euston. Making my usual allowances for unforeseen (but eminently foreseeable) public transport issues I was treated to a very smooth journey, and it was barely even after nine o’clock (for a ten o’clock start) that I arrived at the Institute of Education building.

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Art at the top of the escalator shaft at Blackhorse Road station
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TFL advertising, Blackhorse Road
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The tiled logo at platform level (the victoria line is famous for having this feature at all of its stations)
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The timetable for Friday with my selections marked.

MEETING 1: AFTER THE PANAMA PAPERS – HOW THE RICH HIDE THEIR MONEY

Both of my first two meetings of the day were to take place at Nunn Hall on Level Four of the Institute of Education (the IOE has nine levels in total, with exits from the building on Levels three (street only) and four (street and back). Nunn Hall has one commanding feature – this painting, here shown flanked by posters:

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The “JOIN THE SWP” poster closest to the painting as A2 size to give you an idea of the scale of the painting.

This meeting, with journalist Simon Basketter as main speaker featured powerpoint slides, some of which I have photos of. A killer stat first: 44% of global economic output is reckoned to be hidden via tax havens.

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This is a real picture from 21st century London and that ferrari is gold-plated!

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This is a penthouse dining suite in one of London’s newer blocks – the developers claim that it caters to all income levels, but the cheapest apartments have a price tag of £715,000 – even further removed from affordable than the Gidiot’s version.

Moving on from the third picture above, many of London’s grander properties these days are actually not really dwelling places at all but ostentatious safety deposit boxes for the super-rich.

MEETING TWO: POLITICS OF THE MIND: MARXISM AND MENTAL HEALTH

This meeting, with main speaker Beth Greenhill was excellent, and her presentation featured one of the best logos I have ever seen. I have a few photos. During the discussion which folowed the main presentation lots of stories both good and bad were told.

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LUNCH TIME

Lunch time features what has become a Marxism tradition – the district picnic. London food prices being what they are, these communal picnics reduce individual expenditure quite considerably. Food and water duly consumed it was time for the afternoon sessions. I have no pictures of the food itself, but here is the symbol that denotes the presence of Norwich and East Anglia:

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MEETING THREE: SHOULD WE BE IN FAVOUR OF FREE SPEECH?

After making it clear that we should be and are in favour of free speech, speaker Esme Choonara went on to talk about some recent controversies and then to talk about two particular things that have been much misused recently – the No Platform policy and the concept of a safe space.

The No Platform policy, first established in the 1970s was originally intended specifically to target fascism in the form of first the National Front, and later the BNP. It was never seen originally as being a way to deal with general disagreement.

Likewise, the concept of a safe space was developed for a specific purpose. This dates from the Vietnam War and the idea was to have places where people would not be exposed to recruiters. Again this concept should not be used to ban contrary ideas.

We favour the maximum amount of free speech possible – restricting freedom of speech is a measure of last resort.

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Speaker Esme Choonara (left as you look) and chair Kambiz Boomla before the meeting
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Esme giving her talk.

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MEETING FOUR

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The verdict on this one was that it could be either.

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Speaker Michael and chair Sarah before the meeting.
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Michael giving his talk.

THE SECOND MEAL BREAK

For the first time at Marxism, the Norwich and Eats Anglia district picnic was happening twice a day, so I got some more cheap food. I also had a look around bookmarks (for the record, I bought two new and one second-hand book there over the five days).

MEETING FIVE: FIGHTING SEXISM TODAY: MARXISM AND WOMEN’S LIBERATION

This was a splendid way to finish the day. I did not stay on that long after the end of this final meeting of the day because I was already tired, and considered it sensible to get some sleep.

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Judith Orr (on the left as you look) and chair Despina immediately before the final meeting of the day.
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A topiary roundel near Euston station.

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Bus routes in the part of London where I was staying
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Blackhorse Road Station just before the bus arrived.

 

 

Marxism 1: Getting There and Day 1

An account of my experiences onj the opening day of Marxism 2016, topped and tailed with details of getting there, and getting to my accommodation after the final meeting.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the first of what will be a series of posts about Marxism 2016, a five-day political festival that happened in London between June 30th and July 4th.

THE JOURNEY

I made my usual allowances for things to go wrong, catching the 10:54 train out of King’s Lynn. This then ran very smoothly, meaning that I had time once at the event to deposit one bag, pick up a final timetable and plan my meetings without hurry.

MEETING 1: CORBYN, THE LABOUR PARTY AND THE STRUGGLE FOR SOCIALISM

This meeting, with Mark L Thomas as speaker was scheduled for the Drama Studio on level one of the Institute of Education building. However, the numbers of people wishing to attend led to a last minute change of venue to the Elvin Hall.

The talk started, as it had to, with some stuff about the attempted coup against a leader voted for by 59.5% of the membership. The 172 PLP members who voted for the motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn are vastly out of step with their membership – most are pro-austerity while their membership is anti-austerity.

One of the points made about the progress of this attempted coup was that if it succeeded Labour would have lost all claim to be regarded as democratic party – 172 highly placed individuals would have demonstrated that their opinions counted for more than those of over 250,000 who voted for Corbyn.

Mark L Thomas reckoned that the right-wingers in the PLP had two fears:

  1. As people who depend on election results they feared that Corbyn could not win an election and…
  2. As right wingers they feared that Corbyn could win an election (Blair himself had said opnely that he would rather lose an election than win one with Corbyn as leader).

This meeting was an excellent and inspiring start to the event. Of course since then tens of thousands of people have joine the Labour party, many stating that their reason doing so is to support Corbyn.

I will finish this section with a suggestion/ challenge: if the 172 are so confident that they are in the right why don’t they resign their seats, triggering 172 by-elections, in which they stand without the benefit of the Labour rosette against whoever the CLPs choose as the Labour party candidate? Of course the answer to this is the same as the answer to why hasn’t one of these individuals garnered 51 signatures and challenged Corbyn to a leadership battle: they know that in a fair, open fight like that they would get thrashed.

A late addition – it appears from breaking news that the Chilcot report (it is fairly obvious from the timing of the attempted coup against Corbyn that they wanted him out before Chilcot was released) is very damining – here is a snippet from a much longer piece that can be viewed here:

In its damning report the inquiry panel found:

  • Judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were ‘presented with a certainty that was not justified’;
  • There was ‘little time’ to properly prepare three military brigades for deployment in Iraq, the risks were not ‘properly identified or fully exposed’ to ministers, resulting in ‘equipment shortfalls’;
  • Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were under-estimated;
  • Planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam’s fall were ‘wholly inadequate’;
  • Mr Blair’s government failed to achieve its stated objectives.

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Mark L Thomas giving his talk.

MEETING 2: WOMEN, SOCIAL REPRODUCTION AND THE FAMILY

This meeting, with main speaker Sally Campbell (editor of Socialist Review magazine, and author of Rosa Luxemburg: A Rebels Guide) and chaired by Ruby Kirsch was also very interesting and lively.

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Sally (left as you view the picture) and Ruby preparing for the meeting
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Sally giving her talk

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THE OPENING RALLY 

Finally in terms of first day meetings came the Opening Rally, at 7PM in the Logan Hall. We heard from a variety of workers who have been involved in struggles in various places (as well as speakers from the UK this panel included an Irish TD and a French railway worker. Perhaps most impressive were Victor and Juan, two cleaners who spoke by way of a translator, and who have been part of an all out strike in the heart of the City. After all these amazing contributions Amy Leather (organiser of the Marxism festival) made the last speech. The whole thing was superbly chaired by Emma Davis, a teacher.

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The whole panel of speakers
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Emma Davis calls the meeting to order
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Emma introducing the first speaker.

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ACCOMODATION

The person who had put me up last year had offered to do so again this year. Unfortunately he could not attend the opening day of the festival, so we had arranged a meeting point at the Rose and Crown on Hoe Street, which I located without undue difficulty.