EVERYONE WHO’S EVER BEEN IN THE SWP
OCCUPIES MARXISM 2013
Visitors to this years “Marxism” festival in London, hosted by the Socialist Workers Party, had a surprise this morning.
They arrived to find the areas of grass between ULU and the Institute of Education a sea of tents, music and food. Colourful home made banners fluttered in the breeze, flying from poles, strung between trees and hanging from the roofs of the surrounding buildings.There was also a life size papier mache statue of Russian revolutionary Grigory Zinoviev, complete with fur hat. Everywhere, small and large groups of people gathered and their passionate discussions were interspersed with raucous laughter.
(Relatively) young people in Marxism TEAM T-shirts were seen scurrying around from tent to tent looking lost and holding mobile phones away from their ears as if being shouted at.
The “Occupy Marxism” event seemed to be a cross between the parallel “Marxism 2013” festival itself, though with more energy, youth and people, and some kind of surreal trip through what my generation called “the counterculture”
As well as the musicians, buskers, poets, rappers, street dancers and “performance artists” scattered throughout Occupy Marxism, there were at least half a dozen tents with music workshops and discussion.
Two were run by a bizarrely named group “The Association of Musical Marxists“. The first was packed full of socialists who seemed to be receiving some kind of music therapy by DJ. It turned out that many in the group had suffered from years of aural abuse by listening to nothing but Bob Dylan and sixties jazz and soul. Many were finding it hard to accept that any music at all had been produced since 1971.
The AMM’s other tent, “Poodleplay“, was less crowded. The queue of people outside was long, drawn in presumably by the weird sounds emanating from pink, poodle shaped tent adorned with flags bearing slogans like “Esemplastic Zappology“,”Noise as Permanent revolution“, “Negative Dialectics“, “Militant Esthetix” and “Quantulumcunque”. But the real attraction was the distorted and anguished faces of the people who seemed to leaving in a hurry.
LOCUSTS and FRAGMENTS
Text to the poodle tent was a tent apparently almost squashed under a giant locust. Inside, while quieter than the poodleplay tent, the proceeding were equally incomprehensible. Small groups of white haired men delivered reminiscences from faction fights within the International Socialists, 1972-1975. As small groups of young students listened intently and nodded in agreement, it struck me that on the surface it differed little from the indoor meetings at the official event.
The “Beyond the Fragments” tent was conducting a similar reminiscing style discussion, this time with white haired women, and a much more interactive crowd. But again the mainly young people present were often nodding knowingly as the women told stories from before they were born
Strangely, most laughter was happening outside the comedy tent.Inside, with the not arrival of Mark Steel (overbooked) and JoOrdinaryBloggs (cynicismitis), the group attempted to deconstruct the space between political satire, cynicism & just taking the piss. The biggest laughs came when a list of the various combinations of left newspaper names was read out – Socialist/Fight/Worker/Organiser/Resistance/News/Brifing, and ended with “Worker’s Hamster” and a young comrade holding up a cactus. A few members of the Socialist Party including SP comedian Anti-Duhring Battalion, were seen at the back discreetly taking notes.
Perhaps the busiest tent in the afternoon, and certainly the one with most laughter, was also the most surreal. It consisted of a crowd of people watching an elderly affable looking bald gentleman sitting on a chair. He appeared to be doing nothing, but every so often he would hold up his two fingers for a few seconds to peels of laughter, whoops, Brrrrraps and foot stamping. The only person unmoved was a chubby looking middle aged man who had his face covered and appeared to have lost his voice.
ON A MORE SERIOUS NOTE
Of course Occupy Marxism wasn’t all song and dance. In fact Occupy Marxism attempted to fill some of the glaring omissions in the official Marxism 2013 programme, including Rape & Sexual Violence ; Child Sexual Abuse – State Collusion and Cover ups ; Sexual Relations & Personal Power – Why the person is Political; and Bourgeois Morality: Mistresses, Concubines and the Droit du Seigneur
These tents were heaving with life, a stark contrast to the Fault Lines tent. This was a dark empty space with just a few discarded face-masks, a pile of dictionaries,a thesaurus, a few volumes of Adorno, Marcuse & Benjamin, and an old cassette recorder playing Schoenbergs Three Piano Pieces..
The police were involved in intense discussion with official TEAM T-Shirted people outside another more serious tent where Paul le Blanc & Gilbert Achcar took part in a seemingly endless discussion about Leninism. The TEAM people could be overheard telling the police that Paul and Gilbert had been kidnapped by the organisers of Occupy Marxism, and should be in the Jeffrey Hall. But the police said that they were having trouble identifying the organisers and in any case, they seemed to be acting of their own free will and maybe they had merely lost their way.
TAKING TO THE STREETS
By the tea time, the streets surrounding the two festivals had become occupied too, with huge mass meetings in some, dancing, drama, poetry and direct-action workshops in others. The meetings outside were addressed by the General Secretaries of Unite, PCS and the RMT, but the meeting voted to give them just 5 minutes each before a wide ranging discussion planned rebuilding union organisation on the shop floor, organising unorganised workers, and pop up unions.
As dusk approached and we settled for a warm continental evening,huge crowds gathered in Malet Street to hear former Marxism speakers Tony Benn, Tariq Ali, Owen Jones and many many more join Green Party MP Caroline Lucas for a feel-good rally. At the windows of ULU, TEAM members could be seen staring down unhappily.
Throughout the meeting, a few got annoyed by a middle aged couple who seemed familiar going through the crowd trying to sell overpriced and out of date cappuccinos and somosas.
After the rally, a final large meeting was held as groups with initials (ACI, SR and ISN) discussed various thoughts about revolutionary regroupment. Outside a few with other initials, AWL & CPGB were seen. The AWL seemed to be upset that nobody wanted them, while the CPGB empathised and attempted to console them with their story of remaining pure in spirit.
As people left, small groups burst into renditions of The Internationale and chants of “The Workers United”. This soon degenerated into laughter and dance and freestyling. The slogan was now “The Workers – will be United -by the S.W.P.”, followed by more noisy laughter.
UPDATE – We have just received this regarding today’s happenings
Official Statement from the SWP, organisers of Marxism 2013
The SWP has always welcomed diversity and debate on the left. We feel disapointed that the organisers of Occupy Marxism didn’t contact us before their event as we would have been more than happy to integrate their talks into our event.
We would like to make it clear that any emptying of our meetings rooms today is an unfounded rumour spread on the totally unaccountable internet, and if anybody did leave any of our meetings it was due to the heat.
Furthermore, by holding the event on the grass and in the streets outside ours, our newspaper sellers were not able to sell the normal amount. Finally, while we accept that Paul, Gilbert, Ian, Colin and Pat spoke outside of their own free will, the way it was organised was uncomradely and symptomatic of the kind of sectarianism we in the SWP have always argued against.