Over 270 Marxists have now returned home to over 30 different countries after attending the International Marxist Tendency’s World School that took place in Bardonecchia, Italy, last week. The school demonstrated the tendency's activity and the strength of revolutionary ideas through the high political level, the number of enthusiastic young people in attendance, and the excellent application of Marxist theory to the mass movements developing around the globe today.
As was explained by many speakers, including Alan Woods in his introduction to the discussion on perspectives for world revolution, we are entering the most turbulent period of capitalism’s history. Never before has there been a crisis so deep, forcing the implementation of austerity measures the world over that have led to a widening gap between the rich and the poor and increasing poverty for workers, young people, and pensioners. As a consequence of the degradation of living conditions in the name of profit, protests, strikes and demonstrations are springing up, including the mass protests in Greece against the Troika, marches across the U.S against institutionalised racism, and the anti-austerity demonstrations in Britain. These are just a few examples of the action that people are being forced to take as the costs of the crisis, caused by the inherent contradictions of capitalism, are pushed onto the working class.
The school began with a minute's silence for comrades Camilo Cahis and Chico Lessa of Canada and Brazil respectively. These comrades made tremendous contributions to the IMT during their lives and we remembered and celebrated their contributions. As comrades remarked, the best way to honour the memory of these comrades is to continue to fight with as much voracity and dedication as they in the fight for socialist revolution and in building the IMT. This was the aim of the IMT World School: to educate comrades in the best traditions and ideas of Marxism so that they can continue to build and fight for the only solution to suffering, poverty, oppression and exploitation.
Over the course of the week, the political discussions ranged from an opening session on the perspectives for world revolution to discussions on Marxist philosophy, the political situation in Greece, the crisis in the Middle East, and many others.
Lenin wrote that ‘there can be no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory’, a statement exemplified through the many revolutions in the past that have failed, been defeated or left incomplete due to the lack of a revolutionary leadership equipped with the ideas needed to abolish capitalism and place power in the hands of the masses. This has been seen recently in Eqypt, Tunisia and many other countries during the Arab Spring.
Marxists understand that our theories and ideas must be the product of analysing reality and material conditions, and that we cannot try to impose any preconceived ideas or abstractions onto reality. But at the same time, revolutionary ideas themselves can be extremely powerful in changing the world, since - as Marx wrote - "theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses". Thus, much of the focus of the discussion at the school was spent on discussing the fundamental ideas of Marxism - of philosophy, economics, and other theoretical topics - which are needed in order to understand the world around us; to understand the world in order to change it.
Shaking up the social democracies: mass parties and new formulations
The week’s discussions were set to the backdrop of an unprecedented situation in British politics, with the enormous momentum gathered by the Jeremy Corbyn campaign providing a strong voice to the anger and anti-austerity sentiment that is growing amongst workers and youth. Having found his way onto the ballot for Labour Party leader almost by accident, Corbyn has gathered huge support around his anti-austerity programme which is finding a big echo amongst workers in Britain.
A whole day's discussion was dedicated to analysing these new mass political movements and formations that have broken out in the past few years, and to discuss the implications for the old social democratic and traditional mass parties of the working class. Recent events have shaken such parties to the core, such as the PASOK in Greece or the PSOE in Spain. These parties have failed to represent the far more radical feelings of workers and so, with the creation of a vacuum of political expression, new left alternatives to these hollowed out parties have begun to spring up elsewhere, most notably in the creation of Podemos in Spain and SYRIZA in Greece.
It is clear that there are no longer are the ‘safe’ seats for the traditional workers’ parties, as it has been been seen that such parties are unable to win reforms and positive change within the limits of capitalism. Instead, the reformist parties are carrying out cuts and offering only counter-reforms. As a result, workers and youth are now attracted to the more radical campaigns that promise an end to austerity and an improvement of living conditions, rather than promises of lighter austerity measures.
Fred Weston, who lead off on the topic, explained that as Marxists we do not simply offer uncritical support to any movement or party; we support those such as Corbyn, SYRIZA, or Podemos who put forward a programme of genuine reforms - but we must also point out that such reforms can only be achieved by breaking with capitalism and carrying out socialist policies.
What is clear is that the demise of certain traditional mass organisations is not just a singular phenomenon, but has happened in country after country, including Greece, Spain, and Italy. The class struggle has not necessarily led to a left-wing developing in these traditional organisations, as has happened in the past; and so the political expression of the masses has sprung up elsewhere in different forms of representation. What the Corbyn campaign and groupings like Podemos have in common is that they are expressing what millions of people in these countries are yearning for: an alternative to the current grim realities of capitalism.
The discussion emphasised the dynamism of Marxist analysis and the need for Marxists to intervene in the mass movements and political expressions of the masses: to support progressive developments and engage with them; but also to offer critical support and point out that reformist polices are not enough to make any meaningful changes to people’s lives. The only way that these changes will be won is though a socialist revolution, allowing workers to take power for themselves. Events are currently putting the reformist parties to the test, and people are quickly learning that reforming capitalism is not an option, as is being demonstrated in Greece currently through Tsipras’ recent betrayal.
The national question and Scotland's political earthquake
Recent events in Scotland have provided another example of the disintegration of support for the existing mass parties, with seats that have traditionally been ‘safe’ Labour seats being won overwhelmingly by the SNP. The referendum on independence brought almost the entire population of Scotland to the ballot box in order to engage in the political discussion surrounding the question of whether or not Scotland should become an independent nation. This has caused much discussion for ordinary workers, politicising people of all ages and backgrounds, and bringing to the fore the anti-austerity and anti-establishment sentiments that exist.
These sentiments crystallised in the SNP-led campaign for independence, but lasted through to the general election a few months ago, demonstrated by the SNP's historic victory, taking all but three of the seats in Scotland. With many people in Scotland calling for independence, there is a need for Marxists to analyse and understand the national question in Scotland. Three separate discussions at the World School explored the question of nations and nationalism, including one discussion specifically relating to Scotland - with Rachel Gibbs giving a brilliantly detailed account of the events that happened during the Scottish referendum and the political landslide that has occurred since, as well as the role that Marxists must now play. This question was also discussed in relation to the black struggle in the US, with an introduction on the topic by John Peterson.
The first discussion was given by Francesco Merli, who discussed the ideas more broadly, looking at the ideas of Marx and Lenin on the national question, as well as the historical rise and role of the nation state. Francesco emphasised that the right of nations to self determine is never an absolute question, and that whilst we would always want to strengthen working class unity, there are instances where separation is in fact progressive. Thus there is a natural contradiction in the nature of the national question: on the one hand, the need to unify the working class as a united body through revolutionary internationalism and breaking down national divisions; and on the other hand, it being necessary to fight for the right of oppressed nations to separate from an oppressive ruling class. The right to self determination is ultimately a democratic right, not a specifically socialist demand, and should be used to liberate, win over and unite sections of the working class behind a revolutionary socialist programme.
What was emphasised through all these discussions was the idea that there is no rigid or absolute position that could be applicable to all situations regarding the national question; thus an understanding of the method of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky on this question is essential for Marxists in order to interpret political developments, such as those in Scotland right now.
Crisis in the Middle East: causes and solutions
One of the most vital discussions of the week was given by Hamid Alizadeh on the crisis in the Middle East. He discussed the existing and historical problems of the region, looking at the imperialist forces that had helped contribute to the rise of the Islamic State and other fundamentalist groups.
Hamid began by explaining the situation right across the region, mentioning that the majority of the population are youth, experiencing high unemployment and few prospects for the future. The region has experienced many revolutions in the recent period through the Arab Spring, with huge movements of the people in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. These movements showed the power of the people to enact change and their desire to do so; but the revolutions were incomplete - the workers themselves did not take power through a revolutionary leadership, thus allowing a counter-revolution to develop and fill the power vacuum left by overthrowing the previous dictatorships. A consequence of this is mass demoralisation amongst the youth in particular, and we are currently thus seeing an ebb in the movement. But, as Hamid explained, these revolutions are not over yet and the workers are learning from these experiences.
Hamid explained the instability of the Middle East, considering the influence that Iran now has in the region compared to US imperialism, which has reached the limits of its power, politically and economically. In the same way that the US's ability to intervene has become restricted by the weakening of American capitalism, so too are other countries in the region facing similar impotence and a weakening of their power more generally.
Saudi Arabia is an excellent example of this, whose national economy, usually dependent on oil production, has been undermined by production from the US. This not only threatens the Saudi economy, but also its relations with the US and position of power in the region. Hamid told of how the Saudi ruling family has no real legitimacy, having been established as a puppet power. This uncertainty is compounded by the rising inequality and religious tensions stoked by the Saudi state. And despite the fact that there has been no revolution in Saudi Arabia, ripples from the Arab Spring have been felt there through mass protests and strikes. As with all other countries around the globe, nowhere exists in a vacuum, and the class struggle that is heightening everywhere is also heightening in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East as a whole.
The US and other so-called leading world powers will now look to Iran to help bring stability to the region, where the US can no longer act as hegemonically as it once did. This is problematic for US imperialism, however, as America’s relationship with its other allies in the area, such as Israel, have become fractious as a consequence of Iran offering its services to the US.
What this discussion highlighted clearly was the need for a revolutionary leadership in the Middle East, since the absence of such a leadership has led to demoralisation, an ebb in the movement, and the continuation of hated regimes. For example, despite incentives such as making voting day a public holiday, providing free transport, and threats of fines for non-voters, there was only a 47% turn out in the last Egyptian elections for Al Sisi.
The ruling class are clearly panicking, and as a consequence the whole region has been dragged into barbarism in the attempt to maintain some kind of position. But the continued crisis of capitalism will lead to a renewal of workers’ struggles. The real historic traditions in the region are not those of Islamic fundamentalism or barbarism, but of socialism and fighting for equality; and these ideas are what will in the end prevail.
Students and youth
After a long day of discussion, student comrades from Brazil, Italy and Britain met to share their experiences and successes of conducting work with students and youth in different areas of the globe. The Brazilian comrades explained their process of setting up committees of students in order to protest against the chronic conditions and lack of equipment in schools. The comrades are connecting with a material problem for the youth of Brazil and have launched a campaign to connect the need to fight for basic school supplies to the need to overthrow capitalism, thus involving young people in the fight for a fundamental change in society in order to provide such reforms.
The Italians talked about a similar process of working in the schools to get young students and comrades elected as student representatives within the schools. Similarly to the work of the Brazilian comrades, this allowed the comrades to link the demands for concrete reforms to the demands for socialism and a democratically controlled, planned economy in order to provide these things.
British comrades have been conducting work amongst students in the universities by setting up discussion groups and educating students in the ideas of Marxism. There was much to learn from comrades in other countries, who all demonstrated different strengths and abilities that we could all learn from in order to further strengthen our activities amongst students and youth in Britain. Theory is vital; but it must be a guide to action, with comrades taking their understanding gained through discussions and turning it towards the labour movement and the mass movements of the youth in order to win wider layers over to revolutionary ideas.
The tasks ahead
The school ended with an organisational report by Jorge Martin, detailing the growth and progress of all of the sections of the International Marxist Tendency. It was encouraging to hear about the activities of the international comrades from Venezuela to Switzerland, and Pakistan to Canada, demonstrating the surge in society for an explanation to the crisis of capitalism and for an alternative to the crippling austerity and poverty that capitalism offers.
Alan Woods closed the school with a rousing speech encouraging members of the IMT to continue building the forces of Marxism, and to continue raising the banner of the IMT — of socialism — so that we can build a revolutionary organisation that can play an integral role in bringing about the end to the horrors of capitalism and establish a society that would provide equality and rising standards of living to everyone on the planet.
There has never been a more important time to fight for the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky: now is the time to educate ourselves and others in how to fight oppression and exploitation; now is the time to go forth and explain to all those who are searching for an alternative to austerity that there is an alternative - but we must organise and fight for it!