Friday, July 07, 2006

No, I won't be going to "Marxism 2006"

WORKERS AID CONVOY waiting for the off, south of Split. SWP didn't want to know about need for Bosnia solidarity, nor about Srebrenica massacre.

LARGE numbers of starry-eyed youngsters, older campaigners who ought to know better, and seasoned activists who do, are gathering in central London for what they call "Marxism 2006", " A festival of resistance", five days of talks, discussions, films, music and what not organised by the Socialist Workers Party(SWP).

Even the most dedicated of my local SWP acquaintances have given up trying to get me to go, though one did give me a programme the other day, more from habit than hope I think. As I told the young person who proffered me a leaflet during a demonstration last week, "Last time I went they wanted to throw me out".

It was an evening in July 1995. Friends had persuaded me to come to the University of London Union where as part of the SWP's "Marxism" event there was to be a session on Bosnia. As we joined the crowd going in the evening newspaper stands outside announced the first news of the massacre at Srebrenica. The news of the town's fall had been expected, but we did not yet realise the scale of the butchery.

Inside, finding myself placed up in the balcony, I followed the procedure laid down by the organisers, handing in a speaker slip with my question: "How can workers in Britain help workers in Bosnia?"

As the evening wore on we listened to an SWP speaker assuring us that the sides in Bosnia were equally well-armed and equally to blame, that we should not get involved, and so on. Apart from routine calls on the Bosnian workers to unite (as though it were their fault, though this was unspoken), it was not much different from the line taken by Tory Foreign secretary Douglas Hurd who had said that lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia would only create a "a level killing field".

Of the real killing fields outside Srebrenica nothing was said.

Workers Aid for Bosnia was dismissed with a passing sneer, as a vain idea (It had by then sent 20 convoys of badly-needed aid to working class communities, mainly the mining area of Tuzla, but the SWP pretended it never existed).
A few people from the audience were allowed to express different ideas, before a succession of loyal SWP hacks got up and made prepeared contributions. It became obvious I would not be called, and Srebrenica was not going to be mentioned.

So as the main speaker resumed, I stood up and said as loudly and clearly as I could "Two thousand people killed and you don't want to talk about it!" Like I say, news of the scale of the massacre (over 8,000) had not yet reached us.

Two stewards came over and told me to sit down and shut up or I would be thrown out. One of them naievely told me I would get my chance to speak later, though this was plainly not to be. Not wanting to start a fight, particularly on a steep balcony, I did as I was told. The lads who had told me to be quiet were probably decent enough comrades just doing their job, as I might have done in their place.

What was more depressing, though, when I think about it, was what happened when the meeting ended. Rejoining my friends in the foyer as the crowd were filing out, I stood my ground while the stewards asked people to clear the passage, and my mates went off to the bar. As I waited I thought someone was bound to ask me why I had interrupted the speaker, and (since many people had probably not heard what I said), what I was shouting about. But the people all filed past, some averting their eyes, others glaring angrily at me - the man who had disturbed their peace.

Even in the bar when I joined my friends again, a few people came in who had been in the meeting, some may have glanced over, but none came over, neither to agree nor argue with me, nor even to ask me what the disturbance had been about. Not even curiosity, at what I had supposed to be an educational event.

The same lack of curiosity, well-trained, that kept SWP members away when they had the chance to hear first-hand from Bosnian trade unionists whom we managed to bring over, or later, the women from Srebrenica.

To be fair, my differences with the SWP go way back, to when we were in opposing factions in the Young Socialists. Still, I have worked with, and even learned to respect some of them, in campaigns and in the Socialist Alliance (before they decided to bury it). Maybe they can change. But no, I don't think I will be going to "Marxism 2006", nor "Marxism" (SWP-style) any other year in the foreseeable future.



At 9:59 PM, Blogger Jim Jay said...

I joined the SWP at Marxism '95 (although I'm fairly sure I didn't attend this meeting) What I would say is that we should try to make links with good socialists whatever grouping they are in.

If I had heard there was an opportunity to hear a trade unionist from Bosnia I would have jumped at the chance of organising a meeting at Essex Uni (where I was at the time) whether or not it was sanctioned - but I could never have heard of this through the official channels.

Recently I helped an Oxford SWP member organise a tour stop on Anthony Arnove's tour - which they greatly enjoyed - it's only because I keep contact with SWP members and don't see them as a single group that we managed this very positive step.

I agree don't go through the SWP management - but the ground forces are another matter!


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