Chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” at the opening rally of Marxism Festival (Picture: Guy Smallman)

A mood of defiance ran through the 1,000-strong opening rally of Marxism Festival in central London on Thursday night. It comes amid the humiliation of the Tory party in the general election, advances for the left and a mass movement for Palestine—but also the rise of far right and racist forces.

Over 3,000 people booked in advance for Marxism, a four-day political festival hosted by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) which began on Thursday. 

Speakers at the festival include Jeremy Corbyn, Palestinian author Ghada Karmi, historian Ilan Pappe and journalist Gary Younge. 

The opening rally came after Keir Starmer rode to victory on a wave of anger against the Tories—but there’s little enthusiasm for a Labour Party desperate to cosy up to big business. We’ll have to fight a Starmer government through strikes, protests and mass mobilisations. 

Samara, a striking NEU education union member, said, “The education system is a system where we are overwhelmed. There is no funding to support it. I have had enough. 

“Working together is where the strength lies and we fought back. We have had four strike days and 70 workers on the picket lines. It is up to fight for our children. 

“Strikes work—strength is in unity and action. Light the fires and set injustices alight.”

Haya is from the Soas University Liberated Zone in central London, which is on day 61 of its encampment. She explained that students can “make a change, but also take action to hold our hypocritical institutions to account for their complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza”.

“We see where their priorities lie—they invest in companies that have ties with the Zionist entity,” the student said. “And they expel students and repress any form of Palestinian student activism on campus.”

Haiya added that as an Egyptian, “I recognise the complicity and brutality of the Arab regimes.  After Palestine is free all Arab regimes will be under threat. And Arab people will rise up to be freed from Western colonialism.”

Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a doctor who has been working in Gaza, said, “Despite all the killing, the bombing and the maiming, the Palestinians have refused to leave their country.” 

He added, “The defeat of global capital in Palestine will lead to the defeat of global capital everywhere. I had not realised how critical Israel is to Western imperialism. Israel is the piece around which the whole system is created.

“Every institution in the Western world, whether it be newspapers, football clubs or universities, are toeing the line. It tells us that they are defending something that is critical to the functioning of the whole imperialist system.

“It’s critical that Zionism is defeated in Palestine.”

Richard Boyd Barrett is an Irish socialist TD (MP) for People Before Profit. He said, “The Zionists are creating the facts on the ground to normalise the indefensible, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, apartheid, savage brutality against Palestinians, a criminal siege against Gaza and now genocide.

“None of this could happen without the direct involvement of the United States, Britain, Germany and the major Western powers who provide them with the weapons and political cover for Israel to carry out its horrors. 

“That in and of itself is enough to say we need a revolution against the system that’s capable of this horror.”

The following day, Saturday, Marxism Festival will take a break to join the national demonstration for Palestine in central London. 

This year’s Marxism comes ahead of the second round of the French general election on Sunday night. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), a fascist party, grabbed 33 percent of the vote in the first round last weekend.

Anti-fascist Matilda is from the French revolutionary group A2C—the sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party. “It’s scary with fascism at the doorstep. But at the same time there’s a lot of people who want to take action against racism and fascism—and it’s a time of revolutionary possibilities,” she explained.

“The many people want to fight. There’s unconditional solidarity against fascism that is self-organised. In my neighbourhood in Wren we give out leaflets everyday. And we organised a free feast that more than 1,000 people attended when the result of the first round of the French election was announced.

“On Sunday, the second round of the election, there will be initiatives in the town and countryside. We’ve built on previous movements over pensions and racism. Self-organisation takes time but it gives results.”

Stand Up To Racism activist Jo crashed Nigel Farage’s Reform UK press conference before the rally. “The mainstream media may want to treat Farage as some cheeky chappy, the common sense man from down the pub,” she said. 

“But it’s normalising his racist agenda—we do not want to do that. Farage is an articulate and astute right wing ideologue. We have to take him seriously.”

Lewis Nielsen national secretary of the SWP started by thanks the Tories for “fucking off into oblivion”. 

“The most successful ruling class party in Europe. The election winning machine. Not any more.

“To see the party of racism, British capital, foodbank Britain, Grenfell, the Windrush scandal, inequality and imperialism being kicked in the polls is something everyone should be celebrating.

“But there’s a new danger. Farage and Reform UK have a project to take Britian down the road of Europe and drag politics right by using racism, Islamophobia and demonising migrants.

“You fight the politics of despair with the politics of hope. If there’s one man who could suck hope out of any room, it’s Keir Starmer.”

Lewis added that it’s possible “to build a bigger and fighting left in this country”. “We need to fight and build struggle,” he said. “The fights are linked—genocide in Palestine, fascism in Europe, poverty in Britain.

“They come from a system that can’t be reformed. Our power doesn’t lie in parliament—it lies in the streets, universities and workplaces.”

Marxism Festival continues over Saturday and Sunday—it’s not too late to book a ticket and join the debates. Check out the full timetable

Buy your tickets at the Marxism Festival Box Office at University College London (UCL) Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT


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