Workers’ Liberty members always attend the SWP’s “Marxism” festival (this year 30 June-4 July) because we firmly support debate on the left.
We run a stall, sell Solidarity, and organise fringe meetings to discuss things we believe are missing from the main agenda. We also try to intervene in the sessions to put across our ideas and engage other socialists in a discussion.
This is difficult at times. For example in the session on anti-fascism (a controversial topic on the left), “comments from the floor” were taken from a pre-arranged list. Hence no debate.
This is what’s wrong with “Marxism” — the SWP go to great lengths to avoid “divisive” debate; they have to have people convinced that the SWP’s line is the only worthwhile one. Then they thrust membership forms at people as they leave the room.
Apart from being anti-democratic it can be counterproductive. A woman who came to one of our fringe meetings specifically complained about this.
That said, the discussions we had with SWP members were largely civil and comradely. For example two activists came to discuss Israel and Palestine with us. I had the feeling one was an organiser trying to “expose”us in front of a newer member. When he was losing the argument, he tried to send his newer comrade off to pick up a stray newspaper sheet. But the debate remained calm, forcing the SWP members to present politics, rather than bluster.
We ran two successful fringe meetings, one on Libya and NATO intervention and another on the call for a general strike . Both allowed for a wide ranging discussion.
I think to those for whom it was an introduction to the way Workers’ Liberty does debate, it provided an engaging space in which ideas could be seriously thrashed out. What is the point in being on the left unless you want to raise your own and other people’s political ideas to a higher level?