More than 1100 people, including a large number of young activists, attended Marxism 2014: Ideas to change the system, hosted in Melbourne by Socialist Alternative over April 17-20.
The event continues to be an important public conference in Australia. This year there was an impressive Indigenous history and struggle stream, including activists such as Lex Wotton, who was jailed following the community response to Mulrunji Doomadgee's murder in custody by police on Palm Island, veteran activist Gary Foley; Marjorie Thorpe; Vicky Roach and former Tracker editor Chris Graham.
Several union activists including members from the Maritime Union of Australia, Victorian Trades Hall and the National Union of Workers took part. They included including Chad Wyatt, an NUW delegate from Super A-Mart which recently won its struggle for a collective bargaining agreement with the company.
International guest speakers included Panos Petrou from the group DEA, which is part of SYRIZA in Greece; Lebanese Marxist intellectual and member of Left Unity in England, Gilbert Achcar; Chicago-based leader of the US ISO, Ahmed Shawki; Hong Kong-based activist and author Au Loongyu; regular GLW columnist from the US, Barry Sheppard; and US rap artist and activist Boots Riley.
A number of Filipino activists attended the conference, including delegates from the Philippines Airlines Employees Association, which recently won a protracted battle against contracting and outsourcing of jobs; the Partido ng Manggagawa (Labour Party); and the Revolutionary Workers Party of Mindanao.
Overall, there were many interesting sessions on historical and current issues, and some impressive speakers from within and outside Socialist Alternative. This year's conference seemed to project itself as a showcase recruitment event aimed at a student audience, and as an internal educational event. This was a bit of a change from the atmosphere from last year’s conference, which was clearly influenced by the left unity discussions under way at the time.
One weakness of the conference — especially given its title — was the lack of content in the workshop sessions on tackling the key question of what the left should do now, beyond appeals to “grow the revolutionary forces” through “building bases on the campuses”.
Given the crisis facing the Australian labour movement, the small and isolated left in Australia, and the attacks being carried out by the government on behalf of the Australian ruling class, it was a lost opportunity for much-needed discussion about how the left can collaborate today to build resistance to these attacks.
Some conference workshops around current campaigns suffered somewhat for a lack of connection between the strategic goal of fundamental social change and how and why socialists should relate to these campaigns today, like those against unconventional gas, for example. Absent entirely from the conference program this year were any workshops on the Latin American revolutions under way in Venezuela and Bolivia.
The Socialist Alliance had three members speak at the conference: Mike Karadjis, on Syria; Sue Bolton, on Australian politics; and Gemma Weedall, on the environment.
[Audio of the conference sessions will be posted to the conference website.]