a weekend at marxism: how do we relate to the SWP?

David Broder reflects on this weekend’s Marxism festival, a thousands-strong conference organised by the Socialist Workers’ Party. He argues that the libertarian left should be doing more to engage with SWP comrades in order to provide a positive alternative for those put off by how it organises.

Marxism is the biggest event on the British left. Across five days several thousand people converge on London for the Socialist Workers’ Party summer school, including representatives of most other significant left groups. The conference itself is SWP self-promotion, so they do not invite groups they disagree with for debate: they prefer to give a platform to ‘big name’ trade union leaders, politicians like Tony Benn or Marxist academics, who may sermonise for socialism but won’t really question the SWP’s own modus operandi.

This is a great shame, since ‘Marxism’ has great unfulfilled potential. It could be a weekend for the left to debate strategy and ideas in a collective way. Instead, the meetings are heavy on top-table speakers, while SWP audience members tend simply to reaffirm what the speaker has already said. Often in an anti-cuts meeting or similar, The Commune members will question whether we should really be collaborating with Labour politicians, what kind of direct action is appropriate, or if we should be making more radical, positive proposals rather than purely defensive demands. The SWP stock reply is: this isn’t the time to debate among ourselves, we need to be ‘out there’ campaigning. OK, so when can we have these debates? Continue reading “a weekend at marxism: how do we relate to the SWP?”

is marxism just too abstract?

by Nathan Coombs

The following commentary is in response to a forum organized by The Commune and the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, held in London on July 5, 2010.  This involved a talk by Anne Jaclard, “You Can’t Change the Mode of Production with a Political Agenda,” followed by a talk by Andrew Kliman, “The Transformation of Capitalism into Communism in the Critique of the Gotha Program.” Both talks can be read here.

In 1965 Louis Althusser opened his famous paean For Marx with a withering reflection on French theoretical culture at the time. He bemoaned the fact that ‘we have spent the best part of our time in agitation when we would have been better employed in the defence of our right and duty to know’.[i] The result of which was ‘the stubborn, profound absence of any theoretical culture’; whereas, he claimed, ‘Marxism should not be simply a political doctrine, a ‘method’ of analysis and action, but also, over and above the rest, the theoretical domain of fundamental investigation’.[ii] For this task Althusser saw as indispensable the role of intellectuals committed to necessary theoretical work.

Plato: an 'abstract' proto-communist?

Continue reading “is marxism just too abstract?”

the commune issue 14

The May issue of our monthly paper The Commune is now available. Click the image below to see the PDF or see individual articles as they are posted online in the list below.

To purchase a printed copy for £1 + 50p postage, use the ‘donate’ feature here. You can also subscribe (£12 a year UK/£16 EU/£20 international) or order 5 copies a month to sell (£4) online here. If you want to pay by cheque, contact uncaptiveminds@gmail.com. Continue reading “the commune issue 14”

the london commune: introduction to marx’s communism

This spring The Commune in London will be holding a series of educational discussions on the communism of Karl Marx as part of our organising meetings.

On each of the following Mondays (separated by three week intervals) we will have an hour’s discussion on a theme or text followed by an hour of planning for movement events and organising in the capital. See below for the list of dates and texts. Continue reading “the london commune: introduction to marx’s communism”

communist theory forum, february 14th

The Communist Theory Forum, hosted by The Commune, takes place from 2pm on Sunday 14th February at the Lucas Arms, Grays Inn Road, near London’s King’s Cross.

The Communist Theory Forum represents an attempt to establish an engaged research programme to think through the impasses of the left. The forum was established out of a dissatisfaction with most of the academic debates on the left, which rarely transcend scholastic studies. If you think of a journal such as the New Left Review, for all the good academic work contained within there is very little engagement with either the big questions of communist strategy in the 21st century, nor the nuts and bolts of real world praxis today. The debates are very rarely conducted from the point of view of what is needed to reinvigorate communist ideas to assist overturning the economic and political structures of capitalism. Continue reading “communist theory forum, february 14th”

bristol reading group, sunday 24th january: capital and capitalism

The first of The Commune’s Bristol reading group sessions will be on Sunday 24th January at 6pm in Cafe Kino on Ninetree Hill, Bristol.

The series of sessions is entitled “Alternatives to capitalism”. The first session is called “Capital and capitalism”. A brief look at the features of capitalism. Capital, wage-labour, profit, capital accumulation and its effect on our lives.This first session sets the scene and will allow us to contast proposed alternatives. Continue reading “bristol reading group, sunday 24th january: capital and capitalism”

russia’s marxist labour party: twenty years after the wall fell

The coming week marks twenty years since the fall of the Berlin wall. This event represented one of the high points of a great mass struggle against the tyrannical order in the Eastern Bloc, but with the defeats of movements opposed to both these statist régimes and the free market, the popular movements of 1989 are now used to prove there is no alternative to capitalism.


In the coming week The Commune shall be presenting a series of interviews with communists from the former Eastern Bloc focussing on the struggles of the time, what system really existed in the ‘”communist” countries and what has happened to the working class over the last twenty years. In the first of these we talk to Russia’s Marxist Labour Party. Continue reading “russia’s marxist labour party: twenty years after the wall fell”

reading for 5th october london discussion group now online

The next of our London discussion meetings on workplace organising is to be held from 7pm on Monday October 5th at the Lucas Arms, near King’s Cross. We will be looking at the questions:


– Are unions an expression of the self-organisation of the working class, or bodies which seek to win improvements on their behalf?

– What is the difference between ‘trade unionism’ and the revolutionary class struggle?

The recommended reading material and a map of the venue appear below. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com or phone 07595 245494 for more details. Continue reading “reading for 5th october london discussion group now online”

fictitious capital and credit schemes

This talk given by Michael Egoavil at the Left Forum 2009 panel “Marx’s ‘Capital’ and the Economic Crisis” argues against the demand for state ownership of banks. Michael can be reached at michaelegoavil@gmail.com.

Today I’m going to be discussing Marx’s theory of fictitious capital and its relation to real capital accumulation. Along the way I’m going to focus on Marx’s seldom-read analysis of a French bank known as the Credit Mobilier, in which this theory played a fundamental role. I’ll conclude with some thoughts on how this relates to socialist politics today.

In the third volume of Capital, Marx discusses what he calls “fictitious capital” – what we know as “securities.” Essentially these are titles to streams of income, which are treated as commodities and bought and sold on financial markets. There are significant differences between types of securities. Some represent corporate debts, as with bonds, some represent consumer debts, as with mortgage backed securities, and others represent capital investments, as with shares of stock. But the common aspect of all these different securities is that they all give their owners a right to a stream of income, hopefully leaving them with more money than they started off with. The security owner therefore looks upon his security as capital. Continue reading “fictitious capital and credit schemes”

13th july reading group: communist organisation today

The last in our current series of London reading groups on ‘communism from below’ will take place on Monday 13th July from 7pm at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street station. It is on the subject of ‘communist organisation today’. We will be discussing the issues:

– Can communists with different ideas and perspectives co-exist in the same organisation? Is ‘forgetting our differences’ and ‘leaving past baggage at the door’ a precondition of left unity?
– Should we organise for specifically communist positions, or establish a broader ‘left’ presence filling some of the political space abandoned by Labour?
– Should we concentrate on propaganda and ideological struggle, or workplace and community activism… or can we integrate both?
– What useful role can communists play in solidarising with resistance to the recession? Continue reading “13th july reading group: communist organisation today”

the commune issue 2 published


february 2009 – £1 + postage and packing, email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to order

click here for pdf or see individual articles below

barack obama is lipstick on a pig – by Ernie Haberkern

civil service pay dispute: defeat or victory? – by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

class struggle on the london underground – interview with Vaughan Thomas, RMT London region chair (LUL)

occupations: the way to win? – guest editorial by Gregor Gall

the people’s charter: a charter for change? – by Chris Kane (online only)

militancy and mobilisation in the anti-war movement

the mindset of israelis in the gaza conflict – by Solomon Anker

anti-semitism and the war – by Aled Thomas

unemployment: a view from the front line – by Christine Hulme, PCS DWP

welfare ‘reform’, the brown premiership and the recession – by Chris Grover, Lancaster University

what does ‘socialism or barbarism’ mean today? – by François Chesnais

call centres: the workers’ enquiry – review by Jack Staunton

ukraine’s ‘new left’ and the russian ‘gas war’ – by Milan Lelich

the socialist movement in iran – by Sam Parsa

political platform of the commune

january-july 2009: reading group on communism from below

Through the first half of 2009 we are holding reading group meetings every three weeks, with the texts focussing on different conceptions of communism and the organisational forms needed to get there. Click here to see the full list of dates, subjects and texts.

The next meeting is on January 19th, on the subject of “Self organisation and communism from below”.

All meetings start on Mondays at 7pm, and the venue is in central London. We aim to have inclusive and undogmatic discussions, and all are welcome: email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to register your interest.

The series will run parallel to a series of forums on “capitalism and the working class today”, starting on January 26th: more details to follow.

should we be looking at states or the capitalist system?

by Dan Jakopovich

The primary unit of social analysis has to remain the global capitalist system vis a vis the state. Although a crude base-superstructure model is inadequate for the purpose of serious analysis, it is necessary to oppose statist, technocratic, and functionalist discourses which undervalue the external dynamics induced by the global capitalist system.

This short overview will deal with enquiries into one of the basic social issues, the conclusion to which induces a complex multiplicity of repercussions for the fields of sociology, international relations and practical politics, repercussions which are often difficult to demarcate.

It is the question of what should be the primary unit of social analysis – the state (and states) or the global capitalist system. I will mostly deal with basic Marxist theories, which offer the principal challenge to various currents that are sometimes characterised as forms of “statist fetishism”, where the theorist is seduced by the deceptive semblance of state autonomy. This is especially attributed to many international relations approaches, because it is largely through states that international relations are expressed. Sometimes it is argued that the manifestation is put before the underlying root-causes. Continue reading “should we be looking at states or the capitalist system?”

cyril smith: a retrospective

A meeting to look back over the work and ideas of Cyril Smith, who died on 8 May this year, will be held on THURSDAY 13 NOVEMBER at 7.0 pm, at THE CALTHORPE ARMS, GRAYS INN ROAD, LONDON. (Five minutes’ walk from Holborn, Kings Cross or Chancery Lane underground stations.)

The meeting will be a discussion about “WILLIAM BLAKE, KARL MARX AND CYRIL SMITH”, introduced by David Gorman, and held in the open style of the Individuals and Society seminar at Birkbeck college that Cyril helped to establish.

People may wish to read in preparation: Karl Marx and the Future of the Human, by Cyril Smith, chapters 10 (Marx and Human Self Creation) and 11 (Marx and the Fourfold Vision of William Blake). Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law, by E.P. Thompson, is also relevant.

All who are interested are welcome. Please forward to others.

We have booked the function room at the Calthorpe Arms, so that after the discussion we can together raise a glass to Cyril’s memory in comfortable surroundings. Questions re arrangements or whatever to Simon on smpirani@hotmail.com or 020 8333 2152.