`Marxism 2010′ conference report

The Spark July 2010

Jared Phillips, Spark co-ordinating editor

The Workers Party held its annual national Marxism conference at Thistle Hall in Wellington over Queen’s Birthday weekend from June 4-7. It was a weekend of anti-imperialist theory and activity. Approximately seventy members, supporters and other interested people attended throughout the weekend.

Presenting and discussing revolutionary politics

The conference opened on the Friday night with WP national secretary Daphna Whitmore speaking on the revolutionary movement in India. The revolutionary zone spreads from the border with Nepal in the north to the southern states of India. This presentation and discussion was followed by John Edmundson, the WP’s national education officer, speaking on New Zealand’s imperialist role in the occupation of Afghanistan and the quagmire that the invading powers have found themselves in.

The second day began with two separate sessions. Half the audience attended Ian Anderson’s examination of the history of queer liberation in New Zealand and around the world. The rest of the audience attended Joel Cosgrove’s presentation on the Marxian concept of cultural capital. Following from these sessions, John
Edmundson presented on Marxist political economy, its relevance today, and its relationship with campaigns for wage increases. Don Franks posed the question “What is Marxism?” He answered with a succinct presentation of Marx’s method, dialectical materialism. The discussion revolved around the way in which Marxism is a theory in opposition to idealism and evolutionist reformism.

In the afternoon a debate on the question “Are population controls the answer to climate change?” took place between WP member Byron Clark and John Robinson, a former academic who has researched and written on rising population. John argued in favour of population and immigration controls. Byron opposed this and argued
that radical social change and planned production were prerequisites for bringing environmental damage under control.

The final day of public sessions included a presentation by Phil Ferguson, the WP’s national organiser, called “The Fire Last Time: Lessons of the 60s”. This talk examined the material basis for the rise of the struggles in the 1960s with particular reference to women and oppressed minorities. The conference closed a review of The $15 minimum wage campaign – by Don Franks and Daphna Whitmore. This was an important discussion to have. Part of the Workers Party’s approach is to reflect on and critically assess its activities, and a lot of the
organisation’s efforts had gone into this campaign.

Supporting Palestinian national liberation

The weekend of the conference was incidentally also the first opportunity for major protest in New Zealand against Israel’s attacks on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla. The Wellington demonstration consisted of a march to the recently re-established Israeli embassy. The main demand of the demonstration was for the closure of the embassy, expressed in the slogan `Close down the embassy, open up Gaza’. Conference organisers rescheduled Saturday’s conference sessions so that the Workers Party could fully participate in the action. This meant that we were able to send a reasonably large contingent which emphasized support for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Mike Walker (pictured here at the demonstration) spoke of the importance of providing material support to the Palestinian resistance.

On day three of the conference Mike Walker and Paul Hopkinson, two organisers of the PFLP Solidarity Campaign, made the case for supporting the PFLP. Paul emphasised that the Palestinian people shouldn’t be thought of as mere victims who require false `peace’ from Western intervention. He explained that the Palestinian people are skilled and capable in the art of resistance and this resistance needs to be supported by working people internationally. Mike picked up on this theme and detailed the current situation of the PFLP and the international campaign to release Ahmad Sa’adat, one of the PFLP’s imprisoned leaders. The conference drew over $210 in T-shirt sales and donations for the PFLP Solidarity Campaign.

Radical literature and merchandise

The Workers Party continues to publish original analytical material on a regular basis with the monthly publication of The Spark magazine and with a new line of pamphlets. Radical literature sales over conference weekend included the purchase of $39 worth of original Workers Party pamphlets on a range of topics including Palestinian resistance, NZ imperialism in Afghanistan, and the revolution in Nepal. We also sold reprints of Arundhati Roy’s `Walking with the comrades’, a piece she wrote about the oppression and resistance of peasant
workers and rural people in India. Twenty-two copies of The Spark were also purchased. Additionally, a small amount of money –  $70 of raffle money and donations – was collected for the Workers Party.

Democratic decision-making

The Workers Party’s main annual internal meeting take place in January but a shorter internal meeting was held at the end of this conference. The meeting agreed that the PFLP campaign had got off to an overall good start. There was agreement for more internal education on Palestinian liberation within the Workers Party – an example might be the organising of an extended workshop for members who are taking a lead on developing the campaign. It was reinforced that two or three people (including non-Workers Party members) should be taking the lead on developing the campaign in each major city. There were further goals set for developing the relationship between the PFLP and Workers Party.

The meeting then moved on to discussing the party’s intervention in upcoming local body and general elections. In terms of local body elections a mayoralty campaign is being prepared in Christchurch and the Wellington branch has decided to conduct a campaign for either one or two council positions in Wellington. It
is unlikely that local body campaigns will be run in Auckland or Hamilton. In terms of the next national general election, those present proposed that during the next all-up internal meeting in January we should formally reconsider whether it is worth maintaining the Workers Party’s registration for the party list vote. Members pointed out that it was an achievement to register a party list for the last election, and that this increased our visibility to some degree, but overall this did not significantly help build the organisation.

It was then decided that Marxism 2011 will be hosted by the Auckland branch in June and that the party supports a separate mini educational conference being organised in Hamilton. The next internal meeting will be an all-up one in late-January 2011. One of the main agenda items will be the initiation and development of the `right to strike / freedom at work’ campaign.

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Comments

  1. Fredrick says:

    Just love what you guys stand for: 1. Opposition to all New Zealand and Western imperialist intervention in the Third World and all Western imperialist alliances. Even going to the lengths of holding an anti-imperialist conference.

    I, like you, also wholeheartedly support all Eastern Imperialism, totalitarian dictatorships, police state oppression and the denial of freedom of speech. Not that any of you would know of what I speak due to you living in a country that allows you to express whatever view you wish without fear of reprisal or death!! Your fairy tale dream world ideologies are just that. Try living in one of these countries whose ideologies you seem to hold in such high estimate and then criticise them…….. Pathetic, all of you!

  2. Fredrick, I am a bit confused. The Workers Party is hardly a supporter of ‘Eastern dictatorships’, whatever you mean by that.

    In Auckland in 2007 Workers Party people were very active in the campaign to stop the deportation of christian asylum seekers to Iran. Workers Party members were regulars on the picket lines outside of Mt Eden prison, where the poor Iranian christians were being detained. The WP have also been active in the campaign against death squad killings of trade unionists and left activists by the Philippines Armed Forces. I guess the Iran and the Philippines would count as ‘Eastern Dictatorships’.

    More importantly the WP have always opposed attacks on civil liberties in NZ. They strongly oppose the Terrorism Suppression Act and attacks on civil rights by the Police.

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