There are few things you can say definitively about the current political climate, but one of them is that parties and groups further away from the centre are growing enormously, and have been for several years. Ed Rosier, chair of the Marxist society, agrees. “Yeah definitely, I think that point now is almost beyond doubt,” he told me, going on to argue that “there’s no way around it, people’s lives are getting worse because of the material economic conditions they’re living under, and that’s driving them to the left and the right in terms of voting trends.”
You might well think that this would see a boost for the Marxist Society, but Ed’s not so sure things are that simple. “I think it’s not so much the polarisation, I think the single biggest factor that’s affected the society in Manchester is Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party,” he explained, adding that whilst this could be seen as a result of this polarisation, “this isn’t simply a reaction to the present situation, this is people seeing a leader who’s come out and said he’s going to break with the last twenty years of Labour Party doctrine about capturing the centre ground”.
Ed believes that Corbyn is now being seen, “rightly or wrongly,” as “a great hope for future success of the left”, and so although “whether or not he delivers that is yet to be seen… for Marxists now, the Corbyn movement is still an incredibly exciting thing in that people are now willing to go out and find alternative answers.”
Surely though, the Corbyn movement is more likely to benefit Labour Students than the Marxist society? “I think a lot of people have joined Labour students because of the Corbyn movement, which I think is a good thing,” Ed agreed, “but people are recognising the fact that Corbyn’s economic and social policy, as good as it is and as radical as it is, that isn’t actually going to rescue us from the crisis that we now face… whilst the Corbyn movement’s good, it needs to go further.”
So, the Marxist society is, like all more radical groups, on the up, but what does it actually do? “The main function of the society comes from our weekly meetings,” Ed told me, explaining that they alternate between public meetings and reading groups each week. “With public meetings, someone comes in — either a student from the society or sometimes we get outside speakers in, and they come and give a talk analysing the situation or analysing whatever topic we’re looking at that week, and then we throw it out to the floor to have discussions,” he elaborated.
Ed was keen to emphasise how good these discussions can be, claiming that “the level and the quality of discussion has really improved this year due to more people become more politically aware and active, due to the situation they’re in,” and that it is not just arguing over finer details whilst mostly in agreement — “we often have dissenting views which always make for good discussions.”
People with dissenting opinions are actively encouraged to attend the meetings, not just Marxists, and Ed spoke about how often people attend “who aren’t Marxists, people who disagree with the majority of opinion on certain issues,” leading to great debates, and that only those with “views that are obviously unacceptable such as racism or sexism” are not wanted.
“If you want to learn about Marxism or discuss Marxism then I’d encourage you to come along, whatever your political views are,” Ed concluded.
The society is not just a talking shop though, and according to Ed they “often attend protests and conferences as a group, which is always great and we really encourage it”.
There is also a more social aspect to the group, and “after every meeting we’ll go down to the pub, both to continue the discussion and just to have a nice time”, Ed said, and I got the impression that these trips to the pub are more of a highlight than he was letting on. “In addition”, he told me, “we do try and hold at least one, but usually two, socials each semester. So, last semester at the end we had a Cuban social which went down well, we had cocktails and traditional South American food and people really enjoyed it, so we’re hoping to do more stuff like that in the future.”
But why Marxism in particular? “That’s obviously quite a big question… you’re going to edit this, aren’t you?” I assured Ed I would.
“Well… it’s actually the situation we’re in at the moment which has meant that I, like many other people, have realised that capitalism can’t continue for the reasons that Marx puts forward. And by that I don’t mean that in any other time of history it would’ve been irrational to be a Marxist, what I mean is that… capitalism at this point has reached an impasse, there’s no route to grow through it, and so alternatives to this neoliberal consensus have to be looked at, and if you read Marx he explains very clearly the reasons that crises in capitalism happens”, was the, somewhat edited, response.
“Capitalist crisis is essentially holding the world back, not just in terms of economic growth but in terms of cultural growth and improvements in society”, Ed went on, “so, I suppose in a nutshell that would be why I think Marxism is absolutely necessary now.”
Ed was also keen to challenge common criticisms of Marxism, such as the idea that it works in theory but not in practice. He used the example of “the early years of the Soviet Union, in which it was obviously a very imperfect system, but if you look at some of the art produced, the level of healthcare and housing that was achieved — free healthcare for everyone, little to no homelessness, the first country to legalise abortion was the Soviet Union in the 1920s, and although that revolution eventually failed, it’s important to look at the successes of Marxism in that context.”
He argued that “it was the material conditions”, that led to the failure of past attempts at creating socialist states — “it was fact that they were isolated in one country and didn’t spread into the advanced western economies that could have easily managed a successful socialist economy. The fact that so many people in Russia were illiterate starting off meant that there was a huge opportunity for the bureaucracy to take over and create a degenerated workers state in Russia.”
These past material conditions now no longer exist, according to Ed, who argues that “socialism’s more possible now than ever”, citing the increasing growth in technology making automation easier, as well as the “very small numbers of very large businesses dominating the economy and they already have systems of distribution”, which could make a planned economy far easier to run than it was in the past.
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, Ed said that he believes capitalism is not all bad. “Although socialism’s what we want, and communism’s what we want, capitalism actually played a huge role in advancing mankind”, he argued, “it created forces of production that advanced all over the world, it created the material conditions for socialism to exist in — that of advanced economies on a global scale capable of producing on a level that would’ve been unimaginable to people before capitalism.”
Despite these past successes, he now argues that capitalism “always creates a cycle of crisis that there’s now no longer any route out of, and that’s why capitalism now has to end in favour of socialism, because capitalism’s done all it can and now it’s a fetter, it’s a backwards influence on society and mankind’s progression.”
And how to end capitalism? “Through the forceful overthrow of the ruling class by the proletariat.” Of course.
Best bit: “I guess learning and discussing Marxism in an environment that’s friendly, welcoming and often has a high level of discussion and analysis.”
Worst bit: “The hangover the next day.”
Uni life/society life balance: “Well it’s gotten a bit more difficult in third year, but I think that the fact there are other people in the society who talk and chair and do some of the administrative stuff is useful. People are willing to help out and make the society successful, and the it isn’t something I see as work, it’s something I want to do and I want to make it successful.”
Where do you see yourself in the future? “I want to go into teaching eventually, but next year I’m just going to try and get a job around Manchester somewhere”
How to get involved: “Meetings are at 6.30 either in the Lass O’Gowrie pub or in the SU and join our Facebook group!”