Marxist Student Federation off to a flying startOctober 4, 2013
The Marxist Student Federation is a new organisation for revolutionary students. Members of Socialist Appeal have taken the decision to launch this national platform for Marxist ideas in the student movement because it is clear that there is both a need and a thirst for Marxist ideas in the movement. The response we have received at the freshers fairs with the numbers signing up and coming to our opening meetings has been phenomenal. We have never met so many young people wanting to learn about Marxism and fight to change society.
Thousands of leaflets have been dished out. Almost 2,000 have signed up to Marxist societies affiliated to the MSF, with some freshers fairs still to come. Of course, there are already similar numbers signed up to existing societies from previous years. Over 100 have formally joined the Marxist Student Federation itself, and about 500 have come to our opening meetings, again with many still to take place.
Quite clearly, the Marxist Student Federation has enormous potential to grow, winning ever larger numbers of young people to revolutionary ideas, forming a powerful Marxist wing of the student movement. If we build on these successes this year and next, we can begin the work of transforming the student unions and the NUS into fighting organisations.
Below is a roundup of the reports from the various freshers fairs and opening meetings we’ve held. We would like to emphasise the work of the group in UCL in particular, where the society has launched a website and weekly publication (http://thesparkuclu.weebly.com/) and raised £60 for the striking royal mail workers.
The freshers period was kicked off at Edinburgh University. 50 students attended the first meeting of the Marxist Society entitled ‘An introduction to Marxism’ where Socialist Appeal supporter, Adam Booth introduced the key elements of Marxist theory and explained why they are still highly significant today. This came after the society had collected details of over 130 interested students. With the backdrop of the continuing economic crisis, affecting young people disproportionately, it is little surprise then, that this new generation are seeking alternatives.
During his introduction Adam explained that Marxism is a tool which can help us understand the class nature of Capitalism and why such a system has become illogical, backward and crisis-ridden. Capitalism is struggling to cope under the weight of its own contradictions. All over the world the economy continues to fail, no longer able to generate the sort of growth that could guarantee the support and hope of the youth. At the same time, record profits are accumulated and stock-markets continue to rise. The rich are getting richer but instead of moving society forwards, providing greater equality and opportunity for development, across the world are budgets are being slashed, workers sacked and social programmes closed down.
The discussion that followed was extremely healthy with so many points being made from the floor the meeting had to continue afterwards in the pub. The fact that Marxist ideas provide answers seemed to motivate the whole room. Many present were very interested in finding out more, buying literature that was available and looking forward to getting involved with the Marxist Society as members. With capitalism unable to offer a future, the youth must look to themselves and the rest of the working class as the driving force to achieve socialism. The development of a thriving Marxist Society in Edinburgh should be welcomed as an important step in this process.
Immediately after the fair and meeting in Edinburgh came the Glasgow University freshers fair. Leading up the event we put in a lot of preparation – making sure to book our stall back in June and starting the main bulk of preparation from the beginning of August. We were determined to make this our best intervention so, with the help of a £50 donation from a contact, we printed a number of items – pamphlets, flyers, postcards and t-shirts. I think this all contributed to us having a very colourful and inviting stall, from selling the pamphlets we also made £20.
I think we can safely say that this was the best intervention we have ever had since founding the society 2 years ago. With just four comrades intervening we were able to collect over 130 signatures, sell 18 papers, sell out of pamphlets (we started with 60, 15 each of 4 topics) and sell 8 Marxist Student magazines.
The meeting was the biggest and best we have ever had in Glasgow, 23 attended. More importantly those who attended showed a high level of interest and many also had a good understanding of Marxism. Fourteen attended our ‘Red Clydeside’ pub crawl in which everyone had a lot of fun and learnt a few things about Glasgow’s history too!
All in all over the freshers’ period we have sold 19 Socialist Appeal papers, 3 Marxist classics books, 7 Marxist Student student magazines (on top of 9 given to those who signed up to the Federation), 60 pamphlets (that we’d made as a branch) and collected £25 for the fighting fund.
It’s going to be another busy few weeks in Glasgow!
The brand new Manchester Marxist society had a stall at the Freshers Fair which took place on 17/18th of September. Over the 2 days we got 45 signatures despite constant rain. On the second day we held our first ever meeting with Daniel Morley leading off on “What is Marxism?” with 12 in attendance, a really promising start. 5 formally signed up to the MSF and we have enough people to begin the process of making the society officially recognised by the student union!
We participated in the Manchester NHS/Tory conference demonstration and held our second meeting after this with about 25 people. This is an incredibly important city and university so to have set down some roots for the Marxist Student Federation is brilliant.
Simultaneously with the Manchester fair the Sussex Marxist society took part in the Sussex University Freshers Fair. It was a great success. It was without a doubt our best freshers fair intervention in the history of the society. Sussex only has one day for society stalls, so we had to make an impact. The four of us arrived and set up the stall/put up posters before the fair began at about 11am, and we were the last to pack up at 4pm.
We had a stall covered in theoretical material, gave out a ton of leaflets which outlined the current world situation and listed on the back all our meetings and speakers for the coming term, and engaged many interested students in discussion. The response received was excellent! Overall we raised £60 and took the contact details of 104 people. We signed up 8 people to the student federation raising £24 (though many more wanted to join but didn’t have cash on them); sold 5 In Defence of Marxism magazines; 11 socialist appeals; and one book (again many showed interest and said they would buy them at the society meetings when they come).
Just under ten people came to a casual meeting in the campus bar which we had advertised for during the day. The day reflected the developing mood within the student body, and the enthusiasm our ideas can be met with when they are presented boldly. and moreover that we can play an increasingly active and vital role in the student movement on campus! We plan on presenting a motion to the student union to pledge it to fight, not only in words but in deeds, the massive cuts and attacks ongoing at the university.
We then held a meeting with Alan Woods speaking on ‘What is Marxism?’, and about 50 people came. The atmosphere was excellent and the size of the meeting demonstrates the huge potential the society has. What is more, we were photographed at the Fresher’s Fair for the Guardian!
On the same days as Manchester and Sussex, the 2 day long Queen Mary University Freshers Fair took place, the Marxist Society taking part with two stalls. This too was really successful. In total we signed up 156 to the society mailing list. We sold over £25 worth of literature in total too. This is by far the most successful Queen Mary intervention so far and we feel very confident about going into the next year.
Our success was no doubt due to the fact we were rarely sat behind the stall, but stood up and handed leaflets out actively. This all paid off with 20 students coming to our opening meeting with Rob Sewell speaking on the Relevance of Marxism Today.
The Freshers Fair in Newcastle took place from 23rd to 24th September, and the opening meeting of the Marxist society was on 25th. We signed up about 45 people to the Newcastle Marxist society, more than ever before, and a few joined the Marxist Student Federation too. About 10 people came to our first meeting on ‘What would Socialism Look Like?’. Like most other societies, we have a programme of weekly meetings on different aspects of Marxist theory and we look forward to educating ourselves in Marxist theory over the term.
At the same time as this the Leeds Marxist society took part in the University of Leeds Freshers Fair. We intervened from Monday to Wednesday, setting up two stalls on Tuesday, although the most productive day was Monday. We were around from 10 until 4 Monday and Tuesday, and from 11 until 3 on Wednesday.
Overall, we signed up 72 people on the first day, and 151 over the course of the three days, with the last day being much slower than the previous ones. In terms of sales, we shifted 10 Marxist Students, 6 Socialist Appeals and a copy of The Communist Manifesto.
We also gave out more than a hundred leaflets advertising our first meeting, which was on Marxism’s Relevance Today.
The meeting took place Wednesday at half 7 in the Union building, with Ben Gliniecki leading off. There were 18 people attending, and the discussion was good. Interesting questions were raised from the floor and Ben gave excellent responses. Most people at the meeting took leaflets for next week’s meeting (on Syria) and we are hopeful that this meeting will attract a good crowd.
The whole intervention, then, can generally be characterised as a successful and intense few days of political discussion fuelled in equal parts by free pizza and revolutionary zeal!
Also on the same day, the University of the Arts London Marxist society took part in their freshers fair. We managed to sign up around 100 people to the Marxist society and 3 paid to join to the Marxist Student Federation.
The Sheffield University Marxist society, now beginning its second year as an official society of the student union, had 5 comrades in attendance eagerly waiting for the freshers to pour in at 11am. We had roughly 200 flyers to hand out and a very attractive stall. Within 2 hours we had run out of flyers and had to run to the university library to print out another 200! We sold 2 copies of Classics of Marxism Volume 1 and signed up another 15 people to the MSF.
We had 14 in attendance for our first meeting, not a great attendance in terms of sheer size, yet there were several people in attendance that seems to be very interested in the ideas put forward. We raised membership of the MSF at the beginning and end of the meeting and another 2 people that didn’t have money on them during the fair signed up to the MSF.
Sunday 29th October: NHS demo
We managed to send 4 comrades to the demo in Manchester.
Monday 30th October
We held our second meeting of the term and had 16 people in attendance. The meeting was on ‘Imperialism and world events today’ and the discussion was of a very good political level. We plugged the MSF at the beginning and end of the meeting once again and managed to sign another 3 people to the MSF.
Through recent activity we managed to sell 9 papers, 3 copies of Classics of Marxism Volume a couple of IDOMs and signed up 26 to the MSF. We managed to do this by continually pushing the MSF in anyway we could, highlighting the founding conference, inviting them to the IMT winter school and that they could attend any other societies that are linked to the MSF in the UK.
The new Bristol Marxist Society intervened on Thursday 26th at the University of Bristol Fresher’s Fair. This year, the fair was held at the harbourside in a huge marquee as opposed to the student union building. With no official affiliation to the student union yet we expected to struggle with signing people up to the Marxist society on the fringes of the event. However, things went down rather differently and what ensued was a day of many ups and downs – including a confrontation with the student union administration!
Things started well. We were able to get inside the marquee before the event began at 11am. Luckily for us, there was a spare stall next to the other political societies that we were able to set up on. This gave us a prime position, and we were able to lay out our materials and stick up posters around the table.
Meanwhile, three other comrades tried setting up a stall outside, only to be continually hounded by security. The university had hired the entire harbourside area, and forced us further and further away until we shared a spot with a rather disgruntled Big Issue salesman! With the stall inside the marquee, we thought there’d be nothing to worry about. Things were about to take a turn for the worse….
After two hours of signing people up, with a list of names pushing 40, a member of the student union questioned whether we were registered to be there. We insisted that we were and carried on handing out leaflets to students. About an hour later, a rather aggressive organiser came along and told us that we weren’t registered and would have to leave. Sensing we were losing the argument we began to pack up our stuff. Unfortunately, things hit the fan when the official took away our signatures!
Dejectedly, we went outside after our wristbands had been physically ripped away from us, in a moment of unnecessary drama by the union official. Here, we persisted for another three hours and eventually built up a list of twenty names. We spoke to several people who had signed up inside, all of whom thought the union had been outrageous in its behaviour towards us! As we got toward the time of our meeting, we packed up the table and headed to the venue with a sense of dread. Would anyone actually turn up?
At 6.20pm, things looked grim. The room was empty save for our comrades. However, two students showed up, one who has been in contact with our organisation before, and gradually the numbers increased until we had a room of 13 people! For a first meeting, on the same day as the fresher’s fair this was impressive. When you consider that we weren’t an official society and that we had intervened from the outside it was even more fantastic.
The meeting was a resounding success, with the following discussion being on a high political level. One of the main things we focused on was activism and it’s drawbacks. Everyone in the room seemed to agree with everyone else, on the need to start out with a theoretical understanding of capitalism and the socialist alternative!
This leaves the comrades in Bristol in a great position. The Bristol Marxist Society has a long and exciting future ahead of it thanks to only a couple of days of hard work!
The UCL Marxist Society, beginning only its second year, has already shown a huge potential. Last year meetings averaged 20-30 people coming each week, with a couple of meetings seeing more than a hundred come. Comrade Stella Christou, the then president, ran an outstanding campaign to be the Education and Campaigns officer of the student union, coming 3rd out of 6 candidates.
This year we started boldly, with 3 stalls and leaflets dished out all over the place. The comrades have also launched a UCL Marxist weekly newsletter called ‘the Spark’, which UCL students are encouraged to write for.
Over the 2 days we signed up 360 students, and 70 people came to our special freshers’ fayre meeting where Fred Weston spoke on ‘What is capitalism? What is socialism?’! It certainly represents our best ever start to the university work, smashing our record 200 names we collected last year.
Another 40 or so people came to the following night’s film screening of ‘Debtocracy’ after the final day of the fayre. In London and UCL in particular we’re beginning to build something really exciting!
As an indication of the impact the society has made, a member of the Cambridge Marxist Society gave the following anecdote:
“About an hour ago, I happened to bump into a friend from my old school, who’s just started at UCL. I asked him how he was finding it, and staring at me incredulously, he exclaimed ‘There are Marxists everywhere!!!’ Yes, comrades, principally amongst his first impressions of University is the ‘massive presence’ of the UCLU Marxist society.Given that we started the term with only 8 or 9 comrades involved in the intervention, this is pretty good.”
As with many other Marxist societies, the Southampton society is only just beginning its second year of existence. But the enthusiasm for Marxist ideas at the moment means making new societies a big success is that much easier. Although the University of Southampton is known for being either a more apolitical or a more right wing university, we still managed to get almost 110 names signed!
To go into more detail, I’ll need to describe what we did to prepare the society for the Freshers Fair.
Our stall consisted of Newspapers, magazines, MSF forms, 3 pamphlets; one on Women’s Oppression, one on the US intervention on Syria and one on EDL, as well as books, IMT mugs, society’s leaflets and sign up forms and some material from the NASUWT on the Teachers’ Strikes.
We managed to sell 4 Newspapers and one book. We were giving the pamphlets for free, though we managed to get some money from the Women’s Oppression pamphlet which we were selling for 25p (I printed it into a booklet to save up money) but some people didn’t have enough or didn’t realize we’re selling it so they just took it for free! We also got one person to pay to join the MSF. By the way, I really want to thank the Glasgow comrades, Rachel and Claire, for producing the pamphlet, it was a big success.
We always had 2-3 people on the stall and 1-2 people in the front giving out leaflets. We also had a banner which was quite flashy so people could notice us straight away.
On the evening’s event, we had something like 10-15 people coming. The majority of them were really interested on the topic and were raising really good points. Later on we went for drinks at the pub which gave us an opportunity to talk a bit more with the people, understand where they stand politically and how much they want to get involved etc.
Overall, it was a great success, really promising and fun!
The SOAS Marxists have also been around for only one year, further underlining how much can be achieved by Marxists who are confident in their ideas and determined to build. To give you some context SOAS is a relatively small Uni with only 5,000 students and the Freshers Fair takes place over just one day.
Nevertheless it was a very successful day. We had 7 comrades helping out over 2 stalls in order to make sure we stood out in crowded field.
In total we signed up over 150 students to the society. We also signed up 3 students to the MSF, sold 2 MSF magazines, 9 Socialist Appeals and a couple of copies of the Classics of Marxism. Many more people were interested in joining the MSF but didn’t have the money on them and have promised to do so at our first meeting.
On Wednesday 2nd October we held our first meeting of the year, with about 30 students in attendance.
Finally, the Kent Marxist society began this freshers fair period with its first ever public activity! We tried to set up a stall at the university yesterday but were quickly asked to move by the university union staff. So we stood at a busy spot at campus with the material on hand and started trying to sign up people and to sell the magazines and newspapers. The design and content of the Marxist Student Magazine got a lot of positive comments and made it easy for us to attract people. We sold 3 In Defence of Marxism magazines and 3 MSF magazines.
As we don’t have an official society at the university we were telling people about the Marxist Student Federation and that we are looking for students who would be interested to set up a Marxist Society at the University of Kent. We signed up 38 people. We were also telling them that we will hold a meeting to discuss about how we are going to set up a Marxist Society. We held that meeting today and 4 people turned up. All of them seemed quite keen and joined the MSF. We delegated tasks and one of the students will be looking into setting up the Marxist Society. We also agreed to invite a speaker in two weeks time to speak about Marxism. We agreed to meet again to decide the details and how we will publicise the upcoming meeting.
We have just started to try to find our feet in Kent but this seems a promising start!
A flying start!
It’s clear that the launching of the Marxist Student Federation has gone extremely well. Although it was a bit of a gamble, it was one we were rightly confident would pay off. For a few years we’ve been building Marxist societies, and they’ve been very successful. There’s a dearth of left-wing political activity for young people to get involved with, especially activity based around left-wing theory. But this stands in sharp contrast to the rising anger and questioning of everything in our society from today’s youth. As the report indicates, the Marxist societies have really taken off only in the last year. Forming this into a national federation with a Marxist political programme for the student and youth movements is the logical next step and will help the societies to spread in breadth and depth.
Join the Marxist Student Federation, learn about Marxist ideas and help build the most exciting force on the student left!