Marxism 2011: What's on at the conference

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We're not even halfway through 2011, but already it could be called the "year of revolution." What started as a single and desperate act of defiance by a Tunisian fruit seller in the closing days of 2010 has unleashed a wave of revolution across an entire region, and inspired resistance the world over. From the streets of Tunis and Cairo to almost every major city across the Arab world, literally millions of people have moved into action, showing the rest of us what real change looks like -- and how to make it.

That's just one topic we'll discuss at this year's annual Marxism conference in Toronto: what can we learn from the Arab revolutions and how do they affect the struggles we're engaged in here?

Hosted by the International Socialists, the Marxism conference will feature 40 talks and panels over three days at the Ryerson Student Centre in downtown Toronto -- all starting this Friday. This year's theme is "Recession. Resistance. Revolution" -- in other words, how do we go from responding to the most devastating effects of the capitalist system to a mass movement that can replace it altogether? As the Arab revolutions show, the most basic and local forms of resistance to the global economic crisis can spark the most dramatic of all social change: revolution.

How we get there is our biggest challenge.

Thankfully, the first few months of 2011 have given us more than a few hints. In Wisconsin -- just months after Republican Scott Walker was elected governor -- hundreds of thousands fought back against draconian anti-union legislation in what may represent the rebirth of the American labour movement. Throughout Europe -- from Greece and Ireland to Britain and Spain -- workers and students alike have led strikes and protests against austerity.

Here in Canada, we've had glimpses of our own potential for resistance. Thousands recently marched against Mayor Rob Ford in Toronto. Public sector workers in Quebec have mobilized against privatization and cuts to services. And despite the election of a Conservative majority, the NDP formed the Official Opposition for the first time ever, fuelled by a desire for change right across the country.

That desire for change can be felt all over the world -- most dramatically, in the streets of the Middle East -- and continues to inspire struggles on all fronts: for indigenous sovereignty; for freedom of movement and status for all; for climate justice; for an end to oppression and exploitation; and for a world based on human need, not corporate greed. This year's conference will thread these struggles together, in talks that cover the Arab revolutions; class struggle, then and now; anti-imperialism; anti-oppression; a rough guide to Marxist economics; capitalism in crisis; climate justice; great Marxist thinkers; revolution: past, present, future; elections and the NDP; and more.

Just like the Arab revolutions, our struggles are far from over. In fact, they're just beginning. As we face the next four years of a Conservative majority, we need to deepen our solidarity, learn from each other's experiences, and be inspired by the resistance of ordinary people everywhere. That's what we hope to accomplish at this year's Marxism conference. We invite you to be a part of it.

A sample of the conference highlights is below. For the full program, visit the conference online here and here

Ashraf Omar, a participant in the Egyptian Revolution and a member of Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists, will join solidarity activists Dr. Mohammad Shokr and James Clark on the Friday evening panel -- Eyewitness to revolution: Egypt and the Arab world.

Allen Ruff, U.S.-based activist and author, joins Gary Howe, vice-president of USWA Local 1005, and Carolyn Egan, president of Steelworkers' Toronto Area Council, on the Saturday evening panel -- Workers rising: From Wisconsin to Ontario.

Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, joins Palestine solidarity activist Abbie Bakan to discuss -- Can the Arab revolutions free Palestine?

Defenders of the Land organizer and indigenous sovereignty activist Ben Powless speaks about: The myth of 'ethical oil.'

Labour activist, socialist and former Waffle member Phil Murton looks at the historic rise of the NDP in -- Socialists, elections and the NDP.

Gay activist and member of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid Tim McCaskell joins pro-choice and anti-war activist Michelle Robidoux to discuss -- The fight for queer liberation today.

Québec solidaire activist Monique Moisan joins Sam Gindin, member of the Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly, and Ritch Whyman, socialist and labour activist, for a panel discussion on -- How do we build a bigger left?

Pan-Africanist and writer Farid Omar and socialist Ali Awali discuss imperialism and resistance in Africa.

Laurier professor and author Dr. Jasmine Zine joins women's rights and anti-war activist Ayesha Adhami to discuss -- Islamophobia, racism and the attack on multiculturalism.

Derrick O'Keefe, co-chair of the Canadian Peace Alliance and former editor of, speaks on -- Afghanistan: Canada's Vietnam.

Leading activists from the social movements, labour and the left join a special roundtable discussion on federal politics after the election and building resistance to the Harper majority.

Trade union activists David Kidd and Terry Theakston address: The coming war on public sector workers.

Author, singer/songwriter and activist Zainab Amadahy joins Palestine solidarity and BDS campaigners Ali Mustafa and Adonis El-Jamal to discuss -- Turtle Island, Palestine and the fight for indigenous sovereignty.

The Canadian Labour International Film Festival will screen three short films on workers' resistance.

Marxism 2011. Recession. Resistance. Revolution.

May 27 to 29 | Ryerson Student Centre | 55 Gould Street, Toronto

Conference information here and here.

James Clark is an anti-war and Arab solidarity activist in Toronto, and a member of the International Socialists. He is part of this year's Marxism organizing team. You can follow him on Twitter: @2jamesclark.

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