Residential Marxism School organized by Society for Marxist Studies

September 19, 2016


A report by Avishek Konar

Every year, for the last four years, the Society for Marxist Studies (SMS) has organized a residential Marxist school aimed at activists and scholars interested in Marxism. The school is exceptional in terms of the quality of material presented and discussed, and the debates that it fosters. It attracts activists from across the country and outside of India. The 2016 Marxism School had activists attending from Punjab, Delhi, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Sri Lanka, France and the United States. SMS hosts distinguished Marxist scholars like Prof. Vivek Chibber (from NYU), Prof. Deepankar Basu (U Mass. Amherst), and veteran Marxist intellectual Achin Vanaik. Speakers from previous years have included Paul LeBlanc, Immanuel Ness, Anand Teltumbde and many others speaking on issues of Leninism, labour movements, caste oppression and variety of other topics.

This program provides an incredible opportunity for activists to learn about the basic tenets of Marxism—starting from concepts of class, class relations, and class structure which are, then, used to explain derivative concepts like class interest, class conflict and class consciousness. The foundational ideas of Marxism introduced in the initial sessions are employed to analyze Marxist theories of crisis (theories about crisis arising out of excess surplus value, and crisis arising out of deficient surplus value) before going on to the specific nature of the most recent great recession starting 2008. Among some of the other topics discussed were those of materialism, Leninism, party and organization, and Fascism.

The organizing principle of the residential school is one of democratic participation and healthy comradely debate. Participants are encouraged to debate, disagree with the speakers and consider no Marxist ideas beyond questioning. The attempt is to assert a theoretical line of argument and then back it up with historical and empirical examples. But, debate is never synonymous with sectarian quibble. While it is encouraged to question established Marxist wisdom, the internal culture of the school actively discourages ad hominem attacks on individuals, parties, or party ideologues. Often, because of questions and concerns raised from the floor during the main session, there are unresolved theoretical points. For example, during the discussion on class, it was the case that questions related to oppression came up (gender oppression or caste oppression). This led to participants demanding optional sessions, which led to a more thorough discussion on the question of oppression.

The residential nature of the school ensures that over the course of the five days, activists get to know each other very well. The conversations outside of the session stretches late into the night with people singing revolutionary songs, reciting poems besides arguing over political theory and organizational tactics. The last session of the residential program is for the participants to share their experience of local struggles. There were presentations about the state of the left and organizing in Punjab, in Sri Lanka, and student movements at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jadavpur University (JU). On previous years, participants presented their personal experience of struggle of the Maruti workers and the FTII students in Pune. The five-day residential Marxist school organized by the Society for Marxist Studies (SMS) school not only instils in activists an urge to learn rigorously and apply to their daily practices the principles of Marxism, but also brings them in touch with activists from various groups across the country and outside who are doing so.

Those interested in participating can forward their queries to