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On Your Marx....

On Your MarxTo Church. Not something the counterbalance is often wont to do these days - not that we have anything against going to Church either, its just one of those things we got out of the habit of doing.

Specifically we went to the Church of St Margaret of Antioch, in St Annes, in response to an invitation to attend a 'Shrove Tuesday Debate' on the proposition "This house believes that Marxism is a spent force"

It promised to be exalted company.

Chaired by the Lord Suffragan Bishop of Lancaster, the programme heralded 'Distinguished speakers from politics, education and the church.'   The invitation also required a dress code of Formal, Evening, or Clerical. We opted for formal, but most seemed to have opted for Evening.

The beginnings were auspicious - very auspicious. A welcoming hostess ushering people into the body of the church where a live string quartet were playing classical music. A table where another lady was dispensing champagne, bucks fizz or orange. A selection of nibbles was also doing the rounds amongst the slowly growing throng.

The last time we saw something like that was at the 50th birthday party of a good friend. That turned out to be the most memorable party we have had the pleasure to attend, so we began the evening with high expectations, and were not disappointed.

We saw a few faces we knew, and swapped news and gossip as we waited for proceedings to start.

The signal to take our seats was given, so we did. The church was quite full - certainly enough to make it a house full feeling, but without being overcrowded. We guessed it might be about a hundred to maybe a hundred and twenty. We were all warmly welcomed by the Bishop who introduced the teams of speakers.

The batting for the proposition that Marxism is a spent force was opened by Clive Barnes - former headmaster of Heyhouses Endowed School.

Gently chiding the Bishop for not introducing him with "On your Marx, get set, go" (which we are happy to pinch as our heading) he argued that the proletariat were happy with their wide range of consumer durables, and no one today could hear the sound of revolution. He said the impoverishment of the working class simply hadn't taken place, and the assumption that a planned world is possible was simply wrong. He concluded that Communism had crushed society with the abuse of state power.

The first speaker against the motion was Rev. Peter Law-Jones, Rural Dean of Kirkham. Dismissing his opponent's concluding argument, he said that Communism had actually damaged Marxism, and it was only a parody of it. He said "Marx was really about emancipation." He loosed a powerful argument when he claimed "Just because capitalism is the only system left standing at the present time doesn't make it right, any more than a playground bully who is the last one standing is still just a playground bully."

Second up for the proposition was Cllr Patricia Fieldhouse. We're sure she spoke well but the delivery was rather quick and perhaps the acoustics or her voice sounded a little muffled which made it difficult to follow everything. She followed her Captain's theme saying that 'Class Struggle' and 'Working Class' were not the language of today, quoting John Prescott in 1977 who said "We're all middle class now." She concluded that Marxism was unnecessary, and indeed alien, to the beliefs of the real working class.

Second up to oppose the motion was an electrifying Canon Richard Cartmell who began by saying the more observant would have noted he was wearing a red shirt (actually it was a light red stripe), and in doing so his intention was to indicate partly that he leaned to the left, and partly because his blood was boiling. He said we were hearing a lot of philosophy, and what we needed to hear about was humanity. He argued that success was not the result of having a detached house and high fences that separated you from your community, and that Marx was about people and bringing them and their needs together.

Bringing light and vision to the debate, he said we should look at the pictures of children in Peru working in poverty in mines excavated by child labour, or of those in Mumbai where the West's waste is taken to be sorted by the slave labour of children, adding that if the capitalist system is so perfect are we happy living with those images today?

He said that Marx saw how capitalism would fall on its face and implode and he drew an appreciative gasp from the assembled throng when he said "I could see Jesus being more in line with Marx than with Rupert Murdoch"

He then went on to tell the story of his visit to a pensioner in a block of flats (something he had done a lot of). He said when you went in, such folk often had the television on for company and you got used to which programme was on at each time of the morning, but this chap had something unusual on that he didn't recognise so he asked what it was. The pensioner told him it was "Sky" and the Cannon replied that it was quite new and expensive and he didn't think pensioners would be able to afford to have Sky.

The pensioner said Ahh, its Mrs Jones an the end that has it, but we ran a cable up through the loft and dropped it down into each flat so we can share it. We all chip in what we can afford toward the cost and its not too bad. (he reinforced that by saying he liked the idea of everyone being willing to chip in what they could afford). But at that moment the programme changed abruptly to another one. "What's happened there", he asked of the pensioner "Oh that'll be Harry at No 42, he's changed the channel. We all meet on a Monday morning and agree what programmes we're going to have on that week and each gets to choose their own favourite" adding "So its a sort of a commune really"

The Cannon closed by saying "So as you can see, Marxism is not a spent force"

Then came the final speaker for the motion. Rev. Dr John Darch who was described by the Bishop as being in charge of the "Vicar factory" but who was described in the programme more formally as "Diocesan Director of Ordinands."

He took a different approach, calling it a nuanced approach, and it looked to us as though he had not so much a prepared speech, but had picked up on what those opposing the motion had said in an attempt to discredit it.

He also said he wanted to look behind the headlines and see what Marxism means. He agreed it was not socialism and it was a world away from democracy. It was authoritarian, dogmatic, anti-democratic, monolithic and paranoid and it crushed dissent.

He said Marxism was not capitalism, not liberalism and not a whole list of other things. We think this was a  ploy to alienate a wide range of people who *were* liberal or capitalists or wherever, but the length of the list made it a bit obvious.

The final speaker to oppose the motion was Jean Hilton, former head of Arnold junior School and now a Governor of King Edward and Queen Mary School.

She wove two stories to illustrate that Marx grew up in a Europe of revolution and was proud to be a revolutionary. His essential philosophy believed in change and it was not sufficient just to hope and support it, you had to work for it.

She listed some of the things we have today that he would have approved of such as free universal education and a national health service, adding that he might have supported a national bank - and based on recent history, that might have been quite a good idea.

Then the Bishop opened the floor to questions to either panel.

Q1. How can Marxism be a spent force when it has never been a force at all? There had been no true Marxist Government?

Q2. How does Christianity sit with Marxism?

Q3. Is Marxism not a useful corrective action against the excesses of capitalism?

Q4 This country is declining and decaying. Community assets have been privatised because of arch capitalism, how can anyone say this is a good thing?

Q5 The Chinese Marxist government is the most successful in the world with double digit growth and it will be the No 1 Economy in the world by 2020 what are the panels views on this?

Q6 What is going to solve our world, capitalism or collective action?

Each of these was referred to the panels and duly responded to. Some better than others it has to be said.

Finally, each side's Captain was asked to sum up in a short statement.

For the motion, Clive Barnes said capitalism was the only system strong enough to survive in the world today.

Against the motion,  Peter Law-Jones said whether you think Marxism works or not is beside the point, the motion cannot stand, Marxism is a reality and not a spent force.

Then, dear reader, came the time to vote.

What to do?

We had considered what we had heard during the evening and come to the view that we disagreed with the motion.

We thought: if capitalism depends for its success on the consumerism that is needlessly exploiting the earths natural resources in the pursuit of unsustainable growth to produce the illusion of progress; if it depends on providing bread and circuses and Eastenders to distract the populous; if it is based on - as Huxley so accurately foretold in 1936:  passive obedience; material consumption, and mindless promiscuity to satiate our desires - exactly the sort of life we see around us every day - then we can't see it being the best system, or even a good system, and we conclude that Marxism is not a spent force, it is a dormant force.

But we were worried.

In such august company, we thought, with the well-heeled of Lytham St Annes in their finery and evening wear, we didn't think we would have many bedfellows. (Not that being in a minority has ever stopped us from expressing a contra view before, of course)

So when the moment came for those to vote in favour of the motion that Marxism is a spent force, we expected to see a forest of hands ascend toward the rafters of the church.

There was none.

We were truly shocked.

A gasp of astonishment swept the body of the church as others took in the awesome result.

A young man decided that he would not let it be a whitewash, and put up his hand.

The Bishop - who was evidently as shocked as we were - said "Well, perhaps everyone is abstaining" so he put the contra view and asked for those against the motion that Marxism is a spent force.

Up went almost all the hands, and another expression of surprise.

Then the Bishop asked for abstentions. There were four.

So the result was:

For the motion This house believes that Marxism is a spent force: 1

Against the motion: innumerate but probably more than 95% if there were a hundred or more in the audience.

Abstentions: 4

We suppose it would be irreverent to say "Here endeth the first lesson" but it does seem appropriate.

The evening concluded with a rendition of the Hymn "The day though gavest...." which happens to be one of our favourites.

No organ, no music, just voices.

In the church services that we have attended in recent times we have noted a lot of people seem not to sing, or if they do, they sing very quietly - as though embarrassed.

Not a bit of it here.

With gusto and verve, the congregation raised an impressive, tuneful, and competent rendition.

We can't speak for anyone else, but we thought the impact of this - and of the whole evening really - was not unlike the "last night of the proms" The stalwarts of everything that is best in Britain who made up that audience, were respectful, responsible, and independently minded. Great Britons.

The debate had showed that the spirit of Marxism was not dead.

It was equally clear to us that the spirit of Britain is not dead either. Just dormant and waiting to arise.

Dated:   18 February  2010


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