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Harvard International Socialists Host New England Marxism Conference

Socialists converged on campus Saturday for the first Harvard-based New England Marxism Conference — and urged fellow attendees to resist the Trump administration.

The event — hosted for the first time by the Harvard International Socialists — included wide-ranging discussions on a variety of social issues. It attracted more than 200 attendees, who traveled from as near as Cambridge and as far as France to listen to panels such as “Capitalism and Climate Change” and “Intersectionality and Oppression.”

The Harvard-based group received assistance in organizing the conference from the International Socialist Organization, a socialist group that strategizes alternatives to capitalist institutions.

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student Andrew B. Keefe, the president of the Harvard International Socialists, said the conference had a strong connection to current activism at the University. Keefe cited several movements led by Harvard organizers, including members of the Student Labor Action Movement, who protested Harvard’s patronage of Marriott hotels last week.

“It’s really wonderful to be participating in an event like this at Harvard,” Keefe said. “We need to take all of these ideas and make life at Harvard and in Boston and beyond better for working people.”

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Ashley Smith, a member of the International Socialist Review editorial board, opened the conference with a talk titled “Building a Socialist Alternative to Trump’s America.” In his speech, Smith said there is a pressing need for socialists to lead the resistance against the Trump administration due to frustration with the two-party system.

William James Hall
The social studies department, located in William James Hall, has been criticized by those looking to study non-Western perspectives.

“We need confrontation. We need struggle,” Smith said. “We need to take down the Trump Administration.”

At the conference’s final event, Jen Roesch — the co-host of a socialist podcast titled “Better Off Red” — outlined the challenges facing organizers in today’s political climate in a speech titled “What Kind of Party Do We Need?”

Roesch advocated for a “radical and hopefully revolutionary” socialist party to meet the challenges of the Trump era. She also mentioned her frustration with politicians on both sides of the aisle.

In an interview after her talk, Roesch expressed hope for social transformation among a new generation.

“There's an entire generation of people who are clearly looking for socialism and looking for big answers, beyond just the ballot box,” she said. “I think people are trying to envision a whole different kind of society.”

Though similar conferences have been held annually for more than a decade around New England, this year’s iteration attracted a larger and younger audience, according to Akunna Eneh, a member of the International Socialist Organization and one of this year’s event organizers.

Keefe said he has noticed increasing enthusiasm for socialism across the country in recent years.

“You have membership in socialist organizations everywhere increasing,” Keefe noted. “[That’s] why our conference was so successful.”

Attendee Cobalt A. Tolbert said he traveled from Vermont to Harvard to connect with fellow socialists from outside his local organization.

Tolbert also said these conferences are “a lot of fun.”

David Wood, a Massachusetts resident and member of the International Socialist Organization, said he came to the event to strategize and debate with like-minded activists.

"I see this as an important place to share ideas for how we can win the movements we're a part of today, how we can defeat the emboldened right wing… to engage other people from around New England,” Wood said.

The Harvard International Socialists have participated in other campus events this year. During the September hearings on the nomination of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the International Socialists protested in Harvard Yard carrying signs reading “We Believe Survivors” to voice their opposition to the nomination.

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