Reports on left conferences


I attended the Labor Notes conference in Detroit this past weekend. I was very impressed with the quality of the sessions I attended and the great diversity of the participants. I went to a session on racism chaired by Theresa El Amin of Black Workers for Justice (she is the second person from BWFJ I have heard. These are some sharp folks!). It started a bit chaotically but ended very well. Some examples of racism in union shops really shocked me but will spur me to speak out more forcefully on racism. Another session on European resistance to neoliberalism was also very good. I was surprised at the number of people who expressed open commitments to socialism. This also occurred at a session I co-chaired on the AFL-CIO's political economy (which, sad to say, is also the political economy of a good many leftists). More than 50 people were at our session, and the others I went to were also well attended. There were a couple of special sessions on Kosovo, and although I could not attend these, I got the impression that opposition to the war was pretty widespread among the participants at the conference.

I would be interested to hear the views of any others on the list who attended. I also encourage people to subscribe to Labor Notes.

Finally, I want to send a message of solidarity to Will Miller and the folks occupying Bernie Sanders's office. Only one House member opposed the congressional support vote on the bombing (Barbara Lee of Oakland, Ca, who won election after Ron Dellums retired).

michael yates

p.s. Isn't it incredible that Colin Powell was at the funeral in Littleton broadcast on tv and that fighter jets flew overhead?

Dear Friends, I am sorry I do not have time to do a properly thorough job summarizing what I saw and heard at the Socialist Scholars Conference. But here is a quick take. Perhaps others onlist were in the same sessions and could expand.

I was lucky, it appears. What I encountered was far more good than bad. I attended two sessions simply because of the people who were in them, and one session because of the topic. The first of the first group was a session which included William Hinton, the author of Fanshen. Hinton is 80 now and my hope was to have a chance to encounter him again and to thank him for a life and career that has been humble, persevering, incredibly tough, but inspirational for me and many many others. Hinton spoke, for the most part, about the reversal of socialism in China and the growing crisis rising, in part, from the shift of population from the cities to the countryside. He and other panelists stated that there are over 130 million people in China, now virtually rootless--a remarkable figure in any society. The panel was briefly interrupted by some left-Hegelians from some Trotskyist sect, but they calmed themselves after a few moments of hysteria about being sure that we all understood that in fact China is a deformed workers state, which I think is as silly an idea as their outburst aimed at a person whose life work dwarfs most everyone's--and who is due some kindness (this is not the absence of criticism, but kindness) even when he may be wrong. In any case, the China session was truly informative, if only to demonstrate that capital's processes run very deep, and that, moreover, there is no alternative but to be rid of it.

The second session I attended, merely in hopes of seeing the participants, was one on Dialectics which included Ira Golobin (now 88 and the author of what I think is a fine intro piece to dialectical materialism--by that name) and Bertell Ollman--both of whom have made courageous and marvelous contributions over the years. This session (the third of three on Sunday, all sponsored by Science and Society) was terrific. It began with Bill Levant arguing, persuasively I thought, that the session should be called "Dialectical materialism" and not just dialectics. Tony Smith then came forward to argue, for the dialectics alone position, that Das Capital contains only an analysis of capital, and that dialectics contains that alone as well, and that there are no elements in either to indicate a way forward. He said, hence, that intellectual Marxists should listen to the labor movement, and related movements to see where this goes. A Greek comrade, whose name I am sorry to say I cannot spell even phonetically and I do not have the conference paper, and I both argued forcefully that this is precisely what is lacking in left hegelianism, the role of materialism in dialectics which can point to the seeds of the future in the present, and which can thus comprehend the negation of the negation toward its essence, rather than dealing with the appearances, binaries, of the possibilities for change---which underlies the philosophical aspect of the opportunism and bankruptcy of all the labor movements and bogus identity movements now afoot. Golobin sought to explain the role of diamat in producing wisdom, a chapter in his book which is well worth reviewing. Ollman tossed in that he sees dialectics as pervasive, in science, in philosophy, in nature....and that set off quite a fall de rall. I hope I have fairly reported what people said here.

The last session I attended was one on the possibilities for radicalism and Marxism in the Carribean basin. This was a wonderful session although I disagreed with the folks' analysis of the Grenadian Revo and its collapse. There remains a tendency to iconicize Maurice Bishop, and to demonize Bernard Coard, and to completely misunderstand that disintegration of the New Jewel Movement from within. (There is a piece on my www page from a NJM leaders with a more accurate representation of what happened. Remember the Grenada 17 are still sitting in a 17th century jail). Even so, the discussion regarding the crisis of the banana trade, and the comment that "we have lived with Globalization for 50 years, and might teach you something about it" all added up to time well spent. I learned a great deal at the conference and will come next year--- trying hard to focus in both wheat and chaff.....

Rich Gibson

Louis Proyect wrote reports on two panels at the Socialist Scholars Conference:

War in the Balkans

Markets in Cuba and the former Soviet Union