Left Forum 2013

If you’ve been reading this blog this past month, you probably noticed the announcement for the Left Forum in the right column. It’s gone now, because this past weekend was the event.

I didn’t go last year. After going every year for almost twenty years, I stopped, for many reasons. One is that it’s always the same people, saying the same things, year after year. Another is that the panels are more tepid than they were when I started going. Still another reason is that, between web sites and mailing lists, I can find just about any information I need. These conferences used to be more informational for me than they are today. (About this: during the break in Sunday’s session, I was eating lunch at Subway with a friend of mine, when an older man came into the place. He saw our name badges and started talking to us, telling us that this was the first Left Forum he’s been to and what a fantastic thing it was. He was almost ecstatic, and I realized that while I may be tired of aspects of it, there are people for whom this is a really good thing.)

Add to this the distress I was experiencing for not having completed “East Village” Ideology, that I wrote about in Howl, and How A Quilas Piece Comes To Be, and I just wasn’t motivated to go, despite having received an email wherein it was written that if people volunteered to videotape two panels, they could get in for free. (Eventually, the “free” thing won out, and I decided to go.)

I taped six panels, even though I was only required to tape two. I figured since I’m already there with my camera, why not? I’m going to put up clips of each, once I’m done editing them, but for now, the panels I chose, and a bit of commentary on them, are:

Primitive Accumulation in Light of the Current Onslaught of Austerity — One of the benefits of taping the panels was that I didn’t need to take notes. Unfortunately, that means I have nothing now to refer to. The thrust of this panel was that primitive accumulation still continues, that it’s always continued throughout the history of capitalism, and that it did not refer to one period of pre- to nascent-capitalist development, that theft and plundering have always accompanied capitalism.

Wall Street’s War to Impose Austerity — There was almost nothing about Wall Street or austerity. The majority of the discussion was about Henry George, and Henry George University (where two of the panelists taught), and Georgists. This was supposed to be about U.S. finance capital pushing the agenda that is playing out in Greece today. I agree with Michael Hudson that Marxists have no rapport with Georgists, so why were they there? It’s bad enough that they still debate anarchists and Proudhonists, as if these arguments have never been resolved, but do we need to rehash debates with libertarians, of all people?

The Future of Education Reform — The education panels are usually interesting, since I have a child in a New York public school. Even though I heard nothing new at this one (this is an example of keeping up through blogs, web sites, etc.), I was able to get information from people I’ll contact next year to arrange for speakers at my son’s school. Two of the panelists were active in the United Federation of Teachers, one of them in the MORE caucus; one was in the Chicago Teacher’s Union caucus CORE; and the fourth was a writer for the Brooklyn Rail.

Marx’s Politics of Revolution: From the Critique of Proudhon to the Critique of the Gotha Program — I chose this one because of my recent focus on petite bourgeois responses to capitalist crises, but nothing new came out of it for me. It’s one of those panels where the question “Was there an epistemological break in Marx’s writing?” picks up where it left off last year, everything said before is said again, with the understanding that they will continue the discussion at the next conference.

Public Resource Theft: Lessons of New Orleans Public Housing for NYC — Again, nothing new, but I did get more contact information. Except for the people from New Orleans, everyone in the room was from my neighborhood and focussed on the NYCHA Infill proposal. A demonstration opposing this is being planned for October 19. I’ll post more on that when the time comes and I have more information.

Dialectal Materialism vs. The New Physics — Far and away the most interesting panel of the weekend! As soon as I saw this title in the program, I knew I had to attend. What is “the new physics,” and how is it counterposed to dialectical materialism? (My nephew just graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in Physics. I asked him if he knew anything about this antagonism. He didn’t. Perhaps it’s a graduate-level discussion?) By “new,” it turns out they meant 20th-century physics! Mike Gimbell spoke first. There were two main tacks taken in his talk: 1) the political — “Relativity theory was thrust forward in the ruling class’s fight against Communism;” and 2) the scientific — “Relativity Theory is an attack on basic physical laws.” Instead of describing it, I will show you a clip:

(Auto-focus isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.)