Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 13, 2006
I try to make it to at least one day of the yearly Leftforum Conference (once known as the Socialist Scholars Conference) in order to get a handle on what the academic left is putting out. The conference features speakers--mostly male, white tenured professors who were 60s radicals early in their life--who publish in Science & Society, Monthly Review, Socialist Register, Dissent, the Nation Magazine, etc.
The following are some off the top of my head notes on the sessions I attended yesterday.
On Sunday 10am, I attended a panel on "Marxist Views of
China's Contemporary Development" that was distinguished by the participation
of Cheng En Fu, who is dean of the Marxism Research Institute of Shanghai
University of Finance and Economics and standing sub-dean of the Marxism
Research Institute of the
Just by coincidence, the NY Times that morning had a lead
article on the front page about the reemergence of Marxism in
That certainly describes Cheng's presentation. He began by
defending the Maoist economic record that sustained an 8% growth rate over the
period from 1953 to 1978. He alluded to Maurice Meisner,
a very fine left-oriented
In Cheng's view, market reforms were not intended as a repudiation of the Maoist past, but as an attempt to make something good even better. He likened it to a champion athlete experimenting with a new technique to make his or her performance even better.
Market reforms have indeed accelerated economic growth, but there are two other factors that Cheng mentioned (and that I have never considered before) that have complemented the unleashing of market competition. One is a reduction in population to the tune of 300 million. The other is a reduction in the size of the army, a result of a lessening of cold war tensions.
Next, Cheng launched into a frank discussion of the failures
of what he described as market socialism. Mainly, this has been a function of a
decline of the public sector and a concomitant growth in inequality as the iron
rice bowel has shrunk and unemployment has grown. He was also critical of a
tendency among Chinese intellectuals and policy makers to look at the
Dave Kotz, who chaired the panel
and who is the co-author of a very useful book on capitalist restoration in the
When it was first proposed in the 1930s by Oskar Lange, it
was seen as a form of socialism with "market-like" mechanisms. But
competition or profit-seeking as we know it in
Kotz then presented an historical overview of how market socialism has been formulated by the CCP since 1982. Like the evolution that took place from Lange to Nove, Chinese ideology has moved inexorably to a belief that markets per se are necessary to keep a socialist economy viable. He also made an interesting observation on the tendency of elites in the state sector to become willing partners in privatization even though they don't actually *own* any capital. With the acquisition of *wealth* and perks by plant managers, etc., there is a tendency to accept inequality and the logic of privatization, especially since their connections make it almost inevitable that they get the lion's share in a sale of plant assets.
Minqi Li, a young professor at
Richard Smith was the last speaker. He called attention to
At 12PM, I attended a panel discussion on "Evo Morales and the New Bolivia" that was organized by North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). It opened my eyes to an emerging ideological tendency to invest the Bolivian radical movement with the themes present in Zapatista support literature, John Holloway and autonomism. I had been obviously aware of the differences between people like James Petras, Jorge Martin of the Grant-Woods tendency and Gerry Foley on one side (representing varieties of ortho-Marxism or ortho-Trotskyism) and enthusiastic supporters of Morales like Roger Burbach on the other.
I tended to lump Forrest Hylton, a frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Znet and critic of Morales and who spoke at the panel, in the first camp but now I see him much more clearly as a defender of autonomism rather than Marxism. His frequent allusions to "radical democracy" and "the social movements" in past articles might have alerted me to this, but I was focused more on his reportage. His talk yesterday did not get into these questions, but dealt more with the history of Bolivian indigenous resistance going back to Tupac Amaru. It was a bit superficial but useful.
It was up to NYU professor Sinclair Thomson to lay out the
autonomist perspective. Describing himself as a colleague of Hylton (they co-authored a Counterpunch article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/hylton11122004.html),
Thomson described the indigenous movement in
"The Assembly could help redraw state-society relations
I would say that in order to truly "democratize…political relations" is impossible without an insurrectionary struggle, but what the heck, I am one of those Brontosaurus Bolsheviks I guess.
During the q&a,
I asked Thomson why anybody would try to superimpose Zapatismo
on the Bolivian mass movement, since the EZLN is basically defunct. (I could
have also made the point that Cuban doctors from the dreaded Bolshevik island
are saving the lives of more
The final speaker, Anibal Quijano, a Peruvian academic and World Systems theorist, endorsed the idea of Andean capitalism as put forward by Morales's vice president. He hailed the idea of energy profits being siphoned off to fund community-based projects.
A word or two about NACLA might be useful in understanding the
political meaning of this panel discussion, which might not be obvious to many
of the attendees. Basically, NACLA is hostile to state socialism. Although it
was formed as a nonprofit research institute in the 1960s by young scholars in
At 2pm, I attended a panel discussion on Bubbles and the US economy that was remarkable for Doug Henwood's obvious worries about the impact of rising interest rates in the home mortgage market, and consequently on the economy as a whole. When Doug Henwood starts to sound like the people from In Defense of Marxism, Watch Out!
At 4pm, I attended a debate on perspectives for the antiwar movement which brought together Leslie Cagan from UfPJ and Brian Becker from the ANSWER coalition. As might be expected, Cagan made noble-sounding statements about the need to work harder and reach more Americans but did not really get into the substantive disagreements between UfPJ and ANSWER. Becker, on the other hand, was determined to have things out but his talk was so utterly detached from political reality that debate with Cagan or any other living human being would have been impossible. Basically, Becker analyzed the differences in terms of the Zimmerwald Manifesto and carrying on in the traditions of Lenin. His speech was phrase-mongering elevated to an almost stratospheric level. After he was done, he was applauded by a smattering of Spartacist types in the audience but I booed him at the top of my lungs. That really felt good.