Over the next few days I will be blogging about the 2011 Left Forum in New York, including full and in one case nearly full video recordings of the presentations. I will be starting off with talks by Lars Lih and Paul Le Blanc today but will now include some prefatory remarks on the event.
I have been going to these things for a number of years now, starting around the time I dropped out of the SWP. They gave me a chance to learn about ideas that were never taken up in the SWP, although this in itself is not necessarily a recommendation.
If you go to http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/american_left.htm, you will find reports on past events.
In 2005, the Left Forum had its premier. It grew out of a split in the Socialist Scholars Conference leadership over Yugoslavia, with Bogdan Denitch deciding that conference organizer Eric Canepa was soft on Milosevic. You can read a skewed account of the split on the website of the N.Y. Sun, an arch-reactionary newspaper that went out of business some time back. Here’s a snippet:
American socialists, in Mr. Denitch’s view, can learn something from President da Silva of Brazil, who “was elected by the largest electorate in Latin America,” but not from President Castro of Cuba, who “has never faced an election.”
Perhaps because people who do not take their marching orders from Denitch now control the Left Forum, it has gone from strength to strength. While the group around Denitch were not particularly associated with post-modernist trends in the academy, you will now find very few panel discussions of the sort that smack of Modern Language Association conferences with their scrutiny of Madonna videos in the 1980s and Lady Gaga today as expressive of “transgressive” politics.
In fact, the discussions were very much like the ones that take place on Marxmail although I suspect that Left Forum organizers might not consider that a compliment. There were extremely relevant discussions of Islamophobia, the labor movement, and the Black struggle drawing upon as many activists (like our own Jon Flanders) as academics.
The other thing that struck me was the broad participation of young people. This was the first conference I attended where there were as many people under 30 as there were over 60. This was truly inspiring to me.
Lars and Paul spoke at a workshop on “Lenin’s Marxism” organized by the Platypus group. As many of you know, I regard the Platypus group as American Eustonites (http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/q-what-is-a-platypus-a-an-american-eustonite/) so it will not surprise you that I did not record Chris Cutrone’s talk on “Lenin’s Liberalism”. Despite the obvious provocative character of the title, the talk was enough to put me into a coma.
I came to the session a bit late so I missed the start of Lars’s talk, which dealt with Lenin’s debates with Bukharin. Perhaps it will show up on the net at some point. If so, I will send along a link. Mostly, Lars made the same points he has made before, namely that Lenin was trying to build a party in Russia that was modeled on Kautsky’s in Germany.
Paul’s response to Lars covered the same points he made in the Historical Materialism symposium on Lars’s book on Lenin’s “What is to be Done” and accepts the idea that Lenin started out as a Kautskyist but turned into the architect of a “party of a new type” after 1914,
As I have stated on other occasions, I find the debate between Lars, Paul and the British SWP to be unfortunately disengaged with what I regard the most important question, namely the tendency of parties built on the “Leninist” model to turn into sects and cults.
When I raised the question of “democratic centralism” during the discussion period, Lars interpreted it as falling within the rubric of Soviet-style dictatorship when my real interest was in the failure of groups like the SWP (either American or British) to ever reach the critical mass necessary to become a bureaucratic state. Frankly, I would be willing to put up with bureaucratic distortions if Alex Callicos ever figured out a way to toss the David Camerons and Tony Blairs of the world into the ashbin of history.