Marxist-Humanist Initiative sponsored three panels at Left Forum this year. The largest left academic conference in the U.S., Left Forum took place in New York City on May 30, 31 and June 1. The MHI panels were all on June 1. Below are videos of each.
The Economic Crisis and Crisis Theory I
This panel integrated analysis of the latest economic crisis with explorations of theories of economic crisis. Panelists addressed what different analyses and theories imply about the need and prospects for revolutionary change versus “mak[ing] the private-enterprise economy work better” (Paul Marlor Sweezy).
Andrew Kliman, an economist from New York City, discussed whether the persistent economic sluggishness we face is compatible with the view of Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch that the crisis was “primarily financial,” or whether it suggests that the crisis is rooted in capitalist production. Brendan Cooney, a video blogger and musician, surveyed contending theories of capitalist crisis, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. W. Thom Workman, a political scientist from New Brunswick, explored critiques of “positivist science,” such as those of Jürgen Habermas and Richard Rorty, and their ideological function regarding Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and broader political economy. Anne Jaclard, organizational secretary of Marxist-Humanist Initiative, was chair.
The Economic Crisis and Crisis Theory II
This panel explored causes of the Great Recession and the continuing economic sluggishness since the recession’s ended, as well as how the left can respond to this situation. In keeping with the conference theme, panelists addressed what different analyses and theories imply about the kind of socioeconomic change that is called for.
Alan Freeman spoke on “Consumption, Profit and Finance: why can’t the left get it right?” He will explore why so many academic left thinkers persistently avoid normal methods of enquiry after truth. Focusing on Marx’s theory of crisis, the share of wages in US income, and the relation between finance and profitability as examples, he will discuss how prejudice and the desire to find “evidence” to support a political line take first place over the use of logic and the study of evidence. Andrew Kliman asked “Were Corporations–or Corporate Executives–Really Hogging a Bigger Share of the Income Workers Produce?” and explain why the answer is “no.” For this and other reasons, increased income inequality wasn’t a main cause of the Great Recession. Michael Hudson spoke on “The New Austerity: Feeding the FIRE sector overhead.” He will argue that the aim of Quantitative Easing is not to re-inflate wages and consumer prices, but to re-inflate asset prices to rescue Wall Street, not the economy. Thus, increased output is going to the FIRE sector, not into production and consumption. Mike Dola was chair.
Roundtable on Reading Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism & Freedom Collectively
From February through April, MHI sponsored an international reading group via Skype on a foundational work of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxist-Humanism, Marxism and Freedom, From 1776 Until Today. First published in 1958, the book attempted to re-establish Marx’s humanist roots in the context of a new era which the author termed state-capitalism—and its opposite, workers’ revolts in Eastern Europe and strikes in the U.S. against automation and racism. Dunayevskaya’s book draws on the ideas and revolutions of the previous 200 years to ask: What relationships emerged between economic developments and new struggles for freedom; between theorists and masses? What happens after a revolution?—what ideas can arm the masses against counter-revolution from within it? What bases can be laid for an actually break with the capitalist mode of production and the start a new, human society?
The reading group participants were across the U.S. and in Canada, England and Russia. A varied group of people with varied familiarity with Marx and with the author, we explored Dunayevskaya’s work in a collective process aimed at clarifying the meaning in the 1950s and what it may mean for today. This roundtable consisted of seven of the participants: activists, students, and teachers. It evaluated how the reading group functioned and drew conclusions as to the continuing relevance of the book.
The speakers, in order, were Anne Jaclard, Arnold Farr, Stefanie Levi, Mike Dola, Bryan, Brendan Cooney, and Andrew Kliman