One hundred and fifty people came — from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, and elsewhere — to participate in the “Economic Crisis and Left Responses” conference that took place at Pace University in lower Manhattan on November 6. The conference was convened by Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI).
MHI also received many communications from people in the United States and abroad who were unable to attend, but who indicated that they were eager to watch the video recording of the conference proceedings.
The participants included currently employed and retired workers, students, academics, and others. The three sessions of the conference featured ten speakers, some of whom are political activists and some of whom are academics.
During the conference, MHI announced that it was taking initial steps to form a “Network for the Circulation of Theoretical Struggles.” Mike Dola discussed the motivation behind the Network at the conclusion of the conference.
Dola said that MHI is encouraged by the Capital study groups that have recently sprouted up, and by the beginnings of a serious discussion of the causes and consequences of the recent crisis. He noted that the Network, which will be international, will help facilitate and coordinate this ongoing theoretical activity, which it is intended to supplement rather than to replace.
Anne Jaclard, National Secretary of MHI and one of the speakers at the conference, said afterward that she thought it represented “a giant step forward.” In a post-conference letter, Jaclard stated that “many of the speakers and audience actively engaged with each others’ issues. They did not merely put forth their positions and leave them undebated, or rush to prescribe ‘practice’ without examination of what theory underlies their practice.”
A paper presented by Andrew Kliman in the conference’s morning session proved to be controversial. According to Kliman, a persistent fall in the rate of profit was an underlying cause of the crisis and recession; it was not the case that workers’ share of income fell, causing the rate of profit to rebound after the early 1980s. The growth of workers’ incomes did fall markedly, he said, but it fell because the growth of the economy and total income fell markedly, not because workers’ share of the income fell.
Richard Wolff, another panelist in the morning session, challenged this conclusion, arguing that retirees are not workers, but ex-workers, so their income is not workers’ income. Speakers from the audience argued similarly that health-care and retirement benefits that employers pay and workers receive are not part of workers’ incomes.
The issue of “raising consciousness” was also controversial. A supporter of MHI said that people don’t need raised consciousness but information and access to ideas that they don’t now have access to. Walter Daum, a supporter of the League for the Revolutionary Party and a speaker in the early-afternoon panel, countered that leading the masses and raising their consciousness is what it means to be a revolutionary.
Some other speakers also suggested that consciousness-raising is a key component of an effective response from the Left to the economic crisis and its aftermath. Jaclard’s paper, on the other hand, put forward what it called a “very different” direction that Left intellectual activity should take, that of “demonstrat[ing] theoretically that another, non-capitalist world is possible.”
In addition to Daum, Jaclard, Kliman, and Wolff, speakers included Roslyn Wallach Bologh, Brendan Cooney, Barry Finger, Mac Intosh, Paul Mattick, and Fred Moseley. Pace University’s Center for Community Action & Research, the Department of Economics, History, and Political Science of Pace’s Pleasantville campus, the Committee for a Conference on the Economic Crisis, the League for the Revolutionary Party, Internationalist Perspective, and The New SPACE joined MHI as sponsors of the conference.
Communications announcing the conference explained the motivation behind it as follows:
“The future is especially uncertain, and ‘the new normal’ may prove to be very difficult, economically and politically.
“For the Left to be prepared for what may happen and prepared to respond effectively, activity and organization will not be enough. We also need the organization of thought–and that is why we have convened this conference. In order to work out a viable response, one that doesn’t merely react to and support the least-bad proposals offered by policymakers and mainstream thinkers, we need a clear and deep understanding of what has gone wrong with capitalism, and of the limits and pitfalls of proposed reforms. And we cannot take for granted that more progressive policies would in fact bring capitalism out of the crisis and restore jobs, economic growth, and stability. Wide-ranging dialogue on these topics is needed, not only so that all views can be heard but, above all, so that we can test different ideas in debate and work out answers to the questions we face.”
For videos of the conference panels, conference papers, the proposal for the formation of a Network for the Circulation of Theoretical Struggles, and more, click here. We hope you’ll then sign-up to be contacted about the Network.
I live in London UK and wish I could have attended this conference.
I would like to draw attention to the message in The Communist Manifesto in which Marx and Engels stated:
“We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy……………”
and then gives a list of ten policies, including income tax, inheritance tax, free education, State control of credit, cultivation of wastelands, etc. but the first item in the list reads:
“1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.”
Marx and Engels develop their theory of the differential rent and absolute rent of land in Part 6 of Das Kapital Volume 3 published after Marx’s death in 1893 (and not translated into English until 1909 so mostly ignored by many english-speaking Marxists).
I suggest it is about time we addressed the land question and more importantly advocate the collection of land rent from landowners who claim to own what nature provides for free.
I’m encouraged by the summary of the conference provided online on November 22. As people “face with sober senses their real conditions of life,” they will need — as Anne Jaclard notes — to see ahead the real possibility of another, non-capitalist, world. Without this, all the consciousness imaginable will not move us forward but will lead simply to cynicism, despair, or feckless thrashing about. Great beginning.