To preface my report, I should mention something that I probably never have mentioned before. As a rule of thumb, I go to workshops that hold out the promise that I will find out something new. By the same token, I avoid plenaries since they tend to be opportunities for celebrities on the left to address the Big Questions of the day in a vaporous manner.
The only other point worth making is that the weekend was graced by the opportunity to have lunch with a couple of Marxmailers I have known for some time now, “Red Arnie”, a veteran of the Asian student movement of the 60s and 70s, and Robbie Kwan Laurel, who came over from the Philippines to the Left Forum for the second time since 2009 and who presented me with a gift copy of his new book “Philippine Cultural Disasters” that has a chapter on “Academic Entrepreneurship and Scholarship in the Age of Hyper Capitalism”. Not having read it yet, I confess to a sneaking suspicion that Leon Botstein and John Sexton come under scrutiny based on the title. Here’s a nice profile on Robby timed to the publication of an earlier book, a collection of short stories.
1. Class Struggle in Contemporary Quebec
This was the perfect example of what I am looking for in a Left Forum panel discussion. I think that most people on the left are like me. You followed the student struggle over tuition hikes when it was happening and sort of lost track after it came to an end. The discussion was not so much centered on the outcome, which was to be taken up in a separate panel and appeared to be something of a compromise, but on the social and economic background that was most illuminating. Since two of the panelists were student activists, the discussion was really quite detailed and interesting.
There were two things I learned. To start with, a Quiet Revolution in Quebec took place in the 1960s that led to the province becoming a secular welfare state with the least amount of social inequality in the Western Hemisphere.
In keeping with the austerity drive taking place everywhere, the Liberals tried to impose higher fees by demagogically appealing to tax payers about the “privileged” students gaming the system. The alternative to the Liberals is the Parti Quebecois that despite its leftish coloration proposes a more “intelligent” approach to managing austerity, reminding me of the Social Democrats in Greece.
The session was chaired by Matthieu Dufour who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which like the U. of Utah economics department is an unlikely hotbed of leftism.
2. Unpacking the University-National Security State-Corporate Complex
With my keen interest as indicated above in Academic Entrepreneurship as displayed, for example, by Bard College hosting a week-long conference on the mystical droolings of a self-published jeweler to the big bourgeoisie, I was anxious to hear what Marxmailer Alan Ruff and FB friend and fellow CP contributor Steve Horn had to say about Khazakstan, a nation I have more than routine interest in since a young woman I had a lot of contact with when she was working on PhD at Columbia University Teacher’s College on Education Reform in Khazakstan turned out to be a neoliberal opportunist with a distinct aroma of the CIA about her.
Alan and Steve are looking into how major American educational institutions with a liberal veneer like U. of Wisconsin, where they have close ties, are like buzzards feasting on the carcass of Khazakstan—a country that is developing a GINI coefficiency rating that threatens to break past the 100 percent ceiling.
Joining the two intrepid investigators was the inimitable Liza Featherstone who spoke about the ties between “leftist” academics and the war machine through their research on “focus groups” intended to gauge what is effective propaganda—in other words movies and radio shows that were intended to get young Americans to go kill axis soldiers. Brilliant stuff.
3. The Future of World Capitalism
This involved a bit of false advertising but not egregiously so. I went to this panel chaired by Alan Freeman to find out when the Big One was going to hit according to the FROP crystal ball. But it turned out instead to be talks from the authors of a series of Pluto Books that Alan and Radhika Desai are editing. I was more than mollified to meet Henry Heller for the first time. He spoke about his book on “The Birth of Capitalism” that I couldn’t recommend highly enough as the definitive answer to the Brenner thesis.
And just as enticing is another book in the series titled “To Live and Die in America: Class, Power, Health and Healthcare” that was reported on by Robert Chernomas, a co-author. Chernomas makes the claim that most modern diseases that cut life short, from cancer to high blood pressure, are a function the capitalist mode of production. Two hundred years ago cancer was an uncommon illness.
For her part, Radhika Desai spoke about “Geopolitical Economy: After US Hegemony, Globalization and Empire”, a book that challenges the idea that the US ever was a true hegemon in the same way that Great Britain was. It sounds like a good companion piece to the new Gindin-Panitch book.
4. Prospects for the Syrian Revolution
I blogged about this stellar session here: http://louisproyect.org/2013/06/10/prospects-for-the-syrian-revolution/
5. Political Ecologies of Developmental Terrorism: Neo-liberalism and People’s Resistance in India
This was a presentation by members of the Sanhati collective, a group of mostly Indian academics and activists in India and the USA committed to the cause of India’s most oppressed, including the indigenous forest dwellers that provide the basis of the Maoist movement. While the comrades are not Maoists themselves, as far as I can tell, they know which side of the barricade they are on. These are not only some of the sharpest people politically I have run into in recent years but also some of the most fearless. One speaker, Partho Saratha Ray, had some interesting comments in reply to a question I posed about a possible disjunction between the forest-dwelling adivasis (tribal people) and the city dwellers appeared dedicated mostly to a consumerist life-style, alluding to problems that I had read about in the Mexican revolution of 1910 when a similar city-rural divide existed. Partho talked about his own experience in the struggle, one in which the conditions of life in the city were just as miserable. Here is a BBC report on this remarkable comrade’s dedication to the cause:
18 April 2012 Last updated at 05:55 ET
Indian Professor Partho Sarathi Ray freed from jail
A molecular biologist who was arrested in India’s West Bengal state for allegedly participating in a protest, has been freed after 10 days in jail.
Partho Sarathi Ray was arrested on 8 April for protesting against a slum eviction drive in Calcutta.
He says he was not even in the city on 4 April, the day of the protest.
More than 50 activists and academics from India and abroad wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to intervene.
A well-known scientist, Prof Ray’s work has been published in respectable journals around the world.
Police charged him with assaulting policemen during the protest, but he denies the charge.
His lawyers say he was at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Nadia district to attend a faculty meeting on the day. They say he stayed there for the night and did not leave until the next day.
His arrest was condemned by scientists and academics who wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to intervene to secure Prof Ray’s release.
“There seems to be a clear message to others not to raise voices of dissent,” said the letter, signed by activists and academics including Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Noam Chomsky, Mrigangka Sur, Abha Sur and others.
7. Hollywood and the CIA
Got a chance to exchange ideas with a couple of leftie film buffs. Dumped all over Katherine Bigelow and Ben Affleck. Yeah!