. Following the appearance of my belated report on “conference communism” a couple days ago, I received a number of appreciative comments, e-mails, and replies. It would seem I wasn’t alone in my rather low opinion of these conferences. A few of the people who sent me notes to this effect caught me genuinely off guard; it always feels vindicating to know that others agree with you.
Predictably, however, the responses that came in from the speakers who actually participated in the event, especially those who had been singled out for criticism, were less than appreciative. Some seemed to take it all quite personally — and one of them, George Ciccariello-Maher, went so far as to defriend me on Facebook. Was a bit surprised by it, to be honest; I’d always thought he had pretty thick skin, otherwise. For the most part, I think, I’d refrained from the ad hominem attacks and managed to keep my remarks strictly ad rem. Maybe he felt that by attacking his credentials to speak on a given subject, I was thereby indirectly attacking his character. This was not my intention.
Either way, it’s not like it matters. I’d anticipated it anyway. Just goes to show you can’t please everyone. Continue reading →
A few months ago I attended the “Communist Currents” mini-conference at Cornell University in Ithaca. Douglas La Rocca and I departed from New York near the crack of dawn, around 5:00 AM, driving upstate to Ithaca. There we met up with his buddy Roger Palomeque, an engineer with an interest in Marxian economics and one of Doug’s fellow Linux-nerds. The drive to and from was cool, as was hanging out with Roger, but I was less than impressed with the actual proceedings of the symposium. I suppose the posh digs of the conference setting at Cornell’s White House were pretty fun/funny. The building’s main claim to fame is that former President (and staunch anti-communist) Ike Eisenhower once ate there. Only fitting that a series of talks on “the communist idea” today should be held there, really — though the very fact such a thing is permitted should give some indication of how benign the “idea” has become.
Over the last five years, books and conferences on “the communist idea” have been greeted by some as heralding the rebirth of the radical Left (“the long night of the Left is coming to a close”). Verso has released a string of titles and essay collections in its “pocket communism” series, featuring marquee names like Alain Badiou, Boris Groys, and Slavoj Žižek, as well as a host of “rising stars” — second-tier up-and-comers like Jodi Dean, Bruno Bosteels, and Alberto Toscano. After a few sellout conferences in London, New York, and Berlin, the organizers brought it to Seoul in South Korea, a longstanding stronghold of anti-communist reaction. Surely all this bodes well for the revolution, right?
Nearly a century ago, there were those who hailed the workers’ councils as the units of proletarian organization par excellence, a vehicle for the self-emancipation of the working class. Led by figures like Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick, they were called the “council communists.” Today, it is instead the academics’ conferences that hold the promise of communism (or so it would seem). It is only fitting that they be dubbed, in like fashion, the “conference communists.” Continue reading →