Communism, Hope and the Future conference

The Red Thread is hosting a day of discussion and debate on communism in the 21st century on the 13th of February at Turnstyle, 13 Laura St Highgate Hill.  A number of people will be presenting papers, with lots of space for discussion and debate, which will be followed by a social event. An agenda of sorts will be posted shortly.

1 Response to “Communism, Hope and the Future conference”

  1. 1 Gerald Keaney March 3, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Economic Determinism: uses and abuses.

    Economic determinism is, in this context, a way of understanding social phenomena by reference to the wage struggles out of which they are composed. As such it is a type of explanatory reduction to basics. Instead of putting my “Communism: Hope and the Future” conference paper concerning this topic on the interweb verbatim, here is a link to the blog on which the paper was based. It was originally a response to problems that arose pretty quickly with the recent Sydney-based Discussion Notes collective.

    Much of the material is the same as what I presented “Communism: Hope and the Future.” At the conference I tailored to the theme — a retrospective of 20th century Marxism. I also gave a less prosaic rendition of the subject matter than is suitable for a blog.

    As far as I am concerned the “Communism: Hope and the Future” was a success. There was disappointment with the smaller turn up and lack of women presenters, but there was eventually gender parity. Everyone experienced a safe learning and discussion space. Ideas were put out there, plans made and suggestions sketched. At one point I felt a bit odd being told we should lose our Stalin-phobia — but all positions should be tabled and considered on their own merits. Which at the conference, and in unbureaucratic, democratic and Socratic style, they all indeed were. So a big thanks to the organizers.

    My idea was that some, not all aspects of society can be explained economically. I argued that this idea gives us a more effective analysis of society and hence provides better revolutionary politics.

    Most did not agree with me, and towards the end of the resulting discussion of my paper I came up with a useful example of my approach in an effort to convince. Racism is an example of something that can be explained economically. The bosses foster racism because it gets people to fight among themselves instead of fighting for better wages and workplace/social conditions. Nevertheless if one was to convince a local computer salesperson not to be a racist, it would not be enough to inform the salesperson she or he held racist views because capitalist economics required those views to drive down wages. You would have to convince her or he that racism was FALSE. This you would do by reference not to an economic reduction, but to genetics and the theory of evolution (assuming old style racism). This is the case even though the existence of racist discourse can be explained by an economic reduction. So the reasons for racism can be explained economically, but not why racism is false.

    A little confusing, and I’m not sure I was as clear about this at the conference as I could have been. Because we need to be able to put across our point effectively what I am sure about is we need to get this right to be successful as revolutionaries in the 21st century. The same point, viz., that racism can be explained but not refuted by economics, strongly suggests that since scientific truth and economic explanation come apart, so science cannot be economically reduced. This puts behind us, forever, Zhdanov and Lysenko. The emphasis on verification also points to a move away from Zizek and others in the recent continental tradition, concerned almost exclusively with explaining why people believe this or that, not whether what they believe is true or false. Today, I am glad to report, the same move is an (antagonistic) theme in publications like Rethinking Marxism and Turbulence, and is definitely to be found in the Midnight Notes Collective. The Ern Malley Foundation is a new organisation interested in the same direction. In terms of grassroots activism, anti-scientology activism is very much along these lines.

    One further way to clarify the position is by claiming economically reducing all of society restricts our ability to communicate ideas in three distinct ways. The first way is that just discussed: sticking in all cases to the economic reduction, even about factual claims such as those in racism, prevents attention to what is true and what is false, and so forgets the real aim of any decent argument. The second is that assuming that everything economically reduces is itself intellectual lassitude. There are no reason to believe it; and in this regard it is interesting that reductions in science are in all cases used selectively, never to explain all of a given type of phenomenon. The point here is that when we are dealing with people we want to convince of revolutionary politics, a reduction of everything can only impair our capacity to deal clearly and fluidly with different social phenomena, and will rightfully create the impression we cannot use our own explanatory tool judiciously. Thirdly and finally, totalizing reduction gives rise to a fatalism (we have to wait for the right period — see my discussion of this in part 2 of the above blog) and that removes the incentive for being logical and lucid, perhaps even for discussion itself.

    Revolutionaries do need to have discussions with the potential gravediggers of an irrational social order, both to convince and be convinced. It struck me as odd that some conference participants doubted this, though that may reflect the third problem with totalising economic determinism mentioned above, i.e. fatalism. It seems to me obvious that only by using discussion to accumulate a mass sufficient to stage a serious contestation of capitalism, can we this time go the all the way to new a society. In that great place imagination and inquiry is liberated, and we commence in earnest the human cosmic (and comic) journey, a voyage that is necessarily exploratory instead of exploitative. The “Communism: Hope and the Future” conference at Turnpike social space February 2010 was a small step along that immense path.

    Gerald Keaney

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