Monday, July 08, 2013
Socialism 2013 posted by Richard SeymourNow, I am - as you know - a humble, repressed small town boy from the rugged wilds of Ulster, unlettered in the ways of big cities and far off places. But this year, I was invited to speak at the ISO's Socialism 2013 event in Chicago. I mean, the place where Kenan & Kel was set, right? Imagine how much of my childhood and adolescence unspooled before my eyes as the plane descended over those glittering big city towers.
I actually didn't see that much of the city. I spent most of the time there immersed in the event, and talking to ISO members (and others from Solidarity and international organisations, as well as departees from the Canadian IS) over coffee - or rather talking at them hyperactively until their eyes glazed over and they hared off in the direction of the bar. Still, I have a few observations.
1) I made a speech, based on a forthcoming article which was all about embracing revolutionary pessimism, and breaking from habits formed by erroneous boosterish perspectives. I hope the audio will be online soon, because it is the first time I've given a speech where I was so warmly received - literally, whooping (for shit's sake) - and so widely disagreed with.
2) Of the sessions I managed to attend, the notable thing was the lack of a set of 'lines'. I know ISO members who are straightforwardly 'state cap', others who are 'bureaucratic collectivist'. I know members who are 'Political Marxists', others who are more orthodox - none who are althusserian or poulantzian, but I'm working on this. This is a far more diverse ecology inside one organisation than I have been used to, and it was reflected in the event. Sam Farber's discussion on class, for example, drawing from Hal Draper's work, was certainly heterodox from a 'state cap' point of view. And, while there was debate, there were none of those 'interventions' by seasoned party-line managers to correct the heresy. Well, apart from me.
3) Very similar debates happening in the US as on this side of the Atlantic. Ahmed Shawki's keynote speech on 'Perspectives for the Left' was striking for expressing, in stark terms, the kind of sharp break with past lines of thinking that we are embarking on. Specifically, it repudiated mistaken perspectives coming from the 1980s and 1990s which attempted to deny the dynamism of neoliberal capitalism and insisted that the generational rupture separating socialists from newly radicalising layers can only be overcome by abandoning the sect model of organising with pre-determined lines. More generally, there was a discussion of issues which most of the revolutionary left has tended to ignore in the past - intersectionality, for instance.
4) The International Socialist Network, which had two speakers present (China and myself), a couple of members present as observers, and one member there under his own steam, was very well received. Trust me. It isn't normal that you get up to speak, say what organisation you're from, and people immediately start applauding. Groaning is far more common. ISO members have been immensely supportive, but one didn't quite know how much they were cheering us on.
5) The Socialism event is always a bit pumped up, or so I am led to believe. But this event was in tremendous ferment. Partly, it was because of the star of the show. Glenn Greenwald's excellent speech, talking about Edward Snowden and the NSA revelations, broadcast via Skype, was a bit of history in itself. It resulted in the event 'trending' on Twitter for a while, which is mankind's first objective metric of what is 'historic' and what is not. But partly I get the sense that debates which are opening up inside the ISO - about feminism, about organisation, about Leninism, about the relationship between class and oppression, and so on - are a source of energy and optimism, not a threat. Imagine that.
Long story short, Chicago isn't what I remembered from Kenan & Kel - in fact, for some reason I thought it was also where I would bump into Cagney & Lacey, no? - but I totally want to go back. Awesome, as the Americans say with bewildering frequency. Awesome to the max.