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Historical Materialism 2018

Thu, 08 Nov 2018, 09:00

SOAS, London (UK), SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1H 0XG

Fifteenth annual conference held at SOAS, London

Pluto Press will have a table this year’s Historical Materialism conference, organised in collaboration with the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Committee and Socialist Register.

The HM conference is not a conventional academic conference but rather a space for discussion, debate and the launching of collective projects. We therefore discourage “cameo appearances” and encourage speakers to participate in the whole of the conference. We also strongly urge all speakers to take out personal subscriptions to the journal.

There is no escaping the resurgence of far-right racisms, nationalisms, populisms and fascisms across the globe. From Trump’s America to right-wing nationalist politics in Europe and Brexit in the UK; from the erosion of social democracy in its Scandinavian bastion to the rising popularity of authoritarian nationalisms in the Middle East; from deepening autocracy in Turkey to the often unchallenged influence of a belligerent Israel; and from the exercise of imperialist global power by financial structures and institutions across the Global South to right-wing nationalist revanchism from India to Russia – the rapid expansion and interlocking of these phenomena suggests that something dramatic is taking place. Yet concrete analyses and political responses from the left are lagging behind the juggernaut of contemporary reaction. 

The aftermath of 11 September 2001 consolidated and intensified the colonial marriage of racism, xenophobia and far-right politics. Austerity and the prolonged impact of the 2008 global financial crisis has encouraged right-wing populisms. They have gathered support by blaming the centre for the collapse of traditional politics and castigated its (very limited) reforms in the field of human rights and equality, thereby promoting a nativist backlash against ‘minority rights’. The buds of fascism are showing in Germany, Italy and central European countries like Poland and Hungary where fascism had been publicly rejected since the end of the Second World War. International powers fuel war in Syria and destabilise countries such as Libya, whilst refugees from the region provide convenient scapegoats for all social ills. Elsewhere, from Charlottesville to Sofia, violent neo-fascists and neo-Nazis reclaim a street presence and impact that would have been roundly condemned and resisted two decades ago. Now, it finds succour with Trump’s patronage and thanks to superficial claims for free speech. Across the globe, the limited gains of reformism have been rolled back and replaced by a renewed immiseration of the working classes and the denigration of women, racialised others, the disabled, non-gender-conforming people, the dispossessed and the different.

Whilst, amongst some, such a state of affairs might encourage melancholia and withdrawal, for others it cries out for a radical left response. There are, however limited, seeds of hope to come from principled resistance to right-wing fascisms, nationalisms and populisms. The left must unify those who are threatened and those who are committed to resisting the right in solidarity, whilst transcending factionalist disagreements or a facile but politically naive and counterproductive left populism. This requires a renewed commitment to concrete analyses that challenge, oppose and dissect the cancerous growth of the contemporary far right: what are the class compositions, cultural resources, psychic structures and gender logics of its various manifestations? How is it anchored in the racism, authoritarianism and imperialism of the early twenty-first century world-order? What do the analyses of fascism, racism, nationalism and right-populism tell us about new articulations of the relationship between ideology, hegemony and political economy? No less important are, of course, the challenges for an effective resistance. What strategies for combatting the far right have proved productive – what can be learnt from countries where it has been kept in the margins? What are the potentials and limitations of militant anti-right politics, antifascisms, left populism, resurgent reformism and other forms of ‘progressive’ politics in the present moment?

Drawing on a century of Marxist antifascist and anti-right-wing theory and practice, this year’s Historical Materialism conference seeks to elicit discussions about how to confront, challenge, expose and take on the far right. Can classical Marxist theories provide guidance during the present moment? How would they have to be updated and revised in the light of unfolding developments and changed circumstances? How can we rethink the conditions for a radical left strategy that would avoid sectarianism and work towards the mass mobilisation of subaltern classes around an anticapitalist project? Are there new dimensions of fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia and contemporary nationalisms that today require new and different as well as restated responses? What are the scope, limits and key characterising features of this latest articulation of right-wing politics? Are we seeing versions of ‘populism’ or a more problematic ‘dark side of liberal democracy’, as some claim? 

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