Socialist Scholars 2003

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Mar 16 10:50:41 MST 2003

Over the past two years, I've limited my attendance to the Socialist
Scholars Conference to Saturday sessions so these notes are based on only a
partial view. That being said, the character of the event this year was
marked indelibly by the impending war with Iraq. This meant specifically
that almost everybody was forced to acknowledge that we were dealing with
"imperialism", even conference chairman Bogdan Denitch, a long-time DSA
leader and CUNY professor who first backed a war against the Serbs and then
a war in Afghanistan after 9/11. At Friday night's plenary, Tariq Ali
turned to Bogdan and noted that this was at last a war that they both could

Although there is broad agreement on the need to oppose the war, there were
still differences over the same kinds of issues that divide the various
coalitions (although not so grievous as to prevent
collaboration--thankfully). For example, at Friday night's plenary, Phyllis
Bennis spent much of her talk calling for the need to strengthen the UN.
Although Bennis is the author of a highly perceptive critique of the UN
(, she
still claims that until something better comes along, we have to rely on it
to keep the peace.

In answering Bennis, Tariq Ali called upon arguments that he had made
earlier ( Although he has
cast off much of his 1960s Trotskyist baggage, it is good to see him
defending these kinds of elementary class distinctions. The main point he
made was that the victors and not the defeated set up such international
bodies. When the Japanese proposed to the League of Nations that racism be
outlawed, the motion was not taken seriously. The League of Nations fell
apart after it proved incapable of stopping war. The same fate awaits the
UN, not withstanding the illusions of people like Hardt and Negri who came
in for repeated jibes at the plenary session and various workshops I attended.

On Saturday morning I attended one of a myriad of workshops with the term
imperialism in the title, in this case "The New Age of Imperialism and War"
sponsored by Monthly Review. I was disappointed to discover that Diana
Johnstone, author of the aptly titled "Fool's Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and
Western Delusions" from MR press, had not shown up. Later that day, I was
distressed to learn that she has been gravely ill and is undergoing a heart
transplant. Our thoughts are with this fearless journalist who bucked the
herd mentality of the "humanitarian" interventionists.

MR editor John Bellamy Foster focused on the need to understand recent US
moves as dictated by long-term policy objectives rather than the whims of a
"cowboy" in the White House. He singled out Bush official Richard Haass,
who is an academic with ties to the liberal Brookings Institution to make
his point. In a Foreign Affairs article titled "Imperial America," Haass
cynically defends "humanitarian interventions" in terms of public
relations: "The United States should be prepared to intervene militarily on
a selective basis for humanitarian purposes. American foreign policy must
have a moral component if it is to enjoy the support of the American people
and the respect of the world." Translation: by sending the Marines into
Haiti and rescuing people (supposedly) from the Macoute, it makes it easier
to go into places like Iraq in order to grab the oil.

On Saturday afternoon Socialist Register presented a panel on--you guess
it--"The New Imperial Challenge." Although I have been highly critical of
David Harvey's writings on ecology, he was in top form yesterday. He did
something that has not been done up to this point, as far as I know. He put
the global justice movement into the framework of capital accumulation. He
argued that resistance to privatization among peasants in the South is
virtually identical to that mounted against primitive accumulation in the
early days of capitalism. Since this is not taking place in the context of
the original moment, Harvey prefers to call this "accumulation by
dispossession." (For more on this, go to:
Interestingly enough, Harvey cited Rosa Luxemberg who made similar
arguments in "Accumulation of Capital" at the turn of the 20th century. It
is therefore good to learn that her masterpiece is once again available in
print from Routledge.

Michael Klare also spoke. He made the most convincing case I've seen yet
that the war is about oil. Armed with an impressive array of facts, he
showed that the entire US economy revolves around an abundance of cheap
oil, which is used mostly for transportation. The oil industry is the
life-blood of the automobile industry, which in turn fuels the steel
industry. Without these components, the expansion of suburbia is
impossible. He made the interesting observation that the USA is the only
country in the world that has such an extensive network of suburbs.
European suburbs tend to be clustered around railroad depots by contrast.
Without cheap oil, you can't sustain a powerful military including aircraft
carriers, submarines, B-52's and all the rest. Even with the switch to
computerized guidance systems, you still need oil-based fuels to launch
Cruise missiles and all the rest. For more on Klare's views, go to:

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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