[Marxism] Socialist Scholars Conference: Observations

Craven, Jim JCraven at clark.edu
Sun Mar 14 13:41:15 MST 2004

Chris Brady notes:

...There are parallels with the Socialist Scholars Conference.  As well
as reading their works, I made it a point to hear these learned scholars
speak.  I have met each of them personally, briefly, superficially.
Invariably, whenever they go before an audience and deliver a lecture
that critiques imperialism, at the end during the question session
someone from the crowd gets up and asks them "What is to be done?"  Some
plead, like acolytes: "Oh, Great Sage, tell us what to do!"  It's like
these individuals seem unable to think for themselves.  Some, of course,
make rhetorical their questions, because they already have the Answer,
and have come only to drop their sect's boilerplate into the assembly.  

I believe, that is I suspect, that if these high-profile popular
scholars and speakers were to deliver an effective formula for
revolution they would be promptly dispatched, neutralized, or borne off
from operative contact.  Chomsky, for example, has been able to
criticize the establishment for years because he is not really a direct
threat.  The record indicates that if one were actually to succeed in
mobilizing action against the dominant order, one would be put down like
a mad dog.  Thus the head is located away from the hands.

Response (Jim C): Bingo! First of all, one may indeed be a progressive
scholar providing high-quality research on burning issues (very
necessary for effective change) which is very different from having
experience with what to do with--how to apply--the theory and research
in conrete contexts, to concrete struggles by very diverse forces.
Secondly, I too have met--briefly and superficially--some of these
"luminaries of the left" and have found some of them possessing "people
skills"--and lack of curiosity about local issues/struggles--that
absolutely suck (sort of like those who "love humanity"--in the
abstract--but are very hateful or detached from real people in the
concrete living under concrete conditions). Also there is the "preaching
to the choir" aspect of all of it--what does it all mean if no one who
cannot attend the conference can access AND use what is going on there?
Also I find a lot of commodification of things radical going on at some
of these conferences--more focus on peddling/signing books and tapes
than linking up on personal levels and also being willing to LEARN
from--and not just PREACH to--the locals. Guess what? Chomsky, Parenti
et al--the "sages"--also apparently have a whole lot to learn (as
evidenced from some of their books) as well as teach.

Finally, I personally do not give a fuck who is published how much and
by whom; initial successful publications often create a rolodex niche
leading to further publications that may or may not be worth publishing
because names sell books more often than titles. I want to know from
speakers--before "What is to be Done?"--"What have you DONE?"--in the
concrete, under concrete conditions and with which concrete forces in
what concrete struggles.

Jim C.

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