12th Apr, 2017
Revolutions Against Capital, Capital Against Revolutions?
Central London, 9-12 November 2017
Deadline for abstracts: 1 May 2017
One hundred years ago, hailing the Russian Revolution, Antonio Gramsci characterised the Bolsheviks’ success as a "revolution against Capital." As against the interpretations of mechanical "Marxism," the Russian Revolution was the "crucial proof" that revolution need not be postponed until the "proper" historical developments had occurred.
2017 will witness both the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Marx’s Capital. Fittingly, the journal Historical Materialism will celebrate its own twentieth anniversary.
In his time, Gramsci qualified his title by arguing that his criticism was directed at those who use "the Master’s works to draw up a superficial interpretation, dictatorial statements which cannot be disputed," by contrast, he argues, the Bolsheviks "live out Marxist thought." From its inception, Historical Materialism has been committed to a project of collective research in critical Marxist theory which actively counters any mechanical application of Marxism qua doctrine. How the Russian Revolution was eventually lived out — with all of its aftershocks, reversals, counter-revolutions, and ultimate defeat — also calls not just for a work of memory but for one of theorisation.
We might view the alignment of these anniversaries, then, as disclosing the changing fates of the Marxist tradition and its continued attempt to analyse and transform the world. Especially once it is read against the grain of the mechanical and determinist image affixed to it by many of the official Marxisms of the 20th Century, and animated by the liberation movements that followed in its wake, the work-in-progress that was Capital seems vitally relevant to an understanding of the forces at work in our crisis-ridden present. The Russian Revolution, on the contrary, risks appearing as a museum-piece or lifeless talisman. By retrieving Gramsci’s provocation, we wish to unsettle the facile gesture that would praise Marxian theory all the better to bury Marxist politics.
Gramsci also remarks that Marx "predicted the predictable" but could not predict the particular leaps and bounds human society would take. Surveying today’s political landscape that seems especially true. Since 2008, we have witnessed a continuing crisis of capitalism, contradictory revolutionary upsurges — and brutal counterrevolutions — across the Middle East and North Africa and a resurgent ‘populist’ right represented by Trump, the right-wing elements of the Brexit campaign, the authoritarian turn in central Europe and populist right wing politics in France; the power of Putin's Russia and authoritarian state power in Turkey, Israel, Egypt and India. Even the "pink tide" of Latin America appears to be turning. Disturbingly, we seem to face a wave of reaction, and in some domains a recrudescence of fascism, much greater in scope and intensity than the revolutionary impetus that preceded and sometimes occasioned it. There is a new virulence to the politics of revanchist nationalism, ethno-racial supremacy, and aggressive patriarchy, but its articulation to the imperatives of capital accumulation or the politics of class remains a matter of much (necessary) debate.
This year’s Historical Materialism Conference seeks to use the "three anniversaries" as an opportunity to reflect on the history of the Marxist tradition and its continued relevance to our historical moment. We welcome papers which unpack the complex and under-appreciated legacies of Marx’s Capital and the Russian Revolution, exploring their global scope, their impact on the racial and gendered histories of capitalism and anti-capitalism, investigating their limits and sounding out their yet-untapped potentialities. We also wish to apply the lessons of these anniversaries to our current perilous state affairs: dissecting its political and economic dynamics and tracing its possible revolutionary potentials.
N.B. CFPs for streams running throughout the Conference will be circulated soon.
Abstracts should be between 250 and 350 words. Panels should include abstracts for all individual presentations.
First important notice: while we are very open to preconstituted panels, we insist that all papers in such panels must have their own abstract and speaker details. Do NOT simply send us a list of names please. We also reserve the right to reject certain abstracts in such panels and to reconstitute them with other speakers.
Second important announcement: all participants are expected to make every reasonable effort to participate in THE ENTIRETY of the conference and be able to have their paper at any slot therein. Any absolutely imperative reasons why you cannot speak on day X or Y or at time X or Y MUST BE COMMUNICATED TO US WHEN THE ABSTRACT IS SUBMITTED as we WILL NOT be making last minute changes to the timetable as in previous years. Participants are also expected to be actually able to participate in the conference when they submit their abstracts. Of course, medical emergencies or visa denials cannot be predicted, but all other cases of last minute withdrawals cause us unnecessary stress and create chaotic conditions for a final timetable, so all teaching arrangements or other possible impediments must be checked when submitting, not when the timetable is already established.