9th Oct, 2017
Registration for HM London Conference now online
Revolutions Against Capital, Capital Against Revolutions?
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.