HM Beirut

Historical Materialism Conference (HM) in Beirut from March 10 to March 12, 2017

BICAR is organizing this event in collaboration with the Center for Arts and Humanities (CAH) at the American University of Beirut (AUB); Jnanapravaha Mumbai (JP); and the Historical Materialism Journal in London.

Debates around historical materialism have evolved in the wake of the collapse of ‘actually existing’ socialist states, particularly since the fall of the Soviet Union, where historical materialism was the officially sanctioned method for understanding the dynamics of revolutionary reality. Socialist states in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as South and South East Asia also claimed to follow historical materialism, whether officially or semi-officially, as part of the Cold War battle against the ideology of positivist neutrality. However different the outcomes of these historical attempts and experiments were, they prove the futility of turning states into an exclusive embodiment of historical materialism and treating the latter as an empty signifier serving the purposes of ideological state apparatuses.  Post 1989, these contexts are no longer the historical embodiments of the method and historical materialism has been taken up and debated by the Left during the past three decades. Scholars around the world have attempted to rethink historical materialism in a post Cold War world where the end of history has been simultaneously proclaimed and perpetuated, both descriptively and normatively. Here we encounter a double fissure, the first triggered by the collapse of the very historical experiences that gave rise to historical materialism as a method, and the second by the schism between the realities of global capitalism today – the political status quo it generates – and the immanent imperative of the historical materialist method – the need to politicize theory despite the depoliticizing effects of capitalist ideology.

What happens when historical materialism, because of the historical conditions in which it is situated today, becomes a theoretical endeavor rather than a political weapon? Is it possible to reconnect method and practice, critique and practice, when the structural conditions – the untimely absence of a political avant-garde, mass mobilization movements with emancipatory agendas, and revolutionary political programs on a large scale – makes praxis difficult, even impossible?

This conference invites scholars, activists and other invested members of the public to think the possibility of praxis today by taking Beirut as both a critical site of the troubled legacies of communism, socialism and Stalinism, and as a site for critique. At the same time, Beirut is the dumping ground for neoliberal, authoritarian, and theocratic policies that date back to Lebanon’s role during the Cold War era. This ideological wasteland has a material base, articulated by the contradictions of global capitalism in today’s Lebanon: Beirut is the future past of the national state, a state without a state, run by sectarian neoliberalism. Despite this present, the short history of Beirut and Lebanon in the 20th century tells the untold story of what could have been: the unredeemed desire for a non-capitalist modernity, neither secular nor religious, neither “Western” nor “Eastern.”

Among the themes we would like to explore: 

  • The False Promise of the Victim and the Desire for the Revolution
  • Primitive Accumulation
  • The Capitalist Unconscious: Lacan and Marx 
  • Marxist and Materialist Feminism

  • Capitalism, Alienation, Authenticity
  • World History Without a Worldview
  • The Invisibility of the Class Struggle in the Aftermath of Colonialism
  • History and Repetition, or the Temporalities of Capitalism
  • Capitalism and Barbarism
  • What is Praxis?
  • Materialist Aesthetics
  • Deprovincializing Marxism

(This is a non-exclusive list – other subjects are of course welcome too. Pre-constituted panels are welcome but we reserve the right to disaggregate them and create new panels with some of the speakers proposed.)

The submissions (300 word abstracts) should be sent to info@bicar-lebanon.org, by August 15, 2016.