26 April 2017


Revolutions Against Capital, Capital Against Revolutions?

Central London, 9-12 November 2017

***EXTENDED Deadline for abstracts: 15 May 2017. Participants from previous conferences will need to create a new login for this year’s conference website. ***

***UPDATE: The streams are now listed at the end of this post.***

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 journalHistorical 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.

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 beactually 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.

The Great War, the Russian Revolution and Mass Rebellions 1916-1923 – Stream at the Historical Materialism Annual Conference

Mass rebellions against Capital and Empire shook the globe in the wake of World War One and the Russian Revolution. To friend and foe alike, the seizure of power by insurgent workers and organised socialists in October 1917 constituted the advanced outpost of an international offensive against the capitalist order. From the 1916 insurrections in Ireland and Central Asia, to the revolutionary proletarian insurgencies in Western and Central Europe, to the countless anti-colonial rebellions of dominated peoples in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, it seemed for a brief historical moment that imperial capitalism was on the verge of defeat.

Few people today would deny the enormous social, political, and cultural impact of these popular rebellions. Yet a major question mark hangs over their current relevancy, as well as the various radical traditions they expressed and engendered. The rise and collapse of Stalinism, the defaults and defeats of revolutionary nationalism, and the triumphant neoliberal onslaught have cast a pall over the promise of the 1916-23 upsurge and the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist project(s) it came to represent. 

Capital, with all its crises and contingencies, remains. As the political centre collapses, space is opening for new forces to fill the void. But, one century later, it remains to be seen whether the Russian Revolution and the international insurgencies of the era can recapture the imaginations of those seeking to radically overhaul existing social relations. 

It is in this open and uncertain context that the Annual Historical Materialism Conference will mark the centennial anniversary of 1917 by hosting the stream ‘The Great War, the Russian Revolution and Mass Rebellions 1916-1923’.

We invite submissions for papers that take a fresh look at look at the 1916-1923 insurgencies; the impact of these events throughout the Twentieth Century; and their reverberations on (or relevancy for) the world today. 

A vast uncharted intellectual and historiographic territory lies beyond the lifeless established paradigms of so much academic and activist literature. Much of the story of these multifarious popular upheavals remains to be told. Many questions long thought settled – from classical Marxist analysis and strategy, to the early dynamics of class, nationality, gender, and sexuality in mass struggle and state power, to the divergent trajectories of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary social transformations – merit serious re-examination. Uncovering how these legacies can speak to our current realities is no less vital a task.

It is our hope that this stream can mark a major moment for a collective reinvigoration of Marxist and radical engagement with the experiences of the highest point in the Twentieth century’s revolutionary tide.

Marxism, Sexuality and Political Economy: Looking Forwards, Looking Backwards – Stream at the Historical Materialism Annual Conference

The Sexuality and Political Economy network (HMSPEN), affiliated to Historical Materialism (HM), invite paper/panel proposals for a stream of panels at HM London 2017 on the theme of Marxism, Sexuality and Political Economy: Looking Forwards, Looking Backwards

After an initial launch last year with 6 successful panels, HMSPEN once again seeks to run a themed panel through HM London 2017, to be held on the 9th-12th November 2017.

Whilst we welcome any papers and panels that illuminate, debate and develop the relationmship between Marxism, sexuality and political economy, whether theoretical, analytical or empirical, from any disciplines or trans-disciplinary, we are particularly seeking paper and panel proposals on the theme of ‘looking forwards, looking backwards’.

The 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution reminds us that there is a rich corpus of insight and vision from past Marxist scholarship and politics to complement the more recent explosion of high quality scholarship and political synergies between Marxism and the radical critiques and politics of sexuality. We want to celebrate this moment by seeking papers clustered around the following questions:

  • What can we useful retrieve from the past in respect of sexuality and gender scholarship that will add to present debates? Have we adequately used the insights of Engels, Kollontai, Reich, D’Emilio and Marcuse amongst others? Are there other thinkers we have neglected to our cost – Armand, Zetkin. Mieli, Reiche, and Brown?

  • Have we learned the lessons of history in respect of the radical politics of sexuality? Are there still lessons to be learned from Soviet Communism and the politics of sexuality or the radicalism of the late 1960’s from Stonewall to the Gay left Collective?

  • With a recent wave of critical scholarship intersecting Marxism and sexuality (Drucker, Lewis, Sears, Hennessy, Floyd amongst others), where does that leave us in developing a critical theory and politics that retains a Marxist approach but adequately incorporates and learns from radical critiques of sexuality, whether LGBTQI or queer theory or sexual worker critiques?

  • How do we translate recent developments on critical theoretical intersections between Marxism and sexuality into a distinctive strategic approach to sexual politics today?

  • How should we understand and theorise the continuities/discontinuities, both historical and theoretical, between social and sexual revolutions

Papers are sought that explore those themes and enrich our understanding of the political economy of sexuality from a Marxist perspective. At the same time, this does not preclude submissions along a range of additional and complementary themes:

  • Commodification, Consumption and Sexual Space

  • Commodification, Consumption and Homonormativity in neo-Liberal Contexts

  • The Market, Capitalism and Sexual Rights and Justice

  • Queer Labour, Queer Capital

  • Marxism, sexuality studies, feminism and political economy

  • Queer Intersections and political economy

  • Sexual political economy in global contexts

  • The political economy of trans and intersex

  • Capitalism, class and the terms of queer resistance

  • Sexual dimensions of gendered capitalism as a mode of social production and reproduction

  • Imperialist and Colonial interventions, Islamophobia, homonationalism and pinkwashing

  • the sexual dynamics of capitalist restoration in China

  • Globalising the dialogues between Sexuality, political economy and Marxism

Green Revolutions? – Stream at the Historical Materialism Annual Conference

At the height of the Russian civil war, Bolsheviks from the besieged town of Astrakhan reached Moscow and appealed to Lenin to approve their plans for a nature reserve in the delta of the Volga, which he did, explaining that ‘conservation of nature is of importance to the entire Republic; I attach urgent significance to it. Let it be declared a national necessity and appreciated by the scale of nation-wide importance.’ One century later, the significance of conserving nature is no less urgent. The centenary of the Russian Revolution should prompt renewed, closer reflections on the relation between the revolutionary Marxist legacy and ecological struggles, including its historical parameters. How green were the Bolsheviks? Still only assembled in fragments, what lessons can be learned from the efflorescence of environmental science and politics between October and the onset of Stalinist industrialisation? Was adoration of modern technology and Promethean domination of nature inherent in the Soviet Union from the start, or were there other paths not taken? How did the fate of the revolution determine the trajectory of ecological thought within the working-class movement?

Ecological Marxism is by now a well-established current of research, but it sometimes falls into the trap of academic theorising, with little connection to Marxist politics. Can there be an ecological Leninism (or Luxemburgism, or autonomism, or Maoism…)? What are the most promising tendencies in environmental movements around the world today? Does Marxist thought have anything to offer activists on the frontlines, from Standing Rock via the divestment campaigns to the struggle against new coal-power plants in Bangladesh? The ecological emergencies of the twenty-first century seem to call for extraordinary measures to maintain a habitable biosphere. What would they look like? In the increasingly dangerous climate of 2017, however, neither red nor green forces dominate the political agenda – instead, the centenary comes with a worldwide surge in brown-tinged reactionary nationalism. From the United States via Poland to India, this ascendant right is waging a general onslaught on what remains of wild nature, denying climate change, speeding up the production of fossil fuels and, apparently, synthesising aggression against the environment with attacks on undesirable others. This conjuncture has yet to be met with a consistent analysis – and response – from the radical left.

The ecology stream at the HM annual conference of 2017 in London invites papers and panels on the above and related themes, in the entire field of environmental theory and politics as practiced through the lens of Marxism.

Marxist-Feminist Stream – Stream at the Historical Materialism Annual Conference

The contribution of women in mass/popular/class/revolutionary uprisings has often been overlooked, even in cases where women played a leading role. Following the Call for Papers of the 14th HM London conference in commemorating the Marxist legacy in revolutions of the past at the centenary of the October Revolution while thinking about present struggles, this is then also an opportune time to highlight and reflect on the role of women and feminist ideas in revolutionary situations.

Processes of excision, of silencing, of sidelining help explain the sway of a (neo)liberal feminism in the so-called West that places feminism as an emancipatory possibility engendered by capitalism rather than socialism or communism. This suppression of women’s revolutionary histories has been successful in establishing neoliberal feminism as the mainstream. Marxist-feminists need to revisit and reclaim their histories, not only to set the record straight but to move beyond them by critically engaging with other anti-racist, anti-colonialist, revolutionary feminisms. A new generation of feminist activists and theorists is challenging neoliberal feminism and placing feminist struggles again squarely within anti-capitalist and anti-racist agendas. All across the globe, 2016 and 2017 have been years of struggle for abortion rights (as in Poland’s Black Monday) and women’s self-determination as well as years of resurgence of significant feminist movements (as in the case of the Women’s March in the USA and the Women’s Strike in many parts of the world).

In 2017, the HM London conference’s Marxist feminist stream invites critical Marxist feminist thinking on the processes and strategies of excision and silencing as described above, but also on elaborating on the ways in which the important struggles of the past years can lead to the emergence and consolidation of revolutionary feminist movements worldwide. We invite papers that re-work Alexandra Kollontai’s question ‘what has the October Revolution done for women in the West?’ (1927) to which we add the question ‘what has the October Revolution done for Women in the East?’ as well as a series of other questions:

  • How has Marxist feminism approached the legacy of revolutions so far?

  • Are there Marxist feminist theorisations of the revolution today that can operate against the neo-fascist offensive in its alliance with contemporary capitalism?

  • What are the sites of Marxist feminist revolutionary pedagogy today?

  • What is the connection of social movements against racism to the Marxist feminist critique of revolutions?

  • What has the November Revolution, and Rosa Luxemburg’s murder, achieved in terms of burying the issue of female revolutionary leaders for most of the 20th century?

  • What is the experience of women as participants in, or leaders of, revolutions beyond Europe? What feminist politics have informed those experiences? How can we expand a transnational, even global dialogue as a shared space for negotiating a possibly collective experience?

  • What are the positions of Marxist feminism on the questions of revolution, violence, and self-defense?

  • What counts as revolutionary praxis today from the perspectives of Marxist feminism? Does the strike, for instance, allow for a successful imbrication of women’s demands concerning production and reproduction, a distinction forced by capitalist economy and economics?

  • What is the impact of the wage relation (and dependency) on keeping women ‘in their place’ (in factories, the service industry, the home), ensuring therefore their suppression as a revolutionary force? Or should we have other readings of the wage relation as the ground of economic independence within the actuality of capitalism?

What is the role (and revival) of religion as politics in suppressing or enabling women as a revolutionary force?

  • Is the abolition or the multiplication of genders a revolutionary utopia that we should strive for in opposing the concrete exploitations of capitalism?

  • Has the notion of ‘passive revolution’ been of use to Marxist feminist struggles, or has it been twisted to negate the possibility of ‘active revolution’?

  • What is the relationship of sexual relations to class struggle today as opposed to 1921, when Kollontai wrote a text under this heading?

We hope that contributors to the Marxist feminist stream will bring their own critical questions, of relevance to research and to everyday struggle, to be added to the above provisional list of questions – not least in relation to what and who the social category ‘woman’ may encompass today as a revolutionary subject beyond a normative biologism. We invite panels, papers, and platforms where such questions can be openly debated with the sense of urgency our times command.

Race and Capital – Stream at the Historical Materialism Annual Conference

The 2008 crisis has not led to a reckoning with capital, instead we have seen a resurgence in the forces of the right: in both its ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ varieties. Capital’s primary response to the crisis is the language of racism. From the ‘migrant crisis’, to the racialised policing authority deployed to enforce austerity, to continued racialised military intervention; the connection between race and capital seems clear. The attempt to grapple with these issues has given rise to heated debates on the left about race and racism, and the relationship between the interpersonal the structural. Above all, these debates have related to the question of solidarity and the possibility of united political action in the face of this rising tide of racism. How we analyse and respond to these issues are thus of decisive political importance.

Of course, these questions are not entirely new. In Capital, Marx linked the dawning of capitalist production to a racialised ‘primitive accumulation’ in Africa. More importantly, in the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks put anti-imperialism at the core of their international political programme. In the process they exerted a decisive influence on the emerging anti-colonial movement: inaugurating the connection between that movement and the Marxist tradition. In the intervening period, writers in the Marxist tradition – for example CLR James, Frantz Fanon, Stuart Hall – have attempted to map the fraught relationship between racism, capitalist accumulation and other forms of oppression.

It is into this situation that Historical Materialism‘s Race and Capital stream seeks to intervene. In particular, we seek to use the resources of the Marxist tradition to illuminate questions of race and racism, and – at the same time – use these questions to reformulate key aspects of the Marxist tradition. Understanding this in a broad sense to include issues of race, racism, indigeneity, colonialism, imperialism and migration, we would be especially interested in panels or papers concerning:

  • Attempts to rethink Marxist theories on the relationship between capitalism and racism

  • Anti-racist engagements with the ‘classics’ of the Marxist tradition

  • Recovering the anti-racist legacy of the Marxist tradition 

  • Marxist engagement with anti-racist work outside of the Marxist tradition

  • Intersectionality

  • Afro-Pessimism and anti-black racism theory

  • Cultural appropriation

  • Black and Third World feminisms

  • Anti-racist accounts of the Russian Revolution: particularly its relationship to anti-colonial uprisings in ‘the East’

  • Historical analyses of anti-racist (and anti-imperialist) movements and their relationship to the Marxist tradition

  • Marxist analyses of indigeneity and indigenous movements

  • Analyses of contemporary and historical racist practices