The Cost of Life Oppression, Exploitation and Struggle in the Time of Monsters
Whether the discussion is about reforming pension systems, overhauling health care or the sources of inflation, we are constantly reminded that life has a cost, a price to pay, a burden to bear. At the same time, we are also periodically reminded that not all lives are valued or priced in the same manner; some lives are cheaper and more expendable than others: from over-work and deteriorating living conditions for billions of ‘essential workers’ to police violence and incarceration; from sexual abuse and the denial of bodily autonomy to the socially determined vulnerability and ‘susceptibility’ during the pandemic; from the persistence of racialised exploitation and oppression to the many faces of neocolonialism; from militarised borders turned into kill zones to the ongoing climate disaster.
But there is also the struggle of life (and the struggle for a decent life). As the impressive UK strike wave, the French insurrection against Macron’s aggressive neoliberalism, mass protests in Greece, farmers’ strikes in India, the new wave of struggles in the Americas, and the continuous youth rebellion against a future of extinction show us, there is a multitude of resistances to exploitation, racism, systemic violence and ecological degradation; resistances that are facing the increasingly authoritarian mutation of contemporary capitalist states trying to cope with the hegemonic crisis of ‘actually existing neoliberalism’.
These recent struggles pose important practical and theoretical questions. How can we articulate a reading of the conjuncture that can bring forward the common thread running through all these attacks on life, the common thread of capitalist social-property relations in their articulation with patriarchy, racialisation and imperialism? How can we bring together the collective aspirations, demands and desires in a manner that leads to a coherent strategy for emancipation? What can we learn from these struggles and how can we treat them as experimental terrains for new political practices? And how can critical Marxist theory, in all its necessary and welcome polyphony, contribute to such an endeavour, bridging the gap between radical theory and collective praxis? These are some of the questions we want to be discussed at the twentieth annual Historical Materialism Conference.
We still believe that this particular format of the in-person conference offers a unique and irreplaceable form that brings together comrades, enables discussion, helps the dissemination of new and original research, creates research networks and communities, and builds solidarity. This is why we will not accept online presentations, except in very rare and specific cases. We would also note that we do engage in online broadcasts and podcasts all year round for such sessions.
As in the past, the conference ethos is strictly egalitarian. This means everyone is invited to contribute in a comradely spirit, the conference is open to all currents of critical Marxist theory and we expect all presenters to attend the entire conference, not just their own session (with no ‘cameo appearances’). We also expect all speakers to make themselves available for the whole period of the conference for their sessions (with only completely immutable circumstances constituting exceptions), as tailoring a conference of this size around individuals’ preferences and desires is not feasible or desirable. The conference is an important part of the broader Historical Materialism project – including the journal, the book series, and the global network of HM conferences – and we want to encourage all conference participants to get involved with these different elements, for example by subscribing to the journal and submitting their conference paper to us for consideration.
In line with the central theme of this year’s conference, we particularly want to invite contributions on the following non-exclusive questions:
· Marxist perspectives on the capitalist economic conjuncture and the signs of an emerging crisis;
· Contemporary imperialism, the shift towards a more divided and polarised world, and all these fuelling war;
· The tendency towards hegemonic crises in advanced capitalist formations;
· Racism and processes of racialisation.
· The new wave of struggles and their strategic significance;
· The social conditioning of pandemic and health threats and the social production of vulnerability;
· Authoritarianism and restrictions over the conditions of life;
· Ecology, the ongoing climate disaster and the movements against extinction;
· The new and old forms of collective politics emerging within struggles and how they might help or hinder the renewal of radical politics.
Whilst we encourage papers and panels that address these themes, as always, the Historical Materialism conference seeks to provide a space for critical Marxist theory and research across the globe and a range of disciplines and interests, so submissions on other themes are welcome.
The following streams will each be issuing individual CFPs:
· Workers’ Inquiry Stream
· Marxist Feminist Stream
· Sexuality and Political Economy Stream
· Race and Capital Stream
· Culture Stream
· Marxism and Technology Stream
· Ecology and Climate Change Stream
Paper and panel submissions have now closed. A draft programme will be made public shortly.
For all enquiries, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sexuality and Political Economy Stream
In recent years we have seen an exponential rise in violence against trans and queer people, while opposition to ‘gender ideology’ and moral panics over ‘groomers,’ trans children, and the supposed decline of the bourgeois family form have coalesced reactionary formations the world over. This contemporary politics of reaction has made sexuality a battleground in the biological and social reproduction of capitalist society.
Queer and trans radicals are once again making revolutionary demands for family abolition, communized care, children’s liberation, and bodily self-determination. These political horizons are reflected in a revived intellectual interest in queer Marxism, feminist Social Reproduction Theory, and histories of sexual liberation, as well as burgeoning fields like trans Marxism and ecofeminism.
The Sexuality and Political Economy Network exists to advance the conceptual, theoretical, and political contributions of such perspectives on sexuality and political economy. It is a space of critical reflection on how to resist the interlocking global crises and emergencies of our present. Interventions that speak to this agenda are invited, including:
● Marxist debates in queer and trans studies (global North / global South)
● The political economy of desire, sex, and erotics
● Perspectives on family abolition and children’s liberation
● Sex panics and the culture wars
● Far-right formations, fascisms, and trans-exclusionary feminism
● Policing, carcerality, and extra-legal sexual violence
● The role of borders, imperialism, and geopolitics in the reproduction of the sexual and gendered hierarchies
● Queer/trans of color critique
● Ecological perspectives on sex, sexuality, and desire
● Indigenous, anti-colonial, and non-Western sexualities
● Histories of resistance, solidarity, and political struggle
● Synergies and tensions between revolutionary theoretical perspectives: queer and trans Marxisms, Social Reproduction Theory, decolonial feminism, psychoanalysis, affect theory, etc.
We welcome submissions for panels and individual papers. Abstracts should be under 300 words, and submissions should indicate that it is for the “Sexuality and Political Economy Stream.”
Workers' Inquiry Stream
Notes from Below is hosting the “Workers’ Inquiry” stream at this year’s Historical Materialism London Conference in November 2023.
As in previous years, we are inviting contributions that build on workers' inquiries and try to understand class composition.
We understand "Workers' Inquiry" as a Marxist method that combines research with organising. This involves trying to understand the labour process at work, forms of exploitation, technology, management strategies, socialising, union participation, class relations, capitalism, from the perspective of workers. It can also explore workers' struggles and ways of organising. As a method, it may involve traditional forms of research, like interviews, surveys, ethnography and autoethnography (presenting own experience). We also welcome more collaborative methods of co-research with or led by workers, such as worker testimony or a campaign presentation.
Neoliberal reforms met a global pandemic and workers now find themselves in the grip of a cost of living crisis we are told we must pay for. This year has seen a wave of strike action and a reinvigoration of the trade union movement internationally. For the stream, we are particularly interested in trying to understand how rank-and-file workers have organised to resist, both in their workplaces and in their trade unions. We want to understand the new moments of class composition, both in the UK and internationally. The international working class has been subjected to a succession of crises of international capital. From these shared conditions we see avenues for workers to share their experiences from across industries and across nations.
The stream is open to contributions from participants with any or no experience of presenting at academic conferences. As with previous years, we hope to have a stream that brings together organisers, workers, and Marxist researchers. We will, of course, be organising a social event as part of the stream too.
We are particularly interested in contributions on the following areas:
● Inquiries into workplace experiences of trade union activity
● Shop floor experiences of national and local trade union disputes
● Struggles within/against unions
● Shop floor experiences of state and management repression of trade union activities
● Experiences of official and unofficial industrial actions: strikes, slow-downs, walkouts, sabotage etc.
● Experiences of coordinated activities across and beyond workplaces
● Experiences of rank and file organising inside and outside of formal structures
● Exclusions from trade unions and working class defeat: redundancies, discontinuous employment, sackings and sell-outs etc.
We are not inviting submissions to the stream that are about work or theory in general. Abstracts must involve workers' inquiry in some way or be connected to workers' struggles. Other approaches or topics may be suitable for the general call or streams at the conference.
If you want to take part, you can submit an abstract (a short explanation of what you will talk about) to the Historical Materialism call for papers ((https://conference.historicalmaterialism.org/) and indicate that it is a submission to the “Workers' Inquiry” Stream. If you are interested in taking part but have any questions about the process you can contact the Notes from Below editors at the email address below.
At Notes from Below we are always keen to support participation, including developing initial ideas, helping draft abstracts for papers, the preparation of presentations, or anything else that can support new speakers at the conference. While many papers at the conference take the form of a panel of speakers each talking for 15 minutes or so, we have used different formats like roundtables, shorter talks, Q&A, and so on in the past and are open to alternative suggestions.
For further information, any questions, or support with taking part, please email email@example.com
Please feel free to share this call with others you think might be interested in participating.
Marxist Feminist Stream
This year’s Marxist feminist CfP echoes the general conference theme which is based on a core revelation of Marxist feminist theoretical work: life as such is under attack by capitalism. This is true not just of working-class life which, in its diversity, provides the ‘human resource’ to be squeezed out of its labour-power from which capitalist profits accrue. Social and biological life (on any scale) is largely controlled, penetrated or enclosed by capital – to the point that a distinction between ‘production’ and ‘social reproduction’ is often blurred. Being alive means being captured in the myriad processes of accumulation; and dying, as the Covid 19 pandemic so clearly showed, means also to be captured by economic relations organised by a capitalist logic: profits first, life last.
Within this capitalist ‘logic’, we are faced with capitalism’s ultimate irrationalism: the scientifically asserted fact that humanity and other species are led to extinction-time under capital and for capital. Through social Darwinism as bourgeois-fascist ideology, humanity is being prepped for years now to ‘tech-transform’ into some version of the posthuman as a historical inevitability dictated by capitalist development while nature continues being seen as a non-agential commons ready for extractivism. The ‘design’ solutions of capital are ridiculous - ‘replace the old engine cars with electric cars!’, we are told - without asking how the working classes in debt will buy profit-led new tech or what is the cost (to life somewhere else!) of lithium batteries replacing gas-fueled engines in cars. This being just an example, it says all we need to know: in capitalism lowering ‘the cost of life’ in one region means having a huge ‘cost to life’ in another. In an Earth system ruled by capital, ‘interconnectedness’, so prized in contemporary politics of care, takes the form of imperialism, colonialism, organ harvesting, the South giving to the North, migrants dying in scores so that welfare systems survive, or whatever other devastatingly exploitative hierarchy says: ‘my life requires your death!’
Women are often at the centre of resisting myriad processes of subjugation, extraction, death organised by capital, including variations of the capitalist state that must keep women in their place. The rallying cry of the brave Iranian protesters spurred to action by the state murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September last year – Women! Life! Freedom! – brought forth a radical emancipatory agenda that pushes far beyond limited visions of equal rights for women that so long dominated mainstream feminist discourse and politics. The notion that life itself is at stake is widespread, cropping up in struggles against pension reform in France and the UK, against neoliberalising farming in India, for the abolition of policing and the carceral state in the US, for access to abortion in Argentina and Chile, to name just a few.
However, the forces of capitalism, and capitalist life-making, while strained, remain strong. Movements from below are difficult to sustain against an on-going authoritarianism and far-right resurgence. As people are forced to migrate from one hostile territory to another, as incarceration and police murders of racialised and Indigenous peoples do not diminish, as queer and trans folk risk their lives and dignity every day, as the Earth’s life-making and life-sustaining tissue is exhausted and polluted, as the women of the working classes suffer increasing economic violence, it feels as though the very struggle to survive is all-encompassing, leaving so many people without hope that change will, or can, be made. Is it still the case that ‘where there is life, there is hope’? What can Marxist feminism, as theory and politics, do to make this true?
Indicative topics of interest are (but are not limited to):
- Social Movements: What can Marxist feminists learn from the past two decades of struggle and setback, from the organisational, theoretical and political challenges that social movements so often led by women and feminised people face?
- Epistemologies and Knowledge Systems: Where can existing theories of Marxist feminism be deepened and amended? Do we have the right tools for a Marxist feminist revolution? Epistemological questions/debates/breakthroughs/affinities. What can be done to strengthen anti-capitalist feminist politics and theory?
- Obstacles and Solidarity: What new or renewed political avenues or obstacles to emancipation and organising against exploitation become apparent? How do we account for and build upon international solidarity as Marxist feminists?
- Capital as a Social Relation: How can we theorise the irrationality of capitalism (e.g. the destruction of life on a planetary scale) from a Marxist feminist perspective?
- Extracting Value from Life: How is it done? On which scale? What is the relationship of capitalist technology (there is no other) and women as workers in the 21st century?
- Urgencies of Life: what are they from a Marxist feminist perspective?
We welcome submissions for panels and individual papers. Abstracts should be under 300 words, and submissions should indicate that it is for the “Marxist Feminist Stream.”
The deadline for submissions is Monday 19 June 2023
To submit a paper or panel proposal visit:
For all enquiries, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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