[OPE-L:3837] RM conference

andrew klima (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Mon, 16 Dec 1996 07:36:26 -0800 (PST)

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Jerry asked last week about the Rethinking Marxism conference, and I wanted to
say a few words, but I came down with a vicious flu late Monday, and am only
now starting to feel like a human being.

I thought the conference was great, and I want to extent my sincere thanks to
the comrades from RM who put it on, especially Steve Cullenberg and Antonio

It is not only difficult to describe the conference as a whole; it is
impossible. It was far too big. That is one thing that was so good about it.
Kind of like a 15-ring circus. There was always something interesting to
attend, no matter what one's interests were. I met some new people, got a
chance to say hi to others I already knew.

The funny thing is that these postmodernists hold their conference in the
absolutely worst parody of modernism ever built, this nondescript poured
concrete skyscraper sticking out in the middle of some cornfields. Once one
parks one's car in it, one can easily spend all one's time in it the next
several days. Not only the time one is conferencing, but all of one's time
--- it has the hotel and restaurants built into it. I did that back in 1992
and got very disoriented. This time I made sure to stay off-campus.

The one thing I liked most about the conference was the "orientation workshop"
that Alan Freeman and I did on The New Value Controversy. We gave it twice.
The first time the audience was mostly folks "in the know," but the second
time the audience was almost all non-economists, very eager to learn and
listen. It was a real pleasure and a welcome change to simply present and
discuss the issues as we see them.

I didn't notice too much rethinking going on (pun not intended, and not
directed at the RM folks). It is surprising to me that there is still very
little reconsideration of elemental perspectives and attitudes in consequence
of the collapse of "Communism" and the worldwide retrogression. And when
people do engage in a bit of rethinking, it doesn't go deep enough, so they
come to absurd, unsubstantiated conclusions. For instance, they conclude that
it is impossible to change things fundamentally. This kind of stuff, I
suspect, explains in part why so many people I would have expected to be there
were not at the RM conference. There seemed to be a marked decline, relative
to 1992, in the participation of the left academics now in their late 40s to
late 50s. But there seemed, on the other hand, to be a lot of newer, younger
people there.

One question several folks I know have been asking is why there was so much
discussion of Althusser at the conference. (I didn't notice much of it
myself, not more than last time, but I was busy with other things.) Well,
clearly the background and orientation of RM have something to do with it, but
beyond that, I wonder whether there is still an interest in studying and
developing and debating Althusser's actual body of writings, or whether
"Althusser" is a symbol of some kind to some people, such that the name is
invoked on behalf of a certain attitude, and if so, what does the name
symbolize? I get the sense that a lot of people who think of themselves as
Althusserians do not take responsibility for the entirety of his work the way
that I do when I call myself a Marxist.

Andrew Kliman