Friday, March 16, 2007

Left Forum Part Two: Frances Fox Piven Still Rocks

I have to say something about my second day at Left Forum, even if I'm almost a week late in doing so.
I recovered enough from the stomach flu to return for the Sunday 10am Iraq panel with Gilbert Achcar, Anthony "support the resistance!" Arnove, Christian Parenti, and the ever-pompous AK Gupta. Parenti and Achcar were interesting, though I wouldn't say that anyone there said anything I hadn't already heard before. Experts agree: The situation in Iraq is terrible, and the question that they mostly wound up discussing was whether it would be possible to force the Democrats to take some meaningful action to stop the war. This year, LF had the audience put their questions on slips of paper and pass them to the front. So, predictably, one of the anonymous questions, probably from someone from the ISO, was why people had "stopped supporting the Iraqi resistance" recently, and Achcar explained in detail why he thought there was no national resistance movement in Iraq, but only sectarian resistance that couldn't be supported. If you stop talking about a "mythical, fantasy" "so-called" resistance, Achcar said, and look at what's there, you won't be able to support it. There's a difference between the right to resist and calling the militias currently killing Iraqi civilians a national liberation movement. Parenti said that the Iraqi resistance today is like what would happen in the US if we were occupied by an Islamic fundamentalist power. Iraq, more so than the US, had a completely demobilized left that Hussein had effectively driven underground. So, their resistance is comparable to what would arise here: groups of former CIA and DEA operatives, heavily armed and trained in counter-insurgency on the one hand, and the evangelical Christian right on the other.
Arnove (who has never been to Iraq), had been the featured speaker in a debate two years ago that called on the US anti-war movement to "support the Iraqi resistance." It seems to me that the ISO as a whole has backed down from that position since, but Arnove said, "imagine if there was no resistance and the US had achieved their agenda!" So, even a vicious sectarian resistance that mostly kills Iraqi civilians is better than none? Hmmmm.
* * *
The next session I went to was about globalization, corporatization and public education. I arrived really late, almost at the end of Janelle Scott's fascinating talk about the actual evidence on "school choice" policies. Based on what I've seen of her previous work, it looks as if she moved to her current position, which is highly critical of charter schools, from seeing them as an experiment in democracy. This panel also featured a lively discussion from the audience, almost all of whom were women, and were either parents or teachers, and one of whom was involved in an interesting public ed. project. From there I went to the 3pm session sponsored by the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) on the subject of "financialization." The centerpiece was a talk by Chris Rude, who suggests "financialization," a term which describes the increasing percentage of money made through financial transactions in overall profits, is capital's solution to economic crises. The conclusion of one of the speakers was that in such a context, it might make more practical sense to fight for actual socialism than to try to squeeze out reforms like national health care under the existing system.
Finally, I went to the plenary session on the future of the left. This began with a highly "postmodern" keynote address from Boaventura de Sousa Santos suggesting that people in the "global North" should adjust their paradigms, abandon the search for an overall theory of resistance and follow the lead of the "global South"; and continued with responses from Anarchist anthropologistDavid Graeber, FRSO-soft/Democratic party hopeful, Bill Fletcher Jr, and best of the bunch, as usual: Frances Fox Piven who spoke in no-nonsense terms of practical politics in the current moment of crisis. My fried, D. reflected that she was great as a speaker in the same way that she was great as she blew by us in the crowded book exhibit on her way to the session. She was firm and to the point, not mean. Dr. Piven impressed Bill DiFazio too, and he had a long interview with her on his WBAI show City Watch the following week.
* * *

While the panels were informative and interesting, I was disappointed by the low turn-out at this year's Left Forum. It was dispiriting and felt as if the only participants were members of FRSO, the Brecht Forum, various IS tendencies, members of the CUNY grad center faculty, and the Black Radical Congress. In other words: the usual suspects. I think this was probably an organizing failure from the center and not a reflection of the lack of energy for social movement at the current moment. It's too bad, because this is the moment of peak opportunity for people on the socialist left to reach out to the growing number of people who are unhappy with the war and the current administration.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you didn't vomit

Anonymous said...

me too....

Anonymous said...

Any word on how many people came to the Left Forum this year? It did seem to be a bigger, younger crowd than last year.

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