The Left Forum 2011 took place on 18-20 March at Pace University in New York City. This annual gathering of academics, activists, journalists, politicians and more assembled thousands of participants from all over the world for three days of stimulating debate and discussion. With over 300 panels brought together under the theme ‘Towards a politics of solidarity’ the range of topics covered demonstrated the breadth of action and debate taking place at this crucial juncture in our times. With Pace University situated a few blocks away from Wall St., the ongoing financial crisis and its widespread consequences provided the backdrop and a constant thread that ran through the wide-ranging discussions. Just some highlights from the quite astonishing programme included:
A number of key events in particular set the tone for the atmosphere at the conference. For example, the developing crisis in Japan and specifically the potential nuclear disaster at Fukushima figured prominently in discussions especially in the numerous panels that examined environmental issues. Also notable was the impact of the UN intervention in Libya which started over the weekend of the conference and sparked immediate reactions and highlighted a number of questions that have since gone on to characterise the debate on this complex issue. However, the most prominent focus of debates was the ongoing struggle in Wisconsin over the issue of trade union collective bargaining. Whilst this story has received some coverage in Europe, one was struck by the magnitude of its impact and significance for US participants with innumerable calls for solidarity with the fight there.
More generally, it was clear that the accumulation of frustrations so evidently building in the UK and Europe over the consequences of the financial crisis is also present in the US. Rick Wolff, in one of his interventions, spoke of how he as a Marxist commentator had never been so busy over the last year or so and that in his view something significant was building – a feeling shared by many in attendance. Wolff was just one of a number of excellent plenary speakers. Others included:
Despite a logical dominance of US issues, the international feel of the plenaries was replicated in the panels also. Some panels worth mentioning include:
The panel that I spoke on alongside colleague Graeme Hayes was entitled Political Crisis and Class Struggle in Europe. The invitation to participate at the Left Forum came about as a result of contacts established through lafranceetlacrise.com and we were made to feel very welcome. Despite taking place on the last slot on Sunday and competing with over 30 other sessions, our panel managed to attract a respectable audience and we enjoyed a thorough debate on the crisis and its impact in France, Europe and the UK. The level of interest in what was happening here in Europe was heartening and added weight to the sentiment that a transnational movement in opposition to the crisis and its fallout is not an unreasonable aspiration.
The full programme for the 2011 Left Forum can be accessed here.
Click here for a summary of the LF by its organizers.
Rendez-vous in New York 2012!