It’s that time of the year again, when radicals and theorists from around the world get giddy with the prospect of the reanimation of Marx’s ghost. That’s right – the ninth annual Historical Materialism conference starts tomorrow, at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London. And this year Pluto’s feeling particularly flush in the brains department; across the four days of the conference we have 28 authors speaking, chairing, or otherwise participating in this great event.
The conference brochure kicks off with a particularly weighty quote, heaving with portent and prescience:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
And to borrow more liberally from the introduction (why waste energy in a time-consuming paraphrase, I say?)
Has Marx been reanimated once again? From mainstream media to academia, this question hangs in the air. The old ghosts of revolution appear to be shaking off their shackles and getting agitated. What is this spirit? Who are the militants haunting this ramshackle capitalism?
Are these new spectres – stalking the streets of Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, Athens, Spain and Wall Street and beyond – direct descendants of socialist and communist ones?
How does the past haunt the present? How might the present spook the future?
Whatever answers crop up, the old questions refuse to go away: What type of organisation is needed to sharpen the conflicts, if any? Who is the agent of history and change? Is the scope of political action national or international? What is the political value of alliances and fronts? Does history cunningly work a progressive path through and around the contingencies of struggle? Are the same mistakes to be made, the same failures repeated?
The ninth HM annual conference focuses on the returns and the persistence of political forms and theoretical problems, on the uses and abuses of the history of Marxism in this turbulent present and on the ways and forms in which an inheritance of various Marxist traditions can help us to organise and to act in this turbulent present.
The full timetable of the conference can be found by accessing this PDF. For anyone whose dedication to Pluto surpasses even our own (we must confess to occasionally read books we haven’t published) the list below contains the names of all of our attending authors, plus the days they’re speaking on. We’ll be there too, with a stall selling dozens of different titles at special event discounts. So keep your eyes peeled and your ears open…
John Roberts (again)