Socialist Scholars Conference
The Socialist Scholars Conference is the old name for the Left Forum. It was an annual weekend gathering of prominent socialist scholars in New York for debate, dialogue, and solidarity. It was held annually in from 1983 to 2004, but was discontinued in 2005 due to internal divisions. It was sponsored by the City University of New York’s (CUNY) chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Members of the communist/marxist/socialist and New Left attempted to create a national forum for expressing and consolidating their views of what they want America to look like in the future, and for which they were organizing through their established marxist groups such as the Communist Party USA CPUSA, Monthly Review magazine, academic marxists from various universities.
KeyWiki has information on Socialist Scholars Conferences run in the following years:
According to an excerpt published in U.S.A., a newsletter/magazine published by the industrious investigative journalist Alice Widener, issue Vol. XIV, Sept. 8 - 22, 1967, Nos. 17 & 18, the Socialist Scholars Conference was established in 1965.
This excerpt from their 1967 "Third" Conference stated that:
- "...Formed in 1965, the Socialist Scholars Conference is an independent association bringing together scholars from many disciplines to stimulate research, analysis and theory. A Steering Committee elected by the members invites scholars to present papers and comments on the basis of known competence in a particular area and not according to political or ideological criteria."
- "The Conference is not a political organization; meetings are intended for expression of ideas unencumbered by partisan purposes, political rhetoric or polemic. As a scholarly association, it is not a forum at which political organizations may propound their views, nor is its purpose to organize or guide political activities."
- "All those sharing an interest in scholarly analysis from a socialist perspective are invited to join the Conference."
The first of the second generation SSC in 1981 was the refounding (without mention of its predecessor) by Bogdan Denitch, Stanley Aronowitz and others of the 1960s of Socialist Scholars Conference which involved people closer to the Communist Party USA than to Denitch’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. The earlier conference was a broad effort by new left academics to create a forum in which to present theoretical and historical work, for the most part in a scholarly format but with an audience reaching far beyond academic circles.
DSA Takes Over
When the conference was refounded in 1981 by leading personalities of Democratic Socialists of America – a 1983 fusion of DSOC, a social-democratic grouping, whose best known personality was Michael Harrington, and the more radical New American Movement – it could, after the first year, move to a venue within the City University of New York system where it enjoyed the active support of the socialist chancellor of the City University, Joseph A. Murphy, giving it nearly unlimited space and many advantages. In this period, during the "Reagan onslaught", the conference grew such that there were on average 1,500 – 2,000 attendees a year, some 300 – 400 speakers and ca. 50 exhibitors (book publishers, including some university presses, journals, organisations). By now, with a great number of panels (up to 200), the conference largely lost its scholarly character, taking on the function, as it has done ever since, of being the largest annual gathering of the left in North America. Paul Sweezy once pointed out that if it hadn’t been for the hegemonic control of the media, this large gathering of the left, with university support and taking place “in the shadow of Wall Street” would have been a fascinating mainstream newspaper story for the general public.
Practically every major socialist thinker appeared at one time or another at the SSC, and many international unionists and political officials. By 2000, after Chancellor Murphy’s death, and with the growing costs imposed by the Borough of Manhattan Community College, a "reflection of the neoliberal impact on public university budgets as seen in the tendency to rent out university space at a commercially competitive level, the organisers explored the possibility of finding a more stable anchor outside the City University, and of making the conference economically self-sufficient". To this end, Eric Canepa was hired to coordinate the conference (which he did from 2001 to 2006). The SSC was able to stabilise itself.
With space no longer unlimited, the SSC (now moved to Cooper Union) cut down the number of panels to 60 – 70, with the board of directors planning half of them and, for the remainder of the panels, working with a reduced number of journals and some organisations, e.g. the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, coordinating these as well, ensuring complementarity and no redundancy.
Right after the 2004 SSC, the organisers associated most closely with DSA split from the newer members of the board. The latter continued to organise the conference, which for legal reasons was obliged to change its name to Left Forum. One difference was the fading away from then on of what some felt was the social-democratic character of the large sessions (”plenaries”). "However, it should be said that zealous supporters of each side in the split exaggerated the political differences between each side and the level of felt enmity."
Due to building construction at Cooper Union, Left Forum had to move again before the 2008 Forum, and the new venue, Pace University, has put at LF’s disposal a space nearly as unlimited as that of the pre-2001 venue. The board and the new director, Seth Adler, have been able to make the Forum grow to its maximum size to date – with 3,400 attending and over 200 panels.
Prominent speakers at the conferences over the past eight years include:
- PBS Documentary on the conference
- Interviews from PBS Documentary
- "On the Socialist Scholars Conference 1985" by Anders Stephanson
- Socialist Scholars' Split Cancels Confab
- Archive of Socialist Scholars Conference
- Discover the Networks, Socialist Scholars Conference
- FrontPageMag.com: Socialist Scholars, May 28, 2002
- U.S.A. (magazine/newsletter), Sept. 8-22, 1967, Volume XIV, Nos. 17 & 18, Alice Widener, publisher
- transform! european network for alternative thinking and political dialogue, 2010