Socialist Scholars Conference 1984

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Socialist Scholars Conference 1984

Little has been written on the Socialist Scholars Conference 1984 (SSC1984), which was the second of the newly revived SSC nearly annual meetings. The following is the complete article about the Second Socialist Scholars Conference held in 1984, from the weekly Maoist (US) newspaper, "Guardian" The Guardian, May 2, 1984, Pg. 2, by John Trinkl who is still active in Marxist affairs and organizations in 2020.

"Socialists Confer and Differ", John Trinkl:

"If elections are a gauge of the political maturity of the working class, as Engels said, conferences are a gauge of the influence of socialist scholars.

By this standard the second annual Socialist Scholars Conference held in New York City April 19-21 (1984) and attended by some 1500 people, demonstrated that socialists have acquired a toehold in at least one U.S. institution - the academy.

The conference was initiated by Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the largest social-democratic grouping in the U.S. A number of groups and publications participated, such as

The gathering continues the tradition of the old Socialist Scholars Conferences held from 1965 to 1970 which were discontinued in the heat of disagreements during the Vietnam War era.

[KW: The noted journalist Alice Widener wrote about at least 4 of the "old" SSCs in her "USA" magazine. Because they are very long, KW will have to take some time to put them on this site. Her long but very valuable article on the "Fourth Conference of Socialist Scholars" Fourth Socialist Scholars Conference Socialist Scholars Conference 1968 can also be found in the "Congressional Record" (CR) of Sept. 19, 1986, pages S 11054-11056]. It originally appeared in "USA magazine, issue of Sept. 13, 1968 and herein reprinted from Barron's magazine, Sept. 16, 1968Article continues immediately below.

Some 80 panels were held on a wide variety of topics. The conference's theme was "The Encounter with America" and 15 workshops dealt specifically with broad U.S. themes. After a deadly opening plenary session held in the cavernous gym at Manhattan Community College, conference participants had a smorgasbord of topics to choice from. There were seven panels dealing with culture, seven with the third world, five on advance capitalist countries, five on labor and four on nuclear weapons.


Even though seven panels were held on issues specifically dealing with women, a number of women present felt that the conference didn't take up this issue seriously enough, given that perhaps 40% of the registrants were women and many were keenly interested in developments in the women's movement.

Michael Harrington, a co-chair of DSA, sounded one theme of the conference when he said at a panel on "The crisis of the socialist ideal" that "we won't resolve the crisis of socialism unless we are willing to face all our old dogmas and be as critical of them as we are of capitalism".

However, some people are less willing to give up dogmas than others. One of the most heavily attended and hotly debated panels was on "The revival of left anti-communism." This panel tackled the spate of anti-communist declarations and attacks in recent years that have come from the left itself: cultural critic [{Susan Sontag]]'s declaration that "communism equals fascism;" Ronald Radosh's call that the peace movement be cleansed of communists and his attack on the communist left in his and Joyce Milton's book, "The Rosenberg File;" author Sol Stern's claim that Cuba is one of the most repressive and dictatorial countries in the world, and other darts aimed by intellectual leftists at the left.

Most panel members were highly critical of these developments. Socialist Review associate editor Ilene Phillipson argued "the current wave of anti-communism is a façade for current political rifts by using the political symbols of the 1950s." Radosh, sitting in the audience, made a sweeping denunciation of the panel's remarks, arguing that "anti-communism shouldn't be surrendered to the right wing" and that "anti-communism has a role to play." He went on to defend his views that Cuba had "concentration camps" like Nazi Germany and to reiterate that "communists should play no role in the broad peace movement."

Victor Navasky, editor of "The Nation", responded that "the issue is not communism; the issue is poverty, hunger and anti-communism and the evil they have brought throughout the world." Navasky argued that Radosh's book was "consistent with the paranoia of the 1950s and 1980s" by doing such things as "portraying the Communist Party as the agency of an 'Evil Empire'."


There was also considerable interest in the workshop, "A dialog on prospects for peace,", featuring a Palestinian and an Israeli, Bir Zeit University history professor Nafez Nazzai and Mordechai Bar-On, a former aide to Moshe Dayan and now an active member of Peace Now. The two speakers advocated mutual recognition by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the first step toward a 2-state solution. Questions from pro-Israel participants showed many to be a long way from accepting even the moderate positions of the panelists.

In other panels, Marxist writers Richard Barnet, Richard Falk and Gabriel Kolko all broadly agreed that the resurgence of the Cold War was due to the U.S. trying to reassert itself to counter its declining influence. Robert Stone of the New York State Freeze Campaign Freeze Campaign Nuclear Freeze Campaign woke up his audience by arguing that no matter who is elected in November, the Freeze Campaign will be unlikely to gain its objectives through Congress. He said, "We are nearing a moment for the freeze to become radicalized, like the civil rights movement was; drastic action will be needed." He said he hoped for massive civil disobedience and direct action by disarmament activities next year.

The conference, serving as a much-needed umbrella under which atomized individuals and organizations from at least part of the left can gather for a time, shows every indication of becoming a permanent institution. Like most such gathers some of the best discussions went on in the halls and the event attracted a large number of publishers who hawked their wares during the breaks. The event seeks to help revitalize a socialist movement by bringing together social activists and academics in an exchange of ideas and analyses. DSA would also not be unhappy if a number of the participants were attracted to or joined its ranks.

The center of gravity of much of the discussions was, understandably, shaped by DSA's perspectives. However, a broader range of views and topics was taken up than would be found at most other such gatherings. Many important political questions were at least addressed, if not fully answered.

One of the most important questions taken up was one's stance toward anti-communism. The old guard of DSA firmly defines itself as anti-communist, but some newer recruits question that stance. DSA leader Deborah Meier declared at one panel, "I though we were here to discuss the way to be anti-communist, not whether we should be anti-communist." How this issue is ultimately resolved will affect not only future Socialist Scholars conferences, but the character of DSA itself."

Photograph with story is captioned, "Alec Nove, University of Glasgow. speaking on "the USSR in the 1980's at the Socialist Scholars Conference, April 21."

KW COMMENTS: This is an extremely important article/report on the 2nd Socialist Scholars Conference (revived conferences from the 1960's-70) because the writer, a Marxist himself, in the last several long paragraphs, gives the reader a glimpse into the future of the DSA and these conferences as to where within the Marxist spectrum they were possibly going to end up.

This set the stage for every other SSC to follow and Trinkl's observations were proven to be true, with the DSA swinging to the hardcore Marxist Left while posing as the moderate successor to Michael Harrington's Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC).

Also extremely important is the fact that Trinkl identified Richard Barnet Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Hanoi Lobby leader; Richard Falk, Princeton Un. professor of law, Hanoi Lobby legal leader and later a major UN leader of the leftist, anti-American Human Rights Commission, as well as Gabriel Kolko, Marxist professor (Prof. of History), York University, Canada and leader of their Hanoi Lobby operations, as "Marxists".

This characterization can be legally used as a "printed quote" from Trinkl/The Guardian when describing these men instead of two (Falk and Kolko) just being "peace" activists in academia. FYI, see Kolko's apologia for Hanoi's aggression throughout SE Asia in theNew York Times (NYT), "Letters to the Editor" page of Friday, Oct. 12, 1973, "How Thieu and the U.S. Protract a War". It was literally top, dead-center on the Op-Ed page.