The UCLA Center for Social Theory and Comparative History aims to encourage the development of social theory that is historically rooted and of comparative history that is theoretically informed.
The core of the Center's intellectual work is the biweekly colloquium series, which runs more or less every other Monday during the Winter and Spring quarters. Each year the colloquium series is organized around a single theme, with each session intended to build upon the previous one. The colloquia have, from the start, succeeded in attracting top scholars in the relevant fields from around the globe. In recent years, the colloquium series has focused on contemporary issues in historical context. Its themes have included: recent global social movements, the 2008 economic crisis and its after effects, and the evolving geopolitics of the post-Cold-War world.
What are the distinguishing characteristics of the current world political-economy, and how are they related to the rapidly unfolding political formations of the right and left in the advanced capitalist world? Basing himself on his recent book The Structure of World History (2010; English translation 2014), Kojin Karatani will discuss the defining features of successive periods of capitalist development on a world scale, and the consequences for politics domestically in the United States, the UK and Japan. He will focus, in particular, on the persistence of stagnation and crisis over close to three decades in Japan, where the resurrection of ultra-nationalism threatens to transform the political landscape and upend the regional balance of power of East Asia. Are we on the verge of a return to militarism and imperialism in Japan, this time with the support of the US? The answer to this question could determine whether war or peace is on the agenda in the region.
Why are we witnessing today what looks like the re-emergence of the Cold War between Russia and the US at a time when the roots of the Cold War in these two countries’ competing social systems have long been effaced? Bill Clinton’s extension of US military-political alliances ever closer to Russia’s borders initially sharpened conflict in the 1990s. The rise of nationalism in Russia in response laid the basis for Vladimir Putin’s ascendancy and his effort to restore his country’s international status and power. Against the resulting background of mutual distrust, random and unconnected developments have combined to set the the two countries on a collision course: US intelligence agencies’ claims of Russian interference in the 2016 US elections; heightened conflict in the Middle East, driven by Putin’s alliance with Assad and America’s with Saudi Arabia; and Russian interventions in Crimea and Ukraine. A wholly avoidable conflict today threatens to spin out of control, risking a conflagration in no one’s interest.
What are the prospects for a new emancipatory politics that speaks to the needs of working people, at a time when the hardline neo-liberal leaderships of the Democrat and Republican parties and of the top financial and non-financial corporations have set themselves implacably against the populist and radical insurgencies that have recently shaken the American political order? Vivek Chibber will consider the political parties, organizations, mass movements, and ideologies – of both the right and the left – that are seeking to exploit the political openings that have emerged since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. He is the author of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (2013). Robert Brenner will trace the processes of American decline and global crisis that have driven the intensifying employers’ offensive and the profound plunge of mass living standards over the past four decades. He is the author of What’s Good for Goldman Sachs is Good for America (2009).
The speakers are the editors of the new political journal Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy.
Trump’s bombing of Syria has won the enthusiastic backing of both the Republican and Democratic leaderships, putting the question of regime change in that country back on the table and helping to detonate another round of stepped-up US warfare across the region. This attack finds its counterparts in US military assaults on Afghanistan, employing the Massive Ordnance Air Blast; on Yemen, where the Saudi regime is seeking to obliterate the Houthi militias who had expelled its puppet government there via dramatic popular rebellion; and on Iraq, where the effort to crush ISIS is pursued with little concern for the skyrocketing civilian death toll. More than a decade since the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq put an end to the stability of the region, the prospects for a new order in the Middle East seem further away than ever. Rump client regimes of the region’s powers hold onto the reins of government in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, but are obliged to watch their fates decided by global and regional forces beyond themselves. Yet the underlying interests and goals of the dominant states appear more obscure than ever. The likelihood of clear-cut military victory or the possibility of a peaceful settlement seem close to non-existent. Can any rational pattern be discerned amidst the criss-crossing conflicts, fragmentation, and immanent chaos that grip today’s Middle East?