Increasing numbers of analysts, both political economists and journalists, have noted the strong trend in recent years to concentration — the reduction of the number of firms in an ever increasing number of industries. They have remarked on the apparently close relationship between the increase in concentration and the rise of monopoly/oligopoly, which has opened the way in turn for firms to impose rising prices, take higher profits, and enjoy ascending equity values. What lies behind these tendencies? Our speakers will explore their causes, looking at the place of collaboration between companies in limiting competition and setting prices, and especially the growing part played by the government in protecting firms’ markets through public policy. The astounding level of profits routinely garnered by such firms as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google is a core feature of today’s economy. Is this understandable merely in terms of their extraordinary technology, or is it actually increasingly attributable to radically increased intellectual property rights, a central feature of still expanding neoliberalism?
The assault on the welfare state has defined the last forty years of US public policy, with health care and pensions among the highest value targets. Although the American citizenry identifies the availability and affordability of health care as its top priority, the private coverage at the heart of the system repeatedly returns the worst health outcomes at the highest cost in the advanced capitalist world, even with Obamacare reforms in place. Pensions are under threat across the board, sold off to Wall Street speculators like any other financial product, and Social Security could be next in line for privatization. Our speakers will lay bare the reasons for the underdeveloped state and rapid erosion of public provision in the US, exploring the best available alternatives—including single payer and single provider health care, defined benefit pensions, and forms of guaranteed annual income—and the most promising political strategies to bring them into being.
In recent years historians and economists have revived the long-standing debate on the relationship between capitalism and slavery, as well as the character of labor markets in the post-bellum South. The emerging literature has tended to focus on theoretical and definitional disputes. But behind the scenes, historians and social scientists have been accumulating new evidence that is transforming our understanding of both free and unfree labor in the United States in the 19th century. This colloquium will be devoted to exploring that new research and to questioning many long-held assumptions concerning productiveness of free and unfree labor, the origins of Southern backwardness, and the causes of the American Civil War.
At the end of 2017, long-simmering political frustrations in Iran erupted in a wave of militant mass protest of historic scope and depth. Protesters have taken aim not only at the current administration of Hassan Rouhani, but also its conservative predecessors, as well as its current reformist opponents. Factions in Iran’s political establishment have scrambled to respond, but the post-revolutionary social contract appears to have lost its legitimacy. Our speakers will consider the political conflicts riling the established regime and how those internal dissensions have helped prepare the ground for today’s challenge from below. They will ask if we are now seeing the fraying of the regime’s project for social and economic liberalization, what might be on the agenda to replace it, and how all this might affect prospects for rapprochement with the United States and peace in the region.
The collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2008 shook the financial sector to its foundations and unleashed a cascading global economic crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression. Ten years later, thanks to a multi-trillion dollar bailout of the failing banks, accompanied by a rejection of parallel assistance to bankrupt homeowners, finance is still dominating the world economy. Our speakers will examine the transformations of the last decade at the national and international levels, and reveal how the Democratic and Republican Parties alike have driven the greatest upward distribution of income to the ultra-rich since the Gilded Age, enriching politicians, as well as top corporate managers. They will ask whether the skyrocketing financial bubble and stagnant real economy will combine to bring about a devastating crash accompanied by an historic depression.
The profound crisis of capitalist society today, along with the related breakdowns of interpersonal relations and the social safety net, have undermined the collective networks people have long counted on for their economic, social, and psychological support. As a result, many have been thrown back on their own resources, and have had no choice but to fashion individualist solutions to problems that previously were always dealt with by governments and social groups. On the other hand, some political thinkers and political organizations are making a virtue of necessity, and are proposing that a turn to self-help can actually be a positive way forward. The viability and desirability of self-help – and what are the alternatives – will be the subject of Professor Kelley’s presentation.
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?
The European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund continue to twist the screws, imposing harsh regimes of austerity and immiserating populations across the Continent in the interests of the great banks and big business. An economic catastrophe of a depth not seen since the 1930s continues to unfold, with no end in sight. In the eurozone peripheries, one after another Centrist government has fallen by the wayside while attempting to carry out the neo-liberal terms set by Berlin and Brussels. Left-wing forces have made some tenuous gains at the level of parliaments. But it is the populist right that, up till now, has been the big political winner out of the global crisis – in France, Hungary, the UK, and Germany, not to mention the United States. Our speakers will discuss the dynamism of the far right in Europe, as well as the prospects for a left-wing response, against the backdrop of a threatened decomposition of the EU.
The election of Donald Trump has stunned the establishments of both major U.S. political parties and upended the predictions of journalists, pundits and pollsters. What may be expected in the new Age of Trump? Will we see a break with the neo-liberal politics of the last forty years and a lurch toward a populism of the right? Or is a return to rightwing Republicanism, with its tax cuts for the rich, de-regulation, and militarism actually more likely? Does the historic women’s march herald a breakthrough to a new era of radicalization or signal a fall back to the politics of Obama and Clinton? Our speakers will explore the conditions that gave rise to Trump and to Sanders and ask what political parties and movements will benefit from the historic shakeups that they have detonated.
Basing himself on his new book, titled The Sublime Perversion of Capital (Duke University Press, 2016), Gavin Walker will examine the Japanese debate about capitalism from the 1920s to 1950s, using it as his point of departure to consider current discussions of uneven development and contemporary topics in Marxist theory and historiography. Walker locates the debate’s culmination in the work of Uno Kozo, whose investigations into the development of capitalism and the commodification of labor power are essential for rethinking Marxism today. Walker’s analysis of the Japanese debate shows how Marxist thought was globalized from the start
Washington’s stereotypes are well known. Iran and Saudi Arabia are theocratic monoliths born of the same Islamist cloth. A doctrinal divide has polarized the two states and destined them to repeatedly clash. But analysts rarely peer inside these two regional powers of the Gulf to compare their elites, political projects, state institutions, and social orders. In the wake of internal unrest and geoeconomic shifts, the challenges faced by Iran and Saudi Arabia are more similar than either prefers to admit. What can we learn when we place these two nations side by side?
Peter Drucker will present his new book Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism, exploring sources for a historical materialist approach to sexuality ranging from Lenin and Althusser to socialist feminists like Iris Young and Johanna Brenner. He will propose ways of integrating the contributions of intersectionality theory into a renewed and queered historical materialism. On this basis, he will suggest ways of enriching the study of queer history by deploying the concept of ‘same-sex formations,’ illustrating the concept with the example of late 19th/early 20th-century ‘invert-dominant’ regimes.
China is now at a crucial turning point both economically and politically. Economic growth continues to decelerate. There is massive industrial overcapacity and the government has announced layoffs numbering in the millions. Meanwhile, protests have broken out, including in Hong Kong, to which the state has responded with intensifying repression. What next for China? And what will be the consequences for the world economy and global politics as China stumbles?
Political expectations have been shaken in both the Republican and Democratic Parties by the spectacular rise of two candidates: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. What are the social bases of their respective challenges? What accounts for the timing of their extraordinary successes? Our speakers will discuss the campaigns themselves and their historical contexts, as well as their likely future trajectories.
Today, neoliberal capitalism in the 21st Century has not just reconfigured the political economic drivers of social dislocation, exclusion, inequality and injustice, it has also erased the “social” from public discourses and imaginations with its ideology of individual responsibility and entrepreneurialism. This conference revives and repositions “the social question” and perhaps also reconstructs its meaning and politics.
A panel session with: Aslı Bâli (UCLA, School of Law), Cihan Tugal (UC Berkeley, Sociology) and Kevan Harris (discussant; UCLA, Sociology).
With Recep Erdogan at the helm, Turkey’s AK Party has wielded power for over a decade. Its “Turkish model” of religiously tamed capitalism achieved high rates of economic growth and was widely celebrated. But now it appears to be losing its luster. The Gezi Park uprising was followed by a series of corruption scandals. The AKP has done its part to destabilize regional geopolitics, and domestic political repression has become the order of the day. Meanwhile, a new crackdown on the Kurds has begun. Whither the Turkish model today?
A lecture by Dieter Plehwe.
Germany’s economy has been highly successful in large part as a result of its export orientation. Professor Dieter Plehwe of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center will analyze the response of the German economy in recent decades to ever more intense international competition. He will discuss, as well, leading German economists’ interpretations of Germany’s place in an evolving world. Plehwe will focus on the work of Herbert Giersch and the activities of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy that he headed. At first an adherent of Keynesianism, Giersch came to adopt a German Ordoliberal perspective in his major works.
A lecture by Daniela Campello.
To what extent are the actions of Latin America’s Leftist governments constrained by international market forces? In her talk, Campello will show that the disciplining effects of global markets have varied widely over time and across countries. Examining variations in the effectiveness of market discipline in “good” and “bad” times, she will explain both Leftist moves towards economic orthodoxy in the 1990s and the resurgence of Leftist governments in the 2000s. Crucially, Campello will also illuminate the prospects for the Latin American Left after the end of the recent commodity boom.
A panel session with: Daniel Hernandez (Vice News, Mexico City) and Christy Thornton (NYU, Department of History).
On 26 September 2014, forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in Guerrero disappeared on their way to a protest in the town of Iguala. Six weeks later, it was revealed that they had been executed and incinerated in the municipal dump. Local government officials, along with a local gang allied with the mayor of Iguala, have been implicated in the crime and many of them are now in detention on murder charges. Hundreds of thousands filled the Zocalo daily in Mexico City demanding justice, transparency, and an end to police corruption, protesting the unbridled violence that has brought death to as many as 100,000 people in the last decade. The Ayotzinapa protests have come in the wake of a series of popular struggles highlighted by dramatic strikes of militant trade unionists, including teachers in Oaxaca. Our presenters will consider the multiple forms that the rebellions have taken, as well as their causes.
A panel session with: Trevor Ngwane (University of Johannesburg, Sociology), Gay Seidman (University of Wisconsin, Sociology), and Dinga Sikwebu (Coordinator of NUMSA United Front, Johannesburg).
The colloquium will be devoted to the crises and conflicts that have wracked the labor movement in South Africa in recent years and the implications of these struggles for the future of South African politics. In 2012, police from the African National Congress (ANC) government gunned down 44 striking platinum workers in what has come to be known as the Marikana massacre, a watershed moment for South Africa’s politics and its trade unions. The speakers will consider the historic strike by 70,000 Association of Mineworkers and Construction Workers (AMCU) that ensued, the internecine battles that have been taking place among the different sections of COSATU trade union federation. No less than the future of the South African workers movement and the nature the South African state are at stake.
A panel session with Melina Abdullah (Cal State Los Angeles, Pan-African Studies), Michael Brown (Black Lives Matter, Long Beach), Justin Hansford (St. Louis University, School of Law), and Cheryl Harris (UCLA, School of Law).
In the face of unrelenting urban gentrification backed up by the systematic violence of militarized police forces, the further deterioration of already poor job prospects especially in manufacturing and government services, the gutting of the welfare state over decades of austerity, especially public education and health care, and the policy of mass incarceration, it is clear that the New Jim Crow is the overriding reality for a large section of the Black population. Against this background, a series of brutal police murders caught on video has catalyzed a dramatic new movement aiming to turn the situation around: Black Lives Matter.
A panel session with: Isidro López (Observatorio Metropolitano, Madrid) and Raimundo Viejo (University of Girona, Political Science).
In Spain, public outrage has exploded in a series of mass mobilizations led by young people and the semi-employed, in alliance with the trade unions— notably M15 and the movement of Indignados. Nevertheless, the country’s two leading political parties, the center-left Socialist Party (PSOE) and center-right People’s Party (PP), have insisted on doing the bidding of the north European governments and financial institutions in the face of the continuing collapse of the nation’s living standards, and this has opened the way for the spectacular rise of a new opposition political force Podemos. In its little more than a year of existence, Podemos has managed to make itself into a serious political contender by focusing on a single demand — that what it calls the caste, the elite political forces organized in PSOE and PP, be expelled from power.
A panel session with: Stathis Kouvelakis (Kings College London, French Department) and Stergios Skaperdas (UC Irvine, Economics).
The smashing electoral victory in January 2015 of the new radical left party Syriza has brought the long simmering economic-political crisis in Greece to a boiling point. Syriza is demanding relief from its debts and the cancellation of the deep austerity measures it was obliged to accept as conditions for being bailed out. The speakers will spell out the sources of the Greek economic crisis and analyze the intense social struggles that have gripped the Greek polity in its wake.
A panel session with: Au Loong Yu (China Labor Net, Hong Kong), Joshua Wong Chi-fung (Convener, Scholarism, Hong Kong), and Jieh-min Wu (Research Fellow, Academia Sinica, Taiwan).
2014 saw sustained popular protests erupt in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In both Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement and Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement students and citizens have taken to the streets en masse to demand genuine democracy and express widespread grievances against the polarization of wealth and income, as well as crony capitalism. The “China factor” is a key impetus for the mobilizations in both places, as the hardline political turn of the Xi regime has brought the serious repression of civil liberties, while the Mainland’s economic dominance threatens the life chances of the younger generation in the local communities. This event will bring together academics and leading participants in the revolts in Hong Kong and Taiwan to discuss the movements’ past trajectories and future prospects.