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Chesterfield Socialist Conference , Realism Conference, biturary: Raya Dunayevskaya, Gender and Social Policy

Chesterfield Socialist Conference
Called by the Campaign Group of Labour MPs, the Conference
of Socialist Economists, and the Socialist Society, this conference was intended to reaffirm and redefine the socialist
project in Britain for the 1990s. In his opening address, Ralph
Miliband compared it to the great Leeds Convention of 1917
when socialists met to discuss the Russian revolution. In fact,
history was back in fashion all weekend. Everyone was comparing the stock market crash of the previous week to 1929.

The long-awaited collapse of capitalism, it seemed to many,
had once again finally arrived. Whatever the truth of the comparison, there were certainly many clashes of the old and the
new at Chesterfield. Just what is to be the outcome of these
clashes was the central question that the conference posed.

The three organising groups probably had quite different
expectations of what would come out of the conference, and
many of the 2,000 people who attended certainly did. A set of
briefing papers were issued (available from Interlink, 9 Poland
Street, London WIV 300), but unfortunately these were little
discussed. The three main themes of the conference, discussed
in parallel sessions, were Internationalism, Democracy, and the
Economy, and although there was some good discussion of the
problems that socialists faced in these areas, there was also a
great deal of restatement of set positions. The main session on
the economy was a good example. Robin Murray spoke at
length and in detail on the massive restructuring currently
being undergone by the world economy, its effect on Britain,
and its implications for a socialist economic policy; with particular reference to the Labour Party’s fear of intervention in
industry at the point of production, and how this must, and
could, be overcome. Yet none of the subsequent contributions
from the floor, which were admittedly limited by the time Murray’s speech had taken up, even addressed themselves to what
had been said.

Too many people at the conference, it seems, wanted it to
be a rally of the faithful, rather than the beginning of a socialist
glassnost. The ‘new realism’ of the Labour Party came in for
much criticism, as did the Euro-communism of the new soft
left. A number of left-wing Labour MPs (Eric Heffer, in particular) used the occasion to call for more struggle against
Thatcherism and revisionism~ But this seemed to beg the question rather than answer it The whole problem of precisely why
people are no longer engaged in struggle, why the political terrain has shifted, and how socialism can take stock of its failures
and move forward again, was never really addressed. Changes
in the working class and the trade union movement were not
generally accepted as being indicative of a major transformation of the political terrain. Action, rather than analysis, was
what was constantly demanded.

The conference was notable, however, for the wide range of
its participants. Labour Party members, trade unionists, local
councillors, MPs, old-age pensioners, Green Party members,
and observers from Nicaragua, South Africa and Germany,
along with a variety of far left activists were all present. Interestingly, the average age of participants seemed quite high.

One group which didn’t appear to be under-represented though
were the Socialist Workers Party who, along with the Revolutionary Communist Party, Workers Power, and one or two other

groups, attempted to block all entrances to the conference with
newspaper sellers. These groups were very vociferous on the
first day, but kept a lower profile after several women speakers
told them that they were no longer prepared to put up with the
brow-beating fundamentalism of their arcane breed of political
behaviour, which had seriously inhibited any genuine discussion in the early sessions.

However, there were a large number of workshops where
interesting and lively debate did take place, showing that
beyond the smaller, organised factions there is a good deal of
rethinking going on. Ecological questions and the problems of
racial discrimination were acutely posed as issues which go
beyond traditional socialist demands, but these were not given
as much space as the set-piece speeches from the platform.

There was criticism of the dominance of the platform over discussion, and this was somewhat rectified on the second day.

The biggest gain of the conference will probably prove to
be the many useful contacts which were made. At a large meeting of the women present it was decided to set up an umbrella
organisation, including Women against Pit Closures, which will
press for 50% representation and speaking time at the next conference. The conference concluded with proposals to establish
a ‘directory’ of left organisations which could fonn the basis of
a network of contacts, and to organise a series of smaller,
regional conferences leading up to another large conference in
Chesterfield next May.

In this one is reminded of the early days of ‘Beyond the
Fragments’, and of the first Socialist Society conference. Both


of these movements, however, declined because the common
ground they assumed proved to be theoretical rather than practical. It remains to be seen whether or not the Socialist Conference can overcome this problem, and the differences between its participants that were apparent all weekend, and become the force in British politics which its sponsors would like
it to be. That it exists, and that it is attempting to do so,
however, can only be a good thing for those interested in the
growth of independent but united socialist movement in

Richard Osborne

Realism Conference
It is a well-known fact that Sydney, Australia has two of
everything, and that the two always oppose one another,
making the city a living proof of the existence of contradictions
in reality. Hence, it was surprising to find both Sydney
representatives agreeing on the non-threatening, non-elitist and
non-sexist atmosphere of the 1987 Realism Conference, held at
the University of Sussex from 6th to 9th September. Much of
the credit is undoubtedly due to the organisers, Roy Bhaskar,
Sue Clegg and William Outhwaite. The achievement was all
the more appropriate as the major theme of the Conference was
Explanations of Women’s Oppression. There were also plenary
sessions on The Nature of Natural and Social Laws, and Explanation in Space and Time, and workshops on Realism and
Psychology, Realism and Culture, and Realism, Politics and
Political Economy. The speakers at the plenaries were William
Outhwaite, Alan Chalmers, Michele Barrett, Sylvia Walby,
Andrew Sayer, Sue Clegg and Russell Keat. The Conference as
a whole left a strong impression that scientific realism has
reached a curious stage in its development. The old enemy,
‘positivism’ , has been slain, or is at any rate defunct, and yet it
is by no means the case that we are all realists now. Indeed,
Michele Barrett, in the course of an illuminating talk, stressed
how little current trends in social theory are realist in inspiration. In expanding the point, she spoke of the women’s movement in Britain as facing a choice ‘between Foucault and Derrida’-a formulation which brought home to some in her
audience that things are more desperate than they thought. The
way forward which seemed to have most support involved a
move away from general theory towards more concrete
analyses informed by, and dependent on, realist ideas. In the
meantime, the morale of the Standing Conference on Realism
remains high, and planning for next year’s meeting is already
well-advanced. The themes will be What is Realism?, Nationstate and Territoriality, and Realism and Biology. There is
surely a great deal here that must interest readers of Radical
Philosophy. Information is available from Anne Witz, Department of Sociology, University of Exeter.

Joe McCarney

Obiturary: Raya Dunayevskaya
Raya Dunayevskaya (l May 1910 – 9 June 1987) died last
summer. She was an indefatigable agitator and Marxist scholar.

Her work is rooted in her rediscovery of Marx’s Marxism in its
original form as a ‘new Humanism’ and in her recreation of
that philosophy for our age as ‘Marxist Humanism’-that is
how she is characterised in News & Letters, a socialist


newspaper she founded in 1955 with Charles Denby, a black
worker. A ‘child of the Russian revolution’ , she was brought to
the United States at age 12. She promptly led her first strikethe 1924 Cregier Elementary School walk-out in protest against
corporal punishment and anti-semitism. Expelled from the
youth group of the Communist Party in 1928, she joined the
Trotskyist movement, and in 1937 travelled to Mexico to become Russian-language secretary to Loon Trotsky. She broke
with Trotsky at the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact In the ’40s, as
leaders of the Johnson-Forest tendency in the Fourth International, Dunayevskaya CFreddie Forest’) and C. L. R. James CJ.

R. Johnson’) developed the theory that the USSR was ‘statecapitalist’. Following the model of Lenin in 1914, they hoped
to renovate Marxist theory by going right back to Hegel’s
Logic. C. L. R.’s Notes on Dialectics came out in 1948
(republished 1980).

Dunayevskaya’s first book Marxism and Freedom (1958)
(with a friendly Preface by Marcuse) had appended to it the
first English translations of materials from Marx’s 1844
Manuscripts and Lenin’s notes on Hegel. The book was well
ahead of its time in its scholarship, and infectious in its enthusiasm for the original reading of Marxism it provides.

Marxism and Freedom, and also Philosophy and Revolution
(1973), were republished in 1982 by Harvester/Humanities. In
the same year there appeared Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s
Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, and in 1985,
Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics ofRevolution: Reaching
for the Future.

An archive of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxist Humanism
has been established at Wayne State University, Detroit, which
offers a micro-film at $100. (It excludes the above-mentioned
books but has everything else including unpublished material.)
News & Letters have published a guide to the collection.

In all her work she is concerned to establish links between
theory and practice. For her, one feels, the revolutionary struggle is Hegel’s absolute negativity. Whatever one thinks of the
results, Dunayevskaya’s determination to make the thought of
Hegel and Marx live is impressive. We have lost a brilliantly
combative writer.

Chrls Anhur

Gender and Social Policy
The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Bristol is
offering a new Masters and Diploma in Gender and Social
Policy, commencing October 1988. The course is full-time
over one year or part-time over two and involves three seminar
courses over two terms, plus a short dissertation for M.Sc. candidates. The course will draw on staff from five departments in
the Faculty. Teaching will include research methods in the social sciences and students will be encouraged to work on
projects which have policy implications. Applications are especially invited from mature students with some experience of or
interest in equal opportunities, women’s development, training,
and education, family and health policies. Details available
from Ann Warren-Cox, Faculty of Social Sciences, University
of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1TH, England.

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