I am attending the oddly-named Marxism 2007 conference for the next few days. I say “oddly-named” because the Bearded Wonder himself doesn’t get much of a look-in as far as I can see – the usual broader left-wing causes like Iraq, Palestine, racism, the environment, etc., seem to be covered much more extensively than the Grundrisse.
Anyway, it started today, and the offering was mixed. First up was a speech on the environment by someone called Alison Smith, and I’m sorry but it was dreadful. There was nothing in the speech that I disagreed with, or that anyone in that audience could have disagreed with, and that was probably what was so dreadful about it. No new information, no ideas, no different perspectives, no plans of action. Just a recitation of how capitalism and neoliberalism are really bad things and inevitably mess up the environment. And the delivery was as flat as a hedgehog in the fast lane of the M25. To be fair, she was very young, and so I feel a little bad about being so critical. But she had no business opening a major conference.
What was worse, the comments and questions afterwards made the speech look good by comparison. Never in my life have I heard such ill-considered, self-centred drivel. For the second time in two posts I find myself reminded of George Orwell, who wrote in the Road to Wigan Pier about “the horrible–the really disquieting–prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.” Looking through Orwell’s list now, actually most of the things he complains about actually seem quite unobjectionable (fruit-juice drinker??), and probably there’s nothing much wrong with the weirdos who got up to speak today. I suppose I’m just too conventional. But I can’t help it: the high crank count at these events does bother me.
Anyway, things got much better in the second event. Ghada Karmi, a veteran Palestinian activist, spoke about the case for a one-state solution. Essentially her argument was that a separate Palestinian state in the territory allotted by Israel would simply not be viable. She said Israel is intent on keeping the settlements in the West Bank, as well as the whole of the Jordan Valley (which is crucial because of water rights), and claimed that by the time you add in all the roads and infrastructure of the settlements, this would equal 50% of the West Bank. The remaining half would be tiny islands of Palestine separated from each other by Israel-only roads. The best agricultural land would be in Israel, the water aquifers would be in Israel, and Palestine would be so scattered and hopeless that it would not survive as an independent state and would have to confederate with the neighbouring state of Jordan. It would also be impossible, of course, for the Palestinian refugees to return to a land that could not even support the existing inhabitants.
Further, she said that even if by some miracle Israel agreed to withdraw from the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, the existence of a state exclusively designated for one people would be wrong. She described it as a step backward, completely anachronistic in an age when all over the world people are moving across borders more freely than ever before. The solution, in her view, is a state in which Jews, Christians and Arabs live together in peace. It may sound idealistic, but in the history of the Middle East it has been the dominant model. Only the creation of the Israeli state and the displacement of the Palestinians changed all that. Security would no longer be an issue, because Palestinians would not have a reason to be suicide bombers. Clearly it would not be easy, but she argued quite convincingly that it would be more viable than a two-state solution, and certainly more so than the non-solution in place today.
Tomorrow I’ll be learning about Nkrumah and the dream of African liberation, Ecosocialism, and Rosa Luxemburg among other things. What I’m looking forward to most of all is hearing Slavoj Zizek on Sunday talking about tolerance as a political category. There’s also Tony Benn, Gary Younge, Paul Gilroy… Can’t wait. Unfortunately Istvan Meszaros cancelled – was looking forward to hearing him