Elements of a Post-Capitalist University

Event Date: 

Friday, November 8, 2013 - 11:45am to 1:30pm

Event Location: 

  • SOAS
  • London
  • Room G50
  • Talk

Conference Title:  10th Annual Historical Materialism Conference: Making the World Working Class

Session/Panel: Universities as Corporations and Sites of Struggle

Talk Title: Elements of a Post-Capitalist University

‘Capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons’ - and between classes. The complex task of analysing class structures and, at the same time, transforming and transcending them is at the core of Marx’s legacy.

2013 marks the 75th anniversary of CLR James’s “The Black Jacobins” and the 50th anniversary of EP Thompson’s “The Making of the English Working Class”. Wary of all reifications of class, Thompson showed how the working class was not only made by capital, but made itself in everyday struggles and political agitation. James affirmed the need to look at the international division of labour in the context of race and imperialism, and gave voice to the revolutionary agency of the ‘black Jacobins’ and other historically neglected enemies of capitalism and colonialism.

In the wake of the new conflicts thrown up by decolonisation and more recent processes of neoliberal ‘globalisation’, research in the field of labour and working class history has acquired an increasingly global dimension, and become more attentive to the critical role played by race and gender in the formations of working classes. Social struggles and resistance – from Latin America to Eastern Europe, from the Arab-Islamic world to East Asia – continue to show that working classes worldwide have not ceased remaking themselves, at the same time as they struggle against capitalist strategies to turn class composition into class decomposition, to unmake a world working class.

Significantly, in order to understand this changing reality and the roots of the crisis of the neoliberal system, a growing body of scholarship questions the representation of labour as a passive factor in production, and investigates how workers’ struggles co-determine processes of capitalist development, as well as cultural mutations and political transformations.

Despite rising levels of class struggle - from a growing working class movement in China to the Arab uprisings and mobilisation against austerity in Southern Europe – discourses of class remain largely marginal to political debate and action. Class struggle is often recognised, namely through the language of inequality, but is being increasingly filtered, also on the left, through notions of ‘the people’ or ‘the 99%’.

The tenth annual Historical Materialism aims to provide a forum for debating the descriptive and prescriptive roles that concepts of class and class struggle can have today. More generally, we seek contributions that account for how Marxist theory, historiography and empirical research can explain and intervene in the contemporary conjuncture. We will be hosting a stream on “Race and Capital” (for which a separate call for papers is forthcoming, along with a CFP building on last year’s “Marxism and Feminism” stream).