One of the more remarkable features of the popular explosions witnessed in the past few years is how, in their most typical expressions at least, they avoid the classical language of class mobilisation –instead cohering around a strategic unification (Occupy), an emotional identification (the Indignados), the rejection of austerity (Greece), or a concrete political objective (the Arab Spring). And although the traditional collective agents of the working class played an important role in all these uprisings, it was typically secondary, or, in any case, not explicitly avowed. Indeed, these uprisings largely lacked the articulation of shared class interests that E.P Thompson argued was central to the very existence of class.
For those attending to the problems, theories and research programs gathered under the name ‘Marxism’, the content of these ‘new rebellions’ is urgently in need of understanding. At the base of any conception of these explosions is the question of class. The strength of Thompson’s approach to class was that he saw it not as a static category, but in terms of process, relationship and struggle. The tradition of Marxism is, in one sense, a gigantic debate on the making and unmaking of class.
Today, none of the old certainties about the relation between classes, social struggles and political subjectivities can be taken for granted. Work itself has become a battleground as capital’s inability to provide employment for large sections of the world’s population has posed the question of structural unemployment with new urgency. Across the globe, surplus populations are abandoned to the predations of warlords and humanitarian NGOs. A tiny proportion of such people end up in Australia’s every-expanding network of offshore internment camps. Meanwhile, Australia’s ruling class complains that labour shortages are the biggest threat to Australia’s resources sector and pushes a renewed guest worker scheme, while the union movement’s functionaries respond with a xenophobic agenda.
Questions that have long been debated are reignited and reoriented with every outbreak of protest. Suddenly, histories of class formation, the relationship between party and class, the difference between class and caste, class and ideology, the specificities of class formation in low-GDP countries, class and its representation, gender as or against class, reproductive labour, race and class, as well as the legacies of such diverse groupings and tendencies as Political Marxism, Operaismo, Communisation theory, Marxist Feminism and many others; all are suddenly seen as if lit by lightning, revealing unseen angles and shadowy aporia.
On the 50th anniversary of the publication of E.P. Thompson’s epochal The Making of the English Working Class, we are seeking to question again how class is made (and unmade), and to do so in the spirit Thompson exemplified: with an allergy to cant and an abhorrence of received ideas.
We welcome individual paper submissions and panel proposals on any of the above-mentioned topics, and any related issues of Marxian thought. We especially welcome contributions from those outside the university (activists, organisers, recent and not-so-recent graduates, artists, journalists and others).
Historical Materialism Australasia is a two-day conference to take place on July 26th and 27th, 2013.
Please email paper abstracts of no more than 250 words and panel proposals of no more than 100 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday April 12th, 2013. Please include your full name, email address and institutional affiliation (if applicable) with your abstract. Panel proposals should include this information for all speakers. Further information is available at our website.