The Left Forum was held in New York on the May 29th-31st weekend and thousands attended. It offered numerous panels led by academics, activists and independent thinkers of every strip as well as film screenings and public plenaries. Everyone ran into someone they knew from a past life or started a new friendship. While a lot of grey-haired veterans of the ‘60s were present, a strong turn out of millennials confirmed that the left is alive in America.
The one thing missing from the gathering was “the proletariat.” Remember in The Communist Manifesto when Marx warns: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” The word proletariat was never formally mentioned during the weekend.
What happened to the proletariat?
The Forum was a joyous gathering hosting diverse discussions involving critical social, political and intellectual issues. Topics ranged from Black Lives Matter to anti-fracking, the national security state and the $15-hr minimum wage to the Islamic State, Cuba and even Victor Serge. In one panel on women & the Red Scare, 99-year-old Miriam Moskowitz talked about having been railroaded by the FBI, convicted of espionage and served 2 years in a federal penitentiary; her conviction was overturned, yet she has not received justice, an exoneration. Individually, each session had value.
The conference confirmed that the left serves two important roles: it articulates a critical perspective on key issues and it champions individual and collective activism. Unfortunately, the left is playing a mostly defensive role, trying to preserve lost gains as global economic reorganization remakes the country. As many presenters made clear, the tyranny of finance capital, old-time racism, carbon polluters and the national-security state dominates American politics.
Sadly, the conference offered no revolutionary vision to inspire the vast American populace to change the system. A host of trying concerns knit together a loose confederation of different interests that share one underlying belief: there’s a need to create a more equitable society, one based on a more humane, non-racist and environmentally-sound redistribution of wealth. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the Democratic Party’s quality conscious, articulate this vision.