Following GRIP’s Annual Lecture 2023 held by Marcel van der Linden, a two-day academic workshop will be held focusing on themes outlined in the “200 Years of Socialism: Revisiting the Old Dilemmas” lecture. The workshop will take place on Thursday June 1 and Friday June 2 at Ulrikes Aula, the University of Bergen.
The workshop will gather a group of prominent labour and socialism scholars among them Svati Shah (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Göran Therborn (University of Cambridge), Ernesto Semán (University of Bergen), Don Kalb (GRIP), James Wickham (Trinity College Dublin), Sjaak van der Velden (IISH), Reiner Tosstorff (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz), Kate Alexander (University of Johannesburg), John Barzman (Université Le Havre Normandie), Silke Neunsinger (Uppsala University), Dilip Simeon (independent scholar), Geert Van Goethem (Ghent University), Lewis Siegelbaum (Michigan State University), Rohini Hensman, Lucas Poy (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), David Mayer (University of Vienna) and others.
More detailed information on the workshop programme will be posted shortly.
Traditional labour and socialist movements are in trouble almost everywhere. The power of trade unions is declining; anarchist and revolutionary-syndicalist movements are a spent force; social democratic and communist parties are mostly not doing well; attempts to build “real socialism” in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Africa, China, and Southeast Asia descended into repression or succumbed to capitalism, or both.
This crisis marks the end of a long cycle, which roughly includes the period from the 1820s-40s to the present. Building on a long egalitarian tradition, it began with ‘utopian’ experiments. Responding to the rapid development of capitalism and the changing nature of states, the movement bifurcated after the revolutions of 1848, with one wing striving to build an alternative society without states in the here and now (anarchism/syndicalism), the other struggling to gradually transform the state in order to progressively build such an alternative egalitarian society (social democracy; communist movements; Arab socialism; African socialism; Indian socialism, etc.). Neither succeeded.
Critical analysis of this great cycle – specifically in combination with the continuously growing global working class – is a challenge of enormous scholarly and political interest. In many countries the decline coincides with a revival of the radical Right, which presents itself as an alternative to the traditional workers’ organizations. The long cycle needs therefore to be scrutinized in depth.
Which results were actually achieved, and why? What were the major defeats? This is far from an antiquarian exercise. A second “great cycle” is by no means inconceivable and is in fact already announcing itself. Class conflicts will not diminish as we move forward into a very insecure 21st century. Workers and citizens all over the world will continue to feel the ever-present need for effective organizations and forms of struggle. If a second great cycle emerges, what can we learn from the former one?
The lecture (and following workshop) is an attempt to reimagine the strategic dilemma’s and choices of socialist and labour movements in the period from the 1820s to the 2020s. Which “bifurcation points” have been of major political and theoretical importance? Can we judge in retrospect whether decisions actually taken were inevitable? Or were there other and potentially more promising options not taken? It is urgent to learn from this exercise.