March 19 – 21 at Pace University in New York City saw the 29th annual gathering of the conference first known as the Socialist Scholars Conference (SSC) (1981 – 2004) and then the Left Forum (LF) (2005 to the present).
The keynote speaker this year was Rev. Jesse Jackson. His appearance at the Forum was historically significant in marking a new interest on the part of the radical left to interact with figures connected to institutional politics, as well as the interest of someone like Jesse Jackson to acknowledge his relationship to the radical left.
The economic/social crisis received a lot of attention in high-quality sessions, featuring some of the top US and Canadian left political economists. Problems of unionism and of new union strategies were addressed in a large number of lively panels. An attempt was also made to address in a balanced way the recent splits in the US labor movement.
The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation continued its by now more than 10-year tradition of organizing panels at the SSC and LF with a panel on “Union Strategies, Poor People’s Movements and Crisis,” with Christina Kaindl, Jan Rehmann, and speakers from poverty and labor-organizing initiatives in the US. as well as a major session “Can Obama Be Moved? Movement Strategies to Pressure Party Politics” with Margit Mayer and an impressive panoply of speakers ranging from supporters of third-party initiatives to those cooperating with the Democrats, as well as from other initiatives.
For the first year, the Transform Network had a presence – and an important one – with three major panels: “Social-Security Systems in Comparison: Europe and the US” with Robin Blackburn, Lucy apRoberts, Daniel Ankarloo and Ruurik Holm; “Roundtable on Left Strategies in the Core Capitalist Countries,” with Sam Gindin (Socialist Project, Toronto, formerly with the Canadian Auto Workers), João Romão, Greg Albo (Socialist Project, Toronto), Cornelia Hildebrant (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and Die LINKE), Richard D. Wolff and Ruurik Holm; “Understanding and Responding to the Crisis: The Left in Europe and the U.S.” with Walter Baier, William K. Tabb, Jeremy Brecher, Rainer Rilling and João Romão.
The final plenary featured Noam Chomsky, and included a tribute to Howard Zinn from Arundhati Roy and Frances Fox Piven, along with a performance of Zinn’s play “Marx in Soho.” The Zinn tribute and Chomsky’s appearance drew the expected enormous crowds, with people lining up around the block. It was a fitting end to a very exciting and rich weekend.