The new round of SSC conferences featured the elite of socialist academia, as well as union activists, political revolutionaries, radical reformers, and self-identified opponents of "corporate greed." During the 1980s, SSC developed into the largest annual gathering of the Left in North America. The conferences drew, on average, some 1,500 to 2,000 attendees each year, along with 300 to 400 speakers and approximately 50 exhibitors (e.g., commercial book publishers, university presses, journals, and organizations). Each conference featured presentations by as many as 200 separate panels.
Particularly significant was the 1983 SSC (held at Cooper Union), which was promoted as a celebration held "in honor" of the 100th anniversary of Karl Marx's death. As author Stanley Kurtz notes, fliers and ads for the conference "featured caricatures of an almost cuddly-looking Karl Marx reclining on a stack of books." Frances Fox Piven delivered the opening remarks at this event, lauding Marx as a man who had "helped people around the globe to struggle to make history." DSA founder Michael Harrington, for his part, lamented that many people misperceived Marx to have been a totalitarian; in reality, explained Harrington, Marx favored freedom and democracy as the essence of socialism.
A noteworthy figure who attended the 1983 SSC -- and at least one, if not both, of the SSC conferences during the ensuing two years -- was Barack Obama, who was in his early twenties at the time.
SSC continued to hold its annual conferences each year through 2004. In June of that year, seven of SSC's sixteen board members abruptly resigned "in protest of the lack of democratic and participatory governance procedures." The resignations came after the board, led by Bogdan Denitch, had voted by an 8-to-7 margin to fire SSC staff director Eric Canepa a month earlier. "We did not want to be part of an organization where we felt people were violating their own principles," said CUNY sociology professor Stanley Aronowitz, who explained that his own decision to resign had less to do with the firing of Canepa than with the fact that it had been done in a unilateral, top-down manner. "You can't be authoritarian and want a society that is democratic or non-authoritarian," Aronowitz said. "My politics is that if you are a member of the organization, it has to be prefigurative of the society you want to make. It was not in this case."
In an e-mail addressed to the "Socialist Scholars Conference community," Aronowitz and his six fellow departing board members elaborated:
"We are leaving because we feel that the campaign to accomplish this [Canepa's firing] was riddled with behavior we regard as politically unethical, including grossly inaccurate charges that were repeated even in the face of evidence of their inaccuracy, tirades that were abusive to the point of derangement, and the recurrent implication that those of us who objected to these procedures, being newcomers, were not the 'real' board."
Soon thereafter, these seven individuals formed a new organization, the Left Forum, which became SSC's successor and held its debut conference at the CUNY Graduate Center in April 2005.