The Left Forum (LF) describes itself as an initiative that “provides a context for the critical dialogue that is essential for a stronger Left and a more just society.” Each spring, LF convenes the largest North American gathering of the U.S. and international Left, bringing together intellectuals and organizers to share perspectives and strategies. The 2012 LF conference drew 4,500 attendees.
LF is the successor to the now-defunct Socialist Scholars Conference (SSC), which held major annual events in New York City each year from 1983 until its demise in 2004. Soon after SSC had shuttered its operations, seven of its former board members established the Left Forum as a vehicle by which they could continue SSC’s tradition, but under a different name. LF held its debut event at the City University of New York Graduate Center in April 2005. The Forum’s current venue is the Pace University campus in New York City.
LF’s board of directors includes such notables as Stanley Aronowitz; Roderick Bush (a member of the Revolutionary Workers League and the Black Radical Congress; Eric Capena (coordinator of SSC’s 1998 commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto’s publication); Nancy Holmstrom (longtime socialist and feminist activist/scholar); Jamie McCallum (sociology professor, labor organizer, and journalist); Lorraine Minnite (former research director for Project Vote); Catherine Mulder (economics professor and longtime labor activist who seeks “alternatives to capitalist workplaces”); Donna Murch (associate professor of history at Rutgers University); Frances Fox Piven; Ron Robinson (special adviser to the Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights and co-founder of the Take Back the Land National Movement); Roger Salerno (sociology professor who utilizes Marxism and psychoanalysis to inform his work on capitalist culture); Hobart Spalding (editorial board member of Socialism and Democracy); Richard Wolff (economics professor, editorial board member of Rethinking Marxism, and author of the 2009 book Capitalism Hits the Fan); and Julia Wrigley (sociology professor and author who writes about class inequalities and education).
Guest speakers at LF conventions include such notables as Anthony Arnove, Stanley Aronowitz, Amiri Baraka, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Lenni Brenner, John Catalinotto, Noam Chomsky, Jeff Cohen, Hamid Dabashi, Carl Davidson, Lawrence Davidson, Bernardine Dohrn, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eve Ensler, Zack Exley, Laura Flanders, John Bellamy Foster, Hussein Ibish, Jesse Jackson, Robert Jensen, Naomi Klein, Joel Kovel, Judith LeBlanc, Manning Marable, Michael Moore, John Nichols, Frances Fox Piven, Michael Ratner, Arundhati Roy, Lynne Stewart, Alison Weir, Cornel West, Ora Wise, and Naomi Wolff.
LF is currently endorsed by the following organizations and publications: the Brecht Forum; the Center for the Study of Culture, Technology, and Work (at the CUNY Graduate Center); Critical Sociology; Logos; Monthly Review; the National Lawyers Guild; New Political Science; New Politics; Radical Teacher; Rethinking Marxism; the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation; Science and Society; Situations; Social Text; Socialism and Democracy; the Social Register; Souls; and the Union for Radical Political Economics.
Eager to explore “new possibilities for the Left,” LF avidly supports the Occupy Wall Street movement. Says the Forum: “[O]ne percent of people living in the wealthiest nation in the world have grabbed most of the country’s wealth and used it to corrupt politics, while unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, strangling student debt and rising poverty grip the rest of the population.”
In February 2011, Cornel West issued a written plea asking LF supporters to “give as generously as you can” to help support the upcoming annual conference and the Forum’s overall mission. In that plea, West condemned the “free market fundamentalism,” “aggressive militarism,” and “globally expansive and predatory capitalism” that he portrayed as the hallmarks of modern America. “Being a leftist is a calling, not a career,” said West, pledging his commitment to “fight against, and to try to understand, the sources of social misery at the structural and institutional levels, as well as at the existential and personal levels.”
Frances Fox Piven, on LF’s behalf, made a similar plea for financial support in early 2012. In particular, she lamented such trends as “rollbacks in worker rights, expanding threats to the environment, rising inequality, a brutal assault on the poor, and growing capitalist arrogance and aggression.” Filmmaker Michael Moore, for his part, asked LF supporters – whom he addressed as his “Dear Fellow Travelers in the Post-Bush Era” – to help LF move American politics “beyond pro-capitalist compromises and misdirected military, environmental, and economic policies.”