I downloaded this critique of the August 2004 "Life After Capitalism" conference, posted by "Concerned Student, City University," from the New York Indymedia website shortly after the event.
The forces for freedom of speech and the free flow of ideas won a small but significant victory this past weekend. Organizers of the Life After Capitalism conference at New York's City University Graduate Center were unable to eject left certain groups from the conference, even after calling in university security.
The Spartacist League/Spartacus Youth Club, Internationalist Group, League for a Revolutionary Party, and the International Bolshevik Tendency were the main groups threatened with being thrown out due to their efforts to distribute literature at the conference. While the security forces were trying to make them leave, members of another group, News and Letters Marxist-Humanists, began to chant: "Freedom of Speech. Let them Stay." The chant began to spread through the room, prompting an organizer with a microphone to attempt to disperse other conference-goers into sessions and away from the conflict. This did not succeed. The chanting persisted and the protesters prevailed.
The targeted groups and others had requested table space in advance of the conference but their requests were denied, on the basis that the "space" would not be "receptive" to members of these groups. The organizers’ vague and ideological definition of "sectarian left groupings" – i.e. "you know who you are" – meant that they felt entitled to exclude whoever they happened to call “sectarian.”
In another incident, in the question-and-answer session of a plenary with Michael Albert, Andrew Kliman, and Peter Staudenmaier, a member of the Spartacist League took the floor, but others in the audience tried to silence him, justifying this action on the ground that the event was non-sectarian. This “anti-sectarian” sectarianism was rampant through the conference. At the same session, a panelist said that a working group on alternatives to capitalism had requested a panel but was denied one because the participants were interested in the thought of Karl Marx. And the organizers engaged in sustained harassment and visibly hostile baiting of "uninvited" groups throughout the event.
At a conference purportedly advocating the practicing of prefigurative politics, this is unacceptable behavior – no different from the authoritarian methods that Stalinism historically utilized to squash dissent on the Left and maintain its control. Within our movement we forget at our own risk Rosa Luxemburg's maxim that real freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently. We must militantly fight against all attempts to restrict the movement of ideas.
The bourgeoisie in this country is usually forced to respect the freedom to distribute printed matter. It is sad when sections of our own movement can't do as well. Debates should be won or lost on the basis of the cogency of arguments, not by attacks, intimidation, ridicule, and the control of resources. On this account, the organizers of this event came out looking the losers as their thinly-disguised diversionary tactics – such as their use of the PA system to shout down the initial protest against exclusion, and their creation of scarcity (limiting the space for literature the next day) – plainly revealed their desire to control the information at the conference. And it is chilling when leftist activists would have no problem with this activity so long as such tactics were used against Left groups they happen not to like. That this kind of thing occurred within our movement at the very moment when we are embroiled in the fight against the police-state tactics surrounding the RNC protests should give us cause for concern.
The conference program stated that the organizers were stepping
aside to "look forward to everyone taking ownership over this weekend
(in an anti-capitalist sort of way)." Those who successfully protested
their exclusionary tactics did indeed “take ownership” in this manner,
but that was clearly not what the organizers had in mind. Despite the
conference title, “Life After Capitalism,” they displayed the pitiful
state of life under capitalism.
Concerned Student, City University
(For reasons of security and fear of retribution, name withheld)