This is how 'Marxist working groups' operate in higher education
The Interdisciplinary Marxist Working Group at the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on the 'ongoing relevance of Marxism to the current historical moment, as an explicitly global project.'
These groups are most often invite-only and restricted to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty.
Universities across the country sponsor working groups at the graduate level.
These groups are most often invite-only and restricted to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty. They center around a common interdisciplinary research interest or inquiry such as artificial intelligence, modern literature, or economic systems.
Conferences, seminars, and public events are often hosted by working groups during which academics gather to discuss the topic of interest and review articles or papers solicited from the academic community.
Commonly, working groups host reading groups where members complete assigned readings surrounding the working group’s topic of interest.
In American colleges today, Marxism is a popular area of inquiry for working and reading groups.
The University of Florida sponsors The Working Group for the Study of Critical Theory, which focuses on “alternatives to the reigning paradigm of the disciplines” and “imagining and creating more just and fulfilling ways of living in the world.”
Campus Reform reached out to the university about the group.
Hessy Fernandez, director of strategic communications and marketing, said that the university “fosters an environment where divergent ideas, opinions and philosophies new and old can be rigorously discussed and critically evaluated in the academic environment.”
“The working group’s meetings are housed in the Department of English and are available, but not required to graduate students and faculty who are interested in evaluating these topics,” Fernandez continued.
The Working Group for the Study of Critical Theory advertises that it “supports” the Marxist Reading Group at UF.
The Marxist Reading Group was established to “encourage the study of Marxist theories at the University of Florida.” Recent readings include “Diversity, Difference and Caribbean Feminism: The Challenge of Anti-Racism,” “The Myth of Marxist Homophobia,” and “Theories about Sex and Sexuality in Utopian Socialism.”
Since 1999, the group has hosted an annual conference three of which were titled “Enthusiasm for Revolution,” “Toward a Democracy with Rights,” and “Marxism and (Bio)politics.”
In 2019, the Marxist Reading Group hosted its 21st Annual Conference centered around the topic of “Political Paralysis,” which “investigate[d] how current Marxist cultural criticism continues to enable utopian horizons in the face of a seemingly static present.”
“What role does Marxist cultural criticism play in dark times,” the event’s flier asked of scholars.
In 2020, the Marxist Reading Group hosted its 22nd Annual Conference centered around the topic of “Marxist Sexualities.” The group issued a call for papers considering “ecofeminism,” “queer/feminist/Marxist pedagogies,” “sex work and issues facing sex workers,” among others.
“In what practical ways might an attenuated focus on sexual politics open Marxist praxis up to activists beyond the academy,” the website poses.
In 2021, the group’s 23rd Annual Conference discussed “Marxism and Neoliberalism Today” and sought to “investigate the ways in which Marxist praxis can be practiced and reinforced within the situated politics and policies of today, as well as the potential for the creation of new Marxist spaces and collectives in the era of neoliberalism.”
But Marxist working groups also operate in digital spaces.
H-net is an independent, non-profit scholarly association that hosts a jobs board for university jobs in the humanities. The website also offers an open academic space to academics who wish to collaborate and engage with one another.
An H-Net network centered around Marxism and Communism is H-HOAC, which stands for “H-Net network for Historians of American Communism.”
H-HOAC is built on the work of “The Historians of American Communism“ which comprises professors from New York University, Texas A&M University at Galveston, American University, and the University of Southern Indiana, among others.
Members explore the “history of American communism, American anti-communism, Soviet espionage in America, American ties to the Communist International and Red International of Trade Unions, social justice and cultural movements sponsored or endorsed by the Communist Party and other related topics.”
This year, H-HOAC members Stephen F. Austin State University professor Dana Cooper and University of Mary-Hardin Baylor professor Claire Phelan issued a call for papers that address the “intersection” of “motherhood and communism.”
Marxist working groups are active all over the country.
At the University of Pennsylvania, a working group called “Variations“ concentrates on “Marxism, critical theory, and literary theory.” In Fall 2018, the group hosted a reading group studying Karl Marx’s “masterwork” Das Kapital.
The Interdisciplinary Marxist Working Group at the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on the “ongoing relevance of Marxism to the current historical moment, as an explicitly global project.”
Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor for executive communications, told Campus Reform that the university’s administration believes in the “importance of diversity of perspective.”
“Therefore,” Mogulof continued, they “do everything in [their] power to uphold our Principles of Community which, among other things, commits us to, ‘ensuring freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full spectrum of views held by our varied communities.’”
“Academic programs like a discussion group have latitude and independence to pursue their academic interests as they see fit. At the same time, as is the case with all academic programs, they do not speak for or represent the values, perspectives or positions of the University,” Mogulof continued.
At New York University, the Marxism Working Group is “grounded in the political-economic critique of capitalism” and concentrates on “Marxist accounts of race and gender.”
Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences sponsors a group called Marxism and Materialism, which examines “contemporary uses across historical, humanistic, and social scientific disciplines that engage the dilemmas of political economy, power, and domination.”
Yale University’s Marxism and Cultural Theory explores themes that include “postcolonial theory,” “socialist feminism,” “black Marxist thought,” and “Marxist theories of the state.”
Campus Reform reached out to all of the groups, universities, and individuals mentioned in this article for comment. The article will be updated accordingly.