Second day in Athens and the first day of the B-Fest. When I asked organizers how many people they expected to attend the conference, and they replied "thousands," I literally had no idea what to expect. And, seeing that the first day of the conference was a Wednesday, it made sense to me that the rooms were only half or two-thirds full for the early evening talks by Andre Grubacic and Howard Zinn. However, after Howard’s second talk there was a sudden swarm of people and pretty soon I was seeing many hundreds. Howard’s main talk was scheduled for 9PM in a room with a seating capacity of 140 people. There were approx. 250 people crammed in, sitting in the walk ways front, back, and side-to-side. Then there was an overflow room projecting a huge Live video feed from the main speaking area and I can only imagine that it was full based on the number of people I saw before and after his talk.
Above: Andre Grubacic
Howard spoke very eloquently, charmingly and concisely about civil disobedience making many clear points. For example, he noted that people are educated with the belief that if a law is right that we must support that law. But then he asked "What if the law is wrong?" and made very persuasive arguments for why civil disobedience is necessary in such cases and that, because the conditions of society are unjust, it is right to think and act on the basis that law and society must be changed.
When asked in the Q&A after his talk about the possibility for social change Howard made the very hopeful and clever analogy that the Wright Brother’s first plane flight only lasted 12 seconds while the Paris Commune last 2 months.
Above: Howard Zinn. No seating left inside the main room other than on stage…
Overall, Howard provided an excellent and very gracious talk, even under difficult circumstances such as jet lag, simultaneous translation, and some audio problems with the overhead sound system.
The Greeks present asked Howard a very broad and intelligent set of questions. However, despite his charming delivery and simple, clear, elegant, and experienced style (and the list of positive attributes could go on), there was one question in particular that I thought left the questioner, or at least me, unsatisfied. The question was about a seemingly contradictory connection between Howard’s praise of civil disobedience and his sympathy for Marx. The questioner pointed out that there has never been a Marxist society that would have been compatible or accommodating to civil disobedience (I’m paraphrasing from memory so it is difficult to be completely accurate here…), and in fact haven’t those societies that have actually existed that have claimed to base themselves on Marxism had violent reactions to civil disobedience when it has occurred? Howard replied (again paraphrasing) that there has never been a truly Marxists society as Marx had envisioned it (something like the 1871 Paris Commune), so such a society has never actually existed, and that Marx himself never claimed to be Marxist so how could anyone else or a society claim to be one without bending the ideas of Marx? (my paraphrase) So, Howard proposed, we need to take the best from Marx and from those historical examples that were consistent with this positive thread and civil disobedience.
Well, my immediate thought was about Marx’s class theory, a two-class theory proposing conflicting interests between workers and capitalists are the driving force of history and the economic base of society, which can provide a theoretical launching pad for people believing they know what is in the best interest of workers, and so acting on their behalf, and, overtime, becoming the new ruling coordinator class and inflicting violence on workers, and others via over economism and reducing the importance of other realms of life—theoretically, socially, and materially—such as gender, sexuality, race and culture. There are certainly many historical examples of this. Then, of course, approaching the topic from another angle, we cannot apply the logic that Howard did to other economic theorists and societies based on them. For example, we cannot say that capitalism never achieved its true state ala Hayek and Mises, so there has never been capitalism, and more, that we have to take the best of, or closest to pure capitalism, from actually existing capitalism and free market theorists, say, Milton Friedman and Chile under Pinochet, to create a more humane capitalism. As anti-capitalists against class rule and for classlessness and justice we cannot apply this logic.
After Howard’s very stimulating talk and discussion, there was the anti-authoritarian Balkans book fair and two separate stages for music. We wandered around with some of our hosts, enjoying our surroundings, taking in the art all over the Fine Arts School where the conference is located, some good Live music, beer, and, by the time we left at almost 2AM, there was certainly over a 1000 people there and perhaps upward towards 2000— and all on a Wednesday night!
Time to get some sleep…
More pics below…
Above: Late night oustide the B-Fest / Art School