By Tracy Sorensen
About 1100 participants from around the country came to last year's Socialist Scholars Conference in Sydney, where they were able to hear, meet and discuss ideas with such renowned international guests as Ralph Miliband, Giovanni Arrighi and Frigga Haug.
A repetition of that success looks set to take place July 18-21 at University High, Melbourne. This year's theme is "Ecology, Socialism and Human Survival".
According to conference organiser Pat Brewer, the decision to go with another major conference just 10 months after the last one was motivated by a desire to keep the momentum of discussion going, as the socialist, green and other progressive movements adapt to the rapidly changing international political situation.
This year's conference will continue last year's discussion about the relevance and renewal of socialist ideas, with the global ecological crisis as a focus. The theme this year is "Ecology, Socialism and Human Survival".
"We want to establish a tradition of regular discussions, a coming together of all sorts of different people who are tying to change the societies in which they live", said Brewer.
Last year, 85% of those attending were from Sydney; this time, a similar proportion of Melburnians is expected, with more participation from South Australians and Tasmanians.
Confirmed guests for this year include Hungarian leftist and academic Tamas Krausz, leading Marxist economist Ernest Mandel, radical US political commentator and author Alexander Cockburn, who recently co-authored The fate of the forest, and participants from countries in struggle: Francisco Nemenzo from the Philippines and Indro Cahyono from a newly formed Indonesian human rights group. The South African Communist Party will also send a representative.
The conference promises to be much more than a chance for first-hand contact with international scholars and activists, Brewer stresses. The organisers are working on an impressive agenda of workshops, talks and panels by locals.
Last year, more than 150 individuals gave presentations in 200 agenda items, providing a range of alternatives that both exhilarated and exhausted participants.
"The conference was very broad, involving all the different left currents, all the different solidarity groups", said Brewer. "Basically, anyone who wanted to present their ideas was able to. It was a very democratically structured conference.
"People liked that. The only problem was that there wasn't really enough time for discussion — it was a bit crammed. We're trying to space this one out more, so that people have more time to talk to each other, formally and informally.
"We'll structure in more breaks so people are not having afternoon tea on the run between sessions."
Those interested in presenting papers or participating in a panel discussion are invited to submit their proposals by mid-June.
"There's no forbidden subject", said Brewer. "Last year we didn't knock anyone back. It would have to be Fred Nile asking to speak for us to consider that, but even then, we'd probably have him on a panel — it would be an interesting debate!"
Groups are encouraged to contact the organisers (see advertisement, page 20) if they want to hold stalls during the conference, or put advertisements into the conference guide. Child-care, booked in advance, will be provided free by professional carers.
Registration fees are being kept as low as possible, to under $100 for the four days, with an unwaged concession rate of $30. Participants can pay a special rate for individual sessions if they do not wish to attend the whole conference.