Sunday, 8 March 2009

On the Commodification of Communism

Proposed by: Clare Solomon 
Seconded by: Ed Emery

This Union Notes:
1) Birkbeck are hosting a conference entitled: On the Idea of Communism with big name speakers such as Antonio Negri, Terry Eagleton, Michael Hardt, Alain Badiou and more.
2) These speakers are from a broad range of schools of thought on the left.
3) This conference costs £100 for employed people and £45 to students.
4) There are no concessions for people who can not afford these sums.

This Union Believes:
1) A university should not charge, especially students, for academic conferences.
2) Charging for an event like this goes against the spirit of Communism (see comment below). 
3) Charging for this event is politically motivated.
4) Students have enough financial troubles without having to pay even further to engage in academic dialogue.
5) Universities should be a place of learning and not for making money.
6) Marketisation of education will lead to a narrow output of educational programmes.

This Union Resolves:
1) Write a letter to Birkbeck expressing our disappointment and objection.
2) Invite the speakers of this conference to speak for free at SOAS on March 14.
3) Promote this conference if the speakers agree to do it.
4) Ask the Executive of SOAS SU to decide on further actions should they not.
5) Support students who wish to express their objections in other ways.
6) Fight against increasing marketisation of education.


  1. This motion was written in a rush just before the deadline and is therefore not exactly what we wanted to say but SOAS is not massively bureaucratic and people understood what we were getting at!

    So, for example, Believes 2 is somewhat silly and should rather have said that in an ideal world ie communist, education would be free and available to all.

  2. I think this motion is a load of crap.

  3. Bullcrap. Deleuzer is right. Get your priorities straight. Why don't you all go and picket Glastonbury because you want to go there as well, oh and wait I heard Tesco is starting to charge for food now, why not protest outside and demand that you get some free sausage rolls because you REALLY like them? Last time I heard, Academia was a business like any other, how many other abstract things like 'ideas' come for free? music? no. Art? no. urrr....

    The conference will be an underwhelming backslapping pointless affair anyway, where there's a lot of self congratulating and promotion. Everyone will make a fuss about Toni Negri in a really superficial way, while squirming at the thought of ever having to do anything meaningful or proactive.

  4. 1. Thank you for your comments.

    2. I did read the comment at the bottom.

    3. I also wrote my post in very little time, considering the length.

    4. The term 'socialist wanker' came from a poster I once saw at an anti-war protest in Trafalgar square, coined by a self-deprecating socialist with a sense of humour. I apologize if it sounded harsh.

    5. Since you are suggesting me some 'tomic for all the Deleuze...', I suggest that you read some Marx before throwing around terms like 'commodification' and 'marketization'.

    6. Did you mean 'tonic'?

    7. Just because you pay for something doesn't make it a 'commodity', nor does it mean that it is offered for sale in a 'market'.

    8. For instance, people sometimes pay membership fees in trade unions. They might be too high, or you might demand transparency on how they are used, but the fact that they exist does not, in any sense, represent 'commodification' or a betrayal of principles, etc.

    9. Inversely, something you are given for 'free' could be a commodity. By accepting it, you could be 'buying into' a commodity fetish and take part in the capitalist free market. ("Brought to you by [insert brand]")

    10. The key point being that nothing is 'free'. The difference is only in how it is paid for or valued.

    11. I would rather pay heftily to go to a conference like this than go to a 'free' event sponsored by BP.

    12. In fact, if my motivation for going to a particular lecture as opposed to another one was that it is 'free' entry while the other one is paid, that would precisely be a step, on my part, in the direction of 'commodifying' knowledge.

    13. Passing motions against a university over high conference fees is tantamount to holding badly indebted homeowners accountable for the financial mess, rather than the government, the banks and financial institutions.

    14. Such a course of action is likely to drive universities even more speedily into the hands of corporations.

    15. All of which is to say that your motion might contribute to the commodification of knowledge, rather than deter from it.

  5. Having just heard that they will provide a freely-accessible video link to the conference, I would also add that whenever I have been to BIH-organized events in the past, I have seen plenty of people (including people I know) with audio recorders quite openly sitting in the front and recording lectures, to be posted on blogs or websites later, and the Birkbeck people didn't seem to particularly care. I have even once been asked to record a lecture for a friend who didn't register on time. So I really think you picked a bad target here.

  6. It's a bit unfair of you to expect us to know these details if we haven't been before and all in all things have worked out well.

    Further to our meetings with the organisers I truly believe that because the rapidly snowballing conference is understaffed it was simply an oversight not to make an 'each according to their means' offer obvious. Myself and a few campaigners will be helping on the registration desk so please come and say hello. I have bright red short sticky up hair (at the mo!).

    please feel free to comment on the posts of my other blog.

    Speak soon comrade :-)

    Also, please come to our other conference:,