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2015 European Conference

The Crisis of Europe - A Crisis for the Left?

6-8th of November 2015Goethe University Frankfurt / Campus Bockenheim (Jügelhaus H V)

The Platypus Affiliated Society is hosting its second ( annual ) European Conference in Frankfurt am Main from November 6-8 . After our Inaugural European Conference in London in 2014, we are meeting again for a critical conversation on the present state of the Left. The present European crisis and the differing answers of the Left will be at the center of the conversation.

In the face of the continuing economic crisis in Europe and the strict austerity measures by EU institutions, the political landscape of Europe has changed considerably. Debates concerning the future and structure of the European Union have been accompanied by social movements , general strikes and the formation of new political parties. Despite massive resistance to austerity measures concentrated in Southern Europe, however, there appears to be great confusion with regard to the European project and thus the also with respect to the question of what demands the Left should make in the context of the new realities of the Economic and Monetary Union, or how the crisis could lay the basis for an emancipatory politics on the Left today.

Although important solidarity movements have arisen, for the most part the various social movements appear isolated from each other politically.

Syriza's struggle with the Troika has emphasized the absence of an international response by the Left.

What does the project of the EU mean for social and political initiatives in Europe? What possibilities and problems does the economic and monetary crisis present in this context? What are the perspectives and the changes which have emerged within the new circumstances for traditional Leftist demands, such as internationalism, the welfare state, or the liberation of women? What does the historical legacy of the European Left mean for contemporary political demands?

Alongside representatives of different political tendencies and organizations from all over Europe, we wish to devote ourselves to these and other questions. Activists, politicians and scholars will discuss the project and failure of the EU, forms of political organization, the crisis of Social Democracy, the welfare state, Neo-Keynesianism and the possibilities and difficulties of a Leftist praxis in the crisis. We are hoping to conduct the conversation with members of Syriza/Popular Unity, Podemos, Partia Razem (Poland), CPGB, IBT, SPD, Interventionistische Linken, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the Institut Solidarische Moderne.

This conference will seek to create a conversation about the controversial issue of how to assess and respond to the present crisis in Europe and thus also of the European and international Left. By addressing the death and the crisis of the Left, we hope to contribute to the overcoming of current obstacles to emancipatory politics.

We say: the Left is dead! Long live the Left!

(The conference will take place in English; participation is free.)

View Full Conference Program


THURSDAY NOV 5

20:00 - 22:00
Panel: Round Table discussion: Politics and the Left in the crisis

FRIDAY NOV 6

12:15 - 13:30
Workshops: Differing perspectives on the Left

    The Green Party (AT): Cengiz Kulaç [Audio Recording]
    Young Socialists in the SPD (Jusos): Matteo Minden.

14:00 - 16:30
Panel: What is a political Party for the Left?

[Audio Recording]

Panel Description

In spite of many different political currents and tendencies, perhaps the most significant question informing the "Left" today is the issue of "political party.” Various "Left unity" initiatives have been taking place in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent downturn, following Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, alongside continuing "post-political" tendencies inherited from the 1980s-90s (perspectives such as expressed by Hardt and Negri's Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth, John Holloway's Change the World without Taking Power, the Invisible Committee's The Coming Insurrection, the California student protestors' Communique from an Absent Future), the formation of SYRIZA in Greece, and the new party Podemos in Spain (who reject the organized "Marxist Left" as well as the established labor unions as part of the existing "political caste"). In Germany, Die Linke appears poised to break into high political office. At the same time, there has been a growing crisis of the largest "orthodox Marxist" ("Trotskyist") political organizations in the Anglophone and Western European countries, which has been characterized as the "crisis of ('actually existing') Leninism" in the developed capitalist countries. New publications have emerged such as Jacobin magazine, N+1 and Endnotes journals, as a new "millennial Marxism." And there has emerged a related discussion of the legacy of Marxism in principles of political organization going back to the Second International 1889-1914 ("neo-Kautskyism"), for instance in Lars Lih's revisionist history of Lenin and Bolshevism and the Communist Party of Great Britain's member Mike Macnair's book Revolutionary Strategy (2008), the latter occasioned by the formations of the Respect Party in the U.K. and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France. Today, perhaps the most significant question facing the "Left" internationally is goes all the way back to Marx’s dispute with the anarchists in the First International: What would it mean for the Left to take "political action" today?
However, the issue of “political party” seems to generate more problems for the Left than it solves. Formalized political organization would appear indispensable for a long term perspectives beyond the ebb and flow of movements. Yet the role of a party in sustaining activity and discontents over time -- of building towards a revolution -- has had, at best an ambivalent legacy, leading as much to rationalizing politically ineffective strategies or giving cover for various forms of opportunism (e.g. reformism, careerism, etc.). Today the idea of political parties as a means for the Left -- through which the necessity for social transformation could be developed within society -- as opposed to an end in itself, is difficult to envision both theoretically and practically. Yet the existing default --politics without parties -- seems unable to do more than give sanction to the vicissitudes through which capitalism changes, but invariably persists. Worse still, without parties of its own, the Left is forced to either passively or actively support or at least place hopes in other parties. There appears no escaping the question of Political Party for the Left.

16:45 - 18:00
Workshops: Differing perspectives on the Left

    Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB): Paul Demarty [Audio Recording]
    Die LINKE: Christina Kaindl
    Ernest Mandel und die internationalen sozialistischen linken (isl): Manuel Kellner [Audio Recording]

18:00
​Planery: What is the European Union and should we be against it?

[Audio Recording]

Panel Description

A united and peaceful Europe seemed to be a distant dream for a generation which went through the experience of war and destruction. Today, this hope gained shape in the new realities of the European Union. Despite its official proclamation of peace, social well being and an “alternative to capitalism and communism” the project finds itself in a prolonged crisis with uncertain expectations. The Euro-­crisis, massive austerity and the increasing interference into democratic principles, a growing division between powerful and weak economies, Germany's new hegemony and the growing influence of financial capital appear in stark contrast to the official slogans of “European values and solidarity”.
The desperate struggle of SYRIZA demonstrated the necessity and seeming impossibility of the Left across Europe to answer with a politics that would be truly international and go beyond “resisting austerity.” Despite growing social unrest, the deep ambivalence towards the EU expresses itself in the inability of the Left to formulate a coherent vision of a political alternative. At the same time the rejection of the EU is ceded to a growing Right. What is the EU for the Left today? Should it be overcome on the basis of the EU itself, or against the EU? The clarification of its nature and appropriate responses seem to be one of the most pressing issues for the Left on the continent and beyond.

SATURDAY NOV 7

9:30 - 10:45
Workshops: Differing perspectives on the Left

    Gruppe Arbeitermacht (GAM) und die Neue antikapitalistische Organisation (NaO) [Audio Recording]
    Europäische Krise in der Zeitschrift-Z Marxistische Erneuerung.

11:00 - 13:00
​Panel: Electoral Politics and the Left: Problems and Prospects.

Panel Description

During the 19th century, suffrage rights were widened in the heart of capital, confronting political radicals with the question of whether and how elective offices could be used to achieve revolutionary aims. Since that time, differences of opinion on how to approach electoral politics have been at issue throughout the Left’s most fundamental splits: the break between Marxism and anarchism; the apparent capitulation of international social democracy to world war; the struggle for the legacy of the Russian Revolution; to capitalist stabilization and the apparent apathy to politics that would characterize our time.

Since the early 20th century such splits have attended the decline of the Left rather than its ascendancy, forcing recent generations of marginalized radicals to grapple with an impossible choice: either a "realistic" electoral compromise with the status quo, often couched in the logic of “lesser evilism,” or a "sectarian" electoral purism doomed to irrelevance, often inspired by fidelity to once-revolutionary “correct positions.” This impasse guarantees a hearing for those who, like many Occupy movement activists, advocate a principled abstention from electoral politics.

With regard to Europe during the last crisis, we've witnessed the rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain which indicate a shift from popular mobilization and movement building, to electoral strategies and parliamentary representation. The starting point of these social movements severely criticized existing parliamentary democracy, yet the idea of facilitating radical causes through electoral politics and campaigns has recently gained prominence. This panel tries to bring into question the significance of electoral politics in a moment when party representation has been largely delegitimized and disapproved. What are the uses, limits, promises, and perils of electoral campaigns and elective offices for Leftist politics?

14:00 - 15:15
Workshops: Differing perspectives on the Left

15:30 - 17:30
​Panel: Women: The longest Revolution?

[Audio Recording]

Panel Description

A namesake of Juliet Mitchell’s 1966 essay, this panel will explore the long history of the struggle for women’s liberation from the vantage point of the Left today. Mitchell critiques bourgeois feminist demands such as the right to work and equal pay to posit the need instead for equal work. She calls for a politics capable of taking on the fundamental transformation of society and more immediate demands “in a single critique of the whole of women’s situation.” In keeping with the spirit of this essay, we ask again what the relationship might be between the struggle for social emancipation and the particular tasks of feminism? How have Leftists imagined this relationship historically? What do we make of it today?

While the “woman question” has played an important role in the history of the Left, its knee-jerk inclusion in current Leftist politics does not necessarily reflect a greater understanding of what the struggle for women’s liberation might mean politically. How exactly is it “the longest revolution?” When did it begin? If the crisis of bourgeois society in the industrial revolution posed the need for women’s freedom as inseparable from the project of human emancipation, then what do we make of the later separation of the feminist movement from the workers’ movement for socialism? In the beginning of the 20th Century the woman's movement seems to demand unitary for political and legal rights, although the bourgeois feminist movement and the socialist woman's movement where distinctly opposed in their political perspective. Is the relevance of the conflict gone all together with a further perspective of the woman's question in Socialism? What do the seeming successes of feminism tell us when thought in relation to the failure of the proletarian struggle to deepen/realize the task of human freedom?

18:30 - 21:00
​Planery: Socialism, Democracy, Social Democracy.

[Audio Recording]

Panel Description

The conditions for the novel political formations of Syriza and Podemos developed out of the disintegration of the traditional Social Democratic parties in Greece and Spain. Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party in Britain, has argued for greater democracy in the party and invoked Labour's origins in working-class organization and socialism. Yet it is unclear exactly what is being remembered by this invocation, and what is being forgotten. The Bernie Sanders' campaign as a "socialist" candidate for leadership of the US Democratic Party appears equally obscure. Precisely when historical consciousness is most necessary, the project of Social Democracy seems to be fading from memory. Little remains of the foundation moment of Social Democracy today, both in practice and thought.

In the late nineteenth century, working people’s response to capital was expressed in the political demand for Socialism. This demand galvanized the formation of European Social Democratic parties guided by the ideology of Marxism. Among the most influential members of the German Social Democratic Party, the political leaders of the Second International, agreed that the primary task of Social Democratic parties was bringing about the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the decisive political struggle between capital and labor. And while some of these leftist ultimately found the revolution too risky in the decisive decades of the 1910s and 1920s, even their political judgment is far to the left to those Social Democratic party members who, after World War II, openly espoused the integration of workers into a more just and thus more democratic capitalist order.

Once a global movement for the self-emancipation of the working class, today’s social democratic parties have fully substituted the task of educating workers in order to overthrow capitalism, with the task of creating and maintaining the conditions for a more just market economy. The present standpoint of social democracy is society as such, bound by national economies and mediated by the state. Social Democracy today promises to fight social injustice in the name of the people, but it no longer promises to realize socialism.

Yet what remains is the name, and with it the promise and the problem of Social Democracy.
In this panel we would like to investigate this transformation by looking at the history, the birth and decline, of Social Democracy. How can we understand the historical crisis of social democracy for the Left today? How, if at all, could the trajectory of social democracy shed light on problems yet to be superseded on the Left today?

SUNDAY NOV 8

11:00 - 12:30
​Panel: What is the aim of an educational project?

    Richard Rubin
    Lucy Parker
    Sebastian Vetter
    Efraim Carlebach
    Moderator:Giorgos Stefanidis

Panel Description

"To educate" stems from the Latin root educare, meaning "to lead out." But to lead out of what, conducted by whom, and in which circumstance? Since the origins of the Left in the 18th and 19th centuries -- itself a product of the Age of Enlightenment -- revolutionary politics was supposed to be a means to lead humanity out of its self-imposed social domination, i.e., capitalism. Here, political activity entails propagating and agitating the masses through various organizational channels: parties, trade unions, radical popular assemblies, etc. Education was meant to be an active participatory socially transformative process.

By contrast, during the 20th century the Left as a political force increasingly lost its popular strength, to the point of its ultimate death -- as Platypus points out today. Our historical moment faces the daunting question: Are we any more free as a society than our forebears over 200 years ago? Much time has passed and energy expended, but have we led ourselves anywhere?

The purpose of this panel is to reflect on this historical narrative in relation to the raison d'être of Platypus, which claims to be an educational project in a pre-political moment. How can the Left engage in self-education and self-critique when it has been hollowed out to the degree where it has little to no command over the course of world historical events? Can we still practice strategies such as propaganda and agitation, or does our moment require totally different methods? Can education be considered a political act when progressive politics today is at an impasse? What is Platypus's role in such a task, and how does it relate to other groups and individuals who are also seeking to rekindle a leftist movement? These questions, among others, will inform the discussion points for the panelists' opening remarks and audience Q & A session.

13:00 - 15:00
Panel: Round Table discussion: Politics and the Left in the crisis II

Supported by:
Asta der Goetheuniversität
Förderfonds Lehre (QSL)
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung
Normative Orders
Fachschaften 03 und 08