Panel held on November 15th, 2011, at the University of Chicago, as part of the international Crisis of the Left panel series.
What is the Crisis of the Left?
Crisis: Pathol. The point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death.
Many on the Left feel a sense of crisis.
Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics. The Platypus Affiliated Society seeks to make the conversation explicit, and to host a series of discussions about the crisis of the contemporary Left: its quality, causes, and significance for future reconstitution and transformation.
Across five cities worldwide (Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Thessaloniki, Boston), weâve invited figures from across the Leftâacademics, political organizers, theoristsâ to answer and debate six fundamental questions. We also pose these questions to the Left as a whole and invite responses from all quarters. The questions below stem from confusion; taking nothing for granted, we hope that confronting this confusion might open up future possibilities for renewed consciousness and practice on the Left.
How would you define the Left?
Do you think the Left is in crisis? If so, then what constitutes the crisis?
In trying to understand the contemporary Left, what history matters most? What tasks and problems have we inherited from the Old Left and the New Left?
Could the Left have done something to avoid its current impasses? If so, what?
What is the relationship between the Left and anti-capitalism? Between the Left and Marxism? What should it be?
How does the Left need to change? Who is responsible for making the change happen?
Moderated by Greg Gabrellas
Mike Ely is a veteran revolutionary who works with Kasama's project for reconceiving the communist movement. He started political life with the early SDS and the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, and spent time in France and Soviet-Occupied Czechoslovakia during the heady year of 1968. During the 1970s, Mike worked as a communist organizer within waves of coal miner wildcat strikes in Appalachia, and participated in the debates and organizational shakeouts of the New Communist Movement. For 25 years after 1980 he was a writer and editor for the Maoist press in the United States, and a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. As a journalist, he reported on the life and struggles of immigrant workers in the Deep South, Native American spear-fishers in the Midwest, steelworkers within the rustbelt decline in Johnstown, anarchists and Turkish youth in Berlin squats, and residents of Chicagoâs Cabrini Green housing projects. Mike is currently the editor of the Kasamaproject.org discussion space and a close observer of the Occupy together movement.
Roberta Garner completed her undergraduate work and her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Chicago. After three years in New York (at Queens College and Barnard), she returned to Chicago and started teaching at DePaul University where she served as sociology department chair for a total of nine years. She has lived abroad in Italy, France, and Mexico. She writes in the areas of political sociology and social movements, theory, and research methods; her book Doing Qualitative Research (co-authored with Greg Scott and published by Pearson) will be in print in February. Her recent articles include three pieces in Science and Societyâa review article on Nassim Talebâs The Black Swan (with Michael Ash), a review essay on fraud in science, and an article with Larry Garner entitled: "How the US hasnât been the same since the SU passed away."
Alexander Hanna is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focusing on politics and social media. His research looks at social movement groups and networks in Egypt, and how blogs, Facebook, and Twitter aid them. He is in his second year as co-president of the Teaching Assistantsâ Association (TAA). The TAA is the oldest graduate employee union in the country and represents nearly 3,000 teaching and project assistants at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Greg Gabrellas is a graduate student at the University of Chicago for American history and social thought, a member of the Platypus Affiliated Society, and a lead organizer for the Crisis of the Left event series. He was a founder of the Woodlawn Collaborative, a center for the arts, education and progressive political activism on Chicago's South side. He has contributed to the Platypus Review and the Chicago Maroon on topics ranging from the politics of race and sexuality, immigration and the labor movement, environmentalism and the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg. With Spencer Leonard and Watson Ladd, he is a co-producer of Radical Minds on WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago.
Panel held at the Marxist Literary Group Summer 2011 Institute on Culture and Society at the Institute for the Humanities, University of Illinois at Chicago on June 22, 2011
The legacy of revolution 1917-19 in Russia, Germany, Hungary and Italy is concentrated above all in the historical figures Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky, leaders of the Left in the Second International (1889-1914) — what they called “revolutionary social democracy” — in the period preceding the crisis of war, revolution, counterrevolution and civil war in World War I and its aftermath. In 1920, Georg Lukács summed up this experience as follows: “[T]he crisis [of capital] remains permanent, it goes back to its starting-point, repeats the cycle until after infinite sufferings and terrible detours the school of history completes the education of the proletariat and confers upon it the leadership of mankind. . . . Of course this uncertainty and lack of clarity are themselves the symptoms of the crisis in bourgeois society. As the product of capitalism the proletariat must necessarily be subject to the modes of existence of its creator. . . . inhumanity and reification.” Nonetheless, these Marxists understood their politics as being “on the basis of capitalism” itself (Lenin). How were the 2nd Intl. radicals, importantly, critics, and not merely advocates, of their own political movement? What is the legacy of these figures today, after the 20th century — as Walter Benjamin said in his 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” “against the grain” of their time, reaching beyond it? How did Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky contribute to the potential advancement and transformation of Marxism, in and through the crisis of Marxism in the early 20th century? How can we return to these figures productively, today, to learn the lessons of their history?
Panel organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society given at the 2011 annual conference of the Cultural Studies Association in Chicago, IL on Thursday, March 24th, 2011, at Columbia College, Chicago.
Benjamin Shepard - Independent Scholar (Los Angeles), Platypus Affiliated Society
Jacob Cayia - University of Illinois - Chicago
Omair Hussain - School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Lucy Parker - School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Greg Gabrellas (chair) - University of Chicago, Platypus Affiliated Society
A panel organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society, held on March 19, 2011, at Left Forum, Pace University.
Over 90 years ago, Rosa Luxemburg was killed in the failed German Revolution of 1918-19. Yet the controversy surrounding the politics of her final years still smolders. Was she a critic of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, democratic advocate of spontaneity âfrom below?â Or, was she an orthodox Marxist, proponent of revolution through the determined political leadership of labor and other social-reform movements? Perhaps it's time that the matter is reposed. If Luxemburg still speaks to us, it is not in abstract lessons torn from history, but, as Walter Benjamin put it, by her struggle in and âagainst the grainâ of history. Luxemburg wrote that âSocialism is the first popular movement in world history that has set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby free will, into play in the social actions of mankind.â How might we yet learn from Luxemburg's example? Why must we remember her attempt to realize socialism; what might be the consequences of forgetting?
On November 8, 2010, Platypus hosted a forum entitled “Which Way Forward for Sexual Liberation?” moderated by Jeremy Cohan at New York University. The panel consisted of Gary Mucciaroni, professor of political science at Temple University; Sherry Wolf, author of Sexuality and Socialism and organizer for the International Socialist Organization; Kenyon Farrow, executive director of Queers for Economic Justice and author of the forthcoming Stand Up: The Politics of Racial Uplift; and Greg Gabrellas of Platypus.
With roots in earlier radical traditions, movements that sought to radically redefine the relationship of sex, politics, and freedom erupted onto the historical stage in the 60s. Yet while much has radically changed in the US and elsewhere in the world, humans are still far too limited in determining their sexual and erotic lives. This roundtable will reflect on the meaning and future of sexual politics today on the Left, with some emphasis on examining and contextualizing the contemporary struggle for gay marriage. What are the potentials and limits of present politics and organization around gay marriage? What successes and limitations has it met? What relationship is there between gay politics today and the Left overall? What frontiers of sexual liberation ought to be at the center of the Left's political agenda?
"The only decent marriage would be one allowing each partner to lead an independent life, in which, instead of a fusion derived from an enforced community of economic interests, both freely accepted mutual responsibility."--Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1944)
"The fundamental characteristic of the present system of marriage and family is in our society its monolithism: there is only one institutionalized form of inter-sexual or inter-generational relationship possible. It is that or nothing. This is why it is essentially a denial of life. For all human experience shows that intersexual and intergenerational relationships are infinitely various â indeed, much of our creative literature is a celebration of the fact â while the institutionalized expression of them in our capitalist society is utterly simple and rigid. It is the poverty and simplicity of the institutions in this area of life which are such an oppression. Any society will require some institutionalized and social recognition of personal relationships. But there is absolutely no reason why there should be only one legitimized form â and a multitude of unlegitimized experience. Socialism should properly mean not the abolition of the family, but the diversification of the socially acknowledged relationships which are today forcibly and rigidly compressed into it. This would mean a plural range of institutions â where the family is only one, and its abolition implies none. Couples living together or not living together, long-term unions with children, single parents bringing up children, children socialized by conventional rather than biological parents, extended kin groups, etc. â all these could be encompassed in a range of institutions which matched the free invention and variety of men and women."--Juliet Mitchell, "Women: the Longest Revolution" (1966)