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An international forum on the
CRISIS OF THE LEFT
Chicago | NYC | Philly | Boston | Thessaloniki

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. “…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…”

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, we’ve invited figures from across the Left–academics, political organizers, theorists–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.

Speaker Questions
1.) How would you define the Left?

2.) Do you think the Left is in crisis? If so, then what constitutes the crisis?

3.) 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?

4.) Could the Left have done something to avoid its current impasses? If so, what?

5.) 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?

Speakers:
Paul Berman is a writer on politics and literature who is affiliated with two magazines, The New Republic and Dissent, and also contributes from time to time to the New York Times, once in a while to Slate, and to other journals. He has written a history of the left-wing Generation of 1968 around the world, so far in two volumes, under the titles "A Tale of Two Utopias" and "Power and the Idealists." His other books include "The Flight of the Intellectuals," "Terror and Liberalism," and a number of edited anthologies, including a "Selected Poems" of Carl Sandburg. His books have been translated into fifteen languages. His next book will be a study of Nathaniel Hawthorne - who, after all, went through a socialist phase.

Carl Dix is a long-time revolutionary activist. He was one of the Fort Lewis 6, soldiers who refused to ship off to Vietnam. He is a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He is a leading figure in the movement to stop the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth.

Bertell Ollman is a professor in the Dept. of Politics at NYU, but has also given courses on Marx at Oxford and Columbia. He is the author of Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, Social and Sexual Revoluition: Essays on Marx and Reich, Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marxâs Method, Class Struggle is the Name of the Fame: True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman (he is also the creator of the Class Struggle board game), How to Take an Exam...and Remake the World, and a number of other works in this general area. He is currently completing the first collection of Marx's writings on economic crisis.

Marco Roth is an editor and co-founder of n+1 magazine.

Nikil Saval is an associate editor of n+1, where he is a frequent contributor. His writing has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Oxford American, and The London Review of Books. He is currently working on a book about the history of office design and white-collar work.

Moderator:
Jeremy Cohan is a PhD candidate in sociology at NYU, as well as the lead NYC organizer for the Platypus Affiliated Society. Jeremy has written and presented on the political and social theory of Marx, Georg Lukacs, and Michel Foucault; he has chaired several panels for the Platypus Affiliated Society, including on nationalism, bourgeois revolutions, Obama and the Left, and sexual liberation; he is currently doing research on transformations in American education and on early twentieth century revolutions. He has taught introductory sociology and philosophy courses, as well as courses on fascism, and will be a graduate assistant in the year to come in a program on Critical Theory and the Arts.

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 20, 2011

The “bourgeois revolutions” from the 16th through the 19th centuries — extending into the 20th — conformed humanity to modern city life, ending traditional, pastoral, religious custom in favor of social relations of the exchange of labor. Abbé Sieyès wrote in 1789 that, in contradistinction to the clerical 1st Estate who “prayed” and the aristocratic 2nd Estate who “fought,” the commoner 3rd Estate “worked:” “What has the 3rd Estate been? Nothing.” “What is it? Everything.” Kant warned that universal bourgeois society would be the mere midpoint in humanity’s achievement of freedom. After the last bourgeois revolutions in Europe of 1848 failed, Marx wrote of the “constitution of capital,” the ambivalent, indeed self-contradictory character of “free wage labor.” In the late 20th century, the majority of humanity abandoned agriculture in favor of urban life — however in “slum cities.” How does the bourgeois revolution appear from a Marxian point of view? How did what Marx called the “proletarianization” of society circa 1848 signal not only the crisis and supersession, but the need to fulfill and “complete” the bourgeois revolution, whose task now fell to the politics of “proletarian” socialism, expressed by the workers’ call for “social democracy?” How did this express the attempt, as Lenin put it, to overcome bourgeois society “on the basis of capitalism” itself? How did subsequent Marxism lose sight of Marx on this, and how might Marx’s perspective on the crisis of the bourgeois revolution in the 19th century still resonate today?

Panelists;
Spencer Leonard, “Marx’s critique of political economy: Proletarian socialism continuing the bourgeois revolution?”
Pamela Nogales, “Marx on the U.S. Civil War as the 2nd American Revolution”
Jeremy Cohan, “Lukács on Marx’s Hegelianism and the dialectic of Marxism”

Moderator:
Chris Cutrone

A public interview with author David Wilson, led by Platypus member Jeremy Cohan on April 19 at NYU.

Transcript in Platypus Review #39 (Click below):

Mass marches on May Day 2006 in the US, banning of minarets in Switzerland, pogroms in Libya against blacks from Central Africa feared to be mercenaries: Immigration is a central issue faced by the contemporary Left. But as mobilization has waxed and waned, the question of what constitutes an emancipatory response to the problems of immigration in modern society, too often remains unaddressed. This event will consider the limits and potentials of current immigration politics on the Left today, in America and globally. What is the future of internationalism?

 

A panel discussion organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society, held on March 19, 2011, at Left Forum, Pace University.

Panel Abstract: It may seem untimely to reconsider Georg Lukacs, after the demise of the "Bolshevik experiment" with which he was associated. Who was Lukacs? Critic of reification, founder of Hegelian Marxism, Critical Theory, Western Marxism? Or: philosopher of Bolshevism, apologist for Leninism, romantic socialist, voluntarist idealist, terrorist revolutionary? Lukacs is usually read as an interpreter rather than a dedicated follower of Marxism, leaving Lukacs's particular contribution obscure. Lukacs was most original--and influential--when he accepted the presuppositions of Marxism, the political practice and theory of revolution, in earnest, from 1919-25, in History and Class Consciousness and associated works--however Lukacs himself may have disavowed them subsequently. What can we make of Lukacs's legacy today, his investigation and elaboration of the problematic of Marxism, and what are the essential issues potentially raised for our time?

Panelists
Chris Cutrone - School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Jeremy Cohan - New York University
Marco Torres - University of Chicago
Neil Larsen - University of California at Davis
Timothy Bewes - Brown University
Timothy Hall - University of East London, U.K.

A version of Jeremy Cohan's remarks are transcripted in the Platypus Review #38 (Click below):

Transcript of Timothy Hall's remarks in Platypus Review #37 (Click below):

The 20th century has made the question of Marxism an obscure one. The absence of an International Left suggests the irrelevancy of Marxism to the present. Yet historically, Marxism mattered to society at large. It was understood to be relevant, not simply as an anti-capitalist politics, but as a framework for addressing the potentials raised by modern society. Can this history say anything about our own present moment? Does Marxism matter today? This event will explore the question.

A teach-in on the Communist Manifesto led by Platypus Affiliated Society member Jeremy Cohan, PhD candidate in Sociology at NYU, at the New School in NYC on February 17, 2011.

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.

Transcripted in Platypus Review #32 (Click below):

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)

Speakers
Kenyon Farrow, Queers for Economic Justice
Greg Gabrellas, Platypus
Gary Mucciaroni, Political Science, Temple University
Sherry Wolf, International Socialist Organization