Panel held on March 31st, 2012 at the Fourth Annual Platypus International Convention, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The two decades of the 1990s-2000s form a cycle containing certain common as well as differing concerns. The second decade of the 21st century has begun under the mixed legacy of recent history, presenting important problems needing to be worked through, moving forward.
For Platypus's 2012 international convention, two plenary panels will ask speakers from various perspectives to bring their experience of the Left"s recent history to bear on today's political possibilities and challenges.
The '90s Left Today
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and collapse of the Soviet Union soon after, a new political era opened, in which Marxism was discredited and anarchism became predominant on the radical Left. The most pressing challenges of post-Cold War neo-liberal globalization came amid an era of prosperity at the supposed "end of history." Postmodernist disenchantment with "grand narratives" of emancipation meant a turn against "ideology." Social "justice" rather than freedom became the watchword for a better world. "Resistance" and "horizontal" or "rhizomatic" politics provided a model for "changing the world without taking power" (as John Holloway, inspired by the Zapatistas, put it). Information technology -- the rise of the internet -- matched the new cosmopolitanism. The global order of "empire" confronted by the "multitude" demanded access to the "commonwealth" (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri). The "death of communism" challenged the Left's imagination of an emancipated future. "Black bloc" protest and "communisation" theory replaced traditional socialism, as the 20th century came to an uncertain close.
The '00s Left Today
As a result of the 9/11 attacks, the War on Terror rekindled anti-imperialist protest, even while it seemed to deliver a grave blow to the newly emergent World Social Forum, "alterglobalisation" movement. Neo-conservatism in the U.S. presented the specter of growing divisions in the global order, to which the world's most vulnerable might fall victim. Religious fundamentalism appeared to surge. Disenchantment with capitalist development accompanied the social imagination of ecological crisis and economic downturn: the desire for a "green economy" and apparent need for decreased consumption. At the same time, new intensification of global migration of workers presented challenges for political integration. The U.S. and allied wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond, were met by an anti-war movement and a new generation of radicalization. But the wars were eclipsed by financial crisis and Obamaâs election, bringing anti-austerity protests (setting the stage later for #Occupy), as the first decade of the 21st century ended with the economic crisis lingering and even deepening, scotching hopes for a reversal of neoliberalism and return to "Keynesian" social investment policies. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism both stood discredited, but without presenting a clear alternative for the future.
Daniel Dulce (Crimthinc)
Thodoris Velissaris (Platypus)
Nick Kreitman (Platypus, Formerly new SDS)
Mike Ely (Kasama)
Joshua Moufawad-Paul (Supporter, Parti communiste revolutionnaire - Revolutionary Communist Party (Canada)
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 discussion at the 3rd annual Platypus Affiliated Society international convention, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, April 30, 2011.
How does the prominence of Alain Badiou's approach to communism today speak to the present historical moment and its emancipatory possibilities? Badiou has prioritized May 1968 in France and the contemporaneous Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China for his conception of communism and its potential future. As a former student of Louis Althusser and follower of Jacques Lacan, as well as a philosopher of mathematics, Badiou's work has emphasized a radical ontology of the "event" to describe revolutionary transformation. In describing the politics of communism, Badiou has traced its modern history to the Jacobin phase of the French Revolution, periodizing modern communism's two great "sequences" from 1792-1871 and 1917-76. How does Badiou's conception of communism relate to the history of Marxism in the 20th century, with its roots in the 19th century? How does Badiou's work address the problem of capital, in Marx's terms, or not, and what are the implications of Badiou's communism for anticapitalist politics, moving forward? What does Badiou's work say about the relation of Marxism and communism today?
Please note: The recording for this panel was started mid-way through Chris Cutrone's talk. The full text of Cutrone's is available online here.