Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) on April 26, 2017.
• Travis Donoho, Co-chair of the Knox area Democratic Socialists of America
• Barbara Bridges, Chair of the Green Party (US) of Knoxville
• Jason Dawsey, Lecturer of History at the University of Tennessee
Moderated by Matt Cavagrotti
Electoral politics are a longstanding problem for the U.S. left. In recent decades, a number of parties have formed as an alternative to the Democratic Party: the Labor Party, the Green Party, and now, the Justice Party. However, these parties risk becoming little more than networks of activists or pressure groups on the Democratic Party, and it still remains unclear whether a serious electoral challenge to the Democratic Party is possible.
Many progressives blame the “first-past-the-post” structure of U.S. elections, contra labour-friendly parliamentary systems; yet others insist that this procedural focus is misplaced. Leninists charge some quarters of the Left with misunderstanding the proper relationship of the party to the state; but for many, it remains unclear how State and Revolution bears upon the present. Most activists grant the desirability of a viable party to the left of the Democrats, but why exactly such a party is desirable-- to win reforms? to spread emancipatory consciousness?-- is contested as well.
These are old questions for the American left-- as old as Henry George, Daniel De Leon, and the 1930s American Labor Party, perhaps the high point of independent electoral politics in the U.S. This panel will investigate several contemporary approaches to electoral politics to draw out the theories that motivate Leftist third parties; it will also ask how the historical achievements and failures of third parties bear upon the present.
1. How does the present election represent an opportunity for the development of a third party?In what ways have Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson each helped develop a window of opportunity for a third party?
2. In what ways might these figures be responsible for miseducating, depoliticizing, or simply misdirecting potential allies?
3. What conditions would a Clinton or Trump administration produce for the left? How would each represent a challenge to the Left?
4. How might a third party avoid simply becoming either an instrument for pressuring the Democratic Party to the Left or a mere recruiting tool for activist and sectarian organizations? In other words: what are the practical and theoretical obstacles to the development of the Left beyond the default form of activity that have characterized it since the mid-20th century?
5. While we take for granted that a third party would have to distinguish itself from the two major parties, how could a third party attempt to draw from voters from both the Democrats and the Republicans?
6. The rise of progressivism and socialism in the late 19th/early 20th century defined every attempt at the development of a third party in the 20th century. How are progressive and socialist politics distinct and/or related? What role would each play in the development of a mass third party for the 21st century?
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
Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) on March 25, 2014.
• Dr. Allen Dunn, University of Tennessee English Department Head
• Chris Irwin, United Mountain Defense
• Jon Phoenix, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
Moderated by Grady Lowery.
It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism. They emerged out of the same crucible - the Industrial Revolution, the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 and 1871, a weak liberalism, the centralization of state power, the rise of the workers movement, and the promise of socialism. They are the revolutionary heritage, and all significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. In this respect, our moment seems no different.
There are a few different ways these ideologies have been taken up. Recent worldwide square occupations reflect one pattern: a version of Marxist theory — understood as a political-economic critique of capitalism — is used to comprehend the world, while anarchist practice — understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists revolution must begin now — is used to organize, in order to change it. Some resist this combination, claiming that Marxism rejects anti-statist adventurism, and call for a strategic reorganization of the working class to resist austerity, and perhaps push forward a “New New Deal”. This view remains wedded to a supposedly practical welfarist social democracy, which strengthens the state and manages capital. There is a good deal of hand waving in both these orientations with regard to politics, tactics, and the end goal. Finally, there have been attempts to leave the grounds of these theories entirely — but these often seem either to land right back in one of the camps or to remain marginal.
To act today we seek to draw up the balance sheet of the 20th century. The historical experience concentrated in these ideas must be unfurled if they are to serve as compass points. To see in what ways the return of these ideologies represent an authentic engagement and in what ways the return of a ghost. Where have the battles left us? What forms do we have for meeting, theoretically and practically, the problems of our present?
Communist University took place August 13-20, 2011
Goldsmiths, University of London
63 Wickham Road
London SE4 1LX
Platypus Affiliated Society members presented as follows:
Friday, August 19, 10AM-12:30PM
â€¢ Spencer Leonard, "Marx's critique of political economy: proletarian socialism continuing the bourgeois revolution?"
Recommended background readings:
Background reading compiled from recent engagements between the CPGB and Platypus can be found at: /wp-content/uploads/2011/08/macnairmike_platypuscritique_may-august2011_081111.pdf or /wp-content/uploads/2011/08/cpgbcontraplatypus081111.pdf
Facebook invitation at:
June 20â€“24, 2011
Institute for the Humanities, University of Illinois at Chicago
Marxism and the bourgeois revolution
Spencer Leonard, "Marxâ€™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, "LukÃ¡cs on Marxâ€™s Hegelianism and the dialectic of Marxism"
Moderator: Chris Cutrone
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. AbbÃ© SieyÃ¨s 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 â€œproletarianizationâ€ of society circa 1848 signal not only the crisis and supersession, but the need to fulfill and â€œcompleteâ€ the bourgeois revolution, whose task now fell to the politics of â€œproletarianâ€ socialism, expressed by the workersâ€™ call for â€œsocial democracy?â€ How did this express the attempt, as Lenin put it, to overcome bourgeois society â€œon the basis of capitalismâ€ itself? How did subsequent Marxism lose sight of Marx on this, and how might Marxâ€™s perspective on the crisis of the bourgeois revolution in the 19th century still resonate today?
The Marxism of Second International radicalism: Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky
Chris Cutrone, Lenin
Greg Gabrellas, Luxemburg
Ian Morrison, Trotsky
Moderator: Spencer Leonard
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 â€œrevolutionary social democracyâ€ -- in the period preceding the crisis of war, revolution, counterrevolution and civil war in World War I and its aftermath. In 1920, Georg LukÃ¡cs summed up this experience as follows: â€œ[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. .Â .Â . 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. .Â .Â . inhumanity and reification.â€ Nonetheless, these Marxists understood their politics as being â€œon the basis of capitalismâ€ 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 â€œTheses on the Philosophy of History,â€ â€œagainst the grainâ€ 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?
Mike Macnair,Â Communist Party of Great Britain (Oxford Univ. St. Hugh College)
Bryan Palmer (Trent University)
Richard Rubin, Platypus
representative of theÂ International Socialist Organization (declined to attend)
Jason Wright, International Bolshevik Tendency
What is the relevance of Trotskyism for the Left today? On the one hand, there is a simple answer: The mantle of Trotskyism is claimed by many of todayâ€™s most prominent and numerous Leftist parties in America and Europe (and beyond). In America, there is theInternational Socialist Organization; in Britain it is theÂ Socialist Workers Party; and in France theÂ Nouveau parti anticapitaliste also has its origins in Trotskyism. Evidently, the collapse of Stalinism in 1989 left Trotskyismâ€™s bona fides, as anti-Stalinist Marxism, intact. On the other hand, Trotskyism has been infamously associated on the Left with sectarianism â€” and martyrdom, not least in the circumstances of the murder of Trotsky himself in 1940. Certainly, the ISO, SWP and NPA long ago made their peace in crucial ways with the politics of the post-Marxist New Left â€” a revisionism that their sectarian brethren (for instance, Trotskyismâ€™sÂ bÃªte noire, theSpartacist League) have proudly and doggedly opposed. However, despite their differences, all varieties of Trotskyism today evince the conditions of the New Leftâ€™s â€œreturn to Marxismâ€ in the 1970s, for which the legacy of Trotsky provided one significant vehicle (the other being Maoism). For instance Trotskyâ€™s biographer, Isaac Deutscher, strongly influenced the journal, the New Left Review, still a flagship of the Left today. And yet there is something peculiar about this legacy. As one Platypus writer has suggested, Trotsky is as out of place in the post-WWII world as Voltaire or Rousseau would have been in the world after the French Revolution. Trotsky, unlike Trotskyism, exemplifies the classical Marxism of the early 20th century, and that tradition certainly died with him. Thus, before we can understand how Trotskyismâ€™s legacy has influenced the Marxism of our time, we must first answer the question: What has Trotskyism made of Trotskyâ€™s Marxism?
Chris Cutrone, Platypus (School of the Art Institute of Chicago)
Andrew Feenberg (Simon Fraser University)
Richard Westerman (University of Chicago)
Respondent: Nicholas Brown (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Recently, theÂ New Left Review published a translated conversation between the critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer causing more than a few murmurs and gasps. In the course of their conversation, Adorno comments that he had always wanted to â€œdevelop a theory that remains faithful to Marx, Engels and Lenin, while keeping up with culture at its most advanced.â€ Adorno, it seems, was a Leninist. As surprising as this evidence might have been to some, is it not more shocking that Adornoâ€™s politics, and the politics of Critical Theory, have remained taboo for so long? Was it really necessary to wait until Adorno and Horkheimer admitted their politics in print to understand that their primary preoccupation was with maintaining Marxismâ€™s relation to bourgeois critical philosophy (Kant and Hegel)? This panel proposes to state the question as directly as possible and to simply ask: How did the practice and theory of Marxism, from Marx to Lenin, make possible and necessary the politics of Critical Theory?
Co-sponsored by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Departments of Art Education, Art History, Liberal Arts, and Visual and Critical Studies, and the SAIC Student Association.