A panel held on April 5th, 2014 at the Sixth Annual Platypus International Convention at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Chris Cutrone (Platypus)
Samir Gandesha (Simon Fraser University)
Nikos Malliaris (Lieux Communs)
Dimitrios Roussopoulos (Transnational Institute of Social Ecology)
Joseph Schwartz (Temple University)
“No coarser insult, no baser defamation, can be thrown against the workers than the remark, ‘Theoretical controversies are for the intellectuals’“
— Rosa Luxemburg, Reform and Revolution (1900)
“Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement the only choice is — either bourgeois or socialist ideology… This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge.“
— Vladimir Lenin, What is to be Done? (1905)
"The liquidation of theory by dogmatization and thought taboos contributed to the bad practice."
— Adorno, Negative Dialectics (1966)
This discussion will reflect on the relationship between revolutionary politics and thinking in the past and present and ask why has it become increasingly difficult to render political life intellectual and intellectual life political today? Panelists will consider the historical role of revolutionary theory as a moment of revolutionary politics, and the ways in which thinking can be held responsible for politics, and politics held responsible for thinking.
Every year at the Platypus International Convention, speakers from various perspectives are asked to bring their experience of the Left’s recent history to bear on today’s political possibilities and challenges as part of the “Differing Perspectives on the Left” workshop series.
A lecture by Joseph M. Schwartz, Professor of Political Science (Temple University), and author of The Future of Democratic Equality: Reconstructing Social Solidarity in a Fragmented United States (2009) - winner of the 2011 American Political Science Association's David Easton Book Prize.
Presented by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Chicago on April 3, 2014.
The Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT)
University of Chicago Department of Political Science
In the late 1970s and early 1980s socialists in Western Europe strove to gain greater democratic control through efforts such as the Swedish Meidner Plan and Mitterand's first 2 years in office. But instead of a more radical turn to social democracy, neoliberalism prevailed and became the new common sense not only of the right, but also of moderate social democratic/US liberal left. This "common sense" has been hard to replace with a counter-hegemonic left "good sense" because of the absence of an alternative governing project to the left of neoliberalism in OECD countries. Consequently, while neoliberal policies gave rise to Great Recession, the proffered solutions to the crisis -- even from the mainstream social democracy in N. Europe -- have remained neoliberal in character.
This lecture will explore why social forces and movements from the left have been unable to generate a clear alternative to neoliberalism and outline the need for a global alternative “social structure of accumula
A panel event held at the School for Visual Arts on February 25th, 2014.
From the financial crisis and the bank bail-outs to the question of “sovereign debt”; from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street; from the struggle for a unified European-wide policy to the elections in Greece and Egypt that seem to have threatened so much and promised so little -- the need to go beyond mere “protest” has asserted itself: political revolution is in the air, again.
At the same time, the elections in US and recently in Germany, by comparison, to be a non-event, despite potentially having far-reaching consequences for teeming issues word-wide. Today, the people -- the demos -- seem resigned to their political powerlessness, even as they rage against the corruption of politics. Hence, while contemporary demands for democracy to politicize the demos, they are also indicative of social and political regression that asks urgently for recognition and reflection. Demands for democracy “from below” end up being expressed “from above”: The 99%, in its already obscure and unorganized character, didn’t express itself as such in the various recent elections, but was split in various tendencies, many of them very reactionary.
Democracy retains an enigmatic character, since it always slips any fixed form and content, since people under the dynamic of capital keep demanding at times “more” democracy and “real” democracy. But democracy can be like Janus: it often expresses both the progressive social and emancipatory demands, but also their defeat, their hijacking by an elected “Bonaparte”.
What is the history informing the demands for greater democracy today, and how does the Left adequately promote -- or not -- the cause of popular empowerment? What are the potential futures for "democratic" revolution, especially as understood by the Left?
1. What would you consider as “real” democracy, as this has been a primary demand of recent spontaneous forms of discontent (e.g. Arab Spring, Occupy, anti-austerity protests, student strikes)?
2. What is the relationship between democracy and the working class today? Do you consider historical struggles for democracy by workers as the medium by which they got “assimilated” to the system, or the only path to emancipation that they couldn’t avoid trying to take?
3. Do you consider it as necessary to eschew established forms of mass politics in favor of new forms in order to build a democratic movement? Or are current mass form of politics adequate for a democratic society?
4. Why has democracy emerged as the primary demand of spontaneous forms of discontent? Do you also consider it necessary, or adequate, to deal with the pathologies of our era?
5. Engels wrote that “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is”. Do you agree? Can this conception be compatible with the struggle for democracy?
6. How is democracy related with the issue of possibly overcoming capital?
7. Is there a difference between the ancient and the modern notion of democracy and, if so, what is the source of that difference? Does “real” democracy share more with the direct democracy of ancient polis?
8. Is democracy oppressive, or can it be such? How you judge Lenin’s formulation that: “…democracy is also a state and that, consequently, democracy will also disappear when the state disappears.”