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IN RESPONSE TO THE CRITIQUES of Wayne Price and Liam Swenson to my piece on anarchism in The Platypus Review #65, I will reiterate what I consider the major differences between Marxist revolutionary theory and anarchism in general. I say in general because I see nothing to be gained by dealing with the great variety of differences within anarchism itself presented by these critiques. In fact their great variety proves the very fleeting and vacillating nature of the anarchist project.

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 workshop with the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review (Jon Bekken) held on April 5, 2014, at the Sixth Platypus International Convention.

A panel held at the Sixth Annual Platypus International Convention on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Panelists:

Jon Bekken (Anarcho-Syndicalist Review)
James Heartfield (audacity.org)
William Pelz (Elgin Community College)

Description:

The First International (1864 - 1876), or International Workingmen's Association, was founded in the long shadow of 1848, amidst Polish and Italian national liberation movements and the upheaval of the American Civil War. As an organization it pushed against the limitations of radical Republican politics (in both its European and American iterations). It was the first to present the need for an organized body of the international working class in order to develop the political forces capable of challenging industrial capitalism on the world's stage. The recognition of the global nature of capitalist society, coupled with a critique of radical democratic politics of the second half of nineteenth century -- both from an Anarchist and Marxist perspective -- make up the political content of the First International.

Any history of the First International in the present is necessarily informed -- consciously or unconsciously -- by the experience and assessment of the Marxist Internationals in the twentieth century. A critical history of the First International today would have to be part of a larger reflection on the origins of Marxism and the mid-nineteenth century shift in leftist political practice (the transformation of both its means and ends). In assessing this history, one discontinuity immediately presents itself: unlike the history of the Second, Third, and Fourth International, the First International was composed of largely heterogeneous political tendencies, including (but not limited to) British labor reformers (including Chartists), Polish radical republicans (in opposition to Russian Tzarism), Italian supporters of Mazzini (for national unification and the end of the papal state), German Lassallean radicals (followers of Ferdinand Lassalle), et. al; at the center of these ideological differences was the conflict between Marxism and Anarchism (with Marx and Bakunin in the foreground). While the First International is known as the moment of this infamous political split, it remains the task of leftists today to specify what this historical division on the Left might mean for the present. In this spirit, this panel asks: what is at stake in the history First International? And how might it help us advance an understanding of the tasks of the Left today?

The First International died "almost unnoticed" (as one historian has put it) four years after its transfer to New York. In 1924, when Karl Korsch raised the specter of the First International, it was to make sense of the shortcomings of the Second International. His mention of this brief organizational experiment provided the historical distance from which to reflect on both the theory and practice of Marxism. Today, the historical regression advanced in the twentieth century has left us with a diminished capacity to assess the historical tasks of the Left, thus limiting the imagination for a future emancipatory politics. In this impoverished present, the history of the First International, and its contribution to the problem of freedom in the Age of Capital, can help us deepen our understanding of the meaning and tasks of the Left today. Perhaps then we will finally be able to give the First International a proper burial.

Questions:

1. What is the political climate at the birth of the First International? How was the organization's political horizon shaped by the revolutionary efforts in Europe 1830s onward? How did this climate inform the composition of the First International? What common vision of social revolutionary practice (if any) was shared by its members? Despite its ideological heterogeneity, what held the First International together?

2. A current trend on the Left today is a push for local engagement (sometimes presented as "think globally, act locally”, in light of such a development how do we understand the attempts by the First International to organize globally? How did this international scope help the First International advance a politics against capitalism? What if anything is left of this tradition? In what ways does it depart from its nineteenth-century iteration?

3. Does Anarchism in the nineteenth-century present us with a different set of problems than present-day anarchism? (If so, in what way?) How does the Marx-Bakunin split in the First International help us understand the content of Anarchist politics? What does it illuminate about the relationship between Marxism and Anarchism? What are the different perspectives of history and freedom held by Anarchists and Marxists (in what way are these meaningful)? Lastly, how were both Marx and Bakunin (and, we might add, Proudhon) critics of the radical democratic tradition in the nineteenth-century? And where do their critiques differ? How does this difference shape their political practice?

A panel held at the Sixth Annual Platypus International Convention on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Panelists:

Dimitrios Roussopoulos (Transnational Institute of Social Ecology)
Tarek Shalaby (Revolutionary Socialists (Egypt))
Joshua Stephens (Institute for Anarchist Studies)

Description:

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 an 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?

Questions:

1. What do Marxism and Anarchism have to say to those politicized today? Do they instruct us as to how we might act, now? Must we return to these orientations? If so, how?

2. Many recent leftist groupings tend toward square occupation and leaderless horizontality, while retaining an unclear, even reformist, ideological orientation toward capitalism and the state. How do you understand the advent of these forms? Do they challenge traditional Marxist theory and ways of organizing? Are they affirmations of Anarchist modes of thinking and practice? In general, what forms of organization are necessitated by the theories we inherit and the tasks of today?

3. Can you briefly assess the most important splits and breaks between and within both traditions? Does the historical divide between Marxism and Anarchism still matter? What are the significant splits within Marxism and within Anarchism that continue to shape the context?

4. What are the inalienable values and the end goals of radical politics? Are Marxism and Anarchism ideologies of freedom? Of democracy? Of the working class? How do they handle the objective contradictions of realizing these principles under the conditions of capitalist life?

5. What should we fight for today - more state or less state?

6. Has history vindicated Marxism or Anarchism or neither at all?

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/89177950]

A moderated panel discussion on Marxism and Anarchism held at Stony Brook University on March 5th, 2014, featuring Michael Schwartz (Stony Brook), Richard Greeman (The Victor Serge Foundation), and Joshua Stephens (The Institute of Anarchist Studies).

Panel Description:

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 an 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?

In the history of the Left, anarchism has always played a strange and more or less underground part. Anarchism was there at the beginning, it has been a permanent (if small) force throughout the major events and crises of the modern period,

A panel event on held on Tuesday, 28 January,  at Hart House, University of Toronto

Sponsored by the Hart House Social Justice Committee

Panelists: 
L. Susan Brown - Author of Does Work Really Work
Dave Bush - Rankandfile.ca 
Neil Fischer - Internationalist Perspective
Sam Gindin - Greater Toronto Worker’s Assembly, coauthor of The Making of Global Capitalism

Description:
It is generally assumed that Marxists and other Leftists have the political responsibility to support reforms for the improvement of the welfare of workers. Yet, leading figures from the Marxist tradition-- such as Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky-- also understood that such reforms would broaden the crisis of capitalism and potentially intensify contradictions that could adversely impact the immediate conditions of workers. For instance, full employment, while being a natural demand from the standpoint of all workers’ interests, also threatens the conditions of capitalist production (which rely on a surplus of available labor), thereby potentially jeopardizing the system of employment altogether. In light of such apparent paradoxes, this panel seeks to investigate the politics of work from Leftist perspectives. It will attempt to provoke reflection on and discussion of the ambiguities and dilemmas of the politics of work by including speakers from divergent perspectives, some of whom seek after the immediate abolition of labor and others of whom seek to increase the availability of employment opportunities. It is hoped that this conversation will deepen the understanding of the contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.

A panel event that took place in Aristotle University of Thessaloniki at 17th of December 2013, organized by the Thessaloniki chapter of the Platypus Affiliated Society.

PANEL DESCRIPTION:

It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism. They emerged out of the same crucible - the Industrial Revolution, unsuccessful revolutions in 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. All significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. Our moment seems no different.

There are a few different ways these have been taken up. Recent worldwide square occupations reflect one pattern: some version of Marxist theory - understood as a political economic critique of capitalism - is used to comprehend the world, while an anarchist practice - understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists revolution must begin now - is used to organize, in order to change it. Another option: some resist this combination, claiming that Marxism repudiates anti-statist adventurism, and calls 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 purportedly practical welfarist social democracy, which strengthens the state and manages capital. There is a good deal of hand-waving in both these
orientations - as to the base of politics, as to tactics and strategy, as to the end goal. Finally, there are 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. 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 the day?

QUESTIONS:

What do Marxism and Anarchism have to say to those politicized today? Do they instruct us as to how we might act, now? Must we return to these orientations? If so, how?

Many recent leftist groupings tend toward square occupation and leaderless horizontality, while retaining an unclear, even reformist, ideological orientation toward capitalism and the state. How do you understand the advent of these forms? Do they challenge traditional Marxist theory and ways of organizing? Are they affirmations of Anarchist modes of thinking and practice? In general, what forms of organization are necessitated by the theories we inherit and the tasks of today?

Can you briefly assess the most important splits and breaks between and within both traditions? Does the historical divide between Marxism and Anarchism still matter? What are the significant splits within Marxism and within Anarchism that continue to shape the context?

What are the inalienable values and the end goals of radical politics? Are Marxism and Anarchism ideologies of freedom? Of democracy? Of the working class? How do they handle the objective contradictions of realizing these principles under the conditions of capitalist life?

What should we fight for today - more state or less state? Has history vindicated Marxism or Anarchism or neither at all?

PANELISTS:

Nikos Nikisianis: member of Network for Social and Political rights (participates in Syriza)

Lia Gioka: activist and translator

Tasos Sapounas: member of the communist marxist-leninist party of Greece

A book chat with Richard Greeman, translator of Victor Serge's "Memoirs of a Revolutionary" and "Russia in Danger," held on May 8th 2013 at the New School.

Victor Serge (1890–1947) was an international revolutionary and writer. Originally an anarchist, he joined the Bolsheviks five months after arriving in Petrograd in January 1919 and later worked for the Comintern as a journalist, editor and translator. He was critical of the Stalinist regime and remained a revolutionary Marxist until his death. Though scattered, his writings have been reassembled and translated and kept alive by a small group of radical devotees, most notably Peter Sedgwick and Richard Greeman.

Richard Greeman is a Marxist scholar long active in human rights, anti-war, anti-nuclear, environmental and labor struggles in the U.S., Latin America, France, and Russia. Greeman is best known for his studies and translations of the Franco-Russian novelist and revolutionary Victor Serge. Greeman also writes regularly about politics, international class struggles and revolutionary theory. Co-founder of the Praxis Research and Education Center in Moscow, Russia, Greeman is based in Montpellier, France, where he directs the International Victor Serge Foundation.

At the 2012 Platypus Affiliated Society’s (PAS) annual International Convention, held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago March 30–April 1, Chris Cutrone, President of the PAS, delivered the following presentation, which has been edited for clarity.