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LEADING PUBLIC MEMBER of the Socialist Workers Party of the United Kingdom, Richard Seymour, who made a name for himself with the book The Liberal Defense of Murder (2008), polemicizing against campaigns of “humanitarian” military intervention such as the Iraq War, recently released his book on the late Christopher Hitchens, Unhitched, demonstrating that Hitchens remains an enduring and indeed indispensable phenomenon in the present system of thinking on the “Left.”
On January 30th, 2007, Platypus hosted its first public forum, “Imperialism: What is it—Why should we be Against it?” The panel consisted of Adam Turl of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Kevin Anderson of the Marxist-Humanist group News and Letters, Nick Kreitman of the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Danny Postel of Open Democracy, and Chris Cutrone of Platypus. What follows is an edited transcript of this event. The question of imperialism remains obscure on the Left. In light of the continued failure of the anti-war movement to end the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the decline of anti-war protest in the wake of Barack Obama’s election, it seems that the critique of imperialism has not been clarified, but only become more impotent in its opacity. Consequently, the Platypus Review believes that this panel retains its salience.

Platypus panel at the Left Forum 2010 in New York City, Pace University, March 20, 2010.

The 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was, like the 1990-91 Gulf War, a turning point for the international Left, though few recognized this. While the Iraq war has been a rallying point for anti-hegemonic and anti-“imperialist” sentiments around the world, it did not provide for either theoretical or practical convergence for reinvigorating the Left, but rather revealed its fragmented and confused state. Though activism has been largely united in opposing the war, it failed to articulate a greater vision for how opposition to the war contributes to a greater program of social emancipation for the Left internationally. Indeed, the Iraq war tends to figure only in terms of particular U.S. policy. Many in mainstream U.S. politics -- the Democratic Party -- argued against the war as a foolhardy project of trying to bring democracy to Iraq. Some on the Left, in recognition of this problem, supported the U.S. militarily overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s Baathist state in Iraq. But which position was in fact more conservative, that is, Right-wing? This panel is organized around the question, how has the Left responded to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq? Why has the Iraq war proven such a stumbling block for the Left developing an adequate response? Who is capable of standing up for the Iraqis now? For what the Left owes to Iraq is the same as it owes to any “nation” -- freedom.

Panelists:
Laura Lee Schmidt (Chair) – Platypus Affiliated Society; History, Theory and Criticism of Art and Architecture, MIT
Issam Shukri – Worker-Communist Party of Iran (WPI)
Ashley Smith - International Socialist Organization
Christopher Cutrone – Platypus Affiliated Society; University of Chicago

If it did not come to end in 1989, as conservative critic Francis Fukuyama expected, this is because, in Hegel's sense, as freedom's self-realization in time, History had already ceased. Long before the new geopolitical configurations and institutional forms of the post-Soviet world, a new and unprecedented, though scarcely recognized, political situation had taken shape: The last threads of continuity connecting the present with the long epoch of political emancipation were severed. In the second half of the 20th century the history that stretched back through modern socialism and the labor movement to the Enlightenment and the bourgeois revolutions that came before, became bunk. Yet, unlike Stalinism's well-publicized (if exaggerated) collapse, the passing of History and the death of the long-ailing Left in our time has passed almost wholly unnoticed and unmourned.
I was intrigued to find in The Platypus Review #7 a commentary by Chris Cutrone on the U.S. role in world politics. I found it more sophisticated and original than anything I had previously come across in the mainstream media either here or in Europe.
Barack Obama had, until recently, made his campaign for President of the United States a referendum on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. In the Democratic Party primaries, Obama attacked Hillary Clinton for her vote in favor of the invasion. Among Republican contenders, John McCain went out of his way to appear as the candidate most supportive of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq.
Since the 1960s the saturation of brutality and violence in Iraq has caused considerable confusion among Leftists in regards to both its political meaning and causes. One cannot fully understand the character of Saddam Hussein’s Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party without taking into account that it achieved political power by systematically killing off the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) and quelling other political dissent with acts of extreme cruelty. The eight year battle of attrition instigated by Hussein, known as the Iran-Iraq War, caused over half a million Iraqi deaths, and the ethnic cleansing campaigns directed against the Kurds resulted in countless more. It is estimated that during the 1988 Anfal Campaign alone over 100,000 Kurds were massacred. In addition to the many catastrophic events that mark the history of Ba’athist society, it is perfectly clear that Hussein’s one-party-state was maintained through the use of relentless day-to-day violence directed against its citizens.
ACCORDING TO LENIN, the greatest contribution of the German Marxist radical Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) to the fight for socialism was the statement that her Social Democratic Party of Germany had become a “stinking corpse” as a result of voting for war credits on August 4, 1914. Lenin wrote this about Luxemburg in 1922, at the close of the period of war, revolution, counterrevolution and reaction in which Luxemburg was murdered.

Interview with Tariq Ali on Iraq, the anti-war movement, and the state of the Left today.

Interview with Tariq Ali on Iraq, the anti-war movement, and the state of the Left today conducted by Platypus member Chris Cutrone on October 15, 2007 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.