Democracy and the Left, Chicago, 11.23.13
The fourth installment of a panel series, held at the University of Chicago on November 23rd, 2013. The first three panels were held in Halifax, Frankfurt, and Thessaloniki.
A moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A with thinkers, activists and political figures focused on contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics that adequately address issues of democracy. Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Chicago.
MICHAEL GOLDFIELD (Wayne State University)
AUGUST NIMTZ (University of Minnesota)
PETER STAUDENMAIER (Marquette University)
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 world-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 time "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 establishment 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 things 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 do you judge Lenin's formulation that: "democracy is also a state and that, consequently, democracy will also disappear with the state disappears."