On October 24, 2018, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a discussion on 50 years of 1968 at Berkeley City Community College. The discussion was moderated by Audrey Crescenti.
For half a century, 1968 has represented a high-water mark of social and political transformation, a year of social upheaval that spanned the entire globe. Ushered in by a New Left that sought to distinguish itself from the Old Left that emerged in the 1920s and ’30s, the monumental events of 1968 set the tone for everything from protest politics to academic leftism.
Today, with the U.S. entangled in a seemingly endless war in Asia and people calling for the impeachment of an unpopular president, with activists fighting in the streets and calling for liberation along the lines of race, gender, and sexuality, the Left’s every attempt to discover new methods and new ideas seems to invoke a memory of the political horizons of 1968. We can perhaps more than ever feel the urgency of the question, What lessons are to be drawn from the New Left, as another generation undertakes the project of building a left for the 21st century?
- Bobby Seale (Black Panther Party)
- Max Elbaum (Students for a Democratic Society)
- Watson Ladd (Platypus Affiliated Society)
On May 19th, 2018, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel discussion on the 2nd amendment and the Left at Berkeley City College. The discussion was moderated by William Lushbough.
"Recent school shootings and the ever-recurring instances of police brutality pose acutely the question of gun control today. Should the Left take up the demand for gun control, and if so, how? If not, why not? How is gun control related to the struggle for socialism?"
Speakers (in order of appearance):
- Urszula Wislanka (News & Letters Committees)
- K. Khan (International Marxist Tendency)
- Richard Becker (Party for Socialism & LIberation)
On March 10, 2018, at Berkeley City College, the Berkeley chapter of the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel titled "What is socialism?: International social democracy." The panelists were Grover Furr, professor of English literature at Montclair State University; James R. Martel, professor of political science at San Francisco State University; Ron Kelch, of News & Letters; and Gerald Smith, of the Peace & Freedom Party and the Oscar Grant Committee. The discussion was moderated by Audrey Crescenti.
This panel invites you to reflect on the history of social democracy from a leftist viewpoint. Such a perspective raises the specter of the Second International, the political organization that led the workers’ movement for socialism around the turn of the 20th century.
In the U.S., this politics found its expression in Eugene Debs, a radical labor leader converted to Marxism in prison by reading the German Marxist, Karl Kautsky. In Germany, in Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht’s Communist Party of Germany, inheritor of the Spartacus League’s opposition to joining the German state’s war effort during the First World War. And in Russia, most famously, in the capture of state power by the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. Thus the Second International gave rise to what is arguably the greatest attempt to change the world in history: the revolutions of 1917–19 in Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Italy. In these revolutions, Communists split from Social Democrats, the latter of whom formed the bulwark of counterrevolution.
During much of the 20th century, a Marxist-Leninist approach to history prevailed on much of the hard left, according to which the Second International revolutionaries had effectively superseded the politics of more right-wing figures within social democracy, such as Kautsky. The Third International has in this respect been widely accepted as an advance upon the Second. In the 1930s, the rise of fascism seemed to sideline the Communist vs. Social Democrat controversy. A generation later, after World War II, these same Social Democratic parties in the West engaged in wide-ranging reforms, while still opposing Communism in the East. For a few decades of supposed “convergence” between East and West, it seemed that the earlier evolutionary view of achieving socialism, contra Communist revolution, might be proven correct.
But the New Left in the West emerged in opposition to such reformism, in search of a more radical politics. In the neoliberal era, however, the division between reform and revolution has been blurred if not erased. And today social democracy is on the defensive against neoliberalism, even as its memory is resuscitated by such phenomena as SYRIZA, Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, and Bernie Sanders. But, do we in fact still need to reckon with the earlier history of Marxism—the split between Communists and Social Democrats—in order to understand the problem and project of social democracy today? How are the questions of social democracy and social revolution related today, in light of history? What has social democracy come to signify politically?